Leonard Hussey

A Comment

(July 1957)

From Labour Review, Vol. 2 No .4, July-August 1957, pp. 115–118.
Leonard Hussey was a pseudonym of Brian Pearce.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The article by R.W. Davies is on an altogether different plane from the traditional type of Stalinist critique of Trotsky. Instead of the counterposing of ‘Trotskyism’ to Leninism, we have a frank bracketing of Lenin and Trotsky as ‘those politicians of a past era’. Instead of the familiar bogey-image of Trotsky as arch-militarist and would-be dictator, we have Trotsky judged as a man who wanted to carry democracy beyond the bounds of ‘realism’.

Nevertheless, though Davies’ approach is more honest and more frank than usual, his case is founded on a series of misunderstandings.

To begin with, it is not true that Trotsky was against having officials and specialist personnel in a workers’ State. Indeed, his first clash with Stalin, Voroshilov and their group took place in 1919 over his insistence on using the services of ex-Tsarist officers in the Red Army. Trotsky, however, like Lenin, appreciated that if a workers’ State was to remain a workers’ State its officials must be subject to strict democratic control and must not be allowed to become a privileged caste, while a steady campaign should be undertaken to draw the masses of the people into the work of government with a view to the eventual complete ‘withering away of the State’. The 1919 programme of the Russian Communist Party showed full awareness of this problem. Bukharin and Preobrazhensky wrote in their official commentary on the Party programme – published here in 1922 by the CPGB as The ABC of Communism: ‘The workers did not destroy the old official-ridden, State with the intention of letting it grow up again from the roots.’ The (non-’Trotskyist’ historian of Bolshevism, Arthur Rosenberg, expresses thus the contrast between what should have happened and what did happen:

A genuine dictatorship of the proletariat could not dispense with able officials. These officials, however, would in such a case be subject to a continuous democratic control exercised by the masses and would thus maintain connection with the masses. In the Russian dictatorship, on the contrary, the official ruled the masses with the aid of party and State discipline. Hence the ex-proletarian under this system, on entering the service of the governmental machine, ceased psychologically and actually to be a member of the working-class.

Neither Trotsky nor any of his associates ever called for the immediate introduction of equality of income. [1] What they protested against was something for which Davies seems to have a blind spot – the monstrous expansion of a legitimate and necessary ‘income-differential’ until quantity turned into quality and a social system came into being in which a comparatively small group at the top was annexing the surplus value produced by the majority. (David Dallin, in his book The Changing World of Soviet Russia, estimates that an upper group comprising twelve to fourteen per cent of the Soviet population nowadays takes from 31 to 35 per cent of the distributed national income – about the same proportion as is taken by the workers and more than goes to the peasants.)

Is democracy a luxury?

To Trotsky it seemed that the despotism of Stalin had for its raison d’être the maintenance of this pattern of distribution. Davies, on the contrary, sees the suppression of democracy in the USSR in the Stalin era as something which was necessary for the building up of the Soviet economy. Now, in this connection, since Davies tells us that he omitted the section dealing with pre-war events from his Marxist Quarterly article because ‘most of the points it covered were dealt with more adequately in the Togliatti interview’, it is important to note that Togliatti did not endorse Davies’ paternalistic attitude on the question of democracy. [2] The Italian communist leader regretted, in that famous interview, the ‘sterilizing of the activity of the masses in the very places and organs ... where the real and new difficulties of the situation should have been faced’. He declared that the bureaucratization of the USSR, by hindering ‘the democratic functioning of the State’, produced ‘obvious and very real damage’.

There is a vital difference of principle here. Davies sees democracy as a luxury which is beyond the means of backward countries trying to modernize themselves. Togliatti, in the interview quoted, follows Trotsky in presenting democracy as essential for successful and healthy progress. Forecasting, back in the early nineteen thirties, the very disproportions and devastations in the economy which have been revealed since 1953, Trotsky warned against the bureaucracy’s conception of itself as something like Laplace’s fantasy of a ‘universal brain’, able to plan everything on the basis of comprehensive knowledge. Instead of what they hoped, there occurred such disasters as the loss of horses between 1928 and 1935 in numbers representing a greater traction power than was provided by the manufacture and import of tractors in the same period. After 1928 Stalin never went to look at the state of agriculture for himself, and so the errors in this sphere piled up year by year, creating the appalling situation with which Davies, as a student of Soviet economics, is fully familiar. Would not Soviet democracy have prevented this? In his pamphlet The Assassination of Kirov, Trotsky argued that ‘an equilibrium between the various branches of production and, above all, a correct balance between national accumulation and consumption, can be achieved only with the active participation of the entire toiling population in the elaboration of the plans, the necessary freedom to criticize the plans, and the opportunity of fixing the responsibility and of recalling the bureaucracy from top to bottom’.

Davies challenges anyone to deny that the USSR has made great progress economically. That is certainly true, and testifies to the advantages of public ownership and planning, even under bureaucratic management. (Commenting on the achievements of the British coal industry, the Daily Worker of June 6, 1957, could observe: ‘Even capitalist nationalization – with excessive compensation for the old owners, with managements, trained in the old traditions and therefore suspicious of workers’ participation – has, because of the economies possible in a unified industry, begun to yield good results’.) It is important, however, not to get these successes out of proportion—but that is the method systematically practised by the Stalinists. Already in 1926, at the Fifteenth Party Conference, Trotsky made this point.

It is brought up against me that I have stated that ‘a real advance of socialist economy will only be possible after the victory of the proletariat in the most important countries of Europe’. Perhaps, comrades, we have grown careless in the use of certain terms. What do we understand by ‘socialist economy’ in the strict sense of the term? We have great successes to record, and naturally we are proud of these. I have endeavoured to describe them in my booklet Towards Socialism or Capitalism? for the benefit of foreign comrades [translated in Labour Monthly – 1925 – L.H.]. But we must make a sober survey of the extent of these successes.... If we speak of socialist economy and of a real advance in socialist economy, we mean: no antagonism between town and country, general contentment, prosperity, culture.... And we are still far indeed from this goal ... What we have accomplished is not a real advance of socialist economy but only the first serious steps on that long bridge leading from capitalism to socialism.

(Six years later, when Trotsky protested against the way the Stalinists were discrediting the name of socialism by claiming that Russia was already ‘entering into it’ at a time when there was not enough milk for the children to drink, Radek, then functioning as Official Spokesman, blandly replied: ‘Milk is a product of cows, not of socialism.’)

Was Trotsky unpractical?

Davies depicts the Left Opposition as unpractical persons, ignorant of Russian reality[3] and of the actual problems of administration, unable to put forward workable plans. He dismisses Trotsky’s call for planning in 1923 by saying that the preparatory work needed for planning to begin (in 1928) did not start until 1926. It is not clear why this work could not have been started in 1923, which would have made the commencement of planning possible in 1925. And that would have made a big difference, for the kulaks were nowhere near so strongly entrenched in 1925 as three years later (when the ‘grain strike’ broke out which provoked the terrified bureaucracy into its disastrous forcible collectivization campaign). Trotsky, far from being remote from administration, suffered, in Lenin’s opinion (in the Testament), from the defect of being excessively keen on it! Already before 1923 he had given evidence of the possibilities of large-scale planning by his work to restore the railways (‘Order 1042’, on which see Chapter VII of Trotsky’s book The New Course.) And nobody should take seriously Davies’ dismissal of the Opposition ‘platform’ of 1927 (The Real Situation in Russia) as a document without practical proposals. It was the very practicality of its proposals to increase taxes on the kulaks and reduce the swollen bureaucratic apparatus that brought down the wrath of Stalin and Bukharin upon its authors. (Incidentally, the proposal in the ‘platform’ to increase wages in accordance with the increase in the productivity of labour is not to be taken, as Davies appears to have taken it, to mean that the entire new surplus product should be distributed. As the context makes clear, what is meant is this: if workers are producing 100 units of value and receiving back, say, 50 units, and then they increase production to 150 units, they should receive back 75 units [not 100]. Trotsky and his comrades envisaged productivity advancing through incentives to the mass of the workers.) [4]

