Tony Cliff

The End of the Road

Deutscher’s Capitulation to Stalinism


From International Socialism (1st series), No.15, Winter 1963.
Reprinted in Tony Cliff, Neither Washington nor Moscow: Essays on revolutionary socialism, London 1982, pp.166-91.
Thanks to Geoff Collier.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.



Among the most distinguished writers on the Russian revolution and its aftermath is Isaac Deutscher. His careful and exhaustive collation of sources and documents, together with his majestic style, lend great significance to his writings. Against a background of poverty in Marxist scholarship over the last generation his work stands out in sharp relief. With the appearance of the last volume of his trilogy on Trotsky, the time for appraisal of his work has come. The present article will deal with his theoretical and political views. [1]


Deutscher’s predecessor – Otto Bauer

A quarter of a century before Deutscher Otto Bauer expressed views which use the same categories of analysis and the same theoretical vocabulary as does Deutscher. Bauer, as one of the foremost theoreticians of Austrian and international social democracy, achieved a unique accommodation of reformist practice, as a minister in a bourgeois government, to apparently radical theory.

In 1931 he foretold what he took to be the inexorable evolution of the totalitarian Stalinist regime. The key to this he found in the interrelation of industrialisation, economic rationality, and that rationality in society as a whole, whose political expression is democracy:

Rationalisation advances a style of thought appropriate to engineers, a matter-of-fact, positivistic, relativistic style of thought which reckons in terms of measurable results, seeking to reach desired goals at the least possible cost. This style of thought avoids everything that cannot be calculated; it shuns every risk, every uncertain adventure. Therefore it will always attempt to bring about social change only if and only to the extent that the majority of the people, public opinion’, can be won over and only as long as such support is maintained. Modern democracy is rooted in this style of thought. [2]

Any economic or social violation of rationality, such as occurred at the beginning of the industrial revolution in England or in Stalinist Russia, is transitional.

The terroristic dictatorship will be overcome and will be dismantled to the degree that the standard of living of the masses is improved. The Soviet regime can be democratised. If the dictatorship which controls the state-owned machinery of production is replaced by a system of democratic control by the workers, there will emerge from dictatorial state capitalism, a socialist order of society. [3]

(Bauer’s view of the basic incompatibility of an industrialised society and political dictatorship prevented him from visualising the rise of Nazism, and led him to define the 1929 crash as only a “passing crisis of rationalisation”.)

Some five years later, just on the eve of the Moscow trials, he elaborated further the perspectives of democratic evolution in Russia.

.. . the further the Soviet Union develops away from the period of the greatest difficulty, and the more it can improve the standard of living of the workers, the easier it will be, using methods of education and persuasion, to create a real, genuine agreement between the Government and the people. [4]

Admittedly the dictatorship of the proletariat has become something quite different to what was intended originally by its founders. It is not a dictatorship of freely elected soviets. It is not the higher type of democracy’ intended by Lenin, without bureaucracy, police or standing army. It is not the free self-determination of the working masses, who exercise their rule over the exploiting classes. It has become the dictatorship of an all-powerful party bureaucracy, which has suppressed all free expression of opinion and formation of opinion even within the party, and rules the people by means of the powerful machinery of the State and economic bureaucracy, the police and standing army. This development was inevitable. [5]

But this is past tense.

The successes of the dictatorship are winning it ever wider mass support. [The old generation] is being replaced by a new generation, educated in the schools, youth organisations and army of the Soviet State, and filled with socialist thoughts and desires... the Soviet Union is approaching a stage in which it no longer needs a rule of force over the people, because the majority of the people is giving support willingly to the new system of developing socialism. But if this development makes the democratisation of the Soviet Constitution possible, it also makes it necessary. [6]

... the gradually continuing democratisation of the Soviet constitution becomes possible, inasmuch as the living standards of the masses in town and country rise with increasing productivity ... The gradual democratisation of the Soviet constitution is becoming necessary as the people of the Soviet Union, in a rapid cultural development, become self-conscious civilised men, who are not willing to obey any bureaucratic absolutism, and who demand personal freedom, intellectual freedom, self-determination and self-government. The decision of the Soviet Congress of November 1934, to set about the democratisation of the constitution of the Soviet Union with the democratisation of the franchise for the soviets ... in fact ... was the first sign of the development that was beginning. [7]

(Poor Bauer, the Moscow Trials were just around the corner.)



Summary of Deutscher’s views on the self-liquidation of the bureaucracy in Russia

Deutscher’s literary brilliance contrasts sharply with his theoretical poverty. He nowhere sets out his own conception of the development of Stalinism in systematic fashion, and his views have to be pieced together from a variety of widely scattered and ambiguously worded statements.

It seems impossible that Otto Bauer’s ideas should have had no influence on Deutscher. Bauer was, after all, one of the most influential socialist theorists in Central Europe during the period in which Deutscher became a Marxist, Deutscher’s views agree completely with Bauer’s in the already quoted statements about the future of the Stalinist regime – even though they refer to different decades. Yet Deutscher never acknowledges even a nodding acquaintance with Bauer’s views.

Just as Bauer saw a functional connection between industrialisation and democracy, so also does Deutscher.

It is a truism that modern forms of democratic life have developed mainly in industrialised nations and have, as a rule, failed to develop in nations that have remained on the pre-industrial, semi-feudal level of civilisation. But what is accepted as a truism in the modern and contemporary history of the non-communist world is, in the eyes of our critics, totally inapplicable to the Soviet Union: there it is simply preposterous to expect that massive industrialisation, urbanisation, and educational progress may foster any democratic trends and tendencies. [8]

Scarcities caused the rise of the bureaucracy; a rise in production will bring abundance, and with it equality.

... with the growth of productive forces, which makes possible an alleviation of the still existing poverty in consumer goods, a reduction of inequality becomes possible, desirable, and even necessary for the further development of the nation’s wealth and civilisation. Such a reduction need not take place primarily or mainly through the lowering of the standards of living of the privileged minority, but through the raising of standards of the majority. In a stagnant society, living on a national income the size of which remains stationary over the years, the standard of living of the broad masses cannot be improved otherwise than at the expense of the privileged groups, who therefore resist any attempt at such improvement. But in a society living on a rapidly growing national income, the privileged groups need not pay, or need not pay heavily for the rise in the well-being of the working masses; and so they need not necessarily oppose the rise.

The privileged minority in the USSR has no absolute interest – it may still have a relative and temporary one – in perpetuating the economic discrepancies and social antagonisms that were inevitable at a lower level of economic development. Nor need they cling to a political regime designed to suppress and conceal those antagonisms behind a “monolithic” facade. [9]

In the early phases of primitive accumulation the upkeep of the Stalinist oligarchy represented probably a considerable faux frais in the general balance of national expenditure; but it seems to me doubtful whether this can amount now to more than a marginal item of “wasteful consumption”. [10]

Education of the masses, says Deutscher, also leads to democratisation.

