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Questioning of an Historical Period
May 1991
Tarih Bilinci Publisher
tarihbilinci@hotmail.com

Theory and History series: 4

1st edition: October 2001

2nd edition: June 2005

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In the Light of Marxism

Questioning of an Historical Period

Elif Çağlı

May 1991





IV. The Fate of the Isolated Revolution



The Birth of Worker’s Soviets’ State with the October Revolution of 1917

The dictatorship of the proletariat is based on direct domination of the proletariat organised in soviets, councils. But, to maintain this domination and fulfil its requirements is not a spontaneous process. Thus, the proletariat’s need for a guiding political force, i.e. a vanguard force organised as party being an organic part of the class, remains during the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat. But the soviet power cannot be reduced to the power of the party. To regard the soviet power as one party dictatorship means that one has not understood the historical function and necessity of soviets.

Both before and after the October Revolution, Lenin tried to educate the Bolsheviks on the historical role of the Soviets in the proletarian revolution. As is known, the problems that originate from an inadequate understanding on the part of the Bolsheviks of the importance of soviet type organisation caused a lot of controversies during 1905 revolution. After some time, Lenin, who grasped that the soviets were the embryo of a revolutionary power, criticised the sceptical attitude of Bolsheviks against these organs of self-management which were born as a product of the revolutionary awakening of the labouring masses. Lenin’s rightfulness was to be understood in 12 years.

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 Russia of 1917, which was still predominated by the peasantry, was fraught with contradictions within which past and future clash in historical, economic and cultural respects. While reactionary and conservative elements largely predominated, there were pangs of an enormous cultural change and awakening of the working masses that gathered in modern factories. A strong desire to learn, which sprang from the heart of the oppressed masses that had long been left uneducated, marked the early period of the revolutionary power. John Reed, who witnessed those days, remarks that lorries of books and printed material went out from Smolny Institute in the first six months, saturating the land:

And it was not fables, falsified history, diluted religion, and the cheap fiction that corrupts – but social and economic theories, philosophy, the works of Tolstoy, Gogol and Gorky.…

(…) Lectures, debates, speeches – in theatres, circuses, school-houses, clubs, Soviet meeting-rooms, Union headquarters, barracks.… Meetings in the trenches at the front, in village squares, factories.… What a marvellous sight to see Putilovsky Zavod (the Putilov factory) pour out its forty thousand to listen to Social Democrats, Socialist Revolutionaries, Anarchists, anybody, whatever they had to say, as long as they would talk! For months in Petrograd , and all over Russia , every street-corner was a public tribune. In railway trains, street-cars, always the spurting up of impromptu debate, everywhere.…[1]

The first constitutional declaration of the Soviet history, Declaration of Rights of the Working and Exploited People, which was drafted by Lenin in January 1918, proclaimed that Russia was a republic of soviets of workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ deputies, and that all power, centrally and locally, was vested in these soviets. On the other hand, the Constituent Assembly elections was held in November as they had been scheduled before. But, as power was in the hands of the Soviets, the Constituent Assembly seemed to have been born dead from the outset and was resolved to be dissolved. Thus the Assembly that was held on 5 (18) January 1918 lasted only one day. In those days, the bourgeois camp and reaction was in such a paralysed situation that the resolution to dissolve the Constituent Assembly was implemented without difficulty. But as soon as the reaction gathered strength, they were to gather around the slogan of Constituent Assembly. Thus, throughout the civil war waged against the Soviet power whose legitimacy originated from the participation and support of the toiling masses, the capitalists and land owners would hide their ambitions for a bloody reactionary dictatorship behind the guise of seemingly legitimate “Constituent Assembly”.

After the revolution, nationalisations in the industry and organisation of large farms in agriculture were introduced in order to organise the economic life. Declaration of Rights of the Working and Exploited People constituted the basis for the nationalisations carried out after the October Revolution. Because the Declaration proclaimed the principle of transferring all factories, mines and transportation to state ownership. The implementation of this principle would of course depend on concrete decisions to be taken in the subsequent process. What must be borne in mind as a rule was that, in order to avoid an economic collapse, nationalisations would have to be conducted according to a plan and with a pace that would not go out of control of the workers’ state. In the early period, many enterprises were nationalised by the workers themselves on the basis of decisions of the local and regional soviets. It was also witnessed that whole industries were nationalised according to central decision. For instance, the trade fleet which was at first organised under a single central management and then nationalised in January 1918; the nationalisation of sugar industry in May 1918; of the petroleum industry in June 1918; and so on.

In order to make progress on the road to organise large scale collective production in the countryside, “kolkhozy” (collective farms, i.e. agricultural communes based on the principle of joint work and life) and “sovkhozy” (soviet farms in which workers were employed under Soviet government’s control) were established.

In the political report of the Central Committee to the Seventh Extraordinary Congress of the RCP(B) held on 6-8 March 1918, Lenin made clear the irreplaceable role of soviets in the success of the revolution:

Had not the popular creative spirit of the Russian revolution, which had gone through the great experience of the year 1905, given rise to Soviets as early as February 1917, they could not under any circumstances have assumed power in October, because success depended entirely upon the existence of available organisational forms of a movement embracing millions. The Soviets were the available form, and that is why in the political sphere the future held out to us those brilliant successes, the continuous triumphal march, that we had; for the new form of political power was already available, and all we had to do was to pass a few decrees, and transform the power of the Soviets from the embryonic state in which it existed in the first months of the revolution into the legally recognised form which had become established in the Russian state –i.e., into the Russian Soviet Republic. The Republic was born at one stroke; it was born so easily because in February 1917 the masses had created the Soviets.[2]

On the success of the Russian proletariat, which accomplished the necessary historic action in the first stage of the socialist revolution, smashed the old state mechanism, set out to replace it with a new state apparatus without bureaucracy, Lenin said the following in 1918:

But in Russia the bureaucratic machine has been completely smashed, razed to the ground; the old judges have all been sent packing, the bourgeois parliament has been dispersed -- and far more accessible representation has been given to the workers and peasants; their Soviets have replaced the bureaucrats, their or Soviets have been placed in control of the bureaucrats, and their Soviets have been authorized to elect the judges.[3]

In his article, Economics and Politics in the Era of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat (30 October 1919 ), the first steps taken by the October Revolution were enumerated as:

We accomplished instantly, at one revolutionary blow, all that can, in general, be accomplished instantly; on the first day of the dictatorship of the proletariat, for instance, on October 26 (November 8), 1917, the private ownership of land was abolished without compensation for the big landowners – the big landowners were expropriated. Within the space of a few months practically all the big capitalists, owners of factories, joint-stock companies, banks, railways, and so forth, were also expropriated without compensation. The state organisation of large-scale production in industry and the transition from "workers' control" to "workers' management" of factories and railways – this has, by and large, already been accomplished; but in relation to agriculture it has only just begun ("state farms", i.e., large farms organised by the workers' state on state owned land). Similarly, we have only just begun the organisation of various forms of co-operative societies of small farmers as a transition from petty commodity agriculture to communist agriculture. The same must be said of the state-organised distribution of products in place of private trade, i.e., the state procurement and delivery of grain to the cities and of industrial products to the countryside.[4]

Although Lenin speaks of a transition from workers’ control to workers’ management, it was dependent in the last analysis upon the development of productive forces, i.e., great industrial investments and the improvement of the level of the working class. That is why, those measures emphasised by Lenin could not, in fact, be fully implemented. In other words, the real development lagged behind the desired targets and proclaimed decrees. A chequered process took place on this matter. For example, although in the aftermath of the revolution factory committees were given the authority to control the factories, in practice, these committees started to undertake the management with an outlook limited purely to their own workplaces and this fact in turn deprived the Soviet power of the ability to handle the economy as a whole. In order to prevent industrial mess and disorder, the Supreme Economic Council was formed and the trade-unions were given more authority to achieve a more integral workers’ control. Factory committees were tied to the unions, and the management of the economy was handed over to the Supreme Council of National Economy.

In order to avoid a misconception of reducing the October socialist revolution, which undertook great historic tasks viewed from the problems it had to solve, to the level of a simple act able to solve the historic tasks by the decrees of the first days, we must remind an important point here. The proletarian dictatorship established by the October Revolution set out to fulfil that big prime task marked by the founders of Marxism many years ago, that is, transferring large-scale means of production to the ownership of the workers’ state. But in a backward country like Russia , the question could not be solved by just making certain juridical changes in relation to the property. In order to eliminate poverty, put an end to economic and cultural backwardness, a rapid leap of industrialisation forward had to be performed on the basis of large-scale means of production under state ownership. This was an enormous historic task which could not be resolved by just releasing the revolutionary energy, demanding the company of the productive forces of advanced countries, i.e. the making progress of world revolution. Thus, although Lenin put too great a load on the political will in order to strengthen the revolutionary political power in the first days of the revolution, later on he underlined the impossibility of escaping from objective difficulties.

On the other hand, carried out under the leadership of the proletariat in a predominantly peasant country like Russia, the October Revolution was of bourgeois nature from the point of view of the content of the tasks it had to solve for the rural population. This was expressed by Lenin:

Our victory was made easier by the fact that in October 1917 we marched with the peasants, with all the peasants. In that sense, our revolution at that time was a bourgeois revolution. The first step taken by our proletarian government was to embody in a law promulgated on October 26 (old style), 1917, on the next day after the revolution, the old demands of all the peasants which peasant Soviets and village assemblies had put forward under Kerensky. That is where our strength lay; that is why we were able to win the overwhelming majority so easily. As far as the countryside was concerned, our revolution continued to be a bourgeois revolution, and only later, after a lapse of six months, were we compelled within the framework of the state organisation to start the class struggle in the countryside, to establish Committees of Poor Peasants, of semi-proletarians, in every village, and to carry on a methodical fight against the rural bourgeoisie. This was inevitable in Russia owing to the backwardness of the country. In Western Europe things will proceed differently….[5]

A new epoch of incredible difficulties was just beginning. As Lenin said at the Third Congress of Soviets in January 1918, construction of a new society would involve a lot of difficulties, sacrifices and errors, which was unprecedented hitherto and could not be learned from books. It was the biggest and most difficult transition ever seen in history.

One of the biggest problems encountered in the period following the seizure of power by the soviets was the peace treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which was signed due to the difficult position of the Soviet Russia under the pressure of imperialist powers. As Russia was under difficult conditions and has no army to fight, and so on, the peace negotiations started on 9 (22) December with the representatives of German and Austria-Hungarian Empire were held in unequal conditions. This problem caused different factions within the Bolshevik party, which formed around different positions on the course to be taken to solve the problem. For instance, while Bukharin, being the representative of the opposition called Left Communists, defended the tactic of launching an immediate revolutionary war, Trotsky, with the idea of playing for time, was advocating the “neither peace, nor war” tactic. Whereas Lenin was thinking that the concrete circumstances were pressing for the tactic of “immediate peace” independently of their intentions. And he was trying to convince others in the direction of signing the peace treaty without losing time. Meanwhile, although Zinoviev and Stalin supported the immediate peace, the fact that they did it in a manner to mean “peace at all costs, even if it weakens the movement in the West”, i.e. in a way that ignored internationalism, enraged Lenin. Because he was defending the tactic of peace precisely in the interests of international revolution. As shown by the minutes of the Central Committee meeting on 11 (24) January 1918, he did not agree with Zinoviev’s view that concluding a peace would weaken the workers movement. He expressed his response as follows:

If we believe that the German movement can develop immediately, in the event of an interruption of the peace negotiations, then we must sacrifice ourselves, for the German revolution will have a force much greater than ours.[6]

Though left alone at the beginning and received harsh criticisms, Lenin managed to gain majority in the Central Committee only when the German military went on the offensive on 18 January and the German troops marched towards Ukraine without any resistance. But precious time was lost and Germans started to press for a peace with harsher terms as they were now in a more advantageous position. The crisis in the party flared up again. Criticising the tendency spearheaded by Bukharin, Lenin declared that the slogans in the direction of helping the German revolution by sacrificing the Soviet power in Russia had unfortunately turned into empty talk, into revolutionary rhetoric, as they did not take the objective circumstances into account, although they originated from revolutionary intentions. On 23 February the Central Committee started to discuss the terms of peace imposed by Germans. According to this, Russia was to lose all the Baltic territory and part of Belorussia , demobilise her army immediately, withdraw from Finland and Ukraine , surrender Marz, Ardagan and Batum to Turkey . Trotsky declared that they could not fight a revolutionary war when the party was split and although he was not totally convinced by Lenin’s arguments he was now in favour of a compromise due to the circumstances.[7] At the end of the day Lenin’s resolution was approved and the treaty was signed on 3 March. The Russian delegation explained the concrete circumstances with a statement before signing the treaty:

Under the circumstances Russia has no freedom of choice ... The German proletariat is as yet not strong enough to stop the attack [of German imperialism]. We have no doubt that the triumph of imperialism and militarism over the international proletarian revolution will prove to be temporary and ephemeral. Meanwhile the Soviet government ... unable to resist the armed offensive of German imperialism, is forced to accept the peace terms so as to save revolutionary Russia.[8]

The question of Brest-Litovsk caused harsh debates also within the soviets and the treaty could be approved only at the Fourth Congress of Soviets held on 15 March 1918 . This caused a delay in the preparations for the constitution and only on 1 April 1918 a decision could be made to form a commission to prepare the constitution. The draft was prepared within three months and issued on 3 July 1918 to be submitted to the party central committee and the Fifth All-Russian Congress of Soviets.[9] It was underlined that the soviet structure sketched in the constitution was based upon the already formed de facto soviet-type organisations. The local soviets, which, in the countryside embrace the village communities and in the cities all the workers in the factories, were regarded as the source of soviet power. These smallest soviets were intended to be a model for direct democracy.

The larger soviets, on the other hand, comprised of delegates elected by citizens or workers to represent them. During the early period of the Soviet power, they were called the soviets of deputies in order to discern them from the local soviets. According to the constitution “the highest authority” was All-Russia Congress of Soviets. Every 25,000 electors in the cities and 125,000 electors in countryside had one representative in the congress.[10] The Congress elected All-Russian Central Executive Committee made of 200 persons to act in its name in periods between the convocation of the congress. And the Executive Committee elected the Council of People’s Commissars which was entrusted with the general management of the affairs of the RSFSR, issuing decrees, resolutions, orders. According to the constitution, only those “who have acquired the means of livelihood through labour that is productive and useful to society”, soldiers and disabled had the right to vote. Persons who employ hired labour, rentiers, private merchants, monks and clergy, bureaucrats, and agents of the former police were deprived of the right to vote. Thus, one of the principles of the Paris Commune, i.e. universal suffrage, was introduced so as to embrace the toiling masses organised in communes (or soviets) as described by Marx.

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. But unfortunately, the circumstances developed in such a direction that is not favourable to encourage this democracy, but on the contrary to hamper it. For instance, due to the unusual conditions of the civil war period the government was bestowed with over-authority above the soviets. It was justified with the special article for emergencies in the constitution; the local soviets lost their power, and so on.

