Written: Spring 1949
Source: The Unbroken Thread and a 1966 reprint. Original still sought
Transcription/Markup: Emil 1998, 2006
Proofread: Emil 1998
The Bulletin of comrade David James (“Some remarks on the question of Stalinism”, February 1949) will serve a useful purpose if it assists us in facing squarely the new situation in the Stalinist controlled areas and making the necessary reorientation in perspective. However, there are certain dangers inherent in his Bulletin which, if not counteracted, could lead to a capitulation to neo-Stalinism. Its basic weakness lies in this: he abstracts and counterposes mechanically the state as a direct reflection of a class and sees all conflicts that arise within society as immediately and directly reflecting antagonistic classes. This leads him to the erroneous conclusion that struggles within the Stalinist bureaucracy must necessarily directly reflect antagonistic class interests.
The Marxist method starts with a class analysis of society and any of its phenomena or organs, but it does not end there. It is necessary from there to analyse all the cross-currents and interactions within the given class definition. In dealing with Yugoslavia and China, it is necessary first to have the essentials firmly in mind. Without the existence of Russia as a degenerate workers’ state, without the weakening of world imperialism as a result of the war, Eastern Europe would have taken on an entirely different pattern. These events can only be explained on the basis of the survival of Russia with its nationalised property forms; the survival of Stalinism at the helm of a vastly strengthened Russia as the outcome of the war. It is this which led to the extension of the revolution in a deformed, Stalinist shape, to the other countries.
James strikes at the fundamental weakness of the position of the International Secretariat of the Fourth International (ISFI) in pointing to their failure to give a class analysis of the States in Eastern Europe. Before one can even start analysing a party, a movement, a state, or a grouping within society, one must start from its class basis based on property forms, even though there may be a gulf between a class and the party or state which claims to represent it.
On the class nature of the states in Eastern Europe, there is agreement with comrade James. But precisely here the question is posed: once the class nature of the state has been defined, a whole series of intermediate, superstructural and other factors must be taken into account in determining one’s policy towards the given state or party. The bare class analysis is not sufficient as a guide. For example, there can be different varieties of bourgeois states – fascist, bourgeois democratic, Bonapartist dictatorship, etc – the differences between them being of great importance in determining our attitude. The attitude of the revolutionaries towards the workers’ state under the leadership of Lenin, differed profoundly from their attitude towards the workers’ state under the leadership of Stalin.
Comrade James writes:
“The Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP)…had come to the conclusion that the regimes in the USSR and the satellite states were basically identical, and we saw this (Tito-Stalin) clash as a crisis within Stalinism itself rather than between states of different social character…There, however, we stopped…We failed ourselves to give a class characterisation of the Tito movement…We say that it is a clash between two Stalinist bureaucracies or two sections of the bureaucracy. But when Trotsky spoke of the possibility of such an event, he was careful to describe the class lines on which it would break: he spoke of the ‘fraction of Butenko’(1) (bourgeois fascist) and the ‘fraction of Reiss’ (proletarian internationalist). This was a necessary conclusion from his position that the bureaucracy is not a class but a caste, whose evolution is determined by the contending influences of the two decisive classes in society. We stand on the same ground, and we must ask: does Tito represent a workers’ or a capitalist tendency? By failing to pose this question, we ourselves abandon the class criterion, abandon the Marxist method, and thereby ensure that we should not understand the events.”
Where comrade James makes the mistake here, is in assuming that once the class basis has been decided, the problems are simple, and that all tendencies which are manifest must be a direct reflection of the interests of opposing classes. But he has only to ask himself the question: what class does Stalin represent in the struggle against Tito? And what class does Tito represent when he has already agreed by definition that the class basis of the regimes are “basically identical”? Is there a struggle between the Yugoslav working class and the Russian working class? Clearly there is something wrong here.
First, we want to take up James’s reference to Trotsky in this connection. It is true that Trotsky argued that different sections of the bureaucracy would tend to reflect class interests, one faction going with the proletariat and the other with the bourgeoisie. Butenko went over to the fascists in Italy. He did not represent any social grouping within Russia, but was merely an isolated case with no roots. Reiss represented the proletarian wing and as such found himself in the Fourth International. Trotsky did visualise the development of strong capitalist currents, as well as the strong proletarian currents at a time of crisis – that there would be a split in the bureaucracy under the pressure of class forces. But the differentiation which he expected, particularly during the war, did not take place. But Trotsky did produce arguments which were far more to the point in explaining clearly what forces are represented in the struggle within the bureaucracy, or as in the present discussion, between the two different workers’ bureaucracies. We refer here to the Ukraine.
