On Trotskyism - Socialism in One Country - ICP

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On Trotskyism - Socialism in One Country - ICP

By 1923 it was clear that the bourgeoisie had staved off the immed­ iate post-war prospect of socialist revolution in Europe , and that for a number of years relative politi al stability would prevail in Europe. For the Russian working class this meant that the revo­ lution in Russia would have to proceed for a time without the sup­ port of socialist revolutions in the industrialised countries, or else it could not proceed at all. To make matters worse Lenin had been incapacitated by a stroke shortly after he had begun to work out a strategy for this situation .

Trotsky, who in the period of upurge of the revolution had given eloquent rhetorical expression to the prevailing mood of determina­ tion and optimism , now began to give expression to the indecisive­ ness and pessimism of the intelligentsia. He had always been a weathercock revolutionary. In 1922, when Lenin began to work out the strategy for developing the revolution in the circumstances of imperialist encirclement, Trotsky began to resurrect his "permanent revolution" theory, according to which it was impossible for the socialist revolution to proceed in Russia in a situation of imperi­ alist encirclement.


This was not the first time that the question of "soci­ alism in one country' had arisen. In 1915 Lenin had written, in opposition to Trotsky's UNITED STATES OF EUROPE slogan, that "the victory over capitalism is possible first in several or even in one capitalist country taken separately . The victorious proletariat of that country, having expropriated the capitalists and having organised socialist production, would stand up against the rest of the world, the capitalist world, attracting to its cause the oppressed classes in other countries, raising revolts in these countries..., and in the event of necessity coming out even with armed force against the exploiting classes and their states..."

Trotsky, who was then a "Centrist", trying to blur the contradiction between Corranunism and opportunism, and to "reconcile" revolutionary Marxism with Menshevism and Kautskyism , wrote in an article opposing Lenin 's view, that "it would be hopeless to think ..•that, for exam­ ple, revolutionary Russia could hold out in the face of conservative Europe... To accept the perspective of a social revolution within national bounds is to fall prey to that very national narrow-minded­ ness which constitutes the essence of social-patriotism".

The issue came up again at the Sixth Congress of the Bolshevik Party in August 1917. There was a motion that the Russian workers should "bend every effort to take state power ...and, in alliance with the revolutionary proletariat of the advanced countries, direct it tow­ ards peace and the socialist reconstruction of society". Preobrazhe­ nsky, later to be a member of the trotskyist Opposition, opposed this, and proposed that it be amended as follows: "direct it towards peace and, in the event of a proletarian revolution in the West, tow­ ards socialism". Stalin, representing Lenin who had to stay in hiding, said:

"I am against such an amendment. Tne possibility is not excl­ uded that Russia will be the country that will lay the road to socialism. No country hitherto has enjoyed such freedom in time of war as Russia does, or has attempted to introduce workers' control of production. In our country the workers are supported by the poorer strata of the peasantry. Lastly, in Germany the state apparatus is incomparably more efficient than the imperfect apparatus of our bourgeoisie ... We must discard the antiquated idea that only Europe can show us the way".
The amendment was rejected. Therefore in August 1917 the Bolshevik Party committed itself , in the event of its being in state power in Russia and socialist revolution in Europe failing to materialise, to going ahead with the construction of socialism in Russia. 

In 1922 Trotsky began to restate his 1905 "permanent revolution" theory which asserted that the Russian workLng class could overcome neither the internal nor the external obstacles to the building of socialism. The Russian workers could capture state power but could not build a socialist economy. "Without the dizect state support of the European proletariat the working class in Russia cannot remain in power and convert its temporary domination into a lasting soc­ ialistic dictatorship. Of this there cannot for one llk)ment be any doubt" (PERMANENT REVOLUTION p237).The attempt to build socialism  would bring the workers into hostile collision with the peasantry.