There is undoubtedly an important core of truth in Soviet claims that the Soviet method of mass education is narrowing the gulf between manual labour and brain work. It was in the abysmal depth of that gulf that the Russian bureaucratic absolutism – and Stalinism – had been rooted; and one can foresee that the narrowing and bridging of the gulf will render obsolete and impossible even the milder, the Kruschevite form of bureaucratic dictatorship. [11]

And who will execute the reforms? As the yezhovshchina had eliminated any Party opposition or even potential opposition. “... the reform of the most anachronistic features of the Stalinist regime could be undertaken only from above, by Stalin’s former underlings and accomplices” [12], or as Deutscher put it some ten years earlier, Malenkov carried out Trotsky’s policy:

In the 1930s Trotsky advocated a “limited political revolution” against Stalinism. He saw it not as a fully fledged social upheaval but as an “administrative operation” directed against the chiefs of the political police and a small clique terrorising the nation. As so often, Trotsky was tragically ahead of his time and prophetic in his vision of the future, although he could not imagine that Stalin’s closest associates would act in accordance with his scheme. What Malenkov’s government is carrying out now is precisely the “limited revolution” envisaged by Trotsky. [13]

The locus of all reform is in the CPSU:

The process by which the nation may relearn to form and express its opinions may at first be slow and difficult. It can start only from inside the Communist Party. The regime will, either from self-preservation or from inertia, continue as a single party system for years to come. This need not be an important obstacle to democratic evolution as long as party members are permitted to speak their minds on all matters of policy. All politically minded and active elements of the nation are, anyhow, in the ranks of the Communist Party, if only because there has been no other party to turn to. [14]

While Trotsky again and again called for revolution against the Stalinist bureaucracy, Deutscher speaks only in terms of reforms, and reforms from above at that: “Unlike their predecessors, however, the Belinskys of contemporary Russia, if they exist, can be only reformers, not revolutionaries.” [15]

Let us sum up Deutscher’s (and Bauer’s) conclusions regarding the future of the Stalinist regime:

Let us deal with each point in turn.



Must industrialisation lead to democracy?

On this point, one has the feeling that both Bauer and Deutscher have more in common with progressive nineteenth century bourgeois liberalism than with revolutionary socialism, with Herbert Spencer than with Karl Marx. For Marx human progress is not a harmonious process in which the advance of the productive forces is accompanied by the general enrichment of all society. The age of humanism – of the Renaissance – was utterly inhumane. Queen Elizabeth’s reign, which produced a Shakespeare, also witnessed the hanging and maltreatment of thousands of vagabonds.

Marx tried to use the specific content of historical movements to explain events apd to analyse trends, and he opposed the presentation of the laws of history as metaphysical, supra-historical ideas. So, for example, he argued that the accumulation of wealth and the emergence of free proletarians could lead in certain circumstances not to capitalism and a flourishing economy, but – as they did in Rome – to the opposite:

Thus events strikingly analogous but taking place in different historic surroundings led to totally different results. By studying each of these forms of evolution separately and then comparing them one can easily find the clue to this phenomenon, but one will never arrive there by the universal passport of a general historico-philosophical theory, the supreme virtue of which consists in being super-historical. [16]

Only if social content is abstracted, can it apparently be shown that there is a functional relationship between industrialisation and democracy. It was in similar fashion that Immanuel Kant drew the now obviously ridiculous conclusion that when all countries were ruled by republican governments, eternal peace would be guaranteed. (Unfortunately, the actual social content of the French republic did not anaesthetise its imperialist aggressiveness.)

To return to the question of the interrelationship between industry and democracy, we can see that the association of industrialism with democracy in nineteenth-century Britain was produced by a number of factors. One important cause was that the then small, rising capitalist class had to fight the landed aristocracy for the control of political power. Another factor was the desire of the industrialists throughout the period from Adam Smith to Bright and Cobden to get “cheap government”, whose main function was to be the “night-watchman”, intervening as little as possible in economic affairs. With the atomisation of economic power, parliamentary democracy seemed to be the most suitable form of rule for the bourgeoisie as a whole.

In the twentieth century the national and international context of industrialisation is radically different. Now large-scale centralised industry faces the state on equal terms; industry progressively integrates itself with the state; the trends towards bureaucratisation and state capitalism become more and more decisive (even in young industrial countries not ruled by a Communist Party, such as Nkrumah’s Ghana or Nasser’s Egypt). In the 1940s Manchuria and Japan witnessed a fantastic rate of industrial growth – comparable to that of the USSR – but this did not lead to democratisation. And of course Nazi Germany was an advanced industrial country ...



Must increased industrial output lead to equality?

Here again Bauer and Deutscher abstract one element – growth of the productive forces – from the organic whole of the Stalinist social order and its international context. The first problem to investigate is how far relative scarcities are likely to disappear, however phenomenal the increase in production. We shall start with the division of total production between production directed towards capital accumulation and the production of consumer goods. The facts cannot but lead to the conclusion that under Stalin’s heirs the subordination of consumption to accumulation have not relaxed. The pattern of capital investment, as between light and heavy industry, has in fact not changed at all between Stalin’s era and Kruschev’s. Thus, the share of the light and food industries in state capital investment in industry was, during the First Five-Year Plan (1928-32), 16.0 per cent; Second Plan (1933-37), 17.5 per cent; Third Plan (the 34 years 1938-41), 15.9 per cent; Fourth Plan (1946-50)~, 12.3 per cent; Fifth Plan (195 1-55), 9.6 per cent; Sixth Plan (1956-60) (target), 9.8 per cent; Seven-Year Plan (1959-65) (target), 8.5-9 per cent. The share of consumer goods in industrial output continues to be low, and is even declining, although at a much slower rate than under Stalin. It cannot indeed, decline beyond a certain point without threatening labour incentives and even the viability of the regime.

Division of gross output of industry into means of production
and means of consumption (in percentage)






Means of consumption






Means of production






That relative scarcities of a pressing nature are bound to continue is made clear by perusing the figures for the expansion of the production of consumer goods over the planning period.

First Plan
targets (1932)

1961 actual

Cotton goods (milliard metres)



Woollen goods (million metres)



Linen goods (million metres)



Shoes (million pairs)



At the same time, between 1932 and 1961 the population of Russia rose by more than a third, and the town population – whose standards of consumption everywhere are much higher than in the countryside – trebled.[17]

The picture for food production is even worse. In speeches in Leningrad and Moscow on 21 May and 2 June 1957, Kruschev came out with a plan to overtake the United States in per capita meat output by 1960, or at the latest 1961 (speech in Leningrad) or 1962 (speech in Moscow). To achieve this the USSR should produce 20 million tons of carcass meat. Instead in 1961 meat output was 8.8 million tons (Pravda, 6 March, 1962), or with the correction necessary for comparison with US statistics, some 7.3 million tons. Meat (and milk and butter and grain) are far from becoming “free goods”! (One result of the scarcities, pace Deutscher, is the harshness of the law against economic crimes. Thus in 1961 the net of the death sentence was cast wider: on 5 May it took in the theft of state and public property and forgery, on 18 May revolts in prisons, and on 1 July violation of foreign currency regulations. [18])

Although the achievements in housing over the last few years have been impressive, housing scarcities are still pressing. The number of persons per room in towns, 2.60 in 1923, rose to 3.91 in 1940, and then declined to 3.43 in 1950, and 3.04 in 1960. [19] It has been calculated that it would take the USSR until 1980 to achieve a living space of 7.38 square metres per person – a figure which still represents only 82 per cent of the minimum Soviet health standard. [20] This is about half the Belgian standard or a third of the French or Swedish. Thus housing too is far from being a “free gift”!

