Leon Trotsky

The Class Nature of the Soviet State

A Letter from Leon Trotsky

(1 January 1936)

Written: 1 January 1936.
First Published: New Militant, Vol. II No. 22, 6 June 1936, p. 3.
Transcription/Mark-up: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive (5 May 2018).
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2018. Creative Commons (Share & Attribute).

You ask the question of whether the present Soviet system can give way to a “third” form of society, which would be neither capitalist nor socialist. Urbahns believes that precisely this is “state capitalism,” identifying the soviet system with a fascist capitalism. In doing this he completely forgets a small difference: fascism hems in the highly developed productive forces in the framework of the national state by cutting short their further development. The Soviet system, even in its present form, imparts a rhythm to the development of the productive forces never before attained. Urbahns thus does not know how to distinguish between what is historically progressive and what is arch-reactionary.

I see that you have nothing in common with Urbahn’s formulation. But you think that the Soviet bureaucracy, in its further development, will be able to adapt the forms of property to its own interests to such a point that it becomes in reality a ruling class. You do not specify these new forms of property. You content yourself with the general statement that living evolution is inexhaustible in its new forms and formations.

In this general form, I find it as difficult to adopt as to reject the “third” possibility, because too many factors must be abstracted for that: in the first place those that are decisive for our revolutionary activity.

Now, forms of property are social forms par excellence. You cite examples – moreover taken from the pre-capitalist epoch – where certain forms of property had no great significance. These examples only prove that it is necessary to distinguish the real from the supposed forms of property, i.e., from juridical fictions (which also have a real function, but on a higher plane).

Precisely the bourgeoisie has reduced the forms of property to their barest expression. The proletarian revolution nationalized capitalist property. The question therefore arises: cannot this nationalization itself degenerate into a fiction, real property, under one form or another, returning to the new ruling class emerging from the bureaucracy?

Nationalized property stands or falls with planned economy. Thus, it is not a fiction, but a powerful reality. Nationalization, however, does not only signify that the productive forces are organized and directed according to a plan, but also in the interests of all. The bureaucracy prejudices the new system in these two ways. On the one hand, it reduces the efficiency of planned economy and on the other it consumes an enormous portion of its surplus.

If we speak of a “third” system, we must answer the question as to whether it is a matter of the rights newly acquired by the bureaucracy to an ever larger party of the national income – which would be equivalent to the right of parasitism, or if what is involved is the virtual liquidation of planned economy. Only the second hypothesis would constitute a new social base.

We must clearly understand that the abolition of planned economy, and by the same token also the nationalization of the productive forces, will inevitably and automatically lead to paralysis and disintegration of the latter. We would then no longer have before us a progressive system, but one in decomposition, which would inevitably lead to fascist capitalism. It is conceivable that a development so rich in possible formations creates something original. But in the essence of the matter there would be hardly any change.

Let us suppose that planned economy remains basically intact, that the productive forces continue in their rise, there will remain – in your hypothesis – nothing but the fact that the bureaucracy has succeeded in stabilizing, fortifying and eternalizing its parasitism, juridically, ideologically and politically (and why not religiously?). This perspective assumes that the great mass of the population patiently accepts the new yoke despite the raising of the level of economy and culture and endures it without offering any resistance, and forever. That is not at all probable. To a certain degree the progress of economy opens great sources of power to the bureaucracy. But this very progress is more and more turning against its autocracy and its parasitism.

What perspective opens before us? Very probably a new revolution. This will not be a social revolution, but a political revolution. The bourgeoisie too in its evolution has known of “great” revolutions, i.e., social revolutions, and purely political revolutions which took place on the basis of already established property ... The theoretical prognoses of Marx and Lenin did not foresee, in any case, the possibility of the political revolution on the bases of property nationalized by the proletariat But they did not also foresee the bonapartist degeneration of the proletarian dictatorship. Both these things belong to those stages, transitory forms, etc., in the formation of which history is so rich. The general laws of the evolution of capitalism to socialism, as they are established by Marxism, do not lose their force by these “episodes” (very disagreeable “episodes”).

These are a few considerations on the subject of the interesting problem which you have posed to me – and which I send you in all haste.

January 1, 1936

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Last updated on: 4 May 2018