INTERNATIONAL MARXIST LENINIST REVIEW interviews T. Clark on the
role of Stalin in the Soviet anti-bureaucracy struggle, and examines
the meaning of the concept 'Stalin against the Soviet bureaucracy’.
In this interview, Clark exposes the trotskyist
theory of a ‘counterrevolutionary soviet/stalinist bureaucracy’ as
an ‘abstraction’ which ignores the contradictions and heterogeneity
within the former soviet bureaucracy and which is typical of
trotsky’s type of reasoning. This type of reasoning was criticised
by V. I. Lenin in the trade union debates of the early 1920s. Clark
contrasts the trotskyist theory of a ‘counterrevolutionary soviet
bureaucracy’ with the marxist-leninist theory of
‘counterrevolutionary elements within the soviet bureaucracy’,
explaining that only on this concrete basis could the struggle
against soviet bureaucracy be understood and taken forward.
IMLR: How did
Marxist-Leninists arrive at the concept of ‘Stalin Against the Soviet
Bureaucracy’, and what is the actual meaning of this concept?
arrived at the concept of ‘Stalin against the Soviet bureaucracy’ from
studying many works on the Russian revolution. You are right to ask what is
the actual meaning of this concept because it is not as self-explanatory as
it appears. One can speak of Stalin being against Soviet bureaucracy, or
Stalin being against ‘the’ Soviet bureaucracy, this would be to speak of two
different although related concepts. To speak of Stalin being against Soviet
bureaucracy means to be against such things as red tape, bureaucratic
inefficiency and, indeed, everything, which can go wrong with a bureaucracy.
On the other hand, to speak of Stalin being against ‘the’ Soviet bureaucracy
is to regard the bureaucracy as a collective entity. To be against the
Soviet bureaucracy in this sense is to view it, or rather its higher
stratum, as a caste, or potential caste. However, the concept of ‘Stalin
against the Soviet bureaucracy’ actually entails the struggle against the
shortcomings of bureaucracy on the one hand, and on the other, the fight
against a certain stratum of bureaucrats. The former is what can be referred
to as the technical opposition to the negative sides of bureaucracy, which
is common in all societies, while the latter represents a ‘political’
opposition to a section of the bureaucracy.
IMLR: So you are saying
that Stalin’s opposition to the Soviet bureaucracy had both a functional
aspect to it, as well as a political side?
TC: This is true. We
should not confuse Stalin’s opposition to the negative aspects of Soviet
bureaucracy with the political struggle against a certain stratum of the
bureaucracy. Stalin’s political struggle against the bureaucracy refers
primarily to the struggle against the potential consolidation of a caste in
the process of formation.
IMLR: Were you in any
way influenced by Lars Lih’s concept of Stalin’s anti-bureaucrat scenario,
and did this lead to the related concept of ‘Stalin against the Soviet
bureaucracy’? There seems to be an affinity between these two concepts.
TC: No. I was not
actually influenced by Lih’s perspective concerning Stalin’s anti-bureaucrat
scenario. I came across Lih’s views in the introduction to ‘Stalin’s Letters
to Molotov’. However, I was surprised by the similarities between Lih’s
views and the one that Marxist-Leninists had already arrived at including
myself mostly it seems independently of each other.
I decided to give
this conceptualisation a name and I choose ‘Stalin
Against the Soviet Bureaucracy’
after about five years of reflection and research on the matter. It was
while I was developing the notion of ‘Stalin Against the Soviet Bureaucracy’
that I discovered the amazing confirmation of this notion in Lih’s
IMLR: What similarities
did you notice between the concept you have presented and Lih’s?
TC: The essence of Lih’s
view is that in Stalin’s anti-bureaucrat scenario,
‘class-motivated hostility is the main reason bureaucrats do not follow
Lih: Stalin’s Letters to Molotov; p.15)
Thus for Stalin there was
a concealed class struggle going on at the level of the state bureaucracy
where the Marxist-Leninists were in combat with the masked enemies of the
party and of socialism. Some of these masked enemies were in the party
itself. This, in essence, is what the concept of ‘Stalin Against the Soviet
Bureaucracy’ refers to. This is basically the same as Lih’s ‘Stalin’s
anti-bureaucrat scenario’, although the concept I put forward contains a
more multi-dimensional content. Lih shows that this view of the bureaucracy,
which was held by Stalin, was derived from Lenin,
‘Since Lenin also viewed public administration
as a dramatic struggle against the class enemy’.
(Op. cit. p.16)
In other words, for both
Lenin and Stalin there was a class struggle going on at the level of public
administration. Some members of the Soviet public administration bureaucracy
were, in fact, hidden enemies of the revolution and socialism, and the
Bolsheviks knew this all along, indeed from the very first days of coming to
IMLR: When you say the
Bolsheviks knew this all along, what actions did they take?
TC: Well, we know that
from the earliest days of the ‘October’ revolution the Communists found
themselves in charge of the old Tsarist government bureaucracy. Certain
elements within this bureaucracy tried to subvert the directives and
policies of the new government. Therefore, the contradictions between
sections of the old bureaucracy and the new communist leaders was bound to
lead to trouble, resulting in dismissals and purges and so on. What is more,
the contradiction between sections of the bureaucracy and the leaders of the
revolution never completely went away. Sometimes this struggle was open; at
other times it was hidden, but it was always there to one degree or another.
IMLR: Was there a stage
where this struggle ever reached a climax, or turning point?
TC: We see a climax or a
turning point in the 1930s. This was of course facilitated by the
introduction of the 1936 Soviet Constitution. The Marxist-Leninists around
Stalin upheld the principle of the secret ballot, which was in favour of the
masses. It was with this Constitution in the background that the new wave of
purges unfolded and was directed against corrupt elements in the bureaucracy
IMLR: So you are saying
that the ‘Stalin Constitution’ of 1936 gave the masses and the radicals the
green light to take on sections of the Soviet bureaucracy?
TC: The 1936
Constitution certainly helped. The provision of the secret ballot made the
masses and the pro-Stalin radicals more confident in taking on those members
of the government administration and other institutions that were regarded
as rotten enemies of the people and of the revolution, without fear of
reprisals from the bureaucrats.
IMLR: The notion that
the purges in the 1930s were aimed at the enemies of the revolution is the
exact reverse of the Trotskyist view. How do you account for this; what is
the explanation, in your opinion, of this contradiction?
TC: You only need to
look statistically at the type of elements who formed the majority of those
purged in the higher and middle level administration to determine who the
purges were aimed at, and we need only add to this the Bolshevik or Leninist
view of public administration
‘…as a dramatic struggle against a class
enemy’. (Lars Lih:
Stalin’s Letters to Molotov; p.16)
to see concretely that
the 1930s purges were directed in their essence at the enemies of the
The view, promoted by
Trotsky, that the purges of the 1930s were Thermidorian in character was the
exact opposite to the reality. The facts show that the purges were against
the Thermidorian elements in the Soviet bureaucracy. If some Trotskyist,
leftist elements were removed by these purges, it was because the hidden
bloc of ‘Rights and Trotskyites’ objectively served the Thermidorian
IMLR: So how did Trotsky
arrive at his conclusion, which found expression in his Major theoretical
work, ‘Revolution Betrayed’, and what do you consider to be the aim
of this work?
TC: In the 1930s,
following the gains in the advance towards socialism, which Trotsky himself
openly recognised, Trotsky was faced with the real possibility of isolation
and losing the support of his sympathisers outside of the Soviet Union. In
the Soviet Union itself, many of his supporters had already deserted him.
This was also a time when western progressive opinion was running in favour
of the Soviet Union and its leadership, especially after the
counterrevolution coming to power in Germany, followed by the outbreak of
the Spanish civil war between left and right in 1936. Simply put, Trotsky
wrote ‘Revolution Betrayed’ in a desperate effort to prevent himself losing
further support at the level of progressive opinion internationally. This
was in essence a damage limitation exercise on the part of Trotsky.
IMLR: What do you
consider to be the central theme of this work, i.e. ‘Revolution Betrayed’?
TC: I think the central
theme of this work is connected to its basic motive, this being to undermine
support for the Soviet Union and Stalin at an intellectual level.
IMLR: How does Trotsky
go about doing this?
TC: Due to the successes
of the Soviet Union in this period, which were not without sacrifices,
Trotsky was afraid of losing support, so he ended up distorting Marxism and
presented the result as a scientific, i.e., Marxist critique of the Soviet
Union. For instance, we all know that in this period, the Soviet Union was a
society undergoing socialist transformation, but Trotsky’s critique is based
on the view that the Soviet Union was not socialist. Trotsky’s position was
helped by the claims of the leadership that the society was socialist. The
correct view, in my opinion, was that the Soviet Union was in a process of
IMLR: So you are saying
Trotsky’s work was made easier when the leadership made premature claims
that the Soviet Union had reached socialism?
TC: When such claims
were made it was not so much that they were wrong as such, but rather that
they were one-sided. I think the term one-sided is a far more correct
concept than ‘premature’. Thus, such a claim was one-sided in the sense that
the process of socialist transformation of society proceeds at different
tempos in the different spheres of society. A society undergoing socialist
transformation is a contradictory society, combining features of the past
and features of the future. The Soviet Union was such a society. Marx says
the new society is stamped with the birthmarks of the old society. Trotsky’s
criticism of the Soviet Union in ‘Revolution Betrayed’ is primarily a
criticism of these birthmarks and there is no point in denying that these
birthmarks existed. The point is that Trotsky presented this criticism as
justification for his campaign to remove the leadership, or more
pertinently, to hold on to his dwindling support. Another point about the
Soviet Union in the 1930s is that it was a society preparing for war not
peace. Thus if there is any meaning to the term ‘Stalinism’ I would suggest
it be considered in connection with the idea of the country preparing for
war in a specific concrete historical situation. This was, in many respects,
a new continuation of war communism after the abandonment of NEP. In this
preparation for war, Trotsky predicts in ‘Revolution Betrayed’ that
‘If the war should remain only a war, the
defeat of the Soviet Union would be inevitable’.
(L. Trotsky: Revolution Betrayed; New Park; p.227)
IMLR: But surely, Trotsky
recognised the Soviet Union as a transitional society?
TC: Yes, Trotsky
recognised that the Soviet Union was a transitional society, but it seems
mostly in an abstract sense, because in the ‘Revolution Betrayed’ we find
him, believe it or not, denouncing Marx’s view on the nature of economic
laws under socialism which is the first stage of communist society. This
stage is characterised by bourgeois right, which means unequal reward for
unequal work, which continues in the distribution and exchange under
socialism. This is the principle of from each according to his abilities,
to each according to his work. Trotsky confuses this stage with the
higher stage of communism where the principle becomes, ‘from each according
to his abilities to each according to his needs’. This is what
Trotsky has to say about the former principle for socialism put forward by
Marx in the ‘Critique of the Gotha Programme’
‘This inwardly contradictory, not to say
nonsensical, formula has entered, believe it or not, from speeches and
journalistic articles into the carefully deliberated text of the fundamental
state law. It bears witness not only to a complete lowering of the
theoretical level in the lawgivers, but also to the lie with which, as a
mirror of the ruling stratum, the new constitution is imbued’.
(L. Trotsky: Revolution Betrayed; New Park; p.258)
If Trotsky confuses the
economic distinction between the two stages of communist society, its lower
and higher stage it can only be concluded that his recognition of the
transition period was, from the economic standpoint, of an abstract
character. This confusion introduced by Trotsky has pervaded the thinking of
other ultra-left writers. A good example of this is the Japanese ultra-left
writer, Kan’ichi Kuroda who is critical, but sympathetic to Trotsky, and who
in his work ‘Stalinist Socialism: A Japanese Marxist’s Perspective’ claims
that the dictatorship of the proletariat does not exist under socialism and
confuses the whole question of the transition period, in truly Kautskyan
fashion. This work, translated by the ‘Anti-Stalinism Study Group’, amongst
other things, claims that in a socialist society
‘…even the workers’ state is withered away’.
(Kan’ichi Kuroda: Stalinist Socialism: A Japanese Marxist’s Perspective;
IMLR: But Trotskyists
nevertheless present ‘Revolution Betrayed’ as a theoretical masterpiece of
Marxism when in fact it clearly refutes Marx himself. How do you generally
regard this work?
TC: This work may be a
masterpiece of Trotskyism, but it is no masterpiece of Marxism, as the above
passage quoted from Trotsky clearly shows. This confusion about the basic
principle of socialism as distinct from the higher phase of communist
society is so amazing that I had to read it several times over to make sure
my eyes were not deceiving me. As I said this work was written to undermine
support for the Soviet Union, or more specifically, Stalin, in an attempt to
forestall the collapse of Trotskyism.
IMLR: How was Trotsky
able to make such a blatant error, which amounts to an open repudiation of
Marxism, and get away with it?
TC: I may be wrong, but
it is hard to believe that this was a conscious distortion by Trotsky,
although I cannot entirely rule this out. Yet, it is hard to imagine that
anyone claiming to be a Marxist could perpetrate such a distortion while
knowing it could be so easily exposed. I do not put this past Trotsky
however because we know that in a similar vein he attacked Stalin for
upholding Lenin’s view of the possibility of socialism in one country as
part of the world revolutionary process, implying that Stalin was the author
of this view. What this suggest, if we give Trotsky the benefit of the
doubt, is that he had a relatively superficial knowledge of some Marxist
text. However, we do find in Trotsky a tendency to distort what his
opponents have said, or had written in the interest of factional
considerations. This seems to be a tendency in other pro-Trotsky writers.
Take Daum, for example, he writes that Stalin declared in 1927
‘ “…only a civil war could oust the
bureaucracy from power’.
(Walter Daum: The Life and Death of Stalinism- A Resurrection of Marxist
Theory: p. 155)
Now, what Stalin said, if
I remember correctly, in referring to the pro-Trotsky oppositionists was
something to the effect of ‘…only a civil war can remove these cadres’.
And in the same work,
Daum, who claims to have resurrected Marxist theory, not only from
Stalinists but also from orthodox Trotskyists, quotes a passage from Stalin
referring to the 1936 constitution, which said that
‘…our working class, far from being bereft of
the instruments and means of production, on the contrary possess them
jointly with the whole people’.
(J. V. Stalin: On the Draft Constitution of the USSR: Problems of Leninism;
pp. 382-395. Quoted in Daum: Op. cit. p.178)
Daum says about the above
passage: ‘So much for the Maoist claim
that the “State of the whole people” was a counterrevolutionary
Khrushchevite invention that overturned everything that Stalin stood for’.
Daum refers to the above passage from Stalin as a ‘lying and convoluted
theory’. But any fool can see that Stalin, referring to the working class
possessing the means of production jointly with the whole people is not the
same as, and cannot be confused with, the Khrushchevite revisionist talk
about the ‘State of the whole people’. If Trotsky can openly repudiate Marx
on the question of the basic economic principle under socialism as distinct
from the higher phase of communism why should anyone be surprised if we find
him attacking Stalin for defending Lenin on socialism in one country as the
initial stage of the world revolutionary process. We should therefore be
even less surprised if a pro-Trotsky writer like Daum distorts Stalin in two
instances and in the latter case falsely accusing Stalin of originating the
Khrushchevite revisionist theory of the ‘State of the whole people’.
IMLR: We are in fact
looking at the concept of ‘Stalin Against the Soviet Bureaucracy’. How does
this concept stand in relation to Trotsky’s concern for the increase of
social differentiation in the Soviet Union in the 1930s and the question of
the Soviet bureaucracy?
TC: Firstly let me say
that the theory of ‘Stalin Against the Soviet Bureaucracy’ is derived from
facts. All the serious bourgeois writers mention it in one form or another.
Stalin was in an almost constant state of conflict with the Soviet
bureaucracy. No one who writes history seriously disputes this. In fact, the
Trotskyists can hardly disputes this either. What they can do is distort the
facts to support their argument that Stalin was the ‘leader of the
counterrevolutionary Soviet bureaucracy’.
IMLR: What I want
firstly is your view on the question of social differentiation in the Soviet
Union. This is a major point Trotsky is making in ‘Revolution Betrayed’.
TC: Faced with the
successes of the Soviet Union in the 1930s, which is recognised by Trotsky
himself, although he chooses to call this counterrevolution and betrayal,
Trotsky, as I previously said, wrote ‘Revolution Betrayed’ to prevent the
collapse of his movement because many people began to desert Trotsky at this
time. However, this did not mean Trotsky made no valid points, or observed
certain negative facts, but these facts were, in my view, interpreted from
an incorrect theoretical standpoint. I have already mentioned Trotsky’s open
break and rejection of Marx’s view concerning the economic difference
between the lower and higher stage of communist society. So, what does
Trotsky have to say about social differentiation in the Soviet Union under
Stalin in the 1930s? In ‘Revolution Betrayed’ we find him making the
‘The distribution of this earth’s goods in the
Soviet Union, we do not doubt, is incomparably more democratic than it was
in Tsarist Russia, and even than it is in the most democratic country of the
West. But it has little in common with socialism’.
(L. Trotsky: Revolution Betrayed; New Park; p.143)
There are two things of
interest in this statement. Although Trotsky claims that Stalin was
promoting counterrevolution, he contradicts this claim by the confession
that under Stalin the distribution of goods were more democratic than under
Tsarism and ‘…even than it is in the
most democratic country of the West’.
This is not a pro-Stalin
writer speaking or making pro-Soviet propaganda. This confession comes from
the pen of Trotsky himself. He says clearly that the distribution of goods
was more democratic than even in the most advanced democratic country of
the west. Yet, according to Trotsky and his followers Stalin was
supposed to be leading a counterrevolution. This makes no sense to me at
all. And what does Trotsky mean when he says this has little in common with
socialism? Trotsky is wrong on this point, but even those who agree with him
would have to confess that his remark about things being distributed more
democratically than even in the advance west would suggest that under Stalin
things were certainly moving in the direction of socialism. Anyone who
agrees with the above confession by Trotsky would have to reject the claim
than Stalin was leading counterrevolution. The question of which general
direction was the Soviet Union moving under Stalin’s leadership is the
decisive test concerning revolution and counterrevolution. Trotsky refutes
his own claim that Stalin was on the wrong side. The issue of social
differentiation must be approached from within this general context.
IMLR: For Trotsky social
differentiation had led to a privileged bureaucracy, alienated from the
masses, with it’s own selfish material interests. How was this possible?
TC: I think the very
backwardness of the society inherited by the communists made social
differentiation to one degree or another inevitable. Other factors were
involved as well, such as the need to encourage the development of a skilled
labour force. Anyone who imagine it is possible to rid society of social
differentiation overnight cannot be taken seriously. But as I indicated,
even Trotsky points out that the distribution of goods in the Stalin period
was more democratic than in the most advance western countries at the time.
So although the Soviet Union was moving in a socialist direction in this
period there was still significant evidence of the existence of privileges
in that society.
IMLR: Why was social
differentiation unavoidable at that stage in relation to bureaucracy and how
did it find expression?
TC: The Soviet Union was
undergoing a process which was dual in nature. The process of modernisation
was combined with the process of socialist transformation, under very
backward conditions; furthermore, this was taking place under the constant
threat of imperialist invasion. This is the general background, which we
need to have in mind when we come to consider social differentiation in the
Soviet Union. Neither the working class, the party, or socialism was strong
enough to prevent the process of social differentiation leading to the
emergence of a privileged stratum in the Soviet bureaucracy. This elite
enjoyed certain privileges based on seniority and status. Socialism cannot
dispense with administrative and technical specialists. The backward
conditions in which the revolution occurred meant that these people had to
be won over, so to speak, to work for the state and socialism, to develop
the material conditions for socialism. Privilege found expression in special
shops, better housing for leading officials, etc.
IMLR: When did all this
begin, that is, the emergence of this privileged layer within Soviet
TC: Some writers argue
that it began in the civil war period when the survival of the Bolsheviks
was hanging on a thread. The survival of the regime depended on attracting
military and technical specialists. I think this is as good a place to start
as any if we are considering the origins of privilege in the Soviet Union.
Contrary to the image which the Trotskyists like to display on the left,
Trotsky was one of the leading pioneers in supporting certain privileges for
the commanding stratum in the Red Army. Thus, it is important to expose the
argument or the idea that the existence of a privileged elite began with the
IMLR: So you are saying
that Trotsky promoted privilege when he was in power?
