Ernest Erber, Emanuel Garrett & Henry Judd

On the Czechoslovakian Coup

Theses on the Nature of the Stalinist Revolution

(July 1948)

From New InternationalVol.14 No.5, July 1948, pp.147-149.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The following is an interpretation of the Czechoslovakian coup of the Stalinists, submitted in resolution form by the three undersigned comrades, which should be read in conjunction with the discussion material on the same subject published last month. The point of view of the Editors was expressed under Notes of the Month in that issue (The Czech Coup As Test of Theory). Aspects of the question not covered in that editorial are the particular themes of the present discussion. In addition to longer contributions, which as usual will be published depending on space availability and quality, short letters of comment are also invited for our correspondence columns. The Workers Party Bulletin, which is a discussion organ on sale to the public, is also open to longer articles not used in the NI. — ED.

(1) The events in Czechoslovakia are of great importance for the additional light they throw on the role of Stalinism as a social revolutionary (or, in another sense, counter-revolutionary) force in destroying capitalism and instituting bureaucratic collectivism. The evidence presented by the Czech events strengthens the view that under favorable international conditions, the Stalinists are capable of overthrowing a capitalist state (as Italy or France) and establishing their party dictatorship by means of an insurrection that bases itself upon the proletarian masses, in the same manner as fascism based itself upon the petty-bourgeois masses.

(2) Czechoslovakia was the arena of struggle between three social forces in the period since its liberation: the bourgeoisie, striving to maintain capitalism; the proletariat, striving to achieve socialism; and the Stalinist bureaucracy, striving to achieve bureaucratic collectivism. As in every decisive struggle for class domination, the central objective of each social force was the control of the means of production. For the bourgeoisie this meant private ownership. For the Stalinists this meant nationalization with bureaucratic control. For the proletariat, this meant nationalization with democratic control by the workers. The Stalinists’ struggle for nationalization clashed directly and immediately with the bourgeoisie. The proletariat supported the Stalinists in this struggle, accepting the Communist Patty as a workers’ party and seeing in its nationalization measures the beginnings of socialism. Clashes between the new bureaucratic-collectivist managers of the economy and the organs of workers’ democracy, like the Works Councils, were confined to isolated enterprises and, in the absence of an anti-Stalinist revolutionary movement, remained subordinated to the struggle against the bourgeoisie.


(3) In the February events in Czechoslovakia the state power was not overthrown and replaced by a new one since the essentials of state power were already in the hands of the Stalinists. The February action represented the final step on the Stalinist road to total state power by means of eliminating the opposition parties and establishing the dictatorship of the Communist Party. In its purely political aspects it is similar to the coup of Hitler in 1933, carried out with the support of Hindenburg and the Reichswehr generals and supported by the petty-bourgeois masses, or the coup of Louis Bonaparte on the 18th of Brumaire basing itself upon the army and state bureaucracy and supported by the peasantry. In its social aspects ihe Stalinist coup is, of course, decisively different. Unlike the coups carried out in Bonapartist and fascist regimes, which left the social basis of the old regime intact, the Stalinist coup served as ihe last stage in the destruction of the social power of the old ruling class.

(4) The real Stalinist revolution took place during the liberation of Czechoslovakia by the advancing Russian army and the uprising of the resistance in Prague. These events placed the Stalinists in control of the police and the army — the essence of state power.

Stalinists and the Masses

(5) The ability of the Stalinists to dominate the state apparatus after the Russian armies were withdrawn was made possible by their considerable mass base, predominantly composed of the industrial proletariat.

(6) The Stalinist coup, carried out by police measures, became an easy unopposed victory due to its support by the bulk of the proletariat and large sections of the poor peasantry. The Stalinists brought the pressure of these masses to bear through techniques traditionally associated with the proletarian struggle for power — street demonstrations, work stoppages, workers’ militia, and extra-legal seizure of key points by the Action Committees.

(7) The fact that the masses participated in the events in a restrained, orderly and disciplined manner was the result, not of their disinterest or apathy but of the absence of serious opposition. The minority of the workers who were apathetic or even hostile could play no role in the absence of an organized means of showing their feelings. In the absence of an anti-Stalinist, revolutionary socialist party, the Stalinists experienced little difficulty in controlling the working class. To see a “fear of the masses” on the part of the Stalinists in the Czech events is to conceive of the revolutionary action of the proletariat in terms of spontaneity and to discard our traditional view on the role of the party. Especially is this true where the Stalinists lead the masses in a struggle against the bourgeoisie.

(8) A majority of the industrial workers of Czechoslovakia have followed the Communist Party almost continuously since 1920. The only other party they have known is the Social-Democracy, which has stood at the extreme right wing of European reformism since the First World War, and has often participated in coalition governments with the usual disappointment of its working-class followers. Out of a population of 14 million, more than a million Czechs and Slovaks (overwhelmingly the former) belonged to the Communist Party before the coup. This is a higher percentage of the population than composes the membership of the Russian CP. In the 1946 elections to the National Constituent Assembly the CP polled some 2,702,452 votes and won 38 per cent of the seats in the Assembly, while the Social-Democracy won 13 per cent of the seats. The trade-union movement was almost totally under CP leadership, as were the factory committees.

Why Workers Supported CP

(9) Because of the tremendous lowering of socialist consciousness and understanding, which is a principal feature of our epoch, the Czech workers accept the Communist Party as a revolutionary and socialist movement. In the absence of a genuine Marxist party, the CP appears to the workers in this light mainly as a result of its anti-capitalist role: (a) The CP has waged a policy of destruction of capitalism and the political power of the bourgeoisie; (b) the CP policy of nationalization has given the workers a feeling of liberation from capitalist exploitation and, despite bureaucratic domination, a voice in economic control; (c) the CP has waged a struggle against all the old symbols of reactionary power — the Church, the landowners, the big banks, the newspaper syndicates, etc.; (d) the CP has taken the progressive and popular side in many secondary matters like education, cultural organisations, etc.; (e) the CP represents Russia, which, despite misgivings the workers may have (offset by references to Russia’s backwardness), appears to them as a progressive, pro-working-class, socialist force, while the enemies of the CP represent Anglo-American imperialism, long considered centers of world reaction by the socialist workers of Europe; (f) in the top leadership of the CP stand old labor veterans, like Zapotocky, who have appeared before the masses over several decades as leaders of workers’ struggles. As a consequence the bulk of the class-conscious workers see the program of the CP as a program of socialism. In addition to these reasons, many workers, and a large petty-bourgeois and peasant following, have been attracted to the CP as a result of its national chauvinism, expressed through Pan-Slavism, above all, since the expulsion of the German and Hungarian minorities gave the Stalinists billions of dollars worth of land and houses to distribute and many bureaucratic posts to dispense. The susceptibility of the Czech workers to racist propaganda is one of the terrible aftermaths of Munich and the Nazi occupation.

(10) The presence of the bulk of the proletariat in the Stalinist camp cannot afford a basis for our support to it, as both the Cannonite and Johnsonite brand of self-styled orthodox Trotskyism contend. The support of the Stalinist struggle for power cannot be put on the plane of “making a mistake along with the masses,” in the sense of the July Days of the Russian Revolution. Support of the Stalinists in such circumstances is to help the workers to commit mass suicide and to destroy all possibility of a free labor movement, the best soil for the re-education of the workers in revolutionary Marxism.

With the Anti-Stalinist Camp

(11) The Stalinist coup was aimed at achieving a totalitarian state and all opposition to it, short of that by avowed fascists, was progressive. The correct course of the Marxists in the Czech events therefore, was to support any democratic opposition to the Stalinists, especially such as the demonstration of the Prague students.

(12) In countries where the big bourgeoisie has been expropriated, as was the case in Czechoslovakia, there is a very favorable possibility of organizing a mass, popular, anti-Stalinist movement upon a democratic basis, and with less chances of its domination by bourgeois reaction. Marxists must not withdraw from such an anti-Stalinist camp merely because reactionary elements attach themselves to it. Wherever Stalinism becomes the immediate danger, as in Czechoslovakia, even the most conservative bourgeois democrats must be supported against it.

(13) It is false to describe such a popular, anti-Stalinist opposition as a “bourgeois restorationist movement.” The petty-bourgeois and peasant masses, plus the anti-Stalinist minority of the proletariat, will not struggle against the Stalinists in order to restore the Skoda and Bata families to their industrial properties. These elements of the population want freedom from police rule and from Stalinist domination of every aspect of their lives.

(14) The struggle between the Stalinists and the bourgeoisie in Czechoslovakia never reached the stage of mass struggles only because the domination of the Stalinists was so complete that the bourgeoisie considered it an irresponsible adventure to oppose them. Had the relation of forces been less one-sided and had a mass struggle broken out, there is no reason whatsoever to believe that the Stalinists would not have utilized measures associated with revolutionary proletarian warfare to achieve their victory. The complete domination of the mass movement by the Stalinists under conditions of military conflict does not become less but greater, as a consequence of military rule on both sides.

(15) The further the country in which the Stalinists struggle for power is removed from the pressure of the Russian military power, the more must the Stalinists rely upon the forces of the proletariat to achieve the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. Stalinist policy is therefore carefully attuned to keeping its proletarian mass base in countries like Czechoslovakia (and many more times so in countries like France and Italy) until the Stalinist dictatorship is firmly established. Stalinism, however, does not appear openly as a separate force, apart from the working class, as long as the bourgeoisie remains the main obstacle to Stalinist power. Though there was considerable friction between the aims of the Stalinists and the desires of the workers in Czechoslovakia, due to the dominant role of the CP in the government and the economy, this friction was overshadowed by and subordinated to the dominant struggle between the Stalinists and the bourgeoisie. This experience once more underscores the fact that wherever Stalinism is a mass movement that is waging a struggle against capitalism, the proletariat, as such, is incapable of playing an independent role, except where there is a sizable anti-Stalinist, revolutionary socialist party to give the workers a program. In the absence of the latter, opposition to the Stalinists from the workers’ ranks can only be incidental, local and isolated, and easily eliminated by the Stalinists through control of the trade-union apparatus, levers of information (press and radio) and, in the last analysis, armed detachments.

(16) Marxists must frankly recognize the terrible consequences of supporting a camp which opposes itself to a Stalinist-led proletariat, especially where the struggle reaches the stage of a civil war. This cannot be minimized by saying that we have often opposed movements that had the support of the bulk of the workers. The crucial difference is that in the past all of these movements (Roosevelt, People’s Front, etc.) were of a reformist character or of a social patriotic character and sought to preserve capitalism rather than destroy it. Under conditions of a Stalinist struggle for power, the proletariat in the Stalinist camp does wage an anti-capitalist struggle, but as part of a deadly anti-socialist and anti-democratic movement. To oppose ourselves to such a Stalinist-led proletariat by supporting a camp that contains bourgeois elements and yet seek to break the workers away from the Stalinist illusions requires that we work out tactical problems such as we have not confronted in the past.

Role of Marxist Party

(17) The role of a tiny revolutionary Marxist propaganda group in conditions like those of the February events becomes extremely difficult. Its policy must, however, be guided by these two main lines: (1) support to all anti-capitalist economic measures, with constant emphasis upon workers’ democratic controls in economy, and (2) support to all pro-democratic political measures, without regard to their past bourgeois-democratic associations, like freedom of the press, assembly, organization and speech for all classes and for all parties, except avowed fascists.

(18) The socialist ideal toward which we strive was placed upon a scientific basis by Marx, especially through linking its achievement to the struggle of the proletariat against wage slavery. The proletariat remains for us the only class which can overturn the rule of the bourgeoisie. The fact that under given historical circumstances the proletariat has in some countries fallen victim to illusions about the nature of the Stalinist parties and that a Stalinist-led proletariat can overturn capitalist rule to institute not socialism, or even a step toward it, but totalitarian bureaucratic collectivism, does not afford a basis for rejecting the proletariat as the bearer of the socialist struggle. However, where the proletariat does enter the Stalinist camp, our prime loyalty is not to the class as it is but to our socialist aims and to the kind of proletarian movement that must be created if our aims are to be realized. Given the terrible consequences of social retrogression, in both its capitalist and Stalinist forms, the Marxists in the countries under the Stalinist heel and in the countries torn by a civil war between the Stalinists and the semi-fascist bourgeoisie as in Greece and China, must be prepared to devote themselves to preserving the program and lessons of the socialist struggle and teaching it to necessarily small circles, especially the youth, to again re-establish the revolutionary cadres. However, even though a small group, the Marxists will enter every struggle that promises to defend or enlarge those freedoms necessary for the rebirth of a free labor movement and a new mass revolutionary party.

(19) The fate of the proletariat, and of the people as a whole, in the countries that have fallen victim to Stalinist rule cannot but penetrate to increasing numbers of workers and intellectuals in the rest of the world, especially to those in closest proximity to the Iron Curtain. This knowledge will contribute greatly to clarifying the terrible illusions that still persist among the masses as to the nature of Russia and the Stalinist parties. Such a growing clarity on Stalinism will greatly facilitate a counter-offensive against the influence of the Stalinists among the masses in countries like Italy and France. Such a counter-offensive can be successful only if (a) Western Europe experiences a period of economic revival which eases the most pressing problems of the masses; and (b) a socialist regroupment takes place which produces strong anti-Stalinist, anti-reformist parties.

(20) The extent to which Stalinism can make further inroads upon the masses of Western Europe depends in an increasingly decisive manner upon the future development of the American working class. The emergence of an independent labor party with a firm anti-Stalinist and anti-capitalist orientation would have a resounding effect upon the masses of Europe, including those behind the Iron Curtain. The developments in the American labor movement in the next years will be crucial for the future of European labor and, consequently, of Europe itself.

“People’s Democracy” and “Dictatorship of Proletariat”


From Fourth International, Vol.10 No.4, April 1949, pp.116-119.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

At the Fifth Congress of the Bulgarian Communist Party held in Sofia last December, a major speech was delivered by Dimitrov, who has been the spokesman of Stalinist strategy since the rise of Hitler and the close of the “third period.” His report made public the new orders received from the Kremlin concerning the “problems of the New Democracy.”

The first part of his speech was devoted to a condemnation of the entire policy of the Communist parties and the Third International before 1934, that is, prior to the launching of the “peoples’ front” line.

Dimitrov charged the Communist leaderships of that time with having forgotten the Leninist teaching “of the necessity of revolutionary compromises.” According to Dimitrov, this required the building of broad alliances with “as many other non-Communist parties as possible” so as to enable the working class first to help these “fronts” accomplish “the bourgeois-democratic revolution.”

A Discredited Theory

It is only after this revolution succeeds and the working class attains a “dominant position” that the party (the Communist Party) representing the workers can turn against its erstwhile allies. This is the half-century old Menshevik theory – put to a sanguine test by Stalinism on the backs of the Chinese masses in 1925-27 and of the Spanish masses in 1935-38 (to mention only two examples). According to Dimitrov, this is “the theory of the two tactics formulated by Lenin and applied by Stalin.”

Naturally it was not surprising to the falsifiers trained in the Stalinist school that Dimitrov in condemning the Communist leaderships before his “era” should accidentally forget two small facts: a) That these “arguments” refer in reality to the criticism of the “third period” which extended from 1929 to 1933. This followed a period (1925-28) of the crassest opportunist errors of the entire Third International, a period in which “compromises” not only were not excluded but on the contrary pressed to their ultimate consequences. We need only mention the policy applied during the Chinese Revolution of 1925-27 and that of the Anglo-Russian Committee during the great general strike of the English miners in 1926. b) That those responsible for this policy, in 1925-28 as well as in 1929-33, were not only the Communist leaderships subordinated to the Kremlin, but above all the Kremlin and its master Stalin. But has “comrade Stalin” ever displayed the slightest sign of “self-criticism, a primary duty of every true Bolshevik”?

In reality this type of “criticism,” a posteriori of the policy of the past, and the whole flood of “self-criticism” which the various Stalinist leaders, from Thorez to Zachariades, have been pouring forth since the condemnation of Tito by the Cominform, is only a device to permit “theoretical” readjustments which are necessary to justify the new exigencies of Stalinist policy throughout the world and especially in the “buffer-zone” countries. (This policy is dictated by the Kremlin and in the first place serves the special interests of the Soviet bureaucracy.)

Anyone duped by the “ideological” and “theoretical” presentation of this policy, who would seek to clarify his ideas by means of the Stalinist texts of “criticism” and “self-criticism,” would introduce the greatest confusion in his mind, most perilous to normal reasoning.

Let us rather examine the second part of Dimitrov’s speech which transmits the latest “theoretical” directives Dimitrov had recently obtained from Stalin, after a long visit with him prior to the Congress of the Bulgarian Communist Party. In Dimitrov’s words, they are intended to “aid all the people’s democracies in solving their theoretical problems.” These “theoretical” directives can be reduced in essence to one point: Stalin concluded, after long meditation, that from the “Marxist-Leninist” standpoint “the people’s democracy” is after all only a “form of the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

The Stalinist “theoreticians” used up a great deal of grey matter in theoretically “digesting” the social content of this formula which was issued on the day after the Second World War ended. Moreover in the absence of clear-cut directives from the Kremlin they generally avoided concrete definitions, contenting themselves with insipid rhetoric (as for example did Duclos who defined the “New Democracy” as “an enlarged and renovated democracy, concrete and living, invigorated by the people whose millions of heroes, martyrs and fighters have sculptured its luminous features,” etc.). Others have bogged down in the most embarrassing equivocation: a hybrid, transitory, original regime, known for the “first time in history,” etc. The one exception, it is true, has been the Yugoslav “Titoist” leadership which has always professed that the “people’s democracy” is a distinct “stage” of the “dictatorship of the proletariat.”

This enabled Tito to say with some justice in his speech at the Second Congress of the Serbian Communist Party (Jan. 21, 1949), that

Comrade Dimitrov in his speech at the Fifth Congress of the CPB set forth what we had assumed were the formulations on the character of the power in the people’s democracies. However this had already been stated in our documents before and during the Congress of our party which was held several months prior to the Congress of the CPB.

Yesterday’s Snows

Nevertheless, despite the equivocation which prevailed before the Sphinx spoke, the Stalinist theoreticians were inclined to the view that it was better not to confound “people’s democracy” with “dictatorship of the proletariat.” The evidences of this are numerous. Let us cite a few of them. Franz Marek, a theoretician of the Austrian Communist Party, wrote in Weg und Ziel (No. 2, Feb. 1947, Vienna):

There are different roads to socialism but each of them signifies the struggle against capital and the liquidation of the state apparatus which serves the interests of capital. In our time, the people’s democracy offers a new possibility of attaining socialism without civil war and without the dictatorship of the proletariat as it was introduced in Russia ... The people’s democracies follow another road to socialism than the Bolsheviks.

E. Varga wrote in his article A New Type of Democracy:

The social organization of these states (people’s democracies) is different from anything we have known up to now, it is absolutely new in the history of humanity. It is not the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie but neither is it the dictatorship of the proletariat. (Democratie Nouvelle, No.9, Sept. 1947, Paris.)

A. Leontiev wrote in his article The Struggle Between the Old and the New:

It is sufficiently well known that Marxism-Leninism conceives the socialist transformation of society as taking place principally through the dictatorship of the proletariat which the working class establishes by the revolutionary method of overthrowing the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie ... But at the same time the classics of Marxism-Leninism have emphasized many times that the passage from capitalism to socialism presupposes an immense variety of social forms ... Neither Marx nor Lenin foresaw nor could they have foreseen this form (of liberation from imperialism and movement toward socialism represented by the new democracy). (Democratie Nouvelle, No.9, Sept. 1947, Paris.)

The same Leontiev underscores the distinction between “the Soviet Union which has built socialism on the basis of the dictatorship of the proletariat” and the “people’s democracies” which are building socialism by “other ways.”

Finally let us quote the testimony of M. Thorez, which is no less indicative of the conceptions held by the Stalinist leaders up to now on the people’s democracy:

This people’s democracy, Dimitrov stated, is neither socialist nor soviet. It is the passage from democracy to socialism. It creates favorable conditions for the development of socialism by a process of struggle and labor ... Every country will traverse to socialism; through its own road. The advantage of this people’s democracy is that the passage to socialism is made possible without the dictatorship of the proletariat. (In the Service of France, speech at the Strasbourg Congress, June 25, 1947.)