In his discussion of the reasons for Stalin’s triumph over Trotsky, Davies leaves out of account the well-attested intimidation of the party rank and file by the bureaucracy in the period 1923-25. At the Fourteenth Party Congress, Krupskaya spoke of the existence of ‘a secretariat invested with enormous powers that enable it to remove party workers from their posts, and which actually enjoys unlimited authority’. Opposition manifestos were kept from the membership and their circulation made an offence, while sympathizers with the opposition were victimized by being transferred to remote districts, and so on. Such methods had their effect, especially in conjunction with international developments. The defeat of the revolution in Germany in 1923 and in China in 1927, the betrayal of the General Strike in Britain in 1926, Pilsudski’s victory in Poland (with Communist backing) also in 1926 – all these events helped to discredit the internationalist outlook and reinforce the appeal to baffled and bewildered Russian workers of Stalin’s doctrine of ‘socialism in one country’. Davies claims that the part played in these international setbacks by the policy of the Soviet bureaucracy was ‘marginal’, but there is, perhaps, more to be said on this matter than he appreciates.

Stalinism and world revolution

If the Chinese Communist Party, for instance, was weak in 1927, did that circumstance not owe something, at least, to the policy followed by the Comintern since 1923, when it admitted the Kuomintang to its ranks? On Moscow’s orders, the Chinese communists submitted passively to Chiang Kai-shek’s Canton coup d’etat in March 1926, and thereafter tailed helplessly behind him until he turned upon them and decimated them a little over a year later (just after Stalin had boasted about how he was ‘using’ Chiang and would throw him aside in due course ‘like a squeezed lemon’). In Malraux’s novel Man’s Estate, which is laid in China in this period, a Chinese worker, full of foreboding on the eve of the debacle, mutters that ‘the Russians did as they wished’ in October 1917, without any Comintern being there to cramp them. Plenty of evidence exists that the Comintern, which in 1919–22 undoubtedly helped the development of world communism, played from 1923 onwards a sadly negative role in crisis after crisis in the revolutionary movement in the capitalist world. In the case of Germany, for instance, we have Piatnitsky’s own complacent testimony that the German communists had qualms about joining with the nazis in the fatal referendum of 1931 and that they were brought into line on this question by the emissaries of the Comintern.

Perhaps the most serious negative influence which Stalin exerted upon the world revolutionary movement, however, was achieved through the consequences of his domestic policy. [5] In the Togliatti interview mentioned by Davies the Italian leader tells how the Stalinists in charge of the Lenin School drummed it into him and his fellow-students that they must not reveal to the workers of the West the frightful sacrifices which the Soviet workers were making. In the end, though, the workers of the West learnt the truth – and were all the more adversely affected because of the attempt the Communist Parties had made to conceal it, and to put across propaganda diametrically opposed to it.

