Introduction to the Danish edition of Lenin and Trotsky, what they really stood for

The bourgeoisie and its ideological spokesmen and women (including the right wing Social Democrats and some so-called Left Socialists) have a vested interest in falsely identifying Bolshevism and Stalinism. It was to demolish this falsehood that Ted Grant and Alan Woods wrote Lenin and Trotsky, what they really stood for back in 1969. We are pleased to announce that this will shortly also be available in Danish.

The publication of the Danish edition of Lenin and Trotsky, what they really stood for could scarcely come at a more appropriate time. This year is the 90th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, which, from a Marxist point of view, was the greatest single event in world history. Why? Because here, for the first time, if we exclude the heroic but tragic episode of the Paris Commune, the masses overthrew the old regime and began the great task of the socialist transformation of society.

2007 also marks another anniversary, and one that has particular importance for Denmark. It is the 75th anniversary of Trotsky's celebrated Copenhagen speech, when the great leader of the Russian Revolution (together with Lenin) was invited by the Danish Social Democratic students to speak on the subject of the October Revolution. This was, for Trotsky, a most important event. Expelled from the Communist Party of Russia in 1927 as the result of the machinations of Stalin and his bureaucratic apparatus, Trotsky was later sent into exile (1929) in far-off Turkey. By such bureaucratic means Stalin and his henchmen thought they would silence the leader of the Bolshevik-Leninists (the Left Opposition). But they were mistaken.

Trotsky would not be silenced. From his exile on the island of Prinkipo, he organized the counter attack of the genuine forces of Bolshevism-Leninism. He set up the International Left Opposition, which began to regroup all those who remained loyal to the ideas of Lenin, the Bolshevik Party and October. Though formally expelled from the ranks of the Communist Parties and the Communist International (Comintern), Trotsky and his followers still considered themselves to be part of the Communist movement, fighting for readmission and for the reform of the Communist Parties, the Communist International and the USSR.

Incapable of answering Trotsky's political arguments, Stalin and the bureaucracy answered with acts of repression. The Left Opposition in Russia was suppressed by force and its members sacked from their jobs, harassed, and later arrested and imprisoned. In 1932, in an act of personal revenge, Stalin deprived Trotsky and all members of his family of Soviet citizenship. His daughter Zinaida, who had gone to Prinkipo to be with her father together with her young son Seva, was now prevented from returning to the Soviet Union, and therefore cut off from her husband and daughter, committed suicide in Berlin the following year. This was the start of a systematic persecution that involved the murder of all Trotsky's children, friends and comrades, and finally to the assassination of Trotsky in Mexico, in August 1940.

In all the annals of history we will scarcely find a similar case when all the resources of a vast state apparatus were mobilized to destroy one man. In vain Trotsky strove to find a place of exile. All the doors of the so-called western democracies were firmly shut against him, in what the French surrealist poet Andre Breton described as "the planet without a visa". Therefore, when Trotsky received an invitation from the Danish Social Democratic students to speak in Copenhagen, he eagerly grasped the opportunity.

Trotsky warmly thanked the organizers of the meeting and recalled pleasant memories of his first visit to Copenhagen:

"The first time that I was in Copenhagen was at the International Socialist Congress and I took away with me the kindest recollections of your city. But that was over a quarter of a century ago. Since then, the water in the Ore-Sund and in the fjords has changed over and over again. And not the water alone. The war has broken the backbone of the old European continent. The rivers and seas of Europe have washed down not a little blood. Mankind and particularly European mankind has gone through severe trials, has become more sombre and more brutal. Every kind of conflict has become more bitter. The world has entered into the period of the great change. Its extreme expressions are war and revolution.
"Before I pass on to the theme of my lecture, the Revolution, I consider it my duty to express my thanks to the organizers of this meeting, the organization of social-democratic students. I do this as a political adversary. My lecture, it is true, pursues historic scientific and not political lines. I want to emphasize this right from the beginning. But it is impossible to speak of a revolution, out of which the Soviet Republic arose, without taking up a political position. As a lecturer I stand under the banner as I did when I participated in the events of the revolution."
From these lines we see two things: the democratic nature of the Danish labour movement, which in the past was not afraid to offer a platform to the Communist Leon Trotsky, and the revolutionary honesty of Lenin's companion-in-arms, who openly defended his ideas and principles at all times.

