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Ken Tarbuck

Trotsky’s Marxism: A Reply to Nicolas Krassó

(Autumn 1968)

From Bulletin of Marxist Studies, Vol. 1 No. 2, Autumn 1968.
Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.
Minor spelling errors have been corrected without indication.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Editor’s Note: This article was first written in October 1967 in response to an essay that appeared in New Left Review, No. 44. Although it was submitted for publication in NLR – and tentatively accepted – it has not yet been published. One reply to Nicolas Krassó has been published in NLR, No. 47, by Ernest Mandel and it is well worthwhile for readers to obtain this and the original essay. The present article stands in its own right, since the points in dispute have a significance beyond the pages of NLR. The place of Trotsky in the history of Marxism is one that still has topical import.

Since the original article and the reply were written major events have taken place that demonstrate both the validity of Trotsky’s contribution and of its relevance for politics today. Both the French events and the Czechoslovakian events, each in their own way, have shown the relevance of Trotskyism to today’s world.

The present article has been amended slightly from that version which was first submitted to the NLR in October 1967. However, in the main it still stands as it was written then.

Nicolas Krassó’s article attempting to appraise Trotsky’s place in the history of Marxism was both too long and too short. It was too long in the sense that it tried to cover such a long time-span, one that was explosively full of history-making events; too short because the nature of the material handled meant that nearly every point could only be touched upon in a generalised way. Perhaps this is the price that is paid for initiating such a discussion. However, this has raised certain problems in the writing of this reply, it has meant that not every point could be taken up and argued but only those that seem to have an important bearing on the central issues.

Permanent Revolution

The first point I would like to take up is the question of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution. Nicolas Krassó calls this an ‘inept designation which by evoking the idea of a continuous conflagration at all times and at all places – a metaphysical carnival of insurrection – it lent itself to distortion in the polemic both of Trotsky’s opponents and his followers’. We are told that Trotsky’s formula conflated two quite distinct problems, the character of the Russian revolution and its ability to maintain itself without an international extension of the revolution. [1]

Nicolas Krassó contends that ‘the illegitimate nature of this process is all too obvious’, but is it? The illegitimate posing of the problem only arises if one views the question from a formal logical position. The question of the survival, or otherwise, of a successful revolution in a hostile capitalist world did hinge on the character of that revolution. If one compares the reaction of the capitalist world generally, and the Allied powers in particular, to the February revolution and the reaction to the October revolution, one sees the conflation that is objected to taking place in real life. Nor was this hostility manifested merely because the Bolsheviks sued for peace, interventions continued and grew in intensity after the defeat of Germany. Is Nicolas Krassó going to suggest that had Kerensky continued in office, with all that that would have implied, that there would have still been interventions; or on the other hand that the interventions that did (and still do) take place were merely fortuitous? To attempt to separate the two aspects of any revolution today, after all the experience that we have of imperialist interventions, is to take the discussion back half a century.

Moreover, it can be seen from living experience, that of Cuba, that the international conditions at a given time and place help to determine the nature and scope of a revolution. Any examination of this experience will show that the particular course of this revolution has been profoundly influenced by the intervention of US imperialism and the support for the revolutionary regime gathered from the workers’ states. There is another aspect to be considered, this is the international effects a victorious workers’ revolution would and does have. This side of the theory of permanent revolution implies that revolutions do not take place in isolation, but are part of an international process. Again one can point to living experience for the validity of this proposition since 1945. The victory of the Chinese revolution in 1949 and the Cuban revolution in 1959 are not two separate disconnected events, rather they form parts of that permanent revolution that Marx and Trotsky wrote about. Nicolas Krassó injected the phrase ‘metaphysical carnival of insurrection’ and then proceeds on the assumption that this was also Trotsky’s view. This is an utter distortion of Trotsky’s real views. It is interesting that Trotsky was not allowed to ‘speak’ for himself about this matter, perhaps because no quotation could be dug up to prove that he ever said that the Soviet Union could only be saved by ‘simultaneous revolutions in Western Europe’. Such nonsense will not be found in Trotsky’s writings. Deutscher presented a balanced synthesis of the permanent revolution when he wrote:

