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Stalinism

Q. Why is socialism in one country impossible?

A. First of all, socialism absolutely needs to be based on a high level of productivity. The lowest stage of socialism must be the highest stage of capitalism. If so many of the problems in the world today are due to the unequal distribution of resources, then the only solution is to produce more than enough and distribute it democratically in order that people have no reason to oppress one another. Nowhere in any of the writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, or Trotsky will you find them proposing the idea of socialism in one country. The Stalinist, nationalist idea of socialism in one country has nothing to do with Marxism which has always been internationalist in perspective.

The working class has had many opportunities to carry out a socialist transformation this century, and has tried in many different countries. However only once, and then only temporarily did they succeed, in the Russian Revolution of 1917. This revolution in a backward country succeeded in overthrowing 1000 years of Tsarist autocracy, and the working class began to grapple with running the whole of society. However it was never the intention of Lenin to build socialism in one country. That is impossible, as socialism requires a massive increase in production to produce the needs of society. That requires the pooling of resources internationally. Also of course, capitalism cannot simply be defeated in a single country. The revolution must spread to other countries, and eventually the whole world.

As a result of its isolation, and its backwardness, civil war, and the assault of 21 armies of foreign intervention, the revolution in Russia hung by a thread. Without the assistance of revolutions in more economically advanced countries in Europe, there could not be socialism in Russia. If the revolutions in the rest of Europe had been successful, they could have all pooled their technology, natural resources, and populations as one in order to begin producing enough for all and spreading the revolution to the rest of the world. Instead, the isolated revolution degenerated into a bureaucratic dictatorship. The struggle for socialism must be international!

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Q. Why did Russia degenerate into a totalitarian, Stalinist dictatorship, and how does the planned economy work to develop the productive forces without the "check" of the market?

A. In order to be able to understand the process of the socialist transformation of society, and why it has not yet succeeded, we must be able to give a scientific answer to the question what happened to the USSR?  There is an entire book online about this question, called "Russia: from Revolution to Counter-Revolution". But a brief generalization of the events is as follows.

First of all, the general historic appraisal that we make of the Russian Revolution is extremely positive. For the first time, the mass of workers and peasants proved in practice that it was possible to run society without landlords, capitalists and bankers. The superiority of a planned economy over the anarchy of capitalist production was proved, not in the field of ideas but on the concrete arena of industrial development, raising living standards, education and health. Russia, in a short period of time, went from being a backward, mainly agricultural, and imperialist dominated country into being one of the first industrial and economic powers on earth. And this was achieved only because of the planned economy. If you take any other backward capitalist country of that time and you see its evolution over the last 80 years, with very few exceptions, you will see that it remains backward and dominated by imperialism. You can use as examples India, Pakistan, the Philippines, most of Latin America, etc.

But at the same time we must be able to explain why the Stalinist states with their potentially very productive planned economies then entered into crisis at the end of the 1980s and eventually collapsed in the early 1990s. We think that the explanation lies in the lack of democratic control over the planning of the economy. Under capitalism, the market represents, to a certain extent, a check on the economy. If you own a shoe making factory, and the shoes you produce are of very poor quality and more expensive than others in the market, you will probably go bankrupt. If you invest in a sector of the economy where there is already overproduction you will probably go bankrupt (that is what is happening with all those who invested in the SE of Asia in computer making factories, car making factories, etc.).

So the market, although in an anarchic way and through devastating cyclical crises, represents a certain check on the productive forces (although this has been diminished by the concentration of the economy in the hands of a few multinational corporations). That does not exist under a planned economy. The only possible control is that of the democratic participation of working people (consumers and producers themselves) in the planning of the economy. Who knows better than the workers themselves the needs that there are in their neighborhoods? Who better than them knows how the factories should be organized? The problem in the Soviet Union was that these democratic controls did not exist at all. A handful of bureaucrats at the top of the "Communist Party" and the state apparatus dictated everything. .

