Russia’s New Ruling Class

An Examination of New Materials

(September 1942)

From The New International, Vol. VIII No. 8, September 1942, pp. 237–242.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Who rules Russia today?

According to the official Stalinist mythology, there is no ruling class in Russia, because there is nobody left to rule over. There is the new Soviet worker, there is the collectivized Soviet peasant, there is the not very clearly delineated “new Soviet intelligentsia” – and they all stand on the same social plane, cooperating harmoniously, without social or class conflict, to bridge the last few small gaps remaining between the socialist society already in existence in Russia and the communist society of tomorrow. If the state, usually understood to be the coercive organ of class rule, nevertheless continues to exist and, with the aid of the GPU, to grow ever stronger, more centralized and more oppressive, it is only in order to guard against the insignificant “remnants” of the outlived classes and occasional nests of unreconstructed “Trotskyists, Zinovievist, Bukharinist wreckers.” The ownership of property, at all events, is no longer the basis of minority class rule, since property is now fully socialized; it is state property and thereby, in the words of the Stalinist Constitution, “the possessions of the whole people.”

According to Trotsky, whose running analysis of Soviet society remains of fundamental importance, the working class that once ruled Russia has lost all traces of political power. That power has been usurped by a counter-revolutionary bureaucracy. However, the bureaucracy is not a class, but more in the nature of a caste whose role it is to serve classes. In the present case, it serves the working class. In what sense? In that it preserves the workers’ social rule, which is represented fundamentally by the existence of nationalized property, more exactly, of state property. Russia is therefore a degenerated workers’ state, the bureaucracy being a symptom of the great danger to the revolution which it has not succeeded in destroying so long as it protects state property, even if with reactionary methods.

Therefore, although the workers have no political power whatsoever, although they are exploited by methods which would not be countenanced in a bourgeois democracy, although their share of the national wealth continues to decline in favor of the share allotted to itself by the bureaucracy, although their economic position grows worse every year, although they have nothing to say about domestic or foreign policy, about economics or politics in general, although they are subjected to the same totalitarian barbarism that Hitler inflicts upon the German workers – they remain the ruling class of Russia so long as property remains in the hands of the state. [1] So long as property (i.e., the means of production and exchange) remains in the hands of what state? In the hands of the workers’ state! But what is it that makes it a workers’ state? The fact that property is in its hands. And so on in a complete circle.

My view, which was substantially adopted at the following convention of the Workers Party, was, briefly, that which Trotsky called the political rule of the working class was actually its class rule; that this had been brought to an end by the counter-revolution of the Stalinist bureaucracy – roughly in the period between 1933 and 1936 – which established new property relations while retaining more or less intact the old property forms (i.e., state property), and thereby set up a new, reactionary, hitherto unprecedented state with a new ruling class. This new social order, while a thousand times closer to capitalism than it is to socialism or even to the workers’ state of the early days of Lenin and Trotsky, is neither capitalist nor proletarian. To distinguish it from either one of these two and at the same time to underline its outstanding characteristic as tersely as possible, this new state was designated as bureaucratic collectivism.

Some Concrete Data on Russia

The official defenders of Trotsky’s theory had previously shouted themselves livid with the demand that we discuss the fundamental question of the class character of the Soviet Union, which they declared themselves ready to argue with the greatest of freedom and amplitude. They met the criticism and presentation which we had made with a dignified silence which they have maintained down to the present day, and directed at the critic a stream of abuse which they have maintained just as steadily. As is evident, they borrowed this method of theoretical dispute from the same source whence Collins borrowed the theory that the Russian people own everything in Russia – except the state which really does own everything.

But although we have for long been deprived of the annihilating criticism which Collins & Associates would undoubtedly inflict upon our views if they could be persuaded to speak, we have just been provided with some extremely interesting corroboratory material from another source. It appears in an article by Solomon M. Schwarz, called Heads of Russian Factories, which appears in the September 1942 issue of Social Research, a quarterly published in New York by the New School of Social Research. The article is part of a graduate faculty research project on Social and Economic Controls in Germany and Russia. Unless we are mistaken, the author is the same writer who, apparently a member or supporter of the Russian Menshevik Party, used to contribute before the war to the German theoretical magazine of Rudolph Hilferding.

