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Joseph Carter

Bureaucratic Collectivism

(September 1941)

From New International, Vol. VII No. 8 (Whole No. 57), September 1941, pp. 216–21.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan.

HITLER’S INVASION OF Russia brought sharply to the fore the conflicting views in the Workers Party on the class character of the Soviet Union. Until then those holding diverse positions on this question were all united by a common conception of the reactionary character of Russia’s rôle in the Second World War and common political conclusions. However, the new turn in the war once again raised the problem: Is Stalin conducting a progressive or reactionary war? Should we retain our position of revolutionary opposition to all the camps in the Second World War or become supporters of Russia in the war?

For our party these questions necessarily raise the fundamental problem of the class nature of the Soviet Union. Only on this basis can we establish clear and consistent criteria for deciding the character of Russia’s war and our political tasks. Even more: the dispute on this question has already revealed confusion and uncertainty on fundamental concepts of Marxism which far transcend in importance the “Russian question” itself. There is little doubt that in this problem, as in other matters, our generation of Marxists has failed to analyze adequately the new phenomena of our times, to examine critically our old doctrines in the light of new experiences, to revise the views found wanting, and thus failed to prepare ourselves for the rapidly moving events and tasks. Not only have the old movements failed, but the new movement for the Fourth International has likewise not met the theoretical and practical tests which the social crisis and the war have created.

It is imperative that this fact be frankly acknowledged; so that starting from a clear recognition of the existence of a crisis of Marxism – for it is nothing less than that – we can proceed collectively to re-evaluate our old views and thus sharpen the theoretical and practical instruments indispensable for socialist victory. So far as the present author is concerned, the basis of such re-examinations remains the great scientific teachings of Marx and Engels, which, employed in the critical spirit advised by the masters themselves, alone furnish the guide for our present needs and for working class emancipation.

In the present article I propose to discuss the class character of the Soviet Union, particularly the views of Leon Trotsky, and present my own position in positive form.

I. Trotsky’s Analysis of Stalinism

Trotsky once wrote: “You will agree that a theory is in general valuable only in so far as it helps to foresee the course of development and influences it purposefully.” (The Defense of the Russian Revolution, pp. 22f.) Let us apply this sound concept to Trotsky’s analysis of Stalinism.

The origin of the Russian Trotskyist Opposition dates back to the sharp factional fight which broke out in the Bolshevik Party after the death of Lenin. Trotsky analyzed this struggle as follows: In view of the fact that the Bolshevik Party had a complete monopoly of political power (that is, excluded all rival parties), the interests of the conflicting classes sought expression through factions of the ruling party. The Right Wing represented the Thermidorian faction; the pressure of the capitalist restorationist elements (the kulaks, Nepmen, the old petty-bourgeois specialists) and the labor aristocracy (the better paid workers, white collar employees, and trade union officialdom). On the other hand, the Left Opposition represented the interests of the working class. In between these two class forces was the Stalin faction, the “bureaucratic Centrist” wing of the party, representing no independent class, but wavering between the two fundamental factions, veering in the long run towards the Right, viz., toward bourgeois restoration. The defeats of the West European socialist revolutions strengthened both the Right and the Center; these two united against the Left on the basis of “socialism in one country alone.”

The main internal danger, continued Trotsky, came from the capitalist elements, and politically the Right Wing. The latter favored a slow tempo of industrialization and collectivization, and increased concessions and conciliation with the rich and middle peasants. The Stalinists were attacked primarily for constantly conceding to the Right Wing. Trotsky spoke of the existence of elements of dual power in Russia, bourgeois and proletarian. He warned that the destruction of the proletarian wing of the party would spell the victory of the Russian Thermidor, that is, the destruction of nationalized property and the establishment of capitalism. Such, according to Trotsky, was the objective meaning of the factional fight in the Bolshevik Party and the logic of its development.

Early in 1928 Trotsky wrote:

... the socialist character of industry is determined and secured in a decisive measure by the rôle of the party, the voluntary internal cohesion of the proletarian vanguard, the conscious discipline of the administrators, trade union functionaries, members of shop nuclei, etc. If we allow that this web is weakening, disintegrating, and ripping, then it becomes absolutely self-evident that within a brief period nothing will remain of the socialist character of state industry, transport, etc. The trusts and individual factories will begin living an independent life. Not a trace will be left of the planned beginnings, so weak at the present time. The economic struggles of the workers will acquire a scope unrestricted save by the relation of forces. The state ownership of the means of production will be first transformed into a juridical fiction and later on even the latter will be swept away. (The Third International After Lenin, p. 300.)

