Lenin could not have the chance to follow and draw conclusions from the bureaucratisation of the Soviet state when it developed from a growing danger into an established fact which was then a reality that found its expression in the domination of the Stalinist apparatus. After Lenin’s death (1924) Trotsky searched into the reality of the Soviet Union, a socio-economic formation which was in the process of formation and transformation, until he was murdered by an agent of Stalin in 1940. This situation was expressed by Trotsky himself:
Sociological problems would certainly be simpler, if social phenomena had always a finished character. There is nothing more dangerous, however, than to throw out of reality, for the sake of logical completeness, elements which today violate your scheme and tomorrow may wholly overturn it. In our analysis, we have above all avoided doing violence to dynamic social formations which have had no precedent and have no analogies. The scientific task, as well as the political, is not to give a finished definition to an unfinished process, but to follow all its stages, separate its progressive from its reactionary tendencies, expose their mutual relations, foresee possible variants of development, and find in this foresight a basis for action.
If we take this way of approach into consideration, we should take Trotsky’s explanations not as final and finished conclusions, but an attempt to grasp reality within the dynamic process of investigation and a rich exposition of prospects. His analyses on the nature of the Soviet State constitute a fundamental starting point to grasp the reality of the USSR once they are taken and examined in the context of the dynamism of the process undergone and the prospects he pointed out are eliminated in the course of practice. Once we follow such a way, it could be possible to see the superior aspects (compared with the earlier ones) as well as drawbacks and errors (compared with the subsequent ones) of the conclusions drawn by Trotsky in one certain period. And only by this way we can benefit from the revolutionary richness of the whole of Trotsky’s ideas to analyse our times in spite of the errors included in his characterisation of “bureaucratically degenerated workers’ state”.
In the foreword of his book Permanent Revolution which he wrote in exile at Prinkipo, Trotsky reminded us that the fate of the proletarian dictatorship in one country should be treated within the context of the world revolution:
The maintenance of the proletarian revolution within a national framework can only be a provisional state of affairs, even though, as the experience of the Soviet Union shows, one of long duration. In an isolated proletarian dictatorship, the internal and external contradictions grow inevitably along with the success achieved. If it remains isolated, the proletarian state must finally fall victim to these contradictions. The way out for it lies only in the victory of the proletariat of the advanced countries. Viewed from this standpoint, a national revolution is not a self-contained whole; it is only a link in the international chain. The international revolution constitutes a permanent process, despite temporary declines and ebbs.
It has been clearly expressed and defended by Trotsky that unless it proceeds along proletarian lines on the international arena the revolution could lead to a bureaucratic blind alley within national borders and would head towards its own collapse and that this was an indisputable truth. Although this was his essential thought, he started from the point that it could not yet be said that the policies of the Stalinist bureaucracy has led to a liquidation of the workers’ state. On the basis of this he asserts in his brochure The Class Character of the Soviet State (1 October 1933) that the Soviet bureaucracy has a dual character. Trotsky thinks that the Stalinist bureaucracy which has caused the collapse of the Communist International still preserves a somewhat progressive character in the sense that it defends the conquests of the October Revolution, although it has completely lost its revolutionary character as an international factor.
It shows us how and why the Stalinist apparatus could completely squander its meaning as the international revolutionary factor and yet preserve a part of its progressive meaning as the gatekeeper of the social conquests of the proletarian revolution.
Was this really the case? Or was the bureaucracy emerging as a class that has liquidated these conquests and therefore been the enemy of the historical interests of the proletariat? Of course the latter was true. Stalinist bureaucracy liquidated the historical conquests of the Soviet proletariat and transformed the soviet institutions into apparatuses of its own sovereignty in the process of counter-revolution during which it reinforced its rule.
Let us accept for a moment that this error of Trotsky in 1933 was due to the fact that he could not yet see that the rise of the bureaucracy had reached such a point. This still does not eliminate one contradiction in his evaluation. Since he himself criticised in the same brochure the inconsistency of such an approach of asserting that the policies of the Stalinist bureaucracy could create different results inside and outside the country:
We Marxists were never patrons of the double bookkeeping system of the Brandlerites, according to which the policies of the Stalinists are impeccable in the USSR but ruinous outside the boundaries of the USSR. It is our conviction that they are equally ruinous in both instances.
Another remarkable point in the same brochure is his assessment on the fact that the proletarian dictatorship could not be overthrown by a “gradual” bourgeois counter revolution:
The Marxist thesis relating to the catastrophic character of the transfer of power from the hands of one class into the hands of another applies not only to revolutionary periods, when history sweeps madly ahead, but also to the periods of counterrevolution, when society rolls backwards. He who asserts that the Soviet government has been gradually changed from proletarian to bourgeois is only, so to speak, running backwards the film of reformism.
What we must dwell on here is that the condition of existence for a workers’ state is made connected to whether a bourgeois counter-revolution alone has taken place or not. Viewed in this way, you must draw such a conclusion that there are only two alternatives for the destruction of a workers’ state: either an external assault, or a bourgeois counter-revolution inside provoked by the world bourgeoisie. However there was a third possibility: a counter-revolution of the bureaucracy that could put an end to the sovereignty of the working class without an external assault or a bourgeois counter-revolution. As a matter of fact, this was what took place. In fact Trotsky himself admitted in the subsequent years that a bureaucratic counter revolution had taken place in the Soviet Union. Thus it was not correct to say that the state was still a workers’ state –though bureaucratically degenerated– only by considering the fact that a bourgeois counter-revolution had not happened in the Soviet Union.
If it was true that the transition process from capitalism to communism which had started with the October Revolution came to an end under the bureaucratic dictatorship and that another “transition” process (whose only exit is capitalism) had begun unless this dictatorship was overthrown by a new revolutionary upsurge of the proletariat; then, from a historical point of view, the rule of the bureaucracy constitutes an intermediary step in the passage of power back to the bourgeoisie. Of course we have the advantage of looking back from now after fifty years of experiences since Trotsky’s death. Yet in his time, Trotsky focused his full attention on utilising even slightest possibility that serves to save the conquests of the October Revolution.
