Much has been written about the Stalinist counter-revolution, most of it is wrong.
This chapter of Bilan takes on those false interpretations espoused by Anarchists, Social Democrats, Trotskyists, and the like, all while also examining the deep disconnect between Trotsky and his disciples.
Balance sheet of a revolution (Bilan d’une révolution) - Part II: False lessons about the counter‑revolution in Russia
Much has been written about the Stalinist counter-revolution, most of it is wrong.
Only Marxism can draw the lessons of history
The 20th century has so far had only a very imperfect awareness of the meaning and impact of the Russian revolution and counter-revolution that have unfolded from 1917 to the present day and in which, fifty years after October, the essence of the proletarian struggle in the imperialist era is still unhappily summarized.
With the exception of the Soviets – and the most obtuse anti-Soviets – there are, however, no parties, currents or schools that have more or less clearly understood that the final historical results of the Russian Revolution were not only unrelated to the aims of the Bolshevik Party of 1917, but diametrically opposed. This disparity proved that the October Revolution, rather than progressing victoriously along its original trajectory, had been followed by a counter-revolution. Few, however, have understood this, or have an interest in stating it. But even among those who are not entirely deceived by the camouflage provided for this counter-revolution by the apparent permanence of the same ruling party in the USSR, who has been able to characterize its exact nature, in both the political and economic domains? Nobody, because outside of today’s small proletarian party, none of them have failed to set the “bureaucratic nationalism” of Stalin’s party against an alleged internationalist “democratism” of Lenin’s party, and none of them have refused to see in the Russian economy and society some form of “socialism” or at least a “post-capitalism”.
This scientific impotence of the bourgeois world did not of course prevent it from “drawing” in its own way the “lessons” of the Stalinist counter-revolution, that is to say of a historical process which it had neither understood nor even simply observed in many cases: such is the obscurantism of the class enemy of the proletariat. For traditional bourgeois currents, the gap between the aims and the results of the October Revolution would “prove” the natural and therefore indestructible nature of capitalist relations of production, of the division of society into classes, of the institution of the State, in other words, the utopian character of communism, its radical impossibility. For the social democrats, it would “prove” that revolution is madness in general and even more so the revolution in a country where capitalist development is weak. For libertarians, it would “prove” that any revolution that fails to destroy the State, whatever its nature, on the spot, is condemned to defeat. For the workerists (who include anarcho-syndicalists, social-barbarists1 , and advocates of self-managed socialism of all kinds), it would “prove” that the dictatorship of the proletariat must be an unlimited political democracy for the workers, and socialism an unlimited economic democracy for producers in general. For the Trotskyists, it would “prove” that communism can degenerate politically when it banishes democracy, while subsisting in the economy, and thus become in need of a purely political revolution. The simple enunciation of these so-called “lessons” of the Russian counter-revolution with which the bourgeois world has unceasingly overwhelmed the working class for forty years is already enough to show that the bourgeoisie has never “drawn” from the historical experience any conclusions other than those which were already there in advance, based either on a quite understandable class hatred, or else based on the ravages of ideology even in the brains of the self-appointed “champions” of the proletariat. Indeed, if all of these “lessons” are never more than the repetition of age-worn tropes, they all have, despite their differences, one common characteristic: they are all directed against Marxism or revolutionary communism, that is to say that they either proclaim bankruptcy or error, or – worse still – they disfigure it under the pretext of “freeing it from blame” for the advent of Stalinism and “saving its honour”; not hesitating, for this purpose, posthumously to transform great communists such as Lenin and Trotsky into “authentic democrats”.
Objectively speaking, the proletarian defeat in Russia appears as a new failure of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat, attested in the 19thcentury by the battles of 1848 and 1871 and at the beginning of our century by that of 1905. If this defeat is the great proletarian defeat of the 20th century, it is because the October Revolution was the first great victory. And if it is at the same time the greatest defeat in the history of the workers’ movement, it is because, in all this history, the Russian October was the only victory won at the level of a large country. The only thing that saved communism from an accusation of doctrinal and practical “bankruptcy” during the previous defeats of the proletariat is that, as a Party, it was not yet strong enough to lead the movement. But for the bourgeois enemy to attempt to overwhelm it today under this accusation about the outcomes of the Russian October, it was first necessary for communism to strengthen itself to the point of becoming the only party of the revolution and of its victory. This was not by chance, but it is what all the revisionists forget. When the bourgeoisie comes to bury communism in general under the ruins of the Russian Revolution it logically applies the laws of war: Woe to the vanquished! But when so-called “champions” of this same vanquished class “revise, they do not learn more “lessons of history” than the bourgeoisie: they only lower their heads under the invective.
The entire bourgeois world behaves as though the idea that Lenin’s Communist Party pursued this and that objective but achieved this and that diametrically opposite outcome is a logical absurdity. If this were true, it would undoubtedly testify against us. But it so happens that throughout the history of class society, the outcomes of struggles have only in exceptional cases coincided with the objectives pursued; the contradiction between them has always been the rule, not the exception. It is historical materialism itself that has had the merit of highlighting this truth to demonstrate that, like the evolution of nature, the course of history obeys objective laws and not the conscience or the will of men, classes and parties2 . In other words, historical materialism has established that men make history but not in conditions of their own choosing. This truth is inaccessible not only to the bourgeoisie, but also to every variant of revisionism. Indeed, none of them is able to grasp the fact that if our Party’s defeat in Russia proves anything, it is simply that, no more than any other men, Communists cannot escape historical determinism3 .
If you want to know how the proletarian Party approaches the defeats of its own class, you could do no better than to study the luminous passage in which Frederick Engels, in Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of the Classical German Philosophy (1888) defines the specific method of dialectical materialism:
“In one point, however, the history of the development of society proves to be essentially different from that of nature. In nature – insofar as we ignore man’s reaction upon nature – there are only blind, unconscious agencies acting upon one another, out of whose interplay the general law comes into operation. Nothing of all that happens – whether in the innumerable apparent accidents observable upon the surface, or in the ultimate results which confirm the regularity inherent in these accidents – happens as a consciously desired aim. In the history of society, on the contrary, the actors are all endowed with consciousness, are men acting with deliberation or passion, working towards definite goals; nothing happens without a conscious purpose, without an intended aim.
“But this distinction, important as it is for historical investigation, particularly of single epochs and events, cannot alter the fact that the course of history is governed by inner general laws. For here, also, on the whole, in spite of the consciously desired aims of all individuals, accident apparently reigns on the surface. That which is willed happens but rarely; in most instances the numerous desired ends cross and conflict with one another, or these ends themselves are from the outset incapable of realization, or the means of attaining them are insufficient. Thus, the conflicts of innumerable individual wills and individual actions in the domain of history produce a situation entirely analogous to that prevailing in the realm of unconscious nature. The ends of the actions are intended, but the results that actually follow from these actions are not intended; or when they do seem to correspond to the end intended, they ultimately have consequences quite other than those intended. Historical events thus appear on the whole to be likewise governed by chance. But where on the surface accident holds sway, there it is actually always governed by inner, hidden laws, and it is only a matter of discovering these laws”.
“Men make their own history, whatever its outcome may be, in that each person follows his own consciously desired end, and it is precisely the resultant of these many wills operating in different directions, and of their manifold effects upon the outer world, that constitutes history. But, on the one hand, we have seen that the many individual wills active in history for the most part produce results quite other than those intended – often quite the opposite; that their motives, therefore, in relation to the total result are likewise of only secondary importance. On the other hand, the further question arises: What driving forces in turn stand behind these motives? What are the historical forces which transform themselves into these motives in the brains of the actors? The old materialism never put this question to itself”.
And neither do modern-day revisionists!
Discovering “the inner, hidden laws” of the Russian counter-revolution; finding the driving forces, the historical causes of the motives that men – masses, parties and leaders – give themselves to act and to struggle, here is the what only the proletarian Party can explain and what it realizes in applying this other brilliant definition from Engels, in Anti-Dühring:
“The materialist conception of history starts from the proposition that the production and, next to production, the exchange of things produced, is the basis of all social structure; that in every society that has appeared in history, the manner in which wealth is distributed and society divided into classes or estates is dependent upon what is produced, how it is produced, and how the products are exchanged. From this point of view the final causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in men’s brains, not in man’s better insight into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange”.
This cannot be grasped by all those currents which, shifting between certain Marxist truths and the traditional outlook, undoubtedly transfer the realm of Consciousness and the Will of individuals and leaders to classes and parties, but consider them always as the sovereign authority, in an idealistic way, without realizing that this is not to resolve the problem of determinism, but simply to displace it. This is also why they do not see that understanding History, even the history of the momentary defeat of one’s own camp, is to demonstrate the inevitability of what happened, and to learn from it; this is not to revise the programme of scientific socialism, but to define more rigorously, in the light of the facts, the conditions for its victory. It therefore remains for them to search in the abstract, drawing from the arsenal of age-old prejudices, for what other Consciousness and what other Will could have given past history a course more in keeping with their wishes (which themselves are more or less arbitrary) and would infallibly guarantee victory in the future? At this point, the dogma of the sect, and even of individual fantasy, replaces the secular cause of the proletariat according to the fashion of the day, the revolutionary militants being replaced by prophets who are more or less inspired by revealed truths, which are never anything but some form of revision, and the bourgeoisie triumphs!
The bourgeois “lesson”
The “lesson” of the Russian counter-revolution that conforms to classical bourgeois thought would doubtless be difficult to illustrate today, given that the bourgeoisie affects to be “socialist”, but it is easy to reconstruct. It has two forms – one of them vulgar, the other highbrow – which have undoubtedly always more or less coexisted, but the first of which responds better to the “Stalinist” phase of the counter-revolution and the second to its “Khrushchevite” and “post-Khrushchevite” phases.
The vulgar “lesson” consists in saying that “communism is worse than capitalism”. The mass of misery, obscurantism, oppression, deceit and what Trotsky once called the sombre irrationality of the Stalin era assured this thesis a success that its vulgarity did not deserve, but it is certainly not in order to defend communism that Stalin’s worldwide movement has, for decades, carried out the most extraordinary falsifications in the hope that the truth would remain unknown to the workers of the West. The proletarian Party has two responses to this version. The first and obvious one is that Stalinist Russia, and all the more so Khrushchevite Russia, has never had anything to do with communism, nor with any form of movement towards communism as an economic and social form4 . This conclusion does not belong to the proletarian Party in particular. But the second response is more original. It indeed shows that the phase of Russian history that not only Stalinism, but also the bourgeoisie and even Trotskyism passed off as communist without it being so in the least, was not simply the absurd and useless agony of a whole people, the series of superfluous convulsions provoked by the “arbitrariness” of the despot Stalin that gormless Western propaganda has portrayed; rather, it was a great social revolution, of a nature opposed to the revolution that the communists in Lenin’s time had wanted, and yet everything other than historically sterile. It was on the contrary rich in explosive developments for the distant future: the same capitalist revolution that all advanced countries have also suffered in the past, but whose horrors and immeasurable torments they have long since forgotten.
The bourgeoisie would undoubtedly not have been able to formulate the highbrow “lesson” about the Russian counter-revolution without the help of the social-democratic pedants of Germany or Austria, at the time of Stalin, while today it is enough to repeat what the “communists” of the East themselves put forward. We can reconstruct it by saying that if Russia (and the Eastern bloc) has not managed to escape from capitalist laws (the law of value, the general law of capitalist accumulation, the law of reproduction of capital); if it did not manage to find any mechanism other than exchange to link production to consumption and if, along with trade between the town and the countryside, it retained the sale and purchase of labour power, that is to say the wage labour that communism wanted to abolish, then it is because these laws and this social organization are natural and therefore as immutable as the order of the planets, for example. In other words, the Russian counter-revolution could not have been a counter-revolution, but rather the return to an order that the Bolsheviks vainly and foolishly wanted to try to modify and, at the same time, this is the historical proof of the utopian and unreal character of what we call scientific socialism.
By claiming to draw from our class defeat a confirmation of its conservative and anti-proletarian theses, the bourgeoisie unscrupulously applies victor’s justice but as a “lesson in history”, its conclusion is doubly null and void. The first reason is that the Bolshevik Party and Lenin never claimed to be able to destroy, at short notice, the economic and social form of capitalism in Russia, as they had done to Tsarist-bourgeois political domination (has the bourgeois world really got no wind of this fact for half a century?) On the contrary, they proclaimed that they were starting an international proletarian revolution whose triumph alone would make it possible, certainly not to “decree” socialism in backward Russia one day, but to shorten to the minimum the necessary phase of capitalist economic development under the political control of the proletariat. The bourgeois “lesson” therefore only proves that the “democratic freedoms” of the West did not in any way allow it to form a less stupid idea of the Bolshevik revolution than that which was imposed as a State dogma for dozens of years in Russia by the much-maligned Stalinist dictatorship.
This lesson is therefore void, and above all for the overriding reason that scientific socialism constitutes a whole conception of history and of the world, for which the ideologues of the bourgeoisie (no more than before October 1917) were incapable of providing a theoretical refutation, and from which, on the contrary, they are forced by reality to plunder some truths. One could not therefore do better than to oppose true communism to the lightweight bourgeois accusation of “utopia”. The point here is obviously not to “convince” the class enemy, but to fight defeatism in the proletariat, and above all clearly to establish the theoretical basis for the refutation of the revisionist “lessons” that we will do later, since, without ever presenting the same obscurantist audacity as in the bourgeois “lessons”, they reflect the same rejection of scientific socialism or the same powerlessness to understand it.
To this end, we will summarize the classic, unsurpassable, but little-known account that Engels made in Chapter II of Part Three of the Anti-Dühring, “Socialism”, reordering it in a different way to highlight the periods of a form of economy and society which, far from having existed at all times, was born out of well-defined historical conditions and which, far from conforming to an immutable “reason” is, from the start, affected by the irrationality implied by this origin and which it tries, but in vain, to overcome and which, finally, far from being eternal is destined, by the development of its own internal contradictions, to disappear in the greatest social revolution in history.
The market economy, cradle of capitalism
Prior to capitalist production, small-scale production generally prevailed, based upon the workers’ private ownership of their means of production. The instruments of labour (land, agricultural equipment, the workshop, artisan tools) were the instruments of labour of single individuals, adapted for individual use; therefore of necessity puny, dwarfish, circumscribed. But where the spontaneous division of labour within society is the fundamental form of production, it imprints on the products the form of commodities, the mutual exchange, purchase and sale of which enable the individual producers to satisfy their manifold wants. In commodity production in the Middle Ages, any question concerning the identity of the owner of the product of labour just couldn’t arise. The individual producer had generally produced it from his own raw material, which was often his own handiwork, with his own instruments of labour, and by his own or his family’s manual labour. There was no need whatever for him to appropriate the product to begin with, it belonged to him as a matter of course. His ownership of the product was therefore based upon his own labour. But every society based upon the production of commodities has this peculiarity: that the producers have lost control over their own social interrelations. Each man produces for himself with such means of production as he may happen to have, and for such exchange as he may require to satisfy his remaining wants. No one knows whether his individual product will meet an actual demand, whether he will be able to make good his costs of production or even to sell his commodity at all. Anarchy reigns in socialized production. But the production of commodities, like every other form of production, has its peculiar, inherent laws inseparable from it, and these laws work, despite anarchy, in and through anarchy. They reveal themselves in the only persistent form of social interrelations, i.e., in exchange, and here they affect the individual producers as compulsory laws of competition. They are, at first, unknown to these producers themselves, and have to be discovered by them gradually and as the result of experience. They work themselves out, therefore, independently of the producers, and in antagonism to them, as inexorable natural laws of their particular form of production. The product governs the producers.
The capitalist revolution is only a demi‑revolution
To concentrate these scattered, limited means of production, to enlarge them, to turn them into the powerful levers of production of the present day – this was precisely the historic role of capitalist production and of its upholder, the bourgeoisie. But the bourgeoisie could not transform these puny means of production into mighty productive forces without transforming them, at the same time, from means of production of the individual into social means of production only workable by a collectivity of men. And in like manner, production itself changed from a series of individual into a series of social acts, and the products from individual to social products. No one person could say of them: “I made that; this is my product”. Into this society of individual producers, of commodity producers, the new mode of production thrust itself. In the midst of the old division of labour, grown up spontaneously and upon no definite plan, which had governed the whole of society, now arose division of labour upon a definite plan, as organized in the factory; side by side with individual production appeared social production. Individual production succumbed in one department after another. Socialized production revolutionized all the old methods of production.
But its revolutionary character was, at the same time, so little recognized that it was, on the contrary, introduced as a means of increasing and developing the production of commodities. When it arose, it found readymade, and made liberal use of, certain machinery for the production and exchange of commodities: merchants’ capital, handicraft, wage-labour. Socialized production thus introducing itself as a new form of the production of commodities, it was a matter of course that under it the old forms of appropriation remained in full swing... But the socialized means of production and their products were still treated, after this change, just as they had been before, i.e., as the means of production and the products of individuals. Hitherto, the owner of the instruments of labour had himself appropriated the product, because, as a rule, it was his own product and the assistance of others was the exception. Now the owner of the instruments of labour always appropriated to himself the product, although it was no longer his product but exclusively the product of the labour of others. The means of production, and production itself had become in essence socialized. But they were subjected to a form of appropriation which presupposes the private production of individuals, under which, therefore, everyone owns his own product and brings it to market. The mode of production is subjected to this form of appropriation, although it abolishes the conditions upon which the latter rests.
The incompatibility between socialized production and capitalistic appropriation is the secret behind the tragic course of bourgeois domination
This contradiction, which gives to the new mode of production its capitalistic character, contains the germ of all of the social antagonisms of today. The greater the mastery obtained by the new mode of production over all decisive fields of production and in all economically decisive countries, the more clearly was brought out the incompatibility of socialized production with capitalistic appropriation.
With the introduction of the capitalist mode of production, the laws of commodity production, hitherto latent, came into action more openly and with greater force. The anarchy of social production became apparent and grew to greater and greater heights. But the chief means by aid of which the capitalist mode of production intensified this anarchy of socialized production was the exact opposite of anarchy. It was the increasing organization of production, upon a social basis, in every individual productive establishment. Wherever this organization of production was introduced into a branch of industry, it brooked no other method of production by its side. The field of labour became a battle-ground. The war did not simply break out between the individual producers of particular localities. The local struggles begot in their turn national conflicts... modern industry and the opening of the world market made the struggle universal, and at the same time gave it an unheard-of virulence. Advantages in natural or artificial conditions of production now decide the existence or non-existence of individual capitalists, as well as of whole industries and countries. It is the Darwinian struggle of the individual for existence transferred from nature to society with intensified violence. The conditions of existence natural to the animal appear as the final term of human development. The contradiction between socialized production and capitalistic appropriation now presents itself as an antagonism between the organization of production in the individual workshop, and the anarchy of production in society generally.
It is the compelling force of anarchy in social production that turns the limitless perfectibility of machinery under modern industry into a compulsory law by which every individual industrial capitalist must perfect his machinery more and more, under penalty of ruin. The bare possibility of extending the field of production is transformed for him into a similar compulsory law. The enormous expansive force of modern industry... appears to us now as a necessity for expansion, both qualitative and quantitative, that laughs at all resistance. Such resistance is offered by consumption, by sales, by the markets for the products of modern industry. But the capacity for extension, extensive and intensive, of the markets is primarily governed by quite different laws that work much less energetically. The extension of the markets cannot keep pace with the extension of production. The collision becomes inevitable (and so do crises). In these crises, the contradiction between socialized production and capitalist appropriation ends in a violent explosion. The circulation of commodities is, for the time being, stopped. Money, the means of circulation, becomes a hindrance to circulation. All the laws of production and circulation of commodities are turned upside down. The economic collision has reached its apogee. The mode of production is in rebellion against the mode of exchange, the productive forces in rebellion against the mode of production which they have outgrown.
Vain bourgeois attempts at harmonization
This rebellion of the productive forces, as they grow more and more powerful, against their quality as capital, this stronger and stronger command that their social character shall be recognized, forces the capitalist class itself to treat them more and more as social productive forces, so far as this is possible under capitalist conditions. It is this form of the socialization of great masses of the means of production which we meet with in the different kinds of joint-stock companies; then come the trusts, cartels whose goal is to regulate production (determining the quantity to be produced, and the division between them). But as these trusts generally fall apart in the first period of bad business, they push for an even more concentrated socialization: the entire industrial branch is transformed into a single large joint stock company, competition gives way to the internal monopoly of this unique company. The production without a plan of capitalist society capitulates before the planned production of the approaching socialist society. If the crises demonstrate the incapacity of the bourgeoisie for managing any longer modern productive forces, the transformation of the great establishments for production and distribution into joint-stock companies and State property shows how unnecessary the bourgeoisie are for that purpose. All the social functions of the capitalist are now performed by salaried employees. But the transformation, either into joint-stock companies, or into State ownership, does not do away with the capitalistic nature of the productive forces. In the joint-stock companies this is obvious. And the modern State, again, is only the organization that bourgeois society takes on in order to support the general external conditions of the capitalist mode of production against the encroachments as well of the workers as of individual capitalists. The modern State, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine, the State of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital. The more it proceeds to the taking over of productive forces, the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit. The workers remain wage-workers – proletarians. The capitalist relation is not done away with. It is rather brought to a head.
