Trotskyism is the theory of Marxism as advocated by the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky. Trotsky identified as an orthodox Marxist and Bolshevik–Leninist. He supported founding a vanguard party of the proletariat, proletarian internationalism and a dictatorship of the proletariat based on working class self-emancipation and mass democracy. Trotskyists are critical of Stalinism as they oppose Joseph Stalin's theory of socialism in one country in favor of Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution. Trotskyists also criticize the bureaucracy that developed in the Soviet Union under Stalin.
Vladimir Lenin and Trotsky were close both ideologically and personally during the Russian Revolution and its aftermath, and some call Trotsky its "co-leader". Trotsky was the paramount leader of the Red Army in the direct aftermath of the Revolutionary period. Trotsky initially opposed some aspects of Leninism, but he concluded that unity between the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks was impossible and joined the Bolsheviks. Trotsky played a leading role with Lenin in the revolution. Assessing Trotsky, Lenin wrote: "Trotsky long ago said that unification is impossible. Trotsky understood this and from that time on there has been no better Bolshevik."
Under Stalin's orders, Trotsky was removed from power (October 1927), expelled from the Communist Party (November 1927), exiled first to Alma-Ata (January 1928), and then from the Soviet Union (February 1929). As the head of the Fourth International, Trotsky continued from exile to oppose the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Soviet Union. On 20 August 1940, Trotsky was attacked by Ramón Mercader, a Spanish-born NKVD agent, and died the next day in a hospital. His murder is considered a political assassination. Almost all of the Trotskyists within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union were executed in the Great Purges of 1937–1938, effectively removing all of Trotsky's internal influence in the Soviet Union.
Trotsky's Fourth International was established in France in 1938, when Trotskyists argued that the Comintern or Third International had become irretrievably "lost to Stalinism" and thus incapable of leading the international working class to political power. In contemporary English language usage, an advocate of Trotsky's ideas is often called a "Trotskyist". A Trotskyist can be called a "Trotskyite" or "Trot", especially by a critic of Trotskyism.
According to Trotsky, his program could be distinguished from other Marxist theories by five key elements:
- Support for the strategy of permanent revolution, in opposition to the two-stage theory of his opponents.
- Criticism of the post-1924 leadership of the Soviet Union, analysis of its features; after 1933 also support for political revolution in the Soviet Union and in what Trotskyists term the deformed workers' states.
- Support for social revolution in the advanced capitalist countries through working class mass action.
- Support for proletarian internationalism.
- Use of a transitional programme of demands that bridge between daily struggles of the working class and the maximal ideas of the socialist transformation of society.
On the political spectrum of Marxism, Trotskyists are usually considered to be towards the left. In the 1920s they called themselves the Left Opposition, although today's left communism is distinct and usually non-Bolshevik. The terminological disagreement can be confusing because different versions of a left-right political spectrum are used. Anti-revisionists consider themselves the ultimate leftists on a spectrum from communism on the left to imperialist capitalism on the right, but given that Stalinism is often labeled rightist within the communist spectrum and left communism leftist, anti-revisionists' idea of left is very different from that of left communism. Despite being Bolshevik-Leninist comrades during the Russian Revolution and Russian Civil War, Trotsky and Stalin became enemies in the 1920s and thereafter opposed the legitimacy of each other's forms of Leninism. Trotsky was extremely critical of the Stalinist USSR for suppressing democracy and lack of adequate economic planning.
In 1905, Trotsky formulated his theory of permanent revolution that later became a defining characteristic of Trotskyism. Until 1905, some revolutionaries claimed that Marx's theory of history posited that only a revolution in a European capitalist society would lead to a socialist one. According to this position, it was impossible for a socialist revolution to occur in a backward, feudal country such as early 20th century Russia when it had such a small and almost powerless capitalist class.
The theory of permanent revolution addressed the question of how such feudal regimes were to be overthrown and how socialism could be established given the lack of economic prerequisites.
Revolutions in Britain in the 17th century and in France in 1789 abolished feudalism and established the basic requisites for the development of capitalism. Trotsky argued that these revolutions would not be repeated in Russia.
In Results and Prospects, written in 1906, Trotsky outlines his theory in detail, arguing: "History does not repeat itself. However much one may compare the Russian Revolution with the Great French Revolution, the former can never be transformed into a repetition of the latter." In the French Revolution of 1789, France experienced what Marxists called a "bourgeois-democratic revolution"—a regime was established wherein the bourgeoisie overthrew the existing French feudalistic system. The bourgeoisie then moved towards establishing a regime of democratic parliamentary institutions. However, while democratic rights were extended to the bourgeoisie, they were not generally extended to a universal franchise. The freedom for workers to organize unions or to strike was not achieved without considerable struggle.
