[Book] Lenin and Trotsky - What they really stood for

8. Socialism in One Country

The title of the chapter “The debate on Socialism in one Country” warns the reader in advance what approach Monty Johnstone will take to this question. He commences with a grave warning:

“The great historical controversy on the possibility of building socialism in Russia is still today befogged on both sides by decades-old distortion and misrepresentation. Thus, on the one hand Trotskyists present Stalin as having from 1924, when he first formulated his theory, counterposed Socialism in One Country to the spread of revolution to other countries. On the other side Soviet histories still present Trotsky’s opposition to Stalin’s theory as opposition to Socialist Industrialisation in the Soviet Union and in favour of an export of revolution by force of arms. Both versions are equally false.” (Cogito, p. 74)

Having set up and effortlessly disposed of two straw men, Monty Johnstone can take up his customary cosy position “midway between two extremes”. (Such a comfortable “objectivity” is supposed to be the essence of the Marxist method!) Monty Johnstone now continues his lecture:

“Stalin’s argument was that the spread of revolution to the West was obviously the most desirable thing, but with the delay in this Russia had no alternative but to set itself the aim of building Socialism in the belief that she had all that was necessary to complete this.” (ibid.)

Adding a few appropriate quotes from Stalin, Johnstone then triumphantly concludes:

“The course of revolutions in the world, which today see a growing Socialist camp challenging the old imperialist one, has in no small measure confirmed Stalin’s broad perspective.” (ibid.)

How did Stalin come to work out his “broad perspective” which history so triumphantly vindicated? In February 1924, in his Foundations of Leninism, Stalin summed up Lenin’s views on the building of socialism in these words:

“The overthrow of the power of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of a proletarian government in one country does not yet guarantee the complete victory of socialism. The main task of socialism – the organisation of socialist production – remains ahead. Can this task be accomplished, can the final victory of socialism in one country be attained, without the joint efforts of the proletariat of several advanced countries? No, this is impossible. To overthrow the bourgeoisie the efforts of one country are sufficient – the history of our revolution bears this out. For the final victory of Socialism, for the organisation of socialist production, the efforts of one country, particularly of such a peasant country as Russia, are insufficient. For this the efforts of the proletarians of several advanced countries are necessary.

“Such, on the whole, are the characteristic features of the Leninist theory of the proletarian revolution.” (Our emphasis)

That these were precisely the “characteristic features of the Leninist theory of proletarian revolution” was nowhere in dispute up to the first part of 1924. They had been repeated time and time again in hundreds of speeches, articles and documents by Lenin since 1905. We have already quoted sufficient examples; they can be multiplied at will. Yet before the end of 1924, Stalin’s book had been revised, and the exact opposite put in its place. By November 1926, Stalin could assert without even blushing:

“The party always took as its starting point the idea that the victory of socialism in that country, and that task can be accomplished with the forces of a single country.”

Lost in admiration for Stalin’s “broad perspectives” which history has “on the whole” confirmed, Monty Johnstone can see only perversity and “underestimation of the internal forces of Russian socialism” in Trotsky’s opposition to the “theory” of socialism in one country. This “dogmatic shibboleth” of Trotsky’s, Monty Johnstone explains:

“Sprang from his theory of ‘permanent revolution’ that we have discussed above. [!] It was in fact basically an expression of his disbelief in the ability of the Soviet Union even to survive as a workers’ state if the revolution did not spread to more advanced countries.” (Cogito, p. 26)

Trotsky in 1906 had written that “without the direct state support of the European proletariat the working class of Russia cannot convert its temporary domination into a lasting socialist dictatorship. Of this there cannot be any doubt … Left to its own resources the working class of Russia will inevitably be crushed by the counter-revolution the moment the peasantry turns its back on it.”

Did this prognosis flow from the theory of permanent revolution alone? Lenin, who, as we have shown, did not at that time have the same position as Trotsky, wrote in 1905:

“The proletariat is already struggling to preserve the democratic conquests for the sake of the socialist revolution. This struggle would be almost hopeless for the Russian proletariat alone, and its defeat would be inevitable … if the European socialist proletariat did not come to the help of the Russian proletariat … At that stage the liberal bourgeoisie and the well-to-do (plus a part of the middle peasantry) will organise a counter revolution. The Russian proletariat plus the European proletariat will organise the revolution. In these circumstances the Russian proletariat may win a second victory. The cause is then not lost. The second victory will be the socialist revolution in Europe. The European workers will show us ‘how it is done’.”

Lenin’s position, which did not at all “spring from the theory of permanent revolution”, is quite clear. But let us cite one other authority which can shed further light on this question. At a conference held in May 1905, the following position was approved:

“Only in one event would social-democracy on its own initiative direct its exertions towards acquiring power and holding it for as long as possible – namely in the event of revolution spreading to the advanced countries of Western Europe, where conditions for the realisation of socialism have already reached a certain ripeness. In this event the restricted historical limits of the Russian revolution can be considerably widened, and the possibility will occur of advancing on the path of socialist transformation.”

The conference mentioned was that of the Russian Mensheviks, the tendency that stood furthest of all from the theory of permanent revolution!

Thus the reader can see, irrespective of differences on other questions, every single one of the tendencies of Russian Marxism agreed on one thing: the impossibility of effecting a socialist transformation in Russia without a socialist revolution in the West. On this question, Lenin was more emphatic than Trotsky. Whereas Trotsky in 1905 foresaw the prospect of the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia before the workers’ revolution in the West, Lenin based his perspective on the socialist revolution in Russia following the revolution in Western Europe.

Monty Johnstone wants to have it all ways. First he spends one half of his work “proving” Lenin’s implacable hostility to the theory of permanent revolution, then he spends the other half “proving” that the position which all the tendencies of Russian Marxism accepted without question “sprang from the theory of permanent revolution”! In reality, the attitude of Trotsky, the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks towards the impossibility of building socialism in Russia alone (no-one even dared to raise the question until 1924) flowed, not from the theory of the permanent revolution alone, but from the fundamental ideas of Marxism itself.

Marx and Engels explained that the most fundamental factor of capitalist development was the ever-increasing concentration of the means of production, which outstrips the narrow confines of capitalism; on the one hand the private ownership of the means of production, on the other, the national boundaries were transformed from progressive features, encouraging economic growth, to reactionary fetters on the productive forces. Today, those processes, already worked out theoretically in the Communist Manifesto, have become the dominant factor of modern life. On the other hand, capitalism has united the entire globe into a single, interconnected, interdependent whole. The bankruptcy of “national capitalism” is strikingly revealed by the situation where one US company, General Motors, has at its disposal capital in excess of the state budget of Belgium, where the capitalist classes of Western Europe have been forced to cling together in a Common Market, in a desperate effort to survive. Thus, even the bourgeoisie, however inadequately, tries to overcome the limitations of the national market.

Two catastrophic World Wars should have hammered into the thickest skulls the inescapable fact of the conflict between the existence of outmoded national states and the development of the productive forces of the planet, which demands the fullest and freest use of the resources of all countries. The development of gigantic, international corporations, which straddle the Continents, present the workers of different countries with a common enemy. Now, more than ever, does the internationalism of the Communist Manifesto hold good as the only way forward for mankind and the only programme for a genuinely socialist movement. Socialist internationalism is not based on utopianism or sentimentality but upon the development of capitalist production on a world scale.

Monty Johnstone tries to portray the struggle of the Left Opposition against the Stalinist platform of “Socialism in One Country” as a scholastic debate, of no practical importance. To add a note of solemn authority to this assertion, Johnstone has recourse to a classical piece of Deutscherism: the “debate” on “Socialism in One Country” was like a “dispute about whether it would be possible to cover with a roof a building in which both sides were in favour of starting work, being already in agreement on its shape and the materials to be used.”

It would be hard, even among the heap of theoretical crudities and half-truths which Deutscher provides in abundance, to find a more ignorant characterisation. The differences between the Left Opposition and the Stalinist bureaucracy were not at all about the need to develop the economy of the Soviet Union on socialist lines. In fact, insofar as that question was raised, it was the Opposition that fought for a programme of planning and industrialisation, and the advocates of “Socialism in One Country” who rejected it, up until 1929, preferring to lean for support on the kulaks and “Nepmen”. It was the Opposition which was implacable in its support for the internationalist perspectives of Bolshevism, which also stood firmly in favour of socialist construction in Russia. And this was no accident.

The conflicts which arose in Russia at this time, bore not the slightest resemblance to academic “debates”, but were concerned with the vital issues affecting the life and welfare of the Russian working class, the future of the Russian and international revolution. We have already outlined the processes which were taking place in Russia at the time. We have shown that the idea of “Socialism in Russia alone” expressed the mood of reaction and cynicism of that social stratum which had done well out of the revolution, and which now wished to apply the brakes to the process set in motion in October, to re-establish “equilibrium”. The struggle of the Left Opposition against this “theory” was part and parcel of the struggle of Bolshevism-Leninism for survival in the teeth of petty-bourgeois and bureaucratic reaction against October.

The Stalinist bureaucracy had its roots in the economic and cultural backwardness which the revolution inherited from Tsarism. It drew nourishment from every defeat of the international proletariat, whose victory alone could provide the Soviet state with the resources to overcome the chronic problems of backwardness and carry through the complete transformation of society on socialist lines. The bureaucracy leaned upon the most backward, anti-socialist elements within Russia (the rich peasants and NEP speculators) to strike blows against the proletariat and its vanguard – the Left Opposition. On the other hand, lacking any faith in the abilities of the workers of the West to carry out a revolution, it acted as a brake on the development of the young, immature parties of the Communist International.

The spirit of revolutionary optimism with which the writings of Lenin and Trotsky are saturated was a reflection of their implicit faith in the ability of the working class to change society. The creation of the Third (Communist) International, after the seizure of power in Russia, was the supreme expression of the Bolshevik conception of the revolution, not as a national phenomenon, valid within the borders of the former Tsarist Empire alone, but as an international event. From the very outset, Lenin and the Bolsheviks saw October as the start of the world revolution. Without that perspective, the socialist revolution in Russia would have been an adventure, as the Mensheviks accused it of being. In November 1918, Lenin answered. these critics thus:

“The facts of history have proved to those Russian patriots who will hear of nothing but the immediate interests of their country conceived in the old style, that the transformation of our Russian revolution into a socialist revolution, was not an adventure but a necessity since there was no other choice; Anglo-French and American imperialism. will inevitably strangle the independence and freedom of Russia unless the world-wide socialist revolution, world-wide Bolshevism, triumphs.”

