Leon Trotsky

Once Again:
The USSR and Its Defense

(November 1937)

Written: November 4, 1937.
First Published: Internal Bulletin of the Socialist Party pre-convention discussion in November of 1937.
Reprinted: Fourth International [New York], Vol. 12 No. 4 (Whole No. 111), July–August 1951, pp. 118–123.
Translated: Unknown.
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.

Craipeau Forgets the Principal Teachings of Marxism

Comrade Craipeau wants to persuade us once again that the Soviet bureaucracy as such is a class. It is not a question, however, for him of pure “sociology.” No. All he wants, as we shall see, is once and for all to mark out a free and straight path to his kind of internationalism, an internationalism, alas, which is not at all sure of itself. If the bureaucracy is not a class, if the Soviet Union can still be recognized as a workers’ state, it is necessary to support it during the war. How then can one remain in irreconcilable opposition to one’s own government, if the latter is allied to the Soviets? There you have a terrible temptation to fall into social patriotism! No, it is preferable by far to make a radical sweep of the field: the Stalinist bureaucracy is an exploiting class, and in case of war, we hardly need to distinguish between the Soviets and Japan.

Unfortunately, this terminological radicalism does not advance things very much. Let us admit for a moment that the bureaucracy is really a class, in the sense of Marxist sociology. We then have a new form of class society which is identical neither with feudal society nor with capitalist society, and which never was foreseen by Marxist theoreticians. Such a discovery is worthy of a little more attentive analysis.

Why does capitalist society find itself in a blind alley? Because it is no longer capable of developing the productive forces, either in the advanced countries or in the backward countries. The world imperialist chain was broken at its weakest link, Russia. Now we learn that in place of bourgeois society there has been established a new class society. Craipeau has not yet given it any name nor analyzed its internal laws. But that does not prevent us from seeing that the new society is progressive in comparison with capitalism, for on the basis of nationalized property the new possessing “class” has assured a development of productive forces never equaled in the history of the world. Marxism teaches us, does it not, that the productive forces are the fundamental factor of historic progress. A society which is not capable of assuring the growth of economic power is still less capable of assuring the well-being of the working masses, whatever may be the mode of distribution. The antagonism between feudalism and capitalism and the decline of the former has been determined precisely by the fact that the latter opened up new and grandiose possibilities for the stagnating productive forces. The same applies to the USSR. Whatever its modes of exploitation may be, this new society is by its very character superior to capitalist society. There you have the real point of departure for Marxist analysis!

This fundamental factor, the productive forces, also has its reflection in the ideological domain. While the economic life of capitalist countries no longer teaches us anything except different forms of stagnation and decay, the nationalized and planned economy of the USSR is the greatest school for all humanity aspiring to a better future. One must be blind not to see this difference!

In the war between Japan and Germany on one side, and the USSR on the other, there would be involved not a question of equality in distribution, or of proletarian democracy, or of Vyshinsky’s justice, but the fate of the nationalized property and planned economy. The victory of the imperialist states would signify the collapse not only of the new exploiting “class” in the USSR, but also of the new forms of production – the lowering of the whole Soviet economy to the level of a backward and semicolonial capitalism. Now I ask Craipeau: When we are faced with the struggle between two states which are – let us admit it – both class states, but one of which represents imperialist stagnation and the other tremendous economic progress, do we not have to support the progressive state against the reactionary state? Yes or no?

In his entire thesis, Craipeau speaks of the most diverse things, and things furthest away from the subject, but he does not mention a single time the decisive factor of Marxist sociology, the development of the productive forces. This is precisely why his entire construction remains suspended in air. He juggles with terminological shadows (“class,” “nonclass”) instead of grasping the reality. He believes that it suffices to attribute the term “class” to the bureaucracy in order to avoid the necessity of analyzing what place the new society occupies in the historic rise of humanity. Wishing to force us not to distinguish between a society which is absolutely reactionary, since it fetters and even destroys the productive forces, and a society which is relatively progressive, since it has assured a great upsurge in economy, Craipeau wants to impose upon us the policy of reactionary “neutrality.” Yes, Comrade Craipeau, reactionary!

But Is the Bureaucracy a Class?

