Sun Feb 05, 2023
February 05, 2023

Leon Trotsky: Revolutionary, Marxist, Internationalist

By Esat Erdoğan

When Lev Davidovich Bronstein, known as Trotsky, was assassinated in Mexico on August 21, 1940, by Stalin’s agent Ramon Mercader, he left behind an enormous library and legacy of socialist revolution. He was one of the leaders of the age of revolutions, orienting the revolutionary waves of the uprising masses. Trotsky accompanied the working class’s fight to change the world. Against the armies of the counter-revolution, he formed the Red Army of the working class. When the Revolution was stolen by the Stalinist bureaucracy, he waged a costly struggle for Revolutionary Marxism and the world proletariat. Thanks to him and his thousands of supporters, the political and organizational chain of Marxism has not been broken today.

A Life Dedicated to the Liberation of Humanity

Trotsky was born the son of a farmer on October 26, 1879, in a village in Ukraine. He went to Odessa as a child to receive education and then to Nikoleyev where he became enamored with politics.

His childhood years, 1880-90, were the calm period of the Russian revolutionary movement. The People’s Freedom movement was completely controlled by the Tsarist forces after the assassination of Alexander II. After another failed assassination attempt on Alexander III, the Narodnik movement was nearly destroyed. Lenin’s brother, Alexander Ulyanov, was among those who planned the assassination.

At the same time, Lenin, Martov, and Potresov formed the League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class. The working class gradually began to struggle, and in 1896, a strike took place in Petersburg in which twenty thousand people participated. The influence of class struggle and ​​Marxist ideas spread throughout the country during this period.

In the same city where Trotsky studied and became a revolutionary, ten thousand workers were working in the docks and factories. The Union of Workers of Southern Russia, of which Trotsky was a member, was organized among these workers. It was the first Social Democratic organization in Nikolayev. They published a paper called “Nashe Delo”. At that time, such disorganized and underground group activities were common. They were called “economist” because they focused only on the “bread/salary struggles”.

This small group became known in a short time thanks to their newspapers. Trotsky was just 18 years old when he realized the importance and impact of revolutionary writing. But the secret police soon became aware of the situation, and then the arrests began. On the run, Trotsky was caught in a farmhouse where he was hiding at the beginning of 1898. He was held in harsh conditions and in single-cell prisons in Nikolayev, Kerson, and Odessa. It was there he began learning new languages by reading church magazines in German, English, French and Italian.

At the end of 1899, nearly two years later, he was released from prison to be exiled to Siberia. He was first sent to Moscow. Here he met the Social Democrat revolutionary prisoners. The political world in Moscow was much richer. He read Lenin’s book The Development of Capitalism in Russia while awaiting his release. In the spring of 1900 he married his first wife and comrade Sokolovskaya in a Moscow prison.

Shortly after his Siberian exile, he joined the Siberian Union of Social Democrats, made up of Trans-Siberian railway workers. During his stay in Siberia, he defended socialism against anarchism, the mass struggle against terrorism, and Marxist philosophy against idealism.

A Young Revolutionary in the Iskra’s Editorial Board

In the summer of 1902, he escaped from exile, leaving behind his two children and wife. With a new fake identity, he took the name of the guard in the Odessa prison: Trotsky. He first came to Samara and made contact with the Social Democratic revolutionaries there. Because of his interest in literature, the revolutionaries in Samara nicknamed him the “Pen”.

The Pen went to London in October 1902, called by Lenin. In London, he found himself a place on the editorial board of Iskra. Important names such as Plekhanov, Vera Zasulic, Axelrod, Lenin, Martov and Patresov were also on the editorial board of Iskra, the central organ of that period.

At Lenin’s request, Trotsky continued his travels and attended the Second Party congress held in Brussels in July 1903 as a Siberian delegate. The first debate in the Congress was on the General Jewish Labour Bund’s demand for autonomous privileges, which was rejected. Trotsky, despite being himself Jewish, was also against this proposal resulting in a split. Another important debate was against economists. Economists were against the prominence of revolutionary politics and the central organization. They accused Iskra of “Jacobinism”. Trotsky also had very harsh arguments against them, which is why he was named “Lenin’s Stick” in the first part of the congress.