TC: What I am saying is
that he stood for privileges for the officer level in the Red Army.
Eventually this Trotskyist system was extended to the top key personnel in
the Soviet State bureaucracy. In fact when Stalin and some of his supporters
was against even the use of the former military servants of the Tsarist
regime, Trotsky was not only staunchly in favour of using them, which was
necessary, but also in favour of extending certain privileges to the officer
class to help ensure loyalty.
IMLR: In other words you
are saying what Trotsky applied to the officer ‘class’ in the army was also
applied to the officer ‘class’ in the Soviet bureaucracy?
TC: Precisely. What I
mean is that neither Soviet bureaucracy, or the existence of a privilege
elite was the creation of Stalin. In Trotskyist narratives, it is easy to
walk away with the opposite conclusion. The influence of the Red Army in
Soviet political culture has been commented on by several writers. For
instance, although she writes from a bourgeois perspective, Professor Sheila
Fitzpatrick remarks that
‘To a considerable extent, the Red Army had to
fill the gap left by the breakdown of the civilian administration: it was
the largest and best functioning bureaucracy the Soviet regime possessed in
the early years with the first claim on all resources’.
(S. Fitzpatrick: The Russian Revolution; p.68)
So that in the early
years of the revolution, the Red Army, with Trotsky at its head, with a
rank-and-file and a privileged officer class, became a model for the Soviet
State bureaucracy, and Sheila Fitzpatrick argues that
‘In fact, the rationing system under War
Communism favoured certain categories of the population, including Red Army
personnel, skilled workers in key industries, Communist administrators and
some groups of the intelligentsia’.
(Sheila Fitzpatrick; op. cit. p.73)
IMLR: Nevertheless, in
his ‘Revolution Betrayed’, Trotsky argues that it is not the structures of
the army which determine the social structures of the state. Do you agree
with this proposition?
TC: I think here Trotsky
presents the argument abstractly. What is necessary is look at the concrete
origins of a particular State. What we find in the case of Russia is that
the old Tsarist State collapsed as a result of war and revolution. Soon the
Red Army became the largest and most powerful institution in the Soviet
State. After the civil war, many military people went over to work in the
civilian administrative apparatuses. So contrary to what Trotsky says, in
this particular concrete case, the Red Army was one of, if not the most
important influences determining the structures of the state. One aspect of
the structure of the Red Army was that, in order to gain the co-operation of
the former military servants of the Tsarist regime, the officer class in the
army, with the approval of Trotsky, who was the acting chief of the army at
the time, was granted certain privileges and this was considered as an
IMLR: What you seem to
be saying is that the question of social differentiation in the Soviet Union
cannot be understood abstractly outside of the real historical context, and
that a concrete approach is necessary. Am I right that you are suggesting
that this approach show that the leader of the Red Army at the time,
Trotsky, developed the policy of granting privileges to the officer class in
the army. This policy was then generally applied to key officials in the
state bureaucracy, to its ‘officer class’ so to speak.
TC: Yes. The origins of
the system of granting privileges to certain key personnel can partly be
traced right back to Trotsky. I am not making a moralistic point here,
because this could hardly have been done without Lenin’s knowledge who would
have regarded it as a temporary necessity. Yet, there can be little doubt
that Trotsky was one of the original authors of granting such privileges
back in the civil war days.
IMLR: So the emergence
of a privileged elite in the Red Army and in the other parts of the top
echelons of the State apparatus can be traced back to Trotsky?
TC: Privilege was
granted to certain select groups, as Fitzpatrick shows, in order to save
working class political power from collapsing under the strain of the civil
war. This can be justified as a short-term measure if it saves working class
power from collapsing. However, viewed long term, it turns into its
opposite, promoting the downfall of this power. This is because if a
privileged stratum emerges in a country undergoing socialist transformation,
parts of this stratum can become the vehicle for revisionist ideology and
restorationist tendencies if the balance of forces changes against
socialism. The former Soviet Union is living proof of this process in
action. Yes, the origin of granting privileges can be traced back to
IMLR: The Trotskyists
would argue that the point about privilege leading to counterrevolution was
the very point that Trotsky was later to make. How do you answer this?
TC: After losing power
Trotsky warned that the emergence of a privileged stratum in the Soviet
Union would form the basis for capitalist counterrevolution, but his
explanation of this process was, in my view, of an abstract nature.
No one can doubt the danger of a privileged stratum in a society undergoing
socialist transformation, but one needs the right approach in reacting to
it. Lenin wrote that
‘specialists – as a
separate stratum, which will persist until we have reached the highest stage
of development of communist society…’(See:
Lenin: Vol. 33; p.194) should be given better conditions than they enjoyed
under capitalism, thus win them over to the building of socialism. But,
beyond a certain point, under certain conditions, this can work against
socialism, and we need to keep this in mind.
IMLR: What do you mean
by ‘abstract’ in the above context and how does this relate to the notion of
‘Stalin Against the Soviet Bureaucracy’?
TC: Well, Trotsky
employs the category of a ‘counterrevolutionary Soviet bureaucracy’ but
Marxist-Leninists argue that this is an abstract presentation of the issue.
Furthermore, it is this type of abstraction which tends to characterise
Trotsky’s theoretical thought. These types of generalised statements and
ideas can lead to unfortunate consequences if not given concrete content.
What in fact emerges is a contradiction between Trotsky’s foundational
categories and actual concrete reality.
IMLR: Yes, but what is
this contradiction are you referring to?
TC: What I am referring
to is that there was never such a thing as a ‘counterrevolutionary Soviet
bureaucracy’, or ‘Stalinist bureaucracy’.
IMLR: In view of what
has happened in the former Soviet Union I can almost hear Trotskyists
laughing at you here. Elaborate your point.
TC: Well let them laugh.
A sense of humour never did anyone any harm. This concept of Trotsky’s was
abstract, too abstract to be of any use to communists. If Trotsky had spoken
of counterrevolutionary elements within the Soviet bureaucracy whom
needed to be unmasked and purged, no Marxist-Leninists could disagree with
him. However, to speak of a counterrevolutionary Soviet bureaucracy was
nonsense. On the other hand, to speak of counterrevolutionary, revisionist
elements in the Soviet bureaucracy and the need to purge them would be to
make a concrete statement.
IMLR: Are you therefore
saying that Trotsky was not aware of the different elements that made up the
TC: Of course he was
aware that the bureaucracy, even at the highest level, contained different
elements, but he lacked a theoretically concrete understanding of the
significance of this recognition for political purposes. That is why Trotsky
and the Trotskyists speak of a counterrevolutionary Soviet bureaucracy,
failing to realise the theoretical importance of distinguishing the
revolutionary from the counterrevolutionary elements. To prove my point I
need only add that in some of his writings Trotsky speaks of the ‘dual’
nature of the bureaucracy, but does not draw the right conclusions which
would have provided the basis for a correct political strategy. His
recognition that the Soviet bureaucracy was not homogeneous was secondary to
his view about a counterrevolutionary Soviet bureaucracy. So that his
proposals and admonition to his followers that in the event of
counterrevolutionary attempts they should join with the Stalinists against
the Right was negated by his concept of a ‘counterrevolutionary Soviet
bureaucracy’. The term ‘counterrevolutionary Soviet bureaucracy’ was a
political statement that Trotsky, in practice, if not in theory, regarded
the Soviet bureaucracy as homogeneous.
IMLR: You are therefore
suggesting that on this question, the basic difference between
Marxist-Leninists and Trotskyism is that the former recognised the
heterogeneous nature of the Soviet bureaucracy as a main determinant for
strategy towards it, while the Trotskyist, in practice, failed to take this
heterogeneity into account?
TC: This is true. That
is why while Marxist-Leninists refer to the need to purge the bureaucracy,
unmasking the concealed enemies of socialism; Trotskyism, on the other hand,
refer to the need to make a ‘political’ revolution against the bureaucracy.
This is to throw the baby out with the bath water. In his letter to M.F.
Sokolov, Lenin challenges this pseudo-left approach to fighting bureaucracy.
He explained that while it was possible to throw out the capitalist and the
landowners, bureaucracy was another matter because
‘…you cannot “throw out” bureaucracy in a
peasant country, you cannot “wipe it off the face of the earth”. You can
only reduce it by slow and stubborn effort’.
(V. I. Lenin: Vol. 35; p. 492; May 16, 1921)
Lenin argued against
‘To “throw off” the “bureaucratic ulcer”, as
you put it in another place, is wrong in its very formulation. It means you
don’t understand the question’.
And continuing to press
his point home, Lenin observed
‘To “throw off” an ulcer of this kind is
impossible. It can only be healed. Surgery in this case is
an absurdity, an impossibility; only a slow cure – all the rest is
charlatanry or naïveté…You are naïve, that’s just what it is, excuse my
Lenin advised Sokolov
that the struggle against bureaucracy must be pursued
‘…according to the rules of war’.
This was because, in
Lenin’s view at the time
struggle against bureaucracy in a peasant and absolutely exhausted country
is a long job, and this struggle must be carried on persistently, without
losing heart at the first reverse’.
(V. I. Lenin: Vol. 35; p.493; May 16, 1921)
‘ “Throw off” the “chief administration”?
Nonsense. What would you set up instead? You don’t know. You must not throw
them off, but cleanse them, heal them, heal and cleanse them ten times and a
hundred times. And not lose heart’.
Already in this letter by
Lenin we see a rejection of what would become the later Trotskyist line; the
call for political revolution as a solution to the problems of Soviet
bureaucracy. Trotsky was to justify this line with the argument that the
Soviet bureaucracy had become a new ruling caste.
IMLR: The Trotskyist
narrative paints Stalin as being the representative of the Soviet
bureaucracy. How does this relate to their views of the bureaucracy?
TC: Well, as I explained
previously, in Trotskyism the Soviet bureaucracy is presented as a pure
abstraction. It is not only ‘conservative’ but it is also Thermidorian and
therefore thoroughly counterrevolutionary. For Trotsky the Soviet
bureaucracy was the ‘most counterrevolutionary force in the international
working class movement’. How absurd can you get? Where for Lenin the most
counterrevolutionary force in the working class was the Social Democracy,
the watchdogs of imperialism, for Trotsky it was the ‘Stalinist
bureaucracy’. In Trotskyism, Stalin was supposed to be the leader of this
abstraction, the ‘counterrevolutionary Soviet bureaucracy’. Even one of the
most anti-Stalin bourgeois writers rejects this Trotskyist view of the
bureaucracy. For instance, R. C. Tucker writes that
‘Trotsky’s theory of the Soviet Thermidor,
although not without elements of truth, was seriously flawed. As later
events showed it erred in its image of the Bolshevik ruling stratum as a
soddenly conservative if not counterrevolutionary force’.
(R. C. Tucker: Stalin: p.391)
Therefore, we see that
even for a writer who writes with a bourgeois and anti-Stalin perspective,
Trotsky’s theory of a counterrevolutionary Soviet bureaucracy was an
‘abstraction’, that is to say a superficial way to go about looking at
things. Thus, the anti-Stalin Tucker can argue that
‘…the ruling bureaucracy, in which many old
Bolsheviks were still represented in leading positions, was not accurately
described as “Thermidorian”. Its unresponsiveness to Trotsky’s position was
not rooted in counterrevolutionary inclinations. Nor was its receptivity to
“socialism in one country” a sign of indifference to socialism as a
universal goal’. (
Tucker: Op. Cit. p.392)
These views, although
containing distortions, are closer to the truth than the views of the
Tucker, although writing
from an anti-Stalin perspective, challenges some of the core assumptions of
Trotskyism. For instance, he argues that
‘Not without justification did Stalin, for
example, still find it expedient in 1926 to speak to his party audience of
the impetus that the USSR could give the world revolution by its success in
building a socialist society’.
(Tucker: ibid. p.392)
We can disregard the word
‘expedient’ here because Stalin’s position was not based on expediency as
regard the possibility of building socialism in one country as part of the
revolutionary process. Tucker writes that
‘If Trotsky’s picture of the bureaucracy as a
Thermidorian group was inaccurate, he was likewise mistaken in his view of
Stalin as its mere instrument and personification, who owed his political
success to his mediocrity’.
(Tucker: ibid. p.392)
Therefore, to answer your
question about how Trotsky viewed Stalin and how this relates to their
conception of the Soviet bureaucracy, I would argue the following: Trotsky
was defeated by Stalin in the struggle over policies in the 1920s, which was
also a struggle for power; this made the latter ‘counterrevolutionary’ in
Trotsky’s eyes, and the Soviet bureaucracy which Stalin was trying to direct
had to become counterrevolutionary too.
IMLR: But nevertheless
you are not saying the same as what Tucker is saying, are you?
TC: Tucker, although
anti-Stalin, comes closer to the truth on this issue than the Trotskyists.
Obviously, one reason for this is that he is not motivated by factional
considerations as such. He recognises that Trotsky’s theory that the Soviet
bureaucracy was a counterrevolutionary group was inaccurate, in other words
an abstraction. He comes closer to the truth without reaching it. In fact,
there are two possible abstractions. The first is the Trotskyist one that
the Soviet bureaucracy was ‘counterrevolutionary’, and the opposite
abstraction that the Soviet bureaucracy was ‘revolutionary’. Those who adopt
the latter position are faced with the problem of explaining why both Lenin
and Stalin found it necessary to promote purges of the bureaucracy.
Therefore, Marxist-Leninists do not speak of a ‘revolutionary’ or
‘counterrevolutionary’ Soviet bureaucracy as such. They recognise that the
Soviet bureaucracy contained counterrevolutionary elements that wore a
communist mask, therefore it was the duty of the party leadership to unmask
these elements within the bureaucracy and purge them.
IMLR: The general
Marxist-Leninist consensus is that when Stalin was leading the Soviet
Communist Party, the counterrevolutionary, revisionist elements were not in
the ascendancy. Do you subscribe to this view?
TC: Generally I
subscribe to this view, although of course, in reality the picture was
somewhat more complex. Marxist-Leninists criticise Trotsky for presenting
simplistic pictures, such as a ‘counterrevolutionary Soviet bureaucracy’.
What was closer to the truth was that the Marxist Leninists were on many
issues in a minority in the party and some of the organs of state power, but
they were able to hold on to some decisive key positions. Forget what you
read in bourgeois or Trotskyist literature about the ‘Stalinist’ hold on the
Soviet State. Nothing would have been easier than to drive the ‘Stalinists’
from power had the working class masses not stood behind them. I use the
term ‘Stalinist’ here simply to refer to those who supported Stalin.
IMLR: This seems to be
the opposite of the Trotskyist position, which argues that the ‘Stalinists’
were able to defeat Trotsky and come to power because they had the support
of the Soviet bureaucracy. How do you reply to this?
TC: If I was presenting
my case on this simplistic level I would argue that most, or at least enough
of the top bureaucrats supported the Rightists and that consequently if
success in the inner party struggle depended on support from the
bureaucrats, the Rightist would have come to power. If you defend the
Trotskyist view that most of the bureaucrats supported the pro-Stalin
people, you arrive at the absurd position of having to explain why the
constant purges. Stalin would be a very inexplicable individual and leader
indeed, if, unlike other political leaders, and contrary to normal
reasoning, he thought that the best way to remain in power was to devote so
much time purging and removing from office his ardent supporters. Trotskyism is responsible for the simplistic and incorrect view that the
Soviet bureaucracy was composed of mainly enthusiastic supporters of Stalin.
This view, however, is clearly contradicted by the repeated purges,
especially the purges of the 1930s. We are told by Tucker, who, as I
said is an anti-Stalin writer, that the Bukharinist right
‘…had considerable influence in the Soviet
government bureaucracy, over which Rykov presided as premier and in Tomsky’s
trade union hierarchy’.
(Tucker: Stalin: 411)
IMLR: What, in your
view, was the extent of support for Stalin in the Soviet bureaucracy?
TC: It is not possible
to give a precise figure about the extent of support for Stalin and his
group in this context. Only general statement can be made as to the extent
of support at the level of the bureaucracy. I will only say that the extent
of support was probably highest among those office holders closer to the
IMLR: Trotsky promoted
the theory of a ‘counterrevolutionary Soviet bureaucracy’, but
Marxist-Leninists while rejecting this theory recognised that there were
counterrevolutionary elements to be found within the bureaucracy and that it
was necessary to unmask them. Where did these counterrevolutionary, or
Thermidorian elements come from?
TC: They came from
Russia’s past and this past had a long bureaucratic tradition, which was of
the subject of social satire for generations of Russian writers. Bureaucracy
was considered one of the constant banes of Russian life. J. N. Westwood
‘Bureaucracy and bureaucratic practice were
(and remained) a pervasive and depressive feature of Russian life’.
(J. N. Westwood: Endurance and Endeavour- Russian History, 1812-1986. Third
Stalin in debates with
the Trotsky and Zinoviev oppositions explains very clearly the nature of the
Thermidorian danger to the revolution. It is important to mention this
because in Trotskyism the impression is always given that that Stalin and
his supporters were not aware of the thermidorian danger. Thus in 1927
Stalin remarked in referring to the opposition that
‘They say that there are certain elements in
the country who betray tendencies towards a restoration, towards a
Thermidor. But no body has ever denied that. Since antagonistic classes
exist, since classes have not been abolished, attempts will always, of
course, be made to restore the old order’.
(J. V. Stalin: Works 10; Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1954;
After the Russian
socialist revolution, the Bolsheviks inherited this huge bureaucratic
apparatus, made up of former servants of the Tsarist regime. In 1919, Lenin
made the observation that
‘The Tsarist bureaucrats began to join Soviet
institutions and practice their bureaucratic methods, they began to assume
the colouring of communists and to succeed better in their careers, to
procure membership cards of the Russian Communist Party…’
(V. I. Lenin, March 1919; CW. Vol. 29; p.183)
And as we know, for Lenin
the Soviet State was a bureaucratically distorted State,
‘…a workers state with bureaucratic
Lenin, Vol. 32; p.48)
However, after the
revolution increasing numbers of workers were promoted into the
administration. But, the question of who was directing who was still of
concern to Lenin and this led him to remark that
‘If we take Moscow with its 4, 700 communists
in responsible positions, and if we take the huge bureaucratic machine, that
gigantic heap, we must ask: who is directing whom.’
(See Lenin, Vol. 33; pp. 288-289)
For Lenin the answer was
clear enough and he observed that
‘I doubt very much whether it can be said that
the communists are directing that heap. To tell the truth, they are not
directing, they are being directed’.
Having taken over the
administrative apparatus from the former Tsarist State, the Bolsheviks had
to restructure this ‘huge heap’ and promote worker communists to it.
Measures were proposed to fight bureaucracy and create a more efficient
system, but the bureaucracy still grew and the ‘Workers and Peasants
Inspection’, which had Stalin as its nominal head, had marginal influence in
combating the bureaucratic malady. Lenin refused to put its failure on
Stalin, which the Trotskyists attempted to do at a later stage. Lenin
recognised that Stalin could not be blamed for the failure of ‘Rabkrin’
because his other duties in the civil war period and after prevented him
from giving Rabkrin his full attention. In fact, Lenin blamed the failure of
the Workers’ and Peasants Inspection on Russia’s low cultural level
inherited from the past, and in exonerating Stalin for its failure, Lenin
remarked in a letter to Joffe that
‘…fate had not allowed [Stalin]
in three and a half years to be either People’s Commissar of Workers’
and Peasants Inspection or of Nationalities. That’s a fact’
(Lenin. Vol. 45; p.100)
We can only assume that
since Joffe was a supporter of Trotsky, Lenin, even at this early stage was
attempting to nip in the bud mendacious rumours that the failures of Rabkrin
should be placed at Stalin’s door. The Trotskyist attacks on Stalin over
this question collapses ignominiously for all to see. The author of this
collapse is Lenin himself.
IMLR: What was the brief
of the Workers and Peasants Inspection; how was it to go about fighting what
Lenin considered the evils of bureaucracy?
