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Fourth International, June 1942


Editorial Comment

[“Socialism in One Country”]


From Fourth International, vol.3 No.6, June 1942, pp.163-165.
Transcribed, Edited & Formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for the ETOL.


A Year of the Soviet-Nazi War Has Settled the Debate on “Socialism in One Country” – How Stalin Made “Some Changes” in the Leninist Theory of International Revolution – His False Distinction Between the “Domestic” and “External” Problems of Assuring Socialism – The Test of the War Has Refuted Stalin’s Theory

It is now a year since, on June 22, 1941 the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union. The main events in that year of titanic combats are analyzed in this issue by James Cadman. Here we should like to discuss the effect of the Nazi-Soviet war on the basic theory of Stalinism – the theory of “socialism in one country.”

Great political disputes are always settled by events. Who was right is determined by what comes to pass. Often in the beginning, political disputes may appear to hinge on obscure differences, and their full significance unfolds only later. Certainly this was the case with the Stalinist-Trotskyist dispute over whether or not socialism could be built in one country alone. For years after the dispute began in 1924 many, both here and in Europe, were unable to see the fundamental character of the dispute. Trotsky’s predictions of what the Stalinist line would lead to were breath-taking. Most eyes – even Marxist eyes – stared with unbelief at these words of Trotsky, written in 1928:

“The new doctrine proclaims that socialism can be built on the basis of a national state if only there is no intervention. From this there can and must follow (notwithstanding all pompous declarations in the draft program [of the Communist International], a collaborationist policy towards the foreign bourgeoisie with the object of averting intervention, as this will guarantee the construction of socialism, that is to say, will solve the main historical question. The task of the parties in the Coinintern assumes, therefore, an auxiliary character; their mission is to protect the USSR from intervention and not to fight for the conquest of power. It is, of course, not a question of the subjective intentions but of the objective logic of political thought.” (The Third International after Lenin, p.61.)

Trotsky wrote that at a time when Stalin did not yet dream of proposing that the Soviet Union join the League of Nations, that the Communist parties in capitalist lands support “their” governments if allied to the USSR, that the Communist parties support imperialist powers in a war. Trotsky was denounced as a slanderer. Yet his predictions have come true.

After a year of the Nazi-Soviet war, the dispute over the theory of socialism in one country is no longer in the realm of theoretical analysis. The theory has been subjected to events and has been shattered by them. The dramatic symbol of Soviet destruction of “the eighth wonder of the world,” the Dnieper Dam, epitomizes the collapse of Stalin’s claim that, despite capitalist encirclement, socialism could be built and was built within the national boundaries of the Soviet Union.

Stalin arose as the representative of a privileged bureaucracy alien to revolution. Step by step, from slander and vilification to expulsions, exile and imprisonment and then to the blood purges wiping out Lenin’s generation, Stalin proceeded. “Socialism in one country” was the flimsy theory by which the Kremlin bureaucracy justified its nationalistic course and its betrayal of the world revolution.

Stalin’s hirelings painstakingly dug up a handful of distorted quotations from Lenin to “prove” that the tribune of international revolution had said it was possible to build socialism in one country amid capitalist encirclement. A vain task! For indelibly printed were Stalin’s own words, in one of his rare excursions into theoretical questions. In April 1924 in a lecture entitled Foundations of Leninism, Stalin had set down beyond recall the following words:

“ But to overthrow the power of the bourgeoisie and establish that of the proletariat In a single country is still not to assure the complete victoryof Socialism. The chief task, the organization of Socialist production, is still to be accomplished. Can we succeed and secure the definitive victory of Socialism in one country without the combined efforts of the proletarians of several advanced countries? Most certainly not. The efforts of a single country are enough to overthrow the bourgeoisie; this is what the history of our revolution proves. But for the definitive triumph of Socialism, the organization of socialist production – the efforts of one country alone are not enough, particularly of an essentially rural country like Russia; the efforts of the proletarians of several advanced countries are needed. So the victorious revolution in one country has for its essential task to develop and support the revolution in others. So It ought not to be considered as of independent value, but as an auxiliary, a means of hastening the victory of the proletariat in other countries.

