Articles posted by Radical Socialist on various issues.

The Political Significance of the All India Strike and the Revolutionary Movement in India

Between 1991 and 2015 there is a vast gap. The mainstream left parties and the Central Trade Unions and other mass organisations affiliated to them had at that time a much tighter grip on the working people. But they were becoming utterly clueless in a world where the Tien-an Men Square massacre had occurred, where the East European bureaucratized workers states had taken the path of capitalist restoration and even the Soviet Union was about to collapse. The Stalinist ideology and politics most of these parties followed was in its death throes.  On the other side was the decades long class collaborationist practice in independent India.  This was the time when the BJP had begun its ascent, over the campaign to destroy the Babri Masjid. As a result, in the belief that resisting fascism demanded an alliance with the so-called democratic sections or the anti-fascist sections of the bourgeoisie, they were not willing to take up the fight against the first round of neo-liberal offensive seriously. Indeed, frozen in their doctrinaire position that India needed a two-stage revolution and that globalization was the imposition of imperialism, they did not even realise how much the new policies were brought about in the interests of the Indian ruling class itself. The capitalists globally made no such mistake. A World Bank report at that time said that unlike in many other countries, in India they did not meet with hostility from government bureaucrats and banks when they put forward their Structural Adjustment proposals, but were instead met with similar proposals from the opposite side. This simply means that the Indian capitalist class had decided that further capital accumulation needed a great deal of economic liberalisation. Those leftists who were busy hunting for the “progressive national bourgeoisie: were the ones who did not understand this.

And of course, from 1992, what took priority was the “anti-communal, secular united front”. In practice, this meant tolerating Narasimha Rao’s neoliberal and soft Hindutva tinged government as the “lesser evil”. This was the first step in a series of disastrous actions. They followed this with support to the United Front, a government propped up by the Left and with the CPI actually participating in the cabinet. But the economic policy of this government was crafted by P. Chidambaram. His budget was hailed by Indian big capital as a “dream budget”. It was frustration at the failure of the United Front no less than anger at the Congress that resulted in the Vajpayee –led National Democratic Front government coming to power. The policies of the NDA government resulted in tremendous popular disaffection, and this resulted in the electoral results of 2004, when the Left won its greatest ever share of votes and seats. The four left parties polled nearly 9 per cent of the votes and obtained 62 seats. But they then declared support, once again, to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, and broke only four and a half years later over the nuclear treaty with the USA. Neither was that a principled anti-nuclear stand, since the objection had more to do with : “why the USA?”; nor did they tack opposition to the economic policies of the government. Indeed, in places like West Bengal, where they were in power, they followed the same neo-liberal policies.

There are important changes today. On one hand, in the Indian parliament, the left parties have far less representation than they had in the past. Within the working class movement too, their ideological as well as organisational control has gone down. Today, the RSS dominated BMS is the biggest union, followed by the Congress led INTUC. Meanwhile an entire generation of working class has grown up. Workers are losing jobs. Masses of workers are finding permanent jobs being converted to contract jobs. As a result, tremendous pressure is coming up from within the working class, demanding resistance. Between 1991 and 2006, in the nationalised sector, there has been a loss of 8,70,000  jobs. Between 1991 and 2013 there have taken place sixteen one or two day all India strikes. The ones in 2010, 2012 and 2013 were big events in the second phase of the UPA government.

Pressure is welling up for struggle, and for unity to wage struggle. The long struggle in the tea gardens was made possible by the unity. In jute mills, in the hosiery industry, there have emerged common platforms. That the INTUC and the BMS also had to go against their own governments is an indication of the working class pressure. [On 30 August the BMS finally withdrew its support for the strike, making it easier for the government to apply the harsh anti-labour, anti-strike measures it has been threatening to use in case the strike does take place.]

But there are many revolutionary organisations and their cadres who will say that the limitations of these struggles have been repeatedly shown up. This is where we need to test, what is a real revolutionary strategy, what are revolutionary tactics. And who are the people who only shuttle between reformism and sectarianism. For, when the working class movement has been taking severe beatings, and is on the backfoot, when the revolutionary organisation/s and movement is weak, to expect in such a situation that the bulk of the trade union movement will be revolutionary is to indulge in utopian day-dreaming. And if revolutionaries, in the name of retaining their “purity”, refuse to get involved in serious struggles, if they think that their task is to stand by the roadside passing out leaflets criticising the reformist lines of the Central Trade Unions, then history will move forward, leaving them behind.

We have said, in the first article, that the working class is contesting a government holding the banner of fascism. This is not an easy struggle. But this struggle cannot but begin through organisations that the working class is familiar with, organisations that they see (even if erroneously) as organisations standing by them for their struggles. And the enemy is not one company, one enterprise, but the entire ruling class and its political organisation – the state. A fitting response can be given only at the all India level, hence the oft used critical comment – “only a one day strike is not enough”, is only a partial truth.

If revolutionaries think their task is to ultimately win over the majority of the working class to their perspectives, then they have to act as organisers of working class struggles in a big way. Formally everyone or most will agree with this. But in practice, as the struggle in the tea gardens showed, the task is difficult. An immense amount of energy must be spent in seriously building trade unions and going to a militant struggle. And then, at need, one has to call traitors as traitors. This is what happened in the tea gardens. But only when the revolutionaries were fully involved in building the struggle will they gain a hearing if they call the reformists by their proper names. Only through such struggles can they successfully build, not miniature pocket unions led by a “revolutionary party”, but democratic working class unions.


What the one day all India strike can do is raise the crucial issues before the workers of the country. The added duty of revolutionaries is to raise the long term issues within every partial struggle. For example, we can say, in the case of the tea garden struggles, which ended with the shameful capitulation of the major unions to the dictations of the owners dressed up as  government announcement at the tripartite discussions, it is not enough to castigate the capitulations. It is also necessary to hold up the alternative. In the same way, we can say that when the All India Federation of University and College Teachers’ Organisations (AIFUCTO) or the West Bengal College and University Teachers’ Association demand pay rise or Dearness Allowance and yet do not mobilise seriously, our task is to get in there, demand greater mobilisations, and insist that the rights of the masses of part time teachers be highlighted.

The most vital task in today’s situation is to organise the vast masses of unorganised workers. To do this, revolutionaries must act both inside and outside unions. The limitation of any trade union is, it must begin by thinking of its own membership. But that action, however natural and even legitimate, means the exclusion of a lot of others. That is why, the traditional unions in particular, routine-bound, often bureaucratised, paid so little attention to the rights of the unorganised. But if one excludes the unorganised contract workers, then very few major struggles can achieve victory today. Bank employees understood this well enough, as banks constantly improved the ATMs so that a great many functions can be carried out through them. As this happened, the effectivity of bank strikes were blunted when ATMs remained open. So an intelligent union membership will, in its own interest, try to organise the unorganised  in their own sector. But when it comes to the country as a whole, this is clearly the task of a political leadership.  It is the revolutionary activists and their organisations, working hand in hand with the newer, more militant trade unions, who will begin to create the structures of alternative organisations. They have to deepen the campaigns over the strike, linking the local with the all-India demands and issues.

Over a century back, Rosa Luxemburg explained that the Mass Strike is not an isolated incident but the central aspect of the class struggle of a whole period. She saw a one day token strike as less important. More important was the blending of political and economic struggles, each inspiring the other.

Only in a revolutionary period, when the foundations and walls of class society tremble, do the vast masses of workers, including those who till the other day had been inactive, get into the thick of battles. We are certainly not in such a situation today. But nor are we in the situation of 1991, when gloom and doom had influenced the leaders of unions and parties. A considerable part of the working class has shown, through local battles as well as through participation in previous all India strikes, that they are nearing the boiling point and want to fight back. Our task is to build a revolutionary proletarian alternative. And that can only be done if we stay at our posts, and combine the struggles over local issues with the all India demands. When we take the line of building small “ideal” unions of usually miniscule size, or when we stand outside the real struggles, handing out leaflets to militant workers explaining why their leaders are traitors and agents of the ruling class, we are seen rightly by the workers as sectarians who are not involved in their real struggles.


But another temptation before revolutionaries is to apply the united front tactic badly or in a wrong way. Thus, today, the CPI(M) and its mass fronts, including the CITU, are taking questionable political positions. They have routinely poured cold water when workers have become militant. Their politics even now is one where they are desperately looking for an alliance with the Congress and other bourgeois parties in order to block the Trinamul Congress in West Bengal and the BJP at the all India level. There has been no serious self criticism by the CPI(M) of its support to neoliberalism when in power. Goutam Deb’s comments, CPI intellectual Debes Roy’s article in Ei Samay, the Bangla paper of the Times of India group, all attest to their desperation to get back some share of governmental power, with no regard to any kind of left principle. At this juncture, it is one thing to fight together with the CITU on a certain day or for a certain demand. It is a very different thing when we turn that into an alliance with the CITU, or the CPI(M), as some forces on the radical left are doing. That enables the CPI(M) to present itself under “left” cover, that confuses militant cadres, and that is not really necessary to gain the hearing of the CPI(M) ranks. Building independent movements, but not as sects outside the working class, but rather as builders of working class organisations and struggles is what is needed. Once we do so, the question of united action with reformist unions will come up. In any case whenever we are in big unions we work with cadres of those parties. It is this line, where we maintain our independence, but still work with the reformists, that needs to be worked out consistently in practice. This is the task of the revolutionary left for the 2nd September strike, not one of either finding joys that one of “our” leaders is able to rub shoulders with big union leaders in a central rally, nor in the joy of sectariana. 

Labour Law Reforms, Indian Capitalism and the Modi Government

This is the second article on the coming all India strike. Here we take a look at the kind of reforms Modi wishes to push though.

From the beginning of the era of globalization in India, one routine yell of the capitalist class has been that the Indian labour laws are archaic, and pose the greatest hindrance to progress. In reality labour laws are very often ignored or flouted. There are so many ways to avoid labour laws in the unorganised sector, in the SEZs, etc. But capital must forever seek to increase its profit rate. So the few laws that protect a few of the workers, they too must be brought under attack. The word “reform” is a code word for an all out offensive.

The national convention called by the Central Trade Unions, a group of mostly moderate organisations, mostly led by either reformist left parties or affiliated to bourgeois parties, and therefore not at all inclined to make excessively radical claims, adopted a declaration that said, in part:

“The Governments’ aim in aggressively pushing through sweeping changes in labour-laws is nothing but to push out overwhelming majority of workers out of the coverage of all labour laws and to drastically curb the trade union rights. The CTUs had besides other issues raised the issue of strict enforcement of labour laws and universal social security but this Govt. is doing away with all rights-components in all the labour laws aiming at creating conditions of bonded labour in all the workplaces. EPF and ESI schemes are proposed to be made optional which is also aimed at demolishing the PF and ESI schemes dismantling the basic social security structures available to the organized sector. And for the vast unorganized sector workers, old schemes are being repackaged and renamed, without providing for funds and implementation-machinery/network with a view to befool the people.’[1]

So who is right -- the bosses and the government, with their array of experts, development economists, management gurus, or the workers and their unions? Before and during every strike, dozens of newspapers and dozens of television channels produce innumerable experts, who explain in unctuous tones that getting rid of the archaic laws will benefit not just the bosses, but the entire economy, including the workers.  The archaic labour laws, we are told, act as shackles on the feet of the Indian economy.

So what are the laws which must be reformed? The list includes the Factories Act (1948), the Apprentices Act (1961), and the Labour Laws Act (1988).

