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In the Light of Marxism

Questioning of an Historical Period

Elif Çağlı

May 1991





VII. Freezing Trotsky’s Analyses

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The idea that predominates the views of Trotsky when he made his assessments on the fate of the Soviet Union can be summarised as follows: when a proletarian revolution that has failed to proceed on an international scale, isolated within national borders is hindered by the formation of a bureaucratic power, it will end up with its collapse. Examining the problem in the concrete context of the Soviet Union, Trotsky thought that the gains of the October Revolution were not abolished and the revolution did not completely collapse yet, while revealing by all evidence on the other hand that the Stalinist power constituted a bureaucratic structure. He maintained this view up until the eve of the Second World War. As soon as the war became a fact, he reconsidered the problem and tried to find out the possibilities in relation to war.

One possibility he expressed was that, by overthrowing the bureaucratic dictatorship, a proletarian revolt could save the “betrayed revolution” from collapsing. Unfortunately, this did not happen. Just the opposite happened. By building similar bureaucratic dictatorships in the countries of its sphere of influence after the Second World War the Stalinist dictatorship gained a central hegemonic position over these countries militarily and politically, and became more powerful. The new conditions meant that even a somewhat understandable ground for Trotsky’s “cautious” attitude in assessing the character of the Soviet state no longer existed now. Now the apparent reality had nothing to do with the dictatorship of the proletariat and preserving of the gains of proletarian revolution. This reality implied the existence of a ruling class that had raised itself to the position of a dominant class over workers and toilers, through the domination of the state ownership in a society where the predominant form of property was state property. This class was neither like the dominant classes based on private ownership, nor the proletariat, the producing class of modern industrial society. This dominant class took its strength neither from bourgeoisie nor from the working class. It was a dominant class that subsisted itself resting upon the state property and despotic-bureaucratic power apparatus it created. Furthermore, this class had become an international power by creating similar examples after the Second World War.

Trotsky unfortunately did not live long enough to see this new post-world war scene and the scale of the international power of the despotic state established by the Stalinist bureaucracy alongside the capitalist states. If he did, we believe that he would re-assess his analyses concerning the nature of the Soviet State and cleanse his theses of certain shortcomings and faults, reaching more integral and coherent views.

After his death, his analyses should have been carried on and his theses re-examined in the light of new circumstances that emerged in the aftermath of the war. But who was to do that? This task was of course the responsibility of Trotsky’s followers, and in the first place of the leadership of the Fourth International. And what happened then? Have the “Trotskyists” who claim to be the followers of Trotsky fulfilled this task adequately? To be honest, it is hard to answer this question in the affirmative.

Those who took on the leadership of the Fourth International after Trotsky’s death have frozen the theoretical analyses he had made for his own period and have transformed his theses into dogmas instead of grasping the essence of his ideas and trying to develop them under changing conditions. In fact this attitude meant turning a revolutionary theoretical legacy into a finished stencil rather than keeping it alive. Since a proper theoretical discussion could not be managed within the Fourth International, Trotsky’s theses could not be taken up and improved. As a result, every Trotskyist circle interpreted the ideas of Trotsky as they wished and tended to establish a separate political sect.

However, in order to be genuine followers of Bolshevik-Leninist tradition, as Trotsky named it, a course should have been followed where this tradition is kept alive not verbally but in reality and a revolutionary internationalist unity should have been formed accordingly. What happened was just the opposite. After the death of Trotsky, a deep political-organisational crisis took place within the Fourth International the foundations of which had been laid by Trotsky. What lied behind this crisis was the incapability of the Fourth International leadership to provide theoretical solutions for the problems of the postwar period and especially the fact that it continued to define the Stalinist dictatorship in the Soviet Union and the other new bureaucratic dictatorships established under its hegemony as a kind of “workers’ states despite everything”. A similar mistake can be seen in their attitudes towards national liberation movements, which was a result of a misconception of the theory of permanent revolution.

In the end, the failure to improve Trotsky’s theoretical analyses under changing circumstances and the turning of his theses into finished stencils, caused the crisis in the Trotskyist movement to deepen and organisational-political splits and disintegrations occur frequently. These sects that appeared after these splits, in turn, moved away from the perspective of getting themselves organised on the basis of the proletarian class and leaned towards petty bourgeois elements and increasingly built on them. This made the Trotskyist movement, in a broad view, a political movement that is constantly in crisis and constantly suffering from splits. Of course it is not the concern of this book to elaborate on the details of this question which is about the organisational-political aspects of the problem. However, there certainly is a correlation, and a strong one, between the organisationally-politically divided state of the Trotskyist movement and the problem we are dealing with here.

After dealing with the ideas and appraisals of Trotsky on the controversial theoretical problems, our subject matter inevitably extends towards his successors. In this context, the views of Mandel, who, after Trotsky’s death, has been a prominent figure as an official representative of the Fourth International tradition, are the main focus of attention. When we look into the views of Mandel as a whole, it is hard to say that the tendency he represents has grasped the essence of Trotsky’s views and developed correct theoretical answers to the present problems. Even we can say that, in many respects Mandel plays one of the most leading roles in freezing Trotsky’s theoretical analyses and ossifying his views and turning them into finished stencils in the name of “deepening” them.

We shall try to reveal here, on the basis of certain important examples, that the tendency Mandel represents has not proceeded on the road opened by Trotsky, and that it has frozen his ideas in many points. It will help clarify the problems to be discussed if we deal with these examples in the company of Trotsky’s views.

The principal theoretical question Mandel blurred in the name of deepening and carried to a wrong conclusion is the question of “workers’ state” and, in connection with it, the class nature of the state in the Soviet Union and the peculiar position of the bureaucracy. Although he claims to base his positions upon Trotsky, his “theory” on this subject is completely “original” and, from a Marxist point of view, one based on errors. Mandel draws a wrong theoretical conclusion on the question of workers’ state on the basis of the assumption that the state in the Soviet Union is “still a proletarian dictatorship despite its bureaucratic degeneration”. According to him a workers’ state can be with bureaucracy, and moreover, if a workers’ revolution takes place in a backward country, the workers’ state will inevitably be with bureaucracy.