Dimitrov Buries the Past

With the most nonchalant air Dimitrov wrecked this conception from top to bottom. The people’s democracy, he explained

is in fact the dictatorship of the proletariat in a new form ... According to Marxist-Leninist principles, the’ Soviet system of government and the system of government in the countries with peopled democracies are only two forms of one and the same power – the power of the working class in alliance with the toiling peasantry and leading it. They are alternate forms of the dictatorship of the proletariat ... (The) people’s democracy assumes the functions of the Soviet power.

Thus is elucidated the enigma of the people’s democracy whose advent was made possible, Dimitrov tells us again, “thanks only to the liberating mission of the Soviet Union.”

Since this speech, the idea of the identity of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the people’s democracy is discreetly making its way into the Stalinist press. One after the other, Stalinist leaders and journalists, exhibiting the same assurance they showed yesterday in placing the stress on “the diversity of ways for building socialism,” now emphasize the basic identity which is hidden under the “diversity of political forms of power,” the dictatorship of the proletariat.

So for example, Anna Pauker, leader of the Rumanian CP, writes in the organ of the Cominform, For a Lasting Peace! For a People’s Democracy!, Jan. 15, 1949:

The regime of the people’s democracy victoriously realizes the functions of the dictatorship of the proletariat, that is, the functions of eliminating the economic positions of the exploiting classes, of crushing attempts to reestablish the old order, of attracting the laboring population in the work of building socialism under the leadership of the proletariat. In other words, the regime of the people’s democracy is a form of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Pospelov, editor-in-chief of Pravda, speaking at a Lenin memorial meeting held in Moscow on January 21 gave his view:

Basing themselves on the help of the USSR and on the people’s-democracy nations, personifying the power of the toilers led by the working class, [the regime of people’s democracy] fulfills the functions of the dictatorship of the proletariat in suppressing and liquidating the capitalist elements and organizing the socialist economy. It fulfills the tasks of the transition period from capitalism to socialism. (L’Humanité, Jan. 24, 1949.)

What Is Behind the Shift?

What are the shifts and motivations for this very important turn in the “theory” of the people’s democracy? It is indisputable that the “people’s democracies” are now at a much different level of political and economic development than they were from their inception to around the middle of 1948. The Communist parties now control and administer the state exclusively while the measures of nationalization and state control over the remaining private sectors of the economy (particularly the peasantry) have been extended everywhere.

This evolution can permit them to say that in the present stage (and not at the beginning) the power of the people’s democracy is identified with the dictatorship of the proletariat – I am referring of course to those who hold the Stalinist concept and practice of the proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

But the principal reason which impels the Kremlin to make this turn is certainly not their concern with adjusting theory to facts. Since the explosion of the Tito affair and the development of the centrifugal forces in the “buffer-zone” countries in a more tangible form, the Kremlin has been constantly preoccupied with fastening its grip in all domains, political, economic, ideological.

The unity of doctrine on people’s democracy is necessary to bring to a halt any possible wandering in “diverse ways [permissible until now] for building socialism” and to once again reassert the principle of the primacy of the Soviet Communist Party and its “experience in the building of socialism” over all the others. Dimitrov was categoric on this point:

All Communists must realize the importance of a complete coordination of the activities of all the Communist parties in the world under the leadership of the Russian Communist Party. All Communist parties have a common policy and recognize the great Russian Communist Party as the leading party of the international workers movement.

The same idea is even better formulated in his article which appeared in the organ of the Bulgarian CP, Rabotnichesko Delo, December 18, 1948:

It must not be forgotten – despite the fact that the Communist International no longer exists – that all the Communist parties in the world form a single Communist front under the leadership of the most powerful and experienced Communist Party, the party of Lenin and Stalin; that all the Communist parties have a common scientific theory as a guide for action, Marxism-Leninism; that all the Communist parties have a leader and a teacher recognized by all, Comrade Stalin.

Unity of doctrine on people’s democracy follows the same general direction as the greatest possible political coordination (Cominform) and economic coordination (Council for Mutual Economic Aid) and ideological coordination now pursued by the Kremlin to consolidate and maintain its control over all the “buffer” countries.

It is not excluded, on the other hand, that unity of doctrine on “the real basis” of people’s democracy, which has now been discovered as the dictatorship of the proletariat, will prepare the road for structural assimilation, at least of some of the “buffer” countries and their incorporation in one form or another into the USSR. It is interesting for example to note the consequences of the change in the concept of people’s democracy in Rumania, among the most backward of the “buffer-zone” countries at this time but nearest to the USSR and easier to digest than the others. Teohari Georgescu, Minister of the Interior, on January 12, 1949, placed before parliament a law providing for the creation of People’s Councils. He declared: “We, the government of those who toil, declare the dictatorship of the proletariat launched.” The law provides for the constitution of “soviets” modeled on the USSR pattern (long since purely decorative). Until “elections” are held, these “soviets” will operate through appointive executive committees and will have as their principal task the protection of “the socialist order in local life, the mobilization of the masses for the realization of economic plans, the defense and development of the people’s property.”

Real power will in fact remain in the hands of the party, that is to say, in the hands of the uncontrollable, all powerful leadership of the party which is responsible solely to its masters in the Kremlin. In Stalinist language, such an organization of power is called “dictatorship of the proletariat” (whether or not it takes the form of people’s democracy). Naturally, the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat as formulated by Lenin, practised in Russia in his day, and now defended by our movement is an entirely different one.

What Lenin Wrote

Lenin, in his famous theses on bourgeois democracy and the proletarian dictatorship presented to the First Congress of the Third International, wrote:

The essence of the Soviet power consists in this: that the constant and unique base of all governmental power is the organization of the masses formerly oppressed by capitalism, that is, the workers and the semi-proletarians.

These are the masses who, even in the most democratic of the bourgeois republics, while enjoying equality under the law, were in reality removed by thousands of customs and maneuvers from all participation in political life, from all exercise of democratic rights and liberties and who are now called upon to take a considerable and mandatory part, a decisive part in the democratic administration of the state.

Soviet power, that is, the dictatorship of the proletariat, is conceived of in a way that binds the laboring masses to the governmental apparatus. The same aim is intended in the fusion of the legislative and executive power in the soviet organization of the state as well as the replacement of territorial election districts by the units of work such as the factories and the shops.

These principles were genuinely applied by Lenin in Russia in building a pyramid of power based on real, living, democratic soviets which effectively administered and controlled the state as against the present chimera of power which is in reality concentrated in the hands of an omnipotent and uncontrollable bureaucracy.

For us as for Lenin, the proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat are conceivable in no other way than as the organisation of the proletariat as a genuinely ruling class. But for all the Dimitrovs, the “people’s democracy” is transformed into dictatorship of the proletariat” when control becomes absolute not only over formations of the bourgeoisie, yesterday’s allies, but

also over the proletariat whose dictatorship they confound with the real dictatorships of the bureaucracy of the parties and the states they direct.

January 1949

Resolution Adopted by the Third Congress of the Fourth International—Paris, April 1951

 The evolution of the European countries in the Soviet buffer zone since 1949 has unfolded along the line of an accelerated integration of these countries into the economic and political orbit of the USSR.

Economic Transformation

On the economic level, this evolution has taken the fundamental line of a beginning of coordination and effective planning among their economies, and with that of the USSR on the one hand, which has on the other hand, considerably diminished their dependence upon the international capitalist economy and market.

Since 1949 we have observed the introduction of a series of long-range plans (five to six years) which, to the degree of their realization, detach these countries from a part of their ties with the external capitalist market, and progressively fuse their economy into a whole which is more and more organically bound to the planned economy of the USSR.

These plans follow upon the actual statification of almost all of heavy and light industry, foreign trade as well as important sector of domestic trade, transportation, and of a series of restrictive measures on property and on the private agricultural market, and following the generally successful execution of the first short-range plans (one to three years) which permitted the restoration of the economy to pre-war levels and the repairing of the destructions caused by the war.

From then on, the statified economy has been governed by the necessities of the plan as in the USSR.

These developments have already effected a reversal of the previous tendency, which marked the trade of these countries with the international capitalist market.

At present the trade of these countries amongst themselves and with the USSR accounts for more than half of their foreign commerce and this trend is becoming more pronounced.

New State Apparatus Created

On the social level, the state apparatus of these countries are coming to resemble that of the USSR more and more with the creation, especially since the end of 1949, of bureaucratic People’s Committees, and by the more marked installation in all spheres of “reliable” elements who enjoy the confidence of the Soviet bureaucracy and are steadily replacing the old bourgeois elements.

The recruitment of these elements is now being stepped up from among the new workers’ aristocracy which is favored by the regime by its methods of payment for labor and by the Stakhanovist movement, etc.

The state apparatus is thus “sovietized” both in its form as well as in its social composition by imitating the forms proper to the state apparatus of the USSR and by recruiting its functionaries among the new privileged sections. On the other hand, it is being “Russified” by placing in the most decisive posts of command in the civil, political and economic administration as well as in the police and in the army, elements directly manipulated by the Kremlin, and often actual Russian functionaries, assuming the appropriate nationality.

Outcome of Political Struggle

 Finally, on the political level, if in a historical sense the fate of these countries has not yet been decided, the same cannot be said insofar as their immediate fate is concerned.

It is clear that the evolution of the international situation has not taken the line of a prolonged compromise between imperialism and the Soviet bureaucracy which could place the status of these countries in question, but rather on the contrary the line of accelerated preparation for war, wherein each seeks to consolidate its present sphere of influence.

The only possible exception is the case of the Soviet zone in Austria, which for the time being still remains an integral part of the Austrian state, and on which a compromise involving the withdrawal of the occupation troops is not yet excluded.

On the other hand, the entire recent evolution of Eastern Germany, its structure and the execution of its five-year plans, and the deep-going modifications introduced into the state apparatus rather constitute an indication that Moscow, having lost hope of a general compromise particularly in regard to Germany, is passing over to the decisive integration of this area into the rest of the buffer zone. However, it is no less true that the political and economic structure of this area still remains quite different from that of the rest of the buffer zone.