The article deals with the origin and rise of a new social stratum, the heads of the Russian factories, and “their relations with government officials and organizations.” Its principal value lies in the patent objectivity and scholarly scrupulousness with which the author has selected and compiled his data from official Soviet sources. Frankly, we do not have such access to the source material as would make possible a speedy and conclusive check on Schwarz’s material. If we accept the data it is because they are entirely in line, first, with commonly known and commonly accepted facts; second, with material adduced repeatedly by Trotsky on which we have had good reason to rely in the past, and third, with material about which we are more directly informed.

What the present political views or affiliations of the author are, we do not know. The article reveals neither the blatant anti-Sovietism of the Abramovich wing of the Menshevik émigrés nor the bleating “pro-Sovietism” (read: more or less pro-Stalinist position) of the Dan-Werner-Yugov wing. In fact, Schwarz seems to lean over backward in political self-restraint, both from the standpoint of giving his own political opinions and of indicating the political causes and concomitants of the phenomenon he examines. All things considered, we are ready to say: “So much the better.”

Schwarz starts, satisfactorily enough, with the end of the civil war in 1921. Industry had to be re-established; the militants in the military forces were being demobilized. A system of dual management was set up in the factory, with the Bolshevik Party representation (khozyastvennik, “economist”) as director, and a “technical director,” usually from the overthrown classes, as his assistant. It may be added, though Schwartz does not deal with this aspect of the question, that the rôle of the party organization, of the trade unions, of the factory councils or committees, and of the Soviets in general, was such as to give fair assurances of the preservation and predominance of proletarian interests in this set-up. At all events, Lenin’s whole policy was based upon establishing and multiplying precisely such assurances.

“The party director, who exercised most of the managerial functions, was often a former worker who had played an active rôle in the local labor movement since the beginning of the Revolution or even before, perhaps in the very factory where he now acted as manager.” (This and all following quotations are from Schwarz unless otherwise indicated.)

“The technical director, often an engineer with considerable experience, served as a subordinate assistant, limited in his rights in the factory and frequently, for political reasons, tacitly considered not wholly reliable.”

For reasons which Schwarz does not develop properly, in our opinion, either because of the political limitations he places upon himself in his article or because of his own political limitations, this “system of dual control” began to disappear along about 1928–1929. The first “wrecker” trials – of bourgeois engineers – were framed by the regime, and despite Stalin’s speech of June 23, 1931, on the “six conditions necessary for our industrial development,” in which he held out a rather wilted olive branch to the engineers of the old order, the latter never got back to the tolerated positions they had enjoyed before.

That is understandable. In the first place, new levies of engineers trained from among the young Soviet generation were being turned out of the technical schools. But more important than this was the fact that the “wrecker trials” were held, not because the engineers had wrecked but because it was necessary to wreck the engineers. It was part of the violent campaign which the bureaucracy suddenly launched at that time to crush all bourgeois elements in the country’s economic and social life, following right on the heels of the climax of the first phase of the crushing of the revolutionary elements in the Bolshevik Party (the Trotskyists and the Zinovievists).

Trotsky Erred in His Analysis

Hindsight enables us to see now how erroneous was the then analysis of the Left Opposition, and in particular of its leader, Trotsky. The Stalinist wing of the party was judged to be a fundamentally inconsequential grouping which was doomed to capitulate to the Right Wing. The latter, representing the capitalist restorationist tendency in the party, was the real and serious and durable danger. The Stalinist wing might make a little zig-zag to the left, but only in order to make a bigger and more prolonged jump to the right at the next stage. The Stalinists might gain a bureaucratic point here or there over the Right Wing, but it would quickly end by going over to the Right Wing. The Stalinists, due to their hold on the party machine, might defeat the Right Wing inside the party, but on the broad arena of the class struggle in the country, the “Right Wing tail will crash down upon the dead” of the party bureaucracy. The real protagonists were the capitalist forces, on the one side, represented inside the party by the Right Wing, and the revolutionary proletariat, on the other, represented by the Opposition. The Stalinist Center would be speedily dissolved in the heat of the class struggle between these two forces – and while speedily did not mean fifteen weeks or months, it certainly was not meant to extend to fifteen years.

