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So you say you want a revolution
by Leon Trotsky
Friday Dec 6th, 2013 6:22 PM
Excerpts from the book The First 5 Years Of The Communist International by Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky on how to -- and NOT to -- organize for radical change. Enormously relevant to these times, in the U.S. and globally.
So you say you want a revolution ...

Freedom Socialist newspaper, Vol. 34, No. 6, December 2013-January 2014

Excerpts from The First 5 Years Of The Communist International (1924, two volumes) by Leon Trotsky

Leon Trotsky, a co-leader with Lenin of the Russian Revolution in 1917, compiled a collection of documents he authored during the first years of the Communist International organization. It is chock full of insights on organizing a revolution — or failing to — in the wave of insurrections across Europe during the early 1920s. Today, in a time of the momentous Arab Spring and revolutionary upsurge worldwide, modern socialist activists and Left parties can learn pivotal lessons about political strategies, tactics, and goals for urgent 21st-century struggles. Here are a few quotations from this enormously relevant book.

• • •

Revolution: ready or not

“History does not tarry until the corresponding class, in our case the proletariat, organizes itself, clarifies its consciousness, and steels its will, in order then graciously to invite it to accomplish the revolution on the basis of these socially and economically mature conditions. No, things happen in a different way. The objective necessity of revolution may already be completely at hand. The working class may, however, not yet be fully prepared, while the Communist Party, may, of course, embrace only an insignificant minority of the working class. Comrades, what will occur then? There will occur a very prolonged and sanguinary [bloody] revolution, and in the very course of the revolution the party and the working class will have to make up for what they lacked at the outset.” [Vol. I, Ch. 26]

Timing is everything

Having a large electoral base of 3,600,000 communist workers proved to be no guarantee of success in Germany in the early 1920s’. Correct timing and strategy is crucial in the revolutionary process. As Trotsky notes in the introduction:

“Two greatest lessons mark the history of the German Communist Party: March 1921 and November 1923. In the first case, the party mistook its own impatience for a mature revolutionary situation; in the second case, it was unable to recognize a mature revolutionary situation and let it slip by. ... Fascism was and remains strongest in those countries where the proletariat came closest to power, but was unable to hold it: Italy, Germany, Hungary, etc.”

The need for a revolutionary party

“Without our party the 1917 [Russian] overturn would not, of course, have taken place and the entire fate of our country would have been different. It would have been thrown back to vegetate as a colonial country; it would have been plundered by and divided among the imperialist powers of the world. That this did not happen was guaranteed historically by the arming of the working class with the incomparable sword, our Communist Party. This did not happen in post-war Europe.” [Vol. II, Ch. 28]

For example:

“In September 1920 the working class of Italy had, in effect, gained control of the state, of society, of factories, plants and enterprises. What was lacking? A party was lacking, which would, resting upon the insurrectionary working class, have engaged in an open struggle with the bourgeoisie for those remnants of material forces still in the latter’s hands, destroying those forces, seizing power and thus consummating the victory of the working class.” [Vol. II, Ch. 20]

“[U]nder certain conditions even a small party can become the leading organization not only of the labor movement but also of the workers’ revolution. This can happen only on the proviso that this small party discerns in its smallness not an advantage but the greatest misfortune of which it must be rid as speedily as possible.” [Vol. I, Ch. 26]

Anarcho-syndicalism, pacifism and reformism — obstacles to revolution
Trotsky criticized the anarcho-syndicalists for proclaiming that the syndicates (trade unions) were

“… the sole legitimate and genuine revolutionary form of the labor movement. Counterposed to parliamentary representation … was the direct action of the working masses, and therewith the leading role was assigned to a formless, initiating minority, as the organ of this direct action.

“This brief characterization of syndicalism attests to the fact that . . . its fundamental theoretical errors militated against the creation of a stable, ideologically-fused revolutionary core, capable of counterposing itself in action to the patriotic and reformist tendencies.” [Vol. I, Ch. 10]

Anarchists deny that

“the struggle for the conquest of the state apparatus is revolutionary politics. To renounce it is to renounce the fundamental tasks of the revolutionary class.” [Vol. I, Ch. 10]

It is absolutely impermissible to take a position of

“tearful pacifism, which propagates among workers a debilitating hostility towards revolutionary violence in the face of the triumphant violence of the bourgeoisie. Under the guise of the struggle against militarism, a struggle is thus being conducted against the ideas of revolution.” [Vol. II, Ch. 8]