It is true, that since independence, or even since 1991, labour laws have not changed much.  The basic idea behind some of these laws is, that in any non-agricultural work, if there are ten or more workers in a workplace (when it has electricity) and twenty or more (when it does not have electrical power), then there will be governmental regulation of the rules of work. This sector is called the “organised sector”.

Establishments under the organised sector usually have to register themselves under the Factories Act. This means, in theory they are bound to allow government inspectors to enter their premises at any time. But even so, some 90 per cent of India’s labour force, belonging to the unorganised sector, are currently out of these rules. So such things as rules about working hours, overtime pay, rights of women workers, all these are restricted to a less than ten percent fragment of the working class. There was a formal claim behind the making of this structure in the colonial and immediate post-independence period, namely, as the nation developed, as modernisation proceeded, the organised sector would grow and more and more workers would come under protection. In reality, from the 1970s, development has taken a different path.

Nevertheless, the existence of these laws does have some consequence. Even if, today only ten percent of the working class is protected bty these laws, the rights they enjoy appear as a forward looking goal to the vast majority. In the same way, we can refer to the regular announcement of pay revisions, of payment of Dearness Allowances, etc. The bourgeoisie, its paid media hacks, its paid ideologues who are called economists, all attack these workers/employees.  They allege that these workers are privileged. It is routinely spread in newspapers, in fiction, in organised rumours, that these are people who get fat salaries without doing any work. Had the state sector not existed, it is then asserted, they would not have these privileges.

There is of course some truth in these fables. Take the public sector and the private sector buses in Kolkata. Private sector bus drivers and conductors usually get a share of the money taken in, not a salary. As a result, they work long hours. Public sector buses are kept in depots, where there is a full time maintenance staff. Private sector bus drivers and helpers have to look after their own buses. So owners make big profits. And as long as certain groups of workers go on getting definite pay scales, periodic revision of the pay scales, dearness allowance, a number of guaranteed promotions during one’s working life, some 9even if limited) benefits for women workers, such as paid maternity leave or child care leave, these persist in becoming benchmarks for other workers, in formulating their demands and in fighting for them. This was why, even as Chief Minister of Gujarat, Modi had objected to the formation of the Seventh Pay Commission ( his view had been echoed by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee).

So the law is important because it creates a somewhat better space where the workers can fight. To ignore that is not a useful political stance. Year after year, big capital has been demanding that the laws restraining them must go. Some of the Acts they want removed or modified are the Industrial Disputes Act and the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act. The IDA says, in any plant having 100 or more workers, before sackings or closure, the owners must seek government permission. The second Act restricts the use of contract labourers in existing industries. Modi wants the number of workers needed to bring a factory under the Factories Act to be increased from 10 to 40. It is to be noted that in today’s world of lean production, a factory employing 40 workers and using robots multiplying the work of those 40  tenfold or more, is actually quite a considerable factory. The BJP-led Rajasthan government has already taken some steps. In the Contract Labour Act, where the references had been to twenty workers or more, they have increased it to fifty or more.  In the case of the IDA, they have announced that permission of the state government need not be sought regarding sackings unless the size of the workforce is 300 or more. When the workers are taken in as apprentices, all restrictions on sackings have been lifted.  They have also made getting recognitions for unions more difficult. In addition, Modi has proposed making firings easier, imposing up to Rs. 50,000 fines plus jail terms for “illegal” strikes; and the already taken action – making child labour legal.

Child Labour:

On one hand, much din is being made and much data is being fudged in order to claim that poverty is going down in India. On the other hand, instead of taking social welfare measures directed at poor children, child labour has been legalised. In an interview, Gautam Mody, General Secretary of the New Trade Union Initiative, explained in an interview, that officially the position is, children may be made to work outside school hours. But if children have to attend school, and then perform labour outside school hours, then where does childhood go? What does education mean? Secondly it has been said that the labour of members of the family can be used when using child labour, But if it is not clarified what family means, this can be a real problem. Using the concept of “joint family”, children of poorer kin can be exploited. Moreover, as child labour becomes widespread, and extremely low wages are paid to these children, that will have the effect of dragging down the overall wage level, certainly in a number of sectors. So the “reform” of child labour law has the clear intention of lowering wages and producing larger numbers of low paid unskilled labourers.

Contract Labour:

The bulk of the people in the labour market of India are short term contract labourers. At present, 85 per cent of the enterprises engaged in industrial production work with less than 50 workers. 58 per cent of factories have less than 30 workers. Even in the organised sector about 80 per cent of workers have no formal, written agreement. Or they have contracts for less than one year. A huge part of these workers work under sub-contractors. Even in government jobs, or in jobs where the salary ultimately comes from the government, thirty per cent are currently working with short term contracts. But out of the 36 million contract workers now in existence in India, hardly 6 million even now come under the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act of 1970. Modi’s proposed reform wants to take all workers in all factories hiring 50 or fewer workers outside the purview of this Act.  In that case, of course, far more workers would come under the tender mercies of the contractors.

Small Industrial Enterprises:

By the Small Factories (Regulation of Employment and Condition of Services) the definition of a small factory has been sought to be changed to all factories employing fewer than 40 workers. In the name of simplifying the laws, all such factories are thus going to be taken out of the protection of 14 labour protection laws. It is to be remembered that post-1991, most of the new jobs created fall in the unorganised sector. The proposed reforms will immensely strengthen the owners in that huge sector.

Factory Inspection and “Self-Certification”:

Industrialists and bankers often use the term “inspection raj”. Inspections can be of different types. But the truth is, India never had much of a decent labour inspectorate. In 2012, in order to see whether the Minimum Wages Act was being properly implemented, there were a princely total of 3171 inspectors for about 7.7 million enterprises. It is evident that there was not much real inspection. According to official records, in 1986 there had been actual inspections of 63 per cent of all factories. By 2008 this had come down to 17.88 per cent.

Even 31 years after the Bhopal disaster, awareness of industrial safety is extremely poor. In the case over Vadodara’s Hema Chemicals, it was the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee that found a mountain of 77,000 tonnes of toxic waste material created by the owner.[2] Yet, in this situation, instead of looking at the problems workers face, the Modi government has, in a particularly shameless manner, called for “self-certification”. The owner will annually certify that the company is following all laws. There may be occasional (not annual) inspections. If that ever results in proving that the owner had lid, then they might be handed stiff penalties. As had happened to Union Carbide after Bhopal, one supposes!! In reality, everything will be imperilled as a result of this: workplace safety, drinking water, eight hour working day, adequate toilet facilities, extra pay for overtime work, leave with full pay – every right won over a century.

The Gujarat Model:

Before the elections of 2014, we were repeatedly told, that the road to the country’s development was being shown by the Gujarat Model. So what does development mean in that case? The Gujarat Industrial Disputes (Amendment) Act, 2004 and the Gujarat Special Economic Zones Acts have ensured that most of Gujarat’s industries fell outside the control of India’s labour laws, or most of them. But though the SEZs were outside the control of national labour laws, they did not generate vast numbers of jobs. What happened was, the rate of profit and the total profits of the bosses multiplied manifold.  Secondly, the SEZs were built by occupying large tracts of land. At the all India level, that model has already led to tremendous uproar. Seizing the opportunity, even the bourgeois opposition parties have started making trouble over this issue in Parliament.

But what, overall, was the Gujarat Model? In 2012, an independent trade union named the Jyoti Karmachari Mandal filed a query under the Right to Information Act concerning the Gujarat Government’s Swami Vivekanand Youth Employment Week. The Gujarat Government had claimed that 65,000 young women and men had been given jobs through Rozgar Melas (Employment Fairs). But a district-wise break up obtained through RTIs showed a total of not more than 51,587. Of these, 11,172 were apprentices, so there is no guarantee they would retain their jobs after the apprenticeship period was over. That leaves 40,415. But the responses to the RTI provided only 32,372 names and addresses. Moreover, it was learnt from the RTIs that not one person had been given appointment letters. What was done, it emerged from the data provided by the RTIs, was that 18,7 million rupees were spent out of public funds (for the security of the ministers who went round these fairs handing over fake documents called “Employment letters” (bad in law) to the youth, and for setting up stalls, putting advertisements etc. The result was the hiring of low paid workers – mostly for the private sector. So this is the model that Modi wants to present to the whole of India. The rulers will no doubt be happy.

Environment and Workers’ Health Issues:

Another important issue connected to this is the health issue. In 1960, industry in Gujarat  was restricted to four cities – Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat and Rajkot. The discovery of mineral oil and natural gas changed he picture. Currently 51 per cent of India’s chemical industry production comes from this one province. Twenty per cet of Gujarat’s total industrial activity is over this one industry. Yet even so many years after Bhopal, the state government is not worried about the health of workers in this industry. In 2009, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and IIT Delhi joined hands to develop a new system of pollution measurement. This index, the Comprehensive Environmental Pollution Index (CEPI) gives ratings for all polluted areas.  In 2009 Ankleswar in Gujarat with CEPI 88.50 was India’s most highly polluted place. In 2011 and 2013 this dubious honour went to Vapi in Gujarat, with CEPI 85.31. In 2013, out of the 30,310 factories registered under the Factories Act in Gujarat, 4,559 were identified as dangerous chemical works. Yet the Gujarat government has never developed any plan to tackle dangerous chemicals. As the first step to transferring the Gujarat model across India, the Modi government has already diluted many of the environment protection rules to facilitate setting up highly profitable industries.

So the words Labour Law Reform, do not imply protecting, far less improving, the health, the wages, and working environment of workers. Their meaning should now be clear: destruction of trade unions, intensification of exploitation, reduction of wages, increasing child labour. That is why, the strike of 2 September is such a vital action.



[1]Declaration by National Convention of Workers-All India General Strike on 2nd September, 2015, http://www.govtempdiary.com/2015/05/declaration-by-national-convention-of-workers-all-india-general-strike-on-2nd-september-2015/ (accessed on 28th August 2015).


Make the One Day All-India Strike on 2 September a Huge Success

The following essay appeared in the August 2015 issue of Radical, the Bengali paper of Radical Socialist. Together with two other essays, this articulates our stand on the demands, the issues over which the fight back is occurring, the limitations of reformism and the tasks of revolutionaries.

Make the One Day All-India Strike on 2 September a Huge Success

With the electoral victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which got a majority in the lower house of Parliament all by itself, a deeply right wing government is well-settled in power. A little over one year after they have come to power, this government is going to engage in its first test of strength with the working class. We have long ago characterised the BJP, and standing behind it, the RSS, as a fascist force. But this does not mean that the day after they took power a Hitler-regime was imposed in India.  But the chipping away at democracy continues daily. Daily, also proceed two efforts, each in its own way, but both with consistent government support – one is the imposition of Hindutva, and the other the politics of imposing the interests of capital. But the class struggle dimension is not often publicly recognised, because there the bourgeois liberals and the fascists are in essential agreement. So the common area between liberals (who might claim to oppose Hindutva) and the fascists is that in the name of “reforms’ for “development”, profit rate must be increased. That is why, we need to discuss closely the one day All-India Strike called by the trade unions for 2 September, 2015.

Why the Strike?

On 26 May 2015, at a National Convention held in the Mavlankar Auditorium at the call of 11 Central Trade Unions as well as 50 national federations of Central Government employees, a one day strike call was issued in order to resist the anti worker-peasant, pro-bosses’ profit policies of the one year old BJP government.

The trade unions had presented a Ten point charter of demands at the time of the UPA government. All-India strikes have occurred thrice, in 2010, 2012 and 2013 over those demands.[1] Just as the UPA government chose to remain silent over those demands, so has today’s national Democratic Alliance government under Modi decided to ignore the demands. Both NDA and UPA have severe objections to implementing any of the recommendations of the Indian Labour Conferences.

