Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Leon Trotsky's relevance today


Leon Trotsky speaking in Copenhagen in 1932 (photo: Robert Capa)

As the Jeremy Corbyn campaign continues to strike fear into the hearts of the Labour Party grandees and bureaucracy, who have in characteristic Stalinist fashion prosecuted what has been dubbed 'Operation Icepick' to purge the lists of those eligible to vote in the Labour Party leadership election of 'Trotskyists', it is perhaps worth revisiting the political thought of the original victim of 'Operation Icepick', Leon Trotsky himself, given this week marks the 75th anniversary of his murder at the hands of a Stalinist agent. Sue Caldwell, who incidentally once wrote a wonderful introductory guide to chess which taught me the little I know about strategy and tactics in that game, has written a timely short piece - online here in this week's Socialist Worker which does just that.  It is important to pay tribute to Trotsky, who was not only the heroic sword of the Russian Revolution and the shield against the Stalinist counter-revolution until his tragic murder, but also a revolutionary whose political and intellectual thought as a Marxist was so original and outstanding it retains relevance in the 21st century.  And as Caldwell rightly notes,
'It’s never easy to get the correct balance right between working with and against reformists and their leaders.
Revolutionaries have to stand with them to defend working class organisation against the bosses and fascists. But it’s also crucial that revolutionaries argue against them sowing illusions in reformism and build a revolutionary alternative. For example, we welcome left reformist parties such as Syriza, Podemos and the momentum around the Jeremy Corbyn campaign.  These can push politics to the left. But only the working class has the power to transform society. '

Some suggested further reading on Trotsky:

A Rebel's Guide to Trotsky - Esme Choonara

Trotsky's Marxism - Duncan Hallas

Tony Cliff's four volume biography of Trotsky is also now online - see here.

Edited to add: Speaking of Trotsky and today, what would he have made of the contemporary Black Lives Matter' in the US?  Well, we know he was a more profound thinker about race in the US than he is often given credit for, but Paul Buhle (for a recent interview with Buhle by the way, see here) has also recently suggested that, via the writings of the then Trotskyist C.L.R. James and with the help of the Harlem lawyer and also then a Trotskyist Conrade Lynn Malcolm X read and studied 'The Revolutionary Answer to the Negro Problem in the United States' (1948) which represented the best analysis of the American Trotskyist movement on race at that time,while Malcolm was in prison in the early 1950s.  So not only would Trotsky have welcomed the new Black Lives Matter movement, but perhaps the intellectual origins of the Black Lives Matter movement - via Malcolm X and C.L.R. James - may owe something to the inspiring life and work of Trotsky...

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