The Legacy of Leon Trotsky – Part 1

The following is the introduction to an important piece outlining the role of Leon Trotsky and the revolutionary Marxism he championed

The full Part 1 text is available on the IBT web site with parts 2 and 3 to follow shortly.



On 21 August 1940, Leon Trotsky succumbed to a massive head injury inflicted by a Stalinist assassin in Coyoacán, Mexico. One of the greatest revolutionary leaders in the modern era, Trotsky had risen from obscurity and persecution as a member of the underground socialist movement in the Tsarist Empire (imprisoned, banished to Siberia and forced into exile) to the height of power in the fledgling Soviet republic (organizer of the October Revolution and architect of the Red Army), only to be marginalized and once again exiled as the Russian Revolution degenerated under the weight of social, economic and political forces he himself brilliantly analyzed and combated.

Trotsky resembles a figure from Greek tragedy – save for the magnitude and historical significance of the tragedy, whose consequences extended well beyond the personal life of a single man. World history does not turn on the actions of individuals, however great they may be – but the life of Leon Trotsky was a rare example of the personal intertwining with the world-historic. The stage on which this historical actor played his part was grand, and the strengths and weaknesses, the triumphs and the defeats, the achievements and the mistakes of the man were themselves of historic consequence precisely because they were bound up with the practical organizing – at the highest echelons – of humanity’s torturous transition from capitalism to socialism.

The historical importance of Trotsky lies not only in his critical association with the world’s first successful proletarian socialist revolution, but in the political and theoretical contributions he made both before and after the Bolsheviks took state power. With the exception of V.I. Lenin, his co-leader of the Russian Revolution, Trotsky was unparalleled as an expositor and innovator of Marxism following the death of Marx and Engels. The brilliance and power of those contributions are such that, today, many leftists whose reformist political practice is sharply at odds with the revolutionary perspective of Trotsky nevertheless pay tribute to the “Old Man” of the Fourth International by falsely claiming his mantle as their own.

Given the pivotal importance of his contributions and the misappropriation of his name and political heritage, it is instructive to revisit Trotsky’s legacy on the 75th anniversary of his death.


Market turmoil

Originally posted on Michael Roberts Blog:

As I write on Monday 24 August, stock markets around the world are taking another plunge.  Most markets have already fallen by 10% in the last month.  Why is this happening?

EM stocks

The reasons are clear.  The Chinese economy, now officially the largest in the world (at least as measured by the IMF’s rather weird purchasing power parity method), is slowing fast.  Every bit of data coming out of China shows a worsening situation for manufacturing output, investment, exports and, above all, the purchase of raw materials from other countries.  The drop in demand from China for basic commodities has caused a huge drop in commodity prices (the prices for oil, food, iron, coal, industrial metals etc).  This drop in prices means less export sales for the likes of Brazil, Australia, Indonesia, Argentina etc.  Also the Chinese are not buying so many BMWs, luxury handbags, machine tools, cars etc at…

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Correcting a pseudo-Marxist on use of the phrase “dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry”

The July 2 issue of the British leftist paper Weekly Worker included an article by Jack Conrad (central leader of the CPGB) “Truth, not myths, serve our cause” with a sub-head “Why do comrades on the left insist on repeating evident falsehoods about Lenin and the Bolsheviks, not least when it comes to 1917?” (http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1065/truth-not-myths-serve-our-cause/).

There is much in this article that I believe is, lets say, a creative interpretation of history but one issue stood out in particular – Conrad’s defence of the phrase “dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry” as being a guide for the Bolsheviks right up to and including the October revolution.

I replied as follows in a letter published in the July 9 issue of WW (http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1066/letters/).

Jack Conrad ends his meandering piece, ‘Truth, not myths, serve our cause’ (July 2), claiming Lenin’s continuity of political perspective in 1917, as follows:

“The Russian Revolution had gone further than the classical bourgeois revolutions of England 1645 or France 1789, but ‘has not yet reached a ‘pure’ dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’.

“This final quote is from Lenin’s ‘The tasks of the proletariat in our revolution’, a draft platform dated April 10 1917. I see development, concrete application, yes. But, no ‘abandonment’, no ‘break’ with the old slogan for a ‘revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’.”

Jack would perhaps do well to dwell on Lenin’s more substantive discussion of this issue outlined in his Letters on tactics, also written and published in April 1917:

“‘The revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’ has already become a reality in the Russian Revolution, for this ‘formula’ envisages only a relation of classes, and not a concrete political institution implementing this relation, this cooperation. ‘The Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies’ – there you have the ‘revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’ already accomplished in reality.

