Trotsky comes to Canada
“The Bible is like a bull fiddle…you can play almost any tune you want on it.”
“It is absolutely impossible to describe the Soviet bureaucracy in accurate figures”
A century ago, in the year of the October Revolution, in the month that gave it’s name to Lenin’s Theses. Trotsky came to Canada; he was detained as a prisoner of war in Amherst, Nova Scotia under the auspices of being a danger to the Russian Provisional Government which was no longer a monarchy but nonetheless a participant in the war allied to (though not yet recognized by) Canada. In his colorful autobiography Trotsky recounts an episode in which the warden told him he was a danger to the Russian government, to which Trotsky replied with classic impertinence that “the Russian government should be allowed to take care of itself”. We have seen how that turned out, but the wisdom imparted to the exile Trotsky never left him — it seemed — as he thought himself a danger to the Soviet state as much as Stalin. Too often either been unfairly dismissed or unduly blamed.
Undoubtedly, the main Trotskyist group in Canada is the IMT or International Marxist Tendancy. It’s presentation on Donald Trump attracted the attention of state broadcaster. On both sides of the border, Jacobin is the largest nominally Socialist journal in print with ties to an organization (the ISO). Both of these support the New Democratic Party and intermittently provincial parties such as Quebec Solidaire. There is no shortage of Trotskyist groups Canada today — the ICL-FI, and it’s more age appropriate offshoot the IBT.
Amoung both of these organizations the basis for this support is that the NDP is allegedly the historic party of the working class — it’s predecessor the CCF being founded by some socialists. Chiefly; Tommy Douglas, more or less a Fabian with corresponding Eugenicist views. He scorned moralistically the proponents of Marx and Lenin for their inability to help the impoverished in the depression. Tellingly, Douglas was indignant when he noticed the reduced circumstances of the middle class.
The detail about Douglas will later serve to illustrate very deep problems about the NDP in general. Whatever it’s provenance, the NDP in it’s own words, promises, and deeds is a party for the petty bourgeois. In it’s propaganda the NDP is not very exacting about which middle class jobs it wants to create beyond “small businesses and manufacturing”. The party’s platform, on the other hand, does not mince words or fudge numbers about exactly which jobs it wants to create; saying it will “[provide] support to train and hire 2,500 more front-line police officers”. If these metaphors of military violence are also to be taken at their word, the NDP is nobody’s vanguard but that of the bourgeoisie.
Douglas’ despair over the disappearing middle class he passed on to his Party. The function of this privileged middle class is to be a dense buffer between a proletariat who have to sell their labour to survive on an increasingly regular basis as they grow more and more precarious by the day. They are both managers who command them most of our days and police who intimidate and brutalize us. Whenever the defenders of the Middle Class condemn the shrinkage of this strata, what they truly fear is to enter the position beneath it — they tacitly accept that everyone in that category deserves it. The NDP tells us the same; Do not contend with your betters. The demand of Middle Class is a level ‘playing field’ for the gladiatorial tournament of capitalism. The notion of the Colosseum crumbling and ushering in open confrontation between the garrulous and hungry Proletariat and the bourgeois terrifies the NDP constituency as much as it did Tommy Douglas.
It’s quite another thing that the working class has absolutely no representation in parliament. It’s most significant victory in recent years was a symptom of a fleeting tactical unity without thought for the strategic interests of the broader working class. The campaign thrust of the NDP during the period of the Progressive Conservative government that came before it was around the Temporary Foreign Workers program under the auspices that foreign workers would be “robbing” Canadian jobs (an article which the Tories had supported). Trotsky heard the indigent Colonel murmur”If I only had him on the South African coast!”. The Legend of Leon Trotsky and the Great Bolshevik October Revolution has never left Canada, though those that fan it’s flickering flame could themselves find a lesson from off the South African coast: J. Sakai’s monumental work Settlers vividly recounts the events of the summer of 1974; The UMW District 20; A union distinguished by it’s history of racism appeared to have metamorphosed into a progressive one during a boycott against South African coal. Leftist groups at the time publicized this as an example of anti-imperialism and proletarian internationalism in the struggle against Apartheid. The interest of UMW District 20 was to prevent the importation of cheaper South African coal, however, were to protect their own jobs temporarily by a boycott of South African products. They had no interest in defeating the class which held their jobs at stake in buying those products to turn a profit. Correct Alliances must be based on correct strategy, while tactical unity can come from immediate circumstances. Like the history of UMW District 20, the electoral history of Alberta was likewise thoroughly suspect; not only had the Progressive Conservative Party won 12 elections with a majority for in the last 40 years, with the Wildrose party being the official opposition prior to the election of the NDP government.
