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Historical Experience: The Fate of Isolated Revolution


In October 1917 proletarian masses overthrew the bourgeois government in Russia and took power in the guidance of Bolsheviks. Big factories and working class neighbourhoods had already been under the control of committees formed by workers for months. On 25 October all power was passed to soviets (workers’ assemblies) formed by workers as organs of insurrection. These soviets did not remain just as organs of insurrection but they also became organs of power. The nascent workers’ state was nothing but a coordinated, organised and centralised form of these soviets. History witnessed once again, after the Paris Commune, that workers took power on the basis of their self-organisations. But this time it was in a country of continental proportions and in a much more comprehensive way. This seizure of power by the working class in Russia was welcomed by great enthusiasm, interest and support by the world proletariat and oppressed peoples. October Revolution was shining like sun growing over whole humanity, reviving hopes in the darkness of the First World War.

However Russia was a backward country and it was crucial for the new workers’ power to be supported by revolutions in European countries to live on. Bolsheviks knew the revolution could not attain its final goal in one country alone and even that if isolated for a relatively long period of time it could not survive. They thus placed all their hopes in world revolution, mainly the revolution in Europe. With this consciousness Bolsheviks set out to build a new International in the hardest days of the civil war which had been started, in the wake of the revolution, by the Russian bourgeoisie in collaboration with the imperialist bourgeoisie. They succeeded in building the Communist International, but the national sections of this world party could not yet get enough support from the proletariat in their respective countries, gain sufficient strength in struggle and create strong, experienced and steeled leaderships. Although there were revolutionary outbursts and upsurges across Europe which was tired and exhausted in the aftermath of the war these upsurges could not be advanced into successful revolutions.

Russian economy collapsed and the proletariat was to a great extent ruined, suffered heavy losses, become weak, dispersed and declassed because of the First World War and the ensuing civil war that lasted more than three years. Although the retreat of the world revolution was temporary, it was impossible for the Russian proletariat and its revolutionary power to hold on, which rested on a backward economic ground. The Russian revolution was successful in pushing back the offensive of the imperialists and the bourgeoisie at home, which was simply a tool of imperialists, but it was unable to avert an inner betrayal and an inner counter-revolution which was creeping. The bureaucratic degeneration which had crept on the basis of great sufferings towards the end of the civil war accelerated with Lenin’s death and elimination of the proletarian revolutionary wing of the party and eventually turned into a process of bureaucratic counter-revolution resulting in the proletariat having lost political power. Now it was impossible to say that the proletariat was socially and economically the dominant class after it lost political power. The workers’ state created by the Russian revolution now came to an end.

However the liquidation of revolution by a bureaucratic counter-revolution from inside brought forward a new phenomenon. The workers’ state was actually finished, but the name and appearance were alive. The now-ruling bureaucracy found it suited to its interests to keep certain institutions, attributes, rhetoric of the revolution which had been hollowed and deprived of its essence. World communist movement now had to face this new phenomenon and work out its nature. The debates on “the nature of the Soviet state” served to divide the communist movement into pieces for many years. This question is still important and is not just confined to explaining a historical phenomenon. The question is about how do we conceive socialism, what kind of workers’ state do we aim and how do we attain these goals. It is self-evident that a question of this nature is fundamental to almost all aspects of political struggle. Therefore on the occasion of the anniversary of the October Revolution we think it will be useful to provide a summary composed of the work In the Light of Marxism by Elif Çağlı who provided a scientific and original answer to this question on Marxist premises.

The historical mission of the proletariat

For humankind to emancipate from the exploitation and oppression created by class society, be his own master, save nature from the destructive effects of capitalism and put it in harmony with his long term interests; in short, reach his freedom can only be possible through world socialist revolution…

A workers’ power confined to national boundaries and a backward economic base cannot survive should this isolation persist. A proletariat that comes to the power in a country should direct all its efforts towards spreading the socialist revolution to other countries. And because the power of the working class is embodied in the power of soviets, the establishment of an international workers’ power will find its expression in a “World Republic of Soviets”. This situation represents the end of the capitalist rule on a world scale.

The progress of proletarian revolution towards this goal cannot take place in such a way that individual countries break off the imperialist chain one by one, with intervening long historical periods. Marx and Engels anticipated the process of world revolution as a series of proletarian revolutions which closely follow each other and are closely connected with each other. And historical experience confirmed the anticipation of the founders of Marxism, by demonstrating the impossibility of an enduring victory unless such a progression takes place.

In order proletarian world revolution to proceed and worker’s power to survive, successively won victories of proletarian revolution, essentially in the advanced countries, are needed. Although it is possible to build the dictatorship of the proletariat in a single country, its basic task must be to prepare for a new and lasting leap forward of the international revolutionary forces of proletariat. The founders of Marxism did not deny that political introduction of the socialist revolution, i.e. the conquest of the political power by the proletariat, is quite possible in a single country. But they never anticipated that this revolution could remain in isolation for a long time.

The worker’s state defined by Marxism is a state without bureaucracy

The bourgeois state which is based on the domination of exploitative minority over exploited majority makes, for this very reason, the existence of an expensive and complicated apparatus in organising the affairs of state mandatory. …

Yet in the worker’s state organisation and conduction of public office must be radically different. The worker’s state, which is the means of domination by majority of toilers over exploitative minority, for this very feature, is a kind of new state historically different than bourgeois state. The most distinctive indicator of this historical difference is the fact that worker’s state is a state without bureaucracy, i.e. self-organisation of working class as direct democracy. This quality is the main characteristic, sine qua non of the worker’s state. The measures enumerated by Marx upon examining the Paris Commune are not only for overthrowing the old bureaucratic-military state apparatus, but also for replacing the overthrown with a mechanism capable of which “prevents returning to the old filthy business.”

