A Brief Guide to the Ideological Differences Between Marxism-Leninism and Trotskyism

by Tony Clark


EVER since Lenin died in 1924, Trotskyism has challenged Marxism-Leninism for the ideological leadership of the international communist movement. J.V. Stalin, 1879-1953, was able to meet and saw off this challenge, to the extent that Trotskyism became a marginal, exterior tendency in relation to the communist movement. However, the attacks on Stalin by the Khrushchevite leadership in the Soviet Union, and the consequent rise of revisionism in some of the most influential parties of the communist movement, served to breathe new life into the project inspired by Trotsky.

This creed, Trotskyism, gained a substantial intellectual following in all the main imperialist countries due to its attacks on what they and the bourgeoisie call ‘Stalinism’. In attacking Stalin, and in fact, every country of socialist orientation, and regarding themselves as representing authentic Marxism, the activities of these pseudo-left sectarians promoted the propaganda interest of the imperialist bourgeoisie. However, the claims of Trotskyism rest not only on attacking Stalin and the countries of socialist orientation. These claims rest also on convincing certain intellectuals that Trotskyism is the continuation of Leninism. This is why it may be considered useful for us to present a synoptic exposition of the main ideological differences between Marxism-Leninism and Trotskyism as a guide for those who seek to examine this matter more deeply.


Trotskyites argue that the October, Russian revolution of 1917 was the realisation of Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution. The Marxist-Leninist position is that the revolution was made possible by the peculiar circumstances created by the 1914-1918 war and that without these conditions the transition to the socialist revolution would not have been possible.


Following the revolution and civil war, Trotskyites argued for the militarisation of the trade unions, that is a policy of coercion towards the unions. Marxist-Leninists around Lenin, including Stalin, opposed the Trotskyite militarisation policy, arguing instead that emphasis must be placed on persuasion rather than coercion. This led to a serious factional dispute in the communist party between the Marxist-Leninists and the Trotskyites between 1920-1921. Lenin himself regarded Trotsky’s policy on the trade unions as representing a ‘reactionary movement’.(See: Lenin: Collected Works, Vol.32)


For Marxist-Leninists, socialism in one or several countries is a stage in the world revolution. Trotskyites argued that the policy of building socialism in one country was opposed to Marxism. The Marxist-Leninists argued building socialism in one country was an integral part of world revolution and, in fact would serve this process, in aiding the development of the latter. Since Trotsky did not raise the issue with Lenin, Marxist-Leninists can only assume that Trotsky’s real motives were of a factional nature. Or, with Lenin out of the way, following his death in 1924, Trotsky sought to impose his Permanent Revolution theory on the party.


The Trotskyites sought to impose an industrialisation and collectivisation policy on the communist party at a time when the party and the dictatorship of the proletariat were in a weak position. Marxist-Leninists around Stalin wanted to wait until the party and the state had gathered enough strength to oversee such a policy. This meant defending the mixed economy of the NEP period until the party had strengthened itself in the working class and in the countryside.


Trotskyites argue that after the death of Lenin a “Stalinist bureaucracy” emerged in the Soviet Union. This bureaucracy would undermine the revolution and to forestall this a political revolution would be necessary to remove the bureaucracy from power. Marxist-Leninists argue that the Soviet bureaucracy was more anti-Stalinist than ‘Stalinist’, a fact underlined by the frequent purges directed against it. In addition, Marxist-Leninists rejected the Trotskyite theory of a counterrevolutionary bureaucracy as completely one-sided, and argued that what was needed was not a political revolution to overthrow a supposedly counterrevolutionary bureaucracy, but rather there was a need to expose and purge the counterrevolutionary elements from the bureaucracy. The Trotskyite talk about a ‘political’ revolution to overthrow bureauracy represented a break from Marxism to Anarchism.


Soon after coming to power the Bolshevik communists, led by Lenin pursued a policy of peaceful coexistence with the capitalist states. The thinking behind this was to force the capitalist States, particularly the imperialists States, to live in peace with socialism, as far as foreign relations were concerned. This was not only based on the recognition that combined the imperialists States were by far stronger than the Socialist State, it was also because socialism, unlike capitalism, is not a warlike system. It is capitalism which needs war to increase profits for the monopolists, not socialism. While it is true that, on the one hand, the Khrushchevite revisionists distorted the communist policy of peaceful coexistence, it is also true, on the other hand, that the Trotskyites, and other pseudo-leftists rejected Lenin’s policy, wanting the socialist countries to act like capitalists and embroil the world into war.


Trotskyites claim that the counterrevolution in the Soviet Union was the work of a supposedly “Stalinist bureaucracy”. Such a claim made no sense because not only was there no entity which could be called the “Stalinist bureaucracy”, but the Stalinists, i.e., supporters of Stalin, had been purged by the Khrushchevites in the 1950s. Marxist-Leninists maintain that the Soviet counterrevolution was led by the revisionists who had come to power after Stalin’s death. This counterrevolution was begun by Khrushchev and completed by Gorbachev.


Trotskyites blame the defeat of revolutions in China, Germany, France and Spain on Stalin’s leadership of the Communist International. Marxist-Leninists have long argued that Stalin was in a minority in the Comintern. Therefore, the defeats experienced by the communist movement cannot simply be dumped at Stalin’s door. Only a concrete analysis, based on Marxism-Leninism, can throw light on how individual defeats came about.


One of the slanders aimed at Stalin by the open and concealed Trotskyites is that he led the international communist movement into the camp of revisionism. However, neither now or in the past, have they been able to provide any documentary evidence to support these claims based on Marxism-Leninism. The truth is, that any study of the writings of Stalin shows, without any shadow of doubt that he remained a committed Marxist-Leninist all his life.


Trotskyites argue that Stalin betrayed the 1917 socialist revolution. However, in 1936, stunned by the gains that the Soviet Union had made under Stalin’s leadership, Trotsky had to pretend that this had nothing to do with Stalin. Marxist-Leninists argue that Stalin was a defender of the socialist revolution in the most inauspicious of circumstances. Furthermore, in his time Stalin successfully defended the socialist orientation of the Soviet Union against revisionists and other two-faced elements posing as communists in the party and State. When these concealed enemies of socialism were found out they were unfailingly purged by Stalin.


Trotsky and his followers joined the bourgeoisie and their henchmen, the Mensheviks, in a campaign to convince the workers, peasants and communists that socialism was impossible in the Soviet Union. They tried to undermine the confidence of the working people using an argument opposed to Lenin’s standpoint. The only conclusion is that Trotskyism played a counterrevolutionary role, hiding behind pseudo-left rhetoric. Promoting defeatism was the essential role of Trotskyism in regard to the Soviet Union.

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