Trotsky’s theory is in truth a profound and comprehensive conception in which all the overturns that the world has been undergoing (in this late capitalist era) are represented as interconnected and interdependent parts of a single revolutionary process. To put it in the broadest terms, the social upheaval of our century is seen by Trotsky as global in scope and character, even though it proceeds on various levels of civilisation and in the most diverse social structures, and even though its various phases are separated from one another in time and space. (Introduction to The Age of Permanent Revolution: A Trotsky Anthology, p. 19) [2]

Nicolas Krassó’s attempt to refute the theory of permanent revolution is an attempt to refute the process of life in the modern world. The theory is no longer one that lives solely between the pages of a book. Since 1917 it has been subject to empirical verification and has been endorsed in the process.

Socialism in One Country

Nicolas Krassó’s muddled thinking on the question of permanent revolution leads him to serve up an historical and theoretical pastiche on the question of ‘Socialism in One Country’. We are told:

It was naive to speculate whether revolutions would or would not occur in the West, in general. Bolshevik strategy should not be based on the presumption of an occurrence of a European revolution; but nor should the possibility of one be discarded. After Lenin’s death, however, this dialectical position disintegrated ...

This imputes a view to Lenin that he did not hold. Lenin said very specifically on a number of occasions that ‘world imperialism cannot live side by side with a victorious advancing social revolution’. On 23 April 1918 Lenin said: ‘Our backwardness has thrust us forward and we shall perish if we are unable to hold out until we meet the mighty support of the insurrectionary workers of other countries.’ [3] These and many more references put him without question in the camp of those who thought that an isolated workers’ state would not survive for long. If, as Nicolas Krassó implies, the Bolsheviks had a non-committal attitude (it is a misuse of language to call it dialectical) to revolution in the West why was there such enthusiasm for the creation of the Third International? Moreover, the Third International did not ‘speculate’ about revolutions in the West but was viewed by nearly all the leading Bolsheviks, Lenin included, as being the world party of revolution in a very concrete and active way. Indeed any reading of the early days of the Russian Revolution makes it very clear that it was seen as a prelude to revolution in the West.

However, this was not the only aspect of ‘Socialism in One Country’ that was opposed by the Left Opposition in the 1920s. The other aspect concerned the type of society that was envisaged when one spoke about socialism. The point of departure for the Opposition was the fact that capitalism had created a world market, world economy and a worldwide division of labour. Therefore in the age of imperialism national boundaries become more and more restricting on the development of productive forces. If socialism is to develop the productive forces on such a scale that standards of material well-being are far superior to those under capitalism and men freed from routine drudgery then this international division of labour will have to be carried to a much higher pitch. To talk about the building of socialism in backward Russia was an essentially reactionary and utopian idea, it implied the abandonment of a perspective of international revolution, and along with it the best defence for a backward workers’ state.

The Intelligentsia and Socialism

The line of argument pursued by Nicolas Krassó in this section is rather obscure. He accused Trotsky of bitter hostility towards intellectuals, bringing forward an article written in 1910 as evidence. Trotsky is said to view the intelligentsia in a ‘wholly pre-Leninist manner’ and hence his views are un-Marxist! Apart from the setting up of Lenin as an icon, this interpretation is very misleading. Trotsky, in the article in question, was analysing the role of intellectuals as a social layer within capitalist society. Lenin, in contrast, wrote about and directed his activity towards intellectuals breaking from this environment and becoming revolutionaries. Trotsky did not dismiss the intelligentsia in toto, he postulated conditions under which they would move towards socialism. He said:

The intelligentsia might go over to collectivism if it were given reason to see as probable the immediate victory of collectivism, if collectivism rose before it not as an ideal of a different, remote and alien class but as a near and tangible reality; finally, if – and this is not the least important condition – a political break with the bourgeoisie did not threaten each brain-worker taken separately with grave material and moral consequences. [4]

It is obvious that here Trotsky was concerned with the conditions which went to mould the intelligentsia, and the forces that operated against its allying with the working class. It certainly could be argued that such conditions are today not so pressing, particularly here in Britain. But it would be unwise to assume that such conditions are no longer operative at all.

