Moissaye J. Olgin


Counter-Revolution in Disguise

Socialism in One Country

THE denial of the possibility of Socialism in one country is the basis of all the ideas and policies of Trotskyism. This denial, in turn, is composed of two major premises.

1. The denial of the possibility of a victorious proletarian revolution in one country when there is no simultaneous revolution in one or several other countries;

2. The denial of the possibility of building Socialism in one country where a proletarian revolution has taken place—if there is no simultaneous revolution in other countries.

This is contrary to historical facts and contrary to the very essence of the Leninist understanding of the proletarian revolution.

Let us begin with the latter.

The Leninist conception of the proletarian revolution springs from the analysis of the present stage of capitalism as imperealism, the stage of the decay of capitalism, the “dying of capitalism”. The major characteristics of the imperialist stage of capitalism, as viewed by Leninism, are: (1) The domination of finance capital in the advanced capitalist countries; export of capital to the backward countries which represent sources of raw material; an omnipotent oppressive financial oligarchy; (2) Growth of “spheres of influence” of finance capital and its colonial possessions to the extent of the emergence of a “world system of financial bondage and of the colonial oppression of the vast majority of mankind by a handful of ‘advanced’ countries”; (3) The inevitability of bitter struggles between those countries that have already seized the territories of the globe and those that wish to get their “share”—a struggle for the redivision of the globe.

The first of the enumerated features of imperialism spells “an intensification of the revolutionary crisis in the capitalist countries and the growth of the elements of an explosion on the internal, proletarian front in the ‘mother’ countries”. The second feature leads to “an intensification of the revolutionary crisis in the colonial countries and an accumulation of the elements of discontent with imperialism on the external front, the colonial front”. The third characteristic includes the concept of “the inevitability of war under imperialism and the inevitability of a coalition between the proletarian revolution in Europe and the colonial revolution in the East, thus forming a united world front of the revolution as against the world front of imperialism”. (See Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism; Stalin, Foundations of Leninism; Program of the Communist International.)

What follows from this analysis is that there exists an imperialist system of world economy which represents an integral unit; that this unit is continually rent asunder and exploded by the contradictions inherent in it, and that the proletarian revolution which has ripened everywhere, even in the comparatively backward countries, because the system as a whole is ripe for it, may break the chain of world imperialism in its weakest link.

This view of imperialism as an integrated system, and of the proletarian revolution as breaking through in that place where imperialism is weakest, gives the clue to the understanding of the proletarian revolution.

But this means that the proletarian revolution will, at first, inevitably take place in one single country only. Other countries may or may not follow, but the rule would be a revolution in one country where for one reason or another imperialism can no more withstand the onslaught of the revolutionary forces.

All this is ABC and should be known to everyone familiar with the fundamentals of Leninism. But just this is denied by Trotskyism.

Trotsky directed his struggle against the Leninist theory of the “uneven development of capitalism”. It is in these words that Lenin summed up his teachings about the imperialist stage of capitalism, and it is the uneven development of capitalism that Trotsky specifically denies.

What is the uneven development of capitalism? Stalin, who, more than anybody after Lenin, concerned himself with developing the Leninist theory of imperialism and world revolution, explains it in the following way:

The uneven development of capitalism does not consist in the fact that some countries are economically more advanced than the others; uneven development in other words does not mean different degrees of development of the capitalist countries; moreover, these differences of degrees of development have a tendency to diminish in the present epoch: there is going on a process of leveling out of the differences in the degree of economic progress in the various countries, the more backward ones fighting to reach the level of and exceed the advanced countries. Nor does the uneven development of capitalism consist in just this fact that some countries reach the level of others and overtake them in an evolutionary way. Such changes in the relative position of various countries are not a peculiar characteristic of imperialism: they are known to have occurred even in the era preceding imperialism.

What, then, is the law of the uneven development under imperialism?

