A CRITIQUE OF TROTSKY’S MAIN THEORETICAL ASSUMPTIONS
By Tony Clark
INDEX OF CHAPTERS
TROTSKY was unable to think like a Leninist. This, as I will show, also applies to his followers. Today's Trotskyists, with the benefit of hindsight, may defend Lenin’s position on this or that past question (this is wisdom after the event). But they generally show a tendency to adopt pseudo-left positions on present, concrete developments.
A good example of pseudo-leftism is evident in the issue of ‘peaceful-coexistence’ between states with different social systems. Most followers of Trotskyism have denounced the policy of peaceful-coexistence pursued by the Soviet revisionists without making a distinction between ‘Leninist’ peaceful-coexistence and ‘revisionist’ peaceful-coexistence.
The difference of course is that, unlike ‘revisionist’ peaceful coexistence, Leninist peaceful-coexistence does not sacrifice the class struggle within states, or the struggle of the national liberation movement against imperialism, in order to live in peace with imperialism. This does not mean of course that a socialist country should not do everything possible to avoid nuclear war with imperialism without betraying the cause of human liberation from exploitation. This is a point that is ignored by pseudo-leftist elements, Trotskyist and non-Trotskyist alike.
This relates to the question of the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the political leaders of imperialist capitalism made it clear that they were prepared to heat up the cold war, and were prepared to plunge humanity into a nuclear holocaust, when the Soviet revisionist leadership, which had come to power soon after the death of Stalin, had reached the final stage of its ideological bankruptcy in the Gorbachev period. What generated revisionism is a different question.
The above are important points to make, because this illustrates the difference between Marxism-Leninism and Trotskyism, the latter which argues that the Soviet Union collapsed because of the leadership of a counterrevolutionary ‘Stalinist’ bureaucracy, although when the revisionists first came to power in the early 1950s, the supporters of Stalin were purged, and Stalin himself was downgraded and later denounced and his works banned.
The difference, therefore, is between ‘concrete’ Leninist reasoning and the ‘abstract’ thinking characteristic of Trotskyism. In other words, when we consider the collapse of the Soviet Union, the question naturally arises: did the Soviet Union collapse because the supporters of Stalin were in power, or because the revisionist leaders had purged the supporters of Stalin?
The Trotskyites do not understand (their ideology prevents them from doing so) that it wasn’t a ‘Stalinist’ bureaucracy that led the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union, but rather a revisionist leadership, which had broken from Marxism-Leninism. Even bourgeois writers, supporters of capitalist exploitation of the masses, note how, at every stage, soviet bureaucracy attempted to impede the return to capitalism and the barbarism of the market. This was to be expected because bureaucracies by their very nature tend to resist change. There is no reason why Soviet bureaucracy should be different in this respect. Only the top-most officials and members of the nomenklatura positioned themselves in such a way as to benefit from the return to the market. Since bureaucracies tend to be ‘conservative’, i.e., resisting change, rather than counterrevolutionary, Trotsky’s pseudo-left theory of a ‘counterrevolutionary bureaucracy’ is too abstract to provide an explanatory paradigm of the counterrevolutionary process that had developed in the Soviet Union.
The argument we present below is about two approaches to thinking: the ‘concrete’ reasoning of Leninism in contrast to the ‘abstract’ reasoning of Trotskyism. This difference at the level of thinking or reasoning, and therefore, at the level of method and theory, is fundamental to explaining how these two trends, Leninism and Trotskyism, came into existence and continue to oppose each other, not only in terms of historical interpretation, but also on concrete issues as well.
The most poignant reminder of Trotsky’s abstract approach to the problems of revolution is, of course, his theory of permanent revolution. Most Trotskyites will, no doubt, be completely flabbergasted by such a statement. They can ask, ‘did not the Russian revolution confirm Trotsky’s prognosis? Did not the Russian working class take power and transform the bourgeois revolution against the Tsars into a socialist revolution against capitalism? Such a line of argument also betrays the abstract reasoning of Trotskyism, which we will present in the article below.
By laying down, as a basis for argument, the theory that the contradiction between Marxism-Leninism and Trotskyism is an opposition between the concrete and the abstract, we are able to follow the movement of this contradiction in Trotskyism’s struggle against Marxism-Leninism. This begins, of course, with Trotsky’s inability to grasp the contradiction between revolutionary Marxism and opportunism in the period before 1917.
In fact, for Lenin, the role of Trotskyism in the pre-1917 period was to act as a cover for opportunism in the Russian revolutionary movement. For instance, Lenin could remark, only five years before the outbreak of the 1917 revolution, that Trotsky was ‘shielding’ the deeds of the opportunists by
‘ "revolutionary" phrase-mongering abroad…there you have the essence of the policy of "Trotskyism"’. (V. I. Lenin: CW. Vol. 17; pp.242-44)
And later in his 1914 article, Disruption of unity under the cover of outcries for unity, Lenin could write that
‘…we were right in calling Trotskyism a representative of the "worst remnants of factionalism’. (V.I. Lenin: CW. Vol.20; pp.327-47)
Also for Lenin, one of the features of Trotsky is that he
‘…does not explain, nor does he understand, the historical significance of the ideological disagreement among the various Marxist groups, although these disagreements run throughout the twenty year’s history of Social-Democracy and concern the fundamental questions of the present day’. (V.I. Lenin: op. cit.)
This was a damning criticism that amounts to saying that three years before the 1917 revolution, Trotsky did not consciously, that is concretely, understand what the real struggle was about in the Russian revolutionary movement.
And in this same article Lenin remarked of Trotskyism
‘All that glitters is not gold. There is much glitter and sound in Trotsky’s phrases, but they are meaningless’. (V.I. Lenin: op. cit.)
It is this ‘glittering’ effect of Trotskyism that can serve to ensnare politically naïve people, those untutored in Marxism-Leninism, who have come over to the anti-capitalist movement. To them we can only say, study the works of Marxist-Leninists. This it is not possible to do in any of the Trotskyite groupings, where the works of Lenin, with a few exceptions, is discouraged, presumably because of the critical observations some of them contain on Trotsky. As for Stalin’s works the contents are quite unknown to most Trotskyites.
What follows is, we hope, a timely contribution to understanding Trotskyism from the Marxist-Leninist perspective.
The question 'What is Trotskyism?' could be answered on several different levels, political, theoretical and methodological. Logically it would be possible to begin a discourse on Trotskyism by concentrating on the methodological level, proceeding to the theoretical foundations, and finally ending with the political conclusions associated with Trotskyism. In other words, this means we would discuss the methodological approach of Trotsky, then proceed to discuss his theoretical and political assumptions. On the other hand, we could discuss the political and theoretical assumptions of Trotskyism, and finally trace their roots to Trotsky’s methodology.
Since people encounter Trotskyism, firstly, as political and theoretical assumptions before any consideration of methodology is sought, this, perhaps, is the starting point we should adopt in an examination of Trotskyism as a political trend. We shall begin at the level of political appearance, move to semblance, i.e., semblance being the transition from essence to appearance, which dialectically corresponds to the theoretical level. From this level of semblance we proceed back to methodology, which, in philosophical terms, is essence. In other words, appearance, semblance and essence, or politics, theory and method, all interrelated and interacting on each other.
In order to proceed on this basis all non-essentials must be discarded as much as possible. Trotskyism can only be understood in relation to Leninism, or what is now universally known as ‘Marxism-Leninism’ if we proceed in this manner, because what is intended is not to furnish the reader with an historical account of the differences between Marxism-Leninism and Trotskyism but rather to explain these differences by concentrating on the more important issues, or contradictions which emerged between the two trends of thought.
That there are sharp differences between Marxism-Leninism and Trotskyism is something that participants in the communist movement take for granted. On the side of Trotskyism there is a persistent attempt to conceal these differences, or at least play them down. This exercise in concealment is undertaken, no doubt, with the aim of promoting the claim that Trotskyism is the continuation of Leninism, a view which Trotsky himself encouraged, or, as one Trotskyite group puts it, ‘Trotskyism is the Marxism of today’.
We, for our part, are more interested in the controversial claim that Trotskyism is the continuation of Leninism. The first question is, of course, if Trotskyism is Leninism, why use the term ‘Trotskyism’?
There is no point in taking recourse to the old Trotskyite falsehood that it was Stalin, or Trotsky’s other opponents who first coined the term ‘Trotskyism’ after the death of Lenin. The impression which Trotsky and, indeed, Trotskyites like to give is that the term ‘Trotskyism’ grew out of the post-Lenin controversy between Stalin and Trotsky. Further, Trotsky’s claim that Zinoviev was responsible for its manufacture finds no factual historical support whatsoever, as is shown in the preliminary remarks above.
It is on clear historical record that the term ‘Trotskyism’ was used on several occasions by Lenin himself in the pre-1917 revolutionary period. This period is where the differences between Leninism and Trotskyism began. The aim of this contribution is to explain that the differences between Leninism and Trotskyism are of a methodological, theoretical and political character, and therefore any attempt to view these differences on the political level alone will certainly remain superficial.
Any examination of Trotsky from the standpoint of scientific appraisal and not purely partisanship must look at Trotskyism not only as a one-sided difference with Leninism. These differences were strong enough to keep Trotsky outside of Bolshevism until 1917, but such an examination must explain how it was possible for Trotsky to join Bolshevism in 1917. If we disregard the elements of opportunism which no doubt were involved, or Trotsky’s fear of finding himself in isolation, then we need to look at that aspect of Trotskyism which united him with Bolshevism in 1917. In other words, how was Trotsky able to integrate, to a certain extent, with Bolshevism and play a significant if controversial role in Bolshevik proceedings. This document is not a criticism of Trotsky for having differences with Lenin, but rather a criticism of the superficial claim of Trotskyites that Trotskyism is the continuation of Leninism.
To some communists this work may be mistakenly regarded as superfluous. They KNOW Trotskyism is not Leninism. But their knowledge does not prevent other politically inexperienced people from being attracted to Trotskyism because of the revisionist, right-deviation which has plagued the communist movement for such a long time. These right-opportunist circles are a sort of recruiting agents for Trotskyism. These people oppose Trotskyism not because they are Leninists but because they are right opportunists. This is why a Marxist-Leninist critique of Trotskyism is still of considerable importance.
On joining the Bolshevik party in 1917, the relationship Trotsky had with the party was never without problems; indeed, the relationship was quite stormy. Lenin and Trotsky had substantial differences, but Lenin had differences with all the leading participants of the party. What gave notoriety to the contradictions between Lenin and Trotsky was not only the qualities of these differences, but also the later conflicts and disputes over a range of issues which emerged between Stalin and Trotsky.
There will, of course, always be differences between revolutionaries, so we do not assume here that Trotsky was wrong to oppose Lenin, rather it was his positions, which were usually to be found in error. It would also be true to say that in joining the Bolshevik party, Trotsky toned down his opposition to Leninism. Later, with Lenin removed by sickness and death, Trotsky’s full-blown opposition to Bolshevism re-emerged. Trotskyism was born in opposition to Bolshevism and soon returned to this state of conflict. What was different, of course, was that this new stage of opposition to Bolshevism, was claimed by Trotsky, to be directed at Stalin. This is not to argue that there were no differences between Trotsky and Stalin unrelated to Lenin. The unity of such differences must be sought at the level of methodology. In any event, Trotsky, for obvious political reasons, could not openly oppose Leninism. In fact the guise was adopted that he was defending Leninism against Stalin.
To return to a previous point regarding the elements of identity which made it possible for Trotsky to join the Bolshevik party. This was primarily about goals of a practical nature. There was never any theoretical subsumption in Trotsky’s practical and tactical unity with Bolshevism. Not theoretical considerations but objective developments led the Bolsheviks, under Lenin’s guidance, to proceed to the anti-capitalist stage of the revolution. For Trotsky, this was the realisation of permanent revolution in practice, and on this basis he entered the ranks of Bolshevism. 1917 was the closest Trotskyism came to Leninism, at the most general level. Before and after this period, the relationship was dominated by hostile conflict, which Trotsky managed to contain in the period of Lenin, not without highly significant episodes of conflicts. In fact, the period of Trotsky’s association with Bolshevism contains the richest source of conflict, which makes Trotsky’s claim of defending Leninism pointedly absurd.
These old conflicts between Leninism and Trotskyism are still of relevance because they serve to undermine the claim that Trotskyism is the continuation of Leninism in present day conditions; and also because Trotskyism contains a method, thus those who adopt the forms of Trotsky’s ideology, also absorb his method. Form and content cannot be separated.
In all essentials Trotskyism remains Trotskyism. From this standpoint we treat the tactical differences between Lenin and Trotsky as of secondary importance even if they contained the germ of more significant disagreements.
The question, what is Trotskyism, could be simply answered by the reply that Trotskyism is a rival of Leninism. Although this point would be obvious to those who have studied these differences, for those whose role is the concealment of these differences such a reply would be woefully inadequate. Opportunism often assumes protective coloration. So Trotskyism, although fighting against Leninism, does so under the banner of Leninism. The aim of this article is to examine five areas of a theoretical political nature, which shows that the claim that Trotsky led the continuation of Leninism, is in fact the line of those who want to replace Leninism with Trotskyism, whether consciously or unconsciously, as the ideological guide of the international communist movement.
It is important to add here that we do not have a conspiratorial theory about those who seek to replace Marxism-Leninism with Trotskyism. Although it can be argued that Trotsky aimed at this quite consciously, it would be simplistic if we assumed the same about his followers. In fact we are forced to adopt the opposite conclusions about them. Not only does petty-bourgeois eclecticism make it easy for them to confuse Trotskyism with Leninism, but they also arrive at this position because they subscribe to what they consider to be the explanatory credibility of Trotsky.
The problem these people face, therefore, is one of promoting Trotskyism without being seen to be opposing Leninism. This contradiction of theirs can be easily resolved if, in the first place, their grasp of Leninism leaves much to be desired. For such elements there is no contradiction between Leninism and Trotskyism, or, perhaps, what contradiction there is, or was, can be safely relegated to the by-gone pre-revolutionary period of the Russian revolutionary movement. This certainly was Trotsky’s own attitude, so we should not be surprised if his followers adopt the same stance.
The Bolsheviks, or what became known as Marxism-Leninism, had opponents on the right and ‘left’ of the revolutionary movement. The rival of Leninism on the right were the Mensheviks, people like Martov and Plekhanov. As a rival of Leninism, Trotsky was on the ‘left’, in spite of Trotsky’s occasional collaboration with the Mensheviks against Bolshevism. It was the fact that his pseudo-left position often served the interests of Menshevism, which Lenin subjected to criticism in the pre-1917 period.
