Tony Cliff

On the Class Nature of the “People’s Democracies”

II. Were there victorious proletarian revolutions in Eastern Europe?

The above arguments on the economic relations between the USSR and the “People’s Democracies”, and the conclusions derived from them regarding the internal relations of production prevailing in the Stalinist countries, are a challenge to those comrades who claim that the “People’s Democracies” are workers’ states. Besides those aspects which come into the orbit of political economy, these comrades will have to tackle a number of questions that are connected with the basic tenets of historical materialism, and first of all the Marxist-Leninist theory of the state. They must prove that a social revolution took place in these countries. E.R. Frank thinks that he does this by putting two incontrovertible facts side by side:

  1. That in E. Europe key positions of the economy are statified while formerly they were privately owned;
  2. That with the crumbling of German militarism a revolutionary wave swept Eastern Europe.

Here he stops. But it must be shown that the former was the result of the latter, that it was the revolutionary activity of the masses that brought about the statification of the means of production, which for E.R. Frank is decisive as the criterion of a workers’ state. By paying no attention to dates, his article gives the impression that the nationalisation was the culmination of the revolutionary wave, that all the other protagonists of the theory do the same. The theory must stand the test of the Marxian assumption that the working class cannot take hold of the bureaucratic and militaristic state machine of the bourgeoisie, but must smash it and institute in its place the working class organised as the ruling class.

Let us check the facts.



Rumania, Hungary and Bulgaria

The defeat of German militarism was followed by a big revolutionary wave in Bulgaria, a much smaller one in Hungary, and a still smaller one in Rumania. This wave reached its summit in the last months of 1944 and the first few months of 1945. After it, “order” was restored not less ruthlessly, but indeed much more so, than ever the Stalinists in collaboration with the bourgeoisie had succeeded in doing in Western Europe. No large-scale nationalisation was carried out in these countries until another three years had passed by. Thus the countries were capitalist, if private property is the criterion. In the three countries, the bureaucratic militarist state machine was not smashed, but was taken hold of, captured by the Stalinists. Let us look at some facts to prove this.

The revolutionary wave in Bulgaria was described by the Economist on 7 October 1944 in these words:

Reports on the Bulgarian forces of occupation in Western Thrace and Macedonia vividly recall the picture of the Russian army in 1917. Soldiers’ councils have been set up, officers have been degraded, red flags hoisted, and normal saluting has been abolished. Molotov hastened to intervene, declaring: “If certain communists continue their present conduct we will bring them to reason. Bulgaria will remain with her democratic government and her present order ... You must retain all valuable army officers from before the coup d’état. You should reinstate in service all officers who have been dismissed for various reasons.” (New York Times, 16 January 1945.)

And earlier, on 21 September 1944, the New York Times correspondent in Sofia reported that “Communist leaders are doing everything they can to stop extremists in the party from agitating for Sovietization of the country”. As regards the “Red Army”, we are told: “On several occasions when local Communists in the provinces tried to displace city officials and take matters into their own hands they were ordered by the Russian military authorities to return the jobs to the old officials until orders were received from the Fatherland Front Government in Sofia.” The Fatherland Front Government hastened to establish “order”.

As regards the restoration of “order” in the Bulgarian Army, the same article in the Economist states:

M. Volchev [Minister of War in the Fatherland Front Government – TC] has issued a stern order to the troops to return immediately to normal discipline, to abolish Soldiers’ Councils and to hoist no more red flags. Now Sofia reports that the Bulgarian army has been placed under the supreme command of Marshal Tolbukhin. Apparently, the Soviet commander has no patience with Balkan repetitions of 1917 ...

The Bulgarian Stalinist leaders declared very emphatically that they stood for the social status quo and for the maintenance of private property. Thus, for instance, Yugov, Minister of the Interior, declared:

This government, of which I am a member and on whose behalf I speak, categorically denies that it has any intention of establishing a Communist regime in Bulgaria. There is no truth in rumours that the government intends to nationalize any private enterprise in the country. (New York Times, 22 September 1944.)

A few months later, at the National Congress of the Fatherland Front in March 1945, another Stalinist leader declared: “We are building a democratic country based on private property and private initiative.” A few years later Dimitrov declared: “The immediate task is neither the realisation of Socialism nor the introduction of the Soviet system but the consolidation of a truly democratic and Parliamentarian system.”

The Fatherland Front Government was headed from September 1944 to October 1946 by General Kimon Georgiev, who not only played a leading part in the military, semi-fascist coup d’état of Tsankov in 1923, as a result of which tens of thousands of workers and peasants were massacred, but was also the author of the military coup of 1934 which led to the immediate dismissal of Parliament, the terrible persecution of Communists, Socialists, Agrarians, and, for the first time in Bulgarian history, the dissolution of the trade unions and their illegalisation. Georgiev’s supporters wielded such power in the Fatherland Front Government that The Observer of 10 September 1944 could remark: “The composition of the Government suggests that the group that has now taken over in Sofia is the famous Military League which took power by a coup d’état in 1934.”

The fact that because of the geographical position of Bulgaria the bourgeoisie hoped to switch from the side of Germany not to that of Russia, but to that of England and the USA, made it necessary for the Stalinists to carry a large-scale purge through the law courts.

That the Bulgarian people were successfully “kept quiet” is illustrated by the fact that until April 1948 the Stalinists did not consider it necessary to hold even sham elections to the local authorities; mayors and members of the local councils were appointed by the Minister of the Interior.

