May 16, 2020

AN OLD TRICK OF PASSING OFF TROTSKYISM AS MARXISM

Nikolai VASETSKY
Translated from the Russian by Vyacheslav SEMYONOV Translation edited by Selena KOTLOBAI

A few days before the victorious socialist revolution in Russia in 1917, Lenin wrote the following in an article criticising the opponents of his course for an armed uprising: “Marxism is an ex­tremely profound and many-sided doctrine. It is, therefore, no wonder that scraps of quotations from Marx—especially when the quotations are made inappropriately—can always be found among the ‘arguments’ of those who break with Marxism.”1 This precisely describes the political position of those who falsely interpret Marxism. And it also applies to Trotskyism both in its “classical form” and in its modern varieties. 

Trotsky and his supporters were fully aware of the attractive power of the teaching of Marx, En­ gels and Lenin; they knew perfectly well that without giving some sort of recognition, if only a token one, of the theoretical propositions of this teaching they had no hope of winning over revolu­ tionary-minded workers and other working people. In the words of Otto Kuusinen, * a prominent leader of the international communist movement, the Trotskyites have mastered the art of manipu­ lating scraps of quotations from Lenin, the art of political forgery.
* Otto Willie Kuusinen (1881-1964), an outstanding leader of the Soviet Communist Party and government official and a prominent figure in the international communist and working-class movement. He made a major contribution to the theory and practice of the revolutionary movement. He was the author of the draft theses. The Organisational Con­ struction of the Communist Parties and the Methods and Scope of Their Activity, adopted by the Communist Interna­ tional at its Third Congress.

Trotsky’s followers today have improved this technique. They rarely omit to mention Marx and Lenin in their speeches and articles, usually mis­interpreting passages taken from the latter s writings on scientific socialism. And together with Marx and Lenin they invariably mention Trotsky. Distorting the ideological legacy of Marx, En­gels and Lenin, today’s Trotskyites present Trotsky as the “inheritor and successor of their cause”, and Trotskyism as a creative development of Marxism-Leninism. “The Fourth International is based upon Marxism, Leninism,”1 stresses Denis Healy, leader of the International Committee in London. 1 Fourth International, No. 1, January 1982, p. 24.

He is echoed by Tom Kemp, one of the ideol­ogists of the Committee for the Reconstruction of the Fourth International, who says that “Trots­kyism [is] the Marxism of today”2 Bulletin Twice-Weekly, No. 1, January 3, 1978, p. 6

Utterances like these pursue definite political aims. Firstly, in presenting Trotsky as a revolu­tionary, the Trotskyites seek to attract,, atten­tion to his theory of “permanent revolution”, which was most resolutely rejected by Lenin. Secondly, they try to create an impression that Trotskyism offers a time-tested revolutionary programme. Third­ly, they portray themselves as the “sole guard­ians and heirs” of the revolutionary traditions of the past. Let us take a closer look at them. 

“Alchemists of the revolution.” That is how Marx and Engels described those who artificially pushed the revolutionary process to a critical point and tried to stage impromptu revolutions where no favourable conditions for them existed. 

This characterisation of pseudo-revolutionaries of more than a century ago is still valid today, as is borne out by the political actions of Trotskyites among whose ideas Trotsky’s theory of “perma­nent revolution” holds a central place. They try to prove that this theory, far from contradicting Marx’s and Engels’ ideas, represents a further development of their ideas. They maintain that Trots­ky, in elaborating this theory, proceeded from the thesis which Marx and Engels put forward in the Address of the Central Authority to the [Communist] League in 1850.

Let us recall that in the Address Marx and En­gels opposed the subordination of the interests of the working class to those of the bourgeoisie in a bourgeois-democratic revolution. The proletariat, they wrote, should go much further than the bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeois democrats had done in order to “make the revolution permanent, until all more or less possessing classes have been forced out of their position of dominance, [and] the proletariat has conquered state power.” 11 K. Marx, F. Engels, Coll. Works, Vol. 10, p. 281.

