Written: Summer 1990
Source: Militant International Review (issue 44)
Transcription/Markup: Patrik Olofsson, 2006
Proofread: Patrik Olofsson, 2006
It is now the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of Leon Trotsky by an agent of Stalin and more than one hundred and ten years since his birth on October 26, 1879. This has been an epoch of changes and upheavals greater than any other period of recorded history, perhaps the most disturbed century in the history of mankind.
Two world wars, the Russian revolution, the rise of Stalinism, the victory of the Soviet Union in the second world war, the Chinese revolution, the retreat from open military domination by imperialism to economic neo-colonial domination in the third world - these were the great events of this century which marked decisive stages in the history of the world.
Now a third turning point - the crisis of Stalinism in Russia and Eastern Europe - opens up a new stage in history. The representatives of the imperialist powers have been rubbing their hands with delight. Without firing a shot they have returned - they think - Eastern Europe back into their orbit and rolled back the menace of ‘communism’, in reality Stalinism. Yet history has still to say its last word. What we have seen in Eastern Europe will he as nothing to the crisis - political, economic and social - that will develop in the West. And as the crisis develops, left forces will again come to the fore. ‘Trotskyism’, the policy of social revolution will come into its own.
In his autobiography, My Life, Trotsky relates how eight years before the revolution of 1905, a young group of revolutionaries with a hectograph (a hand duplicator), produced a leaflet attacking tsarism. This was the beginning of the revolutionary activity of Leon Trotsky. The forces of the revolution were much weaker then than they are at the present day. Yet eight years later there was the 1905 revolution and twenty years later in 1917 the empire of the tsars, which had endured for a thousand years, was overthrown.
The Russian Social-Democrats were organised in a centralised party. There was a split in 1903 which, while accidental - occurring over a secondary question, was indicative of the different paths the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks would take in future years. It showed the difference, as Trotsky was to explain later, between ’hards’ and ’softs’. Trotsky himself remained with the Mensheviks for about a year and then broke away from them, standing midway between the position of the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. Nevertheless, as Lenin’s widow Krupskaya was to write to Trotsky a few days after Lenin’s death, Lenin maintained the same attitude towards Trotsky throughout his life. He understood the role which Trotsky could play.
The 1903 split was not a simple question, as the Stalinists were later to try and pretend, of an immediate parting between the two factions of the Social-Democracy. There was the Unity Congress - the Stockholm Congress of 1906 - where for a temporary period, Bolsheviks and Mensheviks came together again. Lenin only finally came to the conclusion that there could no longer be unity for revolutionary purposes in 1912. Only then did the Bolsheviks come out as an independent party.
After 1904 Trotsky had stood outside both factions. But in 1917 he marched arm in arm with the Bolsheviks. In March 1917, when Trotsky was in New York and Lenin in Switzerland, they independently adopted exactly the same approach to the provisional government. After the February revolution, the Bolshevik leaders inside Russia, including Stalin and Kamenev, advocated union with the Mensheviks. Trotsky was inflexibly opposed, as of course was Lenin. Yet at that time, as Trotsky explained, “the movement that had found its symbol in Kerensky seemed all-powerful... Bolshevism seemed nothing more than an ’insignificant group’... The party itself did not realise the power it was to have on the day after, but Lenin was leading it firmly toward its greatest tasks. I harnessed myself to the work and helped him.” My Life, p332.
On September 7, 1917 Trotsky wrote in Pravda: “To us internationalism is not an abstract idea existing only to be betrayed on every opportune occasion, as it is to Tzereteli and Chernov, (Menshevik and SR leaders - EG) but is a real guiding and wholly practical principle. A lasting, decisive success is inconceivable for us without a revolution in Europe... a permanent revolution verses a permanent slaughter: that is the struggle in which the stake is the future of man.”
As Trotsky comments, while “in the years of reaction, one needed theoretical foresight in order to hold fast to the prospect of a permanent revolution, probably nothing more than political sense was needed to advance the slogan of a fight for power in March 1917.” Yet “not a single one of the present leaders revealed such a foresight or such a sense... Not one of them stood the test of history.” My Life, p330. In consequence, Lenin declared that after Trotsky had become convinced of the impossibility of union with the Mensheviks, ‘there has been no better Bolshevik’.
In My Life Trotsky also outlines how the Red Army was organised and how the battles took place which determined the fate of the revolution, at Kazan and other areas. “The first requisite for success,” he explained, “was to hide nothing, our weakness least of all; not to trifle with the masses but to call everything by its right name”. That was the policy which Trotsky continued for the whole of his life, never trying to hide the truth from the working class.
