Ernest Mandel

First Comments on Nahuel Moreno’s
The Revolutionary Dictatorship
of the Proletariat

(June 1979)

From International Internal Discussion Bulletin, Volume XVI, Number 9, October 1979, pp. 3–20.
Transcribed by Joe Auciello.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Comrade Moreno has thought it wise to submit a 249-page book, entitled The Revolutionary Dictatorship of the Proletariat, to the discussion preparing the Eleventh World Congress of the Fourth International. The procedure is highly irregular, antidemocratic, and contrary to the need to “proletarianize” the organization, about which Comrade Moreno is so emphatic. This book purports to be an answer to the draft resolution Socialist Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, which has been available to Fourth International militants for two years. Counterposing a book to the resolution a few months before the closing date of the pre-congress discussion means at least three things: asking for preferential treatment, for a privilege, since obviously no militant, leader, or even tendency, of the International has the material possibility to answer Comrade Moreno’s book with a document anywhere near as long; seriously reducing the Bolshevik Faction’s chances to get a hearing for its fundamental thesis; making it impossible for thousands of militants to examine, before the world congress, the most important contribution to the discussion on one of the important points on the agenda (since no one seriously believes they will read a 249-page book in so little time, or that serious debates of opposing views will be organized on this book in our sections), that is, dealing a blow to their democratic rights.

Like most of Comrade Moreno’s writings, this text does not chiefly aim to convince the membership of the International and still less to elucidate a highly important theoretical and political question. Its essential aim is to homogenize and fanaticize the membership of his faction, within which it was studied and discussed for months before being submitted to the international discussion, all without the International leadership being able to have an answer to Comrade Moreno’s arguments considered by the comrades of his faction. This also is a significant fact, not unrelated to Comrade Moreno’s strange conception of the building of the revolutionary party, which he confuses with the building of a faction, and to his still stranger conception of the building of a workers state, which he identifies with its management by a minority faction of the proletariat.

In order to make up for the most serious damage created by the launching of Comrade Moreno’s polemical book, we are presenting the first sketch of an answer concentrating on essential matters, and leaving aside the hundred political and theoretical errors present in Comrade Moreno’s work. Should the opportunity and necessity arise, we reserve the right to complement this first short answer with a fuller and more detailed answer.

The essence of Comrade Moreno’s book combines four elements:

  1. Systematic deformations of the United Secretariat (USec) position, to the point of open slander and falsification.
  2. A beginning revision of the Fourth International’s program on the dictatorship of the proletariat, as it is codified most notably in the Theses and programmatic resolutions of the first four congresses of the Communist International (CI), the Transitional Program, and Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky’s fundamental theoretical works on the subject.
  3. Political and theoretical concessions to the ideology of the workers bureaucracy, above all the Stalinist, Social Democratic, and syndical-nationalist (“nationalist trade-unionist”) of anti-colonial countries.
  4. A failure to understand certain important problems of the transitional period between capitalism and socialism, i.e., the historical epoch of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

A careful examination of these component elements of Comrade Moreno’s thesis (we are tempted to say: his doctrine), which have the distinction of an undeniable internal cohesion, will enable us to define the main differences which separate Comrade Moreno’s position from that of the majority of the Fourth International leadership on the key question of the dictatorship of the proletariat and its relation to workers democracy. These differences, it should be stated at the outset, do not concern the issues that Comrade Moreno would like us to believe.

1. A Systematic Deformation of the United Secretariat’s Positions

The most striking aspect of Comrade Moreno’s text is that a major part of its argumentation – a quick estimate would lead us to say about half – is based on a systematic and deliberate deformation of the positions it polemicizes against. At times, this deformation takes a form so outrageous and slanderous that it borders on the grotesque, depriving its author of all credibility.

The most striking example of this deformation is provided by Comrade Moreno’s contention that the USec resolution dodges the problems of insurrection and civil war. Comrade Moreno contends that the USec advocates the position of:

“… unfettered political freedom for Somoza, Pinochet, and the shah of Iran up until the day when they launch armed uprisings against the workers dictatorship, with no possibility of trying them for their past crimes.” (Page 7 – All our references are from the Spanish manuscript. We translated the Spanish text in French ourselves – EM) [The English text is based on EM’s French translation – Translator]

Thus Chapter One is entitled A Program of “Unlimited Political Freedom” for the Shah or a Program to Overthrow Him Ruthlessly? (on page 33, we even read that the USec should logically (!) struggle for “unconditionally freeing the Shah and his assassins from the prisons of the dictatorship of the proletariat”).

In fact, the resolution Socialist Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat states unequivocally that freedom to organize for parties represented in the soviets, without any ideological restriction, applies neither in an insurrectionary situation (when the dictatorship of the proletariat does not exist), nor in a civil war situation, but in a situation of consolidated workers power, after the complete expropriation and disarming of the bourgeoisie and other possessing classes. And it excludes from that provision of freedom all those who would carry out attempts to overthrow soviet power. It is patently obvious that this has nothing to do with the present situation of Chile, Nicaragua, or Iran, where unfortunately a dictatorship of the proletariat does not exist, let alone a seriously consolidated dictatorship of the proletariat.

If we wanted to play Comrade Moreno’s polemical game, we could easily turn the argument against him and answer: In order to be able to use Somoza, Pinochet, and the shah of Iran as proofs of the revisionism of the USec, Comrade Moreno supposes that it is possible to expropriate and disarm the Nicaraguan, Chilean, and Iranian bourgeoisie; to destroy the bourgeois state apparatus, army, and police of these dictatorships; to establish soviet power in these countries; and to consolidate the dictatorship of the proletariat, without touching a single hair on the head of Somoza, Pinochet, and the shah of Iran. Moreover, he supposes that there will be thousands of workers in Nicaragua, Chile, and Iran stupid enough to elect these bloody tyrants to soviets, and that these hangmen will be content to live peacefully in these countries, under a regime of the dictatorship of the proletariat, without fear for their lives or safety, merely writing their “Memoirs” and making “ideological” counter-proposals within the workers councils, without plotting to overthrow workers power. For only in the event all these provisions are realized would the USec resolution be “guilty” of granting them “freedom” (a freedom the workers of the countries concerned would have been foolish enough to grant them before the USec could, by electing them or their friends to the soviets).

Need we point out that all this has nothing to do, not even remotely, with the theses of the USec?

We witness another crude deformation of the USec positions when Comrade Moreno calmly writes that the USec: “would like to place the revolution and civil war under the provisions of the penal code”. (p. 30) In fact, the USec resolution literally states the opposite. All the “juridical norms” we discuss – and we shall have occasion to return to their importance – apply neither to a revolutionary and insurrectionary situation, nor to a civil war situation, but in a situation of a consolidated dictatorship of the proletariat. Thus we are dealing with a clear-cut falsification of our positions.

Another entry in the list of crude deformations of the USec positions is Comrade Moreno’s statement that:

“The USec majority adopts for the dictatorship of the proletariat the same program the Eurocommunists adopted for socialism and for the capitalist regime. We must be crystal-clear about this point.” (p. 13)

And still more explicit:

“The USec committed a genuine theoretical, political, and historical crime when it foisted onto the dictatorship of the proletariat objectives and a program 90% similar to the Eurocommunist program and diametrically opposed to that of our teachers.” (p. 6)

Yes, you read it correctly: a program 90% similar (that is, practically identical to) that of the Eurocommunists! In other words, according to Comrade Moreno, the question: for or against the dictatorship of the proletariat; for or against the destruction of the bourgeois state apparatus; for or against disarming and expropriating the bourgeoisie in a revolutionary crisis; for or against arming the proletariat; for or against the creation of a new type of state, a soviet state based on the self-organization of the proletariat; for or against gradualism, “the parliamentary and peaceful roads to socialism”; for or against radicalizing and generalizing mass mobilizations to the point of a showdown confrontation with the bourgeoisie; all this – that is, all that politically, strategically, theoretically, separates the Fourth International from the Eurocommunists, all that separates Leninists from reformists of all ilks – all this counts for nothing (or at most counts for a bare … 10%). No, what is decisive is pluralism of political parties, warnings that Leninists will be “ruthless” with “enemies of the dictatorship,” including those within the proletariat, and the projection of decades of civil war. This is the land of fantasy.

Can anyone name a single socialist revolution that failed in any country where the urban proletariat constituted a majority of fighters, as a result of party pluralism? Haven’t all these revolutions that failed, beginning with the German in 1918–19 and down to the Chilean and Portuguese, failed because of the betrayals perpetrated by their leaders – and the inadequate level of understanding of most workers – on the questions we just enumerated.

Isn’t it obvious that on all these questions – that is, on 90% or even 95% of theoretical, political, strategic, tactical, concrete, questions that decide the fate of proletarian revolutions, or at least the outcome of ongoing struggles – there is an irreducible opposition, and not any “identity” or “similarity,” between the positions of the USec of the Fourth International on the one hand, and those of the Eurocommunists on the other, despite Comrade Moreno’s deceitful claims to the contrary?

For reasons that remain obscure, for the last several years Comrade Moreno has been bent upon stubbornly and slanderously attacking one particular member of the USec, Comrade Mandel. He launches another such attack in his The Revolutionary Dictatorship of the Proletariat. He first accuses me, at length – a whole chapter! – of claiming that Trotsky, as he approached the end of his life, had changed his position on some aspect of the problems we are presently discussing, and then states that no such chance occurred. But here again we are dealing with a crude falsification.

Moreno himself indicates that I am referring to Trotsky’s self-criticism on the question of the ban on factions in the Bolshevik Party, and to a possible self-criticism (only implicit) on the question of the ban on Soviet parties in 1921; but, having said this, he then proceeds … to change subjects. He tells us about the civil war, Kronstadt, Trotsky’s positions in 1924, 1928, or 1930, the debate with Urbahns, and the need for the leading role of the revolutionary party in the revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

But I never raised any of this. Moreno says nothing about what Trotsky wrote at the end of his life on the connections between the ban on other Soviet parties, the ban on factions within the Bolshevik Party, and the rise of the bureaucracy’s totalitarian dictatorship. The fact is that on these specific questions, the position adopted by Trotsky after 1933–34 (which he had not defended before these dates) was unambiguous. Four quotations will suffice.