A foreign military intervention launched by Japans when they occupied Vladivostok revived the hopes of internal enemies of the new regime and helped them recover. On the other hand, the second partner of the coalition government, the Left Social-Revolutionaries, were preparing to leave the government in response to the increasingly harsher practices of the Bolsheviks due to the more difficult conditions both in economic and political spheres. Although Lenin hoped that, with the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, “a civil war had now come to an end”, and sought for a breathing space for the Soviet regime, a violent civil war broke out which in its consequences was to drift the workers’ power to a miserable situation. The Left SRs left the government on 19 March 1918 in protest of the treaty of Brest-Litovsk. The unrest, afterwards, was spread and assassinations followed one another. The German ambassador Mirbach’s assassination by two Left-Social-Revolutionaries on 6 June 1918 marked a turning point in the escalation of the tension. The Bolshevik Volodarsky and Uritsky were assassinated in Petrograd ; Lenin was attacked in Moscow and severely injured. This led to the increase of the importance of Cheka in political life.[11]

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

War Communism

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. On 14 March 1918 , Trotsky was appointed as the Commissar of War and became the Head of the Supreme Council of War.[12] At first, the Red Guards were consisted of volunteers. By April 1918, 100,000 volunteers joined the ranks of the Red Army. But it became necessary to increase the numbers due to the intensification of the civil war. Hence, conscription was re-introduced and the total number rose to five million during the general mobilisation in 1919. However, due to the harsh punishments introduced against the mass desertion of peasant soldiers, the compulsory disciplinary measures, and the employment of former Tsarist officers as specialists, and so on, the aimed transformations in the context of “democratising the army” unfortunately could not be realised as it had been desired.[13] Nevertheless, as the military historians pointed out, the detachments mostly consisted of communist workers, fought to death to defend the revolution and exhibited exemplary courage. 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. Due to hunger, famine, chaos, and sabotages in production and distribution, the central task was to maintain the supplies for the Red Army and industrial cities. Therefore, during this period the economy was arranged so as to supply the necessaries through confiscation of products by the state, and not to increase the productive forces in a planned way. In Trotsky’s words, military communism was, in essence, the systematic regimentation of consumption in a besieged fortress.[14] 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.

Due to the pressure of circumstances, the extent of nationalisation in the industry went too far than considered. According to the decree issued in November 1920, those factories that use machinery and employ more than five workers and all those manufactures that employ more than ten workers even if they are based totally on manual labour were to be nationalised. Thus, a lot of nationalisations were carried out, which were not done on the basis of economic calculations of efficiency or plan, but due to the exigencies of war communism. But, as they could not be controlled, there appeared dramatic falls in production.

The introduction of the practices of war communism in the countryside led to a harsh opposition on the part of the Left Social-Revolutionaries organised among peasants. For instance, in the Fifth All-Russia Congress of Soviets held in July 1918, while the question of agriculture was being discussed, Spiridonova, the leader of Left Social-Revolutionaries, proclaimed that she was now an enemy of the Bolshevik Party. But due to the rapid spread of the civil war, to supply the grain needed by the cities and army turned, indeed, into a life and death question rather than a question of choice. For that reason, the products produced by the peasantry were confiscated by both the workers’ detachments in the cities and the poor peasant committees organised by the Bolsheviks in the countryside. Yet the goal advocated by Lenin in the period of October Revolution was “to help the little peasantry, not to harm the middle peasantry and to hinder the rich peasantry”. Thus the policy of war communism in the countryside was not a desired thing or a programmatic target on the part of Lenin, but a product of exigencies.

Meanwhile, in this period, foreign trade nearly stopped, the Soviet Russia was forced to autarky. And also these conditions led the Soviet financial system to a collapse. The costs of civil war created an enormous problem of resources and, out of helplessness, banknote printing was increased in a planless way. In the end, the purchasing power of rouble fell steeply. And the prices came to make no sense as they did not increase in the official market to match the increase in the free market due to the depreciation of rouble. And practices such as the temporary abandonment of money during war communism period and the introduction of payment in kind were not the result of a conscious and must planning, but, on the contrary, of helplessness. Unfortunately, some Bolsheviks construed it as a must practise.

According to the party programme the need for money would cease only in the future. But a section of Soviet officials, construed the collapse of rouble due to the civil war as the sign of transition to an economy without money. For instance, Bukharin was prominent among those who regarded the practices of “war communism” as a necessary step on the road towards communism. For him the payment of wages in kind instead of money was the abolishment of wage-labour.

Yet war communism was a struggle for the survival of the Soviet power imposed by the circumstances in which hunger spread and there was no other option. These difficult circumstances could sometimes hurl many Bolsheviks including Lenin into entirely different positions than the correct considerations they had defended before. For instance, the suggestions put forward by Lenin and Trotsky with a view to raising labour-productivity and work-discipline during the harsh years of civil war in an endeavour to solve the hunger problem were of this nature.

In fact, in order to raise production, certain measures had been proposed, discussed and decided as early as in April 1918, i.e. before the civil war broke out, such as the enlistment of bourgeois experts with higher salaries, the attempt to introduce certain aspects of Taylorism,[15] which had been previously condemned, the resumption of piecework payment. Although such regulations were considered to put into practice in a more gradual manner in an agreement with the trade unions, the outbreak of civil war ruined the plans. As a result, these measures could not be implemented in a balanced way as considered and the tempo was speeded up. As the conditions deteriorated, new proposals were raised concerning the working conditions. The issues of one-man management, the militarisation of labour considered in 1920 are typical examples. It was Lenin and Trotsky themselves who raised these questions into the agenda to be debated. For instance, Lenin noted the following points against the criticism of the opposition on the basis of such problems:

Secondly, a condition for economic revival is the raising of the working people's discipline, their skill, the effectiveness, the intensity of labour and its better organisation.

The more class-conscious vanguard of the Russian proletariat has already set itself the task of raising labour discipline. For example, both the Central Committee of the Metalworkers' Union and the Central Council of Trade Unions have begun to draft the necessary measures and decrees. This work must be supported and pushed ahead with all speed. We must raise the question of piece-work and apply and test it in practice; we must raise the question of applying much of what is scientific and progressive in the Taylor system; we must make wages correspond to the total amount of goods turned out, or to the amount of work done by the railways, the water transport system, etc., etc.[16]

But, no matter who made the proposal, this sort of practices would inevitably increase the discontent among the workers and cause opposition on the part of trade unions. On this basis, different tendencies, opposing views and groups formed within the Bolshevik Party, the soviets and the trade unions. For us, to be able to appraise such a period there are certain points to be taken into account: the practical measures proposed by the leaders like Lenin and Trotsky even at the cost of contradicting their own goals cannot be judged out of the context of concrete circumstances. On the other hand, if the past events proved something wrong, it would not be a revolutionary attitude to ignore them. Moreover, the exemplary features of revolutionary leaders are not that they never make mistakes, but that they admit when they recognise the mistakes and stick to the principle of not fooling the masses. When a perverse practice against the goal of socialism emerges, it must be frankly expressed as it was in Lenin’s example:

To conceal from the people the fact that the enlistment of bourgeois experts by means of extremely high salaries is a retreat from the principles of the Paris Commune would be sinking to the level of bourgeois politicians and deceiving the people.[17]

In April 1919, the government declared state of emergency as a result of the intensification of the civil war. The trade unions sent nearly fifty percent of its members to the front. The collapse in the industry brought the issue of compulsory work into the agenda again. In early 1920, Kolchak and Denikin were defeated and the military detachments consisted of workers were considered to dispatch to the ruined industrial enterprises. Namely, the workers’ detachments that had been mobilised for the Red Army were now considered to compose the labour armies. In his speech at the Third All-Russia Congress of Economic Councils in January 1920, Trotsky emphasised the importance of work discipline. A decree was issued which transformed the Third Army Corps operating in Urals into a revolutionary labour army and Trotsky announced that the first “labour army” was founded “on the initiative of the Red Army”. And this was one of the questions discussed at the 9th Congress in March 1920. For Trotsky, the organisation of disciplined, enthusiastic, devoted labour armies, i.e. the factor that enabled the victory in the civil war, was necessary for the solution of industrial problems. Trotsky said:

Militarization is unthinkable without the militarization of the trade unions as such, without the establishment of a regime in which every worker feels himself a soldier of labour, who cannot dispose of himself freely; if the order is given to transfer him, he must carry it out; if he does not carry it out, he will be a deserter who is punished. Who looks after this? The trade union. It creates the new regime. This is the militarization of the working class.[18]

The congress endorsed the related proposal. In reality, it was a terrible bill of the economic collapse. However, having defeated the armies of Wrangel by late 1920’s and thus put an end to the civil war, the workers started to change their minds. The practices that had been justifiable to some extent by the civil war were now regarded in a different manner. Therefore, the “militarisation of labour” provoked a reaction in the trade unions. And for us, Trotsky’s position in relation to the trade unions was not correct. Nevertheless, we must not skip an important point: although it was Trotsky who was under the spotlights during the debates of this proposal, which was raised with a view to reviving the collapsed industrial production, Lenin, though cautiously, supported the same proposal as well. He said:

And in order to utilise our apparatus with the greatest possible dispatch, we must create a labour army.… In launching this slogan we declare that we must strain all the live forces of the workers and the peasants to the utmost and demand that they give us every help in this matter. And then, by creating a labour army, by harnessing all the forces of the workers and peasants, we shall accomplish our main task.[19]

In short, if there was a mistake committed under the pressure of economic collapse, Trotsky and Lenin had both shared this mistake, though in different degrees. As the debates grew, the issue was brought to the Central Committee. Lenin made a distinction between “centralism and military forms of labour which will turn into a contemptible patronage over the trade-unions” and “healthy forms of militarisation of labour” and stood for the latter formulation. The debates around these problems continued until the complete abandonment of the policy of war communism at the party congress in March 1921 and occupied a significant space in the party literature.

If we are to make a general appraisal of the period, one must note that “war communism” was considered at that time to be a possible starting point for a planned economy on the road towards transition to socialism. But, by the end of the civil war the handling of the issue started to change when it began more apparent that any further continuation of this kind of policies would be wrong. For instance, Lenin drew a balance sheet of the past explaining the need to transition to NEP in April 1921: “It was the war and the ruin that forced us into War Communism. It was not, and could not be, a policy that corresponded to the economic tasks of the proletariat. It was a makeshift.”[20] 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.

Trotsky reminds the well-known lines of Marx that “a development of the productive forces is the absolutely necessary practical premise of communism and without it want is generalised, and with want the struggle for necessities begins again, and that means that all the old crap must revive”, adding that Marx did not feel the need to develop this thought because he never foresaw a proletarian revolution in a backward country. But this thought of Marx offers an indispensable key to the concrete problems and malaise of the Soviet regime.

On the historic basis of destitution, aggravated by the destructions of the imperialist and civil wars, the "struggle for individual existence" not only did not disappear the day after the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, and not only did not abate in the succeeding years, but, on the contrary, assumed at times an unheard-of ferocity. Need we recall that certain regions of the country have twice gone to the point of cannibalism?[21]

The Bureaucratisation

During the civil war, more than half of the trade union members joined in the Red Army, and the number of industrial workers fell from around 3.5 million in 1913 to one million. The urban population decreased a lot due also to the migration to the countryside as a result of hunger, apart from losses in the civil war. While the urban population experienced a total decrease of around 35 percent, the decrease in the population of cities like Moscow and Petrograd , the bastions of the proletarian revolution and the centre of Bolshevik organisation, was much more than that. The population of Petrograd , for instance, fell from 2.5 million in 1917 to 500,000 by the end of civil war.

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. Thus, in order to prevent a chaos, an over-centralisation in economy and politics and most importantly the urgent measures to increase production were inevitable. 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? To what extent could the possible measures to sustain the isolated Soviet fortress, which remained alone in the middle of the whole world amid the devastation caused by the civil war, be compatible with the spirit of the needed revolutionary social transformations?

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.

Lenin, Trotsky, and the other Bolshevik warriors strove to save the masses from unendurable hunger and misery under those utterly unfavourable conditions. Nevertheless, their strivings were historically full of contradictions because of the objective conditions they were unable to change by their will. Thus, while the Bolshevik revolutionaries led by Lenin took measures to increase production (one-man management in the industry, diminishing role of the factory committees, recall of the bourgeois experts and the technical staff with high salaries, applying techniques like Taylorism), on the other hand, they were worriedly observing the growing evil of bureaucratisation.

Hence, the victory of the Russian proletariat in the civil war turned out to be a Pyrrhic victory since the rise of new masters, i.e. the Soviet bureaucracy, could not be prevented. That is why one must be utterly scrupulous in evaluating the historical experience. It would be a petit-bourgeois nihilist approach to put all the blame on the revolutionary leaders for the insurmountable difficulties under given historical circumstances, instead of trying to understand the objective reasons of their mistakes. Such is the attitude of anarchists in relation to the Soviet experience.

The anarchists contend that the methods applied out of exigencies and some unavoidable mistakes of Bolsheviks in practice are due to the inherent bureaucratism of Leninism. The anarchist thinking does not find any difference between Leninism and Stalinism and takes the latter as the natural continuation of the former. Thus, the anarchist writers appraise the period between 1917-1921 as years of bureaucratic counter-revolution led by Lenin himself. But that is utter deceit. As a devoted Marxist, Lenin’s commitment to proletarian democracy and his hostility toward bureaucratism is testified by his struggle in deed in those hard years when the revolution was under siege.

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. Lenin’s warnings against bureaucratism signify that favourable conditions existed for the rise of a bureaucratic rule.

The evil of bureaucratisation did not appear as soon as Stalin took the reins in the party and state organisation after Lenin’s death. On the contrary, the bureaucratisation, which prepared the ground for the rise of Stalin-type leaders, had begun to emerge as a result of the isolation of the Russian Revolution in one country. In March 1919, Lenin professed a truth to the masses in his speech in the Petrograd Soviet.

We threw out the old bureaucrats, but they have come back ... they wear a red ribbon in their buttonholes and creep into warm corners. What to do about this? We must fight this scum again and again and if the scum has crawled back we must again and again clean it up ... [22]

At the 8th Party Congress held in the same year, Lenin addressed to the party:

The tsarist bureaucrats began to join the Soviet institutions and practise their bureaucratic methods, they began to assume the colouring of Communists and, to succeed better in their careers, to procure membership cards of the Russian Communist Party....What makes itself felt here most is the lack of cultured forces.[23]

The level of cultural development emphasised by Lenin was such a fundamental problem that the proletarian revolution could not get round in its struggle for the construction of a new type “non-bureaucratic state”. Therefore, in case of isolation of the revolution in backward countries, the new could yield to and be diverted by the old, despite all the efforts of the revolutionary forces. Then, what could or should the party do? First of all, it would be correct to think that the party could not be the only factor of the evolution. We may stop here for a moment to look at Lenin’s last speech to the party at the 11th Party Congress in 1922. In response to Ustryalov, a liberal professor, who said that the Soviets had to be supported since they have become bourgeois, Lenin stated that he preferred the daring speeches of an enemy to the “communist fibbing”:

We must say frankly that the things Ustryalov speaks about are possible. History knows all sorts of metamorphoses. Relying on firmness of convictions, loyalty, and other splendid moral qualities is anything but a serious attitude in politics. A few people may be endowed with splendid moral qualities, but historical issues are decided by vast masses, which, if the few do not suit them, may at times treat them none too politely.

… sometimes one nation conquers another, the nation that conquers is the conqueror and the nation that is vanquished is the conquered nation. This is simple and intelligible to all. But what happens to the culture of these nations? Here things are not so simple. If the conquering nation is more cultured than the vanquished nation, the former imposes its culture upon the latter; but if the opposite is the case, the vanquished nation imposes its culture upon the conqueror. Has not something like this happened in the capital of the R.S.F.S.R. ? Have the 4,700 Communists (nearly a whole army division, and all of them the very best) come under the influence of an alien culture?[24]

The “supremacy” principle, which is applicable to the wars between nations in different cultural levels as well as to the struggle between the old and new forces, prevailed after the October Revolution too. This was what Lenin described with “the 4,700 Communists having come under the influence of an alien culture”. 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. As it can be understood from the literature of the time, the communists as the winner of the October Revolution faced the enormous resistance of the horde of officials of the old state. And while the Bolsheviks considered that they have broken the resistance of the officials and the experts, etc., in reality the old had sneaked into the new and predominated it. It was Lenin who said that the Soviet Government had hundreds of bureau officials and none of them had faith to the Soviet Government. (The numbers indicate that there were 5,880,000 state officials as against around 2,000,000 industrial workers in 1920).