Developing this idea, Lenin showed that in the imperialist epoch, at a certain stage in the development of capitalism (Russia was at such a stage in the early 20th century) a democratic revolution tended to grow into a socialist one and the polit­ical line of the working class should be clearly oriented towards the bourgeois-democratic revolution growing into a socialist, continuous revolution. He wrote: “From the democratic revolution we shall at once, and precisely in accordance with the measure of our strength, the strength of the class­ conscious and organised proletariat, begin to pass to the socialist revolution. We stand for uninterrupted revolution. We shall not stop half-way.” 1  Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 9, pp. 236-237.

Thus, the Marxist-Leninist idea of uninterrupted revolution consists in a certain sequence of the stages of revolutionary struggle, each of which pre­pares the necessary conditions for the transition to the next stage. The revolutionary experience of the 20th century has confirmed the correctness of this conclusion. 

As for Trotsky’s theory, it has nothing in com­mon with Marxism-Leninism except for the simi­larity between the phrases “permanent revolution” and “uninterrupted revolution”. Trotsky recognised this himself. In his book The Years of the Great Change (People of the Old and the New Epoch), published in 1919, he paid tribute to the German Social-Democrat Alexander Parvus * as the author of the “permanent revolution” theory. He wrote: “The author of these lines considers it a matter of personal honour to pay homage to the man to whom he owes more in the development of his ideas than to any other person from the older generation of European social-demrocracy.” In another book, The Permanent Revolution, published in Berlin in 1930, Trotsky summed up the main points of his “theory” and added: “My way of loking at the matter is really different from Len­ in’s way.” This is how Trotsky formulated the problem: 
“. . .Outbreaks of civil war and foreign wars al­ ternate with periods of peaceful reforms. Revolu­ tions in the economy, technology, science, family structure, everyday life and customs unfold in a constant interaction with one another, preventing society from attaining equilibrium. Herein lies the permanent nature of the socialist revolution as such.” 
Trotsky completely distorted the idea of unin­terrupted revolution, in fact parodying it. In his view, the permanent character of revolution con­sists in a simultaneous resolution by the proletar­iat of all the political problems it faces. Accord­ing to Trotsky there is to be no sequence in the actions taken by the proletariat which must at once put an end to the domination of the bourgeoisie, establish its dictatorship, carry out democratic changes, implement the socialist programme of reconstruction of the entire society and ensure victory of the revolution outside its own country. 

Trotsky thus opposed to the idea of uninterrupt­ed revolution his own subjectivist concept of “combined development” in which stages in the revolu­tionary transformation of society were arbitrarily mixed. Like the alchemists who thought in terms of “either/or” and dealt only with such mutually exclusive ideas as “hot vs. cold” and “dryness vs. moisture”, Trotsky was guided by the principle of “all or nothing at all”. 

Exposing the eclectic nature of the “permanent revolution” theory, Lenin wrote: “From the Bolsheviks Trotsky’s original theory has borrowed their call for a decisive proletarian revolutionary struggle and for the conquest of political power by the proletariat, while from the Mensheviks it has borrowed ‘repudiation’ of the peasantry’s role... Trotsky is in fact helping the liberal-labour politi­cians in Russia, who by ‘repudiation’ of the role of the peasantry understand a refusal to raise up the peasants for the revolution!” Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 21, pp. 419-420.

The Trotskyist theory thus became the basis for an adventurous line which broke away from the Marxist strategy of broad class alliances in revo­lution. In denying the need for waging revo­lutionary struggle in stages, Trotsky was not merely being “hasty”; he was orienting the working class towards a course of events which would doom it to isolation and the revolution to defeat. Instead of calling for purposeful, painstaking ef­forts to rally all working people, especially millions of peasants, around the working class in their struggle for a complete and decisive development of the revolution, Trotsky proposed the implementation of futile tactics of continuous acts of rebel­lion which would do damage to the revolution rather than to capitalism. 

Trotsky’s theory is also untenable from the point of view of the internationalist tasks to be fulfilled by the working class. In calling for world revolution, it actually denies the need for unity between the national and the international elements in the revolution as well as the possibility for successful struggle by national sections of the working class. “It is inconceivable that the socialist rev­olution could be accomplished within the framework of just one nation.. .,” Trotsky wrote in The Permanent Revolution. “The socialist revolution is not complete until the final triumph of the new society throughout the world.” He then stressed: “The pattern of the development of world revolution removes the question about countries being ‘ripe’ or ‘not yet ripe’ for socialism. . . Since capitalism has created a world market, a world­wide division of labour and the world productive forces, it has prepared the world economy as a whole for a socialist reconstruction.” 

Trotskyites today declare that these conclusions are Trotsky’s contribution to the development of “classical Marxism.” See, e.g., E. Mandel, Trotsky. A Study in the Dynamic of His Thought. London, 1979, p. 34.
 In fact, these ideas are a revision of the Marxist-Leninist teaching on the revolution for Trotsky ignores the basic factors in historical development. 

Although the capitalist system as a whole is ripe for revolutions, the contradictions at different points in this system develop at different rates, because capitalism itself develops unevenly. Therefore, the gravity and the degree of acuteness of these contradictions differ in different countries. That is why in the system of imperialism there will inevitably be some areas having more favour­able conditions than others for the breaking of the imperialist chain. 

In his study of capitalism at its imperialist stage Lenin came to the following conclusion: “Uneven economic and political development is an absolute law of capitalism. Hence, the victory of socialism is possible first in several or even in one capitalist country alone. Lenin, Coll. Works. Vol. 21, p. 342.

The unevenness of the political and economic development of capitalist countries manifests itself, in the epoch of impe­rialism, in conflicts and in the spasmodic character of growth. In conditions of struggle for world domination and for spheres of influence, this leads to acute conflicts and wars between imperialist pow­ers which, in turn, aggravates the internal con­tradictions within the capitalism system. Just be­cause the political development of individual cap­italist countries is uneven, the revolutionary pro­cesses in these countries develop in different ways and occur at different times.

Lenin explained that the world socialist revolu­ tion consists of several stages separated by longer or shorter periods of time. Revolutions in individ­ ual countries emerge as relatively independent links in a single worldwide socialist revolution which embraces an entire epoch in history. 

In each country the revolutionary process un­ folds in highly specific national and historical con­ ditions, which accounts for the multiplicity of ways to achieve socialism. In 1916 Lenin wrote: “All nations will arrive at socialism—this is in­evitable, but all will do so in not exactly the same way, each will contribute something of its own to some form of democracy, to some variety of the dictatorship of the proletariat, to the varying rate of socialist transformations in the different aspects of social life.” Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 23, pp. 69-70.

Historical experience has confirmed the sound­ness of this approach to problems of the development of world revolution. In none of the socialist countries had there been any mechanical copying of foreign experience with regard to forms, methods and ways of carrying out a socialist revolution, as was pointed out at the 26th CPSU Congress (1981). Each of the socialist countries carried out its revolution in its own way and in forms dictated by the alignment of class forces within the country, by national traditions and by the external situation. 

Trotsky’s theory of “permanent revolution” also omits such elements of the world revolutionary process as the national-liberation and anti-impe­rialist revolutions in the colonial and dependent countries. In The Permanent Revolution, Trotsky wrote: “In the imperialist epoch the national-dem­ ocratic revolution can only triumph if the social and political conditions in the given country are ripe for the proletariat to take over power as the leader of the popular masses. If the conditions are not ripe, the struggle for liberation from the colonial yoke will produce uncertain results that are wholly directed against the working masses.” 

Here the Trotskyist anarchist formula of “all or nothing at all” turns into a prophecy of the com­ plete futility of struggle for national liberation. Like the leaders of the international social-democ­racy, Trotsky brushed aside problems of the anti­-imperialist movement for national liberation, re­garding them as being of little importance so long as revolutions have not won in the developed capi­talist countries. When fascist Italy attacked Abys­sinia (as Ethiopia was then known), Trotsky de clared that “Socialists have nothing to do there, as the defence of Abyssinia would amount to de­fence of feudalism.” 

Marx, Engels and Lenin attached immense importance to the liberation struggle of the peoples. Marxism for the first time defined the historical place of national-liberation revolutions in the general liberatory, revolutionary movement by linking the national colonial question with relations between classes and with class struggle. Marx and Engels showed that national oppression, being an innate part of capitalism as a socio-economic sys­tem, has its roots in the domination of private property which determines and permeates the policies of the exploiting classes. They, therefore, re­garded the struggle for national liberation of the exploited peoples as being most closely linked with the working-class struggle against all forms o capitalist exploitation. Lenin applied Marx’s and Engels’ ideas on the national colonial question of  the epoch of imperialism when the national-liber­ation movement became an inseparable part of the world revolutionary process. He wrote: “The social revolution can come only in the form of an epoch in which are combined civil war by the proletariat against the bourgeoisie in the advanced countries and a whole series of democratic and revolutionary movements, including the national lib­ eration movement, in the undeveloped, backward and oppressed nations.” 1 And he stressed that the international working class played the leading role in this process.   Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 23, p. 60.