In 1934, Trotsky wrote an article entitled If America Should Go Communist:

“With us the soviets have been bureaucraticized as a result of the political monopoly of a single party, which has itself become a bureaucracy. This situation resulted from the exceptional difficulties of socialist pioneering in a poor and backward country.” (Writings of Leon Trotsky 1934–35, New York: Pathfinder Press, 1971, p. 79)

In 1936, in The Revolution Betrayed, Trotsky stated in more clear-cut fashion:

“The prohibition of oppositional parties brought after it the prohibition of factions. The prohibition of factions ended in a prohibition to think otherwise than the infallible leaders. The police-manufactured monolithism of the party resulted in a bureaucratic impunity which has become the source of all kinds of wantonness and corruption.” (Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, New York: Merit, 1965, pp. 105–105)

In 1937, in Stalinism and Bolshevism, Trotsky says in an even more peremptory fashion:

“It is absolutely indisputable that the domination of a single party served as the juridical point of departure for the Stalinist totalitarian system.” (Trotsky, Stalinism and Bolshevism, New York: Merit, 1970, p. 22)

And finally, in 1939, in his article Trotskyism and the PSOP, Trotsky clarifies and generalizes his thoughts on this issue:

“It is true that the Bolshevik Party forbade factions at the Tenth Party Congress in March 1921, a time of mortal danger. One can argue whether or not this was correct. The subsequent course of development has in any case proved that this prohibition served as one of the starting points of the party’s degeneration. The bureaucracy presently made a bogey of the concept of ‘faction,’ so as not to permit the party either to think or breathe. Thus was formed the totalitarian regime which killed Bolshevism.” (Leon Trotsky on France, New York: Monad Press, 1979, p. 231) [Emphasis added]

Then, a sharp warning:

Whoever prohibits factions thereby liquidates party democracy and takes the first step toward a totalitarian regime.” (Ibid., p. 228 – Trotsky underlined the whole sentence)

Of course, these quotations are always preceded or followed by a refutation of the theories according to which the one-party system, or the ban on factions in the Bolshevik Party, had caused the degeneration of the workers state. For a Marxist, a materialist, it is obvious that the ultimate cause lay in the backward state of the country, the relative weakness of the Russian proletariat, and the defeats of the world revolution, which left the revolution isolated in these backward conditions. But to these principal causes, Trotsky now adds the political measures adopted in 1920–21 as having facilitated the degeneration. This follows without any possible doubt from the four quotations we have just reproduced. For we must choose one of two possible interpretations. Either one thinks that between 1933 and 1940, Trotsky – suddenly become fatalist and “objectivist” – believed that there was no way to avoid facilitating the rise of a totalitarian regime in 1920–21. Or one rejects this thesis which contradicts his whole thought and the whole meaning of the Left Opposition’s struggle, which was based precisely on the possibility of counterposing to the course toward bureaucratic degeneration an alternative course that would avoid it. In which case, the self-criticism implicit in the first three quotations, and explicit in the last, is undeniable.

As to the slanderous falsification of my positions on the revolutionary crisis in Chile, which attributes to me the idea that the Chilean proletariat could have triumphed over the threat of Pinochet’s coup by an entirely peaceful road by trusting (sic) the Unidad Popular government to “purge the army and eliminate the repressive apparatus” (p. 56), without a word (sic, again) on the necessity for an armed mobilization of the proletariat, by “peacefully” occupying factories and setting up industrial cordons. (p. 57) This is too ridiculous to deserve an answer. One need merely refer to what I wrote on the subject in In Defense of Leninism, In Defense of the Fourth International, or in the draft political resolution of the IMT for which I was the reporter at the Tenth World Congress. These kinds of slanders are wont to boomerang against their author. Comrade Moreno had better change his approach.

We believe there is no point in continuing. Five examples are enough. A good part of Comrade Moreno’s book is made up of polemics against positions which are not those of the USec resolution, that is to say, of perfectly useless polemics, wasting time and energy, and stylistic exercises for purely factional purposes. There is nothing “proletarian” or “Bolshevik” in such exercises. They contribute nothing to building a genuine revolutionary workers party.

2. A Beginning Revision of the Program of the Fourth International

The polemic becomes more serious – both in its avowed purpose and in objective significance – when it deals with key questions of the revolutionary Marxist program concerning the dictatorship of the proletariat. And here we are compelled to note that on these key questions Comrade Moreno is beginning to revise what is the program of the Fourth International, what was the program of the Third International under Lenin, and what was the tradition created by the fundamental theoretical writings of Marx, Engels, and Lenin on the subject, above all Marx’s Civil War in France and Lenin’s State and Revolution.

Incidentally, it is no accident that, in a 250-page book on the dictatorship of the proletariat, Comrade Moreno does not once refer to the Theses of the First and Second Congresses of the CI on this question, or to the fundamental theoretical works we have just cited… except to make indirect criticisms of them, or even sometimes to attack them openly. For what the Socialist Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat resolution states in regard to program is continuous with these documents to the fullest extent, and 99 percent of it can be found in them. Comrade Moreno prefers conjunctural polemical articles or brochures to these programmatic documents, works written for specific circumstances, which can in no way supersede the closely considered theoretical formulations of the masters of revolutionary Marxism.

Let us [consider] the most striking and clearest example. The Transitional Program – which, it must be conceded, has far more programmatic and important value than Comrade Trotsky’s occasional polemic with this or that militant or revisionist ideologue – clearly states:

“The struggle for the freedom of the trade unions and the factory committees, for the right of assembly, and for the freedom of the press, will unfold in the struggle for the regeneration and development of Soviet democracy

“Democraticization of the soviets is impossible without the legalization of soviet parties. The workers and peasants themselves by their own free vote will indicate what parties they recognize as soviet parties.” (Pathfinder, 1977, pp. 145–146)

Comrade Moreno revises the Transitional Program when he gives to the phrase “freedom for soviet parties” the meaning of “freedom for parties that support the revolution”. (p. 176, also see the same thesis on p. 123) For if this were so, the second sentence would lose a good part of its content. The workers (not to speak of the peasants) would no longer be free to elect the deputies of their choosing to the soviets. They would no longer have the right to elect Social-Democratic, Stalinist, Eurocommunist, Peronist, “Congress Party” in India, “PRI-ista” in Mexico, not to mention anarchist and many other types of deputies, if the parties to which these deputies were affiliated did not change their fundamental ideological attitude toward the revolution.

Comrade Moreno seeks shelter behind a preestablished defense line when he asserts that it will be the majority of soviet deputies who decide whether or not to legalize this or that party. (pp. 154, 156) We note that this is an unwarranted interpretation of the text of the program. The program does not say that the workers and peasants will decide by majority vote which parties will be legalized. It says clearly and sharply that they will show (the English version says: will indicate, which is even clearer!) by a free vote, by the act of electing this or that deputy belonging to this or that party, which parties are soviet parties.

But even if we accepted Comrade Moreno’s unwarranted reinterpretation of the Transitional Program text, it would still fly in the face of his views. For if, by a huge misfortune, the majority of workers voted to legalize all these “ideologically counter-revolutionary” parties, Comrade Moreno, as pope of the neo-Bolshevik Church, supported by a secular arm which is not difficult to visualize, would indignantly reprimand them: “In my infinite wisdom, I, Moreno, forbid you to decide to legalize counter-revolutionary parties. And if you won’t abide by me, I will baptize you counter-revolutionary yourselves, declare your soviets counter-revolutionary, dissolve them, and govern, if need be, against you,” still relying on the secular arm, of course.

In other words, the actual subject of the polemic is not the grotesque question of the freedoms granted to Somoza, Pinochet, and the shah of Iran, nor even the quite marginal question of the ideological and political freedoms granted to big bourgeois and rich peasants (after expropriating and disarming them, and after the dictatorship of the proletariat is consolidated). No, the actual subject of the polemic is the severe restrictions on workers democracy, on soviet democracy, on the political rights and freedoms of the working class, implied in Comrade Moreno’s “system.”

Let us be clear. As Comrade Trotsky explained on several occasions, it is difficult to imagine a victory of the dictatorship of the proletariat in Britain, Germany, France, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, or India, unless a large section of the working class – which today still follows the traditional leaderships (reformist, Stalinist, Eurocommunist, bourgeois-nationalist) – is politically won over, at least on decisive questions – those we enumerated above – to the revolutionary party.

But, first of all this does not necessarily imply that this majority of the proletariat will break on all questions with its traditional leadership, especially when this leadership has deep historic roots in the history of the given national proletariat, and is embodied in parties that have predominated among this proletariat for nearly half a century, or even a century. Next, the fact that a majority takes this position in no way signifies that large minorities will not continue to hold more backward positions.

We have said it time and again: it is absolutely utopian to suppose that immediately following the seizure of power, much less in the immediate aftermath of the consolidation of the dictatorship of the proletariat (when there is no longer the immediate threat of an armed uprising by the bourgeoisie), there will no longer be 10,000 Labourite workers among the 25 million British proletarians; there will no longer be 10,000 Social Democratic workers in Germany; there will no longer be 10,000 Stalinist workers among the 3 million Portuguese proletarians; that there will no longer be 10,000 Eurocommunist workers in Italy; that there will no longer be 10,000 “laborite” workers in Brazil; 10,000 PRI-ista workers in Mexico; 10,000 Congressite workers in India, etc., etc. In reality we should increase these figures tenfold, or even a hundredfold or more in most of the countries mentioned.

Therefore, the real question is whether the dictatorship of the proletariat implies severe restrictions on democratic freedoms for millions of workers, for an important segment of the proletariat. The question is what concrete forms of power (of government, of coercion, of violence) Comrade Moreno advocates not against the class enemy, but against large sections of his own class (should they be a minority, not to mention in the event they should become a majority).

The question is whether Lenin was grossly mistaken, and whether Marx was grossly mistaken, when they revised Comrade Moreno’s doctrine, and stated that the dictatorship of the proletariat would not need a very powerful coercive apparatus since it would be the dictatorship of the immense majority over a tiny minority:

“It is still necessary to suppress the bourgeoisie and crush its resistance. This was particularly necessary for the Commune; and one of the reasons for its defeat was that it did not do this with sufficient determination. But the organ of suppression is now the majority of the population, and not a minority, as was always the case under slavery, serfdom, and wage labour. And, once the majority of the people itself suppresses its oppressors, a ‘special force’ for suppression is no longer necessary. In this sense the state begins to wither away. Instead of the special institutions of a privileged minority (privileged officialdom, heads of a standing army), the majority can itself directly fulfill all these functions; and the more the discharge of the functions of state power devolves upon the people generally, the less need is there for the existence of this power.” (V.I. Lenin, State and Revolution, New York: International Publishers, 1969, p. 37)

Instead of this “revisionist” doctrine of Lenin and Marx, must we now establish as a programmatic rule that the dictatorship of the proletariat will need a powerful coercive apparatus consisting of 55% of the population against 45%, including in industrialized countries, or better yet, of a minority of “conscious proletarians” (by definition those, and only those, who agree with Comrade Moreno on everything) against the majority of the population, including the majority of working people?

Comrade Moreno tries to wiggle out of this difficulty by making a subtle distinction between “the right to elect a deputy” (let us say, a Social Democrat) and the right of these deputies to organize themselves as a party. But in doing so, he entangles himself even more tightly in the web of his own contradictions. He is forced to recognize that “quasi-absolute” freedom of the press – this is one of the rare instances where Comrade Moreno himself reflects the “pressure of the Western proletariat’s democratic prejudices” – would be useful to the dictatorship of the proletariat:

“This quasi-absolute freedom of the press and of opinion which the dictatorship of the proletariat should maintain is helpful in clarifying the strength of the different currents of opinion and seeing to it that the dictatorship is objectively informed of the existing problems, but it is conditioned by the most absolute monopoly of political power by the industrial working class and revolutionary masses. This means that freedom of the press, above all artistic and scientific, does not automatically imply freedom of organization and activity for all counter-revolutionary parties.” (pp. 85–86)

We will leave aside “secondary” problems such as that of determining whether freedom of the press in the epoch of transition can be “above all artistic and scientific” (Comrade Moreno seems to forget that eating comes before philosophizing, and that economic and social problems – not to mention political ones – will loom much larger for the broad masses than artistic and scientific problems). We will not bother either with the ridiculous formula “all” counter-revolutionary parties (no one is advocating freedom for the fascists; and it is quite likely that “counter-revolutionary parties” lacking traditional roots in the proletariat will elect no one to the soviets. The question of their freedom to organize will therefore not be posed in these terms).

