The Russian Revolution and the Collapse of Stalinism

The Bankruptcy of “New Class” Theories

Tony Cliff and Max Shachtman: Pro-Imperialist Accomplices of Counterrevolution

The following article was published in Spartacist English edition No. 55, Autumn 1999.

The Russian Revolution of October 1917 was a shaping event of the 20th century. The end of the First World War saw a wave of proletarian revolutionary struggle across the globe, swelled by widespread revulsion at the historically unprecedented butchery of the interimperialist slaughter. Revolutionary working-class upsurges struck Russia, Finland, Italy, Hungary, Germany; elsewhere armies mutinied and massive, militant strikes disrupted industry on a scale never before seen. Yet the old tsarist empire was the only domain in which the working class seized and successfully maintained state power, going on to expropriate the capitalist class and begin the construction of a collectivized, planned economy. The leadership of Lenin’s Bolshevik Party proved the decisive element in that victory. The vanguard layer organized by the Bolsheviks had achieved a thoroughgoing political split between themselves and the varieties of liquidationism, social-chauvinism, revisionism and reformism current in the workers movement of the tsarist empire. This enabled Lenin’s revolutionary Marxist workers party, when the opportunity presented itself, to clear away the obstacles and lead the working class in smashing the bourgeois state and creating a state based on workers councils, or soviets.

When the Second International disintegrated as the war began, with most of its individual parties supporting their own imperialist governments and helping to lead the proletariat into the slaughterhouse, Lenin recognized that it was dead as a revolutionary force. The Bolsheviks attempted to regroup the revolutionary internationalists in the struggle for a Third International, a Communist International, which was finally founded in Moscow in 1919. But in Germany and Italy the vanguard of the class broke too late with the reformists and social-pacifists; in Hungary and Finland the aspiring Communists were united with the Social Democrats as the proletarian uprisings unfolded. Promising revolutionary situations foundered due to the immaturity of the revolutionary leadership. The Social Democrats, meanwhile, proved themselves an indispensable aid to the imperialists in shackling the working class to the capitalist order, providing the “democratic” façade under which outright counterrevolutionary nationalist terror mobilized and did its bloody dirty work.

Writing after history’s first great revolutionary wave in 1848, Karl Marx insisted that a revolution in any state in Europe could not last long without engulfing England:

“Any upheaval in economic relations in any country of the European continent, in the whole European continent without England, is a storm in a teacup. Industrial and commercial relations within each nation are governed by its intercourse with other nations, and depend on its relations with the world market. But the world market is dominated by England and England is dominated by the bourgeoisie.”

— “The Revolutionary Movement,” Neue Rheinische Zeitung, 1 January 1849, reprinted in The Revolution of 1848-49 (1972)

Without being able to build upon the world division of labor created by capitalism it would be impossible to create the material abundance necessary for the construction of a socialist society. “Want,” as Marx had earlier put it, would “merely be made general, and destitution, the struggle for necessities, and all the old filthy business would necessarily be reproduced” (The German Ideology [written 1845-46]). Moreover, as long as economically powerful capitalist nations continued to exist, reaction would hold a bastion from which to mobilize for a counterattack. Written almost 80 years before Stalin promulgated the dogma of “building socialism in one country,” Marx’s words are a savage indictment of this absurdity.

The vicissitudes of the Russian Revolution after the Bolsheviks came to power reveal in abundant, sadistic detail the variety of weapons which world imperialism can bring to bear on an isolated revolutionary workers state. From the invasion by troops of 14 different capitalist nations, to an embargo on travel, trade and investment, to the arming of the indigenous forces of counterrevolution, the imperialist powers did their utmost to strangle isolated and economically devastated Soviet Russia. The world bourgeoisies refused to coexist with a state that had ripped a huge area of investment and exploitation out of the world market. That the workers state held out as a bastion of world revolution for five years in isolation was a major historical accomplishment; that in degenerated form the state issuing from October was maintained for almost 70 years is testimony to the incredible economic power of a planned and collectivized economy, despite the mismanagement of the Stalinist bureaucratic caste which seized power from the working class in early 1924. The continued historical reverberation of the Bolshevik Revolution was illustrated by the overthrow of capitalism and the creation of deformed workers states in the Stalinist image in East Europe, China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba.

A decisive factor in the degeneration of the Russian Revolution was the outcome of the revolutionary economic and political crisis which rocked Germany, WWI’s defeated power, in 1923 when French troops invaded the Ruhr industrial region seeking payment of war reparations. At the end of 1918 in the midst of an unfolding revolution, the nucleus of the German Communist Party (KPD)—the Spartacist group led by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht—had split from Karl Kautsky’s centrist USPD. Kautsky’s party used pseudo-Marxist rhetoric to mask its social-pacifism and opportunist practice, providing an essential cover for the outright reformist Social Democrats (SPD). The revolution of 1918-1919 was shipwrecked by the KPD’s failure to separate itself from Kautsky earlier, but subsequent events were to prove that even afterward the party’s programmatic and ideological break with Kautsky’s centrism was far from complete. The problem was only exacerbated by the murders of Luxemburg and Liebknecht in early 1919. It was not the leaders of the fledgling German Communist Party who answered Kautsky’s savage attacks against the Russian Revolution, but Lenin in The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky (1918) and Trotsky in Between Red and White (1922). These works were written while their authors ran the Soviet state, fought the Civil War against the Whites, and inspired and led the Third International. The failure of the German party to even attempt a proletarian insurrection in the revolutionary year 1923 spread demoralization in the Soviet working class and prepared the way for Stalin’s victory early the next year. As Trotsky so powerfully explicated in his Lessons of October (1924), the incapacity of the KPD in 1923 proved in the negative that the problem of revolutionary leadership is the decisive question of the imperialist epoch.

In its compulsion to destroy the world’s first workers state, world imperialism enjoyed the assistance of its social-democratic lackeys and of many others to their left. From Karl Kautsky, to anarchists hostile to the dictatorship of the proletariat, to Max Shachtman, who split from the American Trotskyist movement in 1939-40, to the now-defunct Maoist movement, all kinds of forces have put forward all kinds of explanations over the years purporting to show that the USSR was some kind of “capitalist” or “new class” society. The rise of the brutal, conservative Stalinist bureaucracy, sowing revulsion and confusion in the ranks of class-conscious workers everywhere, was a great gift to anti-socialist ideologues and their “left” tails who sought justification for making common cause with capitalist imperialism in the name of “democracy.”

Today the best-known variant of such currents is the international tendency headed by Tony Cliff and the British Socialist Workers Party, whose affiliates include the International Socialist Organization (ISO) in the U.S. The Cliffites (and their numerous offshoots, such as Workers Power) stand in the direct tradition of Max Shachtman’s fundamental break from Trotskyism over the program of unconditional military defense of the Soviet degenerated workers state against external imperialist attack or internal attempts at capitalist restoration. This illustrates unambiguously that state capitalist “theory” is a bridge to reconcile supposed “socialists” with their own ruling class.

The “new class” theories of these renegades from Trotskyism like Shachtman and Cliff were an attempt to justify their betrayal of the class interests of the proletariat and their own reconciliation with capitalism by denying the working-class nature of the Soviet degenerated workers state and the post-WWII East European deformed workers states. In reality these “theories” were nothing but attempts—dressed up in pseudo-Marxist terminology—to conceal their real program of capitulation to anti-communist bourgeois public opinion and the renunciation of a proletarian revolutionary perspective.

Thus, Shachtman’s abandonment of unconditional defense of the USSR was precipitated by his capitulation to popular-frontist petty-bourgeois public opinion following the Soviet-German pact in 1939. In 1950, Tony Cliff broke from the Trotskyist Fourth International on the same question of defensism, this time precipitated by the anti-communist Cold War hysteria that accompanied the outbreak of the Korean War. Cliff reneged on the Trotskyist position of unconditional military defense of the Chinese and North Korean deformed workers states against imperialist attack, which took the form of a multi-nation “police action” under the auspices of the United Nations. This was a cowardly capitulation to the British bourgeoisie and its social-democratic lackeys: it was a Labour government that dispatched British troops to Korea.

While Cliff’s “theory” of state capitalism differs internally from the “bureaucratic collectivist” theory of Max Shachtman and originated a decade later, what they have in common is their service as vehicles for dumping the Trotskyist program of unconditional defense of the degenerated or deformed workers states from imperialist attack. Each took place on different national political terrains. Shachtman, operating in the U.S. during Roosevelt’s “New Deal” on the eve of World War II, reflected the Orwellian view of the “horrors of totalitarianism” represented by Hitler and Stalin, which gripped the petty-bourgeois milieus to which he was responsive; Cliff was accommodating to the rotten British Labour Party—which Lenin described as a “bourgeois workers party”—at the outbreak of the Korean War. Thus each in its own time represented an accommodation to its own bourgeoisie’s anti-Sovietism.

Little has been heard from supporters of the “theory” of “bureaucratic collectivism” since the Shachtmanites themselves became Cold Warriors in the extreme right wing of American social democracy. But a new book published in Britain by Sean Matgamna is attempting to revive “bureaucratic collectivism,” publishing texts of Shachtman and the Shachtmanites in a collection entitled The Fate of the Russian Revolution: Lost Texts of Critical Marxism Volume I (1999). Even as selected by a newfound admirer of Shachtman with the advantage of hindsight, Matgamna’s volume contains ample material demonstrating the profound emptiness of his mentor’s anti-Marxist analysis of the Stalinized USSR, as we shall see.