However, in the second part of the congress, he parted with Lenin. There was no formal distinction between Mensheviks and Bolsheviks until the party’s second congress. Even Plekhanov was defending the dictatorship of the proletariat. Discussions began on the Party’s charter. Lenin argued that a person who “accepts the party’s program, helps the party by financial means, and personally joins one of its organizations” is called a “party member”. Martov, on the other hand, used a more ambiguous definition, “cooperating personally and regularly, under the guidance of one of the organizations…”. Martov and Lenin, and of course the party, fell on two sides of this debate. In these debates, partly as a result of his inexperience, Trotsky sided with Martov and accused him of setting up a closed organization of conspirators.

With the support of Bund supporters and economists, Martov won a majority in the congress. However, in the number of editorial boards and management votes, Lenin’s proposals won. For this reason, those who supported Lenin were called Bolsheviks (majority) and his opponents were called Mensheviks (Minority). When the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks broke in two, the party of the revolution actually split from the reformists.

Trotsky left the Iskra editorial board in April 1904, and then, realizing that his politics were developing differently, also left the Mensheviks. The Menshevik group, in his view, placed factional interests above the party. While this opinion was close to Lenin’s, he continued to harshly criticize him.

After the congress, Trotsky moved to Munich where he met with Parvus. Parvus was writing political articles from abroad at that time and was also known to the intellectual circles of the period. It was during this period that Trotsky began to write The Permanent Revolution.

1905 Revolution

In January 1905, St. Petersburg workers marched unarmed to the Tsar’s Winter Palace. At their head was Father Gapon, hired by the Tsar’s secret police to organize the workers. Despite marching with crosses and flags in their hands, the Tsar’s soldiers did not listen to their demands and opened fire on the crowd. The massacre of innocent demonstrators helped ignite the fuse of the 1905 Revolution.

Trotsky immediately returned to Russia to join the uprising in February 1905. He fled to Finland a wanted man. When a general strike was declared in St. Petersburg in mid-October, he returned. The strike, which was initiated by the printing press workers with the demand to decrease the working hours and increase the daily wages, spread throughout the country. Despite the underground socialist movement’s unpreparedness for the strike, it grew and as it grew, it spawned a new institution: the Workers’ Delegates Council, the Soviet. In fact, the Soviets emerged from workers’ representatives who were called to a commission set up by the Tsar. The Soviets soon became the center of the revolution and they started to publish a newspaper called Izvestiya. The Mensheviks initially contributed greatly to the spread of Soviet representatives throughout the country. The militants of the Bolshevik Party, on the other hand, initially regarded the Soviets as rivals. This was until Lenin said, “Approach with cooperation.” Trotsky was the speaker at the meeting of the Soviets on October 15. The revolutionary workers listened to him with enthusiasm. He soon became an important spokesperson for the Soviet.

As a result of the general strike, the Tsar backed down. He promised a new constitution and elections on October 17 that corresponded to the demands of the people. On October 19, Trotsky demanded that the Soviets stop the strike. On October 21, the strike stopped, but the strikes resumed as the tsar’s soldiers continued their attacks. On November 5, in his speech to the Soviet executive committee, Trotsky called for the strike to be ended for the second time: “A general strike cannot go on indefinitely. Insurrection must follow the general strike. The Soviet is not ready for this…”.

Recession Period

Lenin returned to the country on 8 November. Arrests of Soviet members again began on November 22. Trotsky, who advocated to unite the strike with armed insurrection, was now a major threat and was arrested again. Striking workers resisted at the barricades for 10 days.

Trotsky devoted himself to reading and writing in prison: He made his preparations for the October revolution and finished his work on permanent revolution. The socialists of that period argued that a bourgeois revolution would take place in Russia, which first destroyed tsarism. The Mensheviks dreamed of a coalition between the working class and the liberal bourgeoisie. The Bolsheviks argued that the working class would play an important role in the bourgeois revolution. Trotsky, on the other hand, took the Bolsheviks’ understanding one step further. The working class would have to lead the Russian Revolution from the bourgeois stage to the socialist stage. History proved him right in 1917.

