Leon Trotsky

The Third International
After Lenin

I. The Program of the International Revolution
or a Program of Socialism in One Country?

(Part 3)

8. The Contradiction Between the Productive Forces and the National Boundaries as the Cause of the Reactionary Utopian Theory of “Socialism in One Country”

9. The Question Can Be Solved Only on the Arena of World Revolution

10. The Theory of Socialism in One Country as a Series of Social Patriotic Blunders

8. The Contradiction Between The Productive Forces
and the National Boundaries as the Cause of the Reactionary
Utopian Theory of “Socialism in One Country”

The basis for the theory of socialism in one country, as we have seen, sums up to sophistic interpretations of several lines from Lenin on the one hand, and to a scholastic interpretation of the “law of uneven development” on the other. By giving a correct interpretation of the historic law as well as of the quotations in question we arrive at a directly opposite conclusion, that is, the conclusion that was reached by Marx, Engels, Lenin, and all of us, including Stalin and Bukharin, up to 1925.

From the uneven sporadic development of capitalism flows the non-simultaneous, uneven, and sporadic character of the socialist revolution; from the extreme tensity of the interdependence of the various countries upon each other flows not only the political but also the economic impossibility of building socialism in one country.

Let us examine once again from this angle the text of the program a little closer. We have already read in the introduction that:

“Imperialism ... aggravates to an exceptional degree the contradiction between the growth of the national productive forces of world economy and national state barriers.”

We have already stated that this proposition is, or rather was meant to be, the keystone of the international program. But it is precisely this proposition which excludes, rejects, and sweeps away a priori the theory of socialism in one country as a reactionary theory because it is irreconcilably opposed not only to the fundamental tendency of development of the productive forces but also to the material results which have already been attained by this development. The productive forces are incompatible with national boundaries. Hence flow not only foreign trade, the export of men and capital, the seizure of territories, the colonial policy, and the last imperialist war, but also the economic impossibility of a self-sufficient socialist society. The productive forces of capitalist countries have long since broken through the national boundaries. Socialist society, however, can be built only on the most advanced productive forces, on the application of electricity and chemistry to the processes of production including agriculture; on combining, generalizing, and bringing to maximum development the highest elements of modern technology. From Marx on, we have been constantly repeating that capitalism cannot cope with the spirit of new technology to which it has given rise and which tears asunder not only the integument of bourgeois private property rights but, as the war of 1914 has shown, also the national hoops of the bourgeois state. Socialism, however, must not only take over from capitalism the most highly developed productive forces but must immediately carry them onward, raise them to a higher level and give them a state of development such as has been unknown under capitalism. The question arises: how then can socialism drive the productive forces back into the boundaries of a national state which they have violently sought to break through under capitalism? Or, perhaps, we ought to abandon the idea of “unbridled” productive forces for which the national boundaries, and consequently also the boundaries of the theory of socialism in one country, are too narrow, and limit ourselves, let us say, to the curbed and domesticated productive forces, that is, to the technology of economic backwardness? If this is the case, then in many branches of industry we should stop making progress right now and decline to a level even lower than our present pitiful technical level which managed to link up bourgeois Russia with world economy in an inseparable bond and to bring it into the vortex of the imperialist mar for an expansion of its territory for the productive forces that had outgrown the state boundaries.

Having inherited and restored these productive forces the workers’ state is compelled to import and export.

The trouble is that the draft program injects mechanically into its text the thesis of the incompatibility of modern capitalist technology with the national boundaries, and then the argument proceeds as if there were no question at all of this incompatibility. Essentially the whole draft is a combination of ready-made revolutionary theses taken from Marx end Lenin and of opportunist or centrist conclusions which are absolutely incompatible with these revolutionary theses. That is why it is necessary without becoming allured by the isolated revolutionary formulas contained in the draft to watch closely whither its main tendencies lead.

We have already quoted that part of the first chapter which speaks of the possibility of the victory of socialism “in one isolated capitalist country.” This idea is still more crudely and sharply formulated in the fourth chapter, which says that:

“The dictatorship [?] of the world proletariat ... can be realized only as a result of the victory of socialism [?] in individual countries when the newly formed proletarian republics will establish a federation with those already in existence.”