Hence, despite its success in the October Revolution, the Soviet working class needed actual support of the proletariat of advanced countries in order to deal with the objective hardships the solution of which would take long years. On the other hand, the Soviet workers had to protect themselves against their bureaucratised state. As Lenin stated in December 1920:

Our Party Programme ... shows that ours is a workers' state with a bureaucratic twist to it.... We now have a state under which it is the business of the massively organised proletariat to protect itself, while we, for our part, must use these workers' organisations to protect the workers from their state, and to get them to protect our state.[25]

What could be the truth that these words indicate? If the Soviet state had corresponded to the organisation of the proletariat as a ruling class, would it have been needed to use “the workers’ organisations to protect the workers from their state”? Undoubtedly no. Lenin was pointing to a reality with his emphasis on the “bureaucratic twist” and drawing attention to the fact that the Soviet state was losing its character as a workers’ state. It was this reality that propelled Lenin to think that the workers had to protect themselves against the Soviet state through the trade unions.

1921-1924: The Bureaucratic Degeneration of the State and the Party

Kronstadt Mutiny

The civil war ended leaving enormous problems behind. The unrest within the Bolshevik Party on the basis of this situation resulted in the emergence of the largest opposition group ever since the revolution, i.e. the “Workers Opposition” group. The leaders of the group were Shliapnikov, a former metal worker, and Kollontai, the People’s Commissar of Labour in the first Soviet government. The opposition lacked a comprehensive programme; their views generally revealed a reaction against the growing centralism in the economic and the political life.

The famine in the cities and the terrible conditions of the peasantry compelled the government to introduce new measures to increase agricultural production. War communism was being brought to an end and a new economic policy (NEP) was being shaped that allowed the peasantry to sell part of its product in the market causing a revival of private trade. Lenin and the Bolshevik Party were preparing for the 10th Congress under such circumstances. But just before the congress a uprising broke out backed by the international capital and the counter-revolutionary forces. The uprising had a big impact since it broke out during a counter-revolutionary campaign which provoked the discontented masses and was conducted under the slogan of “Soviets without the Bolsheviks”. Trotsky assessed the incident as follows: “The fact that the Kronstadt mutiny has come at the moment when we are about to sign the peace treaty with Poland and the trade agreement with Britain is, of course, not accidental”.[26]

The soldiers in Kronstadt, a naval base in the middle of the sea covered with ice and snow, revolted against the government in March 1921. The negotiations and the calls to end the mutiny turned out to be futile. And unfortunately, the mutiny could only be suppressed by clashes on 17 March while the discussions of the 10th Congress were going on. Trotsky said that the counter-revolutionary forces of capital, without explicitly opposing the soviets, was slyly using the slogan of “soviets without parties”, and he also emphasised an important fact: “A section of the sailors swallowed this bait. We waited as long as we could for the bemused sailor comrades to see with their own eyes where the mutiny was taking them.”[27]

The mutiny was a product of those unfavourable years. The rebellious sailors tried to secure legitimacy before the working masses with seemingly correct demands like “elections to the soviets through free elections”. However, the mutiny was essentially based on the manipulation of the unrest among the peasants by the anarchist leaders against the Bolsheviks. Of course the rebellious soldiers and supporting toilers, like in all similar cases in history, revolted due to reasons that seem utterly rightful to themselves, without knowing where it would lead to and by whom it was provoked and managed. Lenin also discerned this aspect of the incidence from the intentions of the counter-revolutionaries who manipulated the mutiny in their own interests:

Weariness and exhaustion produce a certain mood, and sometimes lead to desperation. As usual, this tends to breed anarchism among the revolutionary elements. ... The petty-bourgeois element is in the grip of a crisis because it has had it hard over the past few years ... That is why there is confusion and vacillation in its midst, and this is being taken into account by the capitalist enemy, who says: “All it needs is a little push, and it will start snowballing.”[28]

As a result, a delicate event had happened, favourable to exploit and extremely distressing for the Bolsheviks which caused them to be seriously accused by some in their appraisal of history. The attitude of anarchists in their appraisal of the Kronstadt mutiny explicitly displays their political make-up. Emphasising in a one-sided manner the spontaneous action of the masses and apparently rejecting all kinds of authority in principle and exalting the anti-authoritarianism and spontaneity, the anarchists conceal their roles in the mutiny as it suits them.[29]

The anarchists appraise the mutiny without mentioning in the slightest way the changed class composition of the Kronstadt sailors in the course of the civil war. Yet, as the advanced worker elements of the 1917 sailors that supported the proletarian revolution had perished in the civil war, the majority of the 1921 Kronstadt sailors consisted of rather backward soldiers with peasant origins. Therefore, the mutiny did not break out as an action that raised the socialist demands of the industrial proletariat. On the contrary, it revealed the reaction of the peasants to the socialist goals of the Bolsheviks. The sailors of 1921 proceeded from the peasantry demands like “drive out the Bolsheviks from the soviets; create a free market in agriculture.”

Due to this reality, none of the opposition groups within the Bolshevik party objected to the suppression of the mutiny. In order to depict the suppression of the Kronstadt mutiny as an utterly unjustifiable act, certain writers alleged that some dissenting Bolsheviks also took part in the mutiny or that there were parallels between the demands of the mutineers and the platform of the Workers’ Opposition. But, there are no documents to prove it, nor any parallelism between the demands of the mutineers and of the Workers’ Opposition.

The Problem of Trade Unions

The Workers’ Opposition group of the time was the mouthpiece of a tendency based on the viewpoint that the trade unions should have had superior rights over the industry and production. The debates on the problem of trade unions during the winters of 1920 and 1921 were on the agenda of the 10th Party Congress held in March 1921 with the publication of the book titled Workers’ Opposition written by Kollontai. Trotsky then argued that the trade unions had to be subjected to the state. Lenin, on the other hand, differed from both Trotsky and the Workers’ Opposition and tried to influence the congress, arguing for the independence of the trade unions from the state.

The Bolshevik Party published a double-issue of internal discussion bulletin for the discussion of different views. Nevertheless, Lenin was worried since the problem came along just after a crisis like Kronstadt mutiny, and though he criticised the viewpoint of Trotsky, he waged his essential struggle against the Kollontai group. For Lenin, it was quite natural to discuss different views within the party. But, it could not be approved on the other hand that the members of a communist party raise their criticisms in the line of such a political current like syndicalism that is alien to communism. The Workers’ Opposition, nevertheless, stated that their views could not be accused of syndicalism. In their theses, the Opposition stated, “The workers' unions must be drawn from the present position of passive assistance to the economic institutions into active participation in the management of the entire economic structure”[30] and asked “Is this syndicalism? Is not this, on the contrary, the same as what is stated in our Party programme?”[31]

Lenin put a full-stop to the discussion by winning the majority of the congress and made speeches underlining the necessity of the party unity under given difficult circumstances. The main theme was:

Comrades, we have passed through an exceptional year, we have allowed ourselves the luxury of discussions and disputes within the Party. This was an amazing luxury for a Party shouldering unprecedented responsibilities and surrounded by mighty and powerful enemies uniting the whole capitalist world.

I do not know how you will assess that fact now. Was it fully compatible with our resources, both material and spiritual?[32]

The Congress made two decisions upon Lenin’s theses on the indispensability of the party unity. The first one was on the syndicalist and the anarchist deviation in the party; and the other, on the incompatibility of spreading the views of the Workers’ Opposition with party membership. Having been re-elected for the Central Committee, the members of the Workers’ Opposition group resigned. But the congress did not accept the resignations and called on them to remain in the party and obey the party discipline. Although, in fact, it was quite normal in political struggle for those who have different views to defend their differences or resign, the given hardships, unfortunately, compelled Lenin to bend the stick in a different direction. But, considering that the goal of Workers’ Opposition was to keep alive the workers’ democracy, the attitude towards them was hardly acceptable. However, the members of the opposition were not banished or murdered, but called upon to remain in the party, entirely unlike the practices in the period of Stalinist reign!

The Congress appended a paragraph to the concerning resolution, which was preferred to be kept secret as it would be temporary and in use only under extraordinary circumstances. According to this paragraph, those who do not obey the party unity including the members of the Central Committee would be demanded to be expelled from the party. However, it was yet the period of Lenin. Therefore, the demand was not left to the will of one person as in the Stalin era, but tied to a rule. The concerned paragraph included the following condition:

A necessary condition for the application of such an extreme measure to members of the Central Committee, alternate members of the Central Committee and members of the Control Commission is the convocation of a Plenary Meeting of the Central Committee, to which all alternate members of the Central Committee and all members of the Control Commission shall be invited. If such a general assembly of the most responsible leaders of the Party deems it necessary by a two-thirds majority to reduce a member of the Central Committee to the status of alternate member, or to expel him from the Party, this measure shall be put into effect immediately.[33]

Nevertheless, when we remember the fact that such resolutions to secure the party unity were so much abused after Lenin’s death, the resolution should still mean a negative step for the party life. 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. Yet, the Workers’ Opposition group demanded a revival of the democratic spirit within the party. In its campaign the Workers’ Opposition had three basic principles:

(1) Return to the principle of election all along the line with the elimination of all bureaucracy, by making all responsible officials answerable to the masses.

(2) Introduce wide publicity within the Party ...

(3) Make the Party more of a workers' Party. Limit the number of those who fill offices, both in the Party and the Soviet institutions at the same time.[34]

The error of the Workers’ Opposition group which offered correct and progressive measures to reinforce the workers’ democracy, was perhaps they hoped that the problems could be overcome on the basis of strict commitment to the idea of the necessity of the self-organisation of the class. Unfortunately, the reality was not favourable to put this good intention into use; the proletariat had been declassed and bereft of strength to reinforce workers’ democracy.

The year 1921 is a new turning point with full of negative results for the workers’ state. Bearing this fact in mind, the desire to solve problems, say, on the basis of the revolutionary proletariat organised in the trade unions or in the soviets appears to be a wishful thinking. Actually, the revolutionary leaders also desired that. Indeed, in his last writings, Lenin sought for the assistance from the control of the working masses and considered for a Central Committee consisted of hundreds of common workers against the enormous deformation in the workers’ state and the party. However, 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.

In 1921, Lenin enumerated the fundamental factors threatening the revolution as follows: “We are carrying on propaganda against barbarism and against ulcers like bribery … In my opinion, three chief enemies now confront one, irrespective of one's departmental functions; these tasks confront the political educationalist, if he is a Communist – and most of the political educationalists are. The three chief enemies that confront him are the following: the first is communist conceit; the second – illiteracy, and the third – bribery.”[35] Ideally, the main lever in the struggle with bureaucratic deformation of the workers’ state could have been the active intervention of the proletariat organised in the soviets, the factory committees and the trade unions. That was also the chief factor that would enable the revolutionary leaders like Lenin and Trotsky to maintain their influence. In other words, the Bolshevik Party was not an abstract entity immune to the existing social conditions, malaise and bureaucratic deformation, but a concrete social entity, which, in the last analysis, could make its way insofar as there exists a vigilant revolutionary proletariat. Yet, even the following sentence of Lenin alone indicates the gravity of the situation:

The capitalists will gain from our policy and will create an industrial proletariat, which in our country, owing to the war and to the desperate poverty and ruin, has become declassed, i. e., dislodged from its class groove, and has ceased to exist as a proletariat.[36]

NEP

The year 1921 was an important turning point also from the standpoint of economic policy. On the 10th Congress of the Party an economic package of new measures was approved. Proposed by Lenin, the package included some concessions to the peasants. Thus the policy of “war communism” of the civil war period was put an end to and a new era was ushered in to overcome the economic hardships. This New Economic Policy, which was called NEP, was for preventing the danger of famine and economic devastation and improving the economic relations in the countryside. Lenin stated that unless revolution broke out in other countries, the social revolution in Russia could only be saved by an agreement with the peasantry and that it was impossible and dangerous to attempt to a hasty transformation of the small-scale production and peasantry. Indeed, this issue had already been raised by the founders of Marxism as a programmatic warning. In his The Peasant Question in France and Germany Engels wrote about the programmatic views of the communists against the small peasants:

... it is just as evident that when we are in possession of state power we shall not even think of forcibly expropriating the small peasants (regardless of whether with or without compensation), as we shall have to do in the case of the big landowner. Our task relative to the small peasant consist, in the first place, in effecting a transition of his private enterprise and private possession to co-operative ones, not forcibly but by dint of example and the proffer of social assistance for this purpose. And then of course we shall have ample means of showing to the small peasant prospective advantages that must be obvious to him even today.

We of course are decidedly on the side of the small peasant; we shall do everything at all permissible to make his lot more bearable, to facilitate his transition to the co-operative should he decide to do so, and even to make it possible for him to remain on his small holding for a protracted length of time to think the matter over, should he still be unable to bring himself to this decision.[37]

Before the Stalinist bureaucratic rule was founded and a falsified version of “Marxism” shaped the views and practices of the world communist movement, the communists had been advocating that socialism could not be founded through commands from the top, through the oppression of the toiling masses and they had been discerning themselves from all kinds of petit-bourgeois socialist movements. Yet, the oppression of and coercion on the small peasants on the basis of “rapid collectivisation” during Stalin’s era created an insurmountable abyss in view of the principled approach of Marxism. The following remarks of Lenin are as if to show the historical reason for the reaction of the toiling masses against the bureaucratic dictatorships that had oppressed them for many years:

Creative activity at the grass roots is the basic factor of the new public life. … Socialism cannot be decreed from above. Its spirit rejects the mechanical bureaucratic approach; living, creative socialism is the product of the masses themselves.[38]

With the beginning of the NEP period the peasantry were indeed bestowed some rights. For instance, after giving certain amount of their produce to the state, they were allowed to sell the rest on the market. Despite the fact that the low level of production in 1921, which was due to natural disasters, led to the continuation of the danger of famine and of hardships, the harvests of 1922 and 1923 turned out to be good, bringing along a relief. But it was at the cost of the growth of social differences in the countryside. Because the kulak (rich peasantry) grew rich with the lifting of restrictions on production for market. With the introduction of new legal regulations in 1922, “the right to rent land and hire workers” that had been banned on principle following the October Revolution was now legal to a certain extent.

NEP was a reinstatement of the capitalist relations in the countryside under the control of the workers’ state. In order to describe the control and regulation of capitalist relations by the workers’ state, Lenin used the term “state capitalism”. He said:

Not directly relying on enthusiasm, but aided by the enthusiasm engendered by the great revolution, and on the basis of personal interest, personal incentive and business principles, we must first set to work in this small-peasant country to build solid gangways to socialism by way of state capitalism.[39]

On the basis of lessons drawn from the practices of “war communism”, Lenin had to bring to the agenda the necessity of a long transition period and development of capitalism in the countryside under the control of the workers’ state. That is, he was describing NEP as not a proper step forward that must be taken on the road to socialism, but an inescapable necessity due to the isolation of the proletarian revolution in a backward country. In retrospect, Lenin was to state in his last writings that their one-sided emphasis on the necessity of NEP had been wrong. He was to draw the attention of the party to the fact that the drawbacks of this policy could be balanced by launching a campaign of co-operativising in the countryside and a cultural revolution. In Trotsky’s words, Lenin explained the necessity of restoring the market by the existence in the country of millions of isolated peasant enterprises, unaccustomed to define their economic relations with the outside world except through trade.

On the other hand, it was also very important to put an end to the commercial isolation of the Soviet Union . And the Anglo-Soviet trade agreement was signed on 16 March 1921 in London as a result of negotiations with the British government and the representatives of some companies. The most important point the Bolsheviks accepted was that the Comintern would stop the anti-British propaganda in the colonies. One of the most concrete results of this was that the Congress of Eastern Peoples has never met again. This policy change which coincides with the NEP also had its impact on the relations of the Soviet Union with the Eastern countries. For instance, in the same year with the Anglo-Soviet agreement the Soviet Union signed another agreement with Turkey , in which both counties proclaimed their solidarity in “the war against imperialism”.[40] Likewise, similar relations were carried on with the Germans.