This misconception, this terribly wrong underrating of the true significance of the rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy, failed to prepare us properly for the future. Stalin’s “zigzag to the left” was no movement to the left at all, if by that term is understood a movement in the direction of the class interests of the proletariat. It was not a brief precursor of a long zigzag to the right, if by that term is understood a capitulation to the capitalist elements. The opening up of the independent Stalinist drive (independent of Bukharin, Rykov, Tomsky, that is, of the Right Wing), marked the beginnings of the declaration of independence of the bureaucratic counter-revolution, of its rise to power in its own name, not in the interests of the working class and not in the interests of capitalist restoration. This drive had and still has its ups and downs; it had its zigzags and side-leaps and slow-downs and retreats. But at the same time it had a main line, a fundamental line: the formation of a new, reactionary ruling class in Russia, and the casting of Russian economic, political and social life in the image of this new ruling class.

That’s why the line of Stalinism inside Russia meant not only the most brutal extirpation of all representatives and institutions of the working class, but an only slightly less brutal extermination of all representatives and institutions – especially economic – of the capitalist class. At bottom, that is also why the Stalinists would not tolerate even the most abject coexistence of the capitulators. The latter thought they were capitulating to representatives – bad ones, to be sure, but representatives nevertheless – of their own class and their own class regime. Had their assumption been essentially correct, they would have been absorbed into the apparatus of the “bad representatives” of their class, as has happened before in history. But the assumption was false; that’s why they were not absorbed by the new Stalinist bureaucracy and could not be. The fate of the capitulators, acting in the most debased manner for what they thought was the most noble cause, was thus a double tragedy.

We have just mentioned “the new Stalinist bureaucracy.” To see and weigh just what it is, let us return to Schwarz.

With the restoration or near-restoration of pre-war economic levels, and with the need of more and more managerial forces, the Central Committee, especially from 1928 onward, laid increasing stress on the training of khozyastvenniki. Where Rykov had put some emphasis on this point, it is interesting to note that men like Molotov laid much greater emphasis on it. In the middle of 1928, it was decided that the proletarian elements in the engineering colleges and technical schools be raised to a minimum of 65 per cent among the new applicants; and “the party nucleus in the engineering colleges was also to be strengthened, by commissioning annually, for engineering studies, at least 1,000 communists with good experience in the field of party, Soviet or trade union activity.” Eighteen months later, the Central Committee renewed its emphasis on this problem, increased the number of communists assigned for engineering studies from 1,000 to 2,000, and for the year 1930–31, to 3,000, while the Communist Youth organization “was instructed to prepare 5,000 annually for training in engineering colleges and technical schools.” “Red specialists,” to be trained for the purpose of replacing the old bourgeois technicians, and of supplementing the former party khozyastvenniki, began streaming from the colleges and schools by the thousands. How great, comparatively, was their number, may be seen from the fact that while there were only 20,200 engineers in all Soviet industry in 1927–28 (before the inauguration of the five-year plans), 165,600 students were graduated from the colleges and schools in the period of the first five-year plan alone (1929–32).

Statistical Expressions of the Change

The extremely rapid growth of industry, unexpected by the bureaucracy, went hand in glove with a shortage of labor and a decline in quality. The bureaucracy at first proceeded with a freezing of transfers of workers from manual work to general administration for two years (October 20, 1930, decree). Two years later (September 19, 1932, decree) it acknowledged that “the system accelerated education of engineers and technicians had failed ... In that section of the decree devoted to ‘recruiting for the engineering colleges and technical schools’ there was this time no mention of a ‘workers’ nucleus.’ The previous regulations in this regard were not formally revoked, but they were tacitly pushed into the background, and little by little forgotten.”

Schwarz adduces instructive figures on the changes in the social composition of the schools. They really speak for themselves:

The percentage of worker students began a rapid increase in 1928, but after 1933 it showed an even more rapid decline. In fact, the figures for 1938 may be regarded as on practically the same level as those for 1928, because during those years there was a great increase in the percentage of manual workers among the whole population.







