Leon Trotsky

An Answer to Stalinist Critics – III

(November 1926)

Delivered: November 1926.
First Published: International Press Correspondence, 1927 (?).
Source: Archives of the Revolution, The New International, Vol. VIII No. 11, December 1942, pp. 343–345.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2015. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

[Continued from Last Issue]

We repeat once more: it is a question of internal forces and not of the dangers connected with abroad. It is therefore a question of the character of the revolution. (Bucharin, No. 19/20 of The Bolshevik)

The character of our revolution, independent of international relations I Since when has this self-sufficing character of our revolution existed? I maintain that our revolution, as we know it, would not exist at all but for two international prerequisites: firstly, the factor of financial capital, which, in its greed, has fertilized our economic development, and secondly, Marxism, the theoretical quintessence of the international labor movement, which has fertilized our proletarian struggle. This means that the revolution was being prepared, before 1917, at those cross-roads where the great forces of the world encounter one another. Out of this clash of forces arose the great war, and out of this the October Revolution. And now we are told to abstract ourselves from the international situation and to construct our socialism at home for ourselves. That is a metaphysical method of thought. There is no possibility of abstraction from world economics.

What is export? An internal or an international affair? The goods to be exported must be produced at home, thus it is an internal matter. But they must be exported abroad, hence it is an international transaction. And what is import? Import is international! The goods have to be purchased abroad. But they have to be brought into the country, so it is a home affair after all. (Laughter) This example of import and export alone suffices to cause the collapse of Comrade Bucharin’s whole theory, which proposes an “abstraction” from the international situation. The success of socialist construction depends on the speed of economic development, and this speed is now being determined directly and more sharply than ever by the imports of raw materials and machinery. To be sure, we can abstract ourselves from the shortage of foreign securities, and order more cotton and machines But we can only do that once. A second time we shall not be able to accomplish this abstraction. (Laughter) The whole of our constructive work is determined by international conditions.

If I am asked whether our state is proletarian, I can only reply that the question is out of place. If you do not wish to form your judgment on two or three words picked at random from an uncorrected stenographic report, but on what I have said and written in dozens of speeches and articles – and this is the only way in which we should form a judgment on one another’s views – if we do not wish to trip one another up with an uncorrected sentence, but seek to understand one another’s real opinions, then you must admit without hesitation that I join with you in regarding our state as a proletarian state. I have already replied by several quotations to the question of whether this state is building up socialism. If you ask whether there are in this country sufficient forces and means to carry out completely the establishment of socialism within thirty or fifty years, quite independent of what is going on in the world outside, then I must answer that the question is put in an entirely wrong form. We have at our disposal adequate forces for the furtherance of the work of socialization, and thereby also to aid the international revolutionary proletariat, which has no less prospect of gaining power in ten, twenty or thirty years, than we have of establishing socialism; in no way less prospect, but much greater prospect.

I ask you, comrades – and this is the axis upon which the whole question turns – what will be going on in Europe while we are working at our socialization? You reply: We shall establish socialism in our country, independent of what is going on all over the world. Good.

How much time shall we require for the establishment of socialism? Lenin was of the opinion that we shall not have established socialism in twenty years, since our agrarian country is so backward. And in thirty years we shall not have established it either. Let us take thirty to fifty years as a minimum. What will be happening in Europe during all this time? I cannot make a prognosis for our country without including a prognosis for Europe. There may be some variations. If you say that the European proletariat will certainly have come into power within the next thirty to fifty years, then there is no longer any question in the matter. For if the European proletariat captures power in the next ten, twenty or thirty years, then the position of socialism is secured, both in our country and internationally. But you are probably of the opinion that we must assume a future in which the European proletariat does not come into power? Otherwise why your whole prognosis? Therefore, I ask what you suppose will be happening in Europe in this time? From the purely theoretical standpoint, three variations are possible. Europe will either vacillate around about the pre-war level, as at present, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie balancing to and fro and just maintaining an equilibrium. We must however designate this “equilibrium” as inconstant, for it is extremely so. This situation cannot last for twenty, thirty or forty years. It must be decided one way or the other.

Do you believe that capitalism will find a renewed dynamical equilibrium? Do you believe that capitalism can secure a fresh period of ascendancy, a new and extended reproduction of that process which took place before the imperialist war? If you believe that this is possible (I myself do not believe that capitalism has any such prospect before it), if you permit it even theoretically for one moment, this would mean that capitalism has not yet fulfilled its historical mission in Europe and the rest of the world, and that present-day capitalism is not an imperialist and decaying capitalism, but a capitalism still on the upgrade, developing economics and culture. And this would mean that we have appeared too early on the scene.

Chairman: Comrade Trotsky has more than exceeded the time allotted him. He has been speaking for more than one and a half hours. He asks for a further five minutes. I shall take your vote. Who is in favor? Who is against? Does anybody demand that a fresh vote be taken?

Comrade Trotsky: I ask for a fresh vote.

Chairman: Who is in favor of Comrade Trotsky’s being given five minutes more? Who is against? The majority is against.

Comrade Trotsky: I wished to utilize these five minutes for a brief summary of conclusions.

Chairman: I shall take the vote again. Who is in favor of Comrade Trotsky’s time being extended by five minutes? Those in favor hold up their delegate’s tickets. Who is against? The majority is in favor. It is better to prolong the time than to count votes for five minutes. Comrade Trotsky will continue.

