Isaac Deutscher 1964

Introduction to The Age of Permanent Revolution: A Trotsky Anthology

Source: Isaac Deutscher (ed), The Age of Permanent Revolution: A Trotsky Anthology (Dell Publishing Co, New York, 1964 and 1970). Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

The publication of a popular anthology of Leon Trotsky’s writings could not be more timely. Not one of the great political figures of our century has aroused as much passion and controversy as he did – none has been as much persecuted, maligned and misunderstood. Yet probably none, with the exception of Lenin, has left a deeper and more lasting mark on the age. The purpose of this anthology is to convey a general image of Trotsky’s personality and to give an introduction to his ideas. This has been no easy task. His political and literary activity spans the first four decades of the century. During this period Trotsky reacted with word or deed to every major event of international significance. (A collected edition of his speeches and writings would make up fifty, sixty or more very large volumes.) Obviously, so great an abundance of thought and action cannot be compressed into a pocket-size book. Important elements of the man’s work must be represented in it only fragmentarily or can merely be hinted at. Some aspects of his personality can barely be sketched, others must be omitted.

Yet this selection of Trotsky’s writings, made by Mr George Novack, has the merits of many-sidedness and balance. [1] It provides a cross section of Trotsky’s activity; it should enable readers to follow the evolution of his thought chronologically and to grasp both its complexity and its underlying simplicity. Trotsky is shown here from various angles: as man of action, thinker and writer; as theorist of Permanent Revolution and master of insurrection; as inspirer of international communism and literary critic; as sober analyst of world affairs and great visionary; as the implacable enemy of Stalinism and as the tragic Cassandra of contemporary Marxism. The material is arranged according to subjects so that this selection may serve as a guide to Trotsky’s views on, say, socialism in a single country, Mussolini’s rise to power, the social nature of Nazism, the Spanish Civil War, Roosevelt’s New Deal, Stalin’s Great Purges, India’s struggle for independence, revolution in Latin America, and so on. This material comes from works available in the English language, so readers will have no difficulty in going to the sources in order to examine more closely any line of Trotsky’s reasoning and argument. [2]

In what does Trotsky’s greatness consist? And how relevant are his ideas and struggles to the problems of our time? Trotsky’s chief characteristic is that he is a ‘fore-thinker’ in the sense that the Greek myth tells us Prometheus was a fore-thinker, in contrast to his brother Epimetheus, the ‘after-thinker’. His mind, his will, his energy are directed towards the future. He stakes everything on the change and upheaval that Time, the great subversive, must bring about. He never doubts that the change and upheaval are worth working and waiting for. The established order, the powers that be, the status quo are merely evanescent ‘moments’ in the flux of history. His whole being is permeated by an almost inexhaustible and indestructible revolutionary optimism. His life is one fierce controversy with Epimetheus – a fratricidal struggle between himself and the after-thinker.

Dum spiro spero’ – ‘As long as I breathe I hope’ – he cries out as a boy of twenty. At the very threshold of the twentieth century he takes this vow: ‘As long as I breathe I shall fight for the future, that radiant future, in which man, strong and beautiful, will become master of the drifting stream of his history and will direct it towards the boundless horizons of beauty, joy and happiness!’ And at the spectacle of blood and oppression with which the century had ominously opened he exclaims: ‘You – you are only the present.’

Here, with boyish fervour and naïveté, Trotsky had in fact struck the keynote of his life. Through all its phases he was to remain true to himself; at every change of fortune, in triumph and disaster alike, his leitmotif is the same. At the pinnacle of power nothing is further from him than acceptance of the status quo; he still works for change, upheaval, permanent revolution. At the bottom of defeat, when persecution drives him around the globe, while his children are perishing, his friends and followers are being exterminated, he still utters, in a voice almost stifled with pain, his dum spiro spero:

The experience of my life [he said at the end of the ‘Counter-Trial’ before the Dewey Commission, in Mexico, in 1937], in which there has been no lack either of success or failure, has not only not destroyed my faith in the clear, bright future of mankind, but, on the contrary, has given it an indestructible temper. This faith in reason, in truth, in human solidarity, which at the age of eighteen I took with me into the workers’ quarters of the provincial Russian town of Nikolayev – this faith I have preserved fully and completely. It has become more mature, but not less ardent.

The arm of the assassin was already raised over his head when he repeated this pledge; and the only hope he expresses in his testament is that it may be given to him to bequeath his hope to posterity:

But whatever may be the circumstances of my death, I shall die with unshaken faith in the Communist future. This faith in man and in his future gives me even now such power of resistance as cannot be given by any religion... I can see the bright green strip of grass beneath the wall and the clear blue sky above the wall, and sunlight everywhere. Life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression and violence, and enjoy it to the full.

During a spell of disillusionment and cynicism nothing is easier than to dismiss such an attitude as old-fashioned ‘Victorian’ optimism or rationalism, if not as ‘metaphysics of progress’. Trotsky, however, does not invoke the innate goodness or rationality of man, nor does he believe in any automatic perfectibility of the human society. He sees the graph of history as a line terribly broken and twisted, not as one rising uninterruptedly. He is all too well aware of the sombre impasses into which men had driven themselves so many times, of the vicious circles within which rising and declining civilisations had moved, of the countless generations, faceless and nameless to us, that have lived in unredeemable slavery and of the huge, immeasurable mass of cruelty and suffering man has inflicted on man.

History is not to him the manifestation of any mastermind or master-will; nor is it a story with an underlying purposeful design. Yet, amid all of history’s savage chaos and sanguinary waste, he sees the unique record of man’s achievement: his biological rise above ‘the dark animal realm’, his social organisation, and his stupendous productive and creative capacity, which has grown with particular intensity in these last few generations. This capacity enables modern man to perpetuate the basis for the further growth and enrichment of his civilisation. It enables him to make his culture as immune from decay as no earlier culture could be. All the vanished civilisations of the past had been dependent for their existence on too small and feeble productive forces, which, in slave societies, degenerated all too easily, until a single blow – natural calamity, social disaster or foreign invasion – wiped them out. Thus, the lack of continuity in man’s cultural growth was due, in the main, to the underdevelopment of his productive power. Modern technology has at last created the preconditions of continuity; it has given man all the means for recording, fixing and consolidating his achievements. Time and time again it has enabled him to rebuild his social existence from ruins, and to reproduce his material and spiritual wealth on an expanding scale. This was to Trotsky the major source of his historical optimism.

