[Book] Lenin and Trotsky - What they really stood for

Appendix A – Trotsky: His Ideas

By Monty Johnstone*

Leon Trotsky (1879-1940) to whose heritage half a dozen warring Trotskyist groups lay claim, is a major, though extremely controversial, figure in the history of inter­national socialism, who played a role second only to Lenin in the leadership of the Russian Socialist Revolution of October 1917.

Before 1917

Born into a well-to-do Jewish farmer’s family he joined the workers’ movement as a young man in South Russia at the end of the last century. Soon embracing Marxism and joining the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, he suffered years of prison and exile for his revolutionary activities. One of the most brilliant orators and writers of this centu­ry, he played a leading role in the St. Petersburg (now Leningrad) Soviet (Council) of Workers’ Delegates in 1905 in the first Russian Revolution against the tsarist autocracy. After the revolution was crushed, he was sentenced in 1906 to life deportation in Siberia from which he made a dramatic escape. From 1907 till 1914 he lived with his family in Vienna working as correspondent for a Russian liberal daily, whilst editing his own socialist paper for illegal circulation in Russia. When the First World War broke out in 1914 he opposed it as an imperialist struggle by both groups of powers and took part in 1915 in the Zimmerwald Conference of Internationalist Socialists alongside Lenin, although the two men were extremely critical of each other’s tactical positions. After the beginning of the war Trotsky had moved to Switzerland and then to France, from which he was deported, making his way to the USA early in 1917.

(a) Trotsky, Lenin and the Bolshevik Party

When the Trotskyists present Trotsky as the comrade-in-arms of Lenin and the true representative of Leninism after his death, it is important to be aware that in fact Trotsky only worked with Lenin in the Bolshevik Party for six years (1917-23). “He had passed the earlier thirteen or fourteen years,” as his highly sympathetic but also extremely objective biographer Isaac Deutscher notes, “in factional struggle against Lenin, assailing him with ferocious personal insults, as ‘slovenly attorney’, as ‘hideous caricature of Robespierre, malicious and morally repulsive’, as ‘exploiter of Russian backwardness’, ‘demoraliser of the Russian working class’, etc. – insults compared with which Lenin’s rejoinders were restrained, almost mild.”[1]

The basis for this antagonism was Trotsky’s violent opposition to Lenin’s struggle to build up a stable, centralised and disciplined Marxist party. When at the second congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party a split took place between the Bolsheviks (majority of the Central Committee elected at the Congress), who favoured such a party, and the Mensheviks (minority), who wanted a much looser form of organisation, Trotsky sided with the latter, and belonged to the five-man shadow Central Committee that they formed. Reporting on the congress he said that Lenin had “assumed the role of the party’s disorganiser”, and impelled by a yearning for power, was imposing upon the party a “state of siege” and his “iron fist”.[2] In 1904 he left the Mensheviks and, though continuing to write for their press and even having occasion to act abroad on their behalf, was to remain from then till 1917 formally outside of both parties. (Outlining his life in 1937, by a sleight of hand he changed the date of the emergence of Bolshevism and Menshevism as separate tendencies from 1903 to 1904 in order that he could present himself as never having belonged to the Mensheviks, adding that his line had “coincided in every fundamental way” with Lenin’s.)[3] However, during all this time he never changed his Menshevik views on the party, which he developed with great virulence in 1904 in his booklet Our Political Tasks, dedicated to his “dear teacher”, the Menshevik leader Axelrod and described by Deutscher as “the most strident bill of impeachment that any socialist had ever drawn up against Lenin”.[4] (When in the 1920s, Trotsky’s works were published in Russia, he did not have it included.)

Lenin had argued, most fully in his What is to be done? (published in 1902), that left to itself the working class would only obtain “trade union consciousness”, i.e. an awareness of the need to struggle for economic demands within the framework of capital­ism. Socialist consciousness needed to be brought to the workers from outside and social­ist intellectuals who had mastered Marxist theory had a particularly important role to play here. In this pamphlet, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back (1904), Lenin went on to stress the need however for the workers in the Party, who had acquired a sense of discipline and organisation through their industrial experience, to transmit this to the intellectuals who acquired it with much greater difficulty.[5] Completely distorting this complementary role of workers and intellectuals in the Russian workers’ party as Lenin conceived it and disdain­fully respecting his notion of party discipline, Trotsky wrote: “According to Lenin’s new philosophy … it suffices for the proletarian to pass through the ‘school of the factory’ to give the intellectuals, who are meanwhile playing the leading role in his party, lessons in political discipline … the Russian proletariat should tomorrow, according to Lenin’s cry, give a rigorous lesson to ‘anarchic individualism’ … What indignation seizes you when you read these disgraceful and dissolutely demagogic lines. That very proletariat that yesterday you were saying was spontaneously drawn to ‘trade unionism’ is today already called upon to give lessons in political discipline. And to whom? To that very intelligentsia to which, according to yesterday’s scheme, belonged the role of bringing to the proletariat from out­side its class, its political consciousness … And that is Marxism … Indeed, it is impossible to treat the best ideological heritage of the proletariat with greater cynicism than is done by Lenin.”[6]

Lenin made it perfectly clear that he favoured a democratic party in which the Party congress was sovereign and considered that “the struggle between shades of opin­ion inside the Party is unavoidable and necessary as long as it does not lead to anarchy and to a split.”[7] Trotsky, however, as so often in his later life, substituted swashbuckling rhetoric and the flights of fancy for a calm examination of his opponent’s position.

Lenin’s methods, he wrote, would lead to a situation where “the Party organisation (appa­ratus) ‘substitutes’ itself for the Party, the Central Committee substitutes itself for the Party organisation, and finally a ‘dictator’ substitutes himself for the CC…”[8] And he went on to ascribe immorality, suspiciousness and intolerance to Lenin, whom he described as the “leader of the reactionary wing of our Party.”[9] Yet this was the very same Lenin of whom he was later to write: “Patience and loyalty towards the opposition were among the most important traits of his leadership.”[10]

In the years following the defeat of the 1905 Revolution, Trotsky played the role of a “conciliator”, trying to smooth over the differences between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, a large part of whom now in practice favoured the liquidation of the underground revolutionary party and its replacement by a legal reformist Labour Party. “Trotsky,” wrote Lenin in December 1910, “represents his own personal vacillations and nothing more.” After describing his year by year move from one position to another, Lenin went on: “One day Trotsky plagiarises from the ideological stock-in-trade of one faction, the next day he plagiarises from that of another, and therefore declares himself to be stand­ing above both factions.”[11] The “standpoint of a matchmaker”, constituted “the entire ‘ide­ological basis’” of his conciliationism,[12] remarked Lenin the previous year. “He always manages to ‘creep into the cracks’ of this or that difference of opinion, and desert one side for the other,” he observed on another occasion.[13] When in 1912 the Bolsheviks finally split from the Mensheviks and constituted their own independent party, Trotsky reacted by organising the unprincipled “August Bloc” with the Mensheviks including “liquidators” and a rag-tag and bobtail of other groups of anti-Bolshevik émigrés that quickly fell apart. He was motivated by his unbridled opposition to Lenin and the Bolshevik Party, which united the bulk of politically active socialist workers in Russia itself. “The rotten discord systematically incited by Lenin, the master of this art, the professional exploiter of the backwardness of the Russian labour movement, appears like an absurd nightmare,” he wrote to the Menshevik leader Chkheidze in 1913. “Lenin has made the paper [Pravda] into a tool for his sectarian intrigues and his disruptive tendencies … In a word, the whole of Leninism at this moment is founded on lies and falsehood and contains the seed of its own decay … the gangrene will not be long in setting in among the Leninists.” And he goes on to favour a policy of “destruction of the very basis of Leninism, which is incompatible with the organisation of the workers into a political party but flourishes perfectly on the dung of splits”.[14] (This letter was found after the October Revolution in the archives of the tsarist secret police. When Olminsky, the president of the Commission of Party History, asked him whether it should be published, he replied that this would be “inopportune”, adding paternalistically: “The reader of today will not understand, will not apply the nec­essary historical correctives and will simply be confused.”[15] This was precisely the Stalinist motivation for the suppression and falsification of historical documents that was in later years to be so roundly and so correctly denounced by Trotsky himself!)

Writing of this period of Trotsky’s life, Isaac Deutscher comments: “The years between 1907 and 1914 form in his life a chapter singularly devoid of political achievement … Trotsky does not claim any practical revolutionary achievement to his credit. In these years, however, Lenin, assisted by his followers, was forging his party, and men like Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin and, later, Stalin were growing to a stature which enabled them to play leading parts within the party in 1917.”[16] Trotsky, in fact, as we have seen, devoted himself at this time to endeavouring to obstruct the birth and development of this party without which, as he was to recognise later, the socialist revolution could never have succeeded in Russia.

“I had not freed myself at that period especially in the organisational sphere from the traits of a petty-bourgeois revolutionist,” Trotsky was to acknowledge at the end of his life. “I was sick with the disease of conciliationism toward Menshevism and with a distrustful attitude toward Leninist centralism.”[17] The SLL** do not wish to dwell on this. Though they are normally without equals when it comes to looking into people’s political pasts, they have no taste for it when the subject is Trotsky. “What is the point of all those details about the disputes between Lenin and Trotsky in the early 1900s?” they ask Communist Party members. “On the question of party organisation Trotsky admitted that he was wrong and Lenin was right when he joined the Bolshevik Party in 1917, and ever afterwards he defended Lenin against the people who tried to use Trotsky’s early writings on organisation against Leninism.”[18]

The fact is, however, that although Trotsky was to join the Bolshevik Party in July 1917, under the impetus of the oncoming October Revolution in which he was to play an outstanding role, we find in these fourteen years of Trotsky’s life (between the crucial ages of 24 and 37) the very inability to devote himself in a non-revolutionary period to the over­riding task of building up a solid organisation, fitting himself into its ranks, and hence being prepared to submit himself to its collective leadership and discipline that was to reveal itself again after the storms of revolution had died down. In the fiasco of the Fourth International that he was to endeavour to create in the 1930s can be seen the same inabili­ty to create a stable revolutionary organisation of his own, whilst hurling abuse from the sidelines at those who have done this, as Lenin noted in the collapse of Trotsky’s August (1912) Bloc.[19] In Trotsky’s personal mud-slinging at Lenin in these early years can be seen what his biographer described as “a characteristic of which he could never quite free him­self: he could not separate ideas from men.”[20] It is something that the SLL and The Newsletter have inherited from him. It would be unhistorical indeed if, in evaluating Trotsky, we were to ignore his struggle against Bolshevism during the first fourteen years of its existence – or consider the matter closed by quoting a remark that Lenin is alleged on Trotsky’s authority[21] – to have made in November 1917 (in the midst of the Revolution and after the latter had been in the Party less than four months) to the effect that after he had understood that unity with the Mensheviks was impossible, “there was no better Bolshevik than Trotsky.”[22]

(b) Trotsky’s Theory of ‘Permanent Revolution’

“One ought not to bring up these old disagreements,” between Lenin and Trotsky on the Party, the SLL tell us, “without also mentioning that on the question of the course and character of the Russian Revolution, Lenin came over to Trotsky’s position in April 1917.”[23] The Trotskyist ideologist Ernest Mandel, in his recent apologia for Trotsky, writes:

 “Nobody will dispute that Trotsky rejected the essence of Lenin’s theory of organisation before 1917. In justice to Trotsky it must be added, however, that before 1917 Lenin like­wise rejected the necessity of adopting as the strategic goal for the coming Russian Revolution the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The victory of the October Revolution resulted from a historical combination of Lenin’s theory and practice of the revolutionary vanguard party, and Trotsky’s theory and practice of the permanent revolution.[24] To assess this claim and the theory of “permanent revolution” crucial to Trotskyism we must look first at the old Russia of the Tsars.

