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The great debate about building socialism in the USSR took place at the
juncture between the
and Stalin periods.
After the defeat of the foreign interventionists and the reactionary
armies, working class power, with the support of the poor and middle
peasantry, was firmly established.
The dictatorship of the proletariat had defeated its adversaries
politically and militarily. But would it be possible to build socialism?
Was the country `ready' for socialism? Was socialism possible in a
backward and ruined country?
formula is well known: `Communism is Soviet power plus
the electrification of the whole country'.
Our Foreign and Domestic Position and the Tasks of the Party.
Works, vol. 31, p. 419.
Working class power took form in the Soviets, which were allied to the peasant
masses. Electrification was necessary for the creation of modern
means of production. With these two elements, socialism could be built.
expressed his confidence in socialist construction in the Soviet
Union and his determination to see it through:
`(I)ndustry cannot be
developed without electrification. This is a long-term task which will
take at least ten years to accomplish .... Economic success,
however, can be assured only when the Russian proletarian state
effectively controls a huge industrial machine built on up-to-day
technology .... This is an enormous task, to accomplish which will
require a far longer period than was needed to defend our right to
existence against invasion. However we are not afraid of such a period.'
, p. 420.
peasants would work initially as individual
producers, although the State would encourage them towards cooperation.
By regrouping the peasants, they could be integrated into the socialist
rejected the Menshevik argument that the peasant
population was too barbaric and culturally backward to understand
socialism. Now, said
that we have the power of the dictatorship
of the proletariat, what is to prevent us from effecting among this
`barbaric' people a real cultural revolution?
On Co-operation II. Works, vol. 33, pp. 472--475.
formulated the three essential tasks for building a socialist
society in the USSR: develop modern industry under the Socialist State,
organize peasant cooperatives and start a cultural revolution, which
would bring literacy to the peasant masses and raise the technical
and scientific level of the population.
In one of his final texts,
`(T)he power of the state over all large-scale means of
production, political power in the hands of the proletariat, the
alliance of this proletariat with the many millions of 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 '
On Co-operation I. Works, vol. 33, p. 468.
Thanks to this perspective,
and the Bolshevik Party were able to
draw great enthusiasm from the masses, particularly the worker masses.
They created a spirit of sacrifice for the socialist cause and instilled
confidence in the future of socialism. In November 1922,
addressed the Moscow Soviet about the New Economic Policy (NEP):
` ``The New Economic Policy!'' A strange title. It was called a New
Economic Policy because it turned things back. We are now retreating,
going back, as it were; but we are doing so in order, after first
retreating, to take a running start and make a bigger leap forward.'
Speech at a Plenary Session of the Moscow Soviet.
Works, vol. 33, p. 437.
He finished as follows:
`NEP Russia will become socialist Russia.'
, p. 443.
However, it was the question of whether socialism could be built in
the Soviet Union that provoked a great
ideological and political debate that lasted from 1922 to 1926--1927.
was on the front line in the attack against
thought it opportune to republish
Results and Prospects,
one of his major texts, first published in 1906. In his 1919 preface,
`I consider the train of ideas in its main ramifications very nearly
approaches the conditions of our time'.
Results and Prospects.
The Permanent Revolution & Results and Prospects
(New York: Pathfinder Press, 1969), p. 35.
But what are the brilliant `ideas' found in his 1906 work, ideas that
wanted to see taken up by the Bolshevik Party? He noted that the
peasantry was characterized by `political barbarism, social formlessness,
primitiveness and lack of character. None of these features can in any
way create a reliable basis for a consistent, active proletarian
policy'. After the seizure of power,
`The proletariat will find itself
compelled to carry the struggle into the villages .... (But) the
insufficient degree of class differentiation will create obstacles to the
introduction among the peasantry of developed class struggle, upon which
the urban proletariat could rely ....
`The cooling-off of the peasantry, its political passivity, and all the
more the active opposition of its upper sections, cannot but have an
influence on a section of the intellectuals and the petty-bourgeoisie of
`Thus, the more definite and determined the policy of the proletariat in
power becomes, the narrower and more shaky does the ground beneath its
, pp. 76--77.
The difficulties in building socialism that
enumerated were real.
They explain the bitterness of the class struggle in the countryside when
the Party launched collectivization in 1929. It would take Stalin's
unshakeable resolve and organizational capacities for the
socialist régime to pass through this terrible test. For
difficulties were the basis for capitulationist and defeatist politics,
along with some `ultra-revolutionary' calls for `world revolution'.
Let us return to
political strategy, conceived in 1906 and
reaffirmed in 1919.
`But how far can the socialist policy of the working class be applied in
the economic conditions of Russia? We can say one thing with
certainty --- that it will come up against political obstacles much sooner
than it will stumble over the technical backwardness of the country.
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. Of this there
cannot for any moment be any doubt.'
, pp. 104--105.