TC: Lenin sponsored a
decree on February 7, 1920 which created the ‘Peoples’ Commissariat of
Workers and Peasants Inspection’, otherwise known as Rabkrin. It was given
full powers to begin the struggle against the evils of bureaucracy. The
Peoples Commissariat for this department, was Stalin, who, as I said,
because of the pressures of other duties was unable to give the work his
full attention, or according to Lenin, any attention at all.
Lenin wanted Rabkrin to
enlist the help of non-party workers and peasants in the task of fighting
bureaucracy, but he regarded this as a difficult task because
‘It is no easy matter to enlist for the state
administrative work rank-and-file workers and peasants who for centuries
have been downtrodden and intimidated by the landowners and capitalists’.
(Lenin: Vol. 30, p.64)
For Lenin, therefore,
part of the key in the struggle against the evils of bureaucracy was,
through Rabkrin, to enlist non-party people, and he remarked that
‘At a time when hostile elements are trying by
every method of warfare, deceit and provocation to cling to us and take
advantage of the fact that membership of the government party offers certain
privileges, we must act in contact with the non-party people’.
(Lenin: Vol. 30; pp. 415-416)
Therefore, it is
absolutely clear that Lenin’s strategy for fighting what he considered to be
the evils of bureaucracy was partly based on a strategy of gaining the
support of the masses of non-party people. Some will debate whether this was
a utopian strategy at the best of times let alone in the conditions which
the Soviet masses found themselves in after the civil war. However, what is
not debatable is that Lenin based the struggle against the evils of
bureaucracy on a long-term perspective, which even Trotsky recognised before
he turned the matter into a factional issue.
IMLR: Why do you say
some may regard this struggle, involving the enlistment of the non-party
masses, as utopian?
TC: Well for Lenin the
struggles against the evils of bureaucracy meant, firstly, the need to
rectify its dysfunctional aspects. Mass involvement in the fight to rectify
the negative aspects of bureaucracy in the immediate post civil war period
may have been based more on rhetoric than anything else, and as I said above
Lenin himself recognised that it would be a difficult to get the masses
involved in this project. It is not surprising that Rabkrin had little
success in this respect and it is no use putting the blame for this at
Stalin’s door, as the Trotskyist attempted to do, disregarding the fact that
Lenin completely exonerated Stalin from being responsible for the
shortcomings of Rabkrin. What is more probable is that the conditions of the
Soviet masses at the time made them politically indifferent to the question
of bureaucracy in any active way. This is one reason why Lenin’s call for a
long-term strategy to combat bureaucracy makes sense. However, Lenin soon
came to realise not only the long-term aspect of this struggle but also the
complicated nature of the fight against the evils of bureaucracy. In his
article ‘Better Fewer, But Better’ Lenin had moved a long way from the view
he took in ‘State and Revolution’ that any cook could administer the state.
In fact now he proposed that there should be an exam for prospective
candidates who wanted to work in Rabkrin. (See Lenin: volume 33; p. 493) and
he wanted Rabkrin to be
‘…the model for our entire state apparatus’.
(V. I. Lenin: CW. Vol. 33; p.492)
Also, Lenin suggested
that candidates to work in this Commissariat should be drawn from
‘…our Soviet higher schools’.
(Lenin: ibid. p.493)
He argued that this was
‘…it would hardly be right to exclude one or
another category beforehand’.
(Lenin: ibid. p. 493)
For Lenin Some of
Rabkrin’s appointees would also be required to study the theory of
organisation, and he suggested sending them to the advanced Western European
countries to familiarise themselves with the technique of modern
administration. (See: Vol. 33; p.494) In short, Lenin seemed to have moved
to the position that administration was something which required
professionalism and a relative high level of culture. It was this element
which the Soviet workers were lacking at the time. Indeed, Lenin came to
regard administration as a science, thus appointees to Rabkrin would be
‘…undergo a special test as regards their
knowledge of the principles of scientific organisation of labour in general,
and of administrative work, office work, and so forth, in particular’.
(V. I. Lenin: CW. Vol. 33; p.485)
The Lenin in ‘Better
Fewer, But Better’ observed that, the Soviet workers at the time were mostly
not sufficiently educated to take on the task successfully, and he remarked
‘They would like to build a better apparatus
for us, but do not know how’.
(Op. cit. p.488)
Thus, it was necessary to
bring in and train a professional cadre for this work, who would be fused
with the masses. Improving the state apparatus would require great patience,
and Lenin argued that the Soviet Union
‘…lacked enough civilisation to enable us to
pass straight to socialism, although we have the political requisites for
it’. (Vol. 33;
And he suggested that
‘…in matters of our state apparatus we should
now draw the conclusion from our past experience that it would be better to
proceed more slowly’.
(V. I. Lenin: ‘Better Fewer, But Better, in: CW. Vol. 33; p. 487)
To fight the bureaucratic
defects of the state apparatus, Lenin noted, would
‘…take many, many years’.
(Vol. 33; p. 488)
This is a central
hallmark of Marxism-Leninism, in contrast to Trotskyism, the recognition
that the struggle against the negative side of Soviet bureaucracy would
require a long period.
He argued that in the
struggle for a better State apparatus
‘…we must not make the demands that are made
by bourgeois Western Europe, but demands that are fit and proper for a
country which has set out to develop into a socialist country’.
(V. I. Lenin. Vol. 33; p.489)
In fighting for a better
administration, he noted that in this struggle
‘…devilish persistence will be required, that
in the first few years at least work in this field will be hellishly hard’.
(See: Vol. 33; p. 490)
For Lenin, when
considering the question of improving the state apparatus
‘…there can scarcely be anything more harmful
than haste’. (Vol.
33; p. 490)
This was a lesson which
the Trotskyists were to caste overboard in their bid for power.
Lenin called for the new
Rabkrin to reject the approach
‘…which plays entirely into the hands of our
Soviet and Party bureaucrats’.
(See: Vol. 33. P.494)
And he insisted that
‘…we have bureaucrats in our Party offices as
well as our Soviet offices’.
(Ibid. p. 494)
Lenin argued that the
Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspection should be given universal powers so that
‘The function of the Workers’ and Peasants’
Inspection cover our state apparatus as a whole, and its activities should
affect all and every state institution without exception: local, central,
commercial, purely administrative, theatrical, etc.-in short all without
exception’. (V. I.
Lenin: Vol. 33; p.496)
The conclusion Lenin came
to was that
‘…only by thoroughly purging our government
machine, by reducing to the utmost everything that is not absolutely
essential in it , shall we be certain of being able to keep going’.
(V. I. Lenin: CW. Vol. Pp. 501-2; March 2, 1923)
IMLR: But Trotsky,
having first supported the Leninist view on how to fight bureaucracy, later
departed from this view. Do you think this was only out of factional
TC: Yes. I think we are
dealing here with factional motives. I do not think it is possible to
separate Trotsky’s position on bureaucracy from his other political
considerations and these considerations led to Trotsky changing is position
and opposing the realistic view that the fight against Soviet bureaucracy
should be based on a long-term strategy. Another point is that although
Trotsky did not call the bureaucracy a class, nor did he ever regard it as a
class, nevertheless his whole approach to the struggle against bureaucracy
was as if it was a class. The Soviet bureaucracy was not a class; rather
they were employees of the state. These employees could be sacked, purged or
demoted at any time by the party, and many were. Therefore, Trotsky was
right to say that the bureaucracy was not a class, but he was wrong to treat
it as if it was a class. I am of course speaking of bureaucracy as a whole.
That is to say the bureaucracy as a whole was not a class but this does mean
to say it did not contain members of former classes and the possibility for
the rise of new bourgeois elements within the state and industrial apparatus
and even in the communist party itself. Of course, the political
representatives of the new bourgeois elements who rise in the communist
movement are the revisionists on the right.
IMLR: How did Trotsky
actually view the Soviet bureaucracy theoretically?
TC: I think it is
necessary to make a distinction between Trotsky’s critique of Soviet
bureaucracy and Trotsky’s theory of Soviet bureaucracy. The two are not the
same thing. When Trotsky criticises the excessive privileges of the top
bureaucrats, I think such criticism is valid. This is where many of those
who call themselves Marxist-Leninists fall down. They have nothing to say
about the existence of a privileged stratum in the Soviet Union and how it
came about. They idolise the Russian socialist revolution, rightly praising
its achievements, but completely ignore its shortcomings. This is especially
the case with the revisionists in the communist movement. Some
Marxist-Leninists also shied away from the issue because they feared giving
the enemies of communism a stick to beat the Soviet Union with. Trotsky’s
theory simply says that a privileged bureaucracy came to power in the post
Lenin period and led a reaction to the October revolution. This was
summed up, Trotsky explained, in the theory of socialism in one country. A
privilege social stratum certainly emerged after the revolution. Trotsky
should certainly know about it because as I explained earlier, he sponsored
its formation in regard to the top leaders in the Red Army. The revolution
in a backward country was forced to make a concession to these elements, to
buy their services, so to speak. All the Bolshevik leaders recognised this
openly, particularly Lenin who viewed the matter with his characteristic
sobriety. He also recognised, that specialists, as a separate stratum would
continue to exist until we reach the highest stage of communism
‘Now we have to resort to the old bourgeois
methods and agree to pay a very high price for the “services” of the
bourgeois experts. All those who are familiar with the subject appreciate
this, but not all ponder over the significance of this measure being adopted
by the proletarian state. Clearly this measure is a compromise, a departure
from the principles of the Paris Commune and of every proletarian power,
which call for the reduction of all salaries to the level of the average
worker, which urge that careerism be fought not merely in words, but deeds’.
(V. I. Lenin: CW. 27; PP. 248-9)
For Lenin paying high
salaries to experts was
‘…a step backward on the part of the socialist
Soviet State power, which from the very outset proclaimed and pursued the
policy of reducing high salaries to the level of the wages of the average
worker’. (V. I.
Lenin: Vol. 27; p. 249)
Lenin remarked that our
‘…will giggle over our confession that we are
taking a step backward. But we need not mind their giggling’.
Lenin openly admitted
this retreat from communist principles and wanted the masses to know,
‘To conceal from the people the fact that the
enlistment of bourgeois experts by means of extremely high salaries is a
retreat from the principles of the Paris Commune would be sinking to the
level of bourgeois politicians’.
It is not possible to
have a socialist revolution in a backward society, where 80 or 90 percent of
the population is made up of the peasantry without making concessions. NEP
was a concession to the capitalists; privileges were a concession to the
bureaucrats and other experts. In other words, material conditions forced
the communists to act against their principles and views in order to save
the revolution. Can anyone seriously believe that Lenin or Stalin wanted
capitalists or privileged bureaucrats, of course they did not, but they had
to put up with them, keeping them in check, thus saving the revolution until
such time that they could dispense with them. But in spite of all these
concessions, which were alien to the ultimate aims of the revolution, we
find Trotsky conceding in ‘Revolution Betrayed’ that under Stalin this
worlds goods were more democratically distributed than even in the most
advanced capitalist countries of the west. That this was written by
Stalin’s archenemy speaks volumes.
reject the view that a counterrevolutionary bureaucracy came to power in the
Soviet Union, and you say that Trotsky’s position on bureaucracy raises
important points. Can you elaborate on this?
Marxist-Leninists reject is the view that a counterrevolutionary bureaucracy
came to power in the period of Stalin. Under Stalin, the bureaucracy
was kept in check, just as under Lenin the NEP capitalist were kept in
check. The picture begins to change in the post Stalin period. I think the
criticism of Stalin by the Trotskyists is so unfair that I cannot take it
seriously. Honestly, look at the problems Stalin had to face, or for that
matter, anyone in a similar position. Firstly the problem of industrialising
a backward country, which thankfully Stalin achieved in record time to
thwart the intentions of imperialist fascism. Secondly, the problem of
fighting the internal counterrevolution. Thirdly the problem of educating
millions of peasants and workers. Fourthly, the problem of building up
strong armed forces. Fifthly, the problem of starting to bring socialism to
millions of people under adverse conditions. Sixthly, the problem of
fighting sabotages. Seventhly, the problem of trying to stop an imperialist
united-front against the Soviet Union from emerging. Eighthly, the problem
of preventing the disintegration of the Soviet Communist Party, Ninthly, the
problem of holding a multi-national Soviet Union together. Tenthly, the
problem of innovation, of being the first to lead the transition to
socialism with no previous models or experience. These are some of the
problems which Stalin had to face and find solutions to. And, finally, we
should not forget the aid Stalin gave to the development of the
international communist movement. Whom, may I ask would want to be in
Stalin’s position? Yet, in spite of all these multitude of problems Trotsky
admits that under Stalin material goods were more democratically
distributed than under Tsarism and than under the most advance capitalist
countries of the west. Read Trotsky’s description:
‘Gigantic achievements in industry, enormously
promising beginnings in agriculture, an extraordinary growth of the old
industrial cities, and a building of new ones, a rapid increase in the
numbers of workers, a rise in cultural level and cultural demands-such are
the indubitable results of the October revolution, in which the prophets of
the old world tried to see the grave of human civilisation. With the
bourgeois economists we have no longer anything to quarrel over. Socialism
has demonstrated its right to victory, not on the pages of Das Kapital, but
in an industrial arena comprising a sixth part of the earth’s surface-not
in the language of dialectics, but in the language of steel, cement and
electricity. Even if the Soviet Union, as a result of internal difficulties,
external blows and the mistake of its leadership, were to collapse-which we
firmly hope will not happen-there would remain as an earnest of the future
this indestructible fact, that thanks solely to the proletarian revolution a
backward country has achieved in less than ten years successes unexampled in
history’. (Trotsky: Revolution Betrayed; New Park; p.8; 1936)
What Trotsky could not
bring himself to admit is that all this was achieved under J. V. Stalin’s
leadership. In one breath, Trotsky praises the achievements of the Soviet
Union, but because this was all achieved by his rival he calls this ‘the
revolution betrayed’. Trotsky fails to explain how a counterrevolutionary
leadership could have brought these ‘successes unexampled in history’.
IMLR: What other
interesting points Trotsky’s position on bureaucracy raise, in your view?
TC: Well, for Trotsky,
bureaucracy resulted from the isolation of the revolution. Lenin attributed
bureaucracy to the backward, petty bourgeois character of Russia. In my view
both proposition are debatable. The fact is that bureaucracies run all
modern societies. There is little reason to suppose that a socialist
society, the first stage in the transition to communism, will be very
different in this respect. The ‘bureaucracy’ is an agency for the
implementation of government policies and decisions. It is the servant of
the state and the ruling class in power. The bureaucrats, regardless of
their status, are paid employees.
In fact, the First
Congress of the Comintern, held in 1919, advocated that
‘…Soviet power must steadily build up a huge
administrative apparatus and centralise its organisation, and, at the same
time draw increasing layers of the working people into direct administrative
Theses, Resolution and manifestos of the First Four Congress of the Third
Resolutions such as these
gave no indication of what drawing increasing numbers of working people into
administrative work actually look like in practice. Yet at the same time it
sanctions the creation of a ‘huge administrative apparatus’, oblivious to
the problems of bureaucracy that we would expect to arise therefrom.
IMLR: This leads me to
the question of what is ‘bureaucracy’ and what did Trotsky mean by
Generally, any formal and structured organisation with a hierarchy of
officials is referred to as a ‘bureaucracy’. Modern bureaucracies arise
out of the
increasing complexities of life in industrialised societies. Bureaucracy, as
a form of organisation arises on the
basis of the
division of labour to meet the administrative needs of society. In
Trotskyism we read about the need to overthrow the Soviet, or ‘Stalinist’
bureaucracy, but we are not told what they intend to replace it with, or
even how society, at the present stage is going to manage without a
bureaucracy as long as the division of labour exist. When Trotsky speaks of
bureaucracy it is obvious that he is referring to a particular stratum
within the bureaucracy, consequently his use of the term is highly
misleading in this context. Lovell, who does not write from a
Marxist-Leninist perspective, argues that Trotsky does not analyse
bureaucracy as such
‘Trotsky does not tell us much at all about
the Soviet bureaucracy, even though he claimed to analyse it and its power’.
( David W. Lovell: Trotsky’s Analysis of Soviet Bureaucracy; p.4)
IMLR: Are you suggesting
that he identifies the concept of bureaucracy with a particular stratum
TC: I am certainly
saying this, but I am also suggesting that he politicise the concept in such
a way as to lead him to false conclusions. When you ask what the term
‘bureaucracy’ actually signifies, the first thing I can say is that all
theorists of bureaucracy have given the term their own interpretation, but
no one has interpreted the concept in the political or ideological way that
Trotsky does. For instance, he argues that the doctrine of ‘socialism in one
country’ is the political line, or ideology of the Soviet, Stalinist
When we trace the
development of the concept ‘bureaucracy’, we find that modern concepts of
bureaucracy arose in the 19th century and the bourgeois
sociologist, Max Weber’s concept of bureaucracy became very influential in
the bourgeois social sciences. There were previously three types of regimes.
The Typology was Monarchy, Aristocracy, and Democracy. Weber extended this
typology to include Bureaucracy. However, the first academic study of the
term bureaucracy was when Robert Von Mohl expressed concern at the various
uses of this term. Mohl argued that everyone was talking about bureaucracy,
yet no one appeared to have given it thought. (Martin Albrow: Bureaucracy;
p. 124) Mohl suggested that although this term was used to give the
impression of knowledge and political sophistication, it, more often than
not, concealed ignorance about its subject matter.
The term ‘bureaucracy’ is
derived from the French word bureau, which was originally a writing desk
with a chest of draws. The 19th century French writer, Balzac
once described bureaucracy as ‘The giant powers wield by pigmies, come into
the world. It is also suggested that possibly Napoleon retarded its
influence for a while, ‘for all things and all men were forced to bend to
his will’. Balzac’s 1836 novel Les Employes was regarded as a half
treatise on bureaucracy. In his book “The Kings Servants” (1961),
The British historian G.
E. Aylmer reviews different concepts of bureaucracy to find one suitable for
his study of the civil service of Charles I. Aylmer concludes that
historians will find it most useful to
‘…to think of bureaucracy as referring to
certain methods of administration’.
(In: Albrow; p.99)
This definition includes
such attributes as ‘…professionalism,
regular hierarchy, division into departments, and heavy reliance on written
From this standpoint
argues Aylmer ‘…England can be said to
have a bureaucracy since the Twelfth Century’.
Most theorists on
bureaucracy agree that the above features listed by Aylmer are universal,
but Albrow remarks ‘…it would be wrong
to suppose that the universality of these features is non-controversial’.
Bureaucracy is often
regarded as the administrative staff, and a standard English dictionary
definition defines bureaucracy as ‘government by central administration’ and
this is associated with ‘officialism' or officials of such government, and
bureaucrats are often regarded as people who are unimaginative; the word
bureaucracy is popularly used to express the frustration which people
encounter when dealing with public officials. The problems of bureaucracy
seem to affect all societies to varying degrees, for instance on January 29th,
1968, the British House of Commons debated a Conservative motion condemning
‘…the continual growth of bureaucracy’.
(Albrow; p.13) One concept of bureaucracy
‘is that the people who are appointed are not
responsible to the people whose life they affect’.
(Ibid.) Sometimes the term ‘bureaucracy’ is associated with administrative
efficiency, at other times the opposite, administrative inefficiency is
meant. Some writers use the term bureaucracy as a synonym for the ‘Civil
Service’. The term may also be used for summing up the basic feature of
organisational structure and it may also be used to refer to a body of
officials in the dictionary sense, or alternatively to mean the ‘routine’ of
administrative procedure. One thing is certain is that there is an absence
of unity between theorists about what the term ‘bureaucracy’ actually
signifies. Albrow warns that he ‘does not aim to set up a new theory of
bureaucracy, nor even a new concept’, and refuses to take the position of an
arbitrator between the competing views, i.e., ‘…to label one or other as
“authoritative”’. Albrow reduces his task to one of giving an account of the
various views and theories of bureaucracy.
IMLR: I think the
question of the definition of bureaucracy involves a great deal of competing
theories, at least from the non-Marxist perspective. Are there different
types of bureaucracies and did the early Marxist movement theorise on the
question of bureaucracy?