Tsarist Russia entered the 20th Century as a backward, oppressive, semi-feudal country consisting predominantly of poor peasants but with a small and militant working class in a relatively small number of industrial centres. Marx and Engels saw a similar situation in Germany in 1848 when they wrote the Communist Manifesto describing the immediate task of the communists there as support for the coming bourgeois revolution against the absolute monarchy and the feudal squirearchy which would clear the way for a direct struggle by the workers against capitalism.[25] In their Address to the League of Communists of March 1850 they saw ahead a revolutionary drama in two acts, the first a bourgeois-democratic revolution that the workers should support and push forward that would bring to power the middle class democrats, the second, a socialist one, that would bring the workers to power. “It is our interest and our task to make the revolution permanent, until all more or less possessing classes have been forced out of their position of dom­inance, until the proletariat has conquered state power, and advanced towards socialism in all the dominant countries of the world,” they wrote. “The workers’ battle cry must be: ‘The revolution in permanence’.”[26]

Lenin and the Bolsheviks basing themselves on this conception of permanent revolution and applying it to the specific conditions of Russia, saw the Russian people faced “not with the task of making a socialist revolution; but with the task of making a democ­ratic revolution.”[27] Such a bourgeois-democratic revolution, wrote Lenin in 1905 in his Two Tactics of Social Democracy, would “for the first time properly clear the ground for a wide and rapid European, and not Asiatic, development of capitalism,” and “for the first time make it possible for the bourgeoisie to rule as a class.”[28] At best it would “bring about a radical redistribution of the land to the advantage of the peasantry, establish consistent and full democracy including the republic, eliminate all the oppressive features of Asiatic bondage, not only of village but also of factory life”, as well as improving the living standards of the workers and sparking off revolution in Europe.[29] The bourgeoisie, too inconsis­tent and too prone to compromise with tsarism, could not be entrusted with leading such a revolution, as the Mensheviks believed. The working class would need to play “the part of leader of the people’s revolution,”[30] in alliance with the mass of the peasantry. It was at present a minority. “It can become the great overwhelming majority,” he wrote, “only if it combines with the mass of semi-proletarians, semi-small proprietors, i.e. with the mass of the petty-bourgeois, urban and rural poor.” Arguing against the view of the Russo-German Social Democrat Parvus that if the revolution against tsarism was to be led by the workers, it should put in power a workers’ government, Lenin went on: “Such a composition of the social basis of the possible and desirable revolutionary-democratic dictatorship will, of course, find its reflection in the composition of the revolutionary government. With such a composition the participation or even the predominance of the most diversified represen­tatives of revolutionary democracy in such a government will be inevitable.”[31] For Lenin and the Bolsheviks the strategic goal of the whole period up to February 1917 was the overthrow of the tsarist autocracy and the establishment of such a revolutionary democra­tic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry, as they called it. Having advanced from autocracy to a republic, the workers should then struggle to pass “from a petty-bourgeois democratic republic to socialism,”[32] the second act of the revolutionary drama. “From the democratic revolution we shall at once, according to the degree of our strength, the strength of the class conscious and organised proletariat,” he wrote, “begin to pass over to the socialist revolution. We stand for continuous (permanent) revolution. We shall not stop half way.”[33]

To Marx’s and Lenin’s concept of permanent revolution Trotsky from 1905 counterposed a theory with the same attractive title, the “lion’s share of which was contributed by Parvus”, as he was to acknowledge himself.[34] Trotsky’s “absurdly ‘left’ theory of ‘per­manent revolution”[35] set as the direct objective of revolution in tsarist Russia the estab­lishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, which, he argued, would solve the tasks of both the bourgeois and the socialist revolutions without passing through the intermediate stage of the democratic dictatorship of the working class and the peasantry. Russia could be the first country in the world to establish such a proletarian dictatorship. But, he wrote in 1906 in his Results and Prospects, “without the direct State support of the European proletariat the working class of Russia cannot convert its temporary domination into a lasting socialist dictatorship. Of this there cannot for one moment be any doubt … Left to its own resources the working class of Russia will inevitably be crushed by the counter-revolution the moment the peasantry turns its back on it.”[36] Although Trotsky viewed the peasantry as a source of potential support in the revolution for the working class who once in power would appear before it as a liberator,[37] he saw the workers “in the early stages of its rule making deep inroads into capitalist property”, which included peasant property. Hence they would come “into hostile collision not only with all the groupings of the bourgeoisie which supported it in the first stage of its revolutionary struggle, but also with the broad masses of the peasantry with the help of which it came to power.”[38] Here we have the two main aspects of the Trotskyist theory of permanent rev­olution: firstly, the conception that “for the backward countries the road to democracy passed through the dictatorship of the proletariat,” (as against Lenin’s conception that the road to the dictatorship of the proletariat passed through democracy), and secondly, the belief that, if it remains isolated, a workers’ state must inevitably succumb to growing internal and external contradictions.[39]

The contrast between the respective approaches of Lenin and of Trotsky emerges very sharply from an article written by Trotsky in October 1915 entitled ‘The Struggle for Power’. A national bourgeois revolution is impossible in Russia,” he asserted a little over a year before such a revolution was to take place, “because there is no genuinely revolu­tionary bourgeois democracy. The time for national revolutions has passed – at least for Europe – just as the time for national wars has passed.” The epoch of imperialism in which they were living, he continued, “does not set the bourgeois nation in opposition to the old regime, but sets the proletariat in opposition to the bourgeois nation.” After playing down the effect of class differentiation among the peasantry, he predicted that “if the proletariat does not tear power out of the hands of the monarchy no-one else will do so” and that this “must transfer power to the class that has led the struggle, i.e. the social-democratic proletariat.[40]

To this Lenin replied that Trotsky had incorrectly interpreted the interrelation of classes in the impending revolution which was “the principal task of the revolutionary party.” Indicating the increased class struggle and political awakening among the peas­antry, Lenin argued that “Trotsky is in fact helping the liberal labour politicians in Russia who by the ‘repudiation’ of the role of the peasantry mean refusal to rouse the peasantry to revolution.” The workers on the other hand were fighting “for the participation of ‘non-proletarian masses of the people’ in freeing bourgeois Russia from military-feudal ‘impe­rialism’ (tsarism)”. From there they would proceed to the socialist revolution.[41]

The February Revolution of 1917 was not the proletariat fighting the bourgeois nation, as foreseen by Trotsky, but the overthrow of tsarism by a bourgeois revolution car­ried through by the workers and peasants, that Lenin had foreseen. Power did not pass into the hands of a workers’ government. It was shared between Soviets (Councils) of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, representing the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry (the bulk of soldiers were peasants), and the capitalist Provisional Government to which it was voluntarily surrendering its supremacy. In April 1917, when according to the SLL he came over to Trotsky’s position, Lenin wrote: “The Bolshevik slogans and ideas in general have been fully corroborated by history; but concretely, things have turned out differently than could have been anticipated (by anyone); they are more original, more specific, more variegated… ‘The revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’ has already become a reality, in a certain form and to a certain extent, in the Russian revolution”[42] And at the end of the same month he was expressing his disagree­ment with “Trotskyism” whose position he summarised as “No Tsar, but a workers’ gov­ernment”.[43]

Now that the monarchy was overthrown and “the bourgeois-democratic revolution completed, inasmuch as Russia is now a democratic republic”[44] Lenin mobilised the Bolshevik Party for the second stage of the revolution, which had to transfer power into the hands of the proletariat and the poor strata of the peasantry and take Russia out of the impe­rialist war. This was achieved with the October Socialist Revolution. Between November 1917 and March 1918 a coalition government of Bolsheviks, representing the workers, and the Left Socialist Revolutionaries, representing the poor peasants, ruled the country.

Trotsky was to object however that the traditional, Leninist strategy was invalidat­ed by the fact that “the party and the class understood the democratic dictatorship as a regime which would mercilessly destroy the old state apparatus of the monarchy and com­pletely liquidate manorial landed property. But there was not a trace of this in the Kerensky period.” (Between the February and October Revolutions.)[45] The question of land owner­ship which he describes as “the basis of the bourgeois revolution” could not be solved under bourgeois rule. “The dictatorship of the proletariat appeared on the scene not after the completion of the agrarian democratic revolution but as the necessary prerequisite for its accomplishment,” he argued.[46] Hence his theory of “permanent revolution” is validated! Q.E.D.

The flaw in Trotsky’s superficially plausible reasoning, here as often elsewhere, is his inflation of secondary factors (though they may be very important ones) to such an extent that they overshadow and obscure the essence of a question. Lenin, on the other hand, with the minimum of flourish, always seized hold of the crux of a matter. “The transfer of state power from one class to another class,” he wrote in April 1917, “is the first, the principal, the basic sign of a revolution, both in the strictly scientific and in the practical political meaning of the term. To this extent, the bourgeois, or the bourgeois-democratic, revolution has been completed.[47] This remained the essence of the position, even though some of the attributes usu­ally held to belong to such a revolution were absent as they were in the case of other coun­tries’ bourgeois revolutions.[48] Thus the February Revolution, which overthrew tsarism, brought about a democratic republic and made Russia “the freest of all the belligerent coun­tries in the world,”[49] failed to give the land to the peasants. It required the October Revolution, establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat, to carry out those bourgeois-democratic tasks which had not been tackled or completed between February and October. But this did not mean that the February Revolution was not a bourgeois-democratic revolution (Trotsky does not attempt to deny this)[50] nor that the October Revolution was not a socialist one. What the latter did was, in Lenin’s words, to solve “the problems of the bourgeois-democratic revolu­tion in passing, as a ‘by-product’ of the main and real proletarian-revolutionary socialist work”[51] If Lenin had believed in “pure” revolutions Trotsky would be right to argue that the experience of 1917 upset the Bolshevik prognoses. In reality, however, Lenin never enter­tained any such naive view. “In concrete historical circumstances,” he wrote in 1905 in his Two Tactics, “the elements of the past become interwoven with those of the future, the two paths get mixed … Surely we all draw the distinction between bourgeois revolution and socialist revolution, we all absolutely insist on the necessity of drawing a strict line between them; but can it be denied that in history certain particular elements of both revolutions become interwoven? … Will not the future socialist revolution in Europe still have to do a great deal that has been left undone in the field of democracy?”[52] Whilst in this period Lenin spoke of the beginning of the struggle for the socialist revolution following a “complete vic­tory” of the democratic revolution with “the achievement of the demands of the present-day peasantry”[53] and undoubtedly did not expect the socialist revolution to follow within eight months of its democratic precursor,[54] he considered the main factor determining the point of transition from one to the other to be “the degree of our strength, the strength of the class con­scious and organised proletariat.”[55] History proved that he was right to reject Trotsky’s strat­egy which envisaged essentially a leap from tsarism to October skipping February.