It would also be well to recall that Trotsky was writing in 1910 and that his assessment of the role and attitudes of the intelligentsia in relation to the working class was a realistic one. Looking at the British labour movement of 1910, for instance, one could see that intellectuals as a social layer played a minimal role, the Webbs et al. notwithstanding. When numbers of the intelligentsia did move into the Labour Party, after 1918, they further debased the dominant labourism. However, it must be noted that even today the intelligentsia, as a social layer, have not decisively gone over to socialism here in Britain, even of the Labour variety let alone revolutionary socialism. It is clear that only when individual members of the intelligentsia commit themselves to a working-class party does their role inside become a critical one. If today more individual intellectuals commit themselves to socialism, does this prove Trotsky wrong? It certainly does if one attempts to read him as a sort of Gospel or Holy Writ. However, it does not prove him wrong if one takes into account the October, Chinese and Cuban revolutions. Collectivism is no longer a remote ideal but a living reality. On the other hand, one of the lessons of all three revolutions is that, along with the dispossessed ruling class, large numbers of the intelligentsia also flee and take up hostile positions to the new regimes. Even those that stayed in Russia after 1917 had to be wooed by special privileges. One is not being bitterly hostile to them because one acknowledges the truth about their position in society. This position is that they are dominated by the hegemonic ideology of the ruling class and help to perpetuate it.

To try to insert Gramsci’s concept of a new type of intellectual produced by a revolutionary party into a discussion about intellectuals as a social layer is to befog the issue. The roles of the individual intellectual and that of the intelligentsia are separate problems, even though obviously related. Nicolas Krassó writes that ‘the party ... an autonomous structure ... recombines and transforms two different phenomena – the intelligentsia and the working class’. This is indeed an odd way of putting it. How can an autonomous structure – the party – recombine two classes? If this autonomous structure were to carry out this feat it would not be autonomous and class and party would be synonymous! The charge of identifying class and party which is laid at Trotsky’s feet should be laid elsewhere. The modified elements which engage in new political practice, that is, the revolutionary party, are not the intelligentsia and the working class but only individuals and perhaps sections from these two social formations. To say otherwise is precisely to confuse class and party as Nicolas Krassó does.


It is necessary to have a clear factual understanding of history if one sets out to interpret it. Unfortunately Nicolas Krassó does not have this. This is evident when he says: ‘Trotsky was determined to strengthen the power of professional military officers with a Tsarist past in the Red Army, and he fought the imposition of control over them by political commissars appointed by the party.’ This is very far wide of what the real situation was. The dispute over the employment of the ex-Tsarist officers was if they should be used at all, and this was only a subsidiary question to the wider one of a centralised army versus militia. This was debated at the Eighth Congress of the Bolshevik Party. Trotsky wanted to use these officers in their capacity of military experts, but at the same time made a specific request to the Central Committee to supply him with reliable Communists to act as commissars. Deutscher says that Trotsky ‘implored’ the Central Committee for these men. There was never any question of the ex-Tsarist officers having more power since all their orders had to be countersigned by their political commissars.

Nicolas Krassó uses these unfounded assertions to insert the idea that Trotsky was an essentially military figure, more at ease in a command situation. He says:

He [Trotsky] had authority ab initio to organise the army; as People’s Commissar for War he had all the prestige of Lenin and the Soviet state behind him. He did not have to win this authority in a political arena by persuading his peers to accept him.