`Left to its own resource, 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. That colossal state-political
power given it by a temporary conjuncture of circumstances in the Russian
bourgeois revolution will cast it into the scales of the class struggle
of the entire capitalist world.'
, p. 115.
To repeat these words in 1919 was already calling for defeatism: there
was `no doubt' that the working class `cannot remain in power',
it was certain that it `will inevitably be crushed' if the socialist
revolution did not triumph in Europe. This capitulationist thesis
accompanied an adventurist call for `exporting revolution':
`(T)he Russian proletariat (must) on its own initiative carry the
revolution on to European soil .... the Russian revolution will throw
itself against old capitalist Europe.'
, p. 108.
To show the extent to which he held on to his old
published in 1922 a new edition of his book, The Year 1905,
adding a preface in which he argued the correctness of his
political line. After five years of socialist power, he stated:
`It was precisely during
the interval between January 9 and the October strike of 1905 that the views
on the character of the revolutionary development of Russia which came
to be known as the theory of `permanent revolution' crystallized in the
author's mind .... precisely in order to ensure its victory, the
proletarian vanguard would be forced in the very early stages of its
rule to make deep inroads not only into feudal property but into
bourgeois property as well. In this it would come into hostile
collision not only with all the bourgeois groupings which supported
the proletariat during the first stages of its revolutionary struggle,
but also with the broad masses of the peasantry with whose
assistance it came into power. The contradictions in the position of a
workers' government in a backward country with an overwhelmingly peasant
population could be solved only on an international scale, in
the arena of world proletarian revolution.'
Stalin, The October Revolution and the Tactics of the Russian Communists.
(New York: International Publishers, 1942), p. 15. Stalin's emphasis.
For those who think that this contradicted the fact that
the dictatorship of the proletariat had been maintained for five years,
responded in a 1922 `Postscript' to his pamphlet
A Program of Peace:
`The fact that the workers' state has maintained itself against
the entire world in a single and, moreover, backward country
testifies to the colossal power of the proletariat which in other more
advanced, more civilised countries, will truly be able to achieve miracles.
But having defended ourselves as a state in the political and military
sense, we have not arrived at, nor even approached socialist
society .... Trade negotiations with bourgeois states,
concessions, the Geneva Conference and so on are far too graphic
evidence of the impossibility of isolated socialist construction
within a national state-framework .... the genuine rise of
socialist economy in Russia will become possible only after the
victory of the proletariat in the most important countries of
Postscript 1922, What is A Peace Programme?
(Columbo, Ceylon: Lanka Samasamaja, 1956), pp. 20-21.
Also partially quoted in Stalin, The October Revolution, p. 21.
Here is the obvious meaning: the Soviet workers are not capable of
accomplishing miracles by building socialism; but the day that
Belgians, Dutch, Luxemburgers and other Germans rise up, then the world
will see real marvels.
put all of his hope in the proletariat
of the `more advanced and more civilized' countries. But he paid no
particular attention to the fact that in 1922, only the Russian
proletariat proved to be truly revolutionary, to the end, while the
revolutionary wave that existed in 1918 in Western Europe was already,
for the most part, history.
From 1902, and continually,
fought the line that
had drawn for the democratic revolution and the socialist
revolution in Russia. By reaffirming, just before
died, that the
dictatorship of the proletariat had to come into open contradiction with
the peasant masses and that, consequently, there was no salvation for Soviet
socialism outside of the victorious revolution in the `more civilized'
was trying to substitute his own program for
Behind the leftist verbiage of `world revolution',
the fundamental idea of the Mensheviks: it was impossible to build
socialism in the Soviet Union. The Mensheviks openly said that neither
the masses nor the objective conditions were ripe for socialism. As for
he said that the proletariat, as class-in-itself, and the
mass of individualist peasants, would inevitably enter into conflict.
Without the outside support of a victorious European revolution, the
Soviet working class would be incapable of building socialism. With
returned to the fold of his Menshevik friends.
In 1923, during his struggle for the leadership of the Bolshevik Party,
launched his second campaign.
He tried to clear out the Bolshevik Party's old cadres and
replace them with young ones, whom he hoped to be able to manipulate. In
preparation for the seizure of the Party's leadership,
returned, almost to a word, to his 1904
ideas for the Party.
At that time,
had attacked with the greatest vehemence
entire concept of the Bolshevik Party and its leadership.
His 1923 attacks against the Bolshevik leadership are clear evidence
of the persistence of his petit-bourgeois ideals.
the individualist fought virulently against the
concept of the Party. He called
a `fanatical secessionist', a
`revolutionary bourgeois democrat', an `organization fetichist', a
partisan of the `army mentality' and of `organizational pettiness', a
`dictator wanting to substitute himself for the central committee', a
`dictator wanting to impose dictatorship on the proletariat' for whom
`any mixture of elements thinking differently is a pathological
Nos tâches politiques
(Paris: Pierre Belfond, 1970),
pp. 39--41, 128, 159, 195, 198, 204.