TC: In S. N. Eisenstadt’s ‘Political Systems of Empires (1963) four types of
bureaucracies are given. (1) Service-orientated to the rulers and major
social strata, (2) Totally subservient to the ruler (3) autonomous and
orientated to its own advantage, (4) Self-orientated but also serving the
people in general rather than any specific strata. (Albrow; p. 96) These
different models of bureaucracies probably correspond to societies at
different stage of political development. Marx dealt with the question of
bureaucracy not from the administrative point of view but rather in general
terms regarding its role in society, and we see this in his “Contribution
to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law”.
In this critique, Marx
opposes the Hegelian view, which represents bureaucracy as the universal
class. Marx argues that bureaucracy
‘…was based upon the modern division between
state and civil society’.
(In: David W. Lovell: From Marx to Lenin; p.47)
Whereas for Hegel the
bureaucracy embodied the general interest, for Marx the bureaucracy
represented a particular interest. The bureaucracy
‘…would be abolished, and real universality
achieved, when the antithesis between state and civil society was overcome,
and when individuals ceased to separate the general interest from themselves
as something alien and over-arching’.
(ibid. p.47) For Marx bureaucracy was an attribute of the state and he
argued that bureaucracy had the state in its possession. Who controlled the
bureaucracy therefore controlled the state. For Marx, bureaucracy, like the
state, could only possess any semblance of independence where classes had
not fully developed. In “The German Ideology” Marx puts forward the
‘The independence of the state is only found
nowadays in those countries where estates have not completely developed into
classes…where consequently no section of the population can achieve
dominance over the others…’(ibid.
It seems that for Marx,
the question of the structure of bureaucracy was of secondary importance,
which is understandable from the Marxist perspective, which views the
relation of production as ultimately directing the superstructure of
society. Since bureaucracy could only represent particular interests, Marx
looked for a universal class not at the level of bureaucracy, but at the
level of the proletariat. It was this class which represented the universal
interest. This raises important questions. If bureaucracy represents
particular interests and the working class is the embodiment of the general
interest, there must necessarily arise a conflict between the two. However,
in concrete experience things may not be as simple as this. In real life, a
bureaucracy may not be totally opposed to the general interest, and it is
hard to see how it could remain absolutely opposed to the general interest
and retain any form of legitimacy. Certainly, the typologies of the
different kinds of bureaucracies given by S. N. Eisenstadt, suggests there
are bureaucracies which while looking after their own interest, strive to
serve the general interests as well rather than a particular strata. The
question naturally arises about what happens to a bureaucracy in a society,
which no longer rests on private property. In a society undergoing a process
of socialist transformation, the bureaucracy would still control the state
in an administrative sense. Consequently, the question is reduced to who
exercises control over the bureaucracy. In other words, what political class
controls the bureaucracy? A socialist ‘bureaucracy’ would refer to a
bureaucracy that serves socialism and the new political ruling class, the
proletariat. Albrow offers the view that
‘The idea of bureaucracy arose out of a
concern for the proper place of the official in modern government’.
(Albrow: Bureaucracy; p.106)
And 19th century writers
on the subject contrasted bureaucracy with democracy, because
‘They discerned numerous ways in which the use
and usage of public officials subverted democratic values’.
John Stuart Mill, a
bourgeois political writer from the 19th century, characterised
‘a practice which keeps
the citizen in relation to government like that of children to their
guardian’. ( Mill:
Principles of Political Economy, Vol. 2, Chapter 11; ‘Limits of the province
of Government’, p.528)
For Mill there was a
sharp contradiction between bureaucracy and representative democracy. The
term ‘bureaucracy’ is applied to several different situations: government by
officials, public administration, private administration, i.e., non-public
bodies, the administration of any organisation, rational organisation, i.e.,
administrative efficiency, or non-rational organisation, i.e.,
administrative inefficiency. The meaning of the term has constantly changed,
while retaining a certain core identity. Bureaucracy originally meant a
method of rule. Later the term came to be applied to the ruling group of
officials itself. Albrow remarks that
‘Few concepts in social science have undergone
such a continual process of fragmentation and transformation’.
The point which theorists
on bureaucracy seem to be agreed on is that the expansion of government
stimulated the growth of bureaucracy. The growth of the State with the
industrial revolution, the growth in the number of people employed by the
public services. The increase in organisations has led to an increase in the
role of administration.
‘Society now includes a distinct and
recognisable group of managers and administrators with similar job
experience, interests and values’.
I think I have said
enough to illustrate the complex and contradictory nature of how the term
bureaucracy is used. It is also important to point out the difference
between the term bureaucracy and bureaucrat. Not everyone in a bureaucracy
is a bureaucrat. The latter category is limited to those in higher
IMLR: Did Lenin provide
a definition of the term ‘bureaucracy’, what it signified?
TC: For Lenin,
bureaucracy was an aspect of the state power, a privileged institution
separated from the masses. This was certainly a prominent aspect of the
Tsarist bureaucracy. Obviously, this is a social definition of bureaucracy
rather than a functional description. The term ‘bureaucracy’ covers a wide
range of ideas. Lenin’s definition is useful because it touches on what most
bureaucracies, at the higher level, have in common, privilege and separation
from the masses, although, of course this does not exhaust the concept of
bureaucracy in the manner in which this term is used today.
IMLR: Lenin wanted
communists to fight against the evils of Soviet bureaucracy. Do you see any
common ground between Lenin and Trotsky’s later celebrated opposition to
TC: I have already
pointed out that for Lenin and Stalin, the fight against the evils of Soviet
bureaucracy was a long-term affair. This is another issue were Leninism and
Trotskyism are in opposition. Trotsky soon dropped the idea of the long-term
nature of the struggle against the evils of bureaucracy and went over to
advocating political revolution to deal with the problems associated with
Soviet bureaucracy. Trotsky’s opposition came to be more about getting his
faction back into power than it was about serious reflections on the
problems of Soviet bureaucracy. In order to justify his over hasty slogan of
political revolution, Trotsky needed to convince pro-Trotsky communists that
the Soviet bureaucracy was a counterrevolutionary force. But the Soviet
bureaucracy contained both revolutionary and counterrevolutionary elements.
Therefore, a category which dismissed the contradictory nature of the Soviet
bureaucracy was highly inappropriate. Marxist-Leninists do not deny that the
Soviet bureaucracy contained counterrevolution elements, which in fact
explains the numerous purges set in motion first by Lenin and then by
Stalin. Trotsky’s category of ‘a counterrevolutionary Soviet bureaucracy
is erroneous because such a category fails to takes into account the
contradictory and heterogeneous nature of the phenomena of Soviet
bureaucracy, at all levels. In this respect, it is interesting that
Chase and Getty while not writing from a Marxist-Leninist perspective remark
‘…there is much evidence to suggest that the
1935 Soviet bureaucracy was socially more representative of its society,
than, for example, that of Great Britain or France’.
(W. Chase and J. Arch Getty: The Soviet Bureaucracy in 1935: A
Socio-Political Profile; in: Essays on Revolutionary Culture and Stalinism,
IMLR: But Trotsky’s
argument was that a privileged caste of usurpers, which he called ‘the
bureaucracy’ had taken power and were running the society in their own
interest, in opposition to the interest of socialism and the working class.
Thus, Trotsky concluded they had to be overthrown by means of a political
revolution. How do you view this argument?
TC: Let me say again
that all states are run by a bureaucracy of some sort. I know of no
exception to this general picture. While this cannot be avoided in the short
term, Marxist-Leninists declare the need to oppose the negative sides of
bureaucracy. The negative sides of bureaucracy were very prominent in the
Soviet Union, as Lenin recognised. In 1921, Lenin refers to Osinsky as
‘…frankly become a defender of the worst kind
I. Lenin: Vol. 36: p.556)
And he recognises, at the
functional level, the need to
‘…drag bureaucratic delays out into the
daylight for the people’s judgement’.
(Ibid. December, 1921)
Lenin argued at this
‘…only in this way shall we manage to really
cure this disease’.
In fact Lenin also wanted
to put bureaucrats on Trial, and remarked
‘We don’t know how to conduct a public trial
for rotten bureaucracy. For this all of us, and particularly the People’s
Commissariat for Justice, should be hung by stinking ropes’.
(Op. cit. p.557)
Lenin suggested that
those who are
‘…guilty of red tape, negligence and
connivance at bureaucracy’
(V. I. Lenin: Vol. 36; p.558)
should have inflicted on
severe reprimand and
public censure, with a warning
that it is only for this first time that we are inflicting such mild
penalties, but in future will for such behaviour send all such trade union
and communists scoundrels (the court, perhaps, will express itself more
mildly) mercilessly to jail’.
(Ibid. December 23, 1921)
If we look at the
typology of bureaucracies mentioned above I would argue that the Soviet
bureaucracy conformed to those bureaucracies which do not only serve its own
interest, but strove to serve the interest of society as a whole. All modern
bureaucracies, I would argue, are of this nature, in that they attempt to
serve not only particular interests but also the general interests, up to a
certain point. To Say that the Soviet bureaucracy only served its own
interest, would be to ignore all the positive achievements of the Soviet
Union. Lenin did not hide the fact that certain privileges granted to the
bourgeois specialists in production or administration was a necessary evil,
a departure from communism, a concession forced on the proletarian state, a
retreat in other words, in exchange for the survival of workers power. This
departure from communism, unavoidable, in Lenin’s eyes, was to reveal its
dangerous side soon after Stalin died. But during the purges ordered by
Stalin, A. Nove tells us that
‘The elite suffered the most’.
(A. Nove: Stalinism and After; p.56)
And Nove remarks that
‘ Stalin was many things, but surely
not the expression of the narrow self-interest of the bureaucratic elite. He
feared their consolidation, and punished them without mercy’.
(Nove: ibid. p.60)
Also, regarding the
Soviet bureaucratic elite Nove writes,
‘They were proportionately the principle
victims of the great terror’.
Confirming this view, the
British Foreign Office official, Fitzroy MacLean, during his stay in the
Soviet Union at the time, tells us that
‘Gaining momentum as it went, the purge swept
like a whirlwind through the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Government,
the Civil Service, the intelligentsia, industry, even through the ranks of
the dreaded Secret Police itself’.
(Fitzroy MacLean: Eastern Approaches; p.24)
It is clear from these
and other similar passages that Stalin took the struggle against Soviet
bureaucracy beyond merely concern for functional inefficiency and
increasingly the class struggle aspect comes to the fore. Those who employ
Trotsky’s categories would have to confess that Stalin waged war against the
IMLR: In Eisenstadt’s
typology of bureaucracy, you suggest that the Soviet bureaucracy conforms
closer to category number 4, i.e., a bureaucracy which is self-orientated,
but also serving the people in general, rather than a specific strata. In
this case, how did the Soviet bureaucracy serve the general interest?
TC: The purpose of
bureaucracy is administration, a bureaucracy has to be directed, whether it
has a privileged stratum in it or not. In the case of the Soviet Union, we
need to ask ourselves: what was the real interest of the working class after
the Bolsheviks came to power. Obviously, the real interest of the masses was
to produce the material conditions to make a transition to socialism
possible and simultaneously to create the means to defend working class
political power. Indeed, by the late 1920s it became urgent for the Soviet
Union to industrialise as rapidly as possible. In a speech in 1931, Stalin
told his audience
‘We are fifty or a hundred years behind the
advanced countries. We must make good this distance in ten years or we shall
go under’. (Quoted
in Nove: ibid. p.72)
It is obvious that the
modernisation drive in the Soviet Union dictated everything else. This was
in the long-term interest of the working class. I will argue that the Soviet
leadership, under the guidance of Stalin and his collaborators acted in the
interest of the working class, and strove to make the bureaucracy act in
this interest also. Therefore, contrary to the claims of Trotskyism, it was
not the interest of some abstract ‘counterrevolutionary Soviet bureaucracy’
that determined the policy of the Soviet Union in the Stalin period, but the
interest of socialism and the working class. True, the interest of a
privileged stratum did come to play an increasing role, but this was in the
revisionist period after the Marxist-Leninists had been forced out of the
leadership, under the guise of the struggle against ‘Stalinism’. But what is
Stalinism? If this term has any ideological significance, it can only mean
‘socialism preparing to defend itself
under conditions of imperialist encirclement’.
IMLR: Can you elaborate
on this latter point which many may regard as a new insight?
TC: I would not go so
far as to say it was a new insight. What I mean is that the bourgeoisie and
their left reflection use the term ‘Stalinism’ to mean something repugnant.
However, the term, if it means anything ideologically has to be associated
with the idea of a backward country, which was fifty, or one hundred years
behind the advanced countries, forced to industrialise in record time, while
surrounded by potential imperialist aggressors, which became actual, while
dealing with internal and external conspiracies.
IMLR: So you are saying
that when some people on the left condemn ‘Stalinism’, they simply expose
that they are serving the bourgeois counterrevolution through promoting
disunity in the communist movement?
TC: Yes, you are right
because Marxists have to make not only a subjective but also an objective
appraisal of a particular trend, or movement. This can only be done
historically and dialectically. The historical approach means we study the
evolution of a trend, from its genesis. The dialectical approach means we do
not study it in isolation, but in its connection to other trends and
circumstances, in a many-sided manner. This leads to the fatal conclusion
that the role of Trotskyism was to foster disunity in the Soviet Union,
which would serve the purpose of counterrevolution. This is the inevitable
role of petty-bourgeois trends; to foster disunity in the communist
IMLR: So you reject the
Trotskyist argument that a privileged caste had taken power in the Soviet
TC: When Lenin was in
the leadership and Trotsky was also playing a leading role, there were
privileged officials and bureaucrats. Lenin referred to them as
‘bureaucratic grandees’, or ‘pampered grandees’, see volume 32; page 132,
also page 140. I looked up the word ‘pampered’ in my dictionary and it means
to: over-indulge, spoil person with luxury. Yet although there was this
privileged stratum, pampered to use Lenin’s own term, no one in the
leadership, including Trotsky suggested that they had taken power. But as
soon as Trotsky loses power this privileged caste, or pampered, bureaucratic
grandees, to use Lenin’s words, had suddenly taken power to become the new
ruling caste. Trotsky’s failure to condemn this privileged caste when he was
in power speaks volumes, but we are told by Nove that during the Stalin
purges ‘The elite suffered the most’.
Does this suggest to you that these people had taken power in the Stalin
period? The truth is that there was a constant struggle between the party
leadership and what Lenin referred to as the ‘bureaucratic grandees’.
So to imply that
the question of power had been resolved in favour of the bureaucratic
grandees in the period of Stalin’s leadership is to turn reality on its
head, which seems to be a favourite pastime of Trotskyists. As for the
system of granting privileges to leading key personnel, Trotsky pioneered
this during his time in the Red Army, which I mentioned before. This was
regarded as a necessity. Trotsky never even raised the possibility that by
virtue of these privileges the army leadership would go over to
counterrevolution. Lenin being the supreme realist recognised that this was
a retreat, a backward step from the principles of communism, a price the
proletarian dictatorship had to pay in return for remaining in power.
IMLR: Lenin pointed out
that the state apparatus was taken over from Tsarism and
‘…and slightly anointed with Soviet oil’.
What does this suggest to
TC: When Lenin made this
remark he obviously meant that the state apparatus, the bureaucracy, was
still in essence the old Tsarist bureaucracy containing a communist
minority. The Bolsheviks having come to power and formed a government, the
Bolsheviks had no option but to use the old Tsarist bureaucracy, which
re-emerged after the collapse of the Tsarist State. It was anointed with
Soviet oil, so to speak, but in many respects, it remained the old Tsarist
bureaucracy. This explains the frequent purges of the Soviet State apparatus
and the party, because many of these elements joined the latter, after
deciding that the Bolsheviks were on the winning side. Lenin referred to
this state of affairs as workers’ state with bureaucratic distortions. He
‘…we took over the old machinery of state from
the tsar and the bourgeoisie and that now, with the onset of peace and the
satisfaction of the minimum requirements against famine, all our work must
be directed towards improving the administrative machinery’.
(V. I. Lenin: Vol. 36; p.597; December 26, 1922)
For Lenin the struggle
against bureaucracy, to improve the state apparatus depended to a high
‘…selection of people and checking fulfilment.
This is the essential point’.
(V. I. Lenin: Letter to
A.D. Tsyrupa, in: Vol. 36; p.55)
Also, Lenin argued that
in the struggle against bureaucracy the most important thing was to
‘…shift the centre of gravity to checking up
on effective fulfilment’.
(CW. Vol. 35;p.542)
And he noted that
‘…Communists have become bureaucrats. If
anything will destroy us, it is this’.
(Op. cit. p.549; February 22, 1922)
Stalin held to Lenin’s
views regarding the Soviet State apparatus, remarking
‘Regarding the class nature of our state,
Lenin, as I have already mentioned, gives a most precise formula, permitting
of no misinterpretations, namely, a workers’ state with bureaucratic
distortions in a country with a predominantly peasant population. That is
clear I think’.
(J. V. Stalin: The Bolshevik; No. 6, March 15, 1927)
So, Lenin and Stalin
recognised that the Soviet State was bureaucratically distorted, because of
the Tsarist heritage and because of transferring military methods of the
civil war period over to the civilian sphere. A leading proponent of this
tendency in the 1920-21 period was non other than the Trotskyists who
advocated a fascist policy of suppressing the independence of the trade
unions instead of giving them political leadership. The factional
struggle between Marxism-Leninism and Trotskyism on this issue was so
intense that it almost split the Soviet Communist Party. Unlike Trotsky,
both Lenin and Stalin regarded the defeat of the evils of bureaucracy to be
a long term problem, not amenable to short term political stunts, a view
Trotsky previously held but later rejected in favour of his political
In the post-Lenin period,
Stalin was clear about the nature of the Soviet State apparatus. In his
organisational report to the Twelfth Congress, he remarked that
‘…some of the officials in the state apparatus
are bad, they are not our men’.
(J. V. Stalin: Vol. 5; p.209)
In other words, there
were definitely elements in the Soviet bureaucracy alien to socialism and
Stalin noted that
‘The state apparatus is of the right type, but
its component parts are still alien to us, bureaucrats, half
(Op. Cit. p.210)
And, furthermore he
‘We want to have a state apparatus that will
be a means of serving the mass of the people, but some persons in this state
apparatus want to convert it into a source of gains for themselves'.
(J. V. Stalin: Vol. 5; p.
For Stalin this situation
‘…is why the apparatus as a whole is not
Stalin did not regard the
problem of bureaucracy in isolation from political questions. There would,
in his view, be political consequences if a struggle against the negative
side of the Soviet State apparatus were not undertaken. Without politicising
the issue of bureaucracy, i.e., regarding the issue only in political terms,
Stalin saw that serious consequences would follow, because
‘If we fail to repair it, the correct
political line by itself will not carry us far; it will be distorted, and
there will be a rupture between the working class and the peasantry’.
(J. V. Stalin: ibid. p.210)
And like Lenin, Stalin
wanted to avoid the danger whereby
‘We shall have a situation in which, although
we shall be at the steering wheel, the car will not obey’.
If this were not avoided,
‘There would be a crash’.
Stalin noted that this
was why Lenin had called for a reorganisation of the Workers and Peasants’
‘…in such a way that the reorganised
inspection apparatus should be transformed into a device for re-arranging
all the parts of the car, for re-placing the old useless parts with new
ones, which must be done if we really want the car to go in the right
direction’. (J. V.
Stalin: Vol. 5; p.210)
For Stalin this was the
‘…essence of Comrade Lenin’s proposal’.
However, Stalin did not
seek to improve the functioning of the apparatus as an end in itself. There
was a social dimension to this problem as well. Lenin’s aim, Stalin argued,
was to create a situation whereby
‘…there should not be left in the country a
single official, no matter how highly placed, concerning whom the ordinary
man might say: he is above the law’.
(J. V. Stalin: Vol. 5;
Thus, Stalin supported
Lenin’s proposal for the reorganisation of Rabkrin because
‘…it is precisely this proposal that sets the
task of purging not only the state apparatus, but also the party, of those
traditions and habits of the domineering bureaucrats which discredit our
IMLR: Let me stop you
here. The question I want to ask is: was Stalin as critical of the Soviet
State apparatus, the bureaucracy, to the same degree as Lenin, or did he
ever attempt to tone down Lenin’s criticism?
