Questioning of an Historical Period
May 1991
Tarih Bilinci Publisher

Theory and History series: 4

1st edition: October 2001

2nd edition: June 2005


In the Light of Marxism

Questioning of an Historical Period

Elif Çağlı

May 1991

Publisher’s Introduction

This book was written about ten years ago and presented to the discussion platform of revolutionary Marxists. The theoretical positions expressed by the author in this book had taken shape in the course of a discussion process during the year 1990. That discussion was about questions like what kind of socio-economic formation the countries that had been for long characterised as “real socialism” or “existing socialism” have, what sort of historical role they played and what kind of a future was awaiting them.

Looking back one may think that these questions belong to the past and have lost their significance. It might even be a nuisance for many left-wingers from the old generation, who were “real” socialists of the past and “liberals” of today, to remember the past. But this is not the case at all for those who stand for Marxism. Marxists know that a sound consciousness of history and a consistent socialist outlook can only be attained through a correct knowledge of the past. This is especially getting more and more important in relation to the young generations who want to get correct knowledge of the history of socialism and the experiences of “socialism”.

The old generations of socialist struggle had gross fallacies and thence a big suffering as they underestimated the importance of getting correct knowledge of the past and were deprived of a Marxist consciousness of history. Yet it is unnecessary for the new generations to do the same mistakes after all these experiences.

In this context we would like to express our opinion that we find it extremely important In the Light of Marxism which contains fresh theoretic analyses on the subject to reach especially to the new generations that turn their face towards Marxism.

As the author pointed out, to attempt to explain the real reasons of the collapse in the USSR and the likes with the “betrayal” of some leaders (i.e. of individuals) or with the “degeneration” of recent few years, or to blame the working class for this, as the Stalinist left did at that time, was useless and a way of evading the facts which is peculiar to petty-bourgeois. Those who want to understand the real reasons of the collapse had to inquire the real nature of these monstrous regimes that are called “real socialism”, the circumstances that gave birth to them and their historical evolution. One could not understand neither the events nor the reason why the working class did not show any reaction against the collapse, without questioning to what extent the practices experienced in these regimes in the name of socialism are in accordance with the historical interests of the working class and with scientific socialism.

The point is therefore to question the Stalinism which characterises these regimes. Without doing this one could have hardly understood what socialism really was and was not. When you read again what was written in the traditional (Stalinist) left papers during the course of collapse you will see that the prominent figures of the traditional left, who were desperately seeking a way of avoiding this questioning, continued to blur the idea of socialism and falsify the historical facts.

The author’s ideological explanations and theoretic analyses in this book represent in a sense an answer of revolutionary Marxism to this Stalinist falsification. And in our opinion the real value of this book written in the middle of the heated debates of that period lies in this.

Once the book is read it will be seen that the ideological approach and the theoretic explanations of the author are not only entirely different from the notion of “national socialism” which prevails amongst the Turkish socialist movement but also stand in opposition to it. And this stance represents a critical revolutionary line on the basis of Marxism.

But this is not the only thing that makes the book important. The original theoretical analyses of the author in relation to the nature of the regime in the USRR are also remarkable, where she examines in depth the circumstances that gave birth to the Stalinism, the forms that the property relations assumed under despotic bureaucratism, the rising to the level of a ruling class of the Soviet bureaucracy, the class division that came into being on the basis of state property. Taking as basis Marx’s materialist theses of history on Asiatic mode of production and Oriental despotism the theoretical conclusions that the author reached on the formation of despotic bureaucratic state in the Soviet Union and the peculiar position of the bureaucracy are quite different from hitherto Marxist works on the subject.

At the beginning of 1991 the USSR is still on its feet and Gorbachev is at the helm. But the author has already established with certainty what direction the developments would take. On this basis she describes the nature of that historical period that was being passed through in her introduction as follows: “As in every historical turning point pregnant with colossal turbulence and transformations, we are witnessing, and will be witnessing more, the eruption, with severe crises, of contradictions accumulated and deepened through long years and their world-wide effects. While a historical period is closing, a new one is going to open up which will be the stage for a richer, more learned, more conscious, though more painful, action of human beings.” And she adds that in this new period Marxism will still be throwing light to the historical struggle of humankind for a classless, free-of-exploitation, free social life.

In the wake of the collapse of the Stalinist bureaucratic regimes which had been presenting themselves for years as “real socialism” to the peoples of the world the bourgeoisie sought to present this collapse as the collapse of “Marxism and communism” in its world-wide ideological campaign. Of course the bourgeoisie was trying to exploit the deceit of the Soviet bureaucracy that depicts their totalitarian regimes (Stalinism) as identical to Marxism for its own ends.

According to the author, due to the chaos of ideas and the conditions of the historical period that was being passed through there was a number of theoretical and political problems piled up before the revolutionary Marxists. She was saying: “To elaborate the historical experiences in their all aspects, to convey the whole theoretical and political lessons drawn to the consciousness of the working class and young generations that turn their faces towards socialism, that must be the foremost task of the revolutionary Marxists.” She stressed that, without a radical questioning of the past, without eradicating the precipitates of Stalinist ideas that cover Marxism like a dead crust for years, it would be impossible to bring to the light the scientific nature and historical rightfulness of Marxism. Then the starting point was obvious.

