From Fourth International, vol.6 No.3, March 1945, pp.74-77.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
We are printing the following article as a contribution to the Fourth International discussion of the question of the Soviet Union and the Stalinist bureaucracy. – Ed.
For the Fourth International the defense of the Soviet Union has always been a task subordinated to the strategic objective of the proletariat: the international socialist revolution. In no case could the interests of the latter be overlooked or put to one side in order to give preference to the defense of the USSR. Any revolutionary gain, even a partial one, was considered to be of greater positive aid in defense of the October revolution than mere military victory of the state founded by it. In the capitalist countries allied with the Soviet Union the revolutionary struggle must continue having as its aim the transformation of the imperialist war into civil war, in accordance with the Leninist method of revolutionary defeatism. Only within the Soviet Union did the struggle against the Bonapartist bureaucracy cede primacy to the necessities of military defense of the country. The Fourth International never advocated, we repeat, abandoning political opposition to the bureaucracy in general and its reactionary methods of war in particular. On the contrary, political opposition was considered a guarantee of military victory insofar as it succeeded in lessening bureaucratic totalitarianism or even its complete defeat during the war itself, a possibility not excluded from the theoretical thought of the Fourth International. But political opposition to the bureaucracy or its defeat was subordinated to the supreme interests of military defense. Revolutionaries of the USSR were advised to carry out any struggle that would not affect the conduct of the war. If furthering workers’ demands against the bureaucracy developed into contradiction with the interests of the military struggle against the imperialist enemy, the workers’ demands ceded priority to the military interests.
This attitude flowed, first from the defeat of the world revolution, secondly, from the inherent contradiction in the Stalinized soviet system. This attitude, counterposing proletarian democracy and planning to bureaucracy and totalitarianism, furthered the conflict between these factors, and consequently the possibility of saving the remains of the 1917 revolution by means of military defense of that state, which is based on the conquests of 1917.
In effect, the successive defeats of the international proletariat beginning with the German revolution (1919-1923), then the Chinese (1926-1927) and again the German (1930-1933), to the tragic defeat of the Spanish revolution (1931-1939), reduced the world revolution in its aggregate to what remained of the Bolshevik revolution in the Soviet Union; nationalized economy plus the monopoly of foreign trade. These two elements have been directed by the Stalinist bureaucracy. In essence voracious and counter-revolutionary, its development burdened the USSR with the cost of exorbitant privileges in its favor besides the unleashing of dictatorial high-handedness. Up to a certain limit industrial growth on the basis of planning was compatible with the growth of the bureaucracy and the increast of its privileges, although at the cost of the standard of living of the great mass of workers. But only to a determined limit. The extension of privileges and bureaucratic arbitrariness headed toward the rupture of planning. And inversely the prolongation of planning created indispensable objective condi tions for the destruction of the bureaucracy.
When throughout the world the socialist revolution seemed to have disappeared in an abyss, the defense of Soviet planned economy internally represented the only lever at the command oi the poor masses against the bureaucracy. Externally, it granted time to the world proletariat, principally the European, to react, to recover from its defeats and to place again on the order of the day the struggle for the proletarian revolution. Our defense of the USSR had that double aim, internal and external, converging towards the single aim of the world revolution. Whoever was incapable of thus regarding the international panorama and subordinating his actions to it, calling for defeatism in the Soviet Union similar to that legitimate in capitalist countries, threw out the window the most important material basis for struggle against the bureaucracy.
In brief, the unconditional defense of the Soviet Union always stood for the Fourth International as a factor that would permit the unfolding of the struggle against the Bonapartist bureaucracy, up to its defeat and the reestablishment of Soviet democracy. But neither directly nor by deduction could the idea be attributed to it that the simple military triumph of the USSR would bear within itself automatic revolutionary political consequences. No, military defense under the conditions imposed by Stalinist Bonapartism was a sort of forced pause bequeathed to us by the catastrophic outcome of the international class struggle during the years previous to the war. In this period the task was to resolve the internal contradiction of Soviet society and to renew the revolutionary activity of the world proletariat. Thus the defense of the Soviet Union carried with it the ineluctable exacerbation of the opposition between the planned economy and proletarian democracy on the one hand and the bureaucracy and Bonapartist despotism on the other. Military victory did not assure the survival – still less the development – of the remains of the October Revolution; it assured more favorable conditions by which the Soviet proletariat could overthrow the bureaucracy. By itself, the defense of the USSR, as conceived by the Fourth International only leads to the denouement of the prolonged internal struggle between the revolution and the counter revolution.