Trotsky accomplished marvels in the revolution of 1905, as president of the Petrograd soviet, and as chairman of the Military Revolutionary Committee in 1917, which organised the October revolution. This, with the organisation of the Red Army, would have been sufficient to put him in the historical ‘hall of fame’. But in addition Trotsky, with Lenin, was the organiser of the Communist International - which they both considered of more importance than the Russian revolution itself. The Communist International united in its ranks the revolutionary workers of the entire world. It moved greater masses of people than even were organised in the rise of the world religions. It offered a conscious leadership to the inevitable movement of the working class. It could not create these movements but could take advantage of them and prepare the way for the world revolution.
That was the intention of Lenin and Trotsky when they founded the International. The Communist International was intended to prepare for the overthrow of capitalism and open the way for the new society of socialism. Its main work was to educate the new layers and new cadres thrown up as a result of the experience of the class struggle throughout the world, who would be capable of undertaking this task. That was the meaning of the work of the first four congresses of the Communist International. Their deliberations, with their theses and manifestos, many of them written by Trotsky, constitute an invaluable primer of revolution.
But reformism saved capitalism in the revolutionary events that immediately followed the First World War. The German revolution was betrayed by the social democracy which rejected the ‘bloody path of Bolshevism’ for a gradual, slow and peaceful transformation of capitalism. Fifteen years later Hitler came to power!
At this early stage, the workers’ leaders in the Communist International were still young and theoretically underdeveloped. But they could have learned, and were learning, in the course of the great events that took place. The defeat of the revolution in Germany taught the workers many bitter lessons, and the Communist Party grew on the basis of this struggle between revolution and counter-revolution to a party of millions.
In January 1923, after Germany defaulted on its war reparations, French imperialism invaded the Ruhr. This, with the crisis of German capitalism, led to the collapse of the currency. The mark went to billions to the pound. A revolutionary crisis developed in Germany. But the vacillations of the leadership of the Communist Party, together with the bad advice of Stalin and Zinoviev, led to a great revolutionary opportunity being missed.
The 1923 defeat in Germany strengthened the reaction which was developing in Russia from the disappointment at the isolation of the revolution and the terrible economic situation of the masses. The ‘troika’ of Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin gained control of the leadership of the CPSU and commenced a struggle against ‘Trotskyism’. In reality this was a struggle against the basic ideas of Lenin and the revolution itself.
The developing reaction in Russia was reflected in Stalin coming forward with the theory of ‘socialism in one country’ in 1924. In February 1924 Stalin published a book, The Foundations of Leninism, which reflected the orthodox Marxist idea of Lenin about the impossibility of building ‘socialism in one country’, especially a backward country like Russia. But six months later in a new edition, he published the opposite idea that Russia had sufficient resources to build socialism! This was supposed to act as a consolation for the masses, disappointed by the failure of the world revolution. In reality it reflected the interests of the new bureaucratic caste which was seeking control in the Soviet Union on the basis of the ebbing of the activity of the masses.
Trotsky gave a warning and a brilliant prediction: Stalin was an empiric who, at that stage, did not realise what he was doing or where the theory of ‘socialism in one country’ would end - in the nationalist and reformist degeneration of every Communist party in the world. This was a remarkable prediction, brilliantly confirmed by events.
Trotsky’s faction in the Russian Communist Party led a struggle against the bureaucratic road between 1923 and 1927. They adopted the programme of extensive industrialisation which was fought against by Stalin and Bukharin - now lauded by the latter day supporters of Gorbachev - who wanted to ‘build socialism at a snails pace’. Trotsky, in the brilliant work, The Third International after Lenin, explained the impossibility of building socialism in a single country, particularly a backward country like Russia. He fought for an internationalist line in foreign affairs and for the restoration of workers democracy in the Soviet Union, the regeneration of the Soviets and power to be handed back to the working masses.
He fought against the course of Stalin and Bukharin, and to certain extent of Zinoviev, in relation to the British revolution, in which he predicted the general strike of 1926. He waged a campaign against the suicidal policy of the Comintern of support for Chiang Kai-shek in the Chinese revolution of 1925-27, which resulted in the massacre of the communists.
Yet, Trotsky’s greatest contribution to world socialism and to the movement of the working class was his analysis of Stalinism in Russia. Without his work the movement would have been blind. He analysed mercilessly the zigzags of ‘socialism in one country’ which turned the Comintern from an instrument of world revolution into a ‘border guard’ for the Soviet Union. In reply, in 1927 the ‘Trotskyist’ were expelled from the CPSU and exiled to Siberia.
In those years Trotsky conducted a struggle, against what he called ‘bureaucratic centrism’. - This was the time when Stalin and other leaders of the Russian revolution genuinely desired the victory of the revolution in other countries but, first with opportunist policies and then with the madness of ultra-leftism, with the insane theory of ‘social fascism’ - that the social democracy and fascism were not enemies but twins - prepared the way for the victory of Hitler in 1933. The path of the Comintern in the years to 1933 was one of oscillation from ultra-leftism to opportunism and back again. In a series of writings Trotsky dealt with the criminal policies of the Comintern and warned of the danger of Hitler and the consequences the victory of fascism would have for the German and world working class. He advocated the united front of the social democrats and communists in order to prevent the coming to power of Hitler.
