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Trotskyism, Stalinism: What's the Difference?

Trotskyists frequently bemoan the outcome of the power-struggle between Stalin and Trotsky. While the former became undisputed dictator of the Soviet Union, the latter was exiled and was eventually assassinated in August 1940. It is claimed that the many atrocities committed by the Stalin regime were a departure from Bolshevism and that if Trotsky had held power, then the course of events would have been different. What Trotskyists label the “degeneration” of the Russian Revolution is blamed on Stalin.

George Novak, in his introduction to Trotsky’s pamphlet Stalinism and Bolshevism, makes the claim that Lenin’s Bolshevik party represented the working class “in its striving for equality, democracy and Socialism” while Stalin’s regime merely represented a bureaucracy which seized power after Lenin’s death. Now this is the standard Trotskyist position; Stalinism is somehow alien to Bolshevism. Socialists reject this view. Far from Stalin undoing the “good” work of Lenin and Trotsky, he merely continued the anti-working class policies of those two dictators. If Trotsky rather than Stalin had succeeded Lenin, the history of the Soviet Union, in the years that followed, would not have been substantially different. To say that Trotsky’s actions, while he held power, left a lot to be desired would be an under-statement.

Trotsky, in exile, seldom refrained from denouncing Stalin’s dictatorship. However, he was being inconsistent in his concern for lack of democracy. In his 'Where is Britain Going?', written in 1925, he defended Lenin’s dictatorship on the grounds that a strong leader was essential after the 1917 Revolution. Trotsky was no democrat. Provided it was the “correct” type, he favoured dictatorship. (“Correct” is a favourite word in Bolshevik circles). Stalin’s dictatorship, in Trotsky’s view, did not come into this category. Undoubtedly this was mere sour grapes.

In his Terrorism and Communism he replied to critics of the Bolshevik substitution of Soviet rule by party dictatorship by claiming that the Bolsheviks represented the interests of the working class. Whether or not the workers agreed was, of course, irrelevant. Lenin refused to accept the results of the 1917 elections to the Constituent Assembly because the Bolsheviks polled a minority of the votes.

Trotsky fully supported Lenin on this issue. It was claimed that the voters changed their minds almost immediately the election was over. After all, the vanguard always knows best.

“Those who do not work shall not eat” was a slogan used by the Stalin regime. However, even this appears somewhat mild when compared with what Trotsky said in 1921 — “It is essential to form punitive contingents and to put all those who shirk work into concentration camps.” (Quoted by D. and G. Cohn-Bendit in Obsolete Communism, The Left-Wing Alternative — which itself fails to present an alternative). Present day Trotskyists would undoubtedly be horrified if, as has been suggested in some quarters recently, conscription was re-introduced. We can envisage the countless demonstrations against the move. Trotskyist journals such as Workers’ Press would denounce it as a step towards fascism and inform its readership that in order to deal with the crisis revolutionary leadership would be essential for the working class. What, we wonder, do they think of their hero’s view that the young Bolshevik government should have had the “call-up” in operation to direct workers to where the State needed them? Cohn-Bendit quotes Trotsky as saying "The workers must not be allowed to roam all over Russia. They must be sent where they are needed, called up and directed like soldiers. Labour must be directed most intensely during the transition of capitalism to socialism.”

“Hands off the Unions” is a favourite slogan of the Trotskyists. But in Leon Trotsky’s “workers’ ” state trade unions were necessary, not to protect working class interests, but on the contrary, “To organise the working class for the ends of production, to educate and discipline the workers” and “teach them to place the interests of production above their own needs and demands”. (Also quoted by Cohn-Bendit). Forced labour; the working class organized like a military unit; trade unions shackled to the state; and all this from a Socialist! Who needs enemies?

When reading Trotskyist accounts of the 1956 Hungarian uprising and of the 1968 Czechoslovakian events, we are informed that the Russian-led suppression, in both cases, was the work of the wicked Stalinists. But in 1921 Leon Trotsky was active in the suppression of a revolt against Bolshevik rule by workers at Kronstadt. In their programme the Kronstadt rebels demanded such elementary rights as freedom of speech for workers; right of assembly; liberation of political prisoners; new elections to the soviets. Trotsky, with other leading Bolsheviks, vehemently denounced the revolt. Groundless accusations that the uprising was a royalist plot, and that English and French imperialism were involved were levelled at the mutineers. Extreme dissatisfaction with the Bolshevik dictatorship — that was what the revolt was about. Needless to say to the self-appointed guardians of working-class interests this was intolerable. Clearly the Bolshevik regime was no dictatorship of the Proletariat. (Engels, in his introduction to Marx’s Civil War in France spoke of the democratic Paris Commune as an example of the dictatorship of the Proletariat).

Trotskyism and Stalinism are both branches off the same tree — Bolshevism. To the Bolsheviks the working class is too stupid to understand the Socialist case. Their view is that only an intellectual elite, a vanguard party of professional revolutionaries can lead the workers to Socialism. Compare Lenin’s view in What is to be Done? that “on its own the working class cannot go beyond the level of trade union consciousness”, with Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto — "The proletarian movement is the self-conscious independent movement of the immense majority.” (Emphasis added). Socialism is only possible when the majority of the working class understand and desire it. This is the Marxian view. As Karl Kautsky put it in The Dictatorship of the Proletariat — “The will to Socialism is the first condition for its accomplishment.” (Prominent Trotskyist Ernest Mandel reluctantly admits, in his Leninist Theory of Organisation, that Marx “totally rejected the idea of a vanguard organisation”).

When the working class reaches political maturity the theories of Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and all other Bolsheviks will be thrown where they belong — on the political scrap-heap. All leadership will be shunned as being unnecessary and irrelevant.

R. Battersby