May 16, 2020

TROTSKYISM TODAY - WHOSE INTERESTS DOES IT SERVE?

Nikolai VASETSKY

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

In the late 1970s and early 1980s there was an upsurge of activities among left extremist group­ ings in many capitalist and developing countries. Taking advantage of this, Trotskyist leaders hasten to declare that a “Trotskyist decade” has set in. See, e.g., Correspondenda international, No. 2, april, 1980, p. 32.

Trotskyism has never been a movement with any strong political influence, but it has undoubtedly inflicted, and continues to inflict, serious damage on the liberation and revolutionary movement of our time. 

Today Trotskyites spare no effort in adapting themselves to the specific circumstances in a partic­ ular country or region and have at their disposal a wider range of tactics and methods than, say, in the late 1960s and 1970s. Apart from resorting to direct actions such as demonstrations, rallies, and public polemics, the Trotskyites today are actively seeking other ways of influencing the political sit­ uation. More and more often they put up their own candidates for government posts, appear on radio and television, give lectures at colleges and universities, including highly respectable ones, adapt their propaganda literature in an attempt to attract mass readerships, and so on. 

All these activities are looked upon favourably and supported by the capitalist media which now say that the Trotskyites “have matured” and have put an end to the stereotype of a left extremist, someone having long hair and wearing old jeans, most likely wielding a bicycle chain, a rubber hose or a truncheon, smashing shop windows and shouting ultra-revolutionary slogans. Today, Trotskyites appear in the capitalist press as respectable politi­cians with “new hopes”. 

This makes one wonder whom Trotskyism serves today, why it is receiving support from the very quarters against which, if we are to believe its leaders, “a most resolute struggle” must be waged. 

The answer, first of all, is that the ruling elite in the West in its fight against the revolutionary movement led by Communists does not rely on its own forces alone. It is fully aware that today it is powerless to influence the broad masses politically unless it appears to accept some elements (how far it should go in this depends on circumstances) of petty-bourgeois ideology, of petty-bourgeois revo­lutionism generally, and of its Trotskyist variety in particular. 

The root cause of such a seemingly unnatural alliance between the ruling classes and their oppo­nents lies in the socio-political and ideological con­ditions in which capitalism finds itself at its present stage. The growing exploitation and oppres­sion of the masses and the increasing authoritarian tendencies in capitalist policies evoke protests no only of the working class but also of those social  strata which ten or twenty years ago the bourgeoisie quite rightly regarded as a bulwark of the exploitation system. These strata include the petty bourgeoisie, the middle classes and the intelligen­sia, office workers, students and other social groups whose numbers have been rapidly growing under the impact of the scientific and technological revolution. 

Taking part in class battles, many of them either have no experience of political struggle at all, oi have only a most general and vague idea of what it should be. This is not surprising. Often they be­ gin with spontaneous protest against the anti-pop­ular policies of exploitation pursued by imperialism which tramples underfoot the basic rights and freedoms not only of individuals but of whole nations. 

In their protest against imperialism some of them side with the revolutionary working class and join Marxist-Leninist parties. But there are many who, while rejecting capitalism, do not accept so­cialism either; nor do they share the principles and aims of Communists. Often they are ensnared by left extremists who declare that “true” revolu­tionaries are not bound by ideological dogmas. 

A major factor in the activation of Trotskyism today is its organisational structure. As is known, the Trotskyist movement has never been united, being constantly torn by internal strife. The entire history of the Trotskyist Fourth International set up in 1938 has been marked by bitter in-fighting. At present, there are at least seven groupings, each claiming the sole right to represent the Fourth International. *

* These are: the United Secretariat of the Fourth Inter­national led by Ernest Mandel, Alain Krivine, and Daniel Bensaid; the International Committee for the Reconstruction of the Fourth International led by Pierre Lambert; the Rev­olutionary Marxist Tendency of the Fourth International led by Michel Pablo (Raptis); the International Committee of the Fourth International led by Denis Healy; International Socialism led by Tony Cliff; the Mexico City-based Fourth (Posadista) International whose leader, Julio Posadas, died in Europe in 1981; and the New York-based Spartacist League led by George Foster. The total estimated member­ship of these organisations is about 65,000.

In recent years Trotskyites in the United States, France and some other countries have been clamouring for the establishment of a Fifth International which could put an end to the long­standing tendency toward factionalism and splits resulting in crises. However, most Trotskyist leaders today regard the differences as “normal on the principle that the more confusion there is, the better. “This crisis is an objective process whose origins lie in the alignment of class forces and in the character of the class struggle,” 1 says Pierre Lambert, leader of the Committee for the Recon­struction of the Fourth International. This and other similar pronouncements never mention the real causes of the splits and divisions within the Fourth International, which lie in Trotskyism s lack of a broad social base, the Trotskyites’ eclec­tic and subjective evaluation of political develop ments, and the overweening ambitions of Trotsky­ist leaders. 

However, the Fourth International exists and, what is more, it has broadened its sphere of ope­ rations since the end of  the  Second  World  War, having set up national branches in virtually every capitalist  country.  This  alone  places  the   Trotsky­ ites in a  position  of  advantage  compared  to  the  other left extremists, such as the anarchists, and enables  them  to  adapt  themselves   more  effectively to the  political situation.

Many political activists are also misled by Trots­kyist terminology. In his article The Historical Destiny of the Doctrine of Karl Marx (1913) Len­in said that “the theoretical victory of Marxism compelled its enemies to disguise themselves as Marxists.” 1 This tendency can be observed today as well, when communist ideology in many ways determines the world’s intellectual outlook. 

In some cases interest in Trotskyism and in left extremism generally represents a negative reaction to social-democratic reformism, “a kind of penal­ ty for the opportunist sins of the working-class movement.”2 

1 Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 18, p. 584.
2 Ibid., Vol. 31, p. 32.


The Trotskyites are making skilful use of the rejection by many workers of reform­ ism with its total reliance on peaceful and parliamentarian forms of class struggle. The Trotsky­ites also appeal to those who have shed their reformist illusions but have not so far worked with Communists. 

Of late some left-wingers have also been gravi­tating towards Trotskyism. Some of them would like to use its anti-Leninist banner to camouflage their own departure from working-class positions. They are still trying to reassess the role played by Trotsky and his followers in the contemporary revolu­tionary movement. Denying the damage which Trotskyism has inflicted on the struggle for social­ism, they attempt to “legitimate” it as a variety of Marxism. Such attempts are particularly harmful since few people in capitalist countries are aware of the real essence of Trotskyism, of which there are many false interpretations. The present situation resembles that described by Lenin in 1914 when he strongly criticised Trotsky’s theoretical premises and political actions: “The old partici­pants in the Marxist movement in Russia know Trotsky very well, and there is no need to discuss him for their benefit. But the younger generation of workers do not know him, and it is therefore necessary to discuss him.” 1 1 Lenin, Coll. Works, Vol. 20, p. 346

Today, as many decades ago, the Trotskyites, with their “ultra-revolutionary” talk (in this they can be said to be consistent), are hindering the emergence of true revolutionary consciousness among the masses, whose anti-capitalist protest can thus be channeled into the dead end of pseudo-revolutionism. Trotskyism should be discussed today because working people, especially those who are young, who have no experience of class struggle, should have a realistic idea of the complexities in­volved in a socialist revolution and of the difficul­ties which are inevitably encountered by fighters for social justice and socialism.