Success of Trotsky's ideas

Today the ideas of Leon Trotsky are more relevant than ever before. They find an ever-growing echo in the ranks of the workers' movement in all countries. Even in the ranks of the Communist Parties, where previously the ideas of Trotsky were reviled, the rank and file is looking to them with growing interest and sympathy as the only real Marxist explanation of the degeneration and collapse of the USSR. I was recently present at the Havana Book Fair, where the works of Trotsky in Spanish were sold in considerable quantities to an eager public that had not had the opportunity to read them before.

Of course, the success of revolutionary Marxism is not welcomed by everybody. The reformists and bureaucrats fear this as the Devil fears Holy water. This also applies (to some extent even more so) to certain "Lefts", who hide behind radical phrases but in fact represent only the left flank of a conservative bureaucratic trend in the workers' movement. Their hatred of "Trotskyism" is partly driven by fear for their own positions, jobs and salaries, and partly by their inability to answer the Marxist tendency with political arguments. As always, a person with confused ideas hates a person with clear ideas.

It is ironical that these "left" ladies and gentlemen, who are always talking about "democracy", can never accept democracy within the ranks of their own organizations. As fervent admirers of bourgeois democracy (and implacable opponents of Bolshevik workers' democracy), they merely replicate within the ranks of the labour movement the dictatorial methods of the bourgeois, which, hiding behind the fig leaf of formal parliamentary democracy, exercise the dictatorship of big Capital. The rank and file is permitted to speak freely on every subject under the sun as long as nobody seriously threatens the domination of the "left" bureaucrats over the party apparatus.

As soon as they feel their domination of the apparatus to be threatened they resort to dictatorial and undemocratic measures: slanders, calumnies, expulsions and proscriptions. This is merely a repetition of the methods used by the Stalinists against the Trotskyists in the past. They are completely alien to the democratic traditions and instincts of the Danish working class. They failed in the past and they will fail now, and for a very good reason. It is impossible to kill an idea whose time has come. And it is impossible to separate the Marxists from the labour movement by organizational and bureaucratic methods.

Ideological counteroffensive

Since the fall of the Soviet Union there has been an avalanche of books which claim to "expose" the October Revolution and its most important leaders, Lenin and Trotsky. The purpose of this is clear: to discredit the Bolshevik revolution in the eyes of the new generation. The main trick is to establish a causal link between Bolshevism and Stalinism. But this is a monstrous falsehood. Anyone with the slightest knowledge of the history of Bolshevism and the Russian Revolution will know that the Bolshevik Party was the most democratic party that ever existed and that the October Revolution was the most democratic revolution in history, in which the masses were the principal protagonists.

Those who argue that Bolshevism and Stalinism are "not antipodes but twins" must explain how it came about that, in order to consolidate his bureaucratic dictatorship, Stalin first had to destroy Lenin's party and physically exterminate Lenin's Old Guard.

But it is not only the bourgeoisie and its ideological spokesmen and women (including the right wing Social Democrats and some so-called Left Socialists) who have a vested interest in falsely identifying Bolshevism and Stalinism. The Stalinists for decades maintained this grotesque distortion and it was they who invented the lie of "Trotskyism" as a separate political tendency, different from, and hostile to, Leninism. It was to demolish this falsehood that Ted Grant and I wrote Lenin and Trotsky, what they really stood for back in 1969.

In our book we show conclusively how Lenin and Trotsky, proceeding by different routes, eventually arrive at the same conclusions. We allowed Lenin and Trotsky to speak for themselves, reproducing lengthy quotes from their works. This method does not necessarily make for easy reading, but it has the undoubted merit of allowing the unprejudiced reader to form his or her own judgment on their ideas and the true relation between them. We pointed out that the differences between Lenin and Trotsky before 1917 had been greatly exaggerated by the Stalinists and that Lenin's position on the nature of the Russian Revolution was far closer to that of Trotsky than the Mensheviks and that in 1917 he adopted a position which was practically identical to Trotsky's theory of the permanent revolution. From that point on, in the words of Lenin, there was "no better Bolshevik than Trotsky."