The policy of the Stalinists in Bulgaria, therefore, was no different from that of the Stalinists during the Spanish Civil War. In Spain the Soldiers’ Councils and the militia were abolished, and the regular army with its officers and hierarchical organisation reinstated in their place. The right of private property and the defence of the status quo was vehemently proclaimed, the coalition with the bourgeoisie was upheld as the programme for the present and the future. In Spain, as in Bulgaria, the Stalinists took over the key Ministry of the Interior, infiltrated into the Army and police, making up a considerable pro-portion of the commanding personnel. In Spain the Franco uprising brought about a situation where in the Republican area only tiny remnants remained of the old militarist bureaucratic state machine and the Stalinists had to build up the new bureaucratic military state machine almost from scratch. In Bulgaria, on the other hand, the old state machine remained almost intact and the Stalinists simply infiltrated into positions in it. The “progress” that Stalinism made between Spain 1936-38 and Bulgaria 1944-50 is symbolised in the “progressiveness” of the ex-fascist Kimon Georgiev compared with the Liberal Azana.

The Stalinists followed the same pattern in Rumania as they did in Bulgaria. For three years the Stalinists were in a coalition government with Georges Tatarescu and four of his friends, a number equal to that of the Stalinists. The Economist rightly characterised this government as “a queer coalition of the local Darlans and the parties of the Left” (30 December 1944). Tatarescu has an even worse record than Georgiev, if this is possible. In December 1927 he organised anti-Semitic pogroms. After the rise of Hitler he belonged, as the Comintern paper International Press Correspondence formulated it, to “the right, pro-Hitler wing of the National Liberal Party”. He was the main actor in the transference of Rumania into the Axis orbit. Now for three years he was the vice-Premier of the “People’s Front” Government. The Prime Minister himself, who is still at the head of the government, Groza, was a very rich man, an owner of factories and large hotels, with wide banking interests. He had been a minister in two extreme right-wing, anti-Soviet governments under General Averescu (1920-21, 1926-27).

Premier Groza declared on 26 September 1945 that his government “did not intend to apply either collectivisation of land or nationalisation of banks or industries”. Radio Bucharest reported that in a description of his talks with Stalin, Groza said that Stalin had advised him to “keep a system of private enterprise and private property”. Even as regards foreign capital Groza was not unfriendly, declaring: “The government and the parliament will make every effort possible in order to realise a fruitful field of collaboration for foreign capital” (International News, Bucharest, 8 January 1947). This was more than three years after the establishment of the People’s Front Government! The Stalinist Minister of Justice, Patrascanu, went so far as to point out that Nazi collaborators were far more leniently dealt with in Rumania than, for instance, in France. The New York Times correspondent reported on 17 March 1945:

Industrialists, businessmen and hankers will escape punishment as war criminals under a law being drawn up by Lucretsiu Patrascanu, Minister of Justice and Communist member of the Government, it was learned today. Rumania could not afford to lose the services of merchants and industrialists, M. Patrascanu said. He expressed the opinion that the country would pursue a more liberal policy toward this class than the French have.

The bureaucratic and militarist character of the Rumanian state was not altered, and even its personnel remained very largely the same. Of the legal system Patrascanu could say:

The procedures, methods, traditions, and structure of Rumanian jurisprudence have remained unchanged since a Communist became Minister of Justice. No more than 20 new judges out of 2,000 have been appointed. About a quarter of the old staff have been purged or pensioned.

It is symbolical that the president of the Military Tribunal that tried Maniu was the war-time Director General of prisons and concentration camps in Rumania.

The structure of the army remained hierarchical, with complete subordination of the soldiers to their officers, and no soldiers’ committees. For three years even the composition of its personnel showed marked continuity with the past. Thus, for instance, Lieutenant-Colonel Nicolas Cambrea, commander of the Rumanian units fighting against Russia at Stalingrad, was promoted by the Groza Government to the rank of General, and appointed Assistant Chief of Staff. Major Popescu-Argetoia, a prominent fascist in the past, was put at the head of the secret police. General Vasiliu Rascanu, Chief of Military Police during the war against Russia, was appointed Minister of War. Another old general, Pretorian, was appointed Chief of Staff at the same time. General Lascar, Brigadier-General in the anti-Soviet front of 1941, who received the Knight Cross of the Iron Cross from Hitler, was, after joining the Communist Party, considered “loyal” enough to be appointed Minister of War.

The enthusiasm of the Stalinists for “law and order” is illustrated by their ardour for the monarchy. On 3 November 1946, Premier Groza declared: “The King, the Church, the Army, the people and the Government are one.” A few days later at the Stalinist-controlled front organisation, the National Democratic Bloc, meeting, vice-Premier Tatarescu said:

From Gheorghiu Dej [leader of the CP] to myself we shall all fight together for the consolidation of the Monarchy, because we are convinced that the King is the strongest factor that rallies all Rumanians. We shall fight for the consolidation of the National Church and of private property, the source of all creative enterprise.

