For our present purposes, two questions — or rather two sides of the same question — are highly relevant. These are : the Stalin-Trotsky debate on “socialism in one country” and the Trotskyite theory of world revolution. It will be convenient to take up these questions one by one.

“Socialism in One Country”

After the death of Lenin, the most fundamental debate that cropped up in the CPSU(B) was: is it possible to build socialism in one country? Among the seven-member Polit Bureau, leaders like Stalin and Bukharin asserted that it is. And those like Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev opined that it was possible, and after the Russian revolution necessary, to start building socialism in a single country, but not possible to achieve full socialism at a national level. In those days, more than a theoretical question it was one of life and death for the young Soviet Republic, and naturally it generated a lot of heat and passion on both sides.

Trotsky built his case on the Marxist-Leninist dictum that “the complete victory of the socialist revolution in one country alone is inconceivable and demands the most active cooperation of at least several advanced countries, which do not include Russia”.[1] This was an idea Lenin expressed several times both before and after the November Revolution. What Trotsky and his associates inferred from this notion was not that the socialist course should be given up in the USSR: “Even today”, said Trotsky at the 15th Party Conference in late 1926, “I believe that the victory of socialism in our country can be safeguarded only together with a victorious revolution of the European proletariat. This is not to say that what we are building is not socialism, or that we cannot or should not go ahead with a full steam…. If we did not think that ours is a workers’ state, even though it is bureaucratically deformed …; if we did not think that we are building socialism; if we did not think that we have enough resources in our country to promote the socialist economy; if we were not convinced of our full and final victory, then, of course, there should be no place for us in the ranks of the Communist Party. … ” [2]

His insistence was that, while doing everything possible to build socialism in the USSR, the Soviet party and the Comintern should give up the pessimistic assessment (as he read it) of the prospect of the European revolution and adopt a more active or leftist policy to promote the same. In this context he, like Zinoviev and Kamenev, attacked the then recent shift in the Comintern policy in favour of united front with social democratic parties and with trade unions led by them.

Joining issue with Trotsky, Stalin “divided the question into two.” In the first place, he treated the “complete victory of socialism” as a “full guarantee against the restoration of the old order”, which is possible only through “the joint efforts of the proletarians of several countries”. Secondly, he proclaimed that the USSR had “all that is necessary for building a complete socialist society.”[3] He explained: “Our country exhibits two groups of contradictions. One group consists of the internal contradictions that exist between the proletariat and the peasantry (this refers to the building of socialism in one country — J. Stalin). The other group consists of the external contradictions that exist between our country, as the land of socialism, and all the other countries, as lands of capitalism (this refers to the final victory of socialism —J. Stalin).” “Anyone who confuses the first group of contradictions, which can be overcome entirely by the efforts of one country, with the second group of contradictions, the solution of which requires the efforts of the proletarians of several countries, commits a gross error against Leninism. He is either a muddlehead or an incorrigible opportunist.”[4]

In support of his position, Stalin quoted Lenin: “Infinitely hackneyed is the argument that they learned by rote during the development of West European Social Democracy, namely, that we are not yet ripe for socialism, that, as certain ‘learned’ gentlemen among them express it, the objective economic prerequisites for socialism do not exist in our country (Notes on Sukhanov)”.[5]

Trotsky was not convinced, however. Drawing upon the Communist Manifesto he argued that historically society tended towards integration on an ever-larger scale. In the transition from the feudal to bourgeois order Europe had overcome its medieval particularism. The bourgeoisie had created the national market; and on its basis the modern nation-state had taken shape. But the productive forces and economic energies of the advanced nations could not settle within national boundaries; they had outgrown these even under capitalism with its international division of labour. As the next higher phase of societal development, socialism must carry the international division of labour still further; it could not step back and stand on a national ground, in seclusion and self-sufficiency. The high level of technology, efficiency, and abundance which socialism presupposed, a level superior to that achieved by capitalism, could be attained only with what Marx and Engels had called “the many-sided intercourse of nations”, and the most advanced nations at that.

Thus continued the debate, the full details of which we cannot reproduce here. Nor are we going to dwell upon the polemics on overall policy of the Communist International (CI). On the particular question of socialism in one country we must say that in terms of Marxist orthodoxy, Trotsky’s position was unassailable. But, as a thorough doctrinaire, he was never good at bringing theory into correspondence with the real march of events, with the changing course of life. During his last two-three years, Lenin had sensed the decline in the prospects of the spark of the Russian revolution starting a prairie fire, and had adjusted his international and national policies accordingly, the NEP being a case in point. And soon after his death, certain developments like the abortive German revolution and Canton uprising made it even clearer that for a considerable length of time the Soviet proletariat would probably have to build socialism alone and unaided. In view of this, Stalin led the majority in the party leadership in hammering out a theory of socialism in one country. Of course, it was going too far to attribute this new theory to Lenin, which Stalin did presumably to invoke the authority of the deceased leader in the face of Trotsky’s powerful onslaught. But Stalin’s theory met the political needs of the time and aroused the party ranks and the people in embarking upon a heroic course of socialist construction. In that particular juncture, Trotsky’s insistence on the impossibility of socialism in one country was not only theoretically stale but politically harmful.

Trotsky based his arguments on an overly optimistic assessment of the prospects of the world revolution. History badly belied his hopes. And led by Stalin the people of USSR created history in building socialism in the face of heaviest odds.

And yet, questions remain, or freshly crop up. Was there no truth in Trotsky’s allegation that the Stalinist leadership of the USSR and the CI often subordinated the interests of revolutionary struggle in other countries to those of the one country where socialism was being built? If so, did that not hurt the cause of the world revolution and thereby Soviet Union’s real, long-term interests which lay in overcoming isolation?
These are historical questions we can take up not today, but after the school. However, there is at least one thing which relates to the present and demands a brief discussion.

According to Trotsky, one important reason why socialism was impossible in one country was that imperialist powers would unite to sabotage and crush it. Stalin opined that inter-imperialist contradictions wouldn’t allow that to happen. In the event, Stalin was proved correct, at least during his life-time which included the second world war. But today we have a different situation. There is only one superpower; the element of interdependence and mutual assistance among imperialist powers has greatly increased thanks to transnational corporations, the new-look GATT and the forthcoming WTO etc.; and trade wars therefore seem unlikely to lead to military hostilities. With the decline of the nonaligned movement and various Third World organisations, the US domination over world affairs and over the UN now goes almost unchallenged, as demonstrated by a series of events starting from the US invasion of Iraq. In such a situation, and in view of the advancing waves of STR (scientific and technological revolution) in capitalist countries, is it now possible to build socialism in a single country?

Today, for all practical purposes, that single country is China. Because North Korea and Cuba, for all their inspiring endeavours, are but small islands in the vast ocean of world economy and polity. When we see this China reintroducing a market-economy and indigenous and foreign capital (with all its harmful socio-cultural corollaries) on a vast scale and pressing for closer integration with the world capitalist economy through membership of GATT, we understand that the old question has to be rethought in a new way. But China is doing all this and emerging as a great economic and political power — with socialist planning, domination of stale ownership of means of production and leadership of the communist party; so there is no question of giving up the socialist orientation and going back to capitalism. This is how history has reformulated the question for us, and we must study it afresh in the light of new experience.

The Fourth International: Perception and Practice

It was not only through the polemics with Stalin that the Trotskyite theory of world revolution took shape. It found its practical embodiment in the Fourth International. Let us, then, have a look at the ideology and experience of the FI, which can be discussed in four stages.

1. 1938: Justification and Expectations

After five years of preparation, the Fl was founded at a conference with 21 delegates claiming to represent 11 countries, held secretly in a village near Paris in September 1938. Proclaiming the rise of the FI on the debris of the Third, Trotsky launched an attack on those of his followers who had scuttled such a move in 1936 and who still considered the venture premature: “The Fourth International has already arisen out of great events: the greatest defeat of the proletariat in history. The cause for these defeats is to be found in the degeneration and the perfidy of the old leadership. The class struggle does not tolerate an interruption. The Third International, following the Second, is dead for purposes of revolution. Long Live the Fourth International!

