Stalinism

StalinsimWhat is the balance sheet of the October Revolution and the great experiment in planned economy that followed it? What implications do they have for the future of humanity? And what conclusions should be drawn from them? The first observation ought to be self-evident. Whether you are in favour or against the October Revolution, there can be no doubt whatsoever that this single event changed the course of world history in an unprecedented way. The entire twentieth century was dominated by its consequences. 

We regard the October Revolution as the greatest single event in human history. Why do we say this? Because here for the first time, if we exclude that glorious but ephemeral event that was the Paris Commune, millions of ordinary men and women overthrew their exploiters, took their destiny in their own hands, and at least began the task of transforming society.

That this task, under specific conditions, was diverted along channels unforeseen by the leaders of the Revolution does not invalidate the ideas of the October Revolution, nor does it lessen the significance of the colossal gains made by the USSR for the 70 years that followed.

The enemies of socialism will reply scornfully that the experiment ended in failure. We reply in the words of that great philosopher Spinoza that our task is neither to weep nor to laugh but to understand.

It was not the degenerate Russian bourgeoisie, but the nationalised planned economy that dragged Russia into the modern era, building factories, roads and schools, educating men and women, creating brilliant scientists, building the army that defeated Hitler, and putting the first man into space.

Despite the crimes of the bureaucracy, the Soviet Union was rapidly transformed from a backward, semi-feudal economy into an advanced, modern industrial nation. In the end, however, the bureaucracy was not satisfied with the colossal wealth and privileges it had obtained through plundering the Soviet state. As Trotsky predicted, they passed over to the camp of capitalist restoration, transforming themselves from a parasitic caste to a ruling class.

– From the introduction to Russia: From Revolution to Counter-Revolution

(For a detailed analysis of the actual events in 1917 and afterwards, please visit our dedicated In Defence of October website.)

The year 1927 marked a decisive turning point in the struggle of Leon Trotsky and the Left Opposition to defend the ideas of Marx and Lenin inside the Russian Communist Party. On the Tenth anniversary of the October revolution, almost to the day, the co-leader of that most momentous event was expelled from the party. Soon after the creator of the Red Army was expelled from the country.

The Revolution Betrayed is one of the most important Marxist texts of all time. It is the only serious Marxist analysis of what happened to the Russian Revolution after the death of Lenin. Without a thorough knowledge of this work, it is impossible to understand the reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union and the events of the last ten years in Russia and on a world scale. For Marxists, the October Revolution of 1917 was the greatest single event in human history. If we exclude the brief but glorious episode of the Paris Commune, for the first time the working class succeeded in overthrowing its oppressors and at least began the task of the socialist transformation of society.

On Thursday 7 September, Channel Four broadcast a fascinating programme as part of its series Secret History, entitled Mutiny - the true story of Red October. This remarkable documentary for the first time gave us the true story behind the 1990 Hollywood movie The Hunt for Red October a film version of a 1984 novel by Tom Clancy.

59 years have passed since that hot afternoon on the 20th of August 1940 in an old house surrounded by leafy trees and cactus in a peaceful suburb of Coyoacán, in the capital of Mexico. Lev Davidovich Bronstein, better known as Leon Trotsky, revolutionary Marxist and, alongside Lenin, one of the most outstanding leaders of the 1905 revolution and the October revolution in Russia, fell victim to an assassination expressly ordered by Joseph Stalin.

At a moment of great confusion and disorientation among broad layers of the working class and the left in general, the publication of the book Russia - from Revolution to Counter-revolution is highly opportune. This is an excellent example of the absolute validity of revolutionary Marxist thought. Despite any imperfections, gaps, and errors which might be attributed to Marxism by some, it is a fact that no other methodology or doctrine known to date possesses the necessary precision and clarity of analysis and interpretation to explain the historical events which we are witnessing, above all in the ex-Soviet Union and the other countries where a regime of state ownership of the means of production existed, but also, of course, in the capitalist states.

One of the most important contributions made by Trotsky to the theoretical storehouse of Marxism was his analysis of the rise and development of Stalinism. He explained that the fundamental social gains of the October revolution remained intact, in the form of the state-ownership of the economy and the plan of production, but that the working class had been politically expropriated by a new ruling caste. Against those who saw this bureaucracy as a new ruling class, Trotsky argued that it was a parasitic growth resting on the economic base of a workers' state, and not a class.

