Saturday, August 13, 2016

Trotsky 2/2

Concluding part of SOYMB's pen-portrait of the man that inspires hundreds to pretend to be Labour Party supporters and defend Jeremy Corbyn’s brand of reformism threatening to undermine British democracy, according to some of media’s hack reporters

Trotsky 2/2

Trotsky's personal qualities are of minor interests to socialists. Trotsky played an important role in the deliberations of the Russian Social-Democratic Party, although he was then only a young man in the twenties. When the split in this organisation took place at a conference in London in 1903, Trotsky took an individual stand. It is not true that he was a Menshevik, for, although he, like the Mensheviks, opposed Lenin's plan for an organisation of revolutionary conspirators to be controlled by a dictatorship in the centre, his fundamental views differed from both factions. Trotsky himself made it clear that he did not consider the controversy important enough to warrant a split, and continued to work with both groups in an attempt to re-establish unity.

Whereas both factions were agreed that the coming Russian Revolution would be essentially capitalist and that Russia would consequently have to pass through an era of capitalist democracy, Trotsky was alone in proclaiming that the overthrow of Czardom could be accomplished by the Russian movement alone, which could maintain itself in power and so cut out completely the period of capitalist transition. This point of view he elaborated into a theory called "Permanent Revolution." The basic points of this theory rest on the assumption that power could be held by Socialists in Russia long enough to enable the workers of the more advanced Western countries, helped, of course, by their Russian comrades, to introduce Socialism. Then the material backwardness of Russia could be overcome through the united efforts of a Socialist Europe. None of the Bolsheviks, including Lenin, accepted this view until after the seizure of power in October 1917. This theory is still the kernel of "Trotskyism."

Trotsky did not achieve military success without ruthless discipline, a ruthlessness which showed itself again in his suppression of the revolt of the sailors at Kronstadt. When charged by Kautsky with using methods of terrorism, Trotsky replied with a defence justifying the means by the end, as if the two could ever be separated.

Trotsky fell from power because his theory of Permanent Revolution and his consequent insistence on continued revolutionary agitation abroad would have cut off all technical aid from the Western world, and so made any attempt at industrial development more difficult in Russia. Another important factor was Trotsky's standing in the party clique which ruled the country. For although his military successes had probably made him the most popular man with the Russian masses, the Bolshevik party-machine, controlled by the secretary, Stalin, regarded him as an interloper.

In exile Trotsky played the role of "loyal opposition" to the Stalin regime in Russia. He was very critical of the political aspects of this regime (at least some of them, since he too stood for a one-party dictatorship in Russia), but to his dying day defended the view that the Russian revolution had established a "Workers State" in Russia (whatever that might be) and that this represented a gain for the working class both of Russia and of the whole world.

His view that Russia under Stalin was a Workers' State, not a perfect one, certainly, but a Workers' State nevertheless, was set out in his book The Revolution Betrayed first published in 1936. This is the origin of the Trotskyist dogma that Russia is a "degenerate Workers' State" in which a bureaucracy had usurped political power from the working class but without changing the social basis (nationalisation and planning).

How could the adjective "workers" be applied to a regime where workers could be sent to a labour camp for turning up late for work and shot for going on strike? Trotsky was only able to sustain his point of view by making the completely non-marxist assumption that capitalist distribution relations (the privileges of the Stalinist bureaucracy) could exist on the basis of socialist production relations. Marx, by contrast, had concluded, from a study of past and present societies, that the mode of distribution was entirely determined by the mode of production. Thus the existence of privileged distribution relations in Russia should itself have been sufficient proof that Russia had nothing to do with socialism. Trotsky rejected the view that Russia was state capitalist on the flimsiest of grounds: the absence of a private capitalist class, of private shareholders and bondholders who could inherit and bequeath their property. He failed to see that what made Russia capitalist was the existence there of wage-labour and capital accumulation not the nature and mode of recruitment of its ruling class.

Trotsky said in modern Russia there is no class exploitation, but only social parasitism. After making this distinction he innocently refers to its refutation but passes blindly on: "During the middle ages the clergy constituted a class or an estate, insofar as its rule depended upon a specific system of land property and forced labour." Well, well. So a ruling class needn't own individually, needn't be recruited by inheritance, needn't, in fact, possess any of the characteristics Trotsky considers so essential to a ruling class when it suits him. Bureaucratic class rule means that there is private property without private ownership, The bureaucracy owns and its members own through it—not as individuals but by virtue of their office. The Feudal Church is the classic case in Europe. The non-European world, which did not go through the stages of chattel slavery and feudalism, is littered with examples. We do not assess a society by what it says about itself (in its ideology or laws) but by its actual social relations. In determining the existence of a privileged class we are concerned primarily with the actual class monopoly of the means of production, and only secondarily with legal forms (stocks, shares or state property). Has Trotsky any stronger arguments? One of them is unanswerable. It hinges on the question how could a socialist revolution evolve gradually into capitalism? How indeed! This poser is certainly an embarrassment to those semi-Trotskyists who persist in the fallacy that there was anything socialist about the October coup. But once you realise that the Russian working-class has never held political power, the question vanishes.


Trotsky's view that Russia under Stalin was still some sort of "Workers State" was so absurd that it soon aroused criticism within the ranks of the Trotskyist movement itself which, since 1938, had been organised as the Fourth International. Two alternative views emerged. One was that Russia was neither capitalist nor a Workers State but some new kind of exploiting class society. The other was that Russia was state capitalist. The most easily accessible example of the first view is James Burnham's 'The Managerial Revolution' and of the second Tony Cliff's 'Russia: A Marxist Analysis'. Both books are well worth reading, though in fact neither Burnham nor Cliff could claim to be the originators of the theories they put forward. The majority of Trotskyists, however, remain committed to the dogma that Russia is a "degenerate Workers State". Trotsky entirely identified capitalism with private capitalism and so concluded that society would cease to be capitalist once the private capitalist class had been expropriated. This meant that, in contrast to Lenin who mistakenly saw state capitalism as a necessary step towards socialism, Trotsky committed the different mistake of seeing state capitalism as the negation of capitalism. Trotskyism, the movement he gave rise to, is a blend of Leninism and Reformism, committed on paper to replacing private capitalism with state capitalism, working to achieve state capitalism through reforms to be enacted by Labour governments.

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