Stalinism: It's Origin and Future. Andy Blunden 1993

The Isolation of the Revolution

IV: The ‘Great Patriotic War’

On 22 June 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Stalin was totally unprepared for this invasion, and ordered the border units not to return fire! Having beheaded the Red Army, Stalin now took the USSR to war against the most powerful industrialised country in the world. The ‘Second Front’ was not opened until the Normandy landing on June 6 1944. For three years the USSR bore the brunt of the War with fascist Germany. The defeat of the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad in January 1943 marked the beginning of the end for Hitler. But 21.3 million Soviet citizens,. [55] including 3/4 of the pre-War Party members, died in the war against fascist Germany!

As soon as the USSR entered the war, the sections of the Comintern abruptly changed course and supported the ‘war against fascism’. How did the loyal members of the Communist Party of Australia sell this new abrupt change of line to the working class?

The following anecdote tells how Jack Hughes conveyed the change of line to CPA supporters in Sydney:. [56]

“I had to deliver the speech in which the Party shifted from opposition to the war, into full support of it; support in every way, from subscribing to War Loans, to joining the forces, to increasing production in the factories, - everything in the war effort, no holds barred.

“Once you’ve decided, that’s that. But immediate changes like that don’t come easy to people. Delivering that speech was, without a doubt, the worst experience I’ve ever had. I’ve made a lot of speeches, addressed a lot of rowdy crowds, been toppled off the platform by the New Guard, been under attack at the Domain, and at street corners. But they were nothing, compared to the experience I had making that speech.

“It wasn’t that anyone interjected, just that the meeting was suddenly so cold. I could feel the chill. I started to sweat. There was a swell of disbelief, almost hatred. And when I’d finished, this deadly silence”.

“Afterwards many of the comrades, some I’d worked with for years, came up to me and said, ‘Jack, I never thought you’d rat. Become a bloody war-monger, an imperialist. Another Billy Hughes!’”. [57]

Now that the CPA supported the War effort, everything changed. The Communist Review of September 1941 pleaded for legalisation:

‘The Communist Party wholeheartedly supports the present war. The Party and its members are working for the supreme war effort required from Australia toward the common objective of Britain, the United States and other allied nations. Our contribution will continue whether present restrictions on our organisation are removed or not. We offer no bargain and ask for no bargain.’

In exhorting CPA members to assist production, Communist Review said ‘we shall have to run counter to popular prejudices’ and ‘above all, we must work through the official trade union machinery’.

On December 18 1942, Attorney-General Evatt announced the lifting of the ban on the CPA:

‘The undertakings which have been entered into by a committee of certain individuals representing themselves and the Communist Party are binding: (1) to do all in their power to assist in the effectual prosecution of the war, (2) to do all in their power to increase the production of war materials and the provision of services for war and industrial purposes; and (3) to do their utmost to promote harmony in industry, to minimise absenteeism, stoppages, strikes or other hold-ups.’. [58]

The CPA leaders had led militant and robust rank-and-file movements during the Depression and early days of the War. During the War, they became experts in strike-breaking and manipulation of the workers’ movement, and the vilest of jingoists. In this new kind of activity, CPA activists established close links with the ALP bureaucracy in the unions. All regard for the independence of the working class was abandoned in pursuit of productivity and the ‘war effort’.

Between 1923 and 1941 the Comintern line abruptly changed by 180º six times. These changes had taken place without any serious discussion in the working class or the Party, or any honest accounting of past errors. This bewildering alternation of line, accompanied by vicious denunciation of anyone who hesitated, created a habit of blind obedience in the Party and amongst its loyal supporters. Few Party members became disillusioned or disaffected as a result of these changes however, since the USSR was seen as the only force capable of withstanding the march of Fascism.

And so it came about, that the CPA emerged from the second world war as the most loyal supporters of ‘democracy and freedom’, represented by the ‘Allied Powers’. CPA members were loyal patriots, peace-lovers and ‘responsible’ leaders of their unions. On the basis of this new found respectability, the CPA reached the pinnacle of its size and influence, but had shifted decisively and irrevocably to the right and its social base broadened into the middle class and petit-bourgeoisie.