In a "Postscript" to a 1922 reprint of his 1915 article, "THE PEACE PROGRAMME, Trotsky wrote: "The assertion reiterated several times in the Peace Programme that a proletarian revolution cannot culmi­ nate victoriously within national bounds may perhaps seem ...to have been refuted by nearly five years 'experience of our Soviet Repub­ lic. But such a conclusion would be unwarranted ... While we have held our ground as a state politically and militarily; we have not arrived, or even begun to arrive, at the creation of a socialist society. The struggle for survival as a revolutionary state has resulted in this period in an extreme decline of productive forces; yet socialism is conceivable only on the basis of their gro1.,,th and development. The trade negotiations with bourgeois countries..• constitute all too graphic evidence of the impossibility of isolated building of socialism within the framework of national states•.. Real progress of a socialist economy in Russia will become possible only after the victory of the proletariat in the major European countries".


The revolution had been beaten down in Europe . What were the Russian workers to do? At this point the "left Communist" intellectuals began to quote a famous passage from Engels' PEASANT WAR IN GERMANY. The development of the 16th peasant war developed in one area , under the leadership of Thomas Muenzer and under the ideology of nonconformist Protestantism, to what Engels considered to be a form of socialist politics . But capitalism was only emerging as a world system and there was no possibility of developing a socialist economy. Engels wrote:

"The worst thing that can befall a leader of an extreme party is to be compelled to take over a government in an epoch when the movement is not yet ripe for the domination of the class which he represents and for the realisation of the measures which that domination would imply . .. Thus he necessarily finds himself in a dilemma. What he can do is in contrast to all his actions as hitherto practised , -u;-all his principles, and to the present interests of his party; what he ought to do cannot be achieved. In a word, he is compelled to represent not his party or his class, but the class for whom conditions are ripe for domination. In the interests of the movement itself, he is compel led to defend the interests of an alien class, and feed his own class with phrases and promises, with the assert­ion that the interests of that alien class are their own inter­ ests. Whoever puts himself in this awkward position is irrevo­ cably lost."
This passage was brought to Lenin's attention in 1922 by a young Communist who was influenced by the 'left Communist ' intelligentsia. The implication was obvious. Lenin was ending up in Muenzer's position, and was pragmatically stringing the Russian workers along with illusions. (It has been stated specifically that Lenin was in this position by the trotskyist "International Socialism" group, a British stable-mate of the Peoples Democracy leadership.) Lenin replied: "It's no use your quoting Engels . Was it not some 'intel­ lectual' who suggested that quotation to you? A futile quotation, if not something worse. It smells of the doctrinaire. It resembles despair. But for us depair is either ridiculous or disgraceful."  (LETTER TO M .F. SOKOLOV, 16.5.1921. CW Vol35, p492)


Lenin's view was that the working class need not necessarily come into hostile collision with the peasantry. A close alliance could be formed with the mass of the poor peasantry which would suppress the bourgeois strivings of the middle peasantry and isolate the capitalist peasantry. The poor and middle peasants could be guided by the workers in forming co-operative organisations whose development could be determined by the workers' state. In this way it would be possible "to build socialism in such a way that every small peasant may take part in this building. That is the stage we have reached now" "the power of the state over all large-scale means of production, political power in the hands of the prole tariat, the alliance of this proletariat with the many millions of small and very small peasants, the assured prole tarian leadership of the peasantry, etc. Is this not all that is necessary to build a complete socialist society? (ON COOPERATION 1923)


The revolution had been isolated. It could not be predicted with any certainty how long the isolation would continue. Trotsky re-asserted that there was no possibility of building socialism in Russia alone. What, then, was his programme, what was his perspective? For all practical purposes he had none.

The German social-democratic leader Kautsky had opposed the October Revolution from the very start on the grounds that socialism could not be built in Russia, where economic conditions required capital­ ist development , and that the attempt to build socialism in Russian conditions would lead only to the bureaucratic regimentation of the workers. Here is how he stated his criticism of the Bolsheviks in 1918 (in the DICTATORSHIP OF THE PROLETARIAT):

"The Bolshevik Revolution was based on the supposition that it would be the starting point of a general European Revolution ... According to this theory, the European Revolution ...which would bring about Socialism in Europe would also be the means of removing the obstacles to the carrying through of Socialism in Russia which were created by the economic backwardness of that country. This was all very logically thought out, and quite well founded, provided that the supposition was granted, that the Russian Revolution must inevitably unchain the European Re velution. But what if this does not happen? .. Our Bolshevik comrades have staked all on the card of general European Revo­ lution As this card has not turned up they were forced into a course which brought them up against insoluble problems" .
Kautsky did not think that the European revolution would occur quickly (indeed his opportunist line was an important counter­ revolutionary factor in Germany). In his pamphlet on Georgia (1921) he asserted definitely that "a world revolution in the Bolshevik sense is, of course, not to be reckoned with".