On the other hand, the whole economic, social and political overturns which have occurred in the buffer zone have now acquired such a scope that the reintegration of these countries into the capitalist orbit can no longer be envisaged as possible by “cold methods” but only through a veritable capitalist counter-revolution (with the possible exception of Eastern Germany).

The example of the civil war now going on in Albania, by far the weakest link in the entire buffer zone, between the forces in the pay of native reaction and imperialism and the forces bound up with the present regime is conclusive on this point.

End of Intermediate Status

Taking into account all the modifications effected since 1949 in the economy as well as in the state apparatus of the buffer zone countries, within the framework of a new trend in the international situation, the structural assimilation of these countries to the USSR must be considered as having now been essentially accomplished and these countries as having ceased to be basically capitalist countries.

The taking into tow of all these countries by the Soviet bureaucracy after life last war, the influence and decisive control it exercised over them contained the possibility and even the inevitability of their structural assimilation to the USSR because of a certain internal and external relationship of forces between the Soviet bureaucracy, the native bourgeoisie, imperialism and the masses.

For a long period—approximately between 1945 and 1948—the Soviet bureaucracy maintained these countries in an intermediate status of varying degrees because it was not yet ready to consider its break with imperialism as final and because of the necessity imposed on it by its own nature of eliminating the native bourgeoisie by cold methods, without genuine revolutionary action by the masses over which it tried at the same time to exercise a rigorous control.

This intermediate status corresponded sociologically to a regime of dual power, both on the economic and the political planes the economic structure remaining fundamentally capitalist. Beginning with 1949, this duality manifestly gave way to regimes which stabilized a structure essentially characterized by property and productive relations qualitatively assimilable to those of the USSR, that is to say, characteristic of an essentially statified and planned economy (except for the Soviet zone in Austria, where, because of the occupation, certain elements of dual power are noticeable).

Parallel with this process, the political power, which for a long time had been assumed by different combinations between the Stalinist leaderships and the representatives of the former bourgeois and petty-bourgeois parties, now passed exclusively into the hands of the Stalinists and was thus transformed in its form as well as in its social composition.

Deformed Workers’ States

The form of political power still remains marked by important differences from one country to another and in their entirety with that of the USSR, as is likewise the case so far as the form of political power in the capitalist system is concerned, but it is above all by virtue of their economic base, of the structure essentially common to all the countries of the buffer zone, characterized by new production and property relations proper to a statified and planned economy, essentially like those of the USSR, that as of now are deformed workers’ states. These states have arisen not through the revolutionary action of the masses but through the military-bureaucratic action of the Soviet bureaucracy. Thanks to exceptional circumstances created by the last war they are not administered directly by the proletariat but by a bureaucracy. The bureaucratic deformation of these states is of the same magnitude as that characterizing the USSR, the proletariat being totally deprived of political power.

Consequently, as in the USSR, there is likewise posed as the task of the revolutionary vanguard of these countries a political revolution to overthrow the bureaucracy and open the road for the free development of socialism.

The further evolution of these countries and their immediate future are now bound to the fate of the conflict being prepared between imperialism on the one side and the USSR, buffer zone countries, China, the other colonial revolutions, and the international working class movement on the other.

Unconditional Defense

Taking into account the class character of these countries and the reactionary war aims of imperialism, the Fourth International is neither neutral nor indifferent so far as the defense of these countries against imperialism is concerned. Just as in regard to the USSR, the Fourth International is for the unconditional defense of these countries against imperialism. It considers their structure of statified and planned economy as a conquest which must be safeguarded against imperialism, regardless of the policy followed by the governments vassalized to Stalinism in these countries

That does not in any case signify the abandonment of our political opposition to these governments or the subordination of our struggle for the world revolution to this defense. The contrary remains true. The Fourth international, within these countries, makes common cause which the proletarian and poor peasant masses who struggle against their exploitation and against the national oppression imposed by the domination of the Soviet bureaucracy. It stands for the total independence of each of the countries in the buffer zone and for their organization into a freely agreed-upon federation.

Examination of Past Position

In all the positions formerly taken on the question of the class nature of the countries of the Soviet buffer zone in Europe, the Fourth International pointed out the tendency of structural assimilation of these countries to the USSR and the transitional state in which these countries found themselves.

The Fourth International, on the other hand, indicated from the first that, under a certain correlation of forces between the Soviet bureaucracy, imperialism and the masses, the bureaucracy could even accomplish this assimilation.

During an entire period (1945-48) it was really impossible to conclude that such a relationship of forces favorable to the bureaucracy had been established and consequently to consider the fate of the countries in the buffer zone as decided for the entire immediate future.

Nevertheless it must be recognized that the International was kept from having a precise evaluation of the evolution in the buffer zone, of the speed and the scope of assimilation, because of a series of restrictive considerations like those set forth in the Second World Congress Theses on the USSR and Stalinism which asserted that “the genuine destruction of capitalism (in the buffer zone) is possible only through the revolutionary mobilization of the masses and the elimination of the special forms of exploitation introduced by the bureaucracy into these countries.” On the other hand, in the Resolution of the Seventh Plenum of the international Executive Committee (May 1949) on The Evolution of the Countries of the Buffer Zone, where there was more positively envisaged the possible perspective of a structural assimilation accomplished by the action of the Stalinist bureaucracy itself, it still insisted on “the abolition of frontiers which it could effect through the incorporation of certain or all of these countries into the USSR, or that it could accomplish through the constitution of a Balkan-Danubian federation formally independent of the USSR but a genuine unified framework for the planning of the economy.”

Process of Bureaucratic Change

It has turned out that the revolutionary action of the masses is not an indispensable condition needed by the bureaucracy to be able to destroy capitalism under exceptional and analogous conditions and in an international atmosphere like that of the “cold war.” That does not mean that the bureaucracy completely deprived itself of mass action in destroying the bourgeoisie. It mobilized the masses bureaucratically, varying in scope from country to country and according to the given conditions organizing them, for example, into “committees” of various kinds which played a certain role in disarming the bourgeoisie and in its economic and political expropriation. This bureaucratic mobilization of the masses, which is still proceeding in the struggle against the remnants of the possessing classes and especially against the well-to-do peasantry and the Catholic Church, is necessary because the bureaucracy is not an independent social form or a class, but supports itself partly upon the proletariat to struggle against the bourgeoisie even while lacing the masses at the same time into the straitjacket of its bureaucratic and police control.

It has turned out that in such conditions and on the basis of an actual statification of the means of production, it is possible to initiate the process of a planned economy without formal incorporation into the USSR, without formal abolition of the frontiers and despite the special forms of exploitation that the bureaucracy still maintains in these countries which remain an ever-present obstacle to the planning and free development of their economy.

Regarding the theoretical significance of the evolution of the buffer zone and the conclusions that can be drawn concerning the role of Stalinism, the Fourth International still firmly stands on what has been said on this subject in the above-mentioned resolution of the Seventh Plenum of the IEC which is incorporated in the present resolution.


(Extract from the Resolution of the Seventh Plenum of the International Executive Committee of the Fourth International, April 1949)

Theoretical Significance of the Development

The appearance of new transitional regimes, as in the case of the buffer countries, regimes of transition between capitalism and the USSR, is neither the result of chance nor the effect of negligible historical accidents. Only incurable doctrinaires can conceive of capitalism and socialism as fixed entities, established once and for all, to which a living historic process must conform, a process contradictory and rich in the crystallization of ever new combined forms. In reality, the appearance of mixed transitional regimes and their combined character is the clearest expression of our historic epoch, which is defined by:

  1. an ever more advanced disintegration of capitalism;
  2. the conditions of extended delay of the world revolution, essentially the result of the counter-revolutionary Stalinist leadership of the world labor movement;
  3. the existence of the USSR not only as a power continuing to polarize the revolutionary aspirations of an important part of the world proletariat, but also as a state power having a military-political weight of its own, and with a logic of expansion of its own.

Only in the light of these three factors can the appearance and the development of a new and combined phenomenon like that of the Soviet buffer zone be understood and the limits of its real historic import be defined.

Role of Stalinism

Ascertaining the existence of such transitional regimes does not at all upset our evaluation of the counter-revolutionary role of Stalinism or our evaluation of Stalinism as a disintegrating force in the USSR and as a force organizing defeats of the world proletariat:

  1. An evacuation of Stalinism cannot be made on the basis of localized results of its policy but must proceed from the entirety of its action on a world scale. When we consider the state of decay which capitalism presents even today, four years after the end of the war, and when we consider the concrete situation of 1943-45, there can be no doubt that Stalinism, on a world scale, appeared as the decisive factor in preventing a sudden and simultaneous collapse of the capitalist order as a whole in Europe and in Asia. In this sense, the “successes” achieved by the bureaucracy in the buffer zone constitute, at most, the price which imperialism paid for services rendered on the world arena—a price which is moreover constantly called into question at each new stage.
  2. From the world point of view, the reforms realized by the Soviet bureaucracy in the sense of an assimilation of the buffer zone to the USSR weigh incomparably less in the balance than the blows dealt by the Soviet bureaucracy, especially through its actions in the buffer zone, against the consciousness of the world proletariat, which it demoralizes, disorients and paralyzes by its whole policy and thus renders it susceptible to some extent to the imperialist campaign of war preparations. Even from the point of view of the USSR itself, the defeats and the demoralization of the world proletariat caused by Stalinism constitute an incomparably greater danger than the consolidation of the buffer zone constitutes a reinforcement.
  3. In the buffer zone itself, where objective as well as subjective conditions were ripe for an immediate overthrow of capitalism in 1943-44, Stalinist policy has led to a temporary strengthening of the anti-proletarian forces, created a thousand new obstacles in the way of the abolition of capitalism and thus caused the whole painful and jerky process of assimilation, dragging this process out over a number of years and rendering the proletariat in the main apathetic and even hostile, whereas the revolutionary movement of the proletariat could have achieved the liquidation of capitalism in these countries in a much shorter time and with a minimum of overhead charges.
  4. As a result of the very expansion of the Soviet bureaucracy under the concrete conditions noted above, the objective contradictions in the situation of the buffer zone tend to penetrate into the midst of the bureaucracy and of the economy itself, multiplying the already numerous tensions and antagonisms which exist within them, and preparing the ground for the development of various types of centrifugal tendencies (Tito tendency on the one hand, Gomulka-Akerman tendency on the other).