TC: The textual evidence
available to us demonstrate, without any room for disagreement, that Stalin
never toned down Lenin’s criticism of the Soviet state apparatus and its
bureaucratic distortion. In fact, it is arguable whether Stalin went further
in his strictures. For instance at one point Stalin angrily remarked that
‘…it was clear to us that as regard its
composition, habits and traditions our state apparatus is no good, and that
this threatened to cause a rupture between the workers and peasants, then it
is clear that the party’s leading role must find expression not only in the
issue of directives, but also in the appointment to certain posts of people
who are capable of carrying them out honestly’.
(J. V. Stalin: Vol. 5; p.
And Stalin also
recognised the danger of the bureaucracy promoting Great Russian national
chauvinism, and he suggested that
‘We must make a sharp turn towards combating
the new chauvinist sentiments and pillory those bureaucrats in our
institutions and those party comrades who forgetting what we gained in
October, namely the confidence of the formerly oppressed people, a
confidence that we must cherish’.
(J. V. Stalin: Vol. 5; p. 252)
Stalin called for a
determined struggle against the negative aspects of Soviet bureaucracy, and
he argued that
‘…our state apparatus, which is bureaucratic
to a considerable degree, exerts a certain amount of pressure on the Party
and the Party workers’.
(J. V. Stalin: Vol. 5; p.
IMLR: How did Stalin
view the struggle against bureaucracy, by which I mean its negative side;
for instance, to what extent did he see this struggle as one against
red-tape, routinism, bad practices and so on, or did he view this struggle
as one against a definite social caste which had to be fought?
TC: I think the record
speaks for itself. In the period of Lenin what came to the fore in the
struggle against bureaucracy was a struggle against features of bureaucracy
such as red tape, inefficiency etc, the class struggle aspect, although
present, remained in the background. What the record reveals is that Stalin
had a dual approach in the anti-bureaucratic struggle in the Soviet Union.
On the one side, this struggle was against red-tapism, inefficiency and so
on, but on the other side this struggle was directed against certain
elements in the bureaucracy as a group, or caste. Here it is necessary to
explain, again, that the difference between Marxism-Leninism and Trotskyism
is that while the Trotskyists referred to the need to struggle against
the counterrevolutionary Soviet/Stalinist bureaucracy, for the
Marxist-Leninists, the need was to struggle against the counterrevolutionary
elements ‘within’ the Soviet bureaucracy.
advocated a struggle to overthrow the Soviet bureaucracy, but
Marxist-Leninists sought to fight, unmask, and purge the
counterrevolutionary elements within the Soviet bureaucracy.
Trotsky’s view and strategy was obviously not the correct position, while
the policy pursued by Stalin was not aimed anarchistically at overthrowing
the bureaucracy, but purging the anti-socialist elements from within it.
This was the Leninist policy. On the other hand, the policy pursued by
Trotsky would have opened the door to counterrevolution.
IMLR: You say that
Stalin recognised there was a caste in the Soviet bureaucracy, which had to
be fought, how far did he go in fighting it.
TC: Well, when Lenin
spoke of the ‘pampered’ bureaucratic grandees he was referring to the
existence of a privilege caste in the bureaucracy. Stalin’s position was the
same as Lenin’s. In a conversation with his daughter, Svetlana, Stalin made
remarks about a ‘damned caste’, thus Stalin was always aware of the
potential counterrevolutionary tendencies of elements that made up this
caste. Consequently, when we refer to Stalin Against the Soviet
Bureaucracy we are specifically referring to a struggle against those
elements in the State and Party who represented a potential
counterrevolutionary threat. I think that Stalin went as far as
circumstances would allow him to go. There are commentators who imply that
Stalin took the struggle against bureaucracy too far, almost to the point of
destroying the administrative apparatus, but such a view is refuted by
Stalin himself, who had to restrain the more hot-headed elements amongst the
anti-bureaucracy radicals, thus he warned in his report to the Central
Committee, December 3, 1927, that regarding
‘The state apparatus and the struggle against
bureaucracy. So much is being said about bureaucracy that there is no need
to dilate on it. That elements of bureaucracy exist in our state,
co-operative and Party apparatus, there can be no doubt. That it is
necessary to combat the elements of bureaucracy, and that this task will
confront us all the time, as long as we have state power, as long as the
state exists, is also a fact…But one must know how far one can go. To carry
the struggle against bureaucracy in the state apparatus to the point of
destroying the state apparatus, of discrediting the state apparatus, of
attempts to break it up-means going against Leninism…’(J.
V. Stalin: Op. cit. p.327)
Events showed that this
struggle, by Stalin, against bureaucratic inefficiency merged with a
political struggle against elements within the bureaucracy consolidating
itself as a caste.
IMLR: Trotsky not only
referred to the Soviet bureaucracy, but also to the ‘Stalinist bureaucracy’.
Are these one and the same concepts, or are they different?
TC: I think that in the
Trotskyist interpretation of the Soviet Union, ‘Soviet bureaucracy’ and
‘Stalinist bureaucracy’ are basically identical. I have found no textual
evidence in the writings of Trotsky or pro-Trotsky writers, which would
suggest that they used these concepts to mean different things. However, in
the view of Marxist-Leninists while the category ‘Soviet bureaucracy’ is a
valid concept, to speak of a specifically ‘Stalinist bureaucracy’ is devoid
of any real concrete content. To uphold the concept of the ‘Stalinist
bureaucracy’, Trotsky has to give it an ideology, which he claims is
‘socialism in one country’, but because it was Lenin who first wrote
regarding the possibility of socialism in one country as part of the world
revolutionary process, a specifically ‘Stalinist bureaucracy’ cannot be
identified by such ideological means.
IMLR: This may be plain
to some people, nevertheless the term ‘Stalinist bureaucracy’ is a central
category in post-Lenin Trotskyism. Why do Marxist-Leninists oppose this
term; can you elaborate on this point?
reject the idea of a ‘Stalinist bureaucracy’ for the simple reason that
there was no such thing. The notion of a ‘Stalinist bureaucracy’ is a purely
Trotskyist conception, invented for factional purposes. We know what is
meant by the term Soviet bureaucracy, but ‘Stalinist bureaucracy’ has no
real meaning, except in the imagination of Trotskyists and bourgeois
writers. Stalin, of course, had his supporters in the Communist Party and in
the State, but why speak of a Stalinist bureaucracy in this context?
Trotsky’s notion of a ‘political revolution’ to replace the Stalinist
bureaucracy itself is an intriguing idea. What does this actually mean in
concrete terms-as opposed to an abstract proposal? Where does Trotsky’s
Stalinist bureaucracy begin and where does it end? Does the concept of
overthrowing the ‘Stalinist bureaucracy’ of Trotskyist lore simply refer to
removing Stalin’s supporters, or appointees in the State and Party
apparatus. How was this to be determined beyond a narrow limit? In other
words, who were the genuine political ‘Stalinists’, according to Trotsky,
that is the actual, active supporters of Stalin? What qualified one as a
Stalinist in Trotsky’s view? Was qualification dependent on exclusively
political considerations, or were other determinants to be included? There
is a joke about a Kremlin clerk who on April fools day decided to send
around government offices a message to the effect that Trotsky had pulled
off a military coup and was now marching on the Kremlin with a detachment of
the Red Army. The bureaucrats immediately ordered that pictures of Stalin be
taken down and be replaced by pictures of Trotsky. I think that this joke
sums up the point I am trying to make about Trotsky’s notion of a ‘Stalinist
IMLR: What you seem to
be arguing is that Trotsky’s notion of a Stalinist bureaucracy is
superficial and his call to overthrow the ‘Stalinist bureaucracy’ amounted
to a call to remove Stalin’s supporters from power.
TC: If Trotsky’s call
has any meaning at all in practical terms, this is what it would have
amounted to. If, for argument sake, we accepted the Trotskyist thesis about
the existence of a specifically ‘Stalinist bureaucracy’, then it would be
necessary to argue that this bureaucracy did not survive Stalin for long. In
other words when the Soviet revisionists took over they began a systematic
purge of known supporters of Stalin, from the top leadership down to
regional secretaries and below. ‘Stalinists’, by which I mean only
pro-Stalin communists, were removed from Party and State offices. It is a
fact of history that the new revisionist regime consolidated itself on a
programme of ‘de-Stalinization’. Thus Trotsky’s ‘Stalinist bureaucracy’
would have to be regarded has having been overthrown by the Soviet
revisionists, led at first by Khrushchev. Under the latter, even Stalin’s
published work were no longer publicly available. Ignoring these monumental
changes the Trotskyists continued to refer to the Soviet bureaucracy as the
‘Stalinist bureaucracy’, although known supporters of Stalin had been
removed from the central, regional and local party and state apparatuses,
from all leadership structures.
IMLR: If the supporters
of Stalin had been removed from the state and party apparatus, why did the
Trotskyists continue to speak of the Soviet apparatus as the Stalinist
TC: This was out of a
combination of pseudo-leftism, i.e., ultra-leftism and opportunism.
Trotskyism rarely starts from a concrete analysis of a given situation, so
concrete changes have little or only secondary meaning for Trotskyism: a
state apparatus, which had purged the supporters of Stalin, still remained
for the Trotskyists, ‘Stalinist’. The new revisionist leaders rose to power
by condemning Stalin, but for the Trotskyists they stilled remained
Stalinists, although they proposed and pursued different economic and
political objectives which deviated from socialism and eventually led to the
downfall of the Soviet Union. Opportunistically it was also convenient for
the Trotskyist to continuing calling the revisionists ‘Stalinist’, so that
they could blame everything that went wrong on the ‘Stalinists’, this, in
spite of the fact that the Khrushchevite revisionist had long suppressed
Stalin’s works in the Soviet Union.
IMLR: If the
pseudo-lefts had known the extent to which supporters of Stalin had been
removed from power in the Soviet Union, do you think it would have been so
easy for them to continue referring to the new leadership and apparatus as
TC: Well, I do not think
it would have made any difference, firstly because it is in the nature of
ultra-leftism to ignore concrete conditions and changes. By its very nature,
Trotskyist pseudo-leftism is unable to distinguish between revisionism and
Marxism-Leninism as far as the Soviet Union is concerned. The people who led
the Soviet Union in the period following Stalin’s death were not
Marxist-Leninists, but revisionists. They even disinterred Stalin from his
burial place beside Lenin, renamed the celebrated city of Stalingrad, where
the Nazis were stopped on the their march to world domination. Yet, although
the Soviet revisionist renamed this most famous memorial to anti-fascism,
the Trotskyists still continue to refer to those revisionists who oppose
Stalin as Stalinists.
IMLR: That’s clear
enough. If we ignore the term ‘bureaucracy’, you are saying the revisionists
overthrew the Stalinists in the Soviet Union, by which I mean the supporters
of Stalin. Am I correct?
TC: Well, ignoring the
term ‘Stalinist bureaucracy’, yes the revisionists overthrew the supporters
of Stalin in the Soviet Union. These cadres formed the main elements that
defended Marxist-Leninists principles in the Soviet Communist Party, so when
they were defeated, Marxism-Leninism was defeated and replaced by
revisionism. If you defend Trotskyist ideology and use the concept of
‘Stalinist bureaucracy’, the result is the same because it would be
necessary to conclude that the so-called ‘Stalinist bureaucracy’ had been
overthrown by the Soviet revisionists during the period of the anti-Stalin
IMLR: So, if what
Trotsky called the ‘Stalinist bureaucracy’ was simply referring to
supporters of Stalin, who were likely to be supporters of Stalin?
TC: Obviously people who
agreed with Stalin’s position. The Trotskyist line that Stalin elicited
mainly bureaucratic support simply does not hold water. We are talking about
conviction politics. If Stalin’s political line was not credible, nothing
could have save him from defeat, regardless of any power of appointment he
had. Those who say that Stalin won an organisational victory over his
opponent, or that his success was due to his organisational mastery do not
know what they are talking about, because they raise the organisational
aspect over the political aspect. The truth is, people line up according to
their political views, not according to who has organisational mastery.
IMLR: What are your
views about Trotsky’s argument that Stalin was raised to power by the Soviet
bureaucracy because he served its interests?
TC: I think this
argument is connected to the view, which sees the ascendancy of Stalin in
mainly organisational terms. The amazing claim that the Soviet bureaucracy
raised Stalin to power is the political essence of post-Lenin Trotskyism.
But when we examine the facts they simply fail to corroborate this
Trotskyist theory, and thus we are driven to another conclusion: Stalin was
raised to power because he had what was perceived to be the correct general
political line, or at least the most persuasive, which gave him the
advantage over the other rival political lines. Consequently, he won over
the support of both workers and some officials. The Trotskyist view that
Stalin won out because he attracted the support of the bureaucrats at the
expense of the proletarian and peasant masses is simply not supported by the
facts. What the facts do is to tell a different story. Contrary to the view
promoted by his Trotskyist critics, Stalin, in large measure, rose to
power in opposition to many of the state and party bureaucrats. In any
case, Stalin’s views on the bureaucrats certainly did not recommend him as
their favoured candidate.
IMLR: This is the
diametrical opposite of the Trotskyist view. How do you back it up; what
evidence would you present to support your argument?
TC: Yes, this argument
is certainly the reversal of the view presented by pro-Trotsky writers and
theorists. Trotsky’s assertion that somehow Stalin came to power because of
the support he received from the Soviet bureaucracy is an argument resulting
from gross historical falsification of the facts. This view is contradicted
by the all the salient evidence. The available evidence supports the
Marxist-Leninist view and not the Trotskyist view. As I said previously, the
record speaks for itself. I have pointed out that the Trotskyist view is
even today being refuted by the more serious bourgeois scholarly research,
by people who cannot in any way be called pro-Stalin. The Marxist-Leninist
view that Stalin rose to power in a struggle against many sections of the
Soviet bureaucracy is now becoming the accepted view. The Trotskyist view
that Stalin came to power because of the overwhelming support he received
from the Soviet bureaucracy is being deserted by all the serious academic
scholars. Remember these people are not pro-Stalin writers and some even
share Trotskyist assumptions, but they cannot ignore the weight of evidence,
which their researches bring to light. Take Getty, for instance, he seems to
subscribe to Trotsky’s theory that ‘Stalin is the personification of the
bureaucracy and that is the essence of his political personality’. But the
facts push Getty in a direction which contradicts the above theory
propounded by Trotsky, thus Getty is forced to conclude that
‘The evidence suggests that the Ezhovshchina,
which is what most people mean by the “great purge”, should be redefined. It
was not the result of a petrified bureaucracy stamping out dissent and
annihilating old radical revolutionaries. In fact, it may have been just the
opposite. It is not inconsistent with the evidence to argue that the
Ezhovshchina was rather a radical, even hysterical, reaction to
Arch. Getty in: Origins of The Great Purges- The Soviet Communist Party
Reconsidered, 1933-1938; p. 206)
This supports A. Nove who
suggested that the main target of the Stalin purges was the bureaucratic
elite. Trotsky’s theory that the Stalin purges resulted from a conservative
bureaucracy seeking to defend its privilege was an interpretation which
suited him in his opposition to Stalin, but whether it was true or not was
always another question. Trotsky’s interpretation gained wide currency
because of the anti-Stalin orientation of the political intelligentsia. The
old axiom, beloved by Goebbels, that if you repeat a lie often enough people
will believe it was obviously at work here. Against all the evidence,
Trotskyism was able to convince a substantial segment of the political
intelligentsia that ‘Stalinism’ was about defending bureaucratic privileges.
So while serious bourgeois academic research confirms the Marxist-Leninist
position that the Stalin purges were directed against the bureaucratic
element, we have such gems from Tariq Ali who argues that
‘Stalin had understood even during Lenin’s
lifetime that Trotsky would pose a threat to bureaucratic hegemony’.
(Tariq Ali: The Stalinist Legacy; p. 11)
I don’t want to labour
this point, but the image of Trotsky, the anti-bureaucrat, cultivated by
Trotsky himself and his supporters, was a campaigning ploy to win support
from the young and politically uninformed; it should be taken with a pinch
of salt, coming from someone who, ‘during Lenin’s lifetime’ advocated a
policy of suppressing the independence of the trade unions and the
militarisation of labour.
When Trotsky was busy
writing his ‘Revolution Betrayed’ (1936) the Soviet Union was on the eve of
the great anti-bureaucrat purge, and Trotsky’s theory of a
counterrevolutionary Soviet bureaucracy was about to bite the dust, thus
even the pro-Trotsky writer, Isaac Deutscher argues that
‘It was one of the effects of the purges that
they prevented the managerial groups from consolidating as a social
Deutscher: The Prophet Outcast; p. 306)
We are given a clear
insight on what the Stalin purges were about by Getty and Naumov, who write
‘In 1937 Stalin openly mobilised the “party
masses” against the nomenklatura as a whole; this provided an important
strand in the Great Terror’s destruction of the elite’.
(J. Arch. Getty, Oleg V. Naumov: The Road to Terror; Introduction; p.14)
Stalin was however, faced
with the same contradiction which the early Bolshevik leaders in Lenin’s
period was faced with; this was containing these elements while using their
skills to build socialism, thus we read that Stalin
‘…wanted to reduce the authority of certain
elite groups. Yet the regime needed these elites to maintain power and run
(ibid. p. 14)
‘At one point Stalin would attempt to co-op
anti-bureaucratic sentiments of the party rank-and-file and the public as
weapons against parts of the elite’.
None of these writers
writes from a Marxist-Leninist perspective, but the force of evidence
compels them to reject the Trotskyist theory concerning Stalin’s
relationship vis-à-vis the Soviet bureaucracy.
Marxist-Leninists are not
interested in their political views and conclusions, but only in the facts
they are presenting. One of the Targets of the 1933 purges were to be
‘…bureaucratic elements who, isolated from the
masses and scorning the material and spiritual needs of the workers and
peasants, exploit their presence in the party and official position in the
Soviet State for their own personal, self-seeking ends.’
The 1933 Chistka, i.e.,
purges, affected various groups
‘The largest single groups expelled were
“passive” members: those carried on the rolls but not participating in party
work. Next came violators of party discipline, bureaucrats, corrupt
officials, and those who had hidden past crimes’
(ibid. p. 127)
And we are told that
‘Stalin himself characterised the purge as a
measure against bureaucratism, red-tape, degenerates, and careerists, to
raise the level of organisational leadership’.
( ibid. p.127)
Regardless of the
political distortions and confusions in these academic researches the facts
they present are undeniable to the unprejudiced eye: The Trotskyist image of
a cosy relation between the Soviet Bureaucracy and Stalin, with each
promoting each other, is a fiction, a fairy story concocted by Trotsky for
factional purposes, or out of ignorance.
We are told that
Ordzhonikidze remarked that it is a clear sign of bureaucratism, when a high
official or bureaucrat feels himself so cut off from the masses. (Getty:
ibid. Document 90; p.294)
Getty remarks that
‘…the new political transcript from the top
represented the beginning of Stalin’s offence against the nomenklatura’.
(Op. cit. 333)
The basis of Stalin
Against the Soviet bureaucracy can be glimpsed through Lenin’s remark
about the ‘class struggle taking place in our state and party offices. This
was an on-going process, inevitable to one degree or another in a backward
country under socialist transformation, but for Trotskyists, in the period
of Stalin, the Soviet bureaucracy had already transformed itself into a new
ruling caste, alien to socialism. While recognising the existence of this
caste the view that it was ruling in the Stalin period, contradicts the
Getty, who is not a
pro-Stalin writer, uses the word ‘pose’ in relation to Stalin and other
‘For Stalin and other central leaders it made
good political capital to pose as defenders of the rank-and-file against the
depredations of the evil boyars’.
(op. cit. p.359)
But this political
distortion is contradicted by the view that
‘When “checking” was done by central, rather
than territorial, authorities, the attrition was heavier at the top than at
the bottom’. (Op.
cit. p. 360)
Furthermore, we are told
‘The regional bosses were taken to task for
bureaucratism, suppression of criticism, undemocratic practices, and paying
too much attention to economic matters’.
(Op. cit. p.437)
For Getty and Naumov, the
term ‘Great Terror’ was ‘another inexact shorthand for disparate events of
that decade’. (Op. cit. p.492)
In fact, the term ‘Great
Terror’ is a bourgeois appellation. However, we are told that
‘This dynamic between Stalin and the
nomenklatura was not a simple one’.