Far from being responsible for the bureaucratic degeneration of the Russian Revolution, Lenin and Trotsky collaborated in the struggle against Stalin, who Lenin, in his Testament insisted the Party remove from his post as General Secretary because he had "accumulated enormous power in his hands" and "I am not sure he knows how to use it". In his last desperate battle against Stalin and the bureaucracy, Lenin could only turn to one man in the entire leadership - Trotsky.

The real reason for the bureaucratic degeneration of the Russian Revolution was not some "original sin" of Bolshevism, but the isolation of the Revolution in conditions of frightful material and cultural backwardness. This, in turn, was the result of the betrayal of the leaders of European Social Democracy.

Lenin and Trotsky never saw the Russian Revolution as a self-contained act, but as the starting-point of the European and world revolution. It had an enormous impact on the European working class, leading immediately to the November revolution in Germany in 1918. This was followed by a serious of revolutionary upheavals in that country which only terminated in 1923. One year later, in 1919, there was a revolution in Hungary. In the same year a Soviet Republic was briefly declared in Bavaria. There were also revolutionary upheavals in Britain, France, Italy, Bulgaria, Estonia and other countries.

The revolutionary movement of the European working class was strong enough to prevent military intervention against Soviet Russia but was paralysed by the reformist leadership. The Revolution survived, but experienced a terrible bureaucratic deformation. The nationalized planned economy permitted the USSR to make tremendous strides forward, transforming a formally backward economy into an advanced industrialized nation with a cultured population. It was this that permitted the USSR to stand against Hitler's armies in the Second World War and defeat them practically single-handed.

But the remarkable economic successes of the USSR did not mean, as the Stalinists boasted, that "socialism had been built". On the contrary, under the rule of a privileged bureaucratic caste, the USSR was moving away from socialism. In the end, the bureaucracy completely undermined the nationalized planned economy and prepared the way for capitalist restoration. As early as 1936 Trotsky warned, in The Revolution Betrayed, that the bureaucracy would not be satisfied with its legal and illegal privileges but would strive to transform itself into the proprietors of the means of production through a capitalist counterrevolution. Although with a delay of decades, this is exactly what happened. Before the Second World War, Trotsky warned:

"That socialization of the capitalist-created means of production is of tremendous economic benefit is today demonstrable not only in theory but also by the experiment of the U.S.S.R., not-withstanding the limitations of that experiment. True, capitalistic reactionaries, not without artifice, use Stalin's regime as a scarecrow against the ideas of socialism. As a matter of fact, Marx never said that socialism could be achieved in a single country, and moreover, a backward country. The continuing privations of the masses in the U.S.S.R., the omnipotence of the privileged caste, which has lifted itself above the nation and its misery, finally, the rampant club-law of the bureaucrats are not consequences of the socialist method of economy but of the isolation and backwardness of the U.S.S.R. caught in the ring of capitalist encirclement. The wonder is that under such exceptionally unfavourable conditions planned economy has managed to demonstrate its insuperable benefits." (L. Trotsky, Introduction to The Living Thoughts of Karl Marx)

Collapse of Stalinism

This is not the place to deal in depth with the reasons for the collapse of Stalinism. That has been done elsewhere (See Ted Grant, Russia, from Revolution to Counterrevolution). Suffice it to say that what failed in the USSR was not socialism, as understood by Marx and Lenin, but Stalinism, a monstrous bureaucratic and totalitarian caricature of socialism. Stalinism and socialism (or communism), so far from being identical, as the bourgeois enemies of socialism argue, are mutually exclusive. The regimes in the USSR and its Eastern European satellites in many ways were the opposite of socialism. They had nothing whatsoever to do with the regime of workers' democracy (soviet democracy) established by the Bolsheviks in 1917.

