Max Shachtman


The Struggle for the New Course


The Bureaucracy as a New Ruling Class

But the bureaucracy did not remain the same, either. The present ruling class is about as much like the early workers’ bureaucracy of Lenin’s day as the Stalinist state is like what Lenin called “our bureaucratically-deformed workers’ state.” It is a new bureaucracy, a different bureaucracy. The fact that Stalin headed the old and heads the new is, essentially, of personal importance. To fulfill the unique historical role thrust upon it, the bureaucracy had to transform itself almost completely.

The Zinovievists could capitulate to the new rulers, but it is most significant: the workers’ bureaucracy (that is what Zinoviev represented, at least a section of it) was incompatible with the existence and development and consolidation of the new ruling class. Crawl and approve and praise and beg and confess though they would, the Zinovievists were physically exterminated. The Trotskyists – all but the imperishable and intransigent Trotsky himself – could capitulate to the new rulers, but they too were unassimilable – they represented another party and another class, and the counter-revolution could not feel itself consolidated without annihilating them. The Right Wingers – same story, wiped out to a man. Perhaps of greatest significance is the fact that the same fate was reserved for nine-tenths of the original Stalinist bureaucracy, of the time when it could still be regarded as a conservative or, if you will, a reactionary faction of Bolshevism, that is, of the party whose retention of political power more or less assured the proletarian character of the state. Yenukidze had to go, and Petrovsky, Lominadze, Schatzkin, Syrtzov, even Yagoda. These are names that represent thousands. The new ruling class is a new bureaucracy. The “trials” and “purges” were the one-sided but bloody civil war by which the new bureaucracy definitely smashed the last remnant of workers’ power and established a new class power of its own.

The transformation of the old Stalinist bureaucracy into the new is interestingly noted by the Menshevik scholar, Solomon M. Schwartz, in a study published last year in Social Research (September issue). Special note should be taken of his dates:

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 representative 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 analyzed within the frame of this study.

Of what type were the new industrial directors, the new chiefs of the factories, the new overlords, in a word? Schwartz goes on to say:

... In their political psychology they represented a new type. Most of them leaned toward authoritarian thinking: the high 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 [read: in the social position of the proletariat – M.S.], but in the strong state that built up the national economy.

This is a photographically accurate picture of the specific ideology of the new ruling class. It is not necessary to accept Schwartz’s political or theoretical conclusions to understand that his description fits the basic facts about the new ruling class like a glove fits the hand. It can be verified from a dozen different sources. What is important to note is that this ideology does not correspond to that which we have known to be the ideology of the capitalist class, of the working class at any stage of its development, of any section of the petty-bourgeoisie, or of any labor bureaucracy.

Equally interesting are Schwarz’s comments on the formation of the new party representing the interests of this new class. It would perhaps be more accurate to speak of a new party created by breathing a new class life into the corpse to which Stalinism had reduced the old Bolshevik Party. Schwartz dates the radical and fundamental change from the period of the big purges, 1936-38 (the period of the one-sided civil war in Russia, the period of the triumph of the bureaucratic counter-revolution). Here is what he writes in comparing the party statistics of the Seventeenth Congress before the purges (1934) with the Eighteenth Congress, after the purges (1938):

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 forty per cent had belonged to the party since before the time it took power. A total of eighty per cent of the delegates had been party members since 1919 or earlier. But five years later, at the Eighteenth Congress, only five 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 eighty per cent, only fourteen 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 270,000members, mostly young people. Even taking account of the high mortality during the Civil War, it can be assumed that hardly fewer than 200,000 of these people were alive at the beginning of 1939. But only ten 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 seventy per cent of the members had belonged only since 1929 or later, and that even of the delegates, forty-three per cent belonged to this group (the comparable figure for the Seventeenth Congress was 2.60 per cent).

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 interest 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.

There is a balance-sheet of Stalinism. Twenty years after the Bolshevik Revolution, only ten per cent of those who organized and led it are in the ruling party, and they constitute only 1.3 per cent of its total. It is a new party; it speaks for a new class; it is the political organization of the new bureaucracy that overthrew the workers’ state.

