A Summary of What Is Trotskyism?

This summary looks at the basic ideas connected with 'permanent revolution', socialism in one country and finally, the question of Soviet bureaucracy.

TROTSKYISM can trace its origins to the struggle against Leninism in the Russian revolutionary movement in the early part of the twentieth century. Trotsky's opposition to Lenin was organisational and programmatic. Later Trotsky was to admit, after he joined the Bolshevik party in 1917, that he had not realised the importance of a disciplined, centralised party for leading the working class to victory in a revolution.

In the pre-revolutionary period, for a time, Trotsky had sought to reconcile the contending factions, the revolutionary with the opportunist wing of the Russian Social Democratic movement. This was known as the 'August bloc' formed in 1912. Again, later, Trotsky was to confess that this was a failure on his part to recognise that in the struggle between Bolshevism and Menshevism there were being formed irreconcilable revolutionaries on the one hand, and opportunists on the other.

Trotskyism, ideologically, begins with his particular formulation of the theory of 'permanent revolution'. Later Trotskyism came to be associated with the struggle against socialism in one country. The final theoretical development of Trotsky consisted in the rejection of Leninism over the issue of the correct approach to struggle against bureaucracy in the Soviet Union.

A careful study of all these matters demonstrates, without any room for doubt, that Trotskyism comes into conflict with Marxism-Leninism on all the main issues, and that consequently, the claim made by Trotskyites that Trotskyism is the continuation of Leninism, a claim which is not supported by any honest or serious study of revolutionary tradition, represents nothing but self-serving petty-bourgeois opportunism which can mislead, and has misled, those who are untutored in basic Marxist-Leninist ideas.

This summary looks at the basic ideas connected with 'permanent revolution', socialism in one country and finally, the question of Soviet bureaucracy.


In his version of permanent revolution, Trotsky not only underestimated the role of the peasantry, but also argued that, having come to power, the working class would proceed directly to the socialist stage of the revolution, more-or-less independently of concrete circumstances.

But in fact, if the Russian bourgeois revolution of 1917 had not taken place under the strains of wartime conditions, that is under the circumstances produced by the imperialist war of 1914-1918, it is highly unlikely that there would have arisen the possibility of the transition to the socialist stage of the revolution in such a short period of time. Separated from these wartime conditions it becomes clear that Trotsky's permanent revolution theory was pseudo-left adventurism.

In essence, therefore, the Bolsheviks did not come over to Trotsky's abstraction or theory as such, but rather based themselves on all the concrete factors produced by the war, which, taken together, suggested the possibility of the early development of the democratic revolution into the socialist stage. From this perspective Trotsky's 'permanent revolution' was alien to the method of Leninism, a fact which rules out any notion that Trotskyism can be regarded as the legatee of Leninism.


Although the ideological foundations of Trotskyism were laid with Trotsky's own version of the theory of permanent revolution, Trotskyism acquired later notoriety because of its opposition to Stalin's plan to build socialism in one country after the failure of the revolution to achieve victory in other countries.

While it is true that Bolshevik perspectives were not based on the notion of building socialism in one country, Lenin, in several of his writings, theoretically at least, had held that this was possible as part of the world revolutionary process. In other words Marxism-Leninism does not confuse theory with perspectives. For instance when Lenin rejected the slogan of the 'United States of Europe' and counterposed to it the alternative slogan of the 'United States of the World', he argued in relation to this latter slogan that

'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: Marx, Engels Marxism; Foreign Languages Press Peking; p.338)

Furthermore Lenin continued with defending this position by arguing 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.)


Even an apolitical individual or a dishonest person would have to admit, when confronted with clear unambiguous textual evidence, that Trotskyism is openly opposed to Marxism-Leninism on this issue.

Trotskyism can therefore be classified as revisionism in your face, so to speak, because regardless of the above textual evidence of Lenin's position in the above quotations and indeed, similar passages elsewhere, Trotsky was prepared openly to lie to the international communist movement in regard to the identity between Lenin's position and that of Stalin. If Trotsky was prepared to lie openly on this question to the communist movement, why should he be trusted on other important issues? The truth is that he cannot be and should not be.

In a completely unnecessary and damaging struggle, damaging particularly to the Trotskyites themselves, Trotsky proceeded with his pseudo-leftist attempts to split and therefore undermine the strength of the international communist movement by drawing a futile and pointless demarcation line on the basis of those who supported socialism in one country and those who supported world revolution.

But, in reality, there was no, or need not be any, contradiction between the two. It was clear to the Marxist-Leninists, led by Comrade Stalin, that socialism in one country would serve the international revolution, and the latter would in turn defend socialism in one country.

Stalin and those who supported him rejected, and correctly so, the false Trotskyite position of 'either' socialism in one country 'or' world revolution. For them the issue could not be posed as a simple either/or matter. Marxist-Leninists have supported Comrade Stalin on this issue ever since. Indeed, it is on this very issue that we see the opposition and contrast between Leninism and Trotskyism thrown in bold relief.