…in the period of proletarian dictatorship which is based on state property, the state must be a semi-state, without bureaucracy not involve any bureaucracy. If this necessary condition cannot be materialised and a state with bureaucracy develops, then in this case property will be in the hands of the state, and the state in the hands of bureaucracy. Thus, because the bureaucracy, holding the right to use the state property in its hands, would take over the management of production, it would be dominant in economic sense as well. In that case the working class will lose its domination, and the bureaucracy will rise to the position of being a dominant class, a ruling class. …

Workers’ state is based on a radical change of the organisation of state in bourgeois society and the principle of transferring the public offices to the local soviets and turning them into the cheapest and the most ordinary practices as far as possible. Yet some inevitable functions that needs expertise will continue to exist. But the idea of workers’ power is based on conducting such functions by using functionaries who are very closely responsible against the worker voters, recallable at any time and replaceable, without creating any privileges and any “masters” over working class. If one happens to remind that there would not be sufficient economic and cultural level to put these measures into effect, as in the case of the isolation of proletarian revolution in a backward country, then it amounts to state that the conditions for a worker’s state to survive are not existent yet. …

The difference between the bourgeois dictatorship and proletarian dictatorship mainly appears in the following essential point: the bourgeois state, that is the dictatorship of bourgeoisie, is democratic only for an exploitative minority in terms of its economic essence, and a dictatorial state, even under its most democratic form, from the standpoint of exploited majority. On the contrary the proletarian state, that is the proletarian dictatorship, is dictatorial for the exploiting minority and must be democratic for the labouring majority, even in the case that it has to resort to open repression against the bourgeois forces due to the hard conditions of class struggle (civil war, etc.).

Therefore to invent a category of workers’ state in which a workers’ democracy “is not supposed to be applied for excusable reasons” would be an unforgivable concession from goal of workers’ state. Such a mentality that argues that proletarian dictatorship can still live despite in a form that its democratic content is emptied due to civil war, serious foreign threat etc. ends up with substituting the phenomenon of bureaucratic dictatorship for the aim of proletarian dictatorship.

A direct democracy –with a working system of representation– of the proletariat organised in the form of soviets is an indispensable condition for the workers’ state. Workers’ democracy is not one of the forms of workers’ state but its essence. …

Transition period [from capitalism to socialism] is not a stagnant period

The transition period neither has its own peculiar production relations nor it can be called capitalist or socialist. It represents a movement from the past to the future. It can be at a point very near to the past (capitalism) or to the future (socialism) depending on the situation of the dictatorship of the proletariat on a world scale and its real position against the capitalist system. For this reason, the main characteristic of the transition period with respect to the transformation of the production relations can reveal itself only with the progress of the world revolution in the advanced capitalist countries. What we mean by the main characteristic is the advance of the proletariat, having become the ruling class by a political revolution, to the position of being the master of the conditions of production. …

Marx states that the proletariat would take the material conditions of production under its control in the case that it becomes the ruling class and centralises the means of production in its own hands. This is a very important feature of the transition period. It means that when the proletariat becomes the real master of the conditions of production by its own state, the plans about what to produce, how and how much will be made by the ruling proletariat. What characterises this period is not only the destruction of the old order, expropriation of capitalists and liquidation of capitalist production relations. Also and essentially within this period the proletariat, organised as a “state”, will organise a planned economy and prepare the material and cultural developments in order to do away with the social division of labour and contradictions resulting from it. That is to say, this will be a historic period in which economic, social, cultural foundations of classless society are built. This is in fact a period of struggle between the defeated but not yet completely destroyed capitalism and emerging communism. The class antagonisms taken over from the old society will gradually disappear in the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat but old class differences in the form of habits, culture etc. will continue to exist for a long time (until the first phase of communism).

We cannot speak of pure forms or categories peculiar to the transition period, since it does not bear the character of an independent socio-economic formation and is a dynamic period in which revolutionary transformations take place. The economic life of the transition period should be understood as a dynamic process of construction from the past to the future, in which the capitalist production relations are liquidated and therefore cannot yet be defined by the features of classless society.

Transition period is linked with world revolution

Since capitalism is a world system, the social revolution to overthrow it should have worldwide dimensions rather than national. Therefore the transition from capitalism to communism can acquire its full meaning only when the political revolution is victorious on a world scale; that is when the political rule of the world bourgeoisie is brought to an end.

The new social conditions in the transition period under the dictatorship of the proletariat do not in fact come into being out of nothing. As Marx stated, the socialisation of productive forces already accomplished due to capitalist development is now set free from the restricting capitalist relations of production and is given the freedom for a full development. It is in this sense that “the socialist building”, although it will be the conscious product of the working class who also changes itself by a social revolution, is in the final analysis not a question of will, but depends on whether the material conditions for change exists or not. …

The overthrow of bourgeois power and building the proletarian power historically signify the beginning of a movement of transition from capitalism to communism, of course with the reservation that it is conditioned with the limitedness of national bounds yet. However, even a partial victory of this historic movement depends on the permanence of revolution on a world scale.

The fate of the isolated revolution

With the October Revolution of 1917, the exploiting rulers of Russia were overthrown. Taken place in a backward country as Russia , the proletarian revolution, despite all its shortcomings, heralded the birth of a revolutionary workers’ power which rested upon the mass of workers and poor peasants organised in soviets. …

The first Soviet Constitution was remarkable to show the correct understanding of the Bolsheviks then. For instance, the constitution stated both of the principles that the workers’ state was a temporary phenomenon and that socialism, as the lower phase of communism which was the goal to be achieved in the future, was a classless and stateless social order. Acknowledging the RSFSC as only the first member of the World Socialist Federated Republics, this constitution had in fact been the result of a general understanding true to the spirit of the workers’ democracy. …

While Lenin was talking about the successes of the newborn proletarian government in the first days of the October Revolution, he started to point to shortcomings and mistakes (for instance, that they have made too much nationalisation to manage). He persistently said that they could not efficiently utilise the sources and that it would take long years to overcome the economic and cultural backwardness. On the other hand, we know that Lenin, who had spoken immediately after the October Revolution of the destruction of the old bureaucratic mechanism, shortly afterwards drew attention to the danger of bureaucratisation of the workers’ soviets state. As a matter of fact, being a result of objective conditions the power of workers’ soviets was born with such weaknesses that cannot easily be surmounted. Therefore, in order to draw lessons from the experience of the October Revolution, we need such analyses that direct attention to the factors putrefying from within the Soviet workers’ state rather than eulogies.

