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Trotsky and authoritarian state socialism from above

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Review, by Barry Biddulph of Trotsky, Trotskyism and Trotskyists, a Communist Workers Organisation Pamphlet.


The CWO acknowledges Trotsky’s insight from his participation in the Russian Revolution of 1905, that ” the appearance of Soviets allowed him to foresee the possibility of a proletarian revolution in Russia”. (1) But, Trotsky always had something of Lassalle’s notion of the people’s state about his politics. It was always the revolution using the state and nationalisation, rather than a revolution against the state. So even though ” Trotsky led the Soviet, his theory of permanent Revolution never led him to analyse the Soviet and draw from it what Marx drew from the Commune” . (2) Instead, in 1905, Trotsky reached the conclusion that in the future revolution, unemployed and locked out factory workers would not limit themselves to the Capitalist Republic, but would demand state intervention from a workers government.
The Social Democratic vision of a working class party capturing state power and using the state was what constituted the step beyond the Democratic Revolution. For Trotsky, in 1906, the state machine was a powerful lever for revolution : ” every political party worthy of the name strives to capture political power and thus put the state at the service of the class it represents”. (3) This could not be further from the anti state lessons of the Paris Commune of 1871 : ”The important contention by Marx that the old state, once smashed, should not appear again as an instrument above and against the working class is neither challenged by Trotsky or even acknowledged”. (4) In the understated words of the CWO, ”Trotsky after 1918 was less concerned with the question of working class self emancipation and more concerned with building a state power” . (5)
The dictatorship of the party state, masquerading as the dictatorship of the proletariat, was a sustitutionism personified by Trotsky. Trotsky saw no contradiction between the dictatorship of a party leadership supported by the authoritarian rule of managers, army officers, specialists, and the transition to a post capitalist society. He was the champion of a top down bureaucratic centralism : ” Reporting to the sixth Congress of Soviets in 1918, Trotsky complained that not all soviets and workers have understood that our administration has been centralised and that all orders issues from above must be final ” . (6) Integral to this State Socialism was the Social Democratic view that without private ownership, Capital’s economic forms, hierarchy and division of labour prefigure socialism. The Bolshevisation of American Technology : the transition to Socialism was Taylorism and a Bolshevik state.
Trotsky also remained “bound by a conception of the relations between party and masses that matured between 1919 and 1920 and was shared by Trotskyists and Stalinists alike” . (7) His opposition to Stalinism and bureaucracy was belated, hesitant and theoretically confused due to his refusal to recognise the seeds of Stalinism sown by the Bolshevik Party following the revolution. He uncritically identified himself with the state and the party during this period. Why would workers need trade unions to defend themselves in a Bolshevik state? As for factions and democratic rights in the party, for Trotsky it was a case of my party right or wrong : declaring at the 13th Congress , that: “I know that no one can be right against the party” . (8) Identifying progress to Socialism with the extension of State ownership he remained blind to the growing counter-revolutionary power of the state and the bureaucracy.
The CWO nail Trotsky’s definition of a workers state as “the nationalisation of the land, the means of industrial production, transport and exchange together with the monopoly of foreign trade”. (9) This fixed, and abstract definition, is at odds with Marxist view that, the economic factor is not an isolated factor, separate and apart from social relations : it’s not a technological machine. This is the politics of the Second International. According to Marx, “to try to give a definition of property as an independent relation, a category apart-can be nothing, but an illusion of metaphysics or jurisprudence”. (10) The argument that nationalised property is a transition to a post capitalist society does not stand up to historical scrutiny. Rooting the Soviet bureaucracy in distribution as a sphere apart does not theoretically work either. As the CWO point out the structure of distribution is determined by the structure of production.
Inconsistently, Trotsky showed awareness in his assessment of Stalinism in theRevolution Betrayed, that the ruling bureaucracy had the characteristics of a ruling class and the transfer of the factories to the state only altered the situation of the worker juridically. But he was unable or unwilling to draw any coherent theoretical conclusions from these insights and others. Ultimately, this meant that, ” he avoided having to come to terms his own role in preparing a strong state and army which the Stalinists were able to use against the working class “. (11) He had foreseen the danger of the Leninist Party substituting itself for the working class as early as 1904, when he famously warned that:
” in the internal politics of the party these methods lead….to the party organisation substituting itself for the party, the central committee substituting itself for the party organisation and finally the dictator substituting himself for the central committee”. (12)
He simply repudiated these organisational views following 1917. In his own words : ” in this substitutionism of the power of the party for the power of the working class there is nothing accidental and in reality there is no substitutionism at all”. (13) A complete uncritical turnaround from his previous organisational views. The CWO have nothing to say about these crucial issues of organisational democracy. In 1904 the young Trotsky mocked Lenin for his admiration for factory discipline and mechanical subordination within the party : ” for discipline has meaning ony when it gives the possibility of fighting for what one thinks just; and it is for this that one impresses discipline on oneself”. (14) Nor does the CWO pamphlet discuss Kronstadt. Trotsky was still spreading lies about Kronstadt during the 1930′s. In response to Victor Serge, in Hue and cry over Kronstadt, Trotsky wrote that the red sailors had been replaced by a petty bourgeois mass demanding special privileges. A claim at odds with the truth which was a demand for equal rations directed at the bureaucracy and the revival of the Soviets directed at the Bolshevik leaders.
In the New Course in 1923, he discussed the power of the state- party bureaucracy as a problem of generations, the old guard, including himself and the younger generation. The old guard would pass on the baton to the young Red Jacobins as custodians of the socialist future. This idealism of the party apparatus followed the suppression of workers strikes and the bloody crushing of Kronstadt. As Miasnikov asked : why has the Communist party no common language with the rank and file? Why do the party leaders reach for their guns ? Trotsky had supported the ban on factions and refused to defend those who called for a return to party and industrial democracy. He argued against the right of members to form factions in his speech to the 13th congress : ” I have never recognised freedom for groupings inside the party, nor do I now recognise it”. (15) He tied himself to the bureaucratic apparatus.
Later in exile, in his notebooks, he wrote, ”Lenin created the apparatus. The apparatus created Stalin”. (16) He drew back from the logical conclusion, Lenin created Stalin, but acknowledged Lenin promoted Stalin to important positions. But following the Revolution it was the non Trotskyist oppositions which fought for party democracy, far sooner and more deeply than Trotsky. In 1921, Aleksandra kollontai of the workers opposition argued that the :
“bureaucracy is a direct negation of mass self-activity….there can be no self-activity without freedom of thought and opinion….we give no freedom to class activity; we are afraid of criticism; we have ceased to rely on the masses; hence we have bureaucracy with us”. (17)
There was a deeper problem in that Trotsky had difficulty developing theory as events unfolded and was conciliationist towards his own theories. For many years, he remained stuck in the groove of 1905. The theory of permanent revolution was not developed until 1928, after the defeat of the Chinese workers revolution. It took him until 1926 to come out in support of Zinoviev and Kamenev and against socialism in one country. Even in 1926, in search of unity with the Zinoviev and sections of the apparatus, he was still publically against factions. From 1923 to 1933, he called for reform of Stalinism and saw Stalinist State industrialisation as due to the pressure of the working class. He considered Stalin as a distorted form of the dictatorship of the working class. Trotsky’s transition to Socialism was via a Labour dictator : a role he had pioneered himself.

