The Rise of Stalinism
On October 25, 1917, the Provisional Government was overthrown in Petrograd. The Russian working class took state power. The Congress of Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers Deputies, highest organ of workers’ democracy, was in session in the capital.
Following Lenin, Trotsky spoke there: “We rest all our hope on the possibility that our revolution will unleash the European revolution. If the insurrectionary peoples of Europe do not crush imperialism, then we will be crushed.” (History of the Russian Revolution)
The delegates, wrote an observer, “greeted him with an immense crusading acclaim, kindling to the daring of it, with the thought of championing mankind.” (John Reed, Ten Days that Shook the World)
“At any rate”, remarked Trotsky later, “it could not have entered the mind of any Bolshevik at that time to protest against placing the fate of the Soviet Republic, in an official speech in the name of the Bolshevik Party, in direct dependence upon the development of the international revolution.” (HRR)
The capitalist class through Europe launched a furious struggle against the workers’ state, by sabotage, boycott, and war. A civil war raged, with peaks and intervals, pitting not only the internal reaction but 17 imperialist armies against the revolution from 1918 until the spring of 1921. Trotsky was responsible for the organisation of the Red Army which defeated the military counter-revolution.
But it was not only the heroic resistance of the Russian masses spearheaded by the Red Army which held off counter-revolution. Splits among the imperialists were skilfully exploited by the Bolsheviks. Above all, there was a revolutionary upsurge of the working class through Europe — as a combined result of the burdens heaped on the masses by the First World War and the inspiring example of the Russian revolution.
The post-war revolutionary wave
A strike by Hungarian munitions workers in January 1918 spread like wildfire through Germany, involving over two million workers. Then, on 4 November 1918 mutiny broke out at the German military base of Kiel and ignited revolution. Within days, every city in Germany was in the hands of workers’ councils: soviets.
Mass strikes and army mutinies smashed the imperial Austro-Hungarian regime, bringing the disintegration of the empire. A revolutionary soviet government took power in Hungary in March 1919.
France was swept by mass strikes and naval mutiny. British soldiers mutinied, and the Red Flag was hoisted in the industrial heartland of Scotland. Ireland was in armed revolt against British rule. In Italy in 1920 there was a wave of factory occupations. Strikes involving four million workers convulsed the USA in 1919.
Bolshevik propaganda appealed to the troops of the invading armies and to the working class across Europe, to support and take forward the Russian revolution. The old parties of the Second International split, with big sections, sometimes majorities, rallying to the banner of the Third (Communist) International launched by the Bolsheviks. It had nearly 3 million members by 1921.
This revolutionary wave forced the imperialist powers to call a halt to their military intervention against the revolution. But the West European working class was not able to hold on to its early gains. While not finally crushed, the revolutionary wave was turned back.
Primarily responsible for this were the reformist leaders of the Second International, who used the authority they still retained to prop up capitalism and its state power. The Communist Parties were still too weak and inexperienced to take advantage of this situation, as the Bolsheviks had been able to against the Mensheviks.
The treacherous role of the reformist leadership in the 1918-1920 revolutionary wave is summed up in one incident. On November 10, with the imperial regime in Germany on its knees, and power in the hands of the workers and soldiers, Noske, Scheidemann and Ebert of the Social-Democratic Party (SPD) were included in a new republican coalition government.
That night Ebert was phoned by a senior general. “What do you expect of us?” asked Ebert. “Field Marshal Hindenbcrg expects the government to support the officer corps in maintaining strict discipline and strict order in the army.” “What else?”, replied Ebert. “The officer corps expects that the government will fight against Bolshevism and places itself at the disposal of the government for such a purpose.” Ebert asked the general to pass on “the government’s thanks to the Field Marshal”!
The mass of workers and soldiers regarded the SPD as their party. But its leaders were conscious agents of counter-revolution. Rather than organising the over-throw of the capitalist state, and establishing a new state based on the power of the working class, they induced the masses to accept the authority of a capitalist parliament –while they set about rebuilding the armed forces to break the revolutionary movement.
Similar obstacles faced the revolutionary working-class movement in every country in Europe.
A revolutionary situation erupted again in Germany in 1923, but the German Communist Party failed to lead it to success. For all the efforts of the Bolsheviks, the Russian revolution remained isolated. This was to have terrible consequences for its fate, and the fate of workers’ revolution world-wide for a whole period.
Dialego, in his “What is Trotskyism?”, ridicules Trotsky’s: “astonishing argument that revolution could only succeed in Russia if it is ‘united with the socialist proletariat of Western Europe.’ ”
“Revolution within a ‘national framework’ is doomed”, was, he claims, Trotsky’s position.
On its own it will collapse. Only world revolution is possible. It is not difficult to see why this analysis made it almost impossible for Trotsky to contribute constructively to tackling the problems of post-revolutionary Russia — once it had become clear that revolutions in the advanced capitalist countries (despite the uprisings in Germany and Hungary) were not going to succeed.
The need for workers’ revolution in Europe to ensure the survival of the revolution in Russia was, as we have seen, not some idiosyncratic notion of Trotsky’s, but the perspective of Bolshevism as a whole. In turn, Dialego’s dismissal of this idea is a rejection not of “Trotskyism”, but of proletarian internationalism. It abandons any Marxist understanding of what is needed to achieve socialism. It is infected with the contagion of Stalinist ideas of “socialism in one country.”
Lenin believed that not even a democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry on a capitalist basis could be sustained in Russia unless the working class overthrew capitalism in the West. In 1905 he wrote: “the Russian revolution can achieve victory by its own efforts, but it cannot possibly hold and consolidate its gains by its own strength. It cannot do this unless there is a revolution in the West. (Two Tactics. Our emphasis.)
After 1917, Lenin again and again emphasised the need for workers’ revolution in the West. “It is absolutely true”, he declared in March 1918, “that without a German revolution we will perish…. under all possible or conceivable eventualities, if the German revolution does not begin, we perish…. International imperialism… which represents a gigantic actual power…could in no case and under no conditions live side by side with the Soviet Republic. Here a conflict would be inevitable. Here… is the greatest historic problem… the necessity of evoking an international revolution.” (Quoted in History of the Russian Revolution)
By July 1921 the civil war had been won, but Lenin resisted any complacency: “We have got a certain equilibrium, although extremely fragile, extremely unstable, nevertheless such an equilibrium that a socialist republic can exist — of course not for long — in a capitalist environment.” (Quoted in ibid)
Trotsky had always put forward a similar position. In 1909, for example, he wrote:
The revolutionary authorities [i.e. a workers’ government in Russia] will be confronted with the objective problems of socialism, but the solution of these problems will, at a certain stage, be prevented by the country’s economic backwardness. There is no way out from this contradiction within the framework of a national revolution.
The workers’ government will from the start be faced with the task of uniting its forces with those of the socialist proletariat in Western Europe. Only in this way will its temporary revolutionary hegemony become the prologue to a socialist dictatorship. Thus permanent revolution will become, for the Russian proletariat, a matter of class self-preservation. If the workers’ party cannot show sufficient initiative for aggressive revolutionary tactics, if it limits itself to the frugal diet of a dictatorship that is merely national and merely democratic, the united reactionary forces of Europe will waste no time in making it clear that a working class, if it happens to be in power, must throw the whole of its strength into the struggle for a socialist revolution. (“Our differences”, reprinted in 1905)
This is the passage which Dialego refers to when describing Trotsky’s “astonishing” arguments. In the course of ‘paraphrasing’ it, Dialego, to say the least, loses some of its meaning! Trotsky does not say revolution could only succeed in Russia if it is united with the socialist proletariat in Western Europe — but that a workers’ government, i.e. a successful revolution, would need to unite with the Western proletariat in order to survive indefinitely.
Trotsky nowhere says “Only world revolution is possible”! What he warns is that a revolution in Russia would, “at a certain stage” run up against imperialist-backed counter-revolution, and Russia’s backwardness. His perspective of 1909, far from being “astonishing”, was of course amply borne out by what took place after 1917.
Warming to his theme, nevertheless, Dialego continues with his lecture:
Trotsky’s all-or-nothing approach to world revolution reflected more than naive optimism. It stemmed from his failure to get to grips with the national question. Class struggle, as the Communist Manifesto emphasises, is international in substance, but national in form. It is precisely because socialism arises through the struggle for democracy that the working class must represent the interests of the nation as a whole. Winning ‘the battle of democracy’ as a prelude to the struggle for socialism is only possible if the proletariat becomes ‘the leading class of the nation.’
Ignore the democratic revolution and you ignore the national framework within which every class struggle necessarily occurs. This is the point which Trotsky and his followers have never understood. The proletariat of each country must first settle accounts with its own bourgeoisie….In theory Trotskyists should stand aloof from the struggle for national liberation since the logic of their position asserts that unless revolution is socialist in character and world-wide in scope, betrayal and defeat is the inevitable consequence.
It is, of course, quite rich of Dialego to lecture Trotsky, (who, with Lenin, led the working class to power in Russia) that “the proletariat of each country must first settle accounts with its own bourgeoisie”!
But underneath this, and some other apparent “commonplaces” — that the proletariat strives to become the leading class of the nation, that socialism is impossible without democracy — Dialego here puts forward essentially reactionary ideas.
It is, for example, a complete distortion of the Communist Manifesto, and of Marxism, to assert that “every class struggle necessarily occurs… within a national framework.” Lenin himself long ago replied to such an argument and labelled it for what it was: opportunism.
