Mansoor Hekmat 1986
A slightly abridged form of Mansoor Hekmat’s speech to a seminar by the Communist Party of Iran in December 1986. The present translation is from the text of the speech published in issue no. 3 of the CPI’s bulletin Marxism & the Question of the Soviet Union. Mansoor Hekmat, who was a founding member of the CPI, left the CPI along with other members of its leadership (the political bureau of the CPI) in November 1991 to found the Worker-communist Party of Iran.
I will begin by making some general remarks on the subject I am to present today. The viewpoint whose outline I am going to put forward contains an approach which does not follow in the tradition of the radical Left. As a result much effort may be needed in order to establish the validity of this outlook. This is particularly the case as those who set out to deal with the Soviet question from a radical viewpoint are generally influenced by the already existing critiques put forward by the various trends within the radical Left. My argument has fundamental differences with such interpretations, and in order to illustrate it I will have to constantly bring out the distinctions between it and the current radical notions. In my view these theses are deductions which a tendency belonging to worker-communism can make, on the basis of its general viewpoint, on the Soviet experience. In passing, let me point out that what the expression ‘worker-communism’ intends to convey is nothing but an emphasis on the social origin of Marxism and communism, namely the working class.
Unfortunately, communism has today, more than ever, assumed the features of a school of thought, whereas both practically, in a good part of its history, and theoretically, as far as its relation to Marxism is concerned, it is a social movement. It is the movement of a social class aiming to bring about actual changes in society. This social-class point of departure is not something which one should only consider when passing from the theory of Marxism to party and political practice but is also a concept which should become an integral part of our current theoretical outlook towards various issues. In the so-called radical esoteric Marxism, the working class is an abstract category, as too are socialism and class struggle. However, in real Marxism, i.e. in worker-communism, these categories refer to concrete social-historical relations and phenomena. My critique of the experience of the workers’ revolution in Russia is the critique of a real historical process promoted by active social forces, and as such must therefore begin by regarding and assessing this phenomenon in terms of its objective dynamism and of the movement of social forces present at the time. That is why I believe I have serious differences with what has been internationally recognised as the radical critique of the Soviet experience. My critique does not follow in the current tradition of the radical Left, which is under the illusion that to the degree that it succeeds to point out the contrasts between the actual experience and its own preconceived tenets, to the degree that it succeeds to deny the proletarian character of different aspects of the Russian revolution, to the same degree it has come closer to orthodox Marxism, or has presented a more ‘profound’ critique of the subject at issue. From the viewpoint of worker-communism, one cannot deal with the Soviet experience with the same laxity as that done by the ‘radical’ critics of the Bolshevik revolution within Left Communism, the New Left, etc. This experience is the outcome of a class numbering in millions, a class which embarked on this practice with the belief that it was striving for its class emancipatory interests. For several decades, the most advanced working-class parties and organisations had tried to bring about this revolution. It was a revolution which left its imprint not on the fate of the workers’ movement alone, but on the whole of the contemporary world. Such an experience cannot be judged simply by the criterion of the ideological purity and theoretical orthodoxy of its leadership; as if a flaw in this suffices to wipe out the whole experience.
The class practice of the working class can only be countered and nullified by the great social forces of other classes. Theoretical impurities and incompatibility with pre-conceived patterns and tenets do not, on their own, justify any attempt to deny such an immense objective social experience. What one has to show is this: under what specific circumstances and by what material and social forces were the immense rising of the Russian working class eventually defeated.
Thus, although my criticism of the Russian experience may not seem ‘radical’ enough to the present radical Left, in my own view it presents the most radical critique of the Soviet experience. In fact, one of the central points of my discussion is that the radical criticisms have so far represented nothing but an esoteric reductionism, on the one hand, and a radical democratism on the other. The fact is that a truly radical critique can only be a proletarian socialist one, and it is such a critique whose outline I am to present here today.
By putting forward the present theses, I intend to present a socialist critique of the Soviet experience. I emphasize the word socialist since I believe that previous critiques for the most part are not socialist, but in essence a democratic criticism which has been presented in various ways in radical forms. There is a whole range of issues which constitute the analytical base of these critiques, issues such as the party deviations, the theoretical and ideological incorrect outlooks and weaknesses in the party, the post-revolutionary state structure, the performance of the Soviet government in the international arena, and so on. But it is imperative to understand that even the most radical of the democratic critiques not only fail to provide an answer to the most controversial problem in the debate over the Soviet experience, namely: why was a socialist society not built in the Soviet Union, but, consequently, they even cannot produce a materialist critique to the very issues which they choose to point out. In these critiques it usually seems as if such deviations, like a viral disease, are conceived somewhere, aggravate, and eventually corrupt and degenerate everything. But in fact the whole merit of historical materialism and of Marxism’s methodological achievement, is its ability to lay bare the material bases of super-structural developments, i.e. intellectual, political, legal, administrative, etc., developments of society. When a viewpoint fails to point out the material and economic bases of such developments, its analysis of these very developments will naturally be deficient and inadequate.
Central to the socialist critique is how the soviet economy developed after the revolution. This is the quintessence of Marxism, and its rejection represents, in my view, a non-Marxist standpoint. To reject the issue of economic transformation of the society in the aftermath of the revolution as the issue which must be examined in relation to the Soviet experience, amounts to neglecting or omitting the question altogether. Why?
Firstly, the socialist revolution is basically an economic revolution, and only on this basis can it be a social revolution. The fact that in the Marxism of our time this point has fallen into oblivion, the fact that Marxism has been reduced from the theory of social revolution, to the ‘science’ of how to conquer political power, is itself an indication of the increasing use made of Marxism by non-proletarian layers of society as a veil for non-revolutionary, non-socialist interests. Fundamental to the social revolution is the revolutionary transformation of the economy; not in a quantitative sense, namely, a change in the quantity of production, but in the sense that Marx uses the term, i.e. the transformation of the social relations of production – which will also definitely bring about a rapid promotion in the productive power of society. For, such issues as democracy, the abolition of legal, political, cultural, and even economic differences among individuals, social strata and even nations, none are novel ideas particular to Marxism. These are the old ideals of humankind. What gives Marxism a special status and significance is that it links these ideals, these demands, with the overthrow of a certain economic order, with that of the given relations of production which create the working class with a certain position in the social production. Socialism and communism are themselves the product of the struggle of this class against the present class-structured, exploitative relations in the existing society, i.e. the capitalist. This struggle will have reached its goal only when bourgeois ownership is abolished and common ownership of the means of production established. If we take this away from Marxism, nothing novel and special remains of it. Marxism clearly proves that in the absence of such a change in the economic base of society those ideals will lack the material basis for their definitive realization. It is therefore clear that from the point of view of the working class, and from the standpoint of the revolutionary transformation of society, the criterion for judging any socialist revolution (including the October Revolution) is its success or failure to achieve this goal.
Therefore, the discussion about the Russian revolution and its consequences can and should be focused on this question: why and under what circumstances did the conquest of political power by the working class not lead to the radical transformation of the capitalist foundation of society. This is the gist of proletarian socialist critique of the experience of the Russian revolution as a working-class revolution.
Thus, right from the beginning, I stress the profound (and in my view, class) difference which exists between my outlook and those outlooks which base their analyses on the ‘impossibility’ of the economic transformation of the Russian society after the seizure of power by the working class; be it formulated as the ‘necessity of world revolution’, the ‘backwardness of Russia’ or else, because such outlooks basically deny the very raison d’etre of the working-class revolution in Russia.
Secondly, the economic transformation of Russia is central to the socialist critique because the political and ideological degeneration of the revolution (such as the bureaucratization of the state structure, the distortion of the class orientation and practice of the party, difficulties and deviations in the domestic and international policies of the Soviet state, and the cultural and ethical retreats made after the initial progress of the revolution in these fields, etc.) can only be explained through examining that question. In my view the causes underlying these undesirable political and ideological (superstructural tout court) changes can be correctly analyzed only if one examines the factors which prevented the revolutionary transformation of the economic relations in Russia. The conquest of political power and its consolidation by the working class is the first step in the proletarian revolution. But once the working class conquers this power, it must, as Engels emphasizes, use it to ‘keep down its capitalist enemies and carry out that economic revolution without which the whole victory must end in a defeat and in a massacre of the working class like that after the Paris Commune. 
As we can see, this is a simple and obvious principle in Marxism. Of course in a Marxism which has not been tampered with and falsified by non-proletarian classes, and whose lucid and vivid principles have not been encapsulated in the abstruse and meaningless elaborations of the non-proletarian Left. It is all too clear. If the workers cannot transform the economic base of society after the seizure of power, their revolution will not succeed, and will eventually lead to the massacre of the working class itself. Engels emphasizes that the course of events after the Paris Commune has vindicated this in practice. What happened in Russia has in fact been already said by Engels in the above sentence. The only difference is that this massacre of the class was not carried out by the troops of the enemy openly and at one definite date nor did it happen after the occupation of a particular city, but took place through a long and intricate process and at different fronts. Nevertheless, the outcome was still the same: the defeat and massacre of the working class. The scale of this failure was no less than that of the Paris Commune. What we are witnessing today is the result of the failure of the victorious proletariat in Russia to carry out the revolutionary transformation necessary in the economic foundation of society, and to accomplish its economic revolution. The political, ideological and administrative degeneration of the Russian revolution was the result of this failure. This is a crucial element in my outlook. This is the fundamental lesson of the October Revolution. This is the point of departure for a socialist critique of the Soviet experience.
I would like to add that I have a serious methodological difference with those outlooks which in examining the Soviet experience begin with the rise of the bureaucracy, the political and theoretical degeneration of the party and other observations related to the super-structural development of the society and revolution. In my opinion, these issues and observations are the effects of the interruption and degeneration of the Russian revolution and not the cause of it. These are part of the reality which must be explained and not the tools for its analysis. To explain the defeat of the revolution with these factors amounts to explaining the effects with the effects. It is just like trying to explain a disease with its symptoms and effects.
What I have said so far should have clarified my main point of departure in this discussion. It is now time to elaborate the theses in greater detail.
The October Revolution took shape in a definite set of social circumstances. It was a moment in the history and the course of movement of the capitalist society in general and that of the Russian society in particular. To explain the October Revolution within the limited framework of the workers’ and communist movement, i.e. as a stage in the development of this movement or as its inevitable outcome is a flawed attempt. Both the development and occurrence of the revolution, and its subsequent process of degeneration should be considered within the context of Russian society and of its contemporary history, in which not only the subjective and active element of the revolution but the whole set of social and class relations are included. In other words it is not only the working class, its aims and ideals which are considered, but the positions, demands and the course of movement of all major classes in society. Had the socialist revolution in Russia become victorious and a new socialist society established, then we would have seen a fundamental break in the history of the social development of the Russian society. A certain social setting with all its material foundations, processes and forces would have been negated and a new setting would have formed on the basis of a new dynamism, and new ideals, objectives and preferences. But the defeat of the revolution places it in the context of the historical development of the pre-revolutionary society and in continuance with it. It is therefore clear that the question cannot be simply posed: ‘either the victory of the working class or its defeat.’ The October Revolution was a great historical event. Its victory would certainly have been epoch-making. But its defeat should have also found its historical place in the course of movement of the old society. In other words, the defeated workers’ revolution occupies nevertheless a very significant place in the social history of Russia. The defeat of the Russian revolution is, however, a moment in the development of bourgeois society in Russia.
The social perception of the Russian revolution, namely, understanding it within a social framework, has a very important place in my analysis. Later, I shall deal with more concrete deductions from this point. But, here, it is necessary to point out briefly the importance of this kind of approach to the analysis of the question of Soviet Union.