On November 2, 1906, he was exiled to Siberia for life. However, he escaped again and went first to St. Petersburg and then to Finland. From there he went to London for the party congress. 350 delegates attended the London convention in April 1906. Trotsky did not join either the Bolsheviks or the Mensheviks at the Congress. He tried to combine the two trends. In the Congress, however, the party of revolution rallied behind Lenin, while the party of reformism rallied behind Martov. Trotsky especially opposed the expropriation decisions of the party at the congress. This put him at odds with Stalin and some Bolsheviks.

After the Congress, Trotsky moved from London to Berlin. There he met Kautsky, who was considered the “pope of Marxism” in Europe at that time. But the same Kautsky would be very critical of the October Revolution in the following years. During this period, Rosa Luxemburg also supported the theory of permanent revolution. Stalin would therefore accuse her of being a Trotskyist. After Berlin, he moved to Vienna and stayed there for about 7 years.

In 1907, Stolypin’s period of terror began. While in 1905 everyone was sympathetic to socialism, now everyone was abandoning it. The revolutionaries turned to underground work again. During these years, Lenin further consolidated the party. Znoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin and Stalin advanced within the party. Trotsky, on the other hand, focused on his intellectual work.

In 1912 the Bolshevik faction became a party. Trotsky tried to unite the party once again in August 1912. In vain, it was the wrong decision and it failed. Then he moved to Belgrade and Sofia as a correspondent to follow the Slavic rebellion against the Ottomans in the Balkans. Christian Rakovski guided him during his trip to Romania. Rakovsky was Trotsky’s companion until his death. (When Rakovsky was a child of a Bulgarian family, his lands were occupied by Romania and he became a Romanian citizen.)

The Outbreak of the First World War: Crossroads with Reformism

Until the Balkan wars, about 50 years passed with general peace. The false prosperity created by the wealth from the colonies negatively affected the European left movement. Class conciliation and reformism swept the workers’ movement, and this also besieged the International. The leaders of the European socialist movement began to support their nation-states in the First World War. It was the International’s obituary.

Trotsky was in Vienna when World War I broke out. Most of the Russian refugees were congregating in Switzerland. Trotsky also met with his family in Zurich. He wrote the pamphlet on War and the International in Zurich. He moved from Zurich to Paris in November. On February 14, 1915, he wrote to the newspaper Nashe Slovo about his political differences with the Mensheviks. He cut off personal contact with Parvus because of his support for the war.

At the call of the Italian communists, an international congress was convened in Zimmerwald on September 5, 1915. Thirty-eight delegates from countries not at war attended the Congress. The majority of the delegates were pacifists. Lenin, on the other hand, defended a “defeatist” attitude and called for turning the imperialist war into a civil war. Trotsky took a joint position with Lenin and wrote the Zimmerwald manifesto. An international committee was established. Zimmerwald became the nucleus of the Third International.

Alongside Russian leaders such as Vera Zasulich, Potresov and Plekhanov, social democratic parties in Europe supported the war and their own national governments. Trotsky was close to the Bolsheviks’ political position. He wrote at Nashe Slovo: “…In Russia, in the current mood of intense political activity, Leninism is discarding its sectarian sides and workers’ groups affiliated with the Social Democrat (Lenin’s newspaper) are the only force working in Russia today that is consistently internationalist. … For internationalists who do not belong to any of the factions, there is no way out but to mingle with the Leninists. And that means joining the Leninist organization… Of course, we can lose many valuable sides in such a fusion… But the spirit of class struggle, which lives not in the literary laboratories, but in the dust of the political war waged by the people will find itself and develop courageously.” (Nashe Slova, 19 January 1916). However, there were differences with Lenin in terms of his “defeatist” policy. Lenin saw the defeat of Russia in the interests of the revolution. He stood against chauvinism and told the Bolsheviks to lay down their arms. Trotsky, on the other hand, was still advocating propaganda for the revolution by staying on the side of the soldiers. These two views were united in the October Revolution.

On September 15, 1916, the French police closed Nashe Slovo. Trotsky was driven out of France. He was forcibly expelled from the Spanish border on October 30. From there he was sent to the United States. He landed in New York on January 13, 1917. He started to write for the newspaper Novi Mir (New World) published by Russian political refugees in America. At the head of the newspaper were Bukharin, Kollontai and Volodasky.

