Tony Cliff

Russia: A Marxist analysis

Chapter XVIII:
The coming Russian revolution



It is wrong to speak of a Stalinist epoch

The rise of the bureaucracy to the status of a ruling class expresses the fact tat the historical mission of the Stalinist bureaucracy, which is to establish capitalism in Russia, has already been exhausted on an international plane, but not yet exhausted on a national one. At the same time, the bureaucracy, by relying on planning, an element of the “invading socialist society”, which it applies to its capitalist mission of the accumulation of capital, runs trough the traditional historical course which the bourgeoisie of the west took about two hundred years to cover, in a few decades. Relying on elements of the future society in order to fortify relations of the past, the bureaucracy quickly undermines these very relations and in so doing prepares a new, glorious edition of the proletarian revolution on a much stronger historical base than in 1917.

Already in its first years as a ruling class the bureaucracy has adopted the totalitarian characteristics of decaying, ageing capitalism; it already proves its nature as a historical anomaly with no future. The bureaucracy is compelled to carry on a vast propaganda campaign against bureaucrats, to pose as the defender of the workers against the bureaucracy: the bureaucracy has a guilty conscience, it is a usurper lacking historical legitimacy.

Capitalist state ownership raises the ire of the masses. From the beginning of the bureaucracy’s formation as a class, therefore, the sword of Damocles has hung ominously above its head. Whereas the capitalist of the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries could visualise a glorious future with himself as the representative of the whole of humanity, the Stalinist bureaucracy, today fulfilling the historical function of this capitalist, cannot but feel that its roots are in a temporary and transient concatenation of national and international circumstances. Hence its totalitarianism.

The bureaucratic terror, striking at the bureaucrats themselves, reveals the anomalous position of this hybrid. In traditional capitalism, competition between the capitalists ensures that each will be as efficient as possible. In a socialist economy, social consciousness, care for the interests of society, harmonious relations between people, is the basis for efficiency. The Stalinist bureaucracy, however, is both a result and a cause of the lack of harmony in the relations between people, of class and personal antagonisms, of the unlimited egoism prevailing in Russia. Therefore the motive of a planned socialist economy - the control of producers in the interests of the producers themselves - does not exist in Russia and cannot ensure the efficiency of production; on the other hand the direct connection between the efficiency of the individual enterprise and the income of its directors, a connection that exists under individual capitalism, also does not exist. The one important means of ensuring efficiency left to the bureaucratic state is terror directed against the individual bureaucrats.

As a much deeper abyss exists between the Stalinist bureaucracy and the masses than ever existed in history between rulers and ruled, it is of the utmost importance to the bureaucracy that scapegoats be found.

Although the bureaucracy was born with all the marks of a declining class, it would be too great a simplification to say that every advance of the productive forces, every addition to the working class, will directly and immediately undermine the position of the bureaucracy. No, reality is much more complicated than that.



The initial direct influence of industrialisation and “collectivisation” on the relation of forces between the proletariat and the bureaucracy

The number of workers in Russia increased very rapidly during the First Five-Year Plan. In 1928 the number of people occupied in manufacturing industries and the extraction of minerals was three million, in 1932 it reached eight million, an increase of 160 per cent. The overwhelming majority of the working class were thus raw elements newly come from the villages, not yet educated and organised by the process of social production.

At the same time the quick industrial development, and the ensuing acute shortage of technicians, skilled workers, officials, etc., opened the gates of the bureaucracy to many veteran workers. And of course the more experienced and intelligent the worker, the greater his opportunity for rising in the hierarchy.

These two factors, the dilution of the working class by raw elements and the exodus of militant elements from it, were a grave impediment to the rise of an independent workers’ movement some decades ago in the different historical circumstances of the USA.

In Russia the difficulties of the workers’ movement during the Five-Year Plans are much greater than those experienced by the American labour movement. Besides the terrible pressure of the secret police, besides the weariness of the masses after many years of super-human effort, besides the ideological disorientation which appears both as a result and cause of the weakness of the Russian workers’ movement at the time, there is another factor: the creation by the bureaucracy of a layer of elite among the oppressed. This is one of the most efficient weapons the oppressor can wield in its oppression of the masses.