When Trotsky and his adherents claim that Lenin discarded the formula of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry which he had allegedly “acknowledged to be without value”[56] they are right – but only, as we have seen, with respect to Russia where its value as an objective was superseded after the bourgeois revo­lution of February 1917 had already realised it in its broad essentials. When they want us to believe that Lenin came over to Trotsky’s position in April 1917 they are right – but only insofar as the similarity of their positions was brought about by the arrival at a stage that Trotsky had thought “unrealisable”[57] and had envisaged skipping. In his “colossal arrogance”[58] Trotsky appears genuinely to have believed that the Bolshevik Party had become “de-bolshevised”[59] and, on this basis, he moved towards joining it.

The stage now opening up was to resemble in many striking ways the picture that he had drawn in 1906 of the next Russian Revolution. This far-sightedness was remarkable, but alas – as with his predictions of a one-man Party dictatorship most inappropriate­ly directed at Lenin which were three decades later to be realised… by Stalin – in enabling him to see unusually clearly the features of the mountains lying in the distance, it led him to miss the range ahead that had first to be crossed.

Trotsky however did not stop to analyse his error. He was concerned only to excuse it. Thus in 1924 in the Lessons of October, he argued that the revolutionary strikes – developing in St. Petersburg on the eve of the First World War held out the prospect of a victori­ous revolution in which “in all probability … the overthrow of the Tsar would have been the signal for the seizure of power by the revolutionary Soviets”, led by the Bolsheviks.[60] What prevented the realisation of such an immediate passage to the dictatorship of the proletariat predicted by Trotsky? The outbreak of the war diverted the movement and created “special circumstances … that threw the conduct of the revolution into the hands of the petty-bour­geois revolutionaries,” due to the emergence of a peasant army of many millions.[61] Yet the war (with the inevitable appearance in a peasant country like Russia of a huge peasant army) was not some unforeseeable historical accident. It was the direct result of imperialist con­tradictions that had for years been inexorably preparing such a conflict with the resulting peasant, as well as working-class, discontent, without which there would undoubtedly have been no Bolshevik victory in 1917. What is more, as we have already seen, Trotsky contin­ued in the war – in Lenin’s words – to “repeat his ‘original’ theory of 1905 and refuses to stop to think why, for ten whole years, life passed by this beautiful theory.”[62]

Strange to relate, nowhere in any of Lenin’s writings and speeches in the period from April 1917 till his death (they take up twenty-three of the fifty-five volumes of the new full Russian edition) has it been possible to find so much as a hint that Lenin was aware of his “conversion” to Trotsky’s view of “permanent revolution”[63] – and Lenin was never afraid of admitting past mistakes. On the other hand, we do find Trotsky on more than one occasion admitting the converse. Thus the 1927 Platform of the Left Opposition, republished in Britain by the SLL’s publishing house who advertise it as, a “landmark in the development of 20th Century Marxism”, reproduces the declaration of Trotsky and his associates to the Communist International on 15th December, 1926: “Trotsky has stated to the International that in all those questions of principle upon which he disputed with Lenin, Lenin was right and particularly upon the question of permanent revolution and the peasantry.[64] In a letter to the old “Left Oppositionist” Preobrazhensky, who did not accept his theory, Trotsky admitted: “Up to February, 1917, the slogan of the dictatorship of the proletariat and peas­antry was historically progressive.”[65] And even in his Lessons of October he wrote that with his formula of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry Lenin had been attacking the question of an advance towards the socialist dictatorship of the prole­tariat, supported by the peasants, in a “forcible and thoroughly revolutionary way”[66] – in complete contradiction to his 1909 statement that “the anti-revolutionary features of Bolshevism threaten to become a great danger … in the event the victory of the revolution.”[67]

However, we are tempted to conclude that there was an element of “diplomacy” in such statements, which are flatly contradicted by many others, such as the approving pref­aces, written after the revolution to pre-revolutionary works, where his theory is re-stated, and most notably by his book, The Permanent Revolution. The latter, written in 1928 in reply to criticism of his theory by Radek, another of his supporters at that time, attempts to provide a full length vindication of his position as against Lenin’s, and on occasion, to argue that the difference between the two “had a secondary and subordinate significance.”[68]

The significance of this question is not confined to a historical assessment of Trotsky’s role in the Russian labour movement up to 1917. We have devoted so much atten­tion to it because his theory of “permanent revolution” developed at that time was, as we shall see, to determine all major Trotskyist policies in the future whether it be in relation to the building of socialism in the Soviet Union, the whole question of allies for the labour movement involved in the strategy of the Popular Front and the resistance movements against Fascism, or the “general trend of revolutionary development in all backward coun­tries” which, according to the Transitional Programme of the Fourth International drafted by Trotsky in 1938, “can be determined by the formula of the permanent revolution in the sense definitely imparted to it by the three revolutions in Russia.”[69] However, although this theo­ry, on which there had been no agreement among Trotsky’s supporters in Russia, had now ossified into a basic programmatic commitment for all Trotskyist groups at the 1958 Fifth World Congress of the Fourth International, the Report on the Colonial Revolution was to reveal that “some comrades have wondered whether the theory of the permanent revolution … did not reveal certain lacunae, whether it might not be necessary to render it more flexible, and whether there might not have been some errors committed on this subject.”[70]

Trotsky in the October Revolution

Arriving back in Russia in March 1917, Trotsky first joined a left-wing group called the Mazhrayontsi with whom, in July, he entered the Bolshevik Party. The next month he was elected as a member of the Party’s Central Committee and in September as the President of the Petrograd Soviet in which the Bolsheviks had won a majority. In this period he played an enormously positive role as the Party’s spokesman in the Soviets and at mass meetings of workers, soldiers and sailors who were inspired and electrified by his revolutionary oratory. In the floodtide of revolution he rose to his fullest stature, placing his outstanding talents at the service of the Bolshevik Party and transcending for the moment the differences of former years. His role at this time was dramatically conveyed at first hand by John Reed in his epic Ten Days That Shook The World, which Lenin hailed in his introduction as a “truthful and most vivid exposition”. A fitting tribute to Trotsky’s role was given by Joseph Stalin in Pravda on 6th November 1918. “All practical work in connection with the organisation of the uprising,” he wrote, “was done under the immedi­ate direction of Comrade Trotsky, the President of the Petrograd Soviet. It can be stated with certainty that the Party is indebted primarily and principally to Comrade Trotsky for the rapid going over of the garrison to the side of the Soviet and the efficient manner in which the work of the Military-Revolutionary Committee was organised.”[71]

In the years immediately following the victory of the Revolution Trotsky was to play a very active role in the leadership of the Soviet State and of the Russian Communist Party, as well as of the Third (Communist) International founded in 1919. As People’s Commissar of War from 1918-1925 he played a key role in building up from out of the ruins of the old tsarist army the heroic Red Army which, with five million men under arms, was to win the civil war against the White Guard generals and to drive out the invading armies of fourteen hostile capitalist countries. The story is stirringly told, bringing out both Trotsky’s mistakes (sometimes serious) and his achievements (which must outweigh them) by Isaac Deutscher in the chapter “Arming the Republic” in The Prophet Armed. Speaking of Trotsky to the great Russian writer Maxim Gorky, Lenin was to express his admiration: “Show me another man,” he said, thumping the table, “capable of organising in a year an almost exemplary army and moreover of winning the esteem of the military specialists.”[72] Yet with all this, Lenin was still to view Trotsky with some reserve. “He isn’t one of us,” he told Gorky. “With us, but not of us. He is ambitious. There is something of Lassalle in him, something which isn’t good.”[73]

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, 1918

Although Trotsky had supported Lenin against the opposition of Zinoviev and Kamenev on the need to organise an insurrection in October 1917, he was to find himself at loggerheads with him at the beginning of 1918 on the signing of a peace treaty with Germany. The way he acted on this question highlights both his strengths and weaknesses.

As the first Commissar of Foreign Affairs of the Soviet State, which had declared its intention of withdrawing from the world war, Trotsky had gone to Brest-Litovsk to lead the Soviet delegation negotiating for a peace treaty with representatives of Germany and the Central Powers. He had used the negotiations, carried out in public, as a forum for denouncing all the imperialist powers. His powerful speeches undoubtedly helped to strengthen anti-war feeling in all countries. On the other hand, when faced with the harsh terms demanded by the Germans, overestimation of the immediate revolutionary prospects in the west overshadowed his appreciation of the reality of the situation and led him to refuse to sign the treaty.

Lenin, on the other hand, stressed that the Germans had the whiphand and that the war-weary, ill-equipped and hungry Russian troops could not hold out against their pow­erful military machine. He therefore urged accepting the German terms, humiliating as he considered them to be, as soon as the Germans presented an ultimatum, warning that the alternative would be that the Germans would advance further into Soviet territory and impose even worse terms.

“Yes, we shall see the world revolution, but for the time being it is a very good fairy-tale, a very beautiful fairy-tale,” he argued. “If the revolution breaks out, everything is saved. Of course! But if it does not turn out as we desire, if it does not achieve victory tomorrow – what then? Then the masses will say to you, you acted like gamblers – you staked everything on a fortunate turn of events that did not take place, you proved unfitted for the situation that actually arose instead of the world revolution, which will inevitably come, but which has not yet reached maturity.”[74]

Trotsky said that signing the treaty was treachery in the full sense of the word.[75] He succeeded at first in obtaining a 9-7 majority in the Party Central Committee for his for­mula “neither war nor peace”, and predicted that the Germans would be “unable to make an offensive against us.”[76] In fact shortly afterwards the Germans mounted an extremely successful offensive, facing the Soviet government with the necessity of making peace on much worse terms that those originally proposed. Even then he opposed Lenin’s urgent plea to accept the German terms. When it came to the vote in the Central Committee, how­ever, he and his supporters abstained, giving Lenin a 9-4 majority after the latter had threat­ened to resign from the government and the Central Committee if “the policy of beautiful revolutionary phrases continued.”[77] At the same time Trotsky resigned from his post as Commissar of Foreign Affairs.[78]

Speaking in March 1918 at the Party Congress that debated the treaty, Lenin showed why Trotsky’s “revolutionary phrase, ‘The Germans cannot attack’, from which the other phrase (‘We can declare the state of war terminated. Neither war nor the sign­ing of peace.’) derived, was such a profound mistake, such a bitter overestimation of events.”[79] What he had predicted had come true. “Instead of the Brest peace we have a much more humiliating peace, and the blame for this rests upon those who refused to accept the former peace,” he said. These people were “assisting German imperialism”, because they had “surrendered wealth valued at millions in guns and shells; and anybody who had seen the state – the incredible state – of the army could have predicted this.”[80]

Trotsky was to admit in a speech in October 1918 that he had been wrong and Lenin had been right over the treaty.[81] However, like his followers, he was concerned in later years to play down the erroneous position he took on this question, referring merely to “some practical and empirical differences with Lenin – no more.”[82] In fact what was involved was Trotsky’s lifelong tendency to allow his appraisal of a concrete situation to be blurred by wishful thinking and infatuation with “the revolutionary phrase”.