The view of Trotskyism as a pseudo-left rival of Marxism-Leninism can be established, firstly, around the question of the Russian revolution and the position Trotsky adopted towards it. Here we turn to the question of Trotsky’s rendition of Marx’s term: the revolution in permanence. Indeed, Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution is the intellectual starting point of what came to be called ‘Trotskyism’. This term, ‘Trotskyism’, was used, as we previously indicated, by Lenin in pre-1917 times to mean something different. The term was used by Lenin to signify opportunism. We are told by Lenin that, for instance,
‘…the "Trotskyites and conciliators" like him are more pernicious than any liquidator; the convinced liquidators state their views bluntly, and it is easy for the workers to detect where they are wrong, whereas the Trotsky’s deceive the workers, cover up the evil, and make it impossible to expose the evil and to remedy it’. (V.I. Lenin: CW. Vol. 17; pp.242-44; September, 1911)
The inner significance of the term ‘Trotskyism’ was clearly for Lenin one of opportunism. It was the long-standing rivalry between Trotskyism and Leninism that gave rise to the term in the first place. As we have seen the term ‘Trotskyism’, for Lenin, was associated with not only covering up for the liquidators, but also with ‘revolutionary phrase-mongering’. It was not invented in the later Stalin - Trotsky dispute, a legend devised by Trotsky himself. Having got this particular contentious issue out of the way, we can say that the logical starting point for our analysis of Trotskyism is Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution, to which we will now turn.
Trotskyism, ideologically, begins with his theory of ‘Permanent Revolution’. Trotsky, it must be said, never wavered from this view. The question, 'what is permanent revolution?’ can be answered quite simply in the following way. The theory of permanent revolution argues that the working class should lead the Russian bourgeois democratic revolution, and on the basis of possession of state power would not stop at the democratic stage, that is to say the minimum programme, but would continue the revolution to the socialist stage. This would awaken the working class in the advanced capitalist countries to rise up against the bourgeoisie. These workers would then come to the aid of the Russian working class, extending support to backward Russia, thus making the revolution permanent. This answered the central question of the Russian revolution, that is, which class would lead it. On this question both Lenin and Trotsky agreed that the working class would be the leader of the revolution.
Both Lenin’s and Trotsky’s views were radically different from the Mensheviks. The Mensheviks argued that a bourgeois revolution had to be led by the bourgeoisie and the role of the working class was to support the efforts of the bourgeoisie in the democratic revolution. In this scenario the workers must not be too radical for fear of scaring off the bourgeois liberals. The Mensheviks argued for an alliance between the bourgeoisie and the working class for accomplishing the democratic revolution. They ignored the lessons of history, which showed that the bourgeoisie would recoil from their own revolution and was never interested in its radical completion.
For a radical solution to the bourgeois revolution, which would not stop at half measures, Lenin argued for an alliance between the working class and the peasantry. These two classes were the most interested in the radical completion of the bourgeois revolution. In sort, the Mensheviks stood for an alliance between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat with the leadership in the hands of the former, whereas the Bolsheviks stood for an alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry. It is over the question of the peasantry that there emerged a divergence between Leninism and Trotskyism. While it can be said, without doubt, that Trotsky recognised the role of the peasantry, it can also be argued that he underestimated its role. Trotskyites deny this, claiming that such accusations are nothing but ‘Stalinist’ slanders against Trotsky necessitated by factional considerations.
Marxist-Leninists, however, do not claim that Trotsky failed to recognise the role of the peasantry in the Russian revolution, but rather that he underestimated its role, i.e., did not correctly grasp its significance To some extent, Trotskyites are able to dispute this claim because in the light of experience Trotsky updated his theory. This is why it is possible to find passages from Trotsky’s writings suggesting an underestimation of the role of the peasantry, while other passages seem to refute this. Taken as a whole, however, after careful consideration, we have to agree with the view that, within Trotskyism there was a tendency to underestimate the role of the peasantry in the Russian revolution. To show that Trotskyism began with an incorrect tactical understanding of the role of the peasantry we can turn to the preface Trotsky wrote in 1922 to his book, The year 1905, where he argued that the working class, having come to power,
‘…would be forced in the very early stages of its rule to make deep in-roads not only into feudal property, but into bourgeois property as well. In this it would come into hostile collision not only with all the bourgeois groupings that supported the proletariat during the first stage of the revolutionary struggle, but also with the broad masses of the peasantry who had been instrumental in bringing it into power. The contradictions in the position of a workers’ government in a backward country with an overwhelming majority of peasants can be solved only on an international scale, in the arena of the world proletarian revolution’. (In: Harpal Brar: Trotskyism or Leninism? p.117)
It is clear that, if in ‘the very early stages of its rule’ the proletariat proceeded with a policy that brought it into ‘hostile collision’ with the ‘broad masses of the peasantry’, communist leadership in the revolution, and working class political power, would have been doomed from the start. So, who can argue when Marxist-Leninists say Trotskyism began by not consciously grasping the significance of the peasantry in the Russian revolution?
Furthermore, the Marxist-Leninist argument that Trotskyism underestimated the role of the peasantry can be clearly illustrated by another passage from Trotsky, where he argues that
‘The nature of our social-historical relations, which lays the whole burden of the bourgeois revolution upon the shoulders of the proletariat, will not only create tremendous difficulties for the workers’ government but, in the first period of its existence at any rate, will also give it invaluable advantages. This will affect the relations between the proletariat and the peasantry’. (L. Trotsky: Results and Prospects, 1906, in: The Permanent Revolution; New Park Publications, July, 1962; p.203)
We need not point out that it would be a travesty of Marxism-Leninism, generally, to argue that Russia’s historical development laid ‘…the whole burden of the bourgeois revolution upon the shoulders of the proletariat…’ Even with an elementary knowledge of Marxism-Leninism it is possible to expose this assertion as completely opposed to Leninism. Leninism taught that the burden of the bourgeois revolution in Russia rests on the proletariat and the peasantry. Unlike Trotskyism, nowhere did Marxism-Leninism teach that the ‘whole burden’ of the Russian revolution rested on the shoulders of the proletariat alone.
If it were necessary to give more evidence that Trotskyism began by ‘underestimating’ the role of the peasantry in the Russian revolution, another quote from Trotsky would be sufficient, at least for the unbiased mind. In Result and Prospects, Trotsky argues, regarding the defeat in the Russo-Japanese war of 1905, that
‘The attempt of the Russia of 3rd June to solve the internal revolutionary problems by the path of imperialism has resulted in an obvious fiasco. This does not mean that the responsible or semi-responsible parties of the 3rd June regime will take the path of revolution, but it does mean that the revolutionary problem laid bare by the military catastrophe, which will drive the ruling class still further along the path of imperialism, doubles the importance of the only revolutionary class in the country’.(L. Trotsky: op. Cit., p252)
This passage illustrates, absolutely clearly, by omission, that Trotskyism began by underestimating the role of the peasantry in the Russian revolution. When Trotsky writes here of the ONLY REVOLUTIONARY CLASS IN THE COUNTRY, he is speaking of the proletariat, while completely ignoring the peasantry. What more evidence is needed to demonstrate that contained within Trotskyism, particularly early Trotskyism, there is an underestimating of the role of the peasantry, alien to Leninism? Unlike Trotskyism, nowhere did Marxism-Leninism teach that the proletariat was the ‘only revolutionary class’ in the Russian revolution.
If to imply that the working class in the Russian revolution was the ‘only’ revolutionary class is not underestimating the role of the peasantry, then what is? This one passage, alone, demolishes any attempt to oppose Marxism-Leninism and argue, in support of Trotskyism, that Trotsky never underestimated the peasantry, and that therefore such accusations are the invention of ‘Stalinists’. The view that the working class, or proletariat, was the ‘only revolutionary class in the country’ is the very opposite of Bolshevism, that is of Marxism-Leninism.
Another really astonishing remark by Trotsky shows, absolutely clearly, the complete absence of a Leninist understanding of the significance of the peasantry as an ally of the proletariat. Trotsky openly claimed, in print, that
‘In order to understand the subsequent conflict between Stalinism and Trotskyism, it is necessary to emphasise that, in consonance with all Marxist tradition, Lenin never regarded the peasant as a socialist ally of the proletariat; on the contrary, it was the overwhelming preponderance of the peasantry which had led Lenin to conclude that the socialist revolution was impossible in Russia’. ( L. Trotsky: What Is The Permanent Revolution-Three concepts of The Russian Revolution; Published by Spartacist, 1970; pages unnumbered)
But it is ABC Leninism, for anyone who has made even a cursory study of Lenin’s writings, that the alliance of the proletariat and the peasantry was an absolute condition for the democratic revolution, whereas an alliance with the middle and poor peasantry, was a precondition for upholding the socialist dictatorship of the proletariat. For Trotsky to say, shamelessly, that Lenin never regarded the peasantry as a socialist ally of the proletariat, would not only make Lenin turn in his grave, but Marx and Engels as well. This is a blatant repudiation of Leninism and its replacement with Trotskyism. If Trotsky made such utterances in ignorance it would only further undermine the already impossible claim, by theoretically illiterate people, that Trotsky and his past and contemporary followers represent the continuation of Leninism. These people are on such a low theoretical level that they are unable to discern the differences between Leninism and Trotskyism.
Now the question is, did Lenin ever accuse Trotsky of underestimating the peasantry, or was this a later slander by Stalin and those who supported him? We think it is best to let Trotsky reply to this vexed question.
‘On the occasions when Lenin accused me of "underestimating" the peasantry, he did not have in mind my failure to recognise the socialist tendencies of the peasantry but rather my failure to realise sufficiently, from Lenin’s point of view, the bourgeois democratic independence of the peasantry, its capacity to create its own power and through it impede the establishment of the socialist dictatorship of the proletariat’, (L. Trotsky: ibid.)
We have to say this passage is hogwash, possessing merit only in the frank admission that Lenin accused Trotsky of UNDERESTIMATING THE PEASANTRY. Trotsky, having confessed that Lenin did in fact level the charge of underestimating the role of the peasantry, returns quickly to the Trotskyite legend that the accusation about underestimating the role of the peasantry began after Lenin, suggesting that
‘The revaluation of the question commenced only during the years of the thermidorian reaction, the beginning of which coincided by and large with Lenin’s illness and death’ (L. Trotsky: ibid.)
On the contrary, it was after the death of Lenin that Trotsky made his failed bid to replace Leninism with Trotskyism in the Soviet Communist Party and the international communist movement. The re-evaluation that Trotsky is referring to is a vital question for Leninism, namely the role of the peasantry under the socialist dictatorship of the proletariat. For Trotsky, after Lenin’s death
‘…the union of Russian workers and peasants was declared to be in itself sufficient guarantee against the dangers of restoration and a firm pledge that socialism would be achieved within the borders of the Soviet Union. Having substituted the theory of socialism in one country for the theory of international revolution, Stalin began to call the Marxist evaluation of the peasantry "Trotskyism", and moreover not only with reference to the present but retroactively to the entire past’ (L. Trotsky: ibid.)
Trotsky did say that Marxism ‘never ascribed an absolute and immutable character to its estimation of the peasantry as a non-socialist class’, but he failed to present the question in a concrete way and draw the necessary conclusions. Since Marxism, in the words of Trotsky, never ascribed an absolute and immutable character to its estimation of the peasantry as a non-socialist class, this is a further exposure of Trotskyism. A close textual reading of Lenin reveals that it is impossible to argue that there was a ‘revaluation’ of the question of the peasantry’s role under socialism. Enshrined in Trotskyism is its central legend that Stalin substituted the theory of socialism in one country for the theory of world revolution. This bipolar notion of the existence of two theories, i.e., the theory of socialism in one country, and the theory of world revolution is purely an invention by Trotskyism, in fact its most important legend, which we will deal with later. For now we will consider Lenin’s views on the peasantry and socialism.
For Lenin, as long as the socialist state has power over all large-scale means of production, combined with the alliance with the millions of small peasants, together with the leadership of the proletariat, and on the basis of the co-operatives:
‘Is this not all that is necessary for building a complete socialist society? This is not yet the building of socialist society, but it is all that is necessary and sufficient for this building’ ( V.I. Lenin: CW. Vol. 27; p.392)
Without further ado, we can say, with some embarrassment for having to remind those who are confined to the ideological parameters of Trotskyism, that Marxism-Leninism was not re-evaluated, as Trotsky carelessly suggests, but rather maintained that the key condition for upholding the socialist dictatorship in the Soviet Union was the alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry, the middle and small peasantry. This forms the most important teaching of Marxism-Leninism concerned with the Russian revolution’s strategic line.
In fact Trotsky reveals his anti-Leninism most clearly on the peasant question, which he always tends to present abstractly, in the following remark:
‘…whatever the situation on that score today, after twenty-odd years of the new regime, the fact remains that prior to the October Revolution, … no-one in the Marxist camp, and least of all Lenin, had regarded the peasantry as a factor of socialist development’. (L. Trotsky: ibid.)
Trotsky made out that for Stalin the alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry was all that was necessary to save the Soviet Union from capitalist restoration and therefore the extension of the world revolution was not necessary, but there is nothing in Stalin’s writings to support this line of argumentation. The reality was that Bolshevism fought Menshevism on the right and Trotskyism and other pseudo-left tendencies on the ultra-left over the question of the role of the peasantry in the Russian revolution.
Trotsky’s permanent revolution theory was one of ‘pseudo-leftism’. It was referred to by Lenin as ‘absurdly left’. This theory would have been consigned to the waste paper bin, but something happened which saved it, so to speak, and gave it new life. This something was the 1914-1918 imperialist war.
In simple terms we can say that the imperialist war of 1914-18 worked, to some extent, in favour of Trotsky’s theory. Without this war Trotsky’s theory would have been forgotten. The significance of the imperialist war was that it made it possible for the Bolsheviks to progress from the democratic revolution against the Tsarist regime to the socialist revolution. This gave the impression, to some people, that Lenin had gone over to Trotsky’s views. Indeed, this was the essential argument of people like Zinoviev and Kamenev, who initially opposed Lenin’s ‘April Theses’, which outlined the struggle to lead the democratic revolution into the socialist revolution. Even Trotsky in his autobiography could claim, in regard to Lenin, that
‘…the course of events, by substituting arithmetic for algebra had revealed the essential identity of our views’. (L. Trotsky: My Life; Pelican, p.345)
The working class had, indeed, led the bourgeois democratic revolution and then transformed it into the proletarian revolution. Lenin had already held to this possibility.
‘Our programme is not an old one but a new-the minimum programme of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party. We have a new slogan: the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. If we live to see the real victory of the democratic revolution we shall also have new methods of action in keeping with the nature and aims of the working-class party that is striving for a complete socialist revolution’. (V.I. Lenin: Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution; Progress Publishers, Moscow, pp.54-56)
And again, in Two Tactics, Lenin argues that
‘We all contrapose bourgeois revolution with socialist revolution; we all insist on the absolute necessity of strictly distinguishing between them; however, can it be denied that in the course of history individual, particular elements of two revolutions become interwoven? Has the period of democratic revolutions in Europe not been familiar with a number of socialist movements and attempts to establish socialism? And will not the future socialist revolution in Europe still have to complete a great deal left undone in the field of democratism’. (V.I. Lenin: Op. Cit.; pp.82-3)
Further Lenin argued that
‘The revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry is unquestionably only a transient, temporary socialist aim, but to ignore this aim in the period of the democratic revolution would be downright reactionary’. (V.I. Lenin: op. Cit.; p.83)
For Lenin, the bourgeois democratic revolution would establish the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. This itself is a far cry from the view of Trotsky outlined above, suggesting that the proletariat was the ‘only revolutionary class’, not to mention his view that the proletariat was to bear ‘all the burden’ of the revolution. In Lenin’s view the dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry would carry out the minimum programme, the demands of the bourgeois revolution. But from the text above, we see also that not only is the bourgeois stage of the revolution separate from the socialist stage, but they are also interconnected.