Today, of course, while Marxist-Leninists rightly claim that Stalin was right to defend the position that socialism in one country served the world revolutionary process, while the world revolutionary process served socialism in one country, it is highly unlikely that this issue would rise again in terms of having concrete significance in the future. Today the importance of this debate is of an essentially abstract character in that it highlights, in the clearest way possible, the contradiction between Marxism-Leninism and Trotskyism. The essence of this debate in a past period of the international communist movement is quite simple. Stalin argued that socialism in one country was not opposed to the world revolutionary process, rather it served this process. The Trotskyites, on the other hand, defended the patently ridiculous position that socialism in one country was opposed to world revolution.

So far we have seen that Lenin and the Bolsheviks did not 'come over' to Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution in 1917, but rather were reacting to unique, concrete, circumstances, caused by the 1914-1918 imperialist war. We have seen that Trotsky openly lied to the international communist movement regarding Lenin's position on the possibility of socialism in one country, suggesting, dishonestly, that Stalin invented this theory; this lying, consciously and unconsciously, is continued today by the Trotskyites. We can now turn to the question of Soviet bureaucracy.


Nowadays Trotskyism is most readily recognisable by its loud protestation against what Trotskyites usually refer to as 'the Stalinist bureaucracy'. But there are many people on the left who do not realise that the struggle against bureaucracy in the Soviet Union actually originated partly in a struggle against Trotskyism. This is revealed quite clearly in the famous Trade Union dispute of 1920-1921. In this dispute Trotsky was regarded as the champion and sponsor of bureaucracy in the Soviet apparatus. Trotsky was therefore unconcerned about the problems of bureaucracy until he found himself in a minority, after which he attempted to mobilise opposition support against the party leadership, on the basis of an anti-bureaucracy platform, which was precisely what Lenin had warned against. Lenin's warning, ignored by Trotsky and his followers, was based on the idea that the problems of bureaucracy could not be overcome by a one-sided political campaign against it. Consequently, Lenin had warned that

'It will take decades to overcome the evils of bureaucracy. It is a very difficult struggle, and 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: Collected Works, Volume 32; pp. 56-57)

Trotsky's whole previous opportunist struggle against Bolshevism, in which, in many instances, he joined with the Mensheviks, had fitted him out perfectly to become the 'quack with a bent for fine words'. The point Lenin was making was that the struggle against bureaucracy cannot be reduced to a one-sided struggle on the political level alone, but in fact was a many-sided struggle.

In the struggle against bureaucracy in the Soviet Union Trotsky broke from, or rather rejected Marxism-Leninism on two counts. The first was his inability to countenance its many-sided nature and the second, his failure to understand its long-term duration. In other words as Lenin argued


On the issue of the struggle against bureaucracy in the Soviet Union, the contradiction between Marxism-Leninism and Trotskyism was that, whereas the former represented a long-term perspective, the latter represented a pseudo-left short-termism. For Trotsky the problem of bureaucracy was resolvable on the basis of a political revolution, a variety of the leftist version of the anti-bureaucratic platform against which Lenin warned.

The content of Trotsky's anti-bureaucratic platform was the one-sided view that a rising caste of privileged and hence conservative bureaucrats had concentrated power in their hands in the period of Stalin, and sought to divert the Soviet Union from the path of Socialism, or in fact had already done so. Within Trotskyite texts, Stalin is singled out as the representative of this process. In fact Stalin's struggle against bureaucracy is well known in Marxist-Leninist circles, not to mention the determined way Stalin dealt with those bureaucrats who posed a threat to the socialist path which the Soviet Union had taken.

Bureaucracy was, indeed, a problem in the Russian revolution, but the Trotskyites ended up absolutising the contradiction between the working class and the bureaucracy, in such a way that they never understood that this contradiction could be resolved on the basis of correct communist leadership. This leadership would recognise the need gradually to remove the material conditions that gave rise to bureaucracy, particularly the negative aspects of bureaucracy, in the first place.

The truth is that all modern States (and some ancient ones as well) are ruled, to one degree or another, through bureaucratic agencies, which in turn serve the interests of a particular ruling class. Bureaucracies, in the sense of thousands or even millions of officials, will fade away with the withering away of the State on the one hand, and the advance of technology on the other. Until this time arrives, the role of the Communist Parties, leading the working class, is to subordinate the bureaucracy to serve the interests of socialism and the working people.


Trotsky's noisy slogan, calling for a political revolution to overthrow the so-called 'Stalinist bureaucracy' was the logical, not surprising outcome which crowned his long-standing opposition to Leninism in the Russian revolutionary movement. Trotskyism, of course, can be opposed on the basis of even more extensive reasons than those presented above, but our primary aim here was to present, in summary form, the basic reason for Marxism-Leninism's opposition to Trotskyism.

Tony Clark
September 28th 2001