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: