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V. Karalasingham

Leon Trotsky (1879–1940)

(22 August 1969)

Originally published in the Ceylon Daily News, 22 August 1969.
Reprinted in Lenin and Trotsky: What they really stood for International Publishers, Colombo, April 1972, pp. 155–157.
Transcribed by Vinod Moonesinghe & Einde O’Callaghan.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The two men who led the Russian Revolution of 1917 which brought the Bolsheviks to power were Lenin and Trotsky. Of the role of Lenin there is no dispute. But of the role of Trotsky, the official spokesmen who today speak for the State he helped to create give a completely distorted picture. It is true that this distortion does not go to the ridiculously absurd limits that it reached between the years 1927 and 1953. However, even to this day no proper recognition is accorded to him and many would be surprised to know that he played a role second only to Lenin in the tempestuous events of 1917. In the contemporary record and literature these two names, those of Lenin and Trotsky, were indissolubly linked by friend and foe alike. We need only recall the concluding words of Rosa Luxemburg’s appraisal of the Russian Revolution, written a few weeks after the Bolsheviks came to power: “Lenin and Trotsky and their friends were the first, those who went ahead as an example to the proletariat of the world; they are still the only ones up to now who can cry with Hutten: “I have dared!”

But Trotsky’s role in the 1917 revolution really begins soon after the defeat of the revolution in 1905 while he was awaiting trial in a Petrograd jail for his activities in the abortive 1905 revolution. It was in the year 1906 that he made his prognosis of the revolution which was to create the first workers’ state 11 years later. In making that theoretical analysis and forecast, he broke with a long established Marxist tradition. So sharp was the break that even the bold Lenin was startled and it was only in April 1917 that the latter came round to the view which Leon Trotsky propounded in the year 1906 as to the character of the Russian revolution.

On the basis of some of Marx’s writings all Marxists were of the view that the socialist revolution would occur first in the advanced capitalist countries by which were meant at that time, the countries of Western Europe and the United States. As for the other countries, this view held that these were ripe not for the socialist revolution but for the bourgeois democratic revolution which by overthrowing feudal and semi-feudal relations would create the conditions for the all sided capitalist-industrial development. In the fullness of time these countries would mature for the socialist revolution. All were agreed that the Russia of the old Czars belonged to the latter category and therefore the leading European Marxists were unanimous that the Russian Revolution would create not a socialist state but a revolutionary bourgeois democratic state, and that the change to a socialist state would follow in the wake of the socialist revolution in the advanced capitalist countries.

Trotsky rejected this division between countries “ripe” for the socialist revolution and those not “ripe”. In the 20th century this distinction had lost meaning since imperialism had knit together developed and undeveloped countries in a world wide capitalist economic system. It was true in these latter countries, that is undeveloped countries, capitalist relations were superimposed on the existing pre-capitalist economic and political structure as was the case with Czarist Russia. Trotsky agreed that the clearance of the feudal economic and political rubbish was the immediate prime task of the revolution in Russia, that it was the existence of these medieval conditions in 20th century life which made a country like Russia “ripe” for revolution, but this prime task could be achieved thoroughly, completely and finally only by placing political power in the hands of the proletariat. But the proletariat in power would thereafter be compelled to take directly socialist measures to protect its rule, and therefore a revolution beginning with bourgeois democratic aims develops uninterruptedly into a socialist revolution. Therefore, according to Trotsky, “it is possible for the workers to come to power in an economically backward country sooner than in an advanced country.” This was said way back in 1906!

After the February revolution in 1917 the Czar it is true abdicated; but czarism remained without the Czar. Not one of the tasks of that revolution was accomplished during the whole course of that year till, as Trotsky predicted, the working class seized power in October that year. Before this could be done, Lenin had to re-educate his party to the new goal of the capture of power by the working class of Russia. This was done at the April Conference of the Bolshevik Party, and thereafter events swiftly moved forward. Trotsky was the principal spokesman for the Bolshevik Party and in September was elected president of the Petrograd Soviet whose military committee organised the insurrection in October 1917.

When Trotsky boldly anticipated a proletarian state in backward Czarist Russia he linked the survival of that regime with the success of the revolutionary struggle of the workers of the advanced countries. Without their victory, the defeat of the revolution in Russia was declared a certainly. Although the Russian revolution survived a long period of isolation, the capitalist counter revolution it is true did not triumph, but there arose instead the Stalinist counter revolution which while it based itself on the new property relations completely deprived the workers and peasants of their political and social gains. It was this counter revolution which destroyed the Bolshevik Party, exiled Leon Trotsky, deprived him of citizenship and instituted a reign of terror in which thousands of Bolsheviks were shot, and imprisoned. In official literature this is euphemistically called the “consequences of the personality cult.” but in fact the Soviet Union experienced the most dreadful period in its history.

But Trotsky’s exile was no less productive. In exile he wrote his monumental 3 volume History of the Russian Revolution, the first lime the leader of a revolution attempted such a venture. It was so successful that it occupies a foremost place as a work of history and literature. But Trotsky’s relevance to our time is in his analysis of Stalinism. At the time he made it its appeal was to a small circle of his immediate adherents, while the overwhelming majority of the Left out of a false sense of loyalty to the Soviet State either ignored it or took comfort in the illusion that Stalinism would wither away in time, or worse still, that the hangman’s countenance was the natural face of socialism. We know better today, and large and ever growing numbers of Communists in the world movement know better still, that the total liquidation of Stalinism and the restoration of socialist democracy are essential, if full use is to be made of the production relation established by the October revolution. It is no accident therefore that from within the ranks of the official Communist movement, men should come forward today to articulate the ideas which Trotsky formulated in exile in the period preceding his cruel death. Every movement of protest, every attempt at democratization, every demand for “socialism with a human face” is in the final analysis a vindication of Trotsky.

This of course is not a matter of surprise, because in the history of Marxist thought and political action he occupies a unique and unrivalled eminence. Which other man had made a prognosis of a revolution, had led the very revolution he anticipated, had written a history of that very revolution which makes professional historians appear as ordinary scribblers, had analysed the degeneration of that very revolution, had defended that degenerated revolution against the hostile critic, even though in its degeneration that revolution had physically devoured not only its founders but his own family itself, and, when, even the strongest man would be moved to despair, had predicted with almost mathematical exactitude the regeneration of that degenerated revolution which we now witness in its ebb and flow? One will search the annals of history in vain to find anyone comparable to Leon Trotsky.

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