Was Trotsky a Kautskyist?

In 1934 Trotsky wrote a programme for French Marxists called ‘A programme of action for France’ (L Trotsky Whither France? London 1974). Section 16, entitled ‘For a single assembly’, sets out Trotsky’s attitude to French bourgeois democracy.

The aim of this programme is for a workers’ and peasants’ proletarian state. But unlike our left Trotskyists, he took a clear position on the French constitution.

Section 16 says:

“We are thus firm partisans of a workers’ and peasants’ state, which will take power from the exploiters. To win the majority of our working class allies to this programme is our primary aim.

“Meanwhile, as long as the majority of the working class continues on the basis of bourgeois democracy, we are ready to defend it with all our forces against violent attacks from the Bonapartist and fascist bourgeoisie. However, we demand from our class brothers who adhere to ‘democratic’ socialism that they be faithful to their ideas, that they draw inspiration from the ideas and methods not of the Third Republic, but of the Convention of 1793.

“This is the only measure that would lead the masses forward instead of pushing them back. A more generous democracy would facilitate the struggle for workers’ power.”

It is worth pointing out that this part of Trotsky’s programme is completely consistent with the political method of revolutionary working class democracy advocated by the CPGB and RDG. Like us, his declared aim is “workers’ power” or a workers’ republic. But he puts forward immediate democratic demands for radical constitutional change which in and of themselves are in the framework of bourgeois democracy. Trotsky connects these ideas with the French revolutionary democratic tradition of 1793.

 In his writings on Britain he connects with Cromwell and English republicanism.

In the UK a federal republic is our equivalent to a French republic with a single assembly. A federal republic would also be “a more generous democracy”, that would “facilitate the struggle for workers’ power”.

So was Trotsky a Kautskyite? Of course not. He was a revolutionary democrat, 17 years after the April thesis.