On the Problem of Trotskyism

Jeff Korolev

Trotskyism: A Deformed Worker's Ideology; Or, a Reiteration of the Antagonistic History of Trotskyism and Leninism


Lenin was forced to struggle against Trotsky from roughly 1905 until his death in 1924. After that period, Leninists assumed the mantle of struggle against Trotskyisma task which we unfortunately must continue today. It continues to be necessary because Trotskyism continues to be a derailing force in the journey towards class consciousness. Because Trotskyism's assertions against Leninism and Leninist projects are based largely on the reframing of anticommunist arguments, they are easily digested by the new socialist. The new socialist can uphold Trotskyism without confronting the bourgeois, anticommunist history they have been taught. Outside of the Bolshevik Party from 1917 until 1924, Trotskyism tends to condemn real world socialist experiments with the same adjectives and the same statistics used by the anticommunist historians. Because of this, Trotskyism's influence is most sabotaging for the new socialist, who has had little time to sufficiently study history. While we would put forward that a dialectical materialist analysis of history often demonstrates the historical correctness of Leninism, time is needed to attain such a position; and, until this time, new socialists are susceptible to a bombardment of Trotskyist sloganeering: "Stalinist, bureaucratic, authoritarian, brutal regimes."

Our usual refutations of Trotskyism tend to assume a breadth of historical knowledge and as such usually attract readership from other Leninists, not potential future Leninists. Conversely, this essay is targeted towards the newer socialist, in an attempt to intervene before Trotskyism can mislead them and allow them to become ossified as ineffective members of the class struggle. While the length is far greater than I had hoped, this piece requires relatively little prior historical knowledge and should not be overly academicor too jargon- and theory-ladento read. This work aims to show the reader that Trotskyism evolved separately from Leninism, and that Trotskyism cannot claim to be a continuation of the work of Lenin or the Bolshevik Revolution. This work aims to support that claim by demonstrating that the major themes of Leninism have been consistent from before 1910 until today, and that the major criticisms Lenin had of Trotsky before and after the revolution still describe Trotskyism’s ideological deformations today.

There are two histories that Trotskyists present. The first is their implied history. Adherents of Trotsky imply that Trotskyism is a continuation, with slight improvements, of the "true" Leninism as it existed before the "Stalinist" betrayal. This version of history requires a complete lack of knowledge regarding the period from 1903-1917. Because history shows this implied history is categorically false, as we’ll see, Trotskyists have had to construct another history in line with a cursory understanding of the October Revolution.

Fig 1. The implied history of Trotskyism

Thus, Trotskyism’s official history admits that Trotsky(ism) and Lenin(ism) struggled against each other from 1903 until 1917. This history states that the two great revolutionaries developed competing ideologies, which both had positive and both had negative aspects. Then in 1917, when the two forces combined and Trotsky finally joined the Bolsheviks, the two great philosopher-revolutionaries together accomplished the revolution. This version of history suggests that when Trotsky joined the Bolsheviks, Trotskyism ceased to be; that it was absorbed by Leninism, lending Leninism some of its characteristics. This history also suggests that Lenin was a quasi-Trotskyist by the time of his death by virtue of “upholding” the theory of Permanent Revolution. Only after the “Stalinist betrayal” of the Party in 1924, according to this study, was Trotskyism reborn. However, in this story, it was reborn in name only. The reborn Trotskyism was the true Leninism, or “Bolshevik-Leninism,” with only minor improvements made by Trotsky, while “Leninism” was truly “Stalinism.”

Figure 2. The Official History of Trotskyism

This line of history often goes hand-in-hand with the notion that Leninism was formulated by Stalin in 1924. This version of history asserts that, because of this, Leninism is actually "Stalinism" due to a singular figure, Stalin, creating the ideology. Yes, Foundations of Leninism, a collection of speeches delivered at Sverdlov University by Stalin, was published in 1924, shortly after Lenin's death. Does this mean Leninism was created in one stroke by Stalin in 1924? Of course not. Marxism was not created in one stroke by Marx. It was forged through a lifetime of work by Marx and Engles, and was influenced by the utopian socialists of the time. Mao Zedong Thought was not formulated in one stroke by Mao, but over the course of decades work by Mao, Zhu De, Zhou Enlai, and many others. Similarly, Leninism was not created in one stroke by Stalin; this is an idealistic and an anti-dialectical position. Leninism could not have been formulated solely by Stalin, nor could it have been formulated solely by Lenin. Leninism, as a distinct political theory, was formulated through years of pre- and post-revolutionary struggle. It was formulated primarily by Lenin, but also by the whole of the Bolshevik experience, as well as by lessons of the non-Bolshevik and non-Russian experience. We will elaborate later, but as early as 1910, Lenin refuted Trotsky for implying that Leninism was anything other than Bolshevism. [1] This has remained true. Leninism is the personification of the trend of Bolshevism, a statement Stalin agreed with:

"Bolshevism and Leninism are one. They are two names for the same thing. Hence, the theory of the division of Leninism into two parts is a theory intended to destroy Leninism, to substitute Trotskyism for Leninism." [2]

As early as 1905, Bolshevism, or Leninism, existed as a political trend. As we will see, the primary characteristics of Bolshevism remained stable from 1905 until it was labeled a "betrayal." How could Stalin have created something that had existed for two decades prior to having come to power?

History suggests that this version of history, where Leninism and Trotskyism evolved separately but came together to form what we now call Trotskyism, is also quite false. The truth, which we will outline here, is that Leninism and Trotskyism evolved separately and struggled with each other. Trotsky entered the Party in 1917 and by all accounts was a model Bolshevik until power was secured. At this point, coinciding with Lenin’s decreasing health, Trotskyism began to re-emerge. After Lenin’s death, Trotsky attempted more openly to replace Leninism with Trotskyism until his expulsion, exile and assassination. To date, Trotskyism remains relatively unchanged from its ideological structure in 1905 and is not derived in any significant way from Leninism.

