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Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



an ideological and political petit bourgeois trend that is hostile to Marxism-Leninism and to the international communist movement and that conceals its opportunistic essence with radical, left-wing slogans. Trotskyism arose within the RSDLP at the beginning of the 20th century as a form of Men-shevism. It was named for its ideologist and leader, L. D. Trotsky (real surname Bronshtein, 1879–1940).

The theoretical sources of Trotskyism are mechanical materialism in philosophy and voluntarism and schematism in sociology. The methodological basis of the trend is subjectivism, which is characteristic of the petit bourgeois world view as a whole. Since Trotskyism is a reflection of the antiproletarian views of the petite bourgeoisie, it is characterized by an anticommunist tendency in its political positions, by abrupt shifts from an extreme revolutionary stance to one of capitulation to the bourgeoisie, by a misunderstanding of the dialectics of social development, and by dogmatism in evaluating the events and phenomena of social life.

The views and principles of Trotskyism were formulated in opposition to those of Leninism on all fundamental questions concerning the strategy and tactics of the working-class movement. Trotskyism took as its point of departure the rejection of the Leninist doctrine of a new type of party. In the debate over the wording of the first paragraph of the party rules at the Second Congress of the RSDLP in 1903, Trotsky supported L. Martov’s wording, which opened the way for unstable elements to enter the party. On the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat, which was a most important thesis in the party program, Trotsky asserted, as did the leaders of the Second International, that the dictatorship would become possible only when the Social Democratic Party and the working class were virtually one and when the working class made up the majority of the population.

During the Revolution of 1905–07, the Trotskyists, distorting K. Marx’ idea of permanent revolution, propounded their own theory of permanent revolution, which they opposed to Lenin’s doctrine of the hegemony of the proletariat in the bourgeois democratic revolution and the doctrine of the transformation of this revolution into a socialist revolution. The Trotskyists repudiated the revolutionary nature of the peasant masses as well as the proletariat’s ability to establish a firm alliance with the peasantry; they ignored the bourgeois democratic tasks of the first Russian revolution and put forth the voluntaristic idea of establishing a dictatorship of the proletariat as a result of the bourgeois democratic revolution. Their slogan was “No tsar, but a workers’ government.”

The Trotskyists claimed that the permanence of the revolutionary process and the fate of the socialist revolution in each country were dependent on the victory of the world revolution, and they therefore asserted that without state support of the European proletariat, the working class of Russia could not retain power. As V. I. Lenin pointed out, Trotsky’s theory in fact was helping the “liberal-labor politicians in Russia, who by ‘repudiation’ of the role of the peasantry understand a refusal to raise up the peasants for the revolution!” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 27, p. 81).

Trotskyism found little support in the Russian working-class movement. Few in number, Trotsky’s followers were Russian émigré intellectuals who had lost their connections with the proletarian movement and were attempting to profit politically from the differences of opinion between the principal trends within the RSDLP—Bolshevism and Menshevism. Lenin wrote: “Trotsky was an ardent Iskrist from 1901 to 1903. ... At the end of 1903, Trotsky was an ardent Menshevik, i.e., he deserted from the Iskrists to the Economists. ... In 1904 and 1905, he deserted the Mensheviks and occupied a vacillating position, now cooperating with Martynov (the Economist), now proclaiming his absurdly Left ‘permanent revolution’ theory” (ibid., vol. 25, p. 205).

During the reactionary period from 1907 to 1910, Trotskyism constituted a variety of Liquidationism. “Trotsky behaves like a despicable careerist and factionalism” Lenin wrote in 1909. “He pays lip-service to the Party and behaves worse than any other of the factionalists” (ibid., vol. 47, p. 188). In 1912 the Trotskyists, playing the role of “party unifiers, ” organized the August anti-party bloc, which unified all the opportunists who had been excluded from the party ranks at the Sixth (Prague) All-Russian Conference of the RSDLP.

During World War I, Trotskyism was a component of international centrism, a social democratic trend that wavered between social chauvinism and petit bourgeois pacifism. The Trotskyists rejected Lenin’s conclusion that it was possible in the period of imperialism for the proletarian revolution to triumph first in a few countries or even in a single country. In opposition to Lenin’s slogan of transforming the imperialist war into a civil war, Trotsky advanced the slogan “Neither victory nor defeat, ” which essentially meant that everything would remain as before; consequently, even tsarism would be preserved. Lenin wrote: “Whoever is in favor of the slogan ‘neither victory nor defeat’ is consciously or unconsciously a chauvinist; at best he is a conciliatory petit bourgeois, but in any case he is an enemy of proletarian policy, a partisan of the existing governments, of the present-day ruling classes” (ibid., vol. 26, p. 290).