1918-1921: The life and death struggle of the soviet worker’s power

The revolutionary proletariat experienced a harsh period of war following the October Revolution to defend its power against both the attacks of imperialism from outside and of the bourgeoisie and landlords from within. During the civil war between 1918 and 1921 the poor masses of workers and peasants organised in soviets actively took part in the sharp political struggle by joining in the ranks of the Red Army, the armed force of the revolution. … The historical sources relate that around 200,000 communists died during the civil war.

During the civil war, the Soviet state resorted to economic measures called war communism. … During this period, the wages were paid in kind; foods were rationed and armed workers’ detachments tried to maintain the food supplies of cities by confiscating agricultural product. …

Indeed, the distribution of products by the state instead of commercial methods was encountered with the resistance of peasants and a steep fall in agricultural production resulted in, causing hunger in the cities. Meanwhile, the enormous cost of the civil war for the workers’ state was a threatening factor. …

The experienced industrial proletariat, which had spearheaded the proletarian socialist revolution, was weakened due to the losses in the civil war and the migration to the countryside on account of the hunger in cities. And most of the remaining workers in the cities were being atomised due to the fact they tended to get a living from black market, trade, and so on. In consequence, the factories were filled with newcoming workers, who were inexperienced semi-worker/semi-peasant elements. The new workers constituted a favourable ground for the rise of bureaucratic leaders as they had not been tempered in the heat of the period of revolutionary struggle between 1903 and 1917 in big industrial centres, with their empty stomachs and lack of revolutionary consciousness, and also with their traditional obedience to bureaucratic authority resulting from the patriarchal heritage of Russian despotism.

On the other hand, the enormous fall in agricultural and industrial production and the famine fomented the struggle for individual survival. … As a result, the local soviets, the veins of soviet power, began to lose their functions. On the other hand, the self-seekers wearing red shirts crowded the higher ranks of the party and soviets in expectation of utilising the advantages of a government party as it became evident that the Bolsheviks would win the civil war. In consequence, the composition of membership of the Bolshevik Party underwent a radical transformation. One must take this unfavourable situation into account in order to make a proper evaluation of the real outcome of the civil war, which was waged to defend the revolutionary power emerged out of the October Revolution.

The soviet government seems to have survived the civil war. The Soviet fortress, which remained isolated as the anticipated European revolution did not come about, was successfully protected against the imperialist siege and the attacks of the internal bourgeoisie and landlords. But, what was the cost of this triumph? …

An atomised proletariat at the end of the civil war, the poor peasants who started to pursue their petty interests of property concerning their small lands as soon as the invading armies were driven out, and a Bolshevik Party that faces a chaos caused by hunger... Such was the reality and the party turned out to be a helpless vanguard force deprived of its social basis to advance the revolution. Under such circumstances, the vanguard [force] striving to preserve the revolution –regardless of the leaders’ will and intentions– found itself to be the guardian of the revolutionary class. Under the circumstances where the revolutionary proletarian masses were perished due to the war and famine, the revolutionary leaders like Lenin and Trotsky and the Bolshevik revolutionaries, who acted with the responsibility of maintaining the October Revolution at least until the aid of world revolution, appear, in a sense, to have substituted themselves for the vanguard section of the proletariat. Though it is not possible, given the circumstances, to blame them for the necessary measures they would take, this experience does not provide a proper historical model for the progress of the socialist revolution. …

The workers’ state born out of the October Revolution of 1917 was under serious threat, confirming the revolutionary leaders who had pointed to the dangers in case the European revolution would not come to aid. The bureaucratisation, which Lenin drew attention to in his writings and speeches, was spreading throughout the whole organism given the circumstances of economic and cultural backwardness. Leaving aside the talk of “success” to retain the political power in the early period of the revolution when there was a struggle against the extra-ordinary hardships of those days, one can easily see that Lenin himself expressed the weakness of the Soviet state just a few years after the revolution. …

It was thought that the nomination of the Bolshevik commissars to the head of former bourgeois experts and Tsarist bureaucrats, who were called back due to the economic difficulties, would suffice to hinder the possible danger of bureaucratisation. Nevertheless the outcome was quite the contrary. Instead of adapting the bourgeois experts and the Tsarist bureaucrats to the ideals of the new regime, the latter adapted the commissars to themselves.

1921-1924: The bureaucratic degeneration of the state and the party

In fact, the enormous post-civil war ruin had also influenced inner party life and drove the leadership of the party, including Lenin, into great deal of contradictions. For instance, it was Lenin who emphasised that over-centralisation in economy and politics was in fact the result of “war communism” necessitated by the civil war and that after the war it was necessary to improve the workers’ democracy. On the other hand, Lenin could bring the above mentioned measures into the agenda of the party since the difficulties were not overcome yet.

… a number of social unrests that broke out under the circumstances, unfortunately, compelled the party and its leaders, Lenin and Trotsky, to take harsh measures with the hope of saving the workers’ state from devastation. That the opposition parties banned, the right of opposition within the Bolshevik Party was suspended within the Bolshevik Party, and so on, were incidents of some negative results of the turning point of 1921. Though the measures enabled the Soviet government to survive for that period, they were far from being measures reinforcing the revolution. On the contrary, they were manifestation of isolation and weakness. Therefore, these measures would not abolish the objective conditions that create the bureaucratic deformation but lead to a colossal growth of the bureaucratic deformation in the long run. The year 1921 was a turning point characterised by that the bureaucratic deformation could not be prevented but grew into bureaucratic degeneration despite the intentions and wills of the revolutionary leaders. …

The fact that the party and state merged, and the role of the soviets gradually withered away under conditions where the political regime is based on one-party, i.e. the Bolshevik Party, revealed the seriousness of the danger threatening the workers’ state. …

To what degree could the subjective factor be effective against these unfavourable objective conditions? In order to avoid from an abstract discussion, we must avoid from identifying the subjective element with the party and from considering the party as an abstract entity. If we leave aside the fact that even the best revolutionary leaders might commit a number of mistakes under extremely difficult conditions when faced colossal problems, the question that must be asked is this: Is there a potent, conscious, organised revolutionary proletarian bulk so that can assure even the existence of a revolutionary leadership within the party? If not, it would but be a wishful thinking to say, “this or that must have been done”. Even the survival of a revolutionary leadership, which could at least partly accomplish the tasks, would be a problem.