When Napoleon said that even the heaviest cannons could not stand up against empty stomachs, he was not entirely correct. Empty stomachs under certain circumstances lead not to revolt but to submission. Such was the case in the first years of industrialisation by the Stalinist bureaucracy. As Victor Serge said:

A vast misery will spring from its [the bureaucracy’s] policy, but in this misery the tiniest material benefits become precious. It will now suffice to offer a worker a plate of soup the least bit nourishing and a shelter the least bit habitable in the winter for him to attach himself to the privileged amid the general destitution ... In that way a stratum of subordinate bureaucrats will be formed in the enterprises, in the party cells, and in the villages where the collectivisation is to result in a new differentiation between leaders and led. Around the former will gravitate a clientele eager to serve. The misery will consolidate those who conjured it up. [1]



The pressure of the totalitarian police machine

One cannot overestimate the difficulties which the police machine makes for the independent organisation of the workers in Russia. The working class is atomised and any attempt at building up any independent organisation whatsoever or at giving expression to the desires of the masses is brutally suppressed. The workers are compelled to belong to organisations led and controlled by the state and teeming with its spies. The combination of propaganda and terror designed to ensure the bureaucracy’s monopoly of propaganda puts no limit to the lies it spreads, to the rape of the soul of the masses, driving them to mass demonstrations and public meetings, compelling them to debase themselves and sing the praises of their oppressors. All these weapons of the bureaucracy make the molecular process of the organisation and education of the workers very difficult. There is every indication that even the experienced, cultured German proletariat would have taken many years, perhaps decades, to smash the oppressive Nazi machine by its own strength. Even in the hours of Nazi Germany’s greatest military defeats no mass revolt of workers broke out on the home front.

(In connection with this, one must not overlook the important effect Ilya Ehrenburg’s chauvinistic propaganda had in helping the Nazis to cement the attacks in the wall of German “national unity”.)

The raw Russian proletariat, the overwhelming majority of whom came but a few years ago from the villages, of whom probably less than 10 per cent knew the conditions under Tsarism when trade unions were legal, when the different workers’ parties had a legal press, will find the utmost difficulty in learning the ABC of organisation and socialist ideology under the rule of Stalin.



The military victories of Russia

A factor which strengthened the rule of the bureaucracy was its military victories. Many factors contributed to them. Firstly, the absolute suppression of the masses allows Stalin to devote a larger portion of the national income to war aims than is possible in the countries of the West. He could, for instance, achieve the “miracle of the evacuation of Russian industry” by transferring millions of workers to the East, housing them in holes in the ground. Secondly, police oppression ensures quiet on the home front, another “advantage” Russia has over the democratic capitalist countries. The same two factors caused the absolute supremacy of Germany over France and Britain, which was eventually outweighed only by the co-operation of the American industrial machine (producing four times as much as Germany) and the Russian. While the Russian military victories were to a large extent the result of the “quiet” on the home front, of the depression and despair of the toiling masses, they become in turn an important factor in the stabilisation of the Stalinist regime. To make an analogy, one cannot underestimate Nazi Germany’s victories in the Saar, Austria, Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia, Poland and France as a factor in influencing the psychology of the German masses.



The bureaucracy creates its gravedigger

The initial result of the industrialisation and “collectivisation” in Russia was to strengthen the position of the bureaucracy. After a few years an opposite process began; now every step forward of the productive forces undermines the position of the bureaucracy.

In the First Five-Year Plan the number of workers employed in manufacture and mining rose from 3 million to 8 million, a rise of 160 per cent. In the Second Five-Year Plan it rose from 8 million to only 10.1 million, a rise of 25 per cent. The Third Five-Year Plan planned an increase to 11.9 million in 1942, a rise of 16.7 per cent. Thus despite the liquidation of many of the workers in the “purges”, the number of veteran workers with many years of participation in the process of production behind tern is steadily growing.

At the same time the gates to the bureaucracy draw together as more and more obstacles are put in the way of higher education, and the recruitment of the best elements among the workers into the bureaucracy diminishes.

The crystallisation of the proletariat due to the dwindling stream of raw elements coming into it and the dwindling stream of experienced elements going out of it is a process of the greatest importance.

