Trotskyism – A History of Counter-Revolution

As many people who are new to Marxism-Leninism may be unaware of the counter-revolutionary history of Trotskyism, we are including a brief section on this subject here. It is impossible to do more than sketch this history in a few pages. Therefore, we include references to further material at the end of the article.

Leon Trotsky began his career in the Russian socialist movement at the turn of the century. In the struggle between the revolutionary Bolshevik trend and the opportunist Menshevik trend, Trotsky vacillated between the two sides, but in practice on all important questions he sided with the Mensheviks. In particular, Trotsky opposed including in the rules of a party based on democratic centralism the point that a member of a Marxist party must belong to one of the party organizations. He adopted the Menshevik view that the party should be open to anyone who sympathized with its views. Of significance for later struggles, he also opposed treating the peasantry as the main ally of the proletariat in the democratic revolution and opposed the principle of the right to self-determination of oppressed nations.

After the defeat of the revolution of 1905, during a period of extreme tsarist reaction, the Mensheviks wanted to liquidate the illegal organizations of the party. Trotsky, while pretending to be non-factional, in practice supported the Menshevik Liquidators. Lenin wrote in 1909: «Trotsky behaves like a most despicable careerist and factionalist… He pays lip service to the Party, but behaves worse than any other factionalist.»(1) Later, in 1912, Trotsky organized the August Bloc, which united all groups and trends opposed to Lenin and the Bolsheviks.

During the period before the October Revolution, Trotsky’s hatred for Lenin’s outlook was unconcealed. For example, he said in 1913: «The entire edifice of Leninism at the present time is built on lies and falsification and bears within itself the poisonous elements of its own decay.» He called Lenin «a professional exploiter of every kind of backwardness in the Russian working-class movement» (Trotsky’s letter to Chkeidze). For his part, Lenin in 1914 made a clear characterization of Trotsky’s views. He stated: «Trotsky has never yet held a firm position on any important question of Marxism. He always contrives to worm his way into the cracks of any given difference of opinion, and desert one side for the other. At the present moment he is in the company of the Bundists and the liquidators. And these gentlemen do not stand on ceremony where the Party is concerned.»(2)

We quote these statements to debunk the lies of the Trotskyites that Trotsky was a working class leader, an «old Bolshevik» and the firm defender of Lenin’s views. But Trotsky’s influence was always confined to the petty bourgeoisie. He had openly opposed Lenin and the Bolsheviks until just before the October Revolution, and his attacks on Stalin after Lenin’s death were just a continuation of his earlier anti-Bolshevik positions.

In August of 1917, that is, just a few months before the revolution, Trotsky, with a small group of followers, applied for admission to the Bolshevik party, claiming that he accepted the Bolshevik program and that his previous disagreements were of only historical importance. Trotsky and his followers were accepted into the party as individuals based on their claim to support the Bolshevik program. This point is important to understand since some of the more abject falsifiers of history among the Trotskyites claim that Trotsky’s group «merged with» the Bolsheviks, or even worse, that Lenin came over to Trotsky’s views.

Trotsky’s struggles with Lenin broke out again repeatedly within the Bolshevik party. In particular, during the Civil War, when the Soviet Union was under attack from the imperialists and their whiteguard allies, Lenin called for a conclusion of a peace with Germany, based on some important territorial concessions, but a peace that was necessary to give a breathing space to the working masses to begin to develop socialism. Trotsky was sent to negotiate an immediate peace with the Germans at Brest-Litovsk. Trotsky, violating the instructions of the Central Committee and the Soviet government, delayed, under the slogan of «neither war nor peace.» This delay allowed Germany to grab even more territory from the young Soviet republic and thus the treaty had to be signed under even less favorable terms. This position, of feinting from the ‘left’ and thus giving cover to the right, is typical of Trotskyism throughout its history.

Another point of disagreement with Lenin was over the role of the trade unions. As the History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union expressed it: «Trotsky demanded that the trade unions be immediately ‘governmentalized.’ He was against the use of persuasion in relations with the working class, and was in favour of introducing military methods in the trade unions…. Instead of methods of persuasion, without which the activities of working-class organizations are inconceivable, the Trotskyites proposed methods of sheer compulsion, of dictation» (p. 252). This position of Trotsky’s is especially revealing in relation to the later charge by Trotskyites that Stalin used force against the workers and peasants.

