MARXIST INTERNET ARCHIVE | TONY CLARK

ON THE ORIGINS OF THE THEORY OF SOCIALISM IN ONE COUNTRY

IN THIS ARTICLE, WE EXAMINE THE ORIGINS OF THE THEORY OF ‘SOCIALISM IN SEVERAL OR ONE CAPITALIST COUNTRY TAKEN SEPARATELY’. THIS IS NECESSARY IN ORDER TO COUNTER THE PREVALENT LEGEND CONCOCTED AND PROMOTED BY TROTSKYISM THAT THE THEORY WAS BROUGHT INTO BEING BY STALIN IN 1924, AND GAVE EXPRESSION TO THE NATIONAL NARROW-MINDEDNESS OF AN INCREASINGLY CONSERVATIVE SOVIET BUREAUCRACY. WHAT IS REVEALED BY THIS STUDY IS THAT THE THEORY FORMED THE RESPONSE OF THE BOLSHEVIKS TO THE BETRAYALS OF THE PROLETARIAN REVOLUTION BY THE DOYENS OF INTERNATIONAL SOCIAL DEMOCRACY. TROTSKY’S INCOMPREHENSION, OR REFUSAL TO ACCEPT THIS TENET OF LENINISM, AT ONCE REFLECTED HIS INCOMPLETE BREAK WITH MENSHEVISM AND HIS ULTRA-LEFT UNDERSTANDING OF THE WORLD REVOLUTIONARY PROCESS. FOR BREVITY'S SAKE, WE OCCASIONALLY EMPLOY THE SHORTER TERM ‘SOCIALISM IN ONE COUNTRY’, RATHER THAN 'SOCIALISM IN SEVERAL COUNTRIES OR IN ONE COUNTRY TAKEN SEPARATELY'.

IT was the most famous, indeed, the greatest dispute in the history of the modern revolutionary movement based on Marxism. It began as a conflict between Lenin and the opportunist wing of Social Democracy, and later it was transformed into a conflict between Stalin and Trotsky. The issue concerned the nature of the world revolutionary process. Related to this question was the role of socialism in several or one capitalist country taken separately. But why were these issues raised in the first place? The answer to this question may be found in the time and, indeed, the nature of the epoch in which these matters surfaced.

The Bolshevik party, under the leadership of Lenin, was the only party in the second, socialist international which defended a revolutionary policy after the outbreak of the first imperialist world war. The other socialist parties, the most notable being the German Social Democratic Party, had rallied behind their own bourgeoisie, thus betraying the struggle for proletarian revolution and socialism. Compromised by their treachery, and exposed in front of the advanced workers, these former concealed, revisionist, enemies of working class revolution needed some theoretical justifications for their betrayals. Rummaging through the works of Marx and Engels they found what they were looking for. Socialism by its very nature, they argued, is international; socialism must be international or its is nothing, or similar type of phrases.

But this was, of course, a parody of Marxism, fit for university professors, but hardly fit to provide the leadership of the revolutionary classes. What the opportunists wanted was merely a ‘Marxist’ justification for their betrayals of the working class by supporting their own ruling classes in an inter-imperialist war. The argument, therefore, was put around that there were no betrayals since the revolution and socialism must, by its very nature, be international. Did not Marx say so, and was Engels not of the same opinion? How can the Leninists accuse us of betrayals when we, in fact, stand on the foundations of the holies of holies, Marx and Engels. Socialism, after all, they argued, was not possible in isolation, in one country. Thus opportunism sought and ‘found’ justification from the works of the fathers of modern, scientific socialism. However, here we must remember the saying, ‘the devil himself can quote scripture'.

What the opportunists of the Second International failed to understand was that capitalism had changed qualitatively from the time of Marx and Engels. From pre-imperialist capitalism, capitalism had turned into monopoly capitalism, i.e., imperialism. From capitalism on the upgrade, it had turned to capitalism on the downgrade: imperialism had become ‘moribund’ capitalism (Lenin). Thus in the period of its progressive development, neither Marx nor Engels envisaged the possibility of socialism in one country. Marx and Engels correctly stressed that the transition to socialism would only be possible if it was international. However, with the emergence of monopoly and imperialism things had changed. Imperialism had intensified the laws of uneven development, even on the basis of an increasing levelling out. It was this intensification of the laws of uneven development under imperialism, which served to transform the perspectives of the international revolution. And it was Lenin who took on the task of demonstrating this new feature of capitalism and the consequence it would have for the world revolution.