What does it mean that the industrial proletariat which had come together with a revolutionary enthusiasm behind the barricades in 1917, came to be declassed a few years later? This situation indisputably signifies that the sovietic workers’ state born out of the October Revolution has been deprived of its social base. …

As a matter of fact, there was a definite conflict within the Bolshevik Party between retrogressive subjective elements and those who want to make the revolution progress. The retrogressive subjective factors can be enumerated as the transformation of the composition of the party due to the loss of the Bolshevik vanguard workers in the civil war, the replacement of the former experienced workers with a new generation of workers coming out of young peasants, the emergence of bureaucratic tendencies within the party in expectation of enjoying the blessings of power, the crowding of the petit bourgeois elements into the party who want to enjoy the advantages of power and the emergence of Stalin-type leaders against this background of backwardness. The progressive subjective factors, on the other hand, were consisted merely of revolutionary leaders like Lenin and Trotsky, who were committed to the interests of the world revolution within a backward country, and the experienced Bolshevik warriors who were striving to keep the revolution alive, though with a diminishing number. In short, the former was overriding. …

What is important here is the fact that the evil of bureaucratisation is unavoidable unless the proletarian revolution make progress on an international level, rather than whether the party does this or that to protect the revolution on a national level. It would be an inexcusable concession from the point of view of the goal of world revolution to ignore this point and pay whole attention to the preservation of a revolution in one country. …

The conclusion to be drawn is as follows: When the objective conditions have matured on a world scale, the only guarantee to keep alive and protect the proletarian revolution, in the last analysis, is the revolutionary internationalist consciousness and the level of revolutionary preparedness of the world proletariat. However, this is dependent on an organised struggle that has to be waged well before the revolution has broken out and not after that. And the fulfilment of this task is possible only if there is a revolutionary internationalist leadership that aims at the world revolution and educates the proletarian masses in this perspective.

However, such a leadership did not exist when the October Revolution broke out. … Until the foundation of the Third International, the international proletarian movement had been deprived of a revolutionary international leadership sticking to the goal of world revolution. All these factors explain the passivity of the European proletariat during the process started by the October Revolution.

That the Bolshevik Party, led by Lenin, turned out to find itself in a position of the guardian of the proletariat and strove to save the Soviet power during the process between 1921 and 1924 was only one side of the coin. …

In a revolutionary bastion like Russia, isolated on the basis of economic and cultural backwardness, the gradual transformation of the power of workers’ soviets into one-party power, though it emerged due to the compulsion of preserving the revolutionary power, turns the question of who is to lead the party into a life and death question. Indeed, as we approach 1924, despite all the endeavours of leaders like Lenin and others, it was to be observed that the reins would be seized by the rising bureaucracy in the party organisation and thus the Soviet institutions transformed into an apparatus of domination of the bureaucracy.

1924-1928: The process of bureaucratic counter-revolution

The peculiarity of this process lies in the following: A bureaucracy that consisted not only of the relics of the bureaucrats of the old order, but more importantly of the new masters rising in the soviets and the party, is now marching forward to establish its own absolute domination. This was not an external but an internal counter-revolutionary process, rather different from a potential bourgeois counter-revolution. That is, the proletariat, in this process, was removed from political power by the bureaucracy that reinforced its positions in the Bolshevik Party and the soviets instead of overt attacks of its former class enemy, i.e. the bourgeoisie. Though in appearance the party organisations and the soviets kept their formal existence, in reality they were ceasing to be the sign of life of the workers’ power. The bureaucracy dominated the soviets and the Bolshevik Party and thus the workers’ state was being liquidated. Of course, when such a process reaches its conclusion, then it would be impossible to speak of the indispensable prerequisite of a workers’ state, i.e. the sovietic state structure (non-bureaucratic state, the state as a workers’ democracy), even if the bureaucracy preserved the formal existence of the soviets. In short, the workers’ state will have definitely ceased to exist with the establishment of the absolute power of the rising bureaucracy in the party and the state.

Hence, the power struggle of the Stalinist faction within the Bolshevik Party, now blatant after Lenin’s death, is the struggle of domination of the rising bureaucracy as a new class over the proletariat. Under conditions where the other parties were eliminated, where the Bolshevik Party and the state became merged, where the class [the proletariat] was declassed, the power struggle of the bureaucracy took the form of internal party intrigues and liquidations conducted against the Bolshevik-Leninists who advocated the historical interests of the proletariat. This is the expression of the peculiarity of the process of bureaucratic counter-revolution. …

In the process of bureaucratic counter-revolution between 1924-1928, the bureaucracy reorganised the Bolshevik Party as its own ruling device. In Lenin’s era, campaigns used to be conducted to fight bureaucratic degeneration against those careerists who flocked to the party to enjoy the fruits of power. Nevertheless, Stalin, on the contrary, opened the doors of the party to such elements after Lenin’s death. Busying himself with liquidating the old Bolsheviks who were Lenin’s comrades, Stalin found the necessary backing for this in the unconscious, backward layers of the proletariat, the former Menshevik elements, the peasants, and the rising bureaucracy. …

Under conditions that the political and economic existence of the bourgeoisie had been eradicated in industrial cities and also that the rule of the proletariat had come to an end, the Soviet bureaucracy that established its rule within party and state ranks became a rising new class, growing beyond a bureaucratic caste. Possessing the right to collectively dispose the nationalised means of production and managing the state monopoly over foreign trade, the Soviet bureaucracy, on this material basis, elevated itself to the position of a dominant class. Having completely seized the party, under conditions where the struggle for political power took on a character of conflictive process within the party, the Stalinist Soviet bureaucracy thus accomplished the counter-revolution against the proletariat. This outcome signified that the bureaucracy attained a crucial position to spread its counter-revolutionary acts also on an international level. Because the Soviet bureaucracy, leaning on the one-party dictatorship and the Soviet state that is now organised so that to defend the interests of the bureaucracy, would be able to establish its hegemony over the world communist movement proclaiming itself as the “centre of revolution”.

