Max Shachtman


Four Portraits of Stalinism

On the Books of Duranty, Shub, Wolfe and Deutscher

(March 1950)

From New International, Vol. XVI No. 2, March–April 1950, pp. 105–114.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

(Continued from last issue)

We have already considered the first of the three elements in Wolfe’s explanation of the rise of Stalinism: Lenin’s prediction of what would happen to the Russian Revolution if Trotsky’s conception of it were followed. There remain the other two “brilliant examples of foresight and forewarning”: Plekhanov on Lenin’s program for the nationalization of the land and Trotsky on Lenin’s conceptions of party organization. [1]

Plekhanov had the “truly brilliant premonition,” writes Wolfe, “that nationalization of the land would bind the peasant to the state afresh, to any state that might hold in its hands the weapon of overlordship of the soil, thus continuing the age-old servile ‘Asiatic’ tradition which had always bound the rural masses to the ruling power. And if the peasant majority were bound, could the urban population be free?” This somewhat dramatic disclosure suffers from no less than three defects, any one of which is fatal to the significance that Wolfe attaches to it:

First, in so far as it is Wolfe’s formulation, it is decidedly not the one Plekhanov put forward, nor the thought that he could possibly have had in mind. Second, in so far as it is Plekhanov’s formulation, it has nothing whatever to do with the Bolshevik revolution itself. And third, in so far as it is called upon to explain how Stalinism arose, it is, to say the best about it, worthless.

Plekhanov did indeed argue against Lenin’s proposal in 1906 that the Russian Social Democracy adopt the program of nationalization of the land, and warn that its realization might bring about a new kind of subjugation of the peasantry to the state. But his argument was not related to “any state.” The credit for this belated “premonition” belongs entirely to Wolfe. It should not be foisted upon Plekhanov, who did not and could not speak of “any” state at that time, or even think in such terms. Let us briefly reconstruct the discussion of 1906.

After the defeated revolution of 1905, the Bolsheviks felt confirmed in their view that in the coming democratic revolution, the proletariat would play the leading role; the peasantry, allied with it, would play a revolutionary role, but the Russian bourgeoisie would not and could not play a revolutionary role, even though the revolution was regarded by all as bourgeois-democratic in character. The Mensheviks, on the other hand, while acknowledging the revolutionary role that the working class was called upon to play, insisted that the leadership of the democratic revolution would have to be in the hands of the bourgeoisie. This viewpoint, despite occasional lapses, was shared by Plekhanov. To him, therefore, the revolution to end czarism would establish and consolidate a bourgeois state. His warnings were therefore directed against a nationalization of the land carried out under the rule of the bourgeoisie, and nothing else.

It is only on the grounds of this perspective that Plekhanov made his argument. If it is the bourgeoisie that is to come to power, we must guarantee ourselves against its acquisition of too much centralized or centralizing power. Nationalization of the land would not only contribute to such centralization of power but, given the traditions of our country, it would facilitate (that is what Plekhanov’s references to the history of France meant) the triumph of the anti-democratic, Bonapartist, tendencies in bourgeois society. It is therefore better to advocate the division of the land among the peasants as a lesser evil, or in any case to counterpose the idea of “municipalization,” that is, the transfer of the large estates to the “democratic organs of local self-government,” to the idea of nationalization which would be, in the words of Martov, a suitable basis for fettering the peasant masses to every attempt at restoration of the old order. That is how Plekhanov’s argument ran. What does that have to do with the nationalization of the land that finally did take place – not under bourgeois but under proletarian rule – or with the danger of restoration of the old order which was not and, it is now plain enough, will not be restored?

