Duncan Hallas

On Trotskyism


Book review, International Socialism (1st series), No.91, November 1976, p.32.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

On Trotskyism
by Kostas Mavrakis
Routledge and Kegan Paul £4.95 paperback

This is a very strange book indeed. At one level the author, a Greek by birth who teaches philosophy at the University of Paris VIII, is a sophisticated and agile debater.

He makes the most of Trotsky’s numerous disputes with Lenin, dissociates himself from the cruder slanders of the Stalin era and even permits himself some mild criticisms of Stalinism: “Some of Trotsky’s criticisms at this time (the period of the, first five year plan – DH) coincide formally with ours ...”, “Stalin and Trotsky identified the construction of socialism with a. mere increase in the productive forces, themselves reduced to machines, the human factor being eliminated”, “Stalin made many mistakes some of them serious ...” and so on.

His standpoint, which is similar to that of Bettleheim, allows him to make quite penetrating criticisms of the views of Mandel and Maitan on the USSR and China.

But all this sophistication is deployed in the interests of an irrational dogma, a belief, which can only be described as quasi-religious, in the saviour from the East, the enthroned messiah in Peking and his new revelation – “the relation between the thought of Mao Tse-tung and Marxism- Leninism is exactly the same in nature as that between the thought of Lenin and that of Marx.”

He reminds me of nothing so much as a shrewd and well-trained Jesuit debating with a marxist. And, after all, that is what he is, a secularised Jesuit complete with learned pedantry.

We write “the thought of Mao Tse-tung” (pensee de Mao Tse-tung) and not “Mao Tse-tung thought” (pensee Mao Tse-tung) ... In good French “pensee Mao Tse-tung” would mean that Mao was a thought! When we asked the Chinese comrades ... they replied ... that someone in the translation department must have thought that “pensee Mao Tse-tung” rendered the Chinese turn of phrase more literally. Now, in Chinese there is no declension or genitive. It will be agreed that altering French syntax to render it closer to Chinese stems from a strange idea of faithfulness in translation.

You see, “we” are not entirely uncritical of things Chinese and the sacred Texts must be handled with great care and precision!

The publishers tell us that the publication in France of the first edition in 1971 “stimulated so much debate that a revised and enlarged edition was brought out in 1973. This book is the English translation of the latter.”

It would be interesting to know what was said of Lin Piao in the original. One (neutral) reference to the faithful companion, aide and heir-apparent of the great helmsman has survived the vigilance of Mavrakis’ revision. In November 1971, it will be recalled, Lin was cast down from heaven to join Liu Shao-chi as one of the twin, Lucifers of the new evangel.

I cannot honestly recommend this book except, perhaps, as a curiosity, as a specimen that shows how marxism, which began with the criticism of religion and of alt ideology, can itself be pressed into the service of the ideologists of a ruling class. To paraphrase Wesley: “the forms remain but the spirit is dead”. That will serve as an epitaph for Mavrakis’ “marxism”.


Last updated on 24.2.2008