Ernest Germain

Prospects and Dynamics of the Political
Revolution against the Bureaucracy

Report Presented by Comrade Ernest Germain

(October 1957)

Presented at the Fifth World Congress of the Fourth International, October 1957.
From Fourth International (Paris), Vol. 1 No. 1, Winter 1958, pp. 75–81.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Since Stalin’s death, the domination of the Soviet bureaucracy over the Soviet Union, over the “Peoples’ Democracies,” and over the Communist Parties of the whole world, has been deeply shaken.

The sensational suppression of the Stalin cult at the XXth Congress of the Soviet C.P. produced great agitation in the Communist Parties, of the whole world. All the fundamental points of Communist policy began to be reexamined in a critical way by an ever greater number of the militants of these parties. The result is the formation of groups, tendencies, sometimes even organized fractions, in most of the C.P.s. all things unknown in the previous 30 years. The servile subordination of the fate of the international working class to the Kremlin’s diplomatic manoeuvres is being questioned – at the very moment when critical communists within the U.S.S.R. are beginning to question the grounds of these manoeuvres from the point of view of interests of the Soviet state itself.

The struggles for economic demands, the strikes, the workers’ uprisings which occurred in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and partly also in the U.S.S.R., have dramatically stressed “destalinisation.” They have confirmed the Trotskyist opinion that all manoeuvres on the part of the leaders are only a pale reflection of the pressure, the indignation, and the spirit of revolt ripening in the popular masses. The Hungarian revolution showed beyond all doubt that a political revolution is building up, and that it is absolutely necessary for the overthrow of the power of the bureaucratic clique.

This tumultuous development which has been taking place for the last four years did not catch us unawares. We were armed to understand it, for we had predicted it. Without exaggeration, but also without false modesty, we can state that we were the only tendency of the international workers’ movement that accurately foresaw these events, at least in their main lines, and that prepared itself to face the historical tasks which might arise from these developments.

To analyze their meanings and laws, we have had to raise some of the most difficult problems of Marxist theory. Once more it has become clear that each step forward of the international revolution also gives rise to a progress of revolutionary thought. The assimilation of this progress by the whole revolutionary party is, in turn, necessary to the victory of the revolution.

Political Revolution or Social Counter-Revolution

The traditional Trotskyist analysis of the U.S.S.R. as a degenerate workers’ state confined the possible outcome of the historical evolution of the first workers’ state to the following alternative: either restoration of capitalism or re-establishment of soviet democracy guaranteeing the building of socialism. Either social counter-revolution, or political revolution.

The two terms of this alternative were conceived in close connection with the development of the relationship of forces on the world scale. Either international revolution would undergo another series of international defeats, fascism would slowly spread to a large part of the world, Trotsky wrote in 1935, and then the workers’ state would be irremediably lost; we should see the victory of the social counter-revolution. Or else new advances of the revolution would reverse the predominant reactionary tendency of the years 1923–1939 and then political revolution would have a good chance of winning in the U.S.S.R.

Two terms of an alternative do not mean two possibilities of simultaneous solutions. When Trotsky formulated this perspective for the first time in a precise way, that is, after Hitler’s victory in 1933, he was obliged to place a question mark over the future dynamics of the relationship of forces on the world scale. Would revolution advance again, or would it go on being defeated everywhere in the world? No-one could seriously answer this question in 1935. But, towards the end of the Second World War, with the victory of the Jugoslav revolution, the victory of the Chinese revolution, and the spread of the colonial revolution, with the enormous progress of the Soviet economy, it became clear that the relationship of forces was turning in favor of Revolution on the world scale.

Under these conditions, to hang on to an alternative prospect, at least for short- or medium-term forecasts, meant to substitute vulgar eclecticism for Marxist dialectics. To repeat in 1953 what had been true in 1933, i.e. that the U.S.S.R. could experience either the re-establishment of capitalism or political revolution, was to change Trotskyist theory from an instrument of analysis of reality into a collection of ritual formulae. It meant refusing to settle a question which had already been settled for a whole historical period at Stalingrad, Belgrade, Peking, Dien-Bien-Phu, and on the Yalu, where capitalism had been dealt such powerful blows that its re-establishment in a short time in the U.S.S.R. was no longer a possibility.

A double change in the relationship of forces has favored the evolution towards political revolution in the U.S.S.R. It has done so objectively and subjectively.