Lenin exposed the social roots of Trotskyism as well as the harmfulness of its political platform and actions. The Bolsheviks were responsible for the defeat of the August antiparty bloc, and they waged a persistent struggle against Trotskyism during World War I.

After the February Revolution of 1917, just as in 1905, the Trotskyists confused the bourgeois democratic stage of the revolution in Russia with the socialist stage; failing to recognize the bourgeois democratic stage, they demanded the immediate creation of a “true workers’ government, ” the leading role in which they assigned to conciliatory parties. They continued to advocate the alliance of the Bolsheviks with the opportunists under the aegis of Trotskyism, and they attempted to make the Mezhraiontsy, or “interfaction” Social Democrats, into a nucleus around which a united, centrist Social Democratic Party could be formed.

After the February Revolution of 1917, the Mezhraiontsy announced their agreement with the Bolsheviks, into whose ranks they were accepted at the Sixth Congress of the RSDLP(B). The Trotskyists who entered the party as Mezhraiontsy, however, continued to adhere to their former ideological positions and to struggle against Leninism. Even while preparations for the October Revolution were being made, the Trotskyists rejected the possibility of its victory, and they opposed the party’s decision to carry out an armed uprising. After the Great October Socialist Revolution, the Trotskyists asserted that the victory of the revolution would be short-lived; they claimed that Soviet power would inevitably perish if socialist revolutions did not occur in the very near future in the other European countries and if the Soviet republic did not receive direct state aid from the proletariat of the West.

During the first decade of Soviet power, Trotskyism presented the greatest threat from within the ACP(B) since it sowed doubt among the ranks of the working class and the working-class party in the strength of the socialist revolution and in the cause of the socialist transformation of the country. The Trotskyists opposed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (1918) and foiled the timely conclusion of the negotiations, thus exposing the still weak Soviet republic to the threat of German imperialist aggression. As a result, the Soviet government was compelled to sign a peace treaty at a later date and under worse conditions.

The Trotskyists viewed the raison d’être of Soviet power to be the fostering, or pushing, of world proletarian revolution by any means, including military measures. This interpretation was “completely at variance with Marxism, for Marxism has always been opposed to ‘pushing’ revolutions, which develop with the growing acuteness of the class antagonisms that engender revolutions” (ibid., vol. 35, p. 403). The thesis of pushing world revolution by means of war is also a tenet of present-day Trotskyism.

During the difficult period of reconstruction after the Civil War of 1918–20, Trotskyism took shape as a petit bourgeois deviation within the RCP(B). The Trotskyists initiated an intraparty struggle during the trade union controversy of 1920 and 1921. They created a faction with its own political platform demanding the transformation of the unions into an adjunct of the state machinery and the reduction of the party’s guiding role in building socialism. They also attempted to impose upon the party wartime methods of leading the masses.

In 1923 and 1924 the ideological formation of Trotskyism was completed as an antiparty trend reflecting the attitudes of part of the urban petite bourgeoisie and the bourgeois intelligentsia and serving the interests of the remnants of the capitalist classes in the country. Trotskyism’s principal thesis was the rejection of the possibility of building socialism in the USSR. Echoing the leaders of the social democratic movement in the West, the Trotskyists declared that because of the capitalist encirclement of the USSR and the country’s technical and economic backwardness, the Soviet working class could not succeed in consolidating its power and in building a socialist society. The Trotskyists opposed the Leninist doctrine that the dictatorship of the proletariat was a special class form of alliance between the working class and the peasantry; instead they propounded the thesis that the peasantry was hostile to the cause of building socialism. The Trotskyists declared the Soviet socioeconomic system to be state capitalism, and they treated the New Economic Policy (NEP) as but a retreat toward capitalism. Considering the building of socialism in one country to be a sign of insularism and a departure from the principles of proletarian internationalism, they continued to advocate the adventuristic policy of pushing world revolution.

In 1922 the Trotskyists asserted that although the Soviet republic had defended itself as a state in the political and military sense, it was not approaching the creation of a socialist society; in their view a true socialist economy could not arise in Soviet Russia until after the victory of the proletariat in the major countries of Europe. In order to hold out until that time and to prepare the country for “revolutionary warfare, ” the Trotskyists during the reconstruction period proposed a “dictatorship of industry” intended to increase the USSR’s military potential; for the transition to a reconstructed national economy they advocated a policy of rapid industrialization at the expense of the peasantry, whom they called a colony of industry. The Trotskyists wanted to finance the industrialization by, for example, raising prices of industrial goods, lowering prices of agricultural products, increasing taxes on peasant farms, and extracting funds from the villages; such measures, however, threatened to break up the alliance between the working class and the peasantry and to bring about the downfall of Soviet power.

