After reading this essay you will learn about the bio, life and political ideas of Leon Trotsky.
Life of Leon Trotsky:
Lev Davidovich Bronstein is better known by his pseudonym Leon Trotsky. Trotsky was born in 1879 and died on 1940. He was a brilliant orator and had a colourful life. He could spellbind the mass through his speech.
His father was a Jewish farmer in Ukraine. From his childhood he was revolutionary in action and behaviour and believed that without revolution no change is possible.
He was really a charismatic leader and it is evident in his English biography authored by Isaac Deutscher.
Deutscher wrote three books the Prophet Armed (1954), The Prophet Unarmed (1959), and the Prophet Outcast (1963).
Leon Trotsky is called the real hero of the Russian Revolution and the famous critic of Stalin’s ideas some people call it Stalinism.
In 1898, only at the age of nineteen he was arrested by the Russian police and exiled to Siberia. But Russian police failed to keep him in exile. He escaped to London and joined Lenin. He was also actively associated with the Iskra (Spark)—the mouthpiece of the Russian revolutionaries.
His friendship with Lenin helped the revolutionary movement of Russia. He participated in the revolution of 1905. But his friendship with Lenin did not last.
Difference of opinion between the two leaders cropped up. For his revolutionary activities he was arrested by the Russian police. He again escaped from prison and went to Vienna. He spread his revolutionary activities in various parts of Europe.
He went to France and there he published several journals and magazines which dealt with revolution. In 1917 the Bolshevik Party came to power under the leadership of Lenin and on several crucial issues he was the right-hand man of Lenin. But this good relation was temporary; on a number of issues he found himself the opposition to Lenin.
Leon Trotsky also differed from other top-ranking leaders of Russian Bolshevik party. Particularly Stalin and Trotsky could not see eye to eye.
The death of Lenin in 1924 cost him very much, Stalin was an all-powerful person in both party and government and there was none in Russia who could raise his voice against Stalin.
His growing animosity with Stalin forced him to leave Russia. He toured various parts of Europe with untiring energy. He devoted his energy to the formation of the international communist movement.
He established contact with the revolutionary leaders of several European countries and he was the key man of International Left opposition. In 1932 Trotsky formulated the strategy and ideology of International Left Opposition.
He stated that the independence of the proletarian party must be recognized. The workers’ party must be all-powerful and the bureaucracy must be subservient to the workers’ party.
Leon Trotsky believed that Stalin was determined to establish social-fascism and it must be opposed by all means.
He further said that the adventurist phase of communist movement must be rejected and the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasants will be converted into dictatorship of the proletariat.
Trotsky spent the major part of his life in exile and he formulated his political opinion and revolutionary ideas while in exile. He was finally banished to Alma Ata. He wandered in Turkey, France, and Norway and finally he settled in Mexico in 1937. He was murdered in 1940. The 1940 was the witness the end of a colourful life and great revolutionary.
Political Ideas of Leon Trotsky:
1. Permanent Revolution:
Leon Trotsky is famous for his theory of permanent revolution. While in prison in 1906 Trotsky wrote The Balance and Prospects – the Moving Forces of Revolution, better known as The Permanent Revolution.
The concept of permanent revolution was first formulated by Marx-Engels in 1850 in Address of the General Council to the Communist League.
The idea of permanent revolution has been used in sense more than one. It is said that the establishment of socialism in one country can never ensure the establishment of socialism in all other counties.
Naturally the revolutionaries of one country who have succeeded in establishing socialism in their state will continue to support both morally and physically the revolutionaries of other countries; and this are a continuous process.
In this sense the revolution is permanent in nature. But many others in Russia, particularly the Economists, Mensheviks, had different idea about revolution. They thought that the workers’ party, after capturing power, will settle down and start to rebuild society. They did not think about continuing revolution or revolutionary process. Trotsky disagreed with this general idea of revolution.
Trotsky’s thesis of permanent revolution differed from the general idea about it.
Explaining his view J. S. McClelland says:
“Trosky’s theory of permanent revolution challenged the whole perspective. His main thesis was that “the coming revolution in Russia could not be contained within the bourgeois phase, because the Russian bourgeoisie could not fulfill its own revolutionary role”.
Kolakowski explains the idea of permanent revolution in the following way:
“Its view was that the democratic revolution in Russia would bring to power a social democratic government which would of necessity Endeavour to continue the revolutionary process towards socialism”.
His conception about permanent revolution rested on the idea that the Russian bourgeoisie was very weak and, naturally, the burden of revolution must be shouldered by the proletariat.
It means that both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat will combinedly manage the revolution. But it would be foolishness to exclusively depend upon the bourgeoisie for the final success of the revolution.
Russia is characterized by her economic backwardness and a revolution in collaboration with the bourgeoisie would be a hindrance to the attainment of socialist revolution.
Therefore a revolution in collaboration with the bourgeoisie must be abandoned. The ultimate aim of the proletariat should be a socialist revolution and that means the revolutionary process must continue. Both Marx and Engels forecast this in 1848 for Germany.
There are two important propositions of Trotsky’s idea of permanent revolution. One is, the “bourgeois revolution in Russia would evolve continuously into a socialist one”. In other words, the proletarians would start a revolution with the active help of the bourgeoisie.
In the opinion of Trotsky the economic and political conditions of Russia demanded the participation of the bourgeoisie. There is another proposition which is the socialist revolution will spread in other parts of the West because its confinement within Russia will ultimately endanger its survival.
The behaviour and attitude of the capitalists fully convinced Trotsky that they are never dependable comrades in the crucial parts in the revolutionary process. Once the proletarians have been able to achieve certain amount of success they should try to ignore them.