Trotsky in the opinion of Monty Johnstone “over-estimated” the prospects for international socialist revolution and “under-estimated” the possibilities of building socialism in Russia alone. The wisdom of the Deutschers and the Johnstones, essentially the same as the “realism” of reformist politicians, consists in a slavish worship of the established fact: “Lenin and Trotsky predicted a world revolution. That did not happen. Lenin and Trotsky said that without a world revolution, Socialism could not be built in Russia. But that is what happened. Ergo, Bolshevism is a mere fanciful utopia, and Stalinism is justified.” Such is the “philosophy” of Deutscherism, shorn of its stylistic niceties. Monty Johnstone adds nothing to the profundities of his mentor, but merely deletes Lenin’s name from the syllogism.

The wisdom of the seminar-room stops short of the fundamental question: why was there “no revolution” in Europe? More correctly: why did the series of revolutionary movements in Europe in 1918-1923 not result in the seizure of power by the working class? From Monty Johnstone and Deutscher, we get the “facts”: the revolution failed. But precisely for a Marxist the matter cannot end there. If we are interested, not in striking erudite poses, but in actually changing society, we must understand the lessons of history, especially the lessons of great revolutionary movements. That was always the method of Bolshevism, the method of Lenin and Trotsky; for he who fails to learn from past mistakes, is surely doomed to repeat them.

The Revolutionary movement which swept through Europe in 1918-20 was defeated by the treachery of the Social-Democratic leadership. Those same traitors who had sold out in 1914, who were directly responsible for the slaughter of millions of workers in uniform in the war, now recoiled in holy horror from the prospect of “bloody civil war”. In one country after another: in Germany, Austria, Britain, France, Italy, the masses moved in a revolutionary direction, only to be headed off by the cowardice and ineptitude of their “leaders”. Thus, in 1918 in Germany, where a revolution had placed power peacefully in the hands of the workers, the Social Democratic leadership “voluntarily surrendered” it to the bourgeoisie. Their rottenness alone prevented the German workers from realising the fruits of their victory, and coming to the assistance of the beleaguered Soviet Republic.

When Lenin and Trotsky explained that, without the socialist revolution in the West, the Russian workers’ state would inevitably be crushed by reaction or by an imperialist war, this was not, as Johnstone asserts, a manifestation of “defeatism”, but one of extreme revolutionary realism. Marxism itself is a materialist (and therefore profoundly realistic) philosophy, impregnated through and through with a spirit of revolutionary optimism. It is incompatible with the sort of smug, “realistic” philistinism which is the heart and soul of all brands of reformism.

Lenin and Trotsky were always honest and realistic in their appraisal of the prospects of the revolution in Russia and internationally. They understood that the only real guarantee for the future of the Soviet Republic lay in the socialist revolution in the West. They did not lull the working class with sugary illusions about “peaceful co-existence” but mercilessly hammered home the fact that without a socialist transformation on a world scale, new imperialist world wars – a second, a third, a tenth world war – would be inevitable.

The optimism of Lenin and Trotsky on the prospects for the international socialist revolution was fully justified by the magnificent movements of the workers after the First World War. But neither Lenin, Trotsky, nor anyone else can guarantee the success of a revolutionary movement. That depends on a number of factors: the impasse of the capitalist system, the crisis of government, the movement of the working masses, and the disaffection of the middle layers of society. But one of the most decisive factors is the presence of a leadership of the working class worthy of the name. The absence of such a leadership in Western Europe led the workers’ movement to one defeat after another, in the next period paving the way for the victory of fascist reaction and a new and more terrible World War. Twenty-seven million Russian dead and the destruction of the bulk of industry built up painfully by the heroic sacrifices of the Soviet workers was a harsh confirmation of the realistic prognoses of Lenin and Trotsky.

It is not possible here to go in detail into the international policies of Stalinism. That will be dealt with in a future work. Suffice it to note that the policy of “Socialism in One Country” led to the gradual transformation of Soviet foreign policy from a revolutionary strategy, basing itself upon the working classes of all countries, and attempting, through the Third International, to build up viable Communist Parties as revolutionary leaderships in various countries, to one of manoeuvres and “deals” with bourgeois governments, trade union bureaucrats and colonial “democrats” of the type of Chiang Kai-Shek.

Cause and effect do not stand at eternally fixed antipodes but often change places, the one passing into the other. The rise of the Soviet bureaucracy had as its premise the isolation of the revolution in a backward country. The terrible defeats of the working class in Germany and Bulgaria in 1923, in Britain in 1926, and above all in China in 1927, which followed from the disastrous policies of the Stalin-Bukharin leadership in turn reinforced the position of the bureaucracy and the advocates of “Socialism in One Country”, and doomed the Bolshevik-Leninist opposition to defeat. The expulsion of the Left Opposition in 1927 paved the way for a new and more reactionary turn in Russia in the period of Stalinist consolidation. The fate of the Revolution in Russia and internationally, far from being mechanically separated “stages”, with the international revolution as a desirable, but not altogether necessary addition (the roof of a house, the fairy on the Christmas tree) were inextricably bound together and mutually conditioned by each other.

Trotsky and the Five Year Plans

Monty Johnstone, by a most peculiar piece of mental gymnastics, attributes to Trotsky a “defeatist” attitude in relation to socialist planning in the Soviet Union. Wherein lay Trotsky’s alleged “defeatism”?

As we have seen, Trotsky and the Left Opposition had struggled for a whole period (1923-27) for the idea of the development of industry through the agency of Five Year Plans, in the teeth of opposition and ridicule from the Stalinists. Following the expulsion of the Left Opposition (1927), the Stalin faction opened up a struggle against the “Right deviation” of Bukharin and, in order to strike a blow against this group, took over, in a caricatured form, certain aspects of the programme of the Left Opposition.

While ignoring the sections referring to the need for workers’ democracy, the Stalinists appropriated the idea of industrialisation and Five Year Plans. The danger of capitalist restoration, which the Left Opposition had warned against, and which the Stalinists repeatedly denied in the previous period, was now used by the Stalin faction as a stick to beat their erstwhile Bukharinite supporters.

In dealing with this manoeuvre of the Stalinists, Monty Johnstone writes:

“It is one of the myths of vulgar Trotskyism that the implementation by Stalin after 1928 of more far-reaching plans [?] than had been put forward by the Opposition in itself proves that the latter was correct. As Maurice Dobb writes: “It does not follow that what may have been practicable in 1928-9 was necessarily practicable at an earlier date when both industry and agriculture were weaker.” However, I would accept the argument that, if the Party had heeded earlier the Opposition’s warnings against the dangerous growth in the power of the Kulaks [rich peasants] in the countryside, the process of collectivisation in 1929-30 could have been less violent [!] As against this, though the Trotskyists’ economic policies favouring the exploitation of the countryside by the town [!] through a system of price differentials which would keep up the price of industrial products at the expense of agricultural prices (see e.g. The New Economics by Preobrazhensky, the Opposition’s chief economist) anticipated theoretically much of the approach to the peasantry that from 1929 Stalin was to apply in practice. [!]” (Cogito, p. 25 footnote)

Of Stalin’s “more far-reaching plans”, we will say more later. But first, let us deal with the “Red Professor”, Maurice Dobb. Is it true to say that it was easier to begin the policy of industrialisation and Five Year Plans in 1928-9 than in the earlier period? Monty Johnstone answers this piece of nonsense himself when he refers to the Opposition’s warnings against the Kulak danger.

As against the Stalin-Bukharin policy of concession to the Kulaks and speculators (“Nepmen”) at the expense of the poor peasants and industrial workers, the Opposition advocated the taxing of the rich peasants, in order to provide the necessary investment for industrialisation; on the basis of industrialisation alone, the villages could be provided with the means of overcoming the age-old backwardness of Russian agriculture. Only on the basis of the mechanisation of agriculture could collectivisation by example be carried out. To describe this policy of hitting the Kulaks as “the town exploiting the countryside” is merely to repeat the slanders hurled at the Left Opposition by the Stalinists – before they went over to the maniacal policy of collectivisation by force!

When, after the expulsion of the Left Opposition, the Stalinists were forced to turn against the “Rights” – behind whom stood the gathering menace of Kulak reaction – the situation in the countryside was already desperate, while heavy industry, the necessary basis of socialist construction, had stagnated for a whole period. It is simply a lie to assert that the Stalinist opposition to industrialisation in the period 1923-7 was dictated by their intentions to build up industry and agriculture. On the contrary: their line was one of encouraging those elements in the Soviet economy which were to prove a terrible stumbling block to the development of production in the period of the first five-year plans.

With his customary magnanimity, Monty Johnstone concedes that if the Party had heeded the Opposition’s warnings on the Kulak danger “the process of collectivisation in 1929-30 could have been less violent. And just how “violent” was this “process” of collectivisation, Comrade Johnstone? In 1930, the total harvest of grain amounted to 835 million hundredweight. In the next two years it fell to 200 million; this at a time when the level of grain production was only barely sufficient to feed the population. The result spelled famine for millions of workers and peasants. Sugar production in the same period dropped from 109 million poods[1] to 48 million.

Even more terrible were the losses to livestock. The insane tempo of collectivisation, and the vicious methods used, provoked the peasantry to desperate resistance, which plunged the countryside into a new and bloody civil war. The enraged peasants slaughtered their horses and cattle as a protest. The number of horses fell from 34.9 million in 1929 to 15.6 million in 1934, i.e. a loss of 55%. The number of horned cattle fell from 30.7 million to 19.5 million: a loss of 40%. The number of pigs 55%, sheep 66%. Soviet agriculture to the present day has not recovered from the blow dealt by forced collectivisation. But the most gruesome statistic of all is the millions of peasants who perished in this period – from hunger, cold, disease, in running fights with the Red Army or in the slave-labour camps afterwards; the figure of ten million exterminated was not denied by Stalin; four million is the lowest estimate. Such is the little bit of “violence” to which Monty Johnstone coyly refers in his footnote.

Stalin’s plan for collectivisation certainly went “much further” than the proposals laid down by the Opposition! Trotsky denounced it as an adventure, given the material backwardness of Russian agriculture. Stalin’s “broad perspectives” spelled disaster to Russian agriculture. But how about industry? Did not the success of Stalin’s plans which went “much further” than the perspectives of the Left Opposition, prove how “pessimistic” Trotsky was?