With the introduction of NEP, the industrial nationalisations stopped. Most of the large-scale enterprises were already at the hands of the state. However, in order to make these enterprises work, the individual entrepreneurs or the former owners of these enterprises were now allowed to rent them. Meanwhile, the enterprises of less than twenty workers were not in general considered for nationalisation. The individual entrepreneurs in the industry as well as in the agriculture were allowed to sell the products on the market, provided they pay the tax. All these innovations enabled an increase in production and a certain recovery, but on the other hand prepared the ground for major dangers. As Lenin pointed out at the 10th Congress of the Bolshevik Party, though these measures were necessary, the “freedom of trade” meant nothing but the encouragement of capitalism. Indeed, in his report to the 11th Party Congress in 1922, Lenin described the NEP as a “regression” and emphasised that discipline was hundred times necessary in such a period.

In 1922, the Goods Exchange was founded in Moscow to establish control over trade. The new urban rich, the merchants (the NEPmen), were increasing their level of trade activities. The co-operatives, introduced as a rectifying addendum to the NEP policy, were not sufficient at all; therefore it was the NEPmen who controlled the retail trade not the consumer co-operatives. Meanwhile, one of the most important problems was the price crisis. As the market fluctuations of the NEP period replaced the price control of the war communism period, the unbalance between agriculture and industry gave rise to steep price hikes. Furthermore, the rights granted to individual entrepreneurs led the working class to face similar problems as in capitalism such as low wages, threat of unemployment and so on. Another thing that increased the discontent among the workers was the introduction of a measure that had been considered earlier on but could not have been put into practice due to war communism. Former factory managers and bourgeois experts were re-employed in higher wages.

In conclusion, despite a certain relief in the countryside thanks to NEP, the affairs in the industry were not sorted out. Economic unbalances manifested themselves in the instability of rouble and serious crises in financial system. And these problems persisted. Despite symptoms of a temporary recovery in the economy in 1924, the situation was still delicate. “Although the total industrial output of the year that ended by 1 January 1924 was 2.5 times the output of 1920 according to Gosplan figures, it could hardly reach 40 percent of the pre-war level, and 28.7 percent in metal industry.”[41] Therefore, now some dissenting voices were arising against NEP practices that were formerly considered to have alleviated the problems.

Lenin’s last period

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. Lenin proposed a rearrangement of mutual rights and duties of the party and the state in his speech (his last speech to the party) at the 11th Party Congress in March 1922. He was concerned about the general course of events: “The machine refused to obey the hand that guided it. It was like a car that was going not in the direction the driver desired, but in the direction someone else desired; … and often it goes in an altogether different direction.”[42] In the last speech of his life at the 4th Congress of Comintern in November 1922, he said: “We took over the old machinery of state, and that was our misfortune.”[43]

In his last writings and in his famous testament, Lenin pointed to the discomforting consequences of the Stalinist bureaucratic apparatus. He was as if crying out with the anxiety of a revolutionist who wants to fulfil his last duty of saving the party and state from this apparatus. In May 1922, Lenin had a stroke that prevented him from working for weeks. He could start working in autumn and made several speeches. When he started working after the stroke, he was terrified due to the power and authority that Stalin’s bureau and staff acquired. In December, Lenin had another stroke and in the following three months he dictated some notes and articles on party problems. On 24 December 1922 , Lenin dictated his famous testament to which he appended a note on 4 January. As Lenin stated in this appendix, Stalin was “too rude”. He must be removed from the position of General Secretary and replaced with “another man who is more patient, more loyal, more polite and more attentive to comrades, less capricious, etc.” Moreover, Lenin declared that he ended his “comradely relations” with Stalin in a letter dated 5 March after Stalin insulted Krupskaya. After a third stroke on 9 March 1923 , Lenin was unable to speak and though he lived for ten months, he could never work again.

Advocating that the united state apparatus of Soviet Republics (USSR) be founded according to the principle of complete equality, Lenin grew angry at the rude and aggressive conduct of the Stalin faction that resorted to Russian chauvinism against the Georgian communists. Lenin, for this reason, severely condemns Stalin, Dzerzhinsky and Ordzhonikidze in person. Lenin, in his article titled The Question of Nationalities or ‘Autonomisation’, which was dictated in December 1922, launched an open struggle against the Stalin faction. The Stalinist faction tries to conceal their great nation chauvinism and bureaucratic aggressiveness under the pretext of “a united apparatus was needed”. Lenin’s response to this attitude, as in his testament, demonstrates the rightfulness of Lenin’s desire to get rid of Stalin from the head of the party.

It is said that a united apparatus was needed. Where did that assurance come from? Did it not come from that same Russian apparatus which, as I pointed out in one of the preceding sections of my diary, we took over from tsarism and slightly anointed with Soviet oil?...

It is quite natural that in such circumstances the "freedom to secede from the union: by which we justify ourselves will be a mere scrap of paper, unable to defend the non-Russians from the onslaught of that really Russian man, the Great-Russian chauvinist, in substance a rascal and a tyrant, such as the typical Russian bureaucrat is. There is no doubt that the infinitesimal percentage of Soviet and sovietised workers will drown in that tide of chauvinistic Great-Russian riffraff like a fly in milk.[44]

In this article, Lenin stresses on the need to take measures to provide the non-Russians with a real safeguard against the truly Russian bully. He explains that people of other nationalities who have become Russified “over-do this Russian frame of mind” and shows that the rude and aggressive conduct toward the communists of the oppressed nations stem from Stalin-type bureaucrats. And without explicitly giving his name he warns the party about Stalin:

The Georgian who is neglectful of this aspect of the question, or who carelessly flings about accusations of “nationalist-socialism” (whereas he himself is a real and true “nationalist-socialist”, and even a vulgar Great-Russian bully), violates, in substance, the interests of proletarian class solidarity, for nothing holds up the development and strengthening of proletarian class solidarity so much as national injustice; “offended” nationals are not sensitive to anything so much as to the feeling of equality and the violation of this equality, if only through negligence or jest- to the violation of that equality by their proletarian comrades.[45]

Finally, the following lines are extremely educative as they represent the most striking warnings against bureaucratic degeneration and a questioning of the process in the face of such an evil without even excluding himself:

We don’t know how to conduct a public trial for rotten bureaucracy: for this all of us, and particularly the People’s Commissariat for Justice, should be hung on stinking ropes. And I have not yet lost all hope that one day we shall be hung for this, and deservedly so.[46]

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. It was very unfortunate from the standpoint of the vanguard that, at that moment, the revolutionary leaders tried to save the revolution by substituting themselves for the self-organisation of the class and maintain the soviet rule through one-party dictatorship.

Nevertheless, a mentality that sees this state of affairs as if a desired goal, which in fact was but a terrible impasse from the point of view of history, has unfortunately survived. For instance, at the 12th Party Congress held in Lenin’s absence, Zinoviev’s statements that nearly praised the dictatorship of the Central Committee against some Bolsheviks, who tried to explain that the party dictatorship was actually an unfavourable situation, are striking:

We need a single strong, powerful Central Committee which is leader of everything … The Central Committee is the Central Committee because it is the same Central Committee for the soviets, and for the trade unions, and for the co-operatives, and for the provincial executive committees and for the whole working class. In this consists the role of leadership, in this is expressed the dictatorship of the party.[47]

One wonders if Zinoviev and co-thinking Bolsheviks remembered these kinds of statements when they were murdered with the order of the omnipotent Stalinist Central Committee! And what can be said about those who sanctify one-party dictatorship in the name of socialism and insist on following the course of Stalin even years have passed after these painful episodes of history?!

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.

It is possible to observe the bureaucratic degeneration in the Bolshevik Party from the numbers showing the changing composition of the party. While the members of the Bolshevik Party, who actively participated in the struggle in the revolutionary process of 1917, formed one-tenth of the party in 1919, this ratio was one-fortieth in 1922. The position of the proletariat in the production process deteriorated in favour of the rising new bureaucrats, managers, and directors. For instance, while 65% of the administrative personnel were consisted of workers and 35% of non-workers in 1922, these percentages reversed in 1923: 26% as against 64%.

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.

To put it with a concrete example, we must remember the measures resorted to by the revolutionary leaders in order to increase the production when they faced the economic collapse during the civil war, which, in the last analysis, aggravated the bureaucratisation. The leaders of a revolution which is isolated in a backward country like Russia were compelled to call back the bourgeois experts. Then, did these revolutionary leaders forget that the proletarian revolution in a backward country could advance only with the revolutionary thrust of the proletariat in advanced countries? Of course they did not. However, in the absence of an international thrust, which would enable the organisation of international revolutionary detachments of the world proletariat and mobilise the communists of various countries to solve the practical problems of the Russian Revolution (such as the organisation of production, education of the proletariat and their preparation for management), the leaders of the October Revolution, surely feeling the deep distress of falling into contradiction with their own principles, were compelled to call back the bourgeois experts with higher wages. Under the circumstances where the world revolution could not be advanced, Rosa Luxemburg’s reproach for the German proletariat is not unfair, who expressed her revolutionary anger at those who put all the blame upon the weakness of the Russian proletariat and the revolutionary leaders. In this context, while she boldly emphasised the “the fatal inertia of the German masses”, on the other hand, she expressed the need for a critical assessment due to the traps of all kinds that beset the revolutionary leaders.

There is no doubt that the wise heads at the helm of the Russian Revolution, that Lenin and Trotsky on their thorny path beset by traps of all kinds, have taken many a decisive step only with the greatest inner hesitation and with most violent inner opposition. And surely nothing can be farther from their thoughts than to believe that all the things they have done or left undone under the conditions of bitter compulsion and necessity in the mids of the roaring whirlpool of events, should be regarded by the International as a shining example of socialist policy toward which only uncritical admiration and zealous imitation are in order.

It would be no less wrong to fear that a critical examination of the road so far taken by the Russian Revolution would serve to weaken the respect for and the attractive power of the example of the Russian Revolution, which alone can overcome the fatal inertia of the German masses.[48]

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. The Second International was like a “rotten corpse” and busy strangling the revolution in Europe hand in hand with the imperialist bourgeoisie. Yet, the construction of a new and revolutionary international started only two years after the October Revolution and one year after the strangling of the German Revolution, which means that it was too late. The Second International was, as Rosa described, like a “rotten corpse”. 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. On the other side is the reality that the one-party now in power has been deprived of its social base to fight the evil of bureaucratic degeneration. Therefore, the entire political struggle and the fight for power would be conducted within that one-party. That reality which came into being due to the objective exigencies in Lenin’s era, was to be turned into an opportunity in the hands of Stalin-type leaders to ensure the domination of the rising bureaucracy. The bureaucratic degeneration of the Bolshevik Party between 1921-1924 would point to the becoming of the Soviet state vulnerable to a bureaucratic counter-revolution, increasingly ceasing to be a workers’ state.

Under these circumstances, the gains of the October Revolution were under severe threat though they were still not lost completely. The degeneration of the Bolshevik Party signified the elimination of the last factor that remained as the only guarantee to wage a fight in the historical interests of the proletariat under given conditions. When the soviets ceased in reality to play their indispensable role in power, the struggle between the bureaucratic oligarchy rising in the party and state and the revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat has turned out to be the decisive factor. 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.

The passing of the party leadership into the hands of the triumvirate of Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev due to the illness of Lenin served to create the historical opportunity for the bureaucracy and Stalin in the Bolshevik Party. Considering these facts, though the analyses of some opposition groups (like Workers’ Opposition or the Democratic Centralists) had lapses and shortcomings, it turns out that there is point in their cries that the workers’ state had ceased to exist.

The economic crisis deepened by the summer and the autumn of 1923. Actually, the prices of industrial products had increased against the prices of agricultural products since September 1922. Accordingly, Trotsky carried that central problem to the 12th Party Congress in September 1923 and pointed out to this price unbalance called scissors crisis which was caused by the increasing gap between the prices of agricultural products and industrial products. The situation was truly serious and Trotsky, in his critical letter to the Central Committee in 8 October, stated that this crisis could not be overcome by trying to command the prices as in the period of war communism. According to him, there was urgent need for measures such as a reorganisation of large-scale state enterprises and a plan. A week after Trotsky’s letter the declaration of the Platform of the 46 was published, signed by both those who support Trotsky and various opposing elements. In the declaration the economic crisis was drawn attention to, and the mismanagement of the economy and the repressive regime in the party were criticised.

Though the opposition demanded for the gathering of a broader party conference to discuss these important problems, the party leadership only allowed them to express their views in the columns of Pravda. Actually, even that little concession was a last instance and the opposition would never again be granted such a right. On 25 October the Central Committee condemned both Trotsky’s letter of 8 October and the Platform of the 46. The triumvirate of Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev now openly girded on their swords to attack Trotsky.

In 15 December, Stalin ushered in a new era publishing an article in Pravda against Trotsky. Throughout that era in which Stalin collaborated with Zinoviev and Kamenev to get rid of Trotsky by means of various lies and intrigues, the insults against Trotsky were conducted under the accusation of “Trotskyism” invented in fact by Zinoviev and Kamenev. And, when Lenin was on his deathbed in January 1924, Stalin condemned the opposition in the Party Congress and blamed Trotsky personally for opposition against the party leadership. Was not this result an evident demonstration of how Lenin was right in his concerns about Stalin in his testament and to what degree the triumvirate took the testament seriously?

1924-1928: The Process of Bureaucratic Counter-Revolution

That the isolation of the Soviet Union was certain with the defeat of the German Revolution and the ebb of the revolutionary tide in Europe led to a sharpening of the conflict between the groups in the Bolshevik Party, particularly after Lenin’s death. The conflict was now between the rising bureaucracy and the Bolshevik-Leninists (The Left Opposition), which kept defending the historical interests of the proletariat. This period of conflicts between 1924-1928 would be a process of bureaucratic counter-revolution in which the bureaucracy set out to liquidate the workers’ power that have lost its function as a result of the bureaucratic degeneration.

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.

By Lenin’s death, a lack of authority appeared, an authority which would unite the revolutionary elements in the party. The struggle of the Left Opposition in the Bolshevik Party turned out ineffective, because the internal party democracy did not function at all and the reins were completely concentrated in the hands of the secretary general Stalin. The old Bolshevik leaders like Zinoviev and Kamenev, who were to oppose Stalin later on, in a sense prepared their own ends since it was acceptable for them to collaborate with Stalin in their struggle for supremacy, apart from the fact that they were also unable to establish a political unity. Such factors were incomparably important due to the exceptional conditions wherein the political struggle for power occurred in one party, rather than between more than one parties.

The Left Opposition

Due to the economic hardships of the period, the focal point for the internal groupings was different views about achieving industrialisation. Three main groups emerged in the party on the question of the relationship between agriculture and industry. The Left Opposition that included Trotsky too, defended a planned and rapid industrialisation. Meanwhile Trotsky continued the struggle launched by Lenin against bureaucratism and called on the party to beware of the intrigues of the Stalinist faction. Trotsky criticised bureaucratism on 8 December 1923 in his “Letter to Party Meetings” which was part of his pamphlet The New Course:

Bureaucratism of the apparatus is precisely one of the principal sources of factionalism. It ruthlessly represses criticism and drives discontent back into the depths of the organisation. It tends to put the label of factionalism upon any criticism, any warning. Mechanical centralism is necessarily complemented by factionalism, which is at once a malicious caricature of democracy and a potential political danger.[49]

The Left Opposition, with the suggestion of rapid industrialisation, demanded the encouragement of the heavy industry, over-pricing of machines, and thus transferring sources to the industry and compelling the kulaks to mechanisation by means of economic factors. In fact, the fundamental problem of Russia was then to get industrialised, which would enable improvement in economy. Nevertheless, it required sources. As the Soviet power was almost completely deprived of sources like foreign capital, loans and credits, the prominent Soviet economists like Preobrazhensky were compelled to turn their eyes towards internal sources.