Just before the collapse of the Berlin Wall and later the Soviet Union, Ted Grant delivered this speech on the crisis in the USSR. To deflect any blame, Gorbachev and co. heaped blame on Stalin and Brezhnev, even going so far as to rehabilitate some of the victims of the purge trials – including those accused of “Trotskyism”. But Trotsky was not rehabilitated: he was still hated by the bureaucracy because they feared the ideas he represented.

It is now fifty years since the publication of the first edition of this work. It was written as a reply to Monty Johnstone, who was a leading theoretician of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Johnstone had published a reappraisal of Leon Trotsky in the Young Communist League's journal Cogito at the end of 1968. Alan Woods and Ted Grant used the opportunity to write a detailed reply explaining the real relationship between the ideas of Lenin and Trotsky. This was no academic exercise. It was written as an appeal to the ranks of the Communist Party and the Young Communist League to rediscover the truth about Trotsky and return to the original revolutionary programme of Lenin.

This document was written by Ted Grant together with Roger Silverman in 1967 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Russian revolution. The article explains how Stalinism arose and clearly shows how even at that time the Stalinist bureaucracy was facing a serious crisis and confidently predicted its inevitable downfall at some stage.

At the peak of the economic growth of the USSR, in 1965, cracks appeared in the planned economy revealing that the burden of the privileged caste and bureaucratic mismanagement was becoming more and more unbearable. Ted Grant explained the reasons for this crisis and the futility of the attempts to solve it without restoring workers’ democracy.

This article, written in May 1965 by Ted Grant, shows how genuine Marxism was able to see the real processes going on in China and not be fooled by the words of the Chinese leaders. Then as now Marxism was a tool that allowed one to see through the fog of seemingly contradictory and incomprehensible events.

A key historical document that analyses the important question of "proletarian bonapartism", i.e. Stalinism, in the former colonial countries. It explains the roots of the Chinese revolution and why the Maoist regime came into conflict with the Soviet Union, and also the nature of several similar regimes that came into being in that period. It was also the basis for the expulsion of Ted Grant and his followers from Mandel's so-called Unified Secretariat of the Fourth International.

In 1963 there were indications that a crisis was brewing in the USSR. Ted Grant showed how the twists and turns of Kruschev's policies were empirical attempts on the part of the Russian bureaucracy to reform the system in order to avoid the possibility of a political revolution developing along the lines of Hungary 1956.

In 1962 Krushchev announced the introduction of a new Constitution in the Soviet Union. Ted Grant explained the real significance of this change and why the attempt to put a check on the corruption of the bureaucratic caste without restoring real workers' democracy was doomed to failure.

With the death of Stalin, the Stalinist bureaucracy was not removed from the Soviet state. As Ted Grant explained in 1956: "The present leaders in the Kremlin claim that they are returning to the methods of Lenin. But they are preserving the basic gains and perquisites of the officialdom. If there has been a revulsion against the methods of Stalin, that has been for two reasons, the growing pressure of the masses, and the fear of the bureaucracy of a repetition of the personal and arbitrary rule of Stalin."

Not only was Ted Grant's analysis of the Eastern European states able to explain the Tito-Stalin split, it could also anticipate - and this is the test of the correctness of theory, in politics as in science - other splits, along national lines, within the Eastern European monolith. More prophetically still, the document not only anticipated in advance the establishment of a Stalinist state in China after the revolution, but it predicted the inevitability of a split between the Chinese and the Russian bureaucracy, on the same basis, although on a far larger scale, as in the case of Yugoslavia.

Using the method of Marxism to describe the regime of Tito, and hence explain the split with Stalin, this document by Ted Grant from 1949 takes the argument further and extends it to the example of China. It elaborates further the process by which Mao Tse Tung established his regime, explaining that it was, of necessity, 'deformed' from the very beginning.

We reprint this article by Ted Grant, first published in the July 1948 edition of Socialist Appeal which analyses the real reasons behind the split between Tito and Stalin.

In late 1946 Stalin announced that the immediate task in the Soviet Union was one of building "Communism". At the same time he set in motion new purges among the lower layers of the bureaucracy. Imposing these limits on corruption among the lower bureaucrats, Ted Grant argued, arose from the need to gain support from the pauperised and deprived masses for the reconstruction effort, in order to preserve the general privileges of the bureaucracy as a whole.

Ted Grant in 1944 defends an internationalist approach towards the German workers as opposed to the utter nationalist degeneration of the Trade Union, Labour and C.P. leaders who enthusiastically joined the bandwagon of those blaming the German workers for the crimes of the Nazi regime, when in fact they were its first victims.