In 1921 (TERRORISM & COMMUNISM) Kautsky wrote : "they have anchored all their hopes on one thing. For if Russia ceases to be the chosen people of the revolution then the World Revolution must be the Messiah that shall redeem the Russian people". And he maintained that this Messiah was no more likely to come to the aid of the Rus­ sian Revolution in the short-run than the other Messiah. His view was that the Russian socialist revolution had run into a cul-de-sac. The internal situation required a bourgeois democratic revolution, the world socialist revolution was not imminent, and the real requirements of Russian society would assert themsevles against all the illusions and all the heroic efforts of the Bolsheviks. The only question was whether the Bolsheviks would come to their senses, restore bourgeois democracy, and allow bourgeois democratic freedom to the Mensheviks and other parties; or whether they would continue the futile attempt to build socialism in impossible conditions, in which case they would only suppress bourgeois democracy, not in fav­ our of socialism but of counter-revolutionary bureaucratic dictator­ ship. As Trotsky later held that Stalin's government was of a kind with Hitler's, Kautsky in 1921 said that Lenin 's (which included Trotsky) was of a kind with Mussolini's. The real choice in Russia, he held, was between bourgeois democracy and bourgeois fascism, and the attempt to build socialism could only lead to the latter.

s T A L I N

Stalin stated the real alternatives with his customary frankness and absence of evasive rhetoric. In his Rep­ ort to the Comintern ONCE MORE ON THE SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC DEVIATION (December 1926):

"one thing or the other: either we can engage in building socialism and, in the final analysis, build it completely, overcoming our 'national' bourgeoisie - in which case it is
the duty of the Party to remain in power and direct the build­ ing of socialism in our country for the sake of the victory of socialism throughout the world; or we are not in a position to overcome our bourgeoisie by our-own efforts - in which case, in view of the absence of immediate support from abroadt from a victorious revolution in the other countries, we must honestly and frankly retire from power and steer a course for organising another revolution in the USSR in the future. Has a party the right to deceive its class, in this case the work­ ing class? No, it has not. Such a party would deserve to be hanged , drawn and quartered" (CW Vol9 p22/3)
"...the question of building socialism has become a most urgent one for our Party and our proletariat, as well as for the Comin­ tern. The opposition considers that the question of building socialism in the USSR is only of theoretical interest... Such a an attitude ••.can only be attributed to the fact that the oppo­ sition is completely divorced from our practical Party work, our work on economic construction and our co-operative affairs. Now that we...have entered a period of reconstruction of our entire national economy on a new technical basis, the question of building socialism has assumed immense practical importance.

What should we aim at in our work of economic construction, in which direction should be the perspective of our constructive work? ...Are we building in order to manure he soil for bourg­ eois democracy , or in order to build a socialist society? - this is now the root question of our constructive work" (ibid p39).
Stalin reviewed the internal and external obstacles to the building of socialism. The former were mainly contradictions with the peas­ antry, the latter contradictions with the surrounding imperialist states. Following Lenin, he showed how the contradiction with the mass of the poor peasantry was not an antagonism and how the working class could guide them into co-operative forms of organisation which would serve as transitional forms for changing the peasants to work­ ers. With regard to external contradictions he showed the strengths and the weaknesses of imperialism . On the one hand there was the undoubted military and economic strengrh of the imperialist states. 

On the other there was their dependence on the active support of the working class in the waging of war. Although the working class move­ ments had not been able to caputre power, they were developed enough to make it difficult for the imperialists to invade the Soviet Union.

it was resistance of the workers in the imperialist countries, act­ ive on the part of some, passive on the part of many, that had made it impossible for the imperialist powers to wage effective war against the weak Soviet state in 1918-20. There were, in addition, inter­ imperialist contradictions that could be exploited by the Soviet state.