During the reconstruction period, in opposition to the general party line of pursuing a high growth rate of socialist industrialization, the Trotskyists advanced the theory of the “extinguishing curve” (polukhaiushchaia krivaia), which was intended to justify the country’s economic backwardness and hinder development. According to this theory, high economic growth rates were possible only during the recovery period; thereafter the rate of the country’s economic development should supposedly decrease sharply from year to year. The Trotskyists believed that until the victory of the world revolution the USSR would not be able to overcome economic backwardness by its own efforts and that the country’s economy was doomed to be an adjunct of the world capitalist economy. Hence, the Trotskyist platform contained such openly capitulatory proposals as the elimination of the USSR’s favorable balance of foreign trade and the carrying out of large-scale market intervention, that is, the intensified importation of industrial goods; these measures would have opened the USSR to foreign capital.

During the debate of 1923 and 1924 the Trotskyists attempted to revise the organizational principles of the party; pretending to defend intraparty democracy, they demanded freedom for factions and groups within the party, as well as the weakening of the role of the party in guiding the state machinery and economic construction. In order to cause a party split, they tried to disrupt the relationship between the party and the youth; they called upon the young people to express doubts about the correctness of party policy, and they set young party members against the nucleus of Old Bolsheviks.

In “The Lessons of October, ” an article published in the autumn of 1924, Trotsky distorted the history of Bolshevism and attempted to replace Leninism with Trotskyism. The Trotskyist leaders strove by any available means to remove their opponents in the Central Committee of the party and to take control of the Central Committee. Predicting the inevitable defeat of the USSR in the next war, they planned to use this defeat to overthrow the existing regime. Objectively speaking, the Trotskyist political and economic line would have led to the restoration of capitalism in the USSR. In 1926 the Trotskyist platform united all the opportunistic groups in the ACP(B)—including the Democratic Centralist faction, the Workers’ Opposition, and the New Opposition—to form the Trotskyist-Zinovievist antiparty bloc.

The debate that took place during the end of 1924 and the beginning of 1925 was mirrored in the Communist International: Trotskyist groups sprang up within the Communist parties of a number of foreign countries, including Germany, France, the USA and Czechoslovakia.

Lenin and the party continually exposed the capitulatory essence of the views and platform of the Trotskyists, who were invariably defeated in the debates they themselves began. Trotskyism was condemned at the Seventh, Tenth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Party Congresses, at the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Party Conferences, and at a number of plenums of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission of the party. The Thirteenth Conference of the RCP(B) in 1924 emphasized that the ideological essence of Trotskyism represented not only a revision of Bolshevism and a departure from Leninism but also an obvious petit bourgeois deviation. The Fifteenth Conference of the ACP(B) in 1926 pointed out that the Trotskyists’ views on the prospects for the socialist revolution were close to the views of the Western social democratic leaders, who denied the possibility of the victory of socialism in the USSR; the conference therefore described Trotskyism as a social democratic deviation within the ACP(B).

Of great importance in the ideological defeat of Trotskyism were the speeches made by General Secretary J. V. Stalin at party congresses and conferences, plenums of the Central Committee of the ACP(B), and plenums of the Executive Committee of the Comintern. Also important were his works “Trotskyism or Leninism?”, “The October Revolution and the Tactics of the Russian Communists, ” and “On the Social Democratic Deviation in Our Party.”

The Trotskyists’ positions became increasingly anti-Soviet. The Fifteenth Congress of the ACP(B) in 1927 pointed out that the opposition had severed ideological ties with Marxism-Leninism, had become a Menshevist group, and had started down the path of capitulation to the forces of the foreign and domestic bourgeoisie; the congress stated that adherence to Trotskyism was incompatible with party membership. Completing the ideological and organizational defeat of Trotskyism, the congress approved the decision of the Central Committee of the ACP(B) of Nov. 14,1927, providing for the expulsion of Trotsky and Zinoviev from the party, and it expelled other active Trotskyists from the party as well. As of 1928, Trotskyism had no affiliation with the ACP(B). The Sixteenth Party Congress in 1930 stated that Trotskyism had completely embraced counterrevolutionary Menshevik positions, and the congress warned against any efforts at reconciliation with the Trotskyists.

The defeat of Trotskyism in the ranks of the ACP(B) was accompanied by the expulsion of Trotskyists from other Communist parties. In 1928 the ninth plenum of the Executive Committee of the Comintern determined that adherence to Trotskyism was incompatible with membership in the Comintern; this decision of the plenum was approved by the Sixth Congress of the Comintern in the same year.

