Leon Trotsky

The Bonapartist Philosophy
of the State

(May 1939)

Written: 1 May 1939.
Source: The New International [New York], Vol.5 No.6, June 1939, pp.166-169.
Translated: New International.
Transcription/HTML Markup: David Walters.
Public Domain: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive 2005. This work is completely free to copy and distribute.

ONE OF THE CENTRAL POINTS in Stalin’s report at the 18th Party Congress in Moscow was undoubtedly a new theory of the state promulgated by him. Stalin ventured into this dangerous field not from any innate inclination but out of necessity. Only a short time ago, the jurists Krylenko and Pashukanis, both orthodox Stalinists, were removed and crushed for having repeated the ideas of Marx, Engels, and Lenin to the effect that socialism implies a gradual withering away of the state. This theory cannot possibly be accepted by the reigning Kremlin. What, wither away so soon? The bureaucracy is only beginning to live. Krylenko and Pashukanis are obviously – “wreckers”.

The Realities of Soviet Life

The realities of Soviet life today can indeed be hardly reconciled even with the shreds of old theory. Workers are bound to the factories; peasants are bound to the collective farms. Passports have been introduced. The freedom of movement has been completely restricted. It is a capital crime to come late to work. Punishable as treason is not only any criticism of Stalin but even the mere failure to fulfill the natural duty to get down on all fours before the “Leader”. The frontiers are guarded by an impenetrable wall of border patrols and police dogs on a scale heretofore unknown anywhere. To all intents and purposes, no one can leave and no one may enter. Foreigners who had previously managed to get into the country are being systematically exterminated. The gist of the Soviet constitution, “the most democratic in the world”, amounts to this, that every citizen is required at an appointed time to cast his ballot for the one and only candidate handpicked by Stalin or his agents. The press, the radio, all the organs of propaganda, agitation and national education are completely in the hands of the ruling clique. During the last five years no less than half a million members, according to official figures, have been expelled from the party. How many have been shot, thrown into jails and concentration camps, or exiled to Siberia, we do not definitely know. But undoubtedly hundreds of thousands of party members have shared the fate of millions of nonparty people. It would be extremely difficult to instill in the minds of these millions, their families, relatives and friends, the idea that the Stalinist state is withering away. It is strangling others, but gives no sign of withering. It has instead brought the state to a pitch of wild intensity unprecedented in the history of mankind.

Yet the official edict is that socialism has been realized. According to the official text, the country is on the road to complete communism. Berya will disabuse the doubters. But here the main difficulty presents itself. To believe Marx, Engels, and Lenin, the state is the organ of class rule. Marxism has long ago exposed all other definitions of the state as theoretical falsifications which serve to cover up the interests of the exploiters. In that case, what does the state mean in a country where “classes have been destroyed”? The sages in the Kremlin have more than once wracked their brains over this question. But, of course, they first proceeded to arrest all those who reminded them of the Marxian theory of the state. Since this alone cannot suffice, it was necessary to provide some semblance of theoretical explanation for Stalinist absolutism. Such an explanation was forthcoming in two installments. At the Seventeenth Party Congress, five years ago, Stalin and Molotov explained that the police state was needed for the struggle against the “remnants” of old ruling classes and especially against the “splinters” of Trotskyism. These remnants and splinters, they said, were, to he sure, insignificant. But because they were extremely “rabid” the struggle against them demanded utmost vigilance and ruthlessness. This theory was exceptionally idiotic. Why should a totalitarian state be required for a struggle against “impotent remnants” when Soviet democracy proved wholly adequate for the overthrow of the ruling classes themselves? No answer was ever given to this question.

But even so, this theory of the era of the Seventeenth Congress had to be discarded. The last five years have in a large measure been devoted to destroying the “splinters of Trotskyism”. The party, the government, the army, and the diplomatic corps have been bled white and beheaded. Things had gone so far that Stalin at the last Congress was forced, in order to calm his own apparatus, to promise that he would not in the future resort to wholesale purges. This is, of course, a lie. The Bonapartist state will find itself compelled likewise in the future to devour society physically as well as spiritually. This cannot be admitted by Stalin. He swears that purges will not he renewed. If that is so, and if the “splinters” of Trotskyism together with the “remnants” of old ruling classes have been completely destroyed, then the question arises: “Against whom is the state necessary?” This time, Stalin replies: “The need of the state arises from the capitalist encirclement and the dangers flowing there from to the land of socialism.” With the monotony of a theology student that is so habitual with him, he repeats and rehashes this idea over and over again: “The function of military suppression within the country has fallen away, has withered away ... the function of military defense of the country from outside attacks has remained completely preserved.” And further on: “As regards our army, our punitive organs and our intelligence service, their barb is aimed no longer inwardly within the country, but outwardly against the external enemy.”

