Fenwick Archive  |  Trotskyist Writers  |  ETOL Home Page

James M. Fenwick

The Mysterious Bruno R.

Footnote on the History of the “Russian Question”

(September 1948)

From New International, Vol.14 No.7, September 1948, pp.215-218.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.

The mysterious “Bruno R.” is one of the many persons who are remembered today only because their ideas were attacked by Leon Trotsky. The conceptions developed by Bruno R. in his book La Bureaucratisation du Monde (The Bureaucratization of the World) [1] were first introduced to the Marxist public in the United States by Trotsky in 1939, during the great polemic on the Russian question between himself and the minority of the Socialist Workers Party which subsequently became the Workers Party: The book itself was unknown and remained unknown on this side of the ocean until recently.

The disruption of communication with Europe in 1939, the great historic events which followed, and the consequent posing and solving of new and burning political problems, caused Bruno R. to be almost forgotten. The SWP, of course, without knowing anything about him outside of what Trotsky had written, contented itself with making periodic ritualistic references to Bruno R. calculated to ward off the Evil Eye of bureaucratic collectivism.

Even in the press of the Workers Party doubts were raised concerning “the unfindable, unquotable, more or less incorporeal and altogether mysterious Bruno R.” and his views. [2] Now that Bruno R.’s book and a little collateral information on the man himself are available, this is a propitious occasion for straightening out Bruno R.’s place in the genealogical table of the theory of bureaucratic collectivism. Who then was Bruno R.? What were his ideas? What relation do they bear to the theory of bureaucratic collectivism as advanced by the Workers Party? [3]

Bruno Rizzi, Trotsky informs us, was an Italian who at one time belonged to the Fourth International. While earning his living in Italy, the nature of his work apparently enabled him to make occasional trips outside the country, in the course of which he was able to make brief contacts with French, English and Italian Trotskyists. Because of the ease with which he was able to get around, his lack of Italian revolutionary “references,” and his heterodox political views, he was treated with caution by comrades with whom he came in contact. Of his subsequent fate nothing is known.

The evolution of his political ideas is related by Rizzi in his book. He first began to re-examine the Russian question in 1936, when he published Whither the USSR? in Italian. This book was confiscated by the Fascist government, which, says Rizzi, “certainly did not understand the real objective of our work.” [4] In it, he relates, he intuitively arrived at the conclusion that “a new ruling class had been born in Russia.” He did not press the point because Trotsky denied it, and in the preface he “even declared the contrary of what was partly expressed in the book.”

He returned to the question in Is This the Twilight of Civilization? written “to combat opportunism and to lead workers to the Fourth International.” In this work he “dwelt on the question of the new ruling class in the USSR.” Rizzi relates:

“At London in November 1938 we attempted to pose the question of the nature of the Soviet state in the English section of the Fourth International. Unfortunately, the comrades – totalitarian, also! – had already had ‘plenty of discussions’ and were all in agreement with Trotsky. We succeeded in being heard even in a limited way only by the East London comrades. They took us for a petty bourgeois, and obstructionism closed the development of the discussion.”

The Bureaucratization of the World was conceived and written between the end of 1938 and the middle of May 1939. It is, the author says, a film of his meditations. Let no one be deceived by this quiet affirmation. Those meditations on occasion assume a very gaudy character.

Rizzi’s Theory of Bureaucratic Collectivism

A preliminary summary and evaluation of Rizzi’s leading ideas may prove useful. He believes that a new type of state, which he calls bureaucratic collectivist, has emerged in Russia. This state, which is neither proletarian nor capitalist, is ruled by the bureaucracy, which has assumed a class character.

As far as these two sentences go, they coincide with our own views. Beginning from such an insight into the nature of the Russian phenomenon, however, one can proceed in various directions. And from this point, the Workers Party parts company with the views of Rizzi. We shall see how far afield he goes in his own direction.

