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

Introduction to the Fourth Edition

By Rob Sewell

It is now more than thirty years since the publication of the first edition of this work. Although republished in 1972 and 1976, it has been out of print for a number of years. It was written as a reply to Monty Johnstone, who, at that time was a leading theoretician of the Communist Party of Great Britain, and had published a reappraisal of Leon Trotsky in the Young Communist League journal Cogito at the end of 1968. Alan Woods and Ted Grant used this opportunity to write a detailed reply explaining the real relationship between the ideas of Lenin and Trotsky, which had been systematically falsified by the Stalinists ever since the invention of “Trotskyism” in 1924. This was no academic exercise. It was written as an appeal to the ranks of the Communist Party and the Young Communist League to rediscover the truth about Trotsky and return to the original revolutionary programme of Lenin. “It is the duty of all comrades in these organisations,” stated the authors, “to prepare themselves theoretically for the great tasks which face us.”

The Cogito Article

The Cogito article appeared in October 1968 under the title of Trotsky – His Ideas, and was described as the first part of a trilogy. The second appeared in May 1976, entitled Trotsky and World Revolution. The third, which was billed as Trotskyist Policies Today, was never published. Nevertheless, Monty Johnstone’s attack on Trotsky provided a valuable opportunity to engage the rank and file of the YCL and the CP in debate on fundamental questions. The significance of this opportunity was highlighted by the fact that up until then an open discussion on Trotskyism had been out of the question. A few years previously, Betty Reid had written a vitriolic article in the CP journal Marxism Today entitled Trotskyism in Britain Today, warning the rank and file against any association with Trotskyist groups:

“We have to make clear that all these groupings without exception are out to destroy the party and to weaken and confuse the British Labour movement. We have to explain this, we have to warn against association. Finally we have to make clear that the party is united in its determination to achieve socialism, and will not tolerate association with these people, or failure to fight for our policy when they appear.”[1]

As the authors of Lenin and Trotsky explained: “Until recently, a discussion in the Young Communist League and the Communist Party on the question of Trotskyism would have been unthinkable.” Even Johnstone thought it “long overdue”, to which Woods and Grant added, “overdue, to be exact for rather more than four decades.”

The arguments put forward by Monty Johnstone against Trotsky were, however, far from original. As we shall see, they are largely a rehash of the old slanders of the past, albeit presented in a more refined form. I will not anticipate the content of the arguments, which are clearly set forth in the texts reproduced here. In order to give the reader a chance to compare the book with the arguments it responded to, we have taken the opportunity to republish Monty Johnstone’s original article from Cogito, which has also been long out of print.

Also included, as part of the appendices, is a pamphlet by Alan Woods, entitled Lenin’s Suppressed Letters, first issued in early 1970 to commemorate the centenary of Lenin’s birth, which was intended as a supplement to the original reply to Monty Johnstone. This contains material by Lenin that was deliberately suppressed by the Stalinists, but gradually released after 1956 in an attempt by Khrushchev to distance himself from the crimes of Stalin. The material relates in particular to the relations between Lenin and Trotsky. Most of these letters, but not all – originally denounced as Trotskyist forgeries – were belatedly published by Moscow in the English edition of the Collected Works towards the end of 1970. However, as was recently disclosed by Professor Yuri Buranov, even these letters of Lenin were tampered with and altered by the Stalinists in their attempts to falsify history.

A sizeable part of the present work inevitably deals with the history of Bolshevism. Therefore, the publication of this new edition must be regarded as complementary to the recent work by Alan Woods, Bolshevism – The road to revolution, where the political issues prior to the October Revolution are dealt with in far greater depth, and Ted Grant’s Russia – From revolution to counter-revolution. However, Lenin and Trotsky, written in a polemical style, is a brilliant introduction to the subject, and deserves a wider audience within the ranks of the labour and communist movement. After all, it is precisely towards those militant workers and youth that the book was first aimed. Today, after the stormy events of the last thirty years, especially with the collapse of Stalinism in Russia and Eastern Europe, the ideas contained in this book are more relevant than ever before.

The Issue of Trotsky

It was no accident that the issue of Trotsky was being discussed in the YCL in 1968. It was a key year. In France a six-week long revolutionary general strike – the biggest in history – erupted in May of that year. The so-called strong state of de Gaulle was paralysed. Ten million workers had occupied the factories. This magnificent movement could have easily led to the overthrow of French capitalism had it not been for the policies and conduct of the leaders of the French Communist Party. The French Prime Minister Pompidou wrote in his memoirs:

“The crisis was infinitely more serious and more profound; the regime would stand or be overthrown, but it could not be saved by a mere cabinet reshuffle. It was not my opinion that was in question. It was General de Gaulle, the Fifth Republic, and, to a considerable extent, Republican rule itself.”[2]

On May 24, de Gaulle resorted to the device he had used previously: calling a referendum. The whole question was seen as a vote of confidence in himself. However, the referendum proved impossible. Not a single print shop in France would print the ballot papers. When they tried in Belgium, the printers refused in solidarity. Within five days de Gaulle had disappeared. He had flown to Baden-Baden in West Germany, according to Pompidou in an “attack of demoralisation”, and intended to withdraw from political life. It was only the efforts of General Massu which persuaded de Gaulle to return to Paris. At one point a demoralised de Gaulle told the US ambassador: “The game’s up. In a few days the communists will take over.” In effect, power was in the hands of the working class. Unfortunately, the French Communist Party, which had a decisive influence in the working class, failed to use the favourable opportunity to carry through the socialist revolution, and instead channelled the movement into defeat.

After a long period of relative class “harmony” following the Second World War, the French events had placed the idea of revolution firmly back on the agenda. They had the effect of shaking up the European labour movement and provoked a ferment of discussion which affected the rank and file of the Communist Parties, especially the youth. This partly explains the renewed interest in the ideas of Trotsky. But the French events were not the only cause of the unrest in the ranks of the Communist Parties. In August, the Russian bureaucracy sent tanks into Czechoslovakia to crush the tentative steps by the Dubcek government to introduce democratic “reforms”. Again, the communist movement, as in 1956 with the Soviet invasion of Hungary, was shaken to its very foundations. There was a sharp polarisation in its ranks. Divisions opened up throughout the Communist Parties, especially between the Stalinist and “Euro-Communist” wings, with a layer of communist militants questioning what was taking place within the USSR and the strategy being pursued by their leadership nationally and internationally. In this ferment, the question of Trotsky’s ideas and past role in the communist movement began to surface.

On the other side of the globe, the barbarous war in South East Asia perpetrated by American imperialism was met with the heroic resistance of the Vietnamese guerrilla army. The year began with the Tet Offensive which forced the Americans onto the defensive. The revolutionary struggle of the Vietnamese people set off an unprecedented student radicalisation in Britain, Europe and the United States, where a layer of radicalised youth looked to revolutionary ideas as a way forward. Inevitably, with the crisis in the Communist Parties, the ideas of Trotsky – demonised for so long by the Stalinists – began to gain a certain echo amongst these newly politicised layers, and also the communist youth.