“Lenin has curtly expressed this thought in saying that the task of the victorious revolution consists in doing the ‘utmost in one country for the development, support, awakening of the revolution in other countries’.” (The Theory and Practice of Leninism, by J. Stalin, published by the Communist Party of Great Britain, 1925. Our emphases.)

Nothing could be clearer than these words of Stalin in April 1924. They bring out two main ideas:

  1. For “the organization of Socialist production, the efforts of one country alone are not enough; particularly of an essentially rural country like Russia.” By socialist production, it is clear, Stalin then meant what Marx and Lenin meant: a higher economic and cultural stage than capitalism: superior productivity per capita, superior living standards, superior education and cultural life, and, in short, a society of plenty and freedom instead of capitalist scarcity and repression. Such “socialist production” could not be achieved until the proletariat won the power in several advanced countries.
  2. 2. Hence “the essential task,” “the task” of the Russian Soviets is to “develop and support the revolution in other countries.” Soviet Russia is NOT an “independent value, but ... an auxiliary, a means of hastening the victory of the proletariat in other countries.”

A means is judged by the extent to which it achieves the end. The Soviet government is to be judged by the extent that it aids in securing victories of the revolution in other countries. By these words from Stalin’s own mouth his regime can be judged. Far from facilitating the victory of revolution in other countries, Stalinism has been directly responsible for the defeat of the proletariat throughout the world during the last 18 years.

In abandoning Leninism, Stalin had to try to wipe out his own words. In a “second” edition of his Foundations of Leninism, Stalin demurely announced: “In this, the second, edition there are some changes in the third section.” “Some changes” consisted of expunging the conception that “for the organization of Socialist production, the efforts of one country alone are not enough” and of putting in its place the conception that “the victorious proletariat [of one country] can and must proceed to upbuild a socialist society.” (Leninism, by J. Stalin, International Publishers, 1928.) “Changes” meant to change the central idea into its opposite.

Challenged by Trotsky, Stalin sought in 1926 to “explain” the “changes”: His original formulation, he said, had become “obviously inadequate, and therefore inaccurate.” In it

“two different questions are here confounded in one: First of all there is the question: Can socialism possibly be established in one country alone by that country’s unaided strength? This question must be answered in the affirmative. Then there is the question: Can a country where the dictatorship of the proletariat has been established, regard itself as fully safeguarded against foreign intervention, and the consequent restoration of the old regime, unless the revolution has been victorious in a number of other countries? This question must be answered in the negative. What is wrong with the [original] formulation is that it may be interpreted as implying that the organization of a socialist society by the unaided forces of one country is impossible – a manifest error.” (Leninism, p.53.)

The original formulation not only “may be interpreted” but said unambiguously that “socialist production” could not be achieved except by extension of the October revolution. Stalin’s pretense that he had earlier “confounded” two separate questions was a brazen device to shift from internationalism to its opposite.

The distinction invented by Stalin was artificial and demonstrably false. The problem of achieving socialism and the problem of defending socialist countries against capitalist intervention is one and the same problem. Socialism means superior organization of production, superior productivity per capita. Were this possible to achieve within the confines of the Soviet Union alone, a country of 160 millions, its superior productivity would be sufficient not merely to defend itself against Hitler and his economic base of 180 millions (including the occupied countries) but to take the offensive and sweep all before it.

As a matter of fact, as the years passed, Stalin Byzantine boasts about the victory of socialism inside the country inexorably led him to claim that this victory was also going far to solve the “external” problem of capitalist intervention. In his report to the 1934 Congress of the CPSU, Stalin boasted that “The experience of our country has shown that it is quite possible to build socialism in a single country taken separately”; and as for capitalist plans for war against the USSR, “What can come of it? There can hardly be any doubt that such a war would be a very dangerous war for the bourgeoisie ... It can hardly be doubted that a second war against the USSR will lead to complete defeat of the aggressors ...” (Handbook of Marxism, 1935, pp.923, 932.) In his May 14, 1935 address to the Red Army Academy, Stalin declared that if the plans of the opposition had prevailed, “We should have found ourselves unarmed in face of the external foe,” whereas Stalin’s “plan of advance led and, as you know, has already led to the victory of socialism in our country.” (Ibid., p. 959.) The identification of the “victory of socialism in our country” with invincibility against the capitalist world became axiomatic in the Stalinist press throughout the world. Until June 22, 1941 one could never find in a Stalinist paper an admission that productivity per capita in the USSR was lower than in the capitalist world, that the standard of living was lower than in the advanced capitalist countries, or that an attack by Germany would be a mortal danger to the Soviet Union.