Figure 3. The General History of Trotskyism and Leninism

Before we begin to review the history, we should discuss two of the several irreconcilable contradictions between Trotskyism and Leninismbetween Trotskyism and Bolshevism.

  1. The contradiction between the Bolshevik theory of the Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry and Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution.

  2. The Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry is the theory that the toiling masses together (e.g. the proletariat and peasantry) could seize power and construct socialism without intervention from a fully industrialized, proletarianized force.

  3. Permanent Revolution is the theory that if the people were to seize power in a nation that was still predominantly peasantry, it would be impossible to build socialism because the peasantry is generally counter-revolutionary. Instead, the only goal could be to “hold onto” power until rescue could come from a more proletarianized state.

  4. The contradiction between Bolshevik Party Discipline and Trotsky’s Factionalism.

  5. The Bolsheviks understood Party Discipline to mean Democratic Centralism. In Democratic Centralism, there is a balance between Democracy and Centralism. Democracy exists to ensure that each can argue their opinion on an issue. Centralism exists to ensure that once the collective reaches a decision, each member must subordinate their personal opinion to accomplish the goals of the collective. Simply put, if the Party decides something, members are expected to refrain from condemning the decision or sabotaging the efforts of the Party.

  6. Factionalism is the creation of sub-groups or wings of a party. The Bolsheviks were anti-factionalist, believing that factions were against Democratic Centralism and that factionalism inevitably led to splitting and weakening of parties.

These two fundamental conflicts have continued in the main from 1905 until present day, demonstrating that the relationship between Trotskyism and Leninism has remained in the main, the same since 1905. The topic of history is best divided into four primary time periods. Pre-October, Post-October, Post-Lenin, Post-Everyone, and Modern. Let’s look.


Leninism and Trotskyism evolved separately in the pre-October Revolution period, in the same way that two species might have both similar and differing characteristics within the same ecosystemboth filling distinct niches. Both Lenin and Trotsky, along with many other great (and not so great) revolutionaries were members of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP) immediately after the turn of the 20th century. This party was immature, and developed two major factions over time, which became distinct around 1903 at the Second Party Congress.

The majority, the Bolsheviks and the minority, the Mensheviks, both had names derived from their meaning in Russian. The Bolsheviks were those who were in the majority on opinions fundamental to the Party. The Mensheviks, those who were of the minority opinion, tried to prevent decisions from being made based on majority rule. They believed that small factions of the Party must have the power to ignore centralism, to behave counter to the majority’s wishes. At the Second Party Congress, Lenin immediately sided with the Bolsheviks, while Trotsky aimed to be a “centrist” and allied with, but did not join, the Mensheviks. [3]

Trotsky’s Our Political Tasks was published in 1904 and was intended as a polemic against Lenin and what would become known as Bolshevism. While he later disavowed this piece for its anti-centralist and anti-discipline stances, his actions remained aligned with his 1904 stance for the rest of his life.

"By arguing that [...] socialist ideology was brought into the labor movement from outside, by the revolutionary intelligentsia, Lenin's theory was an 'orthodox theocracy.' His scheme of organization was fit for a party which would substitute itself for the working classes, act as a proxy in their name and on their behalf, regardless of what the workers felt and thought." [4]

Here as early as 1904 Trotsky suggested that the party organization was anti-worker and that Lenin was theocratic. The party organization that was to be avoided was Democratic Centralism:

"In the internal politics of the Party these methods lead, as we shall see below, to the Party organization 'substituting' itself for the Party, the Central Committee substituting itself for the Party organization, and finally the dictator substituting himself for the Central Committee. "Because 'centralism,' and this at least must be understood, does not meant the Central Committee, the Central Organ or the Council but something much bigger: above all, it requires the active participation of all members in the whole life of the Party. Of course, I am speaking of 'European' centralism and not autocratic-Asiatic centralism. This latter does not require but rather excludes any such participation." [5]

Trotsky continued to suggest that Democratic Centralism was not a worker’s organizational technique at all:

"The 'centralism' and 'discipline' of the Jacobins which Lenin so much admires were not borrowed by these 'bourgeois-individualist' revolutionary intellectuals from the proletariat disciplined in the school of the factory but developed directly 'out of themselves.'"[6a]

In these lines, Trotsky suggested that Lenin was both a Jacobin and a bourgeois-individualist. Further, he suggested that Lenin’s ideology was not a worker’s ideology, because it did not "borrow" from the proletariat, but instead "developed directly 'out of themselves.'" [6b] This means that as Lenin was a bourgeois-individualist, Centralism was bourgeois-individualism. How subordinating your individual opinion to that of the collective decision is individualist, and how Trotsky of all people could claim that someone else was an individualist is not fully explained.

Elsewhere in 1905, Stalin wrote Briefly About the Disagreements in the Party to a Georgian audience: "Our 'Mensheviks' are really too tiresome!" Like Lenin, Stalin ridiculed their anti-discipline stances. "Beware of the 'Majority' (i.e. the Bolsheviks), they are strangers, 'infidels!'" he sarcastically wrote. Steadfastly from 1905 to 1917 and beyond, Stalin upheld Leninism or Bolshevism. Writing as early as 1905 that Lenin was the "ideological representation of the majority, the Bolsheviks. He described Lenin’s What is to be Done? as the "splendid" theoretical birth of Leninism and continued: "Our task is always to be at the head of the movement and combat tirelessly all those - whether they be foes or 'friends' - who hinder the accomplishment of these tasks." Friends in this sentence refers to the Mensheviks and to factionalism. [7]

In his 1907 book entitled 1905, Trotsky explained that he was hostile to both Menshevism and Bolshevism:

