This is a brief summary of inner-Party struggles between the Bolsheviks when Lenin was still the head of the Party, on one hand, and Trotsky and his followers and allies, on the other hand. It will show the falsity of claims that Trotsky and Lenin had convergent views and positions, and that this convergence was befouled by Stalin and the CPSU after Lenin’s death in 1924. It will show that the flawed theories held most dearly by Trotskyites had long been criticized by Lenin and the Bolsheviks.
LENIN’S EXTENDED STRUGGLES AGAINST TROTSKY
A summary of principled Bolshevik critiques of Trotskyism
Part 1 (1903-1914), by Chari dela Rosa
Introductory note: Present-day Trotskyites are divided into small cults with their own set of beliefs. But most of them assert one common tenet: In comparison to Stalin, Trotsky’s views during his years of involvement in the Russian Revolution and as Soviet leader were “more faithful” to Marxism and “more consistent” with Lenin’s views. This was until Stalin supposedly retooled Leninism to suit the needs of what Trotskyites now condemn as the “Soviet bureaucratic regime.” Most Trotskyite writers today thus train their heaviest guns against Stalin and parties that continue his “Stalinist” legacy, but continue to project their idol Trotsky as Lenin’s true heir if not co-equal in Marxist theory and practice.
In this context, PRISM is publishing a brief summary of the main inner-Party struggles between the Bolsheviks when Lenin was still the head of the Party, on one hand, and Trotsky and his followers and allies, on the other hand. We aim to show the falsity of claims that Trotsky and Lenin had convergent views and positions, and that this convergence was befouled by Stalin and the CPSU after Lenin’s death in 1924. It will show that the flawed theories held most dearly by Trotskyites had long been criticized by Lenin and the Bolsheviks.
1. What was Trotsky’s position on Party rules, which was heatedly debated during the 2nd RSDLP Congress in 1903?
During the 2nd RSDLP Congress (July-August 1903), one of the most important and fiercely contested issues was on Party Rules, especially on how to view membership in the Party, its composition and organizational character. Two formulations were directly opposed: one by Lenin and another by Martov (who would proceed to become a diehard Menshevik).
This was Lenin’s formulation: A person who accepted the Party program, supported it financially, and belonged to one of its organizations could join the Party. Not just anyone can declare themselves Party members. Lenin’s basis was the concept of the Party as a tightly organized and highly disciplined detachment of the proletariat. Plekhanov and the firm Iskra-ists (Party members who consistently aligned with the central Party organ Iskra’s platform) supported Lenin’s position.
Martov’s formulation also required every member to accept the Party program and pay Party dues, but did not require working within a Party organization and following its discipline. His vision of the Party was as a loose grouping of members not bound by strict rules. This was in line with their narrow view of the working class’ struggle for rights within capitalism, while the dictatorship of the proletariat was still in the distant future. This formulation was supported by Axelrod, Zasulich, the vacillating Iskra-ists, and Trotsky—who was Centrist in words but in practice aligned with the Mensheviks.
Martov and Trotsky with other Mensheviks believed that the working class could not seize political power until it became “the majority of the nation”. Thus, they rejected the Leninist proposal for a disciplined party equally ready for routine daily work or for actual armed struggle. Rather, they wanted to mechanically expand the Party to bourgeois intellectuals, many of whom wanted to support the revolution and influence Party affairs but were averse to collective Party work and discipline.
The RSDLP Congress accepted Martov’s formulation, defeating Lenin’s formulation by a narrow margin of 28 pro-Martov (which included the votes of Trotsky and his Centrists) vs. 22 pro-Lenin.
2. How did Trotsky behave during the post-2nd RSDLP Congress struggle between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks?
The Bolsheviks led by Lenin, despite being defeated on the key issue of Party membership, complied with the 2nd Congress decisions. They retained much influence in the central Party bodies and continued to wage an effective ideological struggle vs. Menshevik views.