The Stalinist bureaucracy set out to assure its domestic victory on a world level. It had to do that to preserve and reinforce its domination. Having established its domination by liquidating the Workers’ Soviets’ State, the Soviet bureaucracy could only maintain its existence by protecting itself from the “danger” of the progress of the world revolution. Because any new sovietic positions to be gained by international proletariat could be nothing but a sword of Damocles hung over the head of the ruling bureaucracy in the Soviet Union. Therefore, just as the only chance of survival for the proletarian revolution is its growth into a world revolution, the bureaucratic counter-revolution, accordingly, had to prevent the world revolution in order to establish its international underpinnings and thus ensure the domination of the bureaucracy.

The reaction of the Soviet bureaucracy against the world revolution materialised in the construction of its own state on the basis of defending the interests of a nation state, just as the bourgeois state. While the historical interests of the proletariat are expressed in the permanence of the revolution, the interests of the bureaucracy were expressed in the international stability and the security of the nation-state. The Soviet bureaucracy, hence, formed its own official state ideology on the basis of establishing the status quo and trying to preserve it on a world scale.

… the bureaucracy organised as a state shall create a new ideology once it becomes an independent force in the face of society. The myth of “socialism in one country” is an “ideology” that the Soviet bureaucracy clung to in order to substitute the historical interests of the world proletariat for its own selfish national interests.

This ideology was the excuse for the Soviet bureaucracy to distance itself from the idea of the world revolution and escape from its responsibility. … By its nature, the bureaucratic counter-revolution was organised and conducted as a counter-revolutionary attack within the international communist movement too. While the liquidation of the Bolshevik-Leninists and Trotsky from the party by Stalin in 1927 symbolizes the victory of the bureaucratic counter-revolution in the Soviet Union, the ratification of the conception of “socialism in one country” by the Comintern in 1928 is the reflection of this victory in the world communist movement.

Hence, the year 1928 is a historical turning point wherein the Soviet bureaucracy won the bureaucratic counter-revolution, and the Soviet state turned into the state of the bureaucracy. And the subsequent process would be a process in which the already established bureaucratic dictatorship would set about legal arrangements corresponding to the actual situation in order to consolidate itself. The dominant bureaucracy’s state, in this process, would set to complete the liquidation, taking the remnants of the October Revolution from the proletariat. The process from 1928 to the Constitution of 1936 and the declaration that “socialism has been achieved in the Soviet Union” is marked by institutionalisation and stabilisation of the totalitarian regime. …

Finally we must underline another fact: Just as the bureaucratic dictatorship is the counter-revolutionary negation of the workers’ state, Stalinism is the negation of Leninism. There exists a process of counter-revolution stained with the blood of many Bolshevik leaders and militants between the workers’ power that had come to life with the 1917 October Revolution and the Stalinist regime which overthrew this power and ruled supreme. …

The “transition period” ceases to exist under bureaucratic dictatorship

As the experiences have shown, the historical movement of the working class from capitalism towards communism can only be possible under its own direct domination. This political domination is embodied in the workers’ state, the essence of which is the proletariat organised as ruling class. The distinctive feature of transition period from capitalism to communism is that the proletariat, after establishing its domination by conquering the political power, lifts itself up to the position of being the master of the conditions of production, centralising the means of production in the hands of its own state. …

It is necessary to take measures of Paris Commune type and enforce them in order to avoid a bureaucratic division of rulers and ruled amongst the working class -after conquering political power- and not to lose by this way its power falling under the rule of new masters. … the workers’ state cannot organise in a bureaucratic manner like the bourgeois state, otherwise it cannot be a workers’ state. Besides, the dictatorship of the proletariat is rested on the direct domination of the proletariat organised in soviets, not on the domination of the party which wins the leadership of the class. Thus workers’ democracy is not one of the forms of the dictatorship of the proletariat, but its condition of existence, its essence.

It is thus clear that one cannot speak of a “transition period” in those countries where the proletariat has not even really come to power and bureaucratic dictatorships have been established from the very outset. But, on the other hand, we have the example of the Russian proletariat who conquered the political power through 1917 October Revolution and started the historical transition from capitalism to communism. However as the Soviet state transformed into a bureaucratic one, the necessary condition of transition period (workers’ democracy) has disappeared and the historic movement from capitalism into communism stopped. It is not possible to speak of a workers’ state when there is no workers’ democracy and of the existence of a transition period when there is no workers’ state respectively. Thus, these societies cannot be defined as “societies in transition period” just as they cannot be defined as “socialist”.

The ideology of the bureaucratic state

It is a general fact that in exploitative societies the state defines itself with an official ideology vis-a-vis society. …

The state of the bureaucracy created an official ideology reflecting its own interests… This official ideology, which we call “Stalinism”, has been enthroned not only within the borders of the Soviet Union, but also, through the enforcement of the bureaucratic power in the Soviet Union, within the international communist movement. In brief, this official ideology in its heyday has put its imprint, to this or that extent, on all powers established in the name of “socialism”, spread and implant its bureaucratic system of domination to them.

… as Marx stated, the rule that reads “those who control the social surplus-product, control the whole society as well” operated and the bureaucracy emerged before the proletariat as a real dominant power in both political and economic sense. In order to continue its sovereignty, above all, over the proletariat, the bureaucracy needed an argument in order to establish, strengthen and maintain its ideological hegemony, apart from direct repression when necessary. This argument of the bureaucracy which has been a means of its ideological hegemony turned out to be the monstrosity of “socialism in one country”.