Trotsky’s prognoses were refuted by history. The First Five Year Plan, put into effect a few months after he had penned the above lines, strengthened and centralized state ownership and control over the trusts and factories and extended the planned economy on a scale never reached before. The Bolshevik Party was destroyed, both its Left Wing and Right Wing liquidated politically and physically. The proletarian “web” was broken, but the Stalinists extended their totalitarian domination over economy. At the same time the bureaucracy destroyed virtually all the old capitalist elements in the economy. Contrary to Trotsky’s predictions the destruction of the Bolshevik Party did not mean the end of state property and planning; Russia did not travel the road of Thermidorian, capitalist restoration. On the contrary, the Stalinist counter-revolution took a new, hitherto unknown path, the road of bureaucratic absolutism.

Yet Trotsky in the above quotation (and on innumerable other occasions) stated that “the socialist character of industry is determined and secured in a decisive measure by the rôle of the party, the voluntary internal cohesion of the proletarian vanguard, etc.” That is, the socialist character of state industry was determined by the domination of the proletarian party in the state and through it in the economy. Or, put in another way, the economic power of the proletariat rested on its political power.

Confronted by the unexpected development of the destruction of the political power of the working class and the strengthening of state property and planning, Trotsky faced the dilemma: either to maintain his old criterion and affirm that Russia is no longer a workers’ state and its economy no longer “socialist”; or to revise completely the Marxist conception of the workers’ state. He chose the latter course, and thereby abandoned the Marxist view which he had held until then. He now affirmed that it was the state-owned character of property which determined the socialist character of the economy and the proletarian nature of the state. The bureaucracy’s expropriation of the political power of the working class, he added, only signified that Russia was a “degenerated” workers’ state, politically dominated by a Bonapartist bureaucracy.

Unfortunately, Trotsky never subjected his old analyses to a thorough critical examination. He never sought to explain why, contrary to his predictions, Russia did not travel the Thermidorian, capitalist road of counter-revolution even though the political power of the working class was destroyed. It is true that he often declared that “the bureaucracy after a stubborn resistance, found itself compelled by the logic of its own interests to adopt the program of industrialization and collectivization.” (The Kirov Assassination, p. 25. Emphasis in original.) But this would only indicate that the logic of the bureaucracy’s own interests was not capitalist restoration (or socialism) but its own absolutist rule in the state and economy,

And in retrospect, was the Right Wing of the Bolshevik Party the “Thermidorian” faction? Here again Trotsky never re-examined this question in great detail. However, he did write in 1938:

The latest judicial frame-ups were aimed as a blow against the Left. This is true also of the mopping up of the leaders of the Right Opposition, because the Right group of the Bolshevik Party, seen from the viewpoint of the bureaucracy’s interests and tendencies, represented a Left danger. (Program and Resolutions of the Founding Conference of the Fourth International, pp. 46f. Emphasis in original.)

This correct appraisal of the relation between the Right Wing and the Stalinists involves a serious revision of the old view as to the “class struggle” in the Bolshevik Party. It is strange indeed that the Right Wing, the “Thermidorian” faction, whose policy was that of resistance to rapid industrialization, was to the left of the bureaucracy which “by the logic of its own interests” adopted the program of rapid industrialization and collectivization. Strange, that is, from the viewpoint of those who hold that Russia is a workers’ state. It should be recalled that in 1929 there were Russian Oppositionists who advocated a bloc with the Right Wing against Stalinism. Trotsky at that time wrote a vitriolic attack on this proposal as “unprincipled,” because it would mean a united front of the Left and the Right against the “Centrists.” In this case, as in others, the false analysis led to incorrect politics.

II. Stalinism and Bonapartism

Trotsky defended his new position, that the Stalinist state is a workers’ state though the working class has no political power, by citing the bourgeois Bonapartist régimes. Under Bonapartism (and fascism) the bourgeoisie is deprived of all political power and is in fact politically oppressed. Despite this, the bourgeoisie remains socially the ruling class and the régime is bourgeois in character. Stalinist Bonapartism, according to Trotsky, has an analogous relation to the Russian working class.