But Trotsky, the pessimist will say, did not foresee the advent of the atomic age – he did not reckon with the ultimate weapon invented by our scientists and technologists. We are now capable not merely of destroying civilisation but even of shattering the biological foundations of our existence. The growth of our productive power has given us the power of self-annihilation. Trotsky’s optimism about man’s productive capacity as the mainspring of history is, at best, a pathetic relic of the pre-atomic age.

The pessimist is mistaken. For one thing, Trotsky did foresee the advent of the atomic age; he forecast it nearly two decades before the first nuclear weapon was exploded, when the idea did not even occur to any statesman or political leader and while eminent scientists still viewed it sceptically. Even in this field he was the fore-thinker; he stated explicitly that the great social and political revolution of our age will coincide with a gigantic revolution in science and technology. As a Marxist, he was well aware that throughout history every advance in man’s productive and creative power has increased his capacity for oppression and destruction and that in any social system torn by its internal contradictions every act of progress is internally contradictory. In class society our power to control the forces of nature is monopolised by the dominant social class, or by ruling groups, who use that power also to control, subjugate or destroy the social forces hostile to them (as well as foreign enemies). Marx and Engels had realised this; and this realisation set apart their social optimism from the Liberal belief in the automatic progress of bourgeois society. They formulated a dual historical prognosis: mankind, they said, will either advance to socialism or relapse into barbarism. [3] Trotsky constantly elaborates this dual prognosis. Fifty or thirty years ago the bourgeois Liberal considered it to be unduly dogmatic and unduly pessimistic; now he is inclined to dismiss it as ‘starry-eyed optimism’.

Granted that the danger of society’s relapse into barbarism now looks more menacing than ever, and that even Trotsky could not foresee just how desperately acute the alternative – Socialism or the collapse of civilisation – would become in the atomic age. But then the Marxist school of thought and Trotsky in particular can be reproached only for not being fully aware of how profoundly they were right. Yet Trotsky’s optimism was no profession of passive faith; nor were his forecasts the horoscopes of a soothsayer. His confidence in man’s future is predicated on man’s capacity and willingness to act and fight for his future. His dum spiro spero was a battle cry; each of his prognostications was a summons to action. So understood, his optimism in the atomic age is more valid than ever. The closer man may be to self-annihilation, the more firmly must he believe that he can avoid it, the more intense and fanatical must be his determination to avoid it. His optimism is essential to his survival, while supercilious disillusionment and resigned pessimism are sterile and can only prepare us for suicide.

Trotsky is a classical Marxist in more than one sense. He represents the Marxist school of thought in its purity, as it existed before its debasement by the Social-Democratic and Stalinist orthodoxies. His writings convey the original inspiration, the intellectual splendour, and the moral élan of the idea and the movement. The generations of Socialists and Communists who, in Tsarist and Stalinist Russia, went underground to struggle against exploitation and oppression, who filled the prisons and places of deportation, who braved penal servitude, gallows and execution squads, and who hoped for no reward except moral satisfaction, were animated by the mood and the vision of society to which Trotsky gives consummate expression. His writings are therefore a grand document of the time. American readers will find in them deep insights into the ethos of a society very different from their own, a society in the throes of revolution, a society electrified by peculiarly powerful currents of political thought, passion and action.

Like every major school of thought and every great movement, Marxism has gone through various metamorphoses and transmutations; different aspects of it have come to the fore in different phases of its development. Trotsky is deeply committed to one element in classical Marxism, its quintessential element: permanent revolution. Marx had formulated the idea by the middle of the nineteenth century, in the era of the 1848 revolutions; Trotsky reformulated it at the beginning of this century, during the first Russian Revolution of 1905-06. The idea has since been the subject of ferocious controversy; for over forty years it has been banished from the Communist world and banned as the heresy of all heresies.

What has been its meaning and what bearing has it on the events of our time? The Stalinists (including the Khrushchevites and even the Maoists) have done all they could to discredit Permanent Revolution as the phantasmagoria of the obsessive ultra-radical. Before Stalin came to denounce Trotsky as ‘the leader of the vanguard of world counter-revolution’ (and as the ally of Hitler and the Mikado), he described him as a ‘firebrand’ and ‘wild man’ bent on staging Communist coups all over the world, as the dogmatist of a ‘purely proletarian’ revolution, and as the enemy of the peasantry and of the ‘small men’ of other ‘intermediate’ classes. What finally repudiates all these charges is the fact that in the long list of errors and crimes that Stalin attributed to Trotsky there is hardly one that he himself did not commit; and so his distorting portrait of Trotsky can now be seen as his own self-projection.

Trotsky’s theory is in truth a profound and comprehensive conception in which all the overturns that the world has been undergoing (in this late capitalist era) are represented as interconnected and interdependent parts of a single revolutionary process. To put it in the broadest terms, the social upheaval of our century is seen by Trotsky as global in scope and character, even though it proceeds on various levels of civilisation and in the most diverse social structures, and even though its various phases are separated from one another in time and space.

It should be remembered that when Trotsky first expounded his view, nearly sixty years ago, the stability of the old order seemed unshakeable: nearly all continents were still dominated by Europe, whose great empires and dynasties seemed indestructible. Only in Russia had the first breach just been torn in Tsardom – a breach soon to be plastered over; and through it Trotsky glimpsed the horizon of the century that lay ahead. He was, in this respect, unique among contemporary Marxist leaders and theorists, for none, not even Lenin, had the audacity to maintain that Russia would be the first country in the world to establish a proletarian dictatorship and attempt socialist revolution. What Marxists generally believed then was that Western Europe was ‘ripe’ for socialism, although with most European socialists the belief was rather Platonic. As for Russia, no one saw her as standing at the threshold of socialist revolution. It was commonly held that she was heading towards a bourgeois revolution that would enable her to free herself from the heavy legacy of her feudalism and transform herself into a modern capitalist nation; in a word, that she was about to produce her own version of the Great French Revolution.

One section of the socialists, the Mensheviks, deduced that the leadership in the coming revolution should belong to the liberal bourgeoisie. Lenin and his followers realised that the liberal bourgeoisie was unable and unwilling to cope with such a task, and that Russia’s young working class, supported by a rebellious peasantry, was the only force capable of waging the revolutionary struggle to a conclusion. But Lenin remained convinced, and emphatically asserted, that Russia, acting alone, could not go beyond a bourgeois revolution; and that only after capitalism had been overthrown in Western Europe would she too be able to embark on socialist revolution. For a decade and a half, from 1903 till 1917, Lenin wrestled with this problem: how could a revolution led, against bourgeois opposition, by a socialist working class result in the establishment of a capitalist order? Trotsky cut through this dogmatic tangle with the conclusion that the dynamic of the revolution could not be contained within any particular stage, and that once released it would overflow all barriers and sweep away not only Tsardom but also Russia’s weak capitalism, so that what had begun as a bourgeois revolution would end as a socialist one.