So-when Canada’s Trotskyists claim to be interested in history, it is doubtlessly history in a Trotskyist cast — romantic, fanciful, and wrought with artifice, paring the rotten realities. They cannot use the polls as a means of analysis without first pulling the curtain on a historical view. For Marxists; elections are used the gauge the proletarian party’s “own strength and that of all hostile parties”, for Trotskyists, they are a means of ignoring clear historic records and excusing it with putative genealogies. They are known for selling newspapers when the ought to have been giving thorough historical studies and concrete analysis away for free.
Certain Trotskyists would condemn these unconscionable practices as an outrage; petty bourgeois Popular Frontism or similarly ‘Stalinized’. While an impressive feat of memory, they needn’t reach so far in time or space or into the nebulous Demonology of “Stalinism”. The Waffle in 70s Canada, and Militant in the 80s UK are something they are all too quick to forget or excuse by conjuring spectres from further back. If long term memory serves, they needn’t mind any subsequent developments.
One might dispense with the malleability of Trotskyism from the mouths of Trotskyists themselves. Thankfully, we have larger groups of Trotskyists there to remind us of the smaller sects’ irrelevance. It would be tempting to address the failures of Trotskyism from the mouths of Trotskyists themselves, pouring over every platform like Diogenes would for an honest man. Students of the movement would be better served by understanding the man in his own words to the inscrutable cast of his thought in the ambiguities of the present adherents.
As such, there is undoubtedly no shortage of articles which criticize Trotsky from the actions of his lifetime without abstraction to his principle. These come from the Left is to win over Trotskyists to Marxism-Leninism. Blairites pretend not to know what it is. Incidentally these are made up of quotes from authoritative figures such as Lenin — who’s currency among the heirs of “Bolshevik-Leninism” goes without say, the arrive occasionally with an extremely puerile rejoinder from Gramsci (Gramsci’s prestige among the academic Left where we may find a significant overlap with a mainstream Trotskyist milieu — is worth noting).
These articles aren’t all that useful for navigating the theoretical terrain of Trotskyism itself. Though this is hardly their fault; Trotsky does nothing to ease this process. His writing is full of unhelpful ambiguities that complicate the meaning of his text and make apparent practical application seem foregone. Trotsky, until the end of his life, took the words of the Canadian Colonel to heart. He appeared to be as convinced as the ‘Stalinists’ were that his fifth column would topple the “Soviet Bureaucracy”, or at least that is what it would suggest from his apparent nonconcern for the posterity of his work. His words were dangerous through the fact that it was he who said them — irrespective of their content. Trotsky, like aged Quixote, until the end of his days tilting at windmills while the class struggle was carried forward by the masses of working people throughout the world with missteps, mistakes and retreats. They would inevitably figure it out for themselves, leaving to Trotsky to say anything he wanted, unconcerned with the applicability of Marxist ideas as a guide to action.
One example of this fatal ambiguity is the quote from Trotsky’s biography of Stalin, which Marxist-Leninists have used to condemn Trotsky’s allegedly racist attitudes; “in addition to the so-called Southern type, which is characterized by a combination of lazy shiftlessness and explosive irascibility, one meets cold natures, in whom phlegm is combined with stubbornness and slyness”. Trotskyists often respond that context of the quote, but it does not account for Trotsky’s strange disclaimers in the same chapter about how “we must not venture too far afield into the unprofitable region of national metaphysics.”, and “geography, ethnography and anthropology are not all that matters; history looms larger”. The reader is invited to examine the rest of the chapter, in which Trotsky puts on display a sideshow of the downright colonial attitudes about “Asiatics” that blight Marxism to this day. The rational and non-mystified applications of Marxism, however, has proven itself to be invaluable in practice to the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggle in Asia itself, among other continents, in spite of the Trotskyist insistence that revolution failed because it never succeeded in spreading from Russia to more ‘advanced’ Europe — though the Stalinist workers state, the same state Trotsky supported against Finland — would after his death. It’s timely to consider that the half-century after Trotskyism and it’s revolutions within Europe and in countries in which capitalist production had replaced feudalism as the dominant mode of production — the formula is curiously silent. This calls to mind the most useful function of the Marxist Leninist articles which quote Lenin at length in admonishing Trotsky. Trotskyist opposition to Stalin’s election has rested concretely on but a single a single suggestion in Lenin’s Testament. Trotsky himself made repeated use of a quote of Lenin’s which said Stalin would “cook spicy dishes”. Integral to Trotskyist historiography is the idea of a lack of democracy in the bodies of the Soviet Government, and the lack of a handpicked succession in offices, seemingly.
