Problems of theory and history


While formally declaring himself in agreement with Lenin about the law of uneven development, Trotsky never accepted all its implications, especially the following:

    1.  With wars breaking out among the imperialist countries for the division of the world, the revolution can triumph first in a relatively backward country (the weakest link) such as Russia, thanks to the alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry, and can hold out, notably on account of the violent contradictions between its enemies.
    2.  This revolution is not necessarily the immediate prelude to world revolution but the latter will continue as it began with new victories in particular countries (where capitalism is weak) for a long historical period. The uneven ripening of the conditions for a revolutionary explosion excludes its simultaneous occurrence in every country.

From as early as 1906, Trotsky reckoned that a revolution in Russia would lead to an intervention of the European powers, Germany and Austria-Hungary in particular. This war would inevitably lead to a revolution in these countries and step by step to the triumph of world socialism.(36) This mechanism is one of the aspects of the permanence of the revolution.
    It was also necessary for the revolution to go immediately beyond the borders of Russia in another sense. For Trotsky, the revolution will be global or not at all. In fact, if it remained isolated in a predominantly agricultural country it would succumb very quickly to the blows of external intervention or internal counter-revolution.(37)

Without the direct State support of the European proletariat the working class of Russia cannot remain in power and convert its temporary domination into a lasting socialistic dictatorship.(38)

    Left to its own resources, the working class of Russia will inevitably be crushed by the counter-revolution the moment the peasantry turns its back on it. It will have no alternative but to link the fate of its political rule, and, hence, the fate of the whole Russian revolution, with the fate of the socialist revolution in Europe.(39)

Trotsky did not believe that it would be possible to maintain workers' power in Russia without external aid, especially because he was convinced that the logic of the proletariat's revolutionary action would lead it into conflict with the peasantry.

    He returned to this question in 1917 in his pamphlet 'Program of Peace' (republished in 1924 in the collection 'The Year 1917'). He declared in it that 'a victorious revolution in Russia or England is inconceivable without revolution in Germany and vice versa'. To avoid any ambiguity he specified moreover that: 'It would be futile to expect . . . for instance, that revolutionary Russia could hold its own in face of a conservative Europe'.(40)

    In 1926 he again recalled the position he held in October 1917: 'it was clear to us that the victory of the proletarian revolution is impossible without the international world revolution'.(

    During the two years that followed the seizure of power, Lenin may have feared lest foreign intervention crush the young Soviet republic.(
42) Later, his fears and doubts were allayed, whereas Zinoviev made a dogma of them five years after at the time of his dispute with Stalin over the possibility of building socialism in one country. As for Trotsky, he proved to be remarkably obstinate in error. In 1922 he no longer spoke of an impending 'inevitable' defeat of the proletarian power in the absence of a revolution in Europe, but he expressed the same idea in a more cautious form: 'The contradiction between a workers' government and an overwhelming majority of peasants in a backward country could be resolved only on an international scale, in the arena of a world proletarian revolution'.(43)

    In the same year, Trotsky wrote in the postscript to his pamphlet 'Program of Peace': 'A genuine advance of socialist economy in Russia will become possible only after the victory of the proletariat in the most important countries of Europe.'
    History having decided, comment is unnecessary - more especially as Trotsky provided the best one in 1939 in his 'Transitional Program', in which we read: 'The nationalisation of the means of production, a necessary condition for socialist development, opened up the possibility of a rapid growth of the productive forces.'
    While being very proud of his 'prognoses', Trotsky constantly altered his conception of the permanent revolution. 1905, 1917, 1922, 1929, 1939 - these dates mark not the stages of a deeper knowledge of the laws of revolution but the contortions of a 'theoretician' striving to make something stand up in a schema undermined, breached and ground to dust by inconsiderate opponents and merciless historical events.
    When, at the beginning of 1925, the dispute over socialism in one country broke out between Zinoviev and Kamenev on the one hand and Bukharin on the other, Trotsky kept apart from it. He seems even not to have been aware of anything for a year. He himself said later that he was caught unawares by the formidable conflict dividing the majority and the minority at the 14th Congress in December 1925. He distrusted Zinoviev, who had been the most virulent of his opponents and whom he considered to be the leader of the right wing. He did not believe his differences with Stalin to be serious. However, Zinoviev's argument coincided with his own to a certain extent (except on the question of the alliance with the peasantry) and that is why Stalin had already refuted it in advance in the so-called 'literary' debate at the end of 1924.