On 8 November, King Michael’s birthday, the Stalinist daily Era Noua said: “The people of Rumania have faith in their King.” In the election demonstrations of the Communist-controlled front organisation, the National Democratic Bloc, a constantly repeated slogan was Traiasca Regele! – Long live the King! The monarchist enthusiasm of the Stalinist Party reached such heights that they attacked Maniu ... as anti-monarchist. Thus Era Noua of 3 December 1946 referred to the withdrawal of Maniu and his followers from parliament, and suggested that “in fact Maniu’s unparliamentary attitude is only a guise for his anti-dynastic policy. Maniu has already tried his first obstructive move in King Michael’s reign ... Neither Ferdinand nor King Carol were exempt from Maniu’s political tactics.” (!)

In Hungary the policy of the Stalinists was basically the same as their policy in Bulgaria and Rumania. It is therefore unnecessary to describe it, but the following quotation from the report of Nagy Imre, member of the Political Bureau of the Party, to its Congress in September 1946 is typical of many declarations: “While the war was still being fought, we have determined, and this is one of the basic principles, that in Hungary this is not the time for transition from capitalism to socialism, for struggle between the two social systems, but for uprooting the powerful remnants of feudalism. It is not a question then of struggle between the two social systems but of the struggle between democracy and reaction within capitalism.”

After the latter months of 1944 and the first few months of 1945, Bulgaria, Rumania and Hungary did not experience any wide revolutionary activity on the part of the workers. Since then the state machine remained unchanged – except for its increased bureaucratisation and militarisation.

When the Stalinist leaders decided to carry out large-scale statifiations in these countries – December 1947 in Bulgaria, March 1948 in Hungary, and June 1948 in Rumania – they had no need to rely on the independent activity of the masses, or any any mass activity at all, however deformed, but they carried out the statification purely through the bureaucratic state machine. The bureaucratic character of the statification is clear from the following facts.

In Hungary and Rumania Russia’s demand for reparations and her schemes for the building of Mixed Companies which would give her direct control of certain key positions in their economies, resulted in the postponement of any statification until the requisitioning, dismantling, etc, was finished, the reparations payments nearly completed, and nearly all the Mixed Companies established. Then, in the first half of 1948, the statification was carried out. That it was carried out only when it was in the interests of the Stalinist bureaucracy to do so is clear from the following facts: after the big defeat of the Stalinists in the general elections of November 1945, when, in spite of the pressure they applied, their tremendous wealth and control over the majority of the press, the direct and indirect intervention of the Russian Occupation Army, the falsification at the polls, they got only 17% of the votes, the Hungarian bourgeoisie felt self-confident, and the Government, headed by the bourgeois Smallholders’ Party, tried to delay agreement to the establishment of the Mixed Companies. Suddenly, quite out of the blue, the Stalinists began an intensive campaign for the nationalisation of industry on a large scale. Rakosi, in a speech over Radio Budapest on 4 March 1946, demanded the nationalisation of precisely those industries in which Russia demanded the establishment of Mixed Companies. When the Hungarian Government gave way and the Mixed Companies were established, the Stalinists reverted for another two years to their previous policy of forgoing any demand for the nationalisation of industry. Even when they decided to carry out the nationalisation, they did so in a most cynical and bureaucratic fashion. Easter Monday 1948 was declared a holiday, and when the workers were not in the factories, state officials came and took them over. Next day the workers came and found the new boss.

In Rumania the first major step towards the nationalisation of industry was taken on 11 June 1948, when quite unexpectedly the government introduced a law which was passed after only three hours’ discussion, providing for the nationalisation of the overwhelming majority of industry. At the Congress of the CP (21-23 February 1948) which had to decide on the policy for the near future, no word had been said about planning the nationalisation of industry.

In Bulgaria the statification was carried out in no less bureaucratic a fashion.

Anyone who says that Bulgaria, Rumania and Hungary are workers’ states, must choose between two distinct alternatives:

  1. That they were workers’ states from 1944, although for more than three years their economies were based entirely on private property, workers’ states headed by coalition governments, in one case a monarchical workers’ state (Rumania), workers’ states where the workers were “put in their places”; they were workers’ states simply because the Stalinists took control of key ministries, with or without mass support (being very popular in Bulgaria, much less so in Hungary – where the Social Democrats were much stronger – and in Rumania a negligible factor);
  2. That they became workers’ states only when the nationalisation of industry took place long after the revolutionary wave died out. In no way is it possible to demonstrate that the statifications were the culmination of the activities, no matter how deformed, of the working class.

If Bulgaria, Rumania and Hungary are workers’ states, it is simply because the Stalinists took hold of the old state machine. Hence, contrary to Marx, the proletarian revolution must not smash the bureaucratic military state machine of the bourgeoisie, but simply take hold of it: if the Ministers of War and the Interior (which controls the police) and all the commanding staff of army and police are members or sympathisers of bourgeois parties, the state is capitalist; if the positions are held by Stalinists or their allies – of the type of General Lascar and General Georgiev – it is a workers’ state. To use this criterion, the Spanish Republic was a workers’ state par excellence. [1]




In Czechoslovakia the statification of the majority of industry – all the banks and insurance companies as well as transport – took places at the same time as the country passed through a revolutionary crisis – May 1945. In this case it would seem, at first sight, that the statification was really the result of the class activities of the proletariat. However, almost the only enterprises to be statified were German enterprises, and practically no Czech or Slovak capitalists were expropriated. The expropriation of the German capitalists was part and parcel of the expulsion of the entire German population, rich and poor. Before the war 40% of the industry of Czechoslovakia belonged to German citizens of the country. German capital continued to infiltrate during the war, so that the proportion of German capital must have been not less than 60% in industry and nearly 100% in financial institutions (banks, insurance companies, etc). As Benes explained (Manchester Guardian, 15 December 1945):

The Germans simply took control of all main industries, main banks. If they did not nationalise them directly, they put them in the hands of big German concerns ... In this way they automatically prepared the economic and financial capital of our country for nationalisation. To return the property and the banks to the hands of Czech individuals, or to consolidate them without considerable state assistance and new financial guarantees, was simply impossible.

