Why Trotskyism Is Reactionary

29 December 2023 63 hits

The Progressive Labor Party recognizes that Trotskyism is phony communism, also called "revisionism" – capitalist ideas in a left disguise. Many people, including many Trotskyists themselves, don’t understand the reactionary essence of Trotskyism.

In this article we’ll expose the fallacies of Trotskyism in two ways.

  • We’ll discuss some facts about Trotsky himself that expose how reactionary he was.

  • We’ll expose the idealist* – non-Marxist, anti-materialist – basis of Trotskyism.

Trotskyist groups trace their beginnings in pro-Trotsky factions within the Bolshevik Party — called the Communist Party of the Soviet Union/Bolshevik, or CPSU(b) – during the 1920s. When Trotsky was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1928, his supporters were also expelled from other parties in the Communist International, or ‘Comintern’, or quit on their own. Some of these groups formed new Trotskyist parties in various countries, continuing after Trotsky’s assassination in 1940.

Never large or influential anywhere, the Trotskyist parties did attract left-leaning and anti-Soviet intellectuals, though few workers. Their determined struggle against the Soviet Union and Comintern earned them publicity by the capitalists far beyond their numbers.

After Khrushchev’s denunciations of Stalin in 1956 and 1961, but especially with the end of the USSR in the early ‘90s, the pro-Soviet revisionist groups shrank in numbers and influence. The disappearance of pro-China communist groups after Deng Xiao-ping had led the Chinese Communist Party swiftly to the right upon Mao Tse-tung’s death in 1976 completed the collapse of the old Communist movement. Trotskyist political parties have become more prominent in a much smaller "left" no longer dominated by pro-Soviet groups.

Cult of "Great Leaders" Always Reactionary

Even if Trotsky had been a great revolutionary and theorist like Marx or Lenin, Trotskyism would still be reactionary, because Trotskyist groups treat him as an unquestionable authority. In reality, Trotsky was a dishonest reactionary, whose arrogance and great ego led him to be one of the main founts of anti-communism for capitalist exploiters.

We in PLP do not intend to simply continue the "Stalin – Trotsky" battles of the past. In The Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels wrote that workers "have nothing to lose but their chains." The working class has no reason to hang on to outmoded ideas, refight old battles, or embrace errors made by our heroic ancestors in the communist movement.

We have studied Trotskyism, ready to learn whatever we might find that was valuable. If Trotskyism, and Trotskyist parties, offered anything positive, we would embrace it. If Trotskyists were forces we ever could unite with, we would do so.

But we can’t. Trotskyism has nothing positive to offer the world’s working class and the struggle for a communist world. It is a reactionary, idealist philosophy.

Leon Trotsky 1879-1940

Trotsky was a brilliant man, a fluent and prolific writer, a powerful public speaker and, until August 1917, a Menshevik. By the middle of 1917 the Tsar had abdicated, a government of big capitalists had taken over Russia, and the working class in the large cities had proven open to revolutionary leadership. Trotsky and some others, the "Mezhraiontsy" or Inter-district committee, joined the Bolshevik Party, where Lenin immediately put Trotsky on the Central Committee. He played some role in the 1917 revolution, when the Bolsheviks overthrew the capitalist government, and a more important role as military and political leader during the Civil War for the next four years.

Trotsky shared with Lenin and the rest of the Bolsheviks the view that the working class in Russia could not long hold power without revolutions in the advanced industrial countries of Western Europe. Trotsky was on the "right" of this continuum of views, believing more firmly than most that a failure of such revolutions would inevitably doom the socialist revolution in Russia. Others were less fatalistic.

This belief led Trotsky to advocate devoting all efforts to stimulating international revolutions. That, in turn, earned Trotsky a reputation as a "leftist". But note that this "super-revolutionary" attitude and this reputation come from an economic determinist, pessimistic, and ultimately "right" analysis – that capitalism still had a "progressive" role to play in industrializing Russia, unless this could be done with the aid of more advanced socialist countries.

Trotsky’s Arrogance

Many former Mensheviks became good Bolsheviks. All Bolsheviks had doubts and questions about how to develop "socialism in one country" if – as proved the case – there were no helpful revolutions in advanced capitalist societies. What determined Trotsky’s reactionary political path was his personality – his personal weaknesses.

Trotsky was an extreme individualist. Arrogant in his personal relations, he angered even his greatest admirers. Trotsky was convinced that he alone deserved to succeed Lenin as leader of the Bolshevik Party. Politically, this meant that Trotsky was constantly trying to gain power, forming alliances with other prominent Bolsheviks rather than supporting the party’s line. Arrogance, of course, is an extreme form of idealism.


During the 1920s the Bolsheviks had annual Conferences and Congresses in which they openly debated the future course of the revolution. Trotsky’s positions were consistently defeated. Since his great ego could not accept these defeats, Trotsky continued to form secret alliances with other dissident communists, even after such "factions" had been outlawed by a party vote in 1921.