“Socialism in One Country”

Though the Bolsheviks repulsed the imperialist invasions and won the Civil War, the young Soviet Republic was shackled with a technically and socially backward agricultural base and it lacked the resources necessary to quickly rebuild the infrastructure and industries devastated by the imperialist and Civil wars. The proletariat had almost ceased to exist, its most conscious elements killed in the Civil War or co-opted into the state and party apparatus. Under these conditions the world’s first workers state underwent a political counterrevolution with the virtual exclusion of the Left Opposition at the 13th Party Conference in January 1924. In the degenerated workers state that emerged, the bureaucratic apparatus headed by Stalin did not destroy the socialized property relations but usurped political power from the proletariat. In his retrospective analysis of the bureaucracy, Trotsky used an analogy with the ouster of the radical Jacobins on the 9th of Thermidor during the French Revolution:

“Socially the proletariat is more homogeneous than the bourgeoisie, but it contains within itself an entire series of strata that become manifest with exceptional clarity following the conquest of power, during the period when the bureaucracy and a workers’ aristocracy connected with it begin to take form. The smashing of the Left Opposition implied in the most direct and immediate sense the transfer of power from the hands of the revolutionary vanguard into the hands of the more conservative elements among the bureaucracy and the upper crust of the working class. The year 1924—that was the beginning the of the Soviet Thermidor.”

— “The Workers State, Thermidor and Bonapartism” (1935)

After Lenin’s death, also in January 1924, the Stalin faction flooded the Bolshevik Party with nascent bureaucratic elements in the “Lenin levy” and in December 1924 put forward the false dogma of “socialism in one country.” “Socialism in one country” initially represented a dead-end road of impossible economic autarky and isolationism. Over the course of the next period, the Communist International’s policies zigzagged from a bureaucratic centrism which dictated the suicidal subordination of the Chinese Communist Party to the “national bourgeoisie” during the second Chinese Revolution of 1925-27, to the “Third Period” sectarianism which allowed Hitler to come to power in Germany in 1933 without a fight, to the overt reformist class collaborationism of the People’s Front, which strangled the 1936-37 Spanish Revolution. The Stalin faction first eliminated its rivals within the party, then the Stalin clique purged those capable of challenging it within the faction. As the bureaucratic caste represented by the Stalin clique attained a measure of historical consciousness, “socialism in one country” became the ideological justification for transforming the foreign Communist parties into bargaining chips in an illusory search for “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism.

Stalin rigged the elections to the 13th Party Conference and, in subsequent years, unleashed wave upon wave of repression and purges (see “The Stalinist Thermidor, the Left Opposition and the Red Army,” page 2). The ferocity of Stalin’s repression against the Left Opposition, against former factional allies like Zinoviev, Kamenev and Bukharin, against the kulaks, artists and intellectuals stemmed from Stalin’s recognition that his regime was constantly in peril. To continue to claim the heritage of the Bolsheviks while politically expropriating the proletariat and overturning the Bolsheviks’ internationalist proletarian program, Stalin required the “Big Lie” backed up by police-state terror.

The capitalist system in its imperialist decay continued to present new revolutionary opportunities. The cyclical economic crises inherent in capitalism, notably the Great Depression of the 1930s which impelled radicalization among the proletariat, the bourgeoisies’ contradictions leading to fascist regimes in the poorer states and a new interimperialist war of mass destruction to redivide the world—these should have been again the mothers of revolution.

The West European Stalinists emerged from World War II at the head of the mass organizations of militant workers of Italy, France and elsewhere. But thanks especially to the Stalinists’ class collaboration, the American imperialists were able to restabilize capitalism in West Europe and Japan. A quarter-century later, the military defeat of the American imperialists at the hands of the Vietnamese Stalinists, which led to the establishment of a unified Vietnamese deformed workers state, severely weakened the imperialists. The late 1960s-early 1970s saw a series of prerevolutionary and revolutionary situations in Europe—France 1968, Italy 1969, Portugal 1975. These represented the best opportunities for proletarian revolution in the advanced capitalist countries since the immediate post-WWII period. It was the pro-Moscow Communist parties which again managed to preserve the shaken bourgeois order in this region. Here the counterrevolutionary role of the Western Stalinist parties contributed immeasurably to the subsequent destruction of the Soviet Union.

The final undoing of the gains of October by capitalist counterrevolution in 1991-92 was the ultimate confirmation of the impossibility of “socialism in one country.” This catastrophe for the world proletariat has profoundly reshaped the world we live in. Mass impoverishment and ethnic strife have devastated the people of the former Soviet Union and East Europe. The nominally independent nations of the “Third World” can no longer maneuver between the “two superpowers” as they face the unrestrained economic exactions and brute military force of the imperialists. With interimperialist rivalries no longer restrained by the bourgeois rulers’ shared commitment to anti-Sovietism, the workers in the advanced capitalist countries face intensified attacks aimed at achieving greater competitiveness by increasing the rate of exploitation of labor. Proletarian consciousness has been thrown back; workers’ identification of their class interests with the ideals of socialism is at a nadir, as the bourgeoisie points to the collapse of Stalinism as “proof” that “communism is dead.”

Capitalist Counterrevolution: A “Step Sideways”?

Today Cliff’s U.S. followers unabashedly declare: “The revolutions in Eastern Europe were a step sideways—from one form of capitalism to another” (Socialist Worker, 23 April 1999). Don’t try this line on any Russian worker today. The unprecedented economic and social implosion now occurring in the territory of the ex-USSR is the real measure of just how historically progressive the planned, collectivized economy really was. In the chaotic conditions of post-Soviet Russia, the laws of capitalism have resulted in total economic collapse: production has fallen at least 50 percent since 1991, capital investment by 90 percent. Today a third of the urban labor force in Russia is effectively unemployed; 75 percent of the population lives below or barely above subsistence level and 15 million are actually starving. Life expectancy has fallen dramatically and now stands at a mere 57 years for men, below what it was a century ago, while the overall population actually declined by three and a half million from 1992 to 1997.

Statistics alone cannot convey the scale and intensity of immiseration. The infrastructures of production, technology, science, transportation, heating and sewage have disintegrated. Malnutrition has become the norm among schoolchildren. Some two million children have been abandoned by families who can no longer support them. The delivery of basic services like electricity and water has become sporadic in wide areas of the country. With the disintegration of the former state-run system of universal health care, diseases like tuberculosis are rampant. As Trotsky predicted, capitalist restoration has reduced the USSR to a pauperized wasteland prey to all the ravages of imperialist depredation.

While clinging to their threadbare theories, the Cliffites and their ilk are oddly modest about their real contribution. The restoration of capitalism in the USSR and East Europe was the implementation of their program. Like Shachtman, who supported Washington’s Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, Cliff & Co. did their utmost to seek to bring victory to U.S. imperialism in the Cold War, lusting for the bloodying of Soviet forces in Afghanistan, championing the “trade union” credentials of Solidarnosc—instrument of the Vatican, Wall Street and Western social democracy for capitalist counterrevolution in Poland—and vicariously dancing with the black marketeers, monarchists and yuppies on Yeltsin’s barricades in 1991. Socialist Worker (31 August 1991) trumpeted Yeltsin’s victory: “Communism has collapsed.... It is a fact that should have every socialist rejoicing.” Well, now the Cliffites have what they wanted.

The absurdity of “state capitalist” and “bureaucratic collectivist” theories is manifest in light of the simple surrender of the Soviet degenerated workers state and the East European deformed workers states by the disintegrating Stalinist bureaucracy. No propertied ruling class in history has ever voluntarily given up its power. Nonetheless Cliff, whose reworking of Kautsky’s “state capitalism” is his main claim to fame as a “Marxist,” is now claiming that the counterrevolution in the ex-USSR confirmed his analysis. In an article, “The Test of Time,” in Socialist Review (July-August 1998), Cliff claims in passing that the “state capitalist” nature of the Stalinist bureaucracy was shown by the emergence today of some of the former bureaucrats as capitalists. In fact, Trotsky pointed out in his seminal works, such as the 1936 study The Revolution Betrayed, that the ruling caste had every bourgeois appetite and aspiration, but was constrained from implementing them by the socialized property forms of the degenerated workers state.

Cliff further asserts that “If Russia was a socialist country or the Stalinist regime was a workers’ state, even though a degenerated or deformed one, the collapse of Stalinism would have meant that a counterrevolution had taken place. In such circumstances, workers would have defended a workers’ state in the same way that workers always defend their unions, however right wing and bureaucratic they may be, against those who are trying to eliminate the union altogether.” The ICL has extensively analyzed the collapse of Stalinist bonapartism in Russia in our 1993 pamphlet How the Soviet Workers State Was Strangled, as well as in the documents by Joseph Seymour and Albert St. John published in Spartacist No. 45-46 (Winter 1990-91). In a capitalist state changes of political regime have little effect on the anarchistic bourgeois economy, which tends to function automatically. In contrast the proletarian revolution transfers the productive forces directly to the state it has created. A planned socialist economy is built consciously and its continued existence is inseparable from the political character of the state power that defends it. The fact that the Soviet proletariat did not fight the counterrevolution is testimony to the systematic destruction of proletarian consciousness by the bureaucracy. And as Trotsky noted in The Third International After Lenin (1928): “If an army capitulates to the enemy in a critical situation without a battle, then this capitulation completely takes the place of a ‘decisive battle,’ in politics as in war.”

The Cliffites, little different from the Shachtmanites, ultimately view disembodied “power,” rather than economics, as decisive. For them, the strength and presumed permanence of Stalinist rule flowed from the undeniable ruthlessness of its repression. Motivated by a profound pessimism regarding the revolutionary capacity of the working class, these renegades from Trotskyism mouth the same propaganda as the open bourgeois apologists for capitalism, who claimed that Stalin’s “totalitarianism” guaranteed the Russian workers would never again wage any struggle for their own interests, unlike the workers in the “democratic” West.

To elevate “democracy” to the ultimate progressive historical goal irrespective of its class content is the oldest trick in the book for defenders of the bourgeois order. In The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, Lenin heaped scorn on the Kautskyite centrists—who were to return to the Social Democratic party of Ebert, Noske and Scheidemann in 1922—for “cringing before the bourgeoisie, adapting themselves to the bourgeois parliamentary system, keeping silent about the bourgeois character of modern democracy.” For a Marxist, Lenin noted, “the form of democracy, is one thing, and the class content of the given institution is another.”