Accordingly, we first need to look at the charters of demands, produced by the Central Trade Unions as well as the Central Government Employees Federations. Whenever workers call strikes, the bourgeois newspapers, the television channels, all raise a tremendous hue and cry – these people are damaging the economy. Attempts are made to stoke up conflicts between the poorest paid workers and those slightly better off. So we being by closely examining the demands.

The 12 point Charter of the Central Trade Unions:

  1. Urgent measures for containing price-rise through universalisation of public distribution system and banning speculative trade in commodity market.

  2. Containing unemployment through concrete measures for employment generation.

  3. Strict enforcement of all basic labour laws without any exception or exemption and stringent punitive measure for violation for labour laws.

  4. Universal social security cover for all workers.

  5. Minimum wages of not less than Rs. 15,000/- per month with provisions of indexation.

  6. Assured enhanced pension not less than Rs. 3000/- P.M. for the entire working population.

  7. Stoppage of disinvestment in Central/State PSUs.

  8. Stoppage of contractisation in permanent perennial work and payment of same wage and benefits for contract workers as regular workers for same and similar work.

  9. Removal of all ceilings on payment and eligibility of bonus, provident fund; increase the quantum of gratuity.

  10. Compulsory registration of trade unions within a period of 45 days from the date of submitting applications; and immediate ratification of ILO Convention C 87 and C 98.

  11. Against Labour Law Amendments

  12. Against FDI in Railways, Insurance and Defence.

The 10 Point Demands of the Central Government Employees Federations:

  1. Effect wage revision of the Central Government Employees from 01.01.2014 accepting memorandum of the staff side JCM; ensure 5-year wage revision in future; grant interim relief and merger of 100% of DA; Include Gramin Dak Sevaks within the ambit of 7th CPC. Settle all anomalies of 6th CPC.

  2. No Privatisation, PPP or FDI in Railways, Defence Establishment and no corporatization of Postal services.

  3. No ban on creation of new posts. Fill up all vacant posts.

  4. Scrap PFRDA Act and re-introduce the defined benefit statutory pension scheme.

  5. No outsourcing, contractisation, privatization of governmental functions; withdraw the proposed move to close down the printing presses, the publications, form stores and stationery departments and medical stores Depots; regularize the existing daily-rated/casual and contract workers and absorption of trained apprentices.

  6. Revive the JCM functioning at all level as an effective negotiating forum for settlement of the demands of the Central Government Employees.

  7. Remove arbitrary ceiling on compassionate appointment.

  8. No labour reforms which are inimical to the interest of the workers.

  9. Remove the ceiling on payment on bonus

  10. Ensure five promotions in the serve career.

Some general issues can be understood from these demands. Generally, of course, unions raise demands in the interests of their members. But some of these demands are demands that go beyond union members to serve the interests of the entire working class, indeed of all toiling people.

The Public Distribution System:

The governmental logic behind gutting the countrywide PDS has been, why should the government pay “subsidies “ to those who have the ability to pay? By this “logic”, a division has been created between those who are ostensibly “above’ the poverty level and those who are below it.  A huge part of the population has been removed from the rationing system. We say – the government must increase its revenues by increasing direct taxes on the rich, on companies, etc. Using that wealth, every human being living in India must be given rice, wheat, pulses, soap, and other essential goods through the rationing network. We feel that if Mukesh or Anil Ambani [2] are willing to stand in queue for the ration or to eat the quality of rice obtained from the ration shop, let them also get their ration cards and draw their rations. The “subsidy" the government would have to bear in order to set up a universal rationing system, will have to be funded by hiking taxes on the Ambanis, the Adanis, the Tatas and the Birlas.

Job creation:

Only the state can afford to create employment opportunities without everyday looking at the rate of profit. So it is through public investments that employment can be generated and the problem of unemployment tackled.  Not only the second demand of the Central trade unions, but also other demands actually have that thrust.

Minimum wages Rs 15000, Minimum pension Rs. 3000:

Over this demand, a fraud is being perpetrated to divide workers and toiling people generally. The argument is, if wages are raised, the cost of living will also go up. If the wages of rural workers is raised, then prices of cereals, lentils, vegetables will go up immediately. Services will cost more. Domestic workers (still called servants in most Indian languages) wages will rise [this is a threat directed at the better paid wage earners, who hire part time or even full time domestic help]. The hike in the wages of transport workers will also mean a hike in transport costs.

First of all, everyone has the right to live a decent life. So regardless of exactly what the impact will be on workers with somewhat higher incomes, the demand for minimum wages and pensions for all is the most socially just demand that one can think of.

Secondly, these two demands are not isolated ones. There is a full charter of demands taking into consideration all working people. The demands also include demands for wage rise of workers and employees of the organised sector. What is ignored, when the better paid workers are instigated against this demand, is the reality that in today’s India, in fact less than 10 per cent of the workers are organised. These are indeed core demands that will have an effect on all the demands of the workers. In today’s working class movement in India, the importance of these demands simply cannot be overstressed.

Further, it must be realised that a large part of this unorganised labour force, workers in construction industry, domestic workers, or for that matter workers under contract in numerous industries, do not work under the same owner all their lives. So the central thrust of these demands is not directed to the individual capitalist or boss, as it is directed to the state as the collective voice of the ruling class. It is for the state, rather than any private employer, to guarantee a monthly pension to all workers after they retire.

Globalization and Its Impact:

Next come the demands related to globalization and the attacks on working class due to globalization:

These include an opposition to the reduction of permanent jobs and the increase of contractisation. It is worth looking at how massively this has grown in different sectors. Through the introduction of the so-called PPP model, many jobs even in core government sectors have been farmed out to private companies, especially contractors. Vital aspects of the economy are affected. As a result, private profits grow while losses are off-loaded on the gutted, exhausted public sector. At the same time, through contractisation and privatisation, an increasing number of workers are pushed into precarious conditions of existence. For example, in the educational sector, even in higher education (general colleges, universities, and technical colleges), teachers hired through short term contracts (at most one year) now amount to 40 per cent of all teachers. An increasing part of the other staff (clerical, technical, security, etc) are also being turned into contract, often short term staff.

Finally there are basic democratic rights issues, notably the demand that the right to form trade unions be accepted rather than hampered, and that the ILO conventions 87, 98 and 104 be recognised and implemented. Through these conventions, India must promulgate laws that would make impossible the current scenario, where union-busting laws like the Essential Services Maintenance Act are passed and implemented. Government employees must also be given the full and unhampered right to form unions and the right to strike.

Along with these, there are demands relating to already implemented as well as proposed labour law reforms, but so important are these, that they merit a separate discussion. Before that, however, one core issue must be addressed. In 1991, when P.V. Narasima Rao was the Prime Minister and Manmohan Singh the Finance Minister, India embarked on an open, full-fledged policy of economic liberalisation, under the heading of globalization. Ever since then, we have been given certain promises. At the heart of all those promises was one central argument – that globalization, or the reduction of state control and the increase of economic liberalism, would result in an immense development with a trickle-down effect, so that the poor too would benefit. After a quarter century, the time has surely come to take stock of the concrete effects.

After between ten and fifteen years of the new policies, i.e., in 2001-05, according to the estimates of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the average Gross Domestic Product rose by 6.5 percent per year. But wages rose by 2.6%. In 2006 wages rose by merely 0.4 per cent, and in 2007 they actually declined by 0.6 per cent. But even the word wages can be confusing, when the division is such that the wages of bureaucrats, managers, are piled together with those of truck drivers, brick layers, or domestic help. A few other components help us to understand the distribution of income (wages, profit, all) better.

1990-91 2010-11

Private Cars1,80,000 29,00,000

People travelling by planes89,00,000 5,70,00,000

Cabinet Secretary’s wages 30,000 90,000

(Monthly, in INR)

Annual salary of the Tata Steel

Managing Director (in INR)3.78 million 41 million

In other words, “development” has indeed occurred. It has made the Indian wealthy more wealthy. It has enabled a few within the Indian capitalist class to break through right to the top of the big capitalists globally, and it has meant prosperity for the top 10 to 15 per cent of the Indian population. The clearest gross estimate of how globalization has meant gains, ad for whom, come from two sources. We can look at the Income Tax and property tax records; and we can look at the reports on worldwide wealth, including the aforementioned Forbes list of the rich.

These show that in 2009, the top 100 Indian rich had total wealth amounting to 276 billion US dollars. In the same year, the top 100 Chinese rich had wealth amounting to 170 billion US dollars. Yet if the GDP is computed taking into account relative purchasing power, (GDP- PPP) then the Indian GDP was less than half that of its Chinese counterpart. In other words, despite the rhetoric of India being a democracy and how that makes it difficult to garner profits while in China supposedly the dictatorial rule makes everything easier, it is in India that the wealthy have a tighter grip over the distribution of wealth.

So the strike is not because of any shady and manipulative attitude of the union leaders, as bourgeois propaganda tells us all the time. Nor is there any adventurism. What exists is a deep anger among the toiling people, with which has come together in recent times a determination to fight against the proposals for labour law reform by the Modi Government.

[1]. See  http://www.radicalsocialist.in/articles/statement-radical-socialist/228-radical-socialist-statement-on-the-7-september-all-india-strike ; http://www.radicalsocialist.in/articles/statement-radical-socialist/455-against-the-rule-of-capital-for-the-general-strike ; http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article2524 ; and http://www.radicalsocialist.in/articles/national-situation/525-greater-than-the-might-of-armies-the-general-strike-of-20-21-february-2013 for Radical Socialist satatements and assessments.

[2]. Mukesh Ambani is possibly India’s richest individual. Forbes magazine puts  his net real worth at US$18.9 billion on 26/8/2015 (http://www.forbes.com/profile/mukesh-ambani/ ). His younger brother Anil has been identified by Forbes as India’s 19th richest man, with US$2.5 billion on the same day. (http://www.forbes.com/profile/anil-ambani/ ) (both last accessed on 26/8/2015).

An Explosion of Bureaucratic Capital : On the Tianjin Blast

On the 19th August, 2015, the Xinhua News Agency released an interesting report on last week’s Tianjin Ruihai International Logistics storage explosion. While indirectly denying that Li Liang, the nominal chief shareholder of the company, is the nephew of Li Ruihuan, former Standing Committee member of the Politbureau, it confirmed that another chief shareholder, Dong Sheqian, is the son of the former chief of Tianjin Police. It also revealed that the real boss of the company is Yu Xuewei, although his background is still not clear.

“Many intermediary organizations are either government-run, semi-government-run, or joint ventures of the government and private sector.

The reason that the company easily received all the permits necessary for operation despite blatant violation of most rules is because both Dong and Yu colluded with different government departments. The report quotes Dong as saying, “while my connection is chiefly the police and the fire fighting department, Yu has connection with the Production Safety Inspection Bureau, the port management, the customs and the environmental protection bureau.” [1]

Red Hat Agencies

There is yet another player in the game which is neglected in many reports however.

