Leon Trotsky

Russia and
the World Proletariat

(September 1935)

Written: 14 September 1935
First Published: New International [New York], Vol. II No. 6, October 1935, pp. 178–179.
Translated: New International.
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2003. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

The resolution on Dimitrov’s report on fascism is finally here. It is just as longwinded and diffuse as the report itself. Here we will deal only with the first sentence of the first paragraph of the resolution, which takes up a bare dozen newspaper lines of l’HumanitŽ, but which at the same time constitutes the cornerstone of the whole theoretical and strategic structure of the so-called Communist International.

Let us examine a little more closely what this cornerstone is like. We quote this first sentence literally: “The final, irrevocable victory of socialism in the land of the Soviets, a victory of world-historical significance, has enormously enhanced the power and the importance of the Soviet Union as the rampart of the exploited and oppressed of the entire world and has inspired the toilers to the struggle against capitalist exploitation, bourgeois reaction, and fascism, and for peace, freedom, and the independence of the peoples.”

The assertions contained in this sentence, however categorical they may sound, are false to the core. What is the “final, irrevocable victory of socialism in the land of the Soviets” supposed to mean? No official theoretician has tried to explain it to us. The resolution also spares itself the slightest hint of the criteria upon which this assertion is based. We must therefore call to mind all over again the ABC of Marxism. The victory of socialism, especially the “final, irrevocable” one, can only consist in this, that the average productivity of every member of the socialist society is higher, even substantially higher, than that of a capitalist worker. Even the most daring Comintern theoretician will not venture such an assertion with regard to the USSR. We hope to establish statistically in the near future the still very great backwardness of the Soviet Union with respect to both national and individual incomes. Our present task requires no such proof. The fact that the Soviet government must hold fast to the monopoly of foreign trade, represents a sufficient confirmation of the existing backwardness – despite all the successes – of the Soviet economy. For if the costs of production in the country were lower than the capitalist costs, the monopoly of foreign trade would be superfluous. The latest reform of foreign trade, interpreted by many all-too-superficial observers as a surrender of the foreign trade monopoly, is in reality only a technico-bureaucratic reform, which does not in the least infringe upon the basic pillars of the monopoly. Since, on the other hand, the Soviet bureaucracy has based itself upon nationalized means of production since the introduction of the five year plan and collectivization, and, on the other hand, the Soviet product is still much more expensive than the capitalist one, the Soviet bureaucracy, for the sake of its own preservation, cannot abandon the foreign trade monopoly. This decisive fact – the low productivity of labour power in the Soviet Union – provides the key that puts us in a position to open up all the other secrets. If the per capita national income in the USSR were approximately as high as in the United States of America, and if the bureaucracy did not squander unproductively and consume parasitically much too large a part of it, then the standard of living of the population would have to be incomparably higher than in the capitalist countries, the United States included. But that is not the case in the slightest degree. The Russian peasant, that is, the overwhelming mass of the population, still lives in deep poverty. Even the position of the majority of the industrial Proletariat has not yet attained the American, or even the European, level. The honest establishment of this fact naturally says nothing, in any respect, against the socialist mode of production, for in the case of capitalism we are dealing with a decomposing system and in the case of socialism with one which is just in its incipiency. We ought not, however, content ourselves with the general tendencies of development, but characterize quite accurately the stage attained, lest we lose ourselves in meaningless commonplaces.

If the socialist society gave its members a halfway assured well-being, with the perspective of an uninterrupted improvement of the position of everyone, then the burning worries about individual existence would begin to vanish; greed, anxiety, and envy would make their appearance merely as increasingly rare remnants of the old state of affairs; economic solidarity would pass from a principle into a daily custom. That this is not the case in the least hardly needs to be proved: the creation of a semi-privileged labour aristocracy under the fully privileged Soviet bureaucracy; the endeavours to translate all relationships among men into the language of money; the draconian laws for the protection of state property; finally, the truly barbaric law against “criminal” children; all these prove in the most striking, most irrefutable manner that socialism is still far from “irrevocably” assured in that field which is decisive precisely for socialism: in the consciousness of the people.