Here a fateful question posed itself. Socialism, as understood by Marxists, presupposed a highly developed modern economy and civilisation, an abundance of material and cultural wealth, that alone could enable society to satisfy the needs of all its members and abolish class divisions. This was obviously beyond the reach of an underdeveloped and backward Russia. Trotsky therefore argued that Russia could only begin the socialist revolution, but would find it extremely difficult to continue it, and impossible to complete it. The revolution would run into a dead end, unless it burst Russia’s national boundaries and brought into motion the forces of revolution in the West. Trotsky assumed that just as the Russian Revolution could not be contained within the bourgeois stage, so it would not be brought to rest within its national boundaries: it would be the prelude, or the first act, of a global upheaval. Internationally as well as nationally, this would be Permanent Revolution.

Curiously, the international aspect of the theory was, when Trotsky first formulated it, less controversial than it became later. It was less disputed by Marxists than was Trotsky’s insistence on the thesis that Russia would initiate the socialist upheaval.

Classical Marxism had been acutely aware of the international scope and character of modern capitalism and emphasised in particular international division of labour as one of its most progressive features. Marx and Engels had argued, in the Communist Manifesto, that socialism would begin where capitalism had ended: it would evolve, broaden, intensify and rationalise the international division of labour inherited from capitalism. This idea was part and parcel of the intellectual tradition of Marxism. But at the turn of the century it was already falling into neglect or oblivion, and it had little impact on the practical policies of the labour movement.

Trotsky revived the idea and threw it into fresh relief. He saw socialism and the nation-state as being incompatible. Thus implicitly he repudiated Stalin’s ‘socialism in a single country’ about twenty years before Stalin began to preach it.

This is not to say, as the Stalinists maintained, that when the Russian Revolution became isolated, in the 1920s, Trotsky saw no hope for it – no possibility of survival and development. He had always held that the revolution must start on a national basis and had made allowance for the possibility of its temporary isolation in a single country. So when the Bolshevik regime had in fact become isolated, he fought for its survival vigorously and successfully – first as Commissar of Defence, and then as chief advocate of the rapid industrialisation of the USSR. But it is true that he went on viewing the confinement of the revolution to a single state as an interlude and an interim. He refused to see the Russian Revolution as a self-sufficient development capable of finding its consummation within its national boundaries. He persisted in treating it as the first act of a global drama, even after the ‘pause’ before the next act had turned out to be unexpectedly long. Of course, even Stalin never renounced quite explicitly the ‘link’ between the USSR and world communism – the Bolshevik commitment to Marxist internationalism had been far too strong to be flouted openly. But the idea, to which Stalin merely paid lip service, permeated all of Trotsky’s thought and activity.

Here an analogy drawn from American history may be pertinent. The dichotomy of isolationism and internationalism, which runs through so much of United States history, runs also through Soviet history, where it appears in a far more confused but also far more violent and tragic form. Stalinism was the Bolshevik isolationism – positive isolationism between two world wars, and disintegrating isolationism afterwards; Trotskyism was Bolshevik internationalism, unadulterated and undiluted. (The confused and ambiguous character of Soviet isolationism stems from the fact that, unlike its American counterpart, it had inherited an internationalist ideology with which it was in continuous conflict. Soviet isolationism was not anchored in geography: the USSR was not separated from hostile or potentially hostile powers by two oceans.)

In the course of twenty or twenty-five years, from the early 1920s to the late 1940s, all appearances of the world situation spoke against Trotsky’s doctrine. Revolution made no progress outside the USSR and seemed contained within the Soviet boundaries for good. It may be moot to what extent this was due to ‘objective’ circumstances and how much Stalinism contributed to prolonging the ‘pause’ in revolutionary development. In any case, Stalinism not only made peace with the national containment of the revolution, but proclaimed its self-containment and national self-sufficiency. Many anti-communists (who preferred Stalin, the ‘realistic statesman’, to Trotsky, the ‘dreamer’ or ‘incendiary’) applauded him for this. So did all communist parties. ‘Is not Stalin right’, they argued, ‘to bank on socialism in one country? Only the spirit of capitulation or counter-revolutionary malice can prompt Trotsky to maintain that socialism cannot be achieved within a single country.’

Stalin’s triumph, long-lasting though it was, turns out to have been as transitory as the situation that had produced it. ‘Socialism in a single country’ can now be seen as the ideological reflex of temporary circumstances, as a piece of ‘false consciousness’ rather than a realistic programme. The next act of Permanent Revolution began long before the USSR came anywhere near socialism. (It is a travesty of the truth to claim that the Soviet Union is – or was in Stalin’s days – a socialist society; even after all its recent progress, it still finds itself somewhere halfway between capitalism and socialism.) Stalin’s famous ‘statesmanship’ is now repudiated and ridiculed by his former acolytes, who describe his rule as a long Witches’ Sabbath of senseless violence inflicted upon the Russian people. These denunciations must be taken with a grain of salt, for they tend to obscure the deeper underlying realities of the Stalin epoch. The isolated Russian Revolution could not cope satisfactorily with the tasks it had set itself, because these could not be resolved within a single state. Much of Stalin’s work consisted in squaring the circle by means of mass terror; and his single-country socialism was indeed, as Trotsky maintained, a pragmatist’s Utopia. The Soviet Union abandoned it to all intents and purposes towards the end of the Second World War, when its troops, in pursuit of Hitler’s armies, marched into a dozen foreign lands, and carried revolution on their bayonets and in the turrets of their tanks.

Then, in 1948-49, came the triumph of the Chinese Revolution, which Stalin had not expected and which he had done his best to obstruct. The ‘pause’ definitely had come to an end. The curtain had risen over another act of international revolution. And ever since, Asia, Africa and even Latin America have been seething. In appearance each of their upheavals has been national in scope and character. Yet each falls into an international pattern. The revolutionary dynamic cannot be brought to a rest. Permanent Revolution has come back into its own, and whatever its further intervals and disarray, it forms the socio-political content of our century.