Trotsky had always foreseen that the preservation of the production relations born of the October Revolution would finally create objective conditions which would facilitate the overthrow of the bureaucratic dictatorship. In his theses The Fourth International and the U.S.S.R., he wrote at the end of 1933:

“Though squandering an enormous part of the national income in an unproductive way, the bureaucracy has an interest in the economic and cultural upsurge of the country; the higher the national income, the richer the funds from which it drawn its privileges. But on the social bases of the Soviet state, the economic and cultural rise of the toiling masses will undermine the bases of bureaucratic domination itself.”

This is what has actually happened. Above all, it is the numerical strength and the specific weight of the proletariat in Soviet society, its high level of skills and its superior culture, the rise in its living conditions, its progressive liberation from the worst slavery of poverty, the widening of its political horizon, its needs growing faster than the amount of goods accorded to it by the bureaucracy – it is above all this overall result of the economic and cultural progress of the U.S.S.R. which tolls the knell of bureaucratic dictatorship.

But the change in the relationship of forces on the world scale creates the subjective conditions for the political revolution. In The Revolution Betrayed, analyzing the reasons for the apparent stability of the Stalinist dictatorship, Trotsky wrote:

“If in contrast to the peasants the workers have almost never come out on the road of open struggle, thus condemning the protesting villages to confusion and impotence, this is not only because of the repressions. The workers fear lest, in throwing out the bureaucracy, they will open the way for the capitalist restoration. [...] The workers are realists. Without deceiving themselves with regard to the ruling caste – at least with regard to its lower tiers which stand near to them – they see in it the watchman for the time being of a certain part of their own conquests. They will inevitably drive out the dishonest, impudent and unreliable watchman as soon as they see another possibility. For this it is necessary that in the West or the East another revolutionary dawn arise.” (U.S. edition, pp. 285–286.)

The revolutionary opening has come about in the East. Capitalism has been terribly weakened on the world scale. Because of this, the fear of restoration of capitalism has very much diminished in the U.S.S.R. The working class has giving up its passive attitude. It no longer “tolerates” the dishonest watchman. On the contrary, it hounds him more and more, waging war on the field of factories and on that of principles, forcing him to put aside his insolence, and preparing to overthrow his power.

Three Conceptions of the Bureaucracy

The question of our revolutionary prospects in the U.S.S.R. and in the glacis is closely linked to that of our specific analysis of the bureaucracy. In the proletarian movement, if we leave out those who consider the bureaucracy a new class, there exist two false conceptions of the nature of the bureaucracy.

The first, the subjective conception, is most often developed by Stalinists or former Stalinists. For them, the bureaucracy is the result of psychological and moral phenomena, instead of social phenomena. It is a question of habits, manners, and customs: to prefer to sit in a office rather than move around where work is actually being done; to use a rough commanding tone with workers; to to be “aloof from the aspirations of the people”; to show “scorn for manual work,” etc. ... etc. ... The “theoreticians” of the Chinese Communist Party have prepared for us a whole catalogue of the sins which might be the basis of “bureaucratism.”

The opposite of this subjective conception is the objective deviation, of which the most typical representatives are the Brandlerites, some Communist currents in Eastern Europe such as the Gomulkists, and also Deutscher, at least in his first works. They say: Russia was a backward country; the proletariat was weak, lacking skills and culture. It was thus unable to manage industrialization. So it inevitably had to be managed by a bureaucracy.

But, as industrialization involved a considerable increase in the rate of investment, it also involved a very severe lowering of the standard of living. The workers did not want to accept this lowering of the standard of living. It therefore had to be forced upon them. Hence the objective necessity of the bureaucratic dictatorship, which disappears with the historical conditions which gave birth to it.

The Trotskyist, the Marxist, analysis of the phenomena of the bureaucracy is opposed to these two equally wrong conceptions.

Bureaucratism, in the form of habits of work and undemocratic customs, is an endemic phenomenon in mass organizations, where it is normally corrected by the free play of elections and of the democratic control of the rank and file. It becomes a serious evil only when social advantages are grafted on to personal shortcomings, in other words when we pass from the plane of psychology to that of sociology. In the capitalist regime, the development of bourgeois parliamentary democracy and of a reformist mass movement transforms persons with bureaucratic tendencies into members and profiteers of the bourgeois state apparatus off which they live. In the workers’ state, the ebb of the revolution and the defeat of the revolutionary opposition allowed the bureaucracy to seize the state and the economy, from which were derived enormous privileges. This is how parasitic bureaucratic castes are born, linked to particular social systems, from which they suck away part of the wealth.