Stalin Refutes His Old Theory

Let us for the sake of argument allow that all this is actually the case. Let us allow that the need of preserving and strengthening the centralized bureaucratic apparatus arises solely from the pressure of imperialism. But the state by its very nature is the rule of man over man. Socialism on the other hand aims to liquidate the rule of man over man in all its forms. If the state is not only preserved but strengthened, becoming more and more savage, then it means that socialism has not yet been achieved. If the privileged state apparatus is the product of capitalist encirclement then it means that in a capitalist encirclement, in an isolated country, socialism is not possible. Trying to extricate his tail, Stalin is thus caught by the snout. Justifying his Bonapartist rule, he refutes in passing his principal theory of building socialism in one country.

Stalin’s new theory is correct, however, only in that section which refutes his old theory; in everything else it is entirely worthless. For the struggle against imperialist danger, the workers’ state naturally requires an army, a commanding staff, an intelligence service, etc. But does this mean that the workers’ state requires colonels, generals and marshals, with their corresponding emoluments and privileges? On October 31, 1920, at a time when the spartan Red Army was still without a special officer corps, a special decree relating to the army was issued and in it was stated: “Within the military organization ... there exists inequality which is in some cases quite understandable and even unavoidable but which is in other cases absolutely uncalled for, excessive and sometimes criminal.” The concluding section of this decree reads as follows: “Without posing the unattainable task of immediately eliminating any and all prerogatives in the army, we must systematically strive really to reduce these privileges to the bare minimum; and to eliminate as quickly as possible all, those privileges which do not at all flow from the requirements of the military art and which cannot but offend the feeling of equality and comradeship of the Red Army men.” This was the fundamental line of the Soviet government during that period. The policy nowadays is taking a diametrically opposite direction. The growth and strengthening of the military and civil caste signifies that society is moving not towards but away from the socialist ideal regardless of who is guilty, whether foreign imperialists or domestic Bonapartists.

The same thing holds for the intelligence service in which Stalin sees the quintessence of the state. At the Congress at which the GPU agents well nigh composed the majority, he lectured as follows: “The intelligence service is indispensable for apprehending and punishing spies, assassins and wreckers whom foreign intelligence services send into our country.” Of course, no one will deny the need of an intelligence service against the intrigues of imperialism. But the crux of the question is in the position occupied by the organs of this intelligence service in relation to the Soviet citizens themselves. A classless society cannot fail to be bound with ties of internal solidarity. Stalin in his report referred many times to this solidarity, celebrated as “monolithic”. Yet spies, wreckers and saboteurs need a cover, a sympathetic milieu. The greater the solidarity in a given society and the more loyal it is to an existing régime the less room remains for anti-social elements. How then explain that in the USSR, if we are to believe Stalin, everywhere such crimes are being committed as are not to be met with in decaying bourgeois society? After all, the malice of imperialist states is not sufficient in itself. The activity of microbes is determined not so much by how virulent they are as by the resistance they encounter in the living organism. How are the imperialists able to find in a “monolithic” socialist society a countless number of agents who occupy, moreover, the most prominent posts? Or, to put it differently, how does it happen that spies and diversionists are able to occupy in a socialist society positions as members and even heads of the government, members of the Political Bureau and the most prominent posts in the army? Finally, if the socialist society is so lacking in internal elasticity that to save it one must resort to an all-powerful, universal and totalitarian intelligence service, then things must be very bad indeed when at the head of the service itself appears a scoundrel like Yagoda who has to be shot, or like Yezhov who has to be driven away in disgrace. Who is there to depend on? Berya? The knell will soon sound for him, too!

As a matter of fact it is well known that the GPU destroys not spies and imperialist agents but the political opponents of the ruling clique. All that Stalin is trying to do is to raise his own frame ups to a “theoretical” level. But what are the reasons compelling the bureaucracy to cloak its real goals and to label its revolutionary opponents as foreign spies? Imperialist encirclement does not explain these frame ups. The reasons must be of an internal nature, i.e., ones flowing from the very structure of Soviet society.

Let us try to find some supplementary evidence from the lips of Stalin himself. Without any connection with the rest of his report, he states the following: “Instead of the function of coercion there has manifested itself in the state the function of safeguarding socialist property against thieves, and embezzlers of national wealth.” Thus it turns out that the state exists not only against foreign spies but also against domestic thieves. And moreover the rule of these thieves is so great that it justifies the existence of a totalitarian dictatorship and even provides the foundation for a new philosophy of the state. It is quite obvious that if people steal from one another then cruel misery and glaring inequality inciting to theft still rule in society. Here we probe closer to the root of things. Social inequality and poverty are very important historical factors which by themselves explain, the existence of the state. Inequality always requires a safeguard; privileges always demand protection and the encroachments of the disinherited require punishment. This is precisely the function of the historical state!

What Stalin Is Silent About

As regards the structure of “socialist” society, what is important in Stalin’s report is not what he said but what he passed over in silence. According to him, the number of workers and civil employees increased from 22 million in 1933, to 28 million in 1938. The above category of “employees” embraces not only clerks in a cooperative store, but also members of the Council of People’s Commissars. Workers and employees are here lumped together, as always in Soviet statistics, so as not to reveal how large the bureaucracy is numerically and how swiftly it is growing, and above all how rapidly its income is increasing.