The analogy would be valid only if the political expropriation of the working class had been accompanied by the strengthening of its economic and social power, its domination over society. Such was the case under all Bonapartist regimes: the political expropriation of the bourgeoisie was accompanied by (or more exactly, was the precondition for) the strengthening of its economic and social power. (In a more complex form this holds true for fascism.) Marxists have adduced abundant empirical evidence to prove this contention.

But what does the evidence show as regards Russia? Simply this: that the working class has been deprived of all economic and social as well as political power. The strengthening of state property and planning, which allegedly signifies the social rule of the proletariat, resulted in the increased economic, social and political oppression of the working class. Here is a process which is the exact opposite of what occurs under Bonapartism!

By his analogy, however, Trotsky revealed an important methodological error which permeates his writings on Stalinist Russia. In seeking to explain the different possible forms of working class rule by citing the diverse forms of bourgeois rule, Trotsky failed to give adequate recognition to the decisive, qualitative differences between proletarian and bourgeois rule. In other contexts, for example in his theory of the permanent revolution, Trotsky proceeded from the basis of the totally new character of proletarian rule as compared to all previous class rule, to wit, the working class must first conquer political power, and through its own state organize economy. (And with successful socialist revolutions internationally, build a world socialist economy which would lead to the dissolution of the workers’ states and the proletariat as a class, to the triumph of a world socialist classless society.)

Every ruling class has its own laws of development and its own forms of economic, social and political domination (rule). The bourgeoisie, for example, first develops its economic power (capitalist ownership of the means of production and exchange) in the womb of feudalism, and then struggles for political and social power. In bourgeois society, in other words, the rule of the capitalist class rests basically on bourgeois private property. The state power defending this property may be in the hands of a semi-feudal aristocracy, a military clique, a parliamentary government controlled by the big bourgeois or petty-bourgeois parties, a Bonapartist bureaucracy, a fascist bureaucracy, etc. Quite the contrary is the case of the proletarian revolution and proletarian state. The proletariat is a propertyless class. Its control over economy and its domination in society is possible only through first winning political power. It is through its state power that the working class becomes the ruling class and develops the conditions for the abolition of all classes, the socialist society. Without political power the working class cannot be the ruling class in any sense.

Of course, the workers’ state may assume different forms. But whatever the form the state must express the political power of the proletariat. Once it is acknowledged, as Trotsky and everyone in our movement has, that the Russian workers have no political power whatsoever, that is tantamount to saying that Russia is no longer a workers’ state.

But can there not be a sick, degenerated workers’ state? History has given the answer: the régime of Lenin and Trotsky was a sick, bureaucratized, revolutionary workers’ state – as Lenin and Trotsky themselves often affirmed. In a healthy workers’ state there would be complete democracy, the working class exercising its power democratically through Soviets, trade unions, rival parties. This state of affairs, as is known, never existed in Russia. The political rule of the working class was expressed almost exclusively through the dictatorship of the proletarian party, the Bolsheviks (with extreme limitations on Soviet and union democracy from the earliest days). The administration of the state and the economy in culturally backward and isolated Russia, while controlled by the Bolsheviks, was in the hands of a bureaucracy. The Bolsheviks expected, and worked for, the extension of the Russian Revolution into the more advanced industrial countries which would break the imperialist encirclement, raise the Russian industrial and cultural level, and thus create the preconditions for complete workers’ democracy.

When these conditions did not materialize the Stalin faction which controlled the party apparatus expressed the dominant desire of the bureaucracy for a peaceful and stable national existence. The old Bolshevik (and bourgeois) elements of the bureaucracy were eliminated, and a new bureaucracy created. The theory and practice of national socialism, “socialism in one country alone,” was developed as the great social rationalization (“ideology”) of the bureaucracy. With the Stalin faction as its representative it utilized its centralized administrative control of the state and economy to conduct a civil war to destroy its internal opponents, proletarian and bourgeois. On the one hand, it destroyed the limited workers’’ democracy that had existed, liquidated the old Bolshevik. Party and converted the Communist International into the world detachment of Stalin’s Office and G.P.U. On the other hand, it wiped out virtually all remnants of the old capitalist elements in the economy, strengthened state property and extended the industrialization and collectivization of the country. Thus when the Stalinists announced “the complete and irrevocable victory of socialism,” they were indeed proclaiming to the world the triumph of bureaucratic collectivism.

III. Bureaucratic Collectivism: What Kind of New Society?

Stalinist Russia is thus a reactionary state based upon a new system of economic exploitation, bureaucratic collectivism. The ruling class is the bureaucracy which through its control of the state collectively owns, controls and administers the means of production and exchange. The basic motive force of the economy is the extraction of more and more surplus labor from the toilers so as to increase the revenue, power and position of the bureaucracy. The economy is organized and directed through state totalitarian planning and political terrorism. The toilers are compelled by the state (as well as economic necessity) to labor in the factories and fields. Forced labor is thus an inherent feature of present-day Russian productive relations.

The relations within the ruling class – the share which individual bureaucrats receive of the wealth produced, their relative power and position, the manner in which persons enter or are forced out of the ruling class – are determined by non-economic, primarily political factors.

Through the state monopoly of foreign trade the bureaucracy has a complete monopoly over the internal market; for the exploitation of the abundant material and human resources of the country, for the investment and for sale of goods. This monopoly is indispensable for the Stalinist imperialist exploitation and oppression of the national minority peoples of the Soviet Union (the Ukrainians, the Georgians, etc.)

While bureaucratic collectivism has succeeded in raising the industrial level of the country, its productive relations are tremendous obstacles to the real growth of the social productivity of labor, the raising of the living standards of the masses, and the economic and political freedom of the workers and peasants. Despite the organizational advantages of state-owned monopoly of social property and the vast internal market, and totalitarian planning (aided by the importations of advanced capitalist technique), Stalinist Russia has experienced a growing decline in the annual rate of increase of industrial output and an increasing disproportion between the income of the bureaucracy and the “new intelligentsia” on the one hand, and the income of the mass of workers and peasants on the other. (In recent years the yearly rate of increase of industrial production has been, according to official figures, only twice the rate experienced under Czarism.)

The terroristic regime which is an integral part of bureaucratic planning (the bureaucratic productive relations) leads to constant disruptions in production; disproportions in the output of the various industries dependent upon one another and therefore large-scale economic waste; low efficiency of production. The constant purges of the bureaucracy leads to vast disruptions of planning and production. The low wages, speed-up and poor housing have led to such large turnovers of labor, despite laws restricting labor mobility, that far stricter laws carrying penalties including death sentence, had to be proclaimed to maintain production. The progressive, organic and long-range development of the productive forces, the real growth of the social productivity of labor, and the raising of the standard of living of the masses demand scientific planning, that is, democratic planning by and of the masses. This is the antithesis of Stalinism.

Then again, bureaucratic collectivism is a nationally limited economy (or, more accurately, confined to a single backward “empire,” Stalinist Russia). In relation to the capitalist imperialist states, Russia occupies the position of a huge national trust which by monopolizing the home market intensifies the contradiction existing within these countries between the tendency for the unlimited increase of the capitalist productive forces and the growing limitations of the markets for capital investment and for the sale of commodities. From the standpoint of Russian industrial and cultural development, the overthrow of world capitalism is an indispensable condition for the liberation of its own nationally confined productive forces, so that it could benefit fully from advanced Western technique and take its place as an integral part of a progressive world economy. Here also, bureaucratic collectivism (Stalinism) reveals its socially reactionary character in its role as an assistant of outlived capitalist imperialism in the task of destroying the independent working class movement for socialism.

Thus, from the day of its birth the new Stalinist society is a reactionary obstacle to the development of Russian and world society toward socialist freedom and security. From a historical viewpoint, Russia has taken a bastard path backward from the régime established by the Bolshevik Revolution. It is from the start torn by contradictions and antagonisms which exclude its assuming a progressive road comparable to early bourgeois society. It arrives on the scene of history as an expression of world social reaction; at a time when the world economic conditions already exist for a great leap forward from class exploitation to socialist freedom and plenty; and when the working class is the only social power which can bring about the progressive transformation of society.

The class-conscious workers have no interests in common with this new system of exploitation and oppression, bureaucratic collectivism. In wartime as during peace the revolutionary socialists must not give any support to the Stalinist state. Our task is that of awakening the working class to socialist struggle against bureaucratic collectivism, fascism and democratic imperialism; and for working class power and socialism.

IV. Shachtman’s Theoretical Confusion

What are Shachtman’s views on Russian society? A quick reading of his article, Is Russia a Workers’ State? (New International, December 1940) would suggest that he is in fundamental disagreement with Trotsky on the nature of Russian economy and society; and in basic accord with those who hold that Russia is a new, reactionary, exploiting society. However, as I propose to show, the appearance belies the reality. While accepting the latter position in “form,” Shachtman has adopted the former position in “essence.” The result is an illogical, eclectic combination of incompatible ideas which is called a third position.