Yet the Comintern learnt nothing from the disastrous defeat in Germany and even claimed the coming to power of Hitler as a step towards the victory of the revolution! Even as late as February 1934, when the fascists conducted demonstrations against the liberal government of Daladier in France, the Communist Party actually demonstrated together with the fascists. Had they succeeded fascism could have come to power in France in 1934. Fortunately the French workers could see what was happening across the Rhine and forced the union leaders to organise a general strike. Although only one million workers were organised in the trade unions four million participated in the general strike as a warning to the fascists.
Trotsky, who had stood for the reform of the Communist International and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, now came forward with the idea of a political revolution in Russia and the inevitable collapse of the Comintern as a force for revolution.
Subsequently the Comintern was to turn to the tactic of the ‘popular front’ which demanded the subordination of the proletariat to the liberals. Trotsky dealt with this in his writings on Spain and France. The Comintern tried to distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ capitalists. Not using a class criterion and utilising the crisis of the system to overthrow capitalism - but forcing the workers to support the ‘liberals’ - disillusioned the workers and thus prepared the way for reaction. In France certain leaders, taking this reactionary idea to a ludicrous conclusion, demanded a National Front with ‘good’ French fascists and Mussolini against ‘bad’ German Nazi fascists! The defeats of the working class paved the way for war. Trotsky believed that the Second World War would be a decisive test for capitalism, resulting in revolutions in the West. And indeed, there was a post-war revolutionary wave throughout Western Europe. In Britain it brought the Labour government to power. In France, Italy and other countries it brought coalitions including the socialist and Stalinist parties to power.
But this new revolutionary wave was betrayed by Stalin. He was afraid that the effects of a victory of the workers in other countries would result in the collapse of the bureaucracy within the Soviet Union. In the same way in 1936, fearing the effects of the Spanish revolution within the Soviet Union, Stalin had launched his murderous purges and prepared the way for the ghastly frame-up trials of the ‘old Bolsheviks’ and Trotsky.
So capitalism was saved in this tight corner by the policies of the Communist parties, and of course the reformists, who continued the same policies as they had carried out after the First World War. However, this did not have the same consequences, because the situation was somewhat different to that which followed the First World War. What paved the way for the long economic upswing of 1950-73 was the domination of American imperialism in the post-war capitalist world. At that time America had 50 per cent of world production. She used her domination to force the opening of world markets to exports. There was an enormous expansion of world trade, through the lowering of tariffs and other barriers to trade. This expansion of world trade gave a temporary extension to capitalism, but on the other hand it had more progressive consequences as well. It resulted in the growth of the numbers, cohesion and power of the proletariat throughout the advanced capitalist countries, and even to some extent also in tile underdeveloped world.
The policies of the Communist and socialist parties prepared the political basis for a relative stabilisation of capitalism. But Stalinism also emerged strengthened from the Second World War. Only the Marxists understood the change in the situation that had taken place, explaining the consequences of the victory of the Red Army and the turn towards the policies of proletarian Bonapartism in the countries of Eastern Europe. This was a new situation which could only be explained by using the method of Lenin and Trotsky, not just by repeating their ideas without taking into account the fundamental changes that had taken place.
Nowadays Stalin has been completely repudiated by the bureaucracy, who curses him as being responsible for all the ills that afflict Russia today. But Stalin was an expression of the apparatus, the representative of the bureaucracy. It was this which gave strength to Stalin, which enabled his victory over Trotsky in the battle between the Left Opposition and the bureaucracy.
Trotsky explained the degeneration of the Bolsheviks which took place between 1917 and 1924 by the changing conditions of existence under which they lived. In the chapter on Lenin’s death and the shift of power in My Life, he describes the processes involved:
“To absorb a certain philosophic outlook into one’s flesh and blood, to make it dominate one’s consciousness, and to co-ordinate with it one’s sensory world, is given not to everyone but to only a few. In the working masses, a substitute is found in the class instinct... But there are many revolutionaries in the party and the state who came from the masses but have long since broken away from them.” (p503)
With the changing circumstances, above all the economic situation and the series of defeats of the revolution on an international plane, they became exposed “to the easy penetration of foreign and hostile ideological influences.” Stalinism, Trotsky concludes, was “above all else the automatic work of the impersonal apparatus on the decline of the revolution.” (p506) It was the dictatorship of the apparatus over the party.
Trotsky further deepened and developed his analysis of Stalinism in a whole series of works. One of his last works, In Defence of Marxism, was written in the battle against those who wanted to change the attitude of Marxists towards the Soviet Union during the course of the Second World War.