Revolution, even a revolution with the magnificence of the October Revolution, is an event in society. Society is that immense and all-embracing phenomenon which necessitates and creates the revolution, determines its extent and makes its laws of movement. Essentially, it is by analysing society that a revolution can be examined and understood. This point seems too obvious and simple. But to take society as a reference point for social relations in order to explain the actions of human beings is a corner-stone of Marxism. This simple Marxist tenet is too often overlooked in the elaborations of the Left radicals of the Soviet question. Whatever the outcome of the revolution, it was not fitting for its ideals. But it was the outcome of the impact of the revolution on the Russian society. Revolution does not write off society in order to institute its own independent mechanism and dynamism as the basis for the movement of history. On the contrary, it is itself the result of social mechanisms and dynamisms. For instance, when one suddenly discovers a new ruling class on the basis of ‘bureaucracy’ in the Soviet Union, one is turning the society into an outcome of the revolution. In Marxist theory, revolution is a stage in the conflict and struggle of social classes. But in the non-social and non-materialist conception of the radical Left, social classes are created by the revolution. Or when one arbitrarily changes the fundamental class antagonism the day after the 1917 revolution to that between the proletariat and marginal strata, one is subordinating the society to the revolution. In Marxism, revolution is the reflection of the rift and conflict between the main social classes which have come about as a result of the dominant production relations. For the radical Left, social classes are moved back and forth, omitted or created by the will of the revolution. Of course, a victorious socialist revolution which has transformed the economic relations, will also transform society and with it the social classes. But the whole creative power of the socialist revolution arises from the transformation of the economic relations. One who talks about not a victorious revolution but an unfinished, unsuccessful or defeated revolution, one who admits that no revolutionary transformation was carried out in the production relations, cannot then write off the already existing society in his analysis and explain the revolution on its own. This is subjectivism and turning one’s back to Marx’s historical materialism.
A social perception of the October Revolution allows us to remain faithful to historical materialism in the examination of the dynamism of the movement of the revolution; not to overlook decisive social factors such as production relations, real class antagonisms, and the historical continuity of these factors; and in particular to be able to recognise the background to the emergence of the revolution, and also to pursue in the concrete course of its development after October the main social logjams, key questions of the class struggle, and the real movement of the society.
In this part, I intend to stress these points. In particular, I shall deal with the question central to the revolution in Russia, that is, what made the October Revolution possible and was decisive in shaping its ultimate destiny. This question, in my view, is the confrontation between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie in Russia during 4-5 decades before the revolution and a decade after it with regard to the destiny of Russian society and the perspective for its development and growth.
The history of Russia in the decades before the revolution was greatly influenced by the emergence and development of the two main classes of the capitalist society, i.e. the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Two classes which found themselves in confrontation not only with each other but also with the whole existing social, economic and political setting. Two classes challenged the backward Tsarist Russia and matured in it. Both classes placed before the existing backward reality the image of a ‘developed, free and industrial Russia’. In the beginning of the twentieth century it was obvious that Russia would be facing serious upheavals. It was evident that Russia must enter a new era. The economic, political and cultural backwardness of Russia in comparison with other European countries had become a source of serious social criticism there.
But what played a major role in the subsequent development of Russian society was the simultaneous criticism of its backwardness from two distinct class viewpoints. Two alternatives were placed before the Russian society – the alternatives of two distinct and opposing social classes. Capitalism and socialism were two distinct perspectives which were placed not merely against each other, but primarily, together and more fundamentally, against the then Russian society. The whole Russian bourgeoisie wanted to join Russia to the mainstream of capitalist civilization whose products were then being delightfully exhibited by the European bourgeoisie. At the same time, the Russian proletariat, under the influence of Russian social democracy, was increasingly calling for socialism.
The social realities of Russia, its connection to the community of European countries, its power as a colonial state and its military strength, and its economic potential, all provided the historical possibility for the realization of both alternatives. Objectively, the backward Russia of the close of nineteenth century could become a capitalist or a socialist Russia in the twentieth century. Economic progress was possible through both alternatives. The social forces for these alternatives were already trying to mobilise and gather force. The historical perspectives of these two alternatives were already penetrating the pores of the Russian society and forming the bases of a revolutionary consciousness. Here, it is necessary to note several points:
1. The objective existence of social, economic, political and cultural backwardness meant that for a long time the ‘common’ ground shared by these two distinct class alternatives would be prominent and stressed. Socialism and capitalism bear no resemblance to each other, but if feudalist relations, Tsarism, absolutism and ignorance are the dominant features of the society, then in both alternatives the modernist element becomes inevitably predominant and is emphasized; both the proletariat and the bourgeoisie become the enemies of this economic and political backwardness; and these common aspects not only become evident, but are consciously emphasized, particularly by the socialist movement, to the extent that Russian social democracy, contrary to Narodnism, considers a degree of capitalist development vital and desirable for the movement of society towards socialism. In both political and cultural controversies, social democracy finds itself many times aligned with the protagonists of the bourgeois alternative. Conformity with the debates of Legal Marxism on the Russian economy, the alignment of in particular the Mensheviks with the Russian liberal bourgeoisie, and the continuous admiration of the leaders of social democracy, including the Bolsheviks, for being the champions of bourgeois democracy in Russian history, are all evidence to this assertion. These alignments, although inevitable at certain historical points, nevertheless in effect retard the process of an all-sided differentiation of the proletarian perspective from that of the bourgeoisie, and bring about their negative results at a later time – in my opinion particularly after the October Revolution.
2. It is obvious that Russian social democracy was not a product of economic and social modernism. It was not a Russian product or a Russian phenomenon. Although, communism today is in many countries truly the direct manifestation of the indigenous national reformism whose aspirations are moulded in phrases borrowed from Marxism, in the case of Russia the link between social democracy and the international proletarian camp was profound and its international and class attributes were quite clear. Nevertheless, social democracy provided a body for national modernism and Russian reformism which inevitably drew to itself and channelled a large portion of the anti-Tsarist protest, in particular that which came from the petty bourgeois strata. In its development, Russian social democracy continuously faced the fact that national reformism was being produced and reproduced in its ranks and was becoming a trend within it. The Mensheviks were the real and material embodiment of this social tendency.
But Menshevism was not the only vehicle for the expression of this tendency and persuasions. The struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, the struggle between socialism and capitalism, was not limited to the struggle between Russian working-class social democracy and the open representatives and political parties of the bourgeoisie. This struggle also constituted part of the internal dynamism of the social democracy itself and led to various splits and conflicts even within the ranks of the Bolsheviks over decisive tactics and ultimately over decisive controversies on the perspectives of the Russian revolution. The question of what the attitude of social democracy should be towards the revolutionary provisional government and the split of Menshevism and Bolshevism over this issue, the outbreak of the First World War and different stands taken by the Russian social democracy, the occurrence of the October Revolution and the standpoints of different fractions within the Bolshevik party itself on the course of its development, all bear witness to the internalisation of this class struggle. This conflict exists to varying degrees in all workers’ parties. But in the case of Russia, the crucial point in this conflict was the correspondence of fundamental class perspectives on the future of Russia and its economic and social progress.
3. Thus, it is clear that the history of Russian social democracy, the history of workers’ and communist revolutionism, is at the same time the history of its break from the influence of the bourgeois perspective of Russian nationalism and modernism; a break conditioned by its common historical stand with the bourgeoisie against Tsarism, and the backward economic relations.
The Russian social democracy had come to existence not only as a vehicle for the expression of the anti-capitalist protest of the proletariat, but also as a channel for the populist protest and modernism. Russian social democracy, as a social movement, was not only the representative of proletarian socialism and internationalism in Russia, but also a pole of attraction for the ‘revolutionary Russian society’, itself an historical offspring of nationalist and democratic protests. But the course of development of the Russian society and its class polarisation as well as the theoretical and political refinement of Marxism in Russia could not leave social democracy unscathed and turn it as a whole into the advanced element of the social revolution. The history of Russian social democracy is at the same time the history of the separation of the proletariat and its perspective from the bourgeoisie and its perspective. This process of separation has its own historical moments and turning-points which we are all familiar with. Separation from Narodnism and its critique as a non-proletarian popular socialism was the origin of the formation of the revolutionary social democracy. The debates of Bolshevism and Menshevism at the time of the 1905 revolution on the relation of the working class with political power in a bourgeois revolution and the attitude which the proletariat should take towards the liberal bourgeoisie, the polemics of the two factions on the characteristics of the proletarian party, the analysis of Bolshevism of the agrarian question and its understanding of the historical impacts of the Stolypin reaction on the economic fabric of Russia, and more importantly the position which the Bolsheviks took on WWI in which the revolutionary social democracy had to most unequivocally condemn nationalism and patriotism as an anti-worker tendency, all these make up moments at which the working class separated itself and its perspective from the bourgeois horizon, and as a force stood against it. This pattern of break is a fundamental and distinct foundation of Leninism. I was precisely referring to this point when I said earlier ‘Leninism was not represented in the economic debates of 1924-28’. In other words, contrary to earlier periods, a decisive break did not happen between the proletarian and bourgeois perspectives at this most determining point in the Russian revolution, i.e. at a time when the fundamental task of the workers’ revolution, the revolutionary transformation of capitalism, was being settled.
What I am emphasizing here is that the class struggle in Russia was not from the very beginning the contest of two forces separated and distinct (intellectually, in political perspective and in their practical alternatives). It was not the struggle of two camps entirely demarcated and clearly deployed against each other. The class struggle in Russia involved a process in which the ranks of the proletariat were step by step separated from nationalism, liberalism and industrial modernism of the Russian bourgeoisie. As I said, the history of Russian social democracy bore witness to how the Russian proletariat under the leadership of Bolshevism cast aside the common beliefs of the ‘modernist’ opposition, and acquired and took up its own independent ideas, perspectives and horizon on social and political issues, and how through it the encounter between those two alternatives for the future development of the Russian society became more prominent.
In spite of this, the gist of my argument is that whilst this separation had occurred completely in the ideological and political terrains, a corresponding thorough separation did not take place in the economic thinking, i.e. with regard to the perspective of the economic development of the post-Tsarist Russian society. There was no essential polemic before the 1917 revolution in which the economics of the post-revolutionary society was clarified. The particular outlook of the proletariat on economics was not concretised and discussed with the same vigour with which its particular political outlook had been deliberated and debated on, for instance, the question of the state, the imperialist war, democracy, etc. It could be said that the concept of socialism, as a new economic relationship, and the notion of the abolition of private property are on their own quite sufficient to clarify this outlook. But the problem lies precisely here. The major features of socialism as predominantly conceived by the Russian social democracy and the international social democracy in general were the abolition of private property, the introduction of economic planning, the centralization of production and the growth of the productive forces. This is the essential content of the economic thinking of the Russian social democracy up to that moment. A thinking which revealed itself from the first draft of the programme of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party prepared by Plekhanov to the debates of 1924-28. It is interesting to note that this perception of the economics of socialism has been more or less preserved by the present reformist social democracy, i.e. by the heirs of the Second International, and constitutes the backbone of the bourgeoisie’s formulation of socialism. In the understanding of the Russian social democracy, the fundamental tasks of socialism and of the proletarian revolution in the economic sphere were: the growth of the productive forces, the development of industry, and the foundation of a modern economy based on central planning. The reason behind such an understanding lies in the fact that essentially capitalism, as far as theoretical formulations on it are concerned, was criticised mainly for its ‘anarchy in production’. It is only natural that with such a conception of capitalism, its anti-thesis is conceived to be an economic system which by the help of planning puts an end to this anarchy. The more fundamental task of socialism, i.e. the emergence of those forms of ownership and economic control which would negate the bourgeois ownership, put an end to wage-labour, overthrow capital in every form and precisely through such a course of action pave the way for the massive growth of the productive forces, received less attention. The concept of common ownership and the abolition of wage-labour in comparison with the notion of the development of productive forces and the building of a national economy was definitely driven to the side-lines. Of course, this understanding of the economic tasks of the workers’ revolution and this conception of socialism, was a heritage of the Second International and of the technological determinism and evolutionism dominant in its system of thinking, and did not only reveal the theoretical state of Russian social democracy.