One sees from the preceding that we could very well dispense with again analyzing this theoretical question, that is to say, the question preoccupying Craipeau, which in itself is far from being decisive for our policy in time of war. But the problem of the bureaucracy’s social character is, despite everything, very important from a more general viewpoint and we do not see any reason to make the slightest concession to Craipeau on this level. Our critic changes his arguments without putting himself to any inconvenience. This time he draws his smashing argument from a statement in The Revolution Betrayed to the effect that “all the means of production belong to the state, and the state belongs, in some respect, to the bureaucracy” (my emphasis). Craipeau is jubilant. If the means of production belong to the state, and the state to the bureaucracy, the latter becomes the collective proprietor of the means of production and by that alone, the possessing and exploiting class. The remainder of Craipeau’s argumentation is almost purely literary in character. He tells us once again, with the air of polemicizing against me, that the Thermidorean bureaucracy is evil, rapacious, reactionary, bloodthirsty, etc. A real revelation! However, we never said that the Stalinist bureaucracy was virtuous! We have only denied it the quality of class in the Marxist sense, that is to say, with regard to ownership of the means of production. But there is Craipeau forcing me to disown myself, since I recognized that the bureaucracy treats the state as its own property. “And that’s the key to the enigma!” By this oversimplified argument Craipeau shows a deplorable lack of dialectic sense. I have never stated that the Soviet bureaucracy was equal to the bureaucracy of the absolute monarchy or to that of liberal capitalism. Nationalized economy creates for the bureaucracy an entirely new situation and opens up new possibilities – of progress as well as of degeneration. We more or less knew this even before the revolution. The analogy between the Soviet bureaucracy and that of the fascist state is much greater, above all from the viewpoint that interests us. The fascist bureaucracy likewise treats the state as its property. It imposes severe restrictions upon private capital and often provokes convulsions within it. We can say, by way of a logical argument: if the fascist bureaucracy succeeded in more and more imposing its discipline and its restrictions on the capitalists without effective resistance on the part of the latter, this bureaucracy could gradually transform itself into a new ruling “class” absolutely analogous to the Soviet bureaucracy. But the fascist state belongs to the bureaucracy only “in some respect” (see quotation above). Those are three little words Craipeau deliberately ignores. But they have their importance. They are even decisive. They are an integral part of the dialectical law of the transformation of quantity into quality. If Hitler tries to appropriate the state, and by that means, appropriate private property completely and not only “in some respect,” he will bump up against the violent opposition of the capitalists; this would open up great revolution-ary possibilities for the workers. There are, however, ultralefts who apply to the fascist bureaucracy the reasoning that Craipeau applies to the Soviet bureaucracy and who place an equal sign between the fascist and Stalinist regimes (some German Spartacists, Hugo Urbahns, certain Anarchists, etc.). We have said of them what we say of Craipeau: their error is in believing that the foundations of society can be changed without revolution or counterrevolution; they unwind the film of reformism in reverse.

But it is here that Craipeau, still jubilant, quotes another statement from The Revolution Betrayed regarding the Soviet bureaucracy: “If these relations should be stabilized, legalized, become the norms, without any resistance or against the resistance of the workers, they would end up in the complete liquidation of the conquests of the proletarian revolution.” And Craipeau concludes: “Thus Comrade Trotsky envisages the possibility (in the future) of a passage without military intervention (?) from the workers’ state to the capitalist state. In 1933, that used to be called unrolling the film of reformism in reverse.” That is called the same thing in 1937. What for me is a purely logical argument, Craipeau considers a historical prognosis. Without a victorious civil war the bureaucracy cannot give birth to a new ruling class. That was and that remains my thought. Besides, what is now happening in the USSR is only a preventive civil war, opened up by the bureaucracy. And nevertheless, it has not yet touched the economic foundations of the state created by the revolution which, despite all the deformation and distortion, assure an unprecedented development of the productive forces.

Nobody has ever denied the possibility – especially in case of prolonged world decay – of the restoration of a new possessing class springing from the bureaucracy. The present social position of the bureaucracy which by means of the state holds the productive forces in its hands “in some respect” is an extremely important point of departure for this process of transformation. It is, however, a question of a historic possibility and not of an already accomplished fact.

Is a Class the Product of Economic or Political Causes?

In The Revolution Betrayed I attempted to give a definition of the present Soviet regime. This definition comprises nine paragraphs. It is not very elegant, I’ll admit, this series of descriptive and cautious formulas. But it attempts to be honest with regard to reality. That’s always an advantage. Craipeau doesn’t even mention this definition. He doesn’t oppose another one to it. He doesn’t say if the new exploitive society is superior or inferior to the old one, and he doesn’t ask himself if this new society is an inevitable stage between capitalism and socialism or if it is merely a historic “accident.” However, from the point of view of our general historical perspective, as it is formulated in the Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels, the sociological definition of the bureaucracy assumes capital importance.

The bourgeoisie came into the world as an element born of the new form of production; it remained a historic necessity as long as the new form of production had not exhausted its possibilities. The same assertion can be made with regard to all previous social classes: slave-owners, feudal lords, medieval master-artisans. In their time they were all the representatives and leaders of a system of production which had its place in the advance of humanity. How, then, does Craipeau appraise the historical place of the “bureaucracy-class”? He doesn’t say anything on this decisive question. Nevertheless, we have repeated many times, with the aid of Craipeau himself, that the degeneration of the Soviet state is the product of the retardation in the world revolution, that is to say, the result of political and “conjunctural” causes, so to speak. Can one speak of a new ... “conjunctural” class? I really doubt that. If Craipeau will consent to verify his rather hasty conception from the point of view of the historic succession of social regimes, he will surely recognize himself that to give the bureaucracy the name of a possessing class is not only an abuse of terminology, but moreover a great political danger which can lead to the complete derailment of our historic perspective. Does Craipeau see sufficient reasons to revise the Marxist conception on this capital point? As for myself, I do not see any. That is why I refuse to follow Craipeau.

However, we can and must say that the Soviet bureaucracy has all the vices of a possessing class without having any of its “virtues” (organic stability, certain moral norms, etc.). Experience has taught us that the workers’ state is still a state, that is, a product of the barbaric past; that it is doubly barbaric in a backward and isolated country; that under unfavorable conditions it can degenerate to the point of becoming unrecognizable; that it may require a supplementary revolution in order to be regenerated! But the workers’ state nonetheless remains an inevitable stage on our road. This stage cannot be overcome except by the permanent revolution of the international proletariat.

And Where Is the Dialectic?

I cannot follow the entire argumentation of Comrade Craipeau point by point; for that it is really necessary to recapitulate the entire Marxist conception. The trouble is that Craipeau does not analyze the facts as they are, but rather collects logical arguments in favor of a preconceived thesis. This method is in its essence anti-dialectic and therefore anti-Marxist I will give some samples of this.

a) “The Russian proletariat lost all hope of political power Many years ago ...” Craipeau takes care not to say exactly just when. He merely wants to create the impression that our tendency has nurtured illusions for “many years.” He forgets to say that in 1923 the bureaucracy was quite shaken up and that only the German defeat and the discouragement of the Russian Proletariat which followed it restabilized its position. During the Chinese revolution (1925-27) the crisis was repeated with similar phases. The first five year plan and the great rumblings in Germany which preceded Hitler’s rise (1931-33) once again threatened the bureaucracy’s domination. Finally, can we doubt for an instant that if the Spanish revolution had been victorious and if the French workers had been able to develop their May-June offensive of 1936 to its conclusion, the Russian proletariat would have recovered its courage and its combativity and overthrown the Thermidoreans with a minimum of effort? It is only a succession of the most terrible and depressing defeats throughout the entire world that has stabilized Stalin’s regime. Craipeau opposes the result, which is quite contradictory in itself, by the way, to the process which produced it and to our policy, which was the reflection of this process.

b) In order to refute the argument that the bureaucracy manipulates the national resources only as a corporation guild, an extremely wobbly one at that, and that the isolated bureaucrats do not have the right to freely dispose of state property, Craipeau replies: “The bourgeois (?) themselves had to wait for a long time before they could transmit to their descendants title to property over the means of production. At the dawn of the guilds, the boss was elected by his peers ...” etc. But Craipeau leaves aside the trifle that precisely at the “dawn of the guilds” the latter were not yet divided into classes and that the boss was not “bourgeois” in the modern sense of the word. The transformation of quantity into quality does not exist for Craipeau.

c) “Private property is being restored, inheritance re-established ...” But Craipeau avoids saying that it is a matter of property over objects of personal use, and not of the means of production. He likewise forgets to mention the fact that what the bureaucrats, even those in high places, possess in private property is nothing in comparison with the material resources opened up to them by their posts, and that precisely the present “purge,” which by one stroke of the pen throws thousands upon thousands of the families of the bureaucrats into the greatest poverty, demonstrates how entirely fragile are the links between the bureaucrats themselves – and all the more so between their families – and state property.

