Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line


Discussion: The Origins of Revisionism in the USSR

First Published: Marxist-Leninist Quarterly, No. 3, Winter 1972/73
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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Comrade M.F.’s article “On the origins and development of revisionism in the Soviet Union” whilst making many valid and pertinent criticisms of certain policies and incorrect ideas of Stalin and other Soviet leaders in the period 1935 to 1952, nevertheless does not, except in a minor way, contribute to an understanding of why the Soviet Union has degenerated into an imperialist state.

Many of the points raised are not seriously doubted by most Marxist-Leninists, but these points do not in themselves indicate revisionist leadership of the C.P.S.U.(B), but rather error committed by good Marxist-Leninists. Nor does M.F. explain how or why these errors arose or why they should have led to the revisionist degeneration of the Soviet Union. Other points raised, like the nationalist deviations after 1941, may in fact indicate such revisionist leadership but nowhere does M.F. explain how such nationalism arose. In fact the whole article consists of criticism, mostly valid but sometimes erroneous, of Stalin and the C.P.S.U. It is by no means the analysis of the Soviet Union’s degeneration that the article’s title leads us to expect. To slightly misquote M.F. himself, “The extensive cataloguing of apparently revisionist phenomena in the Soviet Union from 1935 to 1952 does not in itself prove that revisionism existed there.”

Certain of the criticisms made seem quite irrelevant, certainly the Western Communist parties, the French, Italian and British in particular, saw the defence of bourgeois democracy as an end in itself, but there is no evidence that the Marxist-Leninists in the Soviet leadership shared this aberration or that they had any illusions about the nature of bourgeois democracy. Certainly the relationships between the C.P.S.U., the Comintern and the fraternal parties left a lot to be desired, but so did internal party relationships in the C.P.S.U. from 1921 onwards, and in both cases the situation arose from objective necessity not from revisionism, nor is there any reason why such relationships should necessarily lead to revisionism, as Lenin said in 1918:

...hence there is absolutely no contradiction in principle between Soviet (i.e. Socialist) democracy and the exercise of dictatorial powers by individual persons.[1]

M.F. mentions also the shifts in policy in 1928, 1935 and 1939 towards the social democratic parties and says that these policy shifts may have been incorrect. That may be so, but why should such policy shifts lead to revisionism?

Other criticisms seem to be made from a liberal rather than from a Marxist position. Discussing the great purge of 1936 onwards and relating it to the ‘Slansky’ trial of 1952 in Czechoslovakia M.F. says: “Detailed information provided by the survivors of the ’Slansky’ trail in Prague in 1952, reveals the systematic employment of psychological torture, the fabricating of incriminating evidence and the extraction of phoney confessions in political frame-ups supervised and staged by the Soviet security forces.”

This statement would be more appropriate gracing the pages of the “Guardian” rather than M.L.Q., and the detailed information referred to comes from Czech emigre bourgeois and Zionist sources and from ultra-revisionists like Dubcek and Sik and from common­or-garden revisionists like Husak. In any event the essential point is not whether such methods were used but whether the people convicted were objectively enemies of the people and whether or not they could be defeated by any other means.

It is not seriously doubted by Marxist-Leninists that Zinoviev, Kamenev, Radek, Bukharin and the others accused in the Moscow trials were proposing policies which were prejudicial to the interests of the workers and peasants of the Soviet Union and were engaging in counter-revolutionary wrecking activities. M.F. would no doubt say that these people should have been defeated by mass action as in the Great Cultural Proletarian Revolution in China, although even there excesses took place as Mao pointed out.

It must be remembered that the objective circumstances in the Soviet Union in 1936 and in China in 1966 were very different. China had not lost a whole generation of cadres and militant workers in a civil war, China did not have to industrialise in ten years and thus have a working class with an overwhelmingly peasant mentality, China did not have to collectivise by force and thus face considerable hostility from the peasantry, in China Liu Shao Chi and his stooges did not indulge in terrorism, assassination and sabotage as did the lackeys of Zinoviev, Trotsky and Bukharin. China was not threatened with imminent imperialist invasion and was not the only socialist state in a hostile world. One could go on for ever, but the fact is that all these factors made it necessary to resolve the internal contradictions by force and by administrative measures, although the rank and file of the party did participate. Here it should be noted that at an earlier period of acute class struggle, in 1921, Lenin and the rest of the Bolshevik leadership did not hesitate to use Fanny Kaplan’s attempted assassination of Lenin as an excuse to execute several hundred Left Socialist Revolutionaries and to instigate a reign of terror against the Socialist Revolutionaries and other anti-Soviet elements. This reign of terror was carried out by the use of the Cheka and by show-trials, in other words by administrative methods. Without doubt these and similar methods are undesirable and can only be rarely justified but they in no way indicate revisionist leadership and provided that this bureaucratic style of work is eradicated as soon as possible and the masses increasingly involved there is no reason why such methods should lead to revisionism.

We come now to the more substantive of M.F.’s remarks. During the course of his argument M.F. states that Stalin saw the external rather than the internal contradictions as being decisive in the struggle for Socialism. There is certainly some evidence that Stalin was suffering from some ideological confusion on this question, but it is ingenious to argue as M.F. does that Stalin’s position was that “the victory of Socialism in one country cannot be final because it has no guarantee against intervention.” Stalin’s published statements in the late thirties show that this was far from being his position. In 1937 he said:

On the contrary, the greater our progress, the greater our successes, the more embittered the remnants of the exploiting classes will become, the more quickly will they resort to sharper forms of struggle, the more they will do damage to the Soviet state, the more they will clutch at the most to desperate forms of struggle as the last resort of the doomed.[2]

and in 1939:

We must put an end to the opportunist complacency arising from the mistaken presupposition that in proportion to the growth of our forces the enemy will grow ever tamer and more inoffensive, such a presupposition is basically wrong. It is a belch of the right opposition which assured everyone that our enemies would quietly creep into Socialism, that in the long run they would become real Socialists.

and at the same time:

We must destroy and cast aside the rotten theory that with every advance we make the class struggle here of necessity would die down more and more, and that in proportion as we achieve success the class enemy would grow more and more tractable.[3]

These statements make it quite clear that Stalin fully recognised the internal contradictions and although some other contradictory and contemporary statements reveal some ideological confusion it is quite clear from Stalin’s practice that there was no let up on internal class struggle until the beginning of the great patriotic war. M.F. also mentions the related question of Stalin’s believing that Communism could be built in the Soviet Union alone. Whilst this idea is obviously not in accord with reality it is in no way a contributory factor to the rise of revisionism as Stalin never allowed this idea to prevent class struggle.

As evidence for his assertions on these matters M.F. quotes the statement of the C.P.C. “On the question of Stalin” and in his notes and references states that this is a milder statement than the earlier “On the Historical Experience of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat”, published in 1956. Surely the historical significance of this date cannot have escaped the vigilant eyes of M.F? This revisionist document was published in the aftermath of the Twentieth Congress of the C.P.S.U. and its assessment of Stalin was essentially the same as that of Khruschov. The document was erroneous not only on this question but also of that of Yugoslavia where it criticised the Cominform’s expulsion of Yugoslavia in 1948. Our Chinese comrades have recognised the nature of this document and have withdrawn it from circulation. Two quotes will suffice to show the essential nature of this document, firstly:

It is understandable that the Yugoslav comrades bear a particular resentment against Stalin’s mistakes. In the past, they made worthy efforts to stick to Socialism under difficult conditions. Their experiences in the democratic management of economic enterprises and other Socialist organisations have also attracted attention. The Chinese people welcome the reconciliation between the Soviet Union and the other Socialist countries on the one hand and Yugoslavia on the other, as well as the establishment and development of friendly relations between China and Yugoslavia.

And secondly:

The 20th Congress of the C.P.S.U. summed up the fresh experiences gained both in international relations and domestic construction. It took a series of momentous decisions on the steadfast implementation of Lenin’s policy in regard to the possibility of peaceful co-existence between countries of different social systems, on the development of Soviet democracy, on the thorough observation of the party’s principle of collective leadership, on the criticism of shortcomings within the party, and on the sixth five-year plan for the development of the national economy.[4]

It has been said that comparisons are odious and there have been few more odious than M.F.’s comparison of Stalin’s reference to “thieves and pilferers” at the eighteenth congress of the C.P.S.U. and Khruschov’s similar references at the twentieth. M.F. says that in both cases there was a failure to relate these phenomena to class antagonisms. This was certainly the case with Khruschov, and after all who would expect a renegade like Khruschov to make such an analysis? The statements of Stalin quoted earlier make it quite clear that Stalin recognised the class nature of such phenomena.

Some of the issues raised by M.F. are certainly contributory factors to the rise of revisionism in the Soviet Union, particularly the concessions to nationalists and the new bourgeoisie during the war, the tremendous pay differentials in the army and the introduction of bourgeois customs into the army, the nationalist deviations at the end of and after the war and the lack of a mass line and mass involvement at this time.

However, whilst the points raised by M.F. are valid, it must be stated that M.F. raises them in an idealist and metaphysical manner, in no way relating them to the objective circumstances of the Soviet Union at the time or suggesting alternatives or indeed if there were any alternatives. It cannot be denied that these tendencies indicated serious; deviation from the proletarian line and a serious eroding of the proletarian dictatorship. The question is though, through what circumstances did these tendencies arise, why did these circumstance arise, could they have been avoided and what was the balance of class forces in the party and the country as a whole?

To determine this it is necessary to go back to 1917 and earlier. In the first place the proletarian dictatorship was established in a country where the proletariat constituted only15% of the population. This of course is no reason why the proletarian dictatorship could not be consolidated, as China’s experience amply demonstrates, but it is hardly an ideal beginning and I shall argue that successive crises over the next forty year prevented this consolidation and eventually enabled a new bourgeoisie to seize control of the party and state apparatus by the early 1930s and eventually restore capitalism.

Whilst the Russian proletariat seized state power through the Bolsheviks in 1917, they did not smash the state machine. In the early 1920’s it was estimated that 80% of middle and lower rank civil servants and bureaucrats were from Czarist days and in most cases old ministries and organisations were simply taken over and renamed. In 1922 Lenin said:

We now have a vast army of government employees, but lack real control over them. In practice it often happens that there at the top, where we exercise political power, the machine somehow functions... down below, however, there are hundreds of thousands of old officials, whom we took over from the Czar and from bourgeois society, and who, in part deliberately and in part unwittingly, or against us.[5]

This early failure to completely smash the state machine was undoubtedly one of the main contributory factors to the subsequent counter-revolution. Marx and Engels, learning from experience of the revolutions of 1848 had argued that:

.. the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purpose. [6]

Over the years 1918 to 1922 the flower of the working class, who were naturally the most active and volunteered first, were decimated in the civi1 war and the wars of foreign intervention. This loss of the most advanced cadres and militant workers was to have serious repercussions over the next thirty years. At the end of the civil war and wars of intervention, the Party was compelled, for reasons too well known to enumerate here, to introduce the new economic policy. This return to Capitalism and State-Capitalism over much of the economy propagated once more bourgeois and petit­ bourgeois ideology throughout much of the population. Furthermore many opportunist and scoundrels from the ranks of these two class joined the party and infiltrated the state machine once they realised that the workers state had been successfully defended. Obviously this is a problem that any party will face after the seizure of state power, but because of the previously mentioned decimation of the good elements the opportunists and careerists had far greater scope for the propagation of erroneous and bourgeois ideologies and they could not be decisively beaten by the proletarian elements.