The fundamental contradiction of capitalism calls for the revolutionary solution
But, brought to a head, it topples over. State ownership of the productive forces is not the solution of the conflict but concealed within it are the technical conditions that form the elements of that solution5 .
This solution can only consist in the practical recognition of the social nature of the modern forces of production, and therefore in the harmonizing of the modes of production, appropriation, and exchange with the socialized character of the means of production And this can only come about by society openly and directly taking possession of the productive forces which have outgrown all control except that of society as a whole6 .
So long as we obstinately refuse to understand the nature and the character of these social means of action – and this understanding goes against the grain of the capitalist mode of production and its defenders – so long these forces are at work in spite of us, in opposition to us, so long they master us, as we have shown above in detail. But once their nature is understood, they can, in the hands of the producers working together, be transformed from master demons into willing servants.
The historic mission of the proletariat
An awareness of the need for a revolutionary solution to the contradiction is insufficient for making it actually happen in history: there must also exist a social force capable of translating this awareness into acts. Capitalism itself produced this social force; by increasingly transforming the vast majority of the population into proletarians, capitalism at the same time created the power which, on pain of death, is obliged to accomplish this upheaval. Throughout bourgeois history, the contradiction between social production and capitalist appropriation manifests itself as the antagonism of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, that is, of the class of producers whom the capitalist revolution has separated from the means of production. and who have been reduced to having only their labour power on the one hand, and on the other, the class which concentrates in its hands (or in those of its State) these means of production. This growing contradiction, the resulting class antagonism is also destined to deepen. At the culmination of its struggle, the proletariat seizes political power, destroys the State apparatus of the bourgeoisie and builds its own class State. It gradually transforms all the means of production into property of this State, as it tears them away from the classes that previously held them. But in doing so, it suppresses these latter as classes and, at the same time, it suppresses itself as a proletariat. As a class State, the proletarian State effectively becomes the representative of all of society insofar as all class differences and oppositions have disappeared within it. But then it renders itself unnecessary. As soon as there is no longer any social class to be held in subjection, as soon as class rule, and the individual struggle for existence based upon the present anarchy in production, with the collisions and excesses arising from this struggle, are removed, nothing more remains to be held in subjection – nothing necessitating a special coercive force, a State. Its intervention in social relationships becomes superfluous in one area after another and then it naturally drifts into sleep. The government of persons is replaced by the administration of things, and by the conduct of processes of production. The State is not “abolished”. It withers away.
With the seizing of the means of production by society, the production of commodities is done away with, and, simultaneously, the mastery of the product over the producer. Anarchy in social production is replaced by systematic, definite organization. The struggle for individual existence disappears. Then for the first time man, in a certain sense, is finally marked off from the rest of the animal kingdom and emerges from mere animal conditions of existence into really human ones. To accomplish this act of universal emancipation is the historical mission of the modern proletariat. To thoroughly comprehend the historical conditions and thus the very nature of this act, to impart to the now oppressed class a full knowledge of the conditions and of the meaning of the momentous act it is called upon to accomplish, this is the task of the theoretical expression of the proletarian movement, scientific socialism.
This is the formidable edifice that Communism opposes to the sinister bourgeois reveries of the eternal reign of Capital, of its class oppression, of its crises and of the repeated genocides of its reactionary imperialist conflicts. An edifice that not only the final defeat of October, but also a whole series of possible new defeats would be powerless to shake, because from its origin, it rested on a prodigious anticipation on the future, on this last phase of capitalism that we are living through, and of which those fifty years since October are, although they seem endless, only the beginning.
The social-democratic “lesson”
The social-democratic “lesson” about the Stalinist counter-revolution is presented in no purer a form than the “bourgeois” lesson, but it is also not difficult to reconstruct it, insofar as the “revisions”, while calling themselves modern, invent nothing and are content to take up, in one form or another, the conclusions of the classical currents of the past.
Historically, social democracy is that deviation from the workers’ movement which, by dint of fighting for reforms in the relatively idyllic atmosphere of capitalism before 1911, had given up preparing the working class for its revolutionary task and which, in the modified conditions created by the first great imperialist war, fulfilled the exact opposite task, strangling revolutionary energy, opposing the proletarian movement (as the Mensheviks did in Russia) and even repressing it (as the Noske-Scheidemanns did in Germany). At the time of Lenin and the Russian Revolution, this deviation was embodied, much more than by the right, which had openly passed to the enemy, by the conciliating centre, whose “international” theorist was Karl Kautsky. It was distinguished from traditional bourgeois currents in that it did not go so far as to assert that capitalism is eternal and that classless and stateless society is only a utopia. But in practice, that is to say in the real class struggle, social democracy joined the bourgeois parties by refusing to admit that socialism can be achieved through a class and party dictatorship, which would violate electoral principles and parliamentary democracy. Without necessarily denying, at least in the abstract, the “right to revolution”7 , social democracy joined with them at any rate to the extent that it never deigned to recognize that the conditions for this revolution were ripe: in Russia, because the economic development of the country was insufficient to allow socialization of the means of production; in the West, on the contrary, because a revolution would have lowered the economic standard that had been attained, because of the armed struggle, which a revolution presupposes, because of the alleged lack of preparation of the working class for taking on the functions of the ruling class, etc.; for the social-democratic right, moreover, because the revolution itself was no longer justified in a century in which, unlike what had happened in the previous century, the working class had “conquests” to defend within bourgeois society. In short, if at the time we could still speak of a workers’ movement (which is no longer the case today), social democracy could hardly be better defined than as the negation of this movement which, as Marx noted, is revolutionary or is nothing.
The social-democratic “lesson” of the Russian counter-revolution flows naturally from the characteristics we have just recalled. Having fought the Bolshevik revolution on the pretext that Russia was not ripe for socialism, social democracy presented the entire economic development of the USSR towards capitalism from the NEP as proof of the merits of its opposition to the revolution. This obviously implies that it saw in what Stalin himself called the construction of national socialism a capitalist evolution, but this “scientific” superiority must not conceal from us the emptiness of this so-called “lesson” and even less, its infamy. We too characterize the economic development of Russia from the end of the civil war to today as capitalist, we too consider that it was historically inevitable; but we deplored it as an effect and a manifest-ation of the class defeat of the proletariat in the first post-war period, when social democracy, which had become conservative, had the gall to rejoice in this defeat; above all, we considered it inevit-able only if the European proletariat did not manage to make its own revolution and we fought with all our strength for this revolution, whereas social democracy on the one hand gave up on the Russian Revolution as being lost as a socialist revolution, and on the other, fought to defeat the revolution in the West.
The infinite duplicity of the social-democratic “lesson” about the Russian counter-revolution is entirely due to the fact that, despite its scientific claims8 , it makes an abstraction of the crucial factor: the paralysing influence that social democracy, precisely, exercised over the Western proletariat and which, by preventing the revolution’s extension, condemned Russia to capitalism; but to make an abstraction of the fact that, without the maintenance of bourgeois domination in Europe, a nationalist current like Stalinism could not have triumphed in Russia, to present this odious Stalinism as a punishment for the revolutionary sins of the Russian proletariat, when in fact it was the legitimate child of the bourgeois reaction favoured by reformism, is to reduce the lessons of history to this miserable truism: “Without revolutions, there would never be counter-revolutions”. Here is what gives the exact measure of this “theoretical superiority” that European reformism boasted about so strongly in the face of Bolshevism, while it still existed as a “workers’” party.
The dull social-democratic “lesson” has failed to demonstrate, in order to be plausible, two things. Firstly, that the October Revolution did not meet any historical necessity and was only an accident of history attributable to Bolshevik “voluntarism” and, secondly, that the maintenance of capitalism in the world, after October, has been historically beneficial to the proletariat and, in general, to the human race, and has perfectly confirmed all the social-democratic forecasts of an uninterrupted peaceful march towards socialism.
Not only did social democracy never demonstrate the first point, but – at least in its centrist current, that of the so-called Second and a Half International, which wanted to be independent both of right-wing socialism and communism – it did not even dare, at the time of the Revolution, to frankly condemn October.
By way of illustration, we will cite the characteristic article of a declared admirer of the German centrist Kautsky, published under the title “The Bolsheviks and Us” in the Austrian social-democratic review, Der Kampf, in March 19189 .
“The theory and practice of the Bolsheviks”, says the old centrist article, “are the adaptation of socialism to a country in which capitalism is still young and undeveloped, and the proletariat is therefore still a minority of the nation; the adaptation of socialism to Russia’s economic backwardness”. In what sense? Soviet Russia (like the Commune in France in 1871) is inevitably the “ideal of the State” of the revolutionary proletariat in the countries where it is still the minority of the population. Besides, “The existence of the capitalist social order is incompatible with the interests of the proletariat. In the possession of political power, the proletariat has to strive to bring industrial production under its rule. But the revolution had destroyed the old bureaucratic regime without building a new democratic administrative organization. The Bolsheviks were therefore unable to subject industry to the control of the organs of a democratic community; they subject every industrial enterprise to the control of the workers who are employed in it: the railways to the railroad workers. the textile factories to the textile workers etc. But in doing so they abandoned the socialist principle that every branch of industry is subject to the whole of society and in so doing approached the ideal of syndicalism. The French workers, a minority of the nation, who, thanks to the slow growth in France’s population, cannot hope to soon become a majority, do not see their ideal in the subjugation of industry to the democratic republic, which would mean the domination of industrial workers by the peasant and petty-bourgeois majority, but in the submission of each branch of industry to the rule of the union of that branch of industry. Russian workers are now trying to realize this ideal of French syndicalism. The ‘workers’ control in factories’ decreed by the Bolsheviks is the principle of industrial organization, which workers must aim at where they cannot hope to dominate a democratic community and, through it, industry. German socialism owes its theoretical superiority to the fact that the German proletariat is the majority, a rapidly growing majority of the German nation and can therefore hope to conquer power in the State on the basis of democracy, and dominate industry through the democratic State. Where the proletariat is only a minority of the nation and can still temporarily seize power, in 1848 and 1871 in France, today in Russia, socialism takes on a different appearance: there the class organization of the proletariat (Commune or Soviet) fights against democracy, the syndicalist ‘workers’ control in the factories’ fights against the socialist submission of industry to the democratic community. The attempt by the Russian proletariat to break the domination of capitalism and achieve socialism was inevitable, but the defeat was also inevitable, and the causes of this defeat were the same as in 1848 and 1871: ‘The development of the industrial proletariat is, in general, conditioned by the development of the industrial bourgeoisie. Only under its rule does the proletariat gain that extensive national existence which can raise its revolution to a national one...’ (Marx, The Class Struggles in France). There, where capitalist industry is only a sporadic phenomenon, the abolition of capitalist domination cannot be the content of the national revolution”.
What political conclusion can be drawn from all this, when you are a pedant imbued with the superiority of “German socialism”, but you do not want, however, to fall into the excesses of the right, for which the October Revolution was only a crazy adventure? A conclusion that cruelly betrays the author’s predicament: “Ahead of their opponents, the Mensheviks had the insight that the social revolution was only possible at a certain stage of capitalist development [sic] and that Russia had not yet reached this stage of development. But, convinced that Russia was undergoing a bourgeois revolution, they demanded from the proletariat that it give up power without a struggle, to abdicate in favour of the bourgeoisie. In their constant fear of the counter-revolution, which could bypass any bold action of the proletariat, they refrained from pursuing a consistent, courageous proletarian policy within the framework of the bourgeois revolution. So they themselves pushed the proletariat away and drove it into the arms of the Bolsheviks.
“The Bolsheviks took the lead in the proletariat’s class struggle against the bourgeoisie, which the bourgeois revolution inevitably had to unleash. In the storms of the revolution they faithfully expressed the moods, the will and the ideals of the Russian proletariat. But going into the proletariat, they also shared its illusions. So they led the proletariat to experiments that can only end with a defeat of the proletariat”. In this disappointing reality, the good “enlightened” social democrat of 1918 saw a glimmer of hope, in the “happy medium” as, of course: “There are also Social Democrats in Russia who are free from the illusions of the right and left. These are the Menshevik internationalists led by Martov, Martinov, Semkowsky; the internationalists who flock to Maxim Gorki’s Novaya Zhizn (Awilow, Basarow, etc.); the minority of the Bolsheviks who are fighting the dictatorship of Lenin and Trotsky under the leadership of Riazanov [sic!]... Against the right and the left, they have fulfilled the task incumbent on the Marxist: not opposing the proletariat [sic!] like the Mensheviks; but also not, like the Bolsheviks, to fall into any of the illusions [sic!] of the proletariat, and instead to defend the superior conception that the Marxist analysis of the conditions of development and struggle give us against these illusions. In stormy times, the extremes of right and left always win; the centre is always condemned to impotence [sic!] But only those who worship success see it as proof that the centre... is wrong.
“Today I am convinced, as in October, that history will finally prove, in Russia as elsewhere, that the Marxist ‘centre’, which is represented by the internationalists in Russia, is right”.
But then, what tasks did the Austrian and international equivalents of Mensheviks à la Martov acknowledge in the advanced countries? The article concludes carefully: “The Russian Revolution is a victory for the Russian proletariat and the Bolsheviks today speak for the Russian proletariat. We owe them our sympathy and our help, just as we owe it to the proletariat in struggle in all countries, insofar as we are capable of doing so. The hateful attacks against the Bolsheviks... now, when German imperialism is entering the field against the Bolsheviks in the name of bourgeois order, are a gross violation of the duties arising from the international solidarity of the proletariat. But that does not mean, of course, that we share the Bolsheviks’ illusions... Marxism has... to represent the general interests of the international proletariat... against momentary interests... to defend the doctrines against aberrations on the right and illusions on the left. Marxists have to... represent the principles of Marxist politics... both against the opportunism on our right... and against ‘left-wing radicalism’... whose basic error is the delusion that the proletariat just has to want to lift the capitalist world off its hinges, without taking account of the objective conditions of its struggle”. H. Weber (Otto Bauer): “The Bolsheviks and Us”, Der Kampf, March 1918, Vienna.
What a sad picture the dusty old article evokes in our eyes, fifty years later! Sure that they would start a European revolution, which would be the historic punishment of the bourgeoisie for the imperialist war it has launched, the Russian proletariat and the Bolsheviks had fought and were preparing to fight like lions. Through revolution, they had brought the imperialist war to a halt in their country and were crying out to the international proletariat to imitate their example. They had built a completely new State which, going beyond the shortcomings of the Paris Commune itself, gave flesh and blood to the Marxist formula of the “dictatorship of the proletariat”, showing the working class of the world how “we can and we must” govern a large country without parliamentarism, how we can and we must remove all political power from the big bourgeoisie, how we can and we must resist the oscillations of the petty bourgeoisie, and, soon, how a determined and disciplined proletariat would win the war civil. And meanwhile, Western “socialist leaders” believed that they had fulfilled their revolutionary duties when they had “excused” the Russian proletariat for not having bowed to the petty-bourgeois majority and for having violated democratic principles; when they recognized (how could they do otherwise?) the broad and enthusiastic proletarian and popular support for the Bolsheviks and when, in the midst of the compliments, they criticized the Mensheviks! That said, they had nothing more important to do than to heap opprobrium on the revolutionary will to overthrow the capitalist world and, in addition, to lecture the Bolsheviks on the difference between the respective principles of industrial organization of revolutionary trade unionism and socialism, and to teach them, in all earnestness, that socialism is centralizing! All they can say about the tasks of a Marxist party during an acute class struggle is that it must not oppose the proletariat, but they refuse to recognize its tasks of leadership, the framing of the struggle, without which the revolution cannot even take place; they erect the eternal oscillation, the eternal indecision of the Russian “non-Bolshevik internationalists” as a universal model. But the worst of all is that having thus hypocritically condemned the Russian revolution (after having recognized that it was inevitable!) “because the objective conditions” of the Russian economy did not allow for the construction of socialism there, they take great care not to explain in what way the objective conditions of the industrial and advanced West would also rule out any hope of eradicating the capitalist economy after defeating it by political means. For any answer to this crucial question, they have, themselves, the champions of the fight against “illusions”, only one hope to offer: it is that in the far off epoch, when the proletariat becomes the absolute social majority, it can “conquer power in the State on the basis of democracy, and dominate industry [sic!] through the democratic State”. Such is “the superior conception” that, according to them, “Marxism gives us of the development and struggle”, the only realistic conception. We do not have to look further for the secret of global bourgeois reaction that followed the Russian revolution and the weak wave of post-war social unrest in the West, of which Stalinism was never more than the local manifestation in Russia: when the hour of the death struggle had struck, it was “leaders” of the sort that the majority of the proletariat continued to follow.
That said, if the fifty years that followed had confirmed the social-democratic forecasts, according to which “the future belonged to the centre”, that is to say, according to which the proletariat would democratically come to power and carry out the socialist transformation without a prior revolution, using the existing State apparatus and under the leadership of the Kautskys, the Bauers and the Martovs, and without the least attempt on the part of the bourgeoisie to defend itself, communism would only have to bow its head and acknowledge the error of its ways and, at the same time, accept the social-democratic accusation according to which it is communism itself that has the historical responsibility for the terrible Stalinist episode10 . As we said above, it is only on this basis that the social-democratic “lesson” could rise to the level of a lesson in history, instead of simply being a rehashing of a slogan of the kind: “The only way sure way of not being beaten is not to fight”.
It suffices to mention the last fifty years to demonstrate that they have totally ruined the social-democratic perspectives of the progressive absorption of antagonisms of all kinds, the triumph of peaceful methods, and idyllic social progress. To appreciate the total fiasco of social democratism it is enough to evoke the unheard-of torments of the crises, of the second imperialist war, of the colonial wars, of the brutal oppression unleashed not only in Russia, devastated “by the communist revolution”, as the social democrats insinuated, but also in Italy and in Germany, the heartland of social democracy, in short all the climate of tragedy and torpor that characterizes our beautiful century and which the military victory of the democratic powers over the fascist powers did not make any less onerous.
This is why, far from being able to demonstrate the historical advantage of the survival of capitalism and the absence of a European revolution after 1917, social democracy was forced by history to liquidate itself, not just as a class party, but as any kind of party, becoming a simple apparatus that was completely discredited, a shadow of what it had been – for the misfortune of the proletariat – a ghost from the past condemned to a languid existence that its younger brother, national communism, is elsewhere condemned to share with it.
If, by chance, the observation of contemporary reality had not convinced the reader of this fact, all it would take would be to pay a moment’s attention to the way in which the social democrats themselves retrace their own story via the pen of Herr Carlo Schmid, member of the Presidium of the SPD; the suggestive picture is borrowed from the Hundert Jahre Sozialdemokratische Partei (1863-1963) Festvortrag by this author, who, having lost all modesty, throws the most intense spotlight on this process of liquidation, which is due to nothing but a yawning contrast between social-democratic forecasts and historical reality: “The leadership of the party did not want the revolution of 191811 . But once it had been declared, Friedrich Ebert and others took it in hand and saved democracy, refusing any experiment that could lead to the dictatorship of the proletariat”. It would be impossible to confess more graciously that at the time, Lenin and the communists were doing German social democracy no injustice when they denounced its counter-revolutionary role. Let us now see what rewards the proletariat drew from this renunciation of revolution which, in theory, should have enabled it to achieve socialism at lower cost, by avoiding violence and civil war, in short by a more certain path: “During the fourteen-year period of the Weimar Republic, socialists were members of the Reich government for only two and a half years, with intervals. They were only given power in precarious situations”. So much for our austro-marxist’s earlier forecast that the future belongs to those who fall “neither for the illusions of the right, nor those of the left”, and especially for his hope that the numerous proletariat of the advanced countries would conquer power and control of the economy on the basis of democracy, by means of the existing State. As to the reasons why “they” (that is to say the bourgeoisie) “give” power to socialists only in “precarious situations”, they are clear: it is in such situations that, worrying about threats of “experiments that could lead to the dictatorship of the proletariat”, the bourgeoisie feels the need to call for help from the “workers’ party” that “refuses these experiments”. It would be impossible to admit more frankly that while the electorate proposes, the ruling class disposes. Let us now consider the verification of the “superior theory of German socialism” in the peaceful character of historical development in the contemporary epoch “During the whole Weimar period the Party remained, officially and in theory, Marxist, but its politics became more and more reformist. Finally, the 1931 programme declared unequivocally that the German Social Democratic Party was a reformist and democratic party, for which democracy was already a value in itself12 . 1933 intervened. From the very start, the Nazi regime filled the concentration camps with socialists and communists. Thousands of them were murdered in the first weeks. The parliamentary socialist group was the only one to vote against the Enabling Act giving Hitler carte blanche.The speech delivered in this case... saved the honour of democracy in Germany”. Words fail us...