Trotsky argues that countries like Russia had no "enlightened, active" revolutionary bourgeoisie which could play the same role and the working class constituted a very small minority. By the time of the European revolutions of 1848, "the bourgeoisie was already unable to play a comparable role. It did not want and was not able to undertake the revolutionary liquidation of the social system that stood in its path to power."
The theory of permanent revolution considers that in many countries that are thought under Trotskyism to have not yet completed a bourgeois-democratic revolution, the capitalist class opposes the creation of any revolutionary situation.
Therefore, according to the theory of permanent revolution the capitalist classes of economically backward countries are weak and incapable of carrying through revolutionary change.
The theory of permanent revolution further considers that the peasantry as a whole cannot take on the task of carrying through the revolution, because it is dispersed in small holdings throughout the country and forms a heterogeneous grouping, including the rich peasants who employ rural workers and aspire to landlordism as well as the poor peasants who aspire to own more land. Trotsky argues: "All historical experience [...] shows that the peasantry are absolutely incapable of taking up an independent political role".
Trotskyists differ on the extent to which this is true today, but even the most orthodox tend to recognise in the late twentieth century a new development in the revolts of the rural poor, the self-organising struggles of the landless; and many other struggles which in some ways reflect the militant united organised struggles of the working class; and which to various degrees do not bear the marks of class divisions typical of the heroic peasant struggles of previous epochs.
Trotsky himself argued that only the proletariat or working class were capable of achieving the tasks of that bourgeois revolution. In 1905, the working class in Russia, a generation brought together in vast factories from the relative isolation of peasant life, saw the result of its labour as a vast collective effort and the only means of struggling against its oppression in terms of a collective effort and forming workers councils (soviets) in the course of the revolution of that year. In 1906, Trotsky argued:
Although only a small minority in Russian society, the proletariat would lead a revolution to emancipate the peasantry and thus "secure the support of the peasantry" as part of that revolution, on whose support it will rely. However, in order to improve their own conditions the working class will find it necessary to create a revolution of their own, which would accomplish both the bourgeois revolution and then establish a workers' state.
According to classical Marxism, revolution in peasant-based countries such as Russia prepares the ground ultimately only for a development of capitalism since the liberated peasants become small owners, producers and traders which leads to the growth of commodity markets, from which a new capitalist class emerges. Only fully developed capitalist conditions prepare the basis for socialism.
Trotsky agreed that a new socialist state and economy in a country like Russia would not be able to hold out against the pressures of a hostile capitalist world as well as the internal pressures of its backward economy.
An internationalist outlook of permanent revolution is found in the works of Karl Marx. The term "permanent revolution" is taken from a remark of Marx from his March 1850 Address: "it is our task", Marx said:
According to Trotsky, the term "Trotskyism" was coined by Pavel Milyukov (sometimes transliterated as Paul Miliukoff), the ideological leader of the Constitutional Democratic Party (Kadets) in Russia. Milyukov waged a bitter war against Trotskyism "as early as 1905".
Trotsky was elected chairman of the St. Petersburg Soviet during the Russian Revolution of 1905. He pursued a policy of proletarian revolution at a time when other socialist trends advocated a transition to a "bourgeois" (capitalist) regime to replace the essentially feudal Romanov state. It was during this year that Trotsky developed the theory of permanent revolution, as it later became known (see below). In 1905, Trotsky quotes from a postscript to a book by Milyukov, The Elections to the Second State Duma, published no later than May 1907:
Milyukov suggests that the mood of the "democratic public" was in support of Trotsky's policy of the overthrow of the Romanov regime alongside a workers' revolution to overthrow the capitalist owners of industry, support for strike action and the establishment of democratically elected workers' councils or "soviets".
During his leadership of the Russian revolution of 1905, Trotsky argued that once it became clear that the Tsar's army would not come out in support of the workers, it was necessary to retreat before the armed might of the state in as good an order as possible. In 1917, Trotsky was again elected chairman of the Petrograd soviet, but this time soon came to lead the Military Revolutionary Committee which had the allegiance of the Petrograd garrison and carried through the October 1917 insurrection. Stalin wrote:
As a result of his role in the Russian Revolution of 1917, the theory of permanent revolution was embraced by the young Soviet state until 1924.