We know, as Lenin did that the compete disappearance of all functionaryism and all bureaucracy, i.e. the carrying out of all the functions of leadership by all producers in turn is impossible in the first days after the revolution in any country in the world, and certainly in a poor country. Thus we know that there was already a certain bureaucracy in the U.S.S.R. in 1918 and that there will be one in any country after the victory of the proletarian revolution. We also know that the poorer a country is, and the weaker and more backward its proletariat, the greater is the risk that this bureaucracy become powerful and accumulate new privileges.

But what separates us from the “objectivists” is that, like Lenin, who passionately defended this point of view during the last years of his life, like Trotsky, and like the best Soviet Bolsheviks, we are convinced that this ebb is not inevitable, and that the growth of bureaucratic degeneration can be stopped by well-advised action on the part of the subjective factor. Neither, the national nor international relationship of forces is unalterable. After the defeat of 1923. there were possibilities of victory in China in 1927, in Germany in the beginning of the ’30s, in Spain and in France in 1936. If the bureaucracy was triumphant, it is in large measure because the Bolshevik Party, instead of being aware of this danger right from the beginning, underestimated it; because it had itself become bureaucratic, and part of its cadres reacted too late, when they were already a minority in their own house, when the party, tool of the proletariat, had already become a tool of the bureaucracy.

This Trotskyist answer to the problem of the bureaucratic degeneration of the U.S.S.R. and of the Communist International corresponds exactly to the state of mind of the whole critical and oppositional mass appearing today in the C.P.s, including the C.P. of the U.S.S.R. All are asking the question: “How was this possible?” All are trying to find the link between the overall objective conditions unfavorable to the growth of soviet democracy in the U.S.S.R. and the particularly malignant, even catastrophic, form taken by the development of the bureaucracy. Only our Trotskyist conception of bureaucracy can explain this process to them, including in the analysis the great gains of the new economic and social basis of the first workers’ state.

Currents in Society, Tendencies in the Party, Divisions in the Bureaucracy

Our traditional conception of the Soviet bureaucracy enables us to answer also two questions of analysis which have been continually brought up by international working-class opinion since Stalin’s death:

  1. Are the divisions which have appeared in the Kremlin group explained essentially by a struggle for power, or are they a reflection of what is happening in the whole of Soviet society?
  2. To what extent can the bureaucracy as a caste resist the final onset of the masses?

We know that, traditionally, in regimes based on a single party, all the social contradictions tend to be reflected inside this party. We said it in the past about the Bolshevik Party during the ’20s. We say it today for the C.P. of the Soviet Union. In this sense, it is absolutely clear that the different tendencies which are already formed, or are in course of being formed, in the C.P. of the U.S.S.R., are not without relation to the great currents which are already beginning to manifest themselves in Soviet society.

But what relations does this mean? We distinguish two phenomena. When the different fractions appeared in the Bolshevik Party, we defined the Left-Opposition fraction as the one which consciously expressed the interests of the proletariat. As for the rightist, Boukharinist, fraction, it was under the pressure of the peasantry in its way of stating tactical problems, and especially of solving them. But never did Trotsky describe Boukharin as the representative of a peasant current, or as an agent of the petty-bourgeoisie; or as a bourgeois politician. His being a communist, i.e. a militant of a revolutionary party of the proletariat, was never questioned.

It is the same distinction which we use as a starting point to explain the divisions which appeared in the C.P. of the U.S.S.R. after Stalin’s death. If we judge by a great number of the positions they took, especially in the economic and ideological field, it seems unquestionable that the Molotov-Kaganovitch group can be considered as the most conscious and direct representative of the most privileged strata of the bureaucracy, above all of the trust and factory directors. As for the other groups and intermediate groups, they have, to different degrees, undergone the pressure of the proletariat and of the peasantry, in the sense that they have been obliged to raise problems whose solutions the masses were more and more insistently demanding and that they have, to different degrees, undergone the pressure of the masses and have put forward certain reforms in the sense of these solutions.