"While the anti-revolutionary aspects of Menshevism have already become fully apparent, those of Bolshevism are likely to become a serious threat only in the event of victory." [8]

Continuing on, Trotsky wrote how the Bolsheviks believed that class struggle would end after revolutionary triumph. Moreover, he went on to suggest that the Bolsheviks were "scared" of conducting a decisive class struggle against the Peasantry. Of course, being a "centrist" Trotsky had choice words for the Mensheviks as well. We can see already that Trotsky disagreed with the Bolshevik view of the Peasantry. Much later, in 1922’s Preface to 1905, Trotsky stated plainly that the concept of Permanent Revolution had been born before this piece, but was fully articulated in 1905. [9]

Conversely, in his 1905 Two Tactics of Social-Democracy, Lenin outlined the Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and the Peasantry, and refuted the notion of Permanent Revolution:

"The proletariat must carry to completion the democratic revolution by allying itself with the mass of the peasantry in order to crush by force the resistance of autocracy and to paralyze the instability of the bourgeoisie. The proletariat must accomplish the socialist revolution by allying itself to the mass of the semi-proletarian elements of the population in order to crush by force the resistance of the bourgeoisie and to paralyze the instability of the peasantry and petty-bourgeoisie." [10]

Trotsky believed that the proletariat must struggle against the peasantry as well as the former bourgeoisie until the victorious proletariat could be "saved" by more civilized revolutionary forces. Conversely, Lenin believed that the proletariat should ally with peasant and semi-proletarian masses to build socialism without the need of any "aid," thereby defeating feudalism and capitalism together, before full industrialization and proletarianization. This was the basis of the Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry, and suggests that, in direct contradiction to Permanent Revolution, the unity of Proletariat and Peasantry was sufficient to maintain state power and build socialism, with no mention of needing to be "rescued" by the advanced capitalist countries.

In On the Two Lines of Revolution, published in 1915, Lenin gave a more thorough discussion on the Permanent Revolution. "Trotsky, who is repeating his 'original' 1905 theory and refuses to give some thought to the reason, why in the course of ten years, life has been bypassing his splendid theory." [11] Like the Bolsheviks, Trotsky believed in revolution. Like the Mensheviks, Trotsky had a chauvinistic attitude towards the Peasantry. He argued that the peasantry was too backwards, stratified, and that they exhibited too much petit-bourgeois thought to have any revolutionary potential. In fact, Lenin wrote that according to Trotsky, "(in) Russia a 'national' revolution is impossible; we are living in the era of imperialism," and "imperialism does not contra-pose the bourgeois nation to the old regime, but the proletariat to the bourgeois nation." [12]

We see that in the Pre-October period, Lenin(ism) and Trotsky(ism) were already in stark contradiction regarding the relationship between the Peasantry and the Revolution. As Marxists, as people who place a large emphasis on class, this was no small trifle. Thus, the first major contradiction was clearly delineated and observed pre-October. What then of the second—the issue of Party discipline? Lenin summarized:

"At the end of 1903, Trotsky was an ardent Menshevik [...] In 1904—05, he deserted the Mensheviks and occupied a vacillating position [...] now proclaiming his absurdly Left 'permanent revolution' theory. In 1906—07, he approached the Bolsheviks, and in the spring of 1907 he declared that he was in agreement with Rosa Luxemburg." [13]

In 1907’s Speech on the Report of the Activities of the Duma Groups, Lenin mentioned the outcomes of Trotsky’s "centrism."

"He fulminated against us for introducing our 'unacceptable' resolution. He threatened an outright split." [14]

Indeed, as early as 1907, and from then until his death, Lenin took issue with Trotsky’s lack of discipline and adherence to democratic centralism. This is unsurprisingly paralleled today, where Leninists identify lack of discipline as one of the chief deformations of Trotskyism and one of the reasons for the constant splits in their parties. Trotsky’s lack of discipline manifested as factionalism and threatened the unity of all of the revolutionaries in Russia.

In a 1909 letter to Zinoviev, Lenin wrote, "Have you read Trotsky’s letter to Inok? If you have, I hope it has convinced you that Trotsky behaves like a despicable careerist and factionalist [...] He pays lip service to the Party and behaves worse than any of the Factionalists." [15] To Lenin and Leninism, party discipline is paramount. Centralism, accepting the will of the majority, is paramount. Therefore, before 1910, we can see the two great contradictions between Leninism and Trotskyism, on the role of the peasantry in socialism (i.e. the Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry versus Permanent Revolution) and party discipline had already been acknowledged.

In 1910, Lenin’s State of Affairs cited Trotsky’s use of "Leninism" as a pejorative term for the Bolsheviks [[16]]. In this text, Lenin shows that Trotsky bluntly stated that he was no Leninist. Lenin wrote here that Leninism was simply Bolshevism, ergo, in 1910, Trotsky was still fundamentally anti-Bolshevik. So what was Trotsky at this time? Lenin went on to say that the Bolsheviks had been fighting Menshevism since 1903-1905. He highlighted Martov and Trotsky as Menshevism’s primary thinkers and said that the policy pursued by Trotsky was "an attempt to create a new faction." So was Trotsky a Menshevik? Is it that simple? While this has since been argued, Lenin did not believe this to be true:

"Trotsky, on the other hand, represents only his own personal vacillations and nothing more. In 1903 he was a Menshevik; he abandoned Menshevism in 1904, returned to the Mensheviks in 1905 and merely flaunted ultra-revolutionary phrases; in 1906 he left them again [...] One day Trotsky plagiarizes from the ideological stock-in-trade of one faction; the next day he plagiarizes from that of another, and therefore declares himself to be standing above both factions [...]Trotsky represents only his own faction and enjoys a certain amount of confidence exclusively among the otzovists and the liquidators." [17]

No, Trotsky should not be called a Menshevik. Lenin wrote in 1911 that, "Trotsky’s puny group supports policies of lying and deceiving the workers… therefore you have the essence of 'Trotskyism.'" [18] Trotsky may have allied with the Mensheviks at times, but he was not one. He was a Trotskyist, a separate entity from all previous, whose platform was, according to Lenin, "lying and deceiving the workers."