“But has the time yet arrived to proclaim its creation? … the sceptics are not quietened down. The Fourth International, we answer, has no need of being ‘proclaimed’. It exists and it fights. Is it weak? Yes, its ranks are not numerous because it is still young. They are as yet chiefly cadres. But these cadres are pledges for the future. Outside of these cadres there does not exist a single revolutionary current on this planet really meriting the name”.

This he said in the last section of the basic document of the founding congress: “Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International”, better known as Transitional Programme. The immediate political perspective was thus seen in “the greatest defeats of the proletariat”, i.e., the victory of Stalinism. Magnifying this stress point still further, Trotsky went on to observe: “The present crisis in human culture is the crisis in the proletarian leadership. The advanced workers, united in the Fourth International, show their class the way out of the crisis”.

And, despite the acknowledged numerical weakness the basic programme ended with (he rousing call: “Workers — men and women — of all countries, place yourselves under the banner of the Fourth International. It is the banner of your approaching victory!”

Well, there was nothing wrong with this revolutionary optimism. But what actually happened to this ‘approaching victory’ under the banner of FI?

2. Next Fifty Years of Confusion and Splits

“Trotsky’s prediction that the Second World War would end in a revolutionary upsurge even greater than the one after the First World War, and that it would generally escape from the control of the traditional organizations (especially the Stalinist parties), turned out to be inaccurate”.

This is Ernest Mandel, veteran leader of the FI, writing on the occasion of its 50th anniversary.[6] As expected, this is immediately followed by a “But” — the prediction did not totally go wrong. There were “new revolutionary victories”, though not in proletarian countries “as predicted, and led not by sections of the FI but parties of Stalinist origin (except for Cuba)”. Mandel cannot offer any explanation for the first unexpected, i.e., why and how backward “peasant countries” like China preceded advanced “proletarian” ones in making revolution with peasants as the main force. But for the second he finds one: the Stalinist parties “had to break with Stalinism in order to lead these revolutions”. Despite this ‘break’, however, these countries evolved into degenerated workers’ states, presumably because the leading parties never thought of joining the FI and thus retained the original sin of Stalinism. By the same token, certain later revolutions as in Grenada and Nicaragua were “authentic socialist popular revolutions” simply because these parties were not ‘Stalinist’ in origin.

The anti-Stalinist logic takes us to a ridiculous position: the ‘revolutions’ in Grenada and Nicaragua are more authentically socialist than the Chinese! Comrades, you can guess what sort of political consolidation could result from this quality of theoretical analysis. No wonder, therefore, that during and after the second world war a series of splits took place in the FI sections in the USA, France, Germany etc., culminating in division at the top in 1953-54. In the words of Pierre Frank, another veteran leader, “the other splits proved, by their nature and in actual fact, to be rather splits away from the Trotskyite movement. On the other hand, this split was primarily a division of the movement itself into two parts, one continuing the International and the other organised in a committee that acted as a faction… Actually, it had the effect… of injecting into the International, into, the part continuing the International and the other, both a disequilibrium and a reinforcement of the centrifugal forces … ”[7] This state of affairs continued for a long time — through separate congresses and conferences of the two wings — till in June 1963 a reunification congress brought the factions together.

This did not mean, of course, an end to the history of splits, confusion and degeneration of certain sections (e.g., the comparatively powerful Ceylonese section). But I will not go into details on this. Let us rather listen to what the Trotskyites themselves have to say on the causes of these confusions and splits.

Pierre Frank in his authentic history of the FI upto 1978 gives out basically two sets of objective and subjective reasons. First, “totally unexpected developments” in the post-war world which bewildered the movement: “a capitalism deprived of its colonies yet flourishing more than ever, with a working class shorn of political aspirations and most exclusively preoccupied with its standard of living; in the workers’ states an extension of the new relations of production, with bureaucratic domination maintained and without any workers’ mobilisations; in the colonial countries a revolutionary upsurge, based essentially on the peasantry …”

