Sunday, 21 April 2013

What I’d ask Trotsky if he was around today

Many people pour cold water on us in the socialist party for looking back and learning from the works and ideas of Leon Trotsky but I think personally he is as relevant as ever. Facing one of the deepest if not the longest economic crisis we’ve possibly ever known many working people will be looking for ideas and a explanation why this is happening and what can we do about it. Workers will naturally be drawn back to the ideas of Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky. There is so much I’d ask Trotsky if he was still alive today such as does he feel we are posing the right questions and raisin the correct slogans in the class struggle right now. His foresight to what was necessary at each time and at every stage. Trotsky was an outstanding Marxist and a very crucial person during the Russian revolution alongside Lenin was able to steer the revolution towards a successful end. But above all, Leon Trotsky was one of the greatest theoreticians of the workers' movement. If Karl Marx was the man of the millennium, then Leon Trotsky was undoubtedly, with Lenin, Friedrich Engel’s and Rosa Luxemburg, also one of the greatest figures of the millennium, and certainly of the 20th century. His ideas, his method of analysis, and the conclusions drawn from this, are as relevant today as in the past. TAKE TROTSKY'S FAMOUS theory of the permanent revolution, which brilliantly anticipated the class forces involved in the outcome of the Russian revolution. Russia prior to 1917 was a feudal or semi-feudal system which meant virtual slavery for the population. Like India today, the majority of the population were peasants who eked out an existence on narrow parcels of land while the urban working class had no rights and were ruthlessly exploited in rapidly developing industry. Russia had not completed the capitalist democratic revolution as had England, for instance, in the 16th century, and France in the 18th century. The main tasks of this revolution were the elimination of feudal and semi-feudal relations in the land, unification of the country, and the solution of the national question. It also involved the introduction of democracy, the right to vote, the election of a democratic parliament, a free press, and trade union rights for the working class. Last but not least, the completion of this revolution would free the economy from the domination of imperialism, particularly of Anglo-French imperialism which saw Russia as a virtual colony. Marxists do not idolise 'ancient texts' no matter how brilliant they might be. However, if a theory is very 'old' and yet it correctly foresees events and processes, it is the most modern of theories. And Trotsky's ideas are as applicable today for most of Africa, and for huge parts of Asia and Latin America, as they were for Russia more than 80 years ago. The capitalist democratic revolution has not been completed in big parts of the neo-colonial world. The landlords and capitalists are incapable of solving the even greater accumulation of problems which exist today compared with 1917. TROTSKY'S ANALYSIS OF the rise of the bureaucracy and the victory of the Stalinist counter-revolution is one of the treasures of humankind. Without this Marxists would have been groping in the dark to find a way forward. In his Diary In Exile, Trotsky summed up his contribution in the following fashion: "The work in which I am engaged now, despite its extremely insufficient and fragmentary nature, is the most important work of my life - more important than 1917, more important than the period of the civil war or any other. "For the sake of clarity I would put it this way. Had I not been present in 1917 in Petersburg, the October revolution would still have taken place - on the condition that Lenin was present and in command. If neither Lenin nor I had been present in Petersburg, there would have been no October revolution: the leadership of the Bolshevik Party would have prevented it from occurring - of this I have not the slightest doubt! If Lenin had not been in Petersburg, I doubt whether I could have managed to conquer the resistance of the Bolshevik leaders. The struggle with 'Trotskyism' (i.e. with the proletarian revolution) would have commenced in May 1917, and the outcome of the revolution would have been in question. But I repeat, granted the presence of Lenin, the October revolution would have been victorious anyway. The same could by and large be said of the civil war, although in its first period, especially at the time of the fall of Simbirsk and Kazan, Lenin wavered and was beset by doubts. But this was undoubtedly a passing mood which he probably never even admitted to anyone but me. "Thus I cannot speak of the 'indispensability' of my work, even about the period from 1917 to 1921. But now my work is 'indispensable' in the full sense of the word. There is no arrogance in this claim at all. The collapse of the two Internationals has posed a problem which none of the leaders of these Internationals is at all equipped to solve. The vicissitudes of my personal fate have confronted me with this problem and armed me with important experience in dealing with it. There is now no one except me to carry out the mission of