The historical task of the bureaucracy is to raise the productivity of labour. In doing this the bureaucracy enters into deep contradictions. In order to raise the productivity of labour above a certain point, the standard of living of the masses must rise, as workers who are undernourished, badly housed and uneducated, are not capable of modem production. The bureaucracy approaches the problem of the standard of living of the masses much in the same way as a peasant approaches the feeding of his horses: “How much shall I give in order to get more work done?” But workers, besides having hands, have heads. The raising of the standard of living and culture of the masses, means raising their self- confidence, increasing their appetite, their impatience at the lack of democratic rights and personal security, and their impatience of the bureaucracy which preserves these burdens. On the other hand, not to raise the standard of living of the masses means to perpetuate the present low productivity of labour which would be fatal for the bureaucracy in the present international situation, and would tend to drive the masses sooner or later to revolts of despair.

The bureaucracy increases the working class on the basis of the highest concentration history has known. And try as it may to bridge the abyss between concentrated wage labour and concentrated capital, try as it may to veil it under the slogan of “socialist property”, the bureaucracy is bringing into being a force which will sooner or later clash violently with it.

The fact that only a few years after the industrialisation and “collectivisation” when the working class was yet young and relatively raw, Stalin was compelled to be entirely totalitarian and to make such mass frame-ups as have no precedence in history, indicates the quick tempo at which the class struggle in Russia develops.



The declining efficiency of Stalinist propaganda

The diminishing efficacy of Soviet propaganda and its infirmity when the hard facts of life give it the lie, are indicated by two phenomena not to be otherwise explained. One is a mass scale on which Soviet POWs voluntarily joined the Nazi army; the other is the large numbers of Russian “non-returners”.

During the war half a million or more Soviet nationals served in the Nazi army – in the Osttruppen – under German command. [2] Of some fifty Soviet generals captured by the Germans, about ten collaborated with Hitler against Stalin. [3] No other national group of POWs showed a comparable readiness to join the Nazis.

After the war, many Soviet nationals did not return to their homeland. That these “non-returners” are, on the whole, not the same people who joined the Nazi troops is clear from the fact that the latter were forcibly repatriated by the Soviet army, as well as by the United States, Britain and France. The number of non-returners is considerable, although for obvious reasons it cannot be gauged accurately. According to a Soviet official statement, the number of Soviet citizens who had not returned to the USSR after the war was 400,000 (as against five and a half millions who had). [4] No other nationals displayed such reluctance to go home, such preference for the hazards and hardships of the DP camps. This is a reflection on Soviet reality and a pointer to the limited capacity of Stalinist propaganda.



The social goals of anti-Stalinist opposition

Anti-Stalinist opposition forces in the USSR, however unorganised and inarticulate, strive consciously or semiconsciously, even unconsciously, towards a goal which, by and large, can be inferred from the economic, social and political set-up of bureaucratic state capitalism, the set-up which these forces aim to overthrow. From a state-owned and planned economy there can be no retracing of steps to an anarchic, private-ownership economy. And this not only, or even mainly, because there are no individuals to claim legal or historical right to ownership of the major part of the wealth. The replacement of large-scale state industry with private industry would be a technical-economic regression. And so for the mass of the people, the overthrow of Stalinist totalitarianism could have real meaning only if political democracy had transformed the general wealth into the real property of society, thus establishing a socialist democracy. This deduction of the probable programme of the anti-Stalinist opposition from the objective data of bureaucratic state capitalism is clearly supported by the actual programmes of two organised anti-Stalinist movements which appeared during the World War II- the Vlassov movement and the Ukrainian Resurgent Army (UPA).

General Malyshkin, former Soviet general and one of General Vlassov’s chief assistants, said:

We take the position ... that all those industries which during the period of Bolshevism were erected at the expense of the blood and sweat of the whole people, must become the property of the state, national property ... Should it appear preferable, and be in the interests of the people) however, the state will raise no objections to the participation of private initiative ... Private initiative will be made possible not only in peasant holdings and industry ... We believe that private initiative must also participate in other facets of economic life, for instance, in trade, handicrafts, artisan work ... To all former participants of the White Movement, we can say definitely the following: anyone does not belong to us who believes in the restoration in Russia of nobles and large landowners, in the restoration of privileges based on origin, caste, or wealth, in the restoration of outlived governmental forms. [5]

Whether the Vlassov leaders were sincere or not is irrelevant. The mere fact that they took a stand for state ownership of large industry - and that in Nazi Germany - is proof that only such a stand could have appealed to the Soviet POWs whom they tried to recruit.