History hardly ever gives a hundred-per-cent confirmation to any great anticipatory idea. It does not accord such a confirmation even to Trotsky, for no thinker or political leader is infallible. Trotsky’s great forecast is coming true, but not in the way he forecast it. The difference may not seem to posterity as great as it appears to us. An historian looking back on our time from the vantage point of another age will almost certainly see this century not as the American or Russian century, but as the century of Permanent Revolution. In retrospect he may see the continuity of the whole process and attach little importance to the breaks and intervals. But to contemporaries, to Trotsky’s generation and our own, the breaks and intervals are just as full of tension and conflict as are the main acts; they fill large parts of our lives and absorb our energies and efforts. Trotsky spent the first half of his militant life on a rising tide of revolution and the second – on the shoals. Hence the frustrations and defeats that followed upon his triumphs, and the relative fruitlessness of so much of his struggle against Stalin. In the USSR his large and important following was physically exterminated so that the Soviet Trotskyists, like the Decembrists over a hundred years earlier, now appear as a generation of revolutionaries ‘without sons’, that is, without direct political descendants. Outside the USSR, Trotskyism has not been a vital political movement: the Fourth International has never been able to make a real start. Even Trotsky’s political genius could not turn ebb into flow.

Moreover, Permanent Revolution has taken a course very different from that which Trotsky had predicted. In accordance with the tradition of classical Marxism, he expected its next acts to be played out in the ‘advanced and civilised’ countries of the West. Readers of this anthology will see for themselves how large Germany, France, Britain (and the United States) loomed in his revolutionary expectations and how urgent was the immediacy of the hopes he placed on them. [4] Instead, the underdeveloped and backward East has become the main theatre of revolution. It is not that Trotsky overlooked the East’s potentialities – far from it – but he saw these as being secondary to the potentialities of the West, which in his eyes were to the end – decisive.

This fault of perspective (if this is the right term here) is closely connected with the Marxist assessment of the role of the industrial working class in modern society, an assessment summed up in the famous epigram that ‘the revolution will either be the work of the workers or it will not be at all’. Yet not one of the social upheavals of the last two decades has been strictly ‘the work of the workers’. All have been carried out by closely-knit military organisations and/or small bureaucratic parties; and the peasantry has been far more active in them than the industrial proletariat. This has been so especially in the greatest of these upheavals, the Chinese. Mao’s Partisans carried the revolution from country to town; whereas with Trotsky it was an absolute axiom that the revolution must come from town to country and cannot succeed without urban initiative and leadership.

Yet it is rash to jump to the conclusion, drawn by some writers, notably the late C Wright Mills, that all this disproves the Marxist conception that considers the industrial working class as the chief ‘historic agency’ of socialism. We must not forget that for over a century the working classes of Europe were indeed the chief agents of socialism and that generation after generation they struggled for it with an intelligence, passion and heroism that amazed the world. Nothing can delete from history the deeds of the English Chartists and of the French Communards, the fight of the German workers against Bismarck and the Hohenzollerns, the epic underground struggle, lasting over half a century, of Polish socialist and communist workers, and the Russian proletarian insurrections of 1905 and 1917. This is a record unparalleled in the annals of mankind, for none of the exploited and oppressed classes of earlier societies – slaves, serfs, ‘free’ peasants or urban plebeians – had ever shown any even remotely comparable capacity for political thought, self-discipline, organisation and action. It was the ‘factory hands’ of St Petersburg, not any Bolshevik or Menshevik intellectuals, who ‘invented’ the institution of the Council of Workers’ Delegates, the Soviet. Even the debased Soviets of today, like the bureaucratised trade unions of the West, remain monuments – malignantly disfigured monuments – to the political creativeness of the working class. All the defeats suffered by the workers, all their failures to secure the fruits of their victories, and even their failure to act any decisive part in the upheavals of the last two decades – are not enough to deprive them of the title of the ‘chief agents of socialism’, a title gained in the course of a century. A sense of proportion and perspective is needed to avoid generalising about a long-term historic process from one particular phase of it.

Having said this, we must admit that the complexities of the historic development put to a severe test the Marxist conception of proletarian socialism and the beliefs and hopes of everyone involved in the labour movement. The world is in the throes of permanent revolution, but is this the revolution of proletarian socialism? In order that Trotsky’s idea should retain its full validity, its main premise must yet be fulfilled: the workers of the industrially advanced nations – and these include now the USSR as well as the West – must recover from the apathy, confusion and resignation into which Western reformism and Stalinism have driven them; they must reassert themselves as the chief agents of socialism. The question as to who will ultimately be in control of the revolution of our century is still open: will it be irresponsible and tyrannical bureaucracies or the working class as the representative of the general interest of society? On the answer hangs much more, infinitely more, than the validity of any doctrine – all the material and spiritual values that man has created and accumulated are at stake.

The idea that the working class is, or should be, the chief actor in social revolution determines the whole of Trotsky’s political thinking, his conception of the Soviet regime and of the Bolshevik party, and his entire struggle against the Social-Democratic and Stalinist orthodoxies. ‘Proletarian democracy’ is the key notion of all his reasonings and arguments.

Like all revolutionary Marxists, Trotsky considers proletarian dictatorship to be the necessary political condition of the world’s transition from capitalism to socialism. No one among his comrades and rivals, not even Lenin, was ‘harder’ and ‘tougher’ in upholding this principle in theory and practice. To portray Trotsky as a soft humanitarian, an intellectual dreamer, a preacher of non-violence, a Gandhi-like figure in Bolshevism would be to falsify history. This great martyr did not live on goat’s milk, nor did he trade in the milk of human kindness. He knew how many of the momentous turns in history have been stained by human blood – he often evoked the American Civil War as a major example. He did not shrink from ruthlessness when he was convinced that this was necessary for the progress of society. And it would be cant and hypocrisy to condemn him, because of this, in the name of Western civilisation and its values, a civilisation that has on its conscience the mass slaughters of two world wars and has exposed mankind to the perils of nuclear war. Where Trotsky differs from all the glorified butchers of history is that he never, not even for a single moment, relished his own ruthlessness and the taste of blood. He staged the greatest of all armed insurrections, the rising of 7 November 1917 in such a way that, according to most hostile eyewitnesses, the number of all its casualties did not exceed ten; and as captain in the civil war he treated bloodshed in the surgeon’s manner, as an indispensable, but strictly limited part of a necessary and salutary operation.

He stood for the proletarian dictatorship because he took it for granted that landlords, capitalists and slave-owners do not, as a rule, yield up their possessions and power without a savage fight. (They did not so yield it up in Russia, and they were armed and supported by all the great Western democracies.) Only a dictatorship could make Russia safe for the revolution. But what was to be its nature?

It is necessary here to restore to his ideas the meaning they had to him (and indeed to Lenin and the early Bolsheviks), because in the meantime, with the experience of totalitarian regimes, these ideas have become overgrown with heavy and repulsive accretions alien to them. In Trotsky’s mind the proletarian dictatorship was, or should have been, a proletarian democracy. This was no paradox. It should not be forgotten that, like other Marxists, Trotsky was accustomed to describe all bourgeois democracies (the British constitutional monarchy, the German Weimar Republic, the French Third Republic, and the political system of the USA) as ‘bourgeois dictatorships’. He knew, of course, that, in strictly political and constitutional terms, these were not dictatorial or even semi-dictatorial regimes, and he was very well aware of the freedoms people enjoy under parliamentary democracies. (What importance he attached to these can be seen from his controversy with the Stalinist Comintern over Fascism and Democracy in Germany.)

