Ted Grant

Leon Trotsky

Written: August 1944
Source: Socialist Appeal, vol. 6 no. 5 (Mid-August 1944)
Transcription: Harry 2007
Markup/Proofread:: Emil 2007

Four years ago, on August 20th, 1940, a G.P.U. assassin, Frank Jackson, in the pay of Stalin, brutally murdered Leon Trotsky by thrusting a pick-axe into his skull. This act was a calculated blow at the leading brain of the Socialist Revolution and of the world working class.

Leon Trotsky has been more vilified and slandered by the hired pen men of Stalin than any man in the whole of history. But in spite of all the lies and perversions, in the long run the truth will make its way. The liars serve reactionary ends but those who died for the cause of the working class have always been restored to a position of honour in the memory of mankind.

In the endeavour to gain some plausibility into their scheme, the Stalinists have been compelled to revise the whole history of the Russian revolutionary movement. No less than 17 times has the history of the Russian Revolution been written to suit changes in Stalin’s policy—and then the author Popov was “liquidated” himself as a “Trotskyist”! Now the thoroughly revised edition of the History of the C.P.S.U., under the personal supervision of Stalin himself, has been issued in hundreds of thousands of copies all over the world.

In this country, Page Arnot wrote two histories of the Russian Revolution, the one contradicting the other. Each “history” further attempts to distort the role of Trotsky and of the other companions of Lenin.

All these lies and falsifications can be swept aside by just one or two simple facts which have appeared in Lenin’s Collected Works. A succinct summary of Trotsky’s political biography appeared as a note to the first edition of Lenin’s Collected Works, in Volume XIV, Part 2, pages 481–82, published by the State Publishing House in Moscow in 1921. Here in these few lines, edited under the sharp eye of Lenin himself, are the answers to all the lies and falsifications concocted in later years by the betrayers of the revolution:

“L.D. Trotsky, born 1881 (1879), active in the workers’ circles in the City of Nickolayev; in 1898 exiled in Siberia; soon after escaped abroad and participated in the Iskra. Delegate from the Siberian League at the Second Congress of the Party. After the split in the Party, adhered to the Mensheviks. Even prior to the revolution in 1905, he advanced his own and today particularly noteworthy theory of the permanent revolution, in which he asserted that the bourgeois revolution of 1905 must pass directly into the socialist revolution, being the first of the national revolutions; he defended his theory in the newspaper Nachalo, the central organ of the Menshevik faction published during November-December 1905 in Petersburg. After the arrest of Khrustalov-Nussar, he was elected chairman of the First Petersburg Soviet of Workers’ Deputies. Arrested together with the Executive Committee on December 3rd, 1905, he was sent into life exile to Obdorsk, but escaped en route and emigrated abroad.”

“Trotsky chose Vienna to live in, and there he issued a popular newspaper, Pravda, to be circulated in Russia. He broke with the Mensheviks and attempted to form a group outside of all factions; however, during the factional struggle abroad he made a bloc with the Mensheviks and the Vyperod group against the bloc between Lenin and Plekhanov, who fought the liquidators. From the very beginning of the imperialist war he took a clear-cut internationalist position, participated in the publication in Nashe Slovo, in Paris, and adhered to Zimmerwald.”

“Deported from France, he went to the United States. On his return from there after the February Revolution, he was arrested by the Government of Kerensky and indicted for ‘leading the insurrection’ but was shortly freed through pressure from the Petersburg proletariat. After the Petersburg Soviet went over to the Bolsheviks, he was elected Chairman and in this capacity he organised and led the insurrection of October 25th. Standing member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union since 1917; a member of the Council of People’s Commissars; Commissar of Foreign Affairs up to the signing of the Brest Treaty, then People’s Commissar of War.”

The whole world stands in admiration of the Red Army at the present time. It is showing what can be accomplished even under a degenerate leadership like that of Stalin, by the Army of a workers’ state. But without the foundations laid by Trotsky, these achievements would have been impossible. From Lenin himself we have the testimony as to the role which Trotsky played in the building and shaping of the Red Army:

“show me another man who would be able in a year to organise a model army, yes, and win the esteem of the military specialists.”