In other words the minimum programme, the bourgeois revolution, and the maximum programme, i.e., socialism, were for Lenin not two unrelated processes. Lenin argued that the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry has a past and a future. Its past was the struggle against feudalism, its future the struggle against capitalism; this would lead to the end of the single will of the peasantry as a whole with the proletariat which existed in the democratic stage.
‘The time will come when the struggle against the Russian autocracy will end, and the period of democratic revolution will have passed in Russia; it will then be ridiculous even to speak of "singleness of will" of the proletariat and the peasantry, about a democratic dictatorship, etc. When that time comes we shall deal directly with the question of the socialist dictatorship of the proletariat and speak of it in greater detail’. (V.I. Lenin: op. Cit.; p.84)
In other words, the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry would grow into the socialist dictatorship of the proletariat. With certain modifications, this, in outline, is precisely what happened in the Russian revolution. The revolution first led to the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry and was subsequently turned into the socialist dictatorship of the proletariat. Theory, which Lenin recognised was always open to modification by concrete developments, did not predict the concrete form of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.
Nor could it be known beforehand that the opportunists would dominate the first stage of the revolution through the Soviets of workers and peasants and work with the provisional government against the democratic revolution. But the eight months of preparation, from February to October, gave the masses the experience to throw out the opportunists, support a new government of socialist dictatorship, and complete the democratic revolution. How was this all made possible, and how did it differ from Trotsky’s prognosis?
Trotsky, in permanent revolution, had argued that, having come to power, the working class would carry out the minimum programme and then proceed to socialism, that is to say the maximum programme. But the reality is that this development was only made possible by the intervention of the imperialist war of 1914-18. Without this war, the conditions that made it possible to transform the democratic revolution into the socialist revolution in such a short space of time would not have existed.
Two factors would have worked against Trotsky’s permanent revolution prediction in the absence of the conditions created by the First Imperialist War. (1) The peasantry as a whole would not have supported the immediate transition to socialism. This means that the balance of class forces would have favoured the Mensheviks and the bourgeoisie. (2) Intervention by world imperialism to support the counterrevolution would have certainly been more successful, had an attempt been made to turn the democratic revolution into socialist revolution in the absence of the peculiar conditions of wartime.
The war of 1914-18 made it possible for Trotsky’s supporters to conceal the pseudo-left nature of his version of permanent revolution. In other words, to have attempted, or advocated Trotsky’s permanent revolution theory in the absence of the conditions created by the war would have led to the certain defeat of the working class. That is the point, which the Trotskyites ignore.
The Bolsheviks could transform the bourgeois into the proletarian revolution, in such a short space of time, not because they had come over to the abstract thesis of Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution, but because conditions made such a transformation possible. The revolution had confirmed Lenin’s position of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry, but as Lenin remarked in his ‘April Theses’, this was done in a more original form, and furthermore under wartime conditions.
Lenin and the Bolsheviks did not promote, at the level of abstract theory, the possibility of an immediate proletarian, socialist revolution in Russian conditions. In fact Lenin ruled out such a development in conformity with Marxism. The Russian democratic revolution was to be bourgeois in nature, leading to a republic. The question of the transformation of this democratic revolution into a socialist one would be determined by external and internal factors, the latter among which was the degree of consciousness and organisation of the working class. The intervention of the imperialist war of 1914-18 changed Lenin’s calculations. What the war achieved was to speed up the revolutionary process, thus reducing the distance between the democratic and the socialist stage of the revolution, making it possible to transform the first into the second.
In other words, Lenin argued for the transition to the socialist stage, not because Trotsky’s theory was correct, but because wartime conditions speeded up the revolutionary process and created favourable conditions for the second stage to begin. In the absence of the speeded up revolutionary process and favourable conditions, the transformation into the socialist stage only on the grounds that the working class possessed power would have been leftist adventurism. Here we see a clear demarcation between Leninism and Trotskyism. Whereas the premise of Lenin is the concrete situation created by the imperialist war, for Trotsky the premise is the abstraction of ‘permanent revolution’. The methodological polarity between them is the essence of the cognitive divergence between Leninism and Trotskyism.
The methodological and ideological difference between Marxism-Leninism and Trotskyism is clear when we compare Lenin’s ‘April Theses’ of 1917 with Trotsky’s updated Permanent Revolution theory of 1928. The background and basis of the policy outlined in the April Theses is the imperialist war of 1914-18. This war is at centre stage of the theses, and is presented as the main contributory factor determining the progress of the bourgeois democratic revolution into the socialist stage. But the situation is quite different when we examine Trotsky’s updated 1928 presentation of his theory. Trotsky completely fails to see the link between the imperialist war and the possibility it opened up for leading the revolution on to socialism. It is a remarkable fact that in his 1928 work on permanent revolution Trotsky nowhere mentions the imperialist war in connection with the change of Bolshevik tactics, aimed at overthrowing the bourgeoisie and capitalism. To separate the Russian socialist revolution from the imperialist war is a mistake not made even by second-rate bourgeois historians.
In fact, it is Trotsky’s 1928 work that reveals the real contradiction in approach between Lenin and Trotsky. The following will illustrate this. Even eleven years after the revolution in opposition to Leninism, Trotsky could write:
‘…never in history has there been a regime of the "democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’. (L. Trotsky: The Permanent Revolution; New Park Publications, London, 1962; p.4)
Trotsky’s repudiation of Lenin here is probably the most open in all his post Lenin writings. But Marxism-Leninism teaches the very opposite. The Lenin of the ‘April Theses’ came to the very opposite conclusion to Trotskyism. In 1917 Lenin wrote and argued the position that
‘ "The Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies"-there you have the "revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry" already accomplished in reality’. (V. I. Lenin: April Theses; CW. Vol. 24; pp.42-54)
No other passage is necessary to demonstrate the opposition between Leninism and Trotskyism on matters relating to the Russian revolution. When Lenin says plus, Trotsky says minus.
We can conclude this section by saying that Lenin agreed with Trotsky and the Mensheviks about the bourgeois nature of the Russian revolution. While differing from the Mensheviks about the alliance of classes which would be necessary for a successful revolution, and which of these classes should lead, he conceded that the revolution would be capitalist, leading to a republic. For Lenin there was no ‘Chinese wall’ between the first and second stage of the revolution, but its further development would depend on internal and external factors.
The first imperialist war of 1914-18 speeded up the revolutionary process, creating favourable conditions for the transition to socialism. This brought about a change in Bolshevik tactics. Trotsky, on the other hand, underestimated the role of the peasantry, suggesting that the proletariat was the ‘only’ revolutionary class and that the ‘whole burden’ of the revolution was on the shoulders of the workers, an argument which constituted a complete repudiation of Leninism, at least in the early presentation of his theory.
Trotsky also denied, in opposition to Leninism, the existence of the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry, saying it had never existed in history. In addition to all this he failed to realise that it was the conditions generated by the first imperialist war which made the transition from the democratic to the socialist revolution possible in such a short space of time, incorrectly implying that Lenin came over to his theory.
And it is quite ridiculous for a leading British Trotskyite, Alan Woods to argue that
‘The concrete realisation of the "democratic dictatorship" which history had actually thrown up was a capitalist government, waging an imperialist war of annexation, incapable of solving, or even of seriously posing, a single one of the fundamental tasks of the democratic revolution. The algebraic formula of the "democratic dictatorship" had been filled by history with a negative content’ (Alan Woods and Ted Grant: Lenin and Trotsky, What They Really Stood For; p.75)
Although this was a reply to the revisionist, Monty Johnson, who had tried to argue, incorrectly, that the provisional government was the realisation of the democratic dictatorship, Woods and Grant themselves fail to understand it and, indeed, they confuse the provisional government with the democratic dictatorship. The essence of the latter was the alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry, as a whole, in the democratic revolution, whereas the provisional government was in fact the realisation of the Menshevik policy of an alliance between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. This alliance, which the Bolsheviks devoted all their energy to exposing and breaking up, in essence is no different from the present alliance between the Social Democracy and the bourgeoisie in all the advanced capitalist countries. The contradiction between Leninism and Trotskyism is further exposed when Woods and Grant argue that the ‘concrete’ realisation of the democratic dictatorship was a capitalist government waging an imperialist war, etc. This compounds Trotsky’s mistake outlined above when he argued that a democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry has never existed anywhere.
Unlike Lenin, Trotsky deduced the possibility for the transition of the bourgeois revolution into the socialist revolution, not from all the relevant concrete conditions but from the postulates of abstract theory, which saw the workers’ possession of the requisite power as the only essential determination for this. This pseudo-leftism, if it had been put into practice under different, unsuitable circumstances, would have led to the tragic defeat of the revolution. Trotsky’s ‘permanent revolution’ theory was a ‘left’ distortion of Marxism in that it advocated a socialist revolution as an immediate exigency, deduced from theoretical abstraction, possessing a high degree of cognitive autonomy from all the interrelated processes leading to the seizure of power by the working class. In this sense Trotsky’s theory is closer to intuitive prediction unconcerned with the processes of concrete and political development.
It is interesting in this respect that even the anti-Communist bourgeois historian, Robert Service, makes the following observation that
‘Except for the Great War, Lenin would have remained an ‘émigré’ theorist scribbling in Swiss libraries; and even if Nicholas II had been deposed in a peacetime transfer of power, the inception of a communist regime order would hardly have been likely’. (R. Service: A History of Twentieth Century Russia; p.26)
This is not a remarkable insight by Service; the work contains an element of truth, mostly in regard to the socialist stage of the revolution, but it does unintentionally expose the pseudo-left nature of Trotsky’s permanent revolution theory and the potential tragedy, which would have been visited upon the working class and peasantry, had the situation been different.
The Marxist, Communist struggle against the exploitation of the working people by heartless capitalists had its first resounding success in the October revolution of 1917, which opened a new chapter in human history. But the retreat of the world revolution, or at least, the European revolution meant that the Soviet revolutionaries would have to continue with the process of building socialism in one country, holding on while waiting for the return of the revolution. Although the civil war had been won at great cost, and the supporters of exploitation defeated, the revolution nevertheless, had to face a world of capitalist encirclement in what was a backward, semi-feudal, capitalist country.
This is of course the key element in understanding the disputes between the leading personalities of the Russian revolution. After the death of Lenin in 1924, the two leading contenders for the leadership of the soviet communist movement emerged to be Stalin and Trotsky. While some bourgeois historians of the cruder type see the struggle between these as merely a personal struggle by power hungry people Marxist-Leninists base their analysis on the policy difference between them. The main demarcation came to be, on the one hand, those who believed that it was possible to continue with the process of building socialism in one country and, on the other hand, those who believed that it could not be done. The former lined up behind Stalin, while the latter rallied to Trotsky.
While Trotsky wanted the international communist movement to choose between socialism in one country, or world revolution, for Stalin and his supporters this was a false, undialectical presentation of the question. In other words the Marxist-Leninists who gave Stalin their backing rejected, resolutely, the ‘either’, ‘or’ thesis of Trotskyism. Stalin fought against all attempts to split the international communist movement along the Trotskyite line of either socialism in one country or world revolution. For Stalin, to split the communist movement along these lines could only serve the interests of the world bourgeoisie. For the Marxist-Leninists, building socialism in one country was in no way opposed to the world revolutionary process, as the Trotskyites argued; in fact the opposite was the case, the building of socialism in the Soviet Union would serve the process of world revolution. Those who defended socialism in one country were in fact serving the interests of world revolution and thus the interests of the international working class.
The struggle against Stalin and those who defended the possibility of building up socialism in one country was actually, that is, objectively, the struggle against the interests of the world working class. To oppose Stalin on this issue, more than anything else, served the interests of imperialism.
The argument that socialism could be built in the Soviet Union brought Stalin into direct conflict with Trotsky and his followers, who put around, and continue to do so, the argument that Stalin had broken from Leninism on this very question.
There can be little doubt that in ranging himself against the building of socialism in the USSR, Trotsky’s role would now be to use this issue to disrupt the unity of the international communist movement. This would be the inevitable effect of asking communists to choose between socialism in one country, or world revolution. In 1928, in his work on ‘permanent revolution’, Trotsky puts this choice absolutely clearly.
‘Either permanent revolution or socialism in one country - this alternative embraces at the same time the internal problems of the Soviet Union, the prospects of revolution in the East, and finally, the fate of the Communist International as a whole’. (L. Trotsky: The Permanent Revolution; New Park Publications; 1962; p.11)
In effect Trotsky said, choose between socialism in one country or world revolution. This became the essence of Trotskyism after the death of Lenin. On the other hand Stalin said, there is no need for such a choice because socialism in one country and world revolution are not opposed, they are complementary; one serves the other.
For Trotsky, permanent revolution or socialism in one country were the two ‘alternatives’ facing the communist vanguard of the international working class. Stalin considered that this was another pseudo-leftist line being served up by Trotskyism, which had now inveigled itself in the ranks of Bolshevism.
Although Lenin and the Bolsheviks had the perspective of a European wide revolution, these hopes were turned to dust following the treachery of Social Democracy, before and after the First World War. The defeat of the revolution in Germany during 1918-19 served to isolate the Russian revolution. The 1923 uprising in parts of Germany reinforced this isolation. Lenin had expected direct support from successful revolutions in the more advanced capitalist countries. The Bolsheviks had to make do with the indirect support of the workers opposing their own bourgeoisie’s anti-Soviet manoeuvres. All the Bolsheviks could do now was to hold on and wait for the revival of the international revolution.
This meant doing everything possible to defend the Soviet Union from the machinations of imperialism. With the working class in power in the Soviet Union, they could pursue a path that led to surrender, or another path could lead to building socialism in ‘one country’. Lenin certainly, at least on a theoretical level did not reject this possibility, as Trotskyites like to claim. We can find several textual supports for this view. We must not confuse theory and perspectives as the Trotskyites usually manage to do. For while in terms of perspectives the Bolsheviks clearly based themselves on the early development of the world revolution, this perspective was not realised. It was therefore necessary to go back to theory and produce new perspectives in the light of new developments.
