C L R James
The World Revolution 1937-1936

Chapter 8


THE THEORY OF SOCIALISM IN A SINGLE COUNTRY WAS THE final triumph of the bureaucracy. For if Russia could build Socialism by herself, then for Russian Socialists the world revolution was a matter not of necessity but of gratuitous benevolence, and gratuitous benevolence has no force in the calculations of governments, Capitalist or Socialist. Henceforth the main business of the Communist International would be not revolution but "the defence of the U.S.S.R." The future development of the Soviet Union was not of necessity, but only incidentally a threat to world Capitalism. Thus the kulak and the nepman inside Russia, the world bourgeoisie outside, had gained an important victory over Marxian Socialism. It has taken years for the full implications of the theory to be seen by the world at large, but Trotsky and the Opposition knew from the, first moment what it meant and where it would lead, and from October, 1924, it has been the main dividing line between two irreconcilable camps.


One would have thought, however, that at least the adoption of this theory carried with it a determination to concentrate on the internal development of Russia. Ask any well-informed Friend of the Soviet Union to-day the origin of Trotskyism v. Stalinism, and smoothly will flow from his lips "Stalin wished to industrialise Russia, while Trotsky wished to spread revolution abroad." While the truth is that for four years Trotksy and the Left Opposition fought for the industrialisation of Russia on an extensive scale of planned economy, while Stalin and the bureaucracy stood woodenly in the way and sent thousands of the " super-industrialists " to gaol and exile in Siberia. Neither is it correct to say that the kulak question and the collectivisation of the peasantry was the central question of internal policy at issue between Trotsky and Stalin. Such a presentation of the question is like so much of current thinking about the Soviet Union, completely false, and is due to the fact that the Stalinists try to hide their long struggle against industrialisation. The kulak question was always subsidiary to the industrialisation of Russia, could in the last analysis be solved, even temporarily, only by industrialisation. For Marx and Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, for all Marxists, the very idea of Socialism pre-supposed, in Lenin's phrase, "the enormous development of the means of production," that is to say industrialisation. Russia was a backward country precisely because of the smallness of its industry as compared with agriculture. In April, 1923, at the Fourth [?] Congress of the Party, Trotskyism being as yet undiscovered, Trotsky presented some theses to the party on industry. [1] They were accepted unanimously, and but for Lenin's illness and the consequences, would certainly have been energetically carried out.

The theses laid down that the continuation of the dictatorship of the proletariat depended ultimately neither on the State-apparatus, nor the army, nor the education of the working-class by the party, Trade Unions, etc. All this would "prove as if built on sand" except on the basis of a continually expanding industry. "Only the development of industry creates the unshakable basis for the dictatorship of the proletariat." In Soviet economy agriculture, and agriculture on a very low technical level, was of primary importance. This was a weakness, and only in proportion as industry and particularly heavy industry was restored and developed would it be possible to alter the relative significance of agriculture and industry, and shift the centre of gravity from the former to the latter. "How long the period of the predominant importance of peasant economy in the economic system of our federation will last will depend not only upon our internal economic progress, which in view of the general conditions mentioned above can he but very gradual, but also upon the process of development taking place beyond the boundaries of Russia, i.e. before all upon the way the revolution in the West and in the East will proceed. The overthrow of the bourgeoisie in any one of the most advanced capitalist countries would very quickly make its impress upon the whole tempo of our economic development, as it would at once multiply the material and technical resources for socialist construction. While never losing sight of this international perspective, our Party must at the same time never for a moment forget or omit to keep in mind the predominant importance of peasant economy, when it is estimating the consequences of any step it is on the point of taking."

So far the theses merely stated the fundamental premises of the Permanent Revolution. Trotsky has never wavered in his belief that the revolution in Western Europe, and that alone, can save Russia. But revolution was more immediately the business of the International. For the Russian people industrialisation came first. "Without for a single moment forgetting its permanent revolutionary educational problems, the Party must clearly realise that at the present constructive-economic period of the revolution its most fundamental work lies in guiding economic activity in the basic points of the Soviet process of construction."

Where was the capital to be got? Britain had plundered colonies all through the centuries, Tsarist Russia had attempted the same but had chiefly borrowed Western capital. Soviet Russia had abjured the first method, and in 1923 had little prospect of using the second, besides which it could be used only sparingly or Russia would become a colonial country again. Some of the capital would have to come from an agricultural surplus, but it was equally important for the State industry not to lag behind agriculture, for otherwise "private industry would be created on the basis of the latter, and this private industry would in the long run swallow up or absorb state industry.

"Only such industry can prove victorious which renders more than it swallows up." Trotsky recognised to the full the importance of encouraging peasant production, with its inevitable growth of the kulak. But he was alive to the danger.

If industry could not give the peasant sufficient goods, then peasant produce would remain on the countryside, engendering hoarding, speculation and an accelerated growth of the private capitalist, with a relative weakening of the proletariat. Hence industrialisation was not something good to have, but an absolute necessity for the dictatorship of the proletariat. Yet the agricultural surplus could not be expected to supply too much capital, for if the peasant were plundered for the benefit of industry, he would lose his faith in the guidance of the proletariat, the alliance would be broken and, from his preponderant weight in the community, he would threaten the stability of the whole structure. Trotsky's solution–he based it on a study of the writings of Engels and their development by Lenin–drew from the very nature of collective ownership and the Soviet system. To begin with, the administration of the Soviet State could be far cheaper than that of the Capitalist State with its top-heavy and highly-paid bureaucracy. Rigid economy here would supply capital for increase of production. Vast sums, squandered by the rich in idle luxury, would swell the amount available for capital expenditure. Standardisation in industrial construction, which had given Germany and America such immense advantages over the rest of the world, could be exploited to the full in a Socialist State. The national control of banks, etc. prevented the waste and chaos and disorder which were typical of every capitalist state. The monopoly of foreign trade gave great scope for attacking foreign markets, and bargaining for such foreign products as were most necessary for improving the economy of the Soviet State. All these advantages could best be exploited under a single economic authority for the whole country, the State-plan for industry. The great danger of such a plan in any country but particularly in backward Russia was bureaucracy. The corrective for bureaucratic rigidity was the regulation of constant comparison with the international market on the one hand, and on the other the vigorous intervention of the masses in the processes of production, accounting and control, the party as always acting as guide and mediator.