The Old Man pointed out that in the Ukraine after the purge of the Trotskyists and Bukharinites(2), nine-tenths of all Stalinist officials in the heads of the departments of government in the national republic were imprisoned, exiled and executed. Did they represent a different class from Stalin? Of course not! They reflected the pressure and discontent of the Ukraine masses against the national oppression of the Great Russian bureaucracy. The Ukrainian masses were oppressed not only as workers and peasants by the bureaucracy, but as Ukrainians. Hence the struggle for national liberation in the Ukraine. This was not confined to the Ukraine. The same process took place in all the national republics of Russia, oppressed by the Russian bureaucracy. The Stalinist officialdom in all these were, to one degree or another, affected by the prevailing mood of hatred against the bureaucratic centralising tendencies of Great Russian chauvinism centred in Moscow. According to Colonel Tokaev, writing in the Sunday Express, there were national uprisings during the war in the Crimea, the Caucasus and some of the other national republics. After the war, the great Russian bureaucracy punished this “disloyalty” by banishing the entire populations of some of the national republics of the Crimea and others and dissolving the republics, in violation of even the paper constitution of Stalin. Clearly this was intended as a warning against disaffection in other republics.
This is the analogy with Yugoslavia. In the purge in the Ukraine, Trotsky showed that here it was not a case of different classes involved, but of different nations oppressed by the bureaucracy. The Ukrainian Stalinists did not represent the fraction of Butenko, nor did they represent the fraction of Reiss. What they wanted was more autonomy and more control for the Ukrainians (which meant themselves) over the national destinies of their republic. The fact that a national struggle of this character can take place after the proletarian revolution, is merely an indication of how far the revolution has been thrown back under Stalinist domination. (Here let us add that Lenin, with his far-sighted national policy, surprisingly raised in advance the possibility of clashes between different nationalities even after the abolition of capitalism. National cultures and aspirations will remain long after the proletarian revolution has taken place, even on a world scale and will constitute an important problem.)
One can say that in Yugoslavia and Eastern Europe, Stalin has attempted to carry through a similar bureaucratic policy as in the republics in Russia. The only difference in Yugoslavia is that the Russian bureaucracy did not have as firm control over the state machine as they had in the other satellite states. This was, of course, due to the fact that while in the other countries it was the entry of the Red Army which smashed the bourgeois state and precipitated the movement of the masses, in Yugoslavia, Tito had a mass base and built up a machine which he had under control, even under the Germans. The Red Army assisted in the liberation of Belgrade, but undoubtedly Tito had a far more popular base among the masses than in the other satellite states. In the eyes of the Yugoslavs, their liberation from German imperialism was achieved under the leadership of Tito and the Yugoslav CP. Thus, Stalin’s attempt to completely subordinate Yugoslavia to the Moscow bureaucracy met with resistance from the local bureaucrats, who felt confident that they would have the backing of the masses. As distinct from this, the regimes in the other satellite states felt the need to lean on the Moscow bureaucracy, owing to a fear of the difficulties at home in the event of a conflict.
Stalin encountered difficulty in applying in Yugoslavia a Ukraine solution, or even a pseudo-independent solution as in Poland, where the joke circulates that Cyrankiewicz(3) phones the Kremlin to find out if he can take the night off to go to the cinema. Stalin’s attempts to intervene in Yugoslavia resulted for the first time, in the arrest of his stooges instead of vice versa. It was as if the Ukrainian Stalinists had had their own state forces and backing of the masses, separate and powerful enough to oppose the Russian MVD, etc. On that basis, they could have resisted the demands of complete subordination to the Moscow bureaucracy.
This explained why Trotsky considered the national question to be of such importance that he put forward the demand for an independent socialist soviet Ukraine. At first sight this would appear to come into conflict with the strategy of the unification of all Europe in a socialist united states. From a purely pedantic point of view it would appear that the enemy of the Ukrainian and Great Russian masses is the same and the task is a simple one of unifying their struggle for control in one unified state. Merely to find the class basis does not supply the answer. The class basis of the Ukrainian bureaucrats is no different from that of the Russian bureaucrats. Yet they come into conflict with one another and the victorious section savagely executes the other.
Similarly, it is clear that the mere fact that Tito is, for the time being, victorious, no more turns him into an unconscious Trotskyist than the Ukrainian bureaucrats.