If we accepted this “theory” of Mandel, then the Marxist position that the workers’ state should be one without bureaucracy would be nothing more than wishful thinking. However, we know that the prediction of Marx on this matter, far from being wishful thinking, is a possible and necessary goal for the existence of a workers’ state. Whereas it is a rightful effort to consider out of what objective and subjective reasons this goal could not be, or cannot be, achieved, it is, on the other hand, a wrong attitude to endeavour to prove that a workers’ state can be with bureaucracy on the basis of an example in which this goal could not be achieved. This is precisely what Mandel does with his generalisation of “workers’ state with bureaucracy”, and this constitutes an example of the kind of wrong attitude that diverges from the Marxist understanding of workers’ state.

It has been stated in the previous chapter that Trotsky’s assessments also had erroneous aspects. But in the final analysis, Trotsky’s starting point was the Marxist understanding that “the workers’ state cannot and should not be one with bureaucracy”. He was just dealing with the phenomenon of “bureaucratic degeneration” in an endeavour to reveal the causes of the change taking place in the Soviet Union in those years. On the other hand, Trotsky gave important hints that “a monstrously degenerated workers’ state” would after all cease to be a workers’ state. But Mandel continued to base his theory on Trotsky’s earlier appraisals despite the bare reality being more and more explicit with time. By doing this he has frozen the moving analyses of Trotsky. Thus Mandel’s theory implanted a kind of understanding that suggests “bureaucracy will never disappear as long as the state exists” or “bureaucracy will always exist” into the Trotskyist movement.

This idea of Mandel leaves the door open for a possibility that even a workers’ state without bureaucracy would not perhaps exist if the proletarian revolution was not isolated in one country and a backward one such as Russia. And this line of thinking fosters a tendency so as to accept the idea of “workers’ state with bureaucracy”, to submit to the existing reality and even to envisage the future on this basis. This is indeed what happened. It is not difficult to find the traces of an implicit submission and various concessions in the face of the reality of the Soviet Union, all of which flow from this point.

Trotsky, who came near to defining the bureaucracy as a dominant class in the course of the process of bureaucratic counter-revolution in the Soviet Union, emphasised openly in his last writings that the bureaucratic rule was a counter-revolutionary force which should be overthrown by the proletariat. He was saying that, far from defending the historical conquests of the proletariat, the bureaucracy could function as an instrument of the international bourgeoisie in the heart of the Soviet state. But if you say that, then it becomes senseless to talk about the dual character of the bureaucracy which suggests that “while it is conservative on the one hand, it continues to defend –although by its own methods– the workers’ state on the other hand”. What is to be concentrated on is the counter-revolutionary character of the bureaucracy, which emerges as a hindering factor in front of the world revolution.

But Mandel’s explanations on “the dual character of the bureaucracy” are in contradiction with what Trotsky hinted in his last writings, and moreover he bends the stick in favour of the bureaucracy to such an extent that Trotsky never had done. Mandel says the following in 1968s:

This role reflects the essentially contradictory and dual nature of the Soviet bureaucracy. On the one hand it is really dependent on the new social order that emerged in the Soviet Union out of the October Revolution and of the repression by way of violence of private agriculture through forced collectivisation by Stalin and seeks to protect this order –which is the basis of its power and privileges– in a way that suits its own narrow private interests. By protecting the Soviet society it serves objectively to spread the revolution on an international plane independently of its desires and motives. [1]

Such kind of assessments made by Mandel also constitute the basis for the arguments of the apologetics of Stalinism, who say that “despite all subjective errors of the bureaucracy, the Soviet Union objectively continues to be the centre of the world revolution”. Mandel has not made any essential modification in his analyses of the dual character of the bureaucracy. And he has carried on resting his thesis that the bureaucracy does not constitute a dominant class upon the allegation that it has an aspect of defending –although by its own methods– the social order that had come into being with the October revolution.

On the other hand Mandel states in an interview with him in 1978 on “the class nature of the Soviet state” that those who label bureaucracy as “a new class” would be bound to admit its progressive role compared to the bourgeoisie. Such kind of arguments have caused an effect of stifling those intellectual efforts within Trotskyist movement with a view to finding out the truth. They had also the effect of obscuring the fact that the Soviet bureaucracy constitutes not a caste but a dominant class.

On the other hand, in his mentality, Mandel himself attributes a “progressive” role to the bureaucracy and points to the enormous economic and cultural achievements of the USSR as a proof of this. In fact this progress, as noted by Trotsky, was the product of the labour of the proletariat forced to work under the whip of the bureaucracy. To assess the bureaucracy in terms of a comparison with the bourgeoisie and not in terms of its reactionary role in the face of the working class and world revolution is a great concession made to the bureaucracy, as well as to count the achievement of industrialisation in the USSR as the success of the bureaucracy in the final analysis. And this is despite the fact that Trotsky himself expressed that the bureaucratic rule was not an advancing but a hindering factor for the development in the USSR. Trotsky said: “The further unhindered development of bureaucratism must lead inevitably to the cessation of economic and cultural growth, to a terrible social crisis and to the downward plunge of the entire society.”[2]

It was again Mandel who created the “theory” that the Soviet economy under the dictatorship of the bureaucracy recorded such a progress that even excels capitalism. The thesis, which he has defended for years and tried to implant into Trotskyist movement, is as follows:

Plan after plan, through successive decades, the Soviet Union has been sustaining a somewhat balanced economic growth without the accumulation of past progress creating an obstacle on the possibilities of future growth... All laws of capitalist development that reduce the speed of economic growth has been eliminated. [3]

In the context of revealing that the regime in the Soviet Union was not state capitalism, Trotsky was right when he said that the bureaucracy was not a dominant class in the sense that the bourgeoisie was. On the other hand, although he did not draw the necessary conclusion when he defined the Soviet bureaucracy as the gendarme of distribution process, Trotsky, by doing this, was implicitly pointing to the fact that under these conditions the working class could not be considered as the lord of production process. The ultimate meaning of this was that the bureaucracy, as a dominant force in control of the production process, was something more than a privileged layer, a sui generis class controlling the social surplus-labour and basing itself on state property, unlike those classes that own private property. Unfortunately, Trotsky could not advance his analyses up to this point.

Under conditions where the bourgeoisie was expropriated but the working class was not able to maintain its domination and the means of production was under state ownership, the bureaucracy who owns the state was something different from the bureaucracy in the service of classes based on private property. It has clearly turned out that the bureaucracy had lifted itself to the position of a ruling class which has based itself not on private ownership but on state ownership and that it had formed a state class.

