Trotskyism is the theory of Marxism as advocated by Leon Trotsky. Trotsky considered himself an orthodox Marxist and Leninist, arguing for the establishment of a vanguard party which would use "any means necessary" to impose socialism. However, his politics differed sharply from those of Stalin by focusing on supporting the international communist revolution as opposed to building the industrial and military foundations of the Soviet Union itself. Trotskyism became synonymous with treason in the Soviet Union during the 1930s, while Trotsky declared the Soviet Union to be a "degenerated" socialist state whose bureaucracy had created a new ruling class which was exploiting its workers. Trotsky organized the Fourth International in 1938 but was murdered in 1940 in Mexico, probably on Stalin's orders.
The Trotskyists faced a crisis during WWII, as many of them supported the Soviet Union in the struggle against fascism. After the war, several of the stronger Trotskyist movements were crushed in the wake of the Soviet Union's growing power. However, several Trotskyist groups had limited success in electoral politics as mass workers parties in the later 1940s and 50s, and the U.S. Socialist Workers Party played a leading role in fomenting campus protests against the Vietnam War. The movement became notoriously splintered, however. Numerous groups around the world continue to describe themselves as Trotskyist, although they have diverse interpretations of Trotsky's writings.
Trotsky was a major leader of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath under Vladimir Lenin. However, he lost out in a power struggle with Joseph Stalin, after Lenin's death. Trotsky advocated what he called "permanent revolution" rather than building the Soviet Union as an industrialized military state capable of withstanding the forces of international capitalism. He believed that the socialist state could not hold out against the pressures of a hostile capitalist world unless other revolutions quickly took hold in other countries as well. He therefore opposed Stalin's policy of building up the Soviet Union as a bulwark against capitalism and urged that more of its resources be used to foment Marxist-Leninist revolutions throughout the world.
Though firm in their support of the violent revolution and the dictatorship of the communist "vanguard party" preached by Marxism-Leninism, the Trotskyists of the 1920s advocated increased democratic rights in the USSR as well as working for the communist revolution throughout Europe and the East. In the Soviet Union, the Left Opposition led by Trotsky grew in influence throughout the 1920s, until Stalin used force against them in 1928, sending Trotsky into internal exile and jailing his supporters. The movement, however, continued to work underground. Trotsky eventually went into exile in Turkey, then Norway, and Mexico, where he continued to act as the ideological and inspiration leader of the movement.
However, Stalin used the power of the Moscow-based Communist Third International (Comintern) organization to gain bureaucratic control over the various communist parties throughout the world and ordered the expulsion of Trotskyists from their ranks. Those who disagreed with the party line were often labeled as Trotskyist or fascists. In 1937, Stalin unleashed a political terror against many of the remaining "Old Bolsheviks" in the Soviet Union, those who had played key roles in the October Revolution in 1917, accusing many of them as Trotskyites.
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Trotsky developed the theory that the Russian workers' state had become a "bureaucratically degenerated workers' state." Although capitalist rule had been overthrown, the state was controlled by a new Soviet bureaucratic caste with interests hostile to those of the working class. In his writings and speeches, Trotsky still defended the Soviet Union against attack from foreign powers and against internal counter-revolution, but called for a political revolution within the USSR to establish socialist democracy. Many of Trotsky's criticisms of Stalinism were described in his book, The Revolution Betrayed. He argued that if the working class did not take power away from the Stalinist bureaucracy, the bureaucracy would restore capitalism in order to enrich itself. In the view of many Trotskyists, this is exactly what has happened since the beginning of Glasnost and Perestroika in the USSR.
The term "Trotskyist" has been used by Stalinists as a term synonymous with "traitor." In the Spanish Civil War, being called a "Trot," or "Trotskyite" by the USSR-supported elements implied that the person was some sort of fascist spy or agent provocateur. George Orwell, a prominent left-wing critic of Stalinism, wrote about this practice in his book Homage to Catalonia and in his essay Spilling the Spanish Beans. In Animal Farm, an allegory for the Russian Revolution, he represented Trotsky with the character "Snowball" and Stalin with the character "Napoleon." Emmanuel Goldstein in Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four has also been linked to Trotsky.
Eventually, Stalin put out a general call for the assassination of Trotsky. He was finally killed with an ice axe in Mexico in 1940, by Ramon Mercader, a Spanish Stalinist, widely identified in the western press as a Soviet NKVD agent.
In 1938, Trotsky and the organizations that supported his outlook established the Fourth International as an alternative to the Soviet-based Third International, also called the Comintern, founded in Moscow in 1919, which was eventually controlled by Stalin. Trotsky declared that the Fourth International, basing itself on Lenin's theory of the vanguard party, could lead the world revolution, and that it would need to be built in opposition to both the capitalists and the Stalinists. At the time of the founding the Fourth International in 1938, Trotskyism was a mass political current in Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and slightly later in Bolivia. It also had supporters in the United States and Europe. There was also a substantial Trotskyist movement in China, which included the founding father of the Chinese Communist movement, Chen Duxiu, among its number. Wherever Stalinists gained power, they made it a priority to hunt down Trotskyists, treating them as the worst of enemies.
