Problems of theory and history
Trotsky and his successors have always denied the existence of 'Trotskyism'. They profess to be the faithful disciples of Lenin. According to them the term was invented by the 'Stalinists' to designate a so-called theory of Trotsky's with the intention of making it a target for their attacks, which are really directed against the revolution in the USSR and the world. Trotsky protested that his concept of the permanent revolution was taken from Marx and that Lenin 'tacitly' went over to it in his 'April Theses'. Certain Trotskyists or Trotskysants, notably Isaac Deutscher and Alfred Rosmer, have argued that there is no difference between their mentor's permanent revolution and Mao's uninterrupted revolution by stages. Trotsky himself said, 'I have never claimed and I do not claim to have created a special doctrine. In theory, I am a pupil of Marx. As for revolutionary method, I went through Lenin's school.'(1)
It would seem that Trotskyism's defence implies its disavowal and the misrecognition of the theoretical contribution of Lenin. However, there is some truth in Trotsky's denials. Deutscher has insisted on his attachment to 'classical Marxism'. We shall show in what follows that this is a euphemism designating an approach that is at once dogmatic and empirical, the theoretical impotence implied by the dogmatism leading those who are afflicted by it to revert to empiricism. Bukharin said of Trotsky that he 'excelled . . . in tracing general revolutionary perspectives'. In fact, that is where his talents as a 'theoretician' end. In contrast to Lenin and Mao he was never able to analyse a conjuncture in its specificity, or to determine the principal contradiction and the principal slogan. As he never established the laws of the revolution in a social formation by applying the universal principle of historical materialism in the practice of the class struggle, his contribution to this science was nil. Moreover, his few original 'ideas' are not his own, for above all he vulgarised those of others. What is more, he did not demonstrate much discernment in his borrowings, as we shall see in the case of 'primitive socialist accumulation'. Even his most ardent supporters are embarrassed when they are asked to name the concepts he produced.
For all these reasons, it is possible to speak of Trotskyism as an ideological current but only with difficulty as a body of doctrine, and not at all as a 'guide to action'. Trotsky's retractions on the subject of the 'Thermidorian reaction' are a perfect illustration of his complete theoretical impotence. As for the Trotskyists today, they practise the dogmatism of a dogmatism. In the era of the cultural revolution and of the thought of Mao Tse-tung, the third stage of Marxism, they are the fossils of a past epoch - Marxists of the first stage. In other words, they are not Marxists at all.
The bourgeois propagandists and Trotskyist ideologues are united by a community of goods. The former provide the latter with their dens of research and documentation. Kremlinology, Pekinology and the publications of the US Consul-General in Hong Kong are the principal sources of Trotskyist diatribes against the socialist countries.(2) For their part, the Trotskyists are important purveyors of 'theoretical' hypotheses, historical schemas and falsifications that make it possible to attack Stalin and People's China from an apparently 'left-wing' standpoint, which is an important resource for certain journalists who claim to be enlightened. This is a matter of a 'pre-established harmony', not a deliberate collusion. For different reasons both propagate the idea that the Communist Parties were only puppets manipulated by Moscow and Stalin, the source of all evil.
One of the most curious arguments of Trotsky's apologists consists of comparing their idol's wit and sparkling prose with the heavy and inharmonious style of the auto-didact Stalin, concluding that the latter could not have been right against the former. As if a solid position in Marxist-Leninist science were a matter of literary talent. This idea runs like a black thread through every page of Isaac Deutscher's biography of Trotsky. Deutscher insistently emphasises that Stalin did not command attention as a theoretician before 1924. In fact, from this point of view, it was Bukharin who enjoyed the most prestige after Lenin. Does this mean that he was right to support the kulaks, to proclaim to them the slogan 'Get rich' and to preach the construction of socialism 'at a snail's pace'? Such logic borders on the grotesque at times, as when Deutscher declares that Ch'en Tu-hsiu was a 'theoretician' much superior to Mao.