But Trotsky insisted on describing the Western parliamentary system as a bourgeois dictatorship in a broader sense, as a regime that, being based on capitalist property, assures the propertied classes of their economic and social supremacy, and consequently of cultural and political predominance. The term ‘bourgeois dictatorship’ describes precisely that supremacy and dominance, and not necessarily any particular constitutional system or method of government. Similarly, when he (or Lenin or Marx) speaks of proletarian dictatorship, he uses the term in its broadest sense to denote a regime that should assure the working class of social supremacy; he does not prejudge constitutional form or method of government. Like the bourgeois ‘dictatorship’, the proletarian may be politically either dictatorial or democratic; it may take on various constitutional forms. In the period immediately after revolution, and during civil war, it must tend to be strictly dictatorial; in more normal circumstances it should tend to be democratic. But even in its strictly dictatorial phase it should still be, as the Soviet regime was at the outset, a proletarian democracy, assuring genuine freedom of expression and association, at least to the workers, and enabling them to exercise effective control over the government. This conception of the dictatorship had nothing to do with – indeed it was the very negation of – any self-perpetuating rule of a ‘socialist’ oligarchy or of an autocrat, or with any ‘monolithic’, totalitarian system of government. No wonder that under Stalinism this conception came to be denounced as a Menshevik heresy and was eradicated from communist thinking. From minds formed in its school Stalinism has indeed eradicated the belief that the working class is, or ought to be, the agency of socialism.

Like so much else, Trotsky’s conception of the Party also stemmed from that belief. It is impossible within the compass of this anthology to illustrate adequately the complex evolution of Trotsky’s views on this subject – readers interested in it must be referred to the three volumes of my biography of Trotsky. [5] Here it will be enough to recall that on this point Trotsky was in disagreement with Lenin for nearly fifteen years and in bitter opposition to Stalin for about twenty – he marched in step with the Bolsheviks only for six years, the ‘world-shaking’ years from 1917 to 1923. The whys and wherefores of his polemics against Lenin differ widely from the grounds for his antagonism to Stalin. Nevertheless one motif runs through both controversies: Trotsky’s abhorrence of any form of party tutelage over the workers. It was of the ambition to exercise such a tutelage that he had suspected Lenin before 1917, and he saw that ambition incarnate and fulfilled in Stalin. He himself recognised that he had been grievously mistaken about Lenin, who had trained the Bolshevik Party to lead the workers, not to tame or subjugate them. In drawing a distinction between legitimate leadership on the one hand and tutelage and usurpation on the other, the mature Trotsky corrected a certain one-sidedness in himself: he had relied too strongly on the spontaneous class-consciousness of the workers, on their inherent revolutionary intelligence and will, which by themselves would secure the victory of socialism. He had tended to see the working class as an homogeneous social body all animated by the same socialist awareness and all possessed by high capacity for political action. Such a working class needed no special guide – the party had merely to identify itself with it and express its aspirations.

Lenin, for whom also belief in the ‘historic mission’ of workers as chief agents of socialism was basic, saw the working class more realistically and critically. He saw it as a complex and heterogeneous body consisting of different layers, each with its own origin and background, each related differently to the peasantry, the petty bourgeoisie and the rest of the working class, each with its level of education and social awareness, and each with its own degree of capacity (or incapacity) for revolutionary action. This highly differentiated mass was united only by its proletarian status in society and by its antagonism to capitalist exploitation; it was disunited by centrifugal forces in its midst and the varying degrees of receptiveness to socialism. The real class consisted of progressive and backward elements, of the clear-sighted and the dull, the courageous and the meek; it needed the Party’s guidance in order to rise to its revolutionary ‘mission’. Consequently, the Party could not merely identify itself with the workers and content itself with absorbing and expressing their moods. It had to shape their moods. It had to identify itself primarily with the advanced workers in order to be able with them and through them to educate politically the backward ones. The Party must therefore be a ‘proletarian vanguard’, a Marxist élite, lucid, self-disciplined, indomitable and capable of providing the ‘general staff’ of revolution.

The mature Trotsky accepted this Leninist idea and never abandoned it. It would be idle to deny the dangers inherent in any élite party, the dangers to which the young Trotsky had been so sensitive that his early philippics against Lenin’s scheme of the Party read now like uncannily prophetic previews of the Stalinist regime. [6] The élite could (and would) turn into an oligarchy all too easily; and the oligarchy would bring forth the irremovable and infallible dictator. Trotsky nevertheless accepted Lenin’s scheme because of Lenin’s overwhelmingly realistic analysis of the relationship between party and class, but mainly because of the manner in which Lenin’s Party (as distinct from Stalin’s or Khrushchev’s) exercised its leadership. Highly disciplined though the Party was, it was a free association of revolutionaries, taking for granted, and making full use of, their democratic rights within the organisation, criticising their leaders without fear or favour, and debating, most often in public, every major issue of policy. The large prerogatives of the Leninist Central Committee, the strong concentration of power in its hands, and the obligation of Party members to act in unison on its orders were effectively counterbalanced by uninhibited criticism and control from below.

Lenin’s ‘democratic centralism’ must be distinguished from the bureaucratic ultra-centralisation characteristic of Stalinism. The élite Party was not, in Lenin’s intention, to have been a self-sufficient body replacing the working class as agent of socialism. It was to remain part of the working class, just as in any army the vanguard remains part of the fighting force even while it acts as a special detachment to perform a special function. In the Leninist Party the rank and file were free to change the composition of the Central Committee, just as in the Soviet republic the working class was in precept entitled to depose and replace the party in office. Proletarian democracy included inner-party democracy as its particular aspect.

We know that however irreproachable this scheme may have been ideally, the realities of the revolution have ridden roughshod over it. This was no ‘historic accident’ or the result merely of Stalin’s ill will. The backwardness of the old Russia found its most cruel expression in the advent of Stalinism. The Soviet working class had been exhausted by revolution and civil war, catastrophically reduced in size, disorganised and demoralised through the collapse of the entire economy. It proved unable to safeguard proletarian democracy and control the Party in power. Within the Party, too, the rank and file failed to preserve their rights and to control the leaders. The Bolshevik regime took on the bureaucratic and monolithic character it was to maintain for decades.