Today, Stalin and his henchmen pretend that it was Stalin who organised the October insurrection. Without even a smile, these hypocrites, from Stalin down, will say that all the “practical work” was accomplished by them, fighting all the while against the machinations of Trotsky! But the book published by the Communist Party in Britain, October Revolution by Stalin, shows that in telling so many lies they have lost track.

On one page Stalin says:

“All the work of practical organisation of the insurrection [of October 1917] was conducted under the immediate leadership of the President of the Petrograd Soviet, Comrade Trotsky. It is possible to declare with certainty that the swift passing of the garrison to the side of the Soviet, and the bold execution of the work of the Military Revolutionary Committee, the Party owes principally and above all to Comrade Trotsky.”

But a few pages later he says:

“Comrade Trotsky played no particular role either in the Party or the October insurrection, and could not do so, being a man comparatively new to our party in the October period.”

The achievements mentioned above would be sufficient to enrol Trotsky forever as one of the greatest of the revolutionary leaders of the working class. But the honour and devotion with which the workers in future generations will regard him will not be based mainly upon these: it will be upon his work in fighting against the Stalinist reaction and preparing the way for the new revolutions of the working class throughout the world.

Lenin educated the cadres of Bolshevism on an analysis of the defeated Russian revolution of 1905, and on the teachings of Marx on the reasons for the collapse of the Paris Commune of 1871. It was in this school that the victorious revolution of 1917 was prepared. Trotsky’s struggle against the Stalinist traitors began with an analysis of the reasons for the defeat of the German revolution of 1923. A defeat for which Stalin shared complete responsibility with Zinoviev and others. Not only Germany of 1923, but the Chinese revolution, the British General Strike, the danger of Hitler’s coming to power in Germany, the Spanish revolution, the revolution in France, the nature and meaning of fascism, the nature of the Soviet State and the Stalinist bureaucracy—all these questions, well in advance of events, were analysed and their content elucidated.

Not for nothing did Lenin say that without a revolutionary theory there could be no revolutionary movement. While Stalinism has staggered on from one betrayal to another, the living essence of Marxism has been preserved in the writings of Trotsky since the death of Lenin. Without a study of these writings, anyone who pretends to understand Socialist theory must remain politically ignorant and illiterate. Even a study of the other great teachers by itself is not sufficient, but would leave a one-sided view of the tendencies and meaning of world politics in modern times.

The victory of Hitler marked a decisive turning point in the fate of the Comintern. Trotsky fought hard and desperately to change the policy compounded of folly and treachery, whereby the Communist Party split and paralysed the German workers, thus handing them over bound hand and foot into the clutches of the Nazi executioners. His books and articles on Germany constitute an imperishable guide to the tactic of the United Front and an indictment of the responsibility of Stalinism for the disastrous victories of fascism in Europe.

“If Hitler comes to power, and proceeds to crush the vanguard of the German workers, the Fascist government will be the only government capable of waging war against the USSR…In case of victory in Germany, Hitler will become the Super-Wrangel of the world bourgeoisie.” (Trotsky, Germany, The Key to the International Situation, 1931) [source (translation differs)]

“In the struggle against fascism the factory councils occupy a tremendously important position. Here a particularly precise programme of action is necessary. Every factory must become an anti-fascist bulwark, with its own commandants and its own battalions. It is necessary to have a map of the fascist barracks and all other fascist strongholds, in every city and in every district. The fascists are attempting to encircle the revolutionary strongholds. The encirclers must be encircled. On this basis, an agreement with the social democratic and trade union organisations is not only permissible, but a duty. To reject this for reasons of ‘principle’ (in reality because of bureaucratic stupidity, or what is still worse, because of cowardice) is to give direct and immediate aid to fascism.

“A practical programme of agreements with the social democratic workers was proposed by us as far back as September 1930. What has the leadership undertaken in this direction? Next to nothing. The Central Committee of the Communist Party has taken up everything except that which constitutes its direct task. How much valuable, irretrievable time has been lost! As a matter of fact, not much time is left. The programme of action must be strictly practical, strictly objective, to the point, without any of those artificial ‘claims’, without any reservations, so that every average social democratic worker can say to himself: ‘What the Communists propose is completely indispensable for the struggle against Fascism.’ On this basis, we must pull the social democratic workers along with us by our example, and criticise their leaders who will inevitably serve as a check and a brake. Only in this way is victory possible.” (Trotsky, For a Workers’ United Front Against Fascism, December 8th, 1931) [source]

The criminal refusal to form a united front and the failure to learn the lessons of the defeat led inevitably to the passing over of the Comintern to the side of the capitalist counter-revolution. It was then that Trotsky came out for the formation of the Fourth International, unsullied by the infamous sell-outs of the Internationals which had outlived themselves.