“This formula is already antiquated. Events have moved it from the realm of formulas into the realm of reality, clothed it with flesh and bone, concretised it and thereby modified it.

“A new and different task now faces us: to effect a split within this dictatorship between the proletarian elements (the anti-defencist, internationalist, ‘communist’ elements, who stand for a transition to the commune) and the small-proprietor or petty bourgeois elements (Chkheidze, Tsereteli, Steklov, the Socialist Revolutionaries and the other revolutionary defencists, who are opposed to moving towards the commune and are in favour of ‘supporting’ the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois government).

“The person who now speaks only of a ‘revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’ is behind the times; consequently he has in effect gone over to the petty bourgeoisie against the proletarian class struggle; that person should be consigned to the archive of ‘Bolshevik’ pre-revolutionary antiques (it may be called the archive of ‘old Bolsheviks’).”

At a purely pedantic level, Jack is correct that Lenin does not use the exact terms, ‘abandonment’ or ‘break’ in reference to “revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry”, but it is pretty clear what Lenin in April 1917 now thinks about this slogan – it is antiquated and suitable only for the archives.


Cobh Says No to Austerity disbands

At Tuesday night’s activist meeting of Cobh Says No to Austerity (CSNA) the following motion was passed – with no opposition and a small number of abstentions:

“That the group known as Cobh Says No to Austerity be dissolved tonight the 30 June 2015”

In the wake of that dissolution it was also decided that all the money remaining in the CSNA account (just over €350) along with the megaphone and mobile phone be handed over to the newly established Cobh CommUNITY 4 Change (CC4C) as they will now be the only group in Cobh organising opposition to Irish Water. The CSNA Facebook group will also be closed down. It is likely that most of the remaining CSNA activists will seek to join the new CC4C group.

I was one of those who abstained on the vote to dissolve CSNA.

CSNA existed to maximise the opposition to Irish Water in Cobh. The split of a majority of the CSNA activists to form the CC4C group has significantly undermined the previous unity in action which saw us be so successful in organising the Cobh community to oppose meter installations and gain mass support for non-payment (over 70% according to our canvassing).

It is clear that the continued existence of a rump CSNA would only harm future unity in action given the context of a public, and sometimes nasty, split resulting in a very bad reputation for the group among the wider community.

However the new CC4C group has started off on a bad footing with its sectarian refusal to participate in, and active undermining of, the recent “burn the bills” protest which proved to be the last public event of CSNA. It also appears that CC4C is barring people from participating for a mixture of personal and political reasons in the manner of a membership club rather than a community-based campaign group.

If these negative beginnings are integrated into its ongoing organisational culture CC4C will be nowhere near what is required to organise working people in the fight against water charges and other attacks in the name of “austerity”.

Certainly I will not be able to be active within CC4C unless it is transformed into a democratic and open group, facilitating participation of activists with a range of political views. It is only by testing different political perspectives in action and open debate that we will have any chance of developing strategies to defeat austerity for good.

Meanwhile, I will of course participate alongside other activists in Cobh and the wider Cork area in supportable actions, whether organised by CC4C or anyone else, and continue to argue for the types of organisations and strategies I believe are necessary in this fight, as outlined elsewhere on this blog.


Cobh AAA members condemn AAA leaflet

Immediately after I released my statement withdrawing support for the motion to expel Ciara from Cobh Says No to Austerity the split I had been trying to avoid went ahead. The four other members of the committee met with a large group of CSNA activists and decided to all leave CSNA. They have set up a new group called Cobh CommUNITY 4 Change, that officially came into being on Tuesday 16 June by announcing itself on Facebook with the following statement:

It is with a renewed sense of purpose that the majority of the founding members and committee members of CSNA would like to announce the establishment of our new group, Cobh CommUNITY 4 Change.
We are a non aligned community based group that welcome the support of any political party who share in our vision and commitment to building a better future for all of us and who will respect our autonomy.

Our primary objective is to support all residents in Cobh and outside Cobh in stopping the installation of water meters and we also support the non payment of IW bills.

We believe that the best way to face the challenges that lie ahead of us is through grassroots organisation and activisim which puts the community at the heart of our campaign.

We want that voice to not just be heard but to play a central part in all decisions that affect us in our daily lives.