d) The preventive civil war being conducted at present by the ruling clique demonstrates anew that the latter cannot be overthrown except by revolutionary force. But since this new revolution must develop on the basis of state property and planned economy, we have characterized the overthrow of the bureaucracy as a political revolution in contradistinction to the social revolution of 1917. Craipeau finds that this distinction “remains in the domain of casuistry.” And why such severity? Because, you see, the recapture of power by the proletariat will also have social consequences. But the bourgeois political revolutions of 1830, 1848, and September 1870 also had social consequences insofar as they seriously changed the division of the national income. But, my dear Craipeau, all is relative in this world, which is not a creation of ultraleft formalists. The social changes provoked by the so-called political revolutions, serious as they were, really appear to be secondary when they are compared with the Great French Revolution, which was the bourgeois social revolution par excellence. What Comrade Craipeau lacks is a sense of proportion and the concept of relativity. Our young friend is not at all interested in the law of the transformation of quantity into quality. And yet that is the most important law of the dialectic. It is true that the authorities of the bourgeois academic world find that the dialectic in itself is in the “domain of casuistry.”

e) It is not by chance that Craipeau is inspired by the sociology of M. Yvon. The personal observations of Yvon are honest and very important. But it is not by accident that he has found refuge in the little haven of La Révolution proletarienne. Yvon is interested in the “economy,” in the “workshop” – to use Proudhon’s word – and not in “politics,” that is, in generalized economy. He belongs, in form, to the Proudhonist school; this permitted him precisely to remain neutral during the struggle between the Left Opposition and the bureaucracy; he did not understand that the fate of the “workshop” depended on it. What he has to say about the struggle “for the heritage of Lenin” without distinguishing the social tendencies – even today, in 1937! – clearly reveals his altogether petty-bourgeois conception, entirely contemplative and not at all revolutionary. The notion of class is an abstraction for Yvon which he superimposes over the abstraction “workshop.” It is really sad that Craipeau does not find any other source of theoretical inspiration!

Defense of the USSR and Social Patriotism

This whole sociological scaffolding, unfortunately very fragile, only serves Craipeau, as we have said, to flee from the necessity of distinguishing between the USSR and the imperialist states during the war. The two last paragraphs of his treatise, which deal with this subject, are particularly revealing. Craipeau tells us: “Every European or world war is resolved in our day by imperialist conflicts and only the Stalinist and reformist fools can believe that, for example, the stakes of tomorrow’s war will be the fascist regime or the democratic regime.” Mark well this magisterial thesis: somewhat simplified, it is true, but neverthe-less borrowed, this time, from the Marxist arsenal. Immediately after this, in order to characterize and to flay the USSR as the “champion of the imperialist war,” Craipeau tells us: “In the camp of Versailles, its (the USSR’s) diplomacy now plays the same animating role as Hitlerite diplomacy in the other camp.” Let us admit it. But is this imperialist character of the war determined by the provocative role of fascist diplomacy? Not at all. “Only the Stalinist or reformist fools can believe it.” And I hope that we others are not going to apply the same criterion to the Soviet state. One is a defeatist in the imperialist countries – isn’t that so? – because one wants to crush the regime of private property and not because one desires to castigate some “aggressor.” In the war of Germany against the USSR, it will be a matter of changing the economic base of the latter, insofar as the imperialists are concerned, and not of punishing Stalin and Litvinov. And then? Craipeau has established his fundamental thesis solely in order immediately to take the opposite road. The danger, the real danger, consists, according to him, in that the social patriots of every caliber will take the defense of the USSR as the pretext for a new treachery. “In those conditions any equivocation in our attitude becomes fatal.” And in conclusion: “Today it is necessary to choose: either the ’unconditional defense’ of the USSR, that is (!!!), the sabotage of the revolution in our country and in the USSR, or defeatism and the revolution.”

There we are. It is not a matter at all of the social character of the USSR – what does that matter? – since, according to Craipeau, the defense of a workers’ state, even when it is most authentic, implies that the proletariat of the allied imperialist country concludes a sacred union with its own bourgeoisie. “And there is the key to the enigma,” as others say. Craipeau believes that in the War – the war with a capital W – the proletariat should not be interested in whether it is a war against Germany, the USSR, or against a Morocco in rebellion, because in all these cases it is necessary to proclaim “defeatism without phrases” as the only possibility of escaping the grip of social patriotism. Once again we see, and with what clarity, that ultraleftism is always an opportunism which is afraid of itself and demands absolute guarantees – that is, nonexistent guarantees – that it will remain true to its flag. This type of intransigent calls to mind that type of timid and weak man who, becoming furious, shouts to his friends: “Hold me back, I’m going to do something terrible!” Give me hermetically sealed theses, put impenetrable blinkers over my eyes, or else ... I’m going to do something terrible! Really, we have found the key to the enigma!