Comrade Trotsky: If it is assumed that during the next thirty to fifty years which we require for the establishment of socialism, European capitalism will be developing upward, then we must come to the conclusion that we shall certainly be strangled or crushed, for ascending capitalism will certainly possess, besides everything else, correspondingly improved technics of war. We are, moreover, aware that a capitalism with a rapidly rising prosperity is well able to draw the masses into war, aided by the labor aristocracy which it is able to create. These gloomy prospects are, in my opinion, impossible of fulfillment; the international economic situation offers no basis. In any case we have no need to base the future of socialism in our country on this supposition.

There remains the second possibility of a declining and decaying capitalism. And this is precisely the basis upon which the European proletariat is learning, slowly but surely, the art of making revolution.

Is it possible to imagine that European capitalism will continue a process of decay for thirty to fifty years, and the proletariat will meanwhile remain incapable of accomplishing revolution? I ask why I should accept this assumption, which can only be designated as the assumption of an unfounded and most profound pessimism with respect to the European proletariat, and at the same time of an uncritical optimism with respect to the establishment of socialism by the unaided forces of our country? In what way can it be the theoretical or political, duty of a communist to accept the premise that the European proletariat will not have seized power within the next forty to fifty years? (Should it seize power, then the point of dispute vanishes.) I maintain that I see no theoretical or political reason for believing that we shall build up socialism with the cooperation of the peasantry more easily than the proletariat of Europe will seize power.

No. The European proletariat has the greater chances. And if this is the case, then I ask you: Why are these two elements opposed to one another, instead of being combined like the “two conditions” of Lenin? Why is the theoretical recognition of the establishment of socialism in one country demanded? What gave rise to this standpoint? Why was this question never brought forward by anyone before 1925? (A voice: “It was!”) That is not the case, it was never brought forward. Even Comrade Stalin wrote in 1924 that the efforts of an agrarian country were insufficient for the establishment of socialism. I am today still firm in my belief that the victory of socialism in our country is only possible in conjunction with the victorious revolution of the European proletariat. This does not mean that we are not working toward the socialist state of society, or that we should not continue this work with all possible energy. Just as the German worker is preparing to seize power, we are preparing the socialism of the future, and every success which we can record facilitates the struggle of the German proletariat, just as its struggle facilitates our socialist progress. This is the sole true international view to be taken of our work for the realization of the socialist state of society.


In conclusion I repeat the words which I spoke at the Plenum of the CC: Did we not believe that our state is a proletarian state, though with bureaucratic deformations, that is, a state which should be brought into much closer contact with the working class, despite many wrong bureaucratic opinions to the contrary; did we not believe that our development is socialist; did we not believe that our country possesses adequate means for the furtherance of socialist economics; were we not convinced of our complete and final victory: then, it need not be said, our place would not be in the ranks of a Communist Party.

The Opposition can and must be estimated by these two criteria: it can accept the one line or the other. Those who believe that our state is not a proletarian state, and that our development is not socialist, must lead the proletariat against such a state and must found another party.

But those who believe that our state is a proletarian state, but with bureaucratic deformations formed under the pressure of the petty bourgeois elements and the capitalist encirclement; who believe that our development is socialist, but that our economic policy does not sufficiently secure the necessary redistribution of national income; these must combat with party methods and party means that which they hold to be wrong, mistaken or dangerous, but must share at the same time the full responsibility for the whole policy of the party and of the workers’ state. (The chairman rings.) I am almost finished. A minute and a half more.

It is incontestable that the inner party contentions have been characterized of late by extreme acuteness of form, and by the fractional attitude. It is incontestable that this fractional aggravation of the contention on the part of the Opposition – no matter by what premises it was called forth – could be taken, and has been taken by a wide section of the party members, to mean that the differences of opinion had reached a point rendering joint work impossible, that is, that they could lead to a split. This means an obvious discrepancy between the means and the aims, that is, between those aims for which the Opposition has been anxious to fight, and the means which it has employed for one reason or another. It is for that reason we have recognized this means – the fraction – as being faulty,and not for any reason arising out of present consideration. (A voice: “Your forces were inadequate; you have been defeated!”) We recognize this in consideration of the whole inner party situation. The aim and object of the declaration of October 16 was to defend the views which we hold, but to do this under the observance of the confines set by our joint work and our solidarity of responsibility for the whole policy of the party.

Comrades, what is the objective danger involved in the resolution on the social democratic deviation? The danger lies in the fact that it attributes to us views which would necessarily lead, not merely to a fractional policy, but to a policy of two parties.

This resolution has the objective tendency of transforming both the declaration of October 16 and the communiqué of the CC into fragments of paper that with satisfaction ... (A voice: “Is that a threat?”) No, comrades, that is no threat. It is my last thought to utter any threat. (A voice: “Why raise that again?”) You will hear in a moment. Only a few words more.

In our opinion the acceptance of this resolution will be detrimental, but in so far as I can judge of the attitude of the so-called Opposition, especially of the leading comrades, the acceptance of this resolution will not cause us to depart from the line of the declaration of October 16. We do not accept the views forced upon us. We have no intention of artificially enlarging the differences, or of aggravating them and of thus preparing for a relapse into the fractional struggle. On the contrary, each one of us, without seeking to minimize the existing difference of opinion, will exert every endeavor to adapt these differences within the confines of our continued work and our joint responsibility for the policy of the party.

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Last updated on: 12 January 2015