“The industrially more developed country shows the less developed only the image of its own future.” This statement of Marx which takes its departure methodologically not from world economy as a whole but from the single capitalist country as a type, has become less applicable in proportion as capitalist evolution has embraced all countries regardless of their previous fate and industrial level. England in her day revealed the future of France, considerably less of Germany, but not in the least of Russia and not of India. The Russian Mensheviks, however, took this conditional statement of Marx unconditionally. Backward Russia, they said, ought not to rush ahead, but humbly to follow the prepared models. To this kind of “Marxism” the liberals also agreed.
Another no less popular formula of Marx – “No social formation disappears before all the productive forces have developed for which it has room” – takes its departure, on the contrary, not from the country taken separately, but from the sequence of universal social structures (slavery, mediævalism, capitalism). The Mensheviks, however, taking this statement from the point of view of the single state, drew the conclusion that Russian capitalism has still a long road to travel before it will reach European or American level. But productive forces do not develop in a vacuum! You cannot talk of the possibilities of a national capitalism, and ignore on the one hand the class struggle developing out of it, or on the other its dependence upon world conditions. The overthrow of the bourgeoisie by the proletariat grew out of actual Russian capitalism, thereby reducing to nothing its abstract economic possibilities. The structure of industry, and also the character of the class struggle in Russia were determined to a decisive degree by international conditions. Capitalism had reached a point on the world arena where it ceased to justify its costs of production – understanding these not in the commercial but the sociological sense. Tariffs, militarism, crises, wars, diplomatic conferences and other scourges, swallow up and squander so much creative energy that in spite of all achievements in technique there remains no room for the further growth of prosperity and culture.
The superficially paradoxical fact that the first victim to suffer for the sins of the world-system was the bourgeoisie of a backward country, is in reality quite according to the laws of things. Marx had already indicated its explanation for his epoch: “Violent outbursts take place sooner in the extremities of the bourgeois organism than the heart, because here regulation is more possible.” Under the monstrous burdens of imperialism that state must necessarily fall first which has not yet accumulated a large national capital, but to which world competition offers no special privileges. The collapse of Russian capitalism was a local avalanche in a universal social formation. “A correct appraisal of our revolution,” said Lenin, “is possible only from an international point of view.”
We have attributed the October revolution in the last analysis not to the fact of Russia’s backwardness, but to the law of combined development. The historical dialectic knows neither naked backwardness nor chemically pure progressiveness. It is all a question of concrete correlations. The present-day history of mankind is full of “paradoxes,” not so colossal as the arising of a proletarian dictatorship in a backward country, but of similar historic type. The fact that the students and workers of backward China are eagerly assimilating the doctrine of materialism, while the labour leaders of civilised England believe in the magic potency of churchly incantations, proves beyond a doubt that in certain spheres China has outstripped England. But the contempt of the Chinese workers for the mediæval dull-wittedness of Macdonald, does not permit the inference that in her general development China is higher than Great Britain. The economic and cultural superiority of the latter can be expressed in exact figures. The impressiveness of these figures does not however, preclude the possibility that the workers of China may win the power before the workers of Great Britain. A dictatorship of the Chinese proletariat in its turn will be far from entailing the building of socialism within the boundaries of the Great Chinese Wall. Scholastic, pedantically, single-track, or too short national criteria are no good in our epoch. World development forced Russia cut of her backwardness and her Asiatieness. Outside the web of this development, her further destiny cannot be understood.
The bourgeois revolutions were directed in similar degree against feudal property relations and against the particularism of the provinces. Nationalism stood beside liberalism on there liberating banners. Western humanity long ago wore out such baby-shoes. The productive forces of our time have outgrown not only the bourgeois forms of property, but also the boundaries of national states. Liberalism and nationalism have become in like degree fetters upon world economy. The proletarian revolution is directed both against private property in the means of production and against the national splitting-up of world economy. The struggle of the eastern peoples for independence is included in this world process and will subsequently merge with it. The creation of a national socialist society, if such a goal were in a general way attainable, would mean an extreme reduction of the economic power of men. But for that very mason it is unattainable. Internationalism is not an abstract principle but the expression of an economic fact. Just as liberalism was national, so socialism is international. Starting from the worldwide division of labour, the task of socialism is to carry the international exchange of goods and services to its highest development.
No revolution has ever anywhere wholly coincided with the conceptions of it formed by its participants, nor could it do so. Nevertheless the ideas and aims of those engaged in the struggle form a very important constituent element of a revolution. This is especially true of the October revolution, for never in all the past have the conceptions of a revolution in the minds of revolutionists approached so closely to the actual essence of the events as in 1917.
A work on the October revolution would remain unfinished if it did not answer with all possible historic accuracy the question: how did the party in the very heat of the events represent to itself the further development of the revolution, and what did the party expect from it? This question acquires a greater significance, the more past days become darkened by the play of new interests. Policies are always seeking support in the past, and if they do not get it as a voluntary offering they not infrequently undertake to extract it by force. The present official policy of the Soviet Union rests upon the theory of “socialism in a separate country” as the alleged traditional viewpoint of the Bolshevik party. The younger generations, not only of the Communist International but indeed of all other parties, are being brought up in the conviction that the soviet power was won in the name of the creation of an independent socialist society in Russia. Historic reality has nothing in common with this myth. Up to 1917 the party never admitted even the idea that the proletarian revolution might be achieved in Russia before it was achieved in the west. For the first time in the April conference, under pressure of circumstances then completely laid bare, the party recognised as its task the seizure of power. Although opening a new chapter in the history of Bolshevism, this recognition had nothing in common with the perspective of an independent socialist society. On the contrary, the Bolsheviks categorically rejected as a caricature the idea imputed to them by the Mensheviks of creating a “peasant socialism” in a backward country. The dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia was for the Bolsheviks a bridge to a revolution in the west. The problem of a socialist transformation of society was proclaimed to be in its very essence international.
Only in 1924 did a change occur upon this fundamental question. It was then first proclaimed that the building of socialism is wholly realisable within the limits of the Soviet Union independently of the evolution of the rest of mankind, if only the imperialists do not overthrow the soviet power by military intervention. This new theory was immediately endowed with retroactive force. If in 1917 – declared the epigones – the party had not believed in the possibility of creating an independent socialist society in Russia, it would have had no right to take the power. In 1926 the Communist International officially condemned the non-acceptance of the theory of socialism in a separate country, extending this condemnation to the whole past, beginning with the year 1905.
Three series of ideas were thenceforth declared hostile to Bolshevism:
It will be possible, according to the new school, to defend the inviolability of the Soviet Union even without revolutions in other countries by way of the “neutralisation of the bourgeoisie.” The collaboration of the peasantry in the sphere of socialist construction must be acknowledged as assured. Dependence upon world economy has been liquidated by the October revolution and the economic successes of the soviets. A refusal to accept these three propositions is “Trotskyism” – a doctrine incompatible with Bolshevism.
The task of the historian here becomes one of ideological restoration. He must dig out the genuine views and aims of the revolutionary party from under subsequent political accumulations. Despite the briefness of the periods succeeding each other, this task is very much like the deciphering of a palimpsest, for the constructions of the epigone school are by no means always superior to those theological ingenuities for whose sake the monks of the seventh and eighth centuries destroyed the parchment and papyrus of the classics.
In general, throughout this book we have avoided burdening the text with innumerable quotations, but the present essay, owing to the essence of its task, will have to supply the reader with the genuine texts, and that too, on a sufficient scale to exclude the very idea of their having been artificially selected. We must let Bolshevism speak with its own tongue. Under the régime of the Stalin bureaucracy it is deprived of this possibility.
The Bolshevik party was from the day of its birth a party of revolutionary socialism. But it necessarily saw its immediate historic task in the overthrow of czarism and the inauguration of a democratic structure. The principal content of the revolution was to be a democratic solution to the agrarian problem. The socialist revolution was pushed away into a sufficiently remote or at least indefinite future. It was considered irrefutable that this revolution might take its place practically upon the order of the day only after the victory of the proletariat in the west. This postulate, forged by Russian Marxism in its struggle with Narodnikism and anarchism, was one of the solidest possessions of the party. There followed certain hypothetical considerations: In case the democratic revolution assumes a mighty scope in Russia, it may give a direct impetus to the socialist revolution in the west, and this will enable the Russian proletariat to come to power afterward with a swifter pace. The general historic perspective remained unchanged even in this more favourable version. The course of development was only accelerated and the dates brought near.
It was in the spirit of these views that Lenin wrote in September 1905: “From the democratic revolution we will immediately begin to pass over, and in the exact measure of our strength, the strength of a conscious and organised proletariat, we will begin to pass over to the socialist revolution. We stand for a continuous revolution. We will not stop half-way.” This quotation, surprising as it may be, has been employed by Stalin in order to identify the old prognosis of the party with the actual course of events in 1917. It only remains incomprehensible why the cadres of the party were taken unawares by the “April theses” of Lenin.
In reality the struggle of the proletariat for power was to develop – according to the old conception – only after the agrarian problem had been solved within the framework of a bourgeois-democratic revolution. The trouble was that the peasantry, satisfied in their land hunger, would have no impulse to support a new revolution. And since the Russian working class, being an obvious minority in the country, would not be able to win the power with its own forces, Lenin quite consistently considered it impossible to talk of a dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia before the victory of the proletariat in the west.
“The complete victory of the present revolution,” wrote Lenin in 1905, “will be the end of the democratic overturn and the beginning of a decisive struggle for the socialist revolution. A realisation of the demands of the contemporary peasantry, the complete shattering of the reaction, the winning of a democratic republic, will be the complete end of the revolutionism of the bourgeoisie, and even of the petty bourgeoisie. It will be the beginning of the real struggle of the proletariat for socialism.” By petty bourgeoisie is here meant primarily the peasantry.
Under these conditions whence arises the slogan “continuous” revolution? Lenin answers as follows: The Russian revolutionists, standing on the shoulders of a whole series of revolutionary generations in Europe have the right to “dream” that they will succeed in “achieving with a completeness never before seen the whole democratic transformation, all of our minimum programme ... And if that succeeds – then ... then the revolutionary conflagration will set fire to Europe ... The European worker will rise in his turn and show us ‘how it is done’; then the revolutionary rising of Europe will have a retroactive effect upon Russia and the epoch of several revolutionary years will become an epoch of several revolutionary decades.” The independent content of the Russian revolution, even in its highest development, does not transcend the boundaries of a bourgeois-democratic revolution. Only a victorious revolution in the west can open the era of the struggle for power even for the Russian proletariat. That conception was fully in force in the party up to April 1917.
