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Albert Goldman

A Note on the Defense and Nature of Stalinist Russia

(October 1946)

From New International, Vol. XII No. 8, October 1946, pp. 240–242.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The following article by Albert Goldman, leader of the former Minority Group of the Socialist Workers Party (a great section of which under his leadership, joined the Workers Party), is a presentation of his views on a question on which The New International and the WP have a fully developed different position. But in line with our practice we are publishing his views as a discussion article. We believe this to be in the best tradition of revolutionary Marxism. More important than that, however, Comrade Goldman’s article is a contribution on a subject which continues to remain one of the most important before the international revolutionary socialist movement. The publication of this article is not the opening of a discussion on the Russian question which we have carried on several previous occasions. Its publication is for the purpose of acquainting our readers with the views of the writer.

Readers of The New International are, of course, familiar with its views, namely, that Russia is a bureaucratic collectivist society; a new exploitive social order; the most powerful counter-revolutionary force in the world today, pursuing an imperialist policy of its own and, from the point of view of the masses, no different from the imperialism of monopoly capitalism. Under bureaucratic collectivism, Russian society is a “slave” society for the mass of workers and peasants, having not the slightest resemblance to socialism.

We do not agree with Comrade Goldman’s comments on our theoretical analysis of the character of the Russian state. That there are difficulties involved in the theory, goes without saying, but they are as nothing when compared to those involved in the theory of “a degenerated workers’ state,” or that of Russia as a capitalist-fascist state. With the aid of the theory of bureaucratic collectivism we have been able to develop a valid estimate of Russia’s role and to orient our movement correctly in world events as against all others during the past almost seven years. The same cannot be said for those who adhered to the “degenerated workers’ state” concept. Further, it is our opinion that the views of Comrade Goldman represent a moving away from that untenable theory held by the official organizations of the Fourth International, toward the views of the Workers Party and thus represent a particularly interesting contribution to the discussion. – Editor

From the point of view of those struggling for the socialist revolution the outstanding fact of World War II is that the revolution did not emerge from the war to destroy the Stalinist bureaucracy as we hoped and expected, but that the Stalinist bureaucracy was the greatest single factor in preventing a successful socialist revolution in Europe.

One can point to certain beginnings of a socialist revolutionary movement at the time when the Hitler military machine was cracking up; one can point to certain sections of Europe where undoubtedly the masses were ready to take power. But all this does not and cannot alter the fact that there has been no revolution in Europe for the fundamental reason that the Stalinist bureaucracy prevented the socialist revolution from developing.

In Eastern Europe the Stalinist armies crushed every attempt on the part of the masses to take power and at the present moment the masses of those countries are practically slaves of the Stalinist bureaucracy. In the important countries of Western Europe the Stalinist parties have gained command over the decisive sections of the working class and have, by their policies prevented any attempt at revolution. In France and Italy the workers have flocked to the Stalinist banner because they want a socialist revolution. Without the Stalinist parties only the bayonets of the American and English imperialist armies could have crushed any revolutionary uprising. It can be said with the greatest of certainty that the Stalinist bureaucracy is the most powerful counter-revolutionary factor on the. European scene.

The contention is put forward that our mistake in believing that the revolution would arise as a result of the war and destroy Stalinism is one involving tempo. (We also thought that if the revolution did not arise and destroy the Stalinist bureaucracy, the forces of capitalism would do away with it. But that is immaterial for the argument in this article.) We can grant the proposition that our mistake is one of tempo but this does not in the least modify the proposition that the victory of the Stalinist armies is the greatest danger to the socialist revolution. This has been proved beyond the shadow of a doubt and every serious revolutionist who up to now has advocated the “defense of the Soviet Union” should take that factor into consideration in determining his attitude to that slogan.

Trotsky was careful to explain that our defense of Russia means primarily an explanation to the masses of what we defend and how we defend it. He was exceedingly anxious to have everyone clearly understand that we are not for one moment defending any of the policies of the Stalinist bureaucracy. But this did not do away with the fact that in any war between Russia and a capitalist country those who were for the defense of the Soviet Union were for the victory of the “Red” army and were obliged to do their best to help achieve that victory.

But at present, knowing what the consequences of a victory of the Stalinist army must be to the socialist revolution, is it still possible to advocate the defense of Russia, that is, the victory of the Stalinist armies? The answer is that a revolutionist who is not bound by a formula will not do so. The answer is that a revolutionary Marxist who sees and accepts the obvious fact that to defend Stalinist Russia means to hope and, if possible, work for the victory of an army that is certain to crush any socialist revolutionary uprising, will give up the slogan of “defense of the Soviet Union.”

We have always accepted the idea that the defense of Russia must be subordinated to the interests of the world revolution. We know now what we did not know in 1940 – that the victory of the Stalinist army is detrimental to the world revolution just as the victory of any capitalist country would be.

“Nationalized Property – Therefore Defense”

Must the conclusion be drawn from the above that we who advocated “defending the Soviet Union” in 1940 were wrong?’Only in the sense that the formula upon which we fundamentally based our defense of Russia was an incorrect one. That formula was “nationalized property – therefore defense.” It was the fact that nationalized property was something still left of the 1917 Revolution that made it necessary for some of us to call Russia a “workers’ state” even though degenerated. And it was this nationalized property that we said made it necessary for us to defend Russia. That bare formula must now be rejected completely. For it leads to the dangerous conclusion that we defend an army the victory of which can lead only to counter-revolutionary consequences.

