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The New International, February 1946


Enrique Procuna

The Roots of Stalinism

Bolshevik Policy During 1918–23

(March 1945)


From New International, Vol XII No. 4, April 1946, pp. 103–104.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The following polemical exchange is reprinted from the columns of Revolucion, organ of the Spanish group of the Fourth International in Mexico. Comrade Procuna’s article appeared in the June–July issue of the paper accompanied by an announcement of the editors that they are devoting a page of each issue to open discussion, including contributions from “militants belonging to other working class groups.” The statement adds: “We are interested in publishing those criticisms which they have to make of the Fourth International in general and of the Spanish group in Mexico in particular. We shall also publish articles written in defense of positions criticised by us. Whoever utilizes this page from now on has full freedom of expression. We ask only that the limitation of space be kept in mind. We hope that this page of free discussion will be transformed into a forum of working-class democracy that will justify its existence.” We extend our congratulations to our Spanish comrades for this forthright statement on behalf of free, public discussion in the revolutionary workers’ press. It is an example which all papers of the Fourth Internationalist movement would do well to emulate. As our readers’ are aware, The New International has been conducted in this spirit ever since the split in the Socialist Workers Party in 1940 and the organization of the Workers Party.

Procuna’s article was answered in the August–September issue of Revolucion by Comrade Munis, well known to the readers of the international Trotskyist press – Editors

Every member of the Fourth International ought to ask himself the following question: Why is it that since the death of Lenin, and more particularly since the expulsion of Trotsky from the Russian CP, and in view of the fact that so many revolutionary militants have broken with the Third International, the Fourth International has not been able to grow? Why is it that in spite of the appearance on repeated occasions of situations favorable to revolutionary action, the Fourth International continues to lead a sad sort of vegetable existence?

While one can discuss and logically enough explain the downfall of the Russian Revolution by the unfavorable conditions of the European Revolution, particularly in Germany from 1921 or 1923 on, one cannot explain the alienation of revolutionary militants from the Trotskyist organizations by the same reasons. It is obvious that after the experiences of the Russian and German revolutions, and much later the Spanish experience, nothing serious can be accomplished without a correct analysis of these historic events. The Trotskyist movement, like all other centrist groups, has always treated and continues to treat problems that at one time or another are very important in an isolated fashion. It still has, as yet, to make a fundamental analysis of these problems. It discusses them in an isolated fashion because there are reasons why it must avoid going to the heart of these questions. This is as true of the Trotskyists as it is of the Poumists; it applies as much to the left-Anarchists as it does to other centrist groupings. (We do not mention the Social-Democratic parties or the Stalinists, irremediably prostituted as they are to this or that bourgeoisie, to this or that imperialism.) The Poumists and their kind tremble with fear before the idea of provoking the displeasure of their beloved Socialist friends and of their own reformist followers; still less do they dare disturb the eternal vacillators in their own ranks. Partially, in the last analysis, these reasons hold true for the Trotskyists as well. But, in our opinion, what has prevented, and still prevents, a thorough discussion on the all-important problem of the relation between the dictatorship of the proletariat and workers’ democracy is the fear of subjecting to a stern analysis the Russian Revolution up until the death of Lenin and, proceeding from that, the program of Trotskyism and the program of the Fourth International. The discussion meets with a resistance that is shameful, but always tenacious, now from one side and now from the other; that is, from the Trotskyists, the Poumists, and their kind. This resistance springs from the administrative, centralist and anti-democratic ideas of the leaders of these groups, ideas these leaders absorb from the social environment in which they learn to function. For once having a bureaucratic post or aspiring to one, they do not regard the loss of what they have or many have lightly.

It is evident that revolutionaries ought not to feel their positions or freedom of action threatened by such considerations, and ought to engage in a serious discussion of the problem without any further delay. The notes which follow can serve, in our estimation, as a point of departure for such a discussion.

Degeneration in Russia

The main problem, in my judgment, is the following: To find the fundamental causes of the monstrous degeneration of the Soviet state, and also the fundamental causes of the decline of the Fourth International.

The fundamental causes, in the case of the Russian Revolution, can be summed up in the following points:

Objective causes:

  1. The defeat of the European Revolution.
  2. On the eve of October, the peasantry, representing 80 per cent of the population, supported the political struggle of the working class because it hoped to gain the land through the victory of the October Revolution. But after October, the poor peasantry, now converted into small proprietors, became the most powerful adversaries of socialist construction.
  3. Though very concentrated and with a high degree of class-consciousness, the Russian proletariat was not, either numerically or economically a strong enough force in the country.

Subjective Causes: Confronted by a relationship of forces unfavorable to the working class, and under the pressure of the circumstances – civil war, intervention, disorganization of production, hunger, etc. – the CP, the subjective force of the October Revolution, took the following measures from the summer of 1918 on:

  1. Creation of the Red Army, with a centralized command; the designation of officials by the central command; effective suppression of the soldiers’ councils and other measures of the same kind, which transferred the power in the armed forces from the laboring masses into the hands of a centralized bureaucracy.
  2. In the management of production, initially controlled and directed by the factory committees, the same transfer of power is repeated in favor of the central organs of the state as in the army.
  3. In the Communist Party, the tendency toward centralization and the suppression of other workers’ parties becomes more marked at each succeeding stage and culminates in the absolute control by the central organs of the party over the organisms which constitute the foundation of the working class: soviets, unions, factory committees, cooperatives and soldiers’ committees.