The Manifesto states that the working class “must constitute itself the nation”. Regarding this, Lenin commented:
the opportunists distort that truth by extending to the period of the end of capitalism that which was true of the period of its rise. With reference to the former period and to the tasks of the proletariat in its struggle to destroy, not feudalism but capitalism, the Communist Manifesto gives a clear and precise formula: ‘the workingmen have no country.’ One can well understand why the opportunists are so afraid to accept this socialist proposition, afraid, even, in most cases, openly to reckon with it.
The socialist movement cannot triumph within the old framework of the fatherland. It creates new and superior forms of human society, in which the legitimate needs and progressive aspirations of the working masses of each nationality will, for the first time, be met through international unity, providing existing national partitions are removed.(“The Position and Tasks of the Socialist International”, 1914, Collected Works, XXI)
“The socialist movement cannot triumph within the old framework of the fatherland. It creates new and superior forms of human society” — this is the essential point which Dialego is also afraid “openly to reckon with”. His caricature of Trotsky’s internationalism reflects his own nationalist narrow-mindedness, the “socialism in one country” mentality of Stalinism.
He stands with the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries — those who could not complete the democratic revolution in Russia, and who, in 1917, also opposed the “astonishing argument” of Bolshevik internationalism.
These “leaders” were scandalised, in the words of one of them, at the idea of putting out “the fire of the capitalist war by converting the revolution into a socialist and world revolution.” Kerensky himself, shortly before his government was overthrown by the working class, wailed: “There is no more dangerous enemy of the revolution, the democracy and all the conquests of freedom than those who… under the guise of deepening the revolution and converting it into a permanent social revolution are perverting, and it seems have already perverted the masses.” (History of the Russian Revolution)
Of course Marxism does not say “only world revolution is possible…. an all-or-nothing approach… unless revolution is socialist in character and world-wide in its scope, betrayal and defeat is the inevitable consequence.” That is a typical Stalinist caricature. Dialego tries to convert the Marxist realism of Trotsky simultaneously into utopianism and defeatism.
Trotsky replied to such a silly point long ago:
That the international revolution of the proletariat cannot be a simultaneous act, of this there can of course be no dispute at all among grown-up people after the experience of the October Revolution, achieved by the proletariat of a backward country under pressure of historical necessity, without waiting in the least for the proletariat of the advanced countries ‘to even out the front’. (The Third International After Lenin)
When Trotsky set out the relation between ‘national’ and ‘international’ in the socialist revolution, he did so very precisely: “The socialist revolution begins on national foundations”, he wrote in Permanent Revolution, “but it cannot be completed within these foundations…a national revolution is not a self-contained whole; it is only a link in the international chain. The international revolution constitutes a permanent process, despite temporary declines and ebbs.”
In this, he, with Lenin and the Bolsheviks, merely carried forward the ideas of Marx and Engels, who had explained in 1850, that it was the task of the working class to “make the revolution permanent until all the more or less propertied classes have been driven from their ruling positions, until the proletariat has progressed sufficiently far — not only in one country but in all the leading countries of the world — that competition between the proletarians of these countries ceases and at least the decisive forces of production are concentrated in the hands of the workers.” (Our emphasis)
The socialist revolution is a world revolution not for sentimental or idealistic, but material reasons. “Internationalism is no abstract principle but a theoretical and practical reflection of world economy, of the world development of productive forces and the world scale of the class struggle”, explained Trotsky (The Permanent Revolution, p. 9).
Socialism, as he put it in his History of the Russian Revolution,
is the organisation of a planned and harmonious social production for the satisfaction of human wants. Collective ownership of the means of production is not yet socialism, but only its legal premise. The problem of a socialist society cannot be abstracted from the problem of the productive forces, which at the present stage of human development are world-wide in their very essence. The separate state, having become too narrow for capitalism, is so much the less capable of becoming the arena of a finished socialist society. The backwardness of a revolutionary country, moreover, increases the danger of being thrown back to capitalism.
The reasoning is the same as Lenin’s: “The socialist movement cannot triumph within the old framework of the fatherland. It creates new and superior forms of human society.”
This was why the Bolsheviks struggled to defend the Russian revolution by spreading it internationally. The military intervention between 1917 and 1921 was the most immediate threat. But it was, as Trotsky explained, “merely the most acute expression of the technical and industrial predominance of the capitalist nations.” (ibid)
The isolation and backwardness of the Soviet Union –particularly after the defeat of the German revolution in 1923 — prepared the way for the rise of the bureaucracy headed by Stalin, carrying through a political counter-revolution and usurping power from the working class in this, the first workers’ state.
The rise of the bureaucracy
The civil war inflicted heavy costs on the Soviet Republic. By 1920, the output of large-scale industry was only 14% of the 1913 level. Outbreaks of famine resulted in 5 million deaths in 1921-22 alone.
The industrial working class, backbone of the revolution, was decimated. The number of industrial workers fell by half between 1917 and 1920. Most of the revolutionary cadres of the factories perished fighting in the civil war. The imperatives of sustaining production forced long hours of work. The masses were gripped with exhaustion.
In the summer of 1917, in the middle of the revolution, Lenin had written a major theoretical re-examination of the Marxist theory of the state: his classic work State and Revolution. It was directed principally against the distortion of Marx’s and Engels’s writings which had crept into the ideas of even the most left of the reformist leaders of the Second International. It was directed to working out how the working class should govern when it took power in Russia.
As Trotsky summarised Lenin’s position:
Lenin, following Marx and Engels, saw the first distinguishing feature of the proletarian revolution in the fact that, having expropriated the exploiters, it would abolish the necessity of a bureaucratic apparatus raised above society — and above all, a police and standing army. The proletariat needs a state — this all the opportunists can tell you,’ wrote Lenin in 1917, two months before the seizure of power, ‘but they, the opportunists, forget to add that the proletariat needs only a dying state — that is, a state constructed in such a way that it immediately begins to die away and cannot help dying away.’ (State and Revolution) …
The social demand for a bureaucracy arises in all those situations where the sharp antagonisms require to be ‘softened’, ‘adjusted’, ‘regulated’ (always in the interests of the privileged, the possessors, and always to the advantage of the bureaucracy itself). Throughout all bourgeois revolutions, therefore, no matter how democratic, there has occurred a reinforcement and perfecting of the bureaucratic apparatus. ‘Officialdom and the standing army –‘ writes Lenin, ‘that is a ‘parasite’ on the body of bourgeois society, a parasite created by the inner contradictions which tear this society, yet nothing but a parasite stopping up the living pores.’
Beginning with 1917 — that is, from the moment when the conquest of power confronted the party as a practical problem –Lenin was constantly occupied with the thought of liquidating this ‘parasite.’ After the overthrow of the exploiting classes — he repeats and explains in every chapter of State and Revolution –the proletariat will shatter the old bureaucratic machine and create its own apparatus out of employees and workers. And it will take measures against their turning into bureaucrats — ‘measures analysed in detail by Marx and Engels: (1) not only election but recall at any time; (2) payment no higher than the wages of a worker; (3) immediate transition to a regime in which all will fulfil the functions of control and supervision so that all may for a time become ‘bureaucrats’, and therefore nobody can become a bureaucrat.’ You must not think that Lenin was talking about the problems of a decade. No, this was the first step with which ‘we should and must begin upon achieving a proletarian revolution.’
The same bold view of the state in a proletarian dictatorship found finished expression a year and a half after the conquest of power in the program of the Bolshevik Party, including its section on the army. A strong state, but without mandarins; armed power, but without the Samurai! It is not the tasks of defence which create a military and state bureaucracy, but the class structure of society carried over into the organisation of defence. The army is only a copy of the social relations. The struggle against foreign danger necessitates, of course, in the workers’ state as in others, a specialised military technical organisation, but in no case a privileged officer caste. The party program demands a replacement of the standing army by an armed people.
The regime of proletarian dictatorship from its very beginning thus ceases to be a ‘state’ in the old sense of the word — a special apparatus, that is, for holding in subjection the majority of the people. The material power, together with the weapons, goes over directly and immediately into the hands of workers’ organisations such as the soviets. The state as a bureaucratic apparatus begins to die away the first day of the proletarian dictatorship. Such is the voice of the party program — not voided to this day.” (The Revolution Betrayed)
This was the nature of the workers’ democratic state which the Bolsheviks sought to build in the Soviet Republic. But social backwardness, combined with the hardships of the civil war, meant that reality increasingly diverged from the program.
With an over-worked and exhausted working-class, increasingly depleted of the cadres of 1917, the soviets gradually dwindled and ceased to function as organs of working-class power. Administration passed into the hands of state officials, increasingly unchecked by the working class.
The Bolsheviks tried to fill positions of government with dedicated cadres, but there were far too few, above all far too few with the necessary skills of administration and literacy, to occupy the hundreds of thousands of posts required. The state was “filled out” with officials from the old Tsarist apparatus, representing the outlook of more privileged elements of society. “Thus on all sides”, wrote Trotsky later, “the masses were pushed away gradually from actual participation in the leadership of the country.” (The Revolution Betrayed)
But, above all, it was the backwardness of Russia that was the problem. “The basis of bureaucratic rule” –Trotsky was to explain — “is the poverty of society in objects of consumption, with the resulting struggle of each against all. When there is enough goods in a store, the purchasers can come whenever they want to. When there is little goods, the purchasers are compelled to stand in line. When the lines are very long, it is necessary to appoint a policeman to keep order. Such is the starting point of the power of the Soviet bureaucracy.” (ibid)
The officials of the state exploited the conditions of backwardness, illiteracy, and shortage of skills to extort privilege for themselves. “We took over the old machinery of state,” declared Lenin in 1921, “and that was our misfortune. Very often this machinery operates against us… We now have a vast army of government employees, but lack sufficiently educated forces to exercise real control over them.”