The new perspectives had a dualistic character. This was the defence of the possibility of building socialism in one country combined with the support for the world revolution. In other words the new perspective gave expression to Lenin’s previous theoretical notion that socialism in one country was not opposed to the world revolution. The relationship between the two was complementary, not antagonistic. It is interesting, in this respect, that Lenin’s criticism of the ‘United States of Europe’ slogan, which was at the time supported by Trotsky, gave credence to the policy arrived at by Stalin and his supporters in their disputes with the Trotskyite opposition in the party. Lenin had opposed the slogan in 1915, firstly by comparing it to another slogan relating to the ‘United States of the World’ on the grounds that
‘A United States of the World (not of Europe alone) is the state form of the union and freedom of nations which we associate with socialism until the complete victory of communism brings about the total disappearance of the state, including the democratic state. As a separate slogan, however, the slogan of the United States of the World would hardly be a correct one, first, because it merges with socialism; second, because it may be wrongly interpreted to mean that the victory of socialism in a single country is impossible, and it may also create misconceptions as to the relations of such a country to the others’. (V.I. Lenin: CW. Vol. 21; also in: Marx, Engels, Marxism; Foreign Languages Press; pp. 334,339)
It is clear that Leninism not only recognises the possibility, theoretically, of socialism in one country, but also raises questions as to the relation of such a country to the others. Trotskyism, on the other hand, is revealed as a falsification of Leninism on the very question which Trotsky sought to split the world communist movement, the false choice of socialism in one country or world revolution. If more textual evidence is required to refute the Trotskyites, in the very same 1915 article, Lenin continues with the observation that
‘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 taken singly. (V. I. Lenin; ibid.)
How was it possible for Leon Trotsky to claim he was defending Leninism by opposing Stalin, who upheld, like Lenin, the possibility of socialism in one country as part of the world revolutionary process? This contradiction, i.e., Trotsky blatantly opposing Lenin, but at the same time claiming to defend him, clearly reveals the petty-bourgeois opportunism of Trotskyism, and also, by the way, reveals the eclecticism associated with the petty-bourgeoisie. The opportunism of Trotskyism consist in its not being prepared to fight Leninism openly, but having to pretend that it is ‘defending’ Leninism, while wearing a mask in the struggle against Leninism. Trotsky, after the Bolsheviks assumed power, became a concealed opponent of Leninism in the Communist Party.
In ‘The Military Programme of the Proletarian Revolution’, written in 1916, on the very eve of the Russian revolution, Lenin again remarks that
‘…the victory of socialism in one country does not at one stroke eliminate all wars in general. One the contrary, it presupposes wars’. (Marx, Engels, Marxism, p.385)
Unlike Trotsky and his followers, it is absolutely clear that the foremost leader of the October 1917 Russian revolution did not theoretically oppose socialism in one country to the world revolutionary process. This, in fact, is one of the most, if not the most important demarcation between Marxism-Leninism and Trotskyism. The Trotskyites constantly go on, like the bourgeois academics, about Stalin falsifying the annals of the revolution when pictures of certain ex-leaders are removed from public view. What is far more serious in our view is the falsification of Lenin’s theoretical legacy by Trotskyism: the question of socialism in one country and its relation to the world revolution is a classical example of Trotskyite falsification.
We, for our part, do not think further textual evidence is needed to prove the point we are making, but for the sake of the reader we will continue with the above passage by Lenin where he argues that
‘The development of capitalism proceeds extremely unevenly in the various countries. It cannot be otherwise under commodity production. From this it follows irrefutably that socialism cannot achieve victory simultaneously in all countries. It will achieve victory first in one or several countries, while the others will remain bourgeois or pre-bourgeois for some time’. (V. I. Lenin: Op. Cit.; p385-86)
For Lenin, the unevenness of development of commodity production, that is, capitalism, creates the possibility for socialism in one country. This would in turn raise the question of the relation of such a country to all the others. The main contradiction between Leninism and Trotskyism, after 1924, came to be between Stalin, who maintained that ‘socialism in one country’ served the interests of the world revolutionary process, and consequently, the interests of the working class, which had to be defended, and Trotskyism, which argued, contrary to all the facts, that socialism in one country was un-Leninist, was impossible, and harmed the international revolution. Since Lenin openly and clearly defended the possibility of socialism in one country as part of the world revolutionary process, to say that Stalin’s defence of Lenin on this question was un-Leninist and revisionist was the most vilest example of Trotskyite deviousness and opportunism in the communist movement. For it is clear that on this issue it was Trotsky who was the revisionist, as far as Marxist-Leninist theory is concerned.
In this contradiction, Trotsky was simply defending Trotskyism, which he had a right to do. Where he went wrong was to pretend that his position was Leninist orthodoxy, while in reality, it was simply vintage Trotskyism. Today’s Trotskyites pursue the same line, which consists of promoting Trotskyism under the banner of Leninism. In this, Trotskyism reveals itself clearly as left-opportunism of the most insidious kind. What is remarkable is that for decades Trotskyites and semi-Trotskyites have sought to gain the leadership of the vanguard of the working class on the clearly spurious basis, in complete opposition to Leninism, of the issue of the relationship between socialism in one country and the world revolutionary process.
How was it possible to perpetrate such blatant, noisy revisionism of Marxism-Leninism, while at the same time claiming to defend the heritage of Bolshevism supposedly from the ravages of Stalin? How was it possible for Trotskyism to attract an intelligentsia and use it against Marxism-Leninism in such a vulgar manner? This was possible for a number of reasons. The main reason, is of course, that although Trotskyism openly opposed Leninism in the pre-1917 days, after the success of Leninism in the October revolution, particularly after Lenin’s departure from the political scene, Trotskyism now came to represent concealed opposition to Leninism.
There were always pseudo-left elements on the fringes of the communist movement, so it wasn’t too difficult for Trotskyism to attract a following. Trotsky had based his argument on the notion that it was impossible to build an economically self-sufficient society in one country. But this is a misleading argument, because no one had suggested that there was no contradiction between socialism in one country and international capitalism. The contradiction is obvious. In defending the possibility of socialism in one country, Lenin had indirectly referred to these contradictions with the remark that the slogan of the United States of the World was wrong, not only because it made socialism in one country seem impossible, but also because
‘…it may also create misconceptions as to the relations of such a country to the others’. (V.I. Lenin: op. Cit.; p338)
The contradiction between socialism in one country and international capitalism could be manipulated and turned into a non-antagonistic contradiction on the economic plain to some extent. This was certainly the policy of Lenin. The Soviet Union was able in some measure to trade with capitalist nations, after withstanding economic blockade, without compromising the goal of building socialism. No serious revolutionaries would argue that the building of socialism in one country was detrimental to the world revolutionary process. They could, of course, argue that it is impossible to do this, although desirable. At any rate this question can never be posed abstractly. This must also lead to the question of the nature of socialism, as understood by Lenin, particularly in the Soviet context.
‘State power over all large-scale means of production, state power in the hands of the proletariat, the alliance of this proletariat with the many millions of small and very small peasants, the assured leadership of the peasantry by the proletariat, etc.- is not this all that is necessary for building a complete socialist society from the co-operatives, from the co-operatives alone, which were formerly looked down upon as huckstering and which from a certain aspect we have the right to look down upon as such now, under NEP? Is this not all that is necessary for building a complete socialist society? This is not yet the building of socialist society, but it is all that is necessary and sufficient for this building’ (V.I. Lenin: CW. Vol. 27; p.392)
Given the proletariat possessing state power, and the other preconditions, Trotsky, himself, defined socialism in terms of the co-operatives. In his 1928 work on permanent revolution he remarked that
‘Socialism, that is co-operative production on a large scale, is possible only when the development of the productive forces has reached the stage at which large enterprises are more productive than small ones’. ( L. Trotsky: Permanent Revolution; New Park Publications; p.220)
But in his factional struggle against Stalin, he argued that socialism, that is, co-operative organisation of production, was not possible in one country. Trotskyism was only able to arrive at this conception by not grasping correctly the difference between the first stages of communist society with its later stages, and posing the question in a purely abstract manner. Trotskyites fail to understand that socialism is a transitional society between capitalism and the higher stage of communist society. To argue abstractly that co-operative production and working class political power is not possible in one country is pseudo-left nonsense.
All communists must support the Marxist-Leninist thesis that socialism in one country is not opposed to the world revolutionary process, but complementary to it. As we have explained, the major transformation of Trotskyism was that from open opposition to Leninism it subsequently became concealed opposition to Leninism. After the Bolsheviks came to power, Trotskyism shakes the hand of Lenin with a knife hidden under its cloak.
Trotskyism remains as the Comintern resolutions described it, a petty-bourgeois deviation from Marxism, fighting to undermine Leninism. All the lies of the Trotskyites will never change the fact, a fact which is recognised even by bourgeois scholars, that for Lenin, socialism in one country was possible as part of the world revolutionary process. In this, as on other questions, it is for the new generation of communists to expose Trotskyism’s concealed opposition to Leninism in front of the vanguard of the working class.
On the question of bureaucracy in the Soviet Union, Trotsky began his teaching by putting forward a false line of argumentation. In the view of Trotsky, the Soviet Union went through a process of bureaucratic degeneration under Stalin. Here it is necessary to look at the concept of ‘degeneration’. The term suggests a decline. Such a decline would be from a higher to a lower level of existence. To degenerate means
‘having deteriorated to a lower mental, or moral, or physical level..’ (Collins Gem English Dictionary; New Edition; p. 141)
Alternatively, degeneration implies
‘…to decline, etc., to grow worse in quality or standard…’ ( The Chambers Dictionary; New Edition; p.426)
While another meaning of the term signifies to
‘…decrease, deteriorate, relapse…’ ( The Original Roget’s Thesaurus of English words and phrases; New Edition; p.778)
So that to degenerate refers to a process of decline from a previous condition of excellence. This would certainly suggest that the Soviet State enjoyed a period of former excellence, or near excellence before a period of degeneration set in. But this account stands at odds with the known facts. For instance
‘The bureaucratic attitude, the subordination of the individual to the requirements of officials’ convenience, routine, and obsessions, has been a constant theme in Russian history and a constant trial to the ordinary people of Russia. In the Soviet period this ‘bureaucratism’ persisted, despite sincere efforts to eliminate it’. ( J. N. Westwood: Endurance and Endeavour-Russian History, 1812-1986, Third Edition; pp. 48-9)
And concerning the economic aspect of the evils of bureaucracy Lenin remarked that
‘ We see nothing of them on May 5, 1918. Six months after the October Revolution, with the old bureaucratic apparatus smashed from top to bottom, we feel none of its evils’. (V. I. Lenin: CW. Vol. 32; p.351, April 21, 1921)
But, of course the evil was still there because the Eighth Congress of the RCP (b) on March 18-19, 1919, adopted a new programme which frankly spoke of
‘…a partial revival of bureaucracy within the Soviet Union’. (V.I. Lenin: ibid.)
Lenin praised this 1919 party programme arguing that where the problem of bureaucracy is concerned the important thing was
‘…not fearing to admit the evil, but desiring to reveal, expose and pillory it and to stimulate thought, will, energy and action to combat it’ (V. I. Lenin: ibid.)
Also the Eight Congress of Soviets, in 1920 addressed the question of the
‘…evils of bureaucracy…’ ( V.I. Lenin: ibid.)
And following the Eighth Congress of Soviets, the Tenth Congress of the RCP (b), in March, 1921
‘Summed up the controversies closely connected with the analysis of these evils, we find them ever more distinct and sinister’. ( V.I. Lenin: ibid.)
It is clear that the argument that the Soviet Union started a process of degeneration under Stalin is factually inaccurate. What Lenin speaks of is the revival [degeneration] of bureaucracy soon after the revolution. Lenin grappled with the question of bureaucracy and tried to understand its economic roots. At one point Lenin remarked that
‘The evils of bureaucracy are not in the army, but in the institutions serving it’. (V.I. Lenin: ibid.)
Other writers even refer to the appearance of Soviet bureaucracy even before the Bolsheviks won over these organisations. The reality was that the bureaucratic culture of old Russia was carried over into the new period, confirming Marx’ view that the new society carries the birth marks of the old, in every respect
‘What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally and intellectually, still stamped with the birth marks of the old society from whose womb it emerges’. (Karl Marx: Critique of the Gotha Programme; Foreign Languages Press, Beijing; 1972)
That the new society would carry the birth marks of the old, overthrown society was therefore accepted by Marx himself, the founder of modern, scientific socialism. This means that we cannot impose, in simplistic fashion, an uncomplicated category of ‘degeneration’ to explain a complicated process relating to the interaction between the old and the new, the struggle between which continues right up until class society begins to fade away. On every level the struggle between the old and the new takes place, in all its fundamental features at the socialist stage of the transition to communist society. In fact, in every respect, revolution can be described as a struggle between the old and the new. The process of this struggle is dialectical. Thus Trotsky’s one-sided notion of a bureaucratic degeneration excludes the struggle against it, which, due to the bureaucratic tradition of the old Tsarist Russia, promised to be a protracted and difficult process, particularly in view of the backwardness which the revolution had inherited.
For Lenin, the problems associated with Soviet bureaucracy were a result of the economic and cultural backwardness of Tsarist Russia. The ‘return’ of bureaucracy was therefore not surprising. Lenin noted even in 1919 how after the revolution
‘The Tsarist bureaucrats began to join the Soviet institutions and practice their bureaucratic methods, they began to assume the colouring of Communists and, to succeed better in their careers, to procure membership cards of the Russian Communist party….’. (V.I. Lenin: CW. Vol. 29; p.183)
As the former servants of the old regime were re-employed by the Soviet State they provided a fertile ground for the growth of bureaucracy, and Lenin remarked that
‘We can fight bureaucracy to the bitter end…only when the whole population participates in the work of government’. (V.I. Lenin: ibid.)
In Lenin’s view
‘The results of this low cultural level is that the Soviets, which by virtue of their programme are organs of government by the working people, are in fact organs of government for the working people by the advanced section of the proletariat, but not the working people as a whole…’ (V.I. Lenin: ibid.)
Within the Soviet context, in the short term, this was unavoidable, or certainly difficult to avoid. On the other hand, the struggle to overcome the negative sides of bureaucracy was viewed by Lenin as a long-term affair. As a result of his view regarding the lengthy process of overcoming features of bureaucracy, Lenin came out against promoting anti-bureaucratic platforms. By rejecting anti-bureaucratic platforms Lenin was not undermining the fight against the dysfunctional aspects of bureaucracy, but rather signalling that a solution to the problem could not be found on a political level alone. Consequently Lenin was not afraid to admit that
It will take decades to overcome the evils of bureaucracy’. (V.I. Lenin: Report On the Role and Tasks of the Trades Unions; CW. Vol.32; pp.56-7; January23, 1921)
For Lenin this was going to be a
‘…very difficult struggle…’ (V.I. Lenin: ibid.)
And, furthermore, Lenin argued, in keeping with a long-term perspective when considering the fight against bureaucracy, that
‘…anyone who says we can rid ourselves of bureaucratic practices overnight by adopting anti-bureaucratic platforms is nothing but a quack with a bent for fine words’. (V.I. Lenin: ibid.)
Nevertheless, he argued that
‘Bureaucratic excesses must be rectified right away’. (V. I. Lenin: ibid.)