As Trotsky explained, a nationalised planned economy needs democracy, as the human body requires oxygen. Without the democratic control and administration of the working class, a regime of nationalisation and planning would inevitably seize up at a certain point, especially in a modern, sophisticated and complex economy. This fact is graphically reflected in the falling rate of growth of the Soviet economy since the early 1970s, after the unprecedented successes of the planned economy in the earlier period.

The fall of Stalinism came as no surprise to the Marxists, who had predicted it in advance. Indeed, Leon Trotsky already analysed the bureaucratic regime in the Soviet Union in the 1930s and, using the Marxist method, explained the inevitability of its collapse. However, what the Western critics of Marxism do not want to publicise is that the movement in the direction of a capitalist market economy in the former Soviet Union, far from improving the situation, has caused an unmitigated social and economic disaster.

Under the planned economy, the people of the Soviet Union enjoyed a level of life expectancy, health care and education on a level with the most developed capitalist countries, or in advance of them. The attempt to impose a "market economy" on the peoples of the former Soviet Union has been a finished recipe for destroying all the gains of the past seventy years, driving down living standards and plunging society as a whole into an abyss.

The effects on the population, which has rapidly been reduced to absolute misery, can best be shown in the sudden deterioration of life expectancy. The great majority of the population live in conditions of extreme misery, while a handful of gangsters have enriched themselves. Of course, the apologists of capital assure us that all this will be temporary, that "in the long run" the market will create the conditions for prosperity. To which we can answer in the words of Keynes: "In the long run, we're all dead."

The end of history?

The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the bureaucratic Stalinist regimes of Russia and Eastern Europe provoked a wave of euphoria in the West. The demise of Stalinism was heralded as the "end of Socialism." The final victory of the "free market" was trumpeted from the pages of learned journals from Tokyo to New York. The strategists of capital were exultant. Francis Fukuyama even went so far as to proclaim the "end of history." Henceforth, the class war would be no more. Everything would be for the best in the best of all capitalist worlds. But only a few years later all these dreams of the bourgeoisie and the reformists lie in ashes.

On the threshold of the twenty-first century, the very existence of the human race is threatened by the ravishing of the planet in the name of profit; mass unemployment, which was confidently asserted to be a thing of the past, has reappeared in all the advanced countries of capitalism, not to speak of the nightmare of poverty, ignorance, wars and epidemics which constantly afflict two thirds of humanity in the so-called "Third World." There is war after war and terrorism is spreading like a dark stain all over the planet. On all sides there is pessimism and a deep sense of foreboding about the future, mingled with irrational and mystical tendencies.

The sickness of the 21st century is well known to students of history. We can observe the same symptoms in every period of decline, when a given socio-economic system has exhausted its potential and become a brake on human development. Capitalism has long ago reached its limits. It is no longer capable of developing the means of production as it once did. It is no longer capable of offering meaningful reforms. In fact, it is no longer able to tolerate the continuation of the reforms of the past that provided at least some of the elements of a semi-civilized existence in countries like Denmark. Now all the gains so painfully won by the working class in the past are under threat. But the workers and youth of Denmark and other countries will not surrender their conquests without a fight. The stage is set for an unprecedented explosion of the class struggle.

The collapse of Stalinism was not the end of history, but only the first act in a drama, which must end in a general crisis of world capitalism. The unprecedented ideological offensive against the ideas of Marxism has now reached its limits. In society as in classical mechanics it is true that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. And a general reaction against capitalist barbarism has begun.

All over the world a new generation is beginning to move into action. It is looking for a banner, a programme and an idea. It is repelled by the class collaboration policies of the bureaucracy and the Social Democratic leaders and is increasingly revolutionary in outlook. To this new generation the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky offer a guide and compass that they will need in order to find their way to the road that leads to socialism - the revolutionary road. It is to this new generation of fighters, and above all to the comrades of Socialist Standpoint, that I dedicate the Danish translation of this book.

London, June 8, 2007