Trotsky maintained that the USSR was a deformed workers’ state so long as there was state ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange. This is the fundamental determination of a workers’ state. Without it there can be no question of a transition to socialism. But without the necessary workers’ democracy and workers’ control and management of industry and the state, there cannot be a healthy workers’ state. The bureaucracy became a privileged caste, lording it over and above society and the working class. Unable to take any steps towards a freer and more equal society, it tried to preserve the status quo, to maintain a hierarchical society, to increase its own power, privileges, prestige and income, ruling by totalitarian terror over the workers. It has taken five decades for these characteristics which Trotsky saw in 1940 to develop to their fullest extent.
At the heart of the dispute over the ’defence of the USSR’ was the class nature of the Soviet Union. “The ‘defence of the USSR’, as interpreted by the Comintern”, argued Trotsky, “like yesterday’s ‘struggle against fascism’, is based on the renunciation of independent class politics. The proletariat is transformed - for various reasons in various circumstances, but always and invariably - into an auxiliary force of one bourgeois camp against another...
“The primary political criteria for us is not the transformation of property relations in this or another area, however important these may be in themselves, but rather the change in the consciousness and organisation of the world proletariat, raising their capacity for defending former conquests and accomplishing new ones...
“We must formulate our slogans in such a way that the workers see clearly just what we are defending in the USSR (state property and planned economy), and against whom we are conducting a ruthless struggle (the parasitic bureaucracy and its Comintern). We must not lose sight for a single moment of the fact that the question of overthrowing the Soviet bureaucracy is for us subordinate to the question of preserving state property of the means of production in the USSR; that the question of preserving state property of the means of production in the USSR is subordinate to us to the question of the world proletarian revolution.” (In Defence of Marxism, p17-21)
In Defence of Marxism answers the ideas of all sorts of quasi-’Marxists’ who were disorientated by the development of Stalinism, such as Isaac Deutscher, who wrote a biography of Trotsky. Deutscher imagined that the bureaucracy could move in the direction of socialism, that it could dissolve itself out of existence! Events today demonstrate that this is fundamentally false. On the other hand, we have people like Tony Cliff who put forward the idea of ‘state capitalism’, that the bureaucracy was a new social formation. This is also completely wrong.
The economy of a state with 100% ownership is entirely different to that of the economy of capitalism. The economic laws of motion of such a society are entirely different to those of capitalism. For example, there cannot be a crisis of over-production and slump as under capitalism. The crisis in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe is of a different character.
Moreover, capitalism cannot function without capitalists being, in the words of Marx, the ‘repository of the means of production’. In an economy of state ownership, the state is the repository of the means of production. The bureaucrats are not entrepreneurs. As economic functionaries and managers they are entitled to no more than the wages of superintendence. Insofar as they receive more they do so as pure parasites and not as a consequence of their economic function. A workers’ state can only function properly under the democratic control of the workers. Otherwise all the negative phenomena of Russia and Eastern Europe are inevitable. Or, in the words of Trotsky, “if the Bonapartist riff-raff (that is, the Soviet bureaucracy - EG) is a class, this means that it is not an abortion but a viable child of history.” (p19)
On the one hand, state ownership has demonstrated it is possible to utilise the enormous advantages given by a plan of production. On the other hand, the bureaucracy has now reached its limits and can no longer even get the results that have been achieved under capitalism in a boom! As Trotsky explained: “The goal to be attained by the overthrow of the bureaucracy is the re-establishment of the rule of the soviets, expelling from them the present bureaucracy... it is the task of the regenerated soviets to collaborate with the world revolution and the building of a socialist society. The overthrow of the bureaucracy therefore presupposes the preservation of state property and of planned economy. Therein lays the nub of the whole problem.” This is a succinct programme which retains its validity even to the present day; more than 50 years after Trotsky wrote it.
Trotsky, using the method of Marxism, posed the question: “Does the bureaucracy represent a temporary growth on a social organism or has this growth really become transformed into a historically indispensable organ?” He answered by explaining that a “social excrescence can be a product of an ‘accidental’ (i.e. temporary and extraordinary) enmeshing of historical circumstances. A social organ (and such is every class, including an exploiting class) can take shape only as a result of the deepest rooted inner needs of production itself... the historical justification for every ruling class consisted in this - the system of exploitation that it headed raised the development of the productive forces to a new level. Beyond the shadow of doubt, the soviet regime gave a mighty impulse to economy. But the source of this impulse was the nationalisation of the means of production and the planned beginnings, and by no means the fact that the bureaucracy usurped command over the economy. On the contrary, bureaucratism, as a system, became the worst brake on the technical and cultural development of the country.” In Defence of Marxism, p6.
