With the media on a feeding frenzy of how various Trotskyist groups are re-newing their political strategy of entering the Labour Party, (with parts of the media claiming in effect that Jeremy Corbyn is holding open the door and ushering them in), perhaps it is time that SOYMB gives a view on Trotsky. This is Part 1. Part 2 will be tomorrow.
“Comrades, none of us wants to be or can be right against the party. In the last analysis, the party is always right”- Trotsky
The debates between Trotskyists and Stalinists always revolved around such questions of leadership – if only the leaders had acted in such-and-such a way, things would have turned out better.
Trotsky (Lev Davidovitch Bronstein) was the son of a well-to-do Jewish farmer in the Russian Ukraine. In early youth, whilst he was yet studying at High School in Odessa, he became an active member of the Russian Revolutionary Movement, whose fundamental aim was the overthrow of Czarist Autocracy. So far he was merely expressing the general need and feeling of Russian intellectuals, teachers, civil servants and such like, whose scandalously low pay added fuel to their intellectual abhorrence of a medieval despotism. Soon, however, the character of the Russian Revolutionary Movement changed completely. The doctrines of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, interpreted and disseminated in Russia by theoreticians like Plekhanov, Struve and Axelrod in the first place, swept aside the curious mixture of destructive Nihilism and Western Liberalism so typically represented by the Party known as “Narodnaya Volya" (People's Will). After spending some time in Russian prisons and Siberian exile, years of hardship and suffering which left their mark on Trotsky's health, he managed to escape only to be arrested again as one of the ringleaders of the revolt at Petrograd in 1905. Escaping once more, he left Russia and spent the intervening years until the Bolshevik uprising in October 1917, in various European countries and, finally, the United States.
Trotsky, before he himself became a Bolshevik, likened Lenin to Robespierre, a comparison which was to be borne out after the October Revolution. Trotsky, as leader of the Red Army, became the potential Bonaparte in the eyes of the Bolshevik Party bureaucrats. Stalin began his dominance of the Soviet government as part of a faction with the sole purpose to prevent Trotsky having a majority which would enable him to take Lenin's place. This faction was aided by the fear that Trotsky as commander of the Red Army (with a predilection for being seen in public military uniforms) could assume the role of a military dictator. Such fears would have been stoked by his support, in 1921, for the militarisation of labour, in effect placing the workers under his personal direct command. Trotsky was out-manoeuvred by Stalin, and eventually driven out of Russia, whereupon he tried to position himself as head of the loyal opposition to the Bolshevik regime.
Despite presenting themselves as mortal enemies, the camp followers of Leon Trotsky and Josef Stalin were competing government management teams operating under the same basic philosophy – that the workers could not, as a whole, come to socialist consciousness and bring socialism about for themselves. Thoroughly convinced that the workers could not come to understand and want socialism both Trotskyists and Stalinists orientated themselves towards working with official reformist organisations. Instead of standing clearly and forthrightly for socialism, they ape the manoeuvres and sounds of official Labourism, seeking to influence non-socialist workers through tactical manipulation, rather than convince them to change their minds. The use of the term 'socialist' by Trotsky and his ilk to describe repressive one-party dictatorships makes all the harder the spreading of the idea of a democratic world society based on majority will.
Many on the Left have come to believe that had Trotsky, and not Stalin, succeeded Lenin at the head of the Russian ruling group in 1924 the terror and suffering endured by the Russian people would have been avoided and Russia would have achieved genuine socialism. All the evidence militates against this hypothesis. Trotsky had been a party both to the outlawing of other organisations by the Bolsheviks in 1918 and to the murderous activity of the Bolshevik secret police, the Cheka, in the years following. He favoured exterminatory measures against minorities such as the Jews (despite being one himself) and in 1921 personally supervised the smashing by artillery fire of a revolt by sailors at Kronstadt, who had passed a resolution seeking relaxations of the regime's laws on forcible requisitioning of food from the peasants.
So quite clearly Trotsky had no compunction about shedding blood and inflicting suffering on those who stood in his way. But even had he been a different kind of man, once in power the circumstances of a huge, backward country dragging itself up out of feudalism into the modern industrial world would have inevitably imposed upon him policies which, while perhaps not as harsh as the excesses of Stalin's reign, would have involved trampling on all opposition to the speedy development of Russian state capitalism.
Only Trotskyists are interested in Trotsky these days. Trotsky was one of the arch-perpetrators of the Bolshevik reign of terror and he himself must have been haunted by the ghosts of those who he had sent to their doom. Trotsky has left a dubious political legacy. Apart from scores of squabbling Trotskyist sects, there’s the justification for a reformist practice called ‘transitional demands’. After losing out in a power struggle for the privilege of presiding over the exploitation of millions, Trotsky, this butcher of the working-class, dared to come before the workers of the world offering himself as a solution. "The world political situation as a whole is chiefly characterized by a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat.”
Trotsky, faced with the task of defending a "workers' state" which "strangles" the workers, attacks those who claim it is not a workers' state by accusing them of holding "ideal norms." He is arguing that an animal in every single respect like a fox is in some mysterious magical way really a lamb. All those who point to the foxy fangs, ears, and bushy tail are derided as proponents of the "ideal norm" of lambs! Trotsky can only state his case by thus resisting any attempt to introduce the slightest discipline in the matter of definitions. He reveals his lack of grasp of the basic goal of SSocialism when he talks of "the monetary-system which will be very much needed for socialist planning." In The Revolution Betrayed, he actually terms the abolition of wages an anarchist demand! Those poor old anarchists Marx and Engels!
Anton Ciliga was a founding member of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia who went to Russia in 1926 and was eventually imprisoned and then exiled to Siberia for "trotskyism". Ciliga eventually came to realise that Russia was state capitalist and that the Party bureaucracy was a new ruling class. This, naturally, meant that he ceased to be a Trotskyist. In fact he came to see Trotsky as no different in principle from Stalin. As he put it himself:
"Trotsky as well as Stalin wished to pass off the State as being the proletariat, the bureaucratic dictatorship over the proletariat as the proletarian dictatorship, the victory of State capitalism over both private capitalism and socialism as a victory of the latter. The difference between Trotsky and Stalin lay in the fact that in his victory Stalin saw the triumph of pure socialism, pure dictatorship of the proletariat, whereas Trotsky perceived and stressed the gaps and bureaucratic deformations of the system."