Let us see. At the last Plenum of the National Committee of the Workers Party, Shachtman declared that in our movement only two contributions (aside from Trotsky’s) had been made to the clarification of the Russian question. First, that introduced by Carter on the qualitative differences between the state rule of the proletariat and the state rule of the bourgeoisie. (Already discussed in the first sections of the present article.) Second, the distinction between “property forms” and “property relations” introduced by Shachtman himself.

On the latter question, Shachtman writes in his article: “... Trotsky speaks interchangeably of the ‘property forms’ and the ‘property relations’ in the country as if he were referring to one and the same thing.” It is true that under Stalin “state ownership of the means of production and exchange continues to exist ... However, what is crucial are not the property forms, i.e., nationalized property, whose existence cannot be denied, but precisely the relations of the various social groups in the Soviet Union to this property, i.e., property relations!” The state owns the property but the bureaucracy controls the state and is “the ruling class of an unstable society which is already a fetter on economic development.”

Thus summarized it would appear that there is complete agreement between Shachtman and those who declare that Russia is a reactionary bureaucratic collectivist state. What is “crucial” are the property relations, writes Shachtman. But what are “property forms” as distinct from property relations? Shachtman defines them by giving examples: private property form – as under capitalism and other class societies; state or collectivist form of property as under Leninist Russia and Stalinist Russia.

Now, it is true that Trotsky identified Russian state property (the “property form”) with the property relations established by the Russian workers’ revolution. But he did this not only “as if he were referring to one and the same thing,” as Shachtman writes, but because he was consciously referring to one and the same thing. In other words, his error was not terminological – a confusion of phrases – but an error in analysis. When Marxists speak of the “form of property” they invariably mean social form of property, that is, property relations; as feudal form of property (and economy), capitalist form of property (and economy), socialistic, transitional form of property (and economy), etc.

If for the sake of greater clarity on the new Russian phenomena Shachtman chooses to introduce a terminological distinction between “form of property” and “property relations” he can do so but only on one condition: By making clear that by “form of property” he does not mean “social form of property.” Otherwise the result is not clarity but confusion; otherwise property forms are property relations.

If property forms are to be distinguished from property relations then the only meaningful distinction is that between the general manner in which property is owned (privately or through the state) and who owns the property. So that one can say, on the basis of private property, you can have feudal property relations and bourgeois property relations. On the basis of state ownership, you can have the proletarian, socialistic property relations and bureaucratic, collectivist property relations. This would be a distinction between the technical organization form of property (and economy) and the social form of property (and economy).

This is what Shachtman appears to say in the section Property Forms and Property Relations (pages 197–199). To repeat once again: The property relations are “crucial” in determining the character of Stalinist society. Stalin, while retaining the state property forms, destroyed the property relations established by the Russian Revolution. This was a social counter-revolution.

Yet we find Shachtman writing in a latter section of the same article:

In the Soviet Union, control of the state, sole owner of social property, makes the bureaucracy the most powerful economic class. Therein lies the fundamental difference between the Soviet Union, even under Stalinism, and all other pre-collectivist states. The difference is of epochal historical importance (page 203).

Shachtman, of course, did not mean to write that the fundamental difference “between the Soviet Union, even under Stalinism,” is that the bureaucracy is the most powerful economic class, for he does not hold that this was so in Leninist Russia. But this error in composition, due to hasty writing, has a deeper significance. Without submitting it to Freudian analysis, it is clear from the context of the entire section that

Shachtman slides back to Trotsky’s view on the “epochal historical importance” of present-day Russian society; that despite his lengthy polemic with Trotsky on property forms and property relations he considers that Stalinist Russia is a socio-economic continuity of the economic system under Lenin; a continuation of the progressive economy, transitional from capitalism to socialism, established by the Russian Revolution. Immediately following the paragraph quoted above, Shachtman adds:

Of epochal importance, we repeat, for our analysis does not diminish by an iota the profound social revolutionary significance of the Russian proletarian revolution. Starting at a low level, lowered still further by years of war, civil war, famine and their devastations, isolated from world economy, infested with a monstrous bureaucracy, the Soviet Union nevertheless attained a rhythm of economic development, an expansion of the productive forces which exceeded the expectations of the boldest revolutionary thinkers and easily aroused the astonishment of the entire world. This was not due to any virtues of the bureaucracy under whose regime it was accomplished, but in spite of the concomitant overhead waste of that reign. Economic progress in the Soviet Union was accomplished on the basic of planning and of the new, collectivist forms of property established by the proletarian revolution (page 203).

