Trotsky v. Marx
June 21, 2006 10:50 PM   Subscribe

Like, what are the main differences between Marx's Communism and Trotsky's Communism?
posted by xmutex to Religion & Philosophy (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Well, wikipedia says Trotsky considered himself a orthodox Marxist.
posted by delmoi at 12:31 AM on June 22, 2006

The difference (or, conflict) isnt so much between Marx and Trotsky, but between Trotsky and Stalin.
Trotsky considered himself a "true" Marxist, and accused Stalin of deviating from their cause.
(for this, Stalin had an ice-pick placed inside Trotsky's head).
There were a LOT of points of difference between them. (and there continue to be lots of hard-fought differences between various flavors of Marxism today, incidentally).
Your best bet for starters is to see the wikipedia articles on Marx, Trotsky, and Stalin (with some Lenin thrown in; and Mao will bring up to date for contemporary Marxism).
posted by jak68 at 1:03 AM on June 22, 2006

As delmoi says, Trotsky, at least, considered himself a Marxist. What you may be looking for is differences between Trotsky's communism and Stalin's communism. Trotskyism is usually spoken of in contrast to Stalinism, because they were two competing theories of Marxist-Leninist socialism within the Soviet Union. Stalin won, obviously, and Trotsky was exiled.

Beyond that, I'm afraid I can't actually be very helpful, because I don't know much about the details of Trotsky's thought (or Stalin's for that matter). The Wikipedia article is pretty readable, but I can't vouch for its accuracy, and it's certainly a controversial area.

I find I have a bit of Trotsky here, excerpted in a socialist anthology. I'll read over it tonight and see if I can't say more tomorrow, if nobody more knowledgeable comes in.
posted by moss at 1:06 AM on June 22, 2006

Damn, jak68 beat me to it.
posted by moss at 1:06 AM on June 22, 2006

I'll be a bit pedantic and point out that the communism of Marx and the communism of Trotsky were probably very similar... in the sense of two men of the 19th and early 20th centuries forecasting a classless utopia in the very distant future.

The real debate (which I am underprepared to engage in) would be in examining their differences of opinion in the path from capitalism to communism.
posted by cadastral at 1:07 AM on June 22, 2006

If you're interested in the school of thought that alligns Trotsky more firmly in a classical Marxist vein when compared to his Bolshevik contemporaries (the line of reasoning that had him branded, at the time, a "Leftist Deviationist")... you would do well to familiarise yourself with the concepts of "permanent revolution" (a traditional Marxist platform which Trotsky extolled) and "Socialism in One Country" (the de facto interpretation of the destiny of socialism, under Stalin)
posted by cadastral at 1:22 AM on June 22, 2006

Well, Trotsky was a Marxist, so he interpreted and, when in power in Russia/the USSR, applied Marx's theories in a particular way. So I'd agree with jak68 that a more fruitful comparison would be between Trotsky and Stalin, or Trotsky and other contemporary Bolsheviks (Lenin, Bukharin etc). Having said that, once Stalin got rid of Trotsky in 1927 or so, he then implemented a lot of Trotsky's platform in his first Five-Year Plan. Thereafter the comparison is between Stalin's applied Marxism and Trotsky's theoretical Marxism.
posted by londongeezer at 4:30 AM on June 22, 2006

Is this a homework question?
posted by futility closet at 4:34 AM on June 22, 2006

This is a question that is somewhat coloured by your own interpretation of Marx. If you ask a Trotskyite, they'll obviously say that there is no difference. If you ask some other Marxist, they'll probably tell you that Trotskyism misses the whole point of Marxism.
posted by reklaw at 5:24 AM on June 22, 2006

It's kind of depressing that no one can answer this beyond "well, he was actually a Marxist." The USSR was the "enemy of freedom" for almost half a century and the best we do to describe their ideology beyond to say that they were evil is "they disagreed on their interpretations of the ethos of some German social scientist?"

Anyway, nothing personal to anyone, it's just frustrating.

My opinion on the matter has always been that the disagreement between the two, at least the later ideological disagreement over permanent revolution vs socialism in one country, was a clever piece of anti-intellectual propaganda on Stalin's part. By taking the pragmatic position he managed to out-maneuver Trotsky, even though that position was almost antithetical to everything he'd stood for prior to that point. Essentially it was a hatchet job by an expert woodsman. It's so hard to think of Stalin as much of a political scientist that it's almost easier to say that there was no significant ideological difference between Stalin and Trotsky, because Stalin's ideology was simply the self-preservation of power.
posted by feloniousmonk at 8:45 AM on June 22, 2006

A good jumping off point for Marx/Trotsky comparisons would be to look for information on the First, Second and Third Internationals. They characterize a lot of the shifts in Marxism from the 19th to early 20th centuries.