“The objective conditions of the capitalist world are today least suited for reformism and pacifism. But it is quite probable that the foundering of these illusions in practice will have to be experienced before victory of the revolution becomes possible.” [Vol. II, Ch. 22]

“Our task will then consist in transforming the epoch of reformist and pacifist deception into a prelude to the conquest of power by the revolutionary proletariat.” [Vol. II, Ch. 20]

Revolutionary youth

“And when the hour of great battles strikes, a very great role will be played in them by the youth. We need only recall the Red Army in which the youth played a decisive role not only politically but in a purely military sense. As a matter of fact, what is the Red Army, Comrades? It is nothing but the armed and organized youth of Russia. What did we do when we had to launch an offensive? We appealed to the organizations of the youth, and these organizations would carry out a mobilization.” [Vol. I, Ch. 26]

Key to success: building a united front around transitional demands

“Preparation for us means the creation of such conditions as would secure us the sympathy of the broadest masses. We cannot under any conditions renounce this factor. The idea of replacing the will of the masses by the resoluteness of the so-called vanguard is absolutely impermissible and non-Marxist.” [Vol. I, Ch. 26]

“We must conquer the confidence of the overwhelming majority of the toilers . . . in the course of struggle for the transitional demands under the general slogan of the proletarian united front.” [Vol. II, Ch. 22]

“The fighting slogans for the vital material demands of the proletariat must serve as a means of realizing in life the united front against economic and political reaction.” [Vol. II, Ch. 25]

“The party of the social revolution is obligated to learn in action how to fuse together the majority of the working class, utilizing to this end every opportunity for mass action that opens up. The outlived groupings and factions are interested in preserving intact and immutable all the barriers dividing the working class into segments. We, on the other hand, have a vital stake in pulling down these barriers of conservatism and in teaching the working class to follow our example. Herein lies the whole meaning of the united front policy, a meaning which derives directly from the social revolutionary essence of our party.” [Vol. II, Ch. 18]

“The tactic of the workers’ united front must be our governing rule for every mass action.” [Vol. II, Ch. 25]


The fundamentally reactionary and anti-working class character of Trotsky's politics and be seen here:

"(In his) 1920 book, Terrorism or Communism: A Reply to Karl Kautsky, in particular, Chapter 8, entitled The Soviet Government and Industry. Trotsky argues here for "compulsory labor service" and the "militarization of labor."

Trotsky bases his argument in these chapters on a view of human nature in which people are considered to be innately lazy: "As a general rule, man strives to avoid labor. Love for work is not at all an inborn characteristic: it is created by economic pressure and social education. One may even say that man is a fairly lazy animal. It is on this quality, in reality, that is founded to a considerable extent all human progress; because if man did not strive to expend his energy economically, did not seek to receive the largest possible quantity of products in return for a small quantity of energy, there would have been no technical development or social culture. It would appear, then, from this point of view that human laziness is a progressive force."

Trotsky's view of human nature contradicts the view of Marx and Engels, for whom labor is the essential characteristic of human nature, which has been distorted and "estranged" by capitalism.

As a logical consequence of his view of human nature, Trotsky believes that people must be forced to work, using compulsion "from the gentle to the extremely severe:" "History is bringing us, along the whole line, to our fundamental problem—the organization of labor on new social foundations. The organization of labor is in its essence the organization of the new society: every historical form of society is in its foundation a form of organization of labor. While every previous form of society was an organization of labor in the interests of a minority, which organized its State apparatus for the oppression of the overwhelming majority of the workers, we are making the first attempt in world-history to organize labor in the interests of the laboring majority itself. This, however, does not exclude the element of compulsion in all its forms, both the most gentle and the extremely severe. The element of State compulsion not only does not disappear from the historical arena, but on the contrary will still play, for a considerable period, an extremely prominent part."

Hence, Trotsky comes to the conclusion that socialism needs to employ the "militarization of labor: "The introduction of compulsory labor service is unthinkable without the application, to a greater or less degree, of the methods of militarization of labor."

Trotsky explains further: "Why do we speak of militarization? Of course, this is only an analogy - but an analogy very rich in content. No social organization except the army has ever considered itself justified in subordinating citizens to itself in such a measure, and to control them by its will on all sides to such a degree, as the State of the proletarian dictatorship considers itself justified in doing, and does. Only the army—just because in its way it used to decide questions of the life or death of nations, States, and ruling classes—was endowed with powers of demanding from each and all complete submission to its problems, aims, regulations, and orders."

What Trotsky describes is indeed the culture of war, based on violence and authoritarianism."