It is clear that an economy which produced one million different commodities every year could not be controlled without real genuine workers' democracy. So, why was there no workers' democracy in the USSR? The bourgeois critics will tell us that this was the inevitable consequence of the struggle for socialism. "Communism is anti-democratic and means dictatorship". We reply: these are all lies and slanders.

If you read Lenin's State and Revolution (highly recommended for all comrades), you can see how Lenin establishes a series of conditions for the functioning of workers' democracy, which he draws mainly from the experience of the 1871 Paris Commune, the first workers' government in history. There are four main conditions:

1) All public officials to be elected and with the right to recall (that is that they can be changed immediately when they longer represent the interests of those who elected them).

2) No public official to receive a wage higher than that of a skilled worker. Marx said that "social being determines consciousness", in other words the way you live determine the way you think. One of the main causes for reformism amongst labor movement leaders is precisely the inflated salaries they receive as members of the government, or even trade union top officials.  They therefore think that capitalism is "not so bad" after all.

3) No standing army, but general arming of the people.

4) Over a period of time everyone would participate in the tasks of running the economy and the state. In the words of Lenin "if everyone is a bureaucrat, no one is a bureaucrat".

Even a superficial analysis of these conditions will immediately lead us to the conclusion that none of them applied in the old Soviet Union. But why? In the first years of the Revolution, Lenin and the other leaders of the revolution struggled to establish what was probably the most democratic regime which has ever existed. The soviets (workers' and peasants' councils) were running the state and the economy and everyone was allowed to participate in them. All political parties were allowed to participate in soviet elections and debates and put forward their ideas. It is a little known fact that the first Soviet government was in fact a coalition between the Bolshevik party and the Left Social Revolutionaries. The only parties not allowed were those which had taken arms against Soviet power.

Within the Communist Party there was the widest of democracies. During the discussion of the Brest-Litovsk peace agreement with Germany there were at least three different fractions within the CP with different opinions. One of them, the Left Communists, headed by Bukharin, even published for a while a daily paper, "The Communist", opposing Lenin's position on the issue! So, how could such a democratic regime become a dictatorship?

Lenin, in State and Revolution also deals with the questions of the economic preconditions for the establishment of socialism. The democratic planning of the economy can only be established if you have the economic and material basis to produce plenty for all. As soon as there is scarcity of the basic goods, inevitably, there must be someone to control in an authoritarian way, the distribution of these scarce goods. In short, in Russia in 1917 the material conditions for socialism did not exist.

So why did the Bolsheviks organize the revolution in Russia then? Their perspective was never building socialism in Russia in isolation. They saw the Russian revolution as the beginning of the European revolution. They thought that the taking of power by the workers in Russia would lead to a wave of revolutionary struggle all over Europe. Workers' power in Europe would provide the material means for a fast development of backward Russia. And in fact, the Russian revolution opened the way for a massive revolutionary wave in Europe. There was the 1918-19 German revolution, the Hungarian Soviet Republic, the Spanish revolutionary general strike, factory occupations in Italy and in general mass movements of the working class all over the continent. But unfortunately, all these revolutions were defeated.

The were various reasons for these defeats, but to summarize it, the labor movement was still very much under the influence of the social democratic reformist leaders, and the Communists had not had time to organize properly and made a number of fatal mistakes in this period. So, in this way, the Russian revolution became isolated in a backward, mainly peasant country, ruined by the First World War. If that was not enough, immediately they were sucked into a vicious civil war, in which the counter-revolution with the support of 21 foreign armies of intervention tried to overthrow the young soviet republic (and they nearly succeeded).

Finally the Red Army won the civil war but at a very high cost. Not only the economy was completely destroyed and the masses were starving, but also the cream of the cream of revolutionary communist cadres had been killed over these difficult years. One of the preconditions for workers' democracy is precisely a general shortening of the working week, in order to allow all working people time enough to raise their level of education and to participate in politics and the running of society. In Russia we actually had a longer working week and very bad conditions in general. Participation in the soviets slowly dropped and a layer of officials started to emerge which slowly started to push the normal workers out of politics and discourage participation.