The same was true in all the countries of Europe. In the colonies, the Communist Parties, whose members had fought in the resistance against the Japanese for instance, emerged from the Second World War ardent supporters of ‘democratic imperialism’. In token of Stalin’s pact with the “democratic imperialist” powers, the Communist International formally abolished in May 1943.. [59]

V: Stalin’s Terror and the Family

During the years of the New Economic Policy and Stalin’s “face to the countryside” between 1923 and 1928, the traditional Old Russian patriarchal family had been reconstructed. This was especially true in the rural areas, where the progressive policies of the Revolution had met considerable resistance from the start. Party officials in the countryside made little effort to impose reforms that had been legislated by the Revolution. On the contrary, Alexandre Kollontai was publicly denounced by Bukharin, Stalin and others for her continued attack on the bourgeois family.

During the years of “liquidation of the kulaks as a class” however, the family and the village structure of Old Russia was smashed. Deportation, collectivisation, famine, execution and imprisonment combined to shatter the patriarchal structure of Old Russia.

The urban workers fared no better. The rush to industrialisation was implemented by instilling fear in the entire population. The regime of state terror, particularly the informer system, the regimented conformity, the near-famine conditions and collectivisation left no room any private or personal space. The family was liquidated.

Increasingly, all the worst techniques invented by the capitalist world were utilised to increase production, including piece-work, long hours and obscene wage differentials. These measures had exactly the same effect on the economic position of Soviet women as they had in the capitalist world, despite formal equality of pay for women. For, although the Soviet Union by now had extensive state health and education services, domestic duties still fell to the woman.

In 1930, the women’s department of the Party was closed down, because the “women had already acquired equality, therefore no longer represented a distinct social category with separate needs”.

The family was perversely rehabilitated in June 1934 with a law which made members of a family collectively responsible for any “crime” committed by a member of the family. Family members innocent of any actually complicity were still punishable by five years exile. Knowledge of the intentions of a family member to commit a crime was punishable with up to five years in prison.. [60] Extension of the age of liability for capital punishment down to 12, ensured that children could be forced to inform on their parents. Instead of being a point of support for individuals, the family was utilised as an integral part of the system of social control.

A new marriage code was introduced in 1936, making divorce more difficult. Abortion. [61] was again banned on the pretext that under socialism there could be no need for it. The labour camp and the army were decreed to be the models upon which the Soviet family should be based. The same authoritarian principles were to be applied in the family as were applied in the Army and the labour camps. These principles were reinforced by a school system based on the same labour-camp model of society with gender-segregation, uniforms and political denunciation thrown in.

With women bearing equal obligations in production, but with social services still inadequate, the burden of care fell to a large extent upon the age-old institution of the grand-mother.

Stalinism and Science and Culture

Despite the backward conditions in which the majority of the population of Old Russia had lived, the achievements of pre-Revolutionary Russia in the arts and sciences rivalled those of advanced Europe. Achievement in science or culture had been the only avenue into the aristocracy open to ‘commoners’ in Old Russia.

The Revolution had sought to maintain this tradition, and win the leaders of Russian science, literature and art to the side of the Revolution. From the earliest days Lenin and Trotsky in particular had had to fight against primitive and simplistic notions of the relation between politics and culture within the Bolshevik Party. Even in the midst of famine and civil war, considerable resources had been provided to artists and scientists to continue and expand their work.

Despite these social and political problems, the Revolution succeeded in unleashing a veritable revolution in the arts in the USSR.

The victory of the Stalin faction within the ruling party changed all that. The suffocating conformism and double-speak of the “third period” blotted out all creativity in the arts. Whole new movements in film, sculpture, painting, poetry and literature which had been born in the early days of the revolution were snuffed out, and replaced with the crassest variety of agit-prop.

Important developments in the social sciences, mathematics and the natural sciences were terminated by state terror. Paedology, the study of child development, had one national conference in 1928, which considered whether “socialism” was providing ideal conditions for child development. There was no second conference. The participants were all liquidated.

Genetics was a new science, destined to provide the basis for a qualitative leap in technology 50 years later. Stalin decreed that the whole science was bourgeois, and it was replaced by a pseudo-science based on the fallacious theory of inheritance of acquired characteristics of Lysenko. A heavy price was paid when Soviet medicine proved quite incapable of dealing with the radiation disease resulting from misuse of its nuclear energy in the post World War Two period.

During the 1930s and 40s, Soviet science was carried forward in specially-built labour camps, where scientists denounced as “saboteurs” continued their work in total isolation from the outside world.. [62]

What is Stalinism?

A very diverse range of politics is subsumed under the heading of ‘Stalinism’.

For instance, between 1933 and 1939 Stalinism moved from the extreme left to the extreme right of the workers’ movement. In 1933 they denounced the reformists as a “wing of fascism” in 1939 they signed a pact with Hitler “in the interests of world peace”.

From 1923-1928, Stalin advocated “socialism at a snail’s pace”, but in 1928 the USSR set out to “catch up and overtake” the West in the shortest possible time.

Before 1934, the Stalinists in the capitalist countries set up “red unions” in opposition to the mass trade unions. After 1934, they not only joined the mainstream unions, but called for a “popular front” with the “national bourgeoisie”.

Stalinism is not so much a political tendency but the politics of a social stratum, together with those who are tied politically to that social stratum. This stratum is the bureaucracy of the workers’ state.

An individual member of the apparatus of a workers’ state may or not express the specific social interests of that apparatus. Trotsky for instance was a senior official of the Soviet state from 1917 to 1927. But, all his life he was a political leader of the working class and an implacable opponent of the bureaucracy. Thus, it is possible to be both a member of the workers’ bureaucracy and a leader of the working class and political opponent of the bureaucracy.

Nevertheless, it can be seen that the apparatus has social interests that are distinct from those of the social class it serves. Consequently, to live in such a bureaucracy implies social pressures which act upon every individual. Stalinism arose within the Soviet state when sections of the bureaucracy began to express their own interests, against those of the working class which had created the state in order to serve its interests.

The history of the Russian Revolution cannot leave any doubt but that the working class and no other had created the Soviet state. But does that fact alone guarantee that the Soviet state would serve the working class and it alone?

All social classes endeavour to influence the state apparatus in the direction of their own interests, and find within the state apparatus individuals, groups and factions which express their social interests. The bourgeoisie has always been able to find those within the apparatus of the workers’ state who will serve its interests.

Thus, in order to understand the politics of the workers’ state bureaucracy two issues have to be considered: what is the social nature of the state itself (its origins, its relation to other classes and to production)? and what is the social nature and composition and political profile of the officials holding office within the state, and the social pressures acting upon them?

During the latter part of his life Trotsky fought many political battles against those who characterised the Soviet Union as a capitalist state.. [63] In State and Revolution, written in September-October 1917, Lenin clearly and unambiguously explained that the objective of the working class in taking state power was to build an instrument of violence for the repression of the capitalist class. The Red Army was the essence of that state. Political relations within the working class, and the relations between its different strata and the bureaucracy are another question.

The bureaucracy of any state has its own independent aspirations. Effectively restricting these aspirations is a problem which depends upon the strength of the ruling class and the balance of forces between it and other classes.

The state bureaucracy does not have unqualified freedom of action. Its power derives from holding office within a state, a particular state. The bureaucracy is obliged to make sure not to bring about the actual overthrow of the state, since in this instance they would lose the very basis of their own social power.

It is this contradiction between social interests affecting the bureaucracy which is responsible for the zig-zagging of the Soviet bureaucracy. It is often referred to as the ‘dual nature’ of the workers’ state. For instance, Stalin’s policy up to 1928 threatened the destruction of the workers’ state through a counter-revolution based on the petit-bourgeoisie and rich peasants. Such a counter-revolution would have meant Stalin’s death just as much as it would have destroyed the foundation of workers’ power. At a certain point, Stalin had to make an about-face.

These questions concerning the problems of development of an isolated workers state were problems that had never previously confronted the socialist movement. The Russian Revolution was the first to give birth to a proletarian state that survived to live within the imperialist world. Thus it gave the world not only the original ‘model’ for socialist revolution, but a new social strata, the workers’ state bureaucracy and the politics of that stratum, Stalinism.

Since the workers’ movement had never been practically confronted with this problem prior to 1923, the political and theoretical foundations of the struggle against Stalinism were laid by the movement which fought against Stalinism, namely, Trotskyism.

It would be quite wrong to attempt to understand Stalinism simply in terms of a problem within the working class or within the socialist movement. The political problems which confronted the Soviet working class in the 1920s and 1930s were not of their own making. They arose as a result of the defeat of the European revolution and the isolation of the Soviet workers’ in a backward, peasant-dominated country.

Therefore, this analysis could be summed up by saying that Stalinism is the expression of the pressure of imperialism within the workers’ state. The Stalinist bureaucracy is the representative of imperialism within the workers’ state. This should not be understood in the ‘conspiratorial’ sense, but in the social sense, of course.

On the other hand, it is equally important to recognise that no matter how reactionary it may become like reformism, Stalinism remains a tendency within the working class. Although Stalinism represents a response to the pressure of the capitalist class, it is manifested as a tendency within the working class.

This distinction is important when we consider how a struggle against Stalinism should be conducted within the workers movement.

For instance, the struggle against Stalinism and Social Democracy which Trotsky conducted in Germany in 1931-33 was based on the call for a United Front. Trotsky recognised that both the reformists and the Stalinists were tendencies within the German working class. Above all the German workers needed unity of their own ranks in order to fight Fascism. This meant uniting all working class parties, while facilitating the political struggle between them over a common program of struggle.

The Stalinist policy of treating the reformist workers as fascist agents was just as erroneous as would be a policy of labelling the Stalinists as agents of “soviet imperialism”.

On the other hand, the “popular front” policy of Stalinism was based on the concept of “progressive” policies without regard to social class. It meant splitting the working class (denouncing as an “agents provocateur” any worker who advocated socialist policies) and “uniting” the working class with “progressive” elements of the bourgeois class.

Why did Stalin Triumph?

The struggle between Stalin and Trotsky began in 1923, after the tide of revolution which had swept across Europe had ebbed, leaving a war-weary and devastated Soviet republic isolated in a hostile capitalist world. The struggle began with the difference over relations with the peasantry and the need for rapid industrialisation, over the need to objectively evaluate the failure of the German revolution, and over measures against bureaucratism in the Soviet State.

The startling transformation of Soviet politics in the early 1920s is explicable only in the light of the delay in the European revolution. It cannot be seen simply as a struggle between two individuals, between two factions within the Bolshevik Party, or even between the Russian working class and the Russian petit-bourgeoisie and peasantry.

Stalin was a non-entity before 1923. Stalin’s record during the following decades proved only that Stalin lacked all those qualities of leadership which could explain his victory over Trotsky - President of the first Soviet in history (Petrograd 1905), a hero of the Russian workers even before he joined the Bolshevik Party, co-leader with Lenin of the Revolution, Chairperson of the Military Revolutionary Committee which organised the insurrection, Commissar for War during the Civil War and undisputed leader of the Red Army, a talented, cultured and indomitable political leader.

It is a great irony of history that precisely the dull-wittedness of the Stalin faction, their incompetence as revolutionary leaders, was the essential secret of their success. Every time they attempted to bring about a step forward for the revolution they failed. Every new turn in events caught them off-balance. But every failure of the revolution, every blow against the Soviet economy, strengthened the hand of the bureaucracy and the reaction, and weakened the hand of the working class and the revolutionaries.

Anyone who has participated in a long and arduous strike will know how, once the strike is over, especially if it ends in defeat and isolation, the strikers are gripped by pessimism and despair. The bureaucratic sell-out merchant soon finds his or her own low estimation of the readiness of the members to struggle proved correct (or so it seems). Anger at the betrayal often gives way quickly to the desire to get ‘back to normal’ as soon as possible and the popular strike leaders are shunned.

Stalin was the chosen representative of the Russian petit-bourgeoisie - the career bureaucrats, NEP-men and better-off peasants. The petit-bourgeoisie could not destroy the workers’ state, but they were able to usurp political power from the workers within that state. It was primarily the dominance of imperialism on the international arena which conditioned the struggle within the Soviet Union. It was the treachery of Social-Democracy in the West, which enabled Imperialism to defeat the German Revolution and isolate the Russian Revolution.

No-one in the Bolshevik Party anticipated the building of Socialism, or even the survival of the revolution without the active military, technical, political and cultural support of the workers in Europe, particularly Germany.

It is a testimony to the strength of the revolution that it did survive, but the isolation of the revolution within a backward, agricultural country tipped the social balance against the working class and in favour of the petit-bourgeoisie - not sufficiently to bring about the overthrow of the revolution, but sufficiently to corrupt the revolution from within.

Without first conquering the Bolshevik Party, the reaction could not conquer the state. But the social position of the reaction in the state apparatus and in the economy gave it the predominant sway over the exhausted working class. In the absence of aid from the West the Party was conquered. Stalin was the representative of reaction within the Bolshevik Party.

Internally and externally, all the conditions for this conquest were prepared before the battle began in 1923. These conditions were: the economic backwardness of Russia; the isolation of the Soviet Republic of the West; the destruction of the productive forces; the decimation and war-weariness of the working class particularly its leading cadre and the absorption of the survivors in administrative and military functions.

Nevertheless, Trotsky believed that a new victory in the West could have turned the tide against the reaction within the Soviet Union, and up until 1933 fought to reform the Communist International.

Why did the revolution in Europe fail? In the main, because of the treachery (in the case of the reformists), immaturity (as regards the new leaders who came forward to emulate the Bolsheviks) and weakness of the proletarian leadership. The exceptional conditions in Russia during the 30 years leading up to the October Revolution had given birth to the working class and the generation of revolutionaries which made the first proletarian revolution. In Europe, the development of imperialism had led to the corruption of the parties of the Second (Socialist) International into social chauvinist parties, and corrupted a whole layer of the working class - the ‘aristocracy of labour’ bought off on the proceeds of imperialism.

The strategy of the Bolsheviks for dealing with this problem was the founding of the Communist International. However, this strategy was overtaken by the degeneration of the Soviet Union itself. While the Comintern did succeed in placing itself at the head of a multi-million strong revolutionary movement, its leaders outside of the Russian party were quite incapable of overcoming the degeneration suffered by the Bolshevik Party itself. Where they were not pliant tools in the hands of Stalin, they were expelled or murdered. In many instances whole national leaderships were murdered by Stalin before the Communist International was finally transformed into a conservative apparatus of party hacks.

The outcome of the struggle from 1923 to 1933 to renew the Communist International was not inevitable. The outcome had to be decided in struggle and on the international arena. During the early 1930s, while Stalin was leading the working class into the abyss of fascism, the struggle of the Left Opposition could have succeeded in leading a break from Stalin’s line and mobilising the strength of the working class against fascism. No-one could have predicted the outcome of this struggle in advance.

After the defeat of the German working class in 1933, the Comintern made no self-criticism. It congratulated itself. Any internal opposition there may have been to this criminal policy failed to manifest itself. From this time on Trotsky considered the Comintern as irrevocably lost for the purposes of revolution and began the struggle for a new International.

Up until the Third Moscow Trial the Army leadership was the same leadership which had been recruited and trained by Trotsky. Some believe that Trotsky could have successfully staged a coup d‘état.. He declined to take this course since such a coup d’état would have been a pyrrhic victory. Only a political victory over Stalin’s faction could overcome the degeneration. A coup d'état could only have led to further degeneration. Likewise, prior to 1933 Trotsky opposed all moves to set up a new party in opposition to the CPSU, since such a move would have split the working class.

After 1933 however, Trotsky believed that any possibility of reforming the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of the Communist International had been exhausted. Henceforward, only a new revolution and a new International could restore workers’ democracy in the Soviet Union.

Having noted out that Stalinism embraces a wide range of political tendencies depending on the circumstances, the question arises as to whether there is any common thread in the politics of Stalinism.

In the zig-zags of the period from 1923 to 1941 there is hardly a single policy of the Left Opposition that was not, in however a stunted and distorted form, subsequently adopted by the Stalinists, usually too late. The principal common thread in Stalin’s line as opposed to that of Marxism is the theory of ‘socialism in one country’.

After the Second World War, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union continued to be subject to zig-zags, but the main lines of its policy were essentially consistent from this time. From the formal dissolution of the Communist International. [64] in 1943 onwards, Stalinism is the politics of ‘socialism in one country’.

How the Communist International was Corrupted

Between 1917 and 1922 the Communist International attracted to its ranks the best working class leaders in the world:

In the US, the revolutionary syndicalists of the IWW like Big Bill Haywood, James Cannon, the writer John Reed.

In Australia, Jock Garden’s Trades Hall Reds, Adela Pankhurst, the lefts of the Victorian Socialist Party like Guido Baracchi and W P Earsman.

In Germany, the revolutionary left of the SPD: Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, Clara Zetkin.

In Britain, the great Scottish revolutionary John MacLean, the dockers’ leader Tom Mann.

In Vietnam, veteran nationalist, Ho Chi Minh, leader of the Saigon workers Ta Thu Thau, and many others.

By the mid-1920s, the Communist International was led by a stratum of officials who blindly followed the ‘Moscow line’ - a line dictated by the diplomatic needs of the Moscow bureaucracy, fear of imperialism, contempt for the working class - and very often simple ignorance and indifference to the conditions prevailing in their own country and the aspiration of the workers.

What had happened to the leaders of the International of Lenin and Trotsky?

They had met many different fates: some, like Luxemburg and Liebknecht had died in the struggle. Some had gone to live in the USSR either fleeing repression like Bill Haywood, or simply in order to participate in the revolution, like W P Earsman and John Reed. Some, like Garden or Tom Glynn had drifted away, demoralised or disaffected. Some, like James Cannon, had joined the ranks of the International Left Opposition, and were denounced as traitors by the Comintern. Some, like Ta Thu Thau, had died at the hands of Stalin’s assassins or visited the Soviet Union and were never seen again. Some, like Tito and Imre Nagy, earnestly wishing to serve the Russian Revolution, had become Stalin’s best representatives.

These individual tragedies, of which there are legion, are beside the point however. Whatever the personal stature of these early leaders - and many of them were giants! - outside of Russia, before 1917, the revolutionary workers’ movement was small, usually isolated and everywhere politically immature. Even its best section - the Spartacus League of Germany, was unable to place itself at the head of the revolutionary uprising of the German workers and prevent the right-wing of the SPD from betraying the revolution.

The education and training of this new layer of leaders began in 1918 and by 1923 was only just beginning to produce its first fruits with the growth of a large, relatively mature and well-organised Communist Party in Germany.

But by 1923, the Bolshevik Party itself was already incapable of leading the International, and by 1924 was capable only of destroying it.

It had taken the Bolsheviks thirty years, in the hot-house of the struggle against Czarism to build the Bolshevik Party. A mere seven years after the revolution, the great leader and teacher of the Communist International had become its executioner. None of the parties of the International were even near to being able to counter that degeneration.

Under what conditions did those who did attempt to resolve this crisis have to fight? In the working class - growing despair and demoralisation, engendered by the betrayal of the Russian Revolution and, owing to the crisis of working class leadership and the mortal crisis of capitalism - the rise of fascism and militarism.

In summary:

VI: Defence of the Soviet Union

Trotsky’s position throughout the last decade of his life was premised on the fact that the USSR was a workers’ state, albeit a degenerated workers’ state. This meant that while fighting for the overthrow of the Soviet government, he defended the Soviet State against Imperialism and capitalist restoration.

Many have argued over the years, either on the basis of the reactionary policies of the Stalinist bureaucracy, or on the basis of its petit-bourgeois social composition that some time between 1923 and 1939 the USSR was transformed into a capitalist state.

There is no doubt that the USSR bore little resemblance to what a workers’ state ought to look like. But that is hardly decisive. Just as we recognise a right-wing trade union as nevertheless a trade union, a workers’ state led by right-wingers remains a workers’ state.

Others have argued on the basis of the character of the economy in the USSR that the state was capitalist. For example, that the existence of wage labour ipso facto meant that the economy was capitalist. This assertion ignores the fact that although Soviet workers were paid wages, they were not generally free to sell their labour power to the highest bidder on a labour market. As a matter of fact, where Soviet labour deviated from the wages form, it was in general to the detriment not benefit of the workers.

The transition to socialism shall be marked by a diminution of wages as the means of subsistence becomes increasingly freely available to all, and people have need to buy nothing. That is, wages shall be not the first but the last commodity to die away under a workers’ dictatorship.

Others have argued that even though the bureaucracy do not own the means of production as private property, they do control it. And since they employ workers and live off the surplus value, they ipso facto constitute a capitalist class, a ‘state capitalist class’.

To deal with this proposition, it is necessary to identify what is the essence of capitalism, since whatever the Soviet Union is, it is certainly not a normal, healthy capitalist or socialist society.

The chief characteristic of capitalist society is the penetration of the commodity relation into every aspect of life. Whatever the distortions of Soviet society, it is a fact that the State did until the last few years of its life combat the spread of commodity relations. Even during NEP when the state deliberately stimulated commodity production, it retained the ‘commanding heights’ as state property. Even today, the capitalist restorationists are having great difficulty in privatising these basic industries.

All such formalistic arguments based on analysis of economic relations make an equation between the character of the economy and the character of the state. Such an equation is quite spurious. The transformation of the economic base is a protracted process. In any workers’ revolution, bourgeois economic relations must continue for a long time after the workers seize public political power.

‘The bourgeois norms of distribution, by hastening the growth of material power, ought to serve socialist aims - but only in the last analysis. The state assumes directly and from the very beginning a dual character: socialistic, insofar as it defends social property in the means of production; bourgeois, insofar as the distribution of life’s goods is carried out with a capitalistic measure of value and all the consequences ensuing therefrom’.. [65]

This characterisation of the dual character of the workers state means that the struggle for socialism must be ‘permanent’. The struggle against capitalism does not come to an end when the working class seizes state power, but simply enters a new stage:

‘We defend the USSR ... as we solve all our problems ... by the method of international class struggle ... irreconcilable opposition, not only in capitalist countries, but also in the USSR ... “defence of the USSR” we realise not through the medium of bourgeois governments or even through the government of the USSR, but exclusively through the education of the masses through agitation, through explaining to the workers what they should defend and what they should overthrow ...’.. [66]

The obsessive character of the need some political groups feel to prove that the USSR was a capitalist state from as early as 1923, even today, after the fall of Stalinism, is not due to a concern with the history of the USSR. It is an expression of their politics here and now - that the past gains of the working class, their terms and conditions of employment, their conservative trade unions, are not worthy of defending.

Most of the rhetoric aimed at showing workers why they should not defend a degenerated workers’ state, would serve equally well directed against a young, healthy workers’ state, still grappling with the problems of taking command of the economy and beginning to transform it.