Stalin’s struggle against Trotsky constituted a crucial phase in this transformation. The extraordinary cruelty and fury of that struggle came from the fact that ‘Trotskyism’ represented the conscience of the revolution, that it insistently recalled to the Bolshevik Party its commitment to proletarian democracy, and that it kindled in the working class the never quite extinct aspiration to become once again the agent of socialism. For a whole epoch Trotskyism was the sole revolutionary alternative to Stalinism.

Trotsky’s ideas on the ‘construction of socialism’ were also diametrically opposed to Stalinist theory and practice. A brief recapitulation may help to put the contrast into focus. Trotsky was the original prompter and promoter of the rapid industrialisation of the USSR – he has therefore his share in the present economic ascendancy of the USSR. Also he regarded the collectivisation of farms as a necessary accompaniment of industrialisation and as the way to a mode of agricultural production superior to that based on the old rural smallholding worked with archaic tools. In a sense Stalin stole Trotsky’s clothes after he had defeated him – he took over the programme of industrialisation and collectivisation from the Left Opposition. [7]

This has led some ‘Sovietologists’ to argue that there was not much difference between Stalin and Trotsky, that there is indeed ‘not much to choose between them’. The argument misses a point of importance, namely that Stalin, as he was putting on Trotsky’s ‘clothes’, soaked them in the blood of Soviet peasants and workers. There, in a nutshell, lay the difference between the two men’s ‘methods of socialist construction’.

In Trotsky’s scheme of things, rapid industrialisation was to be promoted with the workers’ consent, not against their will and interests. This presupposed a balanced and simultaneous expansion of producer and consumer industries, a more or less continuous improvement of the population’s standard of living, and an increasing, conscious and willing participation of the workers in the processes of planning – ‘planning from below as well as from above’. Stalin, however, promoted a one-sided development of the producer industries, neglecting consumer industries. Consequently the standard of living of the masses was depressed or remained stagnant, and the workers, resentful at being denied the benefits of industrialisation, were deprived of any share in determining economic policy; they were robbed of any right to protest, strike or otherwise express an opinion. In the course of two decades the workers paid for most trivial offences against ‘labour discipline’ with years of slavery and torture in the inferno of Stalin’s concentration camps. Throughout the 1930s Trotsky was their only vocal defender; his voice resounded in the world against the deafening din of a mendacious Stalinist propaganda. Similarly, collectivisation of farming, as Trotsky advocated it, was to be carried out gradually, by persuasion, with the peasantry’s consent, and not ‘wholesale’ as Stalin enforced it in the years 1929-32.

It is sometimes said that if persuasion rather than coercion had regulated the tempo of industrialisation and collectivisation, the USSR would not have been able to build up its economic and military power as rapidly as it did – not rapidly enough to enable it to emerge victorious from the Second World War and to break the American monopoly of atomic energy soon thereafter. A reasoning of this kind cannot either be accepted or refuted on purely empirical grounds. Great weight, however, must be given to Trotsky’s counter-argument that under an economic leadership more rational and civilised than Stalin’s, and more sensitive to the people’s needs, the economic and military power of the USSR would have been placed on firmer foundations and would have been even more effective. Much of what Stalin gained on the swings through an excessive tempo of development, he lost on the roundabouts through bureaucratic mismanagement and waste, a terrible waste of men as well as materials. (Nor should one forget the ‘waste’ that Stalin’s conduct of foreign affairs caused the USSR, when, inter alia, it enabled Hitler’s armies to occupy and devastate the wealthiest Soviet lands during the Second World War.) In any case, the criticisms Trotsky once made of Stalin’s Five-Year Plans are now voiced by Stalin’s successors, who themselves were closely associated with their master’s practice. If the Stalinist ‘method’ was historically inevitable, then it was so in one sense only – because the Soviet ruling group or, more broadly, the Soviet bureaucracy itself was too backward, too crude and too brutal to attempt a more civilised and more socialist way of building up Soviet power. In the last instance, the vices of the bureaucracy stemmed from that old Russian barbarism that survived the October Revolution and overpowered it. It was Trotsky’s and Russia’s tragedy that even in struggling to rid itself of that barbarism Russia was unable to rise above it.

Many Western readers may find it difficult to visualise the awe-inspiring immensity of the conflict that raged through two decades of Soviet history. But I hope that the following pages may convey to them something of the intellectual and moral élan, and of the dramatic pathos and warm humanity that Trotsky brought to the struggle. The freedom of his spirit and the astonishing range of his interests and activities are reflected in his writings. He himself once said of Lenin that Lenin thought in ‘terms of continents and epochs’. This is true also of himself. Even though his thought, like his epoch, was still European-centred, it constantly transcended this limitation. And it reached out to the other, then still ‘silent’ continents and peoples, and to our epoch in which they were all to acquire their own voices and at last to impart a truly global character to current politics. In the years of Trotsky’s last exile, from wherever persecution – Western ‘democratic’ as well as Stalinist persecution – had driven him (from a remote Turkish island, from a hiding place in the French Alps, from a Norwegian village, and, finally, from a suburb of Mexico City), his mind and heart never ceased embracing the world. His internationalism was not merely an intellectual conviction; it was instinct-like in its spontaneity; it showed itself in an ever alive and active solidarity with every segment of oppressed and struggling humanity. He was as intensely preoccupied with the prospects of the Chinese Revolution in the period of its eclipse as he was with the fate that awaited the German workers in the event of Hitler’s rise to power, or with the baneful illusions of the French and Spanish Popular Fronts. He followed the struggle for independence of India, Indonesia and Indochina (as Vietnam was then called) and delved into their class relations. His ear caught every social tremor that passed through Latin America. And even in his last days his thoughts were with the North American Negroes who, he knew, would one day rise en masse against their oppressors. He felt at home with every nation and every people on earth, for every one of them had to contribute its share to the Permanent Revolution.

In another sense also the range of his ideas and work is exceptional. Political leader, sociologist, economist, war captain, military theorist, outstanding ‘specialist’ on armed insurrection, historian, biographer, literary critic, master of Russian prose, and one of the greatest orators of all times, Trotsky brings his searching and original mind and his extraordinary power of expression to every field of his activity. He treats every subject he tackles in his own way, as no one has treated it before or after. Even when sometimes he repeats the commonplaces of Marxism, he rediscovers, as it were, the truth they contain and invests them with fresh life, so that with him they are never clichés; he restates them in order to deduce from them novel and creative conclusions. He is, in many ways, the most orthodox of Marxists, but his personality dispels the odour of orthodoxy. He speaks with authority, not as one of the scribes; and in spirit, temperament and style he is closer to Marx himself than any of Marx’s disciples and followers.