The bourgeois publicists argue in the same way. Cadar, the anarcho-Trotskysant, attacks Mao for his 'primary-school outlook'. His thought is not 'refined'. It is incomprehensible to him that writers as 'sophisticated' as Althusser, Glucksmann or Sollers hold Mao in such high esteem. (3) L. Bianco (4) declares that Mao is not 'a profound thinker' but only a 'mediocre theoretician'. It is true that for Bianco (p. 135) to be a 'thinker' is to be a 'contemplative'. He observes that Mao has been able to 'emancipate himself from dogma and see reality for what it is', but it does not seem to occur to him that in order 'to see reality for what it is' singularly powerful theoretical spectacles are required, as well as the ability to lead the struggles of the masses who transform this reality in a revolutionary way (if you want to know the taste of a pear, you must change the pear by eating it yourself). Like Trotsky, what these authors are unable to conceive is the link
between theory and practice and the concrete forms of this link: the mass-line. Did not Trotsky claim to judge revolutionaries the world over from his offices at Prinkipo and Coyoacan, without even having led, as Stalin did, a true International rooted in the masses?
If the result (his articles) sometimes sparkles like glass it is also just as fragile.
Having style and a wide culture, he drew from it the conviction that his ideas were as profound and well-based as they were brilliantly formulated. With him, comparison is very often substituted for argument, and rhetoric for concrete thought. Hence it may be said that he was a victim of his strengths as much as of his weaknesses, the former giving him the illusion that he possessed precisely the powers he lacked: those of the political strategist and theoretician. Mao said: 'The more one thinks one is superior, the more mediocre the results one gets.' Those who have been close to Trotsky have noted his ambition, his pride, and indeed his arrogance. He placed himself high above the rest of humanity, conceding only one exception and that only in the single period from 1917 to 1924. In his writings Trotsky has the good taste not to stress the high opinion he had of himself. In contrast, he does not hide from us the contempt in which he holds the most eminent Bolshevik leaders. One day the texts in which he condemned, denigrated and ridiculed his communist adversaries or fellow combatants should be brought together into an anthology. The polemicist makes fun of his victims but the last laugh will be on him.
I shall not use the same weapons. I shall submit his theses to a severe, but fair critical examination. It is easy to compile a voluminous 'catalogue of errors' out of extracts from his books, and there is a great temptation to pass over in silence his merits in so far as he accepted Lenin's leadership during the first five years of the revolution: revisionist writers generally proceed in this fashion. For my part, I prefer to take on the Trotsky phenomenon face-to-face since, after all, despite all the exorcisms, it lives on.
It is clear that Trotsky was endowed with great talents. As a brilliant publicist, enthusiastic speaker, organiser of the Red Army, he rendered eminent services to the revolution after joining the Bolshevik Party. The reverse of the medal was his extreme individualism, his pride, his arrogance and the fact that the rigour of his thought was that of a barrister, not that of a theoretician who derives his strength from his link with the masses and from his ability to lead them. His best-known works, 'The New Course', 'The Revolution Betrayed', 'The Permanent Revolution', are skilful and brilliant pleas 'pro domo suo', but they are of limited interest because they demonstrate at most that certain of the criticisms directed at him were unfounded. In fact, not everything that he said in his polemic with Stalin was false. But as we shall see, he was mistaken about the essentials. His rival had a decisive advantage over him which a comparison of their respective contributions to the debate makes plain: Stalin was a Leninist, a revolutionary leader in the second stage of Marxism; as his biographer says, Trotsky was a 'classical' revolutionary surviving in a post-classical world.
These old controversies would be of only historical interest if the Trotskyists did not derive from them a part of their argument. In so far as they have a certain influence in the student movement and thrive on and foster the ideological confusion that reigns there, it is a contribution to hygiene to compare the main themes of their propaganda with the facts. These main themes start from 'theoretical principles'; we shall examine their scientific status; that is, their ability to think reality with a view to its transformation. In addition they mobilise examples drawn from the history of the workers' movement. Never having assumed the autonomous direction of a victorious revolution in the forty years that their organisations have existed on an international scale, the Trotskyists cannot rely on exemplary cases of the application of their principles. Their argumentation is therefore based on a critique of the experience of others.
