National Sections of the L5I:

Chapter 10 - Life is beautiful

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Exiled in Mexico, Trotsky and his wife Natalia listened helplessly as the reports came of daily atrocities and murders by the Stalin regime in the USSR:

“We wandered about in our little tropical garden in Coyoacan, surrounded by distant ghosts, each with a hole in his forehead.”

There were many ghosts. Thousands of old Bolsheviks, many of whom had fought with Trotsky as comrades in the civil war, perished in the purges.

The shadow of Stalin’s purges began to close in on Trotsky and his comrades. Ignace Reiss, a Soviet secret policeman who came over to the Fourth International, was found sprayed with bullets by a Swiss roadside.

In Paris Rudolf Klement, one of Trotsky’s most talented young secretaries, was kidnapped and murdered by the Stalinists, his body dumped in the river Seine.

For Trotsky and Natalia the grief was almost unbearable as, one by one, they lost their children. Their daughter Zina, deprived of her Soviet citizenship and unable to return to Russia, fell into a deep depression and committed suicide in Berlin.

Their son Leon Sedov, a key militant of the Fourth International who had written a scathing indictment of Stalin’s show trials, was betrayed by a Stalinist agent who he had trusted, and died mysteriously while in hospital for a minor illness.

Even Trotsky’s son Sergei, a Soviet engineer with no interest in politics, was accused of deliberately trying to gas the workers at his factory. He disappeared, and was never heard of again.

In the face of such emotional and psychological torture it is almost impossible to imagine how one could survive. Yet in these years Trotsky was to carry out what he regarded as the most important work of his life. Alone, of all the Russian revolutionary leaders, he laid the foundations for a new International.

He alone preserved the heritage of Bolshevism and developed revolutionary Marxism as a guide to action for coming generations.

Nor was this all. The great general who, locked in his Iron Train, had found time and energy enough to study French literature retained throughout his life a serious and informed interest in a wide range of topics.

Every new event in the class struggle propelled him into exhaustive study: of different countries, economic data, reports on the political situation, the history of the workers’ movement across the world.
Trotsky’s intellect moved from the particular to general, as he engaged with the philosophical and ethical debates of his day, subjecting the ideas of the liberal capitalist intelligentsia to Marxist criticism.

His interests were not confined to politics, in the narrowest sense of the word. The revolutionary discoveries of Sigmund Freud on the nature of the unconscious mind impressed and fascinated him.

Together with pioneers of the Surrealist movement, such as the French artist Andre Breton, Trotsky wrote a “Manifesto for Revolutionary Art”.

At the same time, no problem of the movement was too small to be worthy of Trotsky’s attention and advice. His writings are filled with letters to friends and comrades, offering advice on their daily struggles, the affairs of their trade unions, the problems of party organisation, of raising money and publishing papers.

One biographer of Trotsky has described him as an example of the “universal man” we associate with the years of the Renaissance - a man prepared to devote his labour to any sphere, to become an expert in any number of spheres, stopping at nothing to involve himself to the full in every human endeavour possible.

This is a good description of the man and his work and it was made possible for Trotsky because of his deeply felt commitment to science, progress and the unbounded potential of humanity, the continual advance of its knowledge and culture.

Today this ideal is seen as obsolete; faith in science and progress are treated as outmoded nineteenth century ideals.

The High Priests of Postmodernism are teaching students in universities across the world that all “grand narratives”, all systems of thought that claim to understand or explain the world, let alone to change it, are nothing more than illusions of the past.

The very notion of the “universal man” with faith in the advance of humanity appears in this light to be old-fashioned - even quaint.

Yet the fact that this charge can be laid against Trotsky and his world view tells us something disturbing about the times that we live in. Theories are being written off simply because they dare to offer an explanation for the motion of history and the laws of society’s development.

This is because in the late twentieth century our rulers have no theory of their own. Their economic orthodoxies have caused mass unemployment, falling living standards and ever increasing shocks to the economies of the Third World; their nationalist ideologies lead in a bloody downward spiral to genocide, ethnic cleansing and barbarism.

