The Relevance of Trotsky’s Thought in Today’s Complex World: From National Liberation to the Perils of Starmer’s Labour Party

The contemporary left faces many challenges, including the absence of a powerful mass revolutionary party, and must navigate the complexities of modern struggles while adhering to Trotsky's guidance, all while enduring the paradoxical nature of Starmer's Labour Party.

It can be challenging to apply Trotsky’s ideas to events today. While his ideas were significant and forward-thinking in his era, today’s political and economic landscape is more multifaceted and demands a nuanced analysis. A potential danger of solely adhering to Trotsky’s theories is that they may not fully account for the complexities of power dynamics and the many different forms of oppression that can intersect and reinforce each other. For some comrades, the concept of a vanguard party leading the revolution may also be difficult to accept, appearing to perpetuate the very hierarchical systems that revolutionaries intend to dismantle. However, and this is important, if there is no powerful and unified organisation that can effectively unite and mobilise the working class, the revolutionary fervor that drives significant change can easily become scattered and lose its potency. In the absence of a party capable of voicing a clear socialist vision, leftist ideologies and movements will falter, lacking the necessary impetus to gain traction.

The Decline of the Left in England: An Analysis of the Absence of a Revolutionary Party

This trend is conspicuous in the recent political history of England[1], where leftist movements have remained on the periphery of mainstream politics, devoid of the power and backing needed to challenge the established order. The left in England has experienced a significant decline over decades, and a crucial factor may be the absence of a formidable mass revolutionary party. The English Left has been in a spiraling descent since the 1970s, caught in the grip of a steady and inexorable decline. The revolutionary passion that once burned brightly has faded to a mere flicker as the Left struggles to find its footing amidst a shifting political landscape. What once appeared as a vibrant and dynamic movement has been reduced to a mere shadow of its former self, barely recognisable in its current state. The once-prominent voices of dissent have been muted, their cries for change drowned out by a chorus of mainstream apathy. In short, the English Left finds itself in the throes of a protracted and seemingly interminable death spiral, with little hope of recovery on the horizon. With the exception of a momentary spike in political engagement during Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, which saw a wave of young left-wing activists join the party and the formation of the then popular organising group Momentum, it has been a period of disappointment and decline.

With the exception of that one fleeting glimmer of hope for the left under Corbyn, the tenure of his replacement Stramer has been quickly marked by a persistent gloom.

“The once-prominent voices of dissent have been muted, their cries for change drowned out by a chorus of mainstream apathy.”

In the present, the Labour Party, steered by the technocratic Keir Starmer, finds itself firmly ensconced in the realm of left-right centrism, though more often leaning towards the right of the spectrum. There is something particularly disconcerting about a political party that prides itself on being a haven for progressive values, yet turns away all of those who align with the very ideals it professes to uphold. Such is the paradox of Starmerism – an entity that seems to revel in its own contradictions. For those on the left of politics, Starmer’s party is anything but a welcoming home. Rather, it is a house of purges and proscriptions, where certain political groups are deemed unwelcome and expelled without hesitation.

The message is clear: if your beliefs do not align with those of the party’s ruling class, then you are not welcome here. This is a really curious state of affairs for a political entity that claims to champion the very principles of tolerance, diversity, and inclusivity. Yet, as is often the case with political rhetoric, the reality falls far short of the promise. Starmer and his clique have created an environment that is openly hostile to the left, where dissent is not only discouraged, but actively punished. In this way, the party has become a symbol of the broader cultural malaise that plagues our society – a place where groupthink [2] has replaced true intellectual diversity and free expression. It is a troubling trend, one that threatens to undermine the very foundations of democracy itself. Now without a dominant party to rally behind and galvanise the masses, leftist movements languish in the face of stiff opposition from entrenched capitalist interests (including Starmer’s business friendly Labour Party) and the ruling class.

“There is something particularly disconcerting about a political party that prides itself on being a haven for progressive values, yet turns away all of those who align with the very ideals it professes to uphold.”

Michael Chessum (author of the excellent This is Only the Beginning – The Making of a New Left) wrote in an article in January this year, that society is facing another collapse in living standards (see here – on the cost of living crisis) and the public mood is hostile to the the existing situation (see the continued strike wave). He noted the emergence of new political dividing lines that cut across the traditional left-right spectrum (Brexit), and suggests that the left needs to find a new political home to fight for their ideas and have a collective presence in politics and social movements. Chessum implies, correctly in my opinion, that a new party may be the only option for the left.

Maybe it really is now time to consider that revolutionary party!

“Maybe it really is now time to consider that revolutionary party!”

Applying Trotsky’s Thought to Contemporary Struggles: The Importance of Flexibility and Pragmatism

Despite the complexities of today’s world, Trotsky’s thought still has great relevance and can provide us with valuable insights into contemporary events. Trotsky’s emphasis on the importance of a practical, nuanced analysis of the internal and external situation is still highly applicable. For example, consider the ongoing struggle for national liberation in countries such as Ukraine[3], Palestine or Kashmir. In such situations, a revolutionary party must remain in irreconcilable opposition to their own government while taking into account the specific context and international groupings at play. Just as Trotsky argued in 1938 that Italian workers should not interfere with the shipping of arms to the rebellious Algerians, today’s revolutionaries must support the struggle for national liberation and oppose imperialist interventions, even if it means working with governments that they would normally oppose. At the same time, maintaining their own political independence and focusing on the interests of the proletariat.

“As we continue to navigate the challenges of the present day, we can draw inspiration from Trotsky’s commitment to revolutionary internationalism and his emphasis on a nuanced, concrete analysis of each situation.”

The present-day advocates for revolution must adhere to Trotsky’s guidance by endorsing the struggle for national liberation and denouncing imperialist intrusion wherever it is witnessed. This means that revolutionaries may have to work alongside governments that they don’t typically agree with. All the while ensuring the preservation of their political autonomy and placing the interests of the working class at the forefront.

“Maintaining their own political independence and focusing on the interests of the proletariat.”

Trotsky’s thought also reminds us of the need for a flexible and pragmatic approach that recognises the complexity of contemporary struggles.

As we continue to navigate the challenges of the present day, we can draw inspiration from Trotsky’s commitment to revolutionary internationalism and his emphasis on a nuanced, concrete analysis of each situation.

Footnotes

[1] In Scotland, the Scottish National Party has emerged as a powerful political force on the left, while in Wales, the Welsh Labour Party has experienced a resurgence, led by a separate leadership.

[2] Groupthink reigns supreme in today's Labour Party under Starmer, stifling critical thinking and dissent. The quest for unity and consensus overlooks crucial information and alternative perspectives, leading to poor decision-making and dire consequences.

[3] There are some on the left who still argue that Ukraine, currently under brutal assault by Putin's Russia, does not meet the definition of a national liberation struggle. However, it is important to note that in this context, a national liberation movement can be broadly defined as any political movement that seeks to liberate a nation or group of people from perceived oppression or domination by a foreign power.

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