The idea of the state-plan was peculiarly Trotsky's. It appears in the book, A Short History of the Russian Revolution, written after October during spare hours at Brest-Litovsk while he was daily expecting the European Revolution, and this proves once more if proof were needed the place which economic construction occupies in the theory of the Permanent Revolution. [2] Even Lenin, though as every Marxist a believer in planned economy, had opposed the idea of the single state-plan at first, but in December, 1922, three months before he finally ceased work, he said that he had examined the question and found that there was a good idea there.


The theses were unanimously adopted conference in the Spring of 1923 at which Lenin had hoped to speak. But Lenin never worked again. And the role of individuals at once assumes an importance difficult to exaggerate. For as soon as Lenin was out of the way, Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev, and when the latter two were thrown over, Stalin and Bucharin opposed the theses on principle, and to advocate industrialisation and planning became one of the most heinous crimes of Trotskyism. To Trotsky, pressing- for the theses to be implemented, Stalin as early as April, 1924 replied with a prodigious sneer: "Who has not had experience of the fatal disease of 'revolutionary' planning, of 'revolutionary' projects which are concocted in the blind belief that a decree can change everything, can bring order out of chaos? Erenburg, in his tale Uskomchel (The Fully-Fledged Communist) gives us an admirable portrait of a bolshevik overtaken by this kind of sickness. The hero has set himself to produce the ideal man. He is absorbed in his work. Unfortunately the creature is a complete failure. The story is, of course, an extravaganza; nevertheless it is a very shrewd take-off. But no one has ridiculed this unwholesome faith in paper decrees and plans more effectively than Lenin." [3] Stalin, skilled in intrigue and not yet sure of himself, named no names. Zinoviev less discreet came out more openly: "It seems to me, comrades, that the obstinate persistence in clinging to a beautiful plan is intrinsically nothing else than a considerable concession to the old-fashioned view that a good plan is a universal remedy, the last word in wisdom. Trotsky's standpoint has greatly impressed many students. 'The Central Committee has no plan, and we really must have a plan!' is the cry we hear to-day from a certain section of the students. The reconstruction of economics in a country like Russia is indeed the most difficult problem of our revolution. ... We want to have transport affairs managed by Dzerzhinsky; economics by Rykov; finance by Sokolnikov; Trotsky, on the other hand, wants to carry out everything with the aid of a 'state plan.' " And when Bucharin took Zinoviev's place as chief theoretician for Stalin he, at the joint meeting of the Executive Committee of the Communist International which adopted the theory of Socialism in a single country, put planning in its place. "Comrade Trotsky asserted that the cause of the: crisis was to be sought in the fact that there was no plan in industry. The only way of saving the situation was to increase the elements of planned economic life by a drastic concentration of industry, by various administrative measures in the sphere of the organisation of industry, etc. All the opposition comrades shared this point of view. The important thing with them, therefore, was the question of the economic plan. Comrade Trotsky also expressed the same thought as follows. He said: We have now the dictatorship of our Commissariat for Finance, but the Commissariat for Finance often does not give enough money to industry. That was the expression of anarchy and absence of plan in the conduct of industry. Everything else must be considered of secondary importance. Comrade Trotsky and the opposition adopted a similar attitude towards the question of prices and the monetary reform. For them they were secondary, and of subordinate importance. The central point was economic planning. [4]

"Our Party Central Committee had an entirely different view of the situation. Its opinion was that we were faced with two important problems: the problem of monetary reform and the problem of lower prices, a prices policy which was bound up with the reduction of the cartel profits of our trusts and syndicates. Of course, planned economy is better than anarchic economy. Our aim is to get closer to planned economy; we prefer planned economy to anarchy in economy. Planned economy is the approach to Socialism.

"But in the situation which then existed all talk of planned economy was empty words, unless the monetary reform could be carried out. .. ." [5] For through all the difficulties of prices, the various "scissors" crises, i.e. the wide discrepancy between the products of the peasant and the value of the industrial goods he received, Trotsky and the Opposition claimed that the only solution was the intensive industrialisation of Russia under a planned economy. Soviet industry was making a rapid recovery. But the Opposition pointed out that this could not last and in any case was not enough. The lag in industry was preparing not only economic but grave political difficulties. Stalin replied that the peasant did not want any plan, what he wanted was a little rain.


