Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Carl Davidson

The Question of Which Class Rules Decides Everything

A review of Martin Nicolaus’ sham criticism and real defense of Soviet revisionism

First Published: Class Struggle, No. 7, Spring 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

The question of the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union is of vital concern to the struggles of workers and oppressed peoples everywhere.

Together with the U.S. imperialists, the Soviet social-imperialists today comprise the main enemy of all countries, nations and peoples in the world. The growing rivalry and contention between these two superpowers, being prepared under the smokescreen of “detente,” is inevitably causing a new world war. What is more, the Soviet Union, as the upstart newcomer to the imperialist feast in the face of U.S. decline, is the main source of this war. Under the mask of “bulwark of socialism” and “natural ally” of the third world, it is the more aggressive and more dangerous of the two superpowers.

With the purpose of showing how this dramatic change in the world situation has come about, Liberator Press in 1975 published a book by Martin Nicolaus, Restoration of Capitalism in the USSR. The materials in the book had originally appeared as a series of articles in the centrist Guardian newspaper. While it was believed at the time that the book had shortcomings, it was published anyway. Liberator Press held the view that, overall, the book would still make a positive contribution to adding clarity to the question.

This assessment has proven to be incorrect. Restoration of Capitalism in the USSR is fundamentally flawed with a revisionist line that runs throughout its analysis. Whatever useful facts or historical data it contains, these are turned to the purpose of promoting this line under the guise of “anti-revisionism.” Actually the book can only serve a useful purpose by way of negative example, as a target serving to develop the correct line in the course of struggle against its erroneous line.

The revisionist theme running throughout Nicolaus’ book is the thesis that “economics takes precedence over politics.” It is based on Nicolaus’ revisionist view of the state, which he views as a neutral instrument which can be taken over and put to use by one class or another. What this means is that Nicolaus fails to take class struggle as the key link in drawing the lessons of history, and promotes meta-| physics and idealism in its place.

Nicolaus puts his line forward at the very beginning of his book. After listing a number of the features of Soviet capitalist restoration and the departures of the Soviet revisionists from Marxism-Leninism, he states:

The key elements are the changes in the Soviet superstructure, especially during the 1950s, and the subsequent transformation of the economic relations, especially during the 1960s.[1]


No one can deny that these are two “key elements” and that they are linked. But of the two, which is more important, which is the decisive factor? Nicolaus is quite clear:

Most important have been the changes instituted by the new Soviet leadership in the economic base of Soviet society.[2]

What is the root of this error? How does Nicolaus belittle the role of state power?

The fact of the matter is that Nicolaus has a revisionist, social-democratic line on the state, no matter how many times he talks about the workers “seizing power” or uses the term “dictatorship of the proletariat.”

For instance, listen to his account of the October revolution:

The workers’ insurrections in Moscow and Petrograd, the storming of the Winter Palace, the arrest of the old government’s ministers and the proclamations of the Soviet Republic put an end to the rule of the bourgeoisie and the landowners in one of the world’s largest and most populous countries.

State power was struck from the hands of the old exploiting classes. The proprietors of near-medieval estates, together with the owners and financial backers of some of the world’s most modern factories and their foreign allies were deprived at one blow of the services of Russia’s centralized official apparatus for pressing revenues out of the people, suppressing the exploited classes and waging wars of conquest and annexation.[3] (Emphasis added)

What is wrong with this? It sounds very revolutionary–storming palaces, arresting ministers, striking power from the hands of exploiters at one blow, revolutionary proclamations, etc.

But there is one missing point.

Where does it say that the old state apparatus of the exploiters must be smashed, destroyed? Where does it say that the revolutionary workers cannot take the old state apparatus into their own hands and use it for their own purposes, but must smash it and in the process form a new one based on the armed power of the workers?

It doesn’t say this at all. This fundamental thesis defining the Leninist view of the dictatorship of the proletariat has disappeared, like a will o’ the wisp. In fact it is nowhere to be found in Nicolaus’ entire book.


What are the consequences of this?

There are two places in Nicolaus’ book where he offers his basic, general definitions of capitalism and socialism. They are as follows:

This schism (’between the workers and the means of production’– ed.), constantly reproduced and universalized by the capitalist order, creates and recreates on one side the millions of empty-handed workers and on the other side the relative handful of owners of the means of production. On this separation are founded the twin markets in commodities that characterize the capitalist order and distinguish it from all others; the market in labor power between the capitalist and the worker, with the workers always the sellers and the capitalist in the buyer’s role, and the market in the means of production, with the capitalists buying and selling from each other.[4]

This is the first definition of capitalism, and the following definition of socialism goes with it:

Once the basic schism (’between the workers and the means of production’–ed.) is suspended, these markets lose their reason for being; labor power and means of production shed their commodity character and become transformed step-by-step into social property. Such in broad outline was the path of Soviet development toward socialism and in the socialist period.[5]

Next, consider the second set of definitions:

In order to demonstrate that a given society was capitalist, in the scientific sense of the term, it would be necessary to show not merely that articles of consumption were commodities (which was true but proves little), but also and principally that commodity exchange, based on the expropriation of the direct producers, embraced and governed the means of production and labor power. . If the direct producers have been separated from the means of production, and consequently both labor power and the means of production are exchanged as commodities, then no amount of social welfare benefits, no nationalizations, no statutory curbs on excess profiteering, no ameliorative measures whatever can conceal or modify the capitalist feature of such a society.[6] (Emphasis added)

The parallel, second definition of socialism is as follows:

If the direct producers, the workers, are not divorced from the means of production, and consequently neither these nor labor power function as commodities, then no survivals of ’bourgeois right,’ nor any amount of other inequities and injustices, can allow of such a society being properly termed capitalist.[7]

Now, what can be said of these definitions?

What has happened to the question of the state? Of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and the dictatorship of the proletariat? Of smashing the former and establishing the latter?

It has disappeared. Nicolaus does not believe that the matter of which class holds state power is worthy of mention in distinguishing between socialism and capitalism. Instead, he presents the revisionist line that economics takes precedence over politics. This is why he is inevitably led to the conclusion that the Kosygin reforms in 1965, and not Khrushchev’s counter-revolution in the 1950s, restored capitalism in the Soviet Union.