When, after the notorious Moscow Frame-up Trials, Trotsky appeared voluntarily before the Dewey Commission, which went through the charges levelled against him and the Opposition, he answered, among other things, a number of questions relating to the differences with the Stalinists on the question of industrialisation in 1923-9. We quote verbatim from the text of his evidence:

“Goldman: Mr. Trotsky, with reference to the industrialisation of the Soviet Union, what was your attitude prior to your expulsion from the Soviet Union?

“Trotsky: During the period from 1922 until 1929 I fought for the necessity of an accelerated industrialisation. I wrote in the beginning of 1925 a book in which I tried to prove that by planning and direction of industry it was possible to have a yearly coefficient of industrialisation up to twenty. I was denounced at the time as a fantastic man, a super-industrialiser. It was the official name for Trotskyites at that time: ‘super-industrialisers’.

“Goldman: What was the name of the book that you wrote?

“Trotsky: Whither Russia, Toward Capitalism or Socialism?

“Goldman: In English, it was published, I am quite sure under the title Wither Russia, Toward Capitalism or Socialism?

“Trotsky: The march of events showed that I was too cautious in my appreciation of the possibility of planned economy – not too courageous. It was my fight between 1922 and 1925, and also the fight for the Five Year Plan. It begins with the year 1923, when the Left Opposition began to fight for the necessity of using the Five Year Plan.

“Goldman: And Stalin at that time called you a ‘super-industrialist’?

“Trotsky: Yes.

“Goldman: He was opposed to the rapid industrialisation of the country.

“Trotsky: Permit me to say that in 1927, when I was Chairman of the Commission at Dnieprostroy for a hydro-electric station, a power station, I insisted in the session of the Central Committee on the necessity of building up this station. Stalin answered, and it is published: ‘For us to build up the Dnieprostroy station is the same as for a peasant to buy a gramophone instead of a cow.’” (The Case of Leon Trotsky, p. 245)

Such was the extent of Stalin’s “broad perspectives” in 1927! At that time, the accusation levelled at the Opposition by the Stalinists was not that they were “pessimistic” but that were “super-industrialisers”! What about the assertion that the plans later implemented by Stalin went “much further” than those of Trotsky?

The years 1925-27 were occupied by the struggle of the Opposition against the economic cowardice of the Stalin-Bukharin leadership. The Stalinists in 1926 first suggested a “plan” which would begin with a coefficient of nine for the first year, eight for the second, gradually lowering to four – a declining rate of growth! Trotsky, whom the ruling clique branded as “super-industrialist”, described this miserable excuse for a plan as the “sabotage of industry” (not, of course, in a literal sense). Later, the plan was revised to give a coefficient of nine for all five years. Trotsky fought for a coefficient of 18-20. He pointed out that the rate of growth, even under capitalism, had been six! The ruling clique paid no attention to the Opposition and went ahead with their pusillanimous plans. Instead of the miserable nine percent projected by the “broad perspectives” of Stalin-Bukharin, the results of the first year of the five year plan completely bore out the perspective of the Opposition and exposed the complete inadequacy of the coefficients advanced by Stalin and Co. As a result, the following year they plunged into the disastrous adventure of a “five year plan in four years”. In vain did Trotsky warn against this crazy idea, which, threw everything completely off balance. By bureaucratic ukaze the leadership now decreed a coefficient of 30-35%! The wrecking of industry in this period, which was blamed upon the unfortunate victims of the “sabotage trials”, was in reality the result of the adventurism of the Stalinists, whose pursuit of the chimera of “Socialism in One Country” and “Five Year Plan in Four Years” led to the seizing up of the economy and untold hardships for the Soviet working class.

In answer to all the misrepresentations and half-truths of Monty Johnstone concerning Trotsky’s attitude to the Five Year Plans, let us see what Trotsky himself had to say to the Dewey Commission:

“Trotsky: My attitude toward the economic development of the Soviet Union can be characterised as follows: I defend the Soviet economy against the capitalist critics and the Social Democratic reformist critics, and I criticize the bureaucratic methods of the leadership. The deductions were very simple. They were based on the Soviet press itself. We have a certain freedom from the bureaucratic hypnosis. It was absolutely possible to see all of the dangers on the basis of the Soviet press itself.

“Goldman: Can you give us an idea, very generally, of the successes of the industrialisation in the Soviet Union?

“Trotsky: The successes are very important, and I affirmed it every time. They are due to the abolition of private property and to the possibilities inherent in planned economy. But, they are – I cannot say exactly – but I will say two or three times less than they could be under a regime of Soviet democracy.

“Goldman: So the advances are due, in spite of the bureaucratic control and methods?

“Trotsky: They are due to the possibilities inherent in the socialisation of the productive forces.” (The Case of Leon Trotsky, p. 249)

In pursuit of additional proof of Trotsky’s “pessimism”, Johnstone quotes from The Third International After Lenin:

“To the extent that productivity of labour and the productivity of a social system as a whole are measured in the market by the correlation of prices, it is not so much military intervention as the intervention of cheaper capitalist commodities that constitutes perhaps the greatest immediate menace to the Soviet economy.”

These lines were written in 1928, at a time when capitalist market forces were re-asserting themselves in the Soviet economy under the NEP, when the Kulaks (rich peasants) were following the advice of Bukharin: “Get rich!” and when the danger of an actual capitalist restoration, which the Left Opposition warned against, was very real. Commenting on Trotsky’s words without explaining the context, Johnstone writes:

“The monopoly of foreign trade, which Stalin and the Party majority correctly stressed was the means of the Soviet Union shielding itself from such economic subversion, became for Trotsky ‘evidence of the severity and the dangerous character of our dependence.’” (Cogito, p. 267)

Monty Johnstone’s memory is conveniently short. For this same “Stalin and the Party Majority” (i.e. Bukharin) not five years before had stood for the abolition of the state monopoly of foreign trade, and actually passed a resolution in the Central Committee on October 12, 1922 – abrogating the monopoly. The Collected Edition of Lenin’s works in Russian contains a whole series of letters by Lenin in which he appeals to Trotsky to form a bloc with him for the struggle to maintain the monopoly of foreign trade. Thus, on December 13, 1922, Lenin wrote to Trotsky:

“In any event, I would beg you to take upon yourself at the forthcoming Plenum, the defence of our common point of view on the unconditional necessity of the preservation and strengthening of the monopoly of foreign trade.” (Lenin, Collected Works, Russian edition vol. 54, p. 324)

What did Trotsky mean by his statement that “cheap foreign commodities” posed a threat to the Soviet power? In 1917, the proletarian revolution had taken place, not as Marx and Engels had visualised, in an advanced capitalist country, but in a backward, semi-feudal peasant economy. This happened, not because “all the conditions necessary for building socialism” were present in Russia, but because of the absolute inability of the Russian bourgeoisie to solve a single one of the historic tasks before it, on the basis of the capitalist system. Russia was propelled towards the proletarian revolution, not because it was the most advanced, but precisely because it was the most backward of European powers. As Lenin expressed it, capitalism broke at its weakest link.

The victory of the Russian working class in the October Revolution was the prerequisite for beginning the transformation of Russian society. The historic tasks of the bourgeois revolution in Russia could only be carried out under the dictatorship of the proletariat. That is the essential meaning of Trotsky’s theory of the permanent revolution, worked out in 1905. The nationalisation of industry, the state plan, the monopoly of foreign trade were the means whereby the Russian working class pulled Russia out of the slough of age-old backwardness. The historic successes of the five year plans in the Soviet Union are, in themselves, a sufficient justification of the October Revolution. As Trotsky wrote in The Revolution Betrayed:

“Socialism has demonstrated its right to victory, not on the pages of Capital, but in an industrial area comprising one-sixth of the earth’s surface – not in the language of dialectics, but in the language of steel, cement and electricity.”

However, the question of the historical fate of the USSR cannot be exhausted by reeling off an inventory of the success of the five year plans. Lenin, early on, posed the vital question in the striking phrase: “Who shall prevail?” The Soviet Union is not a desert island, but part of a world economic and political system, where the fate of no one country can be isolated from that of the whole. The Soviet Union, despite its enormous industrial successes, still has to measure its strength against that of the imperialist powers of the West.

The capitalist system, while already showing all the symptoms of senile decay on a world scale, started with immeasurable advantages over the Soviet Union. From the outset, the Bolsheviks had to struggle against the prevailing low level of culture of the masses, the lack of a skilled labour force, in a word, of the low productivity of labour. This factor, and not the volume of production in absolute terms, is the real measure of economic success and social advancement. In this decisive field, after 50 years of Soviet power, the Soviet Union still lags far behind the USA.

Official Soviet statistics indicate that the per capita industrial production of the USSR is only 50-60% that of the USA. With a larger working class, with twice the number of technicians and engineers, the actual industrial output of Russia is only 65% that of the USA. The indices of production of heavy industry are the most dramatic. Steel production in the USSR has risen from 4.3 million tons in 1928 to 107 million tons in 1968 – only 18 million tons less than in America (not including 24 million tons imported by the USA). But on the one hand, per capita production of steel in the USA is higher than in the USSR. On the other hand, the harmonious development of human life and culture are not reflected economically by the volume of steel production alone, but more accurately by the development of consumer and high quality technical goods for the mass of the people. In this field, which affects the living standards of the workers, the USSR still lags behind the capitalist countries.

The hordes of speculators, spivs and black-marketeers in Moscow, who make a living by pestering foreign tourists for Western goods and currency, which they sell at a handsome profit to Soviet workers are a clear indication that the threat from “cheap foreign commodities” even today has not disappeared. The draconian sentences (up to and including the death penalty) introduced to combat this speculation has no effect in stamping out a social scourge which has its roots, not in “survivals of capitalism” or the perversity of human nature, but by the objective relations between the Soviet Union and the World Economy, which no haughty bureaucratic “theories” can abolish.

As Marx explained in The German Ideology: “Where want is generalised ‘all the old crap will revive.’” The perennial shortages, high price and low quality of consumer goods (not merely cars and technical goods, but also clothes and foodstuffs) are a basic fact of life for the Soviet working class. That is not to say that luxury goods do not exist. The privileged strata of bureaucrats, factory managers, army officers, etc., possess in abundance the things which a Soviet worker would not dream of: expensive suits, sleek cars, luxury apartments, villas in the countryside, etc. While working-class families in Moscow and other Soviet cities live in conditions of chronic overcrowding, many members of the upper strata own more than one country house (dacha) in addition to their city apartments. The luxurious style of living of the bureaucracy is a constant affront to the masses of the Soviet people. Thus, after the Second World War, when the Soviet workers and peasants were suffering under conditions of dreadful hardship, the visiting Field-Marshal Montgomery received from the hands of his Soviet “brother” officers the gift of a Soviet Marshal’s fur coat complete with medals, diamonds, etc., costing £5,000!

