Stalin in 1921

More About the Theory of Socialism in One Country Before Lenin’s Death

(August 1931)

From The Militant, Vol. IV No. 18, 8 August 1931, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

It is already fairly well known how in two editions of one of his pamphlets, Lenin and Leninism, both issued in the same year, Stalin expressed himself in two mutually exclusive ways about the theory of “socialism in one country” In the first edition, published, like the second, in 1924, Stalin wrote that while the efforts of a national proletariat were sufficient to overthrow its bourgeoisie, “for the final victory of socialism, for the organization of socialist construction, the efforts of one country, particularly of such a peasant country as Russia, are insufficient”. In the second edition, Stalin introduced his nationalist correction, according to which what had a few months before been insufficient, now become quite adequate and entirely in accordance with the teachings of Marx and Lenin. It will be remembered also that Stalin, to explain away this embarrassing dualism in his 1924 contributions to revolutionary science, declared at the Seventh plenum of the C.I. “against” Zinoviev, that he had the “right to change and to express more sharply” his formulation of a brief few months before. In the intervening years, the theory of “socialism in one country”, known to Marx and Lenin only as the subject of ridicule and attack, has been rounded out, invested with the authority of the Communist International, dressed up in distorted and falsified “quotations” from Marx and Lenin, and laid down by Stalin and his apparatus as the foundation stone in the struggle against “counter-revolutionary Trotskyism”.

Stalin in 1925

How definitely Stalin took his place on the side of this theory – following 1924, of course; before then it was quite unknown in the ranks of Bolshevism or of any other Marxian current – is to be seen from the following quotation from a speech he delivered at the Sverdlov University on June 9, 1925:

“Is it possible then, to construct a socialist economic system in our country without the previous victory of socialism in other countries, without aid in technique and equipment on the part of the victorious proletariat of the West?

“Yes, this is possible. It is not only possible, but is both necessary and inevitable ...

“The great significance of Lenin, also, by the way, consists in the fact that he adopted no haphazard attitude towards construction, that he does not contemplate construction without perspectives, and that he gives a clear and definite answer to the question of the perspectives of our work that we have all the pre-requisites for constructing a socialist economy in our country, and that we can and must construct a completely socialist society”. (Stalin, Bolshevism: Some Questions Answered, London 1926)

Now, Stalin has one doubtful advantage over the other leading theoretical defenders of national socialism. With Bucharin, for instance, it is not difficult to rummage through his old writings and bring forth one passage after another in which he speaks decisively against the theory he and Stalin have advocated from 1924 onwards. But Stalin’s literary contributions, especially prior to Lenin’s death, are so meager, that he has thus far been able to console himself with the idea that, aside from his “slip” in the first edition of Lenin and Leninism, his feeble literary endeavors of the past will not rise to contradict his present theoretical position. But it appears that even this safeguard is not without its breach.

Glancing through some old documents, the writer has come across an illuminating article in Russische Korrespondenz, No. 7–9, July–October 1921, a review published in German by the Communist International which, unless I am mistaken, was the forerunner of the International Press Correspondence. The article is by J. Stalin: The Communist Party Before and After the Conquest of Power, a chapter, the editor informs us, taken from some unknown book by Stalin. What Stalin wrote in 1921 is so revealing that it must be lifted out of its obscurity and made public again so that we may have additional proof – if more is needed – of how all the Bolshevik leaders during Lenin’s life time regarded the question of Russia’s alleged self-sufficiency in the building of a “completely socialist society”, and that “without aid in technique and equipment on the part of the victorious proletariat of the West” Let us quote the Stalin of 1921 at length:

And Stalin in 1921

“But the October also has its dark side. It is concerned with the fact that the seizure of power by the proletariat in Russia proceeded under peculiar external and internal conditions which stamped all the work after the seizure of power. First: Russia is a backward country in economic respects; it cannot rehabilitate transportation, develop industry and electrify urban and rural industry with its own forces, without exchanging the raw materials at hand for machinery and implements from the Western countries. Second, Russia is for the present a socialist island, which is surrounded by capitalist states more developed in industrial respects and hostile to it. If Soviet Russia had but one large state or a few Soviet states developed in industrial respects, as neighbors, then it could easily collaborate with such states on the principles of the exchange of raw materials for machines and implements. But so long as this is not the case, Soviet Russia and our party, which has the government in its hands, are compelled to seek forms and methods of economic cooperation with the hostile capitalist groups of the West in order to acquire the necessary technique, until the moment occurs of the victory of the proletarian revolution in one or a few industrial capitalist states. Relations in the form of concessions and of foreign trade – these are the means for attaining this goal. Otherwise, a serious economic construction, an electrification of the country, cannot even be thought of. This process will undoubtedly be a slow and painful one; but it is unavoidable and inevitable, and this inevitability will remain even if some impatient comrades gesticulate nervously and demand immediate results and effective operations.

“From the economic point of view, the present conflicts and military clashes of the capitalist groups among themselves, in the same way as the struggle of the proletariat against the class of the capitalists, have at their foundation the fundamental conflict of present-day productive forces with the national-imperialist boundaries to their development, and the capitalist forms of appropriation. The imperialist boundaries find the capitalist form strangle the productive forces and do not permit their development. The only way out is the organization of world economy according to the principles of fraternal economic collaboration of the advanced (industrial) states with the backward (fuel and raw materials) states (but not according to the principles of the spoliation of the latter by the former). It is for this precisely that the international proletarian revolution is required. Otherwise, an organization and normal development of world economy cannot even be thought of. But in order to begin (at least to begin) with the organization of a correct world economy, the history of the proletariat at least in a few of the advanced states is required. So long as this is not the case, our party must seek roundabout ways for cooperation with the capitalist groups on the economic field. This is the reason why the party, after having shaken off its bourgeoisie and raised the banner of the proletarian world revolution, considers it expedient to liberate small production and small industry from their fetters, to permit a partial revival of capitalism, putting it in dependence upon the state power to draw in tenant farmers and shareholders, etc., etc., up to the moment when substantial results are yielded by the policy of the party: ‘to realize a maximum of what can be curried out in one country for the development, the support and the arousing of the revolution in all countries’.” (Page 808. Our emphasis)

Thus spoke Stalin in 1921, before he had undertaken to “deepen” Marx and to “broaden” Lenin. At that time, far from believing that Russia had “all the prerequisites” for a complete socialist economy, he even rejected the idea that Russia could “develop industry and electrify urban and rural industry with its own forces”. In 1921 he had not the slightest idea that the “maximum of what can be carried out in one country” was a “completely socialist society.”

How clearly does every new scrap of evidence dug out of the submerged past demonstrate to us that the theory of socialism in one country, entirely alien to Marxism and reactionary to the core, saw the light of day in the ranks of Bolshevism only after Lenin could see it no more!

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