There is another point to consider in these “definitions” as well. Why is Nicolaus so enthralled with this question of the “schism” or “divorce” between “the workers and the means of production.” First of all, it undoubtedly is one of the basic features of capitalism. It is discussed thoroughly by Karl Marx, especially in many of his earlier writings, as the question of the alienation of labor, whereby capitalist production “alienates” or separates the worker first from his tools, second from his product and third, because of competition, from his fellow worker. Marx pointed out that only communist society can establish the conditions whereby this alienation of man from man, of man from nature, and of man from his work, can be overcome. In this sense, Marx argued, the achievement of the classless society of communism, would mark the beginning of a truly “human”or “unalienated” period of civilization.


Many bourgeois intellectuals in the early 1960s, and Nicolaus was one of their main spokesmen, seized upon these writings of the “early Marx.” of the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. They subjectively applied Marx’s theory of alienation to their own conditions of life, to the world of the alienated intellectual, caught up between the hypocrisy and decadence of the bourgeois university on the one hand, and their fear of being thrust into the conditions of the class exploitation of the proletariat on the other hand.

These intellectuals were in a bind. On the one hand, they hated capitalism, at least what they knew of it. On the other hand, they recoiled in disdain before such notions as “proletarian dictatorship,” “democratic centralism,” and ”disciplined vanguard party, with iron unity of action and unity of will.”

What was the solution? They invented an ideological escape hatch.

They set the “young Marx,” the revolutionary, in opposition to the “old Marx,” the authoritarian, the dull economist, the forefather “Leninism.”

In this way they could reject the remolding process any intellectual must go through if he or she is genuinely to serve the cause of the proletariat, to integrate themselves with the proletariat and accept and learn from the leadership of the proletariat.

They were the “true followers of Marx” and could expound on the subject for hours in campus coffee shops or bars and in the academic journals. At the same time they could maintain an individualist, bourgeois style of life, which, after all and “alienation” notwithstanding, had its rewards.

The likes of Nicolaus could pose as great “genuises” in commenting, as armchair revolutionaries, on the class struggle and the sweep of history, all the while maintaining their idealist world outlook. Listen to Nicolaus pontificate on Soviet history:

The history of the USSR during the 1920s and 1930s was like a long march to reunite the workers with the means of production ... It was a triumph that still has bourgeois political economists and historians scratching their heads, and it was followed by further, almost equally spectacular advances. But there was really no mystery about it. Such advances in the development of the forces of social production were the fruit of the reunion between the working class and the means of production.[8]


What is Nicolaus saying here? There are statements summing up a whole period. What is the main factor, the motive force? A mass movement, upheaval, insurrection, if you will. For what? Reunion. “Reunity” is the key link.

Compare this with Mao Tsetung:

Classes struggle, some classes triumph, others are eliminated. Such is history, such is the history of civilization for thousands of years. To interpret history from this viewpoint is historical materialism; standing in opposition to this viewpoint is historical idealism.[9]

It was the class struggles of the peasants, the peasant uprisings and the peasant wars that constituted the real motive force of historical development in Chinese feudal society.[10]

These are two diametrically opposed lines. Chairman Mao’s view is based on the dialectical principle that “one divides into two” is primary, i.e., feudal society divides into the clash between peasants and landlords. Nicolaus’ view is based on the metaphysical principle that “two merge into one”is primary, i.e. workers reunite with the means of production to bring about socialism.

But to return to the main point: How is Nicolaus’ revisionist line of “give economics priority over politics” revealed in his discussion of capitalist restoration in the USSR?

Nicolaus starts with the following assertion:

As far as the elementary relations of property are concerned, the seizure of state power by Khrushchev’s forces already constituted, in and of itself the expropriation of the Soviet proletariat and the end of the socialist period of Soviet history. The major means of production remained the property of the state, but the state itself was no longer the “property” of the working class. The bourgeois forces, in the very act of capturing state power, usurped the ownership title to the means of production.[11] (Emphasis added.)

First of all, this is as close as Nicolaus can come to advocating a correct line. Like all revisionists, he must proclaim some Marxist views as a cover for his fundamental, anti-Marxist line. That is the nature of revisionism.


But even here, why all the qualifications? Why is this question of which class holds state power so muddled, so hemmed in with windy talk of “ownership titles,” “seizure in and of itself,”the “state itself,” etc.

The problem is not that the question cannot be put clearly, simply and forcefully, that it is too complex for ordinary mortals to grasp. Positive examples abound, such as the following:

The rise to power of revisionism means the rise to power of the bourgeoisie. –Mao Tsetung[12]

The Soviet Union today is under the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, a dictatorship of the big bourgeoisie, a dictatorship of the German fascist type, a dictatorship of the Hitler type. –Mao Tsetung in 1964, prior to the Kosygin “reforms.”[13]

Socialism is inconceivable unless the proletariat is the ruler of the state. This also is ABC. –Lenin[14]

The key question of every revolution is the question of state power. Which class holds power decides everything... The question of power cannot be evaded or brushed aside, because it is the key question determining everything in a revolution’s development, and in its foreign and domestic policies. –Lenin[15]

How and when, then, was capitalism restored in the Soviet Union? It was done in 1956-57 by the Khrushchev revisionists’ clique, which was the political representative of the new bourgeois class which had emerged over several decades in Soviet socialist society. This clique ’wormed its way into the leading ranks of the proletarian party. When the time was ripe, it usurped power and immediately proceeded to wreck the party by assassinations and purges. It reorganized the remnants into a new, social-fascist party, united on the basis of a revisionist, capitalist line and program. Similar changes took place in the key institutions of state power, the military and the security police. It had far-reaching implications for the international communist movement as well, wrecking its unity and promoting revisionist takeovers of many parties.

What did this signify? It was the smashing of the old state, the dictatorship of the proletariat, and the establishment of a new state, the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. It was the defeat of socialism and the restoration of capitalism. Capitalism was restored precisely at this point. This was the objective fact of the matter, even though Marxist-Leninists may not have grasped the significance of it in its totality until some time later.

