From Fourth International, Vol.5 No.11, November 1944, pp.336-338.
Originally published in Mañana (Mexico City), No.59, 14 October 1944.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Translated from MANANA, Mexico City Weekly magazine, No.59, October 14, 1944
We have received this article from a European comrade. There are a number of loose and inexact formulations in the article, such as: “the workers’ state fell and was replaced by the Stalinist despotism” ; an improper reference to the October revolution as “a happy episode,” etc. Distance makes it difficult, however, to consult with him on these and other incorrect formulations. We are publishing the article “because in its main line it conforms with the Trotskyist position on the Soviet Union. – Ed.
“The fate of USSR will be decided, definitively, not on the maps of the general staffs but in the class struggle.” – L. Trotsky, 1936.
The Soviet Union, born out of the international class struggle, will be saved or will succumb along with the struggle. This is an axiomatic truth which hardly needs to be argued.
The triumph of the Russian proletariat was no more than a happy episode in the world struggle of the proletariat against capitalism. A triumph of the greatest importance, yes, but incapable of consolidating and completing itself without the aid of other revolutions. Lenin, Trotsky and all the old Bolsheviks, even Stalin before he turned into the leader of the counterrevolution, believed that the fall of the workers’ state was certain if it did not receive reinforcement from new proletarian victories. Their prophecy, entirely in accord with the international necessities of socalism, has been fulfilled, but not in the way they foresaw. The failure of the world revolution did not result in the sudden collapse of the USSR and the reestablishment of capitalism; it resulted in the internal corruption of the regime, expressed and exploited by the Stalinist Thermidor. The workers’ state fell, and was replaced by the Stalinist despotism. Nevertheless, the property system, introduced by the revolution, was preserved, although subjected to constant ravaging by the bureaucracy. Rosa Luxembourg alone saw dimly this possibility of internal destruction.
Between what was predicted and what occurred, there is no basic contradiction: only a difference in timing. The leaders of the revolution believed that the defeat of the proletariat, chiefly the European, would put the bourgeoisie in position to attack the USSR and reestablish capitalism. Capitalism, however, in spite of its triumph over the masses, has been too much entangled in its own inner conflicts to be able to play the role of savior. On the other hand, within the USSR, the revolution, although constantly fighting a retreating action, showed enough resistance to prevent a forcible reestablishment of the old property owners either in alliance with or in the very person of the new bureaucracy.
The counter-revolution had to follow in gradual steps the road laid out by the bureaucratic interests. This was also necessitated by the special economic status of the USSR. The largest part of its wealth was created after the revolution. This property Jacks what the bourgeoisie would call “legitimate” owners.
Restitution is impossible. The only thing left is to give it away or steal it; and for this, who in greater authority or better position than the bureaucracy which administers and wastes and enjoys the fruits of the Soviet national income? No, the old property-owners cannot be restored in the USSR, but new ones can be established. This is the direction in which the whole system headed by the Marshal is going. The path of capitalist restoration and the timing of its realization differ from what was forecast by the old leaders of the revolution. But the essence of their prediction cannot fail of fulfillment: failing new revolutions, capitalism will be restored in the USSR.
There are certain individuals and political groups today who incline to believe in the possibility of a property system half-way between capitalism and socialism. It would take over capitalism’s distribution system and socialism’s nationalized property and planned economy, and the system as a whole, under the “enlightened dictatorship” of industrial technicians and political bureaucrats, would take the form of an unforeseen social order whose closest approximations would be Russia under Stalin and Germany under Hitler. Certain theories have even been elaborated along these lines, or rather attempts at theories: “bureaucratic collectivism,” “managerial revolution,” and other variants. For the supporters of these theories, the Soviet nationalized property and planned economy, far from approaching their crystallization in a return to a system of private property, represent the archetypes to be followed in the long run by the chief capitalist countries. The technico-political bureaucracy is taken, in these theories, for a new social class called to play out its role in an entire historical cycle, just as did the patrician aristocracy of antiquity, the feudal nobility and the bourgeoisie.
I cannot stop here to refute these theories. I will only say, for the purposes of this article, that they ignore the nature of both capitalism and socialism. They do not look at history in its evolution, but only at one isolated moment of its evolution. At their highest point, the forms of capitalist property approach forms of a socialist type; and inversely, at their lowest point, the forms of socialist property approach those of a capitalist type. What is revealed in the first case is the direction; in the second, the origin. But the material evolution of society is not a continuum of uninterrupted progress. It is broken into by the world class struggle, which in one place makes rapid jumps ahead, in another imposes sudden retreats, giving ground on one flank and gaining it on others, moving ahead here and being counteracted elsewhere. Just as the zigzags of lightning do not keep it from following its course from the clouds to the earth, so the advances and retreats of the world class-struggle do not keep humanity from traveling its road. If the theorizers about a new social class could observe the evolution of the world class struggle with the same speed that the eye sees the flash of lightning, they would not venture to take one of its tangents for its fundamental direction.