    Given Trotsky's argument that 'the safety (of the proletarian state) rests solely on the victory of the proletariat in the advanced countries', Stalin concluded that, according to his opponent, 'there is but one prospect left for our revolution: to vegetate in its own contradictions and rot away while waiting for the world revolution'.

    He opposed to 'this permanent hopelessness' Lenin's ideas on the construction of socialism in one country. Lenin said, among other things:(

Socialism is no longer a matter of the distant future or an abstract picture . . . difficult as this task may be, new as it is . . . and numerous as the difficulties may be that it entails, we shall - not in a day but in a few years - all of us together fulfil it whatever the cost, so that NEP Russia will become Socialist Russia.

Lenin also said:(45)

Indeed the power of the State over all the large-scale means of production, political power in the hands of the proletariat, the alliance of the proletariat with many millions of the small and very small peasants, the assured proletarian leadership of the peasantry etc - is this not all that is necessary to build a complete socialist society . . . out of co-operatives, out of co-operatives alone, which we formerly ridiculed as huckstering and which from a certain aspect we have the right to treat as such now, under NEP? Is this not all that is necessary to build a complete socialist society? It is still not the building of socialist society but it is all that is necessary and sufficient for it.

In the same article, we read the sentence: 'With most of the population organised in co-operatives, socialism . . . will achieve its aims automatically.'
    Trotsky did his utmost to interpret this text in a sense favourable to his theses. According to him, when Lenin said 'We have all that is necessary and sufficient for the construction of socialism', he was referring to the first political fruits. It would also be necessary to solve the problem of the culture that the Russian people lacked. Culture presupposes a 'certain material base'. Therefore, (according to Trotsky's Lenin), we need the victorious European proletariat to come to our aid with its superior technology.(46)
    This is an absolutely unwarranted deflection of Lenin's arguments. In fact, in his article, Lenin was far from denying that the Russian people could raise the level of their culture and technology by their own efforts, otherwise he would have written 'all that is necessary but not sufficient'.
    Trotsky was very careful not to enter into a polemic on this question during Lenin's lifetime. When such a polemic did break out in 1925 between Zinoviev on the one hand and Stalin and Bukharin on the other, Stalin was easily able to prove that his view rigorously conformed to Lenin's ideas. In 'On Co-operation', Lenin defined what he meant by socialism: 'Given social ownership of the means of production, given the class victory of the proletariat over the bourgeoisie, the system of civilised co-operators is the system of socialism.'(47)

    It seems that by 'building a complete socialist society' Stalin understood fundamentally the same thing, i.e. 'victory over the capitalist elements in our economy', in the strict sense (linked to the private ownership of the means of production). As often as not Zinoviev did not attribute any other meaning to the 'final' victory of socialism and neither did Trotsky to the 'completion of the construction of socialism' which they denied was possible in one country. Taking up Lenin's formula again, Stalin argued against them that it was possible to construct 'the complete socialist society' in the USSR. He denied, however, that this victory could be 'final', that is, guaranteed against external intervention as long as the proletariat had not taken power 'in at least a number of countries'.(48)

    In 'Leninism', Zinoviev exercises his sleight of hand on quotations from Lenin. He does not distinguish between the final victory of socialism in so far as it implies the abolition of classes, the abolition of the state and the transition to communism on the one hand, and socialism as 'the transition from a small, isolated, individual, market economy to a big collective economy', as Lenin said, on the other. The Bolshevik leader did not believe that the former was possible without the world victory of the revolution but he held that it was possible to construct socialism in one country in the second sense, since for him Russia possessed 'all that is necessary to build a complete socialist society', which he defined as 'Soviets plus electrification throughout the country', or 'the system of civilised co-operators'.