Lenin argued that nationalization of the land would most thoroughly undermine if not destroy the old ruling classes and the last remnant of feudalism, even though it was not, in itself, incompatible with the development of capitalist economy. Nevertheless, he was fully aware of the validity, not of Plekhanov’s conclusions, but of the question he raised. That is why he spoke of the nationalization of the land representing a huge step forward only in connection with the most thoroughgoing democratization of the coming regime. He connected his agrarian program with such basic demands as the establishment of a republic, popular election of all officials by universal suffrage, abolition of the standing army, and the like. He added that the program of municipalization would be harmful if such a consistently democratic state did not exist. It is interesting to note what Plekhanov replied in his concluding speech at the Congress.

Granted that the objection which he [Lenin] raised against Maslov [the advocate of municipalization] is warranted, then ... Lenin’s own draft is good only in case all the “ifs” presented to us are fulfilled. But should these “ifs” not be. given, then the realization of his draft would be injurious.

From which it should be clear that Plekhanov, far from warning against the nationalization of the land under “any state,” rejected it under a bourgeois state only if the conditions attached to it by Lenin were not realized. Otherwise we would have to conclude that the socialist Plekhanov figured on the preservation of private property in land under socialism; or better yet, that he believed the socialist revolution would be guaranteed against capitalist restoration by maintaining private land ownership. Whatever else may be said against Plekhanov, such an accusation is simply too absurd to be entertained. Especially when he made it so perfectly clear, at that very Congress, that his opposition to Lenin’s program was based precisely upon his rejection of the idea that the Russian proletariat could expect to take power.

Since the impending overturn can only be a petty-bourgeois one, we are obligated to refrain from the seizure of power.... But if we reject the seizure of power as impossible, the question arises of what must be our attitude toward a program-draft which is bound up with the seizure of power. If we reject the seizure of power, then we must also reject this program. Those of you who stand on the standpoint of Marxism must decisively reject the draft of Comrade Lenin. It falls together with the conspiratorial idea of the seizure of power.

Plekhanov’s “prevision” is therefore worth discussing at this late date only in the terms to which he so rightly boiled down his point of view, namely, not whether the Bolsheviks should have nationalized the land, and not whether this nationalization produced Stalinism, but simply this: should the Russian proletariat have taken power in 1917? For, implicit in Plekhanov’s position is the view that if it were correct for the proletariat to take power in the coming revolution, then the nationalization of the land would unquestionably be high on its agenda. It is to be feared that all of Wolfe’s studies have brought him to the conclusion that the “tragic problem” of the Russian Revolution is to be traced to the fact that it took place. The conclusion does not gleam with originality. The Russian people were warned against the Bolshevik idea of taking power as early as 1917. However, in the most democratic way imaginable, they did not heed the warnings of Kerensky, the Menshe-viks, right-wing SRs and Plekhanov.

There are two other reasons why Wolfe’s discovery of land nationalization as a cause of Stalinism is, so to say, startling.

First, Wolfe is familiar with the writings of Rosa Luxemburg, whom he calls the “outstanding advocate of revolutionary policy and the outstanding defender of democracy within the labor movement.” Her posthumous work of criticism of the Bolsheviks dwelled particularly on their land policy. As Wolfe knows, since he edited the American edition of this work, she was steadfastly for the nationalization of the land and reproached the Bolsheviks for not bearing in mind that “the direct seizure of the land by the peasants has in general nothing at all in common with socialist economy”; that “it piles up insurmountable obstacles to the socialist transformation of agrarian relations”; that having seized the land, the Russian peasant “has dug obstinately into his new possessions and abandoned the revolution to its enemies, the state to decay, the urban population to famine.”

In his comments on Luxemburg’s criticism, Wolfe, writing exactly ten years ago, not only found the nationalization of the land quite unworthy of mention as an error of the Bolsheviks – let alone an error that led to Stalinism – but went out of his way to defend Lenin’s policy from Luxemburg:

