What is Trotskyism? - Tony Clark,

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What is Trotskyism? - Tony Clark,


TROTSKY was unable to think like a Leninist. This, as I will show, also applies to his followers. Today's Trotskyists, with the benefit of hindsight, may defend Lenin’s position on this or that past question (this is wisdom after the event). But they generally show a tendency to adopt pseudo-left positions on present, concrete developments.


Trotskyism, ideologically, begins with his theory of ‘Permanent Revolution’. Trotsky, it must be said, never wavered from this view. The question, 'what is permanent revolution?’ can be answered quite simply in the following way. The theory of permanent revolution argues that the working class should lead the Russian bourgeois democratic revolution, and on the basis of possession of state power would not stop at the democratic stage, that is to say the minimum programme, but would continue the revolution to the socialist stage. This would awaken the working class in the advanced capitalist countries to rise up against the bourgeoisie. These workers would then come to the aid of the Russian working class, extending support to backward Russia, thus making the revolution permanent. This answered the central question of the Russian revolution, that is, which class would lead it. On this question both Lenin and Trotsky agreed that the working class would be the leader of the revolution.


The Marxist, Communist struggle against the exploitation of the working people by heartless capitalists had its first resounding success in the October revolution of 1917, which opened a new chapter in human history. But the retreat of the world revolution, or at least, the European revolution meant that the Soviet revolutionaries would have to continue with the process of building socialism in one country, holding on while waiting for the return of the revolution. Although the civil war had been won at great cost, and the supporters of exploitation defeated, the revolution nevertheless, had to face a world of capitalist encirclement in what was a backward, semi-feudal, capitalist country.


Bukharin had tried to reconcile the differences in the party leadership over the trade union issue by forming a "buffer" group, but to no avail because as Lenin indicated, Trotsky’s approach to the trade unions was fundamentally wrong. In fact, instead of playing the role of a "buffer" Bukharin found himself siding with the Trotskyites in this dispute. Bukharin had formed his buffer group to prevent, or at least, contain the split in the communist leadership; however, such was the development of the struggle that he sided with one side against the other.

When the split in the Communist leadership over the trade union issue began to grow, a split which threatened a rupture between the Russian Communist Party and the organised working class, Trotsky began to deny that the "shake up" policy could be attributed to himself.


Trotsky wrote his Transitional Programme in 1938. Known as The Death Agony of Capitalism and The Tasks of the Fourth International, it was to become the programmatic guide to the various sections of the pro-Trotsky International. That Trotsky held high hopes for this organisation was forcefully expressed in Trotsky’s remark in the programme that

‘The advanced workers of all the world are already firmly convinced that the overthrow of Mussolini, Hitler and their agents and imitators will occur only under the leadership of the Fourth International’. (Trotsky: The Transitional Programme: The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International; New Park Publications; p.47).


It was during the famous trade union dispute that arose in 1920 that Lenin approached the question of Trotsky’s methodology, although his previous categorisation of Trotsky’s rendition of ‘Permanent Revolution’ as absurdly ‘left’ certainly suggests a critical view of Trotsky’s method, i.e., pseudo-leftism.

In Trotsky’s methodology, we constantly see the primacy of the abstract over the concrete, theory over practice. Unlike Marxism-Leninism, there is a separation between the abstract and the concrete in Trotskyism. In his April Theses of 1917, Lenin approvingly recites Goethe’s dictum: theory my friend is grey, but green is the eternal tree of life.

In answer to the question, 'What is Trotskyism?', the simplest reply is: Trotskyism is pseudo-leftism. A more lengthy reply is: Trotskyism was open opposition to Leninism, and has now become concealed opposition to Leninism.

Trotskyism is a petty-bourgeois deviation in Marxism. It is the triumph of abstract thinking over concrete thinking.

Tony Clark,

Communist Party Alliance.

August 20th 2001