    According to Ernest Mandel, 'all Trotsky stated . . . was the fact that a fully-fledged socialist society, i.e. a society without classes, commodities, money and state, could never be accomplished within the boundaries of a single state'.(
49) We have seen that until 1918 Trotsky denied 'that a revolutionary Russia . . . could hold its own in the face of a conservative Europe'; that, later, he did not believe that the socialisation of the means of production or the advance of a socialist economy were possible in one country. It was only after 1929 that historical experience forced him occasionally to come close to the position which Mandel attributes to him. Even then, it is quite simply false to say that this is 'all Trotsky stated'. Let me provide even more proof. If we place ourselves in the framework of this controversy (1925-6) we can conclude:

    1.  that Stalin's position largely conformed to Lenin's views;
    2.  that it was confirmed in practice when the kulaks and the nepmen were liquidated as classes after 1928 and that consequently enormous progress was made on the economic and cultural levels;
    3.  that Stalin went further than Lenin and erred in arguing that the victory of the proletariat in several countries was enough to enable one to speak of a final victory of socialism.(

 In his book 'The Permanent Revolution' (1928-31), Trotsky once again beat a retreat. He set up his line of defence on positions which Zinoviev had earlier prepared for him. He was content from then on to deny the possibility of a final construction of socialism in one country. Events decided against him very rapidly, for it was clear (given the context) that his 'final socialism' was identical to Lenin's 'complete socialism'; that is to say, with the measure of socialism realised under Stalin. Let us look, therefore, at what Trotsky wrote at the time when the First Five-Year Plan was already being carried out:(51)

To aim at building a nationally isolated socialist society means, in spite of all passing successes, to pull the productive forces backward even as compared with capitalism. To attempt, regardless of the geographical, cultural and historical conditions of the country's development which constitutes a part of the world unity, to realise . . . all the branches of economy within a national framework, means to pursue a reactionary utopia. If the heralds and supporters of this theory nevertheless participate in the international revolutionary struggle (with what success is a different question) it is because, as hopeless eclectics, they mechanically combine abstract internationalism with reactionary utopian national socialism.

Let the reader judge for himself: did the Five-Year Plans pull the productive forces backward even as compared with capitalism? Did the geographical, historical and cultural conditions prevent the realisation of all the branches of the economy within a national framework? The Trotskyists have never told us what they think about this example of their mentor's 'prognoses'. The most interesting thing about the passage that we have just quoted is that it offers us a striking example of the complete about-turns in which Trotsky, the rigid critic of Stalinist zigzags, was adept. In this passage he declares that internally the Soviet leaders were reactionary utopians but that internationally they participated in the revolutionary struggle. Some years later he was to argue the opposite: that as a degenerated workers' state, the Soviet Union presents a two-fold character: it is progressive internally as it maintains socialist relations of production and develops the productive forces; it is reactionary internationally as it systematically betrays all revolutionary struggles.
    In 'The Permanent Revolution', Trotsky formulated another 'prognosis' which is extremely embarrassing for his disciples, who continue to denounce the evils of socialism in one country: 'The theory of the kulak growing into socialism and the theory of the 'neutralisation' of the world bourgeoisie are . . . inseparable from the theory of socialism in one country. They stand or fall together.'(52)

    We consider contemporary Trotskyists to be more qualified than ourselves to comment on this text, which we shall leave to them to think about.