For the first two years after the downfall of the German military machine, what characterised the Stalinist agitation in Czechoslovakia was the hysterical, racial propaganda of Slavs against Teutons, unabated by even formal homage to internationalism, the class struggle, etc. As a high UNRRA official said: “The familiar terminology of class struggle is conspicuous by its absence from Communist writings and speeches.” To exemplify the extreme racial propaganda which accompanied the expropriation of the Germans and thus the statification of the key industries, let us give some quotations.

On 12 May 1945, Gottwald declared:

The new Republic will be a Slav state, a Republic of the Czechs and the Slovaks. We will deprive the Germans and the Hungarians, who have so heavily sinned against our peoples and the Republic, of their citizenship and severely punish them.

The Stalinist Minister of Information, Kopecky, speaking over Radio Prague on 25 May 1945, said:

The Czechoslovak army is already prepared for the purification of the border area of the Republic from Germans and Hungarians, and for the restoration of the wealth of these old Slav areas into the hands of the Czechs and the Slovaks.

In a speech at Liberec (Reichenberg) he said:

We will clear Liberec of the German enemies, and we will do it so thoroughly that there will remain not the smallest place where the German seed could grow once more. We shall expel all the Germans, we shall confiscate their property, we shall de-Germanize not only the town but the whole area ... so that the victorious spirit of Slavdom shall permeate the country from the frontier ranges to the interior.

The Stalinist Minister of Education, Nejedly, expressed the same “Slav” spirit, saying:

Consider Middle Europe – there are Hungarians. What can they do? Then the Rumanians – what can they do? And what can the Germans do? They have no future anywhere. We are greater than all of them: with our culture we can stand up to all of them. And they will see that they in their hopeless situation will be happy only to follow our leadership. How many composers are there in Europe who are the equal of Smetana? How many painters of the rank of Manes and Ales? How many historians the equal of Palacky? How many scientists of the greatness of Purkyne? ... Our culture must be national ... Nothing but cultural ruins surround us ... We will first of all carry our civilization to the border regions, and there will plant our national cultural ideal.

In the competition of chauvinism, the Stalinists outdid the bourgeois parties, while the latter did their best to prove that they were not less anti-German than the CP. Thus, for instance, Dr Ivor Duchacek of the Catholic People’s Party said in the National Assembly, March 1946:

I regard as a downright falsification of history and as a building up of legends, which I do not hesitate to call pre-election legends, if the Communists, of all parties, assert that the credit for the transfer of the Germans from our country is due mainly to them, or almost alone to them.

Nevertheless in this competition the Stalinists gained the upper hand. Firstly they could point to the fact that nowhere except in Russian-controlled territories were Germans evicted en masse. Secondly, and of greater importance, the direct organisation and carrying out of the expulsion was in the hands of members of the CP themselves. A Stalinist Minister of the Interior, Nosek, organised the expulsion and redistribution of the German property. (In Poland, too, the CP was in charge of the expulsion of the Germans from the Western territories, and the settlement of Poles in their place. There Gomulka, then General Secretary of the Party, was responsible.) The Security Corps which carried out the physical expulsion was also headed by members of the CP.

Owing to the fact that in the eyes of the people the CP bore the greatest responsibility for the expulsion, the new Czech settlers in the Sudeten areas contained a much higher proportion of CP supporters than the people in any other part of the country, even than those in the big towns with large concentrations of workers. In the 1946 general elections, in the districts of Jablonec and Turnot they polled 70% of the votes, in Kadan 62%, in Falltnov 59%, in As over 50%, and so on.

Although the workers of Czechoslovakia did not have any revolutionary party to lead them, although they suffered years of miseducation in “Slav brotherhood”, here and there Czech and German workers Instinctively showed international class solidarity expressed in open fraternisation. Thus, for instance, a number of rank-and-file CP members in Bodenbach began the publication of a daily paper in Czech and German immediately after the overthrow of the Hitlerite army. It was called Rudy Prapor – Rote Fahne (Red Flag). This enterprise was short-lived, as Nosek immediately prohibited the publication of any German paper, or any paper in two languages one of which was German.

The expulsion of the Sudeten Germans was a criminal act outdone only by Hitler’s atrocities against the Jews. The number of Germans in Czechoslovakia was 3.2 million in 1930. Some of the small countries of Europe do not have bigger populations: Norway has 2.8 million, Finland 3.6 million, Denmark 3.7 million, Switzerland 4.1 million. The percentage of workers in the German population was bigger than among the Czechs, and much bigger than among the Slovaks. The Sudeten Germans had a long socialist tradition, Sudetenland being one of the first and strongest socialist centres in the Austro-Hungarian empire. Before the Nazi victory they had trade unions which were much stronger than those of Switzerland. Now these millions were compelled to leave the country, were robbed of everything they had, thousands of women were raped, tens of thousands of children died of starvation and epidemics, thousands were shot out of hand, others tortured in the worst Gestapo fashion in concentration camps. Some tens of thousands of Germans who were indispensable skilled workers, and therefore retained, were kept in conditions similar to those in which compulsory foreign labour was recruited by Hitler: they had to work at least twelve hours a day, and if the employer thought it necessary, fifteen hours; they were put under the jurisdiction of the National Committees which prohibited them from belonging to trade unions, did not allow them to derive benefit from the social services, allowed them no holidays, prohibited their children from receiving any public education; a quarter of their wages was taken by the state as reparations.