If we are to interpret the words “victory of socialism” merely as another expression for the dictatorship of the proletariat, then we will arrive at a general statement which is irrefutable for all and which should be formulated less equivocally. But this is not what the authors of the draft have in mind. By a victory of socialism, they do not mean simply the capture of power and the nationalization of the means of production but the building of a socialist society in one country. If we were to accept this interpretation then we would obtain not a world socialist economy based on an international division of labor but a federation of self-sufficing socialist communes in the spirit of blissful anarchism, the only difference being that these communes would be enlarged to the size of the present national states.

In its uneasy urge to cover up eclectically the new formulation by means of old and customary formulas, the draft program resorts to the following thesis:

“Only after the complete world victory of the proletariat and the consolidation of its world power will there ensue a prolonged epoch of intense construction of world socialist economy.” (Ch.4)

Used as a theoretical shield, this postulate in reality only serves to expose the basic contradiction. If we are to interpret the thesis to mean that the epoch of genuine socialist construction can begin only after the victory of the proletariat, at least in several advanced countries, then it is simply a rejection of the theory of building socialism in one country, and a return to the position of Marx and Lenin. But if we are to take our point of departure from the new theory of Stalin and Bukharin which is lodged in the various sections of the draft program, then we obtain the following perspective: up to the complete world victory of the world proletariat a number of individual countries build complete socialism in their respective countries, and subsequently out of these socialist countries there will be built a world socialist economy, after the manner in which children erect structures with ready-made blocks. As a matter of fact, world socialist economy will not at all be a sum total of national socialist economies. It can take shape in its fundamental aspects only on the soil of the worldwide division of labor which has been created by the entire preceding development of capitalism. In its essentials, it will be constituted and built not after the building of “complete socialism” in a number of individual countries, but in the storms and tempests of the world proletarian revolution which will require a number of decades. The economic successes of the first countries of the proletarian dictatorship will be measured not by the degree of their approximation to a self-sufficing “complete socialism” but by the political stability of the dictatorship itself and by the successes achieved in preparing the elements of the future world socialist economy.

This revisionist idea is still more definitely and therefore still more grossly expressed, if that is possible, in the fifth chapter where, hiding behind one and a half lines of Lenin’s posthumous article they have distorted, the authors of the draft declare that the USSR

“... possesses the necessary and sufficient material prerequisites within the country not only for the overthrow of the feudal landlords and the bourgeoisie but also for the complete construction of socialism.”

Thanks to what circumstances have we obtained such extraordinary historical advantages? On this point we find a reply in the second chapter of the draft:

“The imperialist front was broken at its weakest link, Czarist Russia.”

This is Lenin’s splendid formula. Its meaning is that Russia was the most backward and economically weakest of all the imperialist states. That is precisely why her ruling classes were the first to collapse as they had loaded an unbearable burden on the insufficient productive forces of the country. Uneven, sporadic development thus compelled the proletariat of the most backward imperialist country to be the first to seize power. Formerly we were taught that it is precisely for this reason that the working class of the “weakest link” will encounter the greatest difficulties in its progress towards socialism as compared with the proletariat of the advanced countries, who will find it more difficult to seize power but who, having seized power long before we have overcome our backwardness, will not only surpass us but will carry us along so as to bring us towards the point of real socialist construction on the basis of the highest world technology and international division of labor. This was our idea when we ventured upon the October Revolution. The party has formulated this idea tens, nay, hundreds and thousands of times in the press and at meetings, but since 1925 attempts have been made to substitute just the opposite idea. Now we learn that the fact that the former Czarist Russia was “the weakest link” gives the proletariat of the USSR, the inheritor of Czarist Russia with all its weaknesses, an inestimable advantage, to wit, of possessing no more and no less than its own national prerequisites for the “complete construction of socialism.”