Trotsky’s name is closely associated with permanent revolution and these lands the readers on a new concept known as Trotskyism. Throughout his revolutionary and colourful life he continuously propagated the view of permanent revolution.
He claimed that it was not his discovery. Marx in his Critique of Gotha Programme said that at first the working class, with the help of the bourgeoisie, will establish socialism but that should not be the objective of the proletariat.
The proletarians’ ultimate goal shall be to set up a communist society and that requires continuation of revolution. In other words, only one revolution is not enough for establishing a communist society.
Leon Trotsky demands that he has borrowed the concept of permanent revolution from Marx. Needless to say that the idea of permanent revolution constitutes the nucleus of Trotsky’s theory of revolution and the interpreters of his theory calls it Trotskyism. The writer of the essay Trotskyism published in Bottomoreedited.
A Dictionary of Marxist Thought defines the idea in the following language:
“The cornerstone of Trotskyism has been and remains the theory of permanent revolution, originally formulated by Marx which Trotsky reformulated in 1906, applied to Russia and then elaborated further in 1928. Trotsky viewed the transition to socialism as a series of interconnected and interdependent social, political and economic upheavals proceeding on various levels and in diverse social structures feudal, underdeveloped, pre-industrial and capitalist and occurring at different historical junctures”.
Leon Trotsky admitted that a revolution must start at a national level or in a smaller form, but its aim will be the socialization of number of countries at international level.
Hence the central idea of Trotskyism is spread the message of revolution in various parts of the globe. In other words, the internationalization of revolution is the hallmark of Trotsky’s theory of revolution and it is also called Trotskyism.
A piquant issue has cropped up in serious analysis of permanent revolution. He always stressed that in the revolution the industrial proletariat will always play the most key role. He, of course, subsequently amended their notion partially.
Leon Trotsky said that in the entire revolutionary process in the primary stage, the industrial proletariat will play the crucial role, but at subsequent stages, the peasantry will appear and play the necessary role.
This, however, generated lot of heat in the twenties and thirties of the twentieth century. Even in the Fourth International set up by Trotsky there was a lot of discussion about the key role. That is, who will play the key role. Unfortunately the participants could not arrive at any decisive conclusion.
The Chinese Revolution clearly established that the peasantry could decisively lead a revolution. The industrial proletariat and peasantry have complicated the whole issue but Trotsky had a firm faith that without a permanent revolution the setting up of a classless society will remain a far cry.
He had no faith on the revolutionary way of setting up of a classless society because by this bourgeois method the counter-revolutionary forces or the remnants of capitalists cannot be destroyed or uprooted.
Naturally, revolution or permanent revolution is the only way. This is the most vital aspect of Trotskyism.
Trotskyism takes for granted that the seizure of political power along with the struggle against the property owing classes must form the most vital aspects of revolution which will continue unless classless society is set up.
3. Dictatorship of the Proletariat:
Following Marx-Engels, Trotsky strongly defended the dictatorship of the proletariat though this concept has been vehemently criticized by the bourgeois theoreticians. The bourgeois theoreticians contend that the Marxists very often say that the term dictatorship of the proletariat is self-contradictory because democracy and dictatorship cannot exist together.
On the other hand, Trotsky and other Marxists denounce bourgeois democracy or its various forms such as parliamentary democracy or evolutionary democracy or democracy by ballot box. All of them call it illusionary.
In the opinion of Trotsky, in bourgeois democracy the fruits of democratic system are fully gobbled up by the economically powerful class, because only this class controls both politics and economy.
According to Trotsky; “Under the dictatorship of the proletariat, proletarian democracy will be secured through the effective control of the government by the Soviets constituted by the representatives of legal Soviet parties, freely elected by all toilers”.
The proletarians will seize political power through struggle and after that they will establish their overall supremacy. Hence the dictatorship of the proletariat implies the absolute control of the proletarians in all fields of state.
Leon Trotsky rejected Lenin’s ultra-centralism or centralized system of party. He emphasized that more stress on the democratic structure of the party would finally lead the Soviet system to chaos. This will ultimately invite the agents of bourgeois party and counter-revolutionary forces. Trotsky called Stalinist system of party as a form of “bureaucratic dictatorship”.
After a thoroughgoing analysis of the Soviet system Trotsky arrived at the conclusion that there is very little of democracy and socialism in the Soviet Union. According to Trotsky the Soviet Union is apparently a socialist state, but it has undergone a process of degeneration. Outwardly the Soviet Union is a socialist state but very little of true socialism is to be found in Soviet socialism.
All the powers are concentrated at a single centre and the whole party and the state administration is managed and dictated by a single person and he is Stalin. This cannot be called democracy. It is also said that “nothing of a workers’ state is left in Soviet Union”.
Leon Trotsky envisaged of a system that would encourage and in practice establish democracy both in party and state administration. Everything of a socialist state will be fully controlled by the proletarians and it will aim at the general welfare of the people.
Trotsky’s life was full of struggle whose chief aim was to establish the supreme authority or control of the proletariat in every sphere of society. But he found that the entire Soviet system has degenerated and the dictatorship of the proletariat has turned into dictatorship of few persons or bureaucrats.
It was the belief of Trotsky that the proletarians have achieved certain gains (both economic and political) through struggle and these must be protected.
For this is required to establish the overall supremacy of the working class. He says – “The party is obliged to maintain its dictatorship regardless of temporary wavering’s in the spontaneous moods of the masses.” According to Trotsky the dictatorship of the proletariat is not any temporary device to achieve temporary gain. It is a permanent solution to all sorts of evils which have engulfed a bourgeois society.