1 Trotsky, Trotskyism and Trotskyists, p4 , Communist Workers Organisation,2000.
2 CLR James, (1980) , Notes on Dialectics, Alison and Busby, London.
3 Leon Trotsky, Results and Prospects, 1906, p 194, in The Permanent Revolution, New Park Publications 1982, London.
4 Roy Ratcliffe, (2003) Revolutionary Humanism and the Anti Capitalist struggle, p203.
5 Trotsky, Trotskyism and Trotskyists, p28.
6 Paul Mattick, (2007), Anti Bolshevik Communism, p66, Merlin Press, Monmouth.
7 Antonio Carlo, (1976) Critique 7, p29.
8 Leon Trotsky, the Challenge of the Left Opposition, P161, Pathfinder Press, New York.
9 Trotsky ,Trotskyism, Trotskyists , p9.
10 Frank Furedi, (1986), The Soviet Union Demystified , Junious publications, p58.
11 Roy Ratcliffe, (2003) , Revolutionary Humanism and the Anti Capitalist struggle, p204
12 Leon Trotsky, (1904) Our political Tasks, p77 New Park Publications, London.
13 Leon Trotsky, (1920) Terrorism and Communism, p123 , New Park Publications 1975.
14 Leon Trotsky, (1904) Our Political Tasks, p 99, New Park Publications.
15 Leon Trotsky, the Challenge of the Left opposition p 154, Pathfinder Press 1980.
16 Trotsky’s Notebooks 1933-35 (1986) , p27 , Translated, Annotated, Introduced by Philip Pomper, Colombia University Press.
17 Ronald Grigor Suny, ( 1998 ) The Soviet Experiment, p 133 , Oxford University Press.

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