Again, this is a perversion of the real situation. Deutscher puts the matter differently:

The new campaigning season was approaching, but even now, a year after Trotsky had become Commissar of War, his military policy had not yet received the party’s blessing – he carried it out as if on his own responsibility. (The Prophet Armed, p. 429)

It was not until the Eighth Congress that the party formally endorsed this military policy of Trotsky. But even then it would be grossly misleading to suggest that the role of a military leader was only one of command. In any civil war situation appeals and persuasion play a far greater role than routine authority or command. In the case of the creation of the Red Army this was particularly so. There was no tradition, no historical precedents, no hegemonic ideology holding undisputed sway. It is in this light that Trotsky’s role must be viewed, and this was essentially a political one. The early formations of the Red Army were entirely voluntary, only when a reliable proletarian military cadre had been formed was it possible to resort to conscription. Even when conscription was used it must be seen in a very different way to ‘normal’ induction. In a civil war there is no guarantee that your conscripts will not desert in large numbers to the other side, or perhaps just desert, if there is not a firm political basis laid.

Nicolas Krassó tells us that ‘the voluntarist is in his element haranguing crowds or dispatching troops – but these roles should not be confused with the ability to lead a revolutionary party’. What he forgets is that before anyone can ‘dispatch troops’ he must have them at hand. Therefore the art of a revolutionary military leader is the gathering of the troops and convincing them of the need to be ‘dispatched’. This is where Nicolas Krassó utterly fails to see the similarity, and at times identity (Cuba), between a revolutionary army and party.

Again, Nicolas Krassó misunderstands the reality of the early days of the Soviet Republic and the nature of the military policy. He says that Trotsky:

... as a pillar of the Soviet state ... had to give orders to his subordinates for precise purposes. His task in either role was to ensure the means to a previously determined end. This is a different task from that of ensuring that a novel end prevails among various competing opinions in a political organisation.

This improperly assumes that the end of a civil, or any other, war is predetermined. This is not so, the only end predetermined in a war situation is that the enemy should be defeated. Also in a revolutionary party the only end predetermined is that there should be revolution. In both situations the means, methods, tactics, etc., will be subject to discussion and debate. This is not to suggest that in a civil war the debate will be conducted at all levels within the army, but neither will it be in the party; the nature of the situation sometimes precludes it. Furthermore, even if one assumes that for the Red Army per se ends were predetermined by the Central Committee, Trotsky played a part in arriving at the decisions. He was not a passive onlooker waiting for his orders to be handed down to him.

Trotsky could hardly be called a pillar of the Soviet state until late in the civil war, because no such state existed in the accepted use of the term. The term pillar is misleading; it conjures up a picture of a solid, well-founded and established regime, when in fact very often the continued existence of the regime hung in the balance. What we are given, by implication, is a picture of Trotsky moving in an orderly, established structure of known and given dimensions, when in fact society and every subordinate structure, including the revolutionary party, was in a condition of flux. Only holding a static and unreal vision of revolution could lead one to see Trotsky, or any other Bolshevik leader, in a command situation in those early days.


Nicolas Krassó here turns to the theme of substitution and identity in the relations between party and class, implying that Trotsky fell into the ‘error’ of identity, that is, of seeing the party and class as identical. He presents us with a quotation from The New Course which seems to bear him out; but it would have been better had he completed the quotation. It would have given an accurate picture of what Trotsky said. Here is the quotation with the missing sentences restored:

The different needs of the working class, of the peasantry, of the state apparatus and its membership, act upon our party, through whose medium they seek to find a political expression. The difficulties and contradictions in our epoch, the temporary discord in the interests of the different layers of the proletariat, or of the proletariat as a whole and the peasantry, act upon the party through the medium of its worker and peasant cells, of the state apparatus, of the student youth. Even episodic differences in views and nuances of opinion may express the remote pressure of distinct social interests and, in certain circumstances, be transformed into stable groupings; the latter may, in turn, sooner or later take the form of organised factions which, opposing themselves to the rest of the party, undergo by that very fact even greater external pressure. Such is the dialectics of inner-party groupings in an epoch when the Communist Party is obliged to monopolise the direction of political life. (The New Course, p. 27, emphasis added) [5]

The emphasised sentence is the key to a proper understanding of what Trotsky was discussing; only by leaving it out was Nicolas Krassó able to present his interpretation to an unwary reader. The chapter that this comes from is Groups and Factional Formations. In this Trotsky was discussing the politics of a one-party state, as the above makes clear. He was not talking about parties in general, nor was there any suggestion that party and class are identical. What he was doing was to explore the nature of groups and factions in a situation where only one party was the prescribed form of political activity, and in so doing was breaking new ground. For socialists and Marxists the situation in the Soviet Union was a novel and unprecedented one. Certainly in 1917 no one foresaw such a situation. The subsequent developments in the 1920s seem to have borne out what Trotsky was saying in 1923. Indeed, later on the experience of the monolithic one-party state indicates that unless the party does reflect these differences then it ceases to be a party in the accepted use of the term.