What was the reason for this persistent hostility to the industrialisation of Russia? One reason was that during 1913 there had been a temporary crisis in which industrial goods could not find a peasant market. For years after Stalin seemed afraid that the same thing might happen again. But for the obstinacy of those years there is only one explanation. The reader who throws to one side all that the Webbs and the other worshippers have to say about Stalin and makes one careful reading of the first volume of Leninism by Stalin will easily be able to supply the answer–it was ignorance, pure and simple, a phenomenal ignorance, incredible at first but as it fully displays itself throwing a great light on all the subsequent history of the Soviet Union and the Communist International. It was as if Hitler were suddenly called upon to do Dr. Schacht's job. What collective ownership implied, the possibilities (and the limits) of industrialisation, the conflict between the proletariat and peasantry, Stalin understood none of these things. The industrial restoration was taking place on the basis of heavy machinery, and capital goods inherited from the bourgeois state. This process was already reaching its limit. Soon would come the question of capital for repairs, replacing wear and tear, and adding to the stock. Stalin's contribution to this problem was very simple. They had no capital, and they could not get any, so they would have to do without. Only his own words can do justice to his ideas. In his address to the Fourteenth Conference in May, 1925, he made as always a preliminary obeisance to Socialist construction. But this preamble over he outlined the prospects of the future: " (a) In the first place, Soviet Russia remains a predominantly agricultural country. The products of agriculture greatly exceed the products of industry. The most important fact about our industry is that its production is already approximating to that of pre-war days, and that the further development of industry presupposes a new technical basis, namely the provision of new machinery and the building of new factories. This is an extremely difficult task. If we are to pass from a policy of making the best possible use of our existing industries to a policy of establishing a new industrial system upon a new technical foundation, upon the building of new factories, we shall require a large quantity of capital. Since, however, there is a great lack of capital in this country, we have good reason to expect that in the future the growth of our industry will not proceed so rapidly as it has in the past. It is otherwise with agriculture. No one can say that all the existing possibilities of our agriculture have as yet been exhausted. In contrast with industry, our agriculture can advance rapidly on the basis of the existing technique. A mere raising of the cultural level of the peasants, the teaching of them to read and write, even such a simple measure as the proper cleansing of the seed they use, would suffice to increase the gross production of our agriculture by from ten to fifteen per cent. You can easily calculate what this would mean for the whole country. These possibilities already exist for our agriculture. That is why the further development of our agriculture does not encounter such technical difficulties as are encountered in the matter of the development of our industry. That is why the disproportion between the balance of manufacturing industry and the balance of agriculture will continue to increase in the next few years, seeing that our agriculture has a number of potentialities which have not yet been fully turned to account, but will be turned to account in the near future." [6]

Of the staggering percentages of progress, the vitality of collective ownership, and his wild exaggerations of the very solid successes which were to come later, he was at this time and for years after quite oblivious, calmly contemplated a check in the progress of industry and an increase in agriculture by teaching peasants to read and write and clean seed "on the basis of the existing technique." The connection between industry and agriculture did not exist for him. Collectivization was a vision in the dim distance. His peculiar mind then proceeded on various occasions to expound from this an entirely original theory of economics–one in which he denied altogether the importance of new capital. [7]

Not a month after the congress he gave a series of answers to questions by students at Sverdloff University. One question was: In the absence of aid from abroad, shall we be able to supply and to increase the capital necessary for carrying on our large-scale industry?

Stalin began as usual, by saying that the Soviet State would exercise the most rigid economy and make the greatest sacrifice in order to become a powerful industrial State, etc. Stalin always began that way. So much for Leninism. Then he told Russia's university students party policy economics. "Certain comrades are prone to confound the question of the 'reintegration and enlargement of the basic capital requisite for the running of our large-scale industry,' with the question of upbuilding a Socialist economic order in U.S.S.R. Is such an identification possible? No, certainly not. Why? Because the former question is far narrower in scope than the latter. Because the question of increasing the primary capital utilised for the running of large-scale industry is no more than part of our national economy, and the industrial part at that; whereas the question of the upbuilding of a Socialist economy touches the whole of our economic life, that is to say, this question includes both manufacturing industry and agriculture." [8]

He seemed vaguely aware that something was wrong and was at pains to repeat his points over and over again. The building of Socialism, he said, included the co-ordination of both manufacturing industry and agriculture, "whereas the question of the expansion of industrial capital hardly touches this problem at all." [9]

One stands astounded at this naive relegation of basic capital for heavy industry as something apart from the construction of Socialism and "far narrower in scope than the latter." Stalin did not know that without the development of heavy industry not even Socialism, but the very existence of any State, even a Capitalist State, was threatened. His conception often expressed, was that industry (lagging behind a little) and agriculture would grow side by side, agriculture improving in a few years by ten to fifteen per cent (that would just have brought it to pre-war standard), and thus Socialism would come. "A Socialist society," he said, "is a fellowship, a productive and consumptive co-operative, formed jointly by the workers engaged in industry and agriculture." [10] That there might be no possibility of misunderstanding what he meant he stated again in unequivocal terms: "That is why the question of the re-equipment of our factories and the expansion of our industrial capital should not be confused with the question of Socialist construction." [11]

Was it possible to build Socialism? he asked. "This is not only possible but necessary and inevitable. We are already building up Socialism. .. ."

