Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Alex Hart, Committee For A Socialist Program

On the Soviet Revolution under Lenin
A review of “Les Luttes de Classes en URSS 1917-1923” by Charles Bettelheim

First Published: Working People, December 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and 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.

Why is the working class in Europe unable to use this long and ever deepening crisis of capitalism to make, or at least to prepare, the seizure of national power that is the necessary first step on the long road to socialism, a change of national power from the exploiting class to the working class?

This class impotence is directly due to the acceptance of this capitalist class society, with its imperialist and racist outlook, as a fact of life that the workers mostly no longer question. This acceptance in turn has two main causes – the quarter century of prosperity of the capitalist world since World War II, a phase that is now ending; and secondly the failure of the Soviet revolution to produce anything more than a new and worse class society based on state capitalism.

To produce a new socialist movement in Europe it is as necessary to re-educate a new generation in revolutionary Marxism as it was after (and indeed before) the catastrophe of 1914. The first step must be a thorough analysis of the failure as well as the success of the Soviet revolution. The Bolshevik party succeeded in mobilising the people to take power and to hold it, then it failed to develop socialism.

This failure has hitherto not been adequately analysed. This has now been done and it will be one of the foundations for a new and at lost (we may hope) on effective revolutionary movement in Western Europe.

Prof. Charles Bettelheim was, until the mid 1960s, a fairly orthodox Marxist economist who had been specially interested in the Soviet Union since the 1930s and had published much work on the developments in the Third World, especially on post revolutionary Cuba. Then, realising that China was economically successful and the Soviet Union wasn’t, he turned to investigate the causes for this fact and saw that the deciding factor was neither industrial equipment nor technology, but the political line. Then spurred by the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, he turned to analysing the development of the Soviet Union for the key to its failure of socialist development.

The first volume of this study of class struggles in the USSR covering the period 1917-1923 was published in 1974. Two further volumes for the periods 1924-1953 and since 1953 are promised.


Marxist analyses of the developments in the Soviet Union since 1917 have hitherto been either hostile from the outset, like Kautsky, or else critical only of the way the thing was done, like Trotsky, without questioning the aim of industrialisation as taking precedence over any other consideration, or else like Victor Serge, an honest but unanalytical critic of symptoms of degeneration on the Trotsky model, without understanding why those symptoms were appearing (Serge himself never understood the need to break with the policies of “war communism”. Nevertheless, his is a vivid and direct account of this period, in which he had some political responsibility in the Petrograd area as it then was). As has been remarked of Medvedev’s “History Will Judge”, (the most “socialist” critic of present Soviet policy) the goal is accepted, only the methods of attaining it are condemned.

Bettelheim, by pushing his critical analysis with no respect of persons or political taboos, has dialectically produced the strongest defence of Stalin’s policy at the same time as an outright condemnation of the supposedly Marxist theory on which it was based – this basis being one that was accepted by everyone of Stalin’s main contemporaries and critics with the sole exception of Gramsci (not mentioned, by the way, by Bettelheim).

We here give an extensive quotation (p. 37-38 of French edition).

After the death of Lenin the other leading Bolsheviks were ready either to accept a continuation of NEP (the New Economic Policy) which would have been nothing more than an evolution into private capitalism, or to propose some measures of industrialisation which however they refused to endorse as leading to socialism, but Stalin – taking up one of Lenin’s statements –reaffirmed (in Dec. 1924 ATH) the possibility of undertaking the construction of socialism in the USSR without making this depend on victory of the proletarian revolution in Europe or in the rest of the world.

...Stalin aimed at bringing confidence back to the Soviet working class; he was giving the Bolshevik party another aim than merely trying to stay in power while awaiting better days; he was thus helping to set in motion a gigantic transformation which would create the conditions needed for defending the independence of the USSR and increasing the divisions in the imperialist camp, so that the USSR was able to make a decisive contribution to the defeat of Hitlerism. The policy of industrialisation kept alight the flame of the October revolution, maintained the confidence of the peoples in their ultimate victory and thus objectively helped the success of the Chinese revolution.

In proclaiming the possibility of the Soviet Union advancing into socialism, Stalin – unlike Trotsky – appeared as the heir of Lenin who repeatedly and especially in his last writings reaffirmed this possibility. That is partly why Stalin acquired such prestige that extended onto the political statements made by him. In fact Stalin’s immense prestige, especially immediately after the Second World War, was due not only to his policies, but to the efforts, the courage and the selflessness of the Soviet people…. However, it was Stalin who directed these efforts and struggles by giving them a correct aim. (translated from p. 37-38 of French edition)

Does this not summarise Stalin’s achievements, in spite of the more and more “appalling” (Mao Tsetung’s word) “mistakes” that arose in carrying out this policy? Does it not do so incomparably better than any Stalinist apologetic? Yet how can anyone claim that the present state of the Soviet Union is not a consequence of Stalin’s policies or that a useful criticism of the present Soviet state can be made without an unreservedly thorough criticism of its whole history since 1917? Clearly Bettelheim has judged correctly both that the Stalin era provides “an exemplary lesson for the world proletariat” about how certain leftist ways of attacking capitalism are “illusory”, and that the analysis itself must start not with Stalin but with Lenin.

So this first volume deals with the Soviet Union’s short but tremendous Lenin era.


However, we will first here deal with the inadequacy of the analysis of the Stalin era by anti-revisionists in general since 1956.

Amid the rapid development of Marxist theory in the mid 1960s, with first the Sino-Soviet split, then the Cultural Revolution, the “question of Stalin” was left hanging in the air.

The 20th Congress of the CPSU had failed to make any analysis of Stalin’s policy. It had merely denounced him and sought to make him responsible for everything that had gone wrong and that had made it necessary already to release prisoners, probably in millions (though no figures were given nor are available) between Stalin’s death in 1953 and the Congress in 1956. The two statements issued in 1956 (April and December) by the CCP and mentioned by Mao Tsetung to Edgar Snow in 1964 as still giving his opinion, were analytical, but the analysis was limited to three main themes: that Stalin had been mistaken in claiming disappearance of classes and class struggle in the Soviet Union, in his policies of repression of counter revolution and in tending to national chauvinism. Bettelheim draws attention to this statement. Hardly any other Marxist has done so, and the CPC itself has shown little enthusiasm for it, in spite of Mao’s re-endorsement.

Just why the CPC decided to limit its criticism of the Stalin era to the absolute minimum that was obviously needed for the stage reached by the Chinese revolution in 1956-64 is not known and difficult to guess. The analysis was not pushed to a stage at which it would hove been necessary to admit in concrete detail to the world and especially to the Chinese people the exact nature of the “appalling errors” of Stalin.

However limited this verbal analysis of Stalin’s policies, the practical repudiation of them in China was at once carried very much further with “On the correct handling of contradictions among the people”, (February 1957) and in 1958 the development of rural communes and the Great Leap Forward brought the basic breaking point with the Soviet leadership. There had of course been a fundamental divergence of policy between Mao Tsetung and the Comintern, represented by the official CCP leadership up to 1935, since 1927, date of the non-publication of Mao’s now world famous report on the peasant movement in Hunan.

Mao’s whole published works are a constant contradiction of Stalin’s internal policies and also of his external policy in China, though the criticisms are always of Chinese mistakes only.

However, it is clear that Mao Tsetung had long before 1956 mode his own criticisms and also convinced his closest comrades in the CCP leadership, especially Chou Enlai, of their correctness.

Whatever its reasons for doing so, the leadership of the CCP have decided that analysis of CPSU policy must be limited to the post-Stalin era. One result has been a corresponding silence among European Marxist/Leninists seeking to rediscover an effective political line for the present period (since 1956) and a consequent domination of the revolutionary vacuum by Trotskyism (in forms as varied as those of self styled Marxism/Leninism), especially among the young.

Without a thorough analysis of what went wrong in the Soviet Union we cannot hope for resurgence of an effective revolutionary movement in Europe, either West or East. It is possible that the 20th Congress may have been the point at which mistaken policy became irreversible. Even if this were the case, it would still be necessary to analyse the mistaken policy in its origins. To protect Stalin from criticism is as obstructive to revolutionary progress as Krushchov’s policy of mere personal denunciation. One must always seek ulterior class motives for such obstructiveness and these are certainly present in China as elsewhere.


The essence of Bettelheim’s criticism of the Stalin era, and thus of all Stalin’s contemporaries, is that they were all, including Stalin, more “economist” in their outlook than they themselves realised. Lenin indeed led the revolt against the economism of the Second International, yet himself inevitably was still mote economist in outlook than a Marxist can or should be today, (more than Marx himself was as the critic of the economism of Adam Smith. But this requires separate discussion.)

We must remember that in 1902 when Lenin wrote “What is to be done?” Kautsky was universally regarded as the driving force among Marxists against economism, and Lenin in that period naturally accepted Kautsky as the interpreter of Marx, as did all the Marxist Left. Lenin was escaping from economism throughout his political life (just as his “Philosophical notebooks” are an advance on his ”Materialism and empirio-criticism”).

But Lenin’s rediscovery of Marxist revolutionism had not fully penetrated his colleagues by the time of his death. Indeed one can say that in that era Gramsci alone really continued Lenin’s development or rediscovery – it was both – of Marxism in Europe. Lenin in his final period from 1922 was working hard towards what, after the Chinese experience, we can now see to be a correct policy. To grasp the full tragedy of Lenin’s early death, consider what would have happened in China had Mao Tsetung died at the same age (53) i.e., in 1946.

This is not a return to the “great man” explanation of history, but in politics as in science we cannot expect that several men will simultaneously see the next step to be taken and be able to carry it through. No one any longer questions the influence on history of Marx, yet it is certain that Marxism sprouted in Marx and not quite so fully in Engels) because Europe was ready for it and Germany was more in need of a revolution (which it only half got) than any other country. This does not make Marx any less great or any less necessary. Lenin and Mao Tsetung are comparable, and maybe Gramsci would have been so had he lived (N. B. comparable is not equal. Stalin is clearly not comparable).

All the Marxists of the Lenin era accepted the “materialist conception of history” as implying that technical development was the ultimately decisive factor in historical development. In a sense of course this is true. But a simple or mechanical view of it forgets that technical development itself is determined by another factor – human inventiveness and initiative – and that this in turn depends on class struggle. A simple example (from B. Farrington) is that throughout the Greco Roman period in Europe there was no technical advance in mining methods. Yet during the “dark ages”, i.e. when mining had been taken over from slaves by free barbarians more development took place than during the centuries of literate civilized Roman imperialism, when human initiative had no means of sprouting. The question must of course be seen dialectically, but the motor of history is not technology. It is a social motor. Technology develops when social relations make this possible, and in turn leads to further social change but again only through human initiative. (Note how technical initiative is now failing in the Soviet Union, and is developing already in China).

Nothing will be given to us – we have to take it. But all the Comintern revolutionaries led by either Stalin or Trotsky accepted that the development of heavy industry, was not only what would decide the survival of the Soviet Union, but also thought socialist development would be determined by such industrial development – so long as the Communist party held power.

Even today there are groups of influential “Marxist-Leninists” throughout Europe who admit “excesses” in the Stalin era but defend Stalin as having been forced to use such methods to achieve the essential object, heavy industry. Maybe there were rather too many executions and labour camps, but the aim was correct, the revisionism of the present Soviet leadership consists only in having revised Stalin. But in fact, of course, the revisionists have not changed from Stalin’s course, merely made some modifications under pressure from the class they represent – the administrators and technologists whose reformist wing is represented by the “dissidents”.

The theme title of Bettelheim’s work should be noted – not the policies (economic or political) of the Bolshevik party, but the class struggles of 1917 to 1923.

Every time the conditions for an effective move by the Bolshevik party have not been fulfilled – because it had not correctly analysed the contradictions, worked out a sufficiently correct line, maintained a non-authoritarian style of work and in consequence its relation with the mosses had worsened (which happened frequently during the period of “war communism”) – the objective historical development went on without the party having any positive effect on it. Then decisions taken did not produce the expected results. That is why the analysis of the objective process of class struggle must in the first place itself be analysed. That is how the political line of the party, the measures it adopts and the struggles that develop within it must be examined.”(p. 522).

We must not over emphasise the importance of historical and theoretical analysis unless put into organised practice.

Nevertheless, it is a fact of practically limitless potential that for the first time ever someone has made a critical analysis based on revolutionary Marxism (i.e. on Lenin’s own theoretical base) of Lenin’s achievement from October 1917 till his third cerebral haemorrhage in 1923 brought an end to all political activity. Lenin’s achievement, but also his failure. Revolutionary Marxists must recognise not only Lenin’s achievement in first establishing proletarian power in 1917 and then retaining if against the powers of the whole capitalist world, but also the failure of that revolution directly to achieve more than the Russian bourgeois revolution. Lenin’s rediscovery of revolutionary Marxism and the Bolshevik success with it in 1917 led indirectly to the further development of world revolution, and especially of the Chinese revolution that has now taken a further great step forward with its Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. But in its direct development the Soviet revolution has led only to the present “social imperialism” that is already a greater danger to world socialist development than the old capitalist imperialism of the United States.

On this point of capitalist development in the Soviet Union, Bettelheim gives a three-page summary of a remarkable speech by Bukharin made at a Petrograd conference in the spring of 1923 and published in a German translation the same year in Hamburg (referred to by E. H. Carr “Socialism in one country” I p. 56 ff). Bukharin there refers to and warns against a group of white Russian emigres who recognised the historical value for Russia of the Bolshevik revolution in eliminating Tsarism and in thus making possible a full development of capitalism unhindered by any relics of feudalism. To achieve this aim this group of emigres advised cooperation with the communists in running the state apparatus and so ensuring a capitalist development. Bettelheim quotes Bukharin textually (p. 264). “The old bourgeoisie, rotten and living on the alms of the Tsarist Government... would then be replaced, thanks to the Russian revolution, by a new bourgeoisie… afraid of nothing, advancing on the road of nationalism but hiding under the language and the flag of internationalism towards a new Russia, capitalist and bourgeois, great and powerful” (retranslated from the French). A remarkably accurate prophesy, though the development took place very differently from how the whites had hoped and Bukharin feared. Stalin both destroyed the whites and ensured the dominance of a new bourgeoisie of “reds”.

There was of course also total inexperience of this new and absolutely necessary but extraordinarily complex social revolution. Mistakes were thus inevitable (i.e. from 1917 on). The aim had to be not to avoid them altogether – an impossibility – but to recognise and correct them promptly, before their consequences made such correction increasingly difficult or after a time impossible.

Capitalism had been in process of development over millenia, approximately from the time of Hanurabi of Babylon, and began to find an understanding of its own needs and conditions for its success only in the European Renaissance, some 500 years ago, with its consequent world dominance only in the past 2 centuries. The task of mankind of understanding and consequently achieving dominance of itself, thus enabling it to achieve a classless society based on co-operation instead of rivalry, will surely not be achieved in one or two generations. It will probably take several centuries. Mao Tsetung’s guess, made a decade or two back, being about 200 years.

Bettelheim emphasises how Lenin throughout his political life was emerging from the economism of the Second International, an emasculation of Marxism from which Engels himself, Marx’s lifelong collaborator, had been unable to save the European social democratic movement. Lenin worked successfully to restore Marxism to the aim of taking power, as opposed to merely accepting office, but did not push his criticism of economism to the length of fully understanding, as Marx had begun to do, the need and the difficulty and the inevitable slowness of actively changing not merely the official political aim of society but its actual relations of production.

The essential difference before 1917 between Lenin and Kautsky/ Hilferding was essentially that Lenin held revolution to be necessary, while Kautsky/Hilferding believed that capitalism and parliamentary democracy would spontaneously bring on socialism.

The practical experience of power showed that “State and Revolution” (summer 1917) had been optimistically somewhat simplified. Experience showed the extreme complexity and difficulty of the transition period. Lenin was seeking from 1921, and beginning to find, the very difficult solution initiated in China in the 1960s. Bettelheim has provided revolutionary Marxists for the first time with a political analysis of this key period of revolutionary history, showing how practical experience enabled Lenin, and unfortunately among the Bolshevik party leadership only Lenin, to grasp the practical implications of Marx’s dictum that the administrative apparatus of capitalism has to be destroyed and cannot be used for the revolutionary purpose of bringing to power the proletariat, as opposed to merely a party that originally represented it. The inevitable degeneration of that party, unless controlled by growing power of the proletariat itself, was clear to nobody in 1917 – unless perhaps in a hazy way to Rosa Luxemburg.

Lenin made several efforts to initiate such control of the party by the masses, but in the conditions of the time these attempts did not become effective, and were discontinued after Lenin’s death.


Bettelheim divides the whole period into three main phases. First, from November 1917 to spring 1918 during which there was apparently the illusion that state capitalism could grow into socialism if controlled by the Bolshevik party in national power. During this period criticism came from the “left communists”, and was perhaps more pertinent than either Lenin or Bettelheim have admitted. Osinski, for instance, almost quoted Marx:

Socialism and socialist organisation will be set up by the proletariat itself, or they will not be set up at all: something else will be set up – state capitalism. (Kommunist No. 2 April 1918)

However, the overwhelming fact remains that industry was at that time almost failing to produce at all and that restoration of production by any means had to have an absolute priority. “One man direction” was probably a necessity at that time, though Lenin’s enthusiasm for “Taylorism” indicates his failure at that time to understand the necessity to redevelop production from below and the impossibility of moving from capitalist to socialist production “from above” and by means of merely developing production itself. We should note that Bolshevik party strength in the Soviets continued to increase up to June 1918 and thereafter diminished and soon became undependable and useless in practice.

The next phase as given by Bettelheim is that of “war communism” (summer 1918 to spring 1921). At the time even Lenin began to think that this system of “direct exchange”, with money no longer in use, could be a first step towards a communist society. Certainly many others thought so. See for instance Victor Serge as an honest intelligent socialist and critical witness. Bettelheim explains how this was a basic error ascribable to a residual assumption that economic factors directly generate social relations (this was thought to be Marxism and of course still is by most bourgeois writers). Bettelheim explains how Lenin’s original (spring 1921, 10th Congress) description of his new economic policy (NEP) as a retreat was incorrect. NEP was in fact not. a retreat but a necessary correction of a policy which had been forced on the Bolshevik government by the conditions of civil war and the need for absolute priority to defeat the armed enemy. This was basically understood by the people who therefore on the whole supported the Bolshevik party while the war lasted. Without such popular support the war could not have been won.

After the end of the war (autumn 1920) the policy needed to be corrected, not (as Lenin thought of the period of the 10th Congress) as a step away from socialism unfortunately made necessary by weakness, but on the contrary as a step very urgently needed to put the party and the country back on to the socialist road which the war conditions had compelled it to abandon temporarily and to go over to the use of force without much popular support. By the end of the winter 1920-21, there had developed strong popular opposition leading to several peasant revolts and to the Kronstadt rebellion, precisely because of such use of force without adequate popular support.


At first Lenin saw NEP as a necessary political retreat. But within six months he was already seeing it on the contrary as opening the way to an active worker peasant alliance, and such an alliance as the only, though necessarily a much slower, road to socialism, in contrast to the apparent but delusive short cut by means of “war communism”.

This crucial lesson was never learned by Trotsky or Bukharin, who continued both of them to see the industrial proletariat as the only possible origin of a socialist society and the party as the only midwife to ’ bring such a society into being, with or without the cooperation of the proletariat itself.

Lenin himself, for a short time in 1921, saw the peasantry and the petty bourgeoisie in general as the main enemy of an opportunistic but (as he then thought) necessary alliance between the proletariat (i.e. in fact the party) and state capitalism against the anarchistic and disruptive conservatism of peasants and small producers. Lenin soon corrected this very grave error but by then he was near the end of his political life, and his mistaken views during those few months in 1921 took root and flourished just because they exactly suited the new party and government bureaucracy. In his last months of political activity (autumn 1922 to March 1923) Lenin strove to correct this error but in vain. Partly because he was himself still striving to see ahead of events at a time when no one else, either inside or outside Russia, had any conception of this problem, and ultimately because of the final breakdown of his own health. The way became clear for the most determined, most able and even possibly the most fanatically well intentioned of his successors, Stalin. It is surely remarkable that Osinsky – an old Bolshevik, an accountant by profession, a Left Communist in the spring of 1918, head of the government statistical office in the 1920s, and, like almost everyone, a victim of Stalin’s purges in the 1930s, while in prison awaiting probable execution was still defending Stalin’s policies as the best available and taking the line of many old communists that they were now no longer needed and had become expendable. The ultimate tragedy was not just that such men were butchered, but that their deaths were not to save the proletarian dictatorship but to ensure its destruction. How Stalin himself saw all this is still uncertain. That his methods were crudely criminal is certain. That the effect of his policies was to ensure a new form of capitalism, a more effective class dictatorship than the old Tsarism, is equally certain. He may, like Robespierre, have had democratic intentions. That will be decided, as Mao Tsetung has painted out, in the coming century. Meantime, it is essential to us and to the world’s immediate future that the full extent of his errors should be analysed and not kept covered up with the delusive slogan “Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin”. It is part of Bettelheim’s achievement that he has started to do just that.