The factional divisions within the Bolshevik party over this and other issues threatened to turn the party into merely a talking shop, just as Trotsky and the Mensheviks had wanted from the earliest days of the party. Lenin had already many times condemned factionalism in the party. Speaking of the corrupting influence of the small commodity producers on the party, Lenin said in «Left-Wing» Communism, An Infantile Disorder: «Repudiation of the Party principle and of Party discipline – that is what the opposition has arrived at. And this is tantamount to completely disarming the proletariat in the interests of the bourgeoisie…. The strictest centralisation and discipline are required within the political party of the proletariat in order to counteract this, in order that the organisational role of the proletariat (and that is its principal role) may be exercised correctly, successfully and victoriously…. Whoever brings about even the slightest weakening of the iron discipline of the party of the proletariat (especially during its dictatorship), is actually aiding the bourgeoisie against the proletariat.»(3)

At the 10th Party Congress in March of 1921, the Bolsheviks, under Lenin’s leadership, put through a resolution calling for the elimination of factions, and declaring allegiance to a faction as being incompatible with membership in the Bolshevik party. This resolution was adopted, with even Trotsky claiming to support it even though he violated it again immediately afterwards.

But immediately after Lenin’s death, Trotsky’s opposition to the Bolshevik program broke out again, and even more fiercely than before. One of the main issues was Trotsky’s opposition to «socialism in one country.» This slogan needs some clarification, since it has been distorted by the Trotskyites to make it seem as if the Bolsheviks after Lenin’s death were opposed to internationalism.

The period immediately after the October Revolution in Russia and the end of World War I was one of great revolutionary upsurges on a world scale. A Soviet Republic came to power in Hungary in March of 1919, although it was crushed within five months. There were workers’ uprisings in Berlin and throughout Germany, which led to a brief Soviet Republic in the state of Bavaria. But these uprisings were crushed by the social-democratic traitors to the working class, together with the officers of the old German imperial army. Large-scale workers’ demonstrations took place throughout much of Europe. The anti-imperialist movement in China and in other oppressed nations took on a mass character. In the United States, there were large demonstrations in favor of Bolshevism and for the withdrawal of the U.S. interventionist troops from Russia. The General Strike in Seattle, Washington, in 1919, was led by a workers’ council influenced by the Russian Soviets.

In 1919, the Communist International was formed, made up of new revolutionary communist parties which had just broken from the opportunist socialist parties in each country. However, because most of these revolutionary elements had not gone through the experience of the Bolsheviks of thoroughly criticizing and repudiating opportunism for some time before, these young communist parties were not strong enough to lead the masses in their fight to overthrow bourgeois rule and establish a proletarian dictatorship. The bourgeois state apparatus attacked the young communist movements with full force. In the United States, the Palmer Raids led to the execution, arrest and deportation of communists and other revolutionary elements (particularly the Industrial Workers of the World, IWW). This resulted in a large reduction in strength of the new communist party (from some 60,000 members to 10,000.(4) At the same time, a temporary stabilization of capitalism set in (the bourgeois propagandists in the U.S. call this period the «roaring twenties»), leading to an ebb in the revolutionary movement.

This is the context in which the slogan of «socialism in one country» must be seen. Lenin repeatedly recognized the possibility of the proletariat coming to power first in one country. In 1915, he wrote: «Uneven economic and political development is an absolute law of capitalism. Hence, the victory of socialism is possible first in several or even in one capitalist country alone. After expropriating the capitalists and organising their own socialist production, the victorious proletariat of that country will arise against the rest of the world – the capitalist world – attracting to its cause the oppressed classes of other countries, stirring uprisings in those countries against the capitalists, and in case of need using even armed force against the exploiting classes and their states.»(5)

At that time, socialism remained victorious only in the Soviet Union. What should it do? Trotsky’s view was that Soviet Union should risk everything, including the likely downfall of the proletarian dictatorship within the Soviet Union itself, in (at that point) fruitless attempts to bring about a revolution in other countries, particularly in Western Europe. Trotsky believed that Soviet power was doomed if the Soviet Union did not receive immediate aid from a victorious revolution in other, more industrially developed countries. This was a view that, once again, would have led to the defeat of socialism, but under a ‘left’ cover.