What profundities were hidden in this incredible stupidity his admirers may be able to explain; they have had a long and strenuous training in such explanations. The fact remains that this was the mentality that Trotsky and the Opposition were fighting against. There is no doubt that for years Stalin very genuinely held these views on the unimportance of basic capital. He changed them radically only in 1928 when he had brought the Soviet Union to the verge of disaster. Holding them, all he could do was to make them party policy and then use the whole force of the machine against the Left Opposition and its drive for industrialisation. And as a cover to this ruthless repression the party and the country were fed with innumerable quotations from Lenin. "One of the great merits of Leninism is that nothing is left to chance," [12] said Stalin, and one of his henchmen, Rykov, was equally obtuse: "We are not going to introduce any changes into Leninism." But in defending such policies against the international Marxists Stalin and the party bureaucracy were driven ever further to the right. Blind to the danger, he countered the drive for industrialisation (and on that basis, collectivisation) with greater and greater concessions to the capitalist elements in the countryside. The kulak was allowed to lease land and employ hired labour. [13] Kamenev drew the attention of the party to the increasing growth and influence of the kulak on the countryside, basing his deductions on the statistics published by the Central Statistical Board. Instead of an investigation into the kulak question and an honest attempt to meet the difficulty Stalin could only think of altering the statistics. Kamenev had shown in 1924 that seventy-four per cent of the peasant farms were small, the middle peasants were eighteen per cent and the kulaks eight per cent. This account had gone forward, was accepted, and was even printed in the international Press. In June 1924, the Central Statistical Board issued a statement which showed that sixty-one per cent of the marketable grain was held by the rich peasants. Kamenev sounded the first alarm and the Left Opposition supported him. The Central Statistical Board produced figures shortly afterwards by which the kulaks were shown to have only fifty-two per cent of the grain; and before the congress the figures were still further reduced to forty-two per cent. Every further reduction went to prove that the fears of the Opposition about the kulak danger were unjustified, which did not prevent Stalin at the conference from ridiculing the "panic" of the Opposition about the kulak and the untrustworthy figures of the C.S. Board. As far back as May, 1925, Stalin ridiculed the warnings of the Opposition about the kulak danger:

"Those who are panic-stricken at the thought of this danger, are prone to scream: 'Help, help, the kulak is coming!' It is strange! We introduced the New Economic Policy, knowing perfectly well that this involved a reinvigoration of Capitalism, a reinvigoration of the kulaks, knowing perfectly well that the kulaks would raise their heads once more. Yet directly the kulaks so much as poke their noses round the corner, many of the comrades turn pale with fear, and shout: 'Help! Murder! Police !'" [14] He poured scorn on the idea that Russia was on the road to anything but Socialism.

Krupskaya urged that after all the N.E.P. was Capitalism, Capitalism tolerated, but still Capitalism. "Is that a correct statement?" asked Stalin. "Yes and no. It is perfectly true that we hold Capitalism in leash, and that we shall continue to hold it in leash so long as it exists. But it is absurd to say that N.E.P. is Capitalism. It is absolutely absurd." [15]

Lenin had said: "The Russia of the New Economic Policy will become a Socialist Russia." [16] He had not said "Capitalist Russia will become Socialist." [17] Who failed to understand that were deviating from Leninism.

Socialised industry was eighty per cent, private industry was only twenty per cent; "Now, in the year 1925, any one who speaks of State Capitalism as the dominant form of economic life in Soviet Russia, is completely misrepresenting the Socialist character of our State industry, is utterly misunderstanding the difference between the past and the present situation, is–as far as this problem of State Capitalism is concerned–not thinking dialectically, but scholastically and metaphysically." [18] In the autumn of 1926, Zinoviev, Kamenev and Krupskaya joined Trotsky and formed a bloc to fight the pro-kulak Stalinist regime. The advanced proletariat of Leningrad under Zinoviev, and of Moscow under Kamenev, had stirred their leaders.

Stalin was now leaning for theoretical guidance on Bucharin who produced and developed a theory of the kulaks growing peacefully into Socialism bit by bit "at a snail's pace." But Bucharin was merely giving a Marxist colouring to Stalin's economics, and Stalin has always preferred to have someone on whom he could, in case of failure, lay the blame. Stalin discovered a natural community of interest between the proletariat and the peasantry. The days when nothing could save Russia but collectivisation and the Five Year Plan, the ferocious conflict that was waged between the Socialist State and the peasantry between 1919 and 1933, were far away and the warnings of Trotsky and the Opposition were laughed to scorn by Stalin. In those days the peasant equally with the worker was by nature a Socialist. "Thus we see that, primarily, there is a community of interest between proletariat and peasantry, so far as fundamentals are concerned, for both these classes are equally interested in the triumph of Socialism in our economic life." [19] Nothing less. "But this community of interests is contraposed by an antagonism of interests between the two classes in current affairs. Hence arises a struggle within the alliance, a struggle which is, nevertheless, largely neutralised by the preponderant influence of the community of interests, so that the antagonisms will ultimately pass away. Then the workers and the peasants will no longer be separate classes; they will have become working folk in a classless society. There are ways and means for overcoming these antagonisms. We must maintain and strengthen the alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry, for this is in the best interest of both the allies. Not only do we possess the ways and means, but we have already put them to good use, applying them successfully to the complicated situation created by the introduction of the New Economic Policy, and by the temporary stabilisation of Capitalism." [20]

In 1926 he told the Soviet Congress that he had carried through nine tenths of Socialism in Russia. And whoever opposed these flagrant and dangerous absurdities felt the full weight of the Soviet State apparatus. The party had voted, and to oppose was fractionism, lack of discipline, panic against the kulaks, disbelief in the building of Socialism, underestimation of the peasantry, super-industrialism, all minor variants of the one originating vice-Trotskyism.

To the relative weakness of industry was added a succession of good harvests which increased the weight of the capitalist elements in the country, and on this economic basis the balance of forces was shifting against the proletariat. The antagonisms which by some alchemy Stalin imagined would "ultimately pass away" were hardening. The party bureaucracy, now possessed of great power, was solidly for Stalin. So was the bureaucracy in the country. Bucharin has told us that before N.E.P., there had been 7,365,000 functionaries. With the return to freer trade the number had dropped to about four millions. They were far greater in number than the proletariat of the towns in the days of October. The upper castes were increasingly sceptical about world revolution and quite prepared to build Socialism in a separate country with themselves in the position of chief builders. Further, party and bureaucracy were being steadily fused. Before many years had passed Bucharin was to realise that this fusion, criticism of which he had resented from Trotsky, was a powerful factor in the corruption of the party. Marxism, Leninism, had long been abolished in the party. The highest test for Marxism, to support Stalin's Leninism against Trotskyism, was easy to pass when opposition meant persecution more virulent than any under Tsarism.

