The disappearance of the Russian bloc at the end of the 1980s, culminating in the collapse of the Moscow regime and the disintegration of the USSR, marked a turning point in the history of the world. More specifically it marked a turning point in the history of capitalism in its imperialist phase.

The underlying global relationships which had crystallised in the years following the Second World War ceased to exist as one of the two competing imperialist blocs collapsed. In place of global competition between blocs led respectively by the USA and USSR, a far more complex series of relationships has developed. The old alliances have been replaced. The USA’s former allies, particularly Germany and Japan, have struggled to assert their independence and forge new alignments against the backdrop of a world capitalism which stumbles from one crisis to another with each turn meaning more misery for the working class.

As the 1990s moved towards their close the ideological gurus of Western imperialism’s boasts that the Russian collapse had marked the end of history was exposed as a total nonsense. Indeed it would be a laughable nonsense, except that its falsehood is borne out by the increasing impoverishment and barbarism imposed on workers across the globe. The certainties of late imperialism have collapsed with a great rapidity. The experience of the "tiger economies" of the western Pacific rim proved the impossibility of sustained capitalist growth in the current epoch as debt-strangled states attack wage levels and social provision in an attempt to shore up profitability.

In Europe a series of barbaric episodes have engulfed a whole area of the continent as the global powers seek to carve out and defend spheres of influence. Meanwhile imperialist competition, and its twin sibling, trade war continues apace. The struggles around renewing the GATT agreements and then the World Trade Organisation are reflections of the same process which in turn has led to the competing powers developing their own local trading arrangements: NAFTA dominated by the USA and the German dominated "Euroland". The experience of imperialism throughout the twentieth century shows that trade wars and the construction of trading blocs during economic crisis is merely one step along the road to full-scale military conflict the final and most complete expression of imperialism.

Marxism explains the necessity of proletarian revolution as the path to the liberation of humanity. A key task for Marxists is to understand the historical process and to interpret and explain the unfoldings of the class struggle. Nothing can be more harmful to communism than a political method which dresses itself in shreds of Marxist terminology only to mislead workers in general (not to mention its own followers) with confusing and confused interpretations on key questions of the day.

For more than half a century the Trotskyist movement has acted as "critical" apologist for, and supporter of, both Stalinism in the East and Social Democracy in the West. The mainstream of capitalism has ditched both those sets of structures as it seeks to grapple with unmanageable crisis. Today those Trotskyists who have not disappeared from sight present themselves as shifty salesmen, trying to peddle the cast-off, out-of-date ideological products left over from world capitalism’s post-war boom. A root and branch re-evaluation of Trotskyist theory is a necessary preparation for any confused elements wishing to move to consistent internationalist communist politics. This pamphlet serves as a tool for those wishing to achieve that clarification.


The pamphlet comprises three main parts.

The first he first is an analysis of Trotsky and Trotskyism from 1917 until 1940. This, in turn, can be broken down into three main components.

The first of these deals with the positions taken by Trotsky and his followers during the 1920s as the proletariat in Russia lost political power. The Russian state, now acting on behalf of capital, continued to claim the mantle of Lenin and even maintained the existence of Soviets. However, by now, the "Soviets" of the Russian state were the antithesis of the revolutionary workers’ councils which had been the key tool for the proletariat in struggle.

The article serves to debunk a number of myths which today’s Trotskyists peddle about the positions of their predecessors during the 1920s. In particular the article deals with the oft-repeated lie that the Trotskyists were the only, or at least the most consistent, opposition to those in the party and state machine who were rehabilitating capitalism. This is shown in two ways.

Firstly, by tracking the factional manoeuvres which Trotsky undertook it is clear that, until forced out of power in the mid-1920s, his role was that of a faction leader within the Russian party and state, initially against Zinoviev but then with Zinoviev and Kamenev against Stalin. The second key point which helps to debunk the Trotskyist mythology is the highlighting of the role of the Italian Communist Left in opposing the degeneration of the Comintern and the loss of the heritage of the Russian revolution. We should also not forget the history of the non-Trotskyist Left Communist elements in Russia who took up the struggle against the degenerating Soviet state far earlier and more thoroughly than Trotsky. The struggle of those comrades - valiant strugglers for proletarian revolution in the most difficult and confusing circumstances - has been airbrushed from history by both Stalinists and Trotskyists alike. Trotsky’s own quote about the role of the Democratic Centralists, reproduced in the pamphlet, is part of the reply to the distorters of revolutionary history. We hope in future to build on the work of other communists to rectify this historical crime.

The second key element of the analysis deals with the feature which was identified earlier as Trotskyism’s core confusion - the nature of the degenerated Soviet state. From the 1920s until his murder by their agents in 1940 Trotsky maintained that the group around Stalin somehow defended "the gains of October". For Trotsky the nationalised industry of the Stalinist monstrosity was a historic gain for the working class. From the mid 1930s the confusion of the Trotskyist movement was complete as it combined this claim with the argument that the Stalinist bureaucracy could not be reformed and thus there had to be a "social revolution". (In fact during the 1990s many Stalinists succeeded in reinventing their role and holding on to power when the capital which had only recently been held by the state became more or less transformed into private capital.)

In summarising the roots of Trotsky’s confusion the first document observes that:

Trotsky .... could not recognise that it [the Soviet bureaucracy] represented a new ruling class in the making who collectively disposed of the surplus product created by the working class.

The document goes on to the key clarification necessary to understand the class nature of Stalinist Russia.

The ineluctable need to serve in the process of the accumulation of capital, the iron necessity imposed by world capital, determined the objective role of the new strata, who were class functionaries by virtue of their relation to reified capital.

The third key element of Part One deals with Trotskyism during the final years of Trotsky’s life and the political and organisational collapse of the Trotskyist movement during the Second World War.

The second part of the pamphlet contrasts Trotskyist opportunism and desperate search for a mass base at a time of counter-revolution with the resolute defence of proletarian autonomy and internationalist principles of the International Communist Left. Although we cannot go into a detailed history of the Communist Left here, this part is included in order to show that there were proletarian forces at that time, which not only defended many of the positions we defend today, but also made the critique of the degeneration of Trotskyism as it was happening.

Part Three goes on to analyse some of the more significant splits and developments of the myriad Trotskyist groups since 1945. This part underlines that the fundamentally social democratic basis of Trotskyism, despite all its revolutionary rhetoric, has completely prevented this movement being the basis for proletarian freedom. None of the Trotskyist groups has ever stopped to enquire why there have been so many splits based on minute tactical differences. As we try to show here, the real problem lies in the framework and methodology which Trotskyism adopted in the 1930s. This pamphlet isn’t simply dedicated to an abstract ideological critique. To arrive at a classless, moneyless, stateless society in which "the free development of each is the condition for the development of all" the working class has to reject the counter-revolutionary contortions of Trotskyism.

Communist Workers Organisation, October 2000
Sunday, October 1, 2000