The Mensheviks, wanting to fully emasculate the Party away from the Bolshevik concept of a highly disciplined detachment of the working class, tried to negate many 2nd Congress decisions and to seize the central Party bodies. But the Bolsheviks and principled Iskra-ists upheld the said decisions while waging principled struggle.
In turn, the Mensheviks set up their own factional organization, headed by Martov, Trotsky and Axelrod. They entrenched themselves among émigré intellectuals who did not have a wide mass base in Russia. From this factional position, they attacked Lenin, the central Party bodies and Bolshevik positions. As described by Lenin, their modus was “to disorganize the whole Party work, damage the cause, and hamper all and everything.”
Eventually, the Mensheviks seized control of the central Party organ, Iskra, and used it to question basic organizational principles behind the Party rules—e.g., the need for centralism and discipline based on majority decisions—and push their petty-bourgeois intellectualist, amateurish, individualist, and “autonomist” (essentially anarchist and parochial) notions of what the party should be.
Trotsky—who held outwardly Centrist but essentially closet-Menshevik positions—would consistently behave according to this petty-bourgeois and extremely individualist framework, even in those ten years (1917-27) when he was formally a member of the Bolshevik Party. Lenin, on the other hand, would further expound the main principles that he raised and defended during the 2nd Congress, which would later become the organizational foundations of the Bolshevik Party.
3. What was Trotsky’s position during the 1905 Revolution?
The Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks adopted different attitudes on the inter-imperialist Russo-Japanese War, which broke out in 1904 and precipitated the 1905 Revolution. The position of Mensheviks and Trotskyites was to defend the “fatherland” of the tsar, the landlords and the capitalists. On the other hand, the Bolsheviks led by Lenin saw the defeat of the tsarist regime as positive because it would weaken tsardom and strengthen the revolution.
The Soviets of Workers’ Deputies emerged during the 1905 Revolution as assemblies of worker-activist delegates from all mills and factories. Bolsheviks saw these mass-based city-wide councils as the embryo of revolutionary power, as organs of the people’s uprising. But the Mensheviks saw the Soviets differently: as bodies of local self-government already working routinely like in Western Europe.
The St. Petersburg Soviet, which arose in the very seat of tsarist power, could have played a decisive role in the 1905 Revolution. Lenin was still abroad when the revolution began, and so the Mensheviks were able to seize the Soviet’s leadership. The Menshevik leaders in St. Petersburg, which included Trotsky, made a string of blunders that resulted in the Soviet’s indecision and passivity with regards preparations for an uprising. Yet their blunders have been rehashed by Trotsky and his followers, turning him instead into a major “hero”.
Trotsky’s positions during, and conclusions from, the 1905 Revolution would carry the infamous kernel of what he would later declare as his own theory of “permanent revolution,” which misdirected Marx’s original concept of permanent revolution and its Leninist elaboration in Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution. Trotsky’s viewpoint belittled the peasantry’s revolutionary potential and rejected the worker-peasant alliance under proletarian leadership—although his errors were not yet as obvious in 1905-06 as they were later to be. (See further discussion on Trotsky’s theory of “permanent revolution” in Part 2.)
At the 5th RSDLP Congress in May 1907, the Mensheviks, the Bund (the Jewish SD’s) and Trotsky joined hands once more against Lenin and the Bolsheviks, who were pushing for all Russian revolutionaries to unite on a common platform, which war urgently needed to impart working-class leadership in the on-going democratic revolution. The 5th Congress upheld the Bolshevik line and rejected the bankrupt positions of the Mensheviks, the Bund, and Trotsky who tried but failed to form a Centrist, i.e., closet-Menshevik, group at the Congress.
4. How did Trotsky’s factionalism and closet-Menshevism worsen in the period of tsarist reaction (1908-1912)?
Following the defeat of the 1905 Revolution and throughout the years of reaction (1908-1912), the RSDLP had to remain illegal. It also had to fight off internal corrosive forces, mainly the Mensheviks and Trotskyites.