There were still many common points in the economic visions of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Economic modernism, industrial growth and even economic centralisation and the concept of planning could have become parts of the economic platform of the Russian big bourgeoisie which nevertheless had to strive hard to compensate for the backwardness of Russia, and to achieve it by resorting to methods different to those common in laissez-fair capitalism. I draw your attention to the fact that my argument here does not concern the presence or the absence of a certain document, pamphlet or book in which the more practical steps of workers’ socialism in the economic field could have been expounded. The discussion is about the training of Russian advanced workers, be it partisan or non-partisan, with an alternative economic vision, and their immunisation against the bourgeois perspective for economic development. Such an education and upbringing was only possible through years of profound and extensive polemics and demarcations. Just like the process in which the imperialist patriotism of the Russian bourgeoisie was discredited in the eyes of the Russian workers. Or like the rich experiences which had helped to discredit liberalism and reformism before the Russian workers. But the economic alternative of the Russian bourgeoisie was left untouched and not criticised through these years.
As a matter of fact it was only later, when the issue of Russian economy and its course of development effectively became a pressing question, that the common elements between the old ideals of the Russian anti-Tsarist bourgeoisie, namely modernism, industrialisation, etc., and the economic expectations of the advanced rank of Russian workers – an issue so far uncriticised – made their presence felt. At the historical and decisive juncture of the ‘20s it was these common elements which blocked the forward march of the proletarian revolution in the economic terrain, and led the proletarian revolution onto the main road of capitalist development in Russia.
I sum up my discussion so far. The twentieth century placed a fundamental question before the Russian society in general, and that was how to overcome its economic backwardness and catch up with the industrial and production growth which Western Europe was undergoing. The social forces in Russia were set in motion around this fundamental question. The two main emerging classes, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, together arose against the old regime, and at the same time stood before each other as two opposing forces with two antagonistic perspectives. Given the conditions of Russia, both alternatives enjoyed the historical possibility for their realisation. Both alternatives could open the way for the economic progress of the Russian society. Bolshevism and Leninism brought the working class to the field as an independent force in opposition to both the bourgeoisie and Tsarism. This class independence on the question of political power and even of the structure of the state was clearly achieved and became an organic and established feature of the Russian proletarian movement. That much independence allowed the Russian workers under the leadership of Bolshevism to disrupt the plans for the bourgeois-democratic development of the political and state superstructure in Russia and to establish the independent power of workers through a proletarian revolution. But the populist aspirations for overcoming the backwardness of the national economy of Russia, and the defective economic thoughts predominant in the international social democracy deprived the working class and its vanguard party, the Bolshevik Party, of forming at the most decisive moment in the Russian revolution its independent rank on the fundamental question of the Russian society, i.e. the social mode of production and economic development. ‘The revolution became a victim of confusion in its aims.’ This confusion represented not a theoretical or intellectual problem but a social reality. The Russian society was not sufficiently polarised on the economic perspective for its development. The workers’ party, lacking a clear vision for the revolutionary transformation of the production relations, and under the economic and political pressures of the capitalist system both domestically and internationally, retreated to the common grounds of its economic stands with the perspective of the bourgeoisie. The revolutionary transformation of the capitalist system gave way to its reform through the extension of state ownership and planning for the accumulation of capital and the division of labour. With a halt at this stage, the workers’ revolution allowed all of its political gains to be wrested back gradually and under the pressure of the realities and the needs of the bourgeois economy. Leninism, i.e. the class independence of the proletariat at every front and battle, was not represented at the time when the future of the economic system of the Russian society was being settled. ‘Socialism in one country’ was the banner for the retreat to the interests of national-bourgeois economy in Russia. A banner which was hoisted precisely due to the absence of a Leninist banner for the building of socialism in Russia, as a ‘superior’ economic system based on common ownership and the abolition of wage-labour. The building of socialism in Russia, in the true and Marxist sense of the term, not only was possible but was also imperative for the continuation and consolidation of the revolution. The workers’ revolution was defeated in the face of its economic tasks.
From these reasonings I can draw several conclusions. Firstly, I emphasize once more the fundamental role of economic transformation in Russia after the revolution. The class struggle in Russia took place in the context of given social relations and over fundamental problems which resulted from the immanent contradictions and antagonisms of these relations. The same economic development which brought about the proletariat and the bourgeoisie in Russia, also presented the objective necessity for the transformation of the existing economic relations. The fate of the Russian revolution was ultimately determined by the way in which this fundamental social-historical necessity was dealt with. This was the essential link in the development of the proletarian revolution as it also was the main issue for the bourgeois counterrevolution. The economic outcome of the revolution turned out to be the imposition of certain reforms on the development of capitalism in Russia, and not a socialist transformation. The root of this failure must be sought in the lack of a material and social demarcation between the economic perspective of the working class and the industrialist and national horizon of the Russian bourgeoisie.
Secondly, if we accept that the struggle of social forces in Russia prior to the revolution was being polarised over two alternative class policies on the future development of Russia, i.e. the industrialist-nationalist policy of the bourgeoisie and the socialist policy of the proletariat, then it becomes evident why the fate of the workers’ revolution in Russia, too, should be assessed on the basis of the continuity of this fundamental class concurrence after the revolution. The political victory of the working class in Russia, the expropriation of the big bourgeoisie, both politically and economically, was not tantamount to an end in the social and class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie for the determination of the destiny of the Russian society according to their patterns and alternatives. Since, still both alternatives were historically possible and had grounds for realisation. The capitalist development of the Russian society, the attainment of economic power under the capitalist system, was still a real possibility and a viable perspective in society. (As it was later vindicated, the economic development of Russia did actually advance under the capitalist system.) It is therefore clear that the discussion is about showing which social and class forces would become the standard-bearers of either of these two historically realisable alternatives. The truth of the matter is that in the ‘20s under specific circumstances, mainly the absence of an organised proletarian rank advocating a real socialist path, this bourgeois perspective was represented by the official line in the Communist Party itself, namely Stalin’s line.
I do not therefore accept this schematic and unreal assumption that on the morrow of the 1917 revolution the name of the bourgeoisie was struck out of the list of active social forces in the society, and the bourgeois alternative for the development of the Russian society lost all its relevance. To understand the social framework of the October Revolution means to understand the continuity of the class struggle before and after the revolution, i.e. to grasp this point that on the morrow of the October revolution the proletarian and bourgeois perspectives for the transformation of the Russian society were still confronting each other, and as the key problems of the class struggle could still rally around themselves real forces in society. Even in the current interpretation of the radical Left it is emphasized that the Stalin faction represented in the final analysis Russian nationalism. But what this Left fails to understand is that this nationalism was not merely an ideological phenomenon or a superstructural tendency. This nationalism was the banner of the bourgeoisie and the symbol of its material power in society. This nationalism had a certain economic content and that was none other than the promotion of the national economy of Russia to the level of the advanced capitalist economy of the Europe of the time. The material power of the bourgeoisie by far exceeds the physical presence of the bourgeois in management posts or governmental offices. The bourgeoisie disseminates its interests and ideas as the ideals of the entire society. Bourgeois thinking becomes an immense force which survives in the ‘spontaneous’ mentality and inclinations of millions of people, who have directly no common interest with the bourgeoisie. One who with the 1917 revolution writes off the bourgeoisie from the political arena commits the most flagrant reductionism and the worst kind of departure from the comprehensive and social understanding of Marxism of the class relations in a capitalist society. The October Revolution brought about many great changes, to the advantage of the working class, in the balance of forces which existed between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. But it did not obliterate, nor could it obliterate, the essence of this class confrontation. A confrontation which then acted as the focus of the class struggle in society and which could not be eliminated without an immense economic transformation. Therefore, I have differences with those viewpoints for which the triumph of the October Revolution and the establishment of the workers’ state is sufficient justification to consider that the dynamism of the Russian society was based on something other than the class struggle of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie; viewpoints which become stunned by the contradictions of the proletariat with the minor classes of the society, and which consider that the threat to socialism came not from capitalism but from the petty commodity-production and the like. In my opinion such consideration of the problems of the Russian society after the revolution is, from the point of view of Marxist theory, incorrect and mechanistic, and politically naive. I am not denying the importance of the contradictions between the proletariat and its interests and the aspirations of other social strata, but I stress the continuity of class dynamism in the movement of a society, that is the predominance of the confrontation between labour and capital, the worker and the capitalist, in both the periods preceding and following the revolution, and lay emphasis on the influence of this dynamism even on other social conflicts. With the political and economic expropriation of the Russian big bourgeoisie, the social solution of this class is not eliminated, but loses its direct human agencies and must thus temporarily find new human and class agents. In other words, if on the morrow of the October the proletariat is seeking its socialist alternative, what is happening on the other side of the equation is the arrival of class forces and social strata which attempt (no doubt with the blessing and support of international capital) to act as the defender of the interests of the bourgeois industrialist alternative in Russia. In the context of such a fundamental class contradiction, the peasants, the petty-bourgeois, the middlemen, the bureaucrats, etc., could only act as the human and class agents for continuing and preserving the bourgeois alternative, and not as the standard-bearers and the motive force of the alternatives of the newly-emerging marginal strata. It was only in this capacity which these marginal strata could essentially have any decisive social role and not as the defenders of their marginal interests. The social struggle only takes form on the basis of those class alternatives which have a universal and historical possibility and significance. This contest in our era is the contest of socialism and capitalism, the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. All social classes and strata must be polarised around this struggle and in the final analysis play no socially decisive role except in connection with this fundamental contest.
The other implication of this argument is that once the proletariat failed to realise its alternative, Russian society had no other way for its development except that provided by the bourgeois alternative. Thus I do not accept the argument for the establishment of a new mode of production or an intermediary economy based on petty-commodity forms of production and so on. Nor do I accept the bureaucracy as the main social class in a society. These should be considered as the forms of continuation of the capitalist society and of the rule of capital. On paper, one can define any new mode of production or any new ruling class which one chooses, and classify the reality in whatever arbitrary array of tables one wishes to, but history only moves on the basis of its own material possibilities and social grounds, which are the product of real social classes. The defeat of the proletarian revolution, in the context of a capitalist society, means the continuation of capitalism, albeit in new forms. It does not mean the emergence of a new mode of production whose motive forces, historical background, and social bases did not have any objective existence at the height of the struggle between socialism and capitalism. The advocates of such viewpoints not only should explain the origins and the forms of emergence of such a new mode of production, and the way in which it superseded the socialist movement, but should also explain how it overwhelmed the bourgeois alternative, and the really existing capitalism. How could a task which the proletarian revolution failed to accomplish, i.e. the overthrow of capital, be done by a social ‘stratum’, from the side and without any resistance on the part of the bourgeoisie!
Certainly one of the most important reasons responsible for the inability of the Russian working class to decisively conclude its revolution, was the lack of theoretical preparedness on the part of the advanced element of the class. Below, I shall deal with the significance of this weakness. But initially I should point out that my argument is not over the ‘scientific’ mastery of Marxism by the Bolshevik party or over its theoretical competence. I am not talking of theory as an independent realm and as something in its own right. With lack of theoretical preparedness, I mean confusion in the political vision of the working class. The Russian working class came to the fore as the leader for the revolutionary transformation of society. But the extent of this transformation, and the way in which the society would be driven forward, was dependent upon what, in the words of its vanguards, the working class had presented to the society about itself, and its aims and preferences. In its practice, the working class does not go beyond the perspective which the vanguard of the class, i.e. its political party and leaders, has placed before it. It is quite possible that the working class comes to the fore leading the social protest, but it may happen that its perspectives for struggle do not go beyond measures which aim to achieve democratic changes, national sovereignty, or the abolition of racial discrimination and so on. Theoretical preparedness of the advanced element of the class does not merely mean its theoretical maturity and mastery. But essentially it refers to its ability to arm the working class at every juncture and period with a correct perception and image of its class aims in distinction to the aims of other social tendencies. The working-class party may have mastered the Marxist theory, but it could well have failed to train the workers, through a theoretical struggle at the social level, with a profound critical attitude towards nationalism, religion or the oppression of women. The theoretical preparedness of the socialist movement of the proletariat is not merely achieved by the scientific understanding of the Marxist theory by the working-class party, and it cannot be merely reduced to the existing theoretical literature of this movement. The point is the training of the actual leaders of the class with clear perceptions in the heat of class struggle, and in particular at its decisive turning points. The question is about turning theoretical principles into a part of the political and practical consciousness of the vanguard workers and the local leaders of the class. This can only be achieved if the interests of non-proletarian tendencies are challenged by these class principles in the real conflicts which arise in society.
