I understand that the split originated in a power struggle, but I'm more interested in the modern theoretical differences.

In the present day, there appears to be an ideological split between Trotskyist groups and Marxist-Leninist groups. What do they agree on, and what do they disagree on?

  • Interesting to note that Irving Kristol and James Burnham were Troskyists, and they played a nontrivial role in the formation of the (neo)conservative movement.
    – blud
    Jan 22, 2021 at 13:19
  • 1
    @blud: The operative term is 'were'. Obviously they'd moved far from that when they became neo-conservatives. Feb 17, 2021 at 11:43
  • Think the question is a bit incorect, it should be more about diference between Troskyism and Stalinism.
    – convert
    Feb 2, 2022 at 12:13
  • @convert Marxism-Leninism is or at least was Stalinism: "Marxism–Leninism was developed from Bolshevism by Joseph Stalin in the 1920s based on his understanding and synthesis of orthodox Marxism and Leninism."
    – haxor789
    Jan 23, 2023 at 10:37
  • @haxor789 Marxism–Leninism, as the name saies, was developed by Lenin himself.
    – convert
    Jan 23, 2023 at 11:00

4 Answers 4


First, allow me to point out a subtle category error. Trotskyism falls under the rubric of Marxist-Leninist theory. It's a kind of Marxist-Leninist theory, so asking for the differences between 'Trotskyism' and 'Marxist-Leninism' is like asking for the differences between 'apples' and 'fruit'. Apples may be different from other kinds of fruit, but it doesn't make much sense to ask how apples are different from the category fruit.

All apples are fruit, but not all fruit are apples; all Trotskyists are Marxist-Leninists, but not all Marxist-Leninists are Trotskyists. The categorical inference is not bidirectional.

The main split within the general worldview of Marist-Leninism was between Trotsky and Stalin. Stalin believed that socialists should focus on establishing itself securely within Russia and then expanding outwards, leading to the draconian security state we ultimately knew as the USSR. Trotsky held to the more traditional Marxist ideal that socialists should keep working to foment intellectual proletarian revolutions world-wide, views we might recognize from people like John Lennon, George Orwell, Bertrand Russell, and Bernie Sanders.

Stalin kicked Trotsky out of the Communist party in Russia, drove him into exile, and eventually had him assassinated in Mexico city. But by the time of his death, Trotsky had already formed the Fourth International Movement — in direct opposition to Stalinism — and established his own variant of Marxist-Socialism as a pervasive (if weak and unstructured) presence through much of the world. It would be more accurate to frame this as the difference between 'democratic socialism' (Trotsky) and 'state socialism' (Stalin), but as vast as the difference between those ideologies might be, they are both Marxist-Leninism worldviews.

  • 3
    I don't think this really answers my question. I asked specifically about the differences in modern times between ML and Trotskyist groups. You explained the historical split.
    – Jones
    Jan 24, 2021 at 8:23
  • 2
    "should keep working to foment intellectual proletarian revolutions world-wide, views we might recognize from people like John Lennon, George Orwell, Bertrand Russell, and Bernie Sanders" [citation needed]
    – RedSonja
    Jan 25, 2021 at 14:28
  • 2
    The differences between socialism and communism fill whole books. They are not the same thing. Socialist are not all communists. (And Europeans understand the word Socialism quite differently from US Americans.) Your little burst of polemic spoiled a good answer.
    – RedSonja
    Jan 26, 2021 at 7:02
  • 2
    Actually I have indeed read the whole oeuvre of Orwell, and he is definitely no supporter of Communism, having observed its practice during his lifetime.
    – RedSonja
    Jan 26, 2021 at 7:05
  • 4
    John Lennon was a pop star - a very rich one - and not a politician. His words were just lyrics.
    – RedSonja
    Jan 26, 2021 at 7:06

Marx struggle to abolish the private ownship. Lenin (in fact, Stalin) thought they can build socialism in one country, while Troskyists find we could only construct it through many countries' common striving.


Trotsky believed that for Marxist revolution to succeed, it had to ignite similar movements globally. Stalin believed contrariwise. But then his main aim was not the emancipation of humanity from under the iron heel of capitalist imperialism but to win the power struggle as to who should be the heir to Marxism-Leninism and lead the Soviet Union. This he did so and then seeing that Trotsky would remain a danger to him had him exiled and then later assassinated in Mexico. It goes without saying that Marxism-Leninism should be distinguished from Stalinism, after all, it was Lenin himself that cautioned that Stalin required watching.