Unfortunate Britain does not possess this advantage because of the excessive development of her productive forces which require almost the whole world to furnish the necessary raw materials and to dispose of her products. Were the productive forces of Great Britain more “moderate” and had they maintained a relative equilibrium between industry and agriculture, then the British proletariat would apparently be able to build complete socialism on its own “isolated” island, protected from foreign intervention by its navy.

The draft program, in its fourth chapter, divides the capitalist states into three groups:

  1. “Countries of highly developed capitalism (United States, Germany, Great Britain, etc.)”;
  2. “Countries of a middle level of capitalist development (Russia prior to 1917, Poland, etc.)”;
  3. “Colonial and semi-colonial countries (China, India, etc.).”

Despite the fact that “Russia prior to 1917” was far closer to present-day China than to present-day United States, one might refrain from any serious objections to this schematic division were it not for the fact that, in relation to other parts of the draft, it serves as a source of false conclusions. Inasmuch as the countries “of middle level” are declared in the draft to possess “sufficient industrial minimums” for independent socialist construction, this is all the more true of countries of high capitalist development. It is only the colonial and semi-colonial countries that need outside assistance. As we shall see later, that is precisely how they are characterized in another chapter of the draft program.

If, however, we approach the problems of socialist construction only with this criterion, abstracting from other conditions, such as the natural resources of the country, the correlation between industry and agriculture within it, its place in the world economic system, then we will fall into new, no less gross errors and contradictions. We have just spoken about Great Britain. Being no doubt a highly developed capitalist country, it has precisely because of that no chance for successful socialist construction within the limits of its own island. Great Britain, if blockaded, would simply be strangled in the course of a few months.

To be sure, all other conditions being equal, the more highly developed productive forces are of enormous advantage for the purposes of socialist construction. They endow economic life with an exceptional flexibility even when the latter is hemmed in by a blockading ring, as was evidenced by bourgeois Germany during the war. But the building of socialism on a national basis would imply for these advanced countries a general decline, a wholesale cutting down of productive forces, that is to say, something directly opposed to the tasks of socialism.

The draft program forgets the fundamental thesis of the incompatibility between the present productive forces and the national boundaries, from which it follows that highly developed productive forces are by no means a lesser obstacle to the construction of socialism in one country than low productive forces, although for the reverse reason, namely, that while the latter are insufficient to serve as the basis, it is the basis which will prove inadequate for the former. The law of uneven development is forgotten precisely at the point where it is most needed and most important.

The problem of building socialism is not settled merely by the industrial “maturity” or “immaturity” of a country. This immaturity is itself uneven. In the USSR, some branches of industry are extremely inadequate to satisfy the most elementary domestic requirements (particularly machine construction), other branches on the contrary cannot develop under present conditions without extensive and increasing exports. Among the latter are such branches of major importance as timber, oil, and manganese, let alone agriculture. On the other hand, even the “inadequate” branches cannot seriously develop if the “super-abundant” (relatively) are unable to export. The impossibility of building an isolated socialist society, not in a Utopia or an Atlantis but in the concrete geographical and historical conditions of our terrestrial economy, is determined for various countries in different ways—by the insufficient development of some branches as well as by the “excessive” development of others. On the whole, this means that the modern productive forces are incompatible with national boundaries.

“What was the imperialist war? It was the revolt of the productive forces not only against the bourgeois forms of property, but also against the boundaries of capitalist states. The imperialist war expressed the fact that the productive forces are unbearably constrained within the confines of national states. We have always maintained that capitalism is incapable of controlling the productive forces it itself develops and that only socialism is capable of incorporating the productive forces which have outgrown the boundaries of capitalist states within a higher economic entity. All roads that lead back to the isolated state have been blocked ...” [38]

Endeavoring to prove the theory of socialism in one country the draft program commits a double, triple, and quadruple mistake: it exaggerates the productive forces in the USSR; it shuts its eyes to the law of uneven development of the various branches of industry; it ignores the international division of labor, and, finally, it forgets the most important contradiction inherent in the imperialist epoch, the contradiction between the productive forces and the national barriers.