In the framework of international economic and military competition, the subordination of consumption to accumulation, when accompanied by inequality and a revolution of rising expectation’, brings in its wake social tensions, not harmony. A single but dramatic example of existing inequalities must suffice: a deputy to the Supreme Soviet gets a salary of 1,200 rubles for a sitting of usually four days a year (be has of course other sources of income: he may be the director of a factory, a government or Party official, an artist); a charwoman gets 45 kopeks an hour or 14.8 rubles for 4 days! [21] How different reality looks from the abstract picture drawn by Deutscher and Bauer of plenty leading to equality.

Actually the basic assumption that once a cause disappears the effect also disappears – if scarcities cause inequality, then. the disappearance of scarcities will cause the disappearance of inequality – is founded not on a causal but a teleological concept of development. The human appendix served certain biological needs millions of years ago, but if you want to get rid of it now it must be cut out. Many a social phenomenon continues to exist long after its raison d’etre is no more.



Must massive educational achievements lead to equality and democracy?

More education does not mean increasing equality of educational opportunity. Actually the educational ladder is very steep in Russia and has become even steeper since Stalin’s death. Thus at the end of 1958 the number of persons enrolled in the different grades was as follows [22]:

Grades 1-4

19.0   million

Grades 5-7

  6.2   million

Grades 8-10

  3.5   million

Graduates from 10th year

  1.4   million

Admitted to institutes of higher education

  0.24 million

A further narrowing of the opening to higher education was made in December 1958 with the retreat from the hitherto declared aim of 10 years’ compulsory education. The 19th Congress of the CPSU (1952) originally stated the aim of 10 years’ compulsory education, and the 20th Congress (1956) reiterated it. Kruschev in his report to the Congress, stated that this would be fully implemented by the end of 1960. [23]

However, from 1958 only 8 years was to be compulsory, after which most youths, at the age of 15 or 16, were to start working in factories, mines, construction works, and the like. Further schooling was to be on a part-time basis, through evening classes or correspondence courses, for example. The minority, who showed greater talent, would go to a three-year secondary school – grades 9 to 11 – so called a “general polytechnical school with production training”. This school was to be more selective than were grades 8 to 10 hitherto. Exceptionally gifted pupils (and those with parental connections?) were to proceed directly to higher education without prior employment. [24]

In 1958 only 1.6 per cent of the population had university education! And with the 1958 “reform” the proportion will not rise much in the future. Education is not the great leveller.



“Planning means economic rationality which must lead to general political rationality, i.e., democracy”

This argument was advanced forcefully by Bauer and runs through Deutscher’s thought. Two assumptions are implicit in it: 1. there is such a thing as planning which is independent of the people who plan; 2. Stalinist irrationality appears in the political and cultural superstructure and is not inherent in the economic system itself; it is an external abscess that can be removed without damage to the body social.

To begin with, it must be categorically stated that there can be no planning apart from planners, any more than there can be thought without thinkers. Secondly, the irrationality of the Stalinist regime – of bureaucratic state capitalism – is inherent. It is not confined to the surface phenomena of Russian society. Let us elaborate this point. The organisational structure of Soviet industry under Stalin was hierarchical and centralised in the extreme. Moving from base to summit, it consisted of: brigade, shop, department (comprising several shops), firm, trust, chief subdivision (glavk), Ministry, Economic Council of Ministers.

Intertwined with these chains of administration were a number of other apparatuses, criss-crossing at different levels. There were inspectors of the Ministry of Finance, agents of the District Prosecutors, agents of the State Planning Commission, agents of the Ministry of State Control, special sections’ of the Secret Police, the Party apparatus in the factory. The result was economic irrationality, administrative discord, tensions in the factory. The multiplicity and different degrees of efficiency of the control systems lead in themselves to increasing arbitrariness and wastage, and thus recreate the very conditions that make strict and multitudinous controls necessary.

Unable to rely on the self-activity of the people, prohibiting any working-class democracy, the Kremlin has to rely on bureaucrats to control other bureaucrats. The hydra of bureaucratic anarchy and its concomitant, bureaucratic control flourishes in the sea of workers’ alienation from the means of production and their exploitation.

With the extreme centralisation of the administration, and the consequent mountains of paper work, the number of administrative workers is clearly very large. Thus, for instance, the Georgian Oil Trust “has three oil fields and 12 offices to serve them. There is one official for every four or five employees. It is not surprising, therefore, that the administrative expenses alone for one ton of oil drilled by the Trust total 60 rubles, while in certain areas the full cost of drilling one ton of oil amounts to only 22 rubles.” [25] Again, in the Moldavian Fishing Industry Trust “there are 112 officials as against 163 workers at the fisheries, of which only 98 are employed in catching fish.” [26] A Pravda editorial pointed out that in the Ministry of Building Materials 16,700 people, or 26 per cent of all administrative personnel are busy with accounts and records. In addition, other “employees, technicians and foremen are taken from work to complete all sorts of reports.” [27] The organ of heavy industry, Industriya, compared two coal mines, that of the Pittsburgh Coal Company in Pennsylvania and the Lenin Mine of the Kizel Trust in the Urals. Production in the former was three times as great as in the latter. However, the Russian mine had 165 administrative and technical personnel, compared with 15 in the US mine, and there were 8 office workers in the US mine, compared with 67 employed in the Russian mine. The number of actual miners was only twice as big in the Russian mine as in the American. [28]

Again, Voprosi Ekonomiki compared the United States Steel Corporation mill in Pittsburgh with a similar Soviet mill (not mentioned by name) which was one of the largest, most recently built and smoothest running mills. While the output of the American mill was some one-and-a-half times that of the Russian, the latter employed four times as large a managerial staff, and four times as many technicians. [29]

A major cause of irrationality in the economy was the irrationality of the price mechanism. Lacking a price criterion for the success of a factory, the authorities placed all their emphasis on the physical volume of production. Hence for many years Russian agricultural machinery weighed considerably more than similar machinery produced elsewhere. For instance, the diesel tractor, Belarus, weighs 3 tons, whereas the similar British Fordson-Major 1951 model weighs only 2 tons. Premier Bulganin remarked that “... the greater the weight of the metal, the heavier the structure, the more ‘profitable’ ” for the factory directors. [30]

The topsy-turvy price position leads to a situation where, to take an example, a cab-man in Moscow may earn more by travelling without a fare than with a fare. His bonus on the mileage and petrol saved – assured on a long drive along a quiet road without stopping and starting – could be larger than the bonus on the same drive derived from his share in a fart

Another fantastic example of irrationality comes from heavy engineering. According to official prices, wages made up 10.9 per cent of total costs; according to calculations made by a competent Soviet economist, they made 39.2 per cent. [31] The Polish Vice-Premier, Jarosewicz, summed up the situation:

The economic system which has prevailed hitherto is an abracadabra about prices, costs and wages. No wise man can tell what is profitable or what is not. [32]

The net result of all the irrationalities corroding the bureaucratic state capitalist regime is that until now, the productivity of labour in Russian industry has lagged far behind the technical level of its equipment. While new equipment comes up to American standards, and is inoit advanced than that of Western European countries, labour productivity is only about half the American. In 1955, the number of industrial workers in the USSR was a little larger than the number in USA, while the gross industrial output of the former was only some 48 per cent of the latter. [33]

The role of the bureaucracy in agriculture is even more dubious. One need but quote Kruschev’s report of December 1958 in which he said that “In actual fact, as regards grain production the country remained for a long time (up to Stalin’s death – TC) at the level of pre-revolutionary Russia.” The meat, butter, and vegetable production were lower in 1953 than in 1916 – and 1916, remember, was the third year of the war, when herds were depleted and the population was some 50 million less than in 1953! Kruschev went on to state that the labour time expended in a Soviet kolkhoz in 1956-7 was, for grain, 7.3 times more per unit than on an American farm (1956); potatoes, 5.1 times; beetroot, 6.2; cotton, 2.3; milk, 3.1; weight cattle, 14.2; weight pig, 16.3. [34] In 1956, 43 per cent of the population of USSR was engaged in agriculture, while in the United States only 9 per cent were so engaged (1960). The US produces a surplus of agricultural output, the USSR not even enough to make up the meagre consumption levels of Russia.