The characteristics of the bureaucratic regime

As for the process experienced under bureaucratic domination in the USSR and countries alike, where capitalist private ownership on basic means of production is abolished and means of production are nationalised, we cannot talk about capitalism. Labour power is no longer a commodity that is sold to and purchased by private capitalists (or a capitalist state). As private property on the means of production is abolished, they cease to be capital and the process of capital accumulation is put an end to; instead a general accumulation of products begins. The general target of production is no longer the production of exchange values aimed at obtaining more profit in the market. The essential target of the bureaucratic command economy is to increase the production of goods on the basis of state ownership in order to guarantee the accumulation of surplus product necessary for reproduction.

In a bureaucratic command economy like the USSR, generalised commodity production has ended; the production process has ceased to be a process in which surplus value is produced. In this regime, distribution of productive resources is realised not according to the laws of market economy (which manifest themselves in the pursuit of capital to obtain the highest profit in the market) but to a central plan that reflects the preferences of the dominant bureaucracy. … In such a case, the dominant mechanism in the economy can be characterised as neither private nor state capitalism. …

The “statist economy” under the bureaucratic state cannot be defined as a version of capitalism, i.e. “state capitalism”. As Marx explains in Capital, capitalism can live only in a medium where there is capitalist competition, “many capitals” -even if they are merged and monopolised- and where they can find free wage labour. Yet, such a situation is out of question in the bureaucratic regimes. …

How can “the specific economic form, in which unpaid surplus-labour is pumped out of direct producers,” be expressed in the bureaucratic regime? By the fact that the bureaucracy, who owns the state, is the sole power to decide in the distribution of the products of social labour, being the centralised dominant power that employs the whole workforce. This situation is the expression of the production relations in the bureaucratic regimes and it determines the relations between the ruling bureaucracy and ruled proletariat. Also it is the material basis upon which the political form of the bureaucratic regime arises. While the proletariat is the political and economic source of sovereignty in a workers’ state, which, being the master of production process, decides “what, how much, how” to produce in the planning of production, this source of power under the bureaucratic regime belongs to the bureaucracy. The aim of the dominant bureaucracy is to sustain the expanded reproduction process in order to maintain the existence of the bureaucratic state. Since the economy, which is generally based on bureaucratic central planning, does not aim at producing exchange values and does not have to submit to the rules of capitalist market, it may be perceived in a sense as a planning of use value production to meet the necessaries of society. But in fact, due to the interests, internal conflicts, and whims of the dominant bureaucracy, this planning is not always rational, and, above all, is far from meeting the genuine needs of the producers. The essence of the bureaucratic regime is that the bureaucracy rules the conditions of production, regulates the production process not from the point of view of the historical interests of the working class, but of the maintenance and strengthening of the bureaucratic state. …

But it would be wrong to regard this unpleasant picture in distribution of products from the point of view of the proletariat as only a picture of inequalities in distribution process and not to dwell on the facts underlying it. Because the conditions of distribution of products is a result of distribution of production conditions, that is the distribution of the mutual positions of the classes in the production process. … In terms of distribution of the means of production, under the bureaucratic regime the dominant bureaucracy collectively retains the monopoly of the right to dispose (the right to decide how to use and where) the means of production that are in the possession of the state. Under these conditions the proletariat does not hold the position of the “producing and ruling” class, which it can enjoy in a workers’ state. The division of “producer-ruler”, which will disappear, merging in the heart of the proletariat in a workers’ state, continues to exist in the bureaucratic regime. The proletariat’s lot is “to produce”, and bureaucracy’s lot is “to rule”.

For this reason, the appropriate criterion to reveal the inequalities in the distribution of products under the bureaucratic state is not only a comparison of the wages of bureaucrats and workers, but a comparison of their different positions within the conditions of production. As long as direct producers are “ruled” in the production process, they have to produce the consumption goods necessary for a living of the “ruling” class. … In a bureaucratic regime where there is no wealthy classes of private propertied sort, the bureaucracy, enjoying the authority of collective domination over state property, is the dominant class that appropriates the social surplus-labour of the proletariat, and exploits it. Thus although the exploitation is not a surplus-value exploitation under bureaucratic regime, which is characteristic to capitalism, there is an exploitation of surplus-labour and these regimes belong to the set of exploitative societies.

Historical gain?

The fact that the working class continues to be a “ruled” class in the bureaucratic regime, inevitably finds its most striking expression in the labour regime of the bureaucratic state. The fact that under the bureaucratic state the right to work has been “ensured” by laws and unemployment has legally been put an end to, is not enough to describe this situation as a “historical gain” of the proletariat. Such “job security” of the working class under the bureaucratic state and a genuine job security such that the proletariat can enjoy thanks to a state of its own should not be mixed. To see these two as identical would mean to appraise state ownership as a historical gain even under conditions that a proletarian revolution does not take place but a bureaucratic domination is established from the very outset. And such an attitude would mean to equate the position into which the bureaucratic state has driven the working class (being the workers of despotic-bureaucratic state) with the historical gains of the proletarian revolution (the proletariat as the dominant class, master of itself). In this case the idea that a proletarian revolution is necessary will fade away and such an idea that even without such a revolution the working class may well attain a historical gain only through state ownership will gain ground. 

It is true that the working class obtained a chance of employment under the bureaucratic regime based on state ownership, which it can never have under capitalism. … “Job security” is the condition of maintaining the sovereignty of the bureaucratic regimes based on state ownership. Because, in order to maintain the status quo and keep the working class at a standstill the bureaucratic state has to lean on some structural concessions. However, there is no rational point in appraising such a labour regime as a “historical gain”, in which the working class is deprived of all rights of union, strike etc. in the face of an alienated state and where wages and work conditions are determined unilaterally by the dominant bureaucracy. In fact the reality that should be grasped is this: there must be a special way to preserve stability in a situation where the working class is not dominant and is deprived of democratic rights to defend itself against the state of the dominant bureaucracy. It is this compulsion, and not the loyalty (!) of the bureaucracy to the working class, which is the reason for “job security”, low rents, free health services, free nursery and education, a general scope retirement right, etc. in the bureaucratic regimes. And the removal of these assurances with the dissolution of bureaucratic regimes and that the proletariat has no other option but its own actual struggle to secure its job and life guarantee is an indication of this situation.