According to the 2001 law on regulating the production and storage of hazardous chemicals, the storage place must be a distance of at least one thousand meters away from residential areas. In the case of the Ruihai storage place the distance was only 600 meters. Yet, according to China Youth Daily, the Safety Evaluation Report prepared for Ruihai, which allowed it to get the government’s permit to operate legally, claims that the storage place’s distance from residential areas is in line with the law. [2] The company which issued this report is called Tianjin Zhongbin Haisheng Safety and Health Evaluation Of Detection Co. Ltd, as was shown in its website (and Zhongbin Haisheng hereafter). [3]

According to the 17th August Beijing News, this company is what people may call “hongding zhongjie”, or literally “red hat agencies”. [4] Hongding was the official hat of high ranking Mandarins under the Qing dynasty, and when these Mandarins also opened their own businesses and become businessmen (shangren), they were called hongding shangren. Red hat agencies are just a special kind of red hat company (hongding gongsi), a code word for commercial companies founded by government officials, either as individuals or collectively. Before we go into this further let us first look at the main shareholders of this profit-making private agency Zhongbin Haisheng.

The forerunner of this company was founded in 2003. There are now three main shareholders of this company: the Tianjin Rubber Industry Institute, the Tianjin Dolphin Rubber Group Co. Ltd., and the National Engineering Research Centre for Fire Protection, an institute under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Public Security and located at the Tianjin Fire Research Institute. All three shareholders are either state owned enterprises or government departments. The last shareholder only became a shareholder in 2008. The joining of forces with the Tianjin Fire Research Institute under the Ministry of Public Security gave Zhongbin Haisheng a huge advantage in winning the class A qualification for “Safety Evaluation Agencies” in 2012. According to the institute’s website, it “runs a world-class integrated fire research and testing base”. Obviously its expertise in the field has no bearing on Zhongbin Haisheng’s decision to allow Ruihai to pass the safety evaluation when it did not deserve to.

According to the China Youth Daily report, Ruihai had previously asked another agency to make the safety evaluation report, but the agency’s report did not give its approval to Ruihai. So Ruihai sought help from Zhongbin Haisheng and the latter gave Ruihai a pass, allowing it to get a government permit to operate.

In China it is a common practice for government departments to appoint particular safety evaluation consultants for applicant companies which wish to operate in the storing or manufacturing of dangerous goods. The applicant companies know very well that they can only get licenses for operating by complying with the demand. Very often these consultants are founded or owned by government officials or their cronies, hence the name “red hat agencies”. According to a report, nationally there are now approximately 68 class A and 347 class B safety evaluation agencies. [5]

“Safety evaluations are a game of going through the motions”

The above mentioned Beijing News report dares not directly criticize Zhongbin Haisheng for colluding with Ruihai. Instead it mentions a case which allows us to have a glimpse of how these red hat agencies work and it is therefore worth quoting at length:

“Lots of arguments have been around for some years concerning environmental impact evaluation issues, and how these red hat agencies merely go through the motions when they carry out their evaluations. This problem also exists in the field of safety evaluations. Whereas years ago the laws which governed environmental impact evaluations required openness of information, safety evaluations are still within the category of black-box operations. ”

“In practice, and what is also quite common, the consultants who conduct safety evaluations are appointed by the supervisory departments. Previously, CCTV has reported that in Chongqing, all 42 private gas stations sought the same safety evaluation agency to do their reports. The supervisory department, namely the production safety bureau, claimed that it had just ‘recommended’ the consultant, and did not place any executive order. But since it is this production safety bureau which has the final say on the stations’ safety evaluation, which firms will have the guts to ignore the official ‘recommendation’ and seek an alternative instead?”

“As for safety evaluations, that they are largely a game of going through the motions, is an open secret in the industry. Many companies pay thousands of dollars to get a report to deal with the matter. The safety evaluation of the 42 private gas stations in Chongqing were all done in little more than an hour. The agency staff just walked round the stations for a while and then issued them a safety evaluation report, and charged them 3,000 Yuan.” [6]

Government run PR companies lobbying the government

This comment leads us to a discussion of the zhongjie business, literally “intermediary business”, which is a special type of industry in China. Surely Chinese consultancy and lobbying businesses or the like are nothing special in their own right? What is special in China is that the zhongjie business is someties treated as a single branch of industry, although it includes a wide range of commercial activities, from lobbying, consultancy, intermediary agencies, accounting, auditing, to notary services and authentication and so on. Organizations involved in zhongjie include but are not limited to commercial companies. All kinds of business and trade associations may also fall under this category. If there is anything in common between such a wide ranges of activities, it is the need for the business sector to either lobby the government or to obtain certain official approval or licenses. Here we enter into the realm of what free-market advocates characterize as rent seeking.

The Chinese bureaucracy, however, from the very beginning, has never been content merely with bribery. Instead it goes one step further by founding their own zhongjie, or agencies, to exploit the private capitalists in exchange for facilitating the granting of government’s approval or licenses. If one does not do business with these red hat agencies, one will never be able to obtain government approval or permits even if one possesses enough money and qualified technology. This is also why in China the lobbying/consultancy/intermediary/PR services are dominated by government officials or their cronies at every level. For example, China’s first public relations company, China Global Public Relations Company, was founded in 1985 by the Xinhua News Agency. This was achieved with the assistance of the world famous PR company Burson-Marsteller. Since then, bureaucrat-run zhongjie have sprung up everywhere. When businessmen want to bid for government contracts, all they need to do is to seek the help of these government department run agencies to lobby the very same government department.

In 2009, the Academy of Social Sciences published a report Research on Corruption in Social Intermediary Organizations and the Relevant Countermeasures. It points out that:

“In China, commercial bribery, corruption and rent-seeking from government officials, and also intermediary organizations involved in rent-seeking corruption etc, have been intensifying. In various cases of corruption, there are people who make use of audit reports or financial reports or evaluation reports, legally issued by intermediaries like accountants, appraisers, and trade associations etc, to cover up their illegal acts of corruption. This is also the usual practice of rent-seeking government officials. The acts of corruption of these intermediary organizations are mainly grouped into three categories: bribery and assistance with bribery, money laundering, and participation in the misappropriation of state assets, activities which harm the interests of both the shareholders and the consumers. ”

“Many intermediary organizations (such as Trade Promotion Associations, the Chambers of Commerce, trade associations, etc) are themselves founded by people who rely on government connections; they are either government-run, semi-government-run, or joint ventures of the government and private sector. Some intermediary organizations sever their links with their former supervisory departments only in appearance, while in practice they are still linked to the departments. Some intermediary organizations are headed by incumbent government officials, or officials may act as consultants or honorary presidents. Retired officials also may play the same roles as incumbent officials do. This situation creates an entity of shared interest between the government and the agencies.” [7]

It is common to describe the above phenomenon as customary corruption or collusion between officials and the business sector. The problem with the first characterization is that it is far too vague, while the second assumes the separation between government and business. In China’s case government officials are also businessmen. They combine both the coercive power of the state apparatus and the power of money to become rich and powerful at the same time. In the 1930s the CCP criticized the KMT for being the chief representative of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie. Today this accusation is a thousand times more applicable to the CCP.

The Beijing News comments that the Ruihai safety assessment evaluation issue “should be thoroughly investigated ..., and that these red hat agencies must be smashed, the interest chain behind the scene should be cut off.” One can hardly disagree with this, but the problem is by whom should it be investigated? The CCP, since thirty years ago, has been going through the motions of reiterating the ban on government departments and officials founding commercial companies. The result is that the bureaucracy comes up with even more business activities. If the CCP is still capable of self-reform, there would not have been a Tianjin blast in the first place, or any similar disasters.

The CCP is so armed to the teeth and remains so powerful that no forces are yet able to challenge it from the outside. The problem, however, is that the CCP is the biggest enemy of itself. Physics tells us that when a large star is old enough, its core can no longer bear its own weight. Its outer region therefore explodes, followed by its inner core collapsing and imploding and then turning into a black hole. Today’s CCP has grown to such a monstrous size and power that its rotten core is also increasingly unable to bear the weight of itself. The Tianjin blast is just one of its outer region explosions before it implodes.

August 20, 2015


[1] Shikong dezhayaobao –Ruihai gongsi diaocha (Dynamics Out of Hands – An Investigation on Ruihai Company)http://news.xinhuanet.com/local/201...

[2] Wei Ruihai chuju anping baogao de gongsi bei zhi shi hongding zhongjie (The Company which Issued Ruihai with the Safety Evaluation Report is Allegedly Rat Hat Agent)

[3] Its official website no longer accessible since the blast:http://www.zbhskj.com/index.asp

[4] Baozha cangku shi ruhe tongguo anping de (How the Explosive Materials Storage able to Pass the Safety Evaluation?)http://opinion.china.com.cn/opinion...

[5] Zhongbin Haisheng gongsi fazhan zhanlue yanjiu (Research on the Development Strategy of Zhongbin Haisheng Company), He Zhaohui, Management and Economics Department, University of Tianjin, 2011.

[6] Ibid

[7] Yixie zhongjie zuzhi zhengzai lunwei fubai zhongjie (Certain Intermediary Organisations are Becoming Corrupted Intermediaries), China Youth Daily, http://zqb.cyol.com/content/2009-02...

GREECE “Popular Unity” is born


Friday 21 August 2015, by Stathis Kouvelakis

Early this morning, 25 Syriza MPs left the parliamentary group of the party to create a new group under the name of “Popular Unity”. Most of these MPs are affiliated to the Left Platform, but some others also joined like Vangelis Diamantopoulos or Rachel Makri, a close collaborator of Zoe Kostantopoulou. [1]

This is a major development in Greek politics but also for the radical Left, in Greece and at an international level.

Three elements need to be emphasized.

The first is that “Popular Unity” is the name of the new political front, which will regroup thirteen organizations of the radical Left, those who signed the text issued on August 13 calling for the constitution of the Front of the No.

This front is therefore the first tangible result of a recomposition within the Greek radical Left. A recomposition that draws the lessons of the last five years and of course of the experience of Syriza in office and of the resulting catastrophe. But the goal of the front is even broader than this, it is to provide an expression to social forces that do not necessarily recognize themselves as part of the Left but want to fight austerity, the Memoranda and the "Troika rule reloaded" of the new Memorandum.

The second is that the goal of the front is to constitute the political expression of the No as was expressed both in the January elections and in the referendum of July 5. The main programmatic lines are the rupture with austerity and the memoranda, the rejection of all privatizations and the nationalization under social control of strategic sectors of the economy, starting with the banking system, the cancellation of the major part of the Greek debt (starting wit the immediate interruption of its repayment) and, more broadly a set of radical measures that will shift the balance of forces in favour of labour and of the popular classes and open up a path for the progressive reconstruction of the country, of its economy and of its institutions.

These goals cannot be realized without exiting the Eurozone as the recent disaster has abundantly demonstrated and without breaking with the whole set of policies institutionalized by the EU. [2].The front will also struggle for a unitary internationalist struggle around common objectives at the European and international level and will support exiting NATO, breaking the existing agreements between Greece and Israel and radically opposing imperialist wars and interventions. This transitional programme is situated in the perspective of a socialism of the 21st century.

The third is that this new parliamentary group is now the third in terms of its size in the Greek Parliament, ahead of Golden Dawn, the neonazi party. This means that in the next few days its leader, Panagiotis Lafazanis, will get a mandate to constitute a government that will last for three days, as the Greek constitution stipulates.

After the resignation of the Tsipras government this mandate is now in the hands of the second party in Parliament, New Democracy, the main rightwing opposition party. This span of time will be used by Popular Unity to trigger a broad debate and the mobilization of all the social forces who wish to fight austerity and the Memoranda, the previous as well as the new one.

The programme of the party and the full range of its support among leading personalities of the Greek Left, which is expected to be quite impressive, will be released at the start of next week.