Far more correct would it have been had we said that nationalized property under the conditions prevailing in 1940 justified our position of defense. We certainly did not know what the results of the war would be; in fact we expected the proletarian revolution or capitalism to destroy Stalinism. Itwas correct for us to test to the end the theory that the war may bring the proletarian revolution and it, in ’its tum, smash the Stalinist bureaucracy. One of the most important of the conditions prevailing in 1940 was the expectation that either the revolution or capitalism would destroy the Kremlin bureaucracy. One can make out a fair case for the proposition that Trotsky actually thought that defense was necessary in 1940 partly because he expected the overthrow of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the not too far-distant future.

“We might place ourselves in a ludicrous position,” he said, “if we affixed to the Bonapartist oligarchy the nomenclature of a new class just a few years or even a few months prior to its inglorious downfall.”

Trotsky always felt it necessary to operate on that theory, which looked forward to a favorable outcome for the proletarian revolution, until events proved conclusively that it could not be held any longer. Until the very last minute he worked on the theory that the Nazis could be prevented from taking power. There were those who, after the Nazis took power, pointed out that Trotsky was wrong in this theory, forgetting that it was only such a theory that could constitute the basis of a continuation of the struggle against the Nazis and that a revolutionist had no right to say beforehand that the struggle against the Nazis was in vain.

A somewhat similar situation existed with reference to the question of defending Russia. So long as it was possible to expect that the war and a victory of the Russian armies might lead to a proletarian revolution and the regeneration of Russia, so long was it justifiable to retain the position of its defense.

But if it was justifiable to defend Stalinist Russia in 1940, when history had not as yet showed us what exactly the victory of the Stalinist army would mean, it is criminal to do so now when we know what a victory of the Stalinist army must inevitably lead to.

Defense and the Consciousness of the Masses

The threat which a victory of the Stalinist army presents to the socialist revolution is by itself sufficient to warrant a change from defending Stalinist Russia to non-defense. There are, however, additional factors which should be taken into consideration by those who still cling to the old formula. The plundering of the occupied countries and the enslavement of millions of German and Japanese workers whose only crime was to be drafted into the armies of their oppressors make a change mandatory on the question of defense. How can we ask the workers of Germany and Japan who have experienced the frightful terror of slave labor in Stalin’s Russia to defend that country? How can we ask the semi-enslaved workers of the Eastern European countries to defend Stalin’s Russia?

Terrible were the crimes of Stalin in executing hundreds of thousands of people who were loyal to the revolution on the pretext that they were enemies of the working class. Dreadful are the conditions of the masses in Russia. But it remains a fact that the masses outside of Russia were never deeply stirred by the crimes of Stalin against the people of that country. Either they were unaware of those crimes or they considered the struggle between Stalin and his opponents as of no concern to them. But now millions of people have become aware of the terrible cruelty of that monster and it is impossible to ask them to help his army to victory and thus help forge their own chains.

It can be said that we always made a distinction between the “Soviet Union” and the Stalinist regime and we never assumed the slightest responsibility for the crimes of Stalin. It was under the best of circumstances a difficult task to make that distinction. At present, however, it is an impossible task. Tell the tortured slaves in the slave labor camps of Russia, tell the semi-slaves of the Eastern European countries that they should only defend the nationalized property and their answer, with venom and hatred will be: but in order to defend this nationalized property I must work for the victory of an army that will bring torture and slavery to me. You who are defenders may be willing to help build your own funeral pyre but not we.

What About the Nature of the Russian state?

Does it follow that we must reject the concept of a degenerated workers’ state for Stalinist Russia because we reject its defense? For the present that is not at all necessary.

We can call a junked automobile an automobile although it cannot be used for anything but junk. We call Stalinist Russia a degenerated workers’ state because Russia was once a workers’ state and at present we do not know what actually is developing out of it. In truth it is necessary, for the present, to cling to the concept of degenerated workers’ state because no one has succeeded in presenting us with a theory as to its nature which has less difficulties than those involved in the theory of degenerated workers’ state. What was once a workers’ state and subsequently a degenerated workers’ state has not developed to a point where we can be certain of its nature.

One can easily admit the difficulties connected with the theory of degenerated workers’ state but then the difficulties involved in the theory of bureaucratic collectivism are much greater. On the basis of that theory one must hold that it is possible 1: that a class (bureaucratic collectivist) can arise which does not play a progressive role in comparison with the class (capitalist) it displaces; 2: that a new class can arise, the existence of which can be limited to one country. In a world made interdependent by capitalist imperialism this is indeed a difficult concept – almost as difficult as the theory of socialism in one country.

Marx postulated the theory of the rule of the working class and the development of socialism as a result of the contradictions of capitalism. There is a very strong implication in the theory of bureaucratic collectivism of a social order following capitalism which is not socialism but bureaucratic collectivism. There is, of course, nothing sacred about any theory of Marx and if events compel us to revise it we should do so. But one should not lightly change a theory which is of tremendous aid in the struggle for socialism. The theory of degenerated worker’s state is far more in consonance with Marxism and since the difficulties connected with that theory are less than the difficulties connected with the theory of bureaucratic collectivism, it is to be preferred as against the latter theory.

The theory that state capitalism exists in Stalinist Russia has the advantage of connecting the exploitation that is going on in Russia with capitalist exploitation. But essentially it raises the same problems and difficulties as the theory of bureaucratic collectivism.

To those who would argue that to call Stalinist Russia a degenerated workers’ state means that it is necessary to defend it against capitalist attack, we can say with the greatest conviction that history has proved that a degenerated workers’ state under a Stalinist regime can do far greater harm to the socialist revolution than some capitalist states.

To defend Stalinist Russia because it is a degenerated workers’ state and to disregard the fact that to defend it means to work for the victory of an army that is sure to crush the every attempt at socialist revolution is to become a prisoner of formulas. No real Marxist is a prisoner of formulas.

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