The second important factor, according to Frank, was that “the organisation was numerically weak, with very weak roots among the masses… Subjectively, the situation was aggravated in numerous cases by the fact that since the organisation was tiny, it was viewed by some as a secondary factor, to which too much importance should not be attached. Cutting it in half did not seem to matter much, numerically speaking, especially for those who believed that they had found the orientation which would lead to rapid growth … Such feelings are the exact opposite of those that prevail in mass organisations, where the members, responsible to large masses and aware of the role of the organisation perse, are loath to initiate splits — even when serious differences arise within these organisations.” Isn’t this a splendid analysis? Certainly it is. The basic political and organisational factors are spelt out clearly and honestly. Only one thing is missing. And that is an answer to the question: why did the only correct and revolutionary centre of world proletariat fail to provide adequate explanations for the new developments and to strike roots in the mass upsurges in different parts of the world? Has this not something to do with the basic tenets of Trotskyite theory? We shall come back to this towards the end of this paper.

3. Bouts of Expansion

Everything has its opposite. If confusions and splits have been the dominant feature of the history of FI, it also had at least two brief periods of growth. The first one came in 1948 when, in the words of Pierre Frank, “the first crisis of Stalinism erupted in the shape of the Soviet-Yugoslav split.” The FI immediately sprang into action to utilise this fine opportunity : “The Trotskyist organisations very quickly mobilised to help the Yugoslav revolution answer the torrent of slander emanating from Moscow and Communist parties. Campaigns were launched in numerous countries. Leaflets, pamphlets, meetings were used in the fight against Stalinism. In several countries it was the Fourth International’s organisations that initiated the youth brigades that went to Yugoslavia — brigades of inquiry, support and work in the service of the Yugoslav revolution”.[8]

Unfortunately, the euphoria was short-lived: “For a short period, the sections of the Fourth International, profiting from the Yugoslav crisis, became stronger. But this process was interrupted during 1950 when, at the beginning of the Korean war, the Yugoslav leadership… took a disgraceful position on the international scene. In the United Nations General Assembly, Yugoslavia voted for UN military intervention against North Korea. This position succeeded in alienating many of Yugoslavia’s defenders. The hopes of recruiting a larger revolutionary vanguard because of the Soviet-Yugoslav dispute were thus destroyed, until such a time the crisis of Stalinism would erupt elsewhere”.[9]

The FI thus lay in wait for the next crisis of ‘Stalinism’, which apparently came in the 1960s in the shape of the Moscow-Peking break. The FI was happy to note that this break “shook the Kremlin’s authority in the communist world to a tremendous extent” but at the same time it was disappointed to find that the CPC actually upheld Stalin. They could not therefore profit from this break and decided that it did not contribute to “any decisive advance for revolutionary Marxism”.[10] Chairman Mao’s historic struggle against modern revisionism held out no significance for them, since their one-point struggle was against Stalinism and not revisionism. Not that they failed to grasp the significance at that moment; to this day their position remains unaltered on this question.

We shall have occasion to come back to this point later; for now let us have a look at the second period of growth. This opportunity came in 1968, the year of a revolutionary student revolt and workers’ uprising in France, the start of the popular Tet offensive in Vietnam, the ‘Prague Spring’, and a hightide in revolutionary struggles coupled with acute crises of the ruling cliques in many parts of the world. The revolutionary upturn was almost global, and this rendered the logic of the International more plausible than ever before. The Trotskyites in many countries made a good bargain out of this situation, most notably in France. To be sure, they were not alone in this. Other radical streams including the revolutionary Marxists-Leninists or followers of Mao made rapid progress in different parts of the world. But whereas the latter struck deep roots in at least some Third World countries and continued to grow despite occasional setbacks the Trotskyite boom did not last longer than six or seven years.

4. The Last Two Congresses: Grasping for New Bearings

We cannot discuss here all the major propositions of the 12th (1985) and 13th (1986) world congresses of the FI. But we must refer to its positions on at least three questions which are more pertinent to our present discussion.