arming a new generation with the revolutionary method over the heads of the leaders of the Second and Third International". (Diary in Exile, pp53-54) There is not an atom of personal arrogance let alone 'pessimism' in these lines. Trotsky was the first real dissident, together with the rest of the Left Opposition, to oppose Stalinism. They were the staunch defenders of workers' democracy against the Stalinist counter-revolution. Trotsky points out that the basic contradiction of capitalism is that the working class cannot buy back the full product of their labour, because they only receive a portion of this in the form of wages. However, capitalism overcomes this contradiction by ploughing the surplus back into industry. But this, in turn, leads to an even greater production of goods which the working class at a certain stage is incapable of buying back. The capitalist economists dispute this even, as Trotsky pointed out, in short-lived booms, such as the 1924-29 boom in Germany, when Werner Sombat proclaimed that capitalism had overcome its contradictions (on the eve of the 1929 Wall Street Crash). Trotsky was not without his faults and the socialist party never shy’s away from pointing these out he for example didn’t see the Stalinist soviet union living on past the 2nd war which in fact actually strengthened the Stalinist system. Of course, Trotsky wrote and worked in a different historical era to ourselves. Some of the issues he was compelled to deal with are no longer as burning for the working class. You will find in his writings this or that antiquated expression or an idea which does not appear immediately relevant to our world today. However, an amazing amount of what Trotsky wrote is extremely pertinent, a thousand times more relevant to serious workers looking for an explanation of economic, political and even historical phenomena, than anything else on offer today. Trotsky never had any fetish about organisational forms. He also opposed both ultra-leftism and opportunism. His ideas were never for the meeting room alone but were preparation to intervene wherever the working class is and win them to socialist and Marxist ideas. Following Trotsky's advice, members and supporters of Militant (now the Socialist Party) patiently worked within the Labour Party in Britain. The Labour Party, as with its cousins internationally, had a dual character. Sectarians of all stripes disputed this. They took the phrase of Lenin that the Labour Party was a 'bourgeois workers' party' and turned their backs on the Labour Party and the support it then enjoyed at bottom from the working class. There was not an atom of dialectical analysis in their approach. Right from the outset, the Labour Party had 'bourgeois' leaders in the sense that even those who claimed to be 'socialist' ultimately were not prepared to go beyond the framework of capitalism. Nevertheless, at its base the Labour Party was perceived by workers as 'their' party and its creation was a step forward from a class point of view of the proletariat in Britain. Moreover, it possessed democratic features which allowed Marxists to intervene, in the case of Militant, with great success. We were able to connect the ideas of Trotsky to youth and workers. Militant was the most successful Trotskyist organisation since the Left Opposition in the whole of Western Europe. Tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of workers were introduced to the basic ideas of Trotsky through the work of our organisation (now the Socialist Party). In Liverpool between 1983-87 we created a mass movement which shook the ruling class. We initiated and led the mighty anti-poll tax battle, with 34 of our comrades jailed, which ended in the defeat of the tax and the consignment of Thatcher to the rubbish heap of history. No other Trotskyist party in the advanced industrial world could claim such a record. While others are, in reality, abandoning Trotsky as no longer relevant to 'the modern world', we perceive that his ideas and methods are as vital, indeed more vital, to the struggles that are opening up. The new changed period will allow Marxism to reconnect to the working class, in the first instance, to its more developed layer, which will provide the backbone for the creation of new mass forces. The working class in Britain, for the first time in 100 years, in a mass sense has been politically beheaded by New Labour's move to a position analogous to that of the Democratic Party in the USA. This is why the Socialist Party in Britain calls for the creation of a new mass workers' party, while at the same time seeking to build its own forces within the working-class movement. We hail Trotsky as a great theoretician and leader of the working class but we do not merely acclaim past leaders. It is necessary for us, particularly the new generation of workers, to study the writings of Leon Trotsky alongside of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg but, above all, to seek to acquire his method which will allow us to create a mass Marxist force that will eradicate from the planet the scourge of capitalism and all that goes with it. Extracts taken from Peter Taaffe’s excellent the relevance of Trotsky today in socialism today

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