In the light of this analysis, a reevaluation of the old Right Wing is necessary and possible. It is not a bourgeois party. It did not aim, as was sometimes said in polemical heat and exaggeration, to restore capitalism. It represented the most conservative wing of Bolshevism, but it was a wing of Bolshevism. It sought, in its political way, to satisfy the organic needs of Russian economy, that is, to develop the productive forces. It believed this could be accomplished by prolonging and extending the NEP, which was the aim of Lenin when he first proposed the New Economic Policy. It believed it could be accomplished by stimulating the productivity of the well-to-do peasants, the “productive” peasant, the “economical” peasant, by giving the subordinated private capitalist and trader more leeway.

Would this road have led to capitalist restoration? On this point, we believe Trotsky was undoubtedly right, and events confirmed him. But essentially in this sense: the Right Wing policy would so have weakened the proletarian positions in the economic life of the country that the inevitable attack of capitalism would be greatly facilitated. In the same sense, the policies of social democracy so weaken the political positions, solidarity, militancy and self-reliance of the proletariat as to facilitate the attack that fascism eventually launches against it. That does not make the social democracy a fascist party, any more than the Right Wing in Russia was a bourgeois party, or a party of bourgeois restoration.

If this is clearly understood, subsequent developments are easier to understand. The Right Wing, with all its capitulations and “reconciliations” with Stalin, remained at bottom a (conservative) wing of Bolshevism, just as Trotsky remained to the end the representative of revolutionary Bolshevism itself. It is the old Stalinist wing of the party that changed, and the transformation it underwent reached to its very nature.

Trotsky’s writings show no formal acknowledgment of this change of relationships, but there is an objective and unconscious recognition of it in the fact of his altered evaluation of the Right Wing. He was correct in describing the Bukharin-Tomsky-Rykov faction as being to the Right of the Stalinist bureaucracy – in the first period of the struggle, in the period of the old Stalinist bureaucracy. But after this bureaucracy had become transformed through and through, after it had reached totalitarian power, after it became the incarnation of a new ruling and exploitive class, the old Right Wing, which had not changed fundamentally, and still represented the conservative section of Bolshevism, was properly regarded by the new bureaucracy as a Left danger. That is how it regarded any section of old Bolshevism – as a threat from the Left, in varying degrees, of course. Unless this analysis is accepted, Trotsky’s characterization of the bureaucracy’s destruction of the Right Wing as an attack upon the Left makes no sense at all.

In artillery fire, the target range is found by a system of successively closer approximations descriptively known as “bracket.” In the question of the Right Wing, and to a large extent in the question of the evolution of Stalinism, of its social and historical significance, Trotsky closed in on a moving target by “bracketing” it. Even where he fell short, his shots were close enough to be “near misses.” Stalin’s unalterable hatred for the fire to which Trotsky’s analyses subjected him is sufficient proof of this. Our own analysis does not claim to have hit the target once for all and to have answered all questions; it pretends to nothing more than a rectification of the range. But it is a rectification of no little importance.

Trotsky refused to accord the Stalinist bureaucracy the “status” of a new ruling class, or to recognize that the workers’ state no longer existed. Many of his most lively polemics were directed against those who disagreed with his point of view, including some directed, anticipatorily, so to speak, at the writer before he developed in his own mind the analysis set forth above. Trotsky held that Russia was a workers’ state so long as the proletariat, especially its vanguard, the party, still had the possibility of submitting the bureaucracy to its control by means of reform methods, that is, without recourse to the violent revolutionary overthrow of the bureaucracy. He stated this point of view repeatedly. But as the absolutism of the bureaucracy grew, and was not accompanied by a strengthening of the capitalist or the socialist classes, Trotsky shifted his emphasis and was compelled to change his standpoint radically.

In October, 1933, after the supine capitulation of German capitalism to Hitler, Trotsky declared that the workers’ state could no longer be regenerated by reform measures. “The bureaucracy can be compelled to yield power into the hands of the proletarian vanguard only by force.” By an armed uprising? No, that would be unnecessary. “When the proletariat springs into action, the Stalinist apparatus will remain suspended in mid-air. Should it still attempt to resist, it will then be necessary to apply against it not the measures of civil war, but rather measures of a police character. In any case, what will be involved is not an armed insurrection against the dictatorship of the proletariat but the removal of a malignant growth upon it.”