The bureaucracy is now in the position where it can no longer develop the productive forces. It is now no longer a relative fetter on the development of society but an absolute brake.
This, Trotsky explained, “was veiled for a certain time by the fact that the Soviet economy was occupied for two decades with transplanting and assimilating the technology and the methods of production of the advanced capitalist countries. The period of borrowing and imitation still could, for better or for worse, be accommodated to bureaucratic automatism, i.e. the suffocation of all initiative and all creative urge. But the higher the economy arose, the more complex its requirements became, all the more unbearable became the obstacles of the bureaucratic regime... the bureaucracy... came into irreconcilable contradiction with the demands of development. The explanation of this is to be found precisely in the fact that the bureaucracy is not the bearer of a new system of economy peculiar to itself and impossible without itself, but is a parasitic growth on the workers’ state.” (p7) This analysis has been brilliantly confirmed by the current impasse.
Trotsky goes on to explain: “The Soviet oligarchy possesses all the vices of the old ruling classes but lacks their historical mission. In the bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet state it is not the general laws of modern society from capitalism to socialism which find expression, but the special, exceptional and temporary refraction of these laws out of the conditions of a backward revolutionary country in a capitalist environment.” (p7)
“The October revolution was not an accident. It was forecast long in advance. Events confirmed this forecast. The degeneration does not refute the forecast, because Marxists never believed that an isolated workers’ state in Russia could maintain itself indefinitely. True enough, we expected the wrecking of the Soviet state, rather than its degeneration; to put it more correctly, we did not sharply differentiate between these two possibilities. But they do not at all contradict each other. Degeneration must inescapably end at a certain stage in downfall... twenty-five years in the scales of history, when it is a question of the profoundest changes in economic and cultural systems; weigh less than an hour in the life of man.” (p13-15)
The bureaucracy managed to maintain itself for a greater length of time than could have been foreseen. This was due to the victory in the war, which they were not responsible for but which reflected the determination of the masses in the Soviet Union not to be enslaved by Hitlerite fascism. But as Trotsky then went on to say, which again has been strikingly demonstrated at the present time, “in the USSR, the overthrow of the bureaucracy is indispensable for the preservation of state property.” (p15)
The coalition policies of the ’communists’ in Europe at the end of world war two were a shameful betrayal of all the ideas of Marx and Lenin on the struggle against capitalism. They saved capitalism in this period and gave the necessary breathing space to prepare the political conditions for the economic upswing. Now the collapse of Stalinism in Eastern Europe, or as the capitalists prefer to pretend, ’communism’ has given an apparent further breathing space to the capitalists, further reinforced by the crisis of Stalinism in Russia.
But this crisis of Stalinism, which was predicted by the Marxists, is merely a forerunner of a crisis of capitalism in Western Europe and throughout the world. The next decade will be one of turmoil in the capitalist countries too. France 1968 was not an accident. It was a reflection of the inevitable movement of the working class under conditions of crisis.
The Guardian, 22 June, showed the situation that has developed in America: “The average voter has woken up to the fact that his household income has not improved for 20 years”. Quoting a recent book, The Politics of Rich and Poor by Kevin Phillips, a strategist of the Republicans in 1968, The Guardian journalist comments: “Now that the figures are coming in, we can tell just how far the Reagan years swung the pendulum towards the plutocracy. In 1980 when Reagan was elected, the richest one per cent in the USA owned just eight per cent of the national wealth. By 1988 they had almost doubled their share to 14.9%.
“There are nearly two million American millionaires, over 150,000 deca-millioniaries, (worth $10 million) and 51 billionaires. The net wealth of the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans nearly tripled in the 1980s. Chief executives of big corporations, who earned an average 40 times as much as the workers in 1980, now earn 93 times more.”
This is the shadow of coming events. Exactly the same process took place between 1920 and 1930, preparing the slump of 1929-33. Trotsky, in his introduction to The Living Thoughts of Karl Marx, pointed out that: “As a matter of fact, the economic contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie was aggravated during the most prosperous periods of capitalist development, when the rise in the standard of living of a certain strata of toilers, which at times were rather extensive, hid the decrease of the proletariat’s share of the national income. Thus, just before falling into prostration, the industrial production of the US, for instance, increased by 50% between 1920 and 1930, while the sum paid out in wages rose only by 30%, which meant a tremendous decrease of labour’s share in the national income.” p25.
History repeats itself on a higher level. At least in that period, the share of the national income of the proletariat increased. Yet now the share of the proletariat has fallen over the last 20 years. That means that the contradictions in the economy have reached an even greater extent than they did in 1929-33. Of course, when the crisis will be, cannot be worked out with complete accuracy in advance. It may be some years, or there could be a collapse even in 1991. But what is certain is that the same economic causes produce the same economic effects.
