Romancing Trotsky

In June Leon Trotsky’s My Life was published in Urdu in Pakistan. The launching of the book was reported in the Pakistani daily paper the Daily Dawn. This then sparked of a series of letters to the paper, both hostile and friendly to Trotsky. All of them were published under the same title, “Romancing Trotsky”, the title of the original review. Among the letters are replies from Comrade Chaudhry Manzoor Ahmad (Member National Assembly) and Comrade Qamar uz Zaman Kaira (Member National Assembly).

In June Leon Trotsky’s My Life was published in Urdu in Pakistan. The launching of the book was reported in the Pakistani daily paper the Daily Dawn. This then sparked of a series of letters to the paper, both hostile and friendly to Trotsky. All of them were published under the same title, “Romancing Trotsky”, the title of the original review. Among the letters are replies from Comrade Chaudhry Manzoor Ahmad (Member National Assembly) and Comrade Qamar uz Zaman Kaira (Member National Assembly). (June 2004)

Romancing Trotsky
(Published on June 9, 2004 in Daily Dawn)

By Mushir Anwar

Who could have thought an Urdu translation of Trotsky's autobiography could arouse such enthusiasm in the post-Zia Pakistan! At the TVO place where at its fortnightly discussions the Islamabad Cultural Forum considers a dozen chairs occupied as eminent success all seats in the hall were taken and the floor was full of eager young squatters, who wanted to know something about the enigmatic life of the maverick revolutionary, and confused old comrades who didn't know whether to discuss poet Javed Shaheen's excellent rendition or use the opportunity to inquire into what went wrong and how the unwashed of the world lost their robust empire.

There was Kishwar Naheed, godmother of the orphaned Left in the Islamic capital, Munno Bhai in his trim seventies who flew in from Lahore, ideologue Ashfaque Salim Mirza and the indefatigable octogenarian Prof Khwaja Masud, but the star of the evening it appeared was Lal Khan, the undaunted apparatchik who gave a moving account of the state of things as the Left saw that and how it was wrong to conclude that the progressive enterprise had closed shop.

There was a new awakening in the West itself that one saw in the huge protests against globalization, environmental pollution and imperialistic war mongering and forcible occupations of sovereign countries. Despite its costly and stupendous effort to sell its story line, corporate thuggery was daily facing a crisis of credibility.

He explained the differences that arose between Trotsky and Lenin that the latter regarded with respect but which the growing establishment around him felt threatened by.

Ashfaque Salim Mirza gave a more detailed account of Trotsky's role and the nature of his differences with Lenin and the deep rift that grew between him and Stalin for whom he had little regard.

Among Marxists there are two opinions about Trotsky. There are those who find fault with his refusal to submit to the official line of the Communist Party and those who respect him for his intellectual integrity and his contribution to Marxist literature and his role in the revolutionary struggle.

Lenin held him highly as the builder of the Red Army and criticized those who tried to exploit his differences with him. In fact in his later years Lenin wanted Stalin removed from his position as general secretary as he thought Stalin could not handle the immense power he had accumulated in this position.

What would have been the shape of things if as was generally hoped Trotsky had assumed charge after Lenin? Left visionaries would for long ponder this imponderable. A great romantic figure that twice escaped from Siberia was at last hunted down in Mexico by Stalin's men and slain brutally.

Che Guevara alone probably matches his revolutionary charisma, though not his intellectual calibre. That age is probably gone though one sees braver men and bolder women daily mock death in the streets of Palestine.

Nameless fighters these, if ten such souls America could produce their statues would dot memorial sites from Los Angeles to New York. Yet, as it is, one does not contemplate extinct manhood like Trotsky's rising again from the castrated crop of yuppies parading around as role models for our sterile world.

Praising Javed Hashmi's translation Mirza Sahib recalled the work done at Usmania University which included such complex texts as Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. In Pakistan Ghulam Rasul Mehr translated Toynbee and Syed Zakir Ejaz rendered Fraser's Golden Bough into Urdu.

Will Durant's Story of Philosophy was translated by Syed Abid Ali Abid, Franz Fanon by Mohammad Pervez and Sajjad Baqir Rizvi. Sophie's World and War and Peace are among Shahid Hameed's achievements. Nowadays Yasser Jawad is in full steam.

One of the most beautiful of translations which is not so often mentioned is Mukhtar Siddiqui's Jeenay ki Ehmiyat from Lin Yu Tang's all time best seller, The Importance of Living. It is so good indeed you don't feel like reverting to the original.

The month of May that begins with workers rallying to renew their ritual resolve lends a reddish hue even to green Islamabad that with the promise of enlightenment spreading is kind of moderating its rigid stances.

For a change now the 'fellas' who came to 'cover' the Trotsky event left without getting any information about the whereabouts of this man whose name was so hard to pronounce. When they were told he died a long time ago and was a writer they lost their remaining zeal.

