I agree with Ian Birchall’s comment on the rôle that Revolutionary History can play in educating a new generation of revolutionaries about the history of the Trotskyist movement (Autumn 1989). I do happen to believe that the organisation of which I am a member (the British SWP – not the RCP as some sections of the bourgeois press would have us believe!) does stand firmly in the Trotskyist tradition. But that belief is a matter not of faith or affirmation, but of discussion, debate and, no doubt, disagreement. Here again Revolutionary History has a rôle to play.
The question that arose when reading Birchall’s letter was whether or not Revolutionary History could be better fitted than at present to fulfil that rôle. There should, of course, be a duty to resist petty sectarianism, while at the same time maintaining a keen critical edge. The kind of bland praise which, for example, characterises the book reviews in Labour Research, can have no place in a Trotskyist journal.
What I think should have a place is twofold. Firstly, there should be histories of the figures who have played, and are still playing, significant rôles in the world Trotskyist movement – not an account of the errors and omissions of a Pablo or a Mandel, but a review of their political trajectory – books, papers, organisations and references on where to find more.
Secondly, and here I am perhaps on more controversial ground, there should be some consideration of the renegades from Trotskyism, contentious because it all too readily calls to mind Healyism, and it is sometimes questionable whether the phrase ‘renegade’ should be applied anyway. But surely it is of interest to explore what factors caused people to leave the Trotskyist movement, and where they went afterwards. Perhaps a start could be made with some current Labour MPs. Both Rob Clay and Eric Heffer could provide good accounts of themselves, if willing, which would also provide useful oral labour history.
Finally, there is the wider question which might usefully be explored, of what Trotskyist history is anyway. Is is just ensuring that archives exist and feed into current debate? Or is there something specific about ‘Trotskyist’ history which sets it part from general labour and Marxist histories? In the sense that it is almost always a history ‘against the stream’ this does suggest some points worthy of exploration, I would suggest.