But Comrade Moreno does not seem to realize that “quasi-absolute” freedom of the press and of opinion (the formula is his own creation) implies in particular freedom to carry out propaganda through leaflets, newspapers, and pamphlets for the freedom of this or that organization, for the freedom of soviet deputies to organize themselves in political factions as they please, for the freedom to appeal to the workers to reverse the majority vote of a congress of soviets forbidding this or that faction of deputies to organize themselves as a party, etc., etc. …

Either Comrade Moreno is ready to accept this – and then all his “hard” and “principled” words about restrictions on legalized parties within the soviets are a lot of hot air, for it is absolutely certain that large segments of the proletariat will use their press and their freedom of opinion to win the legalization of their factions and parties; or Comrade Moreno believes that such a legalization is so disastrous for the dictatorship of the proletariat (we will see why further on) that he would have to severely restrict freedom of the press and of opinion, generalize preventive censorship, and bar millions of proletarians from access to printing presses and radio and television stations. Since many of these workers will push their “objectively counter-revolutionary impertinence to the point of answering “fiddlesticks” to the prohibitions of Comrade Moreno and his edicts, and of saying, publishing and disseminating what they think of these prohibitions (which will be very hard for Comrade Moreno, let us gently warn him in advance), the famous “secular arm” will be needed again, that is, an enormous police apparatus to impose these restrictions on freedom on the proletariat.

What will be left of the “quasi-absolute freedom of the press and of opinion” under those conditions? What will be left of the workers’ freedom to elect whomever they please to the soviets? What will remain of the power of the majority of the proletariat in freely elected soviets? It definitely cannot be by chance that Comrade Moreno concludes his book on this typically paternalistic (lest we use a harsher term) note:

“A Trotskyist (sic) revolutionary dictatorship … will bestow (sic, again) broad freedoms upon scientists and artists, as well as revolutionaries.” (p. 253)

Upon artists, scientists, and revolutionaries. But not upon the proletariat, at least its broad majority. We get the message.

Comrade Moreno’s last line of retreat consists in saying: OK, new soviet parties that will arise under the dictatorship of the proletariat – as a last resort, so be it. But Trotsky never said this would imply the legalization of parties which existed before the revolution and whose counter-revolutionary nature has been clearly demonstrated in fact, such as Social Democrats, Stalinists, etc. … Moreno, for his part is for banning them. (p. 123) The USec resolution “dodges” this issue. (p. 15) Here again Comrade Moreno is mistaken. Trotsky did take a clear position in the matter:

“In the proletarian state the technical means of printing will be put at the disposal of groups of citizens in accordance with their real numerical importance. How is this to be done? [Well, Mister Hugenberg will have to restrict himself somewhat, along with the other capitalist monopolists who do business with the press. There is no way around it.] The Social Democracy will obtain printing facilities corresponding to the number of its supporters.” (Trotsky, The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany, The United Front for Defense: A Letter to a Social-Democratic Worker (February 23, 1933), Pathfinder, 1971, p. 368. – The sentences in brackets are translated from the French manuscript of this document, with the reference: Leo Trotski, Schriften über Deutschland, Band II, EVA, 1971, p. 471 – Translator’s note)

The identical idea is put forward in the article on the United States quoted above and dating from 1934. Let us recall that under the Weimar Republic, Hugenberg, in addition to being the leading press baron, was the leader of a far-right political party allied to the Nazis. Yet even in his case, Trotsky didn’t foresee banning his newspapers but merely restricting – radically, of course – his access to printing facilities in proportion to the number of members he would retain under the consolidated regime of the dictatorship of the proletariat! (Incidentally this shows how wrong Comrade Moreno is when he asserts [p. 87] that insofar as freedom of the press is concerned, we can base ourselves on only one article by Trotsky, that of 1938.)

Let us repeat it once again: None of this applies to a civil war situation, obviously, but to a consolidated dictatorship of the proletariat. When you are being shot at, you don’t allow the murderers to justify the crime. The most libertarian anarchists and Social Democrats did not support freedom of the press for the Falangists after July 1936 in Barcelona, to our knowledge.

But our debate is precisely not about these exceptional (the word appears dozens of times in Trotsky’s writings) conditions which call for exceptional measures. The real question is whether the epoch of transition from capitalism to socialism, that is, the epoch of the dictatorship of the proletariat, lasting half a century or even a century, is dominated by these “exceptional conditions,” whether there are, to be explicit, “civil war conditions,” today in the USSR, Poland, Czechoslovakia, or the GDR, or whether these conditions have not existed there for decades and therefore, whether the restrictions on freedom of the press can in no way be explained by the necessities of “civil war” but by the bureaucracy’s totalitarian dictatorship. On this issue Comrade Moreno’s position blatantly revises Trotsky’s not to mention those of Marx and Lenin.

The dialectic of theory, of a system of ideas, is implacable. Whoever says A is almost irresistibly compelled to say B (one of the functions of democratic discussion inside a revolutionary organization is to make this compulsion less irresistible, to try to stop it in time. Whether this attempt succeeds or fails will be shown by subsequent evolution.) So Comrade Moreno is compelled to add to his initial revision of our program on soviet democracy, an initial revision of our program on the special nature of the workers state, that is, on the soviets themselves!

From Civil War in France to the Transitional Program, by way of State and Revolution and the Theses of the Founding Congress of the Communist International, Marxists have stressed that the dictatorship of the proletariat cannot be exercised through just any institutions. It can only be exercised by destroying the old bourgeois state machine (inherited in great part from semi-feudal absolutism), and replacing it with a new type of state, a soviet state based in the self-organization of the masses and characterized by: the elected nature of all posts; the possibility of recalling those elected at the will of the electors; lowering the wages of elected officials to those of an average worker; regular rotation of elected officials; growing merger of legislative and executive functions (today, after sixty years of experience with proletarian revolutions, we would add three additional conditions: a drastic reduction of the workday; the drastic elimination of any monopoly of culture and access to centralized information; compulsory participation in all organs of power based on the delegation of an absolute majority of workers who have remained active in production).

This whole theory of soviets – for this is what we are dealing with – is by no means “prescriptive,” arbitrary, or a mere temporary generalization of the (allegedly party unsuccessful) experience of the Paris Commune and October revolution. It has deep-seated foundations, which have to do with the very nature of the proletariat, the dictatorship of the proletariat, and the building of socialism, i.e., a classless society. We cannot repeat here all the aspects of this theory, which have been explained time and again by the classics of revolutionary Marxism. Nonetheless the conclusions of this theory are clear. Owing to its social nature, the proletariat can exercise power only through soviet-type institutions. There is no way historically to go from the dictatorship of the proletariat, as the instrument of the transition toward socialism (i.e., the elimination of classes, which means elimination of the division of society into a class that produces and another class or social layer [caste] that monopolizes the administration of the social surplus with all that implies), except for the workers themselves to exercise power and organize for that purpose.

Even when the self-organization of workers is difficult because of the backwardness of the country, civil war, or foreign intervention, it remains an immediate goal that revolutionary Marxists seek to achieve to the fullest extent possible. Here is what Lenin wrote on the subject in the midst of civil war, in 1918:

“Our aim is to draw the whole of the poor into the practical work of administration, and all steps that are taken in this direction – the more varied they are, the better – should be carefully recorded, studied, systematized, tested by wider experience and embodied in law. Our aim is to ensure that every toiler, having finished his eight hours ‘task’ in productive labor, shall perform state duties without pay; the transition to this is particularly difficult, but this transition alone can guarantee the final consolidation of socialism.” (V.I. Lenin, The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government, Selected Works in Three Volumes, Volume 2, Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1970, p. 674)

When Lenin and Trotsky wrote otherwise in 1920–21, it was because the “exceptional” conditions had become “exceptionally exceptional”: the Russian proletariat was reduced to a small percentage of the population in conditions of dreadful famine and exhaustion. Does Comrade Moreno believe that in the future, given the present (and foreseeable) state of the world revolution, this situation will recur, will even become the rule? Should we build our political orientation on these “exceptionally exceptional” conditions?

Moreover, Comrade Moreno thought it advisable to introduce an entire chapter (Chapter Five) in which he attacks our alleged “fetishization of soviets.” And he “crowns” this attack on “fetishization of soviets” with a full-fledged attack on the “ultra-democratism of the Paris Commune,” basing himself on two remarks Trotsky made in internal polemics of the French section. (p. 140) In these documents, Trotsky pointed out the difference between soviets and a “municipality” of the Commune type, that is, expressed support for a centralized soviet-type workers power (which is not exactly in keeping with Trotsky’s supposed reservations about “fetishization of the soviet form”).

It is not very responsible to counterpose conjunctural polemics to programmatic documents. All the programmatic texts of the Third International under Lenin, and of the Fourth International under Trotsky, present soviets, and only soviets, as the organs of power of the future workers state. All the same, let us quote the text of the Transitional Program, which is positively unambiguous:

“How are the different demands and forms of struggle to be harmonized, even if only within the limits of one city? History has already answered this question: through soviets. These will unite the representatives of all the fighting groups. For this purpose, no one has yet proposed a different form of organization; indeed, it would hardly be possible to think up a better one … All political currents of the proletariat can struggle for leadership of the soviets on the basis of the widest democracy. The slogan of soviets, therefore, crowns the program of transitional demands.

“Soviets can arise only at the time when the mass movement enters into an openly revolutionary stage. From the first moment of their appearance the soviets, acting as a pivot around which millions of toilers are united in their struggle against the exploiters, become competitors and opponents of local authorities and then of the central government. If the factory committee creates a dual power in the factory, then the soviets initiate a period of dual power in the country.

“Dual power in its turn is the culminating point of the transitional period. Two regimes, the bourgeois and the proletarian, are irrevocably opposed to each other. Conflict between them is inevitable. The fate of society depends on the outcome. Should the revolution be defeated, the fascist dictatorship of the bourgeoisie will follow. In case of victory, the power of the soviets, that is, the dictatorship of the proletariat and the socialist reconstruction of society, will arise.” (Our emphasis)

The least one can say is that our program is at least as “fetishistic” about the question of soviets as the USec resolution!

What is the real content of the few polemics by Trotsky against “sovietist organizational fetishism” which Comrade Moreno quotes with such delight? The context amply confirms it: We are dealing solely with polemics against those who were fixated on the name and not on the content. A soviet need not be called a soviet to serve as a soviet. It may be called “factory committee,” “militia committee,” “united-front committee,” “people’s committee” (yes, indeed!), even “trade-union committee” or “action committee.” But the content must be the same: self-organization of the masses; election of delegates with the right of recall; centralization on a local, regional, and national scale; ability to unite the proletariat as a whole, etc. … Of course one can begin with forms of organization that do not correspond entirely to these criteria, and attempt to go further. But if one fails to go further, one will be left either with “soviets” bureaucratized from their inception, or imitation soviets doomed to vanish rapidly.

This was Trotsky’s doctrine and he defended it fiercely in connection with the German revolution, the English general strike, the Chinese revolution, during the rise of fascism, during the pre-revolutionary crisis in France in 1934–37, during the Spanish revolution, and in his projections for a socialist America. What are occasional polemics against organizational fetishism, compared with this unblemished continuity, which moreover led the centrists to accuse him of wishing “to export the soviet model and make it universal”? Nowhere in Trotsky’s works can one find an attack on “soviet-type organizational fetishism” related not to a pre-insurrectionary or insurrectionary situation, but to the problem of organizing the state institutions of a stabilized dictatorship of the proletariat.

