The Creator isn’t massively well-informed about Marxism, and about Trotskyism hardly at all, so it’s been quite useful to read some Deutscher and Callinicos, not to mention some late Trotsky himself, and this has helped to account, perhaps, for the deeply problematic nature of Trotskyism, the way in which Trotskyites are inclined to systematically fool themselves, and their horrific inclination (one which on the whole Trotsky did not share) to betray their principles in support of agendas pursued by colonialism, imperialism, plutocracy and neoliberalism.
The thing about Trotsky was his inclination to come up with ideas which sounded as if they challenged the foundations of whatever was going on at the time in the revolutionary Marxist movement in Russia and elsewhere. Good examples of these are “permanent revolution” and “uneven development”.
Far as the Creator understands them, these are actually much simpler terms than these deeply value-laden and profoundly Hegelian titles claim for themselves. The original idea of Marxist revolution was that the war of class against class under capitalism was only really possible once capitalism was wholly in the saddle, meaning that there had to be a bourgeois revolution to put the big capitalists in power and get rid of feudalism or the “Asiatic mode of production” (i.e. bureaucratic family dictatorship in the manner of the Chinese and Japanese empires). Only then would you have sufficient development of an industrial proletariat to set a powerful proletariat against the bourgeoisie and, ultimately, have a revolution which would bring about socialism and, eventually, communism.
Trouble was, though, not everybody developed equally across the world, or even across regions, or even across individual countries. Sometimes people were ready for revolution early, in which case they might go off half-cocked. Sometimes people weren’t ready for revolution at all even while most others were. Not everybody was proletarianised under capitalism, and not everybody who was proletarianised was equally able to respond in the manner desired by Marx.
Particularly this was true of Russia, where, except in a few industrial areas, there just weren’t enough proletarians to make a revolution happen. Uneven development, then, is a reality, and a real problem — because do you just sit around waiting patiently for the proletariat to arrive (and if they do, will they trust you, and will you be in a state to make a revolution after sitting around all those decades) or do you try to make a revolution anyway, and hope that the peasantry and the lumpens will join in?
This was where permanent revolution came in. It means that instead of just having a bourgeois revolution, you have a revolution which seeks to revolutionise the country in an ongoing way, and create a revolutionary, conscientised proletariat by force if necessary. This was roughly what Trotsky had tried to do in 1905, and more or less what Lenin did after the October Revolution. So, although it sounds really cool — revolution all the time, wa-haay! — permanent revolution actually is pretty dull; it’s just about building society up to the point at which it’s ready for the transition to socialism. It’s more or less what Trotsky and company were all up to in building the USSR and the Bolshevik Party in the 1920s, however cool it sounds.
This, then, leads to the next problem of Trotskyism, which is “socialism in one country”. It follows completely logically from “uneven development” and “permanent revolution” that you might end up trying to build socialism in a society which an orthodox Marxist would say was not ready for it. Meanwhile, you would be surrounded by societies which might be more advanced in terms of capitalist development, but where revolution hadn’t happened — and if revolution happened in a relatively underdeveloped society, capitalists in the more developed societies around it would do their damnedest to make sure that revolution didn’t happen in their societies and was stamped out wherever it had gained ground. Hence the counter-revolutions in places like Hungary and Finland, and the Western interventions against the Russian revolution, and the refusal of the West to offer any investment assistance to Russia’s shattered economy. All this was perfectly natural, and Trotsky, like Lenin and Stalin and everybody else, had to accommodate themselves to it. Socialism had to be build in the USSR, and the rest of Europe was not going to help.
So then socialism in one country is inevitable, but Trotsky complained that it means Great Russian chauvinism, and it also meant abandoning all hope of making revolution outside the USSR. Both these claims were partly true in the sense that the USSR rapidly became a nationalistic society, even if it was nominally socialist, and in the sense that the government of the USSR was prepared to coexist, on occasion, with capitalist societies which were not conspicuously in revolutionary situations — although whenever the USSR could it tried to encourage revolution, or export revolutionary societies on the bayonets of the Soviet Army.
Trotsky couldn’t acknowledge this because he was dealing with his political opponents within the Bolshevik Party — Bukharin, Zinoviev and Stalin — and was convinced of their bad faith, in part because he was always convinced that everybody except him was wrong. So he denounced them for pursuing a policy which he himself had pursued when in power, and which was also the only policy which the USSR could pursue — that of industrial development combined with political education of the nascent proletariat. Trotsky was hustled off the scene shouting against policies to which he had no real objection — it wasn’t the policies which he was really protesting against, but the fact that he was not there to implement them. So Trotskyism, as an alternative to Stalinism, was born in bad faith and opportunism.
Then came the question of what the Marxist attitude towards the USSR ought to be. Trotsky’s attitude was that it was a “deformed workers’ state” — that is, it was a Marxist dictatorship of the proletariat which had somehow lost its way due to not being led by people like Trotsky. This, in a sense, is plausible, for in the late 1930s it was obvious that the USSR was not a pretty place to be, and after the 1960s it increasingly became a highly bureaucratised and militarised state with little organic culture. It did not move towards Communism, nor was it democratic. There was something wrong with it, and arguably this was something which Trotsky, or someone like him, could have given it.