The irony of history may be that the Soviet bureaucracy is preparing to capitulate to capitalism possibly on the eve of new capitalist economic and social convulsions. The ‘fireworks’ of Western capitalism will prepare an inevitable collapse at a later stage. The crisis that has taken place in Eastern Europe and Russia is a harbinger of a similar crisis of capitalism in the West in the coming epoch, in Europe, North America and Asia. There will be a decay of capitalism world-wide.
How shallow and frail the present economic and political stabilisation of capitalism is, was shown by the terror of the world bourgeoisie at the revolution which took place in Romania. There were even appeals from the Western capitalist powers - because of the fear of the effects of the revolution - for Gorbachev to ‘intervene’ against the revolution in Romania. The campaign in the press over the defence of the Iliescu government by the factory workers and the miners was another indication of this.
There will be enormous difficulties on the road of counter-revolution in Russia and in Eastern Europe. An explosion is being prepared in Poland. That is the fear of the ruling class. They are now clutching at straws, making mistakes together with Gorbachev rather than against the Stalinist regime.
The reactionary theory of socialism in a single country has been shown in all its futility and stupidity. Stalin believed that he had established a regime that would last for a thousand years. He had no idea of the crisis that would effect his system in a few decades. The leaders of the Communist International also did not realise what would happen when they adopted this reactionary theory.
Now, many of the gains of the October revolution, including the development of the Communist International throughout Europe and the world, have been destroyed. From being an instrument of international revolution, the Communist parties have become a remnant of national reformist organisations in the different countries. Each one is more reactionary than the other! In Greece, they made a coalition with a conservative government, the very forces which had crushed them in the civil war of 1944-47. In Spain they split into fragments. Even where the Communist parties remain a force, as in Italy and France, they have become an agency not of Stalinism but of the capitalists. They have deservedly suffered this fate, predicted by Trotsky.
The international followers of Stalin, and all his successors, were a tool of the bureaucracy’s foreign policy. Even now they support Gorbachev blindly, even though he is moving in the direction of the restoration of capitalism. In the wake of the capitalist economic boom, the lefts in the socialist parties were incapable of orientating themselves. They followed the Stalinists in the most gullible fashion, propagating the idea that ‘socialism’ had been established in Russia and Eastern Europe. Now they are suffering the same fate as the Stalinists.
Momentarily, with the upswing of capitalism, the right-wing reformists are riding high. They are degenerate tools of capitalism. They have abandoned any pretence of ‘socialism’. Where they are in government, in France, Spain, Sweden, Australia and New Zealand, the ‘socialist’ governments carry out conservative capitalist policies. In New Zealand and Australia they have actually turned to denationalisation. In Germany they abandoned long ago the pretence of a socialist programme. They are even more degenerate in theory and in practical politics than their predecessors in the Weimar republic.
Yet it is in the nature of things that they should behave this way because they too are in the grip of the world market, the interpenetration of productive forces on an international scale. It is no longer possible to operate a purely ‘national’ policy. That is the explanation for the movement towards economic unification - which will not succeed - in the European Economic Community, and the fact that the other European capitalist powers have come into the orbit of the EEC.
This relatively progressive development of the productive forces resulted from the capitalists partially overcoming the crisis in which they found themselves - expressed in the slump of 1929-33 and two world wars - by overcoming the national limits of each capitalist economy. The economy has outgrown the restraints of private ownership and the national state. This will be demonstrated even more crushingly in the future.
Indeed, the capitalist world rests on the exploitation of the colonial and ex-colonial peoples. Throughout the 1980s, $50,000 million was extracted each year from the poorest peoples of the globe. The repulsive hypocrisy of the capitalists lies in the fact that they shed crocodile tears, piously pretending to give aid while using the terms of trade to bleed these countries: giving with the left hand while taking much more back with the right.
Trotsky’s work on the permanent revolution, which was aimed at the backward countries of the world, retains its full force at the present time, although the aberration of Stalinism in this field too created new difficulties in theory and perspectives. The Chinese revolution, the Cuban revolution and others began as deformed workers’ states and will inevitably go into the same blind alley as the Russian bureaucracy finds itself at the present time. Nevertheless they were enormously progressive in the sense that they did for a whole historical period develop the productive forces which could not be developed in the backward countries under capitalism. In the three sectors of the world, the Stalinist world, the capitalist world and the colonial world, the ideas of Trotsky are an invaluable guide to the new forces of the working class which will develop.
History has still to say its last word in relation to Eastern Europe. Eastern Europe and Russia are still in the balance. In Eastern Europe the programme of ‘socialism in a single country’ was carried to a ludicrous extent. The level of economic integration of the EEC was not reached, let alone that of the United States of America. Each country was pushed into a separate blind alley, after an initial period of enormous progress in developing the productive forces. There was not the control of the ‘market’ that at least partially exists under capitalism but nor was there any control whatsoever by the workers, which is a necessary concomitant to prepare the way to move in the direction of socialism. The impasse was reflected in the complete collapse of Stalinism beginning with Poland and Hungary. In the case of Hungary the Stalinists themselves initiated the process, probably with the encouragement of Gorbachev.