The road was hard and tiring. The Trotskyists remained a tiny minority within the ranks of the world working class. They endured persecution and hatred not only from the capitalists but from the agents of the Stalinist reaction. But Trotsky’s profound understanding of the process of history led him to show the further development of events surely and accurately. The task then was to train the vanguard, though it remains temporarily a small minority. And in all the important countries of the world that precious leaven lives and works.

Trotsky showed that the failure of the old organisations of the workers to solve the problem of our time, the contradiction between the development of the means of production and the fetters of private ownership and the national state, led inevitably to a new imperialist war. Equally inevitable would be the betrayal of the Stalinists and the Second International in their support for the imperialist war. Trotsky ridiculed the fantastic illusions of Stalin that in such a world conflagration, Russia would be able to keep out. But at the same time, stressed to the world proletariat the necessity for the defence of the Soviet Union despite the treachery of Stalin.

All the forces of the old society were responsible for the war, he showed. The war would bring in its train the death agony of fascism, imperialism and social-democracy and Stalinism. The imperialists can make the war; they will not make the peace. In the war and its aftermath, the imperialists would be called to account for their crimes. A new era of revolutions would begin, which would revise all the decisions reached on the battlefield.

An understanding of the developments in the war and its aftermath is given us by the use of the weapons forged in the arsenal of Trotsky, using of course the method of Marx and Lenin. But it is an historical irony that the pieces that remain of the “stinking corpse” of the once revolutionary International founded by Lenin and Trotsky, should be one of the main obstacles in the path of the emancipation of the working class. Their preparation for the revolution at the present time consists in the propagation of the vilest form of incitement to chauvinism and race hatred, which out-Vansittarts Vansittart and even out-Hitlers Hitler’s racial insanity. But all this nationalist poison was foreseen in advance. Violation of the principles of Marxism inevitably leads to opportunist crimes in practice. The germ of this disease was lodged in the theory of “Socialism in one Country”, which has come to mean “No Socialism anywhere at all”.

The cleansing wave of revolution will put all tendencies to a new and ruthless test. The ideas of Bolshevism, of Trotsky, will become the ideas of the international working class. The revolutionary essence of Trotsky’s teaching lies in the necessity for a revolutionary party with a revolutionary leadership trained and educated in the ideas of Marxism, enriched by the lessons of the events of the past century, and thus provided with a through and through revolutionary policy.

The whole of Trotsky’s life was dominated by this single aim. He showed how, time and again, the masses had been driven on to the revolutionary road by the crimes of capitalism. The masses had revealed the heroism and self-sacrifice necessary to achieve victory many times in Spain, China, Ger many, Italy and other countries. Only once in the Russian Revolution of 1917 were they victorious. And they were victorious because of the existence and policy of the Bolshevik Party and a Bolshevik leadership, basing itself on Marxian theory.

Trotsky’s greatest contribution lies not in the years of the successes of the international working class, in which he played a great and heroic role, but in the years of the greatest defeats and disasters of the workers, his hardest and most persecuted years.

In these years Stalin conducted a personal vendetta seldom equalled in history, in which he murdered not only Lenin’s and Trotsky’s co-workers, many of Trotsky’s secretaries and many leaders of the Fourth International, but even Trotsky’s children. One he drove to suicide and the rest he assassinated. And after nearly a score of attempts he finally succeeded in killing Trotsky. This was undoubtedly a terrible blow against Socialism and against the world working class. But it was not a decisive one. It will not save capitalism or even the Stalinist bureaucracy itself. Trotsky was murdered. But it is impossible to murder his ideas and his methods. These live on in the work of the Fourth International. Even in the hour of his death the “Old Man” (as his disciples called him) indicated the confidence he had in the success of his life work. He gave a message to inspire those left behind, to carry on his work: “Go Forward! I am sure of the victory of the Fourth International!”