There is indeed a softening and this is good as there is much confusion also. The traditional Right is in a quandary finding itself pitted against its traditional sponsors. Its discomfort by the side of the progressive forces is soap opera stuff.

There is a huge increase in the body of writers lost on the middle path. Moderation takes its toll of clarity and tolerating hoodlums, hypocrites and dunderheads is for some the ultimate in charity.

Noted Urdu critic and writer Shamsur Rahman Faruqi was here on a visit from India. The Academy of Letters had an evening with him. It seems he didn't say many things that literary people here wanted to hear from him.

Agog initially Kishwar Naheed looked drained of enthusiasm and Rahat Saeed, the editor of progressive series Irtiqa, who later came from Karachi, also sounded noncommittal, in fact satiated and bored.

The function that Irtiqa Institute of Social Sciences held in Faruqui's honour at Karachi, did not go very well. Both the hosts and the guest had little approbation to share. And there was much amiss in Asif Farrukhi's speech, Rahat Saeed complained.

But his own visit to Islamabad as ministers returning from Jeddah usually conclude was a complete success. Kishwar Naheed, Ashfaq Salim Mirza, poet Farrukh Yar and other comrades arranged elaborate feasts in his honour.

Farrukh Yar's on the roof top was a breezy moonlit nocturne where sundry progressive themes were lightly touched upon. The mellow wind took away our words. The sky became overcast.


'Romancing Trotsky'
(published on June 10, 2004 Daily Dawn)

by Raza Naeem, Lahore

This refers to 'Romancing Trotsky' by Mushir Anwar in his Literary Round-up section (June 9). I think the writer is unduly generous to Leon Trotsky, and probably this is the reason why he chose to write about this 'maverick revolutionary' in a literary column rather than a political or current affairs column.

Leon Trotsky is a controversial figure in Marxist-Leninist hagiography, not for his role in the Bolshevik Revolution, but for what he subsequently did in Leninist Russia to rapidly win the disfavour of the Bolshevik Party.

The 'differences' talked about in the column between Lenin and Trotsky were not mere personal or intellectual differences which could be papered over after Lenin's untimely death, but real political and ideological differences, which were to determine the fate of the infant Bolshevik state.

Trotsky's lack of an activist background led him to falsely believe that the Russian Revolution could only be brought about by industrial workers and not by peasants; he in fact expressly showed disdain for the Russian peasants, and doubted and rejected their revolutionary character, not an uncommon refrain amongst today's bourgeois intellectuals.

This was his infamous theory of 'Permanent Revolution' which really was a counter-revolutionary theory and subsequent events in China, Vietnam, Stalinist Russia were to prove his theory permanently wrong.

His theory had nothing to do with the realities of the modern Third World, where the majority of people are still involved in agriculture rather than employed in factories. Trotsky's theories and his role in the Brest-Litovsk Treaty with Germany ensured that he rapidly slid down in the Communist Party.

In fact, owing to the minority of his followers, he and his theories could never gain enough support in the Politburo for him to be anointed Lenin's successor. When Trotsky was democratically expelled from the Bolshevik Party, he started slandering Stalin and it was owing to this hateful propaganda - and not personal enmity as Trotskyites love to wail - that there was no choice but to expel him from the Soviet Union.

Due to his opposition to Stalin and the strong industrialized power he made the Soviet Union, Trotsky and his writings were mercilessly used by American and British imperialists to discredit Stalin and the Soviet state, with the express willingness and collusion of Trotsky himself.

How many die-hard Trotskyites would admit this today? Also, contrary to what has been mentioned in the article, Trotsky was not assassinated by Stalin's 'agents', but by his own follower, a European Trotskyite named Frank Jacson, who got enraged when Trotsky forbade Jacson's marriage to a woman he (Jacson) liked.

These and other lies propounded by Trotskyites have been fully exposed in a brilliant book, 'Trotskyism or Leninism?' by Harpal Brar (Progressive Printers, India, 1993).

Since Trotsky's so-called 'assassination', his followers have repeatedly tried to win the leadership of popular struggles, both in the developing and in developed countries; and it goes without saying that they have failed.

Most of the struggles in the developing countries, whether North Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East, China and now in Nepal, Colombia and Peru have been historically led by orthodox Marxist-Leninists having no truck with Trotsky since his theories simply rejected the peasantry from playing a progressive revolutionary role in politics, while in actuality it this class who have always played the backbone of revolution.

The only countries where Trotskyites have succeeded in developing a following are the imperialist heartland of the modern era, the US and the UK (in the form of the Socialist Workers Party) and France or the countries of Western Europe, which were weaned after 1945 by US imperialism in the form of the Marshall Plan. And here too they are deeply divided between followers of one tendency or the other.