Trotsky’s expositions about the condition of the working class “which is forced to work under the whip of the bureaucracy” revealed clearly the dominant position of the bureaucracy over the working class. Should this position be legalised and solidified, he noted, all social conquests of the proletarian revolution would be liquidated. Despite the fact that years have passed and events have developed in the very same direction pointed out by Trotsky (as a matter of fact, that was the case even before he stated that), some Trotskyists still tried to prove that “the historical conquests of the working class would continue to be preserved as long as the state ownership lasts”. But they were gravely mistaken. And what lies behind this mistake was the erroneous tendency to identify state ownership with socialist property in an exaggerated way. Yet the fallacies of petty bourgeois-socialism on such problems as “statism” and “state ownership” had been subjected to a lot of criticism from Marx’s time onwards. The theoretical criticisms directed by Marxism against petty bourgeois socialism on this issue constitute a rich revolutionary Marxist literature.[4]

In fact, the effort to rationalise such claims that are at variance with reality inevitably leads to contradictions. Ignoring the important hints given by Trotsky and constraining himself into finished stencils Mandel confined his appraisals on the nature of the Soviet state into a vicious circle. When compelled, by force of questioning, to go beyond the thesis of “bureaucratically degenerated workers’ state”, he dared to fall into contradiction with himself but he did not dare to abandon this finished stencil. This is exactly the case, for instance, when he re-asserts the nature of the Soviet state under changing conditions. He keeps claiming that the bureaucracy is still a very crowded social group made of people of working class origin. Since the definition of “bureaucratically degenerated workers’ state” cannot withstand criticism by 1978, he seeks apologetic excuses for his attitude of maintaining this definition. He says that this Trotskyist definition is by no means the same with a workers’ state. But, in spite of this, he prefers keeping the word “workers” in this definition, since, in his opinion, its elimination will make things more confusing. Mandel’s excuses represent a call for giving up the endeavour to find out the truth for the sake of avoiding confusion. Or they are manifestation of concessions to the bureaucracy. Mandel says:

If we allow that the bureaucracy is a new class, are the Communist Parties in power then “bureaucratic” parties? (...) Or is the bureaucracy the only class in history that becomes a class only after seizing power, although it was not a class prior to the seizure of power?

In the end Mandel has “avoided confusion” by ignoring the hints given by Trotsky and taking refuge once again in the old safe haven:

... when the Fourth International –following Trotsky- asserts that there is still a bureaucratically degenerate workers’ state in the Soviet Union, and that in this sense the Soviet Union still preserves a form of dictatorship of the proletariat, it does so in a quite precise way which implies no more than it says. Up to now this state has objectively continued to defend the structures, the hybrid relations of production, born of the October Revolution. Thus up to now this state has prevented the restoration of capitalism and the power of a new bourgeois class; it has prevented the re-emergence of capitalist property and capitalist relations of production.[5]

Yet the fact that the bureaucracy had not yet accomplished capitalist restoration by the time Mandel wrote above lines (1978) does not mean that the Soviet Union “preserved a kind of proletarian dictatorship”. It is not correct that the Soviet state “objectively defends the institutions flowed from the October Revolution”. As the Soviet state completely ceased to be a workers’ state after a bureaucratic counter-revolution, the idea that “the bureaucracy is a social caste dependent on the institutions that had flowed from the October Revolution” lost any objective ground after 1929. Thus, what the bureaucracy defends “by preventing the rule of a new bourgeois class, not allowing capitalist ownership and capitalist relations of production to emerge” is not any more “the institutions flowed from the October Revolution”. It has preserved the workings of the bureaucratic regime which is linked with the interests of its own nation-state.

Avoiding from a reassessment of the objective nature of the Soviet state and Soviet bureaucracy, Mandel has not managed to elevate his analyses to a level which enables one to grasp the changes of our time, and thus he was caught unaware by the process of collapse of the bureaucratic regimes. That’s why his positions (which we demonstrated by examples from 1978) are essentially wrong and they serve as the source of the inadequate understanding of the changes of our time. Because Mandel has insisted on his argument that the conquests of the October revolution have not been abolished in spite of the counter-revolution the bureaucracy has accomplished before. For this reason, he has contented himself with reiterating that a capitalist restoration is possible in the Soviet Union and countries alike only through a bourgeois counter-revolution.

Clinging to old appraisals for the sake of “avoiding confusion” Mandel seeks to overcome his uneasiness resulting from the incompatibility of these appraisals with concrete reality by playing with the content of Marxist concepts. However, it is precisely such attitudes that lead to confusion. Mandel says:

… if one interprets “dictatorship of the proletariat” to mean “direct government by the working class”, then this dictatorship certainly does not exist. For us, the dictatorship of the proletariat exists in the Soviet Union only in the derived, indirect, and socio-theoretical sense of the term.[6]

“The direct government of the working class”, which is the condition of existence for the dictatorship of proletariat, is presented here as if one of its versions. Thus Mandel provides us with a new definition of the dictatorship of the proletariat: a proletarian dictatorship in a “socio-theoretical” sense, “derived” from the definition of the dictatorship of the proletariat, signifying the “indirect” government of the working class. As a matter of fact, this kind of explanations have no meaning beyond theoretical sophistry.

Mandel’s effort to demonstrate that the bureaucracy cannot constitute a dominant class independent from the proletariat, that the Soviet state, despite everything, is in the final analysis a “bureaucratically degenerated workers’ state” defending the conquests of the October Revolution compels him to make interpretations which are incompatible with reality. For this reason he is so heedless as to talk about “unfinished processes” years after Trotsky who said that the Soviet bureaucracy had “outweighed the head of the October Revolution with its leaden rump” and that the existence of the bureaucracy was “the dialectical negation of Bolshevism”. The following lines are a meaningful testimony:

… although the bureaucracy may try to sever entirely the umbilical cord with its past, the working class and Marxist ideology, it is one thing to try and quite another to succeed. What is involved here is an ongoing process which is far from completed; and it is obvious that there may be very violent reactions.[7]

Whatever the intention be, these kind of explanations turn into concessions to the bureaucracy. Mandel and his followers, who theorised the phenomenon of the “bureaucratic dictatorship” on the basis of a conception of “workers’ state with bureaucracy”, make even the “national revolutionary powers” that are product of national liberation revolutions fit into the category of “workers’ states”. The revolutions of Yugoslavia, China and Vietnam, which kept the working class away from power from the very beginning and only had an anti-capitalist content on the basis of national socialism, are appraised as “socialist revolutions deformed from the beginning”. About the revolutions in these countries Mandel says the following:

The partial and not total break with their Stalinist past meant the leadership of these parties still held bureaucratic organizational positions both in terms of their internal regime and their relations with the masses. Consequently these revolutionary victories were not accompanied by the institutionalisation of direct (soviet) workers’ and people’s power. From the beginning the party apparatus was identified with the state. Bureaucratisation and depoliticisation of the masses - both of which were reinforced by the rapid emergence of exorbitant material privileges of a new bureaucracy - become more and more firmly established. So we can legitimately speak of socialist revolutions bureaucratically manipulated and deformed from the start. [8]

Thus Mandel enriches Marxist literature with another “theoretical” concept after “the bureaucratic workers’ state”: “socialist revolutions deformed from the very beginning!”

Besides, Mandel and his followers define the revolutions in Cuba, Nicaragua and Grenada as “genuine popular socialist revolutions” just because they were not led by parties of Stalinist origin (!):

Later in Cuba, Grenada, and Nicaragua, authentic socialist popular revolutions took place that are clearly distinguished from the Yugoslav, Chinese, and Vietnamese revolutions because they were led by revolutionary parties coming not out of Stalinism but from differentiation and development of anti-imperialist and socialist currents from their own countries. Consequently the processes of bureaucratisation of power have been much less in these countries compared to the others. Also limited and still insufficient steps have been taken towards an institutionalisation of workers’ and people’s power, more locally than nationally.[9]

What is the measure used in these assessments? The scope of revolutions or whether these revolutions take the revolutionary proletariat to power or not? Or that their effective leaderships are not of Stalinist origin, or whether they assumed an attitude against the Soviet bureaucracy without completely breaking away from it? There is no doubt that to make a proper assessment it is not enough to take into account the position of the leaderships of these revolutions in the face of the Soviet bureaucracy. Essentially one has to analyse the class nature of the revolutionary leadership, the scope of revolution and whether it takes the proletariat to power. How far a correct attitude could it be to characterise a revolution that cannot end up in a proletarian dictatorship and can never in the final analysis go beyond a “nationalist” outlook as a “social revolution” just because it starts liquidating capitalist relations (by the way, this happens on the basis of military, political, economic relations with the Soviet bureaucracy) and begins to implement a national development strategy on the basis of “nationalisations”.

The fundamental fallacy of the tendency represented by Mandel is so striking that they have kept characterising the Cuban revolution, which developed on the basis of a national liberation revolution and submitted to the Soviet bureaucracy after a national revolutionary power was established, as an “authentic popular socialist revolution”. The power of national liberationist “Cadillist” leadership of the Cuban revolution has been compared with the dictatorship of the proletariat flowed from the October Revolution. Again, the power of Sandinist leadership (which included bourgeois elements) of the Nicaraguan Revolution that did not go beyond the scope of a national revolution is characterised as a “much less bureaucratised power” coming out of “an authentic popular socialist revolution”. Mandel has always sought to overcome the problem he has faced by simply coupling the concepts of socialism and people.

However, it is well known that the theory of permanent revolution defended by Trotsky puts the founding of the dictatorship of the proletariat as necessary condition for the revolutions to elevate to a level that will comprise the socialist goal of the proletariat. Some Trotskyist tendencies put the October proletarian revolution in the same pot with the other revolutions that remain within limits of national liberation revolutions and end up in the establishment of national liberationist powers. And this attitude of those Trotskyist tendencies is, above all, at variance with the perspective of permanent revolution advanced by Trotsky.

It is a theoretical monstrosity established by the Mandelite tendency to put national liberation revolutions into the category of socialist revolutions and define all national states founded after these revolutions as “workers’ states bureaucratised from the very beginning”. For instance the following lines constitute a typical example for this strangeness: “it must also be stressed that, as long as it is not linked to the emergence of direct power of workers based on democratically elected workers’ councils, those workers’ states that issue from the overthrow of capitalism in many underdeveloped countries are destined to be bureaucratised from the very beginning.”[10] Just as in Mandel’s other theoretical sophistries such as “a derived”, “indirect”, “dictatorship of the proletariat in socio-theoretical sense”, we have here the same strangeness of “a workers’ state bureaucratised from the very beginning” which opens its eyes to life without the birth of “a direct power of workers based on democratically elected workers’ councils”, i.e. without the working class coming to power.

Another thing to be remembered here is the schematic grading system of Mandel on which he bases his assessments such as “bureaucratised workers’ states”. That the soviet power emerged after the October Revolution underwent a bureaucratic deformation as Lenin himself put it and that this evil grew into a fully-fledged bureaucratic degeneration, these two phenomena, have been used to invent a mechanical classification such that we end up with as if there is a generalised distinction of “deformed workers’ states” and “degenerated workers’ states”. Yet, the phenomena such as bureaucratic deformation and degeneration are peculiar to the history of the Soviet Union and it is not correct to apply them to countries where no workers’ revolution has ever happened. But such kind of approaches have been established in the name of Trotskyism for years and even in some cases those Trotskyists who say “deformed workers’ state” and those who say “degenerated workers’ state” in relation to appraising certain historical events could come against each other. However, what is wrong with this is not one of degree, but of the approach itself on the whole.

Mandel’s concept of “transitional society”

Mandel and those who think like him complement their mistake on the character of the Soviet state with their attitude in assessing the socio-economic regime in the Soviet Union. They insist on characterising the socio-economic regime in the Soviet Union as a transitional regime, despite it is marred by the domination of the bureaucracy. Mandel has his theses on the features of transition period from capitalism to communism, which he calls generally as “transitional society”, and he uses these theses to prove that the Soviet Union is a “transitional society”. According to him a “transitional society” is open to both directions (capitalism and socialism). These countries are considered to be staying on a bridge unless a capitalist restoration takes place. After stating that the Soviet economy is a “hybrid and contradictory” combination, Mandel says: “It implies that the fate of the USSR as a transitional society between capitalism and socialism, “frozen” at its present stage by the bureaucratic dictatorship, has not yet been settled historically.”[11] He assumes that the bridge extending from the past to the future (the period of transition from capitalism to communism) keeps staying in its place despite the absence of a working class power. By this assumption he reveals that he has a conception of “transitional society” different from the Marxist understanding of the transition period which has demonstrated that it can only be experienced under the dictatorship of the proletariat.