(Op. cit. p. 494)
And consequently the
position was one whereby
‘For Stalin to attack the nomenklatura head-on
risked discrediting the entire regime: The nomenklatura was the Bolshevik
Party, and to smash it-as he did in 1937-risked smashing the legitimacy of
Bolshevik rule’. (Op. cit. 494)
We can disregard Getty’s
position that the nomenklatura was the Bolshevik Party, what is revealed
here is how far Stalin and his supporters in the leadership was prepared to
take the anti-bureaucratic struggle. What Getty and Naumov present is a
picture of the leadership caught between the elite, i.e., the ‘nomenklatura’
and the party rank-and-file representing the masses.
IMLR: Are you saying the
picture presented is one where the leadership was caught between the elite
and the anti-bureaucratic masses, and took the side of the latter?
TC: This is a picture
which does emerge. For instance Getty takes the view that the central
leadership could not be seen to give unconditional support to the
nomenklatura because this would
‘…risked discrediting the regime by endorsing
elite pretensions and thereby alienating the rank-and-file party membership
and ordinary citizens who were the target of the secretaries control and
(Getty: op. cit. p.494)
But the contradictions in
the purges soon began to assert itself.
‘The Moscow leadership realised that it could not govern without the
nomenklatura’. (Op. cit. p. 496)
What Stalin was against,
and one of the factors contributing to the 1930 purges was fear of the
elite’s consolidation because
Stalin, for his part, could not have found
much pleasure in this elite consolidation’.
(Op. cit. p.572)
‘Everything came apart in 1937’.
Getty argues that Stalin
turned against the elite after failure to bring it under control. Although
this view is too one-sided, we can assume it contained a grain of truth.
‘After a series of failed attempts to control
the nomenklatura elite and bend them to his will, Stalin turned against the
elite, that elite turned against itself, and both struck out at a variety of
“enemies” in the country’.
Getty and Naumov’s ‘Road
to Terror’ relates the purges to the unstable situation which the Soviet
Union found itself in by 1932. This led to the apogee of Stalin Against
the Soviet Bureaucracy. Getty argues that
‘The growing self-affirmation and group
identity of the nomenklatura was a problem for Stalin’.
(Op. cit. p. 577)
In other words, Stalin
regarded a bureaucratic caste consolidating itself as a threat. For Getty,
the contradiction between Stalin and the elite began around 1934. Although
this view is most certainly incorrect in that the contradiction preceded
1934, it does refute the Trotskyist fictional view, which pictures Stalin as
nothing but a servant of the Soviet bureaucracy. Thus, we are told that
‘There were hints as early as 1934 that the
interests of Stalin and the senior elite had began to diverge’.
( ibid. p. 577)
In Getty’s view, Stalin
assisted the destruction of the elite
‘The result of his insistence on control of
the nomenklatura and the failure of previous efforts was that Stalin
assisted the suicide of the party elite in 1937-1938’.
(Op. cit. p.578)
The fictitious Trotskyist
view that Stalin was a servant of a counterrevolutionary bureaucracy cannot
be exposed anymore clearly. According to Getty, Stalin’s position arose
‘…the heritage of Bolshevik revolutionary
voluntarism made them fear a bureaucratic class outside party control’.
Although Getty does not
explain what ‘Bolshevik revolutionary voluntarism’ has to do with the
matter, it does further undermine the fictional account offered by
Trotskyism concerning Stalin’s relationship to the Soviet bureaucracy. In
addition, we are told that
‘Stalin and his circle used (or threatened to
use) a number of tools to prevent the solidification of an independent
bureaucratic class, including membership screening, extra-legal party
interventions, and terror’.
(Op. cit. 585)
This is a far cry from
the simplistic Trotskyist thesis that in the Soviet Union the bureaucracy
had already taken power under the figurehead, of all people, Stalin! The
evidence offered up by Getty and Naumov lead to the inevitable collapse of
the pro-Trotsky position. In Getty’s view
‘As long as Stalin lived-and to a lesser
extent, as long as his closest lieutenants remained in power-the state could
not “normalise”. As a result, the nomenklatura bureaucracy could not finally
consolidate its hold on power’.
(ibid. p. 585)
But from what Getty has
already argued, a relevant question would be to ask whether the bureaucratic
elite elements had any hold on power at all, in a political sense. In fact,
the evidence suggests that in the period of Stalin, the Soviet
bureaucracy, contrary to the claims of Trotskyism, had no political power as
such, their power was limited to administration. However, things were to
change following the Stalin period, because
‘After Stalin’s death in 1953, however, the
bureaucracy was gradually freed’.
Getty suggest implicitly
that even during the first stage of revisionist leadership in the Soviet
Union, that is to say in the period of Khrushchev, the Soviet Bureaucratic
elite had not completely freed itself. While this point would be debatable
in Marxist-Leninist circles, it is nevertheless an interesting point. It
exposes the erroneousness and simplicity of the Trotskyist view that from
the late 1920s or early 1930s the Soviet bureaucracy had already freed
itself from control. Getty argues that
‘The fall of Khrushchev in 1964 was another
significant landmark in the nomenklatura’s freeing itself from Bolshevik
political control and the power of a single leader’.
It is clear that the
central contradiction faced by Stalin, was to prevent the bureaucracy, or
its elite stratum from becoming a ruling class or caste in its own right on
the one hand, and on the other, utilising its services for the maintenance
of the state and the promotion of socialism. In any case, in the first stage
of the transition to socialism some kind of nomenklatura would be
inevitable. Any ruling class would be compelled to operate some similar
system; i.e. a list of positions which only “reliable members of the ruling
class are appointed. The above passage from Getty implies that even in the
period of revisionism, the bureaucrats had not completely freed themselves
from party control. Getty further remarks that
‘Although Stalin managed to destroy the elite
of the 1930s, he did not or could not destroy the nomenklatura as a
component of the regime’.
(Op. cit. p.586)
The facts show that
although Stalin devoted a substantial part of his time in the leadership to
struggling against the negative effects of bureaucracy, including the fight
against the top bureaucratic layer into a ruling caste or class, he is
nevertheless presented by Trotskyists and revisionists as the promoter of
bureaucracy, for instance the revisionist Togliatti suggested that
‘It seems to us that undoubtedly Stalin’s
errors were tied in with an excessive increase in the bureaucratic apparatus
in Soviet economic and political life’.
(The Togliatti Interview, June 16th 1956; The Anti-Stalin
Campaign, etc; p. 121)
Such remarks fly in the
face of reality, and probably reflect the influence of Trotskyism on the
revisionist critique of Stalin. In fact, the central leadership and the
rank-and-file exhibited a significant unity in their battle with
bureaucracy. For instance, Getty writes that
‘…the central leadership was not the only
group complaining about the stagnation and breakdown of the bureaucracy.
Grass-root members, the party rank-and-file, also took up the attack on
bureaucracy, partly at the instigation of the centre’
(Getty: The origins of the Great Purge pp. 27-28)
IMLR: From what you have
said, it would seem that the higher bourgeois academic circles reject the
Trotskyist view of the existence of a specifically ‘Stalinist’ bureaucracy?
They present facts, which refute completely the notion of Stalin as some
passive servant of bureaucracy.
TC: What Getty does in
the ‘Origins of the Great Purges’ is to question, the ‘Totalitarian’ view of
the Soviet Union, in the Stalin period, a view advocated by ‘western’ and
‘Stalinist’ writers, he means revisionists of course. In the introduction,
he opposes the view that the Soviet bureaucracy ‘was grimly efficient:
totalitarian to western writers, monolithic or solidly united to
Stalinists’. For instance, Getty notes that
‘Attempts by central Moscow party authorities
to bring the regional organisations into line would be resisted by local
machines that were anxious to preserve their autonomy. This central-regional
struggle is as old as politics itself and is not peculiar to Soviet
cit. p. 27)
What all these serious
bourgeois academic researches reveal, although they are not written from
Marxist-Leninist perspective, hence they are ‘bourgeois’, is the shallowness
of the Trotskyist interpretation of the Soviet Union, in particular, the
view that a counterrevolutionary ‘Stalinist’ bureaucracy had seized power
under Stalin, with the latter acting as some kind of figure head. Rather
than seizing political power, the Soviet bureaucracy had no political power
to speak of under Stalin. He did not allow them any political power.
Trotsky’s argument that the Soviet bureaucracy had seized political power in
the period of Stalin is probably one of his greatest political delusions.
IMLR: I would like to
examine more the Trotskyist view, which pictures Stalin as a servant of the
Soviet bureaucracy. Is there a new consensus in bourgeois academic circles
about Stalin’s relation to the Soviet bureaucracy?
TC: What you usually
find is that the more serious researchers view Stalin as an enemy of the
Soviet bureaucracy. We would say an enemy of the negative features of
bureaucracy; he struggles against its operational short-comings, but also we
find him resisting the danger of the higher stratum in the bureaucracy
consolidating itself into a ruling class or caste, separated from the
people. The central problem he faced was that Stalin’s room for manoeuvre
was circumscribed by other factors. These factors limited how far he could
go and what he could achieve in the struggle with bureaucracy. In the view
of Lars Lih, for instance, Stalin cannot be properly understood outside
of the context of his ‘anti-bureaucrat scenario’. This position I
believe is essentially correct. Lih writes that for Stalin the problem was
that Russia’s low cultural level
‘…forces the worker-peasant state to rely on
many “class-alien elements” in its government bureaucracy.
As a result, vigilance is one of the
basic duties of each party member’.
(Lars T. Lih: Stalin’s Letters to Molotov; p.11)
Lih suggests that in
order to understand Stalin’s view
‘…we have to recast it in the form of the
dramatic antibureaucratic scenario that portrays well-intentioned but naïve
Communists doing battle with sophisticated bureaucrats who try to fool and
Lih refers to one of the
problems, which the Bolsheviks faced, having seized power; this was the
sabotage of government directives by bureaucrats, and Lih argues that
‘According to Stalin’s antibureaucrat
scenario, however, class-motivated hostility is the main reason bureaucrats
do not follow directives’.
(Op. cit. p.15)
For Lih, Stalin’s
antibureaucrat scenario is not unique to Stalin because
‘…any politician trying to run an unwieldy
bureaucracy is likely to develop some sort of antibureaucrat scenario’.
(Op. cit. p.16)
And we are told that
Stalin’s particular antibureaucrat scenario is derived from Bolshevik
‘Stalin did not create his particular version
of the anti-bureaucrat scenario in a vacuum, and so we have to consider
Stalin as a Bolshevik’.
In addition, to this
particular theme, Lih argues that
‘Stalin could plausibly claim Lenin’s
authority for his scenario, since Lenin also viewed public administration as
a dramatic struggle against a class enemy’.
( ibid. p.16)
According to Lars Lih,
Stalin paid a great deal of attention to the question of how to go about the
task of running and controlling the state, thus
‘Stalin’s antibureaucrat scenario arose out of
his reflections on that problem’.
(Op. cit. p.17)
IMLR: If there are two
views of Stalin, one the Trotskyist view which argues that Stalin was an
instrument of the Soviet bureaucracy, and the opposing, Marxist-Leninist
view, which says Stalin fought the Soviet bureaucracy, both of these views
cannot be right. How do you suggest going about resolving this contradictory
TC: Firstly, let me
point out that Trotskyists do not simply say that Stalin was a servant of
the Soviet bureaucracy, this view in itself is inaccurate, but what they
actually say is that Stalin was the servant of a conservative and
counterrevolutionary bureaucracy, regardless of all the hard evidence to the
contrary. Secondly, it is not a question, in my view, of ‘resolving’
contradictory thesis, but discarding the incorrect thesis. And the
incorrect, less concrete thesis here emanates from Trotsky. The Stalin of
Trotskyism is an instrument of Soviet bureaucracy. The Stalin of
Marxism-Leninism fights against the negative aspects, including the
counterrevolutionary, thermidorian elements within the Soviet bureaucracy.
All the higher academic research circles, although not writing from a
Marxist-Leninist perspective and are anti-Stalin in most cases, agree that
Stalin was the scourge of the Soviet bureaucrats. Those historians and
biographers who try to maintain a certain degree of historical objectivity,
given the constraints of bourgeois research, come to the same conclusion.
Thus, one writer argues that
of the material published in the West on Stalin has been written by those
who are hostile or with a strong bias against him’.
( Ian Grey: Stalin Man of History; preface, p. xvii)
Grey writes from a completely bourgeois perspective, but at least he recognises the open
bias against Stalin in academic circles. To defend the Marxist-Leninist view
on Stalin I began by finding evidence from the most anti-Stalin writers and
writers who try to be less bias. This prevents me from being accused of
being biased or restricting myself to writers who have a favourable attitude
to Stalin. The story of Stalin’s drive against the Soviet bureaucracy has
been told often enough, although mostly from a totally anti-Stalin
perspective. But before examining the retrospective theory of
‘Stalin Against the Soviet Bureaucracy’,
i.e., a theory about the past, some general background information is
required, both of a theoretical and concrete nature.
Marxist-Leninists the view, as explained in Lenin’s State and Revolution,
that to imagine that bureaucracy can be ‘abolished’ overnight
‘…is a utopia’.(See
Lenin: State and Revolution: Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1975; p.48)
Indeed, Lenin speaks of
‘…the gradual abolition of all bureaucracy’.
(ibid: p. 48)
or he refers to
‘…the gradually withering away of all
In short, for
Marxist-Leninists, as opposed to Trotskyists, bureaucracy is something which
cannot be abolished right away, as if by magic. It is something which can be
abolished only ‘gradually’ and in this context Lenin supports the view,
opposed to anarchism, that the state bureaucracy ‘withers’ away.
It should be clear,
therefore, that on this most fundamental point Trotskyism, in relation to
the Soviet Union, breaks from Marxism on the question of the ‘withering
away’ of bureaucracy in the period of the transition to communism.
Regarding the Soviet Union, Trotsky instead calls for a ‘political
revolution’ supposedly aimed against a mythical ‘Stalinist’ bureaucracy. In
contrast to Trotskyism, Marxist-Leninists do not call for the overthrow of
bureaucracy but rather to fight against its negative aspects and bringing it
under the control of the working class led by the communist vanguard.
It is possible for
Trotskyists to argue that while I am referring to bureaucracy in general,
Trotsky, in fact, called for the overthrow of the ‘Stalinist’ bureaucracy in
particular. This, however, does not change matters one bit, for two reasons.
Firstly because if there was a specifically ‘Stalinist’ bureaucracy, as the
Trotskyists argue, there is no reason to suppose that such a bureaucracy
should be treated differently from other state bureaucracies in general, and
secondly, the category of the ‘Stalinist’ bureaucracy is an invention, a
false theoretical construct offered up by Trotsky. Certainly, Stalin had his
supporters in party and state, but to refer to this as a ‘bureaucracy’ is a
misnomer. And, as I have already pointed out, nowhere in the writing of
Trotsky is the category ‘Stalinist bureaucracy’ differentiated from the idea
of ‘Soviet bureaucracy’. Both terms are used interchangeably. In other
words, when the Trotskyists spoke of a political revolution to overthrow the
‘Stalinist’ bureaucracy, they actually mean overthrowing the Soviet
bureaucracy, which as a bureaucracy, as Lenin explains, ‘withers away’, or
is ‘abolished’ only in the course of a long struggle, gradually. Therefore,
we arrive at the conclusion that the Trotskyist ‘political revolution’
slogan was due to factional considerations expressing itself in the form of
petty-bourgeois phrase mongering of the anarchist type.
IMLR: Do you think there
were other considerations prompting Trotsky to change his views on the
matter, that is, regarding the struggle against bureaucracy from a long term
perspective to his political revolution short term perspective?
TC: I think we need to
start from the fact that criticism of the Soviet bureaucracy is as old as
the revolution itself. Trotsky, known as a friend of the bureaucrats in the
early days of the revolution, only takes the issue up when he began to lose
his power. We need not hold this against him, for as the saying goes: better
late than never. The problem we face is that Trotsky’s understanding of the
problem of bureaucracy during the transition to socialism under Soviet
conditions became distorted by his general political views.
IMLR: Can you elaborate
on this point of how Trotsky’s position on bureaucracy was ‘distorted’ by
his general political views?
TC: What I mean is that
Trotsky introduces the abstraction of what he calls a
‘counterrevolutionary’ Soviet or Stalinist bureaucracy. This abstraction
is able to mislead leftists because it provides an identifiable target.
However, Marxist-Leninists reject this view as abstract, and refer instead
to the counterrevolutionary elements within the Soviet bureaucracy.
Trotsky argues that this bureaucracy is counterrevolutionary; it defends
socialism in one country; it is leading the country back to capitalism, and
so on. Consequently, we are told that this bureaucracy must be overthrown by
means of a ‘political revolution’. Is not all this clearly pseudo-leftism
when compared with the Marxist-Leninist view that bureaucracy cannot be
abolished, instead it withers away. If we view things from a
Marxist-Leninist perspective, the argument that the Soviet bureaucracy is
counterrevolutionary and that this was expressed by its upholding ‘socialism
in one country’, represents a break from Marxism-Leninism, not only on the
question of the withering away of bureaucracy, but also on the notion of a
counterrevolutionary bureaucracy, because this suggest that there are
IMLR: Are you saying that
Trotsky turned the issue of bureaucracy into a factional issue?
TC: Yes, and bureaucracy
is more than a factional issue, or a political issue. Marxist-Leninists
believe that Trotskyism simplifies the issue of bureaucracy by one-sidedly
reducing it to a mere political problem. All ruling classes rule through a
bureaucracy to one degree or another, and the working class is no exception
to this. Therefore, pseudo-leftist Trotskyist talk about overthrowing the
Soviet or ‘Stalinist’ bureaucracy plays into the hands of the
counterrevolution. Trotsky himself recognised this clearly at one stage,
remarking in a letter he wrote to his son in 1932 that
‘At present Miliukov, the Menshevik and
Thermidoreans of all sorts…will willing echo the cry “Remove Stalin”. Yet,
it may happen within a few months that Stalin may have to defend himself
against Thermidorean pressure, and that we may temporarily have to support
him…This being so, the Slogan “Down with Stalin” is ambiguous and should not
be raised as a war cry at this moment’.
(See Deutscher: The
And in the ‘Bulletin of
the Opposition, No. 33, Trotsky argued that if what he called the
‘bureaucratic equilibrium ‘…in the USSR
were to be upset at present, this would almost benefit the forces of
In short, Trotsky
admitted that his own slogan could play a counterrevolutionary role,
although he never made it clear under what condition it would fail to do so.
IMLR: While a ruling
class needs a bureaucracy to one degree or another one cannot confuse the
ruling class, in this case the proletariat, with the bureaucracy because the
latter can develop separate interests. How do you reply argument?
TC: As I previously
mentioned, this was a problem recognised by Karl Marx way back in 1848. If
you read his ‘Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law’,
we find Marx arguing that bureaucracy was based on the modern division
between state and society. For Marx, bureaucracy had the state in its
possession, as belonging to itself like private property. Bureaucracy,
argued Marx, was an embodiment, or expression of ‘particular’ interests.
This view was Marx’s response to Hegel’s (1770-1831) view that bureaucracy
expressed the universal interests. For Marx, the problem of bureaucracy
arose when there was a separation between state and society. The state
itself emerges from the contradiction between classes in society, and will
only cease to exist when these contradictions come to an end.
IMLR: Do you think that
socialism in general is faced with the problem of bureaucracy, or was the
Soviet Union an exception?
TC: That is a very
interesting question. It is certainly not easy to answer in the abstract.
What you call the problem of bureaucracy assumes two forms: one is the
administrative or operational dysfunction of bureaucracy, its negative
expression, and the other is the socio-political aspect of the problem. When
Lenin began the struggle against bureaucracy, he had in mind mainly the
dysfunctional aspect of the problem. That is to say, he was concerned mostly
with the administrative functional or operational side of the problem. The
issue here was how to improve the performance of the Soviet administration.