In order not to leave a single argument unanalyzed, there remains for us to recall another and, moreover, a generalized proposition of Bukharin’s in defense of the new theory.

On a world scale, says Bukharin, the correlation between the proletariat and the peasantry is not any more favorable than that existing in the USSR. Consequently, if due to reasons of backwardness it is impossible to build socialism in the USSR, then it would be equally impossible of realization on the scale of world economy.

This argument deserves being included in all the textbooks on the dialectic, as a classic example of scholastic thinking.

In the first place, it is quite probable that the correlation of forces between the proletariat and the peasantry on the world scale is not very much different from the correlation within the USSR. But the world revolution is not at all accomplished in accordance with the method of the arithmetical mean, and, incidentally, neither is the national revolution. Thus the October Revolution occurred and intrenched itself first of all in the proletarian Petrograd, instead of choosing such a region where the correlation between the workers and peasants would correspond to the average for the whole of Russia. After Petrograd and later Moscow had created the revolutionary government and the revolutionary army, they had to overthrow the bourgeoisie in the outlying country, in the course of several years; and only as a result of this process, called revolution, was there established within the boundaries of the USSR the present correlation between the proletariat and the peasantry. The revolution does not occur in accordance with the method of the arithmetical mean. It can begin in a less favorable sector, but until it intrenches itself in the decisive sectors of both the national and the world frontiers, it is impermissible to speak about its complete victory.

Secondly, the correlation between the proletariat and the peasantry, given an “average” level of technology, is not the only factor for the solution of the problem. There exists in addition the class war between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. The USSR is surrounded not by a workers’ and peasants’ world but by a capitalist world. If the bourgeoisie were overthrown throughout the entire world, then this fact, by itself, would still change neither the correlation between the proletariat and the peasantry, nor the average level of technology within the USSR and in the entire world. But, nevertheless, the socialist construction in the USSR would immediately acquire entirely different possibilities and different proportions, which are absolutely incomparable with the present possibilities and proportions.

Thirdly, if the productive forces of every advanced country have to some degree outgrown national boundaries, then according to Bukharin, it should hence follow that the productive forces of all countries taken together have outgrown the limits of our planet, and that consequently socialism must be built not otherwise than on the scale of the solar system.

We repeat that the Bukharinistic argument from the average proportion of workers and peasants must be included in all political primers, naturally not as it is now included in order to defend the theory of socialism in one country, but as proof of the utter incompatibility between scholastic casuistry and Marxist dialectics.

[Top of Page]

9. The Question Can Be Solved Only
on the Arena of World Revolution

The new doctrine proclaims that socialism can be built on the basis of a national state if only there is no intervention. From this there can and must follow (notwithstanding all pompous declarations in the draft program) a collaborationist policy towards the foreign bourgeoisie with the object of averting intervention, as this will guarantee the construction of socialism, that is to say, will solve the main historical question. The task of the parties in the Comintern assumes, therefore, an auxiliary character; their mission is to protect the USSR from intervention and not to fight for the conquest of power. It is, of course, not a question of the subjective intentions but of the objective logic of political thought.

“The difference in views lies in the fact,” says Stalin, “that the party considers that these [internal] contradictions and possible conflicts can be entirely overcome on the basis of the inner forces of our revolution, whereas comrade Trotsky and the Opposition think that these contradictions and conflicts can be overcome ‘only on an international scale, on the arena of the world-wide proletarian revolution’.” [39]

Yes, this is precisely the difference. One could not express better and more correctly the difference between national reformism and revolutionary internationalism. If our internal difficulties, obstacles, and contradictions, which are fundamentally a reflection of world contradictions, can be settled merely by “the inner forces of our revolution” without entering “the arena of the world-wide proletarian revolution” then the International is partly a subsidiary and partly a decorative institution, the Congress of which can be convoked once every four years, once every ten years, or perhaps not at all. Even if we were to add that the proletariat of the other countries must protect our construction from military interventions, the International according to this schema must play the role of a pacifist instrument. Its main role, the role of an instrument of world revolution, is then inevitably relegated to the background. And this, we repeat, does not flow from anyone’s deliberate intentions (on the contrary, a number of points in the program testify to the very best intentions of its authors), but it does flow from the internal logic of the new theoretical position which is a thousand times more dangerous than the worst subjective intentions.