It is not correct to define the transition period from capitalism to communism as a process with two open ends. Since the transition period that can only be experienced under the direct rule of the working class, i.e. under the dictatorship of the proletariat, will not be a bridge the historical fate of which is uncertain and of which has two ends, one open to the past (capitalism) and the other to the future (socialism). On the contrary this historical period will be a period of revolutionary transformations in which ties with the past are broken and a march towards the future is under way. A coming to a halt in the process of social revolution that has been started by the proletariat in power, and furthermore a regression, can only be possible after an overthrow of the dictatorship of the proletariat. This in turn, from a Marxist point of view, means that the necessary condition for a transition period no longer exists and in that case one cannot talk of the existence of a transition period. For this reason Marx put the question from the point of view of the existence of historical movement, which we will describe as the transition from capitalism to communism, in a context of “helical conquest of power by the proletariat”:

Bourgeois revolutions like those of the eighteenth century storm more swiftly from success to success, their dramatic effects outdo each other, men and things seem set in sparkling diamonds, ecstasy is the order of the day- but they are short-lived, soon they have reached their zenith, and a long Katzenjammer [crapulence] takes hold of society before it learns to assimilate the results of its storm-and-stress period soberly. On the other hand, proletarian revolutions, like those of the nineteenth century, constantly criticize themselves, constantly interrupt themselves in their own course, return to the apparently accomplished, in order to begin anew; they deride with cruel thoroughness the half-measures, weaknesses, and paltriness of their first attempts, seem to throw down their opponents only so the latter may draw new strength from the earth and rise before them again more gigantic than ever, recoil constantly from the indefinite colossalness of their own goals -- until a situation is created which makes all turning back impossible, and the conditions themselves call out: Hic Rhodus, hic salta![12]

The deep insight in these lines written 140 years ago explains the efforts of the proletariat throughout the whole 20th century to conquer the political power and transform the world in a revolutionary manner. A “new beginning” of these efforts is left over to the 21st century. However, by theorising a situation where the working class has lost its direct rule as a “transitional society”, Mandel and those others who interpret the Soviet experience in the same way, ignore the character of proletarian revolutions returning constantly to the starting point after reviewing its deficiencies and faults in order to leap forward.

In his analyses Mandel has tried to put forward theoretical evidence of why the Soviet economy cannot be defined as “state capitalism”. But his views expressed in the context of that the capitalist law of value does not work in the Soviet Union and that one cannot talk of a generalised commodity production have a dimension that separates him from Trotsky. Trotsky, in his analysis, emphasises the decisive role of the world market in the final analysis and explains that a long period of isolation under bureaucratic rule would end up in the restoration of capitalism. However, Mandel’s emphasis is mainly on the economic workings within national frontiers, as he takes the reality in the Soviet Union within a static framework although he points to its contradictions. He does not pay enough attention to the danger the Soviet economy faces because of the pressure of international factors. Thus, he overstates the abolishment of the generalised commodity production within national frontiers.

That he has drawn attention to a "transition” within national frontiers was not only false in Marxist terms, but also it has turned out to be an incapable theory that could not explain later developments through years. Highlighting the abolishment of the capitalist law of value within national borders as a factor capable of making the economy immune to serious crises and of assuring a stable economic growth compared with capitalism, Mandel thus contributed to the idealisation of the reality in the Soviet Union as a “transitional regime”. However, question marks have begun to appear in minds when the economic-political-social crises of the Soviet Union and other bureaucratic regimes erupted with all their devastating consequences. However, the conception that the “transition from capitalism to communism” can survive in single countries, and even under bureaucratic dictatorships, has taken root so deeply within some Trotskyist circles that they cannot make an adequate questioning to analyse what is happening.

But, with the surfacing of crises in the Soviet economy, it has become inevitable to examine the situation of these economies in the face of the world market. Those who advocate the theory of “state capitalism” drew essentially wrong conclusions from this and equated the economic crises in these countries with those crises that flow from the workings of capitalism. Such a thesis of course does not reflect the real situation in the Soviet Union, its difference from capitalism, its peculiarity.

The crises in the Soviet economy reveal the dissociating effect of the world capitalist system on the bureaucratic regimes. This confirms the fundamental predictions of Marxism on the progress of the world revolution. That is, it reveals the impossibility of perpetuation of the peculiar workings of the economy that are based on state ownership and bureaucratic planning under a bureaucratic dictatorship on a national scale, and that the effect of the world market would sooner or later appear.

Of course Mandel admits that “although the functioning of the Soviet economy is not under the rule of the law of value, it cannot isolate itself from its influence.” But, on the other hand, while speaking of the possibility of a capitalist restoration, he confines his thinking to a national framework, relating it to the remains of commodity economy on a national scale:

Either what remains of commodity production will finally eliminate most of the direct appropriation and allocation of the social surplus product–in which case, capitalism will be restored. Or society will throw off the deadweight of the bureaucracy and ensure that the direct appropriation and allocation of major resources for the satisfaction of needs as democratically decided by the masses will predominate–in which case, the unavoidable survival of some market mechanisms will no longer be able to put a brake on genuine progress towards socialism.[13]

As we have witnessed, the capitalist restoration process in these countries did not flow from the remains of commodity economy on a national scale. This process is the result of dissociating effect of the world capitalist system and, as Trotsky pointed out, transformation of the bureaucracy which behaved as “an instrument of international bourgeoisie” within the Soviet state. As far as capitalist restoration is concerned, it cannot be said that Mandel excluded this possibility completely. On the contrary, in line with Trotsky’s analyses, he points to this possibility and that if a permanent link of material interest developed between individual bureaucrats and certain enterprises this would mean that private property in the economic sense of the word has been reconstructed. Moreover he draws attention to a situation where there can be a de facto change towards private property before there is a change in the juridical sphere. The problem with him is that, at a time when this possibility has turned into a reality, he has not reflected the results of what happened in his analyses and instead he has insisted on old stencils.