Higher educational institutions








Industry (and building)
Transportation and postal service






Technical schools








Industry (and building)
Transportation and postal service






Conversely the percentage of students consisting of white collar employees and their children grew considerably after 1933, but here the figures apply principally to the “specialists” and the employees in the higher positions, for the white collar employees in medium and inferior positions were of about the same material and social standing as manual workers, sometimes lower. At the beginning of 1938, as shown above, manual workers and their children constituted 33.9 per cent of the students of the higher educational institutions; at the same time the figure for peasants and peasants’ children was a 1.6 per cent, but that for white collar employees and “specialists” and their children was 42.3 per cent (the remaining 2.3 per cent consisting of “others”). The figures for the higher educational institutions devoted to training for industry are even more significant: manual workers, 43.5 per cent; peasants 9.6 per cent; white collar employees and specialists 45.4 per cent.

This gradual process of reducing the proletariat’s influence in the posts of direction, which were becoming increasingly the posts of command, underwent an abrupt change in 1936, according to Schwarz. He quite rightly connects this change with the big purge that began with the Zinoviev-Kamenev trial in 1936 and reached a high point with the Pyatakov-Radek trial in January 1937. Thousands were cleaned out of posts, from small enterprises right up to the highest posts in the land.

From the last months of 1936 until well into 1938 a radical change took place in the leading industrial personnel, wider and more important than that of 1928–29. This shift cannot be explained as arising out of the development of industry. The replacement of almost all the important industrial chiefs by new men – new not only in the direct sense of the word but also in the sense that they were representatives of a social stratum now in process of formation – was a conscious act of policy, put into effect systematically and with a decisive firmness by the supreme authority ...

The replacement of the chiefs of industrial plants by new men was only, one aspect of this new social upheaval. Its broader aspects – its historical roots and inner motives and sociological importance – cannot be analyed within, the frame of this study. [Schwarz here exercises the political self-restraint already noted. Note also that the italics are mine – M.S.]

Of what type were the new industrial directors, the new chiefs of the factories, the new overlords, in a word? Schwarz’ picture is photographically accurate:

... In their political psychology they represented a new type. Most of them leaned toward authoritarian thinking: the highest leadership above (Stalin and those closest to him) has to decide on right and wrong; what that leadership decides is incontrovertible, absolute. Thus the complete devotion to Stalin. It would be an undue simplification to explain this devotion merely by the fact that the system represented by Stalin made possible the rise of these people. The attitude had deeper roots. Stalin was for them the embodiment of the economic rise and the international strengthening of the country. They accepted as natural the fact that this rise was dearly paid for, that the bulk of the toiling masses remained in dire want. They were educated to the idea that the value of a social system depends on the nationalization of the economy and the speed of its development: a society with a developed industry and without a capitalist class is ipso facto a classless society, and the idea of social equality belongs only to “petty bourgeois equalitarianism.” Their interest was not in social problems, but in the strong state that built up the national economy.

How the “Workers’ State” Really Looks

The year Schwarz gives for the rise of this new ruling class, with its own specific class ideology – not a “deviation” from the ideology of another class, but a specifically different ideology, is of significant importance. It coincides with our own estimate of the period of the rise to class power of the bureaucratic counter-revolution. At the same time, it coincides with the time of Trotsky’s radical change in policy, conformative to his view that the objective situation had changed. For it was in 1936 that Trotsky declared that the Russian proletariat had not only lost all political power, but that the Stalinist bureaucracy could not be removed by reform methods, and that the proletariat could return to power only by means of an armed insurrection, that is, the violent overthrow of the existing regime. Once Trotsky made this change in his policy, then, given the singular character of the class rule of the proletariat which distinguishes it fundamentally from all preceding ruling classes, he was saying that the workers’ state in Russia had been destroyed by a counter-revolution. For Trotsky had himself written, in a fundamental thesis on Russia adopted by our movement in 1931, that

The recognition of the present Soviet state as a workers’ state not only signifies that the bourgeoisie can conquer power in no other way than by an armed uprising but also that the proletariat of the USSR has not forfeited the possibility of submitting the bureaucracy to it, of reviving the party again and of mending the regime of the dictatorship – without a new revolution, with the methods and on the road of reform. (Trotsky, Problems of the Development of the USSR, page 36)

When Trotsky declared in 1936 that the proletariat of the USSR had lost the “possibility of submitting the bureaucracy to it,” of reviving the party and the regime “without a new revolution, with the methods and on the road of reform,” he involuntarily recognized, on the basis of his own criterion in 1931, that Russia was no longer a workers’ state.