The fate of the Hungarians was a little better, but their plight was none the less unenviable. On 14 August 1946 the Hungarian Foreign Minister in the Paris Peace Conference made the following declaration which the representative of Czechoslovakia did not deny:

650,000 Hungarians who live in Slovakia were deprived of their most elementary rights. Their property has been confiscated. No Hungarian may undertake any manual or intellectual work. He may not claim justice, he may not become a member of a trade union, he may not exercise his civic rights. The use of Hungarian in offices and even in churches and in public places is prohibited and subject to penalties. No newspaper or periodical in Hungarian may be published in Czechoslovakia, nor is it allowed to speak over the telephone or send wires in Hungarian. Hungarians may not own radio receivers. All Hungarian schools are closed, and even tuition in Hungarian is subject to penalties. The Czechoslovak authorities have dismissed all civil servants and private employees of Hungarian descent, and they have suspended payment of their pensions. Disabled servicemen, war-widows, and orphans do not receive their relief allocations.

The Hungarian press, in particular the CP papers, pointed out that many of the Hungarians expelled from Czechoslovakia had been sent by the Nazis to Dachau and had been awarded high Czech decorations for this. Many were members of the Hungarian CP. Joseph Révai, editor of the Hungarian Stalinist daily, Szabad Nép, asked: “Does it make no difference to the Czecho-Slovaks whether they establish a democratic or a reactionary state, as long as it is a national state?” (15 July 1945). On the same day Rakosi condemned the expulsion of Hungarians from Czechoslovakia and the “excesses resembling the old fascist methods”. (He was tactful enough to put the blame on the local officials.) On another occasion he attacked all the parties of Czechoslovakia (this includes the CP); on 26 May 1946 he said:

We had a feeling that every Czecho-Slovak Party wanted to bake its own electoral cake by the fire of its treatment of the Hungarians. Let us hope that now the elections are over the Hungarians in Slovakia will at last be treated in a way becoming a democratic country.

The brutal treatment of the Hungarians, however, continued. Even in the days of the coup d’état in February 1948, the Czechoslovak Government did not omit to issue instructions prohibiting Hungarians, even if they were citizens of Czechoslovakia, and had excellent records in the anti-Nazi struggle, from being members of the Action Committees. (This policy changed later: on 21 October 1948 a Bill was passed giving civil rights to Hungarians in Czechoslovakia.)

We wish to make it quite clear that the expulsion of the Germans was identical with the statification of the means of production carried out in 1945, which left in the hands of the bourgeoisie only 24.4% of industry, no banks, no insurance companies and no transport. A year after the statification of the means of production, the Two-Year Plan was established. If state ownership and planning are identical with a workers’ state, the chauvinistic struggle of “Slavs against Teutons” is identical with the proletarian revolution.

To speak of the February events as the proletarian revolution (as Haston did in his outrageous article in the Socialist Appeal) is nonsense. Before the February event only 24.4% of industry was privately owned, after it 7%. Why does 24.4% private ownership make a country capitalist and 7% a workers’ state? The February events showed most openly the subordination of the workers by the Stalinists to the bureaucratic and militarist state machine. The immediate cause of the political crisis was a move of the bourgeois and Social Democratic ministers to stop Nosek from further increasing the hold of the Stalinists over the police. The question under discussion was what proportion of the commanding positions in the police would be in the hands of the Stalinists. The solution of the crisis was a foretold conclusion. The Stalinists had, besides the majority of the police, nearly all the political police, a majority of the press (through the Minister of Propaganda), control over the radio, and much greater wealth than the bourgeoisie (as they managed the nationalised industries). In the February “revolution” the masses were manipulated as an auxiliary to the Security Police who were armed with sub-machine guns and met no serious opposition. [2]

The popular demonstrations were needed simply as a camouflage for the omnipotent bureaucratic state machine which was in no way different from that existing before 1945, and was to a large extent, even in its personnel, a continuation of it. The real aim of the February coup was to put the state beyond any popular control by abolishing parliamentary elections, and eliminating the few democratic rights held by the people. Faced with the move of the Social Democrats away from a united front with the Stalinists (the crypto-Stalinist Fierlinger being routed in the November 1947 Conference of the Social Democrats), the increasing disappointment of the workers in the bureaucratically managed state industries and the exploitation of the country by Russia (expressed in a growing number of defeats of the Stalinist lists in factory elections in the winter of 1947-48), the Stalinists were rightly afraid of the approaching elections of May 1948.

They therefore hastened to tighten their hold over the police and used the first opportunity to launch the coup. After the coup, of course, the elections were held in the usual Stalinist manner, one list being put up which was nominated by the Stalinist bureaucrats. If a parallel to the February “revolution” were sought, it would not be found in the October Revolution, but, mutatis mutandis, in the “March on Rome”. The generals and police agents were not going to be pushed aside by the masses, but were omnipotent, and intended to secure their omnipotence with the help, as an auxiliary factor, of a well-manipulated “mass movement”.