In Canada, one of those who have endeavored to brave the morass of Trotsky himself is Joshua Moufawad-Paul. As a preeminant Marxist-Leninist-Maoist, JMP knows that theory becomes a conscious force when it is grasped by the masses. In his own work, The Communist Necessity — JMP is concerned with the possibility that in the event the masses fail to understand the lessons of the class struggle may very well foreclose the possibility of socialism triumph over capitalism — Communism. Unlike the attempts of the Marxist-Leninists, JMP’s monograph ‘Maoism vs. Trotskyism” has little to do with the life of Trotsky so much as his theoretical legacy; which JMP concludes, is a dead end. While on the practical side, it would be more accurate to describe Trotskyism as open-ended and malleable theoretically; the point is to deal with some criticism of JMP from the Trotskyist side with once again all the hallmarks of it’s contradictory character. In terms of the critical factor — class struggle, it would be a mistake on anyone’s part to compare Maoism to Trotskyism so glibly with reference to Trotsky’s own theoretical contribution against Mao’s according to Marxism in term of the objective factor — the class struggle and it’s corresponding scientific appraisal from a subjective factor. It is better termed “Marxism-Leninism vs. Bolshevik-Leninism”, pointedly to emphasize the historical continuity of the class struggle, or if strictly theoretical “Dialectical Materialism vs. Materialist-Dialectics”.
It is like sacrosanct religious dogma, which is can be used to make anything, even revisionism. Trotsky, until the end of his life appeared to be as convinced as the ‘Stalinists’ were that his fifth column would topple the “Soviet Bureaucracy”, or at least that is what it would suggest from his apparent lack of concern for the posterity of his work. Trotsky, like the aged Quixote, was until the end of his days tilting at windmills while the class struggle was carried forward by the masses of working people throughout the world and in the Soviet Union itself.
Trotsky’s ruthless criticism in Revolution Betrayed descends to pettiness; Trotsky resorts to ludicrously petty anecdotes about perfume and goods possessed by the alleged aristocracy and… Trotsky is all too eager, it seems, to split hairs regarding the position of the bureaucracy, but begins to moralize in regard to his recounting of their offensives against speculators. Trotsky takes the Soviet system to task for daring to announce that 96,000 workers had their own garden! His section on the inequalities in Soviet life is all in all a study in pettiness. Rankling at the Stakhanovite movement, again, Trotsky slips from the definition of socialism as not only class struggle but also, the formula of from each according to ability and to each according to work. Trotsky calls the rewards he claims were given to the Stakhanovites, often something such as haircuts or movie tickets “out of turn” are some sort of whip. Trotsky even calls this “the restoration of market relations” which shouldn’t surprise him in the slightest as he claims in the same chapter, that competition is humanity’s “biological inheritance”.
During the war… Trotsky’s diary made frequent reference to one of the aphorisms of the Nietzsche; “one must have chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star”. The chaos, it seemed, never left Trotsky. He was perhaps ill suited to the task of carrying out class struggle within a country by giving the legal framework it required to pursue it’s interests openly.
The role of the bureaucracy in Trotsky’s writing is exaggerated to the point of mirroring anti-communist tropes of an omnipotent state. Actual malice takes the place of incompetence every time. Certain mystified cyclical views persist in false parallels between the Great October Bolshevik Revolution and the French Revolution, respectively occurring in eras that varied widely in terms of the development of material conditions in the form of productive forces historically . True to his assertion that politics is an art not a science, Trotsky gives a particularly mechanical and idealist explanation.
In speaking of the Civil War it bears mentioning that the uncanny resemblance between Trotsky’s later jeremiads against the “Soviet bureaucracy” and the text of Kronstadt Izvestia directed cheifly against none other than Trotsky himself along with “the new bureaucracy of Communist commissars and bureaucrats”. One cannot help the feeling that Trotsky was hoist by his own petard. The Kronstadt mutineers themselves railed against the Soviets and for the constituent assembly in their demands yet upheld it against “the parties” in their own words. Trotsky was prepared to recycle the charges that had been issued against him as freely as they had been given. To the credit of the Kronstadt rebels, they are more correct in their use of the tern ‘bureaucracy’ and less likely to split hairs about it as is characteristic about anarchism. When Trotsky rails against the “bureaucracy”, the closest he comes to concrete terms is describing the emergence of a class of ‘specialists’ (spetz), these are most notably all but synonymous with the emergence of industrialization (absence of agricultural specialists in feudalism), which he himself claims is the only basis for socialism. After this, Trotsky uses it in more murky terms as the bureaucracy as general strengthening of the state apparatus which paradoxically occurred during what Trotsky himself terms in Decapitation of the Red Army written on June 13th 1937 the worst period of the “purges” and the “decimation of the red army”.