The bureaucracy was reinforced by the economic retreats the Bolsheviks were forced to make in 1921. Regimentation of production during the civil war had disrupted the exchange of goods between town and country, and was threatening to alienate the peasantry from the revolution. The “New Economic Policy” (NEP) provided some concessions to capitalists and richer peasants to step up production for the market as a means of feeding the towns and reviving industry.
These privileged layers provided a social support for the bureaucracy, as indeed did the peasantry as a whole. As Lenin put it, “While we continue to be a country of small peasants, there is a more solid basis for capitalism in Russia than for communism.” (Quoted in Platform of the Joint Opposition)
The Communist Party was also affected. Its revolutionary cadre became diluted by an influx of ex-Mensheviks, bureaucrats, so-called “NEP-men” etc. — those who wanted to use the party to promote their individual interests rather than to serve the revolution.
Joseph Stalin, a long-time party member, no theoretician but a good organiser, was appointed to a body to fight bureaucracy and corruption in the Party — and then, in 1922, was made General Secretary. But he used these positions to strengthen the bureaucratic tendency in the party and the state. As Trotsky put it, “The entire effort of Stalin…was thenceforth directed to freeing the party machine from the control of the rank-and-file members of the party… The petty bourgeois outlook of the new ruling stratum was his own outlook. He profoundly believed that the task of creating socialism was national and administrative in its nature.” (The Revolution Betrayed)
Lenin was seriously ill by the end of 1922. He was never again able to play a full role in political life. But, from his sick bed, he grew increasingly concerned about the bureaucratic distortions which were developing, and combatted them in his writing. In a brief note, later to be known as his “Testament”, Lenin even recommended that Stalin be replaced as General Secretary (a document which, needless to say, was suppressed by the bureaucracy after Lenin’s death.)
Lenin entrusted Trotsky with the job of taking Stalin to task at the Party Congress in April 1923 for his incorrect and bureaucratic handling of the national question in Georgia. Stalin, unwilling to force confrontation with Lenin still alive, backed down. But, in the following months, the erosion of democracy in the Party became of increasing concern to its anti-bureaucratic, Bolshevik wing. Trotsky took a leading role in combatting Stalin and his allies on the question of workers’ democracy, as well as of economic policy.
“Socialism in one country” against Marxism
One of Dialego’s charges against Trotsky is that because he believed “only world revolution is possible” it was “almost impossible for Trotsky to contribute constructively to tackling the problems of post-revolutionary Russia — once it had become clear that revolutions in the advanced capitalist countries (despite the uprisings in Germany and Hungary) were not going to succeed.”
The idea is a nonsense, as anyone who has read Trotsky’s voluminous writings on electrification, heavy industry, the relation between town and country in the Soviet Union, voluntary collectivisation of agriculture, etc., would know. In fact Trotsky and his supporters, who became known as the Left Opposition, continued to provide the most realistic and constructive policies for the defence of the workers’ state, not only on international questions, but on the economic and political tasks posed within the Soviet Union itself.
As Trotsky put it, “so long as the Soviet Union remains isolated, and, worse than that, so long as the European proletariat suffers reverses and continues to fall back, the strength of the Soviet structure is measured in the last analysis by the productivity of labour.” (The Revolution Betrayed) The economic policies he advocated were intended to promote this.
In contrast, on both national and international questions, the bureaucracy swung through a series of bewildering and damaging empirical zigzags through the 1920s and 1930s.
At the Party Congress in 1923, Trotsky drew a balance sheet of NEP, showing a dangerous lag in industrial production, and a tendency for agricultural prices to fall and industrial prices to rise, which threatened to alienate the peasantry from the revolution. The Congress accepted his arguments for a turn to development of the state sector on the basis of a central plan and the expansion of industry, to eventually absorb and eliminate the private sector.
But, under the influence of the bureaucracy, bound to the “private sector” by ties of common privilege, the policy remained a dead letter. It was denounced by the right-wing of the bureaucracy as “super-industrialisation.” (Six years later, swinging on a zig-zag to the left against a looming danger of capitalist restoration, Stalin was to implement a version of the Left Oppositions’ proposals, though by grossly distorted and repressive means which were far from what Trotsky envisaged.)
In the same period Trotsky led a struggle against bureaucratic domination in the Party, including an open letter addressed to Party members calling on the rank and file, particularly the youth, to “regenerate and renovate the party apparatus.” This was received with tremendous enthusiasm by party workers, but was naturally taken by the bureaucracy as a declaration of war.
For Dialego, no doubt, Trotsky’s “differences” with the leadership on economic policy and his defence of workers’ democracy against bureaucratic degeneration represents an “inability to contribute constructively to tackling the problems of post-revolutionary Russia”! So debased, so monolithic, has the .knee-jerk mentality of Stalinism become!
1923-24 marked a turning point in the consolidation of the power of the bureaucracy. In the midst of these struggles in the Party the 1923 German revolution was defeated. Then, in January 1924, Lenin died. Both these setbacks had a hugely demoralising effect on the working class. The position of the bureaucracy was enormously strengthened — and it chose the time to consolidate its power against the Party opposition and Trotsky.
For the next Party Congress, in January 1924, the bureaucracy resorted to vote-rigging to almost completely exclude representatives of the opposition. From then on, Party Congresses were held far less regularly, and ceased to be genuine forums of democratic debate.
Then, as a “tribute” to Lenin, they opened the doors of the Party to hundreds of thousands of raw recruits who, though workers, would, without familiarity with the issues involved between the leadership and the opposition, be inclined to follow the established leadership.
In December 1923 the term “Trotskyism” was coined by the bureaucracy. Trotsky had enormous authority as a theoretician and as co-leader of the October Revolution. It was necessary to rewrite history to try to cover his name in mud. The tactic was to rake up every past difference between Lenin and Trotsky to try to insinuate that Trotsky had “always” been opposed to Bolshevism. Dialego’s account of “Trotskyism” follows faithfully in this tradition, being, if anything, rather cruder and more childish.
From 1924 Stalin decisively turned his back on the ideas of Marx, Engels and Lenin when he proclaimed that socialism could be achieved in Russia on its own.
The party” he declared in November 1926, “always took as its starting point the idea that the victory of socialism in one country means the possibility to build socialism in that country, and that this task can be accomplished with the forces of a single country. (November 1926)
Yet, as late as February 1924 Stalin had still been putting forward — in his own mechanical way — the commonly-accepted standpoint of Bolshevism:
can the final victory of socialism in one country be attained, without the joint efforts of the proletariat of several advanced countries? No, this is impossible… for the final victory of socialism, for the organisation of socialist production, the efforts of one country, particularly of such a peasant country as Russia, are insufficient. For this the efforts of the proletarians of several advanced countries are necessary.
Such was the fundamental about-face on the question of proletarian internationalism which followed from the rise to power of the bureaucracy.
Germany in 1923
In 1923, Trotsky had examined the defeat of the German revolution, identifying errors of the leadership of the German Communist Party for which Stalin and his allies were in part responsible. But the retreat of Stalin into the “theory” of “socialism in one country” led to greater disasters internationally. The defeat of workers’ revolution in China in 1927 was another decisive turning point in the fate of the socialist revolution.
Trotsky, charges Dialego, “greatly exaggerated the prospects of revolutionary change in Germany in 1923 and in Britain during the general strike of 1926. He condemned Bolshevik strategy in China…” These claims are part of the age-old litany of Stalinism.
The revolutionary crisis which erupted in Germany in 1918 was not conclusively resolved until Hitler took power in 1933. Between those years, the period of the Wiemar Republic, the tide of revolution ebbed and flowed.
Dialego’s hidden insinuation that Trotsky was an ultra-leftist seeing revolution on the agenda every day is wholly unfounded. At the 1921 Comintern Congress, for example, Trotsky and Lenin were in a minority in the Russian Party leadership in arguing that the defeats the German revolution had already suffered meant that a temporary retreat by the working class was inevitable. They were dubbed the ‘right wing’. Trotsky criticised the leadership of the German Communist Party (KPD) for ultra-leftism, especially their March 1921 call for a general strike.
Lenin and Trotsky maintained that the KPD should campaign for a united front with the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), which still had majority support among the workers. By calling for, and organising, joint campaigns of action in which the KPD members could struggle side by side with the rank-and-file of the SPD, possibilities would open up of splitting them from their reformist leadership and winning them to see the need for a revolutionary struggle for power.
At this time opponents of Lenin and Trotsky argued that they had “written off” the revolutionary potential of the German working class and “capitulated to reformism”! But of course, Lenin and Trotsky were confident that the working class would return to the revolutionary offensive. The tactics of the united front were designed to ensure that, unlike in 1918, the KPD entered the new revolutionary situation with the largest possible forces of the class already united under its banner.
Revolutionary crisis did indeed again engulf Germany in 1923. Underlying it was chronic economic collapse, reflected in staggering inflation. The price of a loaf of bread, for example, rose from less than 1 mark to 201 billion marks in ten months! The working class swung sharply to the left. A general strike took place in May. In August a general strike forced the resignation of the national government. Workers’ militias were being formed. The KPD membership was growing by tens of thousands.
Contrary to what Dialego would have us believe, all the leaders of the Comintern were agreed that a revolutionary situation was opening up.
But the KPD proved unable to meet the challenge. Its leadership was divided. Brandler, head of the Party, trying to “correct” the ultra-left mistakes of 1921, erred grossly on the side of caution. Fundamentally, the KPD failed to use the opportunities to prepare the workers to take power. In October, belatedly, they launched a plan for insurrection, then called it off at the last moment, leaving the KPD workers of Hamburg, through a bizarre error, to hurl themselves alone against the forces of the state.
Trotsky was notable for the honesty with which he drew the lessons of those events. Russian Comintern leaders allied with Stalin, such as Zinoviev and Bukharin, made a scapegoat of Brandler. But, rather than criticising his irresolution, they reversed their analysis of the objective situation, and argued that Brandler and the KPD had “over-estimated” the possibilities of revolution.
Trotsky would have none of this. As he put it later:
Why didn’t the German revolution lead to a victory? The reasons for it are all to be sought in the tactics, and not in the existing conditions. Here we had a classic example of a missed revolutionary situation. After all the German proletariat had gone through in recent years, it could be led to a decisive struggle only if it were convinced that this time the question would be decisively resolved and that the Communist Party was ready for the struggle and capable of achieving the victory. But the Communist Party executed the turn [to insurrection] very irresolutely and after a long delay. Not only the rights but also the lefts [in the KPD]… viewed fatalistically the process of revolutionary development up to September-October 1923. (The Third International after Lenin)
Speaking to workers in Georgia in April 1924, he said:
The future favours us. But the past must be analysed correctly. The turn about this past year, in October-November, when German fascism and the big bourgeoisie came to the fore, was an enormous defeat. We must record it, evaluate it, and fix it in our memories that way, in order to learn from it. It is an enormous defeat. But from this defeat the German party will learn, become tempered, and grow. And the situation remains, as before, a revolutionary one.
In Britain, the general strike of 1926 provoked a profound social crisis. The small Communist Party had an opportunity to lead hundreds of thousands of workers in opposition to the reformist TUC leadership, and take big steps forward in preparing the working class for power. But Stalin and the bureaucracy were tied into an opportunistic alliance with “lefts” on the TUC Council. The TUC right wing betrayed the strike at the first opportunity. Stalin’s “left” allies offered no resistance.
After ten days, with the strike still spreading, the TUC General Council unanimously called it off. This was sheer capitulation to the capitalist class. It condemned the working class in Britain to a historic defeat. Stalin and the Comintern were wholly complicit in it. Trotsky and the Left Opposition correctly sought to draw the widest attention to the consequences which the bureaucracy’s policies of “socialism in one country” were having for the working class internationally.
As serious as these defeats was the defeat of the Chinese revolution in 1927. It was, indeed, the more serious in that it followed from the deliberate abandonment by Stalin and the Comintern of the fundamental program which had guided the working class to power in Russia in 1917.
Dialego tells us Trotsky “condemned Bolshevik strategy in China.” In reality, what Trotsky condemned in China was the Comintern’s failure to put forward Bolshevik policies.
China, then as now, was the most populous country on earth. The overthrow of the Imperial regime in 1911 ushered in a period of huge instability. China fragmented under the rule of feudal warlords. The weak semi-colonial governments at the centre were totally incapable of tackling the tasks of “bourgeois revolution” — the liberation of the peasantry from the landowners, ending imperialist domination, securing democratic rights, and uniting the nation.
The conditions were a classic confirmation of the theory of permanent revolution — that, to carry out these bourgeois-democratic or national-democratic tasks, the working class needed to place itself at the head of the nation, take power, and establish a workers’ state with the support of the peasantry and other oppressed layers in society. The program of the Bolsheviks in Russia in 1917 was revealed to be just as vital in every under-developed country dominated by imperialism.
From 1920 there was a rising tide of strikes, uprisings and land seizures among the workers and the peasants. The membership of the trade unions doubled and doubled again in three years, embracing nearly 3 million workers by 1927. Peasant leagues in the southern provinces organised ten million peasants. The Chinese Communist Party, formed in 1921 grew to 60,000 members, with a far wider influence among the masses.
With Bolshevik policies, the Chinese Communist Party could have united the working class and peasantry in a struggle for power. Instead, the “Bolshevik” leaders of the Stalinist Comintern urged the Chinese Party to join the nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) party of Chiang Kai Shek as individual members, to abandon any independent program, to dissolve their independent press —even to hand over a list of members to the KMT leadership — and unswervingly to support their policies of anti-imperialist and national democratic revolution within the framework of capitalism.
The Kuomintang, proclaimed Stalin’s Comintern, was “a revolutionary bloc of the workers, peasants, intellectuals, and urban democracy [i.e. the petty bourgeois and bourgeois] on the basis of a community of class interests … in the struggle against the imperialists and the whole militarist-feudal order.” (Resolution of Executive Committee of the Comintern, March 1926. Our emphasis)
Trotsky and the Left Opposition warned that the Kuomintang was a bourgeois organisation, and, like the bourgeois parties in Russia, incapable of serious struggle against imperialism and feudalism, or for democracy. Chiang Kai Shek was not a representative of a “progressive national bourgeoisie”, but a reactionary. The policy of the Comintern, they insisted, was a reversion to Menshevism — the subordination of the interests of the working class (and peasantry) to those of the bourgeoisie, and of the landlords and imperialism also.
Indeed, these policies were a caricature even of Menshevism. The bourgeois Kuomintang was welcomed by Stalin into the Comintern as a sympathising section! Chiang Kai Shek was covered with the mantle of world communism. It was a recipe for disaster.
Trotsky’s warnings were only too tragically confirmed. When the workers of Shanghai, largest industrial city, rose up in 1927 and, led by Communist militants, established a form of soviet power, Stalin and the Comintern urged them to hand power back to Chiang Kai Shek! Chiang chose his moment to turn on the politically disarmed working class, and to drown the revolution in an orgy of slaughter.
Kornilov had failed to carry through counter-revolution against the working class in Russia. Chiang Kai Shek succeeded in China. This was the measure of the difference between the policies of Bolshevism and the Menshevik policies imposed by Stalinism on the Chinese Communist Party.
The Comintern, after flirting with a “left” rival of Chiang in the Kuomintang, resulting in further defeats for the Chinese masses, then swung to an ultra-left course and, with the revolutionary tide on the ebb, tried to engineer an insurrection in the other main industrial centre of Canton, which was also drowned in blood.
The bureaucracy consolidates its power
“The panicky retreat of the German Communist Party [in 1923]”, explained Trotsky, “was the heaviest possible disappointment to the working masses of the Soviet Union. The Soviet bureaucracy straightway opened a campaign against the theory of ‘permanent revolution’, and dealt the Left Opposition its first cruel blow.
During the years 1926 and 1927 the population of the Soviet Union experienced a new tide of hope. All eyes were now directed to the East where the drama of the Chinese revolution was unfolding. The Left Opposition was recruiting a phalanx of new adherents. At the end of 1927 the Chinese revolution was massacred by the hangman, Chiang-kai-shek, into whose hands the Communist International had literally betrayed the Chinese workers and peasants. A cold wave of disappointment swept over the masses of the Soviet Union. After an unbridled baiting in the press and at meetings, the bureaucracy finally, in 1928, ventured upon mass arrests among the Left Opposition.
To be sure, tens of thousands of revolutionary fighters gathered around the banner of the Bolshevik-Leninists. The advanced workers were undubitably sympathetic to the Opposition, but that sympathy remained passive. The masses lacked faith that the situation could be changed by a new struggle. Meantime the bureaucracy asserted: ‘For the sake of an international revolution, the Opposition proposes to drag us into a revolutionary war. Enough of shake-ups! We have earned the right to rest. We will build the socialist society at home. Rely upon us, your leaders!’ This gospel of repose firmly consolidated the apparatchiki and the military and state officials and indubitably found an echo among the weary workers, and still more the peasant masses. (The Revolution Betrayed)
“After Lenin’s death”, Dialego tells us, “Trotsky became a bitter critic of Stalin’s leadership…[in 1929] he was sent into exile after leading street demonstrations against the Soviet government.”
It is, of course, remarkable, that the great “democrat” Dialego finds nothing in the slightest strange about someone being deported from his country for leading demonstrations against its government! Such is Dialego’s uncritical adulation of Stalinism.
The reality is that the bureaucracy had no political answer to the ideas that Trotsky and the Left Opposition were putting forward — for revival of the soviets, the restoration of workers’ democracy, a bold program of “industrialisation, electrification and rationalisation, based upon increasing the technical power of the economy and improving the material condition of the masses”, and of building the Communist International as a mass revolutionary force.
Instead the bureaucracy launched a vicious campaign of intimidation — a witch-hunt. Spokespersons of the Left Opposition were sworn at and howled down when they tried to speak, on the Central Committee, and throughout the Party.
Already, in 1926, Lenin’s widow Krupskaya had remarked: “If Ilyich [Lenin] were alive, he would probably already be in prison.” In 1928 the old Bolshevik leader Bukharin, in a secret conversation with his comrade Kamenev, remarked of Stalin: “What can we do in the face of an adversary of this sort, a debased Genghis Khan?” That was the atmosphere that was now developing in this state in which the working class had achieved its greatest victory in history.
On the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution, in the face of the witch-hunt against them, the Opposition organised mass demonstrations in Moscow and Leningrad, with the slogans “Let us turn our fire to the right — against the kulak [rich peasant], the NEPman, and the bureaucrat!”, “Let us carry out Lenin’s Testament!”, “Against opportunism, against a split, and for the unity of Lenin’s party!”
The bureaucracy broke up the demonstrations by force, and followed this with mass expulsions of Opposition supporters from the Party. Trotsky was expelled and deported to Central Asia — and then, because he remained a focal point for the Opposition — deported from the Soviet Union early in 1929.
Marxist opposition to the rule of the bureaucracy continued, but from this point driven underground. Through the 1930s, Stalin, veering this way and that to consolidate his personal position, launched waves of repression not merely against Marxists, but supporters of opposing tendencies in the bureaucracy. By the early 1930s, expulsions from the Party ran into hundreds of thousands.
From 1928-9, with opposition to their rule growing among the kulaks and threatening a restoration of capitalism, Stalin and the bureaucracy made a huge lurch to the “left”, domestically and internationally. At the cost of millions of lives, agriculture was forcibly collectivised, and industrialisation forced ahead. Forced labour was used on a massive scale. All this spurred on greater bureaucratic centralisation and repression.
Internationally, Stalin’s now bureaucratically-controlled Comintern promoted the wildly ultra-left policy of denouncing Social Democratic reformism as “the moderate wing of fascism…They are not antipodes but twins.” The fatal consequence — for which the Comintern bears the full responsibility — was a crushing defeat for revolution in the key country of Germany, and the conquest of power by Hitler in 1933.
The victory of Hitler
Regarding Trotsky’s political standpoint in the 1930s, Dialego writes:
It is true that in exile Trotsky was critical of the sectarian positions taken by the international communist movement (the Comintern) between 1929 and 1933… Nevertheless he was (it would seem even more) vehemently opposed to the democratic Popular Front strategy which the Comintern had adopted by 1935 as a way of tackling these political weaknesses…Although the Popular Fronts played a key role in the struggle against fascism (particularly in Spain and France), they were denounced by Trotsky and his International as one of ‘the political resources of imperialism in the struggle against proletarian revolution.’
The recognition that Trotsky was correct in opposing the ultra-leftism of Stalin’s Comintern during 1929-1933 is one of the few positive things Dialego has to say about him. But Dialego fails to mention that Trotsky was denounced by the Comintern as “counter-revolutionary” for making these criticisms.
Moreover Dialego totally ignores that the fatal consequence of the Comintern’s ultra-leftism in this period was the victory of Fascism in Germany. This was the worst defeat of the period for the working class internationally. More than any other single event, it prepared the way for World War II, the invasion of the Soviet Union by Hitler at huge cost to the Soviet people, and the extermination of 6 million Jews. In Trotsky’s eyes, the role of the Comintern in preparing the way for this sealed its death-knell as an instrument of international proletarian revolution.
The collapse of the New York Stock Exchange in October 1929 led to world-wide capitalist depression. Germany, in particular, was devastated. There was a polarisation of the classes between counter-revolution and revolution.
Hitler’s Nazi gangs — financed by big business –played on the fears of the middle class and the despair of the growing numbers of unemployed to build support. But the German labour movement was the most powerful in the capitalist world, and, among the organised workers, there was almost no support for Hitler. However a majority of the workers still followed the SPD leaders, who futilely hoped that Hitler could be kept from power if they supported more “moderate” bourgeois governments.
Trotsky poured scorn on the cowardly betrayal of the workers by the SPD leaders — whose hands were already stained with the blood of collaborating with the armed forces in crushing the revolution of 1918.
Against one of them, Hilferding, who argued that the working class had no possibility of taking power in Germany, he thundered:
According to Hilferding, in Germany today, where the proletariat composes the majority of the population and the deciding productive force of society, the united front of the Social Democracy and the Communist Party could not place the power in the hands of the proletariat! When is the precise moment, then, that the power can pass into the hands of the proletariat?
Prior to the war was the perspective of the automatic growth of capitalism, of the growth of the proletariat, and of the equal growth of the Social Democracy. This process was cut short by the war, and no power in the world will restore it. The decay of capitalism means that the question of power must be decided on the basis of the now existing productive forces.
By prolonging the agony of the capitalist regime, the Social Democracy’ leads only to the further decline of economic culture, to the disorganisation of the proletariat, to social gangrene. No other perspectives lie ahead; tomorrow will be worse than today; the day after tomorrow worse than tomorrow. But the leaders of the Social Democracy no longer dare to look into the future. Theirs are all the vices of the ruling class doomed to destruction; they are light-minded, their will is paralysed, they are given to blubbering over events and hoping for miracles.” (The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany)
But Trotsky was equally harsh on the leaders of the German Communist Party (KPD), who, on instructions from Moscow, were isolating their membership from the rank-and-file of the SPD by branding Social Democrats as “social fascists” — and even joining the Nazi stormtroopers in breaking up SPD meetings. Some KPD leaders were even arguing that the best possibility would be for Hitler to take power, so that Fascism would “exhaust” itself, and prepare the way for workers’ revolution!
Trotsky explained that the workers in the SPD remained there, not so much out of confidence in their leaders, but lack of confidence in an alternative. Polarisation between the leadership and the membership was inevitably sharpening. Fascism threatened to atomise the proletariat: it was a direct threat to every worker and workers’ organisation. The task for the German Communist Party was to implement the policy of the united front — calling for joint campaigns of action by the KPD and SPD against the Nazi menace.
“It is necessary”, Trotsky wrote, “without any delay, finally to elaborate a practical system of measures — not with the aim of merely ‘exposing’ the Social Democracy (before the Communists) but with the aim of actual struggle against fascism. The question of factory defence organisations, of unhampered activity on the part of the factory councils, the inviolability of the workers’ organisations and institutions, the question of arsenals that may be seized by the fascists, the question of measures in the case of an emergency, that is, of the co-ordination of the actions of the Communist and the Social Democratic divisions in the struggle, etc, etc must be dealt with in this program.
“In the struggle against fascism, the factory councils occupy a tremendously important position. Here a particularly precise program of action is necessary. Every factory must become an antifascist bulwark, with its own commandants and its own battalions. It is necessary to have a map of the fascist barracks and all other fascist strongholds, in every city and in every district. The fascists are attempting to encircle the revolutionary strongholds. The encirclers must be encircled. On this basis, an agreement with the Social Democratic and trade-union organisations is not only permissible, but a duty. To reject this for reasons of ‘principle’ (in reality because of bureaucratic stupidity, or what is still worse, because of cowardice) is to give direct and immediate practical aid to fascism..
” If the KPD adopted a fighting united front policy”, Trotsky continued: “instead of the articles and speeches which are convincing only to those people who are al-ready convinced without them, the agitators will find a common language with new hundreds of thousands and millions of workers. The differentiation within the Social Democracy will proceed at an increased pace. The fascists will soon feel that their task does not at all consist merely of defeating Bruening, Braun, and Wels [bourgeois government ministers], but of taking up the open struggle against the whole working class. On this plane, a profound differentiation will inevitably be produced within fascism. Only by this road is victory possible.” (ibid)
Through the united front, in other words, the workers in the SPD could be won away from their reactionary leaders and united under the revolutionary banner of the KPD. This revolutionary unity would divide and weaken the fascists and prepare the way for workers’ revolution.
Trotsky’s advice and warnings went totally unheeded by the KPD leadership. The workers’ movement had defence guards (the Reichsbanner and Red Front) with over a million armed members. But the failure to achieve unity in action — a result of Stalin’s Comintern’s disastrous policies — allowed Hitler to come to power, in his own words, “without a pane of glass being broken.”
This disaster, prepared by Stalin and the bureaucracy, was never seriously analysed in any of the Communist Parties of the world. Stalin and the Comintern leadership never openly acknowledged that their mistakes had led to it. Hitler’s victory was even passed off for a time as a triumph for the workers’ movement on the incredible grounds that it would ‘spark’ a revolution!
The defeat of the Spanish revolution
After this disaster, Stalin’s regime went through another erratic zigzag, veering to the right, domestically and internationally.
Trotsky, Dialego concedes, was critical of the Comintern’s sectarianism between 1929 and 1933. But, he adds: “Nevertheless he [Trotsky] was (it would seem even more) vehemently opposed to the democratic Popular Front strategy which the Comintern had adopted by 1935 as a way of opposing these political weaknesses.”
It is completely wrong to present the “Popular Front” strategy as a “solution” to the sectarianism of 1929-33. The victory of fascism in Germany intensified the imperialist ambitions of German capitalism, posing a renewed threat of military intervention of the Soviet Union. Against this danger, a Bolshevik policy would have been to build, through the Comintern, a revolutionary alliance of the working class internationally against Fascism.
Instead Stalin sought “anti-fascist” alliances with Germany’s bourgeois imperialist rivals: in particular, France and Britain. For the first time the Soviet bureaucracy turned to deliberate alliances with capitalist powers and with the bankers of New York, Paris and London.
The policy of the Popular Front was forced on the Parties of the Comintern as a consequence of these diplomatic manouevres. The working class must “ally with”, i.e. imprison itself in subordination to, the “anti-fascist” sections of the bourgeoisie, and abandon any thought of socialist revolution. The programme of the workers’ parties must be watered down to win the “approval” of the bankers, industrialists and capitalist politicians. Yet it was in defence of the capitalist system that the threat of Fascism had been unleashed!
