Leon Trotsky

Results and Prospects

VIII. A Workers’ Government
in Russia and Socialism

Transcribed and HTML markup for the Trotsky Internet Archive, a subarchive of the Marxists’ Internet Archive, by Sally Ryan in 1996.

We have shown above that the objective pre-requisites for a socialist revolution have already been created by the economic development of the advanced capitalist countries. But what can we say in this connection with regard to Russia?

Can we expect that the transference of power into the hands of the Russian proletariat will be the beginning of the transformation of our national economy into a socialist one? A year ago we replied to this question in an article which was subjected to a severe crossfire of criticism by the organs of both factions of our party. In this article we said the following:

‘“The Paris workers,” Marx tells us, “did not demand miracles from their Commune.” We, too, must not expect immediate miracles from proletarian dictatorship today. Political power is not omnipotence. It would be absurd to suppose that it is only necessary for the proletariat to take power and then by passing a few decrees to substitute socialism for capitalism. An economic system is not the product of the actions of the government. All that the proletariat can do is to apply its political power with all possible energy in order to ease and shorten the path of economic evolution towards collectivism.

‘The proletariat will begin with those reforms which figure in what is known as the minimum programme; and directly from these the very logic of its position will compel it to pass over to collectivist measures.

‘The introduction of the eight-hour day and the steeply progressive income-tax will be comparatively easy, although even here the centre of gravity will lie not in the passing of the “act” but in organizing the practical carrying out of the measures. But the chief difficulty will be – and herein lies the transition to collectivism! – in the state organization of production in those factories which have been closed by their owners in reply to the passing of these acts. To pass a law for the abolition of the right of inheritance and to put such a law into effect will be a comparatively easy task. Legacies in the form of money capital also will not embarrass the proletariat or burden its economy. But to act as the inheritor of land and industrial capital means that the workers’ state must be prepared to undertake the organizing of social production.

‘The same thing, but to a wider degree, must be said of expropriation – with or without compensation. Expropriation with compensation would be politically advantageous but financially difficult, whereas expropriation without compensation would be financially advantageous but politically difficult. But the greatest difficulties of all will be met within the organization of production. We repeat, a government of the proletariat is not a government that can perform miracles.

‘The socialization of production will commence with those branches of industry which present the least difficulties. In the first period, socialized production will be like a number of eases, connected with private undertakings by the laws of commodity circulation. The wider the field of social production becomes extended, the more obvious will become its advantages, the firmer will the new political regime feel, and the bolder will the further economic measures of the proletariat become. In these measures it can and will rely not merely upon the national productive forces, but also upon the technique of the whole world, just as in its revolutionary policy it will rely on the experience not only of the class relations within the country but also on the whole historical experience of the international proletariat.’

The political domination of the proletariat is incompatible with its economic enslavement. No matter under what political flag the proletariat has come to power, it is obliged to take the path of socialist policy. It would be the greatest utopianism to think that the proletariat, having been raised to political domination by the internal mechanism of a bourgeois revolution, can, even if it so desires, limit its mission to the creation of republican-democratic conditions for the social domination of the bourgeoisie. The political domination of the proletariat, even if it is only temporary, will weaken to an extreme degree the resistance of capital, which always stands in need of the support of the state, and will give the economic struggle of the proletariat tremendous scope. The workers cannot but demand maintenance for strikers from the revolutionary government, and a government relying upon the workers cannot refuse this demand. But this means paralyzing the effect of the reserve army of labour and making the workers dominant not only in the political but also in the economic field, and converting private property in the means of production into a fiction. These inevitable social-economic consequences of proletarian dictatorship will reveal themselves very quickly, long before the democratization of the political system has been completed. The barrier between the ‘minimum’ and the ‘maximum’ programme disappears immediately the proletariat comes to power.

The first thing the proletarian regime must deal with on coming into power is the solution of the agrarian question, with which the fate of vast masses of the population of Russia is bound up. In the solution of this question, as in all others, the proletariat will be guided by the fundamental aim of its economic policy, i.e., to command as large as possible a field in which to carry out the organization of socialist economy. The form and tempo of the execution of this agrarian policy, however, must be determined by the material resources at the disposal of the proletariat, as well as by care to act so as not to throw possible aIlies into the ranks of the counter-revolutionaries.

The agrarian question, i.e., the question of the fate of agriculture in its social relations, is not, of course, exhausted by the land question, i.e., the question of forms of landownership. There is no doubt, however, that the solution of the land question, even if it does not predetermine agrarian evolution, will at least predetermine the agrarian policy of the proletariat: in other words, what the proletarian regime does with the land must be closely connected with its general attitude to the course and the requirements of agricultural development. For that reason the land question occupies first place.

One solution of the land question, to which the Socialist-Revolutionaries have given a far from irreproachable popularity, is the socialization of all land; a term, which, relieved of its European make-up, means nothing else than the ‘equalization of the use of land’ (or ‘black redistribution’). The programme of the equal distribution of the land thus presupposes the expropriation of all land, not only privately-owned land in general, or privately-owned peasant land, but even communal land. If we bear in mind that this expropriation would have to be one of the first acts of the new regime, while commodity-capitalist relations were still completely dominant, then we shall see that the first ‘victims’ of this expropriation would be (or rather, would feel themselves to be) the peasantry. If we bear in mind that the peasant, during several decades, has paid the redemption money which should have converted the allotted land into his own private property; if we bear in mind that some of the more well-to-do of the peasants have acquired – undoubtedly by making considerable sacrifices, borne by a still-existing generation – large tracts of land as private property, then it will be easily imagined what a tremendous resistance would be aroused by the attempt to convert communal and small-scale privately-owned lands into state property. If it acted in such a fashion the new regime would begin by rousing a tremendous opposition against itself among the peasantry.

For what purpose should communal and small-scale privately-owned land be converted into state property? In order, in one way or another, to make it available for ‘equal’ economic exploitation by all landowners, including the present landless peasants and agricultural labourers. Thus, the new regime would gain nothing economically by the expropriation of small holdings and communal land, since, after the redistribution, the state or public lands would be cultivated as private holdings. Politically, the new regime would make a very big blunder, as it would at once set the mass of the peasantry against the town proletariat as the leader of the revolutionary policy.

Further, equal distribution of the land presupposes that the employment of hired labour will be prohibited by law. The abolition of wage labour can and must be a consequence of economic reform, but it cannot be predetermined by juridical prohibition. It is not sufficient to forbid the capitalist landlord to employ wage-labour, it is necessary first of all to secure for the landless labourer the possibility of existence – and a rational existence from the social-economic point of view. Under the programme of equalization of the use of land, forbidding the employment of wage labour will mean, on the one hand, compelling the landless labourers to settle on tiny scraps of land and, on the other, obliging the government to provide them with the necessary stock and implements for their socially-irrational production.

It is of course understood that the intervention of the proletariat in the organization of agriculture will begin not by binding scattered labourers to scattered patches of land, but with the exploitation of large estates by the State or the communes. Only when the socialization of production has been placed well on its feet can the process of socialization be advanced further, towards the prohibition of hired labour. This will render small capitalist farming impossible, but will still leave room for subsistence or semi-subsistence holdings, the forcible expropriation of which in no way enters into the plans of the socialist proletariat.

In any case, we cannot undertake to carry out a programme of equal distribution which, on the one hand, presupposes an aimless, purely formal expropriation of small holdings, and on the other, demands the complete break-up of large estates into small pieces. This policy, being directly wasteful from the economic standpoint, could only have a reactionary-utopian ulterior motive, and above all would politically weaken the revolutionary party.

But how far can the socialist policy of the working class be applied in the economic conditions of Russia? We can say one thing with certainty – that it will come up against political obstacles much sooner than it will stumble over the technical backwardness of the country. Without the direct State support of the European proletariat the working class of Russia cannot remain in power and convert its temporary domination into a lasting socialistic dictatorship. Of this there cannot for one moment be any doubt. But on the other hand there cannot be any doubt that a socialist revolution in the West will enable us directly to convert the temporary domination of the working class into a socialist dictatorship.

In 1904, Kautsky, discussing the prospects of social development and calculating the possibility of an early revolution in Russia, wrote: ‘Revolution in Russia could not immediately result in a socialist regime. The economic conditions of the country are not nearly mature for this purpose.’ But the Russian revolution would certainly give a strong impetus to the proletarian movement in the rest of Europe, and in consequence of the struggle that would flare up, the proletariat might come to power in Germany. ‘Such an outcome,’ continued Kautsky, ‘must have an influence on the whole of Europe. It must lead to the political domination of the proletariat in Western Europe and create for the Eastern European proletariat the possibility of contracting the stages of their development and, copying the example of the Germans, artificially setting up socialist institutions. Society as a whole cannot artificially skip any stages of its development, but it is possible for constituent parts of society to hasten their retarded development by imitating the more advanced countries and, thanks to this, even to take their stand in the forefront of development, because they are not burdened with the ballast of tradition which the older countries have to drag along ... This may happen,’ says Kautsky, ‘but, as we have already said, here we leave the field of inevitability and enter that of possibility, and so things may happen otherwise.’

These lines were written by this German Social-Democratic theoretician at a time when he was considering the question whether a revolution would break out first in Russia or in the West. Later on, the Russian proletariat revealed a colossal strength, unexpected by the Russian Social-Democrats even in their most optimistic moods. The course of the Russian revolution was decided, so far as its fundamental features were concerned. What two or three years ago was or seemed possible, approached to the probable, and everything points to the fact that it is on the brink of becoming inevitable.

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Last updated on: 3.3.2007