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Trotsky - Deformed Workers' State

Nationalization alone does not make a workers’ state. A “Workers’ state” is just shorthand for Marx’s “dictatorship of the proletariat.” It describes a state run by the working class, transitional to the classless society of communism. In January 1921 Lenin very carefully defined the character of the young workers state: "The workers' state is an abstraction. In reality we have a workers' state with the following peculiar features: (1) it is the peasants and not the workers who predominate in the population and (2) it is a workers' state with bureaucratic deformations".

Were the horrors of Stalinism inscribed in the logic of Leninism? No less a person than the young Trotsky warned in 1904 of the logic of Lenin's views on party organization: "The party apparatus at first substitutes itself for the party as a whole; then the Central Committee substitutes itself for the apparatus; and finally a single 'dictator' substitutes himself for the Central Committee." Yet in later life Trotsky vehemently denied that there were continuities between Leninism and Stalinism, insisting that a whole 'river of blood' separated the two.

By 1920, Lenin argued that, given the backward conditions throughout much of Russia, state capitalism would be a welcome advance. As he stated: "Reality tells us that state capitalism would be a step forward. If in a small space of time we could achieve state capitalism, that would be a victory." (Lenin's Collected Works Vol. 27, p. 293) The Bolshevik Government abandoned War Communism and adopted the New Economic Policy (NEP) which had been previously mooted by Trotsky. Under the NEP, state industry was broken up in to large trusts which were to be run independently on strict commercial lines.

Lenin referred to NEP as "an economic Brest-Litovsk," a reference to the peace treaty that extricated Russia from World War I, the onerous terms of which were expected to be done away with promptly by world revolution. Employing market incentives, allowing private trade, and permitting private economic relations were abhorrent to orthodox Bolshevik ideology. Such a philosophical compromise could not have endured for long. By ending it, Stalin merely followed on what Lenin would have done in the same circumstances.

The Trotskyists' continued to classify the Stalinist-dominated regimes as "workers states," however "degenerated" and "deformed". The modification “deformed” says that the state is not ruled by the working class as a whole but undemocratically by the Communist Party—and also that Stalinist power retards society’s development toward socialism. The “workers’ states” had been created not only independently of working-class struggles but against them. Workers’ upsurges after the war to seize factories and form revolutionary councils were smashed by the Soviet Army and local Stalinist forces.

In 1923 the Left Opposition is formed against the bureaucratization of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and within the Soviet state apparatus. Among the leaders of the Opposition were Trotsky, Rakovsky, Preobrazhensky and many other respected Old Bolsheviks. The agenda of the Opposition is one of reform of the Party by appeals to mass activism, by patient education, by theoretical discussion of the problems of the Communist International, of the lessons of the October Revolution, etc.

In the autumn of 1924, Stalin advances the absurdly heretical (from the point of view of Marxism) theory that "socialism can be built in one country, Russia". All opposition in the working class, notably the Anarchists, Trotskyists, Social Democrats and so on, was eliminated. These steps permitted the Stalinists later to oust the old bourgeoisies and statify the means of production.

Trotsky analyzed at length the gradual degeneration of the Soviet state. Trotsky wrote: "In the USSR workers' control is a stage long ago completed. From control over the bourgeoisie there they passed to management of nationalized production. From the management of workers -- to the command of the bureaucracy. New workers' control would now signify control over the bureaucracy. This cannot be established except as a result of a successful uprising against the bureaucracy."

From the late 1920s onwards Leon Trotsky step-by-step sharpened his critique of the USSR andmodified the meaning he gave to his summary formula, "degenerated workers' state". Trotsky would not have forgottennthe commonplace pre-1917 Marxist polemics against "state socialism". He wrote that "the higher the soviet state rises above the people… the more obviously does ittestify against the socialist character of this state property..." Anyone starting from Trotsky who came to recognise Stalinism as a ongoing, functioning system put themselves on one or another road to recognising the autocracy as a new exploiting class.

In 1934-35, reexamining and concretizing the concept of Thermidor (the political counterrevolution), Trotsky concludes that he had been wrong, that it had already occurred. The Stalinist bureaucracy strangled the workers democracy, monopolized all political power and was proceeding to steer the social regime farther away from the norms of a workers' state and the goals of socialism. Trotskyist now called for a political revolution in the USSR, not just a series of reforms. Trotsky’s insistence on the necessity of violence for the overthrow of the Soviet workers’ state is well known.

When the great purges of 1936-38 arrived, he labeled them a “preventive civil war,” and rightly so. Millions of workers and party members were killed; the state apparatus (army, party, bureaucracy) was decapitated and replaced. But it was done “legally,” by abuse of the secret police and the courts, not from outside the state structure. This was the “cold stroke." The "civil war" culminated on the eve of World War II with the smashing of the workers’ state and the consolidation of statified capitalism.