Above all, the irrationality of the whole system is inherent in the alienation of the toilers. The more science concentrates at the top of the pyramid, the more apathy, resentment and resistance spread below. Hence the numerous complaints in the Soviet press that workers do not work hard enough!

The concept of “rationalisation” goes back to Marx (and Hegel), and along with it the notions of “alienation”, “reification”, and the “fetishism of commodities”, all of which express the thought that in a class-dominated society man becomes a “thing”, an object manipulated by forces above him, instead of being a subject who makes and remakes life according to his own wishes.

It is characteristic of Deutscher (and Bauer) to speak of the plan in isolation from its subject – the bureaucracy – and its object, the victims of the plan – the toilers. The word “alienation” – inherent in rationalisation in a class society – is completely alien to these two authors



Must the spread of world communism lead to the undermining of the international factors that encourage the rise of the bureaucracy and so lead to greater equality and democracy?

Even if the international environment has so changed over the last generation as to put an end to the causes that produced Stalinism, it is incorrect to assume that an end to the cause puts an end to its effects. But in fact has the international environment really changed to such an extent as to abolish the original causes of the rise of Stalinism?

The Stalinist bureaucracy arose as a result of the backwardness of Russia in the framework of world capitalist encirclement; the industrial revolution, requiring the primitive accumulation of capital, therefore took on an extremely harsh form. The spread of Stalinism over the last two decades has been in the main in areas even more backward than Russia in 1917, with a considerably larger population, and hence with even more hurdles on the path of industrialisation. Under such circumstances, the following conclusions, drawn in 1956 regarding China, were realistic:

.... the following may safely be said of China’s general role in world Communism: that it will be the strongest and most impregnable citadel of Stalinism. As China’s backwardness is so much greater than Russia’s – not to speak of Russia’s European satellites – her working class so small, and lacking in cohesion and culture, the forces compelling the bureaucracy to grant concessions, perhaps even threatening to blow up the regime through revolutionary explosions, are much weaker in China than in Russia, and even more, than in Eastern Europe. In all probability, if revolutionary events elsewhere do not cause China’s course to be steered along a different path, she will have to pass through a generation, perhaps two, before the rule of the bureaucracy is threatened. The present regime in China, if she is kept in isolation, will probably make its Russian Stalinist precursor seem mild by comparison.

Mao’s China is and will be an important factor strengthening Stalinist exploitation, oppression and rigidity in the “Socialist Third of the World”. [35]

The Maoist adulation of Stalin is not accidental (notwithstanding the arguments of the various Fourth Internationals). The eastward spread of Stalinism has given it a new lease of life. Only where Stalinism has spread westward has it faced any serious threat (the break of Yugoslavia with Moscow in 1948, the East German uprising of 1953, the Hungarian and Polish revolutions of October 1956).



Is the CPSU the locus of evolution towards democracy and equality?

In stating that the Party is the locus of change towards egalitarianism and democracy, Deutscher, as is his wont, does not appraise the Party as an organic whole intertwined with the body, economic and social, of Russia, but as an abstract entity. The CPSU is however in fact a bureaucratic club, and hence cannot but defend the privileges of the bureaucracy.

While among the population as a whole Party membership makes up some four per cent, among the three million odd specialists, Party membership reached 2,300,000 in 1959. [36] Among Army officers the percentage of Party members was 90 (in 1962). [37] Practically all factory managers are Party members. [38]

The higher one rises in the Party hierarchy, the scarcer are workers and collective farmers. Thus, for instance, in the Kirghiz Republic, 81 per cent of the Secretaries of the kolkhoz party organisations and 85 per cent of the secretaries of the raion committees [39], and in the Moldavian Republic in 1960, 92 per cent of the personnel working in the offices of the Central Committee had some sort of higher education, and 50 per cent of the secretaries of the raion committees had a higher education. [40] In Ukraine 93 per cent of the secretaries of the raion committees had a higher or an incomplete higher education. [41]

The social composition of Party Congresses brings out the same bias. Thus for instance, at the 18th Congress of the Communist Party of Georgia, January 1958, there were 813 delegates, of whom 175 were Party officials, 154 state officials, 26 Komsomol and trade union officials, 67 directors of factories and construction projects, 18 directors of sovkhozes and MTS, 15 education and public health officials, 17 sovnarkhozi officials, 80 writers, artists, etc., 55 generals and other high-ranking officers, 116 collective farmers (including collective farm chairmen and former members of collective farms), and 78 workers (including former workers).[42] 78 workers and former workers (in British terms this would cover Sir William Canon) versus 67 directors of factories and construction projects!

The social composition of congresses of the CPSU is no different. At the 20th Congress, out of the 1,355 delegates, 506 were Party officials, 177 Government officials, 116 army officers (not one private!), 12 trade union officials, 8 Komsomol officials, 98 writers, artists, actors, 251 were “directly engaged in production” in industry, and 187 in agriculture. This does not mean that they were workers, but probably mainly directors of factories, kolkhozes, sovkhozes, etc. One may expect as little from the CPSU – in Deutscher’s words the “guardian of public ownership” – egalitarianism, as one would expect from the Catholic Church – the guardian of “patrimonium pauperum” – the freeing of the serfs.



Lacing the story with “inside” information and accommodation to the accomplished fact

When dealing with current developments, Deutscher tries to cover his weakness in sociological analysis and general shallowness with a special stylistic device: presenting his speculations as facts, reporting conversations between Soviet leaders in inverted commas as though he had eavesdropped on them. One description reads as follows:

Pointing at Molotov and Kaganovich, he (Kruschev) exclaimed: “Your hands are stained with the blood of our party leaders and of innumerable innocent Bolsheviks!” “So are yours”, Molotov and Kaganovich shouted back at him. “Yes, so are mine”, Kruschev replied. “I admit this. But during the Great Purges I only carried out your orders. I was not then a member of the Politbureau and I am not responsible for its decisions. You were.” [43]

Unfortunately this “style”, the lacing of his hypothesis with “inside information”, very often boomerangs on Deutscher himself, exposing the complete hollowness of much of this information’. Thus in April 1953, Deutscher reported that Beria was one of the chief liberalisers. [44] And side by side with him and Malenkov, stood their fellow spirits Voroshilov and Kaganovich! [45] Kruschev is not mentioned even once in this connection, and is referred to only once in the whole book, in passing! With the fall of Beria, we are informed that the most diehard Stalinist leader, surpassing even Molotov, is Kruschev. [46]

However when it becomes incontrovertibly clear that Kruschev has won against the “liberalisers’ Beria, Kaganovich, Voroshilov, et al., Deutscher hurries along with new “inside information”. We are informed in July 1957 that the “Stalinist diehards” are very antagonistic towards Mao – of all people – and that “they adopted toward him an attitude so hostile that if it had become official it would have led to a momentous breach between the USSR and China.” [47] Molotov and Co. are cast as enemies of Mao, Kruschev as his friend. How wrong can “inside information” be?