Where they are not leading parties, many former Trotskyites have shed their revolutionary colours and turned to blindly supporting US imperialism - the likes of Christopher Hitchens, the Orwell-loving columnist who was an early casualty of 9/11; David Horowitz, Irving Kristol and David Aaronovich, who populates the British paper Guardian. They are all former Trotskyites now doing active laundry service for US imperialism.

Even in Pakistan, the Trotskyites were never a popular force. When activists like Hassan Nasir and Major Ishaq (the founder of the Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party) were being persecuted for their beliefs by successive Pakistani dictatorships, 'comrades' such as Lal Khan and Farooq Tariq were in comfortable exile abroad, waving the banner of Trotskyism.

In short, Leon Trotsky did not have a distinguished role in post-revolutionary Russia. His political programme was utterly bankrupt, which led to his being discredited within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and later on by the majority of Third World revolutionaries, because of his counter-revolutionary beliefs and practices.

The plight of Trotskyism today merely confirms that it holds no vision for the emancipation of the working class as in the early 19th century.


'Romancing Trotsky'
(published on June 17, 2004 in Daily Dawn)

by Chaudhry Manzoor Ahmad (Member, National Assembly), Lahore

This refers to the letter "Romancing Trotsky" (June 10) by Raza Naeem. For more than seven decades, the ideologues of western imperialism and the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Kremlin orchestrated a vicious smear campaign against Leon Trotsky.

Lenin and Trotsky had differences on several issues. Both were honest and bold enough to accept their mistakes. Lenin accepted the validity of Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution in his famous 'April Thesis' (1917). This was the basis of the unity between Lenin and Trotsky and the ideological foundation of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Trotsky organized from scratch the Red Army that defeated the onslaught of 21 imperialist armies against the infant Soviet state after the revolution. He devised the five-year plans that led to the astronomical growth in the Soviet Union. Lenin called him the most capable leader of the Bolshevik Party in his last testament.

After the death of Lenin, Trotsky fought all his life against the degeneration of the Russian Revolution. After the degeneration, Stalin carried out a brutal repression of the children of the revolution itself.

By 1936, only one person of the central committee under the leadership of which the Bolsheviks had carried out the revolution was left in the Kremlin. It was Stalin himself.

All other CC members were assassinated, exiled or forced to commit suicide. Thousands of Bolsheviks were massacred in the wastes of the Tundra. Stalin's agents murdered Trotsky's sons Sergei and Sedov.

His daughter Zina was forced to commit suicide. Trotsky's assassin Ramon Mercador (Jackson) was awarded the "Lenin Award" after his release from Mexico in 1960 by the Stalinist bureaucrats in Moscow.

Trotsky was the only person who predicted and explained how the Stalinist degeneration would lead to the collapse of the Soviet Union in his famous work 'Revolution betrayed' (1936).

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the capitalist binge of the Chinese bureaucracy is a clear vindication of Trotsky's perspective. These events and the crisis of capitalism on the world scale have decisively buried the Menshevik/Stalinist ideology of two stages and the reformist tendencies of social democracy forever.

The only way forward for the working masses and the emancipation of the human race is Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution which calls for a socialist revolution. That is why Trotskyism is resurging across the globe.

It is unfortunate that many of those who slander Trotsky have not read a single work of his. Their ignorance only plays in the hands of imperialism and strengthens capitalist reaction.

As regards the writer's criticism of comrade Lal Khan, he was imprisoned, tortured and was ordered to be shot at sight by the Zia dictatorship in 1980. This was not a very comfortable situation to be in.


'Romancing Trotsky'
(published June 24, 2004 in Daily Dawn)

by S.Afzaal Mahmood, Lalamusa

A very lively debate has been taking place in these columns for the last few days. This debate was started after the reports published in the press about the book-launching ceremony of the Urdu version of the autobiography of Trotsky.

The Russians fought their own war on the basis of their own concrete realities. It did not even conform to the philosophy of Karl Marx. Is society a static thing? Decades have elapsed since this controversy was unleashed but never anywhere could the Trotskyites perform the long-cherished desire of an egalitarian socialist revolution.

Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution and dislike of the peasantry did not go anywhere. Trotsky was clinging to the classical version that only the proletariat can create revolution.

People like Raza Naeem, Manzoor Hussain and Lal Khan have ignored the ground realities vis-a-vis the make-up of classes, their numerical strength and political consciousness, the economic conditions of society and classes and moreover the organization of a revolutionary party.

In the era of communication and technological revolution, new needs and alignment of classes have emerged. In this new situation, the revolutionaries should not only remain clinging to the classical version of Marxism. They should be creative.

Stalin was not as bad as he has been painted to be in the media. Positive and negative points are part of human beings. We abhor fundamentalism but our attitude is like that of fundamentalists.