What relation is there between the ideas of the Fourth International as they were enunciated before Hitler’s attack on the USSR and the material evolution we see before us today? The proletarian revolution, principally in Europe, no longer appears buried beneath the triumphs of the bourgeois counter-revolution. The masses are stirring, are recuperating their energy, are profoundly agitated and again and again take the road of great revolutionary offensives. The European revolutionary movements cannot fail to have a favorable repercussion on the Soviet proletariat despite all the efforts of Stalinist lies and censorship to isolate it from the rest of the world. In all the calculations of proletarian politics, including those of the USSR, it is necessary to take into account this new extremely important factor. Great revolutionary movements, whose outbreak cannot be doubted, are elements of support in defense of the planned economy, incomparably better than the military struggle directed by the Bonapartist bureaucracy.
Internally, the antagonism between the proletariat and the bureaucracy or, put in another way, between the necessities of economic planning and the arbitrariness of its bureaucratic directors, could not fail to have been accentuated to the breaking point during the war. The absence of abundant and precise data should not lead us to error. The war has permitted the bureaucracy to intensify its political and economic domination. Today it is closer than yesterday to converting itself into a new propertied class; not into a new class different from those already well known, but into a new bourgeoisie. Only the existence of nationalized and planned economy impedes this. But the necessities of self-preservation impel the bureaucracy inevitably to break with and annul both. What point has been reached in this process of dissociation – from which must emerge, either the political revolution that will restore the proletarian power or the return to capitalism on the basis of the bureaucracy? This is the decisive question, the cornerstone on which our policy with respect to the USSR must be based.
Until the end of the second Five-Year-Plan, the planning directed by the bureaucracy continued to show a favorable balance for the economic progress of the country. Only some branches of industry declined or remained at previous levels. In 1939, the same year as the declaration of war, the retrocession of planning was general according to studies based on Soviet statistics by the “Societe d’etudes et d’ Information Economique” of Paris.
In the rural areas, the bureaucratic methods and the rapa-ciousness of the bureaucrats in particular had given rise to a great increase in individual ownership at the expense of collectivized land. Both phenomena flowed from the same cause. Groups of bureaucrats placed at the head of the various industries and of agriculture conducted themselves as real saboteurs of planning. Their privileges and abuses rupture its unity. And the high bureaucracy of the Kremlin, whose most solid support is in the privileges and abuses that it permits the bureaucracy in general, cannot help but strengthen the tendencies that rupture planning; this is demanded for its salvation. The measures, which in the course of its existence, it has been obliged to take against certain abuses of isolated bureaucrats constituted deceptive examples in the midst of the constant multiplication of new and graver bureaucratic abuses. Even in the middle of 1939 the Kremlin tried to restrict the robbery of lands carried out against the kolkhozes by the bureaucrats and the rich farmers. But in the beginning of 1940 it abruptly decreed toleration of speculative capitalist tendencies to the point of conceding to the decision of the kolkhozes the amount and quality of crops to be sowed. The kolkhozes as arbiters necessarily means the arbitrary rule of the bureaucrats and the rich kolkhoz peasants. Planning, instead of extending, disintegrates. In industry, since the last five year plan, no new plan of production has been elaborated – an unmistakable sign of the disintegration of industrial planning.
There is nothing surprising about this. The privileges of the Stalinist functionaries and their differentiation from the working masses have reached the stage where the rupture of planning represents for the bureaucracy as a whole a requirement for its functioning. The plan has become converted into an insupportable discipline for the entire hierarchical strata of economic and political directors. From the chiefs of small divisions up to factory directors and presidents of the kolkhozes, without mentioning their numerous fellow-participants in privileges, they have already reached the limit of advantages compatible with planning. Having exhausted the incentive of differentiation which the plan offered them, there remains for them only the achievement of total independence, the rupture of planning. From the viewpoint of the bureaucratic interests, the rupture of planning will appear as a necessity and as progress in economic functioning. A system based on privileges bears as its law their culmination. In this culmination the director of a factory or the group of directors of trusts sees the greatest incentive for his own work and a guarantee for better management of the workers.