What Lenin showed was that this development of capitalism gave

‘…rise to imperialist wars, which undermine the strength of imperialism and make it possible to break the front of imperialism at its weakest point’. (J. V. Stalin: Works 18; p.168; Reprint by Red Star Press; London, 1976)

Lenin drew the conclusion that because of the uneven development of capitalism under imperialism, the front of imperialism could be broken at its weakest links, in several or even in one capitalist country alone. Other countries would remain bourgeois; thus, Lenin argued against the opportunist class traitors in the leadership of the Second International that

‘Uneven economic and political development is an absolute law of capitalism. Hence, the victory of socialism is possible in several or even in one capitalist country, taken singly’. (V.I. Lenin: Selected works; Eng. Ed., Vol.5; p.141; quoted in Stalin; op.cit. p.169)

This was the argument Lenin deployed against the opportunists and Social Chauvinists of the Second International, who having betrayed the working class at the outset of the first imperialist world war, sought to cover their treachery with quotations from Marx and Engels, passages which reflected the perspective of a different era. In other words, Lenin was saying to the social-traitors, you can no longer use the old dictum that socialism has to be international to cover your treachery to the working class. Imperialism had modified the nature of the world revolutionary process in the direction of making revolutions and socialism possible in several or in one capitalist country as part of the world revolutionary process. In the eyes of the traitors, Lenin became the ‘revisionist’ for not treating Marxism as a dogma but has a guide to reflection and action.

However, to ram the new position home even more firmly, Lenin pointed out that

‘The development of capitalism proceeds extremely unevenly in the various countries. It cannot be otherwise under the commodity production system. From this, it follows irrefutably that socialism cannot achieve victory simultaneously in all countries. It will achieve victory first in one or several countries, while the others will remain bourgeois or pre-bourgeois for some time’. (V.I. Lenin "War programme of the Proletarian Revolution, in: Collected Works, Vol. 29; p. 325)

 

In this passage, Lenin continues to explain how there would be a contradiction between the socialist countries and the backward states, possibly leading to war, which on the side of the socialist countries would be a just and legitimate war. What Lenin set out to demonstrate was that the conceptions of the Marxists, in the period of pre-imperialist capitalism, that socialism in one separate country was not possible, and that it must take place simultaneously in all the developed countries, was no longer valid. Invalid also was the attempts of the right wing in socialism to hide behind the ‘impossibility of socialism in one country’ thesis to justify their refusal to lead the struggle to overthrow capitalism and lead the struggle for socialism in individual countries.

In defending the possibility of socialism in one or several countries, Lenin was engaged in a Herculean struggle with the opportunist right wing of international social democracy, who to save their face were in opposition to socialism in one country. Of course, most, if not all these leaders were members of advanced capitalist countries. The idea of taking power in the Russia of 1917, was for them the very reverse of their textbook understanding of Marxism. Their refusal to lead the struggle for socialism was justified by the notion that socialism is ‘either international or nothing’. Their criticism of the Bolsheviks was that Russia was to materially backward for socialism. Russia was indeed backward at the time but there was no reason why steps could not be taken in the direction of eliminating this backwardness. This would have been made easier, of course, if the opportunists had not betrayed the struggle for socialism in the more advanced countries.

What is important to understand here is that Lenin developed Marxism in line with the developments in capitalism. This also led to a development of the Marxist theory of the revolutionary process. The old pre-imperialist theory that socialism was either international or nothing gave place to a new Marxist-Leninist theory that socialism is possible in one or several countries as a part of the world revolutionary process. Thus, Lenin not only advanced Marxist revolutionary theory, but succeeded in exposing his right wing opportunist, opponents, who opposed the theory of socialism in one or several countries because it starkly exposed their treachery and refusal to lead the struggle for socialism in their own countries at the outbreak of the first imperialist war.

We have seen that Lenin’s struggle to defend the theory of socialism in several or one country was an expression of the contradiction between opportunism and the revolutionary line. The revolutionary line maintained that socialism was possible even in one country, while the opportunists based themselves on outdated notions based on pre-imperialist capitalism, notions, which in their day were correct, but were now invalidated by the new development of capitalism, its transformation into monopoly and imperialism. Into this struggle between the revolution and opportunism came Trotsky. Trotsky had for a long time stood between the two wings of Russian Social Democracy, the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, and generally collaborating with the latter against the former. Trotsky’s position was midway between the Leninists and the opportunists. He had supported the slogan of the ‘United States of Europe’, a slogan which Lenin disagreed with at the time. For Lenin, this slogan took no account of uneven development, and again could be used by the right wing to avoid a struggle for power in their own countries, and also the slogan for Lenin was Eurocentric. Consequently, to expose the narrowness of the slogan Lenin counterposed to it an alternative slogan of the ‘United States of the World’. For Lenin, although this latter slogan was preferable, it was a slogan applicable to socialism rather than capitalism. The main weakness of this latter slogan for Lenin was that

‘As a separate slogan, however, the slogan of the United States of the World would hardly be a correct one, first, because it merges with socialism; second, because it may be wrongly interpreted to mean that the victory of socialism in a single country is impossible, and it may also create misconceptions as to the relations of such a country to the others’. (V.I. Lenin: ‘The United States of Europe’ slogan; Selected Works, Eng. Ed., Vol. 5; p.141; August 1915)

Lenin was here polemicising against the ‘United States of Europe’ slogan supported by Trotsky, and looked at another slogan, concluding that they were against the theory of socialism developing in one country as part of the world revolutionary process. This conclusion of Lenin’s is entirely understandable if we remember that he was in the middle of a struggle against the right wing in the socialist movement, who had only just recently betrayed the struggle for socialism on the grounds that socialism in one country was not possible and that socialism was either international or it is nothing.

It is quite obvious that Trotsky was not able to see the link between Lenin’s determined defence of his new theory relating to the possibility of socialism in several or in one country taken singly and the struggle against the right wing in the socialist international, who concealed their opportunism and treachery to the working class, that is, their failure to lead the struggle for socialism in their respective countries behind the outdated slogan that socialism is international or it is nothing. This inability of Trotsky to grasp the link between defending socialism in one country as part of the international struggle with the struggle against opportunism was to inform Trotsky’s later pronouncements. Trotsky responded to Lenin’s criticism of the ‘United States of Europe’ slogan in an article, which revealed his own views of the revolutionary process, arguing that

‘The only more or less concrete historical argument advanced against the slogan of the United States of Europe was formulated in the Swiss Sotsial-Democrat (at the time the central organs of the Bolsheviks) in the following sentence, "Uneven economic and political development is an absolute law of capitalism". From this Sotsial-Democrat draws the conclusion that the victory of socialism is possible in one country, and that therefore there is no reason to make the dictatorship of the proletariat in each separate country contingent upon the establishment of a United States of Europe…That no country in its struggle must "wait" for others, is an elementary thought which it is useful and necessary to reiterate in order that the idea of concurrent international action may not be replaced by the idea of concurrent international inaction. Without waiting for the others, we begin and continue the struggle, in the full confidence that our initiative will give an impetus to the struggles in other countries; but if this should not occur, it would be hopeless to think—as historical experience and theoretical consideration testify—that, for example, a revolutionary Russia could hold out in the face of a conservative Europe, or that a socialist Germany could exist in isolation in a capitalist world’.(Trotsky: Works. Vol.3, part 1; pp.89-90: also quoted in Stalin: Works 8 ‘. 336)

This was Trotsky’s Reponses to Lenin’s theory of the possibility of socialism in one country as an integral part of the revolutionary process. He was against any ‘temporising’, or holding back the revolution in individual countries, which put him at variance with the right wing leaders of the socialist movement, but, at the same, he did not believe that socialism could maintain itself in, for example Russia or Germany, in face of a conservative Europe. In the case of the Soviet Union, this was indeed what happen. Socialism did in fact hold out. The survival of the Soviet Union until its final liquidation by the revisionists, who had gain control of the CPSU, had served to refute Trotsky’s prognosis. So, on the one hand, Trotsky was opposed to delaying the revolution in individual countries, but on the other, he opposed the Leninist thesis that socialism was possible in one country as part of the wider international struggle for revolution.