Trotsky and Bureaucracy 1920-24

Trotsky is presented by his supporters as the champion of the struggle against bureaucracy in the Soviet Union. Since during the last seventeen years of his life Trotsky was tireless in his denunciations of many aspects of Stalin’s bureaucratic regime that the Soviet Communist Party was to unmask in 1956, the Trotskyist claim appears plausible. However, we shall see, the truth is considerably more complex.

(a) The Trade Union Controversy 1920-21

In the first big Party discussion after the Revolution involving the problem of bureaucracy, Trotsky clashed head on with the majority of the Bolshevik Central Committee. Lenin strongly criticised his policy of “bureaucratically nagging the trade unions”[83] as expressing “the worst in military experience”,[84] and containing “a number of errors that are connected with the very essence of the dictatorship of the proletariat.”[85]

Since the end of 1919 Trotsky had only been giving a minor part of his time to mil­itary affairs. Entering the field of economic reconstruction, he proceeded to apply methods from the military field. He placed great emphasis on the militarisation and compulsion of labour, which, he told the Ninth Party Congress in March 1920, “would reach the highest degree of intensity during the transition from capitalism to socialism”. Speaking to the trade unions, he even went so far as to declare: “The militarisation of labour … is the indis­pensable basic method for the organisation of our labour force … Is it true that compulsory labour is always unproductive? This is the most wretched and miserable liberal prejudice; chattel slavery too, was productive … compulsory serf labour did not grow out of the feudal lords’ ill-will. It was (in its time) a progressive phenomenon.”[86] In 1920 in addition to his job as Commissar of War, he had taken over the Department of Transport, of vital economic and military importance. Placing the railwaymen and the workers in the railway repair workshops under martial law, he met the objections of the railwaymen’s unions by dismissing its leaders and appointing others more compliant in their place. He did the same with other transport workers’ unions. His efforts brought results: the railways were restored ahead of schedule.

Carried away with this success, he went on to propose that other trade unions should be likewise “sand-papered” or “shaken up”. He met with the opposition of the Central Committee, which called on the Party to resist “militarised and bureaucratic forms of work”[87] and particularly of Lenin, who criticised “the irregularities and bureaucratic excesses of the Cectran”,[88] the Central Transport Commission that Trotsky headed. Unabashed, Trotsky hit back. He defended his practice of overruling the trade unionists, spoke of “selecting the leading personnel” for them[89] as against a democratic method of election, and flayed those who protested that a new bureaucracy was using tsarist meth­ods. Russia, he argued repeatedly, suffered not from the excess but from the lack of an efficient bureaucracy, to which he favoured giving certain limited privileges. Reporting this, Deutscher comments: “He thus made himself the spokesman of the managerial groups.”[90]

When the Central Committee set up a commission to consider the problems of the trade unions and elected Trotsky to it, he refused to work on it. “This step alone caus­es Comrade Trotsky’s original mistake to become magnified and later lead to factional­ism,” declared Lenin.[91] Organising a faction around the ideas expressed in his pamphlet, The Role and Tasks of the Trade Unions (of which Lenin said: “I am astonished at the number of theoretical errors and crying inexactitudes that are concentrated in it”)[92] he launched a debate in the Party culminating at the Tenth Congress in March 1921 in his overwhelming defeat and a decision to ban factions in the Party.[93] Adopting what Lenin called “the administrator’s approach”[94] Trotsky wanted the trade unions to be deprived of their autonomy and incorporated into the state apparatus. Their leaders would represent the state to the workers, rather than vice versa, concentrating on production and labour discipline, for, he argued, they could not logically defend the workers against the workers’ state.[95]

Lenin answered that Trotsky (to whom he ascribed “one-sidedness, infatuation, exaggeration and obstinacy”)[96] was fundamentally mistaken. His error consisted in dealing with “abstractions”,[97] and speaking all the time about “general principle” instead of mak­ing a detailed study of the specific situation.[98] (A characteristic failing of Trotsky’s, as we saw over Brest-Litovsk.) In practice, said Lenin, the Soviet state was “a workers’ state with bureaucratic distortions”.[99] For a long time, he argued, the trade unions would need to engage in “struggle against the bureaucratic distortions of the Soviet apparatus” and for “the protection of the material and spiritual interests of the masses of the toilers by the ways and means that this apparatus cannot employ”.[100]

Lenin’s critical attitude to Trotsky for considering such basic questions from a bureaucratic-administrative rather than a Marxist political point of view was reflected in his final assessment of him in his Testament written in December 1922: “Personally he is perhaps the most capable man in the present Central Committee, but he has too enterpris­ing self-assurance and excessive enthusiasm for the purely administrative side of the work.”[101]

(b) Theses on Industry (1923)

At the 12th Party Congress in April 1923, Trotsky was authorised to present his views on the development of industry as a statement of Party policy.[102] Although there was much in his report that was the product of fruitful collective discussion in the Party lead­ership, his approach was, once again, that of the administrator who subordinates immedi­ate consideration of workers’ rights and livelihood to longer-term economic targets.[103] (It is at least to Trotsky’s credit that – unlike Stalin later – he was quite open about what he had in mind.) Having proposed the concentration of industry in a small number of large and efficient firms (with the inevitable corollary of loss of jobs by workers in the firms shut down) he argued that the working class would have to shoulder the main burden of indus­trial construction. “There may be moments,” he said, “when the government pays you no wages, or when it pays you only half your wage and when you, the worker, have to lend (the other half) to the state.”[104]

(c) The 1923-24 Opposition

In the last period of his working life Lenin was desperately concerned about the growth of bureaucracy in the Soviet state apparatus and in the Party. In 1923, as he lay incapacitated on his death bed (he died in January 1924), this question was discussed in the Party leadership which, with Trotsky’s participation, drew up a resolution – unanimously adopted on 5th December 1923 – spotlighting the “bureaucratisation of the Party appara­tus and the danger arising from it of the detachment of the masses from the Party”, and call­ing for the development of freedom for open Party debate and discussion.[105]

Trotsky provoked a fierce controversy by following this up with a letter and a series of articles that appeared in Pravda and which, together with some new material, he published as a pamphlet entitled The New Course, which stimulated the formation and activity of a Trotskyist Left Opposition in the Party from 1923-24. Although its overall approach is rather negative, there is much which can be seen to have been right in its attacks on the growth and power of the Party apparatus under Stalin’s control[106] especially in view of what we now know of the gross abuses, violating the very essence of socialist democracy and legality, in which this was to result. It is therefore understandable that, after the revelations of the Twentieth Congress, some comrades should have been drawn to Trotskyism through this democratic and anti-bureaucratic strain which was to occupy an important place in all Trotsky’s subsequent writings on Russia. The New Course, in particular, contains trenchant Marxist criticisms of the methods of Stalinist bureaucracy and a plea for involving young people in the struggle for a “vibrant and active democracy inside the Party”[107] that are of lasting value.

Russian Communists could not, however, so soon forget that the methods of lead­ership that Trotsky was not criticising so effectively were very much akin to those of which he had been the principal exponent so shortly before. There seemed to be a conflict between his precept when in opposition and his practice when in office. Stalin was therefore able to ring a bell with many people when he referred to Trotsky as “this patriarch of bureaucrats” and accused the Opposition of trying to “wrest the initiative from the Central Committee and get astride the hobby-horse of democracy.”[108] Moreover, his approach to economic questions, discussed above was at variance with his plea for greater workers’ democracy. As Deutscher correctly notes: “The workers could not be expected to surrender voluntari­ly ‘half their wages’ to the state, as Trotsky urged them to do, in order to promote nation­al investment. The state could take ‘half their wages’ only by force; and to do this it had to deprive them of every means of protest and to destroy the last vestiges of a workers’ democracy. The two aspects of the programme which Trotsky expounded in 1923 were to prove incompatible in the near future; and therein lay the fundamental weakness of his position.”[109]

The Building of Socialism in Russia

In 1926-27 Trotsky headed an Opposition in the Soviet Communist Party that fought on the major questions of home and international policy. After a nationwide Party discussion the Opposition was defeated by 724,000 votes to 4,000 with 2,600 abstentions. At the end of 1927 Trotsky was expelled from the Party. In 1929 he was deported from the Soviet Union for “anti-Soviet activity” and in 1932 deprived of Soviet citizenship. From his successive places of exile – Turkey, Norway, France and finally, Mexico, where he was murdered in 1940[110] – Trotsky wrote many books, pamphlets and articles and continued to try to build up a Left Opposition to Stalin. At the heart of these disputes lay the question of “socialism in one country”.

(a) The Debate on ‘Socialism in One Country’

The great historical controversy on the possibility of building socialism in Russia is still today befogged on both sides by decades-old distortions and misrepresentations. Thus, on the one side Trotskyists present Stalin as having from 1924, when he first for­mulated his theory, counterposed “socialism in one country” to the spread of revolution to other countries. On the other side Soviet histories still present Trotsky’s opposition to Stalin’s theory as opposition to socialist industrialisation in the Soviet Union[111] and in favour of an export of revolution by force of arms. Both versions are equally false.

Stalin’s argument was that the spread of revolution to the West was obviously the most desirable thing, but that with the delay in this, Russia had no alternative but to set itself the aim of building socialism in the belief that she had all that was necessary to com­plete this. “The very development of the world revolution,” he argued in December 1924, “the very process of separating a number of additional countries from the imperialist states, will be all the quicker and more thoroughgoing in proportion as socialism shall have struck foot in the first victorious country, in proportion as that country shall have transformed itself into the base whence the development of world revolution can proceed, in proportion as that country shall have become the crowbar getting a solid pry and setting the whole struc­ture of imperialism rocking … It is more than likely that, in the course of the development of the world revolution, there will come into existence – side by side with the centres of imperialism in the various capitalist land and with the system of these lands throughout the world – centres of socialism in various Soviet countries,[112] and a system of these centres throughout the world. As the outcome of this development, there will ensue a struggle between the rival systems, and its history will be the history of the world revolution … Those who, forgetting the international character of the October Revolution, declare the victory of the revolution in one country to be simply and solely a national phe­nomenon, are wrong.”[113] The course of revolutions in the world, which today sees a growing socialist camp challenging the old imperialist one, has in no small measure confirmed Stalin’s broad perspective.