But this is not at all Comrade Moreno’s position. His initial programmatic revision on the question of soviets, beginning by tilting at the windmills of “organizational fetishism,” moves far beyond it. He writes:

“We mean that the Fourth International should strive to discover organizations of this type, such as the armed militias of the Bolivian Workers Central (COB) in 1952, the People’s Assembly of 1971, and the Peronist trade unions in 1956–57 were in their time, or as the Workers Commissions (CCOO) could become in Spain. It would be a crime if, as a result of the USec’s fetishization of soviets, the Fourth International, because of the tradition in each country and the destructive influence of the mass opportunist parties, instead of basing itself on these organizations which the reality of the class struggle has given us, should seek to replace them with unreal soviets. It is quite possible that in many countries soviet-type bodies will develop only after the seizure of power by the revolutionary party, and that, as we have shown, these same soviet-type bodies will be subject to the ebb and flow of the revolutionary process following the seizure of power.” (p. 163)

All this culminates in a clear and definite conclusion:

“That is to say, the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat during the next decades will be synonymous not with soviet organizations, but with the revolutionary dictatorship of the Trotskyist or near-Trotskyist parties.” (ibid. – our emphasis)

This quotation is the best possible codification of Comrade Moreno’s revisionism concerning the dictatorship of the proletariat – in relation to the whole revolutionary Marxist tradition and program!

Once again, we are not concerned with words, but with the substance, the content. If the point is to state that it was possible to use the COB workers militias as a point of departure and transform them into genuine soviets (even under another name), no one will find fault in the assertion. But the list of organizations referred to by Comrade Moreno is extraordinarily heterogeneous, and this confirms that the polemic does not deal with form (or name), but with content. We had a striking confirmation of this during the USec discussion on the Iranian revolution when a particularly audacious representative of the Bolshevik Faction added … Khomeini’s committees to the list given by Comrade Moreno.

No one can seriously maintain that the Bolivian People’s Assembly of 1971, or the Peronist trade unions of 1956–57, were organs of self-organization of the whole proletariat, or could rapidly become so (not to mention the Spanish CCOO). The People’s Assembly was not even elected; it was appointed and totally controlled by bureaucrats who collaborated with a wing of the bourgeois army. Nor had the Peronist bureaucracy of 1956-57 changed its character, achieved the political independence of the proletariat, and broken its ties with the bourgeoisie, to our knowledge.

Underlying Comrade Moreno’s theory is that Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, and the Third and Fourth Internationals were mistaken when they conceived the dictatorship of the proletariat as the self-organization of the proletariat. No, says Moreno. The revolutionary party wins power by mobilizing the masses without necessarily permitting them to democratically organize themselves in order to wield power. To achieve this mobilization, it relies on anything within its reach: trade unions, assemblies, more or less appointed from above, appointed committees, and even class-collaborationist organization conceived as such and controlled by a clergy. What matters is the manipulation of the masses, not their self-organization: This is the key idea of Comrade Moreno. It has a precise social nature and origin. All Trotskyists will recognize it without difficulty.

It is no wonder then that Comrade Moreno combines his skepticism toward soviet organization with an ultra-opportunist attitude toward the institutions of the bourgeois-democratic state. He calmly foresees – under certain conditions, of course – that it will be perfectly possible “to combine bourgeois democracy and proletarian democracy” (p. 94), especially under conditions of “struggle against fascism or of threats of reactionary coups.” A perfect recipe to bring future revolutions to the same defeats as in Germany in 1918 and 1920, Spain in 1936, and Chile in 1973, when the centrists used the same arguments under the same circumstances against the “ultra-leftists” who said that the proletariat could not conquer power without destroying the bourgeois state institutions and replacing them with the centralized power of the soviets, of the committees they were creating.

Whoever said B, must say C. Comrade Moreno no longer even conceals his revisionism. State and Revolution is a book to be dumped as rubbish. At bottom, it is a “Mandelian” work, replete with “bourgeois-democratic prejudices.” It must be replaced with:

“… what Lenin and Trotsky wrote after the Russian Revolution, when their theorizations (sic) had to take the changes imposed by reality into account. The USec fails to consider the extent to which the October Revolution enriched (sic, again) the Marxist theory of the state and revolution.” (p. 107, see a similar passage on p. 223)

And still more sharply:

“All (sic) victorious proletarian revolutions and dictatorships of our century have been revolutions and dictatorships of a single party, never of trade unions, soviets, factory committees, or peasant committees. That is, they were never dictatorships of all the workers and all the toilers, but always of a minority organized like iron, which obtained the support or the more or less active neutrality of the majority.” (p. 113)

Here revisionism bursts forth unabashedly. Everything asserted by Marx, Lenin, the First Congress of the CI, and the Transitional Program – which while written in 1938, supposedly does not take into account the “lessons of the October Revolution” – is petty-bourgeois liberal twaddle. The “real” theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat has now been formulated by Comrade Moreno, the real “Lenin of our time.”

However, Comrade Moreno’s generalization, far from being “realistic” in contrast to the supposedly “prescriptive” theories of the USec, far from being “concrete” and “dialectical,” is simply false because it contains at least four grave errors.

First, it falsifies the history of the October revolution, which did indeed culminate for a period in a dictatorship exercised by democratically elected soviets that represented the immense majority of toilers in Russia.

Next, it ignores the fact that, after a short transition, the exercise of power by a single party in Russia gave way to a political counter-revolution, a Thermidor, whose victory Trotsky ultimately dated in 1923–24.

Furthermore, it tends to generalize (and therefore to present as inevitable) the fact that the power is exercised by the bureaucracy, that is, based on the political expropriation of the proletariat. For, with the exception of the Cuban revolution, “all the victorious proletarian revolutions of our century” to which Comrade Moreno refers were led from their inception by privileged bureaucracy intent on excluding the proletariat from the exercise of political power and self-organization. Comrade Moreno should answer the question: will this “general law” remain in force in the future? Will future revolutions also be led by profoundly bureaucratized parties? If so, what becomes of the famous leading role of the Fourth International? If not, how can conclusions be drawn from what Tito, Mao, and Ho Chi Minh did about what might happen in terms of soviet-type organization under a Leninist proletarian leadership?

Finally, Comrade Moreno forgets that all these victorious proletarian revolutions to which he refers occurred in backward countries where the proletariat represented a (sometimes tiny) minority of the population, with a low level of cultural development and technical skill.

Can we extend the conclusions that can be drawn from these special and exceptional experiences to proletarian revolutions that will take place in countries where the urban proletariat is already the majority, if not the overwhelming majority of the population (countries that are by no means limited to capitalist Europe, but include North America, Australia, Japan, the semi-industrialized countries of Latin America, and several semi-colonial countries of Asia?) No, of course not. What is involved here is not any kind of enrichment of Marxism, but misleading generalization that impoverishes Marxism. This is not merely the opinion of the “revisionist” USec. It is also the opinion of Comrade Trotsky:

“It must not be thought that the dictatorship of the proletariat is necessarily connected with the methods of Red terror which we had to apply in Russia. We were the pioneers. Covered with crime, the Russian possessing classes did not believe that the new regime would last. The bourgeoisie of Europe and America supported the Russian counter-revolution. Under these conditions, one could hold on only at the cost of terrific exertion and the implacable punishment of our class enemies. The victory of the proletariat in Germany would have quite a different character. The German bourgeoisie, having lost the power, would no longer have any hope of retaking it. The alliance of Soviet Germany with Soviet Russia would multiply, not twofold but tenfold, the strength of the two countries. In all the rest of Europe, the position of the bourgeoisie is so compromised that it is not very likely that it would be able to get its armies to march against proletarian Germany. To be sure, the civil war would be inevitable: there are enough fascists for that. But the German proletariat, armed with state power and having the Soviet Union behind it, would soon bring about the atomization of fascism by drawing to its side substantial sections of the petty bourgeoisie. The dictatorship of the proletariat in Germany would have incomparably more mild and civilized forms than the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia.” (The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany, The United Front for Defense: A Letter to a Social-Democratic Worker [February 23, 1933], Pathfinder, 1971, p. 365 – our emphasis)

And in a similar vein:

“However, the American communist revolution will be insignificant compared to the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, in terms of your national wealth and population, no matter how great its comparative cost. That is because civil war of a revolutionary nature isn’t fought by the handful of men at the top – the 5 or 10 percent who own nine-tenths of American wealth; this handful could recruit its counter-revolutionary armies only from among the lower middle classes. Even so, the revolution could easily attract them to its banner by showing that support of the soviets alone offers them the prospect of salvation …

“There is no reason why these groups should counterpose determined resistance to the revolution; they have nothing to lose, providing, of course, that the revolutionary leaders adopt a farsighted and moderate policy toward them …

“The same method would be used to draw small businesses and industries into the national organization of industry. By soviet control of raw materials, credits and quotas of orders, these secondary industries could be kept solvent until they were gradually and without compulsion sucked into the socialized business system.

“Without compulsion! The American soviets would not need to resort to the drastic measures that circumstances have often imposed upon the Russians. In the United States, through the science of publicity and advertising, you have means for winning the support of your middle class that were beyond the reach of the soviets of backward Russia with its vast majority of pauperized and illiterate peasants …

“Within a few weeks or months of the establishment of the American soviets, Pan-Americanism would be a political reality.

“The governments of Central and South America would be pulled into your federation like iron filings to a magnet. So would Canada. The popular movements in these countries would be so strong that they would force this great unifying process within a short period and at insignificant costs.” (Writings of Leon Trotsky 1934–1935, New York: Pathfinder Press, 1971, p 74 – our emphasis)

And about Spain in 1936, although it was substantially less industrialized, and its proletariat was three times smaller than the proletariat of the Spanish state today – not to mention that of France, Italy, Germany, Britain, or the United States – Trotsky wrote just as categorically:

“At the present time, while this is being written [two weeks after the civil war broke out], the civil war in Spain has not yet terminated. The workers of the entire world feverishly await news of the victory of the Spanish proletariat …

“From a purely military point of view, the Spanish revolution is much weaker than its enemy. Its strength lies in its ability to rouse the great masses to action. It can even take the army away from its reactionary officers. To accomplish this, it is only necessary to seriously and courageously advance the program of the socialist revolution.

“It is necessary to proclaim that, from now on, the land, factories, and shops will pass from the hands of the capitalists into the hands of the people. It is necessary to move at once toward the realization of this program in those provinces where the workers are in power. The fascist army could not resist the influence of such a program for twenty-four hours; the soldiers would tie their officers hand and foot and turn them over to the nearest headquarters of the workers’ militia.” (The Spanish Revolution (1931–39), The Lessons of Spain, July 30, 1936, New York: Pathfinder Press, 1973, pp. 234–35 – our emphasis)

Many other passages in Trotsky’s writings on Spain emphasize that a victory in the civil war was possible in a short period of time (a few weeks or a few months) and would not have entailed any possibility for large-scale international military intervention on the part of world imperialism.

We see that Comrade Moreno’s “generalizations” drawn from the experience of the Russian, Yugoslav, Chinese, and Vietnamese civil wars ignore the special and exceptional conditions of these civil wars: the backwardness of these countries, the extreme weakness of the proletariat, and, except in Russia, the bureaucratic and politically opportunist nature of the leaderships of the proletarian camp.