Through the dictatorship of the Stalinist bureaucracy is expressed indirectly the rule of the proletariat. For the Soviet Union to return to a healthy basis, a new revolution, a political revolution, is necessary. The economic basis will remain the same, though of course the social consequences will result in profound changes in the overall plan, the division of income, the culture, etc. As in the case of France – where a regime of bourgeois autocracy required revolution before it could become bourgeois democracy, so in Russia, revolution will be required to transform the bureaucratic totalitarian regime into a really democratic one. The political revolution in France resulted in profound changes in its social consequences – different division of income, freer development of the productive forces, culture, etc. But the fundamental structure of the system remained the same. So in Russia, the class basis will remain: the superstructure will change. On this there is common agreement with James. But what of Yugoslavia?
What was an unconscious process in the early stages of Stalinist degeneration in Russia, is a semi-conscious or even conscious process in Yugoslavia. The regime of Tito is very similar to the regime of Stalin during the period of 1923-8. After the experience of Russia, it is clear that where there is no democracy, where no opposition is tolerated, where a totalitarian regime exists, then developments will proceed on the same pattern as in Russia. Here precisely it is not a question of the psychology of Tito or Stalin, but the relentless interests of the differing tendencies at work within society.
The state, as a special superstructural formation standing over society, of necessity tends to form a grouping with habits of thought, used to command, with privileges of education and culture. The tendency is to crystallise a caste with an outlook of its own, different from the class it represents. This is accentuated where the state takes over the means of production; the sole commanding stratum in society is the bureaucracy. Not for nothing did Marx and Lenin emphasise the need for the masses to retain control of the state or semi-state, because without this, new trends and tendencies are introduced which have a law of motion of their own.
If one would assume theoretically (abstracting the Stalin regimes for the moment from the world relationships and the internal social contradictions) that such a caste could maintain itself indefinitely (the modest estimate of a leading Siberian Stalinist was 1,000 years) - it could not lead to an amelioration of the social contradictions or to the painless withering away of the state into society. All the laws of social evolution, of the development of the classes and castes in society speak against this. Far from developing in the direction of communism, such a society, if it depended on the will of the bureaucracy, would inevitably develop into a slave state with a hierarchy of castes such as visualised by Jack London in his picture of the oligarchy under the Iron Heel. [source]
Socialism does not arise automatically out of the development of the productive forces themselves. If it were purely a question of the automatic change in society once the productive forces are developed, revolution would not have been necessary in the changes from one society to another. As has been explained many times, the nationalisation of the productive forces alone does not abolish all social contradictions – otherwise there would be socialism in Russia. Once the bureaucracy gets a vested interest of its own, it will never voluntarily relinquish its privileged position. A further development of the productive forces will merely create new needs and open new vistas for the bureaucracy to dispose of the surplus in their interests. This is already shown by the development of the bureaucracy as a more and more rapacious and hereditary caste, instead of less and less with the development of the productive forces in Russia. (Here we are not dealing with inevitable movements of revolt on the part of the masses, the contradictions engendered by bureaucratic misrule which must lead to explosions, etc. This whole problem requires further elaboration).
The degeneration of Russia was not accidental. Where the proletariat has control, its position in society determines its consciousness and determines the evolution of that society in the direction of the liquidation of the state and the establishment of communism. Where the bureaucracy has control, its position in society determines its consciousness and determines the evolution of that society not towards its voluntary liquidation and communism, but to its own reinforcement. Conditions determine consciousness. And the methods, the organisation, the outlook and ideology of Tito and Mao are the same as those of the Russian Stalinists: not democratic centralism, but its opposite - totalitarian bureaucracy is what they base themselves on. The Cominform criticism of the “Turkish terror” is well founded. All that Tito could reply in answer to the accusation that the discussion for the Party Congress was a farce, that no-one dared to oppose the resolution of the Central Committee, or even vote against it for fear of immediate arrest, that there was a dictatorship in the party and in the country – all that he could reply was to liken the criticism of the Cominform to that of the Left Opposition at the 1927 Congress of the CPSU.
Almost word for word the description of the situation was the same, except that in Russia in 1927 there was more democracy as a lingering survival of the past than there is in Yugoslavia today. At least before their expulsion, the Opposition was allowed to put forward its position at the Congress, and Stalin had not yet evolved the complete totalitarian technique of suppression. There was still the faction of Bukharin, etc, in the party. Stalin still had no idea of which way he was going. Tito has taken over in toto, the organisation, the ideology, the technique of Bonapartist rule.
The only difference between the regimes of Stalin and Tito is that the latter is still in its early stages. There is a remarkable similarity in the first upsurge of enthusiasm in Russia where the bureaucracy introduced the first Five Year Plan, and the enthusiasm in Yugoslavia today.
While Stalin can only rule through more and more unbridled terror, Tito, for the present, probably retains the support of the big majority of the population of Yugoslavia. But this is not a fundamental difference, it is a question of tempo and the experience of the masses.