We are also told that Trotsky was guilty of ‘sociologism’, and this first led him into the trap of equating party and class in the theoretical field; and in practical politics urging the proletarianisation of the party as an antidote to bureaucracy. Further, we are told that Stalin followed this advice with disastrous results for – Trotsky! However, Deutscher puts the matter rather differently:

The triumvirs [Stalin, Kamenev and Zinoviev] resolved to open at once a spectacular recruiting drive in the factories. But while Trotsky had advised a careful selection, they decided to recruit en masse, to accept any worker who cared to join, and to waive all customary tests and conditions. At the Thirteenth Conference they recommended the recruitment at a stroke of 100,000 workers ... This was a mockery of Bolshevik principle of organisation which required that, as the élite and vanguard of the proletariat, the party should only accept the politically advanced and the politically battle-hardened. (The Prophet Unarmed, p. 135)

Trotsky indeed made the point that the process of recruitment of workers should be slow and then ‘only under conditions of noteworthy economic advance’ (The New Course, pp. 20–21). [6] Here a different picture emerges from that of a primitive sociologism – workers good, bureaucrats bad – here we see Trotsky grappling with a real problem, that of declining worker membership, and its implications for the future of the party. Nicolas Krassó seems to imply that the social composition of a revolutionary socialist party is of no consequence. Perhaps what he means is that such a party should be for the workers but not necessarily of them. Surely, Trotsky was making the point that the socialist revolutionary party, especially one in power, with only a minority of workers was a long-term determinant contradiction. Therefore he urged that steps should be taken to rectify the situation. It is somewhat bizarre to imply that Trotsky had an idyllic view of workers in Russia at this time. He wrote a considerable amount about the low level of culture during this period, and had a lively appreciation of the political problems this posed.

Collectivisation and Industrialisation

The question of industrial development in underdeveloped countries is still one that has a burning topicality, especially for those countries which have broken free of the capitalist orbit. In such circumstances the question will arise – ‘Where will the surplus come from?’ This is indeed a crucial point. However, Nicolas Krassó paints far too black and white a picture:

Bukharin advocated an ultra-right policy of private peasant enrichment at the expense of the towns: ‘We shall move forward by tiny, tiny steps pulling behind us our large peasant cart.’ Preobrazhensky urged the exploitation of the peasantry (in the technical economic sense) to accumulate a surplus for rapid industrialisation.

Of course it is possible to show these formulations as being violently contradictory, since they are men of straw. To talk of Lenin’s policy is, in this context, misleading, since he did not have time to formulate a fully coherent and articulated one before his death. Bukharin and Preobrazhensky are presented in a way which belies their respective attitudes. Another point should be added – Trotsky was not wholly in agreement with Preobrazhensky’s ideas as put forward in The New Economics; but there is no doubt that they were in agreement on the practical policies put forward by the Opposition. Therefore one should make some distinction between Trotsky and Preobrazhensky.

Bukharin, essentially, argued that the development of industry should be geared to rural demand, and that light or consumer goods industry should be given priority. Such a policy did in fact encourage the revival of capitalist elements in the countryside, and meant that in practice the state industries became subordinated to the market. However, it would be wrong to say that Bukharin urged the enrichment of the peasants at the expense of the towns, since this would have meant the exploitation of the working class. What he no doubt intended was that his policy would generate the surplus in the countryside and this would lead eventually to accumulation. He failed to appreciate that an agricultural surplus does not necessarily lead to accumulation, and indeed the evidence is that in underdeveloped countries in the capitalist orbit this surplus is largely squandered or invested in land and usury. Only by consciously breaking the law of value (not ignoring it) can this be overcome.