Working Class in Power: the October Revolution

In March 1917, news came from Russia. On March 13, Trotsky wrote in Nova Mir: “We are witnessing the beginning of the second Russian revolution”. The liberals wanted to stop it, but the revolution had resumed where it had left off in 1905. Having received the information of the uprising, Trotsky left New York on March 27, but was disembarked by the British police in Scotland on April 3 and was held in a camp with German prisoners (he was able, however, to spread socialism propaganda to German prisoners throughout the camp). Trotsky was released on April 29. On May 17 (May 4 according to the old Russian calendar), he passed from Finland to Petrograd. A delegation of internationalists and large crowds greeted him.

At the suggestion of the Bolshevik members, Trotsky was elected to the Soviet Executive Committee. As the leader of the 1905 revolution, he was offered this post. During this period, the majority of the Soviets were still Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionaries.

The first government of the February revolution fell within two months. Cadets and moderate socialists became the government. Ten capitalist and six socialist ministers were in the government. The task of the six Socialist ministers was to formulate a program that the Soviets would approve. Kerensky was the new government’s Minister of War.

On May 5, socialist deputies came to the Soviet and asked for support. Trotsky proposed: “I think the next step we will take will be to hand over all power to the Soviets. Only one power can save Russia. Long live the Russian Revolution, long live the first step of the world revolution.” Among those who congratulated him after his speech was the Mid-Road Organization (Mezrayonka). Formed in 1913, the group was torn between Mensheviks and Bolsheviks and followed Trotsky’s writings. Luncharsky, Riazonov, Manuilsky, Pegrovski, Yoffe, Uritsky, Volarsky were members of the group. The Middle Way organization and Trotsky completely joined the Bolshevik party at the Fourth Congress, which took place in July. Lenin and Trotsky were united. Trotsky began to work in Pravda.

In July the working class revolted. In fact, the Bolsheviks found the uprising premature and feared it would be as short-lived as the Paris Commune. Although the Soviets were strong in Petrograd, they were not strong enough throughout the country. But when the working class took action, they tried to direct the mobilization. After the uprising, a massive campaign of slander against the Bolsheviks began. Trotsky and Luncharsky were arrested because of the uprising and Lenin and many Bolshevik leaders went underground again.

Kerensky became prime minister after the July days. Kerensky collaborated with the reactionary General Kornilov against the Bolsheviks and the left wing in general. Kornilov’s main aim was to seize the government in a coup. Kerensky would realize this too late. Despite this, the Bolsheviks were at the forefront of the struggle against the coup. The workers occupited the railways and the telegraph stations, and sabotaged Kornilov’s soldiers. Trotsky had a strong influence on the sailors of Kronstad. The Kronstad sailors, who came to visit him while he was in prison, asked how they should behave in the coup: “Should we protect Kerensky against Kornilov, or quarrel with Kornilov and Kerensky?”. Trotsky directed them against Kornilov, saying that we will settle accounts with Kerensky later. Kornilov’s forces were defeated on 1 September. Trotsky was released on bail on September 4.

On September 23, Trotsky was elected head of the Petrograd Soviet. He was given the task of making the first call for revolution on behalf of the Soviets. The main emphasis of his speech was Kerensky’s withdrawal from the government and the transfer of power to the Congress of Soviets. Together with Lenin, they thought that the time for revolution had come. Zinoviev and Kamenev claimed that they had dragged the party into disaster.

On October 9, the Military Revolutionary Committee was formed and headed by Trotsky. The Politburo, meeting on 10 October, consisted of Lenin, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Trotsky, Stalin, Sokolovsky and Dubnov. On the night of October 24, government buildings were occupied under the leadership of the Military Revolutionary Committee. On October 25, Soviet victory was declared. With the overthrow of the Kerensky government, dual power came to an end. In Trotsky’s words, the 25-30,000 revolutionaries made the revolution a success.

Brest Litovsk

After the revolution, Trotsky was among the first seven members of the Politburo. He joined the revolutionary government as People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs. This was a difficult task for him. The Bolsheviks faced a war-weary people, so the government demanded peace talks from Germany. On 14 November, the German High Command accepted the offer to negotiate. On December 9, 1917, the Brest negotiations began. On December 19, the Bolsheviks distributed a newspaper called Torch, which they published in German, in the German trenches. While disbanding the Russian army, they also freed German prisoners. Trotsky joined the talks on 27 December. Germany wanted complete surrender.