Lenin provided additional context for us. The Mensheviks and Bolsheviks did begin to drift towards two different trends in 1903, but the split was not complete until 1912. Trotsky denied the completeness of this split. At this time, Trotsky worked to create the August Bloc—a collection of what Lenin called "every anti-Bolshevik" group of socialists in Russia, supposedly acting "above factionalism." Lenin wrote that, "Trotsky’s 'non-factionalism' is, actually, splitting tactics, in that it shamelessly flouts the will of the majority of the workers. If we are splitters, why have not you, uniters, united amongst yourselves?" [19]

As we can see, by 1911, both "Leninism" and "Trotskyism" had been coined. The terms were not simply used to assign people based on who they were loyal to (this use would’ve likely been left for terms like Trotskyite and Leninite), but were used to describe clearly distinct and separate trends. Leninism meant Bolshevism. Trotskyism meant something else.

The names have been clearly defined, as have the major differences in the ideology of Leninism and Trotskyism. Are Lenin’s polemics too vague? Can it be inferred that Lenin’s hostility was overblown? After all, he was, arguably, history’s greatest polemicist. Perhaps we can argue that he treated Kautsky with more hostility, but few others. In 1914, he specifically called Trotskyists "August Bloc People," and dared them to actually unite—"Do something; don’t merely talk about it!" He also noted that, "Plekhanov and Trotsky [...] for the last ten years have been giving themselves credit for failure to fall into step with the mass Social Democratic worker’s trend." [20]

How could Trotsky write against Centralism, write for Factions, engage in splitting, yet still condemn Leninists for being splitters? Perhaps it is as Lenin said in 1914, "Trotsky has never yet had a firm opinion on any important question of Marxism," [21] and Trotsky simply vacillated positions again. However, is this true? I would disagree—Trotsky's Permanent Revolution, based on a chauvinistic misunderstanding of the peasantry, is a firm opinion apparent in the main from 1905 until his death. Trotskyism’s factionalism has also been a firm opinion from the 1900s until today.

In the pre-October 1917 period, Trotsky was not a Bolshevik. Bolshevism was synonymous with Leninism, which demonstrates that Trotsky was no Leninist during this period. Trotskyism, having originated around 1905, can therefore neither be temporally nor ideologically a continuation of Bolshevism or Leninism as the "Bolshevik-Leninists" want us to believe. These differences go beyond names and origin stories; they penetrate to the very core matters of party discipline and class struggle.

According to the other history of Trotskyism, this decade’s long disagreement was to be brushed aside in 1917, when Lenin and Trotsky, the two Titans of Russian Communism, would unite to lead the revolution—that is, if the Trotskyist conception of history is to be believed. In August 1917, Trotsky joined the Bolsheviks, months before the Revolution. After 12 years of struggle against Leninism, was Trotskyism finished as a distinct trend? Was Trotskyism absorbed by the Bolsheviks?


Based on the history outlined above, it is impossible for the Trotskyists to imply that Trotskyism is simply a continuation of Leninism to those who have read Russia's revolutionary history. To mislead the crowd, Trotskyism must move on from their implied history to a more carefully crafted tale. While the Pre-October period remains de-emphasized in their version of history, it is not ignored.

This history goes: Lenin and Trotsky were ideological rivals of relatively equal importance. In 1917, the two settled their differences and united. The imperfections of Trotsky(ism) and Lenin(ism) were reciprocally fixed as the two ideologies merged. Trotsky joined the Bolsheviks while Lenin adopted the Permanent Revolution. Then, the two nearly equal co-leaders of the Bolsheviks carried out the Revolution and led the new state together until 1924, when Lenin died and Stalin seized power for his own nefarious reasons, betraying the new Leninism.

Is this history true? Were they united? Was Leninism reforged with Trotskyist admixture? Let's see.

Two of the major conflicts pre-October were Trotsky(ism)’s differing understanding of Party discipline and a differing understanding of the role of the peasantry. After October, one of the primary manifestations of these two issues focused on the role of Russian Trade Unions. The vast majority of the Party agreed that "persuasive" methods should be used to encourage consciousness and production in the Trade Unions, while Trotsky believed "militarization" of the trade unions was better, based on his observations of efficiency in the military. The Party decided to pursue the persuasive route, against Trotsky’s arguments. Despite the Party’s decision, Trotsky abandoned discipline and Centralism to continue to argue for militarization. Four years after joining the party, and three years after power had been seized, Trotsky still did not adhere to the Bolshevik idea of discipline, and still clung to factionalism. Lenin was once again forced to reproach Trotsky, now on these trade unions. "Comrade Trotsky’s pamphlet [...] I am amazed at the number of theoretical mistakes and glaring blunders it contains." [22]

In his 1921 The Party Crisis [23], as well as Once Again on the Trade Unions, The Current Situation and the Mistakes of Trotsky and Bukharin, Lenin wrote on the topic that Trotsky’s idea of "shaking up" (i.e. militarizing) the trade unions was against the majority of the party’s opinion that union workers could easily be "persuaded" to become class conscious—that a gentle hand was recommended. Once again, this demonstrated the stark differences in understanding of class struggle between the two trends. Trotsky sought to continue discussing the settled matter of persuasion versus militarization. However, "There [were] no such disagreements, Comrade Trotsky has tried to point them out, and failed." Once again, Trotsky’s line had lost. And once again, Trotsky would not accept the outcome. Lenin continued:

"I don’t know whether this is due to another change in Comrade Trotsky’s platform or intentions […] What is the result? Less than a month has passed since Trotsky started this, 'broad discussion,' on December 25. And you will be hard pressed to find one responsible party worker in a hundred who is not fed up with discussion and has not realized its futility." [24]

Promotion of one’s own ambitions, despite the full might of the collective, is not Democratic Centralism, discipline, Bolshevism, or Leninism. It is individualism, idealism, and quasi-Menshevism.

