Trotsky and the Stalinist state: Workers' Liberty 3/31

Trotsky After 70 Years.

Published on: Mon, 02/08/2010 - 12:26

Sean Matgamna

By Sean Matgamna
It is 70 years since one of the greatest figures in the history of the socialist movement was assassinated.

On August 20, 1940, Leon Trotsky, who, together with Lenin, had led the Russian workers’ revolution of October 1917, was struck down with a blow to the head from an ice pick wielded by an assassin sent by the Russian dictator Stalin. He soon lost consciousness, and died the next day, August 21. Trotsky who had been an active revolutionary socialist for 43 years was a couple of months short of his 61st birthday.

No other socialist militant has ever had so broad and deep

1. Russia's invasion of Poland and Finland: What happened in 1939-40

Published on: Mon, 02/08/2010 - 11:29

Sean Matgamna

A. According to the story in circulation in "academic folklore" as well as in accounts repeated for political generations by Trotskyist militants, in 1939-40 the Trotskyist movement debated the “class nature” of Stalinist Russia.

In the folklore, Trotsky staunchly defended the position that Russia remained a degenerated workers’ state, and would so remain as long as the economy was still nationalised. Shachtman, Burnham, and their associates, the minority, taking their ideas from the Italian Bruno Rizzi, defended the idea that Russia was not a degenerated workers’ state, but a new form of

2. the response of the Trotskyists to Russia's invasions

Published on: Sun, 01/08/2010 - 13:18

Sean Matgamna

How did Trotsky and the Trotskyists see these events? Trotsky maintained to the end that Russia was a degenerated workers’ state, progressive despite Stalin. But in September 1939, as we will see, he made an enormously important shift within that general position.

Between his expulsion from Russia in February 1929 and his death in August 1940, he shifted from being critical of the regime, but an all-out defender of the USSR against social-democratic and other enemies, to being an all-out advocate of a new working-class revolution against the Stalinist “autocracy”. For “technical” reasons he

3. Not Trotsky’s positions on the invasions

Published on: Sun, 01/08/2010 - 12:25

Sean Matgamna

A. It was not because the working class actively ruled in any day-to-day sense. Trotsky said that the bureaucracy was “in the full sense of the word the sole privileged and commanding stratum in the Soviet society”. When Stalin invaded Poland, Trotsky wrote that this amounted to making the people of eastern Poland “semi-slaves” of Stalin, and of the USSR itself he wrote: “Semi-starved workers and collective farmers among themselves whisper with hatred about the spendthrift caprices of rabid commissars...”

b. It was not because the Russian state — even in Russia proper, let alone the Russian

4. The real, as distinct from the mythical, disputes in the Fourth International:

Published on: Sun, 01/08/2010 - 11:38

Sean Matgamna

A.Trotsky had written, after France and Britain surrendered to Hitler over Czechoslovakia at Munich, that “We may now expect with certainty Soviet diplomacy to attempt rapprochement with Hitler” (22 September 1938).

Trotskyists who read their own press should least of all have been taken completely by surprise in August 1939 by the Stalin-Hitler pact. Yet, of course, recognising in advance the prefiguring shadow of a possibility could not prepare them for the shock of the reality when it came.

And what came in August 1939 was not merely a non-aggression pact, but a comprehensive alliance in

5. Did Trotsky break new ground on the class nature of Russia in 1939?

Published on: Sun, 01/08/2010 - 10:50

Sean Matgamna

A. At first there is, between Trotsky’s material for the bourgeois press and the Trotskyist public press, and his writings for the internal discussions of the Trotskyist movement, simply a division of functions and levels.

In The USSR In War (25 September 1939) he uses the occasion to review his whole position on Russia, the literary device of a polemical discussion of a book just published in Paris (and banned by the French government for its anti-semitism), ‘The Bureaucratisation of the World by Bruno Rizzi’.

He writes objectively — scientifically, as he would say — and not at all in anxious

6. New, bureaucratic, revolutions?

Published on: Sun, 01/08/2010 - 09:27

Sean Matgamna

A. Trotsky’s uncertainty and disorientation in the new situation after the Hitler-Stalin pact and the joint Russian-German conquest of Poland is perhaps most discernable in his eagerness to accept an obscure report that the Ukrainian and Polish workers in eastern Poland had favourably received the invading Russians and on the arrival of the “Red” Army had begun to act against the ruling class.

Trotsky, it seems, based himself on a report in a Menshevik paper:

“In the Parisian organ of the Mensheviks... it is reported that ‘in the villages — very frequently at the very approach of the Soviet

7. The Fourth International and the Russian invasion of Finland

Published on: Sun, 01/08/2010 - 08:35

Sean Matgamna

A. On 30 November Russia invaded Finland, and a five month war followed, in the course of which there was a serious possibility that French and British troops would land to aid the Finns, and that Russia would come into World War Two on Hitler’s side.

Whereas Poland was conquered quickly, and in terms of active Trotskyist policy presented no major immediate political problems - the policy for the USSR was applicable to the conquered territory - the general policy for what was unfolding in Finland had to be worked out on the move. Which side were the Trotskyists on? Did they want the Stalinist

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