One of the first to warn against the danger of bureaucratization was actually Lenin in his last writings, which were suppressed by Stalin for many years. But even under these extremely difficult conditions it was not easy for the Stalinist bureaucracy to firmly establish a grip on power. There was a very big opposition in the ranks and the leadership of the Communist Party. In fact, the bureaucracy had to physically eliminate most of the party in order to succeed. If you take the Central Committee of the party in 1917, the revolutionary leaders who carried out the October revolution, by 1940 there was only one survivor apart from Stalin. Most of the others had been shot dead by Stalin, died in prisons and labor camps, some were missing and a few had died of old age. Thousands of honest and loyal Communists were killed or died in the concentration camps. The person who waged the most comprehensive opposition against the rise of bureaucracy was Trotsky, who with Lenin had led the October Revolution and later organized the Red army.

The figure of Trotsky has been obscured for many years in the Communist movement, precisely by those who defended unconditionally the Stalinist bureaucracy. That is why it is to be welcomed for example that the documents of the last Congress of the South African Communist Party (ex-Stalinists) recommend the reading of his writings. Communists can only learn from an open and frank debate about the reasons for the rise of Stalinism.  See also Lenin and Trotsky: What They Really Stood For.

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Q. What is the Permanent Revolution and how does that relate to the revolutions in colonial countries?

A. One question which is key for the coming epoch is an understanding of the logic of the colonial revolution. In order to understand this today we must look back to the experience of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Russia at that time was mainly a backward country, where the remains of feudalism were still very much alive in the countryside. But at the same time, with the development of imperialism, there had been some foreign investment in the main cities and a small but militant working class had been created.

The debate in the Russian revolutionary movement was a heated one and it dealt mainly with two questions: which class was going to lead the revolution? And what were the tasks of the revolution? It was in this context that the theory of the permanent revolution was first formulated. The theory of the permanent revolution was first developed by Trotsky as early as 1904. The permanent revolution, while accepting that the objective tasks facing the Russian workers were those of the bourgeois democratic revolution, nevertheless explained how in a backward country in the epoch of imperialism, the "national bourgeoisie" was inseparably linked to the remains of feudalism on the one hand and to imperialist capital on the other and was therefore completely unable to carry through any of its historical tasks.

The rottenness of the bourgeois liberals, and their counter-revolutionary role in the bourgeois-democratic revolution, was already observed by Marx and Engels. In his article The Bourgeoisie and the Counter-revolution (1848), Marx writes: "The German bourgeoisie has developed so slothfully, cravenly and slowly that at the moment when it menacingly faced feudalism and absolutism it saw itself menacingly faced by the proletariat and all factions of the burghers whose interests and ideas were akin to those of the proletariat. And it saw inimically arrayed not only a class behind it but all Europe before it. The Prussian bourgeoisie was not, as the French of 1789 had been, the class which represented the whole of modern society vis-a-vis the representatives of the old society, the monarchy and the nobility. It had sunk to the level of a kind of social estate, as distinctly opposed to the crown as to the people, eager to be in the opposition to both, irresolute against each of its opponents , taken severally, because it always saw both of them before or behind it; inclined to betray the people and compromise with the crowned representative of the old society because it itself already belonged to the old society. "  (Karl Marx, The Bourgeoisie and the Counter-revolution, in MESW, vol. 1, p. 140-1.)

The bourgeoisie, Marx explains, did not come to power as a result of its own revolutionary exertions, but as a result of the movement of the masses in which it played no role: "The Prussian bourgeoisie was hurled to the height of state power, however not in the manner it had desired, by a peaceful bargain with the crown but by a revolution."  (Karl Marx, The Bourgeoisie and the Counter-revolution, MESW, vol. 1, p. 138.)