Trotsky had recently written that Lenin, "wants at all costs to disrupt or shelve discussion of the matter." Lenin, less than one year before dying, argued that Trotsky was still a factionalist, which was, as we’ve seen, a damning thing to be in Lenin’s eyes. Trotsky on the other hand, was, less than one year before Lenin died, complaining that Lenin still "wants at all costs to disrupt or shelve discussion of the matter." It is interesting that Trotsky’s condemnations of Lenin’s Leninism in 1923 mirror so closely his condemnations of Stalin’s Stalinism a few years later.

It is not surprising that Trotsky ridiculed Lenin’s discipline and Centralism. In 1923, Trotsky acted alone by writing his Draft Theses on Trade Unions, which was disagreeable to 19 of the 20 members of the Central Committee—effectively demonstrating that he was outlining and promoting his personal theses as a platform. In doing this, Trotsky invited the party to "choose one of the two trends." More accurately would have been to ask the Party to "choose between 19/20 and Trotsky." Once again, Trotsky promoted factionalism, a faction representing 1 in 20 members of the Central Committee [25]. Lenin ended the piece by asking:

"But I ask any party member; don’t you find this attack and insistence on 'choosing' between two trends in the Trade Union movement rather sudden? What is there for us to do but stare in astonishment at the fact that after three years of the proletarian dictatorship, even one member can be found to ‘attack’ the two trends issue in this way?"

For three years, Bolshevism, Leninism, discipline, centralism, and anti-factionalism had held power with success. How, upon seeing the victory of discipline, did Trotsky still push for factions? Because his ideas were held by only a faction, because if they adhered to Democratic Centralism, there was no way his Permanent Revolution theory would ever be implemented, as it was unpopular. It should be noted that these attempts were not abject failures. Trotsky was a very charismatic person and his theories sound perfectly reasonable to those with a dogmatic view of "Orthodox Marxism." Peaking in 1921, "Comrade Trotsky still had about a fifth of the delegates to the Party Conference on his side." [26]

Another area of disagreement, which was intensely debated during this time but existed before October and continues until this day, was that of the National Question. Stalin outlined four qualifications of Nations: common language, common culture, common geography, and shared history. He wrote the right to self-determination means that only the nation itself has the right to determine its destiny:

"That no one has the right to forcibly interfere in the life of the nation, to destroy its schools and other institutions, to violate its habits and customs, to repress its language, or curtail its rights." [27]

One can read further to Lenin’s Theses on the National Question and Draft Theses on the National and Colonial Questions if they wish to verify that Stalin’s statements are in concert with Lenin’s own. [28] [29] In 1928, after Lenin's death and under Stalin, the USSR continued upholding the nationhood of Black Americans. [30] However, and perhaps most importantly, Stalin's most critical theoretical work may be found in his 1913 Marxism and the National Question:

The workers therefore combat and will continue to combat the policy of national oppression in all its forms, from the most subtle to the most crude, as well as the policy of inciting nations against each other in all its forms [...] Social-Democracy in all countries therefore proclaims the right of nations to self-determination [...] The right of self-determination means that only the nation itself has the right to determine its destiny, that no one has the right forcibly to interfere in the life of the nation, to destroy its schools and other institutions, to violate its habits and customs, to repress its language, or curtail its rights [...] This, of course, does not mean that Social-Democracy will support every custom and institution of a nation. While combating the coercion of any nation, it will uphold only the right of the nation itself to determine its own destiny, at the same time agitating against harmful customs and institutions of that nation in order to enable the toiling strata of the nation to emancipate themselves from them. [31]

Furthermore, in The National Question and Leninism, in 1929, Stalin wrote:

The Russian Marxists have long had their theory of the nation. According to this theory, a nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of the common possession of four principal characteristics, namely: a common language, a common territory, a common economic life, and a common psychological make-up manifested in common specific features of national culture. This theory, as we know, has received general recognition in our Party. [32]

Trotskyism could not abide by the ideas of Stalin on this line. It changed one term, from "common language" to "unique language." A small difference, but an enormous one. In fact, modern Trotskyists actually criticize Trotsky himself for believing that Black people in the United States represented a Nation:

Unfortunately, however, they also adopted the false idea that there was a black nation and that Marxists should call for self-determination. This came out of a one sided interpretation of discussions with Trotsky in which he admitted that he did not fully understand the situation in the U.S. For example he asked the American comrades whether there was a separate African American language. [33]

Looking past the fact that by this logic, Ireland is part of the English nation, this chauvinism relegates the most oppressed and exploited to non-Nation status. The Black peoples whose native languages were lost through years of oppression, the the Indigenous peoples whose native languages were systematically and genocidally schooled-away were not Nations. Only Nations in the Western European sense were Nations.

In 1923, Lenin wrote a document that came to be known as "Lenin’s Testament." It was meant for party eyes only but American Max Eastman, who had become infatuated with Trotsky while visiting the Soviet Union, leaked it. Trotskyists have used this "Testament" as the smoking gun to prove that Lenin wished Trotsky, not Stalin, to be his heir. They ask us to ignore the history up until then, to ignore the fact that Stalin rose to his position with the full backing of Lenin, and to ignore the fact that as Marxists we should not care in the slightest about "heirs'' but only about selecting the person who represented the will of the Party. While one could argue that Stalin was not this person, we cannot in any good faith argue that it was Trotsky, given that at his height, Trotsky was only representing 1/5th [34] of the party (or 1/20, or 1/100 per Lenin [35]).