But while there may be, and are, disputes about the class character of the Russian state, there can scarcely be any debate about the change in the character of the so-called Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Schwarz’ contribution on this score solidly confirms Trotsky’s view in 1933–34 that the Stalinist party, at any rate, could not be reformed, and most definitely confirms our more specific point of view on the question of the present CPSU.

He dates the radical and fundamental change in the party from the period of the big purges, 1936–38, and compares party statistic of the Seventeenth Congress, before the purges (1934) and of the Eighteenth Congress, after the purges (1939).

At the Seventeenth Congress 22.6 per cent of the delegates had been party members since before 1917, and 17.7 per cent dated their membership from 1917; thus 40 per cent had belonged to the party since before the time it took power. A total of 80 per cent of the delegates had been party members since 1919 or earlier. But five years later, at the Eighteenth Congress, only 5 per cent of the delegates had belonged to the party since 1917 or before (2.6 per cent from 1917, 2.4 per cent from earlier years), and instead of 80 per cent, only 14 per cent dated their membership from 1919 or earlier.

Perhaps even more impressive are the figures for the party as a whole. At the time of the Eighteenth Congress there were 1,588,852 party members (compared with 1,872,488 at the time of the Seventeenth Congress, a loss of almost 300,000 members). Of the 1,588,852, only 1.3 per cent, hardly more than 20,000, had belonged to the party from 1917 or before. At the beginning of 1918 the party had numbered 260,000 to 270,000 members, mostly young people. Even taking account of the high mortality during the Civil War, it can be assumed that fewer than 200,000 of these people were alive at the beginning of 1939. But only 10 per cent of them had remained in the party.

The high regard for party membership that dated from the heroic period was over. At the Eighteenth Congress it was particularly emphasized that 70 per cent of the members had belonged only since 1929 or later, and that even of the delegates, 43 per cent belonged to this group (the comparable figure for the Seventeenth Congress was 2.6).

The report of the Mandate Commission of the Seventeenth Congress emphasized with satisfaction that 9.3 per cent of the delegates were “workers from production,” that is, were actual, not only former, manual workers. This question had always been mentioned at the previous congresses. At the Eighteenth Congress, however, the party lost all interes in the matter. Even the most glorified Stakhanov workers – Stakhanov, Busygin, Krivonos, Vinogradova, Likhoradov, Smetanin, Mazai, Gudov – were somewhat out of place at this Congress. All of them were now party members, and some were delegates, but when the Congress passed to the election of the new Central Committee of the party, the important leading body of 139 persons (71 members and 68 substitutes), not one of the famous Stakhanov workers was elected. It was but a logical development that the Congress changed the statutes and eliminated all statutory guarantees of the proletarian character of the party. The Communist Party is no longer a workers’ party; to an increasing extent it has become the party of the officers of the various branches of economy and administrations.

What Is the New Ruling Class?

The CPSU is about as much a “bureaucratic workers’ party” as the National Socialist German Workers Party is a “fascist workers’ party.” To say, as Trotsky rightly but inconclusively said, that it is the party of the bureaucracy, is not enough; the CPSU is the party of the new ruling class, the collectivist bureaucracy.