(i) Internationalisation of production, of imperialism and of class struggle:

For Trotsky, the objective basis of the FI lay in the globalised economy — “the international division of labour and the world market” and the fact that “the productive forces of capitalist society have long outgrown the national boundaries”.[11] The 13th (1991) Congress fakes the proposition further, to the point of “breaking up the framework of eating stales”.[12] And the thesis had been rendered more profound by a leading Trotskyite theorist in India, Achin Vanaik. He speaks of the rise of a more ‘internationalist’ segment of capital which “has a major interest in global stability and a minimisation of kind of inter-imperialist rivalry that might lead to competing protectionist blocs”. He considers the very category of inter-imperialist rivalry to be a legacy of an earlier phase of imperialism when there used to be “strong correspondence between distinct imperialisms and their respective ‘home’ states”, a correspondence that has become considerably blurred with the rise of a truly transnational segment of capital which can no longer be adequately represented or controlled by the ‘home’ state.[13]

This disappearance of inter-imperialist contradiction — which Lenin regarded as one of the basic features of our epoch and which led him to comment that ‘imperialism is war’ — has far-reaching strategic implications. Above all, it puts a premium on “class struggle on a world scale” — a notion which finds place in umpteen times in the 12th and the 13th congress documents and which makes an international directing centre all the more necessary. The independent roles of national-level revolutionary parties are not denied, but the ‘objective’ trend of the time is shown to be in the direction of more Internationalisation. The hint is clear: whosoever claims to be a Marxist, must observe this objective law of history and join the International!

(ii) The three dimensions of international “crisis”:

For a true disciple of Lenin and Trotsky, the internationalist approach must permeate everything. The 12th Congress Report assert s: “The dynamics of the present world situation is above all one of the interaction between the crisis of the international capitalist system, the crisis of the system of rule established in the bureaucratised workers states and the crisis of the organised mass movement. The last-named crisis is also described as “the crisis of proletarian leadership on a world scale”. From this again, follows the same task:

“Building a genuine world revolutionary organisation remains a priority task which corresponds to the growing internationalisation of class struggles which is the outgrowth of the growing internationalisation of productive forces, and to the crisis of revolutionary leadership on a world scale.” (From “Report to the 12th World Congress”, published in India by A R Desai, p 76, emphasis in the original)

(iii) Towards a “New” International

So the great task today, as it was 60 years ago, is to “build” (mark this word in the official document quoted above, and the emphasis on the word “remains”) International. But does not one exist already? Yes, it does, but it has neither a regularly functioning headquarters at the top, nor any mass following below. The present international is actually nothing more than “a first step towards the goal of building an international with member organisations that are revolutionary parties with a real mass implantation. We know that we are not that organisation. Our sections are too weak to claim that. But we hope that … we will be able to play an active role in preparing for this future International.”[14]

This, of course, is the most difficult task. And yet, the vanguards must be vanguards. The great struggle initiated by Trotsky must go on. But now with the collapse of Stalin’s party and the Stalinist regimes, the old credo of anti-Stalinism — though it remains and will remain valid — is not enough to sustain any such effort. So a broader approach is necessary, and the 13th Congress valiantly proposes one:

“We have no reason to slay on the sidelines and cultivate the identity of a sect. On the contrary, we propose bringing revolutionaries together in the same democratic organisation, … to turn together towards left reformist or populist currents and propose unity in action at all levels against imperialism, the bourgeoisie and the bureaucracy.”[15]

Well and good, but what about the real prospects? On this, the less said the better. The same document from which we have just quoted has to declare that “unfortunately there is no significant current outside the Fourth International that puts the construction of a revolutionary International immediately on the agenda.”[16]

Our Approach towards Trotskyism Today

The very first thing that strikes one in the history of FI is Trotsky’s and his successors’ paranoid hatred against Stalin and Stalinism. Stalin also had developed similar feelings towards Trotsky, but there was a crucial difference. Neither Stalin personally nor the CI as an institution ever decided political tasks and priorities on this basis. By contrast, the Trotskyite International

(i) arose “out of … the greatest defeats of the proletariat” caused by “the degeneration and perfidy of the old leadership”, i.e., it arose as a reaction against Stalinism;

(ii) made pro- or anti-Stalinism the touchstone for deciding whether something is genuine or not, e.g., viewing the revolutions in Grenada and Nicaragua as more “authentic” than the Chinese one simply because the parties which led them were not Stalinist in origin;

(iii) found in anti-Stalinism the principal vehicle for augmenting its own forces (e.g., after the Soviet-Yugoslav break);

(iv) look the assessment of Stalinism and the USSK as the principal point of debates and splits (e.g.,. the official document “The Rise and Decline of Stalinism” prepared just after the third world congress (1951) which, in the words of Pierre Frank, “sparked the powder keg” leading to widespread confusions and splits, and which was completed, after 6 years of debate, in the fifth world congress (1957); and

(v) finds itself, after the demise of Stalin’s party and the Stalinist regimes practically irrelevant and groping for a thorough political-organisational overhauling.