The Bolsheviks succeeded to arm the Russian worker in many respects with an independent perspective. It is interesting to note that in finding theoretical faults in the Bolsheviks after the seizure of power, the Radical Left pinpoints areas which constituted the strength of Bolshevism, namely the Marxist conception of internationalism and proletarian democracy. Incidentally, it should be said that these areas were domains in which the Bolsheviks not only represented theoretical orthodoxy against the whole socialism of their time, but they succeeded turning this orthodoxy into a characteristic of the Russian workers. At the most crucial and decisive moments, at the outbreak of an imperialist war which drove the entire international social democracy onto supporting their own bourgeoisie, it was the Bolsheviks who not only gave meaning to internationalism but also in practice led the Russian workers into a violent confrontation against their own bourgeoisie. As regards the principle of proletarian democracy, it was the Bolsheviks who through the Soviets resuscitated the experience of the Commune, and established among the Russian workers the feasibility of the workers’ state based on the Soviets. In order to turn these principles into a part of the self- consciousness of the Russian working class, the Bolsheviks promoted and led decisive theoretical battles from the beginning of the twentieth century to the time of the October Revolution.
My argument about the lack of theoretical preparedness on the part of the Bolsheviks refers precisely to those domains which irrespective of whether as Marxist theoreticians they had scientific mastery, had failed to draw the theoretical and ideological demarcation of the working class against the bourgeoisie. I refer to domains which by then had not yet become the major arena for an ideological struggle between classes, and in which the distinctive political identity of the proletariat had not yet acquired prominence. The theoretical flaws of a current, of a party, including the Bolshevik Party can be numerous. It may be possible to show that the Bolsheviks had flaws as regards the question of women, inner-party arrangements, or the right of nations to self-determination, etc. But my argument is that these defects, if they ever existed, never became a decisive theoretical factor in marking the eventual fate of the revolution. The fundamental unpreparedness, in the social sense I explained earlier, was on the issue of defining the economic tasks of the proletariat and elaborating the demands of the proletariat for the transformation of the economic relations in the Russian society. In other words, the mere existence of a theoretical ‘deviation’ is not sufficient to explain the failure of a party and a social movement. Every theoretical flaw does not hold a parallel importance in the realm of practice, albeit that any of them could become a decisive inhibitive factor at a particular moment. It is the social and historical circumstances and the characteristics of the decisive junctures in the class struggle which determine the place of any given ‘theoretical deviation’. I should point out those areas in the outlook of Bolshevism and of the Russian proletariat after the 1917 revolution which had caused their inability to face the real and decisive questions for the concrete circumstances of the time, and not look for their ‘deviation’ and ‘departure’ from certain theoretical principles. I emphasize this since in my opinion it is of no virtue that one becomes scrupulous about the history of ideas in the Bolshevik party and wherever Bukharin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Stalin or even Lenin have made a point or put forward a policy which has theoretical flaws, magnifies those errors and adds them to his list for the causes of the defeat of the workers’ revolution in Russia. The attitude of a certain party leader on the question of inner-party democracy, the behaviour of Stalin towards his colleagues, and his attitude on the national question, a certain speech by Zinoviev to the Comintern, etc. do not contribute equally to the making of the theoretical premises important for the defeat of the revolution. In my view, a party whose internal democracy was supposedly defective, a party which made zig-zags in its attitude on the national question, could also emerge honourably and at the head of the socialist proletariat from the debates on the issue of ‘socialism in one country’, provided that its economic outlook was sufficiently clear and socialist, and was adequately expressed and represented in confrontation with the bourgeoisie and its tendencies. I find no virtue in turning the history of the degeneration of the workers’ revolution in Russia into the history of theoretical slips in the Bolshevik Party, and thereby bringing the moment of defeat ever closer to 1917. One should find the decisive juncture and the decisive theoretical weakness. A party which emerged from historically decisive moments with pride (as the Bolsheviks did from the period of seizure of political power, despite whatever shortcomings), would also have rectified its minor defects in its forward movement.
In my opinion, the fundamental theoretical inadequacy was the lack of elaboration of the economic aims and methods of the socialist proletariat. This inadequacy had certain historical causes. As I said, the economic modernism of the Russian bourgeoisie, the idea of ‘building a prosperous and industrial Russia’, had escaped criticism for a long period. The question of which specific production relations and which economic forms should be established in Russia, was overshadowed by the criticism of the existing backwardness. The constant emphasis of the party leaders in the post-revolutionary period that ‘we must learn from the bourgeoisie’ is a witness to the fact that the question of economic transformation was for them identified with the quantitative aspect of production and the improvement in the means of production, and not with the revolutionisation of the production relations, i.e. the sphere in which there is nothing to learn from the bourgeoisie and in which the proletariat must in particular pursue its own method in opposition to the economic practice of the bourgeoisie, both in Russia and in Germany.
But, the roots of this short-sightedness in the attitude towards the economic tasks of the proletariat must not be searched in Russia itself. Perhaps the more important factor was the entire education of the social democracy and the Second International in this domain. The vision and outlook of the Second International had influenced the thinking of the Russian social democracy for a long time.
The Second International produced a certain version of Marxism, and it was this version which in turn gave ground for nationalist interpretations. It was the leaders of this International which after a while themselves turned into advocates of their own bourgeoisie in WWI, and now it is the social democratic parties which in their evolution have further developed their nationalism by producing national economic and political strategies aimed at securing the domestic economy of their own countries. For a long time the Russian social democracy understood and recognised Marxist principles in the tradition of this International and in the words of its leaders. The break of the Bolsheviks from the theoretical and practical influence of the Second International was a step-by-step process. This process had decisive historical moments. But what is important to point out is that this process was not completely and decisively finalized by 1917. For instance, if we consider the economic version of both the Stalin and the Trotsky current of socialism and capitalism, i.e. the version which more or less understands state capitalism and state ownership of the means of production as being tantamount to socialist and common ownership, then the extent of the intellectual influence of the Second International becomes revealing.
Two main components in the thinking of the Second International can be mentioned which ranked as the most fundamental theoretical weaknesses in the Marxist movement of the time, and which furnished the important bases for the theoretical disarming of communism in facing the issue of how to develop the October Revolution at the close of the ‘20s. The first component was contrived by reducing the theory of proletarian revolution to a theoretical explanation for the gradual and evolutionist development of society, i.e., the outlook which bases itself on the development of productive forces and which turns this notion into the driving force of history. The outlook which considers social changes as being the plain and simple reflections of the quantitative and qualitative growth of the means of production, and which abstracts from the role of the class struggle and the practice of mankind in the progress of social history. The human factor, the revolutionary agent and the concept of revolutionary periods do not have any determining place in these thoughts, and thus fail to provide any room for the role of the revolutionary practice of the class. Philosophically, this outlook is based on a mechanistic and reductionist materialism. This is that methodology which a large section of the Left employs today. This is the version of Marxism which is more prevalent today than the revolutionary theory of Marx itself. Around us we can see many who believe in these views. Those who consider their role in the political struggle to be facilitating the seizure of power by those social strata which can develop the productive forces, those who advocate revolution in stages, etc.; they are all directly and indirectly still influenced by the Second International’s version of Marxism. Let me point out an example in passing. We are often told that the Bolsheviks were internationalists and thus believed that without the German revolution the Russian revolution could not become victorious. I shall later consider the ‘internationalist’ value of such an explanation. But for now let us see what explanation those who defended this outlook in the economic debates of 1924 and after really offered. The central argument propounded in support of this thesis (mainly by Zinoviev) was that Germany had an advanced industrial economy, that it was only such an economy which could really introduce socialism, and that without its help ‘backward’ Russia was not alone able to establish socialist relations. This is a vivid example of the system which I was talking about. I am not concerned now with what the German economy in 1917 was in comparison with the present South Korean economy, and what the industrial development ‘which made socialism possible’ was with respect to the technological standards of current semi-industrial countries. My concern now is to show that in the outlook of Zinoviev and others the possibility of building socialism, the possibility of abolishing bourgeois ownership and establishing common ownership is initially fixed to industrial potentials. It is this outlook which contradicts the spirit of Communist Manifesto and the gist of The German Ideology. It was in the latter that Marx having posited the era of capitalist domination, declared the possibility of building socialism – 60 years before Zinoviev denied such a possibility for Russia. Such an outlook is Social Darwinism and a banal economic determinism which refuses to take notice of the real strength of the revolutionary proletariat, and is instead concerned with the level of productive forces and industrial development as a guide to introducing socialism.
In short, the first effect of the theoretical influence of the Second International was that the Russian working class and its vanguard party in their strategy in advance downplayed the possibility of establishing socialist economic relations in Russia, mainly on the ground that it had a ‘backward’ economy. The party’s strategy was based on the triumph of the German revolution, which was of course, a real historical possibility.
The other incorrect trend in the thinking of the Second International was the reduction of the concept of socialism, i.e. common ownership and the abolition of wage-labour, to state ownership and economy. This understanding is still dominant not only among official social democratic parties but also among a large section of the radical Left. Today, in order to regard it a socialist country, the defenders of the Soviet Union point to the absence of bourgeois personal ownership over the means of production and the predominance of state ownership in this country. A large section of the critics of the Soviet Union also accept this definition of socialism but spend all their time and resources to show that ‘the Soviet state is not proletarian’, and thus the state ownership in this particular case is not tantamount to socialism. To reduce socialism to state economy is truly a bourgeois falsification in Marxist theory. It is this version of socialism which the bourgeoisie spreads throughout the world. Unfortunately up to now this fundamental distortion in the economic vision of the working class has not met any serious theoretical challenge by the Marxists.
Pivotal to such a bourgeois conception of socialism, is the bourgeois assessment of capitalism. In this outlook, capitalism is recognised not on the basis of the labour-capital relation but on the basis of the relation of capitals to each other. It is the outlook of an individual capitalist, and thus a bourgeois attitude to capitalism. Competition and anarchy in production is considered to be the basis of capitalism. And therefore in opposing it, as the anti-thesis of capitalism, state ownership and planning is placed. This is a common conception. For Marx, and for us as Marxists who have grasped the essence of Marx’s criticism of the political economy of capitalism, it is simple to understand that capital is defined in the domain of social production and on the basis of its relation to wage-labour. Competition and the fragmentation of capitals is the dominant form of capitalism up to now. It is the form in which the immanent essence of capital is externalised. But this immanent essence is not defined on the basis of this form of appearance. This essence has a certain economic content, which is labour-power becoming a commodity and being exploited. Marx considers the production of surplus value, i.e. the determination of surplus product as surplus value, to be the basis of capitalism, and recognises this process as the result, only, of labour-power becoming a commodity and of the domination of wage- labour. For us the alternative to capitalism is the abolition of bourgeois property, the abolition of wage-labour and the establishment of common ownership over the means of production.
The draft programme of the Russian social democracy and a great part of the economic debates of the ‘20s indicate the predominance of this incorrect understanding of the Second International within this trend. An understanding in which capitalism and the crisis of this system is based on competition and anarchy in production. The social and class essence of capital is reduced to one of its definite forms. Thus, inevitably, for the establishment of socialism, the abolition of this definite form i.e. the phenomenon of competition and multiple ownership over capital, is aimed at. As I said, the reduction of socialism to state economy is inevitable in this outlook.