On the document, briefly, Stalin scolded Lenin’s sister for letting her brother read political works because his doctors had forbidden that type of stress, which Lenin took exception to. Each of the three characters were clearly trying to do the right thing. Lenin’s sister wanted to make Lenin happy, Stalin wanted to stop her from enabling Lenin’s unsafe behavior, and Lenin wanted to defend his sister. Regardless, Lenin scolded Stalin for these actions quite harshly and bluntly claimed he was "too rude" to be General Secretary. One can compare this to Stalin's 20 years of struggle against Trotsky, which we can see continued well after October, to identify if "Lenin’s Testament" is really so damning. In Lenin's words, which are anything but damning:

Postscript: Stalin is too rude, and this fault, entirely supportable in relations among us Communists, becomes insupportable in the office of General Secretary. Therefore, I propose to the comrades to find a way to remove Stalin from that position and appoint to it another man who in all respects differs from Stalin only in superiority—namely, more patient, more loyal, more polite and more attentive to comrades, less capricious, etc. [36]

In what was likely Lenin’s final piece of philosophy, Better, Fewer, but Better in 1924, Lenin wrote how imperialism had made the theory of Permanent Revolution irrelevant. "Shall we be able to hold on with our small and very small peasant production...until the west-European capitalist countries consummate their development towards socialism? But they are consummating it not as we formerly expected." Lenin stated that they should not expect the industrial countries of Europe to "save" the anti-Revolutionary Bolsheviks and peasants while they merely clung to power, because imperialism changed the course of revolution in the industrial countries. "They are not consummating it (the revolution) through the gradual 'maturing' of socialism but through exploitation of some countries by others." Due to imperialism, the revolutionary potential was decreased in proletarianized countries but, "precisely as a result of the first imperialist war, the East has been definitely drawn into the revolutionary movement." [37]

The victims of imperialism, largely peasant colonies, according to Lenin, had revolutionary potential. Perhaps more than those in the imperial core. This has been proven true historically, of course, but it disproves even theoretically that Russia, due to its high peasant population, did not need "saving" by the German Proletariat. It also demonstrates that Lenin’s anti-permanent Revolution persisted until his death.


Many Marxist-Leninists point to Foundations of Leninism, a 1924 set of speeches delivered by Stalin at Sverdlov University, as the concrete birth of Leninism. This is a metaphysical mistake. How can an entire revolutionary science be created in one stroke? Foundations of Leninism, rather, formalizes the experiences of the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, throughout their entire existence. No, Stalin did not "formulate" Leninism here. Instead, this was a compilation and explanation of the Leninism that already existed. Stalin faithfully summarized and explained Marxism-Leninism at this time; however, as we have seen, Leninism had existed since at least 1910. This contrainterpretation of history allows Trotskyists to call themselves "Bolshevik-Leninists," as if they are a different interpretation of Leninism. This is, as we’ve seen, blatantly false.

After Lenin’s death, perhaps Trotsky was emboldened in his struggles against the Party. Continuing his path of individualism, perhaps Trotsky believed that the Bolsheviks followed Lenin dogmatically, that a sufficiently charismatic figure could steer them in a new direction. But that was not the case. The Party continued on after Lenin’s death, still following Leninism. At the Thirteenth Party Congress, all delegates, including Trotsky, voted that Stalin should remain General Secretary. [38] Trotsky, however, continued the practice of Factionalism and continued to exalt the Permanent Revolution theory. Would the new, leaderless Bolsheviks swoon? Let us see.

A large portion of the history I explore here comes from The Errors of Trotskyism, which was a Party statement against Trotsky published in 1925. The name may lead one to believe that these polemics were witch-hunts, attempting to invent reasons to paint the rival Trotsky as anti-Bolshevik. However, we should investigate them objectively. I have refrained from utilizing the arguments based on quotations from "dubious" sources, or those that Trotskyists claim are false. As we will see, the arguments are equally damning if we only quote those words that are certain. As we will also see, together these articles criticize Trotsky for doing the exact same things Lenin criticized him for: factionalism and chauvinism. Indeed these articles show concretely that the post-1925 Leninism (i.e. "Stalinism") is the same Leninism that existed before Lenin’s death. The newest source of controversy, which sparked The Errors of Trotskyism was Trotsky’s new book, The Lessons of October.

In 1924’s The Lessons of October, Trotsky attempts to synthesize the experiences of the Bolshevik Revolution for study. In doing so, he committed the same primary mistake, factionalism, that he committed prior to the October Revolution in his "centrism" and after the revolution in his stance on the trade unions. He wrote:

"Because of the war, the peasantry was organized and armed in an army of many millions. Before the proletariat succeeded in organizing itself under its own banner and taking the leadership of the rural masses, the petty-bourgeois revolutionists found a natural support in the peasant army, which was rebelling against the war. By the ponderous weight of this multi-millioned army upon which, after all, everything directly depended, the petty-bourgeois revolutionists brought pressure to bear on the workers and carried them along in the first period." [39]

Here we can see that in 1924, years after the Bolsheviks seized power on the "Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry," Trotsky still upheld his chauvinistic Permanent Revolution. This piece, by the "Bolshevik-Leninist" Trotsky, is a perfect continuation of his theory from 1905. Whether or not these opinions were correct, or were meant to be as damning as they appear, they were against the Party line. The Party did not support these conclusions and yet Trotsky advertised them to the Party. In this, Trotsky repeated his factionalism to repeat his Permanent Revolution theory, which links 1905 Trotskyism to 1924 Trotskyism and demonstrates that Trotskyism never "died" when he joined the Bolsheviks.

