By Johannes Wiener, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 20 August 2015, www.thecommunists.net
75 years ago Leon Trotsky, one of the most important leaders of the revolutionary workers’ movement, was murdered by a Stalinist agent in Coyoacán, Mexico. We don’t want to simply rewrite his biographical data but focus on what his life and struggle means to us, revolutionary workers, today.
A revolutionary life
Leon Trotsky was not just a very important theoretician for Marxism (he elaborated the Marxist theory on the question of the Permanent Revolution, the tactics and strategy in relation to a degenerated workers’ state and many other key and vital subjects), he was also a brave revolutionary leader in practice. He is the personification of the Marxist principle that theory and practice must go hand-in-hand and complement one other. In 1896, when he was just 18 years old and first became a Marxist, he organized workers and participated in revolutionary underground work. He was imprisoned twice by the tsarist regime as well as once by the Kerensky government, and was ultimately exiled by the Stalinist traitors. Leon Trotsky served as the head of the Soviet of Petrograd during the Revolution of 1905 and during the October Revolution in 1917. In contrast to Stalin, Trotsky played a central role during the Bolshevik Revolution and the civil war. He organized the very successful red uprising in Petrograd in 1917 and was the founder and first leader of the Red Army. He was also an important figure in the Communist International (Comintern), founded in March 1919, and drafted the manifestos of its first four congresses.
The Revolutionary Struggle against Stalinism
When the bureaucracy of the Soviet Union, headed by Stalin, rose to power after the death of Lenin in January 1924, Trotsky was one of the first to oppose the counterrevolutionary degeneration which characterized the transition to the brutal Stalinist regime. The Stalinist bureaucracy exiled him and imprisoned many other consistent revolutionaries and long-time Bolshevik leaders because they were not able to defeat Trotsky and the other steadfast Bolshevik leaders with political arguments and the latter represented a real alternative to the Stalinist bureaucratic rule. Trotsky was deported by the Stalinists from the Soviet Union in early 1929, the workers’ state which he had founded together with Lenin.
The Fourth International
In exile Trotsky built up the International Left Opposition which tried to reform the Stalinist Comintern. However, after the defeat in Germany in 1933 (when the fascists took power in the country which had the strongest Communist Party outside the Soviet Union) he fought for the building of a new revolutionary international. The movement for the foundation of the Fourth International developed a new revolutionary program and, despite the Stalinist terror, the fascists, and the bourgeois “democrats,” this movement was able to create combat organizations in the most important countries. The Fourth International was, despite its relatively small size, such a significant threat to Stalinism that the latter was forced to use slander, violence, and open terror to combat it. Thousands of Trotskyist fighters were killed in the Gulags (the labor camps of the Soviet Union) and many in other countries were murdered or disappeared at the hands of Stalinist agents.
The cowardly execution of Leon Trotsky from behind while he was unarmed perfectly epitomizes the wicked degeneration of Stalinism. The Stalinists were unable to fight the International Left Opposition out in the open on a political level before the eyes of the oppressed and within the workers’ movement for the best ideas and revolutionary line, so they had to resort to the murder and slandering of the consistent revolutionary fighters, and to the falsification of their true positions.
What Can We Learn for Today?
Today we live in a situation which is somewhat comparable to both the first years of the International Left Opposition and the years of the First International of Marx and Engels. On the one hand, we stand on the shoulders of nearly 170 years of organized struggle for the socialist revolution. On the other hand, today’s authentic revolutionary forces are weaker than ever before. We need to undertake serious revolutionary work and bring revolutionary ideas to where they are needed: to the working class and oppressed masses. Trotsky was always oriented to the needs of the workers and oppressed, despite his own personal origins with which he broke. He was very critical of both intellectuals and petty bourgeois fair-weather revolutionaries. For him and the Fourth International, it was always vitally important not just what you say, but also what you do. It is told how once, during the Spanish civil war, Trotsky held a discussion with a leader of a Spanish left-wing organization. The leader of this organization talked at length about what needs to be done. Then Trotsky asked him: “How many comrades does your organization have in the battle?” The petty bourgeois leader answered in shock: “Fortunately no one!” Trotsky told him: “See, that is the problem!” We, today’s revolutionaries, also have to develop such an attitude. For the masses, not just fancy words are important but rather what you actually do, how you intervene in the class struggle, and whether you are able to lead and produce victories.
Trotsky was a consistent internationalist as he demonstrated during the First World War, when he opposed all imperialist camps. He always defended the rights of oppressed peoples and fought for their right to self-determination. He also developed the slogan for the United Socialist States of Europe which was adopted by the revolutionary Comintern in 1923. For him it was equally important to build an organization in his own country and fight there for socialist revolution and to simultaneously build a revolutionary organization internationally. Trotsky was the personification of the nationless revolutionary fighter who is hounded from one country to the other.
The Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT) proudly follows in Trotsky’s path. Our work is dedicated to the formation of a strong revolutionary international organization which is able to develop revolutionary theory, as well as to intervene in struggles of the masses and to serve the oppressed.
There is no hope for us under capitalism. This system incessantly and increasingly wrecks our living conditions, our environment, and our entire future. There is just one way forward for the workers and oppressed masses of our planet, and this is the revolutionary liberation struggle. Only a worldwide revolution which overthrows the rule of the rich and the bosses will be able to create a future worth living. There is no more beautiful meaning to life than to fight not just for yourself, but to dedicate your life, your power, and your mind to fight for all oppressed people. This dedication and devotion is the essence of the character of a revolutionary. Trotsky lived by these principles and died for them. We too have to live by them if we want to win the struggle and if we want to deserve to win it. We see that most leftists, especially in the rich countries, do not live by these principles but are continually corrupted by the small “pleasures” capitalism provides them. Real revolutionaries like Trotsky despise this.
Dedication to building the revolutionary organization and serving the oppressed goes hand-in-hand with flexible tactics. Flexible steel is the hardest to break and the same is applicable for any revolutionary organization worthy of the title. To dispel the existing illusions of the masses it is not sufficient to tell them the truth. They also need to learn from their own experience with and betrayals by their current non-revolutionary leaderships. Consistent revolutionaries assist the masses in breaking with such non-revolutionary leaderships, but without posing ultimatums.
Trotsky dedicated his life and all his energy to one goal: to liberate our class and all oppressed peoples from the rule of the exploiters. We have to learn from his dedication: he was not afraid of losing his livelihood, he was not afraid of going to prison, he didn’t break because of the pressure of the Stalinists, and he was – in the final analysis– not afraid to die for his beliefs. Trotsky is a martyr in the revolutionary struggle for liberation and stands out among a long array of revolutionary fighters who were killed by oppressors from Spartacus, to Thomas Münzer, Toussaint Louverture, Wolf Tone, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, Mustafa Suphi, Tạ Thu Thâu, Che Guevara and thousands and thousands of others.
We too are ready to sacrifice our best fighters if it is necessary in this struggle for the liberation of humanity. Capitalism can’t kill all of us! They were able to kill Trotsky, but they will never be able to kill his immortal ideas – ideas which will lead us to our liberation! They can kill a revolutionary, but they can’t kill the revolution!
Fight with the RCIT to build a strong genuine Trotskyist International Organization!