How do the new factory directors jibe with the “specifically” party bureaucracy? A most interesting development has taken place in the relations between these two social groups. Marx underlines in Capital the familiar phenomenon of the division of the original owner-superintendent into the owner and the superintendent. Where originally the property-owner performed the socially-useful work of superintendence and management and was therefore a “laboring capitalist,” the further division of labor under capitalism and the extension of the economic power of the capitalists made it possible for them to “shift this burden [of management] to the shoulders of a superintendent for moderate pay.” Noting this development under capitalism, I pointed out in my article on the Russian state, almost two years ago, that a directly opposite development had marked the rise and consolidation of the power of the new ruling class in Russia – the “owner” (of the state) had fused with the manager. I wrote that “the bureaucracy is no longer the controlled and revocable ‘managers and superintendents’ employed by the workers’ state in the party, the state apparatus, the industries, the army, the unions, the fields, but the owners and controllers of the state, which is in turn the repository of collectivized property and thereby the employer of all hired hands, the masses of the workers, above all, included” (The New International, December 1940, page 100).

Schwarz traces the same process which marked the consolidation of the new ruling class. What he calls the “conscious act of policy, put into effect systematically and with a decisive firmness by the supreme authority,” was the necessary movement of’ the Bonapartist bureaucracy to establish and widen a new class base for itself in the economic foundations of the country. A new class base – no longer the old base of a corrupted labor bureaucracy. Hence the decline in the “influx of workers and workers’ children into the institutions of higher education.” Hence also the decree of the Supreme Council of the USSR on October 2, 1940, in which

... free education was abolished in the high schools (the eighth, ninth and tenth classes of the public school) and in the higher educational institutions, and a fee was introduced amounting to 150 to 200 rubles a year in the high schools, 300 to 500 rubles a year in the colleges. Hence a higher education became the exclusive privilege of those who could pay for it. The social tendency of this decree is further illuminated by another issued by the same body on the same day, introducing the compulsory vocational education of boys from fourteen to seventeen. After a training of six months (for boys of sixteen and seventeen, to teach them the duties of a “half-qualified” worker) or of two years (for boys of fourteen and fifteen, to teach them the duties of a “qualified” worker) the young men are for four years tied to their manual vocation, and must work in the enterprises indicated to them by the special authority; except in these respects they work under the same conditions as the other workers. But this compulsory vocational training (and the consequent compulsory labor) is not general: 800,000 to 1,000,000 boys must be “mobilized” each year for the vocational schools, but the students of the high schools (the last three classes of the public school) and of the higher educational institutions are tacitly exempt from this obligation. Thus the character of the higher education as a social privilege of the new higher social stratum is directly emphasized. The future industrial chiefs grow up from their very school days with a feeling of their social superiority.

In blunter language, the “new higher” class has its special class privileges and grows up with a feeling of its class superiority. Meanwhile, as happened under capitalism in its time, the class status of the workers as a whole is frozen, but in this new class state with methods that are essentially singular to it.

... The promotion of workers into administrative positions was almost stopped in the second half of the 30’s. The outstanding workers were now protected by higher wages, bonuses and the like and in their social and material position they were elevated above the majority of the workers, almost to the level of the higher ranks of plant employees and engineers. But they were no longer “promoted”; they remained manual workers. Moreover, by this time it was only for a few of these favored workers that the way was open to a higher education, with a prospect of rising later to industrial leadership. The idea of putting the direction of industry into the hands of people rising from the working class and bound up with labor, as it had been formulated at the end of the 20’s, was now lost, and the order to assure a workers’ nucleus in the colleges and technical schools had been tacitly forgotten. At the end of 1940 obstacles were even put in the way of workers’ children attaining a higher education.

The process of developing out and congealing a new ruling class could not avoid the problem of the relations between the new heads of industry and the specifically party officialdom. Schwarz shows, as we indicated two years ago, how this problem has been solved by means of a more or less harmonious fusion, similar though not quite identical with historic fusions into one class of different social strata.

Although directors and party officials represented the same interests, “the economic interests of the state,” they nevertheless represented “different social types,” they “often approached the problems of plant life in different ways.” “Only around the middle of the go’s did these tensions (between the two groups) begin visibly to abate, and only at the beginning of the 40’s were they almost completely removed.”