The whole problem of bureaucracy, which was gradually building up from the time of the revolution burst open in the famous Trade Union dispute, when Lenin came out against Trotsky whose supporters were in control of the Joint Trade Union of Rail and Water Transport Workers, headed by Tsektran. Lenin remarked that
‘ There are excellent workers in Tsektran, and we shall appoint them, and correct their bureaucratic excesses’. (V.I. Lenin: CW. Vol.32; p.57)
‘The first All-Russia Congress of Transport Workers in March 1921 called by the Central Committee of the Party expelled the Trotskyites from the Tsektran leadership and outlined new method of work’ (See note 9, Lenin Collected Works, Vol. 32; p. 530)
The famous Trade Union dispute began in 1920-21, when Trotsky accused the trade unionists of cultivating a spirit of hostility to Trotsky’s supporters, whom he was using to take over the union. Having examined the issue more closely Lenin came to the conclusion that such accusations were false, indeed, monstrous, and he retorted
‘Only someone in the lunatic fringe can say a thing like that’. (V.I. Lenin: op. cit. p.57
What the trade unionists were opposing was the bureaucratic methods Trotsky and his supporters was introducing in their midst. For Lenin, Trotsky’s position would
‘…lead to the downfall of Soviet Power’. (V.I. Lenin: CW. Vol. 32; p.57)
Theoretically and politically, the struggle against bureaucracy by the Leninist leadership of the party began as a struggle against Trotsky, who, after the civil war, had called for the militarisation of labour.
Trotskyites like to turn history on its head and pretend that the Leninist struggle against bureaucracy began as a struggle against Stalin, but it actually began in opposition to the bureaucratic methods and excesses which had been introduced into Tsekran by Trotsky’s appointees. With the departure of Lenin, Trotsky soon began to pose as an anti-bureaucrat. In his struggle to gain the leadership, Trotsky began to disregard Lenin’s view concerning anti-bureaucratic platforms, which tended to reduce the question of combating bureaucracy to a simple, one-sided, political matter.
The Bolsheviks had not expected to find any short-term solution to the question of overcoming the negative aspects of bureaucracy, nor, as we have seen, did Lenin entertain any short-term remedy. He recounted that
‘Our Programme formulates the task of combating the evils of bureaucracy as one of an extremely long duration’. (V.I. Lenin: Tenth Congress of the RCP (b), March 8-16th, 1921: CW. Vol. 32; p. 205)
Textually it is absolutely clear that Lenin regard the struggle against Soviet bureaucracy as one of an ‘extremely long duration’. And it is precisely here that begins the contradiction between the Marxist-Leninist approach to the question of fighting bureaucracy on the one hand, and on the other, the pseudo-left Trotskyite approach. In other words, when it comes to the question of opposing bureaucracy Trotsky was implicitly asking Communists to choose between his approach, and Lenin’s approach.
In the Trades Union dispute Lenin had opposed Trotsky’s reference to Tomsky and Lozovsky for being trade union bureaucrats, and he commented
‘I shall later on say which side in this controversy tends to be bureaucratic’. (V.I. Lenin: CW, Vol. 32; p. 25)
On the trade union dispute, Trotsky wanted the party to choose between two platforms, a position which Lenin thought would be damaging to the party. Replying to Bukharin, he said
‘…it is strange to hear you say, like Trotsky, that the party will have to choose between two trends’. (V. I. Lenin: CW. Vol. 32; p.26)
And for Lenin, Trotsky’s platform pamphlet entitled, ‘The Role and Tasks of the Trade Unions’, contained
‘…mistakes bearing on the very essence of the dictatorship of the proletariat’. (V.I. Lenin: CW. Vol.36; p.22)
In fact Lenin accused Trotsky of
‘bureaucratic projecteering’. (V.I. Lenin: CW. Vol. 32; p.30)
Suggesting also that Trotsky’s position
‘…looks more like a "reactionary movement" than "trades unionism" (V.I. Lenin: op. Cit. p.31)
The word fascism was not in vogue at the time, but the content of Lenin’s rejoinder to Trotsky’s pamphlet clearly indicate that Lenin’s use of the phrase ‘reactionary movement’ suggest that this is what he was getting at, and he said of Trotsky’s thesis
‘…yours is not a Marxist approach to the question. This quite apart from the fact that there are a number of theoretical mistakes in the thesis. It is not a Marxist approach to the evaluation of the "role and tasks of the trade unions", because such a broad subject cannot be tackled without giving thought to the peculiar, political aspects of the present situations’. (V.I. Lenin: ibid.p.32)
The RCP(b) had set up a commission to look into the trade union issue with a view to resolving the differences between the disputants. Trotsky refused to serve on the commission and brought on himself accusations of disruption from Lenin, who remarked
‘Trotsky walks out, refuses to serve on the commission, and disrupts its work’. (V. I. Lenin: ibid.; p.35)
Lenin was not amused, and he saw in Trotsky’s disruptive behaviour a dangerous precedent, remarking that
‘…this business of disrupting the work of a commission is bureaucratic, un-soviet, un-socialist, incorrect and harmful’. (V.I. Lenin: op. cit.; p.36)
And Lenin made clear that whatever differences Trotsky had with other members of the commission was
‘…no reason to disrupt the work of a commission’. (V.I. Lenin: ibid.; p.36)
In the trade unions dispute, Lenin also chided Bukharin because
‘…he should have demanded and insisted that Comrade Trotsky remained on the commission’. (V.I. Lenin: ibid. p.36-7)
As we have already indicated, Trotsky’s appointees were in control of Tsektran, which was the central committee, that is the leadership of the Joint Trade Union of Rail and Water Transport Workers. They brought into the union the military approach of Trotsky. To some limited extent, this approach was necessary to get the transport system on its feet again after the break down contributed to by the civil war. And Lenin observed that
‘Heroism, zeal, etc., are the positive side of military experience; red tape and arrogance are the negative side of the experience of the worst military type’. (V. I. Lenin: CW. Vol.32; p. 37)
But, as for Trotsky’s thesis, in Lenin’s view
‘…whatever his intentions, do not play up the best, but the worst in military experience’. (V.I. Lenin: ibid. p.37)
For Lenin it was the negative side of Trotsky’s military experience, which was on display. His own supporters in the unions were putting this negative side into practice. Consequently Lenin remarked that
‘ It must be borne in mind that a political leader is responsible not only for his own policy but also for the acts of those he leads’. (V.I. Lenin: ibid. p.37)
In other words, the military style of the Trotskyite Tsekran leadership had outlived itself and was leading to bureaucratic excesses. In the Trade Union debate Lenin had spoken approvingly of Rudzutak’s thesis: ‘The Tasks of The Trade Unions In Production’, which Lenin had read to the Eight Congress of Soviets. Lenin praised Rudzutak’s thesis when he remarked
‘There you have a platform, and it is very much better than the one Comrade Trotsky wrote after a great deal of thinking, and the one Comrade Bukharin wrote…without any thinking at all’. (V.I. Lenin: CW. Vol.32; p.49)
For Lenin all would benefit from the study of Rudzutak’s thesis,
‘…and this also goes for Comrade Trotsky and Comrade Bukharin’. (V.I. Lenin: ibid.; p.40)
Trotsky had called for a reorganisation of the unions, including the selection, or appointment of functionaries, and in Lenin’s view this represented
‘…an example of the real bureaucratic approach: Trotsky and Krestinsky selecting trade union "functionaries"’. (V.I. Lenin: ibid.; p.41)
As far as the trade union issue was concerned, Lenin remarked that
‘A study of our own practical experience would be a great deal more useful than anything Comrade Trotsky or Bukharin had written’. (V.I. Lenin: ibid.; p.41)
In concluding the first phase of the trade union debate and the analysis of Trotsky’s thesis on, ‘The Role and Tasks of the Trades Unions’, Lenin repeated his argument that
‘Trotsky’s theses are politically harmful’. (V.I. Lenin: ibid.; p.42)
And as far as Lenin was concerned regarding Trotsky’s ‘Role and Tasks of the Trade Unions’,
‘The sum and substance of his policy is bureaucratic harassment of the trade unions. Our Party Congress will, I am sure, condemn and reject it’. (V. I. Lenin: ibid.; p.42)
For Lenin the biggest mistake which the Central Committee made, and above all Lenin himself, was that Rudzutak’s thesis was overlooked, when in fact
‘That is the most important document in the whole of the controversy’ (V.I. Lenin: ibid. p.44).
Trotsky had called for the "shake up" of the trade unions, but Lenin, who supported Tomsky strongly, agreed that
‘…in view of Tsektran’s irregularities and bureaucratic excesses it is the "shake up" that is the crux of the whole controversy’. (V.I. Lenin: ibid.; p. 44).
In the course of the trade union debate, the Trotskyite leadership of the Joint Trade Union of Rail and Water Transport Workers, Tsekran was condemned for
‘ "…the degeneration of centralism and militarised forms of work into bureaucratic practices, petty tyranny, red-tape"…’ (V. I. Lenin: ibid.; p.45)
And Lenin exposed the fact that Trotsky’s refusal to serve on the commission to sort out the trade union dispute led
‘…to factionalism’. (V.I. Lenin: ibid. p. 45).
It was this step, refusing to serve on the Commission, which, in Lenin’s view, turned Trotsky’s minor mistakes in submitting incorrect thesis on the role of the trades unions, into a major one. For Lenin, Trotsky’s incorrect policy of bureaucratic harassment of trades unions was now compounded and made worst by his arrogant refusal to serve on the trade union commission.
During the trade union dispute Lenin accused both Trotsky and Bukharin for inventing the "legend" that the best part of Rudzutak’s thesis on ‘The Tasks of The Trade Unions In Production’ was drawn up by members of Tsekran, i.e. Holtzman, Andreyev and Lyubinov. But Rudzutak soon exploded this "legend". Lyubinov did not exist on the trade union leadership, and in any case Holtzman had voted against the thesis.
At the Eighth Congress of Soviets, December 30, 1920, there was a dispute as to the origins of the thesis attributed to Y. E. Rudzutak. It was confirmed that he was, indeed, the author.
Lenin argued that it wasn’t the trade unions that needed to be ‘shaken up’ but rather the CC of the RCP for having overlooked Rudzutak’s thesis in the first place and thereby allowing
‘…an altogether empty discussion to flare up’. (V.I. Lenin: ibid.; p.47)
In Lenin’s view nothing could cover up the mistake of the Trotskyite controlled Tsektran, although the mistake was not excessive, it was common
‘…consisting in some exaggeration of bureaucracy’. (V.I. Lenin: op. cit.; p.47)
And in the trade union dispute Lenin arrived at the conclusion that the Soviet State was
‘…a workers’ state with bureaucratic distortions’. (V.I. Lenin: op. cit.; p.48)
For Lenin the bureaucratic distortion of the workers’ state, combined with Trotsky’s attempts to undermine the independence of the trade unions by carrying over his civil war method to the period of peaceful construction endangered the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.
The trade union commission, on which Trotsky had refused to serve, finally issued its own platform. This was titled: Draft Decisions of the Tenth Congress of the RCP on the Role and Tasks of the Trade Unions. Nine members of the Central Committee signed this: Zinoviev, Stalin, Tomsky, Rudzutak, Kalinin, Kamenev, Petrovsky, Artyom and Lenin. Lozovsky also signed. When the platform appeared in Pravda it included additional signatures: Schmidt, Tsiperovich and Milyutin.
Lenin called for all the rival platforms to be signed by their respective authors or those responsible for it. Lenin reminded the party that
‘This demand is met by the Ignatovites and the Sapronovites but not by the "Trotskyites", the "Bukharinites" and the "Shlyapnikovites", who refer to anonymous Comrades allegedly responsible for their platforms’. (See footnote: op. cit.; p.49)
As for Lenin’s platform, its basis, opposed to the Trotskyites, was
‘Do not defend but rectify the bureaucratic excesses’. (V.I. Lenin: op. cit.; p.52)
Lenin also repeated his argument that
‘The fight against bureaucracy is a long and arduous one’. (V. I. Lenin: ibid.; p. 52)
The trade unions dispute of 1920-1921 was a three-corned struggle between Lenin’s grouping, the Trotsky, Bukharin group and the syndicalist grouping. Lenin sought a middle course. For Lenin it was not a question of repudiating all militarist and appointments method, but rather fighting the bureaucratic excesses.
Lenin was disturbed that the danger of the split in the party leadership caused by this issue was that the imperialist powers would try to take advantage of these differences to mount another invasion attempt. He warned that the split in the leadership would encourage internal counterrevolutionary adventures.
Lenin, addressing the Second All-Russia Congress of Miners, on January 25th, 1921, blamed Trotsky for turning the trade union dispute into a factional struggle
‘…I put the chief blame on Comrade Trotsky for all this fumbling haste and precipitation’. (V.I. Lenin: op. cit.; p. 54)
And although Trotsky had accused Lozovsky and Tomsky of bureaucratic practices, Lenin replied that
‘I would say the reverse was true’. (V.I. Lenin: op. cit.; p.55)
In Lenin’s view, Trotsky’s approach to the trade unions, summed up in his Shake up policy, if pursued
‘…will cause a split and bring down the dictatorship of the proletariat’. (V. I. Lenin: op. cit.; p.56)
Lenin’s criticism of the Trotskyite controlled Tsektran was for its failure to rectify its bureaucratic excesses. This rectification was possible, although, for Lenin, as already pointed out, it would take decades to overcome the evils of bureaucracy.
And Lenin argued that only someone in ‘the lunatic fringe’ could attack the trade unions in the way Trotsky had done. The danger was that Trotsky, in damaging the relationship between the party and the trades unions, if persisted in
‘…will lead to the downfall of the Soviet power’. (V.I. Lenin: op. cit.; p.57)
There was no doubt in Lenin’s mind about the consequences of Trotsky’s view, for
‘If the party falls out with the trades unions, the faults lies with the party, and this spells certain doom for the Soviet Power’. (V.I. Lenin: op. cit.; p.58)
Trotsky had began by accusing trade unionists of creating a spirit of hostility to Tsektran, but Lenin retorted that
‘There is a spirit of hostility for us among the trade union rank and file because of our mistakes, and the bureaucratic practices up on top, including myself, because it was I who appointed Glavpolitput’. (V.I. Lenin: ibid.; p.58)
Glavpolitput was the chief political department formed in 1919 to rehabilitate rail transport. It applied military methods to get the railways moving again, but later leading to bureaucratic excesses.
Trotsky, in the trade union dispute, accused Lenin of exaggerating the dangers of bureaucracy, but Lenin retorted that
‘…it was not Lenin who invented some new path, as Trotsky says, but the Party, which said: "watch out: there’s a new malaise"’. (V.I. Lenin: op. cit.; p.67)
So that it is absolutely clear that the struggle against bureaucratic excesses, or the negative aspects of bureaucracy in the Soviet Union, actually started, contrary to Trotskyite legend, as a struggle in opposition to Trotsky. The Ninth Congress of the RCP in July 1920 again raised the issue of bureaucracy. And at the Central Committee in August of the same year there was support for Zinoviev’s letter: ‘Combat the Evils of Bureaucracy’. (V.I. Lenin: op. cit.; p.67). The RCP Conference in September 1920 took the issue up, and there was a long report on bureaucratic practice at the Eighth Congress of Soviets in December 1920.