Preobrazhensky’s analysis was, originally, a theoretical one which posed the conflict between the private sector of the economy (mainly agricultural) which was the majority and the small state-owned industrial sector; and the need for a fast rate of industrial accumulation. He designated a law of primitive socialist accumulation in this way:

The more backward economically, petty-bourgeois, peasant, a particular country is which has gone over to the socialist organisation of production, and the smaller the inheritance received by the socialist accumulation fund of the proletariat of this country when the social revolution takes place, by so much the more, in proportion, will socialist accumulation be obliged to rely on alienating part of the surplus product of pre-socialist forms of economy. (The New Economics, p. 124)

He argued that because of the small absolute and relative amount of surplus available in Soviet industry the main contribution must come from agriculture. This does imply ‘technical exploitation’ of the peasants, but this process should be explained since it is possible to forget one half of the term – technical – and concentrate on the other – exploitation. Preobrazhensky explained the matter very clearly:

The task of the socialist state consists here not in taking from the petty-bourgeois producers less than capitalism took, but in taking more from the still larger incomes which will be secured to the petty producers by the rationalisation of the whole economy, including petty production, on the basis of industrialising the country and intensifying agriculture. (The New Economics, p. 89, emphasis in original)

Nicolas Krassó injects into this debate an essentially static view of economics when he says:

For the poorer the peasantry was, the less surplus it had over and beyond what it consumed itself, and the less it was ‘exploitable’ for industrialisation. Bukharin’s conciliation of peasantry and Preobrazhensky’s counterposition of it to the proletariat were equally distortions of Lenin’s policy, which was to collectivise but not crush the peasantry, not wage war on them.

Now clearly, if one views national income, or the social product, as a given quantity, then one is justified in arguing that an increase in one class’s share is based on another class’s share decreasing. However, if one views national income as a stream that is increasing in size through time, then it is possible for all to have an increasing total consumption, but at the same time one section of society may have a smaller percentage share than previously. [7] However, this is a very simplified approach to the particular problem.

A first approach to a proper understanding of the problem is clearly to distinguish accumulation between maximum and optimum rates of accumulation in the short run. This is where Nicolas Krassó is mistaken in assuming that Stalin took over (and denatured) the Left Opposition’s economic policies. The first Five-Year Plans were in fact based on the premise of a maximum rate of accumulation but turned out to be increasing production at a slower lower rate than if an optimum rate had been aimed for.

Some would consider an optimum rate of accumulation in purely economic terms to be that rate which increases the social product by a maximum amount in a given period. But no Marxist could accept such a definition because it leaves out the class forces involved. A policy which reduces the living standards of the working class, creating demoralisation and political apathy would be totally unacceptable. Moreover, one could not accept any assumption which postulated that productivity of labour was independent of the level of consumption. This is what the Stalinist bureaucracy did with disastrous results for Soviet agriculture and for the Soviet working class in the first two Five-Year Plans. In the frenzy to achieve a maximum rate of accumulation there was in fact a lowering of the maximum increase of the social product that could have been gained, had an optimum rate of accumulation been adopted.

Another point is that Nicolas Krassó uses the term peasantry indiscriminately; none of the protagonists in the original discussion made such an error. If he looks at the Platform of the Left Opposition 1927 he will see that an analysis was made of the ‘class differentiation among the peasants’. In trying to assess the situation in rural Russia in the mid-1920s such a mistake as Nicolas Krassó’s is impermissible. The Left Opposition had a policy of support for the poor landless and middle peasants along with proposals for generous credit terms and a speedy introduction of mechanisation into agriculture; and of course collectivisation via cooperatives. They certainly had a policy of containing and finally eliminating the Kulaks (as a class), who were becoming the basis of a new capitalist development within the Soviet Union. Does Nicolas Krassó think this wrong? Stalin, to whom Nicolas Krassó accords the accolade of being ‘confirmed by history’, had, along with Bukharin, pooh-poohed the warnings of the Opposition, but was later thrown into a panic by the growing power and resistance of the Kulaks. This problem was ‘solved’ in a brutal and bloody repression. To suggest that the policy of the Left Opposition had any connection with this is to stretch credibility too far.