Under Lenin and Trotsky, the rule of “Partmaximum” meant that a Party member could not receive more than an ordinary worker, even if his skills entitled him to a higher wage. One of the conditions for the inception of a workers’ state as laid down by Lenin in The State and Revolution was the rule that no official was to receive a higher wage than a skilled worker. An early decree of the Revolution fixed a wage differential between workers and specialists of not more than four times, and this Lenin frankly described as a “capitalist differential”, to be reduced systematically. This law applied until 1931 when it was formally abolished by Stalin.

The “Revolution Betrayed”

On pages 32-33, Johnstone writes:

“Trotsky’s dogmatic shibboleths of the impossibility of building socialism in one country led him even now to underestimate how deeply entrenched and resilient the socialist system was in Russia, despite the ravages wrought by Stalin’s purges. Without the interference of a revolution in the West in the event of war, he claimed, ‘the social base of the Soviet Union must be crushed, not only in the case of defeat, but also in the case of victory!’

“Out of touch with Soviet reality, he wrote that ‘the Soviet bureaucracy has gone far towards preparing a bourgeois restoration,’ and, ‘must inevitably in future seek support for itself in property relations,’ entailing ‘its conversion into a new possessing class.’” (Cogito)

Did Trotsky really say this? Let us reproduce in full the passage from The Revolution Betrayed from which Johnstone has carved out his latest “balanced” mini-quotes. On pages 251-2 Trotsky writes:

“As a conscious political force the bureaucracy has betrayed the revolution. But a victorious revolution is fortunately not only a program and a banner, not only political institutions, but also a system of social relations. To betray it is not enough. You have to overthrow it. The October revolution has been betrayed by the ruling stratum, but not yet overthrown. It has a great power of resistance, coinciding with the established proletariat, the consciousness of its best elements, the impasse of world capitalism, and the inevitability of world revolution.” (our emphasis)

In these words of Trotsky, which Johnstone has evidently “not noticed”, there is not a trace of any under-estimation of the resilience of the basic social gains of the October Revolution, or of any fatalism about the victory of a bourgeois counter-revolution. But let us read on. We reproduce the next section of Trotsky’s work (‘The Question of the Character of the Soviet Union Not Yet Decided by History’) in full, the better to illustrate how Monty Johnstone’s “balance” method of quoting works out in practice. Continuing the above argument, Trotsky writes:

“In order better to understand the character of the present Soviet Union, let us make two different hypotheses about its future. Let us assume first that the Soviet bureaucracy is overthrown by a revolutionary party having all the attributes of the old Bolshevism, enriched moreover by the world experience of the recent period. Such a party would begin with the restoration of democracy in the trade unions and the Soviets. It would be able to, and would have to, restore freedom of Soviet parties. Together with the masses, and at their head, it would carry out a ruthless purgation of the state apparatus. It would abolish ranks and decorations, all kinds of privileges, and would limit inequality in the payment of labour to the life necessities of the economy and the state apparatus. It would give the youth free opportunity to think independently, learn, criticise and grow. It would introduce profound changes in the distribution of the national income in correspondence with the interests and will of the worker and peasant masses. But so far as concerns property relations, the new power would not have to resort to revolutionary measures. It would retain and further develop the experiment of planned economy. After the political revolution – that is, the deposing of the bureaucracy – the proletariat would have to introduce in the economy a series of very important reforms, but not another social revolution.

“If – to adopt a second hypothesis – a bourgeois party were to overthrow the ruling Soviet caste, it would find no small number of ready servants among the present bureaucrats, administrators, technicians, directors, party secretaries and privileged upper circles in general. A purgation of the state apparatus would, of course, be necessary in this case too. But a bourgeois restoration would probably have to clean out fewer people than a revolutionary party. The chief task of the new power would be to restore private property in the means of production. First of all, it would be necessary to create conditions for the development of strong farmers from the weak collective farms, and for converting the strong collectives into producers’ cooperatives of the bourgeois type – into agricultural stock companies. In the sphere of industry, denationalisation would begin with the light industries and those producing food. The planning principle would be converted for the transitional period into a series of compromises between state power and individual “corporations” – potential proprietors, that is, among the Soviet captains of industry, the émigré former proprietors and foreign capitalists. Notwithstanding that, the Soviet bureaucracy has gone far toward preparing a bourgeois restoration the new regime would have to introduce in the matter of forms of property and methods of industry not a reform, but a social revolution.

“Let us assume – to take a third variant – that neither a revolutionary nor a counter-revolutionary parry seizes power. The bureaucracy continues at the head of the state. Even under these conditions social relations will not jell. We cannot count upon the bureaucracy peacefully and voluntarily renouncing itself on behalf of socialist equality. If at the present time, notwithstanding the too obvious inconveniences of such an operation, it has considered it possible to introduce ranks and decorations, it must inevitably in future stages seek supports for itself in property relations. One may argue that the big bureaucrat cares little what are the prevailing forms of property, provided only they guarantee him the necessary income. This argument ignores not only the instability of the bureaucrat’s own rights, but also the question of his descendants. The new cult of the family has not fallen out of the clouds. Privileges have only half their worth, if they cannot be transmitted to one’s children. But the right of testament is inseparable from the right of property. It is not enough to be the director of a trust; it is necessary to be a stockholder. The victory of the bureaucracy in this decisive sphere would mean its conversion into a new possessing class. On the other hand, the victory of the proletariat over the bureaucracy would insure a revival of the socialist revolution. The third variant consequently brings us back to the two first, with which, in the interests of clarity and simplicity, we set out.” (The Revolution Betrayed, pp. 252-254)

This is how Monty Johnstone applies his “Marxist” method. He presents as Trotsky’s viewpoint a number of arguments, taken out of context and artificially strung together, which in the work from which they are taken appear as part of a hypothesis, (one of three!) and are conditioned by a whole series of reservations and explanations which are simply not included anywhere in Monty Johnstone’s “objective” account of Trotsky’s arguments.

“Trotsky predicted an inevitable restoration of capitalism in Russia.” Such is the crux of Monty Johnstone’s “balanced” arguments. But anyone who reads the above passage from The Revolution Betrayed can come to no such conclusion. On the contrary, Trotsky repeatedly emphasises that, whereas the political (anti-bureaucratic) revolution would be faced with relatively easy tasks, any attempt on the party of the bureaucracy to re-introduce capitalist property relationships would meet with stubborn resistance on the part of the Soviet workers and could only succeed as the result of a bloody struggle and civil war.

Far from predicting the imminent capitalist restoration in the Soviet Union, The Revolution Betrayed explains that the bureaucracy is obliged to defend the State property relations upon which it rests and from which it derives all its power and privileges. In opposition to those who described the bureaucracy as a ruling class and the Soviet Union as “state capitalist”, Trotsky explained that:

“The Soviet bureaucracy has expropriated the proletariat politically in order by methods of its own to defend the social conquests. But the very fact of its appropriation of political power in a country where the principal means of production are in the hands of the state, creates a new and hitherto unknown relation between the bureaucracy and the riches of the nation. The means of production belong to the state. But the state, so as to speak “belongs” to the bureaucracy. If these as yet wholly new relations should solidify, become the norm and be legalised, whether with or without resistance from the workers, they would, in the long run, lead to a complete liquidation of the social conquests of the proletarian revolution. But to speak of that now is at least premature. The proletariat has not yet said the last word. The bureaucracy has not yet created social supports for its dominion in the form of special types of property. It is compelled to defend state property as the source of its power and its income. In this aspect of its activity it still remains a weapon of proletarian dictatorship.” (The Revolution Betrayed, p. 249, our emphasis)

In the face of this, how is it possible for Monty Johnstone to argue that Trotsky claimed that a capitalist restoration was taking place in the Soviet Union? Either he has not bothered to read the book which he purports to analyse, or else he has not understood what he has read. There is a further possibility, but we shall not bother to draw the readers’ attention to that. It is sufficient to remark that if members of the Young Communist League wish to understand what Trotsky wrote concerning Russia, they should consult the works of Trotsky himself, and not rely upon the impartiality of their “theoreticians”.

“But Trotsky predicted the defeat of the Soviet Union and the victory of capitalist counter-revolution after the war!” chips in Monty Johnstone (Cogito, p. 33)

On page 227 of The Revolution Betrayed, Trotsky writes:

“Can we, however, expect that the Soviet Union will come out of the coming war without defeat? To this frankly posed question, we will answer as frankly: If the war should remain only a war, the defeat of the Soviet Union would be inevitable. In a technical, economic, and military sense, imperialism is incomparably more strong. If it is not paralysed by revolution in the West, imperialism will sweep away the regime which issued from the October Revolution.” (our emphasis)

Trotsky then proceeds to give a sober analysis of the international class balances, concluding with the following lines:

“The danger of war and a defeat of the Soviet Union is a reality, but the revolution is also a reality. If the revolution does not prevent war, then war will help the revolution. Second births are commonly easier than the first. In the new war, it will not be necessary to wait a whole two years and a half for the first insurrection. Once it is begun, moreover, the revolution will not this time stop half way. The fate of the Soviet Union will be decided in the long run not on the maps of the general staffs, but on the map of the class struggle. Only the European proletariat, implacably opposing its bourgeoisie and in the same camp with them the “friends” of peace, can protect the Soviet Union from destruction, or from an ‘Allied’ state in the back. Even a military defeat of the Soviet Union would be only a short episode, in case of a victory of the proletariat in other countries. And on the other hand, no military victory can save the inheritance of the October revolution, if imperialism holds out in the rest of the world.” (The Revolution Betrayed, pp. 231-2)

What was the situation which the Soviet Union faced at the end of World War Two? In 1945, Russia had suffered the catastrophic loss of twenty-seven million dead. Her production of steel stood at eight million tons, as compared with 120 million produced by America and 25 million by Britain. Moreover, the armed forces of the Anglo-American imperialist powers remained intact – the war in Europe had resolved itself largely into a Homeric struggle between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. The atom bomb was in the hands of the US imperialism, but not yet of Russia.

All the calculations of Anglo-American imperialism had been based upon the advent of such a situation. Their policy was to weaken both German imperialism and the Soviet Union, and to keep their hands free to strangle the Soviet Union should it succeed in defeating Hitler. Why did this plan miscarry? What force stayed the hand of British and American imperialism in 1945? The Red Army, as Trotsky explained in The Revolution Betrayed, was a powerful factor for the defence of the gains of October; but faced with such an overwhelmingly adverse balance of forces, even the heroism of the Red Army would have been of no avail.

The Soviet Union was saved only by the revolutionary mood of the “Allied” troops and the revolutionary movement in Europe at that time. Any attempt, after the defeat of Hitler, to launch an attack upon the Soviet Union would have provoked mutinies in every army of British and American imperialism. Trotsky had foreseen this, and was shown by events to have been absolutely correct.

The tragedy of the Second World War, for which the workers of the Soviet Union paid a terrible price, was the result of the criminal policies pursued by Stalin and the bureaucracy in the period before the war itself. It was not only that Stalin’s manoeuvres on the international plane demoralised the workers of Germany and Spain and led to the victory of Fascism in those countries. The purge trials led to the complete disruption of the Soviet armed forces, and the economy, the undermining of the powers of defence of the USSR, which encouraged the Nazis to attack and resulted in a series of terrible defeats in the early days of the war when millions of Soviet troops surrendered to the Nazis without a fight. It was not a question of military inferiority (the fire-power of the Red Army was superior to that of the Reichswehr) but simply of the decimation of the Red Army leadership by the purges and the myopic arrogance of Stalin and the bureaucracy, who, while hysterically denouncing the “pessimism” of Trotsky, left the Soviet Union in a state of total unpreparedness to the Fascist attack.

A Regime of Proletarian Bonapartism

Monty Johnstone has little enough to say about the causes of Stalinism. Here and there, he drops the odd phrase about “violations of Socialist legality”. But, in spite of all the bombastic phrases about the “Marxist method of critical and self-critical analysis”, there is not an atom of analysis throughout the entire work. Monty Johnstone picks holes in this or that phrase of Trotsky, torn out of context and artificially juxtaposed to other passages from different works. Thus, on the one hand, he berates Trotsky as the “arch-bureaucrat” obsessed with central planning; on the other he attributes to Trotsky a “defeatist” attitude to socialist planning!

What was the basis of Lenin’s opposition to the Stalinist bureaucracy? Lenin feared that this stratum might choke the revolution and prepare the way for a capitalist restoration. That did not happen, as Monty Johnstone is eager to point out in relation to Trotsky, who also, initially, foresaw the possibility of a restoration. But, as Lenin explained, history knows all sorts of social transformations; not merely social revolutions and counter-revolutions, but also political revolutions and political counter-revolutions.

To the reader of Monty Johnstone’s article, it would seem inexplicable that, for a whole historical period, “socialism” could express itself through the dictatorship of one man! In reality, the history of bourgeois revolutions furnishes many examples of similar processes. The English bourgeois revolution manifested itself in the Protectorate of Cromwell. The Great French Revolution passed through many phases, and eventually succumbed to the political counter-revolution of Napoleon. The reaction in France represented, not the restoration of feudalism, but a Bonapartist, counter-revolutionary regime which nevertheless rested on the basis of the new property relations established by the Revolution.

It would, of course, be monstrous to suppose that such a dictatorship was compatible with socialism, in any sense of the word as understood by Marx, Engels, Lenin or Trotsky. But what existed in Russia was not “socialism”, but the dictatorship of the proletariat; moreover, the dictatorship was taking place under certain peculiar historical conditions; isolated, in a backward country, subject to the enormous pressures of alien class forces. To imagine that, under these conditions, the dictatorship of the proletariat could not undergo a series of internal transformations, but must always remain in a state of pristine purity is to imagine that it is possible to abstract revolution from the processes taking place in society – the exact opposite to Marxism. The proletariat is not a “sacred cow” that is somehow immune from the pressures of class society.

Lenin, in trying to rid the Soviet apparatus of the menace of bureaucracy, was never under any illusion that the problem could be solved without the help of the international socialist revolution. And in this he was quite correct. The failure of the revolutions in the West did not lead to capitalist counter-revolution, as Lenin and Trotsky had thought possible. But those social processes which were generated by the isolation of the revolution in Russia gave rise to a transformation of the workers’ state into the totalitarian, Bonapartist monster that was the state under Stalin, and which continued, with some of the ugliest warts removed, under Brezhnev and Kosygin. The state lifted itself above the masses, usurping the ruling functions of the class, crushing the last vestiges of workers’ democracy, and sealing its victory by the physical extermination of the entire “Old Bolshevik” leadership.

When one reads the works of Lenin, the most striking thing is the complete absence of the kind of haughty, bragging language of the Stalinists. Lenin was always honest, realistic and truthful in what he wrote about the Soviet state. What they had, at that time, was not “socialism”, not “communism”, but a workers’ state and Lenin was not afraid to add “with bureaucratic distortions”. The difference was that at that time the Soviet state was moving in the direction of socialism. Inequalities existed, but the conscious effort was in the direction of equality, of reducing the power and privileges of officials, of involving the workers in the running of their lives, and the administration of state and industry. And what of today? The only thing which distinguishes the Soviet Union as a workers’ state at all is the nationalised economy and the plan; these are the only gains of the October Revolution that survive. These things by themselves constitute a tremendous step forward, but they even cannot guarantee a successful transition to socialism.

Far from the progress made by the planned economy leading to greater equality and freedom for the working people, the most outrageous corruption and privilege is growing among the upper strata, unhampered by the check of workers’ democracy.

The “reforms” from the top, just as under the Tsars, are dictated by fear of revolution from below. They do not touch the basis of the privilege and power of the bureaucracy. And even these crumbs are given hesitantly one minute, only to be taken back the next.

Will the Bureaucracy “wither away”?

“What he [Trotsky] failed to understand … was that it is possible to have for a certain prolonged period, the uneasy and antagonistic coexistence of a Socialist economy and undemocratic, un-Socialist superstructure. Sooner or later the development of the former will tend to [?] push society (albeit tortuously, unevenly, and not at all ‘automatically’) towards reforming the superstructure [?] and bringing it more into keeping [?] with its economic base and the desires of its progressively more developed and educated working class and intelligentsia.” (Cogito, p. 30)

The rise to power of the Stalinist bureaucracy was rooted in the backwardness of Russian society, but it would be a crude mistake, characteristic of the liberal “gradualist” mentality, to assume that the bureaucracy will simply “wither away” as the economy advances. That would have been true in the case of a relatively healthy workers’ state with secondary bureaucratic distortions, such as Russia was in the time of Lenin and Trotsky. But the point that Monty Johnstone seeks to gloss over is the fact that now the Soviet bureaucracy constitutes a special privileged caste, a new aristocracy, which for decades has grown accustomed to lording it over the rest of society. It has a complete monopoly of political power, of the state apparatus, the mass media, the police and the armed forces. Over decades it has shown itself, and is still showing itself, to be capable of the utmost ruthlessness and barbarity in suppressing even the mildest opposition.

The Marxist theory of the state explains how the superstructure of the state arises out of the contradictions between classes in society. But having been established, the state always tends to acquire a certain independence and a movement of its own. It was in this sense that Marx and Lenin spoke of the state power as “standing ‘above’ society and increasingly alienating itself from it.” The measures taken by the Bolsheviks after the Revolution were designed to prevent the development of such tendencies in the Soviet state apparatus, by subjecting it to the closest checks, supervision, and control by the working class. But once the Stalinist bureaucracy had succeeded (as Johnstone is forced to admit) in raising itself above the rest of society as a special, privileged caste, then the problem of combating bureaucracy took on an entirely different aspect. The vested interests of the bureaucracy, its complete alienation from the working class in whose name it purports to rule, means that a new revolutionary struggle will be necessary – a political revolution – to throw off the yoke of bureaucratic police-rule.

Why is it that the bureaucracy clings so tenaciously to power? Is it some peculiar trait in their mental make-up? Is it a question of “personality”? Not at all. Like all other ruling classes, castes and groups in history, the Soviet bureaucracy uses the state power to defend its privileged position in society. There are no more signs of it wanting to “wither away” than of the capitalist class in the West obligingly handing over its power and loot to the working class.

Monty Johnstone criticises Trotsky for his “carping and ill-conceived” criticism of the Stalin Constitution of 1936, which abolished the Soviet system of elections and replaced it with a Constitution which (on paper) resembled that of a bourgeois democracy, “the weakness of which lay not in its extremely democratic provisions, but in their irrelevance to the real situation in the Soviet Union at that time when Stalin could and did trample them underfoot.” (Cogito, p. 32)

Monty Johnstone condemns his arguments out of his own mouth. What sort of a “Constitution” is it which cannot be implemented? And how was it possible for one man to “trample it underfoot”? Was it just Stalin’s whim? Or the strength of his “personality”? We have said before, and we repeat: for an idea to obtain mass support and become a force in human affairs, it must express the interests of a class or group. The “theory” of the “personality cult” does not explain anything about Stalin’s Russia. One must ask the question: who benefited from the measures taken by Stalin? Which group in society gained from the suppression of workers’ democracy, from the muzzling of the trade unions, from the abolition of the maximum legal wage, from the re-introduction of epaulettes, saluting and batmen in the army? The interests reflected in the anti-working class policies of Stalinism were those of the very bureaucracy against which Lenin had fought – the millions of officials in the state, the Party, the army, the collective farms, the unions.

“But what’s this?” cries Monty Johnstone, a caste consisting of millions of people! Your bureaucracy includes “all Party, Young Communist League, State, Cooperative and collective farm leaders, officials, managers, technicians, foremen, and their families drawn from among the most advanced sections of the working class and peasantry and constituting when Stalin died some 22 million people.” (Cogito, p. 33)

Monty Johnstone dismisses the argument with a contemptuous wave of the hand, a ruling caste of 22 million people? Whoever heard of such a ridiculous thing? What Johnstone does not explain is that the bureaucracy, as Trotsky pointed out, is not a homogeneous stratum but consists of a series of different layers. Trotsky no more identified the local Party secretary with the Stalins and the Brezhnevs, than we would assert the identity of the small shopkeeper on the street corner with the Rockefellers and the Gettys.

If the top one percent of monopoly capitalists were the only prop of capitalism in the West, the system would collapse in a day. But the bourgeoisie maintains its class rule by means of a whole series of intermediate layers of sub-exploiters and sub-sub-exploiters. It is a similar phenomenon with the Stalinist bureaucracies of the East. The Stalin clique was raised to power on the backs of the millions of officials. That did not prevent Stalin from consigning hundreds of thousands of petty (and not so petty) officials to a grisly end in the concentration camps. As in the Ottoman Empire, and in every despotic state, the local officials are made the scapegoats for the crimes of the bureaucracy as a whole.

In the purges, Stalin drew a line of blood between the October Revolution and the new regime of proletarian Bonapartism. Fearing the ideas of October, with their spirit of working-class democracy and socialist internationalism, he butchered the entire “Old Bolshevik” leadership, and then meted out the same treatment to anyone, including his own supporters, who still retained any links with the old traditions of Bolshevism and October. The Purges, as Trotsky explained, were a one-sided civil war waged by the bureaucracy against Bolshevism. The “leaders” of the Soviet state have nothing in common with October. The Khrushchevs, the Brezhnevs, the Kosygins, are all members of the generation of gangsters and lackeys who climbed to power in the thirties over the bloody corpse of Bolshevism.

At the present time, the inner contradictions of the Soviet Bonapartist regime are more and more glaringly revealed. The movement of revolt among the intellectuals is a harbinger of things to come. Marxists understand that the intelligentsia is not a class as such, but is the social stratum which is most sensitive to the pressures and movements of classes in society. Thus, the movement of the intellectuals in 1956 (the “Crooked Circle” in Poland, the Petofi circle in Hungary) preceded the revolutionary movement of the working class.

It is significant that certain prominent opponents of the regime in the Soviet Union are themselves ex-members of the bureaucracy – like the “retired” General who took up the case of the Crimean Tartars recently. Under pressure from the working class, the bureaucracy, which is ridden with internal contradictions has inevitably split. The lower layers, who are in touch with the working class – the local officials, Communist Party rank and file, lower ranks of the army and police, petty functionaries – will stand with the workers, as they did in Hungary in 1956, when the top bureaucrats were left suspended in mid-air. The only resistance which the Hungarian workers met came from the dregs of the lumpen proletariat organised in the AVO – the hated political police, who met a bloody end at the hands of the proletariat which had suffered terribly from their crimes.

Contrary to the “gradualist” illusions of Monty Johnstone, there is no possibility of the Soviet Union advancing along the road to socialism until the rule of the bureaucrats is overthrown by a new political revolution in Russia and the other deformed workers’ states. The revolution will not be a social revolution aimed at changing existing property relations. The Soviet working class does not want to go back to capitalism, but to move forward on the basis of the achievements of industry and science towards a higher level of workers’ democracy than even in the days of Lenin and Trotsky, and then on to socialism.

The anti-bureaucratic revolution will be a revolution to wrest control of the state, of the trade unions, of industry, out of the hands of the privileged parasites and to re-introduce a healthy, workers’ democracy which would be an example and a beacon for the workers of the rest of the world, and not the grotesque caricature that has done untold damage to the image of Marxism-Leninism in the eyes of the world’s workers. And what we have said of Russia applies equally to the other states where capitalism and landlordism have been overthrown: Eastern Europe, China, Cuba, North Vietnam and Korea, Syria and Burma.

What kind of Socialism?

“If we are going to make a meaningful estimate of Trotsky’s political position, we must avoid arbitrary definitions that take the issues out of their historical context and provoke idle semantic wrangles.” (Cogito, p. 28)

If it is a meaningful estimate of Trotsky’s political position for which we are looking, then we had better look elsewhere. Nowhere in the whole article does Monty Johnstone explain what Trotsky actually wrote in relation to Stalinism and the Soviet Union. He confines himself to isolated fragments of quotations, which are not designed to make Trotsky’s position clear to the reader, but only to make Trotsky look foolish. It would be a simple matter to “do a job” on Marx, Engels or Lenin, using the same “method” – and bourgeois professors frequently have! What Monty Johnstone either cannot or will not understand is that the same phenomenon can manifest itself differently under different conditions, and must be dealt with in an entirely different way. Thus, on the question of the possibility of capitalist restoration in Russia, both Lenin and Trotsky originally regarded this as inevitable, unless the socialist revolution occurred in the West. This was, in fact, possible up to 1927-31. But in his last work, Stalin, Trotsky had already come to the conclusion that, for a number of reasons, the Stalinist regime in Russia might last for decades in its present form.

As far as “arbitrary definitions” are concerned, the reader will note that no sooner does Comrade Johnstone repudiate the very idea than he plunges into just such an arbitrary discussion. Is socialism “a society without classes, commodities, money and state”? Or is it, perhaps the “conversion of the means of production into the common property of the whole of society”? Johnstone eventually plumps for “cooperative production on a large scale” – and then triumphantly concludes that “socialism” has been achieved, not only in the Soviet Union, but in thirteen other countries as well!

For the moment, let us not quibble with Comrade Johnstone’s “definition”. The element of “large scale cooperative production” is undoubtedly a basic feature of socialism. But is that all that socialism is? Even Monty Johnstone would not venture to say so. On page 30 he writes:

“What had been achieved in the thirties in terms of a Socialist economy was of course still only the bare bones of Socialism which required several more decades of peaceful growth before it fully overcame the terrible legacy of Russian backwardness and appeared as a fully developed, prosperous, harmonious and cultured Socialist society.” (our emphasis)

In Monty Johnstone’s eyes, things were not too good in Stalin’s Russia. But then they only had the “bare bones” of socialism, whereas now… well, Comrade Johnstone, what about now? You see Soviet society as a “fully-developed prosperous, harmonious and cultured Socialist society”. Very well, but what about all the reports of corruption, mismanagement and nepotism with which the Soviet press abounds? The Soviet leaders claim they are “building Communism” – the highest, most cultured form of human society – yet they need the death penalty for economic offences. Two years ago the Morning Star reported that the head of all the light industry in the Moscow region had been shot for embezzlement. Corruption is also “well-developed” in the Soviet Union. How about the gross inequalities in wages, the existence of 500 rouble millionaires, who are certainly “prosperous”. And what could be more “harmonious” than the relationship between the Russian and Czech bureaucracies? Or perhaps this word is meant to designate the state of affairs in a society where all opposition is ruthlessly crushed? As for “cultural” standards – they are well maintained by packing off writers to “corrective” labour camps for the crime of demanding the implementation of the Soviet Constitution!

In 1935 Stalin boasted that the building of socialism in the USSR had been “completed”. At that time the death penalty applied to children of twelve! In fact, in the propaganda of the Soviet bureaucrats “socialism” kept on getting “completed” every few years; so frequently was socialism “completed” that it became a standing joke among Soviet workers, and after Stalin’s death the bureaucracy had to drop it in favour of an even grimmer joke: it was no longer “socialism” that was being built, but “communism” – and that in twenty years!

Of course, the nearer we approach to the end of the twenty-year period, the less we read, in the Communist Party press about the “achievement of Communism” in Russia! Thus on page 30, Johnstone writes:

“Talks of a transition to Communism in the foreseeable future made in the Stalin and Khrushchev era are now generally seen [!] to have contained an enormous amount of bombast and extravagant claims.”

Indeed, Comrade Johnstone. But what were you and the Communist Party readerships writing about this “enormous amount of bombast and extravagant claims” at the time of the 22nd Congress? At that time you were busily engaged in selling this line to your memberships. Now it seems the line has been changed again – with not a word of explanation to the rank and file! The about-face is simply “generally seen” – a formula which merely serves as a fig-leaf to cover the embarrassment of the sorry “theoreticians” who yesterday were full of praise for Khrushchev, the day before yesterday for Stalin, and who are ready in general to change their ideas and principles as a wealthy fop changes his shirts.

The first question which would occur to any thinking member of the Communist Party is: if Socialism has been built in the Soviet Union, if the bourgeoisie has finally been liquidated and the class-struggle overcome, why can they not allow democratic rights to the workers? We think that there is no possibility now of a capitalist restoration in Russia or any of the workers’ states. Then why forbid the expression of opposition points of view, the formation of various workers’ parties? The Soviet Union has nothing to fear if socialism has really been built. Even bourgeois parties could be permitted provided they did not engage in acts of terror or sabotage. You can easily permit the former exploiters to issue broadsheets calling for a return to the “good old days” of millionaire bosses, Cossack police, and mass illiteracy. They would be treated by the workers as cranks, much as Chesterton was regarded by the English bourgeois “public” when he called for a return to the “Merry England” of feudalism!

Let us pose the question in another way: if it is true that socialism (by which is meant, not merely a nationalised planned economy but the “planned and harmonious production of goods for the satisfaction of human wants”) has been built in Russia, then the hand of reaction, both internal and external, would be paralysed. The image of a really “fully developed, prosperous, harmonious and cultured Soviet society” would exercise a profound effect upon the hearts and minds of the workers of the capitalist countries of the West. The impulse towards a socialist transformation would be irresistible. But how does reality face up to Comrade Johnstone’s “beautiful formula”? Far from the realities of Soviet life inspiring the working class of the West to move towards socialism, it has immeasurably strengthened the hand of the bourgeoisie, who can point to the vile deformities of totalitarianism in Russia and Eastern Europe, and China to frighten the workers of their own countries. “Do you want Communism?” they cry, “Here it is! That is Communism! The Berlin Wall is Communism! Hungary 1956 is Communism! The labour-camps are Communism!” The apologists of the “Communist” parties have endeavoured to prettify the repugnant physiognomy of totalitarianism by sticking the label “socialism” and “communism” all over it. They do not succeed in whitewashing the crimes of the Russian bureaucracy – but only in discrediting the very idea of socialism in the eyes of the workers.

Monty Johnstone approaches the question of whether or not Socialism in One Country has been built, not as a Marxist, but as a casuist and a (bad) formal logician. For a Marxist, the question cannot be settled by the logic of definitions but by the dialectics of history. Monty Johnstone quotes a “definition” from Lenin’s The State and Revolution but he does not explain the analysis contained in that work, of the process whereby a workers’ state moves towards socialism. In The State and Revolution, Lenin lays down the following conditions for a workers’ state, for the dictatorship of the proletariat at its inception:

  1. Free and democratic elections with the right of recall of all officials.
  2. No official to receive a higher wage than a skilled worker.
  3. No standing army or police force, but the armed people.
  4. Gradually, all the administrative tasks to be done in turn by all – every cook should be able to be Prime Minister – “When everyone is a ‘bureaucrat’ in turn, nobody can be a bureaucrat.”

These were the conditions which Lenin laid down, not for “socialism”, not for “communism”, but for the very first period of a workers’ state – the period of the transition from capitalism to socialism. Lenin did not play with definitions of “socialism”. The conditions for a workers’ state were not sucked out of Lenin’s thumb. They constitute the generalisation of the historic experience of the working class. They are the distilled essence of the experience of the Paris Commune of 1870-71, upon which Marx based his conception of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and which Lenin brilliantly analysed in The State and Revolution.

The transition to socialism can only be accomplished by the active and conscious participation of the working class in the running of society, of industry, and of the state. It is not something that is kindly handed down to them by “Communist” mandarins. The whole conception of Marx, of Engels, of Lenin and Trotsky was based upon this fact. Against the confused ideas of the anarchists, Marx argued that the workers need a state to overcome the resistance of the exploiting classes. But that argument of Marx has been distorted by both the reformists and the Stalinists to justify, on the one hand, reformism, on the other, the totalitarian caricature of “socialism” that has allegedly been built in the USSR. But, as Lenin emphasised, the proletariat needs only a state that is “so constituted that it will at once begin to die away and cannot help dying away” or to use the phrase of Marx, a “semi-state”.

Under Lenin and Trotsky, the Soviet state was so constructed as to facilitate the drawing of workers into the tasks of control and accounting, to ensure the uninterrupted progress of the reduction of the “special functions” of officialdom and of the power of the State. Strict limitations were placed upon the salaries, power and privileges of officials in order to prevent the formation of a privileged caste. Because of the prevailing backwardness, and the lack of skilled labour, a wage differential was fixed at not more than four times. In 1919, a People’s Commissar (equivalent to a Minister) received the same wage as a workman. Bourgeois specialists received more – but a Party member who was also a specialist got a workman’s wage.

In 1931, Stalin abolished the law fixing a maximum legal wage. The average monthly wage of a worker in Russia today is 80-90 roubles (approximately £25, or at the inflated official exchange rate, £40 at the most). But Ministers are paid up to 5,000 roubles per month (£1,250 to £2,000) not counting numerous “perks”, like unchecked expense accounts, private sanatoriums, private theatres, villas, bars, etc. When Trotsky built the Red Army, it was based upon the same conceptions of working-class democracy as the state; the old Tsarist traditions of class distinctions in uniform, rank, medals, etc., were abolished. There was no privileged officer caste; the Red Army officers mixed freely and on equal terms with the “ranks”. Under Stalin, all the old “bull” was reintroduced; the officer corps reappeared in all its Byzantine magnificence: ranks, epaulettes, saluting and batmen – all the old caste and rank worship and obsequiousness were resurrected in the thirties. Today, in Russia and Eastern Europe, military service represents two years’ hard labour, on pittance wages, while the generals and marshals lord it over the ranks. In Bulgaria, for instance, the average monthly wage of a worker is around 100 leva, a soldier receives 150 leva, a junior officer starts at 200 leva. And for a Marxist, the army reveals, in a more acute form, all the contradictions of society.

Of course, no Marxist supposes that society can jump immediately from capitalism to socialism without passing through intermediate stages, especially in a backward country. But the essence of the transitional period is, as Lenin explained, the gradual reduction in the powers of the state, as the majority of the population are drawn into the work of planning the running of society. A Marxist always asks, in relation to a given society, not only what it is, but also in what direction is if moving? Under Lenin and Trotsky, the Soviet Republic was the dictatorship of the proletariat moving in the direction of socialism. Under Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev, it is a monstrously deformed workers’ state – a state in which the nationalised means of production and the plan remains, but under the control of a totalitarian, one-Party state that is moving, not in the direction of socialism, but on the contrary, towards greater wealth, privileges and power for the parasitic ruling caste.

Monty Johnstone’s bland assurances that “socialism” has been built in the Soviet Union constitutes a gross defamation of all the ideas of Marx and Lenin. He takes for good coin all the promises and protestations of the present ruling clique, despite the fact that these have already been debased by the bloody suppression of the Hungarian workers in 1956, by the continued existence of privilege, corruption, and repression inside Russia, the invasion of Czechoslovakia, the frame-up of the writers, the continued suppression of the works of Trotsky and the “Old Bolsheviks”, the treatment meted out to minorities such as the Ukranians and the Crimean Tartars, the blatant falsification of “official” history, the anti-Semitism, and so on and so forth. The rule of the Soviet bureaucracy has made the word “socialism” stink. And that, Monty Johnstone, is the great crime of Stalinism and the Communist Party leadership internationally.

Nationalist Degeneration of Communist Parties

“A fundamental Marxist criticism of Stalinism, which still remains to be made, will not proceed from Trotsky’s premises, although his writings should be studied for the many valuable lessons – both positive and negative – that they hold for us. Yet even where his occasional insights are at their most brilliant it is within the framework of a fundamentally false model, which prevented him from understanding the laws of development of Soviet society or grasping the (admittedly new and unprecedented) phenomenon of Stalinism in its complexity and many-sidedness. Hence, the unkindness with which history has treated his major predictions that we have quoted in the course of this article.” (Cogito, p. 33)

We have already commented on the way in which, not history, but Monty Johnstone has “treated” Trotsky’s “predictions”. It is a pity that he did not also deal with some of the “predictions” that were made by Stalin, or by the Communist Party leaders in the West over the last few decades. He doesn’t dare quote them. He would not even have to resort to distortion to make them appear completely out of tune with reality!

We hope that we have shown in this article, at least in outline, how Trotsky alone provided a Marxist analysis of the “admittedly new and unprecedented” phenomenon of Stalinism. As to the “brilliant, complex and many-sided analyses” of the Brezhnevs and Kosygins, of the Dutts and Klugmans, we are still searching for those. History has not dealt unkindly with them – because they were never made!

How “unkindly” has history dealt with Trotsky’s most important prognosis? In 1928, in his Critique of the Draft Programme of the Communist International, Trotsky wrote that the “theory” of “Socialism in One Country”, if it were adopted by the International, would inevitably lead to the nationalist degeneration of the Communist International:

“Revolutionary patriotism can only have a class character. It begins as patriotism to the party organisation, to the trade union, and rises to state patriotism when the proletariat seizes power. Whenever the power is in the hands of the workers, patriotism is a revolutionary duty. But this patriotism must be an inseparable part of revolutionary internationalism. Marxism has always taught the workers that even their struggle for higher wages and shorter hours cannot be successful unless waged as an international struggle. And now it suddenly appears that the ideal of the socialist society may be achieved with the national forces alone. This is a mortal blow to the International.

“The invincible conviction that the fundamental class aim, even more so than the partial objectives, cannot be realised by national means or within national boundaries, constitutes the very heart of revolutionary internationalism. If, however, the ultimate aim is realisable within national boundaries through the efforts of a national proletariat, then the backbone of internationalism has been broken. The theory of the possibility of realising socialism in one country destroys the inner connection between the patriotism of the victorious proletariat and the defeatism of the proletariat of the bourgeois countries. The proletariat of the advanced capitalist countries is still travelling on the road to power. How, and in what manner it marches towards it depends entirely upon whether it considers the task of building the socialist society a national or an international task.

“If it is at all possible to realise socialism in one country then one can believe in that theory not only after but also before the conquest of power. If socialism can be realised within the national boundaries of backward Russia then there is all the more reason to believe that it can be realised in advanced Germany. Tomorrow the leaders of the Communist Party of Germany will undertake to propound this theory. The draft programme empowers them to do so. The day after tomorrow the French party will have its turn. It will be the beginning of the disintegration of the Comintern along the lines of social-patriotism.” (The Third International After Lenin, pp. 71-72, our emphasis)

In these lines, Trotsky brilliantly anticipated the collapse of the Third International, and the nationalist degeneration of the “Communist” Parties, decades in advance. After cynically using the Comintern as the border-guard of the Soviet Union, Stalin contemptuously disbanded it in 1943, as a gesture of “good-will” to his imperialist allies. At the very time when, under the impact of the War, millions of workers in Italy, in Greece, in China, in Eastern Europe, in Britain, were moving in the direction of revolution, the Third International was consigned to the rubbish bin of history.

It is true that, for a number of reasons, Stalinism emerged temporarily strengthened from the Second World War. This was mainly because of the utter bankruptcy of capitalism on a world scale; its powerlessness to intervene against Russia at the end of the War. The revolutionary movement of the working class in Britain, in France, in Italy, plus the mood of the “allied” workers in uniform, paralysed the hand of imperialism.

The inability of imperialism to intervene in Eastern Europe and China, plus the rottenness of capitalism in those areas, led to the rapid overthrow of capitalism and landlordism, which, according to Monty Johnstone, irrefutably demonstrates the incorrectness of Trotsky’s accusation of the counter-revolutionary nature of Stalinism. He does not mention the situation in France, where the Communist Party which enjoyed mass support because of the heroic part played by the membership in the Resistance, entered a coalition government with de Gaulle; or Italy, where Stalin instructed the mass Communist Party to support the “ex-Fascist” Badoglio, at a time when the Northern cities were in the hands of the workers; of Greece, where the 200,000-strong Communist Party-led guerrillas were told to lay down their arms and “await elections”, while Grievas’ thugs were shooting down Communists in the streets; or Britain, where the Communist Party stood for a “National Front” government – including Churchill!

The collapse of landlordism and capitalism in China and Eastern Europe, and its replacement by nationalised planned economies, was a heavy blow to imperialism on a world scale. In particular, the victory of the Chinese Red Army in 1949 was the second greatest event of the twentieth century, after the October Revolution of 1917. By this event, the multi-millioned peasant masses of China for the first time stepped on to the stage of history.

These developments were welcomed at the time by the British Marxists, who never doubted that they would enable these backward countries to commence the historic task of overcoming the problems left over from the semi-feudal past. But we also understood clearly the contradiction implicit in the type of “revolutions” that occurred in China and Eastern Europe. We understood that they had been carried through by the Stalinist leaderships in a Bonapartist fashion. Using the Red Army as a battering ram, the Russian bureaucracy crushed the weak, toothless bourgeoisie and installed their own creatures in its place. Balancing between the classes, they created a state in the image of Moscow. For the rule of workers’ soviets was substituted “national” variants of the Russian model of Stalinism, with all the hideous deformities of one-Party totalitarian police-states. The Eastern European and Chinese “revolutions” began where the Russian Revolution ended; grotesquely deformed regimes of proletarian Bonapartism.

Since the Second World War, we have seen the truth of Trotsky’s analysis of “Socialism in One Country” confirmed in a most striking manner. Instead of the united, “harmonious” socialist bloc to which Monty Johnstone refers, we have the nauseating spectacle, in the first place, of the oppression and plunder of Eastern Europe by the Russian bureaucracy after the War, and then, the wholesale break-up of the Stalinist “bloc” along nationalist lines, starting with the Yugoslav debacle and culminating in the soldiers of Russian and Chinese “socialism” shooting each other down with tanks, planes, and guns in border clashes.

The October Revolution won the ear of the workers of the advanced capitalist countries by its clarion call of socialist internationalism. The Bolshevik appeal for “a peace without annexations or indemnities” struck a responsive chord in the hearts of the millions of war-weary workers of all belligerent nations, including Germany. The propaganda and fraternisation, conducted on class lines, caused wholesale disaffection in the ranks of the German army, and later in the foreign armies of intervention.

During the Second World War the Russian bureaucracy utilised the most shameless chauvinistic prejudices in its propaganda. Instead of a position of proletarian internationalism, they proclaimed the idea that “the only good German is a dead one”, in a thinly disguised form. And this anti-German element still pervades the propaganda of the Stalinists. The policy of the Russian bureaucracy was: make the German working class pay for the crimes of Hitler, whose victory was made possible by the criminal actions of the German Social Democratic leaders on the one hand and of Stalin and the leaders of the German Communist Party on the other. Ten million Germans were forcibly expelled from Eastern Europe after the War, of which anything up to two million perished in transit under barbarous conditions.

In the years after the War, the Russian bureaucracy plundered Eastern Europe, East Germany had to pay reparations of 16 billion dollars, Romania and Hungary paid out 570 million and 400 million dollars respectively. Not only the “enemy”, but also the other Eastern European countries were systematically stripped of industry, rolling-stock, etc., which were carted off to Russia. Thus, it was the crimes of the Stalinist chauvinists after the War which gave rise artificially to reactionary movements among the expelled population in West Germany, and made the word “Communism” stink among the German working class, which before the War was “the reddest in Europe”.

Before the War, Eastern Europe was notorious for its national divisions. Capitalism and the bourgeois nation state showed themselves impotent to deal peacefully and rationally with the problems arising from this complex patchwork quilt of nationalities and languages. These national divisions have been the bane of Eastern Europe, a major factor in perpetuating the backwardness of the region, the poverty and misery of the masses, and the brutal oppression of national minorities. If the Stalinists had still retained one iota of the traditions of Bolshevik internationalism, they would have advanced the slogan of a Socialist Federation of Eastern Europe, based upon a common economic plan and linked up to the enormous resources and potential of the USSR.

The “Balkanisation” of Eastern Europe, which was deliberately fostered by the Russian Stalinists after the War has inevitably given rise to the present situation. As foreseen in advance by Trotsky, each national bureaucratic clique is nursing its “own” borders! This at a time when even in the West, the bourgeoisie is faced with the contradiction between the narrow limits of the national market and the imperative demands of the modern economy. Although, of course, on the basis of the private ownership of the means of production, there is no solution to this contradiction.

The results of this national “socialism” are grotesque. At present in Yugoslavia, there are 300,000 unemployed and a further 400,000 who cannot find work in their “socialist” fatherland and are forced to work in the West. Across the border in “socialist” Bulgaria? Where they speak a similar language, there are enterprises working at 45-50% of capacity because of the shortage of semi-skilled operators. (The Economist, Jan 20, 1968) Czechoslovakia and East Germany also suffer from a shortage of labour thanks mainly to the expulsion of the Sudetenland Germans and the mass exodus from the repugnant Stalinist regime of Ulbricht.

The most criminal manifestation of “Socialism in One Country” however, is the Sino-Soviet split. Monty Johnstone points to the victory of the Chinese Red Army in 1949 as “proof” that “Socialism in One Country” is not incompatible with revolutionary socialist internationalism. But the Chinese Stalinists took power in spite of the “fraternal” advice of their Soviet “comrades”. Stalin favoured a partition of China or a coalition government with Chiang Kai-Shek!

It would be interesting to see Monty Johnstone’s analysis of the Sino-Soviet dispute, which he does not mention once in his article! What is the explanation of this, Comrade Johnstone? Is it yet another “tragic mistake”? Or is it the result of Mao’s “personality cult”? If Stalin’s “personality” could hold the entire Russian people in terror, then Mao presumably can also manipulate 700 million Chinese on the strength of his! In reality, Monty Johnstone and the “theoreticians” of Stalinism have no explanation of the Sino-Soviet split. And there can be no explanation, if we accept that both Russia and China are “socialist countries”.

The Sino-Soviet split (which was predicted even before Mao’s armies came to power by the British Marxists, who based themselves on the prognoses of Trotsky, to which history is alleged to have been so “unkind”) has nothing whatever to do with questions of theory and ideology. It is the result of a clash of interests between two rival national bureaucracies. Like two rival gangs in the Chicago of Al Capone, the Russian and Chinese bureaucracies are not prepared to share their power and wealth with anyone, and jealously guard “their territory” against the intrusions of their “fraternal comrades”.

From a Marxist point of view the Sino-Soviet dispute is a monstrous occurrence which could never take place between two genuine healthy workers’ states. It is a crime which not only does untold damage to the cause of socialism on a world scale, but also stands in fundamental opposition to the interests of the workers and peasants of both Russia and China.

An elementary demand which a genuinely Marxist-Leninist Party would have raised long ago would be: a Socialist Federation of Russia and China. The Russian bureaucracy has been trying to open up the vast expanses of Soviet Asia, which contain untold mineral wealth, the tapping of which could transform the entire way of life of the Soviet people. The main obstacle is the shortage of labour; Soviet workers are reluctant to leave Moscow and Leningrad to go to Central Asia. On the other hand, the vast population of China provides a huge potential labour force for this historic task. Yet, when Chinese cross the “border”, an arbitrary, meaningless line that cuts across all natural units, they are forcibly expelled by units of the Red Army. At the same time, the Russian bureaucracy is busily negotiating with Japanese Big Business for the opening up of Siberia!

For all their cynical blustering about “proletarian internationalism”, neither the Chinese nor the Russian bureaucracy has advanced the real internationalist programme for the linking-up of the two great economic giants of Russia and China in the interests of both peoples. Instead, we have witnessed the spectacle of the border clashes, the criminal murder of Russian and Chinese workers in uniform, the even more criminal and atrocious propaganda of the Russian and Chinese Stalinists, which is not merely chauvinistic, but has even racialist overtones.

This is the reality of Monty Johnstone’s “thirteen socialist countries”, thirteen totalitarian states, ruled over by thirteen nationalist bureaucracies, who communicate between each other in the fraternal language of machine-guns and rockets!

But Trotsky’s prognosis holds good on yet another question. In the Critique of the Draft Programme of the Comintern, Trotsky points out that the “theory” of “Socialism in One Country” signifies the danger of nationalist degeneration, not only after, but also before the conquest of power. And what is the position with the Parties of the former Communist International today? Everywhere, whether in power, or out of power, the so-called “Communist” parties display all the repulsive features of nationalist degeneration.

For decades, the “leaderships” of the Communist Parties internationally kow-towed, in a truly abject manner, to the dictates of the Russian Stalinist bureaucracy. Their policies consisted of a series of contradictory twists and turns, in accordance with the latest manoeuvres of Stalin; now denouncing Social-Democratic workers as “scabs” and “proto-fascists”; now calling for unification with the bourgeois parties of so-called Liberalism; now opposing the war with Germany on the basis of a peace on Hitler’s terms; now adopting the role of the worst strike-breakers “in the national interest” after 1941.

Monty Johnstone, by means of manipulated quotations, tries to “prove” the inconsistency of Trotsky’s analysis of the Soviet Union. But the series of political somersaults performed by his friends, Pollitt, Dutt, Gollan, Campbell, et alia in the past beggar description. Such manoeuvres have nothing in common with Marxism and the Marxist method – they are merely proof of the utterly unprincipled approach of all the Communist Party leaders.

Over the last two decades, the Stalinist “Monolith” has suffered a series of crushing blows: the Yugoslav split, the Polish events and the Hungarian revolution of 1956, and especially the Sino-Soviet split, have all weakened the iron grip of the Russian bureaucracy on the international movement. But what alternative do the “progressive” or “left” Communist Party leaders pose to “the Moscow line”? A return to the ideas of Lenin? Far from it.

The leaders of the Communist Parties everywhere have taken advantage of the situation to assert the right of each national bureaucracy to rule its own roost. The “British Road to Socialism”, the “Polish Road to Socialism” – are each manifestations of the narrow, national mentality of the Communist Party leadership and its determination to guard its own leading position in “its own” country, without any “interference” from outside.

The stand taken by a number of foreign Communist Parties over Czechoslovakia was proof of this. They were not going to “carry the can” for the actions of the Russian bureaucracy as they had, with disastrous results, in 1956. The Gollans, the Dutts, the Monty Johnstones, have made no attempt to analyse or explain the invasion of Czechoslovakia. “Is it not enough that the Party leadership dissociated itself from the invasion? What are you complaining about?” Yes, comrades, but what interests a Marxist is not merely pious gestures (the right-wing Labour leaders also “dissociated themselves” from the invasion of Czechoslovakia!) but an explanation.

The real reason why Brezhnev and Co decided to invade Czechoslovakia is because they feared the effect which even the slightest democratic concessions in Czechoslovakia would have had upon the workers in Russia. Their action was evidence of jittery nerves, not confidence and strength. Yet the Gollans and the Johnstones continue to act as though it were merely a “tragic mistake” on the part of the Soviet bureaucracy!

The “independent” stand of the Communist Party readerships in the West vis-à-vis Moscow is only one side of the coin. On the other side, we have the persistent efforts of the Gollans and the Waldeck-Rochets to ingratiate themselves with “their” national bourgeois “public opinion”[2]. The “new look” of the Stalinists is even more repulsive than the old. It is a caricature of the wretched reformism of the Social Democratic leaders. Thus, the Daily Worker becomes the Morning Star, the Communist Party leaders in all their pronouncements emphasise the non-revolutionary, bourgeois respectability of the Party, its profound patriotism which wants to put the “Great” back in Britain. Evidently, the Communist leaders want to prove they can sing the national anthem louder than the Tory or right-wing Labour leaders! The Union Jack features on every large Communist Party demonstration; after all, it is “our” flag…!

It was significant that the same Communist Party “theoreticians” who criticised the invasion of Czechoslovakia, were also most vocal in support of the disgraceful role played by the leadership of the French Communist Party and CGT during and after the May events last year.


[1] 1 pood = 36.11 pounds (16.38 kilograms)

[2] John Gollan was the general secretary of the CPGB; Waldeck-Rochets was the general secretary of the French CP at the time.

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