Role of Soviet Bureaucracy

Historically, the above-mentioned conditions not only indicate the reasons for the appearance of transitional regimes but also circumscribe the limits of the viability of the Soviet bureaucracy:

  1. On the social plane, the overthrow of the Soviet bureaucracy remains certain within the framework of a world decision in the class struggle, which is inevitable one way or another in the long run.
  2. On the military-political plane, this overthrow remains equally inevitable if the world proletariat does not succeed in crushing imperialism in time, with such an eventuality also entailing the downfall of the bureaucracy.

The appearance of transitional regimes of the buffer zone thus merely gives expression to the interlude character of the historic period from 1943 to the present; an interlude between the low point of the world-wide decline of the proletarian revolution and the new world revolutionary upsurge, which has thus far only appeared in its rough outlines; an interlude between the Second World War and the final clash between imperialism and the USSR. Only within the framework of this limited interlude, do the buffer zone and all the phenomena associated with it appear in their true light as provisional and temporary. And in this framework, the real nature of Stalinism appears more pronounced than ever in the sense indicated by the Fourth International.Adopted: 1951.

First Published: 1951
Source: Fourth International, Volume 12, No. 6, November-December 1951, pp. 198-199.
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Daniel Gaido & David Walters, November, 2005
Public Domain: Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line 2005. You can freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Marxists Internet Archive as your source, include the url to this work, and note the transcribers & proofreaders above.


The Kremlin’s Counter-Revolutionary Role In Eastern Europe

THE MILITARY POWER OF THE SOVIET UNION The Soviet Union has emerged as a first class military power as a result of its sensational military victories over the armies of Nazi Germany. Despite all the crimes and blunders of the Kremlin bureaucracy, the economy nationalized by the October revolution, proved its superiority in action. The Soviet masses rallied to the defense of the remaining conquests of the revolution and performed miracles in beating back the German imperialist assault. Today the Soviet Union is the dominant power of Eastern Europe, towering over all the neighboring states.

The states of Eastern Europe are rotten ripe for the socialist overturn. They are burdened with a double exploitation: the exploitation of modern capitalism grafted on to the exploitation imposed by the parasitic semi-feudalist land-owning class. And agriculture still remains the backbone of the economy of Eastern Europe.

All the evidence, in addition, points to the fact, that the masses in Eastern Europe, as in Western Europe, are in a furiously revolutionary mood; they ardently desire to throw off the yoke of the capitalist and landlord exploiters, to take over the factories and the land, just as did the workers and peasants of Russia in 1917. The victories of the Red Army have inspired these masses with hope that with the entrance of the Red Army they too would be able to put through their revolution and set up the Soviet power.

Is there any question that if today the Soviet leadership remained true to the principles of the founders; is there any question if Lenin and Trotsky were leading the Soviet Union, that the revolutionary impulsion supplied by the Soviet victories and the Red Army occupations would result in the firm consolidation of Soviet power throughout Eastern Europe? Is there any question that the revolutionary flames would spread like a prairie fire right into the heart of Europe-Germany – and that Hitler and his gang of criminal cut throats would be quickly consigned to the garbage can of history? Is there any question that the establishment of Soviet states throughout Europe would assure peace to the Soviet Union, establish the fraternal relations of the European peoples and guarantee the socialist future of the Soviet Union?

STALIN UPHOLDS THE STATUS QUO But the Kremlin gang, nationalistic and reactionary through and through, is pursuing the exact opposite policy. The Bolshevik peace terms under Lenin and Trotsky explicitly declared: No annexations and no indemnities! Stalin’s policy is one of forceful annexations and the imposition of war reparations. Under Lenin and Trotsky, the Red Army helped the proletariat settle accounts with the hated capitalists and landlords and encouraged them to carry through their socialist revolutions. Stalin employs the Red Army to uphold the capitalist status quo, to bolster reactionary dictatorial regimes, to crush all attempts of the masses to take their fate into their own hands, to oppose every effort towards Sovietization. As the Red Army began moving into the Balkans, Stalin again reassured the world capitalists: on September 20 the CBS picked up a broadcast from Moscow which declared:

“The Soviet Union will not introduce Its order into other states and it does not change the existing order in them. All the acts of foreign policy pursued by the USSR have completely exposed the fascist slander of the Bolshevist bogey ...”

Last April, when the Red Army first entered Rumanian territory, Molotov issued a statement assuring the capitalists that “the existing social structure of Rumania” would not be altered. Stalin has faithfully kept his promise. The Red Army military authorities are preserving the totalitarian filth of Rumania and propping up on their bayonets a Badoglio-like regime. Headed by a reactionary army general, Constantin Lonatescu, the new Rumanian government, typical of the shadow coalition governments being set up and propped up by foreign bayonets throughout Europe, today includes representatives of the Peasant Party, the liberals, the Social Democrats and the Stalinists. The new government assumed power after a military coup d’état engineered by a small clique of officers and politicians.

THE EVENTS IN BULGARIA In Bulgaria, the entrance of the Red Army troops was the signal for a mass uprising. We read in the dispatches of the Red Flag waving over the government buildings as well as over thousands of homes. We read of the immediate arrests of the fascists by the armed people and the holding of huge mass demonstrations in the cities; of a railway strike that paralyzed the government; of the military authorities losing effective control. Civil war had obviously started; the Bulgarian masses were preparing for the new Red dawn. All the revolutionary hopes aroused in the masses were immediately dashed to the ground. The Kremlin bureaucracy employed their local Stalinist leaders as well as the Red Army as a counter-revolutionary force to stamp out the fires of the civil war. The New York Times correspondent, Joseph M. Levy, telephoning from Sofia on September 21, reported that “In a few of the provinces ... pillaging and even killing of the suspected Fascists occurred, but these acts were soon stopped by the militia, composed of strictly disciplined young men and women.” We are further informed that “Communist (read Stalinist) leaders are doing everything they can to prevent extremists in the party from agitating for Sovietization of the country.” As for the Red Army we are told that:

“On several occasions when local Communists in the provinces tried to displace city officials and take matters into their own hands they were ordered by the Russian military authorities to return the jobs to the old officials until orders were received from the Fatherland Front government in Sofia.”

A shadow coalition government, similar to the one in Rumania, is being propped up, headed by a Bulgarian Badoglio The backbone of the new Bulgarian government is the Sveno group, which is made up of the Officers’ League. This military clique engineered a coup d’état in 1934, suspended the constitution, abolished all political parties and established a military dictatorship. The present so-called Fatherland Front government is headed by Premier Kimon Georgieff and War Minister Damian Veicheff, both members of the Zveno group and includes, of course, representatives of the Agrarian party, the liberals, the Social Democrats and the Stalinists.

COUNTER-REVOLUTION AT WORK IN BULGARIA The new government immediately undertook to “pacify” the situation and re-establish “order.” John Chamley, special correspondent of the London News Chronicle, reported that the government printed an appeal ordering soldiers to return to their barracks. They announced that part of the militia would be absorbed into the regular army while all armed civilians were ordered to report to designated places and surrender their arms. Thus the new government, propped up by the bayonets of the Red Army, began its work in the classic manner of all counterrevolutions – the campaign to disarm the insurgent masses and to restore capitalist “law and order.”

The role of the local Stalinist leaders is exclusively reactionary. As everywhere, they form the very spearhead of reaction inside the labor movement, the prime internal disrupters of labor insurgency. Their role is particularly sinister and pernicious because they clothe themselves with the authority of the October Revolution and make use of their prestige among the masses to sow illusions, head off the struggle and thus attempt to destroy the forces of the awakening revolution.

Anton Yugoff, Bulgarian Stalinist Minister of Interior, in charge of the internal police(!), made clear to the capitalists that they had nothing to fear; their Stalinist watchdogs were on the job. He said:

“This government of which I am a member and on whose behalf I speak, categorically denies that it has any intention of establishing a Communist regime In Bulgaria. There is no truth in rumors that the government intends to nationalize any private enterprise in the country.”

HAND-PICKED GOVERNMENTS These Kremlin-backed governments have the following features in common – hey are hand-picked governments which are propped up by the bayonets of the Red Army, they are subservient to the Red Army occupation authorities and supposedly “friendly” to the Soviet Union, they are coalition regimes, with Stalinist and Social Democratic representatives participating, they are outspokenly dedicated to upholding and rehabilitating capitalist rule.

The Stalinists and to a lesser degree, the Social Democrats, undoubtedly exert tremendous influence over the masses at this stage. The presence of these misleaders in the government, however, does not testify to the “democratic” or “popular” character of these handpicked cabinets, but solely to the degeneration and foul treachery of these working-class misleaders. The fact that the Kremlin bureaucracy, just as the imperialists in the West, is forced at this early stage, to utilize the Stalinist and Social Democratic agents in the coalition cabinets set up in the countries under military occupation, is only proof of the terrible decay and shakiness of the capitalist structure and of the revolutionary temper of the masses. This brazen collaboration of the Stalinist and Social Democratic agents with monarchist and fascist generals, their joint labors to uphold tottering capitalism will help immeasurably to expose their true role to the masses who are now in revolutionary ferment and will facilitate the task of the revolutionary vanguard.

MAINSPRING OF STALIN’S POLICY The Kremlin bureaucracy understands that the Anglo-American imperialists cannot tolerate or reconcile themselves to the spread of Sovietization in Europe, as that would represent the beginning of the end to their own system. Furthermore, so far removed today is the Kremlin bureaucracy from the Soviet masses and their true needs and aspirations, that it, just as the imperialists, fears mass uprisings and socialist revolutions anywhere in Europe. The Stalinist gang understands that such revolutionary upheavals would strike a responsive chord in the Soviet masses, who would then move to lift off their shoulders the murderous Kremlin bureaucracy. Hence, Stalin’s alliance with the Anglo-American imperialists in a conspiracy to strangle the European revolution. Hence, the joint conspiracy to dismember the continent and prop up on their bayonets regimes dedicated to the preservation of capitalism. The Stalinist bureaucracy has so completely degenerated, it is in such a conflict with the system of Soviet economy and its needs, it is in such a blind alley, that its continued existence demands the destruction of the European revolution. The Kremlin bureaucracy is today the gendarme of the capitalist property in Eastern Europe.