This intellectual heritage of the Second International, in addition to the Russian roots of nationalism in the Russian social democracy, which I dealt with above, narrowed the perspective of communism in Russia for the economic changes which were historically possible after workers’ revolution. The debates on the issue of ‘socialism in one country’, that is the debates on the economic future of the revolution, which were conducted between 1924 and 1928, fell victim to the narrowness of this perspective and to the lack of preparation on the part of the party of advanced workers for accomplishing that fundamental transformation needed to continue the revolution. What Leninism had for years fought against, once again dominated the practice of the working-class party, thanks to the force of real economic, political and even military pressures. But this time it had its new theoretical protagonists. Thus not only did the Russian society not advance in the interest of the development of the proletarian revolution in the economic sphere, but even the Communist International, which Leninism had founded in opposition to social democracy, itself became an instrument for the furtherance of bourgeois interests and perspective in a certain country.
What I have said so far, should in principle have clarified my main theses and general attitude on the question of the Soviet Union. As I said, in dealing with this subject my intention is not to prove analytically my theses, but to present them in order to demonstrate my differences with other existing critiques of the Soviet Union. For this purpose, I continue the discussion by giving brief answers to some of the key questions regarding the Soviet Union.
The October Revolution undoubtedly established the proletarian dictatorship in Russia. I reject the formally radical, but in fact right and bourgeois critique that what was established in Russia was not the dictatorship of the working class. Those Left currents which make such a critique, mainly substantiate their claim by pointing out the relation which existed between the Bolshevik Party and the Russian working class, and the manner in which the bulk of workers did actually participate in the state structure. The dictatorship of the proletariat, they say, should be the organised power of the entire mass of the working class on the basis of ‘democratic’ administrative arrangements, as though it was not the case in Russia. Hence it is claimed that the Bolshevik-Soviet government was not a proletarian dictatorship. Such a judgment, in my view, abstracts from the real class with its real political and practical limitations, and thus abstracts from the material form which the proletarian dictatorship takes in the first step, i.e. when it emerges from the womb of the old society. This amounts to a bookish appraisal and a pedantic proscription of the real proletariat and its real state. This implies denying the proletariat of any real possibility to win political power and denouncing its genuine struggle and power under the pretext of criticizing its defects and shortcomings in the exercise of its power. This is idealism and in effect amounts to rejecting in advance any possibility for the victory of the workers. On this subject I have already elaborated my views both in previous seminars on the Soviet Union and in articles such as The State in Revolutionary Periods. 
Does my position on this issue mean that I am careless about how the workings and the forms of the proletarian dictatorship in reality should be; absolutely not. This only implies that I understand and take into account the historical and material limitations of a class which is the product of the circumstances of the old society and the pressures of a violent class confrontation. It is evident that to the degree that the working class succeeds to base, without interruption, its dictatorship on forms which allow the working masses to directly exercise their will, and to the degree that its dictatorship is based on standard democratic structures, to the same degree it will be a more powerful class. But the point is about a certain historical possibility and certain historical circumstances. If a particular working class did not succeed to act as such, if it did not succeed to immediately set up its desirable model of state and its pre-conceived conception of the proletarian dictatorship, then I would not be among those who deny there ever existed a workers’ state and condemn the existing proletarian dictatorship, which in the context of real history is practically the proletarian dictatorship. Workers and working-class parties should know that in the course of real history they could face such a situation many times. Circumstances in which the workers would seize the power but would not find immediately the necessary social material for forming a class rule corresponding to their desired model of state. The history of the Bolshevik party is incidentally a testimony to the attempts made by the Russian proletariat to preserve its rule whilst facing real shortcomings.
One could claim that the structure of workers’ power in the October revolution was not democratic since it was exercised not by the working masses themselves but by the leadership.
In my opinion the distinction made by the radical Left between leaders and the led in the October revolution is the expression of an anti-dictatorial and bourgeois mentality. One of my main arguments which is particularly relevant to the issue of workers’ communism is that one cannot start off from the category of ‘right’, ‘leadership’ and so on as perceived by the bourgeoisie and thus explain the relation of the working class and its leadership. The relation of the working class with its representatives, the political movement of the working class, the way that the working class exercises its will, is closely related to the way that its political leadership carries out its actions. The actual leadership of the working class represents much more directly the will of the working masses. In the relation of the working masses with their leaders the procedure of voting by ballots and thus assessing workers’ opinion by the number of votes cast does not occupy an important place. Hence, the argument which claims that after the October revolution the leadership did not base its legitimacy on the votes of the working masses, and also the argument which maintains that the structure of power had not been ‘democratic’, have entered the issue of ‘democracy’ into their analysis of the Soviet Union in a proportion which by far exceeds its real place in the actual history of the Russian revolution. In a strange way, the Bolsheviks and their actions are divorced in this reasoning from the wishes of workers and hastily set in confrontation, as a dichotomy, to the will of the workers. It is said that the Bolsheviks curtailed the authority of mass organs of workers. But it is forgotten that the Bolsheviks themselves constituted and represented a large section of the workers. When the Bolsheviks declared their view on a certain issue, it meant that the advanced section of workers had declared its view on the subject. The Bolsheviks were not the party of the intelligentsia, but expressed the organisation and unity of the most radical sections of the Russian workers. To confront the vanguards of the working class with the working masses is an absurd idea. To contrast the actions of self-claimed and phoney leaders with the will of working masses is quite understandable. But to oppose the working masses with their own vanguards in the arena of class struggle is a contradiction in terms. The working class when see its own real leadership in power consider itself in power. This is the aspect which is absent in the discussion of the democratic critics of the Soviet Union. This is an expression of the anti-dictatorial preoccupation of bourgeois liberalism which has been vainly extended to the working class. Once the leaders of the real unions of workers, the real leaders of the movement of factory committees, the leaders of the partisan movement of workers, local agitators and leaders of workers, that is to say the very people who have mobilised the workers and led them to resurrection, are in power, the working class can say that ‘I am in power’ and no measure of scrutiny on whether the relation between this leadership and the masses is democratic can change this fact.
For the bourgeoisie which in order to rule has to detach its statesperson from the rest of its class and place them in a government apparently above society, for the bourgeoisie which understands its relation to these statespersons only through periodic elections, the confrontation of leadership and class has a significance. But if one is to turn this apparently democratic mechanism into a basis for judging proletarian dictatorship, one commits a grave error. Proletarian democracy is not an extension of bourgeois democracy. It is a different type of democracy which has its own particular mechanisms in establishing the link between the masses and the leaders. The Paris Commune must be by the accounts of these critics very undemocratic.
An understanding of the mechanism of struggle of the working class, of the relation of the working masses and their leaders is one of the essential components of the discussion of worker-communism, which stands wholly against the prevalent bourgeois conceptions of democracy and democratic relationships. Essentially the political identity of the working class takes form through the agency of its class leadership and vanguard elements.
The example of British miners’ (NUM) strike is very revealing. The bourgeoisie called the decision of NUM leadership undemocratic since it was never taken to vote, whilst the realities of the year-long and courageous struggle of the miners demonstrated that these actions were replete of democracy and the direct exercise of miners’ authority. It was the very will of the overwhelming majority of miners which was manifested in the decision of NUM leadership to continue the strike.
On the question of voting in the struggle of workers there is a further point which I should add. This mechanism does not occupy a significant position in workers’ struggles since it cannot correctly reflect the unity and organised strength of the workers, nor can it consolidate it. The whole strength of workers lies in their assembly, their collective decision-making, and their boosting of each others’ morals through public expression of solidarity and participation in common action. If workers cast their votes in isolation, the working class will always appear less decisive, less courageous and less resistant than what it really is, or could be inside an action. It is in their actions and in the midst of their gatherings which workers express their real votes; as isolated individuals, they are overwhelmed by the power of capital, lose their morale, and lack a necessary militant perspective for bold decisions.
The peculiarities of the internal relations of the class and in particular the relation of the working masses with their leaders and vanguards is the result of several factors:
Firstly, the objective productive and social position of the worker. The worker is devoid of ownership and the bourgeois society essentially recognises the individual on the basis of ownership and their relation to capital and commodity. The ownership of capital is the source of power; a power which is formally recognised in bourgeois society in the form of the right to vote. It is a fact of that bourgeois democracy has moved over from the limited voting right restricted to the propertied classes and the owners of capital and wealth to universal suffrage. In this system if workers have won the right to vote, this has become possible by emptying the ‘right to vote’ from any real social sense and any direct relation to ‘a share of power’. Voting is appropriate for the internal relation of an oligarchy owning capital, but is an inappropriate means for the exercise of power by those classes which are devoid of a material basis for the exercise of power through voting. An individual worker counts as nothing, he has no power. An individual bourgeois in proportion to his capital has real power.
Therefore, one should ask where does the power of workers lie, how do they exercise it, and what place does individual vote hold in this mechanism. The power of workers demonstrates itself in their simultaneous, open and organised movement, in their united movement. Voting plays a limited role in the creation of this movement. The essential role is played by the leadership, agitation and the justification of the slogans and policies for which the workers should be mobilised. That is why in 99 percent of the cases in which workers resort to organised and united struggle they do so without asking for votes from anyone. This united movement mainly takes shape by the action of the advanced elements, their power of convincing, their clear-sightedness, their sense of discretion and the effectiveness of their policies. It is these factors which determine the internal relationships of the working class.
Secondly, workers are an oppressed class. Their struggle, contrary to the legal and parliamentarian activity of the bourgeoisie, faces immediately an external and coercive force, namely the state. The political movement of workers immediately takes up the dynamism of a battle and inevitably the camp of workers turns into a militant rank deployed for war. The worker for the exercise of his will has no opportunity to collect and count individual votes. It is in the course of his action and by the constant assessment of his ability in carrying out the struggle that he becomes aware of the individual opinions of its rank. A bourgeois leader rides unbridled so long as he has the confidence of the parliament. A workers’ leader who cannot assess the mood of the masses of his class according to the counts of the ballot-box, has to appraise at every moment the mood and feeling dominant in the rank of workers, estimate the power of his class and make a decision. If he has made a correct analysis and appraisal, then his decision will conform to the aspirations and wishes of the working masses. Otherwise, the practical indications and features of the struggle would make him to revise his decision.
At any rate, I wanted to say that the categories which have been taken from bourgeois democracy, and at best determine the relation of the bourgeois and his class cannot and should not be employed in the assessment of the relation between the working masses and their vanguards. The workers government in Russia should be judged by worker criteria and not by a generalisation of bourgeois democratic conceptions.
In the Russian revolution, the October uprising was an indication of the mass support of workers for the Bolsheviks. The October uprising and not the election for the Constituent Assembly represented the real vote of workers. Any socialist interpreter of the October Revolution should appreciate the significance of this fact and judge the state and party of workers according to their real relation to workers and not on the basis of formal patterns which materialise this relation.
An assertion often made about the Soviet experience is that irrespective of the economic difficulties of the time ‘the structure of the state should have been democratic’. This assertion is correct on its own but let me in reply by talking a little about proletarian democracy and the relation between economics and politics in the era of proletarian dictatorship.
There is no democracy more radical than the one which strives to remove the material bases for the absence of democracy. That ‘democratism’ which is prepared to accept the survival of state capitalism in Russia provided ‘the state remains democratic’, is not in my opinion democratism. The whole point of my argument is that my discussion not only is not against a criticism of the deficiencies of democracy in the Russian society, but provides the only real criticism for the abolition of democracy there. To suppose that the worker can be economically in an oppressed state, but yet remain politically a powerful and dominant class is an absurd illusion. State monopoly capitalism, i.e. the production relations in such a system, leaves no room for the democratic exercise of the will of the workers. If one believes that whilst capitalism is preserved the democratic institutions of workers’ state can also expand, he should also reply to my argument. If one demands that the direct producers, the workers, should have the power to make decisions at all levels, then he should also know that the economic subjugation of workers, even in a ‘state capitalism’, should be abolished.
