Saturday, March 31, 2007

Duncan Hallas - Trotsky's Marxism

This little book by Duncan Hallas, one of the longest standing members of the SWP in Britain until his death in 2002, contains a brilliant summary of the work of the great revolutionary Leon Trotsky. In particular, it takes a critical look at four key strands of his ideas.

In my previous review of a book about the Russian Revolution, I said that one of the argument levelled against that revolution was that it was a coup, as opposed to a workers' uprising. Another argument against it, common amongst some political parties at the time, was that Russia was too backward to have a successful working class revolution.

So, in the first section of this book, Hallas looks at Trotsky's groundbreaking theory of "permanent revolution" - this was Trotsky's belief that a backward country did not have to follow the path of development towards industrial capitalism BEFORE reaching the stage where a socialist revolution could be carried through. He argued that rather than the emerging capitalist class of Russia playing a progressive historical role as they had down in Britain, they would be unable to carry this through for fear of the powerful, emerging working class.

Hallas summarises this beautifully - and even though this book was written in 1979, the argument remain of course important for areas of the world undergoing radical change today (in particular one thinks, South America).

Hallas looks at other strands of Trotsky's thought. He rescues the idea of the United Front (the idea that revolutionary organisations must often work together with reformists) from the distortions that it underwent by those who followed Stalin.

The final part of the book looks at how Trotsky, and his small band of followers survived when the traditions of genuine socialist thought were being smashed by Stalinism. He looks at how Trotsky viewed Soviet society, even though it was clearly no longer socialist in a way that any genuine follower of Marx could believe.

This bit of the book is probably the most interesting for those, like me, whose political activity came after the 1980s and 1990s when small grouplets' discussions were dominated by theories on the nature of Russian society. It's a useful introduction to ideas of "Degenerated Workers States" and a brief introduction to the theory of State Capitalism.

Hallas' belief that Trotsky was one of the greatest revolutionaries, who carried the flame of socialism so a new generation of activists could carry on the struggle, bursts through in every section of this book. But his belief that revolutionary leaders are never perfect marxists who never make a mistake, particularly when they become isolated from the great movements that have made them, means that Hallas is never afraid to criticise Trotsky, in order that the new generation is better armed for future battles.

Trotsky's Marxism by Duncan Hallas, can be downloaded from the Marxists Internet Archive here or find out if Bookmarks has a second hand copy.

Since writing the above review, I've been told that Trotsky's Marxism is available in Arabic as a PDF here.

Related Reviews

Choonara - A Rebel's Guide to Trotsky

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