But in any case does Craipeau, for instance, doubt the proletarian character of the Soviet state between 1918 and 1923 or at least, in order to make a concession to the ultraleft, between 1918 and 1921? In that period the Soviet state maneuvered on the international arena and sought temporary allies. At the same time, it is precisely in that period that defeatism was made a duty for the workers of all the imperialist countries, the “enemies” as well as the temporary “allies.” The duty of defending the USSR has never meant for the revolutionary proletariat giving a vote of confidence to its bourgeoisie. The attitude of the proletariat in the war is the continuation of its attitude in time of peace. The proletariat defends the USSR by its revolutionary policy, never subordinated to the bourgeoisie, but always adapted to the concrete circumstances. That was the teaching of the first four congresses of the Communist International. Does Craipeau demand a retrospective revision of this teaching?

If Blum, instead of proclaiming the perfidious “non-intervention” – always obeying the orders of finance capital – had supported Caballero and Negrin with their capitalist democracy, would Craipeau have renounced his irreducible opposition to the “People’s Front” government? Or would he have renounced the duty to distinguish between the two camps fighting in Spain and of adapting his policy to this distinction?

The same holds for the Far East. If Chiang, following England, should tomorrow declare war against Japan, is Craipeau going to participate in a sacred union in order to help China? Or will he, on the contrary, proclaim that for him there is no difference between China and Japan that can possibly influence his policy? Craipeau’s alternative: either the defense of the USSR, of Ethiopia, of Republican Spain, of colonial China, etc., by concluding sacred union, or thoroughgoing defeatism, hermetical-ly sealed and cosmic in scope – this fundamentally false alterna-tive will crumple into dust at the first test of events and open the doors wide for the crassest sort of social patriotism.

“Our own theses on the war,” Craipeau asks, “are they exempt from any equivocation on this question?” Unfortunately not! Analyzing the necessity of defeatism, they underline that “in the character of the practical actions there may be considerable differences provoked by the concrete situation in the war.” For instance, the theses point out, in case of a war between the USSR and Japan, we must “not sabotage the sending of arms to the USSR”; consequently we must avoid instigating strikes which sabotage the manufacture of arms, etc. One can hardly believe one’s eyes. The events have confirmed our theses on this point remarkably, with an indisputable force, and especially in France. Workers’ meetings for months vibrated with the cry: “Airplanes for Spain!” Imagine for a moment that Blum had decided to send some. Imagine that at this particular moment a strike of longshoremen or of sailors was in process. What would Craipeau have done? Would he have opposed the cry: “Airplanes for Spain”? Would he have counseled the workers on strike to make an exception for this cargo of airplanes? But the USSR really did send airplanes (at quite a high price and on the condition of support for the capitalist regime, I know that very well). Should the Bolshevik-Leninists have called upon the Soviet workers to sabotage these shipments? Yes or no? If tomorrow the French workers learn that two boatloads of ammunition are being prepared for shipment from France, one to Japan and the other to China, what will Craipeau’s attitude be? I consider him enough of a revolutionist to call upon the workers to boycott the boat destined for Tokyo and to let through the boat for China, without, however, concealing his opinion of Chiang Kai-shek, and without expressing the slightest confidence in Chautemps. That is precisely what our theses say: “In the character of the practical actions there may be considerable differences provoked by the concrete situation in the war.” Doubts were still possible, concerning this formula, at the time when the draft theses were published. But today, after the experience of Ethiopia, Spain, and the Sino-Japanese war, anyone who speaks of equivocation in our theses seems to me to be an ultraleft Bourbon who wants to learn nothing and to forget nothing.

Comrade Craipeau, the equivocation is entirely on your side. Your article is full of such equivocations. It is really time to get rid of them. I know very well that even in your errors you are guided by your revolutionary hatred of the oppression of the Thermidorean bureaucracy. But sentiment alone, no matter how legitimate, cannot replace a correct policy based on objective facts. The proletariat has sufficient reasons to overthrow and to chase out the Stalinist bureaucracy, corrupt to the bone. But precisely because of that it cannot directly or indirectly leave this task to Hitler or to the Mikado. Stalin overthrown by the workers – that’s a great step forward toward socialism. Stalin crushed by the imperialists – that’s the counter-revolution triumphant. That is the precise sense of our defense of the USSR. On a world scale, analogous, from this point of view, to that of our defense of democracy on a national scale!

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Last updated on: 21 November 2014