We shall see that in each case their version of history is a schema very remote from reality. The books in which Trotsky, his followers and those whom they have influenced, accuse (often correctly) the 'Stalinist' historians of having falsified history are innumerable. Should we be surprised if they themselves falsify it still more in their propagandist literature?(5)
Lies and invective have taken the place of a serious refutation of Trotskyism for too long. The Soviet historical works present such an expurgated and one-sided version of the facts that they are useless to a public which has access to complementary, even contradictory, information. Aragon's 'L'Histoire de l'USSR' is worse than the rest from this point of view. Suffice it to mention the cavalier way he conjures away the polemic on the Chinese revolution in 1927. It is important to clarify these problems, notably in the youth movement, an important sector of the popular revolutionary movement.
In fact the opportunist degeneration of numerous Communist Parties, notably in Latin America and Europe from 1945 onwards, and then the adoption of the revisionist theses of the 20th Congress of the CPSU have contributed to give Trotskyism a 'second wind'. Counter-revolutionary as it used to be (in the period 1929-45), it now tends to embody the revolt of the intellectual petty bourgeoisie in the 'revolutionist' mode. The constant and general advance of Trotskyist movements since 1960 is thus explained. The unprincipled attacks made by Khrushchev against Stalin's person and the absence of a scientific self-criticism by the CPSU provided the Trotskyists with the possibility of presenting their 'prophet's' appraisals of the USSR in the 1920s and 1930s as predictions of its evolution in the 1950s and 1960s. They are thus able to justify retrospectively their attitude in Stalin's day while duping the young whose historical knowledge is meagre and who are consequently susceptible to seduction by explanatory schemas which have the merit of simplicity, if not of rigour.
Profiting from this favourable conjuncture, they intrepidly proclaim that '"Trotskyism" . . . has once more become the touchstone . . . of all contemporary revolutionary movements'.(6)
The appearance of Léo Figuères's book, 'Le Trotskyisme, cet antileninisme', shows that henceforth the PCF is obliged to recognise this new situation. It faces up to it with its usual methods. Léo Figuères entitles one chapter 'Trotsky the populist' but he avoids drawing the reader's attention to the fact that this 'first part' of Trotsky's 'militant life' of which he speaks relates to the period when Trotsky was less than nineteen years old! Referring to the Spanish Civil War, our author attributes the sins of the POUM to Trotskyism - whereas the leader of the Fourth International had jeered at those in the POUM as 'impotent centrists'.(7) Lastly, Léo Figuères attributes to Trotsky an opinion he always refuted, namely that the bureaucracy is a 'new class'. These few minor dishonesties (I have ignored even better ones) show well enough that such a book can only convince the ignorant or those who are already convinced. Criticising Trotskyism from a rightist standpoint, Figuères helps to give it a left-wing halo it scarcely deserves.
The object of this book is not to weigh the historical role of Stalin or of Trotsky and his movement. I propose only:
I take Stalin's part solely within the limits of the debate between him and Trotsky. The critique of the latter is to be found in the writings of the former but the reverse is not true. No refutation of Trotsky can be conclusive unless it is accompanied by a critique of Stalin. The latter requires the concepts produced by Mao Tse-tung. Thanks to him and to the cultural revolution it is possible today to go beyond 'Stalinism' and consequently, on the theoretical and practical level, to weigh it up definitively against Trotskyism.
to isolate what I believe to be the essence of Trotskyism in order to show how it is opposed to Leninism, and how it is anti-dialectical and anti-scientific (and therefore non-revolutionary) when it is not counter-revolutionary.
to dissipate the legends and myths of its so-called historical argument by showing how the latter is contradicted by the facts, in other words by a scientific analysis of the class struggle in the period concerned.
Once beyond the point of departure constituted by the refutation of Trotskyism, it turns out that there are more questions than answers. The reader is warned in advance so that he may not be led astray by the occasionally overconfident tones of these pages. My aim has been to advance the debate, not to close it.
This chronology provides some details on certain points of Trotsky's
career which are not dealt with in the pages which follow and offers
a framework to help in understanding them. Everything which is not
absolutely necessary for this purpose has been omitted.|
1879 26 October|
1905 9 January
Birth of Lev Davidovich Bronstein.|
First military activity in Odessa.
Arrest. Influenced for a while by
populism, he becomes a Marxist after
reading Lenin's 'The Development of
Capitalism in Russia' in prison.