In July 1924, Preobrazhensky submitted his work The Fundamental Law of Socialist Accumulation to the Communist Academy . Preobrazhensky demanded the material sources obtained from outside the nationalised industrial system be accumulated in the hands of the state. He offered to term it primitive or pre-socialist accumulation for he considered that this accumulation would inevitably play a colossal role in a backward, agricultural country and become central in the industrialisation period. However, as the party leadership found it incompatible with the official line of that period, it accused Preobrazhensky’s work of “Trotskyism”. In fact Preobrazhensky had proceeded from the analyses of Marx on capitalist primitive accumulation. Just as this accumulation had required the separation of producers from the means of production, he thought the “socialist accumulation” must be inspired from it. That is, for him there was a question of “socialist accumulation” in Russia and it was impossible to solve this problem unless the small-scale production was exploited and the sources were transferred from agriculture to industry.

The right wing which was shaped around Bukharin’s views, however, opposed to this proposal on the ground that it would break the alliance of workers and peasants and demanded agriculture be subsidised. Bukharin ridiculed the idea of a planned industrialisation and argued for a “tortoise tempo” industrialisation and making concessions to the bourgeois elements in the countryside. The attitude of the right wing towards the peasantry was expressed in the slogan “get rich”.

The third group in the party that included Stalin, the centre group, seemed to stand in the middle of both views. Its main concern was to develop tactics and intrigues by utilising the right wing to crush the Left Opposition. For this reason, the Stalinist centre supported and implemented Bukharinists’ theses, and accused Trotsky and the Left Opposition of adventurism.

Meanwhile, in May 1924 before the 13th Party Congress, Zinoviev raised the issue of Lenin’s testament in a meeting participated only by the leading party members. According to him Lenin’s suggestion to remove Stalin was not fair. He was supported also by Kamenev. In the course of discussions, where Trotsky, as it turns out, chose to remain silent, Krupskaya insisted on reading out of Lenin’s testament to the congress. However, the resolution was to secretly inform only certain delegates about the testament. So the triumvirate concealed the testament as it did not suit its aims, despite Lenin had dictated it to warn the party.

The question of testament, and the year 1925 as a whole, would turn out to be a dangerous turning point for Trotsky’s political life. At that time an American communist, M. Eastman, known as pro-Trotsky, cited from Lenin’s testament in his book, published in New York , about the last period of Lenin’s life. The Stalinist faction exploited this incident as a pretext to weaken Trotsky politically. In January 1925 Trotsky had to make a statement that “the testament did not exist”. But this statement could not prevent his removal from the post of head of the Revolutionary Military Committee and of the People’s Commissar of War at the Central Committee meeting in January 1925. Now the wheel of bureaucracy was being directed by Stalin and the new victims were going to be Zinoviev and Kamenev.

The triumvirate was to fall apart at the 14th Congress held in the end of 1925 and now Stalin was trying to get rid of Zinoviev and Kamenev. In response to this, Zinoviev and Kamenev changed their views and joined the ranks of those who were in favour of a rapid industrialisation. Hence, in the summer of 1926, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev and their followers formed the United Opposition. Also some members of Democratic Centralists, a small but radical group led by Sapronov, joined the United Opposition. The opposition participated in the Central Committee meeting held in July and at that meeting Zinoviev was expelled from the Politburo and Kamenev from the government.

A new crisis broke out in early 1927. One of the underlying factors was the deterioration of the foreign relations of the Soviet Union . Germany was in favour of maintaining its commercial relations with the Soviet Union for its own interests. However, Britain , then the biggest commercial partner of the Soviet Union , cut off its relations with the Soviet Union .[50] Moreover, the Soviet leadership lapsed into anxiety in anticipation of a war with Poland , under Pilsudski, which was allegedly to intervene in the Baltic region. As a result of this tense process, the intra-party strife became highly aggravated. Nevertheless, the Soviet diplomacy at the same time kept up its attempts to break its isolation on the international arena. In May 1927, a Soviet delegation went to Geneva to attend the World Economic Conference. Though the delegates in general criticised the capitalists and defended the monopoly of the foreign trade, they made an appeal for “peaceful co-existence of the two economic systems”.

Repressions against the opposition were stepped up during the process; pretexts were being sought and campaigns conducted to expel Trotsky and Zinoviev from the party. Trotsky held a plea in Central Control Commission. When Aron Soltz, a member of Presidium, spoke of the history of French Revolution and the guillotine, Trotsky responded to this threat with his famous words about the “Thermidorian degeneration” of the Stalinist leadership. M. Reiman, who refers to this event on the basis of documents, states that Trotsky wrote in his letter to Ordzhonikidze, the chairman of the Central Control Commission, that the war danger did not rule out the necessity of criticism and that a change of leadership could really be a prerequisite for the victory.[51] The pressure applied on the opposition for it to give up its positions did not prove effective. In the end, an advisory resolution was arrived at, which suggests expelling of Trotsky and Zinoviev from Central Committee, in their absence at the joint plenum of Central Committee and the Central Control Commission on 29 June 1927 . The role of the OGPU in political life steadily increased as the hotbed of political plots against the opposition since the Stalinist leadership was unable to silence the opposition merely through bureaucratic intra-party manoeuvres.

The United Opposition submitted its platform (Declaration of the 83), a programmatic document, to the party leadership in early September 1927. The platform demanded a structural improvement in the Soviet economy; an immediate recovery of the social conditions of the industrial workers and the poor in the countryside; reinforcement of the vital nucleus in the party, soviets, public institutions; an end to national oppression, etc. The Politburo banned the Platform on 8 September 1927 . After that, Stalin’s consecutive attacks against the opposition followed.

The year 1927 was also fraught with tensions due to the defeat of the Chinese Revolution and Trotsky’s criticism of the policy of the Stalinist leadership on China . Criticising Stalin’s policies at the Comintern Executive Committee meeting, Trotsky was expelled from the Executive Committee of the Comintern on 27 September. A month later at the Central Committee meeting of the party, Trotsky and Zinoviev were expelled from the Central Committee too. As a result of criminal investigation campaigns launched on grounds that the opposition leaders were spreading their views among people at the Celebrations of the 10th Anniversary of the October Revolution in Moscow and Leningrad, now it was high time for expulsions from the party itself: Trotsky and Zinoviev were expelled from the party; Kamenev and some other oppositionists were liquidated from the Central Committee.

Thus the preparations of the Stalinist leadership for the coming 15th Party Congress in December were focused on the tactics to assure its own power instead of solving the problems of Soviet economy. The campaign against the opposition climaxed at the time of the congress and massive expulsions and exiles followed. Kamenev and Zinoviev were exiled to Kaluga , several hundred miles away from Moscow ; and Trotsky, the real danger as he was considered by Stalin, was sent into exile in 1928 to Alma-Ata , one of the farthest frontier cities of central Asia . In March 1928, with an order entitled On the Policy of Punishment and Prison Regime, it was decided that the hitherto limited concentration camps be extended and that the OGPU be granted broader powers to apply the harshest repressive measures against the oppositionists and recidivists.

Though the Left Opposition was losing its strength due to naked repressions of the Stalinist leadership, it was still a reality. Yet, Stalin desired to get rid of such an opposition. Stalin, in a secret letter to party organisations, made clear that all kinds of “liberalism” toward the opposition was inexcusable and that “the Trotskyists” had completed their evolution “by transforming themselves into an anti-Soviet underground organisation”.[52]

On the other hand, however, this episode of history saw the return of many former leaders to the party lapsing into illusions. But they would later come to understand these were mere illusions when they were faced with death penalties ordered by Stalin. For instance, Kamenev, Zinoviev and some other oppositionists in this manner returned to the party in June 1928. Moreover, Preobrazhensky and Radek, known as Trotsky’s collaborators, declared to have disagreed with Trotsky’s views and drew closer to Stalin. In the course of all these regrettable events, Trotsky, in Alma-Ata, wrote a critique of the draft Comintern Programme prepared for the 1928 Congress, and sent it to the delegates of the congress. The critique dealt an extensive and heavy blow to the doctrine of “socialism in one country” which was made the ideological underpinning of the bureaucratic state.[53]

In December 1928, Stalin made a proposal at the Politburo to exile Trotsky from the USSR . His goal was to entirely crash the left opposition by depriving it of its leader. In January 1929, Stalin made the Politburo pass this resolution despite the objections of Rykov, Bukharin, and Tomsky. Trotsky was sent into exile to Turkey in a ship from Odessa to Istanbul . Thus Stalin achieved his goal to establish his despotic-bureaucratic dictatorship in the Bolshevik Party, and the Bolshevik-Leninists, the followers of Lenin, were purged out of the party. Now the Bolshevik Party essentially had nothing in common with the former party.

If the rise of Stalin-type nationalist, Great Russian chauvinist bureaucrats could not be prevented despite the struggle of the internationalist revolutionary elements and the existence of the respected leaders like Lenin and Trotsky, then there must be a lesson to be drawn: the economic-cultural backwardness of society, the weakening of the industrial proletariat in the course of civil war and, most importantly, the isolation of the revolution in one country, not only did enable the rise of a bureaucratic rule but also led to an enormous change in the structure and situation of the party that had been the vanguard of the revolution. That the party, which included once the revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat, transformed itself into the apparatus of the rule of the bureaucracy explains what devastating effects could the objective situation have on the development of the subjective factor.

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.

Cliff’s extract from Boris Pilnyak’s story concerning the bureaucrat type that represent “the revival of the old crap” perfectly depicts the situation at that time: “near the telephone in his room stood an armchair, and when he talked to his subordinates, he sprawled in the armchair, legs spread wide; when he talked to his equals he sat like an ordinary human being; when he talked to those in authority he jumped to attention and jingled his spurs: these were three distinct voices.”[54] There is an abyss between this backward type, shrewd and egotist in guarding his own interests, who should never be allowed to an administrative position in a healthy workers’ democracy and those heroic vanguards who did not hesitate to die for the revolution of the proletariat. In this context, one should always remember the example of Lenin, that is his simplicity, as a true communist character.

Between 1924 and 1928 the number of party members rose from 472,000 to 1,304,000 and the old Bolshevik members were liquidated from the party during the process. That the composition of the party has now definitely changed to favour new masters (the Soviet bureaucracy) is an expression of the fact that the Bolshevik Party has turned into an organ (a temple) symbolising the privileges of the 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 theoretical insufficiency of Stalinism is indisputable. It is true that, in seeking to present itself as socialist, it could not develop an independent theory and laid claim to the existing brands of petit-bourgeois socialism. However, all these do not mean that the ruling bureaucracy lacked an ideology. As we remember, 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. Stalin appeared to be committed to the goal of world revolution until Lenin’s death. However, as he seized the reins in the Bolshevik Party capitalising on the void of authority formed in the aftermath of Lenin’s death, and explicitly proved himself to be a “Great Russian chauvinist” despot and the leader of the rising bureaucracy, the idea of “socialism in one country” started to take shape as the official ideology of the state. It is a clear indication of the rise of the bureaucratic counter-revolution that Stalin accused the Left Opposition, which was defending the goal of world revolution, and especially Trotsky, as one of its leaders, of adventurism and set to purge the Bolshevik Party of this “dangerous” idea of world revolution. This also displays the international dimension of the Stalinist counter-revolution for the world proletariat. 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.

1928-1936: Reinforcement of the Bureaucratic Dictatorship

The Stalinist centre continued advocating the views of the right wing on the question of industrialisation until the turn of 1928. The thesis Stalin defended until 1928 was this: “Not to hurry with industrialisation, not to quarrel with the muzhik, not to count on world revolution, and above all to protect the power of the party bureaucracy from criticism.”[55]

However, having done away with the pressure of the Left Opposition in the party, Stalin is now making plans to get rid of his partner in power, i.e. setting out to liquidate the Bukharinist right wing. The “case of Bukharin” is a typical example revealing the make-up of Stalin who builds his political tactics upon Asiatic style intrigues. After using Bukharin, Tomsky, etc., to crush the Left Opposition and Trotsky, Stalin was to forget his words about them in 1925 once he no longer needed them: “What is Bukharin supposed to do?... Do you want to sacrifice him? We are not going to sacrifice him, this must be well understood..... What is the meaning of this platform you have formed? Where would the whole thing lead to? This goes in the end up to the point of managing the party without Rykov, Kalinin , Tomsky, Molotov and Bukharin... but comrades the party cannot be managed without the comrades I have named.”[56] It is as if an irony of history that upon noticing this attempt of Stalin, Bukharin offered Kamenev an alliance against Stalin and described him as “a Genghis Khan waiting to cut our throat as soon as we fall into conflict with each other.”[57] This confession of Bukharin, one of the architects of the ideological pillar of the Stalinist rule, i.e. “socialism in one country”, was not to change the subsequent course of events.

First, at a Central Committee meeting in November 1929, Bukharin, Tomsky and Rykov were made to sign a document stating that they abandoned their views and this document was published in Pravda. Then Bukharin was removed from the Politburo. And Tomsky and Rykov were condemned. On 21 December 1929, Stalin was celebrating his fiftieth birthday under circumstances where he had transformed the party into his device of rule and silenced all his opponents. Right at this point, E. H. Carr’s assessment is quite correct:

In his fiftieth birthday Stalin’s passion was at its peak. There had been sufficient incidence to vindicate Lenin’s worries about the possibility that he could use his power in a rude and arbitrary way. He had revealed extra-ordinary cruelty in realising his targets by force, and had crushed all opposition. But a little more time had to pass before the nature of his dictatorship appear fully. The imposition of a rigid and monolithic orthodoxy on art, literature, history and science and silencing of any critical thought by force, along with the horror of the collectivisation process, concentration camps, the trials that were turned into great shows, and indiscriminate murder, with or without trial, of not only those who had opposed him, but also those who had helped him rise to power, left a stain that could not be cleared by the war success or other achievements.[58]

The last period of 1929 was filled with various meetings, discussions and drafts of commissions gathered about how the collectivisation would be conducted. A Conference of Marxist Agriculturists had been held in Moscow before the politburo negotiated the report of the commission. Stalin, utilising this opportunity to address the crowd for the first time since months, said: “the liquidation of the kulaks as a class is the sharpest orientation of our whole policy.”[59] Afterwards, the decision of Politburo on 5 January 1930 was in this direction and a large scale collectivisation was launched. All those peasants who resisted were considered either a kulak or in collaboration with the kulaks, and were harshly punished. Trotsky’s fear that a collectivisation carried out by force would put the social revolution into danger, breaking the alliance between workers and peasants, was becoming the reality.

The Stalinist leadership developed a new plan to suppress the peasants on a mass scale. “Tens of thousands of kulaks were driven out of their houses and lands, exiled to far regions, their cattle, tools and machinery were transferred to kolkhozy. Only a small minority of peasants from all categories voluntarily entered into the kolkhozy. Most resentful for the peasants was that their livestock was demanded. Most of them preferred to kill their cattle instead of handing them over. Throughout the whole campaign the line between persuasion and use of force became very thin.”[60] The interference of the OGPU in grain collection campaigns was increased and preparations were made for military troops to situate in the villages. Peasants were forced to join kolkhozy along with a repressive propaganda campaign. As a result of these acts the discontent in the countryside grew. As a reaction to state pressure, the peasants stopped sowing their land, killed their herds and even revolted in certain regions. “A new order followed few days later... The guilty would immediately be sentenced to death without any interrogation; there would be no right to appeal and the sentences would be executed within the period set by the law. In a way this was a prototype of the well-known decree about the “terrorists” issued on 1 December 1934 by Stalin after the assassination of Kirov.”[61]

Although there was an intervening period of softening the collectivisation and repressions in order to make peasants sow their land, in the end the resistance of peasants was broken and the collectivisation was stepped up; and finally, by mid 1931 two thirds of the enterprises in main grain production regions were united in the kolkhozy. The rest were also made join into kolkhozy in the following few years. It is estimated that the hunger peasants suffered during this period was the worst thing since the civil war and that a few million died of hunger. Resources report that by 1931 capitalist sector in the economy was completely ruined and on the other hand, as a result of this fast operation, agriculture was dragged into a complete chaos.

