This lecture was delivered before an audience of 450 people on the occasion of the publication of the German-language edition of The Russian Revolution and the Unfinished Twentieth Century.
Leon Trotsky (1879-1940) was, alongside Vladimir Lenin, the greatest revolutionary leader of the 20th century.
Trotsky and Lenin led the Bolshevik Party and the Russian working class in the 1917 October Revolution, which established the first workers state in human history. In 1923, Trotsky founded the Left Opposition to oppose the growth of a nationalist bureaucracy, headed by Joseph Stalin, as it usurped power in the Soviet Union. In 1933, following the coming to power of the Nazis in Germany, facilitated by the disastrous policies of the Comintern that Trotsky had opposed, Trotsky called for the founding of the Fourth International to carry forward the fight for Marxism against the Stalinist degeneration of the Soviet Union and the Third International.
Two years after the founding of the Fourth International in 1938, Trotsky was assassinated at the hands of a Stalinist agent, Ramón Mercader, in Coyoacán, Mexico. His assassination was the most conscious attempt by Stalinism and world imperialism to decapitate the leadership of the international working class in the midst of the slaughter of World War II.
The Fourth International founded by Trotsky is today led by the International Committee, which publishes the World Socialist Web Site. The International Committee of the Fourth International has defended the program and principles of genuine Trotskyism since 1953.
This lecture on Robert Service’s biography of Trotsky was delivered by David North, chairman of the International Editorial Board of the WSWS, at the University of Oxford on May 5.
Netflix is currently presenting to its worldwide audience the virulently anti-Semitic television series, Trotsky, which was originally produced by the Russian state in 2017.
We are publishing here the lecture given by David North, chairman of the International Editorial Board of the World Socialist Web Site, at the University of Leipzig on March 16. North is the author of In Defense of Leon Trotsky, a defense of historical truth and the legacy of Trotsky against the falsifications in the biography of Trotsky by Robert Service.
The perspective that guided the Bolshevik Party in the seizure of power in October 1917 was based upon the theory of permanent revolution, which had been elaborated by Trotsky eleven years earlier, in 1906. Trotsky had subjected the experience of the defeat of the 1905 Russian Revolution to a thorough Marxist analysis.
The theory of permanent revolution insists upon the independent and leading political role of the working class in achieving the democratic tasks of a revolution in countries of a belated capitalist development and oppressed by imperialism, such as national unification and liberation from colonial, landlordist and caste oppression. Moreover, it insists upon the historical inseparability of those tasks from the struggle for international socialism.
The following lecture was given by David North, the national secretary of the Socialist Equality Party in the US, on February 3, 1993 in Montreal. It was in commemoration of the life and political contribution of Keerthi Balasuriya, the longtime leader of the Sri Lankan section of International Committee of the Fourth International (then called the Revolutionary Communist League). Comrade Balasuriya died tragically of a heart attack in December 1987 at the age of thirty-nine.
The essential theoretical issues that arose in the struggle over these two opposed perspectives were not only fought out by Trotsky against the Stalinist bureaucracy in the latter half of the 1920s, but have reemerged as the subject of repeated struggles within the Fourth International itself.
The following is the text of a lecture given January 21, 2001 by David North, the chairman of the International Editorial Board of the WSWS and national secretary of the Socialist Equality Party of the US, to an international school held in Sydney by the Socialist Equality Party of Australia.
Written as an appendix to Trotsky's projected biography of Lenin, and included in his unfinished biography of Stalin, this work contrasts the perspectives of the Russian Revolution advanced by Plekhanov, Lenin and Trotsky. He outlines the Menshevik position (“The social relations of Russia have ripened only for the bourgeois revolution”); Lenin's pre-1917 theory of the "democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry" (which Lenin discarded when he wrote his April Theses in 1917); and his own theory of permanent revolution, "the original sin of Trotskyism." He also traces Stalin's attitude to the debates as they unfolded, and shows how the theory of "socialism in one country" was a bureaucratic reaction against the October Revolution.
In October 1917, in the midst of the slaughter of World War I, the Russian working class, led by the Bolshevik Party under the leadership of Vladmir Lenin and Leon Trotsky, overthrew the capitalist provisional government headed by Alexander Kerensky and established the first workers’ state in world history. Less than nine months earlier, Russia had been ruled by a monarchical dynasty headed by Tsar Nicholas II. The revolution was the beginning of the end of the imperialist war.
The Russian Revolution marked a new stage in world history. The overthrow of the capitalist Provisional Government proved that an alternative to capitalism was not a utopian dream, but a real possibility that could be achieved through the conscious political struggle of the working class.
Trotsky and his supporters formed the Left Opposition in October 1923. Its aim was to reform the Communist Party and Comintern along the line of socialist internationalism, against the rising conservative, nationalist bureaucracy headed by Joseph Stalin.
The conflict that emerged between Stalin and Trotsky was between irreconcilable political programs. The consolidation of power by Stalin, and the bureaucratic dictatorship that he personified, was not inevitable. It developed out of the conditions of an economically backward and isolated workers' state due to the delay of the international and European revolution.
In his critique of Stalinism, Trotsky developed a theory of world socialist revolution that proved immeasurably more far-sighted than the pragmatic nationalist maneuvers of the Stalinist bureaucrats.
The principled strategy of bringing about the reform of the Russian Communist Party and Comintern had guided the International Left Opposition since its founding in 1923. But the coming to power of the Nazis in Germany in 1933, facilitated by Stalin’s disastrous policies, demanded a reconsideration of this policy.
In the months that followed Hitler’s victory, Trotsky waited to see if any criticism of the policies pursued by Stalin would emerge from any of the parties of the Comintern. On April 7, 1933, the Communist International unequivocally endorsed the policies of the German Communist Party. Trotsky concluded that a new course was necessary. In a statement dated July 15, 1933, he called for a break with the Comintern and the building of a new International. The entire remainder of his life was devoted to this struggle.
The signing of the Stalin-Hitler Pact in August 1939 and the subsequent outbreak of World War II led to a political crisis inside the Socialist Workers Party in the United States. A political faction led by Max Shachtman, James Burnham and Martin Abern argued that the Soviet Union could no longer be designated a workers’ state. Flowing from this change in their definition of the class nature of the Soviet State—which Burnham now characterized as “bureaucratic collectivist”—they stated that the Fourth International should not call for the defense of the USSR in the event of war.
Trotsky replied that the characterization of the Stalinist regime as “bureaucratic collectivist”—a new and unprecedented form of exploitative society, unforeseen by Marxism—had far-reaching political and historical implications. At issue, in the final analysis, was the historical viability of the Marxist project itself.
In the final months of his life, Trotsky contributed several documents to the struggle within the SWP, that are among his most brilliant and far-sighted. In April 1940, the faction of Burnham and Shachtman split from the Fourth International.
Trotsky’s assassination ranks among the most politically consequential crimes of the twentieth century, with far-reaching implications for the international working class and the world socialist movement. And yet, for decades, the circumstances surrounding the assassination remained shrouded in secrecy. The massive scale of the Stalinist conspiracy against Trotsky was the subject of a carefully orchestrated cover-up.
In 1975, the International Committee of the Fourth International launched the first systematic investigation by the Trotskyist movement into the assassination. This investigation, known as Security and the Fourth International, led to the exposure of the network of GPU agents within the Fourth International that ensured the success of Stalin’s conspiracy against Trotsky’s life.