As a matter of fact, even at the Seventh Plenum of the ECCI, Stalin became so bold as to develop and defend the following idea:

“Our party has no right to fool [!] the working class; it should declare openly that the lack of assurance [!] in the possibility of building socialism in our country leads to the abdication of power and to the passing of our party from its position as a ruling party to the position of an opposition party.” [40]

This means that we have only the right to place assurance on the scanty resources of national economy but that we must not dare to place any assurance upon the inexhaustible resources of the international proletariat. If we cannot get along without an international revolution, then give up the power, give up that October power which we conquered in the interests of the international revolution. Here is the sort of ideological debacle we arrive at if we proceed from a formulation which is false to the core!

The draft program expresses an incontrovertible idea when it says that the economic successes of the USSR constitute an inseparable part of the world-wide proletarian revolution. But the political danger of the new theory lies in the false comparative evaluation of the two levers of world socialism—the lever of our economic achievements and the lever of the world-wide proletarian revolution. Without a victorious proletarian revolution, we will not be able to build socialism. The European workers and the workers the world over must clearly understand this. The lever of economic construction is of tremendous significance. Without a correct leadership, the dictatorship of the proletariat would be weakened; and its downfall would deal a blow to the international revolution from which the latter would not recover for a good many years. But the conclusion of the main historical struggle between the socialist world and the world of capitalism depends on the second lever, that is, the world proletarian revolution. The colossal importance of the Soviet Union lies in that it is the disputed base of the world revolution and not at all in the presumption that it is able to build socialism independently of the world revolution.

In a tone of supreme superiority, entirely unfounded, Bukharin has asked us more than once:

“If there already exist pre-conditions, and starting points, and a sufficient base, and even certain successes in the work of building socialism, then where is the limit beyond which everything ‘turns topsy-turvy’? There is no such limit.” [41]

This is bad geometry but not historical dialectics. There can be such a “limit.” There can be several such limits, internal as well as international, political as well as economic, as well as military. The most important and dire “limit” could turn out to be a serious and prolonged stabilization of world capitalism and a new boom. Consequently, the question shifts politically and economically over to the world arena. Will the bourgeoisie be able to secure for itself a new epoch of capitalist growth and power? Merely to deny such a possibility, counting on the “hopeless position” in which capitalism finds itself would be mere revolutionary verbiage. “There are no absolutely hopeless situations” (Lenin). The present unstable class equilibrium in the European countries cannot continue indefinitely precisely because of its instability.

When Stalin and Bukharin maintain that the USSR can get along without the “state” aid of the proletariat of the other countries, that is, without its victory over the bourgeoisie, because the present active sympathy of the working masses protects us from intervention, they betray the same blindness as is revealed in the entire ramification of their principled mistake.

It is absolutely incontestable that after the social democracy had sabotaged the post-war insurrections of the European proletariat against the bourgeoisie, the active sympathy of the working masses saved the Soviet republic. During these years, the European bourgeoisie proved unable to wage war against the workers’ state on a large scale. But to think that this correlation of forces will continue for many years, say, until socialism is built in the USSR, is to be so utterly shortsighted as to judge the entire curve of development by one of its tiny segments. A situation so unstable that the proletariat cannot take power while the bourgeoisie does not feel firmly enough the master of its own home, must sooner or later be abruptly resolved in one way or another, either in favor of the proletarian dictatorship or in favor of a serious and prolonged capitalist stabilization on the backs of the popular masses, on the bones of the colonial peoples and perhaps on our own bones. “There are no absolutely hopeless situations!” The European bourgeoisie can find a lasting way out its grave contradictions only through the defeats of the proletariat and the mistakes of the revolutionary leadership. But the converse is equally true. There will be no new boom of world capitalism (of course, with the prospect of a new epoch of great upheavals) only in the event that the proletariat will be able to find a way out of the present unstable equilibrium on the revolutionary road.

