The Legacy of Leon Trotsky: How far “Left” was the “Left Opposition”?

Trotsky was a lot like Blaise Pascal.  Both were religious zealots, the former of a secular and the latter of a more traditional spiritual religion, and yet both left behind work that was both original and interesting as long as it wasn’t too closely associated with the dogmas of their respective faiths.  In Trotsky’s case, this manifested itself in some interesting intellectual artifacts that one finds scattered here and there among his books and essays.  Some of these document interesting shifts in the shibboleths that have defined “progressive” ideology over the years.  As a result, by the standards of today, one occasionally finds Trotsky on the right rather than the left of the ideological spectrum.

For example, when it comes to media of exchange, he sometimes seems to be channeling Grover Cleveland rather than William Jennings Bryan:

The raising of the productivity of labor and bettering of the quality of its products is quite unattainable without an accurate measure freely penetrating into all the cells of industry – that is, without a stable unit of currency.  Hence it is clear that in the transitional (to true socialism, ed.) economy, as also under capitalism, the sole authentic money is that based upon gold.

In the matter of gun control, Trotsky occupied a position to the “right” of Mitch McConnell:

The struggle against foreign danger necessitates, of course, in the workers’ state as in others, a specialized military technical organization, but in no case a privileged officer caste.  The party program demands a replacement of the standing army by an armed people.

The regime of proletarian dictatorship from its very beginning this ceases to be a “state” in the old sense of the word – a special apparatus, that is, for holding in subjection the majority of the people.  The material power, together with the weapons, goes over directly and immediately into the hands of the workers organizations such as the soviets.  The state as a bureaucratic apparatus begins to die away the first day of the proletarian dictatorship.  Such is the voice of the party program – not voided to this day.  Strange:  it sounds like a spectral voice from the mausoleum.

However you may interpret the nature of the present Soviet state, one thing is indubitable:  at the end of its second decade of existence, it has not only not died away, but not begun to “die away.”  Worse than that, it has grown into a hitherto unheard of apparatus of compulsion.  The bureaucracy not only has not disappeared, yielding its place to the masses, but has turned into an uncontrolled force dominating the masses.  The army not only has not been replaced by an armed people, but has given birth to a privileged officers’ caste, crowned with marshals, while the people, “the armed bearers of the dictatorship,” are now forbidden in the Soviet Union to carry even nonexplosive weapons.

Finally, Trotsky wasn’t “sophisticated” enough to buy into the Blank Slate.  For example,

Competition, whose roots lie in our biological inheritance, having purged itself of greed, envy and privilege, will indubitably remain the most important motive force of culture under communism too.

His bête noire, Stalin, used to refer to him as “traitor Trotsky” because he was the leader of the “left opposition.”  Times change, and so do ideological dogmas.  Today he would probably be more likely to find himself among the “right opportunists.”


Author: Helian

I am Doug Drake, and I live in Maryland, not far from Washington, DC. I am a graduate of West Point, and I hold a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin. My blog reflects my enduring fascination with human nature and human morality.

5 thoughts on “The Legacy of Leon Trotsky: How far “Left” was the “Left Opposition”?”

  1. This is a pretty banal attempt at a history of ideas kind of post. What Trotsky was trying to point to was what Orwell was trying to point to – the subversion of genuine liberation by fat men who seize power and oppress others using BS justifications.

    Trotsky recognized that the disarming of the people would be the first prerequisite of this, and it holds true whether the ruling ideology or regime is left or ring wing. Articulating this does not mean he would be “among the right opportunists” today – that’s a specious and frankly risible statement.

    I think your misreading comes from the fact that you conflate “liberal” with “left”. Gun control is a liberal shibboleth because liberalism (as black nationalists like Stokely Carmichael and Malcolm X realized) so often ends up serving a placatory role in capitalist society, telling the oppressed that they shouldn’t rise up and demand a fair share but instead ask politely for it and hope.