In the face of the collapse of their own theories, the capitalist class and their hired intellectuals seek to blame the very idea of theory itself.

That the idea of progress and human potential have come under fire is the greatest confession of intellectual and moral bankruptcy that capitalist society could make. The ruling class lack faith in the future of humanity because they can offer no future.

The end of the twentieth century is witnessing the exhaustion of bourgeois thought - the death agony of bourgeois ideology.

Propelled to power in the greatest revolution in history, at the head of a powerful International of parties numbering millions, with revolution sweeping Europe, Lenin, and Trotsky must have thought that the twentieth century would be the century of revolutionary victory and socialism.

How bitter then the defeats and retreats of the working class movement that the isolation of the Russian revolution brought in its wake. But Trotsky’ vision and faith in humanity gave him a motivation beyond mere personal power or fame.

In the midnight of the century, when the promise of earlier revolutionary victory turned to ashes, Trotsky did not despair. He fought on, charting the way ahead at even the most difficult turn, never giving up hope, always looking for the next step, the next crack in the international situation, the next opportunity for revolutionary advance.

He summarised the lessons of every defeat, sought to prepare the workers for the coming struggles, made war on the corrupt, the cynical, the misleaders of the working class, encouraged the workers’ self-confidence, their fighting spirit, their faith in their own destiny. In those dark years, no other partisan of the working class came close to the scale of his achievement. He never gave up.

They cut him down. On 19 August 1940, Trotsky woke feeling unusually well. He wrote some letters, took a short walk in his garden, and then turned to his most pressing work, an article on the war.

In the late afternoon, he received a visitor, a friend of one of his secretaries, who had brought an article to show him. Trotsky noticed that the man seemed unwell, and ushered him into his study.

The man’s real name was Ramon Mercader, an agent in the pay of Stalin’s secret police. As Trotsky sat at his desk to read the article, Mercader drew an ice axe from his coat pocket, and buried it in Trotsky’s skull.

Trotsky let out a great cry and fought back, throwing heavy objects from his table at the assassin, then grabbing hold of him and trying to wrestle him to the ground.

As the guards arrived and grabbed the assailant Trotsky was rushed to hospital with Natalia at his side. There he dictated a few words to his secretary Joseph Hansen, which ended with a declaration:

“I am sure of the victory of the Fourth International . . . go forward.”

He lost consciousness, and died of his wound in the night.

Trotsky’s confident prediction of the success of the Fourth International was not realised. Though the International fought bravely against the stream during the war, in its aftermath capitalism, in its imperialist heartlands, entered into a long period of relative stability and economic growth under the domination of the USA.

Rivalries between the imperialist powers were subordinated in the face of the new “Soviet threat”, as the USSR extended its system and political influence across Eastern Europe, and as Stalinism triumphed in China.

These developments had not been expected by the revolutionaries of the Fourth International. And they were quickly disoriented by them. Clinging to the perspectives of the Transitional Programme rather than adjusting them to the changed conditions, the Fourth International degenerated in the post war years, eventually fragmenting in 1953.

Expecting a new revolutionary wave to emerge, the Fourth International remained true to Trotsky’s flawed perspective whilst abandoning what was ultimately far more important in his programme - its revolutionary method.

When the Yugoslav Communist Party and its bureaucratic leader, Tito, broke with Stalin in 1948 in what was essentially a nationalistic dispute, the young leaders of the Fourth International declared that Tito was no longer a Stalinist.

They decided that it was no longer necessary to build a revolutionary party in Yugoslavia. The Fourth International put its faith instead in the idea that the Stalinist Party itself would move automatically to the left under the pressure of the masses.

This was, in reality, a break with Trotsky not a continuation of his work and it marked the decisive turning point for the Fourth International away from the programme of revolutionary Marxism. In 1951 the “turn” towards Stalinism was approved by a congress of the whole Fourth International.

This political collapse was followed within two years by organisational collapse. In 1953 the International split into two rival halves - both of which held to the new centrist line.

Many more splits followed on from this initial rupture. Increasingly the fragments of the Fourth International looked to other forces from within Stalinism and Social Democracy to carry out the revolutionary tasks that only the workers themselves can solve.