In this process, Stalin’s chief concern was the reinforcement of the dictatorship of the bureaucracy and took into account that a kulak danger that would develop in the countryside would threaten his dictatorship. The chief motive that drove Stalin to take this course is rather political, and not rational economic calculations. Main target of collectivisation is to stop the influence of the law of value and thus to gain the political control absolutely. That is, Stalin’s concern was not to save a non-existent workers’ state against a bourgeois counter-revolution. As the representative of the ruling bureaucracy that had wrested power from the hands of the working class, he focused his efforts on protecting his own bureaucratic rule against a possible bourgeois counter-revolution. For this reason Stalin took the course of a forced collectivisation by a sharp turn in 1929 and thus managed to prevent the kulak danger that would threaten his own power. After crushing the proletariat on the basis of obtaining the support of petty-bourgeois masses in the countryside, the Stalinist bureaucracy also crushed the peasant, thus reinforcing its own bureaucratic dictatorship.

Therefore, it would be unfounded to try to identify, on the basis of the need to get industrialised, Trotsky’s industrialisation plan with Stalin’s practices at the turn of 1929. Trotsky himself assesses Stalin’s collectivisation operation as a great adventure and destruction in terms of its consequences:

Opportunism, as has often happened in history, turned into its opposite, adventurism. Whereas from 1923 to 1928 the Politburo had been ready to accept Bukharin's philosophy of a “tortoise tempo”, it now lightly jumped from a 20 to a 30 per cent yearly growth, trying to convert every partial and temporary achievement into a norm, and losing sight of the conditioning interrelation of the different branches of industry.[62]

Stating that the real basis for collectivisation depends on the industry supplying machinery in great quantities to agriculture, Trotsky asserts that Stalin, who turned his back to the industrialisation proposals of the Left Opposition since 1923, set about a collectivisation in 1929 in a rush, without any preparation, and by force. And what were the results? In Trotsky’s words:

The destruction of people –by hunger, cold, epidemics and measures of repression– is unfortunately less accurately tabulated than the slaughter of stock, but it also mounts up to millions. The blame for these sacrifices lies not upon collectivization, but upon the blind, violent, gambling methods with which it was carried through.[63]

These lines of Trotsky reveal the incompatibility between Stalin’s methods and the industrialisation plan of the Left Opposition. Unfortunately, Trotsky made some false evaluations emphasising, in order to prove political incapacity of Stalin, that he has come to the same point defended by the Left Opposition for years.[64] Although Trotsky rectified his position on this point, many Trotskyist circles, instead of questioning these points, have continued to establish nearly an identity between the two plans. And we must state that the main source of these misperceptions is some renegade Left Oppositionists whom Stalin managed to pull to his side. Various writers make this point on the basis of historical documents. For example M. Reiman says: “Apart from Zinovievists, some oppositionists including the most important Trotskyist wing leaders like Antonov-Ovseenko and Pyatakov used the ‘left turn’ of Stalin to justify their break with the opposition.”[65] Despite their surrender, those Left Oppositionists could not generally escape from Stalin’s death machine. But having swallowed his bait they could provide support to Stalin and evaluate the Stalinist collectivisation as the implementation of the plans of the Left Opposition. Yet, the lies of official Soviet view that presents collectivisation in the countryside as “the strengthening of the foundations of the socialist state”, “the establishment of socialist property relations in the countryside”, are exposed by Trotsky in 1936:

According to the official theory, collective farm property is a special form of socialist property. ... In reality the collective farms stand halfway between individual and state economy, and the petty bourgeois tendencies within them are admirably helped along by the swiftly growing private allotments or personal economies conducted by their members.

... In any case, the collectives have succeeded so far in transforming only the juridical forms of economic relations in the country – in particular the methods of distributing income but they have left almost without change the old hut and vegetable garden, the barnyard chores, the whole rhythm of heavy muzhik labor.[66]

Let us underline a point about the need for collectivisation in the countryside of the Soviet Union : a balanced collectivisation in harmony with the industrialisation plan without upsetting the alliance between workers and peasants was necessary to enable modernisation in the countryside and a transfer of sources from agriculture to industry. But the fact that the collectivisation was carried out under bureaucratic domination and therefore in such a way to destroy the alliance between workers and peasants, caused such grave problems that extend even to the present day. If the industrialisation drive was carried out under conditions where the workers’ state existed, encouraging economic measures were taken in the countryside to draw poor and middle peasants, leaving out rich peasants, near the proletariat, and a freedom of making criticisms and proposals was assured in order to rectify mistakes which are unavoidable while starting a new drive, then no room would be left to those massacres that blackened the Soviet Union. Yet the hasty collectivisation started by the Stalinist bureaucracy in order to strengthen its own domination would end in nothing but the hostility of petty peasants towards socialism, and this was indeed the case. This process sowed the seeds of nationalist anger of the future in the vast lands of Russia .

Those who insist on not breaking with Stalinism try to find various excuses for the acts of the Stalinist bureaucracy without taking the trouble to find out the true nature of these acts. For example, they try to explain the destructive results of the Stalinist collectivisation by the excuse of “exigencies of the revolution”. In fact, what must be noticed here is the character of Stalinism which is entirely alien to Marxism. At the turn of 1929, the apparatus of power, already adapted to the rule of one man, was ready to apply the orders of Stalin, who is prepared to do everything to secure a place in history with great leaps like Peter the Great had done. Since masses were not prepared to do this, repression and violence were made institutionalised as indispensable elements of the bureaucratic regime. This fact showed how Marxism, which emphasises that socialism cannot be built by orders from above, was thrown aside by Stalin.

Another point to be dealt with in relation to the industrialisation drive is the question of central plan. The goal of the first five years’ plan adopted in 1929 was described as “securing maximum development in the production of the means of production as the basis of the industrialisation of the country”. Pyatakov, who left the ranks of the Left Opposition at the time, was assigned as the head of the Central Bank. The principle of “balanced budget” was put into effect by financial measures like increasing direct and indirect taxes, issuing bonds, etc. But financial measures could not have the regulating function under a command economy, where the means of production are predominantly owned by the state especially after the collectivisation, similar to that in a free market economy. That is why Carr evaluates the reality of those days as follows: “The state bank was constantly pumping new credits to the economy. Step by step money was transformed into a simple means of exchange and a unit of accountancy, the future communist society where money would completely disappear was already being tasted.”[67] Thus, although it was not officially declared that NEP was over, this command economy based on state ownership had a mechanism that took shape with the liquidation of capitalism under the rule of the bureaucracy and that was based on bureaucratic central planning. The bureaucratically “planned” economy of the USSR that did not leave the fate of the economy into the hands of the laws of the market in a period when the capitalist countries were in the grip of the Great Depression of 1929 would therefore gain a prestige and blur the conception of socialism of many people for a few generations.

The Situation of the Working Class

The Stalinist dictatorship reinforced its ruling-dominating position in the face of the working class by strengthening the economic foundations of the despotic-bureaucratic state on the one hand, and liquidating the gains of the working class resulting from the October Revolution on the other. The Stalinist bureaucracy had taken a decision in 1928 with the aim of ending the Troika system officially.[68] And in September 1929 it was decided that factory committees would no longer interfere in the administration. In Lenin’s time the curtailment of some democratic rights due to the economic destruction caused by the civil war was described as an unfavourable situation due to the helplessness. Yet, under the rule of the bureaucracy all these kinds of curtailments were strictly made into law and presented as merits of the regime. For example, in a textbook on the Soviet economic laws issued in 1935 we read: “One-man management [is] the most important principle of the organisation of the socialist economy.”[69]

Legal regulations against the working class were also carried out in labour laws. While according to the labour law enforced in 1922 workers were free to change their workplaces and a change in the workplace of a worker was bound to his/her approval even when this workplace moves to another location, this situation was abolished under the bureaucratic dictatorship. From 27 December 1932 on, a new measure (system of domestic passport) was in effect throughout whole Russia : without the permission of the party a worker was not allowed to leave his/her workplace and go to another workplace or city. Besides, a system of “working cards” was also brought into use to cover at first only the industrial and transportation workers, and later on all of the workers. Workers had to show this card while applying for a new job on which every information about them was recorded by the managers.

With a law enacted on 15 October 1932 , workers were threatened with discharge from their jobs and houses in case they cause any hitch in their work without a reasonable apology. With another law enacted in December 1938 it was made possible to punish those who come late to work or prolong their noon break a little with punishments even go down to discharge. Add to these forced labour, which was applied as a political punishment rather than a punishment in relation to labour relations, and labour camps, in which nearly 10 million prisoners were put during Stalin’s purges in 1930’s, and you will get the course of the formation of a totalitarian regime.

That the women workers lost many of their rights is another indication of the scale of the offensive waged by the bureaucracy against the gains of the October Revolution. By the Labour Law of 1922, it was forbidden to employ women and children in hard works, under unhealthy conditions, in mines, etc. Women workers took their lot from the offensive of the bureaucratic dictatorship against the gains of workers. For example “scientific” surveys arguing that working in coal mines has no adverse effects on women prepared the way for their employment in heaviest works and this became widespread.

The independence of trade unions was abolished; the right to collective bargaining was put an end to; strikes were banned; striking workers were sentenced to death. While the trade unions had been once defended as workers’ organisations by means of which “workers protect themselves from their state” due to bureaucratic deformation, it was now clear that the bureaucratic state could not tolerate this kind of “protection”. Indeed, the trade unions were transformed from organisations regulating and protecting workers’ rights into fake institutions. For example, the Trade Unions Congress did not convene between 1932 and 1949 and during this period the law that determines the working day as 7 hours was repealed. New regulations worsening the working conditions, like unpaid overtime, were enforced. The words of the head of Central Council of Trade Unions explicitly express the fact that wages are being determined by the state under the command economy of the bureaucracy.

When the Plan becomes the decisive element of economic development, questions of wages cannot be decided independently of it. Thus the collective agreement as a form of regulating wages has outlived its usefulness.[70]

The practice of benefiting from capitalist production techniques introduced in Lenin’s time due to the disaster of hunger was sanctified by Stalinism. These kinds of measures were now defended as methods in full accordance with socialism, rather than unfavourable measures taken due to exigencies. Stalinism abandoned the demand of equal pay for similar jobs, branding it as a petty-bourgeois conception of equality. Splitting and competitive tendencies were promoted within the working class in the name of “socialist competition”. The working class was deliberately split and workers were made enemies of each other. This was officially called Stakhanovism. While labour productivity rose by more than threefold between 1928-1936, real wages fell more than half. The rule which restricted the income of party members was abolished; an abyss appeared between the income of the bureaucracy and the wages of workers.

Was a new working class created by these legal regulations, which works efficiently and with discipline and sees the new working conditions as important gains? Quite the contrary! In this bureaucratic system where the state is the only decision making authority and the local administrator is practically the one who decides in the final analysis, these legal regulations prepared the basis for the dismissal of opposing workers and for tying their fate, together with their families’, to the “mercy” of bureaucrats. The future was already determined from the onset for those who dared to oppose the bureaucratic regime and organise. Or if you flatter the managers, you could have the chance for a little privilege (like small scale black marketing) within the existing system! And thus, as a result of severe repression and threat on the one side, connivance and bribery on the other, workers have gradually lost their hope for a better future; they let themselves sunk into the swamp of alcoholism in order to numb themselves. Such was the destiny of workers in the “living socialism” of Stalinism!

What do all these developments point at? They show that the Soviet working class is no longer the dominant class. It is clear that job security, a historical conquest of the working class gained with the October Revolution, has been hollowed by the bureaucratic dictatorship. It is not possible to speak of the soviet proletariat preserving its historical gains when the political power has been wrested from the working class, its ruling position in the production process has been put an end to, working regime has turned into a bureaucratic command system of the state instead of resting upon the free will of the worker.

On the other hand, another agent would of course fill proletariat’s place as a ruling class. This another agent is the new masters, the bureaucracy, that emerged within the soviets and took the possession of the state. Under these conditions, the Soviet bureaucracy is a fully developed dominant class. One of the expressions of the reinforcement of the bureaucratic dictatorship is that the Red Army has been turned into a standing army like those bourgeois professional armies and that an officers’ hierarchy has been restored. Trotsky expresses this transformation in his words:

A still more deadly blow to the principles of the October revolution was struck by the decree restoring the officers' corps in all its bourgeois magnificence.

(...) In September 1935, civilized humanity, friends and enemies alike, learned with surprise that the Red Army would now be crowned with an officers’ hierarchy, beginning with lieutenant and ending with marshal.[71]

Yet the programmatic goal of replacing the old standing army with a people’s militia had been tried to put into effect by decrees following the October Revolution. However, the objective reality that constitutes the biggest obstacle among the problems the revolution had to face, namely that the revolution has not come about in advanced countries but isolated within the conditions of a backward country, resulted in the fact that most of the issues in these revolutionary decrees could not be applied as wished. In conditions of civil war, even revolutionary leaders like Lenin and Trotsky opted for reconstruction of a standing army. But the difference between the conduct of revolutionary leaders who unwillingly have to take a measure due to exigencies and that of the bureaucracy, which does the same to maintain its class rule, is not a simple one. There exists a damnable counter-revolution between the two. We should not forget that Bolsheviks used to deliver sharp replies that defended the system of people’s militia to those who try to render the return to standing army a lasting measure. For instance, when a general who was called back on necessity said that the army should be based on the old barracks system, Trotsky answered as follows: “the Communist Party did not come to power in order to replace the tricolour barracks by red ones.”[72]

The Constitution of 1936 and Liquidation of Bolshevik Cadres

The 17th Congress of the CPSU held in 1934 was announced as “congress of victors”. Official declarations emphasised that socialism was established in the Soviet Union and that socialism in one country triumphed. Stalin said that old classes was abolished in the Soviet Union, old class contradictions ceased to exist, new classes peculiar to socialism appeared and there were no antagonisms between them. Therefore, he said, state was no more a proletarian dictatorship, but “the state of the whole people”. All these sophistries were just new arguments used by the bureaucracy in order to hide the fact that the proletarian dictatorship was liquidated by the Stalinist bureaucracy. Stalin had said that socialist society was one without classes and state. But once the bureaucracy has established its rule, it needed to sanctify its state. Thus the rhetoric was changed, and it was proclaimed that consolidation of the state was the necessary condition of “socialism in one country”.

Yet the world bourgeoisie did not look at these sophistries but real processes going on in the Soviet Union . The French official paper, Le Temps wrote on 25 September 1935 : “This external transformation is one of the signs of a deep change which is now taking place through the whole Soviet Union . The regime, now definitely consolidated, is gradually becoming stabilised. Revolutionary habits and customs are giving place within the Soviet family and Soviet society to the feelings and customs which continue to prevail within the so-called capitalist countries. The Soviets are becoming bourgeoisified.” Trotsky commented on this: “There is hardly a word to add to that judgement”[73]

In the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , established by the 1923 Constitution, the sovereignty was vested in the Soviets at the top of which stood the Congress of Soviets. However, as the bureaucracy rose, this right began to be hollowed and left on the paper only. In the period between 1931 and 1935 when new legal regulations were made under the rule of the bureaucracy, the Congress of Soviets was never called for a meeting. And by new regulations of the 1936 Constitution the function of the Congress of Soviets called “Supreme Soviet” was reduced to almost nothing.

