Rival of Capitalism, Oppressor of Labor, Enemy of Peace

Submitted by AWL on 10 July, 2013 - 9:59 Author: Max Shachtman

The Roots of Stalinist Imperialism

(Article from Labor Action's annual May special issue, 1951)

What is Stalinism?

When the defenders and journalists of capitalism speak of Stalinist Russia as a "socialist 
state" they have, from their standpoint, two good reasons for saying so.

One reason, the product of ignorance if not malice, is to discredit the cause of socialism 
in the mind of workers by identifying it with the oppressive police rule of the Stalinist state.

The other reason results from their sound class instinct. They have never concerned them
selves with the positive aspect of socialism, which is the liberation of the working class from all
 forms of oppression and exploitation and the assurance of abundance and freedom for all. Their
 idea of what socialism is, is simple enough. It is the threat to the profits and privileges they derive from their ownership of the means of production 
and exchange which socialism would abolish.
 And since Stalinism also abolishes capitalist pri
vate ownership wherever it establishes its rule, it
 does no less to the foundations on which the capitalist class rests than socialism would do.

That is reason enough for the capitalist class
 to equate Stalinism with "socialism," or at least with
 "socialism of some kind or another."

It does not follow, however, that this is reason enough
 for the workingman or the socialist to adopt the same view of Stalinism.

Socialism is uncompromisingly opposed to capitalism. 
 But if it were merely an anti-capitalist movement and
 nothing else, it would be exceedingly primitive, simple-
minded and even subject to all sorts of reactionary perversions. If it simply took the view that what is good for
 the capitalist class is bad for the working class, that 
what hurts the capitalist class automatically promotes
 the interest of the working class, or that the aim of the
 working-class movement is to take revenge against capitalists for their exploitation and oppression - it would
n’t have the scientific character which gives it its fundamental power and progressiveness.

Feudalism, for example, is opposed to capitalism and
 stands in the way of its development. But the feudal
 opposition to capitalism has never promoted the interests
 of the working class and it never merited the name or
 the support of socialism.

Workers, enraged by capitalist exploitation, once un
leashed their fury against the modern machines which 
were the means of exploiting them. But the smashing of
 the machines which took the place of primitive handwork 
was, at bottom, futile and reactionary; and even if it
 was painful to the capitalist, it did not advance the interests of the working class or receive the support of 
the socialists.

A Reactionary Force

Stalinism is not feudalism and it does not favor smashing machinery. It is, indeed, opposed to capitalism; it does
 aim to abolish capitalist private property; and it does
 prefer to base itself mainly upon the working class. But
 only from the capitalist standpoint does this make Stalinism
 "socialist" or a "working-class" movement.

Socialism opposes capitalism only from the standpoint 
of promoting the interests of the working class, only
 from the standpoint of speeding the working class to control of the economic and political power in every country, only from the standpoint that this control alone will 
enable society as a whole to dispense with all forms of 
class rule and therewith develop in full freedom from all social fetters.

From this standpoint, Stalinism is not progressive and has nothing in common with the working class or
 socialism; it is a reactionary force.

Stalinism is a product of the decay of capitalism. This 
tells us very little about it, unless we understand that it is
 a product of a particular conjunction point in the decaying 
process of capitalism.

The decay of capitalism simply means that the ruling
 class is less and less capable of resolving the ever acuter
 problems of society by the traditional methods at its 
disposal, that is, by capitalist methods.

The result is: a stagnation of economic life which is
"overcome" only by preparing for wars which cause a 
stupendous destruction of wealth and which are futile in
 that they solve no significant social or political problem
 and open up no progressive road to mankind; the growth 
of political reaction in the form of the enormously increased bureaucratization and militarization of public 
life, the growth of "garrison states", police states, to
talitarian states; the disintegration, debasement and
 stifling of cultural life; and so on.

The working class is that social force which is called 
upon to arrest the social decay produced by a capitalist 
system which has completely outlived its historical usefulness. The more acute the problems of society become, 
the more urgently the working class is called upon to
 break all its ties with capitalism and to resolve these
 problems in a socialist - that is, in a democratic and
 progressive - way.

The Key Idea

Now, if the working class fails - whatever may be the
reason for the failure at any given moment - to resolve the
 burning social problems in a socialist way at the time
 when the capitalist class reveals its inherent inability to
 resolve them in a capitalist way, we get that conjunction
 point in the decay of society which makes possible the rise
 of Stalinism; -

There we have the key to understanding this new
 force which baffles and bewilders the capitalist class and 
the prisoners of the capitalist mode of thinking, and
 throws them into the panic in which they find themselves 

Stalinism fills the social vacuum created under these conditions. It seeks to solve the problems which the main
 classes of society are either unable to solve or fail to
 solve, each in its own way.

And where it establishes its power, it does solve the 
problems. To be sure, it solves them in its way; it solves 
them in a reactionary way; in solving them, it creates
 a multitude of new problems or the old problems in new
 forms; but it does solve the old problems as they ap
peared in their capitalist form.

It proceeds to destroy the foundations of capitalism 
and to crush the capitalist class, with which the new
 masters have not the slightest desire to share their 

It is that which, from the capitalist standpoint, gives 
it the appearance of a "revolutionary," or a "working 
class" or a "socialist" force. But that is only appearance.

The reality is that the new masters, composed of the 
riffraff of the old society, the uprooted and the demoral
ized elements of all social layers, especially of the bureaucracy of the labor movement - these new masters also 
crush the working class at the same time, deprive it of
 all traces of economic and political rights, and subjugate 
it to a despotic exploitation unparalleled in modern

If the working class fails to destroy capitalism, wrote
 the co-founder of the modern socialist movement dec
ades ago, it will suffer the penalty of its own destruction. We can see today the heavy penalty the working 
class pays when it fails in its task. Stalinism destroys it
 by transforming it into a class of modern state-slaves.

Who 'Owns' the State?

Where Stalinism triumphs, it transfers sooner or
 later all the means of production and exchange to the
 ownership of the state. And the collective ownership and organization of the means of production by the state is a 
long step forward for society; it is a milestone in human 
progress; it is the necessary preliminary to a stateless 
social order, a socialist society of abundance and freedom.

But this is so only on the absolutely indispensable 
condition that the state which concentrates all economic
 power in its hands is in turn in the hands of the working 
class - is a democratic state, a state whose democratic 
character widens constantly to the point where it ceases 
to be a state at all, that is, an instrument of coercion of 
the few against the many or even of the many against
 the few.

Omit this condition, or substitute anything else for 
it, and the state which now has all economic power cen
tralized within it will inevitably be the most powerful
 exploitive and oppressive machine ever directed against 
a working class.

That is what the Stalinist state is, in every country
 where it is established.

The working class is the most important productive 
force in society. Where the state owns all the means of 
production, it also "owns" the working class.

If this state is the organized working class itself, then 
and only then is it a workers' state capable of ushering 
in socialism. Then and only then does the working class, collectively, own and control the productive forces, including itself - and the working class does not exploit and
 oppress itself because in its very nature it cannot do so.
 But where this state is in the hands of another class, as is 
the case under Stalinism, it is a disfranchised slave class
 completely dominated by an uncontrolled bureaucracy.

The totalitarian Stalinist bureaucracy is unique
 among ruling classes, and so is its mode of production.

Under capitalism, the anarchy of production is determined by the fact that goods are produced for the market and not for use. The market is the regulator of production.

Under socialism, production and distribution will be
 determined by democratic social planning. In a workers state which leads to socialism, production and distribu
tion must be determined democratically by the working 
class through its state machinery; and the only assurance 
this class has that production and distribution will be
 planned for its use and benefit is by exercising its demo
cratic control of the state machinery.

Under Stalinism, however, production and distribu
tion are regulated neither by the market nor by the demo
cratic decisions of the working class - let alone society 
as a whole. They are determined arbitrarily by a vast
 network of self-perpetuating, uncontrolled bureaucrats
 who monopolize all political and therefore all economic
 power, for their own use.

In the absence of the more-or-less automatic economic
 controls which the market provides for capitalism, and
 of the democratic economic controls which a workers 
state or a socialist society would provide, the Stalinist
 state is left with no other means of organizing and controlling the economy save the police means which are at 
the disposal of this super-totalitarian regime.

It is this ingrained characteristic of Stalinist rule 
which stamps it as reactionary not only from a political
 but also from an economic standpoint and dooms it to
 permanent economic crisis.

Basis of Its Imperialism

To maintain itself, its power and its privileges over
 the masses of the people, it must maintain an unprece
dentedly huge and parasitical human (or rather, inhuman!) machine of surveillance and oppression.

In the nature of the regime itself, this machine is directed not only against the masses - although primarily against them - but also against the lower ranks
of the bureaucracy itself, from which it must continually 
draw for scapegoats for its economic deficiencies and

The whole manner of its organization of economic
 life is such that it exceeds capitalism by far in the degree to which it wears out, wastes, devours and destroys
 outright the productive forces which are developed under
its rule.

A social order is progressive to the extent that the
 productive forces developed in any period of its existence
 are socially useful; it is or becomes reactionary - as has 
for so long been the case with capitalism - to the extent
 that the productive forces developed under its rule are 
socially useless, are wasted and exhausted, are converted, 
in the words of Karl Marx, into means of destruction.

From this standpoint, Stalinist society is reactionary
 through and through. It does not represent progress as
against capitalism. It is a product of the decay of capitalism, which in turn produces a deeper decay of society,
 the new barbarism of which it is at once the carrier and

The vast destruction of the productive forces under 
Stalinism not only crushes the people it rules, but under
mines the rule of the bureaucracy itself. It knows no other
 way of maintaining itself than by intensifying its police
 rule and compensating for its economic destruction by 
conquering, enslaving and looting countries not yet under 
its dominion.

That is the basis of the Stalinist imperialism which 
has already succeeded in reducing so many countries of
 Eurupe and Asia to the degradation of satellite, vassal 
or colonial states whose economic wealth and working 
classes are ravaged so that the economic power and to
talitarian rule of the Russian master class may be maintained and expanded.