Stalin and the majority of the Bolshevik party believed that the Soviet Union, relying on its own forces, particularly the working class together with the great majority of the peasantry (the poor and middle peasants), could maintain power and develop socialist construction, thus forming a solid base for the world revolutionary movement. Trotsky, however, based his opposition to socialism in one country on his Menshevik views of the reactionary nature of the peasantry. In 1922, after the revolution had been in power for five years, he wrote in his preface to his book The Year 1905, «… precisely in order to ensure its victory, the proletarian vanguard would be forced in the very early stages of its rule to make deep inroads not only into feudal property but into bourgeois property as well. In this it would come into hostile collision not only with all the bourgeois groupings which supported the proletariat during the first stages of its revolutionary struggle, but also with the broad masses of the peasantry with whose assistance it came into power. The contradictions in the position of a workers’ government in a backward country with an overwhelmingly peasant population could be solved only on an international scale, in the arena of the world proletarian revolution» (emphases added – ed.).

Trotsky’s anti-Bolshevik views were summed up in his theory of «permanent revolution.» Already at the time of the 1905 revolution, he had put forth the slogan: «No tsar, but a workers’ government.» This slogan completely ignored the role of the peasantry in the Russian revolution. Trotsky described his theory in 1906 as follows: «The Russian proletariat, finding itself in possession of power – even if this were only a consequence of a temporary combination of forces in our bourgeois revolution – will meet with organized hostility on the part of world reaction, and with readiness for organized support on the part of the world proletariat. Left to its own forces, the working class of Russia will inevitably be crushed by the counter-revolution the moment the peasantry will turn away from it. Nothing will remain for it but to link up the fate of its political domination, and consequently the fate of the entire Russian revolution, with the fate of a socialist revolution in Europe» (our emphases – ed.).(6)

Here Trotsky again discounts the revolutionary role of the peasantry. In the previous section, we already showed how Lenin, in Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, pointed out the need, in semi-feudal, autocratic Russia, to first carry though the democratic revolution to overthrow tsarism, and then, as soon as the forces and conditions allow it, to carry through the socialist revolution. (Similarly, in oppressed countries, which contain the vast majority of the world’s population, and in recent decades have been the scene of many of the sharpest struggles against imperialism, Marxist-Leninists have always seen the need, which Trotskyites have denied, for a first, national democratic stage of the revolution on the road to socialist revolution.)

Lenin, in his article Two Lines of the Revolution, written in 1915, attacked Trotsky’s theory of «permanent revolution,» saying «Trotsky repeats his ‘original’ theory of 1905 and refuses to think why, for ten years, life has passed by this beautiful theory.» And further: «Trotsky is in fact helping the liberal labour politicians in Russia who by the ‘repudiation’ of the role of the peasantry mean refusal to rouse the peasantry.»

We saw that Trotsky was willing to stake the Russian revolution on state support by other proletarian revolutions in Europe, even at a time when such support was not immediately forthcoming. This has led Marxist-Leninists everywhere to deride Trotsky’s theory as one of «permanent hopelessness.» This outlook of Trotsky’s, which made him view the continued success of the Russian revolution as hopeless, is what led him to degenerate from merely holding an erroneous position in the working class movement to outright counter-revolution.

These questions were fully discussed and taken to a vote within the Bolshevik party in the period preceding the 15th Party Congress in 1927. Trotsky’s line was solidly defeated by a vote of 724,000 for the Central Committee and 4,000 for the Trotskyite opposition.(7) Trotsky’s claims, supported by all the bourgeois ideologues, that he was defeated due to Stalin’s repression and cunning, is thus utterly false.

At this point Trotsky moved from waging a factional struggle within the party against the Bolshevik majority led by Stalin, to waging an open counter-revolutionary struggle against the Soviet government. In 1927, on the 10th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution, Trotsky and his small group of followers called for the overthrow of the Bolshevik party, of course under the guise that the Bolsheviks under Stalin had renounced internationalism. They appeared at celebrations of the revolution with leaflets denouncing the party majority and its leadership. After that, Trotskyism was denounced as being incompatible with membership in the Bolshevik party. Trotsky himself was expelled and shortly after sent into internal exile. As he still continued to agitate against the Bolsheviks, in 1929 he was expelled from the Soviet Union.

