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Building socialism in one country

The great debate about building socialism in the USSR took place at the juncture between the Lenin  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?

Lenin's  formula is well known: `Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country'.


Lenin,  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. Lenin  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.'


Ibid. , p. 420.

According to Lenin,  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 economy. Lenin  rejected the Menshevik argument that the peasant population was too barbaric and culturally backward to understand socialism. Now, said Lenin,  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?


Lenin,  On Co-operation II. Works, vol. 33, pp. 472--475.

So Lenin  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, Lenin  wrote:

`(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 '


Lenin,  On Co-operation I. Works, vol. 33, p. 468.

Thanks to this perspective, Lenin  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, Lenin  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.'


Lenin,  Speech at a Plenary Session of the Moscow Soviet. Works, vol. 33, p. 437.

He finished as follows:

`NEP Russia will become socialist Russia.'


Ibid. , 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. Trotsky  was on the front line in the attack against Lenin's  ideas.

In 1919, Trotsky  thought it opportune to republish Results and Prospects, one of his major texts, first published in 1906. In his 1919 preface, he noted: `I consider the train of ideas in its main ramifications very nearly approaches the conditions of our time'.


Leon Trotsky,  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 Trotsky  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 the towns.

`Thus, the more definite and determined the policy of the proletariat in power becomes, the narrower and more shaky does the ground beneath its feet become.'


Ibid. , pp. 76--77.

The difficulties in building socialism that Trotsky  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 Trotsky,  the difficulties were the basis for capitulationist and defeatist politics, along with some `ultra-revolutionary' calls for `world revolution'.

Let us return to Trotsky's  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.'


Ibid. , 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.'


Ibid. , 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.'


Ibid. , p. 108.

To show the extent to which he held on to his old anti-Leninist  ideas, Trotsky  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.'


Quoted in Stalin, The October Revolution and the Tactics of the Russian Communists. Leninism:  Selected Writings (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, Trotsky  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 Europe.'


Trotsky,  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. Trotsky  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, Trotsky  fought the line that Lenin  had drawn for the democratic revolution and the socialist revolution in Russia. By reaffirming, just before Lenin  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' countries, Trotsky  was trying to substitute his own program for Lenin's. 

Behind the leftist verbiage of `world revolution', Trotsky  took up 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 Trotsky,  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 this conclusion, Trotsky  returned to the fold of his Menshevik friends.

In 1923, during his struggle for the leadership of the Bolshevik Party, Trotsky  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, Trotsky  returned, almost to a word, to his 1904 anti-Leninist  ideas for the Party.

At that time, Trotsky  had attacked with the greatest vehemence Lenin's  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.

In 1904, Trotsky  the individualist fought virulently against the Leninist  concept of the Party. He called Lenin  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 phenomenon'.


Trotsky,  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, Lenin.  That book, published by Trotsky  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 Lenin. 

Trotsky  did everything he could to depict Stalin as a dictator ruling over the Party. Yet, when Lenin  created the Bolshevik Party, Trotsky  accused him of creating an `Orthodox theocracy' and an `autocratic-Asiatic centralism'.


Ibid. , pp. 97, 170.

Trotsky  always claimed that Stalin had adopted a cynical, pragmatic attitude towards Marxism,  which he reduced to ready-made formulas. Writing about One step forward, two steps back, Trotsky  wrote:

`One cannot show more cynicism for the ideological heritage of the proletariat as does Comrade Lenin!  For him, Marxism  is not a scientific method of analysis.'


Ibid. , p. 160.

In his 1904 work, Trotsky  invented the term `substitutionism' to attack the Leninist  party and its leadership.

`The ``professional revolutionary'' group acted in the place of the proletariat.'


Ibid. , p. 103.

`The organization substitutes itself for the Party, the Central Committee for the organization and its financing and the dictator for the Central Committee.'


Ibid. , p. 128.

So, in 1923, often using the same words that he used against Lenin,  Trotsky  attacked the Leninist  concept of party and leadership: `the old generation accustomed itself to think and to decide, as it still does, for the party'. Trotsky  noted `A certain tendency of the apparatus to think and to decide for the whole organization'.


Leon Trotsky,  The New Course. The Challenge of the Left Opposition (1923--1925) (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1975), pp. 71, 128.

In 1904, Trotsky  attacked the Leninist  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 worldview, Trotsky  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'!


Trotsky,  Nos tâches, pp. 140--141.

This is the motto of an individualist, of an anarchist.

Trotsky  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'.


Trotsky,  The New Course, p. 71.

In 1904, Trotsky  accused Lenin  of being a bureaucrat making the Party degenerate into a revolutionary-bourgeois organization. Lenin  was 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 Lenin,  gives social-democracy a definition that is a theoretical attack against the class nature of our Party.' Lenin  `formulated a tendency for the Party, the revolutionary-bourgeois tendency'.


Trotsky,  Nos tâches, pp. 192, 195, 204.

In 1923, Trotsky  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'.


Trotsky,  The New Course, p. 72.

In 1904, the bureaucrat Lenin  was accused of `terrorizing' the Party:

`The task of Iskra (Lenin's  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.'


Trotsky,  Nos tâches, p. 190.

In 1923, Trotsky  called for `replacing the mummified bureaucrats' so that `from now on nobody will dare terrorize the party'.


Trotsky,  The New Course, pp. 126--127.

To conclude, this 1923 text shows that Trotsky  was also unscrupulously ambitious. In 1923, to seize power in the Bolshevik Party, Trotsky  wanted to `liquidate' the old Bolshevik guard, who knew only too well his fanatical struggle against Lenin's  ideas. No old Bolshevik was ready to abandon Leninism  for Trotskyism.  Hence Trotsky's  tactics: he declared the old Bolsheviks to be `degenerating' and flattered the youth who were not familiar with his anti-Leninist  past. Under the slogan of `democratization' of the party, Trotsky  wanted to install youth who supported him in the leadership.

Yet, ten years later, when men such as Zinoviev  and Kamenev  would openly show their opportunistic personalities, Trotsky  declared that they represented `the old Bolshevik guard' persecuted by Stalin: he allied himself with these opportunists, invoking the glorious past of the `old guard'!

Trotsky's  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 single country, Trotsky  concluded that Bukharin's  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, Trotsky  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. Trotsky  was expelled from the Party, sent to Siberia and, finally, banished from the Soviet Union.


next up previous contents index
Next: Socialist industrialization Up: Another view of Stalin Previous: Lenin's `Will'

Fri Aug 25 09:03:42 PDT 1995