Here we find an important facet in which the content of the socialist state differs between Trotskyism and Marxism-Leninism. In the first it is an organ by which production is directed to the needs of the population, in the second, it is purely and simply, an instrument of waging class struggle — repression of the bourgeois, which is imprecise as only the definition of any state can be when referring to it’s abstract qualities. Trotsky see the building of Socialist society as opposed to Revolutionary war, without understanding the depth of the class conflict within Socialist Societies that in no small part necessitates carrying out conflict against the exploiting classes domestically. With this theoretical formation in mind and development of the state apparatus — in the west, as opposed to simply the one sided determination, we can find the reason — the bourgeois of the west, it’s ruling class, was buttressed by it’s incredible military apparatus — which the proletariat of Europe contended against in open battle and lost — whereas in the feudal east, it was met in battle no differently, and defeated — tenant against landlord — with the Red Army providing the decisive factor that upset a centuries old balance of power in the country. Trotsky quotes Lenin called the Soviet Union the weakest link in the Capitalist chain — the Capitalist chain, however, proved far longer than this phrase indicates either men could have thought. Trotsky claims that “Socialism has demonstrated its right to victory, not on the pages of Das Kapital, but in an industrial arena comprising a sixth part of the earths surface — not in the language of dialectics, but in the language of steel, cement and electricity.” but it does not occur to him that this is the clear materialist aspect of the great dialectical materialist work that outlined the structure of the world particularized to capitalist production and Marx is very clear in the second volume of that work that there are no known societies of his time which are not linked to capitalist production — therefore containing it’s own bourgeois which is engaged the class struggle and developed in power and numbers at a given stage.
Trotsky having to resort to vulgar terms is a characteristic of his inability to grapple with Marxist concepts. Recall how he once characterized collectivization as a form of primitive accumulation — when it was in fact the reverse — not to divide tracts of land that were held in common in order to create a landless proletariat which would be unable to derive a living from it but rather to provide land to the landless rural proletariat who had a very close relationship with the peasantry at the time. Primitive Accumulation is expropriation but appropriation of land by individuals for individual production.
Trotsky’s own grasp of Marxism and the function of it’s economic components now deserves particular attention. Most notably, Trotsky cast the theory of “Permanent Revolution” in opposition to Stalin’s “Socialism in One Country”, which Trotsky described as “national socialism” (not to be confused with Nazism). The central claim of Trotsky about Marxism is that “Marxism proceeds from the world economy, not as a sum of national parts, but as a mighty, independent reality, which is created by the division of labour and the world market, and, in the present epoch, predominates over the national markets. The productive forces of capitalist society have long ago grown beyond the national frontier. The imperialist war is an expression of this fact.”. The key aspect of this theory is it’s particular “imperialist war”. It’s indicative of where imperialism figured within Trotsky’s view of Marxism, and as such was limited to the era. Lenin wrote that the war had “succeeded in dividing the world into two camps”, which had a marked effect on the way in which “Marxism-Leninism” was formulated (principally by Stalin) as Marxism within the age of Imperialism, heralded but not consummated by the First World War. In it’s time the writing of Hilferding in “Finance Capital” was heralded as the Fourth Volume of Capital, and it’s study was taken up seriously in Lenin’s work “Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism.”. The crucial aspect was developing a Marxist analysis of the domination of feudal countries by capitalist countries. Fundamentally, the aspect of Imperialism was that Capital as the control under the legal role for bourgeois private property was the same, (Feudalism had for centuries meant domination of peasants by landlords in various forms throughout the Earth as the land (and not the wages) formed the basic unit of subsistence within. As classes, the peasant and the proletariat had been separated by a piece of land on which food could be grown. Without this land, the proletariat was obligated to sell their labour for the surplus goods.) Lenin’s mastery of dialectics enabled him to give observations that stretch beyond categories within which he found them and amaze readers today with him apparent foresight. Both forms of property which came into conflict and conciliation at various times in his era (Bourgeois private property and Feudal hereditary property) swung around the exercise of control within the legitimacy of the (exercise) use of force in a given society. (On this point too, did Trotsky generate some observations which we shall examine later). Central to Marxism is the process of Primitive Accumulation by which, simply put, landed peasants are