Or again, on the eve of the greatest chauvinistic outburst of all (Russian responsibility for inventing everything from the locomotive to penicillin!) Deutscher could write: “The most striking feature in Russian life during the first months of peace has been the ebb of the nationalist mood.” [48]

Then again, in June 1957 Deutscher announced that China had entered its NEP period, that Mao “leaves us with no doubt that he envisages no such ‘second revolution’ (as Stalin’s of 1929-32) for China”, and that he stands for the “inevitability of gradualness” [49], and this a few months before the 1958 “Great Leap Forward” and the People’s Communes.

Deutscher shows not only a great capacity for changing his tune, but also of “speaking authoritatively” no matter what the zigzags of the Kremlin policies. In his first dispatch from Germany to the Observer he reported that some of the German soldiers on the Eastern front had been “very favourably impressed by the collective farms in which, they said, they saw efficiency as well as social justice”. [50] In 1953 he endorsed Stalin’s rejection of the proposed transfer of the Machine Tractor Stations to the kolkhozes, saying that this “might indeed mark the beginning of a powerful development of modern capitalism in Russian farming”, and that “Stalin is undoubtedly right” in believing that “the result would be an enormous strengthening of the anti-socialist elements in the Soviet economy”. [51] But a few years later, when the MTS were dissolved by Kruschev and all agricultural machinery transferred to the kolkhozes, he endorsed the move completely. [52]

Deutscher also shows a ready inclination to accept official Communist statistics uncritically. Thus we are informed in 1960 that while the Indians are growing hungrier the Chinese are facing abundance:

Meantime the Chinese are greatly increasing their food output – they are said to grow more rice than is produced in the rest of the world, and to distribute it to their workers virtually free of charge. The contrast could not be more striking; and it would become most dramatic if indeed many millions of Indians were to be threatened with famine and China’s rice surplus were to secure their survival. This would be a signal development in the struggle between communism and anti-communism in Asia. [53]

A year later China had to admit hunger, and, cap in hand, beg grain from Australia and Canada!

Deutscher had to wait for Kruschev’s revelation in order to be forthcoming about Stalin’s labour camps (The Prophet Outcast). In his biography of the creator of these camps he hardly mentions them at all.



Is Stalinism an offspring of the revolution?

In Stalin, Deutscher explains that “the broad scheme” which brought about the metamorphosis of triumphant Bolshevism into Stalinism, has “been common to all great revolutions so far”. (And from his arguments would seem to be common to all popular revolutions in the future.)

In the first phase of these revolutions, “The revolutionary party is still marching in step with the majority of the nation. It is acutely conscious of its unity with the people and of a profound harmony between its own objectives and the people’s wishes and desires.” [54] This phase lasts little longer than the Civil War. By then the revolutionary party faces an exhausted people and a reaction sets in.

The anti-climax of the revolution is there. The leaders are unable to keep their early promises. They have destroyed the old order; but they are unable to satisfy the daily needs of the people. To be sure, the revolution has created the basis for a higher organisation of society and for progress in a not very remote future. This will justify it in the eyes of posterity. But the fruits of revolution ripen slowly; and of immediate moment are the miseries of the first post-revolutionary years. It is in their shadow that the new state takes on its shape, a shape that reveals the chasm between the revolutionary party and the people. That is the real tragedy which overtakes the party of the revolution. [55]

In order to safeguard the achievements of the revolution, the Party now has to muzzle the people.

The party of the revolution knows no retreat; it has been driven to its present pass largely through obeying the will of that same people by which it is now deserted. It will go on doing what it considers to be its duty, without paying much heed to the voice of the people. In the end it will muzzle and stifle that voice. [56]

The revolution had now reached that cross-roads, well known to Machiavelli, at which it found it difficult or impossible to fix the people in their revolutionary persuasion and was driven “to take such measures that, when they believed no longer, it might be possible to make them believe by force”. [57]

Now the Party is split.

Some cry in alarm that the revolution has been betrayed, for in their eyes government by the people is the very essence of revolution – without it there can be no government for the people. The rulers find justification for themselves in the conviction that whatever they do will ultimately serve the interests of the broad mass of the nation; and indeed they do, on the whole, use their power to consolidate most of the economic and social conquests of the revolution. [58]

Lenin and Trotsky led inevitably to Stalin. Deutscher claims to have

traced the thread of unconscious historic continuity which led from Stalin’s hesitant and shamefaced essays in revolution by conquest to the revolutions contrived by Stalin the conqueror. A similar subtle thread connects Trotsky’s domestic policy of these years with the later practices of his antagonist. Both Trotsky and Lenin appear, each in a different field, as Stalin’s unwitting inspirers and prompters. Both were driven by circumstances beyond their control and by their own illusions to assume certain attitudes in which circumstances and their own scruples did not allow them to persevere – attitudes which were ahead of their time, out of tune with the current Bolshevik mentality, and discordant with the main themes of their own lives. [59]

One of the “illusions” Lenin and Trotsky suffered from, according to Deutscher, was belief in the possibility of spreading the revolution westwards. If Lenin and Trotsky “had taken a sober view of the international revolution” they might have “foreseen that in the course of decades their example would be imitated (in any other country) ... History produced the great illusion, and planted and cultivated it in the brains of the most soberly realistic leaders.” [60]

... Stalin’s scepticism regarding the revolutionary temper of the European working classes has so far seemed better justified than Trotsky’s confidence. [61]

It is implicit in Deutscher’s scheme that the Trotskyists in the Russian revolution, as the Levellers in the English and the Hébertists in the French, are the “utopians” who imperil the revolution, its conquests and its future.

Under Deutscher’s pen, Stalinism is the legitimate child of the revolution. All revolutions have their utopian extremists who do not understand that the revolution could not satisfy the demands of the masses it inspired. The significance of the quotation from Machiavelli which stands at the head of The Prophet Armed is now clear. The prophet must be armed, precisely so that he can, when the people no longer believe in the revolution, “make them believe by force”.



Is Stalinism revolutionary?

According to Deutscher Stalinism not only protects the achievements of the revolution, but also deepens and enlarges them.