When we are told... that the state farms are everywhere hiding places for old landowners slightly disguised or not disguised at all, and that similar things are often to be observed in chief administrations, I never doubt that it is true.[7]

By the late 1930’s the Soviet Union had been successfully collectivised and was well on the way to the successful completion of the plans for the country’s industrialization. The cost and circumstances of this collectivisation and industrialization have already been mentioned. At the same time a vast purge had been carried out and many non-proletarians taking an anti-Soviet road eliminated, although it must be said that many innocent people suffered and many guilty escaped, as Stalin himself admitted.[8] Stalin was aware of the need for the masses to be increasingly involved in the running and decision-making of the Soviet Union and the urgent need to develop a mass line, he was aware also of the dangers of the bureaucratic and administrative method necessarily used in the Soviet Union up to that time.

I am referring to the bureaucratic elements to be found in our party, government, trades unions, co-operatives and all other organisations. I am referring to the bureaucratic elements who “batten on all our weaknesses and errors, who fear like the plague all criticism by the masses, all control by the masses, and hinder us in developing self-criticism and ridding ourselves of all weaknesses and errors. Bureaucracy in our organisations is a manifestation of bourgeois influence on our organisations.[9]


The surest remedy for bureaucracy is raising the cultural level of the workers-and peasants….unless the mass of the workers reach a certain level of culture the bureaucracy will continue to exist in spite of everything.[10]


..how are we to put an end to bureaucracy in all these organisations? There is only one sure way of doing this and that is to organise control from below, to organise criticism of the bureaucracy in our institutions, of their shortcomings and mistakes, by the vast masses of the working class.[11]

These quotes from Stalin show that he was well aware of the urgent need to develop a mass line and to eradicate the bureaucracy. They show also however that this could not be done by rhetoric, sloganizing or posturing, but only by painstakingly raising the cultural level of the people. This would have been a mammoth task in the Soviet Union under any circumstances but in the circumstances which prevailed in the Soviet Union it was to prove an insuperable task. It seems to me that the new constitution of 1936, seen by many as revisionist, was in effect an attempt by the party leadership to involve the masses more and more. However, because of the ideological confusion of Stalin on the question of the internal contradictions, the new-constitution also enabled many dubious elements, the new bourgeoisie, whiteguards, kulaks, etc., to worm their way into positions of power and influence in the party and state, where they were able to give support to the many bad elements entrenched there.

M.F. has remarked on the nationalist and other deviations that accompanied the “great patriotic war” and the valiant efforts of the Soviet people and there is no need to re-enumerate them here. M.F. states:

Although Stalin himself was not swept along on the nationalist tide he did not try to stem it, he even encouraged it. Perhaps there was no alternative, but that begs the question about the nature of the policies prior to the war.

This statement is basically true. There was no alternative, but M.F. goes on to conclude the erroneous policies were followed prior to the war, whereas I have tried to show that, although some mistakes were made, the general line was correct.

Because of the circumstance in the Soviet Union it was necessary to unite the nation in a patriotic war rather than the workers and peasants in a class war against the Fascist invader. Certainly Stalin encouraged the nationalist emotions, but, as M.F. remark, he was not swept along with them, and this was because Stalin remained a Marxist-Leninist and was aware, though perhaps not fully, of the dangers inherent in these policies, just as he was aware of the dangers of the bureaucratic style of work prior to the war. Stalin did discourage the excesses of nationalism, for instance, the arch-revisionist Ilya Ehrenburg, whose racists rantings were mentioned by M F., was publicly rebuked by Stalin for precisely those rantings. Efforts were made to fight, as far as possible, a class war in parallel with the patriotic war, whilst it is true, as M.F. remarks, that soldiers were released from all socialist obligations, it was not true for party members in the armed force, and this of course is the reason why the Germans shot all party members on capture, as they did not, for instance, shoot all members of the British Labour party on capture. Leaflets were dropped behind the German lines explaining the class nature of the war, German prisoners were re-educated and special squads of party members infiltrated the German lines and spread Communist propaganda and agitation. Despite these efforts however it cannot be denied that the prevailing line was nationalism.