Three years later, the further consolidation of bureaucratic totalitarianism showed the inadequacy even of this formula. Trotsky then put forward the point of view that it was precisely an armed uprising, and it alone, that could remove the bureaucracy. But the next revolution of the proletariat in Russia would be a political and not a social revolution. Why? Because it would be obliged to change only the political regime and leave the social regime more or less intact. That means, the revolution would replace the Bonapartist bureaucracy with reconstituted, democratic soviets, but would maintain what Trotsky called the social, or economic, foundations of the workers’ state, namely, nationalized property. “By these property relations,” he wrote in 1931, referring to nationalized property in Russia, “lying at the basis of the class relations, is determined for us the nature of the Soviet Union as a proletarian state.” The seizure of all political power by the bureaucracy made it necessary to modify this characterization, said Trotsky, so that we call Russia a “degenerated workers’ state.” The bureaucracy is not a new class, but a parasitic caste. A transfer of state power from one class to another requires a social revolution; a transfer of state power that does not alter the basic class relations requires only a political revolution.

This viewpoint was based upon a decisive methodological error, and invested Trotsky’s analyses of Russia, in the period of the rise of the new bureaucratic power, with distortions and irreconcilable contradictions.

The proletariat differs from all the classes that preceded it in history. It is not a property-owning class; it is not an exploiting class; it does not take power to perpetuate its class rule but to dissolve it, and along with it all class rule. It is of the ABC of Marxism that the fundament of all social relations (that is, relations of production) are property relations. That holds for the old slave-holding societies, for feudal society, for capitalist society, and for the proletarian state. The prevailing form of property in the first-named was human chattels; the slave-owners were the ruling class and the state of their time defended their social rule. In the second-named, the same applied with regard to the ownership of land. In the third, the same applies with regard to the ownership of capital. Whatever the political form capitalist society may take, be it a constitutional monarchy, a democratic republic, a Bonapartist military or fascist dictatorship, the state has as its fundamental task the preservation and extension of capitalist property and of the social relations based upon it.

When the proletariat takes state power, however, all this is altered in one fundamentally important respect. The proletariat wipes out the private ownership of the means of production and exchange by nationalizing them. They become state property. The proletariat does not own the property in the sense that the capitalists own theirs, or the feudal lords owned theirs, or the slave-holders theirs. It "owns” social property only by virtue of the fact that the state, which is the repository of the means of production and exchange, is in its hands, is its state; that is, only because the state represents a dictatorship of the working class, because the state is the proletariat organized politically as the ruling class. That is the only way the proletariat can own the means of production and exchange.

Let us put it this way: The new state is not proletarian because it owns (has nationalized) property. Just the other way around: The nationalized property becomes socialistic (not yet socialist, but socialistic, that is, socialist in type, in tendency) because the state that owns it is proletarian, is the proletariat organized as the ruling class. You have a workers’ state when the working class has political power, and under no other circumstances. It can exercise its political power under different conditions and in different forms: with the widest possible democracy, extending to the point of suffrage for the overthrown bourgeoisie; with complete disfranchisement of the bourgeoisie; with complete disfranchisement of all parties but one (this is already a danger sign); with the dictatorship exercised directly through soviets or through factory committees or even through a single party – yes, even through a sick and bureaucratized party. It is in the last case that you really have a “degenerated workers’ state,” or, as Lenin called it much more accurately, a “workers’ state with bureaucratic deformations.”

In a country where the working class has no political power whatsoever, where it cannot gain or regain power except by a revolutionary overthrow of the existing regime for the purpose of establishing its political supremacy – you may call such a state what you will, a workers’ state it is not. The working class, unlike the property-owning classes, acquires its economic power, its social power, its power to reorganize society, only by first acquiring political supremacy. When Trotsky wrote that the working class in Russia no longer has any political power at all, it was equivalent to saying that it had lost its social power, its class rule was at an end, and so was the workers’ state established in 1917.