Athens, August 21 2015


[1] The 25 members of parliament are: Panagiotis Lafazanis, Stathis Leoutsakos, Kostas Isichos, Rachel Makri, Kostas Lapavitsas, Dimitris Stratoulis, Evgenia Ouzounidou, Thanasis Petrakos, Stefanos Samoilis, Athanasios Skoumas, Yannis Stathas, Alexandra Tsanaka, Despina Charalambidou, Eleni Psarea, Thomas Kotsias, Aglaia Kyritsi, Vasilis Kyriakakis,Michalis Kritsotakis, Ioanna Gaitani, Litsa Amanatidou, Yannis Zerdelis, Kostas Delimitros, Ilias Ioannidis, Zisis Zannas and Vangelis Diamantopoulos. There is speculation in the Greek press that a further four will join them.

[2] During the press conference organized on 21 August, Panagiotis Lafazanis, former Energy Minister in the Tsipras government, explained that if it were necessary to leave the Eurozone to cancel the memorandum they would do so, adding that such an exit would be “prepared”.

Radical Socialist statement on today’s incident at Presidency University and appeal to Defend Democratic Rights in West Bengal

Radical Socialist expresses serious concern over the alleged police violence on some of the protesting students of Presidency University earlier today, 21st August. A section of students of the University had attempted to show black flags to the Chief Minister of West Bengal during his visit to the University. Extreme sensitivity to any form of criticism, and the violent response shown to criticism, has been a hallmark of the current regime from its inception. The Chief Minister, well known for the way she has patronised thugs in her own party, and the way she has condoned overt violence by party thugs, signifying such events as little mistakes by small kids, was found in a pontificating mood. Police during her regime is regularly being used to prevent dissent voices, even if they are most peaceful, democratic, rudimentary and miniscule in nature which in any sense cannot pose threat to the rule. So, there are enough reasons to believe in the claim by the protesting students. Injuries to some of the students are a proof of the allegation. However, in absence of any video footage and existence of counter claims, we demand an independent and neutral inquiry mechanism in place followed by punitive actions against the guilty.The Vice Chancellor of the University has shown the typical role of all VCs under the present regime, and has shut her eyes and has been claiming that she “[does] not know whether someone was injured”. By this callous attitude, she has condemned herself from her own mouth.

Democratic rights of opponents in West Bengal have been severely curtailed. Students of Presidency University are hardly isolated in this. For the crime of being active in trade unions not affiliated to the TMC affiliated union, contract workers in Haldia are dismissed and thrown out of their jobs. Rural Bengal has been seeing recurrent bouts of violence inflicted on people belonging to opposition parties, or simply people opposing actions of the TMC. For the crime of protesting the rape and murder of a young student in Kamduni, the Headmaster of the local school has been transferred to a distant place.

In condemning the violence at Presidency University, we therefore urge everyone to realise the context. Democratic rights are indivisible. If one cannot defend democratic rights in Haldia, in Kamduni, in a myriad other localities, it will be impossible to imagine that democratic rights will be intact in Presidency University or elsewhere.

·         Solidarity with the protesting students of Presidency University

·         Defend democratic rights across West Bengal


Radical Socialist           21 August, 2015          www.radicalsocialist.in

Trotsky and the Revolutionary Party: An Exploration of a Few Historical Myths

Trotsky and the Revolutionary Party: An Exploration of a Few Historical MythsT


Kunal Chattopadhyay


By the end of the twentieth century, it can hardly be said that there is any dearth of literature on Trotsky. There are well-researched biographies in all the major European languages, studies of his political thought, books and articles on particular facets of his work or his ideas, and discussions on Trotsky in general works on Marxism or on the Russian revolution.[i] But nevertheless, certain myths have become common-sense ideas, and as a result, tend to get repeated from book to book and from article to article. One such is the myth surrounding Trotsky and the revolutionary party. A slightly simplified version is, that Trotsky was, from the 2nd RSDRP Congress till February 1917, a Menshevik.[ii] Under the pressure of events he was compelled to move in the direction of Bolshevism. The story then trifurcates. For the Stalinist/post-Stalinist, this move by Trotsky was opportunistic, and he had never understood or accepted real Leninism, which resulted in his subsequent "anti-Soviet" role.[iii]  The anticommunist scholar's story-line avers that Trotsky, facing power, abandoned his years of democratic commitment and went over to authoritarian Bolshevism. He was a pivotal figure in the establishment of the roots of what under Stalin flowered into a full-fledged totalitarianism.[iv] Finally, for those who would be good Leninists as well as a variant of orthodox Trotskyist, Trotsky recognised the error of his ways in 1917 and became a real Leninist from that time on.[v] An historical examination of Trotsky's role, and of his writings, sharply questions all these simplifications. It is true that Trotsky opposed Lenin at the 2nd Party Congress and sided with the Mensheviks.[vi] It is true that he joined the Bolshevik party only in 1917. And it is true that he considered himself a Leninist in later years, and that this was strongly contested by his opponents in the Russian/Soviet Communist Party.[vii] Beyond these bare bones, however, the story, in all its versions, runs into severe difficulties. In the present paper, the following arguments will be briefly advanced:

1.      Trotsky's project of building the revolutionary party stood in the tradition of the classical Marxist perspective;

2.      Trotsky's critique of Lenin was not Menshevik;

3.      The differences between Lenin and Trotsky cannot be summed up either by the formula that Trotsky had failed to understand the Leninist party building project, or by the formula that the younger Trotsky represented a democratic alternative to authoritarian Leninism;

4.      The historical record shows that the party building work went through many turns, and it is totally erroneous to talk about an infallible Lenin or about a prophetic Trotsky;

5.      After 1917, Trotsky accepted the core arguments of Lenin, but fused them with his own previous insights.


Building the revolutionary Party: Classical Marxism, Lenin, and Trotsky:


The foundation of classical Marxist politics is the principle of proletarian self-emancipation. This was expressed clearly in the Preamble to the Rules of the International Workingmen's Association, drafted by Marx, which began with the assertion that the emancipation of the working class is a task of the working class itself.[viii] A few years later, angered at the idea put forward by some socialists that workers first needed guidance by bourgeois and petty bourgeois intelligentsia, they wrote in a letter to a number of social Democratic leaders: “At the founding of the International we expressedly formulated the battle cry : The emancipation of the working class must be achieved by the working class itself. Hence we cannot co-operate with men who say openly that the workers are too uneducated to emancipate themselves, and must first be emancipated from above by philanthropic members of the upper and lower middle classes.”[ix] This has been the historic tenet of party building in Marxism, and it was more or less practised, both by the Second International and by the early Communist International.

When Lenin published his What Is To Be done?, this tenet is what he seemed to challenge. It can be argued that he was in fact not opposing the principle of working class self-emancipation, and that in other writings he distanced himself from the extreme positions developed in this book.[x] But since the first differentiation between Bolsheviks and non-Bolsheviks took place, not on the basis of political programmes but on the basis of the organisational question, this book did become important in the early years. So contemporaries who criticised it cannot be written off on the ground that later on Lenin was to change his position. Since Trotsky is simply portrayed as an anti-centralist as a result of his polemics with Lenin, it is worth looking at his early career. Arrested ,tried, sentenced to exile in Siberia, the young Trotsky had there developed the idea that the numerous small groups of Social Democrats had to be centralised.[xi]  In the exile colonies his arguments were powerful enough, not only to provide material for discussion, but also, eventually, to get him a Siberian mandate to the 2nd Party Congress. He had argued that it was not possible to call a Congress first and then resolve the issue. A political centre had to be created first, and only then a Congress called.[xii] Only a few brief passages of this essay are known, but a curious dispute can be seen over them. Deutscher found in these passages a view "identical with" Bolshevism, while Krasso pronounced magisterially that Trotsky's proto-Bolshevism merely repeated the external and formal aspects of Lenin's theory, without its sociological content.[xiii] As a matter of fact, a reading of the text suggests Trotsky was proposing the creation of a strong political centre, something already being done in emigration by Plekhanov, Axelrod, Lenin, Martov and a few others. They were to launch Iskra precisely to create the authoritative centre before calling a new Congress. It can be demonstrated that for Trotsky centralisation was more a political than an organisational or administrative task. In the article, he advocated de-recognition of local units refusing to accept centralisation , but went on to stress that: 'such a bold measure is only to be applied in exceptional cases. ' He argued that the Central Committee could not go against the party, and that in the ultimate analysis the views of the Central Committee were to be formulations of the common requirements of the whole party.[xiv]  Nor did he repudiate this position at the end of the Congress. It would therefore be very misleading to claim that Trotsky entered the 2nd  Congress as a heated protagonist of centralism and came out of it as an opponent of centralism.[xv] It is more accurate to say that the argument in favour of centralisation was widespread, but Lenin added a special dimension by raising it to the level of a principle. This is more typical of Lenin the man than of Marxist theory. It was his lifelong pattern, to isolate the most important theme of the day, and to take a polemically exaggerated and apparently extreme position. But it had a negative side, in that at times it miseducated those who failed to understand his polemically exaggerated purpose. After his death, many of these polemical or tactical utterances were elevated to an unwarranted canonical status both by hagiographers as well as by demonologists.

What is true, is that Trotsky was immature in the manner in which he launched his polemic, and he was also, quite evidently, incapable of understanding a core point being made by Lenin. Lenin wanted to unify the revolutionary forces in one organisation, and he wanted to emphasise that the "Economists", Social Democrats arguing that struggles over economic demands would automatically lead to socialist consciousness, were wrong, and that socialist consciousness had to be developed by integrating the experiences of all sectors of the working class, by examining social relations in their totality, and that this called for a high degree of political centralisation by the revolutionary party.[xvi] The central thrust of Lenin's work was a positive elaboration of the view that the party had to act as a political centraliser of fragmentary struggles, sectional experiences and partial viewpoints of different parts of the working class, since the class was in practice fragmented. This was another meaning of the inside/outside dichotomy portrayed by Lenin. He was arguing that economic struggles did not automatically lead to socialist consciousness. The political organisation had to be built, so that the working class could gather consciousness about the entire range of politics and develop a revolutionary strategy.  Failing this, the revolutionaries were doomed to tail end the masses. Another important theme of the book was the development of the "professional revolutionary". This call came from two factors. The conjunctural factor was the absence of democracy in Russia. Only if party activists were full-time revolutionaries could the stability of the party be guaranteed. Moreover, the elective principle and publicity for party decisions, essential preconditions for real inner party democracy, were impossible in Russia. The more basic reason was that a party of professional revolutionaries would make it possible to release workers from tiring and tedious jobs, enable them to develop theoretically, and to ensure mass participation in the broad movements.[xvii]

The split between Bolsheviks and Menseviks at the 2nd Party Congress was not yet over basic principle of politics. But it involved a minority refusing to accept majority rule, thereby rendering organisational functioning impossible. In opposition to historians critical of Lenin who gloss over this simple fact, it is essential to stress that in 1903 it was the Menshevik faction that was undemocratic. However, it is also necessary to point out that there were serious problems, both in Lenin's arguments, and in the political practice of would-be Bolsheviks of the first period. Lenin provided a long quotation from Kautsky, to assert that Social Democratic consciousness is brought from outside the working class and is created by the bourgeois scientist.[xviii]There have been arguments to the effect that this was a polemical exaggeration, and that Lenin later repudiated this. While true, this argument disregards or minimises the fact that many of the activists who called themselves Bolsheviks treated the argument as the final word in party building. Thus, Francois Vercammen in his article talks about the fact that Stalin had been a Bolshevik cadre at a time when Trotsky was supposedly a Menshevik. But what was the content of Stalin's Bolshevism? In organisational matters, it was this: during the revolution of 1905, while the mass movement was rushing ahead, he was calling on the working class to rally round the party committees because “only the party committees can worthily lead us”[xix].   Indeed, throughout 1905, Lenin found himself at loggerheads with many of those who had become "good Bolsheviks" by a course of What Is To Be Done?