We want to create a space where people can contribute to this movement, become empowered and motivated to support one another and move forward towards a better future, a better time, a better way of being in this world.

This is our moment, our mission and our movement.

Let’s make it work.

As might be expected this provoked a furious debate on Facebook between supporters and opponents of the split. The following evening the Anti-Austerity Alliance had a large team in Cobh, including Mick Barry and Dave Keating who are two of the Socialist Parties most senior comrades in Cork. They were distributing a specially produced leaflet that included a section on the split in CSNA that made some widely inaccurate claims about the reasons for the split.

At the Cobh Says No to Austerity activist meeting on Thursday 18 June I moved the following motion:

This meeting of Cobh Says No to Austerity condemns the Anti-Austerity Alliance leaflet distributed in Cobh on the evening of Wednesday 17 June.

The AAA leaflet states that the recent split in the CSNA is not about personalities but is a Sinn Fein influenced political move. This is completely untrue. It also claims that the new group which comprises the majority of non aligned activists is actually a manoeuvre against the AAA. This is a complete misrepresentation of the reality behind the events leading to the split in CSNA. The AAA’s central leadership has been informed of the personalised and disruptive behaviour of one of its members but has refused to listen to reps of CSNA.

The leaflet even suggests that the new group is not calling for a boycott of the bills – when this is explicitly not the case.

For these reasons, as well as the timing of the leaflet’s distribution, we consider this to have been a provocation by the AAA which can only harm united action in Cobh against the water charges – this is already reflected in activists refusing to attend the CSNA’s bill burning event on 23 June.

We therefore demand that the AAA issues an apology and promises not to engage in any similar provocations in the future.

The motion was amended to more simply read:

This meeting of Cobh Says No to Austerity condemns the Anti-Austerity Alliance leaflet distributed in Cobh on the evening of Wednesday 17 June.

Cobh Says No to Austerity is grateful for any help in organising its cause so long as Cobh Says No to Austerity is not being used to promote any political or personal agenda.

The amended motion condemning the AAA leaflet was passed by a clear majority – including with all three local AAA members voting for it!


Correcting a mistake: On Divisions in Cobh Says No to Austerity

I recently proposed the following motion for the next Cobh Says No to Austerity (CSNA) meeting (being held on 18 June):

“Ciara’s disruptive behaviour at the end of the meeting on 2nd June 2015 was only the most recent in a long line of disruption and personal attacks on other activists which can no longer be tolerated. Therefore Ciara is expelled from Cobh Says No to Auserity.”

The motion refers to a young woman activist who became involved in CSNA last year when the meter installers arrived in the town. She played an important role in organising the “spotters” we used to identify and follow meter installation teams as they came on to the island. However she was also centrally involved as an active protagonist in three big personal disputes that have led to activists leaving CSNA – often directly citing Ciara’s behaviour as the reason.

Following an Anti-Austerity Alliance (AAA) public meeting a couple of months ago in Cork Ciara, along with two other key CSNA activists, joined the AAA. Unfortunately the most recent personal dispute got overlaid with unsubstantiated accusations about these new AAA members being underhanded in some way. I became increasingly worried that Ciara’s disruptive behaviour was being used as a stick to politically attack the AAA’s participation in CSNA with the last few weeks seeing various proposals about closing down CSNA and creating a new group that would somehow exclude Ciara and other AAA members, and would likely be close to the national Right2Water (R2W) organisation.

In an attempt to protect CSNA as a group that had successfully united all those in Cobh opposed to the water charges irrespective of their political affiliation, my motivation for proposing Ciara’s expulsion from CSNA was to try to isolate the issue of her as a disruptive individual, long pre-dating her AAA membership,

However I now believe that I was mistaken in thinking that I could separate internal issues of CSNA from the wider political context. The national anti-water charges movement is currently in the midst of a damaging split between two electoralist projects, with the reformist socialist groups like the AAA who advocate non-payment accused of splitting and disrupting the wider movement, which R2W claims to represent. In that context my motion would inevitably, despite my best efforts, be seen as a politically motivated witch-hunt. Ciara has also indicated on the CSNA Facebook page that she is pulling out of the group in any case.

I am therefore withdrawing my support for the motion to expel Ciara.

