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.)

In return for Stalin’s help in ensuring the continuation of capitalism in Europe, the Allies were prepared temporarily to make concessions to him. The real purpose of the Three Powers Talks in Moscow was to come to some arrangements for the post-war world.

The Third International was created by Lenin and Trotsky as an instrument of world revolution. However, as Ted Grant wrote in 1943, the Comintern under Stalin quickly degenerated "into a kept whore of the Stalinist bureaucracy, applying its policy according to the changing moods of Kremlin policy. In reality the creation of the International was not a question of sentiment or convenience, but arose directly from the objective tasks posed in front of the international working class."

Stalin’s attitude towards the German people zig-zagged as his relations with his imperialist allies changed. At one point he distinguished between the Nazis and the German workers at other times he blamed the German people as a whole for Nazism. Throughout, however, he never raised a genuine internationalist position. His perspective was not the struggle for world socialism, but merely defence of Russia’s borders.

After Hitler’s invasion of the USSR, the Stalinist CPGB leaders followed the U-turn decided in Moscow and became the most loyal supporters of Her Majesty’s war effort. In order to cover their left side, they launched a vicious attack on the Socialist Appeal and the ILP. We publish here the Workers’ International League’s reply where Ted Grant challenges the Stalinists to a public debate, and an exchange of letters with ILP leader Fenner Brockway.

Against the background of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Ted Grant wrote in 1941 that, "In spite of the ravages of the bureaucracy, the basic conquests of the October Revolution still remain: the capitalist class has never regained its possessions and private ownership in the means of production has never been restored. It is this that the masses, despite their aversion for the bureaucracy, have rallied to defend, just as the British workers would rally to the defence of their Trade Unions against capitalist attack, in spite of their aversion for the Bevins and Citrines."

In June 1941, Nazi Germany attacked the USSR. The treacherous policies of Stalin enforced in the non-aggression pact with Hitler of August 1939 were wiped away and the Soviet bureaucracy was thrown into panic. Overnight the Communist International changed its policy from one of opposition to imperialist war to one of collaboration with the democratic nations in the war against fascism. Ted Grant explains the Marxist position back in July 1941.

To commemorate the 65th anniversary of the death of Leon Trotsky, we publish this piece by Natalia Sedova Trotsky about the assassination of her husband. (November, 1940)

In this article Trotsky explains the fundamental differences between Marxism and the caricatured version which was put forward by the Stalinist bureaucracy which had usurped political power in the Soviet Union.

"The death agony of Stalinism signifies the death agony of the Comintern. This international organization is now the main internal obstacle in the path of the emancipation of the working class. The selection of people without honor and without conscience has reached the same appalling proportions in the Comintern as in the state apparatus of the USSR. The “leaders” by special appointment change their 'convictions' upon instructions by telegraph." (Trotsky)

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. In this book, Trotsky provided a brilliant and profound analysis of Stalinism, which has never been improved upon, let alone superseded. With a delay of 60 years, it was completely vindicated by history. Without a thorough knowledge of this work, it is impossible to understand the reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union and the events since then in Russia and on a world scale.

"The questions posed by Comrade Zeller’s letter are of interest not only for history but also for the present time. It is not unusual to meet them as often in political literature as in private conversation, although in different forms, mostly personal ones. “How and why did you lose power?” “How did Stalin lay his hands on the apparatus?” “What makes for Stalin’s strength?”"

In November 1932, Leon Trotsky delivered a speech in Copenhagen (Denmark). It was the 15th anniversary of the revolution. In defending the October revolution he set the record straight on the real processes that unfolded in Russia 1917, as opposed to the doctored version presented by the Stalinists.

This document was the end product of a process of analysis and struggle in a constantly changing and living movement – the Bolshevik Party. It sums up a period which spans roughly four years, commencing some time before the death of Lenin in 1923 and concluding with attempts to publish this programme in 1927. This Platform was drawn up at a time of crisis for the bureaucracy. This bureaucracy consisted at that time of two basic tendencies – the Bukharinist right and the Stalinist centre of the Party, the latter perhaps less prominent in the public eye but with control of the entire apparatus. Neither was sure of its future at the time. 

The following speech was delivered by Trotsky at the Seventh Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International in November 1926. To cover up their theoretical and political degeneration, the Stalinists laid down a violent barrage of attacks upon Trotsky, the leader of the Left Opposition. In answer to his internationalist criticism of the Stalinist theory of “socialism in a single country,” the bureaucracy denounced him for an alleged “social-democratic deviation.” Trotsky’s masterful polemical reply at the Seventh Plenum was, of course, never given wide circulation in the official communist movement, appearing only in the esoteric International Press Correspondence.

Trotsky wrote a series of articles for Pravda during December 1923, which were published as a pamphlet entitled “The New Course”. This document marked a new stage in the development of the Opposition. In “The New Course”, Trotsky warns of the dangers of degeneration of the “Old Guard”: “Does bureaucratism bear within it a danger of degeneration, or doesn’t it?