In order to do it, however, Bettelheim has seen that he must start not with the first 5-year plan, but with Lenin himself, and has not been afraid to do so. As Mao has pointed out it is a principle of Marxism/ Leninism to be able to go against the stream.


In March 1921 at the 10th Congress, Lenin took the decisive step of introducing NEP and going over from requisitions to a tax in kind, thus saving the possibility – but only the possibility – of restoring the genuinely effective worker peasant alliance on which the October revolution had been founded. He was opposed on the right by Trotsky and others who wanted to militarise economic life, i.e. to perpetuate and develop “war communism”. But this opposition was brought to submission before the Congress met, and at the Congress itself the main criticism came from the “Workers’ Opposition” now led by Kollontai. Viewed in retrospect there can be no doubt that Lenin and the party majority were right, that the restoration of the worker peasant alliance had to take precedence of everything and that the Workers’ Opposition’s proposals would, by trying to give more to the workers, possibly have made this more difficult, just as in 1918 the left communists support of factory committees against one-man management was a similar complication.

However, another basic change of policy at the 10th Congress was different and no less important. Before that Congress there had been fairly free discussion of policy before central Party decision was taken, as indeed took place for the 10th Congress itself. But at the Congress a much harder line was insisted upon by Lenin himself, against all factionalism. This may have been taken at the time as a temporary measure. In fact, it become permanent and marks the decisive change from democratic centralism before 1921 to centralism with less and less democracy as it developed in the Stalin era until it become plain Stalinism after the disappearance of the great majority of the Central Committee elected at the 1934 Congress. As Mao Tsetung has constantly emphasised, such bypassing of discussion of policy prevents development towards classlessness and communism. We now understand from the Chinese experience that under single party government the opposing class, the capitalist class, is inevitably represented politically within the party itself, and within the party leadership.

An important point made by Bettelheim for the period following the 10th Congress, is that whereas Bukharin, Trotsky and others had all openly declared their disagreements with the leadership up to the 10th Congress, from that time on oppositions within the party become undeclared. After, that Congress there was in-fact opposition with Stalin in practice leading it, but it remained a silent one – for instance, on the national question and Great Russian chauvinism (of which Mao Tsetung accused the CPSU in 1956).

It is now generally known how Lenin in his lost months of activity from his sick bed was seeking to fight Stalin and Dzerzinski about Georgia. What has hitherto not been grasped and that Bettelheim now makes dear, is how Lenin was himself in that final period (winter 1922 -23) beginning to see the way forward as it was later discovered and put into practice (indeed of course discovered through practice) in China. However, we must never forget that practice without theory is blind, and that before a way forward – which is necessarily a new way forward – is put into practice, it has to be thought of. And what man can think, as Marx said, he can do. Lenin, cut off from activity, was thinking. That which he then thought and which others recognised and understood became influential, but failed to bring the Soviet revolution back on to the road to socialism. But what was not understood, because it was new, has remained unnoticed. And as Bettelheim points out, “the essential is what is new”. It was the essential Lenin of that final period who was not understood.

So we are brought back to the most difficult question of all – how to combine the necessary centralism with the equally necessary democracy. It is surely no accident that it was as a dialectician with “On practice” and “On contradiction” that Mao Tsetung first got his world reputation among Marxists. The CCP has combined these two lectures (prepared for a party school for cadres in 1937, the year of Stalin’s maximum slaughter of party cadres) in a booklet with “On the correct handling of contradictions among the people” (1957) and “Where do correct ideas come from?” (1962) as “Four philosophical essays”. Philosophy has thus truly ceased to be bourgeois/academic and become proletarian/practical. The eleventh of Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach is being put into practice, and that is the Cultural Revolution.

