By Sergio García
Next August 21 will mark the 80th anniversary of León Trotsky´s assassination in Mexico, at the hands of an infiltrated Stalinist agent. As a young man he led the Petrograd Soviet in the 1905 revolution, which was defeated by tsarist repression. Alongside Lenin, he also led the 1917 victorious Russian Revolution that originated the first workers’ and socialist state. He created the Red Army, promoted the Third International along with the top leadership of the Bolshevik Party and after the bureaucratization of the former USSR, he founded the IV International. Persecuted, defamed and finally assassinated, he concentrated all the hatred of the Stalinist bureaucracy. With his death they wanted to cut all the threads of continuity between his work and that of Lenin and Marxism. They failed. Leon Trotsky lives on through his fundamental ideas and is reborn every day, with new generations embracing his cause. With this installment, we begin a series of articles with reflections and conclusions. In this first article, we present a review general events and ideas that we will further explore in subsequent texts.
From a very young age Trotsky embraced the revolutionary cause, without yet fully reaching Marxist ideas. At less than twenty years of age, he founded his first Workers’ League and suffered arrest and deportation to distant Siberia. He managed to escape and join the socialist movement as a collaborator of Iskra, the newspaper that Lenin organized from London. Returning to Russia, Trotsky became an extraordinary figure of the 1905 revolution and the Soviets at just twenty-six. After the defeat of that revolution, he was deported again and escaped again. A revolutionary, passionate and militant spirit ran through him entirely, like so many of his contemporaries. In the midst of struggles of ideas and projects, between agreements and differences, a generation of fighters was forged among whom Lenin stood out, for being, within these tendencies, the best architect and leader of the Bolshevik wing.
From this early period, amid struggles, defeats and learning that prepared the triumphs of the following decade, we value in Trotsky that militant character, that decision to confront an entire system even in the worst conditions. Thus an army of socialist workers was being formed in very difficult times. As he himself would explain years later:
“The movement was completely unaware of careerism, nourished by its faith in the future and its spirit of sacrifice. There was no routine, nor conventional formulas, nor theatrical gestures, nor rhetorical procedures … the one who joined the organization knew that prison and deportation awaited him in a few months. The ability of the militant figured in resisting as long as possible without being detained, in behaving with dignity before the police, in supporting when the detained comrades could, in reading as many books as possible in prison, in escaping deportation as soon as possible to go abroad and make provision of knowledge there, in order to return and resume revolutionary work. The revolutionaries believed in what they taught, no other reason could have led them, if not, to embark on their way of the cross.”
With the Working Class, to Lenin’s Party
From these years come also the strong debates against the reformist tendencies within Social Democracy, in addition to his first writings about the “permanent revolution” theory that over the years became essential to understand the mechanisms, tendencies and objectives of the world revolution. Since for the first time a scientific explanation was given of the different tasks of the revolution and the leading role of the working class.
Towards 1917 we also have to vindicate the wisdom to know how to change, to advance on our own mistakes and to assume the best of Lenin. Trotsky came to the socialist revolution by making Lenin’s party his own, helping more than three thousand workers to join him, since then assuming the organizational and political strategy of the Bolshevik Party, the same that in his youth he had not fully understood. He changed in order to make the revolution, convinced by the reality of that necessity. And he did it with the best method of the working class; putting past quarrels in the background in order to orient himself fully towards prioritizing what corresponded according to the needs of the working class in revolution. That class that he always placed as the strategic and leading sector in his theory.
Against all the Stalinist scaffolding that years later wanted to charge him with his “non-Bolshevik” past and show him as someone prone to alliances with reformist socialists, as stated in the official minutes of sessions of the party’s Petrograd Committee, Lenin himself solved that falsehood in the debate and said: “I cannot even be serious about the conciliation. Trotsky has said long ago that the conciliation was impossible. Trotsky has understood this and since then there has been no better Bolshevik than him.”
An Internationalist Lion
The Russian revolution brought with it political, economic, social, and military challenges, facing the attack of various capitalist armies that tried to liquidate the revolution. The task entrusted by Lenin of forming from nothing the Red Army of workers and peasants that ended up defeating the counterrevolution fell to Trotsky. It is not in the scope of this article to refer to this feat that deserves a particular attention, let’s just remember Lenin who in this regard said: “Show me another man capable of organizing in the term of a year an army that is almost a model and of earning the respect of military specialists. We have that man. We have it all. And we will do wonders.”
During those years, the top Bolshevik leadership tried to spread the revolution to the rest of Europe and therefore, in addition to leading the socialist state, dedicated time and effort to founding the Third International in 1919 in Moscow, with delegates from various countries. In this construction Lenin and Trotsky played a leading role based on the enormous prestige they had gained among the internationalist militancy. The first four congresses were organized between 1919 and 1922 with enormous political contributions condensing the Soviet revolutionary experience and analyzing international tasks and every change of situation.
Lenin died after a long illness in 1924. Little by little Stalin took over the central apparatus of the party and the government. In a few years the serious economic and political mistakes, the persecutions, the falsehoods, the purges took a qualitative leap and began to liquidate the project and the strategy of the Third International, under the reactionary theory of “socialism in one country” promoted by taking advantage the weariness of years of civil war and the defeat of the European revolution, in particular the German revolutin in 1923.
Faithful to Marxism, Leninism and a militant internationalism, the old Lion, already in exile, began the process of reorganizing a militant vanguard, first from the International Left Opposition and finally by founding the Fourth International with its first event in September of 1938 on the outskirts of Paris. Thus, the severing of the red thread of history was avoided and all the revolutionary teachings were organized under a new project. That was the greatest merit of a momentous political-organizational step, given in the midst of a very complex international situation.
Since then until today a lot of water has passed under the bridge. In other articles we will refer to this long march of Trotskyism, to which we have contributed from our historical tendency of Morenism and currently from the dynamic construction of the ISL together with comrades and organizations from different countries and from different political origins. Understanding that such a programmatically solid and at the same time open search, as Trotsky himself said, is an essential part if we want to build great revolutionary organizations far removed from sectarianism and opportunism, avoiding dogmatism, being critical and self-critical. We will also refer to this in future articles based on current examples and debates.
The wonderful writer Eduardo Galeano, referring to Trotsky´s final seclusion in Coyoacán, remembered him in the Memories of Fire trilogy, saying: “Trotsky stubbornly continues to believe in socialism, no matter how dirty it may be with human mud.”
Today, in the midst of a new world capitalist crisis, with the same insistence and stubbornness, Trotskyists continue building revolutionary parties like the MST and with the ISL, an international organization for the socialist revolution that is becoming increasingly indispensable. In this class and ideological struggle, Trotsky is reborn every day. Too bad for the old bureaucratic, reformist and possibilist apparatuses, who do not understand why new layers of working class and student youth want to get to know the old Leon and join the ranks of his followers. Encouraging this process, we continue our work.