Overview of Trotskyism
20 Aug 2000
In a nutshell, the significance of Trotskyism is that it is the present day continuation of revolutionary Marxism and the tradition of the Russian Revolution. The Trotskyists vigorously fought the rise of Stalinism in the Soviet Union and many of them were killed for doing so. Trotskyists are proletarian internationalists: they believe Marx was right when he said that the working class has no nation and nothing in common with its own national ruling class. In wars between rival big capitalist powers, like the First and Second World Wars, revolutionary Marxists and Trotskyists opposed their warmongering , did not support the war effort, and tried to turn the guns of the soldiers of their own armed forces against their own ruling classes, in whatever country they lived in. This is, in fact, what happened in Russia during the First World War. After enduring massive casualties on the frontline, the soldiers deserted en masse and shot the officers who had led them to disaster and death. The Russian Revolution was thus born out of the violence and warmongering of the capitalist system. The first action of the Bolsheviks when they came to power was to end the slaughter by withdrawing Russia from the First World War. The Allies condemned the Bolsheviks for doing this and sent 14 capitalist armies to help the anti-communist White armies to overthrow the Bolshevik government. This led to a bitter three year civil war. Trotsky founded, organised and politically inspired the Red Army to defend the Revolution and led them to victory against much greater odds.
It can be seen from this that it is not a question of revolutionary Marxists being violent for the hell of it or glorifying violence for its own sake. The violence has been endemic in oppressive economic systems since human history emerged from early primitive communism right up to the present day capitalist system. Today, wars are the product of an economic system based on glorifying human greed, profiteering, exploitation and selfishness. This is because humanity is still emerging from the accumulated consequences of its animal origins. The primitive aggressive, competitive, exploitative, self-centred values of bourgeois ideology reflect this origin. Humanity will only become truly human when it overcomes this primitivism and human affairs are decided on the basis of conscious planning rather than accumulated consequences.
The source of the violence in human history is squabbles over insufficient resources, land, goods and property. While technology was incapable of meeting everyone’s needs adequately there was no solution to this problem. Violent squabbles were inevitable and resulted in some going without while others got more than they needed, whether it was people or nations. But technology has now advanced to the point where it is possible to meet everybody’s needs and there is a solution. Violent squabbles should be a thing of the past, but they are not. They are not because the wealth accumulated by the victors gives them the power to decide who gets what, to control the means of mass communication in their own narrow selfish interests, to restrict the levers of decision making to their own elite circle, to manipulate and confuse people’s thinking and, if this fails, to repress them with the armed forces which they control. The difficulty that socialists face is that in order to make social progress, the wealth and the power to perpetuate greed and violence has to be forcibly taken away from them. In other words, violence is not something which socialists engage in because they want to be violent. It is imposed on them.
It was not the Bolsheviks who launched two catastrophic world wars in the Twentieth century, but they did play a big role in ending one of them. Some people shudder at the thought of violent revolution, while others regard the idea as a joke especially in the present day, “democratic” societies of the wealthy nations since, in these countries, the working class appears to be relatively subdued and the far left has always been marginal and impotent. And others worry about whether the seeds of Stalinism lay in the policies of Marxism and Bolshevism. This is what the wealthy enemies of working people would have you believe.
Why is violence necessary? The violence of revolutionary socialists can be likened to the violence used by a surgeon cutting into a body to save a patient’s life, or to a midwife cutting the umbilical cord to free the baby from the mother’s womb. Trotskyism’s baby is socialism and human liberation. Most sane people do not normally employ violence in their daily dealings with others. But if an elderly woman were being attacked by a gang of thugs, many would forcibly try to restrain the attackers using violence, if necessary, and regard it as right to do so. Many people would accept that for people living under a cruel dictatorship, violence might be necessary and indeed a heroic thing to engage in. The resistance movements under the Nazis are regarded in this light. Under conditions of bourgeois “democracy” however, it is often argued that violence is unacceptable since it is possible to change things by peaceful methods. The difficulty with this argument is that most people in the world live under dictatorship, open or disguised, and only a very few wealthy countries, mainly in North America and Western Europe, live under bourgeois democracy. And we have already seen that, even under bourgeois democracy, the working class does not participate in real decision making either in its workplaces or in society generally. If it did, would it allow the extremes of poverty and wealth to continue to exist? To ask the question in this way is to answer it. Bourgeois democracy is the disguised dictatorship of the bourgeoisie over the working class. And it is no accident that bourgeois democracy is a luxury afforded mainly to the wealthy nations. The imperialist super profits sucked out of the poor countries enables the imperialist bourgeoisie to buy off, and co-opt, the top layers of the working class, the trades union leaders, the leaders of the workers’ parties. This enables them to maintain social peace in their own backyard. Bourgeois democracy is about pacification of the working class not about participatory democracy.
For many people, communism is unattractive because the Russian Revolution went horribly wrong. Bourgeois ideologists have wasted no time in capitalising on this by claiming that the brutal experience of Stalinism had its origins in Marxism and Bolshevism. Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they? Human nature is not compatible with egalitarianism etc., etc., they claim. How convenient for the wealthy! The reality is somewhat different. The Russian Revolution went horribly wrong because it was not allowed to develop. It was strangled economically by the capitalist powers and subjected to a vicious civil war for three years. At the time of the Revolution it was a backward, largely feudal, country with a small industrial working class and a massive poor peasantry. The economy was further destabilised by a capitalist-inspired civil war. The Revolution was contained by the capitalist powers to this backward region and attempts to spread it to other, more industrially advanced countries, were drowned in blood. The German Revolution failed and the socialist leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were murdered.
In 1906, 11 years before the Revolution, Trotsky wrote in “Results and Prospects”, that unless the revolution succeeded in spreading itself to the bulk of the advanced industrial economies of Western Europe, it would fail to develop and an internal counterrevolution would occur. That is exactly what happened. He not only brilliantly anticipated what happened, he led the fight against it. The fact that he, the person who organised and led the October Revolution, stayed true to his principles, and had to be expelled from Russia and eventually murdered by the Stalinists, along with all of the other Bolshevik leaders from the period of the revolution, was the living proof that Stalinism did not have its origins in Marxism and Bolshevism. If Stalinism had its origins in Bolshevism, why was the whole of the Bolshevik leadership murdered by Stalin? The argument does not hold water. In order to consolidate Stalinism, the abandonment of the perspective of spreading the revolution internationally, the pragmatic accommodation with the capitalist world, the policy of “socialism in one country”, Stalin first had to destroy Bolshevism, not continue it.