Why? Because this is where the fundamental change in class relations took place, between who was the ruled class and who was the ruling class, between who was master and who was slave. This was true not only in the political sphere, but also on the basic economic question of ownership of the means of production. By establishing a new dictatorship of its own, the new bourgeoisie seized, at one stroke, all the means of production formerly held by the proletarian state.

Does this mean that capitalism was restored by the Khrushchev clique, in an all-around way in every sphere of Soviet life? No it does not. To argue this way would be to sever politics from economics, to lapse into historical idealism and metaphysics. It would be to make the same error as Nicolaus, only from the flip side of the coin.

But what this viewpoint does insist upon is that/n the main and in its essential components, capitalism was restored at this time and in this way. This is the meaning of Lenin’s point that “the key question determining everything,”i.e. “which class holds power,” had been decided by Khrushchev’s counter-revolution.


The nerve center, the commanding heights, the general staff of the proletarian power had been crushed, smashed and disintegrated. What remained was for the new bourgeoisie to carry out its rout, to deprive the proletariat of its remaining weapons, to add new weapons to its own arsenals–all for the suppression of the remaining vestiges of socialism’, in every sphere of Soviet life, in politics, military affairs, economics and of cultural activity.

This is the substance of what has been going on in the Soviet Union since the counter-revolution of 1956-57. This is the correct perspective within which to view the Kosygin Reforms and other reactionary offensives of the new tsars.

The Kosygin “reforms” were designed to carry out this rout in the economic sphere. As the Oct. 29, 1967 issue of Hsinhua noted, “The essence of the ’new system’ being pushed ahead so vigorously by the Soviet revisionist leading group under the cloak of ’economic reform’ is to practice in an all-around way capitalist management in all fields of the national economy, completely disrupt the socialist relations of production and thoroughly break up the socialist economic base. The enforcement of the ’new system’ has resulted in abolishing the former system of unified economic planning by the state and setting profit above all. It authorizes the enterprises to decide independently on their production and management plans and gives them free rein to seek high profits as in capitalist enterprises. It provides the leaders of the enterprises with more and bigger privileges and endows them with the power to deal freely with matters concerning production, finance and personnel in the enterprises.”[16]

But it is important to note here one particularity of how the Khrushchev revisionists prepared the political groundwork setting the stage for these reforms. This was noted in the Nov. 4, 1967 issue of China’s Peoples Daily:

Under the pretext of ’Economy is more important than politics’ and ’Problems of economy and production constitute the center of activities of the party organization and take the first place in all its work,’ the Soviet revisionist clique has promoted large numbers of ’experts of the national economy’ to important posts while unscrupulously excluding and removing the broad sections of cadres of worker and peasant origin.[17]


This shows how the Nicolaus’ line merges with Khrushchev revisionism in the guise of opposing it. This was not something accidental, something Nicolaus pushed objectively but not consciously. When it was pointed out to him in the course of struggle within the Call staff, he wrote an internal paper furiously trying to sweep the matter under the rug. “This is in no sense a vital issue for the practical work of our party–for its agitation and propaganda–in this period,” Nicolaus falsely claimed. But in the next sentence he gave himself away: “It will become a burning issue for our policy after the proletariat has seized state power in the U.S., and when the question of how fast and in what way to build the economic base of socialism will give rise to sharp struggles.”

What is the essence of this? In fact Nicolaus is pleading, “Don’t expose my revisionist line now! Otherwise I won’t be in a position like Khrushchev was and be able to put it into practice later on!”

Nicolaus can deny that he is a revisionist of the Khrushchev type all day long, that he is all in favor of putting politics in command. But this won’t do. The substance of the matter is: What kind of politics? Bourgeois or proletarian? In evaluating any society, Marxism-Leninism holds that the question of which class holds state power determined everything. But what actually “determines everything” for Nicolaus? Watch how he continues his description of the development of Soviet society after Khrushchev:

The USSR, in sum, ceased to be a socialist country in the full and complete sense of the term already in 1956-57, with the expropriation of the proletariat.[18] (Emphasis added)

What does this mean, “in the full and complete sense of the term”? Was it “mostly”socialist then? Or “partly” socialist? Or what? We shall see:

This “transfer of property,” Nicolaus goes on, “did not in itself bring about any profound changes in the actual relations of production operative in the economic base of the society.”[19] (Emphasis added.)

Think about this for a minute. Take out the idealist dodge, “in itself.” Now consider. At one point the workers go to a factory which is owned by a state which they control and the operation of which is supervised by a party which represents their interests. At another point, a matter of months later, the workers go to the same factory. But now they no longer own it. Their state has been smashed. A new bourgeois state owns the factory. What is more, their party has been smashed, wrecked. What remains of it and still claims to represents them, ’actually represents the new owners, the new bourgeoisie. Their old leaders are reviled and slandered, their old program denounced. A new reactionary program has been put forward instead.

Have “any profound changes”taken place? To answer “no” is to. abandon the viewpoint and class stand of the proletariat. But Nicolaus continues: ”All these and other Khrushchevian measures, however, did not quite yet amount to a restoration of capitalism. By the time of the 22nd Congress in 1961, the socialist fabric of production relations was stretched very thin and was full of holes, but the main strands still held.[20]


“Not quite yet,”says Nicolaus. The socialist coat is worn thin and full of holes, but socialist nonetheless. However there is something up its sleeve, which, when Nicolaus pulls it out, will have the effect of disintegrating the coat before our eyes. But first a little mood music before the final act:

It was a period of muddle and confusion in the USSR, especially in the economic sphere. The old system, gutted and partly sold off by Khrushchev earlier, no longer functioned as it used to; yet the outlines of what was to replace it had not yet crystalized.[21]

Finally, in 1965, this period Nicolaus calls a “murky transition” comes to an end. Kosygin announces his reforms putting profit in command of each enterprise, turning a greater share of profits over to the enterprise directors, allowing broader leeway in the sale of means of production, and other capitalist measures–all under the banner of socialism.

Here, finally, we have the question of which “decides everything” for Nicolaus:

Instead of subjecting the enterprises to planning, they (the reforms–ed.) virtually (and eventually, completely) subjected planning to the enterprises; instead of eliminating the market in the means of production and labor power, they expanded, legalized and strengthened it; instead of eliminating profiteering, they raised it to a principle–in short, instead of constructing socialism, the Kosygin reforms restored capitalism.[22] (Emphasis added.)

No, Mr. Nicolaus. The Kosygin reforms did not decisively restore capitalism. Khrushchev’s counter-revolution did that. Kosygin enhanced the counter-revolution. He carried it further, dug it in deeper, and expanded the profit-laden coffers of the new bourgeoisie at the expense of the proletariat.

That is the correct and proper relationship and bond between politics and economics, not the reverse, as the revisionists would have it. Nicolaus does much more than underrate the significance of Khrushchev’s counter-revolution. He is a conciliator to the Soviet bourgeoisie throughout its history. Instead of thoroughly exposing it, he waffles, vacillates, and goes through all kinds of flip-flops in describing its development, its struggle for restoration. It amounts to a revisionist coverup.

Look at the way, for instance, Nicolaus compares U.S. and Soviet bourgeoisies at the conclusion of his book:

The vicious thrashings-about of U.S. imperialism are those of a hardened mass murderer on his deathbed. But the present Soviet rulers represent a class that was already dead and disposed of by the revolutionary Soviet people nearly 70 years ago and which has crept up out of its intended tomb to establish a second empire over the living. (Emphasis added)[23]


Very eloquent, very metaphorical. But Nicolaus’s metaphors always got him into trouble, and this one is a real loser.

No wonder Nicolaus doesn’t take class struggle as the key link in drawing the lessons of Soviet history. The bourgeoisie was “already dead and disposed of. .. nearly 70 years ago.” This preaches the line of the “dying out of class struggle”with a vengeance.

But Nicolaus can’t make up his mind. After having put them in their graves in 1917, Nicolaus brings them back to life again in the late 1920s, where he points to the existence of “perhaps a few million” of the “defeated, expropriated and embittered former kulaks, NEP men, unreconciled old-regime officials, managers, and privileged intellectuals with their families, offspring and hangers-on who remained in the country.”[24]

So this class was alive after all? Well, maybe yes, maybe no. Describing the period after the five-year plan, a few years later, Nicolaus goes back on himself:

As regards the distribution of consumer goods, the advances made by socialism over capitalism therefore does not lie in the abolition of wage inequalities. What it abolishes rather is the class of consumers standing far above even the highest paid workers, who draw stratospheric incomes not deriving from wages but from profits, i.e., not from their own labor but from the labor of others. But such a social layer did not exist under Soviet socialism; it has reappeared today, however, as will be shown.[25] (Emphasis added.)

So here we go again. The bourgeois class is “abolished.” It is not that its power was crushed, its incomes restricted, denied them, or surpassed. Rather, it “did not exist.”

Let us go deeper into this matter, for here is where the question of “bourgeois right” is raised.


What is bourgeois right? It is the carry-over of formal equality and actual inequality from capitalist society to socialist society. For instance, workers on the same job are paid equally according to the amount of work performed. On the surface of things, this seems fair and it is expressed in socialist society by the principle, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his work.” In fact, it is a big advance from capitalist society where those who work get very little while those who gain all the profits do no work at all.

But what does “equal pay for equal work” mean when the conditions of the workers are in fact unequal. One worker is unmarried, another is married but his wife works as well, and still another has four children. One worker is more experienced and healthy, another is less experienced and less healthy, etc. To pay these workers all equally, over time and barring other factors, would mean that some would grow richer and others poorer. A few could set aside some money, set up a small business, and even hire some of the more impoverished workers to work for them.

Such is the nature of bourgeois right. It exists in socialist society not only among workers doing the same type of work, but also in the differences between skilled and unskilled, between workers and peasants, between mental and manual work, and between town and country.

How is this question to be dealt with in socialist society so it can move forward to communism, which is based on the principle, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs?” Lenin put it this way:

Clearly, in order to abolish classes completely, it is not enough to overthrow the exploiters, the landlords and capitalists, not enough to abolish their rights of ownership; it is necessary also to abolish all private ownership of the means of production, it is necessary to abolish the distinction between town and country, as well as the distinction between manual workers and brain workers. This requires a very long period of time.[26]

Thus Lenin points out that these things must be abolished, but that it cannot be done overnight, but instead they must be gradually eliminated over a long period. Chairman Mao stresses the same point:

Our country at present practices a commodity system, the wage system is unequal, too, as in the eight-grade wage scale, and so forth. Under the dictatorship of the proletariat such things can only be restricted. Therefore, if people like Lin Piao come to power, it will be quite easy for them to rig up the capitalist system. That is why we should do more reading of Marxist-Leninist works.[27]

What is the significance of this statement of Chairman Mao’s for Nicolaus’ book? One point it shows is Nicolaus’ underestimation of Khrushchev’s counter-revolution. Just as Chairman Mao warned that it would have been quite easy for Lin Piao to rig up the capitalist system had he seized power, so was it in fact for Khrushchev through his counter-revolution. What Chairman Mao emphasizes is that it is coming to power which is decisive.

But Chairman Mao’s analysis also shows that Nicolaus basically has a revisionist line on the question of bourgeois right. This becomes clear by examining how the book treats the matter.


First of all, as Lenin pointed out, the bourgeoisie was not “abolished” nor did it cease to exist in Soviet socialist society. What was abolished was their state, the political parties, their rights of ownership of the principal means of production.

But as a class, or social layer or whatever Nicolaus wants to call them, they continued to exist. Even as “consumers,” many of these elements, in rendering services for the Soviet state, were paid quite handsomely, considerably more than the better paid workers. And they had ways to spend it, too. One has only to read the accounts of the trials of the Bukharinite-Trotskyite bloc, where they mention the various country homes and dachas where they plotted and hatched their conspiracies.

But how does Nicolaus deal with the question of bourgeois right, in particular? One chapter of the book is basically a condensation of an article on the subject by Yao Wen-yuan, one of the “gang of four” who attempted to restore capitalism in China. What is more interesting is that Nicolaus uses this article, in relation to the Soviet Union in the 1930s and 1940s, for the same purposes as Yao did in China of the 1970s: to sow confusion on the subject so as to divert the aim of the proletariat from its real target.

After his account of Yao’s article, Nicolaus makes the following point:

There in a nutshell Yao has put the cardinal mistake made by the Soviet Communist Party during the period when Stalin was its leader. They did not dig away fast enough the political-economical-social ’soil’ that was engendering a new bourgeoisie and did not perceive the danger it posed until the initiative had already slipped out of their hands. A closer look at these problems is in order. (Emphasis added)[28]

Indeed a “closer look” is necessary. How does Nicolaus apply this question to the actual conditions in the Soviet Union?

To see the seeds of capitalism in socialism, Nicolaus states when introducing Yao’s article, it is necessary “to mark the point where an accumulation of gradual, insignificant quantitative changes produced an abrupt turnabout in the whole character of the society.” (Emphasis added)[29]

Why the qualifier, “insignificant”? The matter of bourgeois right is being discussed here. It is most significant, even if the “quantities” concerned are small. It is not a matter of appearance, but of essence. Is this just a slip of the pen? No, it is a persistent theme. Nicolaus goes on:

As long as Stalin himself was alive, the newly engendered bourgeois forces in Soviet society and their incognito representatives in the party and the government dared not take a decisive step. They made progress by inches if at all. They might insinuate their program in minor ways here and there, claim and receive one or another petty privilege that meant nothing and float now and then a tiny, very cautious trial balloon. (Emphasis added)[30]

Here, bourgeois right is termed “petty” and it is asserted that it “meant nothing.” A second slip of the pen? Well, even a baseball player gets three strikes. Let’s look again.

As long as he (Stalin–ed.) was alive, one thing was certain: the newly engendered bourgeoisie and the capitalist roaders knew beyond a doubt that they were living under a dictatorship of the proletariat. They might have had a certain status and some minor material benefits, they might sun themselves on festival occasions in the party’s praise for work well done–but let them take one step out of line and they were done for. They did not and could not achieve the most important thing, political power. (Emphasis added)[31]

So they “might have” had some “minor” benefits. Three strikes and you’re out. Nicolaus’ line, in summary, is that the bourgeois-right of capitalist roaders is insignificant, petty, means nothing, minor, and might be nonexistent anyway. This is revisionism.


But to be all sided, there is one point in Nicolaus’ book where he takes a “firm stand” on the matter:

Even the working class is bound to be touched in its consciousness by the survivals under socialism of what Marx called ’bourgeois right’; for the inequalities of the wage scale, supplemented too often in the USSR by individual bonuses and premiums, must have worked counter to the brilliant spirit of collective enthusiasm and the new attitude toward labor which the Soviet working class displayed par excellence. (Emphasis added)[32]

So here, when Nicolaus is talking about bourgeois right as it affects the workers rather than the new bourgeoisie, it is a matter of “must have”rather than “might have.” Instead of “meaning nothing,” it “happened too often.”

This reveals Nicolaus’ class stand on bourgeois right: Cover it up in relation to the bourgeoisie and shift the line of fire to a different target, the proletariat.

Instead of narrowing the target to isolate the capitalist roaders, Nicolaus broadens the target to hide the capitalist roaders by attacking the masses. This is the treacherous line of the “gang of four” in China today, pure and simple.


But let us return to an earlier question. Nicolaus has stated that a new bourgeoisie under Soviet socialism both existed and did not exist, that it, was both alive and dead.

How does he get around this problem? The method employed is a combination of both metaphysics and obscurantism. For example:

The gradual emergence and maturing of a potential new bourgeoisie within the fold of Soviet socialist society was a silent and largely secret process that can be sketched today only in the barest outlines.

There is some sketchy data available to indicate the common economic situation, the material foundation, by which the bourgeoisie that later took power was engendered. But the process by which it gradually organized itself as a class, shaped its own associations and acquired collective self-consciousness prior to its bid for power are almost entirely unknown.

And necessarily so. For the potential bourgeoisie had to emerge under the conditions of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Any open association for or intentional advocacy of capitalist aims was impossible. A highly efficient secret police made even conspiracy–historically a favorite mode of bourgeois organization–dangerous in the extreme. It is unlikely that future historians will unearth any reliable documentary record of what passed through the minds of the nascent Soviet bourgeoisie while it was a suppressed class. (Emphasis added)[33]

There are so many things wrong with this passage that it is hard to know where to begin or when to stop. But let us try.

First of all, Nicolaus solves the problem of whether the capitalist roaders were alive or dead, with the idealist sleight-of-hand, “potential” and “actual.” In other words, a real class enemy didn’t confront the Soviet workers, only a “potential” enemy. Perhaps they shouldn’t have waged class struggle against it, but only have prepared for a “potential” struggle. And as for the wrecking, splitting, sabotage and spying carried out by the new bourgeoisie and capitalist roaders in the 1930s, well maybe this was only “potential” wrecking and sabotage, etc. This is a conciliatory coverup.

Second, as to the “silent” struggle and the lack of “any reliable documentary record,” this too is erroneous, especially if it is applied to the entire period of the Soviet proletarian dictatorship and the several successful struggles which were waged against capitalist restoration. Nicolaus’ comments are only appropriate, in part, to the last decade of Soviet power.

For example, Lenin, in his time, gave concrete guidance on the matter. He warned the party that the bourgeoisie still existed, stated where it was and how to fight it.

Can anyone deny that the bourgeoisie in this country has been defeated, but not destroyed? That it has gone into hiding? Nobody can deny it.[34]

The tsarist bureaucrats began to join the Soviet institutions and practice their bureaucratic methods, they began to assume the coloring of Communists and, to succeed better in their careers, to procure membership cards of the Russian Communist Party. And so, they have been thrown out of the door, but they creep back in through the window.[35]

Lenin not only warned of the old bourgeoisie, but warned of “the new bourgeoisie that exists in our country” as well. It is arising “not only from among our Soviet government employees–only a very few can emerge from their ranks–but from the ranks of the peasants and handicraftsmen...It shows that even in Russia, capitalist commodity production is alive, operating, developing and giving rise to a bourgeoisie.”[36]


After Lenin’s death, Stalin carried on the battle. Speaking of the Trotskyist opposition in 1924, he pointed out:

The section of the Party which has raised such a clamor over questions of democracy has unwittingly served as a mouthpiece and vehicle for the agitation in the country that emanates from the new bourgeoisie and aims at weakening the dictatorship, at ’broadening’ the Soviet Constitution and at reestablishing political rights for the exploiters.[37]

After 1928, the capitalist roaders in the party intensified their struggle. Although Trotsky was expelled from the party, he formed a bloc with the Bukharin rightist clique in the party and state leadership. They practiced revisionism in an all-around way, intriguing and conspiring, wrecking and splitting, sabotaging production and defense, even establishing connections and working relationships with the espionage agencies of Germany, Japan and Britain.