  2. It is a fact that Trotsky espoused certain positions that are today associated with the ideological right. That’s all my tongue-in-cheek comment about his “right opportunism” was meant to suggest. It would be interesting to see what ideological line Trotsky would take if he were around today. If he was serious about what he wrote in “In Defense of Marxism,” then he would have been forced to conclude that Communism had ended in a utopia. Obviously he would not actually have been a conservative. He was also too smart to buy into the hyper-moralistic secular Puritanism that prevails in academia today. No doubt he would have formulated the new “minimum program” that he alluded to in his last writings.

  3. Quote for today: Thomas Jefferson

    “No free man shall ever be de-barred the use of arms. The strongest reason for the people to retain their right to keep and bear arms is as a last resort to protect themselves against tyranny in government.”

    One of the things, from the far shores of Australia, that strikes me about this comment is that its not the free, or even those who wish to protect themselves that are the problem, its the drug dealers, thief’s, criminals etc who wouldn’t stand up to the government on any ideological grounds, other than to support their destructive ways.
    Surely gun control, allowing ownership to those with enough intellect to pass high school tests, but focusing on eliminating idiots, fools, the deranged etc can only improve the hope for survival of the ‘genuine’ citizen.
    If the populace ever rose up against the government, really where would most of the gunshots be heard, probably in the rush to steal TV’s Ipods and generally loot and rape others.
    In short, this argument strikes me as a romantic illusion, and I’m never sure if fighting the Nation State is the best way to defeat it. Personally my approach to the church is not to engage with it, this seems a far better strategy. Yes the Nation State is a different beast but the principle remains.
    Apologies for ramble, went off topic, however we do have gun control here, and whilst we only have 1/30 of the population of the USA our gun deaths are less, and our massacres have been reduced since the sad, bad and mad have had barriers place between them and a sub machine gun.

  4. The United States has a federal form of government, and gun control laws vary from state to state, city to city, etc. They were made so strict in the city of San Francisco that the last gun shop there was recently forced to shut down. Gun deaths are often disproportionately high in cities with the strictest gun control laws. They are minimal where I live, in the state of Idaho, which has minimal gun control. Comparing the United States and Australia is really equivalent to comparing apples and oranges. The same goes for Europe.

    I am aware of most of the familiar arguments in favor of strict gun control. They are generally based on the assumption that the government will remain reasonably benign, and nothing much will ever change in the social order. Under such conditions, strict gun control would certainly reduce the number of gun deaths.

    The problem is that, based on our history, including that of the recent past, such an assumption is completely unwarranted. As Jefferson suggested, governments can become tyrannies. Good governments can be overwhelmed by social chaos. In that case, the those who favor gun control argue, guns will still be useless, because citizens armed with firearms will have no chance against a state armed with modern weapons. That argument is also wrong. The sources of the great power of modern states, such as air forces and drones armed with smart weapons, are extremely fragile and vulnerable to attacks by a determined and armed citizenry. The same goes for nuclear weapons. The centers of state power are concentrated in relatively small urban centers. If citizens possessed themselves of a few nukes, the balance of power would change rather drastically. Obviously, one can never assume that those who are guarding these sources of power will never side with their fellow citizens. In fact, they have done so over and over again in the past.

    In short, at least in my opinion, the best arguments for an armed citizenry do not apply if it can be assumed that society will never change. It is only when there are radical changes in society that arms become essential for survival. One can prove that assertion by simply looking around at what is going on in the world. It seems to me that the assumption that such things can never possibly happen in the United States or Australia is a very risky one.

  5. It is a truth that most of the world’s news provision is owned by right wing capitalists. Their purpose is to further the cause of capitalism and maintain the planet’s gap between rich and those in need. Left Insider offers left wing articles from reputable news sites such as Left Futures, Red Pepper, Novara, The Canary, Buzz Feed, Left Foot Forward etc. We all own the right to maximise our own qualities and we all have the obligation to assist others maximise theirs.

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