Perhaps the biggest mistake that Nicolas Krassó makes over the debate on industrialisation is to suggest that this was primarily concerned with administrative options, whereas the debate over ‘Socialism in One Country’ only concerned international articulations. Planning in any transitional regime will be essentially the ‘allocation of scarce resources’. This commonplace of bourgeois economics will then become a reality, for the allocation will then be done by conscious decision and not by the anarchy of the market. Nevertheless, the basis for political economy will still be the relationship of men (and classes) to each other in the distribution of scarce resources, that is, to the means of production. It is this fundamentally different approach that distinguishes Marxist economics. Nicolas Krassó makes the error of assuming that economics is a ‘technical’ or ‘administrative’ subject, and thereby confuses techniques and ideology. The debate in Cuba over moral versus material incentives was an interesting example of the fusion between economics and politics. The particular techniques that are used or that are chosen, will, by and large, reflect (even if only in a diffused way) the political decisions they are based on. For instance, the decision by Wilson in 1964 not to devalue the pound debarred him from using a number of techniques for grappling with the economic crisis. The original decision was a political one. It is possible to argue about this or that aspect of policy since then, and indeed we should, but unless one takes into account the central political decision then one can get lost.

Therefore, to suggest that the debates on economic policy and ‘Socialism in One Country’ were separate and unconnected does not stand up to investigation. The economic debate was around how much surplus was to be generated and who would benefit. ‘Socialism in One Country’ was the reaction of the bureaucrats wanting to hang on to their share. Both arose from the backwardness and isolation of the Soviet Union.


Despite some notable theoretical writings in this period we are told that Trotsky led an imaginary political movement and therefore the activities of these years were futile. I am not concerned here to argue the merits or demerits of the Fourth International. What I want to do is pose some questions myself. How is it that 30 years after it was founded, this body – the Fourth International – exists at all? When one considers a) that it was founded at a time of working-class defeats, b) that many of its small cadre were killed in Europe, either by the Gestapo or the Stalinists, and c) that in the years immediately after 1945 Stalinism seemed to be greatly strengthened, then one perhaps begins to ask the right questions. When one looks around the international scene for the other numerous anti-Stalinist groupings that existed in the 1930s and 1940s one looks in vain. When one examines the pathetic attempts to create a Maoist ‘International’ with the resources of a great state behind the venture, one can begin to measure the real strength and resilience of the international Trotskyist movement. Nor is this body a group of ageing cultists (despite certain bizarre manifestations in England), on the contrary there has been a steady replacement by youth, which in recent years has increased and this has been a worldwide phenomenon. The question remains: why? I think this is best answered by reference to Che Guevara when he wrote:

How soon we could look into a bright future, should two, three or many Vietnams flourish throughout the world with their share of deaths and their immense tragedies, their everyday heroism and their repeated blows against imperialism, impelled to disperse its forces under the sudden attack and increasing hatred of all peoples of the world? (Vietnam Must Not Stand Alone, New Left Review, No. 43, p. 90)

What Che Guevara demanded was an international strategy against imperialism. The time and the situation demand it. The concept of proletarian internationalism is not an abstract theory. The maimed, the dying and the fighters in Asia, Africa and Latin America cry out for, and are testimony to, the need for such a strategy. The question of the formation of a new revolutionary International was implicit in the holding of the OLAS conference, even if such an International has yet to emerge. It is this that gives the founding of the Fourth International in 1938 its historical validity; all the sneers about a mythical movement cannot erase it. Trotsky was too much of a realist to assume that the small body that gathered round him in 1938 would be the International. What the Fourth International does offer to new and rising generations of revolutionists is an historical continuity with the best of classical Marxism and a programmatic analysis of the modern world that is unrivalled on the international scene.