Stalinist despotism has gained its strength and its durability as a governing political element from its character as “arbiter” and beneficiary of the class contradictions existing in the USSR. Standing between the opposition of the left and the capitalist tendencies of Nepmen and Kulaks, it defeated the former by basing itself on the latter. Menaced in turn by the economic vigor of the latter, it found itself obliged to combat them by placing in the forefront the industrialization, advocated by the [Trotskyist] Opposition, extending still more its own bureaucratic base and creating a powerful worker’s aristocracy. In this way the danger of bourgeois restoration proceeding from pre-October capitalist elements was defeated. But at the same time that the old capitalist classes disappeared as a factor for consideration the social antagonisms grew on the soil of planned economy. Stalinism, in its capacity as director of the state, continued performing the function of arbiter, but an arbiter more and more partial to the privileged strata. It did not reduce the economic distances which separated the social poles; it augmented them completing at the same time their material fusion with the more privileged and reactionary strata. From a partial arbiter it itself became integrated as one of the parts.
It is the inescapable fate of Bonapartism. Relative independence from the antagonistic elements, the foundation of its rule, is by its very nature provisional. It resolves itself necessarily into partiality and complete dependence on the privileged, or it is destroyed before completing its course. The particular destiny of Stalinist Bonapartism is determined by the pressure of the bureaucracy to which it owes its life. Since nothing is static but on the contrary everything is in motion, in the process of disintegration or completion, the bureaucratic privileges, dragging Stalinism along with them, seek completion, converting themselves from “an abuse into a rule” (L.D. Trotsky), that is to say, from an extra-legal and abusive possession into a legal property right. And the maximum legal privilege is private property in the means of production. If on the basis of capitalist society Bonapartism was a political phenomenon destined to create the conditions of direct rule by the capitalist, on the basis of planned economy Bonapartism is converted into the active creator of economic and political elements favoring restoration of private property. With the possibilities for its labor circumscribed as much by the internal contradictions as by the world duel between capitalism and socialism, the moment in which they confront each other decisively on a world scale for a long epoch must correspond exactly with the moment of the condensation of Bonapartism into capitalism or, with that of its destruction. The world correlation of forces will provide the decisive impulse in one or the other direction. We arrive at this precise point with the end of the present imperialist war.
Based on this analysis, it is our firm conviction that Stalinist Bonapartism today must be consciously and necessarily restorationist. As such, it must be judged and combatted. It no longer reflects even a minute part of the interests of planned economy; it reflects interests impatient to rupture it ... plus the difficulties which they encounter in consummating this rupture. Revolutionary policy must orient itself on the certainty that, as a consequence of the present war, the bureaucracy will emerge as a capitalist class or be destroyed by a new revolutionary offensive of the Soviet and world proletariat. And at this point the mechanism of the objective forces cedes preeminence to the mechanism of the subjective forces. In other words, the immediate fate of planning no longer depends on the connection that the Stalinist bureaucracy has with it, but rather on the capacity of the proletariat to destroy this bureaucracy and continue the planning on socialist bases. Either the socialist objective of planning finds its continuity in a new subjective governing element, (renewal of the dictatorship of the proletariat) or the reactionary objective of the bureaucracy will be completed in the capitalist consciousness of a new class emerging from the bureaucracy itself. We are at this point now; it is merely a question of helping one or the other factor.
Politically the bureaucracy has already completed its cycle of reactionary evolution. No further step remains for it except legalization of its situation, converting itself into a class. The few measures taken during the war that we know about, fully confirm this appreciation. The creation of a praetorian privileged group within the army – already privileged with respect to the rest of the population – reveals the accentuation of bureaucratic differentiation and the extreme sharpening of the social contradictions. The latest constitutional reform announces a double danger; that of incorporation into the Soviet Union of territories in which property is to be respected; or simply covered up with apparent measures of regulation or expropriation; and that of military autonomy promising a greater disintegration, if not the definitive rupture of the planned economy. In brief, the most moderate calculation authorizes us to conclude that the Soviet Union has now arrived at its decisive crisis just as the war approaches its end, and when already in all Europe we see a mounting powerful revolutionary wave.