But we have never said and we shall never say that either Malenkov, Mikoyan, or Khrushchev represents, even indirectly, a proletarian tendency in the C.P. of the U.S.S.R. All of them are politicians of the bureaucracy who are trying, each in his own way and with his own character, to protect the interests, the power, and the privileges of the bureaucratic caste as such.

Because of their past, their complicity in many of Stalin’s crimes, a complicity well known to the masses, and because of their very functions in society at present, all the members of the Presidium are identified in the eyes of the masses with an ever more hated power: the dictatorship of the “bonzes,” the bureaucrats, the bureaucracy. It is excuded that any one of them should play the part which Tito, Gomulka, or Nagy played, that of popular and centrist leaders of one wing of the bureaucracy, channeling for their own benefit the masses’ hostility against the bureaucracy as a whole. All of them have more or less tried to do so: Beria, by declaring himself against police despotism and backing out of the “affair of the doctors”; Malenkov by promising a forced-draught development of light industry; Mikoyan, by launching the decisive attack against the Stalin cult; Khrushchev, by promising abundance of bread, butter, and meat. None of them will succeed.

But for us. bureaucracy is not a new class; it is a caste which has its roots deep in the proletariat. If we examine the social composition of the C.P. of the U.S.S.R., we notice that one third of its members are still factory workers. Even if they are Stakhanovists or foremen, they are, because of their way of life, closer to the workers than to the big shots who roll around in automobiles and give their sons a thousand rubles a week for spending-money.

The trade-union cadres in the factories, the secretaries of the factory cells of the C.P., even leaders of districts, small towns, and sometimes even provincial cities, especially the Komsomols, can thus become true transmission belts of the proletarian currents which are crystalizing in society. And, from their ranks there may appear future Nagys and Gomulkas, perhaps even future Bolshevik leaders. This dialectical and dual nature, of the tendencies appearing in the C.P. of the U.S.S.R. in their relations to the proletariat, reflect the dual nature of Stalinism and of the bureaucracy itself, which have never definitively cut the umbilical cord which bound them to the proletariat.

It is by starting out from these same premises that we can solve the problem of the possible resistance of the bureaucracy to the revolutionary onset of the masses, Trotsky had already solved this problem in advance. He wrote in 1933:

“The social roots of the bureaucracy, as we know, are to be found in the proletariat, if not in its active support, at least in the fact that it tolerates it. If the proletariat become active again, the Stalinist apparatus will find itself hanging in mid-air. If it tries to oppose it, repressive police measures will have to be taken, rather than civil-war measures. At any rate, it will not be an uprising against the dictatorship of the proletariat, but the removal of a malignant tumor from this dictatorship.

“There can be no real civil war between the Stalinist bureaucracy and the proletariat in uprising, but only between the proletariat and the active forces of counter-revolution.”

These predictions have been completely confirmed by the experience of the 16th and 17th of June 1953 in Eastern Germany and by the experience of the Polish end Hungarian revolutions. In all cases, before the Soviet military forces intervened, the “native” bureaucracy collapsed without seriously resisting the masses’ action. Only small nuclei of the secret police defended themselves. The rest of the bureaucracy divided: on the one hand, those who went over bag and baggage to the camp of the political revolution (in hundreds of factories and dozens of towns, strikes and demonstrations were led by official trade-union, party, or youth leaders); and on the other, those who went into hiding or ran away (in the physical meaning of the word) from the revolution.

As in the U.S.S.R. no foreign army will be able to intervene, the problem will be solved by the behavior of the Soviet army itself. We shall examine this problem in a few moments. But we can already predict that Trotsky’s analysis will probably be verified in the most striking way at the moment of the outbreak of the political revolution in the U.S.S.R. As there will also be confirmed the fact that real civil war can break out only between the proletariat and the counter-revolution. The Hungarian revolution was about to confirm this prediction when the criminal intervention of the Russian army changed the givens of the problem.