It might be supposed that in a state consciously built up as a party dictatorship this uncertainty would work in favor of the party officials, but actually the dominant trend in the first half of the 30’s was a strengthening of the authority of the economic officers, guaranteeing them a greater freedom of decision. Thus the position of the director as compared with that of the party cell grew stronger. The outcome of the development was not a more intensive subordination of the economic officers to the party officers, but an increasing influence of industrial officers inside the party. The new changes that began in the middle of the 30’s, much more complicated than may appear at first sight, ended with an almost complete removal of friction between industrial and party officials.

The fusion of the new industrial leadership with the new party bureaucracy was at the same time a fusion with the official (and new) state apparatus – quite inevitably – and the “perfection” of the most totalitarian regime in all history.

It is characteristic of recent developments that the young engineers are being increasingly promoted, not only in industrial plants but everywhere, especially in the Communist Party offices and in the general administration. Toward the end of the 1930’s the newspapers published frequent reports about the election of engineers and technicians as secretaries of party organizations in the plants, and some of the rising new men even reached the central government. When the Soviet Constitution of December 5, 1936, was voted, there were only eighteen People’s Commissariats, including five industrial commissariats, but during the next two years the number was increased, and today the People’s Commissariats total thirty-seven, those for industry twenty-one. Many of the industrial commissariats are led today by younger engineers, some of them having risen into these positions directly from the office of plant director. Engineers in the Soviet Union constitute today almost a third of the government, a phenomenon not to be observed anywhere else.

Then, after pointing out (as quoted further above) how the social composition and character of the ruling party has been altered fundamentally, Schwarz continues:

Thus it is no accident that the young engineers, who since 1936 have occupied such important positions in the industrial administration, have come more and more into party offices, even into the higher positions in the party structure. And in the plants the party apparatus and the general administration have become more and more homogeneous, both socially- and psychologically. The roots of the friction between the plant directors and the cell secretaries have died out ...

The party organization of the plant is thus enclosed in the general industrial administration as an auxiliary organ of the official control; in this activity it is strongly subordinated to the higher party organs, which are at the same time superior to the administrations of the plants. This arrangement serves as a substitute for the public control of public economy. The problem of the relations between the plant administration and the party bodies loses through this development its sociological complexity and becomes only a problem of administrative technique.

“A substitute for the public control of public economy” – indeed it isl It is a euphemistic way of saying that the worker-controlled collectivist economy has been replaced, euphemistic but accurate. The “substitute” is in no sense of the word a workers’ state. The closest it comes to this characterization is the description of it that a Cannonite editor once permitted himself to give of the Stalinist state: a workers’ prison.

* * *

It is not hard to understand why Marxists hesitate to acknowledge the rise to power of a new ruling class, new in type as well as in character. They have been educated in the fundamental concept that in our time society can be organized only under the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie or the dictatorship of the proletariat. As a broad historical generalization, we believe that this concept is basically correct. But it cannot serve as a substitute for the concrete study and evaluation of the – in our opinion brief – historic bypath that has led Russia to a new class state and a new ruling class, the Stalinist bureaucracy.

It would perhaps be easier to break down the theoretico-psychological barriers in the way of accepting this evaluation if it were more generally known that the idea of a bureaucracy as a new type of ruling class, neither capitalist nor proletarian, is not unknown in the literature of Marxism.

In his book, Historical Materialism, written long before the word Stalinism was even thought of and which is, with all its defects, a Marxian classic, the late N.I. Bukharin takes up the argument made among others by Robert Michels that “socialists will conquer, but socialism never.” In other words, the socialist movement may take power, but it will only establish a new form of class exploitation and oppression, not capitalist but labor-bureaucratic; the classless socialist society is a Utopia. We must say that Bukharin did not seek to evade this question but courageously came to grips with it. In replying, it should be emphasized, he was not considering the possibility of the workers’ Soviet regime degenerating into or being forcibly converted into a capitalist regime. No, that possibility he, like every other sane person, acknowledged out of hand. What was involved was the question: will the present Soviet regime lead directly to socialism or will it – can it – degenerate into a new, bureaucratic form of class exploitation? Will the ruling officialdom in the Soviet land develop its own class power, entirely independent of the proletariat (and of course of the capitalist class)? Here is Bukharin’s reply:

We may state that in the society of the future there will be a colossal overproduction of organizers, which will nullify the stability of the ruling groups.