Bureaucracy is a state-based class

Marx points out in Critique Of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right to the fact that state bureaucracy possesses the state, that state is the “private property” of the bureaucracy. This situation does not lift the state bureaucracy to a position of an independent class in capitalist society, although it is granted a privileged position. … Marxist approach determines that, in the final analysis, the rulers will be those who privately own the means of production in the class societies based on private property. In this kind of societies political sphere is dependent on economic sphere, although it can acquire a relative independence under certain conditions.

The problem of state lies at the heart of the difference between class societies based on private property on the means of production and class societies based on state ownership on the means of production (Asiatic form of society as a historical category). In all the social formations in the first category, however “independent” it may appear in the face of society, the state, in the final analysis, is the state of the economically dominant class, that is, the class holding the private property on the means of production. In the social formations in the latter category, though, economic sphere and political sphere are intertwined such that the problem of sovereignty turns into the problem of “the ownership of the state”. In the social formations where ownership on the basic means of production takes the form of state ownership those who hold the state –that is, political power– will also hold the economic power. In such a case, the position of owning the state will determine who is the sovereign in economic sense.

It is this very fact that constitutes the basic starting point in explaining the sovereign position of the proletariat in the dictatorship of the proletariat. Marxism stipulates that the proletariat, after having lifted itself to the position of political sovereignty by a political revolution, should also lift itself to the position of economic sovereignty by nationalising the basic means of production. Since as long as these means of production are privately owned by the bourgeoisie, it could only be a daydream for the proletariat to preserve the political sovereignty it has acquired. The proletariat can maintain its sovereignty if and only if the workers’ state takes into its monopoly the ownership of the basic means of production. But, here another vital problem comes to the fore. If the state is the organisation of new masters (the bureaucracy) who substitute themselves for the proletariat, instead of the proletariat organised as the sovereign class, then we can speak of neither political nor economic sovereignty of the proletariat. Because in a situation where ownership, the basis of economic sovereignty, is concentrated into state ownership, those elements who possess the state would also possess both political and economic power.

In the bureaucratic regimes which we deal with, the state is the property of the bureaucracy. Therefore this bureaucracy is a dominant class in both political and economic sense. It represents an organised collective power that has become independent from society and placed itself at the top of it. Here the bureaucracy is a “collective exploiter” dominant class, collectively possessing the right to dispose the state ownership of the means of production.

…Is there a wealthy class upon which the bureaucracy will in the final analysis be “dependent” under circumstances where the means of production are nationalised, abolishing the conditions of sovereignty of the wealthy classes. Of course, there is not. And, again in this case, can we define the bureaucracy who possesses the state as a social force, a social caste “dependent” in the final analysis on the proletariat? In order to make such a definition, the proletariat should have in its hands the source of sovereignty to make the bureaucracy dependent on itself. However, since the proletariat is not a private property owning class, the one and only fortune it can enjoy is, so to speak, “to possess the state”, i.e. to organise itself as a ruling class. And this could be nothing but the practical existence of a workers’ state, the embodiment of the political domination of the proletariat in the form of state organisation.

Only the societies of the East provide us with historical examples in which the bureaucracy constitutes an independent class while it remains as a social layer dependent on the dominant class in the class societies that emerge in the western development line (slave, feudal, capitalist). When we study the historical evolution of the Asiatic Societies, we see that the bureaucracy has managed there to constitute an independent class and even become a dominant class who controlled the despotic state. Although this peculiarity we observe in the East or ancient societies based on Asiatic mode of production has been considered as an “exceptional” line of development, in fact it occupies an overwhelming place in the historical evolution of human societies and especially in the birth of early civilisations.…

The Soviet Union  and the regimes alike resemble the reality described in the above lines with respect to the consequences of the state ownership on the basic means of production. The common point in both is the state property that cannot be “bought, sold, abandoned or inherited”. The existence of a state-based class (ruling elite) is the point of matter here. Just as in the case of old Asiatic sovereignties, “that right” (the right of sovereignty on state property) exists in the despotic-bureaucratic dictatorships (for example in the USSR ) as long as political authority exists and they stand together. When that right ceases to exist, the political authority does too, and vice versa. In the USSR and those alike there had developed a right of sovereignty of bureaucracy (as the representative of the state) on the means of production. The economic sovereignty of the bureaucracy rooted in here. …

Due to the difference of historical ages the ideology of the state under “modern” despotic-bureaucratic regimes was naturally based on something different from “religious” or “divine” arguments which was the case in the past. Religious mysticism, which was the prevalent ideology of the state in oriental despotic societies, was replaced by another myth of contemporary sort, i.e. the “socialism in one country”, under the modern bureaucratic states. But the common point was the importance attributed by the state-based class to maintaining the “status quo”. In the Ottoman Empire, for example, this need found its expression under the name of maintaining the “order”. … That is why the Ottoman administrators and writers always speak of “order”. …

Our point in giving these examples is not to put forward an argument that the social formations like the Soviet Union or those alike are the exact counterparts of despotic-Asiatic mode of production of the past. But still we need to make such an analogy for the purpose of reminding that such dominant classes that are based on state ownership and such socio-economic formations that regulate the distribution of surplus-product thanks to this mode of domination do exist in history. …

The production relations that are based on state ownership are as if a reappearance of a mode of dominance of the past (oriental despotism) in industrial era, under the forms of production relations conditioned by state ownership. Therefore this situation that appears in modern era is as if an anachronism.