The Role of the Army

If we try to sum up what has been happening in the upper regions of the bureaucracy since Stalin’s death, we can distinguish two different processes:

  1. The falling apart of the “solid nucleus” of “Stalin’s faithful lieutenants” into different groups fighting each other more and more violently, and successively eliminating series of leaders from the Presidium, each group quickly breaking down in face of the impossibility of reconciling its desire to maintain the privileges of the bureaucracy with the necessity of making concessions to the masses.
  2. The swift rise of the importance of the army, personified by the rise of Marshal Zhukov, today a member of the Presidium and actually No. 2 or No. 3 man in the “collective leadership.” [1]

We have already explained the first process as the indirect reflection, through the prism of the bureaucracy, of the fundamental currents which run through the whole Soviet society in ferment. In this connection, we must stress a very characteristic phenomenon. In Stalin’s time, the secretary-general alone made decisions. After his death, a small group of lieutenants (Malenkov, Molotov, Beria) really held the reins of power. After the fall of Beria, power passed into the hands of a Presidium, composed of a dozen persons. When Khrushchev was voted into minority within this Presidium, he appealed over its head to the C.C., composed of more than one hundred persons. To give more authority to its decision, he was obliged to go and explain the matter to the workers, in the factories, and to the rank and file of the party. Tomorrow, a leader of a group within the C.C., if he is put in a minority within this organism, may be tempted to appeal over its head to the members of the party, to the workers in the factories. It will be a decisive event, a turning point in the post-Stalinist history of the U.S.S.R.

What does the rise of the army mean? Under Stalin, the real power of the secretary-general was exercised through the omnipotence of the secret police, which controlled all the spheres of Soviet society, beginning with the party, the government, and the army. The death of Stalin, the execution of Beria, the reestablishment of control over the secret police by the party, destroyed this system of power. Outside the operation of bureaucratic centralism, of the nomination of officials, the bureaucracy no longer has any instrument of power over the people other than the army. All the information that we have confirms the fact that the army, and more precisely the Moscow garrison, played a key role in the elimination of Beria, then in Khrushchev’s victory over Malenkov on one side, and over Molotov-Kaganovitch on the other.

Does this mean that there is danger of a military dictatorship in the U.S.S.R.? Without wishing a priori to exclude the possibility of short intermediate phases in the process towards the victory of the political revolution, we think that the eventuality of military dictatorship is impossible as a stable form of government by the Soviet bureaucracy.

The Soviet army is today the true mirror of Soviet society. It is no longer a mainly peasant army. It has become an army of mechanics and drivers, reflecting the enormous technical and cultural progress of the workers’ state. It is true that it includes a caste of extremely privileged and arrogant officers. Probably we shall soon see a Zhukov group appear in the Presidium, striving to represent the interests of this caste. But the great reckoning which is building up in Soviet society between the proletarian current and that of the most privileged strata of the bureaucracy will take place also in the army. The ideas of equality will penetrate there; the officers’ caste has already been obliged to make concessions, especially by abolishing the separate officers’ messes. Many signs suggest that the decisive phase before the political revolution will be that in which revolutionary ideas will penetrate the army and make it unable to play its part as a shield of the bureaucracy’s privileges and power.

The Polarization of Forces in Soviet Society

Beginning with 1953, we have been saying that three parallel currents are being polarized in Soviet society:

  1. the current of the privileged strata of the bureaucracy;
  2. the current of the peasantry, the least articulate of the three;
  3. the current of the proletariat.

We had added that these three currents would have not only an indirect expression, by the echo of their demands in the speeches and writings of authors and political leaders, but also a direct expression, on the level of openly stated demands and of action, first economic, then even political. The social aims which these three currents strive to reach are. in short, the following:

  1. the most privileged strata of the bureaucracy seek to enlarge the legal bases which guarantee their privileges; they seek to transform usurped powers into vested rights (especially in the factories);
  2. the peasants strive to defend their private bits of land and the rights to the total profits which they yield;
  3. the workers demand better living conditions, and more rights in the economy and in the state (basically they aim at the management of the factories).

In the very last discussion, preparing the great reform introduced by Khrushchev in the management of the economy, these three currents appeared clearly:

  1. As at the Moscow economic conference in 1955, the factory directors, taking advantage of the principle of “decentralization,” again insisted that their rights and those of the foremen be increased, especially the right to fire and punish workers. Khrushchev mentioned these demands in his report to the Supreme Soviet. The ideological reflection of this pressure of the most privileged bureaucrats is the new theory which appeared in the “Economic” section of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R., a theory according to which the means of production in the U.S.S.R. should also be considered as merchandise! It is well known that the directors’ illegal selling of certain pieces of equipment directly from one factory to another, without the authorization of the Plan, was confirmed as their right.
  2. The peasants received from Khrushchev a quite sensational concession: starting from 1958, they will pay no taxes on the products of their private bits of land. This great “principled Bolshevik” has thus moved, in a few years’ time, from the struggle for “agrovilles,” for the statification of the kolkhozes, and for strict limitation of private bits of land, to a policy of concessions to the powerful instinct of private appropriation which remains more predominant than ever in the kolkhozian peasantry.
  3. The workers have increased their pressure in favor of an increase in real wages, against a revision of the wage system which would end up by reducing the overall wage for the most skilled workers. They demand more equality and protest against the bureaucratic abuses of power. The strikes which broke out in the Donbas in October 1956 and which spread to Leningrad, the slow-down strikes which paralyzed the Ordjonikidze factories in Moscow as well as other large factories, had essentially the same aims.