Trotsky, for his part, never disputed the need to start the job of building up social­ism in Russia. Indeed in 1923-24 he called for the introduction of central planning and in 1925-27 advanced proposals for an ambitious programme of industrialisation that earned him the reputation of being a “super-industrialiser”.[114] Further, he opposed any export of revolution, declaring in 1924: “We are not inclined to launch into bloody enterprises for the purpose of deciding piecemeal the question of the liberation of all Europe … It will be decided sooner or later. Our task in this period is to strengthen our economy and to raise the level of our culture, holding on until emancipated Europe’s workers come to our aid.”[115]

Trotsky’s rejection of the possibility of completing the building of socialism in Russia without the victory of revolution in the West sprang from his theory of “permanent revolution” that we have discussed above.[116] It was in fact basically an expression of his disbelief in the ability of the Soviet Union even to survive as a workers’ state if the revo­lution did not spread to more advanced countries.

Thus, in The Programme of Peace, published as a programmatic pamphlet in June 1917 and republished with a postscript in 1922 and 1924, he wrote of the socialist revolution in Russia: “Without waiting for the others we begin and we continue the struggle on our own national soil in complete certainty that our initiative will provide the impulse for the struggle in other countries; and if this were not so, then it would be hope­less to think – as is borne out both by historical experience and theoretical considerations – that revolutionary Russia, for example, would be able to maintain herself in the face of conservative Europe, or that socialist Germany could remain isolated in a capi­talist world.”[117]

In 1937 the theme was essentially the same: “Without a more or less rapid victory of the proletariat in the advanced countries the workers’ government in Russia will not survive. Left to itself the Soviet regime must either fall or degenerate. More exactly it will first degenerate and then fall. I myself have written about this more than once, beginning in 1905.”[118]

Trotsky’s underestimation of the internal forces of Russian socialism, was shown particularly in his lack of confidence in the independent development of a socialist econo­my in the USSR. In his 1922 postscript to his Programme of Peace, he wrote: “So social­ism is conceivable only on the basis of the productive forces’ growth and blossoming … So long as the bourgeoisie remain in power in other European states we are compelled, in the struggle against economic isolation, to seek agreements with the capitalist world; at the same time it can be stated with certainty that these agreements, in the best case, will help us to heal this or that economic wound, make this or that step forward, but the genuine rise of socialist economy in Russia will become possible only after the victory of the proletari­at in the most important countries of Europe.”[119]

In 1927, we find him asserting that the Soviet state was, “directly or indirectly, under the relative control of the world market. Herein lies the root of the question. The rate of development is not an arbitrary one; it is determined by the whole of world development because in the last analysis world industry controls every one of its parts, even if that part is under the proletarian dictatorship and is building up socialist industry.”[120] In his criticism of the Draft Programme of the Comintern the next year, he went even further: “To the extent that productivity of labour and the productivity of a social system as a whole are measured in the market by the correlation of prices,” he wrote, “it is not so much military intervention as the intervention of cheaper capitalist commodities that constitutes perhaps the greatest immediate menace to Soviet economy.”[121] The monopoly of foreign trade, which Stalin and the Party majority correctly stressed was the means of the Soviet Union shielding itself from such economic subversion, became for Trotsky “evidence of the severity and the dangerous character of our dependence”.[122] In this connection he saw the fate of world economy as a whole as of “decisive significance” as against the subsidiary significance of Russia’s socialist construction.[123] And he went on with the utmost defeatism to suggest the possibility of the productivity of labour growing faster in the predominant capitalist countries than in Russia.[124]

The fiasco of this approach was proved by the successes of the Soviet Five-Year Plans. Old revolutionary that he was, Trotsky could scarce forebear to cheer in 1936 when he viewed the “vast scope of industrialisation in the Soviet Union, as against a background of stagnation and decline in almost all of the capitalist world”, that emerged from the com­parative indices of industrial production.[125] But, alas, when noting that “it is impossible to deny the fact that even now the forces of production in the Soviet Union are developing at a tempo such as no other country in the world has even experienced or is experiencing now,”[126] he was never to admit that this was a direct refutation of his pessimistic predictions of the late twenties, which in their turn contrasted strangely with the super-industri­alisation proposals he had advanced at an earlier period. (It is the latter that are always pointed to by Trotsky’s followers nowadays, whilst the former are conveniently forgotten.)

Least of all was he to attempt a Marxist analysis of the source of his errors – a practice that he was always most ready to demand of his political adversaries. Rather was he to draw the strange conclusion that these successes, though signifying that “the technical premise for socialism has made an enormous stride forward”, were not leading Soviet society towards socialism but in the direction of “the regeneration of classes, the liquidation of planned economy, and the restoration of capitalist property”, in which case, he added, “the state will inevitably become fascist”.[127]

Isaac Deutscher has likened the essence of the argument over “socialism in one country” in the twenties to a dispute about whether it would be possible to cover with a roof a building in which both sides were in favour of starting work, being already in agree­ment on its shape and the materials to be used.[128] Isolated from the undercurrents express­ing differences of mood and emphasis that lay behind the heat that it generated, such debate appears highly scholastic. Apparently conscious of this, the New International, the leading American Trotskyist organ of the thirties, praised by Trotsky for its high theoretical level, openly expressed the essence of the Trotskyist position as follows in an editorial dated 30th January 1935: “In the light of the present world situation, the theory of ‘socialism in one country’, this gospel of the bureaucracy, stands before us in all its nationalistic limitation and its braggart falsity. We refer here, of course, not to the purely abstract possibility or impossibility of building a socialist society within this or another geographic area – such a theme is for scholiasts; we have in mind the vastly more immediate and concrete, living and historical, and not metaphysical question: is it possible for an isolated Soviet state to maintain itself for an indeterminate period of time in an imperialist environment, within the constricting circle of Fascist counter-revolutions? The answer of Marxism is no. The answer of the internal conditions of the USSR is no … Outside of the world revolution there is no salvation.”[129]

If we accept the issue posed in this way, history has completely demolished the Trotskyist position. If, however, we define socialism as Ernest Mandel does, as “a society without classes, commodities, money and state”,[130] then by the very terms of this definition we are led to a different conclusion. If we are going to make a meaningful estimate of Trotsky’s political positions, we must avoid arbitrary definitions that take the issues out of their historical context and provoke idle semantic wrangles. The fact is that Mandel’s def­inition is at variance with the Leninist conception that was generally accepted by the Russian Communist Party. In The State and Revolution, Lenin wrote of socialism as syn­onymous with Marx’s first phase of communism, representing “the conversion of the means of production into the common property of the whole of society”. Socialism, he went on, “does not remove the defects of distribution and the inequality of ‘bourgeois right’ which continues to prevail as long as the products are divided ‘according to the amount of work performed’ … The Socialist principle ‘An equal amount of labour for an equal quan­tity of products’ is … already realised … There is still need for a state … For the complete withering away of the state, complete communism is necessary.”[131] This distinction was amplified in The ABC of Communism by Bukharin and Preobrazhensky, which from 1919 had been the basic Party textbook. “In socialist society, which is inevitable as an intermediate stage between capitalism and communism,” they wrote, “money is needed for it has a part to play in commodity economy … In socialist society, this commodity economy will to some extent persist.”[132] The society without commodities, money and state, which Mandel defines as socialism, carries many of the characteristics that Party tradition identi­fied with the higher stage of communism.[133] It is a red herring for the purposes of this dis­cussion, for it is not what Russian communists understood when they set themselves the goal of creating a socialist economy, which they later claimed to have achieved. They understood socialism essentially as Trotsky had defined it in 1906: “co-operative production on a large scale.”[134]

(b) Was Socialism Achieved?

The idea that Russia should set the aim of completing the building of socialism on its own if the international revolution continued to be delayed did represent a departure from the traditional theory of the Bolsheviks, who had never foreseen their country finding itself as an isolated workers’ state long enough for the question to arise. But, although it was never theoretically elaborated by Lenin, in the last period of his working life he was coming more and more in practice to adopt such a perspective.[135] It was perfectly in keep­ing with Marxist theory that, after his death, the Party should come to terms with the new situation and spell out its confidence that, as Lenin has said, “NEP Russia will be trans­formed into socialist Russia”, since it possessed “all that is necessary and sufficient” for building a socialist society.[136]

What specifically did this perspective mean? Lenin had enumerated five elements constituting the socio-economic forms of existing in Russia after the October Revolution and into the period of the New Economic Policy of free trade in peasant produce, intro­duced in 1921: (i) patriarchal, largely self-sufficient peasant economy; (ii) small commod­ity production (including the majority of peasants selling their grain); (iii) private capital­ism; (iv) state capitalism; and (v) socialism.[137] The transition to socialism was seen as meaning the transformation of Russia from a backward peasant land into a country with a modern expanding and centrally-planned state industry and collective and state agriculture, going hand-in-hand with big educational and cultural advances. It meant the effective elimination of the first four of Lenin’s socio-economic categories, entailing the disappearance of the kulaks (rural bourgeoisie) and the Nepmen (merchant capitalists), and a vast growth of the fifth, comprising state-owned industry and state farms, on the one hand, and collec­tive farms on the other.[138] Defined in these terms, Stalin was able correctly to say after 1935 that Trotsky had been wrong and that “our bourgeoisie has already been liquidated and socialism has already been built in the main. This is what we call the victory of socialism or, to be more exact, the victory of socialist construction in one country.”[139]

To leave the problem there would, however, be all too facile. Not only had the collectivisation of agriculture been carried out in an unnecessarily harsh and costly manner that left a bond of distrust between important sections of the peasantry and the proletarian state, but real political power was concentrated not democratically in the hands of the working people but effectively in those of Stalin and a small irresponsible ruling group paternalistically substituting itself for them. Stalin, whilst leading in an extraordinarily dif­ficult international situation the laying, development and defence of the economic and cul­tural foundation of socialism – his great historical merit – was riding roughshod over the democratic rights and organs of the Party and the people, carrying through wide-spread arbitrary and brutal persecution in which many of the finest Russian and foreign revolu­tionaries met a tragic end – his great crime which the Soviet Union and the international communist movement are still paying for dearly today.