After Trotsky's death, the Fourth International suffered disruption during the Second World War. Faced with political developments unanticipated by Trotsky, some Trotskyist organizations decided that the USSR, as a major military force opposing Hitler and Japanese fascism, no longer could be called a degenerated workers state and withdrew from the Fourth International. After 1945, with the Soviet Union's Comintern in an increasingly strong position, Trotskyism was smashed as a mass movement in Vietnam and China, and marginalized in a number of other countries.
The Fourth International organized an international conference in 1946, followed by world congresses in 1948 and 1951 to assess the Soviet Union's expropriation of capitalist nations in Eastern Europe and Yugoslavia, the threat of a Third World War, and the tasks for Trotskyist revolutionaries. The Eastern European Communist-led governments which came into being after World War II on the basis of Soviet military force were described in a resolution of the 1948 congress as presiding over essentially capitalist economies. Later statements concluded that these nations had become "deformed workers' states."
As the Cold War intensified, the Fourth International's 1951 world congress adopted theses by Michel Pablo declaring that the pro-Soviet communist parties, insofar as they were placed under pressure by the "real" workers' movement, could escape Stalin's manipulations and follow a revolutionary orientation. The congress instructed that Trotskyists should start to conduct systematic work inside any Soviet-oriented communist parties which held the allegiance of a sizable portion of the working class.
Pablo began expelling Fourth International (FI) members who did not agree with his thesis and who did not want to dissolve their organizations within the communist parties. For instance, he expelled the majority of the French section of the FI and replaced its leadership. Opposition soon rose to the surface with an open letter to Trotskyists of the world by U.S. Socialist Workers Party leader James P. Cannon.
In 1953, the Fourth International split into two factions. The International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) represented groups opposed to Pablo's International Secretariat of the Fourth International (IS), which they accused of revisionism and compromising with Stalinism. Beginning in 1960, a number of ICFI sections started to reunify with the IS. A 1963 reunification congress established the reunified Fourth International. However, the French and British sections continued to maintain the ICFI as a separate grouping.
The Sri Lankan and Bolivian Trotskyist parties became moderately successful mass workers parties in the 1940s and 1950s, prior to experiencing defeats and setbacks at a later stage. In both countries, a sizable Trotskyist movement still exists and participates in opposition political coalitions. In recent years Trotskyism has also developed support in a number of lesser developed countries in Latin America where it can count on some tens of thousands of supporters in both Argentina and Brazil. Elsewhere in the Third World, support for Trotskyist ideas is more diffuse and generally confined to intellectuals, but it can be found in a diluted form among some sections of various left-wing movements, as in South Africa.
In the U.S., the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP) supported the Black nationalist movement which grew during the 1960s, finding some success in creating alliances with Black militant groups. The SWP experienced a particularly brisk growth in the first years of the 1970s. Much of this was due to its central involvement in many of the campaigns against the Vietnam War and opposition to Richard Nixon during the Watergate Crisis.
During the 1980s in Argentina, the Trotskyist party founded by Nahuel Moreno used to obtain also around 10 percent of the electorate, representing 3.5 million voters. In France, 10 percent of the electorate voted in 2002 for parties calling themselves Trotskyist.
No governing Communist party or successful Communist revolution has to this date professed Trotskyism.
There are a wide range of Trotskyist organizations around the world. These include but are not limited to:
This International derives from the 1963 reunification of the majorities of the two public factions into which the FI split in 1953: the ISFI and the ICFI. It is often referred to as the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, the name of its leading committee before 2003. It is widely described as the largest contemporary Trotskyist organization. Its best known section is the Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire of France.
The CWI was founded in 1974 and now has sections in over 35 countries. Before 1997, most organizations affiliated to the CWI sought to recruit new membership from within the large social democratic parties. Since the early 1990s it has decided that most social democratic parties have moved so far to the right that there is little reason to try to work within them. Instead the CWI has adopted a range of tactics, mostly seeking to build independent parties, but in some cases working within other broad working-class parties.
An international grouping, led by the British Socialist Workers Party, the largest Trotskyist group in the United Kingdom.
This is an international grouping of Trotskyist political parties centered on Lutte Ouvrière (Workers' Struggle) in France. UCI has small sections in a handful of other countries. It focuses its activities, whether propaganda or intervention, within the industrial proletariat.
The Committee for a Marxist International (CMI) split from CWI, when CWI abandoned its tactic of working within the social democratic parties. Since 2006, it has been known as the International Marxist Tendency (IMT). CMI/IMT groups continue the policy of entering mainstream social democratic, communist, or radical parties. In Pakistan, they elected three candidates to the Parliament under the Pakistan People's Party.
There used to be several groups claiming the name of ICFI, but now only two remain. The more truly international of these operates sections called Socialist Equality Parties and publishes the World Socialist Web Site.
The list of Trotskyist international groups (below) shows that there are a large number of other multinational "tendencies" that avowedly stand in the tradition of Leon Trotsky. Other Trotskyist groups are only organized in one country and thus are not considered international groups.
The following groups all identify themselves as Trotskyist, or did so until they ceased operation. The list does not include Troskyist parties which operate only within one nation:
The following are Trotskyist groups with an international presence, but which have no formal international structure:
All links retrieved December 18, 2015.
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