The question can be examined in still another way, and the conclusion will still be the same. Where property is privately owned, the problem of the class nature of the existing state can be settled by asking: Who owns the property? In the United States as in Germany, in England as in India, the answer is fundamentally the same: the bourgeoisie. The state exists to defend this bourgeois property; regardless of its political form, it is a bourgeois state. But where property is collectively or state-owned, it means nothing to ask merely: Who owns the property, that is, who owns the state-property? The meaningless answer is: The state, of course! Under such circumstances, the only meaningful question is: Who owns the state that owns the property, that is, who has political power? In Lenin’s time, the answer was fairly obvious: the proletariat. But under Stalin? When Trotsky wrote that “the bureaucracy is in direct possession of the state power,” that was tantamount to saying: the bureaucracy is the ruling class; the state is no longer a workers’ state; state property has been converted into the economic foundation of a new ruling class; new property relations, therefore new production relations, therefore new social relations, have been established. In reality, this is confirmed by Trotsky’s concrete picture of conditions and relations in Russia today.

His refusal to recognize this led Trotsky from one contradiction to another. Two examples are characteristic.

The Soviet Union, he said, is a Bonapartistically degenerated workers state. The bureaucracy has established a Bonapartist dictatorship upon “the social foundations of the workers’ state” (i.e., nationalized property). We know of such regimes in the history of bourgeois society, wrote Trotsky. Under the Bonapartist dictatorship, the bourgeoisie was deprived of its political power, but its social foundations – capitalist private property – were protected and preserved. Similarly, under fascist dictatorships. The fascist bureaucracy is parasitic, it consumes vast amounts of the surplus value, its political rule is complete and the bourgeoisie is excluded from it, it irritates and plagues the bourgeoisie, but nevertheless it maintains the social rule of capitalism. The Stalinist bureaucracy, arrogating all political power to itself, nevertheless maintains, however incompetently and wastefully, the social rule of the working class (again, nationalized property).

That the Stalinist regime is Bonapartist is incontestable. It has almost all the classic features of Bonapartism, and most of the features of fascist rule. The regime of the sabre, social demagogy, police rule, plebiscitary elections, guzzling bureaucracy, the exploitation of class antagonisms for its own benefit – all these are characteristic of the Stalinist state. But Trotsky’s historical analogy falls down precisely at the point he considers essential.

Bonapartism and fascism, both, are forms of bourgeois rule, because in spite of their political “expropriation” of the bourgeoisie, they did (or do) strengthen the social rule of this bourgeoisie. The French bourgeoisie, under Napoleon, and the German bourgeoisie, under Bismarck or Hitler, experienced a tremendous reinforcement of their economic position. The bureaucracy might be an expensive guzzler of wealth, but under it, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, toward the end of the century in Germany and in that country today, the bourgeoisie prospered enormously. Its industry, its financial and commercial system flourished and expanded. Under the bureaucracy (Napoleonic, Prussian or fascist), the bourgeoisie continued to gain in strength, and new vistas of wealth and power were opened to it. It had no need of debates to prove that its social power was being strengthened; it was given rich and tangible proof of that every day, no matter how much it might grumble “politically”.

But the Bonapartist bureaucracy in Russia? Under its rule the working class has been tremendously weakened, not only politically but economically and socially; and it has been completely prostrated and enslaved. The “official” Trotskyist press, to which reference has already been made, wrote not long ago that under the rule of Stalin, Russia has become a prison to which the working class is sentenced for life. Let it say the same thing about the bourgeoisie of France under Bonaparte, or the bourgeoisie of Italy under Mussolini, or the bourgeoisie of Germany under Bismarck or Hitler! If Russia under Stalin is a prison to which the working class is sentenced for life, that makes the country a workers’ prison, but not a workers’ state. Between the two there is quite a difference.

Second example: In 1939, in a polemic against the writer and his political friends, Trotsky went so far as to say that Stalinist Russia is a “counter-revolutionary workers’ state.” “The trade unions of France, Great Britain, the United States and other countries support completely the counter-revolutionary politics of their bourgeoisie. This does not prevent us from labeling them trade unions, from supporting their progressive steps and from defending them against the bourgeoisie. Why is it impossible to employ the same method with the counter-revolutionary workers’ state? In the last analysis, a workers’ state is a trade union which has conquered power.” This analogy has no firmer legs than the one made with bourgeois Bonapartism.