It is said that ‘a one-sided explanation should not be given for this issue. Why are you in a one-sided way making the economic issue central?’ I do not argue one-sidedly. It was the Russian history itself whose fate was decided by the economic problems of the proletarian dictatorship. If before the occurrence of this revolution one was asked what the conditions of its victory could have been, one could have named numerous factors. But if one were to be asked about the reasons of its failure after the revolution, then one should formulate his reply on the basis of the issues pivotal in this history. There are those who claim that basically the workers never seized the power. I believe they did, but what hindered the creation of the suitable forms of workers’ rule and finally led to the loss of power by the workers was the persistence of the relationships which became the basis for the economic development of society and which made the workers put on the yoke of wage-slavery. State capitalism, in which a plan is drawn up by a certain ministry for growth, and is carried out by another state office, leaves no room for the real authority of workers’ soviets except formally and in secondary matters such as civil, cultural and judicial issues. I say that the way in which the authority of workers could be exercised, as it is wished by those who demand a democratic and mass structure for the dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e. the way for the exercise of mass class power, is only possible through the exercise of mass economic power. It is the position of the working masses within the social and economic relationships which determines their place in the political structure. In the mid ‘20s, the maintenance of power in the hands of the working class and the progress of the workers’ revolution wholly depended on what happens to the dominant economic relationships in society. The fact that in those years, the worker still remained a wage-earner who lacked any control over the means of production and economic decision-making, also made a victim the state, which had been set up at the cost of sacrifices against the attacks of the bourgeoisie. But if that juncture had come to a close by the domination of the policy for the socialization of production and the abolition of wage-labour, accompanied by the organisation of a new economy on the basis of workers’ soviets, then not only workers’ rule would have been maintained, but the structure of the workers’ state would have also developed in proportion to this new economics and based on patterns appropriate to the most extensive forms of proletarian democracy and the direct exercise of authority by the working masses. In the mid ‘20s this was still an unsettled issue. In democratic criticisms, the mere existence of administrative deviations in the party and state or ideological errors is sufficient to write off such a perspective and to deny any possibility for a victorious development of the revolution. I do not accept this view.
In the October Revolution the political power was seized by the workers. This state was preserved against the military and political attacks of the bourgeoisie, economic blockade and at the cost of the sacrifices of the class and its vanguards, and also by the concession of many compromises (of which NEP is one). But at a later stage, once the political power was settled and the question of socialist transformation of society was posed, the proletariat could not continue its revolution. It yielded to that pattern of course of economic development which had no other consequence but the economic subjugation of workers, the survival of the capital-labour relation, the permanence of bureaucracy as the system appropriate to the economic base, the dissolution of the soviets, the intellectual domination of revisionism corresponding to these new relationships and in one word the transformation of political compromises into a systematic political and administrative degeneration which undermined the rule of workers.
The question can be posed, and has in fact been posed here, whether it was basically possible to carry out such a revolutionary transformation of the economic relationships which could at the same time meet the production of everyday necessities and current needs of society? In my opinion this is the question to which present-day communists should pay attention. Either this task is possible and is accomplished, or workers are doomed to defeat one after the other, even after they have seized power. In my view the socialist economic revolution, not only was possible, but was imperative for meeting the material needs of society. The gist of Marxism is that by the impasse of capitalism, it is only socialism which can pave the way for the development of the productive forces. These plans and measures should be concretely defined. A more detailed picture of common ownership and socialist planned production should be given. The Bolsheviks did not have such a perspective, and thus sought the way for the development of the productive forces in state capitalism. If there ever existed a justification for this shortcoming of the Bolsheviks, the operation of state capitalism in numerous countries should by now have removed this deficiency for today’s communists.
One definition of proletarian dictatorship with which I fully agree is this: ‘Proletarian dictatorship should be a state in which the producers (workers) themselves form the state.’ Very well, but such a state can only be created under special economic relationships. The political institutions of such a state cannot be formed, completed and then the question of production relations pursued separately. The very process which settles the question of production and economic relations also determines the state structure and arrangement and the position of the masses in it. If we accept that the working class is to collectively control and administer production, which is scattered throughout the country in different economic units, then we should also accept that a certain structure is necessary to mould the political and administrative power by which the collective organs of workers at different levels, from bottom to the top, will act as the components of this state.
In the proletarian revolution we shall not have a stage where initially, irrespective of the way the economic authority is exercised, a democratic structure for the exercise of the political authority of the working class and the intervention of the working masses and individuals is defined and established, and then this exercise of authority is extended to the economic terrain. So long as the levers of economic authority are not vested to the realm of soviet power, the soviet will not also become the lasting body for the exercise of the political and administrative authority of workers, or at any rate the workers will be left out of the real domain of direct authority. It is the relation of workers to the means of production which determines the proper groups workers struggle for (as well as ruling). Trade unions, for instance, suit the working class which sees the control of the means of production in the hands of an external party for which it works. Workers’ soviets which are in power are the organisation suitable for a working class which has effectively seized the control of the economy and exercises its authority at local level. However, if one demands the establishment of a democratic structure for the proletarian dictatorship, one should realise that this presupposes common ownership and the abolition of wage-labour, and requires the socialisation of production-relations and the elimination of capital as a social relation, whether it is in the hands of individuals or the state.
In the particular case of Russia the time when the above question should have been posed, was the period in which the social position and status of the working class was also being determined, i.e. when the issue of state ownership and production on the basis of wage-labour was being established. This development inevitably defined the political position and character of the working class and its position in the political and administrative system of the society. This process might have taken years to arrive at its logical conclusion. But there could be no doubt as to what this logical conclusion would have been: political deprivation of the workers and their political expropriation, and the demise of the workers’ state created by the October Revolution.
I do not deny that the Russian revolution underwent degeneration and suffered political retrogression. But what concerns me is the explanation of the real place of these observations in the analysis of the causes of the defeat of the Russian revolution. In my discussion, I laid the main emphasis on the economic transformation of the Russian society, and noted that the fundamental reason for the defeat of the workers’ revolution in Russia was the inability of the party and the class to strike at the roots of the existing economic order and to revolutionise it. I could be criticised for failing to appreciate that the fundamental reason for this inability must be sought in the political arena and in the retreats of the party and the workers’ government. It could well be argued that the emergence of the bureaucracy, the weakening of the inner-party democracy, the fall in the power of workers’ and mass organs vis-à-vis the power of the party and the state, the frequent compromises made with the institutions of the old society or the pressures of the bourgeoisie, etc. were indeed the factors which by 1924 had virtually divested the proletariat of any opportunity to make any progress in the economic plane. This is one objection. The other objection which could be raised is that essentially the task of the Russian proletariat was not to pass to the stage of economic transformation at all. That the fundamental issue at the time was the maintenance of the proletarian state, the preservation of its purity and loyalty to principles and the promotion of the revolution worldwide; in this way, the Russian economy could take up the form of state capitalism or any other form. I accept neither of these two approaches. I have already talked about the second objection. In my opinion this amounts to subjectivism and refusal to meet the material and real problems of a given social revolution. Waiting, even active waiting, for a world revolution cannot be a substitute for the progress of a certain revolution at a certain juncture. The question of what the economic perspective for Russia should be, was seriously posed in 1924 and after, and it was a challenge which could not be avoided. State capitalism or ‘any other form’ could not be taken as an answer. It was a juncture when the workers’ revolution in Russia had to issue its specific economic decree or otherwise face the prospect of even losing its political authority.
But regarding the first objection, that is the analytical precedence of political deviations in finding the causes for the defeat of the workers’ revolution, I should talk at a greater length. In my view there is a serious difference between the political degeneration which reflects a reproducible, backward, and bourgeois material and economic base, and those politically undesirable slips, defects and tendencies which are not yet reproduced as a social phenomenon, and in reality are caused by momentary shortcomings and pressures, temporary straits, or the force of habit and upbringing of the advanced ranks of the revolution. There were numerous political and theoretical slips from the very first day after the October 1917. Many undesirable tendencies could be observed with respect to compromises made with the institutions of the old society, the development of bureaucracy, the weakening of inner-party democracy, the fall in the power of the organs responsible for the direct action of the workers, and evasion from deepening the political transformation in the legal and cultural life of society, etc. But these do not provide us with a list for the causes of the defeat, since the decisive battle of the proletariat for the economic transformation of society had not yet begun. This battle began in the ‘20s. If in this battle the alternative for common ownership and the abolition of wage-labour, i.e. the proletarian alternative for the economic perspective of Russia had prevailed, then these undesirable political and administrative tendencies, would not only have been deprived of any material bases for their survival, but would also have faded away in the course of the profound economic transformation of society and became superseded by political methods and mechanisms which corresponded to this transforming economy and to this further progress of the revolution in its most decisive domain. But if, as it did happen in practice, the nationalist-industrialist alternative of the bourgeoisie had shaped the perspective for the economic progress of Russia, then these slips and defects which could have become secondary, accidental and indeterminate factors in the fate of the revolution, would now have turned into organic and reproducible components of the political superstructure. Hence, the turning of these political, legal and administrative slips and defects into an all-sided political degeneration, above all necessitated that the question of the economy be settled in the interest of a bourgeois economic base and a path of capitalist economic development. The issue of bureaucracy is a good example to illustrate the issue. Under the pressure of post-revolutionary circumstances the workers’ state resorted to many compromises. The Red Army made use of the core of the Tsarist army. Government departments were reconstructed on the shoulders of the old bureaucrats, and privileges were conceded to certain strata in society in order to use their expertise and professional qualities. Undoubtedly, all these point to the existence of undesirable tendencies at the political and administrative level. But before the beginning of the economic debates of the ‘20s, bureaucraticism was the result of the compromises by the advanced class due to the external pressures. I can consider these compromises entirely or partially as inevitable, but cannot doubt the fact that these shortcomings were being imposed on the advanced force of the revolution.
One can find a multitude of examples in the discussions of the Bolshevik leaders which show that whilst they were indeed aware of these undesirable tendencies, suffered from them and tried to remove them, they still talked of them as temporary and transitional compromises which could become unnecessary with the consolidation of the rule of the proletariat. But after the ‘20s, when the course of development based on planned state capitalism, based on wage-labour, was established as the basis for the movement of the revolutionary society, when the bourgeois-nationalist vision of development became the basis for social reproduction, then the bureaucracy was no longer an imposed pressure and a product of the compromises made, but had become an organic and reproducible component of the political superstructure. Here, we are talking about the bureaucracy as a superstructural institution corresponding to the economic base of society, and to the dynamism of development of relations in the base. After the October Revolution, the soviets were weakened due to various reasons and mainly as a result of the pressure of the extraordinary circumstances of the time. But once the course of economic progress was concluded in favour of the bourgeois-nationalist perspective, then the reason for the degeneration or the absence of the soviets and the domination of the bureaucracy should not be sought in the extraordinary and junctural circumstances of the time. Bureaucracy was the political superstructure corresponding to the state capitalist economic perspective now institutionalised in the society. In the first stage, the dire needs of circumstances called for a centralisation of power so that the workers’ state could overcome its difficulties. This led to a weakening of the soviets. In the second stage the soviets had to be completely negated so that the mechanism of political and economic decision-making in the country would correspond to the bourgeois logic of the economic development.
Therefore, we very much distinguish between the superstructural deviations and shortcomings prevailing in Russian society immediately after the Revolution (at the ideological, political, cultural and administrative level) and the political decline of the post-twenties. In my opinion, the political and superstructural shortcomings of the first stage were minor and secondary factors which did not play any decisive role in the destiny of the Russian revolution. These were rectifiable or removable tendencies and defects. They cannot be considered as characteristic hallmarks in the analysis of the workers’ revolution. In the post ‘20s, when the bourgeois-nationalist course of development finally became dominant, these superstructural features became the organic and reproducible parts of an economic and social system – a superstructure which itself reflected the essential features of the production base.