The Stalinist regime represents the greatest concessions to capitalism and the least to the proletariat, within the property system established by the revolution. The regime in Germany, to which all the rest of the capitalist countries approach in varying degrees, represents the greatest concessions to the unification and management of the means of production, and the least to the proletariat, within the capitalist system. In the first case, historical development is turned backward by Stalinism; in the second, it is dammed up by fascism. The inventors of the new social class attempt to generalize these special cases. But the key to the whole thing is in knowing if the evolution of the property system can be halted – as they contend – in a state which synthesizes production for consumption (planned economy) with social hierarchies and an unequal distribution of products in accordance with the capitalist law of wages. This is a monstrous contradiction. Planned economy brings with it a socialist distribution of products and the raising of the technical, economic and cultural levels of humanity. Wherever the capitalist law of distribution exists, it will end by breaking up a planned economy. Either the means of production have to be adapted to the needs of distribution, or else distribution must be arranged in accord with the possibilities of a planned economy. Between these two extremes of the basic social tendencies many variants may arise, but the economic categories are irreducible: either capitalist or socialist. There exists no other possibility of a social system, in the historical meaning of the phrase. In the USSR either private property will reappear on the base of the abusive privileges of distribution introduced by the bureaucracy, or the bureaucracy will be ripped apart and crushed by the people, and the march towards socialism renewed.
Materially and ideologically, the Stalinist bureaucracy is as similar to the bourgeoisie as can be imagined. The top technical and political bureaucracy of the USSR has the same customs, the same way of living, the same scorn for those below, the same material privileges as the Churchills, Hitlers, Roosevelts, Morgans, Fords, Rockefellers, Rothschilds, Duponts, Krupps. Whereas the latter draw on the capitalist property system, the former suck on the nationalized property. But the Stalinist bureaucracy is in an obviously inferior position. Whereas the privileges and the entire activity of the capitalists is perfectly in accord with their system of property, the abuses and privileges and the political usurpations of the bureaucracy are in contradiction with the system of planned economy. The Rothschilds, Krupps, Hitlers, Churchills, etc., need the capitalist system as much as it needs them; but the Stalins, Molotovs, Vishinskys, etc., are unnecessary and harmful to the nationalized and planned economy. They have no other way out than to set the economic system in harmony with themselves; at that point they will be in no way distinguishable from the capitalist class. In other words, if they are not to perish, they will be obliged to reintroduce private property.
But a step of this sort cannot be legally effected before it has first been actually introduced into the social structure of the country. And even so, the bureaucracy will not dare to announce it openly. They will say, perhaps, that the revolution has now achieved all its objectives, that from now on it need only rejoice in its triumph and in the marvelous good-nature of the Marshal. It was precisely on the eve of the war that the material privileges of the bureaucracy had reached their zenith. To go further was impossible without an open break with the planned economy. Ideologically, everything was then ready for solidifying their illegitimate usurpation of power and privileges into an ownership legitimized by law and sanctified by the gods.
The decisive solution – either towards capitalism or towards socialism – coincides with the social convulsions brought about by the war, to the discomfiture of Stalinism and the bourgeois counter-revolution throughout the world. In 1939 an English economic societv, wishing to reassure its government about a possible alliance with the “Bolshevik” Stalin, offered evidence from a study of Soviet economy that the bureaucracy constituted a newly-forming bourgeoisie interested solely in the status quo throughout the world. Independently, a French society of the same sort arrived at the same conclusion. And for his part, the Polish ambassador to the USSR, who could have had no interest in speaking contrary to the anti-Bolshevik tendencies of his government, declared as follows: “The mass executions which are taking place at the present time are making impossible the restoration of Leninism.” And finally, already during the war, an editorial in Harper’s Magazine, published in New York, in commenting on the nationalist and anti-Bolshevik change which had begun “in the schools, the press, literature and other spheres, since many years back,” referred to the reception which the Soviet press gave to a new decoration bearing the name of a Czarist general: “The most glorious name in Russian military history is the name of the great genius, the teacher of Kutuzov, the conqueror of many foreign armies: the name of Alexander Vassilevich Suvorov.” On its own behalf the editorial added, with sufficient reason: “General Denikin or any other of the Russian conservatives who fought in the White armies could express the same sentiments.”
All this – and a great many other declarations and practical measures of the Russian government which could be cited – reveals the extent of the ruling caste’s awareness of and need for a reactionary road. For a long time the bureaucracy had been bending its efforts towards the preparation, in accord with its interests, of a way out from the insupportable contradiction between itself and the planned economy. During the war itself the abyss which separates its privileges from the people has deepened, its system of permanent repression intensified, and new armed instruments created for the purpose of crushing every resistance or attack of the people. The most striking among these is a kind of Stalinist SS, a privileged section within the army which already had a large degree of privileges in peace time. For these Janizaries the normal army pay is doubled or trebled; they are better clothed, better fed, and relieved of the dirty and dangerous work. What object can there be in the formation of this corps except to set up around the regime an armed instrument completely tied, by its own material interests, to the bureaucracy? Like every reactionary social layer, the bureaucracy, under the cover of war against the imperialist enemy, is carrying on a second civil war against the defenseless and starving people.