Similar sentiments to Trotsky were expressed by Rosa Luxembourg who then developed a theory which widened the site of conflict from the industrialised countries of the west to the more rural colonial possessions of the west in British India and French Indochina. This is one of the major successes of socialism, the decolonisation movement that swept the globe in the aftermath of the second world war. It's this revolutionary sense of socialism that probably motivated Cuba to intervene in Angola against the racist and capitalist regime of the then aparthied South Africa and prompted Che Guevara to go to Bolivia in an attempt to foment a revolution in Latin America.

Trotsky's view - that for socialism to win would require seeding, nurturing and battling for socialism in many countries - was imitated by the West who then realised to counter Trotsky's vision would require a counter strategy of capitalist imperial containment. Imitation, as Oscar Wilde said, is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity pays to greatness.

It's this that's commonly said that motivated the USA's aggressive and genocidal war in Vietnam. However, Ramsey Clark, attorney general during Johnson's administration and then later supreme court justice, went on a visit to Vietnam in 1972 during the height of the war and on the radio station, Voice of Vietnam, angrily condemned the American bombing raids, accusing them of bombing Vietnam "back to the 17th C" and purposefully targeting civilian areas. He later called his own government, echoing Martin Luthor King, "the greatest human rights violater in the world" and that it routinely bullies and mistreats poor, minority and politically powerless peoples. It's this critique that has been taken up post-colonial theorists - after all, both France and Italy had powerful communist parties - and neither were bombed by the US "back to the 17th C."


M-L is normally only used to refer to Maoists. Trots can vary between Orthotrots and new left style non-ortho positions such as the once successful at student recruiting ISO.

In short. Maoists and Trots both agree with the differentia specifica of Leninism: the party as a cross class phenomena which dominates an essentially historically passive proletariat too stupid to know what to do about its own exploitation.

They vary in that each has a specific hypocracy about the form of nomenklatura rule the party pursues. Maoists usually deal with broad tactical compromises with rural proletarians due to political success. Trots make any old shit up to recruit students (see the family tree of Trotskyism as my evidence, https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/trees/ustree.htm ; Callinicos (1990) Trotskysm, http://www.marxists.de/trotism/callinicos/index.htm ).

Western M-Ls without union embedment are just going to be LARPers.

Regarding “any old shit,” consider James P Canons hysteric sectarianism, Posadism’s pro dolphin/alien nuclear war advocacy, or “student organising” by groups concerned with proletarian autogestation who consider students to be non proletarian.

  • Link to the family tree you mentioned would be helpful here
    – blud
    Jan 23, 2021 at 18:35
  • "Communism in one country" cannot really happen and is almost a contradiction in terms (oxymoronic).
    – JVD
    Jan 30 at 10:59
  • I think we need world socialist reconstruction of banking and currency and financial and trade and taxation to achieve proletarian control of capitalism , to achieve communism : control of capital and the means of production by the Proletariat / the Workers . The inter-connectedness and inter-dependance of today's world shows that this is impossible without a World Constitution and World Government. I agree with all of Marx, Lenin, Trotsky and others in different ways. Every alternative movement wants to "latch on" to some "correct" interpretation of "the dogma" - there isn't any.
    – JVD
    Jan 30 at 11:07
  • "Permanent Revolution" means continuous Evolution of Laws, systems, processes, so as to counteract the permanent counter-revolutionary forces that will try to regain control of capitalism, recognizing that any form of capitalism, including State Capitalism, will always be prone to being fought over and taken over by those hungry for power, that like cancer, it strives only to grow and replicate itself ; which is why it must continuously and continually needs to be brought under the control of The People / Proletariat, by a process of monitoring, measuring & refinement.
    – JVD
    Jan 30 at 12:02
  • Stalin was a great Russian patriot and war leader, unfortunately he never was able to stop fighting the Civil War ; if he had had a more friendly & supportive reception from the West / World, he might have been more friendly towards it. As it was, he was antagonistic and highly (perhaps rightly) paranoid towards western attempts to subvert the revolution. Both he and Trotsky were correct on many things. It is time to bury the hatchet between them and unite to bring about the sort of proletarian revolution both believed in, in their own way.
    – JVD
    Jan 30 at 12:07

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