V. Trotsky’s Concept of Soviet Economy

Here in full bloom is Trotsky’s basic analysis of present-day Russian economy. The Russian Revolution is not dead, according to both Trotsky and Shachtman; it exists in the “progressive” collectivist forms of property. To deny this, it would appear from the above, is to “diminish ... the profound social revolutionary significance of the Russian proletarian revolution” – no less. But Shachtman had written that “what is more crucial” in determining the character of Russian economy (and any economy) “are not the property forms, i.e., nationalized property ... but precisely the relations of the various social groups in the Soviet Union to this property, i.e., property relations!” (Emphasis, including the triumphant exclamation point, is Shachtman’s). If these property relations (bureaucratic class exploitation of the workers) are “crucial,” why did not Shachtman compare them to capitalist property relations and show why the former are “more progressive” than the latter? The fact is that despite Shachtman’s painstaking insistence on the basic distinction between Russian “property forms” and “property relations,” his collectivist forms of property look like, feel like and act like, that is, are, what Trotsky interchangeably called property forms and property relations. Shachtman, then, agrees with Trotsky on the social and historical significance of Stalinist Russia – as a progressive economy and society transitional from capitalism to socialism. He follows Trotsky’s method of comparing the superiority of nationalized property over bourgeois private property, and citing the economic progress experienced under Stalinism, as empirical evidence of this superiority.

Thus, in his attempt to combine the position that Russia is a new, reactionary economic system with the opposite view that it is a progressive economy established by the Russian workers’ revolution but distorted by bureaucratic domination, Shachtman adopts arguments and terminology from the first position up to the point when he reaches the crucial problems of the concrete social and historical significance of Russian economy – the core of the dispute. He then employs Trotsky’s arguments and essential theoretical conclusions, without, however, drawing other inescapable, theoretical and political conclusions which necessarily follow from them.

Several years ago Trotsky quite correctly wrote that anyone who holds that Russia is a new economic system of exploitation and agrees with what he (Trotsky) considered the criteria as to what constitutes a progressive society – and Shachtman fits this description – must be in essential agreement with him. In a polemic against a French comrade he stated that for the sake of the argument he would concede that Russia is a new class society and the bureaucracy a new exploiting class. He continued:

But that does not prevent us from seeing that the new society is progressive in comparison with capitalism, for on the basis of nationalized property the new possessing “class” has assured a development of the productive forces never equaled in the history of the world. Marxism teaches us, does it not, that the productive forces are the fundamental factor of historic progress. A society which is not capable of assuring the growth of economic power is still less capable of assuring the well-being of the working masses, whatever may be the mode of distribution. The antagonism between feudalism and capitalism and the decline of the former has been determined precisely by the fact that the latter opened up new and grandiose possibilities for the stagnating productive forces. The same for the USSR. Whatever its mode of exploitation may be, this new society is by its very character superior to capitalist society. There you have the real point of departure for Marxist analysis. (Once Again: The USSR Defense, November 4, 1937.)

Shachtman agrees with Trotsky as to what is the “real point of departure for Marxist analysis” of the historical significance of Russian society. He agrees with Trotsky’s appraisal of Russian economic progress under Stalinism. He agrees with Trotsky’s estimate of the relation between present-day Russia and capitalism. That is, he is in complete accord with Trotsky’s basic position on Russian economy and society.

But why the repetitious insistence that Shachtman agrees with Trotsky? one may ask. The simple reason is Shachtman’s articles itself: His arguments against the view that Russia is a “workers’ state,” his emphasis that what is “crucial” are property relations and not nationalized property, his characterization of the economy as a new system of class exploitation and the bureaucracy as a new ruling class – all these suggest that Shachtman does reject the fundamental position of Trotsky on Russian economy. In the not-very-brief article, he several times repeats the phrase about the “historical significance” of the collectivist form of property, devotes only a few lines as to what this significance is, and nowhere explicitly declares that he agrees with Trotsky that Russian society is progressive as against capitalism. Trotsky’s view, nonetheless, is the basic premise of the final section of his article, The Defense of the Soviet Union.