The Popular Front was a policy of class-collaboration — even more outrightly Menshevik than the policies pursued by the Comintern in China in the 1920s. It did not protect democracy. Pursued in conditions of sharpening class polarisation, it led to new disasters for the working class — particularly in Spain.
The overthrow of the monarchy in 1931 unleashed a period of revolutionary and counter-revolutionary turmoil in Spain, a backward European country. Again and again the workers and peasants launched themselves against their class enemies — the capitalists and landlords — in a struggle to transform society. With Bolshevik leadership and the program of the permanent revolution, as Trotsky put it, the working class would have had some ten opportunities for taking power.
In 1936 the Spanish masses elected a “Popular Front” government — and, along with this, set out to implement its program of social change through strikes, land seizures, and struggle from below. But the leadership of the Popular Front insisted that the aims of the struggle must be confined to the establishment of a democratic Republic on a capitalist basis. Spain was a backward country: conditions were not “ripe” for socialism. It was a “bourgeois revolution”.
Stalin’s Comintern presented the Popular Front as an alliance of the working class with a “progressive bourgeoisie”. But the Spanish capitalists to a man vehemently opposed this “Popular Front”. It was, in Trotsky’s words, an alliance merely with the “shadow of the bourgeoisie” — with bourgeois politicians, resting on support among the middle classes, who wanted to defend capitalism. In power, the Popular Front propped up the existing capitalist state.
Months into the Popular Front government, General Franco led the bulk of the armed forces into revolt. Civil war broke out between Franco and the Republic. Trotsky immediately wrote (July 30, 1936) to outline the disastrous consequences of Popular Front policies: “the ‘republican’ army took the field against the people. Thus it became clear that the Popular Front government had maintained the military caste with the people’s money, furnished them with authority, power, and arms, and given them command over young workers and peasants, thereby facilitating the preparations for a crushing attack on the workers and peasants.” (“The Lesson of Spain”, The Spanish Revolution. Our emphasis)
Against Franco’s uprising, the workers of Madrid and Barcelona seized arms from the barracks and formed militias to defend the Republic. But the response of the Popular Front, egged on by Stalin and the Spanish “Communist” leaders, was to disband the militias and force the workers into the Republican army commanded by bourgeois generals, some of whom had dabbled in intrigues against the Republic.
Even now, in the midst of civil war”, continued Trotsky in the same article, “the Popular Front government does everything in its power to make victory doubly difficult. A civil war is waged, as everybody knows, not only with military but also with political weapons. From a purely military point of view, the Spanish revolution is much weaker than its enemy. Its strength lies in its ability to rouse the great masses to action. It can even take the army away from its reactionary officers. To accomplish this, it is only necessary to seriously and courageously advance the program of the socialist revolution.
It is necessary to proclaim that, from now on, the land, factories and shops will pass from the hands of the capitalists into the hands of the people. It is necessary to move at once towards the realisation of this program in those provinces where the workers are in power. The fascist army could not resist the influence of such a program for twenty-four hours; the soldiers would tie their officers hand and foot and turn them over to the nearest head-quarters of the workers’ militia.
But the bourgeois ministers [in the “Popular Front” government] cannot accept such a program. Curbing the social revolution, they compel the workers and peasants to spill ten times as much of their own blood in the civil war. And to crown everything, these gentlemen expect to disarm the workers again after the victory and expect them to respect the sacred laws of private property. Such is the true essence of the policy of the Popular Front. Everything else is pure humbug, phrases, and lies!
Many supporters of the Popular Front now shake their heads reproachfully at the rulers of Madrid! Why didn’t they foresee all this? Why didn’t they purge the army in time? Why didn’t they take the necessary measures?…
It is naive to claim that the Spanish republicans or the Socialists or the communists foresaw nothing, let something slip. It is not at all a question of the perspicacity of this or that minister or leader, but of the general direction of the policy. A workers’ party that enters into a political alliance with the radical bourgeoisie by that fact alone renounces the struggle against capitalist militarism.
Bourgeois domination, that is to say, the maintenance of private property in the means of production, is inconceivable without the support of the armed forces for the exploiters. The officers’ corps represents the guard of capital. Without this guard, the bourgeoisie could not maintain itself for a single day. The selection of the individuals, their education and training, makes the officers as a distinctive group uncompromising enemies of socialism. Isolated exceptions change nothing. That is how things stand in all bourgeois countries.
The danger lies not in the military braggarts and demagogues who openly appear as fascists; incomparably more menacing is the fact that at the approach of the proletarian revolution the officers’ corps becomes the executioner of the proletariat. To eliminate four or five hundred reactionary agitators from the army means to leave everything basically as it was before.
The officers’ corps, in which is concentrated the centuries-old tradition of enslaving the people, must be dissolved, broken, crushed in its entirety, root and branch. The troops in the barracks commanded by the officers’ caste must be replaced by the people’s militia, that is, the democratic organisation of the armed workers and peasants. There is no other solution.
But such an army is incompatible with the domination of exploiters big and small. Can the republicans agree to such a measure? Not at all. The Popular Front government, that is to say, the government of the coalition of the workers with the bourgeoisie, is in its very essence a government of capitulation to the bureaucracy and the officers. Such is the great lesson of the events in Spain, now being paid for with thousands of human lives….
The political alliance of the working class leaders with the bourgeoisie is disguised as the defence of the ‘republic’. The experience of Spain shows what this defence is in actuality. The word ‘republican’, like the word ‘democrat’, is a deliberate charlatanism that serves to cover up class contradictions. The bourgeois is a republican so long as the republic protects private property. And the workers utilise the republic to overthrow private property. The republic, in other words, loses all its value to the bourgeois the moment it assumes value for the workers…” (ibid)
“The Popular Fronts played a key role in the struggle against fascism (particularly in Spain and France)”, claims Dialego. Trotsky was “vehemently opposed to the democratic Popular Front strategy”. Trotsky’s indictment was that the Popular Front could not defend democracy. Capitalism in Spain could not afford democracy. It “tolerated” the Popular Front only to prepare the ground for fascist reaction.
The leaders of the Popular Front refused to mobilise revolutionary action by the workers and peasants to break the armed forces of the capitalist state and replace them by the power of the armed people — as the Bolsheviks had done in the far more backward conditions of Russia. By that fact, the leaders of the Popular Front, far from defending democracy, prepared the ground for the rise of the counter-revolution.
“A workers’ party that enters into a political alliance with the radical bourgeoisie by that fact alone renounces the struggle against capitalist militarism” — that was Trotsky’s indictment of the strategy of the Popular Front. “The Popular Front government, that is to say, the government of the coalition of the workers with the bourgeoisie, is in its very essence a government of capitulation to the bureaucracy and the officers.”
The Stalinists in the 1930s also accused Trotsky of “jumping stages” in the Spanish revolution. As Trotsky paraphrased their arguments: ” ‘What kind of revolution do you have in mind’, the philistines of the Popular Front demand of us, ‘democratic or socialist? The victory of [the Republican]… army over Franco’s would mean the victory of democracy over fascism, that is, the victory of progress over reaction.’ ”
To this Trotsky replied:
One cannot listen to these arguments without a bitter smile. Before 1934 we explained to the Stalinists tirelessly that even in the imperialist epoch democracy continued to be preferable to fascism; that is, in all cases where hostile clashes take place between them, the revolutionary proletariat is obliged to support democracy against fascism.
However we always added: We can and must defend bourgeois democracy not by bourgeois democratic means but by the methods of class struggle, which in turn pave the way for the replacement of bourgeois democracy by the dictatorship of the proletariat [i.e. proletarian democracy]. This means in particular that in the process of defending bourgeois democracy, even with arms in hand, the party of the proletariat takes no responsibility for bourgeois democracy, does not enter its government, but maintains full freedom of criticism and of action in relation to all parties of the Popular Front, thus preparing the overthrow of bourgeois democracy at the next stage.
Any other policy is a criminal and hopeless attempt to use the blood of the workers as cement to hold together a bourgeois democracy that is inevitably doomed to collapse regardless of the immediate outcome of the civil war….
The government of Stalin-Caballero tries with all its might to imbue its army with the character of a ‘democratic’ guard for the defence of private property. That is the essence of the Popular Front. All the rest is phrasemongering. Precisely for that reason, the Popular Front is preparing the triumph of fascism. Whoever has not understood this is deaf and blind.” (ibid)
And it was in this sense that Trotsky correctly regarded the Popular Front, in the phrase quoted by Dialego, as one of “the political resources of imperialism in the struggle against proletarian revolution.”
Trotsky’s warnings were again tragically borne out. The false policies of the Popular Front leaders increasingly exhausted and disillusioned the masses. In 1937 these “democratic” leaders of the Popular Front turned on the masses themselves, crushing an uprising of the workers of Barcelona. Meanwhile, the capitalists, who the Popular Front had hoped to win to the side of “anti-fascism” through their “moderation”, continued to bank-roll Franco’s counter-revolution. The Fascist Franco defeated the revolution in Spain in 1937, and held power until his death in 1975.
The Russian bureaucracy and the Spanish Stalinists are forever stained with the blood of the militant Spanish workers who they led to the slaughter and butchered in their thousands in a vain attempt to prove to the capitalists their fitness to rule on their behalf.
A river of blood
The forward thrust of revolution in Spain in 1936 had, however, revived the morale of the working class in Russia — and internationally. The bureaucracy in Russia regarded this new confidence of the working class as a danger. It was provoked into evermore bizarre repression.