I have argued earlier that despite all difficulties the party never left off class struggle, but now, in the war situation, a grave mistake was made, in order to forge the maximum amount of national unity, the party leadership, including Stalin, one-sidedly emphasised unity with the non-worker and peasant elements to the detriment of struggle against them. This, together with the effects of the influx of dubious elements into the party after the new constitution of 1936, together with the factors which necessitated a bureaucratic style of work in the 1930’s enabled the bourgeois nationalists to seize control of the party and state apparatus by the end of the 1940’s. The years from the end of the war were years of tremendous struggle inside the party and it was not until 1955 that the bourgeois elements were finally able to consolidate their rule.

The second world war ended in 1945 with the losses of the Soviet Union, both military and civilian, estimated at twenty million dead and uncounted wounded. The new generation of cadres and militant workers, so carefully built up to replace those lost from 1918 to 1922, was virtually wiped out. As in the civil war it was these cadres and workers who volunteered first and who were in the thick of the fighting, those who were not killed in action were shot by the Germans on capture.

By the end of the war, due to objective circumstances and mistakes of the leadership mentioned earlier, there can be no doubt that the bourgeois elements in the Soviet Union had seized considerable power and influence both in the party and in the state machine. This influence manifested itself in such bourgeois practices as the agreements at Teherhan, Yalta and Potsdam, the Polish agreements and the outrageous reparations inflicted on Germany. At the same time, the Marxist-Leninists in the party headed by Stalin, Zhandov, Beria and Vyshinsky were able to prevent them from seizing complete control and were able to defend the socialist economic base of the Soviet Union. They were also able to lead the brilliant campaign against the Yugoslav revisionists and to get Yugoslavia expelled from the Cominform. Two quotes from this period demonstrate that the Soviet party opened the polemic against modern revisionism:

The state sector of the economy is no longer public property, State capitalism predominates in industry, and private capital is tightening it’s grip in the towns and especially in the countryside ... The restoration of capitalism in Yugoslavia is accompanied by shameless demagogy to the effect that all this, if you please, is building socialism, and so on.[12]


In the sphere of the economy, the fascist Tito-Rankovitch clique took the line of restoring capitalism in town and country­side. They base themselves on the urban bourgeoisie which receives from the fascist Tito-Rankovitch clique the means of production wrested from the people ... In order to facilitate the restoration of Capitalism the Yugoslav fascists undertook so-called “decentralization” of the entire national economy, abolished state management of industry, planned production and planned distribution of raw materials and goods. From the pronouncements of Tito, Kidric, and the Belgrade chieftains it follows that the basic law of Yugoslav economy is the capitalist law of supply and demand.[13]

From these quotes it is evident that Stalin and his comrades, far from being responsible for the rise of revisionism, in fact recognised modern revisionism as soon as it appeared and carried out a systematic polemic against it.

The struggle between the bourgeois and proletarian lines in the C.P.S.U. reached it’s zenith in 1952/53 and ended with the bourgeois elements in control, although they were not able to consolidate this control until 1955, when they removed the remaining Marxist-Leninists from the central committee.

In the year 1952/53, within the space of a few months, the conspiracy commonly called the Doctors plot was uncovered, which quite clearly show how the revisionists were working with British and American intelligence and were responsible for the death of Zhandov in 1948, and the publication of Stalin’s “Economic Problem of Socialism in the U.S.S.R.” occurred. This work exposed revisionist fallacies on the nature of imperialism, on peaceful co-existence and on the law of value, defended the economic base of socialism in the Soviet Union and advocated eliminating the commodity relationship between the collective farm and society as a whole by taking them into state ownership, as a further step of socialist construction.

Take for instance the distinction between agriculture and industry. In our country it consists not only in the fact that conditions of labour in agriculture differ from those in industry, but mainly and chiefly, in the fact that whereas we have public ownership of the means of production AND OF THE PRODUCT OF INDUSTRY, in agriculture we have not public BUT GROUP collective-farm ownership. It has already been said that this fact leads to the PRESERVATION OF COMMODITY CIRCULATION, and that only when this distinction between industry and agriculture disappears can commodity production with all it’s attendant consequences also disappear.[14] (My emphases – N.R.).

