Moissaye J. Olgin


Counter-Revolution in Disguise

The Social Basis of Trotskyism

WE have related in some detail the history of Trotsky’s political life, but Trotskyism is not a one-man affair. It is not a peculiarity of an individual. Trotskyism is a social phenomenon. The fact that Trotsky happened to be in the revolution adds a certain prestige to his utterances in the eyes of the unwary. In this, as in many other instances, the personal element cannot be ignored. But even if Trotsky did not exist, the brand of opposition to the revolution which he represents would find its expression. Trotskyism is being reborn on every stage of the revolutionary movement because it is the expression of the attitude of a certain class, namely, the petty bourgeoisie.

Of this class Karl Marx once said that it is “a transitional class in which the interests of two classes are simultaneously blunted”. The petty bourgeoisie finds itself between the proletariat and the large-scale bourgeoisie. It strives to rise to the position of the large-scale bourgeoisie, but the latter, using the power of concentrated and centralized capital, continuously drives it down to the position of the proletariat. The petty bourgeois, subjectively, wishes to become rich, to attain to the heights of capitalist economic power; objectively, however, his interests lie with the struggle against capitalism because capitalism removes the ground from under his feet and because only under a Socialist system will the petty bourgeois of today become a free member of society, unafraid of the future, since under Socialism he will be transformed into one engaged in useful productive labor. The petty bourgeoisie as a class, therefore, is wavering. The interests of two classes, said Marx, are “simultaneously blunted” in it. That means that the petty bourgeoisie cannot be as consistently counter-revolutionary as the big bourgeoisie, but it cannot be as consistently with the revolution, as is the proletariat. The petty bourgeoisie is afraid of the big bourgeoisie but it is also afraid of the revolution. Some sections of the petty bourgeoisie are attracted to the revolution which represents their future interests, but they shrink before the sharp line of the revolutionary struggle. Fundamentally they would like to have class peace, because nothing is more dear to the heart of the petty bourgeoisie than social peace. However, they feel that social peace means their own doom. Therefore, when the proletariat develops a strong revolutionary movement, many petty-bourgeois elements are irresistibly drawn to the revolutionary camp, only in turn to denounce its “extremes”, and to don “extreme Left” masks itself. They are finding fault with the existing capitalist system, but they are also finding fault with the Revolution and its leaders. Not being truly revolutionary, being able only to be led by the Revolution, they often develop an immense conceit. They think of themselves as the “only” and “real” revolutionists. They denounce the real revolutionist as “dogmatic” and “narrow”.

Trotsky’s approach to the revolution is that of the petty bourgeoisie.

The fact that he is neither a shopkeeper nor a petty artisan must not deter those unfamiliar with the Marxian interpretation of social movements. It must not be supposed, says Marx, that those who represent the petty bourgeoisie “are all shopkeepers, or enthusiastic champions of the small-shopkeeper class”.

“Culturally and by individual status they may be the polar opposites of members of the shopkeeping class. What has made them become the political representatives of the petty bourgeoisie is this. Intellectually they have failed to transcend the limitations which are, materially, imposed upon the petty bourgeois by the conditions of petty-bourgeois existence. Consequently they are, in the theoretical field, impelled towards the same aspirations and solutions as those towards which, in practical life, the petty bourgeois are impelled by material interests and by their social position. Speaking generally, such is always the relationship between the political and literary representatives of a class and the class they represent.” (Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, English Edition, pp. 58-59.)

What has been the influence of the petty bourgeoisie in the Russian Revolution?

As early as 1908, Lenin, speaking about the revisionism of Marxism, explained its danger in the following way:

“In every capitalist country there always stand, side by side with the proletariat, broad strata of the petty bourgeoisie, small owners.

. . . It is perfectly natural that the petty-bourgeois world conception should break through, over and over again, in the ranks of the broad workers’ parties. It is perfectly natural that it should be so, and it always will be so even up to the vicissitudes of the proletarian revolution, for it would be a deep error to think that a ‘full’ proletarianization of the majority of the population is necessary for the realization of such a revolution. What we are now experiencing often only in the realm of ideas: arguments against the theoretical amendments to Marx,—what now breaks through in practice only as regards separate particular questions of the labor movement, like the tactical disagreements with the revisionists and the split with them on this basis,—the entire working class will yet have to experience in incomparably greater proportions when the proletarian revolution will sharpen all controversial questions, concentrate all disagreements on points having the most direct bearing upon defining the conduct of the masses, force, in the heat of struggle, to separate the enemies from the friends, to throw out the bad allies in order to deal the enemy decisive blows.” (V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. XII, Russian Edition, p. 189.)

With the clear-sightedness of a genius, Lenin foresaw the coming struggle of the proletarian revolution with its “bad allies” hailing from the petty bourgeoisie.

What is the role of such bad allies? Twenty years later Stalin explained this:

“Since the proletariat does not live in a vacuum, but in actual and real life itself with all its variety, the bourgeois elements which are reborn on the basis of petty production ‘surround the proletariat on every side by a petty-bourgeois element, permeate the proletariat with it, demoralize it with it, call forth continually inside of the proletariat recurrences of petty-bourgeois lack of character, scatteredness, individualism, transitions from enthusiasm to melancholy’ (Lenin, Vol. XXV, p. 190) and thus bring into the proletariat and its Party certain vacillations, certain waverings.