One might say that he went too far in his anxiety to “save” and avoided any early pronouncing of some truths that had to be explained. Although Trotsky had a profound understanding of Marxism in that the workers’ state must be a state without bureaucracy, one that has to start withering away from the very onset, there are some examples in which he tried to twist this view. For instance the group of “Democratic Centralists” had introduced the idea that after 1925 “the workers’ state no longer existed”. Leaving aside whether this claim is true or not for the specified period involved, we would like to draw attention to the kind of arguments Trotsky uses while objecting these kind of claims. Some reckless arguments used in political discussions paved the way for misconceptions of some Trotskyists in the following years on the nature of a workers’ state (that the workers’ state can be with bureaucracy). For example Trotsky describes the theses of those who claim that the soviet state no longer bore a proletarian character as “most popular and at first sight irrefutable theses” and goes on: “Is it really possible to identify the dictatorship of an apparatus, which has led to the dictatorship of a single person, with the dictatorship of the proletariat as a class? Isn't it clear that the dictatorship of the proletariat is excluded by the dictatorship over the proletariat?” Trotsky criticises this reasoning:
Such enticing reasoning is constructed not upon a materialistic analysis of the process as it develops in reality but upon pure idealistic schemas, upon Kantian norms. Certain noble "friends" of the revolution have provided themselves with a very radiant conception of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and they are completely prostrated in the face of the fact that the real dictatorship with all its heritage of class barbarism, with all its internal contradictions, with the mistakes and crimes of the leadership, fails entirely to resemble that sleek image that they have provided. Disillusioned in their most beautiful emotions, they turn their backs to the Soviet Union.
Aside from whether the opponent circles which Trotsky criticises took a correct attitude in their struggle against the Stalinist dictatorship or not, in our opinion the problem is not related at all with “the mistakes and crimes of the leadership”, “the real dictatorship with all its heritage of class barbarism” as Trotsky asserts. The theses of the opposition can only point to the fact that the workers’ state cannot live on with the hunch on its back, and not the opposite. In the above mentioned article Trotsky bases himself on the idea that the bureaucratic caste politically expropriated the proletariat, and that so long as the property forms created by the October Revolution are not overthrown the proletariat maintained its social hegemony. Rather, while accepting that the Stalinist rule politically expropriated the proletariat, Trotsky tries to prove that the dictatorship of the proletariat can still live on in spite of this. In order to be able to do this, he tries to prove on the basis of an analogy with the bourgeois state that the workers’ state may have different forms as well.
Trotsky gives the example of Hitler fascism. He states that the bourgeoisie has fallen under the rule of this fascist horde and although he politically expropriated the bourgeois Hitler thus prevented their economic expropriation. He draws attention to the fact that the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie prevailed since the property and hegemony of the bourgeoisie are preserved. On the basis of this, Trotsky claims that the dictatorship of the proletariat still prevails in the Soviet Union now that the state ownership is preserved. He thinks that while politically expropriating the proletariat, the bureaucracy safeguarded it from economic expropriation, and for this reason it cannot be argued that the proletariat has lost its social hegemony. He says:
So long as the forms of property that have been created by the October Revolution are not overthrown, the proletariat remains the ruling class.
Thus the indispensable condition of a workers’ state, that is “the political sovereignty of the working class” (workers’ democracy), is reduced to the level of a secondary component, “a form of state”, of the dictatorship of the proletariat, which is preferable but not necessary as it does not invalidate the existence of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Trotsky says, “the proletariat is the spine of the Soviet state. But insofar as the function of governing is concentrated in the hands of an irresponsible bureaucracy, we have before us an obviously sick state.” He tries to prove his view on the basis of an analogy with the different forms of bourgeois state. After his death this approach led Trotskyists to appraise the character of the state and the bureaucracy in the Soviet Union on the basis of this analogy.
However, a change in property forms, i.e. nationalisations, is not sufficient for the proletariat to be the ruling class. In order to fill it with the working class sovereignty and turn it into a social conquest, it is necessary for the fundamental conclusions drawn by Marx from the experience of the Paris Commune to be in actual existence, implemented and preserved. And that depends on whether the proletariat being not contend with only destroying the old state apparatus takes necessary precautions to prevent new rulers from becoming a privileged sovereign class. Otherwise, such a change on the basis of state ownership inevitably would pave the way for the birth of a new privileged class; and that was the case.
In order to criticise the views of those who claim that the Soviet state was no longer a workers’ state and it could only be defined as a kind of Bonapartist government, Trotsky took the issue of Bonapartism on his agenda. First, in order to reveal some misconceptions, he states that Bonapartism in the bourgeois regime does not mean “a supra-class government” and that it is just one of the forms of capitalist domination. And he explains that a Bonapartist interpretation could be accepted only on condition that its social content is clearly defined. According to Trotsky the Soviet Bonapartism does not exclude soviet regime, but stands on it.
It is absolutely correct that the self-rule of the Soviet bureaucracy was built upon the soil of veering between class forces both internal as well as international. Insofar as the bureaucratic veering has been crowned by the personal plebiscitary regime of Stalin, it is possible to speak of Soviet Bonapartism. But while the Bonapartism of both Bonapartes as well as their present pitiful followers has developed and is developing on the basis of a bourgeois regime, the Bonapartism of Soviet bureaucracy has under it the soil of a Soviet regime.
Trotsky’s approach here is not correct in essence. True, the political sphere (the state) can acquire a relative independence from the economic sphere within the bourgeois regime. But in a regime under the domination of the proletariat, these two spheres merge in the bosom of the proletariat which has organised itself as the ruling class. In the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie which is based on private property, whatever the political form of the state the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie prevails as long as the bourgeoisie maintains its property. But under the dictatorship of the proletariat which is based on state ownership, the proletariat can preserve its ruling position only as long as it maintains its political sovereignty and keeps the state in its hands. Only under this condition can the dictatorship of the proletariat (workers' state) live on. Thus, it is not correct to assume that one can see state forms other than workers’ democracy under the dictatorship of the proletariat by making analogies with the state forms in bourgeois society (for example Trotsky’s analogy of “proletarian Bonapartism” for Stalin’s despotic-bureaucratic dictatorship).
One other point in Trotsky’s brochure The Class Nature of the Soviet State that caused misconceptions in the following years is the thesis which proposes that the Soviet bureaucracy is not a dominant class, but “a privileged caste”. However, while emerging at first as a caste, the bureaucracy lifted itself to a ruling-dominant position through a bureaucratic counter-revolution process that took place in the course of 1924-1928 and reinforced itself towards 1936.