In order to cut across this, and to stiffen up the ranks of the YCL, Monty Johnstone was assigned to write an up-to-date exposure of Trotsky and his ideas. This was a dangerous exercise, as putting Trotsky’s role and ideas – even in a falsified form – openly before the YCL rank and file could generate an even greater interest in the “Old Man” and his writings. But the CP leadership had no alternative. As a result, Johnstone began a three-part series of articles in the YCL magazine, Cogito. The discussion was at last out in the open. Monty Johnstone had thrown down the challenge. Alan Woods and Ted Grant wrote at the time: “For our part, we welcome this challenge and are quite prepared to answer Comrade Johnstone’s arguments, point by point.” In our opinion, this remains the best all-round exposition of Trotsky’s ideas and the most comprehensive answer to the calumnies and distortions of the Stalinists in recent times. We therefore have no hesitation in republishing it as our contribution to the commemoration of the sixtieth anniversary of Trotsky’s assassination.

Monty Johnstone’s Second Thoughts

Over the last period, Monty Johnstone has modified his position with regard to Trotsky. While he has agreed to the reprinting of his Cogito article, he himself stated last year, “I would today write differently in a number of respects from how I wrote in 1968, particularly with regard to the question of ‘socialism in one country’.” However, he stressed that “it is certainly preferable that the reader should be able to see the original to which the reply was made.”[3]

In July 1992, Comrade Johnstone issued a further article published by the Socialist History Society entitled Our History – Trotsky Reassessed. Although this is not the place for a full critique of this pamphlet, it is clear that he has changed his views somewhat since the original Cogito article. In the light of events, he felt that “our assessments need themselves to be reassessed.”[4]

We would be the first people to welcome a genuine change of heart on the part of Monty Johnstone. Unfortunately, the change is more apparent than real. For example, he continues to take quotations out of context, merely presenting a caricature of Trotsky’s position on a number of fundamental questions. A few examples should suffice. Despite the extensive reply by Alan Woods and Ted Grant and the debates at the time, in regard to the 1903 Second Congress of the RSDLP, Monty Johnstone still maintains the myth that “the main point at issue was the character of the revolutionary party,”[5] which is clearly not the case. This misrepresentation was comprehensively demolished in Lenin and Trotsky – What they really stood for, some thirty years ago, and, more recently in Alan Woods’ book Bolshevism – The road to revolution. (Wellred, 1999)

The same treatment is meted out to Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution, the Brest-Litovsk dispute, the “debate” over “Socialism in One Country”, Soviet industrial policy, and other important questions. Comrade Johnstone throughout accuses Trotsky of consistent “over-estimation of revolutionary prospects in the west.”[6] Moreover, “his approach to economic questions was at variance with his plea for workers’ democracy.”[7] Similarly, “the economic proposals of the Trotskyist Left Opposition, which envisaged funding industrialisation on the basis of unequal exchange with the peasantry – something which Stalin himself was to implement, but in a much more brutal form, at the end of the 1920s in his collectivisation drive.”[8] To simply equate the proposal of the Left Opposition – which was to impose a tax on the rich peasants – with Stalin’s insane policy of “liquidation of the kulaks as a class” and forced collectivisation at gun-point, is entirely false – as was explained in the original reply of Woods and Grant.

The Opposition had opposed the policy of concessions to the wealthy peasantry since 1923, arguing that the Soviet economy needed an accelerated pace of industrialisation, financed by a tax on the wealthy peasants. The troika of Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev favoured concessions to the wealthy peasants at the expense of the poor peasants and workers. This led to a dramatic increase in class differentiation in the countryside, allowing the kulaks (wealthy peasants) to concentrate greater wealth in their hands. Later, Bukharin called for the kulaks to “enrich yourselves!” The harvests improved but the kulaks got the lion’s share. Industry was lagging behind agriculture, which, according to the Opposition, “undermines the bond between town and country and leads to a swift class differentiation among the peasants.”[9]

In Comrade Johnstone’s latest “reassessment”, Trotsky’s quotations are, as before, taken out of context and counterpoised to a totally different set of circumstances. For example, he quotes Trotsky’s book, Terrorism and Communism, written in 1920, justifying the policies of “War Communism” and conditioned by civil war and isolation. Without any explanation of the period, Johnstone remarks: “It is not possible to ignore the authoritarian positions which Trotsky took particularly in the early 1920s … This is all too reminiscent of Stalin.”[10] These lines are quite sufficient to reveal the limits of Monty Johnstone’s change of heart. As before, he attempts to appear both objective and reasonable by stating “Trotsky was not always wrong; sometimes both sides were wrong,”[11] and “let us avoid arrogance in believing that we have the last word in truth. None of us has a monopoly of the truth.”[12] But equating Trotsky’s writings of the civil war period – when the Soviet Republic was fighting for its survival against 21 foreign armies – with Stalin’s Bonapartist regime of terror, is frankly monstrous. Such violence as was used by Lenin and Trotsky during the period of the civil war was directed against the enemies of the Revolution – landlords, capitalists and imperialists. Moreover, even in the most difficult period of the civil war, the Bolsheviks maintained the most complete regime of Soviet democracy. What has this in common with the infamous totalitarian regime of Stalin, who directed his terror, not against landlords and capitalists, but against revolutionaries, workers, peasants and Bolsheviks?

Trotsky in the 1930s

According to Monty Johnstone,

“…in most cases, he [Trotsky] over-estimated the revolutionary possibilities, especially in the west, in such situations as, for instance, the 1926 General Strike in Britain, and France and Spain in 1936-37. He tended to see these revolutionary potentialities through the prism of the October Revolution. He was particularly wrong, in my view, on the Popular Front, against the Communist International, and on the character of the Second World War in 1939-40, along with the Communist International.”[13]

That the 1920s and 1930s were pregnant with revolutionary possibilities is self-evident from even a nodding acquaintance with the history of Spain, France, Germany, and even Britain. It is not a question of over-estimating the revolutionary events that took place during this period, but of asking ourselves why all this revolutionary potential was wasted. Time after time, the working class moved to change society. And time after time, the workers were derailed by their own leadership. This is an incontrovertible fact. And it is equally undeniable that the false policies that were pursued by the Comintern under Stalin played a fatal role in China in 1923-27, in Britain in 1926, in Germany in 1930-33, in France in 1934-36, and, above all, in Spain in 1931-37.