However, in today’s capitalist world there remain only a few big countries where the proletariat is a relatively small minority of the active population: India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Nigeria, and perhaps Egypt. In all the other big countries – including the semi-colonial ones – the proletariat is already either a very big minority of the active population (at least twice as large as it was in Russia in 1917), the majority, or – in the imperialist countries – the overwhelming majority of the population. To believe that under these conditions, and under a Bolshevik, Trotskyist leadership to boot, civil wars must again take place over years, and even decades (sic – see Comrade Moreno’s book, pp. 52–53), with the kinds of repression and restrictions on socialist democracy that such wars imply, is to completely revise the teachings of Marx, Lenin, and especially Trotsky on the subject.

Let us add that the Spanish proletariat won its great victories of July 1936 under conditions of extreme pluralism of parties and currents, unlimited freedom of the press and media, and the participation of a big bourgeois party, the Esquerra Catalan, in the militia committees (i.e., in the emerging soviets). Power in the committees and factories was in the hands of the workers, not any single party. These conquests were lost certainly not because of that pluralism and existence of many rank-and-file authorities and powers (it is the Stalinist theory that says this!), but because of the counter-revolutionary policy of the workers’ leaderships.

To be sure, a Bolshevik-type revolutionary party was needed to centralize workers power and rapidly smash the counter-revolution. But a party deserving of that name, in the concrete conditions in Spain in 1936, far from restricting democracy in the committees and direct democracy in relation to what it was in 1936, would have considerably extended it. It would have refrained from “banning” the PSOE and CP (which would have been reduced to an insignificant minority had the revolutionary leadership followed a correct policy, as Trotsky explained time and again), not to mention the CNT-FAI or the POUM. The concrete experience of the Spanish revolution flies in the face of Comrade Moreno’s revisionist schema.

3. Serious Theoretical Concessions to the Bureaucracy

Comrade Moreno’s book is strewn with theoretical concessions to the bureaucracy, concessions that combine with the beginnings of a programmatic revision to chart a particularly disturbing course for the all-out battle the Bolshevik Faction has launched against Socialist Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.

This is already apparent in the vocabulary. Aside from a few exceptions, Comrade Moreno jumbles workers states and bureaucratized workers states, i.e., states where the proletariat wields power in the political and immediate sense of the term, and states where it has been dispossessed of this power by a privileged bureaucratic caste (or where it never wielded this power), as though this distinction was only an absolutely minor aspect of the problem of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

And even when he discusses the insufficient amount of socialist democracy in certain workers states, he does so in truly shocking terms for a Trotskyist. What else can one say of the following passage:

“The Chinese workers revolution, although led by the bureaucracy, meant a colossal expansion of ‘proletarian democracy,’ not only by comparison with Chiang’s regime but also with the most advanced bourgeois democracies, which are based on the totalitarian, barbarian exploitation of oppressed nationalities and colonial peoples. The proletariat is organized in trade unions and the peasants in communes, which are legal and include millions of workers … The same applies in connection with paper supplies, printing presses, radios, and meeting halls. Previously they were in the hands of the bourgeoisie and imperialism; now they are in the hands of the working class (sic) and peasantry, even though controlled (sic, again) by the bureaucracy.” (p. 73)

And even more broadly (this time explicitly including the Stalinist totalitarian dictatorship):

“One of the most important tasks of Trotskyism is precisely to educate the world working class in the recognition of the existing proletarian dictatorships, in the demonstration that they are much more democratic (sic) than any imperialist democracy, about the inevitability (sic, again) of counter-revolutionary wars by the capitalist and imperialist countries against the workers states, and about the defense of the latter.” (p. 197)

This could be taken straight out of any pamphlet making an apology of Stalinism or Maoism: by the very nationalization of the means of production, particularly the nationalization of printing presses and radio and television stations, “proletarian democracy” undergoes a colossal expansion whether or not the real proletariat (or its immense majority) has real access to the printing presses, etc. … To utter such things is to deny in practice the totalitarian dictatorship of the bureaucracy and the political expropriation of the Soviet and Chinese proletariat. To demand that the Fourth International repeat such lies to the world proletariat means transforming it into a Stalinist propaganda agency and erasing fifty years of merciless struggle against bureaucratic dictatorship.

To compare the non-existent “proletarian democracy” in the bureaucratized workers states with the restrictions and decay of bourgeois democracy is again to imitate one of the classical sophistries of Stalinist propaganda. We are perfectly familiar with the largely formal (not entirely formal, though) character of democratic freedoms under the system of capitalist exploitation, imperialist super-exploitation, and private property. But the relentless struggle of the working class has wrung from the bourgeoisie “embryos of proletarian democracy” within the bourgeois state. These embryos are called the powerful trade-union, political, and cultural organizations of the proletariat, having their own headquarters, printshops, and newspapers. Far from being “formal,” these freedoms and gains are weapons against the bourgeoisie for which thousands of workers gave their lives. And from the standpoint of these gains and freedoms of the proletariat, there is a retrogression, not progress, in the USSR today.

Let us take two examples: first, trade-union organization. Comrade Moreno seems unaware that for more than a decade, during and after the Cultural Revolution, there were no longer any trade unions at all in the People’s Republic (PR) of China. They have only just been reorganized in the last few years. He seems unaware that, at the height of the Cultural Revolution, there was a mass demonstration in Shanghai by “the surplus commune labor force” to protest against their being “leased” to the factories at starvation wages, far below the officially existing norms. The demonstration, moreover, was repressed harshly. He seems unaware that in Poland, again quite recently, the mere fact of being on strike automatically meant expulsion from the trade union and dismissal, without even any right to unemployment compensation. He seems unaware that for decades the Soviet trade unions were satisfied with establishing a generalized piecework system, blind obedience to the manager’s orders, and a “battle for production” without regard to the workers’ health and safety, that is, even in violation of the officially existing legislation. The situation has improved slightly since then, but the role of the trade union has not fundamentally changed.

Will Comrade Moreno have the dismal courage to state that from the standpoint of the right and powers of the trade unions, “proletarian democracy” is “much more advanced” in the USSR and the PR of China than in countries where the proletariat possesses powerful trade-union organizations independent of the bourgeois state and the bourgeoisie?

Next, the example of the press. Comrade Trotsky expressed his views on the subject very clearly. He wrote in The Revolution Betrayed:

“To be sure, the new charter ‘guarantees’ to the citizens the so-called ‘freedoms’ of speech, press, assemblage and street processions. But each of these guarantees has the form either of a heavy muzzle or of shackles upon the hands and feet. Freedom of the press means a continuation of the fierce advance-censorship whose chains are held by the Secretariat of a Central Committee whom nobody has elected.” (New York: Merit, 1965, p. 262)

Is Comrade Moreno unaware that 99 percent of Soviet and Chinese workers have no access to any printing press? Is he unaware that the mere fact of publishing a leaflet, not to mention a newspaper, to condemn an injustice done to some member of the proletariat, to condemn piecework, to demand implementation of the work safety rules or more equality of incomes, leads to arrest, being sentenced to forced labor for “anti-Soviet agitation,” or even internment in a mental hospital? Will he dare to claim that, from the standpoint of being able to defend their own class interest through the media, the Soviet and Chinese workers enjoy much more proletarian freedom than workers in countries where powerful proletarian organizations independent of the bourgeois state and bourgeoisie still exist? Does the possibility for Comrade Moreno’s freedom to publish his book in many languages – which is not a right granted by the imperialist bourgeoisie, but a gain won from the capitalist class by the tenacious struggle of millions of workers, at the cost of enormous sacrifices – exist in the USSR and the PR of China?

The proletariat in the bureaucratized workers states is keenly aware of its political expropriation by the totalitarian bureaucracy – let there be no mistake about that “Political expropriation” means loss of political rights and powers. It revolts against this expropriation. It is preparing to redress the situation by means of a political revolution. In trying to transform the Fourth International into a propaganda machine apologizing for the bureaucratic dictatorship, Comrade Moreno not only cuts it off from the proletariat of the bureaucratized workers states. Should he succeed – which is fortunately unlikely – he would end up with a deep division between the proletariat struggling for the socialist revolution and the proletariat struggling for the political revolution. On the contrary, the Fourth International’s position helps to maintain and strengthen the unity of the world proletariat, the unity of the worldwide workers struggle, which can only culminate in the exercise of power by democratically elected soviets in all countries.

Stalin and the Soviet bureaucracy put forward two fundamental theories to support the strengthening in practice of the repressive apparatus against the workers and peasants of their own country, which had nonetheless already “built socialism,” that is, to justify the maintenance and strengthening of the dictatorship of the bureaucracy. The first consisted of the imperialist encirclement and permanent threats of war. The second was the theory that “the class struggle sharpens” (implying that capitalist restoration becomes a major danger) as the building of socialism, and indeed communism, goes forward.

And now here is Comrade Moreno making flagrant concessions to these theories … while attributing them to Trotsky! According to him, not only is a counter-revolutionary war of intervention by imperialism inevitable in each case of victory for the revolution, but it is also necessary to conclude that this danger increases as the victorious revolution is extended internationally, as the number of workers states increases.

We are obviously dealing with an enormous underestimation of the possibilities for solidarity and international extension provided by victorious socialist revolutions and a colossal overestimation of the degree of control that the imperialist bourgeoisie has over the population of its own country. Comrade Moreno seems to have learned nothing from the antiwar movement in the United States, or from the political consequences that it entailed. He does not understand the tremendous appeal that a genuinely internationalist revolutionary leadership heading a workers state in an industrialized country would have for the world proletariat. At bottom he is skeptical about the world revolution.

Yet Comrade Trotsky had explicitly stated the opposite:

“If the Spanish revolution had been victorious, it would have given a strong impetus to the revolutionary movement in France and other countries. In that case, we could have confidently hoped that the victorious socialist movement would succeed in preventing the imperialist war by making it pointless, futile.” (Translated into English from the French manuscript of this document, with reference: Trotsky, La Révolution Espagnole, Editions de Minuit 1975, p. 338)

“By anticipation it is possible to establish the following law: The more countries in which the capitalist system is broken, the weaker will be the resistance offered by the ruling classes in other countries, the less sharp a character the socialist revolution will assume, the less violent forms the proletarian dictatorship will have, the shorter it will be …

“Socialism would have no value if it should not bring with it, not only the juridical inviolability but also the full safeguarding of all the interests of the human personality. Mankind would not tolerate a totalitarian abomination of the Kremlin pattern.” (Writings of Leon Trotsky 1939–40, New York: Pathfinder Press, 1973, pp. 155–56)

Comrade Moreno quotes from the latter text by Trotsky (while omitting the final passage). Since then, however, the number of countries where capitalism has been smashed has increased from 1 to 16. The USec resolution is centered on the hypothesis that this figure will further increase in the not-too-distant future, and will include for the first time some countries with a proletariat qualitatively more powerful than that of the USSR in 1917, China in 1949, or Cuba in 1960. But even while quoting this text, Comrade Moreno has the nerve to draw an opposite conclusion from Trotsky’s: longer civil wars; a harsher and more violent dictatorship; nothing but snickers about juridical inviolability; inevitability of imperialist wars of intervention on a large scale. Up to the present, Posadas had the dismal monopoly on this kind of “Trotskyism” (including that of the inevitable worldwide nuclear war). Isn’t our “new Lenin” more like a “new Posadas”?