Trotsky’s assessments on the nature of the bureaucracy in the Soviet Union changed in time. But his view that the bureaucracy cannot constitute a dominant class (he tried to prove this starting from the place of the bureaucracy in the bourgeois society) remained to be the basis for misleading assessments on the nature of the Soviet bureaucracy and those alike. Trotsky took the place of bureaucracy in class societies based on private property as a starting point in understanding the nature of the Soviet bureaucracy:
A class is defined not by its participation in the distribution of the national income alone, but by its independent role in the general structure of the economy and by its independent roots in the economic foundation of society. Each class … works out its own special forms of property. The bureaucracy lacks all these social traits. It has no independent position in the process of production and distribution. It has no independent property roots. Its functions relate basically to the political technique of class rule. The existence of a bureaucracy, in all its variety of forms and differences in specific weight, characterises every class regime. Its power is of a reflected character. The bureaucracy is indissolubly bound up with a ruling economic class, feeding itself upon the social roots of the latter, maintaining itself and falling together with it.
We must remember here that there is a complete difference between the place of the Soviet bureaucracy and of the bureaucracy in bourgeois society. Trotsky’s generalisations about the nature of bureaucracy are correct for class societies and states based on private property (slave, feudal, capitalist). However, under conditions of nationalised means of production, if the working class loses its state organs and therefore of its power to the bureaucracy, then the power of this ruling bureaucracy will not be a “reflected power” but its own power. In such a case the bureaucracy will gain an extraordinary independence and assume a sui generis character. That is the bureaucracy itself will “possess the state” and, on the basis of it, become a dominant class over society. When these conditions become real, the bureaucracy ceases to be a dependent section (layer) of the working class and gets the position of an independent class. The difference of the Soviet bureaucracy from the classical position of the bureaucracy in class societies based on private property lies here: Soviet bureaucracy is defined “not by its participation in the distribution of the national income alone” but by its independent role in the general structure of the economy and by its independent roots in the economic foundation of society (that is, the sovereign position of the bureaucracy within the production relations that are based on state ownership).
Treating the nature of the Soviet bureaucracy as the “dependent” position of the bureaucracy in bourgeois society, Trotsky states that it will always remain a “servant” even if it devours a big part of the national income. He gives the example of the fascist bureaucracy in Italy and Germany and asserts that although they wrest the most delicious part from the bourgeoisie they cannot go beyond being “an evil servant”. And he makes another generalisation about the bureaucracy: “Always and in every regime, the bureaucracy devours no small portion of surplus value.” Since Trotsky thinks what is said for the fascist bureaucracies in capitalist society is also applicable to the Stalinist bureaucracy with necessary modifications, he emphasises that although the privileges of the Soviet bureaucracy indicate an unwanted inequality, such inequalities would exist in the transition period:
Inequality, moreover such crying inequality, would, of course, be absolutely impossible in a socialist society. But contrary to official and semiofficial lies, the present Soviet regime is not socialist but transitional. It still bears within it the monstrous heritage of capitalism, social inequality in particular, not only between the bureaucracy and the proletariat but also within the bureaucracy itself and within the proletariat.
Yet, at that moment, the problem could not simply be glossed over by indicating the inequalities that a transitional regime –which no longer existed in the Soviet Union– may have in comparison with the socialist society. As a matter of fact, a questioning of what kind of qualitative changes the Soviet regime was undergoing on the basis of state ownership that reflected the sovereignty of the bureaucracy, should have been given priority. Since the privileges of the bureaucracy in that case pointed to not only an inequality in the conditions of distribution but also the fact that the proletariat had lost its domination within the production process. But Trotsky approaches the problem from such a point of view that the existence of state ownership can be considered a sufficient proof for the existence of the workers’ state. Hence he did not clearly name the new position acquired by the bureaucracy and the qualitative change in the regime. Since Trotsky takes for granted the unchanged character of the Soviet society imparted by the October Revolution, he limits the trouble of bureaucratisation to “social parasitism” although he observes the change in the regime. However, it has come to light with the enormous change in those years that the position of the Soviet bureaucracy meant something more than “social parasitism”.
As Trotsky conceives the end of the dictatorship of the proletariat only in the form of a possible bourgeois counter-revolution, he thinks that the workers' state continues to exist albeit the very parasitic character of the bureaucracy. And so long as he did not change his mind he claimed that the bureaucracy would have a dual character:
We call the Stalinist apparatus centrist precisely because it fulfils a dual role; today, when there is no longer a Marxist leadership, and none forthcoming as yet, it defends the proletarian dictatorship with its own methods; but these methods are such as facilitate the victory of the enemy tomorrow. Whoever fails to understand this dual role of Stalinism in the USSR has understood nothing.
The idea that the Stalinist apparatus “defends the proletarian dictatorship with its own methods” has nothing in common with the reality. As a matter of fact, this idea was so unjustified in the face of concrete facts that as the contradicting character of Stalinism with the conditions of existence for a workers' state became clear, Trotsky felt the need in the subsequent years to emphasise the “evil role” of the bureaucracy rather than its “dual character”.
* * *
Trotsky looks back and makes a reassessment in his brochure entitled The Workers' State, Thermidor and Bonapartism (1935). He reminds that many debates have been made on the question of “Thermidor”, i.e. counter-revolutionary reaction, and that this problem is also closely linked with the history of the Left Opposition. He states that the Left Opposition has used this term around 1926 to underscore the contradictory position of the bureaucracy standing between the growing rural bourgeoisie and the working class. But according to the appraisals of that period, “Thermidor” was yet an unrealised danger. Re-handling this question Trotsky explains that this view of theirs had been wrong, and that, in fact, the Soviet Thermidor had begun in 1924. But he adds that he makes this point on condition that the term Thermidor should not be understood as such a counter-revolution that has put an end to the social revolution. According to Trotsky, the 1794 Thermidor in the French Revolution did not abolish the social results of the bourgeois revolution but transferred the power from one layer of the victorious “people” to another layer. This was the content of that Thermidor. He claims that the Soviet Thermidor transferred the power from the hands of the proletariat to the hands of the bureaucracy, but this change has not abolished the social foundation of the 1917 October Revolution but rather stood on it.