If socialism has “finally, irrevocably” triumphed, as the resolution dares to assert, then why does the political dictatorship continue to exist? Still more, why does it congeal with every passing day into a bureaucratic-Bonapartist rŽgime of insufferable harshness, arbitrariness, and rottenness? A guaranteed, “irrevocably” rooted socialism cannot possibly require an omnipotent bureaucracy, with an absolute ruler on top of it, for the dictatorship in general is after all nothing but a state means of preserving and protecting the menaced and not the assured foundations of the socialist state. The intrepid attempt of many “theoreticians” to refer to external dangers is much too absurd to be taken seriously. A society whose socialist structure is assured, whose internal relations thus repose upon the solidarity of the overwhelming mass, does not require an internal dictatorship for protection from external foes, but only a technico-military apparatus, just as it requires a technico-economic apparatus for its welfare.

Also, the fear of war in which the Soviet bureaucracy lives, and which determines its whole international policy, can only be explained by the fact that socialist construction, upon which the Soviet bureaucracy bases itself, is, historically speaking, not yet assured. The struggle of the workers’ state against a menacing capitalism is – at least it should be – a component part of the class struggle of the international working class. War thus has – at least it should have – the same significance for the workers’ state as revolution has for the proletariat of the capitalist countries. We are of course against any “premature,” artificially evoked revolution because, given an unfavourable relation of forces, it can lead only to defeat. The same holds true of war. A workers’ state should avert it only if it is “premature,” that is, if socialism is not yet finally and irrevocably assured. The current view that internally socialism is assured but that it may be crushed by military force is senseless: an economic system which effects a higher productivity of human labour cannot be overthrown by military measures. The victory of the semi-feudal European coalition over Napoleon did not lead to the destruction of France’s capitalist development but to its acceleration in the rest of Europe. History teaches that the victors – should they be situated on a lower economic and cultural plane than the vanquished – take over the latter’s technology, social relationships, and culture. It is not military force as such that menaces Soviet socialism, but the cheap commodities which would follow on the heels of the victorious capitalist armies. Moreover, if socialism really were assured in the Soviet Union in the above-described manner, that is, higher technology, higher productivity, higher well-being of the whole population, higher solidarity, there could be no possible talk of a military victory of the internally torn capitalist states over the Soviet Union.

We thus see how thoroughly false is the most important, the really decisive contention of the Seventh World Congress. Revolutionary Marxists would have said: the technical successes in the USSR are very significant; the economic successes lag behind. To guarantee even that “well-being” which obtains in the advanced capitalist countries and to re-educate the population, many years are still required, even if one disregards the internal contradictions and the increasingly destructive role of the Soviet bureaucracy, that is, two factors which are by themselves capable of demolishing the not-yet-assured social achievements. The decomposition of capitalism, the thrust of fascism, the growing war danger – all these processes stride forward much more rapidly than the construction of socialism in the USSR. Only narrow-minded fakers and bureaucratic pietists can think that this candid and honest posing of the question will dampen the “enthusiasm” of the international working class. Revolutionary enthusiasm cannot be permanently nurtured on lies. But lies form the basic pillar of the strategic system of the Comintern. Socialism is irrevocably assured in the USSR, on one-sixth of the world’s surface, if only the world proletariat will help to leave the Soviet state in peace. Thus the slogan is not preparation for the international revolution, but the assurance of peace. Thence the alliance with the “friends of peace,” the substitution of class collaboration for class struggle, the creation of the People’s Front with the Radical parties of finance capital, etc., etc. All these means are, in themselves, incapable of prolonging the peace, to say nothing of assuring it. Yet the whole peace program of the Comintern is strategically built upon the premise of an internally “assured” socialism. With this premise, the Seventh World Congress stands and falls; and it is, as indicated above, irrevocably false.

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Last updated on: 25 February 2016