To be sure, as long as imperialism survives in a major country, it will never resign itself to the existence of workers states. It will always strive to undermine their socio-economic structure. It will organize counter-revolutionary political subversion. It will continue to arm itself in an attempt to reintroduce the capitalist rule through military aggression. But there is an enormous difference between these historic goals of a social class in decline and what it can achieve in practice – determined, for instance, by the relationship of forces on a world scale, by the trends of worldwide revolution (and counter-revolution), and by the domestic situation in the imperialist countries themselves. Comrade Moreno breathes not a word about any of this. He reduces everything solely to the permanent military threat that imperialism brings to bear on the workers states. In doing so, he revises the Trotskyist theory that without a major defeat of the world proletariat, a worldwide nuclear war is, if not impossible, at least highly unlikely.

His approach to the economic side to the problem is even worse. It yields the following blunders:

“The danger of counter-revolution does not derive from restorationist sentiments, but from the domination (?) of the world economy by imperialism … We should have a terrible fear of the grave danger represented by the enormous right-wing bourgeois tendencies produced by economic development under the dictatorship of the proletariat in these conditions. It is a question of an inevitable (sic) process, of growing contradictions, even the existence of the national boundaries of the bureaucratized workers states, imperialism’s superiority in the world economy, and, up to the present, the relative backwardness of the workers states. This means that economic development produces strong capitalistic tendencies.” (pp. 63–63)

“Trotsky established the following law: the more the economy develops, the stronger the restorationist danger will be; imperialism will try to bring the workers states back into its orbit through trade, investments, and the black market. The Carter plan is in the process of doing so.” (p. 65)

Trotsky explained that the weak USSR of the 1920s that the weak USSR of the 1920s might be led toward capitalism precisely because of the development of the productive forces, if it remained isolated. He explained that Britain had more interdependence vis-à-vis the world market than India or a backward country. But Trotsky never drew the conclusion from this that there could be a “cold” restoration of capitalism solely through the medium of trade. (In that case, what would be the meaning of the formula “workers state, though degenerated” if this state did not oppose a restoration, if it did not first have to be overthrown by a social counter-revolution in order to restore capitalism?) Still less did Trotsky formulate the absurd theory that the more the economy develops, whatever the level that this development reaches, the greater is the danger of restoration.

In 1926, the USSR represented barely 5% of world production. In 1940, it already represented 15%. Was the restorationist danger greater in 1941 than in 1926? History has already answered that question. Despite the misdeeds of the Stalinist dictatorship, the much more powerful industry of the USSR was able to use more tanks, cannons, and planes against the Nazis than they themselves could produce. Moreover, Trotsky had predicted this. Therefore – and because of the fierce and heroic resistance of the Soviet proletariat once the barbaric character of fascism was understood, as well as the rise of the international revolution although limited and deformed – the USSR was able to win, not lose the war against Nazi imperialism.

Today all of the bureaucratized workers states already represent more than 35% of world industrial production. Can one seriously claim that the danger of capitalist restoration is stronger in these states than in 1919, 1927, 1932, or even 1941? What is the general direction of the evolution of the relationship of forces? Is imperialism stronger or weaker than it was in 1941? Stronger or weaker than in 1956? Should a greatly deteriorated relationship of forces for imperialism increase the danger of a restoration of capitalism in the USSR?

But our entire resolution is not concerned with a “stable” situation. It concerns the possibility of extending the proletarian revolution to key countries in the coming years. We read earlier what Trotsky wrote in 1933 about the consequences of a victory of the proletarian revolution in Germany at that time (and with the weak USSR of that time). Will Comrade Moreno seriously contend that victory of the proletarian revolution in France, Italy, Brazil, or indeed throughout capitalist Europe, “would increase the restorationist danger in the USSR as a function of the development of the productive forces”? In fact, each new victory of the revolution in an important country would bring us to the threshold of a situation where the capitalist economy would fall below 50% of worldwide industrial production, where it would even be outdone in the area of labor productivity with respect to a key number of goods sold on the world market. How could it maintain its “domination” in those conditions?

Comrade Moreno’s skepticism about the world revolution is equaled only by his skepticism about the political revolution, about the proletariat of the bureaucratized workers states, which nicely complements his skepticism about soviets. Comrade Moreno managed the feat of writing 249 pages on the topic of socialist democracy and the dictatorship of the proletariat without devoting more than a few lines to the political revolution. Where he sees the huge successes of the “Carter plan,” we see instead the enormous possibilities for political revolution, provided the Soviet proletariat overcomes its depoliticization. But precisely to that end, the creation of one or more “dictatorships of the proletariat” according to our “programmatic norms” would play a decisive role. This connection has obviously escaped our great dialectician.

En route, Comrade Moreno makes another sizable, ideological concession to the Stalinist bureaucracy, which has always claimed that in the debate between the advocates of “socialism in one country” and the supporters of the “theory of the permanent revolution” the latter wanted to subordinate the USSR’s industrial, economic, social, and cultural development to the needs of the world revolution. Comrade Moreno now upholds Stalin, by boldly stating that there will be two phases in the epoch of the dictatorship of the proletariat: an initial one, where everything must be subordinated to the struggle for world revolution, and a second, beginning only after the victory of the world revolution, when the building of socialism will merely begin.

This is a caricatural falsification of the theories of Trotsky and the Left Opposition, once again lifted straight out of the Stalinist textbooks. Comrade Moreno has forgotten that at the same time that Trotsky opposed the theory of socialism in one country, he advocated an accelerated and planned industrialization of the Soviet economy. Was this only for military purposes, or in order to advance on the road to socialism? Did the Stalin-Trotsky debate have to do with the need to begin the building of socialism in one country, or with the possibility of fully completing it? How can the workers state defend itself without strengthening the social and economic position of the proletariat? How would this be possible without advancing on the road to socialism? The dialectic between the strengthening of the weight of the proletariat domestically and internationally – and vice versa, its national and international defeats – remains a mystery for Comrade Moreno, as it was for the most naïve apologists for the bureaucracy (the more cynical ones were interested only in dachas, and in the monopoly of power guaranteeing the dachas, not in ideas).

The most serious conclusion – a true “objectivist” justification of the bureaucratic dictatorship – is that, due to imperialism’s survival, dictatorship, i.e., coercion, must increase in all the workers states, whether bureaucratized or not. According to Comrade Moreno, for the whole present historical stage, including the victorious revolutions in new countries, there is:

“a law that can be counteracted, but not annulled: throughout the entire present stage of the dictatorship of the proletariat, of the final showdown with imperialism, in which national boundaries will continue to exist, the strengthening of the workers dictatorship and the proletarian state is inevitable.” (p. 212 – our emphasis)

To dot the “i”s, Comrade Moreno adds:

“As a consequence (of imperialist domination on a world scale), the working class also suffers direct oppression, as the price of the need to defend the workers state … In this stage, the survival of bourgeois norms of distribution is linked to an oppression based on political, functional, reasons …” (p. 221)

Moreno is not making an apology for Stalinism, not he. He is only saying that even if there is a “revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat” and not a “bureaucratic dictatorship of the proletariat,” the oppression of the proletariat will continue, because it has objective roots… in the capitalist encirclement. Trotsky = Stalin: the theory is common among bourgeois, petty-bourgeois, and Social Democratic “Sovietologists.” Here comes an unforeseen ally to bolster their camp.

Is it really difficult to refute these absurdities? Why should the necessity of defending the USSR against the imperialist military threat imply an inevitable oppression of the proletariat? Because the proletariat must produce a surplus in order to maintain a powerful army? But even if we set aside political considerations – why was it not necessary to oppress the proletariat in 1918–19; why was it ready to sacrifice for the defense of the revolution without major coercion, although it was infinitely weaker and smaller than today? – the argument does not hold up from an economic or social standpoint. Because the strengthening of “bourgeois norms of distribution” (sic, p. 63), the strengthening of inequality, do not depend mainly on what is deducted from current production for military purposes, but on the scope of total production, on the scope of what remains available for distribution, and on the way in which it is distributed. The USSR today (not to mention a victorious revolution in Western Europe, or in countries like Brazil or Argentina) is ten times richer than in 1927 or 1933. Even with a very expensive regular army, the workers’ standard of living could be equal to that of Italian or British workers. The reason it is not is the wastefulness and privileges of the bureaucracy, not the capitalist encirclement. These privileges can be maintained only through a political monopoly, i.e., a dictatorship of the bureaucracy. Herein, and not in the “necessities of defending the state” or the survival of imperialism, lie 99% of the immediate causes of the oppression that Soviet workers suffer from and the growth in social inequality. By sweeping that oppression away, the political revolution will increase both the capacity of the workers state to defend itself against imperialism, and the wealth currently produced, which will permit a radical increase in equality. The continuing oppression and heightened inequality, by discrediting socialism, by demoralizing and depoliticizing the working class, undermine, in turn, this defense. Yet another aspect of the “dialectic” that our master dialectician has missed.

In the same vein is the theory that: “an unequal distribution that increases in equality as production increases is inevitable.” (p. 63)

This is nothing more or less than an “objectivist” justification of the inevitability of bureaucratic degeneration – even for future revolutions. For if inequality increases with the development of the productive forces, the number of police and their powers – that is, the power of the bureaucracy – will also increase.

Behind such logic there can only lie the Stalinist theory of the “ever-growing needs” of the toiling population, itself plagiarized from the defenders of capitalism who wanted to demonstrate the impossibility of socialism (the withering away of commercial exchange categories) through an ever-lasting scarcity.

Once this nonsense is rejected, there is no “economic logic” that makes inequality in the distribution of watches “inevitable” when their production has risen from 2 million to 30 million per year (as was the case in the USSR). The increase in inequality in the USSR under these conditions is by no means “inevitable”: it is attributable to the bureaucratic caste’s material interests. When that caste is eliminated by a political revolution, equality will be able to take giant strides forward.

It is now easier to understand the chain of arguments that seek to justify the real chains binding the Soviet proletariat. The capitalist encirclement is equated with the threat of counter-revolutionary wars, without taking into account the rise of the world revolution. A potential civil war is in turn equated with actual civil war, without taking into account either the social relationship of forces or the consolidation of the dictatorship of the proletariat. This completes the sleight of hand: coercion against a section, indeed a majority, of the proletariat is presented as inevitable during half a century, nay, a century. For the proletariat is much too “underdeveloped” to defend itself against its allegedly all-powerful enemies.

Nothing better displays Comrade Moreno’s skepticism about the Soviet proletariat (equal to that of the bureaucrats of the 1920s) than the passage where he describes the scenario for the possible restoration of capitalism in the USSR. We had written that it was unlikely that the workers, having taken over the factories, would return them to the capitalists under the influence of “counter-revolutionary propaganda.” “You think the capitalists are more stupid than they are,” Comrade Moreno answers. “They won’t raise the slogan, ‘Return the factories to the bosses!’ They will raise the slogan, ‘The factories to the workers!’ This means the destruction of state ownership, competition between workers’ cooperatives, which will bring us back to capitalism.” (p. 62)

We might think the bosses are more stupid than they are, but Comrade Moreno is decidedly taking the workers for imbeciles. “The factories to the workers” is a slogan that has already been heard. It was raised by the Yugoslav CP in 1950. At that time Stalin and the Stalinists stated, as Moreno does today, that it would lead to the re-establishment of capitalism. Thirty years of history belie that slander.