For Lenin if the Soviet bureaucracy could raise to the level of a
bureaucracy such as exist in an ordinary bourgeois democratic republic this
would represent a huge gain. The socio-political aspect of the problem
concerns the issue of separation of the bureaucracy from society and the
transformation of its top stratum into a ruling elite alien to socialism.
IMLR: Is not this one of
the aspect, which Trotsky brought to the fore, the view that the Soviet
bureaucracy was assuming a privileged status in relation to the masses?
TC: Yes, as I said
previously, Trotsky draws attention to this issue. But the impression
Trotsky gives is that a privileged stratum in Soviet Society only emerged in
the Stalin period. In fact although Trotsky railed against privilege after
he lost power, A. Kussinen recounts a story that after the October
revolution Trotsky’s parents were given the home of a former well-to-do
Russian, they had several servants, a cook and the house was provided with
all ‘The comforts one could wish for’.
( A. Kuusinen: Before and After Stalin: p. 24)
Trotsky’s argument that
Stalin represented a privileged stratum ignores the fact that a privilege
stratum existed before the Stalin ascendancy, in the period when Trotsky was
prominent in the leadership. And although Trotsky ensured that his own
family had all ‘the comforts one could wish for’, the Trotskyists do not
argue that Trotsky was the representative of a privilege stratum.
Trotsky was right about the emergence of a privilege stratum in Soviet
TC: Yes, a privileged
stratum, which included is own family. What I am saying is that a privileged
stratum began to emerge in Soviet society soon after the socialist
revolution in 1917. Therefore, it is wrong to mislead people along the lines
that this stratum only emerged in the period of Stalin, and that Stalin
represented this particular stratum. Economic factors were the main
contributory factors behind the rise of a privileged stratum in the Soviet
bureaucracy, and I have touched upon how this began. The origins of
privilege following the communist seizure of power can be traced back to the
Red Army under the leadership of Trotsky, who promoted the policy of
granting privileges to the officer caste, or military specialists to ensure
loyalty to a government which was hanging by a thread. This system was then
extended to key personnel in the Soviet bureaucracy for the same reason.
IMLR: The Anarchist,
Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1876), claimed that communism would lead to the rule
of a bureaucracy, and Weber, the bourgeois sociologist, referred to
communism leading to the rule of officials. Some commentators claimed that
Soviet experience confirmed this Anarchist perspective, and Milovan Djilas
saw communism as the rule of a new bureaucratic class, which came to power
on the basis of nationalised property. How do you reply to these kinds of
TC: The question can be
simply put. Does communism, that is the Marxist project, lead to the rule of
a new bureaucratic class or caste, and did the Soviet experience confirm
this view? My reply is that this question cannot be answered ‘abstractly’
with a ‘either/or’ format, i.e., either communism leads to the rule of a new
bureaucratic class or it does not. Anarchist may argue, abstractly, that
communism leads to the rule of a new bureaucratic class, but this is to
ignore concrete factors, which determine the outcome of the struggle for
IMLR: So, what you are
saying is that the struggle for communism is not predetermined to end in the
rule of a new bureaucratic class?
TC: This is precisely
what I am saying, and suggestions otherwise simply serve the interest of
anti-communism, and are in fact counterrevolutionary.
IMLR: In your view,
then, the history of the former Soviet Union does not support the anarchist
TC: What the Soviet
Union demonstrated is the need for a constant struggle against the negative
aspects of bureaucracy on the one hand, and on the other, the struggle
against bureaucrats becoming a new political ruling class. This was part of
the meaning of Stalin’s struggle against Soviet bureaucracy which culminated
in the extensive purges of the 1930s, and which led me to the notion of
Stalin Against the Soviet Bureaucracy’, an attempt to draw attention to the
role of Stalin in the struggle against Soviet bureaucracy,
IMLR: But the Anarchists
would, no doubt, insist that Marxian communism ended in bureaucratic rule,
thus confirming Bakunin’s thesis. How do Marxist-Leninists concretely reply
to this argument?
TC: As always
Marxism-Leninism must base itself on a concrete study of each particular
situation. Thus to say that Bakunin’s thesis was confirmed by Soviet
experience without the benefit of a concrete study will not get us very far.
In the period of Lenin and Stalin the bureaucracy, or its leading stratum,
did not constitute itself as a new ruling class, or caste. The
bureaucrats remained, in all essentials, servants of the state, under the
direction of the party, with any official subject to removal.
Marxist-Leninists do not confuse bureaucratisation of the state apparatus
with the notion that the bureaucrats had become a new ruling class or caste.
Lenin referred to a workers state with bureaucratic distortions, but this
did not mean that the bureaucrats had become a new ruling class, or caste.
In fact, one of the reasons for the 1930s purge was to prevent the
consolidation of the top stratum from consolidating itself into a new ruling
class or caste.
IMLR: How do you, or
indeed, can you, support this thesis on the basis of Marxism?
TC: Well, in Marxism, a
ruling class is defined ultimately, or even in the first instance, by its
relations to the means of production, by which both Marx, Engels and Lenin
In the Soviet Union, even
in the period of revisionist rule, from 1956 onwards, the bureaucrats
certainly did not own the means of production either individually, or
collectively. It has been suggested by various writers that although the
bureaucrats did not own the means of production, juridically speaking, they
nevertheless control the state, which in turn owns the means of production.
In this view, the means of production belongs to those who control the
state, but this is a fallacy. There are those who have fallen for this
superficial view because it contains an element of truth, i.e., in the
former Soviet Union, the state owned the means of production, and the
bureaucracy controlled the State. The question is who controls the
bureaucracy. In the case of the Soviet Union in the period of Stalin control
resided in the party and non-party people. This leads to the question of who
controlled the party and this is a matter of class ideological struggle. To
determine who concretely is the ruling class one needs to understand that
the concept ‘ruling class’ refers to or means ‘dominant class’. The dominant
class in the period of Lenin and Stalin was the working class, because only
the ruling class can determine the general direction of society. In a
bourgeois society, the capitalists’ rule through a state bureaucracy, no one
isolates the bureaucracy as such and claims it is the ruling class, although
it often has more power, far more power than individual capitalists do.
Another point is that in the Soviet Union, Stalin fought revisionism, and
this is not an abstract inconsequential matter because revisionism is the
form in which the new bourgeoisie strive to gain control of a socialist
country or communist party to reverse the movement towards communism.
IMLR: Is there a danger
of a struggle for power between the working class and the bureaucracy in a
post-capitalist society, in a process of socialist transformation?
TC: I think this is an
important question which does not, in my view, apply only to the specific
conditions of backwardness, although the latter conditions would seem to
favour a bureaucracy seizing power, not a too difficult task to achieve
since bureaucracy already physically controls the state. A bureaucracy,
technically runs, or controls the state, although it does not have political
power as such. Consequently, the decisive thing for a society in a process
of socialist transformation is: who has the political power? When the
working class has political power, that power will be used to promote
socialism, as a strategic goal. In other words, the main direction of
society is one of the tests to answer the question, who has political power.
It is possible to speak of a struggle for power between the working class
and a section of the bureaucracy in post capitalist society. In essence,
this would be a struggle between the working class and a new bourgeoisie
emerging in the state and party apparatus. In this respect, one should speak
of bureaucrats seizing political power not bureaucracy doing so. This would
be a transition from merely administrative power to political power.
IMLR: So you are saying
that although bureaucrats have administrative power, i.e., they run the
means of administration, they do not necessarily have political power, and
the latter power is the decisive factor?
TC: It is political
power which ultimately directs administrative power, not the other way
round. Of course, the latter can attempt to sabotage political directives.
Political power, in the widest sense, expresses itself in being able to
determine the main, strategic direction of a given society. In a society,
undergoing socialist transformation class struggle continues in one form or
another, to one degree or another. This may take the form of a struggle
between the working class and a section of the bureaucracy, and in a
situation where the working class does not possess sufficient class
consciousness, or political culture in general, or is weak in some other
respect, sections of the bureaucracy may attempt to transform their
administrative power into political power.
IMLR: To what extent, if
at all, did any section of the Soviet bureaucracy transform its
administrative power into political power?
TC: This certainly did
not happen in the period of Lenin or Stalin. However, in the post-Stalin
period, with revisionism on the rise, the bureaucracy could assert itself
more, and so it’s political influence actually grew. This was a significant
contrast with the Stalin period when the bureaucrats had to watch their
step. In this respect, Trotskyist ideology has served to conceal the extent
of Stalin’s anti-bureaucracy struggle, while not explaining how the
revisionists usurped power in the Soviet Union.
IMLR: Did Stalin have an
TC: This is an
interesting question in view of the fact that Lenin had warned against
anti-bureaucracy platforms, or in other words turning the issue of
bureaucracy into a political factional issue. What Stalin had was a view
which saw many of the bureaucrats as enemies. Lars. T. Lih refers to this as
‘Stalin’s antibureaucrat scenario’, which, Lih argues, guided Stalin in his
day-to-day work. This ‘anti-bureaucracy scenario’, as noted previously, was
derived from Bolshevik political tradition. Accordingly, Lih is convinced
that Stalin cannot be properly understood outside of the context of his
Bolshevik derived antibureaucrat scenario. So to answer your question, what
Stalin had was not an anti-bureaucracy platform, but rather an
anti-bureaucracy view, or scenario. This was his response to the dangers
inherent in Soviet bureaucracy, which Lenin had warned against.
Consequently, Stalin called for
‘…a resolute struggle against bureaucracy in
the direction of enlisting the broad masses of the working class in this
struggle’. (J. V.
Stalin: Works. 7; pp. 349-501)
For Stalin the
bureaucratic element and its growth threatened a separation or ‘divorce’
between the party and the broad masses of the working people. He believed
that only the struggle against bureaucracy could avert this danger. Part of
this struggle would entail paying
‘…attention and thought to the requirements
and needs of the working class, less bureaucratic formalism’.
Etc. (J. V. Stalin; Works 7; P.214)
For Stalin, bureaucracy,
or its negative features, was pervasive. The state, public sector was not
‘…bearing in mind the survivals of bureaucracy
persisting in the managing bodies of our enterprises’. (
Stalin: ibid. p. 312)
And at the Fourteenth
Congress, 1925, Stalin noted that
‘Lenin, who proclaimed our Soviet system a
proletarian type state, castigated it for its bureaucratic survivals more
strongly than anybody else’.
( ibid. 313)
Stalin went to great
lengths to make a distinction between the apparatus of proletarian state
power and what Lenin called its bureaucratic distortion. For Stalin the
question was to struggle against the latter, not to throw out the baby with
the bath water. Thus he argued that a distinction must be drawn between the
proletarian state and
‘…the heritage and survivals still persisting
in the system and apparatus of the state’.
(Stalin: ibid. p.313)
And for Stalin the same
applied to state industries where it was necessary to
‘…draw a distinction between the bureaucratic
survivals in the state enterprises and the type of structure of industry
that we call the socialist type’.
(Stalin: ibid. p.313)
So Stalin, then, was in
no doubt about the negative features of socialist development, but these
were survivals from the past. Nevertheless,
‘It was wrong to say that because our economic
bodies, out trusts, suffer from mistakes, bureaucracy, and so forth, our
state industry is not socialist’.
( ibid. p. 313-4)
I think in all these
statements we see Stalin’s anti-bureaucratic perspective absolutely clearly.
Those who argue that Stalin did not have an anti-bureaucratic perspective
are either ignorant or dishonest. That Stalin did not make a factional issue
out of the problems with bureaucracy was entirely in keeping with Lenin’s
advice. The resolute struggle against Soviet bureaucracy which Stalin
demanded resulted in the repression of the Soviet fifth column, 1937-1939.
However, it would be erroneous to conclude that
‘Stalin Against the Soviet Bureaucracy’
had its origins in the struggle of this period. As we have seen for
instance, Lars Lih correctly associates Stalin’s anti-bureaucracy
perspectives with Bolshevik political culture. This view is also supported
by Professor Sheila Fitzpatrick who writes that
‘All revolutionaries, all Bolsheviks were
against “bureaucracy”. They could happily see themselves as party leaders
or militant commanders, but what true revolutionaries could admit to
becoming a bureaucrat, a chinovnik of the new regime’.
(S. Fitzpatrick: The Russian 1917-1932 Revolution: p.93)
IMLR: In the trade union
discussions of 1920-1921, you drew attention to Stalin’s remark that Trotsky
was the ‘patriarch’
of bureaucrats. Would you say that it was during this period that ‘Stalin
Against the Soviet Bureaucracy’ emerged?
TC: At the Thirteenth
Conference of the Party in 1924, Stalin referred to Trotsky as the
‘patriarch of bureaucrats’.
(See Stalin’s Work. Vol. 6; p. 29) Stalin was quite unaware of what he was
about to bring down on himself, because Trotsky was to spend the rest of his
life shedding his early pro-bureaucratic image, which came out in the trade
union discussions when Trotsky called for the militarisation of labour and
fascist type abolition of trade union independence. Part of Trotsky’s
campaign was to shift the pro-bureaucracy image onto Stalin. However, I
think, or I would argue that Stalin’s antipathy towards bureaucracy dates
back to an even earlier period. In fact, we find him railing against
bureaucracy in his younger years when the oppressive Tsarist bureaucracy was
IMLR: To what extent
would you say that the Russian revolution inherited all the problems
associated with the old Tsarist bureaucracy, and to what extent were these
TC: The revolution
inherited all the problems of the old bureaucracy and created new ones. From
serving the Tsarist regime the bureaucracy was made to serve the new
masters, but as the state took on more responsibilities the bureaucracy grew
and became ever more difficult to direct.
IMLR: In general terms,
how do Marxist-Leninists regard the Soviet Union in the period of Stalin,
and how does this understanding relate to the problem of Soviet bureaucracy?
TC: The Soviet Union in
the period of Stalin was a society in the process of socialist
transformation. This means that the Soviet Union was a transitional society.
The Fourteenth Congress of the C.P.S.U. (B) known as the ‘industrialisation
Congress’ defeated the opposition to building socialism in one country as
part of the world revolutionary process. Stalin told the delegates to the
Congress, December 1925 that the period after the wars of intervention had
become or had been transformed into a period
‘…of “peaceful co-existence” between the land
of the Soviets and the capitalist countries’.
(J. V. Stalin: Works. 7; p.268)
Although this was an
unstable situation, for Stalin it allowed a certain reprieve for the Soviet
Union, which would continue the struggle for peace as the basic element of
Soviet foreign policy. The meaning of the idea that the Soviet Union was a
transitional society is to recognise that the society combines features of
the past with those of the socialist future. I think this was a basically
correct view. All the negative aspects of Soviet bureaucracy, including the
existence of a privileged element within it has to be viewed in this
context. The October revolution led to a transitional society in the most
adverse conditions possible! And we are all aware that it contained a number
of negative features.
IMLR: In other words,
the Soviet Union was no perfect socialist society?
TC: There is no such
thing as a “perfect” socialist society. Such a conception is a one-sided,
non-dialectical abstraction when applied to socialism. The end of NEP came
at around 1928-1929. If we argue that the real, that is, substantive
transition to socialism begins after NEP circa 1930 under the leadership of
J. V. Stalin, what we find is that six years later, in 1936 Trotsky writes
his ‘Revolution Betrayed’, to prove that the Soviet Union was not a perfect
socialist society, or one that was not socialist enough, that it had many
defects, negative features and shortcomings. Only six years after the new
stage in the transition to socialism, following NEP, Trotsky writes a book
to show that that the Soviet Union fell short of the socialist ideals, which
the revolution aspired to. Now six years in terms of social development is
less than a second. Thus, we can put this another way. If social development
is our measure, less than a second after Stalin begins the new stage of
socialist transformation after NEP, Trotsky writes ‘Revolution Betrayed’ to
prove that the Soviet Union fell short of the socialist ideal. Consequently,
we have to conclude that this work has little to do with Marxism, as far as
the transition to socialism is concerned.
The ultra left accusation
that Stalin had betrayed the revolution was similar to the accusation
levelled at Lenin in 1921 that he had betrayed the revolution after
introducing the New Economic Policy.
IMLR: You have said that
‘Stalin Against the Soviet Bureaucracy’
did not emerge suddenly. Its genesis can be found in Bolshevik political
traditions. Do you think that Stalin was in any way influenced by Trotsky’s
‘Revolution Betrayed’ to adopt a more aggressive stance towards the Soviet
TC: This is certainly an
interesting, although nevertheless, not provable proposition. What Trotsky
argues is that the Soviet bureaucracy is a counterrevolutionary agency
within the workers’ state; therefore, it needs to be overthrown by means of
a political revolution. We have examined the notion of whether we can really
speak of a counterrevolutionary bureaucracy in regard to the Soviet Union.
We came to the conclusion that such a notion is one-sided, and abstract
because in reality the Soviet bureaucracy, at all levels, did not only
contain counterrevolution elements; it also contained progressive
revolutionary elements as well. For this reason, Marxist-Leninists regard
Trotsky's theory of a 'counterrevolutionary bureaucracy’ as an abstraction.
Indeed, it is the abstract nature of Trotsky’s ideas which is the most recognisable signature of Trotsky’s theoretical formulations.
Marxist-Leninists oppose to Trotsky’s view the need to struggle against
counterrevolutionary elements within the Soviet bureaucracy, which is what
Stalin spent part of his time doing.
IMLR: At one stage
Trotsky recognised that the Soviet bureaucracy was not a one-sidedly
counterrevolutionary force, but Trotskyism seemed to have retreated from
this position. Why do you think that this was the case?
TC: At one stage Trotsky
spoke about the ‘dual’ nature of the Soviet bureaucracy, yet he and the
pro-Trotsky writers failed to realise that if the Soviet bureaucracy had a
‘dual’ nature, it would be highly inappropriate to employ the category of
‘counterrevolutionary’ in its definition. To theoretically recognise that
something as a dual nature, but then to approach it in a one-sided way makes
no sense. This is precisely what Trotsky did when he formulated his theory
about the counterrevolutionary Soviet, or ‘Stalinist’ bureaucracy. The
difficulty of ascribing the concept ‘counterrevolutionary’ to the former
Soviet bureaucracy should be apparent to concrete reasoning, because the
concept ‘counterrevolutionary’ is a non-contradictory concept, whereas the
Soviet bureaucracy by its very nature was heterogeneous and contradictory.
That is why Marxist-Leninists reject the Trotskyist theory of a
counterrevolutionary Soviet bureaucracy as meaningless, and abstract, while
maintaining, of course, that there were counterrevolutionary elements
within the bureaucracy. Trotsky’s theory of the ‘counterrevolutionary
Soviet/Stalinist bureaucracy is an abstract, simplistic category which
disregard the real complexity of Soviet bureaucracy. Thus, we are dealing
with the kind of petty bourgeois ‘revolutionary’ phrase mongering beloved by
Trotsky and which Lenin warned against.
‘The whole of Marxism teaches us not to
succumb to revolutionary phrases, particularly at a time when they have the
(V. I. Lenin: Vol. 36; p. 439)
IMLR: Why do you think
Trotsky disregarded the heterogeneous nature of the Soviet bureaucracy, by
putting forward a one-sided view referred to as the ‘counterrevolutionary'
Soviet or Stalinist bureaucracy; was this due solely to his political
opposition to Stalin?
TC: It is partly due to
his opposition to Stalin. As far as reasoning is concerned, if we return to
the controversy over the trade union question concerning their role under
socialism, Lenin essentially criticised Trotsky for a abstract form of
thinking which never strove to relate to the concrete
‘Comrade Trotsky speaks of a ‘workers’ state’.
May I say that this is an abstraction’.
(V. I. Lenin: CW. Vol. 32; p.24)
Lenin then proceeds to
give a concrete definition of the Soviet State. For instance, it is not only
workers’ state but a workers’ and peasants’ state, and not only this either
‘Our Party Programme shows that ours is a
workers’ state with a bureaucratic twist to it’.
(Lenin: ibid. p. 120)
Lenin regarded Trotsky’s
thesis on the role of the trade union under socialism as characteristic of
Trotsky’s methodology, remarking that
‘All his theses are based on “general
principles”, an approach which is in itself fundamentally wrong…’
(V. I. Lenin: op. cit. p. 22)
What Lenin is saying here
is that in his reasoning Trotsky fails to descend to the level of the
richness of the concrete particular, which means simultaneously to rise to a
higher, concrete level of thinking. For instance in the debate over the
trade unions, which is recorded in volume 32, Lenin remarks that Trotsky’s
‘…highbrow, abstract, “empty” and
theoretically incorrect general theses which ignore all that
is most practical and business-like’.