Trotsky drew attention to the possibility that capitalist restoration could be carried out in an evolutionary way by means of the bureaucracy without a bourgeois counter-revolution. Yet Mandel has limited himself to repeating the idea that a return to capitalism is possible only through a bourgeois counter-revolution. However, the domination of the bureaucracy had already made the Soviet Union open to an integration to world capitalism without a bourgeois counter-revolution. The reason why Mandel and those Trotskyist circles which have similar appraisals fall into inconsistencies in explaining the developments in the Soviet Union and East European countries since 1989 is that they have insistingly avoided a questioning and critique of their wrong evaluations for years.

To go along with the conception of degenerated workers’ state and insist that historical gains of the proletariat are still in effect has also caused an ambiguity in evaluating the struggle of the proletariat against the bureaucratic domination. Because of this ambiguous perspective the Fourth International circles limited the revolutionary strategy of the proletariat in the Soviet Union and other bureaucratic regimes only to a “political revolution”. They limited themselves to repeating Trotsky’s old analogy who analysed the domination of the Soviet bureaucracy on the basis of “Bonapartist” formation in bourgeois states. The same analogy was made a starting point in the determination of the content of anti-bureaucratic revolution as well. They continued assessing the counter-revolution the bureaucracy had carried out against the proletariat’s power in the Soviet Union as a counter-revolutionary reaction that did not touch the roots of the new order and did not go beyond a political counter-revolution. The problem was approached under the light of examples from political revolutions and counter-revolutions that took place in Europe in the age of bourgeois-democratic revolutions.

However, according to both Marx-Engels and Lenin-Trotsky, the proletarian revolution is not completed when the proletariat seizes power. On the contrary, seizure of power by the proletariat is the beginning, first step of its social revolution. For the revolution to proceed, the proletariat needs to continue seizing political power on the world arena and, thus, leap forward on the basis of social transformations. Social revolution can only be completed when the classless social order begins its life on a word scale. And it is in this sense that the “socialist construction” is unlike the process of capitalist development which flourishes within the feudal order and forces the old political forms.

That the proletariat has seized power in one country, nationalised most of the means of production, ensured a job security for the proletariat etc. do not mean that social revolution is completed. This is because of the peculiarities of proletarian social revolution. Until the proletarian revolution is completed on the world arena, a process of social revolution, which will endure a quite long historical era, lies ahead before the proletariat which has seized power within national borders. In order to avoid an interruption in this process, the proletariat must keep its political power, and world revolution must proceed with new proletarian revolutions. If the proletariat loses its political power then we cannot talk about the perpetuation of social revolution. For this reason, the problem in the Soviet Union was of a reconquest of power by the proletariat and a restart of social revolution.

Thus, in a country where the bureaucratic regime is in effect, irrespective of whether this country is in the process of capitalist restoration or not, the first political step of the proletarian social revolution is the overthrow of the bureaucratic domination in power. Whether this can be done, of course, depends directly on, just like in capitalist countries, the consciousness, organisation and whether there is an internationalist revolutionary leadership of the proletariat. On the other hand, another concrete fact we see before our eyes when we assess the present day events is this: to the extent that the East European countries (or others) complete the process of capitalist restoration, a proletarian revolution in these countries becomes coupled with the strategy of revolution in capitalist countries.

* * *

The events that took place in the Soviet Union and East European countries since 1989 and the fact that the bureaucratic regimes in these countries dissolved one after another along the lines of capitalist restoration created the need for all socialist organisations and circles to make new assessments. It was a complete disaster for political circles that have long been following the official Stalinist line. The concrete reality has revealed the true colours of “official socialism” that had been defended in the name of socialism for years. Thus it was not a surprise that the political tendencies of this category were shocked.

Apart from the official socialist current, the situation was different, of course, from the standpoint of those circles that define themselves as the continuation of the Trotskyist tradition. For them, the true face of official socialism was already clear and thus they did not have to be shocked when faced with the dissolution and collapse of the bureaucratic dictatorships. But that was not the whole story. The fast process of change in the so-called socialist countries since 1989 put the assessments of those political circles from the Trotskyist tradition to a test as well. How well prepared were they for such a situation, how did they react, to what degree did they feel the need to make a balance sheet of their earlier theses and what kind of lessons did they draw for the future? Essentially, it is up to these circles themselves to answer these questions.

For us, 1989 storm in East European countries can be characterised neither a revolution nor a counter-revolution for the revolutionary proletariat from the point of view of its results. True, the street demonstrations that swept East European countries, the Soviet Union and China revealed a powerful storm. But under conditions where the proletariat and toiling masses are deprived of organisation and revolutionary leadership, this powerful storm served, in the final analysis, the capitalist restorationists. And the great anger the proletariat and toiling masses felt against the despotic bureaucratic regime they live under led them to hail and support enthusiastically the dissolution and collapse of the bureaucratic dictatorships. Thus, by their attitude they revealed that the regime in these countries had nothing in common with a workers’ state.

Having quickly drawn important lessons from the experiences in East Europe, all “shrewd” elements of the dominant bureaucracy in these countries appeared as the new leaders of the “popular movement” that supported the process of dissolution. Thus they showed that they could lead a fast transition to capitalism without a bourgeois counter-revolution. Of course this stormy process was not a “cold” process. Nevertheless the fact that the change towards capitalism has been carried out under the leadership of the “red” bureaucracy in collaboration with the international bourgeoisie is a confirmation of this fact. Because this rapid change was the result of a process of cold evolution which lasted long years from the point of view of the bureaucracy.

Thus one of the prospects pointed out by Trotsky in his last writings had come true. The dominant bureaucracy, as the instrument of world bourgeoisie, has turned out to be a social force which sets out to carry out capitalist restoration without a bourgeois counter-revolution. Despite all boasting of Stalinists, this historical period that lasted long years has confirmed Trotsky: “A prolonged isolation would inevitably end not in national communism, but in a restoration of capitalism.”[14]

But on the other hand, even in a situation where it was becoming clear that the period of change initiated in 1989 proceeded in the direction of capitalist restoration, the Trotskyist circles in general could not abandon the habit of thinking with old stencils. As they insisted on defining the states in the USSR and East Europe as degenerated workers’ states and assessed the change in the nature of regimes in these countries within the confines of the dilemma of “either bourgeois counter-revolution; or anti-bureaucratic political revolution”, they were condemned to make contradictory assessments and take contradictory attitudes in the face of events.