For Rizzi, bureaucratic collectivism is historically progressive. This indeed is the prime dividing line. For him, it is a world phenomenon intermediary between capitalism and socialism, partially achieved in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy and existing in embryonic form in the New Deal in the United States. This new society, whose historic function is to raise the level of world production through the cooperation of several large autarchies, has been made mandatory by the bankruptcy of the working class. The chief task of the working class of England, France and the United States is, therefore, to put pressure on their governments to relinquish living space and raw materials to Germany and Italy – which would permit the dictatorships to relax and world production to rise.

With this birds’-eye view of Rizzi’s conceptions on Russia, we can proceed to a more detailed examination of his ideas. First, as to his argumentation:

The first section, comprising somewhat less than a third of the book, titled The USSR: Bureaucratic Collectivism and subtitled Class Property, opens with a synoptic view of the rise and decline of the Russian Revolution.

“What is the USSR today?” Rizzi asks. “Its economy is not capitalist, nor is it based on private property, but it is based upon the collective ownership of the means of production.” Exploitation takes place through the extraction of surplus value. The cause of this condition lies in the fact that “the country was basically constituted of manual laborers and of illiterates, its industry was greatly inferior to the necessities of a vanguard economy.”

Behind this lies the failure of the world revolution. Within Russia the decline was aided by “the real dictatorship, which was that of the Bolshevik Party and not of the proletariat, a dictatorship which was concentrated in the party branches and not in the Soviets.”

“The state and Bolshevik Party functionaries, in socializing the land and industrializing the country, more and more undermined the power of the workers and finished by having monopolized the state. In this work they had to ally themselves with the technicians; thus was the first great fusion in the process of formation of the new ruling class realized in Russia.”

This class now constitutes about fifteen million persons, among whom workers are conspicuously absent. “The worker has only the right to work ... he does not exercise the slightest control.” The bourgeoisie “does not have the slightest possibility of returning.” The bureaucracy continues to grow enormously. It sets the living standards of the working class, which can no longer even offer its labor power to different entrepreneurs. “From the social viewpoint, this new form of society resolves the unbearable antagonism which renders capitalist society incapable of all progress.” But, Rizzi adds, the necessity for war preparations can negate the advantages of collectivization and planning.

A new class neither bourgeois nor proletarian has appeared on the horizon. This class is fully formed in Russia and “it is also visible in Italy as well as in Germany. The first indications ... are apparent everywhere, even in the countries of the great democracies.” The purges which took place following the assassination of Kirov were “only the civil war necessary for the new class to solidify its power. It is not a question of this being a sign of weakness, but of its being a demonstration of the strength of this class.”

Russia’s New Class

Rizzi then takes up some of the arguments advanced against this thesis, in particular those used by Trotsky in 1938 in his article Neither a Workers’ Nor a Bourgeois State?

“Can the nature of a state always be judged,” asks Rizzi, “without taking into account its political forms?” He replies: “It is a question of seeing to what end the expropriated and nationalized property in Russia is safeguarded from imperialism ...” If “a proletarian state with a bourgeois economy has existed” – as was the case immediately after the revolution – “could not a non-proletarian state with a nationalized economy also exist?”

Why should the new class attempt to denationalize property? “For if the nationalized property and planned economy remain it is because both are in consonance with the regime which holds power.” Even bourgeois states tend more and more to plan and to nationalize property. The Russian bureaucracy may have developed under the pressure of imperialism “but the most important question is to establish if the Soviet bureaucracy does not represent something other than a mere transmitting mechanism for world imperialism.” The numerical size of these “servants of imperialism,” the vastness of the country they control, and the duration of their rule indicate that we are confronted with a class.

Rizzi then takes up the question of class property, that is, property which is neither private nor socialist. He attaches no great significance to the belief that inequities in distribution in Russia may next lead to denationalization of the means of production. “Actually, an exploiting class exists in Russia, having in its hands the means of production and acting as its owner.” “... surplus value goes to the new exploiting class, to the bureaucracy en bloc.” Thus, if “property is nationalized in a non-proletarian regime it also loses its potential character of socialist property; it remains only class property.”

The author next takes up the bogey of capitalist-restorationist trends which haunt Fourth Internationalist thinking. He argues that historically progressive organizations, which increase the volume of production, do not go backward. “Did feudalism ever have the intention of going back to slavery?” Even if Russia were invaded by the Anti-Comintern Pact forces, there would be no reason for the destruction of an “economic system which is in the process of construction precisely in their own countries ...” Why think of the return of the bourgeoisie?