According to Democratic Centralism, all communists must fight to put the party’s line into practice once it has been decided upon by debate and vote. There is no other way to judge whether the Party’s line is correct or not. For, if all members do not try to put it into effect with all their effort, who can say, in the case of failure, whether the line was incorrect, or whether it was correct but just never carried out?

Factionalism creates a situation where party members spend their time organizing around their own line, rather than vigorously trying to put the party’s line into effect. This is a recipe for idealism, careerism, and disaster.

Trotsky was called to account time and again for this in the party debates of the 1920s, recanted – dishonestly, as it turned out — and was eventually expelled for incorrigible factionalizing. When he and some followers organized a counter-demonstration at the Bolshevik Revolution’s 10th anniversary in 1927, Trotsky was expelled from the Party, exiled to a remote city, and finally deported from the USSR in January 1929.

Utterly lacking in modesty and self-criticism, Trotsky rationalized his factional activity by attributing his political defeats to dishonest maneuvers – "stacking the votes", admitting "politically immature" workers as members, and counter-factionalizing. He never accepted that his ideas were, or could be, wrong. He had no faith in the collective discussions and struggles of the Bolshevik party. He was out of touch with reality. In short, he was an idealist.

To account for his defeats Trotsky always complained about a "lack of democracy" in the Party But within the ranks of his own followers he tolerated no disagreement. The Trotskyist movement was a caricature of a "cult of personality." The "cult of Stalin" has long since been criticized – Stalin himself attacked it many times — and is gone. But the "cult of Trotsky" has survived to the present day. No Trotskyist group publicly criticizes The Master. Trotsky’s writings are said to be always right, unchanging – naturally, since Trotsky was killed in 1940 – and yet, somehow, still always valid.

Of course this is idealist nonsense. No ideas can be "forever correct", and Trotsky’s were never correct in the first place. Marx once said: Criticize everything! That is the only materialist, scientific way to proceed. Trotskyist groups have no chance whatsoever of understanding reality correctly, much less of leading a working-class movement for communism, because they are devoted to an idealist, religion-like reverence for Trotsky’s works.

This attitude stems from Trotsky himself. One source was Trotsky’s own egoism. Another was his removal from political struggle. He had long been divorced from contact with the working class, shown by his proposal in the early 20s to ban unions and put workers under military discipline. His following was overwhelmingly among intellectuals. After his exile in 1929, this divorce from practice deepened.

Communists know that, even with a thorough grounding in Marxism-Leninism, only devoted political practice in the working-class movement makes any kind of correct understanding of reality, and evaluation of theory, possible. The Chinese Communist Party led by Mao Tse-tung discovered – not by "theory," but through practice forced upon them by bitter necessity – that peasants could be the leading force for a working-class revolution and, therefore, that the dictatorship of the working class could be won in a basically agricultural country. But to faithful Trotskyists the Chinese Revolution, like that in the Soviet Union, was "doomed from the start," because it did not follow Trotsky’s economic-determinist path!

A third result of Trotsky’s own idealism and arrogance was his "great man" theory of "Stalin-as-devil." Since Stalin — a modest man of working-class background and a better listener than a speaker — had defeated him, the "great genius", it must have been through dishonesty.

Trotsky originated the false notion of Stalin as a power-hungry, all-powerful, malevolent monster who supposedly ran the USSR to suit his own paranoid fantasies. This version of the "great man" theory is simply a mirror-image of Trotsky’s own inflated view of himself, and is equally idealist. Neither Stalin nor anyone else was or could be like this.

But this notion of "Stalinism" originated with Trotsky and his followers, who are its greatest champions. It was enthusiastically embraced by all anti-communists, and is the main bourgeois version of anti-communism today. Trotsky became the main fount of anti-communism. In all the many books he wrote while in exile in the ‘30s he – Trotsky – is the hero, while Stalin is the villain.

Some bourgeois historians say Trotsky falsified his own role in the Revolution. Certainly all his versions of subsequent political struggles are dishonest. His biography of Stalin opens with a racist account of Stalin’s ancestry derived, as he admits himself, from – a Nazi!

Trotsky’s Corruption

During the mid-1930s three public trials were held in Moscow. Former Bolshevik leaders, together with many lesser figures, confessed to plotting against the Soviet government in collusion with the exiled Trotsky. They also confessed to contacts with German and Japanese militarists.

Twenty years later Khrushchev announced that the charges were lies, and "rehabilitated" the "victims" – meaning, declared them innocent, but without any evidence. Trotsky and his followers seemed to be vindicated. But after Trotsky’s archives (at Harvard) were opened in 1980, researchers learned that, sure enough, Trotsky had lied when he said he had not been in touch with prominent oppositionists within the USSR.