Thus Trotsky repeats his mistake related to the concept of “Soviet Bonapartism”, when he explains the content of “Soviet Thermidor”. Because the Thermidor in the French Revolution was the exclusion of propertyless, “sans-culotte” layers of people that joined the revolution seeking to advance the bourgeois democratic revolution with popular demands. It was also the liquidation of the Jacobins that paces with them. One day before the Thermidor, Robespierre was shouting at the Convention Assembly: “They are destroying the Revolution! The Republic is at stake!” And that was what happened. Napoleon’s Bonapartist empire was established resulting eventually from the Thermidor. The French Thermidor eventually took measures that would reinforce the development of the bourgeois order; but at the same time it stopped the advance of the revolution that had found its expression in the “popular-radical” demands of social transformation.
Soviet Thermidor, on the other hand, had a counter-revolutionary aspect by stopping the advance of social revolution by putting an end to the power of the proletariat and reinforcing the power of the bureaucracy. Whereas the French Thermidor reinforced the social foundations of the bourgeois order (bourgeois property), the “Soviet Thermidor” dynamited the foundations of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The state ownership that was “preserved” under the domination of the bureaucracy meant preparing the material foundations of the dictatorship of the bureaucracy. Thus it would be quite wrong to arrive at a generalisation that “Thermidor” is a counter-revolutionary reaction that does not touch the social foundations of the revolution, ignoring the qualitative difference between the two historical-social cases involved.
Trotsky’s appraisal in 1935 did not eliminate the error in his analysis on the nature of the Soviet State; on the contrary it reinforced his wrong attitude on this subject. Since, this time, despite he accepts that the bureaucratic dictatorship is an actual fact, he tries to prove that it can reconcile with the existence of a workers’ state. The “complete justification” he emphasises below must have troubled him later on:
In the last historical analysis, Soviet democracy was blown up by the pressure of social contradictions. Exploiting the latter, the bureaucracy wrested the power from the hands of mass organisations. In this sense we may speak about the dictatorship of the bureaucracy and even about the personal dictatorship of Stalin. But this usurpation was made possible and can maintain itself only because the social content of the dictatorship of the bureaucracy is determined by those productive relations that were created by the proletarian revolution. In this sense we may say with complete justification that the dictatorship of the proletariat found its distorted but indubitable expression in the dictatorship of the bureaucracy.
But only one year later Trotsky would make a more embracing analysis of the reality in the Soviet Union in his book The Revolution Betrayed. Thus he would provide very important dimensions that would make it possible to overcome his wrong views after his death. Therefore there is no reason to obsess with his old assessments.
However, in those issues where he did not make clear and definite corrections, some of his followers made these mistakes ossified, transformed them into dogmas as they tried to systematise his wrong views. The category of “bureaucratically degenerated workers' state” and the analogy of “Thermidor Bonapartism that does not abolish the results of the social revolution” are typical examples of this. Yet, when it comes to wrong assessments and correcting them in general, Trotsky provides us with instructive guidelines:
Our tendency never laid claim to infallibility. We do not receive ready-made truths as a revelation, like the high priests of Stalinism. We study, we discuss, we check our conclusions in the light of existence, we openly correct the admitted mistakes and -- we proceed forward. Scientific conscientiousness and personal strictness are the best traditions of Marxism and Leninism. We wish to remain true to our teachers in this respect as well.
We wish all Trotskyists could frequently recall these lines of Trotsky instead of freezing and sustaining certain wrong appraisals.
Studying the change in historical perspective, Trotsky carefully examines the situation in the Soviet Union from different aspects and discloses every lie of the official chroniclers. He states the aim of his investigation materialised in this book with these remarkable words:
The purpose of the present investigation is to estimate correctly what is, in order the better to understand what is coming to be. We shall dwell upon the past only so far as that helps us to see the future. Our book will be critical. Whoever worships the accomplished fact is incapable of preparing the future.
The facts Trotsky deals with in this work are so important that, it would be quite impossible to grasp the reality of the Soviet Union without the light shed by a revolutionary leader of this calibre who has personally witnessed that period. For example the real plight of the working class under the bureaucratic dictatorship finds its expression in his lines in the face of the official lies of the bureaucratic regime. After making clear that the new state applies the old methods of oppression on the muscles and nerves of the worker in order to raise the technological level, Trotsky continues:
There grew up a corps of slave drivers. The management of industry became superbureaucratic. The workers lost all influence whatever upon the management of the factory. With piecework payment, hard conditions of material existence, lack of free movement, with terrible police repression penetrating the life of every factory, it is hard indeed for the worker to feel himself a "free workman.'' In the bureaucracy he sees the manager, in the state, the employer. Free labour is incompatible with the existence of a bureaucratic state.
In this book Trotsky takes as fundamental the necessity to start from the “sine qua non” requirements of Marxism concerning the workers’ state in order to grasp the nature and fate of the Soviet state. He has also left his bitter tone as exemplified in the expression “those friends of the revolution who cling to the idealist, pure schemas”, which was formerly directed towards those who defended the idea that “there cannot be a workers’ state with bureaucracy”.
At the turn of 1936 Trotsky concentrates his attention on the fact that the Soviet state is a bureaucratic one and cannot do without it whereas this is incompatible with the Marxist conception of the workers’ state. He recalls the words of Lenin saying that “the proletariat needs only a dying state”. According to Lenin, a loyal follower of Marx, the workers’ state must be a state constructed in such a way that it immediately begins to die away and cannot help dying away. Trotsky emphasises that only opportunists can forget this fact and say: “the proletariat needs a state”. As a matter of fact, the prevailing conception in the party programme which was adopted one and a half year after the proletariat’s seizure of power by the October Revolution is a manifestation of Lenin’s uncompromising attitude on the workers’ state:
A strong state, but without mandarins; armed power, but without the Samurai! It is not the tasks of defense which create a military and state bureaucracy, but the class structure of society carried over into the organisation of defense.…
The regime of proletarian dictatorship from its very beginning thus ceases to be a "state" in the old sense of the word – a special apparatus, that is, for holding in subjection the majority of the people. The material power, together with the weapons, goes over directly and immediately into the hands of the workers' organisations such as the soviets. The state as a bureaucratic apparatus begins to die away the first day of the proletarian dictatorship.
However, the situation in 1936 points to a bureaucratic state that has no intention of dying away and on the contrary gets stronger as if ridiculing the revolutionary Marxist conception of the question of state. Trotsky expresses this situation with these words:
Worse than that, it has grown into a hitherto unheard of apparatus of compulsion. The bureaucracy not only has not disappeared, yielding its place to the masses, but has turned into an uncontrolled force dominating the masses. The army not only has not been replaced by an armed people, but has given birth to a privileged officers' caste, crowned with marshals, while the people, "the armed bearers of the dictatorship", are now forbidden in the Soviet Union to carry even nonexplosive weapons. With the utmost stretch of fancy it would be difficult to imagine a contrast more striking than that which exists between the scheme of the workers' state according to Marx, Engels and Lenin, and the actual state now headed by Stalin.
The sharp contrast between the objective situation resulting from the isolation of the proletarian revolution in a backward country like Russia and the conditions of existence required for a new type of state indicated by Marxism has been expressed in the existence of a state with bureaucracy. With a view to drawing conclusions from the fact that the Soviet state is one with bureaucracy Trotsky says:
The social demand for a bureaucracy arise in all those situations where sharp antagonisms need to be "softened", "adjusted", "regulated" (always in the interests of the privileged, the possessors, and always to the advantage of the bureaucracy itself).
Taking the problems of the proletarian revolution in the context of the progress of world revolution, Lenin started not from the idea that “there can be a state with bureaucracy” in Russia, but from such a perspective that “there should not be a state with bureaucracy”. That’s why Trotsky says that Lenin did not succeed in drawing all conclusions as to the nature of the state from the backwardness and isolatedness of the country. Trotsky, who, unlike Lenin, had the opportunity to observe the real situation for years after the revolution, draws conclusions on the impossibility of avoiding the danger of bureaucratism under conditions of “material want and cultural backwardness”:
The tendencies of bureaucratism, which strangles the workers' movement in capitalist countries, would everywhere show themselves even after a proletarian revolution. But it is perfectly obvious that the poorer the society which issues from a revolution, the sterner and more naked would be the expression of this "law", the more crude would be the forms assumed by bureaucratism, and the more dangerous would it become for socialist development. The Soviet state is prevented not only from dying away, but even from freeing itself of the bureaucratic parasite, not by the "relics" of former ruling classes, as declares the naked police doctrine of Stalin, for those relics are powerless in themselves. It is prevented by immeasurably mightier factors, such as material want, cultural backwardness and the resulting dominance of "bourgeois law" in what most immediately and sharply touches every human being, the business of insuring his personal existence.
From the point of view of explaining the real situation in the Soviet Union, Trotsky’s assessments on the “state with bureaucracy” shed light on very important objective realities and reveal the material sources of the evil of bureaucratism. As to analysing the phenomenon of “bureaucratic state” in the Soviet Union and countries alike, Trotsky’s explanations are much to the purpose. We can put it this way: the workers’ state should not have been with bureaucracy, but the Soviet state is one with bureaucracy. Then what are the objective reasons for this and is it possible to regard such a state as workers’ state?
In fact the clues provided by Trotsky enable one to answer these questions while they indicate the impossibility of characterising such a state as workers’ state. Discussed in this context, there is no problem. But it is not possible to agree with taking the objective conditions explained by Trotsky as the basis for the argument: “the workers’ state should have been one without bureaucracy; but unfortunately it turned out to be one with bureaucracy; then, despite everything, the Soviet state is a workers’ state.” Moreover, after revealing the real character of the Soviet state, Trotsky himself falls into contradiction with his own profound analyses whenever he tries to twist his assessments so as to back such an idea that “there may exist a workers’ state with bureaucracy”.
Trotsky stresses the need to call things with their proper names as to characterising the Soviet state and emphasises that the material privileges of a minority persisted in the Soviet Union:
If the state does not die away, but grows more and more despotic, if the plenipotentiaries of the working class become bureaucratised, and the bureaucracy rises above the new society, this is not for some secondary reasons like the psychological relics of the past, etc., but is a result of the iron necessity to give birth to and support a privileged minority so long as it is impossible to guarantee genuine equality.
Yet, if such a law that corresponds to a “workers’ democracy” cannot be enforced due to economic and cultural backwardness, then this means there is no material ground of talking about a workers’ state. In other words, a workers’ state can only correspond to an effective leap forward launched for the liquidation of the inequalities and privileges inherited from capitalism. Those material conditions that unavoidably lead to the birth and permanence of a privileged minority like bureaucracy are not compatible with the conditions of existence of a workers’ state. Otherwise the state will become one that defends with special oppression methods and apparatuses the material privileges of a minority against the majority. That this may be the case with the state in the Soviet Union is fair enough. But can it be called a workers’ state? That is the problem!
The correct attitude is to see that the soviet state of workers has undergone an enormous degeneration under conditions of isolatedness of the revolution in a backward country like Russia and thus has come to an end by the counter-revolution of the rising bureaucracy, and draw the conclusion that the dictatorship of the proletariat can not live on under similar conditions. To seek to categorise such a reality as “bureaucratically degenerated workers’ state” or to defend the generalisation “even the workers’ state will be a state with bureaucracy” is such a mistake whose negative effects have been growing as time goes by.
Trotsky pointed to the two essential lever that are necessary in order to take the planned steps for the transition from capitalism to communism: “... the political lever, in the form of a real participation in leadership of the interested masses themselves, a thing which is unthinkable without Soviet democracy; and a financial lever, in the form of a real testing out of a priori calculations with the help of a universal equivalent, a thing that is unthinkable without a stable money system.” And he supplied a lot of data that prove that both levers did not exist in the Soviet Union. That’s why it was impossible to talk about a transitional regime from capitalism to communism operating in the Soviet Union. As a matter of fact, after 1935 he was very cautious about the concept “transitional regime” and described the situation in the Soviet Union with expressions like “a preparatory regime transitional from capitalism to socialism”, “a transitional regime whose destiny history has not yet finally weighed.”