The situation described in these three points had already matured before Lenin’s death, as his observations in the last period of his life bear witness. Bureaucratization was complete, the worker was no longer master of the factory. His material conditions now depended on functionaries appointed by the apparatus. His right to criticize disappeared in the same period when his ability to better his position was measured by his submission to the directives of the party. To all practical purposes the centralized, absolutist state already existed when Lenin died, and was controlled in tum by the centralized Communist Party, which imposed its dictatorial will upon the working class. In this manner the dictatorship of the proletariat, which should have been an instrument of struggle in the hands of the workers against the anti-socialist elements in the country, was transformed into the dictator,hip of the Central Committee or of the Political Bureau over the working class. From the summer of 1918 until Lenin’s death this period is characterized by the struggle between workers democracy and the dictatorship of the party apparatus, a struggle that ended in the triumph of the party apparatus.

The October Revolution, after having carried out the nationalization of the large industries, commerce and of the banks, had still not completely destroyed the capitalist forms of production and distribution. The peasant, the artisan and the petty merchant still existed and functioned on the basis of capitalist norms of production. In addition, the Soviet economy felt the heavy hand of foreign capitalism. Inevitably, the war between the socialist and capitalist sectors of production unfolded within the Soviet economy, accompanied by sharp ups and downs, from the beginning of the revolution up until the years 1932–33. From this time onward, the economy marches in a straight line, without any wavering, toward state capitalism and capitalism in general. Being in reality independent of the working class, the bureaucracy of the party, the unions and of industry, had interests which at each tum widened the breach that separated them from the proletariat and brought them closer to those strata of the population who had a stake in reestablishing the privileges the possessing classes enjoy under the capitalist regime. Later on, after these strata had established their domination and given birth to a new capitalist class, the bureaucracy merged with them. This evolution gives the key to the anti-socialist and counter-revolutionary politics at which the Stalinists have arrived.

The Lessons of Russia

From the viewpoint of historical experience, beginning with 1849 and concluding with 1936, all the revolutions made by the working class – under its own banner or under the banner of bourgeois democracy – have led to the defeat of the proletariat and have saved the bourgeoisie, with the exception of the October Revolution. In Russia the proletariat launched the struggle under its own class banner and achieved victory under the leadership of a superb Marxist party that was openly followed by the revolutionary elements among the Anarchists, the Social-Revolutionaries of the Left, and by the Menshevik masses, who abandoned their leaders, the collaborators of the democratic bourgeoisie. This unique, positive example of the proletariat’s struggle for the conquest of power ought to serve as the groundwork of the workers’ movement in its struggle against the capitalist state. The other experience, that is, the experience of October, in so far as it relates to the method of building the socialist society, indicates only what should be avoided, since it possesses not a positive but a negative character. Leaving aside the question of what form the organs of power will take which the workers will create in the revolution we believe approaching, we advance two leading ideas that we believe sufficient to serve as the basis for any grouping of revolutionary militants at this time:

1. From now until the day the proletariat takes the power: Our inspiration to be Lenin’s program during the last war and the period of February–October, 1917. This applies also to the Allied nations, including Russia. 2. In the period immediately following the conquest of power by the proletariat: On one hand, an implacable struggle – a struggle that must be regarded as a question of life or death – everywhere against the old ruling classes, and those who oppose disarming them, the complete destruction of their state, their expropriation, etc. On the other hand, we must guard the freedom .of opinion, speech, press and deliberation of the workers in the organs of power they have created. We must see to it that the workers’ leaders themselves do not deprive the workers of the right to carry on the struggle against the remnants of the bourgeoisie, and do not take out of their hands the management of the shops, the factories and the land. Only those should be in the administrative apparatus who are absolutely necessary because of their technical skill and knowledge, and their decisions must have the approval of the groups of producers concerned.

Evidently, if this program is not to remain a dead letter, the workers must have the right to unite and organize themselves in political parties, free trade unions and other organizations which they find necessary.

It is imperative that the discussion on the points previously raised should open in the ranks of the Fourth International. The events which draw near do not afford us the luxury of choosing the time for such a discussion. We should be ready to profit from the experience of October. We ought to compel everyone in the ranks of the Fourth International to take a position. for or against collaboration with the bourgeoisie; for or against collaboration with the Stalinist state; for or against the dictatorship of the proletariat; for or against workers’ democracy. It is necessary to arrive at clarification of these questions, so that we can separate ourselves as rapidly as possible from the reformist and centrist elements in the Fourth International. The truth is that revolutionary militants with a Marxist tendency, and militants without a Marxist ideology, display a very reserved attitude toward us precisely because of our silence and lack of clarity on the problems previously mentioned. For this reason, the discussion cannot be limited to the ranks of our own party. It ought to be carried outside. Besides clarifying our own ranks, such an attitude will give us the opportunity to establish contact and to engage in an exchange of ideas with other revolutionists, and so provoke discussions on the same problems within the ranks of these and other working class organizations.

Mexico, D.F., March 12, 1945

Enrique Procuna

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