In the Errors of Trotskyism, Kamenev, Stalin, Krupskaya, Zinoviev, and the Party more generally make criticisms against Trotsky, to which Trotsky responded [40]. First, Kamenev’s essay Leninism or Trotskyism discusses the Lessons of October:

"Comrade Trotsky is an excellent writer, and his gifted pen has done for the Party much valuable service. But here it serves interests hostile to the Party, here it does not serve Bolshevism, but the cause of those seeking to disintegrate and discredit Bolshevism—both the Bolshevism embodying the ideology of the proletarian revolution and the Bolshevism organizing the fighting force of the proletariat." [41]

However much good Trotsky did for the party, Kamenev did not believe that Trotskyism was loyal to Bolshevism or Leninism. Later, Kamenev wrote:

"To Lenin, Trotsky was the wordy embodiment of an element hostile to the proletariat, an element showing talent at times, again simply the embodiment of certain social phenomena. This systematic struggle against Trotskyism as an anti-Bolshevist current is to be found in every volume of Lenin’s works up to the time when Trotsky joined our Party. At this point there is an interruption, followed by the resumption of this struggle—in another form." [42]

Why did Lenin, according to Kamenev, believe that Trotsky was the embodiment of anti-Bolshevism before October? For the same reason he was after October, factionalism and Permanent Revolution. Kamenev elaborated on Permanent Revolution:

"The standpoint held by Lenin and by the Bolshevist Party on the character of the revolution, as developed between 1904 and the spring of 1917, had not only been wrong, but even counter-revolutionary with respect to the socialist revolution. Lenin and the Bolsheviki were thus obliged to 'change their equipment' in the spring of 1917, before the conquest of power, for the purpose of accomplishing the conquest of power. That is, they found themselves obliged to substitute the counter-revolutionary equipment of Bolshevism by the really revolutionary equipment which Trotsky had kept ready on hand for twelve years. It is Trotsky’s conviction that Lenin came over to Trotsky after first building up the Party for fifteen years on 'anti-revolutionary' ideas [...] The theory of permanent revolution is based upon a complete underestimation of the role played by the peasantry; it replies to one question only: it tells us how power cannot be seized or maintained under these conditions. Absolutely irreconcilable differences [...] It must be perfectly clear to every conscious member of the Party that for us, the Bolsheviki, and for the international proletariat marching forward to victory. Leninism is sufficient, and that it is not necessary to substitute or improve Leninism by Trotskyism. [43]

Stalin, in Trotskyism or Leninism echoed this conclusion. The only reason one would continue making factional pronouncements and continue to put forth the unpopular Permanent Revolution theory is if they were attempting to take advantage of a perceived "power vacuum" after Lenin’s death. Stalin wrote here that, "Bolshevism and Leninism are one. They are two names for the same thing. Hence, the theory of the division of Leninism into two parts is a theory intended to destroy Leninism, to substitute Trotskyism for Leninism." [44]

In this piece, Stalin provided minutes on the Party meetings during the lead-up to October, in order to refute Trotsky’s claims in Lessons of October that he had a uniquely important role in the revolution. Nevertheless Stalin wrote:

"Trotsky fought well in the period of October. Yes, that is true, Trotsky did, indeed fight well in October; but Trotsky was not the only one who fought well in the period of October. Even people like the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries, who then stood side by side with the Bolsheviks, also fought well." [45]

Stalin went on to explain that Trotsky’s Lessons of October presented at least two historical falsehoods. First, that there was significant disagreement within the party concerning the revolution and second, that Trotsky played a role that could be compared with Lenin. He wrote:

"The new Trotskyism is a mere repetition of the old Trotskyism: Its feathers have been plucked and it is rather bedraggled; it is incomparably milder in spirit and more moderate in form than the old Trotskyism; but in essence, it undoubtedly retains all the specific features of the old Trotskyism [referring to Permanent Revolution, distrust of party leadership, and factionalism]. The new Trotskyism does not dare to come out as a militant force against Leninism; it prefers to operate under the common flag of Leninism, under the slogan of interpreting, improving Leninism. That is because it is weak. It cannot be regarded as an accident that the appearance of the new Trotskyism coincided with Lenin’s departure. In Lenin’s lifetime it would not have dared to take this risky step." [46]

Krupskaya wrote much less derisively of Trotsky (this would change later), painting a mostly positive picture. She also appeared to be more forgiving of Trotsky’s attempts to continue conversations on settled matters, but made the statement:

"We must continue to work determinedly for their fulfillment. And here it would be dangerous and disastrous to deviate from the historically tested path of Leninism. And when such a comrade as Trotsky treads, even unconsciously, the path of revision of Leninism, then the Party must make a pronouncement." [47]

Perhaps Krupskaya believed that Trotsky was trying to be a good Bolshevik, but due to his years as a quasi-Menshevik, he was bound to struggle against his own individualism and bound to "unconsciously" tread back towards Trotskyism.

Zinoviev, in 1925’s Bolshevism or Trotskyism, summarized much of the history present in this article, and demonstrated that Trotskyism and Leninism evolved separately, having no common "road."