In conclusion, Davies does Trotsky, at any rate, an injustice when he writes of a tendency of ‘Trotskyists in particular’ to ‘exaggerate the prospects of revolution’. In 1924–25 and again in 1929–32 it was Trotsky who fought against the ‘revolution-round-the-corner’ illusions of the Comintern, especially in relation to Germany. [6] What Davies seems really to object to, though, is the principled stand taken by Trotsky and his associates on fundamental questions of the working-class movement. Thus Davies writes that ‘the Trotskyists … must drop that silly stuff about “For Soviet Britain” – the CP got over that a couple of decades ago ...’ What, incidentally, does he mean by ‘got over’? Early in 1935 the British communists issued their programme, For Soviet Britain. In August the Seventh World Congress of the Comintern took place. Thereafter, there was certainly no more talk of ‘Soviet Britain’ – but when was there any discussion as to why this prospect had been abandoned? Then, nearly a generation later, in 1951, equally suddenly, The British Road to Socialism was promulgated, with its full-blown parliamentary conception and its sneer at soviets. [7] It is not only Trotskyists who have doubts about the new conception and ‘hanker after’ soviets – Davies will recall, for instance, the remarkable letter in World News of March 9 by Peter Cadogan, during the pre-congress discussion. He wrote, of course, of workers’ councils, not of ‘soviets’; and indeed no party could advance the slogan ‘For Soviet Britain’ today, because the word ‘soviet’ has lost its original associations for most workers and now stands in their minds merely for Stalinist Russia. Hence the bitter anomaly of the ‘anti-Soviet soviets’ in Hungary – obverse of the situation in the Soviet Union; ‘the Soviet land without soviets’. That Davies, a communist, can write so contemptuously of workers’ councils as the political instrument of transition to socialism is the measure of the confusing and distorting effect which Stalinism has had on the thought of Marxists who, having fallen captive to its specious appeal in the period of the Popular Front, have not yet learnt the lessons of the last twenty years. It is to be hoped that further study of Trotsky’s writings, plus – dare I say? – ‘life itself’, will enable Davies to shake off the incubus, and in the very near future too.


1. ‘Never before has the Soviet Union known an inequality comparable to that which now reigns ... Naturally a certain inequality is still inevitable at present; but the point is that this inequality increases from year to year, and assumes monstrous forms—and that it is being paraded as ... socialism’. (Bulletin of the Opposition, Oct. 1936)

2. Perhaps the principal reason why the British Stalinists have refused to publish Edvard Kardelj’s speech of December 7, 1956, on the events in Hungary, is his forthright assertion that ‘socialism cannot make progress without a parallel development of democracy’, and that when a process of bureaucratization is allowed to get under way in a communist-ruled country ‘it begins to engender not only Stalin but also the Hungarian events’.

3. Whoever thinks Trotsky was ignorant of the life of the ordinary Russian people should read his book Problems of Life (1923: English edition, 1924). Devoted to an examination of the task of raising the cultural level of the Russian masses, it stresses their backwardness in matters taken for granted in the West, and the need for persistent, painstaking work, at first for modest aims (such as more laundries), instead of big, boastful talk.

4. The actual words of the passages in the Opposition platform to which Davies refers are as follows:

‘At the same time all data go to show that the growth of wages falls behind the growth in the productivity of labour. The intensity of labour grows, the unfavourable conditions of labour remain the same ...

‘The most immediate task is the increasing of wages. at least in keeping with the increase which has been achieved in the productivity of labour. To steer a course for the systematic increasing of real wages parallel with a further growth in the productivity of labour ...’

5. The 1934 Theses of the Fourth International on war observed: ‘The monstrous development of Soviet bureaucratism and the wretched living conditions of the toilers have extremely reduced the attractive power of the USSR for the world working class.’

6. See for example Trotsky’s World Unemployment and the Five-Year Plan (1930), which set forth a plan for a campaign for what would now be called ‘East-West trade’. This was a terrible heresy in those days, and all the more so when Trotsky advocated it. The unfortunate J.T. Murphy was expelled from the CPGB in 1932 for calling for something like it – and the fact that it was he who had, in his time, moved the resolution expelling Trotsky from the Comintern, did not help him in his own hour of need!

7. In his speech at the Seventh World Congress of the Comintern (published as a pamphlet: Unity Against the National Government) Pollitt had still declared British communists’ rejection of the idea that socialism could be won ‘through Parliament’. The version of this speech given in Selected Articles and Speeches of Harry Pollitt, vol. I, published by Lawrence & Wishart in 1953, changes the phrase to ‘through Parliament alone’. Thus are historical documents edited and difficulties ‘got over’.

Last updated on 10.10.2011