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Why The Russian Revolution is Still Important

by Steven Argue
Through patiently winning the working class to their side and military preparations, the Bolsheviks led the workers and peasants to power in a second revolution, the October 1917 Russian Revolution. This was a revolution that fulfilled its promises. The Russian Revolution led by Lenin and Trotsky ended Russia's involvement in the inter-imperialist mass slaughter of World War I, brought about a sweeping land reform for the peasants, abolished capitalism and created a socialist system that was capable of turning one of the poorest countries in the world into an industrial powerhouse capable of smashing Nazi Germany and rebuilding after two major imperialist invasions to provide everyone with a guaranteed job, housing, education, and health care, brought national rights to oppressed minorities forming republics of ethnic regions, legalizing their languages and providing education in those languages while also giving their economies special help through the planned economy, brought about big advances in women's rights and rights for homosexuals, made education and health care priorities, and ended government backed pogroms against Jews.
[Poster of the counter-revolutionary and anti-Semitic White Army showing their hatred of Jewish Communist leader Leon Trotsky. The U.S. backed White Army committed mass murder against Jews and Communists; they murdered 100,000 Jews in the Ukraine alone.]

Why The Russian Revolution is Still Important

By Steven Argue

The First World War broke out in 1914. It was a showdown between the capitalist imperialist governments of the world. They were fighting over which groups of powerful capitalists would control the resources and labor of the world for their own personal profit. Yet, it was the working class and peasantry who were sent to fight and die. All total, the capitalists in their inter-imperialist rivalry slaughtered millions of people. About 17 million people were murdered, including 7 million civilians. Also, about 20 million people were wounded.

At the outbreak of the war Russia was a backward semi-feudal empire ruled by a Tsar where vicious repression, exploitation, and grinding poverty ruled over the lives of the working class and small peasantry. The Russian Orthodox Church taught hatred of the Jews and the Tsarist monarchy routinely helped whip-up pogroms that terrorized and murdered Jews. Likewise, the Russian Empire contained many nationalities whose national sovereignty and languages were outlawed. Lenin called it a prison house of nations. Women’s and homosexual rights were non-existent.

It was the victims of this system who the Tsar sent to the front lines to fight and die for his empire. Yet, all did not go as planned. As happened in a number of other front lines across Europe, the war broke down as soldiers on both sides refused to fight. The agitation of revolutionary socialists within the ranks of the different militaries played a major role in this happening. Many soldiers came to understand that whatever their nationality, they had more in common with each other than they did with the Tsar, Kaiser, King, or President who had sent them to kill each other. Hundreds of miles of Germany’s western front stopped fighting and had to be replaced with new soldiers on both sides in order to get people to start killing each other again. The Russian soldiers, however, took this resistance to the war a step further and went back to overthrow the government that had sent them to fight and die. The Russian Revolution was, in fact, the most successful anti-war movement in world history.

The Russian Revolution went through two stages in 1917. The first, led by the social democratic Mensheviks happened in February, so became called the February Revolution. Almost nothing really improved under the Mensheviks. They started the war back up with Germany, reinstated the shooting of deserters at the front, and, among other things, opposed a needed sweeping land reform for the poor peasantry and a socialization of industry needed for the working class and society as a whole. The Mensheviks, through a program that claimed it was too early for a socialist revolution in Russia, carried out backward pro-capitalist policies.

These Mensheviks, opposed to the leftist agenda of the Bolsheviks, almost lost power in August 1917 due to a rightwing military coup led by General Kornilov. At that point, the survival of the revolution depended, in part, on critical military support from the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks saw this as only a temporary alliance, seeing the critical need to defeat Kornilov, but they also used the situation to arm the working class both to fight against the far right and to prepare for the struggles to come against the Menshevik Kerensky government.

Through patiently winning the working class to their side and military preparations, the Bolsheviks led the workers and peasants to power in a second revolution, the October 1917 Russian Revolution. This was a revolution that fulfilled its promises. The Russian Revolution led by Lenin and Trotsky ended Russia's involvement in the inter-imperialist mass slaughter of World War I, brought about a sweeping land reform for the peasants, abolished capitalism and created a socialist system that was capable of turning one of the poorest countries in the world into an industrial powerhouse capable of smashing Nazi Germany and rebuilding after two major imperialist invasions to provide everyone with a guaranteed job, housing, education, and health care, brought national rights to oppressed minorities forming republics of ethnic regions, legalizing their languages and providing education in those languages while also giving their economies special help through the planned economy, brought about big advances in women's rights and rights for homosexuals, made education and health care priorities, and ended government backed pogroms against Jews.

Naturally, workers around the world were inspired by the Russian Revolution. Internationally the Russian Revolution helped produce a movement that broke away from the opportunist and pro-capitalist Social Democratic socialist parties who supported their own bourgeoisies in the inter-imperialist slaughter of World War I and who murdered Karl Leibnecht and Rosa Luxemburg in Germany for their revolutionary opposition to the war and capitalism.

In the United States an important Communist Party was formed out of a split from the reformist Socialist Party of America. That Communist Party, along with the Trotskyist movement that later split off from it, went on to become important leaders in the labor movement of the 1930s, including the ground breaking 1934 Minneapolis and San Francisco general strikes, and in the formation of the militant industrial CIO union, all of which forced the Roosevelt administration to make some big reforms in favor of the working class which included Social Security, a minimum wage of forty cents an hour, the 40 hour work week and overtime, the outlawing of child labor, and the Works Progress Administration which created two million jobs for the unemployed. The motivation of the ruling class to carry out these programs was to preserve the capitalist system in the face of mass working class and socialist resistance. Before there was militant communist leadership in the unions the working class was mostly just getting its ass kicked, as we are once again today for the same reasons of lacking militant communist leadership. All revolutionary communists and labor militants should study how the communist movement was able to lead strikes and win in the 1930s.

Lenin’s program for the liberation of oppressed nations and races also had a profound effect on the American socialist movement. Before the Russian Revolution, much of the American socialist movement was oblivious to the oppression of blacks. There was a so-called “color-blind” policy in the Socialist Party of America, summed up by Eugene Debs when he said “we have nothing special to offer the Negro.... The Socialist Party is the party of the whole working class, regardless of color.” Even worse, other socialists like Victor Berger were openly racist. It was the inspiration of the October Russian Revolution and Lenin's program on special oppression that made American socialists see, in the newly established communist movement, that blacks were doubly exploited and oppressed and that a program of special demands was needed to address black oppression.

Of the role of the USSR, American Trotskyist leader James P. Cannon later wrote:

“Everything new on the Negro question came from Moscow – after the Russian Revolution began to thunder its demand throughout the world for freedom and equality for all national minorities, all subject peoples and all races – for all the despised and rejected of the earth.”

Before the movement against Jim Crow segregation had successes, one thinks of the semi-fascist rule of the KKK and Democrat Party in the south. Yet the Communist Party was able to organize a May Day celebration of 20,000 people in Montgomery Alabama in the 1930s. The opening lines of their flyer declared:

“The Birmingham bosses are trying to make slaves of us! They are taking the bread from our mouths! They cut our relief and starve us. They refuse to let us organize as we wish. They refuse to recognize our unions! They persecute and lynch the Negro people! They treat their dogs better than they do the workers!”

The Communist Party had grown in popularity in the south largely due to their struggles for Black freedom with many Blacks joining the party. One of the most famous of the struggles they led was that for Scottsboro Nine. This case, out of Scottsboro, Alabama, was an attempt to free nine black youths who were framed up in 1931 for raping two white girls on a freight train. Despite their clear innocence, a local court found eight of them guilty and sentenced them to death. The CP rallied to the defense of the Scottsboro youths and turned their case into an international symbol of the horrors of southern lynch law “justice”. As a result, the Scottsboro youths were not executed, but instead were given long prison sentences. The last defendant was not pardoned until 1976.

Likewise today, it is largely groups who draw our inspiration in part from the Russian Revolution and the early communist movement in America that have campaigned to abolish the racist death penalty and free political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. As a result, the movement to free Mumia has forced the state to back down on their attempts to murder him. He does, however, unjustly continue to sit in an American prison hell-hole.

Just as human rights are illusive in the United States, with the cases of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier, numerous unjustly charged and prosecuted occupy protesters, and many others, U.S. concerns internationally have nothing to do with human rights either. As Mumia Abu-Jamal explains, U.S. opposition to Castro and support for capitalist butchers like the U.S. backed Batista dictatorship that ruled Cuba before the Cuban Revolution, is based on the economic interests of U.S. imperialism:

“...while the media is most often used as a megaphone to amplify and project the voices of the wealthy and politically powerful, rarely does this same media honestly inform Americans of contemporary history. Because of this, millions of Americans lack the context through with to analyze and understand the basis for confrontations between states. They’re conditioned by the press to look at complex political and social issues through the lens of simplistic personalities. Therefore we speak of ‘Castro’s Cuba’ in the same breath as ‘Saddam’s Iraq’. This is silliness. Conflicts between states are not personal, they’re economic. The US supported a brutal Batista dictatorship there for almost a decade before Cuban rebels drove the regime out. The US, which loves to boast about its ‘human rights campaign’, has supported the most brutal butchers and dictators in the world. Why? Because dictators use their police and arm forces to oppress their own people, to insure that the US had free reign of the nation’s natural resources. Is there any other reason why the US would support butchers like Batista?” — Mumia Abu Jamal 5/2/03

The Cuban revolution, despite its problems, remains a living breathing revolution that must be defended from U.S. imperialism and internal counter-revolution. The Soviet Union, however, did not survive. As Rosa Luxemburg explained:

“It is impossible to imagine that a transformation as formidable as the passage from capitalist society to socialist society can be realized in one happy act.... The socialist transformation supposes a long and stubborn struggle, in the course of which, it is quite probable the proletariat will be repulsed more than once.” — Rosa Luxemburg, “Reform or Revolution” (1900)

Despite the destruction of the USSR, it is essential that revolutionaries learn from that experience just as Marx learned from the destruction of the Paris Commune. In the case of the Paris Commune, workers rose up and took control of their city in 1871, but were viciously attacked by the bourgeoisie. The working class revolution was slaughtered by the bourgeoisie. The Paris Commune was drowned in blood with 30,000 communards murdered in the initial attack and, of the 50,000 people imprisoned, many were executed. Marx saw this slaughter and understood that the workers’ revolution needs to form a workers’ government and army to smash the bourgeoisie and their government. If not, similar tragedies would be repeated.

These were lessons that the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky applied to the USSR. As Emma Goldman observed:

"The Russian experience had taught him [Shatov] that we anarchists had been the romanticists of revolution, forgetful of the cost it would entail, the frightful price the enemies of the Revolution would exact, the fiendish methods they would resort to in order to destroy its gains. One cannot fight fire and sword with only logic and justice of one’s ideal. The counterrevolutionists had combined to isolate and starve Russia, and the blockade was taking a frightful toll of human life. The [imperialist] intervention and the destruction in its wake, the numerous White attacks, costing oceans of blood, the hordes of [White military chiefs] Denikin, Kolchak and Yudenich; their pogroms, bestial revenge, and the general havoc wrought had imposed on the Revolution a
warfare that its most far-sighted exponents had never dreamed about.” — Emma Goldman quoted in Paul Avrich, “The Anarchists in the Russian Revolution” (1973)

It was from this devastation that the Stalinist degeneration of the Russian Revolution was born. The roots of the Stalinist degeneration of the USSR laid in the invasion of 14 imperialist armies after the October Revolution, including the United States, who also encircled the USSR and blockaded it economically, while the imperialist backed pro-Tsarist White Army wrecked havoc on the economy by burning crops, destroying factories, and committing mass murder of communists and Jews (100,000 Jews in the Ukraine alone).

Despite winning the war against the White Army and imperialist invaders, most of the best communists and other workers died in the war. Bureaucrats with little or no commitment to the goals of the revolution were relied on more and more for the administration of Soviet society as a result of those deaths. That bureaucracy was further corrupted by the economic devastation of war and imperialist blockade which encouraged bureaucrats to steal simply to survive and care for their children. Stalin’s conservative leadership had its social base amongst this bureaucracy which he granted privileges above the working class. And on their behalf, Stalin used repression against the working class to prevent the re-emergence of legitimate workers’ democracy.

The destruction of the Soviet Union started with Stalin’s bloody political counter-revolution against the party of Lenin and Trotsky after Lenin’s death. Stalin murdered all of the original leaders of the Russian Revolution, with the exception of Alexandra Kolantai, and murdered massive numbers of supporters of Leon Trotsky’s Left Opposition to Stalin. Stalin's political counter-revolution entrenched the power of a conservative and privileged bureaucracy. Some of the gains of the revolution were lost with that. . Abortion was banned. Gay and Lesbian rights, which had been won with the revolution, were overturned. The rights of some nationalities were stomped on as well, such as those of the Ossetians whose Republic was established under Lenin and Trotsky’s leadership, but was abolished and divided between the Russian and Georgian Republics under Stalin into north and south Ossetia.

Internationally, the USSR no longer played a consistent leading role for the working class because the bureaucracy preferred a policy of sabotaging revolutions in order to gain trade from capitalist countries. In the 1930s Stalin’s policies directly sabotaged the revolutions in Spain, Germany, and China contributed to the victories of the capitalist mass murderers Franco, Hitler, and Chiang Kai-shek.

But one of several gains of the October Revolution that remained was the socialist planned economy that gave the USSR the industrial and political strength to smash Nazi Germany, a capitalist country that brought mass murder to a level of industrial production never seen before or since. The USSR rebuilt after that Nazi invasion devastated the economy and left 30 million citizens of the USSR dead. They rebuilt with a socialist economy that guaranteed everyone a job, housing, education, and health care. It was the positive side of that planned socialist economy, copied in Eastern Europe after the USSR defeated Nazi Germany, that helped inspire the working class of Western Europe to fight for social progress that included some victories, like socialized health care.

Besides smashing Nazi Germany and liberating Europe from fascism, the USSR also lent important material support to the anti-imperialist revolution by doing things like giving the Vietnamese people military aid to defeat the U.S. occupation and U.S. imposed dictatorships that ultimately murdered three million Vietnamese people. Likewise, the USSR broke the U.S. economic blockade against Cuba. Not only did the USSR participate in trade with Cuba, but they also gave Cuba fairer prices for their sugar than what was offered on the international capitalist market. In Cuba, North Korea, and elsewhere, in a similar way as was done with economic planning within the USSR, the planned socialist economy of the USSR was used to help advance the traditionally poorer countries of the world.

Countries supported by the USSR also advanced women’s liberation while the United States almost always did the opposite. This included U.S. intervention in Afghanistan. The USSR tried to defeat U.S. imperialist intervention in Afghanistan, an intervention where billions of U.S. dollars in military aid to the religious fanatics of the mujahideen left a million people dead, toppled a pro-woman government, and put the Taliban in power. The corporate owned media of the United States continues to lie about Afghanistan; peddling the lie that Soviet intervention was an “invasion” despite the fact that the government of Afghanistan (the pro-woman, pro-literacy PDPA government) begged the USSR to send troops to try to defeat the CIA funded religious fanatics of the mujahideen. Other imperialist lies are peddled as well, including the disgusting collection of lies in the Hollywood movie “Charlie Wilson’s War” which, among other things, peddled completely discredited lies about the USSR making bombs to look like toys to blow-up children when they picked them up. Meanwhile, with the continued disastrous intervention of the U.S. imperialists in Afghanistan, the Red Cross warned in 2002 against the U.S. use of brightly colored yellow cluster bombs that appeared to look like toys and were exploding when children picked them up. As usual, the U.S. imperialists are guilty of the crimes they falsely accuse others of committing.

Likewise, the planned economy of the USSR was used to better many of the traditionally oppressed and poorer regions of the USSR by giving them favored investment and lifting them up economically including in the traditionally Muslim regions. Those regions also benefited greatly from the pro-woman / secular policies of the USSR. Nowhere else in the traditionally Muslim world were women better off than in Soviet Central Asia. Women’s access to higher education sometimes regionally produced more woman doctors than men. Compare this to the hell the U.S. created in Afghanistan with the victory of its mujahideen forces where women were stripped of all rights.

Yet, the Soviet people suffered greatly from a lack of political rights as well. After Stalin, the GULAGS that Stalin established, death camps really, were ended. Yet, the left remained unable to express their opinions if they disagreed with the ruling Stalinist bureaucrats. This included labeling political opponents insane and locking them up in mental wards. The U.S. did the same thing with “uppity” women and homosexuals up until the 1960s.

In the time of Gorbachev, the fragility of the deformed workers' state in the USSR was a political question rooted in the privileges of the ruling bureaucracy and the repression the working class had suffered for so many decades. When Yeltsin carried out his disastrous capitalist counter-revolution he created a few wealthy capitalists. At the same time he eliminated guaranteed health care, education, and employment and caused life expectancy to drop by 10 years. Unfortunately, there was not a strong enough working class movement to stop him. This was due to decades of Stalinist repression. But Yeltsin's coup d'etat was a military operation that involved his sending out troops to shoot at protesters and those in the government opposed his coup. It was a counter-revolution led by bureaucrats who thought they could get rich under a capitalist system.

Legitimate Trotskyists opposed Yeltsin's capitalist counter-revolution as the disaster it was and instead advocated political revolution to defend the socialist planned economy while at the same time sweeping away the repressive Stalinist bureaucracy and creating a workers democracy. In the United States we need to both sweep away the capitalist system and create a workers democracy to change a society where the government and economy are presently run strictly by and for the wealthy.

Stalin’s political legacy in the United States includes a fear of socialist revolution. No honest person can see his mass murder and repression attractive. Trotskyists and other left socialists who oppose Stalinism argue that we can have a much much better world if we fight for a system that has both the benefits of socialism and of workers’ democracy.

One of Stalin’s main organizational legacies in the United States is the Communist Party (CPUSA). Their support for the Democrats was Stalin’s policy. That policy, started by Stalin, went against the long proud history of the American working class movement in opposing both the Democrats and Republicans. It went against the policies of both the early Socialist Party and the Communist Party of the United States before Stalin. From Gorbachev to Stalin, that policy of supporting Democrats was never corrected in those many decades while the CPUSA dutifully followed the line given by Moscow. After Stalin’s death, the conservative and repressive bureaucratic caste that Stalin put in power in the USSR by murdering the original leaders of the Russian Revolution actually maintained most of Stalin’s policies, despite denouncing Stalin. That’s why Trotskyists continued to call them and their world followers “Stalinist”.

The Communist Party –USA in the 1980s quit running candidates in order to put their full support behind the Democrats. Politically, left parties like the Communist Party who give their support to the Democrats are only serving to give left cover to the enemies of the working class. Yes, the CPUSA is part of the workers movement and has done some good things, like lead the 1934 San Francisco General Strike. But decades of Stalinist leadership has turned them useless on most questions of labor. They even supported the United Food and Commercial Workers’ (UFCW) bureaucracy attacks on the militant Hormel Meatpackers of Local P-9 in the 1980s while also supporting Democratic governor Rudy Perpich who sent out the National Guard against the workers.

The Democrats and Republicans are playing a giant game of good cop bad cop with the working class, with Obama being extremely bad but the Republican candidates scaring people into supporting Democrats. Both parties are working together and financed by the same capitalists. Both parties are the paid agents of Wall Street, the banks, oil, armament, and insurance industries. Their continued rule of America will assure a future of more imperialist war, austerity, unemployment, repression, student debt, a healthcare system that doesn't work, and no meaningful action on climate change. Without organization around a political program that directly challenges the Democrats and Republicans, power will remain in the hands of the capitalists and their two parties. Even “progressive” reforms will remain elusive without a real challenge to their power. It will take a revolutionary party with a Trotskyist program to build the leadership needed to overthrow this system. Likewise, it is likely to take the same to be powerful enough to win any meaningful reforms.

From the propaganda of the U.S. corporate media the lesson of the USSR is that that it “didn’t work” and that all revolutions are similarly doomed. Yet, the only healthy socialist revolution that ever degenerated into Stalinism was the USSR. Every other socialist revolution since has not degenerated, but was instead deformed form birth under Stalinist leadership and the command structure of a guerrilla army that was transformed into the government after taking power (south Vietnam (1975), Cuba (1959), north Vietnam (1954) China (1949), and Yugoslavia (1945)) or under the direct control of Stalin’s Red Army after defeating Nazi Germany and imperialist Japan (1945 - North Korea, East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Albania). Each of these revolutions was an improvement in overthrowing capitalist dictatorships, ending the exploitation and control of imperialist capitalist nations, implementing socialist economies, greatly improving women’s rights, and in general meeting human needs like health care, education, nutrition, employment, and housing. China, for instance, doubled life expectancy during Mao’s rule saving the lives of some 408 million people.

But these countries never had workers’ democracies. For instance, Ho Chi Minh murdered thousands of Trotskyists who were also being targeted by the French at the same time. Immediately after taking power, Mao rounded-up all of the known Trotskyists and their friends and families and put them in prison. This was pure Stalinism. No inference of healthy revolutions always degenerating can be drawn from these Stalinist led revolutions. These revolutions didn’t degenerate, they were deformed from birth.

Regarding the existing Stalinist deformed workers’ states of Cuba, China, Vietnam, and North Korea, Trotskyists call for an end to imperialist economic blockades and for the defense of the socialist planned economies from imperialist attack and internal counter-revolution, while at the same time supporting political revolution to overthrow the brutal Stalinist bureaucracies and their privileges in order to bring workers’ democracy. In fact, more and more, in the existing deformed workers states it will take a political revolution to defend what is left of the socialist planned economies from the privatization led by Stalinist bureaucrats.

Trotskyists defended (and defend) the gains of those revolutions from imperialist attacks, including opposing the U.S. economic blockades against North Korea and Cuba and denouncing threats of war against those countries. Still, under our program, Trotskyists support legitimate working class and student uprisings that could produce socialist systems with workers democracy. Historically this has included Trotskyist support for the 1956 Hungarian uprising, the 1968 Prague Spring, and the Tiananmen Square uprising of the 1980s. In each case the Stalinists oppressed legitimate working class demands. There are, in fact, rivers of blood between the positions of Trotskyists and Stalinists on those questions, just as there are rivers of blood in the millions of people Stalin murdered, largely to eliminate the Trotskyist left opposition to his rule. Yes, the imperialists have murdered more than the Stalinists, but there are still rivers of blood differentiating Trotskyism from Stalinism.

Stalinist groups in the United States, like the CP, PSL, and WWP, do not have a position in support of political revolution in the Stalinist controlled states. This is why they supported the Chinese government's crackdown at Tiananmen Square and supported the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary even though neither uprising was pro-capitalist. Those working class and student uprisings represented hopes for truly socialist systems that would include workers’ democracy. Instead, the CP / PSL / WWP took the side of the Stalinist oppressors. That doesn’t speak well to their visions of socialism. Nor does it speak well to the position they would take if there were similar uprisings against the few remaining Stalinist governments today.

As opposed to Stalinist models, true workers’ democracy includes freedom to form political parties just as long as they don’t get foreign funding and don’t take up arms against the revolution, freedom of the workers’ controlled media, subsidies for any working class press or other media that meet a certain readership criteria, and authentic elections controlled by the working class majority.

Some other nominally “Trotskyist” groups like the ISO, SO, SWP, and Socialist Action have gone to the other end of the extreme, abandoning Trotsky’s defense of the Soviet Union (which legitimate Trotskyists have applied to other deformed workers states). Trotsky’s defense was clearly one against internal counter-revolution and imperialist attack. Yet all of those groups supported one or more of the following openly counter-revolutionary and imperialist backed movements including the U.S. funded woman hating mujahideen in Afghanistan, the pro-capitalist and CIA backed Solidarnosc movement in Poland that came to power and outlawed abortion and brought unemployment from zero to 50% by eliminating the socialist economy, and Yeltsin’s capitalist counter-revolution in the USSR that reduced life expectancy by 10 years. As these nominally Trotskyist groups moved away from defending living revolutions from capitalist counter-revolution and imperialist war, they have also in general abandoned advocacy of socialist revolution in the United States. Instead, they tend to see themselves much more as protest pressure groups that prefer anti-communist attempts at sounding legitimate in the court of bourgeois public opinion as opposed to telling the people the truth.

Yet, only socialist revolution will solve society’s problems and save the Earth from the environmental catastrophe of climate change. Study of the Russian Revolution and Paris Commune remain essential ingredients in learning how to make a revolution and in understanding the need to both avoid Stalinism and avoid support for capitalist counter-revolution against the existing deformed workers states.

End the U.S. Economic Blockades of North Korea and Cuba!

U.S. Hands off North Korea, Vietnam, China, and Cuba! Reparations and apologies for U.S. war crimes against those countries!

For Political Revolutions in the Stalinist Deformed Workers States Defending the Socialist Planned Economies and Bringing Workers Democracy; For Socialist Revolutions against Capitalism and Imperialism to bring Socialism and Democracy to the Rest of the World!

For a New October Revolutions Across the Globe Including in the United States! Learn How it was Done, Study the October 1917 Russian Revolution!

For more on the Russian Revolution Read:
Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution

This is an article of Liberation News (not affiliated with the Stalinist PSL who stole our name), subscribe free to our low volume list:

Steven Argue is a member of the Revolutionary Tendency of the Socialist Party (RT-SP), but the opinions of this article do not represent the opinions of the group. The RT-SP has not agreed to a position on these questions, except in general supporting Trotskyism and opposing Stalinism. Check out the Statement of Purpose of the RT-SP:
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Comments (Hide Comments)
by Charles M. Minster
The author forgot to note the important fact that the International Communist League and their U.S. affliate, The Spartacist League, champion the politcs of Lenin and Trotsky and stood for the defense of the Soviet Union and East Germany and continue to defend China, Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea and Laos against capitalist counter-revolution. the Spartacist League has been in existence in this country for over 50 years and their paper, Workers Vanguard, reports on the struggles of workers world wide and provides a program and tactics that are needed to take on the bosses and their political henchman in Washington, Sacramento and the union offices. We need a revolutionary workers party to lead the struggle.
by Steven Argue
While it is true that the Spartacist League holds those very important positions mentioned by Charles, and I am in agreement with him on them, the Spartacist League makes some huge mistakes on other questions.

One of their greatest blunders is their ignorance of the importance of climate change. This is a huge question facing humanity with the Republicans lying about it even existing and the Democrats not in denial, but still doing nothing about it. The Spartacist League and the Internationalist Group, however, have completely dropped the ball on this essential question.

Another major blunder of the Spartacist League was their support for the U.S. invasion of Haiti. While they've admitted their error, this is a pretty crazy position for them to take.

Another continuing problem is the Spartacist League's call for the elimination of age of consent laws. I do think these laws need to be changed, but total elimination I think would be a mistake and their constant harping on this question in articles about BLGT rights and women’s liberation is, frankly, a little creepy.

Both the Internationalist Group and the Spartacist League took a ridiculously ultra-left stand against the Longshore Union's strike in solidarity with Oscar Grant saying the call to "jail killer cops" seeds illusions that this sort of thing could happen without a socialist revolution. Since when do we limit our demands to what can be won short of socialist revolution? And, as we saw in the case, the killer of Oscar Grant was jailed. Certainly not long enough, but at least he did some time. The Spartacist League’s consistent ability to alienate themselves from the real class struggle is a sad thing to see in action.

Yes, I do understand the need for a revolutionary party, and I do appreciate much of the analysis in the Workers Vanguard, but I don’t see the Spartacist League as the party to build. If I believed it was possible o join the group and set it on the right path, perhaps I would, but I highly doubt that is possible in such a rigidly controlled democratic centralist group. For these reasons, I’m promoting the Revolutionary Tendency of the Socialist Party (RT-SP), of which I am a member, and not the Spartacist League.

Check out the Statement of Purpose of the RT-SP:

by Greg Miasnikov
The following is an abridged edition of Paul Mattick's review, originally published in 'Politics', Vol. 4, No. 2, Mar/Apr 1947. The full version is available in PDF format.


The alleged purpose of Trotsky’s biography of Stalin[1] is to show “how a personality of this sort was formed, and how it came to power by usurpation of the right to such an exceptional role.” The real purpose of the book, however, is to show why Trotsky lost the power position he temporarily occupied and why his rather than Stalin’s name should follow Lenin’s. Prior to Lenin’s death it had always been ‘Lenin and Trotsky’; Stalin’s name had invariably been near or at the end of any list of prominent Bolsheviks. On one occasion Lenin even suggested that he put his own signature second to Trotsky’s. In brief, the book helps to explain why Trotsky was of the opinion “that he was the natural successor to Lenin” and in effect is a biography of both Stalin and Trotsky.

All beginnings are small, of course, and the Bolshevism of Lenin and Trotsky differs from present-day Stalinism just as Hitler’s brown terror of 1933 differed from the Nazism of World War II. That there is nothing in the arsenal of Stalinism that cannot also be found in that of Lenin and Trotsky is attested to by the earlier writings of Trotsky himself.[2] For example Trotsky, like Stalin, introduced compulsory labour service as a ‘socialist principle’. He, too, was convinced “that not one serious socialist will begin to deny to the Labour State the right to lay its hands upon the worker who refuses to execute his labour power.” It was Trotsky who hurried to stress the ‘socialistic character’ of inequality, for, as he said, “those workers who do more for the general interest than others receive the right to a greater quantity of the social product than the lazy, the careless, and the disorganisers.” It was his opinion that everything must be done to “assist the development of rivalry in the sphere of production.”

Of course, all this was conceived as the ‘socialist principle’ of the ‘transformation period’. It was dictated by objective difficulties in the way of full socialisation. There was not the desire but the need to strengthen party dictatorship until it led to the abolishment of even those freedoms of activity which, in one fashion or another, had been granted by the bourgeois state. However, Stalin, too, can offer the excuse of necessity.

In order to find other arguments against Stalinism than his personal dislike for a competitor in intra-party struggles, Trotsky must discover and construct political differences between himself and Stalin, and between Stalin and Lenin in order to support his assertion that without Stalin things would have been different in Russia and elsewhere.

There could not have been any ‘theoretic’ differences between Lenin and Stalin, as the only theoretical work bearing the name of the latter had been inspired and supervised by Lenin. And if Stalin’s ‘nature craved’ the centralised party machine, it was Lenin who constructed the perfect machine for him, so that on that score, too, no differences could arise. In fact, as long as Lenin was active, Stalin was no trouble to him, however troublesome he may have been to ‘The Number Two Bolshevik’.

Still, in order for Trotsky to explain the ‘Soviet Thermidor’, there must be a difference between Leninism and Stalinism, provided, of course, there was such a Thermidor. On this point, Trotsky has brought forth various ideas as to when it took place, but in his Stalin biography he ignores the question of time in favour of the simple statement that it had something to do with the “increasing privileges for the bureaucracy”. However, this only brings us back to the early period of the Bolshevik dictatorship which found Lenin and Trotsky engaged in creating the state bureaucracy and increasing its efficiency by increasing its privileges.

Competitors for Power
The fact that the relentless struggle for position came into the open only after Lenin’s death suggests something other than the Soviet Thermidor. It simply indicates that by that time the Bolshevik state was of sufficient strength, or was in a position, to disregard to a certain degree both the Russian masses and the international bourgeoisie. The developing bureaucracy began to feel sure that Russia was theirs for keeps; the fight for the plums of the Revolution entered its more general and more serious stage.

All adversaries in this struggle stressed the need of dictatorship in view of the unsolved internal frictions between ‘workers’ and ‘peasants’, the economic and technological backwardness of the country as a whole, and the constant danger of attack from the outside. But within this setting of dictatorship, all sorts of arguments could be raised. The power-struggle within the developing ruling class expressed itself in policy-proposals either for or against the interests of the peasants, either for or against the limitation of factory councils, either for or against an offensive policy on the international front. High-sounding theories were expounded with regard to the estimation of the peasantry, the relationship between bureaucracy and revolution, the question of party generations, etc. and reached their climax in the Trotsky-Stalin controversy on the ‘Permanent Revolution’ and the theory of ‘Socialism in one Country’.

It is quite possible that the debaters believed their own phrases; yet, despite their theoretical differentiations, whenever they acted upon a real situation they all acted alike: In order to suit their own needs, they naturally expressed identical things in different terms. If Trotsky rushes to the front - to all fronts in fact - he merely defends the fatherland. But Stalin “is attracted by the front, because here for the first time he could work with the most finished of all the administrative machines, the military machine” for which, by the way, Trotsky claims all credit. If Trotsky pleads for discipline, he shows his ‘iron hand’; if Stalin does the same, he deals with a ‘heavy hand’.

If Trotsky’s bloody suppression of the Kronstadt Rebellion was a ‘tragic necessity’ Stalin’s suppression of the Georgian independence movement is in the manner of a “great-Russian Russifier, riding roughshod over the rights of his own people as a nation”. And vice versa: suggestions made by Trotsky are called false and counter-revolutionary by Stalin’s henchmen; when carried out under Stalin’s auspices, they become additional proof of the great leader’s wisdom.

To understand Bolshevism, and in a narrower sense Stalinism, it is not enough to follow the superficial and often silly controversies between Stalinists and Trotskyites. After all, the Russian Revolution embraces more than just the Bolshevik Party. It was not even initiated by organised political groups but by spontaneous reactions of the masses to the breakdown of an already precarious economic system in the wake of military defeat. The February upheavals ‘started’ with hunger riots in market places, protest strikes in factories, and the spontaneous declaration of solidarity with the rioters on the part of the soldiers. But all spontaneous movements in modern history have been accompanied by organised forces. As soon as the collapse of Czarism was imminent, organisations came to the fore with directives and definite political goals.

If prior to the Revolution Lenin had stressed organisation rather than spontaneity, it was because of the retarded Russian conditions, which gave the spontaneous movements a backward character. Even the politically advanced groups offered only limited programmes. The industrial workers desired capitalistic reforms similar to those enjoyed by the workers in more capitalistically advanced countries. The petty-bourgeoisie and important layers of the capitalist class wanted a Western bourgeois democracy. The peasants desired land in a capitalist agriculture. Though progressive for Czarist Russia, these demands were of the essence of bourgeois revolution.

The new liberalistic February government attempted to continue the war. But it was the conditions of war against which the masses were rebelling. All promised reforms within the Russian setting of that time and within the existing imperialistic power relationships were doomed to remain empty phrases; there was no way of directing the spontaneous movements into those channels desired by the government. In new upsurges the Bolsheviks came into power not by way of a second revolution but by a forced change of government. This seizure of power was made easy by the lack of interest that the restless masses were showing in the existing government. The October coup, as Lenin said, “was easier than lifting a feather.” The final victory was “practically achieved by default ... Not a single regiment rose to defend Russian democracy ... The struggle for supreme power over an empire that comprised one-sixth of the terrestrial globe was decided between amazingly small forces on both sides in the provinces as well as in the two capital cities.”

The Bolsheviks did not try to restore the old conditions in order to reform them, but declared themselves in favour of the concrete results of the conceptually backward spontaneous movements: the ending of the war, the workers’ control of industry, the expropriation of the ruling classes and the division of land. And so they stayed in power.

The pre-revolutionary demands of the Russian masses had been backward for two reasons: they had long been realised in the main capitalist nations, and they could no longer be realised in view of existing world conditions. At a time when the concentration and centralisation process of world capitalism had brought about the decline of bourgeois democracy almost everywhere, it was no longer possible to initiate it afresh in Russia. If laissez faire democracy was out of the question, so were all those reforms in capital-labour relations usually related to social legislation and trade-unionism. Capitalist agriculture, too, had passed beyond the breaking up of feudal estates and production for a capitalist market to the industrialisation of agriculture and its consequent incorporation into the concentration process of capital.

The Bolsheviks and Mass Spontaneity
The Bolsheviks did not claim responsibility for the Revolution. They gave full credit to the spontaneous movements. Of course, they underlined the obvious fact that Russia’s previous history, which included the Bolshevik Party, had lent some kind of vague revolutionary consciousness to the unorganised masses and they were not backward about asserting that without their leadership the course of the Revolution would have been different and most probably would have led to a counter-revolution. “Had the Bolsheviks not seized power,” writes Trotsky, “the world would have had a Russian name for Fascism five years before the March of Rome.”

But counter-revolution attempts on the part of the traditional powers failed not because of any conscious direction of the spontaneous movements, not because of Lenin’s “sharp eyes, which surveyed the situation correctly,” but because of the fact that these movements could not be diverted from their own course. If one wants to use the term at all, the ‘counter-revolution’ possible in the Russia of 1917 was that inherent in the Revolution itself, that is, in the opportunity it offered the Bolsheviks to restore a centrally-directed social order for the perpetuation of the capitalistic divorce of the workers from the means of production and the consequent restoration of Russia as a competing imperialist power.

During the revolution, the interests of the rebelling masses and of the Bolsheviks merged to a remarkable degree. Beyond the temporary merger, there also existed a deep unity between the socialising concepts of the Bolsheviks and the consequences of the spontaneous movements. Too ‘backward’ for socialism but also too ‘advanced’ for liberal capitalism, the Revolution could end only in that consistent form of capitalism which the Bolsheviks considered a pre-condition of socialism, namely, State-capitalism.

By identifying themselves with the spontaneous movement they could not control, the Bolsheviks gained control over this movement as soon as it had spent itself in the realisation of its immediate goals. There were many such goals differently reached in different territories. Various layers of the peasantry satisfied, or failed to satisfy, divergent needs and desires. Their interests, however, had no real connection with those of the proletariat. The working class itself was split into various groups with a variety of specific needs and general plans. The petty-bourgeoisie had still other problems to solve. In brief, there was a spontaneous unity against the conditions of Czarism and war, but there was no unity in regard to immediate goals and future policy. It was not too difficult for the Bolsheviks to utilise this social division for building up their own power, which finally became stronger than the whole of society because it never faced society as a whole.

Like the other groups which asserted themselves within the revolution, the Bolsheviks, too, pressed to gain their particular end: the control of government. This goal reached farther than those aspired to by the others. It involved a never-ending struggle, a continuous winning and re-winning of power positions. Peasant groups settled down after dividing the land, workers returned to the factories as wage labourers, soldiers, unable to roam the countrysides forever, returned to the life of peasant and worker, but for the Bolsheviks the struggle only really began with the success of the Revolution. Like all governments, the Bolshevik regime involves submission of all existing social layers to its authority. Slowly centralising all power and control into their hands, the Bolsheviks were soon able to dictate policy. Once more Russia became thoroughly organised in the interests of a special class - the class of privilege in the emerging system of State-capitalism.

The Party ‘Machine’
All this has nothing to do with Stalinism and ‘Thermidor’ but represents Lenin’s and Trotsky’s policy from the very day they came to power. Reporting to the Sixth Congress of Soviets in 1918, Trotsky complained that “Not all Soviet workers have understood that our administration has been centralised and that all orders issued from above must be final. ... We shall be pitiless with those Soviet workers who have not yet understood; we will remove them, cast them out of our ranks, pull them up with repressions.” Trotsky now claims that these words were aimed at Stalin who did not co-ordinate his war-activity properly and we are willing to believe him. But how much more directly must they have been aimed at all those who were not even ‘second-rate’ but had no rating at all in the Soviet hierarchy. There already existed, as Trotsky relates, “a sharp cleavage between the classes in motion and the interests of the party machines. Even the Bolshevik Party cadres, who enjoyed the benefit of exceptional revolutionary training were definitely inclined to disregard the masses and to identify their own special interests with the interests of the machine on the very day after the monarchy was overthrown.”

Trotsky holds, of course, that the dangers implied in this situation were averted by Lenin’s vigilance and by objective conditions which made the “masses more revolutionary than the Party, and the Party more revolutionary than its machine.” But the machine was headed by Lenin. Even before the Revolution, Trotsky points out, the Central Committee of the Party “functioned almost regularly and was entirely in the hands of Lenin.” And even more so after the Revolution. In the spring of 1918 the “ideal of ‘democratic centralism’ suffered further reverses, for in effect the power within both the government and the Party became concentrated in the hands of Lenin and the immediate retinue of Bolshevik leaders who did not openly disagree with him and carried out his wishes.” As the bureaucracy made headway nevertheless, the emerging Stalinist machine must have been the result of an oversight on the part of Lenin.

To distinguish between the ruler of the machine and the machine on the one hand, and between the machine and the masses on the other implies that only the masses and its top-leader were truly revolutionary, and that both Lenin and the revolutionary masses were later betrayed by Stalin’s machine which, so to speak, made itself independent. Although Trotsky needs such distinctions to satisfy his own political interests, they have no basis in fact. Until his death - disregarding occasional remarks against the dangers of bureaucratisation, which for the Bolsheviks are the equivalent of the bourgeois politicians’ occasional crusades for a balanced budget - Lenin never once came out against the Bolshevik Party machine and its leadership, that is, against himself. Whatever policy was decided upon received Lenin’s blessing as long as he was at the helm of the machine; and he died holding that position.

Lenin’s ‘democratic’ notions are legendary. Of course state-capitalism under Lenin was different from state-capitalism under Stalin because the dictatorial powers of the latter were greater - thanks to Lenin’s attempt to build up his own. That Lenin’s rule was less terroristic than Stalin’s is debatable. Like Stalin, Lenin catalogued all his victims under the heading ‘counter-revolutionary’. Without comparing the statistics of those tortured and killed under both regimes, we will admit that the Bolshevik regime under Lenin and Trotsky was not strong enough to carry through such Stalinist measures as enforced collectivisation and slave-labour camps as a main economic and political policy. It was not design but weakness which forced Lenin and Trotsky to the so called New Economic Policy, that is, to concessions to private property interests and to a greater lip-service to ‘democracy’.

Bolshevik ‘toleration’ of such non-Bolshevik organisations as the Social Revolutionists in the early phase of Lenin’s rule did not spring, as Trotsky asserts, from Lenin’s ‘democratic’ inclinations but from inability to destroy all non-Bolshevik organisations at once. The totalitarian features of Lenin’s Bolshevism were accumulating at the same rate at which its control and police power grew. That they were forced upon the Bolsheviks by the ‘counter-revolutionary’ activity of all non-Bolshevik labour organisations, as Trotsky maintains, can not of course explain their further increase after the crushing of the various nonconformist organisations. Neither could it explain Lenin’s insistence upon the enforcement of totalitarian principle in the extra-Russian organisations of the Communist International.

Trotsky, Apologist for Stalinism
Unable to blame non-Bolshevik organisations entirely for Lenin’s dictatorship, Trotsky tells “those theoreticians who attempt to prove that the present totalitarian regime of the U.S.S.R. is due ... to the ugly nature of Bolshevism itself,” that they forget the years of Civil War, “which laid an indelible impress on the Soviet Government by virtue of the fact that very many of the administrators, a considerable layer of them, had become accustomed to command and demanded unconditional submission to their orders.” Stalin, too, he continues, “was moulded by the environment and circumstances of the Civil War, along with the entire group that later helped him to establish his personal dictatorship”. The Civil War, however, was initiated by the international bourgeoisie. And thus the ugly sides of Bolshevism under Lenin, as well as under Stalin, find their chief and final cause in capitalism’s enmity to Bolshevism which, if it is a monster, is only a reluctant monster, killing and torturing in mere self-defence.

And so, if only in a roundabout way, Trotsky’s Bolshevism, despite its saturation with hatred for Stalin, leads in the end merely to a defence of Stalinism as the only possible self-defence for Trotsky. This explains the superficiality of the ideological differences between Stalinism and Trotskyism. The impossibility of attacking Stalin without attacking Lenin helps to explain, furthermore, Trotsky’s great difficulties as an oppositionist. Trotsky’s own past and theories preclude on his part the initiation of a movement to the left of Stalinism and condemned ‘Trotskyism’ to remain a mere collecting agency for unsuccessful Bolsheviks. As such it could maintain itself outside of Russia because of the ceaseless competitive struggles for power and positions within the so-called ‘communist’ world-movement. But it could not achieve significance for it had nothing to offer but the replacement of one set of politicians by another. The Trotskyist defence of Russia in the Second World War was consistent with all the previous policies of this, Stalin’s most bitter, but also most loyal, opposition.

Trotsky’s defence of Stalinism does not exhaust itself with showing how the Civil War transformed the Bolsheviks from servants into masters of the working class. He points to the more important fact that it is the “bureaucracy’s law of life and death to guard the nationalisation of the means of production and of the land.” This means that “in spite of the most monstrous bureaucratic distortions, the class basis of the U.S.S.R. remains proletarian.” For a while - we notice - Stalin had Trotsky worried. In 1921, Lenin had been disturbed by the question as to whether the New Economic Policy was merely a ‘tactic’ or an ‘evolution’. Because the NEP released private-capitalistic tendencies, Trotsky saw in the growing Stalinist bureaucracy “nothing else than the first stage of bourgeois restoration.” But his worries were unfounded; “the struggle against equality and the establishment of very deep social differentiations has so far been unable to eliminate the socialist consciousness of the masses or the nationalisation of the means of production and the land, which were the basic social conquests of the revolution.” Stalin, of course, had nothing to do with this, for “the Russian Thermidor would have undoubtedly opened a new era of bourgeois rule, if that rule had not proved obsolete throughout the world.”

The Result: State Capitalism
With this last statement of Trotsky’s we approach the essence of the matter under discussion. We have said before that the concrete results of the revolution of 1917 were neither socialistic nor bourgeois but state-capitalistic. It was Trotsky’s belief that Stalin would destroy the state-capitalist nature of the economy in favour of a bourgeois economy. This was to be the Thermidor. The decay of bourgeois economy all over the world prevented Stalin from bringing this about. All he could do was to introduce the ugly features of his personal dictatorship into that society which had been brought into existence by Lenin and Trotsky. In this way, and despite the fact that Stalin still occupies the Kremlin, Trotskyism has triumphed over Stalinism.

It all depends on an equation of state-capitalism with socialism. And although some of Trotsky’s disciples have recently found it impossible to continue making the equation, Trotsky was bound to it, for it is the beginning and the end of Leninism and, in a wider sense, of the whole of the social-democratic world-movement of which Leninism was only the more realistic part. Realistic, that is, with regard to Russia. What was, and still is, understood by this movement under ‘workers’ state is governmental rule by the party; what is meant by ‘socialism’ is the nationalisation of the means of production. By adding control over the economy to the political control of the government the totalitarian rule over all of society emerges in full. The government secures its totalitarian rule by way of the party, which maintains the social hierarchy and is itself a hierarchical institution.

This idea of ‘socialism’ is now in the process of becoming discredited, but only because of the experience of Russia and similar if less extensive experiences in other countries. Prior to 1914, what was meant by the seizure of power, either peacefully or violently, was the seizure of the government machinery, replacing a given set of administrators and law-makers with another set. Economically, the ‘anarchy’ of the capitalistic market was to be replaced by a planned production under the control of the state. As the socialist state would by definition be a ‘just’ state, being itself controlled by the masses by way of the democratic processes, there was no reason to expect that its decisions would run counter to socialistic ideals. This theory was sufficient to organise parts of the working class into more or less powerful parties.

The theory of socialism boiled down to the demand for centralised economic planning in the interest of all. The centralisation process, inherent in capital-accumulation itself, was regarded as a socialistic tendency. The growing influence of ‘labour’ within the state-machinery was hailed as a step in the direction of socialism. But actually the centralisation process of capital indicated something else than its self-transformation into social property. It was identical with the destruction of laissez faire economy and therewith with the end of the traditional business-cycle as the regulator of the economy. With the beginning of the twentieth century the character of capitalism changed. From that time on it found itself under permanent crisis conditions which could not be resolved, by the ‘automatic’ workings of the market. Monopolistic regulations, state-interferences, national policies shifted the burden of the crisis to the capitalistically under-privileged in the world-economy. All ‘economic’ policy became imperialistic policy, culminating twice in world-wide conflagrations.

In this situation, to reconstruct a broken-down political and economic system meant to adapt it to these new conditions. The Bolshevik theory of socialisation fitted this need in an admirable way. In order to restore the national power of Russia it was necessary to do in a radical fashion what in the Western nations had been merely an evolutionary process. Even then it would take time to close the gap between the Russian economy and that of the Western powers. Meanwhile the ideology of the socialist movement served well as protection. The socialist origin of Bolshevism made it particularly fitted for the state-capitalist reconstruction of Russia. Its organisational principles, which had turned the party into a well-functioning institution, would re-establish order in the country as well.

The Bolsheviks of course were convinced that what they were building in Russia was, if not socialism, at least the next best thing to socialism, for they were completing the process which in the Western nations was still only the main trend of development. They had abolished the market-economy and had expropriated the bourgeoisie; they also had gained complete control over the government. For the Russian workers, however, nothing had changed; they were merely faced by another set of bosses, politicians and indoctrinators. Their position equalled the workers’ position in all capitalist countries during times of war. State-capitalism is a war-economy, and all extra-Russian economic systems transformed themselves into war-economies, into state-capitalistic systems fitted to the imperialistic needs of modern capitalism. Other nations did not copy all the innovations of Russian state-capitalism but only those best suited to their specific needs. The Second World War led to the further unfolding of state-capitalism on a world wide scale. The peculiarities of the various nations and their special situations within the world-power frame provided a great variety of developmental processes towards state-capitalism.

The fact that state-capitalism and fascism did not, and do not grow everywhere in a uniform manner provided Trotsky with the argument of the basic difference between Bolshevism, fascism and capitalism plain and simple. This argument necessarily stresses superficialities of social development. In all essential aspects all three of these systems are identical and represent only various stages of the same development - a development which aims at manipulating the mass of the population by dictatorial governments in a more or less authoritarian fashion, in order to secure the government and the privileged social layers which support it and to enable those governments to participate in the international economy of today by preparing for war, waging war, and profiting by war.

Trotsky could not permit himself to recognise in Bolshevism one aspect of the world-wide trend towards a ‘fascist’ world economy. As late as 1940 he held the view that Bolshevism prevented the rise of Fascism in the Russia of 1917. It should have long since been clear, however, that all that Lenin and Trotsky prevented in Russia was the use of a non-Marxian ideology for the ‘fascist’ reconstruction of Russia. Because the Marxian ideology of Bolshevism merely served state-capitalistic ends, it, too, has been discredited. From any view that goes beyond the capitalist system of exploitation, Stalinism and Trotskyism are both relics of the past.

1. Stalin. An appraisal of the man and his influence. Edited and translated from the Russian by Charles Malamuth. The first seven chapters and the appendix, that is, the bulk of the book, Trotsky wrote and revised himself. The last four chapters, consisting of notes, excerpts, documents and other raw materials, have been edited.

2. See for instance, L. Trotsky’s “Dictatorship vs. Democracy”, New York, 1922; particularly from page 135 to page 150.

by Steven Argue
I don't have time to answer this long article at this time. I'll just start by saying it's absurd to say that Trotsky was an apologist for Stalin. He was far from it. He called for the overthrow of Stalin in a political revolution that would sweep away the conservative privileged bureaucracy, defend the planned economy, and put the working class in power through a workers democracy.
by Leon Trotsky
[Here Trotsky answers many of the claims in Greg's post. I have added two photos. The most common examples of photograph alteration and falsification come from the USSR under Stalin. All of the original leaders of the revolution were not only murdered by Stalin, they were also removed from photos. These photographs were altered with the intent of changing the memory of the past. In contrast, true revolutionaries hold dear the true lessons of history in order to learn from them. I thank Greg for his seriousness in posting an article that reflects what he thinks those lessons are. I disagree. This work by Trotsky is quite good. As I have time, I'll respond to other points in the article Greg posted. -Steven Argue]

Leon Trotsky
Stalinism and Bolshevism
(August 1937)

Reactionary epochs like ours not only disintegrate and weaken the working class and isolate its vanguard but also lower the general ideological level of the movement and throw political thinking back to stages long since passed through. In these conditions the task of the vanguard is, above all, not to let itself be carried along by the backward flow: it must swim against the current. If an unfavourable relation of forces prevents it from holding political positions it has won, it must at least retain its ideological positions, because in them is expressed the dearly paid experience of the past. Fools will consider this policy “sectarian”. Actually it is the only means of preparing for a new tremendous surge forward with the coming historical tide.

The Reaction Against Marxism and Bolshevism
Great political defeats provoke a reconsideration of values, generally occurring in two directions. On the one hand the true vanguard, enriched by the experience of defeat, defends with tooth and nail the heritage of revolutionary thought and on this basis strives to educate new cadres for the mass struggle to come. On the other hand the routinists, centrists and dilettantes, frightened by defeat, do their best to destroy the authority of the revolutionary tradition and go backwards in their search for a “New World”.

One could indicate a great many examples of ideological reaction, most often taking the form of prostration. All the literature if the Second and Third Internationals, as well as of their satellites of the London Bureau, consists essentially of such examples. Not a suggestion of Marxist analysis. Not a single serious attempt to explain the causes of defeat, About the future, not one fresh word. Nothing but cliches, conformity, lies and above all solicitude for their own bureaucratic self-preservation. It is enough to smell 10 words from some Hilferding or Otto Bauer to know this rottenness. The theoreticians of the Comintern are not even worth mentioning. The famous Dimitrov is as ignorant and commonplace as a shopkeeper over a mug of beer. The minds of these people are too lazy to renounce Marxism: they prostitute it. But it is not they that interest us now. Let us turn to the “innovators”.

The former Austrian communist, Willi Schlamm, has devoted a small book to the Moscow trials, under the expressive title, The Dictatorship of the Lie. Schlamm is a gifted journalist, chiefly interested in current affairs. His criticism of the Moscow frame-up, and his exposure of the psychological mechanism of the “voluntary confessions”, are excellent. However, he does not confine himself to this: he wants to create a new theory of socialism that would insure us against defeats and frame-ups in the future. But since Schlamm is by no means a theoretician and is apparently not well acquainted with the history of the development of socialism, he returns entirely to pre-Marxist socialism, and notably to its German, that is to its most backward, sentimental and mawkish variety. Schlamm denounces dialectics and the class struggle, not to mention the dictatorship of the proletariat. The problem of transforming society is reduced for him to the realisation of certain “eternal” moral truths with which he would imbue mankind, even under capitalism. Willi Schlamm’s attempts to save socialism by the insertion of the moral gland is greeted with joy and pride in Kerensky’s review, Novaya Rossia (an old provincial Russian review now published in Paris); as the editors justifiably conclude, Schlamm has arrived at the principles of true Russian socialism, which a long time ago opposed the holy precepts of faith, hope and charity to the austerity and harshness of the class struggle. The “novel” doctrine of the Russian “Social Revolutionaries” represents, in its “theoretical” premises, only a return to the pre-March (1848!) Germany. However, it would be unfair to demand a more intimate knowledge of the history of ideas from Kerensky than from Schlamm. Far more important is the fact that Kerensky, who is in solidarity with Schlamm, was, while head of the government, the instigator of persecutions against the Bolsheviks as agents of the German general staff: organised, that is, the same frame-ups against which Schlamm now mobilises his moth-eaten metaphysical absolutes.

The psychological mechanism of the ideological reaction of Schlamm and his like, is not at all complicated. For a while these people took part in a political movement that swore by the class struggle and appeared, in word if not in thought, to dialectical materialism. In both Austria and Germany the affair ended in a catastrophe. Schlamm draws the wholesale conclusion: this is the result of dialectics and the class struggle! And since the choice of revelations is limited by historical experience and... by personal knowledge, our reformer in his search for the word falls on a bundle of old rags which he valiantly opposes not only to Bolshevism but to Marxism as well.

At first glance Schlamm’s brand of ideological reaction seems too primitive (from Marx ... to Kerensky!) to pause over. But actually it is very instructive: precisely in its primitiveness it represents the common denominator of all other forms of reaction, particularly of those expressed by wholesale denunciation of Bolshevism.

“Back to Marxism”?
Marxism found its highest historical expression in Bolshevism. Under the banner of Bolshevism the first victory of the proletariat was achieved and the first workers’ state established. No force can now erase these facts from history. But since the October Revolution has led to the present stage of the triumph of the bureaucracy, with its system of repression, plunder and falsification – the “dictatorship of the lie”, to use Schlamm’s happy expression – many formalistic and superficial minds jump to a summary conclusion: one cannot struggle against Stalinism without renouncing Bolshevism. Schlamm, as we already know, goes further: Bolshevism, which degenerated into Stalinism, itself grew out of Marxism; consequently one cannot fight Stalinism while remaining on the foundation of Marxism. There are others, less consistent but more numerous, who say on the contrary: “We must return Bolshevism to Marxism.” How? To what Marxism? Before Marxism became “bankrupt” in the form of Bolshevism it has already broken down in the form of social democracy, Does the slogan “Back to Marxism” then mean a leap over the periods of the Second and Third Internationals... to the First International? But it too broke down in its time. Thus in the last analysis it is a question of returning to the collected works of Marx and Engels. One can accomplish this historic leap without leaving one’s study and even without taking off one’s slippers. But how are we going to go from our classics (Marx died in 1883, Engels in 1895) to the tasks of a new epoch, omitting several decades of theoretical and political struggles, among them Bolshevism and the October revolution? None of those who propose to renounce Bolshevism as an historically bankrupt tendency has indicated any other course. So the question is reduced to the simple advice to study Capital. We can hardly object. But the Bolsheviks, too, studied Capital and not badly either. This did not however prevent the degeneration of the Soviet state and the staging of the Moscow trials. So what is to be done?

Is Bolshevism Responsible for Stalinism?
Is it true that Stalinism represents the legitimate product of Bolshevism, as all reactionaries maintain, as Stalin himself avows, as the Mensheviks, the anarchists, and certain left doctrinaires considering themselves Marxist believe? “We have always predicted this” they say, “Having started with the prohibition of other socialist parties, the repression of the anarchists, and the setting up of the Bolshevik dictatorship in the Soviets, the October Revolution could only end in the dictatorship of the bureaucracy. Stalin is the continuation and also the bankruptcy of Leninism.”

The flaw in this reasoning begins in the tacit identification of Bolshevism, October Revolution and Soviet Union. The historical process of the struggle of hostile forces is replaced by the evolution of Bolshevism in a vacuum. Bolshevism, however, is only a political tendency closely fused with the working class but not identical with it. And aside from the working class there exist in the Soviet Union a hundred million peasants, diverse nationalities, and a heritage of oppression, misery and ignorance. The state built up by the Bolsheviks reflects not only the thought and will of Bolshevism but also the cultural level of the country, the social composition of the population, the pressure of a barbaric past and no less barbaric world imperialism. To represent the process of degeneration of the Soviet state as the evolution of pure Bolshevism is to ignore social reality in the name of only one of its elements, isolated by pure logic. One has only to call this elementary mistake by its true name to do away with every trace of it.

Bolshevism, in any case, never identified itself either with the October Revolution or with the Soviet state that issued from it. Bolshevism considered itself as one of the factors of history, its “Conscious” factor – a very important but not decisive one. We never sinned on historical subjectivism. We saw the decisive factor – on the existing basis of productive forces – in the class struggle, not only on a national scale but on an international scale.

When the Bolsheviks made concessions to the peasant tendency, to private ownership, set up strict rules for membership of the party, purged the party of alien elements, prohibited other parties, introduced the NEP, granted enterprises as concessions, or concluded diplomatic agreements with imperialist governments, they were drawing partial conclusions from the basic fact that had been theoretically clear to them from the beginning; that the conquest of power, however important it may be in itself, by no means transforms the party into a sovereign ruler of the historical process. Having taken over the state, the party is able, certainly, to influence the development of society with a power inaccessible to it before; but in return it submits itself to a 10 times greater influence from all other elements in society. It can, by the direct attack by hostile forces, be thrown out of power. Given a more drawn out tempo of development, it can degenerate internally while holding on to power. It is precisely this dialectic of the historical process that is not understood by those sectarian logicians who try to find in the decay of the Stalinist bureaucracy a crushing argument against Bolshevism.

In essence these gentlemen say: the revolutionary party that contains in itself no guarantee against its own degeneration is bad. By such a criterion Bolshevism is naturally condemned: it has no talisman. But the criterion itself is wrong. Scientific thinking demands a concrete analysis: how and why did the party degenerate? No one but the Bolsheviks themselves have, up to the present time, given such an analysis,. To do this they had no need to break with Bolshevism. On the contrary, they found in its arsenal all they needed for the explanation of its fate. They drew this conclusion: certainly Stalinism “grew out ” of Bolshevism, not logically, however, but dialectically; not as a revolutionary affirmation but as a Thermidorian negation. It is by no means the same.

Bolshevism’s Basic Prognosis
The Bolsheviks, however, did not have to wait for the Moscow trials to explain the reasons for the disintegration of the governing party of the USSR. Long ago they foresaw and spoke of the theoretical possibility of this development. Let us remember the prognosis of the Bolsheviks, not only on the eve of the October Revolution but years before. The specific alignment of forces in the national and international field can enable the proletariat to seize power first in a backward country such as Russia. But the same alignment of forces proves beforehand that without a more or less rapid victory of the proletariat in the advanced countries the worker’s government in Russia will not survive. Left to itself the Soviet regime must either fall or degenerate. More exactly; it will first degenerate and then fall. I myself have written about this more than once, beginning in 1905. In my History of the Russian Revolution (cf. Appendix to the last volume: Socialism in One Country) are collected all the statements on the question made by the Bolshevik leaders from 1917 until 1923. They all amount to the following: without a revolution in the West, Bolshevism will be liquidated either by internal counter-revolution or by external intervention, or by a combination of both. Lenin stressed again and again that the bureaucratisation of the Soviet regime was not a technical question, but the potential beginning of the degeneration of the worker’s state.

At the eleventh party congress in March, 1922, Lenin spoke of the support offered to Soviet Russia at the time of the NEP by certain bourgeois politicians, particularly the liberal professor Ustrialov. “I am for the support of the Soviet power in Russia” said Ustrialov, although he was a Cadet, a bourgeois, a supporter of intervention – “because it has taken the road that will lead it back to an ordinary bourgeois state”. Lenin prefers the cynical voice of the enemy to “sugary communistic nonsense”. Soberly and harshly he warns the party of danger: “We must say frankly that the things Ustrialov speaks about are possible. History knows all sorts of metamorphoses. Relying on firmness of convictions, loyalty and other splendid moral qualities is anything but a serious attitude in politics. A few people may be endowed with splendid moral qualities, but historical issues are decided by vast masses, which, if the few don’t suit them, may at times, treat them none too politely.” In a word, the party is not the only factor of development and on a larger historical scale is not the decisive one.

“One nation conquers another” continued Lenin at the same congress, the last in which he participated ... “this is simple and intelligible to all. But what happens to the culture of these nations? Here things are not so simple. If the conquering nation is more cultured than the vanquished nation, the former imposes its culture on the latter, but if the opposite is the case, the vanquished nation imposes its culture on the conqueror. Has not something like this happened in the capital of the RSFSR? Have the 4700 Communists (nearly a whole army division, and all of them the very best) come under the influence of an alien culture?”. This was said in 1922, and not for the first time. History is not made by a few people, even “the best”; and not only that: these “best” can degenerate in the spirit of an alien, that is, a bourgeois culture. Not only can the Soviet state abandon the way of socialism, but the Bolshevik party can, under unfavourable historic conditions, lose its Bolshevism.

From the clear understanding of this danger issued the Left Opposition, definitely formed in 1923. Recording day by day the symptoms of degeneration, it tried to oppose to the growing Thermidor the conscious will of the proletarian vanguard. However, this subjective factor proved to be insufficient. The “gigantic masses” which, according to Lenin, decide the outcome of the struggle, become tired of internal privations and of waiting too long for the world revolution. The mood of the masses declined. The bureaucracy won the upper hand. It cowed the revolutionary vanguard, trampled upon Marxism, prostituted the Bolshevik party. Stalinism conquered. In the form of the Left Opposition, Bolshevism broke with the Soviet bureaucracy and its Comintern. This was the real course of development.

To be sure, in a formal sense Stalinism did issue from Bolshevism. Even today the Moscow bureaucracy continues to call itself the Bolshevik party. It is simply using the old label of Bolshevism the better to fool the masses. So much the more pitiful are those theoreticians who take the shell for the kernel and appearance for reality. In the identification of Bolshevism and Stalinism they render the best possible service to the Thermidorians and precisely thereby play a clearly reactionary role.

In view of the elimination of all other parties from the political field the antagonistic interests and tendencies of the various strata of the population, to a greater of less degree, had to find their expression in the governing party, To the extent that the political centre of gravity has shifted form the proletarian vanguard to the bureaucracy, the party has changed its social structure as well as its ideology. Owing to the tempestuous course of development, it has suffered in the last 15 years a far more radical degeneration than did the social democracy in half a century. The present purge draws between Bolshevism and Stalinism not simply a bloody line but a whole river of blood. The annihilation of all the older generation of Bolsheviks, an important part of the middle generation which participated in the civil war, and that part of the youth that took up most seriously the Bolshevik traditions, shows not only a political but a thoroughly physical incompatibility between Bolshevism and Stalinism. How can this not be seen?

Stalinism and “State Socialism”
The anarchists, for their part, try to see in Stalinism the organic product, not only of Bolshevism and Marxism but of “state socialism” in general. They are willing to replace Bakunin’s patriarchal “federation of free communes” by the modern federation of free Soviets. But, as formerly, they are against centralised state power. Indeed, one branch of “state” Marxism, social democracy, after coming to power became an open agent of capitalism. The other gave birth to a new privileged caste. It is obvious that the source of evil lies in the state. From a wide historical viewpoint, there is a grain of truth in this reasoning. The state as an apparatus of coercion is an undoubted source of political and moral infection. This also applies, as experience has shown, to the workers’ state. Consequently it can be said that Stalinism is a product of a condition of society in which society was still unable to tear itself out of the strait-jacket of the state. But this position, contributing nothing to the elevation of Bolshevism and Marxism, characterises only the general level of mankind, and above all – the relation of forces between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Having agreed with the anarchists that the state, even the workers’ state, is the offspring of class barbarism and that real human history will begin with the abolition of the state, we have still before us in full force the question: what ways and methods will lead, ultimately, to the abolition of the state? Recent experience bears witness that they are anyway not the methods of anarchism.

The leaders of the Spanish Federation of Labour (CNT), the only important anarchist organisation in the world, became, in the critical hour, bourgeois ministers. They explained their open betrayal of the theory of anarchism by the pressure of “exceptional circumstances”. But did not the leaders of German social democracy produce, in their time, the same excuse? Naturally, civil war is not peaceful and ordinary but an “exceptional circumstance”. Every serious revolutionary organisation, however, prepares precisely for “exceptional circumstances”. The experience of Spain has shown once again that the state can be “denied” in booklets published in “normal circumstances” by permission of the bourgeois state, but the conditions of revolution leave no room for the denial of the state: they demand, on the contrary, the conquest of the state. We have not the slightest intention of blaming the anarchists for not having liquidated the state with the mere stroke of a pen. A revolutionary party , even having seized power (of which the anarchist leaders were incapable in spite of the heroism of the anarchist workers), is still by no means the sovereign ruler of society. But all the more severely do we blame the anarchist theory, which seemed to be wholly suitable for times of peace, but which had to be dropped rapidly as soon as the “exceptional circumstances” of the ... revolution had begun. In the old days there were certain generals – and probably are now – who considered that the most harmful thing for an army was war. Little better are those revolutionaries who complain that revolution destroys their doctrine.

Marxists are wholly in agreement with the anarchists in regard to the final goal: the liquidation of the state. Marxists are “state-ist” only to the extent that one cannot achieve the liquidation of the state simply by ignoring it. The experience of Stalinism does not refute the teaching of Marxism but confirms it by inversion. The revolutionary doctrine which teaches the proletariat to orient itself correctly in situations and to profit actively by them, contains of course no automatic guarantee of victory. But victory is possible only through the application of this doctrine. Moreover, the victory must not be though of as a single event. It must be considered in the perspective of an historical epoch. The workers’ state – on a lower economic basis and surrounded by imperialism – was transformed into the gendarmerie of Stalinism. But genuine Bolshevism launched a life and death struggle against the gendarmerie. To maintain itself Stalinism is now forced to conduct a direct civil war against Bolshevism under the name of “Trotskyism”, not only in the USSR but also in Spain. The old Bolshevik party is dead but Bolshevism is raising its head everywhere.

To deduce Stalinism form Bolshevism or from Marxism is the same as to deduce, in a larger sense, counter-revolution from revolution. Liberal-conservative and later reformist thinking has always been characterised by this cliche. Due to the class structure of society, revolutions have always produced counter-revolutions. Does not this indicate, asks the logician, that there is some inner flaw in the revolutionary method? However, neither the liberals nor reformists have succeeded, as yet, in inventing a more “economical” method. But if it is not easy to rationalise the living historic process, it is not at all difficult to give a rational interpretation of the alternation of its waves, and thus by pure logic to deduce Stalinism from “state socialism”, fascism from Marxism, reaction from revolution, in a word, the antithesis from the thesis. In this domain as in many others anarchist thought is the prisoner of liberal rationalism. Real revolutionary thinking is not possible without dialectics.

The Political “Sins” of Bolshevism as the Source of Stalinism
The arguments of the rationalists assume at times, at least in their outer form, a more concrete character. They do not deduce Stalinism from Bolshevism as a whole but from its political sins. the Bolsheviks – according to Gorter, Pannekoek, certain German “Spartacists” and others – replaced the dictatorship of the proletariat with the dictatorship of the party; Stalin replaced the dictatorship of the party with the dictatorship of the bureaucracy, the Bolsheviks destroyed all parties except their own; Stalin strangled the Bolshevik party in the interests of a Bonapartist clique. The Bolsheviks compromised with the bourgeoisie; Stalin became its ally and support. The Bolsheviks recognised the necessity of participation in the old trade unions and in the bourgeois parliament; Stalin made friends with the trade union bureaucracy and bourgeois democracy. One can make such comparisons at will. For all their apparent effectiveness they are entirely empty.

The proletariat can take power only through its vanguard. In itself the necessity for state power arises from the insufficient cultural level of the masses and their heterogeneity. In the revolutionary vanguard, organised in a party, is crystallised the aspiration of the masses to obtain their freedom. Without the confidence of the class in the vanguard, without support of the vanguard by the class, there can be no talk of the conquest of power. In this sense the proletarian revolution and dictatorship are the work of the whole class, but only under the leadership of the vanguard. The Soviets are the only organised form of the tie between the vanguard and the class. A revolutionary content can be given this form only by the party. This is proved by the positive experience of the October Revolution and by the negative experience of other countries (Germany, Austria, finally, Spain). No one has either shown in practice or tried to explain articulately on paper how the proletariat can seize power without the political leadership of a party that knows what it wants. the fact that this party subordinates the Soviets politically to its leaders has, in itself, abolished the Soviet system no more than the domination of the conservative majority has abolished the British parliamentary system.

As far as the prohibition of other Soviet parties is concerned, it did not flow from any “theory” of Bolshevism but was a measure of defence of the dictatorship on a backward and devastated country, surrounded by enemies on all sides. For the Bolsheviks it was clear from the beginning that this measure, later completed by the prohibition of factions inside the governing party itself, signalised a tremendous danger. However, the root of the danger lay not in the doctrine or the tactics but in the material weakness of the dictatorship, ion the difficulties of its internal and international situation. If the revolution had triumphed, even if only in Germany, the need of prohibiting the other Soviet parties would have immediately fallen away. It is absolutely indisputable that the domination of a single party served as the juridical point of departure for the Stalinist totalitarian regime. The reason for this development lies neither in Bolshevism nor in the prohibition of other parties as a temporary war measure, but in the number of defeats of the proletariat in Europe and Asia.

The same applies to the struggle with anarchism. In the heroic epoch of the revolution the Bolsheviks went hand in hand with genuinely revolutionary anarchists. Many of them were drawn into the ranks of the party. The author of these lines discussed with Lenin more then once the possibility of allotting the anarchists certain territories where, with the consent of the local population, they would carry out their stateless experiment. But civil war, blockade and hunger left no room for such plans. The Kronstadt insurrection? But the revolutionary government could naturally not “present” to the insurrectionary sailors the fortress which protected the capital only because the reactionary peasant-soldier rebellion was joined by a few doubtful anarchists. The concrete historical analysis of the events leaves not the slightest room for legends, built up on ignorance and sentimentality, concerning Kronstadt, Makhno and other episodes of the revolution.

There remains only the fact that the Bolsheviks from the beginning applied not only conviction but also compulsion, often to a most severe degree. It is also indisputable that later the bureaucracy which grew out of the revolution monopolised the system of compulsions in its own hands. Every stage of development, even such catastrophic stages as revolution and counter-revolution, flows from the preceding stage, is rooted in it and carries over some of its features. Liberals, including the Webbs, have always maintained that the Bolshevik dictatorship represented only a new edition of Tsarism. they close their eyes to such “details” as the abolition of the monarchy and the nobility, the handing over of the land to the peasants, the expropriation of capital, the introduction of the planned economy, atheist education, and so on. In exactly the same way liberal- anarchist thought closes its eyes to the fact that the Bolshevik revolution, with all its repressions, meant an upheaval of social relations in the interests of the masses, whereas Stalin’s Thermidorian upheaval accompanies the reconstruction of Soviet society in the interest of a privileged minority. It is clear that in the identification of Stalinism with Bolshevism there is not a trace of socialist criteria.

Questions of Theory
One of the most outstanding features of Bolshevism has been its severe, exacting, even quarrelsome attitude towards the question of doctrine. The 26 volumes of Lenin’s works will remain forever a model of the highest theoretical conscientiousness. Without this fundamental quality Bolshevism would never have fulfilled its historic role. In this regard Stalinism, coarse, ignorant and thoroughly empirical, is its complete opposite.

The Opposition declared more than 10 years ago in its programme: “Since Lenin’s death a whole set of new theories has been created, whose only purpose is to justify the Stalin group’s sliding off the path of the international proletarian revolution.” Only a few days ago an American writer, Liston M. Oak, who has participated in the Spanish revolution, wrote: “The Stalinists are in fact today the foremost revisionists of Marx and Lenin – Bernstein did not dare go half as far as Stalin in revising Marx.” This is absolutely true. One must add only that Bernstein actually felt certain theoretical needs: he tried conscientiously to establish a correspondence between the reformist practices of social democracy and its programme. The Stalinist bureaucracy, however, not only had nothing in common with Marxism but is in general foreign to any doctrine or system whatsoever. Its “ideology” is thoroughly permeated with police subjectivism, its practice is the empiricism of crude violence. In keeping with its essential interests the caste of usurpers is hostile to any theory: it can give an account of its social role neither to itself nor to anyone else. Stalin revises Marx and Lenin not with the theoreticians pen but with the heel of the GPU.

Questions of Morals
Complaints of the “immorality” of Bolshevism come particularly from those boastful nonentities whose cheap masks were torn away by Bolshevism. In petit-bourgeois, intellectual, democratic, “socialist”, literary, parliamentary and other circles, conventional values prevail, or a conventional language to cover their lack of values. This large and motley society for mutual protection – “live and let live” – cannot bear the touch of the Marxist lancet on its sensitive skin. The theoreticians, writers and moralists, hesitating between different camps, thought and continue to think that the Bolsheviks maliciously exaggerate differences, are incapable of “loyal” collaboration and by their “intrigues” disrupt the unity of the workers’ movement. Moreover, the sensitive and touchy centrist has always thought that the Bolsheviks were “calumniating” him – simply because they carried through to the end for him his half-developed thoughts: he himself was never able to. But the fact remains that only that precious quality, an uncompromising attitude towards all quibbling and evasion, can educate a revolutionary party which will not be taken unawares by “exceptional circumstances”.

The moral qualities of every party flow, in the last analysis, from the historical interests that it represents. the moral qualities of Bolshevism self-renunciation, disinterestedness, audacity and contempt for every kind of tinsel and falsehood – the highest qualities of human nature! – flow from revolutionary intransigence in the service of the oppressed. The Stalinist bureaucracy imitates also in this domain the words and gestures of Bolshevism. But when “intransigence” and “flexibility” are applied by a police apparatus in the service of a privileged minority they become a force of demoralisation and gangsterism. One can feel only contempt for these gentlemen who identify the revolutionary heroism of the Bolsheviks with the bureaucratic cynicism of the Thermidorians.

Even now, in spite of the dramatic events in the recent period, the average philistine prefers to believe that the struggle between Bolshevism (“Trotskyism”) and Stalinism concerns a clash of personal ambitions, or, at best, a conflict between two “shades ” of Bolshevism. The crudest expression of this opinion is given by Norman Thomas, leader of the American Socialist Party: “There is little reason to believe”. he writes (Socialist Review, September 1937, p.6), “that if Trotsky had won (!) instead of Stalin, there would be an end of intrigue, plots, and a reign of fear in Russia”. And this man considers himself ... a Marxist. One would have the same right to say: “There is little reason to believe that if instead of Pius XI, the Holy See were occupied by Norman I, the Catholic Church would have been transformed into a bulwark of socialism”. Thomas fails to understand that it is not a question of antagonism between Stalin and Trotsky, but of an antagonism between the bureaucracy and the proletariat. To be sure, the governing stratum of the USSR is forced even now to adapt itself to the still not wholly liquidated heritage of revolution, while preparing at the same time through direct civil war (bloody “purge” – mass annihilation of the discontented) a change of the social regime. But in Spain the Stalinist clique is already acting openly as a bulwark of the bourgeois order against socialism. The struggle against the Bonapartist bureaucracy is turning before our eyes into class struggle: two worlds, two programmes, two moralities. If Thomas thinks that the victory of the socialist proletariat over the infamous caste of oppressors would not politically and morally regenerate the Soviet regime, he proves only that for all his reservations, shufflings and pious sighs he is far nearer to the Stalinist bureaucracy than to the workers. Like other exposers of Bolshevik “immorality”, Thomas has simply not grown to the level of revolutionary morality.

The Traditions of Bolshevism and the Fourth International
The “lefts” who tried to skip Bolshevism in their return to Marxism generally confined themselves to isolated panaceas: boycott of parliament, creation of “genuine” Soviets. All this could still seem extremely profound in the heat of the first days after the war. But now, in the light of most recent experience, such “infantile diseases” have no longer even the interest of a curiosity. The Dutchmen Gorter and Pannekoek, the German “Spartakists”, the Italian Bordigists, showed their independence from Bolshevism only by artificially inflating one of its features and opposing it to the rest. But nothing has remained either in practice or in theory of these “left” tendencies: an indirect but important proof that Bolshevism is the only possible form of Marxism for this epoch.

The Bolshevik party has shown in action a combination of the highest revolutionary audacity and political realism. It established for the first time the correspondence between the vanguard and the class which alone is capable of securing victory. It has p roved by experience that the alliance between the proletariat and the oppressed masses of the rural and urban petit bourgeoisie is possible only through the political overthrow of the traditional petit-bourgeois parties. The Bolshevik party has shown the entire world how to carry out armed insurrection and the seizure of power. Those who propose the abstraction of the Soviets from the party dictatorship should understand that only thanks to the party dictatorship were the Soviets able to lift themselves out of the mud of reformism and attain the state form of the proletariat. The Bolshevik party achieved in the civil war the correct combination of military art and Marxist politics. Even if the Stalinist bureaucracy should succeed in destroying the economic foundations of the new society, the experience of planned economy under the leadership of the Bolshevik party will have entered history for all time as one of the greatest teachings of mankind. This can be ignored only by sectarians who, offended by the bruises they have received, turn their backs on the process of history.

But his is not all. The Bolshevik party was able to carry on its magnificent “practical” work only because it illuminated all its steps with theory. Bolshevism did not create this theory: it was furnished by Marxism. But Marxism is a theory of movement, not of stagnation. Only events on such a tremendous historical scale could enrich the theory itself. Bolshevism brought an invaluable contribution to Marxism in its analysis of the imperialist epoch as an epoch of wars and revolutions; of bourgeois democracy in the era of decaying capitalism; of the correlation between the general strike and the insurrection; of the role of the party, Soviets and trade unions in the period of proletarian revolution; in its theory of the Soviet state, of the economy of transition, of fascism and Bonapartism in the epoch of capitalist decline; finally in its analysis of the degeneration of the Bolshevik party itself and of the Soviet state. Let any other tendency be named that has added anything essential to the conclusions and generalisations of Bolshevism. Theoretically and politically Vandervilde, De Brouckere, Hilferding, Otto Bauer, Leon Blum, Zyromski, not to mention Major Attlee and Norman Thomas, live on the tattered leftovers of the past. The degeneration of the Comintern is most crudely expressed by the fact that it has dropped to the theoretical level of the Second International. All the varieties of intermediary groups (Independent Labour Party of Great Britain, POUM and their like) adapt every week new haphazard fragments of Marx and Lenin to their current needs. Workers can learn nothing from these people.

Only the founders of the Fourth International, who have made their own the whole tradition of Marx and Lenin, take a serious attitude towards theory. Philistines may jeer that 20 years after the October victory the revolutionaries are again thrown back to modest propagandist preparation. The big capitalists are, in this question as in many others, far more penetrating than the petit bourgeois who imagine themselves “socialists” or “communists”. It is no accident that the subject of the Fourth International does not leave the columns of the world press. The burning historical need for revolutionary leadership promises to the Fourth International an exceptionally rapid tempo of growth. The greatest guarantee of its further success lies in the fact that it has not arisen away from the great historical road, but has organically grown out of Bolshevism.

28 August 1937
by Joe Stalin
Here is that same picture above with Trotsky removed by Stalin's propagandists.
by Victor Serge
Contemporary anarchists have a tendency to conflate the Bolshevik regime in the civil war in the early 1920s under Lenin and Trotsky with Stalin’s bloody purges of the mid-1930s. Yet there is a qualitative difference between them, as Victor Serge, a former anarchist who personally witnessed the transformation described:

“In Russia the civil war and the encirclement created an atmosphere of mortal peril in which were dictated measures of public safety, sometimes terrible ones, but no less terrible for the party in power (alone in power because of the defection of certain dissidents) than for its adversaries in the ranks of the revolution. If the dictatorship of the proletariat refused the Mensheviks and the anarchists the right to sabotage, even with the best intentions, the defence of a commune threatened at every moment with the worst fate, it showed itself no less severe towards the deficiencies of the members, of the Communist party. It never refused the right of criticism to its dissidents, it never thought of refusing them the right to existence. It can, moreover, be asserted that if the Bolshevik party had declared at the beginning that it meant to build up a totalitarian régime excluding all freedom of opinion to the workers it would not have triumphed—the masses do not battle in order to go to prison; we know that, on the contrary, it announced the broadest labour democracy. On the morrow of the disarming of the anarchist Black Guards in Moscow (1918) the anarchist-syndicalist daily newspaper continued to appear; the anarchist-syndicalist publishing house of the Voice of Labour (Golos Truda) disappeared only in 1925 or 1926; at the same time, that is, after the victory of the bureaucratic reaction, there also disappeared the organ of the left-wing Social Revolutionaries, The Banner of Labour (Znamia Truda). The anarchist paper Pochin (The Beginning) and The Maximalist succumbed a little earlier. The Menshevik party had a daily newspaper in Moscow in 1919, Vperyod (Forward). Its fractions maintained themselves in the soviets until 1923. The year 1927 must first be reached, at the moment when the bureaucracy consummates its victory in the party by the expulsion of the Trotskyists, before one can hear Tomsky and Bukharin proclaim with a single voice: ‘Under the dictatorship of the proletariat, two, three or four parties may exist, but on the single condition that one of them is in power and the others in prison.’

“… [Leninists] cannot abandon the rigorous discipline of action without which no victory is possible, or the advantages of collective thought, any more than they can renounce imposing within the toiling class the will of the majority and, at certain turning points, the will of the vanguard upon that of the rearguard which is at once fearful, disabled, corrupted, and manoeuvred by the bourgeoisie. They also know that socialism cannot live and grow without living thought, that is, without freedom of opinion, divergences, criticism by the masses, active public opinion, contrast of ideas….On these points Stalinism has done immense damage to the working-class world, which the proletariat of the West alone can remedy. In theory and practice, the prison-state has nothing in common with the measures of public safety of the commune-state in the period of the battles: it is the work of the triumphant bureaucrats who, in order to impose their usurpation, are forced to break with the essential principles of socialism and to refuse the workers any freedom at all.”
—Russia Twenty Years After
by Lawrence Rockwood
It seems Steve's position is far more nuanced than at first glance. The Wiki on his Liberation News blog states the following. "While being in agreement with many Trotskyist-Leninist theories the group also agrees with Rosa Luxembourg's criticisms of Lenin and Trotsky on the question of the need to establish real workers democracy in a revolutionary socialist society." Such a statement addresses the concerns of us who worry about the "dark side" of the October Revolution. I wish Steve would stress this more, it would have prevented me in the past, for example, as casting his program as "authoriatian."
by Steven Argue
The following was my response to Socialist Party leader David McReynolds on the contradictions between Rosa Luxemburg and Lenin and Trotsky.

David McReynolds says, "Interesting to see the names of Dobbs and Cannon - good men, but totally out of the Trotskyist tradition. Not one with which Rosa would be comfortable, I suspect."

Rosa Luxemburg would be far more comfortable in a party with Dobbs and Cannon than in one with McReynolds. Both Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg broke from the 2nd Socialist International at nearly the same time for the same reasons. The Second International had betrayed Marxism and socialism and the Third International, inspired by the Russian Revolution, was being built to carry on that banner.

Roots of this split appeared in Eduard Bernstein’s “Evolutionary Socialism” (1898) and a series of articles in Neue Zeit, which rejected Marx's theories of class struggle and concluded that revolution was unnecessary.

Rosa Luxemburg responded in 1899 with “Reform or Revolution”, her defense of Marxism.

It opposed Bernstein's reformist theories. This was a hint of what was to come. Luxemburg was later forced to break from this SPD that had given up on revolution when it voted for war credits for German involvement in the First World War. She formed a powerful new revolutionary socialist party, the Spartacus League. She was later murdered by a capitalist SPD government. Bernstein was a member of that SPD government at the time it murdered Rosa Luxemburg. Her murder helped pave the way for Hitler's rise to power, and reformist SPD leaders like Bernstein were useless in the struggle to stop Hitler.

With some exceptions like Eugene Debs, Marx's revolutionary ideas were abandoned by the pro-imperialist and pro-capitalist social democrats of the Second International who supported their own bourgeoisies in the First World War. Likewise, Marxism was betrayed by the conservative, brutal, antidemocratic, and privilege seeking Stalinists in the USSR at the time of Lenin’s death. Despite the fact that those two tendencies continued to claim Marx, they had abandoned him on key questions. Legitimate Marxism, however, continued on through Rosa Luxemburg's analysis of the social democrats and Trotsky's analysis of the Stalinists and social democrats.

There is much common ground shared by Luxemburg and Trotsky. As a fellow communist and supporter of the Russian Revolution, Rosa Luxemburg did make criticisms of the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky.

Here is her work on The Russian Revolution:

Rosa Luxemburg
The Russian Revolution

Of that work, I don't agree with her criticisms of the USSR on the land question nor do I agree with most of what she says in her criticisms of Lenin on the national question. On the questions of suffrage and dictatorship she makes many very good points that I generally agree with, but I do think she makes a big mistake in not seeing those questions within the context of the invasion of 16 imperialist armies and a massive bloody civil war.

On the question of land reform, the Bolshevik's breaking up of feudal estates for peasant ownership was a good way of doing things. Keeping estates together and forming peasant’s cooperatives, as Luxemburg advocated, may sometimes be more efficient, but this all depends on what the peasants want and there is no hard fast way of doing things. Lenin, Trotsky, and Luxemburg all had reasonable ways of looking at this question. Stalin, however, after carrying out a political counter-revolution against the Bolsheviks, carried out a brutal forced re-collectivization. Peasants resisted through sabotage and Stalin carried out mass murder. It was a total disaster and a good example of how not do things.

On the national question, Rosa Luxemburg saw Lenin's policy on the right of nations to self-determination to be a mistake, to be a ready made formula for imperialist intervention against the Russian Revolution. Lenin, on the other hand, saw the Russian Empire under the Czar as a prison house of nations and sought a voluntary association of those nations after the revolution to form the USSR. That voluntary association included the formation of republics that made up the USSR. Within each of those republics languages and cultures that were once outlawed became legal and formerly oppressed languages became the official languages. After Stalin’s political counter-revolution much of this remained, but some republics were abolished and there were some other pretty big abuses. Stalin’s elimination of the Ossetian Republic and dividing its lands between Georgia and Russia was one example of this. But for the most part the republics remained and the Soviet planned economy helped give favored status to the historically poorest republics, helping them to grow faster economically.

Here is Lenin’s work on the subject:

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin
The Right of Nations to Self-Determination

On workers democracy, I agree with Rosa Luxemburg in seeing that workers democracy must include universal suffrage, the right to freely form parties as long as they don’t take up arms against the revolution, and freedom of the press. The monopoly of information by capitalists through the corporate media must, of course, be abolished as corporate ownership of everything else is abolished, but this must not lead to a one party media. Subsidies and equipment will need to be provided to various different media outlets with differing ideologies as well as differing languages.

As I mentioned earlier, however, the fact that 16 imperialist armies had invaded, encircling the country and blockading it while the likes of the White Army were murdering hundreds of thousands of Jews and destroying the economy made Luxemburg’s type of democratic program a bit difficult, if not impossible, at that time. For instance, all of the other political parties had joined the White Army and taken up arms against the revolution. Even many anarchists who had stayed outside of the Communist Party (a good number of anarchists joined the Bolsheviks during the revolution), but many of those who stayed outside fought against the revolution under the slogan “soviets without Jews or Bolsheviks". Most of the best communists and workers died fighting. In my opinion, it may have been possible for the Bolsheviks to do better, but it was not possible to have the full workers democracy advocated by Luxemburg under those conditions of war and economic blockade. Had the White Army taken power the remaining communists, their supporters, and Jews would have all been slaughtered.

Yet, I think it is essential to see that the necessities of war communism were not a good long-term model. Had Stalin not carried out a political counter-revolution I think workers’ democracy more in league with what Luxemburg advocated could have developed as the USSR recovered from war. Stalin, however, took power for a corrupt layer of bureaucrats, a layer that developed under conditions of war and economic destruction, a layer who were more conservative in their political thinking. This layer, under Stalin, exterminated all of the leading communists, except Alexandra Kollantai, and millions of others in order to consolidate their privileges and rule in a bloody political counter revolution. To maintain this type of corrupt “communist” rule they never opened the USSR back up to workers democracy.

Workers democracy was established in the USSR in 1917-1918, but it didn’t last due to imperialist invasions, civil war, economic blockade, and Stalinist political counter-revolution. So it is within this context, one where Lenin and Trotsky’s program was overthrown and workers' democracy was never fully implemented that I say Rosa Luxemburg also has a valuable contribution to make on the question of the Russian Revolution and workers’ democracy in general. Universal suffrage, the right to freely form parties as long as they don’t take up arms against the revolution or accept money from foreign imperialists, and true freedom of the press without corporate ownership or foreign imperialist funding are essential components of a truly communist society with workers democracy.

Workers democracy is counterpoised to bourgeois democracy under capitalism as well. In the fight for workers democracy we call for an end to the dictatorial power of the wealthy through the nationalization of major industries and for the establishment of a planned economy run to meet human and environmental needs. This socialist society will only come about through the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist state, comprised at its heart of the existing police, armies, courts, and prisons. Our new society must be established within the framework of full democratic freedoms and multi-party proportional democracy. To be truly democratic, as opposed to under capitalism, all parties running in elections will be legally guaranteed equal time in the media, big campaign spending will be outlawed, the 1965 Voting Rights Act will be enforced, and electronic voting machines (which are presently used to rig American elections) will be eliminated.
by Steven Argue
Rosa Luxemburg creiticisms of the Russian Revolution led by Lenin and Trotsky were, however, criticisms by a supporter of the Russian Revolution. Luxemburg stated:

That the Bolsheviks have based their policy entirely upon the world proletarian revolution is the clearest proof of their political farsightedness and firmness of principle and of the bold scope of their policies.”

She also said:

“The party of Lenin was the only one which grasped the mandate and duty of a truly revolutionary party and which, by the slogan—‘All power in the hands of the proletariat and peasantry’—insured the continued development of the revolution....

“Moreover, the Bolsheviks immediately set as the aim of this seizure of power a complete, far-reaching revolutionary program: not the safeguarding of bourgeois democracy, but a dictatorship of the proletariat for the purpose of realizing socialism. Thereby they won for themselves the imperishable historic distinction of having for the first time proclaimed the final aim of socialism as the direct program of practical politics."
by Russian Revolution
November 23d, 1917 Decree On the Nationalization of the Banks!

In the interest of the regular organisation of the national economy, of the thorough eradication of bank speculation and the complete emancipation of the workers, peasants, and the whole labouring population from the exploitation of banking capital, and with a view to the establishment of a single national bank of the Russian Republic which shall serve the real interests of the people and the poorer classes, the Central Executive Committee (Tsay-ee-kah) resolves:
1. The banking business is declared a state monopoly.

2. All existing private joint-stock banks and banking offices are merged in the State Bank.

3. The assets and liabilities of the liquidated establishments are taken over by the State Bank.

4. The order of the merger of private banks in the State Bank is to be determined by a special decree.

5. The temporary administration of the affairs of the private banks is entrusted to the board of the State Bank.

6. The interests of the small depositors will be safeguarded.
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