The author starts with the most fundamental positions of Marxism on the subject. In the first chapters a reconstruction of the theory of “transition from capitalism to communism” is endeavoured on the basis of Marx’s fundamental analysis. In this context the most fundamental concepts of Marxist theory as the world revolution –which has been distorted and forgotten–, state in general, the dictatorship of the proletariat (workers’ “state”) in particular and transition period are re-presented. After that, the conditions of existence of Stalinism, which was risen above the liquidation of the October Revolution and created a different notion of “socialism”, and a tradition based on that, by the 1930’s, are investigated. And that no identity can be established between the so-called theory of “socialism in one country” and scientific socialism and that on the contrary it was developed as a counter-theory against it is explained alongside with the elaboration of the phases of Soviet history. It is also revealed with both theoretical and empirical data that the system in the USSR cannot be characterised as “a transition society under working class power”.

The author deals in detail with Marx’s “transition theory” and criticises misconceptions and deliberate falsifications on the subject. Especially that how the state, classes and relationships of commodity will disappear in the period of socialism, together with their material foundations, which is defined by Marx as “the lower phase of communism”, is dealt with and explained in the light of Marx’s analyses.

Another point that the author emphasises is the following: the way to overcome the problems in the world socialist movement created by Stalinism, which has put its stamp on a sixty-years period in terms of both theory and practice, and to confront the anti-communist ideological crusade of the world bourgeoisie lies in bringing about the international political unity of revolutionary Marxists. Thus it is of vital importance to draw correct theoretical-political conclusions from what has happened. It acquired an extreme importance to reach a synthesis by deepening the discussions on the controversial subjects among revolutionary Marxists today. If we consider the historical process and experiences, one should admit that not a single thesis or particular theory on the “class nature of the USSR and the likes” put forward in the past can be excluded from criticism. The theoretical discussions among the revolutionary Marxists should serve not to set up separate sects but to draw lessons from what has happened, to grasp the tasks of the day, to obtain a sound Marxist perspective of future and to raise the revolutionary internationalist tradition of the proletariat back to the level of a organised political force.

In this context, the author raises a series of theoretical and historical questions back into the agenda for discussion. These are basically the concepts related to the essence of socialism, which are falsified basically by the Stalinism, emptied of their contents by the practices in the bureaucratic dictatorships, and even turned into their opposites. Moreover these concepts have not been grasped and interpreted in a sufficiently proper way by some revolutionary Marxists either.

Once the book is read it will be seen that the theoretical analyses of the author on the real nature of the USSR and its historical place do not only expose the anti-Marxist aspects of the Stalinist understanding but they also represent a criticism of those Trotskyists who have frozen Trotsky’s analyses and turned his thesis of “degenerated workers’ state” nearly into a dogma. Also exposed in the book is the inconsistency of those Trotskyists who seek to explain the system in the USSR with a theory like “state capitalism” which lacks a scientific ground.

The method of the author in treating the problems, the inquiring and critical attitude in her theoretical approach appear as a critical and revolutionary attitude, essentially remaining loyal to Marx’s scientific method at the same time.

The author takes it seriously to develop a dialogue with revolutionary Marxist circles that pursue a discussion on the basis of historical experiences, question, and seek to draw lessons. In this context she deals with the most fundamental problems relating to the essence of the scientific socialism, raises them back to the agenda and inquires the following:

Is there any room for a “socialism in one country” or a “national socialism” in Marx’s scientific theory of socialism? Is there a separate socio-economic formation called “socialism” in itself independent from communism in Marx’s theory? Can the socialist organisation of society (which is classless society) be compatible with the simultaneous presence of a “nation-state”? Can there really be a workers’ democracy if the workers do not rule, even if there is a state operating “in the name of” the working class, organised in a bureaucratic manner with its professional army and police, judicial and administrative machinery? Or, in such a “workers” state, in whose hands would be the real power, in the hands of workers, or of some others? Is it possible to say that state property and social property are the same; or can one speak of a social property if the state still exists? Again, is it still possible to talk of the existence of a workers’ state in a society in which the control and running of the state and the economy is not directly in the hands of the workers but of a professional ruling elite (the ruling bureaucracy) behaving “in the name of” the working class and this, with time, is turned into a standing system, even if the capitalism is abolished, the means of production, land and foreign trade is nationalised, and it proclaimed itself as “socialist”. Can we say “despite everything the nationalised property still remains a gain of the working class” in such a society? Should “the transition period from capitalism to communism”, which is defined by Marx as “a period of revolutionary transformations”, understood as a process to be lived and completed on a national level, or on a universal level? And does the workers’ state corresponding to this transition period have a chance to survive if it is surrounded by capitalism and isolated for a long period of time? And were the national states established under the name of “Socialist” or “People’s Republic” really workers’ states? If not, then in whose hands was the state in these regimes, or what class was ruling?

These theoretical questions relating to the essence of the scientific socialism were indeed being discussed during the end of 80’s and the beginning of 90’s, although not among the Stalinists but among the revolutionary Marxists.

And here in this book you will find the answers to these theoretical problems given by the author on the basis of Marxism.