The Russian revolution of 1917 was marked by two revolutions: the relatively spontaneous February 1917 revolution, and the 25 October 1917 seizure of power by the Bolsheviks, who had gained the leadership of the Petrograd soviet.
Before the February 1917 Russian revolution, Lenin had formulated a slogan calling for the "democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry", but after the February revolution through his April Theses, Lenin instead called for "all power to the Soviets".
Also before February 1917, Trotsky had not accepted the importance of a Bolshevik style organisation.
As a result, since 1917 Trotskyism as a political theory is fully committed to a Leninist style of democratic centralist party organisation, which Trotskyists argue must not be confused with the party organisation as it later developed under Stalin. Trotsky had previously suggested that Lenin's method of organisation would lead to a dictatorship, but it is important to emphasise that after 1917 orthodox Trotskyists argue that the loss of democracy in the Soviet Union was caused by the failure of the revolution to spread internationally and the consequent wars, isolation, and imperialist intervention, not the Bolshevik style of organisation.
Lenin's outlook had always been that the Russian revolution would need to stimulate a Socialist revolution in Western Europe in order that this European socialist society would then come to the aid of the Russian revolution and enable Russia to advance towards socialism.
This outlook matched precisely Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution.
Lenin was met with initial disbelief in April 1917.
In The Stalin School of Falsification, Trotsky argues that what he calls the "legend of Trotskyism" was formulated by Grigory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev in collaboration with Stalin in 1924 in response to the criticisms Trotsky raised of Politburo policy. Orlando Figes argues: "The urge to silence Trotsky, and all criticism of the Politburo, was in itself a crucial factor in Stalin's rise to power".
During 1922–1924, Lenin suffered a series of strokes and became increasingly incapacitated.
In 1926, Stalin allied with Nikolai Bukharin who then led the campaign against "Trotskyism". In The Stalin School of Falsification, Trotsky quotes Bukharin's 1918 pamphlet, From the Collapse of Czarism to the Fall of the Bourgeoisie, which was re-printed in 1923 by the party publishing house, Proletari. In this pamphlet, Bukharin explains and embraces Trotsky's theory of permanent revolution, writing: "The Russian proletariat is confronted more sharply than ever before with the problem of the international revolution... The grand total of relationships which have arisen in Europe leads to this inevitable conclusion. Thus, the permanent revolution in Russia is passing into the European proletarian revolution". Yet it is common knowledge, Trotsky argues, that three years later in 1926 "Bukharin was the chief and indeed the sole theoretician of the entire campaign against 'Trotskyism', summed up in the struggle against the theory of the permanent revolution."
Trotsky wrote that the Left Opposition grew in influence throughout the 1920s, attempting to reform the Communist Party, but in 1927 Stalin declared "civil war" against them:
Defeat of the European working class led to further isolation in Russia and further suppression of the Opposition.
Trotsky was sent into internal exile and his supporters were jailed.
After 1928, the various Communist Parties throughout the world expelled Trotskyists from their ranks.
In 1937, Stalin again unleashed what Trotskyists say was a political terror against their Left Opposition and many of the remaining Old Bolsheviks (those who had played key roles in the October Revolution in 1917) in the face of increased opposition, particularly in the army.
Trotsky founded the International Left Opposition in 1930.
Trotsky said that only 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.
Trotsky argued that the defeat of the German working class and the coming to power of Hitler in 1933 was due in part to the mistakes of the Third Period policy of the Communist International and that the subsequent failure of the Communist Parties to draw the correct lessons from those defeats showed that they were no longer capable of reform and a new international organisation of the working class must be organised. The transitional demand tactic had to be a key element.
At the time of the founding of the Fourth International in 1938, Trotskyism was a mass political current in Vietnam, Sri Lanka and slightly later Bolivia. There was also a substantial Trotskyist movement in China which included the founding father of the Chinese communist movement, Chen Duxiu, amongst its number. Wherever Stalinists gained power, they made it a priority to hunt down Trotskyists and treated them as the worst of enemies.
The Fourth International suffered repression and disruption through the Second World War.