After the Fifteenth Congress of the ACP(B), some Trotskyists continued to struggle against the line of the party and of the Comintern. For his anti-Soviet activity Trotsky was exiled from the USSR in 1929 and was stripped of his Soviet citizenship in 1932. Openly expounding his capitulatory views abroad, he spoke out against the first five-year plan, the industrialization of the country, and the collectivization of agriculture; during the 1930’s he predicted inevitable defeat for the USSR in a war against fascist Germany. During World War II the Trotskyists opposed the creation of an anti-Hitler coalition; they refused to accept that the coalition was engaged in an antifascist war of liberation, and they regarded both sides in the war as imperialist.

In September 1938 a conference of Trotskyist groups from 11 countries proclaimed the establishment of the Fourth International. This group never represented a unified entity; in the 1950’s it split into factions that fought among themselves, having lost all contact with the mass working-class movement. Since the 1960’s, Trotskyists have grouped around several centers, including the International Secretariat, the International Committee, the Revolutionary Marxist Tendency of the Fourth International, and the Latin-American Bureau. In spite of the discord among them, the centers are united in a struggle against the international communist movement. There are groups of Trotskyists in a number of countries, including Argentina, Bolivia, Belgium, Great Britain, Italy, the USA, the Federal Republic of Germany, France, and Japan.

Attempts have been made to modernize the positions of Trotskyism and to adapt them to new conditions. Although the Trotskyists have had to acknowledge the progressive social changes in the USSR and other socialist countries, they do not consider these countries to be socialist; they use the notion of deformed workers’ states in their attempt to discredit the historically proven method of building socialism and to cast doubt upon the possibility of building communism in the USSR.

The Trotskyists reject the principle of peaceful coexistence between states having different social structures. Slandering the foreign policy of the countries of the socialist community, they continue to assert that war is the only means of eliminating capitalism. Certain groups of Trotskyists deny the leading role of the working class in the contemporary revolutionary process, and they attempt to prove that the proletariat in capitalist countries has lost its fighting spirit; they contrast the world socialist system and the international communist movement with the national liberation movement, which they claim is the driving force in the revolutionary process.

The existence of Trotskyism and its periodic activation in individual countries are traceable to various causes, among which are the following: the attraction into the revolutionary movement of large numbers of petit-bourgeois-minded and politically inexperienced intellectuals, students, peasants, and craftsmen, who easily fall under the influence of the “ultrarevolutionary” slogans of the Trotskyists; the antirevolutionary activity of “left-wing” and right-wing revisionists, whose views and actions often coincide with those of the Trotskyists; and the use and support of Trotskyism by forces of anticommunism and imperialism, which find in Trotskyism an ally in the struggle against Marxism-Leninism.

The Trotskyists render substantial aid to the bourgeoisie in its efforts to cause schisms in working-class and national liberation movements. During periods of mass demonstrations by working people, extremist factions among the Trotskyists carry out provocative acts that provide the forces of reaction with an opportunity to arouse the politically inexperienced portion of the population against the proletariat and its vanguard, the Communists. During the general strike of 1968 in France, Trotskyists and other “ultrarevolutionaries” supported the adventuristic idea of an immediate armed uprising. In Japan the Trotskyists gave the reactionary forces a pretext for the bloody suppression of the demonstrations in Shinjuku in October 1968 and in Yokosuka in January 1969. The Trotskyists have engaged in similar activities in other countries as well. The schismatic efforts of the Trotskyists in Chile aided the fascist coup there.

The Trotskyists attempt to penetrate mass revolutionary organizations for the purpose of destroying the organizations from within. They are particularly active in youth organizations, where they take advantage of some of the young people’s political immaturity and failure to recognize the true face of Trotskyism.

Under the conditions of the intensified ideological struggle between socialism and capitalism, the further struggle against the ideology and schismatic actions of the Trotskyists remains one of the important tasks of the world communist movement.


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Kommunisticheskii Internatsional v dokumentakh: Resheniia, tezisy i vozzvanüa kongressov Kominterna i plenumov IKKI 1919–1932. Moscow, 1933.
Istoriia KPSS, vols. 1–4. Moscow, 1964–71.
Stalin, J. V. “Trotskizm ili leninizm?” Soch., vol. 6.
Stalin, J. V. “Oktiabr’skaia revoliutsiia i taktika russkikh kommunistov.” Ibid.
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Stalin, J. V. “Eshche raz o sotsial-demokraticheskom uklone v nashei partii.” Ibid., vol. 9
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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.