The following article, in two parts, was published in Socialist Voice No. 3 (Spring 1977) and No. 4 (Summer 1977).
The Pabloites have a problem. How can Stalinists, characterized by Trotsky as not only petty-bourgeois but as a counterrevolutionary force, make the socialist revolution and create the dictatorship of the proletariat? The mentality that believes this is possible, and not only in one but in many countries after World War II, can also accept the notion that Zeus turned into a swan in order to commit rape. The Pabloites, in order to justify their mythification of reality, take hold of the words of Trotsky and worship rather than understand them.
Pabloism’s claim to orthodoxy often rests upon a tortured interpretation of one passage from Trotsky’s Transitional Program. In discussing the slogan “For a Workers’ and Farmers’ Government,” Trotsky used the example of the Russian revolution. The Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries, the petty-bourgeois representatives of the workers and peasants,” were part of the bourgeois Provisional Government. The Bolsheviks, as Trotsky pointed out, demanded that they “break with the liberal bourgeoisie and take power into their own hands.” Had the Mensheviks and SRs done so, they would have created “a government of workers and peasants, that is, a government independent of the bourgeoisie"—but they did not dare to do so because such a course would have further weakened capitalism and “hastened and facilitated the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat."
The Pabloites, nevertheless, insist that petty-bourgeois Stalinism could accomplish the proletarian task in a way that petty-bourgeois Menshevism could not. Here is the passage they cite:
“Is the creation of such a government by the traditional workers’ organizations possible? Past experience shows, as has already been stated, that this is to say the least highly improbable. However, one cannot categorically deny in advance the theoretical possibility that, under the influence of completely exceptional circumstances (war, defeat, financial crash, mass revolutionary pressure, etc.) the petty-bourgeois parties including the Stalinists may go further than they themselves wish along the road to a break with the bourgeoisie. In any case one thing is not to be doubted: even if this highly improbable variant somewhere at some time becomes a reality and the ’workers’ and farmers’ government’ in the above-mentioned sense is established in fact, it would represent merely a short episode on the road to the actual dictatorship of the proletariat.”
Trotsky does say that the Stalinists, unlike the Mensheviks in 1917, might be forced to take governmental office “independent of the bourgeoisie"—that is, without the bourgeoisie in the government—and he further suggests that such a step would facilitate the socialist revolution under the leadership of the Fourth Internationalists. But he makes perfectly clear that Stalinism in office is not the proletarian dictatorship, for what is “merely a short episode on the road” is not the thing itself.
Moreover, “workers’ and farmers’ government” is usable as a slogan to win over the less advanced workers who believe at the outset of the struggle that reformist methods (change in government) can answer their needs. Bolshevik workers know that the only answer is revolution (necessitating the shattering of the bourgeois state and all its governments through the creation of a workers’ state). Bolsheviks identify with the aspirations that the masses place into their vision of a “workers’ government,” not with the bourgeois content that the reformist leaders have in mind. By using the slogan, in the course of struggle the Bolsheviks can demonstrate the inability of the petty-bourgeois leadership to fulfill the masses’ needs, whether it dares to take over the government or not.
The confusion between the need for an alternative state and just another capitalist government is a way in which the reformists, during revolutionary times, seek to delude the working class. The Bolsheviks participate in struggle in order to clarify its class content in practice. It is the obligation of revolutionaries to explain exactly what is meant so that the masses are not left with the idea that the change of one government for another is equivalent to the socialist revolution. It is precisely this distinction that Trotsky elaborates at length in this section of the Transitional Program. And it is precisely this distinction which the Pabloites blur in order to account for the Stalinist takeovers as “workers’ states."
Another defense cited by the Pabloites for their Trotskyist credentials concerns the events of 1939, when the Russian Army seized portions of Poland in conjunction with the Germans and incorporated the territory into the Soviet Union. Since Trotsky (erroneously) still considered Russia a workers’ state, he saw the incorporation as part of the socialist revolution. Despite his error, Trotsky specifically—and indignantly—rejected the view attributed to him that the Stalinist bureaucracy was a revolutionary agency.
“My remark that the Kremlin with its bureaucratic methods gave an impulse to the socialist revolution in Poland, is converted by Shachtman into an assertion that in my opinion a ’bureaucratic revolution’ of the proletariat is presumably possible. This is not only incorrect but disloyal. My expression was rigidly limited. It is not the question of ’bureaucratic revolution’ but only a bureaucratic impulse. To deny this impulse is to deny reality. The popular masses in western Ukraine and Byelo Russia, in any event, felt this impulse, understood its meaning, and used it to accomplish a drastic overturn in property relations. A revolutionary party which failed to notice this impulse in time and refused to utilize it would be fit for nothing but the ash can.” (In Defense of Marxism, p. 130.)
