This FAQ is an introduction to the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism Online (ETOL). It describes what the ETOL is, it explains how the ETOL can be perused, and it provides a fairly basic introduction to the main elements of Trotskyism.
This FAQ is posted regularly, about once a month, to the following newsgroups: news.answers, alt.answers, alt.politics.socialism.trotsky, alt.politics.socialism.trotsky, soc.politics.marxism, and also to various mailing lists related to Marxism. It is also made available in HTML format at the ETOL site.
Work on translations of this FAQ into other languages is underway, and they will be further distributed as soon as they are available.
The maintainers of this FAQ are David Walters and Luciano Dondero at: etol-mia (-@-) marxists.org). This FAQ has been drafted by Luciano Dondero, with substantial input by Jorn Andersen, Hugh Rodwell, David Walters, Sally Ryan and Chris Faatz. After a fair amount of discussion in the mailing list, version 1.0.0. is released on 19 February 1998. Additional input by John Gowland, Rick Kuhn and Shane Mage, as well as by Geoffrey E. Caveney. This is version 1.0.2. released on 21 March 1998.
The Encyclopedia of Trotskyism Online (ETOL) is an ongoing project, aimed at providing a complete documentation about the history, the idea and the activity of the international Trotskyist movement, centering upon the figure of Leon Trotsky (1879-1940) and continuing to this day. This involves compiling information from various sources and historical documents about several thousand individuals, hundreds of groupings and publications, and making them available in Internet.
The aim of the ETOL is to be the key location in Internet where anybody interested in Trotskyism will go when doing research work.
The ETOL will also reproduce original historical documents, and provide links to other locations on the net, which contains further documentation. In that sense, especially with the addition of further documents in languages other than English, the ETOL intends to be an online repository about the history of the Trotskyist movement.
The whole Encyclopedia is devoted to the study and documentation of the history of the international Trotskyist movement and of its ideas. Specific entries are available to explain various points of interest. They cover different standpoints and analysis from the various currents that call themselves Trotskyists.
Here is a summary introduction to the basic concepts of what has been historically known as "orthodox" Trotskyism, but which its supporters would define as "mainstream" Trotskyism.
Individuals and organisations holding a wide range of political positions and theories identify themselves as Trotskyist. What follows is an outline of positions that derive directly from Trotsky's writings. There are Trotskyists who reject some or even most of the positions outlined below.
Fundamentally, Trotskyism is Marxist/revolutionary/working-class socialism in the imperialist era of wars, revolutions and the transition to socialism.
It fights for leadership of the working class against Stalinism and Social-Democracy, tendencies grounded in a program of accomodation to continued capitalist rule that seeks to preserve and enhance the privileged position of bureaucratic strata that came to dominate not only the mass labor movements of the imperialist countries but also all those states that emerged as direct and indirect successors of the workers' republic established by the proletarian revolution of November 1917 in the Russian Empire. Parties bound by and expressing these tendencies have dominated the leadership of the workers movement in most of the world since the mid-1920s.
In some countries, such as the USA (the Democratic Party) and Argentina (Peronism), this struggle is directed against openly bourgeois leaderships of the working class.
Trotskyism sees the best possibility of developing a revolutionary socialist leadership in turning to the struggles of the working masses and fusing theory and practice in the class struggle.
It criticizes the degeneration of the Stalinist regime in the USSR from a revolutionary Marxist perspective. It sees it as a counter-revolutionary regime that had nothing to do with socialism and foresaw that it would lead to the restoration of capitalism if not swept away by the working class.
The Nazi take-over in Germany could have been stopped and Nazism smashed if Trotsky's policies had been followed. The Left Opposition led by Trotsky urged both Social Democratic and Communist German workers to form a proletarian United Front for the express and limited purpose of defense of class interests (workers' organizations and democratic rights) against the Nazis and capitalist reaction. The approach to such a united front would be "March separately, strike together!" Instead the Stalinists aimed all their hostility at the Social Democrats as "Social Fascists," thus splitting the workers' movement and allowing the Nazis into power.