In our opinion, this makes a change in the tactic of the Fourth International indispensable in respect to the defense of the USSR. As the denouement approaches, the bureaucracy converts itself from the overseer forced to protect planned economy into its principal menace. On the other hand, as the coming revolutionary outbreaks in Europe come nearer and nearer, one can and must count on them as the weight that will contribute to tipping the scale in favor of the Soviet proletariat. The main and more immediate danger to the remains of the October revolution no longer comes from external imperialism but rather from the Stalinist government itself. Anglo-American imperialism will work in collaboration with the bureaucracy in order to reestablish private property, or at any rate will seek to support itself in one group of bureaucrats as against another. The military guardian of planned state property, which the Stalinist bureaucracy was in relation to world imperialism, has been converted into the thief of this same property. Planning is menaced by the bourgeois enemy and by the bureaucratic enemy, but the latter emerges as the spearhead of the threat. The complex of our unconditional defense of the USSR is reduced to one of its factors. The culmination of the period allowed for the internal contradiction to resolve itself into capitalist restoration or political revolution, coincides with that allowed for the defeat of the world proletariat to be transformed into a new revolutionary offensive. It is impossible to carry out a correct policy toward the USSR without taking into account the presence of these two new factors. Our slogan of unconditional defense at this moment has achieved its objective, that of preventing bourgeois restoration via the imperialist road. The European revolution knocks at the door; the decisive clash between the socialist tendencies of the economy and the Soviet proletariat on the one hand and the capitalist tendencies of the bureaucracy on the other, is also at the door. The immediate defense is no longer military but political; the real defense of the planned economy has been displaced from the battle front to the internal and external class struggle. It is well understood that the imperialist enemy has not ceased to exist. But while at the beginning of the war it was considered the most important enemy and the struggle against the bureaucracy ceded preeminence before the military struggle against the bourgeoisie, at present the terms must be inverted. The struggle against the bureaucracy must occupy first place in the activity of the Bolshevik-Leninists within the Soviet Union. The same viewpoint must be employed toward the problem of the USSR in any part of the world. It is necessary to present and combat the bureaucracy as the main enemy of the planned economy, as the expropriator of the proletariat and the restorer of capitalism. A victory of the Soviet proletariat against the bureaucracy is today more important than a victory of the Red Army. Without forgetting the military struggle against the imperialist enemy, the Soviet workers must turn the bulk of their forces against the traitorous bureaucracy, preparing to turn the might of their arms as soon as possible. It is clear that the slogan “unconditional defense of the USSR” is inadequate for characterizing the new situation and for indicating the new needs. Its peculiar categoricalness corresponded to the imminent necessity of saving the USSR from any imperialist aggression. But when the imperialist danger becomes weakened to the point of appearing almost Utopian, as at the present moment, and when at the same time the philo-capitalist tendencies of the bureaucracy reach the stage of a conscious necessity, the slogan becomes excessively unilateral and does not provide the Soviet and world workers with an exact idea of what must be done and of the enemy against whom it is necessary to defend the menaced remains of Red October. In the Soviet Union today it is a question of saving from the bureaucratic menace and the menace of the penetration of Anglo-American imperialism what has been saved from German imperialism. The activity of the Bolshevik-Leninists in the USSR and our politics over the entire world must reflect this necessity. The Fourth Internationalists have the duty of continuing to fight on Soviet territory against German imperialism, but of according primary importance to the struggle against the bureaucracy. This kind of defense continues to be unconditional insofar as it does not demand of the bureaucratic power any concession in order to be carried out. But it is conditional insofar as it is carried out under the condition that it does not deter or weaken the struggle against the pro-capitalist bureaucracy. The complexity of the situation prevents the formulation of slogans so categoric as “unconditional defense” or “revolutionary defeatism.”