At about the same time, the Bolsheviks had to struggle against an openly rightist deviation in the party, led by Bukharin. He was against the collectivization of agriculture and in favor of a slow growth of industry in the Soviet Union, which would have led to its defeat in any forthcoming imperialist attack. Stalin and the majority of the party called for a rapid pace of growth, which was what provided the material basis for the Soviet Union to withstand and finally defeat the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union a mere dozen years later. The struggle was echoed in the Communist International at its 6th Congress in 1928. The right wing forces were defeated, and those that refused to accept the line of the International left or were expelled from their respective Communist parties. In the U.S. in particular, the rightist forces were led by Lovestone, who later became an open agent of the bourgeoisie in the workers’ movement. (He helped lead the AFL-CIO’s anti-communist crusades, eventually becoming George Meany’s «foreign minister» as Director of the AFL-CIO’s International Affairs Department. There he worked with the State Department and the CIA to extend their anti-communist work in the trade unions to Latin America and other areas of the world. (See Harry Haywood Black Bolshevik (Liberator Press, Chicago, 1978), Chapter 10, esp. pp. 306-7.))

The example of Lovestone should be kept in mind by those who question whether one-time revolutionaries could degenerate so far as to become outright agents of the capitalists, as did Trotsky and Bukharin.

The Trotskyites and Bukharinites united on an international scale, forming an anti-communist movement that spearheaded its attack on the Soviet Union. Their attacks on «forced collectivization» and «mass repression» were in line with the bourgeois, and especially fascist, attacks on the Soviet Union. Trotsky denounced the socialist construction there. In 1933 he wrote a pamphlet entitled Soviet Economy in Danger. Let us remember that this was in the middle of the Great Depression, when the whole capitalist world was undergoing an extreme crisis, leaving tens of millions of workers suffering the effects of unemployment, poverty and starvation. Only the Soviet Union was unaffected and had eliminated unemployment, advancing on the path of socialist industrialization and collectivization. But Trotsky wrote at this time: «The impending crisis of Soviet economy will inevitably, and within the rather near future, crumble the sugary legend [of the possibility of building socialism in one country] and, we have no reason to doubt, will scatter many dead…. The nearest future will bring with it a new confirmation of our correctness» (pp. 4-5).

Trotsky, not believing in his own predictions of the downfall of the Soviet Union, moved to calling for its overthrow, under the guise of attacking the «Stalinist bureaucracy.» In his pamphlet The Soviet Union and the Fourth International,(8) he wrote: «After the experiences of the last few years, it would be childish to suppose that the Stalinist bureaucracy can be removed by means of a party or Soviet congress…. No normal ‘constitutional’ ways remain to remove the ruling clique. The bureaucracy can be compelled to yield power into the hands of the proletarian vanguard [i.e. the Trotskyite counter-revolutionaries – ed.] only by force…. Should it (the apparatus) still attempt to resist, it will then be necessary to apply against it not the measure of civil war, but rather measures of police character…. A major historical test – which may be a war – will determine the relation of forces» (pp. 24-26). This was an open call for counter-revolution, with a ‘left’ disguise.

While Trotsky was attacking genuine socialism in the Soviet Union, he was reassuring the bourgeoisie and confusing the workers about what socialism would be like in the U.S. In an article published in the reactionary magazine Liberty on March 23, 1935, entitled «If America Should Go Communist,» Trotsky put forth the most abject form of utopian socialism. He began by attacking the Soviet Union: «At present most Americans regard communism solely in the light of the experience of the Soviet Union. They fear lest Sovietism in America would produce the same material result as it has brought for the culturally backward peoples of the Soviet Union.» He continued by talking about how the revolution in the United States would develop peacefully once the top 5 to 10% of the wealthiest capitalists were removed from power. «Who else will fight against communism? Your corporal’s guard of billionaires and multimillionaires? Your Mellons, Morgans, Fords and Rockefellers? They will cease struggling as soon as they fail to find other people to fight for them.» He continued: «The same method [of voluntary collectivization] would be used to draw small business and industries into the national organization of industry… these secondary industries could be kept solvent until they were gradually and without compulsion sucked into the socialized business system. Without compulsion! The American soviets would not need to resort to the drastic measures that circumstances have often imposed upon the Russians.» And even the 5-10% of top capitalists would not need to be repressed for Trotsky. «It may well be that you will take your unconvinced millionaires and send them to some picturesque island, rent-free for life, where they can do as they please.» This island would presumably be in one of the Caribbean colonies or neo-colonies, which would remain under U.S. control under a new form of social-imperialist domination, such as Trotsky’s mythical «United States of North, Central and South America» which he proposes in the same article.(9)