“The law of the uneven development in the period of imperialism [says Stalin] means the spasmodic development of some countries in relation to others, the rapid crowding-out from the world market of some countries by others, the periodical redivision of an already divided world by the means of military conflicts and military catastrophes, the deepening and sharpening of conflicts in the camp of imperialism, the weakening of the front of world capitalism, the possibility of this front being broken by the proletarians of separate countries, the possibility of the victory of Socialism in separate countries.” (Joseph Stalin, On the Opposition, Russian Edition, p. 515.)

Two years before the Revolution of 1917 Lenin, arguing against the slogan of the “United States of Europe” as advanced by some Bolsheviks at the beginning of the war, rejected that slogan just because it implied the impossibility of socialism in one country. The United States of Europe under capitalism, said Lenin, is either impossible or reactionary because it is tantamount to an agreement to divide up the colonies. The United States of the World (not of Europe alone) is, according to Lenin, a State form of national federation and national freedom which Communists connect with socialism—until the complete victory of Communism brings about the total disappearance of the State.

“As a separate slogan, however [says Lenin] the slogan United States of the World would hardly be a correct one, first because it merges with Socialism, second, because it may wrongly be interpreted to mean that the victory of Socialism in a single country is impossible [our emphasis—M. J. O.]; it may also create misconceptions as to the relations of such a country to others.”

Lenin then states positively:

Uneven* economic and political development is an absolute law of capitalism. [Our emphasis—M. J. O.] Hence, the victory of Socialism is possible first in a few or even in one single capitalist country taken separately. The victorious proletariat of that country, having expropriated the capitalists and organized its own Socialist production, would rise against the rest of the capitalist world, attract to itself the oppressed classes of other countries, raise revolts among them against the capitalists; and in the event of necessity come out even with armed force against the exploiting classes and their states.” For “the free federation of nations in Socialism is impossible without a more or less prolonged and stubborn struggle of the Socialist republics against the backward States.” (V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Russian Edition, Vol. XVIII, p. 232-3.)

Trotsky denies the uneven development of the capitalist countries under imperialism. He denies the entire Leninist analysis of imperialism as forming one integrated whole that must inevitably be broken through by the proletarian revolution in its weakest spot. He thinks that the internal and external contradictions of imperialism are not sharp enough to make a breaking of the imperialist front in a single country possible. He thinks that the forces of the proletarian revolution are not strong enough to be able to break the front of imperialism in a single country. True to his covering up defeatism with revolutionary phrases he puts forward the idea of a revolution in one country supported by revolutions in other countries, but this cannot eliminate the fact that he says to the workers of every country, “You cannot make a revolution alone; you are sure to be defeated; wait till other countries begin; if there is no revolution elsewhere, you are doomed”,—which is tantamount to denying the possibility of any revolution at all.

It was at the time when the first Russian revolution (1905-6) was not yet finished though it was obviously going down; when the Bolsheviks with Lenin were straining every effort to keep the organizations of the workers alive under the blows of growing reaction; when the Bolsheviks were doing their utmost to appreciate what was happening, to analyze the forces of the revolution, to understand the reasons for the defeat of the revolutionary forces and to prepare the masses for new revolutionary battles which were inevitable since the revolution had not accomplished its objectives—it was just at that juncture that Trotsky came out with the following estimate:

“Without direct State support from the European proletariat, the working class of Russia cannot maintain itself in power and transform its temporary rule into a durable Socialist dictatorship. This we cannot doubt for an instant.” (Leon Trotsky, Our Revolution, Russian Edition, 1906, p. 278.)

What does Trotsky say in this declaration? He says to the workers that even if through some coincidence of circumstances they found themselves in possession of State power, they would not be able to retain that power. They would need, he asserts, the State support of the European proletariat, i.e., the support of the European proletariat in possession of State power. In the absence of such a support, a successful revolution in Russia is impossible—and it is useless for the Russian workers to attempt the seizure of power. Trotsky agrees with the Mensheviks who, disregarding the imperialist character of present-day capitalism, still cling to the outworn idea that the proletarian revolutionary movement must be the strongest in the most advanced capitalist countries. Trotsky, together with the Mensheviks, disregards the uneven development of capitalism which explains why revolutionary movements can be the strongest where the chain of imperialism is the weakest—which is not necessarily in the most advanced capitalist countries.