The Class Nature of the Soviet State

Trotsky’s understanding of the bureaucracy as a corrosive ruling caste, not a possessing class but an excrescence upon the state and institutions issuing from October, defined the manifest contradictions which ultimately doomed Stalinism. As a kind of global middleman balancing between a state based on collectivized property forms and the world imperialist order, its rule was brittle and fundamentally unstable. In “The Class Nature of the Soviet State” (1933), Trotsky asserted:

“The class has an exceptionally important and, moreover, a scientifically restricted meaning to a Marxist. A class is defined not by its participation in the distribution of the national income alone, but by its independent role in the general structure of the economy and by its independent roots in the economic foundation of society. Each class (the feudal nobility, the peasantry, the petty bourgeoisie, the capitalist bourgeoisie and the proletariat) works out its own special forms of property. The bureaucracy lacks all these social traits. It has no independent position in the process of production and distribution. It has no independent property roots. Its functions relate basically to the political technique of class rule....

“Nevertheless, the privileges of the bureaucracy by themselves do not change the bases of the Soviet society, because the bureaucracy derives its privileges not from any special property relations peculiar to it as a ‘class,’ but from those property relations that have been created by the October Revolution and that are fundamentally adequate for the dictatorship of the proletariat.

“To put it plainly, insofar as the bureaucracy robs the people (and this is done in various ways by every bureaucracy), we have to deal not with class exploitation, in the scientific sense of the word, but with social parasitism, although on a very large scale.”

As against Trotsky’s Marxist view, all manner of anti-revolutionary forces imbued the Stalinist ruling elite with some substantial solidity. Notable among these were, of course, the Stalinist ideologues themselves, who claimed to be securely “building socialism” within their own borders (until they finally discovered the alleged inevitability, indeed the superiority of capitalism). If the final undoing of the October Revolution confirms Trotsky’s analysis and program only in the negative, it at least exposes as threadbare all notions of Stalinism as a stable system.

Shachtman ridiculed Trotsky’s warnings that in the absence of proletarian political revolution the Stalinists were entirely capable of liquidating the workers state:

“Trotsky assigned to Stalinism, to the Stalinist bureaucracy, the rôle of undermining the economic foundations of the workers’ state. By gradually de-nationalizing the means of production and exchange, loosening the monopoly of foreign trade, Stalinism would pave the way for the restoration of private property and capitalism.... Nothing of the sort occurred.”

— Max Shachtman, “The Counter-revolutionary Revolution,” New International, July 1943, reprinted in Matgamna, ed., The Fate of the Russian Revolution

But that is exactly what did occur in the USSR and East Europe—a historic defeat which the authentic Trotskyists fought to prevent.

The “Russian Question” and the Trotskyist Program

Trotsky fought to unconditionally defend the workers state issuing from the October Revolution against and despite the Stalinist caste which usurped political power from the Soviet working class in 1923-24. The bureaucracy retained power only through a combination of terror and lies, atomizing and demoralizing the Soviet proletariat, subverting the planned and collectivized economy, blocking in the name of “socialism in one country” the possibilities for extending the gains of October through proletarian revolutions internationally. As Trotsky explained:

“Two opposite tendencies are growing up out of the depth of the Soviet regime. To the extent that, in contrast to a decaying capitalism, it develops the productive forces, it is preparing the economic basis of socialism. To the extent that, for the benefit of an upper stratum, it carries to more and more extreme expression bourgeois norms of distribution, it is preparing a capitalist restoration. This contrast between forms of property and norms of distribution cannot grow indefinitely. Either the bourgeois norm must in one form or another spread to the means of production, or the norms of distribution must be brought into correspondence with the socialist property system.”

The Revolution Betrayed (1936)

Trotsky understood the situation very clearly: either a political revolution by the Soviet proletariat would overthrow the bureaucratic caste that had usurped political power or the bureaucracy would eventually prepare the way for capitalist restoration as it sought to guarantee its privileges by converting itself into a new possessing class. But meanwhile it was the urgent task of every class-conscious worker in the world to unconditionally defend the workers state and the Soviet workers from the external military attacks of imperialism or internal attempts at capitalist restoration. But there were those who capitulated to the pressures of bourgeois anti-Sovietism and abandoned their revolutionary duty to unconditionally defend the first workers state, in spite of its bureaucratic degeneration, claiming that to do so would be an endorsement of Stalinism, falsely equating the parasitic bureaucracy with the Soviet workers state. In 1934, Trotsky insisted:

“We have been informed by various sources that there is a tendency among our friends in Paris to deny the proletarian nature of the USSR, to demand that there be complete democracy in the USSR, including the legalization of the Mensheviks, etc....

“The Mensheviks are the representatives of bourgeois restoration and we are for the defense of the workers’ state by every means possible. Anyone who had proposed that we not support the British miners’ strike of 1926 or the recent large-scale strikes in the United States with all available means on the ground that the leaders of the strikes were for the most part scoundrels, would have been a traitor to the British and American workers. Exactly the same thing applies to the USSR!”

— Trotsky, “No Compromise on the Russian Question,” 11 November 1934

And Trotsky warned: “Every political tendency that waves its hand hopelessly at the Soviet Union, under the pretext of its ‘nonproletarian’ character, runs the risk of becoming the passive instrument of imperialism” (“The Class Nature of the Soviet State,” October 1933). Ostensible “socialists” of the Shachtman/Cliff/Matgamna stripe go far beyond being mere passive instruments.

In sharp distinction to the gibberish of Shachtman/Cliff, Trotsky advanced a precise Marxist analysis of the USSR under the rule of Stalin. He attacked the notion that “from the present Soviet regime only a transition to socialism is possible. In reality a backslide to capitalism is wholly possible.” He noted:

“The Soviet Union is a contradictory society halfway between capitalism and socialism, in which: (a) the productive forces are still far from adequate to give the state property a socialist character; (b) the tendency toward primitive accumulation created by want breaks out through innumerable pores of the planned economy; (c) norms of distribution preserving a bourgeois character lie at the basis of a new differentiation of society; (d) the economic growth, while slowly bettering the situation of the toilers, promotes a swift formation of privileged strata; (e) exploiting the social antagonisms, a bureaucracy has converted itself into an uncontrolled caste alien to socialism; (f) the social revolution, betrayed by the ruling party, still exists in property relations and in the consciousness of the toiling masses; (g) a further development of the accumulating contradictions can as well lead to socialism as back to capitalism; (h) on the road to capitalism the counterrevolution would have to break the resistance of the workers; (i) on the road to socialism the workers would have to overthrow the bureaucracy. In the last analysis, the question will be decided by a struggle of living social forces, both on the national and the world arena.”

The Revolution Betrayed

The Stalinist bureaucracy was an unstable caste resting parasitically on the socialized foundations of the workers state, which it was at times compelled to defend. This contradictory character was evident even in the last years of the Brezhnev regime, with the Soviet military intervention into Afghanistan against a CIA-backed insurgency by woman-hating Islamic reactionaries. It was reflected as well over the question of Soviet support to the 1984-85 British miners strike, which was backed by old-time Stalinists like foreign minister Andrei Gromyko and opposed by younger elements around Gorbachev, at the time the number-two figure in the Kremlin regime. Conversely, the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, appeasing imperialism at the very borders of the USSR, was a tip-off that the Stalinists would soon renounce any intention of defending the Soviet Union itself against imperialism.

Irrespective of any subjective ideological commitment to socialized property on the part of the bureaucracy, the laws of economic motion in a degenerated or a deformed workers state differ from those operating under capitalism. An industrial manager in the USSR obeyed fundamentally different economic imperatives than a Russian capitalist today, even if they happen to be the same individual. The goal of a capitalist is to maximize profits, i.e., the difference between costs of production and market price. The main goal of a Soviet factory director, on which his future career depended, was maximizing the planned output of goods, although often to the detriment of quality and variety. The system thus generated full employment. In fact, Soviet enterprises were typically overmanned. And despite bureaucratic mismanagement and corruption, the planned, collectivized economy provided for universal medical care, housing, education, childcare and vacations, which were possible only because capitalism had been expropriated.

It is indicative that, unlike a ruling class, the Stalinist bureaucracy could not elaborate a new ideology justifying its privileges. Even at the grotesque and murderous heights of the “cult of personality,” Stalin, having murdered all of Lenin’s comrades, could never cease to claim to be Lenin’s successor. In contrast, the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union was accompanied by an open embrace of capitalist ideology: communism was an experiment that failed, the magic of the market means prosperity, Stalin was worse than Hitler, etc.

Noting that the world’s most advanced capitalist economies remained more productive than the Soviet economy, Trotsky observed that the power of cheap commodities would ultimately prove more dangerous to the USSR than open military hostilities. While strikingly prophetic, this observation was merely based on the basic Marxist understanding that socialism must be built as a world system. As long as Wall Street financiers, German industrialists and Japanese zaibatsu own most of the productive wealth on this planet, the communist vision of a classless and stateless society cannot be realized anywhere. The question, for Trotsky, was: will the workers overthrow the bureaucracy, or will the bureaucracy devour the workers state? There was nothing abstract about this question; Trotsky devoted his life, until his murder by Stalin, to seeking to rally the proletariat in the USSR and internationally to the defense of the gains of October, not least through the fight for new October Revolutions.

The Genesis and Evolution of Shachtman’s “Bureaucratic Collectivism”

The genesis of Shachtman’s “new class” theory of the USSR was in the abandonment by part of the American Trotskyist party of the unconditional military defense of the Soviet Union when it counted. The precipitant was the 1939 Stalin-Hitler pact, which had a dramatic effect on the milieus of petty-bourgeois “progressives,” who in the previous period of the popular front honeymoon with Roosevelt’s “New Deal” had seen themselves as in some sense “friends” of the Soviet Union, while in reality still maintaining their fundamental loyalty to American “democracy.” Max Shachtman, James Burnham and Martin Abern, all members of the leading committee of the American Trotskyist party, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), came together in 1939-40 to challenge the longstanding Trotskyist program of Soviet defensism. Because of the conditions created by the war in Europe, the struggle in the American section became a surrogate for a fight in the Fourth International as a whole.