Contrast Trotsky’s utterances on the peaceful development of the revolution with Lenin’s clear position on the nature of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Lenin said: «The transition from capitalism to communism takes an entire historical epoch. Until this epoch is over, the exploiters inevitably cherish the hope of restoration, and this hope turns into attempts at restoration. After their first serious defeat, the overthrown exploiters – who had not expected their overthrow, never believed it possible, never conceded the thought of it – throw themselves with energy grown tenfold, with furious passion and hatred grown a hundred fold, into the battle for the recovery of the ‘paradise,’ of which they were deprived.»(10)

Trotsky’s anti-communist ravings against the Soviet Union would have had little affect if they had not been financed and given full support by the international imperialists. (There is interesting additional evidence of this. In the 1930s Sam Darcy, at that time a representative from the CPUSA to the Comintern, traveled back from the Soviet Union to the U.S. through fascist Italy. He noted that while it was impossible to find any works of genuine Marxists openly available, the writings of Trotsky could be easily obtained in bookstores. Also, in Iran under the rule of the U.S.-puppet Shah, it was extremely difficult to get Marxist works, but as the movement to overthrow the Shah got underway in the late 1970s, works of Trotsky could also be easily obtained. In the U.S. today, bookstores, especially those near college campuses, are full of works by Trotsky and his supporters such as Deutscher, but there is a scarcity of genuine Marxist writings, and those of Stalin are hardly to be found (including in bookstores run by the revisionist CPUSA).) Within the Soviet Union, the remnants of the Trotskyite and Bukharinite groups, having decided that it was impossible to win the working masses to their counter-revolutionary line, moved from word to deed. They knew that the only way they could defeat the Bolsheviks was to become spies and saboteurs as agents of the imperialists. Most of their members publicly renounced their former views, and were even accepted back into the Bolshevik party on the basis of their feigned agreement with its program. Kamenev, Zinoviev and Bukharin, as well as many others, made repentant speeches at the 17th Party Congress in January of 1934. Bukharin had already been given the position of editor of the chief government newspaper Pravda. But they pursued a role of assassins and spies. This role was first exposed after the assassination of Kirov, in December of 1934, and was fully exposed in the treason trials of the Trotskyites and Bukharinites in 1936-38.

While these trials have been constantly attacked by the Trotskyites and ordinary bourgeois propagandists as «Stalinist frame-ups,» the workers who attended the trials from across the Soviet Union universally accepted the validity of the verdicts and the confessions of the criminals. Even honest bourgeois observers at the trials believed that the Soviet government charges were true. Joseph E. Davies, who was U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union at the time, stated: «I have talked to many, if not all, of the members of the Diplomatic Corps here and, with possibly one exception, they are all of the opinion that the proceedings established clearly the existence of a political plot and conspiracy to overthrow the government.» While Davies admits that he was initially skeptical, particularly of the charges of collaboration with fascist Germany and Japan, the fact of fifth column activities in other European countries prior to their invasion by the Nazis convinced him of the correctness of these charges as well. He stated in 1941: «All of these trials, purges, and liquidations, which seemed so violent at the time and shocked the world, are now quite clearly a part of a vigorous and determined effort of the Stalin government to protect itself from not only revolution from within but from attack from without. They went to work thoroughly to clean up and clean out all treasonable elements within the country. All doubts were resolved in favor of the government. There were no Fifth Columnists in Russia in 1941 – they had shot them. The purge had cleansed the country and rid it of treason.»(11)

For further material on the history of Trotsky’s degeneration from a variety of Menshevism to outright counter-revolution, we refer our readers to the following works:


1) Lenin, Letter to Zinoviev, Collected Works. Vol. 34, pp. 399-400.

2) Lenin The Right of Nations to Self-Determination, in Collected Works, vol. 20, p. 447-8.

3) Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 31, pp. 43-45.

4) See William Z. Foster History of the Communist Party of the United States (International Publishers, 1952), pp. 174-176.

5) Lenin, «On the Slogan for a United States of EuropeCollected Works, Vol. 21, p. 342.

6) Trotsky Summing Up and Perspectives

7) History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, p. 285.

8) Pioneer Publishers, New York, 1934.

9) Reprinted in Writings of Leon Trotsky (Pathfinder Press, New York, 1971), vol. 7, pp. 73-76. This whole article provides a wealth of material on Trotsky’s reactionary views on the nature of socialism.

10) The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, «Can There Be Equality Between Exploited and Exploiters,» in Lenin Collected Works, vol. 28, p. 254.

11) Joseph E. Davies Mission to Moscow (Pocket Books Inc., New York, 1941) pp. 39, 246.