While investigating the fate of the Soviet state, Trotsky never approached the problem in the context of narrow national borders. On the contrary, he emphasised that what would determine the fate of the Soviet Union was, in the final analysis, its position in the face of the world capitalist economy. He explained that the money system of the Soviet Union has a shut-in character, the “ruble” does not exist for the world market, and that this was the objective condition that would determine the future. By this way he was trying to show again and again, that the fate of the Soviet Union is closely linked to the fate of the world revolution. From a historical point of view, the Soviet Union has, in a short period of time, avoided strangling in the clutches of autarchy and managed to proceed forward thanks to the state monopoly of foreign trade and natural wealth of the country. But the point was not simply “to avoid strangling”. The survival of the Soviet state could be possible only if it reaches a position that allows it to resist the crushing effect of the world market. For this reason, Trotsky pointed chiefly to this fact:
The historic task, however, is not merely to avoid strangling, but to create face to face with the highest achievements of the world market a powerful economy, rational through and through, which will guarantee the greatest saving of time and consequently the highest flowering of culture.
It was not possible to reach such a point within the context of a national economy and under the rule of the bureaucracy with a bureaucratic planning. Thus, the sin of the bureaucracy lied not in the question “why did it fail to develop further the national economy” but in the fact that it was a factor that hinders the progress of the world revolution.
The bureaucracies spurred the working class with capitalist methods in order to increase production with an effort to strengthen the conditions of the sovereignty of their own nation-states. It was a sufficiently warning lesson that they presented these acts as “a situation in perfect conformity with socialism” and that this idea has been advocated within world communist movement in the name of socialism. While exhibiting the shames of Stalin who has presented the Stakhanov movement as the preparation of the conditions for transition from socialism to communism, Trotsky also condemned the petty-bourgeois mentality that worships state ownership in the means of production without questioning:
The consideration that in the Soviet Union the workers work "for themselves" is true only in historical perspective, and only on condition –we will anticipate ourselves to say– that the workers do not submit to the saddle of an autocratic bureaucracy. In any case, state ownership of the means of production does not turn manure into gold, and does not surround with a halo of sanctity the sweatshop system, which wears out the greatest of all productive forces: man.
This evaluation is an expression of the fact that state ownership alone is not sufficient to raise the working class to the position of economically dominant class. Although Trotsky does not speak openly of a need to change his earlier positions, he shows signs of having made different appraisals of the position of the bureaucracy in The Revolution Betrayed. A case in point is his comments on the changes introduced by the 1936 Constitution in relation to the soviet system. In the light of his comments we can ask the question: in spite of these comments, is it still a consistent attitude to define the bureaucracy as a hunch on the back of the working class rather than a ruling class? He says the following:
Representing, as it does, an immense step back from socialist to bourgeois principles, the new constitution, cut and sewed to the measure of the ruling group, follows the same historic course as the abandonment of world revolution in favour of the League of Nations, the restoration of the bourgeois family, the substitution of the standing army for the militia, the resurrection of ranks and decorations, and the growth of inequality. By juridically reinforcing the absolutism of an "extra-class" bureaucracy, the new constitution creates the political premises for the birth of a new possessing class.
In contrast to his earlier writings where he tries to prove that in the final analysis the Soviet bureaucracy cannot be independent of the proletariat, Trotsky takes it seriously to emphasise the independent position of the bureaucracy in this book. For example:
The young bureaucracy, which had arisen at first as an agent of the proletariat, began now to feel itself a court of arbitration between classes. Its independence increased from month to month.
The bureaucracy conquered something more than the Left Opposition. It conquered the Bolshevik party. It defeated the program 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". It defeated all these enemies, the Opposition, the party and Lenin, not with ideas and arguments, but with its own social weight. The leaden rump of bureaucracy outweighed the head of the revolution. That is the secret of the Soviet's Thermidor.
...the Soviet state has acquired a totalitarian-bureaucratic character.
What does it imply that, having turned itself into an independent social force, the bureaucracy dominated the proletariat, and established its monopoly of power over whole society, or that the turning of the regime into a “totalitarian - bureaucratic” one, to use Trotsky’s words? Perhaps not that “the state is still a workers state despite all bureaucratic degeneration” or that “the working class continues to be the dominant class”! On the contrary it means that the Soviet state can no longer be described as a workers’ state, that we can no longer talk about a working class domination in the Soviet Union. Even though Trotsky, who has provided all these hints, continued to call this reality a “bureaucratically degenerated workers’ state” with a political “reservation”, this never justifies the inclination to cling to this formulation in the subsequent years. Since, although Trotsky did not call this reality with its proper name, he exposed its substance in a striking manner:
The deposed and abused bureaucracy, from being a servant of society, has again become its lord. On this road it has attained such a degree of social and moral alienation from the popular masses, that it cannot now permit any control over either its activities or its income.
The means of production belong to the state. But the state, so to speak, "belongs" to the bureaucracy. If these as yet wholly new relations should solidify, become the norm and be legalized, whether with or without resistance from the workers, they would, in the long run, lead to a complete liquidation of the social conquests of the proletarian revolution.
… very existence of the state – no longer now as an instrument for the socialist transformation of society, but as a source of power, income and privileges to the ruling stratum.
The bureaucratic dictatorship, which had already been established by the time Trotsky wrote the above lines, was to “solidify”, become “the norm” and be “legalized” in the coming years in a way as if to give a full confirmation to his prediction. It was quite clear that this meant the liquidation of the social conquests of the proletarian revolution. Thus, there is no understandable reason that Trotskists still treat the nature of the Soviet state on the basis of his old assessments. Take the following words of Trotsky, for instance: “As a conscious political force the bureaucracy has betrayed the revolution. ... To betray it is not enough. You have to overthrow it. The October revolution has been betrayed by the ruling stratum, but not yet overthrown.” To repeat such wrong assessments of Trotsky years after means, in fact, to neglect the task of re-questioning the nature of the bureaucratic regime, which has become more and more obvious with time.