    However, it is necessary to emphasise a curious argument of Trotsky's in this new dispute. After 'Pravda' had written that 'the final victory of socialism, guaranteed against the intervention of the capitalist camp effectively (demanded) the triumph of the proletarian revolution in several advanced countries', he claimed to prove that this was absurd, for if it were possible to build socialism in the USSR its final victory in that country and even in the world would 'ipso facto' be achieved because

The example of a backward country, which in the course of several Five-Year Plans was able to construct a mighty socialist society with its own forces, would mean a death blow to world capitalism, and would reduce to a minimum, if not to zero, the costs of the world proletarian revolution.(53)

Here the reader will recognise the Khrushchevite argument. When the USSR has caught up with the USA in 'per capita' production of consumption goods, the peoples of the world will choose socialism and vote accordingly. The only difference is that Khrushchev thought this overtaking possible given the Soviet Union's faster rate of growth, whereas Trotsky thought it impossible. For both the link between the cause (economic success of the USSR) and the effect (more or less peaceful world revolution) is identical. This coincidence reflects a common theoretical basis. Neither of them realised that the development of contradictions in those partial totalities, in concrete social formations, is fundamentally explained by the action of internal causes and not by external influences.(54)

    In fact, Trotskyism is characterised particularly by the tendency to attribute an undue significance to the unity of the world market which is supposed to constitute the objective basis for proletarian internationalism. One of the obstacles to the building of socialism in one country is supposed to be the pressure of cheap commodities produced in the advanced capitalist countries; capitalism's ability to subordinate all the other modes of production, even the socialist mode of production, if its technical basis is insufficiently developed at the start. 'But, in elaborating the theoretical prognosis of the October Revolution, I did not at all believe that, by conquering state power, the Russian proletariat would exclude the former Tsarist empire from the orbit of the world economy'.(55)

    This, however, is what happened. The USSR lived in semi-autarchy for several decades. The impetuous industrial development of the USSR during the 1930s, at the very time of the great crisis, shows that the economy of a country under the dictatorship of the proletariat in which the means of production and foreign trade are nationalised, is no longer subject to the repercussions of the cyclical fluctuations of the world market nor any longer ruled by the economic law of capitalism (profit maximisation), but develops according to its own fundamental law.

    In the 'Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR' (p. 333), Stalin emphasised that after the Second World War the socialist camp appeared, 'so that we now have two parallel world markets confronting one another'.

    The monopoly of foreign trade retained by proletarian power does not allow capitalism to become an integral part of the production of a country which is building socialism, or thereby to eat away the nascent socialist relations of production by virtue of its temporary technical superiority.

    Trotsky's internationalism was really only a refusal to acknowledge the discontinuities of the world sociological space: distinct social formations, national particularities, unevenness in the development of the objective and subjective conditions for revolution and, finally, the possibility of a relatively separate socialist market contemporaneous with the capitalist market.

    However, on the practical level and only if we consider the immediate perspectives, he apparently agreed with Stalin that the construction of the economic basis of socialism in the USSR should not be subordinated to the vicissitudes of proletarian struggles in the advanced capitalist countries. Thus one might think he is picking an artificial quarrel with him, assuming him in the wrong from the start. In fact, it was nothing of the sort. As conceived by Trotsky, industrialisation was only a 'sort of emergency measure until the advent of international revolution saved the situation',(56) hence its vague and abstract character. This is all the more true since, as we have just seen, he considered 'a genuine advance of socialist economy in Russia' before 'the victory of the proletariat in the most important countries of Europe' to be impossible.
    Trotsky and his disciples have presented the thesis of socialism in one country as an expression of a narrow outlook, indeed of a messianic nationalism (Trotsky made analogous complaints about the Bolshevik Party before 1917) and even as proceeding from a deliberate wish to betray the world revolution. A reading of Stalin does not corroborate this accusation. Just one quotation will suffice:(57)

While it is true that the final victory of Socialism in the first country to emancipate itself is impossible without the combined efforts of the proletarians of several countries, it is equally true that the development of the world revolution will be the more rapid and thorough the more effective the assistance rendered by the first Socialist country to the workers and labouring masses of all other countries.