Before the Third (Bolshevik) RSDRP Congress, called by Lenin and his supporters against the Menshevik-dominated party press and party Council, could meet, a revolution had begun in Russia. For a few years, the struggle of workers and radical students had been intensifying and mass strikes developing. Along with repression came an attempt to form legal workers’ societies with police approval, to block the revolutionaries. Quickly, however, these unions became radicalized, and were in most cases disbanded. However, in St. Petersburg, the “Assembly of Russian Factory and Workshop Workers”, led by Father Gapon, a prison chaplain, continued . The Gaponist Union opposed class struggle. But in early 1905, a strike began in the giant Putilov works, employing 12,000 workers. Four workers of Gapon’s organization had been sacked. Gapon had to react to stop the erosion of his credibility. As a result, mass meetings were held. A series of general demands were formulated, including an eight-hour day, a general wage rise, etc. The union leaders thought that a petition to the Tsar, and a few benevolent words from the Throne, would be useful to counteract the agitation of radical students.


By 7th January, there was a general strike in St. Petersburg. On the 9th, a peaceful demonstration was confronted with murderous fire. An appalled Gapon told the workers, ‘We no longer have a Tsar’. Within days, a massive protest movement had developed. The patriarchally minded worker had given way to the revolutionary proletariat. The number of workers on strike during January and February 1905 was greater than the total for the ten years prior to this[xx]. Trade unions and workers’ assemblies began to spring up. There was a vast growth in working class assertiveness, and forms of self-organisation. Tsarism contributed unwittingly by deciding to set up a commission under Count Shidlovsky, including workers. Workers were asked to elect delegates to it. The commission did nothing and was soon dissolved, but the election of delegates by the factory taught the workers a valuable lesson in co-ordinating their own affairs[xxi]. Another development was the growth of strike-committees. In a few cases the strikers won the fight to maintain a permanent representation of deputies[xxii]. An example was the ‘Soviet Deputatov  Tipolitograffi Moskvy’ incorporating 110 plants[xxiii]. The final step was the fusion of the economic and political struggles. This resulted in the appearance of general workers’ councils, (the ‘Soviets’ in the sense usually known). Perhaps the first was the Ivanovo – Voznesensk Soviet. The nationally important case was, however, that of the St. Petersburg Soviet. A printer’s strike in Moscow was followed on 27 September by a general strike. On 7th October, the Moscow railways were dying. From the first day, the October strike had a political character. Since October 14, the capital of the Russian Empire had no rail connection, no telephones, no newspaper. The Tsar, despite his dislike for count Witte, sought his help. At his suggestion, though modifying it, the Tsar issued the October 17, 1905, Manifesto, guaranteeing civil liberties, a Duma elected on a fairly wide suffrage, with right to enact laws [xxiv].


The St. Petersburg Soviet sprang up in course of the strike. It had the precedence of the Shidlovsky Commission, and the Menshevik propaganda of a “revolutionary self-government”. On October 10, the Menshevik  Committee in St. Petersburg proposed founding a city-wide committee to lead the general strike. On 13 October, the St. Petersburg Soviet first met at the Technological Institute . Responding to the appeal, workers elected deputies. On 15 October, 226 representatives from 96 factories and workshops  and 5 trade unions were prsent. On 17 October, the body named itself the Soviet Rabochikh Deputatov ( Council of workers’ Deputies)[xxv]. It was this example that inspired the setting up of Soviets elsewhere, in Moscow, Odessa, Novorossiisk, Donets, etc. There were also a few instances of Soldiers’ Councils and Peasants’ Councils.


The Soviet emerged in fulfillment of an objective need for an organization that would represent peoples’ authority, an organisation that would to encompass hundreds of thousands of workers of various factories, varying age-groups, diverse viewpoints, different level of skills and earnings, without imposing on them so much organisational restraint that this newly won cohesion would break down. This set them off from the parties, despite the fact that party activists could be, and usually were, workers or professional revolutionaries dedicated to workers’ struggles. “Prior to the Soviet we find among the industrial workers a multitude of organisations… The Soviet was, from the start, the organisation of the proletariat, and its aim was the struggle for revolutionary power"[xxvi]. It was this class character of the Soviet, and its non-partisan structure, that was its strength. That did not prevent Social Democrats from gaining intellectual leadership.


The Soviets in fact had a multiple function. They represented the general interests of the proletariat vis-à-vis the rulers, and were created with that purpose. But such a mass working class organisation meant a high degree of political consciousness Among the working class, possible only in a revolutionary period. This also meant that they had to fight for the hegemony of the proletariat in the revolution, and to turn themselves into centres of revolution. The trial of the St. Petersburg Soviet brought this out admirably.


“Under the conditions created by a political general strike, …the state mechanism…found itself ultimately incapable of action…Meanwhile the strike had thrown hundreds of thousands of workers from the factories into the streets...who could direct them… . no one , except the Soviet… And that being so, the Soviet, in the political strike which had created it, became nothing other than the organ of self-government of the revolutionary masses: an organ of power ".[xxvii] So said Trotsky in his speech to the court that tried the Soviet. In St. Petersburg , the Soviet’s threats forced the regime to negotiate on different occasions. In Moscow, in Novorossiisk, the Soviets co-ordinated the insurrection.


On the rising trade union movement, the Bolsheviks often had a narrow approach. In September 1905, S. I. Gusev proposed a resolution at the Bolshevik Odessa Committee’s meeting, which counterposed trade unions and the revolution. However, Gusev also proposed trying to gain leadership of trade union. Others, sceptical about the direction of the spontaneous workers’ struggles, now quoted What Is To Be done? to claim that ”the trade union struggle…makes bourgeois notions stick to the proletarians’ psychology”[xxviii]. Leading Bolsheviks like Bogdanov and Lunacharsky were wary of strikes, and counterposed the armed insurrection to the strikes[xxix], instead of looking at strikes as movements that united the workers and raised their class-consciousness.


A similar situation developed regarding the soviets. P. A. Krasikov, a leading Bolshevik, called the St. Petersburg Soviet a “non-party Zubatovite committee”[xxx]. When the Soviet was formed, a member of the  Petersburg Committee, M.M. Essen, exclaimed, “But where do we come in?”[xxxi]. At a meeting of the Bolshevik Executive committee of the Neva District of Petersburg.: “On 29 October, one of the fifteen members opposed taking part in it at all because the ‘elective principle could not guarantee its class consciousness and social Democratic character’ Four voted against taking part in the Soviet, if it did not accept a Social Democratic programme."[xxxii] The Bolshevik Central Committee, elected by the Third Congress, presented an ultimatum to the Soviet. After a very brief debate, it was rejected. It needed Lenin’s intervention before the Bolsheviks changed their position. Knuniants-Radin, a party leader, had asked, ‘Soviet or Party’ ? The basic problem was organizational rigidity. The Bolshevik committeemen took one phase of the movement, when there had been only a party of workers’ leaders and underground activists, as the permanent character, thereby bearing out the validity of the criticisms of Luxemburg and Trotsky. Even the sympathetic Krupskaya recorded in her memoirs that the committeemen were conservative, opposed to inner party democracy, and undesirous of changes[xxxiii].

At the Third Congress, Lenin and Bogdanov proposed that workers should be taken into the party at all levels in large numbers[xxxiv]. The delegate Gradov (Kamenev) accused Lenin of demagogically raising the question of the relationship between workers and intelligentsia[xxxv]. Reports by Leskov, Filippov and Krasikov made it obvious that workers were not being drawn into the party. One delegate, Mikhailov, even accused in disgust that “the requirements for the intelligentsia are very low, and for the workers they are extremely high”[xxxvi].


Condemnations of the critiques by Trotsky and Luxemburg appear somewhat exaggerated , but not totally unfounded, when this history is kept in mind. Trotsky’s central charge against Lenin was that of “substitutionism”. That is, he accused Lenin of wanting to replace the self-activity of the working class by the voluntarist actions of a self-proclaimed vanguard. In attempting to reject what he saw as Leninist elitism, he was also rejecting the necessity of uniting the vanguard workers around a common banner and thereby making them a more effective force. This led him to argue that :“The most conscious and therefore the most revolutionary elements will always be a ‘minority’ in our party. And this can only be explained by our faith in the fate of the working class as being social revolution, and revolutionary ideas as being those corresponding best to the historical movement of the proletariat.”[xxxvii] In pursuit of this line of argument, he said that Leninism was the theory of an ‘orthodox theocracy’. To it he opposed the idea of a broad-based mass party which would yet be revolutionary. It had key flaws, above all for being a kind of proposal for an ideal type regardless of concrete situations. Both Trotsky and Luxemburg erred centrally over the question of whether or not to organise the most politically conscious and militant workers separately. The building of the revolutionary party of the working class is the process whereby the theoretical consciousness developed by revolutionary nuclei are tested through practice and fused with the outlook of a significant section of advanced workers. It is true, as both of them asserted, that the revolutionary party cannot claim to be THE VANGUARD. It can act as a vanguard force only by constantly drawing in the vanguard of the class within its fold and by being in the class struggles. To do so, however, the revolutionary activists had to be united first. On this point Trotsky acknowledged his error several times, as in the unpublished November 30, 1924 manuscript ‘Our Differences’[xxxviii] However, Trotsky no less than Lenin progressed in his thinking, and we find him taking a dialectical stand in 1905 on the question of building the party. At that time, he was editing a popular socialist paper, Nachalo. Though Deutscher gives the impression that he only preached permanent revolution and unity, we find him devoting space to programme and organisation as a whole.  In an article of late November, he defended the three conditions for membership: acceptance of the programme, membership of a definite organisation, and regular financial contribution. He then went on to argue that two false alternatives were being presented: "either to become dissolved in the masses, having popularised among them our basic demands and the name of international Social-Democracy, but having lost at the same time the character of a centralised political organisation, or to stand aloof from the masses, reserving for ourselves 'supreme' political control over its slogans…we should say that both roads were equally dangerous, and essentially led to one and the same result, namely, the annihilation of a genuinely proletarian Party, that sets itself definite tasks and develops independent tactics for their performance."[xxxix] Thus, his conception of party building was a revolutionary, and not a Menshevik one. And where he differed with Lenin, he was not always wrong. Let us look at Trotsky's recasting of the question of spontaneous struggles and the class-conscious organisation: "Between these two factors -- the objective fact of its class interest and its subjective consciousness -- lies the realm inherent in life, that of clashes and blows, mistakes and disillusionment, vicissitudes and defeats. The tactical farsightedness of the Party of the proletariat is located entirely between these two factors and consists of shortening and easing the road from one to the other…. The Party bases itself on the given level of consciousness of the proletariat; it will involve itself in every important political event by making an effort to orient the general direction towards the immediate interests of the proletariat, and, what is still more important, by making an effort to embed itself in the proletariat by raising the level of consciousness, to base itself on this level and use it for this dual purpose…. The greater the distance separating the objective and subjective factors, that is, the weaker the political culture of the proletariat, the more naturally there appear in the Party those 'methods' which, in one form or another, only show a kind of passivity in the face of the colossal difficulties of the task incumbent upon us. The political abdication of the 'Economists', like the 'political substitutionism' of their opposites, are nothing but an attempt by the young Social Democratic Party to 'cheat' history."[xl]

Trotsky's opposition to Lenin centred here on three points: the opposition between the self-activity of the class and Lenin's allegedly fantastic error of wanting a ready made set of tactics whereby the party could control the masses; the opposition between democracy and bureaucratic centralism; and the opposition between a formalist and a historical point of view. In the Report of the Siberian Delegation, Trotsky wrote that 'for many comrades, 'politics' and 'centralism' still only have a purely formal meaning, that they are only the empty anti-thesis of 'economism' and 'dilettantism'."[xli] He went on to explain that unless the general political interest of the working class was linked to day to day needs and struggles, it would result in a purely formal centralism and a formal political style without solid content. The crux of his charge against Lenin and his supporters is that they believed in automatic success due to their possession of Marxist ideas. As a Marxist himself, Trotsky was not decrying the value of Marxism. But he was questioning its exclusive possession by any individual, group of individuals, or party. And even more strongly he was challenging the notion that possession of Marxism was a guarantee against mistakes. And in looking at the class movement and the history of organisations, he made the perceptive comment that part of the mistakes of organisations stem from an ahistoricity: "Each period has its own routine and tends to impose its own tendencies on the movement as a whole."[xlii] This was how he viewed the one-sidedness of the economists, the aberrations of some of Lenin's supporters who are cited in the pamphlet, and this was how he was to look at problems of party development in later periods. This gave him the idea that a mere attempt to "liquidate" a phase of party history was a wrong way of trying to move forward. Every partial process, he indicated, had a tendency of imposing its inertia on the movement as a whole, and that a living revolutionary organisation always had to be aware of this danger.