Note that this hatred was directed, not at the
infamous Stalin, but, rather, at his revered master,
in 1904, is crucial to understanding his ideology. He
made himself known as an unrepentent bourgeois individualist. All the
slanders and insults that he would direct twenty-five years later
against Stalin, he had already hurled in that work against
did everything he could to depict Stalin as a dictator ruling
over the Party. Yet, when
created the Bolshevik Party,
accused him of creating an `Orthodox theocracy' and an
, pp. 97, 170.
always claimed that Stalin had adopted a cynical, pragmatic attitude
which he reduced to ready-made formulas. Writing about
One step forward, two steps back,
`One cannot show more cynicism for the
ideological heritage of the proletariat as does Comrade
is not a scientific method of analysis.'
, p. 160.
In his 1904 work,
invented the term `substitutionism' to attack
party and its leadership.
`The ``professional revolutionary'' group
acted in the place of the proletariat.'
, p. 103.
`The organization substitutes itself for the Party, the Central Committee for
the organization and its financing and the dictator for the Central
, p. 128.
So, in 1923, often using the same words that he used against
concept of party and leadership:
`the old generation accustomed itself to think and to decide, as it still
does, for the party'.
noted `A certain tendency of the apparatus to think and to decide
for the whole organization'.
The New Course.
The Challenge of the Left Opposition (1923--1925)
(New York: Pathfinder Press, 1975), pp. 71, 128.
concept of the Party by affirming
that it `separated the conscious activity from the executive activity.
(There is) a Center and, underneath, there are only disciplined
executives of technical functions.' In his bourgeois individualist
rejected the hierarchy and the different levels of
responsibility and discipline. His ideal was `the global
political personality, who imposes on all `centers' his will in all
possible forms, including boycott'!
Nos tâches, pp. 140--141.
This is the motto of an individualist, of an anarchist.
again used this criticism against the Party: `the
apparatus manifests a growing tendency to counterpose a few thousand comrades,
who form the leading cadres, to the rest of the mass, whom they look upon
only as an object of action'.
The New Course, p. 71.
of being a bureaucrat making the Party
degenerate into a revolutionary-bourgeois organization.
blinded by `the bureaucratic logic of such and such ``organizational
plan'' ', but `the fiasco of organizational fetichism' was certain.
`The head of the reactionary wing of our Party, comrade
social-democracy a definition that is a theoretical attack against the
class nature of our Party.'
`formulated a tendency for the Party,
the revolutionary-bourgeois tendency'.
Nos tâches, pp. 192, 195, 204.
wrote the same thing against Stalin, but using a more
moderate tone: `bureaucratization threatens to ... provoke a more or
less opportunistic degeneration of the Old Guard'.
The New Course, p. 72.
In 1904, the bureaucrat
was accused of `terrorizing' the Party:
`The task of Iskra
newspaper) was to theoretically
terrorize the intelligentsia. For social-democrats educated in this
school, orthodoxy is something close to the absolute `Truth' that
inspired the Jacobins (French revolutionary democrats). Orthodox Truth
foresees everything. Those who contest are excluded; those who doubt
are on the verge of being excluded.'
Nos tâches, p. 190.
called for `replacing the mummified bureaucrats' so
that `from now on nobody will dare terrorize the party'.
The New Course, pp. 126--127.
To conclude, this 1923 text shows that
also unscrupulously ambitious. In 1923, to seize power in the Bolshevik
wanted to `liquidate' the old Bolshevik guard, who knew
only too well his fanatical struggle against
ideas. No old
Bolshevik was ready to abandon
tactics: he declared the old Bolsheviks to be `degenerating' and
flattered the youth who were not familiar with his
Under the slogan of `democratization' of the party,
wanted to install
youth who supported him in the leadership.
Yet, ten years later, when men such as
openly show their opportunistic personalities,
they represented `the old Bolshevik guard' persecuted by Stalin: he
allied himself with these opportunists, invoking the glorious past of
the `old guard'!
position within the Party continued to weaken in 1924--1925, and
he attacked the Party leadership with increasing rage.
Starting from the idea that it was impossible to build socialism in a
1925--1926 political line,
the current focus of his hatred, represented kulak (rich peasants;
see chapter 4)
interests and the new bourgeois, called Nep-man. Power was becoming
kulak power. Discussion started yet again about the
`disintegration' of the Bolshevik Party. Since they were evolving
towards disintegration and kulak power,
appropriated himself the right
to create factions and to work clandestinely within the Party.
The debate was led openly and honestly for five years. When the
discussion was closed in 1927 by a Party vote, those who defended the
theses of impossibility of building socialism in the Soviet Union and the
right to form factions received between one and one and a half per cent
of the votes.
was expelled from the Party, sent to Siberia and, finally,
banished from the Soviet Union.
Next: Socialist industrialization
Up: Another view of Stalin
Previous: Lenin's `Will'
Fri Aug 25 09:03:42 PDT 1995