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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Trotsky and the Ghetto of the Sects


Mick Hall • 31 August 2006

In a recent Blanket article, Anthony McIntyre not for the first time had some fun at the expense of the ultra left in an amusing article in which he castigated the Trotskyist groups for the hapless political imbeciles many of them at times can undoubtedly be. (Although it is only fair to add, if some poor soul or a particular section of society is getting it stuck up them by the State or Business, they will campaign vigorously on their behalf.) At much the same time over at the Slugger O'Toole web site, one of the more astute left-wing contributors was playing down the part played by Leon Trotsky in some of the major and most traumatic events that shaped the 20th century, and in doing so it was impossible not to conclude this contributer was sympathetic to the work of Iosif Dzhugashvili [Stalin]. The thought of which made me shudder, and question why, with all the information that is now available to us, would someone who claims to be a socialist ignore or discount the crimes against humanity committed by Stalin and his wretched acolytes.

Trotsky intuitively described Stalin as the grave-digger of the Russian Revolution. In this he was undoubtedly correct, for just prior to its demise, Russian workers whose grandfathers and fathers had brought the Soviet Union into being and heroically defended it against the Nazi hordes in WW2 felt its bureaucratic corpse was not worth an iota, let alone worth defending with their own blood.

This being so, Stalin was more than simply the grave-digger of the Russian revolution; he came very close to becoming the grave-digger of socialism itself, which is something Trotsky's heirs have given little real thought to. For if they had, they would understand that the working classes are never again going to place their trust in a party that calls for a dictatorship, whether it be that of the proletariat or any other force. If Socialism is to emerge today, it must be as a democratic extension of bourgeois democracy, not something that begins in year zero swirling in blood.

Thus there is little doubt the political groups that today term themselves Trotskyist, most of which are little more than sects, do the reputation of Lev Davidovich Bronstein [Trotsky] less than justice. Not least because most of these groups seem to be made up of individuals who have absolutely none of the necessary attributes it takes to engage successfully in party politics in the 21st Century, seemingly being devoid of the one attribute that almost all politicians and leaders of mass struggles need to progress their cause, i. e., Patience. There also seems to be a total lack of rebelliousness within these sects, which whilst somewhat amusing, does make one wonder if they are in the correct profession. For surely at the heart of the business of revolution is an ability to rebel. Yet with their life long adherence to democratic centralism, any thought of rebelling has become anathema to today's leading Trotskyists. Hence most of these Trotskyist groups have had much the same self perpetuating leadership in place for the last three if not four decades—and this despite their pitiful record of winning working class people to their cause.

They proclaim, just as those who lead religious sects, that they have the one true path, although instead of holding up this or that Religious Tome, they claim due to their study of Marxism and the works of Lenin and Trotsky, that they are able and willing to lead the Masses to a better world; next year we will be in Jerusalem, so to speak! Yet far from the Trotskyist groups actually doing this, they often move from one political strategy to the next at a startling speed, which was the reverse of all their hero believed. They proclaim they have founded a new mass socialist party of the left, but when this fails to materialize as such within a a short period of time, they abandon it without a backward glance, having moved on to claim their latest creation is to be the harbinger of a Socialist Dawn or some such pretentious rot. They remind me of the contestants on TV shows like Pop Idol or Big Brother, who, rather than putting in their time as performers, learning their craft in Halls, Clubs and Pubs up and down the motor-way, expect to display their raw talent to the viewers and be acclaimed an immediate star and thus all their desires will be met.

However, having written the negative comments above about those who claim to be Trotsky's political heirs, and despite being someone who strongly believes in No Gods and No Masters and the philosophy that goes with it, I feel we do a great disservice to ourselves if we allow the sects who claim to represent Trotsky's ideas to become the sole keepers of his flame and thus the legacy of his life and work. There is no need to place people like Leon Trotsky on a pedestal, as little good will come of doing so; one only has to look at those who claim to be Trotsky's heirs to understand this. Not least because, like any human being, he was a mass of contradictions, some good, some bad. As to him being a genius, well, I have little idea who classes as such, but it seems to me when we tag people with this term, it wipes their slate so clean of common humanity that it separates them from the rest of us, which cannot be good either for those categorized as geniuses or us lesser mortals.

There is little doubt Trotsky was an exceptional man who played a very important role in both the Russian Revolution and analyzing Stalinism to be the cancer within the international socialist movement it undoubtedly was. He was also a very, very fine writer indeed. I can only think of one other 20th century politician who combined politics and literature with such effect and that was Winston Churchill. Trotsky's history of the Russian Revolution is a masterpiece. What makes it almost unique is that it was written by one of the main participants in the Revolution. Trotsky's History takes us into every corner and cubby hole of the days leading up to the February Revolution, through to the July Days and finally the successful Bolshevik grab for power in what history knows as the October 1917 Revolution, but which if it had failed would probably be known today as Lenin's attempt at a military coup.

Not only did Trotsky play a major role in the events of 1917, but he personally knew almost all of the leading socialists who participated in these momentous events, whether they were Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, Social Revolutionaries or Anarchists. Thus he is able in the book to shed light on what motivated them, what their politics were about under the fluff, and, in many cases, whose interest they served. This enabled Trotsky to write a history that makes John Reed's excellent book on the same subject look like a collection of newspaper stories (Ten Days That shook The World, John Reed, Penguin Classics). Trotsky was what today would be called a politician with a hinterland, sadly as rare in the political elite of his day as it is in ours.

However, perhaps his real claim to greatness should be based on his refusal to bend the knee to Stalinism, for unlike many other decent men and women, Trotsky had the advantage over old Bolsheviks like Bukarin, Tukhachevesky, Kollontai and countless others, as well as leading European communists like Togliati and Dimitriov, to understand that capitulating to Joseph Stalin would nether serve the Party nor Socialism but the reverse; and so it proved.

Unfortunately, what Trotsky refused to understand or at least accept publicly, was that the bacteria that infected the Russian Revolution, and eventually all of the Communist Parties within the Comintern, was placed there by Lenin and his Bolshevik Party, which eventually included Trotsky himself. Thus, when it erupted into the Stalinist epidemic which cut down many of the finest heads within the Soviet Union and the International Socialist Movement, Trotsky had no real organizational alternative to offer the masses, bar a nicer, more humane version of the Bolshevik Party. (Founded in March 1919, the Communist International, or Comintern, was set up by the Russian Communist Party along with foreign comrades to help coordinate the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism around the world.)

When it comes down to it, the Leninists theory is based on the subjugation of the democratic will of the masses to that of the Party. Which in turn, as Rosa Luxemburg was amongst the first to point out, would mean the subjugation of the Party to its brightest heads, who in turn would find themselves subjugated by the most devious or violent amongst them. The fact that Trotsky himself foresaw this happening and wrote about it in the early part of the 20th century, makes one think he may have had his head turned by the prospect of power when he joined the Bolsheviks in July 1917. But even when the sheer awfulness of Stalinism became obvious to him, he could not admit to himself that he had been mistaken in supporting Leninism against his former comrades like Martov. Instead, he stuck with the Leninist concept of the Party and by doing so sidelined his political heirs to the ghetto of the sects.


(For more on Trotsky's life see Isaac Deutscher's three volume Biography of Trotsky. The Prophet Armed, 1879-1921, The Prophet Unarmed, 1921-29, The Prophet Outcast, 1929-1940. Oxford University Press. It should be a port of call to all those who wish to understand Trotsky and the Russian Revolution which made his name.)



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