“After the war, everything had to be rethought on the ideological level”. It is understandable that the “honour” saved by... a speech did not constitute a sufficient basis for the pure and simple maintenance of the old ideology! “The party undertook this immense task with remarkable energy and boldness. The result of its work was included in Godesberg’s programme in 1959. The party no longer wanted to be Marxist. It judged that history is the work of men’s wants, and not the automatism of dialectical materialism”. A quite remarkable boldness, indeed: because who, after the First World War, fought against the “men who wanted” to abolish capitalism by the revolution, if not those who pro-claimed the automatism of the march towards socialism, i.e. the predecessors, the spiritual fathers of the people of Godesberg?
“Democracy is the essential value in politics”. Essential in the sense that if we cannot save it, we must always save its honour. “But the party wants real [democracy] and not only formal: the worker must not be elevated to the dignity of citizen only in the political order; he must also become a citizen in the economic and social order, hence the demand for co-management. Private property is not an evil, it is an indispensable good in a free society. It is necessary to create as many individual fortunes as possible. A man must be able to say ‘no’ without risking his social existence at any time, but trusts and cartels must be prevented from becoming instruments of domination in the hands of an uncontrolled minority”. At this point, social democracy, which was only a negation of proletarian Marxism, ends up denying itself: “The German Social Democratic Party wants to be a national, European and popular party; it is no longer the party of a single pre-determined class. We do not want to socialize man; we want to humanize society”.
In summary, at the time of the Russian Revolution, German social democracy proudly proclaimed its “theoretical superiority” over communism, and on that basis, practical superiority. It claimed to draw from the Stalinist counter-revolution the proof that you cannot achieve socialism by means of violent revolution and dictatorship, and the proof that by violating the intangible principles of democracy, you inevitably turn your back on it. Now, by the admission of one of its current representatives, the same social democracy publicly announced, at least twice, in 1931 and in 1959, its own liquidation, that is to say, recognized what reality had inflicted on it, since it would otherwise have had no reason to modify its views and principles even in the slightest. Should we believe that the social-democratic “lesson” about the Russian counter-revolution was the verdict of History itself? Should we consider it possible and legitimate to give it any credence, even partial? To tolerate within communist ranks even the slightest democratic criticism of Bolshevism? This is what we deny, and we are the only ones to deny it.
The anarchist “lesson”
At the time of the Second International, then after the victory of Stalinism in the Third, anarchism (also called libertarian communism) could pass for a radical movement, more revolutionary than scientific socialism. The reason is simple: anarchism has never repudiated the use of violence and insurrection; whereas, on the contrary, the social-democratic and, later, Stalinist deviations from Marxism did not content themselves with putting the emphasis on parliamentary and legal action in favour of social reforms or, worse, the defence of parliamentary democracy against the bourgeois right: they condemned any violent action by the proletariat as a manifestation of adventurism. For these historical reasons, the prejudice that anarchism is much more extremist than Marxism would become firmly entrenched in our time. In reality, the relationship between anarchism and Marxism is exactly the opposite. Originally, that is to say at the time of Marx’s polemic against Proudhon (in 1847), it was scientific socialism that denounced anarchism as “bourgeois socialism” and condemned the opposition of its leader in class struggle and revolution. Later, in the First International (1864-72), when Marx and Engels and their disciples fought Proudhon’s disciple, Bakunin, it was not because he was “too” revolutionary, but because his revolutionism (which he himself defined as “a Proudhonism broadly developed and pushed to its extreme consequences”) is not consistent. The same goes for Lenin with regard to the anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists of his time. Today, when it is impossible to doubt the shameful deviations from Marxism, all that anarchism can find to reproach scientific socialism for is that it is “authoritarian” socialism. It was therefore inevitable that the involution of the proletarian and Bolshevik republic of 1917 into a national police State practising the cult of the great Stalin appeared to anarchism to be a formidable historical confirmation of its age-old criticism of Marxism and of the correctness of its own conception of socialism. There are even a few “lessons” from the Russian counter-revolution that have such a strong power of suggestion, even on those who do not want to give up on revolution. The main misfortune for this version of events is that it did not wait for the counter-revolution to impose itself, since, in the midst of the civil war between the Russian proletariat and the international bourgeoisie, which had ganged up against it, Russian anarchists did not refrain from exploiting the terrible difficulties against which red power, Bolshevik power, was struggling, to try to win a victory for what they called the “third revolution”.
It is a historical fact to remember, even if (to their credit) not all the Russian and European anarchists (in particular Italian) compromised themselves in this insane and unconscious support for the effort of all the enemies of communism to restore bourgeois order13 .
One of two possibilities, then: either the “lesson” according to which Stalinism came to “prove” what reactionary inevitabilities were always implicit in the “authoritarian” socialism of Marx and Lenin means nothing at all, or else it means that if the Russian masses had listened to the warnings of the libertarians, they would have avoided the Stalinist counter-revolution and established socialism. For this to be plausible, the libertarians ranged against proletarian and communist power, against the non-parliamentary power of Russia from 1917-21, would really have had to open up a third way, one distinct from both supporters of the bourgeois Constituent Assembly and supporters of the dictatorship of the proletariat, but at least as capable as the latter of preventing a restoration. This is what they neither did, nor could do, contenting themselves with disorganizing the defences of one of the adversaries in struggle – the communist proletariat! – and proving at the same time that after Red October, there was no room for a third revolution.
Superficially directed against a principle of scientific socialism – the political principle of the dictatorship of the proletariat – anarchist criticism is in reality directed against the whole new concept defended by socialism from its birth, which is the materialist conception of history. A hundred years later, the more or less avowed, more or less loyal followers of Bakunin have not yet assimilated this “novelty”, rejected as they were in their libertarian old-fashioned ways by the defeat of the proletarian revolution in Russia.
Marx once gave scientific socialism a terse definition that will help us to show that by characterizing it as “authoritarian” socialism, the anarchists have only displaced the real problem, which is certainly not to know whether we should, in the absolute and in the abstract, proclaim ourselves in favour of Authority or on the contrary of Liberty, but whether socialism is an ideal or a historical necessity and inevitability. “What I did that was new was to prove: (1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production (historische Entwicklungsphasen der Produktion), (2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat, (3) that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society”. (Letter to Weydemeyer, 5 March 1852). Everyone has, of course, the “right” to disagree with these three fundamental theses, but no one has the right to ignore that for Marx and all Marxists worthy of the name they result from the scientific discovery of an objective process, and that if they adopted them as a Party programme, it was not because they responded to who knows what subjective preference for Authority, but because they seemed to summarize the entire direction of history. To reproach such a conception for being “authoritarian” is nonsense: the only legitimate thing would be to demonstrate that History itself is not “authoritarian”, but conforms by itself to the ideal of Liberté born with the great French Revolution, a thesis particularly unsustainable in our imperialist and totalitarian century. One of two possibilities, then: either it makes no sense to say that the Russian counter-revolution confirmed the anarchist criticism of Marxism, or it means that it proved that historical materialism was scientifically false, not in accordance with the real laws of human development. Not only has anarchism never demonstrated any such thing, but it has never even undertaken it, precisely because it has always placed itself on the abstract terrain of the ideal, and never on that of the reality of class society. Besides, it suffices to pose the question in its correct terms to see that the Russian counter-revolution could not prove anything of the kind: because when did scientific socialism ever say that by taking power and establishing its dictatorship, the proletariat would inevitably go to socialism, regardless of the economic and political, national and international conditions in which this event had taken place?
To prove that the opposition between Marxism and anarchism is something quite different from an opposition between lovers of Authority on the one hand and lovers of Freedom on the other, we only need to quote the anarchists themselves and to compare their theses with the above quotation from Marx. Honour where it is due: let’s start with Proudhon, father of anarchism, even if his authority has been shaken after Bakunin and, after anarcho-syndicalism, even in the libertarian ranks. Why does he fight the “governmental, dictatorial, authoritarian, doctrinaire communist system?” Because its attitude would be the eternal attitude of “the slave who has always aped the master”, because “like an army that has removed the guns of the enemy”, it intends “to turn its own artillery against the army of property owners” – that is to say State power – because the dictatorship of the proletariat “would borrow its formulas from the old absolutism: undivided power – absorbing centralization – systematic destruction of all individual, corporate and local thought, known as dissident, an inquisitorial police force” and would only be a “compact democracy, apparently founded on the dictatorship of the masses, but where the masses only have enough power to ensure universal servitude”. Of course, our anarchist adversaries will still be able to sacrifice Proudhon, a hundred years after Marx showed that his socialism was a bourgeois socialism14 , but can they do the same for the insurrectionist Bakunin, the undisputed hero of any libertarian? Bakunin sings from the same hymn sheet as the unfortunate Proudhon, who never tried to refute Marx’s refutation of his Philosophy of Poverty and for good reason, because it was Bakunin who cried out one day without any idle pretence: “I detest communism, because it is the negation of liberty. I cannot conceive of humanity without liberty. I am not a communist because communism concentrates and absorbs all the powers of society in the State; it necessarily ends with the concentration of property in the hands of the State. I, on the other hand, want the abolition of the State, the radical elimination of the principle of authority and of tutelage by the State. Under the pretext of making men moral and civilized, the State has enslaved, oppressed, exploited and corrupted them. I want the organization of society and collective, social property by free association from the bottom up, not by authority from the top down, regardless of what sort. This is how I am collectivist and not at all communist” [our emphases].
For Proudhon, therefore, State power is the specific weapon of the “property-owners”, that is to say of the bourgeoisie, and it cannot therefore suit the needs of the oppressed; for Bakunin, it is a corrupting “principle”. However, the State is neither: all societies divided into classes have known the State, and like the society that is born from the fall of bourgeois domination cannot ignore any class division overnight, nor can it do without any State; if this institution is common to all class societies, it is indeed not because, up until the doctrinaires Proudhon and Bakunin, humanity suffered from an aberration of the principles from which the new redeemers would have come to deliver it; it is because as long as classes exist, and therefore also the class struggle, whether muted or open, which classes cannot avoid engaging in, the state is necessary for the survival of society. We simply have to read the brilliant lines of Engels in his Anti-Dühring on this subject to grasp all the superiority of the materialist explanation of history over the prognostications of the libertarian prophets: “Society thus far, based upon class antagonisms, had need of the State, that is, of an organization of the particular class, which was pro tempore the exploiting class, for the maintenance of its external conditions of production, and, therefore, especially, for the purpose of forcibly keeping the exploited classes in the condition of oppression corresponding with the given mode of production (slavery, serfdom, wage-labour). The State was the official representative of society as a whole; the gathering of it together into a visible embodiment. But it was this only insofar as it was the State of that class which itself represented, for the time being, society as a whole: in ancient times, the State of slave-owning citizens; in the Middle Ages, the feudal lords; in our own time, the bourgeoisie” (Anti-Dühring).
“The State is, therefore, by no means a power forced on society from without; just as little is it ’the reality of the ethical idea’, ’the image and reality of reason’, as Hegel maintains. Rather, it is a product of society at a certain stage of development; it is the
admission that this society has become entangled in an insoluble contradiction with itself, that it has split into irreconcilable antagonisms which it is powerless to dispel. But in order that these antagonisms, these classes with conflicting economic interests, might not consume themselves and society in fruitless struggle, it became necessary to have a power, seemingly standing above society, that would alleviate the conflict and keep it within the bounds of ’order’” (Origin of the Family).
This need, which has imposed itself on the exploiting classes of the past, is just as much of an imposition on the proletariat, at least during a certain phase of history: to be revolutionary is nothing other than to recognize it, to accept it, and put it into practice when the need arises, as did Lenin and the Bolsheviks in Russia. It is necessary, says Proudhon, expressly to reject “revolutionary action as a means of social reform”, to deny the proletariat the right to turn “the artillery” that constitutes the State apparatus against the class enemy, and only to see in the powerfully original claim of the dictatorship of the proletariat a simple imitation of the past, a regression compared to bourgeois democracy, even a return to the old absolutism! For the proletariat, to establish its own State is to use organized violence to break the resistance of the bourgeoisie rather than laying down its arms and letting the whole old order be reconstituted while proclaiming “the abolition of the State”. This is not an aberration due to the influence of outdated ideas: it is a matter of life and death in the real struggle. But the doctrinaire blindness of the anarchists is such that Voline, a fighter for the so-called “third revolution” against the Russian Bolsheviks and
author of The Unknown Revolution, which presents the libertarian version of the great events of Russia in the years 1917-20, thought he was able to draw from them precisely “formal proof” that “if the social revolution is about to prevail (so that capital, soil, subsoil, factories, means of communication, money, begin to pass to the people and the army makes common cause with the latter) there is no need to worry about ‘political power’. If the defeated classes tried, by tradition, to form one, what importance could it have?” No need to “worry” about wresting control of the administration, the police and the army from the bourgeoisie? No, the Russian anarchist Voline replied in substance, in the heat of the events. Unimportant, the attempt at a Tsarist-bourgeois political counter-revolution, supported by foreign imperialism in the years 1918-21? A simple matter of old obsolete and outdated ideas? Yes, he replied again. And he explained: “political power is not a force in itself: it is strong as long as it can rely on Capital, on the framework of the State, on the army, on the police. Without this support, it remains ‘suspended in a vacuum’, helpless and ineffective. The Russian revolution gives us the formal proof of this”. It was not a madman or a partisan of the bourgeoisie who spoke like this: it was a Russian anarchist convinced of being “revolutionary”!
What the Russian revolution gave “formal proof” of is that even during a powerful social revolution, the bourgeoisie and its parties do not remain and cannot remain absolutely and definitively without support in the mass of the population; it is also because even after the military victory has been won over the main enemy, the need for a power “preventing society from being consumed in a sterile struggle”, “keeping it within the limits of order” continues to be felt: that is the whole secret of the NEP, that is to say of the policy intended to maintain the proletariat’s alliance with the peasantry within the limits of Russian industrialization under the control of the proletarian party. As disastrous as the subsequent development has been, for reasons that have nothing to do with the “centralization of property in the hands of the State”, given that the whole vast Russian agricultural sector eluded the workers’ State in practice, what the Russian revolution has at the same time proved, formally and definitively, is the powerlessness of anarchism to grasp reality and to rise to the level of the demands of the radical proletarian struggle, and above all its counter-rev-olutionary role as soon as it tries to manifest itself independently of communism, to convince the masses of the whims of its doctrinaires and force their fulfilment in history.
The self‑managed socialist “lesson” 15
We saw above how the anarchist Bakunin defined his “socialism” as “the organization of society and collective property” from the bottom up by means of association and how he rejected the “centralization of property in the hands of the State “. In the same way, there was in the Bolshevik Party of the years 1920-21 a Workers’ Opposition (Kollontai, Myasnikov and Shliapnikov, with whom much more recent groups have claimed alignment) who denied that the Party and the Soviet State had to exercise their authority in the economic field and to assume the management of industry and who affirmed that, in this matter, the decision had to revert to the “producers themselves”, to the “congress of producers”, peasants on the one hand and on the other factory councils from different companies. What Bakunin claimed in the name of Liberty, the Workers’ Opposition claimed in the name of proletarian interests and as the only guarantee that the dictatorship of the proletariat would not be transformed into dictatorship over the proletariat; but the economic vision is the same, and it could be found in Italian Ordinovism16 . The unfortunate thing is that the failure of the revolution of 1917, as a socialist revolution at least, that is to say the fact that the State management of industry (if not of the whole economy) established by the Bolsheviks did not lead to socialism, but to modern Russian national capitalism, seemed to a bunch of people historical proof of the “prophetic correctness” of Bakunin’s views, a bunch of people who, in politics, did not however use anarchism by name. This is how, in matters of socialism, our era has simply fallen back into Proudhonism (Proudhon being the recognized master of Bakunin, and unrecognized master by many other people). Its great formula is “socialism, yes, but in freedom”, accompanied – in the best cases – by the other formula: the dictatorship of the proletariat, yes, but not over the proletariat. The great “lesson” that this liberal, associative socialism, which we shall call “self-managed socialism” learned from the Stalinist counter-revolution is that Marxist “statism” cannot lead to the liquidation of capitalism, but only to the fierce reign of an omnipotent bureaucracy; that the class party has no role to play in the economic transformation, which must be left to the “working class itself” and to producers in general. Undoubtedly, no “lesson” is as difficult to destroy, given the force of suggestion of the counter-revolution and the voluntarist caricature that Stalinism made of the Marxist doctrine of the role of the Party by lending it the power to create socialism at will, on the condition that it is obeyed; yet it is just as lamentable in theory and practically as disastrous as all of the ones we have just examined.
In fact, the opposition dreamed of by libertarians and their disciples, whether conscious or not, between their “economy of free association” and the “State economy” of Marxist communism is purely imaginary. We can only speak of “association” (free or not) if we start from a postulate of the existence of productive units managed autonomously. It is not difficult to imagine what they might well be after the overthrow of the employers’ class: there would simply be companies inherited from the capitalist era but liberated, by the revolution, from their traditional management and fallen into the hands of the workers on the one hand, and on the other the multiple small agricultural or industrial farms that capitalist development will have allowed to survive despite the concentration of the productive forces that it achieves. To say that such productive units must not become “property of the State” simply means that they must maintain their autonomy of management, that is to say that they should not be subject to any general regulation, to any central authority, but only to the will of their staff, democratically expressed by a majority of votes probably, and, in the best of cases, to the local authority of a duly “elected” management committee or manager, assuming that some authority is recognized as necessary for the functioning of an organism as complex as a large modern factory, something that the “libertarians” might still find dubious. Let us admit that, in the euphoria of the revolution, such an organization has the effect of giving the workers the feeling of being “free” because they will be rid of managerial curmudgeons, of the boss’s petty despots, and they will now only have to obey technical requirements, rather than the exigencies of production for profit. Let us admit this, for the time being. The main problem will remain: how will all these autonomous businesses interact? How will the production in its entirety adapt to meet all needs while escaping, in this way, all central decision and control under the pretext of avoiding “bureaucratization”? In capitalism, this was done through the market, though not without any central regulation. In a post-revolutionary economy which, according to the absurd hypothesis, would conform to the whims of “liberal” or “libertarian” communist doctrinaires, it could not do otherwise. It takes a considerable dose of ignorance to imagine that the market relationships subsisting between companies and between the two major sectors of the economy (agriculture and industry) could be abolished within companies and each of these sectors; that the amount of salary, the duration and intensity of work, and even the weight of authority in force within the production unit could be determined “freely”, that is to say exclusively according to the “will” of workers so as no longer to be exploited under such conditions! The capitalist exploitation taking place in the form of a levy of surplus value on the proletariat is indissolubly linked to the mercantile nature of this economy. It is because products are commodities that labour is also one and therefore the proletarian is an employee. It is an absurdity to believe that you could abolish the system of wage labour (that is to say the regime that attaches the material treatment of the proletarian both to the value of his commodity labour power and to the demands of the valorisation of capital) without abolishing market production, and no less absurd to believe that one could abolish this production while preserving the conditions from which it derives, and which are essentially the existence of autonomous enterprises.