Trotskyism is also against class collaboration as manifested in the Popular Fronts of the late 1930s in France and Spain, where allegedly "progressive" bourgeois forces were unabashedly supported by Communist Party policies, de facto aiding in the disarming of the working class in the face of the fascist threat. Similar policies by Stalin towards the bourgeois nationalist leader Chiang Kai-Shek in China in the mid-twenties had led directly to the massacre of huge numbers of unprepared workers in Shanghai in 1927, setting the Chinese revolution back by decades.
The tragic defeats of these years showed the price paid by the working class for surrendering its class independence.
In the face of the distortions of Marxism and Bolshevism by the Stalinist bureaucracy, a small minority of revolutionaries upheld the red banner and formed the Fourth International in 1938 to carry on the traditions of October and the early years of the Comintern (up to the death of Lenin).
The writings, policies and actions of Trotsky and his comrades remain an inspiration today, as they represent the continuity from Marx through the October revolution (led by the Bolshevik party under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky) and through the revolutionary resistance of the Stalinist era to the battles of the present in defense of Marxism and for a strong Fourth International.
The central features of Trotskyist politics are:
On the basis of Trotsky's analysis of the inability of the national bourgeoisie in the colonial and semi-colonial countries to carry forward the tasks of the bourgeois revolution (national liberation, democratic rights, women, health, education, etc), the fight against imperialism and colonialism requires a permanent revolution. This means the working class of those countries must win the leadership of the popular masses in the movement of national liberation and bring it to a Socialist revolution if there is to be any chance of getting a real solution to the oppression the people are rebelling against. This is opposed to the Stalinist theories of Socialism in One Country and Two-Stage Revolution (first bourgeois, then socialist).
On the basis of Trotsky's analysis of the Soviet Union as a degenerated workers state, the fight against Stalinism posed the need for a *political* revolution to overthrow the Stalinist bureaucracy and restore genuine soviet power, that is the power of councils of workers and peasants delegates in government. In imperialist countries *social* revolution against capitalism is necessary to expropriate the bourgeoisie, something that workers' states such as the ex-Soviet Union had already accomplished.
In order to seize power in the imperialist countries, the working class must fight for a program capable of bridging the gap between its daily struggles and the socialist revolution. The methodology expressed by Trotsky in the 1938 founding document of the Fourth International, best known as the Transitional Program, remains fundamental to this day, even though some of the tasks formulated in that document are no longer applicable. By fighting for transitional demands -- making immediately understandable demands that will have far-reaching effects if they are actually satisfied -- the workers are helped to see the link between getting real solutions to their everyday problems and getting rid of capitalism.
The workers of the world need their own political organization, a world-wide revolutionary party, whose national sections contribute to and are guided by an international leadership that is greater than the sum of its national parts. In the absence of an international organization, and one Trotsky insisted should be run on Bolshevik-Leninist lines, international solidarity and proletarian internationalism remain little more than empty phrases.
Leon Trotsky was born Lev Davidovich Bronstein in 1879, in a well-off middle-class peasant Jewish family in the rural town of Janovka in the Ukraine, then part of the czarist Russian empire. After an early start as a Narodnik (Populist) he was won over to Marxism by the woman who was to become his first wife, Aleksandra Lvovna Sokolovskaja, and joined the Russian Socialdemocratic Workers Party (RSDWP), founded in 1895 by Lenin .
At the 1903 Congress of the RSDWP, where two factions led by Lenin (Bolsheviks) and Martov (Mensheviks) clashed, Trotsky sided with the Mensheviks. In 1905, at the time of the first Russian revolution, he was elected chairman of the Petrograd Soviet of workers and peasants deputies. For his role he was tried and sentenced to deportation in Siberia. His views on the program of the Russian revolution were expressed in his perspective of a "permanent revolution". Throughout the years 1904-1917 he adopted an in-between position between the warring Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, finally joining the Bolshevik Party in 1917, after the February 1917 uprising and during the preparatory stages of the October revolution. He married for the second time with Natalia Sedova.
Trotsky played a crucial role in organising the seizure of power by the Bolshevik-led Soviets in October, and became the most important party and government leader after Lenin. His role was instrumental in bulding the Red Army of workers and peasants, and in defeating the "white" counterrevolutionaries, heavily helped by the imperialists, which sent fifteen different military invading armies to try and crach the Revolution.