To save space we shall say only a few words about Poland. A big part of industry – at least half the total, and the majority of the statified (the most important) industries – became state property as an accompaniment of the expulsion of eight million Germans, the overwhelming majority of them workers, from the part of Eastern Germany annexed to Poland. In Poland the working class in general did not support the Stalinist government, not even critically or hesitantly, but was in more or less open opposition to it. The independent activity of the workers had culminated in the Warsaw uprising of August-September 1944, where an advanced programme of nationalisation with workers’ control and management was proposed by the Polish Socialist Party (PPS). The Russian army allowed 200,000 of the Warsaw people to be massacred, and 600,000 to be taken prisoner by the Germans.

After the Russians occupied Poland they were not successful in gaining mass support. To take only one example: in the elections to shop committees held at the end of 1945 in the largest industrial district of Poland, the Stalinists gained 21%, the PPS 64%. In spite of all the pressure they could apply, at the November 1945 Congress of the TUC, the Stalinists did not succeed in preventing the PPS from gaining two-thirds of all the delegates, and Rusinek, of the PPS, from being elected general secretary of the new Central Committee of the trade unions. The fact that afterwards the Stalinists did not suffer such open defeats was due to their abolition of elections altogether and their use of the police as the main weapon. To speak of statification in Poland as a result of the revolutionary activity of the people is a blatant misrepresentation, as in Poland the revolutionary activity was smashed with the occupation of the country by the Stalinists, and the Stalinists never succeeded in gaining the support of the basic sections of the working class. If they carried out a revolution in Poland, it was not only without the revolutionary activity of the masses, but even without any sympathy for them on the part of the working class.


The Soviet Zone of Germany

We shall restrict ourselves to a few words in dealing with this country too. Many of the arguments given above also apply here. We shall sum up by saying: if state ownership and a planned economy are the criteria of a workers’ state, the Soviet Zone must be characterised as one, and we shall have to argue that the social revolution was carried out by the Stalinists, who were a small minority of the workers and carried out the revolution openly in the interests of the exploitation of Germany by the Russian bureaucracy.

We shall deal at length with Yugoslavia below.



The Stalinist “social revolution” and the Marxist-Leninist theory of the state

Scores of times Marx repeated the idea that the political supremacy of the working class is a prerequisite for its economic supremacy. The workers cannot own the means of production collectively – i.e. be the ruling class economically – unless the state which owns the means of production is in their hands; in other words, the proletariat has political power. In this the proletariat as a ruling class is fundamentally different from the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie has a direct relation of ownership over wealth; therefore, whatever the form of government, so long as the bourgeoisie is not expropriated, it does not cease to be the ruling class: a capitalist can own his property in a feudal monarchy, in a bourgeois republic, in a fascist dictatorship, under military rule, under Robespierre, Hitler, Churchill or Attlee. As against this, where the state, which is the repository’ of the means of production, is totally alienated from the working class, by this very fact of political alienation the workers are separated from the means of production, they are wage slaves. Hence, Marx emphasised: firstly, the political rule of the working class is a prerequisite for its economic rule; secondly, it demands that there be no alienation of the working class from political power, i.e. that the workers’ state, the dictatorship of the proletariat, have no bureaucracy and standing army; thirdly, that the first act of the revolutionary proletariat, therefore, be the smashing of the bourgeois-bureaucratic and militarist state machine.

We shall bring a few quotations from the great Marxist teachers on these points. The Communist Manifesto declares:

... the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle for democracy.

The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the state, i.e. the proletariat organised. as the ruling class ...

The proletarian revolution – the victory of “the battle of democracy”: workers’ state – “the proletariat organised as the ruling class”.

Forty years after the publication of the Communist Manifesto, Engels wrote:

If anything is certain, it is that our party and the working class can only come to power under the form of a democratic republic. Precisely this is the specific form for the dictatorship of the proletariat, as the Great French Revolution has already shown.

Lenin in 1917: “We all know that the political form of the ‘state’ at that time [after the proletarian revolution – TC] is the most complete democracy.” (State and Revolution).

Lenin defines the dictatorship of the proletariat as “a state that is democratic in a new way (for the proletariat and the propertyless in general) and dictatorial in a new way (against the bourgeoisie)”. (ibid.).

In 1872 Marx and Engels wrote: “One thing especially was proved by the Commune, viz. that ‘the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes’.”

Marx and Engels at that time confined their conclusions about the necessity of smashing the state machine to the Continent. Lenin explains this thus:

This was natural in 1871, when England was still the model of a purely capitalist country, but without militarism and, to a considerable degree, without a bureaucracy.

[And he adds] Today, in 1917, in the epoch of the first great imperialist war, Marx’s exception is no longer valid. Both England and America, the greatest and last representatives of the Anglo-Saxon “liberty”, in the sense that militarism and bureaucracy are absent, have today plunged headlong into the all-European filthy, bloody morass of bureaucratic-military institutions to which everything is subordinated and which trample everything underfoot. Today, both in England and America, the “essential” thing for “every real people’s revolution” is the smashing, the destruction of the “ready-made state machinery” ... (ibid.)