On January 5, Trotsky demanded a break from the talks. While returning to inform the party, he observed that the Russian soldiers had already cleared the trenches. The soldiers did not have the strength to fight. A revolution from Europe was needed.

At the meeting of the Bolshevik party on January 11, the party was divided in two between those who wanted war and those who did not. Trotsky’s proposal of “neither war nor peace” was not accepted. On February 17, the Germans attacked again. On February 23, with the weight of Lenin, the government officially demanded peace. However, Germany’s agreements for peace came at a heavy cost. They demanded the complete demobilization of the army and Latvia and Estonia. They also wanted Ukraine and Finland to evacuate. On February 23, the pacifists were the majority in the discussions in the Central Committee. Bukharin, Djerzinski, Radek, Yoffe, Uritsky, Kollontai, Riazonov etc. were well-known names of the war-seeking trend. Twenty years later, during the great purge of the party (Moscow Trials), Bukharin was to be accused of conspiring against Lenin at Brest.

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed on March 3, 1918. Under the agreement, Finland, the Baltic states, Poland, Ukraine and Crimea were freed from Russian control. In addition, Russia was to unoccupy the Eastern Anatolian region, which the Ottoman Empire lost,. Trotsky did not go to sign the treaty; for him it was a defeat.

Two weeks after the treaty, the Germans occupied Kyiv and Odessa. Although the war ended in the East, it lasted until the end of 1918 on the Western Front. With the defeat of Germany, the USSR regained the lost lands.

The Republic Arms

Trotsky was appointed War Commissar and head of the Supreme War Council in March 1918. He was tasked with building an army out of nothing. The only force that could fight in his hands was the Latvian infantry division. There were also Red Guards and gangsters. The number of Red Guards was 3,000 in Moscow and 4,000 in Petrograd. In July 1918, 10,000 workers joined the volunteer army. Within two years, the Red Army would exceed 5 million soldiers.

However, Trotsky had to take advantage of the Tsarist officers while establishing the new army. He assigned a political commissar to each commander. While the commanders took over the management of military training and operations, the decision required bilateral signatures. In time, many socialist officers were trained. At the end of the civil war, two-thirds of the officers were socialist officers originally from lower ranks. Trotsky’s establishment of a central army and calling the tsarist officers to duty drew the reaction of the Left Communists. According to them, this situation was against the concept of freedom of the revolution. But events proved Trotsky right.

When the central army was established, the mercenary units had to be disbanded. There were clashes with Makhno’s anarchist troops. A short time later, Czech and Kolchak forces attacked. On top of that, the Socialist Revolutionaries revolted. The Soviets began to retreat, and while they were retreating, they also executed the tsarist family in Ekaterinburg.

The Republic was under threat because of the advance of the white armies. Trotsky summoned all the  Generals  to the front, and he himself went to the front by train. The conflict at Svyajk on the Volga bank reversed the fate of the revolution. The Red Army under Trotsky stopped the advance of the enemy forces. On September 10, the Reds took Kazan. But this success reactivated the ire of internal enemies. The Socialist Revolutionaries attempted to assassinate Lenin and they killed Uritsky.

In the second year of the revolution, the Whites were now defeated. Trotsky was awarded the Order of the Red Banner as the victor in the Soviet Executive Committee. He led the civil war of 1918-1921. The Red Army defeated the white armies and the forces supported by the invading troops of fourteen countries.

With the prestige of the Bolshevik revolution, the Third International was founded in March 1919. Trotsky was among the authors of the texts of the first four congresses. However, the defeat of the German and Hungarian revolutions, the unsuccessful attempts of rebellion organized by Zinoviyev and Bela Kun III. It also weakened the International.

As a result of the First World War, the Hungarian Soviet Republic was established on March 21, 1919. The Republic, founded under the leadership of communist leader Bela Kun, only lived for four months. It was defeated on August 1, 1919, with the Romanian invasion of Budapest. Similarly, Soviet republics of various sizes were established in Germany. The revolution, which began with the sailors’ uprising in northern Germany, led to the establishment of Soviet Republics in Hamburg, Berlin and Munich. The most striking of these was the Bavarian/Munich Soviet. But it only survived for one month. The Munich Red Army, founded with tens of thousands of volunteers, was defeated on May 3, 1919. Thousands of revolutionaries were killed. After the uprising in Berlin, the leaders of the German proletariat, Karl Liebnecht and Rosa Luxemburg, were murdered.

