Introduction to The Fate of the Russian Revolution volume 1.
- Contents of the Introduction
- 1. Constructing the socialist order
- 2. Bolshevism at bay: Trotsky on the USSR
- 3. The "Locum" and Totalitarian Economism
- 4. The neo-Trotskyists and Stalinist expansion
- 5. Max Shachtman and James P Cannon; 6. Trotsky and the future of socialism
"Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past". Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire.
"Social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which mislead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice, and in the comprehension of this practice". Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, VIII.
Human beings make their own history, but not as they themselves will it; nor do they work in conditions which they can at will control. People follow one intention, holding to one interpretation of their situation and its possibilities, and the result is often not at all what they intended or would have chosen. Sometimes it is the opposite of what was intended and would have been chosen. Other wills, other intentions, and other interests are at work too, in unforeseen and unknown ways. Afterwards, we do not always easily understand what has happened, or why. Sometimes we radically misunderstand. So it was with the Bolshevik Revolution.
Early in 1917, the workers, soldiers and peasants of Russia rose in revolt and destroyed the autocratic Tsarist monarchy. They organised themselves in democratic councils (soviets). On 25 October 1917, according to the Russian calendar in use at that time (7 November our style) the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet - under the leadership of Leon Trotsky, chair of the Petrograd Soviet - organised an insurrection in Petrograd (St Petersburg) and overthrew the unelected Provisional Government.
At the All-Russian Congress of Soviets which opened in Petrograd that same day, 25 October, a clear majority supported the rising. In place of the bourgeois Provisional Government, the Congress set up a soviet government: the rule of workers' councils. The political leadership of the soviets was in the hands of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (Bolsheviks), at whose head stood Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and Leon Trotsky.
The Bolsheviks were Marxists. They understood the working-class conquest of state power in Russia to be the first step in an international working-class movement to build a new society, free from the exploitation of human being by human being. "We will now proceed to construct the socialist order", said Lenin to the Congress of Soviets on 25 October 1917.
What order? The socialist order. But in the event Lenin was not to build "the socialist order" or even the foundations for it. The Bolsheviks would suffer total defeat. Not socialism, but Stalinist totalitarianism would arise in the USSR, on the grave of Bolshevism. The Bolshevik defeat, and the unexpected forms it took, would disrupt Marxism and disorientate the left wing of the world labour movement for the rest of the 20th century. That was not the Bolsheviks' fault, but it was - and is - the abiding consequence of their revolution. What happened to the Russian Revolution?
What happened to the socialists who, holding to the Revolution's original ideas, and fighting the Stalinist counter-revolution, tried to make sense of its degeneration and defeat? What happened to the ideas and perspectives of Marxian socialism in the era of Stalinism, in the flux and friction of subsequent social and political life? What was the relationship of the "October ideas" to the Russian Stalinist society that existed from the late 1920s to the early 1990s? These questions are the subject of this book and another to follow.
II: The Bolshevik programme
"Whatever a party could offer of courage, revolutionary far-sightedness and consistency in a historic hour, Lenin, Trotsky and the other comrades have given in good measure. All the revolutionary fervour and capacity which western Social Democracy lacked were represented by the Bolsheviks. Their October uprising was not only the actual salvation of the Russian Revolution, it was also the salvation of the honour of international socialism." Rosa Luxemburg.
Socialism in 1917 had a different meaning from that it has had for most of the last 80 years. Socialism and democracy were understood to be each an essential part, one and the other, inseparable dimensions of one indivisible movement - "social democracy" - for working-class emancipation from wage slavery and from social, economic and political rule by the capitalist class. "Social democracy" aimed to replace capitalist exploitation of wage labour by a "co-operative commonwealth", in a Workers' Republic. Lenin and Trotsky defined the nature of the regime they erected on the victory of the soviet insurrection of 25 October as the dictatorship of the proletariat, of the wage-working class. They defined Britain, France, the USA, Switzerland and the other parliamentary democracies of that time as dictatorships of the bourgeoisie. They understood the dictatorship of the proletariat as they understood the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie - the rule of a class which "dictated" political and social terms of existence to the other classes.
The "dictatorship of the proletariat" was not the dictatorship of a party, or of an individual, but of a class. The soviets, not the Bolshevik party, took state power on 25 October - though without the Bolshevik Party the soviets could not have taken power and consolidated it. It was in the name of the soviets and through the soviets, which gave unimpeachable democratic legitimacy to the October insurrection, that the Bolshevik party rose to power. The "dictatorship of the proletariat" was mass democracy, dictating to the defenders of the old order. It dealt ruthlessly with the resistance of the old exploiting rulers and their supporters. All the often-quoted ferocities proclaimed and enacted by the Bolsheviks concerned the struggle to win power and hold it against armed and mass-murdering opponents; all the talk of dictatorship was about the dictatorship of a class organised democratically for mass action in the soviets, and of a party only as representative of that class. The "dictatorship of the proletariat" - the rule of the workers - would, as the Bolsheviks understood it, define a whole epoch of history, just as had the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Repressive rule - even repression of the old social masters and their supporters by the majority of the people - would be a more or less short-term and transitory beginning of this epoch. Its conclusion would see the end of force and coercion in human affairs.
The Bolsheviks believed, with Marx, not only that "The emancipation of the working class is also the emancipation of all human beings without distinction of race or sex", but also, and fundamentally, that "The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves".
The rule of a class, the proletariat, which was itself in Russia a minority, had inescapably undemocratic implications if it was to be imposed against the will of the peasant majority. The new government had the support of the masses of the peasantry and would keep it, even against the peasant parties, until the end of the civil war (1918 to November 1920). The first Bolshevik-led government was (until July 1918) a coalition with the Left Socialist-Revolutionary party, which shortly after October 25 gained a majority in the Congress of Peasant Soviets. The Bolsheviks did not envisage long-term rule by a minority class in an isolated Russia.
The idea of party rule as against soviet rule, or of soviet rule being one-party rule in perpetuity, lay far in the future, at the other side of the civil war. In the form in which it is best known to us, "one-party rule" lay at the other side of Stalin's counter-revolution - the one-sided civil war of the bureaucracy to subjugate the disarmed people. That counter-revolution left intact nothing of "October" except the emptied and stolen names of the soviets, Bolshevik Party, working-class rule and Russian labour movement.
If in 1917 the Bolsheviks were dismissive and contemptuous of parliamentary ("bourgeois") democracy, as indeed they were, it was because they wanted much more than a one-dimensional political democracy. They wanted "social democracy" - the real day-to-day self-rule throughout society of the mass of the people. Democracy as both its friends and enemies had understood it up until about 1850 - rule of the majority, by the majority, in the direct material, cultural and spiritual interests of the working majority.
They said they would establish a state power "of the Paris Commune type". In Paris in 1871, 46 years earlier, the Paris City Council - "the Commune" - had seized power in the city and held it for nine weeks before the Parisian workers were defeated and massacred in their tens of thousands, or deported to tropical prison islands. They had ruled directly, without a bureaucracy or a standing army, that is, without a bureaucratic state machine raised above the people. "The Commune was formed of the municipal councillors, chosen by universal suffrage in the various wards of the town, responsible and revocable at short terms. The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary body, executive and legislative at the same time. From the members of the Commune downwards, the public service had to be done at workmen's wages. The whole of the educational institutions were opened to the people gratis, and at the same time cleared of all interference of Church and State". (Marx)
In Russia, after the overthrow of the Tsar in February 1917, the soviets developed a pyramid of factory, district, city and all-Russian representative gatherings. Delegates could be recalled and replaced, easily and repeatedly. This was the framework of "a state of the Paris Commune type" - a uniquely flexible and responsive system of democratic self-organisation and, increasingly, of self-rule by the Russian workers and peasants. The Soviet-Bolshevik seizure of power on 25 October had put the stamp of security on it.
When the Bolsheviks and the soviets set up the dictatorship of the proletariat in 1917, they acted in the name of democracy, and indeed of a higher and more profound form of democracy than what goes under that name in Western Europe, the USA and other places now - not of "dictatorship" understood as anybody's tyranny over the people. The "dictatorship of the proletariat", fearsome and replete with quite different meanings though it sounds to our ears after its appropriation and misuse by the Stalinist dictators, was, to its proponents in 1917, the democratic self-rule of the working people. Not until later would the terminology of Lenin and Trotsky, used by others, take on the commonplace meanings it has now. Most of the other key words in the lexicon of the Russian Revolution, of Marxism, and of the left would also by the mid-twentieth century have been given other meanings.
Nor did Lenin's conception of "the socialist order" involve the wholesale seizure by the workers' state of all economic assets, a "command economy", or a forced march for economic development to "catch up with" the advanced countries. Their ideas here were fundamentally those of Karl Marx in the Communist Manifesto. The working class, having "won the battle of democracy", would rule in its own and the working farmers' interests, using the state to regulate and control the "commanding heights" (Lenin) of the society and economy.
The Bolshevik government did not immediately intend to nationalise even large-scale industry. They favoured and helped create "workers' control" - that is, dual power between workers and owners in the factories. In 1918 the workers drove out the factory-owners and imposed on the government a decision to nationalise, that is, eliminate the capitalists.
** III: The preconditions for socialism
"The working class did not expect miracles from the Commune. They have no ready-made utopias to introduce par décret du peuple. They know that in order to work out their own emancipation, and along with it that higher form to which present society is irresistibly tending by its economical agencies, they have to pass through long struggles, through a series of historical processes, transforming circumstances and men. They have no ideals to realise, but to set free the elements of the new society with which old collapsing bourgeois society is pregnant". Karl Marx.
Though the Bolsheviks knew and proved in practice that the working class could take power, they did not believe that socialism could be created in backwardness and underdevelopment such as that which prevailed in the old Empire of the Tsars. The Russian economy in 1917 had not developed even the minimum preconditions for socialism. They believed, with Marx, that socialism had to be built on the foundations, structures, and social potentialities that the most advanced capitalism had created. Why?
In all previous human history, ruling classes, embodying advanced culture and knowledge of social organisation and administration, had owned and administered the economy, society and the state. They had taken for themselves abundance, luxury and extravagance at the expense of the mass of the people, who were held as slaves, serfs or wage workers. To provide "surplus product" for the rulers, the subordinate classes had had their consumption rationed and restricted, their lives cramped and curtailed, their economic, social and political freedom limited to what was compatible with rule by the dominant classes in their own interests. They had been forced to work in conditions and under rules dictated to them by the master classes.
Capitalism, for the first time in history, had made possible an end to exploitative class rule by creating a society able to produce the means of life in such abundance that everybody could be guaranteed an adequate minimum. In part capitalism had even realised it. With the tremendous powers of social productivity unleashed by international capitalism, "the last form of class society", humankind had arrived at a point where it could cut the roots - low productivity of labour and scarcity - from which social division and re-division into classes, into rulers and ruled, exploiters and exploited, had sprung throughout human history. For the first time ever it had become possible for everyone to have comfort, culture and leisure, and thus for humankind to create a society free of the cannibal curse of exploitation - a classless society. The wage-working class, the proletariat, which found no class lower than itself in the social hierarchy and which did not and could not exploit any other class, could take power and begin to reorganise society on a classless basis of democratic self-rule.
Without the possibilities of producing plenty created by international capitalism, socialism would have remained a utopia - impossible. With them, socialism became a rational and realistic project for the reorganisation of human society - to realise the potential which capitalism, its creator, stifles, and thus allow humankind to move to a higher level.
"Marxism sets out from the development of technique as the fundamental spring of progress, and constructs the communist program upon the dynamic of the productive forces& Marxism is saturated with the optimism of progress... The material premise of communism should be so high a development of the economic powers of man that productive labour, having ceased to be a burden, will not require any goad, and the distribution of life's goods, existing in continual abundance, will not demand - as it does not now in any well-off family or decent' boardinghouse - any control except that of education, habit and social opinion. Speaking frankly, I think it would be pretty dull-witted to consider such a really modest perspective utopian'. Capitalism prepared the conditions and forces for a social revolution: technique, science and the proletariat." [Trotsky: Revolution Betrayed].
Like the modern proletariat that would create it, socialism was necessarily and inescapably the historical child of advanced capitalism. This meant that to Lenin, Trotsky, the Bolshevik party, and the Bolshevik-educated workers who made the revolution, socialism was simply not possible in 1917 Russia. If the workers' revolution in Russia were not part of an international revolution, it would not be a socialist revolution.
The Russian working class was a comparatively small minority in a vast land inhabited by peasants scarcely two generations out of serfdom. The country was one hundred and more years behind advanced Europe. Circumstances and superb leadership had allowed the revolutionary workers to seize power; but only the spread of the revolution to advanced Europe would allow them to build socialism. The Bolsheviks would have dismissed as impossible and ridiculous the idea that the Russian workers, having seized power, would or could then begin to construct, in parallel to capitalism, and in competition with it, a closed-off society on socialist principles. They understood that in those conditions socialist principles could not for long govern society. Out of economic, social and cultural backwardness would unavoidably come a re-growth of class divisions. That, they believed, in Russian conditions, could only be the triumph of the bourgeoisie and capitalism: they were, as we shall see, radically mistaken in this.
The Bolsheviks seized state power, but they understood that there were proper limits to the use of the surgical and engineering power of the state - that is, of force - in relation to society and the people making it up. Their "reshaping reason", armed with the state power, was limited objectively by the level of the economy and social culture. It could only reorganise, modify, and set lines of development. Society could not be reduced to a tabula rasa, a blank slate on which anything could be written. It could not at will be recreated from the ground up. Society could not be taken by storm, like political power, but only transformed over time. The immense concentration of state power characteristic of Stalinism - and the use Stalinists made of it, from Stalin's forced collectivisation through China's Great Leap Forward to the Khmer Rouge - would have seemed to those who formed the government in October 1917 to be a throwback to Pharaoh's Egypt or pre-Spanish Inca Peru.
They would have branded the programme the Stalinist bureaucrats propounded in October 1924, building "socialism in one country", as a regression from Marxism to the utopian socialism of 70 or 80 years previously - to the socialism of Robert Owen and Etienne Cabet. Following imaginary maps of history, as far from social reality as was the chart which guided Christopher Columbus, so he thought, to the Indies, from the real geography of the Earth, Owen and Cabet had built doomed primitive-socialist colonies in the backwoods of America, thinking to prove the superiority of this "socialism" in competition with capitalism. That conception of socialism had been vanquished by Marx and Engels on the level of ideas, and bypassed by history, which had generated a tremendous development of capitalism, and of the proletariat and its labour movement within capitalism. Marx had established the all-defining nexus between capitalism, the proletariat it creates, and socialism; the development of socialist labour movements had, Marx's followers believed, shown capitalism's proletariat to be the agency of socialism. Capitalism which created the social
conditions for its own replacement - an economy capable of providing abundance, and production increasingly socialised through big firms - also created its own gravedigger, the proletariat, which would break the power of the capitalist class, and take over and develop the progressive potential of the means of production created by capitalism.
By the middle of the 20th century, under the impact of Stalinism, the predominant form of "actually existing socialism" - and, extrapolated from that, the predominant idea of what socialism was - would have turned all this on its head. Socialism? State-imposed forced marches in economically backward countries for the industrial growth and development which in history and Marxist theory alike was the work of the bourgeoisie and of the bourgeois epoch. In this "socialism", an authoritarian or totalitarian state held the proletariat and the whole people in an iron grip of terror and exploitation. The model, supposedly rooted in the Russian Revolution, had nothing to do with the Bolshevik policy of 1917. It was the policy of those who drowned the Bolshevik revolution in blood, stole its identity and its symbols, and buried it in a falsely marked grave.
Before the rise of Stalin's USSR, no Marxist could have put forward such a policy as "socialism" for a backward country without inwardly hearing the voice of the founders of Marxism insisting that in such conditions, no matter what the rulers' intentions were, "all the old crap" (as Karl Marx once forcefully put it) of class society would inevitably return - in the first place, class differentiation and class exploitation. Classes cannot be abolished by decree, or merely because millions of people want their abolition. Classes cannot be abolished unless society has reached the stage where enough is produced for everyone to live comfortably, and therefore can dispense with the class structures which human history so far has found indispensible to the development of economy and culture.
If in 1917 Lenin knew all this, then what sense did his proclamation "We will now proceed to construct the socialist order" make? Lenin did not think he was making, and was not trying to make, in any purely Russian sense. He believed the Russian workers were but the advance-guard for the German and west European workers. "The absolute truth", he declared on 7 March 1918, "is that without a revolution in Germany, we shall perish". On 1 October 1918 he wrote to Trotsky and Sverdlov (the organiser of the Bolshevik Party): "We are all ready to die to help the German workers advance the revolution which has begun in Germany". Again, on 5 July 1921, he explained: "It was clear to us that without aid from the international world revolution, a victory of the proletarian revolution is impossible. Even prior to the revolution, as well as after it, we thought that the revolution would also occur either immediately or at least very soon in other backward countries and in the more highly developed capitalist countries, otherwise we would perish. Notwithstanding this conviction, we did our utmost to preserve the soviet system under any circumstances and at all costs, because we know that we are working not only for ourselves, but also for the international revolution".
Lenin believed that only in unity with the workers of the advanced countries, which were ripe for socialism, could the Russian workers begin to "construct the socialist order".
The Russian October revolution could win its proclaimed goals and survive only as part of an international working-class revolution. All its socialist and Marxist legitimacy, its right to be seen in the Marxist tradition and not in that of the utopian socialists or the Russian populists, depended on its connection with that international revolution.
** IV: The isolation of the revolution
"United action of the leading civilised countries, at least, is one of the first conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat". Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto.
The revolution which the Bolsheviks had expected did erupt in Europe, beginning with Germany in November 1918. Soviets appeared all across central Europe, and even as far from Russia as rural Ireland. In 1919 Soviet regimes ruled for a few weeks in Bavaria and Hungary, before being crushed by bourgeois forces.
In Germany the workers' revolution threw out the Kaiser and set up a democratic republic. Before 1914 the creation of such a republic would have had a tremendous revolutionary democratic significance; now it was used as the platform for the bourgeois counter-revolution against the German working class. The social democratic leaders of the German workers had become "Kaiser socialists" in 1914. In 1918-19, though they failed to save the Kaiser, they saved German capitalism. Controlling the German soviets, they stifled them, slaughtering revolutionaries like Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. The Weimar republic enshrined the rights of bourgeois property in its constitution. It was fundamentally unstable; Hitler was 14 years in the future.
In Austria it was the same. By the end of 1919, post-war bourgeois Europe had weathered the storm unleashed in 1914. Bourgeois control was re-established. The strength of the capitalists in some countries, and the strength and loyalty of their "labour lieutenants" in others, preserved capitalism and isolated the Russian revolution. Like the lone first soldier over the parapet into the enemy fortress who finds that no-one else has got through, the Bolshevik revolution was doomed. A gap between Bolshevik intentions and expectations on one side, and uncontrollable reality on the other, opened wide under the feet of Lenin's regime, shook it out of recognisable shape, and then pulled it down.
Other wills, other intentions, other interests, other strivings, had cut across, and would ultimately nullify, the Bolsheviks' will, their hopes, their programme. Alongside Bolshevism, international socialism would go down too, and for the rest of the 20th century.
The Bolsheviks, who had will and determination in greater than common measure, did not submit passively to their fate. Though they had had great, and, as it turned out, false hopes, they had never believed that the bourgeoisie would fall like a stone tumbling into an abyss. It would have to be cut down in battle - prolonged battle, so it now seemed. They believed that the World War had radically dislocated the world economy. Capitalism had achieved no more than a temporary stability in 1920-21. The objective necessity and the possibility of a world socialist revolution remained. The difficulty, the weakness lay in the "subjective factor", in the state of the labour movements. The victorious Russian revolutionaries set out to build on the achievements of the International Socialist conferences at Zimmerwald and Kiental in 1915 and 1916, of which they had been part. A new workers' International - Lenin had called for it in 1914, when the old International collapsed at the outbreak of war - was set up in Moscow in March 1919.
** V: The civil war regime
"It would be a crazy idea to think that every last thing done or left undone in an experiment with the dictatorship of the proletariat under such abnormal conditions represented the very pinnacle of perfection& nothing can be further from [Lenin's and Trotsky's] thoughts than to believe that all the things they have done or left undone under the conditions of bitter compulsion and necessity in the midst of the rushing whirlpool of events, should be recorded by the International as a shining example of socialist policy." Rosa Luxemburg.
Full-scale Russian civil war erupted in mid-1918. It would last for two and a half years. The Reds successfully contested with the counter-revolutionary "Whites" for the allegiance of the peasants in the countryside. Looking back at the revolution through the opaque, bloodily-smeared lens of the Stalinist regime, later commentators have imagined a tyrannical and bureaucratic "Stalinist" state machine inexorably working its tank-like power against the people in a drive to create a totalitarian state. Later in the century, Stalinist armies and parties calling themselves "communist" would do that, taking power as already-mighty military-bureaucratic machines, in Yugoslavia and China for example. That is not what happened in Russia! To see the civil war that way is to read backwards into past history things that did not and could not exist then; it is to mix up the pages of two different calendars, that of the workers' revolution and that of the Stalinist counter-revolution.
The party that led the revolution was working-class, unruly, argumentative, and democratic. As late as 1918 its central administration had a staff of no more than a dozen, for a party with hundreds of thousands of members. Bolshevik party centralism did not produce the authoritarian state; it was the exigencies of civil war and invasion that made the Bolsheviks develop a strong centralised party machine in the same process that produced the authoritarian state.
In October 1917, the working-class soviets firmly controlled only the cities and the major towns. In July 1918 their erstwhile partners in government, the Left SRs, killed the German ambassador in Moscow and attempted an armed uprising because they could not agree to accept peace with Germany on terms dictated from strength by the Kaiser. In September 1918 the Right SRs staged an uprising. They shot and wounded Lenin, and killed other Bolshevik leaders. In order to create the state that existed by 1921, at the end of the civil war, the soviets and their Bolshevik leaders had to win the leadership and support of the mass of the people, the peasantry, in a fierce, free competition of ideas, leadership and arms with their bourgeois-landlord opponents. These were led by Tsarist generals like Kolchak, Denikin, and Wrangel and supported by liberals and some of the anti-Bolshevik socialists. No fewer than 14 states intervened to subvert the workers' republic. The workers and peasants chose soviet power, and fought to consolidate it against the bourgeoisie and the landlords.If the urban soviets and the Bolshevik workers' party had not first won the competition for the minds and assent of the rural people, they would never have won the armed contest with the White armies and their foreign allies. The Bolshevik-led Soviets would have been crushed and the workers massacred, as the workers of Paris were massacred in May 1871.
In the course of the civil war much changed. This is our central concern here because from it international socialism would be radically reshaped and redefined. Not their ideas and intentions of 1917, but the exigencies of the civil war and the wars of intervention determined what the Bolsheviks did. Their democratic-socialist, soviet-socialist programme was subverted and overridden. So, ultimately, was the socialism of those who rallied to their call for a new working-class international.
Civil war wreaked great destruction, pushing Russia backwards even from the level of 1917 and what had seemed possible in 1917. The working class itself was scattered, massacred, absorbed into the machinery of state or otherwise depleted. Much of industry seized up. Self-defence imposed on the revolutionary workers the need to staff the new immense army and the state machine. Society and industry were subordinated to their struggle to survive and prevail. In the civil war the Bolsheviks felt obliged to suppress, insofar as they could, the operation of markets, and to substitute a barracks communism of backwardness, in which the produce of the peasants was simply seized in order to feed the towns and the armies. This was "war communism". A vast bureaucratic administration of society grew up. Layers of the old bureaucracy, and even of the old military bureaucrats, the officers, had to be utilised. At first they were strictly under the control of the workers' party. But soon Stalin would bring the party apparatus under the control of the state bureaucracy.
The soviets too, the organs of popular self-rule, were subverted by the civil war. Many of the Menshevik and Social-Revolutionary participants in the 1917 soviets - the bourgeois-democratic opposition to the Bolshevik-led majority in the days of the October Revolution - actively or passively supported the anti-soviet armies fighting the Bolshevik government, and therefore left the soviets or were driven out. The soviets, like so much of society, had their life and vitality drained out of them and into the work of the army and of organising a state which administered backwardness and, now, chaos and economic regression.
Very soon, the Russian workers had not a state of the Paris Commune type, free, easy-going self-administration, with minimal bureaucracy, but a heavily bureaucratised state, increasingly modelled on and intertwined with the command structures inseparable from the sort of army they felt obliged to create.
Yet the Bolshevik regime kept its popular support. It could not have survived without it. Throughout the civil war the peasants continued to support the revolutionary government - not without dissatisfaction, bitterness and episodes of militant resistance, to be sure - in the interests of winning the war against the White and foreign armies whose victory would have brought back the landowners to lord it over them once more. They supported the "Bolsheviks" who gave them the land while disliking the armed "Communists" who requisitioned their grain (the RSDLP Bolshevik Party had changed its name to "Communist Party" in 1918).
** VI: The post-civil-war regime
Thus, in the process of fighting to survive and prevail, the workers' state had ceased to be what it was in 1917. It was now a workers' state because it was ruled by a workers' party acting as stand-in, watchman, gatekeeper, or "locum" for the proletariat. The locum party ruled in the interests and in the name of the working class - in a backward country,
where the working class was a small minority. Judged by the Bolshevik programme, the civil-war regime was already a degenerated workers' state. At the 10th congress of the Communist Party, in early 1921, Lenin himself called it a "workers' state with bureaucratic deformations". He said that in the course of championing free trade unions: the workers, he believed, would have to fight the workers' state and resist its giant pressure. 18 months later, the dying Lenin used a striking metaphor for the situation of the Bolshevik Party at the head of this state: it was, he said, like driving a car in which the wheels did not respond to the steering mechanism. Lenin did not live to analyse it, but this was because an increasingly dominant section of the party had fused with the state bureaucracy. What were the Bolsheviks to do? They undertook now not to "construct the socialist order", but to survive in power as locum for the working class. The ruling party would defend and serve the working class and develop the backward territory over which they ruled until socialist revolution in the West would to come to their aid. The fate of the defeated Communards of 1871, the massacres of communist workers in Germany and Hungary and Finland (where maybe a quarter of the entire working class was killed), and the massacres of workers and peasants and the anti-semitic pogroms unleashed by their own opponents during the civil war - in the Ukraine, especially, a terrible slaughter of Jews was unleashed by the White armies - kept the Bolsheviks in mind of the alternative. The idea that there could be a locum for the working class was a rational if problematic response to adverse circumstances. The "locum" would grow and develop, rationalised by the idea that wholly nationalised property, after the old rulers had been overthrown, was necessarily working class, until it dominated what passed for Communism and revolutionary socialism during the rest of the 20th century. The locum could, it would be discovered by Trotsky and others, itself have a locum. If the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky after the civil war could be a locum for the working class, Stalin, defending nationalised property after he had buried the Bolshevik Party, could be the locum of the locum. The idea would over the next decades stretch to encompass a wide variety of locums allegedly developing "socialism" in countries other than Russia, where no working-class revolution had occurred. The Bolsheviks never thought that Russia could be socialist on its own. Now something new and other than socialism began to develop in the workers' state - a result not of Bolshevik intentions or the socialist programme, but of backwardness, continued isolation, the exigencies of the long series of wars and the struggle against economic and cultural poverty. In 1921, three and a half years after the October revolution, a "New Economic Policy" (NEP) put paid to war communism. Markets were restored, in which narrow self-interest and the drive for the accumulation of wealth would motivate farmers and merchants, under the ultimate control of the workers' state, which, as Lenin put it, would hold "the commanding heights" of the economy for the working class. Socialism and communism would have been better; but in Russian poverty this market was better than the primitive communism of the civil-war economy. Essentially this was a limited bourgeois counter-revolution, but regulated by the workers' state and subjected to its purposes. To control the transition from war communism and to help hold on amidst devastation and war-weariness, the government banned even those parties such as Julius Martov's Menshevik Internationalists who had never risen against the Soviet government or supported those who had. Soviet government now became in fact what it had so far not been either in fact or in theory - an institutionalised one-party monopoly. Theory would catch up. As a logical and necessary corollary of the ban on every other political party, the Tenth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (March 1921) banned factions within the ruling party's own ranks. This was a radical departure. In the course of 1917 and the civil war there had been many factions in the Bolshevik party. The emergency measures in 1921 were intended to be a temporary response to an extraordinarily tense and dangerous situation, not the establishment of a permanent regime in state and party, or of new norms. But in fact in this as on so much, the emergency measures - enforced Bolshevik practice, in a backward, war-torn country where the proletariat was a minority inhabiting urban atolls in an agrarian sea - came to be the norm and then the theoretical precept for Russia, and for most of those calling themselves communists in the whole world. Ideas would change to follow practice that contradicted the initial guiding ideas.
** VII: Practice reshapes theory
"Without... the development of the productive forces... want is generalised, and with want the struggle for necessities begins again, and that means that all the old crap must revive." Karl Marx.
The New Economic Policy would last from 1921 until Stalin created the command economy at the end of the 1920s. Under this regime occurred the struggles that would shape, reshape, and disrupt the communist movement. Despite the ban on factions, all the political struggles, the class struggles and incipient class struggles, until 1928 took place inside the ruling party which had a monopoly on politics. Layers of the ruling party - which in relation to society was already a bureaucracy, based on a much shrunken remnant of the old working class - merged with the layer of state officials carried over from the Tsarist regime and crystallised into a privileged elite. Gropingly this elite developed an awareness of its own distinct political, economic, and social interests. Slowly the new rulers began to express their interests in the language of a bureaucratically reshaped, disarranged and miscombined scholastic "Marxism". This became the ideology of a new privileged ruling class in process of formation; and the root theology of its official state religion. In 1924 Stalin proclaimed the goal of the state to be the creation of "Socialism in One Country". This, he insisted, was "Marxism" and "Leninism". The old Bolshevik ideas were now "Trotskyist" heresy. "Trotskyism" would be the hood which the counter-revolution put over the head of Bolshevism as it was led to the guillotine. On the level of ideas, the Stalinist drive was connected to and sustained by the idea of building socialism in one country. This led to a wholesale reconstruction and reinterpretation of all the ideas of world communism and of socialism in general; it lay at the root of the monstrous many-branched Stalinist tree of lies about the USSR's "socialism", and thus also about what socialism was, that would spread its poisonous branches and shoots all through the working-class movement for decades to come. The party's political monopoly in the state became the monopoly of the ruling section of the party; the party, a prison for those who resisted the growing power of the bureaucracy, the incipient new ruling class. Before it made itself master of society, the rising bureaucracy first allied with the new bourgeoisie of traders which grew up under the NEP, and with the class of well-off, labour-hiring kulak farmers. The party-state bureaucracy raised itself above society, balancing between its working-class base and the newly-burgeoning neo-bourgeois classes. It stifled working-class initiative and used its monopoly to terrorise and control the workers in the party and in the trade unions.
** VIII: Lenin against Stalin
"Stalin has accumulated immense power. I suggest that the comrades think about a way to remove Stalin from [his] post and appoint in his place another man who in all respects differs from Comrade Stalin in his superiority, that is, in being more tolerant, more loyal, more courteous and more considerate of the comrades, less capricious, etc." Lenin.
By 1922 Lenin had become greatly alarmed. He saw that the workers were increasingly being pushed aside by the new bureaucratic elite, whose leader and personification was Stalin. The policies of the state were beginning to be shaped by that elite in its own interests and not those of the working class. From the point of view of the working class, the political system needed overhauling, cleansing, and reform. But Lenin was paralysed by a stroke in May 1922. His last Party Congress was the 11th, in 1922. Except for brief periods thereafter he was removed from the political scene, speechless for months before his death in January 1924. At the end of 1922, in a series of notes from his deathbed, Lenin indicted Great Russian chauvinism in the treatment of Georgia. He condemned the all-stifling bureaucratism that made a nullity of the Workers' and Peasants' Inspectorate in industry, and called for action against it. He ended by identifying
Stalin, general secretary since the creation of the position in March 1922 - he had controlled the party apparatus for a year before that - as the most dangerous figure, the official who most embodied in himself narrowness, bureaucratism and boorish instinctive brutality. He had been against Stalin's appointment as General Secretary, saying: "This cook will make only peppery dishes." But he had not fought Zinoviev, Stalin's sponsor, on it. Now, on the 4th January 1923, he called on the party to dismiss Stalin. But Stalin already controlled the increasingly all-powerful party machine, which was now completing its fusion with the state bureaucracy. Trotsky launched what became the Left Opposition at the end of 1923, along the same lines as Lenin's campaign, but with ideas and proposals that were more comprehensive and more fully elaborated. For four years, first the Trotskyist opposition, and then the Joint Opposition of Trotsky and Zinoviev, fought the ever-more-powerful bureaucracy, demanding a restoration of inner-party democracy, better conditions for the working class, and a systematic drive for planned industrialisation within the system of the NEP. Significantly, Trotsky began by protesting against a proposal that the police be used to regulate an internal affair of the party. The ban on factions decreed as a temporary transitional measure at the 10th party congress in March 1921 was two and a half years old; Trotsky's earliest co-thinkers (the "Platform of the 46") proposed to rescind it. The Opposition fought for the material conditions that would make it possible for the workers to exercise democratic self-rule - higher standards of living, more and better industrial jobs, more leisure, so that the workers would have time and energy to devote to the affairs of the workers' state. They concerned themselves too with the health of the Communist International. Everything depended on the success or failure of the broader socialist revolution, of which the Russian revolution had been only the first part, and ultimately was only a lesser part. Without revolution in the West in the medium term, there would, they were sure, be counter-revolution in Russia that would restore the bourgeoisie. The workers' revolution would spread, or it would die.
** IX: The counter-revolution
Stalin had an unshakable bureaucratic control of the party. When Lenin died in January 1924, a quarter of a million people were recruited to the ruling party, a so-called "Lenin levy" of aspirants for place and office who would be a solid phalanx of support for the apparatus. In late 1925 the party-state bureaucracy split again, when Zinoviev and Kamenev and the Leningrad organisation became alarmed at Stalin's alliance with the "right wing" around Bukharin, who openly favoured extensive concessions to the Nepmen and kulaks. In 1926 they formed a Joint Opposition with the Left, adopting the core policies of the 1923 Opposition. The Left Opposition and the Joint Opposition feared a capitalist counter-revolution. How did they think this could occur? The NEP bourgeoisie and the bigger farmers who employed wage-labour, the kulaks, could hope for the backing of the increasingly dissatisfied middle and poor peasants. With other parties banned, the forces those parties might have represented began to find expression within the ranks of the ruling party - the neo-bourgeoisie through the right wing, led by Bukharin. The Bukharinites were allied with the so-called "centre" faction of Stalin, which controlled the bureaucratised party and state machine. Political power was the keystone that kept everything in place. Government policy would determine the direction of development. Trotsky feared that the Bukharin wing would open the door to capitalist restoration, and that the Stalin wing would fail to resist. As against the Bukharin and Stalin and neo-bourgeois wings of the all-embracing state-party, the Trotskyists saw themselves representing the proletariat and the old ideas of 1917 Marxism. Allied with Bukharin, and backed by all the conservative and neo-bourgeois forces in the country, Stalin defeated the Joint Opposition, as he had defeated the 1923 Trotskyist Left Opposition. By the tenth anniversary of the Revolution, in 1927, the Stalinist bureaucracy was firmly and irremovably in power, allied to the kulaks and bourgeois forces. Stalin told the opposition in the Politburo that "only civil war will remove these cadres" - his colleagues and himself. The four-year-old split between the Bolshevik party and the congealed "party"-state bureaucracy was formalised by the expulsion - on 14 November 1927 - of the real working-class party from the ruling state-party. Its members were exiled to the wastelands of the USSR or jailed. Two years later the Stalinist state would shoot its first Oppositionists - Blumkin, Silov and Rabinovich - the precursors of millions who would die within a decade. Trotsky, the organiser of the 1917 insurrection, and of the Red Army in the Civil War, was expelled from the USSR in January 1929. Early in 1928 a new political-economic crisis erupted. The kulaks withheld grain. The reason: the lag of industry, the gap between agriculture and industry, the paucity of industrial goods that the kulaks could buy with the price they got for their grain. There had been four years of concessions to the kulaks since a similar, milder crisis in 1923; the Bukharinite right would have continued now on the same road. Most likely that would have led on to something like the scenarios for bourgeois counter-revolution against which the Left Opposition had raised the alarm. To Trotsky it seemed as if the bourgeois counter-revolution was very close. But something startling and unexpected - and without precedent in history - now occurred. Political power had been taken
from the workers not by the neo-bourgeois forces but by Stalin and what the Left Opposition called the "centrist bureaucracy". Stalin now turned on his kulak and bourgeois and Bukharinite allies, and crushed them as social forces and social categories - and to a great extent as living people. Using immense waves of physical force, like a quarryman with dynamite - that is, using the state power at the disposal of the bureaucracy to revolutionise society from above - Stalin made his own revolution and began to shape a new socio-economic formation. Having resisted the rational, planned industrialisation within the NEP proposed by the Opposition, Stalin now broke the framework of the NEP and embarked on an immensely destructive forced march for industrialisation and agrarian collectivisation. The trade unions were destroyed and replaced with pseudo-unions, fascist-style "labour fronts" to serve the bureaucracy and the police in controlling the workers. All of society was put under the bureaucratic whip and under severe military discipline enforced by savage terror wielded by a state with modern technological resources whose power over society was unprecedented in history. The Opposition could not but see in Stalin's industrialisation policy something akin to their own. Unsustainable adventuristic forced march, unbalanced caricature, bureaucratic savagery, it might be - but nonetheless it was a turn away from the threatening bourgeois-peasant counter-revolution. It would be years before Trotsky ceased to believe that this "left zig-zag" would most likely be succeeded by a right zig-zag like that of 1923-28 and concessions to the kulaks - who would re-emerge from new economic differentiations within the collectivised farms. In fact, the Bukharinite right wing, the reflection inside the apparatus of the kulaks and NEP bourgeoisie - but also of the bureaucratic leaders of the stifled trade unions - crumpled before the Stalinists. The Stalinists drummed up support among the workers for their turn, invoking (but rigidly controlling) the working-class "heaven-storming" spirit of the revolution, the civil war, and war communism. In the face of the turn, the Opposition began to fall apart. Zinoviev and Kamenev and their followers capitulated to Stalin in late 1927. In February 1928 a wave of capitulators from the Trotskyist wing of the Opposition was led by Pyatakov and Antonov-Ovseenko; in July 1929, Radek and Preobrazhensky led a new wave; and in October 1929 there was yet another. The hard core around Trotsky and Christian Rakovsky remained; alongside them were the Democratic Centralist faction, who had gone into opposition in 1921 and concluded in the mid-20s that the working class had already lost power. Trotksy knew that it was not only what was done but how it was done and by whom, that the bureaucracy cut most heavily against the working class, stifling, persecuting, pushing aside and displacing the people who were, in Trotsky's view, the necessary protagonists of any socialist development. In world politics they had wreaked havoc with the Communist International. They were an anti-working-class force. The question of "regime" was of paramount importance. Trotsky criticised the wild and arbitrary production targets set by the bureaucracy, its bulldozing and slavedriving techniques, its suppression of all democracy and of all initiative in the working class, the substitution of blind bureaucratic edicts for informed planning, the lack of any system of feedback on the plans decreed from above, the collectivisation of agriculture before there existed the machinery to make it a step forwards. Thus to new-born Stalinism Trotsky counterposed a rational, economically balanced and humane conception of the development of the USSR - a conception indissolubly linked in Trotsky's integrated world outlook to rule by the working class itself in the USSR, to the world revolution, and to the perspectives and politics of 1917. The proletariat, the supposed "ruling class", was now subjected to regimentation and terror in the factories and deprived of all civil and human rights: freedom of speech, assembly, or even movement from place to place. Internal passports were introduced. From the beginning of the 1930s outright, undisguised slavery reappeared. For most of the rest of Stalin's rule, and even later, there would at any one time be eight or ten million slave labourers - people condemned on any pretext, or none. Slave labour was used, for example, to build the prestigious and "modern" Moscow underground railway system in the 1930s, under the direction of Nikita Khrushchev, who in the 1950s as the second bureaucratic Tsar would reform and humanise Stalin's system. The liberation of women which the revolution had decreed, and, despite the backward conditions, in part realised, was reversed. Hungry children of 12 were subjected to the death penalty for theft... One of the great and most successful achievements of the revolution, its nationalities policy - self-determination and the theoretical and then sincerely believed in right to secede from the multi-national state - was also undone. The rigidly Moscow-centralised party-state machine deprived the constitutionally enshrined national rights of any meaning because it deprived the national sections of the party, the sole initiating agency, of any autonomy. By way of party and state hierarchies, the smaller nationalities were once again bolted in helpless hierarchical subordination to the Great Russian nation. The USSR was transformed from a voluntary federation of equal peoples back into a bureaucratic version of the old tsarist empire - the "prison house of nations". Lenin and Trotsky had campaigned against Great Russian chauvinism. In his deathbed struggle against Stalin, Lenin had denounced Stalin's tendency towards Great Russian chauvinism against the Georgians (Stalin was a Georgian himself). Now the Stalinists proclaimed anew the Tsarist doctrine: the pernicious nationalism was that of the smaller, Russia's traditionally oppressed, nations, not the nationalism of the dominant Great Russians. Soon there would be active persecution. National sub-sections of the Stalinist party were repeatedly purged to make the USSR safe for Great Russian chauvinism. For fifty or more years there would be Russification programmes, in the Ukraine in the 70s for example, and even the forcible transportation of small nations like the Crimean Tatars and the Chechens in their entirety from one end of the USSR to the other. In the 1920s, anti-semitism was already being used by the Stalinists against the Opposition. It would gradually become a big force in USSR life until in the early 1950s Stalin was running a raging world-wide campaign against "Zionism", staging show trials in satellite countries such as Czechoslovakia, and preparing a show trial of the "Kremlin doctors", most of them Jewish, in Moscow. That might have been the starting point for rounding up and deporting the Jewish population of the USSR - or for Stalin copying Hitler on this as on other things, and slaughtering Jews. Stalin died in 1953, and his successors abandoned the scheduled trial of the Kremlin doctors. By every possible measure of politics, culture, economy, and human relations, Stalinism was counter-revolution. Its prerequisite had been the defeat of the working class and the oppositions in the struggle between 1923 and 1927-8. Yet it was not a capitalism-restoring counter-revolution. It was a bureaucratic counter-revolution in which the state bureaucracy, led by Stalin, wiped out both the new-grown bourgeois classes and the Russian labour movement. It destroyed all the defences and the rights of the working class, and turned the peasants into slave-driven, expropriated serfs of the new bureaucratic state. Who now ruled? The bureaucracy ruled. In whose interest? Its own. The working class cannot own industry except collectively, and therefore it can only rule itself in industry through democratic, political self-rule. In the system established after 1928, as Trotsky would put it in 1936: "The means of production belong to the state. But the state, so to speak, belongs' to the bureaucracy". The October Revolution had ended in defeat for the working class and, indirectly, in the creation of a strange new socio-economic formation. "Other wills", adverse conditions, the brute necessities of the struggle, changes in the function and thinking of key people and layers, and the cumulative defeats of the working class and the Opposition, had by now changed virtually everything. Stalin had led a section of the old Bolshevik party, a layer of politically short-sighted people, and behind them a much larger layer of the tired, the self-seeking and the relatively well-off. In the middle 1930s, almost all of the Trotskyists in Siberian exile would be slaughtered. So would almost all the leaders of the 1917 revolution. Most even of the original Stalin faction would die. The 1934 congress of what was now, after the defeat of the Trotskyists and the Bukharinites, indisputably their party, was called the Congress of Victors. By 1938 1,108 of the 1,966 delegates to that conference had been killed in Stalin's great purges. Society was crushed beneath the power of the gigantic all-controlling Leviathan state. A large range of privileges, regulated and controlled by the state, existed for the bureaucracy, which would have its own special shops selling goods unavailable to others, in a parallel economy that was a separate consumer system for the elite. Trotsky, summing up the experience on the eve of his assassination in 1940, said that the bureaucracy had after 1928 made itself "sole master of the surplus product". The
same drive to maximise the resources in the hands of the central bureaucracy led after 1929 to "nationalisation" of everything that twitched in economic life, to a degree and with a thoroughness that in Marxist terms would have been inappropriate for a far more developed economy, or, indeed, for any existing economy. One consequence was Russia's transition from an authoritarian regime to an outright totalitarian state. The Bolshevik party's composition and its role in society had changed, and changed again, until the party had fragmented and had ceased to be itself, and it had become impossible to identify continuity except in the forms and names - forms now filled with radically different content and names naming different things. From the worker-composed leader and defender of the workers in Lenin's time; to the worker-rooted bureaucratic state power raised above the workers to balance between the classes, until 1928-30; after 1928-30, the rigidly authoritarian "sole master of the surplus product" and of society. But while the Revolution ended in outright defeat for the working class and for socialist hopes, those who rose to power on its defeat continued to proclaim - and Stalin may have believed it - that in their rule, working-class socialist rule was alive in the USSR and going from triumph to triumph. Thus revolutionary socialism was transmuted from the great clear cleansing truth of the October Revolution into the great lie of the twentieth century.
** X: The Communist International
"Socialism In One Country", the organising dogma of the bureaucracy, was a radical break with genuine Marxism, with the Bolshevik conception of the Russian Revolution and with the Marxist idea of the place of socialism in the evolution of human society. On the level of ideas, it was a strange reversion to utopian socialism: a socialism that would emerge in the wilderness, on the margins of capitalism, and, by competition over decades, vanquish it. For socialism to be built up in a backward country - leaving aside the question of whether such a regime of scarcity and backwardness could be socialism - implied decades at least of peaceful development, in which the capitalist world would leave the USSR alone. It implied the belief that there would be no socialist revolution in any other country. For the non-Russian CPs it meant, and the logic would work itself through in the 1920s, that they were not primarily revolutionary parties in their own countries, but frontier guards for the Soviet Union, foreign legions to be used as the Russian bureaucratic ruling class thought fit. Their duty was to work for Russia's advantage, irrespective of the consequences for working-class struggles in their own countries. The entire Marxist conception of the Russian Revolution and of the Communist International was thus inverted. From the 1920s the effects of Stalinism on the non-Russian Communist Parties ensured that these parties accelerated, where they might have reversed, the degeneration of the Soviet Union. The Bolsheviks after 1920 understood that capitalism was in a fundamental state of disequilibrium and disruption and had managed only a temporary post-war stabilisation. The chance of new working-class revolutions had not gone. It was an epoch of wars and revolutions. Defeated Germany was both fundamentally unstable and "rotten ripe" for the socialist revolution aborted in 1918-19. There it would be socialism or fascism. The bar to the international revolution was the state of the working-class movement itself, the necessary protagonist of the revolution. The Bolsheviks had set out with the Communist International in 1919 to rebuild the revolutionary movement; the degeneration of the Bolshevik revolution made the problem worse - ultimately it made it intractable for those like Leon Trotsky, who continued Bolshevik politics after the triumph of Stalinism. Just as the bureaucratisation of the ruling party in Russia nullified the nominal autonomy of the USSR's republics, subordinating them by way of militarised hierarchical, bureaucratic control to Moscow, so the Stalinists' rise to control in the Soviet Union welded the Communist International to the ruling Kremlin bureaucracy. Russian hegemony was there from the start, rooted in the real achievements of the Bolshevik Party. It was exercised at first primarily by way of reason and debate, and by the political and moral authority of the Bolshevik leaders. The Stalinists used bribery, bureaucracy and then terror by the Russian political police outside the USSR with no scruples. They purged the International. The leaders of the French party and the Italian party, for example, backed the Opposition in the early and mid 1920s; the German party was taken through four generations of leaders before the fifth, round Thaelmann, proved docile enough for Stalin. Under the banner of "Bolshevisation" began the process of stifling the Communist International's internal life, subordinating everything to a rigid hierarchy centred in Moscow. By the late 1920s Moscow's control in the International was akin to that of a hold-up man pointing his gun - the organisational, moral and financial authority of the "International" - at the revolutionary militants of the Communist International. The Communist International was used with undiluted cynicism as a mere collection of overseas supporters of the Soviet Union who could - with proper "Marxist", "dialectical" "explanation" - be got to do and say virtually anything. In Spain, during the civil war of 1936-9, Stalin and his Spanish party, stiffened by the Russian political police, suppressed the working-class revolution. Stalin's aim was, by doing the work of fascism, to convince the Western bourgeoisie that they did not need fascism. The CPs could do the job for them, if they should ally with the USSR to contain Hitler. Stalin would control, and where necessary kill, the "Bolshie" workers. The Stalintern could do anything. From 1934 the Communist International preached a crusade against fascism and then, more narrowly, against German fascism. Stalin signed a pact with Hitler on 23 August 1939, and joined him in mid-September to invade and partition Poland. The Communist Parties switched round and denounced Britain and France as warmongers against peaceful Hitler. They made propaganda for Germany. The hard-core working-class base of the Communist Parties followed the leaders of the Soviet Union, because they thought they shared a common anti-capitalism with them. There had been an enormous loss of the understanding that was basic to the politics of socialism. By now there was utter befuddlement about what their own working-class alternative to capitalism must be if it were to bring working-class liberty. Yet, even though they were tied to a ruling class worse than their own, they behaved like revolutionaries. Future Stalinist dictators like Matyas Rakosi and Erich Honecker spent many years as prisoners of Hitler and Hungary's Admiral Horthy. The French Stalinists behaved with great courage when the signal came in 1939 to go into outright opposition. Many might have been relieved that the class-collaboration era of the Popular Front was over. When Hitler invaded Russia in June 1941, the Communist Parties again became the best patriots of Britain and (after December 1941) the USA, newly allied with Russia. They became chauvinists and strikebreakers. In Britain, CP leader, Harry Pollitt, who had baulked momentarily at the Hitler-Stalin pact, pronounced the beginning of a new epoch in which "it is the class-conscious worker who will cross the picket line". In the USA, in 1944, the CP advocated that the striking coal miners be conscripted and forced down the pits under military discipline. Everything for the war effort! Jews more than any other people were the victims of the convulsive crisis of mid-20th century capitalism, driven from country to country, persecuted, massacred. In this hard school, and drawing on a culture conducive to sweeping conclusions, large numbers of them, and not only workers, learned about capitalism and enrolled in what they thought was the working-class fight to overthrow it and replace it with socialism. Attitudes to Jews and to anti-semitism were a defining question for a whole age. On this question, at least, the Communist International, especially in its anti-fascist phases, seemed clean and on the side of sanity and humanity. Yet even here, Stalinism overlapped with Hitlerism. Trotsky
pointed out the plain elements of anti-semitism in Stalinist policy (for example, the insistence on the original Jewish names of men known for decades as Trotsky and Kamenev and Zinoviev). Anti-semitism had been used against the Opposition in the mid-20s. In 1940 the Mexican Stalinists inveighed against the "Jewish Trotskyists". It burst out in Eastern Europe in the late 1940s as a campaign, with repression and show trials, against "Zionism" that was only thinly disguised anti-semitism. [The Communist Parties followed suit, and created a culture that is with us still, especially now, in the ranks of would-be Trotskyists, as "anti-imperialism" focused on Israel, where the Jewish population now and the Jewish national minority in the 1930s and 40s are deemed to have no rights to exist as a nation, or to defend themselves].
At every turn, people would leave the Communist Parties - outside Russia. If they happened to be refugees living in Russia, they would be slaughtered, as foreign communist refugees were during the Moscow Trials. The Polish Communist Party, denounced as incurably infected by Trotskyists and Luxemburgists, was dissolved in 1938 and its membership lists surreptitiously given to the Polish military dictatorship's police. But always "the party", defined fundamentally by its allegiance to the USSR, would go on or be rebuilt, around a new policy and with new drafts of members. In the course of the Second World War the Russian Empire, already dominating dozens of "its own" smaller nations, expanded enormously. It clawed in the East European states and half of Germany. Imperialism? No: the socialist revolution! Imperialism? That is only another name for what the big capitalist powers do. Here too we find the turning of things on their heads and inside out, the annexation of words by their opposites, and the arbitrary confinement of words to mean only what preconceptions and ideology could tolerate allowing them to mean. "For reason in revolt now thunders..." thunders the Internationale. This was the revolt, sustained over many decades, against reason, and the destruction of both the tools of reason and the propensity to reason. The Catholic Church long ago developed a dogmatic escape clause to "explain" the accumulated absurdities of its doctrines. A doctrine like the Trinity - God is both one person and three - in fact arose out of the incoherent amalgamation by the church bureaucracy of once bitterly hostile doctrines. It makes no sense? That, says the Church, is a "mystery of religion". It makes a higher sense, above human reason. You don't need to understand. All you need do is have faith. The Stalinists used "dialectics" in exactly that way. Everything is relative, fluid, changing, historically conditioned... Stalin understands. Keep the faith! You could not get further from reason, from Marxism, from Marx's dialectics - or from the old socialism, that had set out to make war on all thrones, pontiffs and dictators. Yet, all these attributes belonged to a movement which waved the banner of Lenin's and Trotsky's revolution, which seemed to talk in the language of Marxism and which claimed to propound a system of ideas
that codified the historical experience of the revolutionary workers' movement! For decades these people defined what socialism, Marxism and communism were. The Communist Parties were the biggest parties of the working class in France and Italy, smaller but still imposing in countries like Britain. They attracted working-class militants. They pursued the class struggle - in their own way and for their own goals - but only in ways and with means consonant with Moscow's interests; and they pursued it only until it was in Moscow's interests to betray it.
** XI: Counter-revolution within the forms of Marxism
The governing ideas of any society are those of the ruling class, argued Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in The German Ideology. The unfalsified ideas of the 1917 revolution could not serve the new ruling elite. But "Marxist" forms and phrases could, filled with radically new and different social, class and historical content. "Marxism", like the collectivised property, and other forms seized by the Stalinists, was not simply overthrown but retained and altered, to serve the new bureaucratic rulers in the social struggles of the 1920s. Their state "Marxism" became for the Stalinist bureaucracy what the doctrines of the Orthodox Church had been to Tsarism, but with enormous international ramifications derived from Moscow's control of the Communist International. Stalin's counter-revolutionary struggle against Leninism took place in the name of Lenin; his fight against communism, in the name of communism; against equality, in the name of future communist egalitarianism; against Marx, in the name of Marxism; against any form of democracy, in the name of a higher democracy. The totalitarian bureaucracy enslaved the workers and the rural population in the name of working-class freedom. The dictatorship of the proletariat was replaced by the dictatorship of the bureaucracy from "within", without a clean rupturing of forms or an open honest break with socialism. From that grew up Stalin's Dictatorship of the Lie. This was the typically nightmarish, surreal world of Stalinism - a world of double-talk and double-speak, where "trade unions" were not trade unions, "soviets" were not soviets, "socialism" was not socialism, "Leninists" were not Leninists, "democracy" was not democracy, and where the worker-enslaving bureaucracy appropriated to itself the right to speak as the working class. Contrast what happened in the French Revolution. The political counter-revolution against Jacobinism, started in 1794 by a section of the Jacobins, soon turned into a reaction against all Jacobins. "Terrorist", "Montagnard", "Jacobin" became terms of abuse. In the provinces the trees of liberty were chopped down and tricolour cockades trampled underfoot. Why did this not happen in the Soviet Republic? Because "the totalitarian party contained within itself all the indispensable elements of reaction, which it mobilised under the official banner of the October Revolution. The party did not tolerate any competition, not even in the struggle against its enemies. The struggle against the Trotskyists did not turn into a struggle against the Bolsheviks because the party had swallowed this struggle in its entirety, set certain limits to it, and waged it in the name of Bolshevism". Thus, in 1940, at the end of his life, Trotsky looked back over the strange and unexpected course of events that had led to the triumph of Stalinism in the USSR [Stalin, p.407]. Something akin to this "bureaucrats' Marxism" - "Marxism" reworked and bowdlerised to express interests other than those of the socialist proletariat - had developed once before in Russia: for a while, important sections of the Russian bourgeoisie and petit bourgeoisie had expressed their interests in a dialect of Marxism. In the 1890s, anti-Tsarist intellectuals who wanted to break with the old, heroic and self-sacrificing, gun-in-hand tradition of "Narodnik" (populist) resistance to Tsarist tyranny in the name of "the people", and of a rather ill-defined utopian socialism, had become "Marxists". They came to stress only that "anti-utopian" part of Marxism which said that capitalism was progressive and unavoidable. Thus they licensed themselves to make peace with developing Russian capitalism. These so-called "Legal Marxists" soon became liberals. The revolutionary working-class Marxists - future Mensheviks and Bolsheviks alike - agreed that capitalism was inevitable and progressive in Russia, but combatted the one-sided bourgeois Marxism. If they had not done that successfully, the militant Russian labour movement that made the revolution would not have developed. The new-hatched state bureaucrats who took over "Marxism" and gutted it took it over from "inside", from a position of leadership of and dominance over a world-wide segment of the working class and its movement. The revolutionary Marxists of around 1900 had been able to base themselves on a rising working-class movement in their defence
of an unfalsified working-class Marxism. Those who resisted Stalinised "Marxism" in the USSR had no such base. Indeed, the responses of the Bolsheviks themselves, as they held on against all the odds in the circumstances in which isolation had trapped them, had created a powerful base for the gestation of a new bureaucratic pseudo-Marxism and a world organisation for its dissemination. This happened despite the struggle to the death of Trotsky and the Bolshevik rearguard against the Stalinist counter-revolution. The Bolsheviks had held on by way of tremendous and brutal exertions against the "other wills" operating inside and outside Russia; and, so doing, they extemporised a first draft of what the Stalinist counter-revolution, overthrowing the rule of the workers, would develop into an elaborate bureaucratically-drawn route-map of history that was as fantastic as any drawn up by the mid-19th century utopian socialist colony-builders. This they imposed on the army of revolutionary workers who had been grouped in the Communist International. While the parties of social democracy remained tied to the bourgeoisie, except where the bourgeoisie had knocked them on the head, as in Germany, the Communist International, which had been set up to recreate independent working-class politics in opposition to social democracy, was captured by the new anti-capitalist bureaucratic Russian ruling class. With the millions-strong Communist International and its semi-militarised parties as transmission belt, the governing ideas of the new bureaucratic ruling class in the USSR dominated the revolutionary workers in capitalist countries - the workers who still looked to the October Revolution for a lead and an example. In consequence, during the long, convulsive mid-century crisis of capitalism, the revolutionary workers' movement was removed as an independent factor from world politics. That, in a sentence, is the story of 20th century socialism from 1914, when the socialist international collapsed, to the disintegration of the USSR in the 1990s. Inexorably, the corruption spread into every key idea of socialism and Marxism and into every model of behaviour, endeavour and precept of socialism and Marxism. Exigencies that determined so much of what was done in Russia became the source of general theories dogmatically applied to all conditions under the guiding whip of the self-serving bureaucratic rulers. Already the Bolsheviks had erred in this direction; Stalin, representing an anti-working-class new ruling class, made it a system, and, suppressing all dissent, an airtight, lightless system, designed to serve the new Russian rulers. What Stalin did and said, and what Stalin said Lenin had done or said or would have done or said - that was Marxian socialism and "Bolshevism". All the basic shaping, morale-engendering, old left-wing ideas were twisted inside out and turned round into their opposites, as the bureaucrats took over "Marxism" and gutted it. Specifically, what they did was take all of Marxism that was negative and critical of bourgeois society and bourgeois democracy, and cut off the positive working-class Marxist alternative to capitalism: social democracy, expanded liberties, and working-class control. In their place they put their own bureaucratic anti-working-class alternatives: bureaucratic rule and totalitarian state power, miscalled socialism. Here they followed the pattern of the reactionary or feudal socialists criticised in the Communist Manifesto: "incisive criticism, striking the bourgeoisie to the very heart's core... In political practice they join in all coercive measures against the working class". The Marxist criticism of the limits and the shallowness of "bourgeois democracy" became a condemnation of it supposedly in the name of progress but in reality in the name of political regression to before the French Revolution, if not to before the Renaissance and the Reformation. Uprooted, too, were all the best old "bourgeois" notions of liberty, ideas which preceded mass democracy and were separable from it.
** XII: Revolution and Democracy
"To raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy." Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto.
In 1917 Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks had believed that unless the revolution unleashed a great deepening and broadening of democracy, it would fail. We must pause and examine this question in some detail, for it is one of the central issues posed by the degeneration and defeat of the Bolshevik Revolution. Marx and Engels had written in the Communist Manifesto that to make the proletarian revolution was to "win the battle of democracy" and make the working class the ruling class. Everywhere, including Russia, the socialists had, under the influence of Marx and Engels, been ardent champions of parliamentary democracy and democratic liberties. Labour movements in the 19th and early 20th centuries fought to extend the suffrage and enlarge the power of parliaments - often by revolutionary means. In Belgium they organised general strikes to win the vote. Marxists had made the democratic tradition their own. It was not for any other reason that they called themselves social democrats, advocates of democracy in all, not only the political, aspects of society. Always and everywhere the socialists were for extending and unfettering democracy and for cutting down the prerogatives of capital and the power of government and bureaucracy. The creation of new working-class forms of democracy began in St Petersburg, Russia, in 1905, when striking workers who did not have political rights elected their own local parliament - the council of workers' deputies, or "soviet". The drive for democratic self-rule overflowed existing institutions and led to the creation of new specifically working-class democratic institutions. After October 1917, revolutionary-minded people all across the world recognised the Soviets as the working-class form of democracy. Commitment to Soviets - workers' councils, within which there would be a plurality of "soviet" parties - became a central part of the programme of revolutionary socialism. Inevitably the Russian reality after 1921 - one-party rule and Soviets withered and curtailed - confused many communists about exactly what "soviet rule" was. The more the Stalinists turned the USSR into an unprecedentedly savage exploitative dictatorship, the more they proclaimed it to be the purest and fullest democracy - ever. Democracy? That, like socialism, is whatever exists in the USSR! The result, in a short time, was to banish concern with anything that had before 1917 been considered democracy, and to falsify the very language and conceptions of the socialist movement and the early communist movement on this fundamental question. Even before full-blown Stalinism, "communism" acquired an anti-democratic bias, rooted in the experience of the Russian civil war and its aftermath. It was "Leninism" understood as Lenin himself would not - Rosa Luxemburg was surely right on that - have wanted it understood and used. After the full-scale Stalinist counter-revolution of the late 1920s, the one-party system was proclaimed as the true working-class democracy, universally applicable. The "party's" right to a political monopoly was written into Stalin's 1936 "democratic constitution". The very idea of socialism as democratic self-rule was thus confused, pulped and destroyed. Democratic ideals and goals that had been central to radical thought since the French Revolution or even since the English Revolutions of the 17th century had their vocabulary appropriated to endorse extreme versions of the statism and authoritarianism which the left had been fighting against for hundreds of years. Mystification, confusion, and soon an almost indecipherable corruption of language and ideas followed. This was the fault not only of the revolutionaries, or even the Stalinists. In the hands of the right wing of the international labour
movement, the old socialist commitment to perfecting the democratic institutions of capitalist society had become a commitment to defend the bourgeoisies against the revolutionary workers and their soviets, which were the realisation of all the old socialist drive for expanded democracy. In Germany the bourgeois-democratic regime set up by the 1918 revolution became the vehicle for a landlord/bourgeois/right-socialist counter-revolution against the workers. The old drive for radical social democracy was thus ground to nothingness by the upper millstone of the bourgeoisie and Stalin and the nether millstone of social democracy. What the social democrats did with "democracy" softened up the revolutionary workers to receive the Stalinist revelation that all the old talk of democracy was nothing but bourgeois lies. Democracy became increasingly indefinable. Norms were corrupted until the existence or nonexistence of democracy became not something that could be measured by commonly-agreed standards, but a matter of assertion and counter-assertion. Here, as in so many other fields, the Stalinists took over and caricatured what the bourgeoisie did. This helped destroy the norms by which the revolutionary workers could have evaluated the Russian claims that Stalinist totalitarianism was democracy. The association of "democracy" with the right wing all across Europe in the 1920s and 30s, and then its collapse in country after country before authoritarian right-wing regimes or fascism, helped ease revolutionary workers into acceptance of the one-party Stalinist totalitarian state as the true working-class democracy. This lie became an article of faith for two generations of revolutionary workers. Those who eventually saw it for the oxymoronic absurdity it was, tended as a rule to collapse back into acceptance of the bourgeois counterfeit of democracy. The basic idea that socialists must continue to struggle for human liberty and freedom was expunged from the programme of "communism". "Democracy" - like "socialism" - became a cynical catch-cry, shot through with double-think about the "socialist democracy" of the society where the Stalinist bureaucrats ruled with neither socialism nor democracy. The hazard of taking seeming for identity is strong here: the Bolsheviks and the early Communist International did impatiently denounce "bourgeois democracy", did counterpose direct action to parliament, did abuse the democratic pretensions of the reformists, did advocate general strikes and insurrectionary tactics. But, as has already been said, always and everywhere what they counterposed to "bourgeois democracy" and to constitutional methods was mass action - majority action, or action that would quickly become majority action and could not succeed if it didn't - led by Communist Parties which were free associations within which democratic norms of debate and decision-making were taken for granted. What they counterposed to parliamentarism was the soviet system, conceived of as a more radical, real, thorough-going and responsive form of democratic mass self-rule. To confuse this with what Stalin made of it is to falsify history - indeed, it is to walk in the track of long-established Stalinist falsifications. The Stalinists removed the positive alternative that the Bolshevik party and the early Communist International opposed to the bourgeois "democracy", "narrow constitutional methods" and "parliamentarism" which they denounced - and put in its place their own totalitarian alternative. The very idea of democracy, workers' democracy or any democracy, and of liberty against the State, disappeared - except in words that in fact now denoted their very opposites. Bolshevik "discipline", the discipline of a voluntary association of socialists, became rigid, hierarchical, semi-militarised submission of the Communist Parties to control by Moscow. A police state became the model for both their "socialism" and their "democracy". These workers' movements were not under their own control. They could not steer their own course or learn from their mistakes.
** XIII: The new "Religion of Socialism"
"Feuerbach starts out from the fact of religious self-alienation, of the duplication of the world into a religious and a secular one... That the secular basis detaches itself from itself and establishes itself as an independent realm in the clouds can only be explained by the cleavages and self-contradictions within this secular basis. The latter must, therefore, in itself be both understood in its contradiction and revolutionised in practice..." Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach.
As "democracy" lost all real meaning, so too did "socialism". The model for a socialist economy became the airtight autocratically "planned" command economy of the USSR, in which even small corner shops were statified. "Socialism" came to be measured by success in industrialising a backward and underdeveloped economy, that is, in doing the work which had so far been done by capitalism in history - and doing it by slavedriving under incomparably severe totalitarian dictatorship. A tremendous leader cult, with Stalin as Pope, Caesar and pseudo-Tribune of the People combined, developed in the USSR in the 1930s. There too Stalin and Hitler learned from each other. The intellectual life of the international "Communist" movement centred on interpreting, augmenting, justifying and implementing Papal pronouncements from on high - assertions that often flew in the face of known reality, or of the "line" of the day before - and on the "sacred books", the misappropriated books of Marxism that said many true things but could only "speak" for today as the high priests of Stalinism interpreted them. "Proof" was defined as citations from the "four great teachers", Marx, Engels, Lenin and... Stalin. This was "Marxism" degraded into a pidgin philosophy for the bureaucratic parvenus and their Caesar-Pope at the head of a new state religion. The centrality in Stalin's "New Marxism" of the idea and practice of forcibly industrialising a backward country by autonomous state power gave it a power of attraction in underdeveloped countries for individuals and classes with no interest in socialism as conceived of in 1917. By the end of his life Trotsky would come to describe the attractions of this "Marxism" for the leaders of Stalinist parties thus: "The predominant type ... is the political careerist ... Their ideal is to attain in their own country the same position that the Kremlin oligarchy gained in the USSR" [Writings 1939-40, pp.350-1]. In the 1970s, for example, a sizeable section of the educated middle class and the technological elite of the armed forces in Afghanistan made up the Stalinist party there, and in the years before their failure led to the Russian invasion of December 1979 they tried to transform themselves into a new ruling elite, apeing the Russians. The totalitarian state not only laid down standards in art and literature and music for the Communists of the whole world: by the 1940s the Russian state was even laying down the conclusions biological research should arrive at, appointing Trofim Lysenko pope, or "Stalin", in this sphere. Culture became a sub-section of the ministry of police... So did every idea capable of expression fall under police regimentation and regulation; so did the ideas that had dominated and defined socialism so far. When the Stalinist pope pronounced that the old socialist ideas about equality had never been part of Bolshevism, but were a petty-bourgeois deviation, nobody who was under the direct control of the Stalinist police, or who wanted to remain in the Communist Parties, could dissent, or even quibble and try to qualify it. The Soviet Union - an imaginary Soviet Union - was both Vatican and heaven of the Stalinist religion... to those who did not have to live in it. The Stalinist
"religion" was bureaucratically enforced and patrolled by the GPU and not only inside the USSR. The acceptance of this system indicated a self-debilitating immaturity and underdevelopment in the Communist movement. The international Stalinist labour movement's "secular basis detached itself from itself" and became idealised not in the clouds but beyond the seas and mountains. The successive defeats - epoch-defining in the case of the victory of Hitler in Germany - to which the Stalinists led the working class enhanced the value and sharpened the need for the quasi-religious consolation offered by the myth of Stalin's "socialist fatherland", the "Sun City" beyond the mountains". The disease of nationalism in 1914 had meant the international labour movement splitting into many inter-warring national parts; now Communist International unity, conceived in 1919 as internationalist unity for combat against capitalism, served to enforce international working-class prostration before a narrow and brutal Russian nationalism, that yet somehow was the highest form of internationalism, under the "red" Tsar who yet, somehow, was not a Tsar. The mystifications and befuddlements and a mass working-class element of culpable fantasy and unreason defined this movement of frequently heroic would-be revolutionary workers as unfit to rule even its own affairs. All of this was a tremendous regression. All the old socialist ideas of the relationship of means to ends, of subject and object, of the proletariat as the protagonist of modern history, of what socialism was and was not, gave way to pre-bourgeois ways of thinking and organising and to relationships between people within "the movement" that were the very opposite of those appropriate to socialism and to the preparations of socialism. Workers rooted in the modern class struggle of their own advanced capitalist countries had their ideas dictated and their strategies set by the Russian ruling class; their collective performance in the class struggle shaped and reshaped to suit the needs and interests of the class-hostile bureaucratic Russian rulers. Where Marxism, even the cautious Marxism of west European socialist parties before the Russian Revolution, had rejected "saviours from on high" and seen the working class itself as its own liberator, and its own movement as the centre of the forces of liberation, now something else was central: the "workers' state", the living socialism beyond the border, the heaven over the seas and beyond the mountains, to which the world movement was subordinated. The building of socialism, somewhere else, was everything; the communist parties' alleged goals nothing. In the mid-19th century, readers of the Red Republican, George Julian Harney's paper, where the Communist Manifesto first appeared in English (in 1850), were avid for accounts, which the paper provided, of Etienne Cabet's socialist colonies in America. That was where socialism was. Now, in a very much more developed workers' movement, devotion to a utopia far away was repeated on a gigantic, hugely-distorting scale . Socialism was again something being built somewhere else: not, except in ceremonial speeches that meant nothing in practice, the goal of the class struggle inside your own capitalism. Enormous regression! "No saviours from on high deliver", the great socialist republican message of the Internationale, was amended in fact to mean - saviours and popes only from the liberated lands and the higher socialist civilisations far away. The parties so guided were vigorous forces on their own terrain; they drew their strength from working-class revolt; they took the will for change, the courage, the hope, the capacity for self-sacrifice and the life-enhancing idealism of generations of revolutionary working-class militants: but their guiding principle was all for the workers' fatherland - for socialism, somewhere else. Thus they destroyed generations of revolutionary militants. "Communism" became first a rigid and rigidly-organised sect whose sole core belief was in the infallibility of Stalin and the Soviet Union - and later a spectrum of competing Brezhnevite, Maoist, Castroist, Titoite sects. Beyond faith in the leader and "the Party", any belief, alliance, loyalty or aspiration could be annulled and anathematised overnight, and new beliefs put in its place. Much of the devotional literature of "Communism" consisted of lies and fantasies about one or another Socialist Fatherland, and viscious libels against socialism and socialists, especially the unreconstructed Bolsheviks. Thus by the middle of the second quarter of the 20th century, the most militant segments of the great working-class movement built up over three-quarters of a century in political and ideological recoil from utopian socialism reverted to a variant of it, focussed on the vast anti-capitalist utopian "colony" in the USSR - whose socialism was an edifice of lies and falsifications and whose rulers were more savage in every sense than any other ruling class. The effect on the labour movement was justly compared by Trotsky to syphilis and leprosy.
** XIV: The Bolshevik Rearguard
"The worst thing that can befall a leader of an extreme party is to be compelled to take over a Government in an epoch when the movement is not yet ripe for the domination of the class which he represents and for the realisation of the measures which that domination would imply... What he can do is in contrast to all his previous actions, to all his principles, and to the present interests of his party; what he ought to do cannot be achieved". Frederick Engels.
The second worst thing - in the Russian case it flowed from the first - is for a revolutionary party to have its banners, symbols and erstwhile language, appropriated by a powerful state and its dupes overseas, who proclaim plausible counterfeits of its goals as theirs, and use them to serve alien interests. It cannot reach its own people; its place in politics is usurped and ruined; those it would help to victory, misled to defeat and catastrophe. Perhaps an epoch of history
will have to pass, bringing its own slow clarifications, before it can come into its own. By then much will have changed and it will itself have mutated and have to define itself all over again. So it was with the incorruptible and unbreakable Bolsheviks, the Marxists who stood out against the bureaucratic counter-revolution and the Stalinist falsification of the ideas and perspectives of Bolshevism. They fought the new Russian ruling class even before it was fully formed and before they had learned to recognise and define it. The surviving Bolsheviks, led by Trotsky, had to start again from almost the beginning. Now they faced adversity and complications such as the older Marxist movement had never known, in a nightmare world in which all their banners and symbols had been annexed and appropriated to be used against them . A dozen years on from October, the international-socialist Bolsheviks were reduced to a numerically marginal force, politically expropriated, and seemingly by-passed and outmoded. The "perspectives" on which Lenin and Trotsky had oriented themselves in 1917 - the world-wide dislocation of capitalism, and the opportunities it provided, again and again, in country after country, for the working class to overthrow capitalism - were still valid, if the labour movement could take its opportunities. Yet now the Communist International, formed to push aside the social democracy and organise the working class to settle accounts with capitalism, was a force that acted against socialism with a brutality, discipline, consistency and lethal effect that pro-capitalist social democracy had matched only in Germany in 1919, if even then. Out of the victory of 1917 had come the most debilitating of defeats. Lenin and Trotsky knew they could be defeated and possibly massacred: they did not imagine this sort of defeat, or this massacre of the ideas of Marxism
and socialism. Not only did the Bolsheviks take power, then find themselves unable to realise their programme and forced to implement, in whole or in part, another programme; but then a seeming facsimile of their programme was seized and annexed by their conquerors. "All the old crap" did reappear, but disguised as the best realisation of its very opposite. Stalinism permeated the socialist programme; it petrified it as calcifying chemicals seep into the cells of trees to turn the organic wood into another substance, stone. The consequences for socialism can only now, after the fall of the USSR and its empire, begin to be be undone. Against the Communist Parties, after the mid-1920s, competed tiny groups led by Trotsky, representing and embodying the ideas of the 1917 Revolution, but with few resources. The existence of state-licensed Stalinist "Marxism" made their work uniquely difficult. In addition, they would be half-buried under an enormous USSR-inspired and -financed deluge of misrepresentation, slander, and persecution, including murder. To the Stalinist counter-revolutionaries - and to the millions of revolutionary workers who followed them - these representatives of the ideas of October, and in the first place Trotsky, the organiser of the October rising, were Mensheviks, reactionaries, White Guards, and fascists. Their identity, like their banner, had been stolen by the new Russian ruling class and its agents. The unreconstructed Jacobins and the poor people of Paris had experienced something like this when the slogans of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, under which they had made the French Revolution, were seized by the bourgeoisie, who came to power after the Revolution had cleared the way for them and crushed the people. The bourgeoisie gave the old revolutionary slogans their meanings. They rendered the revolution unrecognisable and unacceptable to those who had made it. Under the self-same slogans, or the same broad ideas, an alien class had harvested the state power. The revolutionary ideas were not sharp enough and clear enough to make them undetachable from those who thought they had blazed a path that would lead to a world very different from the one that they had. Ideas are porous: reality is richer and more complex; it possesses potentialities that are not to be seen in advance. The democrats of the 1830s and 1840s in Britain and elsewhere had seen their ideas seized and corrupted in the '50s and '60s, when democracy was tamed by the bourgeoisie, deprived of its earlier radical social dimension and turned into something other than what it had been for friends and enemies alike since the French Revolution, and earlier. "I pondered all these things, and how men fight and lose the battle, and the thing they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name" [William Morris, A Dream of John Ball]. The Bolsheviks' experience after Stalin's "Second Revolution" in 1928 had much in common with those earlier experiences. Of course, socialists had known, and repeatedly said, that state nationalisation of industry was not socialism; that it could only serve socialist working-class goals if the workers held social and political power. These ideas had differentiated Marxism from Fabianism and middle-class reformism. In its spiralling degeneration the Russian revolution presented the problem differently. Nationalised property there was rooted in the great revolution. Though the Bolshevik Party and the revolution had been destroyed, the manner of their destruction was unexpected. The result was unprecedented and therefore mystifying and disorienting. Both "the Bolsheviks" and "the October Revolution" seemed to have survived. Despite the programme-rooted expectations of those who led the revolution that there would be bourgeois counter-revolution in Russia if the workers' revolution did not spread to the advanced countries, there had been no bourgeois counter-revolution. The bureaucratic counter-revolution that had taken place said it was Bolshevik, socialist, working-class. The Stalinist counter-revolution was not only a counter-revolution within the property forms established by the workers' state, but also, as we saw, a counter-revolution within the forms of the old governing Marxist ideas. When it snuffed out the remnants of working-class political power, and seized the means of production, the new ruling class seized "Marxism" too, twisting, changing and bowdlerising the old ideas, turning the old Marxist language into its liturgy of state and the sacerdotal language of a bureaucratic "socialism". When the rising collectivist ruling class, in its process of separation from the old party, created a pseudo-Marxism that deconstructed and dismantled the Marxism of October, it inflicted its worst possible, because all-embracing, defeat on Bolshevism. One consequence was to prevent the re-emergence of a replacement for Bolshevism. The taking of power in 1917 turned out to have been a kamikaze exercise, not only for the Bolshevik party in its physical existence, though ultimately it was that, but kamikaze for a whole political doctrine. The Trotskyists had to rebuild Bolshevism in a labour movement doubly poisoned - by its open enemies and by the Stalinist imposters - against "Bolshevism". The task proved impossible. The "battle of ideas" is central to the outcome of class struggle. Here was Karl Marx's idea that "the ruling ideology of an epoch is that of the ruling class" confronting the international revolutionary movement in a new form - as an international extension of the new USSR ruling class, assiduously purveying a counterfeit of the old Bolshevik ideas, and maintaining a world-wide organisation with vast resources and no scruples or restraint to impose its version of "Marxism". Bad slogans drove out good; opulent counterfeits, nourished by the successes of the USSR, occupied the place of the genuine Marxism. Possessing power and wealth - that of a ruling class - unimaginable to the old labour movement, the bureaucracy could define what it decreed to be Marxism, socialism, Leninism, Bolshevism. Money, prestige, "red professors" in their version of academia, and police, jails, and concentration camps could, and for decades did, make good the claim. The bureaucrats' great power to set the agenda for large parts of the labour movement could sustain it. The past was blurred, half blotted out, and "overwritten" with the bureaucracy's myths of its own origins, purposes, and pidgin-Marxist ideologies, spread among revolutionary workers along paths laid down to and from the USSR in the days of Bolshevism. When parody and pastiche and scholastic kitsch "Marxism" became the creed of the mass revolutionary labour movement, revolutionary Marxism confronted the most murderously hostile environment it had ever had to face - a political world in the grip of nightmare and delirium such as no liberating movement had faced since the mysticism enshrouded primitive revolts of the religion-bound Middle Ages. Those in the Bolshevik party and the Communist International who resisted the rising Stalinist bureaucracy had to dispute with those who, in possession of the "conquests" of the October Revolution, were plausibly the heirs of Lenin exactly what was and was not Marxism, what was and was not Bolshevism, what was and was not the proper policy and modus operandi for the Communist Parties in capitalist countries, what was and was not the necessary socialist working-class perspective on the evolution of the USSR. They fought an immense entrenched state power which presented itself as the real - the victorious, and therefore better - embodiment of the ideals proclaimed also by the anti-Stalinists. To side with the opposition needed courage and clarity. It meant standing with a tiny persecuted minority against a vast multitude who seemed to have the successful and prosperous variant of the same ideas. Moreover, the revolutionary socialists had the disadvantage of seeming to accept the core claims of the Stalinists. The Soviet Union was, they said, an immense gain, though they criticised the bureaucrats' methods and their rule. Its economic successes were the decisive practical proof in history so far that collectivist economy worked. So said even Trotsky. The representative experience of the proto-Fourth International was that of Germany from September 1930, when Hitler made a spectacular electoral breakthrough, to 30 January 1933, when Hitler became Chancellor, and the few weeks after that, before the Nazi grip had taken the German labour movement by the throat, during which effective resistance was still possible. Trotsky understood Hitlerism early. He raised the alarm in good time. In pamphlets and articles he warned the German labour movement, criticised it, advocated proper anti-fascist tactics for the whole German labour movement. Despite Trotsky's warnings, the social democracy remained the supine conservative force it had been for 20 years. The German Communist Party made violently pseudo-revolutionary statements and competed with the Nazis by mimicking their ideas (they too called for the "national liberation" of Germany) and by intermittently allying with them against the social democratic labour movement - even to collaboration with the Hitlerites in the breaking of social-democrat-led strikes. They insisted that Hitler fascism was neither the main danger nor the only "fascism". Here the confusion about "democracy" must have been a big element in getting German Communist workers to accept the idea that Hitler's
victory was not uniquely threatening to the very existence of the German labour movement, Communist and social-democratic alike. To the Communist Party, the main enemy was "social fascism", the social democracy - the old enemy, the traitors of 1918-9, "the murderers of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht". The couple of hundred Trotskyists were unable to make themselves heard by those who could shape and reshape reality. They could not break through the barriers of bureaucratic organisation to influence Social-Democratic workers, or surmount the barricades of Stalinist slander to influence Communist workers. The unquiet ghosts of old Bolshevism, still abroad in the world but no longer a force in it, they were able to see and understand but no longer able to touch reality and shape it. Revolutionary Marxist theory was divorced from the revolutionary-minded workers and thus from the possibility of practice. To the Stalinist workers, the Oppositionists were the "Trotsky fascists"; to the social democrats, the unteachable old Bolsheviks; to the working class at large, people outside their own organisations, heretics, renegades, defeatists - or agents provocateurs in the service of the enemy. By the time Hitler came to break its back and smash its skull, German Communism was a quasi-religious mass cult, in which the Stalinist Popes and bishops - operating, like the medieval Church, by ideological terrorism supplemented by physical repression - had outlawed the propensity and capacity of the party to think, and driven unauthorised "discussion" underground. The Trotskyists? People sacrilegiously questioning the most sacred doctrines and pouring scorn and venom on the images of their leaders and teachers. Alien, petty-bourgeois, "revisionist" - subversive of the revolutionary enterprise! To disobey or disagree was to place yourself outside the great army of the revolutionary proletariat, outside the revolutionary party on which so much depended. Trotsky was right, foreseeing events clearly and in good time to arm the workers, truthfully warning the German labour movement that it was faced with imminent destruction - and yet he was starkly cut off from any possibility of affecting events. In Germany Trotskyism was Bolshevism without masses, arguing perspectives that required masses, in conditions where the very life of the German working-class movement was at stake. This was to be the fate of Trotskyism in history. Trotskyism would be shaped and reshaped by it. After the German CP's surrender to Hitler in 1933, Trotsky declared the Communist International dead and set out to build a new International, the "Fourth". The forces were very small. The proponents of the new International would have to do the same work as had been done for the nascent "Third" (Communist) International at the Zimmerwald and Kienthal Conferences in 1915 and 1916 after the collapse of the old International at the outbreak of war in 1914. But there were no victories like that of 1917, out of which grew the Third International. Defeat followed defeat; disaster followed disaster; massacre followed massacre at the hands of the fascists and the Stalinists. A new movement had proved necessary - but also, as Europe moved to a new world-engulfing war, impossible. The fundamental difference between the prospects for the nascent Third International, in its day, and the still-born Fourth, lay in the existence and character of Stalinism - a rich and powerful pseudo-revolutionary force with a stable base in the USSR that allowed the Communist Parties to survive any political shift, zig-zag or glaring contradiction. This was not politics as hitherto known in the labour movement, but a variant of the state-serving politics hitherto confined to the bourgeoisie, whose parties, alternating in power, would, despite differences, commonly serve the fundamental social status quo, the rule of the bourgeoisie. In the Stalinist parties, policy zig-zags occurred repeatedly within one entity, defined by the interests of the USSR ruling class. This would change the map of the labour movement's political world, intruding into it a bureaucratic force as powerful and unscrupulous as the state and the ruling class it served. The laws of history are stronger than the bureaucratic apparatus, Trotsky would write. In fact the Stalinist apparatus inserted a reshaping force into history - not for ever, as the once seemingly all-powerful Russian Stalinist rulers would learn in 1989-91, but for a whole epoch, and enough to derail, confuse and crush progressive forces falteringly moving forward in the class struggle. The strength of the Stalinist apparatus, against whole societies and against more easily dispersible and destructible labour movements made up of voluntary associations of workers, was something new in history. In Germany, Spain and France, Stalinism acted as one of the two giant millstones which ground into nothingness labour movements, which, had they been able to develop, might have reconstructed society on a higher socialist level. By the time Trotsky died, on 21 August 1940, the European labour movement had been pulverised. Excepting Britain, Finland, Ireland, Switzerland and Sweden, fascism and authoritarianism ruled Europe. To the east Stalin had erected a bureaucratic throne above the grave of the Russian labour movement. Trotskyism was an epiphenomenon of the early Communist International: a critical satellite of the mass parties of the Communist International, desperately trying to reorient them; and then a disablingly weak competitor with both the Communist International and the older social democracy. It was armed with the unfalsified ideas, goals and perspectives of 1917 Bolshevism and the early Communist International in a capitalist world rushing towards disaster and the biggest and most destructive war in history. The contrast between what followed the collapse of the Communist International in 1933 and the aftermath of the collapse of the Second International in 1914 was decisive for the subsequent history of Europe. In 1914 and after, the Kaiser socialists and their counterparts in other countries had visibly and audibly broken with the old ideas. There was resistance - led by Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, Klara Zetkin, Franz Mehring, Otto Rühle and others - which swelled and grew in response to events. In 1916 the German Social Democracy split. Radicalisation grew, especially after the Russian Revolution of 1917. Revolutionaries rallied to the clean red banner of October. After the decisive collapse of the Stalinised Communist Party in 1933, nothing was clear-cut. The bureaucratic Russian state twisted and shaped everything. In 1933 and after, the Trotskyist opposition did not appear boldly and clearly as the revolutionary opposition, nor the Stalinists as renegades who had served the enemy and helped destroy the most powerful labour movement in Europe. Decisively, the Stalinists had not gone over to the bourgeois enemy, they were demagogically very left wing and "revolutionary"; they served the anti-capitalist Russian bureaucracy. There was neither freedom to organise in the Communist Parties, nor the possibility of open discussion; nor, now, was there unadulterated Marxist education to build on. There had already been a decade of radical miseducation, of systematic falsification of the ideas of Marxism and the Russian Revolution. The very language of Marxism had been corrupted and reduced to emotion-bearing demagogic, arbitrary catch-cries. It would be like that, with national variations, all through the 1930s, until war reshaped the world anew and for a whole epoch closed off the perspectives on which the Communist International of 1919 had organised itself.
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