The victories of the Red Army cannot in themselves assure the continuance of nationalized and planned economy. They have succeeded in preventing the restoration of capitalism by German imperialism. In this respect the character of the war on the part of the Soviet Union is a just one. For this reason every revolutionist hostile to Stalinism has supported it. But the war, pushing to their extremes the contradictions existing in the USSR, chiefly the separation between the people and the bureaucracy, has impelled the latter to the very edge of capitalist restoration. Hardly has the external danger been conquered than the internal danger reappears, in gigantic form. Because the military victories have been achieved under the leadership of the bureaucracy, they have succeeded only in postponing the solution of the dilemma: capitalist restoration or continuance of the revolution – with the term bureaucracy now replacing the term imperialism. Anglo-American imperialism, as much interested as German imperialism in putting an end to the first experiment in non-capitalist economy, will work towards this end by leaning upon the present bureaucracy or, if necessary, setting up one group of bureaucrats in opposition to another.
There is more than one indication that this latter will be necessary. The top Stalinist bureaucracy owed its victory over the revolution in large part to the support of the petty bureaucracy, – the aristocracy of workers and the kolkhoz aristocracy. A minority section of both these latter has been fused with the top technical, political or military bureaucracy. Another part of the kolkhoz aristocracy constitutes today a social layer of moderately wealthy peasants. But the majority of the privileged workers and farmers who constitute the chief support of the bureaucracy against the revolutionary elements are being left far behind as a result of the enormously increasing usurpations of the top bureaucracy; and they are bound to add their discontent to that of the mass of the population, and to feel themselves constantly more inclined to common action with the masses. The social pressure against the top bureaucracy has increased during the war and will continue increasing immediately after the peace. As a result, the upper ruling circles will become divided – if they are not so already. Some will be in favor of drastic solutions which would unloose a wave of terror more widespread than any previous and would leave the top leaders free to do what they wished with the economy and the people; others will consider it wise to moderate their course and complete the process of usurpation gradually; still a third group will see the necessity of making concessions to the people and temporarily moving in a leftward direction. In this connection, the choice of their imperialist ally will further increase the discord within the top bureaucracy. Along with the supporters of an alliance with English-speaking imperialism, whether giving preference to England or the United States, there will be those who believe that an alliance with German imperialism would be the more advantageous and stable. Not for nothing are the committees of “Free Germany” and the “Association of German Generals” being maintained in Moscow ...
The behind-the-scenes fight can easily turn into the open armed struggle. Repressions and coup d’etats by one group of bureaucrats against another not only are possible but inevitable if a new Russian revolution does not arise to drive out altogether the entire reactionary bureaucracy. The staunchest supporters of violent solutions will undoubtedly be recruited from among the high commands of the army, where the quintessence of Stalinist despotism is to be found. Will the Marshal continue to be the supreme leader in the stage of reintroduction of capitalism? That would seem to us to be difficult for him, although Stalin’s wisdom has always consisted in keeping quiet until all others have spoken, so as to be sure of staying with and holding a majority. But every sharp retrogression towards capitalism would have to justify itself in some way. In exchange for putting an end to the economic system introduced by the revolution, it would have to present itself to the people as the enemy of the Stalinist GPU; it would try to turn the revolutionary hatred which the people feel for the present regime, into a reactionary direction. Probably even Stalin would have to be sacrificed and hanged as a “Trotskyist.” But it is of very minor importance whether the Marshal continues as leader or falls victim to his own methods.
What is important to the world and to the proletariat in particular, is that the bitter struggle between the Stalinist Thermidor and the Bolshevik revolution should enter upon its definitive solution, now, when the European masses are organizing a new socialist offensive more powerful than any that have gone before. On the triumph or the defeat of this offensive depends the reestablishment of the power of the proletariat in the USSR, or the solidification of the bureaucracy into a new bourgeoisie. The Kremlin knows this perfectly. Its proposition to the Dumbarton Oaks conference (the creation of an international air corps capable of quickly attacking any regions where disturbances threaten), shows a panicky fear of the revolution greater even than that of the bourgeoisie itself.
The balance-sheet of the world class struggle will inevitably furnish the solution. The history of the Soviet Union teaches that the proletarian revolution has enormous power of resistance, against both internal and external enemies. It will show also that it has a great capacity for offensive action, over long periods of time and great distances. The ideas and the achievements of the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, far from having been drowned in the filthy mire of the Stalinist counter-revolution, will reappear, shining and powerful, showing the road to future revolutions. The example of Russia, taken up again by the European proletariat, will give the Soviet masses the necessary impulse to crush the bureaucratic despotism.
1. Cf. Munis’ correction of this translation in Fourth International, March 1945.
Last updated on 30.5.2005