The Dead Dogs of Stalin

The picture that Nicolas Krassó presented of Trotsky was remarkable only for its rigidity, its lack of development, and its pedestrian quality. It was a lifeless picture and we are given no feeling that Trotsky learned, profited or matured from his mistakes.

Reading the article one is left with the impression that Trotsky sprang on to the stage of politics fully equipped, warts and all, and that there were no real changes. As such the figure is a cardboard one.

The portrait of Lenin is painted in the same style. Lenin is made to appear as some sort of deus ex machina that popped up at the right moment and pulled his muddle-headed party out of trouble. This puts Lenin in the role of a political Svengali, not of a leader. There is no doubt that Lenin played a tremendous role in the Bolshevik Party, and at times this was crucial, but one should not fall victim to a one-sided appraisal. In the last analysis such a picture does no credit to Lenin and certainly not to the Bolsheviks.

But why discuss Trotsky’s concept of the party now? What was the object of the exercise? Above all the other faults in Nicolas Krassó’s article the absence of conclusions is the most startling. Can it be that this long essay was only an exercise in ‘historical’ analysis? Not only here in Britain under the Wilson government, but internationally the question of a Marxist party has a burning topicality. Yet on this Nicolas Krassó is silent. Implicit in the article is the view that there is a need for a Leninist party here and now, and leaving aside the implied difference between this and Trotsky’s concept of the party, one would have thought that if this was the case then it should have been stated. But on this important question we are left, not even with a question mark, but a blank. This brings into question, not Trotsky’s Marxism, but Nicolas Krassó’s. For what is the object of Marxist theory? Is it merely to hone and bring to razor edge individual intellects or should it have as its aim a guide to action? One need not espouse a vulgar interpretation of this axiom, yet any perspective must also incorporate a programme. And this is where Nicolas Krassó’s essay shows its grave deficiencies – there is no programme.

Another aspect of this deficiency is the lack of any analysis of Lenin’s or Trotsky’s concept of an international party; a very strange omission for someone who delved so deeply into a relatively minor article such as the one Trotsky wrote on the intelligentsia. How can this be squared? Such scholarly searchings must have disclosed something on the question of an International, but a reader of the original article would find no hint of this. Only Nicolas Krassó would be able to explain this absence but it would be unwise for the reader to conjecture at it.

A discussion of Trotsky’s contribution to Marxism could have been stimulating and rewarding. It certainly should have been critical, but criticism should be tempered with knowledge and understanding. Unfortunately, we were presented with undigested historical data laced with a Lenin ‘fixation’; neither help in arriving at a sober assessment. In the preface to The Prophet Armed Isaac Deutscher referred to the ‘mountain of dead dogs’ that covered Trotsky’s place in history, and that the events of 1956 (Hungary, etc.) saw half that mountain blown to the winds. Unwittingly, Nicolas Krassó is throwing a few of the canine corpses back onto the remains of the mountain. Looking at the world around us today it would seem that he engaged in a rather Canute-like occupation. His obvious talents deserve a better use.


1. On the point of a ‘metaphysical carnival’ it might be pertinent to point out that Marx himself originated the phrase permanent revolution in The Class Struggles in France when he wrote: ‘This socialism is the declaration of the permanence of the revolution ...’ (The Class Struggles in France (Moscow 1952), p. 196) If Trotsky was guilty of being inept then he erred along with Marx.

2. Introduction, The Age of Permanent Revolution: A Trotsky Anthology (Dell Publishing, New York 1964). – MIA.

3. V.I. Lenin, Speech in the Moscow Soviet of Workers’, Peasants’ and Red Army Deputies, Collected Works, Vol. 27.

4. L.D. Trotsky, The Intelligentsia and Socialism.

5. L.D. Trotsky, The New Course.

6. L.D. Trotsky, The New Course.

7. This may sound like the familiar arguments put forward by Wilson & Co with their appeals for higher productivity. Formally it is a correct argument, in the short run, but for Marxists the real question is, who does what with the surplus? If the extra surplus is privately appropriated or bureaucratically misused that is where the fight should begin. We have no argument per se against increased production.

Ken Tarbuck   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 14 October 2014