The trade unions remain trade unions, no matter how bureaucratized they become, so long as they fight (ineptly or skillfully, reformistically or militantly) in the defense of the workers’ share of the national income, or at least against its diminution. Once they give up that fight, they may call themselves what they will, they may have ever so many workers in their ranks (as many company unions have), but they are no longer class organizations. John L. Lewis’ organization is still a trade union; Robert Ley’s is not.

The Stalinist “trade union,” the Stalinist state, however, is in no way comparable with a reformist or a “counter-revolutionary” trade union. It carries out a systematic policy of reducing the workers’ share of the national income. It does not fight to raise the economic or political standards and rights of the workers of Russia, or to prevent them from being lowered. It does just the contrary. It defends nationalized property? Most assuredly it does! But nationalized property in the hands of the ruling bureaucracy, nationalized property as it is organized, managed and exploited by the bureaucracy, is the most important economic weapon it has for the exploitation and oppression of the proletariat. That is why the bureaucracy defends it with such cruel ardor, with such violent police measures against the workers, with such intransigent and bitterly-fought wars against any foreign bourgeoisie that seeks to take it over. Who will say that this is the case with the trade unions in the hands of the reformist bureaucracy?

The analogy may be examined from another side. Why is the labor bureaucracy in the capitalist countries counter-revolutionary? Very simple: it is against the socialist revolution. It has proved that again and again. It has gone so far as to help machine-gun workers who fought to establish socialism. It is counter-revolutionary because it is pro-capitalist. Its existence, its privileges, are based upon the maintenance of bourgeois democracy (particularly of imperialist democracy) and of the trade union organizations which are possible under bourgeois democracy and from which it directly derives its power. Under fascism, the trade union bureaucracy is wiped out. As a defender (not a very able one!) of bourgeois democracy, it bases itself necessarily upon the preservation of the social system that guards capitalist property.

Is the Stalinist bureaucracy counter-revolutionary? Decidedly so! But in a fundamentally different way and on a fundamentally different basis. It opposes the proletarian socialist revolution no less violently than the social-reformists, and in Russia it destroyed it. But it is not based upon the maintenance of bourgeois democracy (or any other kind); it does not base itself upon the preservation of the capitalist social system. Reformism in political power (the two Labor Party regimes in England) protects capitalist property quite satisfactorily, all things considered. Stalinism consolidated its political power over the bones, not only of revolutionists, but also of the capitalist elements in the country. The uniqueness of the counter-revolutionism of the Stalinist bureaucracy cannot be understood without realizing that it is not a bourgeois bureaucracy and not a proletarian bureaucracy, but a new ruling class.

The failure to realize this led the Trotskyist movement right off the rails when the Second World War broke out in 1939 and confronted the movement with Stalinist Russia playing a role in the war that was not expected and not foreseen. In dividing the spoils of conquest with fascist German, Stalin proceeded to expropriate the bourgeoisie in the conquered countries, to nationalize property, and to incorporate the new territories into the USSR – a name that contains four monstrous lies, for it is not a union, it has nothing in common with soviets, it is not socialist, and it is not a republic.

What was the social significance of Stalin’s act? It may be of interest to record that many of us who then rejected the slogan of “unconditional defense of the Soviet Union in the war” looked for Stalin to maintain private property in the newly-conquered territories. We regarded the fact that Stalin left this property more or less intact in the beginning as proof of Russia’s first important shift to capitalism. The error was profound. But without seeking to excuse it or to evade our own responsibility for it, it should be said that the preceding analysis made by Trotsky had directly suggested such expectations to us, and not to us alone. Trotsky had written more than once, before the war broke out, that if the proletarian revolution did not come speedily, a military victory or a military defeat for Russia in the war would make no serious difference, because the inner contradictions would lead inevitably to the restoration of capitalism – this, we repeat, regardless of Russia’s victory or defeat.

We were disoriented by our expectations. Stalin did nationalize property in the occupied territories. Given Trotsky’s view that Russia is still a workers’ state, what did the nationalization mean? “This measure, revolutionary in character – ‘the expropriation of the expropriators,’” wrote Trotsky, “is in this case achieved in a military-bureaucratic fashion.” Correct, but not sufficient.