If you throw aside episodic accumulations, polemical exaggerations and individual mistakes, the essence of the dispute about the question of permanent revolution from 1905 till 1917 reduces itself, not to the question whether the Russian proletariat after winning the power could build a national socialist society – about this not one Russian Marxist ever uttered a peep until 1924 – but to the question whether a bourgeois revolution really capable of solving the agrarian problem was still possible in Russia, or whether for the accomplishment of this work a dictatorship of the proletariat would be needed.
What part of his earlier views did Lenin revise in his April theses? He did not for a moment renounce either the doctrine of the international character of the socialist revolution, or the idea that the transfer to the socialist road could be realised in backward Russia only with the direct co-operation of the west. But Lenin did here for the first time declare that the Russian proletariat, owing to the very backwardness of the national conditions, might come to power before the proletariat of the advanced countries.
The February revolution proved powerless to solve either the agrarian problem or the national problem. The peasantry and the oppressed peoples of Russia in their struggle for democratic goals were obliged to support the October revolution. Only because the Russian petty-bourgeois democracy was unable to carry out that historic work performed by its older sister in the west, did the Russian proletariat gain access to the power before the western proletariat. In 1905, Bolshevism intended only after the achievement of the democratic tasks to pass over to the struggle for dictatorship of the proletariat. In 1917 the dictatorship of the proletariat grew out of the non-achievement of the democratic tasks.
But the combined character of the Russian revolution did not stop there. The conquest of power by the working class automatically removed the dividing line between “programme-minimum” and “programme-maximum.” Under the dictatorship of the proletariat – but only there! – the growing over of democratic into socialist problems became inevitable, notwithstanding that the workers of Europe had not yet succeeded in showing us “how it is done.”
This change of revolutionary order between west and east, with all its importance for the fate of Russia and the whole world, has nevertheless a historically limited import. No matter how far the Russian revolution skipped ahead, its dependence upon the world revolution has not disappeared nor even decreased. The possibility of a growth of democratic into socialist reforms is directly created by a combination of domestic conditions – chief among them the interrelation of the proletariat and the peasantry. But in the last instance the limits of socialist transformation are determined by the condition of economy and politics on the world arena. No matter how great the national spurt, it does not make possible a jump over the planet.
In its condemnation of “Trotskyism,” the Communist International has attacked with special force the opinion that the Russian proletariat, having come to the helm and not meeting support from the West, “will come into hostile conflicts ... with the broad masses of the peasantry with whose co-operation it came to power ...” Even if you consider that the historic experiment has completely refuted this prognosis – formulated by Trotsky in 1905, when not one of his present critics even admitted the idea of a dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia – even in that case, it remains an indisputable fact that this view of the peasantry as an unreliable and treacherous ally was a common property of all Russian Marxists including Lenin. The actual tradition of Bolshevism has nothing in common with the doctrine of pre-determined harmony of interest between workers and peasants. On the contrary the criticism of this petty-bourgeois theory was always a most important element in the long struggle of the Marxists with the Narodniks.
“Once the epoch of democratic revolution in Russia is past,” wrote Lenin in 1905, “then it will be ridiculous even to talk of the ‘united will’ of proletariat and peasantry ...” The peasantry, as a land-owning class will play the same treacherous, unstable rôle in this struggle (for socialism) that the bourgeoisie is now playing in the struggle for democracy. To forget that is to forget socialism, to deceive oneself and others about the genuine interests and tasks of the proletariat.”
In working out for his own use in 1905 a scheme of the correlation of classes during the course of the revolution, Lenin characterised in the following words the situation which must be formed after the liquidation of landlord proprietorship: “The proletariat is already struggling to preserve the democratic conquests for the sake of the socialist revolution. This struggle would be almost hopeless for the Russian proletariat alone, and its defeat would be inevitable ... if the European socialist proletariat did not come to the help of the Russian proletariat ... At that stage the liberal bourgeoisie and the well-to-do (plus a part of the middle) peasantry will organise a counter-revolution. The Russian proletariat plus the European proletariat will organise the revolution. In these circumstances the Russian proletariat may win a second victory. The cause is then not lost. The second victory will be the socialist revolution in Europe. The European workers will show us ‘how it is done.’”
During approximately the same days Trotsky wrote: “The contradiction in the situation of a workers’ government in a backward country with the peasant population an overwhelming majority can find its solution only on an international scale, in the arena of the world revolution of the proletariat.” It is these words that Stalin subsequently quoted in order to show “the vast gulf separating the Leninist theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat from the theory of Trotsky.” The quotations testify however that, in spite of indubitable differences between the revolutionary conceptions of Lenin and Trotsky at that time, it was exactly upon the question of the “unstable” and “treacherous” rôle of the peasantry that their views already in those far days essentially coincided.
In February 1906 Lenin writes: “We support the peasant movement to the end, but we ought to remember that this is the movement of another class, not that class which can and will achieve the socialist revolution.” “The Russian revolution,” he declares in April 1906, “has enough forces of its own to conquer. But it has not enough forces to retain the fruits of its victory ... for in a country with an enormous development of small-scale industry, the small-scale commodity producers, among them the peasants, will inevitably turn against the proletarian when he goes from freedom toward socialism ... In order to prevent a restoration, the Russian revolution has need, not of a Russian reserve; it has need of help from outside. Is there such a reserve in the world? There is: the socialist proletariat in the west.”
In various combinations but fundamentally without change these thoughts are carried trough all the years of the reaction and the war. There is no need to multiply examples. The party’s conception of the revolution must have received its most finished and succinct form in the heat of the revolutionary events. If the theoreticians of Bolshevism were before the revolution already inclining towards “socialism in a separate country,” this theory would necessarily have come to full bloom in the period of the direct struggle for power. Did it prove so in reality? The year 1917 will give the answer.
When departing for Russia after the February revolution, Lenin wrote in a farewell letter to the Swiss workers: “The Russian proletariat cannot with its own forces victoriously achieve the socialist revolution. But it can ... improve the situation in which its chief, its reliable ally, the European and American socialist proletariat, will enter the decisive battle.”
The resolution of Lenin ratified by the April conference reads: “The proletariat of Russia, taking action in one of the most backward countries of Europe among the masses of a petty-peasant population, cannot set itself the goal of an immediate realisation of the socialist transformation.” Although in these initial lines firmly clinging to the theoretical tradition of the party, the resolution does, however, take a decisive step on a new road. It declares: The impossibility of an independent socialist transformation in peasant Russia does not in any case give us the right to renounce the conquest of power, not only for the sake of democratic tasks, but also in the name of “a series of practically ripened steps towards socialism,” such as the nationalisation of land, control over the banks and so forth. Anti-capitalist measures may receive a further development thanks to the presence of “the objective premises of a socialist revolution ... in the more highly developed of the advanced countries.” This must be our starting point. “To talk only of Russian conditions,” explains Lenin in his speech, “is a mistake ... What tasks will rise before the Russian proletariat in case the world-wide movement brings us face to face with a social revolution – that is the principal question taken up in this resolution.” It is clear that the new point of departure occupied by the party in April 1917, after Lenin had won his victory over the democratic limitedness of the “old Bolsheviks,” is as different from the theory of socialism in a separate country as heaven is from earth!
In all organisations of the party whatever, whether in the capital or the provinces, we meet henceforth the same formulation of the question: In the struggle for power we must remember that the further fate of the revolution as a socialist revolution will be determined by the victory of the proletariat of the advanced countries. This formula was opposed by nobody – was, on the contrary, the presupposition of all disputes as a proposition equally acknowledged by all.
At the Petrograd conference of the party on July 16th, Kharitonov, one of those Bolsheviks who had come with Lenin on the “sealed train,” declared: “We are saying everywhere that if there is no revolution in the west, our cause will be lost.” Kharitonov is not a theoretician; he is an average party agitator. In the minutes of that same conference we read: “Pavlov calls attention to the general proposition advanced by the Bolsheviks that the Russian revolution will flourish only when it shall be supported by the world revolution which is conceivable only as a socialist revolution.” Tens and hundreds of Kharitonovs and Pavlovs were developing the fundamental idea of the April conference. It never came into the head of anybody to oppose or correct them.
The sixth Congress of the party, taking place at the end of July, defined the dictatorship of the proletariat as a conquest of power by the workers and poorest peasants. “Only these classes ... will in reality promote the growth of the international proletariat revolution, which is to put an end not only to the war but also to capitalist slavery.” The speech of Bukharin was built upon the idea that a world-wide socialist revolution is the sole way out of the existing situation. “If the revolution in Russia conquers before a revolution breaks out in the west, we will have to ... kindle the fire of the world-wide socialist revolution.” Stalin too was at that time compelled to pose the question in much the same way: “The moment will come when the workers will rise and unite round them the poor layers of the peasantry, raise the banner of the workers’ revolution, and open an era of socialist revolution in the west.”
A Moscow regional conference which met at the beginning of August permits us best of all to glance into the laboratory of the party thought. In the principal report, setting forth the decisions of the sixth Congress, Sokolnikov, a member of the Central Committee, said: “It is necessary to explain that the Russian revolution must take the offensive against world imperialism or be destroyed, be strangled by that same imperialism.” A number of delegates expressed themselves to the same effect. Vitolin: “We must get ready for a social revolution which will be the stimulus to the development of social revolution in western Europe.” Delegate Byelensky: “If you decide the question within national limits, then we have no way out. Sokolnikov has said rightly that the Russian revolution will conquer only as an international revolution ... In Russia the conditions are not yet ripe for socialism, but if the revolution begins in Europe then we will follow western Europe.” Stukov: “The proposition that the Russian revolution will conquer only as an international revolution cannot be subject to doubt ... The socialist revolution is possible only on a general world scale.”