Bettelheim has linked Leninism to Maoism, linked the Marxism of the first part of our century to that of the present. But both Leninism and Maoism are really unnecessary terms. They are each of them the Marxism of their period, the advance in Marxism so far achieved. It will be noted that whereas Lenin rediscovered revolutionary Marxism and put it into practice, thus of course advancing it. Mao has gone further by correcting what was still insufficient in Lenin and bringing the proletarian revolution to the first stage of proletarianisation through the Cultural Revolution, whereas Lenin achieved in Russia itself only a remarkably rapid capitalist revolution, though in the world he relaunched Marxism and revolution.

To link Lenin to Mao, though an achievement that will be a decisive help to the revolutionary movement, is not likely to be sufficient to bring Europe from having no large scale revolutionary movement as at present, to develop an effective one. To do this we must find a way to mobilise a working class that is at present dominated, in every country of advanced industry, by the bourgeoisie and accepts capitalism and imperialism as its own ideology. This has of course been going on for about 100 years. It made possible World War I, and was not sufficiently corrected in the first inter-war period to prevent World War II. Since then it has become very much stronger.


As capitalism itself ceases to be able to function as free enterprise and grows willy-nilly into state capitalism, it also necessarily develops a more oppressive structure, for which the Soviet Union – since the disappearance of Hitler – provides a model. The more democratic apparent alternative is Sweden or Holland. Holland, in World War II, was swallowed up at a gulp by Nazi Germany like most other European countries. Sweden’s independence survived but only because it was in Hitler’s interest that it should do so and act as an untouchable supply base for Germany. Sweden’s welfare state does not provide a real alternative in the hard world of foundering capitalism, with a third World War looming.

It is of course still possible to avoid another World War, but only by revolution. If in 1914 the pledges of the Social Democratic parties of the Second International had held, even so they could only have prevented World War I by the alternative of making revolution. In 1932, Hitler (and the World War II that would inevitably follow him) was the alternative to revolution in Germany. In Spain in 1937 after the decisive defeat of the fascist attack on Madrid, a people’s war, i.e. a peasant guerrilla war was the only alternative to the looming bourgeois defeat that precipitated World War II, of which the Spanish war was really the opening phase.

The working class’s political development throughout Europe is so backward at the present stage that it seems improbable that the outbreak of World War III in Europe can now be avoided. But at the worst, the future not perhaps of the world, but certainly of Europe as the fountainhead of mankind’s achievement of control of the external world through science and also the origin of Marxism, the beginning of the science of mankind itself – will depend on the readiness or impotence of the working class to take power and switch to a new, a proletarian policy. Portugal, Spain and Greece have all provided recent examples of impotence. Britain, France and Italy were all examples of impotence in 1944-45 when the people were armed and experienced in fighting – in France and Italy through the Resistance, in Britain through the armed forces that helped to put Churchill aside and vote the Labour party into office.

Lenin from 1897 to 1917 prepared for revolution, while pseudo-Marxists prepared for parliamentary elections. We now need Lenins in every country in Europe to prepare revolutionary parties. Those parties cannot fall into the errors of the Russian revolution and of Lenin himself, now that the practical example of the revolutionary development of proletarian power has been given to us by China.

Let us remember also that it was Lenin not Trotsky who prepared for the Soviet revolution. “It is no accident that Bettelheim’s work has been ignored by the bourgeois press but fiercely attacked by various sections of Trotskyism. The book is now part of the necessary theoretical base of any effective revolutionary development in Europe. The publication of the next two volumes for the periods 1924-53 and from 1953 to date, should help further to enable revolutionary socialists in Europe to understand the need for a thorough analysis of the whole Comintern era as a precondition for regaining the confidence of the mass of the workers.

Revolutionary marxists cannot dismiss the present political demoralisation of the most organised and most militant section of the workers, and follow such renegades as Eldridge Cleaver in calling on the lumpenproletariat to take their place in the revolutionary movement. The militant miners, engineers and skilled workers generally continue to be a decisive section without whose support any revolutionary movement must fail. At present they are as demoralised as were their grandparents in the social democratic parties before 1914. The form of this demoralisation is now, as it was then, essentially imperialist and thus also racist.

In the earlier period the cloak for this betrayal of class interests was the pseudo Marxism of the Second International. Today it is the pseudo Marxism that survives as a relic of the Third International.