Stalin understands full well, however, that once the Axis powers are defeated, his ability to maneuver between the rival imperialist camps will be sharply limited. The Soviet Union will then be face to face with the vast military colossus of American imperialism in alliance with its British junior partner. That is why Stalin seeks to secure the defense of the USSR and reinforce its military power by his policy of ringing the Soviet Union with “friendly” states, whose governments are subservient to the Kremlin authority.

IT IS A MORTAL DANGER TO USSR This program is not only thoroughly reactionary but bankrupt as well. It represents a mortal danger both for the European revolution and for the Soviet Union.

The capitalist classes of Eastern Europe have always been in the forefront of anti-Soviet intrigues and have on more than one occasion provided the jumping off places for military intervention against the USSR. Their hatred for the Soviet Union derives, not from this or that anti-Soviet cabinet or government; it flows from the property relations inside the Soviet Union. Their proximity to the Soviet Union only increased their fear of Sovietization in their own territories. These basic class contradictions are far more important in determining relations between the Soviet Union and its neigh. boring states than the propping up of a dozen jerry-built capitalist puppet regimes. Deep-going, fundamental class considerations will always impel the capitalist rulers of Rumania, Bulgaria, Poland, etc., to ally themselves with the imperialists against the Soviet Union. And so long as the nationalized property relations remain in the Soviet Union, these fundamental class considerations will retain their compelling strength.

The Stalinist bureaucracy, for the sake of acquiring second-rate military advantages and for the sake of preserving its alliance with the Anglo-American bandits, is strengthening and upholding the hands of the Balkan, Polish, Czecho-Slovak capitalist and landlords, who in the event of future conflict, will forget overnight their platonic “friendship” for the Soviet Union and ally themselves, as dictated by their class interests, with the imperialist forces. The Kremlin bureaucracy seeks to shackle, demoralize, terrorize and atomize and turn over to their traditional class oppressors, the masses – he only real defenders and only true friends of the Soviet Union.

WHAT WILL DECIDE THE FATE OF USSR his policy is bankrupt. It will not avail the Kremlin bureaucracy. Outside of the alliance with the insurgent masses of Europe, there is no salvation for the Soviet Union. Either the triumphing European revolution will raise again the Soviet masses to their feet and in joint struggle, settle accounts not only with the imperialists, but also with the murderous Stalinist bureaucracy. Or the European continent, as the vassal of Anglo-American imperialism, will plunge into the abyss, with the Soviet Union conquered by capitalism either by internal counter-revolution or external military intervention or by a combination of both.

Ten years ago, Trotsky declared that:

“The extremely difficult conditions under which the Russian Bolshevik-Leninists work exclude them from the possibility of playing the leading role on the international scale. More than this, the Left Opposition group In the USSR can develop into a new party only as a result of the successful formation and growth or the new International. The revolutionary center of gravity has shifted definitely to the West where the immediate possibilities of building parties are immeasurably greater ... The light will come not from the East but from the West.”

The light is today coming from the West, from the insurgent masses of Europe. Europe is in a revolutionary situation. The development, the crystallization, the organization and consolidation of the forces of the European revolution, in all countries, represents the most important, the most immediate, the most unpostponable task of all revolutionary fighters. The triumph of the European revolution is the only salvation for the peoples of Europe and the only safeguard for the preservation and revival of the Soviet Union.

Fourth International, October 1944, The Editors, The Month in Review

From Fourth International, vol.5 No.10, October 1944, pp.291-293.
Transcribed, marked up & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


The most common idea on the left is that the USSR and the East European states it controls are some sort of socialist societies.

We, however, don't think so — never have. We have subscribed to the so-called 'orthodox Trotskyist' notion that the Stalinist states are best categorised as "degenerated and deformed workers' states" — far from socialism because of their bureaucratic regimes, but an advance on capitalism because of their nationalised economies.


We have long said that the "degenerated and deformed workers' states" formula was unsatisfactory. By now, most supporters of Socialist Organiser no longer believe that the designation "workers' state" — degenerated, deformed, or whatever — makes any sort of sense.


The paper's National Editorial Board voted last Sunday to review our nominal adherence to that formula, and to open a discussion in the paper on the Eastern Bloc states. This editorial explains why.


Our programme


We are for workers' liberty East and West. We are for working-class self-liberation East and West. We are with the workers when they demand the right to organise and speak freely, the right to freedom for individuals and for nationalities, and the right to control economic affairs — East and West.


We are with the workers when they fight for wages and conditions — East and West.


We are therefore with Solidarnosc — for its right to operate and its fight for the wages, conditions, and liberties of its members — against Poland's rulers. We are with Solidarnosc even when, as at present, its leaders call for a market economy.


The official trade—union organisations in the Eastern bloc are not real workers' unions. They are agencies of the factory managements and the government.


We are therefore for trade unions in other countries breaking links with those state unions, and establishing links instead with Solidarnosc in Poland and the pioneer free trade union groups elsewhere.


We are for the democratic right to self-determination of nations, as the only basis for international workers' unity. In accord with that principle, we have opposed the USSR's military occupation of Afghanistan.


We are for:


• Disbandment of the police and armed forces, and their replacement by a people's militia.


• Breaking up the bureaucratic hierarchy of administration, and replacing it with a democratic regime of councils of elected and recallable workers' delegates, with freedom to form many political parties.


• Workers' control in industry.


• Free trade unions.


• Abolition of bureaucratic privileges; reorganisation of the economy according to a democratically-decided plan.


• Abolition of the bureaucracy's monopoly over information; freedom for working-class newspapers, meetings, radio and TV stations, etc.


We are for nationalisation of the major means of production. But what exists now in the Eastern Bloc is no form of socialism. Nationalisation is a means to an end — working-class liberation from the economic exploitation of those who control the means of production.


That is not achieved when the nationalised economy and the monopolising state are in effect the property of a ruling elite whose upper layers lord it over society as the aristocrats and capitalists do elsewhere.


We advocate the replacement of the system of nationalised economy under a state-monopoly bureaucracy with a socialised economy under the democratic control of the working class.


Trotsky's approach


All these positions follow from our basic goal of working-class self-liberation, and our belief — based on the evidence of the Russian Revolution of 1917, France 1968, Portugal 1974-5, Hungary 1956, Poland 1980-1, and many other struggles — that the working class can liberate itself and reconstruct society on socialist lines.


None of these positions depends on, or is affected by, precise sociological definitions of the states with nationalised economies and structures similar to the USSR's.


Whatever progressive significance we attach to the fact of nationalised property — even if it is a large one — it cannot outweigh our allegiance to the living struggles of the working class.


In taking this approach, we follow Trotsky:


"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 organization of the world proletariat, the raising of their capacity for defending former conquests and accomplishing new ones...


"The statification of the means of production is, as we said, a progressive measure. But its progressiveness is relative; its specific weight depends on the sum-total of all the other factors.


"Thus, we must first and foremost establish that the extension of the territory dominated by bureaucratic autocracy and parasitism, cloaked by 'socialist' measures, can augment the prestige of the Kremlin, engender illusions concerning the possibility of replacing the proletarian revolution by bureaucratic manoeuvres and so on. This evil by far outweighs the progressive content of Stalinist reforms...


"In order that nationalised property in the occupied areas, as well as in the USSR, become a basis for genuinely progressive, that is to say socialist development, it is necessary to overthrow the Moscow bureaucracy".


We also follow the Trotskyist movement of 1948.


"It will be necessary to continue this revolutionary class struggle consistently and uninterruptedly in the case of the occupation of any given country by the Russian army, even though the revolutionary forces clash with the Russian army, and also in spite of the military consequences which this might entail for the Russian army in its operations against the imperialist military forces.


"In any case, the use of military means remains subordinated to the necessities of the revolutionary class struggle of the proletariat in whatever countries it may be. Thus, our defence of the USSR remains identical in all cases with the continuation of the revolutionary class struggle..."


'Deformed workers' states'


After 1948 the Trotskyist movement went off the rails. It lost its clear focus on the working class as the agency of socialist politics.


Often it looked instead to a vaguely-defined 'process of world revolution'. Working-class action was desirable for this process to go forward rapidly and healthily, but the world revolution could very well progress without or despite the working class.


Undeniably, this wavering of focus accompanied the Trotskyists' codification of a new analysis of the Eastern Bloc states, as "degenerated and deformed workers' states". We have accepted that codification, but dissented from the conclusions that most of its adherents have drawn from it.


Trotsky, right up to his death, regarded the USSR as a "degenerated workers' state". He considered that its nationalised and planned economy, created by the workers' revolution, defined it as a form of workers' state — a society beyond capitalism — but that economic base was combined in a contradictory and unstable structure with the totalitarian rule of a vicious bureaucracy, "different from fascism only in more unbridled savagery".


The bureaucracy had all the vices of a ruling class, but had not yet demonstrated the stability and substantial historical role of one.


Such an attitude did not lead Trotsky to waver in any way in his political focus on working-class self-liberation.


In 1945-9 the Trotskyists saw the basic economic forms of the USSR - those which had for Trotsky defined it as a sort of workers' state - established in many other countries. Political régimes similar to the USSR's were so established in those countries.


If the USSR was a degenerated workers' state, then these countries must also be some sort of workers' state. They could not be called "degenerated”, because they had been bureaucratic police states from the start. So they were "deformed” workers' states - states in which Stalinist political formations or the USSR's army had created as much as survived of 'the conquests of October 1917', together with a Stalinist regime.


On the face of it, this conclusion need not lead to any weakness in our allegiance to working-class self- liberation in the states thus designated "degenerated and deformed workers' states". If it means that we call the workers' anti-bureaucratic revolution there "political” rather than "social”, then - as Trotsky explained back in 1939 - the difference is in terminology rather than programme.




The Trotskyists in 1945-51 were in part influenced by issues of broad historical perspective, If the Stalinist states were "degenerated and deformed workers' states", then the following perspective could be deduced.


Capitalism must be in extreme decay: that was why post-capitalist states had been created even under bureaucratic leadership and therefore in such aberrant forms.


The aberrant forms were inherently and acutely unstable. A world of collapsing capitalism and unstable aberrant bureaucratisms put workers' power, on the agenda as soon as the necessary political leadership came forward.