A similar position was held by the UPA. This group conducted guerilla warfare against both German and Russian armies and managed to maintain an underground resistance in Soviet Ukraine. In 1943, in its publications in Volhynia, it put as its foremost slogan: “Only in an independent Ukrainian state can the true realisation of the great slogans of the October Revolution be attained.” [6] The UPA proposed the following as its programme for a new social order in the Ukrainian state:

(1) For state-nationalised and co-operative-social property in industry, finance and trade.

(2) For state-national property in land with agriculture to be conducted either collectively or individually, depending on the wishes of the population.

(3) A return to capitalism in any instance is a regression. [7]

Another publication of the UPA stated:

The complete liquidation of the class struggle demands the destruction of the source of classes itself, i.e., in the capitalist countries - the institution of private property in the means of production; in the case of the Soviet Union, the political monopoly of the Stalinist Party, the dictatorial, totalitarian regime. [9]

And again:

The Soviet order ... is not a socialist order, since classes of exploited and exploiters exist in it. The workers of the USSR want neither capitalism nor Stalinist pseudo-socialism. They aspire to a truly classless society, to a true popular democracy, to a free life in free and independent states. Today Soviet society, more than any other, is pregnant with social revolution. In the USSR, the social revolution is strengthened by the national revolutions of the oppressed nationalities. [9]



The great rehearsal: the Hungarian Revolution

However, the greatest exposure of all the talk about a “Stalinist epoch” about “1984” and all that, was given by the mighty Hungarian Revolution.

The workers were slower to move than the intellectuals, but once they were fully engaged they showed fantastic heroism in face of overwhelming odds. It was the workers who provided the main fighting forces. The principal centres of the revolution were the great industrial centres – Szepel Island, which contains the greatest aggregation of industry in Hungary, including the giant iron and steel works which employed some 40,000 workers, and Dunapantele. Even after the military resistance was crushed, the workers in factories, mines and on the railways continued with strikes and passive resistance which went on throughout the winter of 1956-7.

Apart from Budapest, the main centres of the uprising were in the coal and uranium mines of the Baranya district; the coal mines, steel works and power stations of the Borsod district; the town Miskolc, the centre of the chemical industry: Diosgyor, a heavy industrial centre; Szolnok, a centre of the iron industry; Gyor, an industrial centre.

This list shows that the base of the Revolution was in the large factories; that the vanguard of the Revolution was the industrial working class.

The workers spontaneously created a system of workers’ councils which became the leaders of the entire people in revolt. These workers’ councils which sprang up in different parts of the country immediately faced the task of federating. They were groping towards the establishment of a Soviet Republic.

As an example of the workers’ councils’ activities, let us take the one in Miskolc, one of the most important. It was elected on 24 October by all the workers in the town. It organised itself as a government of the district; formed a workers’ militia; declared and organised a strike in all industries except the power stations, public transport and hospitals, and sent a delegation to Budapest to maintain contact with the revolutionaries in the capital. In a broadcast on 27 October the Council of Miskolc declared that it had taken power in the whole region of Borsod.

It put forward the following demands: Withdrawal of Russian troops, formation of a new government, a general amnesty for all revolutionaries, and the right to strike. In a broadcast on 25 October, the Council demanded “a government containing communists devoted to the principle of proletarian internationalism”.

Another workers’ council, that of Szeged, demanded the withdrawal of Russian troops, and workers control Of factories.

Following the workers initiative from below, on 27 October the Central Council of Trade Unions declared:

Workers! The wish Of the working class has been realised: enterprises will be managed by workers’ councils. This completes the process of taking over the factories as the property of the people. Workers, technicians! You can now regard the enterprises entirely as your own. From now on you can manage them yourselves. The exaggerated central management of the factories which prevailed up to now will cease, along with the faults arising from it. [10]

The tasks of the Workers’ Councils were defined thus:

A Workers’ Council shall decide all questions connected with production, administration and management of the plant. Therefore: (a) it should elect from among its own members a council of 5-15 members, which in accordance with direct instructions of the Workers’ Council, shall decide questions connected with the management of the factory-it will hire and fire workers, economic and technical leaders; (b) it will draw up the factory’s production plan and define tasks connected with technical development; (c) the Workers’ Council will choose the wage-system best suited to conditions peculiar to the factory, decide on the introduction of that system as well as on the development of social and cultural amenities in the factory; (d) the Workers’ Council will decide on investments and the utilisation of profits; (e) the Workers’ Council will determine the working conditions of the mine, factory, etc.; (f) the Workers’ Council will be responsible to all the workers and to the State for correct management. [11]

The demands of the Workers’ Councils were profoundly socialist and consistently democratic.