Stalin summed up the position as follows :

"While the possibility of the victory of socialism in one country means the possibility of resolving internal contradict­ ions, which can be completely overcome by one country (meaning by that , of course , our country), the possibility of the final victory of socialism implies the possibility of resolving the
external contradictions between the country of socialism and the capitalist countries, contradictions which can be overcome only as a result of a proletarian revolution in several countries.

Anyone who confuses these two categories of contrad tions is either a hopeless muddle-head or an incorrigible opportunist." (CW Vol8 p278)

The internal contradictions could be overcome by the internal revolu­ tionary forces. Externally the support of the workers in the capit­ alist countries and the exploitation of inter-imperialist contradic-
tions would make it possible to hold off the imperialists while the Soviet state strengthened itself to deal with them . At the beginn­ ing of the industrialisation drive in the late twenties Stalin reck­ oned that Russia had ten years to build up its industrial strength to meet an imperialist invasion.

(There is an item in the trotskyist litany which says that in the first edition of Foundations of Leninism (1924)Stalin denied the possibility of building socialism in Russia , but that afterwards when he had thought up his socialism in one country theory as part of his counter-revolutiona ry programme he recalled all the original editions, reissued them with the new line, and pretended that he

had held to that line all along. This old chestnut was brought up by Mr. Healy in Limerick. It must be assumed that trotskyist 'the­ orists' absolutely never read even the basic 'Stalinist 'works.

The formulation in the first edition confused the internal and ext­ ernal contradictions for building socialism. This was corrected in subsequent editions, and the correction and an explanation of the incident is included in all the editions of Leninism that we have seen.)

Trotsky tried to make capital out of this incident in the Party in 1926, but the attempt did him no good. The good humou­ red contempt which seems to have been Stalin's personal attitude to Trotsky, is very obvious in his reply: "Trotsky ...said that I had replaced the inexact and incorrect formulation given in 1924...by another, more exact and correct formulation. Trotsky, apparently, is displeased with that - but why ..•he did not say. What can be wrong with my correcting an inexact formulation...? I by no means regard myself as infallible... What is Trotsky really after in stressing this point? Perhaps he is anxious to follow a good exam­ ple and to set about, at long last, correcting his own numerous errors? Very well, I am prepared to help him in that ... I am pre­ pared to spur him on and assist him" (Vol8 p365).)

T R o T s K Y In later times , when trying to account to the trot- 0000000000000 skyist sects for his behaviour in this period, Trotsky maintained that the issue of 'permanent revolution ' was raised artificially by the'Stalinists' in 1924, at a time when it had no practical relevance for the working class.           The object was to discredit Trotsky by dragging up his 'old ' differences (some of the major ones being as 'old' as 1921)with Lenin, and to lead the revolution astray by whipping up nationalism under the slogan of "socialism in one country" . But any worker who reads the Stalin­ Trotsky controversy of 1924/8 will be in no doubt that Stalin won the support of the overwhelming majority of the advanced workers because his line dealt clearly and frankly with the practical real­ ities of the situation, and that Trotsky, who at the start had much greater personal popularity than Stalin, lost the support of the overwhelming majority of the working class because it became clear that he was funking the main issue, that his 'theoretical' position consisted in rhetorical evasions , and that his political activity was reduced to the narrowest kind of 'tactical' oppositionist manoeuvering.

The question of "socialism in one country" was not raised by Stalin in 1922. As far as Stalin was concerned the question had been decided by the Party long before, and Lenin had drafted the main outlines of the programme for building socialism in Russia. The matter was raised by Trotsky himself in 1923 when he began to restate his old view that socialism could not be built in Russia . And he never deve­ loped his position beyond this negative assertion . We will look at his last statement of position before he was expelled from the Connnu­ nist movement, his criticisms of the DRAFT PROGRAMME OF THE COMINTERN:

"...nations will enter the revolutionary flood one after another; the organic interdependence of the several countries, devel­ oping towards an international division of labour, excludes the possibility of building socialism in one country. This means that the Marxian doctrine..•posits that the socialist revolution can only begin on a national basis, while the building of soc­ ialism in one country is impossible"(p23). "The.productive forces are incompatible with national boundaries . The product­ ive forces of capitalist countries have long since broken through the national boundaries. Socialist society ...can only be built on the most advanced productive forces ..• Socialisrn ...rnust not only take over from capitalism the most highly developed produc­ tive forces but immediately carry them onward •.• The question arises: how then can socialism drive the productive forces back into the boundaries of a national state?" (p44) "Harsh truth is need ed to fortify the worker, the agricultural labourer, and the poor peasant, who see that in the eleventh year of the revolution, poverty, misery, unemployment, bread lines, illiter­ acy, homeless children, drunkenness, and prostitution have not abated. . We must say to them that our economic level, our soc­ ial and cultural conditions, approximate today much closer to capitalism, and a backward uncultured capitalism at that, than to socialism . We must tell them that we will enter the path of real socialist construction only when the proletariat of the most advanced countries will have captured p:iwer. " (p53)


WORLD ECONOMY Trotsky 's conception of "world economy" and 1'the inter- 00000000 00000 national division of labour" are dealt with in IN DEFENCE OF LENINISM. Briefly, his view was that imperialism evened

up the economic conditions of various countries (imperialist exploit­ ation evened up the economic conditions of the exploited country with those of the exploiter country. He speaks,in 1928, of "the diminish­ ing gap between India and Gt. Britain"!) Imperialism had negated nat­ ional economy, and was a single integrated world economy. As there can be no question of socialist revolution with a fragment of an integrated national economy, so there could be no question of social­ ist revolution within a national fragment of Trotsky's world economy. The building of socialism in a sin_gle country of the world economy was as impossible. and absurd as the building of socialism in a single cauntry of a national economy.

But, if Trotsky's conception had accorded with reality, the build­ ing of socialism in Russia could not have arisen as a practical question any more than the building of socialism in Kerry. The revolution would occur throughout the entire economy or would not ocur at all. Nations would enter the revolutionary flood in rapid succession, just as coies would in a national economy.

The mere fact that the building of socialism in one country arose in reality as an urgent practical question is sufficient to demon­ strate that Trotsky's conception of world economy did not accord with reality.

Lenin's and Stalin 's view was that imperialist exploitation widened the economic gulf between imperialist and colonial countries, and that imperialist world economy did not negate national economies.

Imperialism remained a system of national economies, increasingly interlinked, some of which exploited others. The world market con­ nected the national economies: it did not abolish them. In

Lenin 's view, the abolition of national economy within capitalism (a conception which Trotsky shared with Kautsky, who coined the term "ultra-imperialism" for it) was no more than a theoretical possibility of the distant future.



Instead of changing his conception to accord with reality, Trotsky kept on trying to distort reality in order to patch up his concep­ tion.(He claimed that "Marxism posits" objective reality). He commented on Lenin 's last articles, in which the strategy for buil­ ding socialism in Russia is outlined: "one would have to surmise that either Lenin slipped in his dictation or that the stenographer made a mistake in transcribing her notes" (CRITICISM OF DRAFT PROG­ RAMME OF COMINTERN p29)

Ris position never went beyond a repetition of the statement that the starting point of socialism is the most developed productive forces, after they have exhausted all the possibilities of capital­ ism; in Russia the productive forces are less developed than in the capitalist countries; therefore socialism cannot be built.

(He did not, of course, add that in isolating the revolution in Russia for eleven years, history had defied his conception of how it ought to develop. ) What was to be done? The workers had to be told to wait in hunger, homelessness, unemployment, illiteracy, drunkenness and prostitution for the world revolution . Though in­ applicable to the Bolsheviks, Kautsky's remark was very descriptive of the trotskyists. They had reached a dead-end, and, as impotence always breeds fantasy, an abstract World-Revolution had become their Messiah.

The Bolsheviks, the "Stalinists", saw the Russian orking class as an active force in the real progress of the world revolution, which, for the time being, was developing through the building of social­ ism in Russia. Ten years later the hunger, homelessness, unemploy­ ment, illiteracy etc. had been wiped out . Those ten years were undoubtedly tragic for the trotskyist and other counter-revolutionary cliques who opposed the development of the socialist revolution in Russia. But for the working class and the poor peasants it was very much otherwise .