In 1939 Trotsky had written: "The historical alternative, carried to the end, is as follows: either the Stalin regime is an abhorrent relapse in the process of transforming bourgeois society into a socialist society, or the Stalin regime is the first stage of a new exploiting society". Now the alternative was posed not only for the USSR but also for Stalinist states covering one third of the world.


If these were not workers' states, then what were they? They must be new exploiting societies, and new exploiting societies of undeniable dynamism. Capitalist development was leading not to socialism but to a new, revived .form of capitalism (state capitalism) or to a new form of exploitation (bureaucratic collectivism). Where did this leave socialists? As helpless utopians?


Some Trotskyists in 1945~51 did try to formulate "state capitalist" or "bureaucratic collectivist” analyses. But they dealt unconvincingly with the issues of historical perspective. Most of them became hopeless sectarians.


The name-tag and the theories


But what in fact did the mainstream of the Trotskyist movement achieve with the codification of the "degenerated and deformed workers' state” thesis in 1951 at the Third World Congress of the Fourth International? Not a coherent theory with a grip on reality. They achieved only a name-tag - "degenerated and deformed workers' state" - behind which over the years accumulated a wide variety of different theories.


What the "workers' state” name-tag signified was the acceptance of the Stalinist states as in some way progressive. Within that framework, the description and analysis differed widely in both detail and implications.


For Ted Grant, of what is now the Militant tendency, a nationalised economy was ipso facto a workers' state, no matter how or by whom it was created. For Michel Pablo and Ernest Mandel, the deformed workers' states were nationalised economies created by some sort of working-class agency - by the USSR's state authority in Eastern Europe, or by dissident Stalinist parties in Yugoslavia and China which `were in fact "deformed workers' parties".


For Joseph Hansen, the "working-class” character of the agency in Yugoslavia and China was defined by the mass pressure on the Stalinist parties - although these parties remained Stalinist, they had been forced to go further than they wanted.


None of these theories was satisfactory. Grant's theory implied that workers' states could be created without, despite, against, or in the absence of a working class. It pointed Trotskyists towards supporting such creation without, despite, or against the working class as a major if flawed step forward towards socialism. lt could be sustained only by saying that state capitalism and bureaucratic collectivism were by definition impossible - a view Trotsky never took.


The Pablo/Mandel or the Hansen thesis could be sustained only by gross illusions about the nature of the Yugoslav and Chinese (and later Vietnamese, Cuban etc.) revolutions. These were not workers' revolutions. The social base of the revolutionary parties was mainly peasant; the parties were heavily bureaucratised and militarised; their ideology was Stalinist; and, far from being pushed against their wishes by the working class, they clamped down on the workers.


These theories were advanced by sincere and militant anti-Stalinists. Yet they all led to softness on some bureaucracies, some times - whether it be Grant's steadfast support for the USSR's murderous occupation of Afghanistan, or the illusions of various parts of the Pablo/Mandel/Hansen current (represented in Britain today by Socialist Action and Socialist Outlook) on the Yugoslav, Chinese, Vietnamese, Cuban and Nicaraguan revolutionaries.


Most Trotskyists have wallowed in confusion and vacillation -~ glorifying a succession of Stalinist totalitarian bureaucracies from Tito through Mao to Castro and Ho Chi Minh. One staggering fact: it was 20 years after Mao took power in all of China, clamping down on the workers and jailing the Chinese Trotskyists, before the mainstream of post-Trotsky Trotskyism decided that a political revolution was necessary!


The last 40 years


A number of facts are unmistakable from the evidence of the last 40 years, central to clear assessment of the struggles in the Eastern bloc, yet obscured by or difficult to reconcile with the "deformed and degenerated workers' states” codification.


1. The position of the working class in the command economies is generally worse than in the market economies. Low rents and food rices, and fairly full employment, do make the poorest in the Eastern bloc better off than the poorest in the West. Yet average working-class living standards are lower, even at the same level of general industrial development.


Work conditions, despite the sluggish pace of work in many Eastern Bloc factories much of the time, are worse. And - centrally - the ruling bureaucracies repress all independent organisation by the working class.


South Korea is a society based on ruthless exploitation and brutal repression; yet it has allowed some openings for trade unions to develop against the odds. North Korea has allowed no such openings. The contrast between the two Koreas reflects the general picture.


And this is not an extraordinary situation of acute short-term crisis - as the position in the USSR in the '30s could perhaps be viewed at the time. It is a stable pattern for 40, 50 or 60 years.


The command economies have built up large and powerful working classes, working classes which have shown tremendous socialist potential. In that sense they have created preconditions for socialism. But in their repression of the working class they are further away from socialism than many market economies.


2. The development of the productive forces may be progressive even if the immediate results for the workers are bad. Many post~1951 Trotskyists have let the goal of working-class self-liberation be obscured by the goal of national economic development, because that national economic development is where the "workers' states” are supposed to display their superiority over market capitalism.


Some command economies have indeed developed industry fast. But so - since 1945 - have many market economies. The command economies can certainly show no general, clear superiority over the market economies in developing the forces of production. Indeed, relative stagnation in the USSR and Eastern Europe is now the starting point for Gorbachev's reforms.


The command economies are not a stage beyond capitalism in developing the productive forces. Rather, they have emerged from underdeveloped capitalist societies with a big load of pre-capitalist or colonialist dross, and done broadly the same work as capitalist development.


A cooperative commonwealth - a nationalised economy planned under workers' democracy - will produce more efficiently and distribute more equally than any market economy ever can. We have no reason to doubt that.


But the sort of nationalised economy that exists in the Eastern Bloc has no superiority over a market economy - neither superiority in the conditions it creates for the workers, nor superiority in long-term development of the productive forces.


The bureaucracies


3. Outside the USSR, the ruling bureaucracies are not usurpers of the nationalised economies: they created them. They did not create them because mass pressure forced them to do so against their will.


They created them according to their own wishes and their own designs.


Tie bureaucracies are not acutely unstable. For 40 to 50 years they have been stably self-reproducing organisms. If we do not call them "ruling classes", it can only be on a technicality.


Although sometimes when in power the bureaucracies seek to recruit individuals from the working class, the core of these bureaucracies is certainly not a segment or a product of the working class. They come from the middle class. Perhaps nowhere is this seen more plainly than in Afghanistan, where a very large part of the middle class and the military and technical intelligentsia tried, in the 1978 coup and after, to transform themselves into a bureaucracy on the USSR model.


Trotsky spoke of the Kremlin bureaucracy as balancing between its social and economic base and the pressure of capitalist imperialism.


Such a view is no longer tenable.


The USSR is the second world power. In Vietnam, China and elsewhere the bureaucratised revolutionary forces were able to defeat the old order and beat down the working class simultaneously.


Even while they were revolutionary against the old order, they were simu1taneously counter-revolutionary against the working class.


4. The USSR does not correspond exactly to Lenin's picture of imperialism in his 1916 pamphlet.


But then neither does any other country today. Today we commonly use the word "imperialism” in a wider sense than did Lenin, for whom "imperialism” started only around 1898-1902. In that broader sense of the word "imperialism”, the US, Britain, etc. are imperialist - and so is the USSR.


Nearly 50 years ago Trotsky wrote: "The driving force behind the Moscow bureaucracy is indubitably the tendency to expand its power, its prestige, its revenues.


"This is the element of 'imperialism' in the widest sense of the word which was a property in the past of all monarchies, oligarchies, ruling castes, medieval estates and classes".


Today the USSR has in Eastern Europe an empire with over 100 million people. You can deny that the USSR is imperialism only by saying that imperialism is only the form of monopoly-capitalist imperialism described by Lenin, and nothing else. And that would be to deny the existence of the Athenian and Roman, the Spanish and Ottoman empires, or indeed of the British Empire for all but 70 or so years of its 300-year life.


The conflict between the US and the USSR is chiefly about competition for spheres of influence and control, rather than a dispute of market economy versus nationalised economy.




One other fact of the last 40 years puts things in a different light. In the 1930s Trotsky saw capitalism in an impasse. The productive forces had ceased to grow. The working class had ceased to grow, and was being eroded by mass unemployment. The USSR, however, was developing.


Call the USSR a new exploiting society, and you said that the contradictions of capitalism led not to socialism but to that new form of exploitation.


Since 1945 capitalism has grown enormously - faster than ever before. The working class has greatly expanded. Dozens of new countries have industrialised. Seen from the perspective of l988, the USSR's growth in the 1930s looks not like a bold stride beyond capitalism, but like something essentially parallel to the industrial growth of Japan in the same period, of several Latin American economies in the '30s and '4Os, and of many Third World countries since 1945.


In the first place, this makes nonsense of the idea that "deformed workers' states” develop because of the utter impasse, decay and collapse of capitalism. Look at South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia and Thailand, and it is hard to argue that China, Vietnam and North Korea could not have developed any further on a market-capitalist basis.


In the second place, it does away with the argument that to call the Eastern Bloc new exploiting societies is to commit ourselves to pessimism about the prospect for socialism, or to abandon it altogether. Whatever we call the Eastern Bloc, we have lived through 40 years of expanding capitalism. A "new exploiting society” may have grown - but the numbers and potential of the working class have grown also.


Post-1951 Trotskyism


In the polemics gathered together in the book In Defence of Marxism Trotsky insisted that the discussion on the class nature 'of the USSR could not be about labels only. It was and had to be essentially about the perspectives implied in the different name-tags.


On the level of 'name-tags, the post-1951 Trotskyists were extending Trotsky's theory of the USSR - as a degenerated workers' state in which the bureaucracy was in agonising contradiction with the nationalised means of production - to new "deformed workers' state". This did not square with the facts. The post-1951 Trotskyists tried to ignore or define away many facts; but the facts took their revenge.


The post-1951 Trotskyists retained Trotsky's name-tag. But in fact they threw out his theory and perspective. Under the name-tag, what they described was a new form of socieity in which the nationalised economy was the creation of the bureaucracy. The bureaucracies were essentially new ruling classes - this would come through unmistakably despite efforts to present them, or some of them, as segments of the working class. And they had the mission of developing backward countries for a whole historic period.


