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New Left Review I/64, November-December 1970

Tamara Deutscher

Letter from Ceylon

Addressing himself in 1923 to the students of the Communist University of the Toilers of the East in Moscow, Trotsky tried to make them aware of the dangers that Marxism ran in the colonial and semicolonial countries. National movements for independence, argued Trotsky, constitute a highly progressive phenomenon in world history. At the same time, the struggle for national self-determination is a struggle for strictly limited national-bourgeois aims. ‘Marxism preached the inevitability of capitalism, and those bourgeois-progressive elements which wanted capitalism for its own sake and not for the sake of socialism accepted Marxism, having previously deprived it of its revolutionary sting.’ (My italics.) Further: ‘Such is the case in all the countries . . . in which the national struggle for liberation from colonial slavery is going on. The young proletariat . . . [there] must rely on this progressive movement for support. But it is clear as daylight, that the young Marxists of the East run the risk of . . . becoming permeated with nationalist ideology.’

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