He follows this immediately by quoting a text from 'On the Slogan of a United States of Europe' in which Lenin advocated armed intervention by the first socialist state to aid the people against their oppressors! The revisionists and Trotskyists are in league to hide these aspects of Lenin's and Stalin's thought. The least one can say about them is that they call into question the usual idea of socialism in one country.
    One would surmise that Stalin, who made so many mistakes in the construction of socialism in the USSR, is not free from all blame as leader of the International. Let us be more precise: he was not always capable of a correct combination of reinforcement of the socialist bastion and support for revolutionary peoples. We shall deal with this question later. Investigations and historical research are required to determine what were Stalin's mistakes in this domain. The answer to this type of question has no connection with an examination of the thesis of socialism in one country which, as we have sufficiently demonstrated, is compatible as such (on the theoretical level) with the boldest and most intransigent internationalism. Besides, it is noteworthy that Stalin, who was its promoter, 'later showed himself rather prudent and reserved in its accreditation',(58) given that it was taken up by Bukharin who attached it to his idea of the construction of socialism 'at a snail's pace'. Stalin, on the contrary, soon came to emphasise the first term of the formula, 'socialism in one country', on the eve the attack on the kulaks and the First Five-Year Plan.

    The thesis according to which it was possible 'to build a complete socialist society' by counting on the forces of the USSR alone was explicitly presented by Stalin as necessary with a view to encouraging the people to commit themselves to this construction. For him it therefore had a practical value.

    The process of the restoration of capitalism in the USSR and the cultural revolution in China have led us to a more rigorous conception of the advance towards communism. We know that for Marx the latter comprises two stages: the lower is characterised by the principle, 'From each according to his ability, to each according to his work'. A certain inequality thus survives, along with the bourgeois right which is its corollary. In the 'higher phase' of communist society(59)

after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labour, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labour, has vanished; after labour has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-round development of the individual and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly - only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!

By that time the state will have withered away, social classes will have disappeared along with the three fundamental inequalities bequeathed by capitalism: the differences between manual and mental labour, town and country, and agriculture and industry. A profound transformation in outlook, customs and ideology will have eradicated egoism and individualism.

    It is certain that the transition to the higher stage of socialism, communism, will only be able to take place on a world scale after the elimination of capitalist encirclement. This question (different from that debated in the 1920s) must be connected to the problematic of the class struggle after the suppression of private ownership of the means of production. Trotsky (like Stalin), hardly suspected it, and then only very confusedly.

    If we have said that Stalin was correct to think that it was possible to construct socialism in one country, we cannot go along with him when, in his report to the 18th Congress (1939), he envisaged the transition to communism in one country. He even argued in it that the state would survive 'in the period of communism', 'if capitalist encirclement is not liquidated'. In 1946 Stalin reiterated this thesis according to which 'communism in one country is perfectly conceivable particularly in a country such as the Soviet Union'.(60) On this point, Mao has expressed a diametrically opposite point of view: the transition to communism, he has said, will only be realisable after several generations when 'the division of labour which is at the basis of class division' (Engels) has been eliminated and when the state has consequently 'withered away' (Engels).
    In 'Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR', Stalin set out three conditions which must be fulfilled to prepare the transition to communism:

    1.  continuous expansion of production with priority for the means of production;
    2.  replacement of commodity circulation by a system of product-exchange which will raise collective-farm property to the level of national property (collective farmers will no longer be able to sell their surpluses on the market but will 'receive products in much greater quantities from the State');
    3.  cultural advancement so that members of society 'are not tied all their lives, owing to the existing division of labour, to some one occupation'. For this, it is necessary, 'to shorten the working day . . . that housing conditions should be radically improved, and that real wages of workers . . . should be at least doubled'.(61)

Under the dictatorship of the proletariat, the last two conditions in fact amount to the first one. In short, to move to communism it is enough to increase production!
    As for the elimination of the three differences bequeathed by capitalism, Stalin interpreted Marx and Engels's doctrine somewhat freely. We read in his last work, for example:(

The ground for antithesis between town and country, between industry and agriculture, has already been eliminated by our socialist system. This, of course, does not mean that the effect of the abolition of the antithesis between town and country will be that 'the great towns' will perish. (Engels, 'Anti-Dühring[']) Not only will the great towns not perish, but new great towns will appear.