If today the difference between the living standards of the bureaucracy and of the masses in Yugoslavia (as in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania, etc – let us not forget this) is incomparably smaller than in Russia today, that is because after the upheavals which have involved the masses, it would be impossible to immediately introduce enormous inequalities.
As the bureaucracy would express it, “socialism has not yet been realised”, namely their complete and untrammelled domination has not yet crystallised out; their mode of existence has not yet reached a fairly stable position. And, moreover, on the basis of a backward economy (apart from Czechoslovakia) the productive forces are not yet sufficient to serve the needs of an expanding economy, together with an inflated standard of luxury for the commanding strata. It required in Russia a tremendous development of the economy before the basis was laid for the differentiation which has steadily increased with the development of the economy itself.
So in Yugoslavia, it can be predicted that only with the industrialisation of the country and raising the level of the productive forces from the pitifully low level, will the differentiation between the bureaucracy and the masses develop on similar lines. If Tito or any other individual tried to arrest this process, under the given conditions, they would be removed one way or another as the Old Bolsheviks were removed in Russia. Their fate was not accidental. The bureaucratic caste needed people who based themselves not on the proletariat, but on a new strata. The “theories” of Tito are flesh of the flesh of the Bonapartist clique in the Kremlin, who educated and trained him. Even in his marshall’s uniform, he slavishly reflects the ideology and methods of his tutors. The personal rule, the whole method of the Yugoslav bureaucracy, possibly more exactly than the other Eastern European states, reflects the same byzantine adulation and method as the Kremlin. As distinct from the Stalin of 1927, Tito has the ready-made pattern and it is therefore more likely that the differentiation and the excess which necessarily follow autocratic state dictatorship, will be far faster.
Between Tito and Stalin there is no difference in principle. Indeed, perhaps one of the most amusing and diverting episodes in this struggle was the spectacle of Tito raising aloft the banner of “socialism in one country” and the Stalinists raising the banner of “internationalism”. There is nothing in the perspective of Tito to show that only the victory of the proletariat in the advanced countries can solve the problems of the Russian and Yugoslavian masses through the international division of labour, interlinking the economics, nothing to show that Tito seeks to establish workers’ democracy and control. Indeed, he has only praise for what Stalin is doing in Russia. All his actions and utterances reflect the interests of a Bonapartist bureaucracy. His “love of gorgeous uniforms” is not just a “drawback”, it is symptomatic of his regime. Far more than Stalin of 1927, he reflects personal rule – the dictatorship of the bureaucracy reflected in a single individual.
Events in Yugoslavia amazingly recapitulate the phases which the Stalinist bureaucracies went through, even to the extent of the opportunism in relation to the peasants, followed by panic measures against the kulaks and the small proprietors in the towns. Already the first “sabotage” trials have taken place where Tito puts responsibility for any deficiencies in the Plan on the shoulders of his opponents. Similarly we have the pattern of the Russian “confession” trials on a smaller scale. The familiar outlines of the Stalinist police state are clear to see. The differences are superficial; the fundamental traits the same.
Tito’s “penchant” for murdering Trotskyists is not just a distressing by-product. Why does he murder Trotskyists? Because they bear the hated name of Leon Trotsky? Obviously because they represent the proletariat; because they fight for workers’ democracy, for genuine elections, for internationalism, for all the basic tenets of the programme of international communism, as opposed to bureaucratic absolutism. Here it is not a question of having murdered his opponents and then adopting the programme of the people he has martyred. Trotsky replied to those who argued thus when the whole strata of Old Bolsheviks capitulated after Stalin introduced the Five Year Plan (originally put forward by the Left Opposition(4)) and conducted a drive against the kulaks and capitalist elements. The Left Opposition showed how Stalin annihilated the opposition and then borrowed their programme, which he carried through in a distorted way. They did not thereby conclude that Stalin was unconsciously a Leninist. They warned that it was not only a question of what was done, but who was doing it, how it was done, in whose interests and for what reasons. That was the decisive question!
Events demonstrated that it was not the capitulators to Stalin, but Trotsky who was right when he said that Stalinism, despite its introduction of the Five Year Plans, could not lead Russia to socialism. Kamenev, Zinoviev, Rakovsky, Bukharin et al, capitulated in vain. Finally they paid with their lives, because they could not reconcile themselves with the Bonapartist clique.
Stalin’s turn in 1927 and his attack on the bourgeoisie in town and country, although it received the enthusiastic support of the proletariat, was dictated by the interests of self-preservation of the bureaucracy. As Trotsky expressed it, the Russian bureaucracy wanted the state feed-bag for itself and did not wish to share with the bourgeoisie, or have its position limited by the bourgeoisie in the disposal of the surplus produced by the proletariat. But their attack on the bourgeoisie did not lead to a freer and wider democracy for the proletariat; or to the diminishing of the differentiation between bureaucrats and the proletariat. Finally, it did not prevent the introduction of slavery in Russia.
Similarly, Tito has undoubtedly the support of the Yugoslav masses in his struggle against the Russian bureaucracy. In the struggle for the realisation of the Five Year Plan, the Bolshevik wing gave critical support to the bureaucracy against the bourgeoisie. In the same way, the Fourth International must give critical support to the Yugoslav bureaucracy because it represents in its struggle a progressive step forward, in that it helps to weaken the Russian bureaucracy and above all, because we support the principle of the right of self-determination. In the same way, we would have supported the struggle of the Ukrainian Stalinists in their struggle against the Russian bureaucracy. Once having achieved the right of self-determination, we would advocate the independent Ukraine be united in a federation with Russia.
However, we cannot and must not capitulate before these events, or have any illusions as to the motives, the aims and methods of the Yugoslav bureaucracy. Just as Stalin was not converted into a Trotskyist, conscious or unconscious, by his struggle against the bourgeoisie, so Tito does not become an unconscious Trotskyist because he has broken with the Kremlin and uses correct arguments on the national question and the right of self-determination.
For Tito, this period is not a stage towards socialism. It is a stage towards the consolidation of his rule. His aim is “socialism” on the pattern of Russia. While the bureaucracy plays a relatively progressive role in developing the productive forces on the basis of nationalised property, they prepare the material base for the future. At the same time, the social contradictions will grow. From playing a relatively progressive role under the given conditions, the role of the bureaucracy will become completely reactionary. Far from the oppressive forces of the state withering away, they will be reinforced. The tasks of the proletariat are similar to those of the Russian proletariat, to the Bulgarian and the Czech proletariat.
From the fact that the revolution – and undoubtedly it is a revolution taking place in China – springs from the “innermost needs of the country” and is not merely a creation of Moscow, comrade James draws the conclusion that therefore Mao must be an unconscious Trotskyist:
“The trends then, are as follows. The ISFI has a pro-Tito, neo-Stalinist position. The RCP’s position is far more vague, but at least we can say that it places Stalin and Tito on the same footing, and regards the overthrow of both as essential for socialist advance. Let us see how these will stand the test of a fresh event, the victory of Stalinism in China.
“The neo-Stalinist attitude will stand this test. As I remarked before, the Yugoslav revolution appears to have sprung from the innermost needs of the country, and not to have been imposed by Moscow, but no doubt is possible in the case of China. Clearly the revolution is primarily a native affair, consequently Mao, like Tito, is a genuine revolutionist an ‘unconscious Trotskyist’, and fit material for recruitment to the Fourth International. (Doubtless the IS is preparing a letter along these lines). On the other hand if the IS insists on regarding the Chinese Stalinist regime, like Yugoslavia, to be degenerate, we are again faced with the question, ‘what is the source of this early degeneration?’
“The RCP position on the other hand finally collapses. By no stretch of the imagination can Red China be conceived as a Russian creation. If we regard Mao, like Tito, as being equally as bad as Stalin, we must acknowledge that the features which cause us to take this attitude are inherent in the revolution. That is, it is not a degenerated workers’ state, but a bureaucratic class state, ie, we arrive at Shachtman’s position.”
It is a truism in the Marxist movement that David James will no doubt accept, that one must take a phenomenon not in isolation, but in the context of its origin, laws of motion and perspective. But it is one thing to accept this in words; it is another to apply it. James says in effect, that a revolution is taking place in China, therefore it is the same as the October revolution. Mao is leading this revolution, therefore Mao is a Chinese Leninist or Trotskyist. The Chinese Stalinists are leading the revolution, therefore why the need for the Fourth International? One can explain the development of the Stalinist degeneration in Russia by the preceding world developments, the failure of the revolution in the West, etc. Similarly, one can only explain the events in China, by the existence of a strong but degenerate Russian workers’ state; by the weakness of world imperialism which found it impossible to intervene in China effectively, as it did in 1925-7; by the internal decay of Chinese society and by the history and developments of the Chinese Stalinist movement.
It is unprecedented in the history of Marxism, that a revolution which leads to the nationalisation of property and the division of land, should begin among the peasantry and not the working class. How is this to be explained?
Paradoxically, this peasant movement is an off-shoot of the defeat of the revolution of 1925-7. With the defeat of the proletariat, the Chinese Stalinists transferred their base from the proletariat to the peasantry. It cut itself adrift from the cities and led a peasant war. Its whole social basis, the psychology of its leadership, which has been in the mountains and rural areas for more than 20 years, became divorced from the working class and its outlook. The psychology of this group was necessarily determined by their conditions of life. The original nucleus that formed the leadership and staff of this movement, was composed of a small proportion of ex-worker militants, bandits, ex-peasants, adventurers and intellectuals. In that sense, it was a classical Bonapartist grouping. It fused itself into an army.
Even at the dawn of the peasant war, at a time when the Stalinists were pursuing an ultra-left course and the links with the cities were not yet completely broken, the inevitable psychology of a Bonapartist army was being engendered by the whole environment. The Comintern and Chinese leadership – at that time not yet completely degenerate – regarded this process, even in the lower ranks, with a certain foreboding. For example, “unions” were formed in the so-called “soviet” districts in those days. Isaacs, in his Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution wrote:
“But the character of these unions, whatever their number, was so dubious that even the trade-union centre of the party at Shanghai had to complain. In its report for 1931 it spoke of the presence of ‘shopkeepers and rich peasants’ in the unions. The next year, it addressed a scorching letter to the trade-union officials in Kiangsi in which it accused them of admitting ‘peasants, priests, shop-owners, foremen, rich peasants and landlords’, while ‘on the other hand, considerable sections of the agricultural labourers, coolies, employees and artisans are on various pretexts barred from membership.’ The Party comrades engaged on this work were accused of being ‘contemptuous of the workers and insolent toward them.’ The letter described the unions as ‘anti-proletarian in character, representing more the interests of the landlords, rich peasants and employees.’”
Comrade James overlooks the relation of classes, groupings and castes in society. For example, in 1923 it is an undoubted fact that Trotsky, who was popular with the entire Red Army and popular among the masses, could have organised a coup through the army, arrested Stalin and the others and taken control of the state machine. Eastman(5), never having understood the process, plaintively castigated Trotsky for being such a simpleton. Why didn’t he? The reason was that the army, having come to power, would have exerted a specific weight of its own in society. Its officer caste would have been imbued with the idea that they were the masters. It would not have prevented the Bonapartist degeneration, it would merely have taken a different form. If Trotsky had tried to resist the process of degeneration, he would either have been a prisoner of the officer caste or would have been removed. Trotsky tried to base himself on the consciousness and control of the proletariat as the only force which could lead to a classless society. He knew that otherwise, the workers would have been onlookers, the army the decisive factor, with fatal consequences to the development of the revolution.
That is why comrade James’s whole question as to whether the degeneration must be inherent in the revolution from the beginning is beside the mark. It is a question precisely of the psychology, the consciousness of the movement of the proletariat, which is necessary for the socialist revolution. Do we take it that David does not see the necessity for the conscious participation of the proletariat to make a healthy workers’ state?
The revolution in China starts with a Bonapartist deformation, not because it is inherent in the needs of the revolution, but on the contrary because of the specific social circumstances nationally and internationally which we have dealt with.
There have been many peasant wars in China and what would have normally happened would be that the leadership would, when entering the cities, fuse with the bourgeoisie and there would be a classical capitalist development. The peasant movement, Marxism teaches, must find a leadership in the cities either in the bourgeoisie or in the proletariat. Where it is the bourgeoisie then, of course, we have a capitalist development. Where the proletariat takes the lead, then we have the socialist revolution. Here we have a peculiar variant of the latter, in that the peasant movement has a centralised leadership in the form of the Stalinist party, which had its roots in Moscow. Basing itself on the peasantry, it enters the towns not with the aim and outlook of a genuine communist party, but with the aim of establishing its power by manoeuvring between the classes. It does so by transferring its social basis to the proletariat - not as the direct representative of the proletariat as would a Bolshevik party – but in a Bonapartist manner.
In the past, Bonapartism has always represented a tendency which, while linked to the bourgeoisie, nevertheless raises itself above the classes, manoeuvres between the bourgeoisie and the petty-bourgeoisie and the proletariat, sometimes leaning on the latter and even striking blows at the ruling class. In Russia in the early days of the rule of the bureaucracy as a Bonapartist clique, nevertheless basing itself on the economy of a workers’ state, it is well known that it balanced and manoeuvered between the kulaks, the Nepmen and the workers. In the capitalist state, in a certain sense, the social democracy, which leaned on the working class, tended to oscillate between the workers and the bourgeoisie, depending on the social pressures of the moment. If they did not play any really independent role, it was because in the last analysis they were dependent on the bourgeoisie. While bourgeois Bonapartism veers between the classes and plays one off against the other it represents in the last analysis the bourgeoisie, because its profits and privileges arise out of the institution of private property. This does not mean to say that it is not extremely burdensome to the bourgeoisie in its impositions and demands.
Stalinism is a form of Bonapartism that bases itself on the proletariat and the institution of state ownership, but it is as different from the norm of a workers’ state as fascism or bourgeois Bonapartism differs from the norm of bourgeois democracy, which is the freest expression of the economic domination and rule of the bourgeoisie.
Stalinism, leaning on the proletariat can, under given conditions, balance between the opposing classes to strengthen itself for its own ends. We have seen how this was accomplished in Eastern Europe. We now have a similar development taking place before our eyes in China. Whereas it would he impossible for the revolutionary Marxist tendency to make a coalition with the bourgeoisie, precisely because of the need to ensure the independent self-mobilisation of the masses in the struggle to overthrow the bourgeoisie, Stalin has no need for such inhibitions. Stalinism makes a coalition under conditions where the back of the bourgeoisie has been broken, in order to play off the bourgeoisie against the danger of an insurgent proletariat. Thus the coalition which the Stalinists are proposing in China will not mean the victory or even the survival of the bourgeoisie. It will be used in order to gain a breathing space for the organisation of a Stalinist, Bonapartist state machine on the lines of Moscow. Not at all a state or a semi-state on the lines visualised by the Marxists – as the free and armed organisation of the masses, but a state machine separate and apart from the masses, entirely independent and towering over them as an instrument of oppression.
It is evident that the Chinese movement draws its viability from the “innermost needs of the economy”. However, while a genuine revolutionary, Trotskyist leadership in a backward country would draw its strength from the proletariat, welding the peasant masses behind it, Mao rests on the peasantry and not only bases himself on the passivity of the proletariat at this stage, but ruthlessly suppresses any proletarians who dare to take measures against the bourgeoisie on the basis of independent class action. At a later stage, Mao will lean on the proletariat when he needs it against the bourgeoisie, only later to betray and ruthlessly suppress it. In this it would be far more correct to say that Mao, as Tito, is a conscious Stalinist, adopting consciously many of the Bonapartist manoeuvres which Stalin was forced to adopt empirically.
While the armies of the Kuomintang have melted away under the revolutionary agrarian programme and propaganda of the Stalinists – “land to the tiller” – one thing is clear: the programme of propaganda of Mao has not been directed to the revolutionary mobilisation of the proletariat and the organisation of soviets. Nor has it been directed to the overthrow of the Kuomintang regime in the towns through the conscious initiative and movement of the workers. On the contrary, it is his policy to ruthlessly crush any move in this direction. This refusal to mobilise the masses is not accidental. It expresses the fear of a mass movement in the cities at this stage. The difference between Trotskyism and Stalinism is no more strikingly illustrated than in this fact. There is an unbridgeable gulf between Marxism, which bases itself on the conscious movement of the masses, above all the proletariat, and Bonapartist Stalinism which manoeuvres between the classes and utilises the revolutionary instincts of the masses in the interests of this new caste.
Mao’s regime will follow the pattern of the other Stalinist regimes. Having consolidated itself, it will become a military-police dictatorship with all the other malignant aspects of the Russian regime. The signs are already visible.
Comrade James asserts that we reduce it to a question of Mao’s “psychology devoid of any social basis” when we say that Mao will follow in the footsteps of Stalin and will if anything be far more barbarous. It is not a question of the individual inclinations of Mao. It is precisely a question of the psychology of the Chinese army and, later, civil bureaucracy. An uncontrolled totalitarianism has shown what it can do in Stalinist Russia. In China, far more backward than Russia, where life and liberty have always been regarded lightly, the social contradictions will lead to the same consequences as in Russia, with this difference: superimposed upon Stalinist barbarism will be the traditions of Asiatic barbarism. If Mao does not fulfil the function which the triumphant military and civil caste will demand, then he will be removed and some other Bonaparte will take his place.
The fact that in the mountains and rural areas the generals and officers have lived a simple and austere existence, is not relevant here. Napoleon in the revolutionary army in France passed through a similar phase. But once in power, the caste surrounded itself with pomp and privilege right down to the “gorgeous uniforms”. Bourgeois observers, commenting on the difference between the corrupt and venal administration and officer caste of the Kuomintang, and the reasonably simple and honest administration and organisation of the army and the territories controlled by the Reds, pointed out that it was a question of waiting until the Reds had taken over the glittering prize of the cities of North and South China. On a low agrarian basis, no great social differentiation would take place. To repeat, it is not a question of “psychology” of individuals devoid of social basis, but of the necessary outlook and psychology of a social grouping in society.
