Workers Vanguard No. 902
9 November 2007
The Development and Extension of Leon Trotsky's Theory of Permanent Revolution
Part One of this article appeared in WV No. 901 (26 October).
Mensheviks and Stalinists have long portrayed the February Revolution, which overthrew the Russian tsar, as the opening of a necessary “first stage” of the Russian Revolution. In fact, the February Revolution resolved none of the radical-democratic tasks of the “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry” outlined by V.I. Lenin in 1905.
In a 9 January 1917 “Lecture on the 1905 Revolution,” Lenin had already dropped any mention of his 1905 formula. His speech reflected the development of the class struggle in Russia on the eve of World War I, an interimperialist war. After the 1907-10 years of reaction, the proletariat had raised its head again. By the first half of 1914, the level of strike activity had reached heights not seen since 1905. And this time, some 80 percent of the politically active workers were behind the Bolsheviks.
In his speech, Lenin spoke of 1905 in the terms of Trotsky’s permanent revolution: “In reality, the inexorable trend of the Russian revolution was towards an armed, decisive battle between the tsarist government and the vanguard of the class-conscious proletariat.” Like Trotsky, he now argued that the coming revolution “can only be a proletarian revolution, and in an even more profound sense of the word: a proletarian, socialist revolution also in its content.... Only class-conscious proletarians can and will give leadership to the vast majority of the exploited.”
World War I had a profound impact on Lenin’s thinking. The Second International had collapsed into social-chauvinism, with most of its sections supporting their own national bourgeoisies in the war. This led Lenin to generalize the split course with the Russian Mensheviks, which he had made definitive in 1912. He concluded that opportunism was not a vestigial or localized phenomenon; rather, as he laid out in his monumental study, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916), the superprofits derived from the imperialists’ exploitation of the colonies provided a material basis for an opportunist, pro-capitalist layer in the workers movement. Lenin fought for a complete break internationally from all reformist and centrist currents and raised the call for a Third International. Against the social-chauvinists and social-pacifists, he called for a policy of revolutionary defeatism against all the warring bourgeoisies and raised the slogan: Turn the imperialist war into a civil war!
The war had cut across the upsurge in class struggle in Russia, as an initial burst of patriotism inundated the proletariat. But the reactionary mood did not last too long. The horrors of the war spoke louder than all the priests and patriots. Russia was to see five and a half million soldiers killed, wounded or captured. Women slaved in munitions plants for pitiful wages while a “shower of gold” rained on war profiteers.
The February Revolution was triggered by a strike of mostly women textile workers in Petrograd (as St. Petersburg was renamed after Russia went to war with Germany) on International Women’s Day, demanding increased war rations. Street clashes with the forces of “order” resulted in numerous casualties. But in the end, the tsar could find no loyal troops and was forced to abdicate. Soviets (councils) were immediately elected in the factories and army garrisons and at the front. In the provinces, police and state officials were arrested or sent packing. In the capital, the autocracy had been overthrown by the workers, but the government that emerged was a bourgeois government.
Trotsky remarked in his History of the Russian Revolution (1932) that the February Revolution represented the awakening of the peasant-based army. The first wave of army delegates elected to the soviets consisted heavily of literate petty bourgeois who largely supported the peasant-based Socialist-Revolutionaries (SRs). The war thus gave the SRs as well as the reformist Mensheviks, who represented urban petty-bourgeois layers as well as a section of the workers, a massive but historically accidental initial preponderance in the workers and soldiers soviets.
Even as street fighting was still raging in Petrograd in February, the Provisional Government was formed with the aim of erecting a constitutional monarchy. Meanwhile, within the soviets, the SR and Menshevik delegates, loyal to bourgeois republicanism, held the insurgent workers and peasants in check and desperately appealed to the bourgeoisie to take political power. But the masses were hostile to the bourgeoisie and looked to the soviets. That made these organs, despite their treacherous leadership, the de facto power in the country. Thus the paradox of the February Revolution: the workers, many of them inspired by the Bolsheviks, carried out the revolution, yet the government that came out of it was bourgeois.
The February Revolution resulted in a situation of dual power. As Lenin described in “The Dual Power” (April 1917), “Alongside the Provisional Government, the government of the bourgeoisie, another government has arisen, so far weak and incipient, but undoubtedly a government that actually exists and is growing—the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies.” This situation could not persist—one class or the other would have to rule.