Failing to understand, or rejecting the Leninist position that socialism was possible in one, or several countries on the basis of the uneven economic and political development of imperialism, Trotsky was not able to discern that the struggle to defend the possibility of socialism in one country as part of the world revolutionary process was an integral aspect of Lenin’s struggle against the right-wing opportunist and Social Chauvinists at the head of the international socialist movement. This failure on the part of Trotsky would later lead to Trotskyism playing a counterrevolutionary role within the Soviet Union after the death of Lenin in 1924.

Trotsky joined the Bolsheviks in 1917 although he was opposed to the Leninist theory that socialism in one country was possible. Trotsky, after joining the party, did not seek to oppose Lenin openly on this issue. However, after the latter’s death Trotsky sought to present his opposition to this aspect of Leninist theory, by presenting his critique as an opposition to Stalin, even going so far as to say it was Stalin who invented this theory, which every communist know was formulated by Lenin himself. Thus the ‘Trotsky school of falsification’ is responsible for the biggest theoretical fraud ever perpetrated on the revolutionary movement and the working class, the legend that it was Stalin who was the author of the theory of socialism in one country. This argument, whether a product of ignorance or conscious lying is repeated in every literature produced by the Trotskyist movement about the Russian revolution.

Thus at the 7th Enlarged Plenum of the E.C.C.I, November 22, December 16th, 1926, Stalin, in his reply to the discussion on ‘The Social-Democratic Deviation in Our Party’, remarked that

‘The way I understand it is that Trotsky set out to give battle to Lenin’s theory, but since giving open battle to Lenin is a risky business, he decided to fight this battle under the guise of combating a "theory" of Stalin’s. Trotsky in this way wants to make it easier for himself to fight Leninism, by disguising that fight by his criticism of Stalin’s "theory." (Stalin: Works 9; p.121; Reprint by Red Star Press, London)

His life with the opportunists meant Trotsky had not learnt the art of carrying out a principled struggle, without resort to such cheap and amateurish opportunist manoeuvres. Thus, Stalin reminded his communist audience that

‘…let it be noted that Trotsky’s statement about Stalin’s "theory" is a manoeuvre, a trick, a cowardly and unsuccessful trick, designed to cover up his fight against Lenin’s theory of the victory of socialism in individual countries, a fight which began in 1915 and is continuing to the present day. Whether this stratagem of Trotsky’s is a sign of honest polemics leave the comrades to judge’. (Stalin: ibid.)

What is astonishing is that that Trotsky thought he could get away with such a stunt at the highest political level of the working class, the communist vanguard, and a Leninist one at that! Trotsky, who after joining the Bolsheviks, did not deem it wise, or in other words, was not principled enough to oppose this cardinal element of Leninist theory openly, decided to conceal his struggle against Leninism as a struggle against Stalin. This proves that Trotsky was motivated mostly by opportunist considerations.

As the right wing had denounced Lenin’s theory as ‘revisionism’, to cover up their betrayals of the working class by attacking any possibility of socialism in one country, so now Trotsky denounced Stalin for inventing a ‘revisionist’ theory called socialism in one country, a theory which expressed the conservative proclivities of the Soviet bureaucracy.

In going over to Menshevism on the question of socialism in one country, which Trotsky, mechanically saw as opposed to world revolution, Trotsky was castigated for leading a Social-Democratic Deviation in the Communist Party. Like the leaders of the second international, he had opposed the possibility of building socialism in one country, but for different reasons. Whereas the right-opportunists sought to justify their betrayals of socialism in their own countries by their rejection of socialism in one country, Trotsky fought socialism in one country because in his view it militated against the international revolution. The logical result is that both the rightists of the international and the ultra-leftist Trotsky adopted positions, which denied the possibility of socialism in one country. Whereas for the rightists this was a reason for not taking power in individual countries, for the leftists, socialism was impossible in one country outside of world revolution.

The socialist right and ultra-left united in opposition to the Leninist theory of the possibility of socialism in one country as part of the world revolutionary process. Thus in regard to the Soviet Union Trotsky’s Menshevik past had caught up with him. From the ‘left’ the Trotskyists began to perform an important service for the bourgeoisie in their protestations regarding the impossibility of socialism in the Soviet Union. This noisy denunciation of Leninism on the question of the impossibility of socialism in one country could only serve to demoralise the communist movement and working class, i.e., undermine its confidence, while at the same time boosting the confidence of the Soviet bourgeoisie.

If socialism was not possible in the Soviet Union, in the absence of revolutions in other countries, then counterrevolution, the restoration of capitalism, could not be far behind.