On the land question, it was Lenin, who despite his previous doctrinaire misgivings, had recourse to the theory of stimulating the initiative of the oppressed peasant masses for the democratic solution of Russia’s agrarian problem. Thereby he broke down at a single stroke the large-landownership system that oppressed Russia. Thereby he destroyed the power of gentry and czarism. Thereby he bound the peasants to the revolutionary government and even though other meas-urse alienated them, yet in the moments of greatest peril they still defended the government that had helped them take the land against the danger of landowner restoration. [And Plekhanov’s warning?] She and Lenin were agreed in believing that ultimately large-scale mechanized agriculture was desirable and possible. But Lenin – despite occasional neglect of his principles under pressure of events – understood what she, in doctrinaire fashion, sought to ignore: that such large-scale socialist agriculture would be possible only after a material base had been created in the form of modern industry, tractor plants, chemical fertilizer plants, and plentiful consumer factory products, and then only by winning the peasants in democratic fashion and convincing them through their own observation and experience that the proposed methods were actually superior in technical and cultural advantages and offered a richer and more attractive life. In this field, neither Trotsky nor Stalin has been equal to the “discipleship” to which each of them has pretended. Rather have they departed here from the views of Lenin in the direction of those of Luxemburg. (Our emphasis – M.S.)

It would seem that since he wrote these lines in 1940, Wolfe has modified his opinions of Lenin’s agrarian policy and their kinship to Stalin’s (even if he has not modified his old habit of bracketing as similars the Trotsky and Stalin who were so dissimilar). We will not say that Wolfe has no right to modify his opinions about the Russian Revolution, even to the point of changing them into their opposite. Indeed, he is only one of those who are thereby doing the popular and highly respectable thing. But he does not have the right to change the facts on which he bases his opinions. Or does he wish to suggest that Lenin’s “democratic solution of Russia’s agrarian problem” led to Stalin’s despotism on the land because Stalin somehow moved toward Luxemburgism? That would be a novel viewpoint!

Second, writing about the disputes between the Marxists and the populists in Russia, Wolfe makes the observation:

More than either of the two contendants realized, they were complementary to each other, rather than irreconcilable rivals, since the populists based themselves upon the rural masses, the Social Democrats on the urban. Never could there be a truly democratic transformation of Russia unless these two classes should join forces in mutual and equal partnership, and without either imposing itself upon the other.

As a formula, this is pretty loose-jointed and a little smug. But in so far as it contains a realistic idea for the achievement of a “truly democratic transformation of Russia,” a better than reasonable facsimile of it was produced precisely by the Bolshevik revolution and its agrarian program. No more legitimate heirs of the old populists existed in Russia in 1917 than the left-wing Social Revolutionists. Together with the Bolsheviks, they represented the decisive majority of the workers and peasants and, above all, the unquestionable aspirations of the overwhelming majority. It was with the support of this majority that the revolution was carried out, and the Soviet regime established and consolidated. Lenin, in order to cement a fraternity between the revolutionary workers and the peasant masses, did not hesitate for a minute to take over, promulgate and carry out the program of the SRs. As far back as 1906, at the founding congress of the SR Party, a program was adopted that called for the socialization of the soil (the “maximalist” wing even called for the socialization of all plants and factories). Plekhanov warned against such a program not only in 1906 but also in 1917, and he was not the only one. But that was one of the reasons why the workers and the peasants turned their backs upon all these “forewarners” and chose the road of the proletarian revolution. The Bolsheviks made it possible that “these two classes should join forces” by adopting the program of the left SRs, making a coalition with them in the Soviet government, and therewith carrying out the “truly democratic transformation of Russia” that Wolfe recommends. Therewith Lenin produced “the democratic solution of Russia’s agrarian problem” (despite Plekhanov’s “brilliant prevision”), assured the country “against the danger of landowner restoration” (despite Plekhanov’s “brilliant warning”), and proceeded with the course of “winning the peasants in democratic fashion” (despite Plekhanov’s “brilliant premonition”).

What is there in this well-known record, so much of which is established by Wolfe himself, that was bound to lead to the present totalitarianism? Something must have intervened to lead to it, but it was not the nationalization of the land by the democratic Soviet regime.