The 1919 Party Congress had previously recognised the existence of the bureaucratic ‘malaise’, but at the same time opposed the demagogic approach to fighting bureaucracy. In other words, the view seems to have been that one could not simply put a stop to bureaucracy by waving a magic wand. The struggle against it would take many years, such was Lenin’s constant refrain, and whoever thought otherwise
‘…is playing demagogue and cheating, because overcoming the evils of bureaucracy requires hundreds of measures, wholesale literacy, culture and participation in the activity of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection’. (V.I. Lenin: op. cit.; p.68)
One of Lenin’s criticisms of Trotsky was for
‘…the truly bureaucratic concentration of attention on the "top"’. (V.I. Lenin: CW. Vol. 32; p.72)
For Lenin, Trotsky’s attacks on the trade union leaders was shot-through with factionalism, accusing many of them of opposing coalescence between the unions and the State, balking at new tasks and method, and also of cultivating in their midst a spirit of corporate exclusiveness, thereby fostering the survival of craft unions.
Lenin rejected these attacks and defended the trades unions, musing on what Trotsky would have said, and how he would have said it, if Tomsky had published a platform accusing Trotsky and "many" military workers of cultivating the spirit of bureaucracy, fostering the survival of savagery, etc. In other words, Lenin suggests that Tomsky could rightly accuse Trotsky of all these things, and ask how would Trotsky have reacted.
Lenin criticised Trotsky for his
‘…out-and-out bureaucratic approach’. (V. I. Lenin: CW. Vol. 32 p.73)
This was because, rather than starting from the actual level of development and living conditions of the masses, Trotsky castigates Tomsky for creating or fostering a certain spirit in their midst. In fact, Lenin argued that the real essence of the trade union controversy which Trotsky and Bukharin
‘…have been evading and camouflaging with such care’ ( V.I. Lenin: op. cit.; p.73)
was not that the trade unions were balking at new tasks and methods, and cultivating a spirit of hostility to the new officials? The essence of the situation was that the organised workers protests were legitimate, and they showed they were prepared
‘…to throw out the new officials who refuse to rectify the useless and harmful excesses of bureaucracy. (V.I. Lenin: ibid. p.73)
For Lenin it wasn’t so much that someone had refused to understand the new tasks and methods, rather it was a case of someone
‘…making a clumsy attempt to cover his defence of certain useless and harmful excess of bureaucracy with a lot of talk about new tasks and methods’. (V.I. Lenin: ibid.; pp.73-4)
In short, the essence of the dispute was that Trotsky and co. was defending bureaucracy against the organised workers, and for Lenin it was
‘…the essence of the dispute that the reader should bear in mind’. (V.I. Lenin: ibid.; p.74)
Trotsky had spoken about "shaking up" the trade unions at the November 26th, 1920, meeting of the Fifth All-Russia Conference Of Trade Unions. This, in turn, had brought Trotsky and his supporters into conflict with the trade union leadership. Because Trotsky was a member of the Central Committee of the RCP(b), a high profile member at that, this dispute between the Trotskyites and the trade union leadership had the potential to develop into a serious conflict between the party and the working class.
Lenin suggested that this conflict, or contained within this conflict, was the downfall of Soviet, i.e., workers’ power. And Trotsky, by demanding that a choice be made between his platform and the platform of the other side, Rudzutak’s, had turned the dispute into a factional one with dangerous consequences.
In fact Lenin argued that even if Trotsky’s thesis was correct, could it be denied that
‘…his very approach would be damaging to himself, the party, the trades union movement, the training of millions of trade union members and the Republic’. (V.I. Lenin: ibid.; p.74)
Bukharin had tried to reconcile the differences in the party leadership over the trade union issue by forming a "buffer" group, but to no avail because as Lenin indicated, Trotsky’s approach to the trade unions was fundamentally wrong. In fact, instead of playing the role of a "buffer" Bukharin found himself siding with the Trotskyites in this dispute. Bukharin had formed his buffer group to prevent, or at least, contain the split in the communist leadership; however, such was the development of the struggle that he sided with one side against the other.
When the split in the Communist leadership over the trade union issue began to grow, a split which threatened a rupture between the Russian Communist Party and the organised working class, Trotsky began to deny that the "shake up" policy could be attributed to himself.
Lenin insisted that Trotsky’s pamphlet, i.e., ‘The Role and Tasks of the Trade Unions’ was
‘…shot through with the spirit of the "shake-up-from-above policy’. (V.I. Lenin: op. cit.; p.76)
For Lenin, the mass's indignation with bureaucratic excesses was legitimate. And it could not be denied that it was Trotsky and his followers in Tsektran, the Central Committee of the ‘Joint Trade Union of Rail and Water Transport Workers’, which epitomised bureaucratic excesses. Therefore, for Lenin, a more meaningful question to ask was whether
‘…the "hostility" of the masses is legitimate in view of certain useless and harmful excesses of bureaucracy, for example, in Tsektran’. (V.I. Lenin: ibid.; p. 76)
And Lenin confirmed a statement made by Zinoviev that
‘…it was Comrade Trotsky’s immoderate adherents who had brought about a split’. (V.I. Lenin: ibid.; p.76)
‘…the danger of a split in the trade union movement was not imaginary but real’. (V.I. Lenin: op. cit.; p.80)
On one side of the dispute, Lenin argued was
‘…a demand that certain unwanted and harmful excesses of bureaucracy, and the appointments system should not be justified or defended, but corrected’. (V.I. Lenin: ibid. p.80)
On the other side was Trotsky’s policy of
‘…bureaucratic harassment of the trades unions’. (V. I. Lenin: op. cit.; p. 42)
In the dispute in the Soviet Communist movement about the role of the trade unions under socialism, there was, fundamentally, two side: a group led by Trotsky which defended bureaucracy, and a grouping around Lenin, which supported Rudzutak’s thesis, and who sought to limit the excesses of bureaucracy and the militarist methods carried over from the civil war period. In addition, allying itself with the latter, the Fifth All-Russia Conference of Trade Unions, November 2-6, 1920, adopted Rudzutak’s thesis.
‘That is all there is to it’. (V.I. Lenin: ibid.; p.80)
Lenin, however, did not think it would be possible to dispense with bureaucrats in the short term, pointing out that
‘We shall not be able to make do without good bureaucrats for many years to come’. (V.I. Lenin: op. cit.; p.82)
So that for Lenin the immediate problem was not ‘bureaucrats’ as such, but rather ‘bureaucratic excesses’, and worst, the striving to defend such excesses in relation to the trade union movement. Because their service could not be dispensed with in the short term, it was necessary, in Lenin’s view to make a distinction between good bureaucrats and bad ones. But the politically wrong approach to the unions, Lenin argued, would lead to the collapse of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Lenin was not totally opposed to the ‘shake up’ policy as such, but opposed to it being undertaken in a bureaucratic manner. Trotsky had failed to take into account that the trade unions were not redundant now that a socialist state had been achieved; rather one of their essential roles was now to be
‘…combating bureaucratic distortions of the Soviet apparatus, safeguarding the working people’s material and spiritual interests in ways and means inaccessible to this apparatus, etc. (V.I. Lenin: op. cit.; p.100)
Lenin continually placed emphasis on the duration of these tasks, indicating that
‘This is a struggle they will unfortunately have to face for many more years to come’. (V.I. Lenin: ibid.; p.100)
For Lenin it was necessary to wind up the trade union dispute as soon as possible. He regarded it as an unfortunate distraction from the real work of production, and another point he made was that the counterrevolution sought shelter behind the Trotsky-Bukharin opposition, that is, hiding behind the opposition they would seek to attack the party.
But there was also a positive side to the dispute because for Lenin the whole experience of the trade union debate had ‘tempered’ the party in the struggle against factionalism. This was important because relapses into factionalism were
‘bound to occur over the next few years, but with an easier cure now well in sight’. (V.I. Lenin: op. cit., p. 105)
They did occur with Trotsky as one of the Chief Ringleaders. Not only this, but in the meantime during the debate regarding the role of trade unions
‘…the Party responded to the discussions and has rejected Comrade Trotsky’s wrong line by an overwhelming majority’. (V.I. Lenin: op. cit. p.107)
Although Lenin points out that there may have been some vacillations at ‘the top’ and ‘in the
provinces’, in certain committees and offices, nevertheless
‘…the masses of the party workers…. came out solidly against the wrong line’. (V.I. Lenin: ibid. p. 107)
And, the party, he argued with some satisfaction,
‘has corrected Comrade Trotsky’s mistake promptly and with determination’. (V.I. Lenin: ibid.; 107)
The debate in the Russian Communist Party over the issue of the role of the trades unions raised the important issue of whether the trade unions were simply to be auxiliaries of the Soviet state, supporting, as an appendage, the promotion of production. This was, in fact, what Trotsky’s view amounted to. The alternative view held by Lenin was that unions should be schools of communism, and also a transmission mechanism between the party and the masses of working people.
The result of the trade union dispute was that it placed the question of bureaucracy firmly on the party’s agenda, consequently Lenin remarked that
‘…the whole Party and the whole workers’ and peasants’ Republic had recognised that the question of the bureaucracy and the ways of combating its evils was high on the agenda’. (V.I. Lenin: op. cit. ; p. 103)
And Lenin called for redoubling the attention of the party to the problem of struggling against bureaucratic practices, remarking that
‘…we shall take special care to rectify any unwarranted and harmful excess of bureaucracy, no matter who points them out’. (V.I. Lenin: ibid.; p.103)
The origins of the struggle against bureaucracy in the Soviet Union can be traced, in part, back to the dispute over the role of the trade unions under the dictatorship of the proletariat. It was a struggle, which found Lenin and Trotsky on opposite sides of the fence. Lenin began his struggle against bureaucracy directed against the Trotskyite controlled Tsektran, the Central Committee of the Joint Union of Rail and Water Transport Workers, which pursued a policy of ‘bureaucratic harassment’ of the trades union, under the guidance of Trotsky.
As we have indicated several times, Lenin did not expect that the problems raised by bureaucracy would go away in the short term. He emphasised the ‘long term’ nature of the struggle against the evils of bureaucracy, making clear that
‘Our Programme formulates the task of combating the evils of bureaucracy as one of extremely long duration’. (V.I. Lenin: Tenth Party Congress, March 8-16th, 1921; op. cit.; p. 205)
So that it is clear that ‘bureaucracy’, was the Achilles heels of the Russian, Soviet revolution; it was, however, not a small problem, but potentially fatal. Indeed, as J. N. Westwood observed
‘The survival into Soviet times of an all-powerful and coercive bureaucracy repeatedly undermined the achievements of 1917’. (J. N. West wood: The Short Oxford History Of The Modern World: Endurance and Endeavour-Russian History, 1812-1986; Third Edition; p. 452)
The tradition of the Russian, imperial, Tsarist State before the revolution was one of endemic bureaucracy, in the negative sense of this term, a fact that made it a constant theme satirised in Russian literature. This tradition persisted into the Soviet period, and, as we have seen, was soon placed high on Bolshevism’s agenda. Although the initial struggle against bureaucracy was mainly directed against Trotsky and his supporters in Tsektran, when Trotsky found himself again in opposition after the death of Lenin in 1924, he decided on a U-turn. But when Trotsky had enjoyed the reins of power he had nothing to say about bureaucracy, in fact he was regarded as one of its main promoters, a fact that had served to isolate him from other party leaders and much of the rank-and-file, who remembered his argument for the ‘militarisation’ of labour.
From defending bureaucracy, Trotsky now cast himself in the role of its most acerbic critic. This, no doubt, can be partly attributed to his desire to draw to his side all those who saw in bureaucracy a danger to the revolution. Trotsky’s aim was to use these elements in the struggle against Stalin. However, what subsequently emerged was a polarisation into two conflicting approaches to the question of combating bureaucracy. As was the case in previous matters of contention the choice came to be either: Leninism or Trotskyism.
It is important to remember that the Marxist-Leninist approach to the question of combating bureaucracy should not be reduced simply to Lenin’s personal approach or views on the matter. The approach, which Lenin defended, was enshrined in the party programme. This essence of this view was that it would take many years to overcome the evils of bureaucracy, and given Russia’s previous bureaucratic tradition and the cultural retardation castigated by Lenin, such assumption were understandable.
Trotsky, however, from being part of the problem, as the trade union dispute revealed, now offered himself as part of the solution; from the defence of bureaucracy, he now became, or posed, as a staunch anti-bureaucrat, in the course of which he rejected Leninism on the question of combating bureaucracy.
The result was the adoption of a pseudo-left, anti-Leninist platform, calling for ‘political’ revolution to overthrow what he dubbed the ‘Stalinist bureaucracy’.
In his critique of bureaucracy Trotsky proceeded to confuse two separate, although related issues. These were, firstly, the existence of privilege in the Soviet Union and the question of bureaucracy. In other words the question of the existence of a privileged stratum is related to, but not identical with the question of bureaucracy. One of the aspects of bureaucracy may be the conferment of privilege on certain individuals, although bureaucracy is possible without privilege. Furthermore what constitute privilege may change overtime. For instance, working in an office can be considered privileged, compared to performing manual work in a factory or mine.
And that there was relative privilege in the Soviet Union for leading bureaucrats, or office-holders was openly referred to by Lenin, who in an article of February 7th, 1921, referred to
‘…the Soviet bureaucrats, the pampered "grandees" of the Soviet Republic…’ (V.I. Lenin: CW. Vol. 32; p.132)
This was long before Trotsky had anything to say about privileged Soviet bureaucrats. Here the word "pampered" is synonymous with privilege, so that no one can doubt that some bureaucrats, in leading positions had access to privileges even when Lenin was alive. In his article on the Integrated Economic Plan Lenin took time off to refer to
‘…the highbrow bureaucratic disdain for the vital work that has been done and that needs to be continued’. (V.I. Lenin: op. cit.; p.137)
Needless to say the term, ‘highbrow’ although not synonymous with privilege, certainly implies it. And in the same article Lenin referred to
‘The ignorance of the grandees, and the intellectual conceit of the communist literati’. (V.I. Lenin: op. cit.; p. 138)
Lenin chides the literati and the Grandees who boast of their communism. So, unlike Lenin, Trotsky seemed only to have recognised the evils of bureaucracy when he began to lose power. Having now recognised the evil of bureaucracy, he sought remedial action in political revolution, an approach expressing more his factional ambition to regain power than a serious struggle to combat the evils of bureaucracy. His approach was pseudo-leftist in nature and constituted a clear rejection of Leninism on the issue. In other words, due to ambition and factional considerations, Trotsky rejected the view that the struggle against the evils of bureaucracy was to be based on a long-term perspective.