Pressing on the bureaucratised party and the Soviet bureaucracy were the kulaks on the country-side, the nepmen in the towns, all of necessity supporters of Stalin against the Opposition. The development of revolution in Western Europe, successes of the proletariat, would have altered the situation immediately by awakening the Russian proletariat and bringing the revolutionary leadership and the revolutionary internationalist wing automatically to the front, but the stabilization of Capitalism pressed heavily on the proletariat. By degrees the rights of the party were filched from it. The yearly party congress was postponed at Stalin's will. The Communist International had met every year from 199 to 1922. After the congress of 1924 none was held for four years. Socialism in a single country did not need congresses of a revolutionary international.

All through 1926 and 1927 Stalin, and the party under his pressure, zig-zagged now to one side and now to the other but steadily to the Right, striking heavier and heavier blows at the international Socialists, and filling the party with yes-men. Stalin built a clique of his own, Molotov, Kaganovitch, Kirov, Ordjonikidze, Vorochilov. They were his personal followers. Rykov, Tomsky and Bucharin were strong supporters of this clique, the first two being chief representatives of a right grouping in the party strongly susceptible to kulak influence. And under the influence of this pressure the Capitalist elements in the Soviet Union, and behind them the counter-revolutionary groups, gained influence in the country and penetrated into the very heart of the Soviet apparatus. The Oppositionists, by this time fighting with the full knowledge of the ultimate fate that awaited them, pointed out the dangerous economic situation, the growing influence of nepman, kulak and bureaucrat, the weakening of the proletariat, the Soviets and the party, and the increasing danger of capitalist restoration following on any sudden shock to the country. In reply they were accused of slandering the Soviet system, of lack of faith in Leninism, and treated to the redoubled violence of Stalin. Long before 1927 they were practically excluded from the regular party press, Trotsky and his family were often hardpressed for the means of existence, and while Stalin carefully refrained from touching the leaders, relentless persecution misrepresented their policies, blackened their reputation and dispersed their followers. Outside in Western Europe the return to Capitalism was freely predicted.


Right turn inside Russia meant for the bureaucracy right turn in the International also. Peace with the capitalists inside Russia meant peace with those elements of Capitalism nearest to the workers' State. It was the first stage of the process that is so clearly at work to-day. The Peasants' International with its mythical millions, the Communist middle-west farmers of America, vanished from the speeches and propaganda of the International, the recognition of stabilisation making it unnecessary to seek further peasants to make the proletarian revolution. But of the blunders of this adventurous period one remained–the famous Anglo-Russian Committee, which flowered to maturity in the pro-kulak period and did so much harm to the cause of Communism in England.

Late in November, 1924, a large delegation of British Trade Unionists with A. A. Purcell, the president of the Trades Union Congress at its head, visited Russia, inspected the achievements of the Soviet Government and on returning home issued a glowing report. It was one month after Socialism in a single country had appeared. At the Hull Trades Union Congress in 1925 a Russian delegation, headed by Tomsky, chairman of the Central Council of the Russian Trades Unions, paid a return visit. The result was the Anglo-Russian Committee, officially founded in a protocol signed on May 14, 1925. In this the leaders of both movements undertook to promote international Trade Union unity, to struggle against capitalist reaction, and against the danger of new wars. The Reformist Trade Unions had their international centre at Amsterdam; the Red Trade Unions consisted of various groups chiefly in Germany, France and Czechoslovakia and the Russian Trade Unions. Red (or revolutionary) Trade Unions of diverse origin, had come into prominence during the turbulent post-war period. They were a grievous error, for while the advanced workers must be organised in an independent revolutionary political party, the great majority of workers are never revolutionary except at highly charged periods of short duration. To split their mass industrial organisations is to weaken them. Communists work in them and encourage workers to join them, for the basis of Communism is the organised workers stimulated and led to action by a Communist Party. The greatest enemy to the vigorous action of these unions is as always the higher bureaucracy, in England as in the Workers' State owing its power to the lack of leisure, educational backwardness and hard conditions of living among the workers. In Russia the Bolshevik Party holding the State-power had been designed to combat these dangers. Under Capitalism the workers have no organised defence, either in theory or in practice, except the energy of the revolutionary party. In England the revolutionary party was weak, and the peak of bureaucracy in Britain was the British General Council. No Marxist inside or outside of Russia could have the slightest doubt as to the role these gentlemen would play at any critical time. They would work for Trade Union unity provided the Red Trade Unions adopted their yellow policy; they would fight against capitalist reaction only if it was a question of wages and hours of work, where in proportion to the militancy of the masses they might go far and even use some very dangerous words. Their fight against imperialist war is limited very strictly by the necessities of their own imperialism.

Yet, once this were well understood, the Anglo-Russian Committee was a useful manoeuvre. The General Council wanted it because, in the mood of the British workers, association with Red Russia gave them a protective colouring of militancy which-they needed. The workers were ready to struggle. There was a militant section of Trade Unionists organised in the Minority Movement. The bureaucrats also wanted to use the Committee as a lever for the extension of British trade relations with Russia, which would benefit the British working-class. But the Committee was useful to the revolution because the mere fact of its existence focused the attention of the advanced British workers on Russia. The General Council would have to sign resolutions which the Russians and the British Communist Party could keep constantly before the British workers. At the moment when the General Council deserted its paper-struggle and rushed to the side of its own bourgeoisie, it could be exposed with great effect for the treacherous thing it was. There is no dishonest dealing in this. If the Trade Union leaders would really fight for self-determination of nations, or against imperialist war, as they so often promise to do, none would welcome it more than revolutionaries. But inasmuch as they never do, the only thing is to expose their limitations in the eyes of those who ultimately have to bear the consequences of their treachery.