All are in agreement upon three fundamental propositions: the workers’ state cannot stand unless it overthrows imperialism in the west; in Russia the conditions are not yet ripe for socialism; the problem of socialist revolution is international in essence. If alongside these views, which were to be condemned in seven or eight years as heresy, there had existed in the party other views now recognised as orthodox and traditional, they would certainly have found expression in that Moscow conference, and in the congress of the party which preceded it. But neither the principal speaker nor those who took part in the debate – nor the newspaper reports – suggest by a word the presence in the party of Bolshevik views opposing these “Trotskyist” ones.
At the general city conference in Kiev preceding the party congress, the principal speaker, Gorovitz, said. “The struggle for the salvation of our revolution can be waged only on an international scale. Two prospects lie before us: If the revolution conquers, we will create the transitional state to socialism, if not, we will fall under the power of international imperialism.” After the party congress, at the beginning of August, Piatakov said at a new conference in Kiev: “From the very beginning of the revolution we have asserted that thedestiny of the Russian proletariat is completely dependent upon the course of the proletarian revolution in the west ... We are thus entering the stage of permanent revolution.” Commenting on Piatakov’s report, Gorovitz, already known to us, declared: “I am in complete accord with Piatakov in his definition of our revolution as permanent.” Piatakov: “... The sole possible salvation for the Russian revolution lies in a world revolution which will lay down the foundation for the social overturn.” But perhaps these two speakers represented a minority? No. Nobody opposed them upon this fundamental question. In the elections for the Kiev committee these two received the largest number of votes.
We may, then, consider it fully established that at a general party conference in April, at the congress of the party in July, and at conferences in Petrograd, Moscow and Kiev, those very views were set forth and confirmed by the voting which were later to be declared incompatible with Bolshevism. More than that: not one voice was raised in the party which might be interpreted as a presentiment of the future theory of socialism in a separate country, even to the degree that in the Psalms of King David foretastes have been discovered of the gospel of Christ.
On the 13th of August, the central organ of the party explained: “Full power to the soviets, although far from as yet meaning ‘socialism,’ would in any case break the resistance of the bourgeoisie and – in dependence upon the existing productive forces and the situation in the west – would guide and transform the economic life in the interests of the toiling masses. Having thrown off the fetters of capitalist government, the revolution would become permanent – that is, continuous. It would apply the state power, not in order to consolidate the ré of capitalist exploitation, but in order to overcome it. Its final success on this road would depend upon the successes of the proletariat revolution in Europe ... Such was and remains the sole perspective of the further development of the revolution.” The author of this article was Trotsky, who wrote it in Kresty prison. The editor of the paper that published it was Stalin. The significance of the quotation is defined already in the mere fact that the term “permanent revolution” had been used in the Bolshevik party up to 1917 exclusively to designate the point of view of Trotsky. A few years later Stalin will declare: “Lenin struggled against the theory of permanent revolution to the end of his days.” Stalin himself at any rate did not struggle: the article appeared without any editorial comment whatever.
Ten days later Trotsky wrote again in the same paper: “Internationalism for us is not an abstract idea ... but a directly guiding, deeply practical principle. A permanent decisive success is unthinkable for us outside the European revolution.” Again Stalin did not object. Moreover two days later he himself repeated it: “Let them know (the workers and soldiers) that only in union with the workers of the west, only after shaking loose the foundations of capitalism In the west, can we count upon the triumph of the revolution in Russia!” By “the triumph of the revolution” is meant not the building of socialism – of that there was still no talk at all – but only the winning and holding of power.
“The bourgeoisie,” wrote Lenin in September, “is shouting about the inevitable defeat of the commune in Russia – that is, the defeat of the proletariat if it wins the power.” We must not be frightened by these shouts. “Having conquered the power, the proletariat of Russia has every chance of holding it and bringing Russia through to the victorious revolution in the west.” The perspective of the revolution is here defined with utter clearness: to hold the power until the beginning of the socialist revolution in Europe. This formula was not hastily thrown out: Lenin repeats it from day to day. He sums up his programme article, Will the Bolshevik Be Able to Hold the State Power? in these words: “There is no power on earth which can prevent the Bolsheviks, if they do not let themselves be frightened and succeed in seizing the power, from holding it until the victory of the world-wide socialist revolution.”
The Right Wing of the Bolsheviks demanded a coalition with the Compromisers, citing the fact that the Bolsheviks “alone” could not hold the power. Lenin answered them on November 1 – that is, after the revolution: “They say that we alone will not hold the power, etc. But we are not alone. Before us is all Europe. We must begin.” In this dialogue of Lenin with the Right Wing, it becomes especially clear that the idea of the independent creation of a socialist society in Russia never even came into the head of any of the disputants.
John Reed tells how at one of the Petrograd meetings at the Obukhovsky factory a soldier from the Rumanian front shouted “We will hold on with all our might until the peoples of the whole world rise to help us.” This formula did not fall from the sky, and it was not thought of either by the nameless soldier or by Reed. It was grafted into the masses by Bolshevik agitators. The voice of the soldier from the Rumanian front was the voice of the party, the voice of the October revolution.
The Declaration of Rights of the Toilers and the Exploited Peoples – the fundamental state programme introduced in the name of the soviet power into the Constituent Assembly – proclaimed the task of the new structure to be “the establishment of a socialist organisation of society and the victory of socialism in all countries ... The soviet power will proceed resolutely along this road until the complete victory of the international workers’ insurrection against the yoke of capital.” This Leninist Declaration of Rights, not formally annulled to this day, converted the permanent revolution into a fundamental law of the Soviet Republic.
If Rosa Luxemberg, who in her prison was following with passionate and jealous attention the deeds and words of the Bolsheviks, had caught in them a shadow of national socialism, she would have sounded the alarm at once. In those days she was very sternly – in the essence mistakenly – criticising the policies of the Bolsheviks. But no. Here is what she wrote about the general line of the party: “The fact that the Bolsheviks in their policy have steered their course entirely towards the world revolution of the proletariat is precisely the most brilliant testimony to their political far-sightedness, their principled firmness and the bold scope of their policy”
It is just these views, which Lenin was developing from day to day, which were preached in the central organ of the party under Stalin’s editorship, which inspired the speeches of agitators great and small, which were repeated by soldiers from far-off sectors of the front, which Rosa Luxemburg considered the highest testimony to the political farsightedness of the Bolsheviks – it is just these views which the bureaucracy of the Communist International condemned in 1926. “The views of Trotsky and his followers upon the fundamental question of the character and perspectives of our revolution,” says a resolution of the Seventh Plenum of the Communist International, “have nothing in common with the views of our party, with Leninism.” Thus the epigones of Bolshevism have done away with their own past.
If anybody really struggled in 1917 against the theory of permanent revolution, it was the Kadets and Compromisers. Miliukov and Dan exposed the “revolutionary illusions of Trotskyism” as the chief cause of the collapse of the revolution of 1905. In his introductory speech at the Democratic Conference, Cheidze scourged the effort “to put out the fire of the capitalist war by converting the revolution into a socialist and world revolution.” On the 13th of October, Kerensky said in the Pre-Parliament: “There is now no more dangerous enemy of the revolution, the democracy and all the conquests of freedom, than those who ... under the guise of deepening the revolution and converting it into a permanent social revolution, are perverting, and it seems have already perverted, the masses.” Cheidze and Kerensky were enemies of the permanent revolution for the same reason that they were enemies of the Bolsheviks.
At the second Congress of Soviets, at the moment of the seizure of power, Trotsky said: “If the people of Europe do not rise and crush imperialism, we will be crushed – that is indubitable. Either the Russian revolution will raise the whirlwind of struggle in the west, or the capitalists of all countries will strangle our revolution.” “There is a third road,” shouted a voice from the benches. Was this perhaps Stalin’s voice? No, it was the voice of a Menshevik. It was some years before Bolsheviks discovered that “third road.”
As a result of innumerable repetitions in the international Stalinist press, it is considered in a great variety of political circles almost established that two conceptions lay at the bottom of the Brest-Litovsk disagreements. One had as its point of departure the possibility not only of holding out, but of building socialism with the inner forces of Russia; the other rested its hope exclusively on an insurrection in Europe. In reality this contrast of views was created some years later, and its author did not take the trouble to bring his invention into the most superficial accord with the historic documents. To be sure, this would have been no easy task. All the Bolsheviks without a single exception were at one in the Brest period in thinking that if a revolution did not break out in Europe in the very near future, the Soviet Republic was doomed to destruction. Some counted the time in weeks, others in months: nobody counted it in years.
“From the very beginning of the Russian revolution ...,” wrote Bukharin on January 28, 1918, “the party of the revolutionary proletariat has declared: either the international revolution, unleashed by the revolution in Russia, will strangle the war and capital, or international capital will strangle the Russian revolution.” But was not Bukharin. who then headed the advocates of revolutionary war with Germany, attributing the views of his faction to the whole party? However natural such a supposition may be, it is flatly contradicted by the documents.
The minutes of the Central Committee for 1917 and the beginning of 1918 – published in 1929 – in spite of abridgements and a tendentious editing, offer invaluable testimony upon this question too. “At the session of January 11, 1918, Comrade Sergeiev (Artem) points out that all the orators are agreed upon the fact that our socialist republic is threatened with destruction in the failure of a socialist revolution in the west.” Sergeiev stood for the position of Lenin – that is, for signing the peace. Nobody contradicted Sergeiev. All three of the contending groups competed in appealing to one and the same general premise: Without a world revolution we will not pull through.
Stalin, to be sure, introduced a special note into the debate. He based the necessity of signing a separate peace upon the fact that: “There is no revolutionary movement in the west, there are no facts, there is only a potentiality, and we can’t figure on potentialities.” Although still far from the theory of socialism in a separate country, he nevertheless clearly revealed in these words his organic distrust of the international movement. “We cannot figure on potentialities.” Lenin immediately drew aside “in certain parts” from this Stalinist support. “It is true that the revolution in the west has not yet begun,” he said. “However, if in view of this we should change our tactics, then we should be traitors to international socialism.” If he, Lenin, favoured an immediate separate peace, it was not because he did not believe in the revolutionary movement in the west, and still less because he believed in the viability of an isolated Russian revolution: “It is important for us to hold out until the coming of a general socialist revolution, and we can achieve this only by signing the peace.” The meaning of the Brest capitulation was summed up for Lenin in the words “breathing spell.”
The minutes testify that after this warning from Lenin, Stalin sought an opportunity to correct himself. “Session of February 23, 1918. Comrade Stalin: ... We also are staking our play upon a revolution, but you are reckoning in weeks, and [we] in months.” Stalin here repeats verbatim the formula of Lenin. The distance between the two wings in the Central Committee on the question of the world revolution was the distance between weeks and months.
When defending the signing of the Brest peace at the seventh Congress of the party in March 1918, Lenin said: “It is absolutely true that without a German revolution we will perish. We will perish perhaps not in Petersburg nor in Moscow, but in Vladivostok, or some other remote place whither we will have to retreat but in any case, under all possible or conceivable eventualities, if the German revolution does not begin, we perish.” It is not only a question of Germany, however. “International imperialism ... which represents a gigantic actual power ... could in no case and under no conditions live side by side with the Soviet Republic. Here a conflict would be inevitable. Here ... is the greatest historic problem ... the necessity of evoking an international revolution.” In the secret decision adopted, we read: “The Congress sees the most reliable guarantee of the consolidation of the socialist revolution which has won the victory in Russia only in its conversion into an international workers’ revolution.”
Some days later Lenin made a report to the Congress of Soviets: “Worldwide imperialism and the triumphal march of a social revolution cannot live side by side.” On April 23 he said at a session of the Moscow soviet: “Our backwardness has pushed us forward, and we shall perish if we cannot hold out until we meet a mighty support on the port of the insurrectionary workers of other countries.” “We must retreat (before imperialism) even to the Urals,” he writes in May 1918, “for that is the sole chance of winning time for the maturing of the revolution in the west ...”
Lenin was clearly aware of the fact that the dragging out of the negotiations at Brest would make harder the conditions of peace, but he put the revolutionary international tasks higher than the “national” ones. On June 28, 1918, notwithstanding episodic disagreements with Trotsky on the subject of signing the peace, Lenin said at a Moscow conference of trade unions: “When it came to the Brest negotiations, the exposures of Comrade Trotsky came out before the whole world, and did not this policy bring it about that in the enemy-country ... in wartime an enormous revolutionary movement broke out?” A week later in a report of the Council of People’s Commissars to the fifth Congress of Soviets, he returns to the same question: “We fulfilled our duty before all the peoples ... through our Brest delegation headed by Comrade Trotsky.” A year later Lenin recalled: “In the epoch of the Brest peace ... the Soviet power placed the world dictatorship of the proletariat and the world revolution higher than any national sacrifices, no matter how heavy they might be.” “What meaning,” asked Stalin, when time had erased from his memory the never very definite distinctions between ideas – “What meaning can Trotsky’s assertion that revolutionary Russia could not stand in the face of a conservative Europe have? It can have only one meaning: Trotsky does not feel the inward might of our revolution.”
In reality the whole party was unanimous in the conviction that “before the face of a conservative Europe” the Soviet Republic could not stand. But that was only the reverse side of a conviction that a conservative Europe could not stand before the face of revolutionary Russia. In negative form it expressed an unconquerable faith in the international power of the Russian revolution. And fundamentally the party was not mistaken. Conservative Europe did not at any rate wholly stand. The German revolution, even betrayed as it was by the social democracy, was still strong enough to trim the claws of Ludendorff and Hoffmann. Without this operation the Soviet Republic could hardly have avoided destruction.
But even after the destruction of German militarism, no change was made in the general appraisal of the international situation. “Our efforts will inevitably lead to a world-wide revolution,” said Lenin at a session of the Central Executive Committee at the end of July 1918. “Things stand in such a way that, having gotten out of the war with one alliance, [we] immediately experienced the assault of imperialism from the other side.” In August, when civil war was spreading on the Volga with the participation of the Czecho-Slovaks, Lenin said at a meeting in Moscow: “Our revolution began as a universal revolution ... The proletarian masses will guarantee the Soviet Republic a victory over the Czecho-Slovaks and the possibility of holding out until the world-wide socialist revolution breaks out.” To hold out until the outbreak of revolution in the west – such as before is the formula of the party.
In those same days Lenin wrote to the American workers: “We are in a besieged fortress until other armies of the international socialist revolution come to our aid.” He expressed himself still more categorically in November: “The facts of world history have shown that the conversion of our Russian revolution into a socialist revolution was not an adventure but a necessity, for there was no other choice. Anglo-French and American imperialism will inevitably strangle the independence and freedom of Russia unless world-wide socialist revolution, unless worldwide Bolshevism, conquers.” To repeat the words of Stalin, Lenin obviously did not feel the “inner might of our revolution.”
The first anniversary of the revolution is past. The party has had time to look round. And nevertheless in his report to the eighth Congress of the party in March 1919. Lenin again declares: “We live not only in a state but in a system of states, and the existence of the Soviet Republic side by side with imperialist states for an extended period is unthinkable. In the end either one or the other will conquer.” On the third anniversary, which coincided with the rout of the Whites, Lenin recalled and generalised: “If on that night (the night of the October revolution) someone had told us that in three years ... this would be our victory, nobody, not even the most cocksure optimist, would have believed it. We knew then that our victory would be a victory only when our cause should conquer the whole world, for we began our work counting exclusively upon world revolution.” More unassailable testimony could not be asked. At the moment of the October revolution “the most cocksure optimist” not only did not dream of creating national socialism, but did not believe in the possibility of defending the revolution without direct help from outside! “We began our work counting exclusively upon world revolution.” In order to guarantee the victory in a three years’ fight over legions of enemies, neither the party nor the Red Army had need of the myth of socialism in a separate country.
The world situation took a more favourable form than could have been expected. The masses revealed an extraordinary capacity for sacrifices in the name of the new goals. The leaders skilfully made use of the contradictions of imperialism during the first and most difficult period. As a result the revolution revealed more stability than “the most cocksure optimist” had anticipated. But even so, the party wholly preserved its former international position.
“If it hadn’t been for the war,” Lenin explained in January 1918, “we would have seen a union of the capitalists of the whole world, a consolidation on the basis of the struggle against us.” “Why throughout weeks and months ... after October did we get a chance to pass so easily from triumph to triumph?” he asked at the seventh Congress of the party. “Only because a specially formed international conjuncture temporarily protected us from imperialism.” In April, Lenin said at a session of the Central Executive Committee: “We got a breathing spell only because the imperialist war still continued in the west, and in the Far East imperialist rivalry is raging wider and wider; this alone explains the existence of the Soviet Republic.”
This exceptional combination of circumstances could not last for ever. “We have now passed from war to peace,” said Lenin in 1920. “But we have not forgotten that war will come again. So long as both capitalism and socialism remain, we cannot live in peace. Either the one or the other in the long run will conquer. There will be a funeral chant either for the Soviet Republic or for world capitalism. This is a moratorium in a war.”
The transformation of the original “breathing spell” into a prolonged period of unstable equilibrium was made possible not only by the struggle of capitalist groupings, but also by the international revolutionary movement. As a result of the November revolution in Germany, the German troops were compelled to abandon the Ukraine, the Baltic States and Finland. The penetration of the spirit of revolt into the armies of the Entente compelled the French, English and American governments to withdraw their troops from the southern and northern shores of Russia. The proletarian revolution in the west was not victorious, but on its road to victory it protected the Soviet state for a number of years.
In July 1921, Lenin summarised the situation: “We have got a certain equilibrium, although extremely fragile, extremely unstable, nevertheless such an equilibrium that a socialist republic can exist – of course not for long – in a capitalist environment.” Thus passing from weeks to months, from months to years, the party only by degrees assimilated the idea that a workers’ state might for a certain time – “of course not for long” – peacefully continue to exist in a capitalist environment.
One not unimportant conclusion flows from the above data quite irrefutably: If according to the general conviction of the Bolsheviks the Soviet state could not long hold out without a victory of the proletariat in the west, then the programme of building socialism in a separate country is excluded practically by that fact alone; the very question is withdrawn, so to speak, in its preliminary consideration.
It would be, however, a complete mistake to assume as the epigone school has attempted to suggest in recent years, that the sole obstacle seen by the party on the road to a national socialist society, was the capitalist armies. The threat of armed intervention was in reality practically advanced to the front rank, but the war danger itself was merely the most acute expression of the technical and industrial predominance of the capitalist nations. In the last analysis the problem reduced itself to the isolation of the Soviet Republic and to its backwardness.
Socialism is the organisation of a planned and harmonious social production for the satisfaction of human wants. Collective ownership of the means of production is not yet socialism, but only its legal premise. The problem of a socialist society cannot be abstracted from the problem of the productive forces, which at the present stage of human development are worldwide in their very essence. The separate state, having become too narrow for capitalism, is so much the less capable of becoming the arena of a finished socialist society. The backwardness of a revolutionary country, moreover, increases for it the danger of being thrown back to capitalism. In rejecting the perspective of an isolated socialist development, the Bolsheviks had in view, not a mechanically isolated problem of intervention, but the whole complex of questions bound up with the international economic basis of socialism.
At the seventh Congress of the party, Lenin said: “If Russia passes now – and she indubitably is passing – from a ‘Tilsit Peace’ to a national boom ... then the outcome of this boom is not a transition to the bourgeois state but a transition to the international socialist revolution.” Such was the alternative: either an international revolution or a sliding back – to capitalism. There was no place for national socialism. “How many transitional stages there will yet be to socialism, we do not and cannot know. That depends upon when the European socialist revolution begins on a real scale.”
In April of the same year, when calling for a re-formation of the ranks for practical work, Lenin wrote: “We can give serious co-operation to the socialist revolution in the west, delayed for a number of reasons, only to the degree that we succeed in solving the organisational problem which stands before us.” This first approach to economic construction is immediately included in the international scheme: it is a question of “co-operation to the socialist revolution in the west,” and not of creating a self-sufficient socialist kingdom in the east.
On the theme of the coming hunger, Lenin said to the Moscow workers: “In all our agitation we must ... explain that the misfortune which has fallen upon us is an international misfortune, that there is no way out of it but the international revolution.” In order to overcome the famine we must have a revolution of the world proletariat – says Lenin. In order to create a socialist society a revolution in a separate country is enough – answer the epigones. Such is the scope of the disagreement! Who is right? Let us not forget anyway that, in spite of the successes of industrialisation, hunger is not yet conquered to this day.
The Congress of the Councils of People’s Economy, in December 1918, formulated the plan of socialist construction in the following words: “The dictatorship of the world-proletariat is becoming historically inevitable ... This is determining the development both of the whole world society and of each country in particular. The establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat and of the soviet form of government in other countries will make possible the inauguration of the most close economic relations between countries, an international division of labour in production, and finally the organisation of international economic organs of administration.” The fact that such a resolution could be adopted by a congress of the state bodies confronted with purely practical problems – coal, firewood, sugar-beets – proves better than anything else how inseparably the perspective of the permanent revolution dominated the consciousness of the party during that period.
In the ABC of Communism, the party text-book composed by Bukharin and Preobrazhensky, which went through a great many editions, we read: “The communist revolution can be victorious only as a world revolution ... In a situation where the workers have won only in a single country, economic construction becomes very difficult ... For the victory of communism the victory of the world revolution is necessary.”
In the spirit of these same ideas Bukharin wrote in a popular brochure reprinted many times by the party and translated into foreign languages: “There rises before the Russian proletariat sharply as never before the problems of international revolution ... The permanent revolution in Russia grows into a European revolution of the proletariat.”
In a well-known book of Stepanov-Skvortzov, entitled Electrification, issued under the editorship of Lenin and with an introduction by him, in a chapter which the editor recommends with special enthusiasm to the attention of the reader, it says: “The proletariat of Russia never thought of creating an isolated socialist state. A self-sufficient ‘socialist’ state is a petty-bourgeois ideal. A certain approach to this is thinkable with an economic and political predominance of the petty-bourgeoisie; in isolation from the outside world it seeks a means of consolidating its economic forms, which are converted by the new technique and the new economy into very unstable forms.” These admirable lines, which were undoubtedly gone over by the hand of Lenin, cast a clear beam of light upon the most recent evolution of the epigones.
In his theses on the national and colonial questions at the second Congress of the Communist International, Lenin defines the general task of socialism, rising above the national stages of the struggle, as “the creation of a united worldwide economy, regulated according to a general plan by the proletariat of all nations, as a whole the tendency towards which is already revealed with complete clarity under capitalism, and undoubtedly will receive further development and full achievement under socialism.” In relation to this heritable and progressive tendency, the idea of a socialist society in a separate country is reaction.
The condition for the arising of a dictatorship of the proletariat and the conditions for the creation of a socialist society are not identical, not of like nature, in certain respects even antagonistic. The circumstance that the Russian proletariat first came to power by no means implies that it will first come to socialism. That contradictory unevenness of development which led to the October revolution did not disappear with its achievement. It was laid down in the very foundation of the first workers’ state.
“The more backward the country which is compelled, as a result of the zigzags of history, to begin the socialist revolution,” said Lenin in March 1918, “the harder for it will be the transition from the old capitalist to the socialist relations.” This idea finds its way through the speeches and articles of Lenin from year to year. “For us it is easy to begin a revolution and harder to continue it,” he says in May of the same year. “In the west it is harder to begin a revolution, but it will be easier to continue.” In December, Lenin developed the same thought before a peasant audience, one which finds it hardest of all to transcend national boundaries: “There (in the west) the transition to a socialist economy ... will go faster and be achieved more easily than with us ... In union with the socialist proletariat of the whole world the Russian labouring peasantry will overcome all handicaps.” “In comparison with the advanced countries,” he repeats in 1919, “it was easier for Russians to begin the great proletarian revolution, but it will be harder for them to continue it, and carry it through to decisive victory in the sense of the complete organisation of a socialist society.” “For Russia,” Lenin again insisted on the 27th of April, 1920, “... it was easy to begin the socialist revolution, whereas to continue it and carry it through to the end will be harder for Russia than for the European countries. I had to point out this circumstance at the beginning of 1918, and the two years experience since then have fully confirmed this judgement.”
The ages of history live in the form of different levels of culture. Time is needed to overcome the past – not new ages, but decades. “The coming generation, although more developed, will hardly make the complete transition to socialism,” said Lenin at a session of the Central Executive Committee on April 29th, 1918. Almost two years later at a congress of Agricultural Communes he named a still more remote date: “We cannot now introduce a socialist order. God grant that in the time of our children, or perhaps our grandchildren, it will be established here.” The Russian workers took the road earlier than the rest, but they will arrive later at the goal. This is not pessimism, but historic realism.
“We, the proletariat of Russia, are in advance of any England or any Germany in our political structure ...” wrote Lenin in May 1918, “and at the same time behind the most backward of west European states ... in the degree of our preparation for the material-productive inauguration of socialism” The same thought is expressed by him in the form of a contrast between two states: “Germany and Russia incarnated in 1918 most obviously of all the material realisation of the economic productive, socio-industrial conditions of socialism on the one side, and the political conditions on the other.” The elements of the future society are split up, so to speak, among different countries. To collect and subordinate them one to another is the task of a series of national revolutions building into a world revolution.
The idea of the self-sufficient character of the soviet economy Lenin laughed out of court in advance: “While our Soviet Russia remains a solitary suburb of the whole capitalist world,” he said in December, 1920, at the eighth Congress of Soviets, “during that time to think of our complete economic independence ... would be an utterly ridiculous fantasy and Utopianism.” On the 27th of March, 1922, at the eleventh Congress of the Party, Lenin gave warning: We are confronted with “a test which is being prepared by the Russian and international market, to which we are subordinate, with which we are bound up, from which we cannot break away. This is a serious test, for here they may beat us economically and politically.”
This idea of the dependence of socialist economy upon world economy, the Communist International now considers “counterrevolutionary.” Socialism cannot depend upon capitalism! The Epigones have been ingenious enough to forget that capitalism, like socialism, rests upon a worldwide division of labour which is to receive its highest development under socialism. Economic construction in an isolated workers’ state, however important in itself, will remain abridged, limited, contradictory: it cannot reach the heights of a new harmonious society.
“The authentic rise of a socialist economy in Russia,” wrote Trotsky in 1922, “will become possible only after the victory of the proletariat in the most important countries of Europe.” These words have become an indictment; nevertheless they expressed in their time the general thought of the party. “The work of construction,” said Lenin in 1919, “depends entirely upon how soon the revolution is victorious in the most important countries of Europe. Only after this victory can we seriously undertake the business of construction.” Those words express not a lack of confidence in the Russian revolution, but a faith in the nearness of the world revolution. But now also, after the colossal economic successes of the Union, it remains true that the “authentic rise of a socialist economy,” is possible only on an international basis.
From the same point of view the party looked upon the problem of the collectivisation of agricultural industry. The proletariat cannot create a new society without bringing the peasantry to socialism through a series of transitional stages, the peasantry being a considerable – in a number of countries a predominant – part of the population, and a known majority on the earth as a whole. The solution of this most difficult of all problems depends in the last analysis upon the quantitative and qualitative correlations between industry and agriculture. The peasantry will the more voluntarily and successfully take the road of collectivisation, the more generously the town is able to fertilise their economy and their culture.
Does there exist, however, enough industry for the transformation of the country?. This problem, too, Lenin carried beyond the national boundaries. “If you take the question on a world scale,” he said at the ninth Congress of the Soviets, “such a flourishing large-scale industry as might supply the world with all products does exist on the earth ... We put that at the basis of our calculations.” The correlation of industry and agriculture, incomparably less favourable in Russia than in the countries of the west, remains to this day the basis of the economic and political crises which threaten at certain moments the stability of the soviet system.
The policy of so-called “military communism” – as is clear from the above – was not based upon the idea of building a socialist society within the national boundaries. Only the Mensheviks, making fun of the soviet power, attributed such plans to it. For the Bolsheviks the further destinies of the Spartan régime imposed by the ruin and the civil war, stood in direct dependence upon the development of revolution in the west. In January 1919, at the height of military communism, Lenin said: “We will defend the foundations of our communist policy in production and we will carry them through unshaken to the time of the complete and worldwide victory of communism.” Together with the whole party Lenin was mistaken. It became necessary to change the policy in production. At present we may consider it established that, even if the socialist revolution in Europe had taken place during the first two or three years after October, a retreat along the line of the New Economic Policy would have been inevitable just the same. But on a retrospective appraisal of the first stage of the dictatorship, it becomes especially clear to what a degree the methods of military communism and its illusions were closely interwoven with the perspective of permanent revolution.
The deep internal crisis at the end of the three years of civil war involved the threat of a direct break between the proletariat and the peasantry, between the party and the proletariat. A radical reconsideration of the methods of the soviet power became necessary. “We have to satisfy economically the middle peasant, and adopt freedom of trade,” Lenin explained. “Otherwise it will be impossible to preserve the power of the proletariat in Russia in view of the delay of the international revolution.” Was not the transition to the NEP accompanied, however, by a break in principle of the bond between domestic and international problems?
Lenin gave a general estimate of the new stage then opening in his theses for the third Congress of the Communist International: “From the point of view of the worldwide proletariat revolution as a single process, the significance of the epoch Russia is passing through lies in its practical experimental test of the policy in relation to the petty-bourgeois mass of a proletariat holding the state power.” His very definition of the framework of the New Economic Policy, cleanly removes the question of socialism in one country.
No less instinctive are those lines which Lenin wrote for his own use in the days when the new methods of industry were being considered and worked up: “10 to 20 years of correct relations with the peasantry and victory on a world scale is guaranteed (even with the delay of the proletarian revolutions, which are growing).”
The goal is set: to accommodate ourselves to the new, more prolonged period which may be necessary for the maturing of the revolution in the west. In this sense and only this, Lenin expressed his confidence that: “From Russia of the NEP will come a socialist Russia.”
It is not enough to say that the idea of international revolution was not here revised; to a certain degree it received a deeper and more distinct expression: “In the countries of developed capitalism,” said Lenin at the tenth Congress of the Party, explaining the historic position of the NEP, “there is a class of hired agricultural labourers which has been forming itself in the course of some decades ... Where this class is sufficiently developed, the transition from capitalism to socialism is possible. We have emphasised – in a whole series of writings, in all our speeches, in all our press, the fact that in Russia the situation is not like this – that in Russia we have a minority of workers in industry and an enormous majority of petty landowners. In such a country the social revolution could achieve its final success only on two conditions: first, on condition of its timely support by a social revolution in one or several advanced countries ... The other condition is an agreement between ... the proletariat which holds the state power and the majority of the peasant population ... Only an agreement with the peasants can save the socialist revolution in Russia until the revolution begins in other countries.” All the elements of the problem are here united in one. A union with the peasantry is necessary for the very existence of the Soviet power; but it does not replace the international revolution, which can alone create the economic basis of a socialist society.