Since Trotsky appraised the nature of the Soviet state as “degenerated workers’ state”, he stated that the proletariat could make a temporary alliance with the “Thermidorian part of the bureaucracy” in order to save the USSR in the face of a capitalist threat. If Mandel and other Trotskyists who think like him were to be content with reiterating the past positions, they would have to make a temporary alliance with that part of the bureaucracy in the Soviet Union and East Europe (like Ligachev, Honecker, Jivkov, etc.), which persists that the state and regime should get along as it used to. But that would only be a very unfortunate act which would serve as nothing else than to blur the line of distinction between Stalinism and Trotskyism at such a critical moment when the progress of history itself reveals who was right and who was wrong. On the other hand, it would be appropriate for those Trotskyist circles that insist on the appraisal of “degenerated workers’ state” to label the 1989 storm in these countries as the realisation of “bourgeois counter-revolution”, as a logical conclusion of their analyses.[15]

Nevertheless, Mandel and the United Secretariat of the Fourth International of which Mandel is the spokesman did not behave this way. On the contrary, the mass movement in these countries which in the final analysis supported capitalist restoration was hailed as the beginning of anti-bureaucratic proletarian revolution. Mandel’s words on 13 November 1989 testify this: “The proletarian nature of the revolution started in GDR is particularly confirmed by the extraordinary ferment on the shop floor”[16]

The fact that the dissolution and collapse of the bureaucratic dictatorships into bourgeois parliamentarism has been hailed as the beginning of the political revolution of proletarian character, is in full contradiction with the assessments of Mandel, and those who think like him, in the context of “degenerated workers’ state”. Of course they do not need to have an inner coherence on the basis of wrong analyses in order to rid themselves of the dilemma they have fallen in. What must be done today is to draw correct conclusions from the present day events from the standpoint of the struggle of the revolutionary proletariat, and, on this basis, abandon obsolete and wrong positions.

But the orientation of Mandel’s latest writings unfortunately is far from such an effort and moreover it lacks an inner coherence. A typical example of this is that Mandel, still, seeks to prove that “the bureaucracy is against capitalist restoration” at a time when the bureaucracy explicitly heads this restoration. This kind of assertions are at variance with concrete reality and reveal that he has opted for even distorting the facts in order to retain his theses instead of calling things by their true names. In an article dated October 1989 Mandel says:

It should not be expected that the Soviet “capitalists” would “restore” capitalism in the USSR. It is a sly plan attributed to Gorbachev (and his local allies in Poland, Hungary). Some attributed this purpose to Deng Siao Peng as well.

For the majority, in fact great majority, of the bureaucracy restoration of capitalism would reduce their power and privileges. Only a small minority among them, by transforming themselves, can become private property owners, turning into entrepreneurs of economically independent big industrial and financial companies such that they can transfer their status to their children. As for the broad layers of bureaucrats, ... restoration of capitalism will mean loss of power and material advantages.[17]

Seeking to prove that capitalist restoration means a loss of power and material advantages for most of the bureaucracy and that it cannot thus serve with its own hands to such an end, Mandel misses one point. The historical period now we are living in constitutes a historical turning point where nothing will be as before and the end is near for the bureaucracy, i.e. for this “class without future”. Had it been possible for these dominant bureaucracies to sustain their power and social privileges as under old bureaucratic regimes, they would for sure come up against “change” and maintain the status quo. But at a time when the bureaucratic regimes in these countries has gone bankrupt as a result of a ferment taking place for long years the bureaucracy faced a dilemma: either being swept away from the stage of history by a revolt of the working class, or integrating into world capitalism and putting an end to the old regime by turning bourgeois, thus restructuring their social privileges on new foundations!

Should the bureaucracy take the second option, says Mandel, that would mean “assuming that it is ready to make a hara-kiri as a crystallised social caste”. However, by saying so, he ignores the fact that the end of the bureaucracy has already come and, unless the bureaucratic regimes are overthrown by proletarian revolutions, the time has come for the world bourgeoisie to devour these countries into its own system. The bureaucracy had to make “rational” choices in the face of objective realities. Although a sector of the dominant bureaucracy is “reluctant”, there would be “rational” sectors to behave “eagerly”. As a matter of fact the turmoil in these countries since 1989 has promoted the “eager” while eliminating the “reluctant”; raised the “eager” to power, made them the leaders of the process of capitalist restoration.

This result has nothing to do with a “hara-kiri” from the point of view of the bureaucracy. On the contrary we could talk about such a thing only had the bureaucracy on the whole resisted capitalist restoration. The fact that while a significant section of the dominant bureaucracy is in favour of capitalist restoration, some insisted on maintaining old status quo in order not to lose their power and material advantages does not mean that the bureaucracy is against capitalist restoration. It is not possible for the whole of a “class without future” in the process of collapse to keep in step with the contemporary developments the new situation and “restructure” itself as a whole. Of course some must be losing while others gain.

Speaking of China as an example Mandel is wrong when he says, “Chinese bureaucracy did not make hara-kiri neither in response to ‘spontaneous market forces’ nor to the masses. It clang hopelessly to its power and privileges.” As the primary fear of the bureaucracy is a revolt of the working class and toilers it needs to control the speed and possible results of the process of capitalist restoration. Thus, while capitalist restoration is under way the process is decorated with such images as to create an impression that the old status quo is preserved. If the chief of the dominant bureaucracy in China, Deng Siao Ping, is stripped of this kind of “decorations” then one can see his capitalist restorationist substance.

While Mandel tells a truth by saying “historically, the bureaucracy has no future or fate of its own in the long run” he cannot draw correct conclusions from what is happening since he does not want to admit that “the long run” is already over. His effort in his October 1989 article to present the policy of Kremlin in relation to East European countries as if an evidence that the bureaucracy is against capitalist restoration has been proved wrong by facts. That the powers based on communist parties collapsed just after Gorbachev visited these countries has revealed that Kremlin is not a support for, but an obstacle to the preservation of old status quo. Just like when Europe was divided by agreements among Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill in Yalta, this time Gorbachev and USA president reached a new consensus in Malta. Not only conniving at the collapse of political regimes materialised in one party power of official communist parties in East Europe, Kremlin helped effectively this political change and thus speeded up the process of capitalist restoration in these countries.