Stalin and Bucharin, however, Tomsky and Andreyev, the leaders of the Trade Union movement, the whole Stalinist faction, in the full tide of their rightward pro kulak policy, building Socialism in a single country, transformed the General Council into a very bulwark against Capitalism. Tomsky (aiming, and with Stalin's consent it is fairly certain, at ultimate fusion and finishing with all this talk about revolution) claimed to sec in the Council a revolutionary Left which was opposed to the known reactionaries like Thomas and Clynes: "Those (the British Trade Union leaders) who have entered into the agreement with us are maintaining themselves staunchly against bourgeois lies and slanders and against the former leaders of the English movement, Thomas, Clynes and MacDonald. The leaders of the British Trade Unions, the section that is furthest to the Left–one can say with assurance, the majority–are working harmoniously with us. They give us the assurance of and the occasion for hoping that the English, who are averse to striking quick agreements, who take a long time to think weigh, discuss and hesitate prior to coming to this or another decision, will strictly fulfil the agreement; and that we shall not have to put to ourselves the question: what will the unity of the world trade union movement give the Russian worker?" [21]

This, after 1914 and Germany and Austria in 1919–20, was madness. The British Trade Union leaders in 1920, with all their millions moving against them, did for a moment become the mouthpiece of the protests against Churchill's support of Poland's war against the Soviet Union. But had the movement gone any further they would infallibly have betrayed it, like Ebert and Bauer; and to teach Russian workers and British workers that Purcell and Hicks would "strictly fulfil" any agreement against imperialism, particularly British imperialism, was to encourage the very illusions which it is the main business of Communists to destroy. Like all Liberals (for it must never be forgotten that that is what Social Democratic leaders are), under pressure from the masses they will swing to the Left. But the more the masses begin to move and so place Capitalism in danger, they, like Mirabeau, the Girondins, and Kerensky, begin an evolution which always lands them in the camp of the counter-revolution.

The Opposition did not oppose the formation or maintenance of the bloc. But they knew it for what it was–a purely tactical manoeuvre by both sides. In those years Trotsky, ill and isolated, accused of factionalism in any attempt to oppose the Stalinist interpretations of Leninism, expressed his ideas indirectly. Thus the address on the role of the U.S.A. in European stabilisation was a criticism of the false line of the Comintern after the German defeat. Towards Capitalism or Socialism was a plea for the industrialisation and the plan. Now he wrote a book, Whither England, in which he was at pains to expose with the utmost sharpness the role that men like MacDonald and Thomas and the majority of the Trade Union leaders were bound to play in any serious struggle between English capital and English labour. It was directed against the extravagant illusions that Stalin and the other Stalinist Marxists were industriously sowing in the minds of British and Russian workers alike. In his book, Trotsky, looking at the coal situation in Britain and the general state of the class-struggle, predicted a miners' strike leading to a general strike. Not only the Tories but the Labour Press raised their voices in wrath and derision. These things happened in barbarons countries like Russia and Italy, and in Germany where the people were not politically educated, but not in England. Trotsky was writing the preface to the German edition when the British democracy had its first and most convincing proof that Marxism did not stop at the Channel. On May 1, after reiterated declarations that the miners would be supported in demands for no reduction of wages, no lengthening of hours, and a national agreement, the resolution for the General Strike was carried by 3,653,529 votes to 49,911.


Future historians will know the General Strike for what it is, a landmark in British history and its most important post-war event. [22] A general strike is not an accident due to incidental causes, workmen misguided by agitators, the stock shibboleths of the Tory Press. It is a major political phenomenon springing ultimately from the profound dislocation of the whole economic and social system. Nothing else can so move millions of men to united action. It is the class-war in its most acute pre-revolutionary stage: the next stage is revolution. The difference was that whereas in Russia and, as we shall see, in China the conflict between the old political regime and the new economic forces is so acute that the insurgent workers can see at once the connection between economics and politics, in Britain it is not yet clear. The political super-structure, though being steadily undermined (the grim grasp on the fiction of National Government and the Sedition Bill are the most notable evidences of this), yet has functioned successfully for so many generations that it maintains its traditional influence. This, skilfully exploited by comparison with dictatorial rCgimes and Britain's comparative prosperity, continues to give it a hold on the minds of British workers which in no way relates to the actual class-relations in the country. Economics has out-run politics, but that contradictory process cannot continue for ever and, historically speaking, the breaking-point is near. It is a powerful revolutionary party that is needed, and 1926 showed that the country was fully ready for one. For when every allowance is made for the presence or absence of revolutionary tradition it can be taken as certain that when the social contradictions in any country reach the stage where the two main classes face each other in a general strike, there are many thousands waiting for a revolutionary party that knows how to lead them.