At the same tenth Congress a special report was made on The Soviet Republic in a Capitalist Environment, dictated by the delay of the revolution in the west. Kamenev was put forward as spokesman for the Central Executive Committee. “We never set ourselves the task,” he said, as of something unquestioned by all, “to create a communist structure in a single isolated country. We find ourselves, however, in a position where it is necessary to hold the foundation of the communist structure, the foundation of the socialist state, the soviet proletarian republic surrounded on all sides by capitalist relations. Can we fulfil this task? I think that this question is scholastic. To this question in such a situation no answer should be made. The question stands thus: How in the given relations can we hold the Soviet power, and hold it up to that moment when the proletariat in this or that country shall come to our aid?” If the idea of the spokesman, who had undoubtedly more than once gone over his outline with Lenin, was in contradiction with the tradition of Bolshevism, why did the congress not raise a protest? How did it happen that there was not one delegate to point out that on the very basic question of the revolution, Kamenev was developing views having “nothing in common” with the views of Bolshevism? How was it that nobody in the whole party noticed this heresy?
“According to Lenin,” Stalin affirms, “the revolution finds its force first of all among the workers and peasants of Russia itself. Trotsky has it that the necessary forces can be found only on the arena of. the world revolution of the proletariat.” To this manufactured contrast, as to many another, Lenin made his answer in advance: “Not for one minute have we forgotten, nor will we forget,” he said on May 14, 1918, at a session of the Central Executive Committee. “the weaknesses of the Russian working class in comparison with other detachments of the international proletariat ... But we must remain at our post until our ally comes, the international proletariat.” On the third anniversary of the October revolution, Lenin confirmed this: “We always staked our play upon an international revolution and this was unconditionally right ... We always emphasised the fact that in one country it is impossible to accomplish such a work as a socialist revolution.” In February 1921, Lenin declared at a congress of the workers in the needle trades: “We have always and repeatedly pointed out to the workers that the underlying chief task and basic condition of our victory is the propagation of the revolution at least to several of the more advanced countries.” No. Lenin is too much compromised by his stubborn desire to find forces in the world arena: you cannot wash him white!
Just as Trotsky is placed in opposition to Lenin, so Lenin himself is placed in opposition to Marx – and with the same foundation. If Marx assumed that the proletarian revolution would begin in France but be completed only in England, this is explained, according to Stalin, by the fact that Marx did not yet know the law of uneven development. In reality the Marxist prognosis contrasting the country of revolutionary initiative with the country of socialist accomplishment, was based wholly upon the law of uneven development. In any case Lenin himself, who permitted no reticence upon big problems, never and nowhere recorded his disagreement with Marx and Engels in regard to the international character of the revolution. Exactly the opposite! If “things have turned out otherwise than Marx and Engels expected,” Lenin said at the third Congress of the Soviets, it is only in relation to the historic sequence of the countries. The course of events has allotted to the Russian proletariat “the honourable rôle of vanguard of the international social revolution, and we now see clearly how the development of the revolution, will proceed further; the Russian began – the German, the Frenchmen, the Englishmen will carry it through, and socialism will conquer.”
We are further admonished by an argument from the standpoint of state prestige. A denial of the theory of national socialism – according to Stalin – “leads to the uncrowning of our country.” This phraseology alone, intolerable to a Marxian ear, gives away the depth of the break with Bolshevik tradition. It was not “uncrowning” that Lenin feared but national bigotry. “We are one of the revolutionary detachments of the working class,” he taught in April 1918 at a session of the Moscow Soviet, “advanced to the front not because we are better than others, but precisely because we were one of the most backward countries in the world ... We will arrive at complete victory only together with all the workers of other countries, the workers of the whole world.”
The appeal to sober self-valuation becomes a leitmotif in Lenin’s speeches. “The Russian revolution,” he says on June 4, 1918, was due not to the special merits of the Russian proletariat, but to the course ... of historic events, and this proletariat was placed temporarily in the first position by the will of history and made for a time the vanguard of the world revolution.” “The first rôle occupied by the proletariat of Russia in the world labour movement,” said Lenin at a conference of Factory Committees on July 23, 1918, “is explained not by the industrial development of the country – just the opposite, by the backwardness of Russia ... The Russian proletariat is clearly aware that the necessary condition and fundamental premise of its victory is the united action of the workers of the whole world, or of several countries advanced in capitalist relations.” The October revolution was evoked not only by the backwardness of Russia, and this Lenin well understood. But he consciously bent the stick too far in order to straighten it.
At a congress of the Councils of People’s Economy – the organs especially called to build socialism – Lenin said on May 26, 1918; “We do not shut our eyes to the fact that we alone, with our own forces, could not achieve the socialist revolution in one country, even though it were a good deal less backward than Russia.” And here, anticipating the future voice of bureaucratic bigotry, he explained: “This cannot cause a drop of pessimism, because, the task which we have set ourselves is a task of worldwide historic difficulty.”
At the sixth Congress of the Soviets on November 8, he said: “The complete victory of the socialist revolution is unthinkable in one country, but demands the most active co-operation at least of several advanced countries, among which Russia cannot be numbered ...” Lenin not only denies Russia the right to her own socialism, but demonstratively gives her a secondary place in the building of socialism by other countries. What a criminal “uncrowning” of our country!
In March 1919, at a Congress of the Party, Lenin pulls up on the too mettlesome; “We have a practical experience in taking the first steps in the destruction of capitalism in a country with a special relation between proletariat and peasantry. Nothing more. If we swell ourselves out like a frog, and puff and blow, this will be utterly laughable to the whole world. We shall be mere braggarts.” Will anybody be offended by this? On the 19th of May, 1921, Lenin exclaimed: “Did any one of the Bolsheviks at any time ever deny that the revolution can conquer in a final form only when it comprises all or at least several of the more advanced countries!” In November 1920, at a Moscow provincial conference of the party, he again reminded his audience that the Bolsheviks had neither promised nor dreamed of “making over the whole world with the forces of Russia alone ... Such madness we never reached, but we always said that our revolution will conquer when the workers of all countries support it.”
“We have not,” he writes at the beginning of 1922, “completed even the foundation of a socialist economy. This can still be taken back by the hostile forces of a dying capitalism. We must be clearly aware of this, and openly acknowledge it. For there is nothing more dangerous than illusions and turned heads, especially in high places. And there is absolutely nothing ‘terrible,’ nothing offering a legitimate cause for the slightest discouragement, in recognising this bitter truth; for we always have taught and repeated this ABC truth of Marxism, that for the victory of socialism the combined efforts of the workers of several advanced countries are necessary.”
A little over two years later Stalin will demand a renunciation of Marxism upon this basic question. And upon what ground? On the ground that Marx remained ignorant of the unevenness of evolution – ignorant, that is, of the most elementary law of the dialectic of nature as well as society. But what is to be said of Lenin himself, who according to Stalin is supposed to have first “discovered” this law of unevenness as a result of the experience of imperialism, and who nevertheless stubbornly held fast to the “ABC truth of Marxism?” We should seek in vain for any explanation of this.
“Trotskyism” – according to the indictment and sentence of the Communist International – “derived and continues to derive from the proposition that our revolution in and of itself (!) is not in essence socialistic, that the October revolution is only the signal, impetus and starting-point for a socialist revolution in the west.” Nationalistic degeneration here masks itself with pure scholasticism. The October revolution “in and of itself” does not exist. It would have been impossible without the whole preceding history of Europe, and it would be hopeless without its continuation in Europe and the whole world. “The Russian revolution is only one link in the chain of international revolution” (Lenin). Its strength lies exactly where the Epigones see its “uncrowning.” Exactly because, and only because, it is not a self-sufficient whole but a “signal,” “impetus,” “starting-point,” “link” – exactly for that reason does it acquire a socialist character.
“Of course the final victory of socialism in one country is impossible,” said Lenin at the third Congress of Soviets in January 1918, “but something else is possible: a living example, a getting to work – somewhere in one country – that is what will set fire to the toiling masses in all countries.” In July at a session of the Central Executive Committee: “Our task now is ... to hold fast ... this torch of socialism so that it may continue to scatter as many sparks as possible to the increasing conflagration of the social revolution.” A month later at a workers’ meeting: “The (European) revolution is growing ... and we must hold the Soviet power until it begins. Our mistakes must serve as a lesson to the western proletariat.” A few days later at a congress of educational workers: “The Russian revolution is only an example, only a first step in a series of revolutions.” In March 1919, at a congress of the party: “The Russian revolution was in essence a dress-rehearsal ... of the worldwide proletarian revolution.” Not a revolution “in and of itself” but a torch, a lesson, an example only, a first step only, only a link! Not an independent performance, but only a dress-rehearsal! What a stubborn and ruthless “uncrowning”!
But Lenin did not stop even here; “If it should happen,” he said on November 8, 1918, “that we were suddenly swept away ... we would have the right to say, without concealing our mistakes, that we used the period of time that fate gave us wholly for the socialist world revolution.” How far this is, both in method of thinking and in political psychology, from the bigoted self-complacence of the Epigones, imagining themselves an eternal belly-button of the earth.
A lie upon a fundamental question, if political interest compels you to cling to it, leads to innumerable resulting mistakes and gradually revises all your thinking. “Our party has no right to deceive the working class,” said Stalin at a plenary session of the Executive Committee of the Communist International in 1926. “It ought to say frankly that a lack of confidence in the possibility of building socialism in our country will lead to a renunciation of power, and the passing of our party from the position of a ruling to that of an opposition party.” The Communist International has canonised this view in its resolution: “The denial of this possibility (the possibility of a socialist society in a separate country) on the part of the opposition, is nothing but a denial of the premises for a socialist revolution in Russia.” The “premises” are not the general condition of world economy, not the inner contradictions of imperialism, not the correlation of classes in Russia, but a guarantee given in advance or the possibility of realising socialism in a separate country!
