Trotsky's analysis of Stalinism: an historical assessment

Graham Milner

Research output: ThesisMaster's Thesis

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Leon Trotsky (1879-1940) remains one of the most controversial figures in twentieth century history. There is no consensus about his character or historical achievements-as either thinker or actor. To Winston Churchill, writing in the 1930s, Trotsky was a 'cancer bacillus'. The Stalinist anathema placed on him is well-known. For Tony Cliff, a contemporary socialist writer, on the other hand, Trotsky was a 'man of genius'. Whatever assessment may be made about Trotsky, one of his lesser biographers and critics makes the point fairly enough that 'compared to his famous colleagues, Lenin and Stalin, Trotsky has been sorely neglected by historians and other scholars'. The upheaval in the USSR and its successor state system, and in Eastern Europe and China, since the mid-1980s, when CPSU General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev launched his programme of radical change under the sobriquets 'glasnost' and 'perestroika', has brought into the foreground once again the historical issues concerning the origins, character and consequences of the Stalinist system of 'totalitarian' political rule with its attendant hyper-centralised command economy. The whole experience of Stalinism has been, and no doubt will continue to be, subjected to intensive historical reconsideration as Russian scholars in particular seek to come to terms with the October Revolution and its legacy within the context of their national past. The publication of some of Trotsky's writings in Russian language editions and their circulation within the territories of the Russian Federation makes available an assessment and analysis of the Stalinist experience previously denied to the Russian reader. It is against this background that the author has written an historical review of Trotsky's major writings on the question of Stalinism in the Soviet Union. The approach adopted utilizes a combination of chronological exposition and analytical commentary, in the belief that both of these aspects of historical writing are necessary and valid. As Arthur Marwick has commented: '... if history without analysis is meaningless, without chronology it does not exist'. Marxist ideas have had a wide currency in the century and the contribution to the body of Marxist doctrine and theory by Leon Trotsky deserves closer attention. This study of Trotsky's attempt to make a Marxist analysis and assessment of the experience of Stalinism in the Soviet Union has been carried through in the belief that the examination of the critical and minority current within the broader mainstream of the international socialist movement has much to offer in contributing to our knowledge and understanding of the one of the most significant developments in twentieth century political history. A critical and historical assessment of Trotsky's analysis of Stalinism makes a contribution both to our appreciation of Trotsky's ideas and to our understanding of a phenomenon which looms large in any discussion of the broader contours of twentieth century history.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 1993


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