This quote shows that Stalin was aware not only of the next necessary step in socialist construction but was also aware of the errors of the then embryonic revisionist political economy.

In 1952 Stalin, for the first time since the death of Lenin, did not give the political report to the delegates to the party congress, it was given instead by the revisionist Malenkov, this might not normally be thought to have any significance, but in the light of the situation of the party and of the events of the next few months, might it not be that Stalin was not allowed to give the report? In the next few months, in a manner most fortuitous for the revisionists, the leading Marxist-Leninists in the party were to die sudden deaths. Stalin died, allegedly from a cerebral haemorrhage, though there is considerable circumstantial evidence that he was murdered, in March 1953, Beria was shot without trial. Abakumov was shot after a secret trial in 1954 and Vyshinsky died in mysterious circumstances in New York in 1954. These, not coincidently, were the people attacked by Khruschov in his secret speech at the twentieth congress.

Within a few months of Stalin’s death the struggle against the Yugoslav revisionists abated and by 1955 there had been an open reconciliation. At the same time the “anti-party” group of Molotov, Kaganovitch and Voroshilov, who had belatedly woken up to what was going on and who were publicly supported by Mao on his visit to Moscow in 1955, were purged from the party. The revisionists had consolidated their control of the party and the counter-revolution was complete.

This article is in. no way intended to be a comprehensive survey of the reasons for the degeneration of the Soviet Union, but is merely an attempt to refute some apparent errors in M.F.’s article and to raise what seem, in my opinion, to be more likely reasons. In summary I would say that the tasks of building socialism in the Soviet Union would have been enormous under any circumstances. As Lenin said:

The more backward the country which, owing to the zig-zags of history, has proved to be the one to start socialist revolution, the more difficult it is for her to pass from the old capitalist relations to socialist relations.[15]

In the actual situation in which the workers seized power the task was rendered doubly difficult:

We began...our revolution in unusually difficult conditions, Condition…as no other workers’ revolution in the world will ever have to face.[16]

I have tried it in the course of this article to outline what were the reasons for the bourgeois counter-revolution, and it may well be that, given the objective circumstances of the period of socialist construction, such a counter-revolution was inevitable, which is in no way to accept Trotsky’s concept that socialism cannot be built in one country. In regard to the “question” of Stalin it may well be that some mistakes of Stalin and the other leaders of the Soviet Union were contributory factors to the rise of revisionism. What is certain however is that the factors outlined in this article, which were factors outside their control, had far more impact and that Stalin and the other leaders devoted their lives to the construction of socialism in the Soviet Union and to its defence from the internal and external enemies. The following seems an apt quote to end this contribution to this important debate.

Stalin’s life was that of a great Marxist-Leninist, a great proletarian revolutionary.[17]



[1] Lenin – The immediate tasks of the Soviet government.

[2] Stalin – Speech at the plenum of the Central Committee of the C.P.S.U.(B). March 3rd 1937.

[3] Stalin – Mastering Bolshevism. 1939.

[4] C.P.C. – On the historical experience of the dictatorship of the Proletariat. 1956. ·

[5] Lenin – Speech at the fourth congress of the Communist International. 1922.

[6] Marx and Engels – The Communist Manifesto .1848

[7] Lenin – Speech at the seventh all-Russian congress of Soviets.1921.

[8] Stalin – Leninism. 1940.

[9] Stalin – Against vulgarising the slogan of self-criticism.l928.

[10] Stalin- Speech to the fifteenth congress of the C.P.S.U.(B).1927.

[11] Stalin – Speech to the eighth congress of the all-union Leninist Young Communist League. 1928.

[12] Cominform newspaper “For a lasting peace” Sept. lst 1949.

[13] Cominform newspaper “For a lasting peace” April 6th 1951.

[14] Stalin – Economic Problems of Socialism in the U.S.S.R. 1952.

[15] Lenin – Speech at the extraordinary seventh congress of the R.C P. (B). 1918.

[16] Lenin – Speech at the extraordinary sixth congress of Soviets. 1918.

[17] C.P.C. – “On the question of Stalin”. 1963