“If a new class has formed, it is because, historically or accidentally, it has a role to play in the historic ascent of humanity ... it is charged with organizing production on the basis of collective property in planning the economy within the state framework, while for socialism there will remain only the problems of international ‘nationalization’ and the socialist distribution of products.”

Is Nationalization Progressive?

Thus far Rizzi. As we have indicated, our common starting point is that Russia is neither a workers’ state (however degenerated) nor a capitalist state, but rather a state ruled by a new class which is extensive, entrenched and showing no serious tendencies toward capitalist restoration. We likewise label this “bureaucratic collectivism.” It must be admitted that Rizzi develops this part of his thesis with not inconsiderable skill and originality.

What distinguishes Rizzi’s views, however, is his acceptance of bureaucratic-collectivist Russia as a progressive phenomenon. This idea – that nationalization of the means of production is, in and of itself, progressive – is the widespread fallacy of our day.

A significant rise in the level of production over previously existing levels (the criterion for judging the progressive character of a given set of property relations) must, in the period of declining capitalism, be decided on a world basis. Seen from this point of view, the expression “politics is concentrated economics” takes on real meaning. The effect of Stalinist politics in the past twenty-five years has been to hold back the establishment of international socialism (a superior mode of production); to facilitate the outbreak of World War II (which has seriously lowered even world capitalist production); and to make World War III virtually inevitable – which, given the present constellation of forces, means the victory of US imperialism and, consequently, neo-barbarism. Only if socialism intervenes can the war be resolved on a progressive basis. From our vantage point we can see the concrete outcome of what to many, nearly ageneration ago, seemed a theoretical quibble – the theory of “socialism in one country,” i.e., Stalinist nationalism.

Actually, despite the limited resemblance between the Russian position of Bruno Rizzi and that of the Workers Party, in estimating Russia’s historic role he is much closer to the position of Trotsky and the Socialist Workers Party, for whom also the nationalized means of production form the decisive criterion of historical progressivenees, than he is to us.

* * *

At this point in the showing of Rizzi’s “film” we have to apologize to our audience. A complete reel of the meditations of Bruno Rizzi is missing. His Part II was to deal with the totalitarian state and fascism. Rizzi did not include this section in the book. Whether it was ultimately published separately, as he intended, we do not know. Nor do we know whether his failure to include this section was prompted by the difficulties inherent in the development of his concepts, or by other considerations.

Rizzi has indicated, however, what his leading idea is: “Our conclusion is that, in Italy as well as in Germany, capitalist society is being destroyed day by day, while the corresponding crystallization of a new society replaces it, with economic characteristics identical with Soviet characteristics, even if they are still partial.” This does not prevent Rizzi from speaking elsewhere as if his bureaucratic collectivism were a finished formation in these and other states. He says, for instance: “Nevertheless, while the work of Stalin, Mussolini, or Hitler is everywhere described as socialism or capitalism, it is a question only of bureaucratic collectivism.” The first formulation is, however, the one most generally sustained throughout the book.

Since this point, which is crucial for Rizzi’s general thesis, is asserted rather than developed, briefest of remarks on it will be sufficient. Unlike Rizzi, we cannot consider bureaucratic collectivism a world phenomenon intermediary between capitalism and socialism. We concur with Trotsky that state intervention in the fascist countries was primarily to coordinate the interests of the capitalists – and mainly for war purposes. Certainly to date bureaucratic collectivism bears the label “Made in Russia.”

“Embryonic Bureaucratic Collectivism”

A hoarse question opens Part III of the work: “Quo vadis, America?” Rizzi asks, and he adds “Is It Really a ‘New Deal’?”

“If we have begun Part III,” says Rizzi, “it is only to confirm in the ‘New Deal’ the signs of that bureaucratization which we view as a world phenomenon.” He is struck hard by the crop and farm-animal destruction program. This state intervention, he indicates, is paralleled by banking control, devaluation of the dollar, recall of gold certificates, wages-and-hours laws and labor legislation. “The process of envelopment by the state has hardly begun; but it will not stop ...”