Such a narrow political vision beneath the rhetoric of broad “internationalism” has, always and everywhere, determined the sectarianism Trotskyites are notorious for. Essentially an anti-Stalinist sect, their rise, decay and death is nothing more than a changing penumbra of Stalinism.
But we cannot slop here, we must go deeper into the basic ideological flaw of Trotskyism on the question of world revolution.

This basic flaw, I think, is that Trotsky for all his erudition never grasped the real dynamics of world revolution in our epoch. This is manifested in his totally erroneous positions on two closely related questions : (a) the relative roles of capitalistically developed (or ‘proletarian’) and underdeveloped (or ‘peasant’) countries in world revolution; and (b) the relative roles of workers and peasants in the revolutions of backward countries.

As far back as in 1853 Marx wrote that “the next uprising of people of Europe … may depend more probably on what is now passing in the Celestial Empire (the Taiping Rebellion in China — AS) than on any other cause that exists … ”. With great revolutionary optimism he added: “as the greater part of the regular commercial circle has already been run through by British trade, it may safely be argued that the Chinese revolution will throw the spark into the overloaded mine of the long-prepared general crisis, which, spreading abroad, will be closely followed by political revolutions in the Continent … ”[17]

Marx wrote these lines in his article “Revolution in China and in Europe”, published in the New York Dully Tribune. Similar views were expressed also by Engels in his article “Persia and China”. But it was only in Lenin’s time that a distinct shift of the revolutionary storm-centre from the West to the East gradually took shape. Lenin was quick to capture this shift in a series of articles starting with “Inflammable Material in World Politics” (1908) through “Democracy and Populism in China” (1912) and culminating in the celebrated “Backward Europe and Advanced. Asia”(1913). The idea of revolutions in backward countries as locomotives of world revolution in the epoch of imperialism was confirmed by the experience of the Russian revolution and it was further developed in the first few congresses of the CI.

Trotsky never grasped all this. He wrote a lot on, and attached much importance to, the revolutionary ferment in Asian and Latin American countries, particularly in China. But he did this from a thoroughly Eurocentric perspective. To substantiate this point, we will seek the help of one-time active Trotskyite and the most authentic (and sympathetic) biographer of Leon Trotsky. Describing Trotsky’s thought process and the basis of his optimism at the time of founding of the FI, Issac Deuetscher writes : “His expectations were based on the twin premise that the coming world war would be followed by a revolutionary aftermath similar to that which had followed the first world war, but larger in scope and force; and that the Stalinist parties, like the Social-Democratic ones would use all their strength to stem the tide of revolution. More than ever he saw the advanced industrial countries of the West as the main battlefield of socialism; from their working class was to come the salutary revolutionary initiative that alone could break the vicious circle — socialism in a single country and bureaucratic absolutism — in which the Russian revolution was imprisoned … In his introduction to Living Thoughts of Karl Marx, written in 1939, he refuted the Rooseveltian New Deal and all attempts to rejuvenate and reform capitalism as ‘reactionary and helpless quackery’; he pointed out how relevant Das Kapital was to the problems of the American economy; and he greeted the dawn of a new epoch of Marxism in the United States. In Marxism too ‘America will in a few jumps catch up with Europe and outdistance it. Progressive technology and a progressive social structure will pave their own way in the sphere of doctrine. The best theoreticians of Marxism will appear on American soil. Marx will become the mentor of the advanced American worker.”[18]