Following the victory of the socialist revolution in Russia in October 1917, working-class solidarity with the peoples fighting for their national libera­tion ceased to be a theoretical proposition. Lenin declared: “We now stand, not only as representa­ tives of the proletarians of all countries but as rep­ resentatives of the oppressed peoples as well.”2 Ibid., Vol. 31, p. 453.   Having taken a “special” stand on the national colonial question, Trotsky, who continued to profess loyalty to Marxism, in fact sought to replace it with his own ultra-left and essentially defeatist theses and conclusions. “Revolution” against the revolution. Today’s Trotskyites, whose pronouncements are echoed by bourgeois propaganda, are making a considerable effort to present Trotsky as the “leader of the October Revolution” and “organiser” of the October uprising the victory of which allegedly meant at the same time “a change of heart” on the part of Lenin and the Bolshevik Party and their adoption of the theory of “permanent revolution”.See Verite, No. 587, juillet 1979, pp. 37-38, and P. Broue, Trotsky, Paris, 1979, p. 42.

To back up this idea they maintain that Lenin took a most favourable attitude to Trotsky’s joining the Bolshevik Party in August 1917. “Lenin did not lay down any conditions for Trotsky’s join­ing the Party, nor did he reprimand him for his past...” write Trotskyist historians Georges Haupt and Jean-Jacque Marie.  Georges Haupt, Jean-Jacques Marie, Les bolcheuiques par eux-memes, Paris, 1969, p. 19.

However, in this case, too, the Trotskyites have obviously deviated from facts. In May 1917, Trots­ ky disassociated himself from the Bolsheviks led by Lenin. At a conference of the so-called Inter­ District Organisation * (of which Trotsky was the leader) Trotsky declared: “.. .I cannot call myself a Bolshevik... It must not be demanded of us that we accept the Bolshevik cause.” However, two months later he realised that he and his grouping had nothing with which to counterpose the Bolshe­viks. He therefore applied for Party membership, being afraid to remain “in the shadow” at the cli­matic moment of revolutionary developments. In his autobiography My Life Trotsky recalled that Lenin met him “with reserve”. Lenin and the Bolsheviks did not adopt the Trotskyist position; Trots­ky, on tlh other hand, had lo make a public state­ment about his complete agreement with all the Bolshevik theses.

Later developments showed that this statement was another act of political duplicity on the part of Trotsky. After joining the Party Trotsky and his followers did not draw closer to Lenin and the Bolsheviks; on the contrary, they fought them on all the basic issues of the revolutionary movement and the construction of socialism in Soviet Russia, having set themselves the aim of imposing their line on the Party and taking over the leadership. Trotsky’s intentions were so evident that they are not denied even by bourgeois historians who in general sing his praises. Alain Brossat, for in­ stance, writes that “Trotsky’s joining the Bolshe­ viks was not an act of conviction, but a political demarche”  A. Brossat, Aux origines de la revolution permanente. La pensee politique de jeune Trotsky, Paris, 1974, p. 261.

It was Trotsky who launched the five discussions in the Party in the first decade following the Oc­ tober revolution (1917-1927). Each time they be­ gan a new attack on Lenin and the Party, the Trotskyites chose those issues which were most crucial for the future of the revolution and social­ ism in Soviet Russia. As in the years which preceded the revolution, in the post-revolution years profound differences emerged between the Trots­ kyites and Lenin’s Party on all the key issues of the revolution and socialist construction. What were these differences?