In presenting his critique of Lenin, whatever else he did, Trotsky did not slide into opportunism or pro-opportunist political positions himself. Even though in the pamphlet he still considered him a part of the minority, he was already arguing that the task for which the minority had set itself up as a faction was over, and it should now dissolve.[xliii] Politically, he was hostile to the economists and other groupings. At the earlier phases of the Second Party Congress, he had indeed earned the title "Lenin's cudgel" for the vehement way in which he defended the political programme of the Iskra-ists. But he insisted that opportunism, revisionism etc were not external elements, viruses, on the healthy body of the proletariat. They were parts of the proletarian movement, and political differences with them could not be settled simply by reference to any higher authority. They had to be won through a combination of political debates and practice.

The resolution of this conflict can be achieved only by knocking down another pillar of so-called Leninist orthodoxy, namely, the idea that a single party can exhaustively represent a class. This was what led Trotsky to make an assertion in Our Political Tasks to which we will find him returning all his life: "The problems of the new regime are so intricate that they can be solved only through the rivalry of the various methods of economic and political reconstruction, by long "debates", by systematic struggle -- not only between the socialist and the capitalist worlds, but also between the various tendencies within socialism, tendencies that must inevitably develop as soon as the dictatorship of the proletariat creates tens and hundreds of new unresolved problems….And no 'strong authoritative organisation' will be able to put down these tendencies and disagreements for the purpose of accelerating and simplifying the process, for it is only too clear that the proletariat capable of a dictatorship over society will not tolerate a dictatorship over itself."[xliv] Though Trotsky, too was to accept for a while the need for the strong, authoritative hand of one party, he alone among leading Bolsheviks returned subsequently to a clear articulation of the need for political pluralism within the council system.[xlv]


Liquidationism and the Underground:


The revolutionary yeas 1905-6 were succeeded by a period of powerful counteroffensive by the regime. Legal rights began to shrink, and trade unions, to say nothing about soviets, collapsed. The Bolshevik-Menshevik schism, apparently healed by the revolution, reappeared and intensified. Too often, the history of party building in this period is reduced a so-called struggle against liquidators and recallists. This is a simplification which does gross damage to the real history of the Russian working class movement and the history of the Social Democratic Party. Within Russia, there were those who wanted to build a revolutionary party. And all of these people did not consider themselves to be 'Leninists'. A large group of worker-activists, who had been party members in 1905-06, sought to fuse legal work with the underground. They were criticised from opposite ends by Lenin, who wanted complete domination of legal work by the underground committees, and by rightwing Mensheviks like Potresov and Axelrod, who wanted to abolish the old party and set up a broad based party even in the authoritarian regime. Vercammen, in his article, tries to claim, in a couple of cleverly worded passages, that Trotsky was in agreement, (with reticence) with this perspective.[xlvi] That is not what modern research indicates. Since Vercammen footnotes Swain, it is worth looking briefly at his findings. There were younger Mensheviks, the 'praktiki' or practical workers, who rejected the proposals of liquidators (i.e., those who wanted to "liquidate" the old party). There were Bolsheviks who opposed Lenin's orientation as well as that of Bogdanov and his fellow recallists. Forces like these sometimes found in Trotsky an alternative rallying point.

By late 1909, on the initiative of Bolshevik-conciliators like Rykov, Goldenberg-Meshkovskii and Kamenev, it was decided that the Bolshevik factional paper Proletarii would become a theoretical paper, while Trotsky would be asked to join forces with the Bolsheviks, the Poles of the SDKPiL (Rosa Luxemburg, Leo Jogiches, Felix Dzerzhinsky etc.), and the Pravda, edited by Trotsky from Vienna, would become a powerful agitational paper.[xlvii] Swain is wrong to conclude that from this point the terms Bolshevik and Menshevik became meaningless, because a significant part of the Mensheviks followed Martov, who was unwilling to break with the liquidators.[xlviii] However, this event shows that a different kind of leftwing regroupment, based on revolutionary principles, but calling for a different relationship between the pro-party legal activists and the underground, was possible. Inside Russia, the older factional line-ups did collapse considerably, as Trotsky was later to show.[xlix] Until 1912, Trotsky continued to try and build a revolutionary party based on the self-activity of the worker militants. For writers who have a totally uncritical view of Lenin, this phase constitutes an embarrassment, since  "by smudging over the dividing line between 'liquidator' and 'legal activist', Lenin was able to brand anyone as a 'liquidator'. Thus the majority of delegates to the Proletarian meeting were, by Lenin's definition, 'liquidators'."[l] In fact, Swain, and even more Bonnell, shows that the liquidators were in a minority among the practical workers.[li] This can once again be touted as a case of "bending the stick", but if that were so, there is no reason now, with a dispassionate historical analysis, to uphold Lenin as the sole distillation of the revolutionary line. Nor does it explain the intensity of Lenin's attacks on Trotsky, nor, finally, the decision to hijack the title Pravda. Only by recognising that Pravda from Vienna was a potential challenger to the position of leadership of the left wing of the party can we make sense of this. This may appear sectarian in retrospect, but it is necessary to look at the context more closely. In the Marxist tradition of party building, two distinct lines had coexisted rather uneasily. One was the building of a distinct communist organisation, as in 1848-51 (the Communist League) and the other was the building up of the mass workers' party, which was what Marx tried to promote through the First International , particularly from its London Conference.[lii] In a way, the mass parties of the Second International straddled both traditions. But in Russia, no party had yet been built up, properly speaking.[liii] This is why, time and again, the "organisational question" looms so large in Russian and other East European debates. The fact that neither Lenin, nor Trotsky, was fully correct did not mean that a compromise resolution, and a compromise tactical line, was able to unite them. Instead, they fought in an extremely heated manner.

Trotsky's central thesis was that the underground committees had become cut off from the working class, and were taking the class to be merely raw material fit to be taken in tow by the committees.[liv] Reacting to this, Pravda advocated a line of retaining the underground committees but making them responsive to the pro-party legal activists and the struggles they were waging. At a Temperance Congress, such activists, supported by Pravda but not by either the Bolsheviks or the Mensheviks, put up a good performance. Trotsky's influence was to rise correspondingly, so that at the January 1910 Plenum of the Central Committee, strong backing from delegates from the interior saw his proposal being passed rather than those proposed by Lenin and Martov. Zinoviev in his tendentious history presents the Plenum as a purely émigré conflict, because he could not admit that on the key issue of the struggle against liquidationism, the practical workers had supported Trotsky.[lv] Bolshevik-conciliators like Dubrovinsky, Rykov, Sokolnikov and Lozovsky supported the resolution. That this did not lead to a unification of forces on the left was more the responsibility of Trotsky. Whatever Lenin's aims, and his detractors have certainly ascribed the worst to him, is hands were tied because the majority of Bolsheviks were opposing him. But when Martov refused to break with the open liquidators, Trotsky did not take up the battle against him. In addition, the agent provocateur Roman Malinovsky's betrayal[lvi] resulted in the arrest of the newly created Russian Bureau, where Trotsky had a number of supporters. Nonetheless, as late as the first quarter of 1911, after the old splits were hardening again in emigration, the resolution of the January 1910 Plenum was being accepted in Russia, and underground committees and legal activists merging to form common organisations. When Lenin attempted to make the split final in 1912, he could do so because he had accepted this basis. It was at this point that the weak side of Trotsky's conciliationism caught up with him. By rejecting the invitation to the Prague conference, and by calling a counter-conference at Vienna hich the Leninist Bolsheviks boycotted and the Bogdanovist Bolsheviks walked out of, he created a bloc in which Martov, and Mensheviks to his right, became dominant. Trotsky himself had to abandon the bloc shortly, while between 1912 and 1914, the Bolsheviks became the dominant force among the politically conscious workers in St. Petersburg and Moscow.[lvii] Bonnell's study shows that the new organisational structure enabled party cadres to translate party strategy into effective action. In that sense, it was a revamped party, which differed markedly from the orientation of 1907-9, and also from all later official Soviet claims about Leninist parties.


Beyond the Revolutionary Year:


The revolution of 1917 saw Trotsky joining the Bolsheviks. His demand that they should change the name was not a serious proposition, yet it contained the germ of his later understanding of Bolshevism. For, the party of 1917 was vastly different from those conceptions of What is To Be Done, which emphasised that revolutionary consciousness would have to be bought from outside the working class and that from ithin itself the proletariat can only develop trade union consciousness, or from the conception of a party run essentially by small groups of committees. In terms of the programme, the Bolshevik propaganda was marked by an important shift that few historians have noticed. During 1914- January 1917, a major difference between the Bolsheviks (especially Lenin) and other anti-war, revolutionary socialists, like Luxemburg and Trotsky, was Lenin's stress that to be a consistent communist meant to be a defeatist. The problems with the "defeatist" formula were manifold and each of Lenin's main essays on the subject tended to present a slightly different meaning to skirt some problem or the other. Lenin had opposed the slogan of peace as one that fell short of the goal of proletarian revolutionaries. In 1917 the Bolsheviks, confronting not the patriotism of small groups of leaders, but of the masses of workers, had to revise their tactics in order to get a hearing. The slogan for peace was different from the slogan for defeatism. This suggested that wen the revolutionary party wished to win over the bulk of the class, not the "sharpest" formulation, but the one that best linked the revolutionary line with the aspirations of the masses, was ultimately the most revolutionary. There were important lessons to be learnt from all this, regarding the relationship between class, party and other class organisations in the preparation and the making of revolutions. It was Trotsky, who subsequently drew these lessons, in a series of important conclusions about Bolshevism. In 1917 and later, Trotsky was always to acknowledge that he had been wrong not to recognise the need for a split with the Mensheviks.[lviii] That this was the key issue seems recognised as well in Lenin's comment about Trotsky being the best Bolshevik ever since he understood that there could be no unity with the Mensheviks.[lix] But in a number of pieces, notably The Lessons of October, the History of the Russian Revolution and the Stalin, Trotsky explicitly tried to reconcile his past critiques with his acceptance of Bolshevism. As a result, in The Lessons of October, on one hand, he was willing to recognise, in a sharper formulation than in the pre-1917 era, the centrality of the party as an instrument of the struggle for power: "Without a party, apart from a party, over the head of a party, or with a substitute for a party, the proletarian revolution cannot conquer".[lx] But in the same work he was also to warn that it was "almost an unalterable law' that a revolutionary party would face a crisis at each turning point, and revolutions are lost if the party cannot make the transition in time.[lxi] This was not an abstract theorisation. The work was written soon after the defeat of the German revolution of 1923, and in the middle of the "Bolshevisation" of the Comintern embarked upon by Zinoviev, which was the starting point of the bureaucratic transformation of the Comintern. Here, Trotsky was trying to set the record straight on what was permanent and what was not, in Bolshevism. When he took up the theme in the History of the Russian Revolution, a false idea of the vanguard had taken hold, and he was challenging that quite sharply. In the History, we find that the Bolshevik workers, and workers standing on the left (like the mezhraiontsi), had led the insurrection, but when new political institutions were created, hegemony passes to the Mensheviks and the Socialist Revolutionaries. The reason, he argued, was that the mass of workers made little distinction between the three socialist parties, so that the two moderate ones, with a far greater share of the intellectuals, could build up an apparatus. This created a wall between the working class and its aims. Thereafter, only a complex interweaving of class, party and leadership could ensure first, the reconquest by the Bolsheviks of the vanguard layers of the working class, and then the establishment of the hegemony of the Bolsheviks and the vanguard around them over the majority. This required a leadership possessing certain capabilities. Here Trotsky argued that Lenin could provide the kind of leadership that we see him playing in 1917, because a leadership is also constructed, not obtained ready-made, and Lenin's position had been created through his role, in conjunction with bolshevism as a current, within the working class for many years.[lxii] The other pole of this was the stress on the ability of the party to learn from the working class and to negotiate crisis points by being revolutionary in principle, but capable of strategic shifts in time. All this implies that revolutionary parties are not easily constructed, and that substituting them by apparently easier options can be dangerous. Through much of the 20th Century, one could have written off this claim as a counterfactual. After all, the Chinese revolution was made without either the kind of leadership or the democratic class-party relationship Trotsky was emphasising. Much of the world seemed to be going the "socialist" way through precisely the substitutionism that the young Trotsky had inveighed against. But at the beginning of the new century, looking at how the "socialist" states collapsed and how so many of the "communist" leaders turned out to be willing fighters for capitalist restoration (Yeltsin, Deng, Jaruzelski, and others), it is worth looking more seriously at the alternative Trotsky had stood for. When the relationship is one of a Great Helmsman and a minority always deciding on the line and the working class being told to implement it, such a movement may be said to be based on the working class, but it is hardly one where the self-emancipation of the proletariat that is being worked out. Looking back over a century of revolutions, it is necessary to make a distinction between those made by the working class, and those made by revolutionary elites in the name of the working class. When confronting weak bourgeois rulers, the substitutionist revolutions could take power, but never were these workers' powers as classical Marxism envisaged. Such substitutionism led to dictatorships and an eventual road back to capitalism. Only, in the Russian revolution, there had to be a Stalinist counter-revolution by a new bureaucracy first.



T I am grateful to Paul LeBlanc, Peter Solenberger, and Ron Lare for discussions on various previous drafts. This paper was presented at the 61st Session of the Indian History Congress, Calcutta 2001.


Notes and references:

[i] For bibliographic detail about the major works, the reader can consult Kunal Chattopadhyay, The Marxism of Leon Trotsky, Kolkata, 2006. The most comprehensive, though by no means fiully representative especially of Asian writings is Wolfgang and Petra Lubitz, An International Classified List of Publications about Leon Trotsky and Trotskyism: 1905 - 1998, 2 vols., 3rd Edition, Munchen 1999.

[ii] All official histories from the Soviet Union had this line. See, for example, V. A. Grigorenko et al, The Bolshevik Party's Struggle Against Trotskyism (1903 - February 1917), Moscow, 1969, p.30.

[iii] The fountainhead was J. Stalin,  History of the CPSU(B) -- Short Course, Moscow, 1938; though one may fairly say that most of Zinoviev's book, written in 1924, had a similar motive. In 1924, however, slander could not reach such peaks as it did in 1938.

[iv] See B. Knei-Paz,The Social and Political Thought of Leon Trotsky, Oxford, etc., 1978pp. 225, 226, 232.

[v] J.Molyneux, Marxism and the Party, London, 1978, pp.46-55; T. Cliff, Trotsky: Towards October, London, Chicago and Melbourne,1989, pp. 50 - 79; E. Mandel, Trotsky: a Study in the Dynamics of his Thought, London, 1979, p.53.

[vi] However, he joined them for just about a year, agreed with them only on certain organisational issues, and broke with them oer the political orientation that they began to exhibit. On this see A. Woods, Bolshevism -- the road to revolution, London, 1999, pp.142-3.

[vii] G.Zinoviev, History of the Bolshevik Party, London, 1983 is among the first major broadsides by his opponents in the Bolshevik Party.

[viii]K. Marx and F. Engels, Collected Works, , vol. 20, Moscow, 1985, p.14.

[ix] Ibid, vol. 24, Moscow, 1989,p.269.

[x] This has been argued by Neil Harding Lenin's Political Thought. London and Basingstoke, vol. 1, 1977;vol. 2, 1981; 2v. combined publication. 1983; by Tony Cliff, Lenin, vol.1, Building the Party, London 1975; by Paul LeBlanc, Lenin and the Revolutionary Party, New Jersey and London, 1980; and by Alan Wood, op. cit., in a number of ways.

[xi] L. Trotsky, My Life, Harmondsworth, 1975, p.136

[xii] Cited in L. Trotsky, Report of the Siberian Delegation (1903), London, n.d., p.40.

[xiii] I. Deutscher, The Prophet Armed, London, 1976, p.45; N. Krasso, ed., Trotsky: The Great Debate Renewed, St. Louis, 1972, p.13.

[xiv] Report of the Siberian Delegation, pp.40-41.

[xv] A recent claim of this sort is an extremely tendentious article by Francois Vercammen, 'The Question of the Party: Trotsky's Weak Point', International Viewpoint, No.324, Sept.-Oct 2000, pp. 32 - 36. The significance of the article lies in the author, a member of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, who seems to be writing in order to gather enough courage to proclaim that the organisation and politics of the Fourth International had been fatally flawed from birth because Trotsky had retained his misunderstandings of Lenin and his erroneous party building conceptions all his life.

[xvi] See K. Chattopadhyay, 'Lenin O Biplabi Dal' , Yubakantha, Autumn No., 1992; and Paul LeBlanc, op.cit.

[xvii] V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, (hereafter LCW), vol.5, pp. 464-66, 472, 477.

[xviii] Ibid., pp. 375, 383-4.

[xix]J. Stalin, Works, vol.1, Moscow, 1947, p.80

[xx] O. Anweiler, The Soviets : The Russian Workers’ , Peasants and Soldiers’ Councils 1905-1921, New York, 1974, p. 34.

[xxi] L. Trotsky, 1905, Harmondsworth, 1971, p. 123.

[xxii] O. Anweiler, The Soviets, p. 38.

[xxiii] G. Kostomarov, Moskovskii Soviet v 1905 godu, Moscow , 1955, pp. 65-69.

[xxiv] On Witte and the Tsar, see H. D. Mehlinger and J. M. Thomson, Count Witte and the Tsarist Government in the 1905 Revolution , Bloomington, Indiana, and London,  1974.

[xxv] O. Anweiler, The Soviets, p. 46

[xxvi] L. Trotsky , 1905, p. 266.

[xxvii] Ibid., p. 399.

[xxviii] S. M. Schwartz , The Russian Revolution of 1905 , Chicago , 1967, p. 153.

[xxix] Ibid., pp. 131-32.

[xxx] V.S. Voitinskii , Godu pobedi porazhenii, Moscow 1923, Quoted in J.L.H.Keep, The Rise of Social Democracy in Russia, London, 1963, p.230.

[xxxi] Recollection of B.I.Gorev, a representative of the Bolshevik centre in Petersburg, quoted in Schwarz, op.cit., p.180.

[xxxii] D.Lane, The Roots of Russian Communism, Assen 1969, p.88.

[xxxiii] N.K. Krupskaya, Memories of Lenin, Moscow, 1959, pp. 124-126.

[xxxiv] LCW, vol.8, pp.409-410.

[xxxv] Tretii S” ezd RSDRP , Moscow , 1959, p. 255.

[xxxvi] Ibid., pp. 265, 267, 335, 362.

[xxxvii] L. Trotsky, Our Political Tasks, p.123.

[xxxviii] N. Allen (ed.), The Challenge of the Left Opposition (1923-25) , New York, 1975, p.263.

[xxxix] L. Trotsky, 'We Must Build the Party', Journal of Trotsky Studies, vol.3, 1995, pp.100-101. I am grateful to Jamie Gough for sending me this, and other related material.

[xl] Our Political Tasks, pp.74-76.

[xli] Report of the Siberian Delegation, p.18.

[xlii] Our Political Tasks, p.31.

[xliii]  Ibid., p.3.

[xliv] Our Political Tasks, section entitled The Dictatorship of the Proletariat, quoted in J. Molyneux, Leon Trotsky's Theory of Revolution, Brighton, sussex, 1981, p.66. My edition does not have this, or any similar passage. It seems that  the New Parks edition omitted this section.

[xlv] "Democratisation of the soviets is impossible without legalisation of soviet parties. The workers and peasants themselves by their own free vote will indicate what parties they recognise as soviet parties.", The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International, in Leon Trotsky, The Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution, New York, 1974, p.105.

[xlvi] Op. cit., p.34.

[xlvii] Cf. G. Swain ed. and with an introduction, Protokoly soveshchaniya reashirennoi redaktaii 'Proletarii', London, 1982, pp.110, 119, 134.

[xlviii] G. Swain, Russian Social Democracy and the Legal labour Movement: 1906 - 14, London and Basingstoke, 1983.

[xlix] L. Trotsky, Stalin, London, 1946.

[l] G. Swain, Russian Social Democracy…, pp. 86-87.

[li] V. E. Bonnell, Roots of Rebellion, Berkeley, 1983.

[lii] For a thorough treatment, see S. Marik, Reinterrogating the Classical Marxist Discourses of Revolutionary Democracy, New Delhi, 2008.

                                [liii]  For an admission by a leading Bolshevik that the mass party of 1905 had totally collapsed, see G. Zinoviev, op.cit.

[liv] See, for example, 'Nasha partiia i ee zadachi', Pravda No.4, 2/14June 1909.

[lv] G. Zinoviev, op. cit., pp.166-167.

[lvi] For Malinovsky see R. C. Elwood, Roman Malinovsky: A Life Without a Cause, Newtonville, Mass., 1977.

[lvii] Cf. V. E. Bonnell, op.cit., pp.393 - 408, for a detailed examination of this process.

[lviii] See for example, L. Trotsky, My Life, Harmondsworth, 1975,p.342.

[lix] See Lenin's speech in L. Trotsky, The Stalin School of Falsification, New York, 1972 (1979 reprint), p.110. It should be noted that in the late 1980s, the Soviet periodical Voprossii Istorii investigated the Central Party Archives and certified that the documents published by Trotsky in this book were all authentic.

[lx] L. Trotsky, The Challenge of the left Opposition (1923-25), p.252.

[lxi] Ibid., p.203.

[lxii] L. Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, London, 1966, vol.1, pp.310 -- 11.