We have severely criticized and will continue to criticize the hybrid combination of workers self-management with “market socialism” on the one hand, and the one-party system (that is, the absence of political power wielded directly by the Yugoslav working class) on the other hand. But to believe that workers who have experienced a considerable expansion of their rights and powers within the factories – Yugoslavia is the only country in the world where the workers can fire the managers, rather than the managers the workers – will facilitate a restoration of capitalism rather than opposing it with greater lucidity than in the workers states where they are more oppressed, is really to seriously underestimate their class consciousness and intelligence!

It is because Comrade Moreno is skeptical, at bottom, about the capacity of the proletariat to defend its own gains and its state against imperialism that he devotes an entire chapter of his book to The Two Proletarian Dictatorships: the Bureaucratic-Reformist and the Revolutionary (p. 187), without a single mention of the fact that the former is the result of a political defeat of the proletariat, of the victory of a political counter-revolution. If within the capitalist encirclement, and regardless of the relationship of forces, regardless even of the victories of the world revolution, “objective conditions make oppression necessary,” then this political counter-revolution – that is, Stalinism – is only a variant or an “iron necessity,” that is, it is all one could hope to preserve, under the circumstances. A sorry “Trotskyism” indeed!

4. A Failure to Understand the Objective Function of Proletarian Democracy

At the root of all these revisions and serious errors of Comrade Moreno’s, there lies a fundamental theoretical weakness: a failure to understand the function, the objective role, of proletarian democracy in the class struggle, in the socialist revolution, and in the building of socialism.

Paradoxically, Comrade Moreno transfers to the proletariat what he began by defining as characteristic of the bourgeois conception of democracy: the difference between “democracy for the class” and “democracy for individuals.” Drive out instinct, and it returns with a vengeance. In reality, Comrade Moreno is putting forward a bourgeois conception of proletarian democracy.

“When we speak of working-class freedoms, we distinguish two levels: that of the working-class as a whole within society, and that of the workers as individuals within their class. These two levels are not the same; their relation is dialectical, and they are often in contradiction with one another.” (p. 68)

In reality, the connection between “freedom in society” and “freedom with the class” is structurally distinct for the bourgeoisie, and for the proletariat. Bourgeois individualism – and its conception of individual freedoms – is based on private property and competition (that is why it declines sharply in the epoch of monopoly capitalism). Equality between the buyer and seller of commodities is sufficient for the bourgeoisie because it more or less automatically reproduces the relations of production and exploitation on which the reign of capitalism is founded – except at times of very great crises, especially revolutionary crises. Beyond this, democracy among the bourgeoisie is supposed to arbitrate inter-bourgeois conflicts (that is, those arising from competition) and to crystallize the “common interest” of the bourgeoisie against its enemies (above all the proletariat, but earlier, against the nobility, and often against a foreign competitor).

The situation of the proletariat is entirely different. It begins from a state of atomization and dispersal which is reinforced and not eliminated by poverty, unemployment, and the laws of the market. To defend itself it must be able to organize: an individual worker counts for nothing against an individual boss. But the organization of the working class is never the automatic result of economic development. It requires a conscious effort. Thus, freedom of organization, the most elementary of working-class freedoms against the class enemy, has as a precondition freedom of association among workers; one cannot exist without the other (otherwise, the fascist trade union with 100% membership would be the best instrument for the class struggle).

On the way to establishing unity – not to mention the achievement of class consciousness – the working class not only has to overcome the atomization caused by poverty, unemployment, and competition. It must also overcome variations in interest, attitude, tradition – and in the last analysis, its different levels of consciousness are at least partly determined by these variations – between different sectors of the working class: skilled and unskilled; trades having a long skilled tradition (printing) and trades that have become skilled more recently; pioneers and latecomers in the area of trade-union organization; residents of big proletarian concentrations and recent arrivals the countryside; “native-born” and immigrants; men and women; adults and youth, etc., etc.

We therefore understand that the real contradiction is not between the “freedom of the class against big business” and the “individual freedom of members of the class,” but the conflict between the class interest taken as a whole and the interests of certain sectors (which is even truer on a world scale than it is in each country taken separately). And we understand that a free association of these different sectors of the working class is an absolute precondition for the effective winning of class unity.

If any sector, even a majority, tried to impose any coercion on large sectors (the question of imposing discipline on individuals has nothing to do with this), the only result would be that these sectors would perpetuate the division of the working class, would make real unification of it impossible, not to mention unification within stable and consolidated organizations. The result would be a general weakening of the working class vis-à-vis the class enemy. Far from being a “luxury” subordinated to the “needs of the class struggle,” proletarian democracy is an indispensable precondition to achieving greater effectiveness in the class struggle.

What is true from the standpoint of mere organizational unity of the working class against the bourgeoisie is all the more so from the standpoint of working out tactics, strategies, and effective methods and forms of struggle against the capitalists. The working class does not have innate scientific knowledge. Unfortunately, it won’t be gotten from Comrade Moreno, with his pro-bureaucratic revisionism. The revolutionary Marxist method and program are an enormous contribution. But they don’t have a ready-made answer for everything, otherwise a parrot would be the best Marxist and the best revolutionary.

Moreover, the assimilation of the revolutionary Marxist method and program by thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, nay millions, of wage-earners is an extremely difficult and complex process, determined not only by the heterogeneity of the working class and the profusion of currents and ideological traditions that have marked its awakening and its organizational tradition in different countries, but also by the discontinuity in activity (and therefore in experience) of different layers of the proletariat.

Again, any attempt to impose the “correct line” through hierarchical channels, administrative decision, or coercion can only lead to freezing the ideological, political, and organizational divisions and fragmentations, that is, to weakening the proletariat in the face of the bourgeoisie.

The matter is further complicated by the appearance within the workers movement of a privileged workers bureaucracy, acting as a transmission belt for bourgeois ideological influences, materially interested, to different degrees, in maintaining the social status quo, as a function of its very material privileges. Almost all the mass organizations are headed by such a bureaucracy, as are the bureaucratized workers states.

Now, Comrade Moreno admits that these bureaucracies are “corrupt and counter-revolutionary.” (p. 184) To say that they are “corrupt and counter-revolutionary” implies that they have a tendency to betray most struggles initiated by the bulk of their members, let alone those of the proletariat as a whole. Yet, to challenge the power of these bureaucracies and dislodge them from their leadership positions, proletarian democracy is essential. Thus, it is indispensable to make the existing proletarian organizations – including the existing workers states, and the armies of these states – into effective instruments of struggle against capitalism and imperialism. It is precisely this standpoint that has completely disappeared from Comrade Moreno’s argument.

What is true in the process of the current class struggle and of the world socialist revolution applies in the same way to the process of building socialism, or, if you will, to the administration of the economy, the state, and all the other social spheres under the dictatorship of the proletariat. If some Bible existed in which ready-made answers could be found to all questions concerning the choices to be made at each moment, internationally and nationally, in all these different areas, this might not be the case. But such a Bible doesn’t exist and, with all due respect, neither Comrade Moreno nor his faction are about to write one.

Under the circumstances there are only two possibilities: either some minority – whether “bureaucratic” or “revolutionary” usurps the right to make these choices in place of the proletariat as a whole. We don’t say that this is “immoral,” “too harsh,” “not in accordance with our nice norms.” We say that it is ineffective, that it weakens the proletariat and its dictatorship vis-à-vis the class enemy, that it increases the magnitude of errors, wastefulness, costs, and useless sacrifices imposed on the proletariat and its allies, that it delays the final victory over the enemy and hampers the building of socialism. Once more, proletarian democracy is a precondition for an effective class struggle against the bourgeoisie and imperialism, for an effective struggle to build socialism.

We thus abide entirely by the “prehistoric definition” (Moreno dixit, pp. 181–82) that dictatorship of the proletariat equals proletarian democracy, not, we repeat, because it corresponds to our “norms,” but for reasons of effectiveness. If Comrade Moreno disagrees, he should prove the contrary, not simply state it on the basis of historical experience (p. 211), which is precisely the experience of the ruling bureaucracies (unless the revisionism is pushed to the point of proclaiming the bureaucratization of any workers organization and workers states as inevitable). When he states (pp. 107, 182) that Trotsky later revised that definition, he is not telling the truth. Here is what Trotsky wrote eighteen years after the October revolution on this question:

“Far worse, however, is the following idea: ‘This dictatorship of the proletariat… must be loosened and progressively transformed into proletarian democracy as socialist construction goes forward.’ Two profound principled errors are contained in these few lines. They counterpose the dictatorship of the proletariat to proletarian democracy. But the dictatorship of the proletariat, by its very essence, can and must be the highest flowering of socialist democracy. To carry out a great social revolution, the proletariat needs the highest concentration of all its forces and all its capacities. It is precisely in order to overcome its enemies that it is organized democratically. The dictatorship, according to Lenin, must ‘teach every cook to lead the state.’ The sword of the dictatorship is aimed at the class enemies: the basis of the dictatorship consists of proletarian democracy.” (Translated from the French manuscript of this document with reference: L. Trotsky, Encore Une Fois Ou Va la France?, 3/28/1935, in Oeuvres 5, pp. 206–7 – emphasis added. [Also, with a slightly different translation, see Leon Trotsky, Whither France (New York: Merit Publishers, 1968), pp. 109–110])

Comrade Moreno pushes confusion to the point of writing: “The Chinese proletariat also needs formal liberties such as freedom of the press, opinion, and assembly” (p. 74).

Marxists call these freedoms “formal” under capitalism because of the existence of private property, bourgeois domination, and the huge economic and social inequality, which means that a millionaire has one hundred thousand times more opportunities to really exercise the “freedom” to publish a newspaper than an individual worker (freedom of the press is not entirely formal under capitalism, because then thousand or a hundred thousand workers together can buy printshops and publish big newspapers, as long as that real freedom is not taken away from them by a more brutal system of bourgeois dictatorship).

But in the P.R. of China, private ownership, including of printshops and meeting halls, has been abolished. In fact, the Chinese proletariat must conquer – through political revolution and on the road thereto – the real, and not formal, freedom to freely express its opinion on all the big questions of international, economic, social, and cultural policy, etc. Far from being “formal” or “second-rate,” that freedom is a precondition for a more effective administration of the Chinese workers state against its internal and external enemies. It is an essential condition for consolidating the dictatorship of the proletariat in China.

Once again, Comrade Moreno may believe the contrary. But then he should prove it. He hardly does so in his book. It is his major weakness, along with the systematic use of slanderous falsifications of the positions against which he polemicizes.

We base our argument on two examples. Comrade Moreno likes to refer to the trade unions. But the essential connection between trade-union freedom against the bosses and freedom for the “individual members of the trade union” is not at all on the level where Comrade Moreno seeks to place it, among strikebreakers and infiltrated individual agents of the bosses.