It is essential to redevelop a Leninist party to give the political leadership without which no progress is possible. To do this, it is essential that the relatively prosperous, relatively free working class of Western Europe that is at present predominantly capitalist, imperialist and racist in its outlook, shall lose all fear that a genuinely working class political movement, that rejects capitalism and imperialism, could end up as the Soviet Union has done. For this it is essential that such a new revolutionary socialist movement shall base itself on a genuinely thorough analysis of the whole “communist movement” in Europe from 1917 onwards. So long as there continues to be reticences and Bluebeards’ chambers that respectable and respectful Marxists or Marxist Leninists are careful to avoid, so long will the working class, “the masses” about whom so much is said, in turn avoid such “Marxists” and rightly continue to regard them as dangerous cranks.


There is a certain similarity between the present situation in which revolutionaries have little or no mass influence and that of Soviet Russia in 1921, when Lenin made his decisive break towards a renewal of the worker peasant alliance that had won national power in 1917. The peasantry, the masses, no longer supported the government. The Kronstadt revolt was the most blatant signal of such loss of mass support. Lenin at first proposed an alliance of state capitalism and the working class against the petty bourgeois peasantry as the main enemy (10th Congress, March 1921). But by 1922 he had discarded this erroneous line for an alliance precisely with the petty bourgeois peasantry against the bourgeoisie and its state capitalism, even while having to continue to make use of that very state capitalism and the bourgeois bureaucracy that ran and supported it. But this switch on Lenin’s part, that Bettelheim demonstrates, was never completed, perhaps even in Lenin’s own mind, and certainly never became effective. That policy, of course, became effective in other countries, especially in China. But in Russia it was the former policy, the erroneous 10th Congress policy that the Bolshevik party and Stalin as its most dear headed leader put into practice. The result was a state and a nation able to defeat Hitler but itself only a bourgeois state and nation with a state capitalist economy. In fact precisely the one that Mr. Benn and “Tribune” put forward to us today as their model for socialism – without of course mentioning the Soviet Union – that is in fact their model.

Should the workers be blamed for rejecting such “socialism”? Does their rejection of it not on the contrary show their sound common sense?

In Germany in 1932 it was also essential to develop an effective alliance of the working class with the petty bourgeoisie and especially with the workers still in employment, who in that period of very high unemployment practically constituted a labour aristocracy separated from the unemployed millions. This petty bourgeoisie and upper stratum of the working class was wavering between the social democrats and the Nazis. Instead of seeking that alliance the Comintern under Stalin’s leadership had put out the line of “Class against class” and proclaimed the petty bourgeoisie and the social democrats as the main enemy, the line that drove Gramsci in prison to break with the Comintern and also the line that displaced Mao Tsetung from control in the Kiangsi base and very nearly destroyed the Chinese revolution.

A fairly full account of this episode (1931-34) was given in the earlier editions of the selected works of Mao Tsetung but has inexplicably disappeared from the current edition. It seems fair to say that the CPC owes the international movement of which Mao Tsetung has been the de facto leader an explanation. An excellent account is, by the way, now available in Han Suyin’s “The Morning Deluge”.

In 1935 the Comintern, by now led at least in name by Dimitrov, switched to the new policy of the Popular Front, and in doing so went from leftism – which as Bettelheim states is always in fact leftist rightism – over to rightism undisguised, leading at first to the great advance of the February 1936 election in Spain and the even greater advance of the May 1936 election in France (with power then handed back without challenge to the bourgeoisie in the person of Leon Blum). The some switch took place in the CPC with Wang Ming as the Comintern representative going over from leftist denunciation of Mao Tsetung for proposing a tactical alliance with the Kuomintang against the Japanese invaders in 1932, to criticism of Mao, now Chairman of the party, for insisting on maintaining independence within the CPC Kuomintang alliance instead of falling back into dependence on it as in the 1925-1927 period.

Is it really not necessary for European Marxists to criticise thoroughly all these “appalling errors” rather than gloss them over and pretend they didn’t matter? It is necessary for Marxists to go against the stream whenever this is necessary, and wheresoever the stream comes from.

Bettelheim has rightly called his book Class Struggles. It is class struggle and only class struggle that can guide us into socialism.