“It is necessary to ‘prove’ now by the practical work of the revolutionary parties,” said Lenin on July 19, 1920 at the Second World Congress, “that they are sufficiently conscious and organized, and that they have sufficient contact with the exploited masses, and determination and ability to utilize the crisis for a successful and victorious revolution.” [42]

Our internal contradictions, however, which depend directly on the trend of the European and world struggle, may be rationally regulated and abated by a correct internal policy based on Marxian foresight. But they can be finally overcome only when the class contradictions will be overcome, which is out of the question without a victorious revolution in Europe. Stalin is right. The difference lies precisely on this point and this is the fundamental difference between national reformism and revolutionary internationalism.

[Top of Page]

10. The Theory of Socialism in One Country
as a Series of Social Patriotic Blunders

The theory of socialism in one country inexorably leads to an underestimation of the difficulties which must be overcome and to an exaggeration of the achievements gained. One could not find a more anti-socialist and anti-revolutionary assertion than Stalin’s statement to the effect that “socialism has already been 90 percent realized in the USSR” This statement seems to be especially meant for a smug bureaucrat. In this way one can hopelessly discredit the idea of a socialist society in the eyes of the toiling masses. The Soviet proletariat has achieved grandiose successes, if we take into consideration the conditions under which they have been attained and the low cultural level inherited from the past. But these achievements constitute an extremely small magnitude on the scales of the socialist ideal. Harsh truth and not sugary falsehood is needed to fortify the worker, the agricultural laborer, and the poor peasant, who see that in the eleventh year of the revolution, poverty, misery, unemployment, bread lines, illiteracy, homeless children, drunkenness, and prostitution have not abated around them. Instead of telling them fibs about having realized 90% socialism, we must say to them that our economic level, our social and cultural conditions, approximate today much closer to capitalism, and a backward and uncultured capitalism at that, than to socialism. We must tell them that we will enter on the path of real socialist construction only when the proletariat of the most advanced countries will have captured power; that it is necessary to work unremittingly for this, using both levers—the short lever of our internal economic efforts and the long lever of the international proletarian struggle.

In short, instead of the Stalinist phrases about socialism which has already been 90% accomplished, we must speak to them the words of Lenin:

“Russia (the land of poverty) will become such a land (the land of plenty) if we cast away all pessimism and phrasemongering; if clenching our teeth, we gather all our might, strain every nerve and muscle, if we understand that salvation is possible only along the road of international socialist revolution that we have entered.” [43]

From prominent leaders of the Comintern we have had to hear such an argument as: the theory of socialism in one country, of course, is unfounded, but it provides the Russian workers with a perspective in the difficult conditions under which. they labor and thus gives them courage. It is difficult to plumb the depths of the theoretical debacle of those who seek in a program not for a scientific basis for their class orientation but for moral consolation. Consoling theories which contradict facts pertain to the sphere of religion and not science; and religion is opium for the people.

Our party has passed through its heroic period with a program which was entirely oriented on the international revolution and not on socialism in one country. Under a programmatic banner on which was inscribed that backward Russia alone, with her own forces, will not build socialism, the YCL has passed through the most strenuous years of civil war, hunger, cold, hard Saturday-ings and Sunday-ings, epidemics, studies on hunger rations, and the numberless sacrifices which were paid for every forward step taken. The members of the party and the YCL fought at the front or lugged logs to the railroad stations, not because they hoped to build national socialism out of those logs, but because they served in the cause of international revolution which made it essential that the Soviet fortress hold out—and every additional log is important for the Soviet fortress. That is how we used to approach the question. Times have changed, things have altered (yet, not so very radically), but the principled approach retains its full force even now. The worker, the poor peasant and partisan, and the young communist, have previously shown by their entire conduct up to 1925, when the new gospel was for the first time proclaimed, that they have no need of it. But in need of it is the functionary who looks down on the masses from above; the petty administrator who does not want to be disturbed; the apparatus retainer who seeks to dominate under cover of an all-saving and consoling formula. It is they who think that the ignorant people need the “good tidings,” and that there is no dealing with the people without consoling doctrines. It is they who catch up the false words about “90% socialism,” for this formula sanctions their privileged position, their right to dominate and command, their need to be rid of criticisms on the part of “skeptics” and men of “little faith.”

