Trotsky in Mexico, 1940. Photo: Wikipedia Trotsky in Mexico, 1940. Photo: Wikipedia

Tom Watson is scaremongering about Trotskyists, but he may have bitten off more than he can chew, says John Rees

Tom Watson is a man who knows how to scare children and those of a nervous disposition. He only has to shout ‘Trotskyist’ and right minded people will desert Jeremy Corbyn in droves, or so he seems to imagine.

But Tom’s made a few miscalculations recently. Like launching a coup against Jeremy Corbyn, and then barring 130,000 Labour Party members from voting in the leadership contest.

It could be that getting people to think about Trotsky might also backfire.

After all, Trotsky’s political record is pretty impressive.

When much of the British establishment was appeasing the Nazi regime in Germany in the 1930s Trotsky was denouncing Hitler from the rooftops and laying out a strategy for the Labour movement to defeat him.

When many in the Labour Party, including the Labour right,  were full of praise for Stalin’s dictatorship Trotsky was opposing it in the name of the original democratic and socialist ideals of the Russian Revolution. Stalin had him murdered for his pains. Few in the Labour Party protested.

Of course there’s barely anyone in the entire history of the labour movement that could match Trotsky as a writer. Perhaps Orwell, perhaps not. Trotsky wasn’t nicknamed The Pen for nothing. In the range of his writing-from literary and artistic criticism, to philosophy and  intentional politics, only Marx and Engels had a greater reach.

As an historian again only Marx and Engels were his rivals, as his unsurpassed History of the Russian Revolution testifies. As a revolutionary activist, the President of the Petrograd Workers and Peasants Council and the organiser of the Red Army, only Lenin excelled him.

But what of Trotskyists in Britain?

Well there’s a fair amount of bickering, backbiting and sectarianism. But anyone who thinks these are only characteristics of the Trotskyist left hasn’t been following recent events in the Parliamentary Labour Party, to give only the most pertinent example.

And beside this a different record should be taken into account. The anti-Vietnam war movement, the student movement of 1968, the industrial struggles of the 1970s, the Anti Nazi League, the anti-poll tax movement, the Stop the War Coalition, the anti-austerity movement all owe a great deal, often at leadership level, to Trotskyists. Not least the idea of the United Front in which Trotskyists, as a matter of principle, seek to create broad working class responses to political events working alongside others from different labour movement traditions.

Do Trotskyists think that the state can be reformed? No, they believe that a much greater social transformation is necessary to achieve socialism. Is this a vital argument about the ultimate fate of the Corbyn project that needs to be heard in every corner of the movement? Yes.

Tom accuses Trotskyists of ‘arm twisting’. That’s a bit rich coming from a man who entered politics as a bag carrier for right wing trade union leaders, whose career high was manoeuvring the departure of Tony Blair, and whose well known special skill is arm twisting. If you want a professional arm twister and a member of the Corleone family isn’t available, Tom’s your man.

John Rees

John Rees is a writer, broadcaster and activist, and is one of the organisers of the People’s Assembly. His books include ‘The Algebra of Revolution’, ‘Imperialism and Resistance’, ‘Timelines, A Political History of the Modern World’, ‘The People Demand, A Short History of the Arab Revolutions’ (with Joseph Daher), ‘A People’s History of London’ (with Lindsey German) and The Leveller Revolution. He is co-founder of the Stop the War Coalition.

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