Stalin quoted Engels in order to contradict him. In fact, here is what we read in 'Anti-Duhring': 'It is true that in the great towns civilisation has bequeathed us a heritage which it will take us some time and trouble to get rid of. But it must and will be got rid of.' (p. 352.)

    In fact, Stalin denied that it was possible to make 'all' the differences between industry and agriculture, between manual and mental labour disappear because he did not think that the division of labour could be overcome. He declared: 'The essential distinction between mental and physical labour . . . the difference in their cultural and technical levels, will certainly disappear. But some distinction, even if inessential, will remain, if only because the conditions of labour of the managerial staffs and those of the workers are not identical'.(63)
    Even if the cultural and technical level of the workers is very high, can we consider the distinction maintained between management personnel and workers 'insignificant'?

    With such ideas it was impossible for Stalin to prepare the conditions for the transition to the higher stage of communism as the Chinese are doing even now. However, Stalin tackled the problem with at least the minimum of seriousness, which is precisely not the case with the present leaders in the Soviet Union who, since the 22nd Congress (1961), under Khrushchev, boast of constructing full-scale communism there. It is well known that in 1957 Molotov, the last of the 'Stalinists', opposed the thesis of the final completion of socialism in the USSR which was proclaimed by Stalin as early as 1936 in his report on the Draft Constitution. Today the Chinese insist on the necessity for a people who want to construct socialism to rely above all on their own forces. This formula can be considered as an avatar of 'socialism in one country' which the Chinese only rarely mention. In a certain sense it fulfils the same function: 'on s'engage et puis on voit'.(64) Rely on oneself, not on others. It is true that the Chinese situate the complete realisation of socialism further away than Stalin did in 1926. 'In five or ten generations or even more', they have written. In fact, they know, as Lenin did, that the nationalisation of the means of production is not enough.

    With the clarity and rigour that distinguishes him, Mao Tse-tung has recently defined the Marxist-Leninist position on this subject. He poses the problem correctly and thus puts paid to an old controversy:(65)

We have won great victories. But the defeated class will still struggle. These people are still around and this class still exists. Therefore, we cannot speak of final victory. Not even for decades. We must not lose our vigilance. According to the Leninist viewpoint, the final victory of a socialist country not only requires the efforts of the proletariat and the broad masses of the people at home, but also involves the victory of the world revolution and the abolition of the system of exploitation of man by man over the whole globe, upon which all mankind will be emancipated.

Back in 1962, Mao had said: (66)

The next 50 to 100 years or so, beginning from now, will be a great era of radical change in the social system throughout the world, an earth-shaking era without equal in any previous historical period. Living in such an era, we must be prepared to engage in great struggles which will have many features different in form from those of the past.

At the end of his life the old fighter, who has just carried off his greatest victory, reveals to us the prospective thunder and lightning of future revolutionary storms. Once again he invites us to throw off our illusions and to prepare ourselves for the struggle. New vanguards will be forged in the flames of their struggle, new developments in Marxism-Leninism will spring from their practice. This call and this message are directed to the entire world. China is a fragment of the international revolutionary movement and at the same time its principal Red base. The Chinese consider that Stalin's thesis that it is possible to construct socialism in one country is an important contribution to the development of Marxism-Leninism. Is any other proof necessary to show that adherence to this thesis does not imply opposition to world revolutions?