Complaints and accusations to the effect that the denial of the possibility of building socialism in one country dampens the spirit and kills enthusiasm are theoretically and psychologically closely related to those accusations which the reformists have always hurled at the revolutionists, notwithstanding the entirely different conditions under which they originate. Said the reformists: “You are telling the workers that they cannot really improve their lot within the framework of capitalist society; and by this alone you kill their incentive to fight.” It was, indeed, only under the leadership of revolutionists that the workers really fought for economic gains and for parliamentary reforms.

The worker who understands that it is impossible to build a socialist paradise, like an oasis in the hell of world capitalism; that the fate of the Soviet Republic and therefore his own fate depend entirely on the international revolution, will fulfill his duties toward the USSR much more energetically than the worker who is told that what we already possess is presumably 90% socialism. “If so, is it worth while to strive toward socialism?” Here, too, the reformist orientation works as always not only against revolution but also against reform.

In the article written in 1915 dealing with the slogan of the United States of Europe, which has already been quoted, we wrote:

“To approach the prospects of a social revolution within national boundaries is to fall victim to the same national narrowness which constitutes the substance of social-patriotism. Vaillant to his dying day considered France the promised land of social revolution; and it is precisely from this standpoint that he stood for national defense to the end. Lensch and Co. (some hypocritically and others sincerely) consider that Germany’s defeat means first of all the destruction of the basis of social revolution ... In general it should not be forgotten that in social-patriotism there is, along-side of the most vulgar reformism, a national revolutionary Messianism which deems that its own national state, whether because of its industrial level or because of its ‘democratic’ form and revolutionary conquests, is called upon to lead humanity towards socialism or towards ‘democracy.’ If the victorious revolution mere really conceivable within the boundaries of a single more developed nation, this Messianism together with the program of national defense would have some relative historical justification. But as a matter of fact this is inconceivable. To fight for the preservation of a national basis of revolution by such methods as undermine the international ties of the proletariat, actually means to undermine the revolution itself, which can begin on a national basis but which cannot be completed on that basis under the present economic, military, and political interdependence of the European states, which was never before revealed so forcefully as during the present war. This interdependence which will directly and immediately condition the concerted action on the part of the European proletariat in the revolution is expressed by the slogan of the United States of Europe.” [44]

Proceeding from a false interpretation of the polemics of 1915, Stalin has many times endeavored to show that under “national narrowness” I was here alluding to Lenin. No greater absurdity could be imagined. In my polemic with Lenin I always argued openly because I was guided only by ideological considerations. In the given case Lenin was not involved at all. The article mentions by name the people against whom these accusations were hurled—Vaillant, Lensch, and others. One must recall that the year 1915 was a year of social-patriotic orgy and the crushing of our struggle against it. This was our touchstone for every question.

The fundamental question raised in the foregoing passage was undoubtedly formulated correctly: the conception of the building of socialism in one country is a social-patriotic conception.

The patriotism of the German social democrats began as a legitimate patriotism to their own party, the most powerful party of the Second International. On the basis of the highly developed German technology and the superior organizational qualities of the German people, the German social democracy prepared to build its “own” socialist society. If we leave aside the hardened bureaucrats, careerists, parliamentary sharpers, and political crooks in general, the social-patriotism of the rank and file social democrat was derived precisely from the belief in building German socialism. It is impossible to think that hundreds of thousands of rank and file social democrats (let alone the millions of rank and file workers) wanted to defend the Hohenzollerns or the bourgeoisie. No. They wanted to protect German industry, the German railways and highways, German technology and culture, and especially the organizations of the German working class, as the “necessary and sufficient” national prerequisites for socialism.