Rizzi notes the uneasiness of the future bureaucrats over their glaring contradictions. [5] They enunciate “an anti-capitalist philosophy which is – in part at least – consonant with the coming society and for which, moreover, they have a vague and inspired intuition, but which remains in open contradiction with their governmental work.” Fortunately for the New Dealers, droughts, floods and foreign armaments orders come to their aid. But the growing war economy “has as an economic consequence the accentuation of nationalizations and the concentration of the economy in the hands of the state itself or at least the accentuation of state intervention.” Terrible political battles, says Rizzi, are foreseeable between the bourgeoisie and the New Deal, which the former recognizes as a potential enemy.

This section of the New Deal, by the way, manifests a tendency which becomes worse as the book progresses: Rizzi substitutes arias for argumentation. The text is filled with evocations of orchestras tuning up before the maestro raises his baton (capitalist anarchy before the dictator takes over), the Forest Murmurs from Siegfried (bureaucratic-collectivist tranquillity), Mephistopheles and Faust contesting for Marguerite (capitalism and bureaucratic collectivism struggling for the working class), etc. [6] We shall confine our criticism to the political plane.

The tendency for the state to intervene in the activities of capitalism has long been a commonplace in the Marxist movement. This was construed as being “anti-capitalist” only in the sense that individual capitalist excesses were legislated against, or weak sections bolstered, in the interests of capitalism as a whole. That this tendency is less pronounced in the United States than it is in the other major capitalist powers is indicative of the relative strength of capitalism in this country.

Intervention by the state has taken place only during periods of crisis. The New Deal represented such an intervention. We amply demonstrated at the time that despite the howls, of the “unreconstructed” capitalists it was the large insurance companies, the banks, the great agricultural and milling interests, and big business as a whole which benefited from the New Deal measures enumerated by Rizzi. Who among the capitalist spokesmen now wrings his hands over state intervention? Of this sort of “anti-capitalism” we have seen even more stringent examples since the demise of the New Deal. And nobody murmured.

That “politically the New Deal represents the beginning of the installation of a new ruling class” is equally false. The political purpose of the New Deal was to make possible the execution of the economic measures previously mentioned, by means of a political program directed to the working class and the petty bourgeoisie. The history of the past ten years has all too clearly demonstrated that. Rizzi’s evaluation of the New Deal rests on the moat impressionistic of bases.

Program of Appeasement

In the next reel our author moves on to the plane of Historical Generalization. Like a Real Thinker. Deep. As witness: Russia is the archetype of the new autarchic bureaucratic-collectivist state. It needs neither “further territory nor raw materials, but only to work tranquilly and intensely, exploiting the natural riches found in its domain.” Japan is following the same course. If Germany and Italy are threatening to overrun the world it is because they lack living space and raw materials. Small states are being engulfed.

“But if world peace and the increasing development of production are desired, a peaceful means must be found to give living space and the necessary raw materials for the building up of the German and Italian autarchies.”

The new ruling class must not seek to amass individual riches but be satisfied with good salaries while seeking an absolute increase in production. “Its historic function will end when it reveals itself incapable of pursuing this end.”

“Nationalization, statification of the major means of production, economic planning, and production for non-individualistically speculative ends represent the trump cards, of bureaucratic collectivism. In a political climate of reciprocal confidence among the autarchies, founded on sure economic bases, all possibilities for increasing production are offered to the new ruling class. From a historic point of view this class has the task of increasing the total world production in an organized manner ...”

This bureaucratic state is historically necessary, but the “last ruling class in history is so near to the classless society that it denies its class and ownership characteristics.”

There has been a leveling process throughout history, says Rizzi, tending to bring all ruling classes to the level of the working class, to the point of identifying themselves with it. “The ruling class in the coming society is nearer the worker than it is to the bourgeois ...” Nevertheless, he agrees that the working class must have the right to strike, and the unions must be free of state control. They will serve as instruments of social control and criticism. State control of the unions in totalitarian countries must be relinquished ... This serves to remind one that Rizzi is trying to think like a socialist.