(Lenin: ibid. p. 85)
“empty”; these are words which Lenin employs to describe the results of
Trotsky’s thinking. What Lenin is suggesting is that Trotsky’s ideas lacks
concreteness: this is evident in his theory of ‘permanent
the transition from the democratic to the socialist stage of the revolution
is regarded entirely as an abstract process which fails to take into
consideration the real, actual, concrete conditions issuing from the first
imperialist war, which made the transition to the socialist revolution
possible. Again the abstractedness of Trotsky’s way of thinking is most
clearly expressed in his ‘no peace no
war’ policy at
Brest Litovsk, which played into the hands of counterrevolutionary forces.
Trotsky’s later abstract definition of the workers’ state, which Lenin
comments on is precursor to his later abstract theory about a
counterrevolutionary Soviet or Stalinist
carries all the hallmarks of Trotskyism and in fact deserves the epithets
Lenin used in describing Trotsky’s way of thinking: highbrow, abstract,
Lenin referred to
Trotsky as having theoretically produced
‘a truly hopeless “ideological confusion”.
(Lenin: ibid. p.85)
Also Lenin warned that
Trotsky’s mistakes unless admitted and corrected
‘…leads to the collapse of the
dictatorship of the proletariat’.
(V. I. Lenin: Vol. 32; p. 85)
The ‘abstract’ nature of
Trotsky’s reasoning has been commented on by other writers, even pro-Trotsky
ones. We not only see this abstract reasoning at work in Trotsky’s category
of the ‘counterrevolutionary Soviet/Stalinist bureaucracy’, ignoring the
concrete nature of the bureaucracy, its contradictory, heterogeneous
reality. But when capitalism was restored in the Soviet Union, Trotskyism’s
abstract nature comes to the fore again and the counterrevolution is made to
be the result of some faceless bureaucracy, rather than the work of a
conscious revisionist political leadership, which had to overcome the
resistance of sections of the bureaucracy at every level and promoted their
reforms as an improvement of socialism to deceive the working class. The
central concept of post-Lenin Trotskyism is the notion of ‘the
counterrevolutionary Stalinist bureaucracy’. This abstraction prevents
pseudo-left elements from understanding real concrete processes; thus, one
pro-Trotsky writer remarks that
‘The degeneration of the Russian Revolution is
one of the most complex social processes in the history of man’.
(Tim Wohlforth: The Theory of Structural Assimilation, in: Communist Against
Revolution – Two Essays on Post-war Stalinism; p. 5)
But such a statement is
nothing but pure mystification, because there is nothing complex about the
degeneration of the Russian revolution, certainly not to qualify it as the
most complex in the history of man. In fact, it is quite simple.
Counterrevolutionary tendencies always exist in a society undergoing
socialist transformation, but are kept in check. As Stalin explained to the
Trotsky-Zinoviev opposition in 1927, as long as classes exist thermidorian
tendencies will continue to exist. If a revisionist leadership comes to
power, or in fact any other form of incorrect leadership, such
counterrevolutionary tendencies will gain the ascendancy over the socialist
IMLR: Trotsky projected
his struggle against Stalin as a struggle against bureaucratic centrism,
i.e., opportunism. How do Marxist-Leninists respond to this argument?
TC: Well, in the
pre-revolutionary period, Trotsky struggled against Lenin, and this was no
doubt, in his view, a struggle against opportunism. But the truth is that
Trotskyism gave birth to a form of pseudo-leftism, otherwise known as
ultra-leftism, and left opportunism. This point can be illustrated on
various issues. A good example of this ultra-leftism is given by Trotsky in
‘The Platform of the Joint Opposition’ of 1927, where in chapter twelve,
called ‘Against opportunism-for the unity of the party’ Trotsky defends
Lenin’s definition of opportunism, i.e., it is a bloc between the upper
strata of the working class and the bourgeoisie directed against the
majority of the working class, a bloc, in other words against the socialist
revolution, but then Trotsky goes on to make the following remark
‘In the conditions now existing in the Soviet
Union, opportunism in its completed form would be an aspiration of the upper
strata of the working class towards compromise with the developing new
bourgeoisie (kulaks and Nepmen) and with world capitalism, at the expense of
the interests of the broad mass of the workers and the peasant poor’.
(Trotsky: The Platform of the Joint Opposition; New Park; p. 107)
But the conditions
existing at the time, which Trotsky is referring to, was NEP. This was a
period of compromise with capitalism, the Kulak and Nepmen, and indeed, with
world capitalism. Unlike Marxism-Leninism, Trotsky does not make it clear
that there are different types of compromises, compromises that serve the
interest of the working class and socialist revolution, and compromises that
undermine these interests. By ignoring the question of different types of
compromises, the impression given is that all compromises are at the expense
of the revolution. This leads to opening the door to ultra-leftism.
The ultra-left approach
is also given clear expression in Trotsky’s category of a
counterrevolutionary Soviet or ‘Stalinist’ bureaucracy. Trotsky ignores the
concrete Soviet bureaucracy with all its contradiction and heterogeneity,
and applies the concept of ‘counterrevolutionary’ to it. Marxist-Leninists on the other hand start from the concrete bureaucracy,
recognising its contradictory and heterogeneous nature and thus advocate the
need to purge the counterrevolutionary elements within it. What all this
brings to light is the difference between the conceptual tools used
respectively by Marxism-Leninism and Trotskyism: the concrete conceptual
tools of Marxism-Leninism and the abstract conceptual tools of Trotskyism.
IMLR: How do you define
the nature of the contradiction between the working class and bureaucracy in
a society undergoing socialist transformation, assuming that such a
TC: My answer to this
important question is that, given a correct Marxist-Leninist leadership, the
nature of the contradiction between the working class and bureaucracy in a
society going through a process of socialist transformation is that of a non-antagonistic contradiction, that is to say a contradiction which can
be gradually resolved without the need for a new political revolution. Marxist-Leninists would be justified in speaking about the need for a
political revolution if a situation arose where the bureaucracy had formed
itself into a new class and had seized political power. Was this the
case in the Stalin period? I do not think so. All the evidence shows that
the Soviet bureaucracy in the period of Stalin had not seized political
power. The bureaucrats, when the need arose, could and were purged and
removed from office by the Marxist-Leninist leadership under the direction
of J. V. Stalin and his supporters in the central committee of the party. It
was only in the revisionist period that things began to change and the
bureaucrats became more confident, and sought to transform themselves into a
new bureaucrat bourgeoisie. The political expression of this process was the
anti-Stalin campaign, the descent into revisionism and the denigration of
Stalin by the embryonic new bureaucrat bourgeoisie. In short, the
anti-Stalin campaign, the attempt to demonise Stalin, is the work of the new
embryonic revisionist bureaucrat bourgeoisie. Interestingly, when the
revisionists came out against Stalin in the Soviet Union in 1956, the
Trotskyists were beside themselves with joy. These people have always
condemned and misinterpreted Stalin’s anti-bureaucrat purges. What does this
mean in practical terms? It means that due to pseudo-left unconsciousness,
these people became the agents of the new bureaucrat bourgeoisie, which
sought to consolidate itself in the Soviet Union after Stalin. The
Trotskyist slogan of political revolution cannot be interpreted to mean a
struggle against bureaucracy because the problems of bureaucracy cannot be
eradicated by such political means. The slogan is, therefore, only
applicable against a class or caste which had actually taken political
power, but in the period of Stalin such was not the case.
IMLR: How did Soviet
Marxist-Leninists regard the question of bureaucracy after Stalin?
TC: For Soviet
Marxist-Leninists, Stalin played a most important role in the struggle
against bureaucracy. They argued in an anti-revisionist that
‘The purges of 1937 were, socially speaking,
directed in a very specific manner. They were aimed at the existing
bureaucratic apparatus, against the remnants of the exploiting classes and
one section of the intelligentsia’.
(Programme and Principles of the Revolutionary Soviet Communists; p. 16)
This was a struggle
against the remnants of the old bureaucracy, but
‘The main difficulty resided in the fact that
the problem was not limited solely to the struggle against the backwash of
the practices of the Old State apparatus’.
The purging of the old
bureaucracy, they suggested, led to the creation of a new bureaucracy
‘Thus, bureaucracy has become an obstacle to
the Revolution, a most dangerous enemy of the Revolution’.
Marxist-Leninists took the view that
‘…the Leninist method of dealing with the
bureaucrats demanded that it be applied even more firmly and forcefully to
the Communists who had degenerated’.
(Op. cit. pp. 17-18)
Marxist-Leninists, the struggle against the bureaucratic deviation in the
Soviet Union was a struggle against petty-bourgeois influence, thus they
‘It could be categorically stated that events
in 1937 were determined by the fact that the State apparatus of that period
was extremely bureaucratic and thus the struggle against bureaucracy and
against petty-bourgeois tendencies themselves were inevitably carried out in
a bureaucratic manner’.
(Ibid. p. 18)
Although we find, in some
places, at this stage that the Soviet Marxist-Leninists viewed the question
of bureaucracy in a semi abstract manner, they nevertheless made the
important observation that
‘It should be understood that Stalin only had
that bureaucratic apparatus to function with and that he could not exceed
the limits of its procedures and practices’.
They also argued that
‘….the growth of bureaucratism has gradually
formed a bureaucratic sector which divides the revolutionary centre from the
people and prevents them from functioning in harmony’.
(Op. cit. p.19)
IMLR: How do the views
of the Soviet Marxist-Leninists compares with what the Trotskyists had
Marxist-Leninists do not differ from Trotskyists on the question of there
being a bureaucratic problem following the Bolshevik seizure of power,
indeed, Marxist-Leninists were the first to recognise this problem even at a
time when Trotsky was arguing for policies which served to promote
bureaucracy. Where we differ from the Trotskyists concerns the question of
the correct way to go about combating this problem. In regard to this
question of how to fight bureaucracy, I think the Soviet Marxist-Leninists
had a more concrete understanding of the problem compared to which
Trotskyism has never reached. For instance they show that the struggle of
Stalin against the Soviet bureaucracy was contradictory because while
consolidating the dictatorship of the proletariat
‘…Stalin had to do two things at the same time
– use the bureaucratic apparatus and fight against it simultaneously’.
That the struggle against
bureaucracy is of a contradictory nature, involving the need for
Marxist-Leninists to use the same bureaucracy which they are fighting
against, a point which the Trotskyists refuse to grasp, is confirmed by
Sheila Fitzpatrick who argues that
‘Although Lenin saw the danger that Communist
values would be swamped by the old bureaucracy, he believed that the
Communists had no alternative to working with it’.
(Sheila Fitzpatrick: The
Russian Revolution: p.94)
This is a point that all
pseudo-left elements do not recognise, the contradictory nature of the
struggle against bureaucracy. They do not recognise, especially the
Trotskyists, that communists have to, indeed, are compelled to use the
bureaucracy and fight against it at the same time. The failure to recognise
the necessity of this contradiction is summed up in the Trotskyist slogan of
‘political’ revolution. Marxist-Leninists are therefore in an unenviable
position of not only to simultaneously use and fight against bureaucracy,
but also to fight against petty-bourgeois phrase mongering regarding the
struggle against bureaucracy. Marxist-Leninists in the Soviet Union after
Stalin, regarded the contradictory nature of the struggle against
bureaucracy, which Trotsky completely ignored, as crucial to explain
‘…why it was impossible for him [Stalin, ed.]
to defeat the bureaucracy decisively’.
(Op. cit. p.19)
We only need to add here
that the truth in this statement consists in the fact that no struggle
against bureaucracy can defeat bureaucracy decisively. This is in keeping
with the Marxist-Leninist view that, like the State, bureaucracy is
something which withers away. The Soviet Marxist-Leninists remarked
‘Stalin perceived how bureaucratism continued
to grow even while he mercilessly hit at it and the new forms it
Stalin’s struggle against
Soviet bureaucracy, a struggle which Marxist-Leninists argue is of a
contradictory nature, involving the need to fight bureaucracy while using it
at the same time, is also a struggle aimed at two different levels. The
first is the struggle against the negative aspects of bureaucracy, in other
words the struggle to make administrative work more efficiently. This aspect
of the struggle against bureaucracy was very relevant in the case of the
Soviet Union. The other level of the struggle against bureaucracy which
Stalin pursued was the struggle against sections of the bureaucracy turning
itself into a separate caste or estate; this struggle was aimed at the
bureaucracy consolidating itself into a new class which could per chance
seize political power from the working class, and thereby undermine the
process of socialist transformation. Indeed, it was this latter possibility
which came to the fore after Stalin died. Thus, the Soviet Marxist-Leninists
tell us that
‘Stalin’s death untied the hands of the
(Programme and Principles of the Revolutionary Soviet Communists; p. 20)
The aim of the
bureaucracy, acting through their ideological representatives, the
revisionists, was to remove the dictatorship of the proletariat, first in
theory and later in practice. Thus, we are told that
‘They hate Stalin because he was the main
support of the Socialist State, marrow and bone of the people, while they
are nothing but the excretion of the State’.
(Op. Cit. p.21)
therefore began to undermine Marxism-Leninism in the service of their own
petty-bourgeois class interests. They falsified Marxism-Leninism with their
doctrine of the State of the whole people, and the Party of the whole
people. The Soviet Marxist-Leninists tell us that bloating with privileges,
the bureaucrats had come to dominate every aspect of the life of the
‘Today the bureaucrats have been transformed
from the servants of the Soviet State power to the masters of the present
State apparatus’. (Op. cit. p.22)
Marxist-Leninists regarded those bureaucrats and their revisionist servants
who had gone against Marxism-Leninism, as the enemies of the working class
‘…more than that, a most dangerous enemy,
because they wear the uniform of the “Revolution”.
(Op. cit. p.24)
It is clear that in line
with other Marxist-Leninists, the Soviet Comrades regarded the revisionist
anti-Stalin campaign as having a class base in the petty-bourgeois strata.
The revisionists, we are told
‘…in the heat of the class battles they can be
mistaken for friends, causing the masses to put their trust in them and to
receive a stab in the back as payment for that trust’.
struggle against bureaucracy in the former Soviet Union was interwoven with
the struggle against petty-bourgeois revisionism. They recognised that the
fight against bureaucracy was contradictory in nature, that although
fighting against bureaucracy the Marxist-Leninists led by Stalin had to use
this bureaucracy at the same time, and that this struggle was directed at
two levels: the struggle to improve the functioning of the apparatus and the
struggle against sections of the bureaucracy consolidating itself as a
separate class which could seize political power from the working class. The
Marxist-Leninists also understood that the anti-Stalin campaign in the
communist movement had its class base in the petty bourgeois. On the right,
the anti-Stalin campaign was led by the servants of the bureaucracy, the
revisionists; On the pseudo-left, the anti-Stalin campaign was led by
Trotskyists, or tendencies inspired by Trotskyism, whose petty-bourgeois
phrase-mongering regarding the struggle against Soviet bureaucracy was an
expression of the failure to recognise the long-term and contradictory
nature of the struggle against bureaucracy.
IMLR: I would like to
return briefly to the Soviet Marxist-Leninist critique of bureaucracy in ‘Programme and Principles of Revolutionary Soviet Communists’. You said
that although having a correct position, occasionally they treat the matter
in a semi abstract manner. What exactly did you mean by this?
TC: What I meant was
that occasionally they refer to bureaucracy in such a way as to suggest that
the bureaucracy is regarded en-bloc as counterrevolutionary. As previously
pointed out, Marxist-Leninists do not use the concept of a counterrevolutionary bureaucracy, but rather speak of
counterrevolutionary elements within the bureaucracy. This is to treat
bureaucracy in a concrete manner.
IMLR: In Marx and Engels
Selected Works, we read that, ‘When the working class comes to power… it
must, in order not to lose its newly won supremacy, on the one hand, get rid
of the old machine of oppression which had been used against it, and on the
other hand, protect itself against its own deputies and functionaries’. To
what extent would you say this was achieved in the Soviet Union in the
period of Stalin, and were there functionaries so highly placed that they
could not be brought down?
TC: Within the
constraints imposed on him by objective conditions, Stalin did his best in
helping the working class to protect itself from bad functionaries. Shankar
Singh raise this same point, remarking that
‘The will of the Soviet people was to protect
themselves from their own deputies and functionaries and Stalin executed
that will. But in doing so, some mistakes, though not desirable, were
committed by the persons who were entrusted with the task’.
(Shankar Singh: Stalin: Allegations And Reality; Socialist Unity Centre of
India; p. 28)
I think that this is the
correct line to take. It is also the case as H. Brar argues that
‘It was only by fighting against bureaucracy,
by constantly purging the Party and the Soviet apparatus of this dross, and
by mobilising the masses in this fight, that the resistance of the class of
kulaks and other class enemies of the proletariat was broken, was socialism
built’. (H. Brar:
Trotskyism or Leninism; p.590)
It should therefore be
quite clear to the unbiased student that any interpretation of Stalin which
excludes or ignores his role in the struggle against Soviet bureaucracy both
in terms of its administrative shortcomings on the one hand, and on the
other, against the bureaucracy consolidating itself as a caste, or class,
would be to make a mockery of historical science.
For Stalin, the problems
associated with bureaucracy were pervasive.
he noted, ‘is one of the worst enemies
of our progress’.
(J. V. Stalin: Speech Delivered at the Eighth Congress of the All-Union
Leninist Young Communist League, May 16, 1927, in: Pravda, No. 133, May 17,
1928; also cited in: Ludo Marten: Another View of Stalin)
Stalin saw that the
problems with bureaucracy was not simply a question of fighting against the
old bureaucrats many of whom were hostile to the new system, but against
even those bureaucrats who displayed some sympathy, and finally against
communist bureaucrats because the latter are
‘…the most dangerous type of bureaucrat’.
The danger stemming from
the communist bureaucrats was because such a bureaucrat
‘…masks his bureaucracy with the title of
Stalin, in fact, had to
politically struggle on two fronts on the question of bureaucracy, as
previously explained. On the one hand, the struggle against revisionists who
served the interests of the bureaucrats and on the other hand the struggle
against petty-bourgeois phrase mongering about the struggle against
bureaucracy, represented by the Trotskyists. As to the question about
whether there were functionaries so highly placed that they could not be
brought down, there is a story recounted by Fitzroy MacLean, the British
foreign office official, that while he was watching Stalin on the Red Square
reviewing stand on May 1 he was struck by the other Politburo members who
‘…grinned nervously and moved uneasily from
one foot to the other, forgetting the parade and the high office they held
and everything else in their mingled joy and terror at being spoken to by
him’. (F. MacLean:
Eastern Approaches; p. 28)
Perhaps this effect, if
not produced by the cold weather, was produced by the realisation that in
the Struggle against bureaucracy no one was able to hide behind high office
and regard this as a badge of immunity.
IMLR: Finally, what
would you say is the essence of the difference between Marxist-Leninists and
Trotskyists on the question of the Soviet bureaucracy?
TC: Throughout this
interview, I hope this has been made clear. Not everything in life is
either/or, or black and white, as the saying goes. But of course, some
things are. The question of the nature of the Soviet bureaucracy is an
example. Communists can either choose to adopt the abstract Trotskyist
theory of a counterrevolutionary Soviet/Stalinist bureaucracy, which
according to Trotsky had seized political power in the period of Stalin. On
the other hand they can choose to adopt the Marxist-Leninist position, which
does not speak of a counterrevolutionary bureaucracy, but rather speaks of
counterrevolutionary elements, groups, or individuals in the Soviet
bureaucracy, who needed to be unmasked and purged, as part of the struggle
against the negative aspects of bureaucracy. This was the position which
both Lenin and Stalin adopted in the struggle against the bad sides of
bureaucracy in the Soviet Union.
IMLR: Comrade Clark,
LIST OF IMPORTANT PURGES
IN THE SOVIET UNION:
Soviet Purges 1921
Soviet Purges 1929
COMMUNIST PARTY ALLIANCE