Three specific features of Trotskyism

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Trotskyism or Leninism
By Harpal Brar

Three specific features of Trotskyism

1. 'Permanent revolution'

Trotskyism stands for the theory of 'permanent' revolution, failing to take into account the vast mass of the poor peasantry as a revolutionary force and reliable ally of the proletariat. As Lenin rightly pointed out, Trotsky's 'Permanent' revolution is tantamount to 'skipping' the peasant movement and "playing at the seizure of power." Any attempt at such a revolution as was advocated by Trotsky would have ended in certain failure, for it would have denied the Russian proletariat the support of its most dependable ally, the poor peasantry. Only this explains Leninism's unrelenting struggle against Trotskyism from 1905 onwards.

For its part Trotskyism regarded Leninism as a theory possessing "antirevolutionary features" for no better reason that at the proper time Leninism correctly advocated and upheld the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry. Going far beyond this indignant opinion, Trotskyism asserts:

"The entire edifice of Leninism at the present time is built on lies and falsification and bears within itself the poisonous elements of its own decay." (Trotsky's letter to Chkeidze, 1913).

Leninism, on the other hand, asserts:

"Trotsky has never yet held a firm opinion on any important question of Marxism. He always contrives to worm his way into the cracks of any given difference of opinion, and desert one side for the other. At the present moment he is in the company of the Bundists and the liquidators. And these gentlemen do not stand on ceremony where the Party is concerned" (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 20 p. 448, 1914).

2. Distrust of Leninism in matters of organisation

Trotskyism stands for the distrust of Leninism, of Bolshevism, in matters of organisation. Whereas Bolshevism stands for the principle of a revolutionary proletarian party of a new type, a disciplined and monolithic Party, hostile to opportunist elements, Trotskyism stands for the co-existence of revolutionaries and opportunists and for the formation of groups, factions and coteries within a single Party. Anyone who is at all aware of the history of Trotsky's notorious August Bloc, in which the Martovites and Otzovists,(1) the Liquidators(2) and Trotskyites happily co-operated in their struggle against Bolshevism, cannot have failed to notice this liquidationist feature of Trotskyism. Thus, during this crucial historical period, whereas Leninism regarded the destruction of the August Bloc as a precondition for the development of the proletarian party, Trotskyism regarded the liquidationist August Bloc as the basis for building a 'real' party.

Throughout this entire period – from 1903 to 1917 – Lenin again and again denounced Trotsky for his "careerism", "Menshevism", "conciliationism" and "liquidationism." Here are a few samples chosen at random from scores of Lenin's writings in the same vein:

In a letter to Zinoviev dated 24 August 1909, Lenin writes: Trotsky behaves like a despicable careerist and factionalist of the Ryazanov-and-co type. Either equality on the editorial board, subordination to the central committee and no one's transfer to Paris except Trotsky's (the scoundrel, he wants to 'fix up' the whole rascally crew of 'Pravda' at our expense!) – or a break with this swindler and an exposure of him in the CO. He pays lip-service to the Party and behaves worse than any other of the factionalists." (Collected Works, Vol. 34, p. 400).

When Lenin was waging a life and death struggle to purge the Party of liquidators and otzovists, Trotsky, assuming the role of a conciliator, tried his worst to reconcile the Party with these two bourgeois trends. This caused Lenin to denounce Trotsky in these terms:

"In the very first words of his resolution Trotsky expressed the full spirit of the worst kind of conciliation, 'conciliation' in inverted commas, of a sectarian and philistine conciliation, which deals with 'given persons' and not the given line of policy, the given spirit the given ideological and political content of Party work.

