Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 7 No. 3
Both Al Richardson and Jim Higgins used their reviews in Revolutionary History, Volume 7, no. 2, 1999, to rehash the tired old myth of Bruno Rizzi. Rizzi is represented as the originator or the best example of the view that the Stalinist USSR was a new socio-economic formation, ‘bureaucratic collectivism’. The so-called evidence for this myth is extremely flimsy.
Revolutionary History, Volume 2, no. , Summer 1989, contained on page 37 an interview with Nils Dahl about Trotsky in Norway. Dahl says: ‘The only time I found him without an answer was when we spoke of Bruno Rizzi’s book, and I took it up with him. He evaded the question and said that if that is correct we will have to alter all our opinions. Rizzi stated that Stalinism and National Socialism would grow closer and closer together. I do not know if we read Rizzi’s book in manuscript. We heard an Austrian speak on this called Bruno. I thought that it was Rizzi.’ A footnote added by the editors suggested that this book was Rizzi’s Where is Russia Going?
This is all a muddle. Rizzi was Italian, not Austrian, and no other evidence has been adduced to show that he met Trotsky. Trotsky left Norway in late December 1936, yet Rizzi’s book was written in March 1937, and published later that June. (Rizzi’s other work, Anti-Labriola, was written around the same time). According to Adam Westoby, Where is the USSR Going? was ‘largely a paraphrase – in parts a direct translation – of the Revolution Betrayed’, and therefore hardly likely to confound Trotsky. Dahl’s slip, in an interview 50 years after he knew Trotsky, is compounded by the editors, who clutch at straws, desperately trying to pre-date Rizzi’s later views.
Within the Trotskyist movement some comrades were developing a view that the bureaucracy was a new class. From Trotsky’s correspondence with his French supporters in 1935, we know that Craipeau and others had raised doubts about his theory. Dahl was probably recalling discussions with genuine Trotskyists who were developing a new class perspective at the time, and who engaged Trotsky in correspondence whilst he was in Norway (cf. Trotsky, The Class Nature of the Soviet State, 1 January 1936, Writings 1935–36, pp. 223–6). Trotsky had discussed these conceptions for a decade before Rizzi’s first literary flourish – they were already in the air, including from leading left oppositionists such as Rakovsky. The idea that Rizzi was the originator of new class theories is simply preposterous.
The other reference, in Revolutionary History, Volume 4, no. 4, Spring 1993, p. 169, is in a review by Al Richardson of Robert Alexander’s book on Trotskyism. Referring to the entry on the 1939–40 debate in the American Socialist Workers Party, the review claimed that from this book, ‘we learn officially for the first time on the authority of Emanuel Geltman that despite the repeated disclaimers of Burnham and Shachtman, ‘the SWP leaders were “aware” of Bruno Rizzi’s “new class” views on the Soviet Union’.
In fact, Alexander wrote: ‘Emanuel Geltman insists that although the SWP leaders were aware of the existence of this pamphlet, none of the three who first raised the issue in the party had read it, and he was sure that Joseph Carter did not get the idea from the Bruno R. document.’ This is not a damning admission, but a direct rebuttal of the charge of plagiarism. Rizzi had written letters to Trotsky during 1938–39 which may well have been passed on or discussed with the SWP leadership. But this is not proof that the participants in the debate of 1939–40 read the book at the time, nor that Rizzi was the intellectual author of ‘bureaucratic collectivism’. Westoby’s verdict on plagiarism was that ‘the accusation is unproven, and unlikely to be true’.
What is the real significance of the Rizzi myth? Firstly, Rizzi has been used as a wicked fairy to scare Marxists who have tried to evolve a new class analysis of Stalinism. With what is now known about Rizzi, this is plainly a smear. Rizzi was never a member of a Trotskyist group, and in fact was ‘pushed away’ by Socialist organisations because of his mental instability and the suspicion aroused by his ability to travel freely to and from Mussolini’s Italy. His book, La Bureaucratisation du Monde (1939) was banned by the French authorities because of its anti-Semitism (hence its rarity), and it was in essence a treatise for the Socialist capitulation to Fascism. For example, he wrote that the proletariat still had a ‘very important task to accomplish, to acknowledge Herr Hitler and Mr Mussolini as the gravediggers of international capitalism ... and help them in their task’!!! Workers Liberty, no. 57, September 1999, recently published Hal Draper’s testimony on this, which can be consulted for the record.
Secondly, Rizzi’s theoretical insights on Stalinism were pretty weak, gleaned from ideas circulating at the time. Yet Trotsky did not use Rizzi for demonisation. He used Rizzi as a mask for his own thinking, a trajectory which he had established in The Revolution Betrayed when he wrote that in the USSR: ‘The state owns the economy and the bureaucracy, so to speak, owns the state.’ Trotsky argued in 1939 that if the USSR survived the war, without giving way to capitalist restoration or working-class revolution, then it would have to be considered as a new form of class society based on nationalised property. The debates in 1939–40 were not about the nature of Stalinism in any case, but the minority which left the SWP to form the Workers Party did go on to develop this trend in Trotsky’s thinking into theories of bureaucratic collectivism.
More significantly, two different stands of Trotskyism emerged. The ‘orthodox’ followers in the Fourth International, who equated nationalised property with progress, greeted the spread of Stalinism, adapting first to the victorious Russian Army, and later to Tito, Mao and Castro, whom they credited with creating workers’ states without the active, self-conscious intervention of the working class. If anyone is the heir to Rizzi’s ‘theory’, it is these people. The ‘revisionists’ in the Workers Party developed the critical element in Trotsky’s writings, maintaining a focus on the working class as the agent of Socialist change and the first victim of Stalinist exploitation. Despite their limitations, this tendency succeeded in salvaging the rational kernel of Trotsky’s ideas on Stalinism for the real Marxist tradition, and helped preserve independent working-class politics, which they called the ‘Third Camp’.
These ideas are discussed in some depth in The Fate of the Russian Revolution (1998). Revolutionary History could be of real service to the movement if it took up the ideological challenge of this book. Sadly, Jim Higgins didn’t even try. But regurgitating old myths really is no use at all.
The Editor replies:
I refer readers to Walter Kendall’s piece Bruno Rizzi in London (Revolutionary History, Volume 4, no. 3, pp. 90–2), in which he says: ‘The Houghton Library at Harvard which houses the Trotsky Archives holds six letters from Rizzi to Trotsky dated between 10 December 1938 and 9 July 1939, mailed from Chicago, Milan, Paris and London. Under cover of these letters the fateful text of La Bureaucratisation du Monde was mailed to Trotsky in Mexico City.’ Kendall also cites Margaret Johns’ statement that Rizzi met with Trotskyists in London at the end of the 1930s, and that she read some of his material on the subject of the bureaucratic revolution. How are we to explain that away? Why try to deny it? Rizzi’s views were known and discussed, by Trotsky and others.
Updated by ETOL: 3.10.2011