The fairy tale of the “victory of socialism in one country” adopted in the 17th Congress also constitutes the spirit of the 1936 Constitution. By this constitution, the right of the Soviet proletariat to elect and be elected to form the organs of power based upon workplaces –a right already abolished in practice– was legally abolished. Universal suffrage introduced by the 1936 Constitution was reduced to a tokenism like that in bourgeois parliamentarism, even turned into a compulsory approval. As Trotsky points out:

In the political sphere, the distinction of the new constitution from the old is its return from the Soviet system of election according to class and industrial groups, to the system of bourgeois democracy based upon the so-called “universal, equal and direct” vote of an atomized population. This is a matter, to put it briefly, of juridically liquidating the dictatorship of the proletariat.[74]

In accordance with the principle of the “general right to vote for the toilers organised in communes”, the Soviet System born out of the October Revolution deprived only those elements outside the communes of this right. Besides, it introduced an election system entirely different from bourgeois parliamentarism by establishing an imbalance in favour of workers. This revolutionary Soviet system was liquidated by the 1936 Constitution. That the bureaucracy continued to define its rule with the term “The Soviet Union” means that it wanted to exploit the historical tradition. As Victor Serge points out:

... with the equalisation of votes the bureaucracy will, from now on, ensure establishing its rule over the workers with the rural majority when needed. The Supreme Soviet, the new legislative and executive organ, which is elected for four years, is not a parliament as it is a token consultative body of the union of electorate, and also is not a Soviet congress now.... One wonders why the word Soviets is used in naming the state? Maybe just to abuse the historical tradition.[75]

We have to underline an important fact in order not to fall into legal short-sightedness in the form of attributing the end of the soviet power of workers only to the 1936 Constitution. Constitutions are not generally a starting point in the socio-political change but normative regulations following actual changes. It is true that the Stalinist bureaucracy formed a legal cover for its dictatorship with the 1936 Constitution following the conclusion of the bureaucratic counter-revolution as if to prove the rule. While some articles of the 1918 Soviet Constitution are maintained in appearance, the deep actual change that took place during the intervening years found its expression in the statements of the Soviet bureaucracy like “whole people’s state” or that “socialism has already been achieved in the USSR”. What is important in relation to the turn of 1936 is not formal articles of constitution but this radical change in describing the spirit of the Soviet state at the end of the process of the establishment of the domination of the bureaucracy.

These new arguments used by the Soviet bureaucracy reveal this fact: just as the bourgeoisie sanctifies its dictatorship as a nation-state, trying to hide class distinctions and thus establishing its hegemony over the class conflict, the slogan of the Soviet bureaucracy, i.e. “whole people’s state”, was attributed a similar role. Just as the bourgeoisie needed a veil to hide its nakedness to continue its dictatorship in the long run, the Soviet bureaucracy could maintain its hegemony in the long run under the veil of “socialism”.

While the economic situation was obvious, the Stalinist official ideology took a striking step forward in hollowing the Marxist concepts. In the chapter titled “Social Structure” of the 1936 Constitution it is claimed that “the principle of socialism is realised in the Soviet Union” which is expressed in the slogan “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his work”. This is a big lie. This lie is made up by arbitrarily cutting into two and distorting the phrase “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” put forward by Marx in order to characterise the higher level of communism. The phrase “from each according to his ability” signifies a period of abundance and high cultural development in which work ceases to be obligatory, becoming a pleasure of individuals without a pressure from society. For this reason, once such a social condition is reached, there will be no measure like “to each according to his work” in the division of social product, everybody will take as much as they need from the society. In conclusion, both sides of Marx’s expression are deeply connected to each other; they cannot be separated at all. And above all, to describe a situation where work is obligatory under the rule of the bureaucratic dictatorship as “from each according to his ability” is but ridiculing Marxism!

The period following the 17th Congress was one of bloody liquidations, exiles and massacres preparing the transition to the absolute dictatorship of the bureaucratic oligarchy personified in Stalin. The political regime in the Soviet Union assumed a totalitarian character under the will of one chief (Stalin). As a result of the Moscow trials of 1936-1938, the opponents of Stalin, the followers of Bolshevik-Leninist tradition, were physically destroyed on fake charges. Trotsky pointed out some striking facts about that period:

During these years hundreds of Oppositionists, both Russian and foreign, have been shot, or have died of hunger strikes, or have resorted to suicide. Within the last twelve years, the authorities have scores of times announced to the world the final rooting out of the opposition. But during the “purgations” in the last month of 1935 and the first half of 1936, hundreds of thousands of members of the party were again expelled, among them several tens of thousands of “Trotskyists.” The most active were immediately arrested and thrown into prisons and concentration camps. As to the rest, Stalin, through Pravda, openly advised the local organs not to give them work. In a country where the sole employer is the state, this means death by slow starvation. The old principle: who does not work shall not eat, has been replaced with a new one: who does not obey shall not eat. Exactly how many Bolsheviks have been expelled, arrested, exiled, exterminated, since 1923, when the era of Bonapartism opened, we shall find out when we go through the archives of Stalin's political police.[76]

The real truth of these fake trials was exposed in the chapter titled Conspiracy Trials of the famous report Khrushchev read out in a secret session of the 20. Congress of the CPSU (although it was to be buried later on!). The conclusion drawn by Khrushchev on the basis of the investigations of a committee formed to submit information to the 20. Congress on this issue was this:

Many party activists who were branded in 1937-38 as “enemies” were actually never enemies, spies, wreckers, etc., but were always honest communists ... and often, no longer able to bear barbaric tortures, they charged themselves with all kinds of grave and unlikely crimes.[77]

And he continued:

Of the 139 members and candidates of the party’s Central Committee who were elected at the Seventeenth Congress, 98 persons, i.e., 70 per cent, were arrested and shot (most of them in 1937-1938)!!

(...) The same fate met not only the Central Committee members but also the majority of the delegates to the Seventeenth Congress. Of 1,966 delegates, 1,108 persons were arrested, i.e. more than half. This very fact shows how absurd, wild and contrary to common sense were the charges of counter-revolutionary crimes.[78]

Those who develop a superficial approach toward the process of establishment of the bureaucratic domination in the Soviet Union claim that there was not adequate opposition in the Bolshevik Party during Stalin’s acts liquidating the workers’ state step by step. Thus although they do not approve the result, they come to mean that “Stalin in a sense deserved victory”(!) This is a great falsification. The history of Soviet Union is stained with the blood of many Bolshevik-Leninists who resisted the Stalinist dictatorship and raised an opposition within the party. Then, what should we say about the mentality defending that Stalin’s victory was “in the direction of the road to communism albeit some mistakes”? How should one characterise the bearers of such an idea? Perhaps we do not need to search for a characterisation. What follows should suffice to explain their position: In the Soviet Union more than 1,5 million party members, nearly half of all, were imprisoned between 1936-1939 by the Stalinist dictatorship and from 1936 on more than 10 million Soviet citizens died in prisons or labour camps.

Raskolnikov, one of the leaders of the Kronstadt sailors in the 1917 October Revolution and a member of Petrograd Revolutionary Military Committee, describes this bloody period of counter-revolution of the Soviet history in an Open Letter to Stalin he wrote in 1939:

Stalin! ... you have opened a new stage which will enter into the history of our revolution as 'the epoch of terror'. Nobody in the Soviet Union feels safe. Nobody, when he goes to bed, knows if he will escape arrest during the night. (...) And where are the heroes of the October Revolution? (...) You arrested them, Stalin. You corrupted and befouled the souls of your collaborators. You compelled your followers to wade, in anguish and disgust, through pools of blood shed by their comrades and friends of yesterday. In the lying history of the Party written under your direction you robbed the dead, those whom you had murdered and defamed, and took for yourself all their achievements and services. (...) On the eve of war you disrupt the Red Army, the love and pride of our country, the bulwark of its might. (...) You have killed the most talented commanders, those who were educated through experience in the world war and the civil war, headed by the brilliant Marshal Tukhachevsky. (...) Your crazy bacchanal cannot last for long. The list of your crimes is endless! Endless is the roll-call of your victims! It is impossible to enumerate them. Sooner or later, the Soviet people will put you in the dock as a traitor to socialism and the revolution, the chief wrecker, the real enemy of the people, the organiser of famine and of judicial forgeries.[79]

Although these facts could be concealed for a certain episode of history and a different image of Stalin was established by official history with labels such as “Great Leader”, “Father of Peoples”, etc., as the saying goes, history does not forgive!

Trotsky explains the objective reason of how could it be that tens of thousands of revolutionaries, who opposed Stalinism even at the cost of death, were defeated by the bureaucracy:

To be sure, tens of thousands of revolutionary fighters gathered around the banner of the Bolshevik-Leninists. The advanced workers were indubitably sympathetic to the Opposition, but that sympathy remained passive. The masses lacked faith that the situation could be seriously 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.[80]

And most important point was expressed by Trotsky who noted Lenin’s far-sightedness. He explains that the bureaucracy conquered the Bolshevik Party and thus defeated the programme of Lenin who had seen the chief danger in the conversion of the organs of the state from servants of society to lords over society: “The leaden rump of bureaucracy outweighed the head of the revolution. That is the secret of the Soviet's Thermidor.”[81]

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. Bukharin’s farewell letter (To a Future Generation of Party Leaders) which he made his wife memorise just before his arrest in 1938, is a bitter and late admission of Stalinism:

I am leaving life. The axe under which I am extending my head is not the axe of the proletariat. It must have a merciless moral, but consistent to the end. I feel my helplessness before a hellish machine, which, with its Medieval methods, has acquired gigantic power, fabricates organised slander, acts boldly and confidently.[82]

The question we are examining here is not that a person named Stalin emerged as a despot in history. What needs to be investigated is not Stalin as a person, but Stalinism. As he is a historic personality that came into prominence by becoming the leader of the process of bureaucratic counter-revolution and establishment of the despotic-bureaucratic regime, it is inevitable that the new regime is called by his name. As is known, there were many different views voiced and many opposition groups and circles formed within the Bolshevik party. But it was Stalin that remained at the helm and ruled while all the old Bolsheviks were killed under the terror of the bureaucratic regime. Therefore, that the despotic bureaucratic regime in Russia and later on in other countries is branded with his name is a historical “privilege” which Stalin has gained “deservedly”.

Although a totalitarian regime is characterised with a highly “personalised” rule of the dictator, this kind of political set-up can never justify overlooking the substance of the regime and the nature of class dictatorship. Indeed, the death of Stalin in 1953 and then the famous 20. Congress in 1956 where Khrushchev blamed Stalin, did not make any difference in the character of the Soviet regime and the despotic bureaucratic regime in the Soviet Union existed from its establishment until its collapse in 1990’s. The claim that there was a qualitative change in the nature of the regime in the Soviet Union after Stalin’s death does not fit reality. That the ruling Soviet bureaucracy turned Stalin into a scapegoat to absolve its sins without questioning Stalinism –like Khrushchev did in his report to the 20. Congress– or that there were changes in the leadership, attempts to make some reforms, etc., are not factors changing the nature of the bureaucratic regime.

On the other hand, those viewpoints that seek the origin of the bureaucratic dictatorship not in the process of bureaucratic counter-revolution that occurred under the rule of Stalin but in the period following his death, do not bear scientific merit. After all, these kinds of theses reflect merely different varieties of Stalinism, like Maoism, Enverism, etc., which are not based on a serious questioning pursued in the light of revolutionary Marxism.

Other Bureaucratic Regimes

The Stalinist bureaucracy that ruled the Soviet Union did harm to the struggle for socialism more than the world bourgeoisie could do by portraying those measures alien to the spirit of socialism as a “merit”, “ideal application”. We can enumerate some basic elements of the Stalinist conception of “socialism in one country” as follows:

· It preaches that it is possible to build a socialist society in one country, i.e. on a national scale.

· It argues that socialist society is a “national” one “with state”.

· It argues that socialism can be built not by the advance of world revolution but under conditions of “peaceful co-existence” with capitalism within the framework of national states.

· It declares that the “socialist state” must grow stronger and stronger, and the state must continue its existence even in communism.

The fact that “national socialism” seized power in the country of October Revolution, that it has thus created illusions and that it represented an actual power effecting the world balance of power, prepared the ground for it to gain strength within the world communist movement. This situation determined the fate of the revolutions that took place after the 1917 October Revolution and the states established within the USSR s sphere of influence after the World War II. The petty-bourgeois nationalist “socialist” mentality of Stalinism gave rise to the monstrosity of “national socialist states” cutting each other’s throat. We are witnessing what a nationalist and chauvinist content does such a current of “socialism” have in the nationalist conflicts in the USSR or Yugoslavia today, as well as we did in the conflicts of the USSR-China, China-Vietnam, Vietnam-Cambodia for years.

The period between the 1929 economic crisis that rocked Europe and the beginning of the World War II witnessed revolutionary upsurges and counter-revolutionary attacks and fascism coming to power in the European countries. Even in such a tumultuous conjuncture pregnant with revolutions, the policy of Stalinism was guided by “maintaining the status quo”. The chief concern of the Soviet bureaucracy was the safety of its own nation-state. Bureaucracy wanted to stay away from such developments that could upset the inner stability of the power apparatus and risk the future of the bureaucratic dictatorship. For this reason it viewed the workers’ actions in Europe from the point of its selfish national interests and not of world revolution. The official communist parties that followed blindly the Stalinist rule sought to intervene in the processes of revolution in their countries under the control of the Stalinist centre. In doing this they even collaborated with bourgeois governments and hindered the revolutionary struggle of the working class. The Comintern was rendered the executor of such an evil task and turned into a wreckage from the point of view of the interests of the world revolution.

By detaining the German Communist Party (KPD) from struggle in 1930’s while Hitler was rising, Stalinism was thus annihilating the potentials that could prevent the Nazi danger. Fearing that an uprising of left forces would damage the status quo by causing a civil war, Stalinism revealed the radical difference between itself and Leninism that had as its principle utilising economic-political-social instability to further the world revolution. Like in France in 1935 Stalinism reversed the revolutionary situation that was developing in favour of the working class by its “Popular Front” policy which was based on an alliance with the bourgeoisie. It was nothing but Stalinism that prepared the defeat of communist and revolutionary forces in the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War. In August 1939, at a stage when Nazism was preparing for an offensive on the Soviet Union, Stalin signed the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact and defined Germany as “a country trying to stop the war immediately and ensure peace” after the ceremony of signatures.

Stalin’s policy of “maintaining the status quo” totally collapsed in 1941 when armies of Hitler started the offensive against the Soviet Union . The Stalinist bureaucracy approached the fight of the Soviet people against Nazism as purely a “defence of fatherland”. They did not link this immense war to the revolutionary wave taking place in Europe due to the world war. After Hitler’s armies were defeated in 1943 at the Soviet land, the Soviet bureaucracy, coming into prominence as one of the victors of the war, was preparing for the bargaining table with its American and English bourgeois allies. But before these negotiations there was one “small” business Stalin had to take care of: to officially close the Comintern that was actually non-existing and thus please his bourgeois allies! Comintern was abolished in June 1943 at the order of Stalin.

The Teheran Conference was held in November 1943. The fact that imperialists accepted the Soviet bureaucracy as a third party and negotiate with Stalin in dividing the spheres of influence reflected this simple reality: that they had found an ally in the person of the Soviet bureaucracy against the revolutionary forces that were advocating the advance of world revolution! For example, Henry Wallace, the vice president of the USA , said a few months before the Teheran Conference: “If Russia once again indulges in the Trotskyist idea of provoking a world revolution, the third world war would be inevitable.”[83] The American and English governments, which had to give a share to the Soviet bureaucracy while dividing spheres of influence in the aftermath of the Second World War, had already obtained concessions. The imperialists hoped to prevent the danger of revolutionary upsurge that had already developed during the war and that would further develop after it by striking a deal with Stalin who would assign the mission of detaining the revolution to the communist parties. For this reason the rest of the agreement was reduced to a division of the European soil under Nazi occupation according to the balance of power at the end of the war.

