Tony Cliff

Trotsky: The darker the night the brighter the star

13. The Revolution Betrayed

THE LAST BOOK Trotsky managed to finish was The Revolution Betrayed. Its timing was significant. The book was completed just before the Moscow show trial that led to the execution of Zinoviev, Kamenev and a number of other Old Bolsheviks. Publication was in May 1937 just after the trial of Radek, Piatakov and Sokolnikov and on the eve of the execution of Marshal Tukhachevsky and the other generals. This gave special force to the title of the book.

Stalin had just proclaimed the Soviet Union to have achieved socialism. The crucial aim of The Revolution Betrayed was to refute this assertion, and at the same time to produce a comprehensive historical analysis of the Stalinist degeneration of the Russian revolution.

In defence of socialism

TROTSKY BRILLIANTLY juxtaposed socialism to the actual reality of Stalinist Russia. He describes the deep contradictions of Russian society:

material and cultural inequalities, governmental repressions, political groupings, and the struggle of factions. Police repression hushes up and distorts a political struggle, but does not eliminate it. [1]

The Stalinist bureaucracy was pressing forward inequalities through piece work, Stakhanovism and wage differentials more extreme than those in capitalist countries.

In scope of inequality in the payment of labour, the Soviet Union has not only caught up to, but far surpassed the capitalist countries! [2]

Side by side with the differentiation inside the proletariat there were special open and hidden privileges for the bureaucracy: special shops, luxury goods, education and other benefits. Increasing economic inequality dominated Soviet society.

If you count not only salaries and all forms of service in kind, and every type of semi-legal supplementary source of income, but also add the share of the bureaucracy and the Soviet aristocracy in the theatres, rest palaces, hospitals, sanatoriums, summer resorts, museums, clubs, athletic institutions, etc., etc., it would probably be necessary to conclude that 15 percent, or, say, 20 percent, of the population enjoys not much less of the wealth than is enjoyed by the remaining 80 to 85 per cent. [3]

The best litmus test for social inequality is the position of women in society, Trotsky argues. The ‘problem of problems’ – women’s equality – was not solved in Russia, indeed working women were in conflict with the bureaucracy which, to defend its rule and privileges transformed every aspect of society in a bourgeois direction. Trotsky wrote:

The October revolution honestly fulfilled its obligations in relation to woman. The young government not only gave her all political and legal rights in equality with man, but, what is more important, did all that it could, and in any case incomparably more than any other government ever did, actually to secure her access to all forms of economic and cultural work ... The revolution made a heroic effort to destroy the so-called ‘family hearth’ – that archaic, stuffy and stagnant institution in which the woman of the toiling classes performs galley labour from childhood to death. The place of the family as a shut-in petty enterprise was to be occupied, according to the plans, by a finished system of social care and accommodation: maternity houses, créches, kindergartens, schools, social dining rooms, social laundries, first-aid stations, hospitals, sanatoria, athletic organisations, moving-picture theatres, etc. The complete absorption of the housekeeping functions of the family by institutions of the socialist society, uniting all generations in solidarity and mutual aid, was to bring to woman, and thereby to the loving couple, a real liberation from the thousand-year-old fetters. Up to now this problem of problems has not been solved. The forty million Soviet families remain in their overwhelming majority nests of medievalism, female slavery and hysteria, daily humiliation of children, feminine and childish superstition. We must permit ourselves no illusions on this account. For that very reason, the consecutive changes in the approach to the problem of the family in the Soviet Union best of all characterise the actual nature of Soviet society and the evolution of its ruling stratum. [4]

One side of the rehabilitated bourgeois family was the appearance of widespread prostitution:

that is, the extreme degradation of woman in the interests of men who can pay for it. In the autumn of the past year Izvestia suddenly informed its readers, for example, of the arrest in Moscow of ‘as many as a thousand women who were secretly selling themselves on the streets of the proletarian capital.’ ... it is unforgivable in the presence of prostitution to talk about the triumph of socialism. [5]

The rehabilitation and glorification of the bourgeois family remained, and reinforced the oppression of women. This rehabilitation was a by-product of the strengthening of the power of the bureaucracy.

The most compelling motive of the present cult of the family is undoubtedly the need of the bureaucracy for a stable hierarchy of relations, and for the disciplining of youth by means of 40,000,000 points of support for authority and power. [6]

Spiritual life was stifled and the youth was subjected to authoritarianism and hypocrisy.

The school and the social life of the student are saturated with formalism and hypocrisy. The children have learnt to sit through innumerable deadly dull meetings, with their inevitable honorary presidium, their chants in honour of the dear leaders, their predigested righteous debates in which, quite in the manner of their elders, they say one thing and think another ...

The more thoughtful teachers and childrens’ writers, in spite of the enforced optimism, can not always conceal their horror in the presence of this spirit of repression, falsity and boredom ... Independent character like independent thought cannot develop without criticism. The Soviet youth, however, are simply denied the elementary opportunity to exchange thoughts, make mistakes and try out and correct mistakes, their own as well as others’. All questions ... are decided for them. Theirs only to carry out the decision and sing the glory of those who made it ...

This explains the fact that out of the millions upon millions of Communist youth there has not emerged a single big figure.

In throwing themselves into engineering, science, literature, sport or chess playing, the youth are, so to speak, winning their spurs for future great action. In all these spheres they compete with the badly prepared older generation, and often equal and beat them. But at every contact with politics they burn their fingers. [7]

The Stalin era ‘will go down in the history of artistic creation pre-eminently as an epoch of mediocrities, laureates and toadies.’ Under Stalin ‘the literary schools were strangled one after the other’.

The process of extermination took place in all ideological spheres, and it took place more decisively since it was more than half unconscious. The present ruling stratum considers itself called not only to control spiritual creation politically, but also to prescribe its roads of development. The method of command-without-appeal extends in like measure to the concentration camps, to scientific agriculture and to music. The central organ of the party prints anonymous directive editorials, having the character of military orders, in architecture, literature, dramatic art, the ballet, to say nothing of philosophy, natural science and history. The bureaucracy superstitiously fears whatever does not serve it directly, as well as whatever it does not understand. [8]

Above all Trotsky argues that the massive totalitarian state was incompatible with socialism. In his State and Revolution Lenin had rescued from oblivion the Marxian notion of the ‘withering away of the state’. Trotsky writes:

However you may interpret the nature of the present Soviet state, one thing is indubitable: at the end of its second decade of existence, it has not only not died away, but not begun to ‘die away’. Worse than that, it has grown into a hitherto unheard of apparatus of compulsion. The bureaucracy has not only not disappeared, yielding its place to the masses, but has turned into an uncontrolled force dominating the masses. The army not only has not been replaced by an armed people, but has given birth to a privileged officers’ caste, crowned with marshals, while the people, ‘the armed bearers of the dictatorship’, are now forbidden in the Soviet Union to carry even non explosive weapons. With the utmost stretch of fancy it would be difficult to imagine a contrast more striking than that which exists between the schema of the workers’ state according to Marx, Engels and Lenin, and the actual state now headed by Stalin. [9]

The Red Army was the most extreme embodiment of Stalinist reaction. A most

deadly blow to the principles of the October revolution was struck by the decree restoring the officers’ corps in all its bourgeois magnificence ...

The army is a copy of society and suffers from all its diseases, usually at a higher temperature ...

In September 1935, civilised humanity, friends and enemies alike, learned with surprise that the Red Army would now be crowned with an officers’ hierarchy, beginning with lieutenant and ending with marshal. [10]

Stalin polluted the very idea of socialism. Socialism signifies self-government of the toilers. The Stalin regime oppresses the toilers. Socialism signifies uninterrupted advance towards universal equality. Stalinism has established revolting privileges. Socialism aims at the flowering of a rounded personality. Stalinism degrades all individuals. Socialism signifies unselfish and humane relations between individuals. Stalinism infuses social and personal relations with greed, lies and treachery.

The theory of the ‘degenerated workers’ state’

BESIDES refuting the Stalinist claim that socialism had been established in the Soviet Union, The Revolution Betrayed also aimed to give a comprehensive historical and social analysis of the degeneration of the Russian revolution.

Trotsky, using the historical materialist method, started from the economic development of the Soviet Union. He juxtaposed the enormous rise in the production of iron, steel, oil, coal and electricity with ‘the stagnation and decay in almost the whole capitalist world’.

... by concentrating the means of production in the hands of the state, the revolution made it possible to apply new and incomparably more effective industrial methods. [11]

Trotsky concluded from this, that

Socialism has demonstrated its right to victory, not on the pages of Das Kapital, but in an industrial arena comprising a sixth part of the earth’s surface – not in the language of dialectics, but in the language of steel, cement and electricity ... thanks solely to a proletarian revolution a backward country has achieved in less than ten years successes unexampled in history. [12]

But this demonstration of ‘socialism’s right to victory’ was by no means the same as the actual achievement of victory. Socialism requires a higher economic level than that given under capitalism, and this the Soviet Union was far from having achieved.

The dynamic coefficients of Soviet industry are unexampled. But they are still far from decisive. The Soviet Union is lifting itself from a terribly low level, while the capitalist countries are slipping down from a very high one. The correlation of forces at the present moment is determined not by the rate of growth, but by contrasting the entire power of the two camps as expressed in material accumulations, technique, culture, and, above all, the productivity of human labour. When we approach the matter from this statistical point of view, the situation changes at once, and to the extreme disadvantage of the Soviet Union. [13]

The average individual productivity of labour in the Soviet Union is still very low. In the best metal foundry, according to the acknowledgment of its director, the output of iron and steel per individual worker is a third as much as the average output of American foundries. A comparison of average figures in both countries would probably give a ratio of 1 to 5 or worse. [14]

It is in the backwardness of Soviet society that the roots of the bureaucracy were to be found: the bureaucracy appeared as a gendarme in the process of distribution of scarce products.

The basis of bureaucratic rule is the poverty of society in objects of consumption, with the resulting struggle of each against all. When there is enough goods in a store, the purchasers can come whenever they want to. When there is little goods, the purchasers are compelled to stand in line. When the lines are very long, it is necessary to appoint a policeman to keep order. Such is the starting point of the power of the Soviet bureaucracy. It ‘knows’ who is to get something and who has to wait. [15]

Of course the bureaucracy would not forget its own personal interests.

Nobody who has wealth to distribute ever omits himself ... [the bureaucracy] has attained such a degree of social and moral alienation from the popular masses, that it cannot now permit any control over either its activities or its income. [16]

Notwithstanding the massive and increasing privileges of the bureaucracy, notwithstanding the oppression of the proletariat, of women, notwithstanding the complete totalitarian nature of the state, the strangulation of the party by the Stalinist bureaucracy, notwithstanding the massive reaction in the field of the family, culture, etc. – Trotsky still considered the USSR to be a workers’ state. The bureaucracy had expropriated the proletariat politically, but the basic social conquest of the October Revolution – state property and the planned economy – remained intact.

As a conscious political force the bureaucracy has betrayed the revolution. But a victorious revolution is fortunately not only a programme and a banner, not only political institutions, but also a system of social relations. To betray it is not enough. You have to overthrow it. [17]

Correspondingly the Soviet Union remained a workers’ state.

The nationalisation of the land, the means of industrial production, transport and exchange, together with the monopoly of foreign trade, constitute the basis of the Soviet social structure. Through these relations, established by the proletarian revolution, the nature of the Soviet Union as a proletarian state is for us basically defined. [18]

Although the bureaucracy is ‘the sole privileged and commanding stratum in the Soviet society’ [19] it is nevertheless not a ruling class.

Privileges have only half their worth, if they cannot be transmitted to one’s children. But the right of testament is inseparable from the right of property. It is not enough to be the director of a trust; it is necessary to be a stockholder. The victory of the bureaucracy in this decisive sphere would mean its conversion into a new possessing class. On the other hand, the victory of the proletariat over the bureaucracy would ensure a revival of the socialist revolution. [20]

The Soviet bureaucracy has expropriated the proletariat politically in order by methods of its own to defend the social conquests. But the very fact of its appropriation of political power in a country where the principal means of production are in the hands of the state, creates a new and hitherto unknown relation between the bureaucracy and the riches of the nation ... The bureaucracy has not yet created social supports for its dominion in the form of special types of property. It is compelled to defend state property as the source of its power and its income. In this aspect of its activity it still remains a weapon of proletarian dictatorship.

The attempt to represent the Soviet bureaucracy as a class of ‘state capitalists’ would obviously not withstand criticism. The bureaucracy has neither stocks nor bonds. It is recruited, supplemented and renewed in the manner of an administrative hierarchy, independently of any special property relations of its own. The individual bureaucrat cannot transmit to his heirs his rights in the exploitation of the state apparatus. The bureaucracy enjoys its privileges under the form of an abuse of power. It conceals its income; it pretends that as a special social group it does not even exist. Its appropriation of a vast share of the national income has the character of social parasitism. All this makes the position of the commanding Soviet stratum in the highest degree contradictory, equivocal and undignified, notwithstanding the completeness of its power and the smoke-screen of flattery that conceals it. [21]

As the bureaucracy is not a class, but only a parasitic caste, its removal will not be an act of social revolution, argued Trotsky, but a political revolution.

The Soviet bureaucracy will not give up its position without a fight. The development leads obviously to the road of revolution.

... the bureaucracy can be removed only by a revolutionary force ...

The revolution which the bureaucracy is preparing against itself will not be social, like the October revolution of 1917. It is not a question this time of changing the economic foundations of society, of replacing certain forms of property with other forms. History has known elsewhere not only social revolutions which substituted the bourgeois for the feudal regime, but also political revolutions which, without destroying the economic foundations of society, swept out an old ruling upper crust (1830 and 1848 in France, February 1917 in Russia, etc.). The overthrow of the Bonapartist caste will, of course, have deep social consequences, but in itself it will be confined within the limits of political revolution. [22]

What were the prospects for the Soviet Union? On this Trotsky’s answer was completely unequivocal.

Can we ... expect that the Soviet Union will come out of the coming great war without defeat? To this frankly posed question, we will answer as frankly: if the war should remain only a war, the defeat of the Soviet Union would be inevitable. In a technical, economic and military sense, imperialism is incomparably more strong. If it is not paralysed by revolution in the West, imperialism will sweep away the regime which issued from the October revolution. [23]

Without the interference of revolution, the social bases of the Soviet Union must be crushed, not only in the case of defeat, but also in the case of victory.

More than two years ago a programme announcement, The Fourth International and War, outlined this perspective in the following words: ‘Under the influence of the critical need of the state for articles of prime necessity, the individualistic tendencies of the peasant economy will receive a considerable reinforcement, and the centrifugal forces within the collective farms will increase with every month ... In the heated atmosphere of war we may expect ... the attracting of foreign allied capital, a breach in the monopoly of foreign trade, a weakening of state control of the trusts, a sharpening of competition between the trusts, conflicts between the trusts and the workers, etc. ... In other words, in the case of a long war, if the world proletariat is passive, the inner social contradictions of the Soviet Union not only might, but must, lead to a bourgeois Bonapartist counter-revolution.’ The events of the last two years have redoubled the force of this prognosis. [24]

Fundamental to Trotsky’s rejection of the view that the Stalinist bureaucracy was a ruling class was his expectation of its early demise, as previously cited: ‘Might we not place ourselves in a ludicrous position if we affixed to the Bonapartist oligarchy the nomenclature of a new ruling class just a few years or even a few months prior to its inglorious downfall?’ [25]

Trotsky’s analysis of the Stalinist regime in The Revolution Betrayed has very great strengths. First of all, it is thoroughly Marxist, rooted in historical materialism. It takes as its starting point the objective economic, social and political situation – national and international – in which the Soviet Union found itself. In this it differs radically from the common idealistic explanation of Stalinism as a product of the personality of Stalin – ’the cult of the individual’, as explained by Khrushchev – or a product of the ideology and form of party organisation of the Bolsheviks – as explained by liberals, social democrats and anarchists.

The analysis is thoroughly internationalist. It is rooted in the theory of the permanent revolution that takes the international nature of capitalism as the decisive factor in the degeneration of the Russian Revolution and the rise of Stalinism

The Revolution Betrayed is an uncompromising critique of Stalinism as a system which has nothing to do with socialism. The Revolution Betrayed is a classic indictment of the bureaucracy. It is thoroughly revolutionary; for in fighting Stalinism it makes no concession to social democracy. While being strongly anti-Stalinist, it avoids descending into Stalinophobia which is akin to reactionary anti-communism.

Trotsky’s analysis of the Soviet Union thus sustained the key characteristic of Trotskyism – revolutionary Marxist opposition to both Stalinism and world capitalism.

However, there are serious weaknesses in Trotsky’s analysis of Stalinist Russia. These are a natural product of meeting an historically unprecedented phenomenon: a workers’ state that survived a civil war but remained besieged by massive enemy forces. Trotsky had no time to stand back from current developments in the Soviet state. It is far easier with hindsight to see the weaknesses in Trotsky’s analysis of the Stalinist regime.

Critique of Trotsky’s position

IT WAS IN 1948 that I wrote The Nature of Stalinist Russia, a duplicated document of some 142 pages, examining Trotsky’s definition of Russia as a degenerated workers’ state and criticising it. In this section I largely draw on extracts from that document.

Can a state not under workers’ control be a workers’ state? In Trotsky’s works we find two different and quite contradictory definitions of a workers’ state. According to one, the criterion of a workers’ state is whether the proletariat has direct or indirect control, no matter how restricted, over the state power: that is, whether the proletariat can get rid of the bureaucracy by reform alone, without the need for revolution. In 1931 he wrote:

The recognition of the present Soviet State as a workers’ state not only signifies that the bourgeoisie can conquer power in no other way than by armed uprising but also that the proletariat of the USSR has not forfeited the possibility of submitting the bureaucracy to it, or reviving the Party again and of mending the regime of the dictatorship – without a new revolution, with the methods and on the road of reform. [26]

In a letter to Borodai, a member of the opposition group called Democratic Centralists, Trotsky expressed this idea even more clearly. The letter is undated, but all indications show that it was written at the end of 1928. He wrote:

‘Is the degeneration of the apparatus and of the Soviet power a fact? That is the second question,’ you write. There is no doubt that the degeneration of the Soviet apparatus is considerably more advanced than the same process in the Party apparatus. Nevertheless, it is the Party that decides. At present, this means: the Party apparatus. The question thus comes down to the same thing: is the proletarian kernel of the Party, assisted by the working class, capable of triumphing over the autocracy of the Party apparatus which is fusing with the state apparatus? Whoever replies in advance that it is incapable, thereby speaks not only of the necessity of a new party on a new foundation, but also of the necessity of a second and new proletarian revolution. [27]

Later in the same letter Trotsky says:

If the Party is a corpse, a new party must be built on a new spot, and the working class must be told about it openly. If Thermidor is completed, and if the dictatorship of the proletariat is liquidated, the banner of the second proletarian revolution must be unfurled. That is how we would act if the road of reform, for which we stand, proved hopeless. [28]

Trotsky’s second definition had a fundamentally different criterion. No matter how independent the state machine may be from the masses, and even if the only way of getting rid of the bureaucracy is by revolution, so long as the means of production were state-owned, the state remains a workers’ state with the proletariat the ruling class.

Three conclusions are to be drawn from this:

  1. Trotsky’s second definition of the workers’ state negates the first.
  2. If the second definition is correct, the Communist Manifesto was incorrect in saying: ‘the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of the ruling class.’ Furthermore, in this case, neither the Paris Commune nor the Bolshevik dictatorship were workers’ states as the former did not statify the means of production at all, and the latter did not do so for some time.
  3. If the state is the repository of the means of production and the workers do not control it, they do not own the means of production, ie, they are not the ruling class. The first definition admits this, the second avoids this but does not disprove it.

Russia’s definition as a workers state and the Marxist theory of the state

THE ASSUMPTION that Russia was a degenerated workers’ state led inevitably to conclusions in direct contradiction to the Marxist concept of the state. An analysis of the role of what Trotsky called political revolution and social counter-revolution will prove this.

During bourgeois political revolutions, for instance the French revolutions of 1830 and 1848, the form of government changed to a greater or lesser degree, but the type of state remained the same – ‘special bodies of armed men, prisons, etc.’ independent of the people and serving the capitalist class. Hitler’s victory in Germany was another example. It brought with it a large-scale purge of the state apparatus, but the state machine as a whole was not smashed, remaining fundamentally the same.

However, there is a much closer connection between content and form in a workers’ state than in any other state. Therefore, even if we assume that political revolutions can take place in a workers’ state, one thing is clear – the same workers’ state machine must continue to exist after the proletarian political revolution as before. If Russia was a workers’ state, then if the workers’ party carried out a large-scale ‘purge’ in a political revolution, it could and would use the existing state machine. On the other hand, if the bourgeoisie came to power, it could not use the existing state machine, but would be compelled to smash it and build another on its ruins.

Were these the conditions obtaining in Russia? To pose the question correctly goes half-way to answering it. It is surely evident that a revolutionary party could not have used the KGB nor the bureaucracy nor the standing army. The revolutionary party would have had to smash the existing state and replace it with soviets, people’s militia, etc.

As against this, if the bourgeoisie came to power it could certainly use the KGB, the regular army, etc. Trotsky partially avoided the application of the Marxist theory of the state in this way by saying that the revolutionary party ‘would begin with the restoration of democracy in the trade unions and the Soviets’. But actually there were neither trade unions nor soviets in Russia in which democracy could be restored. The question was not one of reforming the state machine, but of smashing it and building a new state.

If the proletariat would have had to smash the existing state machine on coming to power while the bourgeoisie could use it, Russia was not a workers’ state. Even if we assume that neither the proletariat nor the bourgeoisie could use the existing state apparatus without ‘purgation of the State apparatus’ necessarily involving such a deep change as to transform it qualitatively, we must again conclude that Russia was not a workers’ state. To believe that the proletariat and the bourgeoisie could use the same state machine as the instrument of their supremacy was tantamount to a refutation of the revolutionary content of the theory of the state as expressed by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky himself.

The form of property considered independent of the relations of production – a metaphysical abstraction

EVERY MARXIST recognises that to consider private property independently of the relations of production, is to create a supra-historical abstraction. Human history knows the private property of the slave system, the feudal system, the capitalist system, all of which are fundamentally different from one another. Marx ridiculed Proudhon’s attempt to define private property independently of the relations of production. What transforms the means of production into capital is the sum total of the relations of production. As Marx said:

In each historical epoch, property has developed differently and under a set of entirely different social relations. Thus to define bourgeois property is nothing less than to give an exposition of all the social relations of bourgeois production. To try to give a definition of property as of an independent relation, a category apart – an abstract eternal idea-can be nothing but an illusion of metaphysics or jurisprudence. [29]

All the categories which express relations between people in the capitalist process of production – value, price, wages, etc. – constitute an integral part of bourgeois private property. It is the laws of movement of the capitalist system which define the historical social character of capitalist private property, and which differentiate it from other sorts of private property. Proudhon, who abstracted the form of property from the relations of production, ‘entangled the whole of these economic relations [the capitalist relations of production] in the general juristic conception of “property”.’ Therefore, ‘Proudhon could not get beyond the answer which Brissot, in a similar work, had already, before 1789, given in the same words: “Property is theft”.’ [30]

That one private property can have a different historical character to another, can be the stronghold of a different class than another, was made quite clear by Marx. That the same can apply to statified property also, is not so evident. This is because history in the main witnessed the class struggle on the basis of private property. Cases of class differentiation not based on private property are not very numerous and on the whole not very well known. Nevertheless they have existed.

As an example, let us take a chapter from the history of Europe: the Catholic church in the Middle Ages. The Church had tremendous tracts of land on which hundreds of thousands of peasants laboured. The relations between the Church and the peasants were the same feudal relations as existed between the feudal manor owner and his peasants. The Church as such was feudal. At the same time none of the bishops, cardinals, etc., had individual rights over feudal property. It was the relations of production which defined the class character of the Church property, which was feudal, notwithstanding the fact that it was not private.

The Russian bureaucracy – a gendarme who appears in the process of distribution?

WE HAVE quoted Trotsky to the effect that in Russia the scarcity of goods compelled purchasers to stand in a queue and the bureaucracy’s function was to control the queue. Was this the case? Did the bureaucracy appear as a gendarme only in the process of distribution, or did it appear in the process of production as a whole, of which the former was but a subordinate part? This issue is of enormous theoretical importance.

Before attempting to answer this question, let us examine what Marx thought about the connection between the relations of production and distribution. Marx wrote:

To the single individual distribution naturally appears as a law established by the society determining his position in the sphere of production, within which he produces, and thus antedating production. At the outset the individual has no capital, no landed property. From his birth he is assigned to wage-labour by the social forces of distribution. But this very condition of being assigned to wage labour is the result of the existence of capital and landed property as independent agents of production.

From the point of view of society as a whole, distribution seems to antedate and to determine production in another way as well, as a pre-economic fact, so to say. A conquering people divides the land among the conquerors establishing thereby a certain division and form of landed property and determining the character of production; or, it turns the conquered people into slaves and thus makes slave labour the basis of production. Or, a nation, by revolution, breaks up large estates into small parcels of land and by this new distribution imparts to production a new character. Or, legislation perpetuates land ownership in large families or distributes labour as an hereditary privilege and thus fixes it in castes. In all of these cases, and they are all historic, it is not distribution that seems to be organised and determined by production, but on the contrary, production by distribution.

In the most shallow conception of distribution, the latter appears as the distribution of products and to that extent as further removed from, and quasi-independent of production. But before distribution means distribution of products, it is first a distribution of the means of production, and second, what is practically another wording of the same fact, it is a distribution of the members of society among the various kinds of production (the subjection of individuals to certain conditions of production). The distribution of products is manifestly a result of this distribution, which is bound up with the process of production and determines the very organisation of the latter. [31]

This extract from Marx, the essence of which is repeated time and time again throughout his works, is sufficient as a point of departure for the analysis of the place of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the economy.

Let us pose these questions in connection with the Russian bureaucracy:

Did the bureaucracy only administer the distribution of means of consumption among the people, or did it also administer the distribution of the people in the process of production? Did the bureaucracy exercise a monopoly over the control of distribution only, or over the control of the means of production as well? Did it ration means of consumption only or did it also distribute the total labour time of society between accumulation and consumption, between the production of means of production and that of means of consumption? Did the relations of production prevailing in Russia not determine the relations of distribution which comprised a part of them?

Stalinist Russia becomes state capitalist

MARX’S ANALYSIS of capitalism involves a theory of the relations between the exploiters and the exploited, and among the exploiters themselves. The two main features of the capitalist mode of production are: the separation of the workers from the means of production and the transformation of labour power into a commodity which the workers must sell in order to live; and the reinvestment of surplus value – the accumulation of capital – which is forced on the individual capitalists by their competitive struggle with one another. Both these features characterised the Soviet Union during the First Five-Year Plan. The collectivisation of agriculture is closely analogous to the expropriation of the English peasantry – the enclosures which Marx analysed in Capital under the chapter Primitive Accumulation of Capital. In both cases the direct producers were deprived of the land and were therefore forced to sell their labour power. But was the Russian economy under pressure to accumulate capital? On this I wrote the following:

The Stalinist state is in the same position vis-à-vis the total labour time of Russian society as a factory owner vis-à-vis the labour of his employees. In other words, the division of labour is planned. But what is it that determines the actual division of the total labour time of Russian society? If Russia had not to compete with other countries, this division would be absolutely arbitrary. But as it is, Stalin’s decisions are based on factors outside his control, namely the world economy, world competition. From this point of view the Russian state is in a similar position to the owners of a single capitalist enterprise competing with other enterprises.

The rate of exploitation, that is, the ratio between surplus value and wages (s/v) does not depend on the arbitrary will of the Stalinist government but is dictated by world capitalism. The same applies to improvements in technique, or, to use what is practically an equivalent phrase in Marxian terminology, the relation between constant and variable capital, that is, between machinery, building, materials, etc., on the one hand, and wages on the other (c/v). The same, therefore, applies to the division of the total labour time of Russian society between production of means of production and of means of consumption. Hence, when Russia is viewed within the international economy, the basic features of capitalism can be discerned: ‘anarchy in the social division of labour and despotism in that of the workshop are mutual conditions the one of the other ...’ [32]

It was during the First Five-Year Plan that the mode of production in the USSR turned capitalist. It was

now, for the first time, that the bureaucracy sought to create a proletariat and to accumulate capital rapidly. In other words, it was now that the bureaucracy sought to realise the historical mission of the bourgeoisie as quickly as possible. A quick accumulation of capital on the basis of a low level of production, of a small national income per capita, must put a burdensome pressure on the consumption of the masses, on their standard of living. Under such conditions, the bureaucracy, transformed into a personification of capital, for whom the accumulation of capital is the be-all and end-all here, must get rid of all remnants of workers’ control, must substitute conviction in the labour process by coercion, must atomise the working class, must force all social-political life into a totalitarian mould. It is obvious that the bureaucracy, which became necessary in the process of capital accumulation, and which became the oppressor of the workers, would not be tardy in making use of its social supremacy in the relations of production in order to gain advantages for itself in the relations of distribution. Thus industrialisation and technical revolution in agriculture (‘collectivisation’) in a backward country under conditions of siege transformed the bureaucracy from a layer which is under the direct and indirect pressure and control of the proletariat, into a ruling class, into a manager of ‘the general business of society: the direction of labour, affairs of state, justice, science, art and so forth.’

Dialectical historical development, full of contradictions and surprises, brought it about that the first step that the bureaucracy took with the subjective intention of hastening the building of ‘socialism in one country’ became the foundation of the building of state capitalism. [33]

During the First and Second Five Year Plans consumption was completely subordinated to accumulation. Thus the share of consumer goods in total output fell from 67.2 percent in 1927-28 to 39.0 percent in 1940; over the same period the share of producer goods rose from 32.8 percent to 61.0 percent. [34] This is in contrast to the period of 1921-8 when, despite the bureaucratic deformation, consumption was not subordinated to accumulation, but a more or less balanced growth of production, consumption and accumulation took place.

This analysis of Russia as bureaucratic state capitalist follows Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution in taking the capitalist world system as its basic frame of reference. If it is a step forward from Trotsky’s analysis of the Stalinist regime as given in The Revolution Betrayed and elsewhere, it is that it tries to take account of the pressure of world capitalism on the mode of production and the relations of production prevailing in the USSR. Trotsky’s explanation of the development of the Soviet Union did not reveal the dynamic of the system; it restricted itself to forms of property instead of dealing with the relations of production. It did not supply a political economy of the system. The theory of bureaucratic state capitalism tries to do both.

But let it be clear that only by standing on the shoulders of the giant, Leon Trotsky, with his theory of Permanent Revolution, his opposition to the doctrine of ‘socialism in one country’ and his heroic struggle against the Stalinist bureaucracy can one have any grasp of the Stalinist order.

It was the opportunity of looking at the Stalinist regime years after Trotsky’s death that made it possible to develop the theory of bureaucratic state capitalism. It was the transformation of Eastern Europe into Stalin’s satellites that led me to question whether Trotsky’s description of Russia as a degenerated workers’ state was adequate.

Stalin’s satellites and the definition of Russia as a workers’ state

THE APPEARANCE of Communist Party-controlled regimes in Eastern Europe provided the test for the definition of Russia as a workers’ state.

If state property, planning and a monopoly of foreign trade defined a country as a workers’ state, then without doubt Russia as well as her satellites were workers’ states. This presumes that proletarian revolutions had taken place in Eastern Europe. Yet the Stalinist takeover was on the basis of national unity, governmental coalitions with the bourgeoisie and chauvinism which led to the expulsion of millions of German toilers and their families. Could such policies really oil the wheels of the proletarian revolution? If they did, then what was the future of international socialism; what was its historical justification? The Stalinist parties had all the advantages over the international socialists – the state apparatus, mass organisations, money, etc. The only advantage they lacked was an internationalist class ideology. But if it was possible to accomplish the proletarian revolution without this ideology, why should the workers move away from Stalinism?

If a social revolution took place in the East European countries without a revolutionary proletarian leadership, we must conclude that in future social revolutions, as in past ones, the masses will do the fighting but not the leading.

To assume that the satellites were workers’ states means to accept that in principle the proletarian revolution was, like the bourgeois wars were, based on the deception of the people.

If the satellites were workers’ states, Stalin had realised the proletarian revolution; moreover, he carried it out quite speedily. 47 years passed from the Paris Commune to the establishment of the first workers’ state in a country of 140 million people. Less than 40 years passed until a number of additional countries became workers’ states. Poland, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria, East Germany and Czechoslovakia added their 75 million people (and this list does not include the Baltic states, Eastern Poland and Bessarabia, containing 20 million people which were annexed to the USSR.) In the East, China, with 600 million people completed the count. If these countries were workers’ states then who needed Marxism or the Fourth International?

If the satellites were workers’ states, what Marx and Engels said about the socialist revolution being ‘history conscious of itself’ was refuted. Also refuted was Engels’s statement, ‘It is only from this point [the socialist revolution] that men, with full consciousness, will fashion their own history; it is only from this point that the social causes set in motion by men will have, predominantly and in constantly increasing measure, the effects willed by men. It is humanity’s leap from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom.’ [35]

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

In all the class struggles of the past, carried through in the interests of the minorities, and in which, to use the words of Marx, ‘all development took place in opposition to the great masses of the people’, one of the essential conditions of action was the ignorance of these masses with regard to the real aims of the struggle, its material content, and its limits. This discrepancy was, in fact, the specific historical basis of the leading role’ of the ‘enlightened’ bourgeoisie, which corresponded with the role of the masses as docile followers. But, as Marx wrote as early as 1845, ‘as the historical action deepens the number of masses engaged in it must increase!’ The class struggle of the proletariat is the ‘deepest’ of all historical actions up to our day, it embraces the whole of the lower layers of the people, and, from the moment that society became divided into classes, it is the first movement which is in accordance with the real interests of the masses. That is why the enlightenment of the masses with regard to their tasks and methods is an indispensable historical condition for socialist action, just as in former periods the ignorance of the masses was the condition for the action of the dominant classes. [36]

What prevented Trotsky from renouncing the theory that Russia was a workers’ state?

ONE TENDS TO see the future in the trappings of the past. For many years the socialists who fought exploitation fought the owners of private property – the bourgeoisie. When Lenin, Trotsky and the rest of the Bolshevik leaders said that if the workers’ state of Russia remained isolated it was doomed, they envisaged that doom in a definite form – the restoration of private property. State property was seen as the fruit of the struggle of working people. From here it was only one step to the conclusion that if state ownership existed in Russia it was thanks to the bureaucracy’s fear of the working class (Trotsky), and conversely, if the bureaucracy strove to increase its privileges (including the right of inheritance) it strove to restore private ownership. Part experience was Trots) ‘s main impediment in grasping the fact that a triumphant reaction did not inevitably mean a return to the original point of departure. It could result from a decline, in spiral form, in which were combined elements of the pre-revolutionary and of the revolutionary parts. The old capitalist class content could then emerge in a new ‘socialist’ form, thus serving as further confirmation of the law of combined development – a law that Trotsky himself did so much to develop.

In summing up, it may be said that while Trotsky contributed incomparably more than any other Marxist to an understanding of the Stalinist regime, his analysis suffered from one serious limitation – a conservative attachment to formalism, which by its nature is contradictory to Marxism which subordinates form to content.

Toward the denouément of the Stalinist regime

THE ASSUMPTION that the Stalinist regime was inherently superior to capitalism, that it was more progressive, was summed up in Trotsky’s assertion that in Russia the productive forces developed very dynamically as against ‘the stagnation and decline in almost the whole capitalist world.’ [37] Of course, for a Marxist the relative progress of one regime over another is above all expressed in its ability to develop the productive forces further.

It was in line with Trotsky’s statement that the Soviet regime demonstrated the ability speedily to develop the productive forces far beyond what capitalism was able to achieve that Ernest Mandel, a leading member of the Fourth International, wrote in 1956:

The Soviet Union maintains a more or less even rhythm of economic growth, plan after plan, decade after decade, without the progress of the past weighing on the possibilities of the future ... all the laws of development of the capitalist economy which provoke a slowdown in the speed of economic growth are eliminated ... [38]

In the same year, 1956, Isaac Deutscher prophesied that ten years later the standard of living in the USSR would surpass that of Western Europe!

A state capitalist analysis of the Russian regime pointed in an exactly opposite direction: the bureaucracy is, and will become, more and more an impediment to the development of the productive forces. The 1948 document, The Nature of Stalinist Russia, pointed out that while the bureaucracy’s role was to industrialise Russia by raising the productivity of labour, in the process it entered into sharp contradictions.

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 modern production.

Up to a point the bureaucracy can raise the productivity of labour by coercion, but this cannot go on. Failure to raise living standards might have already been leading to a decline in the rate of productivity growth, and to jerky developments of production.’ [39]

In 1964, a 100-page update to a new edition of the book on Russian state capitalism under the title Russia: A Marxist Analysis pointed out that the Soviet economy inherited from Stalin was more and more paralysed by elements of crisis, and became more and more of a dead weight on the development of production.

Stalin’s method of approach to each new failure or difficulty was to increase pressure and terrorism. But this rigid method became not only more and more inhumane but also more and more inefficient. Each new crack of the whip increased the stubborn, even if mute, resistance of the people.

... rigid Stalinist oppression became a brake on all modern industrial progress. [40]

The book made a detailed examination of how the Stalinist regime has become a brake on all branches of the economy. We shall use some quotes from it. On the crisis in agriculture it said:

The legacy Stalin left in the countryside is an agriculture bogged down in a slough of stagnation that has lasted over a quarter of a century. Grain output in 1949-53 was only 12.8 percent larger than in 1910-14 while at the same time the population increased by some 30 percent. Productivity of labour in Soviet agriculture has not reached even a fifth of that in the United States.

This stagnation became a threat to the regime for a number of reasons. First, after the hidden unemployment in the countryside was largely eliminated, it became impossible to syphon off labour to industry on the former scale without raising labour productivity in agriculture. Secondly, it also became impossible beyond a certain point to syphon off capital resources from agriculture to aid the growth of industry.

Stalin’s method of ‘primitive capital accumulation’ from being an accelerator, became a brake, which slowed down the entire economy. [41]

What about industry? Although it had expanded massively over some three and a half decades, the rate of growth was distinctly declining. And productivity, which had grown more rapidly than in the West in the 1930s, was now stuck at a considerably lower level than in Russia’s major rival, the United States.

At the end of 1957 the number of industrial workers in the USSR was 12 percent larger than in the USA ... Nevertheless, even according to Soviet estimates, the product turned out annually by industry in the USSR in 1956 was half that in the USA. [42]

Because of the crisis in agriculture, the lower level of productivity in industry could no longer be compensated for by a massive growth in the number of industrial workers. So the Russian bureaucracy had to pay increasing attention to the proliferation of waste and lower-quality output within the Russian economy.

Several of the sources of waste were spelt out in the book: the compartmentalism that led enterprises to produce goods internally that could be produced more cheaply elsewhere [43]; the hoarding of supplies by managers and workers [44]; the tendency of managers to resist technological innovation [45]; the stress on quantity at the expense of quality [46]; the neglect of maintenance [47]; the proliferation of ‘paper work and muddle’ [48]; the failure to establish the efficient and rational price mechanism which managers required if they were to measure the relative efficiency of different factories [49]. The conclusion:

If by the term ‘planned economy’ we understand an economy in which all component elements are adjusted and regulated into a single rhythm, in which frictions are at a minimum, and, above all, in which foresight prevails in the making of economic decisions – then the Russian economy is anything but planned. Instead of a real plan, strict methods of government dictation are evolved for filling the gaps made in the economy by the decisions and activities of this very government. Therefore, instead of speaking about a Soviet planned economy, it would be much more exact to speak of a bureaucratically directed economy. [50]

Of course there are many accounts of inefficiencies in Russian industry. What characterised the above account was the way the waste and inefficiency were seen as the product of the state capitalist nature of the system.

What are the basic causes for anarchy and wastage in Russian industry?

... high targets of output together with low supplies – like the two arms of a nutcracker – press upon the managers to cheat, cover up production potentialities, inflate equipment and supply needs, play safe, and in general act conservatively. This leads to wastage, and hence lack of supplies and increasing pressures from above on the manager, who once more has to cheat, and so on in a vicious circle.

High targets and low supplies lead to increasing departmentalism. Again a vicious circle.

High targets and low supplies make necessary priority awareness on the part of the managers. But this priority system and ‘campaign’ methods, lacking a clear quantitative guage, lead to wastage and hence to an increasing need.

All these requirements necessitate a multiplicity of control systems, which are in themselves wasteful and in their lack of systematisation and harmony make for even further wastage. Hence the need for more control, for paper pyramids and a plethora of bureaucrats. Again a vicious circle. What has been said about a vicious circle resulting from the conflict between over-ambitious plan targets and low supply basis, applies, mutatis mutandis, to the effect of the poor price mechanism. Thus, for instance, the poor price mechanism leads to departmentalism, priority campaigns, and a plethora of controls. And these lead to increasing faultiness of the price mechanism. Again a vicious circle ...

The great impediments on the path of lowering output targets are the world competition for power and the tremendous military expenditure. [51]

Low productivity was caused not only by mismanagement from above, but also by workers’ resistance from below.

To what extent this low productivity is a result of mismanagement and blunders at the top, or of resistance of workers from below, of course cannot be estimated. The two aspects naturally cannot be divorced. Capitalism in general, and its bureaucratic state capitalist species in particular, is concerned with cutting costs and raising efficiency rather than with satisfying human needs. Its rationality is basically irrational, as it alienates the worker, turning him into a ‘thing’, a manipulated object, instead of a subject who moulds his life according to his own desires. That is why workers sabotage production. [52]

The chapter on Russian workers concluded with these words:

A central worry for the Russian leaders today is how to develop the productivity of the worker. Never has the attitude of the workers to their work meant more to society. By the effort to convert the worker into a cog of the bureaucrats’ productive machine, they kill in him what they most need, productivity and creative ability. Rationalised and accentuated exploitation creates a terrible impediment to a rise in the productivity of labour. The more skilled and integrated the working class the more will it not only resist alienation and exploitation, but also show an increasing contempt for its exploiters and oppressors. The workers have lost respect for the bureaucracy as technical administrators. No ruling class can continue for long to maintain itself in face of popular contempt. [53]

Bureaucratic state capitalism was sinking into a deeper and deeper general crisis. As Marx explained, when a social system becomes a brake on the development of the productive forces, the epoch of the social revolution commences.

Post-mortem of the Stalinist regime

A POST-MORTEM reveals the deep sickness that affected a person when he was alive. The moment of death of a social order can be its moment of truth. When in the autumn and winter of 1989 the East European regimes installed by Stalin’s army began to collapse, followed by the collapse of ‘Communism’ in the USSR itself, a clear judgment on the nature of the Stalinist regime was thereby facilitated.

The perception of the Stalinist regime as socialist, or even a ‘degenerated workers’ state’, i.e. a transitional stage between capitalism and socialism, assumed that it was more progressive than capitalism. For a Marxist this signified first of all that it was able to develop the productive forces more efficiently than capitalism. We need only to remember Trotsky’s words: ‘Socialism has demonstrated its right to victory, not on the pages of Das Kapital, but in an industrial arena comprising a sixth part of the earth’s surface – not in the language of dialectics, but in the language of steel, cement and electricity.’ [54] As a matter of fact, one cannot explain the deepening crisis in Eastern Europe and USSR except by reference to the slowing down of economic growth in the late 1970s and early 1980s leading to stagnation and a growing gap between these countries and the advanced West.

In the USSR the annual rate of growth of gross national product was as follows: the First Five Year Plan (though an exaggerated claim) – 19.2 percent; 1950-59 – 5.8 percent; 1970-78 – 3.7 percent; in 1980-82 it was down to 1.5 percent; over the last three or four years there was a negative rate of growth. [1*]

If the productivity of labour had been more dynamic in Eastern Europe and USSR than in the West, one could not understand why the rulers of these countries eventually became enamoured with the market. Then again, the reunification of Germany should have seen the flourishing of East German industry in comparison with that of West Germany. In fact the economy of East Germany has collapsed since the unification.

The number of workers employed in East Germany in 1989 was 10 million, while now it is only 6 million. Productivity of labour in East Germany is only 29 percent of the Western level. [56] Thus the East German productivity level, though the highest in Eastern Europe, was still low compared with West Germany and other advanced economies that it now had to compete with.

If the USSR was a workers’ state, however degenerated, it is obvious that if capitalism assaulted it, the workers would have come to the defence of their state. Trotsky always considered it axiomatic that the workers of the Soviet Union would come to its aid if attacked by capitalism, however corrupt and depraved the bureaucracy dominating it.

A favourite analogy of Trotsky’s was between the Soviet bureaucracy and the trade union bureaucracy. There are different kinds of trade union – militant, reformist, revolutionary, reactionary, Catholic – but all are defence organisations of the workers’ share in the national cake. Trotsky argued that however reactionary the bureaucrats dominating the trade unions, workers would always be ‘supporting their progressive steps and ... defending them against the bourgeoisie.’ [57] When it came to the crunch in 1989, the workers in Eastern Europe did not defend ‘their’ state. If the Stalinist state were a workers’ state one cannot explain why its only defenders were the Securitate in Rumania, the Stasi in East Germany, and so on, nor why the Soviet working class supported Yeltsin, the outspoken representative of the market.

If the regime in Eastern Europe and USSR was post-capitalist and in 1989 there was a restoration of capitalism, how was the restoration achieved with such astonishing ease? The events do not square with Trotsky’s assertion that the transition from one social order to another must be accompanied by civil war. Trotsky wrote:

The Marxist thesis relating to the catastrophic character of the transfer of power from the hands of one class into the hands of another applies not only to revolutionary periods, when history sweeps madly ahead, but also to the period of counter-revolution, when society rolls backwards. He who asserts that the Soviet government has been gradually changed from proletarian to bourgeois, is only, so to speak, running backwards the film of reformism. [58]

The 1989 revolutions in Eastern Europe were remarkable for the absence of large-scale social conflict and violence. Except for Rumania there was no armed conflict. As a matter of fact there were fewer violent clashes in East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary than took place between the police and striking miners in Thatcher’s Britain.

The transition from one social order to another is necessarily accompanied by the replacing of one state apparatus by another. The state machine was hardly touched in 1989. The Soviet army, the KGB and the state bureaucracy are still in place. In Poland the military helped to promote the change. General Jaruzelski, the architect of the 1981 coup and the Interior Minister and chief administrator of martial law, General Kiszcak, played a crucial role in negotiating the round-table agreement with Solidarity, and the formation of Mazowiecki’s coalition government.

If a counter-revolution took place, if a restoration of capitalism took place, there should have been a wholesale replacement of one ruling class with another. Instead we witnessed the continuity of the same personnel at the top of society; the members of the nomenklatura who ran the economy, society and state under ‘socialism’ now do the same under the ‘market’. Mike Haynes, in his very good article, Class and Crisis – the Transition in Eastern Europe [59] writes:

What it [the state] has succeeded in doing has been to partly shift the institutional base of its power out of a ‘state pocket’ and into a ‘private pocket’. In the process there has been some upward mobility within the ruling class and the occasional new entrant. There has also been a change in the balance of power within the ruling class between its sections. But, contrary to those who claim that what was at stake was the substitution of the socialist mode of production ... by a capitalist society, there is no evidence that a fundamental change has taken place in the nature of the ruling class. What is striking is how little change has actually occurred. To sack a general and promote a colonel hardly constitutes a social revolution any more than selling off a state enterprise to its managers does or renationalising it with a similar group of people in control. Rather it suggests that what is at stake is an internal transformation within a mode of production, in this instance a shift in the form of capitalism from one of strong state capitalism to more mixed state and market forms. [60]

Chris Harman aptly described the development as ‘moving sideways’ – a shift from one form of capitalism to another, from bureaucratic state capitalism to multi-national capitalism.

Finally, if the USSR and East European countries had been in a post-capitalist economic and social order, how was it possible that a capitalist market economy could be grafted on to it. One can graft a lemon on to an orange tree, or vice versa, because both belong to the same family – the citrus; one cannot graft a potato on to an orange tree. Mike Haynes describes the process of grafting market capitalism onto the Stalinist economy with many interesting details.

It is precisely because both sides of the transition show the same structural features that individual opportunism on the scale we have analysed has been possible. We are not merely looking at class societies, but class societies rooted in a common mode of production where what has been changing has been the form rather than the essence. Unless this is understood it becomes impossible to understand how, beneath the turnover at the top, the same people, the same families, the same social networks are still toasting their good fortune in the 1990s as they had toasted in the 1980s. It is true that as they chatter and socialise they might on occasion spare a thought for some of their absent friends but they will not lose sight of the greater whole – that they are still on top despite the transition. Beneath them is the same working class, still carrying the burden of their wealth, privilege and their incompetence as it has done in the past. [61]

The people who were the real victims of the old order are now also the real victims of the new. [62]

If the expansion of the state capitalist regime into Eastern Europe raised the question of the correctness of the theory of the degenerated workers’ state, the collapse of the Stalinist regime answered the question unequivocally. In both cases the theory of bureaucratic state capitalism demonstrated itself as a viable alternative.

Trotsky’s work in analysing the degeneration of the Russian revolution and the rise of Stalinism as a product of the pressure of international capitalism on a workers’ state in a backward country was a pioneering effort. Trotsky played a crucial role in opposing Stalin’s doctrine of ‘socialism in one country’. His thoroughly Marxist, historical materialist approach to the Stalinist regime was crucial to the development of the theory of bureaucratic state capitalism. It is necessary to defend the spirit of Trotskyism while rejecting some of his words.

My criticism of Trotsky’s position was intended as a return to classical Marxism. Historical development – especially after Trotsky’s death – demonstrated that the ‘degenerated workers’ state’ position was not compatible with the classical Marxist tradition which identified socialism as the self-emancipation of the working class. To preserve the letter of Trotsky’s writing on the Stalinist regime, the spirit of his writing had to be sacrificed.

The end of fake socialism in the USSR and Eastern Europe is opening up the opportunities for the rediscovery of the real revolutionary ideas of Lenin and Trotsky, the true legacy of the October revolution. I end this chapter with the last paragraph of my State Capitalism in Russia:

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 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. [63]


1*. The national income of the Comecon Bloc rose annually as follows: 1951-55 – 10.8%; 1956-60 – 8.5%; 1961-65 – 6.0%; 1966-70 – 7.4%; 1971-5 – 6.4%; 1976-80 – 4.1%; 1981-85 – 3.0%; 1986-88 – 3%. [55]


1. Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, p.3.

2. Ibid., p.125.

3. Ibid., p.142.

4. Ibid., pp.144-5.

5. Ibid., pp.148-9.

6. Ibid., p.153.

7. Ibid., pp.161-3.

8. Ibid., pp.181-2.

9. Ibid., pp.51-2.

10. Ibid., pp.221-2.

11. Ibid., p.6.

12. Ibid., p.8.

13. Ibid., p.9.

14. Ibid., p.15.

15. Ibid., p.112.

16. Ibid., p.113.

17. Ibid., pp.251-2 K’.

18. Ibid., p.248.

19. Ibid., p.249.

20. Ibid., p.254.

21. Ibid., pp.249-50.

22. Ibid., pp.287-8.

23. Ibid., p.227.

24. Ibid., p.229.

25. Trotsky, In Defence of Marxism, p.17.

26. L. Trotsky, Problems of the Development of the USSR. A Draft of the Theses of the International Left Opposition on the Russian Question, New York 1931, p.36.

27. New International, April 1943.

28. Ibid..

29. K. Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy, London n.d., pp.129-130.

30. Ibid., p.166.

31. K. Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Chicago 1918, pp.285-6.

32. Cliff, State Capitalism in Russia, pp.221-2.

33. Ibid., pp.165-6.

34. Ibid., p.47.

35. F. Engels, Anti-Dühring, London n.d., p.312.

36. Quoted by L. Laurat, Marxism and Democracy, London 1940, p.69.

37. Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, p.6.

38. E. Germain, [Ernest Mandel], in Quatrieme Internationale, 14, 1956, Nos.1-3.

39. Cliff, The Nature of Stalinist Russia, pp.134-5.

40. Cliff, Russia: A Marxist Analysis, London 1964, pp.197-8.

41. Ibid., p.198.

42. Ibid., p.240.

43. Ibid., p.257.

44. Ibid., p.256.

45. Ibid.

46. Ibid., p.254.

47. Ibid., p.257.

48. Ibid., pp.248-9.

49. Ibid., pp.250-4.

50. Ibid., pp.273-4.

51. Ibid., pp.262-3.

52. Ibid., p.283.

53. Ibid., pp.309-10.

54. Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, p.8.

55. Statisticheskii ezhegodnik stran-chlenov soveta ekonomich eskoi vzaimopomoshchi, Moscow 1989, p.18.

56. Financial Times, 12 May 1992.

57. Trotsky, In Defence of Marxism, p.31.

58. WLT, 1933-34, pp.102-3.

59. International Socialism, No.54, Spring 1992.

60. Ibid., pp.46-7.

61. Ibid., p.90.

62. Ibid., p.69.

63. Cliff, State Capitalism in Russia, p.276.

Last updated on 5 August 2009