Escapes from deportation in Siberia
and arrives in London.
2nd Congress of Russian Social
Democratic Labour Party. The
outcome is a split. Sides with the
opportunist wing who are from then
on called Mensheviks (minority) and
against Lenin and the Bolsheviks
Makes his way to Munich, meets
Helphand (Parvus), German social-
democratic theoretician of Russian
origin. Borrowed from him elements
of his theory of the permanent
Bloody Sunday. 'Forces of order'
fire on peaceful demonstration led
by the priest Father Gapon.
Arrives in Kiev; shortly afterwards
makes his way to St Petersburg.
General strike in St Petersburg.
The workers form a soviet (council)
of delegates and Trotsky is elected
president. Taking fright, Tsar
publishes 'Manifesto' promising
constitution, civil liberties and
1906 19 September -
universal suffrage but has no|
intention whatsoever of keeping his
Police arrest all members of the
soviet. In response Moscow workers
rise under leadership of the
Bolsheviks, but are crushed by army
after ten days of fighting on
barricades. Numerous other risings.
Social democrats boycott Duma
Trial of Petersburg Soviet. Accused
condemned to deportation for life.
Trotsky escapes before convoy of
prisoners reaches destination.
3rd Congress of Social Democratic
Party in London. Trotsky denies the
seriousness of the differences
between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks.
He adopts attitude of conciliator
'above the melée' but joins the
Mensheviks in their attach on Lenin
over the Bolshevik commandos'
guerilla activities, particularly
in the Caucasus under Stalin's
leadership. Trotsky settles in
Vienna with journalism his main
Trotsky publishes first number of
Bolshevik and Menshevik leaders meet
in Paris and decide:
1 to expel the 'Otzovists'
(boycotters of the Duma), who
condemned all legal activity,
and the 'Liquidators', who
opposed clandestine work.
2 to dissolve their organisations
and amalgamate. However,
Mensheviks break the agreement
straight away. They refuse to
expel Liquidators and maintain
separate organisation. Lenin,
on the contrary, keeps to his
side of the agreement.
In his 'Pravda', Trotsky fails to
condemn Mensheviks' splittist
attitude. Whatever his professions
of faith, it is not unity but his
position as the arbitrator between
the two camps he holds to be
Prague Conference of Bolsheviks,
who decide to break with Mensheviks.
1914 5 August
Trotsky denounces them violently.|
In April 1912 his anger rises to
extremes when Bolsheviks bring out
daily paper called 'Pravda' in St.
Petersburg with Stalin as editor-
in-chief. After threatening to
'take other measures' if their
paper's name is not changed, he
gives up publication of his own
On his initiative, Mensheviks,
Liquidators, Left Bolsheviks (or
Otzovists), the Jewish Bund and his
group meet at conference in Vienna
and form what is known as the
'August Bloc'. The aim of this
manoeuvre is to lay the blame on
Lenin for the split. August bloc
necessarily breaks up very quickly.
Trotsky's letter to Chkeidze
(Menshevik leader) stating that:
'All Leninism at this moment is
based on lies and falsifications
and bears within the germ of its
Outbreak of First World War. Apart
from the Bolsheviks, the social
democratic parties of the bel-
ligerent powers betray the
commitments which they made at the
Congress of the Second International,
vote for war credits and come out
for 'national defence' and the 'Holy
Alliance' of capital and labour.
Together with Martov, Trotsky
becomes joint editor-in-chief of
'Nashe Slovo' in Paris. In this
paper he defends slogan 'Neither
victory nor defeat' which he
counterposes to Lenin's revolu-
tionary defeatism or 'transformation
of imperialist war into civil war'.
Lenin replied that supporters of
slogan 'Neither victory nor defeat'
in fact side with bourgeois and
opportunists for 'they do not
believe' in possibility of inter-
national revolutionary actions of
working class against its respective
governments and do not wish to
contribute to development of these
Zimmerwald Conference (Switzerland)
of socialists opposed to the war
1917 8-15 March
(the majority pacifists). Manifesto|
adopted at conference conforms to
Trotsky's centrist position.
French police ban 'Nashe Slovo'.