In 1936-7 virtually every remaining “Old Bolshevik” leader of 1917 was put on trial in the so-called “Moscow Trials”. Broken in prison, blackmailed and cowed, with their “confessions” dictated by Stalin’s secret police –they were accused of murder, sabotage, terrorism — any fantastic crime to discredit them and terrorise others. With one or two token exceptions, they were all condemned to be shot.
Though not supporters of the Left Opposition, they were all accused of “Trotskyism” — of conspiring with Trotsky, now vilified as an “agent of capitalism”, an “agent of fascism”, and a “German spy.”
Even the London Times correspondent in Russia admitted: “The root of the matter is that Stalin never completely won the battle between his own policy and Trotsky’s internationalist policy. Nor can final victory ever be his… Communism remains an international creed.” (21/8/1936)
Every one of the accusations in the Moscow Trials, every murder, was admiringly reported and defended by the Communist Parties around the world, including Dialego’s SACP.
The Moscow Trials were the tip of the iceberg of what Trotsky described as a “one-sided civil war of the bureaucracy against the Bolshevik Party.” Arrests followed arrests. Left Oppositionists in Siberian labour camps were taken out in groups to be shot. Altogether, tens of thousands, the cream of the Bolshevik Party, were wiped out. Of some one and a half million Communist Party members in 1939, only 1,3% had been members at the time of the October Revolution. Of Lenin’s Central Committee of 1917, only Stalin survived as a leader.
The total death toll under Stalin in the 1930s is estimated as at least 12-15 million.
A last surviving leader of 1917, Raskolnikov, ambassador to Bulgaria during the 1930s, was recalled in 1938 to Moscow for “promotion” (i.e. to be shot), and instead fled into exile. He wrote to Stalin:
With the help of dirty forgeries, you staged false trials and made up accusations which are more ridiculous than the witch trials of the Middle Ages…Inert pulp writers glorify you as a semi-deity born of the sun and moon and you, like an Eastern despot, enjoy the incense of crude flattery. You mercilessly exterminate talented writers who are personally displeasing to you… Sooner or later, the Soviet people will put you on trial as a traitor to socialism and the revolution. (Published for the first time in the USSR in the magazine Ogonyok in June 1987)
Stalin’s reign of terror was not mere personal dementia, individual power-hunger, or the result of the “cult of the personality”. It was the culmination of a political counter-revolution against the working class, which nevertheless rested itself on the change in property relations which had been won by the working class in the 1917 revolution.
The last vestiges of the Bolshevik Party were wiped out. A river of blood now flowed between Marxism and the regime in Russia. On August 20, 1940, Trotsky himself, now in exile in Mexico, was assassinated by an agent of the secret police on the orders of Stalin.
“Until his death in 1940,” — Dialego tells us — Trotsky remained hostile to the Comintern, and continued to agitate vigorously for the overthrow of the ‘counter-revolutionary bureaucracy’ (i.e. the government!) of the USSR.”
Dialego, of course, is here insinuating that Trotsky was himself a “counter-revolutionary”. Trotsky stood for the restoration of workers’ democracy in Russia. At first he believed this could come about by the reform of the Soviet Communist Party and the Comintern. But the responsibility of Comintern policy for the victory of Hitler, and its refusal to acknowledge its bankruptcy, was a decisive turning-point. The political counter-revolution was complete. The Soviet working class would now have to restore workers’ democracy by overthrowing the bureaucracy in a political revolution. A new workers’ international would need to be built.
At the same time, Trotsky recognised that the Russian working class would not move against the bureaucracy if they believed this would open the way for a capitalist counter-revolution. Contrary to Dialego’s insinuations, Trotsky stood wholly with the Russian masses against capitalist counter-revolution or military invasion. Until his death he defended the gains of the October Revolution — the gains of nationalised and planned economy — and insisted that the bureaucracy itself defended those gains, though in its own ways, and in its own interests. It would be not only conditions within Russia, but on an international scale, which would determine the possibilities for restoring workers’ democracy.
Dialego insinuates that Trotsky was a “counter-revolutionary”. He makes no mention of the fact that Stalin signed a “peace” agreement with the Fascist Hitler in 1939 in a futile attempt to hold off invasion of the Soviet Union. Hitler nevertheless chose his time, and invaded in 1941. Stalin had failed to prepare against this. He had “purged” not only the best generals in the army, but a quarter of a million of the officer corps!
The bureaucracy’s policies, internationally and at home, all but prepared the way for the defeat of the Russian revolution. This was prevented only by the enormous heroism and sacrifice of the Soviet people in the war against Hitler.
“While most communists today would no longer accept the view (current during the Stalin period) that Trotsky was ‘an agent of fascism’, few would deny that throughout his life Trotsky hindered rather than helped the struggle for socialism.” This is the petty “final judgement” which the Stalinist Dialego now delivers on Trotsky.
Trotsky does not need exoneration by Dialego from the charge of being “an agent of fascism”. Rather, Dialego needs to explain why a regime that he still regards as “socialist” criminally persecuted and murdered not just Trotsky, but hundreds of thousands of people on that false basis.
The truth is that, despite all the levers of state power in the hands of the bureaucracy, Trotsky and the Left Opposition were a deadly terror — because they sustained the genuine ideas of Marxism, workers’ democracy, and socialism, which, taken up by the working class, would spell the end of the rule of the bureaucracy and re-open the way to socialism.
Leopold Trepper was a loyal Communist Party member in the 1930s who, with a post in Russian Military Intelligence, was in a position to see the conduct of the Left Opposition under persecution.
Breaking later with Stalinism, he wrote in his memoirs: “The Trotskyites… following the example of their leader, who was rewarded for his obstinacy with the end of an ice axe… fought Stalinism to the death and they were the only ones who did. By the time of the great purges, they could only shout their rebellion in the freezing wastelands where they had been dragged in order to be exterminated…
“Today, the Trotskyites have a right to accuse those who once howled along with the wolves. Let them not forget, however, that they had the enormous advantage over us of having a coherent political system capable of replacing Stalinism. They had something to cling to in the midst of their profound distress at seeing the revolution betrayed. They did not ‘confess’ for they knew that their confession would serve neither the party or socialism.” (The Great Game, Our emphasis)
Tragically, criminally, it is the rule of Stalinism — and the base servility of Communist Party leaders around the world who have supported it — which, since the 1920s, has “hindered rather than helped the struggle for socialism.”
For preserving, developing, and struggling for the legacy of Marxism, the name of Trotsky will endure so long as humans live on this planet, and when all those who preached and practised Stalinism are forgotten with contempt.
Appendix: The SACP and the case of S.P. Bunting
P. Bunting was a founding member of the Communist Party of South Africa, as the SACP was then called. He became its chairman in 1924. He edited the Party paper, The International.. He was one of those responsible in the 1920s for turning the party away from a concentration on white workers to becoming SA’s first non-racial party with a black majority of members and leaders.
But, along with leading African militants — T.W. Thibedi, Gana Makabeni, etc — he was expelled from the Party in 1931 in a Stalinist purge.
After 58 years of silence, the SACP’s Political Bureau last year admitted that Bunting and his comrades were “unjustly expelled”. “The reasons given for his expulsion were flimsy to the point of being ridiculous,” they concede. His expulsion was “an act of betrayal from which he never recovered.” In fact, he died, a broken man, in 1936.
The Political Bureau says Bunting was expelled for “appealing for leniency when defending political prisoners in court, and … speaking from the same platform as members of the ANC and ICU.” But this totally covers up the hysterical witch-hunt which was launched against Bunting and his comrades by the Party at that time — and covers up the underlying political basis of his expulsion.
“Since the expulsion of Bunting and his few supporters…for their white chauvinist, reformist, right opportunist policies and anti-Party activities”, raved Umsebenzi (CPSA newspaper), (22/10/1932), “they have gone over completely into the camp of the class enemies of the people’s revolution. From the role of hidden agents of British and Africander Imperialism within the ranks of the revolutionary movement, they have come out more openly as the direct representatives of Imperialist exploitation and subjection… Together with Hertzog, Pirow and Smuts [i.e. the political leaders of white racismi they are attacking the working masses and its proletarian vanguard.”
In a second article in the same issue, Bunting is described as “prominent son of Sir Perceval Bunting, an aristocratic British peer and a firm fighter for British imperialist domination”. S.P. Bunting himself was “a rich lawyer and an absentee landlord now exploiting Natives on a wattle farm in Natal.” His fellow-expellees were the “local tools and understudies of Lord Bunting.”
A third article, by J.B.Marks (later to become Chairman of the SACP) — notes that Bunting was allied with Thibedi, who Bunting had formerly himself expelled from the Party. “Now the dog has turned to his vomit”, wrote Marks.
Bunting and his supporters were promptly labelled as “Trotskyists” by the CPSA Stalinists. “These renegades from Communism” — wrote the same issue of Umsebenzi — “have now joined hands with the International enemy of the world Proletarian revolution, Mr Trotsky.”
“Trotsky and his cult” — it continued — “the champions of ‘permanent revolution’ contend that it is impossible to build Socialism in a single country, such as ‘in a backward country like Russia’. And as the mighty achievements of victorious Socialist Construction in the USSR — the land of complete National freedom and Social emancipation [!] — stand triumphantly before the world refuting this assertion, as the working class and peasants in the Soviet Union under the leadership of the CPSU march forward from victory to victory, constantly improving their material and cultural position and are successfully building the new classless society, Socialism — Trotsky and his fellow renegades launch ever more vicious attacks against the Soviet Union and clamour for world imperialism to speed up its military preparations to attack the USSR — the Fatherland of the working class and all toilers.”(!!) (Our emphasis)
Bunting has now been “reprieved” by the SACP. But, as is shown by Dialego, they have not ceased their slanders against Trotsky.