Leon Trotsky, in the last major factional battle of his life, led the counterattack against the Shachtmanites. In a series of devastating polemics, subsequently published by the SWP as In Defense of Marxism (1942), Trotsky insisted that Stalin’s diplomatic and military alliance with Hitler changed nothing of the class character of the Soviet degenerated workers state which he had analyzed in The Revolution Betrayed. Trotsky exposed how the U.S. minority in the SWP had, in abandoning Soviet defensism, abandoned the theoretical underpinnings of revolutionary Marxism itself. He ridiculed the American minority’s argument that to militarily defend the USSR in Finland and Poland constituted political support to the Stalinist bureaucracy.

Soviet defensism had been a continual source of dispute within the Trotskyist movement. In the 1939-40 fight, Trotsky restated arguments he had made in 1929 against those Left Oppositionists who refused to defend the USSR against China in the dispute over the Chinese Eastern Railroad; against Hugo Urbahns, who generalized from this position to declare the Soviet Union “state capitalist”; against Yvan Craipeau in France, who insisted in 1937 that the Soviet bureaucracy was a new ruling class; against James Burnham and Joe Carter, who started out on their revisionist path in 1937 by arguing that the USSR could no longer be considered a workers state, though (until the Stalin-Hitler pact) they claimed to be defensist of the collectivized property and planned economy.

It was the Shachtmanites’ bowing to the pressure of bourgeois public opinion which was the real basis for their flight from the Fourth International’s program. James P. Cannon, the founder of American Trotskyism, in his 1939-40 writings, later published in the book The Struggle for a Proletarian Party, the companion volume to Trotsky’s In Defense of Marxism, exposed the link between the Shachtmanites’ politics and their base among vacillating petty-bourgeois layers of the party who had not broken from their historic milieus. In fact, the anti-Cannon bloc of 1939-40 had no coherent analysis of the nature of the Soviet state. James Burnham had come to view the Soviet Union as a new form of class society; already openly sneering at dialectical materialism, he was within months to abandon his erstwhile factional allies and the Marxist movement altogether. Abern and his clique claimed to view the Soviet Union as a degenerated workers state, but they had a long history of always putting petty organizational grievances against the Cannon “regime” above revolutionary program or principle. Shachtman claimed not to have a position on the Soviet state, arguing that in any case this was immaterial to the “concrete” question at hand. In one of his last documents as an SWP member, he claimed that if the USSR was ever really threatened with imperialist invasion, he would defend the Soviet Union.

The opposition bloc fell apart less than a month after Shachtman et al. exited the SWP, to found the Workers Party (WP). Burnham denounced Marxism and decamped to his bourgeois academic haunts, going on to write The Managerial Revolution (1941), which identified Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia as the harbingers of a new, bureaucratic class society. Shachtman and his followers (with Abern continuing his clique maneuvering until his death in 1947) also went on to generalize their initial flinch, characterizing the USSR as a new form of class society, “bureaucratic collectivism.”

The Shachtman minority had counted on the support of some 40 percent of the party and the majority of the SWP’s youth organization, i.e., some 800 members. By the fall of 1940, the WP claimed only 323 members. This produced a “dead cat bounce” effect: the center of gravity of the early Workers Party moved to the left of the original petty-bourgeois opposition, as the more right-wing elements—with Burnham in the lead—simply took the opportunity of the split from the SWP to exit from the field of politics altogether. During WWII, the WP was a left-centrist formation, groping toward a full-blown theory to justify their flight from Soviet defensism.

When Hitler turned on Stalin (as Trotsky had predicted) and invaded the USSR in June 1941, there was a fight in the WP over whether to defend the Soviet Union; a handful of WP youth in Los Angeles went back to the SWP when the WP failed to make good on Shachtman’s earlier declaration that he would defend the USSR in case of invasion. The WP’s position of class neutrality in the war between Germany and the USSR represented another giant step toward the WP’s consolidation of its revisionist course.

But the USSR-U.S. alliance after June 1941 put into abeyance domestic anti-Sovietism and allowed for a relatively leftist presentation of the “Third Camp.” With the opening of the war industries the previously chronically unemployed petty-bourgeois WP youth were able to get industrial jobs and were a real factor in the trade unions, competing with the SWP as a class-struggle opposition to the social-patriots in the Rooseveltian trade-union bureaucracy and the Stalinist Communist Party. The WP considered itself a section of the Fourth International; at the end of the war there were abortive “unity” negotiations between the WP and SWP.

In 1948, Shachtman definitively turned his back on the Fourth International, reflecting his rapid rightward motion in the face of renewed bourgeois anti-Sovietism with the onset of the Cold War. In 1949, the Workers Party, no longer aspiring to the leadership of the American working class, changed its name to the Independent Socialist League (ISL); most of the WP youth had long since left the unions for graduate school and petty-bourgeois careers. The press run of the Shachtmanite paper Labor Action, which had been 20,000-25,000 in the midst of WWII, plummeted to just over 3,000 by 1953. The ISL were vicarious social democrats, advancing the possibility of a peaceful road to socialism in Attlee’s post-war Britain and trying to pressure Autoworkers bureaucrat Walter Reuther to form a labor party. But the AFL and CIO bureaucracies were in the vanguard of the anti-Communist crusade. By the time of their liquidation into the dregs of American social democracy in 1958, the Shachtmanites were declaring, “We do not subscribe to any creed known as Leninism or defined as such. We do not subscribe to any creed known as Trotskyism or defined as such” (New International, Spring-Summer 1958). They soon disintegrated, with Shachtman and his closest co-thinkers ending up alongside George Meany in the most anti-Communist right wing of the Democrats, while Michael Harrington gravitated to the more liberal wing of the Democrats and Hal Draper mucked around in the Berkeley New Left, helping to found the Independent Socialists, precursor to the American ISO.

A Program Wrapped in a “Theory”

While the Cliffite version of “state capitalism” is today better known on the left than the earlier “bureaucratic collectivism,” the difference between the two theories is more a matter of context than of fundamental content. Cliffism is the British analog to American Shachtmanism, based on an identical political impulse and program but expressed on a different national terrain.

The British Trotskyist movement was already deeply fragmented and buried in the ruling Labour Party when Cliff bowed to the pressures of imperialism’s Cold War offensive during the Korean War. Hence the fight against Cliff’s revisionism was not the definitive polarization between petty-bourgeois and proletarian tendencies that the 1940 fight had been for American Trotskyism. But Cliff’s break with revolutionary Marxism was if anything more programmatically decisive. Cliff had already declared his intention to put a minus sign over the whole Soviet experience, working out the “state capitalist” theoretical justification for his abandonment of the defense of the world’s first workers state. Operating in Britain, with his capitulation to the bourgeois social order mediated through “little England” social democracy, Cliff is able to posture rather more to the left than the later Shachtman.

On the level of “theory,” Cliff rejected the idea that the Soviet bureaucracy was a new “bureaucratic collectivist” ruling class and resuscitated the Kautskyan notion that the USSR was merely a form of capitalism. Cliff’s putative credentials as a theoretician are based on his 1955 book, Stalinist Russia: A Marxist Analysis. In this work he attempts a purportedly “Marxist” economic analysis to prove the “state capitalist” nature of the Soviet bureaucracy, simply by grossly and dishonestly redefining terms which have a precise meaning for Marxists: competition, accumulation, commodity, value, etc. According to Cliff, a “collective” capitalist class (itself an absurdity by any Marxist measure) is driven to accumulate “profit” in order to militarily “compete” with the capitalist West, generating a market economy driven by the law of value. Cliff had to do extreme violence to Soviet reality to make it fit this “theory.” (See “The Anti-Marxist Theory of ‘State Capitalism’—A Trotskyist Critique,” Young Spartacus Nos. 51-53, February, March and April 1977. For a discussion of the fallacy of “state capitalist” theory through an examination of classical Marxist economics, see especially Ken Tarbuck, “The Theory of State Capitalism—The Clock Without a Spring,” published in the British Marxist Studies Vol. 2, No. 1, Winter 1969-70, reprinted in July 1973 as No. 5 in the Marxist Studies series of the SL/U.S.)

The arguments of Cliff, and Shachtman before him, dovetailed with and sometimes led the way for overt Cold Warriors, as well as the social democrats who have made careers out of anti-Communist crusading throughout the world. Although, as we have seen, it took a while for the full anti-Soviet implications of Shachtman’s split from Trotskyism to be played out, when he died in 1972 Shachtman had spent his last decade as an unalloyed social-patriot, even backing U.S. imperialism’s attempt to drown the Vietnamese social revolution in blood. Perhaps his most concrete service to imperialism was as braintruster for the bureaucracy of the American teachers union, an epitome of “AFL-CIA” trade unionism, which worked as an arm of the U.S. State Department, backing and bankrolling anti-Communist gangsters who smashed combative leftist labor unions in West Europe after World War II and providing a “working-class” cover for the fascistic “captive nations” crowd working for counterrevolution in the “Soviet bloc.”

In essence, “bureaucratic collectivism” is based on a formal syllogism: The means of production belong to the state, the state “belongs” to (i.e., is controlled by) the bureaucracy; therefore the bureaucracy “owns” the property and constitutes a ruling class. But property has to be personally owned to be of continuing benefit to individuals—this is the bottom line for understanding exploitation. “Bureaucratic collectivism” dispenses with the very basis of Marxism, the understanding that there are two main classes in capitalist society, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, defined by relationship to the means of production. Shachtman’s theory posits the existence of a new “bureaucratic” ruling class, not defined by private ownership of the means of production. According to Shachtman, “bureaucratic collectivism” had the possibility to become the dominant mode of production worldwide, vying with both capitalism and socialism.

Shachtman’s theory was a product of his times. Much in the air in the U.S. of the 1930s was the idea that big corporations were no longer controlled by their owners, but by managers. An influential exposition of this view was The Modern Corporation and Private Property (1932), by A.A. Berle and G.C. Means. (Of course, writing off the importance of ownership in capitalist society was greatly facilitated by the Great Depression, when no dividends were being produced anyway.) This impressionistic view of a new managerial elite animated The Managerial Revolution, the opus of Shachtman’s erstwhile theoretician, James Burnham.