"It is in this that the enormous difference lies between real partyism; which consists in purging the Party of liquidationism and otzovism, and the 'conciliation' of Trotsky and Co., which actually RENDERS THE MOST FAITHFUL SERVICE TO THE LIQUIDATORS AND OTZOVISTS, AND IS THEREFORE AN EVIL THAT IS ALL THE MORE DANGEROUS TO THE PARTY THE MORE CUNNINGLY, ARTFULLY AND RHETORICALLY IT CLOAKS ITSELF WITH PROFESSEDLY PRO-PARTY, PROFESSEDLY ANTI-FACTIONAL DECLAMATIONS." (Notes of a Publicist, Collected Works, Vol. 16, June 1910, p 211 – emphasis added).

In November 1910, accusing Trotsky of following "in the wake of the Mensheviks, taking cover behind particularly; sonorous phrases, " of "putting before the German comrades liberal views with a Marxist coating." of being a master of "resonant but empty phrases, " of failing to understand and ignoring the "economic content of the Russian revolution, " and thereby depriving himself "of the possibility of understanding the historical meaning of the inner-Party struggle in Russia," Lenin goes on to state:

"The struggle between Bolshevism and Menshevism is... a struggle over the question whether to support the liberals or to overthrow the hegemony of the liberals over the peasantry. Therefore to attribute [as did Trotsky] our splits to the influence of the intelligentsia, to the immaturity of the proletariat, etc, is a childishly naive repetition of liberal fairy-tales."

Adding: "Trotsky distorts Bolshevism, because he has never been able to form any definite views on the role of the proletariat in the Russian bourgeois revolution."

Countering Trotsky's lies and falsifications in the German Social-Democratic press and accusing Trotsky of following a policy of "advertisement" of "shamelessness in belittling the Party and exalting himself before the Germans, " Lenin concludes:

"Therefore, when Trotsky tells the German comrades that he represents the 'general Party tendency" I am obliged to declare that Trotsky represents only his own faction and enjoys a certain amount of confidence exclusively among the otzovists and the liquidators." (The Historical Meaning of the Inner-Party Struggle in Russia, Collected Works, Vol. 16 pp. 374-392).

When Trotsky's Vienna Club, stepping up its activities, passed a resolution in November 1910 to organise a 'general Party fund for the purpose of preparing and convening a conference of the RSDLP", Lenin characterised this as a "direct step towards a split... a clear violation of Party legality and the start of an adventure in which Trotsky will come to grief."

Continues Lenin:

"It is an adventure in the ideological sense. Trotsky groups all the enemies of Marxism, he unites Potresov and Maximov, who detest the 'Lenin-Plekhanov' bloc, as they like to call it. TROTSKY UNITES ALL THOSE TO WHOM IDEOLOGICAL DECAY IS DEAR; ALL WHO ARE NOT CONCERNED WITH THE DEFENCE OF MARXISM, all philistines who do not understand the reasons for the struggle and who do not wish to learn, think and discover the ideological roots of the divergence of views. At this time of confusion, disintegration, and wavering it is easy for Trotsky to become the 'hero of the hour' and gather all the shabby elements around himself. The more openly this attempt is made, the more spectacular will be the defeat." (Emphasis added).

Lenin ends this letter by calling, inter alia, for "struggle against the splitting tactics and the unprincipled adventurism of Trotsky." (Letter to the Russian Collegium of the Central Committee of the RSDLP, Collected Works, Vol. 17, pp. 17-22 – December 1910).

In December 1911, being sick and tired of Trotsky's dirty work as an attorney and diplomat for the liquidators and otzovists, Lenin, exposing Trotsky's factionalism, wrote:

"It is impossible to argue with Trotsky on the merits of the issue, because Trotsky holds no views whatever. We can and should argue with confirmed liquidators and otzovists, but it is no use arguing with a man whose game is to hide the errors of both these trends; in his case the thing to do is to expose him as a diplomat of the smallest calibre." (Trotsky's Diplomacy and a Certain Party Platform, Collected Works, Vol. 17 pp. 360362).

In July 1912, in a letter to the editor of Pravda, the daily legal Bolshevik paper printed in Petersburg from 5 May 1912, Lenin advises the editor not to reply to Trotsky's "disruptive and slanderous letters," adding:

"Trotsky's dirty campaign against Pravda is one mass of lies and slander... This intriguer and liquidator goes on lying right and left." (Collected Works, Vol. 35, pp. 40-41).