Trotsky always visualised the revolutionary prospects in backward countries, continues Deuetscher, “as subordinate to the prospect of revolution in the West; ‘once it begins, the socialist revolution will spread from country to country with immeasurably greater force than fascism is spreading now. By the example and with the aid of advanced nations, the backward nations will also be brought into the mainstream of socialism’. By carrying to an extreme the logic of classical Marxism, which had postulated progressive technology and a progressive social structure as the basis for socialist revolution, he was unwittingly exposing the discrepancy between theory and facts. Had the advanced industrial countries played the part for which classical Marxism had cast them in theory, no country should have been more congenial to Marxism and socialism than the United States. Trotsky did not and could not foresee that in the next few decades the backward nations would form the ‘mainstream of socialism’, that the ‘advanced West’ would seek to contain it or to throw it back; and that the United States in particular, instead of evolving its own ultramodern version of Marxism, would become the world’s greatest and most powerful bulwark against it.”[19]

Let us now pass on to Trotsky’s position on the other question, or rather the other side of the same question — the role of the peasantry in revolutions in backward countries. This question is best discussed in relation to the Chinese experience, to which Trotsky attached a great importance and where Trotsky had a handful of followers. To quote Deuetscher again, “In a statement written two months after the proclamation of the Fourth International he (Chen Tuhsiu, who had embraced Trotskyism some time back—AS) explained … why the revolutionary movement in China must base itself on the peasantry, and not (as Trotsky and Chen himself had expected — AS) on the urban workers … The Trotskyites, by their sectarian arrogance, their purely negative altitude towards Maoism, and their insensitivity to the needs of the War against Japan, were cutting themselves off from political reality.”[20]

But Trotsky was too much of a doctrinaire to lake either his followers or Mao Zedong seriously: “Applying the traditional Marxist conception even to China, he viewed with distrust Mao Tse-tung’s ‘peasant armies’, fearing that, like many such armies in China’s history, they might turn into instruments of reaction and come into conflict with the workers, if the latter failed to resume their revolutionary initiative. Despite Chen Tu-hsiu’s warnings, he believed that the Chinese working class would recover its political elan and reassert itself as the leading force of the revolution. It remained an axiom with him that in all modern class struggle supremacy belongs of necessity to the towns; and the idea of an insurgent movement conquering the cities from the outside — from the countryside — was to him both unreal and retrograde. In West and East alike, he insisted, the revolution would either be proletarian in the true sense or it would not be at all.”[21]

We criticise Trotsky not simply because he failed to make correct predictions, but because he failed miserably to grasp the very basis and direction of the world revolutionary process in our epoch. He never grasped the most important strategic conclusion arrived at by the Leninist analysis of imperialism, namely, that coming revolutions will breakout at the weakest links in the chain of imperialism. In this sense, he remained a captive of 19th century Marxism and missed the train of Leninism. More, he remained essentially anti-Leninist to his very end at least on this vital question of world revolutionary strategy. And to the credit of his successors in the FI, it must be said that they followed their leader’s steps with utmost devotion, rendering him more profound in the process. Thus they continued Trotsky’s sceptic attitude to Mao even after t he victory of the Chinese Revolution and refused to rethink their Eurocentric strategic perspectives. Similarly, they never bothered about Mao’s historic struggle against Khruschevite revisionism, for in their coloured eyes it was simply a fight between two “parties of Stalinist origin”, to be welcomed on that ground alone.

As a natural corollary to doctrinairism, Trotsky developed a high degree of subjectivism. This used to be manifested not only in his baseless hopes about the prospects of the FI, but also in his wild expectations that the “Stalinist Clique” in the Soviet Union would be overthrown by “true Holsheviks” any moment. He fondly believed in quick victories, for he believed that that the inescapable “laws of history” were on his side. On this point too, his successors in the FI have followed their great teacher unflinchingly to this day.

Such was Trotsky, such are his followers. Even if we leave apart the numerous other misconceptions and misdeeds of Trotskyism in different periods and different parts of the world, we have to denounce it because it sought—and seeks — to deny and sabotage the twentieth century advance in Marxism bequeathed to us in the shape of Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought.