In the early decades following the second world war, the bureaucracy evinced an enormous satisfaction and self-confidence. In 1960 Khrushchev said to the capitalist powers, ‘we will bury you’! Technically, economically and socially, particularly with the aid of China and Eastern Europe, this would have been entirely possible. If the same rate of growth which they had achieved up to that point had continued they would have outstripped the US by 1980. But the rapacious bureaucracy, the corruption, the incompetence, the impossibility of developing an economy of state ownership without the direct participation and control of the mass of the workers, ruled out any way forward on this basis.
Yet, all the bourgeois theoreticians and the reformist politicians imagined that the Stalinist system could maintain itself forever! Now the totalitarian granite foundation that was supposed to have been built has shown its ineptitude and incapacity to hold down the working class.
The bureaucracy is split. One section wants to go hack to the blind alley of bureaucratic control. Another section wishes to move in the direction of capitalism. With the temporary upswing of capitalism, which has now lasted for decades, they want to swing back to capitalism, or rather, to use its pseudonym, the ’market economy’. There will be an inevitable recoil from this.
What is most striking in all the countries of Eastern Europe and above all in the Soviet Union itself, is the fear of the bureaucracy of the working class. There is not a coherent and open component within the ranks of the bureaucracy with the idea of going back to the control of the working class as existed in the days of Lenin and Trotsky. Yet, the Russian and Eastern European workers have still to say their last word. In the coming battles in Eastern Europe, in Western Europe and in the world there will be time over and over again to develop the programme of international socialist revolution.
The Russian workers have gone through a process of development over three generation’s f, since the revolution. The industrial workers were diluted by large numbers of peasants, who now of course have become proletarians. But to a great extent, with the massacre of the old Bolsheviks, with the massacre of ‘Trotskyist’, the consciousness of the Russian workers has been lost. However, the new regimes which will come into force still remain to be tested by events and by history. Very rapidly, the Russian workers and the workers of Eastern Europe can regain and revive the ideas of Marxism and its modern equivalent, ‘Trotskyism’.
Even in the worst case, if the bureaucracy should succeed in establishing capitalism, a new October revolution would be inevitable, but on a higher economic and social level. From ten million workers, there are now 140-150 million. The regime which would be established ed would find itself in new contradictions, particularly as the crisis of capitalism develops on a world scale.
The Russian revolution has been justified historically, whatever the vicissitudes which Russia may go through in the next period. The work of Lenin and Trotsky is imperishable. Armed with the ideas and organisational methods of Lenin and of Trotsky, the proletariat will be invincible. Their revolt is absolutely inevitable. The gains in the standard of living in Europe, America and Japan are actually welcome from this point of view. They have strengthened the proletariat immeasurably in comparison with the pre-war period.
The process of organisation of the international market and the integration of the world economy, which led to a partial overcoming of the crisis of capitalism for a temporary historical period, will on the other hand enormously exacerbate that crisis at a later stage. The development of the productive forces gave a respite to capitalism. But this will inevitably turn dialectically into its opposite. New barriers, new tariffs, will be constructed. There is the outline of new blocs and powers: a unified Germany and the EEC; Japan and Asia; the United States, Canada and Latin America. New and even greater rivalries will develop between the capitalist powers.
The progressive development of the interdependence of the world economy will collapse at a certain stage. Inevitably, the further development of the productive forces on the road which Trotsky deals with in The Living Thoughts of Karl Marx - the concentration and centralisation of capitalism to a level that has never been reached in the past - will,’ prepare the way for new and even bigger slumps. The analysis of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky of the ‘market’, was correct. In the fact that capitalism depends on the unpaid labour of the working class lies the germ of the crisis which will develop in the future. The very process of accumulation, or in the words of Marx, ’over-accumulation’, is in itself a guarantee of crisis in the future.
In avoiding crisis new massive contradictions have been created. The present ‘prosperity’ is very fragile. With credit, and with armaments spending which produces fictitious capital, with the concentration and centralisation of capital through parasitic takeovers, the ruling class is preparing future crisis.
Nevertheless, the development of the world economy lays the foundations for international socialism in computers, micro-electronics and automation. Now it is entirely possible in the main capitalist countries and in the Soviet Union to introduce a six-hour day and a four-day week without reductions in pay. This would give the necessary time for the proletariat to run industry and the state.
The material, political and social basis of socialism has been laid. What is lacking has been the consciousness and understanding of the proletariat and a mass revolutionary vanguard to harness the inevitable movement of the working class.