That “something else” cannot be found in superficial literary juxtapositions, in quotations from Plekhanov about the danger from land nationalization by a bourgeoisie that never carried it out in a revolution that never took place. It can only be found in the actual course of the social development, of social conflict, and of the fate of political ideas in this conflict.

Reference has been made to the fact that Lenin was not unaware of the danger of restoration following the revolution. He knew that as early as 1906; and after 1917 he spoke and wrote about it dozens of times. In particular, he was aware of the role which the peasantry, in its various strata, might play in the restoration of capitalism. Wolfe’s pious phrase about “mutual and equal partnership” between workers and peasants was as alien to Lenin as it is the glib phrase of foggyheads and demagogues. To Lenin, as to any Marxist, there could be an alliance, even a very close, mutually fruitful and lasting alliance, between different classes – the proletariat and peasantry represent two different classes – but not equality.

As is fairly well known, the peasants as a whole (even the richer ones), looked with favor on the “Bolsheviks,” because they had given them land and fought the civil war against the landlords to preserve that revolutionary achievement. The same peasants, however, looked upon the “Communists” with uneasiness, supicion and even hostility, because that term represented the long-range program of the abolition of all private property, including private exploitation of the land. And in this social attitude, historically conditioned and economically sustained by the everyday life of the peasant, Lenin saw one of the most powerful sources for the restoration of the capitalist regime.

Lenin’s fears were “unjustified.” The Napoleon who consolidated his power and almost conquered all of feudal Europe with the support of the “allotment farmer,” the small landed peasant-proprietor of France, was not reproduced in Russia. He was not reproduced, and capitalism was not restored, because there was no urban bourgeois class capable of successfully stimulating the property instincts of the Russian peasantry, of organizing them into a political fighting force and leading them to the overturn of the Soviet power. Two such classes were theoretically possible. One in the form of the Russian bourgeoisie: but it was wiped out or dispersed to the four corners of the earth during the civil war. The other in the form of the international bourgeoisie; but although it attempted to play its role, it failed in the face of the Russian resistance to the interventionist wars, of the disunity which rivalry introduced into its own ranks, and of the opposition of the working class of the capitalist countries.

In his concluding speech on the agrarian question at the 1906 congress, Lenin discussed Plekhanov’s arguments about the danger of restoration in connection with the program of land nationalization in the following terms:

If it is a question of a real and genuine economic guarantee against restoration, i.e., of a guarantee that would create economic conditions under which restoration would become impossible, then one must say that the only guarantee against restoration is a socialist revolution in the West; there can be no other guarantee in the real and full meaning of the term.

A writer who is looking for “brilliant foresight and forewarning” about the Russian Revolution can find an excellent example right there – an example which gives us the whole key to Lenin’s outlook! The socialist revolution in the West was not victorious, but neither was the capitalist restorationist struggle in Russia. Yet reaction did triumph. Because it was neither foreseen nor forewarned against does not mean that inappropriate anachronistic quotations relieve us of the task of examining in the concrete its singular character.

Abstractly, the main social reservoir for capitalist restoration in Russia was the peasantry, or rather what may be called the most property-minded strata of the peasantry. However, for this abstraction to become a social reality, this peasantry would have to find an urban counterpart capable of organizing and leading it. By itself, it could not go much further than a series of localized and ineffectual Vendées, such as were, indeed, as much a phenomenon of the Russian Revolution as of the French. But this urban counterpart, the Russian bourgeoisie, was completely wiped out in the course of the civil war; and among those who helped to wipe it out were the peasants themselves. This was due to the fact that the Russian bourgeoisie appeared before the peasants as the not-at-all accidental allies of the landlords who aimed to recover their lands; and that the Bolsheviks appeared before them as the champions and defenders of the land distribution.