At the death of Lenin in 1924, Trotsky was kept from taking over the reins of the central leadership by the alliance of several Bolshevik leaders, jealous of his authority, and already representing the interests of the growing state (and party) burocracy. They were Stalin, Zinoviev, Kamenev and Bucharin.
In 1928 Trotsky was deported in internal exile to Alma Ata, in Kazakhstan, and in 1929 was expelled from the Soviet Union.
He spent the rest of his life in exile, trying to find ways to intervene in the political struggles of the Communist movement trhoughout the world. Between 1929 and 1933 he lived in the island of Prinkipo, near Istanbul in Turkey, from 1933 to 1936 in France, part of 1936 in Norway, then in Mexico until his murder in 1940 by a Stalinist agent, Ramon Mercader.
In his fight against the burocracy Trotsky formed the Russian Left Opposition (in 1923) and the International Left Opposition (in 1929), leading to the foundation of the Fourth International in 1938.
Further information about the life and works of Leon Trotsky is available throughout the ETOL. A search for entries under specific headings like "Left Opposition" and " Fourth International" could be a good starting point.
The political activities of Leon Trotsky are well documented in the writings that have been published in various languages. Probably there are a bit more in French than in English, as the French-language edition of the Oeuvres is more complete than the English-language Writings. His most important books have been printed in most Western language and in Russian.
Some of his writings have been printed in several other languages, as the ETOL will document and eventually make available for public consumption.
You will find in the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism Online entries covering the revolutionary views defended by Trotsky and by the international Trotskyist movement, the history of its activities, details of the various Trotskyist groups, their publications, and the individuals involved in them. Some of these entries are scanty compilations of information gathered from various sources. Others are essays and short treatises written by students of particular aspects and relevant figures of the movement.
The documentary section contains texts, pictures and sound records, many of whom have been collected specifically for the ETOL.
The structure of the ETOL is that of a large online archive. Its introductory page offers the visitor the choice between going through different listings of entries: for groups, for publications and for specific inviduals. And also to access directly the documentary section, the accessories room and the links. Each of the subdivisions of the Encyclopedia lists the materials available therein in alphabetical format.
There are also chronological charts, geographical maps and other supporting materials available from the accessories room, to help everybody find their way through the ETOL. Each entry provides links to other related entries.
The curators of the Encyclopedia can be emailed directly to ask for help.
A search engine for the ETOL database will make it possible to find all entries related to a particular topic (looking for "Trotsky" or "Trotskyism" is not advisable, you would be better off searching for specific dates of issues )
The Encyclopedia of Trotskyism Online is meant to include everything related to its subject matter in a format that will make it possible for its visitors to quickly find information and documents on any person or topic related to the international Trotskyist movement. It is structured like an Encyclopedia, and it aims to provide a complete and thorough answer to all questions related to its subject matter.
Physically the main body of the Encyclopedia is kept in one server located in a particular country. Unofficial mirror sites exist elsewhere, either reproducing in full or in part, the ETOL documentation. For an updated listing write to the ETOL. The address of the ETOL is: email@example.com
This is one of the questions that the ETOL wants to answer in a fully comprehensive manner. Not only by including in its own body of materials many texts by Trotsky and others, but by linking up a bibliography of Trotsky's writings and of key documents of the movement with those sites where such documentation can be found.
In particular we want to point people in the direction of the Trotsky Internet Archives (TIA), located at http://www.marxists.org/trotsky. The TIA is a sub-Archive of the Marx Engels Internet Archive located at http://www.marxists.org. The TIA is the Internet collection of Leon Trotsky's writings. The goal of the TIA is to collect, in this location, the entire collected writings of Trotsky, which does not exist in any one publication or location at this time. The director of the TIA, David Walters (firstname.lastname@example.org), is one of the curators of the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism Online.
In a broad sense, the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism Online is one of those projects that will never be "finished". Given that its subject matter is a living movement -- unlike, say, the Soviet Union, which existed between 1917 and 1991 -- new documents and new entries will continue to be produced.