There is a considerable historical record of this struggle, especially of its political side. The documents of the struggle inside the party are among the classics of Marxism-Leninism. There is also the record of the 1938 trial of the “Anti-Soviet Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites” which exposes, to use Nicolaus’ terms, how the capitalist restorationist bloc “shaped its own associations and acquired collective self-consciousness prior to its bid for power.” Bukharin, one of the ringleaders of this gang, admits in his testimony:

The Bukharin-Trotsky gang, he said, had “an orientation towards a ’palace revolution’ and a coup d’etat, towards a military conspiracy and a praetorian guard of counter-revolutionaries, this was nothing other than elements of fascism ... we organized terrorist groups, engaged in wrecking activities, wanted to overthrow the valiant leadership of Stalin, the Soviet government of the proletariat.”[38]

In addition to the political substance of the Bloc’s activities–the smashing of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the establishment of a bourgeois, fascist dictatorship–Bukharin spells out the economic side of the matter as well:

The right deviation, from the moment of its inception, when it was still in embryo, from the moment of its inception set itself the aim of restoring capitalism.. . . When all the state machines, when all the means, when all the best forces were flung into the industrialization of the country, into collectivization, we found ourselves, literally in 24 hours, on the other shore, we found ourselves with the kulaks, with the counter-revolutionaries, we found ourselves with the capitalist remnants which still existed at the time in the sphere of trade ... If my program were to be formulated practically, it would be, in the economic sphere, state capitalism, the prosperous muzhik individual, the curtailment of the collective farms, foreign concessions, surrender of the monopoly of foreign trade, and, as a result, the restoration of capitalism in the country.[39]


Far from being “silent,” this particular period in the struggle against capitalist restoration had a dramatic impact around the world. Bukharin admitted that “it has been proved many times, and repeated tens of thousands of times” that his gang was out to restore capitalism.[40]

What is Nicolaus’ stand in relation to the smashing of this gang? Again, he sows confusion, conciliation and unclarity by speaking with a forked tongue. In speaking of how Khrushchev waged an “anti-Stalin” campaign against his rivals, threatening to “expose” them for “repression,” Nicolaus makes the following point:

What was made the principal concern was whether this or that individual had, back in 1934 or 1937 or some other time, played a part in the political trials of the 1930s, where those accused might or might not have been unjustly dealt with. (Emphasis added)[41]

What does this mean, “might or might not have”? The trials were just, correct and a great victory for the proletariat. They should be viewed in the same light as the smashing of the restorationist conspiracies of Lin Piao and the “gang of four” in China recently.

And what does this mean, “this or that individual”? It is not a question of individuals, but of class struggle. In the course of class warfare, it sometimes happens that an individual worker will be erroneously attacked as a scab. It is to be avoided and rectified. But what really counts is that the enemy camp is shattered, its leadership exposed and crushed, its forces disintegrated, and any honest but misled elements among its supporters won over.

At another point Nicolaus mentions “leaders or would-be leaders” of the “thousands of individuals whom the dictatorship of the proletariat had earlier suppressed as counter-revolutionaries.” What does this mean? Were they actually counter-revolutionary leaders or not?[42]


Nicolaus refers to Bukharin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Rykov and others a few times in his book. They “had opposed the collectivization of agriculture in the early 1930s and defended the interests of the kulaks.”[43] Stalin “waged titanic battles against the ’leftist’ and rightist factions that had tried to derail the Soviet power from the path of socialist construction.”[44] And “Khrushchev’s and Brezhnev’s true political lineage goes back not to Stalin and Lenin, but to the leaders of the right and ’left’ opportunist factions whom the party defeated earlier and who became renegades and sellouts.”[45]

Now each of these points, taken separately, is true. But what is missing? Where does it sum up, stating clearly and concisely that this gang were capitalist restorationists and agents of imperialism, especially the fascists? It isn’t stated anywhere, in the entire book.

How does this differ from the stand of the centrist\Guardian newspaper on the “gang of four” in China today? These centrists say, well, it’s true the gang are “left dogmatists,” that they formed factions, that they hindered socialist construction. But were they capitalist roaders, imperialist agents? Heavens, no! Don’t go that far!

Nicolaus doesn’t differ at all, except that the Guardian will openly defend the “gang.” And even this exception is on shaky ground. Look at how Nicolaus sums up the weaknesses in the Russian Communist Party’s work during the collectivization of agriculture:

There were also excesses committed ’from above,’ by overzealous party leaders, who were often members of the intraparty opposition intent consciously or unconsciously on sabotaging the process. Inexperience, shortage of cadre and honest errors played their part as well. The opposition–echoed by the bourgeois press abroad–lost no opportunity to focus on these excesses and errors, to magnify them out of proportion and damn the general line of the revolution because of its tactical blunders. But there was in reality no other socialist alternative, and those members of the opposition who were dedicated to the cause of Soviet power, as Prof. Lewin (a bourgeois critic of the Soviet Union–ed.) records, soon came to see this truth. ’He does the job badly,’ said these repentant oppositionists of Stalin, ’but he does it.’ The ’most intelligent cadre,’ in Lewin’s estimate at least–meaning the more enlightened followers of Leon Trotsky and of Nikolai Bukharin, then the chief ’left’ and right opposition faction leaders–complained of Stalin’s ’iron hand’ and ’despotic methods,’ but conceded that ’thanks to this man’s indomitable will. Russia is being modernized. Despite his shortcomings, a few more years of this terrible, almost superhuman effort will bring an all-round increase in prosperity and happiness.’ (Emphasis added.)[46]

This passage is supposed to be, and should be, a defense of Stalin and the party and an attack on the opposition. But examine it more critically. In fact it is just the opposite. It is an attack on Stalin and a defense of the opposition.