In 1920, five years after Lenin’s death, Soviet Russia embarked upon her second revolution, which was directed solely and exclusively by Stalin. In its scope and immediate impact upon the life of some 160 million people the second revolution was even more sweeping and radical than the first. [62]

... Stalin ... remained the guardian and the trustee of the revolution. He consolidated its national gains and extended them. He “built socialism”; and even his opponents, while denouncing his autocracy, admitted that most of his economic reforms were indeed essential for socialism. [63]

As foreign policy is a continuation of domestic policy, Deutscher draws the conclusion that in the international arena also Stalinism plays a revolutionary role. He points out “... the theoretical and political difficulty which now beset Trotskyism, a difficulty that was to grow immensely” with time:

How real indeed was the distinction Trotsky had drawn between the domestic (partly still progressive) and the international (wholly counter-revolutionary) functions of Stalinism? Could any government or ruling group have for any length of time one character at home and quite a different one abroad? If the Soviet body politic preserved the quality of a workers’ state, how could this leave unaffected its relationship with the outside world? How could the government of a workers’ state be consistently a factor of counter-revolution? [64]

And in fact according to Deutscher at the end of the Second World War the revolution expanded into many countries, engulfing hundreds of millions of people:

To Eastern Europe revolution was to be brought, in the main, “from above and not from outside” – by conquest and occupation; while in China it was to rise not as a proletarian democracy, spreading from the cities to the country, but as a gigantic jacquerie conquering the cities from the country and only subsequently passing from the “bourgeois democratic” to the socialist phase. [65]

Accepting the international revolutionary role of the Russian state makes it an easy step to the conclusion that the struggle of the Powers in the Cold War is the main, or perhaps only, arena of struggle between socialism and capitalism. Deutscher informs us that from now on “... the class struggle, suppressed at the level on which it had been traditionally waged, would be fought at a different level and in different forms, as rivalry between power blocs and as cold war.” [66]

What role in this class-struggle can the workers play? How many H-bombs or sputniks have they? Compare Deutscher’s conception of the socialist revolution with what Marx and Engels said of it. The Communist Manifesto states:

All previous historical movements were movements of minorities or in the interests of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority.

Again in September 1879, Engels wrote, in Marx’s name and his own, to the leaders of the German Socialist Party:

For almost forty years we have stressed the class struggle as the immediate driving force of history, and in particular the class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat as the great lever of the modern social revolution; it is therefore impossible for us to co-operate with people who wish to expunge this class struggle from the movement. When the International was formed we expressly formulated the battle-cry: the emancipation of the working class must be achieved by the working class itself. We cannot therefore cooperate with people who say that the workers are too uneducated to emancipate themselves and must first be freed from above by philanthropic bourgeois and petty bourgeois.

Today we should have to add to “philanthropic bourgeois and petty bourgeois” also totalitarian despots.



Posthumous victory

Deutscher informs us that Mao’s “attitude in 1925-7 had often coincided with Trotsky’s” [67] and Mao’s rise to power was a final victory for Trotskyism: “This, the ‘Chinese October’ was, in a sense, yet another of Trotsky’s posthumous triumphs.” [63]

If this were true it would mean t hat jacqueries could carry out the socialist revolution. Fantastic! Neither Marx nor Engels, Lenin nor Trotsky, nor for that matter any other Marxist, ever thought the peasantry socialist, collectivist. The peasants can be active in the struggle against feudalism, but this does not make them socialists. The October revolution was the fusion of two revolutions: that of the socialist working class, the product of mature capitalism, and that of the peasants, the product of the conflict between rising capitalism and the old feudal institutions. As at all times, the peasants were ready enough to expropriate the private property of the large estate owners, but they wanted their own small private properties. Whilst they were prepared to revolt against feudalism, they were not for that reason in favour of socialism.

To support his view, Deutscher distorts the historical record. Harold Isaacs in his book on the history of the Chinese revolution, to which Trotsky wrote an introduction, said the following about Mao’s attitude in 1925-7:

In Wuhan Mao had served as head of the Peasant Department of the Kuomintang, and there had carried out the policy of keeping the peasants in check while the counter-revolution advanced upon them. [69]

Similar information is given by M.N. Roy who was the Comintern representative in China in 1937. [70] Again, the fact that Mao’s Selected Works includes only one entry written prior to March 1927 says much about his role in the defeated revolution, for, as editor of a weekly paper for about four years before 1927, he must certainly have written more than one short article.

Trotsky too did not speak very favourably of Mao. Thus in November 1929 he criticised the peasant armies of Chu Teh and Mao for carrying out “adventurous campaigns” in which “the perspectives of a terrific debacle and of an adventuristic degeneration of the remnants of the Communist Party” were inherent. [71]

In November 1930 Trotsky wrote:

The peasant war may support the dictatorship of the proletariat, if they coincide in point of time, but under no circumstances can it be substituted for the dictatorship of the proletariat. [72]

Time did not improve matters according to Isaacs. In 1936, !Mao Tse-tung far outstripped the opportunism of Chen Tu-hsiu (during 1925-27 – TC).” [73]

If Trotsky was never complimentary to Mao, neither was Mao to Trotsky or the Trotskyists. Thus in May 1937 he referred to the Trotskyists as “jackals of Japanese imperialism”. [74]

And the Fourth International, organ of the American Trotskyist organisation, showed how Mao’s thoughts were put into practice. [75] Speaking of the Trotskyists in Mao’s Eighth Route Army, the Report states: “But as soon as they were discovered, they were shamefully shot, one after another.” The Report continues by describing how Cheong Li Ming, Trotskyist commander of 2,000 guerillas in Eastern Chekiang was caught by the Stalinists and beheaded, how his wife was shot together with other Trotskyist captives, and how his six-year-old son was drowned in the sea.

The record does not tally with Deutscher’s conclusions. To underline the point, practically the last political act of Natalia Sedova, Trotsky’s widow, was to write a letter in Azione Communista in November 1961, refuting the idea that Mao Tse-tung was in any sense Trotsky’s heir, and asserting that Russia and China were as far from socialism as Franco’s Spain.



From illusions regarding the autocrat to opposition to popular revolution

The belief that the death of an autocrat will bring great, fundamental changes in the whole system, are deeply rooted in slave or serf mentality. One need but remember the dreams born with the death of Tsar Nikolai I and the succession of his son Alexander II, in 1855. One of Alexander’s first pronouncements was a declaration of his intention to abolish serfdom, which in 1861 he duly carried out.

However the emancipation of the serfs was carried out half-heartedly, and it did not turn them into really free wage workers, but in fact left the peasants with less land and a heavier economic burden to bear.

Following upon the emancipation of the serfs, Alexander implemented some other reforms:

  1. On 1 January 1864, he granted local government to the provinces and districts of European Russia.
  2. On 20 November 1864, he reformed the judicial institutions: trial by jury was introduced for all criminal cases and court proceedings were made public. (And there is no doubt that freedom of expression in the courtroom and the publicity given to trials helped greatly in the formation of democratic anti-tsarist public opinion.)
  3. 6 April 1865 saw the partial abolition of preventive censorship. (One of the results of this was the legal publication in Russian a few years later of Marx’s Capital.)

That all these democratic reforms were very restricted was soon made quite clear. Thus, for instance, while the press was freed from preventive censorship, it was not allowed to publish accounts of any meetings of societies and clubs without special permission from the Provincial Governors; the Ministry of the Interior was empowered to inform editors of papers what subjects were “unsuitable” and were of “State significance”. The Tsarist police soon showed an iron hand. Many a radical was incarcerated.