Trotsky deported to Spain from where
he makes his way to USA.
The people overthrow Tsarism.
Bourgeoisie cheats it out of victory
and sets up a provisional government
under presidency of Prince Lvov.
Soviet of workers' and soldiers'
deputies which is dominated by
Mensheviks hand over power to it.
Lenin returns to Petrograd;
publishes 'April Theses'.
Trotsky arrives in Petrograd.
Armed demonstrations demanding 'All
power to the Soviets'. Outrun by
the masses, Bolsheviks just succeed
in preventing demonstration turning
into insurrection. Repression of
Bolsheviks. 'Pravda' banned.
Warrant issued for arrest of Lenin,
who goes into hiding. Trotsky
insistently demands that Lenin give
himself up, but of course his
'History of the Russian Revolution'
does not breathe a word about this
6th Congress of Bolshevik Party.
Stalin presents Central Committee's
political report. The Congress
admits Trotsky's 'Interdistrict'
organisation into the Party.
Trotsky elected to Central
General Kornilov tries to seize
power but troops he launches against
Petrograd are won over by Bolshevik
propaganda and join the people.
Bolsheviks win majority in Petrograd
Soviet; Bolshevik Central Committee
decides on immediate preparation for
insurrection. Trotsky is opposed,
insisting that they should wait
until the 3rd Congress of Soviets.
In 'History of the Russian
Revolution' Trotsky silently passes
over this fact while minutely
exposing every error of Stalin and
other Bolshevik leaders.
1918 28 January
1919 2-7 March
Hostile to the insurrection,|
Zinoviev and Kamenev reveal Central
Committee's decision on it in
Gorky's paper 'Novaya Zhizn'.
Lenin arrives in Petrograd and
makes his way to the Smolny
Institute, seat of the Soviet and
headquarters of the insurrection,
which he leads with help of Trotsky
and Antonov Ovseenko - members of
Bolshevik Party's military
revolutionary committee. On night
of 24/25 all strategic points in
the capital are occupied.
Appeal drawn up by Lenin to 'the
citizens of Russia' announces
dismissal of Provisional Government
and seizure of power by Petrograd
2nd Congress of Soviets meets in
evening. Two-thirds of delegates
Opening of Brest-Litovsk peace
negotiations between representatives
of central powers and those of
Soviet government led by Trotsky,
Commissar for Foreign Affairs.
Decree on creation of Red Army.
Soviets (following Trotsky's plan)
break off negotiations declaring
their intention to demobilise but
without signing peace.
Adoption of Gregorian calendar.
Germans break through front and
advance towards the capital without
New Red Army temporarily stops
Germans before Pakov and Narva ('Red
Trotsky resigns as Commissar for
Signature at Brest-Litovsk of new
Trotsky appointed Commissar of War.
At French instigation, Czechoslovak
Legion and White Guards seize
Siberia and advance as far as Kazan.
Japanese and Americans land at
Vladivostock and English take Baku
End of First World War.
1st Congress of Communist
Defeat of White armies of Yudenich
21 July - 6 August
1921 2-17 March
22 June - 12 July
1922 3 April
1924 16-18 January
1925 15 January
(south of Petrograd) and Denikin (in|
Collapse of Whites in Siberia.
Poles, with Anglo-French support,
attack Soviet Russia and seize Kiev.
2nd Congress of Communist
Peace Treaty with Poland.
Defeat of Wrangel and end of Civil
10th Bolshevik Party Congress,
adoption of NEP; prohibition of
factions. Trotsky defeated on
3rd Congress of Communist
Stalin elected Secretary-General.
Lenin's first stroke.
Lenin's second stroke.
Lenin's last articles.
Letter of forty-six oppositionists
criticising economic policy and
absence of democracy in Party.
Behind the scenes, Trotsky is their
Opening of public debate on Letter
of the Forty-six.
Publication of Trotsky's 'The New
Course' attacking Bolshevik 'Old
Guard' whose bureaucratic
degeneration he fears and appealing
Zinoviev calls for Trotsky's
expulsion from the Party and for
his arrest. Stalin categorically
opposed to this.
13th Party Conference condemns
Trotsky and the Forty-six.