Who were these previously “overzealous” but now “repentant,”“intelligent,” and “enlightened” oppositionists who were newly ”dedicated to the cause of Soviet power”?

The Seventeenth Congress of the Bolshevik party was held in 1934, after years of struggle against the right and “left”opposition had exposed and defeated their line, and routed their forces, with many expelled from the party. The revisionist leaders had formed a secret bloc and ordered their adherents to make sham self-criticisms in order to weasel their way back into the party and its leadership. In this way, they could most effectively carry out their counter-revolutionary conspiracy. As it was pointed out in the History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks):

Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky made repentant speeches, praising the party and extolling its achievements to the skies...Speeches were also made...by the Trotskyites Zinoviev and Kamenev, who lashed themselves extravagantly for their mistakes, and eulogized the party no less extravagantly for its achievements.[47]


But as the party later exposed, and as Bukharin and others admitted, they were plotting capitalist restoration all the while. Even as they praised Stalin and the party, they plotted his assassination and its destruction.

To shield their puny group from exposure and destruction, they simulated loyalty to the party, fawned upon it, eulogized it, cringed before it more and more, while in reality continuing their underhand, subversive activities against the workers and peasants.[48]

This is what Nicolaus lends credence to and finds praiseworthy. Why did he bother? What he was after was the quotes of sham praise for Stalin: “He does the job badly, but he does it.“ and ”Thanks to this man’s indomitable will, Russia is being modernized.”

Here is Nicolaus’ love for the “genius theory.” It is not class struggle, not the masses, not the leadership of the party, not the exposure and struggle against capitalist roaders–none of these brought about the second great phase of the Bolshevik revolution. Instead it was the “indominable will” of one man.

The Bolsheviks, of course, summed it up differently: “The advance toward socialism was attended by a sharpening of the class struggle in the country and a sharpening of the struggle in the party. The chief results of this struggle were that the resistance of the kulaks was crushed, the bloc of Trotskyite and Zinovievite capitulators was exposed as an anti-Soviet bloc, the Right capitulators were exposed as agents of the kulaks.”[49]

This is not the only time Nicolaus “praises” Stalin in this way. In his chapter summing up Stalin’s life, he mentions the danger posed by Khrushchev’s revisionism and states:

There was only one man, then and there, in the leadership, who had the power to save the situation. And that man, Stalin himself, died on March 5, 1953.[50]


What is wrong with this? It goes against the party principle. It claims that the individual is decisive, not the party and the masses. It is like Trotsky, who always believed that he never really joined the Bolshevik party, but instead believed the Bolshevik Party joined him.

But what about the question of Stalin? It is important to have a correct estimate of this great leader, to understand his contributions and his errors, and the proper relationship between them. As Mao Tsetung points out:

In the Soviet Union, those who once extolled Stalin to the skies have now in one swoop consigned him to purgatory. Here in China some people are following their example. It is the opinion of the Central Committee that Stalin’s mistakes amount to only 30 percent of the whole and his achievements to 70 percent, and that all things considered Stalin was nonetheless a great Marxist. We wrote “On the Historical Experience of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat” on the basis of this evaluation. This assessment of 30 percent for mistakes and 70 percent for achievements is just about right.[51]

Then how does Nicolaus make this assessment? He makes three main criticisms of Stalin. The first, already mentioned in connection with the matter of bourgeois right, of not digging away “fast enough” at the “political-economical-social soil,” was termed “the cardinal mistake.”

The second was termed “a serious political and theoretical error,” and goes as follows:

This was the thesis, advanced publicly by Stalin as early as 1936, that the USSR had become a “classless, socialist society.” Stalin consistently maintained that the USSR “is free of class conflicts” and that therefore there was no danger, indeed no possibility, of a regeneration of bourgeois forces and of a capitalist restoration from within Soviet society. The danger of restoration came exclusively from the outside via foreign invasion.[52]

The third error comes after Nicolaus mentions the example of a high-ranking state official who was found to be a capitalist and was shot by a firing squad. He states:

Of course in the long run this method of restraining the aspirations of the bourgeoisie could not succeed. It was a harmful method when used on a large scale and it was used too often by Stalin and his subordinates when milder measures would have been more productive.[53]

What is wrong with this account of Stalin? First of all, the “cardinal mistake” was not the Bolshevik’s failure to “dig away fast enough” at the soil of bourgeois right. There were certainly mistakes made in this regard, but they stemmed from a more fundamental ideological and political error. Restricting bourgeois right is a matter that(effects the entire people. It is carried out step-by-step, gradually and over a long period of time. But in order to gain a correct perspective on bourgeois right, it is necessary to be able to narrow the target, to be able to aim the fire at revisionism at its most concentrated and dangerous source.


This raises the question: What actually was Stalin’s and the party’s “cardinal mistake”? It was the second point mentioned above, on the question of classes and class struggle. But even here, Nicolaus’ account is erroneous. He falsely asserts that Stalin “consistently” made this error.

The truth is quite different. Prior to the mid-1930s, Stalin handled this question correctly. As he stated in a 1933 report on the five-year plan:

A strong and powerful dictatorship of the proletariat–that is what we need now in order to scatter to the winds the last remnants of the dying classes and to frustrate their thieving designs.

Some comrades have interpreted the thesis about the abolition of classes, the creation of a classless society, and the withering away of the state as a justification of laziness and complacency, as a justification of the counter-revolutionary theory of the extinction of the class struggle and the weakening of the state power. Needless to say, such people cannot have anything in common with our Party. They are either degenerates or double-dealers, and must be driven out of the Party. The abolition of classes is not achieved by the extinction of class struggle, but by its intensification.[54]

Thus Stalin was not “consistently” wrong on this matter. The error came later, and is clearly visible in his report to the Eighteenth Party Congress in 1939:

The feature that distinguishes Soviet society today from any capitalist society is that it no longer contains antagonistic, hostile classes; that the exploiting classes have been eliminated...Soviet society, liberated from the yoke of exploitation, knows no such antagonisms, is free of class conflicts.[55]

But, as pointed out earlier, Nicolaus, with his theory of the “dead,” “potential” and “non-existent” bourgeoisie, makes this same error himself.