Since for Marxists, socialism and democracy have always been considered to go hand in hand, Trotsky was on much stronger ground when, shifting his main line of argu­ment, he came in the second half of the thirties to make as his central objection to the claim that socialism had been built in Russia the police terror and general suppression of politi­cal freedom preceded and accompanied by a great increase in the power of the degenerat­ed bureaucratic apparatus in both the Party and the State. What he failed to understand, however, was that it is possible to have for a certain even prolonged period, the uneasy and antagonistic coexistence of a socialist economy and an undemocratic, un-socialist superstructure. Sooner or later the development of the former will tend to push society (albeit tortuously, unevenly and not at all “automatically”) towards reforming the superstructure and bringing it more into keeping with its economic base and with the desires of its pro­gressively more developed and educated working class and intelligentsia. What had been achieved in the thirties in terms of a socialist economy was of course still only the bare bones of socialism which required several more decades of peaceful growth before it fully overcame the terrible legacy of Russian backwardness and appeared as a fully developed, prosperous, harmonious and cultured socialist society. The Soviet Union today though immensely more advanced than in the thirties, has still a long way to go in completing this stage of socialist development as well as shedding many of the bureaucratic practices that still hamper the development of socialist democracy. Talk of a transition to communism in the foreseeable future made in the Stalin and Khrushchev eras are now generally seen to have contained an enormous amount of bombast and extravagant claims. It is fair to say that Trotsky’s writings do provide a useful corrective to this sort of hyperbole, described by Togliatti as “a prevailing tendency in the exaltation of achievements to exaggerate, above all in the propaganda of that time, but also in the general presentation, and to con­sider all problems solved and the objective contradictions overcome, together with the dif­ficulties and conflicts which are always inherent in the building up of socialist society, are liable to be very serious and cannot be overcome unless they are recognised openly.”[140] Right was also on Trotsky’s side when he emphasised the internationalist essence of com­munism, criticising the elements of narrow nationalism that more and more showed them­selves in Stalin’s Russia, isolated, encircled and threatened by hostile imperialist powers. But to conclude that the source of all evil in the Soviet Union was the theory of “socialism in one country”[141] and that Trotsky’s fundamental objections to this are therefore vindicat­ed, is to substitute windy and exaggerated generalisations for a balanced examination of the question in its different aspects. It is of course much easier to do this as it saves a lot of time, thought and research – but such a method has nothing in common with Marxism.

(c) The Character of the Soviet Union

The Trotskyist movement has experienced violent controversies and splits on the question of the nature of the Soviet Union. Trotsky, however, was firm in his characterisa­tion of it as a “degenerated” and even “counter-revolutionary workers’ state” (!)[142] but nonetheless a workers’ state which “despite monstrous bureaucratic degeneration … still remains the historical instrument of the working class in so far as it assures the develop­ment of economy and culture on the basis of nationalised means of production, and by virtue of this prepares the conditions for a genuine emancipation of the toilers through the liquidation of the bureaucracy and of social inequality.”[143]

In keeping with this analysis, he fought all those in his movement who, particular­ly at the beginning of the war, wanted to reject the traditional Trotskyist slogan of “defence of the Soviet Union”. His explanations of how he understood this slogan, however, vary considerably. Thus in 1937, before the Dewey Commission of Inquiry into the Moscow Trials (where he was in general at pains to appear reasonable), he said: “We will sustain Stalin and his bureaucracy in every effort it makes to defend the new form of property against imperialist attacks.”[144] However, in September 1939, he wrote: “In the USSR the overthrow of the bureaucracy is indispensable for the preservation of state property. Only in this sense do we stand for the defence of the USSR … Our defence of the USSR is car­ried on under the slogan ‘For Socialism! For World Revolution! Against Stalin!’”[145]

(d) The Revolution Betrayed

The Revolution Betrayed, written by Trotsky in 1936 and still the basic Trotskyist textbook on the Soviet Union, shows both the strengths and weaknesses of his position at this time. Analysing the development of the Soviet Union up to the mid-thirties, he scored not a few bull’s-eyes in exposing such negative features of Stalinist Russia as the growth of bureaucracy, repression and gross inequality, the official hypocrisy and the stifling of artistic freedom. However, many of his criticisms are carping and ill-conceived, as for instance in his attack on the terms of the 1936 Constitution, the weakness of which lay not in its extremely democratic provisions, but their irrelevance to the real situation in the Soviet Union at that time when Stalin could and did trample them underfoot. For instance, he described the introduction of the universal, equal and direct vote (replacing the indirect system, the weighting of representation in favour of the working class as against the peasantry and the denial of the vote to members of former exploiting classes, priests, etc.) as “juridically liquidating the dictatorship of the proletariat”.[146] The constitution as a whole, he asserted, represents “an immense step back from socialist to bourgeois principles”, and “creates the political premises for the birth of a new possessing class”.[147]

Trotsky’s dogmatic shibboleth of the impossibility of building “socialism in one country” led him even now to underestimate how deeply entrenched and resilient the social­ist system was in Russia, despite the ravages wrought by Stalin’s purges. Without the interference of a revolution in the West in the event of war, he claimed, “the social base of the Soviet Union must be crushed, not only in the case of defeat, but also in the case of victory!”[148]

Out of touch with Soviet reality, he wrote that “the Soviet bureaucracy has gone far towards preparing a bourgeois restoration” and “must inevitably in future stages seek sup­ports for itself in property relations” entailing “its conversion into a new possessing class”.[149]

In fact, of course, the victory of the Soviet Union in the war, (Trotsky had pre­dicted defeat),[150] was followed not by the slightest sign of a move towards a “bourgeois counter-revolution”[151] but on the contrary, by the establishment under the leadership of allegedly “counter-revolutionary” Communist Parties of socialist property relations in thirteen other countries and the emergence of a world socialist system competing with the capitalist one. Moreover, since Stalin’s death in 1953, many of the most negative features of Stalinism spot-lighted by Trotsky, have been dismantled. This “de-Stalinisation”, inadequate as it is, has not occurred through the “inevitable” violent political revolution to overthrow the bureaucracy led by a mythical “Soviet section of the Fourth International” as forecast and advocated in The Revolution Betrayed.[152] It has taken place essentially through the initiative of forces within the Communist Party (which Trotsky had written off as “disintegrated”[153], “dead”[154], and “no longer the vanguard of the proletariat”[155]) and its leading organs, and within “the bureaucracy”, which was proportionately harder hit by Stalin’s purges than any other section of the population and which on Trotsky’s definitions[156] included all Party, YCL, State, co-operative and collective farm leaders, officials, managers, technicians, foremen, and their families, drawn from among the most advanced sections of the working class and peasantry and constituting when Stalin died some 22 million people.

A fundamental Marxist criticism of Stalinism, which still remains to be made, will not proceed from Trotsky’s premises, although his writings should be studied for the many valuable lessons – both positive and negative – that they hold for us. Yet even where his occasional insights are at their most brilliant, it is within the framework of a fundamental­ly false sociological model, which prevented him from understanding the laws of develop­ment of Soviet society or grasping the (admittedly new and unprecedented) phenomenon of Stalinism in its complexity and many-sidedness. Hence, the unkindness with which his­tory has treated his major predictions that we have quoted in the course of this article.

(e) The Moscow Trials

In the Soviet Union in the years 1936-38, at the height of Stalin’s mass repressions, there took place three public trials at which some of the best known Old Bolsheviks and leaders of the revolution pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy, treason, terrorism, espi­onage and wrecking against the Soviet Union in collaboration with the leaders of Nazi Germany and Japan, to whom they were allegedly planning to cede huge slices of Soviet territory. The main defendant in these trials, in absentia, was Leon Trotsky, who was alleged from his exile abroad to have masterminded the conspiracy, seeing this as the only practicable way to overthrow Stalin and get back into power.

Re-reading the verbatim reports of the trials,[157] alongside Trotsky’s defence[158] and the findings of the counter-trials conducted in Mexico by the Dewey Commission,[159] one can see that there were a number of demonstrable distortions of fact in the trial confessions that should at the time have given rise to concern and questioning. However, finding it vir­tually impossible to believe that a socialist country would resort to legal frame-ups or that the accused would charge themselves with crimes which they never committed,[160] the international communist movement accepted the trials as evidence that Trotsky and his follow­ers were acting as agents of fascism against the Soviet Union and communism.

Khrushchev’s revelations at the Twentieth Congress of the methods of torture used at Stalin’s bidding to extract false confessions from Communist leaders[161] followed by the rehabilitation of the Hungarian Communist leader, Rajk, the Bulgarian Communist leader, Kostov, and later the Czechoslovak Communist leader, Slansky, already cast doubt upon confessions of guilt of this character. Certain rehabilitations and revelations in the Soviet

Union, are, however, of such a nature as to undermine the validity specifically of the Moscow Trials. Thus, the assassination of Kirov, the suspicious circumstances surrounding which were revealed at the 20th and 22nd CPSU Congresses, was pivotal to the Zinoviev-Kamenev trial of 1936, and played a role in that of Radek, Piatakov, etc., the next year. The rehabilitation of Marshall Tukhachevsky and the generals shot with him after a secret trial in 1937,[162] on whose guilt an important part of the case of the 1938 trial (Bukharin, Krestinsky, Rykov, etc.) was based,[163] knocks a large part of the bottom out of the latter. If any further proof of the invalidity of the trials were needed, it came in the autumn of 1963 when the Soviet Government newspaper, Izvestia, published a rehabilitation of the ex-Trotskyist, Krestinsky, one of the chief defendants at the 1938 trial at which he was condemned to death. At the trial he was alleged to have met Trotsky in France in 1933 and to have had the crucial role of establishing and maintaining illegal connections between him and the “Trotskyite Centre” in the USSR.[164]

It is to be hoped that the Soviet Union will soon officially revise these trials, which are said to be still “under investigation” and to which (as far as I have been able to ascertain) no reference has appeared for twelve years in any Soviet book or article. Without waiting for this, however, I believe we have sufficient evidence to warrant our following the lead of the Italian Communist Party which, since November 1961, has publicly reject­ed the accusations of a criminal character against Trotsky made at the trials, but expressed the view that the struggle against him in essential political elements was a correct one.[165] The absence of a public revision of former support for the trials by British communists pro­vides an opportunity for the SLL in particular to harass us persistently on this question. Such a revision, necessary above all in the interests of truth, would also remove this con­venient weapon from their armoury. Moreover, it would emphasise the essential point, understood by most British communists for many years now, that our opposition to Trotskyism is on political grounds, and our public controversies with its supporters can be fought only with political weapons.


* This article by Monty Johnstone, originally published in Cogito, No. 5, appears here in a slightly edited form.

[1] Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Outcast (London, 1963), pp. 249-250.

[2] Quoted by I. Deutscher, The Prophet Armed, (London, 1954), pp. 83-84.

[3] The Case of Leon Trotsky, (New York, 1937), p. 471.

[4] Deutscher, op. cit., p. 89.

[5] V. I. Lenin, Selected Works, (London, 1936-38), (hereafter S.W.), II, pp. 442-6.

[6] L. Trotsky, Nashi Politicheskie Zadachi, (Geneva, 1904), pp. 73, 75. Emphasis in original.