Bureaucratic collectivism posits that it is the lust for disembodied power, and not the private accumulation of wealth, that is the decisive motor force in human history. The logic of this view is also a profound historical pessimism, no longer seeing any possibility for the revolutionary proletariat to gain the consciousness needed to lead humanity out of its historic impasse. To paraphrase George Orwell in his 1946 essay, “James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution,” in Burnham’s view the fate of the majority of the human race could be summarized as “a boot in the face, forever.” For many of those who left the Trotskyist movement in this period, the historical pessimism toward the prospects for proletarian revolution led to reconciliation with “democratic” imperialism. Trotsky’s former collaborator Victor Serge and the founding Chinese Trotskyist, Chen Duxiu, followed the logic of their despair into the camp of the “Allied” imperialists in WW II.

For a Marxist, a ruling class is a layer of people defined by their ownership of the means of production—not mainly by their ideology, their morality or lack thereof, their hunger for power, their standard of living, etc. The point is not to give a pejorative description of Soviet reality, but to analyze its laws of motion and direction of development. Against the early proponents of “state capitalist” theories, Trotsky noted:

“The attempt to represent the Soviet bureaucracy as a class of ‘state capitalists’ will obviously not withstand criticism. The bureaucracy has neither stocks nor bonds. It is recruited, supplemented and renewed in the manner of an administrative hierarchy, independently of any special property relations of its own. The individual bureaucrat cannot transmit to his heirs his rights in the exploitation of the state apparatus. The bureaucracy enjoys its privileges under the form of an abuse of power. It conceals its income; it pretends that as a special social group it does not even exist. Its appropriation of a vast share of the national income has the character of social parasitism. All this makes the position of the commanding Soviet stratum in the highest degree contradictory, equivocal and undignified, notwithstanding the completeness of its power and the smoke screen of flattery that conceals it.”

And he continued:

“One may argue that the big bureaucrat cares little what are the prevailing forms of property, provided only they guarantee him the necessary income. This argument ignores not only the instability of the bureaucrat’s own rights, but also the question of his descendants. The new cult of the family has not fallen out of the clouds. Privileges have only half their worth, if they cannot be transmitted to one’s children. But the right of testament is inseparable from the right of property. It is not enough to be the director of a trust; it is necessary to be a stockholder. The victory of the bureaucracy in this decisive sphere would mean its conversion into a new possessing class.”

The Revolution Betrayed

The “Theories” of Shachtman/Cliff Go Splat

In terms of their prognosis for the Soviet Union and East Europe, all “new class” theories proved a mockery. The bureaucratic caste was incapable of acting as a ruling class; persons with power but without a base for that power in the individual private ownership of the means of production couldn’t act like Alfred Krupp, Henry Ford, the Rockefellers or even William the Conqueror. In his book of Shachtmanite writings, Matgamna makes no attempt to measure Shachtman’s theorizing against historical development, against the workers revolts in East Europe in the 1950s, against the ultimate collapse of Stalinism in 1990-91. This in itself condemns the book as an exercise in sterility.

The single example of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution by itself decisively refutes the notion of the Stalinist bureaucracy as a ruling class. In the face of a pro-socialist workers political revolution directed against the hated Rákosi regime, the bureaucracy split vertically and 80 percent of the Communist Party went over to the side of the workers revolution. Virtually the entire officer corps of the army, as well as the Budapest chief of police, refused to suppress the working-class insurgency. Who ever heard of a ruling class behaving like this?

In the incipient proletarian political revolution in the DDR in 1989-90, and later in the Soviet Union, we fought to the best of our (limited) ability to mobilize the East German and the Soviet proletariats against the enveloping counterrevolution, fighting against the abdicating heirs of Stalin who simply handed over first the East European deformed workers states (most importantly the DDR) and then the USSR itself to the capitalists. Many of the Soviet and German workers whom we introduced to Trotsky’s Revolution Betrayed told us that its descriptions of life under Stalinism read as though they had just been written. Stalinist ideology, dictated by the bureaucracy’s desire to maintain its privileged position, was an eclectic mélange of Marxist terminology used to dress up the utterly anti-Marxist program of “socialism in one country,” “peaceful coexistence” and a definition of “anti-imperialism” as the struggle between “progressive” and “reactionary” peoples. The Stalinists perverted Marxism, politically disarming working classes which were atomized by repression, destroying the only possible long-term basis for the dictatorship of the proletariat, a class-conscious working class fighting in its historic interests.

In The Revolution Betrayed, Trotsky linked the survival of the gains of October not only to the economic foundations of the workers state but also to the consciousness of the Soviet proletariat: “The October revolution has been betrayed by the ruling stratum, but not yet overthrown. It has a great power of resistance, coinciding with the established property relations, with the living force of the proletariat, the consciousness of its best elements, the impasse of world capitalism, and the inevitability of world revolution.”

Shachtman/Cliff: Anti-Communism vs. Marxism

The documents published in The Fate of the Russian Revolution: Lost Texts of Critical Marxism Volume I reveal how greatly the sands of Shachtmanite theory shifted over time. This shows that “bureaucratic collectivism” was useless as an attempt to understand reality and project its future development. Shachtman begins by arguing during the 1939-40 faction fight that the Soviet Union cannot be defended because the Stalinists will not overturn capitalist property relations in Finland and the Baltic states. By 1948, he and the rest of the Workers Party ideologues are arguing that the Soviet Union cannot be defended because in East Europe the Red Army is overturning capitalist property relations (thereby supposedly showing that it is a new ruling class).

Shachtman left the SWP arguing that revolutionaries should defend the collectivized property of the USSR if imperialism really threatened it, and he was still arguing this in the pages of the New International in December 1940. But when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941 and the defense of the USSR became operational, he changed his tune and argued that Soviet defensism was impermissible because the USSR was militarily allied with the “democratic” imperialist camp.

In his one foray into original “theorizing,” Shachtman argued in his December 1940 “Is Russia a Workers’ State?” that the USSR was “bureaucratic state socialism,” and that revolutionaries should still defend its collectivized “property forms” while recognizing that it lacked collectivized “property relations.” This utterly spurious distinction between property forms and property relations, which lacks any basis in Marxism, was subjected to a devastating critique by Joseph Hansen (“Burnham’s Attorney Carries On,” Fourth International, February 1941). Joe Carter also attacked this false dichotomy invented by Shachtman; Matgamna’s book reprints Carter’s article, “Bureaucratic Collectivism” (New International, September 1941)—minus the attack on Shachtman.

When the Workers Party adopted the position that the Soviet bureaucracy was a full-blown “bureaucratic collectivist” ruling class in December 1941, they mimicked Trotsky in continuing to argue that Stalinist rule was a phenomenon unique to Russia, which arose due to the deforming isolation of the first workers state. Thus they posited a ruling class with no past and no future, no necessary relation to the means of production; one whose official “ideology” denied the very fact of its existence.

With the Red Army’s occupation of East Europe at the end of the war, bureaucratic collectivism blossomed into full-blown Stalinophobia, as the Workers Party insisted that Stalinist bureaucratism was a competitor to capitalism for world domination:

“What is before us concretely is the development of Stalinist Russia as a full-fledged reactionary empire, oppressing and exploiting not only the Russian people, but a dozen other peoples and nations—and that in the most cruel and barbarous way....

“The theory that the Stalinist parties (like the traditional reformist organizations) are agents of the capitalist class, that they ‘capitulate to the bourgeoisie,’ is fundamentally false. They are the agencies of Russian bureaucratic collectivism.”

— Workers Party resolution, New International, April 1947 (reprinted in The Fate of the Russian Revolution)

Trotsky expected that the brittle Stalinist bureaucracy would be overthrown in the working-class upsurge which would inevitably be provoked by WWII. Instead, the reformist Stalinist and Social Democratic parties deflected working-class struggle at the war’s end, allowing the invading Allied armies to restabilize capitalist rule in West Europe. In East Europe, the Red Army’s occupation in the wake of the fleeing Nazis and the Nazi-allied ruling classes provided a breathing space. Stalin’s creation of deformed workers states in East Europe was dictated by military/ security concerns as the Allied imperialists turned on their erstwhile ally and began the Cold War. Indigenous peasant-based revolutions by Communist-led forces in Yugoslavia and in 1949 in China also created new deformed workers states.

The Shachtman writings proudly trotted out by Matgamna in his book are permeated with Cold War anti-communism, as is obvious from assertions such as “Stalinism is shown at its ‘purest’ in the slave labor camps” (from a July 1947 article by Louis Jacobs [Jack Weber] published by Matgamna), or “Slave labor is not an accidental or surface excrescence of the Stalinist regime; it is integral, inherent, irreplaceable” (from a December 1947 New International article that Matgamna doesn’t reprint). The Stalinist gulag—which was designed for political suppression, not economic exploitation—did constitute a system of forced labor in Siberia and other areas where it was impossible to get workers to go voluntarily for low wages. But such methods are incompatible with labor requiring any skill or training. Far from proving “irreplaceable” to the Soviet economy, in the liberalization that followed Stalin’s death they were replaced with more rational forms of financial incentives. Capitalist counterrevolution, in contrast, has left the Siberian population as surplus, outside the political economy, left to die of starvation, disease and cold.

When the Soviet degenerated workers state was finally destroyed by Stalin’s heirs, the process unfolded in a manner which strikingly conformed to Trotsky’s projections. Thus in 1936 Trotsky had written:

“Bourgeois society has in the course of its history displaced many political regimes and bureaucratic castes, without changing its social foundations.... The state power has been able either to co-operate with capitalist development, or put brakes on it. But in general the productive forces, upon a basis of private property and competition, have been working out their own destiny. In contrast to this, the property relations which issued from the socialist revolution are indivisibly bound up with the new state as their repository....

“A collapse of the Soviet regime would lead inevitably to the collapse of the planned economy, and thus to the abolition of state property. The bond of compulsion between the trusts and the factories within them would fall away. The more successful enterprises would succeed in coming out on the road of independence. They might convert themselves into stock companies, or they might find some other transitional form of property—one, for example, in which the workers should participate in the profits. The collective farms would disintegrate at the same time, and far more easily. The fall of the present bureaucratic dictatorship would thus mean a return to capitalist relations with a catastrophic decline of industry and culture.”

