Leon Trotsky

“It Is Necessary to Drive the Bureaucracy and the New Aristocracy Out of the Soviets”

(July 1938)

From the Arsenal of Marxism, Fourth International, Vol. 15 No. 1, Winter 1954, pp. 34–35.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Creative Commons (Attribute & Share-alike) Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2009.

Editor’s Note, Fourth International

The following article was written in 1938 by Leon Trotsky in reply to objections by Joseph Carter to the demand: “It is necessary to drive the bureaucracy and aristocracy out of the Soviets” put forward in the founding program of the Fourth International. Trotsky defended this slogan as an essential part of the program of the Soviet workers for the revolutionary struggle against the totalitarian Stalinist bureaucracy. His remarks on the nature and necessity of the political revolution in the Soviet Union have a special timeliness today in view of the challenge to the traditional Trotskyist concepts by the Pabloite revisionists.

* * *

On the subject of the slogan which appears at the head of this article I have received some critical remarks which are of a general interest and therefore merit an answer not in a private letter but in an article.

First of all let us cite the objections.

Such are the reasons and arguments of my correspondent. Unfortunately I can by no means agr’ee with them. They express a formal, juridical, purely constitutional attitude on a question which must be approached from the revolutionary-political point of view. It is not at all a question of whom the new Soviets will deprive of power once they are decisively established; we can calmly leave the elaboration of the new Soviet constitution to the future. The question is how to get rid of the Soviet bureaucracy which oppresses and robs the workers and peasants, leads the conquests of October to ruin, and is the chief obstacle on the road to the international revolution. We have long ago come to the conclusion that this can be attained only by the violent overthrow of the bureaucracy, that is, by means of a new political revolution.

Of course, in the ranks of the bureaucracy there are sincere and revolutionary elements of the Reiss type. But they are not numerous and in any case they do not determine the political physiognomy of the bureaucracy which is a centralized Thermidorian caste crowned by the Bonapartist clique of Stalin. We may be sure that the more decisive the discontent of the toilers becomes the deeper will the differentiation within the bureaucracy penetrate. But in order to achieve this we must theoretically comprehend, politically mobilize and organize the hatred of the masses against the bureaucracy as the ruling caste. Real Soviets of workers and peasants can come forth only in the course of the uprising against the bureaucracy. Such Soviets will be bitterly pitted against the military-police apparatus of the bureaucracy. How then can we admit representatives into the Soviets from that camp against which the uprising itself is proceeding?

False Criteria

My correspondent – as stated already – considers that the criteria for the bureaucracy and aristocracy are incorrect, “ill-defined,” since they lead to the a priori rejection of tens of millions. Precisely in this lies the central error of the author of the letter. It is not a question of a constitutional “determination” which is applied on the basis of fixed juridical qualifications, but of the real self-determination of the struggling camps. The Soviets can arise only in the course of a decisive struggle. They will be created by those layers of the toilers who are drawn into the movement. The significance of the Soviets consists precisely in the fact that their composition is determined not by formal criteria but by the dynamics of the class struggle. Certain layers of the Soviet “aristocracy” will vacillate between the camp of the revolutionary workers and the camp of the bureaucracy. Whether these layers enter the Soviets and at what period will depend on the general development of the struggle and on the attitude which different groups of the Soviet aristocracy take in this struggle. Those elements of the bureaucracy and aristocracy who in the course of the revolution go over to the side of the rebels will certainly find a place for themselves also in the Soviets. But this time not as bureaucrats and “aristocrats” but as participants in the rebellion against the bureaucracy.

The demand to drive out the bureaucracy can in no case be counterposed to the demand for the legalization of Soviet parties. In reality these slogans complement each other. At present the Soviets are a decorative appendage to the bureaucracy. Only the driving out of the bureaucracy, which is unthinkable without a revolution-aiy uprising, can regenerate the struggle of various tendencies and parties within the Soviets. “The workers and peasants themselves by their own free vote will indicate what parties are Soviet parties” – the thesis says. But precisely because of this it is first of all necessary to banish the bureaucracy from the Soviets.

It is, moreover, untrue that the slogan represents something new in the ranks of the Fourth International. Possibly the formulation is new, but not the content. For a long time we held to the point of view of reforming the Soviet regime. We hoped that by organizing the pressure of the advanced elements, the Left Opposition would be able with the help of the progressive elements of the bureaucracy itself to reform the Soviet system. This stage could not .be skipped. But the further course of events at any rate disproved the perspective of a peaceful transformation of the party and the Soviets.’ From the position of reform we passed to the position of revolution, that is, of a violent overthrow of the bureaucracy. But how can the bureaucracy be overthrown and simultaneously given a legal place in the organs of the uprising? If we think through to the very end the revolutionary tasks which face the Soviet worker and peasant the slogan which stands at the head of this article must be recognized as correct, as self-understood and urgent. That is why the international conference, in my opinion, should sanction this slogan.

July 4, 1938

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