Even in the epoch of the bourgeois-democratic revolution in Europe, Marx and Engels mercilessly unmasked the cowardly, counterrevolutionary role of the bourgeoisie, and emphasized the need for the workers to maintain a policy of complete class independence, not only from the bourgeois liberals, but also from the vacillating petty bourgeois democrats: "The proletarian, or really revolutionary party," wrote Engels, "succeeded only very gradually in withdrawing the mass of the working people from the influence of the democrats whose tail they formed in the beginning of the revolution. But in due time the indecision, weakness, and cowardice of the democratic leaders did the rest, and it may now be said to be one of the principal results of the last years' convulsions, that wherever the working class is concentrated in anything like considerable masses, they are entirely freed from that democratic influence which led them into an endless series of blunders and misfortunes during 1848 and 1849." (Friedrich Engels, Revolution and Counter-revolution in Germany, MESW, vol. 1, p. 332.)

The situation is clearer still today. The national bourgeoisie in the colonial countries entered into the scene of history too late, when the world had already been divided up between a few imperialist powers. It was not able to play any progressive role and was born completely subordinated to its former colonial masters. The weak and degenerate bourgeoisie in Asia, Latin America and Africa is too dependent on foreign capital and imperialism, to carry society forward. It is tied with a thousand threads, not only to foreign capital, but with the class of landowners, with which it forms a reactionary bloc that represents a bulwark against progress. Whatever differences may exist between these elements are insignificant in comparison with the fear that unites them against the masses. Only the proletariat, allied with the poor peasants and urban poor, can solve the problems of society by taking power into its own hands, expropriating the imperialists and the bourgeoisie, and beginning the task of transforming society on socialist lines.

By setting itself at the head of the nation, leading the oppressed layers of society (urban and rural petty-bourgeoisie), the proletariat could take power and then carry through the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution (mainly the land reform and the unification and liberation of the country from foreign domination). However, once having come to power, the proletariat would not stop there but would start to implement socialist measures of expropriation of the capitalists. And as these tasks cannot be solved in one country alone, especially not in a backward country, this would be the beginning of the world revolution. Thus the revolution is "permanent" in two senses: because it starts with the bourgeois tasks and continues with the socialist ones, and because it starts in one country and continues at an international level.

The theory of the permanent revolution was the most complete answer to the reformist and class collaborationist position of the right wing of the Russian workers' movement, the Mensheviks. The two stage theory was developed by the Mensheviks as their perspective for the Russian revolution. It basically states that, since the tasks of the revolution are those of the national democratic bourgeois revolution, the leadership of the revolution must be taken by the national democratic bourgeoisie. For his part, Lenin agreed with Trotsky that the Russian Liberals could not carry out the bourgeois-democratic revolution, and that this task could only be carried out by the proletariat in alliance with the poor peasantry. Following in the footsteps of Marx, who had described the bourgeois "democratic party" as "far more dangerous to the workers than the previous liberals", Lenin explained that the Russian bourgeoisie, far from being an ally of the workers, would inevitably side with the counter-revolution. "The bourgeoisie in the mass" he wrote in 1905, "will inevitably turn towards the counter-revolution, and against the people as soon as its narrow, selfish interests are met, as soon as it recoils from consistent democracy (and it is already recoiling from it!)." (Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 9, p. 98.)

What class, in Lenin's view, could lead the bourgeois-democratic revolution? "There remains 'the people', that is, the proletariat and the peasantry. The proletariat alone can be relied on to march on to the end, for it goes far beyond the democratic revolution. That is why the proletariat fights in the forefront for a republic and contemptuously rejects stupid and unworthy advice to take into account the possibility of the bourgeoisie recoiling" (Ibid.)

In all of Lenin's speeches and writings, the counter-revolutionary role of the bourgeois-democratic Liberals is stressed time and time again. However, up until 1917, he did not believe that the Russian workers would come to power before the socialist revolution in the West (a perspective that only Trotsky defended before 1917, when it was fully adopted by Lenin in his April Theses (which are highly recommended reading).

The correctness of the permanent revolution was triumphantly demonstrated by the October Revolution itself. The Russian working class under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky came to power before the workers of Western Europe. They carried out all the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, and immediately set about nationalizing industry and passing over to the tasks of the socialist revolution. The bourgeoisie played an openly counter-revolutionary role, but was defeated by the workers in alliance with the poor peasants. The Bolsheviks then made a revolutionary appeal to the workers of the world to follow their example. Lenin knew very well that without the victory of the revolution in the advanced capitalist countries, especially Germany, the revolution could not survive isolated, especially in a backward country like Russia. What happened subsequently showed that this was absolutely correct.