The Revolution Betrayed

Stalinism: Gravedigger of Revolution, Gravedigger of the Workers States

The unraveling of Stalinism over the course of decades had a significant generational component, as did the Stalinists’ destruction of proletarian consciousness. The regime of terror and lies did much to extirpate socialist idealism among the toiling masses. Starting from the theory of “socialism in one country,” Stalin pushed nationalist ideology as the basis of loyalty to the state. Russian nationalism was instrumental to the USSR winning World War II against Hitler (after an initial collapse of the army, demoralized by Stalin’s blood purges, which enabled the Nazis to overrun huge swaths of Soviet territory).

After Stalin’s death in 1953, the Soviet bureaucracy was no longer able to use mass terror as a weapon against political opposition or economic crimes. With the economic situation in the USSR and East Europe recovering from the devastation of the war and, following a series of pro-socialist workers uprisings and protests in East Germany, Hungary and Poland which threatened the Stalinist regimes, the Khrushchev years were marked by a policy of increased production of consumer goods and a general increase in the standard of living for the workers. The large-scale corruption of the Brezhnev years greatly undermined residual egalitarian values in the population. The subsequent generation of the bureaucracy, exemplified by Gorbachev, reflected the increased weight in Soviet society of a privileged layer of bureaucrats’ children, technocrats and other would-be yuppies who aspired to hobnob in Western capitals with their opposite numbers from Harvard Business School at comparable income levels. Beginning with experiments in “market socialism,” justified as the only way to revitalize the Soviet economy (workers democracy of course not being an option), this layer had little internal resistance to scrapping Stalinist ideology outright: “socialism” has failed, long live capitalism. When Gorbachev proved unable to ram through his “capitalism in 500 days” shock treatment, he was replaced by the more ruthless ex-Stalinist bureaucrat, Yeltsin, who eagerly tried to sell the country to American imperialism.

The central event of the Russian counterrevolution was Yeltsin’s August 1991 “counter-coup” against the inept “perestroika coup” of Stalinist has-beens. Virtually all the anti-Soviet fake-Trotskyists either openly hailed Yeltsin and/or seized on the opportunity to declare that the Soviet degenerated workers state was instantly dead. Only the ICL sought to rally the working people of the USSR to rise in political revolution to defeat capitalist restoration. The ICL mass-distributed our article “Soviet Workers: Defeat Yeltsin-Bush Counterrevolution!” throughout the Soviet Union. Yeltsin’s consolidation of his imperialist-backed power grab for “democracy”—in the absence of mass resistance by the working class to the encroaching capitalist counterrevolution—spelled the final destruction of the degenerated workers state.

Yeltsin’s counterrevolution was prepared by the introduction of economic measures known in East Europe as “market socialism” and in Russia as perestroika (restructuring). Tito’s use of market-oriented “reforms” in Yugoslavia prefigured Gorbachev’s perestroika. They were characterized by the atrophy of centralized planning, allowing enterprise relations to be largely governed by market forces. Closely associated with the abolition of the state monopoly on foreign trade was decentralization on regional lines, generating powerful pressures for breaking down the multinational character of countries such as Yugoslavia and the USSR, as wealthier republics were favored by the terms of trade established by market forces. These economic factors provided a huge boost to reactionary nationalist ideology, as—particularly given the absence of much capital—nationalism was used as the main battering ram for capitalist restoration in the ex-Soviet ex-bloc, leading straight to hideous, all-sided “ethnic cleansing” in the Balkans and elsewhere.

In our propaganda throughout this period, the Spartacists warned of the anti-egalitarian impact of “market socialist” policies, the deadly danger of allowing the penetration of international finance capital into the economies of the deformed workers states and the growth of nationalist rivalries within these states. In our 1981 pamphlet, Solidarnosc: Polish Company Union for CIA and Bankers, we laid at the Stalinists’ door the responsibility for the destruction of the historically socialist consciousness of the Polish proletariat. Our analysis and predictions were strikingly confirmed by events, but it cannot be too strongly emphasized that our purpose was not merely to analyze but to intervene with our revolutionary program to fight for socialist consciousness, to rally Soviet and East European workers to defend the remaining gains of October against their deadly enemies abroad and at home.

In our pamphlet on “Market Socialism” in Eastern Europe, published in July 1988, we explained:

“The program of ‘market socialism’ is basically a product of liberal Stalinism. Enterprise self-management and self-financing is the road to economic chaos. It generates unemployment and inflation, widens inequalities within the working class and throughout society, creates dependency on international bankers, intensifies national divisions and conflicts, and enormously strengthens the internal forces of capitalist restoration....

“The nationalities question has been at the heart of the politics of ‘self-management.’ The social pressure for ever greater decentralization has come not from below—from workers in the shops—but from the bureaucracies in the richer republics, Croatia and Slovenia. The economic effects of devolution have in turn given rise to virulent national resentment in the poorest regions, especially in Kosovo, where the Albanian nationality in Yugoslavia is concentrated....

“The decentralizing measures of the ’60s also radically altered the way in which the Yugoslav economy interacted with the world capitalist market. In 1967, enterprises were allowed to retain a portion of the foreign exchange which they earned. Since then the scramble over foreign exchange has been a major source of regional/national and inter-enterprise conflict, at times leading to outright economic warfare....

“There is an inherent tendency for Stalinist regimes to abandon central planning in favor of an economic setup with the following major elements: output and prices determined through atomized competition between enterprises; investment, managerial salaries and workers’ wages geared to enterprise profitability; unprofitable enterprises are shut down, resulting in unemployment; price subsidies are eliminated, resulting in a higher rate of inflation; the role of petty capitalist entrepreneurs is expanded, especially in the service sector; increased commercial and financial ties to Western and Japanese capitalism, including joint ventures, are encouraged. These measures do not amount to creeping capitalism, as many Western bourgeois commentators and not a few confused leftists contend. But they do strengthen the internal forces for capitalist counterrevolution....

“Within the framework of Stalinism, there is thus an inherent tendency to replace centralized planning and management with market mechanisms. Since managers and workers cannot be subject to the discipline of soviet democracy (workers councils), increasingly the bureaucracy sees subjecting the economic actors to the discipline of market competition as the only answer to economic inefficiency. The restoration of workers democracy in the Soviet Union is not just an abstract ideal but a vital condition for the renewal of the Soviet economy on a socialist basis.”

A restored revolutionary workers regime in the USSR would have fought to extend the revolution to the citadels of world imperialism, the necessary prerequisite for the creation of socialism.

The Economic Program of the Left Opposition

The New Economic Policy (NEP) was a temporary retreat undertaken by the Bolsheviks after the devastation of the Civil War in a backward, overwhelmingly peasant economy in which industry had broken down and was utterly disorganized. The early NEP legislation, drawn up under Lenin’s direct guidance, while allowing free trade in agricultural produce, severely restricted the hiring of labor and acquisition of land. However, what began as a temporary retreat was later transformed by Bukharin and Stalin into a continuing policy reflecting the class interests of the peasantry. In 1925 restrictions were greatly liberalized in the direction of favoring the growth of agrarian capitalism. Kulaks and “NEP men” were welcomed into the party, where they became a significant wing of the now-ascendant bureaucracy.

The advocates of “market socialism” in Gorbachev’s Russia looked back fondly to the NEP of the mid-late 1920s, whose ideological exponent was Nikolai Bukharin and whose chief implementer was his then-bloc partner, Joseph Stalin. Bukharin urged the peasantry, “Enrich yourselves!” and declared that socialism would proceed “at a snail’s pace.” He insisted that the expansion of industrial production in the Soviet Union should be determined by the market demand of the small-holding peasantry for manufactures.

In his 1922 work, From N.E.P. to Socialism, E. A. Preobrazhensky had advocated the necessity of “primitive socialist accumulation” to build up the resources for the expansion of the Soviet industrial base. Trotsky’s Left Opposition, to which Preobrazhensky adhered, insisted on the need for rapid industrialization and central planning. As early as April 1923, in his “Theses on Industry” presented to the Twelfth Party Congress, Trotsky pointed to the phenomenon of the “scissors crisis” (the lack of sufficient manufactured goods to exchange for agricultural produce, leading the peasants to withhold food from the cities). In 1925, Trotsky warned that “if the state industry develops more slowly than agriculture...this process would, of course, lead to a restoration of capitalism” (Whither Russia?).

The historian Alexander Erlich recounted the party debates in his classic work The Soviet Industrialization Debate, 1924-1928 (1960). Against the policies of Bukharin/Stalin, the Left Opposition called for increased taxation of the kulaks to finance industrialization and for the “systematic and gradual introduction of this most numerous peasant group [the middle peasants] to the benefits of large-scale, mechanized, collective agriculture” (Platform of the Opposition [1927]). The Left Opposition advocated speeding up the tempo of industrialization not only to relieve the “scissors crisis” but, most importantly, also to increase the social weight of the proletariat.

Bukharin’s policy fueled the forces of social counterrevolution in the Soviet Union. The policy of “enriching” the kulaks predictably led not only to the exacerbation of class distinctions in the countryside, as the poor peasants were virtually reduced to their prerevolutionary status as sharecroppers, but also to blackmail of the cities by the kulaks. Meanwhile, the NEP men had continued to grow in strength: at the end of 1926, nearly 60 percent of the total industrial labor force worked in privately owned small-scale industry, under the grip of petty capitalists who controlled supply and distribution. By 1928, the kulaks were organizing grain strikes, threatening not only to starve the cities but to undermine the economic foundations of the workers state itself.

Stalin was the leader of the conservative bureaucratic caste that had usurped power in 1924. He feared for the future of his regime which had arisen on the property forms of a workers state. Capitalist restoration threatened the bureaucracy’s base of power and privilege and was not an option. He saw no other course but to lash out with an unplanned, ill-conceived and brutal policy of forced collectivization to break the hold of the kulaks and a forced-march industrialization. In seeking by his own methods and for his own reasons to maintain the working-class foundations of the Soviet state, Stalin had no choice but to co-opt key aspects of the Left Opposition’s program advocating rapid industrial development that he had previously vehemently opposed. As a result Stalin broke his bloc with Bukharin, whose economic policies were leading directly toward a complete social overturn of the degenerated workers state. (Bukharin and his expelled supporters internationally became known as the Right Opposition.)