In Trotsky’s analysis of all these events there is not one atom of exaggeration or overestimation of the revolutionary potential of the working class. That is the line of argument that is always taken by those who wish to blame every defeat on the masses, in order to divert attention away from the role of the leaders. Trotsky’s writings of the 1930s provide us with a graphic and profound explanation of the relation between the class, the party and the leadership. He shows how it came about that, in one country after another, the efforts of the proletariat were frustrated by the Stalinist, social democratic and (in the case of Spain) anarchist leaderships. If there is any parallel with the Russian Revolution, it is the fact that the objective situation was far more favourable than that which the Bolshevik Party faced in 1917. Stalin deliberately held back the German revolution of 1923, stating that:

“…the fascists are not asleep, but it is to our interest that they attack first: that will rally the whole working class around the communists (Germany is not Bulgaria). Besides, according to all the information, the fascists are weak in Germany. In my opinion, the Germans must be curbed, and not spurred on.[14]

Stalin’s opportunist policy of clinging on to the British “lefts” in the General Council of the TUC, and the Anglo-Russian Trade Union Committee, was used to hold back the British Communist Party between 1925-26. The Anglo-Russian Committee was a formal agreement between the British and Soviet trade unions. The TUC right wing simply used the Committee as a “left” cover for their actions. The opportunist line was expressed by the British CP’s call for “All Power to the TUC”, which built up illusions that the TUC (led by the right wing) was capable of a revolutionary struggle. After the betrayal of the General Strike, Stalin opposed Trotsky’s call to break relations with the TUC strike-breakers. “We affirm that such a policy,” said Stalin, “is stupidity, adventurism…”[15] It was the British bureaucrats instead who later broke relations with the Soviet trade unions. The Stalinist policy was in ruins. However, the British Party stuck to its old position: “The campaign for ‘more power to the TUC’ must be intensified.”[16]

In China, the revolution of 1925-27 provided a massive opportunity to extend the socialist revolution to the east. The Chinese CP was the only workers’ party in the country with mass support. Instead of adopting a Bolshevik policy as in Russia in 1917, Stalin foisted the Menshevik theory of two stages on the young party. It was forced to abandon its independence and merge with the bourgeois-nationalist Kuomintang as a revolutionary “bloc of four classes”. No sooner had this happened, when Chiang Kai-shek, the real power behind the nationalist bourgeoisie, staged a coup in Canton. However, in order to continue the fight against the Left Opposition which opposed the Stalinist line in China, Stalin suppressed all news of the counter-revolution. Chiang went further and staged a further coup in Shanghai and a massacre of tens of thousands of communists.

Then Stalin backed the “left” Wang Ching-wei, who soon copied Chiang’s methods and turned on his communist “allies” in Wuhan. Stalin continued to talk of a “partial and temporary defeat”, despite the complete destruction of the Party and the ship-wreck of the revolution. The Left Opposition’s criticisms were vindicated by events, but the defeat led to further demoralisation within the USSR and the victory of the apparatus.

Popular Frontism

The insane policies of the “Third Period” adopted by the Communist International from 1928 played a particularly pernicious role. It led directly to the divisions in the German working class, where the Social Democratic workers were labelled “Social Fascists”, and ultimately led to the victory of Hitler in 1933, who boasted that he came to power without breaking a window pane. By the mid-thirties, the ultra-leftism of the “Third Period” was abandoned for the opportunist policies of Popular Frontism. The adoption of the Popular Front by the Comintern was not a return to Leninism, but to Menshevik ideas. The Communist Parties internationally were now instructed to seek alliances with the liberal bourgeois parties against the threat of fascism. This policy of class collaboration, the very basis of Menshevism, served to paralyse the proletariat. It was these very ideas that Lenin opposed in 1917 on his return to Russia, when he called for no support for the Provisional Government and the independence of the revolutionary party.

Popular Front policies played – in the words of Trotsky – a “strike-breaking” role throughout the 1930s. In France in 1936, the working class had seized the factories. However, the French Communist Party, in order to placate the Popular Front Government of Leon Blum, acted as a brake on the movement of the working class. This was admitted in the memoirs of the leader of the French CP, Maurice Thorez:

“A demagogue would have been able at that moment to have led the workers on to the most tragic excesses. But the Popular Front stands for order, for steady and organised progress, for social peace imposed by the masses and for a return to prosperity. Straightforwardly, and weighing all my words, I declared in the name of the Central Committee:

“Though it is important to press our claims thoroughly, it is equally important to know when to stop. At the moment there is no question of taking power. For the present, our job is to obtain satisfaction for our economic demands. We must therefore know how to stop as soon as we have obtained satisfaction.”

Thorez continued:

“Again and again we have opposed the leftist phraseology used by exasperated individuals to express their impatience, and which only results in limiting and narrowing the front of the working class struggle. We have repeated hundreds of times that the Popular Front is not the revolution.”[17]

In Spain, the uprising of the masses in Catalonia in 1936 could have led to revolution throughout the whole of the country, had it not been for the actions of the Stalinist and reformist leaders. The last thing Stalin wanted was socialist revolution in Europe. Such a development would have reawakened the revolutionary spirit amongst the Russian working class and led to the overthrow of the bureaucratic regime. Stalin, having abandoned Lenin’s revolutionary internationalist policy, wanted a diplomatic deal with the Western “democracies” in order to isolate Germany, and the Spanish revolution was sacrificed so as to impress his new would-be “friends”.

Franco could have been defeated if the workers’ leaders had pursued a revolutionary policy, on the lines of the policy pursued by Lenin and Trotsky in the period 1917-21. But the prior condition for victory was this: that the conduct of the war had to be taken out of the hands of the treacherous capitalist politicians and placed in the hands of the working people – the only ones with a firm interest in fighting the fascist counter-revolution to the end. In order to defeat Franco, the resources of Spain – the land, the banks, the industries – would have to be taken over by the workers and peasants. The masses would have to be armed in defence of their social conquests.

This was prevented by the actions of the leadership – particularly the Stalinists. Blindly following the class-collaborationist theory of the Popular Front dictated by Moscow, the leaders of the Spanish “Communist” Party became the most fervent defenders of capitalist law and order. Under the slogan of “first win the war”, they systematically sabotaged all independent movement of the workers and peasants. They pursued a class-collaborationist policy, as did the anarchist leaders of the CNT and the leaders of the POUM – who all joined the Popular Front. They justified their policy on the grounds of fighting fascism and “for democracy”. The question is how victory was to be achieved.

Trotsky answered in this way:

“You are right in fighting Franco. We must exterminate the fascists, but not in order to have the same Spain as before the civil war, because Franco issued from this Spain. We must exterminate the foundations of Franco, the social foundations of Franco, which is the social system of capitalism.”[18]

The workers of Catalonia attempted to halt the drift towards counter-revolution, and moved again to take power back into their hands in Barcelona in 1937. The defeat of the heroic proletariat of Barcelona, in which the Stalinists played an active role, unleashed an orgy of reaction which demoralised the workers and prepared the way for the victory of Franco. Overnight, the workers’ committees were dissolved, the POUM outlawed and its leaders imprisoned and murdered. With the enthusiastic assistance of the Stalinists, the right-wing government of Negrin rebuilt the old capitalist state apparatus. This sealed the fate of the Republic, whose leaders now looked to make a compromise with Franco by offering a coalition. The defeat of the Spanish Revolution in turn prepared the way for the Second World War.[19]

As early as 1931, Trotsky had warned that the victory of Hitler would prepare a world war. The terrible defeat in Germany and Austria, and then Spain, led inextricably to world war in 1939. The Second World War was in reality a continuation of the imperialist war of 1914-18. Trotsky consistently opposed the imperialist war, and maintained a firm class position, as Lenin had done in 1914. Despite the Stalinist slanders that Trotsky was a Gestapo agent, it was Stalin who, failing to pull off an agreement with the capitalist “democracies”, made a deal with Hitler in August 1939. This played into Hitler’s hands, and prepared the way for the brutal assault on the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941. This resulted in a new somersault by the Stalinists, who, having originally opposed the war, now characterised it as a “just war against fascism”. In 1943, Stalin obliged the imperialist Allied powers by dissolving the Comintern, without a congress or any discussion or vote. It was clear that Stalin had cynically used the Communist Parties internationally as tools for Soviet foreign policy. In Britain and elsewhere, the CP opposed strikes and became the worst chauvinists. Their propaganda amounted to the idea that “the only good German is a dead German”. For his part, Trotsky called for unconditional defence of the USSR in the war, but continued to maintain the same revolutionary internationalist position that Lenin had put forward in 1914-17.