In the circumstances, there can be little doubt that Trotsky’s proposal for political revolution would have led to counterrevolution. Long before Trotsky’s campaign for political revolution, such a slogan was pre-empted at the Thirteenth Conference of the RCP(b) held in January 1924. Part of a resolution adopted at this Conference stated that
‘With Comrade Trotsky at its head, the opposition has put forward a slogan calling for the break-up of the Party apparatus and sought to shift the centre of struggle against bureaucracy in the state apparatus to the "bureaucracy" in the party apparatus’. (Institute of Marxism-Leninism: The struggle of Lenin and the CPSU Against Trotskyism: p.239)
Trotsky arrived at his ‘political revolution’ slogan for two basic reasons, one of which we have already mentioned, which was the factional element, i.e., only through political revolution would he able to regain the power he had lost. The second reason provided the theoretical grounding for the first. In essence this was the presupposition that the contradiction between the working class and the bureaucracy was antagonistic in nature, and therefore the bureaucracy could only be defeated by revolution. In view of the contradiction between Leninism and Trotskyism on previous important issues, it is not surprising that there would develop a contradiction between Leninism and Trotskyism on the issue of combating bureaucracy. Thus Trotsky developed a notion, which precluded a peaceful resolution of a contradiction which, in essence was of a non-antagonistic character.
Expressed in the slogan of ‘political revolution’, or rather behind this slogan was Trotsky’s burning desire to recapture his previous political power, and therefore, it can be argued, his conceptual understanding and framework was subordinated to this goal. This in turn gave sharp expression to the difference between Marxism-Leninism on the question of combating bureaucracy. This difference expresses itself in the development of two opposing anti-bureaucratic perspectives. The essence of the difference is that while Marxism-Leninism has a long term approach to combating bureaucracy, Trotskyism, on the other hand, harbours a pseudo-left, short term perspective: i.e., political revolution.
And, as we have already indicated, this one-sided approach reduces the struggle against bureaucracy to a political struggle, without taking into consideration all the other interrelated factors. In other words, in order to uphold his political revolution perspective, it was necessary for Trotsky and his followers to present the contradiction between the bureaucrats and the working class as purely antagonistic. But in reality, the contradiction between the working class and the bureaucracy under socialism can be resolved peacefully given social ownership of the means of production, etc. and a correct Marxist-Leninist leadership.
The direction of the struggle against bureaucracy in the Soviet Union was determined by several factors. The most important of these was the relation between the Marxist-Leninists and the revisionists in the party and state apparatus. There were no doubt, opponents of Marxism-Leninism and socialism in the state and party offices. These elements were naturally interested in putting a break on the anti-bureaucratic struggle insofar as it was directed against them. Therefore, complicating the struggle against bureaucracy in the Soviet Union, which, we must remind the reader, Lenin, and also the party programme of 1919, which first addressed the issue, regarded as a long term process, was the resistance of the enemies of socialism in the state and party apparatus. Lenin had previously referred to the class struggle taking place in the party and state offices. This was a struggle between the old administrative civil servants of Tsarism and the new representatives of the working class.
At the lower levels of the party and state apparatus, or bureaucracies, support could be found for the communist, Marxist-Leninist, aspirations. In other words, the struggle against bureaucracy must be understood in terms of the open and concealed class struggle going on in the state and party apparatus.
But the question must be asked, what do we mean by the ‘struggle against bureaucracy?’ We have already shown that there were two different approaches to combating bureaucracy: the Leninist approach which recognised that combating bureaucracy was a long term process, and the Trotskyite short term approached which sought remedial action through ‘political revolution’.
Trotsky confused the struggle against ‘bureaucracy’ with the struggle against ‘privilege’ in the Soviet Union. These two aspects are related, but they are not identical, as we have already said. If we start with privilege we must look at the question of social differentiation in the Soviet Union in relation to the proclaimed aim of communism. This aim is a classless society with no exploitation, no privileges. But Marxism-Leninism is not utopian. The first stage of the transition to communism begins with socialism. This first stage carries the imprint of the old, capitalist society. The role of socialism is to raise the productive powers of society to the level that makes class and privilege redundant. The struggle against bureaucracy, or more correctly the evils of bureaucracy in the transition period must be viewed in relation to this basic task of socialism. Socialist society is a contradictory phase where the old and new struggle for survival. In the Soviet Union this struggle was very pronounced due to the feudal-capitalist traditions which had to be overcome.
From 1929 onward, the Soviet Union was involved in a process of rapid modernisation, not only to meet the requirements of socialism, but also to meet the requirements of the threat of war, instigated by the political servants of capitalism against the socialist state. Preparing for war and building a socialist society at the same time are two contradictory processes that the Soviet communist leadership had to face. The pseudo-left wiseacres who base themselves exclusively on an anti-Stalin perspective universally ignore this contradiction. In the Soviet Union a choice had to be made, and priority assigned to either the elimination of privilege in the shortest possible time, or developing the defence potential of the Soviet Union. With the imperialist threat the decision to give priority to defence was the correct choice. This choice carried with it certain negative connotations. To develop the Soviet Union, in the shortest possible time, certain privileges had to be allocated to bourgeois specialists whose services were needed to implement the programme of industrialisation. We would argue that in the period of Lenin and Stalin this was certainly no defence of privilege in principle, but rather a pragmatic recognition that it was unavoidable, to some extent, if the Soviet Union had to develop rapidly. For the Communist leadership, the contradiction in the whole process, within the context of the Soviet Union, was that the utilisation of privilege, while being opposed to socialism in the long term, in the short term could served the interests of socialism, if it helped to undermine the conditions which led to privileges in the first place. Needless to say, such a controversial policy, a product of the objective situation in which the Soviet Union found itself was not without grave dangers. The crystallisation of a privileged stratum could derail the struggle for socialism if such a force became strong enough to assert its interests opposed to that of the working class. This was certainly not the case in the Stalin period. The 16th Party Congress in April 1929 supported Stalin’s policy of purging the governmental bureaucracy. By 1930 the Rightist, Rykov, was removed as Prime Minister to be replaced by Molotov.
This was the beginning of the end of the Right-opposition.
In short, therefore, the Central authorities, beginning with Lenin, allocated certain privilege to bourgeois specialists and key workers to facilitate the rapid development of industry, making it possible to defend the socialist state from the imperialist threat, while at the same time laying the material foundations for socialism, which in the longer term would serve to eradicate social inequalities in the sphere of consumption. In the eyes of the leadership this policy was necessitated by the backwardness bequeathed to socialism by the previous regime. But the policy of using privilege to undermine the foundations of privilege carries with it dangers. It leads to social differentiation, fertilise the ground for the growth of revisionism on the one hand, and on the other, spawn pseudo-left opposition which unconsciously opens the door to counterrevolution.
The role of Marxist-Leninists in the concrete situation of the Soviet Union would be to struggle against the abuse of privilege on the one hand, holding in view the need for their complete elimination as soon as possible and, on the other, promoting the struggle against the negative features of bureaucracy. That is to say if privilege were unavoidable, in the Soviet context, at the first stage of socialism, the role of Communists would be to struggle against their abuse, keeping them within certain limits, while promoting the development of the material and ideological conditions which serve to undermine privilege and bureaucratic abuses, leading to their complete elimination.
Lenin had explained that
‘…the first phase of communism cannot yet provide justice and equality: differences, and unjust differences, in wealth will remain, but the exploitation of man by man will have become impossible, because it will have become impossible to seize the means of production, the factories, machines, land etc., and make them private property’. (V.I. Lenin: The State and Revolution; CW. Vol. 33; p.93)
It is clear that the first stage of communism, i.e., socialism, is the most dangerous for Working class political power. Differences, and unjust differences at that, remain. In the Soviet context this was particularly dangerous, due to the original economic and cultural underdevelopment of the proletariat and the peasantry, which the mass campaign for literacy in the Stalin period sought to remedy. Of course, the whole question of certain privileges remaining at the first stage of communism cannot be posed in a purely abstract sense. The question has to be posed concretely. That is, the more ripe capitalism is to enter the first stage of communism, the less may we talk of privileges, in the true sense of the term, remaining at this stage. We are necessarily here speaking of privilege in the social sense.
The term ‘privilege’ relating to
‘…advantage or favour that only some people have’. ( Collins Gem English Dictionary, New Edition; p. 430)
If inequality and unjust differences of wealth remain, to a certain extent, at the first stage of communist society, which we refer to as socialism, this is the result of the new society having just emerged from the old capitalist society. Thus it must be constantly borne in mind that such inequality is a product of capitalism, not communism. The advanced development of the productive forces, the progress of socialism makes it possible to achieve social equality. The same must be said about bureaucracy, the struggle against which is a sine qua non for communism.
The first thing to make clear is that in Marxism-Leninism there is a distinction between revolutionary opposition to bureaucracy and opportunist opposition; between a principled struggle against it and a factional struggle. As Lenin remarked in 1903, following the split with the Mensheviks
‘It is clear, I think, that the cries about this celebrated bureaucracy are just a screen for dissatisfaction with the personal composition of the central bodies, a fig leaf…You are a bureaucrat because you were appointed by the congress not by my will, but against it; you are a formalist because you rely on the formal decisions of the congress, and not on my consent…’etc. (V.I. Lenin: CW. Vol. 6; pp. 287, 310)
Any discussion about ‘bureaucracy’ must begin by using some kind of definition of this term. For instance we could say that bureaucracy is a form of administration, or
‘…a system of government or administration by officials, responsible only to their departmental chiefs; any system of administration in which matters are hindered by excessive adherence to minor rules and procedures; officials as a group…’ (The Chambers Dictionary; New Edition; p.214)
Alternatively, briefly, bureaucracy is
‘…officialdom, red-tape…’ (Collin Roberts French Concise Dictionary; Third Edition; p.55)
The term ‘bureaucracy’ relates specifically to the structure of administration and its modus operandi.
There is no need to go into a theoretical discourse about the nature and structure of different types of bureaucracies; suffice it to say that modern bureaucracies develop as an administrative response to the need to manage the increasing social obligations of the state following the process of industrialisation.
Bureaucracy is therefore concerned with forms of administration based on following rules and regulations, that is, established procedures.
There is not much in Trotsky’s writings concerned with the struggle against bureaucracy as such. In other words we find little, if anything at all, directed against the negative aspect, or bureaucratic evils which Lenin castigated. Trotsky referred not to the struggle against bureaucracy, but rather the struggle to overthrow the ‘Stalinist bureaucracy’. In a narrow sense this could mean the political appointees of Stalin, or in a wider sense, the whole top administrative layer of Soviet society. For Trotsky the bureaucracy was a privileged, leading, administrative layer, which, he argued, had usurped political power from the working class. Trotsky saw the contradiction between the bureaucracy and the working class as absolute, and irresolvable outside of a political revolution that would remove Stalin and his supporters from power. In Trotsky’s ideology Stalin was merely the servant of the bureaucracy, doing its bidding. This falsified image was, of course, exploded in the 1930s, when the purges of the state bureaucracies began. The legend of Trotskyism is that these purges were directed against genuine revolutionaries. In fact their target was the fifth columnists in the Soviet apparatus.
According to the ideology of Trotskyism, the bureaucracy had taken political power from the working class. This new development, Trotsky argued, was given expression in a new political programme based on the doctrine of ‘socialism in one country’. We have already dealt with this issue, and shown that for Lenin socialism in one country was not opposed to world revolution. This is to say that pursuing the former did not mean opposing the latter as is claimed in Trotskyite ideology, which demands ‘either’ support for socialism in one country, ‘or’ support for world revolution. Trotsky’s case against Stalin was based on this non-dialectical either/or dichotomy which did not do justice to reflecting the real revolutionary process.
Classes can only hold political power and maintain their rule through their most conscious political representatives. This general rule applies no less to the working class. Indeed, it applies, with even more force, to the working class because of the nature of its oppression under capitalism. This means that the working class can only holds power and maintain its rule through its most politically advanced section, its vanguard, a communist party. Marxism-Leninism knows of no other way for the working class to hold on to political power. Developments in the communist party are crucial to the question of determining if the working class still possess political power in the state. For the working class to possess political power in the state it must possess political power in the party. This question is not determined once and for all. Thus there is a constant struggle against any manifestation of revisionism in the party. In the period of Stalin, the revisionists had not managed to gain control of important decision making organs such as the central committee, or the politburo, although, no doubt, concealed revisionists existed on these bodies. Consequently, there had been no usurpation of political power from the working class by Soviet bureaucrats when Stalin and his supporters were leading the Soviet Communist party. On the other hand, the Marxist-Leninists were in a numerical minority the higher one went in the State and Party apparatus. Without understanding this, very little can be understood about the struggles in the Soviet Union.
In one sense the conflict between Stalin and Trotsky was historically inevitable. Trotsky had fought Lenin right up until 1917, and had major factional differences with Lenin thereafter. Trotsky’s call for ‘political revolution’ against ‘the Soviet bureaucracy’ must be seen for what it really was. It was a factional call to remove Stalin and his supporters from power, after Trotsky’s essential anti-Leninism had been exposed and defeated in the ideological struggle. To ascribe this defeat, as some bourgeois writers do, to Stalin’s position as General Secretary in the party apparatus and his use of patronage through is power of appointment, is a superficial view which suggest that Stalin did not have to win his political arguments against Trotsky at the highest ideological level in the party.
And as we have shown, even on the question of bureaucracy Trotskyism is opposed to Marxism-Leninism in that it replaces Leninism’s long term perspective to combat the evils of bureaucracy with the short-term perspective of political revolution. Political slogans are a very serious matter. They must not be viewed abstractly in isolation from all the surrounding factors. Only in this way can their objective meaning and purpose be understood, that is, whose class interest they actually serve, for as Lenin remarked
‘Whoever weakens in the least the iron discipline of the Party of the proletariat (especially during the time of its dictatorship), actually aids the bourgeoisie against the proletariat’. (V.I. Lenin: CW. Vol. 25; p.190).
6. TROTSKY’S TRANSITIONAL PROGRAMME.
Trotsky wrote his Transitional Programme in 1938. Known as The Death Agony of Capitalism and The Tasks of the Fourth International, it was to become the programmatic guide to the various sections of the pro-Trotsky International. That Trotsky held high hopes for this organisation was forcefully expressed in Trotsky’s remark in the programme that
‘The advanced workers of all the world are already firmly convinced that the overthrow of Mussolini, Hitler and their agents and imitators will occur only under the leadership of the Fourth International’. (Trotsky: The Transitional Programme: The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International; New Park Publications; p.47).
It can be argued that, not only was this categorical statement an expression of Trotsky’s hope, but also a poignant reminder of his detachment from reality, a consistent feature of Trotskyism, which became more pronounced with his isolation.