‘The style is the man’, but it is also the epoch. Trotsky’s style mirrors superbly the heroic period in the history of revolution and Marxism, its ethos and colour. That period has since been overlaid, at least to the eye of the present generation, by the blood and mud of Stalinism, and by the drab ambiguities of the post-Stalinist regimes in the USSR and other Eastern countries. It is all the more important for the student of contemporary history to try to penetrate through the crust of these accretions to the original, half-forgotten inspiration of the October Revolution. The mental effort required for this may be compared to the effort of cleansing and restoration that is nowadays being spent on old works of art in our museums and galleries. These works were for so long covered by dirt and patina that often their original colour and even shape were forgotten; and art historians came to regard the dim incrustations as part of the old master’s own palette and of his vision of the world. Learned dissertations have been written about the ‘colour schemes’ of a Goya or an El Greco on this erroneous assumption, until one day inquisitive and courageous students began to scratch cautiously and cleanse the surface of a famous masterpiece. As they went on quite a different ‘colour scheme’ of the master revealed itself to their astonished eyes – it was bright and brilliant, and had little in common with the ‘colour scheme’ construed by the learned experts. The images of Marxism, of Leninism and of the Russian Revolution purveyed by Western Sovietologists and Soviet ideologists alike have this in common with the theories of those unfortunate art experts: they too assume that all the muck and soot and blood on the surface somehow belong to the originals. In the meantime history has just set to work slowly and hesitantly, to scratch off the distorting accretions from Marxism and the revolution. Trotsky’s writings are already, and will increasingly be, a most important and active element in this work of restoration.

What is involved here, however, is not merely the recovery of the authentic historical image of a great epoch. Trotsky’s ideas belong not only to the past. In curiously tangled ways they are closely intertwined with the critical controversies of the present. True enough, Trotsky himself failed in his attempts to create an independent and politically effective communist movement. Yet, as he liked to stress, ideas deeply rooted in social reality are not destroyed even when their advocates are assassinated or exterminated en masse. The ideas crop up again and take possession of the minds of other people, who may not even know or suspect who had first formulated and expounded them. Sometimes a stream runs its course a long distance in the open; then suddenly it vanishes from sight, sinks underground and remains submerged for a lengthy stretch of its road; until eventually, in an unfamiliar landscape, it re-emerges either as a single stream or as several divergent currents. Something like this is happening with ‘Trotskyism’ now. A quarter of a century after its ‘final’ suppression, it has been surging up in the communist world, not in its old recognisable form so far, not even under its own name, but as if it were split into its elements and broken up into diverse currents.

In the controversy between Khrushchev and Mao Tse-tung, which is tearing asunder the communist world, the disputants accuse each other of – Trotskyism. Of course, Mao and Khrushchev attach the label each to the other in order to discredit each other all the more easily, for in each, and in the followers of each, the Stalinist horror of the Trotskyist heresy is still trepidatingly alive. Yet there is more than mere polemical trick in the mutual accusation. Khrushchev does in fact appear to Mao as a disguised Trotskyist; and so does Mao appear to Khrushchev. Moreover, each has some grounds for thinking of the other as he does, for both carry out, unwittingly and perhaps even unknowingly, Trotsky’s political testament – but each carries out a different part of it. The Khrushchevite de-Stalinisation is Trotsky’s posthumous triumph: every progressive domestic reform carried out in the USSR since 1953 has been but a faint echo of the desiderata and demands Trotsky once put forward, whereas Soviet foreign policy is still largely dominated by the spirit of Stalinist self-sufficiency and opportunism. Conversely, Mao’s domestic regime, reflecting China’s poverty and backwardness, is still closer to the Stalinist model, whereas in his criticism of Khrushchev’s foreign policies and in his approach to international communism, Mao expounds, crudely yet unmistakably, some of the basic tenets of Permanent Revolution.

What an ironical illustration this is of the ‘law of uneven development'! Trotskyism is, in a sense, having its comeback, but its elements appear disparately in strange combinations with elements of Stalinism. The communist movement, which is still suffering from political amnesia, is not even conscious of the way in which the continuity of its own submerged traditions is asserting itself – as continuity in discontinuity. But the re-emergence of Trotsky’s ideas has only begun. It remains to be seen how it is going to proceed – whether, how and when his ideas may coalesce again, not in order to reproduce the old Trotskyism, but in order to absorb it and transcend it in a new phase of Marxism, and in a new socialist consciousness enriched by the experiences of our epoch. This much, however, is certain: a knowledge of Trotsky’s work is absolutely essential to an understanding of the ferments the communist world is undergoing and of the changes it will undergo in the coming years.

‘But Trotsky has hardly anything to tell us’, an American critic will say, ‘about our own society. Marxism has none of the relevance to our own problems that he claimed for it. Was he not patently mistaken in the belief he held in the late 1930s that the USA (as well as Western Europe) was entering an era of proletarian revolution, that Marxism was about to conquer the American mind, and that we Americans were going to create the truly modern, up-to-date version of Marxism? Not only have none of these prophecies come true, but the whole development of our society has gone in the opposite direction!’

Trotsky’s American prognostications were indeed far-fetched. In the last quarter-century, American capitalism, far from collapsing, has displayed immense vitality, achieved quite unparalleled expansion, and drawn abundant assurance from its wealth and power. Consequently Trotsky’s prediction of ‘a great epoch of American Marxism’ remains unfulfilled. Not only has the United States ‘refused’ to create any up-to-date version of proletarian socialism, but its working class seems to be further than ever from accepting any brand of socialism at all. And what was once the leftish, and even Marxist, American intelligentsia is now a legion of Panglosses believing that the American ‘way of life’, slightly refurbished according to the Keynesian prescription, is the best of all possible ways of life.

Yes, Trotsky’s confidence in ‘American Marxism’ was sadly misplaced, but does this speak against him or against his critics? He, at any rate, remains true to character: great revolutionaries always hope for much more and aim at much more than they can achieve, for otherwise they would never attain what they do attain. They must, as a rule over-reach themselves in order to grasp the things that are within reach. The Panglosses (even the ‘radicals’ among them) never commit such mistakes; and now they are able to point exultantly to prolonged postwar prosperity in order to dismiss the Marxist analysis as obsolete and inapplicable to American society. The question that is left still open, however, is whether Trotsky, the fore-thinker, was thinking too far ahead in his American prognostications, or whether his thought was moving in the wrong direction?