Inevitably, Monty Johnstone’s “reassessment” ends up drawing pessimistic conclusions, even placing a question mark over the Russian Revolution itself.

“Whether with historical hindsight we should conclude that Lenin and the Bolsheviks were right in 1917 in setting their sights on establishing a dictatorship of the proletariat in predominantly peasant Russia, which they had hitherto opposed when it was put forward by Trotsky, is, a debate in its own right, which time will not permit me to go into now.”[20]

So this is where we finally end up. After having criticised Trotsky for disagreeing with the anti-Marxist theory of “socialism in one country”, Monty Johnstone now calls into question the conquest of power in 1917. Russia was a backward peasant country, you see, and therefore it is debatable whether the working class under those circumstances should have come to power. This was precisely the line of the Mensheviks, who subordinated the revolution to the bourgeoisie. More than 80 years after the October Revolution, Monty is not sure that it was not all a big mistake! Possibly it would have been far better to have left things to the liberal bourgeoisie. Then all would have been well. And socialism? Well, that is just an utopian dream, or at least something to be put off till the “sweet by-and-by”.

All this is not new. Johnstone merely repeats the arguments that have been used by bourgeois professors for decades against the Bolshevik Revolution. If only Lenin and Trotsky had left the bourgeoisie to get on with things, Russia would have avoided all its troubles and would have become a flourishing democracy. This argument completely flies in the face of the facts. The only alternative to Soviet power would not have been a regime of stable bourgeois democracy, which had no future under Russian capitalism, but the victory of bourgeois reaction in its most ferocious form. The attempted coup by General Kornilov was just a little warning of this. If the Bolsheviks, under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky, had not taken power, Kerensky would have been pushed to one side to make way for the dictatorship of the generals. What this would have meant can be seen in the horrors of the civil war when the Whites perpetrated every imaginable atrocity on the workers and peasants. Fascism would have come to power in Russia before Italy and Germany, and would have yielded nothing to the regimes of Hitler and Mussolini in brutality.

After more than 80 years, it is incredible that people who call themselves communists or socialists can call into question the validity of the October Revolution. For us, the Russian Revolution was the greatest single event in history. For the first time, apart from the brief episode of the Paris Commune, the working class succeeded to conquer state power and began to shape its own destiny. Despite the aberration of Stalinism, the USSR for a whole period demonstrated in practice the superiority of a nationalised planned economy. It gave a glimpse of the future possibilities for humanity, and was an inspiration to the oppressed on a world scale.

In his monumental work, The History of the Russian Revolution, Trotsky explained:

“Even supposing for a moment that owing to unfavourable circumstances and hostile blows the Soviet regime should be temporarily overthrown, the inexpungable impress of the October Revolution would nevertheless remain upon the whole future development of mankind.”

Rosa Luxemburg had no hesitation about the justification of October:

“Lenin and Trotsky with their friends were the first to give an example to the world proletariat. And they still remain the only ones who can exclaim with Hutten: I dared this!”[21]

We stand full square on the traditions of the October Revolution, which remain a guiding inspiration to all those who fight for the victory of the proletariat over capitalism.

Collapse of Stalinism

A false theory must sooner or later lead to disaster in practice. When Monty Johnstone wrote his original article in Cogito, it seemed to most people that the Soviet Union was an indestructible entity. True, there was this or that problem, but this was considered a case of “sunspots on the sun” rather than any deeper problem. Thirty years later, how hollow and foolish these ideas of the Stalinists appear! And how profound and correct the warnings of Trotsky in The Revolution Betrayed!

In the 1960s, despite the crisis over the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the USSR appeared to be at the pinnacle of its power. The Soviet economy had made truly gigantic steps forward since the war, making the USSR a world super-power. Commentators, both east and west, expected Stalinism to last forever. In fact, at the 22nd Congress of the CPSU, Khrushchev himself had forecast that the USSR would overtake the United States by 1980. No one had predicted or expected the crisis of Stalinism – except our tendency. Monty Johnstone waxed lyrical about the virtues of “socialism” in the Soviet Union. For him, it was “a fully developed, prosperous, harmonious and cultured socialist society.” (Cogito, p. 30)

However, the authors of the present work pointed out in their reply that “the Khrushchevs, the Brezhnevs, the Kosygins, are all members of the generation of gangsters and lackeys who climbed to power in the 1930s over the bloody corpse of Bolshevism”. They continued: “At the present time, the inner contradictions of the Soviet Bonapartist regime are more and more glaringly revealed.” Woods and Grant asked: “Yesterday, Stalinism was shaken by Hungary and Czechoslovakia, by France and the Sino-Soviet split. What will come tomorrow?” They went on to predict “new and terrible class battles on an international scale”, as well as “political revolution in the east”. The contradictions within the Soviet Union were corroding it from within, and were preparing the ground for a revolutionary crisis.

The revolutionary wave of the 1970s in the west served to confirm the first part of the prognosis. The pre-revolutionary crises in Chile and Argentina, the heightened class battles in Britain, the magnificent Portuguese revolution, the overthrow of the Greek junta, the collapse of the Franco regime, the revolutionary tide throughout the Indian sub-continent and South East Asia, and the overthrow of capitalism and landlordism in Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau and Ethiopia characterised the new period. This revolutionary upheaval coincided with the first simultaneous world slump in 1974, which opened up a new stormy phase for global capitalism.

Unfortunately, many of these movements, especially in Western Europe, were derailed by the criminal policies of the reformist and “communist” leaderships, which prepared the way for a swing to the right in the 1980s, epitomised by the victories of Thatcher, Reagan and Kohl. These were consequently underpinned by the 1980s boom, which gave rise to greater illusions in capitalism among sections of the Stalinist bureaucracies as well as reinforcing those of the reformists in the west. Of course, within this broad picture, there were militant class battles, such as the miners’ strike in Britain, but the general scheme witnessed a strengthening of the bourgeois parties, and an emptying of the traditional organisations of the working class. The increased pressures of capitalism on its top layers provided the basis for a dramatic shift to the right in the leadership of the workers’ parties, who wholeheartedly embraced the market and all its works. Blairism is but an extreme example of this phenomenon.

At the same time, the Soviet economy also experienced increasing difficulties as growth rates fell dramatically. By the late 1970s, the economy was grinding to a halt.
As Marx explained, the key to the development of society is the development of the productive forces. Growth rates in the eastern bloc were now below the capitalist west. The planned economies were seizing up. This crisis in Russia and Eastern Europe arose from the bureaucratic strangle-hold over the economy, and the absence of workers’ democracy. Whereas capitalism operates through the market and the laws of supply and demand, a nationalised planned economy has no such checks or balances, but has to be consciously planned and directed.