The replacement of the boss and bourgeois control by some “factory council” elected as democratically as one would like, in other words the replacement of the capitalist enterprise by a cooperative enterprise, would not advance the necessary transformation of the social economy by one single step. We know that the attempts of workers’ production cooperatives in the nineteenth century, even if they had the merit of showing that we could do without the social character of the capitalist, ended in resounding failures, because they could not resist bourgeois competition. It would not be otherwise if competition were no longer between employers’ enterprises and workers’ cooperatives, but between as many workers’ cooperatives as there were enterprises. Again, two possibilities: either they would pretend to operate other than as capitalist enterprises, all other conditions remaining bourgeois (liaison through the intermediary of the market) in which case they would be swept away; or if they intended to survive, they could only function as capitalist enterprises with money capital, wages, profits, a sinking fund and capital investments, credit and interest, etc. Competition between them would not be abolished, and neither would the system of contracts, civil law and the State institution necessary to defend it. So the question is first of all in what respect such “associations” could be more “free” than bourgeois enterprises and how the process of concentration in ever larger productive units, which manifested itself throughout the capitalist phase and which had nothing to do with being “free and voluntary”, since it was determined precisely by the requirements of competition, could well give way – with this competition surviving – to a “voluntary process of free association from the bottom up” inspired by no one knows what superior social ethics. All the socialization of the economy (in the sense of employment of associated labour and mass production) that could be achieved “by means of free association” was already done under capitalism, with the reservation that the term “freedom” is ambiguous when applied to a process subjected to such a rigid determinism. A “social revolution” that would simply propose continuing on the same path and by the same means, finally to reach the vaguely dreamed-of collective economy, contenting itself with changing the actors of the social drama and replacing entrepreneurs or bourgeois trusts with factory committees or workers’ cooperative associations would be so little a social revolution that it would inevitably lead in a short time to the restoration of all the old relations of production and this at the cost of convulsions of which the Spanish “revolution” can give us some idea. Not only would such a “revolution” not abolish the State but on the contrary, it would create all the conditions which make it essential for a general and central authority to impose itself, precisely to defend the freedom and autonomy of the associations, that is to say, the need to settle many sources of conflict and internal clashes, as even an individualist anarchist like Stirner was able to understand. In conclusion, the march towards a collectivist economy by way of free association is a doctrinaire outlook poisoned by the theories that the bourgeoisie directed against the old absolutist interventionism at the time of its revolution; and it is incapable of realizing that if, as Marx pointed out to Proudhon, bourgeois competition had left feudal monopoly, it had led to the modern bourgeois monopoly, and that it was an absurdity to believe that we could get out of the capitalist cycle and enter the reign of freedom by turning backwards, as if the return to competition, even under modified conditions, could lead to something other than this same monopoly, let alone to socialism. Such a vision is devoid of all reality, and does not at all constitute the happy historical possibility that, according to the self-managed socialists, did not come about in Russia “because of Lenin and the Bolsheviks” and, beyond them, Marxism itself and its “statist and authoritarian outlook”. One of two possibilities, in fact: either an alternative really existed, and one cannot see how even a Stalin and a party as “totalitarian” as you like would be able to impose the worst possible solution – the capitalist solution – unless historical materialism is nothing but a heap of nonsense; or else, historical materialism tells the truth by affirming that social forms depend on the degree of development of the productive forces, and if the counter-revolution prevailed, it was precisely because the alternative was purely imaginary, that there was no other possible historical outcome. This is not the place to go over the entire history of October: to clarify the above statement it will suffice to recall what disastrous results Russian workers’ naive attempts at autonomous management had, which the Bolshevik Party had to fight not only to stop the economic catastrophe as such, but above all to prevent it from leading to defeat in the civil war against the Whites, Tsarists or supporters of the Constituent Assembly.
If the first term of the opposition established by Bakunin is therefore entirely imaginary, the second – the one which claims to define communism as a “State economy” – could not possibly be more wrong. It is true that the communist movement gives the workers’ State, and the revolutionary party that brings it into being, a leading role in the socialist transformation of the economy; it assigns, it is true, to the dictatorship of the proletariat the mission of achieving this transformation, which it judges impossible without it, but that is not to say that communism itself can be defined as “a State economy”, an economy in which the State “would absorb all the powers of society” to use Bakunin’s expression, and in which it would confront that society for all eternity as owner of the means of production. This is the outlook of a philistine incapable of grasping the real link between the relations of production and a form of society and of the State, and this is why those who believe in it have not stopped repeating for forty years that “the Russian experience” had only too well confirmed the merits of Bakunin’s fears with regard to communist theories and demonstrated the prophetic nature of his criticism.
Communism cannot be a “State economy” for a very simple reason: if the need to establish its own power and its own State is imposed on the proletariat as on all the classes that preceded it, it is nevertheless distinguished fundamentally from them by a characteristic of capital importance: it is not and could not become an exploiting class, but on the contrary the first class called upon to abolish all division of society into classes, and at the same time all class oppression. On the question of the State, this characteristic has a critically important consequence: the State of the proletariat can only be a transitory State, since to the extent that it will carry out its tasks, that is to say, to the extent that it will progressively make classes and their opposition disappear, it will by the same token remove the conditions that underpin the existence of the political State and the need for the ruling class to hold the other classes in subjugation. Under communism therefore, the State and with it political authority will disappear, that is to say public functions will lose their political character and will become simple
administrative functions, which will watch over the interests of society (Engels, Controversy with the Anarchists, quoted by Lenin in The State and Revolution.) Lenin rightly notes that at a certain degree of its withering away, this “withering State” can be called a non-political State. This means that communist society will not be devoid of all administration, but that public administration will no longer have the oppressive character, the class character that it has always assumed in the past, that it will on the contrary be a social administration in two ways, first, because it will no longer be the monopoly of a particular social group within the framework of a division between manual and intellectual labour, as this division will have long since become obsolete, second, and especially,
because administration will be a function of the needs of the whole of society, and not of a privileged fraction within it. Under these conditions, characterizing communism as the property of the State is nonsense. because the concept of “social property” is itself nonsense: when society as a whole becomes master of its conditions of existence, because it has ceased to be torn apart by internal antagonisms, we have by no means the advent of “social property”, but rather the abolition of property as a fact and therefore also as a concept. How indeed is property defined, if not by excluding others from the use or enjoyment of the object of said property? When there is no one left to exclude, there is no more ownership or possible owner, “society” less so than any other.
All this has a consequence of capital importance: wherever the State owns or at least claims to own anything, we can be sure that there is no communism. There can be two reasons for this. The first is that we are on the path that leads to communism, but we are still very far from the goal; in other words, there is still a proletariat fighting against other classes to clear the way for the social economy in its entirety, which is its goal, and in this case, we are dealing with a proletarian State led by a revolutionary party, which is easily recognizable if not in the economic measures that it is likely to take in themselves, then at least in its doctrine and the direction of its action, both national and international. This was the case with Lenin’s party after October, during the civil war, and even in the very first years of the NEP. The second, quite opposite reason is that the State that is born proletarian may very well change function under the pressure of enemy classes and turn its back on the final communist goal: in this case, State property may well continue for a long time as capitalist property, that is, as a power hostile not only to the proletariat but, to a certain extent, to the greater part of society. Such was the case with the Stalinist and even the partially post-Stalinist State, but then appears all the foolishness of the enterprise-socialist “lesson” of the Russian counter-revolution, which begins by defining communism for what it is not – State ownership – and which, then contemplating State ownership as it existed and still partially exists in Russia exclaims: “Look at this monstrosity that communism has led to! Just imagine what we would have spared ourselves if we had followed the path of free association!”
Everything sinister evoked by the single word “Stalinism” in the minds of most of our contemporaries - the appalling misery of Russia after 1920; the draconian labour laws imposed on it; the reign of the police and the practice of political assassination erected to a principle; the agrarian revolution “from above” of the years 1927-28 and its terrible consequences; “the Soviet Famine” of 1932; the mass repressions; the sinister farce of show trials and the delusional self-accusations of the victims; and above all the odious and unchanging litany of the victorious march of the USSR towards a liberating communism under the leadership of its great party and its beloved leader – all this, absolutely everything could have a simple explanation, one of truly magical convenience: State management, of course, or even, which amounts to the same thing: the uncontrolled reign of the Stalinist bureaucracy. But then, what about the fact that the revolution took place after the war, the weight of the Russian peasantry, the numerical weakness of the proletariat aggravated by the bloodletting of the civil war and by its lack of education, the low level of culture in general, the weight and the inertia of feudal traditions and gross brutality, the isolation of the proletarian Marxist party, international conditions, the barbaric statist tradition of Asian despotism, the demands of the political counter-revolution? These are mere trifles in the eyes of the self-managed socialists, mere trifles that do not explain a thousandth of what their two magic words say: “State management” or “uncontrolled bureaucracy” thanks to the insidious influence that the age-old poppycock of Proudhon and Bakunin exercises on them! How else did they think that, in the absence of “State management”, the oppressed can control anything before the terrible steamroller of capitalist accumulation and bourgeois domination?
The Trotskyist “lesson”
Contrary to all the currents studied above, the one called “Trotskyism” has a distant communist origin in this left Opposition which, from 1923 onwards, led an unequal struggle against opportunism in the Bolshevik Party, culminating in its political eviction and physical destruction in the years 1927-1938. Today, that is to say, thirty or rather forty years after this terrible defeat, this origin has become unrecognizable in the movement that continues to bear the name of the leader of this opposition, Leon Trotsky, theorist of the Permanent Revolution, founder of the Red Army, defeated fighter against the “adjustment” of the Communist International, Soviet power and the Bolshevik Party and finally the abused founder of what he believed to be the future Fourth International. Without doctrine and even more without links to the working class, today’s “Trotskyism” is reduced to a cluster of small sects whose positions contradict each other in a thousand ways (some of them are moreover concerned about very few theoretical issues), but who more or less share this curious position, which is one of the strangest products of the absence of principles, and of empiricism, according to which the USSR and its bloc are indeed socialist, but need a political revolution to restore workers’ democracy.
The “lesson” that would emerge from this awkward platform, if Trotskyism were to risk theoretical generalizations, could be formulated as follows: the nationalization of the means of production by the ruling Party of the proletariat defines a socialist regime as long as it remains in force, but this socialism is not complete until it is accompanied by political democracy and “workers’ participation” in “economic choices”. All that remains of communism in this is the idea of the necessity of the violent revolution, but for the rest it is a return to the two deviations studied above: social democracy and “self-managed socialism”. As for the idea of violent revolution itself, it remains so nebulous that in the forty years it has existed, “Trotskyism” has never been able to describe even a reasonably firm and sensible course of action to reorganize revolutionary forces.
We cannot deny that there exists some connection between, on the one hand, this doctrinal monster, this curiosity of history which will astonish future generations if it ever comes to their knowledge, and on the other hand the positions successively taken by Trotsky and the Opposition. But this link is made by the attachment of today’s Trotskyists not to Trotsky’s authentic revolutionary teaching, but to his mistakes or to his weakest positions. This means that if Trotsky must bear some responsibility for the formation of the lame “doctrine” that bears his name, he was, as an authentic communist, far and away above it.
It is true that, as was still done in their generation, Trotsky and Lenin did not refrain from using the ambiguous term “workers’ democracy”17 . It is also a fact that the Bolshevik Party made some use of the formal democratic mechanism in its internal life, and the dramatic meetings of the Central Committee, where the major decisions of the Revolution (the question of the insurrection, the Brest-Litovsk talks and the continuation or cessation of the war, the NEP) were taken “by a majority of votes” are a common memory. To conclude, as the Trotskyists do18 , that a Trotsky or a Lenin were “democrats”, in contrast to Stalin, who was only a “tyrant”, is a crude misinterpretation of their work, and in any case testifies to a most suspicious readiness to cleanse them of the accusation made by the worst bourgeois and opportunists, who claim that they cleared the way for Stalinism by imposing a dictatorship: true communists disdain these statements of the class enemy, and they certainly do not stoop to water down the figure of the great revolutionaries of the past to make it more sympathetic or more tolerable to “progressive” dilettantism. In the same way, it is really to miss the central point, or worse, to hush it up for opportunistic reasons, to characterize the cruel contrast that opposes the party of Lenin to that of Stalin (the two names are only there to designate two historical phases) by saying that the first worked “democratically” and the second did not. The opposition is one of substance, of which the famous “mode of operation”, which is so important to the philistines, is only the expression. However, this opposition is such that, if there is a democratic mode of operation in the true sense of the word, it is indeed in the party in the process of Stalinist degeneration, and not at all in the Bolshevik Party of Lenin’s time. The latter is indeed a class party, a revolutionary party obeying a defined body of doctrine – Marxism – that its ruling core has restored and defended against opportunism. By its very nature, such a party resists fluctuations of opinion, which democratic parties theoretically at least have a duty to obey; by its very nature, what drives the action of such a party is its programme and not the “opinion” of its members; the capital function of the ruling nucleus comes from the real history of the party and the successive selections that have taken place there (gradual elimination of leaders unsuitable for the party’s task or simply uncertain, or, on the contrary, rallying elements that were mistaken at one time, as in Trotsky’s brilliant example); it is therefore not delegated to it by “free” individual choice as democratic mythology requires, nor by the means invariably used by the latter, which are propaganda for or against individuals, including false apologetics on the one hand and defamation on the other.
What such a party seeks is a continuity of action, and this requires a certain stability of leadership and not at all the individual freedom of its members, as in those democratic parties whose behaviour fluctuates because it does not obey any principles, and whose leadership changes, because the leadership function is subject to electoral favour. Not only can it be said to be “democratic”, but all its positive characteristics prove the lie of democratic postulates and their inadequacy for the accomplishment of revolutionary tasks. Under these conditions the practice of voting and counting votes is only a simple use of a convenient mechanism, nothing more. Far from being a “guarantee”, the use of such forms can only be explained by relative immaturity, since a party with the maximum historical experience and achieving maximum cohesion is no longer at all likely to present even on practical issues these violent oppositions that the Bolshevik Party unfortunately still knew and could not avoid, straddling as it did the last democratic revolution and the first socialist revolution in Europe. This is so true that never did an important decision (the signing of the peace in 1919, for example, or the ending of the war against Poland) actually depend on the placid count of the opinions of Central Committee members: once the demands of internal unity and harmony of the party had been conceded to them by means of what Lenin called “party legality”, no Bolshevik leader – especially not Lenin – was ever seen to renounce the most energetic struggle against his own comrades when the fate of the revolution was at stake. That this struggle was loyal and open, that it targeted the positions and solutions proposed, and not the people, that the position in the party of all the militants who intended to continue to militate in its ranks remained assured, even after the most serious crises (for example the cases of Zinoviev and Kamenev who broke the party’s discipline on the crucial issue of insurrection), that there was no hesitation in accepting into the party experienced revolutionaries like Trotsky and some of his comrades when they renounced their past mistakes and that, as long as the revolution maintained its initial momentum, there was never any thought of using State sanctions or worse, the police force against party members, is all very true, and these are all features that distinguish Lenin’s party from Stalin’s: but to see this as a democratic characteristic is to allow oneself to be singularly misled by the terms, to concede to democracy virtues that it cannot offer, and to show a good deal of stupidity. This whole party practice is far superior to the current practice of electoral parties precisely because, to be what it is, it only had to be communist, and not at all to conform to the respect for the individual that bourgeois democracy claims as one of its most cherished principles, and for which Trotskyists praise the Bolshevik Party in Lenin’s time while simultaneously denouncing the manoeuvring, terror and violence of the regime in Stalin’s time. Bolshevik practice on the one hand and Stalinist practice on the other prove quite the opposite to what degenerated Trotskyism claims and to what vulgar democratism sees in them; the former vividly demonstrates that the proclamation of collective and class objectives and the denial of the bourgeois ideology of freedom in no way entail the notorious “crushing of the individual” of which the bourgeois have always accused Marxism, with their usual stupidity. The reason is simple: like all relationships that can be considered, the relationship between the individual and the collectivity to which he belongs depends not on the fictions of the law, but on the very nature of that collectivity.
As far as the revolutionary party is concerned, it neither opposes nor can it oppose as a whole each of its members considered individually: on the contrary, it exists itself only insofar as there are militants who have managed to coordinate their efforts with maximum efficiency to achieve their common goal; conversely, each of these militants exists as such only insofar as he or she is an element of the whole. Far from oppressing or crushing the individual, the party is ultimately only the rational use of a series of individual efforts that, outside it, would not only be lost, but would not even have been born; if, therefore, we wish (in response to the democrats and not because it would be important to us) to define the relationship between the individual and the collectivity in a party that denies bourgeois individualism and democratic guarantees on principle, it must be said that it is precisely in him and through him that the individual gets rid of the purely fictitious sovereignty to which democratism condemns him in order to become a real force, within the limits of determinism. of course.
What happened in the Stalinist party, by contrast? Degenerate Trotskyism, following vulgar democratism, deplores the fact that the famous habeas corpus “guarantees” for militants were abolished and that, instead of being assured freedom of expression, they were subjected to a dictatorship. That’s the crux of the matter! The so-called “Stalinist” party is the Bolshevik Party at a certain point in its historical existence that can be characterized as such: it has behind it a great revolutionary victory, but it has lost its working class elite in the civil war and it finds itself faced with tasks for which it was not only unprepared, but for which, to tell the truth, it was not created, since it was a question of managing, according to sound bourgeois principles, an economy that had been disorganized by the sabotage and flight of the bourgeoisie, in addition to which the different and opposite principles of socialist management were in this case inapplicable. In the context of Russia, what is at stake, as well as revolutionary political continuity, is economic recovery or death, reconstruction or collapse in the worst social convulsions with the threat of the worst white terror. The result of all this is a complete change in the composition of the party and at the same time a complete change in its mentality; immediatist praxis tends inevitably to prevail over the concerns of theoretical rigour and fidelity to principles when such conditions exert their pressure. Of course, immediate pragmatism was ultimately to prevail since no help came from outside (i.e., from the International) to the Russian party. It could not do so by simply throwing overboard all the traditions and memories of the past; but since it was by its nature the living negation, there remained only one resort: on the one hand to display a political and theoretical continuity that would not have stood up to the slightest examination, however slight, if it had been possible, and on the other hand getting rid of any resistance by the revolutionaries to this “new course”, and doing this precisely by appealing to the opinion, to the conscience, to the feelings of this new party that the Bolshevik Party had already become to a certain extent; in short, by opposing the sovereign authority of the democratic majority to the only authority that Lenin and so many Bolsheviks formerly recognized: that of Communist principles, of Communist doctrine, of the Communist programme. What, in this phase appears to true Marxists as a thousand times more ignoble than sanctions (expulsion, exclusion, imprisonment, deportation and later outright massacre) is precisely this exploitation by Stalinism of democratic legality, of purely formal rule, the mystifying falsehood of the sovereignty of the majority, in short this odious fiction which, on the scale of the whole of society, has been used for more than a hundred years by the bourgeoisie not to “ensure the freedom of the individual” as it claims, but to crush the proletariat and the revolution! That the alteration of the party was very often insufficient to obtain this majority for the Stalin fraction, that it had on the contrary to rig it by manipulations, campaigns, manoeuvres, this in no way proves that the Stalinist party was not “truly democratic”, but that the abandonment of communist practice, which rests entirely on the collective effort to align collective action to revolutionary goals and therefore to common doctrine, and the transition to democratic practice, which only seeks to obtain majorities, necessarily brings about the return of every flaw of bourgeois political life. The Stalinist party was materially democratic, not only by its recourse to the democratic fiction revealed more than a century earlier by Marxism, but by the infamy of all its interior life.
When in 1923 Trotsky wrote his The New Course to call for a cleaning up of the internal regime, he was aware of all this, and what he demanded, as we will see later, was not “democratic guarantees”, but a return to the normal life of a revolutionary party. Whatever his positions may have been at the time of his personal decline, and whatever language he used at that time and that of the language of the party and even of the International19 , Trotsky was absolutely pure of democratic illusions and form-alism, certainly no less pure than Lenin himself. Obviously, we cannot cite everything, but three references will suffice here.
In The Lessons of the Paris Commune he endeavours, drawing a parallel between the Commune and the Russian Revolution, to show all the superiority of the Party organization and the insufficiency of the elective principle to provide the proletariat with a political and military leadership capable of winning victory. He writes: “The Central Committee of the National Guard [whose role in the Commune is known to us] was in effect a Council of Deputies of the armed workers and the petty bourgeoisie. Such a Council, elected directly by the masses who have taken the revolutionary road, represents an excellent apparatus for action. But at the same time, and just because of its immediate and elementary connection with the masses who are in the state in which the revolutionary has found them, it reflects not only all the strong sides but also the weak sides of the masses, and it reflects at first the weak sides still more than it does the strong”. Having shown that “at the very moment when this responsibility was enormous” (the government had fled to Versailles) the democratically constituted National Guard “hastened to unload its responsibility”, and instead of agitating in a revolutionary way, “imagined legal elections to the Commune”, it shows that “Passivity and indecision were supported in this case by the sacred principle of federation and autonomy”, well reflecting “without a doubt the weak side of a certain section of the French proletariat” at the time, “hostility to capitalist organization – a heritage of petty bourgeois localism and autonomism”. It is therefore on the basis of the facts that he demonstrates the superiority of an organization “which rests upon the whole history of its past, which foresees theoretically the paths of development”, an organization which is not “a machine for parliamentary manoeuvres”, but “the accumulated and organized experience of the proletariat”, in short of the workers’ party above any elected form of workers’ organization which, precisely because of its direct connection with the masses, cannot fail to reflect all its weak sides.
Passing from the political to the military question, Trotsky’s criticism of the democratic conception of the proletarian struggle hardened further: to rid, he said, “the National Guard of the counter-revolutionary command. Complete electability was the only means for it, the majority of the National Guard being composed of workers and revolutionary petty bourgeois”. But, he added, this demand for “electability in this ease had as its immediate task not to give good commanders to the battalions, but to liberate them from commanders devoted to the bourgeoisie”, explaining, based on his own revolutionary experience as the founder of the Red Army: “As a rule, the elected command is pretty weak from the technical-military standpoint and with regard to the maintenance of order and of discipline. Thus, at the moment when the army frees itself from the old counter-revolutionary command which oppressed it, the question arises of giving it a revolutionary command capable of fulfilling its mission... And this question can by no means be resolved by simple elections... Electability can in no wise be a fetish, a remedy for all evils... a strong party leadership is needed”. This is a lesson taken from revolutionary experience, a communist principle which, for today’s “Trotskyists” has become a dead letter.
In Terrorism and Communism, we also find this brilliant refutation of the criticisms that the backward defenders of “working-class democracy” already addressed to the “dictatorship of the Bolshevik Party”: “We have more than once been accused of having substituted for the dictatorship of the Soviets the dictatorship of our party. Yet it can be said with complete justice that the dictatorship of the Soviets became possible only by means of the dictatorship of the party. It is thanks to the clarity of its theoretical vision and its strong revolutionary organization that the party has afforded to the Soviets the possibility of becoming transformed from shapeless parliaments of labour into the apparatus of the supremacy of labour. In this “substitution” of the power of the party for the power of the working class there is nothing accidental, and in reality, there is no substitution at all. The Communists express the fundamental interests of the working class. It is quite natural that, in the period in which history brings up those interests, in all their magnitude, on to the order of the day, the Communists have become the recognized representatives of the working class as a whole. But where is your guarantee, certain wise men ask us, that it is just your party that expresses the interests of historical development? Destroying or driving underground the other parties, you have thereby prevented their political competition with you, and consequently you have deprived yourselves of the possibility of testing your line of action. This idea is dictated by a purely liberal conception of the course of the revolution. In a period in which all antagonisms assume an open character, and the political struggle swiftly passes into a civil war, the ruling party has sufficient material standard by which to test its line of action, without the possible circulation of Menshevik papers. Noske crushes the Communists, but they grow. We have suppressed the Mensheviks and the SRs – and they have disappeared. This criterion is sufficient for us. At all events, our problem is not at every given moment statistically to measure the grouping of tendencies; but to render victory for our tendency secure. For that tendency is the tendency of the revolutionary dictatorship; and in the course of the latter, in its internal friction, we must find a sufficient criterion for self-examination”.
When in 1936, in The Revolution Betrayed, Trotsky unfortunately would come to demand his “Soviet democracy” against the “Stalinist dictatorship”, he could only justify his shift with a banality completely unworthy of him and of Marxism: “Everything is relative in this world, where change alone endures”. But thirty years later the disciples of his decline have still not noticed this.
The third text, “Is the conversion of the Soviets into parliamentary democracy likely?” (which appeared in the syndicalist review, La Révolution prolétarienne, in May 1929) has the benefit of hindsight after the defeat of the Russian Opposition. By then Trotsky’s struggle against Stalinism had already run off the rails in terms of principles and even historical reality, but the great revolutionary had not yet, as we will see, forgotten anything from the Marxist criticism of democratism.
“If the Soviet power struggles with increasing difficulties, if the crisis... of the dictatorship becomes more and more accentuated, if the Bonapartist danger is not averted, is it not better to set out towards democracy? This open or implied question arises in a number of articles devoted to the latest events in the USSR. I am not making a judgement here on what is better or not. I am trying to clarify what flows from the objective logic of development. And I come to this deduction that nothing is less likely than the conversion of the Soviets into parliamentary democracy, or to be more precise, this conversion is absolutely impossible”. In 1929 Trotsky replied to his social-democratic adversaries that, whatever one might wish, the return of the USSR to parliamentary democracy was historically excluded. In 1936, he made this return the central political demand of the Opposition for the USSR. Our Party’s thesis is that, in so doing, he shifted from the terrain of communism onto that of social democracy. It is therefore essential to show that the justified criticism made by the Trotsky of 1929 of his social-democratic opponents was entirely at odds with the Trotsky of 1936, as well as his disciples in 1968.
The reasons invoked by Trotsky are twofold: those that are international and general, and those specifically Russian, the two naturally linked. Let’s look first at the international reasons:
“To express my idea more clearly, I must put aside its geographical limits and it will suffice to recall certain trends in Europe’s political development since the war which has not been an episode but rather, the bloody prologue of the new era. Nearly all the wartime leaders are still alive. For the most part, they said... that it was the last war and that it would be followed by the reign of democracy and peace... Now, not a single one of them would dare say these words. Why? Because war has brought us to a time of great tensions, great struggles, with the prospect of new wars. Powerful trains are rushing towards each other at the present moment, on the rails of universal domination. We cannot measure our era by the yardstick of the 19th century, which was the century par excellence for the extension of democracy. The 20th century in many respects will be distinguished more from the 19th century than all modern history is distinguished from the Middle Ages... By analogy with electro-technology, democracy can be defined as a system of switches and insulators against the too strong currents of the national or social struggle. There has not been an epoch in human history so saturated with antagonisms as our own... Under too high a tension of class and international contradictions, the switches of democracy melt and shatter. Such are the short circuits of dictatorship. The weakest switches obviously go first. But the strength of internal and global contradictions is not diminishing, it is increasing. One could hardly be reassured by noting that the process has only taken hold of the periphery of the capitalist world. Gout begins with the little finger of the hand or the big toe; but once on its way, it goes to the heart”. This is very well observed and expressed. Our party thesis is that the communist movement had to draw all the consequences from this reality of the 20th century: it made no sense to implore the bourgeoisie to keep the “switches” of democracy, which had always been installed against us, but which had become useless for the bourgeoisie; we had to blow them ourselves, with the high-voltage current of the proletarian revolution. The Moscow centre of the Communist International did not draw all these consequences, including Trotsky. This was one of the reasons for the ruin of the International. But it was the same error, applied this time to the struggle against Stalin, and no longer against Mussolini or Hitler, which made Trotsky’s Fourth International a stillborn organism.
Let us now see the more specifically Russian reasons why Trotsky considered it impossible in 1929 to re-establish parliamentary democracy in Russia: “When we oppose parliamentary democracy to the Soviets, we have in mind a particular parliamentary system, and we forget another – essential – aspect of the question, namely that the October 1917 revolution was revealed as the greatest democratic revolution in human history. The confiscation of land ownership, the complete liquidation of class distinctions and privileges, the destruction of the Tsarist bureaucratic and military apparatus, the introduction of national egalitarianism and the right of peoples to self-determination, this is an essentially democratic task that was undertaken, which the February revolution hardly came close to, leaving it almost entirely to the October revolution. Only the inconsistency of the liberal-socialist coalition made the Soviet dictatorship possible, based on the union of workers, peasants and oppressed nationalities. The reasons that prevented our weak and backward democracy from accomplishing its historic task will not allow it, even in the future, to place itself at the head of the country, because in recent times the problems and difficulties have become greater, and democracy smaller... The Soviet system is not a simple form of government that could be compared in the abstract with parliamentary democracy: it essentially deals with the ownership of land, banks, mines, factories and railways. We must not forget these ‘trifles’ by getting drunk on the common ground with democracy. We will fight against the return of the landowner, the peasant, today as ten years ago, to the last drop of blood... To tell the truth, the peasant would more easily tolerate the return of the capitalist, because State industry so far only provides peasants with manufactured products on conditions less advantageous than those of the merchant of the past... But the peasant remembers that the landowner and the capitalist were the Siamese twins of the old regime...: the peasant understands that the capitalist would not return alone, but only in the company of the landowner. That is why he does not want either of them; this is the powerful, albeit negative, reason for the strength of the Soviet regime. We should call a spade a spade. It is not a matter of the introduction of an insubstantial democracy, but Russia’s return onto the path of capitalism. But what would this second edition of Russian capitalism be? Over the past 15 years, the global picture has changed profoundly. The strong have become infinitely stronger, the weak have become incomparably weaker. The struggle for world supremacy has taken on gigantic proportions. Each stage of this struggle was waged on the bones of weak and backward nations. Capitalist Russia could not at present occupy even the third-class position in the global system to which Tsarist Russia had been consigned by the onward march of the last war. Russian capitalism would now be an enslaved capitalism, a semi-colonized capitalism, with no future. Today’s Russia Mark 2 would occupy a place somewhere between Russia Mark 1 and India. The Soviet system of nationalized industry and the monopoly of foreign trade, despite all its contradictions and difficulties, is a protective system for the independence of the country’s culture and economy. This was understood by the many democrats themselves who were drawn to the side of the Soviet government not by socialism, but by a patriotism which had assimilated the elementary lessons of history... A handful of impotent doctrinaires would have liked a democracy without capitalism. But the serious social forces, the enemies of the Soviet regime, want capitalism without democracy. ”
Trotsky’s Marxist reasoning is a hundred cubits above the formal and abstract reasoning of his social-democratic adversaries of 1929, but also (a conclusion which matters more to us here) way above that of his “disciples” of 1968, who never did anything but push his own abstract and formal reasoning in 1936 to the point of absurdity.
The struggle, he rightly says, is a social struggle and it is on the outcome of this social struggle that the political form destined to triumph depends. Parliamentary democracy succumbed to the blows of the democratic revolution. His supporters – those who reason in political rather than social terms – do not understand that wishing for its re-establishment amounts to wishing for the liquidation of the conquests of this democratic revolution. “The serious social forces” (that is to say the classes dispossessed by the October Revolution) would, without a doubt, wish to liquidate these conquests to return to the old order, but the possibility of doing so by democratic means has been excluded by history. Even in 1929, the Russian peasantry would not allow itself to be dispossessed of the land without a second civil war: where would the classes dispossessed by October find the force necessary to fight almost the entire Russian population? Trotsky does not say it here, but he knows it and it is obvious: they could only find it in the armies of the imperialist powers, intervening once again against Russia and defeating it (just as the European coalition intervened against Napoleonic France, where the Bourbons would not have never been restored without that coalition’s victory over all the French people). But then, the political form intended to triumph would in no way be the national parliament dreamed of by the “impotent doctrinaires”, but, as we might say today, a puppet republic of the kind that the USA supports in the regions of Asia that it controls.
The same reasons that set Trotsky against the social democrats still prevented him, in 1929, from putting his struggle against Stalin behind the flag of Soviet democracy: Trotsky knew full well that in the Soviets there were both supporters of socialism like him and forces which, without being in the least socialist, simply did not want Russia to return to a state of semi-colonial dependence on Western capitalism and therefore also did not want a restoration. These forces were all the non-proletarian strata and enemies of revolutionary internationalism, who, whether outside or inside the Party, approved the Stalinist orientation out of “democratic patriotism, which had assimilated the elementary lessons of history”. It was this “Ustryalovism”20 that Lenin was the first to denounce and which, born in the most informed circles of émigrés, infiltrated the ruling Party – Trotsky never ceased to denounce the fact – under the banner of “socialism in one country”. As for Soviet democracy, this “switch”, this “isolator” intended by the Bolsheviks to prevent the revolution from collapsing in a sterile struggle between the socialist proletariat and the lower-bourgeois peasantry, Trotsky knew full well that it was the high-voltage current of the civil war that shattered it, imposing the pure proletarian dictatorship of war communism, with its forced requisitions and its “authoritarian” drafting of the revolutionary peasants into the Red Army. It would take many years before this defender of the Bolshevik dictatorship of the proletariat, the author of the passage from Terrorism and Communism quoted above, invoked it against the Stalinist party!
In fact, there are three phases in Trotsky’s long struggle as leader of the Opposition. In the first – well illustrated by the 1923 text, The New Course – he vigorously denounced the anomalies of the internal regime of the Party and the policy of the Central Committee, tried to alert the Party to the danger of degeneration to which the policies (international as well that interior) were exposing the proletarian dictatorship, of which the Party was the only guarantor; but very far from presenting himself as a candidate for the leadership of the Party, he stood aside to some extent, satisfied with refuting the inventions of the campaign that the Central Committee orchestrated against him from 1921, so far aside that when he wrote The New Course, he was still ignoring the real situation, which would not be revealed to him until 1923, when Kamenev and Zinoviev broke with Stalin21 .
In other words, in the first phase, he responded to the parliamentary campaign that that had been launched against him and which aimed at the same goal as all campaigns of this kind: to cut off his path to power. In this regard, it is important to note that where bourgeois imbecility has seen proof of the misdeeds of “communist totalitarianism”, our current has recognized the misdeeds of the elective principle and of democracy applied to the party organ. The fact that the campaign broke out in the party which called itself “communist” is easily explained by the fact that in the USSR there was no parliament, but what is a power struggle founded on the competition of individuals and the disregard for all principles, if not a parliamentary type of struggle?
In the second phase, Trotsky no longer confined himself to defending Marxist positions against revisionism in power. He entered onto the “path of reform of the Soviet regime” as he himself would say in The Revolution Betrayed, to characterize the phase before 1936. In the absence of a parliament, this reformist struggle could not take the form of a struggle for the legal replacement of a government judged incapable of keeping the USSR on the road of socialism by the better government of the Opposition. In substance, however, this is what it was. For the reformist socialist, the “obstacle” to socialist transformation is the parliamentary majorities supporting bourgeois governments. To the Trotskyist Opposition at the time, this “obstacle” seemed to be the majority supporting the Stalinist Central Committee, or rather the internal regime of the party that was supposedly preventing the Opposition from wresting its majority away from Stalinism. In reality, in the first case, the obstacle is not this or that government, but the existence of the bourgeois State, which must be destroyed and not “reformed”; in the second case, the obstacle equally lay in the existence of the State, in the power of a party whose degeneration was irreversible and which, far from resulting from the internal regime, was itself the very reason for this regime. What prevents the vulgar socialist from identifying the real obstacle is that he is not revolutionary; what drove the revolutionary Trotsky to fall into a reformist error with regard to the Soviet State was his inability to separate himself completely from the party of “socialism in one country”. In this phase, however, his positions retain a final link with the Marxist tradition: it is on the party and the party alone that the fate of the dictatorship of the proletariat depends. In the third phase, this final link would be broken. Trotsky would move on from the revolutionary parliamentarism in the party that characterized the previous phase, to pure parliamentarism in society, that is, to the demand for the restoration of electoral freedom in the USSR.
To illustrate the first phase, we refer to the text from 1923 cited above, The New Course. If the terminology already presents the ambiguity denounced above, like all the terminology used for that matter by the Bolshevik Party, even in its good period, the methodology is not at all formal, since Trotsky studied the determinism which, under the conditions of power, risked making the party lose its nature as the most revolutionary fraction of the proletariat and consequently its function as a class party, due to “the question of the party generations” and “the question of social composition” and above all questions of State and administrative tasks22 . The alert he launched does not concern the lack of freedom of party members, as in popular social-democratic criticism, but the alteration of the organic relationships between centre and periphery, summit and base within the party, the alteration of the relations between party and State, and, to crown it all, the alteration of the real tradition of the party at the same time as its purely formal invocation. Let us judge:
“There is one thing that ought to be clearly understood from the start: the essence of the present disagreements and difficulties does not lie in the fact that the ‘secretaries’ have overreached themselves on certain points and must be called back to order, but in the fact that the party as a whole is about to move on to a higher historical stage... To be sure, it is not a question of breaking the organizational principles of Bolshevism, as some are trying to have us believe, but to apply them to the conditions of the new stage in the development of the party23 . It is a question primarily of instituting healthier relations between the old cadres and the majority of the members who came to the party after October... Theoretical preparation, revolutionary tempering, political experience, these represent the party’s basic political capital whose principal possessors, in the first place, are the old cadres of the party. On the other hand, the party is essentially a democratic organization, that is, a collectivity which decides upon its road by the thought and the will of all its members. It is completely clear that in the complicated situation of the period immediately following October, the party made its way all the better for the fact that it utilized to the full the experience accumulated by the older generation, to whose representatives it entrusted the most important positions in the organization. The result of this state of things has been that, in playing the role of party leader and being absorbed by the questions of administration... For the communist masses, it brings to the forefront purely bookish, pedagogical methods of participating in political life: elementary political training courses, examinations of the knowledge of its members, party schools, etc. Thence the bureaucratism of the apparatus, its cliquism, its exclusive internal life, in a word, all the traits that constitute the profoundly negative side of the old course. The fact that the party lives on two separate storeys bears within it numerous dangers... The chief danger of the old course, a result of general historical causes as well as of our own mistakes, is that the apparatus manifests a growing tendency to counterpose a few thousand comrades, who form the leading cadres, to the rest of the mass whom they look upon only as an object of action. If this regime should persist, it would threaten to provoke, in the long run, a degeneration of the party at both its poles, that is, among the party youth and among the leading cadres... In its prolonged development, bureaucratization threatens to detach the leaders from the masses, to bring them to concentrate their attention solely upon questions of administration, of appointments and transfers, of narrowing their horizon, of weakening their revolutionary spirit, that is, of provoking a more or less opportunistic degeneration of the Old Guard, or at the very least of a considerable part of it”.
Then, considering the social composition of the party, Trotsky noted:
“The proletariat realizes its dictatorship through the Soviet State. The communist party is the leading party of the proletariat and, consequently, of its State. The whole question is to realize this leadership without merging into the bureaucratic apparatus of the State... The communists find themselves variously grouped in the party and the State apparatus. In the latter, they are hierarchically dependent upon each other and stand in complex personal reciprocal relations to the non-party mass. In the party, they are all equal in all that concerns the determination of the tasks and the fundamental working methods of the party. The communists working at the bench are part of the factory committees, administrate the enterprises, the trusts and the syndicates, are at the head of the Council of People’s Economy, etc. In the direction that it exercises over the economy, the party takes and should take into account the experience, the observations, the opinions of all its members placed at the various rungs of the ladder of economic administration. The essential, incomparable advantage of our party consists in its being able, at every moment, to look at industry with the eyes of the communist machinist, the communist specialist, the communist director, and the communist merchant, collect the experiences of these mutually complementary workers, draw conclusions from them, and thus determine its line for directing the economy in general and each enterprise in particular. It is clear that such leadership is realizable only on the basis of a vibrant and active democracy inside the party24 . When, contrariwise, the methods of the ‘apparatus’ prevail, the leadership of the party gives way to administration by its executive organs (committee, bureau, secretary, etc.)... With such a degeneration of the leadership, the principal superiority of the party, its multiple collective experience, retires to the background. Leadership takes on a purely organizational character and frequently degenerates into order-giving and meddling. The party apparatus goes more and more into the details of the tasks of the Soviet apparatus, lives the life of its day to day cares, lets itself be influenced increasingly by it and fails to see the forest for the trees... The whole daily bureaucratic practice of the Soviet State thus infiltrates the party apparatus and introduces bureaucratism into it. The party, as a collectivity, does not feel its leadership, because it does not realize it. Thence the discontentment or the lack of understanding, even in those cases where leadership is correctly exercised. But this leadership cannot maintain itself on the right line unless it avoids crumbling up in paltry details, and assumes a systematic, rational and collective character. So it is that bureaucratism not only destroys the internal cohesion of the party but weakens the necessary exertion of influence by the latter over the State apparatus. This is what completely escapes the notice and the understanding of those who yell the loudest about the leading role of the party in its relationships to the Soviet State”.
With regard to factional groups and formations, Trotsky in no way claimed the ridiculous “democratic right” to form them. But while considering them, as a Marxist, to be “dangerous anomalies”, he denied that it was possible to prevent their birth or to promote their absorption “by purely formal measures”; he noted that the bureaucratic regime of the party was on the contrary one of the main sources of factionalism, rightly accused the defenders of the purely formal party unity of constituting themselves the worst faction, “the bureaucratic conservative fraction” and concluded in a perfectly correct way that the only way to prevent the formation of factions was “a certain policy, a correct course adapted to the real situation”25 .
Not a trace of democratic illusion in all this. The anomalies in the life of the party (including, in the last chapter, the continual references to Lenin and Leninism, marking the worst manifestations of opportunism) are justly characterized, as well as their historical causes: not the “exercise of power” in general as the anarchists claimed, but the exercise of power in a deeply heterogeneous society, since between the proletariat (in any case too weak and weakened still further by the civil war) and the an vast peasantry there existed no identity of daily and fundamental interests as the party leadership seemed to believe26 in a society further afflicted with a very low cultural level and isolated from the rest of the world by capitalist intrigue. Sadly, Trotsky would never again attain this high level of critique. But until the fatal slide of 1936, despite all its mistakes, he remained faithful to the magnificent conclusion of Chapter 4 of The New Course:
”The most important historical instrument for the accomplishment of all these tasks is the party. Naturally, not even the party can tear itself away from the social and cultural conditions of the country. But as the voluntary organization of the vanguard, of the best, the most active and the most conscious elements of the working class, it is able to preserve itself much better than can the State apparatus from the tendencies of bureaucratism. For that, it must see the danger clearly and combat it without let-up”.
When in the second phase Trotsky went over to the struggle for the “democratization of the party”, social democracy saw there, not without some reason, its adversary taking a step in its direction. Indignant, Trotsky replied to these allegations:
“It is a great misunderstanding that is easily exposed. Social democracy is for the restoration of capitalism in Russia. But it is only possible to steer in this direction by pushing the proletarian vanguard into the background. If social democracy approves of Stalin’s economic policy, it will also have to come to terms with his political methods. A real transition to capitalism could only be ensured by a dictatorial power. It is ridiculous to demand the restoration of capitalism in Russia and, at the same time, to sigh for democracy”. The attack was justified, but the fact that it is ridiculous to sigh for democracy when hoping for the restoration of capitalism, does not make it, in the least, a condition of fighting for socialism, that ceased to be the case! If a Marxist of Trotsky’s calibre did not take note of this objection, it was because the following seemed very obvious to him: if the course towards capitalism went through the annihilation of the proletarian vanguard within the party itself, then the resistance (also within the party) of this vanguard to being annihilated was the only possible political expression of resistance to this course. Reasoning that lacked only a “small” condition to be correct: that the course towards capitalism remained a more or less distant risk, and that the adversary confronted within the party was not precisely the political embodiment of the class enemy, since in no case can the class enemy be beaten peacefully, imploring it to respect “legality”, whatever that may be27 . Unlike the dullards who claim to be his disciples, Trotsky felt this so well that in his Defence of the USSR (1929), he wrote in full: “It would be Quixotic, not to say idiotic, to fight for democracy in a party which is realizing the rule of a class hostile to us... But for the Opposition the struggle for party democracy has meaning only on the basis of the recognition of the dictatorship of the proletariat”28 .
The passionate refusal to recognize that the proletariat was defeated, that the party would never again become revolutionary, this is what characterizes the Trotskyism of the second phase. The quotes below will show with what a dangerously seductive face (which he would not retain, and would never find again), Trotskyist opportunism came into being. Here, for example, is an extract from Trotsky’s speech before the Central Control Commission before which he appeared in June 1927 on the accusation of having violated party discipline by “delivering fractional speeches” at the recent session of the Executive Committee of the Communist
International and for having taken part in the demonstrations in favour of Smilga, an oppositionist exiled to Siberia:
“What have you done with Bolshevism? With its auth-ority, with the experience of the theory of Marx and Lenin? What have you done with all this in a few years?... In meetings, especially in workers and peasants cells, you say God knows what about the Opposition, you ask with what ‘resources’ the Opposition carries out its task: workers, perhaps out of ignorance, perhaps unconsciously, perhaps also sent by you, ask these ultra-reactionary questions29 . And there are speakers who are cowardly enough to answer these questions in an evasive manner. To put it bluntly, if you were truly a Central Control Commission you would have a duty to put an end to this filthy, miserable, disgusting, Stalinist campaign!”
To the Stalinist Aaron Soltz who, reproaching Trotsky for the Opposition’s “Platform of 83”, had said to him: “Where does it lead then? Do you know the history of the French Revolution, and where did it end up? To arrests and the guillotine”, Trotsky replied with this speech: “We must refresh our knowledge of the French Revolution at all costs. During the French Revolution, many people were guillotined. And we have shot many. But the French Revolution included two major chapters, one of which unfolded thus (ascending curve) and the other thus (descending curve)... When the chapter entered the rising curve, the French Jacobins, the Bolsheviks of that time, guillotined the royalists and the Girondins. We knew this chapter when we, the Opposition, shot the White Guards and the Girondins, with you. Then a new chapter opened in France when... the Thermidorians and the Bonapartists, together with the Jacobins on the right began to banish and shoot the Jacobins on the left, the Bolsheviks at the time... There is not one among us who is afraid of the shootings. We are all old revolutionaries. But you have to know who to shoot and in which chapter. When we shot, we knew full well which chapter we were in. But today, do you clearly understand within which chapter you are preparing to shoot us? I’m afraid you’re going to shoot us... in the Thermidor chapter... It is certainly necessary to learn the lessons of the French Revolution. But does that mean it is necessary to repeat them?”
What is reflected, clear as day, in these passages is the “Ustryalovist” counter-revolution in progress, but Trotsky continued, despite the violence of his struggle, to speak the language of a party comrade to Stalinist agents. The violence must therefore not obscure the fact that the demand for “democratization of the party” was only a particular application of the United Front tactics dear to the Bolsheviks (including Trotsky); without a united political front with the Ustryalovists within the party, the organizational break would have been inevitable; but, as soon as Trotsky refused this rupture, precisely because he considered the United Front not only possible, but necessary30 , this political front was fatally translated in terms of organization, the two currents formally belonging to the same left.
If you need to be convinced of the reality of this frontism (also accompanied by a fatal blindness of Trotsky on the class divide which from 1927 separated his current of that of national communism), it will be enough for you to read this passage from the same speech of June 1927 cited above which, forty years later, can only cause anger and despair in the revolutionary Marxist, while, in its infinite unconsciousness, contemporary Trotskyism blissfully admires it:
“If we lived in the conditions that existed before the imperialist war, before the revolution, in the conditions of a relatively slow accumulation of antagonisms, I believe that the split would be infinitely more likely than the maintenance of unity. But the situation today is different. Our differences of opinion have worsened considerably, the antagonisms have grown enormously... But at the same time, we have, first, an immense revolutionary power concentrated in the party, an immense wealth of experience concentrated in the works of Lenin, in the programme and traditions of the party. We have wasted a lot of this capital... but we still have a lot of pure gold. Secondly, the current period is a historical period of abrupt turns, gigantic events, colossal lessons from which it is necessary and possible to learn. Grandiose events have occurred which allow us to verify the two political lines that confront each other. The party can facilitate or hinder the knowledge of these lessons and their assimilation. You are hindering it. [This is a tragic euphemism that Trotsky is using to define the process of liquidation of the class party by national communism!] But we, we are fighting, and we will continue to fight for the political league of the October Revolution. We are so deeply convinced of the correctness of our line that we have no doubt that it will end up implanting itself in the consciousness of the proletarian majority of our party. What then is the duty of the Central Control Commission under these conditions? I think that this duty should consist in creating in this period of abrupt turns a more flexible and healthier regime in the party, in order to allow the gigantic events to verify, without shaking, the political lines confronting one another. The party must be given the opportunity to engage in self-criticism... based on major events. If we decide this, I reply that before a year or two, the course of the party will have been straightened. We do not have to proceed quickly; we must not take decisions that would then be difficult to repair. Take care not to be forced to say, ‘We separated from those we should have kept, and we kept those from whom we should have separated.’”
This strange conclusion at least has the merit of revealing to us the secret of Trotsky’s political frontism: faced with the threat of the restoration of the regime prior to the revolution of 1917, which was historically achievable (as we saw above) by means of imperialist foreign intervention, a threat which haunted both the national communists and the proletarian internationalists and would haunt them all to the end31 , the Ustryalovists of the Party (in other words the Stalinist national communists) could not, he believed, do without the proletarian internationalists any more than the latter could do without Ustryalovists! Such is the crazy illusion that lies at the basis of the policy of “democratization of the party”. We see that here, frontism is also a form of the Sacred Union which, under all other conditions, Trotsky would have fought against with all the revolutionary passion of which he was capable; only the organic bond that attached him to the not only socialist, but democratic revolution of October could make him fall into this trap! The Sacred Union under the real or supposed threat of the bourgeois-democratic counter-revolution, what other explanation is there for the desperate efforts of Trotsky, as the following passage eloquently testifies, to keep the necessary response to the war that the Ustryalovist fraction had unleashed against the proletarian current within the framework of the democratic legality of the same party?
“The party regime flows from all the policy of the leadership. Behind the extremists of the Party Apparatus stands the reborn inner bourgeoisie. Behind it stands the world bourgeoisie. All these forces weigh on the proletarian vanguard and prevent it from raising its head, opening its mouth. The more the policy of the Central Committee deviates from the class line, the more it is forced to impose this policy from above on the proletarian vanguard by means of coercion. This is the origin of the revolting regime that reigns in the party... Stalin’s immediate goal: to split the party, to split the Opposition, to accustom the party to methods of physical annihilation, to set up teams of fascist hecklers, men working with fisticuffs, slaps, cudgels, putting people behind bars, that’s where the Stalinist course momentarily stopped before going further. Stalinism finds its unbridled expression by unleashing veritable thuggery. So now we repeat, these fascist methods are only the blind, unconscious fulfilment of a social order emanating from other classes (than the proletariat). The goal: to amputate the Opposition from the party and to destroy it physically. Already, voices are heard: ‘We will exclude a thousand, we will shoot a hundred and everything will become calm in the party.’ Thus speak the unfortunate blind, frightened and unleashed at the same time. It is the voice of Thermidor”. And here is the other panel of the diptych: “The violence will shatter against a just political line, which has the revolutionary courage of opposition cadres to serve it. Stalin will not create two parties. We say openly to the party: The dictatorship of the proletariat is in danger. And we firmly believe that the party – its proletarian core – will hear, understand, and rectify. The party is already deeply moved. Tomorrow it will be shaken to its roots...
“We hold the lever of Bolshevism. You will not tear it from our hands. We will apply it. You will not cut us off from the party, you will not cut us from the working class. We have experienced repression; we are used to blows. We will not deliver the October Revolution to Stalin’s policy, the essence of which can be expressed in a few words: The opposition is invincible. Exclude us today from the Central Committee, as you have arrested so many others: our platform will find its way... Prosecutions, exclusions, arrests will make our platform the most popular and precious document, closest to the heart of the international workers’ movement. Exclude us; you will not stop the victories of the Opposition: they will be the victories of the revolutionary unity of our party and of the Communist International”.
We could fill pages with quotes proving that, until 1936, Trotsky did not believe that the counter-revolution had occurred. September 1929, in The Defence of the Soviet Union and the Opposition: “To regard the Communist Party – not its apparatus of functionaries but its proletarian core and the masses that follow it – as a finished, dead and buried organization, is to fall into sectarianism”. February 1930, in The Bolshevik-Leninists in the USSR: “I consider that there is no possibility of predicting the internal resources of the October Revolution and that there is no reason to draw the conclusion that they are exhausted and that Stalin should not be prevented from doing what he does. No one has designated us as the inspectors of historical development. We are the representatives of a particular tendency of Bolshevism, and we defend it at all turns and in all conditions”. October 1932: exiled to Prinkipo, this is how Trotsky concludes his criticism of the second five-year plan: “Tackling the economy is the business of politics. The party is the weapon of politics. The task of all tasks: to regenerate the party and following the party, the Soviets and the unions. The reconstruction of all Soviet organizations is the most important and the most pressing task of the year 1933”.
As early as 1926, Stalin and his acolytes had responded to the Opposition’s struggle for democratization and recovery of the party32 : “You will only challenge these cadres through civil war”. Democratic governments, more hypocritically, refer to elections, and it is the proletarian Party that warns the working class that without civil war, it will never get rid of bourgeois political domination and administration. Of course, it is not in the failure to start the civil war against the Stalinist State, but in the failure to give the same warning to the Russian and world proletariat and in the failure to have renounced democratic reform of the party and the State at the very moment when the enemy was declaring its own war, that the Trotskyist opposition lost all historic opportunity to contribute to the long-term historical reconstruction of the scattered and battered world communist movement.
That said, you’d have to be completely blind not to see that he had not yet moved his weapons and baggage into the camp of “democracy in general”. Only contemporary Trotskyist imbecility can deny that 1936 was, at the same time as being the logical outcome of a series of errors, a denial of Trotsky by Trotsky himself: such is the fatal dialectic of opportunism.
1936 indeed opens the third phase of Trotskyism, whose disastrous positions are formulated in The Revolution Betrayed. This time, Trotsky finally bows to the historical evidence: “The old Bolshevik Party is dead. And no force will resurrect it. A new revolution is unavoidable... Thus it is no longer a question of the ‘danger’ as it was twelve or thirteen years ago of a second party, but of its historic necessity as the sole power capable of further advancing the cause of the October revolution”. Be careful, precision is essential: the “revolutionary” programme that we are going to read is not (nor was it ever in Trotsky’s mind) the international programme of the Socialist Revolution, a kind of correction imposed by the “lessons of history” on the invariant programme of that Revolution: that is just the stupidity of “disciples” who have read Trotsky exactly the same way as the Stalinists read... Lenin, as one might imagine; it is simply the programme of a still hypothetical revolution that would providentially reconnect the thread broken by Stalinism with the democratic and socialist revolution of October, correct the gap between the hopes of 1917 and the historical reality of 1936, in short, avenge the revolutionaries by abolishing at a stroke an odious present to bring them back to the radiant starting point. That a revolution thus conceived was only a fevered dream, history has proven beyond doubt, since it did not take place; and if its programme was carried out to a certain extent, it was not at all by a revolution, but by reform; not at all by a revolutionary party but by political forces that Trotsky would have hated if he could have seen them at work, just as much as he hated the social democrats of his time: namely the “destalinizing” heirs of Stalin. What interests us here, however, is not the unrealistic predictions, but the break with previous principles.
The programme of the “anti-bureaucratic” revolution states the following:
“The restoration of the right of criticism, and a genuine freedom of elections, are necessary conditions for the further development of the country. This assumes a revival of freedom of Soviet parties, beginning with the party of Bolsheviks, and a resurrection of the trade unions. The bringing of democracy into industry means a radical revision of plans in the interests of the toilers. Free discussion of economic problems will decrease the overhead expense of bureaucratic mistakes and zigzags. Ostentatious playthings... will be crowded out in favour of workers’ dwellings. ‘Bourgeois norms of distribution’ will be confined within the limits of strict necessity, and, in step with the growth of social wealth, will give way to socialist equality. Ranks will be immediately abolished. The tinsel of decorations will go into the melting pot. The youth will receive the opportunity to breathe freely, criticize, make mistakes, and grow up. Science and art will be freed of their chains. And, finally, foreign policy will return to the traditions of revolutionary internationalism”. There are two possibilities: either communism is nothing other than the denial of any possibility of abolishing not only classes, but even the smallest flaws of bourgeois civilization by means of political democracy, in which case such a programme is chucking communism overboard to throw itself headlong into social democratism, or else this programme is not social democratic, in which case someone will have to tell us what communism is!
To this dilemma, the “theoretical diplomacy” of degenerate Trotskyism has found a way out that resembles the kind of remedies that are said to be worse than the illness. This is how Isaac Deutscher (a Polish Trotskyist who became an expert on Eastern questions among the enlightened Anglo-Saxon bourgeoisie) wrote in his The Unfinished Revolution: “In post-capitalist society [such as that of the USSR] freedom of expression and association must fulfil a function radically different from that which it has in a capitalist regime”. Why’s that? Because, hold on, “in a post-capitalist society, there are no economic mechanisms that can keep the masses in bondage. Only political force can do this”. This doesn’t only not avoid social democratism, but also falls into an anarchist idiocy incapable of understanding that there has never existed, anywhere in history, “political force”, that is to say to say organized coercion, which is not born from the existence of some “economic mechanisms of enslavement” within society! Poor Trotsky, the luckless great Marxist, your disciples did not even realize that you had spent most of your opposition life describing the “economic mechanisms of enslavement” at work in Russian society after October!
In his terrible perplexity when viewing Russian society and the Russian economy, in his expressly formulated concern to “abandon such finished social categories as capitalism (and therewith ‘State capitalism’) and also socialism” (The Revolution Betrayed) Trotsky would not have disowned the term “post-capitalism”: two generations of “militants” who, in matters of revolutionary faith and even of Marxism, were just pygmies compared with him, made a mockery of his “logical contradictions”, as we can see. But this is not the point. We must allow opportunists (with the “right to criticize”) the cowardice that consists in blaming the failures, even real, of “leaders” for their own lack of principle. Let us suppose, for the sake of clarity, that Trotsky went so far as to say: the USSR is 50% socialist, but 50% bourgeois and even 50% sub-bourgeois too. The question raised by the foolish justification that Deutscher (taken as just one specimen of contemporary Trotskyism) gives for the reintroduction of democratism into communism would remain exactly the same: was this democratic “revolution” dreamed of by Trotsky aimed at the “socialist half” or on the contrary, the “capitalist half” of society after October?
This question may seem bizarre, but it turns out that as early as 1929, Trotsky himself answered it in a controversy (“The Defence of the Soviet Union and the Opposition”) with a certain comrade Urbahns who wanted, from that time, to bring Russia back onto the path of socialism... by means of a democratic struggle against Stalin. “The freedom to organize signifies a ‘freedom’ (we know its character very well) to carry on the class struggle in a society whose economy is based on capitalist anarchy, while its politics are kept within the framework of the so-called democracy. Socialism, on the other hand, is unthinkable... without the systematization of all social relations... [The role of the unions therefore] has nothing in common with the role of the trade unions in bourgeois states, where the ‘freedom to organize’ is itself not only a reflection of capitalist anarchy but an active element in it...
“Yet Urbahns advances the slogan of freedom to organize precisely in the general democratic sense. This would be absolutely correct33 – on one trifling condition, namely: if one recognizes that Thermidor is accomplished34 . But in that case, it is already Urbahns himself who does not go far enough. To put forward the freedom to organize as an isolated demand is a caricature of politics. Freedom to organize is inconceivable without freedom of assembly, freedom of the press and all the other ‘freedoms’... And these freedoms are unthinkable outside the regime of democracy, that is, outside of capitalism. You have to learn to think things through”
A crucial passage. The question that occupies us, “thinking things through”, is understanding that the programme for a neo-liberal revolution conceived by the communist Trotsky for the USSR of 1936 has nothing to do with what he may have said or even thought of the existence of a post-capitalism in Russia, but is on the contrary perfectly consistent with his obstinate denial of Russian socialism, even if it is not in the least consistent with his own characterization of the twentieth century and with the Marxist critique of political democracy. The assertion will scandalize both “disciples” and a number of adversaries, in particular those who have only known how to react to Trotsky’s neo-social-democratic deviation with a neo-anarcho-syndicalist deviation. These unfortunates indeed believe equally strongly in the reality of the “new society” characterized by the class domination of the bureaucracy, this famous bureaucracy which is at the same time proletarian, insofar as it defended the property of the State, and bourgeois insofar as it oppressed the proletariat and risked leading the country to defeat in the imperialist war, and therefore to the restoration of the regime of the bourgeois Constituent Assembly, with all the threats of a return to the old regime that this entailed. And their misfortune consists in never having noticed that this “bureaucracy” was never anything but a bad attempt at social personification of the historical role of Stalinism, in other words the foolish attempt to present all the contradictions of Stalinism as a single social group out of the same mold35 , whereas all the evidence points to a complex of national and international conditions being sufficient to explain it. If they had noticed this instead of interpreting Trotsky’s perplexities as the mystery of a new society, they would also have understood that “post-capitalism”, as a pseudo-duality of the role of bureaucracy with regard to socialism, was never more than the ideological justification for the political United Front, in which Trotsky tried, against all the odds, to cling onto what was left of the class party, now riveted to the “Ustryalovist” party in Russia. We must “learn to think things through” and also to distinguish between cause and effect! If we indeed ask what is the point of this United Front, “post-capitalism” will not give us any answer. “Post-capitalism”, for Trotsky, exists only to the extent that there exists for Russian society a historic possibility of going towards socialism, a possibility defined, internally, by the absence of the restoration of the regime of the Constituent Assembly with all that it would have implied for the conquests of the democratic Revolution carried out in October, and, externally, by the proletarian revolution. “Post-capitalism” is not some degree of “socialism”, but simply a kind of no man’s land in which the tendencies towards socialism continue their struggle against the tendencies towards capitalism embodied by Stalinism. It obviously takes two to make a United Front. But the fact of being two does not explain the United Front itself! Hateful as a gravedigger of the proletarian and Marxist tradition of Bolshevism, as a fulcrum of all the opportunist deviations of the International, as a strike force against all its proletarian currents, Stalinism, this ignoble nationalist deviation from the proletariat’s point of view, is never, from the point of view of the Russian democratic revolution, anything but a variant of Ustryalovism, that is to say of a current that no longer calls into question the conquests of this revolution, which renounces the restoration of the Constituent regime, and therefore, at the same time, prevents Russia from returning to its previous position of an “enslaved, semi-colonial capitalism, without a future”; in short it fulfils the “historic progressive mission” that consists of developing the productive forces, of liquidating the pre-bourgeois relations in which Russia would have remained frozen without the October Revolution. Class considerations in the broad sense – that is, in the sense of the interests of the international communist movement – drove Trotsky to fight, violently, the political opportunism of Stalinism; class considerations in the narrow sense – that is to say in the sense of the immediate interests of Russian workers who were subjected, by the “corps of overseers” who constituted the new State, to the most terrible pressure ever suffered by the working class – prompted him to fight just as violently against “socialism in one country”, that is to say the ideological camouflage covering true social oppression. But neither in the broad sense, nor even in the narrow sense, would any class consideration convince Trotsky – at least until 1936 – to break radically with Stalinism as Russian Ustryalovism, that is to say as the historic agent of an authentic economic and social revolution that his socialist scruples could wish to control and discipline, but not prevent, since it obviously created those famous “material bases” without which socialism is inconceivable. Such was the fatal error, the recognition of the progressive role of capitalism by Marxism having been everywhere and always accompanied not only by a total intransigence of the class party on its own social postulates, but by the maximum political independence with regard to the opposing party, when at least the class party was not gangrened by opportunism. However, it is in the very nature of a political error of principle not to be able to find a definite theoretical foundation. On the contrary, the political error of principle is condemned to the lame justifications of ideology, and the devil knows if those Trotsky gave of his own were thus. But to see this you must be at least as Marxist as he was; you must understand that socialism is impossible without the prior development of its material bases, which the disciples of Trotsky, having fallen back into self-managed socialism, reducing everything to the replacement of the bosses’ management by workers’ management, showed themselves to be incapable of understanding, if on the other hand they had the merit of refusing to follow this in the field of political democracy; but it was also necessary to understand what Trotsky always rightly affirmed, namely that democracy is inconceivable outside of capitalism, (which in no way leads to the consequence that capitalism cannot be conceived without democracy!) Unable to grasp this elementary Marxist truth, the “disciples” did not see that even if Trotsky had never written a single line to demonstrate the non-existence of the least bit of socialism in Russia, his neo-liberal revolution programme of 1936 alone would have been an implicit demonstration of this non-existence.
In reality, Trotsky never believed in Russian socialism, nor did he ever confuse the characteristics of socialism with those of capitalism, unlike his degenerate disciples, who speak to us of democratic socialism only to the extent that they believe in a market socialism, and believe in market socialism because once again, they have understood nothing of Trotsky’s polemic against Stalinism. When at the time of the first two five-year plans he ridiculed the latter’s claim to “throw the NEP overboard”, that is to say, to abolish market relations by virtue of administrative will alone, in other words to curb bourgeois anarchy by the sole virtue of political authority, Trotsky took aim at the voluntarist utopia of socialism in one country, and in doing so he was only faithfully defending the policy of controlled capitalism that Lenin had rightly considered as being the only option while awaiting the world revolution. But while he was still as informed and above all penetrating, his dullards of disciples said that he was defending “the true economic policy of socialism” against the “false policy” of Stalin and concluded – just like the Stalinists of the following era – that socialism cannot do without the market or without wage earners!36 Leaving aside this boring cascade of blunders, we must leave it to Trotsky himself to demonstrate, in The Revolution Betrayed, what we affirm:
“In industry, State ownership of the means of production prevails almost universally. In agriculture it prevails absolutely only in the Soviet farms (sovkhozes), which comprise no more than 10 percent of the tilled land. In the collective farms (kolkhozes), co-operative or group ownership is combined in various proportions with State and private ownership. The land, although legally belonging to the State, has been transferred to the collectives for ‘perpetual’ use, which differs little from group ownership... The new constitution... says, ‘... State property – that is, the possessions of the whole people’. This identification is the fundamental sophism of the official doctrine. It is perfectly true that Marxists, beginning with Marx himself, have employed in relation to the workers’ State the terms State, national and socialist property as simple synonyms. On a large historic scale, such a mode of speech involves no special inconveniences. But it becomes the source of crude mistakes, and of downright deceit, when applied to the first and still unassured stages of the development of a new society, and one moreover isolated and economically lagging behind the capitalist countries. In order to become social, private property must as inevitably pass through the State stage, as the caterpillar, in order to become a butterfly must pass through the pupal stage. But the pupa is not a butterfly. Myriads of pupae perish without ever becoming butterflies. State property becomes the property of ‘the whole people’ only to the degree that social privilege and differentiation disappear, and therewith the necessity of the State. In other words: State property is converted into socialist property in proportion as it ceases to be State property. And the contrary is true: the higher the Soviet State rises above the people, and the more fiercely it opposes itself as the guardian of property to the people as its squanderer, the more obviously does it testify against the socialist character of this State property... The enormous and wholly indubitable statistical superiority of the State and collective forms of economy, important though it is for the future, does not remove another and no less important question: that of the strength of bourgeois tendencies within the ‘socialist’ sector itself, and this not only in agriculture but in industry. The material level already attained is high enough to awaken increased demands in all, but wholly insufficient to satisfy them. Therefore, the very dynamic of economic progress involves an awakening of petty bourgeois appetites, not only among the peasants and representatives of ‘intellectual’ labour, but also among the upper circles of the proletariat37 . A bare antithesis between individual proprietors and collective farmers, between private craftsmen and State industries, does not give the slightest idea of the explosive power of these appetites, which imbue the whole economy of the country, and express themselves, generally speaking, in the desire of each and every one to give as little as possible to society and receive as much as possible from it... While the State finds itself in continual struggle with the molecular action of these centrifugal forces, the ruling group itself forms the chief reservoir of legal and illegal personal accumulations. Masked as they are with new juridical norms, the petty bourgeois tendencies cannot, of course, be easily determined statistically. But their actual predominance in economic life is proven primarily by the ‘socialist’ bureaucracy itself... that monstrous and continually growing social distortion, which in turn becomes the source of malignant growths in society. ‘The worker in our country is not a wage slave and is not the seller of a commodity called labour power. He is a free workman’ (says Pravda). For the present period, this unctuous formula is unacceptable bragging. The transfer of the factories to the State changed the situation of the worker only juridically. In reality, he is compelled to live in need to work a definite number of hours for a definite wage. Those hopes which the worker formerly had placed in the party and the trade unions, he transferred after the revolution to the State created by him. But the useful functioning of this State turned out to be limited by the level of technology and culture. In order to raise this level, the new State resorted to the old methods of pressure upon the muscles and nerves of the worker. There grew up a corps of slave drivers... With piecework payment, hard conditions of material existence, lack of free movement, with terrible police repression penetrating the life of every factory, it is hard indeed for the worker to feel himself a ‘free workman.’ In the bureaucracy he sees the manager, in the State, the employer...”
“The struggle to raise the productivity of labour, together with concern about defence, is the fundamental content of the activity of the Soviet government. At various stages in the evolution of the Union this struggle has assumed various characters. The methods applied during the years of the first five-year plan and the beginning of the second, the methods of ‘shock brigade-ism’... The attempt to introduce a kind of piecework payment... The system of State distribution of products had replaced the flexible differential valuation of labour with a so-called ‘premium system’ which meant, in essence, bureaucratic caprice. Only the abolition of the card system, the beginning of stabilization and the unification of prices, created the condition for the application of piecework payment. It was not the Soviet administrators who invented the secret of piecework payment. That system, which strains the nerves without visible external compulsion, Marx considered the most suitable to capitalistic methods of production”.
The return to piecework, leading to the rehabilitation of the rouble represented, according to Trotsky, not the renunciation of socialism, but merely the “abandonment of crude illusions”. “The form of wage payment is simply brought into better correspondence with the real resources of the country. ‘Law can never be higher than the economic structure,’” he wrote, quoting Marx.
“However, the ruling stratum of the Soviet Union cannot yet get along without a social disguise. [For them] ‘The rouble is becoming the sole real means for the realization of a socialist (!) principle of payment for labour’. Although in the old monarchy everything, even down to the public pissoirs, was called royal, this does not mean that in a workers’ State everything automatically becomes socialist. The rouble is the ‘sole real means’ for the realization of a capitalist principle of payment for labour, even though on a basis of socialist forms of property. When the rhythm of labour is determined by the chase after the rouble, then people do not expend themselves ‘according to ability’ – that is, according to the condition of their nerves and muscles – but in violation of themselves38 . This method can only be justified conditionally and by reference to stern necessity. To declare it ‘the fundamental principle of socialism’ means cynically to trample the idea of a new and higher culture in the familiar filth of capitalism... Socialism, or the lowest stage of communism, demands, to be sure, a strict control of the amount of labour and the amount of consumption, but it assumes in any case more humane forms of control than those invented by the exploitive genius of capital... In any case, State ownership of the means of production does not turn manure into gold, and does not surround with a halo of sanctity the sweatshop system, which wears out the greatest of all productive forces: man”.
“State compulsion like money compulsion is an inheritance from class society... In a communist society, the State and money will disappear. Their gradual dying away ought consequently to begin under socialism. We shall be able to speak of the actual triumph of socialism only at that historical moment when the State turns into a semi-State, and money begins to lose its magic power. This will mean that socialism, having freed itself from capitalist fetishes, is beginning to create a more lucid, free and worthy relation among men... The nationalization of the means of production and credit, the co-operative or State-izing of internal trade, the monopoly of foreign trade, the collectivization of agriculture, the law on inheritance – set strict limits upon the personal accumulation of money and hinder its conversion into private capital (usurious, commercial and industrial). These functions of money, however, bound up as they are with exploitation, are not liquidated at the beginning of a proletarian revolution, but in a modified form are transferred to the State, the universal merchant, creditor and industrialist. The role of money in the Soviet economy is not only unfinished but, as we have said, still has a long growth ahead”.
Only the capitalist reality described above could lead Trotsky to the conviction that a new revolution was necessary; only this capitalist reality could suggest this analogy to him: “History has known elsewhere not only social revolutions which substituted the bourgeois for the feudal regime, but also political revolutions which, without destroying the economic foundations of society, swept out an old ruling upper crust (1830 and 1848 in France, February 1917 in Russia, etc.) The overthrow of the Bonapartist caste39 will, of course, have deep social consequences, but in itself it will be confined within the limits of political revolution”.
Whether we admit as the degenerate Trotskyists of today that this political revolution takes place on the basis of socialism, or to express itself in less static terms at a given time in the socialist transformation of society, the inconsistency becomes obvious, and the questions arise in droves: is the dictatorship of the proletariat therefore not necessary for socialist transformation? The socialist transformation can therefore continue when power has already been taken from the hands of the proletariat, which must then take it back through revolution, while only having to continue on the same path economically and socially? If we admit that the base is capitalist, everything becomes clear, if not exact: the proletariat has lost power; therefore the capitalist transformation of petty-bourgeois Russia is no longer part of a march to socialism, but part of a phase of world reaction; to reopen the path to socialism, the proletariat must regain power; but if it succeeds, it cannot, less than twenty years after October, pass to the phase of lower socialism within the national framework; it still cannot abolish the market, wage-labour, bourgeois relations of production; it can only climb a few additional steps in the succession of historical modes of production: the revolution is political, not social. The enormous inconsistency is to imagine that, just as in 1917, the proletariat could be brought (or better restored) to power by a popular revolution: the original alliance of the socialist proletariat and the democratic peasantry had in 1917 its raison d’être: the necessity of the democratic revolution, that is to say the liquidation of the landed aristocracy. In 1936, this revolution was no longer needed: it was completed; even in the event of a restoration, it is doubtful that the Constituent Assembly regime could have gone any further in the abolition of the social results of the democratic revolution than the Bourbons achieved on their return to France after the fall of the Napoleonic Empire. Under these new conditions, the alliance of the proletariat with all the popular classes can no longer have the revolutionary sense that it had in 1917: even conceived within the framework of an insurrectionary movement, it can only have a vulgar democratic and social-democratic sense; the union of all the people for freedom, the ignoble emblem of anti-fascism, which never succeeded even in a “purely political” revolution. Thus, inspired by a nostalgia for October, by a generous indignation against the growing social oppression within the framework of “socialism in one country”, Trotsky’s position in 1936 is nonetheless the liquidation of his Marxism and its communist principles40 .
It is certain that the “logical contradictions” of the Leader of the Opposition greatly contributed to preventing his disciples from deciphering the meaning of the turning point in 1936. But armed with its doctrine and its critical method, the Class Party does without the logic of individuals; attached to principles that are the conquests of living experience, of the proletariat’s struggle, it does not run the risk, like opportunism, of confusing the humanly inevitable failings of defeated revolutionaries with the “lessons of history”!
- 1“Social-barbarists” refers to the left-libertarian grouping Socialisme ou Barbarisme, which existed from 1948 to 1967.
- 2If we absolutely must have examples, think of the aristocratic reaction before 1789, which accelerated the Revolution, or of Jacobinism, virtuous and egalitarian, which culminated in the bourgeois society of Thermidor and Empire.
- 3Stalinism did not shy away from claiming the contrary, implicitly boasting of having built socialism within the national framework of Russia, which did not have the material premises for it in 1917 nor even ten years later, and explicitly because Stalin, in his Economic Problems of Socialism, claimed to “take advantage” of economic laws whose mere persistence proves the continued existence of a capitalist economy, and because the pseudo-theses of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary stated imperturbably that if socialism could have been achieved in Russia despite conditions that the Marxists of the past would have deemed unfavourable, this was explained by Lenin’s “scientific plan”!
- 4The development of this point would go beyond the framework of this text (but the development of the Russian economy has been covered at length by our Party elsewhere).
- 5Lenin never forgot it, he who always took care to distinguish not only State capitalism under the domination of the bourgeoisie from State capitalism under the dictatorship of the proletariat, but also this latter form of State capitalism from socialism itself. At the Fourteenth Congress of the Russian Communist Party in April 1925, the struggle between the Leningrad faction on the one hand, and the partisans of “socialism in one country” grouped around Bukharin and Stalin on the other, focused precisely on this distinction: whereas Stalin-Bukharin revised Lenin by arguing that it would be “defeatist” to consider that State capitalism was the dominant economic form in Russian industry of 1925, and not socialism, Zinoviev-Kamenev demonstrated that the liquidation of Lenin’s position was equivalent to an embellishment of the NEP, to a concealment of the real class conflict and to a transformation of the Proletarian Party into the National Party, with no other aim than to obtain an increase in workers’ output, a piece of demagoguery, in which the workers themselves could not help but feel all the falsehood. Trotsky (who did not take part in this Congress, because the divide between the Leningrad faction and Stalin, who until then had agreed against him, caught him off guard) never made a sufficient distinction between economic forms as such, always bringing up the political aspect, not only when it was legitimate, as during the first years of the Russian revolution, but also later, when he himself denounced the degeneration of power, and spoke not of State capitalism but of a socialism “using” the methods of capitalist accounting, a theoretically unsustainable position.
- 6It is quite clear that this was not the case in the Russia of October, which suffered not from a plethora, but from an insufficiency of capitalist development, expressed not only by the low specific gravity of the islets of urban industry in the national economy, but still more so because of the predominance of small-scale farming. This is precisely why Lenin did not want the State management of all industry; it was rather imposed by the massive expropriations carried out by workers on the one hand and the flight of entrepreneurs on the other.
- 7Even the pre-1914 revisionist, Eduard Bernstein, did not dare to formally deny this “right”, he who wrote in The Preconditions for Socialism and the Tasks of Social Democracy (1899): “Social democracy [should] make up its mind to appear what it is in reality today: a democratic, socialistic party of reform. It is not a question of renouncing the so-called right of revolution, this purely speculative right which can be put in no paragraph of a constitution and which no statute book can prohibit, this right which will last as long as the law of nature forces us to die if we abandon the right to breathe. This imprescriptible and inalienable right is as little touched if we place ourselves on the path of reform as the right of self-defence is done away with when we make laws to regulate our personal and property disputes”. It is exactly by the same sleight of hand that social democracy, after 1914, eluded the central problem of the violent revolution, with the former adversary of Bernstein, Karl Kautsky, making himself his spiritual heir.
- 8The old social democrats of the pre-1914 school rightly laughed at Stalin’s pretensions of building a national socialism. It just proves that about forty years ago, we were less ignorant, even in the camp of the liquidators, in matters of doctrine; that we still knew that socialism and market economy are incompatible, which not only the post-Stalinists, but even the “Trotskyists” have forgotten; but that does not change in the slightest the defeatism and overtly counter-revolutionary role of social democracy in the first post-war period.
- 9When we leaf through this review, of which we can find a collection at Feltrinelli [a publishing house in Milan], we notice with amazement that until this date in March 1918, the theoretical review of the proud Austrian social-democratic party published in Vienna, did not utter a word about the October Revolution, even though it was appearing with perfect regularity! And when it did so for the first time, it was, as we shall see, to proclaim abruptly... the defeat of this revolution – which, on the contrary, was to overcome the ordeal of the civil war so brilliantly. Lenin himself, who nevertheless appreciated Western opportunists for their true value, could not believe his ears when one day he asked Trotsky what official social democracy said about October, he replied that it preferred not to talk about it...
- 10This accusation was formulated by the old social-democratic pontiff Rudolph Hilferding, with all the triviality that suited him, in the following way: “Lenin and Trotsky with a select group of followers who were never able to come to independent decisions as a party but always remained an instrument in the hands of the leaders (the same was true later with the fascist and national-socialist parties) [the reader can treat the identification of Lenin-Trotsky with Mussolini-Hitler with the contempt it deserves!] seized power at a time when the old State apparatus was collapsing”. The remark merits examination. It aims both to diminish the virtue of the Bolsheviks (by suggesting that it is “easy” to make a revolution where the State apparatus has broken down!) and to justify the inertia of Western social democracy, which had before it a terribly robust and well-armed bourgeois State power. Pitiful subterfuge! It is perfectly obvious that one of the characteristics of a revolutionary situation is precisely the decomposition of State power, and that nowhere in Europe had the situation been as revolutionary as in Russia. Whoever denied it? The facts remain: 1) That this revolutionary situation would have immediately aborted, even in Russia, if instead of Bolsheviks of the Lenin and Trotsky type there had been only... “non-Bolshevik Internationalists” of the Ryazanov or Martov stamp; 2) That the absence of an acute revolutionary situation in the West is in no way an excuse for the political cowardice of social-democratic centrism and even less for its betrayal! “They changed the State apparatus to suit their needs as rulers, eliminating democracy and establishing their own dictatorship... Thus they created the first totalitarian State – even before the name was invented. Stalin carried on with the job, removing his rivals through the instrument of the State apparatus and establishing an unlimited personal dictatorship” (Rudolf Hilferding, State Capitalism or Totalitarian State Economy, published in The Modern Review, 1947). The social-democratic nature of the accusation reveals itself by no longer seeing, as in Marxism, the class struggle as the basis for understanding history, but the opposition between Dictatorship and of Democracy as political forms. It is sad to note that the numerous oppositions which, in various forms, have also reproached Bolshevism for having incubated Stalinism within it and for having allowed it to be born (!) did not realize that their reasoning was the same as that of the vile old social democracy.
- 11In reality it was not a “revolution”, but the agitation that led in November 1918 to the abdication of the Kaiser, the proclamation of the Republic of Germany and the formation of the Ebert-Noske social-democratic government, in which the Independents, that is to say the centrists of the time, took part.
- 12A late confession, which signifies the express renunciation of the traditional position as well as being badly preserved in words considering democracy as a simple means (Lenin showed how inadequate it was in the imperialist era!) to achieve socialism, the latter remaining theoretically the supreme goal of the party.
- 13 It is characteristic that in March 1921, Umanità nuova, organ of the anarchists of Italy, published, eleven days apart, a report of the Third Conference of Ukrainian Anarchists of Nabat, which was held illegally in Russia, 3-8 September 1920, and which concluded that it was necessary to continue the struggle “against the obscure reaction of the socialist State” (that is to say against the Bolshevik power) and then, on the occasion of the events in Kronstadt, an article that in spite of everything concluded in solidarity with revolutionary Russia. Umanità nuova, although not daring to denounce the action of the Ukrainian anarchists, nevertheless did not express solidarity with their resolution, which we publish below and which you can find in an old number, dated 11 March 1921 of the newspaper; likewise, faced with a fact which, afterwards, when the communist movement had lost all its revolutionary characteristics, was exploited unscrupulously by anti-communists of all stripes (the repressive acts of self-defence that the Bolsheviks were forced to take against the Kronstadt insurrection of March 1921), Umanità nuova took a position that today seems surprisingly measured. What does this demonstrate if not that when the communist movement still deserved this name, its influence and prestige in the proletariat were more than sufficient to contain “libertarian” hesitations and indiscipline within certain limits and lead anarchists to consider in cold blood the harsh necessities of the class struggle? But, just as it was the social-democratic deviation that favoured the development of the anarchist deviation at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, it was the Stalinist deviation which, after 1920, gave it a new impetus, pushing it towards increasingly inconsistent positions, destroying all of Lenin’s work and that of authentic communism: the trend towards the unification of all truly revolutionary forces on the platform of scientific socialism. Here is what the report on the third conference at Nabat stated (Umanità nuova, 11 March 1921): “In an inexorable struggle against any form of State, the anarchists of Nabat do not submit to any compromise. With regard to the Soviets, however, they behaved differently for a certain time. [By which they mean until the start of the civil war which, demanding by its very nature the greatest discipline and the most thorough centralization, cooled the revolutionary intoxication of the anarchists – or at least a section of them – and pushed them to resume their opposition]. The marvellous impetus of October, the efforts to emancipate the working classes from all power, the anarchistic phraseology of the Bolshevik leaders [here the libertarians fall into the same error as the conservative social democrats for whom everything that was not vile reformism and pure class collaboration was condemned as ‘anarchist’ or ‘anarchistic’!] and in particular, the struggle to be waged against world imperialism, which was trying to strangle the revolution, all this forced the anarchists to keep a certain reserve and almost condescension [sic] with regard to Bolshevik power. They called on the working and peasant masses to come together for revolutionary independence, issued their warnings to the new masters, advised them, and subjected them to criticism from their comrades. But after three years of dictatorship, the power of the Soviets born of the revolution became a powerful State machine. It replaced the bourgeoisie with the dictatorship of a party and a minority of the proletariat over the mass of the working people. This dictatorship crushed the will of the working masses, who lost their creative spirit, which alone is capable of facing the various tasks of the revolution. All of this is a lesson for workers in all countries, and that is why anarchists still see the need to remain on the front line of the struggle:
1) The power of the Soviets, as a result of its resistance to the revolutionary spirit of the working masses, turned into a ferocious dictatorship, thus becoming the executioner of the revolution.
2) The war of the Soviets against the bourgeoisie can no longer be considered a mitigating circumstance since the Soviet power strangled the revolution and thus indirectly helped its enemies.
3) The revolutionary attitude taken by Soviet power in the international movement must be regarded as ambiguous, since, if it calls for struggle against the bourgeoisie, it also threatens the revolution by the harmful means of the dictatorship.
For all these reasons, the current conference calls on all anarchists and all sincere revolutionaries to fight against the power of the Soviets, which is no less dangerous than open enemies of the revolution like Wrangel and the Entente. Anarchists oppose the Red Army, as they oppose all armies of the State. They cannot recognize it as revolutionary since it is in the hands of a few, who are their enemies... This is why the entry of anarchists into the Red Army to defend the revolution is a mistake and could only be justified by the desire to revolutionize it by vocal and written means so that at the time of the ‘insurrection of the workers and peasants against the new oppressors, the soldiers fraternize with it for the common salvation’”.
Here, as symmetrical twin to this declaration by utter “scabs” in the civil war, the embarrassed article of Umanità Nuova, 23 March 1921, confronted with the serious Kronstadt crisis: “Kronstadt, the Ukraine... We are puzzled by these facts, which are the logical consequence of the Bolsheviks’ dictatorial error [sic] and which were therefore inevitable, but from which could emerge either a great evil or a great good for the revolution. We understand that, if suffocated, the spirit of freedom will explode and if the international bourgeoisie was not on the lookout, this would not concern us and we would think that perhaps the overthrow of the Moscow government would give a new the revolution a new aspect. But bourgeois military reaction is watching on the borders, waiting until the revolution is exhausted in internal struggles to swoop down on it and to exterminate both the Bolsheviks and the insurgents of today that it is toying with from afar [something that today’s anarchists have become incapable of understanding, let it be noted!] From these insurrections can therefore arise both a revolutionary recovery and the beginning of a reaction [this uncertainty is the fruit of the conflict between libertarian doctrine and the reality of class conflict!] It all depends on whether the internal struggle ends before the imperialist hyenas have the time and the means to intervene. They are planning a new intervention against Russia in the spring, and then, whether Russia remains under the Bolshevik regime or succeeds in getting a more libertarian one (as we wish), what matters is that it is able to repel the new invasion and make the vile western militarism bite the dust [this shows that the anarchist of 1921 was not as stupid as the anarchist of 1968, not by a long shot]. We Western anarchists cannot influence the internal development of Russia and we can never be up to such a serious task [an honest confession!] We are also too far from making a final judgment, but there is one thing that we must do, and which is a duty of honour for us: to prevent by all means the capitalist governments from sending arms and armies against Russia. Once again, comrades, proletarians, as long as we still have a little breath and energy, let us be ready to stand up for proletarian and communist Russia. By defending it we will have waged a good fight, even for our own freedom”.
What better refutation of the demand for freedom and the rejection of centralism than this terrible discord in the slogans of the same current, calling at the same time in the Ukraine for “the struggle against the power of the Soviets, considered as dangerous as Wrangel and the Entente” in Russia, and in Italy the “defence of proletarian and communist Russia”!
- 14Here is how Proudhon expressed himself on revolution in a letter dated May 1847 addressed to Karl Marx, that is to say at the time when he was preparing his The Philosophy of Poverty: “Perhaps you hold the opinion that no reform is possible without a helping hand, without what was once called a revolution... This opinion which I appreciate, which I excuse, which I would gladly discuss, having myself shared it for a long time, I confess that my last studies made me come back from it completely. I believe that we do not need that to succeed, and that consequently we must not pose revolutionary action as a means of social reform, because this pretended means would be quite simply an invitation to violence, to arbitrariness, in short, a contradiction. I pose the problem thus: to bring back into society, by an economic combination, the wealth that has left society by another economic combination”. To Marx’s offer to be part of an international information office, the same man who had “come back” from the idea of revolution replied: “Let us search together if you want the laws of society... but, for God’s sake! after having demolished all dogmatisms a priori, let’s not think in our turn of indoctrinating the people... Because we are at the head of a movement, let us not be the leaders of a new intolerance. Welcome and encourage all protests... Never regard a question as exhausted, and when we have used our last argument, let us start again if necessary with eloquence and irony”. Here, together with the strictly economic content of his “doctrine” (which does not interest us here, though we return to it in the next section) is what earned him, under the heading “Conservative or Bourgeois Socialism”, this characterization in the Communist Manifesto of 1848: “A part of the bourgeoisie is desirous of redressing social grievances in order to secure the continued existence of bourgeois society. To this section belong economists, philanthropists, humanitarians, improvers of the condition of the working class, organizers of charity, members of societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals, temperance fanatics, hole-and-corner reformers of every imaginable kind... We may cite Proudhon’s Philosophie de la Misère as an example of this form. The bourgeois socialists want all the advantages of modern social conditions without the struggles and dangers necessarily resulting therefrom. They desire the existing state of society, minus its revolutionary and disintegrating elements. They wish for a bourgeoisie without a proletariat... A second, and more practical, but less systematic, form of this Socialism sought to depreciate every revolutionary movement in the eyes of the working class by showing that no mere political reform, but only a change in the material conditions of existence, in economic relations, could be of any advantage to them... By changes in the material conditions of existence, this form of Socialism, however, by no means understands abolition of the bourgeois relations of production, an abolition that can be affected only by a revolution, but administrative reforms, based on the continued existence of these relations; reforms, therefore, that in no respect affect the relations between capital and labour”.
- 15“Enterprise socialism” is the term used in the original French, an umbrella term that covers the Italian factory councils movement of the early twenties (Ordinovism, so named after the theoretical journal edited by Antonio Gramsci, L’Ordine Nuovo) and “council communism”, as well as more recent manifestations. The position of the Italian left was stated in our newspaper at the time, Il Soviet (4 January 1920), “To maintain as the comrades of Ordine Nuovo of Turin do, that even before the fall of the bourgeoisie, the workers’ councils are already not only organs of political struggle, but also of economico-technical preparation for the communist system, is a pure and simple return to socialist gradualism: this viewpoint, which is called reformism or trade unionism, is defined by the false idea that the proletariat can emancipate itself by gaining ground in economic relations even though capitalism, along with the State, still holds political power”.
- 16It is evident that the exact same goes for the Sorelian concept of union management of the future economy. Here is what we said in “The Foundations of Marxist Revolutionary Communism in the Doctrine and History of the International Proletarian Struggle” (published for the first time in Programme communiste of July-August 1957): “To understand the Sorelian formula of union management of the future economy, it therefore remains for us to imagine an apparatus of economic management formed from the national leaderships of category unions, making the usual reservations about the possibilities of the victory of socialism in one isolated country. To fix the ideas, let us imagine for example the organization of the production of bread and other similar products by the ‘Federation of Bread and Pastry Industries’, and so on for all the sectors of production and industry. This amounts to imagining that all the products of a given category are made available to large organizations (national trusts of some sort), having gotten rid of capitalist bosses and deciding on the use of all production (and, in the particular case, of bread, pastry etc.) so as to receive from parallel organizations all that is necessary for them: consumer items for their members, raw materials, working instruments, etc....
“Such an economy is an economy of exchange, and we can conceive of it in two ways: in a higher form (to speak briefly) this exchange takes place only at the top and it is all these sectors of production which then distribute consumer goods and means of production from top to bottom. But this system of exchange at the top remains a mercantile system; it needs a law of equivalence of the values contained in the stocks of goods held by the unions, of which it is easy to predict that they will be numerous, and that each of them will have to enter into negotiations with almost all the others.
“Let us not even ask ourselves who will establish the system of equivalences of value, and what will guarantee autonomy and ‘equality’ between all these unions of ‘producers’ who are involved in all these fantastic constructions: let us push liberalism so far as to believe it possible that the various relationships of equivalence can result ‘peacefully’ from ‘spontaneously’ established balances!
Such a complex measurement system cannot function without the millennial expedient of the general equivalent, in a word, without money, the logical measure of all trade.
“It is no less easy to conclude that we will fall back to a second form lower than that which we have just examined. Indeed, in a similar society, the manipulation of money cannot be done only between the management of production trusts (the word union [the French word for a trade union, syndicat, also means syndicate] is not at all out of place here), this power will be granted to each partner of the trust, that is to say to each worker who ‘buys’, whatever he wants, after having received from the vertical organization of which he is a part his share of money, that is to say a wage, of which the entire difference with the current wage system would reside in its claim to be ‘entire’ (as in Dühring, Lassalle and others), due to the abolition of the employer’s levy.
“It is a bourgeois and liberal illusion to imagine that each union is independent of the other when it negotiates the conditions for the transfer of the supplies it monopolizes; this other one, which is always present, wants each producer to be paid according to the total output of their work (nonsense ridiculed by Marx) and to be able to decide their own level of consumption. This is where the asses get trapped and where these ‘producer economies’ reveal how far they are (and even further than the capitalist economy itself) from the social economy that Marx calls Socialism and Communism.
“In the socialist economy the deliberative subject, not only in terms of production, but also of consumption (how, and how much), is no longer the individual, but society, humanity. Everything is there. Producer autonomy is one of those empty democratic phrases that do not solve anything. The employee, today’s slave of capital, is not autonomous as a producer, but is autonomous as a consumer insofar as within a certain quantitative limit (which is not that of pure and simple hunger unlike Lassalle and his brazen law, but which will on the contrary increase as society develops) he does what he wants with his pay. In bourgeois society, the proletarian produces as the capitalist wants – or, more generally and scientifically, as the laws of the capitalist mode of production want, as capital wants, a supra-human monster – and, at least within a certain limit, he cannot consume all he wants, but certainly as he wants. In socialist society, the individual will be autonomous neither in the choice of his acts of production nor even in his acts of consumption, the two spheres being governed by society and for society”.
- 17This is not the place to examine the historical reasons for this fact. Let us content ourselves with recalling that the Marxists of the Italian left, a generation younger than the Bolsheviks and Spartacists, warned the Communist International against this ambiguous terminology, in particular in a classic article in their review Rassegna Comunista (February 1922): “The use of certain terms in the exposition of the principles of communism very often gives rise to ambiguities because of the different meanings that they can be given. Such is the case with the words democracy and democratic. In its affirmations of principle, Marxist communism presents itself as a criticism and a negation of democracy. However, communists often defend the democratic character of proletarian organizations and the application of democracy within them. There is obviously no contradiction here: we cannot object to the dilemma bourgeois democracy or proletarian democracy as equivalent to bourgeois democracy or dictatorship of the proletariat... (but) we might wish that a different term be used, in order to avoid ambiguity and not to upgrade the concept of democracy. Even if we renounce it, it will be useful to deepen the very content of the democratic principle, not only in its general meaning, but in its particular application to homogeneous organizations from the class point of view. This will prevent us from setting up workers’ democracy as an absolute principle of truth and justice, and therefore from falling back into an apriorism foreign to all our doctrine at the very moment when we are trying, by means of our critique, to clear the ground of lies and arbitrary liberal theories”. Such was the introduction to this article, truly prophetic if one thinks of precisely what “Trotskyism” did with the teachings of Trotsky. The conclusion was no less so, saying, “The Communists have no codified constitutions to propose. They have a world of lies and constitutions crystallized in the law and in the force of the ruling class to destroy. They know that only a revolutionary and totalitarian apparatus of force and power, which does not exclude any means, can prevent the infamous remnants of a period of barbarism from re-emerging, and that hungry for vengeance and servitude, the monster of social privilege will raise its head, launching for the thousandth time the cry of Liberty!”
- 18This is the case with Pierre Broué, author of a history of the Bolshevik Party, which seems to have been written only for this purpose.
- 19We saw above that our current tried to purify this language of its ambiguous terms.
- 20Named after the emigrant Nikolay Vasilyevich Ustryalov, who was the first to predict the conversion of the Soviet State into a normal bourgeois State that should be supported.
- 21Owing to Lenin’s illness, a “secret political bureau” had been created, of which all members of the official political bureau except Trotsky were a part, the purpose of this plot being to prevent him from leading the Party. “All questions were decided in advance in this clandestine political bureau whose members were bound by collective responsibility. They made a commitment not to carry out polemics against each other and at the same time to seek every pretext to intervene” against Trotsky. “There existed in local organizations similar secret centres linked to the Moscow ‘Septumvirate’ and observing a strict discipline. Correspondence was done in special encrypted language. Party and State functionaries were systematically selected with this one criterion: against Trotsky... Party members who protested against this policy fell victim to treacherous attacks launched for unrelated and often fabricated reasons. And on the other hand people... who, during the first lustre of Soviet power, would have been ruthlessly eliminated from the Party, ensured their position by making a simple hostile intervention against Trotsky. From the end of 1923, the same task was carried out in all parties of the Communist International. They selected not the best, but those who adapted most easily, by arbitrary means. The leaders became accountable for their situation only to the Apparatus. Towards the end of 1923, this Apparatus was already three-quarters chosen: it was possible to take the struggle to the mass. In the autumn of 1923 and the autumn of 1924, the campaign against Trotsky began: his old differences with Lenin, dating not only from before the Revolution, but also before the war... were suddenly brought out, disfigured, exaggerated and presented to the uninformed mass as a burning topical issue. The mass was stunned, confused, intimidated. Meanwhile the selection process went down to an even lower degree. It was no longer possible to exercise the function of factory director, workshop cell secretary, president of the municipal executive committee, accountant or typist without presenting your anti-Trotskyism as a reference”. (Trotsky’s insights into Stalin’s methods are described in Trotsky’s article How Could This Happen?, Constantinople, February 1929).
- 22See note 74 above concerning the Italian Left’s critique of the use of the terms “democracy” and “democratic”.
- 23This is the “stage” defined by the vanishing of hopes placed in the German revolution in October 1923, therefore by the foreseeable prolongation of the isolation of the USSR from the world, on the one hand, and by the persistent internal economic crisis despite the easing brought by the NEP, on the other.
- 24The term is used here to designate opposite relations to those which, in society, derive from the social division of labour and class antagonism: bureaucratic constraint on the one hand, passivity or muted resistance on the other; command and obedience; “administrative science” and ignorance, etc., all things which, in the class party, tend to disappear insofar as, even if it cannot completely escape from the ambient bourgeois conditions, it is nevertheless a voluntary association of individuals aiming at a common goal and where this goal is precisely the classless society, without social division of labour and therefore without political or even administrative constraint.
- 25Likewise, the Italian Left had opposed to the “ideological terrorism” of Stalinism not the “democratic rights” of party members, but the centre’s loyalty to the common heritage of principles which, if adhered to, allows the party to be run as smoothly as possible.
- 26The genuinely democratic deviation that Trotsky then fights as a Marxist is to “underestimate” the class contrast between the proletariat and the peasantry and to note it in the apology for the “new democracy”, Soviet democracy.
- 27These are the obvious reasons why our current has always rejected anti-fascist tactics. Although plain enough to the most mediocre intelligence, they were not understood by the International, which persevered in this absurd way. As a “tactic” the struggle for “democratization of the party of the USSR” falls under exactly the same criticism as the so-called “proletarian anti-fascism” practised by the International, as we have already seen above.
- 28An ambiguous formulation, perhaps due to a bad translation, but the meaning is unequivocal from the context: if you stubbornly say that the dictatorship of the proletariat still exists in the USSR, something Trotsky was clearly saying, against all evidence.
- 29An authentically democratic process since it speculates on the proletarian’s unconsciousness of the rank.
- 30Why, is another question that we will deal with later. The question is no longer only tactical as in the United Front with social democracy, which all Communists recognized as being counter-revolutionary in function; for Stalinism, its counter-revolutionary function is just as obvious, if we ask the question in terms of an international class struggle. But in the Russian national framework (from which no Russian revolutionary could escape, since it is in this framework that the Russian proletariat had taken power and had momentarily to contest it with the enemy) it was no longer so easy to decipher, since the Stalinist regime was undoubtedly the heir to the democratic revolution contained in the double revolution of 1917 and, at the same time, a bulwark against the possible restoration of the Constituent Assembly regime, that is to say of Russia before the democratic revolution. But that in no way alters the fact that, as a tactic, the political United Front with Stalinist Ustryalovism involved in the struggle for “party democratization” was just as opportunistic as the international political front with social democracy, and was to have the same fatal consequences.
- 31There is no better commentary on this other form of “frontism” than the tragic confessions of all the members of the old guard at the famous Moscow trials! What other link would have seen the persecuted so directly chained to the persecutors, the Bolsheviks to the “Ustryalovists” who were so violently opposed on the class terrain, if not their same objective alignment against the restoration? The only difference is that at the Moscow trials, it was Stalin who implicitly led the “blackmail of restoration” while in the speech quoted here, it was Trotsky!!!
- 32Trotsky recalls it himself in The Revolution Betrayed.
- 33Our disagreement with the “tactics” of the democratic slogans advocated for capitalist countries are of little consequence here: what is important to us is to show that democracy only has meaning in capitalism.
- 34That is to say, the October Revolution has been defeated, that we are in a pure capitalism, although little developed.
- 35Simplistic application of Marxist determinism: which class is represented? It was not the national bourgeoisie that was driven out in October; it was not the economically oppressed and politically dispossessed proletariat; it was not even the peasantry, since Stalinism played the peasants against the kulaks first and then made these peasants, authoritatively grouped into collective farms, pay to an extent for the capitalist industrialization of the country. All that remains is the “bureaucracy”... But Trotsky was so well aware of the weakness of such a solution that at the same time he energetically denied that the bureaucracy was a class! In our humble opinion, he was much better inspired when speaking of Bonapartist power.
- 36This applies as much to Trotsky’s neo-social democratic “disciples” as to his neo-anarcho-syndicalist “disciples” such as the late Socialisme ou Barbarisme.
- 37If this were true in 1936, all the more so thirty years later! It is the unleashing of these “petty-bourgeois appetites” even in the “socialist sector” (that is to say, not the kolkhozes) that corresponds to the “political liberalization” started under Khrushchev with its obligatory accompaniment of the glorification of capitalism in economic matters. It is the product of the dynamism of the economic boom after the Second World War, but in no way the “return to Lenin” that the Trotskyists imagined! But those Trotskyists have read their Trotsky in pretty much the same way as the Stalinists have “read” Lenin!
- 38An allusion to the communist formula: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his means”, reviewed and corrected by the Stalinists to “from each according to his capacities, to each according to his work” which, in its first part, is a lie in a mercantile society and, in its second, is purely bourgeois.
- 39Meaning the Stalinist party and the State apparatus.
- 40The transition from the “United Front” policy with Stalinism to the policy of the anti-bureaucratic revolution did not prevent Trotsky from remaining faithful to the national defence policy of the USSR in the event of war, a policy which he wanted to impose not only on the Soviets, but on the international proletariat! In this case, it was the renunciation of the principle of principles: the revolutionary internationalism of the proletariat!