Perhaps the most finished form of Stalin’s theory appears in his History of the CPSU, published here in 1939. It is worth quoting at some length:

“The restoration of the national economy [to 1913 levels] was approaching completion [in 1924]. But mere economic restoration, the mere attainment of the pre-war level, was not enough for the Soviet Union, the land of socialism in construction. The pre-war level was the level of a backward country ... Was it possible at all to build a Socialist economic system in the USSR and, if so, could it be built in spite of the delay of the revolution in the capitalist countries? ... Yes, replied the Party, a Socialist economic system could be and should be built in our country, for we had everything needed for the building of a Socialist economic system, for the building of a complete Socialist society ... Neither the delay of the revolution in the West, nor the partial stabilization of capitalism in the non-Soviet countries could stop our advance to Socialism ... Such was the Party’s answer to the question – was the victory of Socialist construction possible in our country?

“But the Party knew that the problem of the victory of Socialism in one country did not end there ... Comrade Stalin had repeatedly pointed out that the question should be viewed from two aspects, the domestic and the international ...

“Of course, as long as the Soviet Government pursued a correct policy, the Soviet people and their Red Army would be able to beat oft a new foreign capitalist intervention. But this would not mean that the danger of new capitalist intervention would be eliminated. The defeat of the first intervention did not destroy the danger of new intervention, inasmuch as the source of the danger of intervention – the capitalist encirclement – continued to exist ... Such was the Party’s line on the question of the victory of Socialism in our country.” (pp.272-5.)

Thus the “domestic” victory of socialism reduced the problem of intervention to Pickwickian proportions. “Of course” the Red Army would defeat intervention, with the danger of another intervention at a later time introduced as a pious nod to Lenin’s mummy.

A year of the Soviet-Nazi war has destroyed Stalin’s theory. Far from “of course” defeating intervention, the Soviet Union has sustained gigantic losses in territory, productive plant and manpower. Now the Stalinist press explains that Germany (80 million population) plus the occupied countries (100 million) is superior in production to the Soviet Union. But why? Wasn’t socialism “irrevocably victorious” by 1935, according to Stalin? And if that means anything, doesn’t it mean superiority in per capita production to that of the capitalist countries? But now, for the first time, the Stalinist press, pleading with the capitalist “democracies” for material aid to the USSR, has to tell its readers that Soviet productivity is lower per capita. The Communist (January 1942) quotes with emphasis Anna Louise Strong’s admission that even “by the end of the Second Five-Year plan in 1937 ... production per capita was considerably below, that of Western Europe, which means that the standard of living was low.” Lower productivity per capita and a lower standard of living than Western Europe – this was called the victory of socialism in one country; this, and the totalitarian dictatorship of the bureaucracy, the prison-regime in the factories, the regimentation of culture. No worse blow could have been dealt to socialism than to characterize the strangled revolution as the victory of socialism.

Events have tragically confirmed Trotsky’s refutation of Stalin’s theory. But the Kremlin bureaucracy continues its false course. To the Soviet masses it offers at best only the perspective of rebuilding the shattered country under the shadow of another invasion, this time by the victorious “democracies.” To the world working class it offers the role of continuing as pawns in the service of Stalin’s reactionary and defeatist foreign policy. The Kremlin is indissolubly bound to the theory of socialism in one country, which expresses the bureaucracy’s privileged position and its reactionary role.

But the great masses are in no way tied to that suicidal theory. Many supported it during the past 18 years because they did not understand its consequences. Now that the tinbridgeable gap between Leninism and Stalinism has been exposed so irrefutably by the Nazi-Soviet war, we can be sure that a new epoch is opening up – the epoch of the Fourth International whose victory Trotsky predicted with his dying breath.

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