In emphasising that the dictatorship of the proletariat will mean the most complete democracy with no bureaucracy or standing army, Marx hailed the Paris Commune as the model:

The first decree of the Commune ... was the suppression of the standing army, and the substitution for it of the armed people ... The Commune was formed of the municipal councillors, chosen by universal suffrage in the various wards of the town, responsible and revocable at short terms. The majority of its members were naturally working men, or acknowledged representatives of the working class ... Instead of continuing to be the agent of the Central Government, the police was at once stripped of its political attributes, and turned into the responsible and at all times revocable agent of the Commune. So were the officials of all other branches of the administration. From the members of the Commune downwards, the public service had to be done at workmen’s wages. The vested interests and the representation allowances of the high dignitaries of state disappeared along with the high dignitaries themselves ... The judicial functionaries were to be divested of sham independence. Like the rest of public servants, magistrates and judges were to be elective, responsible and revocable. (The Civil War in France)

[Further] ... against transformation of the state and the organs of the state from servants of society into masters of society – an inevitable transformation in all previous states – the Commune made use of two infallible expedients. In the first place it filled all posts – administrative, judicial and educational – by election on the basis of universal suffrage of all concerned, with the right of the same electors to recall their delegate at any time. And, in the second place, all officials, high or low, were paid only the wages received by other workers ... In this way, an effective barrier to place-hunting and careerism was set up, even apart from the binding mandates to delegates to representative bodies which were also added in profusion.

The result of all these measures is that totally new relations came into being between the people and the government, relations in which the people are the master and the government the servant: “... universal suffrage was to serve the people, constituted in Communes, as individual suffrage serves every other employer in search for the workmen and managers in his business.”

Now, the “revolution” that took place in Eastern Europe and the regime of the “People’s Democracies” is not a partial contradiction, not a deformation of what Marx taught about the revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat; it is its total negation. The “People’s Democracies” entirely conform to Marx’s characterisation of the capitalist state:

... executive power with its monstrous bureaucratic and military organisation, with its artificial state machinery embracing wide strata ... this appalling parasitic growth, which enmeshes the body of ... society like a net and chokes all its pores [and] threaten to devour the whole of society.



The Stalinist “socialist revolution” and the Marxist conception of the role of proletarian class consciousness

Marx repeated hundreds of times that the proletarian revolution is the conscious act of the working class itself. Now certainly no member of the Fourth International will say that “Slavism” – hatred of Germans and Hungarians, and the ideology of ‘national unity’ – including the Tatarescus, Georgievs and Lascars, are elements of proletarian class consciousness. Therefore, if we accept that the “People’s Democracies are workers’ states, what Marx and Engels said about the socialist revolution being “history conscious of itself” is refuted. Refuted is Engels’ statement:

It is only from this point [the socialist revolution – TC] that men, with full consciousness, will fashion their own history; it is only from this point that the social causes set in motion by men will have, predominantly and in constantly increasing measure, the effects willed by men. It is humanity’s leap from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom. (Anti-Duhring)

Rosa Luxemburg, too, must have spoken nonsense in her summing up of what all the Marxist teachers wrote about the place of proletarian consciousness in a revolution:

In all the class struggles of the past, carried through in the interests of minorities, and in which, to use the words of Marx, “all development took place in opposition to the great masses of the people”, one of the essential conditions of action was the ignorance of these masses with regard to the real aims of the struggle, its material content, and its limits. This discrepancy was, in fact, the specific historical basis of the “leading role” of the “enlightened bourgeoisie, which corresponded with the role of the masses as docile followers. But, as Marx wrote as early as 1845, “as the historical action deepens, the number of masses engaged in it must increase”. The class struggle of the proletariat is the “deepest” of all historical actions up to our day, it embraces the whole of the lower layers of the people, and, from the moment that society became divided into classes, it is the first movement which is in accordance with the real interests of the masses. That is why the enlightenment of the masses with regard to their tasks and methods is an indispensable historical condition for socialist action, just as in former periods the ignorance of the masses was the condition for the action of the dominant classes.



Is Stalinism socially counter-revolutionary?

Those who believe that the “People’s Democracies” are workers’ states, and after “diplomatic” avoidance of the issue will in due course say that Mao-tse Tung’s China is also a workers’ state, claim that this is not undermining our position on Stalinism and the consistency of our world programme’, any more than the social revolution (according to Trotsky) brought about in Eastern Poland and the Baltic countries in 1939-40 did. (Trotsky did not cease to call Stalin the “grave-digger of the socialist revolution”, and Stalinism a socially counter-revolutionary force, in spite of the transformation of Eastern Poland and the Baltic countries into workers’ states.) They say that this argument is as good today as it was then, even though it leads to the assumption that half Europe and half Asia have been transformed into workers’ states by Stalin. This is simply nonsense, and contrary to the basic law of dialectics about the change of quantity into quality. Let us examine the argument more closely.

Trotsky analysed the transformation brought about by Stalin in 1939-40 in the newly occupied areas against the following background: first his idea that the bureaucracy pushes towards the restoration of private property in Russia herself:

... it [the bureaucracy – TC] continues to preserve state property only to the extent that it fears the proletariat. [Hence] in case of a protracted war accompanied by the passivity of the world proletariat the internal social contradictions in the USSR not only might lead but would have to lead to a bourgeois-Bonapartist counter-revolution.

As the Transitional Programme declares, under conditions of war an increasing part of the bureaucracy (the Butenko wing) would strive to restore private property, which for Trotsky was identical with capitalism. In In Defence of Marxism, where Trotsky explains his view of the social revolution carried out by Stalin in the areas newly occupied by the Russian army, he is no less emphatic in declaring that the Stalinist bureaucracy leads towards the restoration of capitalism. It was only a question of years, at the most, possibly of months, before the inevitable downfall of Stalin.