The International Secretariat of the Fourth International (ISFI) organised an international conference in 1946 and then World Congresses in 1948 and 1951 to assess the expropriation of the capitalists in Eastern Europe and Yugoslavia, the threat of a Third World War and the tasks for revolutionaries. The Eastern European Communist-led governments which came into being after World War II without a social revolution were described by a resolution of the 1948 congress as presiding over capitalist economies. By 1951, the Congress had concluded that they had become "deformed workers' states". As the Cold War intensified, the ISFI's 1951 World Congress adopted theses by Michel Pablo that anticipated an international civil war. Pablo's followers considered that the 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 1951 Congress argued that Trotskyists should start to conduct systematic work inside those Communist Parties which were followed by the majority of the working class.
Pablo began expelling large numbers of people who did not agree with his thesis and who did not want to dissolve their organizations within the Communist Parties.
The Fourth International split in 1953 into two public factions.
Trotskyism has had some influence in some recent major social upheavals, particularly in Latin America.
The Bolivian Trotskyist party (Partido Obrero Revolucionario, POR) became a mass party in the period of the late 1940s and early 1950s and together with other groups played a central role during and immediately after the period termed the Bolivian National Revolution.
In Brazil, as an officially recognised platform or faction of the PT until 1992, the Trotskyist Movimento Convergência Socialista (CS), which founded the United Socialist Workers' Party (PSTU) in 1994, saw a number of its members elected to national, state and local legislative bodies during the 1980s. The Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL) presidential candidate in the 2006 general elections Heloísa Helena is termed a Trotskyist who was a member of the Workers Party of Brazil (PT), a legislative deputy in Alagoas and in 1999 was elected to the Federal Senate. Expelled from the PT in December 2003, she helped found PSOL in which various Trotskyist groups play a prominent role.
In Argentina, the Workers' Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario de los Trabajadores, PRT) lay in the merger of two leftist organizations in 1965, the Revolutionary and Popular Amerindian Front (Frente Revolucionario Indoamericano Popular, FRIP) and Worker's Word (Palabra Obrera, PO). In 1968, the PRT adhered to the Fourth International, based in Paris. That same year a related organisation was founded in Argentina, the ERP (People's Revolutionary Army) that became the strongest rural guerrilla movement in South America during the 1970s. The PRT left the Fourth International in 1973. Both the PRT and the ERP were suppressed by the Argentine military regime during the Dirty War. ERP commander Roberto Santucho was killed in July 1976. Owing to the ruthless repression PRT showed no signs of activity after 1977. During the 1980s in Argentina, the Trotskyist party founded in 1982 by Nahuel Moreno, MAS, (Movimiento al Socialismo, Movement Toward Socialism), claimed to be the "largest Trotskyist party" in the world before it broke into a number of different fragments in the late 1980s, including the present-day MST, PTS, Nuevo MAS, IS, PRS, FOS, etc. In 1989 in an electoral front with the Communist Party and Christian nationalists groups, called Izquierda Unida ("United Left"), obtained 3.49% of the vote, representing 580,944 voters. Today, the Workers' Party in Argentina has an electoral base in Salta Province in the far north, particularly in the city of Salta itself; and has become the third political force in the provinces of Tucumán, also in the north; and Santa Cruz, in the south.
Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez declared himself to be a Trotskyist during his swearing in of his cabinet, two days before his own inauguration on 10 January 2007. Venezuelan Trotskyist organizations do not regard Chávez as a Trotskyist, with some describing him as a bourgeois nationalist and other considering him an honest revolutionary leader who has made major mistakes because he lacks a Marxist analysis.
Besides the more contemporary groups, South America has also had several run-ins with the stranger side of Trotskyism, namely Posadism.
In Sri Lanka, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) expelled its pro-Moscow wing in 1940, becoming a Trotskyist-led party. It was led by South Asia's pioneer Trotskyist, Philip Gunawardena and his colleague N. M. Perera. In 1942, following the escape of the leaders of the LSSP from a British prison, a unified Bolshevik–Leninist Party of India, Ceylon and Burma (BLPI) was established in India, bringing together the many Trotskyist groups in the subcontinent. The BLPI was active in the Quit India Movement as well as the labour movement, capturing the second oldest union in India. Its high point was when it led the strikes which followed the Bombay Mutiny. After the war, the Sri Lanka section split into the Lanka Sama Samaja Party and the Bolshevik Samasamaja Party (BSP). The Indian section of the BLPI later fused with the Congress Socialist Party. In the general election of 1947, the LSSP became the main opposition party, winning 10 seats, the BSP winning a further 5. It joined the Trotskyist Fourth International after fusion with the BSP in 1950 and led a general strike (Hartal) in 1953.Tomorrow%20is%20Ours%3A%20The%20Trotskyist%20Move]]
In 1964, a section of the LSSP split to form the LSSP (Revolutionary) and joined the Fourth International after the LSSP proper was expelled.