In the end, according to the treaty signed by the USA, Britain and the Soviet government in the Teheran (28 November- 1 December 1943), Yalta (4-11 February 1945), and Potsdam (17 July-2 August 1945) Conferences, East European countries (East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Rumania, Albania, and Bulgaria) were left to the USSR as her spheres of influence. Therefore the states that were established in these lands with the intervention of the “Red Army” of Stalinism were by no means products of a revolution like the October Revolution. On the contrary, the Communist Party leaderships in these countries stopped the process of revolution, which bore a potential to grow into proletarian power, right at the point of establishing a power that achieved the “national liberation”. Thus, the process of establishment of the “People’s Democracies” in the East European countries took shape under the influence of the agreement between the world bourgeoisie and the Stalinist bureaucracy which reinforced its power on the basis of new world balances where the Soviet rule was also acknowledged in the aftermath of the world war.[84]

But this general assessment does not mean that there are no differences among the processes of establishment of new powers in these countries. If we are to make a distinction according to the scope of resistance movements against German Nazism, one has to state that in some of them the decisive element with regards to “national liberation” is the intervention of the Red Army. But, the dominant factor in Yugoslavia , for instance, was an important and fighting partisan war led by Tito.

On the other hand, the fact that the bureaucratic leaderships of the Yugoslavian and Albanian CPs clashed later on with the Moscow bureaucracy does not entail a different approach to the process in these countries. Since these bureaucratic leaderships, like the Moscow bureaucracy, were also essentially against the goal of world revolution. They too had a conception of nationalist state socialism based on the defence of their own nation-state’s interests. Such was the perspective they had in relation to the anti-fascist national liberation struggle that took place in the conjuncture of World War II. With this perspective they intervened in the course of events. What determined the nature of power and state order in these countries was in fact the military bureaucratic structure that had formed during the long resistance war against Nazism and that grew into a standing army. And, contrary to the allegations, it was this military bureaucratic structure that constituted the basis of the future bureaucratic dictatorship and not the working class or peasantry.

For all these reasons East European states were phenomena that took shape from their birth as satellites or replicas of the Stalinist bureaucratic rule and that bore no similarity with the power of workers’ soviets the 1917 October Revolution gave birth to. In other words, unlike the workers’ state that was born in Russia in 1917, East European states came into life from the start as bureaucratic states. The economic regime in these bureaucratic states also reflected a structure of bureaucratic centralist command economy based on state ownership, liquidating capitalist economy and nationalising the big industry.

The situation is not essentially different in China under the leadership of Mao, who established his power by resisting in a way or another the hegemony of the Soviet bureaucracy (Moscow ) after the World War II. The Chinese national liberation movement led by the bureaucratic leadership of Mao was essentially based on peasantry and the petty-bourgeoisie. People’s Republic of China has scored an advance in the field of industrialisation on the basis of state ownership, considerably reducing the historical gap in this respect in this enormous peasant country. Likewise, more recent national liberation movements in Cuba , Vietnam could break out of the sphere of influence of American imperialism and rise to power, thanks, in the final analysis, to the existence of the Soviet Union .

Although Maoism is nothing but a peasant version of Stalinism, petty bourgeois left have tried for years to knock out the “Soviet revisionism” by adopting Maoism! This trend was formed on the basis of a “revolutionism” which corresponds to the class position and mentality of the petty-bourgeoisie and it has hardly anything to do with the interests of the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat. Yet such currents have had an influence for a certain period of time on the socialist ranks. And despite the objective basis of them has disappeared with the collapse of the bureaucratic regimes, their ideological effects are still alive.

It is of no use to emphasise the relatively revolutionary character of national liberation movements when it comes to the character of the power and state from the point of view of the revolutionary targets of the proletariat. The question must be examined from a Marxist point of view and the fundamental shortcomings of such movements must explicitly be expressed. That the leaderships of these movements took a stance with national motives against the hegemonic attitude of the Soviet bureaucracy, did not mean that they achieved an essential departure from the Stalinist concept of “national state socialism”. Although they had some differences in political analysis, they all had in common the perspective of establishing a power limited by “organising the nation-state” and certainly not a genuine workers’ power that would proceed towards socialism. That is, a perspective of constructing their own independent national states prevailed in the political conception of the leaderships of these movements.

The Stalinist policy in the East, as well as in the West, was based on the desire to maintain the status quo, keep away from social conflicts that could harm the international status quo. Even if Maoists have tried to ascribe this policy to the “Khrushchevist revisionism”, in reality revisionism was Stalinism itself. Maoism did not touch upon Stalin or Stalinism since it was a replica of Stalinism itself. In this context, Deutscher’s remark has a point when he said: “even their conception of socialism bears the imprint of Stalinism; it is the idea of Socialism in One Country surrounded by a Great Wall of China.”[85]

When you examine the history of political conflicts within the communist parties or other revolutionary organisations of these countries, the existence of a constant struggle will be seen between revolutionary Marxism and petty-bourgeois socialism, just like the one during the establishment of the Stalinist rule. And it is again true in general that the political leaderships brought to power by these revolutions were based neither on the proletariat organised in soviets nor on cadres who stood for revolutionary Marxism. They stepped forward as “national saviours” who were moulded with bureaucratic inclinations in the line of Stalinism and who reconciled leading a national revolution with a bureaucratic way of ruling. For this reason, these revolutions could not go beyond the limits of “national socialism” with respect to both their historical-social scope and the inclinations of the political representatives they brought to power.

When the national revolutionary leaderships educated in the spirit of Stalinist official Marxism came to power, they upheld the concept of “socialism in one country” of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Because, as a matter of fact, in this tendency of “socialist construction” they found the strategy of national development by which they could build their independent nation-states in the era of imperialism. Thus after the national liberation revolutions in these countries they embarked on nationalisation of the means of production in the hands of imperialist capital and big scale industry so far as it existed. Thus, they have all been “bureaucratic states” that came into existence as replicas of the Stalinist bureaucratic state with respect to their basic features, regardless of whether they were established as a result of the intervention of the Red Army or of national liberation revolutions. In that case, all the states established in the so-called “socialist countries” have nothing to do with a workers’ state except the historically short-lived Workers’ Soviet State that was product of the October Revolution.[86]



[1] John Reed, Ten Days That Shook the World, Penguin Books, 1982, pp.39-40

[2] Lenin, The Revolutionary Phrase, Progress, 1972, p.76

[3] Lenin, The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, p.28

[4] Lenin, CW, Vol. 30, p.109

[5] Lenin, CW, Vol. 28, p.473

[6] Lenin, The Revolutionary Phrase, Progress, 1972, p.20

[7] On 3 October 1918 at the extraordinary joint meeting of the higher organs of the Soviet government Trotsky was to make the following assessment “I deem it my duty to say, in this authoritative assembly, that at the hour when many of us, including myself, were doubtful as to whether it was admissible for us to sign the Brest-Litovsk peace, only Comrade Lenin maintained stubbornly, with amazing foresight and against our opposition, that we had to go through with it to tide us over until the revolution of the world proletariat. And now, we must admit that we were wrong.” (Trotsky, My Life, Penguin, 1984, p.410)

[8] Quoted in T. Cliff, Lenin: The Revolution Besieged, Bookmarks, 1987, p.50

[9] The draft constitution submitted to the Fifth All-Russia Congress of Soviets was unanimously approved on 10 July 1918 and went into force on 19 July 1918upon its publication in Izvestia. According to this, the new republic was called Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic (RSFSR). But later, with the constitution of 1923 the structure of the republic was rearranged. First, the “Transcaucasian Socialist Federated Republic” was formed by the unification of Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. In December 1922 the congresses of RSFSR, Ukraine, Belorussia and Transcaucasia were separately convened and resolved to unite in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The first Congress of Soviets of the USSR was convened with the deputies of these four republics. A new draft constitution was prepared in July 1923 and approved in January 1924 by the second Congress of Soviets of the USSR.

[10] Lenin explained this disproportion in this way: “Yes, we have violated equality between the workers and peasants… The vote of one worker is equal to several peasant votes. Is that unfair? No, in the period when it is necessary to overthrow capital it is quite fair.” (“First All-Russia Congress On Adult Education”, CW, Vol. 29, pp.359 and 369)

[11] Cheka is the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission set up after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. Renamed as GPU (State Political Administration) with the RSFSC Constitution and as OGPU (United State Political Administration) with the Constitution of 1923.

[12] It is said that during the civil war the armoured train used by Trotsky as the headquarter to visit the fronts, travelled a distance five times the length of the equator.

[13] The transformations that a workers’ democracy must carry out, unfortunately could not be accomplished due to the helplessness of the “isolated revolution” and the flames of the civil war. There were objective reasons for this, understandable from a historical point of view. However, after the USSR became transformed into a bureaucratic dictatorship, the official parades of troops in goose steps before the generals lined up in the stands in their gaudy uniforms with collections of medals were as if an irony of history!

[14] Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, Pathfinder, 1989, p.21

[15] Taylorism derives from the American industrial specialist F. W. Taylor who pioneered the stopwatch system to make workers work more intensively.

[16] Lenin, CW, Vol. 27, p.258

[17] Lenin, ibid., p.249

[18] Quoted in E. H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, v.2, Penguin, 1966, pp.214-215

[19] Lenin, “Third All-Russia Congress of Economic Councils”, CW, Vol. 30, p.312

[20] Lenin, CW, Vol. 32, p.343

[21] Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, p.56

[22] Lenin, CW, Vol. 29, pp.32-33

[23] Lenin, CW, Vol. 29, p.183

[24] Lenin, CW, Vol. 33, pp.287 and 288.

[25] Lenin, CW, Vol. 32, pp.24-25

[26] Trotsky, “On the Events at Kronstadt”, The Military Writings of Leon Trotsky, v.4: 1921-23, The Kronstadt Mutiny, [Marxist Internet Archive (MIA) at www.marxists.org]

[27] Trotsky, “Speech at the parade in honour of the heroes of Kronstadt”, ibid.

[28] Lenin, CW, Vol. 32, p. 282

[29] As a matter of fact, the anarchists themselves were among those who played a role in planning and inciting the mutiny. And they called on the masses to follow them instead of the Bolsheviks. Emphasising the spontaneous action of the masses in opposition to the leadership of the Bolsheviks, the anarchists in fact aimed at seizing the political leadership of the masses. In inciting the masses against the Bolshevik leaders, they were trying to get their leadership accepted.

[30] A. Kollontai, “The Trade-unions: Their Role & Problems”, Workers’ Opposition, [Marxist Internet Archive (MIA)]

[31] A. Kollontai, ibid.

[32] Lenin, “Tenth Congress of the RCP(B)”, CW, Vol. 32, s.168

[33] Lenin, ibid., p.244

[34] A. Kollontai, “On Bureaucracy & Self-activity of The Masses”, Workers’ Opposition, [Marxist Internet Archive (MIA)]

[35] Lenin, “The New Economic Policy and the Tasks of the Political Education Departments”, CW, Vol. 33, p.77

[36] Lenin, ibid., p.65

[37] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. 3, pp.470, 471.

[38] Lenin, “Meeting of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee -November 4 (17) 1917, CW, Vol. 26, s.288

[39] Lenin, CW, Vol. 33, s.58

[40] Stating that this agreement caused long standing troubles, E. H. Carr explains the reasons as follows: “Three months before the signing of the agreement, the leader of the illegal Turkish Communist Party was killed by Kemal’s men and the other Turkish communists were either killed or arrested, and it was known that the suppression of communism was one of the objectives of the Kemalist regime.” (E.H.Carr, Russian Revolution from Lenin to Stalin, our translation from the Turkish edition)

[41] E.H.Carr, The Russian Revolution from Lenin to Stalin, our translation from the Turkish edition.

[42] Lenin, CW, Vol. 33, p.279

[43] Lenin, ibid., p.428

[44] Lenin, “The Question of Nationalities or ‘Autonomisation’”, CW, Vol. 36, [Marxist Internet Archive (MIA)]

[45] Lenin, ibid.

[46] Lenin, CW, Vol. 36, p.557 [quoted in T. Cliff, Lenin: Revolution Besieged, pp.159-60]

[47] quoted in T. Cliff, ibid., pp.174-75

[48] Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, Pathfinder, 1999, p.504

[49] Trotsky, The New Course 1923, New Park, 1972, p.72

[50] “In May 1927 the Soviet leadership received a new and heavier blow. Britain’s Tory government was very angry about the Chinese events and the Soviet policy, which was aimed at undermining the international position of Britain. Also motivated by considerations of domestic politics such as the rivalry with the Labour Party, the Tories broke off relations with the Soviet Union and cancelled the Anglo-Soviet trade agreement which served as the legal basis of commercial affairs between the two countries.” (Michal Reiman, The Birth of Stalinism, our translation from the Turkish edition)

[51] Michal Reiman, ibid.

[52] Michal Reiman, ibid., our translation.

[53] see Trotsky, The Third International After Lenin.

[54] quoted in T. Cliff, ibid., p.190

[55] Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, p.32

[56] Stalin, On the History of Differences (1925), our translation from a quotation in Tarik Demirkan, Bitirilmemiş Devrim, p.67

[57] E. H. Carr, ibid., our translation

[58] E. H. Carr, ibid., our translation

[59] Quoted in E. H. Carr, ibid., our translation

[60] E. H. Carr, ibid., our translation

[61] M. Reiman, ibid., our translation

[62] Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, p.35

[63] Trotsky, ibid., p.40

[64] For instance in September 1929 Trotsky made the following comment the incorrectness of which is evident when looking back from now: “At a time when the Left Opposition was crushed by coercion, Stalin found himself exercising, partially and in all areas, the programme of the Left Opposition, as if it was his own programme, in order to direct the barrel at right and turn an intra-party manoeuvre toward left after a sharp but long zigzag. And this shows that, despite everything, the proletariat still retains a power in its hands to impose its pressure and that the state apparatus still keeps depending on it. The Russian Opposition must keep basing its policy upon this essential fact and this policy is not a policy of revolution but of reform.” (our translation)

[65] M. Reiman, ibid., our translation.

[66] Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, pp.242-243

[67] E. H. Carr, ibid., our translation

[68] The Troika System: a system in which the production process is controlled by the party cell in the plant, the workers’ committee of the plant, and the technical director under the supervision of other two.

[69] T. Cliff, State Capitalism in Russia, p.13

[70] Quoted in T. Cliff, State Capitalism in Russia, p.17. The footnote put by Cliff on this point is quite striking: “It is interesting to note that books published for foreign consumption, such as Lozovsky’s Handbook on the Soviet Trade Unions, Moscow, 1937, pp.56-57 continue to describe collective agreements as if they still existed.”

[71] Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, pp.221 and 222

[72] Quoted in T. Cliff, State Capitalism in Russia, p.98

[73] Trotsky, ibid., p.225

[74] Trotsky, ibid., pp.260-261

[75] V. Serge, Destiny of a Revolution, our translation from the Turkish edition

[76] Trotsky, ibid., pp.282-283

[77] N. Khrushchev, Speech to 20th Congress of CPSU, [Marxist Internet Archive (MIA) at www.marxists.org]

[78] N. Khrushchev, ibid.

[79] Raskolnikov, “Open Letter to Stalin”, Tales of Sub-Lieutenant Ilyin, [Marxist Internet Archive (MIA) at www.marxists.org]

[80] Trotsky, ibid., pp.91-92

[81] Trotsky, ibid., p.94

[82] Bukharin, partly quoted in S.Cohen, Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution, New York 1973, p.370

[83] F.Claudin, From Comintern to Cominform, our translation from the Turkish edition

[84] Deutscher notes that Stalin forced the resistance movements led by communists in Europe during the period of World War II to battle only for national liberation and not for socialism. He goes on to say: “A revolutionary situation emerged by the end of war. How this would be controlled and reduced to a minimum was the chief concern of Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill in Yalta and Teheran. The three leaders handled the problems of the alliance in the framework of traditional diplomacy and divided the spheres of influence