“Here is the root and the foundation of every kind of vacillations and deviations from the Leninist line in the ranks of our Party.” (J. Stalin, Problems of Leninism, Tenth Russian Edition, p. 234.)

More specifically, Stalin explains this in his Foundations of Leninism.

“All these petty-bourgeois groups somehow or other penetrate to the Party into which they introduce an element of hesitancy and opportunism; of disintegration and lack of self-confidence. Factionalism and splits, disorganization and the undermining of the Party from within are principally due to them. Fighting imperialism with such ‘allies’ in one’s rear is as bad as being caught between two fires, coming both from the front and rear. Therefore, no quarter should be given in fighting such elements, and their relentless expulsion from the Party is a condition precedent for the successful struggle against imperialism.” (Joseph Stalin, Foundations of LeninismI, English edition, p. 121.)

The understanding of Trotskyism as representing the influence of the petty bourgeoisie on certain elements of the proletariat and of the Communist Party was repeatedly expressed in the resolutions of the Congresses of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Thus the Thirteenth Congress (1924) declared:

“In the person of the present ‘opposition’ we face not only an attempt to revise Bolshevism, not only a direct moving away from Leninism, but also a clearly expressed petty-bourgeois deviation. There is not the slightest doubt that this ‘opposition’ objectively reflects the pressure of the petty bourgeoisie on the positions of the Party of the proletariat and its policies.”

Again in 1927, at the Fifteenth Congress, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union thus characterized the Trotsky-Zinoviev-Kamenev opposition:

“The denial of the possibility of a victorious building of Socialism in the U.S.S.R. and consequently the denial of the Socialist character of our revolution; the denial of the Socialist character of state industry; the denial of the Socialist roads of development in the village under conditions of the proletarian dictatorship and of the policy of union of the proletariat with the fundamental masses of the peasantry on the basis of Socialist construction; finally, the actual denial of the proletarian dictatorship in the U.S.S.R. (‘Thermidor’) and the attitude of capitulation and defeatism connected with it,—all this ideological orientation has transformed the Trotsky opposition into an instrument of petty-bourgeois democracy within the U.S.S.R. and into an auxiliary troop of international Social-Democracy outside of its frontiers.”

Trotsky as an individual is only a representative of a certain social class. He is a petty-bourgeois intellectual. He started with opposition to the Revolution and the Communist Party, and he has finished with heading the counter-revolution. True to type, he was drawn to the revolutionary movement of the working class but he never believed in the ability of the revolutionary forces to carry through the Revolution to a successful conclusion and he always hated the very essence of a proletarian party. He hates the tedious day-by-day activities of building and perfecting a workers’ organization. He hates discipline when applied to himself. But he loves discipline when he applies it to others. When he was War Commissar, he was ruthless towards subordinates. When he was out-voted a thousand to one in the Bolshevik Party, he refused to submit.

During the most revolutionary period of his life he was always full of misgivings. Whenever the Revolution was confronted with a difficulty, he fell into a panic. When patience and endurance were required, he demanded spectacular action. When temporary retreat was the order of the day, he advocated senseless bravado which would have wrecked the Revolution. When the Revolution was gathering momentum for a new advance, he lamented the “collapse” of the Revolution. When a new victory was achieved, he decried it as a defeat.

In this, as in his unwillingness to admit errors, to apply self-criticism to himself, he only expressed his class.

What characterized his opposition when he still was a mere oppositionist was a lack of understanding of the moving forces of the Revolution and a purely rational approach to the solution of problems, an approach that had no relation whatever to the realities of life. What characterizes him now when he is leading the vanguard of counter-revolution is his deliberate invention of ways and means to damage the Revolution, the Soviet Union, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the Communist movement throughout the world. This has become his sole aim, the only reason for his existence.

He had a dream once in his life. He believed himself to be able to take the place of Lenin in the Bolshevik Party. Lenin’s Party could not have been led by a man who never was a Bolshevik and always fought Lenin. But he failed to understand this obvious truth. Because he had dramatized himself into believing that he was the driving force of the Revolution he did not deem it possible for him to take a minor post. Because he was a petty-bourgeois intellectual he could not place the interests of the Party above his own personal ambition. He therefore had to dramatize himself into the great intransigeant. From this position he slid down to the hideous gutter in which he finds himself today.

The history of his last ten years is the history of continuous downfall. From a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party down to an opposition within the Communist Party, down to a damages expelled from the Communist Party, down to an enemy expelled from the Soviet Union, down to one supplying the world bourgeoisie with lies about the Soviet Union, down to one who organizes the forces of disruption against the Communist Party and the Communist International, down to one who becomes the inspirer of plots aiming at the assassination of the leaders of the Revolution—aiming at the very heart of the Revolution.

Verily, no man has ever fallen so low.

He had a dream once. He has a dream now. To see the Soviet Union wrecked, to see the Bolshevik Party destroyed, to see the leaders of Bolshevism assassinated, to see the world Communist movement crushed, to see the Communist International wiped off the earth,—how that would gladden his heart! How he gloats over this vision! Of course, he does not say so outright. He cannot expose himself before the world. It is his accursed task to win recruits to counter-revolution by means of radical phrases. He is a master phrase-counterfeiter. But it is to make his dream come true that he directs all his actions.

In this he is a brother-in-arms to Matthew Woll and Randolph Hearst, to Abramovich and Hamilton Fish. Birds of a feather.

Next: 3.  Trotskyism Defined