Thinking of Becoming a Trotskyist?
Becoming a Trotskyist is an option often considered by those young people wishing to develop an interest in becoming ‘political’. Other options do however exist. For those who have a loathing of their fellow human and a deep uninterest in anything other than their own personal advancement, the Young Conservatives may be the appropriate choice. However, if your interests lie more towards activities such as table tennis and playing Dungeons and Dragons the Young Liberal Democrats may be the outfit for you.
One of the advantages of choosing the Trotskyist option is that you can have all the joy of being a member of a major political party by joining a Trotskyist organisation which is in the Labour Party, or you can enjoy the kudos of being in a different, minor party, but supporting the Labour Party anyway. It’s a bit like trying to be cool and saying you support Luton Town, but then cheering and whooping every time Chelsea win the league.
A word of warning for you. Although it may seem that becoming a Trotskyist is the ideal way for a socially incompetent individual to suddenly develop a windswept and interesting persona, generally speaking most people will still think you’re a bit of a twat.
So many choices
So then which Trotskyist group to join? Well there is no doubt that this is an area where Trotskyism really excels. Trotskyism certainly has the Adam Smith Institute Award when it comes to the issue of choice. You may want to join one of the bigger Trotskyist groupings, for instance the old perennial the SWP, or if you don’t have enough UCAS points to join what’s left of the SWP you could go slightly down market and join one half of what used to be the Militant Tendency, the Socialist Party of England and Wales (commonly known, quite appropriately as SPEW). For those with more outlandish tastes there are groups such as the Workers International to Rebuild the Fourth International (which has very few builders in its ranks) or perhaps the Socialist Appeal group (which doesn’t seem to appeal to many people). Sadly the option of joining the Socialist Solidarity Group is no longer available, as it appears there was a lack of solidarity.
One thing to make note of is that in every Trotskyist group there is one bloke who is wearing John Lennon glasses, has swept-back hair and a goatee. But please remember the unwritten rule that there can only be one Trotsky lookalike in each Trotskyist group. Also note that if you say to the Trotsky lookalike ‘you look just like Trotsky’, in an act of faux modesty the lookalike will of course say ‘who, me? I never realised’ and then walk away as happy as a dog with a tin dick.
Another option is to ‘grow your own’. This may appeal to those with a more environmentally friendly disposition as it allows you to recycle the names of previous Trotskyist sects (and there are loads to choose from) and recycle old ideas from those sects. This option also has the additional bonus of allowing you to be the leader, which means you can claim to be the leading edge of the vanguard of the working class, and you can begin collecting your own small group of devotees who will admire you and if you’re lucky elevate you to guru-like status.
This brings us neatly to the idea of internal party democracy within Trotskyist groups. The short answer is that there isn’t any. A phrase you will hear very early on in your quest to become a Trotskyist is ‘Democratic Centralism’, but don’t be fooled by the title, it is democratic in the same way that the Isle of Dogs is an island, i.e. it isn’t.
The late, great Brian Clough once said that if he had a disagreement with a player, they would sit down, talk it through thoroughly, look at both sides of the argument and then agree that Clough was right all along. Democratic Centralism works exactly the same way, with the membership taking the role of the player and the Central Committee taking the role of Brian Clough (minus the charisma).
Be an activist
As a young recruit to the ranks of Trotskyism don’t think that your life will now all be beer and skittles. One thing that Trotskyists admire above all other things is activism, to be part of the struggle one has to be active. It doesn’t really matter what the activity is, it doesn’t matter whether it is useful or not, it shows that you are part of the class struggle (as if you had any choice!). One of the activities that must be undertaken is ‘selling the paper’. All Trotskyist groups have a paper, usually with a very striking title and a big red banner top. The paper will have lots of angry headlines stating things like ‘we demand’, ‘we show solidarity with’ or ‘stand up against’ and of course the inevitable appeal for donations to the fighting fund. However quite what is done with the fund or who it is actually fighting is never explained.
Alongside ‘the paper’ Trotskyist organisations usually have a ‘theoretical journal’. As a callow recruit to this new world you will probably get the latest copy of the theoretical journal and try and plough your way through it. This may lead you to worry that you cannot read an article all of the way to the end and that the sheer repetitive tedium causes your whole being to begin to fracture, your mind to want to strangle you for putting you through this torment in the first place and that your bowels start to loosen at the thought of reading any more. Don’t worry that you cannot finish reading one of these articles; the truth is no one ever has. The theoretical journal is not there to examine intricacies of economic or political theory; no, these journals exist to boost the fragile egos of the authors, who are usually described as ‘leading comrades’. These articles will also act as the basis of lecture notes when these ‘leading comrades’ take up their future careers as part-time lecturers in sociology at the University of Mid-Wankthwaiteshire (formerly Wankthwaite Polytechnic), where, ironically no one will ever read them either.