(Trotsky predicted, with his customary scientific accuracy, that in the event of an attempt being made to develop the Russian economy out­ side the capitalist world market, "then in many branches of industry
we should stop making progress right now and decline to a level even lower than our present pitiful technical level" (p44). A decade later, as a result of two Five Year Plans, as a result of ten years of the impossible building of "socialism in one country" , Soviet Russia had a technological basis that enabled it to stop and rout the most powerful and industrialised capitalist army ever seen. Without a comprehensive technological development this would have been utter­ ly impossible. In Trotsky's view of the world it ought not have been able to happen.)


Trotsky, then, had no programme except waiting for the world revolu­ tion. Even the notion of waiting was absurd. A socialist state that was powerless to develop a socialist economy could not wait very long. A socialist state that could offer the working class the prospect of nothing but hunger, homelessness, unemployment, illiteracy etc. would not be tolerated for very long. And, while it was tolerated, such a state would not be an instrument of international revolution: it would be a mockery of Communism in the international working class movement.


The nearest approach to a trotsky- st prograrrane is a hodge-podge called THE PLATFORM OF THE LEFT OPPOSITION , which includes a very inter­ esting passage on industrialisation : 'A defin.ite renunciation of the theory of an isolated socialist economy will mean, in the course

of a few years, an incomparably more rational use of our resources, a swifter industrialisation, a more planful and powerful growth of our machine construction. It will mean a swifter increase in the number of employed workers and a real lowering of prices - in a .word, a genuine strengthening of the Soviet Union in the capitalist enivron­ ment". (p41 )

The only possible meaning of this is that, while socialism cannot be built, capitalism can. And the "Platform" is in fact nothing but an opportunistically disguised programme for building capitalism.

Trotskyists usually maintain that, while Trotsky was totally opposed to the attempt to build socialism, he had a progranune ofr the indus­ trialisation of the economy which could have been implemented if the "perpective" of socialism in one country was defeated. This indust­ rialisation programme they describe as "transitional". But "trans­ itional'' industrialisation is meaningless . "Pure" industrialisation can never occur in reality. It must be done under a definite form of organ1satiton, wi tlnn def i•nte prod uction relations .

In Russia "industr ial isation ' had to be \!ltht:r capitalist or socia­ l ist. lf an attempt at industrialisation through building a socia­ l ist econ•,my was niled out , industrialisation cuuJ d only mean the development of capitalist economy (Trotsky , as we will show, was a pioneer of "market socialist''economic theory).

(A sample of the miserabl e tactical manoeuvres of the trotskyist clique is found in the "Platform" . It states that Trotsky has agreed that his theory of permanent revolution was wrong (pl02). This was when Trotsky was still hoping to retain some working class support in the Party. Three years later, when pursuing a new opportunist tactic, he tried to explain this away by saying: "Not having reread my old works for a long time, I was ready in advance to admit to defects in them m:>re serious and important than really were there" (PERMANENT REVOLUTION p6). A likely story!)

On the question of building a socialist economy in Russia, when

this presented itself as the fundamental practical issue facing the revolution, Trotsky was a conscientious objector to the actual course of history, and he became, through his opposition to the

way that the world socialist revolution was actually developing, an

agent (ideologically and organisationally) of the imperialist counter-revolution. The tricky, evasive, opportunist phrases and attitudes with which he tried to disrupt the socialist movement from within were the same as those used today in Ireland by the League for a Workers' Republic and the trotskyist faction in the Peoples Democracy leadership. The latter no longer proclaim trot­ skyism openly as they used to a couple of years ago. Trotskyism cannot maintain itself openly in a situation in which there is a clearly defined Connnunist movement in the working class movement .

If it is becoming the trend that dare not speak its name, if it is trying to exercise its influence discreetly and indirectly, that too is trotskyist. Did not Trotsky himself deny trotskyism before

the Russian working class in the mid-twenties in the hope of making tactical disruptive gains against the Communist movement which he dared not challenge openly for fear of total exposure?

(The Irish Communist , May 1970)