Next, the third “error,” the shooting of high-ranking agents. This is another thing altogether. For while Stalin was inconsistent theoretically on the question of classes and class struggle under socialism, when actually confronted with capitalist roaders, he fought firmly and well, as the record of struggle against Trotsky and Bukharin reveals.

But if one wants to cover up for this gang, as Nicolaus does, then this strong point will be turned into an error, in order to take the edge off the class struggle. Stalin, in the same report to the Eighteenth Congress, states it well:

To listen to these foreign drivellers one would think that if the spies, assassins and wreckers had been left at liberty to wreck, murder and spy without let or hindrance, the Soviet organizations would have been far sounder and stronger. (Laughter) Are not these gentlemen giving themselves away too soon by so insolently defending the cause of spies, assassins and wreckers?[56]

Finally, Nicolaus’ most insidious attack on Stalin comes in the statement, “Stalin could not or would not recognize the aspiring new bourgeoisie in his ”theory.”[57] (Emphasis added.)

“Could not or would not”? It is not enough for Nicolaus to say “Stalin did not...” Instead he implies that Stalin knew the correct line, but decided to promote revisionism instead. This is not Marxist criticism. It is an underhanded, Trotskyist slander.

These are not all of the errors in Nicolaus’ book that stem from his revisionist line. But they are the main ones, and it is appropriate at this point to sum them up:

1) Nicolaus has a Kautskyite line on the state. Nowhere does he point out that the bourgeois state must be smashed, that it cannot be taken over and put to use in establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat. His use of the term is a sham.
2) Nicolaus preaches that “economics takes precedence over politics” in defining whether a given country is socialist or capitalist. This leads him to assert thaŁ the existence of an extended “transition period” when a country is “semi-socialist, semi-capitalist.” This is his view of the Soviet Union during the NEP and from 1956 to 1965. The five-year plan and the Kosygin Reforms are the decisive turning points, not the October Revolution and the Khrushchev counter-revolution.
3) Nicolaus pushes historical idealism rather than historical and dialectical materialism. He fails to take class struggle as the key link in drawing the lessons of history and fails to see class struggle as the motive force of history.
4) Nicolaus promotes the revisionist line of the “dying out of class struggle.” He conciliates and covers up for the new bourgeoisie in socialist society.
5) Nicolaus has a reactionary line on bourgeois right. Like the “gang of four,” he defends it for the bourgeoisie in order to attack the proletariat.
6) Nicolaus is a hidden defender of the Bukharin-Trotsky capitalist-roaders in the Soviet Union and a real opponent of Stalin, under the guise of sham praise.

All of these points, of course, are inter-related. Most important, however, is the first, the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat. As Chairman Mao has said:

Why did Lenin speak of exercising dictatorship over the bourgeoisie? It is essential to get this question clear. Lack of clarity on this question will lead to revisionism.[58]

In the case of Martin Nicolaus, it clearly already has.


[1] Nicolaus, M., Restoration of Capitalism in the USSR (Chicago: Liberator Press, 1975), page 5. (Hereafter referred to as Restoration)

[2] Ibid., p.5.

[3] Ibid., p.7

[4] Ibid., p. 30

[5] Ibid., p. 30

[6] Ibid., p. 28.

[7] Ibid., pps.28-29.

[8] Ibid., p. 36

[9] Mao Tsetung, Selected Works, Vol. 4, p. 428.

[10] Ibid., Vol. 2, p. 308.

[11] Restoration, p. 79.

[12] “Report on the Revision of the Party Constitution,”Documents of the Tenth National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, (Peking: Foreign Languages Press), p. 47.

[13] Chairman Mao’s Talk of May 11, 1964, quoted in Peking Review, April 24, 1970.

[14] Lenin, V., Collected Works, Vol. 32, p.334.

[15] Ibid., Vol. 25, p. 366.

[16] How the Soviet Revisionists Carry out All-Round Restoration of Capitalism in the USSR, (Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1968), p. 3.

[17] Ibid., p. 60.

[18] Restoration, p. 80

[19] Ibid., p. 81.

[20] Ibid., p. 85.

[21] Ibid., p. 86.

[22] Ibid., p. 92.

[23] Ibid., p. 185-86.

[24] Ibid., p. 25.

[25] Ibid., p. 26-27.

[26] Marx, Engels and, Lenin on the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, (Peking: Foreign Languages Press), p. 35-36.

[27] Ibid., p. 2.

[28] Restoration, p. 42.

[29] Ibid., p. 38.

[30] Ibid., p. 54.

[31] Ibid., p. 55.

[32] Ibid., p. 50.

[33] Ibid., p. 43.

[34] Lenin, V., Collected Works, Vol. 32, p. 505.

[35] Ibid., Vol. 29, p. 183.

[36] Ibid., p. 189.

[37] Stalin, J., On The Opposition, (Peking: Foreign Languages Press), p. 99.

[38] “Report on the Court Proceedings in the Case of the Anti-Soviet ’Bloc of Rights and Trotskyites,’ ”(Moscow: People’s Commisariat of Justice in the USSR, 1938), p. 379-82.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Restoration, p. 61-62.

[42] Ibid., p. 73.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid., p. 57.

[45] Ibid., p. 182.

[46] Ibid., p. 21.

[47] History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks), (Proletarian Publishers edition), p. 325..

[48] Ibid., p. 325.

[49] Ibid., p. 299.

[50] Restoration, p. 57.

[51] Mao Tsetung, “On the Ten Major Relationships,”Peking Review, January 1, 1977, p. 24.

[52] Restoration, p. 53.

[53] Ibid., p. 55.

[54] Stalin, J., Collected Works, Vol. 13, p. 215.

[55] Stalin, J., “Report to the 18th Congress of the CPSU(B),” (Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1951), p. 38.

[56] Ibid., p. 40.

[57] Restoration, p. 54.

[58] “Marx, Engels and Lenin on the Dictatorship of the Proletariat,” page 1.