The "orthodox Trotskyists" who continued to mouth Trotsky's formula about the degenerated workers' state were actually describing the sort of "bureaucratic collectivist” society which some of his opponents in 1940 described. Only where Trotsky's 1940 opponents put a minus sign on these new societies and called them barbarism, the neo- Trotskyists put a plus sign and called them the socialist revolution.


That was the essential and only meaning of the "degenerated and deformed workers' states” tag.


Isaac Deutscher made this clear. His writings on Stalin and the Stalinist states greatly influenced the post-1951 Trotskyists. Yet, in a reflective summing-up published just after he died in 1967, he avowed that maybe the bureaucracies were new ruling classes. In substance - there can be no doubt about it - his picture of the Stalinist states was that of new societies which were progressive, but had no 'working-class' imprint on them at all.


This has been the fundamental tendency of all the post-1951 "workers' state” theories. It has been accompanied by another tendency, which Militant perhaps brings out most clearly: to write Stalinism into the socialist programme as a progressive (if limited) and perhaps necessary (if regrettable) stage between capitalism and socialism for underdeveloped countries.


The general pattern of post-1951 Trotskyism's response to Stalinist revolutions has been this: for a period to pretend that the revolutionaries are somehow "working-class” or at least part of the "world revolutionary process”; then finally to recognise that the regimes repress the working class, but to continue to see them as somehow progressive.


History took an ironic revenge on the ghost of Leon Trotsky. His most literal and "orthodox” followers embraced the politics of some of his most despised opponents on the left in the 1930s, the so-called "Brandlerites". These were the "Right Communists", the co-thinkers of Bukharin, expelled from the Communist International after 1929. They were much more numerous than the Trotskyists in the 1930s. They criticised the Comintern and the USSR for specific policies and for lack of democracy, but refused to define the bureaucracy as a distinct social formation and rejected Trotsky's call for a new - 'politica1' - revolution.


The mutation of neo-Trotskyism into neo-Brandlerism began in 1948. Tito fell out with Stalin. The neo-Trotskyists started to pretend that Tito's regime and Tito's bureaucracy were somehow part of the 'world revolution'. Since then the official Trotskyist movement has combined, in an unstable mélange, Trotsky's revolutionary programme for the USSR with a critical-Stalinist reformist programme for a succession of other Stalinist states - Yugoslavia, China, Cuba, Vietnam.


Our politics


Our political attitude to the workers and bureaucracies in the Eastern Bloc has been quite different from that of other Trotskyists following the 1951 formula of the "degenerated and deformed workers' states”. We should have been more explicit and outspoken about Vietnamese Stalinism - we did attack the illusions widespread on the left, but only, so to speak, in footnotes - but beyond that we have nothing to reproach ourselves with in practical politics.


We did not - as did the Healyites - prattle about the danger of capitalist restoration in Czechoslovakia in 1968. We supported Solidarnosc's call for a working-class boycott of Polish goods when martial law was imposed in 1981. We demanded the withdrawal of USSR troops from Afghanistan from day one.


Over the last 30-odd years, many Trotskyists have made many efforts - often very intricate - to formulate better theories to underpin the 1951 codification. But aren't all those efforts scholastic? Isn't the shift of focus from the working class to the nebulous, classless 'world revolution' a logical product of the attempt to define Yugoslavia, China, etc. as somehow distorted socialist revolutions? (For sure the ,working class was not centre stage to make those revolutions socialist. So what was? The 'world revolution'.)


Isn't the great instability of official Trotskyism, its constant wavering in its attitude to the Eastern Bloc states, an inescapable consequence of the unviability of the 1951 formulas?


Increasingly, the formula "degenerated and deformed workers' states” plays no role at all in our substantive political arguments. Our conclusions are derived from factual assessment, and the formula sits uncomfortably on top of that factual assessment as a formula, no more. Isn't it time to reassess?


The provisional nature of Trotsky's formula


Trotsky, and the Trotskyists up to 1948, made it clear that they saw the description of the USSR as a "degenerated workers' state” as provisional - a makeshift term for an unstable contradictory structure.


In The Revolution Betrayed (1935), Trotsky's summary definition of the USSR appears under the heading, "The Character of the Soviet Union Not Yet Decided by History”. In 1939 he commented on his definition of the ruling bureaucracy as a caste.


"Its relative superiority lies in this, that the makeshift character of the term is clear to everybody, since it would enter nobody's mind to identify the Moscow oligarchy with the Hindu caste of Brahmins. The old sociological terminology did not and could not prepare a name for a new social event which is in the process of evolution (degeneration) and which has not assumed stable forms".


And again: "Symptomatic of his oncoming death agony, by the sweep and monstrous fraudulence of his purge, Stalin testifies to nothing else but the incapacity of the bureaucracy to transform itself into a stable ruling class. Might we not place ourselves in a ludicrous position if we affixed to the Bonapartist oligarchy the nomenclature of a new ruling class just a few years or even a few months prior to its inglorious downfall?"


And in 1948 the Trotskyists wrote:


"Under these conditions, the progressive character of the production relations means nothing else but that a change in property relations is not necessary for the overthrow of the bureaucracy. The production relations and bureaucratic management are more and more inextricably bound up. Consequently, the progressive character of the Russian economy, which is determined by its capacity to develop the productive forces, tends to become eliminated by the bureaucracy. The greatest attention must be devoted to the study of this development...


"If we continue to apply the term “degenerated workers’ state” to this social organism, we are perfectly aware of the necessity to constantly bring up to date the complete and precise meaning of this definition. In reality, it is impossible to give any exact definition of present Russian society without a lengthy description. The relative superiority of this formula in comparison with all the others proposed up till now lies in this, that it takes into account the historic origin of the USSR and at the same time emphasizes its non-capitalist character and the instability of its social relations, which have not yet acquired their final historic physiognomy..."


Time to reassess


"The greatest attention must be devoted to the study of this development..." But the attention has not been devoted. After 40 years - and after many years of increasingly clear political divergence between us and the post-1951 Trotskyist mainstream - it is time to reconsider.


The only political, programmatic consequence of dropping the "degenerated and deformed workers' state” codification would be to drop the formula of "defence of the USSR” in war, or, as the Trotskyists of 1948 more precisely put it, "defence of what remains of the conquests of October”. But we said long ago that that formula was a "tenth-rate issue” politically. In the era of nuclear weapons, it is difficult to see' what such "defence of the USSR” could mean practically.


How can you "defend nationalised property” in a nuclear Armageddon?


It is time to reassess. It is time to examine the idea that the Eastern Bloc states are exploiting economies essentially parallel, as regards the development of the forces of production, to market capitalism.


It is a good time to reassess, too.


Often in the past discussion among Trotskyists on the Eastern Bloc has been stifled by loud noise about "capitulation to imperialism” and "Shachtmanism”. Today, when US imperialism and the Kremlin are on better terms than for many years and the bourgeois press is feting Gorbachev, such clamour is more difficult.


No doubt some will try to clamour. But we have learned enough in recent years not to be fazed when we are accused of "capitulation to imperialism” by those who think that supporting Argentina's mini-colonialism or the USSR's imperialism are the height of "anti-imperialism".


And what of "Shachtmanism”? Max Shachtman was a leader of the American Trotskyist movement who split with Trotsky in 1940 over reactions to the Hitler-Stalin pact and shortly afterwards developed a theory of the USSR as a new "bureaucratic collectivist” society.


Shachtman never fully sorted out his ideas on the place of "bureaucratic collectivism” in historical perspective. Initially he saw it as progressive compared to capitalism; later, as utterly regressive and barbaric. In old age (he died, politically isolated, in 1972) he is said to have supported the US's Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and its bombing of North Vietnam.


Clearly we do not want to follow Shachtman in those respects. But that is not all there was to Shachtman.


As late as 1948, he was present at the Second World Congress of the Fourth International. The Congress Theses on 'The USSR and Stalinism' made a distinction between 'revolutionary' bureaucratic collectivists - meaning Shachtman - and reactionary bureaucratic collectivists like Dwight Macdonald and James Burnham. There was serious talk of a reunification.


In that period -- there is no doubt about it with hindsight - Shachtman was far clearer and sharper in his assessment of what was happening in the Eastern Bloc than were the official Trotskyists.


There are positive things to learn from Shachtman.


How to discuss We must conduct the discussion carefully. Too often discussion of the command economies on the left has been just a search for a label that can then be wielded as a sect badge. But a label is no substitute for detailed, careful, factual analysis.


We have seen that the substantive theories under the "degenerated and deformed workers' state” name-tag are various forms of "progressive bureaucratic collectivism". Under other name-tags, too, operate a variety of quite different and often incongruent theories.


Take the British SWP as an example. It calls the USSR state capitalist. That is its sect badge.


But read its basic text, Cliff's book of 1947. It says that capitalism is collapsing; the USSR is forging ahead industrially; the USSR's economy is regulated by international arms competition rather than the law of value; not even labour-power is a commodity there; it has no trend to overproduction; and so on. In fact it portrays the USSR as a "progressive bureaucratic collectivism" - a new form of exploiting society productively superior to capitalism. Cliff then evades the logical conclusions of this analysis by sheer moralism.


And what about the other Eastern Bloc states? They are called state capitalist, but no attempt is made to extend to them the thesis that arms competition regulates their economies and makes them capitalist.


In fact the SWP's "state capitalist” label is only a label.


Underneath that label it chops and changes between a variety of substantive theories and political conclusions, with no clear accounting.


We are concerned, of course, to find the best label. Some of us think that some term like "bureaucratic collectivism” is the best approximation. Others would prefer "state capitalism”. This must be discussed. But we have no intention, no intention at all, of finding a label according to a pre-set timetable.


Our concern is first and foremost to develop an exact, concrete assessment of the workers' struggles and the bureaucracy's operations in the Eastern Bloc, and to fight for a programme for workers' liberty East and West.

For too long the Trotskyist movement has been dominated by sect labels and shibboleths on the question of the USSR. We intend to break that domination. We hope other working-class socialists will join us in our discussion.



"Reassessing the Eastern Bloc" (1988) Submitted on 31 December, 2010 - 17:32 Marxism and Stalinism AWL history This editorial from Socialist Organiser no.371, 15 September 1988, declared and explained our formal discarding of the "degenerated and deformed workers' state" formula for the Stalinist states which we had "inherited" from our "orthodox Trotskyist" background.