Bolshevik Power Fights Difficulties

Around 7 million people died during the civil war. The economy had completely collapsed, and the people were fleeing the big cities and returning to the countryside. Very important cadres of the working class and party were killed or maimed in the war. Most of the survivors had returned to their villages.

At the end of the civil war, national income fell by one third; industry had fallen to one fifth, coal production to one tenth, and iron production to one fourteenth compared to the pre-war period. The exchange of goods between the village and the city had almost stopped. By 1921, the population of Moscow had fallen by half and the population of Petrograd by a third. The people were in poverty, and on top of that there was a great famine due to an unproductive agricultural sector. The new workers who replaced the old workers had no political tradition. Theft and corruption in factories increased.

In the midst of these difficulties, the Kronstad sailors revolted under the leadership of the anarchists. Although Trotsky went to persuade the sailors on March 5, he was unsuccessful. On March 17, the Bolsheviks suppressed the rebellion by force.

War communism was abandoned and replaced by NEP (New Economic Policy) in order to revive the stalled economy immediately after the uprising. Trade and intermediaries were allowed to obtain food from the countryside. In other words, the peasant was encouraged to sell food, and the merchant to bring it from the village to the city. In fact, concessions to private farming and trading gave rise to a new middle class.

The Beginning of Corruption: Bureaucracy Steals the Revolution

The dictatorship of the proletariat had won, but there was no proletariat. The Bolshevik Party was the only organized power and shaped the nation. The party was slowly beginning to take the place of the working class. In 1917, the number of members of the Party was 23,000. During the revolution this number tripled or quadrupled. It increased to 250,000 in the civil war and 700,000 in 1922. All reactionary elements infiltrated the Party in this process. Increasingly, a small minority began to determine policy. Economic problems, international isolation, the retreat of the European revolution, the loss of leading workers’ leaders in the civil war, all contributed to a rise in a bureaucratic core.

This trend increased the unrest within the party. At the party congress that took place in 1921, Lenin banned the factions to stop the tension. It was a situation that Lenin and the Bolsheviks had never imagined. As a result of these compulsory practices, the Party organization increasingly began to put itself in the Party’s shoes. After the death of Lenin, the Central Committee began to put itself in the place of the organization, and the dictator Stalin put himself in the place of the central committee.

A war between authoritarianism and freedom began to unfold in the country. The workers’ opposition objected to this authoritarianism. Trotsky, on the other hand, continued to seek a balance between Bolshevik discipline and proletarian democracy. XI. Most of the left opposition, which criticized the negative developments in the country at the congress, would later become Trotskyists. Left opposition leaders Rakovsky, Radek, Preobrazhensky, Yoffe, Antonov, Oseenko, Pyatakov, Serebriakov, Krestinsky, Ivan smirnov, Muralov, Mrackovki, Sosnovski sided with Trotsky in the following years.

In April 1922, Trotsky was dismissed as head of the People’s Commissars. At the 12th Congress, Lenin was preparing to declare war on the bureaucracy. But in May 1922 he suffered a stroke, and Trotsky remained silent at the congress. As a result, the Left Opposition was defeated in congress. All power in the party passed into the hands of the Troika, consisting of Stalin, Kamenev and Zinoviev.

In the summer of 1922 the right to self-determination was shelved. The Soviet federation was turning into a union. Stalin had a centralized constitution drawn up. During this period, Trotsky focused on modernizing the army and developing the arms industry by purchasing weapons. Lenin urged him to cooperate against the impending disaster and wrote a short letter on January 4, 1923. Lenin saw that Stalin needed to be removed from power. According to Lenin, all power was concentrated in one individual and “Great Russian nationalism” was developing. Lenin was right: when Stalin became General Secretary he concentrated the entire executive in his hands.