If a balance sheet is made of the big strikes worldwide – and not just in Western Europe! – for the last sixty years, we will easily find that for one strike lost owing to the action of unorganized “strikebreakers” or “bosses’ infiltration,” there have been one hundred strikes either lost, diverted from their initial goals, or prevented from broadening out and using the potential working-class militancy to the fullest on account of the trade-union bureaucracy. The worst strikebreakers, in a historical sense, are the bureaucratic leaders themselves. But it is impossible to fight them effectively without the conquest and most jealous defense of the broadest democracy within the trade union, and the broadest proletarian democracy in the factories. Compared to this primary task, putting a stop to unorganized, individual, or occasional strikebreakers is absolutely secondary. All organized workers with the least bit of experience know perfectly well how to overcome this problem without the slightest restriction on proletarian democracy.

We have just witnessed a massive and significant spectacle with Pope John Paul II’s tour of Poland. Let us leave aside the agreement obviously made in advance between the Polish bureaucracy and the Vatican, and the interest that the bureaucracy has in directing political opposition toward Catholic channels rather than socialist and communist oppositional channels. Let us also leave aside the national and cultural features of Poland, which partly – but only partly – explain why the ideological influence of the Catholic religion and clergy persisted more strongly in this country than in any other country of Eastern Europe.

The fact remains that, thirty years after the overthrow of capitalism in that country, and, to use Comrade Moreno’s language, after the establishment of the “bureaucratic dictatorship of the proletariat,” millions of people (workers, peasants, intellectuals, youth) turned out for the Catholic church, in a mobilization whose political aspect could not have eluded anyone. We ask Comrade Moreno: what is the fundamental cause of this sad phenomenon? The capitalist encirclement? The Carter offensive? We do not believe that they account for 10% of the scope of this phenomenon. We believe it is fundamentally owing to the demoralizing effects, both objective and subjective, of the bureaucratic dictatorship.

If the bureaucracy had not handed the clergy the gift of being the only legal semi-oppositional organization; if it had not systematically substituted the formation of a chauvinist and nationalist mentality, traditionally embodied in the clergy, for an emphasis on the class struggle in pre-1939 Poland; if it had not banned the traditional parties and currents of the proletariat and petty bourgeoisie (many of which were and have remained strongly anticlerical); if it had not banned strikes and allowed the clergy to appear as the only legal force defending penalized strikers; if it had permitted a democratic and intense political life, including a legal Catholic party, which would then have been compelled to take a stand on all social questions – and some of its positions, as in regard to abortion, the management of enterprises, and the establishment of food prices, would have been very unpopular among working men and women, we may be sure – then we do not say that the influence of the Catholic church would have disappeared in Poland, but we are convinced that it would have been qualitatively less than it is today.

Again, Comrade Moreno may disagree with these two opinions. But he must demonstrate, not categorically state, the theory that restrictions on socialist democracy are inevitable owing to the “capitalist encirclement” or the “infiltration of the class enemy.” The bureaucracy gladly identifies itself with the organization (and where capitalism has been overthrown, with the state). It considers in principle that all who criticize it, who question its management, who demand that there be a stop to its arbitrary power (including, and especially, its arbitrary judicial power) and its wastefulness, “objectively” work for the enemy, if they are not “enemy agents.” Does Comrade Moreno approve of this reasoning? If not, then what is the point of all his tirades about the necessary restrictions on socialist, i.e., proletarian, democracy, as a result of the “objective difficulties”? Why does he reject the identity between dictatorship of the proletariat and proletarian democracy, which comes straight from Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky?

5. The Political Substance of the Debate

But while Comrade Moreno’s ideas are more systematically dangerous and revisionist than one may think at first sight, their political function is different from what their author states (whether or not he is conscious of this function is of lesser importance).

In reality, the debate is not between supporters of a “revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat” and of a “soft dictatorship of the proletariat,” nay, “semireformist.” The debate is focused on a very different issue.

For the authors of the resolution Socialist Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, this resolution has a precise function: to facilitate the victory of the proletarian revolution, that is, the establishment of real (albeit “soft,” according to Comrade Moreno’s dogmas) soviet power in a number of key countries of the world, in the coming years. We have an iron faith in this possibility, not only in capitalist Europe, but in some bureaucratized workers states and some major semi-industrialized semi-colonial countries.

Our entire approach is based on this perspective and function. We base ourselves on the real experience, not of civil wars in backward countries, but of proletarian revolutions (that is, those “carried” by the urban proletariat, including the beginnings of political revolution as in Hungary and Czechoslovakia) which actually took place in the last sixty years. And we note that not a single one of these revolutions failed on the issue of “hardness,” or “party pluralism,” or “rejection of violence,” but on the issues that we discuss in great detail in the USec resolution.

If the majority of the proletariat can be won to these conceptions, the next proletarian revolutions will win; the bourgeois state will be destroyed; soviet power will triumph. If it is not won to this program – by a revolutionary party and a revolutionary International, of course – then the revolutions will be defeated as in Germany, Spain, and Chile.

Comrade Moreno approaches this problem in a diametrically opposite way. For him, the causes of the defeats of past proletarian revolutions were objective, not subjective. They do not lie in the treacherous policy of the leaderships, in retaining hegemony within the proletariat, or in the insufficient level of proletarian class consciousness, or in the failure to understand the necessity of smashing the bourgeois state. They lie in the role of a “labor aristocracy on a world scale” played by the proletariat of industrialized countries. As long as there has been no catastrophic worsening of the living conditions of this proletariat, it will be impossible to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat in these countries.

Are we exaggerating? Judge for yourself:

“… capitalism in its highest stage, that of imperialism, has succeeded in aristocratizing large sectors of the working class in the imperialist countries and in maintaining a strong middle class there … This division in the workers’ ranks is the social cause of all the other phenomena.” (p. 218 – our emphasis)

However, this “aristocratized” working class has risen up more than once in great anticapitalist battles: the German and Austrian revolutionary battles in 1918–19, 1920, 1923, 1927; the obviously anti-capitalist strikes in Italy in 1919, 1920, 1945–48, 1969; the general strike in Britain in 1926; the French general strikes in 1936 and 1968; the Spanish revolution of 1934–37, and the revolutionary upsurge (including political general strikes on the regional level) in 1975–76; the Portuguese revolution of 1974–75, and the list goes on. We have always believed, that despite its “aristocratic corruption,” the proletariat of these countries had demonstrated on these occasions its instinctive tendency to reorganize society on a socialist basis, and that only the subjective factor (the betrayal of the bureaucratic apparatuses, the weakness of the revolutionary leadership, the inadequacy of its level of consciousness) had prevented the victory of these revolutions. This is the meaning of the Transitional Program’s formula: “The historical crisis of humankind is reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership.”

Comrade Moreno now says: No, the working class of the imperialist countries is itself to blame. It is corrupted by imperialism and does not want a revolution. “The existence of imperialism means that the entire dynamic of the world revolution has changed” (p. 220). And this dynamic will not return to the “right course” unless the living conditions of the Western proletariat deteriorate in a catastrophic way:

“As long as the European workers are not struck by a brutal economic crisis, unemployment, 100% to 150% yearly inflation, the appearance of fascist gangs, and Bonapartist and fascist coups, bourgeois-democratic illusions will not be shattered. No one, nothing will be able to destroy them.” (pp. 92–93)

This is a drastic change in the position that Comrade Moreno and his Bolshevik Tendency set forth barely two years ago, in its first platform, focused on the imminence of the proletarian revolution in Europe, at a time when there was neither stark poverty, a 100% to 150% inflation rate, nor Bonapartist or fascist coups. But Comrade Moreno has accustomed us to this kind of impressionist 180-degree turnabouts in the space of a few years: first, against concentration on work within the mass Peronist movement, then total entryism within that movement; first, for unconditional obedience to the guerrilla commandos, then violent attacks on “guerrillaism,” which should be dragged before “people’s tribunals”: first, support to the counter-revolutionary offensive of Màrio Soares in Portugal in May–June 1975, then a violent attack on that offensive (followed by a call for a Soares government without specifying either program or a united front with the PCP!). We can bet a few spectacular events will suffice for Comrade Moreno to again change his position on the chances of proletarian revolution in Europe.

But let us retain the coherence of his present position. Given the strength of the European workers movement; given the working class’s capacity for resistance; given that the employers’ offensive has won only a few percentage points of gains over several years (rapidly neutralized by working-class counter-offensives); given the competitive position of European imperialists on the world market; given the successive waves of multifaceted social and political crises, it is obvious that the “objective preconditions” for the European proletariat to become “ripe” for the dictatorship of the proletariat will require one or more decades.

Until then, no dictatorship of the proletariat is on the agenda.

And Comrade Moreno does not hesitate to speculate about what will happen “if the world revolution does not advance or if it advances objectively by national victories that remain frozen within national boundaries”. (p. 213) This was “the tendency of the last sixty years.” Prudently, Comrade Moreno does not comment of the future tendency. But implicitly, he continues to believe that imperialism will continue to dominate in all its strongholds (p. 220) in the coming decades, which means that the proletarian revolution is impossible for objective reasons in the imperialist countries.

In other words: For Comrade Moreno the entire discussion at present is not intended to arm the Fourth International for a real political struggle now under way or about to begin in a relatively foreseeable future. It is merely intended to keep the program intact while waiting for better days. This is the “refrigerationist” conception of the program as opposed to a functional conception of it (with refrigeration, moreover, producing a good deal of revisionist rot, as we have shown).

Let us imagine the meeting of, let’s say, the coordinating body of the Setúbal workers commissions in 1975 (the closest point to a pre-soviet type organization reached by the Portuguese revolution). Comrade Moreno solemnly rises and states: Comrades, we must fight for the revolutionary and violent dictatorship of the proletariat. But, please, without any illusions. As soon as you have won it, West German paratroopers, the Spanish army, the American expeditionary corps, or an expeditionary corps of the Warsaw Pact armies will attack you. You must prepare for years of civil war and international war, millions of deaths, unbounded sacrifices and poverty, worse than those of the Russians, the Chinese, and the Vietnamese.” Muted applause (and snickers) from the Social Democrats and Stalinists. The outcome of the vote is determined in advance (it is true that Comrade Moreno cares little for votes, which are phenomena typical of “petty-bourgeois individualism” and “bourgeois-democratic illusions” in a revolutionary period).

In fact, during all the proletarian revolutions that have occurred up to now, the impossibility of avoiding bloody counter-revolutionary wars through international solidarity and the extension of the revolution was the main argument of the reformist opponents of the seizure of power by the proletariat and the dictatorship of the proletariat. It was the main argument of the Mensheviks in Russia before October. It was the main argument used by the German Social Democracy in 1918–19. It was the main argument used by the Spanish Socialists and Stalinists (not without some help from the Anarchist leaders) in 1936–37. Comrade Moreno finds himself in very strange company, to say the least.

This is why his accusation against us of making concessions to the “democratic prejudices” of the European proletariat (or rather, to the more and more clear rise in anti-bureaucratic consciousness on the part of the proletariat in all the big industrial centers of the world, whether in Barcelona, or Turin, Detroit or San Francisco, Córdoba or Sâo Paulo, Osaka or Bombay, Prague or Leningrad) seems more like a compliment to us. All the same, for a revolutionist, it is better to lead a proletarian revolution to victory and to the establishment of a dictatorship of the proletariat, albeit at the price of “concessions to the democratic prejudices of the workers,” than to remain skeptical about the possibility of revolution, about the revolutionary potential of the proletariat, and the power of the soviets, to be satisfied with defending “programmatic purity” under capitalism, and to make one small further contribution to the defeat of possible revolutions.

June 15, 1979

Last updated on 11.6.2011