* * *
In the last few years of his life after 1936 Trotsky gave new hints such that would change his earlier assessments of the Soviet reality. Besides, rather than exclusively linking the danger of capitalist restoration to the prospect of a bourgeois counter-revolution, he explained that the Soviet bureaucracy could also play the same role in bringing about the same result: “In reality, the new constitution ... opens up for the bureaucracy ‘legal’ roads for the economic counter-revolution, i.e., the restoration of capitalism by means of a ‘cold strike’.” In his last writings, he was pointing out that the bureaucracy could function as an instrument of the international bourgeoisie, let alone preserving the historical conquests of the proletariat. However, he did not abandon the concept of “bureaucratically degenerated workers’ state”. For example in The Transitional Programme of 1938, while on the one hand emphasising the historical opportunity that would be provided by the domination of the bureaucracy to the world bourgeoisie, he was trying, on the other hand, to reconcile his prediction with the category of “degenerated workers’ state” which, in fact, no longer existed under those conditions:
The USSR thus embodies terrific contradictions. But it still remains a degenerated workers' state. Such is the social diagnosis. The political prognosis has an alternative character: either the bureaucracy, becoming ever more the organ of the world bourgeoisie in the workers' state, will overthrow the new forms of property and plunge the country back to capitalism; or the working class will crush the bureaucracy and open the way to socialism.
However there was no convincing reason to reconcile a bureaucratic rule that would become the organ of the world bourgeoisie in the Soviet state with the concept of “degenerated workers’ state”. The concept of “workers’ state” in the expression “the organ of the world bourgeoisie in the workers’ state” used by Trotsky in underscoring the possible role of the Soviet bureaucracy was totally flimsy. As for the “state ownership” which has been referred to above along with the possibility that the bureaucracy could “overthrow the new forms of property”, the fact that the state ownership is “still” preserved under the rule of the bureaucracy did not mean that the conquests of the proletarian revolution are preserved. Moreover, this state ownership, as Trotsky has stated, does not mean a guarantee to prevent the bureaucracy from starting a process of dissolution into private property in collaboration with the world bourgeoisie. On the contrary, under the rule of the bureaucracy the state ownership could, after a prolonged isolation, well be dissolved by the bureaucracy acting as an instrument of the international bourgeoisie in the Soviet state; and this is exactly the case. After all, Trotsky himself pointed to such an end result awaiting “a prolonged isolation”:
The longer the Soviet Union remains in a capitalist environment, the deeper runs the degeneration of the social fabric. A prolonged isolation would inevitably end not in national communism, but in a restoration of capitalism.
Thus, Trotsky was not mistaken in his prediction that the bureaucracy could act as an instrument of the international bourgeoisie, despite the fact that he did not abandon the definition of “bureaucratically degenerated workers’ state”. By this attitude, Trotsky thus points to the possibility that the bureaucratic regime could dissolve into capitalism without a counter-revolution led directly by the bourgeoisie. For example, in August 1939, in his article The Three Conceptions of the Russian Revolution he openly speaks of the direct link between the existence of the Stalinist bureaucratic rule and restoration of bourgeois regime:
Without the aid of a proletarian revolution in the West, Lenin repeated, restoration in Russia was inevitable. He was not mistaken: the Stalinist bureaucracy is nothing else than the first phase of bourgeois restoration.
These lines signify a prediction that the Stalinist Soviet bureaucracy is a class without future in the face of world capitalism and that it could in the subsequent years start a process of dissolution towards bourgeois relations. This means, whereas a bourgeois counter-revolution is necessary for the liquidation of state ownership under workers’ power, under the power of the bureaucracy, there is no guarantee for the maintenance of state ownership under bureaucratic dictatorship and in this case a bourgeois counter-revolution is not necessary for the liquidation of it. In conclusion, the bureaucratic regime has no other open end than capitalism and if you talk about a counter-revolution, it has already taken place against the working class power with the establishment of the dictatorship of the bureaucracy long ago.
In his article The USSR in War (September 1939) Trotsky’s emphasis on the norm of a workers’ state is remarkable. Stating that the concrete fact in the Soviet Union, i.e. the bureaucratic dictatorship, departed from the norm of the workers’ state, Trotsky says: “This does not signify, however, that it has overthrown the norm; on the contrary, it has reaffirmed it, from the negative side. … The contradiction between the concrete fact and the norm constrains us not to reject the norm but, on the contrary, to fight for it by means of the revolutionary road.” On the other hand the course of real events like the “German-Soviet pact” signed by the Stalinist bureaucracy in the conjuncture of the Second World War, etc., to defend its own nation-state presented difficulties in effect to Trotsky’s view, i.e. “degenerated workers’ state”. Hence, in a way that suggests that he is on the eve of a radical re-examination on this issue, Trotsky points to the fact that they defend similar things anyway with those who consider bureaucracy a dominant class as far as the political conclusions are concerned. According to Trotsky, the problem is rather “terminological”.
“Let us concede for the moment that the bureaucracy is a new ‘class’ and that the present regime in the USSR is a special system of class exploitation. What new political conclusions follow for us from these definitions?” asks Trotsky. According to him, now that the Fourth International has long ago adopted the view that the bureaucracy must be overthrown by a revolutionary uprising of toilers, what else can be proposed? On the other hand, even when the bureaucracy is overthrown this revolution will be a political one in essence as the planned economy and state ownership will be preserved. Hence it will not make any difference when you call it a “social revolution”. After naming these points, with those in mind who criticised his views, Trotsky makes the following assessment: “The sole accusation they bring against us is that we do not draw the necessary ‘conclusions’. Upon analysis it turns out, however, that these conclusions are of a purely terminological character.” Stating that unless there is an important difference in taking up the political tasks it would be a “monstrous nonsense” to cause a split with those having different views about the sociological nature of the USSR, Trotsky says: “But on the other hand, it would be blindness on our part to ignore purely theoretical and even terminological differences…”
In fact, when you put together his arguments in the context of the concrete reality of the Soviet Union, even Trotsky, as can be perfectly seen, has to circle around the fundamental issue, as it was so impossible to prove that the bureaucracy was not a dominant class. For example he argues:
But if we consider the Soviet bureaucracy a "class," then we are compelled to state immediately that this class does not at all resemble any of those propertied classes known to us in the past; our gain consequently is not great. We frequently call the Soviet bureaucracy a caste, underscoring thereby its shut-in character, its arbitrary rule, and the haughtiness of the ruling stratum which considers that its progenitors issued from the divine lips of Brahma whereas the popular masses originated from the grosser portions of his anatomy. But even this definition does not of course possess a strictly scientific character. … All of us, however, continue to call the Soviet bureaucracy a bureaucracy, not being unmindful of its historical peculiarities. In our opinion this should suffice for the time being.