The bureaucracy, which in the past played a relatively progressive role in defending the planned economy (at enormous cost in mismanagement, corruption and waste), was utterly incapable of directing or planning the sophisticated modern economy which the USSR had become. Corruption and bureaucratic bungling systematically clogged up the arteries of the Soviet economy. From a relative fetter, the bureaucracy became an absolute fetter to further development. Only a regime of workers’ democracy, with genuine soviets, and workers’ control and management of the economy, can serve the needs of a nationalised economy. Only with the masses democratically involved in the running of industry and the state, at every level, can such a system function. Without this, at a certain stage, a nationalised economy will inevitably grind to a halt.

Despite the growing crisis, the bureaucracy refused to give up its power and privileges and thereby completely sabotaged and undermined the planned economy. Gorbachev attempted to reform the bureaucratic system, in a desperate attempt to find a way out of the impasse, while simultaneously preserving the power and privileges of the ruling caste. That is, he was attempting to square the circle. At the time, Gorbachev was seen as the hero of the left-reformists and the Stalinists internationally. He was praised to the skies by the Morning Star, Tribune and other such periodicals. But, as we explained at the time, such reforms could not solve the problem. While certain measures could serve to free things up for a time, they would inevitably give rise to greater contradictions. By the late 1980s, Stalinism had reached a complete impasse. A majority of the bureaucracy, influenced by the boom in the west, moved in the direction of capitalist restoration.

In November 1989, at the time of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, there were moves in the direction of political revolution in East Germany. The mass demonstrations against the regime were not pro-capitalist. They were instinctively in favour of workers’ democracy. Many sung The Internationale on the demonstrations. Unfortunately, this revolutionary movement was cut across by the confused “liberal” leadership that was initially thrown up. The latter were incapable of resisting the propaganda offensive by the bourgeois of the west for German reunification. The vacuum was quickly filled by bourgeois restorationists. This collapse of the East German Stalinist regime rapidly spread to the rest of Eastern Europe. After re-unification in 1990, Kohl’s conservative CDU swept the east. Russia, in August 1991, saw the coming to power of a pro-bourgeois government under the ex‑communist leader Boris Yeltsin. The Stalinist system, as had been anticipated by Trotsky, collapsed like a house of cards.

Ironically, it was this threat of capitalist restoration (put forward by Trotsky as a variant in The Revolution Betrayed) that Monty Johnstone scoffed at in particular some 30 years ago. He writes:

“Out of touch with Soviet reality, he [Trotsky] wrote that ‘the Soviet bureaucracy has gone far towards preparing a bourgeois restoration’ and ‘must inevitably in future seek support for itself in property relations’ entailing ‘its conversion into a new possessing class’.” (Cogito, p. 33.)

All theories are tested by events. After the 60 years since Monty Johnstone wrote his critique against Trotsky and more than 60 years since the publication of The Revolution Betrayed, Trotsky’s prognosis has been confirmed by events. The Stalinist bureaucracies of Russia and Eastern Europe went over lock, stock and barrel to the bourgeois counter-revolution. Those who once held CP cards, spoke in the name of Lenin, and were prominent in the Soviet government and leadership, converted themselves into bourgeois agents overnight. They betrayed the Revolution without a second thought. Trotsky long ago explained:

“If – to adopt a second hypothesis – a bourgeois party were to overthrow the ruling caste, it would find no small number of ready servants amongst the present bureaucrats, administrators, technicians, directors, party secretaries and privileged upper circles in general.”[22]

And this is precisely what has happened. The Putins, Yeltsins, Chernomyrdins and other ex-Stalinist bureaucrats have become the key representatives of the mafia capitalists that rule Russia today. Of course, even the most brilliant perspective cannot cover every eventuality. Life is too rich and varied. Lenin was very fond of quoting Goethe: “Theory is grey, but the tree of life is ever-green.” Trotsky had envisaged the move towards capitalist restoration accompanied by civil war, with the working class section of the bureaucracy (for their own interests) fighting to defend the gains of the nationalised planned economy. That has not happened. Consequently, the process of capitalist restoration has gone very far. The gains of October have been reduced to rubble, with catastrophic consequences for the masses, as Trotsky also predicted. The betrayal of the bureaucracy has reached its nadir with the repulsive scramble to loot the state and privatise the wealth created by the workers of Russia and the other Republics of the Soviet Union. Here is the final vindication of Trotsky’s analysis and programme, and the final condemnation and unmasking of the Stalinist bureaucracy – the gravedigger of the October Revolution.

Johnstone’s Belated Admission

After pouring scorn on the idea of bourgeois restoration in Russia as a fantasy, Monty Johnstone was compelled to admit in 1992:

“I no longer find it possible to reject Trotsky’s view as categorically as most of us did previously, when he predicted the danger of a bourgeois restoration in the Soviet Union. We are now seeing, particularly in Poland and Hungary, bureaucrats, both managers and party officials, who are precisely converting themselves into capitalist employers.”[23]

But this admission comes just a little late. Thirty years too late, to be exact! For decades, the leaders of the CPs in the west defended every crime of the bureaucracy, every twist and turn of Moscow’s policy. They did this in the name of “defending the USSR”. But now it emerges that the very bureaucracy they defended was the agent of capitalist counterrevolution! Just as 30 years ago, Monty Johnstone admitted only what could not be denied.

So today, he merely states what is an accomplished fact, that the so-called communist leaders of the USSR and Eastern Europe have been at the head of the capitalist restoration.

Monty Johnstone makes this astonishing admission without batting an eyelid. But what are we saying here? That the men and women who stood at the head of all the “socialist” countries, and who were held up by Monty Johnstone and the other western CP leaders as the “great leaders” of the world working class – that these same individuals have led the bourgeois counter-revolution that destroyed all that remained of the gains of October? That the “communist” leaders have become capitalists overnight? Compared to this, the betrayal of the social democratic leaders in August 1914 was mere child’s play! But how is this to be explained? The only serious explanation was made by Leon Trotsky, not in 1992 – not long after the event – but as early as 1936 in The Revolution Betrayed, an analysis which Monty Johnstone completely rejected, and from which he has still learnt very little. Johnstone writes:

“There can be no doubt that there is much popular opposition to such a bourgeois restoration in the Soviet Union today; we must hope that it will carry the day. But meanwhile, Trotsky’s forebodings can, in my view, regrettably no longer be dismissed as unimaginable?”[24]

Maybe all that is happening in Russia and Eastern Europe today is “not unimaginable” to Monty Johnstone. But it is certainly unimaginable to many Communist Party members who were led to believe for decades that the USSR and Eastern Europe were the “socialist paradise” and are now presented with the spectacle – not only of a capitalist restoration, but of a capitalist counter-revolution which is being carried out by the former leaders of the “Communist” Parties. How is such a monstrosity to be explained, from a Marxist point of view? One would search in vain in all the writings and speeches of the western CP leaders for such an explanation. Yet an explanation exists and has existed for over half a century. It is to be found in the writings of Leon Trotsky. These works are not only relevant to the past. They are of vital importance to the present and the future.