To this teleological argument advanced by the Epigones in the autumn of 1926, we may reply with the same considerations with which we answered the Mensheviks in the spring of 1905. “Once the objective development of the class struggle confronts the proletariat at a certain moment of the revolution with the alternative: either take upon yourself the rights and obligations of state power or surrender your class position – the social democracy will place the conquest of state power on the order of the day. In doing this it will not in the least ignore developmental processes of a deeper kind, processes of growth and concentration of production. But it says: When the logic of the class struggle, resting in the last analysis upon the course of economic development, impels the proletariat towards dictatorship before the bourgeoisie has fulfilled its economic mission ... this means only that history has put upon the proletariat a task colossal in its difficulty. Perhaps the proletariat will even become exhausted in the struggle and fall under its weight – perhaps. But it cannot refuse these tasks through fear of class degeneration and of plunging the whole country into barbarism.” To this we could add nothing at the present time.
“It would be an irreparable mistake,” wrote Lenin in May 1918, “to declare that once the lack of correspondence between our economic and our political forces is organised, ‘it follows’ that we should not have seized the power ... Only ‘people in a glass case’ reason that way, forgetting that there will never be a ‘correspondence,’ that there cannot be, either in the evolution of nature or in the evolution of society, that only by way of a whole senses of attempts – each one of which taken separately will be one-sided, will suffer from a certain lack of correspondence – can complete socialism be created out of the revolutionary co-operation of the proletarians of all countries.” The difficulties of the international revolution will be overcome not by passive adaptation, not by a renunciation of power, not by a national watching and waiting for the universal insurrection, but by live action, by overcoming contradictions, by the dynamic of struggle and the extending of its radius.
If you take seriously the historic philosophy of the Epigones, the Bolsheviks ought to have known in advance on the eve of October, both that they would hold out against a legion of enemies, and that they would pass over from military communism to the NEP; also that in case of need they would build their own national socialism. In a word, before seizing the power they ought to have cast their accounts accurately, and made sure of a credit balance. What happened in reality was little similar to this pious caricature.
In a report at the party congress in March 1919, Lenin said: “We often have to grope our way along; this fact becomes most obvious when we try to take in with one glance what we have been through. But that did not unnerve us a bit, even on the 10th of October, 1917, when deciding the question about the seizure of power. We had no doubt that it was up to us, according to Comrade Trotsky’s expression, to experiment – to make the trial. We undertook a job which nobody in the world had ever before undertaken on such a scale.” And further: “Who could ever make a gigantic revolution, knowing in advance how to carry it through to the end? Where could you get such knowledge? It cannot be found in books, No such books exist. Our decision could only be born of the experience of the masses.”
The Bolsheviks did not seek any assurance that Russia would be able to create a socialist society. They had no need of it. They had no use for it. It contradicted all that they had learned in the school of Marxism. “The tactics of the Bolsheviks,” wrote Lenin against Kautsky, “were the only international tactics, for they were based not on the cowardly fear of the world revolution, not one Philistine lack of confidence in it ...” The Bolsheviks “contributed the maximum possible in one country to the development, support, stimulus, of revolution in all countries.” With such a tactic it was impossible to mark out in advance an infallible line-of-march, and still less possible to guarantee yourself a national victory. But the Bolsheviks knew that danger was an element of revolution, as of war. They went to meet danger with open eyes.
Placing before the world proletariat as an example and a reproach the manner in which the bourgeoisie boldly risks war in the name of its interests, Lenin branded with hatred those socialists who “are afraid to begin the fight until they are ‘guaranteed’ an easy victory ... Boot-lickers of international socialism, lackeys of bourgeois morality who think this way deserve triple contempt.” Lenin, as is well known, did not stop to choose his words when he was choking with indignation.
“But what shall we do,” Stalin has kept on inquiring, “if the international revolution is destined to be delayed? Is there any light ahead for our revolution? Trotsky does not give any light.” The Epigones demand historic privileges for the Russian proletariat: it must have a road-bed laid down for an uninterrupted movement towards socialism, regardless of what happens to the rest of humanity. History, alas, has prepared no such road-bed. “If you look at things from a worldwide historic scale,” said Lenin at the seventh Congress of the Party, “there is not the slightest doubt that the ultimate victory of our revolution, if it should remain solitary would be hopeless.”
But even in this case it would not have been fruitless. “Even if the imperialists should overthrow the Bolshevik power tomorrow,” said Lenin in May 1919, at a teachers’ congress, “we would not regret for one second that we took the power. And not one of the class-conscious workers ... would regret it, or would doubt that our revolution had nevertheless conquered.” For Lenin thought of victory only in terms of an international succession of development in struggle. “The new society ... is an abstraction which can take living body not otherwise than through a series of differing incomplete concrete attempts to create this or that socialist state.” This sharp distinction, and in some sense contrast, between “socialist state” and “new society” offers a key to the innumerable abuses perpetrated by the Epigone literature upon the texts of Lenin.
Lenin explained with the utmost simplicity the meaning of the Bolshevik strategy at the end of the fifth year after the conquest of power. “When we began at the time we did the international revolution, we did this not with the conviction that we could anticipate its development, but because a whole series of circumstances impelled us to begin this revolution. Our thought was: Either the international revolution will come to our aid, and in that case our victories are wholly assured, or we will do our modest revolutionary work in the consciousness that in case of defeat we have nevertheless served the cause of the revolution, and our experiment will be of help to other revolutions. It was clear to us that without the support of the international world revolution a victory of the proletarian overturn was impossible. Even before the revolution, and likewise after it, our thought was: immediately, or at any rate very quickly, a revolution will begin in the other countries, in capitalistically more developed countries – or in the contrary case we will have to perish. In spite of this consciousness we did everything to preserve the soviet system in all circumstances and at whatever cost, since we knew that we were working not only for ourselves, but for the international revolution. We knew this, we frequently expressed this conviction before the October revolution, exactly as we did immediately after it and during the conclusion of the Brest-Litovsk Peace. And, generally speaking, this was right.” The dates have shifted, the pattern of events has formed itself in many respects unexpectedly, but the fundamental orientation remains unchanged.
What can be added to these words? “We began ... the international revolution.” If a revolution in the west does not begin immediately, or at any rate very quickly” – assumed the Bolsheviks – “we will have to perish.” But in that case too, the conquest of power will have been justified: others will learn from the experience of those who perished. “We are working not only for ourselves but for the international revolution.” These ideas, saturated through and through with internationalism, Lenin expounded to the Communist International. Did anybody oppose him? Did anybody offer a hint of the possibility of a national socialist society? Nobody. Not one single word!
Five years later, at the seventh Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International, Stalin developed ideas exactly opposite to these. They are already known to us: If there is not “confidence in the possibility of building socialism in our country,” then the party must pass over “from the position of a ruling, to that of an opposition party ...” We must have a preliminary guarantee of success before taking the powers it is permitted to seek this guarantee only in national conditions; we must have confidence in the possibility of building socialism in peasant Russia; then we can get along quite well without confidence in the victory of the world proletariat. Each of these links in a chain of reasoning slaps in the face the tradition of Bolshevism.
To cover up their break with the past, the Stalin school have tried to make use of certain lines of Lenin, which seem the least unsuitable. An article of 1915 on The United States of Europe throws out incidentally the remark that the working class in each separate country ought to win the power and enter upon the socialist construction without waiting for the others. If behind these indisputable lines there lurked a thought about a national socialist society, how could Lenin so fundamentally have forgotten it during the years following, and so stubbornly have contradicted it at every step? But there is no use resorting to oblique inferences when we have direct statements. The programme theses drafted by Lenin in the same year, 1915, answer the question accurately and directly: “The task of the proletariat of Russia is to carry through to the end the bourgeois-democratic revolution in Russia, in order to kindle the socialist revolution in Europe. This second task has now come extremely near to the first, but it remains nevertheless a special and a second task, for it is a question of different classes co-operating with the proletariat of Russia. For the first task the collaborator is the petty-bourgeois peasantry of Russia, for the second the proletariat of other countries.” No greater clarity could be demanded.
The second attempt to quote Lenin is no better founded. His unfinished article about co-operation says that in the Soviet Republic we have on hand “all that is necessary and enough” in order without new revolutions to accomplish the transition to socialism. Here it is a question, as is perfectly clear from the text, of the political and legal premises of socialism. The author does not forget to remind his readers that the productive and cultural premises are inadequate. In general Lenin repeated this thought many times. “We ... lack the civilisation to make the transition directly to socialism,” he wrote in an article of the same period, the beginning of 1923, “although we have the political premises for it.” In this case as in all others, Lenin started from the assumption that the proletariat of the west would come to socialism along with the Russian proletariat and ahead of it. The article on co-operation does not contain a hint to the effect that the Soviet Republic might harmoniously and by reformist measures create its own national socialism, instead of taking its place through a process of antagonistic and revolutionary development in the world socialist society. Both quotations, introduced even into the text of the programme of the Communist International, were long ago explained in our Criticism of the Programme, and our opponents have not once attempted to defend their distortions and mistakes. The attempt would be too hopeless.
In March 1923 – in the same last period of his creative work, – Lenin wrote: “We stand ... at the present moment before the question: shall we succeed in holding out with our petty and very petty peasant production, with our ruined condition, until the west European capitalist countries complete their development to socialism?” We see again: the dates have shifted, the web of events changed, but the international foundation of the policy remains unshaken. That faith in the international revolution – according to Stalin a “distrust in the inner forces of the Russian revolution” – went with the great internationalist to his grave. Only after pinning Lenin down under a mausoleum, were the Epigones able to nationalise his views.
From the worldwide division of labour, from the unevenness of development of different countries, from their mutual economic dependence, from the unevenness of different aspects of culture in the different countries, from the dynamic of the contemporary productive forces, it follows that the socialist structure can be built only by a system of economic spiral, only by taking the inner discords of a separate country out into a whole group of countries, only by a mutual service between different countries, and a mutual supplementation of the different branches of their industry and culture – that is, in the last analysis, only on the world arena.
The old programme of the party, adopted in 1903, begins with the words: “The development of exchange has established such close bonds between the peoples of the civilised world that the great liberating movement of the proletariat must become, and long ago has become, international ...” The preparation of the proletariat for the coming social revolution is defined as the task of the “international social democracy.” However, “on the road to their common final goal ... the social-democrats of various countries are obliged to set themselves dissimilar immediate tasks.” In Russia the overthrow of czarism is such a task. The democratic revolution was thus regarded in advance as a national step to an international socialist revolution.