Trotsky credited the “socialist revolution” before the war to the masses, not the Stalinists. No Pabloite today claims that the masses made the revolutions in Eastern Europe after the war. In fact, the “drastic overturns” in property relations were made by the Stalinists only after they had suppressed the workers councils and mass struggles that sprung up after the Nazi defeat. Russia’s victory gave an “impulse” to the masses, but the Stalinist seizure of power was based on the crushing of the masses, not that impulse. Thus Trotsky’s indignation holds doubly for the period after World War II: to attribute to him the view that Stalinism made the socialist revolution is “not only incorrect but disloyal.”
It is no accident that both Shachtman in 1939 and the Pabloites later attribute this monstrous idea to Trotsky. Shachtman was disloyally painting Trotsky in what was to become the coloring of Pabloism, and it follows as well that Pabloism is a disloyal interpretation of Trotsky’s views on the expansion of Stalinism.
We have a question for the Pabloites, those epigones of Trotsky who accept the notion of “deformed workers’ states” and the “unconscious proletarian revolution.” The various strands of Pabloism all consider China today to be a workers’ state, some because of the conquest of power by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1949, others because the CCP in power was “forced to yield to the laws of permanent revolution” (in the words of Peng Shu-Tse) and expropriate the bourgeoisie in the 1950’s. Our question is: what was the class character of the sizable areas of China that were ruled by the CCP in the 1930’s? The “Chinese Soviet Republic” in Kiangsi, according to Mao, ruled over 9 million people. During the war against Japan, the “Soviet” areas expanded and led directly to the “People’s Republic” of 1949. Were these examples of proletarian state power, or at least historically destined to become so? And if they were, why did Trotsky—who was alive in the thirties—not take note of the phenomenon?
The answer is that Trotsky did take note of the CCP-ruled areas, and he rejected the idea that they could be considered “proletarian” or “soviet,” precisely because the Chinese working class was not the leading force in their creation. By the thirties, the CCP had abandoned the idea of a proletarian vanguard and staked its hopes on the peasant movement in rural areas led by Mao Tse-tung’s “Red Army.” Here is what Trotsky wrote in 1930:
“The Stalinist press is filled with communications about a ’soviet government’ established in vast provinces of China under the protection of a Red army. Workers in many countries are greeting this news with excitement. Of course! The establishment of a soviet government in a substantial part of China and the creation of a Chinese Red army would be a gigantic success for the international revolution. But we must state openly and clearly: this is not yet true.
“Despite the scanty information which reaches us from the vast areas of China, our Marxist understanding of the developing process enables us to reject with certainty the Stalinist view of the current events. It is false and extremely dangerous for the further development of the revolution ...
“When the Stalinists talk about a soviet government established by the peasants in a substantial part of China, the not only reveal their credulity and superficiality; they obscure and misrepresent the fundamental problem of the Chinese revolution. The peasantry, even the most revolutionary, cannot create an independent government; it can only support the government of another class, the dominant urban class. The peasantry at all decisive moments follows either the bourgeoisie or the proletariat…. This means that the peasantry is unable to organize a soviet system on its own. The same holds true for an army. More than once in China, and in Russia and in other countries too, the peasantry has organized guerrilla armies, connected to a local province and incapable of centralized strategic operations on a large scale. Only the predominance of the proletariat in the decisive industrial and political centers of the country creates the necessary basis for the organization of a Red army and for the extension of a soviet system into the countryside. To those unable to grasp this, the revolution remains a book closed with seven seals.” (Manifesto on China of the International Left Opposition, Leon Trotsky on China, pp. 476-480.)
That the two main strands of Pabloism would tend to see the peasant “soviet” areas as future workers’ states is indicated by the debate between Pierre Rousset of the majority tendency of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International and George Johnson and Fred Feldman of the SWP over the class nature of the Vietnamese Communist Party (in International Socialist Review, April 1974, p. 51). Feldman and Johnson wrote: “Rousset tells us that the embryo of a workers’ state was created in peasant liberated zones—where there were no workers. What was actually created in embryo in Vietnam, as in China, was the skeleton of the bureaucratic hierarchy that would establish a privileged bureaucratic caste on the Soviet Stalinist model once it had state power.” Such a bureaucratic caste holding state power would be ruling a deformed, not a “healthy,” workers’ state. Although the debaters differ over the degree of deformity, they agree on the existence of embryonic workers’ states—in both Vietnam and China. Their problem remains to reconcile their views with Marxism.
It is argued by some of the Pabloites that the Chinese Communist Party was itself the centralizing, proletarian force that enabled the peasant-based armies to triumph over Chiang Kai-shek and the Chinese bourgeoisie in the forties. This notion contravened the analysis of the Trotskyists that Stalinism represented a petty-bourgeois force within the proletariat. In the Soviet Union, which was still a workers’ state in the early 1930’s, the Stalinized leadership of the Communist Party was a force leading the USSR towards capitalist restoration and could by no means be considered the linchpin of the proletarian character of the state. Even less could this be the case in China, where the CCP was rapidly losing its proletarian cadre. The CCP of the early thirties, by virtue of its composition and history, had far greater affinity to the proletariat than it did later on. Trotsky never thought that the “soviet regions” were proletarian because of the CCP’s role and had even less expectation for the future. In 1932 he wrote in a letter to his comrades of the Chinese Left Opposition:
“In order to express my ideas as clearly as possible, let me sketch the following variant, which is theoretically quite possible.