We are interested in the victory of the Red Army, but its victory does not assure the defeat of the pro-capitalist bureaucracy. Revolutionary success depends on the defeat of German imperialism being complemented by the defeat of the bureaucracy. The formulation of this necessity in the presence even of war, cannot be given by the slogan of unconditional defense, but rather by this: military defense so long as it doesn’t damage the revolutionary struggle against the Stalinist bureaucracy. Thus both the Soviet and world workers will know that the main threat to planned state property resides today in the governing caste of the Soviet Union. Down with the bureaucracy! Long live the dictatorship of the proletariat! This is the essence of revolutionary activity in the USSR. The same analysis likewise carries special consequences on the question of bureaucratic expansion of Soviet territory. Already during the Finnish-Soviet war, Trotsky said, “The primary political criterion for us is not the transformation of property relations in this or another area, however important these may be in themselves, but rather the change in the consciousness and organization of the world proletariat, the raising of their capacity for defending former conquests and accomplishing new ones.”
But in the territories occupied by order of the bureaucracy, following the schema established by the necessity for the military defense of the USSR, we advised political independence, not a struggle for the expulsion of the army of the Russian bureaucracy. With the defense of the USSR transformed into an immediate problem of struggle against Stalinism, the attitude adopted in 1939-40 ceases to be valid. The only criterion must be the revolutionary advance of the proletariat and the peasants in the territories coveted by the bureaucracy. The interests of the local proletariat (including the salvation of the USSR), must be considered much more important and superior to the strictly military interests of the latter. The Bolsheviks residing in those territories must not cede an inch in their struggles either in demands or mass movements in order to facilitate the operations of the Red Army. They must unfurl the revolutionary principle of self-determination and of social revolution as a solution contrary to that which the Nazis, their own bourgeoisie and Stalinism wish to impose on them with intentions that are not dissimilar at bottom. The slogan “an end to the Nazi occupation” must be complemented with another one: “an end to the Stalinist occupation.”
The masses in the territories coveted by the Stalinist bureaucracy must become convinced – and practice will leave no room for doubt – that the Kremlin will seek friendship and alliance with the bourgeoisie. Far from representing aid against the exploiters, Stalinist occupation will represent aid in their favor, an active element against the masses. The key to revolutionary activity must be given by this incontrovertible fact: the bureaucratic extension of the Soviet frontiers no longer serves the defense of the USSR against imperialism; it only serves to extend the bureaucratic power and to satisfy the reactionary and nationalistic tendencies which convert it into the principal element for the restoration of capitalism. To make a revolutionary war against Nazi occupation is the tendency of the mass movements in occupied Europe; in the territories where Nazi occupation is replaced by the occupation of the Stalinist bureaucracy the tendency must be to make revolutionary war against the latter. Only it must take into account for the tactical application of the strategical objective, the revolutionary tradition of the Soviet soldiers, workers and peasants.
Unfurling the program of Lenin and Trotsky, the program of the proletarian revolution, against the occupying bureaucracy, the masses of the occupied countries will find thereby a ready echo amongst the soldiers of the Red Army and an effective base for allying themselves with them against the bureaucracy. In their turn, the Red Army soldiers have the duty of establishing contact with the exploited populace of the countries which they may enter, and of allying themselves in all their struggles against the bureaucracy and against the military occupation. In a word, for the masses of the countries bordering on the USSR, it is not a question of dove-tailing themselves with the Germany Army or the Red Army; it is a question of defending from the menace of both, their own interests as a local expression of the interests of the world revolution. This is the only rule of action which can be prescribed from a long distance; in practice, each of the particular actions must be decided on the scene.
What must decide for the revolutionists on following through to the end this or that revolutionary action is progress towards the seizure of political power by the proletariat. Their attitude should not be different from revolutionary defeatism with respect to either side except on this point: they are not indifferent to overthrow of the territory in which planned state property exists; they are for its defense, but they struggle against annexations and against the bureaucratic occupation which, far from reinforcing planned economy, would facilitate its destruction by the bureaucracy. That struggle must be extended from partial or democratic demands up to the armed insurrection. Everything depends on the possibility of success! The revolutionists in each local territory must judge whether one or another action should or should not be undertaken, and it is hardly necessary to add that if in one or another of the territories threatened or occupied by the Stalinist bureaucracy, the proletariat should come to power, it would undertake integral revolutionary defeatism as much in the SU as in the territories occupied by the latter.
Let us be convinced that the military victory of the USSR cannot guarantee the continuity of the first proletarian revolution! This will only be guaranteed by the Soviet and the world proletariat. Its attack must be placed on the order of the day. With it also goes the fate of the international revolution.
Last updated on 30.5.2005