Trotsky-Stalin Feud: An American View
Professor John Dewey, the well-known American philosopher and educationalist, who presided over the Committee that inquired into the Trotsky affair, gave an interview to an American newspaper on the lessons of Bolshevism as he sees them. As the line he takes is going to be increasingly the line of attack on Socialism, his arguments are worth examination. But before coming to this it is worth while placing on record what he and the Committee concluded are the facts of Trotsky’ supposed complicity in the Russian assassination plots. This is what he said to his interviewer, as reported in the Washington Post (December 19th, 1937):
“During the nine months of its steady works, our committee held hearings in Mexico, New York City, and Paris. It collected many scores of affidavits and depositions, and examined hundreds of letters and documents, as well as making a complete analysis of the testimony given in the Moscow trials. As a result of its prolonged, thorough, and impartial investigation – for none of its ten members is a Trotskyite or affiliated in any way with his theories and activities – it found Trotsky and his son innocent of the charges brought against them.
It found that the prosecutor made no effort to ascertain the truth and that his procedure contradicted at every point the rules laid down for legal procedure in Russian law in a book edited by the prosecutor himself. It found that the three alleged interviews with Trotsky, said to have occurred in Copenhagen, Paris, and Oslo, never took place, this finding being supported by a mass of notarised depositions by persons in personal contact with Trotsky at the time the interviews were alleged to have been held, many of them by his political adversaries.
. . . On the basis of all the evidence, we found that Trotsky never recommended, plotted, or attempted the restoration of capitalism in the U.S.S.R. It was clearly established that the prosecutor at the trials fantastically falsified Trotsky’s role before, during, and after the October revolution. In short, the report proves the Moscow trials to be a frame-up. Later a volume of some two hundred pages will be published, giving in full the evidence on which our findings rest.”
Now for Professor Dewey’s conclusions.
The Breakdown of Marxism?
His first point is that the feud itself, regarded in its personal aspect, is of no importance to anyone but those immediately concerned. As the interviewer, Agnes E. Meyer phrased it, the dispute “has no more meaning to John Dewey than the fight between Schmeling and Joe Louis.” But the ideas for which the men and their supporters stand matter very much to the world at large, for, in Dewey’s eyes, we are witnessing the final breakdown of Marxism:
“The great lesson to be derived from these amazing revelations is the complete breakdown of revolutionary Marxism. Nor do I think that a confirmed Communist is going to get anywhere by concluding that, because he can no longer believe in Stalin, he must pin his faith on Trotsky. The great lesson for all American radicals and for all sympathisers with the U.S.S.R. is that they must go back and reconsider the whole question of means of bringing about social changes and of truly democratic methods of approach to social progress.”
He believes that Trotsky, as well as Stalin, stands for a method which has proved, and must prove, disastrous; “the dictatorship of the proletariat has led, and, I am convinced, always must lead, to a dictatorship over the proletariat and over the party. I see no reason to believe that something similar would not happen in every country in which an attempt is made to establish a Communist government.”
He claims that the dictatorship of a minority is compelled to use terrorism in order to crush opposition, and is compelled to make concessions to the non-Socialist outlook of the population in order to secure their support. In the long run such a dictatorship becomes so entrenched that it can only be overthrown by force. Far from being a passing phase and a step towards Socialism it becomes a terrifying barrier to further progress.
We need spend no further time on Dewey’s case, for it will be recognised at once as substantially the case put forward by the S.P.G.B. from 1918 onwards; in other words, it is the case put forward by Marxists against the Bolshevists. Dewey’s fallacy is that he accepts the minority dictatorship idea as being the doctrine of Marxists. Consequently his unanswerable case against the Bolshevists hits them but leaves Marxism in complete possession of the field.
Honesty in Working Class Politics
The argument Dewey goes on to develop – and here again he is only saying what the S.P.G.B. has always said – is that a minority cannot impose a social advance on an apathetic or hostile majority, for the reason that the minority dictatorship, in order to retain power, has to destroy freedom of speech, writing, and of the Press, which are the necessary conditions of orderly progress. The dictatorship has to preach the doctrine that the end justifies the means – as if ends and means could ever be divorced – and has to proclaim, as did Trotsky and Stalin, that Socialism can be achieved by brutal terrorism. They have to justify every form of opportunism, lying to the workers, compromise with the enemies of Socialism, bribery, treachery, framed-up charges, the methods of the Tsarist secret police – all in the name of Socialism. They have to preach that truth is just a bourgeois weapon against the workers, whereas, as Dewey well says: “Truth, instead of being a bourgeois virtue, is the mainspring of all human progress.” He adds:
“A people that is kept in systematic ignorance of what is going on in the world and even in their own country and which is fed on lies, has lost the fundamental leverage of progress. To me, as an educator, this is the great tragedy of the Russian situation.“