His American critics would have more solid grounds for their confidence if the great postwar prosperity of American (and West European) capitalism did not contain an ingredient as poisonous as an armament fever lasting a quarter-century, including the madness of the nuclear arms race of two decades; if the postwar booms were not ever more frequently and sharply interrupted by recurrent depressions; if American governments, so enlightened by Keynesian theory, proved able to cope with the unemployment of millions, which reappeared amid booms even before automation had its full impact on the industrial manpower; and if recurrent dollar crises and furious competition in world markets did not signal the end of America’s exceptional postwar supremacy, and the approach of overproduction throughout the West. The critics have perhaps ‘buried’ Marxism somewhat prematurely. After the two decades of prosperity the basic flaws of the system, as diagnosed by Marxists – its irrationality and anarchy – persist. The social character of the productive process is still in conflict with the anti-social property relations, and the international needs and demands of the modern economy are in conflict with the nation-state. It was on the persistence of these ‘flaws’ and on the conviction that they cannot be remedied within capitalism, that Trotsky had based his American prognostications; and as long as his premise remains valid, the element of error in his forecasts concerns the tempo rather than in direction of the course of events. For all its outward signs of flourishing health, the American (bourgeois) ‘way of life’ carries within itself its incurable disease. In years to come this may well show in the way the United States reacts to the challenge from the rising communist powers.

This is not to deny the importance of Trotsky’s misjudgement of the tempo of the development, for the mistake about the tempo inevitably turns into an error about the circumstances. When, in the late 1930s, Trotsky spoke of the approaching crisis of American capitalism, he did not imagine that in such a crisis the United States would have to confront communist governments established over a third of the globe, and that it would find itself under the direct pressure of modern Soviet economic and military power. The victory of the Chinese Revolution was then still about ten years off, and the USSR was in an early phase of its industrial ‘take-off’. The shifts in the world’s balance of power have come about not in the way Trotsky visualised them – they have come about through revolution (and revolutionary growth of industrial power) in the East, not in the West. In the next decade or so, this trend almost certainly will continue and change the balance even more radically. Eventually the American ‘way of life’ is likely to be subjected to a far graver and far more severe test than the one Trotsky predicted; the test is likely to be so much graver and more severe precisely because it has been ‘delayed’ by decades. If the Panglosses were not Panglosses, they would not rejoice over the fact that Trotsky’s American predictions have not come true; they would be deeply perturbed. Because of its social conservatism and political complacency the United States may have missed, or may be missing, its greatest historical chance.

Long ago, even before the First World War, Trotsky himself provided a clue to this situation. In a characteristic generalisation he wrote about the remarkable fact that by the turn of the century Western Europe had ‘exported’ its most advanced idea – Marxism – to Russia, which was, industrially and technologically, the most backward of European nations; and it had ‘exported’ its most advanced technology to the United States, which was the most backward politically and ideologically. Such has been the fateful one-sidedness of the historical evolution! How much easier this age of transition might have been, how much bloodshed and suffering might have been avoided, if advanced technology had gone hand in hand with advanced ideology; and if the United States, instead of Russia (and/or China), had led the world from capitalism to socialism!

This was not to be. In the meantime, however, in the USSR ‘advanced ideology’ has, despite all the cruel Stalinist distortions, helped to produce advanced technology as well, whereas the USA, for all its technological and industrial triumphs, has made no decisive advance in political ideas. Yet without such an advance, American technology may well be defeated even in its own field. Of the two great European ‘exports’, the export of modern ‘ideology’ may well turn out to have been far more fruitful than the export of technology, and historically, far more profitable to the ‘importing’ nation.

One would like to believe that the Americans can as a nation still make good their lag in the field of ideas, but they have not much time to lose. In recent years the Russian Sputniks and Luniks have greatly shaken the social and political complacency of the USA. But the effect of the shock, as far as the outsider can judge it, appears limited. American energy has been intensely geared to competition with the Russians in the new fields of science and industry, in astrophysics, in construction of space vehicles, etc. This is all to the good insofar as it contributes not merely to military power but to the progress of knowledge and to man’s control over nature. Even so, the creative American reaction to Soviet successes remains one-sidedly technological. In socio-political ideas American conservatism seems unshaken. Yet it is in the field of ideas, Marxist ideas, that Americans have most to learn, if they are not to land themselves in a grim historical impasse.

And in the field of ideas, Trotsky, I am sure, is still a superb teacher.


1. Mr Novack is also the author of the ‘Notes’ prefacing Trotsky’s texts in this volume.

2. A few of the available English translations are unfortunately not very satisfactory; and they had to be rephrased. The idea of this anthology originated with the late Professor C Wright Mills. Illness prevented him from writing the introduction he had planned; and after his untimely and much lamented death, the publishers invited me to take charge of the project.

3. In her famous Junius Brochure, written in a German prison during the first World War, Rosa Luxemburg said: ‘Friedrich Engels stated once that bourgeois society is confronted with this dilemma: either transition to socialism or relapse into barbarism. What does “relapse into barbarism” signify at the present level of European civilisation? We have certainly all read these words more than once, and repeated them thoughtlessly, without even a premonition of their terrible gravity... The present world war is a relapse into barbarism. The triumph of imperialism leads to the decay of culture – temporary decay during any modern war, or complete decay, if the era of world wars that has begun were to last and go on to its final conclusion. Now therefore... we stand again before this choice: either the triumph of imperialism and the devastation of all culture, as in ancient Rome – devastation, depopulation, degeneration, a huge cemetery; or the victory of socialism...’ (Rosa Luxemburg was a Polish-born revolutionist, propagandist and theoretician of Marxism. She opposed the First World War, founded the Spartacus Bund with Karl Liebknecht, was imprisoned by the Kaiser’s government and released by the German Revolution in 1918. In January 1919, she was assassinated in Berlin by right-wing thugs. [See The Junius Brochure – MIA.]

4. Compare this with the message which Friedrich Engels addressed to the National Council of the Parti Ouvrier Français (French Workers Party), in 1890, on the occasion of his seventieth birthday: ‘It was your great countryman Saint-Simon who first saw that the alliance of the three great Western nations – France, England, Germany – is the primary international condition of the political and social emancipation of the whole of Europe. I hope to see this alliance, the nucleus of the European alliance which will once and for all put an end to the wars of cabinets and races, realised by the proletarians of these three nations. Long live international social revolution!’

5. Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Armed (1954); The Prophet Unarmed, (1959); and The Prophet Outcast (1963), Oxford University Press.

6. See Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet Armed, pp. 88-97.

7. The Left Opposition was formed in 1923 by a large group of prominent Bolsheviks under Trotsky’s leadership around the questions of workers’ democracy and state-planned industrialisation. After a five-year struggle for its programme within the party, it was outlawed by the Fifteenth Party Congress in 1927.