In 1974, a secret faction of the LSSP, allied to the Militant group in the United Kingdom emerged. In 1977, this faction was expelled and formed the Nava Sama Samaja Party, led by Vasudeva Nanayakkara.
The ICFI/WSWS Supporters Group  is working to build the Socialist Equality Party in India.
In France, 10% of the electorate voted in 2002 for parties calling themselves Trotskyist.
In Britain during the 1980s, the entryist Militant group operated within the Labour Party with three Members of Parliament and effective control of Liverpool City Council. Described by journalist Michael Crick as "Britain's fifth most important political party" in 1986, it played a prominent role in the 1989–1991 anti-poll tax movement which was widely thought to have led to the downfall of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Several far-left parties in Britain are Trotskyist in orientation, including the Socialist Workers Party, the Socialist Party (not to be confused with the Socialist Party of Great Britain), and the Scottish Socialist Party.
The Socialist Party in Ireland was formed in 1990 by members who had been expelled by the Irish Labour Party's leader Dick Spring. It has had support in the Fingal electoral district as well as in the city of Limerick. In 2018, it had three elected officials in Dáil Éireann. Paul Murphy, representing Dublin West (Dáil constituency), Mick Barry representing Cork North-Central (Dáil constituency) and Ruth Coppinger representing Dublin West (Dáil constituency).
In Portugal's October 2015 parliamentary election, the Left Bloc won 550,945 votes, which translated into 10.19% of the expressed votes and the election of 19 (out of 230) deputados (members of parliament). Although founded by several leftist tendencies, it still expresses much of the Trotskyist thought upheld and developed by its former leader, Francisco Louçã.
In Turkey, there are some Trotksyist organizations, including the International Socialist Tendency's section (Revolutionary Workers' Socialist Party), Coordinating Committee for the Refoundation of the Fourth International's section (Revolutionary Workers' Party), Permanent Revolution Movement (SDH), Socialism Magazine (sympathizers of the International Committee of the Fourth International), and several small groups.
The Fourth International derives from the 1963 reunification of the two public factions into which the Fourth International split in 1953: the International Secretariat of the Fourth International (ISFI) and some sections of the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI). It is often referred to as the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, the name of its leading committee before 2003. The USFI retains sections and sympathizing organizations in over 50 countries, including the Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire (LCR) of France, as well as sections in Portugal, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Pakistan.
The International Committee of the Fourth International maintains its independent organization and publishes the World Socialist Web Site.
The Committee for a Workers' International (CWI) was founded in 1974 and now has sections in over 35 countries. Before 1997, most organisations affiliated to the CWI sought to build an entrist Marxist wing within the large social democratic parties. The CWI has adopted a range of tactics, including working with trade unions, but in some cases working within or supporting other parties, endorsing Bernie Sanders for the 2016 U.S. Democratic Party nomination and encouraging him to run independently.
In France, the LCR is rivalled by Lutte Ouvrière, the French section of the Internationalist Communist Union (UCI), with small sections in a handful of other countries. It focuses its activities, whether propaganda or intervention, within the industrial proletariat.
The founders of the Committee for a Marxist International (CMI) claim they were expelled from the CWI when the CWI abandoned entryism. The CWI claims they left and no expulsions were carried out. 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.
Currently, International Marxist Tendency (IMT) is headed by Alan Woods. The list of Trotskyist internationals shows that there are a large number of other multinational tendencies that stand in the tradition of Leon Trotsky.
Trotskyism has been criticised from various directions.
The way Trotskyists organise to promote their beliefs has been criticised often by ex members of their organisations.
Some Left Communists such as Paul Mattick claim that the October Revolution was totalitarian from the start and therefore Trotskyism has no real differences from Stalinism either in practice or theory.
In the United States, Dwight Macdonald broke with Trotsky and left the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party by raising the question of the Kronstadt rebellion, which Trotsky as leader of the Soviet Red Army and the other Bolsheviks had brutally repressed. He then moved towards democratic socialism was raised by the American anarchist Emma Goldman. In her essay "Trotsky Protests Too Much", she says: "I admit, the dictatorship under Stalin's rule has become monstrous. That does not, however, lessen the guilt of Leon Trotsky as one of the actors in the revolutionary drama of which Kronstadt was one of the bloodiest scenes". Trotsky defended the actions of the Red Army in his essay "Hue and Cry over Kronstadt".