Trotsky publishes 'The Lessons of
October' in which he tries to
discredit Zinoviev and Kamenev,
leaders of the Party together with
Stalin, by recalling their past
mistakes. His main achievement is
to arouse general outcry against
himself for 'Literary debate'.
Trotsky resigns as Commissar of War.
Kamenev tries to make Stalin give
up his general-secretaryship by
proposing that he replace Trotsky.
14th Party Conference. First
1927 31 March
differences between Stalin on the|
one hand, arguing that it is
possible to construct socialism in
one country, and Zinoviev and
Kamenev on the other, denying this
During the summer Zinovievists
attack Bukharinists whom they
accuse of defending kulaks. Stalin
supports Bukharin but rejects his
slogan to peasants, 'Get rich'.
Bukharin makes a self-criticism on
14th Congress of Bolshevik Party:
Zinoviev and Kamenev defeated.
Trotsky makes no intervention.
Having taken no part in politics
for a year he has not even noticed
the birth of a new opposition.
Zinoviev and Kamenev form united
Opposition with Trotsky.
Trotsky presents Opposition
programme to Central Committee.
Zinoviev loses seat on Political
Trotsky and Kamenev expelled from
Political Bureau. Bukharin replaces
Zinoviev as head of International.
Trotsky attacks Political Bureau's
Trotsky's 'Clemenceau declaration'.
Gives notice that in event of war
Opposition will do its utmost to
seize power in order to provide
better guarantee for defence of the
Trotsky expelled from Executive
Committee of International.
Trotsky and Zinoviev expelled from
Opposition attempts to take part in
official demonstrations with its own
slogans: 'Strike against the kulak,
the NEP-man and the bureaucrat!';
'Carry out Lenin's Testament!';
'Preserve Bolshevik unity'.
Trotsky and Zinoviev expelled from
15th Congress of Bolshevik Party.
Opposition programme signed by only
6,000 of 725,000 members. Zinoviev
and Kamenev acknowledge that their
positions are 'erroneous and anti-
1928 17 January|
1929 10 February
1933 30 January
1935 15-18 January
Trotsky exiled to Alma Ata. The|
kulaks having refused to hand over
their corn at fixed prices, famine
makes itself felt more and more in
Central Committee calls for struggle
against kulak danger. Orders
requisitioning of stocks of corn.
Beginning of anti-rightist
Kuibyshev's speech on accelerated
industrialisation. Moscow rightists
eliminated. Bukharin criticises
left-turn in 'Remarques d'un
Trotsky exiled from USSR. Settles
in the Princes' Isles near
Central Committee condemns right
14th Party Conference adopts First
Wall Street crash; beginning of the
Bukharin expelled from Political
Bureau; makes a self-criticism.
Stalin issues call for acceleration
of collectivisation and liquidation
of kulaks as a class.
Trotsky publishes 'La Revolution
défigurée' and 'The Permanent
Revolution'; issues first number
of 'Bulletin Oppozitsii'.
Trotsky warns against rise of Nazism
and criticises tactics of German
Hitler in power.
First trial of Zinoviev and Kamenev,
accused of complicity in Kirov's
Trotsky publishes 'The Workers'
State and the Question of Thermidor
Expelled from France, Trotsky is
granted entry to Norway.
Publication of 'The Revolution
Victory of Popular Front in France.
Beginning of Spanish Civil War.
First Moscow Trials. Zinoviev and
Kamenev condemned to death.
USSR gives aid to Republican Spain.
Yezhov replaces Yagoda as head of
1938 2-13 March
1939 28 February
1939 September -
Extraordinary 8th Congress of|
Soviets adopts new constitution
'the most democratic in the world'.
Trotsky arrives in Mexico.
Trials of Piatakov and Radek.
Stalin presents his report 'Pour une
formation bolchevique' to the
Communiqué announcing execution of
Tukhachevsky and other Red Army
Trial of Bukharin and Rykov.
Founding Conference of the Fourth
Yezhov replaced by Beria. End of
End of Spanish Civil War.
Trotsky writes 'In Defence of
German invasion of France.Assassination of Trotsky in his
house at Coyoacan by a supposed
agent of Soviet Secret Service.