- by Graham Holton
- The Guardian
- Issue #2009
Moissaye Joseph Olgin (1878–1939) was a Ukrainian-born writer, journalist, and translator. In 1922, he founded The Morning Freiheit, which he edited until his death in 1939. He was sympathetic to the Russian Revolution, first becoming active in the revolutionary movement while at the University of Kyiv. He contributed frequently to the Communist Party’s English-language newspaper, The Daily Worker and served as a special correspondent for the Soviet Communist Party’s daily, Pravda. His books include The Soul of the Russian Revolution, and his pamphlet “Why Communism?” were well known.
For those who have never read Trotsky’s writings Trotskyism: Counter-Revolution In Disguise is a good introduction into the errors of his propaganda against the Russian Revolution. Trotskyism is the theory advocated by Leon Trotsky, arguing for the establishment of a vanguard party that would use “any means necessary” to impose socialism. Trotsky called himself “the true Bolshevik-Leninist” and is still regarded worldwide as one of the great leaders of the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Olgin argues that in reality Trotsky was not a Leninist nor even faithful to Marx. Instead, he was an opportunist who glorified himself for the work done by others. At heart, he remained a Menshevik, and a traitor to the Revolution. He was never part of the workers’ life that built Soviet organisations, nor had he even won over many to the Bolsheviks. He was a useful speaker and writer for the petit-bourgeois and was not a revolutionary. M N Pokrovsky writes in Brief History of Russia (Vol. II, 1933), of the Petersburg Soviet, that at its head was someone who was “adept in the art of combining Menshevik substance with revolutionary phrases. The name of that Menshevik was Trotsky.” It was a political stand that Trotsky maintained to the end.
Lenin did not consider Trotsky a Bolshevik: “In my opinion, our task is to guard against getting entangled in foolish attempts at ‘unity’ with the social-patriots (or what is more dangerous, with the wavering one, like […] Trotsky and Co.)” (V I Lenin, The Revolution of 1917, Vol. 1). In opposition to Lenin, Trotsky had organised a small faction that threatened to disrupt the communist party’s activities. Lenin saw such an approach as causing injury “to himself, to the Party, to the union movement, to the education of millions of members of the Labor unions, and to the Republic.” (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. XXVI, 1964)
He had never been an integral part of the Bolshevik Party and yet in his numerous writings he pretended that it was he and not Lenin who had led the Revolution. Trotsky attacked the Communist Party, joining with Zinoviev and Kamenev in 1926. At the Fifteenth Congress, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union found that this group’s ideological opposition “has transformed the Trotsky opposition into an instrument of petty-bourgeois democracy within the USSR and into an auxiliary troop of international Social-Democracy outside of its frontiers.” The group was thoroughly discredited. Trotsky never recanted his non-Party petit-bourgeois stand, nor did he ever have the political will to carry the Revolution to its successful conclusion. Instead, he led the vanguard of counter-revolution in an attempt to irreparably damage the Revolution by destroying the dictatorship of the proletariat. In exile, he became a rallying point for those intent on destroying the USSR.
He is most noted for his theory of permanent revolution. He believed that the Revolution could only succeed with the assistance of other socialist countries and that the broad masses, including peasant masses, were not a revolutionary force: “Without direct State support from the European proletariat, the working class of Russia cannot maintain itself in power and transform its temporary rule into a durable Socialist dictatorship.” (Leon Trotsky, Collected Works, Vol III, 2016) Contrary to Trotsky’s belief, the workers did maintain power in Russia without outside support.
Trotsky argued that “Left to its own forces the working class of Russia will inevitably be crushed by the counter-revolution the moment the peasantry will turn away from it.” (Trotsky, Summing Up and Perspectives, 1906.) For Trotsky, revolution is impossible in a single country: “Remaining isolated, the proletarian state must finally become a victim of these contradictions.” (Trotsky, The Permanent Revolution, 1931.)
Leon Trotsky, in his Our Revolution: Essays on the Working Class and International Revolution, 1904-1917 (1918), stands against Lenin’s firm belief that the dictatorship of the proletariat in the USSR was the great achievement of the world proletariat. Hegemony of the proletariat in the revolution is the foundation of understanding Marxist revolution. (Marx and Engels, Appeal of the Central Committee to the Communist League, 1850.) The proletariat was the leader of all the oppressed and exploited in any true revolution.
Trotsky was even against the Party’s New Economic Policy (NEP), writing in his Soviet Economy in Danger (1932), that Russian economic policies had led to disaster after disaster and that the country needed to link up with the world economy to survive. The opposite was true. After the war against Germany in World War 1 with two million dead, the civil war in Russia followed with another 1.2 million dead and much of the national economy was in tatters. The Party wanted the natural resources and large-scale industries, the entire credit system, railroad and water transportation, and foreign trade to be in the hands of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Agricultural lands were to be in the hands of the local Soviets.
The government did its best to assist poor peasants against the kulaks, the large landowners. It imposed a heavy tax on the kulaks’ income and kept them out of the local Soviets. The poor peasants were given land, agricultural implements, credit, and paid no taxation. The Party sought to turn twenty million individual peasant holdings into large scale modern farms through collectivisation, enabling peasants to share modern equipment, such as Russian-made tractors. When the Party allied itself with the middle class to draw them closer to the proletariat, Trotsky did his utmost to create a break between the proletariat and the middle peasants and thereby destroy the Revolution.
From the beginning he was an opponent of Lenin: “Yesterday the intelligentsia was the bearer of socialist consciousness, today the gauntlet of factory discipline is being invoked against it! And this is Marxism! And this is Social-Democratic thinking! Verily, it is impossible to treat with greater cynicism the best ideological heritage of the proletariat than this is done by Lenin.” (Trotsky, Our Political Tasks, 1904) He sees Lenin as a reactionary leader of the Social-Democratic Party and fails to understand the basic teachings of Marx. Without a communist party the proletariat will drift towards syndicalism. He did not understand that the Communist Party is the vanguard of the working class.
Trotsky never understood the principle of democratic centralism within the Bolshevik organisation and argued against it, seeing the Bolsheviks changing “their organisational structure radically at every transition one stage to another.” (Trotsky, Strategy of the World, 1930) Trotsky misunderstood what the Party was achieving: “Democratic centralism of the Communist party organisation must be a real synthesis, a fusion of centralism and proletarian democracy. This fusion can be achieved only on the basis of continuous common action, continuous common struggle of the entire Party organisation as a whole.” (Thesis of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921)
Lenin wrote on the character of Trotsky: “It is impossible to argue with Trotsky about principles, for he has no views at all. […] One exposes him as a diplomat of the lowest order.” (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. XV, 1963) Trotsky disregards Lenin’s theory of imperialism being at the stage of decaying capitalism. He wrote that the Comintern was an agency of the Soviet government and directly dictated the policies of the communist parties in capitalist countries. In the US Trotskyites got involved in the Paterson textile strike of 1933 and carried out reformists policies that lost the strike.
Olgin concludes that Trotsky was “a counter-revolutionary renegade who inspires the murder of revolutionary leaders.” He falsified the history of Leninism and the history of the greatest achievement of the world proletariat. He continually attacked the Communist Party, its organisation, the Five-Year Plan, its NEP and its principle of democratic centralism. He aligned himself to fascist teachings hidden beneath Marxist and Leninist phrases, which he neither understood nor agreed with.
Unfortunately the legacy of Trotsky lives on in Australia and elsewhere, playing a divisive and counter-revolutionary role.