First of all, Trotsky and his followers refused to acknowledge the fact that the Soviet Union had embarked on the building of socialism. In accord­ance with Trotsky’s “theory”, they sought to im­ pose on the Party a policy of “export” of revolu­tion to economically more advanced countries. They dismissed as “nationally limited” Lenin’s policies of achieving as much as possible in one’s own country so as to be able to support the revo­lutionary movement in other countries. They delib­erately exaggerated the role and influence of cap­italist elements in Soviet Russia’s economy, de­ picting the Soviet economic system as state capi­talism, and panicked when the petty bourgeoisie showed signs of wavering and when the USSR ex­perienced the pressure exerted by world imperial­ism. This, in their view, justified the use of the same methods in economic practices as were em­ployed by the bourgeoisie at a time when capital­ ism was still in the making. These methods con­sisted in obtaining the necessary means for financ­ing the country’s industrialisation by setting up a “dictatorship of the industry” based on harsh ex­ploitation of the peasants. 

The Trotskyites’ foreign-policy doctrines also combined adventurism and irresponsibility. Totally ignoring political realities, they denied that capi­talism had reached a stable state and continued to call for the immediate “spread” of the revolution to other countries.

And finally, in an attempt to precipitate a crisis in the Party, they called into question Lenin’s principles on the organisation and ideological unity of Party ranks. 

The Trotskyites were resolutely opposed and de­feated by Lenin’s Party and by the non-Party masses backing the cause of the revolution and socialism. This defeat was confirmed by the results of the Party meetings in 1927, with 724,000 Party members voting for the Central Committee’s poli­ cies and only 4,000 voting for Trotsky’s line. 

This is indirectly confirmed by Trotskyist authors. Pierre Frank, for instance, writes: “This fight was neither over the personal interests of political leaders, nor between two political schools. First and foremost, it was specifically a battle be­ tween two political formations representing different social groups.” 1 He is echoed by Ernest Mandel, the ideologist of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, who writes: “There can be no doubt that the question of whether it is possi­ble to successfully complete the building of social­ism in one country was a basic theoretical question in the discussion.” 2 Other Communist parties, too, gave their evaluation of Trotskyist activities. At its Fifth Congress in June-July 1924 the Communist International described Trotskyism as a “petty-bourgeois” devia­ tion posing a threat to “the unity of the Party and consequently to the proletarian dictatorship in the Soviet Union.” 1 At its Seventh Enlarged Plenary Meeting in November and December 1926 the Comintern Executive Committee stressed that the Soviet Communist Party was “carrying through its policy of socialist construction quite correctly, in the firm conviction that the Soviet Union disposes within the country of everything that is ‘necessary and sufficient’ for the construction of a completely socialist society. The denial of this possibility by the opposition is nothing but a denial of the prerequisites for the socialist revolution in Russia..
1 P. Frank, La Quatrieme Internationale, p. 20. 
2 E. Mandel, De la Commune a mai 1968. Histoire du mouvement ouvrier international, Paris, 1978, p. 89

Marxist-Leninists explained the real meaning of the slogans of the Trotskyites and of their setting up of opposition factions within some Communist parties in capitalist countries. In a resolution of its Sixth Congress in 1929 the French Communist Party declared that in all capitalist countries Trotskyist groupings “have become strictly counter-rev­olutionary organisations which ignore the meas­ures the Soviet Communist Party has taken against Trotsky and his followers.”  The French Commu­nists urged that all Trotskyist elements should be expelled since they had set themselves the aim of inflicting damage on the international communist movement and on the Soviet Union. 

The anti-Trotskyist campaign within the Com­ munist parties was summed up in February 1928 at the Ninth Plenum of the Communist Internation­ al’s Executive Committee which adopted a resolution saying that ‘’adherence to the Trotskyist op­ position. . . is incompatible with membership of the Communist International” k The Sixth Comintern Congress in August-September 1928 endorsed the decisions taken by the Fifteenth Congress of the AUCP(B) (the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks) and the Ninth Plenary Meeting of the Communist International’s Executive Committee on expelling the Trotskyites from the Party and the Comintern. It also stressed that “thanks to its consistent communist policies, the All-Union Commu­nist Party had succeeded in consolidating the dictatorship of the proletariat and in carrying out the construction of socialism. Unqualified support for the AUCP(B)’s correct policies from all sections of the Communist International was called upon to help the AUCP(B) in its cause of building social­ism.’’  See The Communist International..p. 871.

Since then nothing has changed to justify a re­vision of the anti-Trotskyist decisions taken in those years. They remain valid today as an impor­ tant aid in the struggle against the theoretical and tactical innovations of modern Trotskyism.

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