Monthly Archives: October 2015

Trotskyism: 85 Years of Failure

After attempting to mulch my way through Leon Trotsky and the Organizational Principles of the Revolutionary Party (a title far too long for the amount of material and original thought of the volume itself), I began reading The Lost Revolution, a history of the failed series of socialist uprisings in post WWI Germany. I cannot think of the last time that I read such a miserable, mournful, self-pitying piece of garbage that masqueraded as a history tome. It is an energy-draining slog through an admittedly dark period of German political history (although, in all fairness, it would take some diligence to find an uplifting book of the same genre and time period).

I simply could not finish it: while there are lessons to be learned from failed revolutions, and in fact studying those failures ensure that those same mistakes are not made repeatedly, this book offers no answers. It simply presents a series of bad choices made by both the masses and their representatives, and at the end Hitler assumes power following the fall of the Weimar Republic. The history is so judgmental and bristling towards the would-be Spartakists that it almost acts as an advertisement for the proto-Nazi Freikorps.

I’ve come to notice that Trotskyites (as embodied by the revolutionaries in The Lost Revolution, as embodied by the “revolutionary” gentleman who suggested that I read it in the first place) are arguably the most bitter, depressive, and divisive of the entire left-wing spectrum. Why? Because they’ve lost every major battle since their inception, beginning with Trotsky himself getting shivved in 1940. There has not been a single revolution in the 20th and 21st Century that has successfully gone Trotskyite. Even the anarchists have a better track record. But on the other hand, the Trotskyites have kept their principles intact no matter what particular schism they happen to belong to. Clap, clap.

Here in North America, the international Trotskyite tendency has been riven  by factionalism and sectarianism, the kind of intense infighting that I have not seen since I lived in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Routinely, a dominant strain will assume some level of power and control, which will send the individual sub-groups running for cover. There is never any attempt at compromise or diplomacy – one group will anger another group, and there will be another micro-split. And it is this complete lack of cohesion that renders them irrelevant outside of a few very large, cosmopolitan cities (where there are all sorts of wacko sets that affect nothing).

Where does this leave the Neo-Marxist of today? The Communist Party (which I have belonged to in the past, and which I am strongly tempted to reconnect)? Social Democratic organizations like the NDP in Canada or Socialist Alternative in the US? Academia? Anarchist bookstores?

I joined the mother of them all, the Socialist Workers Party, when I was living in Ireland in 2010, and to this day I think that was one best things that I took away from living in miserable auld Galway. The SWP in Ireland was not driven by lunatic personalities or a childish attitude to run away with one’s toys when you get some info that you don’t care for. It was genuine democratic centralism; decisions were arrived at by the discussion and debate amongst party members, and there were no strong men to “encourage” you to vote one way or the other. Centralism consisted of coming up with a party line, then  sticking to the decision, across the board. No second guessing after the fact, no infantile breaks with party unity. SWP Ireland is an organization worth studying, rather than wringing one’s hands and think of all of the coulda/woulda/shoulda scenarios of past decades.

Study the past, but do not bother with a non-prescriptive “history” that resembles a Gothic lament. I say this as someone with an MA in Political History – some records of the past are educational than others, even if the subject matter is grim. There is no need or purpose wallow in the muck.


Feeley, Le Blanc, Twiss/Leon Trotsky and the Organizational Principles of the Revolutionary Party

It is with some reluctance that this negative review of a Trotskyite book is presented on  a website and organization that is essentially Leninist in ideology. However, Trotsky himself argued that passionate debate over tactics and practice should be paramount in a democratic centralist party, and it’s in that spirit of critique that this review is written.

The problems with Leon Trotsky and the Organizational Principles of the Revolutionary Party begin with the misleading title. This is NOT a guide to building a revolutionary party from the ground up in 2015; instead it is collection of Trotsky’s thoughts and writing which were produced during the dark ages of Stalinist Russia. Trotsky was intent on keeping the spirit of Marxist-Leninist tradition alive during the counter-revolutionary turn towards bureaucratic autocracy, and this collection brings in considerable evidence of Trotsky’s struggle.

Anyone remotely familiar with Trotsky’s ideology will not be surprised by anything contained within this volume; as usual, it is the same routine of a) genuinely democratic centralism, b) the need for the vanguard to actually represent their class, and the needs of the masses, c) a commitment to international socialism, rather than the nationalist Socialism preached by Stalin and his cronies, and d) freedom of expression and opinion amongst the vanguard. For readers who are unfamiliar with Trotsky’s basic philosophies, there are far better alternatives – from Isaac Deutscher to Tony Cliff to Paul LeBlanc, there is a wealth of more dynamic presentations than Leon Trotsky and the Organizational Principles. Furthermore, well-versed readers will discover nothing new and unique about this particular volume and its arguments.

It’s the very presentation that makes the work so frustrating. At least 40% of this volume consists of disconnected quotes from Trotsky and Trotsky alone; it creates a bizarre, inconsistent mosaic of soundbites and the reader will wonder why they don’t simply read any given written work of Trotsky himself, as the analysis is sorely lacking. The brief moments of insight act as filigree around the endless quotations.

This can be called Museum Trotskyism, as it freezes Trotskyite thought in a written glass case, totally divorced from present events and without mentioning how the Trotsky/Stalin feud is relevant to Trotskyite activists in 2015. It stops time in the 1930s, and ignores exactly what has happened and is happening in the 75 years after Trotsky’s assassination.

One of the many problems that Marx had with traditional Platonic philosophy is that said philosophy is concerned with “eternal” unchanging elements, completely removed from any sort of context whatsoever. Leon Trotsky and the Organizational Principles mirror this problem, posing the contradictions between Stalinism and Marxist-Leninism as eternal, perfect objects of study. This is not to endorse ignorance of history, but a book that purports to be a guidebook for the present day needs to draw in relevant, familiar elements that have repeated themselves in later years.

Speaking of which, the context in which this slim volume was written bears mentioning. The SWPUSA was falling apart in the late seventies and early eighties, as the authors felt that with the end of the Vietnam war, there were no controversies or problems worth backing up (and that sentence should reveal the complete narrow-mindedness of the authors; to think that the late seventies, with the feminist second wave and the struggle for gay rights in full swing, that there were no causes to which to attach the party, speaks volumes). There was an internal power struggle, with a somewhat dictatorial right wing attempting to stifle opposionists and revert the party to an exclusively working-class movement. Leon Trotsky was the culmination of the opposition’s philosophy. The SWPUSA wound up disintegrating in the 80s, becoming a fringe splinter group in the US.

Honestly, the freshmen who want to get better acquainted with Trotsky’s organizational strategies would be better off reading Volume 2 of Tony Cliff’s mammoth biography of the revolutionary. For the scholar or seasoned activist, there are simply better tactical books to be found in any given leftist bookstore, or from raw personal experience itself. This is a volume to be avoided.