Against the Left pt.3
“Comrade Stalin, having become General Secretary, has unlimited authority concentrated in his hands, and I am not sure whether he will always be capable of using that authority with sufficient caution. Comrade Trotsky, on the other hand, as his struggle against the Central committee on the question of the People’s Commissariat for Communications has already proved, is distinguished not only by outstanding ability, he is personally perhaps the most capable man on the present Central committee . . .” (Lenin’s Testament, dictated between 23rd and 31st December, 1922)
Lenin’s prophecy that Stalin would not be capable of using the authority of the State with ‘sufficient caution” has led some Leninists to believe that had Stalin not achieved supreme power after 1929 the tragic phenomenon which historians have called ‘Stalinism’ would not have occurred. It is claimed that the political purges, the massacre of millions of peasants in the drive for “collectivisation”, the outlawing of effective trade unions, the forced labour camps, the diplomatic pact with the Nazis, were all mere accidents of history, avoidable had the ‘distinguished’ and ‘outstandingly able’ Leon Trotsky had his way. But material conditions, not ‘Great Men’, make history; there is nothing in any of Lenin’s speeches or writings to indicate that he would have led the Soviet Union along a different, more humane, course than that taken by his successors. In his dying years Lenin began to realise the impossibility of creating socialism in one country. Capitalism had to be developed.
The euphoria with which the Left greeted the Bolshevik revolution was only matched by its conspicuous silence regarding subsequent atrocities committed by the Soviet dictatorship; the Communist Party defended Stalin to the end. The small voice of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, which had asserted since 1917 that the Bolsheviks could only build state capitalism, was generally ignored. The Left’s response to the tragic consequences of Bolshevism was Trotskyism. Put simply, the Trotskyist argument was that the Bolsheviks had established a Socialist state, that from 1929, when Stalin took power, the revolution had degenerated and the party bureaucracy taken power away from the masses and that had Trotsky succeeded Lenin as leader of the Soviet state this degeneration would not have occurred.
After his expulsion from Russia, for opposing the other leaders of the Communist Party, Trotsky helped to set up the so-called Fourth International. The founding congress was attended by twenty one delegates from eleven organisations, the largest being the American Socialist Workers’ Party with 1,500 members. The main aims of the Fourth International were to oppose Stalinism and to advocate so-called ‘transitional demands’ (reforms). Whilst repudiating Stalin, it remained true to Lenin.
Trotskyism was an ideological saviour for the Left who used it to preach the correctness of Bolshevik tactics, but at the same time deprecate their inevitable outcome. It was no longer necessary to go through absurd theoretical contortions to defend Russia; the new fashion was to call Russia a degenerate workers’ state and hope that nobody would ask what a ‘workers’ state’ is or the cause of its degeneration from one stage of historical evolution to an earlier stage.
Today, as the Labour Party exposes itself more and more as a tool of the ruling class, and as the Communist Party is in decline, the most vociferous element on the British Left is Trotskyism. It is worth considering who the Trotskyists are, what they stand for, and where, if at all, they differ from the traditional Left. A recent pamphlet published by Big Flame entitled The Revolution Unfinished?—A critique of Trotskyism contains a glossary of no less than fourteen existing British Trotskyist groups. For factual reference, an abbreviated version is given below.
1. Revolutionary Socialist League. Paper: Militant. Controls Labour Party Young Socialists. Officially does not exist.
2. International Marxist Group. Papers: Socialist Challenge and International. Official British section of the Fourth International.
3. Workers Revolutionary Party. Paper: Newsline(daily). Led by actress Vanessa Redgrave.
4. Socialist Workers Party(previously International Socialists) Papers: Socialist Worker and Socialist Review. Not part of mainstream Trotskyism. Claim that Russia
was Socialist, but became State capitalist under Stalin.
5. International Communist League. Paper: Workers Action.
6. Workers Socialist League. Paper: Workers Press.
7. Workers League. Paper: Workers News.
8. Revolutionary Communist Group. Paper: Revolutionary Communist.
9. League for Socialist Action.
10. Revolutionary Marxist Current.
11. Chartists. Paper: Chartist. Exists within Labour Party.
12. Marxist Worker.
13. Revolutionary Workers Party. Supporters of Posadas in Fourth International.
14. Revolutionary Marxist Tendency. Supporters of Pablo in Fourth International.
It would be wrong to imagine, from this list, that Trotskyism is a significant political force. Most of the organisations listed are tiny, inactive sects, unimportant in terms of propaganda and effect on working class thought. Attempts have been made to unite them, but unity conferences have usually led to even further splits.
While Trotskyism clearly cannot be examined on the basis of only one group, nevertheless, certain characteristics unite all Trotskyist groups. Firstly, they are committed to the outdated concept of Bolshevism.
They do not see revolution as involving the vast majority of the working class, but as a small, conspiratorial affair in which the party leads the masses to the violent overthrow of the existing State.
Secondly, Trotskyists have a Bolshevik attitude to political democracy. Not only are their organisations based on Leninist democratic centralism whereby power flows from the leadership downwards, but their attitude to revolution is undemocratic:
“Such a programme as outlined here will not be legislated through parliament. Whilst we have no objections to framing any of these demands for passage through parliament, we know that this institution is there to serve capitalism, not preside over is destruction. Only a mass mobilisation of the workers’ movement can win these demands. Only when this mass mobilisation is able to throw the State and parliament into chaos and when the committees established by the mass movement have taken affairs into their own hands will it really be possible to sort things out. The most likely form of such a struggle in Britain, but not necessarily the only one, would be a general strike.” (International Marxist Group Revolutionary Socialism—Why and How, P. 19)
Thirdly, they accept the Leninist conception of Socialism (the dictatorship of the proletariat) as ‘the first stage’ of Communism. They reject the SPGB’s claim that Socialism and Communism both mean a stateless, propertyless, classless society which can be attained immediately. According to Socialist Worker
“Socialism is the nationalisation of the land, banks and major industries without compensation and under workers’ control.”
Fourthly, Trotskyists are reformists, advocating a list of what Trotsky called ‘transitional demands’. These range from demands for a minimum wage to giving advice to the Government on how to run foreign policy.
A fifth characteristic is that they all advise workers to vote Labour when it comes to election time. Despite their professed recognition that Labour is a capitalist party they consistently come to the aid of the Callaghans and the Healeys at the crucial hour. For instance, Red Weekly, then paper of the IMG, stated before the February 1974 election that
“Of course this election is not irrelevant. A Tory victory would signify that the working class was divided and hesitant about going into struggle … A Labour victory would show that the Working class was united against the Tories and create expectations amongst every section of workers that could rapidly be turned into mass action. For that reason we say SMASH THE TORIES ON ALL FRONTS — VOTE LABOUR, BUT RELY ON YOUR OWN STRUGGLES.”
Which in lay terms means, Vote Labour. Well, the working class elected two Labour Governments in 1974, one in February and one in October. One would have expected Red Weekly to be doubly jubilant. Not so:
“What this election has demonstrated is that the working class must place no confidence in the Labour Party.” (12th October, 1974)
Trotskyism might be seen as a synthesis of the politics of the Communist and Labour parties. It reflects the early Communist Party in its apparent militancy, its repetition of empty slogans and its vanguardism. It follows the path of the Labour Party in its reformism and complete dishonesty. Trotskyism has nothing to offer the working class.