In one of his last articles, with a view to proving that the bureaucracy is not a ruling class, Mandel asks a question on the basis of the events taking place in East Europe:

The idea of the bureaucracy as a ruling class really has to be taken with a smile after what has happened in Hungary, Poland and GDR (to quote only those examples). Has any ruling class in history ever been seen to literally tiptoe away from the stage of society, as a significant section of the nomenklatura in those countries is now doing?[18]

The argument that the bureaucracy has “tiptoed away from the stage of society” is by no means correct. In East European countries the “shrewd” section of the bureaucracy, whose sovereignty in its old form appeared to be reaching its end, not only kept in step with the change, but also set out to head this change. These bureaucrats who tried to cling to their old positions have been eliminated by those “shrewd” elements even by means of force if necessary (i.e. Romania). Besides, the bureaucracy, drawing the necessary lessons from these events, has reached the conclusion that becoming the bourgeois of the new order is more preferable. This is the way of metamorphosis that holds good for the disposition of the bureaucracy that existed on the stage of history with its peculiar nature as a dominant class that has no future in the long run.

Mandel, too, finally accepted that “capitalist restoration has been completed in the GDR”, and that “capitalist restoration is proceeding fast in the other European countries”. But he made no self-criticism of his old views. It is possible to see the wrong attitude of Mandel and people who think alike from the results of their political line:

Neither the Fourth International, nor any of its sections, nor any of its leading representatives, has even once lined up “on the side of the bureaucracy against the masses in revolt”. We all gave 100 percent support to the workers’ uprising in the GDR in 1953, to the 1956 Hungarian revolution, to the Polish workers’ struggles in the same year, to the Prague Spring’s resistance in 1968-69 to the Soviet invasion, to the rise of Solidarnosc in 1980-81 and to its subsequent struggle against Jaruzelski’s military coup in Poland, and to the uprisings in China and Eastern Europe in 1989.[19]

These lines do not provide an evidence for the “hundred percent” correctness of the political attitude of the Fourth International. It is doubtlessly correct to demand the revolt of the working class against the bureaucracy; but to support the actual political movements that lead the masses is another thing. Indeed we support or do not support political movements according to the requirements of independent political interests of the working class. This is the criterion; whether this or that political movement leads the masses cannot be a criterion. What is more important is that at times of great events such as those mentioned by Mandel the essential task is to organise independently in order to form the revolutionary leadership of the working class. If this is not accomplished, even the greatest mass mobilisation would inevitably follow other political currents. For this reason, to stand for the target of “anti-bureaucratic political revolution” by no means necessitates giving a “hundred percent support” to a political movement that aims at capitalist restoration such as “the Solidarity movement”. If the proletariat is deprived of a leadership to voice its historical interests, however much it assembles in mass organisations, the result will not be in its favour. Like in Poland where massive actions of the working class under the leadership of the “Solidarity movement” ended up in a return to bourgeois parliamentary regime.

Unfortunately the habit of attaching the expression of “workers’ state” to certain characterisations in defining the concrete situation even when the bureaucratic regimes explicitly dissolved into capitalism is not given up. Besides the definition of “bureaucratically deformed/degenerated workers’ state”, new categories are invented such as “bureaucratically rotten workers’ state”, “workers’ state under bourgeois-parliamentary guise”, etc. This mentality reveals the theoretical plight of those in the face of concrete reality, who freeze the analyses on the nature of the regimes in these countries through the whole historical process and cling to their errors at the cost of distorting the most essential concepts of Marxism.



[1] E. Mandel, Barış İçinde Birlikte Yaşama ve Dünya Devrimi, 1975, p.22 [Peaceful Coexistence and World Revolution, our translation]

[2] Trotsky, Writings 1933-34, p.115

[3] Quoted in: C. Harman, Doğu’da Fırtına Koptu, 1991, p.83 [The Storm Breaks in the East, our translation]

[4] By the way, let us remember Engels’s lines where he makes fun of erroneous approaches in relation to state ownership: “But since Bismarck became keen on nationalizing, a certain spurious socialism has recently made its appearance -- here and there even degenerating into a kind of flunkeyism -- which without more ado declares all nationalization, even the Bismarckian kind, to be socialistic. To be sure, if the nationalization of the tobacco trade were socialistic, Napoleon and Metternich would rank among the founders of socialism.” (Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. III, p.144)

[5] Mandel, Revolutionary Marxism Today, New Left Review Editions, 1979 London, pp. 145-6

[6] Mandel, ibid, p.147

[7] Mandel, ibid, p.144

[8] Mandel, Reasons for the Founding of the Fourth International, Html version

[9] Mandel, ibid.

[10] A Fourth International Document: Sosyalist Demokrasi ve Proletarya Diktatörlüğü, 1979, s.72-73 [Socialist Democracy and Proletarian Dictatorship, our translation]

[11] E. Mandel, “A Theory which has not Withstood the Test of Facts” International Socialism, July 1990, p.47

[12] Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. I, p.401.

[13] E. Mandel, “A Theory which has not Withstood the Test of Facts,” International Socialism, July 1990, p.48

[14] Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, p.301

[15] Accordingly, when a few years have passed since the time these lines were written and the results of the events in the former Soviet Union and East European countries became clear, there appeared Trotskyist circles to declare that the counter-revolution has materialized.

[16] Mandel, “Siyasal Devrim ve Onu Tehdit Eden Tehlikeler”, Glasnost ve Siyasal Devrim, Yeni Yol Broşür Dizisi: 1, 1990, p.59 [Political Revolution and Dangers that Face It, Inprecorr no:297, 13 November 1989, our translation]

[17] Mandel, “Glasnost ve Komünist Partilerin Krizi”, ibid, p.23 [Glasnost and Crisis of Communist Parties, Inprecorr no:295, 9 October 1989, our translation]

[18] E. Mandel, “A Theory which has not Withstood the Test of Facts,” International Socialism, July 1990, p.45.

[19] E. Mandel, ibid, 60.