In the five years that have elapsed between the last two party congresses, the annual wage fund of workers and employees has increased, according to Stalin, from 35 billions to 96 billions, i.e., almost threefold (if we leave aside the change in the purchasing power of the ruble). But just how are these 96 billions divided among the workers and employees of various categories? On this score, not a word. Stalin only tells us that “the average annual wage of industrial workers which in 1933 amounted to 1,513 rubles rose in 1938 to 3,447 rubles”. The reference here is surprisingly only to workers; but it is not difficult to show that it is a question as before of both workers and employees. It is only necessary to multiply the annual wage (3,447 rubles) by the total number of workers and employees (28 million) for us to obtain the total annual wage fund of workers and employees mentioned by Stalin, namely 96 billion rubles. To embellish the position of workers, the “Leader” thus permits himself the cheapest kind of trickery of which the least conscientious bourgeois journalist would have been ashamed. Consequently if we leave aside the change in the purchasing power of the currency, the average annual wage of 3,447 rubles signifies only this, that if the wages of the unskilled and skilled workers, Stakhanovists, engineers, directors of trusts and People’s Commissars of Industry are lumped together, then we obtain an average of less than 3,500 rubles a year per person. What has been the increase in the pay of workers, engineers, and the highest personnel in the last five years? How much does an unskilled worker receive annually at present? Of this not a word. Average statistics for wages, income, etc., have always been resorted to by the lowest type of bourgeois apologists. In cultured countries this method has well nigh been discarded since it no longer deceives anybody; but it has become the favorite method in the land where socialism has been achieved and where all social relations ought to be marked by their crystal clarity. Lenin said: “Socialism is bookkeeping.” Stalin teaches: “Socialism is bluffing.”

Over and above everything else, it would be the crudest kind of blunder to think that the above average sum cited by Stalin includes all of the income of the highest “employees”, i.e., the ruling caste. In point of fact, in addition to their official and comparatively modest salaries, the so called responsible “workers” receive secret salaries from the treasuries of the Central or local committees; they have at their disposal automobiles (there even exist special plants for the production of finest automobiles for the use of “responsible workers”), excellent apartments, summer homes, sanatoria and hospitals. To suit their needs or their vanity all sorts of “Soviet palaces” are erected. They almost monopolize the highest institutions of learning, the theatres, etc. All these enormous sources of income (they are expenses for the state) are of course not included in the 96 billions referred to by Stalin. And yet Stalin does not even dare to broach the question of just how the legal wage fund (96 billions) is apportioned between workers and employees, between unskilled workers and Stakhanovists, between the upper and lower tiers of employees. There is no doubt that the lion’s share of the increase of the official wage fund went to the Stakhanovists, for premiums to engineers and so on. By operating with averages whose accuracy does not inspire confidence, by lumping workers and employees into a single category, by merging the summits of the bureaucracy with the employees, by passing in silence over secret funds of many billions, by “forgetting” to refer to the employees and mentioning only workers in determining “the average wage”, Stalin pursues a simple goal: to deceive the workers, to deceive the entire world and to hide the vast and ever growing incline of the privileged caste.

An Organ for Thieves and Plunderers

“The defense of socialist property against thieves and embezzlers”, thus signifies, nine times out of ten, the defense of the income of the bureaucracy against any encroachments by the unprivileged sections of the population. Nor would it be amiss to add that the secret income of the bureaucracy without a basis either in the principles of socialism or in the laws of the country, is nothing else but theft. In addition to this legalized thievery there is illegal, super theft to which Stalin is compelled to shut his eyes because thieves are his strongest support. The Bonapartist apparatus of the state is thus an organ for defending the bureaucratic thieves and plunderers of national wealth. This theoretical formula comes much closer to the truth.

Stalin is compelled to lie about the social nature of his state for the same reason that he must lie about the workers’ wages. In both instances he comes forward as the spokesman of privileged parasites. In the land that has gone through the proletarian revolution, it is impossible to foster inequality, create an aristocracy, and accumulate privileges save by bringing down upon the masses floods of lies and ever more monstrous repressions.

Embezzlement and theft, the bureaucracy’s main sources of income, do not constitute a system of exploitation in the scientific sense of the term. But from the standpoint of the interests and position of the popular masses it is infinitely worse than any “organic” exploitation. The bureaucracy is not a possessing class, in the scientific sense of the term. But it contains within itself to a tenfold degree all the vices of a possessing class. It is precisely the absence of crystallized class relations and their very impossibility on the social foundation of the October revolution that invest the workings of the state machine with such a convulsive character. To perpetuate the systematic theft of the bureaucracy, its apparatus is compelled to resort to systematic acts of banditry. The sum total of all these things constitutes the system of Bonapartist gangsterism.

To believe that this state is capable of peacefully “withering away” is to live in a world of theoretical delirium.

The Bonapartist caste must be smashed, the Soviet state must be regenerated. Only then will the prospects of the withering away of the state open up.

May 1, 1939

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Last updated on: 22.4.2007