The Future of Russia

The latter-day apologists for Stalinism blame the collapse of the USSR not upon its internal contradictions, but on the individual polices of Gorbachev or Brezhnev or even Khrushchev. They are desperate to find a scapegoat. It is the same method used by Khrushchev at the Twentieth Congress blaming all the crimes of Stalinism on Stalin as an individual and the monstrous cult of the personality. Of course, their approach has nothing in common with the method of Marxism, which regards the actions of individuals as a reflection of material interests, of a class or caste in society. Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Gorbachev were all representatives of the ruling bureaucracy within the Soviet Union. Ironically, those who sought to blame the collapse on past leaders, were the staunchest and most loyal defenders of those “great” leaders when they were in power. They could do no wrong and were portrayed as the faithful continuers of Marxism-Leninism. Until now, that is.

The fall of Stalinism was not the fall of communism or socialism, as the bourgeois, Cormists and ex-Stalinists would have us believe. Far from it. It represented the demise of a totalitarian caricature of socialism, where Soviet workers had fewer rights than those in the west. It was the internal contradictions of the bureaucratic regime which produced the crisis and its eventual downfall. However, the attempt to move in the direction of capitalism has not produced any better results. On the contrary. The period of so-called market reform has produced the biggest drop in production ever seen in times of peace. This is what Trotsky meant when he predicted, in The Revolution Betrayed, that a capitalist counter-revolution in the USSR would signify a collapse of the productive forces and culture. That is just what we are witnessing in Russia now.

True, the capitalist counter-revolution has taken place in a different fashion from Trotsky’s original view for two main reasons: (1) the total rottenness of the Stalinist bureaucracy, which had developed widespread illusions in capitalism, and (2) the throwing back of the consciousness of the Russian proletariat after decades of Bonapartist totalitarian rule. Consequently, the Stalinist regime collapsed ignominiously. It lacked any support or social basis. The bureaucrats deserted the regime like rats leaving a sinking ship. But the story is far from over in Russia. Russian capitalism has revealed its utter inability to develop the means of production and carry society forward. The present bourgeois regime is thoroughly unstable. A movement of the working class, once set in motion, could sweep it away without much effort. However, this immediately poses the question of the party and the leadership.

The working class, which has now experienced at first hand the “wonders” of capitalism (unemployment, poverty, ill-health and hunger), has not yet spoken its final word. The move to capitalism has been an absolute calamity for the Russian masses. In our opinion, this present “cold” transition to capitalism has not been fully completed – as can be seen from the collapse of the “reforms” after the August 1998 devaluation and the alarm of the imperialists.

There is no shortage of bourgeois strategists who fear a new revolution in Russia.

The right wing magazine The Economist hopes that the “Russians’ extraordinary stoicism” will continue “to put off a social explosion”. But the situation, which is deteriorating, cannot hold indefinitely. The IMF and the bourgeois appear to have lost all hope. The Economist moans:

“Misfortune has been piled on misfortune. Much of Russia’s middle class has been pulverised. The monetised economy is barely half the size of the Netherlands’. The murder rate may be world’s highest. Male life expectancy has fallen to African levels: 58 years is now the average life-span, and the population is contracting by 800,000 souls a year. The country is dying on its feet.”

As Trotsky predicted, this is precisely what a new bourgeois regime would mean, “a regime of decline, signalling the eclipse of civilisation”.[25] Clearly, things cannot remain as they are. The Russian bourgeois governments have been a disaster. The Economist continues:

“In reality, the results were dismal. Pro-Western politicians in Russia turned out to be at best politically inept, at worst corrupt. Their failure has been matched by a collapse in the moral standing that the West gained among Russians when communism fell. Not for two decades have Russians been so mistrustful and cynical.”[26]

As always, the decisive factor is the subjective factor – the party and the leadership. The general reaction of the masses in Russia against capitalism should signify a rapid swing towards communism. If the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) were a real communist party, Russia, even now, would be on the eve of a new October. But this is precisely the problem. On the political front, the disillusionment with the market, especially after the collapse of August 1998, was initially expressed in growing support for the Communist Parties, especially the CPRF. However, the leaders of the CPRF have nothing in common with Marxism-Leninism. They have consistently retreated before the bourgeois counter-revolution, preferring to cling to their privileges and creature-comforts as Duma deputies rather than to base themselves on the masses. As a result their support has slipped. As we write, we read that Zyuganov and the CPRF leaders have actually done a deal with Putin’s party “Unity” to share out the committees in the Duma. This is far worse even than the conduct of the Menshevik leaders after February 1917.

Despite everything, the present situation in Russia cannot be maintained indefinitely. Without doubt, events are preparing a new revolution in Russia. If the crisis continues to deepen – and that is inevitable – at a certain stage a mass movement of the Russian working class will transform the whole situation. In the absence of an alternative, Zyuganov and the leaders of the CPRF, despite their intentions, could be thrust into power. But after their experience of Stalinism the working class will not accept a return to a totalitarian regime. There will be a whole series of crises and splits in the Communist Parties. Out of this process will come the forces that will re-establish the genuine traditions of Bolshevism, the traditions of Lenin and Trotsky. A new Russian Revolution will transform the planet, even more than the October Revolution of 1917.[27]

The process of capitalist restoration has also gone quite far in China. But here, unlike in Russia, the bureaucracy has acted to control the movement from above to ensure that they become the new ruling class. They are battling to avoid the spiralling crisis that has taken place in Russia, but their aim is the same. However, their entry onto the world market and their shift towards a market economy has led to a huge movement of the population from the countryside to the urban areas in search of work. Millions are unemployed, while tens of millions work in terrible conditions, reminiscent of the Russian working class under tsarism. Such conditions, coupled with shrinking markets in South East Asia, are preparing a social explosion. This is part of the unfolding world revolution. The capitalist system is entering a stormy period on a par with the 1920s and 1930s, which will provide many opportunities for the working class to conquer power. An essential ingredient is the development of genuine Marxist cadres integrated into the traditional mass organisations of the working class. The ideas of Lenin and Trotsky will play a vital role in this process

The Final Apostasy

Since the collapse of the USSR, the leaders of the Communist Parties have been totally unable to provide any kind of Marxist explanation for what happened. While many CP leaders have formally broken with Stalinism since 1989, a layer have crossed the class divide and repudiated Marxism altogether. They have simply ended up in the camp of reformism – even on its right wing. Such has been the fate of the Democratic Left, the left-over from the Communist Party of Great Britain, to which Monty Johnstone formally belonged. They claim 800 members, nearly 500 fewer than in 1991. The CPGB had 4,600 members at its demise, though fewer than one fifth were paying dues. In December 1999, the Democratic Left agreed to dissolve itself and become the New
Times Network. This proved too much even for Monty Johnstone, who “with sadness” resigned.

