What is Trotskyism?
Unlike specific doctrines or philosophies such as Leninism, or perhaps Marxism in general, Trotskyism has no one definition – it is simply a collection of the ideas and theories put forward by Leon Trotsky. However, whilst perhaps not as easy to summarise as the ideas of Marx and Lenin, they are by no means insignificant, for Trotsky’s followers founded one of the two key movements which worked to redefine twentieth-century communism; alongside the Stalinist interpretation of Soviet-style Marxism (which later developed into Marxism-Leninism) Trotskyism split communism in two, forcing Marxists everywhere to take sides.
To give you an idea of what exactly it calls for, here is a brief summary of the ideas and theories it entails:
- A strong adherence to the international revolutionary movement, which fuels the theory of Permanent Revolution (a theoretical argument that states revolution can take place in backward, agrarian countries such as Russia, so as long as there is a simultaneous international revolution to strengthen it)
- An encouragement for the involvement of workers in the state system, and the criticism of ‘Stalinist’ regimes for their excessively bureaucratic and authoritarian interpretation of communism
- A general critical attitude towards Stalin’s Russia and the Soviet Union after 1924, due to its betrayal of both the aforementioned values
Recently, I decided that I, myself am a Trotskyist, this being the inspiration for today’s post. For a long while I’d thought of myself as somewhere to the left of Marxism-Leninism, so I was looking closely at tendencies such as left communism, ultra-leftism and Trotskyism to try and determine which category I fell into, at which point I decided that my views represented Trotsky’s ideas more closely than anybody else’s. Given that I’ve written several paragraphs on the such ideas, you may wonder why exactly I’ve chosen to do this, or what relevance they have today that would make writing about them worthwhile. I’ll answer this in a short while – first, I think it’s important to understand them from a historical perspective, allowing us to comprehend their development in society.
Below is an excerpt from the document ‘For Trotskyism!’ which can be found on the homepage of the International Bolshevik Tendency, a modern-day Trotskyist organisation, where the movement is described…
‘It was verified in a positive sense in the October Revolution in 1917, the greatest event in modern history, and generally negatively since. After the bureaucratic strangulation of the Bolshevik Party and the Comintern by the Stalinists, the tradition of Leninism – the practice and program of the Russian Revolution – was carried forward by the Left Opposition and by it alone.’
This says it all: Trotskyism has a bad name. Ever since such ‘strangulation’ the idea had developed taboo connotations, even becoming an insult among communists. As a result, the number of Trotskyist movements is relatively small, and was probably even smaller in the days of the USSR. Following his departure from Soviet politics, Trotsky was the great outcast, the traitor, the enemy of the Soviet regime, and any of his followers were inevitably handed the same label.
Not surprisingly, then, no socialist states have arisen in accordance with Trotsky’s views or theories, and the few who adhere to such have been forced to get their word across through whatever tactics are available, such as electoral participation or entryism (a good example of the latter being Militant, a Trotskyist organisation in Britain working within the Labour Party throughout the 1970s and 80s). In other words, it would appear that Trotskyism, for the most part, died with Leon Trotsky.
So, coming back to the question of relevance, it may seem to be the case that these theories, written over seventy years ago and only partially developed since, are far from relevant; one might be inclined to take the view that it was an ideology rooted out of the communist movement long ago, which has since been rejected worldwide, and even today is still on the side-lines of leftist politics. After all, Stalinism aside, who’s to say that there wasn’t a rationale behind Trotskyism’s rejection?
I, however, would disagree, and would take the view that time has actually helped prove Trotsky correct, an example of this being the fact that his ideas are centred on a criticism of the Soviet system (or rather the Soviet system as Stalin had modelled it) and thus they deserve at least some credit, purely due to the fact that the Soviet Union collapsed. I’d see it like this: Socialism in One Country, the policy which, originally adopted under Stalin, influenced the country henceforth, halted efforts to spread the revolution beyond national boundaries. Thus the USSR, like its European satellite states, was left with no option but to try and cultivate socialism from within, which led to stagnation, corruption, and ultimately, failure. I believe that this is proof, or at least hard evidence, that Socialism in One Country is impossible, thus making Trotsky’s argument especially perceptive.
Obviously, I don’t mean to argue that Trotsky’s word was entirely unfalsified – that would be counter-scientific and thus contrary to the spirit of Marxism –, and he did create work that was also proven inaccurate, but I do believe that his ideas and his contributions to Marxist philosophy are worthy of recognition, and, what’s more, worthy of consideration today. In a world with no Soviet Union, after the fall of Stalinist communism, today’s Marxists definitely need to start searching for alternative solutions.
I’d say it’s about time, nearly a century after they were first discarded, to rediscover these theories left on history’s mantelpiece.