Let me explain this problem from a different angle. If we consider the division which I maintained in the article State in Revolutionary Periods, i.e. the division of the post-revolutionary period into a revolutionary period in the strict sense of the term, and the stabilisation period of the proletarian dictatorship, then one can express the problem in the following way: in the first period, when the central question of the revolution was the consolidation of the young workers’ state, many compromises were forced on the working class. These compromises were neither immoral nor unprincipled. They were largely the result of either the exigencies brought about by the enemy forces or the violent resistance of the domestic and international bourgeoisie. Political and administrative deviations in this period were imposed on the vanguard party. The Russian working class successfully passed through the first period despite all these compromises. By 1924 the workers’ state had established its political authority against the resistance of the bourgeoisie. But precisely for this reason the question of what the economic content of the workers’ revolution should be and what the economic tasks of the proletarian dictatorship were, became the key question for the development of the revolution, that is for the accomplishment of the economic revolution which in the words of Engels without it the political triumph of the class would become null and void. This economic revolution did not happen, since neither the working class nor its vanguard party had such a perspective before them. Bourgeois nationalism and industrialism, the deep-rooted and historical alternative of the Russian bourgeoisie in the twentieth century against which the Russian social democracy had not demarcated itself clearly, emerged from this stage of the revolution victoriously. The outcome of these circumstances was that the political and administrative defects and shortcomings of the first period not only were not removed or compensated as a result of a great economic revolution – which could have established common ownership – but were even promoted to a higher level after the domination of the bourgeois economic perspective, and the institutionalisation in the Russian society of the state economic alternative based on wage-labour. Bureaucracy, lack of inner-party democracy, curtailment of the authority of the soviets and their subsequent decline, abolition of workers’ control, etc., all were established as the organic components of this bourgeois economic pattern. Now these observations were reproduced as the superstructure corresponding to the new economic process. Hence, I can talk of these deviationary tendencies in the political and ideological superstructure of the Russian society as being non-decisive factors in both periods. In the first period these factors were secondary in comparison with the need of the working class to establish its very rule. In the second period, these tendencies did not exist de novo but were themselves the product and the effect of a more fundamental deviation. They were the consequence of the choice of bourgeois course of development for the Russian society.
I should mention several points here. Firstly, it could be asked why I regard the political and ideological deviations of the first period reversible. In my view if one accepts that what was needed in Russia in the economic terrain was an economic revolution, that such a revolution was still objectively possible in the ‘20s, i.e. there existed a historical opportunity for it to happen, then one would have little difficulty to understand why such a revolution could have brought with it the resuscitation of the soviets, the revival of the most extensive form of proletarian democracy within the state and party structure, and the decline of bureaucratic tendencies.
The move for the establishment of common ownership and the abolition of wage-labour, the move for the imposition of real workers’ control over the economy and economic policy-making, once again could have disturbed the remainder of the bureaucratic and bourgeois forms of control in the political and administrative domains. The resistance of these forms was much weaker than the resistance of the entire political and administrative system of Tsarism and the Russian bourgeoisie.
I have serious differences with the outlook which dooms the revolution and the proletarian democracy, and considers them lost just because at one time Stalin got the upper hand, or a certain decree was issued curtailing the rights of fractions, or a certain People’s Commissariat interfered with the jurisdiction of the soviets or the factory committees. This party of many faults, if there existed a powerful move for the establishment of common ownership and the socialist forms of production, could have emerged with triumph out of the economic debates of ‘20s, and thereby to build the material foundations for the removal of the political and administrative defects and shortcomings prevailing in the superstructure of the society. The cause of difficulty was not the persistence of defects and shortcomings in the party; it was a fundamental defect in something else, namely the absence of a clear vision on the socialist forms of ownership and production.
It follows then that I am opposed to those outlooks which base their analyses on the existence of superstructural deviationary tendencies in the Bolshevik party and the Russian society, and which consider the degeneration of the Russian revolution to be the reflection of the political degeneration of the party or the administrative degeneration of the Soviet state. This political degeneration is an effect of the economic degeneration of the Revolution, and not the cause of it, and should therefore be explained as the inevitable consequence of this economic degeneration. On the other hand I consider it wrong to attach to the violation of democracy in the first period of the revolution (i.e. immediately after the October) the same significance as some outlooks do. This is a democratic outlook on the workers’ revolution. Whilst it should be attempted that the proletarian dictatorship embraces from inception the widest possible forms of proletarian democracy, nevertheless the defeat of the revolution was not primarily the product of the failure of the Russian workers in this field. In spite of all these shortcomings they passed one decisive stage with triumph. The fundamental cause of the ultimate defeat of the workers in Russia must be sought in the economic defeat of the class in the ‘20s. Had the Russian workers succeeded to win this decisive battle in the second period, then the difficulties and shortcomings of the first period, would have amounted to some bygone hardship, the birth pangs of a new society, and would have set in their proper place, and faded away in the post-revolutionary history of Russia. Two objections could be raised here. First, in a criticism of my emphasis on the question of economic transformation it could be said that political and economic transformation should occur simultaneously and ‘in parallel to each other’. This is a misunderstanding of my argument. Incidentally, the crux of my argument is that political emancipation precedes economic transformation. But the whole point is that the Russian worker had won his political emancipation in October 1917, he had achieved his immediate aims in the political field. He had seized power. At that time, the working class was not at the helm where it concerned the question of administering society and organising social production. I emphasize once again that in my view the Bolshevik revolution was a workers’ revolution. This revolution placed the workers at the reign of power and made their arms the guarantor of their rule. No revolution in the history of human beings has hitherto been able to gain such an achievement.
In the way that I have understood Marx and Lenin, the seizure of power precedes the economic revolution. To present my argument opposed to this understanding and with the warning that political and economic emancipation must proceed ‘parallel to each other’ is very wrong and unjustified. Such an understanding of my views can only come from the outlook which itself does not believe that political power was indeed won by the workers and hence in opposing my argument about the necessity to revolutionise the economic structure in the interest of workers, is obliged to note that ‘after all the political power was not yet in the hands of the working class’. Let me emphasize this point once more. The political power after October was indeed in the hands of the working class. But once in power the working class, just as the bourgeoisie, expresses itself in various and manifold manners. Today, political power is in the hands of the bourgeoisie without any individual bourgeois directly exercising it. To exercise its power, every class has its own particular methods, each depending on the given circumstances of a certain period. When Marx speaks of proletarian democracy, he is talking not of a workers’ state engaged in war, a state waging the military suppression of the bourgeois resistance, but of a state carrying out the administration of society. My argument which has been clearly expressed and leaves no room for misunderstanding is that political power was indeed seized by the workers; the working class fought and consolidated it. But precisely at the time when this power should have been used to accomplish its real historical mission, namely, the overthrow of the whole system of bourgeois ownership and wage-labour, the working class failed to march forward. Since this power was not employed to further such a policy.
Furthermore, it could be argued that the conditions of the post revolutionary period were anti-democratic, that even if a principled line had existed it would have been suppressed. First of all I do not share this observation. In my view much exaggeration has been made on the extent which ‘democracy’ had been ‘restricted’ in this period. Secondly, if I were to imagine that such a claim was indeed true, I know of no recipe which could assure a guaranteed protection of political tendencies against such a repression. Moreover, I also consider as illusory the claim that in the absence of a clear proletarian perspective on the future of the economy of society, the mere demand of de-centralisation of power and democratisation of the system could have been a guarantee for the rectification of the course of revolution. In a revolutionary period, the power tends to centralise in order to represent the ruling class in the major battles in society. To complain about ‘currents which had grabbed power’ is by no means a helpful method of approach. Worse still, it is to preach that they should not have committed this act and to substitute this preaching for an analysis of the defeat of the revolution. Here, I would like to argue for the possibility of a socialist victory, and not its inevitability if all the shortcomings considered were non-existent. However, in the real scene of struggle every tendency is obliged to mobilise force in order to win. I believe that in the years 1924 and after, a socialist tendency did not have a real presence. If such a tendency did exist then my discussion could focus on how it could have been strengthened.
Let me give an explanation on the question of ‘appropriation of power by the party’. First I would like to say that incidentally in the period which usually preoccupies the attention of the democratic critics of the Bolshevik revolution, namely, in the initial years of the revolution, power was not ‘appropriated’ by anybody. The power was so fragmented, and locally administered by various institutions of workers and toilers, that for a few years it was not even possible to standardise state laws and regulations, to impart a uniform pattern to organs and the manner of decision-making in different areas, and to unify and centralise the courts and penal codes. Even the decisions of the supreme soviet were not necessarily binding locally and applied by the local soviet. Contrary to what through the spectacles of bourgeois democracy is seen as the confiscation of power, the experience of the first few years of the revolution is the experience of local legislating and exercise of power. For a long time the problem in Russia was that there did not exist uniform criteria in different areas of the country for the punishment of culprits and the organisation of social issues, etc. The official and direct authority of the Bolshevik Party which had apparently ‘usurped’ power did not go much beyond major cities. The real power of the Bolshevik Party lied in its dispersion of power to local assemblies of workers and soldiers. Essentially, the Bolsheviks had not organised any independent authority against the workers’ exercise of power from below. There can be no talk of the harassment of masses by the top. And this was nothing but proletarian dictatorship. Workers who had overthrown the bourgeois state and directly seized power, and then organised themselves in different forms at the local level, had indeed established the proletarian dictatorship. The judicial and legal structure of this workers’ power not only was not an important issue at the time, but could not be finalized at a revolutionary period. Hence, not only the claim made about the centralisation power in the hands of the Bolshevik government is incorrect, but such a centralisation was not essentially possible. This was itself a real problem of the state. Even if the Bolsheviks wanted to usurp power, the revolutionary material process and the particular historical circumstances did not render it possible.
Hence, one interpretation of the actions of the Bolshevik party which has become commonplace, particularly after the rise of Stalin, and which has been extended to the initial stage of the revolution, is nothing but the result of the pressure which European liberalism and bourgeois parliamentarianism has exerted on the Left. It is the result of this pressure which has made currents such as the New Left and so on to criticize the Soviet Union with the jargons of democracy. They have been compelled to present in their criticism of the Soviet Union recipes and patterns of democracy which are favoured by the bourgeois public opinion of those countries in which they are present. Under such pressure, one current, Eurocommunism, has even omitted the phrase proletarian dictatorship from its programme and policies, and the other current which wants to keep it supplants its content with an extended type of bourgeois democracy and scruples the real proletarian dictatorship of Russian workers. It is interesting to note that the same people who when examining bourgeois states overlook the non-democratic relation of such states with the bourgeoisie, and can easily identify dictatorial bourgeois regimes with the bourgeoisie, are the ones who look for a ‘democratic’ constitution when it comes to the formation of workers’ states! In its own time, the Soviet state was recognised both by the workers and the bourgeoisie as a workers’ state. No one could deny the class character of this state. The issue was if it could survive. Naturally, those who then denied the proletarian character of this state failed to win an audience for their claim about a living fact of their own time. But today, 70 years later, when the living history and those momentous occasions in which the will of workers was exercised in Russia has been forgotten and faded into the past, such claims find room to present themselves. In the past, everyone knew that the power had been seized by the workers in Russia. What we hear today is the reflection of the guilty conscience and of the lost confidence of a radical Left which no longer has that living reality before itself.
By 1923 the Russian society had ended the first stage in the workers’ revolution. The political authority of workers – all compromises, deficiencies and shortcomings notwithstanding – was established in triumph against the open political and military resistance of the bourgeoisie. Now the other fundamental question of the Russian revolution that is the settling of the issue of economic transformation of society under the dictatorship of the proletariat was gradually being presented. This was a question which by 1929 was finally settled in debates which centred around the issue of ‘socialism in one country’. The bourgeois economic perspective and the capitalist course of development became dominant in this period, and in the ‘30s we witness the general movement of society in this direction. In this period the essential point was the bourgeois development of the Russian society, and consequently the workers’ struggle was a struggle in confrontation with this development.