Trotsky argued that Stalinism was a deformed variant of capitalism. It came into being as a result of the backwardness and isolation of the Soviet workers’ state; it seized power through an internal counterrevolution culminating in the late 1930’s. The particular forms of its contradictions derive from its usurped proletarian heritage. In power, Stalinist capitalism served to perpetuate the decadent system by crushing the proletariat and abusing its property forms. It used the state to both concentrate capital and police the working class. But its attempts to reorganize capitalism’s laws of motion to stave off crises were doomed to fail.

The deformed workers’ state theory was devised in the late 1930’s to account for the unexpected spread of Stalinism. Because of the severe defeat of the working classes, the Trotskyist organizations gradually adapted to middle-class reformism in the West, which they saw as insufficiently progressive rather than counterrevolutionary. They interpreted the Stalinist overturns in East Europe similarly, as progressive but incomplete social revolutions.

The stampede of the “socialist” East European countries toward explicit capitalism dealt the final blow. On the one hand, the old-line Stalinists tried to defend their state property, the key to the so-called “workers’ states.” On the other, the bourgeois types proclaim “democracy"; as well, the working classes backed the 1989 upsurges against Stalinism and made up the main fighting forces. Decades of Stalinist oppression discredited socialism and Marxism in the East.

The massive Soviet miners’ strike in mid-1989 was largely directed against the false promises and worsening conditions caused by Gorbachev’s perestroika. That was not the restoration of capitalism, but the intensification of capitalist exploitation, and some workers clearly understood that it meant a step backward for them.

The Workers World Party in the US, consistently credited Stalinist butchery with defending “socialism.” The WWP began life by supporting the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, then Czechoslovakia in 1968; it naturally admired Jaruzelski’s smothering of the Polish workers in 1981. Along the line, it abandoned its pretense to Trotskyism.

Another type of "Trotskyists" is the Spartacist League. This middle class outfit is characterized by rabid sloganeering, outrageous publicity gathering antics and unabashed applause for every crime of the Stalinist jackboot. The Spartacists defended Hungary and Czechoslovakia against the Soviet attacks but backed the mugging of Poland. They endorsed Gorbachev’s assault on the Baltics but not his capture by the Stalinist right wing (even though they had the same line as the reactionaries on property forms and national independence). Later the Spartacists admitted that “the Stalinist regime collapsed… and its remnants, rather than see the proletariat in power, delivered up the East German deformed workers state to German imperialism.”

Trotskyists repeated time and again, the Stalinist bureaucracy was not a class necessary and integral to a specific mode of production. It was, rather, a parasitic excrescence on the body of the workers' states. Trotskyists had always asserted that, plainly speaking, Stalinism was a system of organized theft by the ruling bureaucracy of the choicest pieces and the best products of the national economy. Now, these reactionary bureaucrats wanted to legalize their stolen privileges, to become the legitimate owners of the means of production.

The conception of Russia under Stalin and his heirs as socialism, or a deformed kind of socialism (“degenerated workers’ state” in the language of dogmatic “orthodox” Trotskyists), met two kinds of critique by Marxists. The first, saw it as neither socialism of any sort – nor capitalism. This school of thought coined a special term for the Stalinist regime – Bureaucratic Collectivism. The first writer to coin this term was the Italian Marxist, Bruno R, in his book La Bureaucratisation du Monde (Paris 1939). The same term was adopted and the idea developed (without acknowledgement of the work of Bruno R) by the American socialist, Max Shachtman. The second school defined the Stalinist regime as state capitalist.

There was a crisis of Trotskyism after WWII based on the failure of Trotsky's analysis. There were splits internationally towards a 'state capitalist' perspective, Munis, Natalia Sedova [Trotsky's widow], Stirnas, Johnson/Forrest tendency, Castoriadis, Cliff are just some of the better known examples. The purpose of analysing what Trotsky said about the USSR is because even though the USSR is long gone the analysis of the USSR affects positions on other things.

Trotsky’s widow Natalia Sedova had recognized the state capitalist nature of the Soviet Union. She was close to the Spanish revolutionary Grandizo Munis who had led the tiny Spanish Sección Bolchevique-Leninista during the revolutionary events in the 1930s. With him, she came to adopt the position that the USSR was a state capitalist society. Natalia Sedova Trotsky was someone who are almost universally respected in the Trotskyist movement. On May 9, 1951 she wrote to the Executive Committee of the Fourth International stating "... you continue to regard the Stalinist state as a workers state. I cannot and will not follow you in this.... "

The Anarchists called the Soviet Union a state capitalist society one year after the Revolution. Some Trotskyites in Germany, like Urbahns, used the term int he early stages of Stalinism. In 1946, Grandizo Munis wrote a pamphlet - "The revolutionaries faced with Russia and world wide Stalinism" - in which he defines, for the first time, Russia as state capitalist (as he would designate it from then on), as a product of the non-achievement of the communist revolution in Russia and worldwide, which turned into one of the deadliest counter-revolutionary degenerations in history."

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Page last modified: 31-03-2016 19:36:11 ZULU