Max Shachtman

Trotsky Taught
Independent Class Action

(August 1942)

From Labor Action, Vol. 6 No. 34, 24 August 1942, p. 3.
There is a slightly different version here, copied from the Workers’ Liberty Website.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

It is two years since an assassin acting on Stalin’s dictate murdered the great genius of the revolutionary movement, Leon Trotsky, The murderer is still alive, in a Mexican jail, dragging the case out with the aid of the legal and practical skullduggery of Stalinist lawyers. He has even changed his original confession, though his guilt cannot be hidden. Throughout, the Stalinists have worked at plans to free the murderer, as they managed to free Siqueiros, who led a machine gun attack on Trotsky’s house several months before Jacson was successful in the murder. Once freed, and thereby removed from where he may yet speak, it is likely that the Stalinists will dispose of him to forever silence the killer. But the facts themselves cannot be silenced. Stalin murdered Trotsky! He must be brought to account! And he will be brought to account ... by the ideas of Leon Trotsky, which will live forever to point the finger of accusation at Stalin.

Two years ago an assassin in the employ of the Stalinist camarilla that rules Russia drove a pickaxe into the Head of Leon Trotsky and killed him.

The way of the assassin, Jackson-Morand, was typical of the way of his masters. Even before the fight between them and Trotsky broke out in the Communist Party of Russia, they never faced him in fair and square debate or struggle. They always operated best from behind the scenes, skulking in the corridors and the dark corners, for the weapons they employed to crush the revolutionary ideas and socialist ideals represented by Trotsky were not of a kind that anybody displays or boasts about openly. They were the weapons of the lie, of deception, of forgery and misrepresentation, of hypocrisy, of frame-up, of ambush, of the stab in the back. What other weapons can reaction bring to bear against the ideas of revolutionary socialism, the ideas of working class freedom, which nobody represented more brilliantly, more single-mindedly, more honorably in his time than Leon Trotsky? How else can the banner-bearers of truth be stopped or delayed in their advance than by disloyal trickery, skullduggery and the foul stab in the dark?

Cannot Destroy His Ideas

That is how Trotsky was disposed of by the gang of cut-throats who saw in, him the living combination of conscience and brain of the great Russian Revolution which they had destroyed in order to establish their own reactionary sway. But hard as it was to dispose of Trotsky, it is a hundred thousand times harder to dispose of the ideas he represented and the truths he taught because they rest upon the irrepressible needs of the working class and all the oppressed.

For that reason, Trotsky’s ideas will never be forgotten so long as there are exploited and oppressed people fighting for victory. For the same reason, Trotsky will lie forever enshrined in history after that victory has been won. What were his ideas? What do they mean for the American working class today?

Over and over again Trotsky showed by logical arguments derived from the rich experience of social struggles throughout the world that there is only one class left in modern society capable of leading the world out of the multitude of contradictions and conflicts that continue to tear it to pieces at the expense of the toiling masses. That class is the working class. Be it in a backward country like Russia or an advanced one like England; a fascist country like Germany, a semi-feudal-militarist dictatorship like Japan or a democratic country like the United States; a colony like Ceylon, a half-colony like China, a modern imperialist metropolis like England – the working class alone is the consistently progressive class. Any social task that it does not solve by its own independent action will either not be solved at all, or else will be solved in a most reactionary and harmful way.

What ‘Practical’ Leaders Did

You can spot a scoundrel and a fraud a hundred miles off by the sure, scientific test provided for us by Trotsky (and by his own great teachers before him, Lenin and Marx and Engels). “You can detect the agent or apologist of any type or variety of exploiter – on the big scale of a monopoly capitalist or the small scale of a trade union bureaucrat – by what he says about the role of the working-class in society. He will always say, in one set of words or another, that the working class must follow the leadership of somebody else; that the working class is composed of a fine bunch of fellows, especially fine for working hard, but that it really is not suited for leadership of society; that the working class is composed of splendid fighters, but they need a clever boss over themselves, preferably one working for the capitalists and their social system.

Watch them like hawks, warned Trotsky. Watch them, be their name Stalin or Hitler, Churchill or Roosevelt, Chiang Kai-shek or Gandhi, Ley or Bevin, or Lozovsky or Green. For all the great differences among them, they have at least this in common: they teach the workers NOT to rely on their own class strength, NOT to rely on their own class organization, NOT to rely oh their own class program, NOT to rely on their own class leadership.