In January 1923, a faction was formed in the Politburo against Trotsky: the faction of Stalin, Zinoviev, Kamenev. Zinoviev was the head of the International, the most famous Bolshevik after Lenin, but was absent from the scene during the October revolution. He always objected to the decisions taken after the revolution. He could not defend Petrograd in 1919. In the discussions inside Party, in regards to united front and the militarization of workers, he was defeated by Trotsky. Kamenev was a conciliatory character, but was active in the Party organization. Although he did not want the revolution, he took part in the revolutionary front in the October revolution. Although Stalin’s hostility to Trotsky had begun long ago, it was mainly deepened by the rapprochement between Lenin and Trotsky in 1918. Lenin’s health problems did not allow him to conclude his final fight against the bureaucracy. With the death of Lenin in January 1924, the bureaucracy took power completely.

Now Trotsky was alone. He engaged in the organization of the Left Opposition against the bureaucracy. But the Left Opposition failed to defeat the bureaucracy. He was dismissed from his duty in the Red Army in 1925. He remained silent again at the party congress.

Realizing the danger in 1926, he made an alliance with Kamenev and Zinoviev against Stalin. However, this alliance was also unsuccessful. In 1927 Trotsky and thousands of dissidents were expelled from the Communist Party, many of whom were imprisoned or exiled to Siberia. Zinoviev and Kamenev surrendered to Stalin. Trotsky remained as the sole leader of the opposition.

Yoffe’s funeral in 1928 was his last speech in the USSR. He was expelled from the USSR in 1929. The first place of exile was Turkey. After his exile in Büyükada, Trotsky had to go first to France and then to Norway. In 1937, thinking that he could work more freely, he moved to Mexico.

His expulsion was not enough for the Stalinist bureaucracy. Stalin’s leadership, to destroy the entire legacy of the international socialist tradition, the old Bolsheviks and the Third International. In the “great purge” that began in 1934, hundreds of thousands of communist leaders were sent to concentration camps. In thirty-six courts, hundreds of thousands of Bolshevik Guards were massacred. Almost all of Trotsky’s supporters and family were massacred. Only his grandson Esteban Volkov, who lives in Mexico, survived. It is stated in the official documents of the USSR that 1,548,336 people were arrested between 1937-38 and 681,682 of them were executed. According to many historians, the real figure was twice that. The largest political genocide in history took place in the USSR.

The bureaucratization of the USSR linked the Third International and its affiliated Communist Parties, and of course the fate of the international revolution, to the interests of the USSR and created the reactionary theory of “socialism in one country”. Trotsky, on the other hand, defended the historical view of the Revolutionary Marxist tradition: the socialist revolution should spread internationally, and especially in the developed countries. Stalin claimed that socialism could be built in one country in peace with the capitalist world; because he wanted to protect the existing situation and the interests of the bureaucracy. The spread of revolutions would disrupt the international status quo and adversely affect the interests of the bureaucracy.

As a result, reactionary alliances were made with the bourgeoisie and many revolutions were defeated: the Chinese Revolution (1925-27), the Spanish Revolution (1936-1939), Greece (193-1948), France and Italy after the Second World War, Indonesia (1965), France (1968), Chile (1973), Portugal (1974), Iran (1979).

Trotsky argued that either the working class would take power again by making a revolution against the bureaucracy, or the bureaucracy would re-establish capitalism. History proved him right, and the bureaucracy pushed the workers’ state as far as capitalist restoration.

The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Stars

If we can speak of the continuity of revolutionary Marxism today, we owe it to Trotsky and the fighters of the Left Opposition. He was the “Last Bolshevik”, the living representative of Lenin’s Party and the Communist International. He continued the Marxist understanding of internationalism and Bolshevism’s understanding of the revolutionary party.

He made important contributions to Marxism theoretically and politically. History of the Russian Revolution, The Revolution Betrayed, The Permanent Revolution, The Spanish Revolution, In Defending Marxism, Their Morals and Our, My Life, Literature and Revolution, The Struggle Against Fascism, The Problems Of Everyday Life, Bolshevism Against Stalinism, The Balkan Wars, The New Way, The Murders of Stalin , The Revolution Distorted, Diary of Exile, The Third International After Lenin, the Chinese Revolution, the Lessons of October, Stalin, 1905, the Transition Program,  The Stalinist School of Falsification and a series of books and hundreds of articles left behind an enormous written legacy…

He built the Fourth International, the living legacy of the international socialist movement. It is the living symbol of the hope of the international socialist revolution. Trotsky referred to it as his greatest work. The Trotskyist movement had been aiming for a new International since 1933, after the Third International had become a complete satellite of the Stalinist apparatus. In 1938, with an underground conference, the Fourth International was founded. In this context, the world party tradition of Marxism continued in the Fourth International.