The Bolsheviks had quite deliberately and wisely coupled the actual distribution of the land to the peasants with the “juridical” nationalization of the land. The former not only corresponded to the vehemently avowed demands of the peasantry but won them to the struggle against the restoration of the old landlords and the old bourgeoisie. The latter was aimed not only at preventing the rise of a new large-property-owning class among the peasantry itself, but as the point, of departure for the gradual socialization of agriculture which alone can eliminate the “idiocy of rural life.” But this process of socialization could unfold only upon the basis of the development of a modern socialist industry, at once capable of assuring ample supplies of cheap commodities to the peasantry and of providing agriculture with modern-machinery which would release the land population from its sunup-to-sundown slavery to the wooden plow and the ox. A modern socialist industry is precisely what Soviet Russia could not establish by its own forces, but for which it required the cooperation that could be provided only by the working class brought to power by successful revolution in the advanced West. For the benefit of cynics, it might be added that these ABCs were not invented after the fact, so to speak, but were loudly, even anxiously and, in any case, repeatedly proclaimed by the Bolsheviks before, during and after the October revolution.

The principles of Soviet democracy, which were set forth by Lenin in 1917 and 1918, especially in what will long remain the classic work on the subject, State and Revolution, remain an unassailable contribution to the socialist struggle for freedom. If the Bolsheviks departed from them, as they undoubtedly did, they were driven to it by conditions imposed upon them by the delay in the world revolution. The Western proletariat could raise the siege of the isolated fortress that the Bolsheviks manned, but meanwhile the latter had to defend it with the best means available to them, also against those on the inside who threatened its defense. Simultaneously with the war to prevent the incursion of a world of enemies from without, the revolution was forced to defend itself from the beginning in one of the fiercest civil wars in history. It is hard to recall another revolution that faced so superhuman a task, and yet managed, to acquit itself so well.

But unarmed forces are sometimes harder to cope with than armed forces. The peasants were an unarmed force. Actually, they had gained more from the “Bolshevik” revolution, in material terms, than the workers, and they acted upon an acknowledgment of this fact in the civil war. But their appetite very naturally grew and asserted itself when the civil war ended and the threat of a landlord restoration was pretty conclusively laid. How could this appetite be satisfied, especially when it increased with every improvement in the harvest? The wretched state of Russian industry in general, and of its development as an efficient socialist industry, made it, if not impossible then at least exceedingly difficult, to satisfy the peasantry in a way that would assure a harmonious evolution to socialism. Again, that required the revolution in the West. In its absence, the Bolsheviks were obliged to make great concessions to the peasantry in the form of that controlled “state-capitalism” which was the NEP. It was only a stopgap and that is all it could be. But under it, the peasants, at least relative to the workers, made still more material gains; at any rate, that was true of the better-situated peasants. The appetite of the unarmed force continued to grow, and the development of the socialistic sector of industry did not keep pace with it. In Trotsky’s expressive image, the blades of the scissors, representing the prices of industrial and agricultural products, were drawing apart. That only foreshadowed – even accompanied – the political drawing apart of the two classes upon whose alliance the Soviet power reposed.

Tracing the rise of Stalinism, Wolfe asks:

And a police apparatus huge enough to police the planting and harvesting all over vast, rural Russia, would it not tend to spill over into the very organizations of the advanced city workers who had sanctioned it: into their state, their unions and their party?

The implication is clear, but the facts are not. In a certain sense, that process did indeed unfold and it left its mark on other processes. But to say that, is to say something so general as to draw our attention away from the process which was decisive in the rise of Stalinism. The fact is that the end of the civil war and the institution of the NEP, brought to a halt the system of military rule and military requisitioning of peasant grain which was imperative for the defense of the country during the grim days of War Communism. The fact is that there began an enormous relaxation of state (“police apparatus”) controls over the peasantry. And the fact is, further, that as the controls were more and more relaxed over the landed population, they were, in almost the same degree, tightened over the working class and over the Bolshevik party itself. The process that proved to be decisive was almost exactly the opposite from the one Wolfe describes!

