STUDY GUIDE

Against Individual Terrorism by Leon Trotsky

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Published as a pamphlet available from Pathfinder Press

Introduction

Why are Trotsky’s writings on terrorism relevant for today’s activists?

The Marxist Position on Individual Terrorism

How does the capitalist class use the term terrorism?

What are some examples of genuine terrorism?

How would you compare terrorist acts by oppressed people with capitalist terrorism?

What determines the social significance of a strike?

What is the difference between a political strike and an economic strike?

Explain Trotsky’s statement that “[the strike] continues to be the method of struggle that flows directly from the productive role of the proletariat in modern society.”

What does Trotsky say determines the method, aim and result of fighting for workers’ interests in elections?

Who (what group) can conduct a strike? Who can carry out terrorist acts?

Why is the election of a workers’ representative so much more significant than the assassination of even the most prominent and viciously anti-worker official?

What can be accomplished by even a small strike that cannot be achieved by terrorist acts against factory owners?

Why does the assassination of even a top government official have only a minimal and short-lived effect on the system?

How do terrorist acts work against the interests of the working and oppressed classes?

What is the anarchists’ argument in favor of terrorist acts?

What has historical experience shown about this anarchist position?

Can dramatic acts of terrorism lead to the rise of revolution?

What is the necessary foundation for a successful revolution?

What is the “psychological source” of terrorism that precedes its use as a political weapon?

How does Trotsky’s criticism of terrorism differ from that of liberals or bourgeois moralists who deplore it because of “the sanctity of all human life?”

What does Trotsky say should be done about oppressed people’s desire for revenge?

The Bankruptcy of Terrorism

Who was Azef?

The killings of tyrants have been hailed as acts of liberation throughout written history. Why, then, does Trotsky credit the Russian intelligentsia with creating political terrorism?

Explain Trotsky’s characterization of terrorism as an “idea of destroying absolutism [tsarist rule] by mechanical means.”

What was the effect on the Russian state of the fact that tsarism was consolidated in Russia late, when European countries had already moved beyond feudalism and were more culturally advanced?

What aggravated this situation further in the 19th century?

How did the character of the Russian state invite delusions of a terrorist solution?

What effect did the belatedness of Russian development have on the revolutionary opposition, e.g. Narodnaya Volya (People’s Will)?

Explain Trotsky’s characterization of Russia’s second wave of terrorists—the Combat Organization of the Social Revolutionaries—as the epigones of classical terrorism.

Why does the “essence” of terrorism exclude work in the mass struggle?

How does terrorism both arise from a lack of confidence in the revolutionary masses, and in turn, undermine them?

What was the real role of the Combat Organization with their party, The Social Revolutionaries?

Terrorism and the Stalinist Regime in the Soviet Union

How does Trotsky describe the terror of a dictatorship against its opposition?

Why is terrorism a suicidal tactic for an opposition?

What kind of vengeance for revolutionary martyrs does Trotsky advocate?

What do you think Trotsky means by “[Isolated terrorist explosions] almost always have a symptomatic character’?

What does Trotsky point to as a “basic property of terror as a system”?

If terrorism succeeds in demoralizing and disorganizing the government, who reaps the benefit? What is the cost?

Explain why Trotsky says individual terrorism is a token of a country’s backwardness.

What would a European social democrat and a terrorist have in common?

What effect does individual terrorism have on the working and oppressed masses?

Who would benefit from terrorism against the Soviet state?

Explain Trotsky’s statement that “Individual terrorism in its very essence is bureaucratism turned inside out.”

For Grynszpan: Against the Fascist Pogrom Gangs and Stalinist Scoundrels

What is Trotsky’s position in Grynszpan?

What position did the Stalinist bureaucracy have on Grynszpan?

What does Trotsky say is the origin of the Stalinist position?

What is Trotsky’s message to Grynszpan or others who would follow his example?

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