The focus on the upcoming election by both R2W and the AAA is a backwards step for a movement that for a period mobilised broad layers of the working class who are not usually political active in concrete measures to prevent Irish Water from installing meters in their neighbourhoods. CSNA was one of the best examples of this independent working class activism and it is distressing for me and many others to see it being torn apart by personal animosities and the illusion that the water charges and austerity in general can be defeated by electing a handful of TDs on a reformist programme. Non-payment of water bills is still a key campaign but without a mobilised working class, it is in danger of being subsumed into the AAA electoral machine. R2W meanwhile continues to refuse to call for non-payment relying solely on the election of a “progressive government” that will remove the charges.

Despite my significant political differences with both of the main political blocs around which the split is coalescing I remain committed to working with all those involved in the fight against water charges where we agree on the concrete immediate demands of the struggle – be that the AAA, Workers Party, Sinn Féin, R2W or those with no party affiliation – and hope that joint activity remains possible in the future.

The ease with which electoral divisions are damaging the possibilities for effective joint action only underlines the need for the Irish working class to have a revolutionary Marxist party committed to prioritising the self-organisation of our class to best fight for our interests against the capitalists and their state machine. This kind of working class self-organisation, as seen in embryo in anti-water charges groups like CSNA, also points towards the workers’ council type of organisations that will be the basis for taking political power into our own hands and running a society where resources are channelled to those who need them, no longer subject to the whim of the capitalist market that will have been consigned to the dustbin of history.

Such a revolutionary party may use the heightened political interest around the capitalist election process by giving critical support to other candidates claiming to stand for the independent interests of the working class or even by standing its own candidates. When doing so it will always expose the democratic limitations of capitalist institutions like parliament as vehicles for fundamental social change. Instead it will use the platform provided by the elections, or in the Dáil if elected, to champion, in both word and deeds, the political independence of the working class based on our own alternative working class organisational forms.


A Marxist response to Noreen Murphy’s letter to the Examiner

On Tuesday 2 June a letter in the Irish Examiner appeared under the title “Non-payment of water charges will just force more debt on people” (http://www.irishexaminer.com/viewpoints/yourview/non-payment-of-water-charges-will-just-force-more-debt-on-people-334052.html)

As the author, Noreen Murphy, is the most ardent and loyal supporter of Right2Water in the Cork anti-water charges movement it is quite instructive about the politics of Right2Water.

Noreen’s letter was edited by the Examiner which included taking out a point that her defenders are saying is proof of her arguments being misrepresented.

That point was “On a point of principle, I will personally never pay for water…” This is the only difference of any substance between Noreen’s original (copied here) and the published version.

Noreen goes on to argue (in both original and published versions) that:

“‘non-payment’ will neither prevent more debt being piled on the Irish people, nor prevent the privatisation of our water and waste water services”.

What is the conclusion to be drawn from such an argument (irrespective of her personal “point of principle”)?

In the propaganda war for the hearts and minds of working people over non-payment what effect will this have? Will it encourage people wavering to pay or not to pay? The answer is quite clear.

If she is right and non-payment has no possible positive outcomes and instead will only result in fines for non-payment then what would be the point of not paying for those who don’t see the issue as one of personal principle?

We should presumably instead put all our energies into getting a new government elected that will hopefully remove the charges as part of its “progressive” management of the capitalist system.

In one way it is good to see Noreen be so open about the real logic of the R2W position – but it is one that anti-water charges activist must reject. While non-payment may not be the only answer it is clearly an important part of the answer in our fight against water charges.

Noreen also claims that “The Right2Water campaign has given a voice to hundreds of thousands of people…”

Actually Right2Water is only one part of the anti-water charges movement. The continual conflating of R2W with the whole movement by R2W acolytes like Noreen is extremely annoying not to say disrespectful to the tens of thousands of activists all over the country who have participated in opposing the installation of water meters and support non-payment – neither of which R2W has played any part in organising.

I also find it very patronising to be told that an undemocratic, self-appointed and unanswerable steering committee (which is all R2W actually is) has been the thing that has given working people a voice. Working people have a voice because we have spoken and acted in our communities up and down the country.

Then there is Noreen offering up the fantasy of some kind of political third way – “Podemos and Syriza are offering a balanced alternative to the extremist right or left…” – as if the irreconcilable interests of the capitalists and working people could be resolved simply by appealing for some “balance”. There is no “balance” possible within capitalism – it is a system based on the exploitation and oppression of working people for the benefit of the tiny minority who rule us.

Their “policy principles” document makes it clear that R2W only see the struggle of working people within the framework of capitalism. This is effectively advising us to limit our dreams for a better future to how many crumbs we might gather from the table of the fat cats as they continue to gorge themselves on the fruits of our labour.




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