In light of these events, it is revealing that Cliff and Matgamna date the ascendancy of their respective “new ruling classes” (or capitalist restoration) to this period. But since Stalin’s crackdown on the kulaks demonstratively prevented the restoration of capitalism in 1928, their real focus is Bukharin and his supporters who opposed the Stalinist bureaucracy from the right. Thus they retroactively place themselves outside of and in opposition to Trotsky’s International Left Opposition and its program of unconditional defensism from the beginning.

Today the fostering of powerful capitalist-restorationist economic forces within the framework of a deformed workers state has already gone much further in China than was seen in Tito’s Yugoslavia or Gorbachev’s Russia. Many of the social gains of the Chinese Revolution are being obliterated as unemployment has reached massive proportions while state-owned factories are being closed or privatized, and the monopoly of foreign trade is being undermined. The Chinese bureaucracy is itself a major participant in joint ventures with foreign capitalists in the “Special Economic Zones.” But the bureaucracy cannot fully implement its retrograde aspirations without breaking the resistance of the Chinese proletariat. Once again, the alternatives are posed: proletarian political revolution to defend the socialized economic basis of the state, or imperialist-backed capitalist counterrevolution.

Postscript: Sean Matgamna, Epigone of Shachtman

Sean Matgamna appears to have entered political life as a member of the Stalinist Communist Party, but in 1959 he was won to the ostensible Trotskyism espoused by the late Gerry Healy. Healy’s organization recruited a whole layer of Communist Party cadre after the 1956 Hungarian workers uprising by championing the Trotskyist program of proletarian political revolution to defend the anti-capitalist gains in the degenerated and deformed workers states. Emerging from deep entry in the Labour Party, in the late 1950s and early 1960s the Healyites displayed in journals such as Labour Review an impressive literary orthodoxy and command of Marxist literature and history. Underlying it all, however, was a fundamental political banditry that manifested itself first in internal bureaucratic practices. Matgamna was expelled by Healy in 1963, but he broke with him politically only a year later, when the Healy organization renounced any entry work in the Labour Party. Over the next two decades Matgamna entered, fused with or flirted with almost every other tendency claiming the mantle of Trotskyism in Britain, from Ted Grant’s Militant Tendency, to Tony Cliff’s International Socialists, to the Pabloites, to Workers Power.

In 1979, in the midst of the imperialist hue and cry over the Red Army’s intervention into Afghanistan, Matgamna’s tendency, organized as the International Communist League, abandoned their paper position for the military defense of the Soviet Union, claiming that the consequences of the Soviet Union’s defense of the left-nationalist government which sought limited land reform and to teach women to read and write were “unconditionally reactionary.” During the subsequent anti-Communist hysteria of Cold War II, Matgamna’s group, which remained deeply mired in the Labour Party, howled with the imperialists for the anti-socialist, anti-Semitic Polish Solidarnosc, supported capitalist reunification in Germany and hailed the counterrevolutions which destroyed the Soviet Union and the deformed workers states in East Europe in 1990-91.

Today Matgamna’s tendency, now called the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL), is still mired in the Labour Party—in fact, the New Labour Party, which Tony Blair is trying to remold as a capitalist party by severing its historic link with the trade unions. As good Labourites, the AWL takes their place with those who seek to put a “working-class” face on craven loyalty to their “own” imperialism. Nowhere is this more clear than in Northern Ireland, where the Matgamnaites (along with Taaffe’s Militant Labour, now called the Socialist Party) are notorious for their revolting affinity for British imperialism’s fascistic Loyalist gunmen like Billy Hutchinson, leader of the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP). Obscenely portraying the PUP, a front for the murderous Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), as a legitimate representative of the Protestant working class, the AWL has featured Hutchinson as a speaker at their events and given him a platform in their journal. In 1995, an AWL summer school featured a “debate” with Ken Maginnis, “security” spokesman for the Ulster Unionist Party and a paid adviser to the Royal Ulster Constabulary. Needless to say, the AWL refuses to call for the immediate withdrawal of British troops from Northern Ireland, parroting the imperialist lie that the troops are some kind of neutral arbiter between Catholic and Protestant communities instead of an integral part of the armed fist of Orange supremacy.

With the outbreak of the NATO war against Serbia, the first large-scale war in Europe since World War II, the AWL swam comfortably in the stream of the whole British fake left, which slavishly supported the capitalist government of Blair’s New Labour and its aggressive forward posture in support of NATO’s terror bombing of Serbia, and in support of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK), a puppet of NATO imperialism. The AWL was so dedicated to the British/U.S.-led NATO war that it avoided even the fig leaf of the “Stop the War” demonstrations. But it did mobilize for a 10 April 1999 Kosovo demonstration in London which was fulsomely in support of the NATO bombing. From the beginning, when even Tony Blair was hesitating, Matgamna was calling for ground troops: “If NATO troop landings put a stop to the Serb’s [sic] genocidal drive against the Kosovars we will be glad of it.... Socialists cannot one-sidedly denounce NATO and the US without either endorsing or being indifferent to the genocidal imperialism of Serb Yugoslavia” (“The Issues for Socialists,” Action for Solidarity, 2 April 1999). Today—in spite of all the rhetoric in favor of ‘independence for Kosovo’ during the war—the AWL naturally has no objections to Kosovo being militarily occupied by the major NATO imperialist powers. This was NATO’s intention from the beginning.

Throughout most of his political incarnations in the 1970s, Sean Matgamna, nominally a Soviet defensist, held that the Russian question was a “tenth-rate issue,” immaterial to the real stuff of British “Trotskyism,” which, as he learned at the feet of Gerry Healy and Ted Grant, was to “make the Labour lefts fight.” But the illusion that the Russian question didn’t matter was only possible during the brief window of “détente,” when U.S. imperialism, weakened by its defeat at the hands of the Vietnamese workers and peasants, needed to buy itself a little time before going back on the offensive. When in 1979 the Carter administration of U.S. imperialism seized on the Soviet Union’s military intervention in defense of the modernizing left-nationalist government in Afghanistan to launch the anti-Soviet “human rights crusade” that marked the opening of Cold War II, Matgamna rushed to join the parade as virtually the entire spectrum of fake-left tendencies jumped on the anti-Soviet bandwagon on the side of the bloodthirsty Islamic militias and their CIA backers. Suddenly the “tenth-rate” question of Soviet defensism became the central question of a loyalty oath to British and world imperialism.

Capitulating to bourgeois anti-Sovietism all down the line, in 1988 Matgamna’s organization took the position that Stalinism represented a new form of class society, with the bureaucracy constituting a “bureaucratic state-monopoly ruling class.” The positing of a new form of class society between capitalism and the dictatorship of the proletariat was in essence a restatement of Shachtman’s “bureaucratic collectivism.” When it comes to “little England” Labourite anti-Communism, Matgamna is even more crazed than Cliff. Matgamna resurrects Shachtman because he needs to distinguish himself on a theoretical level from Cliff’s SWP, which in Britain occupies the ostensibly Trotskyist reformist terrain that Matgamna aspires to. Matgamna is also so far gone in crass social-patriotism that he is no longer put off by Shachtman’s unsavory end.

Of course, the Shachtman who emerges from the pages of The Fate of the Russian Revolution: Lost Texts of Critical Marxism is molded to be congenial for today’s “death of communism” left. The real Shachtman was an equivocal figure—an early Communist and one of the founding leaders of the SWP, his break from Trotskyism led him into the service of our class enemies.

As we have already seen, in the period right after his split from Cannon’s SWP, Shachtman appeared as more of a centrist, occasionally making correct critiques from the left of theoretical problems and flinches within the Trotskyist movement. Our tendency has always viewed the history of our movement critically and so we have acknowledged and learned from those instances when the Workers Party was correct against the SWP. One example was the SWP’s failure to see that when the U.S. directly took control of the fight against Japanese imperialism in China during World War II, the previously supportable anti-colonial struggle of Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalist troops became subordinated to the war effort of Allied imperialism.

Especially important for authentic Trotskyists is the Shachtmanites’ devastating critique of the “Proletarian Military Policy.” The PMP, for which Trotsky himself bore a heavy measure of responsibility, represented a profound revision of Marxism on the fundamental question of the class nature of the capitalist state. Because the PMP did not involve his own area of decisive departure from Marxism, Shachtman in 1940-41 was able to score some correct points against Cannon and the SWP (see especially Shachtman’s polemic, “Working-Class Policy in War and Peace,” first published in the New International, January 1941, reprinted in our Prometheus Research Series No. 2, “Documents on the ‘Proletarian Military Policy’” [February 1989], published by the Central Committee archive of the ICL’s American section).

The PMP was first proposed by Trotsky in 1940, in the last months of his life. World War II had already started in Europe and a brutal air war was raging over Britain, but the United States had not yet entered the war, although it was clear that they would. The PMP was an impatient and misguided attempt to find a bridge between the deep anti-fascist sentiments of the working class and the revolutionary program of overthrowing capitalism. It consisted of a series of demands for trade-union control of military training for the bourgeois army. These demands were a prominent part of the propaganda of the American SWP and especially the British Workers International League (WIL) in the early years of the war. The PMP’s thrust was reformist—it implied that it was possible for the working class to control the central core of the capitalist state, the army. It ran counter to the Trotskyist program of revolutionary defeatism toward all imperialist combatants, especially the “main enemy” at home. In the context of an interimperialist war where “anti-fascism” was the main ideological cover for the Anglo-American side, the PMP easily shaded over into social-patriotism, as Shachtman pointed out.

In the U.S., 18 leaders of the SWP and Minneapolis Teamsters union were prosecuted and jailed by the government for their opposition to the imperialist war. But their advocacy of the PMP did somewhat denature their revolutionary defeatist propaganda. In England, where the threat of a German invasion loomed as a real possibility, the WIL went much further toward full-blown social-patriotism, initially raising the slogan “arm the workers” and showing softness on the defense forces of the Home Guard. WIL propaganda called for “workers control of production” to end the “chaos” in war production; in 1942 Ted Grant gloated over the victory of Britain’s Eighth Army in North Africa, hailing it as “our” army. Only when it became clear in 1943 that the Allied camp would win the war did the PMP become a dead letter in both the U.S. and Britain.

