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Socialist Thought Abroad

(March 1948)

From The New International, Vol. XIV No. 3, March 1948, pp. 93–94.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

is inaugurated with the accompanying survey of four discussions from the international socialist press. It is planned for alternate issues, barring unusual demands on our space. It will concern itself with reporting and commenting on efforts of socialists in other countries to grapple with the political and theoretical problems of our times – both those with which we agree and those with which we disagree.

One of the most interesting new political publications to appear in Europe in the post-war period is La Revue Internationale, a monthly political, cultural and literary magazine edited by a group of leading French intellectuals and Marxists, including some ex-Trotskyists (e.g., Pierre Naville).

The publication is interesting not so much for its intrinsic merit (which is rather varied and uneven) but its steady evolution toward pro-Stalinism, or, at best, Stalinist apologism expressed on a comparatively high ideological plane. We do not want to trace the steady development of this tendency here, but rather to call attention to one particularly significant article which has, like the magazine itself, an interest beyond its own content. La Revue Internationale might be called the first important theoretical journal of the neo-Stalinist trend.

A discussion was organized by the magazine’s editors around James Burnham’s book The Managerial Revolution, which hit Europe last year, arousing much the same superficial interest as it had done in America. In this discussion, however, it turned out that it was the Russian state that was being discussed. The articles soon left the field of lofty, if abstract, theory and dealt with Stalin’s regime in theory and practice.

Charles Bettelheim, well-known economist, took the first timid but definite step in his contribution (No. 16, June 1947) which contended that the Russian bureaucracy is a necessary, progressive characteristic of the first stages of socialist society; that each revolution must experience the same bureaucratic growth since such an organism is needed to regulate privileges and material distribution during the first days of a workers’ state.

More interesting and clearer, both in content and significance, was the article of Giles Martinet, editorial board member of La Revue Internationale, published in July 1947 (No. 17). The article is entitled, From Trotsky to Burnham, and is a bold and open step in justifying the existence, as an historic necessity, of the Russian bureaucracy together with its methods and manners.

In the course of a violent attack on Trotsky and his movement on grounds of revolutionary “utopianism,” the position of Shachtman (Workers Party) is attacked at great length. Martinet cleverly makes use of the numerous contradictions in the Fourth International’s analysis of events (based principally on the “approaching revolution” theories held by the European Trotskyist spokesmen), and openly takes his stand with the Stalinist movement and the Russian bureaucracy. The reply of the Trotskyists (Quatrième Internationale, October 1947) is ineffectual since it is an elaborate defense of this same “approaching revolution” perspective.

Burnhamite Speculation

F.A. Ridley, who conducts a column called The Shape of Things to Come for The Socialist Leader (publication of the British Independent Labor Party; formerly known as The New Leader) speculates on the character of Britain’s Labor government after two years in office.

In the November 15, 1947 issue, Ridley theorizes: “Far from being the legatees and last hopes of traditional Capitalism, the Labor Government is effectively digging the grave of that society. It is the authentic forerunner of a new social-democratic, collectivist system. One in which the State controls the economy, and not the economy the State ...” And further, says Ridley, the new ruling class “is the State Machine itself, as expressed and represented by its political directors and bureaucratic agents that becomes the new ruling-class. And this, and not either Capitalism or Socialism is ‘the state of things to come’ in contemporary Britain ... we may accurately term [this]: ‘The Managerial Revolution.’” Burnham pops up here again.

A social revolution is in process in England, says Ridley, but it is not a socialist revolution. What is it then? “...why beat about the bush? Such a governmental regime, even if, as may be, it conserves some fig-leaves of formal political democracy, is, in essence, a totalitarian regime, a ‘servile state,’ as Belloc, a generation ago, called it more bluntly.” Its final stage will be, concludes Ridley, the same as “the final stage of Stalinism.” It sounds suspiciously as if John Dos Passos’ recent article in Life magazine derived its original inspiration from the Ridley thesis.

A notorious tout of generalities, Ridley here lightmindedly deduces sweeping conclusions from the existing tendencies and trends. With less than twenty per cent of British economy nationalized, with a halt in the entire program now apparent, and faced with the fact that the really basic branches of British industry are yet untouched (steel, iron, machine works, etc.), Ridley asks us to accept the Burnhamite theory of the gradual growing-over of state-capitalist Britain into a full-blown Stalinist Britain, without suggesting why this will happen or accounting for any intervening political counter-factors. This is speculation without rhyme or reason and indicates the theoretical poverty of the ILP remnants.

Unfortunately we must simultaneously acknowledge that while the RCP (Revolutionary Communist Party, British Trotskyists) has several times seriously grappled with the problem of the historic significance of the British Labor government, and has fortunately rejected its original viewpoint that this government, like its predecessors, would “do nothing,” its analyses have not been entirely adequate. It has related the program and policy of the Attlee regime to the capitalist needs of a declining Britain, but it has failed to deepen this economic side of its analysis either with an accompanying political analysis or, more important, a related political program for itself. The best that can be said for Ridley is that in his blundering way he realizes that “something new” is with us, and his speculative fancy tries to get at this “something new.”

Theory of “State Bonapartism”

The problem of the character of Russian-occupied Eastern Europe is common to revolutionists everywhere. Since one’s general attitude toward Stalinism as a world phenomenon is, in part, determined by a concrete answer to this problem, the universal concern of Marxists with Poland, Rumania, Yugoslavia, etc., is understandable. In the November 7, 1947 issue of Toiler’s Front, publication of the Revolutionary Communist Party of India (an organization in general sympathetic to Trotskyism) Sudarshan Chatterji, in an article dealing with the writings of the now-disgraced Professor Varga on the subject of Eastern Europe, attempts to answer this problem.

Varga, as our readers know, was the man who described the Eastern European regimes as “democracy of a new type.” With grim determination, Chatterji reads Varga a lesson in elementary Marxism, but we are not concerned with this aspect of the article. What does Chatterji himself say about the regimes?

Repeating the familiar story of how the Red Army’s approach opened up the path “for a socialist revolution,” he tells us that the Kremlin stepped into the breach “to refurbish the old capitalist apparati with the help of its bayonets.” To solve the economic difficulties of the occupied lands, Stalin organized a “managed revolution” (definitely not to be confused with the “managerial revolution”!). A small landowning peasantry is created by land reforms, and “to weaken the bourgeoisie” (Chatterji’s emphasis) some important industries are nationalized. But this, of course, does not undermine the capitalist foundations of these countries. On the contrary, “it will help capitalism to recover.” The regimes of Eastern Europe are state-capitalist, with the state power resting: in the hands of “the Stalinist generals.” But these generals, since they maneuver between the workers and the bourgeoisie, are Bonapartists; and therefore “the states in Eastern Europe can be called Stalinist Bonapartist States ... a bastard product of Stalinism.” (Chatterji’s emphasis)

This neat little package, all tied up with the ribbons of Marxist “orthodoxy,” carefully evades taking any position on the political nature of the regimes, the problem of their defense or non-defense, etc. The trouble with the whole thing is its entirely static quality, refuted by the events of each day. Stalin conceives of his pattern for the Eastern European states, imposes it upon them, maneuvers back and forth, and everything is clear! But the continuation of the nationalization process in country after country, the obvious growing totalitarianization of each state apparatus, the tying together of the nationalized economy with Russian economy, etc. – all this is a process to which Chatterji is blind. In “explaining” yesterday, he explains nothing because his theory is shattered with each new day. Between Varga’s “New Democracy” and Chatterji’s “State Bonapartism” there is little choice in theoretical clarity.

Mixed Theories

Apparently still puzzled and dissatisfied with its explanation of events in Eastern Europe, the French Parti Communiste Intemationaliste (PCI) has begun a re-examination of the problem in its weekly paper, La Verité. Under the standing bead of Facts, Figures, Documents, a series of articles are being published to examine “What is the exact nature of the profound modifications that have taken place and are taking place in the countries that find themselves integrated into the zone of ‘Soviet defense’? Is the Stalinist bureaucracy capable of playing a revolutionary role outside of the USSR? Is the new democracy of Varga a ‘necessary step,’ an ‘original stage’ on the road toward socialism?”

Vital questions, all of these, but we are fearful of the reply that the French majority Trotskyists will give to them if we judge by the first article in this series, The Popular Rumanian Republic.

Denying that Russia’s victory has led to “the extension of soviet economic relations to the countries where the Red Army has penetrated,” the author claims that Russian efforts aim at fulfillment of two demands: reparations, and seizure of industrial enterprises and capital possessed by Nazi Germany in the conquered lands. Russia replaces Germany as banker and industrialist. All this requires “the maintenance of the economy within the capitalist framework.” In Rumania, for example, Russia creates, together with the state, mixed companies (oil, air traffic, banks, etc.). That is, an economic alliance is formed between “the Soviet bureaucracy and the Rumanian bourgeoisie” which exploits the workers, with Russia and the Rumanian capitalists dividing the profits! The author predicts more extensive nationalizations, but only of Anglo-American properties and not touching the country’s key industries.

Here we have another neat and equally worthless package, based upon superficial economic rationalizations, fitted into preconceived patterns which ignore the role of living politics. Example? In the very same article, the author tells us that King Michael of Rumania, just kicked out by the collaborating Stalinists, was “the biggest banker, industrialist and property owner of Rumania!” And who took over the capital represented by Michael? The Rumanian state, of course – the state which is controlled, dominated and run by the Rumania Stalinist party, handmaid of Russia. But La Verité will cling fast to the “Rumanian bourgeoisie” and its mixed companies – mixed like Molotov cocktails!

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