VI. The Basic Contradiction of Shachtman

Shachtman writes that: “The theory that Soviet economy is progressive and therefore the wars of the Stalinist bureaucracy against a capitalist state are, by some mysticism, correspondingly and universally progressive, is thus untenable.” (Note that Shachtman here does not commit himself on the question of whether or not “Soviet economy is progressive.” He is saying: Even if Soviet economy is progressive it does not follow, etc.)

He continues: When Russia fights a war which corresponds to the interests of the international socialist revolution, we will defend Russia just as we defend a similar progressive war of a colonial country. If it wages a reactionary war we will be revolutionary anti-war oppositionists. We would become defensists in the present war should its character change “into a struggle of the imperialists to crush the Soviet Union when the interests of the world revolution would demand the defense of the Soviet Union by the international proletariat.” Why? Because a victory of the imperialists would (a) reduce Russia to a colony for capitalist investment; (b) destroy nationalized property. Shachtman adds:

In these considerations, too, the historical significance of the new, collectivist property established by the Russian Revolution stands out clearly. Such a transformation of the Soviet Union as triumphant imperialism would undertake would have a vast and durable reactionary effect upon world social development, give capitalism and reaction a new lease on life, retard enormously the revolutionary movement, and postpone for we don’t know how long the introduction of the world socialist society. From this standpoint and under these conditions, the defense of the Soviet Union, even under Stalinism, is both possible and necessary. (My emphasis – J.C.)

There you have, in the most graphic language, Shachtman’s conception of the place of the new, bureaucratic exploiting society in contemporary world politics and economics.

What importance, then, have lengthy discourses on property forms and property relations, new, exploiting economy and new, bureaucratic ruling classes for one who holds these traditional conclusions of our movement on the significance, the meaning, the place of Russian society in “history” and in the present-day world? None whatsoever!

But Shachtman today is not for the defense of Stalinist Russia. This is all to the good. But why is he not a defensist? When comrades agreeing with Shachtman’s article (as, for example, Lund) today quote it against him, his answer is simple: The character of the war has not changed. Russia is a junior partner of the imperialist democracies. Just as we subordinate the defense of the national independence of Ethiopia in the present war because Ethiopia is a tool of Anglo-American imperialism, so we subordinate defense of the “progressive” Russian collectivist property.

This is mere sophistry. Would the defeat of Ethiopia in the present war have as its consequence the opening up of a long, reactionary epoch of world reaction which, according to Shachtman, would follow a defeat of Russia? Obviously not. Or does Shachtman hold that such a heavy blow at world socialism such as he depicts in his article would not be the result of a Russian defeat in the present war because Stalin is allied to Anglo-American imperialism? An affirmative answer makes no sense. If Shachtman’s view on the significance of Stalinist Russia is true, then the consequences he foretells would follow in any major war with the capitalist imperialists in which Stalin is engaged and defeated. There is no escape from this conclusion – once Shachtman’s false premises are granted.

It should be added that Shachtman’s analogy between backward colonial Ethiopia (or China) and his “progressive collectivist” imperialist Russia is also false from another viewpoint. We defend Ethiopia (and China) against imperialism because we are for its national independence. However, when Ethiopia is involved in the present war it loses its national independence to Anglo-American imperialism. (The same would be the case with China, if the war in the Far East becomes an integral part of the Second World War.) In other words, that which we were fighting for, the national independence of the colonial people, is no longer involved in the war; has already been destroyed. The contrary is the case with Russia. Stalin, in his alliance with the imperialist democracies, has not given up nationalized property, i.e., what Shachtman wants to support. A Russian victory in the war does not necessarily mean the destruction of Shachtman’s “progressive” collectivist form of property – that is precisely what Stalin is fighting for since that is the basis for his class rule. The analogy therefore is a hasty, ill-considered argument which may sound good but is, on analysis, deceptive and false.

Shachtman, therefore, has no consistent theoretical or political basis for his present position on Russia in the war. (All his other arguments are subsidiary to the main points considered above.) Once Trotsky’s fundamental position on the significance of Russian economy and society is accepted – as Shachtman does and I do not – his basic theoretical and political conclusions necessarily follow. But the re-evaluation of the Russian question, the establishment of clear and consistent criteria for revolutionary politics on Stalinist Russia, requires the rejection of Trotsky’s position along the lines indicated by those who hold that Russia is a reactionary, bureaucratic collectivist society.

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