When we examine its theoretical legacy, we should definitely talk about the concept of the permanent revolution. He first penned this theory, which he had developed starting in 1905, in his pamphlet Results and Prospects in 1906, while he was imprisoned in the Peter Paul Fortress. He wrote the book Permanent Revolution in 1928 as a result of the 1917 October Revolution and the defeat of the 1927 Chinese Revolution. The theory of permanent revolution has three main aspects. The first tells how to advance to the socialist revolution by overcoming the bourgeois-democratic revolution in underdeveloped countries. That is, the dictatorship of the proletariat had to undertake the tasks of the historically belated bourgeois revolution. Once the proletariat seized power, it would also expropriate the bourgeoisie and raise socialist tasks. Thus, there would be a continuity between democratic tasks and socialist tasks. The second aspect of this theory was concerned with the internal transformation process of the revolution itself. The revolution is constantly evolving and advancing, he said. Third was the international character of the revolution. Even though the revolution started within national borders, it could not progress if the revolution was isolated in one country. For this reason, the proletariat had to seize power in other countries, especially in developed countries. The national revolution was part of the international revolution. All these theses were proven even after the October revolution. Lenin’s April Theses and the Third International’s  first four congresses are in harmony with the Permanent Revolution.

Another important theoretical contribution is the concept of Political Revolution. When he wrote The Revolution Betrayed in 1937, he argued that power bureaucratized by Stalinism should pass to the working class. This required a political revolution. Trotsky put it this way: “Either the Political Revolution overthrows the bureaucracy or the bureaucracy re-establishes capitalism”. In other words, the working class would overthrow the Stalinist bureaucratic apparatus and re-establish workers’ democracy and workers’ power while protecting the socio-economic foundations of the state.

Another very important work is the Transitional Program. With the Transition Program, workers would be mobilized with concrete demands, and these slogans would consist of demands that shifted from today’s consciousness to a socialist understanding, and would push the workers’ consciousness forward towards the conquest of power. A true revolutionary leadership would have been able to build around these mobilizations.

One of Trotsky’s original theoretical aspects is his analysis of Fascism. Trotsky described the rise of fascism in Europe as “capitalism’s last bulwark before socialism.” Trotsky also explained his differences with Bonapartism, military dictatorship. Trotsky was proposing a united workers’ front against fascism. The united struggle against fascism had to be carried out in the street, and required the participating of workers’ militia. While making this formula, he also stood against the concept of the People’s Front, which was in essence class cooperation. Stalinism, on the other hand, saw Social democracy as twinned with fascism and even described it as social fascist. This policy encouraged the Nazis in Germany, bringing them to power in 1933.

In conclusion, we owe the continuity of the revolutionary Marxist current today to the struggle that Trotsky and his comrades waged at the cost of their lives. They have guided Marxism in bright victories and in the darkest of times. The militants who took over their banner today continue to fight for the victory of the proletariat and the Fourth International all over the world.

Sources:

  1. Isaac Deutcher, Trotsky 1879-1921 The Prophet Armed, Alfa Publishing, Mach 2017.
  2. Isaac Deutcher, Trotsky 1921-1929 The Prophet Unarmed, Alfa Publishing, March 2017.
  3. Isaac Deutcher, Trotsky 1921-1929 The Prophet Outcast, Alfa Publishing, March 2017.
  4. E.H. Carr, History of Soviet Russia, Bolshevik Revolution 1 (1917-1923), Metis Publications, November 1989.
  5. E.H. Carr, History of Soviet Russia, Bolshevik Revolution 2 (1917-1923), Metis Publications, October 1998
  6. Leon Trotsky, My Life, Yazın Publishing, October 1999.
  7. Leon Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution I – February Revolution: The Overthrow of Tsardom, Yazın Publishing, October 1998.
  8. Leon Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution II – The October Revolution: The Failed Counter-Revolution Attempt, Yazın publishing, October 1998.
  9. Leon Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution III – The Victory of the Soviets, Yazın Publishing, February 1999.

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