The incident reported by the daily newspaper Trud and picked up by Deutscher is very significant. A worker on the Red Square in Moscow went up to a Deputy of the Supreme Soviet who was leaving the Kremlin. He took him by the lapel of his jacket and said: “That is good cloth. A worker could not buy cloth like that.” This anecdote shows exactly how much the relationship of forces has changed in favor of the proletariat since Stalin. But the worker, after having made this gesture, just disappeared into the crowd. That shows how far there still is to go.

The Lessons of Hungary

What will be the concrete form of the proletariat’s political revolution against the Soviet bureaucracy? Without going into fruitless speculations, we can bring out a few specific characteristics of the experiences of Hungary, Poland, and Eastern Germany.

First of all, the political revolution will have the dynamics of permanent revolution. All the strata of the population are mobilized against the dictatorship of the bureaucracy. In the beginning of the revolution, all these strata will participate in the movement. It is in the very course of the revolution that the proletariat and its conscious vanguard will conquer leadership and will bring the revolution to the victory of soviet democracy.

The relationship of forces between the classes will decide whether this victory can be won without an armed struggle against the organized forces of the counter-revolution (in Eastern Europe and China). In the U.S.S.R., this hypothesis is excluded because of the complete disappearance of those forces. This means that to forecast that from the very beginning of the revolution the forces will be divided into two clearly distinct camps, on the one side that of the Bolshevik-Leninists, and on the other that of the Stalinists, the confusionists, and the counter-revolutionaries, is absolutely contrary to reality. To have such an idea of the political revolution is to deny in practice the enormous discredit and confusion that the Stalinist dictatorship has sown concerning the most elementary ideas of Leninism.

The duration and the rapid outcome of this process of permanent revolution will depend above all on the organization and the leadership of the proletarian vanguard. The working class itself will quickly find its own form of organization, that of workers’ councils. The examples of Hungary and Poland have proved this beyond all doubt. This is the general precondition of soviet democracy, which is thus reestablished. But it is not enough that these councils should exist; they must also quickly aim towards the exercise of all political power. The mere existence of the councils is not a guarantee of the rapid victory of the political revolution. It can be combined, during a transitional period, with political compromise, the re-creation of petty-bourgeois parties, the attempt to give life again to bourgeois parliamentarism, etc. ... Only the presence in the councils of a conscious revolutionary leadership will make them become the centre around which the whole class will gather, reestablishing its revolutionary democratic power on the ruins of bureaucratic absolutism, and crushing any counter-revolutionary attempt.

The national question will play an important part in the political revolution. Here there is a very important difference between the countries of the “Soviet glacis” and the U.S.S.R. itself. In the countries of the “glacis,” the national question, the feeling of oppression and exploitation undergone at the hands of the Kremlin, are a powerful stimulus to the revolution, increasing the desire of the masses for revolt and revenge. At at later stage, the national question could feed the prejudices of the more backward strata and of petty-bourgeois groups. But a clear and bold attitude on this question can channelize national feelings for the benefit of a workers’ solution to the revolution, as is shown by the Jugoslav and Polish examples, even under the centrist leaderships of Tito and Gomulka.

It is not the same thing in the U.S.S.R. The national feeling, the feeling that the U.S.S.R. has become the second world power, is more a prop for the bureaucratic dictatorship. The sentiment of national oppression, felt by certain oppressed nationalities in Europe (Ukrainians, Balts, and to a certain extent the Caucasian nationalities), will introduce a dissociating and centrifugal element into the popular movement of which the bureaucracy is already taking advantage (e.g., stationing troops on other nationalities’ territory). Finally, the Asian nationalities have in part a completely different attitude toward the bureaucracy from that of the European nationalities, because of the enormous progress accomplished in their territories, even during the Stalinist period. This fact is also skilfully exploited by the bureaucracy (mobilization of the authors of surrounding regions against the most oppositional authors of Moscow). For all these reasons, the national question threatens to slow down the outbreak of the political revolution and hinder its quick outcome in the victory of soviet democracy in the U.S.S.R.