The leaders of the ex-Democratic Left and the New Times Network consider themselves to be “practical” politicians who have no need of Marxist theory. That is to say, they are politically bankrupt reformists, unashamedly acting as “left” attorneys for the right wing Labour leaders. This has been the role of the likes of Professor Eric Hobsbawm – recently made a Companion of Honour – and Martin Jacques of the defunct Marxism Today. According to Nina Temple, the co-ordinator of New Times Network:

“We want the network to involve people from many different parties and none, including people who don’t describe themselves as socialists – Lib-Dems, radical democrats, civil libertarians, feminists, Greens and so on – as well as people who do.”[28]

Consequently, the constitution of the Network excludes socialism as a goal. What do they propose to put in its place? Socialism is substituted by the “regulation of global capitalism”. This is hardly original – the same “solution” has been advocated by George Soros. It is about as “practical” as trying to persuade a man-eating tiger to eat lettuce instead of meat. Needless to say, none of these “practical” ladies and gentlemen can tell us how this miracle is going to be achieved.

But even if they have not the slightest idea of what they want or how to get it, they are quite clear on what they do not want. There must be no return to a nationalised planned economy. As the editorial in the same issue of New Times put it: “They must accept that the pendulum is not going to swing all the way back from the market to social ownership. Nor should it.” The conclusion is quite clear: we must at all costs stick to the “market” – i.e. capitalism. The Blairite Charlie Leadbeater is quoted approvingly: “Our aim should be to harness the power of markets and community to the more fundamental goal of creating and spreading knowledge.”[29] Leadbeater is another ex-Stalinist who jumped ship to become a prominent Blair adviser and associate of the right wing think-tank Demos. All these individuals have abandoned socialism and gone over with bag and baggage to the camp of capitalist “free market” reaction.

The role of the ex-Stalinists has won the ringing approval of the right wing.

“Democratic Left’s proposed new structure, aims and values should allow it to build on its considerable networking achievements such as Unions 21,” says John Monks, general secretary of the TUC. “I look forward to working with those who seek an open, broad approach to their politics in the spirit of building partnerships towards a modernising, progressive agenda.” This view is backed up by Lord (Tom) Sawyer, the right wing ex-general secretary of the Labour Party: “The New Times Network is an excellent idea.”[30]

One after another the former ideologues of Stalinism have ended up repudiating Lenin and the October Revolution. Often this renegacy assumes the most repulsive forms. According to Chris Myant, the former International Secretary of the CPGB, the October Revolution was “a mistake of historic proportions … Its consequences have been severe”. A review of the reactionary book, The Black Book of Communism, in New Times, goes even further, accepting all the bourgeois arguments against communism. “The Black Book becomes a generally even-toned and informative book,” states the review, “and one that will serve as a healthy dose of medication for those still afflicted by a wish to treat the Bolshevik Revolution as a mistake, however monumental, or something that ‘had to happen’.”[31]

The conclusion of the review sums up the black pessimism of the petty-bourgeois intellectuals who clung to Stalinism but who have now departed to the greener grass of liberal democracy: “For the many who invested their hopes in the communist ‘project’, there are worse things than a mistake or even a crime. What if it was all meaningless?”[32] What a crushing comment on the blind alley into which these people have fallen! The very same people who, like Monty Johnstone, so contemptuously dismissed the views of Trotsky and Trotskyism in the past. This is the voice of apostasy, and the philosophy of despair. History has finally taken its cruel revenge on Stalinism.

Those “hard-line” Stalinists who created the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) fair little better. They maintain a bitter hostility towards Trotsky on all counts and still cling to the description of the past Stalinist regimes as “socialist” countries. Their mouthpiece, the Morning Star, slavishly justified every u-turn and crime of the Soviet bureaucracy. This January, on the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Daily Worker (forerunner of the Morning Star), the Star carried an article by its editor John Haylett. Instead of an honest appraisal and balance sheet of the history of the paper, including its mistakes, it was simply a gross cover-up. Not a word was said about the period of “Social Fascism”, the Moscow Trials, Hungary 1956, or the slavish following of Moscow’s every twist and turn. While the CPB speaks about “socialist” and “progressive” policies, in reality their programme is thoroughly reformist, tail-ending the left-reformists in the Labour Party and trade unions.

Their nationalist outlook leads them to defend “British sovereignty”, while promoting class collaboration in the guise of a “democratic anti-monopoly alliance” or “Popular Front in defence of national democracy.”[33] While correctly opposing NATO, they end up trailing after the “thieves’ kitchen” of the United Nations (to use Lenin’s words about the League of Nations). The UN is also a tool of world imperialism, but is now falsely painted by the CPB as an “impartial” arbiter in international conflicts and a solution to the problems of the work’. Such an approach is a million miles removed from the outlook and programme of Lenin and Trotsky.

Trotskyism and the Future

For decades Trotsky was considered a “non-person” within the communist movement. He was branded a counter-revolutionary and fascist, his writings were banned, and all references to his role in the Russian Revolution were expunged from the history books.[34] As a prelude to the infamous Moscow Trials, on March 7, 1935, the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party ordered the removal of Trotsky’s works from the libraries throughout the USSR. Later, the ban even included some of the anti-Trotskyist material! Publications like Trotskyists – Enemies of the People and Trotskyist-Bukharinist Bandits were also proscribed. Stalin’s book On the Opposition was banned because it contained many quotes from Trotsky. This ban continued in place right up until the late 1980s. Only in the last decade have the writings of Trotsky become more accessible to a Russian audience.

In the past, a river of blood separated Trotskyism from the Stalinist organisations. But the truth always prevails. In contrast to those who have abandoned Marxism completely, a growing number of honest ex-Stalinists have gravitated towards Trotskyism.

Individuals, like the communist leader Leopold Trepper, organiser of the famous Red Orchestra, the anti-Nazi spy network in Western Europe during the Second World War, is a graphic example. In his memoirs, Trepper writes:

“All those who did not rise up against the Stalinist machine are responsible, collectively responsible. I am no exception to this verdict. But who did protest at the time? Who rose up to voice his outrage? The Trotskyites can lay claim to this honour. Following the example of their leader, who was rewarded for his obstinacy with the end of an ice-axe, they fought Stalinism to the death, and they were the only ones who did.

“By the time of the great purges, they could only shout their rebellion in the freezing wastelands where they had been dragged in order to be exterminated. In the camps, their conduct was admirable. But their voices were lost in the tundra.

“Today, the Trotskyites have a right to accuse those who once howled along with the wolves. Let them not forget, however, that they had the enormous advantage over us of having a coherent political system capable of replacing Stalinism. They had something to cling to in the midst of their profound distress at seeing the revolution betrayed. They did not ‘confess’, for they knew that their confession would serve neither the party nor socialism.”[35]

Things are changing radically. Many rank and file members of the Communist Party, who were constantly told of the virtues of “socialism” in the USSR are now searching for a clear Marxist explanation of Stalinism, and the prospects for world socialism today. The ideas of Trotsky are finding a growing echo in this new ferment.