In the first flush of Alexander II’s promises of reform, many were eager to believe in his words. Thus Alexander Herzen, the founder and leader of Populism, prepared a banquet for all the Russians in London in honour of the Tsar’s Manifesto of 19 February, 1861 abolishing serfdom. He drafted a speech, in which he recalled how in 1853, when the first page of the Free Russian Press had been printed, if anyone had said that “after eight years we should have come together, and the hero of the banquet would have been the Tsar of Russia, we should have thought that he was mad, or even worse.” And yet this was what had happened. True, “the Manifesto of 19 February was only one milestone; the road was still long, and the coach was still in the hands of cruel Tartar and German drivers ... In Russia it is impossible to denounce their intrigues, Speech has not yet been freed, and is still a slave of the censorship.” And so it was necessary to continue working abroad. But the fact remained that serfdom had been abolished in Russia. “Let us raise our glasses to drink to our brothers who have been freed, and to honour Alexander Nikolaevich, their liberator.” But this toast was never drunk. The first bloody encounters in Warsaw, a few days after the emancipation, showed that the political oppression of the Russian Empire was still too serious for Herzen to be able to drink freely to Alexander II. “Our banquet was sad. We lowered our hands. After the blood spilt at Warsaw it could no longer proceed.” [76]

Deutscher is a puny figure compared to Herzen. The blood of workers spilt in Budapest does not prevent him from proceeding with his toast to Kruschev. Deutscher opposed all the popular uprisihgs in Eastern Europe, from June 1953 in East Germany, to October 1956 in Poland and Hungary. He declared the latter to be counter-revolutions trying “unwittingly to put the clock back”. [77] He cheered the Russian tanks which smashed the workers’ uprisings:

Eastern Europe (Hungary, Poland, and East Germany) found itself almost on the brink of bourgeois restoration at the end of the Stalin era; and only Soviet armed power (or its threat) stopped it there. [78]



The attraction of Deutscherism

The underlying theme of Deutscher’s mode of presentation is that the Russian working class and the international working class were not ripe for anything but a passive role in the face of events, and that Stalin had to carry through the “revolution from above” in Russia itself (1929-32) and then “export the revolution” from 1940 onwards. In the future too, it seems, only top people, who can play a decisive role in the cold war, thanks to the concentrated military power they hold, can be active participants in progress. This elitist approach – the assumption, if not spoken, implicit, that socialism can be imposed from above on an unwilling population or on an ignorant people – has a long tradition in the labour movement. [79]

It fits in perfectly with the values spread by all ruling classes, that only top people count. And as the ruling ideology in every society is the ideology of the ruling class, the concept of “socialism from above” will have the upper hand in the labour movement ... until the direct revolutionary activity of the masses destroys it along with the society it reflects. Deutscherisin is attractive to tired socialists whose belief that the working class could emancipate itself was destroyed by the defeats of the movement in the 1930: and then by the general political apathy of the fifties and sixties. Stalinism, responsible to a large extent for both, becomes the beneficiary ...

The undoubtedly important changes that have taken place in Russia also aid Deutscherism for a time. If the development from the industrial revolution to the “welfare state”, from the rough, shouting foreman, to the soft-spoken “human-relations-orientated” personnel officer, from Malthus to Elton Mayo had been compressed into a space of forty years, the reformist illusions held here by Crosland and others – that capitalism has ceased to be capitalism – would be even stronger than they are. And this is basically what has happened in Russia. Kruschev’s liberalisation is but a concentrated, less far-reaching reproduction of the process.

Deutscher’s thesis that the bureaucracy can produce reforms and even its own self-liquidation, becomes more attractive in proportion to the extent to which it is believed that totalitarianism is and can only be a rigid, unchanging system of government – certainly an unrealistic picture. A comparison of Hitler’s Germany with Franco’s Spain or Salazar’s Portugal shows this. Who could have imagined 120 intellectuals appending their signatures to a declaration against police brutality in breaking strikes in Nazi Germany? Who could have even imagined such strikes under Hitler? Who could have imagined a candidate in elections in Nazi Germany opposing the head of the Government, even if the elections were gerrymandered as they are in Portugal? If fascism has various species, so it seems reasonable to suppose has bureaucratic state capitalism, with its more dynamic political forms. Capitalism in its maturity and old age is different from capitalism in its youth, but it is still capitalism. The change from the rough, shouting foreman to the soft-spoken personnel officer does not abolish alienation nor exploitation, and the subordination of the workers to capital accumulation continues unabated. Kruschev’s reforms give the bureaucracy a measure of security, “normalise” its life, but in no way prevent the ossification of class privileges.

Deutscherism is acceptable to all who defend the status quo. The idea that socialism is nationalised property plus Kruschevite liberalisation should be welcome to Moscow apologists. In the West the idea that Stalinism and its natural successor, Kruschevism, are the necessary outcome of the Russian revolution, will also be very welcome, for it can be thrown back in the faces of all fighters for socialism in the West. Above all, the underlying theme in all Deutscher’s writing is accommodation to state power. As the whole world lives today in the shadow of the omnipotent, omnipresent state, rising above society and blocking the free development of the members of society, the inclination to accommodation, to giving up the struggle for control over one’s destiny, for freedom, is compelling.



Deutscher and Trotsky

The association of state ownership of industry with the socialist revolution was natural for Trotsky. After all, the nationalisation of industry in Russia was the outcome of the revolution. Furthermore, for generations socialists fighting exploitation had had to combat the owners of private property, the bourgeoisie. And one always tends to see the future in the trappings of the past.

After the Second World War – with nationalised industry in Egypt and Ghana, in East Europe and China (and to a considerable extent in Britain and France), it becomes easier to see that there need not be a correlation between state ownership and proletarian revolution. [80]

Actually there is a dichotomy in Trotsky’s views, between his concept of the role of the working class an the one hand, and the role of nationalised property on the other. The former is active, dynamic, revolutionary. Here Trotskyism is the principle of workers’ democracy, of the struggle against all bureaucracy, of rank-and-file mass action against privilege. It is the reaffirmation (magnificently adapted to our time in the theory of the Permanent Revolution) of the essentials of Marxism. The central theme of Trotsky’s life and struggle to the bitter end was that socialism can be achieved by the workers and not for them. The conception that Russia was a workers’ state although the workers play no active role in it, but on the contrary, are objects of its suppression, is to tally in contradiction to the first, main element in Trotsky’s thought. The identification of the nationalisation of industry with socialism of any sort is formalism, a juridical abstraction, a subordinating of content to form. Unfortunately, many of Trotsky’s so-called “followers” see the main theme – if not the whole of Trotskyism – in the theory that Russia is still a workers’ state, because of the nationalisation of industry. They try tê stick to every jot and tittle of Trotsky’s words, although they would of course be the first to deny that the whole of Leninism is contained in Lenin’s criticism of the theory of the Permanent Revolution. Deutscher follows this logic to the end.

For Deutscher the masses play a passive, secondary, if not a nuisance role, threatening the achievement of the revolution. Deutscher has thrown out the kernel of Trotskyism and kept the husk. His affinity to Trotskyism is fundamentally only extrinsic and verbal. The spirit of Trotsky the fighter is completely missing. Of him Trotsky could well have said: “I have sown dragon’s teeth, and harvested fleas.”



In the “watchtower”

What role remains to our “critic” of Stalinism?

It seems that the only dignified attitude the intellectual ex-communist can take is to rise au-dessus de la melée. He cannot join the Stalinist camp or the anti-Stalinist Holy Alliance without doing violence to his better self. So let him stay outside any camp. Let him try to regain critical sense and intellectual detachment. Let him overcome the cheap ambition to have a finger in the political pie. Let him be at peace with his own self at least, if the price he has to pay for a phoney peace with the world is self-renunciation and self-denunciation.