That Wolfe did not understand the significance of the struggle when it broke but in the Bolshevik party in 1923, is perhaps understandable. That he should be so far from understanding it a quarter of a century later is inexcusable. Unless we are to descend to the level of the cretinism that is so popular in our day, and repeat that Trotsky and Stalin were fighting each other for personal power, we must assume that the contest involved great social forces and principles. Trotsky based himself upon and fought, well or not so well, for one: Stalin, well or not so well, for another.

Trotsky appealed against the bureaucracy to the workers. Let us allow all the criticisms made of him by those severe ones who are so obsessed with small things that they cannot grasp the big ones. Even with the most generous of such allowances, the big things remain. Trotsky directed himself to the workers, to their democratic traditions, feelings, aspirations, to their socialist convictions, ideals, hopes; to their spirit of internationalism; against the growth of bureaucratism and its arbitrariness, its cynicism, its falsifications, its privileges, its conservatism. In other words, he appealed to those things that make up the socialist consciousness, the self-reliance, the independence of the working class – its emancipating power.

In every respect, the bureaucracy, rallied by Stalin, made the opposite appeal. And this opposite appeal – to which class was it mainly directed, in which class did it find its most favorable response? The one it was calculated to arouse against “Trotskyism,” the peasantry, or to be precise, those of its strata who could easily be mobilized behind the most property-minded element, the kulaks.

Trotskyism? asked the bureaucracy. That means, it answered, underestimation of the peasantry; it means “permanent revolution” which will throw us into futile foreign adventures that threaten a repetition of the sufferings endured by the peasants during the intervention days; it means an end to NEP, to free trading on the market by the peasant with his surplus, and the reintroduction of War Communism. The Stalinists openly charged that the Opposition wants to “rob the peasantry”; that it wants to exploit the peasants for socialist accumulation as the bourgeoisie exploited the colonial peoples for capitalist accumulation; that it wants to squeeze the peasants dry for its adventuristic “super-industrialization” plans. It was from the Stalinists that came the watchword to the peasants. “Enrich yourselves!” It was Stalin himself who made the first tentative public suggestions, in 1926, for breaching the law on the nationalization of land, and his Georgian commissar of agriculture actually drew up a draft of a law to breach it.

In the Stalinist bureaucracy, the peasants ( not they alone, but they above all others in Russia) saw the “continuation of Bolshevism” of 1917–1918, that is, not only as the defenders of the land they had acquired by the revolution but as the promoters of their property-rights, of their economic rights and their right to expand their economic power. In the Trotskyist Opposition, the same peasants saw “the Communists,” the international revolutionists, the “selfish city-men,” to say nothing of the “intellectuals” (and in not a few cases, the “Jews”), the “socializers of prop erty,” the people who had been in the saddle too long and who had to be pulled up short, so that an honest, hard-working kulak could add to his holdings, could increase the number of his workers, and could sell his growing surpluses to the city at an honest or at any rate a stiff price.

It was on the basis of these social reactions that the bureaucracy was able to win the fight against the Opposition. It was by shrewdly arousing these reactions that it was able to win. It won with the aid of the unarmed force that the huge peasant mass constituted in Russia. And what Wolfe misses completely, it seems, is that only by first mobilizing this unarmed force was the bureaucracy able to establish firmly its rule, the rule of the “police apparatus,” over the party, the trade unions, and the working class as a whole. That is how it happened; almost exactly the opposite way, as we noted, from the one Wolfe describes; and its significance altogether escapes him. The original hopes of the Bolsheviks to reduce the disproportionate social weight of the peasantry in order to assure the rule of the working class, by giving the worker five times as high a vote as the peasant, ultimately proved to be vain. In the struggle, it was no longer a question of votes; it was not even any longer a question of the Soviet institutions which the civil war had deeply undermined. The social weight of the peasantry asserted itself against the revolutionary proletariat in the period of the reaction, and there was not enough strength left to withstand it.