[7] Lenin, S.W., II, pp. 448, 427. Emphasis in original.

[8] Trotsky, op. cit., p. 54.

[9] Ibid., p. 98.

[10] L. Trotsky in New International (New York), October 1939, p. 297.

[11] Lenin, Collected Works (London 1963), Volume 16, p. 391. (See, also, Lenin’s article, ‘Violation of Unity under cover of Cries for Unity’, in S.W., IV, pp. 187-208.)

[12] Lenin, S.W., IV, p. 42.

[13] S.W., IV, p. 286.

[14] L. Trotsky to N. S Chkheidze, 1st April 1913 in Trotski et le Trotskisme: Textes et Documents (Paris, 1937), pp. 60-61.

[15] L. Trotsky to M. S. Olminsky, 6th December 1921, ibid., p. 62.

[16] The Prophet Armed, p. 176.

[17] L. Trotsky, In Defence of Marxism (New York, 1963), p. 141.

** The Socialist Labour League (SLL) was an ultra-left organisation claiming to be Trotskyist. Its paper was called Newsletter. In 1973 it changed its name to the Workers Revolutionary Party. During the mid-1980s, plagued by splits, it disintegrated.

[18] ‘Open letter from NEC of SLL to Communist Party Congress Delegates’, Newsletter, 1st April 1961.

[19] Lenin, S.W., IV, pp. 197-8.

[20] The Prophet Armed, p. 93.

[21] L. Trotsky, The Stalin School of Falsification (New York, 1937), p. 105. Trotsky repro­duces a proof of an alleged suppressed page of the Minutes of the Petrograd Committee of the Bolsheviks.

[22] Quoted frequently by Trotskyists, e.g. Jack Gale, ‘The Lies about Trotsky are wearing thin’, in Newsletter, 27th November 1965, and most recently, by Ernest Mandel, ‘Trotsky’s Marxism: an Anti-Critique’, in New Left Review (London), January/February 1968, p. 34, in reply to N. Krasso’s very interesting criticism of Trotsky’s relation to the Party in New Left Review July/August 1967. Actually, as we shall see, Trotsky was to clash again seriously politically with Lenin over the Brest-Litovsk Treaty after he had been in the Party for less than six months.

[23] S.L.L. Open Letter, ibid., Emphasis in original.

[24] Mandel, Ibid., p. 33. My emphasis.

[25] K. Marx and F. Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party (London, 1946), p. 38.

[26] K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works (London, 1950), Vol. I, pp. 102, 108.

[27] Lenin, S.W., III, p. 36.

[28] Ibid., p. 73. My emphasis.

[29] Ibid., p. 82.

[30] Ibid., p. 41.

[31] Ibid., p. 35.

[32] Ibid., p. 99.

[33] Ibid., p. 145. My emphasis.

[34] Quoted by Deutscher, The Prophet Armed, p. 219.

[35] Lenin, S.W., IV, p. 207.

[36] L. Trotsky, Permanent Revolution and Results and Prospects (New York, 1965), pp. 237, 247. Trotsky’s emphasis.

[37] Ibid., p. 203.

[38] L. Trotsky, Preface (1922) to 1905 (Moscow, 1922), p. 4.

[39] L. Trotsky, Permanent Revolution, pp. 8-9.

[40] Ibid., pp. 251, 253-4, Trotsky’s emphasis

[41] Lenin, S.W., V, pp. 162-3.

[42] S.W., VI, p. 33. Lenin’s emphasis.

[43] Lenin, Collected Works, (London/New York, n.d.) XX/I, p. 207.

[44] Lenin, S.W., VI, p. 385.

[45] Trotsky, Permanent Revolution, p. 103.

[46] Ibid., p. 109. Trotsky’s emphasis.

[47] Lenin, S.W., VI, p. 33. Lenin’s emphasis.

[48] See ibid., p. 501.

[49] Ibid., p. 32

[50] See, e.g., L. Trotsky, The Lessons of October (London, 1925), p. 21. His qualification that it “came too late to have any stability” and “was full of contradictions” does not detract from this. His statement (p. 28) that “considering February by itself, and not as a step towards October, it meant no more than this – that Russia had advanced to the posi­tion of, let us say, the bourgeois republic of France” itself indicates the measure of the advance made from the oppressive and semi-feudal conditions under the Tsarist autocra­cy. In fact Lenin put the position more correctly when he wrote in April 1917 that this revolution “has gone farther than the ordinary bourgeois-democratic revolution, but has not yet reached a ‘pure’ dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry”. (S.W., VI, p. 49. Emphasis in original.)

[51] S.W., VI, p. 503. (Lenin’s emphasis) Only in this context is it possible to understand Lenin’s statement, quoted by Trotsky (Permanent Revolution, p. 106), that “down to the Summer and even the Autumn of 1918, our revolution was to a large extent a bourgeois revolution”. (S.W., VIII, p. 37.) Lenin meant in particular that in these early months of Soviet power a large place was given to carrying out the bourgeois task of giving the land to the peasants for individual cultivation. This was however subsidiary to the essen­tially Socialist tasks of the revolution.

[52] S.W., III, p. 100.

[53] Ibid., p. 547

[54] A clinging to these assumptions led many old Bolsheviks to continue to adhere to the aim of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry immediately after the February Revolution and initially to oppose Lenin when he returned to Russia in April and urged the Party to pass over to the stage of struggle for a Socialist revolution.

[55] S.W., III, p.145.

[56] L. Trotsky, Introduction to H. Isaacs, Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution (London, 1938), p. xxi.

[57] L. Trotsky, Results and Prospects, p. 205.

[58] A.A. Lunacharsky, Revolutionary Silhouettes (London, 1967) p. 62.

[59] Quoted in Deutscher, The Prophet Armed, p. 258.

[60] Trotsky, The Lessons of October, pp. 23-24.

[61] Ibid., pp. 22-23.

[62] Lenin, S.W., V, p. 162.

[63] It is not possible to take very seriously – in view of this and of the nature of the case – the one bit of “evidence” offered by Trotsky on this point: the statement by his bound­lessly devoted but neurotic supporter, Yoffe, to the effect that he had heard Lenin saying that Trotsky had been politically right ever since 1915. Yoffe wrote this in 1927 in a farewell letter designed for posthumous publication just before, desperately sick with polyneruitis and tuberculosis, he committed suicide as a dramatic protest against Trotsky’s expulsion from the Party. (See L. Trotsky, My Life, New York 1960, p. 537. For information on Yoffe, see Deutscher, The Prophet Armed, p. 193.)

[64] The Platform of the Left Opposition, London, 1963), p. 102. My emphasis.

[65] Bulletin of Marxist Studies, (New York, n.d.) No.1. The Chinese Revolution, by L Trotsky, p. 21. Preobrazhensky’s brief letter to Trotsky (p. 19) powerfully challenges his theory of “permanent revolution” as applied to both Russia and China.

[66] The Lessons of October, pp. 20-21.

[67] The Permanent Revolution, p. 112.

[68] Ibid., p. 110.

[69] The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International, (London, 1963), p. 38.

[70] The Fourth International, (Paris), Winter 1958, p. 27.

[71] J. Stalin, The October Revolution, (Moscow, 1934), p. 30. (The passage has been inexcusably expunged from the text of the article published in Stalin’s Works, Moscow, 1953, iv, p. 157.) This statement, made by Stalin only a year after the Revolution with the events still fresh in his mind, is more convincing that the statements contradicting it that he was to make in later years when engaged in controversy with Trotsky. Nor do the attacks on Stalin for exaggerating Trotsky’s role in his 1918 article that certain Soviet historians have made in recent years seem to me convincing. None have to the best of my knowledge ventured to offer an explanation as to what possible motive Stalin could have had for doing that.

[72] M. Gorky, Lenine et le Paysan Russe (Paris, 1924), p. 95.

[73] M. Gorky, Days with Lenin, (London, n.d.), p. 57. Lasalle was a prominent German Socialist leader of the last century whom Marx criticised for his opportunism, egotism and ambition, but whose “immortal service” he recognised in forming an independent work­ers’ party in 1863.

[74] Lenin, ‘The Revolutionary Phrase’, pp. 85-86.

[75] Ibid., p. 97

[76] Quoted by Deutscher, Prophet Armed, p. 379.

[77] Les Bolcheviks et la Revolution d’Octobre: Proces verbaux du Comite Central, août 1917 – février 1918 (Paris, 1964), pp. 287-294.

[78] Ibid., p. 290.

[79] ‘The Revolutionary Phrase’, p. 81.

[80] Ibid., p. 86.

[81] L. Trotsky, My Life, (New York, 1960), pp. 393-4.

[82] The Case of Leon Trotsky (London, 1937), p. 51.

[83] S.W., IX, p. 27.

[84] Ibid., p. 23.

[85] Ibid., p. 7.

[86] Quoted by I. Deutscher, The Prophet Armed, pp. 449, 501.

[87] Ibid., p. 502.

[88] S.W., IX, p. 29.

[89] Quoted by Lenin, S.W., IX, pp. 63-4.

[90] The Prophet Armed, p. 503.

[91] S.W., IX, p. 30. Emphasis in original.

[92] Ibid., p. 3.

[93] See ibid., pp. 131-134. By factions were understood “groups with separate platforms striving to separate themselves to a certain extent and to create their own group disci­pline.” (p. 131). Trotsky at the 13th Party Congress in 1924 was to dissociate himself from a statement of his supporters by denying that he was in favour of either factions or groups in the Party, saying that it was “impossible to make any distinction between a faction and a group”. (13 s’eze R.KP.b., Moscow, 1924, p. 165). His statements in later years, not to speak of his practice, were, however, to contradict this denial.

[94] S.W., IX, p. 70.

[95] Later Trotsky was to argue that he formulated these views purely in the context of the special conditions of “War Communism” after the rejection of proposals he had made in 1920 to modify this by introducing incentive payments. (My Life, pp. 463-6). However, at the Tenth Congress, when “War Communism” was replaced by the New Economic Policy that was to go further than Trotsky’s proposals of the previous year, he main­tained that his proposals for the militarisation of labour remained valid and that they were not necessarily connected with “War Communism”. (See The Prophet Armed, p. 497).

[96] Ibid., p. 72.

[97] Ibid., p. 9.

[98] Ibid., pp. 6-7.

[99] Ibid., p. 9.

[100] Ibid., p. 73.

[101] V.I. Lenin, Letter to the Congress (Moscow, n.d.), p. 11.

[102] His ‘Theses on Industry’, but not the report with which he introduced them, appeared in Labour Monthly (London), July and August, 1923.

[103] What is, of course, necessary in building Socialism is to find an acceptable balance between the two.

[104] Quoted by I. Deutscher, The Prophet Unarmed, pp. 101-2.