The only area where Matgamna doesn’t agree with Max Shachtman are Shachtman’s left criticisms of the orthodox Trotskyists in WW II. Matgamna supports the PMP and insists on military support to Chiang Kai-shek even after his forces became subordinated to the Allied war effort. Being a consistent revisionist, Matgamna goes even further, openly advocating social-patriotism, “at least for Britain and France”:

“The Proletarian War Policy was, as expounded by the SWP/USA and the WIL/RCP in Britain, a confused mystification that rationally added up to a policy of revolutionary defencism. Revolutionary defencism means that the revolutionaries want to prosecute the war but do not abate their struggle to become the ruling class in order to do so. That is what [what] the Trotskyists, or most of them, said amounted to. To reject this because Britain and Germany were both imperialist is far too abstract.”

Workers’ Liberty, June/July 1999

Here Matgamna blatantly echoes the bourgeois propaganda of WW II that this was a war of “democracy” against “fascism” when in fact it was a war between competing imperialist alliances, as was WWI. He understands full well and makes abundantly clear that he supports the PMP precisely because it was bourgeois defensist of the Allied side. So for Matgamna, there was no basis for defending the USSR against Nazi Germany but it was correct to defend Britain and France! What a perfect summary of anti-Soviet social-chauvinism, which in this case actually places Matgamna somewhere to the right of Winston Churchill. In retroactively making common cause with social-patriotism in WW II, Matgamna finds historical support for his current craven capitulation to British imperialism as it runs point for NATO in the first war in Europe since 1945.

As Shachtman’s Stalinophobia was a bridge to the Cold War led by the U.S. imperialists, the PMP in Britain was an open door to reconciliation with the left wing of Labour Party reformism and parliamentary cretinism. Their revolutionary fibre substantially eroded, the English Trotskyists could not stand up to the illusions in the capitalist Labour government of Major Attlee installed to contain the massive working-class unrest after the war. By 1949, all wings of ostensible British Trotskyism had liquidated themselves into the Labour Party.

The Labourite social-democratic substrate underlying British ostensible Trotskyism was fully displayed in their enthusiasm for Solidarnosc, the company union of the Vatican and Wall Street for capitalist counterrevolution in Poland. In September 1983, during the annual TUC Congress, Gerry Healy published in his News Line a flashy “exposé” of Arthur Scargill, based on a letter Scargill had written that rightly condemned Solidarnosc as anti-socialist. This set Scargill up for an orgy of red-baiting by the TUC tops and bourgeois press, which was used to isolate the mineworkers union on the eve of the heroic 1984-85 miners strike. The Healyites thus proved to be of considerable service to Margaret Thatcher in her campaign to smash the miners and break the spine of the British labor movement. The entire panoply of fake-Trotskyist charlatans in Britain—from Healy to Cliff to Matgamna to the Pabloite United Secretariat groupings—combined to cheer Solidarnosc as the authentic voice of the Polish working class. Their championship of Solidarnosc was concrete proof of their shared acceptance of the reformist framework of anti-Communist, “little England” nationalist Labourite politics. During the strike, Matgamna’s group campaigned for a general election to put in power the Labour Party led by Neil Kinnock, widely despised by the striking miners for his scabherding line. In a sordid postscript, in 1990 Matgamna’s Socialist Organiser group, along with Workers Power, sponsored a tour by a Russian fascist, Yuri Butchenko, who was working in cahoots with the CIA and MI6 in an effort to smear Scargill on false charges of misappropriating money donated during the strike by Soviet miners.

Operating on British terrain where anti-Americanism is a cheap shot, Matgamna seeks to disassociate himself from Shachtman’s support to U.S. imperialism in Vietnam and Cuba, asserting that “This end to Shachtman’s political life must for socialists cast a dark shadow on his memory.” But the unmistakable stench of Matgamna’s own social-patriotism reeks in passages like the following, from the introduction to his book:

“In the post-war world where the USSR was the second great global power, recognition that the USA and Western Europe—advanced capitalism—was the more progressive of the contending camps, the one which gave richer possibilities, greater freedom, more for socialists to build on, was, I believe, a necessary part of the restoration of Marxist balance to socialist politics.”

Here is a groveling apology for the crimes of British imperialism in Palestine, Ireland, Greece, Cyprus, India, Hong Kong and for the brutal imperialist wars against the Algerian independence struggle and the Vietnamese Revolution. Only a smug social democrat who holds in utter contempt the struggles of the oppressed masses in the countries strangled by the Western imperialist powers could write such a passage. But then Matgamna’s 156-page introduction, which purports to deal comprehensively with Trotsky’s struggle against Stalinism, never once mentions the Left Opposition’s fight against Stalin’s strangulation of the second Chinese Revolution in 1925-1927. The permanent revolution was never part of Matgamna’s nominal “Trotskyism.” He has no hatred for the Stalinist program of class collaboration—he fully shares it.

In common with the imperialist bourgeoisie (and the Stalinists, for that matter), Matgamna equates the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky with the Stalinist bureaucratic caste which usurped power in 1924, taking the first steps toward self-consciousness with its false dogma of “socialism in one country.” He equates the bureaucracy of 1925-28 —which represented a bloc of the centrist elements around Stalin with the Bukharin/Tomsky faction conciliatory of capitalist restoration—with the ascendant bureaucratic centrist Stalin clique after 1928. And he equates all of the above with the anti-revolutionary Stalinist apparatus which surrendered the German proletariat to Hitler without a shot in 1933, proving, as Trotsky wrote, that “The present CPSU is not a party but an apparatus of domination in the hands of an uncontrolled bureaucracy” (“It Is Necessary to Build Communist Parties and an International Anew,” 15 July 1933). In short, Matgamna deliberately seeks to obscure the fact that a political counterrevolution took place in 1924 that was the qualitative turning point after which the Stalin faction had become ascendant and the USSR had become a degenerated workers state. This qualitative turn was verifiable—a different program carried out by a different leadership with different methods alien to Bolshevism. In Matgamna’s (and Kautsky’s) view, Stalinism grew organically and inevitably out of Leninism and the Trotskyist Left Opposition was irrelevant.

Indeed, for Matgamna the “original sin” was the October Revolution itself. Writing in the introduction to his collection, Matgamna asserts: “The taking of power in 1917 turned out to have been a kamikaze exercise, not only for the Bolshevik party in its physical existence, though ultimately it was that, but kamikaze for a whole political doctrine.” Matgamna echoes the same arguments made by Kautsky and the Mensheviks who claimed at the time that Russia was not sufficiently “economically mature” for the proletariat to take power, a rationale for their gut hatred and fear of workers revolution.

Matgamna states openly what is in fact the real program of all the revisionist British ex-Trotskyists: opposition to new October Revolutions and prostration at the feet of the British Labour Party. The political line of these revisionists, whether or not they are formally members of the Labour Party, has boiled down at best to the posture of “make the Labour lefts fight.” Yet for Matgamna and his ilk, even this has become somewhat of a fiction, as his support to “democratic” imperialism—past and present—indicates. His chauvinist support to the NATO bombing of Serbia put him to the right of “left” Labourites such as Tony Benn. In contradistinction to all the fake lefts, we fight to forge a party with a revolutionary program to split the working-class base from the bourgeois leadership of the Labour Party, as part of a revolutionary strategy to overthrow capitalism in the British Isles.

As Shachtman was liquidating his organization into the U.S. Socialist Party, he wrote an article entitled “American Communism: A Re-Examination of the Past” (New International, Fall 1957), lamenting the Communists’ split with the Social Democracy. This nostalgia for the old American social democracy was telling. Among other things, Shachtman had to ignore the touchstone question of the American black population—a question on which the difference between the old SP and the early CP was qualitative. Thus, Shachtman in 1957 retrospectively embraced the tacit racism of the American social democracy.

Shachtman was sympathetic to the earlier Lenin, before he had completed his evolution from a revolutionary social democrat into a communist. What Shachtman really hated about Lenin the communist was Lenin’s recognition of the need for a political split in the working class as the precondition for proletarian revolution. In 1920, at its second congress, the Comintern codified this rejection of the Kautskyan “party of the whole class.” The “21 Conditions for Admission to the Communist International” drew a sharp programmatic line between communism, on the one hand, and the reformist (and particularly the centrist) opponents of revolution, on the other.

All the “state capitalist” and “new class” theories of the USSR, from Kautsky to Shachtman to Cliff and Matgamna, were predicated on the search for an illusory “third camp” between capitalism and Stalinism, which always proved sooner or later (mainly sooner) to be firmly situated at the side of their “own” ruling class. We take pride in having fought to the limits of our ability to defend the remaining gains of October against imperialism and counterrevolution. Today we fight for the unconditional military defense of the remaining deformed workers states: China, Cuba, Vietnam and North Korea. We are for proletarian political revolution to sweep away the Stalinist bureaucracies that have driven these workers states to the brink of capitalist counterrevolution.

Trotsky’s predictions that “socialism in one country” would prove bankrupt, a step backward from the possibilities for world socialism opened by the Russian Revolution of 1917, were confirmed in the negative. Today our struggle is to vindicate Trotsky’s program through new October Revolutions worldwide to smash the system of capitalist imperialism and establish proletarian state power on a world scale. This task has been rendered immeasurably harder after the final undoing of the Bolshevik Revolution, accomplished thanks not only to the Stalinists themselves but to those like Cliff and Matgamna who hailed counterrevolution abroad as they embraced the social-democratic labor bureaucracies in their own countries.

Today these fake-left formations carry forward their strategy of class betrayal in supporting social-democratic governments of austerity, racism and imperialist war in a dozen European countries. They are obstacles to proletarian consciousness which must be exposed and swept away in the course of building the revolutionary Trotskyist parties required to put an end to the system of capitalism in its death agony.

ICL Home Page