Leon Trotsky led the struggle against Joseph Stalin’s counter-revolution. This battle began in 1923, six years after the Russian Revolution.
In 1927 Stalin achieved a decisive victory and Trotsky was expelled from the Communist Party.
He was sent into internal exile in 1928 in Alma Ata, near the Chinese border, and in 1929 deported from Russia.
There were three main issues in this struggle. The first was workers’ democracy.
Trotsky and his supporters, the Left Opposition, tried to defend working class democracy in the Communist Party and the soviet state.
In contrast, Stalin did all he could to strengthen the power of the growing bureaucracy of which he was the head.
The second was economic policy. Trotsky argued for a programme of industrialisation to strengthen the economic and social position of the working class.
This had been devastated in the course of defending the revolution in a bloody civil war.
Stalin at first blocked industrialisation. Then in 1928, after defeating the Left Opposition, he implemented it at breakneck speed on the basis of the massive exploitation of workers.
The third was the question of socialism in one country. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels had argued that the struggle for socialism was inherently international.
The Bolshevik Party had led the Russian Revolution. It argued that the revolution could only survive by spreading to other countries, especially Germany.
In 1924 Stalin abandoned this idea in favour of a policy of building socialism in Russia alone. Trotsky and the Left Opposition opposed the theory of socialism in one country as a betrayal of Marxism and internationalism.
The conventional history books usually portray Trotsky’s battle with Stalin as a personal power struggle or a conflict between individuals of different temperament or ideas.
In reality it was a struggle between different social forces.
Trotsky represented what was left of the workers’ power set up in in 1917. Stalin embodied the layer of bureaucrats busy turning themselves into a new ruling class.
The reason Stalin won was not personal superiority nor even low cunning. It was that in the specific situation where the Russian working class was exhausted he represented a stronger social force.
Trotsky’s resistance, though defeated, was of huge historical importance. It saved the honour of Marxism.
It helped preserve the ideal of socialism as a society of democracy, freedom and equality, rather than a society of bureaucratic tyranny and totalitarian dictatorship.
In the 1930s that dictatorship reached monstrous proportions. Millions of ordinary workers and peasants were sent to die in concentration camps in Siberia.
Stalin staged murderous show trials in Moscow. Old Bolsheviks who fell foul of his regime were forced to confess to absurd crimes such as being fascist agents or sabotaging factories. Almost every leading revolutionary from 1917 was wiped out.
In 1936 Trotsky produced a devastating critique of Stalinism in his book, The Revolution Betrayed.
Stalin’s regime—based on state ownership not private property, but exploiting the workers—was a new phenomenon and Trotsky did not, in my opinion, completely succeed in analysing it.
He still thought it was a workers’ state, albeit a degenerated one, whereas in reality it had become a new form of capitalism—state capitalism.
Nevertheless Trotsky refused to consider it socialist. He showed that Stalinism was not a continuation of Leninism or Bolshevism but its counter-revolutionary opposite.
He said that there was a “river of blood” between Bolshevism and Stalinism. Stalinism was not the logical or inevitable outcome of Marxism or revolution.
Instead it was a product of the isolation of the Russian Revolution, its failure to spread to other countries and the weakness of the Russian working class.
This was a huge contribution for the future.
It is still relevant today because our rulers continue to say that events in Russia prove that socialism doesn’t work and can only lead to tyranny.
In exile Trotsky continued to argue that international workers’ revolution remained the only way to secure the future of humanity.