The British Communist Party in 1926 was small, but size is not everything, and 1926 should have made it a major factor in British politics. It worked hard before the strike, seeking to prepare the workers, but the struggle for the United Front, combined with the necessity of keeping the workers alert for the inevitable treachery of the General Council, was impossible in this case owing to the whole orientation of the Stalinist policy. Where it should have mobilised and warned the workers against the General Council and its inevitable betrayal, the Anglo-Russian Committee made it support the very forces it was its business to expose. For one long year the party popularised the dangerous slogan, "All power to the General Council." It is in this way that parties ruin themselves. The miners' leaders were prepared to fight, but the General Council, with Arthur Pugh (now Sir Arthur), Waiter Citrine (now Sir Walter) and J. H. Thomas (not yet, alas, Sir Jimmy), as the dominating figures, supported by Ramsay MacDonald, from start to finish cringed and crawled before the capitalists, and with the millions of British workers solidly behind them, stood on the Prime Minister's doorstep even after he had slammed the door in their faces, dogged only in their determination to betray. With all the preparations it had made, the Government was nearly broken by the shock, as the Government in any industrial country must always be before the solidarity of millions of workers. The British working-class showed all that instinctive capacity for discipline and spontaneous organisation which every working-class in the world has always shown and will always show, to the recurrent surprise of bourgeois ideologists. Slow to move, the British workers have the qualities of their defects, and were ready to fight to a finish. The growing number of strikers, the universal disappointment and wrath which came from every town and village at the news of the capitulation, were testimony of the unsuspectedly deep channels in which the movement was running, of the resistance that the masses were braced to make. A few more days of tension and anything might have happened. The Prime Minister had given orders to the troops to fire if necessary. Luckily for British Capitalism the treachery in the workers' leadership made this order superfluous. But a British Amritsar on a small scale would have driven the revolutionary movement years forward; millions can be made receptive by propaganda, but ultimately the masses must see (and feel) for themselves.

The strike was called off, and immediately the Opposition demanded a demonstrative break-away by the Russians from the Anglo-Russian Committee with the whole International and the Communist Party of Britain pointing out clearly to the British workers the political reasons for the break and the political conclusions to be drawn from it. With the millions of British workers disappointed and bitter, with the treachery of the General Council fresh in their minds, such a break would underline the General Council's betrayal and turn the minds of thousands of the most determined to the British Communist Party and the International. One additional development made the break more than ever opportune. The Russian workers had subscribed thousands of pounds for the support of the strike. The General Council had refused this "damned Russian gold." A break was inevitable. This was the time. The General Council might even break first on the score that the Russians were interfering in British affairs, which would be an avoidance of the political issue. It was necessary to forestall them. It is by seizing and using moments as these to their fullest extent that men make history and double or treble the influence and prestige of their parties. In parliamentary political manoeuvrings the bourgeois use it with great skill. Revolutionaries can use it with more effect. Stalin and his minions, however, refused. They were determined to stick to these useless and dangerous allies.


In July, 1926, two months after the strike, there was a meeting of the Central Executive Committee of the Russian Communist Party at which Stalin droned away about what the General Council would do in case of war against Russia precisely as if nothing had happened to make him change his opinion of a year before. "If the reactionary English trade unions are willing to enter a bloc with the revolutionary Trade Unions of our country against the counter-revolutionary imperialists of their own country-then why not make this bloc? ...And so, the Anglo-Russian Committee is the bloc between our Trade Unions and the reactionary Trade Unions of England for the purpose of struggle against imperialist wars in general, and against intervention in particular." And then in a typical sentence: "Comrades Trotsky and Zinoviev should remember this, and remember it well." [23]

The General Council did not break at once, and on the request of the Russians for a meeting they sent a telegram accepting. The Stalinists were jubilant. "What will you do," asked Losovsky, "if they (the General Council) do consent; more than that, what will you do if they have already consented? We have received such a cable to-day."

Trotsky: "They have consented that we shield them temporarily by our prestige, now when they are preparing a new betrayal (Disorder, laughter)."

Said Tomsky: "Our little corpse is peering out of one eye...." (loud laughter).

"What makes you so certain that your second supposition will materialise?" asked Losovsky.

Trotsky: "This means that for the moment the wiser and the most astute among them have gained the day, and that is why they have not broken as yet" (Disorder). [24]

In the highest councils of the Communist International, seven years after 1919, Trotskyism was being jeered at by Stalin and the ruling group for insisting on the first principle of the International, the inevitable betrayal of Social Democrats on the question of imperialist war.

The Russian Trade Unions did issue a sharp criticism of the General Council's conduct during the strike, when the meeting over which there was so much triumph took place at the end of July in Paris. The General Council protested against the criticism, and refused to discuss the strike, either there or at another meeting of the committee arranged for Berlin at the end of August. Once more the representatives of the General Council refused offers of assistance for the miners on the ground that the Russians were meddling in British affairs. This overbearing attitude and the damning conciliationism of the Stalinists increased the demand of the Opposition in the Soviet Union for the break. They urged also that the British Communist Party should raise a demand for the cessation of the miners' strike or support it only as an attempt to reopen the possibility of another General Strike. As an isolated strike it was certain to be defeated and the defeat would be a triumph for the policy of the General Council. Political foresight should save the miners from this long-drawn-out struggle, certain to end in grave material loss with no political gain. But the Stalinist policy of tacking behind the General Council for the sake of its assistance in a war of intervention was maintained. In September the British Government refused visas to a fraternal delegation of the Russian Trade Unions to the Bournemouth Congress of the British Trade Unions. Tomsky and Dogadov issued a statement to the congress. Stalinist criticism of the General Council had already reached the stage of "particularly" regretting the refusal of the General Council to accept help for the miners' strike, which was still going on. The General Strike betrayal was camouflaged into "unforgivable tactics." The General Council, realising that it held the whip-hand, treated this with the contempt it deserved, and passed a resolution accusing the Russians of violating "international courtesy" and of "intolerable interference in the domestic affairs of the British Trade Union movement." The Russians swallowed this as they had swallowed the General Council's action on the General Strike and on the miners' strike, and the rebuffs in Paris and Berlin.

