Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Mark Evans

Lessons of Capitalist Restoration in the U.S.S.R.


Published: Workers Herald, Vol. 1, No. 3, January 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Why were revisionists able to seize power in the Soviet Union and restore capitalism? There are some who say that this was inevitable, that socialism could never have survived in the Soviet Union, that in fact it never really existed. These are lies, very much to the liking of the bourgeoisie, promoted by Trotskyist forces of various colors. Socialism did exist in the Soviet Union during the time of Lenin and Stalin. The great legacy of workers’ rule in the Soviet Union, its magnificent achievements and the specific reasons for its defeat must be carefully studied by the revolutionary proletarian movement.

Socialism was not built automatically or immediately in the Soviet Union, but through a protracted process of class warfare after the proletariat seized power in 1917. The civil war and intervention between 1918 and 1922, which matched the strength of the international bourgeoisie against that of the Russian proletariat and its allies, was followed by equally intense battles in the economic, political and ideological arenas in the following years. Within the Bolshevik Party itself, the bourgeoisie found accomplices in its struggle to restore capitalism. The Trotskyists promoted reckless and irresponsible policies based on their idea that it was impossible to build socialism in one country, that nothing could be done but abandon the ship to the capitalists. The Bukharinists promoted conciliation with the bourgeoisie, protecting the rising kulak capitalist class in the Soviet countryside and other capitalist elements elsewhere, and condemning any effort to advance towards the elimination of the capitalist classes and capitalist exploitation.

Stalin led the Bolshevik Party and the Russian proletariat in exposing and defeating these fatal deviations and maintaining a steady forward march towards socialism. In 1929, after ten years of intense class struggle to maintain and consolidate proletarian power and restore the war-ravaged Russian economy, Stalin led the Party and the people to launch the First Five Year Plan and an all-sided offensive to build socialism. The Kulaks and other capitalist elements were politically crushed, their property was expropriated and they were eliminated as a social class. The poor and middle peasants transformed Kulak-dominated private agriculture into collective agriculture. Private trade was taken over by trade cooperatives and state organizations. Modern industries were constructed on a massive scale. Unemployment was eliminated completely and the labor surplus which had weighed down the Russian workers for decades was transformed into a labor shortage. A tremendous mass program of cultural and technical education for the working class and peasantry was established. The entire economy was mobilized under a single, unified state plan. These were historic accomplishments, the basic foundations of the first socialist society.

It was only after the death of Stalin in 1953 that the process of socialist construction in the Soviet Union was reversed. The Bolshevik Party was taken over by revisionists, the Soviet state was transformed into a bureaucratic tool of a new Soviet bourgeoisie, socialism was destroyed and capitalism was restored. A stratum of bureaucratized, degenerate cadres had arisen in the Soviet Party and state apparatus which became the social basis for the revisionist seizure of power.

The bourgeois-revisionist takeover in the Soviet Union has been followed by bourgeois counterrevolutions in several countries in Eastern Europe. The counterrevolutions in these countries were not inevitable. The causes of the bourgeois-revisionist victory in the Soviet Union and elsewhere must be made known to all proletarian revolutionaries. We will only learn to stop the bourgeoisie from regaining power by summing up these experiences from a Marxist-Leninist perspective, unimpaired by the various anarchist, Trotskyist, Maoist and other bourgeois and petty bourgeois ideas that so influence the revolutionary movement.


The proletarian revolution differs from all other revolutions in that it does not seize power from one class of exploiters only to replace it with the rule of another class of exploiters – it places power in the hands of the working class. For the first time in the history of class society state power is not the property of a wealthy elite, but of the vast working masses. The active participation of the broad masses of workers in the revolution and the destruction of the bourgeois state prepares the conditions for the workers to take into their own hands the governing of all aspects of society. However, this is only the first step. The establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat is followed by a prolonged period of consolidating the rule of the working class. Stalin explained some of the special problems of this task:

... of all the ruling classes that have hitherto existed, the working class, as a ruling class, occupies a somewhat special and not altogether favorable position in history. All ruling classes until now – the slave owners, the landlords, the capitalists – were also wealthy classes. They were in the position to train in their sons the knowledge and faculties needed for government. The working class differs from them, among other things, in that it was not able formerly to train in its sons the knowledge and faculty to govern and has become able to do so only now, after coming to power. [SCW, Vol. 11, pp. 40-41]

All of the traditions of bourgeois and feudal society promote the rule of a wealthy, educated elite and discourage and beat back any initiative, criticism or participation by the working masses in the governing of the affairs of society. The traditions, customs, ways of behavior and concepts of life that developed during the thousands of years of rule by the exploiting classes do not die easy. They still exist in the minds of people in socialist society and act as a brake on the struggle to strengthen and perfect working class democracy. In addition, there are certain economic and social conditions which live on in socialist society, which are not characteristic of communist society but which are carryovers from capitalism.

The Existence of a Separate Stratum of the Intelligentsia

The separation of mental and manual labor is a fundamental feature of all societies based on class exploitation. Socialism inherits from capitalism this division of society into those that work with their minds and those that work with their hands. For a prolonged period of time socialist society depends on the existence of a separate stratum of the intelligentsia – technical and administrative cadre – distinct from the working class. It is from the ranks of this stratum that the new bourgeoisie in the Soviet Union emerged. As long as the division between mental and manual labor exists, as long as there are special categories of managers and technicians that are distinguished from the working class, by differences in their nature of their work, by a different style of life, by higher wages and certain other privileges, the danger of the emergence of a new bourgeoisie and the restoration of capitalism exists. These distinctions cannot be done away with immediately, there must be a prolonged period of raising the cultural level and scientific knowledge of the working class, of combatting the bourgeois ideas that defend the division of society into classes, and of organizing the masses of workers to control every aspect of society.

Workers’ Control From Above and Below

Stalin thought that the training of the broad masses of workers to govern is accomplished primarily through the mobilization of the workers to criticize the shortcomings in the work of the Party and the state and economic administration.

... what is required in order to give full play to the powers and capacities of the working class and the working people generally, and to enable them to acquire the faculty of administering the country? It requires above all, honest and Bolshevik observance of the slogan of self-criticism, honest and Bolshevik observance of the slogan of criticism trom below ot the shortcomings and errors in our work. If the workers take advantage of the opportunity to criticize shortcomings in our work frankly and bluntly, to improve and advance our work, what does that mean? It means that the workers are becoming active participants in the work of directing the country, economy and industry. [Vol. 11, p. 40]

In addition to preparing the working masses to govern all aspects of society, the organization of the workers to keep vigilant watch over the administrative organs is critical to the survival of the dictatorship gf the proletariat. If only a dozen or so leading comrades are on the watch, taught Stalin, problems are sure to be overlooked.

We must see to it that the vigilance of the working class is not damped down, but stimulated, that hundreds of thousands and millions of workers are drawn into the general work of socialist construction, that hundreds of thousands and millions of workers and peasants, and not merely a dozen leaders, keep vigilant watch over the progress of our construction work, notice our errors and bring them to the light of day. [Vol. 11, p. 39]

In socialist society, centralized control from above, through the direction of the proletarian party and state, is essential to proletarian rule. But control from above is not enough, it must be combined with the constant strengthening of direct control by the working class from below. Without the strengthening of proletarian control from below the danger of bureaucratic degeneration of the proletarian party and state apparatus could not be checked.

There is talk of criticism from above, criticism by the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection, by the Central Committee of our Party and so on. That, of course, is all very good. But it is still far from enough. More, it is by no means the chief thing now. The chief thing now is to start a broad tide of criticism from below against the bureaucracy in general, against shortcomings in our work in particular. Only by organizing twofold pressure – from above and from below – and only by shifting the principal stress to criticism from below, can we count on waging a successful struggle against bureaucracy and rooting it out. [Vol. 11, pp. 77-78]

Bureaucracy, the isolation of the party ana’ state apparatus from the working masses, is antithetical to the advance of socialist society. The progress of society towards communism can be measured by the constant perfection of the ability of the working masses to rule all aspects of society. Once this is accomplished, along with the other fundamental tasks of the socialist revolutionization of society (the world over), the need for the party and state as special ruling institutions gradually disappears. The state apparatus must be continually brought closer to the masses, they must be drawn into active participation in all of its work, and exercise control over it. Bureaucratic deviations interrupt this process and cause it to retrogress. If these deviations are not checked they can lead to the leading cadres becoming isolated from the masses, adopting the outlook of the bourgeoisie, and transforming themselves from servants of the people into rulers over them.

“Bureaucracy in our organizations,” said Stalin, “must not be regarded merely as routine and red tape. Bureaucracy is a manifestation of bourgeois influence on our organizations.” [Vol. 11, p. 137] He called the bureaucratic elements of the Soviet apparatus, who feared and opposed all control by the masses, “agents of our class enemy.” [Vol. 12, p. 311] Moreover, although Stalin pointed out that the old officials and specialists, whom the Soviet state had inherited from Czarist society, were carriers of the disease of bureaucracy, he did not see them as the principal danger. Instead, he pointed to communists who had adopted bureaucratic outlooks and methods as the most dangerous source of the infection of the Soviet administration with bureaucracy.

If it were only a question of the old bureaucrats, the fight against bureaucracy would be very easy. The trouble is that it is not a matter of the old bureaucrats. It is a matter of the new bureaucrats, bureaucrats who sympathise with the Soviet Government, and finally, communist bureaucrats. The communist bureaucrat is the most dangerous type of bureaucrat. Why? Because he masks his bureaucracy with the title of Party member. And, unfortunately, we have quite a number of such communist bureaucrats. [Vol. 11, p. 75]

The Bolshevik Party, Stalin pointed out, was not immune to bureaucratic degeneration. The cause of this degeneration in some Party organizations was the failure to maintain the democratic norms of the Party.

What is the explanation of these shameful instances of corruption and moral deterioration in certain of our Party organizations? The fact that Party monopoly was carried to absurd lengths, that the voice of the rank and file was stifled, that inner Party democracy was abolished and bureaucracy became rife. [Vol. 11, p. 75]

Therefore, Stalin explained, the only antidote to the degeneration of the Party was the mobilization of mass criticism by the rank and file.

I think that there is not and cannot be any other way of combatting this evil than by organizing control from below by the Party masses, by implanting inner Party democracy. What objection can there be to rousing the fury of the mass of the Party membership against these corrupt elements and giving it the opportunity to send such elements packing? [Vol 11, p. 76]

I know that by raising the fury of the masses of the working people against bureaucratic distortions in our organizations, we sometimes have to tread on the toes of some comrades who have past services to their credit, but who are now suffering from the disease of bureaucracy. But ought this stop our work of organizing control from below? I think that it ought not and must not. For their past services we should take off our hats to them, but for their present blunders and bureaucracy it would be quite in order to give them a good drubbing. [Vol. 11, p. 77]

The proletarian state is not bureaucratic by nature.

The Trotskyists and anarchists claim that the proletarian state is by nature bureaucratic. They see the proletarian state itself as the source of bureaucracy and target it as the enemy. Stalin fought against these views, which were directed towards the overthrow of socialism.

The government may make mistakes, may commit blunders fraught with the danger of a temporary collapse of the dictatorship of the proletariat, but that would not mean that the proletarian dictatorship, as the principal structure of the state in the transition period is wrong or mistaken. [Albania Today, No. 1, 1980]

Stalin taught that manifestations of bureaucracy and corruption in the proletarian state were results of the influence of the remnants of capitalism that lived on in socialist society. It was the bureaucratic elements within the Party and state and the ideas and conditions which formed them that were to be targeted, not the Party and the state themselves. The dictatorship of the proletariat had to be strengthened, not weakened, taught Stalin. This was to be accomplished through combatting bureaucracy and broadening the active, democratic participation of the masses of workers and peasants in the affairs of the state.

The working class must always be ready for action.

“The abolition of classes,” taught Stalin, “is not achieved by the extinction of the class struggle, but by its intensification.” [Vol. 13, p. 215] The victorious building of a classless society demands that communists, along with the workers in general, sharpen their vigilance and step up their struggle against the class enemies. Stalin pointed out that the relatively smooth advance of socialist construction in the Soviet Union after the civil war had caused many people to believe “that ’everything will come out alright,’ that there are no classes in our country, that our enemies have calmed down, that everything will go according to the book.” [Vol. 11, p. 11]

It is this mentality of somnolence, this mentality of relying on the work going of its own accord that constitutes the obverse side of the period of peaceful development. Why are such states of mind so dangerous? Because they throw dust in the eyes of the working class, prevent it from seeing its enemies, undermine its readiness for action.

The biggest party may be caught unawares, the biggest party may perish, if it does not learn the lessons of history and does not work day in and day out to forge the readiness for action of its class. [Vol. 11, p. 72]

While the Right opportunist elements in the Bolshevik Party thought that socialism could be built “on the quiet, automatically, without class struggle,” Stalin was convinced of just the opposite. [Vol. 12, p. 370] “A victory for the Right deviation in our Party,” warned Stalin, “would mean the development of the conditions necessary for the restoration of capitalism.” [Vol. 11, p, 235]


Stalin’s warnings about the danger of bureaucracy and the restoration of capitalism were only too true. After Stalin’s death in 1953, revisionist elements in the Bolshevik Party seized power, destroyed the tremendous social changes that socialism had brought to the Soviet Union and restored capitalism. The revisionists seized power by means of a coup d’etat, by political and military maneuvers, and consolidated their control through a massive purge of the members of the Party who upheld the revolutionary line of Lenin and Stalin. The revisionists were able to seize power because of the gradual bureaucratic degeneration that had taken place in the Bolshevik Party and the Soviet state. Many leading Party and state cadre had begun to adopt the views and methods of bourgeois executives. These bourgeois elements, who emerged during the period of socialist construction in the Soviet Union, grew into a whole stratum. It was this bourgeois stratum in the Soviet Party and state apparatus that became the social basis for the victory of revisionism in the Soviet Union and was the embryo of the new bureaucratic capitalist class which rules the Soviet Union today.

Because of the ideological, economic and social remnants of capitalist society that continue to exist in socialism it is inevitable that bureaucratic deviations emerge. But it is not inevitable that these deviations lead to the complete degeneration of the proletarian party, or that the bourgeois elements survive and grow into an entire stratum capable of seizing power. The fact that this happened in the Soviet Union was due to certain weaknesses in the work of the Soviet Party.

Distortions in the policy of distribution.

When the proletariat first takes over the reins of government it does not have the capability to manage the country without the assistance of the specialists, managers and technicians that formerly served the bourgeoisie. Nor can production take place, in these initial stages, without the services of the skilled laborers that were nurtured by the former capitalist class. These people are accustomed to receiving salaries much higher than those of the masses of workers and demand to retain certain privileges for their services. In addition, even after the working class is able to train specialists and intellectuals from among its own ranks, it is necessary to maintain a policy of wage differences as a material motivation for workers to get higher training. This inequality in distribution is a carryover from capitalism that is bound to exist in socialist society for a certain period of time.

However, the revolutionization of socialist society demands that these differences in wages based on skill, education and position be constantly narrowed. One of the fundamental defects in socialist construction in the Soviet Union was that the system of high salaries and other privileges (such as housing) for technical and administrative cadre, which was historically necessary for a certain period of time, was not gradually eliminated, but generalized and absolutized. As a result, many cadres in the higher paid strata became desirous of a bourgeois style of life and wished to maintain their privileges. They became a powerful force that aided the revisionist seizure of power.

Material production incentives, such as piece-rate wages and bonuses, are another element of capitalist methods of distribution that the socialist state is compelled to use in the early stages of socialist society. The advance of socialist society, however, is dependent upon the adoption by the workers of a new attitude towards work, one in which they see their labor as a contribution to the general well-being of society and not simply as a means for their own individual survival and material benefit. In the Soviet Union, the maintenance of a system of distribution which placed excessive stress on material incentives and too little stress on moral incentives hampered the development of the attitude of placing the general interest above personal interest. This aided in the victory of capitalism over socialism.

Isolation of cadres from productive labor.

In the backwards economic conditions under which the working class was building socialism in the Soviet Union, cadre that had scientific, technical and managerial training were desperately needed to work in the capacities for which they were trained. They seldom or never joined the workers in actual productive labor and were largely isolated from production, from manual work and from the working class. This carried on the tradition of capitalist society to separate mental and manual labor. Many Soviet cadre remained in the same posts “interminally” or considered that they would only move “up” (away from production) in the administration, and never “down” (closer to production). The Bolshevik Party did not institute policies for the regular participation in production of administrative and technical cadre, or for the circulation of cadre from the center to the base and from administration to production. These were major causes for the growth of intellectualism, technocratism, bureaucratism and careerism among Soviet cadre. These problems were particularly pronounced among cadre in the higher levels of the apparatus, who were further removed from the base and from production.

De-proletarianization of the Party.

In socialist society, party cadre must play important roles in state and economic administration. The danger exists, however, for the party to become exclusively identified with management rather than productive labor. Many workers who are party members tend to gravitate towards administrative positions. Many technical and administrative cadre apply to become members of the party. Workers who are elected to leading positions in the party many times leave their posts in production. If these tendencies are not checked, the party can gradually cease to be a party of the proletariat and become an organization that stands above, and apart from, the masses of workers.

The leading role of the party in society must not be seen simply in terms of filling administrative positions with party members. The leadership of the party must primarily be exercised through organizing the workers to actively participate in all decision making. Workers who are elected to leading positions in factory party committees must not always abandon their posts in production to move to the office, “to check up on the administration of things,” but must remain among the workers to organize them to control decisions from below. In addition, strict limits must be placed on the admission of technical and administrative cadre into the party. The center of the party organization must remain on the factory floor.

When the center of the party shifts from production to administration the party becomes prey to corruption, intellectualism, technocratism and bureaucratic degeneration. This is what happened in the Soviet Union where, although workers made up the majority of the Party membership, many of its leading organs became increasingly deproletarianized.

The de-mobilization of the proletariat.

During the years of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviet Union, the workers took the reins of society into their hands. Through the Party, the Soviets, the trade unions and the press, as well as through special mass forums such as the temporary control commissions in the factories and mass production conferences, the workers discussed and debated the problems that faced the new Soviet society. The economic plans and proposals, as well as their fulfillments, the new draft Constitution and new Soviet laws all came under the review of the workers. The masses were mobilized to criticize all instances of corruption, bureaucratism and conciliation to the bourgeoisie. All of this was a great accomplishment of the Bolshevik Party and proved the vitality of the Soviet socialist system. This activity of the masses of workers, however, was allowed to die down. Especially after World War II, despite the efforts of Stalin and other revolutionaries in the leadership of the Party, the Bolshevik Party and the Soviet state apparatus gradually lost their vitality. Criticism and self-criticism became formal, revolutionary vigilance was replaced by the “vigilance” of the bureaucratic machine, and democratic centralism was transformed into bureaucratic centralism. When the revisionist enemies of socialism moved to seize power and restore capitalism after Stalin’s death in 1953, the Soviet proletariat was unprepared. The revisionist onslaught found the troops of the proletariat demobilized.

The seizure of power by the revisionists led by Khrushchev, Brezhnev, et al., opened the floodgates to bureaucracy and the bourgeois degeneration of the Soviet Party and state. The revisionists followed a conscious policy of promoting self-interest and corruption among Party and state cadre and of isolating the masses from the levers of state power in their efforts to destroy socialism and restore all of the methods of capitalist exploitation.


The bourgeoisie tries by any means to argue that the capitalist system is eternal and will last forever. They use the fact that bourgeois revisionists succeeded in seizing power and restoring capitalism in the Soviet Union to “prove” this. By exposing the existence in the Soviet Union of all of the worst features of capitalism, the bourgeoisie hopes to convince the workers either that “socialism is no different from capitalism” or that “socialism cannot work.” What is hidden in the propaganda of the capitalists, however, are the tremendous accomplishments of socialist construction and the fundamental social transformations that took place in the Soviet Union during the years that the working class was in power. It is the vital, new things that came into being and flourished in the Soviet Union in these years and not the temporary victory of the bourgeoisie after Stalin’s death that show what the future holds. Today, the ongoing accomplishments of the people of Albania in building socialism in their country are living proof of this.

Ongoing accomplishments of Albania’s socialist revolution.

When, after Stalin’s death, revisionists in other countries in the socialist camp were clamouring to congratulate the Soviet revisionists on the destruction of socialism in the Soviet Union and were hurrying to follow suit, the Party of Labor of Albania stood up heroically against the revisionist onslaught. Despite the tremendous economic and political pressure that was brought against it by the revisionists, the PLA continued to uphold the teachings of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin and exposed the treachery of the Soviet revisionists. At the same time, it sought to find the causes of the emergence of revisionism and a new bourgeoisie in the Soviet Union in order to bar the road to the same thing happening in Albania. Weaknesses in the work of the Bolshevik Party have been summed up by the PLA, and it has led the Albanian people in taking unprecedented steps in revolutionizing socialist society. Worker and peasant control commissions play an increasingly authoritative role in all aspects of Albanian society and are one part of the ongoing mobilization of mass criticism from below. Wage differentials have been continually cut, until today the highest paid cadre do not make more than twice as much as the average worker does. Material incentives have been almost completely purged from the system of pay. All cadre participate in productive labor at least one to three months a year, and a system of circulation of cadres from center to base and from administration to production has been developed. The proletarian composition of the Party, and particularly of the leading organs of the Party, has been continually improved by seeing that Party members and leaders maintain their positions in production, by promoting the recruitment of workers (as well as collectivist peasants) and by limiting the number of technical and administrative cadre recruited. In addition, historic mass movements have been mobilized to revolutionize education, to preserve the democratic and popular character of the army, to fight against religious dogma and backwards customs, to put the general interest above the personal interest and to struggle for the complete emancipation of women.

The continued vitality of the dictatorship of the proletariat in Albania has been shown by the PLA’s principled struggle against Chinese revisionism and by the purge of Abdyl Kellezi, Begin Balluku, Fadil Pacrami and a number of other right opportunists who had advocated bourgeois and liberal policies in the fields of economic planning, trade, the army and culture.

In future issues of Workers’ Herald we will describe the movements to revolutionize socialist society through which the Albanian people have accomplished social changes unprecendented in the history of human society.