"Comrade Trotsky has overlooked one trifle: that our Party is so Leninist and so mature that it is capable of distinguishing Leninism from Trotskyism […] Nobody will succeed in convincing the Party that we now need some sort of synthesis of Leninism and Trotskyism. Trotskyism is as fit to be a constituent part of Leninism as a spoonful of tar can be a constituent part of a vat of honey." [48]

Given an opportunity to respond to these statements, Trotsky wrote a letter in 1925. In this letter, he suggests that Trotskyism had existed, he had been Anti-Bolshevik, but he "came to Bolshevism" in 1917:

"However, under no circumstances can I admit the charge that I am advocating a special policy ('Trotskyism') and that I am striving to revise Leninism. The conviction that is ascribed to me, to the effect that, not I came to Bolshevism, but Bolshevism came to me, is simply monstrous. In my introduction to 'Lessons of October,' I frankly stated (p. 62), that Bolshevism prepared for its role in the revolution by its irreconcilable struggle, not only against the Narodniki and the Mensheviks, but against the 'reconcilers,' i.e., to the tendency to which I belonged. Never at any time during the past eight years has it entered my head to regard any question from the point of view of 'Trotskyism' which I have considered and consider now to have been politically liquidated long ago. [49]

Thus, according to Trotsky, Trotskyism had been "liquidated" alongside Permanent Revolution. Let us remember that in Russian writing, liquidated means what to us may be defined as dissolved, extinguished, etc. He writes that Bolshevism did not go to him, but he went to Bolshevism. This means that he is arguing that the party of Lenin and the Bolsheviks did not take up any components of Trotskyism, instead Trotsky abandoned Trotskyism and came to uphold Leninism. Trotskyism had been liquidated; Permanent Revolution had been liquidated. However, both re-emerged later. In that case, how can we think that Trotskyism was actually liquidated? Why does its resurrection as "Bolshevik-Leninism" have no features of the Bolsheviks or Lenin and every feature of the "liquidated" Trotskyism? Perhaps the rumors of its death had been exaggerated.

In 1934, the close comrade to Stalin Sergei Kirov was murdered. The investigation into this crime concluded that Trotsky had surpassed simple opposition towards illegal conspiracy to overthrow the government. On this, Krupskaya wrote in 1936:

"And it is not a coincidence, that Trotsky, who never understood the essence of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the role of the masses in building socialism, thinking that it can be built merely by an order from above, is now standing on the path of organizing terrorist acts against Stalin, Voroshilov and other members of the Politburo, who are helping the masses to build socialism. It is not a matter of chance, therefore, that the unprincipled bloc of Kamenev and Zinoviev together with Trotsky have pushed them from one step to another into a deep abyss of an unheard betrayal of Lenin’s work, the work of the masses, the ideals of Socialism. Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev and their entire band of killers acted together with the German fascists, entered into a pact with the Gestapo [...] the Trotsky-Zinoviev gang of killers is raising its shield in attempting to wreck the people’s front [...] The Second International wishes to justify and defend the capitalist system, to blindfold the eyes of the working masses. That is why they are defending the Gestapo agent—Trotsky. It has not worked out." [50]

To say nothing of the possible guilt of the Trotskyists in the assassination of Sergei Kirov, Trotsky, by 1934, actively wrote against the Party, "To overthrow Hitler it is necessary to finish with the Comintern […] Workers, learn to despise this bureaucratic rabble!" [51]

Now let us take a break here. Trotsky bluntly stated here that in order to defeat Hitler it would be necessary to overthrow the Comintern. To save the USSR the USSR must be overthrown and replaced with something new. One can, after reading all of the preceding, assume what that something new would be.

Over the course of these years, Trotsky and the Trotskyists were purged from the Party and Trotsky was exiled from the Soviet Union. He would later be assassinated after his continued organization for counter-Revolution. Purges were indeed not invented by Stalin; they were not a new feature. "The Bolshevik Party, under Lenin's leadership, was ready to amputate this small fragment from its body, and this it did in order to remain a homogeneous Bolshevik Party [...] Either expulsion or submission to the decisions of the Bolshevik leadership." [52]

Because Trotsky represented a significant minority however, alongside the fact that American "Marxist" chauvinists needed a reason to discount the Russian Revolution as "real socialism" to suit their own racist and dogmatic understanding of capitalism and imperialism, and alongside the fact that the American Right sought a tool to funnel people away from the path of Leninism, towards something—anything—that would pose less of a threat to them, these purges have been scandalized and propagandized. There is not enough space here to provide a sufficient history of this time period, and the reader should do a thorough and objective study on the matter, being careful to avoid anticommunist and bourgeois sources on the matter. Instead, we will fast-forward slightly to 1937 and Stalin’s Mastering Bolshevism. He described here the evolution of the struggle against Trotskyism, which was suggested to continue in the form of factionalism versus centralism:

"The Trotskyites, by themselves, were never a big force in our Party. Call to mind the last discussion on Trotskyism in our Party in 1927. This was a genuine Party referendum. Out of 854,000 Party members, 730,000 members voted at that time. Among them, 724,000 Party members voted for the Bolsheviks, for the Central Committee of the Party, against the Trotskyites, and 4,000 Party members, or about one-half of one per cent, voted for the Trotskyites, while 2,600 members of the Party refrained from voting." [53]

After the expulsion, and after Trotsky’s exile and subsequent move to Mexico, Stalin argued that Trotskyism had finally undergone the change that had supposedly been made in 1917. However, according to Stalin, Trotskyism had ceased to be a political trend:

"In carrying on a struggle against the Trotskyite agents, our Party comrades did not notice, they overlooked the fact, that present day Trotskyism is no longer what it was, let us say, seven or eight years ago; that Trotskyism and the Trotskyites have passed through a serious evolution in this period which has utterly changed the face of Trotskyism; that in view of this the struggle against Trotskyism and the method of struggle against it must also be utterly changed. Our Party comrades did not notice that Trotskyism has ceased to be a political trend in the working class, that it has changed from the political trend in the working class which it was seven or eight years ago, into a frantic and unprincipled gang of wreckers, diversionists, spies and murderers acting on the instructions of the intelligence services of foreign states." [54]

This marked a relatively huge change in the struggle between Leninism and Trotskyism. Stalin here argued that Trotskyism as an ideology had indeed been liquidated, that there was no principled Trotskyist in the world, only people who used the guise of a socialist movement to work for imperialist and fascist running dogs.

These conclusions, however correct or incorrect, were supported by others. Ho Chi Minh wrote that, "The C