The setting up of the Third (Communist) International, the world party of socialist revolution, was the concrete manifestation of this perspective. Had the Communist International remained firm on the positions of Lenin and Trotsky, the victory of the world revolution would have been assured. Unfortunately, the Comintern's formative years coincided with the Stalinist counter-revolution in Russia, which had a disastrous effect on the Communist Parties of the entire world. The Stalinist bureaucracy, having acquired control in the Soviet Union developed a very conservative outlook.

The theory that socialism can be built in one country (an abomination from the standpoint of Marx and Lenin)  really reflected the mentality of the bureaucracy which had had enough of the storm and stress of revolution and sought to get on with the task of "building socialism in Russia". That is to say, they wanted to protect and expand their privileges and not "waste" the resources of the country in pursuing world revolution. On the other hand they feared that revolution in other countries could develop on healthy lines and pose a threat to their own domination in Russia, and therefore, at a certain stage, sought actively to prevent revolution elsewhere. Instead of pursuing a revolutionary policy based on class independence, as Lenin had always advocated, they proposed an alliance of the Communist Parties with the "national progressive bourgeoisie" (and if there was not one easily at hand, they were quite prepared to invent it) to carry through the democratic revolution, and afterwards, later on, in the far distant future, when the country had developed a fully fledged capitalist economy, fight for socialism.

This policy represented a complete break with Leninism and a return to the old discredited position of Menshevism (the theory of the "two stages"). This theory was to play a criminal role in the development of the revolution in the colonial world. In China the young Communist Party was forced into the ranks of the national bourgeois Kuomintang which then proceeded to liquidate physically the Communist Party, the trade unions and the peasant soviets during the 1925-27 Chinese revolution. The reason why the second Chinese revolution under Mao took the form of a peasant war in which the working class remained passive was to a large extent determined by the crushing of the Chinese proletariat as a result of Stalin's policies which Trotsky characterized as "a malicious caricature of Menshevism."

Wherever it has been applied in the colonial world, the Stalinist theory of the "two stages" has led to one catastrophe after another. In Sudan and Iraq in the 1950s and 1960s, the Communist Parties were mass forces able to call demonstrations of a million people in Baghdad and two million in Khartoum. Instead of pursuing a policy of class independence and leading the workers and peasants to the taking of power, they looked for alliances with the "progressive" bourgeoisie and the "progressive" sections of the army. The latter, having taken power on the backs of the Communist Parties, then proceeded to eliminate them by murdering and jailing their members and leaders. In Sudan, the same process happened not once but twice. Yet, even to this day, the leaders of the Sudanese Communist Party have a policy of a "Patriotic Alliance" with the guerrillas in the South (now backed by US imperialism) and the "progressive" bourgeoisie in the North against the fundamentalist regime.

These so-called Communist leaders are like the Bourbons of old who "forget nothing and learn nothing". Their policies are a finished recipe for one bloody defeat after another. The most tragic example of the disastrous consequences of the two stages theory is that of Indonesia. In the 1960s the Indonesian Communist Party was the main mass force in the country. It was the biggest Communist party in the world outside the Soviet Bloc, with 3 million members, as well as 10 million affiliated to its trade union and peasant organizations and even claimed the support of 40 per cent of the army (including sections of the officers). The Russian Bolsheviks did not have as much organized support at the time of the October revolution! The Indonesian CP could have easily taken power and started the socialist transformation of society which would have had a tremendous effect in the whole of the colonial world, setting off a chain of revolutions in Asia. Instead of that, the leaders of the CP (under the control of the Chinese Maoists) had an alliance with Sukarno, a bourgeois nationalist leader who at that time had adopted a "left" phraseology. Those policies left the Communist Party completely unprepared when the bourgeoisie (under direct instructions from the CIA) organized a massacre of Communist Party members and sympathizers in which at least 1.5 million people were slaughtered.

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