The fact that Mao has a genuine mass base independent of the Russian Red Army, will in all likelihood provide for the first time an independent base for Chinese Stalinism which will no longer rest directly on Moscow. As with Tito, so with Mao, despite the role of the Red Army in Manchuria, Chinese Stalinism is developing an independent base. Because of the national aspirations of the Chinese masses, the traditional struggle against foreign domination, the economic needs of the country and above all, the powerful base in an independent state apparatus, the danger of a new and really formidable Tito in China is a factor which is causing anxiety in Moscow. The Titoists have already predicted the likelihood of such a development, because of the similarity to the movement in Yugoslavia.
Already in Manchuria, where the Russians have control of the Chinese Eastern railway and bases at Port Arthur and Dairon, they have placed their puppet Li-Li San in control. A discredited Stalinist functionary, who carried through the ultra-left policy of Stalin in the Third Period in the early 1930s, and a traditional opponent of Mao, Li-Li San is placed as a reliable puppet in control of Manchuria. Significantly, he has spent years of exile in Russia. By control of Manchuria, which formerly contained the greater part of Chinese industry, the Kremlin hopes to maintain a base. In Sin-Kiang, Stalin has established a base of support by negotiating with the bourgeois government of the Kuomintang.
However, the subordination of the Chinese economy to the benefit of the Russian bureaucracy, with the attempts to place puppets in control who will be completely subordinate to Moscow in other words, the national oppression of the Chinese – will create the basis for a clash with the Kremlin of great magnitude and significance. Mao, with an independent and powerful state apparatus, with the possibility of manoeuvring with the imperialists of the West (who will seek to negotiate with China for trade and try and drive a wedge between Peking and Moscow) and with the support of the Chinese masses as the victorious leader against the Kuomintang, will have powerful points of support against Moscow.
Stalin’s very efforts to try and forestall this development will tend to accelerate and intensify the resentment and the conflict. However, if Mao breaks with Stalin, this will not turn him into a Trotskyist. We will give critical support to Mao against Stalin, as with Tito. But against both we will continue to put forward the internationalist Marxist position.
The last point, the most pertinent, is on the question of the role of the Fourth International. “Meanwhile,” says comrade James, “the Stalinists are ‘establishing’ a revolution in which the Trotskyists are playing no discernible role. Evidently Grant’s references to the Stalinist perversion of Marxism, and to the coming role of the Trotskyists, have a purely ritual significance, derived from a prior conception of Stalinism which Grant himself has abandoned.”
And again, after quoting World News and Views in which Mao says: “The revolution of the great mass of the people, led by the proletariat…” James comments: “If this is true, we must support it, with criticism, but abandoning any ideas of an independent role for the Chinese Trotskyists.” If the revolution was led by the proletariat, why support it “with criticism”? Without criticism comrade! We would join the ranks of Mao.
We think we have shown above the deformation of the Chinese revolution and its roots. We support the progressive measures that the Stalinists take in the same way as we supported them in Finland and Poland, but we warn against the inevitable corruption because of the social forces at work. Thus the role of the Chinese Trotskyists is clear. They support, yes hail, the progressive measures introduced; at the same time, they explain the need for soviets, for democratic control by the masses, etc, and they oppose any reactionary measures taken against the masses in the interests of the bureaucracy. Theirs is not an easy task. The Opposition has been virtually wiped out in Russia; does this mean to say that there is no role for the Trotskyists in Russia? We place our faith in Chinese Trotskyism, not as a mere ritual, but because we have faith in the future of socialism. Of its own volition, China will never be freed from bureaucratic strangulation.
(1) Fyodor Butenko was a Stalinist diplomat who defected to fascism in 1938. Ignace Reiss (Poretsky) was a GPU official who broke with Stalinism in summer 1937. He was murdered by the GPU in September 1937.
(2) Named after Old Bolshevik Nikolai Bukharin, they were the right opposition in the USSR. After the expulsion of the Left Opposition in 1927, Stalin turned on the Bukharinites.
(3) Josef Cryankiewicz was secretary general of the Polish Socialist Party, became Prime Minister in 1947. In 1948 he forced through ’unification’ of the PSP with the CP.
(4) The demand for a five year plan was first raised by the Left Opposition in 1923. As late as April 1927 Stalin mocked calls for electrification, then at the end of 1927 the bureaucracy conducted a sharp turn in face of the growth of the rich peasants and adopted many of the Opposition’s plans, albeit in a distorted form.
(5) Max Eastman was the American translator of several of Trotsky’s books. While sympathetic to the Left Opposition he never joined its ranks. He broke with Marxism in the late 1930s.