Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 7 No. 2
THIS handy pamphlet aims at being a young people’s introduction to the life and contribution of Leon Trotsky, and as such should be welcomed. It is organised around a number of well-chosen sections, followed by short but useful bibliographies. It touches upon most of the main aspects of Trotsky’s contribution to Marxism. Unfortunately, it has been written with less care than it should have been. Because a publication aims at an elementary explanation, that does not mean that it has to be cavalier with the facts.
Apart from sloppy formulations that can easily give the wrong impression – such as that ‘the Left Opposition was based on the revolutionary working class’ but ‘the Bukharinites’ class basis was amongst the richest peasants’ (p. 24), there are a large number of straight factual bloomers. Orwell’s Animal Farm, for example, takes the form of an animal fable, not a ‘fairy story’ (p. 24); Trotsky was not the only former Bolshevik leader not to capitulate to Stalin (p. 25); it is not true that the Chinese Communist Party made no attempt to win over soldiers in the Guomindang army (p. 31) – several of its future generals came from there; the Freikorps were set up in December 1918, not ‘1919’ (p. 33); it was impossible for Stalin to negotiate with the Nazis in 1924 (p. 37). (Even if this is a misprint for 1934, the Treaty of Berlin had been signed the year before, in May 1933.) The well-known quotation originating in Mexico claiming to come from Pravda describing the GPU’s activity in Spain (p. 39) was proved to be apocryphal some years ago. And if Comrade Brenner has been told ‘little of the great slave rebellion led by Spartacus’ (p. 1), then perhaps he should apply himself again to his books, for on this topic there have been enough of them. Similarly, he might be ‘left ignorant’ (p. 1) of the strikes of the tomb workmen of ancient Egypt (so ignorant, indeed, that he seems to think that they were paid in gold), but they have been known to modern scholarship for over a century (the best more recent account for those who do not read in Late Egyptian is in the Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Volume 10, no. 3, July 1951, pp. 137–45).
Moreover, some of the particular positions of Workers Power have been fathered upon Trotsky without any attempt to distinguish between them. Now Marxism is a creative methodology, and there is, of course, nothing at all wrong in principle for the theorists of our own day to disagree, alter or revise the points of view of the giants of the past, though in this case it has to be admitted that Mr Brenner is rather full of himself. But if this is to take place, the least we should require is that it be recognised in the text. For example, Trotsky resolutely refused to side with any one national group struggling against the others in his reportage of the Balkan wars, whilst Workers Power on the whole sides with the Bosnians; this deep difference is covered up with the seemingly innocuous remark that ‘he distinguished at all times between reactionary wars fought for profit and the justified resistance of nations whose fundamental freedoms were being denied’ (p. 7). Similarly, whatever the reasons for forming the Fourth International in 1938, the argument that each national party should operate ‘as an integral part of a democratic centralist international movement’ (p. 45) was hardly one of them, for the International Communist League had never operated on any other basis until then. And readers of such statements as ‘Trotskyists are not disillusioned by Stalinism’s collapse because we have been proved right’ (p. 21) might be forgiven for assuming that Workers Power had foreseen this outcome, which is certainly not the case.
It is a great shame that this carelessness should have marred so excellent an undertaking, for there is a deep need for such a basic introduction. Let us hope that such Workers Power veterans as Dave Stocking or Keith Hassell are allowed to correct the text before it is reissued in a second edition.
Updated by ETOL: 3.10.2011