Thenceforward Stalin's Leninism and Trotskyism fought round the Anglo-Russian Committee. The Opposition contended that, by maintaining a bloc with these leaders and remaining on the defensive, the International was blinding the eyes of the politically-minded worker instead of opening them, and crippling the British Communist Party. Stalin and Bucharin persisted in the belief that the General Council would help to stop war, particularly a war of intervention against the U.S.S.R.., and saw in the attitude of the Opposition only gross factionalism.

By the end of 1926 the Chinese Revolution, supported by the Soviet Union, was approaching its climax. The General Council and British Social Democracy, beyond the usual formal protests, supported British Imperialism in its repression of Chinese nationalism. Yet Stalin maintained this farcical United Front. The losses the Chinese Revolution brought to British Capitalism caused a sharp change of attitude to the Soviet Union on the part of the British Government. In the Spring of 1927 there was a possibility of war. In the Soviet Union the Stalinists professed to believe that an early war of intervention on the part of Britain was inevitable. But as the international situation darkened the tighter these tacticians clung to the Anglo-Russian Committee. In April, 1927, the Committee met again in Berlin. The Opposition wanted the Russians to denounce the General Council for its passivity during the bombardment of Nanking, and to propose immediate action against British intervention in China. Either the General Council would agree or its bluff would be exposed and the militant British workers warned in time. Instead the Russian delegation signed a series of paper resolutions whose only value was to shield the acquiescence of the British Trade Union leaders in the support of their own imperialism. The delegations were in "unanimous accord" and agreed on the principle of "non-interference." Tomsky boasted of the "material understanding" and "the heart to heart relations." A few weeks after Chamberlain raided the Soviet Trade buildings in London and broke off relations with the Soviet Union. Like various Liberals and even some Conservatives the General Council protested. But that was all. If war had actually come, British and Russian workers up to the last minute would have had faith in the Angle-Russian Committee as a means of combined action, and they would have been led as blindly into the trap and left as helpless as they had been in 1914. The Anglo-Russian Committee did nothing, neither in the General Strike, nor in the miners' strike, nor in the Nanking bombardment, nor in the Arcos raid, and when Austen Chamberlain broke off relations the General Council, having no further need of the Committee, withdrew from it and left Stalin and Bucharin to bury the remains. Three of the most critical years in the history of British politics had been wasted, and the weak British Communist Party, at a period when it should have extended its influence and consolidated itself, was only further confused and weakened by Stalin's persistence with this barren, sterile and essentially Menshevist manoeuvre. It is the great crises of revolutions that test a party. But it is in the interim periods that the party is built. [25] The British Communist Party was to have one more splendid opportunity to establish itself as the interpreter of the political demands of the leftward-moving British workers. It was to fail as signally as it had failed to benefit by the General Strike and the political conditions the strike created, and in both cases the reason was the same–the nationalistic blundering of the central direction in Moscow.


[1] Printed in full in the Labour Monthly, July and August, 1923

[2] The History of the Russian Revolution to Brest-Litovsk, by L. Trotsky, 1919. "Only an exact inventory of the of the country; only a national universal plan of organisation of production; only a prudent and economical distribution of all products can save the country." P. 149.

[3] Leninism, Vol. I, p. 175.

[4] Cp. The Theory and Practice of Socialism, by John Strachey, p. 432. "The proposals of Trotsky and his followers amounted, for all their extremely revolutionary terminology, either to a surrender to anti-working class forces in the Soviet Union, or to a fore-doomed and profoundly un-Marxist sortie upon the capitalist world."

Stalinist lies and falsification have spread a miasma over the intellectual life of Europe and America. Few escape it. The same pen that wrote the above piece of fiction wrote that admirable book, The Coming Struggle for Power.

[5] Bolshevising the Communist International, C.P.G.B., 1925, p. 91.

[6] Leninism, Vol. I, p. 395.

[7] Some who hold the views expounded in this book shy at the word ignorance. They prefer empiricism–they say that Stalin was merely giving expression to the tendencies of all bureaucracies to go with the stream and avoid action. That is a dangerous fatalism. We must remember that Trotsky's theses were unanimously adopted in April, 1923. Stalin opposed them because, as his words so clearly prove, he had not the faintest idea of how necessary they were. To believe that if he had initiated some sort of campaign for industrialization the bureaucracy would have opposed it, seems baseless. What he thought is clear from the extracts which follow. Trotsky attributes this hesitation definitely to fear lest industrialization repeat the selling crisis of late 1923. It was a conscious choice–based on false premises.

[8] Leninism, Vol. I, p. 331.

[9] Leninism, Vol. I, p. 332.

[10] Leninism, Vol. I, p. 331.

[11] Leninism, Vol. I, p. 332.

[12] Leninism, Vol. I, p. 335.

[13] The process did not run in a straight line. Under the pressure of the Opposition measures were sometimes taken against the kulak. There were spectacular attacks on profiteers. The economic and financial complexities were more than usually difficult in a new type of State. The general line, however, was unmistakable.

[14] Leninism, Vol. I, p. 335.

[15] Leninism, Vol. I, p. 335.

[16] Leninism, Vol. I, p. 335.

[17] Leninism, Vol. I, p. 335.

[18] Leninism, Vol. I, p. 335.

[19] Leninism, Vol. I, p. 335.

[20] Leninism, Vol. I, p. 335.

[21] Practical Question of the T.U. Movement, by Tomsky.

[22] The strike is treated here only in relation to the general line of the International.

[23] Materials of the Plenum, p. 71. See New International, September-October, 1934.

[24] Ibid.

[25] A party might lose membership after a great defeat. But the knowledge that the party had shown the correct road and had increased its influence during the crisis, gives its cadres confidence, sinks into the consciousness of the advanced workers and prepares a broad basis for the future upswing.

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