In the Transitional Programme, Trotsky had come to the conclusion that
‘The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership’. (Trotsky: op. cit.; p.12)
Nevertheless, Trotsky remained optimistic, observing that
‘…the laws of history are stronger than the bureaucratic apparatus’. (Trotsky: op. cit.; p.14)
So that although Trotsky saw a crisis at the subjective level, that is at the level of leadership, he argued that the material factors, or the laws of history, would eventually predominate. This is of course was true in the most general sense. For Trotsky, what the situation required was to
‘…find the bridge between present demands and the socialist programme of revolution’. (Trotsky: op. cit.; p.14)
And for Trotsky
‘This bridge should include a system of transitional demands, stemming from today’s conditions and from today’s consciousness of wide layers of the working class and unalterably leading to one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat’. (Trotsky: op. cit.; pp. 14-15).
Trotsky chided classical Social Democracy because it had separated reform from revolution, while elevating the former into an absolute, thus, essentially, becoming reformist. For these reformists, he argued that
‘Between the minimum and the maximum programme no bridge existed’. (Trotsky: op. cit.; p.15).
Social Democracy had betrayed revolution, and Trotsky implies in the Transitional Programme that this was due to the separation between the minimum and the maximum parts of the Marxist programme. Trotsky thus sought a remedy, a bridge to connect the two parts of the programme, in essence to replace the old programme with a new one. This was to be the ‘Transitional Programme’.
But by replacing the minimum-maximum programme with the Transitional Programme, Trotsky had ignored his own advice that
‘A revolutionary programme should base itself on the dialectics of the class struggle’. (Trotsky: op. cit.; pp. 46-47)
Far from dialectics, Trotsky’s Transitional Programme is an eclectic combination of minimum and maximum demands, with the latter type of demands predominating.
While we must view the Transitional Programme within the context of 1938 and the problem Trotsky imagined he was addressing, the essence of the Transitional Programme is that Trotsky presents mostly maximum demands disguised as ‘transitional’ demands. For Trotsky transitional demands are neither minimum nor maximum demands. In order to discuss Trotsky’s Transitional Programme we can ignore Trotsky’s ideological outlook. Everyone knows that Trotsky was opposed to Stalin. With this out of the way, the most important question that can be asked about ‘transitional’ demands is: what are they? Close examination reveals that the Transitional Programme consists mainly of maximum demands repackaged as transitional demands.
It is remarkable that Trotsky, who participated in the Russian revolution and played a leading role, failed to grasp that, between the minimum and the maximum programme, or rather, between the minimum and maximum parts of the programme, that is to say, between reform and revolution, there can be no ‘bridge’, but rather a qualitative, dialectical leap, the transformation of a quantitative state into a qualitative state.
Trotsky seems to confuse the idea of a transitional epoch from capitalism to communism with the question of the programme. In other words, if the epoch was transitional then the demands must be transitional as well. Thus, in reality, Trotsky’s Fourth International was based mainly on a system of maximum demands, which he labelled as transitional in character. The result is that Trotsky’s followers, since the foundation of their Fourth International in 1938, have actually been agitating for the implementation of revolutionary demands, mostly in non-revolutionary situations.
By fighting for mostly revolutionary demands in mostly non-revolutionary situations, Trotskyism maintained its essence as a pseudo-left, sectarian current in the workers’ movement. It is not the actual demands themselves that are in conflict with the revolutionary needs of the working class, looked at from an abstract level. What is at issue is the presentation of maximum demands as transitional demands in such a way as to ignore the leap from reform to revolution.
The role of Trotskyism has been to confuse anti-capitalist workers and intellectuals about the nature of political demands. Trotsky’s reference to the Social Democracy not having any need for a bridge of transitional demands does nothing to clarify the relation between reform and revolution. The Marxist criticism of Social Democracy is not about their avoidance of a bridge of transitional demands, but rather for betraying the maximum programme of revolution.
For Marxist-Leninists a distinction must be made between minimum demands and maximum demands. This relates to a non-revolutionary situation and a revolutionary situation. This does not mean, of course, that Marxist-Leninists refuse to make propaganda around maximum demands in a non-revolutionary situation. While they propagate maximum demands in non-revolutionary situations, this does not represent calls to action directed at the masses, but rather such propaganda are aimed at the more advanced sections of the class for educational purposes. Marxist-Leninists present the full programme of revolution to the working class, and in the first place, the revolutionary vanguard. They realise that revolutionary, maximum demands will not mobilise the masses in a non-revolutionary situation.
To hope to mobilise the masses with maximum demands, whether disguised as ‘transitional demands’ or not, is the folly of sectarian groups. When Trotsky rebukes sectarianism in the Transitional Programme, this is irony at its most superb. He seems to be making jest at himself and his stillborn Fourth International, because, where sectarianism is concerned, Trotsky warns that
‘At their base lies a refusal to struggle for partial and transitional demands i.e., for the elementary interests and needs of the working masses, as they are today’. (Trotsky: op. cit.; p.55).
Notwithstanding, Trotsky failed to see that his personal contribution to promoting sectarianism was the replacement of minimum-maximum demands with transitional demands, demands that were neither minimum nor maximum and therefore impractical in relation to the real class struggle. The Trotsky of the Transitional Programme is therefore true to form, the essential Trotsky, in practice a non-dialectician, a feature which brought him repeatedly into conflict with Lenin.
The term ‘transitional demands’ is one which Trotsky seems to have first used at the Fourth Congress of the Communist International. (See Theses, Resolutions & Manifestos of the Fourth Congress of the C. I.; p.330).
Trotsky’s concept of a transitional programme was a logical development from this early usage. However, the real nature of the Marxist programme, that is to say its purpose, is to guide the action of the masses in non-revolutionary and revolutionary times, in times of reform and in times of revolution.
The demands which are emphasised, and around which the party strives to mobilise the widest number of people depends on whether we are faced with a revolutionary or a non-revolutionary situation.
The Marxist programme, therefore, relates to the defensive and offensive stages of the class struggle, and is made up of minimum and maximum demands. The former represents the tactical, the latter, the strategic aspect of the struggle. Of course, today, we do not speak of a minimum and maximum programme, but rather demands. Unlike Trotsky we do not replace this with a transitional programme, rather we base ourselves on a flexible programme which defends the immediate interests of the working people: minimum or partial demands. On the other hand, the party constantly reminds the masses that the only solution to their situation is the demands leading to socialism: maximum demands. In other words the Marxist programme is made up of a unity between the minimum, partial, relative demands of the masses and the absolute, maximum demands for socialism. The change from relative to absolute demands, their coming into active play, depends on the concrete process of the class struggle. The programme, therefore, relates to the different stages of the class struggle: from the ‘defensive’ struggle to defend the immediate interests of the working class up to the immediate struggle for power.
7. LENIN ON TROTSKY’S METHODOLOGY.
It was during the famous trade union dispute that arose in 1920 that Lenin approached the question of Trotsky’s methodology, although his previous categorisation of Trotsky’s rendition of ‘Permanent Revolution’ as absurdly ‘left’ certainly suggests a critical view of Trotsky’s method, i.e., pseudo-leftism.
In Trotsky’s methodology, we constantly see the primacy of the abstract over the concrete, theory over practice. Unlike Marxism-Leninism, there is a separation between the abstract and the concrete in Trotskyism. In his April Theses of 1917, Lenin approvingly recites Goethe’s dictum: theory my friend is grey, but green is the eternal tree of life.
In Trotsky’s version of ‘permanent revolution’ we see an abstract transition from the democratic revolution to the socialist stage of the revolution. Put in another way, the transition from the minimum to the maximum programme is purely abstract, independent of any concrete determining factors. And Trotsky, when writing on the permanent revolution in 1928, gives a truly remarkable testimony to the essence of his methodology, in that nowhere is there ever mentioned the connection between the world-shattering imperialist war of 1914-18 and the Russian socialist revolution. This unbreakable connection, ignored by Trotsky, is the starting point of Lenin’s truly remarkable April Theses. In the theses Lenin argues that
‘In our attitude to the war, which under the new government of Lvov and Co. unquestionably remains on Russia’s part a predatory, imperialist one owing to the capitalist nature of that government, not the slightest concession to "revolutionary defencism" is permissible’. (V.I. Lenin: CW. Vol. 24; pp. 19-26)
And the concrete connection between the war and the eventual transition to socialism is outlined in Lenin’s remark that
‘It is impossible to slip out of the imperialist war and achieve a democratic, non-coercive peace without overthrowing the power of capital and transferring state power to another class, the proletariat’. (V.I. Lenin: CW. Vol. 24; pp. 55-91; St. Petersburg, May 28th, 1917)
This connection is also referred to in Stalin’s Foundations of Leninism. Thus Stalin reminded the reader that
‘Practically, there was no way of getting out of the war except by overthrowing the bourgeoisie’. (J. V. Stalin: Foundations of Leninism; Foreign Languages Press Peking, 1973; p. 62)
In 1917, Lenin could write that
‘The revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry had already been realised, but in a highly original manner, and with a number of extremely important modifications’. (V.I. Lenin: op. cit.; pp. 42-54)
Whereas Trotsky, disagreeing with Leninism as usual, came to the opposite conclusion. Writing in 1928 he asserted that
‘…never in history has there been a regime of the ‘democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’. (Trotsky: The Permanent Revolution -with Results and Prospects- New Park Publications; p.4)
Lenin comes to one conclusion, while Trotsky asserts the opposite. Here, the concrete and the abstract, or Leninism and Trotskyism, are sharply demarcated. It is the struggle between these opposites that constitutes the content of the struggle between Leninism and Trotskyism. In other words, the struggle between Leninism and Trotskyism, in its different forms and at different periods, is in essence the struggle between the ‘concrete’ and the ‘abstract’ forms of reasoning. In other words, Lenin’s thinking possessed more content, rendering it more concrete, closer to life. Trotsky’s thinking, on the other hand, lacks content. The result is a less concrete approximation to the object.
Trotskyism, therefore, is an embodiment of the results of abstract reasoning, that is, a form of logic, which does not descend into the concrete totality. Unlike Leninism, Trotskyism remains trapped at the level of the general. In the trade union dispute Lenin remarked of Trotsky’s platform that it was
‘…highbrow, abstract, "empty" and theoretically incorrect general theses which ignore all that is practical and business-like’. (V.I. Lenin: CW. Vol. 32; p.85)
This is simultaneously not only a criticism of Trotsky’s position but even more so of his methodology. This criticism is reinforced by an earlier remark by Lenin in connection with the same dispute when he argues that
‘All his theses are based on "general principles", an approach which is in itself fundamentally wrong’. (V. I. Lenin: op. cit.; p. 22)
It was Trotsky’s inability to descend into the concrete, combined with the absolutisation of the general, which constituted the essence of his methodology. This methodological one-sidedness also informed, with the utmost clarity, his concept of ‘transitional’ demands, which Trotsky introduces to replace the minimum-maximum demands of the Marxist revolutionary programme. For Marxists-Leninists, between reform and revolution or between minimum and maximum demands there is a leap from one to the other. The Transitional Programme ignores this leap. The bourgeoisie can always make concessions to any minimum, partial, demand, as a temporary manoeuvre to demobilise the struggles of the working class, but no concessions can be made to maximum demands, which pose directly the question of who rules; who is to be master in the house. Trotsky’s Transitional Programme is not based on an understanding of the dialectical leap, and ends up giving the impression of revolution in slow motion from capitalism to the dictatorship of the proletariat. On the other hand, maximum demands are labelled ‘transitional’. Trotsky replaces the revolutionary leap with the concept of transition. In actual fact the transitional programme depicts an abstract process, divorced from any real understanding of the concrete revolutionary process. Pseudo-left elements who continue to base themselves on this programme in a non-revolutionary situation have tended to remain isolated from the working class.
Trotskyism began as an inability to understand the contradiction between the revolutionary and the opportunist elements in the workers’ movement and it sought to reconcile them. The theoretical origin of Trotskyism is the version of permanent revolution presented by Trotsky. It postulated the progress of the impending democratic revolution in Russia into the socialist revolution, that is to say, the minimum programme into the maximum programme, independently of internal and external factors. This postulation was at variance with Marxism-Leninism, not only because of the programmatic ‘underestimation of the peasantry’, which in this critique we have demonstrated clearly with irrefutable textual evidence, but also at the more fundamental level of methodology. In fact the progress from democratic to socialist revolution would not have been possible, or at any rate would have been highly unlikely, outside of the peculiar circumstances generated by the first imperialist war of 1914-18.
In this respect Lenin’s characterisation of Trotsky’s theory as ‘absurdly left’, taken in connection with his underestimation of the peasantry, was quite correct and understandable.
Likewise in Trotsky’s opposition to the building of socialism in one country, which by the way, Trotsky did not see fit to oppose when Lenin was alive, although the latter wrote about proceeding to build socialism in Russia on several occasions, there was a mechanical separation of the building of socialism in one country to world revolution. In other words for Trotsky the contradiction between building socialism in one country and world capitalism, in the concrete context of the Soviet Union, was absolute. Therefore Trotsky sought to split the international communist movement by forcing a choice between ‘socialism in one country’ and ‘world revolution’, failing to see that the two were complementary, not contradictory. This splitting activity, motivated by a lack of dialectical understanding, ill will and factional consideration served the cause of imperialism.
Furthermore, the contradiction between Leninism and Trotskyism also expressed itself in Trotsky’s rejection of Lenin’s admonition that the struggle against bureaucracy could not be reduced to simply a political platform, rather it should be based on a long-term perspective. Again out of pseudo-leftism and factional considerations, Trotsky opted for a short-term perspective in the struggle against bureaucracy in direct opposition to Marxism-Leninism. We have shown that the theoretical origins of the struggle against bureaucracy begin, in fact, as a struggle against Trotskyism in the trade union dispute, 1920-21, a fact that is hidden by Trotskyism.
We have shown how Trotsky introduces the concept of ‘transitional demands’ to replace the concept of minimum and maximum demands, thus confusing the advanced workers about the revolutionary process, and the difference between non-revolutionary and revolutionary situations; replacing the concept of the revolutionary ‘leap’ with that of ‘transition’; and the struggle to defend the immediate interests of the working class with the direct struggle for power. In other words, he confuses the relationship between the ‘defensive’ and the ‘offensive’ stage of the class struggle.
Finally, we have shown the content of Trotsky’s methodology, which in fact is also the basis for the long-running contradiction between Leninism and Trotskyism: in Trotskyism we see the primacy of the ‘abstract’ over the ‘concrete’, a tendency to confine reasoning to the level of the general, while ignoring the richness of the concrete. Without a doubt, on these premises, we can say that Trotskyism more than justifies the Marxist-Leninist claim that it is a pseudo-left ideology in competition with Leninism in the workers’ movement.
In answer to the question, 'What is Trotskyism?', the simplest reply is: Trotskyism is pseudo-leftism. A more lengthy reply is: Trotskyism was open opposition to Leninism, and has now become concealed opposition to Leninism.
Trotskyism is a petty-bourgeois deviation in Marxism. It is the triumph of abstract thinking over concrete thinking.
Communist Party Alliance.
Communist Party Alliance
August 20th 2001