They buried themselves deep in the Social Democratic and Stalinist parties, hiding the revolutionary programme, and trusting in the “historic process” to push the mass workers’ parties towards revolutionary conclusions.

Adapting here to Stalinism, there to Social Democracy or the nationalism of the anti-colonial movements, they gutted Trotskyism of its revolutionary content, abandoning the essence of Trotsky’s fight for permanent revolution in all but name. Revolutionary opportunities were missed - the vanguard parties were not built.

Yet the approach of the new century has brought a sharp end to the long years of the Cold War and its old world order. Long predicted by Trotsky, the Stalinist bureaucracy finally brought the USSR and the degenerate workers’ states of Eastern Europe to ruin.

Unable to take their societies out of stagnation, the mass of the people took to the streets and brought the entire structure of the Stalinist party and police dictatorships crashing down. But by 1989 the Fourth International had ceased to exist as a revolutionary force.

The programme of Trotskyism was unknown to working people who had suffered decades of repression in the name of “socialism”. They turned to the forces of capitalist democracy for salvation.

The “victory” of imperialism in the Cold War is, however, quickly turning sour. After the initial drunken celebrations, the bourgeoisie are holding their aching heads. There is precious little confidence in the ruling circles of Washington, Tokyo, London, Paris and Bonn.

In the East, the workers are slowly re-discovering the realities of the market - mass unemployment, the smashing of social services, crime, corruption, exploitation and war.

In the semi-colonial world, the anger of subject nationalities is rising as the imperialist powers sell them “peace deals” which demand their unconditional surrender in return for nothing of any substance.

And in the advanced capitalist countries, the system that has brought us microcomputers and space flight cannot guarantee even a minimum standard of living for millions of its workers.

Instead of a share in the product of generations of labour, the workers of Europe, Japan and the USA are being offered only cuts in welfare, fewer hospitals, schools and benefits, mass sackings and insecurity.

In a world in which 250 people own more than the combined wealth of half the world’s nations, the need for a socialist system of planned production and equal distribution has never been greater. Marxism remains the only scientific theory of how this can be achieved - no one has ever produced an alternative.

There is only one theory that has applied Marxism in a revolutionary way to the world we live in today. It is known to its enemies as it is to its supporters: Trotskyism.

The working class and above all the youth have no reason to follow the ideologists of the capitalists into doubt and despair.

For us the notion of raising the potential of species, understanding our history and our planet, striving to change them - these are not the delusions of the distant past but the necessities of the future, great goals without which we cannot hold up our heads and claim to be living our lives to the full.

If the gravest accusation that can be levelled today against Trotskyism is that it has faith in the future, then Trotskyists proudly plead guilty as charged.

In 1901 the young Trotsky wrote a short piece on optimism and the twentieth century. Many had hoped that the new century would bring a new dawn of peace and love. Instead, it brought “hatred and murder, famine and blood.”

But it did not shake Trotsky’s revolutionary optimism:

“Death to utopia! Death to faith! Death to love! Death to hope! thunders the twentieth century in salvos of fire and in the rumbling of guns.

Surrender, you pathetic dreamer. Here I am, your long awaited twentieth century, your ‘future’.

No replies the unhumbled optimist: You - you are only the present.”

Before his death, and despite all he had lived through, Trotsky retained this unshakeable faith in the future. He wrote the following lines, to serve as his Testament:

“For forty-three years of my conscious life I have remained a revolutionist; for forty two of them I have fought under the banner of Marxism. If I had to begin all over again I would of course try to avoid this or that mistake, but the main course of my life would remain unchanged. I shall die a proletarian revolutionist, a Marxist, a dialectical materialist, and consequently, an irreconcilable atheist. My faith in the communist future of mankind is not less ardent, indeed it is firmer today, than it was in the days of my youth.

“Natasha has just come up to the window from the courtyard and opened it wider so that the air may enter more freely into my room. I can see the bright green strip of grass beneath the wall, and the clear sky above the wall, and sunlight everywhere. Life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression and violence and enjoy it to the full.”