Amid the tsarist regime’s brutal counter-revolution combined with reformist posturing, the Mensheviks fell into a pessimist rut. They concluded that tsarism had satisfied the people’s democratic demands and had coopted the revolution. They junked the Party’s revolutionary program and tactics and urged the masses to work within the “new terms” allowed by tsarism and the bourgeoisie. They moved to liquidate the illegal Party organizations and stop all illegal activity, and to set up instead a purely legal and reform-oriented party. The Bolsheviks led by Lenin called them Liquidators and exposed their bankruptcy.
Meanwhile, Trotsky and his followers advocated “Centrism”—basically a cover for conciliationism, which meant the “unity” of revolutionaries and opportunists within a single party. He formed a group of writers in Vienna and began to publish Pravda, a supposedly non-factional but in reality a Menshevik newspaper. (This factionalist paper is to be differentiated from the Bolshevik-led daily newspaper Pravda published in Russia from 1912 onwards.)
In the pages of his own Pravda, Trotsky falsified the history of the 1905-07 revolution, distorted Bolshevism, and supported the Menshevik Liquidators. He did everything to continue his factionalist paper, publishing it using Party funds. Lenin opposed any support of the paper, which bypassed CC decisions, and condemned Trotsky’s action as outright duplicity.
In a letter to the editors of the central Party organ, Lenin wrote: “Trotsky behaves like a most despicable careerist and factionalist …”, either he submits to the Central Committee, or “a break with this scoundrel and his exposure in the Central Organ. He pays lip service to the Party but behaves worse than any other factionalist.” (V. I. Lenin, Collected Works. 4th Russ. ed. Vol. 34, p. 349.)
By the time of the Party CC’s plenary meeting in January 1910, the ideological struggle intensified between the Bolsheviks led by Lenin, on one hand, and the pernicious trends being carried by the Liquidators, the Otzovists, and conciliators. (The Otzovists were ultra-Leftists who advocated a purely illegal party with no legal channels of action, while the conciliators were being used by the Liquidators to smooth over crucial differences.)
The CC’s changed composition, however, now favored these anti-Leninist trends to dominate due to the arrest of a number of Bolshevik members. The Liquidators and conciliators joined forces with Trotsky’s Centrists to maneuver themselves into position inside central Party bodies and block Lenin’s proposals. In particular, they were able to secure a decision to stop the publication of Proletary (the Lenin-led Bolshevik center within the RSDLP), andinstead gave financial and editorial support to Trotsky’s paper.
Despite this setback, Lenin persevered in ideological struggle and building of principled unity within the RSDLP ranks. Towards the end of March 1910, the CC plenum elected Lenin to the editorial board of Sotsial-Demokrat, the Central Party Organ. Through its pages, Lenin waged a resolute struggle against Liquidationism, Otzovism and Trotskyism as corrosive elements within the Party. His many articles in the central Party paper greatly helped unite the illegal Party and strengthen its unity and ties with the masses.
While the Bolsheviks complied with the CC decision and closed down their organ Proletary, the Mensheviks continued to finance and publish their liquidationist newspaper Golos Sotsial-Demokrat (Social-Democrat Voice).
5. How did Lenin persevere in ideological struggle vs. Trotsky’s lies during this period?
Later in 1910, the working-class movement in Russia began to revive after the years of brutal reaction. But the CC’s Russian Bureau had ceased to function due to arrests and sabotage by Liquidators who refused to work in the Party’s illegal center as they had fully renounced political struggle. Thus, the Bolsheviks led by Lenin saw the need to strengthen the Party within Russia as the chief task.
Within the Party, the intense struggle continued with the Liquidators, and with the Trotskyites and conciliators who allied with the Liquidators. In this regard, the Bolsheviks strengthened their bloc with Plekhanov’s pro-Party Mensheviks in the common effort to preserve the illegal Marxist party. They began publishing the popular newspaper Rabochaya Gazeta (Workers’ Gazette) to rally all Bolshevik groups in Russia and abroad.
Although the RSDLP delegation at the 8th Congress of the Second International in Copenhagen (autumn of 1910) was dominated by opportunists, Lenin actively participated in order to draw in as many positive forces as he can. During the Congress, Lenin drew closer to Plekhanov in a common fight against the Liquidators, Trotskyites and other conciliators.
Meanwhile, Trotsky’s writings in the German press falsely and maliciously painted the Russian party as being in a state of disintegration. Jointly, Lenin and Plekhanov sent a letter to the German Social-Democratic leadership rebutting Trotsky’s slanderous lies.
Lenin was particularly incensed by Trotsky’s unprincipledness and duplicity. He said that Trotsky was more deadly than the open Liquidators, and branded him “Judas Trotsky” because he was pretending to be “above factions” while in fact he fully supported the Liquidators. In other polemics, Lenin also called Trotsky a “Balalaikin” (a character in a Russian novel) for his repeated lying and phrase-mongering. All in all, Lenin considered him “the worst splitter” in the Russian Social-Democratic movement.
Lenin later wrote the article, “The Historical Meaning of the Inner-Party Struggle in Russia”, to refute all of Trotsky’s falsehoods and opportunism. He wrote: “One day Trotsky plagiarises from the ideological stock-in-trade of one faction; the next day he plagiarises from that of another, and therefore declares himself to be standing above both factions.” (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 16, p. 391.)
Trotsky and Martov had been claiming that the Bolshevik-Menshevik struggle was for influence “on a politically backward and immature proletariat.” This, among other Liquidator and Trotskyite claims, was a distortion of the history of the Russian revolution, of Bolshevism and Lenin’s positions. Against Trotsky and Martov, Lenin presented the facts of working-class heroism in the 1905 Revolution, which proved its leading role in the battle for freedom and democracy as a precondition of its fight for socialism.
In the years ahead, Lenin would continue to develop this idea of a two-stage uninterrupted revolution led by the proletariat, in contrast to Trotsky’s cloud-cuckoo notions of a globalized “permanent revolution”. (See further discussion on Trotsky’s theory of “permanent revolution” in Part 2.)
6. How did the 1912 Prague Conference further expose Trotsky’s bankruptcy?
In January 1912, the RSDLP held its 6th All-Russia Conference in Prague. This conference is most important in understanding the path of struggle between Leninism and Trotskyism, on two points.
First, based on Lenin’s report on the situation in Russia, the conference resolutions underscored the growth of the revolutionary movement against tsarism and confirmed anew the Party’s basic task—a democratic revolution led by the proletariat, with the peasantry following its leadership. This was contrary to Menshevik and Trotskyite views which, despite their differences, agreed that the peasantry was increasingly a “spent force.”
Second, the conference resolution on “Liquidationism and the Liquidator Group” (drafted by Lenin) declared that Liquidationism was a “manifestation of bourgeois influence upon the proletariat” and that their brazenly anti-Party activities—which Trotsky and his followers had long coddled and protected—“definitely placed them outside the Party”.
In a historic decision, the Prague Conference thus expelled the Liquidators from the Party, eliminated all vestiges of formal unity between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, and formalized the independent existence of the Bolshevik Party. It also condemned as crypto-Liquidators the Trotskyites and supporters of Menshevik papers Golos and Vperyod—small émigré opportunist groups that had no contact with the revolutionary movement in Russia.
With these opportunists ousted from its ranks, the Bolshevik Party grew more united and stronger, enhanced its fighting capacity, and was more prepared to lead the new mass upsurges of the revolutionary struggle.