However, the fact that it was a “workers’ state”, according to Trotsky, meant that it deserved to be supported. Trotsky always called for the defense of the USSR and never sought revolutionary defeatism, neither against capitalism nor against fascism. Others who came out of the Trotskyite movement, and others who came out of similar traditions on the revolutionary left, took a stand which was similar but dramatically different. Basically, this stand entailed saying that the USSR was a bureaucratic dictatorship, and therefore nothing to do with socialism at all, that it had developed a new kind of class stratification which entailed an undesirable turn in relations of production (since working for a bureaucracy meant essentially working for a new, but not different, exploiting class) or that the USSR was not different at all from the capitalist system which the Bolsheviks had overthrown, but was simply “state capitalism” and hence to be fought against by socialists just as every other kind of capitalism was to be fought against. These different positions led to various kinds of splits in the socialist and Trotskyite movement, and also justified all kinds of posturing on the far left (including the Maoist left, which borrowed a good deal from this once the China-Soviet split was an accomplished fact.)
After Trotsky’s death, the “deformed” or “degenerate” “worker’s state” idea was mainly dropped. This allowed various people who termed themselves Trotskyites to declare not merely that there was something wrong with the USSR’s path to socialism — which was obvious — but even that the USSR was not led by, and had never been led by, people with anything to do with socialism. Some of these people, from James Burnham to Paul Wolfowitz, rapidly moved rightward into the camp of extremist reactionary imperialism, about as close to fascism as one could get in the West while remaining in good standing with the media and the political establishment. This seemed to confirm what Trotsky had implied about how those who disagreed with him on the subject were doing so not out of a desire to generate a better socialism, but simply out of envy, spite and a desire to suck up to the Western bourgeoisie.
However, those who remained more or less revolutionary, at least in theory, in this tradition were not much better. Their line was that the USSR simply had to go; that it was an obstacle in the path of socialism, setting a bad example and discrediting the movement. Therefore, it was possible to argue that revolutionary socialism required that the USSR be overthrown — more or less Trotsky’s line, of course, but Trotsky insisted that it had to be overthrown from within, by the Bolshevik party which Trotsky claimed to represent in a case of classic self-delusion. (In reality, after the mid-1920s, Trotsky’s support within the USSR was insignificant even without the intervention of the Stalinist secret police, and his power outside the USSR was still more minimal.) The post-Trotsky Trotskyites were not so scrupulous; they believed that the USSR had to be fought against, that its agents had to be discredited, its supporters undermined, and if this happened to benefit imperialism and plutocratic capitalism, that wasn’t a problem.
The problem with this standpoint was that the USSR did eventually come to an end. When it did, all the support which the USSR had offered to anti-imperialist movements across the world came to an end, which led to a huge surge in Western imperialist control across the planet. The fear that the example of the USSR might be followed in other areas of the world, which had restrained plutocratic capitalism’s excesses, went away, which led to a huge surge in neoliberalism, in inequality, in the looting of the state by the elite, all over the world. Within the former USSR and Eastern Europe, the end of what the Trotskyites called “state capitalism” did not lead to an improvement in conditions for the workers (as it should have, since state capitalism was assumed to be the ultimate in monopoly capitalism), nor did it lead to no change at all (which would make sense, assuming that the USSR was a capitalist country and therefore the move was from capitalism to capitalism). Instead, the consequence was gigantic immiseration and deterioration of conditions for the working class plus a surge of power and wealth for a new and irresponsible bureaucratic elite. These had not been predicted by the post-Trotsky Trotskyites, who had essentially nothing to say about them, even though these events showed that post-Trotsky Trotskyism’s political standpoint was defective.
Instead, Trotskyism found itself without an enemy on the left any more, as Communist parties disintegrated, and therefore found itself without a reason to exist. Unless Trotskyism had taken the place of the Communist parties and become the vanguard of the working class seeking revolution against plutocratic capitalism — essentially admitting that the Bolsheviks had been right and that the post-Trotsky Trotskyites had been wrong — they would have no purpose. They did not do this, because it would have been too difficult a project. Instead they contented themselves with whining about other leftists wherever they existed and modest criticisms of the increasingly demented behaviour of neoliberal plutocracy. And when resistance arose against that neoliberal plutocracy, the Trotskyites did their best to attack that resistance, saying (as they had said about the Communists) that it was not good enough, that it was not socialist, not trustworthy, would betray the workers — and therefore they often aligned themselves with the imperialists against vulnerable countries which the imperialists wished to loot, or against less vulnerable countries which the imperialists saw as a challenge.
All this is perfectly historically and psychologically explicable. But it means that Trotskyites are an obstacle in the path of socialism, setting a bad example and discrediting the movement. They need to be driven into the sea.