The following is Trotsky’s answer to Lenin’s theory of the uneven development of capitalism. He wrote it in 1917 in his pamphlet, Program of Peace. He republished it in 1924 in his collected works, obviously finding it correct.

“The only more or less concrete historical consideration put forward against the slogan of the United States of Europe was formulated in the Swiss Social-Democrat [Bolshevik organ—M. J. O.] in the sentence which follows: ‘Uneven economic and political development is an absolute law of capitalism.’ From this the Social-Democrat drew the conclusion that the victory of Socialism was possible in a single country, and that, therefore, there was no point in making the creation of a United States of Europe the condition for the dictatorship of the proletariat in each separate country. That capitalist development in different countries is uneven is an absolutely incontrovertible fact. But this very unevenness is itself extremely uneven. The capitalist level of England, Austria, Germany or France is not identical. But in comparison with Africa or Asia all these countries represent capitalist ‘Europe’, which has grown ripe for the social revolution. That no single country should ‘wait’ for others in its own struggle is an elementary idea which it is useful and necessary to repeat, in order to avoid the substitution of the idea of expectant international inaction for the idea of simultaneous international action. Without waiting for others, we begin and continue our struggle on our national soil quite sure that our initiative will give an impetus to the struggle in other countries; but if that should not happen, then it would be hopeless, in the light of the experience of history and in the light of theoretical considerations, to think, for example, that a revolutionary Russia could hold its own in the face of conservative Europe or that a Socialist Germany could remain isolated in the capitalist world.” (Leon Trotsky, Collected Works, Russian Edition, Vol. III, Part I, pp. 89-90.)

Note this reference to one single sentence. The only “more or less concrete historical consideration”, says Trotsky, against the slogan of the United States of Europe and for the possibility of a successful proletarian revolution in a single country, is found just in one sentence. Trotsky disregards the entire Leninist Theory of imperialism as the stage of decaying capitalism, of dying capitalism. The entire Leninist theory of revolution does not exist for him. He sweeps away the reference to the uneven economic development by stating that the principal countries of Europe are all ripe for the social revolution. What he does not notice is the contradictions between England, Austria, Germany or France on the one hand and the contradictions between these countries and their colonies and spheres of influence on the other hand. To him the revolution does not come as the result of these contradictions, of a breach in the imperialist front in one or the other country. To him the revolution comes simultaneously or nearly simultaneously in the most advanced countries—or it does not come at all. Since revolutions do not happen this way, it is quite obvious that Trotsky does not see the possibility of revolution. It must be kept in mind that this was published in 1924, seven years after October. It was hopeless, said Trotsky, to think that the revolution in Russia could “hold its own” in the face of conservative Europe.

This is, as Stalin put it, “sinning against reality”. The fact that the proletariat of the Soviet Union had held power for seven years in face of capitalist Europe should have convinced anybody of the correctness of the Leninist theory about the victory of the socialist revolution in one country. But what are historical facts to Trotsky? Even to the present day he clings to his exploded theory of the impossibility of socialism in one country.

When the Leninists speak about the socialist revolution in one country they do not deny the revolutionary aid and assistance coming from the masses of other countries. It is a well-known fact that without the aid of the masses in the capitalist countries the Soviet Union could not have maintained itself. This very assistance rendered the dictatorship of the proletariat by the masses of the capitalist countries is one of the contradictions of imperialism: the situation in the capitalist countries may not be ripe yet for a revolution, but the workers and the other exploited and oppressed are revolutionary enough to realize that the dictatorship of the proletariat in the U.S.S.R. is the greatest achievement of the world proletariat, and are determined enough to fight their home imperialists in defense of the workers’ fatherland.

