Max Shachtman


The Struggle for the New Course



Leon Trotsky’s New Course precipitated a struggle that marks the dividing line in the history of the Russian Bolshevik revolution. After 1923 begins the period of the decline of the revolution, of its agony; it ends with the destruction of all the epochal conquests of 1917. A vast literature of description, analysis, exegesis, apology and criticism, eulogy and condemnation has been written to explain this second period, commonly and rightly known as the rise of Stalinism. It is astonishing to note that only now, twenty years after it was written, is Trotsky's work being made available to the English-reading world. Yet, without the closest study of this luminous document, it is literally impossible to reach a thorough understanding of what has happened in Russia, in fact – it is not exaggeration to say this – of what has happened in the world, since it was written.

The New Course was written back in 1923. It deals with the fundamental problems of an event that occurred even earlier, in 1917. Distance alone would suffice to throw these two dates out of focus. In addition, however, twenty years of the most turbulent social storms in history have stirred up such dense clouds of event and counterevent, with the inevitable concomitant of conflict between feeble truth and organized falsehood, that the problems and situation Trotsky wrote about in 1923 are even more blurred. This does not reduce the value or validity of what he wrote. If we devote space to restoring the outlines of the background against which The New Course appeared, it will serve the good purpose of making the subjects dealt with by its author more comprehensible to the present-day reader. At the same time, it will provide him with the materials necessary for the most rigid scientific test available in politics – the verification of analysis and prediction by events, or their refutation. This most merciless of all tests, far more decisive than momentary popularity, Trotsky has passed by a safe margin.


May 14, 1943


Last updated on 9.4.2005