On such assumptions, and only on such assumptions, is it logical to call Stalin the grave-digger of the social revolution. On the other hand, the explicit or implicit assumptions of those comrades who today declare the “People’s Democracies” to be workers’ states are: capitalism cannot exist without private property; the Stalinist bureaucracy in Russia does not lead to the restoration of private property; outside Russia Stalinism led a social revolution on a much bigger scale than the October Revolution; in a few years half of Europe and half of Asia underwent a social revolution brought about by Stalinism. If this evaluation were correct it would be necessary to describe Stalinism as the organisation of the social revolution and not its grave-digger, at least in these areas. At the same time the Fourth International would have had to declare itself as the organisation not of the social revolution in these areas, but at best of the political revolution which will take place after Stalin has carried out the social revolution.

A number of comrades who hold the view that the “People’s Democracies” are workers’ states put forward as an analogy to the revolution that took place in Eastern Europe the Bismarckian path of capitalist development in Germany. These comrades think that they thus prove that the social revolution of the proletariat can be carried out not by the revolutionary action of the proletariat itself, but by a state bureaucracy, with “a momentum of its own”. This idea, if thought out, leads to the most shocking conclusions. It is true that the bourgeoisie took power in many and various ways. As a matter of fact it was only in one case that they carried through to the end a revolutionary struggle against feudalism – this was in France. In the case of England they compromised with the feudal landowners. In Germany and Italy, Poland and Russia, China and South America, they came to power without a revolutionary struggle. In the USA the almost complete non-existence of feudal remnants enabled the bourgeoisie to avoid an anti-feudal revolutionary struggle.

The “Bismarckian” path was not the exception for the bourgeoisie, but the rule. The exception was the French revolution. If the proletarian revolution can be carried out not necessarily through the activity of the working class itself but by a state bureaucracy, then the Russian Revolution would inevitably be the exception while the “Bismarckian” path would be the rule. The rise of the bourgeoisie was based on the deception of the masses, whether the French sansculottes or the soldiers of Bismarck. If a proletarian revolution can be carried out without an independent revolutionary leadership there is no reason at all for this leadership to appear. The law of lesser resistance will lead history to choose the path of revolution carried out by small minorities deceiving the big majorities.



The basic contradiction

Members of the Fl day in and day out repeat the basic Marxist conceptions: the liberation of the working class can be carried out only by the working class itself, class conscious and led by a revolutionary party, that it cannot lay hold of the bourgeois state machine but must smash it and establish in its place a state of a new type, a state of proletarian democracy (Soviets, etc). How to explain the fact that nevertheless many call the “People’s Democracies” workers’ states?

The reason is to be found in the conception of Russia as a degenerated workers’ state. If Russia is a workers’ state even though the workers are separated from the means of production, have no say in running the economy and state, are subordinated to the most monstrous bureaucratic and militarist state machine, which does its best not only to terrorise the workers, but also to blunt their class-consciousness and mislead them with lies, there is no reason why workers’ revolutions establishing new workers’ states should not be carried out without the independent, class-conscious activity of the working class, without smashing the existing bureaucratic and militarist state machines. It is enough for the bureaucracy to be able to expropriate the bourgeoisie while keeping the workers “in their place” for the transition from capitalism to a workers’ state to be accomplished. If the revolutionary intervention of the masses is not essential to the existing workers’ state, there is no reason why it should be an essential condition for the establishment of a workers’ state, for the social revolution. The intervention of the masses in the socialist revolution can to some extent help the bureaucracy which leads this revolution; this is the case where the military-police strength of the bureaucracy is not enough to expropriate the bourgeoisie. But whatever the case, the revolutionary intervention of the masses is an auxiliary subordinate to the Stalinist bureaucratic revolutionary transformation of society.

The fact that bureaucratic and revolutionary is a contradiction in terms is only one element of this conception. The essence of the proletarian revolution becomes the change in the form of property, whether after the change the workers are oppressed and exploited or not; whether they are the subject running the economy or the object; whether the change is achieved through the nationalistic struggle of “Slavs against Teutons”, or through the internationalist struggle of the workers as a class; whether through Soviets which smash the old state machine or through a military, bureaucratic state machine; whether through the masses acting under the leadership of a revolutionary party or through a military-police bureaucracy isolated and hated by the workers; whether it is in the interests of the people of the country or in those of a foreign bureaucracy – all these are only variants of the same social revolution.

The Marxist-Leninist theory of the state is turned upside down: while the proletarian revolution can use the old state machine without needing to smash it, the “political revolution” of the proletariat against “their” bureaucracy must smash the state machine.



1. By the way, de facto, the industry of Republican Spain was to a major extent in the hands of the state, because of the defection of the overwhelming majority of the bourgeoisie – especially the big bourgeoisie – to the side of Franco – as was the case in Rumania, Bulgaria and Hungary after the first statification laws of 1947-48. The industries in Spain were managed by bureaucrats, while the CP promised that private property would not be touched.

2. H. Seton Watson, the prominent expert on Eastern Europe, wrote in the Manchester Guardian on 4 August 1949: “The Communists conquered Czechoslovakia not by smashing the State machine but by taking it over from above after careful penetration.”


Last updated on 18.10.2002