transformed into proletariat who have nothing but their labour to sell in order to survive. Capitalists depend on the competition of labourers to drive the asking price of wages down to a minimum, and without maintaining a sufficient number of labourers, the capitalist cannot maintain profitability, as a scarcity in labour would drive the price up ( I.e. the wage increase ushered in by depopulation following the Black Death). Money functions as a universal equivalence (a.k.a Cash Nexus) between commodities, and the qualitative difference between the wages of the Proletarian and finance capital is the ability to maintain the price of labour alone and labour necessary for upkeep of the means of production. In Bureaucrat Capitalism (not to be confused with Leon Trotsky’s own inconsistent idea of a “bureaucracy” which has already been addressed), the feudal order is a locus of control for the state. In neither case is the function of the state to protect anyone’s lives ot livelihood, but only property and it’s nameless and faceless existence. The bureaucrat-capitalist character of certain states is the ability to strengthen the role of property through the social reproduction of peasants as a quality that necessitates a qualitative change into landless proletariat from the intergenerational transmission of property as a limited property. This takes place as the traditional order of land remains and also the gratis or “natural” processes of the rain and reproduction in direct labour supply. These semi-colonies remain a central aspect of the Marxism appraisal of the world economy, which is nothing if not concerned with general laws as discerned only from examination of specific cases as with the conflict between rural lists and urban proletariat in China. As the nation-state remains an important category for the enduring legitimacy of feudal titles within bureaucrat capitalism, and the quantitative breakup of feudalism remains integral to the industrial production of goods, as a method of analysis by which examples can be appraised and conclusions within the generalized form of scientific laws drawn, it is characteristic of Trotskyism with it’s dangerous disregard for application from the the principles of economic science is not concerned.
In 1937 Trotsky stated: “One can with full justification say that the proletariat, ruling in one backward and isolated country, still remains an oppressed class. The source of oppression is world imperialism; the mechanism of transmission of the oppression — the bureaucracy. If in the words “a ruling and at the same time an oppressed class” there is a contradiction, then it flows not from mistakes of thought but from the contradiction in the very situation of the USSR. It is precisely because of this that we reject the theory of socialism in one country.”
Trotsky’s own absurd characterization of the largest country in the world, (spanning from the Atlantic to the Pacific and bordering every country in northern Asia) as “isolated” aside: Trotsky’s idiosyncratic idea of Imperialism flies in the face of not only Lenin’s study of imperialism but also concrete and objective definitions of the state itself. Imperialism is not a characteristic internally of a state within which only class is repressed by another — but the investment within a state by none other than. It is not even coherent the Soviet Union cannot be both “backwards” as Trotsky said and be imperialist in regard to the state repression of one class by another — it exists where there is a capitalist class. The “bureaucracy” Trotsky is speaking of — is the state — a monopoly on force which is at the same time not a monopoly with the Trotsky’s “imperialism” distinctly above it and hence inapplicable to the Soviet Union. The source of repression in any territory is the state itself, in contrast to anarchy in international relations that is the source of inter-imperialist contradictions. If competition is at the heart of capitalism, someone must win at some point.
Trotsky’s characterization of the the imperialist countries themselves with regard to this strange parable is no less opaque and offers the same eyebrow raising faults of geography — stating that England would perish sooner than India — in a stroke of parochial thinking that neglected to mention it maintained control of Nigeria and a swath of Africa from the southern border of Egypt to the North Border of South Africa — perhaps forgetting what a metropolis meant when he used it shortly before in describing England itself.
Lastly, and most timely as of this writing. For Trotsky, The Urban Insurrection remained integral to revolution. As a homage to the historical memory of the Paris Commune, perhaps. His attachment could not have been separate from Marx pronouncing it an art in itself. Trotsky was of a different era of warfare, of cavalry charges and storming of palaces, when war was an art in which generals painted their conquests over great maps — instead the conflict functions in a disruptive capacity against the new world yearning — straining from it’s barbaric and primeval confines and straining to be free In the era where people’s war is universal, and self-preservation demands a science to be perfected for the sake of the people who clinging to life itself under the yoke of colonization and imperialism and patriarchy, who cannot hold out for a hero and postpone their struggles — known in vulgar Marxism as “Identity Politics” — for their escapades and desperate machismo.