The most important event in the history of Socialism was, undoubtedly the Russian Revolution. For the first time a modern working class presented itself as the conscious arbiter of the fate of society, for the first time it intervened consciously in the political struggle to fashion its environment.
In the course of this intervention, the Russian working class threw up methods of struggle, forms of self-mobilisation, ways of channelling its resources, which have been a model for the proletariat of the rest of the world. These “Lessons of October” – embodied in the concrete forms of Soviet democracy, workers’ control of production, workers’ control of the state through a workers’ militia – are an imperative study for the class that is to achieve Socialism. Even though some of these forms remained rudimentary, knowledge of them is invaluable for gauging the difficulties facing the working class and for choosing the methods for overcoming these difficulties.
But if the revolution of 1917 is of such significance to the working class in showing the route to be taken from potential power to actual power, its subsequent degeneration is of even greater significance as the cause of the deepest confusion in working class ideology that has ever existed.
The nature of post-revolutionary Russia is the vexed question of proletarian politics. Is Stalinist Russia a socialist state or not? Is this monstrous travesty of democracy, with its mass purges and framed trials, the inevitable end of the most democratic struggle that can be undertaken, the proletarian revolution? How explain the anti-working class activities of the Communist Parties throughout the world, from their agitation for waging an imperialist war under the slogan of anti-Fascism to their denigration of that war during the Stalin-Hitler honeymoon; from their collaboration with the Capitalists in strike-breaking, once they had swung round to the support of war again, to their post-war collaboration with these same Capitalists in breaking the back of the revolutionary proletariat of Continental Europe after the war; from their enthusiastic support of the use of the A-bomb in 1945 to their “moral” indignation at the idea of Hydrogen warfare ten years later? How explain away the fact that the most militant proletariat in Europe, the German working class, which has the best vantage point for evaluating the workings of a “Communist” regime, is also the least interested in the agents of that regime, the Communist Party of Germany? How explain away the fact that the workers of Hungary had to take to arms to defend their freedom against Russian tanks? These, and similar questions, can be answered only if the nature of the Stalinist regime in Russia is clearly understood. And only on the basis of such understanding can the struggle for Socialism be furthered.
The aim of the present work is to try and help in finding the key to such an understanding. The author shows that even after a victorious proletarian revolution, a backward country like Russia, isolated as it was by the defeat of the Socialist revolutions in Europe, and under the constant threat of imperialist attack, can exist only if it achieves military power equal to that of its enemies. Military power can be attained only by massive investments which, under conditions of backwardness, means forced savings, freezing the level of consumption of the masses, extracting as much surplus value from the workers as is possible in order to accumulate capital. But in order to squeeze surplus value, the directors of the process must be beyond the control of the masses who are squeezed, there must be a class differentiation, a repudiation of the extreme working class democracy which the October Revolution ushered into the world. The Revolution must be betrayed in order to build the system of State Capitalism.
Once ensconced and consolidated, the ruling class of the state capitalist regime behaves like every other ruling class: it defends its filched privileges from those that it has robbed, the workers; it uses its monopoly of the means of mass education and propaganda to justify its rule to its own and other working classes and hold the dreaded threat of proletarian consciousness at arm’s length; it uses the working class as much as it is able in its battles with other, competing ruling classes, and, given the historic conditions of its birth in a proletarian revolution and its later isolation from close scrutiny, it is able to do so more effectively than any other ruling class in the world.
The present work, however, does not limit itself to an analysis of the genesis and nature of Russian state capitalism. It also tries to show the laws of motion of this system after it has come into being.
The first part of the present work – Book I – shows how state capitalism was the product of the backwardness of Russia, when the country found itself besieged by world capitalism; the second part – Book II – deals with state capitalism as it reached maturity, when the industrial revolution had been left behind and a sophisticated. technologically advanced economy and society were already in being. The crisis of mature state capitalism expresses itself in various ways – de-Stalinization, relaxation of terror and political pressure, changes in the labour laws, etc., etc. Book II shows the permanent nature of the crisis of Russian state capitalism.
Book I of the present work is a reproduction with minor changes of a work published originally in 1955 under the, title Stalinist Russia. A Marxist Analysis. Book II was first published in 1964.
Needless to say, if the defeat of the European working class was the greatest single factor in the defeat of the Russian Revolution, the effect of an incisive struggle for Socialism by this same working class would be the greatest single factor in a new and greater edition of the Russian Revolution, a revolution which would, in present circumstances, initiate a firmly based Socialist society in that country as part of a Socialist world.
This is the theme of Cliff’s work. His method is that of Marxist analysis, a continuation of the great tradition of facing the problems burgeoning in the everyday experience of the working class. Only the conscious intervention of the whole working class in political activity can solve these problems, and with them the problems of threatened civilisation. Cliff’s work can aid in the development of such consciousness: as such it is of more than transient importance.
The reader unused to the conceptual scheme of Marxist theory may experience some difficulty in reading the following pages from cover to cover. Chapters V, VI and especially Chapter VIII are liable to present some difficulty, and should be left till the end.
Readers who have had some experience of Marxist thought, especially as developed by Trotsky and the Fourth International, would probably do well to preface their reading of the main body of the work by perusing Chapter VII, which, in a sense, served as the point of departure and sounding board for the entire work.
Last updated on 22.10.2002