Although wearing a ‘left’ dress, the objective role Trotskyism was playing, due to the rejection of Lenin’s theory of the world revolution was to undermine the confidence of the Soviet Communists and its working class base, regarding the possibility of socialism in the Soviet Union. Trotsky’s political line was the political line of the Soviet counterrevolution. The logic of Trotsky’s opposition to Lenin’s theory and Stalin’s defence of this theory had objectively placed him in the camp of the counterrevolution, that is, the camp of all the anti-socialist elements who sought to demoralise the revolution on the ideological basis that socialism was not possible in one country. That this demoralisation was taking effect was clearly demonstrated when people like Zinoviev and Kamenev, both of whom had previously defended Leninism against Trotsky’s criticism, had for opportunist, factional reasons, become tools of the Trotskyist campaign against Leninism.

CONCLUSION.

The origins of Lenin’s theory concerning the possibility of the victory of socialism in one country as part of the international revolutionary process, was a development of the Marxist theory of revolution, which formed a new theoretical response consequent to the transformation of pre-imperialist capitalism into imperialist capitalism. This development intensified the effects of the uneven development, leading to increasing conflicts between the imperialist powers in the struggle for markets and raw materials. The wars generated by these conflicts weakened imperialism, creating the possibility of breaching the weak links in the chain of imperialism. This in turn created favourable opportunities for the victory of socialism in individual countries. The outbreak of the first imperialist world war exposed the official leadership of the Second International who were shown to be rotten through-and-through with opportunism and Social Chauvinism. These traitors to the working class and socialism sought to justify their betrayals of revolution, their failure to lead the struggle for power on the ideological and theoretical basis that socialism was international or nothing. They used quotations from Marx and Engels relating to the international nature of the overthrow of capitalism, but did not bring into the equation the change from pre-imperialist to imperialist capitalism. The struggle of Lenin to uphold the theory concerning the possibility of socialism in several or one country was directed at the opportunists, who hid behind the international aspect of socialism to justify their class treachery, while displaying opposition to socialism in one country, which was an excuse for not leading the struggle for socialism in their own countries. In other words, they counterposed socialism in one country to the international nature of socialism.

In his struggle to uphold the possibility of socialism in one country as part of the world revolutionary process, Lenin criticised the United States of Europe slogan, which was supported by Trotsky. He referred to another slogan of the United States of the World, but rejected it because such a slogan merged with socialism and was misleading in that it gave the impression that socialism in one country was not possible. Trotsky replied to Lenin’s article written in August 1915, to the effect that while one country should not wait for the others, having come to power the dictatorship of the proletariat could not hold out in face of a conservative Europe. Although opposing Lenin’s theory Trotsky nevertheless joined the Bolshevik party in1917. While not opposing Lenin on this matter openly, after Lenin’s death, Trotsky came out in open opposition to Lenin’s theory. For factional reasons he behaved in an opportunist way by presenting his opposition as a struggle against Stalin in the course of which he perpetrated one of the greatest political falsification in the history of the revolutionary movement, suggesting that Stalin was the author of socialism in one country, a legend which Trotskyists repeat today. This opportunist stratagem was completely exposed by Stalin in the struggle against the Trotsky led opposition in the Soviet Union. The consequence of opposing Lenin’s theory led Trotsky into the camp of those who sought to demoralise the Communists and the working class on the ideological basis that socialism was impossible in the Soviet Union. Since this was the ideological standpoint of the bourgeoisie and the Mensheviks, desiring to demoralise those who wanted a struggle for socialism, this objectively placed Trotskyism in the camp of the bourgeois counterrevolution, attacking the revolution from the ‘left’. Thus, it is clear that by opposing Lenin’s theory Trotskyism objectively played a reactionary role. The significance of Trotskyism after 1924 is not to be found in its ‘left’ opposition to the Leninist theory of the world revolutionary process, but rather in its role of undermining the confidence of the revolutionary and socialist elements, on a platform which denied the possibility of building socialism in the Soviet Union. The CPSU characterised Trotsky’s position as a Social Democratic deviation in the party because his views on socialism in one country were borrowed from the ‘Mensheviks’ stable. Without a doubt, these views served the interests of the capitalist elements in the national economy.

Tony Clark

COMMUNIST PARTY ALLIANCE.