Monday, August 21, 2017

The Death of Trotsky

Today is the 77th anniversary of the assassination of Trotsky.   This account of his political life
first appeared in the September 1940 edition of the Socialist Standard.

Through the attack of an assassin Leon Trotsky is dead. The Press reports that the attack was made in Trotsky's own home, the assailant having wormed his way into the aged revolutionary's friendship through many visits to his home in Mexico.

Thus the murderer avoided the usual search which the guards of Trotsky's person carry out in the case of all visitors, and so managed to conceal a small axe, with which the attack was made. Trotsky's dying words were to accuse the Russian Secret Police of the crime.

So ends the amazing career of one of the outstanding men of to-day. Trotsky (his real name was 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).

To understand the apparent contradiction of the spread of Marxism among "intellectuals" in a country so agrarian and backward as Russia, it would be necessary to go deeply into the subject, but perhaps one of the most important, certainly the immediate factor, was the absence of a strong, coherent capitalist class who could have directed the opposition to Feudal restrictions along orthodox capitalist lines.

Instead, the ferment was organised and led by “intellectuals," who took their cue from the most advanced social science which Europe then had (and still has) to offer.

In his own life-story, Trotsky tells us of the enthusiasm with which he plunged into Socialist study and the light which then suffused even the darkest and most perplexing problems.

It is curious, therefore, that a man so gifted as a writer as Trotsky undoubtedly was, has left little, if any, literary trace of his Marxist education. This is in contrast to men like Lenin, Martov, Riazanov, Bukharin and many other Russians, who have given us ample proof of their familiarity with the theoretical system of Marx.

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.

During this time he was continually in touch with the exiles who were planning revolt, and he 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.

But 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," and from the S.P.G.B. standpoint that kernel is rotten with error.

Lenin himself had to admit that their hopes for a Socialist revolution in the West had been frustrated, but he and Trotsky blamed this on bad and treacherous leadership.

What the Bolsheviks did not grasp, then any more than their would-be imitators can do to-day, is the need for an understanding of Socialism by a majority of the working-class. This understanding alone would make leadership, good or bad, impossible.

But Trotsky who himself failed to grasp all the implications of Socialism, continued to nourish these illusions to the end.

Hence his bitter opposition to Stalin, whom he accuses of having betrayed the "Socialist" Revolution in Russia.

Trotsky's role in the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks was second only to that of Lenin. This fact is generally recognised, except by the hide-bound followers of the present Russian Dictatorship.

His talent for military organisation and strategy helped to save the Bolsheviks from being defeated by the armies of the Czarist generals and the half-hearted intervention of the Allies.

This was often asserted by Lenin and, at the time, admitted by Stalin.

But Trotsky did not achieve this 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.

Socialism, the pinnacle of human development, can never be achieved by methods that are themselves reactionary and anti-human; it is more than the irony of his logic that Trotsky himself should have met his end in such a violent manner.

How can the fall of Trotsky be explained?

Trotsky himself ascribes it to the chicanery of Stalin and his associates, but this explanation is both shallow and misleading.

Fundamentally, 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. As already explained, Trotsky had maintained an individual stand until the October upheaval, therefore his hold on the Bolshevik party was not strong and was finally broken by the Stalin, Zinoviev, Kamenev clique.

The last two have since been legally murdered by their former associate; in this way Stalin has attained a personal power unequalled by any Czar.

Trotsky's misunderstanding was further exemplified by his contradictory attitude towards the Soviet Union. Bitterly hostile towards the regime, yet he urged that should Russia be involved in war, it would be the duty of all workers, inside or outside Russia, to fight in “defence” of that country, whilst at the same time working for the overthrow of Stalin.

This inconsistency he defended on the grounds that the Russian economic system, i.e., state control, was essentially working-class, and apparently required only a change in its political administration to perfect it for working-class needs.

This error is bound up with Trotsky's confusion between State-capitalism and Socialism, evidence of which can be found in his writings.

Trotsky's personal qualities are of minor interests to Socialists. As a political pamphleteer he was outstanding and he was also a first-class orator. But unless the world-proletariat can harness such gifts to serve the struggle for Socialism, they will be wasted and even harmful to workers' interests, although, and as in the case of Leon Trotsky, there is no doubt that his whole life was sincerely dedicated to their cause.
Sid Rubin

No comments: