Tuesday, December 30, 2008


In defense of Marxism Number 3 (June 1995)

 Theoretical journal of the Leninist-Trotskyist Tendency

“In Russia the reactionary idea of national socialism in one country is winning out. In the last analysis this could lead to the restoration of capitalist relations in the country”
Leon Trotsky at the funeral of Adolf Joffe, 1927 [1]

“... either the bureaucracy, becoming ever more the organ of the world bourgeoisie in the workers’ state, will overthrow the new forms of property and plunge the country back into capitalism; or the working class will crush the bureaucracy and open the way to socialism.”
Leon Trotsky, 1938 [2]

1. The “defence of the Soviet Union” and its historical significance

The collapse of Stalinism throughout Eastern Europe and the ex-Soviet Union between 1989-1991 is the most important development in world politics in the past half-century. It has resulted in a major shift in the international balance of power, and unleashed in its wake wars, economic crisis and upheaval throughout the region. Its tremors have been felt throughout the world in nationalist and workers’ organisations, which for the previous 75 years had defined themselves in one way or another by their attitude to “communism” and the Soviet Union.

In particular, its effects have gripped all those who identify with Marxism. But the results of much of the wave of reassessment and self-examination provoked by the collapse have in the main proved woefully inadequate. It is our contention that only by theoretically rearming the vanguard of the working class in relation to this watershed experience can there be a revolutionary future for Marxism.

The “Russian question” has been at the heart of many of the sharpest struggles between those who have identified themselves as Trotskyists. By origin, it turned on whether the Soviet Union remained a workers’ state which should be defended against imperialism, particularly in the event of war. By extension, the “Russian question” came to embrace the deformed workers’ states of Eastern Europe, Asia and Cuba. Each time the question was presented anew, particularly in the “buffer zone” debate of 1946-51 and the controversy surrounding the Cuban Revolution from 1961-63, it caused new crises among the descendants of Trotsky’s Fourth International.

From the outset, revolutionaries identified this “defence” of the Soviet Union primarily with the gains of the October Revolution, rather than the “territorial integrity” of the Soviet state. Even in the final stages of the death agony of the degenerated/deformed workers’ states of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the question of military defence of the workers’ states remained relevant in so far as imperialism continued to exert military pressure on them. But the decisive blows of social counter-revolution were to be political rather than military. With the coming to power of restorationist, pro-imperialist governments, the military aspect of the “Russian question” has been relegated to the status of a historical dispute. But the controversy surrounding the class nature of these states remains.

From the early 1920s, with the beginning of the New Economic Policy (NEP), Trotsky and the Left Opposition fought both ultra-left and right-centrist forces which abandoned the defence of the Soviet Union on the grounds that a new form of class rule had arisen. The first proponents of a state capitalist theory were the Mensheviks, and similar positions were put forward by Karl Kautsky and some anarchists.

By 1926, the Democratic Centralism group, led by the old Bolsheviks V. M. Smirnov, T. Sapronov and N. Osinsky, had arrived at the position that the workers’ state had been liquidated. Osinsky and Sapronov developed versions of state capitalism.[3] All three died in the purges; however, their political trajectories were different. Osinsky subsequently became a supporter of Bukharin. It seems that surviving Democratic Centralists in the camps maintained a defencist position in the event of war, despite their position on the nature of the state.[4]

Hugo Urbahns, the chief theoretician of the Leninbund in Germany, (which collaborated with the Left Opposition until 1930) also developed state capitalist views. Such positions persisted among some German Trotskyists in the mid-1930s,[5] and were also put forward by Yvan Craipeau in the French Trotskyist movement.[6] In 1937, James Burnham and Joseph Carter of the SWP (US) advanced the thesis that the Soviet Union was neither a workers’ nor a bourgeois state.[7] Within two years, they had been joined by SWP leaders Max Shachtman and Martin Abern, and formed a heterogeneous grouping opposed to the designation of the Soviet Union as a degenerated workers’ state.[8]

Both Burnham and Shachtman were influenced by the erratic Italian writer Bruno Rizzi,[9] although they came to different conclusions. Shachtman, who developed the theory of bureaucratic collectivism, initially hedged his bets on the defence of the Soviet Union, and held that it represented a higher stage than capitalism. However, in the course of his evolution into a Cold War social democrat, he came to see bureaucratic collectivism as lower rung on the ladder of social progress than bourgeois democracy, and wound up supporting US imperialism against the degenerated/deformed workers’ states. Burnham, whose managerial revolution thesis[10] foreshadowed much of Cold War sociology (convergence theory), moved far more rapidly to right-wing positions, urging imperialist intervention against the Soviet Union.

The expansion of Stalinism after the Second World War gave a fresh impetus to such theories. Ex-Trotskyist Tony Cliff’s State Capitalism in Russia[11] and Yugoslav dissident Milovan Djilas’s The New Class[12] were products of this period. The common thread uniting the various new class, state capitalist, bureaucratic collectivist and managerial revolution theses was that the crimes of Stalinism had resulted in the overthrow of the workers’ state, and on this basis the military defence of the USSR was excluded. The defence of the Soviet Union, or the post-war “Stalinist states”, they claimed, implied political support for Stalinism. Trotsky, in contrast, had insisted that it did not mean giving uncritical support to any of the variants of Stalinist policy.

Although such currents were small and uninfluential in the workers’ movement in the 1950s, and represented an adaptation to the Cold War, they were also the result in part of the theoretical impasse among the Trotskyists. In the 1940s, the vast majority of the FI refused to recognise the emerging workers’ states in Eastern Europe. The mechanical repetition of Trotskyist “orthodoxy” proved wholly inadequate to meet the challenges of the post-war world. Worse still, “orthodox Trotskyism” failed even to develop those pointers within Trotsky’s writings which could have served as the starting point for an analysis of the social overturns in Eastern Europe and China.

While the decision to reverse this position and extend the FI’s defence of the Soviet Union to the deformed workers’ states was a step in the right direction, the discussion during the “buffer zone” debate demonstrated a high degree of methodological confusion, which sowed the seeds of future crises. The debate surrounding the Cuban revolution demonstrated that none of the theoretical issues had been resolved. The United Secretariat (USFI) was formed in 1963 around broad agreement that Fidel Castro had created a “healthy workers’ state”. Meanwhile, the rump of the International Committee around Healy’s SLL and Lambert’s PCI refused to recognise that anything had qualitatively changed, and clung to the untenable position that Cuba remained a bourgeois state.

Without any unified theory to explain the emergence of deformed workers’ states – and frequently without even an adequate empirical knowledge of developments within the economies and societies under Stalinist rule – it was almost inevitable that the various strands of “Trotskyism” would be plunged into crisis by the events of 1989-91. Having failed to comprehend the process in one direction, it was unlikely to do so in the other. The suddenness of the collapse of Stalinism only served to deepen the confusion. Chronic theoretical crisis became acute political disorientation.

“Optimists” uncritically tail-ended the anti-Stalinist opposition movements which emerged, in the belief that the long-awaited political revolution was unfolding. The logic of their position – that whatever replaced Stalinist rule was a step forward – led them to cheer the fall of the Berlin Wall and support the “democratic” counter-revolution.

“Pessimists”, in the face of widespread illusions in bourgeois democracy and capitalist restoration, abandoned class politics from the opposite direction, and became strategists of “united fronts” with the decomposing bureaucracies, which they continued to regard as having an intrinsic interest in the defence of the workers’ states.

The programmatic divisions which existed between the various “revolutionary” currents in 1989-91 have naturally carried over into the theoretical plane, with the result that no consensus exists on the class nature of the ex-Soviet Union and the states of Eastern Europe. Most of the optimists continue to cling to the view that workers’ states still exist, and that the counter-revolution has yet to win a decisive victory. To think otherwise would be out of keeping with their upbeat perspectives. Behind the optimism lurks a gloomy assumption – that the fall of the workers’ states will set back working class struggle for decades.

For the pessimists, the failure of a “Reiss faction” to emerge within the bureaucracy has led them further into a sectarian wilderness inhabited by fascism and world historic defeats. The absolute distinction they drew between Stalinism and social democracy has been disproved by reality – in so far as Stalinism has made a political comeback in some countries, it has done so by reinventing itself as a pro-market social democracy.

The largest of the “Fourth Internationals”, the United Secretariat (USFI), is gripped by paralysis and has no clear, agreed position. In keeping with its federal structure, its last world congress in 1990 encompassed both those who saw the reunification of Germany as a liberating event which should be toasted with champagne and others who saw it as the greatest defeat for the working class since 1933!

Socialist Action, USFI sympathising section in the United States, puts forward the following thesis: “The situation in these countries [Eastern Europe and the ex-Soviet Union] can be summed up roughly as degenerating workers’ states in transition to capitalism under the political rule of a government based on an alliance between bureaucrats and gestating comprador capitalists.”[13] But, as far as a definition of the state goes, this is clearly a fudged position. On the other hand, some supporters of the USFI majority appear to be moving towards the position that bourgeois states have been restored.

For LO, and presumably for its international tendency, the UCI, as well, “the attempted social counter-revolution aimed at transforming Soviet society into a capitalist society ... has started in a legal sense but is in reality far from being completed”, although a small minority within LO holds that “the state has become the instrument of the bourgeois restoration, in other words simply a bourgeois state”.[14]

The debate on the class nature of the ex-Soviet Union and Eastern Europe is not a dry, academic issue. There is no “Chinese Wall” separating “theory” from perspectives and programme. What is at stake is a fundamental theoretical challenge from which definite political conclusions are drawn. For those who set out to overthrow capitalism, the ability to understand the processes of revolution and counter-revolution is not an optional extra; it is fundamental in order to be able to intervene in them. Five years after the collapse of Stalinism in Eastern Europe, and three years after the end of the Soviet Union, it is high time that Marxists stopped whistling to keep up their spirits and took up this challenge.

2. Mechanical Materialism and the Theory of the State

Those who still regard the countries of Eastern Europe and the ex-Soviet Union as deformed/degenerated workers’ states rest their case – with varying degrees of sophistication – on the continued existence of predominantly nationalised economies. Despite the existence of bourgeois restorationist governments, the state remains, they argue, the superstructural reflection of the base. Taken in isolation, some of Trotsky’s writings can appear to support such a position. Those who care to look will find numerous examples of “political shorthand”, where Trotsky appears to equate the existence of the workers’ state with the survival of nationalised property; for instance: “So long as the forms of property that have been created by the October Revolution are not overthrown, the proletariat remains the ruling class”.[15]

The task of Marxists, however, is not to mindlessly repeat sacred texts, but to grasp the underlying method of Marxism. To begin to provide a definition of the class nature of the ex-Soviet Union, it is necessary to return to the most basic question – what is a workers state?

According to Trotsky’s succinct definition, “The class character of the state is determined by its relation to the forms of property in the means of production” and “by the character of the forms of property and productive relations which the given state guards and defends”.[16] This implies a dialectical rather than a mechanical relationship between base and superstructure: it is not merely a question of the existing forms of property but of those which the state defends and strives to develop.

Underlining this approach, Lenin argued in early 1918 that: “No one, I think, in studying the question of the economic system of Russia, has denied its transitional character. Nor, I think, has any Communist denied that the term Socialist Soviet Republic implies the determination of Soviet power to achieve the transition to socialism, and not that the new economic system is recognised as a socialist order.” [17]

Thus, despite the fact that between 1917 and 1918, the Bolsheviks ruled over a bourgeois economy, only economistic pedants would deny that the infant soviet regime was a workers’ state. Not only did workers hold state power directly through soviets, but the Soviet regime was committed to expropriating the bourgeoisie.

Elsewhere, we have attempted the following definition: “At root, a workers’ state is one in which the bourgeoisie is politically suppressed, leading to its economic expropriation as a class. This is what such apparently disparate events as the October Revolution of 1917 and the bureaucratic overturns in Eastern Europe, Asia and Cuba after 1945 have in common… We reject both purely “economic” and purely “political definitions of a workers’ state.”[18]

History abounds with examples of contradiction between the state and economic forms, which demonstrate that the class character of the state cannot be defined in purely mechanical terms. For instance, feudal states continued to exist during the formative period of merchant capital in Europe. In this century, Marxists have recognised as bourgeois states both countries which contain many survivals from pre-capitalist economic formations and countries in which substantial sections of the means of production have been nationalised (e.g. Algeria, Angola, Burma, Ethiopia, Libya, Mozambique, Syria, etc). Among what we previously recognised as deformed workers’ states were countries with numerous pre-capitalist survivals and/or significant private sectors within their economies. Moreover, most of the countries of Eastern Europe had large state sectors prior to 1947-48 – the period most Trotskyists identify as marking the emergence of deformed workers’ states.

The cutting edge of distinction between bourgeois states and workers’ states is not some decisive degree of nationalisation (Militant/CWI), nor the existence of “central planning” (Workers Power/LRCI), nor the alleged “commitment” of the state apparatus to defend the socialised forces of production (ICL and IBT), but which class interests the economy and the state apparatus ultimately serve.

Neither elements of private ownership on the one hand, nor extensive nationalisation on the other, in and of themselves, determine the class character of the state, because the state is at least partly autonomous from the economy. This is why the character of the state and the economy can change at different speeds. For example, the New Economic Policy (NEP) in the 1920s was a concession to private capital forced on the Bolsheviks in the difficult circumstances of the period, which was – at least initially – within the overall framework of defending working class interests. In contrast, the Chinese Stalinists’ policy today of encouraging private enterprise in the special economic zones is preparing the restoration of capitalism.

Militant’s theory of “proletarian Bonapartism”[19] is the crassest example of vulgar materialism in awe of nationalised property. The states which Militant characterises as workers states, Angola, Burma etc, were capitalist states from their inception. The high degree of nationalisation carried out by the nationalist petty-bourgeoisie or army officers were the basis for the emergence of a bourgeois class, whose interests were defended by the state apparatus and the legal system.

3. Workers Power: Economism and the State

On the face of things, the most sophisticated “economist” attempt to theorise the origin of the deformed/degenerate workers’ states and defend the view that, along with the ex-Soviet Union, the countries of Eastern Europe remain workers’ states, has come from Workers Power and the LRCI.

According to Workers Power, the degenerate workers’ state is characterised by three main features: “statification of the decisive parts of the means of production; their co-ordination and functioning according to the objectives set by the ruling bureaucratic caste, which necessarily involves the negation of the law of value within the state; the protection of this system from disruption by the external law of value through a state monopoly of foreign trade.”[20]

Faithful to this “economist” method, Workers Power has tried to isolate a defining moment to “date” the emergence of deformed/degenerate workers’ states. Thus, “by the spring of 1947, with the inauguration of the first five year plan, the process of the creation of a bureaucratically degenerate workers’ state in Yugoslavia was complete”[21] Similarly China: “The introduction of planning in 1953 on the clear basis of subordinating the operation of the law of value, marks the establishment of a degenerate workers’ state in China.”[22] And although “by the summer of 1960, Castro had broken decisively with the Cuban and US bourgeoisie”, Workers Power places the formation of the Cuban workers’ state as 1962, “from the implementation of the first five year plan”[23] – the intervening two years being occupied by a “bureaucratic anti-capitalist workers’ government”, which finally resolved “dual power”. (Quite how dual power could exist with the bourgeoisie already suppressed and expropriated, and the working class demobilised remains a mystery!)

In its quest to discover elaborate new, watertight schema, Workers Power has only succeeded in piling up further problems. If everything necessary for the functioning of the “post capitalist” economy must be in place before the workers’ state is created, it raises the question of why the workers’ state is necessary, and what its function is.

History shows that the state is the pioneer of future economic relations represented by the class which controls it. Or as Engels puts it, “The proletariat seizes state power and to begin with transforms the means of production into state property.”[24] The English bourgeois revolution of the 1640s did not just spring from an already developed capitalism; it swept aside its prime achievement was to sweep aside the obstacles (or, at least many of them) which stood in its way.

For Workers Power, the opposite is the case: “the state is always the expression of pre-existing productive and property relations.”[25] This leads to the ludicrous notion of “dating” the formation of the deformed/degenerate workers’ states from the day the Stalinists proclaimed five year plans. But in most Eastern European countries these were not inaugurated until 2-3 years after 1947/8 – the point at which what remained of the bourgeoisie was suppressed, its property largely expropriated and its political parties outlawed.

Workers Power’s claim to be able to analyse at every stage the class nature of the state and the programmatic and tactical implications which flow from it[26] doesn’t hold water. Armed with its theory, it is far from clear what special insight revolutionary parties in Eastern Europe between 1948 and 1950 would have had. How exactly would they have tested that the law of value had been suppressed? Presumably they would have had to wait on the Stalinist planning organs to announce their intentions before amending their programme accordingly.

Indeed, the idea of planning being the key determinant of the class character of the state places a question mark over the nature of the Soviet Union down to 1928. No doubt Workers Power would reply that the working class held power directly through its soviets after 1917. But the soviets, as organs of direct workers’ democracy, had largely decayed by 1921 – fully seven years before the Stalinist turn to industrialisation, collectivisation and full-scale “planning” – with the majority of workers either mobilised in the Red Army, drawn into the administration, atomised by exhaustion, disease and famine, or dispersed into the countryside.

No Trotskyist would deny that a gulf exists between the revolutionary workers’ state of 1917 and the Stalinist regimes of “already existing socialism”. Nevertheless, by using two entirely different sets of criteria, Workers Power is left with the conundrum that, according to its theory, the concepts of a “healthy workers’ state” and a “degenerate workers’ state” have nothing at all in common.

Workers Power’s model of the deformed/degenerate workers’ states is no more than a superficial description – and, what is more, only at a certain stage of their development. It has broken down in the face of real events. It is in any case highly questionable whether their economies functioned “according to the objectives set by the ruling bureaucratic caste”. Aside from the overtones this carries of a “bureaucratic mode of production”, it contrasts with the picture conveyed in much Soviet literature, not of an economy proceeding to plan, but one constantly frustrating its would-be planners by shortages and break-downs – themselves the consequence in large part of bureaucratic misplanning. Even at the level of formal description it is inaccurate. Yugoslavia, for example, was a deformed workers’ state, which for many years lacked both central plan as a determining factor of the economy as a whole, and a monopoly of foreign trade.

As for the suppression of the law of value, it too is defective as a determinant of the workers’ state. The very nature of transitional society down to 1989-91 ensured that the law of value never entirely disappeared, and lurked behind the apparently monolithic statified economies – which, in any case, from the standpoint of distribution, had always retained bourgeois norms.

Even under capitalism, the proposition that the value of commodities is determined by the amount of socially necessary labour time required to produce them does not operate according to a set of ideal norms (free competition), but within living contradictions. What is “normal”, in fact, is that capitalism “violates” the law of value at the particular level so as to realise it at the general level. It is very common for entire branches of industry in capitalist states to be subsidised in the interests of the bourgeoisie as a whole.

In countries in which the bourgeoisie is weak, it frequently resorts to state capitalist methods. The law of value can hardly be said to have operated “normally” in Angola, with much of its economy militarised. And what about countries, such as Ethiopia, which have experienced such acute famines that very few people are producing anything? In neither case, we suspect, would any Marxists seriously propose that the bourgeois state had ceased to exist.

How has Workers Power’s theory of the degenerate workers’ state held up since 1989? Initially, in the case of the GDR, events seemed to provide a near “economic” cut-off point, with the monetary union with the Federal Republic on July 1, 1990.

But in all other cases, the attempt to theorise a “purely economic” point of no return for the workers’ state has been doomed to failure. In 1991 Workers Power could still write that “it is the destruction of planning as the determinant of the whole of the economy which marks the destruction of the proletarian character of the property relations and, therefore, of the state which defends them.”[27]

But the election of bourgeois restorationist governments throughout Eastern Europe and the ex-Soviet Union has been accompanied by the destruction of Stalinist planning organs and the monopoly of foreign trade. Private capitalist accumulation is actively promoted, and the legal obstacles to it removed. What remains is a substantial legacy of state property, which, despite its origin, now performs approximately the same function that it does in weak semi-colonial capitalist states.

It would seem logical, given the stress it lays on “planning”, for Workers Power to acknowledge that social counter-revolution – at least at the level of the state – has already taken place. But at this point, one strand of Workers Power’s theory collides with another. Since its conditions for retrospectively baptising a degenerate workers’ state include not merely the existence of planning, but “the complete elimination of the bourgeoisie”[28] – and since neither a numerous bourgeoisie nor a “normal” functioning of the law of value exists – Workers Power has decided, for the time being, that bourgeois states have not been restored.

Its addiction to formal-logical categories did not allow for the contradictions of the real world – a situation in which the Stalinist economic mechanisms would break down, but there would be no developed bourgeoisie to fill the void. Workers Power has continued to fit reality around its schema, unconvincingly arguing that printing bank notes to subsidise state enterprises constitutes a residual form of planning [29] – although it must be obvious that it is impossible to “plan” the economy of a country such as Russia which is experiencing hyper-inflation.

In order to prepare the evacuation from such untenable positions and to accommodate evident internal opposition, the LRCI’s 3rd international congress, held in August 1994, developed a new category – “moribund workers’ states” (MWS). These are defined as “degenerate workers’ states that have restorationist governments in power which are actively demolishing the foundations of planned economy. The objective of all governments inside the MWS is clear: the complete destruction of the system of command planning and the transformation of the economy into a functioning capitalist market economy.”[30]

But in line with Trotsky’s definition of the state in terms of the property it “guards and defends” this is clearly a description of a bourgeois state! As a category the MWS is every bit as much of a fudge as the “transitional state” position of the FI in 1948 – it is a “bourgeois state form” whose social content remains undecided.

The attempt to define the state in purely economic terms leads Workers Power to the following conclusion: “A change of leading personnel within the already bourgeois-type state machine – from objective to subjective restorationists – is not the qualitative moment of transition from a workers’ to a bourgeois state. Only a tendency that had in all essentials abandoned Trotsky’s analysis could identify the collapse of the bureaucratic dictatorship with the collapse of the workers’ state itself.” [31]

In which case, among those who have “in all essentials abandoned Trotsky’s analysis”, we must include ...Trotsky! : “The inevitable collapse of Stalinist Bonapartism would immediately call into question the character of the USSR as a workers’ state. Socialist economy cannot be constructed without a socialist power. The fate of the USSR as a socialist state depends upon that political regime which will arise to replace Stalinist Bonapartism:”[32]

In the meantime, it is sobering to consider that, had Nazi Germany succeeded in conquering the Soviet Union, it might well have retained a substantial state sector. According to Workers Power’s theory, the workers’ state would have survived – albeit with a fascist government.

4. Stalinism and the Post-War Social Overturns: Problems of the Transition

The social counter-revolution in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union is (despite obvious dissimilarities) a striking mirror-image of the process which saw the formation of deformed workers’ states in the 1940s. Both have been the subject of considerable, if frequently un-illuminating, dispute among Trotskyists. How we understand the development “forwards” should to a large degree inform our analysis of the regression in the opposite direction.

The capitalist states of Eastern Europe were all industrially backward and predominantly agrarian before the Second World War, with the exception of Czechoslovakia. During the 1930s, they were effectively semi-colonies of German and French imperialism. In Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, state intervention played an important role in industry.

The Nazi occupation of Poland and Czechoslovakia converted them into direct colonies of German imperialism. Much of the property of the bourgeoisie was looted, and either taken over directly by the German state, or handed over to German companies. The influence of German capitalism also grew in the economies of its allies, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.

The defeat of German imperialism by the Soviet army left the latter in control of all of Eastern Europe. The bourgeoisie, greatly weakened by the destruction caused by the war, and with many of its representatives having fled abroad, was in crisis. For the Vern-Ryan tendency in the Socialist Workers Party (US), Stalinist control of the repressive apparatus meant that: “From the time of the occupation onward the designation of these states as worker’s states is an inescapable Marxist characterisation.”[33]

Although many of Vern-Ryan’s criticisms of the SWP and Fourth International leaderships in the early 1950s were acute, there are a number of objections to their theory. In general, it replaces history with hindsight; it reads the outcome of a process into its origins.

Vern-Ryan’s emphasis on the repressive apparatus is one-sided. The state does not merely consist of “armed bodies of men”. They are one element of the state, albeit a highly important one. Normally they are subject to political masters who direct what property they defend. Armed with such a theory, some on the left believed that the Soviet army was tied to the defence of nationalised property to the extent that it would be obliged to intervene against counter-revolution in 1989-91. Not for the first time history has proved that armies can transfer their class allegiance without significant disturbance.

Their theory also fails to explain why Stalinists exercising governmental power and/or control of the repressive apparatus failed to result in worker’s states in Republican Spain, Finland, Northern Iran and the Russian occupation zone in Austria after the Second World War or Afghanistan during the 1980s.

Vern-Ryan tended to see a predisposition within Stalinism to overturn capitalism, which is clearly linked to their peculiar understanding that “our movement has always characterised Stalinism as a centrist current”[34].

Certainly, the Soviet bureaucracy could have finished off the Eastern European bourgeoisie without great difficulty at the end of the war. What Vern-Ryan have very little to say about is what it actually did. A serious examination of this demonstrates that what existed in Eastern Europe between 1944/5 and 1947/8 were weak bourgeois states, which the Stalinists set about rebuilding[35].

True, the most openly pro-fascist, “unpatriotic” elements of the bourgeoisie were purged, and the reins of the repressive apparatus were held by the Soviet bureaucracy and its hirelings. “Unreliable” (i.e. anti-Soviet) bourgeois forces were replaced by elements which were ready to collaborate with the Stalinists to the hilt. But other open reactionaries – collaborators, monarchists, clericalists and even former fascists – were tolerated, and in some cases recruited to the Communist parties.

On the other hand, workers who attempted to seize factories and estates with the arrival of the “Red” Army were evicted. Bourgeois parties and parliaments were re-established, in line with the Yalta Agreement. Indeed, the term “people’s democracies” was not coined merely out of cynicism. What Stalin intended was to preserve weak bourgeois states with popular front governments under Soviet tutelage, similar to Finland.

The high degree of nationalisation was a consequence of the war. In many cases the bourgeoisie welcomed state ownership, and recognised it was necessary, since it was in no position to fill the breach. In Czechoslovakia, for example, the state inherited 60 per cent of industry and almost the entire banking system from the German occupation, without having to expropriate the local bourgeoisie. Poland, where the devastation and loss of life were far greater, had nationalised nearly 90 per cent of industry within the first year of liberation.

This didn’t, however, mean an attack upon bourgeois property as such, as the Stalinists were at pains to stress. In Hungary, factories and mines were restored to private ownership. Strikes were everywhere condemned as sabotaging reconstruction.

The political forces with which the Stalinists shared power in these years were far from negligible. In Romania, the monarchy was retained and a CP/Liberal Party coalition established headed by the anti-semitic reactionary, Radescu, and including supporters of the fascist Iron Guard.

Bulgaria also kept its monarchy under the Stalinist-initiated Fatherland Front coalition, led between 1944 and 1946 by the arch-reactionary, General Georgiev; the CP held only three ministerial portfolios in its first coalition, and other forces, including the Agrarian Party, held significant positions. Elections in Hungary in 1945 gave the Smallholders Party 57 per cent, with the Stalinists receiving only 17 per cent.

Poland saw a coalition between the Stalinists and various supporters of the London-based pro-imperialist émigrés, and the CP faced significant competition from the Polish Socialist Party and the Polish Peasant Party. The Czechoslovakian coalition established in March 1945 included the Communist Party, Social Democrats, National Socialists, the Catholic Popular Party and the Slovak Democrats. Although the Stalinists had significant support – they gained 38 per cent of the vote in the elections of May, 1946 – bourgeois parties operated in relative freedom for another two years.

It must be remembered that the various Smallholders and Peasant parties were in reality bourgeois parties, which, although they had some radical elements, also served as a refuge for representatives of the pre-war ruling circles, who had close links with the West.

Only in Yugoslavia and Albania, as a result of the Partisan War, were there no significant bourgeois political forces. The short-lived coalition between the Yugoslav Communist Party and the monarchist-reactionary Subasich only lasted from 1944 to 1945.

There is no evidence to show that this was all merely a Machiavellian plot on the part of Stalin to create “socialist” states. The protection of bourgeois interests – albeit those prepared to play ball with the Soviet occupiers – was a crucial part of Stalin’s strategy of peaceful co-existence with the West. Its counterpart was the faithful class collaboration practised by the Western Stalinist parties in the same period.

Only with the onset of the Cold War in late 1946, and particularly with the announcement of the Marshall Aid Plan in March 1947, which posed the reorganisation of the Eastern European bourgeoisie under imperialist leadership, did Stalin’s alliance with imperialism break down, and the necessity to consolidate the “buffer zone” countries as deformed workers’ states arise.

Without reference to this crucial turn in the international situation – the gravity of which was clearly understood by both sides at the time – it is impossible to explain the decisive nature of the changes which took place in 1947-48. Vern-Ryan’s theory does not ascribe any particular significance to this shift in international relations.

Historical evidence suggests otherwise. In the course of 1946 and 1947, the reviving eastern economies were forging growing links with the West. Trade with the Soviet Union went into steep decline, while that with the United States grew rapidly.[36] The Marshall Plan, and the willingness of the Czechoslovak and Polish governments to embrace it, threatened to make this trend permanent. Far from acting as a defensive “buffer”, the People’s Democracies threatened to become hostile outposts of imperialism in the Soviet Union’s back yard. Taken together with the eviction of the CP’s from the post-war coalitions in France, Italy and Belgium, it marked an unmistakable breakdown in the “spheres of influence” agreement.

The final break with the bourgeoisie – conducted bureaucratically, “from above” – was accomplished throughout Eastern Europe, with slight variations in tempo in different countries, between late 1947 and early 1948. It completed the policy of purging bourgeois parties by outlawing them, of eliminating working class opposition by forcible fusion of the social democrat and communist parties, and of concentrating all political power in the hands of the Stalinists. A further nationalisation drive expropriated most remaining capitalist property. All this took place, with the partial exception of Czechoslovakia,[37] without the working class being mobilised.

How is this apparently “peaceful” process to be understood in terms of the Marxist theory of the state? What of Marx’s famous judgement on the Paris Commune that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes”[38] Didn’t Lenin devote much of The State and Revolution to establishing that the capitalist state could not be overturned by an aggregate of reforms, and that it had to be “smashed”? And what of Trotsky’s waning that: “He who asserts that the Soviet government has been gradually changed from proletarian to bourgeois is only, so to speak, running backwards the film of reformism.”?[39]

Firstly, let us observe that, although nothing resembling a civil war took place in 1947-48, the phenomena of politicians mysteriously preferring windows to lifts; of mass arrests and purges; of party fusion at gun point – none of these were either particularly “peaceful” or typically “reformist”. They all constituted elements of force. As a general rule, force is normally applied in rough proportion to the strength of the opposition and the degree of resistance put up. In a situation in which the Stalinists already controlled the repressive apparatus, this amount of force was relatively less than in, say, an imperialist state with a large standing army.

Secondly, it is necessary to remember that these were far from “normal” bourgeois states. They existed in a unique situation, which is unlikely to be repeated. The bourgeoisie sought to preserve its slender hold on life by acquiescing to Soviet occupation, thereby surrendering much of its own sovereignty. The Soviet bureaucracy, for its part, opted to preserve this bourgeoisie out of wider international policy considerations. Such a relationship was inherently anomalous, unstable and could only be temporary. The circumstance of a bourgeois state having much of its policy decided for it by a workers’ state, however, is not unique – as is demonstrated by much of modern Finnish history.

The economies of these states were backward and already highly statified before 1947. The concentration of capitalist property in the hands of the state – state capitalism – is a typical reflex of the bourgeoisie in terminal crisis. Such a situation was anticipated by both Engels and Lenin.[40] In this sense, the bourgeois state prepares the rule of the workers’ state as a “bourgeois state without the bourgeoisie”.

Does this mean that we are arguing that a bourgeois state can be used as a platform to create a workers’ state, and are thereby fundamentally revising Marxism? The apparently gradual transformation of state structures was, on the face of things, closer to the “gradual” model of the transition from feudal to capitalist states which took place in most central and Eastern European countries. The semi-feudal aristocracy was forced to industrialise in much of central Europe during the 19th century under the threat of economic and political downfall. In these cases state apparatuses were adapted to the needs of new relations of production, whilst partially maintaining the old institutional framework. These old forms finally changed their social character.

Tim Wohlforth, whose Theory of Structural Assimilation[41] remains one of the few serious efforts to reopen the “buffer zone” debate since the 1940s, attempted to get round the problem of “dating” the transformation by arguing that it was managed during an extended period, by a state which assumes a hybrid, dual character: “It is possible to ascertain around when the process begins and after the process is all over it is clear that a qualitative change has taken place. However, during the process things are nowhere as clear. In fact in the middle of the process things are extremely contradictory for both qualities – what existed before and what is to be – exist in a complex inter-relationship. For this reason there exists no one moment when the qualitative change takes place. That the qualitative change has taken place becomes clear only some time after the change has been consummated.”[42]

This position is echoed by Westoby,[43] and is the Achilles heel of the structural assimilation theory. If Marxism cannot analyse the class nature of the state power, then a question mark must arise not only over its analysis of class society as a whole, but its ability to advance a programme capable of outlining the tasks of the hour.

Of course, the overturn of capitalism in Eastern Europe was a process, rather than an isolated event which took place at a definite time on a definite day. However, Wohlforth and Westoby only succeed in mystifying the nature of the process, and rendering it incomprehensible. For all their criticisms of the FI leadership, they manage to provide it with an alibi.

As we have earlier argued, the break with the bourgeoisie – in spite of its bureaucratic method – was nonetheless real enough, and fairly abrupt. Its timing was conditioned by a fundamental shift in world politics. Having crushed the remaining centres of bourgeois political and economic power in the space of a few months, the foundations of the new states were laid.

The ability of the Stalinist bureaucracy to effect such a fundamental change did not rest only upon a particular political conjuncture. It was also a by-product of the bureaucracy’s Bonapartist nature. But whereas for Deutscher and Pablo, this implied a residual progressive mission to destroy capitalism, the real “secret” of Stalinist Bonapartism lay in its manoeuvring between classes, both domestically and internationally, and its lack of an “organic” class base. Having politically expropriated the working class in the world’s first workers’ state, while still being dependent upon the foundations of that state as a source of material privilege, the Stalinist bureaucracy balanced uneasily between imperialism and its own masses.

Between 1944 and 1947, the Stalinists found themselves in possession of the repressive apparatus and many of the elements of government in the Eastern European states. But while these states remained bourgeois, they also were states in a peculiar situation of dependency upon a foreign – and, in the class sense, alien – power. By eliminating the active oppositional elements in both main classes from the equation, the bureaucracy enjoyed a high degree of political independence. It was able to fashion the building blocks of new states from the petrified remains of the old ones, without facing the direct challenge of either bourgeois counter-revolution or proletarian, anti-bureaucratic revolution.

There were therefore also significant differences with the “hybrid” state formations of early capitalism. Far from taking over these states of Eastern Europe “ready-made”, the Stalinists deconstructed them, filling nominally bourgeois institutions with their own creatures, performing qualitatively different functions. Far from lending theoretical support to reformism – as Wohlforth’s description of an amorphous cumulative process tends to – this understanding fundamentally demarcates the transition of 1947-48 from social democratic reformism.

The bourgeois states were therefore “smashed”, although not in the manner anticipated by classical Marxism: not at a given hour on a definite day, admittedly, but smashed nonetheless. The survival of some institutions of the bourgeois state – cited by state capitalist theorists and some contributors to the “buffer zone” debate as evidence that no qualitative change had taken place – is of little significance, except that it underlines the particularly degenerate nature of the transformation.

The fact that the same judges, who had presided at trials of communists in the 1930s, were sometimes to be found passing sentence upon those purged by the Stalinists in the 1940s; that all kinds of bourgeois administrative arrangements carried over; that various quasi-democratic bodies (including nominally independent “bloc parties” and pseudo-parliaments) were permitted by the Stalinists – these things were not decisive in determining the class nature of the state. Certainly, those Trotskyists who argued that they were, had been obliged by reality to quietly drop their objections by the early 1950s.

The real question for Marxists is not the class origins of the functionaries but in whose interests they function. The history of bourgeois revolutions showed that it was possible for opportunist elements to navigate the choppy waters of both revolution and counter-revolution – General Monck and the Vicar of Bray in England, Fouché and Talleyrand in France. Even the Bolsheviks were obliged to retain a good part of the old civil service for a period, and subsequently re-employ the “military specialists”.

As we would expect, the bureaucratic overturns in Eastern Europe were far more degenerate in their methods, and considerably less choosy when it came to making use of the dregs of the old society. As a result of the new socio-economic course after 1947, the remnants of the old order were either reconciled to the new regime or systematically purged. State institutions and the legal system, while continuing to harbour numerous reactionaries, were similarly transformed in line with their new function. The Stalinists ensured the loyalty of the state apparatus by establishing and developing links between it and the nationalised sectors of the economy.

Even with the emergence of deformed workers’ states, matters were far from settled. Trotskyists have tended to overestimate the extent to which the adoption by the People’s Democracies of planning and other typical features of bureaucratic rule necessarily guaranteed their future existence. In fact, they continued to be subject to wider considerations of Soviet foreign policy, as was shown by the preparedness of the Soviet leadership in 1953 to barter away the GDR: “Malenkov and Beria viewed Germany’s division and the presence of the armed forces of East and West on German soil as the chief obstacles to a rationalisation of Soviet foreign policy and the chief source of international tension. They contemplated nothing less than a withdrawal from Germany and the virtual abandonment of the East German communist regime, hoping that they would be able to persuade the Western Powers to agree to a withdrawal of their forces too.”[44] They proposed to Eisenhower that “a peace treaty with Germany giving the German people the possibility of a reunion in one State...should be concluded as early as possible; and following closely upon this the occupation troops should be withdrawn.”[45]

Although there were significant differences between what took place in Eastern Europe in 1939-40 and 1947-48, Trotsky’s last writings in the course of the struggle against the Burnham-Shachtman opposition should have provided the post-war Fourth International with some of the necessary analytical tools.

“It is more likely, however,” he wrote in 1939, “that in the territories scheduled to become a part of the USSR, the Moscow government will carry through the expropriation of the large landowners and statification of the means of production. This variant is most probable not because the bureaucracy remains true to the socialist programme but because it is neither desirous nor capable of sharing the power, and the privileges the latter entails, with the old ruling classes in the occupied territories.”[46]

As to whether this placed a question mark over the counter-revolutionary nature of Stalinism, he had this to say: “The primary political criterion for us is not the transformation of property relations in this or another area, however important these may be in themselves, but rather the change in the consciousness and organisation of the world proletariat, the raising of their capacity for defending former conquests and accomplishing new ones. From this one, and only decisive standpoint, the politics of Moscow, taken as a whole, completely retains its reactionary character and remains the chief obstacle on the road to the world revolution.”[47]

Nor was Trotsky in favour of entrusting any historic mission to the Red Army or according it any independent significance: “We have never promised to support all the actions of the Red Army which is an instrument in the hands of the Bonapartist bureaucracy. We have promised to defend only the USSR as a workers’ state and solely those things within it which belong to a workers’ state.”[48]

He also envisaged a situation in which capitalism could be overturned, not by a workers’ revolution, but by “a civil war of a special type. ... introduced on bayonets from without ...controlled by the Moscow bureaucracy”.[49] At the same time he warned that these “missionaries with bayonets” would alienate the masses.[50]

The Fourth International responded to the post-war developments inadequately. Not only was the FI’s timing belated; its method was defective, and prepared the political collapse which followed. It remained the prisoner of the prognosis that capitalism could only be destroyed in Eastern Europe as a result of “structural assimilation” into the Soviet Union, as had been the case with the eastern zone of Poland and the Baltic States in 1939-40. Once it abandoned this perspective, it readily accepted that Stalinism could after all “project a revolutionary orientation”.

It is ironic therefore to find both “anti-Pabloite” David North and “Pabloite” Pierre Frank defending the line of the FI in the late 1940s. North argues that the Second World Congress “correctly maintained that capitalism had not been destroyed in the “buffer zone”,[51] while Frank claims that: “Despite a few measures aimed at those members of the propertied classes who had collaborated with the Germans, the (Soviet) army had left the bourgeois social structures of these countries intact.” [52]

David Rousset appears to have been one of the first members of the FI to argue that, on the basis of widespread nationalisation, the buffer zone countries had become workers’ states.[53] His contribution to the International Executive Committee Plenum in June, 1946 was opposed by Ernest Mandel, who insisted: “The bureaucracy can definitively bring new territories into its control only by assimilating them structurally on the economic base which issued from the October Revolution.” [54]

The Fl’s Second World Congress met in April-May, 1948, after the decisive overturns had taken place. Its main document was “The USSR and Stalinism”, presented by Mandel. “To deny the capitalist nature of these countries”, it claimed, “amounts to an acceptance, in no matter what form, of this Stalinist revisionist theory, it means seriously to consider the historic possibility of a destruction of capitalism by “terror from above” without the revolutionary intervention of the masses.”[55]

Amendments proposed by the RCP (Britain, led by Jock Haston and Ted Grant), arguing that the overturn of capitalism in the buffer zone, and the control of the bourgeoisie over the government and state apparatus was either complete or approaching completion, were heavily defeated.[56]

In June, 1948, immediately after the congress, the Soviet-Yugoslav split took place. Junking the congress’s analysis of Yugoslavia as a capitalist state in which revolutionary defeatism should be strictly applied in time of war, the Fl leadership immediately began treating it as a de facto workers’ state, headed by a party which had broken with Stalinism.[57] Three fawning open letters were sent to the YCP by the International Secretariat, one of them finishing with the ringing words: “Yugoslav communists, let us unite our efforts for a new Leninist International.”[58]

Although a majority of the FI was in favour of characterising the buffer zone countries as capitalist, sustaining this analysis was becoming increasingly difficult. The resolution of the 7th plenum of the IEC in April, 1949 described the buffer zone as “a unique type of hybrid transitional society in the process of transformation, with features that are as yet so fluid and lacking precision that it is extremely difficult to summarise its fundamental nature.”[59]
This unique “transitional state” category was in fact a basic revision of Marxism. It meant either that the state could at one and the same time be the instrument of two classes – or that it was neutral between them.

The IEC’s tortuous reasoning forced it first one way, and then another. The Eastern European bourgeoisie was suffering from “enfeeblement” or “virtual disappearance”,[60] however, “the buffer zone, except for Finland and the Russian-occupied zones in Austria and Germany, are on the road toward structural assimilation with the USSR, but...this assimilation has not yet been accomplished.”[61]

In order to justify this conclusion, the IEC had to come up with a range of secondary criteria which the buffer zone countries would have to fulfil before becoming workers’ states. National borders would have to be abolished and “real planning” implemented, either by incorporation into the Soviet Union, or by the establishment of a Balkan-Danube Federation.

Needless to say, none of these conditions were ever met. But the qualitative similarities between Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union were already obvious. The FI began to divide into two camps. Those who were moving to recognise the buffer zone as workers’ states argued that the economic criteria had been fulfilled; those who held the line that they were capitalist states maintained that the political criteria had not.

Bert Cochran (E. R. Frank) put forward a workers’ state position in March, 1949, comparing the degree of statification with the Soviet Union. Morris Stein, addressing the SWP Political Committee in July, 1949, put the case for ostrich Marxism: “Rather than jumping to conclusions as to the social character of the states in Eastern Europe, it is far better to await further developments.”[62] When discussion resumed in August, the positions of the RCP were dismissed out of hand, and with little regard for the facts: “I haven’t read their latest documents, but this is of little importance, since their position dates back some sixteen months...When they first took their position that the buffer countries were workers’ states, [i.e. April, 1948] these countries had not yet undergone any extensive nationalisation.”[63]

By September, Michel Pablo was proposing that the FI adopt Yugoslavia as a workers’ state – a position it had implicitly held for over a year. Mandel counter-attacked in October, exposing the weaknesses of those who were prepared to equate nationalisation with the overthrow of capitalism, but woodenly sticking to his contention that it could only be overturned by a genuine proletarian revolution. Revealingly, Mandel admitted that his method owed more to political considerations than to the study of objective reality: “Our criterion of Stalinism from the standpoint of its ineffectiveness against capitalism would lose all its meaning.” [64]

Joe Hansen, writing in December, 1949, noted two major contradictions in the majority position. The Second World Congress resolution, while insisting that revolutionary action was necessary in the buffer zone, acknowledged that capitalism had been overturned in 1939-40 in the Baltic countries, eastern Poland, Bessarabia and Karelia without the mobilisation of the masses. The 7th plenum resolution had emphasised the capitalist nature of the buffer zones states, but had paradoxically argued that this “does not at all imply that the bourgeoisie is in power as the dominant class in these countries”.[65]

Although this method was similar to Hansen’s – that a sufficient degree of nationalisation resulted in a workers’ state – Pablo was not yet ready in February, 1950, to go beyond admitting Yugoslavia to the fold. It was a “special case”: the result of a proletarian revolution in progress since 1941, (although the FI had not noticed it until 1948). The break with the Kremlin was the summit of this process. The rest of the buffer zone, Pablo saw as only “approaching assimilation to the USSR”, although he was prepared to accept that “it could take place without either the abolition of borders, or formal incorporation into the Soviet Union.”[66]

Cochran was altogether more blunt: “We maintain that if the state structures and the economies of these countries are similar to that of the USSR, then they are of the same class type. Any other conclusion calls into question our characterisation of the USSR.”[67] He saw the buffer zone countries after 1945 as “regimes of dual power” and the Stalinist constitutions of 1948-49 as “the juridical expression of the fact that the dual power regimes had come to an end”.[68]

It was Pablo who first coined the term “deformed workers’ state”. By origin, applied to Yugoslavia, it meant a state quantitatively, rather than qualitatively deformed by bureaucracy.[69] At its 8th plenum in April, 1950, the IEC formally accepted Pablo’s position on Yugoslavia, although there were still those like John G. Wright – praised by North as a far-sighted and perceptive dissident![70] – who held out.

If a semblance of political unity was to be maintained, there was little to do except wrap the discussion up in the Fl as diplomatically as possible. Mandel meanwhile quietly dropped his objections. Matters were not finally settled until the Third World Congress in August, 1951, which extended the category of deformed workers’ state to the remainder of the buffer zone countries. Even then, it did so with a face-saving formula: “We still believe that up to 1949 these states still retained a fundamentally capitalist structure”.[71] This meant that the 7th plenum resolution had been correct, and that – somehow – the qualitative changes in Eastern Europe had taken place since 1949.

The Trotskyist movement paid a heavy price for this display of unity – the congress’s resolutions were adopted overwhelmingly. The theoretical issues at stake were left unresolved and brushed under the carpet. And the political consequence was a somersault from Stalinophobia to Stalinophilia. Having clung for so long to the position that only genuine proletarian revolutions could overturn capitalism, the revelation that Stalinism had already “done the job” in half a continent produced a deep-going adaptation in the FI, which now saw its role as pressuring the communist parties from the left.

This political collapse cannot simply be put down to “bad men” or “bad politics in the formal sense. At the root of the FI’s disorientation was its failure to develop the Marxist theory of the state, and in particular, to grasp how a counter-revolutionary bureaucracy, which had acted as the gravedigger of the world’s first workers’ revolution, could nonetheless expropriate the bourgeoisie.
The fear Mandel had betrayed of ceding Stalinism a historic mission was turned inside out. The FI’s adaptation to Tito was repeated in relation to Mao, Castro and Ho Chi Minh; each was portrayed as a revolutionary leader who had broken from Stalinism under the impact of “mass pressure”.

The task of determining which property relations the state defends and/or strives to develop has, in the final analysis, to be answered politically. In the case of classical social revolutions, such as the French bourgeois revolution of 1789 or the socialist revolution of October 1917, where state power clearly passed from one class to another, the task is straightforward.
However, deciding the class nature of the state becomes especially difficult when a petty-bourgeois leadership has come into conflict with both the main classes of modern capitalist society, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat – typically where both are weak and leaderless. This was the case in both the Cuban and Nicaraguan revolutions at a certain point of their development.

In such a situation, the practice of this leadership and the development of the relationship between the state, the property relations and the two main classes have to be carefully analysed. A qualitative change in the state would be marked by the fact that limited collectivist interventions into the economy proved inadequate to stabilise the situation, and placed more drastic measures – the suppression of the bourgeoisie – immediately on the agenda. The alternative is growing paralysis, which prepares political counter-revolution.

The Nicaraguan FSLN came to power in 1979 as a result of an armed struggle, which overthrew the Somoza dictatorship. It was in essence a radical popular front, with a petty-bourgeois leadership, supported by workers’ parties, and minority anti-Somoza sections of the Nicaraguan bourgeoisie – a line-up of forces similar to that led by Fidel Castro in 1959. Moreover, it undertook significant measures of nationalisation and state intervention.

But despite the subjectively “socialist” intentions of the FSLN, there was to be no “Cuban Road” in Nicaragua. The fate of such revolutions is closely linked to the nature of the political leadership at the head of the state. A revolutionary-internationalist leadership would have combated US/Contra insurgency not only by military means, but by destroying the basis of the bourgeoisie at home, and by spreading socialist revolution abroad. In the absence of such a leadership, the international balance of forces, and within that, the refusal of the Soviet and Cuban bureaucracies to countenance a rerun of the Cuban revolution, determined the eventual outcome – the negotiated settlement with Chamorro and the Contras in 1989.

5. Trotsky and the Possible Paths of Counter-Revolution

In its most dogmatic versions, “orthodox Trotskyism” has sought to fit reality around Trotsky’s prognoses, rather than to analyse reality, while using Trotsky’s ideas as a methodological tool. The projection in some of Trotsky’s writings that civil war would be a necessary precondition for capitalist restoration became transformed in the hands of the epigones into a supra-historical dogma. It is small wonder that, armed with such a theory, the events of 1989-91 took the majority of would-be Trotskyists by surprise. Instead of dispensing with the reactionary notion that Marxism is a kind of crystal ball for gazing into the future, some despaired of their “god that failed”, and looked for a purer pre-Bolshevik Marxism. Others pretended that the counter-revolution had yet to happen; the civil war still lay in front.

Without underestimating the potential for civil wars of various kinds in Eastern Europe and the ex-Soviet Union, the civil war of the kind the epigones envisaged has not been required to restore bourgeois states, not least because other key elements of Trotsky’s equation – for instance, the contention that “the social revolution, betrayed by the ruling party, still exists ... in the consciousness of the toiling masses”[72] – had been so substantially eroded in the intervening 55 years.

By reducing Trotsky’s thinking on the possibility of counter-revolution to a single sentence, the epigones have done it a grave disservice, and overlooked its historical and dialectical evolution. Indeed, without falling into the trap of attempting to show that Trotsky did indeed predict the course of events, a rounded study of his writings shows that he considered a number of possible paths of counter-revolution, and that, viewed in their proper perspective, a number of his insights can shed light on the present.

Although it is possible to cite a number of agitational manifestos and speeches in which Bolsheviks presented world revolution as “inevitable”, in their mature output, Lenin and Trotsky viewed both revolution and counter-revolution as living struggles of social forces. Their prognoses were therefore historically conditional, and they rarely strayed too far from the present and its short-term potential.

In the immediate aftermath of the revolution, the most likely potential for counter-revolution came from an alliance of domestic forces – landlords, monarchists, capitalists and richer peasants – with external imperialist intervention. But the Soviet victory in the civil war brought an uneasy peace with the imperialists. With this breathing space, the immediate likelihood of a successful White Guardist uprising receded. Moreover, the peasantry, whatever it thought of the Bolsheviks, had a stake in the revolution in the shape of the agrarian revolution. This explains why the machinations of imperialist agents such as Sidney Reilly were crushed so easily. The more perceptive counter-revolutionaries, among them leading Cadets like Ustryalov, saw greater potential in the evolution of the regime itself, and thought that the NEP would naturally evolve back towards capitalism.

In the course of his “last struggle” of 1922-3, Lenin became acutely aware of the growth of conservative, bureaucratic forces within the party and the state bureaucracy, which through their chauvinism and readiness to retreat, over such central issues as the monopoly of foreign trade, were preparing the collapse of the proletarian dictatorship – a dictatorship, which in Moshe Lewins’s phrase, was increasingly being exercised “in a void”.[73]

The dangers inherent in reviving private ownership were never far from the thinking of leading Bolsheviks. In his report on production to the 12th congress in April 1923, Trotsky remarked: “Petty commodity production and private trade form a hostile bloc of forces against us.”[74] He went on to give the following summary of the conditions necessary for the survival of the workers’ state: “If we had to explain upon what our hopes for a socialist future for Russia rested, we would reply: I) Upon the political power of the party, supported by the Red Army; 2) Upon the nationalisation of production; 3) Upon the monopoly of foreign trade. It would be sufficient to throw down one of these pillars for the building to fall.”[75]

The threat represented by the alliance of the bureaucrat, the NEPman and the kulak is a theme running throughout Trotsky’s writings during the struggle of the Left Opposition from 1923-27. His veiled attack in Towards Socialism or Capitalism?[76] in 1925 on the economic programme of Stalin and Bukharin centred on his demand for accurate and comparative coefficients of world economy – which, in contrast to the official legend of socialist self-sufficiency, would have revealed the backward nature of Russian development and its far lower level of labour productivity.

By 1927, during the last period of the Opposition’s public struggle, this threat had become a growing reality. The “Platform of the Joint Opposition”[77] drew explicit attention to the link between the stabilisation of world capitalism, the counter-revolutionary and chauvinist elements which had flooded the bureaucracy and the discontent of the peasantry in the face of the “scissors crisis”.

Little attention has been paid to Trotsky’s article Thermidor[78], written during this struggle – perhaps because his views on Thermidor underwent a well-known revision in 1935. Here Trotsky discusses two variants, which show that he was far from categorical in relation to the “civil war thesis”: “But bourgeois restoration, speaking in general, is only conceivable either in the form of a decisive and sharp overturn (with or without intervention) or in the form of several successive shifts. This is what Ustryalov calls “going downhill with the brakes on.”...Thus, as long as the European revolution has not conquered, the possibilities of bourgeois restoration in our country cannot be denied. Which of the two possible paths is the more likely under our circumstances: the path of an abrupt counter-revolutionary overturn or the path of successive shiftings, with a bit of a shake-up at every stage and a Thermidorian shift as the most immediate stage? This question can be answered, I think, only in an extremely conditional way. To the extent that the possibility of a bourgeois restoration in general cannot be denied, we must keep our eyes out for either of these variants – with the brakes on or without the brakes – to weigh the odds, to note the elements contributing toward either.”[79]

The acute crisis which developed in 1927 led Stalin to somersault from the policy of attempting to conciliate the kulak to one of ruthless collectivisation. Despite its disastrous results, and the fact that it certainly did not eliminate inequality in the countryside, it did effectively remove the rural petty-bourgeoisie as a serious contender for power, at least in the short term. The NEP bourgeoisie was similarly eliminated, in the drive towards industrialisation. Trotsky’s thinking underwent a corresponding evolution, and increasingly saw the bureaucracy itself as the principal source of internal danger. Indeed, his view that the Bukharinite right was “the main danger” and “the Thermidorian wing of the party” led the Left Opposition to refuse to countenance any bloc on internal democracy.

The characterisation of the Right Opposition as “the masked form of counter-revolution”, as the proxy for the kulaks and NEPmen, runs through many of Trotsky’s writings in Alma Ata. Whatever the merits of this position, the ease with which Stalin crushed the Right made this too an increasingly less likely scenario.

By the time Trotsky wrote The Class Nature of the Soviet State in 1933 a perspective had emerged which in some respects in its picture of internal disintegration is strikingly contemporary: “The workers, having lost control over the state and economy, may resort to mass strikes, as weapons of self-defence. The discipline of the dictatorship would be broken. Under the onslaught of the workers and because of the pressure of economic difficulties the trusts would be forced to disrupt the planned beginnings and enter into competition with one another. The dissolution of the regime would naturally find its violent and chaotic echo in the village, and would inevitably be thrown over into the army. The socialist state would collapse giving place to the capitalist regime, or more correctly, to capitalist chaos.”[80]

These themes recur in The Revolution Betrayed in even sharper relief, where Trotsky discusses the interaction of crisis within the regime and the economy: “A collapse of the Soviet regime would lead inevitably to the collapse of the planned economy, and thus to the abolition of state property. The bond of compulsion between the trusts and the factories within them would fall away. The more successful enterprises would succeed in coming out on the road of independence. They might convert themselves into stock companies, or they might find some other transitional form of property – one, for example, in which the workers should participate in the profits. The collective farms would disintegrate at the same time, and far more easily. The fall of the present bureaucratic dictatorship, if it were not replaced by a new socialist power, would thus mean a return to capitalist relations with a catastrophic decline of industry and culture.

... In the sphere of industry, denationalisation would begin with the light industries and those producing food. The planning principle would be converted into a series of compromises between the state power and individual “corporations” – potential proprietors, that is, among the Soviet captains of industry, the émigré former proprietors and foreign capitalists. Notwithstanding that the Soviet bureaucracy has gone far toward preparing a bourgeois restoration, the new regime would have to introduce in the matter of forms of property and methods of industry not a reform, but a social [counter] revolution.”[81]

And he noted that the bureaucracy itself would provide much of the cadre of this counter-revolution: “If...a bourgeois party were to overthrow the ruling Soviet caste, it would find no small number of ready servants among the present bureaucrats, administrators, technicians, directors, party secretaries and privileged upper circles in general. A purgation of the state apparatus would, of course, be necessary in this case too. But a bourgeois restoration would probably have to clean out fewer people than a revolutionary party.”[82]

Against those who insist one-sidedly that Trotsky only considered the variant of a violent overthrow of the workers’ state must be set the theses on The Fourth International and the Soviet Union, drafted for the “Geneva” conference for the FI and written at the same time as The Revolution Betrayed. The Stalin Constitution of 1936, he noted, “opens up for the bureaucracy “legal” roads for the economic counter-revolution, that is, the restoration of capitalism by means of a “cold stroke”.”[83]

As these references indicate, up to this point Trotsky considered it likely that political and economic counter-revolution would march hand in hand. However, replying to Burnham and Carter in 1937, he revises this view, arguing that: “Should a bourgeois counter-revolution succeed in the USSR, the new government for a lengthy period would have to base itself upon the nationalised economy.”[84] Incidentally, it is scarcely credible to argue that Trotsky, in the aftermath of a successful bourgeois counter-revolution, would have continued to claim that a workers’ state existed!

With the onset of the Second World War, Trotsky’s last writings accurately forecast many of its decisive turning points. Since 1933 he had insistently warned of the threat to the Soviet Union from German imperialism. Having already anticipated the Stalin-Hitler pact, he also foresaw its break up: “In the event of victory Hitler...will make Germany the contractor of the most important state enterprises in the USSR in the interests of the German military machine. Right now Hitler is the ally and friend of Stalin; but should Hitler, with the aid of Stalin, come out victorious on the Western Front, he would on the morrow turn his guns against the USSR.”[85]

The urgency with which Trotsky took up the slogan of an Independent Soviet Ukraine in 1939 was related to the restorationist threat posed by Stalinist repression driving the Ukrainian masses into the arms of reactionary nationalists and German imperialism. This warning was fully borne out. When German forces entered Kiev in 1941, they were greeted as liberators.[86]

Trotsky, naturally enough, did not write a manual on capitalist restoration in the 1990s. Some of his perspectives were strictly limited in their historical scope; others retained an enduring relevance. What he did leave us were sufficient pointers to prepare for the unfolding of the death agony of Stalinism. In practice, however, most of his would-be successors were unable to read the writing on the wall, still less analyse the process.

Various currents of Greek Trotskyism continue to maintain that it is historically impossible to restore capitalism in the former workers’ states. This is based upon a complete misunderstanding of Trotsky’s analogy of Thermidor in the French Revolution, combined with a metaphysical belief in the powers of nationalised property. Although it is true that after 1935, Trotsky used Thermidor to describe the counter-revolutionary stabilisation of Stalinism on the basis of nationalised property, it is crystal clear that he always considered that a further retrogression to capitalism was entirely possible.

In what sense can we continue to say today – as Trotsky wrote in 1935 – that “the Soviet state still remains the historical instrument of the working class insofar as it assures the development of economy and culture”[87]? The economy stands in ruins, the masses have been pauperised and culture has been thrown back decades. In the face of such sharp breaks in continuity, the repetition of old formulae becomes a senseless exercise in ostrich Marxism.

6. The Road to Restoration

With Trotsky, we believe that the Stalinist bureaucracy only defended the workers’ state insofar as they could derive a reliable source of privilege from it. While politically expropriating the working class, the bureaucracy was obliged to guarantee it tangible gains – job security, low cost housing and other essentials. It was fear of working class resistance to attacks upon these gains which for a long period acted as a constraint upon the pro-market sections of the bureaucracy.

Nonetheless, in the degenerated Soviet Union and the deformed workers’ states Stalinism acted as a transmission belt between the nationalised forces of production and world capitalism. The growing appetites of the bureaucrats to convert their privileges into private property were fuelled by a deepening loss of confidence in the bureaucratically planned economy.

In the 1930s Trotsky could write that “the nationalised and planned economy of the USSR is the greatest school for all humanity aspiring to a better future” and that it had “assured a development of productive forces never equalled in the history of the world”[88]. But the take-off of the post-war imperialist boom left the economies of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe ever further behind. Once the initial successes of “primitive socialist accumulation” (themselves inflated by the bureaucracy’s statistics) had been achieved, the transition to socialism was blocked. In the long view, the decades since the 1950s represent a long, slow transition in the opposite direction.

Stalinist “command economy” methods increasingly acted as a fetter on the development of the socialised forces of production. The rate of growth in industrial production fell in each five-year period from 1951-1980. This was partly masked in the 1950s and 1960s by the use of labour-intensive methods which, despite the command structure and the lack of advanced technology, produced significant economic growth. In the 1970s, the beginnings of collapse were staved off only by the leap in world oil prices.[89] But by the late-1970s, with the escalation of the arms race following the Vietnam war, the Stalinist relations of production had suffocated the development of the forces of production. This sharpening contradiction set the stage for the economic crisis of the 1980s, which in turn led to the political collapse of 1989-91.

The sharper the contradictions became between the socialised forces of production and the command structure (“central planning”!), the further the Stalinists attempted to offset the stagnation of the economy with market experiments. By the late 1980s, Stalinism had already attempted – and failed – to introduce reform programmes in most countries.[90] These failures only served to undermine what confidence workers had in a transition to socialism via these states, and strengthened illusions in capitalism.

The chief beneficiaries of the various Stalinist attempts at “reform” were the urban middle strata – the “specialists”, the managers and the intellectuals.[91] Their growth not only reflected deep demographic changes – by 1980 over 60 per cent of the population of the Soviet Union lived in cities and towns, and there were 28 million graduates of universities and technical colleges. It also reflected a conscious attempt by the bureaucracy to widen its own social base.
If anything, the social weight of these layers exceeded their numerical strength. It was from such strata that the dissident movement emerged, impatient with the pace of reform and oriented towards bourgeois democracy. And it was to such forces that Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost and perestroika were directed, as were “premature” reform initiatives in Eastern Europe, like the Prague Spring.

These middle layers of society increasingly came to identify “democracy” with the market. The effect of the bureaucratic “reform from above” was to temporarily unite the “liberal” market-oriented sections of the bureaucracy with this middle class, as well as most former dissidents. Separated from the working class by a social gulf, and lacking any faith in a socialist perspective, the intelligentsia quickly grew impatient with the manifest failures of the reform process, and looked to a more “radical” settlement with the old regime, with the promise of salvation in the future market economy. Gorbachev’s determination to manage the reform process through the old party machine increasingly alienated those it had set out to attract.

In contrast, the working class, although its numbers had grown enormously was atomised, cut off from revolutionary traditions and its own organisations for decades. Politically alienated, economically dissatisfied and industrially demotivated, it became increasingly impervious to exhortations and threats. “They pretended to pay us, and we pretend to work” was a well-known samizdat joke. Workers remained suspicious of the entire glasnost and perestroika project. Their consciousness did not rise above a trade union level, so that the miners, whose militant strikes shook the Soviet Union in 1989 and 1991, remained politically loyal at crucial turning points to the restorationist Yeltsin.

The rural population, except in some non-Russian republics where it mobilised behind nationalists, scarcely played any significant role. Despite the appalling inefficiency of Soviet agriculture, Gorbachev’s frequent promises to make farmers the “real masters” of their own soil, had little appeal. The sheer scale of investment necessary to make individual farmers competitive on the world market was sufficient disincentive.

These factors go a long way to explaining the form which the counterrevolution look in 1989-91 – why it took an urban petty-bourgeois-democratic form, and not the rural rebellion which many assumed it would in the 1920s. A number of threads of Trotsky’s analysis were nonetheless confirmed. The period of Gorbachev’s leadership did mark a series of “successive shifts downhill” in the direction of restoration; his warnings of the consequence of enterprises competing with each other, and of the destruction of the monopoly of foreign trade have been fully borne out; those who argue on the basis of institutional continuity would do well to ponder his remarks on the potential for large sections of the bureaucracy to go over to the counter-revolution; the industrial managers have indeed become a fertile breeding ground for future proprietors; the concentration of political power in the hands of the bureaucracy did prepare a succession of “cold strokes”; the mighty Soviet miners’ strikes of 1989 and 1991 did serve, in the absence of revolutionary leadership, to further undermine the old regime, which has given way to a regime of “capitalist – or rather state capitalist – chaos”; and finally, the national question did play a central role in the final debacle of the Soviet Union.

The long duration of Stalinist role did not tie the bureaucracies organically to the non-capitalist foundations of the workers’ states. They always remained parasitic castes within the workers’ states. This has now been confirmed by the central role played by Stalinists and ex-Stalinists in the restoration process.

It is in this context that the dual role/function/nature which Trotsky ascribed to the bureaucracy has to be considered.[92] The foundation of this “duality” lay in the dual character of the workers’ state itself as a “bourgeois state without the bourgeoisie” – while preparing the future society the state was obliged to follow bourgeois norms of distribution.

The victory of a counter-revolutionary bureaucracy in an isolated and backward workers’ state greatly exacerbated this contradiction: “The function of Stalin ...has a dual character. Stalin serves the bureaucracy and thus the world bourgeoisie – but he cannot serve the bureaucracy without defending the social foundation which the bureaucracy exploits in its own interests. To that extent does Stalin defend nationalised property from imperialist attacks and from the too avaricious layers of the bureaucracy itself. However, he carries through his defence with methods that prepare the general destruction of Soviet society.”[93]

The two main Trotskyist traditions after 1953 both falsified this analysis. The International Secretariat/USFI tradition saw the “dual character” of Stalinism as a matter of subjective intention – good and bad, progressive and reactionary. The IC, following Joe Hansen, baldly declared Stalinism to be counter-revolutionary through and through – only to flop down on all fours in front of Tito, Mao and Ho Chi Minh.

No less erroneous was the line of the Stalinophiles who saw the bureaucracy as intrinsically linked to the workers’ state in such a way that it would always be obliged to defend it. If there were any illusions in the correctness of this thesis before, they have been rudely brushed aside.
Clinging to static – and thoroughly false – models of this duality, none of these schools was able to explain its erosion in the materialist terms foreseen by Trotsky: “...if the bureaucracy becomes ever more powerful, authoritative, privileged and conservative, this means that in the workers’ state the bourgeois tendencies grow at the expense of the socialist – in other words, that inner contradiction which to a certain degree is lodged in the workers’ state from the first day of its rise does not diminish, as the “norm” demands, but increases.”[94]

The more the economies of the workers’ states headed into crisis, the less secure a source of privilege they became. Hence, the bureaucrats were less and less willing to defend this base, and began to look to opportunities to jump ship, to the point where this duality was almost entirely expunged.

The dilemma facing a bureaucracy which had lost faith in its own system produced corresponding factions, each with their own social base. The “hardliners” feared that the bureaucracy would be swept away by restoration and clung, with increasing hopelessness, to the old apparatus. The Stalinist mainstream hoped to manage the transition at a pace which would enable large sections of the bureaucracy to find a niche in the new order. Its ideology became “market socialism”. The fast-track “radicals” saw the only salvation in crashing the command economy, and out of the resulting chaos, kick-starting capitalism. Nowhere – and for good reason – did a revolutionary or “Reiss” tendency emerge out of the bureaucracy.

The crisis-ridden bureaucracies, which here and there were able to form alliances with former oppositionists, were able to begin the transformation of the workers’ states info capitalist states, without facing significant resistance on the part of workers.

The collapse which began in Poland in the spring of 1989, and accelerated in the GDR, rapidly became an avalanche. In the course of that period there took place in each country events which in the consciousness of the masses came to symbolise the point of rupture with the political system of Stalinism. In Poland there were the first partially “free” elections in June 1989; in the GDR the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989; in Romania the fall of Ceaucescu on December 25, 1989; in the Soviet Union the collapse of the coup on August 21, 1991.

In each of these turning points the restoration of capitalism was far from accomplished; indeed each of them contained the possibility for struggles to defend nationalised property to develop. But in the absence of revolutionary leadership each of these events paved the way for the creation of bourgeois states committed to building and protecting capitalism. To attempt to focus on some single economic measure in order to be able so as to establish exactly the date when the transition from a workers’ state to a bourgeois one took place is a pedantic academic exercise, divorced from the real settlement of accounts which took place on the plane of the class struggle.

At the Conference for Security and Mutual Co-operation in Europe in 1990 all the ruling bureaucracies of Eastern Europe undertook to restore capitalism in their respective countries. From the point at which the leading elements of the Stalinist bureaucracies opted to restore capitalism, the workers’ states were paralysed as defenders of nationalised property relations. Without significant working class resistance, or any resistance worthy of the name from within the bureaucracies, the destruction and transformation of the state apparatuses governing the economic system began. In most cases, those old bureaucrats who were too closely identified with the old regime were soon swept aside by new bourgeois forces which are now carrying out the process of restoration.

This unanimous policy on the part of the bureaucracies became possible not only because the working class in these countries lacked even an embryonic revolutionary leadership; its confidence in a collectivist solution to its problems (shown in Berlin, 1953, Poland and Hungary, 1956, Czechoslovakia, 1968, Poland, 1971, 1976 and 1980-1) had steadily ebbed.
This in turn had material roots in the deep crisis gripping the “command economies”. The impasse of “already existing socialism” and the absence of an alternative programme for political revolution had revived “all the old crap”, in the form of bourgeois democratic, social democratic, “self-management”, nationalist and even fascist ideas. Walled off from acting as a class for itself, the working class has tended to respond to the effects, rather than the principle of capitalist restoration.

Therefore, to argue, as many Trotskyists have, that “all that was missing was the subjective factor” in the Eastern European “revolutions” of 1989-90 is to miss the point completely. It is in fact a “subjective” interpretation of the “subjective factor”, divorced from the objective conditions upon which the consciousness of workers had developed.

Revolutionary parties do not simply fall from the sky. They depend for success on a level of consciousness among the masses themselves. This is not to argue, of course, that it was a waste of time for revolutionaries to intervene in the collapse of Stalinism. What it does mean is that voluntarist notions of “revolutionary leadership” based on wildly inaccurate estimates of the situation will inevitably fail.

7. Self-Determination, Secession and the National Question

Before the August Coup – and even sometimes after it – Stalinophile groups (the International Bolshevik Tendency, the Spartacists and some other groups) considered the fight against national movements and secessionist tendencies to be identical with the defence of the workers’ state. The IBT in its statement of September 15, 1991, declared its solidarity with the Stalinist hardliners because they had “sent ‘black beret’ units to crack down on the pro-capitalist secessionist governments of the Baltic republics.” [95] For the IBT, therefore, the August coup was justified, because Gorbachev “refused to carry the Baltic intervention to its logical conclusion and depose the governments there. He once more began pushing marketization.”[96] The German section of the ICL trumpeted in January 1992: “Dissolution of the Soviet Union means disaster.”[97]

The question which divided the bureaucracy most sharply on the eve of the coup was how to preserve the great power status of the Soviet Union and how to maintain the existence of large parts of the bureaucracy. This latter concern found its expression in the hardliners’ use of overt Great Russian chauvinism – which in turn strengthened the influence of reactionary nationalists in the non-Russian republics.

The IBT recognised that the hardliners were “only too willing to stoop to Great Russian chauvinism and even anti-Semitism to protect their political monopoly.”[98] But this was not going to put them off, since the hardliners’ alleged defence of nationalised property stood higher than their chauvinism.

But lending support to such chauvinism – even indirectly – meant not only dragging the name of Trotskyism through the dirt; objectively it assisted petty-bourgeois nationalism and accelerated the growth of anti-communism.

Those who adapted to the pro-capitalist Great Russian elements of the Stalinist bureaucracy not only revised the Leninist-Trotskyist position on the national question in general; they also specifically revised the Bolshevik position on the fight of national self-determination within workers’ states, developed prior to the Stalinist degeneration of the Soviet Union. Basing themselves on a false analysis of Stalinism, these capitulators toyed with any and every means to preserve the role of the bureaucracy: terrorism against the working class, Great Russian chauvinism towards minority nations and the militarisation of politics.

It is well known that revolutionary Russia recognised the right of Finland and the Baltic republics to secede. In these cases self-determination meant, among other things, accepting the right to form a capitalist state. But the Bolsheviks under Lenin and Trotsky did not only accept this separation because it was forced upon them.

Lenin fought successfully for the inclusion of the fight of self-determination in the programme of the Russian Communist Party: “On the national question, the policy of the proletariat, which has captured political power – unlike that of the bourgeois-democratic formal proclamation of equality of nations, which is impossible under imperialism – is persistently to bring about the real rapprochement and amalgamation of the workers and peasants of all nations in their revolutionary struggle for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. To achieve this object, the colonial and other nations which are oppressed, or whose fights are restricted, must be completely liberated and granted the fight to secede as a guarantee that the sentiment inherited from capitalism, the distrust of the working people of the various nations and the wrath which the workers of the oppressed nations feel towards the workers of the oppressor nations, will be fully dispelled and replaced by a conscious and voluntary alliance.”[99]

It is true that the Bolsheviks under Lenin and Trotsky did not claim that the fight of national self-determination was absolute, and wrote on several occasions that it was subordinate to the necessities of the class struggle. Nonetheless, they understood that it had to be defended as a precondition for achieving the revolutionary unity of the proletariat.

Bukharin and Preobrazhensky drafted the ABC of Communism as a basic textbook and popularisation of the post-revolutionary programme adopted by the Bolsheviks at the 8th congress, held in March, 1919, at the height of the civil war. In it, they explicitly recognised the fight of national minorities to secede from the Soviet state, even under a bourgeois leadership: “Finally, take the case of a nation with a bourgeois government which wishes to separate from a nation with a proletarian regime, and let us suppose that, in the nation which desires to separate, the majority of workers or a notable proportion of them are in favour of separation...Even in this case it would be better to allow the proletariat of the separating land to come to terms in its own way with its own bourgeoisie, for otherwise the latter would retain the power of saying: ‘It is not I who oppress you, but the people of such and such a country’.”[100]

But whereas the revolutionary Soviet state, besieged on all sides at the height of the Civil War, was prepared to recognise this right, certain “Trotskyists” were prepared to volunteer their services as frontier guards for the collapsing Soviet Union in 1991. For sectarians such as the Spartacists and Voce Operaia, the example of Georgia, whose fights to self-determination were overridden by strategic considerations at the end of the civil war in 1921, served as a pretext to turn the exception into the historical rule.

Trotsky justified the invasion of Georgia, arguing that the revolution faced a direct military threat. However, in his uncompleted biography of Stalin, Trotsky noted that: “In Georgia, premature sovietization strengthened the Mensheviks for a certain period and led to the broad mass insurrection in 1924, when, according to Stalin’s own admission, Georgia had to be “reploughed anew”.”[101]

Today’s sectarians uphold a new programmatic norm: that the defence of a workers’ state always takes the priority over the fight of national self-determination. This position proceeds from the pessimistic assumption that the majority of the working class does not, and will not, defend the workers’ state, and that the action of the working class must be replaced by military means. Under Lenin and Trotsky, the revolutionary prestige of the Soviet state was such that the departure from the programmatic norm in Georgia could be justified.

But under Stalinism, military action to stifle demands for independence could only serve to cement relations between the workers of oppressed nations and the petty-bourgeois and nationalist leaderships, thereby derailing the potential for political revolution. “Trotskyists” who advocated such a course of action were actively doing the restorationists’ business for them.

Faced with mass support for independence, Trotskyists should have counterposed to the nationalist leaderships’ support for separate capitalist states, the slogan of independent Soviet republics, while defending the democratic right of oppressed nations and peoples to secede. Only with such a policy would it have been possible to take the wind out of the sails of the nationalists, and at the same time fight for the unity of workers of all nationalities in the struggle for political revolution. This was the course which Trotsky proposed with growing urgency in the late 1930s for the Ukraine against both fellow travellers of Stalinism and sectarians such as Oehler, when it became apparent, even from the fragmentary information he could obtain, that Stalinism had taken up Tsarism’s role as the jailer of a prisonhouse of nations.

Indeed, he was in favour of extending this position to other non-Russian nations: “We are for the independence of Soviet Ukraine, and if the Byelo Russians themselves wish – of Soviet Byelo Russia.”[102]

The crisis of post-war Trotskyism has produced two equally bankrupt revisions of this revolutionary heritage – one trend tailing the Stalinist bureaucracies, and the other adapting to the petty-bourgeois nationalists. To no small extent this assisted in obstructing the re-emergence of revolutionary parties in the Soviet Union and the countries of Eastern Europe. It is the task of revolutionaries today to reassert all that is best in the heritage of Marxism on the national question.

8. The August Coup and the End of the Soviet Union

The coup of August 19, 1991, was a decisive political test for all those describing themselves as Trotskyists.[103] The IBT believed that in Yanayev’s “Emergency Committee” it had discovered the Thermidorian wing of the bureaucracy, which would defend the workers’ state in its hour of need. The IBT rendered the coup plotters’ Great Russian chauvinism more profound: their conflict with some of the nationalist leaderships in the non-Russian republics the IBT saw as the showdown between the workers’ state and social counter-revolution. The IBT also believed (and this view was tacitly shared by many other groups) that a successful coup could have slowed down the speed of capitalist restoration. But it was the coup which provided the pretext for the Yeltsinite wing of the bureaucracy to accelerate the destruction of the Soviet Union and the process of capitalist restoration.

In fact, the skeletal programme put forward by the coup-plotters was not significantly different to that of the other forces of capitalist restoration, and the position that only the Yeltsinite wing of the bureaucracy (as opposed to either Gorbachev or the coup-plotters) was the conscious instrument of the world bourgeoisie is unsustainable. From 1990 onwards, Gorbachev was aiming not just at market “reforms” but at capitalist restoration. The winter of 1990-91 saw Gorbachev pull back from fast-track restoration, and tack in the direction of the “conservatives”. This reflected an attempt to offset the narrowing “democratic” base of the regime. But the intractable problems of the economy forced him by the spring of 1991 back into the arms of the “radicals”.

The pace of restoration, in any case, could not be determined by any of the decomposing wings of the bureaucracy, and depended on the degree to which foreign capital could be attracted and an indigenous capitalist class developed. In this sense, even Shatalin’s 500-day plan for privatising the economy, which Gorbachev abandoned in October 1990, could not have been decisive in the short term.

The months leading up to the coup saw the imperialists’ patience wearing thin, as the economic and political situation within the Soviet Union steadily deteriorated. But in the eyes of most of the imperialists, Gorbachev remained a more serious and reliable ally than the erratic and unreliable Yeltsin. Shortly before the coup Yeltsin was received in a very reserved way by the European parliament. Gorbachev, in contrast, was warmly received after the G7 summit in July, 1991 by British Prime Minister Major. In the course of their discussions, Major referred to Yeltsin disparagingly as a “populist”.[104]

Gorbachev’s biggest problem was that this political sympathy did not extend to hard cash. He was sent away from the G7 summit empty handed, and there were even sympathetic reports in the Western press about a possible “Chilean solution” to carry out capitalist restoration.

Although the pace of capitalist restoration was one element in the split in the bureaucracy, it was certainly not the decisive one. The immediate motivation for Yanayev and his supporters was Gorbachev’s Union Treaty, which they saw as a betrayal of the Soviet Union’s “great power” status.

What is more, the restorationist goal was never in dispute. In their declaration to the United Nations and to the world’s governments on August 19, 1991, the coup-plotters stated that the emergency measures taken “will in no way...lead to the abandonment of the course of fundamental reforms in all areas of life of state and society.”[105] Underlining their preparedness to continue Gorbachev’s pro-market “reforms”, they promised: “Favourable conditions shall be created for increasing the real contribution made by all types of entrepreneurial activity”.[106]

The response of the most important imperialist politicians to the coup was to announce their readiness to continue co-operation with the new leadership of the Soviet Union. Some bourgeois commentators saw it as a chance to slow down the course of restoration and avoid provoking major class struggles.

These considerations did not prevent both the Spartacists and Franco Grisolia of the Faction for a Trotskyist International (now part of the International Trotskyist Opposition in the USFI) from declaring Yeltsin to have been the main enemy during the August events, or from speculating about a possible alliance with the coup plotters, whom they reproached for their lack of professionalism in the business of carrying out putsches (the Spartacists) or for their lack of proletarian support (Grisolia).

Both claimed to base themselves upon Trotsky’s hypothesis of a “united front” with the Thermidorian wing of the bureaucracy against capitalist counter-revolution in the Transitional Programme of 1938. Trotsky believed that such a bloc was only possible under the most extreme and exceptional circumstances. (Significantly he uses the term united front in inverted commas in the Transitional Programme.) The Spartacists and the IBT turned this unlikely possibility into the strategic axis of their policy – outside of time and space, and independent of concrete analysis.

In fact these capitulators to Stalinism and to Great Russian chauvinism (both of them restorationist tendencies incidentally!) were unable to show that even a minority Stalinist current existed within the bureaucracy genuinely committed to the defence of the workers’ state against capitalist counter-revolution, still less a revolutionary one. Idle speculation about whether it would have been permissible to support the coup-plotters if they had had more proletarian support or a better programme simply misses the point.

The failure to seriously analyse the socio-economic course of the various wings of the bureaucracy, was compounded by an equal failure to examine which relationship of forces offered the best possibilities for the working class to organise, to gain confidence in its own strength and to develop its class consciousness.

The idea that working class political independence could be bartered for the “right” to passively support a military coup was totally alien to Trotsky’s thinking. The programme of political revolution rested on the premise that the working class could only defend the workers’ state with its own, proletarian, methods. Its interests lay solely in defending its gains, which were linked to the existence of the workers’ state, rather than defending the bureaucratic apparatus which sat on top of it.

Confronted by the coup – the collapse of which only became apparent after three days – revolutionaries had to propose a course of action which would enable the working class to develop from an atomised and disoriented mass into a class for itself, gaining self-confidence and class consciousness, and understanding the tasks it faced. There could not have been any “purely economic” defence of workers’ interests without also defending the democratic rights – the right to strike, to organise, to hold meetings, to build political parties etc – which had been won.

The attitude of the coup-plotters towards the working class was clear. The Emergency Committee’s Resolution No. 1 stated: “The activities of political parties, social organisations and mass movements hampering a normalisation of the situation shall be halted...The Procurator’s Office, the Interior Ministry, the KGB and the Ministry of Defence of the USSR shall organise effective interaction between the law-enforcing agencies and Armed Forces...The holding of meetings, street manifestations, demonstrations, and also strikes shall be prohibited. When necessary, a curfew, patrolling of the territory and inspections shall be introduced, and measures taken to strengthen the border and customs regimes…A resolute end shall be put to...disobedience towards officials engaged in ensuring compliance with the regime of the state of emergency.”[107]

This clearly shows that the pseudo-Trotskyist strategists of “alliances with the Thermidorian wing of the bureaucracy” had overlooked one “small matter”: that every attempt to mobilise the working class independently in defence of its own class interests would immediately have brought it into direct conflict with its “allies”, the putschists. In other words, this “united front” could only operate if the working class stayed at home! Faced with the stark choice of resistance or political capitulation to the coup, they chose the latter, using the argument that Yeltsin – at this moment – was the “main enemy”.

The fact that any independent working class action would have inevitably led to a sharp confrontation with the putschists did not however mean that revolutionaries should have given political support to Yeltsin. Nevertheless – as at August 19, 1991 – the most important task was to defend the democratic rights of the working class and the minority nations against the immediate threat of the coup, by mobilising for a general strike, and, if conditions had ripened, by organising an armed uprising. Yeltsin had not ceased to be an enemy, but in this situation he had to be fought with different methods from those which were necessary against the putschists.

Without proposing a united front to Yeltsin, (as Workers Power/LRCI did), common action with Yeltsin’s supporters in the trade unions would have been unavoidable and necessary in the context of a general strike or a generalised armed confrontation. This would have enabled revolutionaries to have criticised Yeltsin and his supporters for failing to take decisive measures against the putschists, and instead of energetically mobilising workers, pinning their hopes on sections of the Stalinist apparatus. The success of such a policy presupposed a willingness to fight in a military bloc alongside Yeltsin and his supporters. Similar tactics were applicable towards the nationalists in the non-Russian republics, most of whom sat out the coup in cowardly neutrality.

Most of those who speculated on the possibility of an alliance with the Thermidorian wing of the bureaucracy (FTI, ICL, Liaison Committee of Communists) came down in favour of the apparently “revolutionary” line of taking no side in the conflict, and mobilising the working class independently. But such a position was entirely abstract. In so far as the working class mobilised, it took action against the coup. Had Yeltsin’s call for a general strike taken hold, then it would have been farcical to attempt to call another general strike alongside the one already in progress. It would, on the contrary, have been obligatory to agitate among workers taking action, warning of the danger represented by Yeltsin, and counterposing a transitional programme to defend workers’ rights to the programme of the “democratic” restorationists.

Within three days, however, the situation had changed completely. Yeltsin exploited the situation, in the face of a pantomime coup and widespread working class apathy, to drive forward the development towards capitalist restoration. The basis for a tactical bloc with the Yeltsinites (similar to that of the Bolsheviks with Kerensky during the Kornilov coup) no longer existed. But the fact that Yeltsin was now the main enemy did not give any retrospective justification either to the policy of the putschists, or to the policy of “critical support” for the coup.

Neither the coup plotters nor any other significant current within the bureaucracy put forward a serious programme for the defence of the workers’ state. But the coup plotters also lacked a viable programme for capitalist restoration. Once this became clear, it had the effect of rallying the fragmenting apparatus around Yeltsin, which in turn meant that he could avoid mobilising workers against the coup. Had he been forced to do so, it would in all likelihood have radicalised the masses, in spite of Yeltsin’s intentions, and potentially have endangered the restorationist course.

The aftermath of August Coup demonstrated that an overwhelming proportion of the Stalinist bureaucracy supported capitalist restoration in one form or another. Instead of slowing down the pace of restoration, the coup had the opposite result. Yeltsin was now able to purge those elements of the bureaucracy which had hesitated over the restorationist course. The banning of the CPSU – the political headquarters of the bureaucracy – symbolised the collapse, not only of the old regime, but of the workers’ state. The dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991 merely underlined the victory of the counter-revolution.

On more than one occasion Trotsky compared the degenerated workers’ state to a trade union with a reactionary bureaucracy which had conquered power.[108] However, he also spelt out the limitations of the analogy: “Should these gentlemen [the bureaucracy] in addition defend the income of the bourgeoisie from attacks on the part of workers; should they conduct a struggle against strikes, against the raising of wages, against help to the unemployed; then we would have an organisation of scabs, and not a trade union.”[109] Who today can seriously doubt that the Yeltsin government is “an organisation of scabs” which, in alliance with imperialism, has broken the back of the workers’ state?

Reality finds it hardest to penetrate the skulls of doctrinaires and sectarians. Stalinophiles like the Spartacists, who had expected that the bureaucracy would, even to a limited extent, resist restoration, were thrown into confusion by Yeltsin’s counter-coup, For more than a year, the ICL clung to the definition of the (ex-) Soviet Union as a degenerated workers’ state.

The Spartakist Arbeiterpartei (German section of the ICL) foolishly wrote in January 1992: “In reality the dismembering of the USSR did not leave an accomplished capitalist counter-revolution, but a gigantic mess, since what we are confronted with in the dissolution of the Soviet Union today, is a number of governments, which are counter-revolutionary through and through and which have the intention of smashing the degenerated Soviet workers’ state”.[110]

In the same issue of its journal it cited approvingly an article from Workers Vanguard[111], which referred to Yeltsin merely as the “would-be grave-digger” of the USSR, and this insight was topped off with a quote from the Financial Times: “The news of the death of the Soviet Union seems to have been a little bit overhasty.”[112] The big hope of the Spartacists followed: “In the whole country there is talk of a new coup d’état – this time it is said, that the military will play an important role – and/or a people’s uprising, triggered off by the economic disaster and the growing hunger.”[113] The order of priorities given to these hopes was hardly surprising!

In November 1992, the ICL abruptly changed its position, arguing – in terms that which were methodologically very vague – that the failure of workers to resist counter-revolution was central to the redesignation of the state as bourgeois.[114]

9. The Crisis of Restoration

Those who consider that workers’ states still exist in Eastern Europe and the ex-Soviet Union in fact press reality into abstract and pre-determined schema, based upon secondary criteria given in some Marxist classics – criteria which moreover have been proven wrong by history. This only gets them deeper into theoretical quagmire. They talk about workers’ states even though for nearly four years Russia and the CIS have been led by pro-capitalist governments actively driving forward capitalist restoration. If this theory were correct, its proponents would have to concede that it is possible for counter-revolutionaries to take possession of a workers’ state and make it serve counter-revolutionary purposes – without fundamentally changing its social character!

Not all the currents of the “Trotskyist movement” which deny that bourgeois states have been restored are waiting for a classical civil war to unfold. But in common with the doctrinaires, they emphasise the undoubted problems facing the development of capitalism. In particular they refer to the difficulties facing privatisation because of the lack of foreign investment; the weakness of domestic capital formation; the painful and difficult transformation of nationalised property into capital; the creation of a corrupt bourgeoisie, drawn from the former nomenklatura and from criminal and comprador elements; the problem of integration into the world market while attempting to preserve the cores of the existing national economies. Such conditions have inevitably led to enormous instability – the sharpening of the class struggle; the development of xenophobic and fascist movements and repressive regimes; sudden turns in the political situation, including civil wars.

But these factors, real as they are, do not demonstrate the continued existence of workers’ states; they are the birth pangs of a weak capitalism, operating in a far from “normal” fashion. The central theoretical error at work is the failure to distinguish between the state and the socio-economic system, and to grasp the essential differences between bourgeois and workers’ states.

In any case, distinctions need to be made between the conditions in different countries. Empirical evidence suggests that the restoration process is proceeding with widely varying results. The more economically advanced countries of Eastern Europe -the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia and the Baltic states – having suffered acute crisis between 1989 and 1992 have begun to recover. With productivity at 40 percent but wages at only one eighth of German rates, they have begun to attract inward capitalist investment, and may gain associate status with the EU. For the states laying further to the east Bulgaria, Romania and especially the ex-Soviet Union – the situation is altogether bleaker, with no end in sight to the crisis.

The turning point in the wake of the abortive coup therefore by no means signified that restoration had been accomplished from an economic standpoint. To break up the degenerated workers’ state is one thing. Building a thriving capitalism in its place is another. Even though after 1991 it was clear to everyone that the old Soviet Union could not be resurrected, Yeltsin has encountered similar intractable problems to Gorbachev. Presidential decrees are only implemented hesitantly and partially. The restoration of capitalism without prior capital accumulation or extensive foreign investment cannot be realised overnight and its successful outcome is far from assured.

The immediate effects of Yeltsin’s counter-coup were political rather than economic. They imprinted themselves upon the consciousness of the masses, and served to further weaken the small number of Stalinists who attempted to resist.

The main tasks facing the restorationists in country after country, which are at various stages of completion, can be broadly summarised as follows:

i. the building of a functioning capitalist state
ii. a purge of the old state apparatus from top to bottom
iii. the dissolution of the machinery of central planning
iv. the abolition of restrictions on commerce and capital transactions, and the development of a capitalist banking system
v. the withdrawal of the state from the economy, transforming nationalised property and the work-force into capital
vi. the establishment of a new tax and fiscal administration.

The tasks relating to the state and the economy are inter-related, but not identical. The transition from the workers’ state to capitalism is marked by a period of “state capitalism” – mirroring the opposite development in Eastern Europe in the 1940s. Far from representing a continuation of “planned economy”, it is the only viable means of preparing large parts of the economy for privatisation. A central component of this strategy is the conversion of money into capital. The exposure of currencies to international comparison, and the freeing” of prices via “big bangs” restore money as a real (i.e. capitalist) measure of value, and facilitate capital formation through the pauperisation of the masses, on the one hand, and the creation of commodity production for profit on the other. This process is the consequence, rather than the cause, of the creation of bourgeois states.

The primitive accumulation of capital relies to a considerable extent upon comprador and directly criminal methods together with the exploitation of the old Stalinist apparatus of political and economic management. The development of the new bourgeoisie is therefore characterised by corruption and the pillage of state property “by any means necessary”. But while such methods are necessary in the creation of a capitalist class, they simultaneously obstruct the “normal” functioning of a bourgeois state, which is obliged to create a stable legal framework for capitalist activities.

In its birth pangs, therefore, the new bourgeois state lacks even the legitimacy of modern imperialist states, which are obliged to appear “impartial” in their dealings with capitalist citizens. It cannot meet the needs of a developed capitalism. But neither capitalist nor bourgeois state apparatuses have to be “ideal” or “ready” in order to be pressed into service. We have already pointed to the fact that capitalism can coexist for a period with other forms of production inherited from the past.

In transitional periods it is the character and the real policy of the leadership of a state which is decisive in determining its class character. Only guided with this criterion can we give clear answers to the problems posed, in conformity with the rhythm of history.

The class struggle never entirely disappeared in the degenerated and deformed workers’ states; nor has it in the restored bourgeois states, even if it takes new forms. A period of prolonged political instability is inevitable, in which rival groupings of aspiring capitalists will struggle to win control over the levers of political power. New relations are being established between the classes and the state, and between the different strata of classes. These constant changes in class relations and state institutions do not contradict our characterisation of these states as bourgeois. Rather, their weak character means that this instability is likely to continue so long as authoritative political parties and other means of regulating relations between the new bourgeoisie and the state institutions do not exist.

Developments since 1991 confirm that the bloc which supported Yeltsin at the time of the coup was far from stable. Conflicts have repeatedly arisen, which reflect the relationship of different sections of the bureaucracy to the restoration process. Some favour protection from the world market on the basis of extensive nationalisation as a means to create a strong Russian bourgeoisie, while others are prepared to accept a capitalist economy dominated by imperialism. Both currents supported, or at least tolerated, Yeltsin for a period and were represented in both the “conservative” parliament and Yeltsin’s government. In the provinces the restorationists were able to base themselves on the regional apparatuses, free from direct political control from the centre.

Yeltsin’s showdown with the Russian parliament in October 1993 did not solve the conflicts which had arisen.[115] Although he won militarily, it was clear that Yeltsin’s hold over the apparatus and the army was shaky. And although his second “counter coup” strengthened his hand, his allies among the more energetic “modernisers” had lost much of their popular support by the time of the elections in December 1993. In the pre-election period a wave of strikes took place.

The Yeltsinite electoral bloc, despite the massive financial support it received from the new Russian banks, was wiped out in the provinces and polled less than 20 per cent. Even if these results signalled a defeat for those restorationists most closely identified with international finance capital, they should not be mistaken for a defeat for capitalist restoration as such. The banks had also invested heavily in the campaign of the maverick Russian nationalist Zhirinovsky as a means of derailing popular discontent. Until the elections, Zhirinovsky had pursued a moderate line towards Yeltsin, and had supported him on the constitution. Yeltsin had responded by allowing Zhirinovsky a monopoly of nationalist representation in the elections. Zhirinovsky’s success, together with the results achieved by the opposition obliged Yeltsin to adopt a course which paid more attention to the new “national” capitalists and Great Russian demagogues.

This marks a qualitative departure from former times. In a bourgeois state, political changes do not eliminate the social role played by capitalists and their representatives – hence the need for the new state to attempt to accommodate and balance between competing factions. In contrast, the old Stalinist cliques lost their material privileges and social role when they were purged from the nomenklatura.

Yeltsin and his successors will not be able to establish a stable framework for capitalist development so long as the fundamental conflicts within the restoration process remain unresolved. At present the working class is disoriented and without any significant revolutionary leadership. But if workers reoriented themselves towards defending their class interests, the restorationists would in all likelihood attempt to close ranks behind a military dictatorship, or even fascism. Yeltsin’s efforts to impose strong presidential rule are only a weak anticipation of this possibility.

10. Towards a Programme of Action

The central task of Trotskyists is to assist the working class in all the territories of the ex-Soviet Union to build revolutionary parties – sections of a rebuilt Fourth International. Such parties will have to orient to every struggle of workers and other oppressed sections of society against the effects of capitalist restoration. In the scope of this document it is only possible to sketch the main lines of a programme of action.

Such a programme of action must begin with the defence of the democratic rights of the working class and the oppressed.

For a constituent assembly! In this period where real soviets are not on the immediate agenda and revolutionaries can only propagandise for such workers’ councils, it is necessary to mobilise the multinational working class in the cities and in the kolkhozes against Yeltsin’s Duma.

The main axis of the programme must be the struggle to defend the living standards of workers, the young and pensioners.

For a sliding scale of wages and pensions!
Defend nationalised property and social services!
Stop all lay-offs!
Stop privatisation and corruption!
Expropriate the new rich, the new banks and the criminal gangs!

The ex-Stalinist bureaucrats and the new bourgeoisie can be stopped through the fight for workers’ control of factories and kolkhozes and for a new economic plan drawn up democratically by producers and consumers.

Worker’s’ committees to make their own inventory of state and collectivised property to prevent its pillage by the restorationists!
For a worker’s plan for economic reconstruction – No to the World Bank, the IMF and their Russian agents!

To carry out this struggle, workers must organise themselves both politically and economically, independent of the restorationists and the national chauvinists. Trotskyists must participate in both the trade unions and any mass workers’ party presenting their programme in democratic competition with other tendencies to convince activists of the need for revolutionary leadership.

For a class struggle policy and workers’ democracy in the trade unions!
For a worker’s party based on the trade unions!

In every important struggle, workers will be confronted by fascist thugs and other reactionaries, as well the police and the army. A workers’ party must defend all workers’ organisations and the right to strike, as well as defending the democratic rights of rank and file soldiers.

Build defence groups towards the creation of a workers’ militia!
Organise soldiers’ committees!

Equal rights for women! Working class women must be free to participate fully in the workforce and in the political and social revolution. Such fights must include:

Equal pay for equal work!
Free 24-hour childcare centres!
Free contraception and free abortion on demand!
Free quality socialised dining rooms in the factories and neighbourhoods and free laundries!
Equal rights for gays and lesbians!

Workers will only successfully defend their rights if they create the maximum unity. Trotskyists will fight for a united front of all organisations which base themselves upon the urban and rural working class. While they advocate a united multinational struggle against social and political reaction, they will defend the right of all oppressed nationalities to self-determination, up to and including secession. Trotskyists will oppose every manifestation of racism and chauvinism, especially the Great Russian variety.

A fighting united front of the working class poses the building of factory committees and genuine soviets throughout the ex-Soviet Union. In the course of their struggle against the bureaucrats turned restorationists, workers may well throw up different organisational forms to these tried and tested ones. But for them to be successful the goal must remain workers’ governments which base themselves upon the mass organisations of the working class and the principles of workers’ democracy. In such governments there will be no place for those who seek to bring back Stalinism.

Long live internationalism!

Rebuild the Fourth International!

April 1995

[1] Samizdat, p.207
[2] Samizdat, p.207
[3] See L. Trotsky, ‘The Workers’ State, Thermidor and Bonapartism’ in: Writings of Leon Trotsky (1934-35), Pathfinder, 1971, pp. 166-184, and R. V. Daniels: The Conscience of the Revolution, Simon and Schuster, 1969
[4] Samizdat, p.207
[5] M. Dewar, The Quiet Revolutionary, Bookmarks, 1989, p.16
[6] L. Trotsky, Writings of Leon Trotsky (1937-38), pp.34-44
[7] G. Breitman (ed), The Founding of the Socialist Workers Party, Monad, 1982, pp.141-5; L. Trotsky, Writings of Leon Trotsky (1937-38), pp.60-71
[8] See L. Trotsky, In Defence of Marxism, New Park, 1975, and J.P. Cannon, The Struggle for a Proletarian Party, Pathfinder, 1972.
[9] B. Rizzi, The Bureaucratization of the World, Tavistock, 1985
[10] J. Burnham, The Managerial Revolution, Penguin, 1962
[11] T. Cliff, State Capitalism in Russia, Pluto, 1974
[12] M. Djilas, The New Class, Unwin, 1966
[13] Socialist Action (US), World Political Resolution submitted to the USFI 14th World Congress, August 1994
[14] Class Struggle, No. 51, December 1992
[15] L. Trotsky, Writings of Leon Trotsky (1933-34), Pathfinder, 1972, p.104
[16] L. Trotsky, Writings of Leon Trotsky (1937-38), p.65, p.61
[17] W. l. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 27, Moscow, 1965, p.335
[18] CWG/LTT Fusion Declaration, Workers News, No. 44, Mar-Apr 1993
[19] T. Grant, The Unbroken Thread, Fortress, 1989, pp.342-70
[20] K. Harvey, ‘Poland’s Transition to Capitalism’, Permanent Revolution 9,
Summer/Autumn 1991
[21] Workers Power/lrish Workers Group, The Degenerated Revolution: The Origins and Nature of the Stalinist States, WP/lWG, 1982, p.53
[22] Ibid., p.59
[23] Ibid., p.72
[24] F. Engels, Anti-Dühring, cited in A. Richardson (ed), In Defence of the Russian Revolution: A Selection of Bolshevik Writings 1917-1923, Porcupine, 1995, viii
[25] Trotskyist International, No. 11, May-Aug, 1993, p.45
[26] The Degenerated Revolution, p.97
[27] Permanent Revolution No. 9
[28] The Degenerated Revolution, p.46
[29] Trotskyist International, No. 11, p.47
[30] Trotskyist International, No. 16, Jan-Apr 1995, p.24
[31] Trotskyist International, No. 11, p.45
[32] L. Trotsky, Writings of Leon Trotsky (1934-35), p.182
[33] Documents of the Vern-Ryan Tendency, Communard Publishers, n.d., p.33
[34] Ibid., p3
[35] Much of the empirical information, although not the argument, of the following paragraphs is drawn from T. Wohlforth and A. Westoby, “Communists’ Against Revolution”, Folrose, 1978; C. Harman, Class Struggles in Eastern Europe 1945-48, Bookmarks, 1988 and A. Westoby, Communism Since World War II, Harvester, 1981

[36] F. Claudin, The Communist Movement: From Comintern to Cominform, Peregrine, 1975, p.464
[37] See J. Bloomfield, Passive Revolution: Politics and the Czechoslovak Working Class 1945-48, Allison and Busby, 1979
[38] K. Marx, The Civil War in France, Marx-Engels Collected Works, Vol. 22, Moscow, 1986, p.328
[39] L. Trotsky, Writings of Leon Trotsky (1933-34), p.103
[40] A. Richardson, Introduction to In Defence of the Russian Revolution, vii-ix
[41] In Wohlforth and Westoby, ‘Communists’ Against Revolution
[42] Ibid., pp.87-8
[43] Communism Since World War II, p.387
[44] I. Deutscher, Russia, China and the West 1953-1966, Penguin, 1970, p.47. For a detailed account of twists and turns of Soviet policy on Germany see D. Dallin, Soviet Foreign Policy After Stalin, Lippincott, 1961
[45] Russia, China and the West, p.48
[46] L. Trotsky, In Defence of Marxism, p.22
[47] Ibid., p.23
[48] Ibid., p.36.
[49] Ibid., p.113
[50] Ibid., p.34
[51] D. North, The Heritage We Defend, Labor Publications, 1988, p.145
[52] P. Frank: The Fourth International, Ink Links, 1979, pp.72-3
[53] S. Bornstein and A. Richardson, War and the International, Socialist Platform, 1986, p.217
[54] E. Germain, ‘The Soviet Union after the War’, SWP International Information Bulletin, Vol. 1, No. 2, September, 1946
[55] Quoted in S. Bornstein and A. Richardson, The War and the International, p.217
[56] Ibid., p.217
[57] See B. Pitt, ‘The Fourth International and Yugoslavia (1948-50)’, Workers News supplement, July 1991
[58] Ibid
[59] Class, Party, and State and the Eastern European Revolution, SWP Education for Socialists, 1969, p.13
[60] Ibid., p.11
[61] Ibid., p.14
[62] Ibid., p.19
[63] Quote in D. North, The Heritage We Defend, pp.162-3
[64] Quoted in ibid., p.175
[65] Class, Party, and State and the Eastern European Revolution, p.22
[66] M. Pablo, ‘Yugoslavia and the rest of the Buffer Zone’, SWP International Information Bulletin, May 1950
[67] Class, Party, and Stare and the Eastern European Revolution, p.40
[68] Ibid., p.41-2
[69] Pablo considered that the transition from capitalism to socialism might span “an entire historic period”, occupied by a “whole gamut of transitional regimes” which would suffer from some degree of “deformation”. This unremarkable prognosis, not greatly dissimilar from Lenin’s conception of the transition period, became transformed by those who formed the International Committee, into the legend of “centuries of deformed workers’ states”.
[70] D. North, The Heritage We Defend, p.181
[71] Pierre Frank’s report to the congress, Class, Party, and Stare and the Eastern European Revolution, p.50

[72] L. Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, New Park, 1982, p.255
[73] See W. I. Lenin and L. Trotsky, Lenin s Fight Against Stalinism, Pathfinder, 1975, and M. Lewin, Lenin’s Last Struggle, Pluto, 1975
[74] L. Trotsky, ‘Socialism and the Market’, Workers News No. 31, May 1991
[75] Ibid
[76] L. Trotsky, Towards Socialism or Capitalism?, New Park, 1976
[77] The Platform of the Joint Opposition (1927), New Park, 1973
[78] L.Trotsky, The Challenge of the Left Opposition (1926-27), Pathfinder, 1980, pp.258-64
[79] Ibid., pp. 260-1
[80] L. Trotsky, Writings of Leon Trotsky (1933-34), p.117
[81] L. Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, pp.250-53
[82] Ibid., p.253
[83] L. Trotsky, Writings of Leon Trotsky (1935-36), Pathfinder, 1977, p.63
[84] L. Trotsky, Writings of Leon Trotsky (1937-38), p.63
[85] Trotsky, In Defence of Marxism, pp.19-20
[86] For an autobiographical account of life under the occupation see A. Kuznetsov, Babi Yar, Penguin, 1982
[87] L. Trotsky, Writings of Leon Trotsky (1934-35), p.170
[88] L. Trotsky, Writings of Leon Trotsky (1937-38), p.35
[89] Although at what cost is debatable. The short term benefit to the balance of payments must be offset against the negative effects of diverting huge resources away from other branches of the economy
[90] The dissident Andrei Amalrik perceptively noted in 1969: ‘The so-called “economic reform”, of which I have already spoken, is in essence a half-measure and is in practice being sabotaged by the party machine, because if such a reform were carried to its logical end, it would threaten the power of the machine.’ A. Amalrik, Will the Soviet Union Survive Until 1984?, Penguin, 1980, p.34.)
[91] See D. Singer, The Road to Gdansk, Monthly Review, 1982, chap. 3
[92] On this point, see D. Bruce, ‘Trotsky and the Materialist Analysis of Stalinism. A Reply to Cliff Slaughter.’, WRP internal document, and A. Richardson, Introduction to In Defence of the Russian Revolution
[93] L. Trotsky, Writings of Leon Trotsky (1937-38), p.65
[94] Ibid., p.67
[95] 1917, No. 11,Third Quarter, 1992
[96] Ibid.
[97] Spartakist, No. 92, January 1992
[98] 1917, op cit.

[99] W. I. Lenin Collected Works, Vol. 29, Moscow, 1965, p.127
[100] N. Bukharin and E. Preobrazhensky, The ABC of Communism, Penguin, 1970, p.248
[101] L. Trotsky, Stalin, Vol. 2, Panther, 1969, p.47
[102] L. Trotsky, In Defence of Marxism, p. 24
[103] For an analysis of the tactical issues, and the positions of various Trotskyist currents, see M. Sullivan, ‘The August Coup Revisited’, Workers News No. 46, August 1993
[104] Guardian, June 21, 1993
[105] Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, August 20, 1991
[106] Putsch -The Diary, p.19
[107] Putsch -The Diary, p.19

[108] L. Trotsky, In Defence of Marxism, p.31, p.36; Writings of Leon Trotsky (1937-38), p.64-5
[109] L. Trotsky, Writings of Leon Trotsky (1937-38), p.65
[110] Spartakist, January 1992
[111] Workers Vanguard, December 27,1991
[112] Financial Times, December 1, 1991
[113] Spartakist, January 1992
[114] How the Soviet Workers State was Strangled, Spartacist pamphlet, 1991

[115] How the Soviet Workers State was Strangled, Spartacist pamphlet, 1991

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This particular article, while being interesting and historically informative, has some defects with regard to its relation to Marxist theory, in particular to its concept of "bourgeoise", or "workers" states, and its concept of class.
Karl Marx defined the class structure of a society on the basis of the production, appropriation, and distribution of surplus value. Socialism is an economic system i which those who produce surplus value colectively appropriate and distribute it. Therefore, according to Marx, whether the means of production were owned by the state or not is completely irrelevant to the debate between capitalism and socialism. What really matters is whether or not the workers directly run the factories/industries that they work in. If, as in the Soviet Union, industry and agriculture are run by a seperate class of bureacrats, it is not socialism, but rather capitalism.
To talk of "workers states", or "socialist states" with regard to the Soviet Bloc countries is absurd, since the workers never controlled industry and agriculture, but were rather exploited by bureacrats, there was no socialism, and therefore no socialist states. To talk of a "restoration" of capitalism is also absurd, since capitalism was never abolished in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. An excellent book on the topic of the Soviet Union is Class Theory and History: Capitalism and Communism in the USSR by Stephen Resnick and Richard Wolff, both of whom are Marxists. According to them, what occurred was merely an "occilation from private to state and back to private capitalism".
Why is this point important? Because the Soviet Union has given socialism a terrible name. If we Marxists can prove that it was never socialist, we will greatly help our cause of convincing people of the correctness of our theories. We will also allow ourselves to avoid repeating the mistakes of the USSR again. Thank you for allowing me to express my views on this important subject.