Is The FI One of the Greatest Failures In Marxist History?

Owen Jones owen_jones at
Sun Oct 1 06:13:56 MDT 2000


 Without a shadow of a doubt, Trotskyism was and remains to be a disastrous
strand of the revolutionary movement. The Fourth International imploded long
ago. No workers' political revolution to cut out the cancer of bureaucracy
in the Stalinist states arrived.

 It is not true that Trotskyism was a total, complete failure. Let us not
forget the great comrades of Vietnam, where Trotskyism was a truly mass
movement. Their fate was to be drowned in blood by the Stalinist hordes of
Ho Chi Minh, with the aid of French imperialism (incidentally, the leader of
the Vietnamese Trotskyists was apparently a childhood friend of Ho Chi Minh,
but old relationships die hard). Let us not slander the Vietnamese
Stalinists, for they did, after all, apologise later and say it was a
mistake. Whoops.

 Trotskyism also gained a mass base in Sri Lanka, whose Communist Party was
the only one in the world that went with Trotsky instead of the Soviet

 And let us certainly not forget the movement of the Soviet Union led by
Trotsky, the Left Opposition, composed of so many fine working class
militants who were later slaughtered in the camps of the Soviet bureaucracy.
Once executed, the camp leaders would read out their names to the rest of
the camp, but alongside criminals. On one occasion, hundreds of Trotsky's
followers who were lead on to the ice for execution died singing the
Internationale; their spontaneous singing of the international revolutionary
anthem spread across the camp. Hundreds of thousands of communists were
slaughtered by the Soviet bureaucracy. Not all Trotskyists either, or
Zinovievists or Bukhranites. I would go as far as to say that the biggest
massacre of Stalinists in history was conducted by the regime that had Josef
Stalin at its helm.

 The Left Opposition did of course fail. The failure of international
revolution, the civil war which atomised the working class and exterminated
their most revolutionary section - all had demoralised the Soviet working
class and allowed the bureaucracy to seize power with so little struggle.
The Left Opposition met in workers' homes and drew great support from the
revolutionary working class - but its base was not great or deeply rooted.
The last demonstration by Trotskyism in the Union of Soviet Socialist
Republics was in 1927, on the anniversary of the October Revolution. They
appealed to the working class of the capitals. Yet the workers of the Soviet
Union watched on passively as the troops of the bureaucracy attacked the
protestors with truncheons.

 As thousands of his followers were executed, as the official revolutionary
parties remained aligned to the Soviet dictatorship, as even bourgeois
commentators were in the "Friends of the Soviet Union" fan club, Trotsky and
his small band of revolutionaries were very isolated indeed. He then found
himself persecuted by all the bourgeois states after being exiled from the
state he had such a role in creating. Like the plague, states such as
Turkey, France and Norway expelled him, and the Labour government of Britain
refused him political asylum. When you are refused entry to the imperialist
nations, you are in deep trouble since at the time they happened to directly
own most of the world. Alas, Trotsky ended up in Mexico.

 Since then, a major change in the outlook of the Trotskyist movement had
occurred. Originally, the programme of the Left Opposition did not call for
a new working class revolution, but rather believed it could cut out the rot
via reform. But in 1933, when the policy of the Comintern led to the victory
of German fascism without even a fight, when the greatest working class
movement in the world was crushed virtually overnight, there was a sudden
programmatic lurch, and it was accepted that this bureaucratically deformed
workers' state could only lead the international revolution and move on to
socialism through a new workers' revolution, political in form, to cut out
the bureaucratic rot and restore the political power of the working class.

 Now that Trotskyism no longer saw itself as a faction of the Comintern, it
resolved to build a new International. Unfortunately, that period
represented the biggest working class defeat in history, when the batons of
fascism smashed down the working class of Europe. This International was to
be built bureaucratically, from above, when most revolutionary workers, such
as they were, were still committed to the old International. (The centrist
ILP leadership actually may have had a point when denouncing Trotsky for
building a new international from the heights of Oslo - although Trotsky
corrected them by clarifying that he was not in Oslo and that the city
didn't even have any heights anyway). So indeed the FI gained no real social
basis, and thus its implosion was made inevitable.

 But I must agree that comrade Louis Proyect is wrong when he seems to view
Trotskyism as that which destroyed the revolutionary movement. Did
Trotskyism usurp a revolution and lead the bureaucracy to power? Did
Trotskyism massacre hundreds of thousands of communists from Russia to
Vietnam to Spain? Did Trotskyism roll its tanks over the working class? Was
it Trotskyism that destroyed the original International, transforming its
international sections into foreign mouthpieces of the Soviet bureaucracy,
and abandoned international working class revolution? Was it Trotskyism that
held back the European working class from taking power so many times
following the end of WWII? Was it Trotskyism that made "communism"
synonymous with terror and totalitarianism? Was it Trotskyism that reverted
to capitalism? Was it Trotskyism that the East European working class so

 But it must be understood that Trotskyism and Stalinism were dialectically
linked, were united opposites. The death of Stalinism means that Trotskyism
itself becomes largely irrelevant in terms of practise.

 And yes, Trotsky was wrong on many matters. The Soviet bureaucracy emerged
from war strengthened, with domination of half of Europe, rather than in
crisis. And Stalinism and Social Democracy kept the European working class
back from taking power. The banner of the Fourth International was most
certainly not unfurled in the ruins of post-war Europe. But the restoration
of capitalism by the Stalinist bureaucracy to form the new bourgeoisie was a
vindication of Trotsky - although, contrary to the claim of much of orthodox
Trotskyism, there was no civil war with the working class on the barricades
to prevent the restoration of capitalism.



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