Moreover, in rehabilitating Bunting, the SACP wants to claim that by “speaking from the same platform as members of the ANC and ICU”, he had “the courage and foresight to initiate what would in time become the settled policy of the entire mass democratic movement.”
By this they imply that Bunting supported the “two-stage”, Popular Frontist, programme now advocated by the SACP. This is typical Stalinism. A person is “rehabilitated” to prove — that he had the policies that the Party pursues now. It is far from the real truth.
The Political Bureau statement only hints at the real reason for Bunting’s expulsion when it says that he “had some doubts about certain aspects of the ‘Black Republic’ policy adopted at the 6th Congress of the Comintern in 1928”.
The “Black Republic” policy of 1928 is celebrated in SACP history as marking the abandonment of “white chauvinist” errors which had marred their early years, and for the first time recognising the Principle of majority rule in South Africa. This may be the truth. But the strategy put forward in it for achieving majority rule was fatally flawed by the policies of the Stalinist Comintern.
In parallel with the “stageist” policies which led to the defeat of the Chinese revolution (see above), the “Black Republic” was put forward by the Comintern as… a “stage” towards a workers and peasants government… itself only a “stage” towards the dictatorship of the proletariat. The Comintern had abandoned the lessons of the permanent revolution.
Bunting, though not a trained Marxist, spoke from his experience among the African working class in opposition to the Comintern resolution. In a first speech at the 1928 Congress he said:
I should like in all modesty to point out that the Communist International gives insufficient attention to [the proletarian character] of the colonial masses…. the draft programme of the Communist International… says that there are two main revolutionary forces: the ‘proletariat’ in the countries at home, and the ‘masses’ in the colonies. I beg to protest against this bald distinction….
The fighting strength after all of the colonial masses, for any objective, consists very largely in their working class, particularly in a country like ours where a native movement, proletarian or nationalist for that matter, has no chance for the present of being an armed movement, it must depend on its industrial weapons, on strikes and on political struggles and on little more for the present. It is in the field of industrial strikes that the greatest militancy is shown…
In South Africa… our large ‘peasantry’ is continuously drawn upon to supply workers for the mines and other large industries or for the farms. These workers are peasantry part of the time and workers part of the time so that the working class is really very widespread, and it is also by far the strongest section of the native population when it comes to action…
…big enterprises of all kinds show that ours is not just a medieval, feudal, peasant country. The power of labour, therefore, is of very great importance… this ‘uncivilised’ labour as it is called in our country, may play as important a part in the attack on capitalism as the highly civilised labour, of e.g. the United States.
Of course the native labour movement in South Africa is only an infant movement; but it is a good, healthy, lusty infant, very responsive to our propaganda and is growing fast…. In spite of the special disabilities placed upon them as a subject race, nevertheless, I say these are as real proletarians as any in the world, they are as nakedly exploited, down to the bone; the relationship of master and servant, employer and employed, exploiter and exploited, is as clear and classical as it could be.
The first native strike in Johannesburg was a strike of ‘sanitary bucket boys’, i.e. engaged in the most degraded kaffirs’ work. In a native school which we are earning on in Johannesburg, we use the Communist Manifesto as a text book, reading it with workers …in the factories, mines, workshops, stores, etc. We read the well-known characterisations of capitalism and the proletariat in the Communist Maniftsto, and the pupils always agree, after arguing and studying about what they have read, how completely and correctly every single characterisation applies to themselves. ‘We recognise’, they say, ‘how we have become workers, how we have been driven off the land, onto the industrial markets, how we are deprived of family life, of property, of culture, etc.’ exactly as in the history of the European countries. And they have the advantage over the European workers, that they are not sophisticated with petty bourgeois or imperialist ideas (except religion, and even that is not native to them); which all helps in the work of making them revolutionary…
There is no reference in the draft programme, or in Comrade Bukharin’s speech to the colonial proletariat, as such, to the class power of these colonial workers: as a class they are relegated to inactivity.
In a later speech at the Congress — admitting that “we Party members in South Africa…are only amateurs when it comes to theorizing” — he pointed out how the ‘Black Republic’ resolution conflicted with Lenin’s program for emancipation of the masses in the colonial countries: “In an earlier debate… I ventured the opinion, in effect, that it might not be universally true that the chief function of a colonial people was to engage in a national struggle (predominantly agrarian in character) against foreign imperialism and for independence; and that in South Africa, at any rate, the class struggle of the proletariat (chiefly native) appeared more capable of achieving the task…
It is often said that the colonial theses of the 2nd Congress of the Comintern is authority to the contrary, but I do not find anything to that effect in the theses.
He was referring to Lenin’s theses approved by the Comintern in 1920, and he quoted from them: “The policy of the Communist International on national and colonial questions must be chiefly to bring about a union of the proletarian and working masses of all nations and countries for a joint revolutionary struggle leading to the overthrow of capitalism, without which national equality and oppression cannot be abolished.” (Our emphasis)
He pointed out how, with class policies for national liberation, the CPSA was gaining a big echo among black workers: “Our work among the native masses, so far mainly as a working class movement… is limited only by our ability to cope with it. We have 1,750 members, of whom 1,600 are natives, as against 200 a year ago…We are also combating and slowly overcoming white labour chauvinism, which we find yields when confronted with organised masses of native fellow workers face to face. We have also put through joint strikes of white and black which were victorious…
Native workers and some peasants are pouring into the Party in preference to joining the purely native bodies, whether national or industrial, which have let them down and fallen into the hands of the bourgeoisie. They fully appreciate the ‘vulgar Marxist’ slogan of ‘Workers of the World Unite’, of joint action by black and white labour against the common enemy; and at the same time they see that the Communist Party sincerely and unreservedly espouse their national cause as an oppressed race.
To a comrade in the Party, Bunting wrote after the Congress,
the language about ‘stages’ represents ideological rather than chronological sequence (though I think it was dictated by the analogy of a bourgeois democratic revolution in China, but of course I didn’t say that) as really no black republic in SA could be achieved without overthrowing capitalist rule. And I think the ‘stage’ part of the formula is verbiage. (Our emphasis)
Though Bunting — through loyalty to the Soviet Union — supported the expulsion of Trotsky from the Russian Party, he was an instinctive supporter of ideas of permanent revolution.
But in the SACP’s “rehabilitation” of Bunting, all this is concealed. Instead we are given the impression that he was a forerunner of the SACP’s present theory of “stages” in the SA revolution and alliance with the bourgeoisie!
Despite his disagreements, Bunting loyally turned to applying the Comintern’s ‘Black Republic” resolution. But, in the meantime, the Comintern swung from its Menshevik policies in China to the ultra-leftism of 1929-1933. For implementing policies with which he disagreed, Bunting was expelled from the Communist Party, as the SACP PB now concedes: “during the great ‘purge’ carried out by international communists of alleged ‘right-wing deviationists’ “– and, as we have seen, denounced as an agent of imperialism, a collaborator with the arch counter-revolutionary Trotsky, etc!
The Political Bureau today claims that “a misguided clique of Party members who had gained control of the Central Committee” were responsible for Bunting’s expulsion — but it fails to name who these were. This is because to do so would be a further embarrassment.
Among those responsible for expelling him were Lazar Bach and P. and M. Richter, whom the 1989 Congress of the SACP was compelled to “posthumously reinstate” as Party members.
The Richters were executed by Stalin’s regime in 1938. Lazar Bach died in a Soviet labour camp in the same period — of so-called ‘natural causes’.
Also out of loyalty to the Soviet Union, these party members carried out the purge of Bunting and other “right-wing deviationists”. But then, when the Comintern veered back after 1935 to policies of collaboration with the bourgeoisie, they were called to Moscow, imprisoned and murdered!
For more than fifty years, the SACP uttered not a word in criticism of these crimes, any more than it did regarding the expulsion of Bunting and his comrades.
Now it “posthumously reinstates” Bach and the Richters only “In the light of information received from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to the effect that [these three] had been expelled from the Communist Party and convicted on the basis of false evidence extracted from them by the Soviet security authorities” (African Communist, 4th Quarter 1989).
Even now, the SACP “rehabilitates” these comrades only on the authorisation of the bureaucracy in the Soviet Union! Even now, there is not a word to explain how such crimes were committed in a supposedly “socialist” country — any more than why the Comintern should have been capable of travelling through such bizarre zig-zags.
Dialego’s article on “What is Trotskyism?” provoked controversy even among loyal readers of the African Communist. The editors reported (3rd Quarter 1989) they had “received a number of contributions from readers examining, at some length, the role of Trotsky before, during, and after the Russian Revolution.” But they “decided not to publish the contributions we have received”!
Their excuse was that “undertaking a general reappraisal of Trotsky and Trotskyism is not the task of our journal. We have the special responsibility for developing Marxist-Leninist thought in an African and South African context.”
This is the typical national narrow-mindedness of Stalinism. Behind it lies the fear of the SACP leadership in raising questions about the international role and essential nature of the Russian bureaucracy. For the same reason, they provide no real explanation for why their former comrades were persecuted and murdered.
These “rehabilitations” are merely futile attempts to revive the waning credibility of the SACP. But this Party remains tied to the bureaucracy in the Soviet Union. It has nothing in common with Marxism.