Trotsky is right. Indeed, the bureaucracy had nothing in common with the past classes based on individual private property. But here was the distinctive point. True, the Stalinist bureaucracy was not like the dominant classes in possession of private ownership seen in the West; however, it was like the dominant class of oriental despotism (collectively-governing class made of military-civil-religious bureaucracy) based on state property. Marx had discovered the difference between thousands-of-year-old oriental despotism and western class societies and made striking analyses of this difference. However, while investigating the nature of the Soviet State, Trotsky did not dwell on this important point which, in fact, would shed light on the matter.
In the stormy years of Second World War, the existence of fascist regimes in Germany, Italy, and the despotic-bureaucratic dictatorship in the Soviet Union, created in general a pessimistic mood and fed counter-tendencies like completely losing faith in the historic mission of the working class. In the face of those who claim that the world as a whole was going towards a totalitarian formation, i.e. a “bureaucratic collectivism”, Trotsky was at that time talking about mainly two alternatives: Either the war would lead to a proletarian revolution and thus the bureaucracy would also be overthrown (in that case the debate on the nature of the Stalinist bureaucracy would automatically drop), or if the war led to a collapse on the part of the proletariat, capitalism would leave its place to a totalitarian regime in capitalist countries as well and this would mean the collapse of civilisation. Trotsky expressed the conclusion he drew from this analysis in these words:
The historic alternative, carried to the end, is as follows: either the Stalin regime is an abhorrent relapse in the process of transforming bourgeois society into a socialist society, or the Stalin regime is the first stage of a new exploiting society. If the second prognosis proves to be correct, then, of course, the bureaucracy will become a new exploiting class.
But, as he reasoned here in a way that as if the logical result of the fact that the bureaucracy in the Soviet Union rose to the level of a dominant class was that the capitalism on the whole was to leave its place to a new exploiting society, which is called “bureaucratic collectivism”, Trotsky made an unusual point which was to create a further confusion among his followers. He said the following:
However onerous the second perspective may be, if the world proletariat should actually prove incapable of fulfilling the mission placed upon it by the course of development, nothing else would remain except only to recognize that the socialist program, based on the internal contradictions of capitalist society, ended in Utopia. It is self-evident that a new "minimum" program would be required -- for the defense of the interests of the slaves of the totalitarian bureaucratic society.
This kind of reasoning which is limited to the evaluation of the possibilities suggested by the theory of “bureaucratic collectivism” resulted in ignoring another possibility which was in fact highly likely and realised in practice. In fact the Stalin regime was an exploiting society different from capitalism; and the dominant bureaucracy was an exploiting class different from bourgeoisie. By the end of Second World War it was clear that the bureaucratic regime survived in the Soviet Union. But unlike the thesis of those who defend the theory of “bureaucratic collectivism”, such a regime materialised not in the whole world including capitalist countries, but only in the Soviet Union due to certain peculiar conditions. And now there remained no logical reason to refrain from characterising the bureaucracy, on the basis of this regime, as a dominant class. The reality in fact was pointing to a different conclusion Trotsky was questioning:
If the Bonapartist riff-raff is a class this means that it is not an abortion but a viable child of history. If its marauding parasitism is "exploitation" in the scientific sense of the term, this means that the bureaucracy possesses a historical future as the ruling class indispensable to the given system of economy.
The possibility Trotsky mentioned as an “if” clause, in fact realised, in the very context Trotsky explained, in the reality of bureaucratic dictatorship which became a ruling class indispensable to the “given system of economy” based on state ownership in the Soviet Union. On the other hand it was an indisputable fact that this class constituted a historical reality such that would put its seal on the world history for a certain period and pursued a considerable life unlike what Trotsky had thought in the beginning, though it did not have a “historical future” in the long run.
In conclusion, it is obvious that the ideas of Trotsky on the nature of the regime and state in the Soviet Union displayed a very important change and mobility in the last years of his life. Thus, it is clear that, in order to be able to start from where he left, we cannot move on by fixing his analyses at certain points. On the contrary, if this way was done, it is certain that one would fall behind even that reflection of the reality elaborated by Trotsky at that time, although it had some drawbacks and points that need to be corrected.
 Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, pp.255-256.
 Trotsky, Permanent Revolution and Results and Prospects, p.133.
 Trotsky, Writings 1933-34, p.102
 Trotsky, Writings 1933-34, p.101
 Trotsky, Writings 1933-34, pp.102-103
 Trotsky, Writings 1933-34, p.103
 Trotsky, Writings 1933-34, p.103
 Trotsky, Writings 1933-34, p.104
 Trotsky, Writings 1933-34, p.105
 Trotsky, Writings 1933-34, p.108
 Trotsky, Writings 1933-34, pp.112-113
 Trotsky, Writings 1933-34, p.113
 Trotsky, Writings 1933-34, p.113
 Trotsky, Writings 1933-34, p.116
 Trotsky, Writings 1934-35, pp.172-173
 Trotsky, Writings 1934-35, p.184
 Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, p.3
 Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, p.241-242
 Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, pp.50-51
 Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, pp.51-52
 Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, pp.49-50
 Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, pp.55-56
 Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, p.55
 Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, p.67
 Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, p.47
 Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, p.61
 Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, p.68
 Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, p.82-83
 Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, p.272
 Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, p.90, 94 and 108
 Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, pp.113, 249 and 271
 Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, pp.251-252
 Trotsky, quoted in T. Cliff, State Capitalism in Russia, p.184
 Trotsky, The Transitional Programme, Workers Revolutionary Party Pamphlet, pp. 35-36
 Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, pp.300-301
 Trotsky, Writings of Leon Trotsky (1938-9), Merit Publishers, 1969, p.114
 Trotsky, In Defense of Marxism, Pathfinder Press, p.3
 Trotsky, In Defense of Marxism, Pathfinder Press, p.4
 Trotsky, In Defense of Marxism, Pathfinder Press, p.4-5
 Trotsky, In Defense of Marxism, Pathfinder Press, p.5
 Trotsky, In Defense of Marxism, Pathfinder Press, p.6
 Trotsky, In Defense of Marxism, Pathfinder Press, p.9
 Trotsky, In Defense of Marxism, Pathfinder Press, p.9
 Trotsky, In Defense of Marxism, Pathfinder Press, p.24