The first task of the working class, then, says Rizzi, is to secure a redivision of the living spaceand raw materials of the world. To achieve socialism the world must first be rationally industrialized. This new cycle between capitalism and socialism is historically necessary. The workers of France, England, and the United States must “make themselves master of their state and impose at least a workers’ and technicians’ bureaucracy” but one which “will always permit proletarian control of the basic bodies.” The seven or eight autarchies could then arrive at a working agreement with each other.

Rationale for Fascism

This progressive step is being threatened by world capitalism, which is opposing the fascist movement. The real enemies are not Hitler and Mussolini, who have, after all, “set out with the German and Italian workers on the new social road to the new world.” “All feelings of bitterness or of hate” in regard to Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini must disappear. “They too will begin to pardon and to preach the law of Love which is the great law of Life, as well as social collaboration.” Blinded by party passion we have failed to understand and to honor the fascist fallen. The job of the French, English and US working class is to force their capitalists to relinquish living space and raw materials to Germany and Italy. These latter countries would then reintroduce democratic regimes. Workers and the new rulers could then rationalize production. Bankers would be pensioned off. Rizzi concludes this frenzied rapture: “Mussolini and Hitler extend their hand to Lenin.”

The Hitler-Stalin Pact is predicted. [7]

“The workers will never be a ruling class ... they will only have the supreme honor of ‘ruling’ a classless society!

“The Russian experience shows us that the dictatorship of the proletariat changes into a new ruling class: that of the bureaucrats, while the proletarians are transformed into citizen workers.

“The fascists have committed the theoretical error of wishing to collaborate with the bourgeoisie, whereas they should liquidate it and have already half killed it.”

When “the new class has provided for its material, intellectual and moral needs, it will obviously take pleasure in continually elevating the working class materially, intellectually and morally.” This section contains the essence of Rizzi’s program: a “socialist” rationale for fascism.

A few questions, even if they are necessarily rhetorical, are in order. Setting aside for the moment the not-slight consideration of the rights of colonial peoples, would not the transfer of territory from one power to another at best redress the balance in one country – only to shift the unbalance to the country which relinquished the “living space and raw materials”? If stability were reached, however, what would prevent the autarchies from clashing? Perhaps “reciprocal confidence” engendered by the workers of England, France and the US, who will “make themselves master of their states and impose at least a workers’ and technicians’ bureaucracy”? But if that is possible, why not strike out for socialism directly? And Hitler, once he secured Lebensraum, did he begin preaching the gospel of Love or the gospel of Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Mauthausen? [8]

The basic premise underlying Rizzi’s whole structure, that the working class has demonstrated its inability to take power, is equally impossible. Though no socialist revolution issued from World War II. and though bureaucratic collectivism extended its hold over now areas in Eastern Europe and heavily influences the working class of Western Europe, it is a fact that the working class of Germany and Italy and the colonial peoples of the world are in a better position to regroup themselves than they were before the war. Immense potentialities yet repose there, as is true of the working  of France, England and the United States. And even in the Stalinist structure, fissures are beginning to show.

Rizzi Corrects Hitler on Racism

Next in Rizzi’s film of free association is a short subject, rung in, apparently, to drain off the emotional tensions of his elegiac lines addressed to the fascist dead. It is titled The Jewish Question.

“All the racial theories of Rosenberg, Hitler, Italian racists, etc.,” cries Rizzi in a big tutti passage, “have not been able to resist the slightest scientific attack. Questions of blood, of origin, etc. ... are, in our modest opinion, only empty words.” Nevertheless, it must be said that the Jews are the “most jealously racist nation in the world and they have even claimed to be more intelligent than the others.” In a big majority of cases Jews have been capitalist types. The struggle against capitalism must therefore be strongly identified with .the struggle against the Jews. A mass campaign against the Jews must be initiated. “Hitler is right and we are wrong.” But this should not be understood as advocacy of pogroms. Workers should not fall into the trap of treating all Jews alike. Jewish workers must be taken in marriage in order to regenerate them more rapidly and to eradicate them from the face of the earth!

