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history Matriarchy socialism

Personality in History – Stalin vs Trotsky

We are dominated by film and tv drama when talking about politics especially around important events in history.

We forget that these struggles are simply the tip of the iceberg and these figures represent grassroots social forces.

Let’s take Trotsky vs Stalin for instance.

In 1905 the first Russian Revolution or attempted revolution occurred. This centred on St Petersburg ( later Leningrad) and industry that was rapidly growing. During this revolution the working class themselves with no input from any socialist thinkers or theorists came up with brand new democratic formation that was an advance on all previous ideas of what democracy was. This became known as the soviet .

The soviet was different being a council consisting of representatives of workplaces and workshops rather than geographical districts. In normal elections politicians promise everything and deliver very little, simply because once elected they serve a term and then spend the final period electioneering.

Representatives in the soviet were not elected for a fixed period and were recallable and replaceable at any time.

The important point here is that the Bolsheviks and most of the socialist parties at the time did not recognise it or understand it and were reluctant to get involved.

Trotsky, however, understanding Marxism, not as a bible but as a way of thinking realised that workers themselves had invented their own democracy. He went to St Petersburg and although he was a bourgeois highly educated scholar, workers of St Petersburg recognised his ability not only to articulate their demands and grievances but also to plan the way forward. For that reason he was elected President of the Soviet.

He was not a Bolshevik, his following in Party terms was a small group but he had a massive following among the unaligned workers of St Petersburg. So much so he was not afraid in 1907 to tell the workers of St Petersburg that Tsarism at this stage had proved too strong and for the workers to return to the factories under their capitalist bosses and to plan for the future.

No Lenin or Stalin or any other Bolshevik acquired support from ordinary working people in this way.

It was hardly surprising therefore that when he returned to Petrograd as it now was, he was immediately elected as President of the Petrograd Soviet. He was not a Bolshevik, his group, the Mezrayhontsy consisted of a large group of highly dedicated and advanced socialist thinkers. They had a very large following among the workers. The leaders of the Bolsheviks, with the exception of Lenin were opposed to the idea of a further revolution to overthrow Kerentsky’s government. Like Trotsky Lenin realised that the key was winning a majority in the Soviets now springing up everywhere. The Soviets at this stage truly represented the workers and soldiers in the towns and cities.

For this reason Lenin approached the Mezrayhontsy in July 1917 and proposed an amalgamation with the Bolsheviks. In the first Council of People’s Commissars ex Mezrayhontsy members dominated the the government with the exception of Lenin, Zinoviev and Kamenev.

After the revolution and the civil war Russia stood in a perilous situation. To run the country the Tsar’s massive government bureaucracy down to grassroots local government still carried on administering the country. This bureaucracy, conservative, nationalist was a social force in itself. This is where Stalin comes in. A secondary figure in the revolution and civil war but an effective administrator was given the job of co ordinating government departments. He became the bureaucracy’s political expression through his party position of general Secretary he recruited into the party massive numbers of the people. So much so that by 1926, he was able to oust Zinoviev from his position as the virtual chief of the Leningrad party.

The struggle between Stalin and Trotsky was not a game of chess or checkers but a struggle between the weakened working class represented by Trotsky ( and Zinoviev and Kamenev who came over in 1926 to Trotsky’s side) and the state bureaucracy represented by Stalin’s centrist group. The intellectual abilities of the participants was secondary to the social/political struggle taking place as to whether the country was going to follow the socialist/ internationalist agenda or the conservative nationalist programme represented by Stalin.

The bureaucracy won and the Bolsheviks lost. Trotsky personally had such a following that putting him on trial was unthinkable he was exiled in 1929 with the official account being that he had voluntarily fled the country to side with the USSR’s enemies. Zinoviev and Kamenev who had “ betrayed” Stalin by joining Trotsky’s Opposition in 1927 were seemingly forgiven but then subjected to a Show Trial in 1936.

But one has to remember that although Trotsky himself was exiled he represented a powerful social / political current in Russia and many thousands of Oppositionists and anyone connected with them were murdered or sent to labour camps.

So a comparison between the cleverness of Trotsky with the cunning boorishness of Stalin is really a secondary issue.

By rfzo47

Retired History teacher, Union activist, Union officer, Labour.

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