A similar process also took place in France. Guesde, Vaillant, and thousands of the best rank and file party members with them, and hundreds of thousands of ordinary workers believed that precisely France with her revolutionary traditions, her heroic proletariat, her highly cultured, flexible, and talented people, was the promised land of socialism. Old Guesde and the Communard Vaillant, and with them hundreds of thousands of sincere workers, did not fight to protect the bankers or the rentiers. They sincerely believed that they were defending the soil and the creative power of the future socialist society. They proceeded entirely from the theory of socialism in one country and in the name of this idea they sacrificed international solidarity, believing this sacrifice to be “temporary.”

This comparison with the social-patriots will, of course, be answered by the argument that patriotism to the Soviet state is a revolutionary duty whereas patriotism to a bourgeois state is treachery. Very true. Can there be any dispute on this question among grown-up revolutionists? But, as we proceed, this incontrovertible postulate is turned more and more into a scholastic screen for a deliberate falsehood.

Revolutionary patriotism can only have a class character. It begins as patriotism to the party organization, to the trade union, and rises to state patriotism when the proletariat seizes power. Whenever the power is in the hands of the workers, patriotism is a revolutionary duty. But this patriotism must be, an inseparable part of revolutionary internationalism. Marxism has always taught the workers that even their struggle for higher wages and shorter hours cannot be successful unless waged as an international struggle. And now it suddenly appears that the ideal of the socialist society may be achieved with the national forces alone. This is a mortal blow to the International.

The invincible conviction that the fundamental class aim, even more so than the partial objectives, cannot be realized by national means or within national boundaries, constitutes the very heart of revolutionary internationalism. If, however, the ultimate aim is realizable within national boundaries through the efforts of a national proletariat, then the backbone of internationalism has been broken. The theory of the possibility of realizing socialism in one country destroys the inner connection between the patriotism of the victorious proletariat and the defeatism of the proletariat of the bourgeois countries. The proletariat of the advanced capitalist countries is still traveling on the road to power. How and in what manner it marches towards it depends entirely upon whether it considers the task of building the socialist society a national or an international task.

If it is at all possible to realize socialism in one country, then one can believe in that theory not only after but also before the conquest of power. If socialism can be realized within the national boundaries of backward Russia, then there is all the more reason to believe that it can be realized in advanced Germany. Tomorrow the leaders of the Communist Party of Germany will undertake to propound this theory. The draft program empowers them to do so. The day after tomorrow the French party will have its turn. It will be the beginning of the disintegration of the Comintern along the lines of social-patriotism. The communist party of any capitalist country, which will have become imbued with the idea that its particular country possesses the “necessary and sufficient” prerequisites for the independent construction of a “complete socialist society,” will not differ in any substantial manner from the revolutionary social democracy which also did not begin with a Noske but which stumbled decisively on August 4, 1914, over this very same question.

When the statement is made that the very existence of the USSR is a guarantee against social-patriotism because in relation to a workers’ republic patriotism is a revolutionary duty, then in this one-sided application of a correct idea there is expressed national narrow-mindedness, Those who say so have in mind only the USSR, closing their eyes to the entire world proletariat. It is possible to lead the proletariat to the position of defeatism in relation to the bourgeois state only by means of an international orientation in the program on this central question and by means of a ruthless rejection of the social-patriotic contraband which is masked as yet but which seeks to build a theoretical nest for itself in the program of Lenin’s International.

It is not yet too late to return to the path of Marx and Lenin. It is this return that opens up the only conceivable road to progress. We address this criticism of the draft program to the Sixth Congress of the Comintern, in order to make possible the realization of this turn in which salvation lies.

[Return to Top of Page]


38. Minutes, Seventh Plenum of the ECCI, Trotsky’s speech, p.100.

39. Pravda, No.262, Nov. 12, 1926.

40. Works, Vol.II, p.10.

41. Minutes, Seventh Plenum of the ECCI, p.116.

42. Works, Vol.XVII, p.264.

43. Works, Vol.XV, p.165.

44. Works, Vol.III, part 1, pp.90f.

Last Part    |    3rd International After Lenin Index    |    Next Part

return return return return return

Last updated on: 14.4.2007