Bureaucratic regime has no future

If we are to draw lessons from the October Revolution as a great historical experience and the subsequent developments, we can briefly say the following: If as a result of isolation of a proletarian revolution in a relatively backward country like the Russia of 1917 the workers’ state comes to an end and a bureaucratic domination is established, then the historical movement from capitalism to communism ceases. From then on a new process sets in, where economic development strengthens the bureaucratic domination and sustains it. The economic development accomplished under bureaucratic domination constitutes the main subjective obstacle on the progress of the world revolution, let alone bringing it forward, and may cause the emergence of similar bureaucratic states. Consequently, in a situation where a proletarian revolution takes place in a backward country and is not supported by revolutions in advanced countries, it is inevitable that workers’ power will be overthrown and the social revolution that has started will cease. …

Stalinists have defended for years that the Soviet economy was an economy free of crises, using a tautology: “now that socialism is an economy free of crises and the Soviet Union is socialist; then there cannot be a crisis in the Soviet economy.” However, though different from the crises of capitalist system, a very deep crisis that had already been felt and have eventually surfaced with all its might in Gorbachov’s period revealed the unsoundness of this view. Economic crises are not magical things that appear and disappear according to the practices of individuals. They are objective facts.

… in an epoch when productive forces acquired a social character on an international scale, it was impossible to ensure a long term development on a national scale by cutting off from the global workings and relations of the economy. Although a significant industrial advance was accomplished and an economic growth was achieved in vast countries like the Soviet Union and China or on the basis of inter-national economic relations called “socialist bloc”, there remained an objective factor which cannot be escaped from as Lenin and Trotsky pointed out: the existence and pressure of the world capitalist system.

[The collapse of the USSR ] was not an unknown or unexpected “surprise” from the point of view of revolutionary Marxism. On the contrary, it was just the vindication of the historical materialist analysis that a social transformation to excel the capitalist system on our planet could only be the result of a breakthrough of the working class on a world scale. On the other hand, life itself revealed in the final analysis that the bureaucratic regimes have been doomed to disintegrate in the face of economic superiority and expansion potentials of the world capitalist system. …

The simple fact, however, is this: the despotic-bureaucratic regime is not a historically durable and long-lived socio-economic formation that has a potential to develop on its own foundations in the face of the worldwide superiority of the capitalist mode of production. Since these regimes are not a new mode of production that excels capitalism in the course of historical evolution of human societies, they cannot be characterised as “post-capitalist societies” in this sense. Moreover, it is but an illusion that these regimes can continue a progressive evolution in the long term. The despotic-bureaucratic regime, surrounded by world capitalism in modern industrial era, is a socio-economic phenomenon that has no future on the basis of its sui generis character.

Historically, the bureaucratic power has had a past record both dependent and effective on the fate of the progress of world revolution. The bureaucratic domination is a product of conditions in which the progress of world revolution came to a halt and at the same time new upsurges were obstructed by the dominant bureaucracies. And the bureaucratic regimes are doomed either to be overthrown by a new advance of proletarian revolution on a world scale or otherwise to be brought to an end sooner or later by the disintegrating pressure of world capitalism. …

… we can describe the scope of an anti-bureaucratic revolution that can begin if the proletariat conquers the political power in those countries where bureaucratic dictatorships rule as follows: oust the bureaucracy from power as a dominant class; smash the old bureaucratic state apparatus; put an end to the workings of the bureaucratic regime; turn the planning of economy directly by workers’ soviets into an effective reality; thus start the transition process from capitalism to communism by ensuring proletariat’s political and economic domination!

To attempt to fit a revolution of this scope into a definition of mere “political revolution” would contradict with its real dimensions. Since from a Marxist point of view, a revolution which has to conquer the political power at its first step in order to transform the actual production relations is, in fact, a social revolution in terms of its whole scope.

[The most devastating for the revolution are illusions]

Humanity moves ahead by correcting its own mistakes in making its history. However, this progress has never been spontaneous, nor will it be. Marxism is not necessary for revolutions to break out, but in order proletarian revolutions to succeed and proceed, a leadership is necessary, capable of equipping the proletariat with the revolutionary Marxist consciousness.

The experience so far does not prove the bankruptcy of Marxism but of such a brand of “socialism” that represents its negation. Nevertheless, the collapse of Stalinism does not automatically bring along a rise of revolutionary Marxism. However, as long as the unbearable consequences of capitalism exist, the vindication of Marxism, the necessity of resolving the social contradictions of our age in favour of the proletariat and the suppressed, will be coming to light time and again.

The founders of Marxism did not have a limited vision of just the 20-30 years ahead of themselves. They dwelled on the problems and perspectives of an entire historical epoch, i.e. the age of proletarian revolutions, which would put an end to capitalism and enable the transition to classless society. To the extent that capitalism did not develop into a world system linking up the entire world, the profound content of the theoretical prognoses of Marx and Engels with regard to future could not be comprehended adequately. Nevertheless, in the period after the death of Marx and Engels until the present day, their prognoses with regard to future have become much more understandable in a more vivid and profound way, as capitalism turned into a tremendous world system, connected the destinies of nations to each other, made the national borders become reactionary, brought capital and labour face to face on a world scale.

In her assessments on the October Revolution, Rosa Luxemburg stated that the Bolsheviks’ unintentional mistakes forced upon them by the pressure of the objective conditions were fair enough, but “they [would] render a poor service to international socialism for the sake of which they have fought and suffered; ... [when] they want to place in its storehouse as new discoveries all the distortions prescribed in Russia by necessity and compulsion.” The danger she pointed out came into being when the rule of Stalinism was founded. While putting an end to the power of the working class, Stalinism entirely distorted the worldview of the working class, i.e. Marxism. And the order of the bureaucracy has been theorised as “socialism” for long years.

And thus lies replaced the truth and unpleasant realities were hidden behind a mist, an illusory screen. And it was this illusory screen that was presented as the superiority of socialism for years. However, the sharp arrows of historical reality have punctured this screen. In the face of this fact those people who could not face the shock are shedding tears for the gone screen instead of facing the reality however bitter it is.

Yet this is not a revolutionary attitude. In order to change the world, we need to know the truth and truth alone and act on the basis of concrete reality. Remember that the most devastating for the revolution are illusions; the most useful is sincere and plain truth.