on 25 December 2010
"Terrorism and Communism" is a book first published in 1920. The author was the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, at the time one of the leaders of the Bolshevik Party and commander of the Red Army. The book was translated to several foreign languages, including English. The American edition was titled "Democracy vs. Dictatorship", and the British edition apparently bore the title "The Defence of Terrorism". Trotsky's book was distributed by Communist organizations, and thus had an official or at least semi-official status. When Trotsky fell from grace in the Soviet Union, the book was naturally taken out of circulation by the Communists. Today, it's hardly even reprinted by Trotskyists. I have the New Park editions, published in 1975 by the Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP) in Britain. (As a curious aside, the book is highly regarded by the Bordigists, an ultraleftist current which usually regards Trotsky as too soft!)
"Terrorism and Communism" is a response to an anti-Bolshevik pamphlet bearing the same title, a pamphlet published in Germany and written by the Social Democrat Karl Kautsky. (Kautsky's original work is available free on-line.) Of course, the Bolsheviks and Kautsky were constantly involved in a war of words. One of Lenin's works is also directed against Kautsky. What makes Trotsky's book interesting is something else.
Trotsky lost the power struggles after Lenin's death, and was eventually extradited from the Soviet Union. In 1940, he was assassinated by a Stalinist agent in Mexico City. By that time, Trotsky had organized an international movement of his own, known as the Fourth International. The Trotskyists tried to put themselves forward as champions of "workers' democracy". In the Transitional Program, Trotsky demanded the legalization of opposition parties in the Soviet Union, more specifically "soviet" parties. He also wrote that the workers themselves should decide which parties are "soviet" parties. In context, this was probably a reference to Mensheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries and anarchists. However, it's a well known historical fact that the Bolsheviks set up one party rule already under Lenin. Did Trotsky have a sudden change of heart?
No, not really. The demand for free elections in the Soviet Union was a tactical move directed against Stalin. When Trotsky had been in power in Soviet Russia, his line was very different. He helped set up the one party state, and supported the very principle of one party rule. "Terrorism and Communism" is very outspoken on this point. It's an open defence of the Bolshevik regime, penned by Trotsky himself at the height of his power. Even in exile, he instructed the Trotskyist movement to reprint it. A new British edition was published in 1935, and a French edition the year after. Trotsky, it seems, tried to have it both ways. With a few exceptions, such as the WRP, latter day Trotskyists have chosen not to republish the work. One reason is that the Fourth International has become quite "soft" and therefore prefers "workers' democracy" to red terror. Another reason, I suspect, is tactical. Even "hard" Trotskyists want to bee seen as champions of workers' power.
I will end this review with a few pertinent quotations, taken from the New Park edition, ppg. 121-124.
"In the hands of the party is concentrated the general control. It does not immediately administer, since its apparatus is not adapted for this purpose. But it has the final word in all fundamental questions. Further, our practice has led to the result that, in all moot questions, generally - conflicts between departments and personal conflicts within departments - the last word belongs to the Central Committee of the party. This affords extreme economy of time and energy, and in the most difficult and complicated circumstances gives a guarantee for the necessary unity of action. Such a regime is possible only in the presence of the unquestioned authority of the party, and the faultlessness of its discipline."
"The exclusive role of the Communist Party under the conditions of a victorious proletarian revolution is quite comprehensible. The question is of the dictatorship of a class. In the composition of that class there enter various elements, heterogenous moods, different levels of development. Yet the dictatorship pre-supposes unity of will, unity of direction, unity of action. By what other path then can it be attained? The revolutionary supremacy of the proletariat pre-supposes within the proletariat itself the political supremacy of a party, with a clear programme of action and a faultless internal discipline. The policy of coalitions contradicts internally the regime of the revolutionary dictatorship. We have in view, not coalitions with bourgeois parties, of which of course there can be no talk, but a coalition of communists with other "socialist" organizations, representing different stages of backwardness and prejudice of the labouring masses."
"The continuous "independence" of the trade union movement, in the period of the proletarian revolution, is just as much an impossibility as the policy of coalition. The trade unions become the most important economic organs of the proletariat in power. Thereby they fall under the leadership of the Communist Party. Not only questions of principle within the trade union movement, but serious conflicts of organization within it, are decided by the Central Committee of our party. The Kautskians attack the Soviet government as the dictatorship of a "section" of the working class. "If only", they say, "the dictatorship was carried out by the *whole* class!" It is not easy to understand what actually they imagine when they say this. The dictatorship of the proletariat, in its very essence, signifies the immediate supremacy of the revolutionary vanguard, which relies upon the heavy masses, and, where necessary, obliges the backward tail to dress by the head. This refers also to the trade unions. After the conquest of power by the proletariat, they acquire a compulsory character. They must include all industrial workers. The party, on the other hand, as before, include in its ranks only the most class-conscious and devoted; and only in a process of careful selection does it widen its ranks. Hence follows the guiding role of the communist minority in the trade unions, which answers to the supremacy of the Communist Party in the soviets, and represents the political expression of the dictatorship of the proletariat."
One party rule, an omnipotent Central Committee, government-controlled trade unions...
This is the real Trotsky.