7. What is the Trotsky-organized August Bloc, and how did the Leninists fight it?
The Liquidators in Russia and their allies abroad rejected the Prague decisions and waged a bitter campaign to discredit the conference itself. With Trotsky as their most vociferous spokesman, they accused the Bolsheviks of engineering a “split” and “coup”. The German SD Party allowed Trotsky to use their central organ for his wild attacks against the Bolshevik party.
Trotsky and his followers continued to defend Liquidationism on all fundamental issues. In August 1912, he convened a “conference of RSDLP Organisations” attended mainly by Liquidators who were expelled from the Party and divorced from the mass of Russian workers. Thus was organized the so-called August Bloc—an alliance of all the groups and trends, directed against Lenin and the Bolshevik Party. The Trotskyites, Liquidators, and Otzovists united in this anti-Party bloc.
Having got rid of the anti-Party Liquidators, Lenin and the Bolsheviks proceeded to build a higher level of unity in building the Party. Lenin led the Bolsheviks in the practice of proletarian organizational principles that would later be summarized as democratic centralism. At the same time, such principles had to be applied to the harsh conditions of tsarist Russia, where a proletarian revolutionary party could survive only as an illegal organization.
The Bolsheviks thus were able to go more widely and systematically among the masses of workers, lead their struggles through many available legal channels, and on that basis build the underground Party among them. In contrast, at this time Trotsky and his handful of August-Bloc followers were still groping on how to influence the rising tide of mass struggle in Russia.
The Partyʼs legal activity in Russia centered around Pravda, which the Bolsheviks began to publish as a daily newspaper in April 1912. Pravda was an important channel through which illegal organizational work was conducted, and through which the legal workers’ organizations rallied around the illegal Party nuclei. As a critical platform in the struggle to build a genuine working-class party, Lenin wrote many articles in Pravda exposing the Liquidators, Trotskyites, Otzovists and all other opportunists.
To further counteract Trotsky’s anti-Party August Bloc, Lenin and the Bolshevik Party entered into a temporary bloc with pro-Party Mensheviks headed by Plekhanov, who had dissociated themselves from the August Bloc while maintaining the Menshevik position on a number of questions. The Bolsheviks thus succeeded in defending and strengthening the proletarian party while keeping to a consistent principled stand.
8. How did Trotsky stand against the Bolsheviks on the eve of World War I?
In 1913-14—practically until World War I broke out—the Bolsheviks exerted more efforts in the struggle against Trotsky’s August Bloc. The Trotskyite-Liquidator bloc was especially trying to gain influence at a time when Russia’s mass working-class movement was on the rise and leading up to a new revolutionary upsurge.
Lenin tirelessly exposed Trotsky’s Centrism and political adventurism in a number of articles in Pravda. In particular, he wrote “Disruption of Unity Under Cover of Outcries for Unity” about his fight against Trotskyism for the benefit of the younger generation of workers (who comprised the overwhelming Party membership by 1914), to familiarize them about the historical roots of conflicting trends in Russian and European Marxism.
Nevertheless, by 1914, the Bolsheviks had a far deeper understanding of the objective situation and more solid grasp of the working class’ leading role. They began to raise revolutionary slogans, which were backed by hundreds of thousands of workers who joined the growing strike movement.
In contrast, the Liquidators and their Trotskyite allies belittled the rise in worker militancy as a mere “strike fever.” In a futile attempt to seize initiative, they launched their own reformist “petition campaign”—for the workers to sign a scrap of paper requesting the State Duma (Russian parliament) to grant them their democratic rights. The Liquidators managed to collect only 1,300 signatures.
The Liquidator-Trotskyist attempts to take root among the mass of Russian workers continued to falter. In this regard, Lenin with his characteristic audacity attended the 4th Lettish Social-Democratic Congress in January 1914 in order to rally the delegates to break with the Liquidators in favor of Bolshevism. Despite the strong conflicting tendencies, he was able to persuade the Congress to withdraw from Trotsky’s August bloc. Thus ended Trotskyite attempts to start a Centrist Party in Russia and highjack the new revolutionary mass upsurge. #