The Stalinist facade collapsed under workers’ blows.

By official accounts the support for the government had previously been tremendous. In the last elections, held in 1949, the Communist-led list of candidates got 95.6 per cent of the total vote. [12]

Again the Communist organisations were very massive. In May 1954 it was claimed that in the Party alone, there were 864,607 members, in the Youth League 577,000, and in the Union of Hungarian Democratic Women, 560,000. [13] These two millions by themselves constitute a fifth of the population of Hungary, and if children are excluded, nearly half!

The only factor defending state capitalism from total collapse was the military might of Russia.

Even after the military collapse of the revolution workers’ resistance continued. For five long weeks the general strike carried on.



In conclusion

We shall end this book the way Stalinist Russia. A Marxist Analysis, written by the present author in 1954, ended [14]

In the countries of capitalist democracy, and to a large extent even in Tsarist Russia and the colonial countries, the class struggle of the proletariat initially takes the form of partial, ‘peaceful’ organised and ‘planned’ economic struggles. In Stalinist Russia, because of the brutal police oppression, such struggles are excluded. Here, as in the armies of the capitalist countries where the soldiers are continuously under the whip of martial law, the molecular process of crystallisation of mass opposition to the rulers does not receive clear direct external expression. Only when conditions have become unendurable and it becomes clear to the masses that a decisive victory is possible, are they able to join battle. It is even more difficult for the Russian masses to strike today than it was for the soldiers in Tsarist Russia. The Tsarist soldiers rebelled only after they saw that the mass of the people was in revolt. The workers’ barricades gave the soldiers confidence in the people’s strength and inspired them to revolt against their officers. In Russia today there is no group of people which is not under closer surveillance than ever the Tsarist army was. Only when the anger and resentment embedded in the hearts of the masses cumulates till it is ready to burst, will the masses break out in revolt. (A proletarian revolution in the west can obviously accelerate this process to an incalculable extent). The class struggle in Stalinist Russia must inevitably express itself in gigantic spontaneous outbursts of millions. Till then it will seem on the surface that the volcano is extinct. Till then the omnipotent sway of the secret police will make it impossible for a revolutionary party to penetrate the masses or organise any systematic action whatsoever. The spontaneous revolution, in smashing the iron heel of the Stalinist bureaucracy, will open the field for the free activity of all the parties, tendencies and groups in the working class. It will be the first chapter in the victorious proletarian revolution. The final chapter can be written only by the masses, self-mobilised, conscious of socialist aims and the methods of their achievement, and led by a revolutionary marxist party.




1. Serge, op. cit., p. 166.

2. G. Fischer, Soviet Opposition to Stalin. A Case Study in World War II, Cambridge (Mass.) 1952, p. 106.

3. ibid., p. 138.

4. Answers to Questions of Interest to Soviet Citizens Located Abroad as Displaced Persons (Russian), Moscow 1949, p. 3. Quoted by G. Fischer, ibid., pp. 111–112.

5. Fischer, ibid., p. 206.

6. See the UPA newspaper in Volhynia, No. 1, 1943, Defence of the Ukraine. Quoted by Vs.F. in The Russian Ukrainian Underground, New International, April 1949.

7. See the book, The Position of the Ukrainian Liberation Movement, published by the UPA illegally in the Ukraine in 1947 and re-issued by the emigration in Germany in 1948. ibid.

8. ibid.

9. ibid.

10. National Communism and Popular Revolt in Eastern Europe, edited by p. E. Zinner, New York 1956, p. 422.

11. The Hungarian Revolution, edited by M.I. Lasky, London 1957, pp. 100–101.

12. Daily Worker, 14 November 1949.

13. For a Lasting Peace, For a People’s Democracy!, 28 May, 1954.

14. T. Cliff, Stalinist Russia. A Marxist Analysis, London 1955, p. 231.


Last updated on 20 September 2018