In The Break-up of the 'August' Bloc (March 1914), Lenin writes:

"Trotsky, however, has never had any 'physiognomy' at all; the only thing he does have is a habit of changing sides, of skipping from the liberals to the Marxists and back again, of mouthing scraps of catchwords and bombastic parrot phrases."

And: "Actually under the cover of high-sounding, empty and obscure phrases that confuse the non-class-conscious workers, Trotsky is defending the liquidators by passing over in silence the question of the 'underground' by asserting that there is no liberal labour policy in Russia, and the like.

"... Unity means rallying the majority of the workers in Russia about decisions which have long been known, and which condemn liquidationism...

"But the liquidators and Trotsky,... who tore up their own August bloc, who flouted all the decisions of the Party and dissociated themselves from the 'underground' as well as from the organised workers, are the worst splitters. Fortunately, the workers have already realised this, and all class-conscious workers are creating their own real unity against the liquidator disrupters of unity." (Collected Works, Vol. 20 pp. 158-161).

In his article Disruption of unity under cover of outcries for unity, written in June 1914, Lenin denounces Trotsky for his factionalism and liquidationism and exposes the utter falsity of the charge of splittism hurled by Trotsky and the liquidators at the Bolsheviks. Writing in his allegedly nonfactional journal, Borba, Trotsky, having accused the Bolsheviks of splittism for the sole reason that they exposed and opposed liquidationism, goes on to admit that the Bolshevik "splittist tactics are winning one suicidal victory after another." This said, Trotsky adds:

"Numerous advanced workers, in a state of utter political bewilderment themselves often become active agents of a split."

Here is Lenin's retort to this accusation and 'explanation':

"Needless to say, this explanation is highly flattering, to Trotsky... and to the liquidators… Trotsky is very fond of using with the learned air of the expert pompous and high-sounding phrases to explain historical phenomena in a way that is flattering to Trotsky. Since 'numerous advanced workers' become 'active agents' of apolitical and Party line [Bolshevik Party line] which does not conform to Trotsky's line, Trotsky settles the question unhesitatingly, out of hand these advanced workers are 'in a state of utter political bewilderment', whereas he, Trotsky, is evidently 'in a state' of political firmness and clarity, and keeps to the right line!... And this very same Trotsky, beating his breast, fulminates against factionalism parochialism, and the efforts of the intellectuals to impose their will on the workers!

"Reading things like these, one cannot help asking oneself. – is it from a lunatic asylum that such voices come?" (Collected Works, Vol. 20 pp. 327-347).

Continues Lenin: "The reason why Trotsky avoids facts and concrete references is because they relentlessly refute all his angry outcries and pompous phrases. It is very easy, of course, to strike an attitude and say: 'a crude and sectarian travesty.' Or to add a still more stinging and pompous catchphrase, such as 'emancipation from conservative factionalism.'

"But is this not very cheap? Is not this weapon borrowed from the arsenal of the period when Trotsky posed in all his splendour before audiences of high-school boys?" (ibid.)

Lenin concludes his article with a brilliant description of Trotsky's wavering and vacillation between the Party and the liquidators, calling him a "Tushino turncoat" appearing before the Party with incredibly pretentious claims, unwilling absolutely to reckon with either the Party decisions, which since 1908 have defined and established our attitude towards liquidationism, or with the experience of the present-day movement in Russia, which has actually brought about the unity of the majority on the basis of full recognition of the aforesaid decisions." (ibid.)

This brilliant description appears in the main body of this work and is, therefore, excluded from the preface.