Leon Trotsky (08.11.1879-20.08.1940)

Younger than Lenin by 9 years, Leon Davidovich Trotsky joined the RSDLP in the opening years of this century. From the very beginning he virulently opposed Lenin’s political and organisational lines, but did not completely merge with the Mensheviks. In 1917 and the immediately following years he came nearest to Lenin, though differences often cropped up on minor as well as major issues. He won universal recognition, including from a lithe contemporary communists like Rosa Luxemburg, as the Russian revolutionary leader next only to Lenin if not his equal. Lenin too described him as “personally perhaps the most capable man in the present CC” (Collected Works, Vol. 36, p 595). During his last few years — the difficult years of steering the new soviet state — Lenin had the occasion to acknowledge Trotsky’s innovative idea which he (Lenin) had opposed but accepted later; and to declare on certain questions Trotsky was capable of defending an idea even better than Lenin (LCW, Vol. 36, p 598 and Vols. 33-36). Of course, Trotsky had his share of Lenin’s criticisms from death bed, but perhaps he got much less of it than Stalin.

After Lenin’s death Trotsky as the leader of the ‘Lett Opposition’ engaged in the bitterest of polemics with Stalin, particularly on the question of building socialism in one country. The opposition was ruthlessly crushed. In early 1929Trotsky was deported to Turkey. There he brought out the journal ‘Opposition Bulletin’ and carried on efforts to mobilise small groups of supporters — i.e., breakaway factions from communist parties — in different countries. Initially he expected that the Comintern leadership would soon be won back from ‘Stalinist usurpers’ by ‘Bolshevik Leninists’ i.e. his followers. When this did not happen and when fascism came to power in Germany in 1933, he set about founding a new, Fourth International. This was eventually set up in September 1938. His main lieutenants were left intellectuals and outcast communists including Chen fu-hsiu, the former head of CI’C.

By (this time he had been granted asylum in Mexico, where he was assassinated in 1940.

Trotsky is best known for his virulent variety of anti-Stalinism and of course his thesis of world revolution. Out perhaps it is worth pointing here to two of his relatively little known observations. First, Trotsky considered Stalinism as a betrayal of the Bolshevik revolution, but through all his ordeals and to the dying day he firmly believed and propagated that USSK was a socialist country. His argument was that the ruling bureaucracy was not a class but only an excrescence on the body of socialism; the class that held state power was the working class. So he was always for defending the Soviet Union, a dictatorship to the proletariat. In fact, he had to pay a heavy price for clinging to this assessment many of his prominent followers abandoned him over difference on this question.

Second, Trotsky was highly optimistic about the international revolutionary potential in the 30s and believed that this potential could be quickly actualised under the banner of the FI. But if this were not to happen, if capitalism were to survive for mo re than two decades, that would spell the end of the Soviet Union, he had warned. In that case Marxists (himself included) would have to concede that they had misjudged their historical moment, and the Russian revolution would turn out to be another Paris Commune on an extended scale.

    1. See Speech on the International Situation, at the Extraordinary ALL-Russia Congress of Soviets, LCW, Vol. 28, p. 151.

    2. Cited by Issac Deuetscher in The Prophet Unarmed, (Oxford University Press, 1959) p 302.

    3. See on the Opposition by JV Stalin (Peking, 1975), p 319.
    4. Ibid, p 320.

    5. Ibid, p 483.

    6. The Reasons for Founding the Fourth International and Why They Uemain Valid Today, International Marxist Review, Autumn 1988,
    p 26.

    7. The Fourth International —The Long March of the Trotskyists by Pier re Frank (1978) p 93. 8. Ibid, p 81.

    9. Ibid.

    10. Ibid, p 75.

    11. Introduction to the German edition of The Permanent Revolution.

    12. See Manifesto of the Fl, published in the Internatioiiiil Marxist Review, Summer 1991, p 247.

    13. See Imperialism, Soviet Collapse and Implications for Post-colonial World in Economic and Political Weekly, January 3D, 1993.

    14. From Appeal of the Fourth International, op. cit, p 13-14.

    15. From Manifesto of the Fourth International, op. cit., p 270.

    16. Ibid, p 269.

    17. Cited in Marxism and Asia by Helene Cariere d’ Encausse and Stuart R Schram; Alien Lane, The Penguin Press; (1969), pp 119-20.

    18. The Prophet Outcast, the third and last volume of a three-volume biography of Leon Trotsky (1963) p 427.

    19. Ibid, pp 427-28.

    20. Ibid, pp 423-24.

    21. Ibid, p 428.