But it must be made clear that these are not absolute obstacles. In any case, the faster the proletariat can regroup and go into action, the faster its vanguard can get organized and fight for the Bolshevik-Leninist programme, and the more all the transitional phases of inevitable confusion and compromise can be shortened, then the more quickly the revolution will appear in its purest aspect: that of the struggle for the power of the workers’ councils.

The Programme of the Political Revolution

It is for this reason that the programme of the political revolution, which will be discussed with passion by the communist vanguard, both workers and intellectuals, beginning in the period of preparation of the revolution, takes on a decisive importance, and must be carefully prepared by this Congress. The theses which have been placed before you strive to achieve this preparation in the light of all the experiences of these last decades. We shall particularly stress two points.

Our theses state that soviet democracy cannot be achieved without the right for the masses to organize different soviet parties. It is on this point that Trotsky, and ourselves still more clearly, go one step further than the fundamental documents of the Third International and the Left Opposition. We believe that this step is justified by the Soviet experience. If the proletariat does not have the right to organize different parties, the tendency struggle inside the class party itself is inevitably stifled, for sooner or later this struggle threatens to end up by splitting the party. It is only if the revolutionary party honestly accepts the rule: all power to the workers’ councils, if it acts within the framework of these councils as an organized vanguard fighting for the triumph of its ideas without repressing the minority or. if such be the case, the majority of the workers who do not accept these ideas, only then does the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat take on its true meaning, in opposition to the theories and still more the bureaucratic adventurist practices of the Stalinists. Any other solution ends up in bureaucratic arbitrariness, in which the party takes the place of the class, the Central Committee takes the place of the party, and the secretary-general of the Central Committee takes that of the Central Committee.

Our theses stress the real difficulties and contradictions, which live on into the transitional period, between the different economic functions of the workers’ state: the administration of the economy and the distribution of the national income; the advancement of socialist accumulation and the increase of the masses’ standard of living, etc. To guarantee the most progressive solution of these contradictions, they stand for a sharing out and autonomy of various powers: the sharing of power by the workers’ councils administering the factories, the trade unions defending the workers’ interests as consumers, and the Soviets (territorial workers’ councils) exercising the democratic political power of the proletariat; mutual autonomy of the Soviets, the trade unions, and the party.

This solution is simultaneously opposed to the bureaucratic centralization of the Stalinists, and to the “Jugoslav decentralization” which maintains bureaucracy at the central level, but at the same time re-introduces into the economy, by the way of factory autonomy, the phenomena of waste that result from competition. For instance, the Jugoslav factories hide technical improvements, new ways of organizing work, even patents, from each other, to win this “socialist competition” of a new type.


With the collapse of the Stalin cult, there also collapsed a whole way of political thinking, purely pragmatist and opportunist, among the leaders of the Communist Parties, purely schematic and mythological among the rank and file: the Vozjd, the leader (or the Central Committee of the C.P. of the U.S.S.R.), is always right ... In the void left by the disappearance of these reflexes of obedience, and with the lack of truly revolutionary Marxist criteria of analysis, there are appearing all sorts of theories, of shadings of thoughts which lie between Stalinism and Marxism. The two most important varieties are the following:

  1. The semi-reformism of the rightist opposition tendencies: Giolitti and Reale in Italy, Hervé-Lecoeur in France, some oppositionals in Great Britain, some elements of Harich’s ideas in East Germany, some “revisionists” of the Polish C.P., the Gates tendency in the American C.P., etc. Taking their inspiration from some of the ideas launched by Khrushchev at the XXth Congress (parliamentary road to socialism, etc.), these people are drawing near the Social-Democracy and throwing overboard essential elements of Leninist thought.
  2. The neo-centrism of the former Stalinists who, under the pressure of the masses and of events, go farther and farther in the Marxist analysis of the phenomena of bureaucracy and of soviet democracy, including the real nature of Stalinism. Thus Gomulka stands for the right to strike; Mao also stressed it in his first report on the movement for rectification. Mao even analyzes the sources of bureaucratism, in the contradiction between the “manual workers” (producers) and the “intellectual workers” (administrators). All this goes much further than Khrushchev’s scanty “theoretical” notions on the “personality cult.”