[105] Die Kommunistische Parte! der Sowjetunion in Resolutionen and Beschlussen der Parteitage, Konferenzen and Plenen des Z. K. (Berlin, 1957), Vol. IV, pp. 251, 253.

[106] In his Testament, Lenin had warned that “Comrade Stalin, having become General Secretary, has concentrated boundless authority on his hands, and I am not sure whether he will always be capable of using that authority with sufficient caution”. (Letter to the Congress, p. 11.)

[107] L. Trotsky, The New Course (London, 1956), p. 24. After the Twentieth Congress, Gerry Healy’s publishing house brought out this new English edition of the pamphlet to promote a big drive to recruit members of the Communist Party and the Y.C.L. His group was not without success at the time, but almost every single person that his group recruited then subsequently left it, often with recriminations about the bureaucratic methods that they found there.

[108] Stalin, Works, (Moscow, 1953), Vol. VI, pp. 28-29.

[109] The Prophet Unarmed, p. 131. I must make it clear that – despite such criticisms as this which I have quoted in this article – Isaac Deutscher’s overall appraisal of Trotsky’s role in this and in other spheres is a predominantly positive one. (See his introduction to The Age of Permanent Revolution: A Trotsky Anthology, New York, 1964, his Preface to The Prophet Unarmed, and his Postscript to The prophet Outcast). He was, however, much too fine a Marxist historian to let his sympathies for Trotsky affect the rigid objec­tivity with which he presented each episode in his Trotsky trilogy, which is one of the great biographies of our time.

[110] The evidence points strongly to the assassin, Mercader or “Jacson”, who posed as a disillusioned follower of Trotsky, having in fact acted on behalf of Stalin and the G.P.U. After completing his 20-year jail sentence he left Mexico on a Czechoslovak plane for an undisclosed destination.

[111] See History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, (Moscow, 1960), pp. 396, 409.

[112] Stalin did not mean countries belonging to Soviet Russia, but countries which followed the Russian lead in setting up Soviets (Councils of Workers and Peasants) which would win power.

[113] J. Stalin, Leninism, (London, 1928), pp. 214-216; Works, (Moscow, 1953), Vol. VI, pp. 418-420.

[114] I cannot in the scope of this article examine the question of how far these proposals corresponded to the real economic possibilities existing at the time they were advanced. It is one of the myths of vulgar Trotskyism that the implementation by Stalin after 1928 of more far-reaching plans than had been put forward by the Opposition in itself proves that the latter was correct. As Maurice Dobb writes, “it does not follow that what may have been practicable in 1928-29 was necessarily practicable at an earlier date when both industry and agriculture were weaker.” (M. Dobb, Soviet Economic Development since 1917, London, 1948, pp. 206-7. See also, R. W. Davies, “The Inadequacies of Russian Trotskyism”, in Labour Review (London, July-August 1957). However, I would accept the argument that, if the Party had heeded earlier the Opposition’s warnings against the dangerous growth in the power of the Kulaks (rich peasants) in the country­side, the process of collectivisation in 1929-30 could have been less violent. As against this, though, the Trotskyists’ economic policies favouring the exploitation of the coun­tryside by the town through a system of price differentials which would keep up the price of industrial products at the expense of agricultural prices (see, e. g. The New Economics, by Preobrazhensky, the Opposition’s chief economist) anticipated theoreti­cally much of the approach to the peasantry that from 1929 Stalin was to apply in prac­tice.

[115] L. Trotsky, ‘Young People, Study Politics’, in Fourth International (London), January 1966, p. 34. Curiously enough, Trotsky was being reproached in Soviet histories in the early 1930s for his opposition in 1920 to the Red Army’s advance on Warsaw, said to have been “due to a Social-Democratic prejudice to the effect that it was wrong to carry revolution into a country from the outside.” (N. Popov, Outline History of the Communist Parry of the Soviet Union, New York, Part II, n. d., p. 101.)

[116] See, especially quotations 6, 8 and 9 on page 10.

[117] L. Trotsky, The Programme of Peace, (Colombo, 1956), p. 18.

[118] L. Trotsky, Stalinism and Bolshevism, (London, 1956), p. 9. (Emphasis in original)

[119] The Programme of Peace, pp. 20-21.

[120] Where is Trotsky Going? (London, 1928), pp. 53-54.

[121] L. Trotsky, The Third International After Lenin, (New York, 1957), p. 47

[122] Ibid., p. 49.

[123] L. Trotsky, Third International, p. 49.

[124] Ibid.

[125] L. Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, (New York, 1957), pp. 6ff.

[126] L. Trotsky, in Workers’ International News (London), July 1938, p. 1.

[127] Ibid., p. 2.

[128] Isaac Deutscher, Stalin: A Political Biography, (London, 1959) pp. 286-7

[129] New International, March 1935, p. 40.

[130] E. Mandel, New Left Review, No. 47, p. 42. This type of definition of Socialism is on a par with Trotsky’s contention that Russia could not be said to have socialism till “the average productivity of every member of socialist society is higher, even substantially higher, than that of a capitalist worker”. (L. Trotsky, New International, October 1935, p. 178.)

[131] Lenin, Selected Works, VII, pp. 85-87. Italics in original. Cf. also Selected Works VIII, p. 239. It is possible to find modifications of this definition of Socialism in certain other passages in Lenin, but these quoted here are the most typical.

[132] N. Bukharin and E. Preobrazhensky, An ABC of Communism (London 1924), pp. 345­6.

[133] Cf. J. P Cannon, the veteran U.S. Trotskyist leader in his ABC of Trotskyism (London, 1945) which served as a basic textbook for English-speaking Trotskyists for many years:
“I … consider the terms Socialism and Communism interchangeable … According to Marx and Engels, as you approach the classless Socialism or Communist society, the government … eventually withers away…” (ABC of Trotskyism, Workers International News Special, London, 1945.)

[134] L. Trotsky, Results and Prospects, p. 220.

[135] I have quoted Lenin’s statements on this fairly fully in my article on Trotsky and Socialism in One Country in New Left Review, No. 50, July-August 1968. I am grateful to the Editor of N. L. R., for his permission to incorporate parts of that article into this section of the present study.

[136] Selected Works, IX, p. 381 and p. 403.

[137] Selected Works, VII, p. 361.

[138] In his article On Co-operation, Lenin characterises this type of co-operative property, based on nationalisation of the land, as essentially Socialistic in character. (Selected Works, IX, p. 407.)

[139] J. V. Stalin, The Final Victory of Socialism in the Soviet Union, Reply to Ivanov, 12-2­38 (London, n.d.), pp. 3, 6. In his letter Stalin reiterated his previous qualification that “the final victory of Socialism, in the sense of full guarantee against the restoration of bourgeois property relations, is possible only on an international scale” and not so long as the Soviet Union was surrounded by numerous capitalist countries. (pp. 6-7.)

[140] P. Togliatti, Questions Posed by the 20th Congress of the CPSU, Interview with Nuovi Argumenti, (London, 1956), p. 8.

[141] See e.g. The Newsletter, 9 March, 1968: “Stalin’s theory of ‘Socialism in one country’ led directly to the economic chaos and political purges of the 1930s…” No attempt is made to explain the causal connections or to tell us, if this theory was responsible for the ‘economic chaos’, which theory was then responsible for the very great economic successes accepted by Trotsky to have taken place in this period.

[142] L. Trotsky, In Defence of Marxism, (New York, 1965).

[143] L. Trotsky, The Workers’ State and the Question of Thermidor and Bonapartism (London, n.d., S. L. L. duplicated pamphlet), p. 7.

[144] The Case of Leon Trotsky, p. 282.

[145] L. Trotsky, In Defence of Marxism, pp. 15-16, 20.

[146] L. Trotsky, Revolution Betrayed, p. 261.

[147] Ibid., p. 272.

[148] L. Trotsky, Revolution Betrayed, p. 229. It is interesting to note that after the last war the Trotskyist Fourth International (there was still only one at that time), far from mak­ing any self-criticism or analysis of their cardinal error, went on to repeat it. In 1946, under the heading “The Power of Marxist Prognosis”, its International Conference claimed that “in every important respect the analysis of the Fourth International has stood the test of time”, (Workers’ International News, London, April-May, 1946, p. 171), and proceeded in a resolution to state that “only the intervention of the proletarian revo­lution can prevent a fatal outcome for the U.S.S.R. in its present trial of strength with imperialism”. (Quatrième Internationale, Paris, April-May 1946, p. 18). It was of course at pains to assert that the war had “marked the brutal bankruptcy” of … “the theory of Socialism in One Country”. (Ibid., p. 16). 20 years later the fatal outcome had not materialised, but faithful Trotskyists were not inclined to let such banal considerations modi­fy their views. Thus, in the Newsletter of Dec. 18, 1965, we find S. L. L. National Committee member Jack Gale asserting that “the bureaucracy” would “bring about the overthrow of the Soviet Union if it is not removed.” Never say die!

[149] L. Trotsky, Revolution Betrayed, pp. 253-4.

[150] Ibid., p. 227.

[151] Ibid., p. 290.

[152] Ibid., pp. 284-290.

[153] L. Trotsky, Stalinism and Bolshevism, p. 8.

[154] L. Trotsky, Ibid., p. 13.

[155] L. Trotsky, Revolution Betrayed, p. 138.

[156] L. Trotsky, Ibid., pp.135 ff.

[157] Reports of Court Proceedings of the Trial of the Trotskyite-Zinoviev Centre (Moscow 1936), of the Trial of the Anti-Soviet Trotskyite Centre (Moscow 1937), of the Trial of the Anti-Soviet Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites (Moscow, 1938).

[158] The Case of Leon Trotsky, (London, 1937).

[159] Not Guilty (London, 1938).

[160] See, e. g. J.R. Campbell, Soviet Policy and its Critics (London, 1939), p. 265.

[161] The Dethronement of Stalin: Full text of the Krushchev Speech (Manchester Guardian Pamphlet,1956), esp. pp. 13-18, 25. Although this speech, delivered at a closed session of the Congress, has still not been published in Russia, there is no question whatsoever about the genuineness of this text.

[162] Krushchev made public their innocence in his reply to discussion at the 22nd C.P.S.U. Congress in 1961, revealing that the Presidium of the Party had already approved their rehabilitation in 1957.

[163] Trial of Anti-Soviet Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites, pp. 186, 252-4. Evidence was given that “in Trotsky’s opinion, Tukhachevsky and the military group were to be the decisive force of the counter-revolutionary action.” (p. 245).

[164] Trial of Anti-Soviet Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites, pp. 276 ff, 733. At the trial Krestinsky ‘confessed’ to having as early as 1921 negotiated an agreement between Trotsky and the German General Staff whereby they would give Trotsky 60,000 dollars a year to subsidise illegal Trotskyite activity in Russia and as payment for espionage information from him and Krestinsky (pp. 269-270).

[165] Report of Press Conference by G Pajetta, of the leadership of the Italian Communist Party, in L’Unita, December 1961.

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