If we define Trotskyism as "Revolution-era Leninism in exile," some key distinguishing points between it and Marxism up to that point include:

* The development of the party as a central authority for the post-revolutionary society. This wasn't widely agreed upon to that point, and Lenin spent some time arguing with Marxists who fell down along what we'd consider a more anarchist line today. (See: "Left Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder")

* The notion that the party could act as a vanguard for the working class. That is, that the more fatalistic/deterministic belief shared by earlier Marxists that socialism and then communism would arise spontaneously from historical processes was flawed, and that political realities would dictate the creation of a party that might end up dragging a lot of the workers along.

My own take on all this is colored by my political past: I was briefly involved with a Trotskyist group in the early '90s that distinguished itself by arguing that Russia, Cuba and China were all "state capitalist" societies, which is to say that they had failed at socialism and regressed to an effectively capitalist state that replaced private ownership with state ownership, while retaining a fundamentally exploitive relationship between worker and owner.

Most other Trotskyists at the time were taking the slightly softer line that they were "deformed workers' states," which is to say that while they were less than ideal as socialist states, they hadn't completely regressed to capitalism and could still, with some adjustments, be reformed into authentic and ideal socialist states.

All these people consider themselves "authentic" Marxists, and none of them are wrong, to the extent Marx himself wasn't much for programmatics and to the extent they have done more in terms of adding to the Marxist canon than challenging Marx himself. He was trying to describe historical processes and economic relationships, and they don't challlenge that ... they've added to areas he didn't concern himself with as much.

Ugh. Time to go read some Vaneigem and wash the nasty taste out of my mouth.
posted by mph at 9:33 AM on June 22, 2006

From the casual user's point of view, and especially when people are self-labelling themselves Marxists or Leninists, what it really means is:

I trust the working classes to rise up on their own and what happens after the revolution will be the result of dialectical materialist processes. In other words, I neither know nor care but it's got to be better than the crap they put up with at the moment, poor things. Therefore I do not have to do anything in particular except drink nice red wine and pontificate endlessly at North London dinner parties. I may write the odd play.

We Leninists are the vanguard of the proles, who are victims of false consciousness and can't be expected to rise unaided. We must therefore agitate continuously by handing out cheaply printed newspapers outside tube stations. Once we are in power we will secede from the party immediately and start handing out cheaply printed newspapers outside tube stations complaining that the ideals of the revolution have been betrayed and those bastards in charge are now eating all the pies.
posted by unSane at 4:38 PM on June 22, 2006

Oh yeah, and:

Marxist Transport:
Mercedes Station Wagon in some cases

Leninist Transport:
Number 243 Bus
Beaten up Ford Escort
A bike with a basket on the front
posted by unSane at 4:40 PM on June 22, 2006

How do you pronounce "Vaneigem"?

a) like Vanheim
b) Van-ai-"game"
c) Van-ee-jem
d) post-marxist trotskyite aesthete
e) other

no, seriously.

Btw Unsane, I did know a Marxist who once owned a Saab rather than a Volvo ;)
Now you could argue that its still showing him appease his guilty conscience by supporting a scandinavian socialist utopian state rather than GM... but he would argue that since he bought it used, it shows his willingness to distance himself from capitalist metropolitan consumption and his readiness to join the revolution, should it spontaneously appear at some point.
posted by jak68 at 7:38 PM on June 22, 2006

The difference between Lenin and every other Russian revolutionary in the previous century was that 1) he was utterly focused on gaining power (the others were much more interested in discussing theory, forming cliques, and planning Great Deeds that would somehow cause the People to Rise Up), and 2) he had absolutely no interest in morality in any ordinary sense (to him, the only morality was revolutionary morality, meaning whatever would help the revolution succeed and the Party take power; other revolutionaries were hung up on religion or human rights or feminism or the nobility of the People or some other damn thing that distracted them from the only valuable thing in life, keeping and holding power). He, like all the Bolsheviks, differed from Marx in believing Russia could skip the stage of bourgeois capitalism and go straight to the proletarian revolution and the building of communism. Trotsky, though he joined the Bolsheviks in the end, was a more orthodox Marxist in some ways, though to claim he somehow was "truly" Marxist is to place to high a value on his own self-estimation. (All Marxists think their version is the true one.) Trotsky, for what it's worth, was definitely the best writer among the lot; read his superb reporting on the Balkan Wars of 1912-13 sometime if you have the chance. All this stuff is very interesting once you get into it.
posted by languagehat at 7:16 AM on June 23, 2006

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