“We respect and honor Marx and Trotsky and a few others of our obscure friends of the Jewish race. Certain isolated and very beautiful flowers can grow in dung heaps, but as a whole the Jewish people have become a capitalist dung heap.”

It is clear to what vile lengths of anti-Semitism Rizzi is led by his fatal acceptance of the “progressiveness” of Stalinist, nationalization and fascist “statism.” Of the degeneracy of his thinking it is enough to remark as did Dean Mucks of Grant’s Tomb: “It’s a tour de force, gentlemen. You cannot alter it in any way without improving its proportions.”

* * *

In anticlimax, at the very end of the film of his meditations Rizzi undergoes a conversion. Having thought the whole matter over, he says, he now wishes to revise the opinions which he had previously elaborated. The involuted motivation for the change in Rizzi’s ideas we shall not pause over. The change briefly consists in regarding bureaucratic collectivism in its Russian, German and Italian variations not as a socially progressive formation intermediary between capitalism and socialism but as a parasitic phenomenon. At the same time he still believes that “the petty bourgeoisie (technicians of production and distribution) must form an anti-capitalist bloc nationally and internationally” and that “workers not yet subjected to a totalitarian regime must trade their ‘living space’ for their chains and the chains of their comrades who have already fallen into a new slavery.”

Rizzi concludes with An Appeal to Mankind. He asks the bourgeoisie to repent, for they must know that a collapse is coming if they do not grant ‘living space’ and raw materials to Italy, Germany and Japan. If this is done, the dictators will relax their regimes.

“We do not believe that in the bottom of their hearts, and as men, Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini are happy with their regimes. ... The New World which we desire will liberate even these great prisoners ...”

And so, as all good films should, it is on this note of Love that we come to The End of the film of meditations of an isolated man who tried to think like a socialist under fascism – unsuccessfully.


1. La Bureaucratisation du Monde, by Bruno R., published by the author, Paris 1939, 350 pages.

2. In Reply to Grant by the mysterious Max Shachtman, New International, February 1947.

3. It has been assumed by some comrades both here and abroad that Trotsky’s attack on Bruno R.’s theory of bureaucratic collectivism was in fact directed against the Workers Party’s views. This is an error in chronology. Actually the very first draft of what was to become the WP position did not appear until December 1940, i.e., after Trotsky’s death. In the 1939 dispute Trotsky tried to use Rizzi’s book as a stalking-horse. In his opening gambit, when he thought that the axis of the discussion was going to turn on the theory of the Russian state. However, the discussion which ensued revolved around the political-programmatic question of defense of Russia in the war. Rizzi therefore disappeared from view; he is not even mentioned in the last two-thirds of Trotsky’s In Defense of Marxism, for example.

4. This curious statement will become clear when we elaborate upon Rizzi’s views.

5. The evidence rests, it is exceptionally interesting to note, almost solely upon the windbagging of Henry A. Wallace, whom we have elsewhere characterized aa a neo-Stalinist (i.e., neo-bureauuratic-collectivist) type.

6. It is obvious from the book on a whole that when the Fourth International gained a poor critic somebody lost a fair tenor.

7. This is in contrast to his co-thinker James Burnham, who three years later, in a dashing elenchus, proved the inevitability of the Hitler-Stalin Pact AFTER it had taken place – and shortly before it blew up. Readers who cultivate submarginal political literature will note the striking resemblance between the views of Rizzi and of Burnham – the Burnham of The Managerial Revolution of course. How much Burnham owes to Rizzi we do not know; in any case it is of no great importance. The ideas were in the air at the time. It was inevitable that they be systematized – scholastically by Burnham, operatically by Rizzi.

8. In view of there formulation and several others, which Rizzi develops later, how Trotsky could treat Rizzi’s ideas as if they fell within the broad bounds of Marxism is a little obscure. No less obscure is the casual way in which Trotsky could link Rizzi with the Workers Party, without indicating: the entirety of Rizzi’s position. One thing is certain: had Rizzi’s full position been known, even less attention would have been paid to the bogy of Rizzi’s “bureaucratic collectivism” than it actually attracted.

Fenwick Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 17.9.2005