Since 1991 a number of the confessions on which the Moscow Trials were based have been published. The circumstances surrounding them make it clear that they were not forged or obtained under torture. This strongly suggests that the original charges made against the defendants  in the famous Moscow Trials – including against Trotsky, who was an "absent defendant" in each trial – were more or less true. A dangerous conspiracy against the Soviet government really did exist. There is even some evidence that Trotsky was indeed in contact with Japanese militarists.

Even while denying all this, Trotsky was calling for the overthrow of the Soviet government, trying to gain admission to the US so he could testify before the anti-working class House Committee on Un-American Activities, informing on Communists in Mexico to the FBI, and writing attacks on Stalin and the USSR in the American capitalist press, such as Life magazine. This behavior cost Trotsky many of his bourgeois sympathizers.

Trotskyism Today

The Trotskyist movement reflects all the same idealist errors of its origins. To them, Trotsky’s writings offer "answers" to all the problems of the world’s working class – which are, of course, the same answers as Trotsky "discovered" in the ‘20s and, especially, the ‘30s, when he had little to do but write and plot.

The Trotskyists continue the "cult" of Trotsky. They never criticize him, and so never learn anything. They never doubt that Trotsky’s works were valid in their own time – which they were not and could not have been – and they believe that they are still just as valid today.

They distrust workers, because – remember – the "ignorant" Soviet workers of the 1920s rejected Trotsky’s "brilliant" leadership and ideas for the "dull" Stalin, while "smart" intellectuals embraced Trotsky in larger numbers. Like Trotsky himself, they are utterly incapable of communist modesty and self-criticism.

Trotskyists treat Trotsky’s voluminous writings as though they were accurate, trustworthy accounts, instead of heavily biased, self-serving stories. They would laugh to scorn anyone who took this attitude to, say, Stalin’s works, but they cannot see the same error when they make it themselves.

They are also "locked" into the "cult of Lenin", which Trotsky shared with Stalin and the communist movement generally. Many of Lenin’s statements are similar to Trotsky’s. Many of Lenin’s statements also provided support for Stalin’s later policies. For Trotskyists, the "cult" of Lenin sustains the "cult" of Trotsky. Real Marxist-Leninists recognize that all such "cults" are reactionary, idealist.

They also "believe" – take on faith – Trotsky’s denials that he was involved in plotting the overthrow of the Soviet government. In general, they believe everything Trotsky said.

In short, Trotskyists’ whole political perspective is based upon refusal to question Trotsky, his writings, and his actions. Since they never question Trotsky, they are doomed to repeat Trotsky’s errors, while adding some errors of their own.

Today the line of the Trotskyist groups is much like that of the revisionist, formerly pro-Soviet, groups:

  • support for nationalism among "oppressed nations," which history has proven to be no solution to imperialist or capitalist oppression;

  • United Fronts with "liberal" bourgeois groups against fascism, or simply against conservatives;

  • the promotion of "socialism," meaning pretty much what the Soviets meant by it – social-welfare state capitalism, with great inequalities among managers and workers – the same system that led right back to capitalism everywhere it was tried;

  • a "multi-stage" theory of how to arrive at communism – in the rare instances when they even mention communism – , and therefore no fight for communist revolution at all.

Factionalism remains a principle in all Trotskyist parties and groups. Consequently, Trotskyist groups are continually splitting into more groups. Each of these grouplets competes in the game of ‘Who follows The Master the most faithfully?’ Therefore, each becomes more and more entrenched in its idealism and sectarianism.

The main political errors of Trotskyist groups are the same as they have been for many years. This is logical, since they cannot change their basic ideas in conformity with reality.

The main importance of Trotskyist groups for the capitalist ruling classes are the following:

  • misleading mass movements into alliances with the "liberal" ruling class – the main forces of capitalist rule – against "reactionaries" and fascists;

  • misleading honest people into supporting nationalism, rather than fighting for proletarian internationalism, even when those nationalists are overtly fascist.

  • most important, spreading anti-communist lies, especially concerning the history of the Communist movement, and most especially, about Stalin and the Soviet Union in his day.

What Real Communists – the PLP – Are Like

We in PLP are very appreciative of the history of the dictatorship of the proletariat under the leadership of Lenin, Stalin, and Mao. The great communists movements associated with these leaders’ names accomplished wonderful things for the working class of the world. We have much positive to learn from them.

At the same time, we are sharply critical of the errors these great movements and leaders made. We have long made public our criticisms of Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Mao in Road to Revolution III (1971) and Road to Revolution IV (1982), and in many articles in PL Magazine and The Communist. We continue to do this.

Communists in PLP believe that as workers we have no "sacred cows," Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, or anyone else, whom we hold "beyond criticism." Despite their many successes, the communist movement represented and led by these great figures failed to build a classless, egalitarian society run by workers. We have to be the "dwarves on the shoulders of giants," seeing farther than they because we build upon their successes.

* Idealism: here, the belief that knowledge of reality can be gotten from applying a fixed set of ideas, rather than through a scientific process of study and struggle. Trotskyism is one form of idealism disguised as Marxism-Leninism.