True, in most cases, these centrists’ actions are not in conformity with their words. As representatives of a tendency of the bureaucracy, they are equally incapable of continuing the road all the way to Bolshevism. The numerical and cultural weakness of the Jugoslav proletariat, the real danger of counter-revolutionary uprisings in China, constitute additional subjective obstacles on the road to a victory of soviet democracy in these countries. Nevertheless, the importance of this “neo-centrism” is enormous, because it keeps up a ferment in the minds of all the Communist Party militants in the world (including those in the U.S.S.R.), and because it creates possibilities, for a revolutionary vanguard to use it as a starting platform in its struggle for a return to Lenin.

The experience of the Polish revolution since October 1956 enables us to draw up an objective balance-sheet of the meaning of this neo-centrism. The revolution had achieved four great conquests: national independence; the workers’ councils in the factories; the end of forced collectivization of agriculture: a certain freedom of the press and especially of speech in the workers’ movement. The first and third of these conquests still exist and will probably not be abolished without a civil war. But the second and fourth are always being questioned and run the risk of being lost if the revolution continues to mark time as it has unquestionably been doing for a certain time.

Caught between the revolutionary pressure of the left and the conservative pressure of the Stalinist right, Gomulka and his centrist group are striving to consolidate the position by avoiding any new concession either to one side or the other. But each blow which they deal to the left strengthens not their own group but the right: this is the most important lesson of the IXth Plenum of) the C.C. of the United Workers’ Party of Poland. What warps this process is the perfect organization of the right, led by the Soviet embassy, and the lack of organization of the left, whose leaders are disoriented and demoralized. A revival of the left with the slogan “All power to the councils,” opening the way to a concrete programme of economic and political reorganization, would, however, enable the real relationship of forces to find expression, and would give a new start to the revolution, which is far from being defeated.

The Return to Lenin

Stalin’s epigones have incautiously launched the struggle against the “personality cult” with the keynote of the “return to Lenin.” In so doing, they have lit the fire which will destroy them! Khrushchev strives to spread the story that the present leaders all sincerely believed in Stalin as as long as he lived. But Communist militants and the mass of the workers’ vanguard are discovering, and will discover more and more, that this is not true.

The Czechoslovakian Stalinist leader “on the cultural front,” Vladimir Dostal, gave the following answer in the organ of the Czechoslovakian Writers’ Association, Literarni Noviny, to the objection by the Polish writer Jan Kott that Soviet literature had lived in the midst of lies, since it said nothing of the crimes of the Stalinist period:

“I can imagine that the tragic conflict between duty and conscience has tortured many writers. But I consider it a natural and temporary surrender to historical necessity that they finally decided to keep silent and to wait, for by acting against the government, they would have weakened their own country in years of a growing threat of war. On one side, there was the fate of the country and of the revolution; on the other a few [!] human lives, the honor of a few, and the purity of principles. Between the two, there was no other course.”

This is what a Stalinist leader says in Czechoslovakia, the country where the C.P. has remained the most “Stalinist” in all Europe! But the new generation of Communists, which is rising with the keynote of the “return to Lenin” will answer the bureaucrats that in Lenin’s mind the defense of principles can never be opposed to the interests of the Revolution!

It will denounce those who have trampled these principles underfoot, not for the interests of the Revolution, to which they have done great injury, but for the interests of a caste of ravenous and bloodthirsty upstarts.

Drawing their inspiration from Lenin’s faithfulness to principles, it will rediscover in the Oppositionals, and above all in the Left Oppositionals and in the Trotskyists, those who, without yielding to fear or temptation, have upheld the banner of communism, keeping it clean and unstained. It will build a granite monument to these thousands of nameless heroes who have, by their apparently hopeless resistance in the past, assured the perpetuity and the magnificent worldwide revival of Leninism which we are witnessing today. It will come to the conclusion that the Fourth International, heir to these traditions, is capable of re-establishing them fully in the entire world communist movement. And by overthrowing the dictatorship of the bureaucracy, by re-establishing soviet democracy, under the banner of Lenin, it will clear the way to the victory of the World October.


1. This report was presented before the “Zhukov affair” broke out. The passage in this report concerning the army precisely casts light on this affair. [Ed. Note]

Last updated on 3 August 2015