This is not to say that the ex-communist man of letters, or intellectual at large should retire into the ivory tower. (His contempt for the ivory tower lingers in him from his past.) But he may withdraw into a watchtower instead. To watch with detachment and alertness this heaving chaos of a world, to be on sharp lookout for what is going to emerge from it, and to interpret it sine ira et studio – this is now the only honourable service the ex-communist intellectual can render to a generation in which scrupulous observation and honest interpretation have become so sadly rare. [81]

Deutscher does not tell us what is the difference in practice between inhabiting an ivory tower and a watchtower. In both cases no action is expected. And this is said in the name of Marxism, the science of revolutionary action! [82]

How fitting to Deutscher are Trotsky’s derogatory remarks regarding Otto Bauer and his friends, “for whom theoretical analysis consists merely of the learnt commentaries of passivity” [83]:

The essence of their nature is adaptation, yielding to force. They will never make a revolution. [84]




1. The works of Deutscher referred to are: Stalin, Oxford University Press, 1949; The Prophet Armed, OUP, 1954; The Prophet Unarmed, OUP, 1959; The Prophet Outcast, OUP, 1963; Russia After Stalin, Hamish Hamilton, 1953; Heretics And Renegades, Hamish Hamilton, 1955; The Great Contest, OUP, 1960. Only a few of Deutscher’s articles have been consulted.

2. Kapitalismus und Sozialismus nach dem Weltkrieg, Erster Band: Rationalisierung – Fehlrationalisierung, Otto Bauer, Vienna 1931, p.225. Quoted in Prospects for the Soviet Dictatorship: Otto Bauer, M. Croan, in Revisionism, Ed. L. Labedz, London 1962, p.289.

3. Ibid., p.223, Labedz, p.290.

4. Zwischen Zwei Weltkriegen?, Bratislava, pp.160-1.

5. Ibid., p.163.

6. Ibid., pp.63-4.

7. Ibid., p.166.

8. Heretics and Renegades, pp.194-5.

9. Ibitd., pp204-5.

10. Russia in Transition, I. Deutscher, Dissent, New York, Winter, 1955.

11. The Great Contest, p.21.

12. The Prophet Outcast, p.419.

13. Russia After Stalin, p.164.

14. Ibid, p.173.

15. Ibid., p.110.

16. Marx-Engels Selected Correspondence, London 1941, p355.

17. Compare the above with the growth of heavy industry:

First Plan

Actual Output

Electric Current (milliard kwh)



Coal (million tons)



Pig Iron (million tons)



Steel (million tons)



Oil (million tons)



18. Vedomostiverkhovnogosoveta SSSR, Nos.19, 21, 22 and 27, 1961.

19. Town Planning and Housing, T. Sosnovy, Survey, London, October 1961.

20. The Development of Urban Centres in Soviet Russia, T. Sosnovy.

21. Sovetskie profsoyuzy, No.8, 1961, p.44.

22. Pravda, 14 July 1959.

23. Pravda, 15 February 1956.

24. Pravda, 25 December 1958.

25. Pravda, 13 August 1954.

26. Pravda, 6 August 1954.

27. Pravda, 13 August 1954.

28. Industriya, 18 July 1940.

29. Voprosy Ekonomiki, 1936, Nos.11-12, p.109.

30. Task of Further Development of Industry, Technical Progress and Better Organisation of Production, N.A. Bulganin, Moscow 1955, p21.

31. Foundations of Economic Accounting (Russian), Ya. Kronrod, Moscow 1956, p.186.

32. Tribuna Ludu, Warsaw, 18 November 1956.

33. Economic Competition Between the Two World Systems (Russian), ed. A.M. Alekseyev, Moscow 1957, p.118.

34. Plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU, 15-19 December 1958 (Russian), Moscow 1958, p.80.

35. Mao’s China, Y. Gluckstein, London 1957, pp.421-2.

36. Pravda, 30 January 1959.

37. Kommunist Vooruzhennykh Sil, No.2, 1962, p.19.

38. The Red Executive, D. Granick, London 1960, p.310.

39. Sovetskaya Kirghiziya, 26 February 1960.

40. Sovetskaya Motdaviya, 29-30 January 1960.

41. Pravda Ukrainy, 17 February 1960.

42. Zarya Vostoka, Tbilisi, 28 January 1958.

43. The Prophet Unarmed, p.viii.

44. Russia After Stalin, pp.129-30.

45. Ibid.

46. Heretics and Renegades, p.178.

47. The Times, 10 July 1957.

48. The Observer; 11 November 1945, quoted in Deutscher as Historian and Prophet, L. Labedz, Survey, April 1962, p.126.

49. New Statesman, 29 June 1957.

50. 29 Ju1y 1945, Labedz, p.136.

51. Heretics and Renegades, pp.164-5.

52. The Great Contest, pp.15-16.

53. The Great Contest, pp.76-77.

54. Stalin, p.174.

55. Ibid., pp.174-5.

56. Ibid., p.175.

57. The Prophet Armec4 p506.

58. Stalin, p1?6.

59. The Prophet Armed, p.515.

60. Ibid., p.293.

61. Heretics and Renegades, p.89.

62. Stalin, p.294.

63. Ibid., pp.360-1.

64. The Prophet Outcast, p.461.

65. Ibid., pp.257-8.

66. Ibid., p.518.

67. The Prophet Outcast, p.32.

68. Ibid., p.520.

69. The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution, H.R. Isaacs, London 1938, p.397.

70. Revolution and Counter-Revolution in China, M.N. Roy, Calcutta 1946, p.615.

71. Problems of the Chinese Revolution, L. Trotsky, New York 1933, pp.233-5.

72. Ibid., p.239.

73. Isaacs, op cit., p.440.

74. Selected Works, Mao Tse-tung, London 1954, Vol.I, p.264.

75. See the article Trotskyism in China. A Report, Fourth international, July-August 1947.

76. Roots of Revolution, F. Venturi, London 1960, pp.108-9.

77. Universities and Left Review, Vol.I, No.1, p.10.

78. The Prophet Unarmed, p.462. It is characteristic of Deutscher’s attitude to the masses that in the thousands of pages of his writings the term “workers’ control” is mentioned in passing only once, or perhaps twice, and without any enthusiasm! In all the books by Deutscher referred to in this article, the term does not occur once in any index.

79. See The Two Souls of Socialism, Hal Draper, International Socialism, No.11, Winter 1962.

80. It is interesting that in the last few days of his life Trotsky came very near to a separation of the two elements. In notes for an article found on his desk he wrote, “The nationalisation of railways and oil fields in Mexico has of course nothing in common with socialism. It is a measure of state capitalism in a backward country which in this way seeks to defend itself on the one hand against foreign imperialism and on the other against its own proletariat. The management of oil railways, fields, etc., through labour organisations has nothing in common with workers’ control over industry, for in the essence of the matter, the management is affected through the labour bureaucracy which is independent of the workers, but in return completely dependent on the bourgeois state. This measure on the part of the ruling class pursues the aim of disciplining the working class, making it more industrious in the service of the common interests of the state, which appear on the surface to merge with the interests of the working class itself.” (Trade Union in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay, London n.d., pp.14-15.)

81. Heretics and Renegades, p.20.

82. In the same watchtower spirit, Deutscher argues that it was futile for the Trotskyists in Russia to oppose Stalin. He puts it very neatly: “It was true that the capitulators to Stalin committed political suicide; but so also did those who refused to capitulate.” (The Prophet Unarmed, p.451.) Success, comrades, success, that is the main thing!

83. History of the Russian Revolution, L. Trotsky, London 1934, p.815.

84. Trotsky’s Diary in Exile, London 1959, p.41.


Last updated on 19.10.2006