In the more immediate sense, our aim is to provide some hundreds of key entries in the course of 1998, and expand the project with further entries, as well as translations in other languages, by 1999.
Documentary materials are constantly added to the ETOL (as well as to the TIA), but it's hard to foresee when, say, all of Trotsky writings will be available in English, first, and then in other languages. Even harder is to put a date for the day when all of the Trotskyist publications will have been reproduced in digital format.
We have specific aims and goals for the expansion of the ETOL, but we can't have a definite plan with precise deadlines. This FAQ will document the progress made at each single point in time.
Starting from the initial listings of entries that have been compiled, new entries are being added this very moment to the Encyclopedia.
The documentary section is expanded thanks to the painstaking work of many men and women who scan and type old books and articles, and put them up on the net.
As more people become aware of the existence of this project, both throughout Internet and in the real world, we should expand the pool of contributors to the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism Online. More materials, especially from non-English-speaking countries, get added once people make them available to the ETOL (and TIA).
Historically speaking, the authors of the ETOL are Trotsky and the thousands of people who fought for the ideas of Trotskyism, as they understood them.
In concrete, the work to put together this material is up to a few dozen inviduals from various parts of the world, who got together to fulfill the goal to document the history of the international Trotskyist movement so that future generations will find more easily a way to learn about Trotsky and Trotskyism.
The members of the Editorial Board of the ETOL are: Amaury Verron (fr), Bob Evans (us), Bruce Burleson (ca), Bruce Robinson (uk), Chris Chrome (uk), Chris Faatz (us), Dave Berger (us), David Stevens (us), David Walters (us), Emil Sinclair (lu), Emile Fabrol (fr), Fabio Cerulli (it), Franco Ferrari (it), Geert Cool (be), Gerry Downing (uk), Heiko Khoo (uk, China specialist), Hugh Rodwell (se), Ilario Salucci (it), J.J. Plant (uk), Jean Christophe Helary (fr), Jean-Michel Vaysse (fr), Jeffrey Booth (us), Jim Monaghan (uk), Jim Paris (us), John Gowland (au), Jorn Andersen (dk), Jose Villa (uk), Keith Sinclair (uk), Luciano Dondero (it), Luigi Candreva (it), M. Razi (ir), Neil Fettes (ca), Ninel-Thuan (fr), Per I. Mathisen (no), Peter van Heusden (za), Philip Bolton (uk), Raymond Po (ar), Rob Jones (ru), Ron Painter (ca), Sally Ryan (us), Shigeochan (jp), Tom Condit (us).
There is also another body, called Advisory Committee, which is meant to keep an eye on the entire ETOL project and provide some kind of guarantee that this is a serious undertaking. Currently its members are: Al Richardson (uk), Alan Wald (us), Bryan Palmer (ca), Carlos Rebello (br), Charles Wesley Ervin (us), Doug Henwood (us), Ernest Haberkern (us), JosÈ Castilho Marques Neto (br), Marco Ferrando (it), Paola Vottero (it), Ralph Dumain (us), Ralph Schoenman (us), Rick Kuhn (au), Scott McLemee (us), Shane Mage (us), Steve Bloom (us), Ted Crawford (uk).
Most of the preparatory work for the ETOL has been (and is even now) conducted by means of an ad hoc mailing list, the "Trotsky project mailing list" located in the USA, thanks to our friends at Spoon's -- which also houses several other mailing lists devoted to the study of Marxism-related matters.
The Encyclopedia of Trotskyism Online as such has no political affiliation whatsoever. Among its contributors are people who belong to different Marxist groupings, as well as non-Marxist people with an historical interest in Trotskyism. The crucial requirements of a non-sectarian attitude, and the ability to cooperate with others in a broad project, have resulted in some people and some groupings not getting much involvement with this project. This is to be regretted, but it's not the result of any particular policy of keeping people out. And the ETOL will definitely accept relevant contributions from anybody, whether or not they belong to the Trotskyist movement or are Marxists themselves.
Copyright © 1998 Encyclopedia of Trotskyism online
[ETOL]. All rights reserved.
Revised: March 21, 1998.
Last updated 28 April 2000