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Marxism and the "Russian question"

This re-posting in both Russian and English on the various Internet forums is dedicated to the 78th anniversary of the Socialist Revolution in Russia

Copyright by Iskra Research, July 27, 1994.

A recent posting on the subject of Trotskyism and Russia has confused the subject beyond recognition so a restatement of the basic history of the attitude of the Left Opposition and the Fourth International on the Russian question is in order.

1917 — Trotsky's conception of the Russian Revolution is proved correct. Lenin and Trotsky together lead the Russian Revolution, which they say can be victorious only if it spreads to the advanced capitalist countries.

Russia is a backward capitalist country with mostly peasant population. The socialist revolution is at once limited and disfigured by this backwardness. In January 1921 Lenin very carefully defines the sociological character of the young workers state: "The workers' state is an abstraction. In reality we have a workers' state with the following peculiar features: (1) it is the peasants and not the workers who predominate in the population and (2) it is a workers' state with bureaucratic deformations". All Marxists understand that the way out of the difficulties of socialist development is through the world revolution.

1923 — Left Opposition is formed against the bureaucratization of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and within the Soviet state apparatus. Among the leaders of the Opposition: Trotsky, Rakovsky, Preobrazhensky and many other respected leaders of the Communist Party. The attitude of the Opposition is one of reform of the Party by appeals to mass activism, by patient education, by theoretical discussion of the problems of the Communist International, of the lessons of the October Revolution, etc.

October 1923 — Declaration of the 46 and Trotsky's Letter to the CC on party democracy. In late autumn, buoyed by rising hopes for a successful German Socialist revolution, the rank and file of the Russian CP force the ruling Triumvirate on the defensive. The New Course policy of regeneration of internal party democracy is proclaimed at the December Plenum of the CC. It will not be carried out.

1923, Autumn — on the advice of Stalin the German CP misses a revolutionary opportunity. As a result, apathy sweeps the CI and the Russian CP; the Left Opposition is isolated and temporarily silenced.

1924 — In the autumn, Stalin advances the absurdly heretical (from the point of view of Marxism) theory that "socialism can be built in one country, Russia".

1926 — Slowdown of industrialization deals blows to the living standards and the social positions of the Russian proletariat. The right wing policy of extending the NEP leads to sharper class differentiation in the countryside and forces a split in the ruling Triumvirate. Zinoviev and Kamenev join with Trotsky in the Joint Opposition.

1927 — Experiences in China and the British General strike highlight the danger of the present right-wing opportunist leadership in the Comintern. Defeats in both China and England add to the pessimism and passivity of the rank and file within the Comintern and the CPSU. Bureaucracy gains total control and begins to purge the left wing of the Party. Trotsky declares that for the regeneration of the party the present leadership (Stalin, Molotov, Bukharin, etc.) will need to be replaced. This is the so called Clemenceau Thesis.

1928 — Exile of Trotsky and thousands of other Oppositionists. Betrayal and surrender of some big names (Kamenev, Zinoviev, Radek, etc.). Trotsky drafts the "Critique Of the Draft Program" of the Comintern; it is signed by hundreds of exiled Oppositionists and sent to Moscow in time for the Sixth Congress of the CI. Organization of the International Left Opposition proceeds on the basis of this thorough critique of Stalin's and Bukharin's bureaucratic opportunism.

1929 — Trotsky is exiled from the Soviet Union to Turkey. He proceeds to pull together theoretically and organizationally the various Oppositionist groups around the world.

1929 — The Comintern wildly swings from a right wing opportunist policy to an ultra-left sectarian one. Within the USSR, Stalin begins the mad dash of collectivization and industrialization at any cost. He pits Soviet workers against the peasantry, presides over policy of dekulakization, starves the Ukrainian peasants by the million, expands the GPU mass terror machine. Abroad, according to the new sectarian policy of the Comintern, the social-democrats are labeled "social-fascists" and the road to the Nazi seizure of power is opened in Germany.

1929-1933 — The policy of the International Left Opposition is to expose these eclectic zigzags of Stalinism before the Communist rank and file, to mobilize the Communist and social-democratic workers in a United Front policy against the threat of fascism. This is still a policy of thorough reform of the Comintern and the USSR, not of revolution (either political or social). 1933 — Hitler comes to power in Germany and the Comintern stays silent about its responsibility for the criminal mistakes. By the autumn, Trotsky concludes that all the sections of the Comintern and the organization as a whole is dead for purpose of socialist revolution. He declares that the Fourth International must be built to lead the world socialist revolution.

1934-35 — By reexamining and concretizing the concept of Thermidor (the political counterrevolution), Trotsky concludes that he was wrong, that it has already occurred. The Stalinist bureaucracy strangled the workers democracy, monopolized all political power and is proceeding to steer the social regime farther away from the norms of a workers' state and the goals of socialism. Trotskyist now call for a political revolution in the USSR, not just a series of reforms.

1935 — Another sharp turn of the Stalinist bureaucracy on the international arena. This time the Soviet bureaucracy, frightened by the victory of Hitler and the Austrian Anschluss turns to the right, towards maintaining the imperialist status quo in Europe and in Asia. The Seventh (and last) Congress of the Comintern abandons class conscious politics in favor of broad based alliances with "peace loving" capitalist powers.

1936-1939 — Moscow Trials begin. The whole generation which led the October revolution is wiped out by Stalin as the imperialists gleefully watch the weakening of the Soviet state and the Red Army. The international working class is demoralized and confused as all values turn upside down, yesterday's heroes become today's "enemies and fascist spies" and tomorrow's corpses. Stalin kills more communists than Hitler and Mussolini combined. While shooting Lenin's comrades down in the Lubianka cellars, Stalin strangles the Spanish revolution and the mass revolutionary upsurge of the French workers is led into the blind alley of the Popular Front. All in the name of "peaceful status quo" in Europe and the support of the "peace loving democracies". The road to World War II is open.

1938 — The Fourth International is founded as the world party of socialist revolution. Trotsky fights against the doubters and pessimists who say that the revolutionaries are too few and too isolated. He says that the biggest problem of the period is dearth of revolutionary leadership. A clear revolutionary center is needed. The FI is such a center.

1939 — Stalin's policies undermined the Soviet economy and the stability of the political regime. Now, from a position of weakness, the Soviet bureaucracy makes another frightened "left" turn. Proclaiming that both blocks of states (England and France on one side, Germany, Italy and Japan, on the other) are imperialist, Stalin makes an agreement with Hitler to divide Poland. The world working class is completely demoralized by the spectacle of the Stalin-Hitler cooperation in the rape of Poland.

1939 — 40 There is a sharp political fight within the Fourth International over the nature of the Soviet state. A minority within the SWP, led by Shachtman and Burnham rejects the method of dialectical materialism, goes over to eclecticism and pragmatism and concludes that the Soviet Union conducts imperialist policy, should no longer be defended and had ceased to be a workers' state. Actually, there is a formal disagreement within the Shachtman-Burnham tendency over the nature of the USSR but they unite in saying that Marxist sociology does not matter. Trotsky brilliantly defends the Marxist dialectic and provides a clear example of the power of this method in times of sharp crisis and rapid change.

August 1940 — Stalinist spies (including the double agent Joseph Hansen) finally succeed in killing Trotsky. Hansen, frightened of being exposed as a GPU spy, goes over to the FBI and becomes its central agent within the SWP.

1939-1945 — World War II.

1941 — Hitler attacks the USSR. Despite the criminal misleadership of Stalin, the Soviet people realize that fascist slavery is even worse than the Stalinist degenerated anti-worker workers' state. Socialized means of production and central planning, despite the bureaucratic errors and crimes, still provide the Soviet people with the means to defeat the Hitler war machine.

1944-45 — Western "democratic" imperialists make a series of quid pro quo agreements with Stalin. Stalin gives political support to the re-establishment of capitalism in West Europe and of colonialism in Africa and Asia. The imperialists cede to Stalin's control a number of countries in Eastern and Central Europe. Stalin even supports the US nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

1945-47 — Capitalism is reestablished in France, Italy, Greece. United States establishes its economic and political hegemony over the capitalist world through the formation of and control over such international economic institutions as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Capitalist property relations are preserved in Eastern Europe, although the Stalinist "Communist" parties begin to achieve a stranglehold on political power. A French "communist" minister presides over the bloody French takeover of its former colony in Indochina. Stalinists maneuver everywhere to keep a lid on the mass anti capitalist upsurge (e.g. Italy, France, Britain). In some places they are forced into armed struggle (e.g. Yugoslavia, Greece), in other countries they maintain an attitude of "loyal opposition" (e.g. Italy, France).

1946 — Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech at Fulton, Ohio and the beginning of the Cold War. The material basis for Stalinist bureaucracies is the nationalized economy. Millions of economic conflicts between the two incompatible modes of production coalesce into a world-wide geopolitical confrontation between the two superpowers, the US and the USSR.

1947-49 — A series of bureaucratic nationalizations across Eastern Europe. At the same time the "people's democracies" conduct a series of witch hunt trials to strangle at birth any independent political activism of the masses. Mao Tse- Tung's peasant armies triumph over the prostrate comprador regime of Chiang Kai-Shek. Within the Fourth International there are debates as to the nature of the states of Eastern Europe. Trotskyists trace carefully the progressive economic transformations but are fully aware that these were NOT the result of an independent political action of the proletariat. The transformations in Poland. Czechoslovakia, and so on were kept under a close control by the Stalinist bureaucracies. It is especially important to defend Lenin's and Trotsky's idea about the need for a revolutionary party. But within the Fourth International there develops an unscientific impressionist tendency which assigns progressive features to Stalinism. This tendency is led by Michel Pablo (hence its name, Pabloism) and by Ernest Mandel, who is adept at cobbling together "Marxist" explanations for opportunist adaptation to the accomplished fact.

1949-53 — Korean War pits imperialism versus Stalinism. Stalinism itself is wracked by crisis: Yugoslavia, the strikes in East Germany, the first signs of the Sino-Soviet split. Stalin conducts another series of purges inside the USSR in order to beat the idea of freedom and a better kind of socialism out of Russian heads. Pablo talks of "war- revolution", of "centuries of deformed workers' states" and orders sections of the FI to dissolve themselves in Stalinist or bourgeois nationalist movements. Ernest Mandel (Germain) is more sophisticated: he discusses the various factions of different Stalinist bureaucracies and how Trotskyists should apply pressure here and there to push Stalinism to the left. But this attempt to liquidate the Fourth International within anti-Marxist mass movements brings about an explosion. In 1953 Cannon, the leader of the Socialist Workers party in the United States issues an "Open Letter" to Trotskyists around the world to reject the liquidationist program of Pablo and Mandel. The International Committee of the Fourth International is formed to organize those Trotskyists who continue to believe in the need for a real revolutionary leadership in the working class and who continue to assert that Stalinism is a counterrevolutionary agency within the working class.

1953 — Death of Stalin.

1956 — Crisis of Stalinism deepens. Strikes in Poland force a government reshuffle and promises of liberalization. Revolution in Hungary and the formation of factory councils. These workers' councils and the petty-bourgeois democratic regime of Nagy are suppressed by Soviet Army tanks. Khruschev's "Secret Speech" denouncing the "cult of personality" and the release of tens of thousands of political prisoners. Pabloism develops the idea of the "inevitability of socialism" and the impossibility of capitalist restoration in the USSR and in the deformed workers' states of East Europe and Asia. Because capitalism in the United States achieves temporary stability, the American SWP begins to look for shortcuts to socialism.

1960-63 — SWP reunites with the Pabloites around the idea that the Stalinists and the various petty-bourgeois nationalists could stumble into Marxism. Hansen advances this notion with respect to Castro. Mandel searches high and low for more or less "Marxist" or left wing factions of Stalinists.

May-June 1968 — A student rebellion in France sparks general strikes, factory occupations and mass demonstrations. President DeGaulle flees to a French army base in Germany with his family. Socialist revolution is possible but the French Stalinist "Communist" party saves French capitalism. 1960's — 1970's — Stalinism enters a period of sustained crises and breakdowns. The spectacular growth rates of the first Five Year Plans and of the post-war period of reconstruction are over. Bureaucratic misplanning is strangling all further economic development both within the USSR and in the other deformed workers' states in East Europe. The proletariat of those countries grows more and more disillusioned with its social status and with these "socialist" states. In 1962 a workers demonstration is machine gunned in Novocherkassk. Poland and Czechoslovakia erupt in 1968 and "Prague Spring" is trampled under Soviet tank treads. Poland erupts again in 1970 and 1976.

1980 — The Polish working class erupts into a mighty elemental rebellion against the Stalinist bureaucracy. It is, of course, hijacked by petty bourgeois anti-communists who assume the leadership of Solidarity.

1980's — Political collapse of Stalinism assumes unstoppable proportions. The Polish rebellion spells the doom of Stalinism. Even though Polish Stalinists are able to reimpose control — using martial law of general Jaruzelski and the threat of Soviet tanks — even though the senile Brezhnev leadership embarks on a diversionary adventure in Afghanistan, the more farsighted in the Kremlin leadership realize that they must establish a real material basis for their rule.

Trotskyists have always asserted that, plainly speaking, Stalinism was a system of organized theft by the ruling bureaucracy of the choicest pieces and the best products of the national economy. Now, these reactionary bureaucrats want to legalize their stolen privileges, to become the legitimate owners of the means of production.

The Stalinist economies of Eastern Europe and the USSR fall farther and farther behind the advanced capitalist economies. The new technologies: computers, telecommunications, electronics are a threat to the political monopoly of Stalinist rule. The contradiction between the demands of global integration of production and the essentially autarchic and self contained planning of Stalinism brings about the collapse of these isolated economies.

As Trotskyists repeated time and again, the Stalinist bureaucracy was not a class necessary and integral to a specific mode of production. It was a parasitic excrescence on the body of the workers' states. In the absence of a regenerating world socialist revolution these states were strangled by the parasite.

1985 — After fits and starts (Andropov, Chernenko), the Kremlin bureaucracy consciously decided to create social strata of support and to finally transform itself into a property-owning class. This is the meaning of Gorbachev and Perestroika. The seemingly mad or stupid zigzags of Gorbachev's policies de jour had a consistent goal: the dismantling of central planning, creation of new bourgeois layers, theft and fire sale of stolen and diverted state assets.

1989-1991 — Stalinist regimes collapse throughout Eastern Europe. Because the workers there had long lived with the false idea that Stalinism equals socialism, they are now misled into thinking that capitalism is better. In the absence of Trotskyist leadership, the petty bourgeois governments embark on programs of restoration of capitalist system of production and of bourgeois social relations.

It is now necessary to examine the attitudes of the various so-called "Trotskyists".

The United Secretariat (Mandel's grouping) had since the 1950's proclaimed that capitalist restoration was impossible due to the world-wide shift of forces to the side of socialism (see P. Frank's book "Fourth International"). Now they called Gorbachev the instrument of the political revolution. Mandel called on the "Trotskyists" to give Perestroika and Gorbachev qualified support (see his 1989 book "Beyond Perestroika") and many times he provided "Trotskyist" cover to Stalinists in trouble.

The British Workers' Revolutionary Party, which had earlier secretly sold Marxist principles for Arab gold, split three ways. First, it split from the International Committee which had demanded that the British leadership account for its misdeeds. The long time leader, Jerry Healy in the early 1980's used dialectically-sounding metaphysics to abandon the Permanent Revolution. By 1987 he became an uncritical cheerleader for Gorbachev. Mike Banda proclaimed Trotskyism dead and buried and acclaimed Stalin as a great revolutionary. Cliff Slaughter, being somewhat more nimble of foot, went in a few directions almost at once. He publicly shook hands with the British Stalinist Monty Johnstone; then he began to flirt with the Posadas tendency in Argentina; then he proclaimed his intention to "Reconstruct" the Fourth International; then he founded the "Workers International". More recently, Slaughter set up his outfit as a cover for imperialist machinations in the Balkans.

The other type of "Trotskyists" is the Spartacist League. This middle class outfit is characterized by rabid sloganeering, outrageous publicity gathering antics and unabashed applause for every crime of the Stalinist jackboot. They cheered every bureaucratic police state measure of the Stalinists. They applauded the military suppression of Polish Solidarity and the invasion of Afghanistan. They supported Gorbachev's attempts to suppress the bourgeois nationalists and the liberals. They demanded that the August 1991 Emergency Committee act more resolutely in reimposing the Stalinist police state. For all their profession of Trotskyist orthodoxy, in practice they equate the bureaucratic Stalinist terror with the measures of proletarian dictatorship of Lenin and Trotsky.

There are various other groupings which abuse the name "Trotskyist". There is the Militant tendency in Great Britain and the similar "Socialist Action" reformist-type tendency in the United States. Unfortunately, I am not familiar with their policies on the question of the USSR. If they have their supporters here, let them cite their public documents.

Real Trotskyism

We now must evaluate the International Committee. This organization has provided a dialectical analysis of the developments within the Stalinist bloc. In a timely fashion it showed the fatal crisis of Stalinism and provided a program for the working class. In 1987, in the document "What Is Happening In the USSR?", the ICFI correctly identified the two major elements of Gorbachev's Perestroika: 1) internally, the Gorbachev regime was dismantling the centrally planned economy and nurturing new bourgeois social strata; 2) externally, the Stalinist regime was abandoning an independent posture and preparing to re integrate the Soviet Union into the structure of world imperialism.

Beginning in 1989, the ICFI began a regular publication of the Russian language journal "Biulleten' Chetvertogo Internatsionala" (Bulletin of the Fourth International). Eight issues had now been published and these publications prepared the ground for the re-establishment of the Trotskyist movement in the former USSR. The founding issue of the journal included the 1988 Perspectives document of the IC, "World Crisis Of Capitalism And The Tasks Of The Fourth International". The next issue published the 1989 book by David North, "Perestroika Versus Socialism". The following issues included works of economic and political analysis, Trotsky's writings on the USSR, letters from workers and youth inside the USSR, who have begun to read and discuss the journal.

The analysis of the developments in the USSR and the successor states made by the ICFI has been detailed and astonishingly prescient. The interested reader should refer to the following documents: 1987: What Is Happening In the USSR?; 1988: World Crisis Of Capitalism And The Tasks Of The Fourth International; 1989: David North's "Perestroika vs. Socialism"; 1991: The Lessons Of The August Coup; 1992: The End Of USSR.

We should now deal with the two authors of confusion, JJ Plant and Geoff Wheatley.

Plant's use of Trotsky's prophetic words: "The USSR minus the social foundations laid by the October Revolution, this would be a fascist regime" is interesting. It is too bad that messieurs Plant and Wheatley do not explain concretely how the social regimes in the gigantic geographic region formerly occupied by the deformed workers' states of Eastern Europe and the USSR are now sliding towards fascism. Instead these gentlemen busy themselves with insinuating that Trotsky exaggerated, that Yeltsin is too unstable and weak to proceed to fascism, etc.

Both of them seem to agree on the slogan of a "struggle for the restoration of workers' democracy". JJ Plant also states that the Yeltsin regime is too unstable and too dependent on the Stalinist apparatus, so he "cannot complete (or even make much more progress with) the reinstatement of capitalism". The more energetic Plant also calls "for united action by workers' organizations against fascism and in defense of workers' rights". Plant elaborates his meaning of "united action": "Given the delapidated state of the workers' organizations, this MUST mean agitation around the official unions, with the aim of turning the mass of members frustrations against the Stalinist bureaucratic leaderships". To me this reads like this: since the workers are confused and apathetic ("dilapidated"), Plant will agitate among union officials. In return for getting these Stalinist labor fakers to sign his minimalist slogans Plant will provide them with his "Trotskyist" seal of approval.

It is obvious that you can get practically anyone to sign a call against fascism and in defense of workers' rights and living conditions. Bill Clinton, Helmut Kohl, Boris Yeltsin, all capitalist politicians will say that they are, of course, in favor of high living standards for workers and against fascism. The recent meetings of OECD, the European Union and the G7 all resulted in resolutions proclaiming the need to support the social charters, protect living standards, preserve social safety nets, etc. But when the time comes to cut the budget deficit, these capitalist politicians wring their hands, shed a tear and exclaim: it simply is too bad that world competition is tearing these safety nets to shreds, but what can one do?

The question a Socialist must pose is this: Can the working class defend its rights under capitalism at a time of crisis, depression and collapse? The pious calls for workers' rights are not at all appropriate to the situation.

Before the collapse of the USSR, on the basis of our sociological definition of the Soviet Union as a degenerated workers' state, Trotskyists called for a political revolution to overthrow the parasitic bureaucracy, restore workers' democracy, purge the state apparatus, orient the economy towards the needs of the producers, etc. Even then, a plain call "for workers' democracy" was at best confusing, at worst, a diversion. "Workers democracy" is such a fine sounding slogan, but what is its content? It is something less than workers' control over production. Workers control implies the intrusion of the working class into the running of the economy but workers' democracy means that workers are free to express themselves at their meetings, that they dominate over their leaders, that the rank and file can direct the policies of the factory committees or of the trade unions, etc.

It is a pity that our learned "Trotskyists", messieurs Plant and Wheatley did not continue reading Trotsky's "In Defense Of Marxism". Having learned about Trotsky's forecast of fascism on page 69 (New Park edition), they should have continued to page 170. There, Trotsky takes issue with Shachtman over the latter's call for "workers' control". (Do you hear, messieurs Plant and Wheatley, "workers' control", which to a Marxist means rather more than "workers' democracy"). Trotsky writes:

"In the USSR workers' control is a stage long ago completed. From control over the bourgeoisie there they passed to management of nationalized production. From the management of workers — to the command of the bureaucracy. New workers' control would now signify control over the bureaucracy. This cannot be established except as a result of a successful uprising against the bureaucracy".

Yet even workers' control (which is more than workers democracy), limited within a given factory, or region (or country), but subordinated to the regime of world capitalist economy, leads to a dead end. The pressure of competition against the most advanced and efficient producers of the world and within a world labor market is today driving down the economic, social and cultural conditions for all the workers. When applied to the relatively inefficient and backward industries of East Europe and ex-USSR, the regime of the world capitalist market dictates the wholesale closing of most factories, the devastation of working class communities, the destruction of whole societies. Unless forestalled by a world socialist revolution, the world capitalist regime inevitably leads to deprivation, devastation, wars and fascism.

But now, the USSR is no more. The Stalinist bureaucracy had completed the counterrevolution which it began back in the 1920's. First the counterrevolution was political, a Thermidor, as Marxists described it. But now, the state power is in the hands of the new Russian, Ukrainian, Latvian, and so on, bourgeoisie. The Soviet working class must now stage a social revolution, overthrow the new capitalist ruling class and in solidarity with the world proletariat go on to a world socialist revolution.

Finally, in defense of V. Volkov I should say this. Given the history of Stalinist bandits masquerading as Communists, given the fact of reformist quacks masquerading as Trotskyists, I find it quite appropriate for a Russian Trotskyist to take his time and to seriously study the history of Trotskyism.