Trotsky explained time and again that internationalism is not for sentimental reasons but because of the integration of the world economy, which was capitalism’s historically progressive task. This has been carried to an extent which could not have been even dreamed of by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. The world economy is one at the present time. This in its turn will prepare the way for enormous international movements of the working class.
Now not even the Soviet Union or the US can stand alone. They are part of a world economy. Brezhnev had to reluctantly abandon the precept of Stalin about a ‘self-sufficient’ economy. Gorbachev has carried this further. But they have not done so with the purpose of preparing for the socialist revolution but on the contrary have ingratiated themselves with the capitalist powers. Gorbachev’s leaning on the imperialist powers, appealing for aid to Kohl, Mitterrand, Bush and Thatcher, is a striking confirmation of the process sketched out by Trotsky in In Defence of Marxism of “the increasing independence of the bureaucracy from the soviet proletariat and the growth of its dependence upon other classes and groups both inside and outside the country.” (p119) A super-power with tremendous resources, yet Gorbachev has to take out the begging bowl! He can only expect aid because, faced with insoluble contradictions, he has taken to the road of counter-revolution and the restoration of the market, i.e. capitalism.
Trotsky, developing the ideas of Marx and Lenin, explained that the activities of men and women are decisive. “The Marxist comprehension of historical necessity,” he wrote in In Defence of Marxism, “has nothing in common with fatalism. Socialism is not realised ‘by itself, but is the result of the struggle of living forces, classes and their parties.” (p30) The activities of Marxists are absolutely vital. Without this the inevitable revolt of the proletariat would never be carried through to a sucessful conclusion.
Kinnock, Mitterrand, Lafontaine, Craxi, Gonzales, Hawke and other leaders of the right wing of social democracy think they are ‘realists’. In reality, they are not superior to the economic conditions which exist at the present time. They, in the last analysis, remain as tools of big business, in the grip of forces which are beyond their control. With the next turn of the wheel, as the economies change, they will be crushed.
The whole history of the last 70 years has demonstrated the correctness of the ideas of Trotsky. Again and again the masses will take to the road of struggle. 1968 in France was a harbinger of events on an international scale. Inevitably the ideas of Trotsky and Lenin - for the taking of power into the hands of the working class - will gain greater credence among the active layers of the working class and those conscientious intellectuals seeking a way out of the crisis of capitalism and Stalinism which will unfold in the coming years.
The ‘liberal’ face of capitalism in the West has come to the fore in the last few decades, with the ‘enlightened’ control by big business of freedom of speech, of the press and of organisation. Democracy in the advanced capitalist countries, Trotsky explained, rested on the “spoliation of the colonies,” in the same way that “ancient democracy was based on slavery.” Democracy is undoubtedly the most convenient and flexible method of domination by the capitalists. But inevitably, once the revolt of the masses takes place, big business will change its tactics, as they did in the epoch between the wars. It is entirely superficial to imagine that democracy on a capitalist basis can be maintained.
In the event of the failure of a new wave of revolutions, it would be inevitable that they will turn to the methods of reaction of the past. Already in Hungary and Poland ideologists of the capitalist class are talking about the need for a dictatorship - a capitalist dictatorship. Walsea in Poland, who began his activity in struggle against Stalinist totalitarianism, is now advocating what would be in effect a totalitarian system in Poland, a complete dictatorship of capital in order to force through the changes necessary to establish the capitalist system in Poland. In reality, capitalism will reveal its impasse in the coming period. At the same time we see the impasse in the USSR. Both Stalinism and capitalism are doomed. A new wave of revolutions is inevitable and irresistible.
The outstanding characteristic of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky was faith in the capacity and understanding of the working class to carry through a transformation of society. They understood that the working class is the only through and through progressive class which can succeed in preparing the way for socialism.
Only the programme and method of Lenin and Trotsky will serve the needs and the interests of the working class. The revolutionary youth must study the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and especially Trotsky - particularly the inter-war works which have great topicality - if they are to equip themselves for the tasks of struggle which lie in the future.
As a theoretician Trotsky probably stands, even higher than Lenin. He stood on the shoulders of Lenin, carrying the ideas of Marxism in the epoch of Stalinist reaction. The internationalists who have gathered in many countries of the world should not be worried by the smallness of their forces at the present time. Events will teach the masses. We have had a fresh demonstration of this in the campaign over the poll tax. With the method of Lenin and Trotsky, forces will be created which will stand the test of events. In this anniversary year of Leon Trotsky we can say to the ‘Old Man’, we salute you, internationally the Marxist tendency carries on your work.
We owe a debt of gratitude to that great man, Trotsky. Martyr to the Stalinist counterrevolution, inspirer, thinker, he will live forever in the memory of the working class when they achieve socialism.