But the question of the transition period from capitalism to socialism, i.e., the period of the proletarian dictatorship, is far more difficult. The working class achieves victory, although it is not and cannot he a unified mass. It attains victory while the productive forces are going down and the great masses are materially insecure. There will inevitably result in a tendency to “degeneration,” i.e., the excretion of a lead stratum in the form of a class-germ. This tendency will be retarded by two opposing tendencies first, by the growth of the productive forces; second, by the abolition of the educational monopoly. The increasing reproduction of technologists and of organizers in general, out of the working class itself, will undermine this possible new class alignment. The outcome of the struggle will depend on which tendencies turn out to he the stronger. (Bukharin, Historical Materialism, pp. 310f.)

Considering that the book was written almost a quarter of a century ago, the words are positively prophetic! What an incongruity that the same Bukharin should have become, later on, one of the theoreticians of “socialism in a single country”! We know now “which tendencies turned out to be the stronger.” It is true that the productive forces grew in Russia, but their growth was accompanied precisely by the “excretion of a leading stratum in the form of a class-germ,” by its expansion on a monstrous scale, and by the legalization, not the abolition, of the “educational monopoly” of this leading stratum. There has not been any “increasing reproduction of technologists and of organizers in general, out of the working class itself,” but rather a decrease, rather a deliberate exclusion of the working class from the training-fields of technology and industrialization organization and management. Bukharin’s frankly avowed fears have been realized. How tragic that he unwittingly contributed to the consummation!

Rakovsky, next to Trotsky the leading figure and theoretician of the Opposition, wrote about the same question, not in anticipation, like Bukharin, but as a participating witness of the evolution of the Russian state. As early as 1930, still in Stalinist exile in Astrakhan, he set down in one of his studies which is, unfortunately, not available to us in full, the following penetrating observation:

Under our very eyes, there has been formed, and is still being formed, a large class of rulers which has its own interior groupings, multiplied by means of premeditated cooptation, direct or indirect (bureaucratic promotion, fictitious system of elections). The basic support of this original class is a sort, an original sort, of private property, namely, the possession of state power. The bureaucracy “possesses the state as private property,” wrote Marx (Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law). (The Militant, December 1, 1930)

That’s precisely the point, and it is all the more forceful twelve years after Rakovsky noted it. The Stalinist bureaucracy is an “original,” that is, a singular, an unprecedented type of ruling class, but nonetheless a ruling class. What is singular about it is the fact that in Marx’s words, it owns the state as its private property. It may be objected that Marx wrote this about the Prussian bureaucracy of a century ago. But the objection is not valid because the two bureaucracies are fundamentally different and not comparable, because the “states” are different. The Stalinist bureaucracy possesses as its exclusive own a state which owns the property! Nothing else could have been meant by Trotsky when he wrote (The Revolution Betrayed, p. 249) that the seizure by the bureaucracy “of political power in a country where the principal means of production are in the hands of the state, creates a new and hitherto unknown relation between the bureaucracy and the riches of the nation.” New and hitherto unknown – that is perfectly correct! That is why Trotsky’s own analogies between the Stalinist and other bureaucracies, however illuminating, were fundamentally inadmissible and therefore misleading.

The theory of the “degenerated workers’ state” has not stood the test of theoretical reconsideration or the test of events. It has only served to disorient the movement. High time to discard it.


1. Like Lenin, Trotsky is not without his epigones. He wrote time and again to show that ownership of all property by the state in Russia did not make it [Line of text missing in printed version] in Russia was the possession of the whole people.” Yet we are now told by one George Collins that in Russia “the factories, mines, mills, railroads, workshops belong to those who work them. The soil belongs to those who till it.” Did this 100 per cent Stalinist propaganda-lie appear in the Daily Worker, where common decency dictates that it properly belongs? No, it appears on page 1 of the Cannonite Militant for September 12. But no need to worry; as is customary with this paper, without repudiating Collins, it will say the opposite in a following issue, and generously let the reader make his own choice as to its real position.

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Last updated on 12 January 2015