About the same time – early 1914 – Trotsky, writing in issue no. 2 of his journal Borba falsely attributed to the "Polish Marxists" – not just Rosa Luxemburg – the position according to which the right to national self-determination "is entirely devoid of political content and should be deleted from the programme." This falsehood drew from Lenin the following observation:

"The obliging Trotsky is more dangerous than an enemy! Trotsky could produce no proof except 'private conversations' (i.e., simply gossip, on which Trotsky always subsists), classifying the 'Polish Marxists' in general as supporters of every article by Rosa Luxemburg...

"Trotsky has never yet held a firm opinion on any important question of Marxism. He always contrives to worm his way into the cracks of any given difference of opinion, and desert one side for the other. At the present moment he is in the company of the Bundists and the liquidators. And thee gentlemen do not stand on ceremony where the Party is concerned." (The Right of Nations to Self-Determination, Collected Works, Vol. 20 p. 447-8).

In his letter to Henriette Roland-Hoist, dated 8 March 1916, Lenin asks:

"What are our differences with Trotsky?"

To this question he gives the following answer:

"In brief – he is a Kautskyite, that is, he stands for unity with the Kautskyites in the International and with Chkheidze's parliamentary group in Russia. We are absolutely against such unity ... " (Collected Works, Vol. 43, pp. 515-516).

Writing to Alexandra Kollontai on 17 February, 1917, Lenin says:

"...What a swine this Trotsky is – Left, phrases, and a bloc with the Right against the Zimmerwald Left!! He ought to be exposed (by you) if only in a brief letter to Sotsial-Demokrat!" (Collected Works, Vol. 35, p. 285).

Finally, in this letter of 19 Feb, 1917, to Inessa Armand, Lenin writes, inter alia:

"There is also a letter from Kollontai who... has returned to Norway from America. N. Iv. and Pavlov... had won Novy Mir, she says,... but ... Trotsky arrived, and this scoundrel at once ganged up with the Right wing of Novy Mir against the Left Zimmerwaldists!! That's it!! That's Trotsky for you!! Always true to himself, twists, swindles, poses as a Left, helps the Right, so long as he can... "(Collected Works, Vol. 35, p. 288).

In the light of the foregoing historic evidence, of the most impeccable and irrefutable kind, it can safely be asserted that Trotsky was during this long period – between 1903 and 1917 – a Menshevik and a liquidator who waged a most dirty and factional campaign against the Bolsheviks' attempts to build a revolutionary Party of the proletariat.

Although people with knowledge about the history of the Bolshevik Party know only too well that from 1903 to August 1917 Trotsky was a Menshevik and a liquidator, Trotskyites generally maintain a studied silence over this question or, worse still, they try and excuse him on this account. It is, therefore, very refreshing to discover some ardent Trotskyites who condemn Trotsky's Menshevism, centrism, conciliationism and factionalism. In this category fall the Trotskyites of the International Communist League (ICL) of the so-called Fourth International (the official Fourth International, of course, since each of the milliard Trotskyist organisations claims to be the official Fourth International and describes every other Trotskyist organisation as a fake – a hilarious phenomenon reminiscent of the Life of Brian). The ICL publish the theoretical journal Spartacist. The occasion for their frank admission and condemnation of Trotsky's Menshevism was the review, in Spartacist numbers 45 and 46, Winter 1990-91, English edition, by a certain ICL member, Daniel Dauget, of a biography of Leon Trotsky published in 1988 by Pierre Broué. Pierre Broué was a Professor at the Institute of Political Studies of Grenoble University who had been for 40 years a member of "the ostensibly Trotskyist Lambertist tendency in France" (ICL's description in the said review), i.e., of the Parti Communiste Internationale (PCI).

Broué praises Trotsky for being a "freelancer" – praise winch rouses the ICL to indignation and downright outrage. So as not to lose the full force of ICL's fluent prose, the full burning anger and shame, and the thrust of their argument, and so as not to be accused of quoting them out of context, we reproduce here almost the entire section of the review that was concerned with Trotsky's factionalism and Menshevism between 1903 and 1917

Trotskyism or Leninism Trotsky as "Freelancer"