The Stalinist bureaucracy carried through a fundamental change in property relations, without the masses and with the police suppression of the masses. A change in property relations is brought about only by a social revolution. The establishment of nationalized property in the occupied countries converted them, according to Trotsky’s theory, to workers’ states, and, simultaneously, so to speak to degenerated workers’ states; or made them constituent parts of an already degenerated workers’ state. Looked at from the fundamental, social, standpoint, the bureaucracy therefore played a revolutionary role – again according to Trotsky’s theory of nationalized property. Trotsky had brought himself to a hopeless contradiction. Marxian dialectics may be invoked ever so often and ever so eloquently, but it will not suffice to uphold a theory of the counter-revolutionary revolutionists, of counter-revolution carrying through a social revolution in a counter-revolutionary way, without the proletariat coming to power for even a minute, but being, on the contrary, bloodily suppressed by police measures and being saved from Hitlerite slavery only to be converted by Stalin, in Trotsky’s words, “into his own semi-slaves.” In comparison with this, our theory of the Stalinist bureaucracy as a new and reactionary exploitive class, and of Russia as a bureaucratic-collectivist class state, neither proletarian nor bourgeois, is the veriest commonplace of Marxism.

At bottom, classes have risen and come to power throughout history in response to the developing needs of production which preceding classes were unable to satisfy. This is the case, also, with the new ruling class in Russia. The Russian bourgeoisie had ample opportunity to prove that it could not, or could no longer, develop the productive forces of the country. It came upon the scene too late to play the historically progressive role it played in the Western countries.

It is this fact that gave the Russian revolution its peculiar, one might almost say, feverish course, so unexpected by mechanical-minded dogmatists who styled themselves followers of Marx. They revenged themselves upon the Bolshevik revolution by denying its proletarian class character – it said in The Book that the Russian revolution would be bourgeois and not proletarian. Out of Marx’s fundamental but “conditional proposition,” wrote Trotsky in The New Course, “an effort was made to set up an absolute law which was, at bottom, at the basis of the ‘philosophy’ of Russian Menshevism ... In reality, it turned out that Russia, joining in its economy and its politics extremely contradictory phenomena, was the first to be pushed upon the road of the proletarian revolution.”

But if the bourgeoisie came too late, the proletariat of Russia came to power, so to speak, “too early.” It is of course more proper to say that the rest of the European proletariat did not come to power early enough. The results of this retardation of the world revolution are known. The isolated Russian proletariat, in a backward country, could not satisfy the needs of production, either. It could not satisfy them on a socialist basis. That was the quintessential point made by Trotsky in his theory of the permanent revolution. It was with this conviction in mind that he combatted the bureaucracy’s theory of “socialism in a single country.” The bureaucracy won, the revolution degenerated. But not in accordance with the predictions of Lenin or Trotsky. The revolution did not turn to capitalism.

In 1935 Trotsky noted that the “development of the productive forces proceeded not by way of restoration of private property, but on the basis of socialization, by way of planned management.” The first half of this observation refuted Trotsky’s old prognosis; the second half was refuted by the consolidation of the new ruling class. The productive forces were not developed by way of socialization (which implies a trend toward socialism) but by way of bureaucratic collectivism. The new bureaucracy was born, grew, and took power in response, not to the needs of society as a whole – the world proletariat is sufficiently capable of satisfying those – but to the organic needs of a backward, isolated country, existing in unique and unprecedented world conditions. The new class satisfied these needs (more or less), but by its very nature, by the nature of the conditions of its existence, it accomplished the task in a reactionary way. It converted backward Russia into modern Russia, made it a powerful, industrially-advanced country.

This can and must be said, and in the statement itself, from an historical point of view, there is neither praise nor blame. Marx paid as much tribute to the bourgeoisie in its time. But an important difference must be noted. In the days of its miracles of accomplishment, the bourgeoisie was progressive, speaking on the whole, because no other class in society had matured that could take its place and do its job, not even the’ working class. In the period of accomplishment of the bureaucracy, a class already exists on a world scale which is fully matured for the task of reorganizing society on a rational basis, a task that can be postponed now only at the imminent risk of a lapse into barbarism. It is to this barbarism that the Stalinist bureaucracy has made such heavy contributions, by virtue of its disruptive and counter-revolutionary labors throughout the working class movement. The socialist revolution would reduce this new despotism to ashes, and it is keenly aware of this fact.


Last updated on 9.4.2005