Third camp: Wikis


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The third camp, also known as third camp socialism or third camp Trotskyism, is a branch of socialism which aims to support neither capitalism nor Stalinism, by supporting the organised working class as a "third camp".

The term arose early during the Second World War, and refers to the idea of two "imperialist camps" competing to dominate the world: one led by the United Kingdom and France and supported by the United States, and the other led by Nazi Germany and supported by Fascist Italy and the Soviet Union (which at the time was cooperating with Germany to partition Poland).


Origins of the term

"Third Camp" is a term which first emerged during the first days of the Second World War. From the 1930s and beyond, Leon Trotsky and his American acolyte James P. Cannon described the Soviet Union as a "degenerated workers' state," the revolutionary gains of which should be defended against imperialist aggression despite the emergence of a gangster-like ruling stratum, the party bureaucracy. While defending the Russian revolution from outside aggression, Trotsky, Cannon, and their followers at the same time urged an anti-bureaucratic political revolution against Stalinism to be conducted by the Soviet working class themselves.

Dissidents in the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party, witnessing the collaboration of Stalin and Hitler in the invasion and partition of Poland and Soviet invasion of the Baltic states, argued that the Soviet Union had actually emerged as a new social formation, neither capitalist nor socialist. Adherents of this view, espoused most explicitly by Max Shachtman and closely following the writings of James Burnham and Bruno Rizzi, argued that the Soviet bureaucratic collectivist regime had in fact entered one of two great imperialist "camps" aiming to wage war to divide the world. The first of these imperialist camps, which Stalin and the Soviet Union were said to have joined as a directly participating ally, was headed by Nazi Germany and included most notably fascist Italy. The "second imperialist camp," in this original analysis, was headed by England and France, actively supported by the United States.[1]

Shachtman and his co-thinkers argued for the establishment of a broad "third camp" to unite the workers and colonial peoples of the world in revolutionary struggle against the imperialism of the German-Soviet-Italian and Anglo-American-French blocs. Shachtman concluded that the USSR's policy was one of imperialism and that the best result for the international working class would be the defeat of the USSR in the course of its military incursions. Conversely, Trotsky argued that a defeat for the USSR would strengthen capitalism and reduce the possibilities for political revolution.[2]

With the demise of fascism in World War II and the emergence of Soviet-controlled governments in Central and Eastern Europe, the "three camps" conception was modified. Now the leading imperialist camp was held to be that of the chief capitalist powers — the USA, the United Kingdom, and France — with the Soviet Union consigned to a second imperialist camp.

Over time, Shachtman's aggressive calls for the defeat of official Communist nations' expansionism (the second camp) drifted rightward into support for the capitalist nations (the first camp). This position has led mainstream Trotskyist groups to declare the position reactionary. However, some supporters of the three camps analysis split with Shachtman and continued to develop their analyses of the changing world situation.

Organizational support of the three camps theory

The Congress Socialist Party of India also adopted a Third Camp position, with the slogan “We want neither the rule of London or Berlin; nor the rule of Paris or Rome; nor that of Tokyo or Moscow.” (September 1939).[3]

A third camp position is held today by the Workers Liberty groups[4], New Politics[5], and by some in the multi-tendency Marxist organization Solidarity in the United States, as well as some in the Democratic Socialists of America and the Socialist Party USA.


Many critics of the Third Camp tradition have argued that it tends to lead its adherents, sooner or later, into support for U.S. interventionism, as the only force willing and able to defend human rights and democracy against movements or regimes that are thought to pose a threat to them, such as (historically) Stalinism and (more recently) "Political Islam" and various Third World dictators, like Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic. The main source of evidence advanced on behalf of this criticism has been anecdotal: the long list of ex-Third Camp adherents who ended up as either neoconservatives[6] or "hawkish" social democrats. Among the people who passed through the Schachtmanite movement are the following: Elliott Abrams (briefly associated with the Young People's Socialist League [YPSL] in 1969, long after the Schachtmanites left), Gertrude Himmelfarb, Jeane Kirkpatrick (briefly associated with YPSL in 1945, after the Schachtmanites left), Linda Chavez, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Irving Kristol, and former "left Schachtmanite", Alan Johnson, a co-sponsor of the Euston Manifesto, which attacks critics of the Iraq War as appeasers of tyranny and calls for the renewal of an imperial or "democracy-promoting" approach to British military deployment.[2] All of these figures have been vocal advocates of an assertive use of military power by the United States, notably in Iraq. However, support for American interventionism - whether enthusiastically or as a form of "lesser evilism" is not itself a Third Camp position.[7]

Other uses of the term

More recently, a movement by the Worker-Communist Party of Iran and its leaders such as Hamid Taqvaee and Maryam Namazie, together with groups including Left Worker-communist Party of Iraq, has emerged calling for a "Third camp opposing US militarism and Islamic terrorism"[3]. This, however, is unrelated to the Trotskyist third camp theory, as neither organisation comes from a Trotskyist background.


  1. ^ See, for example, "Against Both War Camps — For the Camp of World Labor!" the May Day 1940 manifesto of the Workers Party, the political offshoot of the SWP established by Burnham, Shachtman, and Martin Abern in April 1940. (Labor Action, "Special May Day Preview Number," May 1, 1940, pg. 1.)
  2. ^ A series of sharply critical articles and letters from Trotsky's debates with Shachtman was published posthumously under the title In Defense of Marxism. Cannon's polemics against Burnham and Shachtman are contained in the book The Struggle for a Proletarian Party.
  3. ^ Sherman Stanley "India and the Third Camp" (April 1940)
  4. ^ Workers’ Liberty and the “Third Camp”
  5. ^ Alan Johnson "The Third Camp as History And a Living Legacy"
  6. ^ According to John B. Judis, in a Foreign Affairs article[1] on the link between Third Camp Trotskyism and neoconservatism, "Many of the founders of neoconservatism, including The Public Interest founder Irving Kristol and coeditor Nathan Glazer, Sidney Hook, and Albert Wohlstetter, were either members of or close to the Trotskyist left in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Younger neoconservatives, including Penn Kemble, Joshua Muravchik, and Carl Gershman, came through the Socialist Party at a time when former Trotskyist Max Schachtman was still a commanding figure."
  7. ^ Alan Johnson "Neither Washington Nor Moscow": The Third Camp as History And a Living Legacy New Politics, vol. 7, no. 3 (new series), whole no. 27, Summer 1999

External links

See also



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