The same conception lies at the bottom of our programme adopted by the party after the conquest of power. In a preliminary discussion of the draft of this programme at the Seventh Congress, Miliutin proposed an editorial correction in the resolution of Lenin: “I propose,” he said, “that we insert the words ‘international socialist revolution’ where it says ⁋the era of social revolution now begun’ ... I think it is unnecessary to argue this ... Our social revolution can conquer only as an international revolution. It cannot conquer in Russia alone, leaving the bourgeois structure in the surrounding countries ... I propose that this be inserted to avoid misunderstanding.” The chairman Sverdlov: “Comrade Lenin accepts this amendment, a vote is therefore unnecessary.” A tiny episode of parliamentary technique (“unnecessary to argue” and “a vote is unnecessary,”)refutes the false historiography of the epigones more convincingly perhaps than the most painstaking investigation! The circumstance that Miliutin himself, like Skvortzov-Stepanov whom we quoted above, and like hundreds and thousands of others, soon after condemned his own views under the name of “Trotskyism,” makes no change in the facts. Great historic currents are stronger than human backbones. The floodtide lifts up and the ebbtide sweeps away whole political generations. Ideas, on the other hand, are able to live even after the physical and spiritual death of those who carried them. A year later, at the eighth Congress of the Party which ratified the new programme, the same question was again illumined in a sharp exchange of retorts between Lenin and Podbelsky. The Moscow delegate protested against the fact that in spite of the October overturn the programme still spoke of the social revolution in the future tense, “Podbelsky,” says Lenin, “attacks the fact that in one of the paragraphs the programme speaks of the coming social revolution ... His argument is obviously inconsequent, for in our programme we are talking about the social revolution on a world scale.” Truly the history of the party has not left the Epigones a single unillumined corner to hide in.
In the programme of the Communist Youth adopted in 1921, the same question is put forward in an especially popular and simple form. “Russia,” says one paragraph, “although possessing enormous natural resources is nevertheless in the matter of industry a backward country in which a petty-bourgeois population predominates. It can come to socialism only through the socialist world revolution, the epoch for the development of which we have now entered.” Ratified in its day by the Politburo, with the participation not only of Lenin and Trotsky but also of Stalin, this programme was in full force in the autumn of 1926 when the Executive Committee of the Communist International converted the non-acceptance of socialism in a separate country into a mortal sin.
In the two years ensuing, however, the Epigones were compelled to file away in the archives the programme documents of the Lenin epoch. Their new documents, patched together out of fragments, they called the programme of the Communist International. Whereas with Lenin in the “Russian” programme the talk is of international revolution, with the Epigones in the international programme the talk is of “Russian” socialism.
Just when and how did the break with the first openly reveal itself? The historic date is easy to indicate, since it coincides with a turning-point in the biography of Stalin. As late as April 1924, three months after the death of Lenin, Stalin was modestly expounding the traditional views of the party. “To overthrow the power of the bourgeoisie and establish the power of the proletariat in one country,” he wrote in his Problems of Leninism, “does not mean to guarantee the complete victory of socialism. The chief task of socialism – the organisation of socialist production – lies still ahead. Can this task be accomplished? Is it possible to attain the final victory of socialism in one country, without the combined efforts of the proletarians of several advanced countries. No, it is not. The efforts of one country are enough for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie – this is what the history of our revolution tells us. For the final victory of socialism, for the organisation of socialist production, the efforts of one country, especially a peasant country like Russia, are not enough – for this we must have the efforts of the proletarians of several advanced countries.” Stalin concludes his exposition of these thoughts with the words: “Such in general are the characteristic features of the Leninist theory of the proletarian revolution.”
By autumn of the same year, under the influence of the struggle with Trotskyism, it was suddenly discovered that Russia is the very country, in distinction from others, which will be able to build the socialist society with her own forces, if she is not hindered by intervention. In a new edition of the same work, Stalin wrote: “Having consolidated its power, and taking the lead of the peasantry, the proletariat of the victorious country can and must build a socialist society.” Can and must! Only in order “fully to guarantee the country against intervention ... is the victory of the revolution necessary ... at least in several countries.” The proclamation of this new conception, which allots to the world proletariat the rôle of border police, ends with those same words: “Such in general are the characteristic features of the Leninist theory of the proletarian revolution.” In the course of one year, Stalin has imputed to Lenin two directly opposite views upon a fundamental problem of socialism.
At a plenary session of the Central Committee in 1927, Trotsky said about these two contradictory opinions of Stalin: “You may say that Stalin made a mistake and afterward corrected himself. But how could he make such a mistake upon such a question? If it were true that Lenin already in 1915 gave out the theory of building socialism in a separate country (which is utterly untrue), if it were true that subsequently Lenin only reinforced and developed this point of view (which is utterly untrue) – then how, we must ask, could Stalin think up for himself during the life of Lenin, during the last period of his life, that opinion upon this most important question which finds its expression in the Stalinist quotation of 1924? It appears that upon this fundamental question Stalin had always been a Trotskyist, and only after 1924 ceased to be one. It would be well if Stalin could find at least one quotation from his own writings showing that before 1924 he said something about the building of socialism in one country. He will not find it!” This challenge remained unanswered.
We should not, however, exaggerate the actual depth of the change made by Stalin. Just as in the question of war, of our relation to the provisional government, or the national question, so on the general perspectives of the revolution. Stalin had two positions: one independent, organic, not always expressed, or at least never wholly expressed, and the other conditional, phraseological, borrowed from Lenin. Between two people belonging to one and the same party it would be impossible to imagine a deeper gulf than that which separated Stalin from Lenin, both upon fundamental questions of revolutionary conception and in political psychology. Stalin’s opportunist character is disguised now by the fact that his power rests upon a victorious proletarian revolution. But we have seen the independent position of Stalin in March 1917. Having behind him an already accomplished bourgeois revolution, he set the party the task of “putting brakes on the splitting away” of the bourgeoisie – that is, of actually resisting the proletarian revolution. If that revolution was achieved, it is not his fault. But together with all the bureaucracy Stalin has taken his stand upon the basis of accomplished fact. Once there is a dictatorship of the proletariat, there must be socialism too. Turning inside out the argument of the Mensheviks against the proletarian revolution in Russia, Stalin, with his theory of socialism in a separate country, began to barricade himself against international revolution. And since he has never thought any question of principle through to the end, it could not but seem to him that “in essence” he always thought as he thought in the autumn of 1924. And since he moreover never got into contradiction with the prevailing opinion of the party, it could not but seem to him that the party too “in essence” thought as he did.
The initial substitution was unconscious. It was not a question of falsification, but of ideological shedding. But in proportion as the doctrine of national socialism came up against a well-armed criticism, there was need of an organised, and predominantly surgical, interference on the part of the machine. The theory of national socialism was then decreed. It was proven by the method of contraries – by the arrest of those who did not agree with it. At the same time the era was opened of systematic remaking of the party’s past. The history of the party was turned into a palimpsest. This destruction of parchments still continues, and moreover with steadily increasing fury.
The decisive factor, however, was not repressions nor falsifications. The triumph of the new views corresponding to the situation and interests of the bureaucracy, has rested upon objective circumstances – temporary but extremely powerful. The possibility has opened before the Soviet Republic of playing both in foreign and domestic politics a far more significant rôle than anybody before the revolution could have estimated. The isolated worker state has not only held its own among a legion of enemies, but has elevated itself economically. This weighty fact has formed the social opinion of the younger generation, who have not yet learned to think historically – that is, to compare and foresee.
The European bourgeoisie got too badly burned in the last war to lightly undertake another. A fear of revolutionary consequences has so far paralysed the plans of military intervention. But the factor of fear is an unstable one. The threat of a revolution has never yet replaced the revolution itself. A danger which remains long unrealised loses its effect. At the same time the irreconcilable antagonism between the workers’ state and the world of imperialism pushes towards the surface. Recent events have been so eloquent that the hope of a “neutralisation” of the world bourgeoisie up to the completion of the socialist structure, has been abandoned by the present ruling faction; to a certain degree it has even been converted into its opposite.
The industrial successes attained during these peaceful years are an imperishable demonstration of the incomparable advantages of a planned economy. This fact in no wise contradicts the international character of the revolution: socialism could not be realised in the world arena, were not its elements and its points of support prepared in separate countries. It is no accident that the enemies of the theory of national socialism were the very protagonists of industrialisation, of the planning principle, the Five Year Plan, and collectivisation. Rakovsky, and with him thousands of other Bolsheviks, are paying for their fight for a bold industrial initiative with years of exile and prison. But they too, on the other hand, have been the first to rise against an overestimation of the results attained, against national complacency. On the other hand, the mistrustful and short-sighted “practicals,” who formerly thought that the proletariat of backward Russia could not conquer the power, and after the conquest of power denied the possibility of broad industrialisation and collectivisation, have taken subsequently exactly the opposite position. The successes attained against their own expectations, they have simply multiplied into a whole series of Five Year Plans, substituting the multiplication table for a historic perspective. That is the theory of socialism in a separate country.
In reality the growth of the present soviet economy remains an antagonistic process. In strengthening the workers’ state, the economic successes are by no means leading automatically to the creation of a harmonious society. On the contrary, they are preparing a sharpening of the contradictions of an isolated socialist structure on a higher level. Rural Russia needs, as before, a mutual industrial plan with urban Europe. The worldwide division of labour stands over the dictatorship of the proletariat in a separate country, and imperatively dictates its further road. The October revolution did not exclude Russia from the development of the rest of humanity, but on the contrary bound her more closely to it. Russia is not a ghetto of barbarism, nor yet an Arcadia of socialism. It is the most transitional country in our transitional epoch. “The Russian revolution is only one link in the chain of international revolution.” The present condition of world economy makes it possible to say without hesitation: Capitalism has come far closer to the proletarian revolution than the Soviet Union to socialism. The fate of the first workers’ state is inseparably bound up with the fate of the liberating movement in the west and east. But this large theme demands independent investigation. We hope to return to it.
Last updated on: 25 December 2014