The followers of Lenin and Trotsky should stop fighting and try to ascertain the requirements of our society and base their movement for change on that basis. We are slaves of personalities and we wrongly claim we are fighting against the personality-cult.

'Romancing Trotsky'
(published July 6, 2004 in Daily Dawn)

By Qamar Zaman Kaira, Member, National Assembly, Lalamusa

This refers to the reply of Mr Raza Naeem (June 25) to Chaudhry Manzoor Ahmed's letter (June 17). Mr Naeem has more faith in so-called hardline European Trotskyites than comrade Manzoor who dedicated all his adult life in the struggle for a socialist revolution.

It is a blatant lie to say that Trotskyites rejected the anti-imperialist struggles in China, Vietnam and elsewhere. The writings of Ted Grant in the 1940s and the 1990s are a proof of that. He welcomed the overthrow of capitalism and landlordism.

These revolutions were in fact a vindication of Trotsky's theory of "permanent revolution" as they skipped the stage of capitalism. However, they also gave a clear perspective of those revolutions.

What has been the fate of Vietnam, North Korea, China and Albania apart from others? The capitalist degeneration of these revolutions was due to the Stalinist theory of "Socialism in one country" as predicted by Marxists.

The slander that Trotsky dismissed the role of peasantry is an obsolete Stalinist fabrication. The role of any class in society is determined not by its numerical strength but by the social and economic role it plays in running society and the character of the revolution that impends.

Trotsky's position was very clear: he characterized the relationship of the classes in revolution as "dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry under the leadership of the proletariat".

This was the ideological basis on which the October Revolution was carried through under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky in 1917. Contrary to Mr Naeem's claim, the theory of "permanent revolution" is more relevant to the Third World than the advanced countries.

In his epic work "History of the Russian Revolution", Trotsky explains: "A backward country assimilates the material and intellectual conquests of the advanced countries. But this does not mean that it follows them slavishly, reproduces all stages of their past... although compelled to follow after the advanced countries, a backward country doesn't take things in same order.

The privilege of historical backwardness - and such a privilege exists - permits or rather compels the adoption of whatever is ready in advance of any specified date, skipping a whole series of intermediate stages.

Savages throw away their bows and arrows for rifles all at once, without travelling the road which lay between those two weapons of the past." Mr Naeem confesses to never have seen Lenin's monumental work "April Theses".

I will quote from Lenin's complete works published after the revolution (1917), which included a brief biographical sketch of all-important revolutionists. On Trotsky it says: Before the revolution of 1905 Trotsky advanced his own unique, profound and now especially celebrated theory of the permanent revolution, asserting that the bourgeoisie revolution of 1905 would pass over directly into a socialist revolution."

So much for Lenin's rejection. The Stalinists always quote Lenin in an opportunistic and empirical manner. They would quote Lenin from 1905 or 1915 but not from 1917 or 1922.

Lenin was a dialectician and his own theoretical understanding was subject to dialectical change. The Stalinists victimized Trotsky because he was an obstacle to the perks, privileges and luxuries of the Stalinist caste that took power through the political counter-revolution.

Yes, there were ideological differences between Lenin and Trotsky before 1917. But through an honest debate, and not fabrications and abusive slander, they resolved those differences and laid the basis of the Socialist victory.

The rise of Hitler and fascism in Germany was a direct result of the ultra left policies of the Stalinist hierarchy. They forced the German communist party to split from the SDP and hence pierced the unity of the proletariat.

Trotsky on other hand was advocating a united front to defeat fascism. During the Stalin- Hitler pact in August 1939, while Trotsky was in an agonizing exile, the Stalinists were partying with the fascists in the ballrooms of Berlin.

After assassinating Trotsky, Stalinists were feasting with imperialist leaders Churchill, Truman and Roosevelt in Yalta (1943) and Tehran (1945) where they capitulated to the imperialism by officially disbanding the Third International, handing over several countries in the grip of revolutions and committing a historical betrayal with the world proletariat.

To call Trotsky an agent of imperialism and fascism is not just absurd but nauseating for even the initial students of history. It was Trotsky who defined Fascism as "the distilled essence of capitalism".

The imperialists subjected Trotsky to such torments that he was called "a man on a planet without visa". His children, friends and comrades were massacred, yet Trotsky defended the planned economy in the Soviet Union when he wrote "In defence of October".

Lenin's last testament was locked up in the iron vaults of the Kremlin and its existence denied. Only in 1956 due to his own differences with Stalin, Khrushchev exposed Lenin's last testament.

The Stalinist zigzag policies were responsible for the bloody defeats of the revolutions in China (1924-25), Britain (1926), France (1936), India (1946), Spain (1936-37), Indonesia (1965), Greece (1945), Chile (1973) and the list goes on.

In Spain the Stalinists formed an alliance with the imperialists under popular frontism that led to the defeat of the revolution and paved the way for Franco's despotism.