Trotsky, socialism and the EU

I posted this on MyT a few years ago in response to an American blogger who saw ‘Trotskyism’ almost everywhere he looked.


Many years ago I had some Trotskyist acquaintances, and I knew a fair bit about Trotsky’s ideas at that time. One thing about him is absolutely clear – he hated ‘bourgeois democracy’. In order to have true (socialist) democracy, he felt, capitalism would have to be swept away. If the workers’ lives were controlled by their bosses, the right to elect members of parliament was immaterial.

Trotsky envisioned democracy through ‘workers’ councils’; he felt that this was the core idea of Bolshevism but it had been betrayed by Lenin and Stalin’s dictatorial instincts. He was on a mission to rescue it; the ice-pick put an end to that, but it couldn’t have succeeded in any case – Trotsky had a naïve view of human nature. He thought that if capitalism were overthrown in one country, that country would be attacked and overcome by others where capitalism persisted – hence the need for worldwide revolution.

What we have now all over the Western world is the very capitalist, bourgeois democracy that Trotsky despised. We have, to degrees varying from country to country, a capitalist economic system mitigated by the intervention of the state in the interest of the general good. It is generally agreed, in Europe at least, that the state has a legitimate role to play not only in justice and foreign policy but also in healthcare, education, welfare and the regulation of business in the consumers’ interest – for example, by legislating against monopolies. Governing parties in Europe tend to be clustered around the political centre; this allows for pragmatic, ad hoc – rather than ideology-based – solutions to problems.

People like you use the word ‘socialism’ far too loosely, and lump all ‘socialists’ together. When you talk about Trotsky you make a huge mistake in apparently not realizing that as he saw capitalism and socialism as incompatible, even current ‘socialist’ governments in Europe would have been anathema to him … he believed in revolution, not reform. Capitalism cannot be reformed out of existence … even if you repeatedly reduce a number by half, you will never reach zero.

For the Trotskyists I knew, the greatest insult was to call a fellow socialist a ‘reformist’. The EU is not anti-capitalist; it is about helping capitalism to flourish in a way that is compatible with social equity and justice … liberty, equality, fraternity, and so on. If you think it is about overthrowing capitalism and replacing it with a Trotskyist social system, I’m afraid you are deluded.



Filed under Politics

27 responses to “Trotsky, socialism and the EU

  1. Cymbeline

    Yes … there have been some rather insane Yanks on MyT over the years.

  2. Cymbeline

    What happened to the bloke from Georgia, with a line in baroque prose?

  3. I forget his name … it will come to me. To poor Larry he was the Great White Hope.


    There was also That Darned Republican. And some more normal ones from time to time.

  4. squarepeg

    ” he believed in revolution, not reform”

    And after revolution, what did he think should come next?

  5. Hello squarepeg … nice to see you; you’re very welcome to my blog! Any further comments will show up immediately now that I’ve approved the first one.

    As I recall, Trotsky believed in ‘permanent revolution’ … I can’t remember what that would have entailed, exactly; I would have to look it up. In any case, a kind of paradise on earth, or the best of all possible worlds. In reality, tyranny and dictatorship, no doubt. The usual outcome when ideologues have their head.

  6. Rainer the cabbie

    I always get disturbed at the term socialism. It is often used by conservatives as an argument against any social reform elected governments of the left undertake or practise.
    They use it in a deliberate manner, as it sounds like the old Soviet Union and Trotsky’s ideologue, where socialism equals control and dogma.
    I prefer the German term, where the SPD, the labor equivalent on the political spectrum, is called social democratic.
    This is what we see practiced in left politics in western countries and it is nothing to be fearful of as it does strike a balance.

  7. Hello Rainer. Yes, I very much agree with that. I think the various western European governments, whether nominally ‘left’ or ‘right’, are essentially centrist.

    There does seem to be a trend in Britain whereby the state has got more and more involved in people’s lives, which I don’t think is a good thing. For example, some school in London has objected to the fact that a couple are allowing their children to cycle to school … Boris Johnson wrote about this in the Telegraph. We need to retain a high degree of individual freedom or the balance will be upset.

  8. Cymbeline

    I am never disturbed by the word ‘socialism’.

    I use the word in its European sense, and if some extreme right-wing types associate the term with mad Ruskies and gulags, then that is their problem not mine.

  9. Cymbeline, some right-wingers associate it with Hitler!

  10. Cymbeline

    Yes, but do not forget that right-wing types are sometimes accused of being Nazis too. That is just as unfair as calling a socialist a commie bastard.

  11. Yes … words like ‘Nazi’ should not be used loosely; they lose their power.

  12. Cymbeline

    I quite like a young French postman called Olivier Besancenot.

  13. Cymbeline

    … well he’s not THAT young.

  14. Cymbeline

    Arlette Laguiller is a cool kid too.

  15. Cymbeline

    Brakes, personal integrity and conscience.

  16. Cymbeline

    The French will sit at table, talking about such ideas. There will be foie gras and Sauternes, and all sorts of petites folies. Maman may be accused of not having added enough salt to the rôti. Instead of saying “fuckin ‘ell, make yer own food next time”, she will push out her lips and say “vous avez raison”.

    Then there will be cakes from the pâtisserie and proper Champagne.

  17. Cymbeline

    Real French lefties.

  18. Cymbeline

    I love ’em.

  19. Cymbeline

    Vive la République!

  20. Vive la République!

    My daughter is attending an intensive French course this week and next.

  21. Cymbeline

    Hope the course goes well for your daughter. Is it in France or Ireland?

  22. It’s half an hour up the road, Cymbeline. She seems to be enjoying it … they speak only French, and watch and discuss French films etc.

  23. Cymbeline

    It is a wonderful thing to learn a new language.

    Has she been to France yet?

    Ireland seems to have become a popular destination for language students of English.

  24. She’s been learning it for a few years … big exam next year, so this is to give her a boost.

    She hasn’t been to France yet. My sister teaches French and always went there quite a lot to brush up.

    When we lived in Dublin we used to have Spanish and Italian students board with us each summer. Thousands upon thousands are in Dublin every year.

    Apparently a member of the Spanish football team, who will be playing in the World Cup final, spent a month learning English just down the road from us when he was 16. He loved it, he said … playing Gaelic football and so on.

  25. Brendan, Reading this reminds me of the ‘is not a real Scotsman argument’. What this means is that when people criticize someone for being representative of a perticular belief, race or class etc the retort is he/she is not a real Scotman, Irishman, Christian, Socialist, Communist etc etc.

  26. It was just a plea for the term ‘Trotskyist’ not to be used willy-nilly, but only for people that would actually sympathize with Trotsky’s ideas.

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