In the recent period, favourable reviews of Trotskyist literature have appeared in the press of the Spanish Communist Party. Alan Woods, one of the authors of this book, has spoken on a number of occasions at the Spanish CP annual festival. In Italy, Trotskyists have a growing influence in Rifondazione Comunista. The communist PRD in Indonesia has placed some of Trotsky’s writings on its recommended reading list for party education. In Russia itself, there is growing interest in the ideas of Trotsky in the ranks of the Stalinist Parties, a process that is bound to increase as the ferment within society expresses itself in a growing discontent with the policies of the leadership.

In South Africa, there is a call within the Communist Party (SACP) to embrace the ideas of a number of leading Marxist writers who were previously banned. The documents of the SACP Tenth Congress recommend that:

“…in the struggle for the renewal of the socialist project, the SACP must expose its membership and the broader mass movement to the widest range of progressive writings and theory – including to those who were often suppressed because they were considered ‘ dissident’ – Bukharin, Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg?”[36]

This new approach is directly linked to the fall of Stalinism and the influx of new members. In 1990 half the Central Committee of the SACP resigned. However, at the same time as a consequence of the legalisation of the Party, tens of thousands, mainly youth, joined the SACP.

The discussions contained in this work are thus extremely relevant to the present situation. In South Africa and elsewhere there is a heated debate over the “two stage” theory – between the policies of Bolshevism and Menshevism. In the words of communist student leader, David Masondo, SASCO’s outgoing deputy president, “the ‘first stage’ would resolve the national question, which would not fundamentally alter the economic relations, whereas the ‘second stage’ was seen as a stage in which the working class would emancipate itself from capitalist exploitation”. Masondo correctly says that “this is not a new debate, it is the same that the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks had before the Russian Revolution.[37]

There is a growing rejection by the communist youth of the Stalinist two-stage theory and an interest in Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution. David Masondo goes on to say that “the term ‘stage’ might be misleading. It might be wrongly inferred that this means a postponement of the class struggle. There is a dialectical connection between the national and class questions … the national and socialist struggle are understood to merge.”

In an even more surprising move, the SACP itself is openly debating the validity of the “two stage” theory and seems to have rejected it, at least in words. The SACP’s Tenth Congress documents clearly state that: “an anti-capitalist class struggle cannot be held over to some later stage of our transformation process. This is why the SACP has, since our Ninth Congress in April 1995, advanced the slogan ‘Socialism is the Future, Build it Now!’”

How times have changed! These are only a few examples. Many others can be given to show how today’s communist rank and file members are open to Trotsky’s ideas. The old Stalinist monolith has been completely shattered.

When the Berlin Wall collapsed, Nina Temple, the then General Secretary of the British Communist Party, went so far as to state in the Executive Committee that “the Trotskyists were right that it was not socialism in Eastern Europe. And I think we should have said so long ago”. Such a statement from a CP leader would have been totally unthinkable in the past!

Among honest communists everywhere, there is a thirst for Marxist ideas and clear explanations. There is profound questioning of what went wrong. This is inevitable and necessary if all the lessons are to be learnt. This process will serve to arm and strengthen the Marxist movement. For our part, we want to engage fully in this dialogue. In republishing this book on the 60th anniversary of the assassination of Trotsky by one of Stalin’s agents, we believe we will help clarify the question of Stalinism from a Marxist perspective, and make clear the real ideas of Lenin and Trotsky, which have for so long been a closed book for communist militants.

Far from being pessimistic, the Marxists have entered the new millennium supremely confident of the future. World capitalism has entered an impasse on a world scale. The twenty-first century has opened with an insurrection in Ecuador. There will be many more such movements in one country after another. The collapse of the USSR was a set-back, but not a decisive defeat for the working class. In retrospect it will be seen to have been merely the prologue of a far more decisive process – the crisis of world capitalism, of which the present crisis in Russia is only a part. A new revolutionary epoch opens up before us, which will extend over the coming decade and beyond. It will be the most convulsive period in history. Many opportunities will be placed before the working class to overthrow capitalism. Members of the Communist Parties are destined to play a key role – on one condition. They must arm and steel themselves theoretically and politically for the events that will unfold. The new generation has an enormous responsibility on its shoulders. Collectively, we must fight to re-establish genuine Marxism as a mass tendency internationally.

In 1976, Monty Johnstone, after reviewing Lenin and Trotsky – What they really stood for, stated that “its laboured apologetics seem to me dogmatic and extraordinarily blinkered.”[38] Well, we leave the reader to judge.

What is clear is that the issues raised are not at all an irrelevant debate about old ideas. They represent the defence of the Marxist method; the ideas and programme that will serve as an indispensable weapon in the struggles that lie ahead. This work is especially intended as an encouragement to Labour and Communist activists and youth to delve deeper into the writings of Marx and Engels, and especially of Lenin and Trotsky, which constitute a Marxist treasure-house from which the new generation can learn and prepare itself for the mighty events that impend. In the words of the great materialist philosopher Spinoza, our task is to “neither weep nor laugh, but to understand.”

London, March 2000


[1] Marxism Today, September 1964, emphasis in original.

[2] Quoted in Revolutionary Rehearsals, edited by Colin Barker, London, 1987, p. 24.

[3] Letter to the authors, 13 March 1999.

[4] Monty Johnstone, Trotsky Reassessed, London, 1992, p. 1.

[5] Ibid., p. 5.

[6] Ibid., p. 11.

[7] Ibid., p. 14.

[8] Ibid., p. 15.

[9] The Platform of the Left Opposition (1927) in Challenge of Left Opposition, New York, 1980, p. 324.

[10] Johnstone, op. cit., p. 19.

[11] Ibid., p. 20.

[12] Ibid., p. 34.

[13] Ibid., p. 22.

[14] Arbeiterpolitik, Leipzig, 9 February, 1929, my emphasis. For further analysis see Rob Sewell, Germany-From revolution to counter-revolution, London, 1988.

[15] J. Stalin, Works, vol. 8, Moscow, p. 191.

[16] Klugman, History of the CPGB, London, 1980, vol. 2, p. 227.

[17] Thorez, Son of the People, London, 1938, pp. 131-2.

[18] Trotsky, The Spanish Revolution, Pathfinder, 1973, p. 255.

[19] See Ted Grant, The Spanish Revolution, London, 1998.

[20] Johnstone, op. cit., p. 10.

[21] Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution, pp. 1192-3.

[22] Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, Pathfinder, 1983, p. 253.

[23] Johnstone, op. cit., p. 18.

[24] Ibid., p. 18.

[25] Trotsky, In Defence of Marxism, London, 1971, p. 10.

[26] Quotes from The Economist, 6 February 1999.

[27] For a detailed analysis see Ted Grant, Russia-From revolution to counter-revolution, London, 1997.

[28] New Times, December 1999.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Morning Star, 1 January 2000.

[34] See David King, The Commissar Vanishes, Canongate Books, 1997.

[35] Leopold Trepper, The Great Game, London, 1977, pp. 55-56.

[36] The African Communist, No. 149, second quarter 1998, p. 75.

[37] Speech to SASCO’s 7th Congress, 1-5 December 1998.

[38] Monty Johnstone, Trotsky and the World Revolution, London 1976, p. 2.

Join us

If you want more information about joining the IMT, fill in this form. We will get back to you as soon as possible.