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John Passant

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January 2012



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Why read Trotsky?

This is a translation by me of an article that John Mullen wrote two years ago about Trotsky and why we should read him even today. I published it a few days ago on this site in French. It is called Pourquoi lire Trotsky?

John is an activist in the French New Anti-Capitalist Party and webmaster of the site “Socialisme International”. Any errors in translation are mine.


The essential Trotsky  

Seventy years ago, Stalin had Trotsky assassinated in Mexico.  The anniversary of his death did not attract much attention. Trotsky’s ideas have little support today.

However, there was a reason why Stalin wanted to kill Trotsky, even in exile.  Trotsky and his ideas represented a real alternative to the dictatorship against the workers that Stalin had set up.

Trotsky played a major role in organising the insurrection of October 1917. But even more important was his activity after the Revolution. 

The new Bolshevik government ended the war against Germany and gave land to the peasants. Despite the intervention of twenty three foreign armies, the enthusiasm of Russian peasants and workers managed to win the civil war and defend the new state.

Inspired by the Russian revolution, across the world, within each working class movement a minority formed determined to spread the communist ideals in their own country.

It was Lenin who had said “Without a revolution in Germany, we are lost.” 

Russia, a backward agricultural country, could keep alive for a moment the flame of a new society but could not, isolated and underdeveloped, build a free and egalitarian society permanently.

The revolution in Germany failed in 1919 and 1923. Because of a lack of a cohesive and experienced revolutionary organization, capitalism was able to re-stabilise. The Russian revolutionary state was isolated. 

In this situation, Stalin chose his strategy to strengthen the powers of the bureaucracy, force, against all the tenets of Marxism, the peasants to “collectivise” their land, crush all the rights of workers, in short, make Russia a country whose industry was capable of competing with the West regardless of the price paid by its people.

Stalin abandoned all the ideals of the Revolution, but kept the revolutionary rhetoric in the new state capitalism.

Trotsky and his comrades represented another way. They wanted to compromise with the richer farmers to feed the cities and  do everything to hang on until there was a revolution in an advanced country. 

In Russia, the Left Opposition around Trotsky worked hard to defend the democratic rights of workers, to restrict the privileges of the bureaucrats, and to lead revolutionary propaganda around the world.

Trotsky lost, but we can use his fight to oppose the most dangerous myth in the history of the twentieth century: the idea that Stalin’s victory was inevitable.

This is a myth that suits many elites today. If any attempt by workers to control the wealth they produce inevitably ends in bloody totalitarianism, the capitalists have a bright future ahead of them.

This is not Trotsky’s only contribution. In the 1930s, he developed an analysis of Hitler’s fascism and how to fight it. He emphasised the importance of the largest possible unity against the fascists. 

Despite the disastrous policies of reformist socialist parties, Trotsky insisted that it was necessary to unite with them in the streets against Hitler. 

He was not heard. The German Communist Party, considering Hitler and the reformists as essentially the same, was defeated and massacred by Hitler without even having fought the battle.

The life and work of Trotsky allows us to consider two alternatives to what happened: that workers’ power could have been maintained and that Hitler could have been crushed.  

This is why Trotsky’s writings remain important for anti-capitalists of the 21st century. 

This does not mean, of course, that Trotsky never made a mistake. For many years prior to 1917, he refused to join the Bolshevik party preferring the small circle around him

Above all, until the end of his life, Trotsky defended the ridiculous idea that, despite the cooperation of Stalin with Hitler, despite the destruction of all workers’ rights, Russia was somehow a “workers’ state” and that there had been no social counter-revolution under Stalin. 

But understanding Trotsky and his contribution are essential for those who argue for an anti-capitalist revolution.

John Mullen



Pingback from En Passant » Pourquoi lire Trotsky?
Time January 4, 2012 at 9:44 pm

[…] Un article que John Mullen a écrit il y a deux ans. John est militant du Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste et webmeistre du site “Socialisme International”. The English translation is available here.  […]

Comment from Shane H
Time January 5, 2012 at 11:43 am

Not my fave piece – something about his ‘combined and uneven development’.

I am presently re-writing my politics and social movement courses and this raises a question for me. While we insist that Hitler and Stalin were quite different for me that’s because Stalin presides over a socialist economy but if he is a state capitalist that makes him a ‘national socialist’ like Hitler doesn’t it?

Comment from John
Time January 5, 2012 at 7:44 pm

Didn’t Trotsky write on the similarities between Hitler and Stalin? But I’d have to think about it. Very different backgrounds and histories.

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