That is how the reaction gained its first and, at bottom, its decisive victory in Russia. There was not in existence a bourgeoisie to serve as the urban counterpart and political leader of the increasingly conservative and property-conscious peasants. Consequently, there was no restoration of capitalism. But the urban counterpart and leader was found in the form of the Stalinist bureaucracy. The “alliance” was strong enough, in the general atmosphere of reaction and declining self-confidence of the proletariat, to smash the revolutionary regime, to overturn the workers’ power, to crush the Bolshevik party. But it did not follow that a “peasant” regime was established. Once again it was proved – as if it needed another proof! – that the social nature of the peasantry is such that it cannot establish a durable, independent regime of its own, but can only help establish the rule of an urban class. When it supported to power the progressive class in Russian society, it gained materially even as a peasantry. The Stalinist bureaucracy was not progressive, but reactionary. When the peasantry helped it to power, the inevitable happened. Once in command of the state, and no longer fearing the socialist proletariat it had crushed and subjected to a police dictatorship, the Stalinist bureaucracy proceeded to extend the police dictatorship over the peasantry. It consolidated its power by reducing the peasant mass to the level of state serfs.

It was not, then, as we read the history of the events, the nationalization of land – aimed at curbing the concentration of land in the hands of agrarian property-holders – that facilitated the rise of Stalinism. If anything, the bureaucracy “emancipated” itself from the revolution with the aid of those who strove for such a concentration. If Wolfe had merely wished to say that the centralization of land ownership in the hands of the state gave Stalinist reaction a tremendous, even unparalleled, economic and therefore political power over the people, after the reaction succeeded in taking over the state, he would be saying very little. In the first place, it would apply at least as much to the decisions of the revolution which nationalized all the principal means of production and exchange – factories, plants, mines, banks, mills, railroads, etc. But in that case, it is not Plekhanov’s “brilliant prevision” that would be worth mentioning, not even in a footnote. Wolfe would then be more consistent in referring to the “brilliant premonitions” of every enemy of socialism from Herbert Spencer to Fredrick von Hayek. In the second place, it would be such a commonplace that it would be worth mentioning only in a footnote. Marxist or non-Marxist, no moderately intelligent person has ever had the slightest doubt that the centralization of all economic power in the hands of a reactionary state can have anything but reactionary consequences so long as it remains in the hands of that state.

The only interesting point is the one that Wolfe seeks to suggest, namely, that the very act of nationalizing the land brought Russia (and the Bolsheviks) from democracy to totalitarianism. It is of interest because it is at the heart and core of the whole reactionary struggle against the socialist movement and the socialist ideal today. Only where that struggle is conducted directly and not by indirection, it does not confine its criticism, if we may so call it, to nationalization of land, but extends it, as is only proper, to the whole .field of nationalization of the means of production and exchange; and does not stop with Lenin but, as is still proper, goes back to Marx and Engels and the whole idea of socialist freedom. Whether or not the badly mismatched “prevision” of Plekhanov was dug out of historical obscurity, where it was not unjustly lodged, so that it might be used in this struggle, is a question that merits treatment in a political biography of Wolfe, who is himself contributing some not-unexpected chapters to it in the current press, rather than in a political biography of the “three” who made a revolution. If it is used, then the patrons of this struggle have very little to congratulate themselves on in Wolfe’s unsensational disclosure. If it throws some light on the author’s method of historical analysis, and on how superficial and unilluminating it is, it throws none on the Russian revolution itself.

(Concluded in the next issue)


1. An apology is in order for a disconcerting typographical error in the preceding article in this series. In the January–February issue, an entire quotation from Wolfe’s book is misplaced. It is to be found at the bottom of page 21, running to the top of page 22. Because it is so central to Wolfe’s views, it should be read in its proper context. It belongs at the end of the quotation from Plekhanov’s speech at the 1906 Congress which is reproduced in the second column of page 20. The passage is, of course, Wolfe’s comment on what Plekhanov (and Lenin and Trotsky) “foresaw” before the revolution.

Max Shachtman

Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 2 November 2014