On the issue of ‘socialism in one country’ it is necessary to state clearly several points:
Firstly, in my opinion, theoretically and irrespective of the question of the Soviet Union, the establishment of socialism in one country, i.e. the establishment of relations based on common ownership, the abolition of wage-labour, i.e. what Marx envisaged to be the outlines of the lower stage of communism, is quite possible, and not only that, it is vital for the fate of workers’ revolution. The establishment of socialism is the immediate and vital task of any working class which succeeds to win political power in a given country. I consider unacceptable and non-Marxist those outlooks which for any reason or under any pretext, leave out from the agenda of the proletariat which has come to power in a given country the task to establish a socialist economy based on common ownership and the abolition of wage-labour, and postpone it to a different period.
Secondly, in my opinion, the distinction which Marx defines for the two stages of communism is a very clear and valid one which is directly related to the economic tasks of the proletarian dictatorship. I do not consider communism (the upper phase) to be possible in a single country. The reason is that the main characteristics of this stage are: economic abundance, the colossal development of the productive forces, the fundamental revolutionisation of the position of human beings in society, and with it a radical transformation of the existing codes of ethics, the withering away of the state, and so on – conditions which I do not consider to be realisable within the boundaries of any given country. For instance, so long as national frontiers exist and these are to set the border-line between the socialist and capitalist societies, the withering away of the state is not practical. But socialism, as the lower phase of communism, not only is possible but as I said is necessary.
Thirdly, I must emphasize that in the economic polemics of the mid-’20s in the Bolshevik Party, ‘socialism in one country’ was the context for the resurgence of bourgeois nationalism in the sense referred to before, that is it acted as the banner for the domination of the bourgeois alternative for the development of society in the domain of production and reproduction. In other words, although the phrase ‘socialism in one country’ does not on its own carry any deviation, nevertheless ‘socialism in one country’, as the banner of a certain movement, in a certain period, and in a certain society, was the hallmark of a great anti-working class movement and a milestone for the interruption and the defeat of the Russian revolution. I denounce this movement as the bearer of the bourgeois alternative in the Russian society.
Against this movement, the opponents who had clearly noted the revival of bourgeois nationalism under this banner took refuge in the idea of ‘world revolution’. It is interesting to note that the Opposition and Stalin faction, despite their differences, shared very important common grounds. In the first instance, the fact that the difference in opinion focused not on the word ‘socialism’ but on the term ‘in one country’, indicates that the Opposition’s version of ‘socialism’ did not differ from that of Stalin’s official line. Apparently nobody felt any difference on the measures that were to be carried out under the name of socialism, and it seems that the controversy was about the possibility of these measures ‘in one country’. The next move of the Russian revolution showed how Stalin faction succeeded to realise the economic platform of the United Opposition (Trotsky – Zinoviev), and how with this move Trotskyism was for ever disarmed on the question of the economic structure of the Soviet Union. The ‘socialism-in-one-country’ current was not criticised from a socialist standpoint. The ‘socialism’ of this current which is a set of statification of the economy, industrialisation and the development of the productive forces whilst keeping the system of wage-labour, was not contrasted with any socialist alternative. In the contest of the official line and the Opposition, the socialist proletariat was not represented; nor was any attention paid to the warning of Engels on the necessity of an economic revolution after the conquest of power.
The above point also explains the reasons for the triumph of the advocates of ‘socialism in one country’. At a time when the Russian revolution had arrived at a decisive moment in its destiny, the Opposition did not have any alternative in the economic realm. The platform of ‘world revolution’ could not be an effective weapon in the fight with the bourgeoisie which behind the banner of ‘socialism in one country’ was presenting an alternative for the most imperative and decisive question of society. The Opposition became a victim of its irrelevance to the real history of workers’ revolution in Russia.
However, when we view this period of the Russian revolution in a wider historical context, we can see that the platform of ‘socialism in one country’ was indeed the vessel for the new ascension of the Russian bourgeoisie to power. This was an event which took place independent of the intentions of those who represented this line. Indeed, once the non-revolutionary and capitalist course of development was chosen, and the cause of economic revolution was neglected and reduced to state economy and planning, then for all intents and purposes Stalin’s line became an impediment to the further development of the revolutionary Russian society and to the continuation of the workers’ revolution. As far as the Opposition and the advocates of the cause of ‘world revolution’ were concerned at the time, they at best represented a radicalism in the Bolshevik party which had already sensed this retrogression but itself had essentially no other different alternative and merely resorted to a fruitless resistance based on a democratic political platform. The position of the Opposition resulted in the fact that the radical sections of the proletariat, sections discontent with the weakening of the Soviets, the abolition of workers’ control, the growth of bureaucracy, the fall in the living standard of the proletariat, firstly were not represented in their entirety, and secondly tailed behind the Opposition as an insignificant force. An opposition which itself had stood before Stalin’s line only on the basis of a very narrow and non-revolutionary platform, and which was incapable of representing the real radicalism of the revolution, i.e. the essential aspiration of the revolution for bringing about a gigantic transformation in the economic relations.
Let me in passing point out another aspect of the Opposition’s standpoints. Nowadays for many, including for some of our own comrades, the belief of the Opposition in the ‘necessity of world revolution’ and ‘the impossibility of socialism in one country’ is a vindication for their ‘internationalism’. In my view this outlook has no particular internationalist bearing. Why should one who believes that the fate of the Russian revolution is tied up to the German revolution simply because this country is industrially backward, be necessarily regarded as an internationalist? Internationalism means believing in the international character of the working class and defending the workers’ revolution anywhere, i.e. defending these revolutions because of their working-class character. But if one on the basis of one’s concrete analysis comes to the conclusion that the revolution in country ‘A’ depends for a variety of reasons on the revolution in country ‘B’ in order to survive, this does not vindicate, on any account, that there is something internationalist about that stand. This is a concrete analysis which could have been arrived at simply in the interests of the revolution in country ‘A’. One could be internationalist and yet agree or disagree with such a concrete analysis on the inevitable relation between the Russian and the German revolutions. Indeed, in the concrete case of Russia, it is one of my arguments that a refusal to advance the Russian revolution, and to continue the proletarian revolutions to the extent of fundamentally revolutionising the whole economic system in Russia, was itself tantamount to refusing to promote the Russian workers as active and effective internationalists.
But this so-called internationalist position taken by the Opposition, as I pointed out before, in fact revealed the pitfalls in the viewpoint of the Opposition, and the common plane it shared with the official line regarding the very nature of socialism as a definite set of economic and social relations and its requirements in the post-revolutionary Russian society. The whole stand of the Opposition boiled down to the argument that it was the revolution in the industrialised Germany that could provide the proletarian revolution in Russia with the vital level of productive forces needed to establish socialism. Such an outlook is one which denies beforehand the possibility of furthering the Russian revolution to the extent of a revolution in the Russian economy.
It is true that the German revolution had a decisive place in the strategy of the Bolsheviks. The likelihood of this revolution taking place and the possibilities which such a revolution would have provided for the Russian proletariat was itself one of the reasons for the lack of any concrete steps being envisioned by the Bolsheviks in regard to the question of economic transformation in Russia itself. The Bolsheviks had indeed made the realisation of their own economic horizon dependent on the success of the German revolution. It was also for this reason that the debate over the long-term perspective of the Russian economy was seriously conducted once it was ascertained that a workers’ revolution in Germany was not in the offing – at least not in the short-term. And it is also understandable why in opposition to the traditional vision in the party which awaited the coincidence of revolution in Germany and Europe, Stalin’s line identified its outlook with socialism in one country.
It is regrettable that a notion which in the Bolshevik tradition had arisen from a concrete analysis of the concrete situation in a definite period has now been elevated by a large section of the Radical Left to a general theoretical maxim on the impossibility of socialist economic advance within the boundaries of a single country. Thus an idealist, esoteric and passive conception of the socialist revolution has replaced the vivid understanding of Marx and Lenin of this revolution. The understanding which is also reflected in the brief warning of Engels, quoted above, about the tasks of the proletariat after the conquest of power (including its tasks in the Paris Commune).
Nevertheless, at a juncture in the Russian revolution, when the economic alternative of the bourgeoisie should have been truly counterpoised by the economic alternative of the proletariat, at a time when the economic decree of the workers’ revolution, the mandate for the socialisation of production and the abolition of wage-labour, should have been translated into clear economic, judicial and administrative policies and contrasted with the state capitalism presented under the guise of socialism, the debates within the Bolshevik party were conducted within the framework of the struggle between nationalism and ‘internationalism’. The confrontation between socialism and capitalism diminished in Russia itself, and hence not only a true alignment of forces was not made against nationalism, but also with the failure to make a socialist critique of the economic alternative of nationalism, the way was paved for the domination of this tendency in the Bolshevik party and the Soviet state. The economic critique which existed, did not challenge the capitalist framework of the official line, and was merely concerned with the pace of industrialisation, the relation with the peasants and the like. In a nutshell, the fundamental theme of the proletarian revolution, that is the socialist economy, was not contended in these debates.
The present Soviet society is capitalist. Arguments for a new mode of production or a transitional economy and suchlike are not valid. Furthermore, in my view the features of the Soviet capitalist economy are not identical with the features predominant in Western Europe and USA. In my belief, a capitalism which is established and consolidated in the name of socialism after a workers’ revolution, has specific characteristics which must be recognised and studied. The prevalence of wage-labour, the predominance of labour-power as a commodity and the organisation of social production on the basis of wage-labour, are all sufficient to prove that the Soviet economy is a capitalist economy. But what should be explained about the peculiarities of this economy are of a more concrete nature than these general characteristics of capitalism. For instance the question of fragmentation of capital and competition, the system which in the Soviet Union facilitates the operation of the fundamental laws and exigencies of capital as objective laws external to it, the forms which the reserve army of labour takes up in this society, the way in which the surplus- value is distributed and divided between different parts of the whole social capital and different branches of production, the role of price and market in this economy, are some of the issues which should be studied. Here I shall not dwell on these matters. This is a very important area for discussion, and investigation. Here it suffices to present my points of view on the nature of the Soviet economy in a polemical fashion. On this issue, I, in my article on the Sweezy-Bettelheim debate, have already put forward points which should have clarified the outline of my position on the subject.
The lesson that the Radical Left has mainly learnt from the experience of the Soviet Union is either one on the issue of ‘democracy’ or on the necessity to preserve one’s ‘ideological purity’. They all emphasize how theoretical slips can pave the way for the defeat of the workers’ revolution; how a breaking of the element of democracy in the theory of socialism and hence the insensitivity to the violation of democracy in inner-party relations or in the state structure, can have destructive consequences for the proletarian revolution. These conclusions, if they are not abstracted from their material and historical basis, are of course important and valuable contributions. But these do not yet address the key question which a present-day communist should learn from the experience of the Russian revolution, i.e. the very question on which Engels on the basis of the experience of the Commune has laid stress. No degree of theoretical preparedness, no degree of theoretical education, no degree of preponderance of democratic ideas and methods among us, can assure that at the moment when the workers’ revolution takes shape we shall have a party as powerful, solid and clear-sightedness as the Bolshevik Party. What we could have, and unfortunately the Bolsheviks did not enjoy in the proper sense, would be a clear economic perspective for the revolutionary transformation of society after the seizure of power by the working class. Once the working class seizes the power, society will objectively face this question: what is it going to do with this power? If this power is not employed to bring about a revolution in the economic relations of society, and to transform the foundation of bourgeois property and production; if the political power of the working class is not used as a means to establish common ownership over the means of production and to abolish wage-labour, if this power is not exploited to bring about the economic revolution which constitutes the essence of the socialist revolution of the proletariat, then any victory is doomed to failure, then even the political domination of the workers will be something temporary and, in a wider historical context, inconclusive – this is the fundamental lesson of the workers’ revolution in Russia.
1. (F. Engels, On the occasion of Karl Marx’s Death, in Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism, Moscow, 1974, p.173, emphases mine.)
2. Reference to an article published in Besooy-e-Sosyalism, the theoretical journal of the CPI, no.2, Nov. 1985.