“Let us assume that the Chinese Left Opposition carries on in the near future widespread and successful work among the industrial proletariat and attains the preponderant influence over it. The official party, in the meantime, continues to concentrate all its forces on the ‘Red armies’ and in the peasant regions. The moment arrives when the peasant troops occupy the industrial centers and are brought face to face with the workers. In such a situation, in what manner will the Chinese Stalinists act?
“It is not difficult to foresee that they will counterpose the peasant army to the ‘counterrevolutionary Trotskyists’ in a hostile manner. In other words, they will incite the armed peasants against the advanced workers. This is what the Russian SRs and the Mensheviks did in 1917; having lost the workers, they fought might and main for support among the soldiers, inciting the barracks against the factory, the armed peasant against the worker Bolshevik ...
“The struggle between the two communist factions, the Stalinist and the Bolshevik-Leninists, thus bears in itself an inner tendency toward transformation into a class struggle. The revolutionary development of events in China may draw this tendency to its conclusion, i.e., to a civil war between the peasant army led by the Stalinists and the proletarian vanguard led by the Leninists.
"“Were such a tragic conflict to arise, due entirely to the Chinese Stalinists, it would signify that the Left Opposition and the Stalinists ceased to be communist factions and had become hostile political parties, each having a different class base.” (Peasant War in China and the Proletariat, ibid., pp. 529-530.)
Trotsky did not consider this variant inevitable, but it was nevertheless an extremely farsighted analysis. The Chinese Left Opposition was unable to win hegemony over the proletariat as Trotsky had hoped, but the Stalinist armies did confront the proletariat in a hostile manner when they took power in 1949. The Pabloites in the leadership of the rapidly degenerating Fourth International then concluded that the Mao government represented not a workers’ state but only a “workers’ and peasants’ government” in transition to a workers’ state. (The fraudulent use of “workers’ and peasants’ government” in this sense has already been discussed in Part 1 above.)
Such an analysis accepted in its essentials the Stalinist theory of the “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry,” a bourgeois government under CP leadership capable of evolving into a full-fledged workers’ state. In the early post-revolutionary years, when the CCP itself insisted that the state it ruled was not proletarian, most of the Pabloite tendencies argued that a workers’ state had already been created. Trotsky and his comrades had already made more than clear the impossibility of such a position for Marxists:
“The Stalinists say that the democratic dictatorship, as the next stage of the revolution, will grow into a proletarian revolution at a later stage. This is the current doctrine of the Comintern, not only for China but for all the Eastern countries. It is a complete departure from the teachings of Marx on the state and the conclusions of Lenin on the function of the state in a revolution. The democratic dictatorship differs from the proletarian in that it is a bourgeois-democratic dictatorship. The transition from a bourgeois to a proletarian dictatorship cannot occur as a peaceful process of ’growing over’ from one to the other. A dictatorship of the proletariat can replace a democratic, or a fascist, dictatorship of the bourgeoisie only through armed insurrections.” ("Manifesto on China…,” ibid., pp. 482-3)
We have previously argued, as does Trotsky in this passage, that the notion of a peaceful transformation from bourgeois to workers’ state without the proletarian revolution is a travesty of Marxism. The Pabloites who defend such a thesis must, in the case of China especially, come to grips with the fact that Trotsky held a point of view precisely opposite from theirs. If China after 1949 could “grow over” into a proletarian dictatorship under the guidance of the CCP, why was the same possibility not open to the “soviet” areas of the 1930’s? That is our question, and we believe that Trotsky has answered it excellently.
We are the last ones to rely on claims of “orthodoxy” to defend our views. Such a stance is alien to Marxists but not to the Pabloites, whose claim to Marxism rests directly upon the assertion that their views are the same as Trotsky’s. For us, even when we disagree with Trotsky’s conceptions they must be always taken into account, for the founder of the Fourth International was rarely far off the mark. However, the Pabloites’ “orthodoxy” extends to the point of blaming Trotsky for their own shortcomings.
In 1948, for example, the Pabloites shamelessly chased after Tito’s tail when he broke from Stalin’s orbit. Yugoslavia, which had up to that moment been analyzed as capitalist, suddenly and without apology became a retroactive workers’ state—moreover, one whose ruling Communist Party was not Stalinist! The Pabloites had simply overlooked a “socialist” revolution, just as they later had to retroactively acknowledge overlooking “socialist” revolutions throughout Eastern Europe.
To think that Trotsky would agree that the present Stalinist states are proletarian is to assume that Trotsky also overlooked such a proletarian revolution in China during his lifetime. Marxism, fortunately, prevented him from making such “oversights.” He knew that revolutions do not “grow over” without the leadership of the consciously organized proletariat through its revolutionary party. And that is precisely what the Pabloites do not know.