“The emancipation of the working class is the work of the working class itself,” said Karl Marx. Trotsky showed how true this was in a hundred different cases. But not merely by professorial argument. He showed it right in the heat of the struggle in every part of the globe, in a dozen different varieties of situations.

No social or political movement can advance progressively, can bring the people to an improved position in any respect, and do it in a durable and consistent way, unless it is led by the working class and spear-headed by the revolutionary working class party.

How End Fascism and War?

The Russian Revolution cannot be kept alive and consolidated unless the working class is at the helm, taught Trotsky. Oh, no, said the mob of upstart bureaucrats, that’s not at all necessary. We’re not theoreticians like Trotsky, we’re not utopians like Trotsky, we’re clever and practical people. We’ll take care of everything by kicking the workers out of power and taking control ourselves. We’ll take care of the rest of the world by making the international labor movement a tool in our hands for maneuvering cunningly among the imperialists abroad. The result of the work of the “practical” bureaucrats was the assassination of the Russian Revolution and its great achievements.

The Chinese people can gain their national freedom and emancipate themselves from the yoke of foreign imperialism only if the Chinese workers establish their own power with the aid of the working peasants, taught Trotsky. Oh, no, replied all the smart, ever-so-practical politicians. You can’t do that in such a backward country as China. In the first place, the imperialists will be very angry with you. In the second place, the Chinese capitalists will run right over to the imperialists. We must prevent that at all costs, even if it means that we ourselves keep the workers and peasants under heel. They are excellent for fighting purposes, but they’re either too stupid or too dangerous to take over power.

The result of the policy of the “practical” people is visible the world over today. China is further from national freedom than she was fifteen years ago. The workers are suffering the most intense misery and oppression under Japanese imperial rule on the one side, and are being used as cannon fodder for the plans of opposing imperialism on the other side. You can’t fight the plague of fascism unless the workers unite and take the leadership, unless they are organized and trained for FIGHTING instead of whining, unless they take the road to independent class power, taught Trotsky. He’s a fascist hireling, cried the Stalinists, who laid down and let Hitler march right over them. He’s a utopian dreamer, cried the social-democratic and trade union skates, who formed the second rail for Hitler’s juggernaut to travel over.

You can’t fight the imminent threat of a Second Imperialist World War without the united, independently organized resistance of the working class on an international scale, taught Trotsky. You cannot defeat fascism and reaction and all other products of capitalist decay unless the working class leads the fight against them, taught Trotsky. You can’t bring all humanity put of the abyss of barbarism into which it is being pushed down, you can’t take the high road to a society of free and equal human beings, you can’t replace the putrefying, stinking older order with the new order of socialism unless the proletariat is freed, first, from its dependence on other classes and other leadership, unless the proletariat is first organized as an independent class, with its own program, army and leadership.

This Is the Fundamental Idea

The failure of the working class everywhere to follow the teachings of Leon Trotsky has produced the heavy defeats it has suffered. Its most recent product is the slaughter of the peoples in the war, and the pounding blows being delivered labor in one country after another, the United States included.

Of all that Trotsky taught, this fundamental idea of the complete independence and need of self-reliance of the working class is the one upon which all the others rest. Of all that Trotsky taught, including those ideas and tactics which in our judgment were erroneous and with which we found it our duty to disagree nothing could possibly weaken the unshakable power of this fundamental idea.

In this sign we shall conquer, says the old motto. If the working class is to emerge from the dreadful crisis in which it finds itself today, especially in this country where it is so vastly powerful and uses this power so poorly; if the working class is to conquer in spite of all – and conquer it must and it will – it will do so in the sign of Trotsky’s wise and tested teachings.

It will conquer as the sworn foe of the capitalist class everywhere; as the foe of all its attorneys and pillars, be they social-democratic, trade union bureaucrats or Stalinist exploiters; as the foe of imperialist war; as the foe of colonial oppression; as the foe of fascist barbarism. It will conquer as the champion of internationalism, of worldwide brotherhood of the peoples, as the trail-blazer of proletarian revolution and socialist freedom.

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Last updated on 31.12.2013