On the other hand, the Leninist theory does not deny the possibility of the dictatorship of the proletariat of a single country being crushed by concerted action of world imperialism—although the probability of such an attack is diminishing with the growth of the U.S.S.R. and of the revolutionary movement in the capitalist world, including the colonies. But, being revolutionists, the Leninists ask themselves: What shall the proletarian Party do in a revolutionary situation when there is the probability of a successful attack on the capitalist State, the probability of the seizure of power by the proletariat? The Leninists say it is the duty of the workers under such conditions to seize power. The Trotskyites say the workers have to ascertain first whether there is the probability of a revolution in a few other countries; if there is not such a probability, the workers must not seize power. The Leninists are proletarian revolutionists. Trotskyism tends to disarm the proletariat, to prevent it from utilizing a revolutionary situation.

How could Trotsky overlook the existence of the Soviet Union? Did not the workers of Russia under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party seize power in October, 1917, “in face of conservative Europe”? Was this not a revolution in a single country? Did not the workers maintain themselves in power for so many years?

Trotsky cannot overlook this fact that stares him in the face. But in order to vindicate his original “theory” about the impossibility of a successful socialist revolution in a single country, he interprets away the fact. What exists in the Soviet Union, to him, is not a real socialist revolution; what is being done in the Soviet Union is not the building of socialism.

In a postscript to a new edition of his pamphlet, Program of Peace, he writes in 1922:

“The assertion, repeated several times in A Program of Peace, that the proletarian revolution cannot be carried through to a victorious conclusion within the boundaries of one country may appear to some readers to be refuted by almost five years’ experience of our Soviet Republic. But such a conclusion would be groundless. The fact that the workers’ State has maintained itself against the whole world in a single country, and in a backward country at that, bears witness to the colossal might of the proletariat, which in other countries more advanced, more civilized, will be capable of performing real wonders. But, although we have held our ground in the political and military sense as a State, we have not yet set to work to create a Socialist society and have not even approached this stage. So long as the bourgeoisie remains in power in the other European countries, we are compelled, in our struggle against economic isolation, to seek for agreements with the capitalist world; at the same time one may say with certainty that these agreements may at best help us to cure some of our economic ills, to take one or another step forward, but that genuine advance in the construction of Socialist economy in Russia will become possible only after the victory of the proletariat in the most important countries of Europe.” (Leon Trotsky, Collected Works, Russian Edition, Vol. III, Part I, pp. 92-93.)

This is how Trotsky interprets away the successes of the proletarian revolution in Russia. He is wrong but he heaps one fantastic assertion on the other to cover up his original error. The workers did maintain their power in Russia; the proletariats revolution did hold its own in the face of a hostile world, but Trotsky must always remain right. It is the revolution which, in his interpretation, is always wrong. Socialism in Russia cannot be built without the victory of the proletariat “in the most important countries of Europe”. What is built in Russia, therefore, is not Socialism.

So he wrote in 1922. So he writes in 1935 when he declares that the Soviet Union is approaching “its general crisis”.

“The political crises converge towards the general crisis which is creeping onward and which expresses itself in the fact that despite the titanic expenditures of energy by the masses and the greatest technological successes, the economic achievements keep lagging far behind, and the overwhelming majority of the population continues to lead a poverty-stricken existence.” (Leon Trotsky, The Kirov Assassination, 1935, p. 12.)

Here we have approached the very fountain-head of Trotsky’s method. To prove that Socialism in one country is impossible, he attempts to prove that the achievements of the Soviet Union are the reverse of socialist construction. To reinforce his arguments he heads the counter-revolution which attempts to damage Socialist construction and destroy the Soviet Union. Trotsky remains true to himself throughout.



* In the definitive English edition of Vol. XVIII we read “unequal” instead of “uneven”. This is erroneous and should be corrected.

Next: 5.  The Revolution and the Peasantry