Activities are collected by Trotskyist groups in much the way that boy scouts collect badges. It is a kind of bizarre left-wing virtue signalling. Activity that you may well take part in usually involves ‘supporting workers in struggle’. What this means in practice is that your group of Trotskyists turns up uninvited at some local strike or protest group, to be greeted by the sounds of workers welcoming you with words like ‘oh fuck, here they come again’ or ‘shite, pretend you haven’t seen them’. You can then spend the next hour or two patronising your hosts by explaining your ‘superior knowledge’ of their struggle, attempt to extract as much money from them as possible for your fighting fund, and generally get on everyone’s tits before fucking off to the pub half-way through the protest.
Another type of activity you will probably be involved in is the rally. This is a chance for you to vent your anger and vitriol at all things and everyone, with chants and heckles galore. Although you may be protesting or angry at the symptoms of capitalism, it is important you don’t lose sight of the main focus of your overwhelming hatred and anger, other Trotskyist groups. Because of the schisms and splits that are a regular occurrence in Trotskyist groups most of the Trotskyists at any rally will have at some time or another been in the same party as each other. The rally therefore becomes a bit like a family funeral, in that there are lots of people who used to be in relationships but who now deeply despise each other. For the new recruit to Trotskyism this can be a bit of a social minefield. End up talking to the wrong person and you can be ostracised by your own group for evermore.
Another interesting point about rallies is that this is the only time when the unwritten rule of Trotskyism can be broken. At rallies it is possible for two or more Trotsky lookalikes to be in the same place at the same time. However be warned it is not a good idea to gather all of the Trotsky lookalikes together and take a selfie with them. It might seem funny, but Trotskyism is no laughing matter.
Let us now turn to the international dimension. In 1938 it was decided by Trotsky and his followers that the way forward was to bring together Trotskyists of all nations to form an international organisation uniting all Trotskyists in a spirit of harmony, cooperation and fraternity, recognising the need to move away from the localised splits and schisms of Trotskyism that had occurred at national level. As a result of that great step forward in harmony, cooperation and fraternity, the last 80 years have offered Trotskyists the opportunity to fall out with each other on an international scale, giving you the same degree of choice at an international level that you have experienced at the national level. As this is a guide, it might be useful to outline some of these ‘internationals’. At the last check the list of ‘Fourth Internationals’ is as follows:
- Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI)
- Coordinating Committee for the Refoundation of the Fourth International (CRFI)
- United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USFI)
- Fourth International (ICR), also called FI (La Verité) or FI (International Secretariat)
- International Bolshevik Tendency
- International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI)
- International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist) (ICL-FI), previously the International Spartacist Tendency
- International Marxist Tendency (IMT), previously the Committee for a Marxist International
- International Socialist Tendency (IST)
- Internationalist Communist Union (ICU)
- International Workers League – Fourth International (IWL-FI)
- International Workers’ Unity – Fourth International (IWU-FI)
- League for the Fourth International (LFI) [split from (ICL-FI)]
- Revolutionary Communist International Tendency
- Trotskyist Fraction – Fourth International (TF-FI)
- Workers International to Rebuild the Fourth International (WIRFI)
And if you fancy being a little bit avant-garde there is also
- The League for the Fifth International (L5I)
Do bear in mind however that by the time you have finished reading this there will probably be a few more. Therefore when you join a Trotskyist movement, it is important to check regularly which international they are part of this week, as it can cause embarrassment if you think you’re in the wrong international and end up talking to the wrong people.
Having a bit of a swagger when talking about the Trotskyist grouping you belong to is also vital to your image as a Trotskyist. Back in the day members of Trotskyist groupings often claimed to be affiliated to a party in some far-flung corner of the globe which was a ‘mass party’. This ‘party’ was usually in places such as Bolivia or Tanzania, etc. Nowadays, with the advent of the internet, bullshit such as this is easier to sniff out. Therefore being a little circumspect with your claims of mass influence for your grouping is the strategy to adopt. A popular approach to this problem amongst Trotskyists is to make the claim about being part of a mass party, but then state that it is not possible to divulge any further information, so as not to endanger comrades in your affiliate party. This not only adds kudos to your one-man-and-a-dog party, but also adds to the sense of paranoia so vital to the Trotskyist experience.
By this point in the guide you may be thinking to yourself, ‘what is the bloody point of all of this Trotskyist nonsense?’ This doesn’t mean that the issues that made you interested in politics have gone away. You probably still realise that there are huge contradictions between how the world is and how it could be. You’re probably genuinely concerned that war and destruction continues despite all of the peace initiatives put forward by organisations such as the UN. You may still find it unbelievable that many people in the world are starving when food is being destroyed and ploughed into the ground and that it is beyond belief that in Britain in the twenty-first century millions of people are relying on food banks. You might start thinking wouldn’t it be better to have an open and genuinely democratic approach to politics, one without leaders or led, without posers and factions and schisms? You might then start to look at the socialist case, put forward by the Socialist Party, the case for a world without guns, borders, leaders, money and markets, the case for a system of common ownership and genuine democratic control. If that is the case, why not join with us and join in the real political struggle, the struggle to win the working class of the world to the ideas of socialism and overthrow this hateful system of capitalism.