Lenin Rearms the Bolsheviks
Meanwhile, the Bolshevik Party, with Lenin still in exile in Switzerland, was being steered on a conciliationist course under J. V. Stalin and Lev Kamenev, who were veteran Bolsheviks. Taking over the Bolsheviks’ central organ, Pravda, upon their return from Siberian exile in March 1917, Stalin and Kamenev used Lenin’s old formula of the “democratic dictatorship” to trample on Lenin’s uncompromising opposition to the liberal bourgeoisie. The 15 March issue of Pravda, the first to list Stalin and Kamenev as editors, came out for support to the bourgeois Provisional Government “in so far as it struggles against reaction and counterrevolution.” Turning sharply against the Bolsheviks’ revolutionary defeatism, Pravda declared to Russian soldiers that “every man must remain at his fighting post” and that “all ‘defeatism,’ or rather what an undiscriminating press protected by the tsarist censorship has branded with that name, died at the moment when the first revolutionary regiment appeared on the streets of Petrograd.” Pravda also called for the merger of the Menshevik and Bolshevik parties.
In his report to a March 1917 Bolshevik party conference, Stalin sounded like the Menshevik Georgi Plekhanov denouncing the December 1905 Moscow insurrection for antagonizing the bourgeoisie. Stalin stated: “It is not to our advantage at present to force events, hastening the process of repelling the bourgeois layers, who will in the future inevitably withdraw from us. It is necessary for us to gain time by putting a brake on the splitting away of the middle-bourgeois layers” (“Draft Protocol of the March 1917 All-Russian Conference of Party Workers”). He also declared, “Insofar as the Provisional Government fortifies the steps of the revolution, to that extent we must support it; but insofar as it is counterrevolutionary, support to the Provisional Government is not permissible.”
To the Mensheviks’ offer of fusion raised at this conference, Stalin responded, “We must do it. It is necessary to define our proposal for a basis of union.” The Menshevik and SR leaders were jubilant, but there were numerous protests from Bolshevik cadres. As the worker-Bolshevik Alexander Shlyapnikov, a Central Committee member, put it: “The indignation in the party locals was enormous, and when the proletarians found out that Pravda had been seized by three former editors arriving from Siberia they demanded their expulsion from the party” (quoted in Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution).
Lenin was reading Pravda with alarm. Even before he returned from exile on April 3, he warned in his “Letters from Afar” that the Provisional Government was a bourgeois government and that the slightest support to it meant support of the imperialist war. When he finally arrived and gave his famous speech atop an armored car at the Finland Station, its effect on the Bolsheviks was electrifying. In the face of the official delegation of social-patriots sent to greet him, he spoke in honor of the German revolutionary Marxist leader Karl Liebknecht, who had been imprisoned for his opposition to the war and had denounced those “socialists” who supported their own bourgeoisies as guilty of class treason. For Lenin, any support to the Provisional Government was a split issue.
In his “April Theses,” Lenin explained that it was only “owing to the insufficient class-consciousness and organisation of the proletariat” that power had been allowed to pass into the hands of the bourgeoisie at this stage (“The Tasks of the Proletariat in the Present Revolution,” April 1917). “The country is passing from the first stage of the revolution,” wrote Lenin, “to its second stage, which must place power in the hands of the proletariat and the poorest sections of the peasants.” When Pravda published Lenin’s “Theses” on April 7, not a single other Central Committee member signed them.
In a rejoinder published in the next day’s Pravda, Kamenev used much the same language to denounce Lenin’s “April Theses” that the Stalinists would later use against Trotsky’s permanent revolution: “As for Comrade Lenin’s general scheme, it appears to us unacceptable, inasmuch as it proceeds from the assumption that the bourgeois-democratic revolution is completed, and builds on the immediate transformation of this revolution into a socialist revolution.” Quoting Kamenev’s statement, Lenin replied in “Letters on Tactics” (April 1917):
“After the [February] revolution, the power is in the hands of a different class, a new class, namely, the bourgeoisie....
“To this extent, the bourgeois, or the bourgeois-democratic, revolution in Russia is completed.
“But at this point we hear a clamour of protest from people who readily call themselves ‘old Bolsheviks.’ Didn’t we always maintain, they say, that the bourgeois-democratic revolution is completed only by the ‘revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’?...
“My answer is: The Bolshevik slogans and ideas on the whole have been confirmed by history; but concretely things have worked out differently....
“The person who now speaks only of a ‘revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’ is behind the times, consequently, he has in effect gone over to the petty bourgeoisie against the proletarian class struggle; that person should be consigned to the archive of ‘Bolshevik’ pre-revolutionary antiques.”
Stalin receded into the shadows, confining his criticism of the “April Theses” to their “impracticality” while quietly siding with the conciliators. Kamenev, later joined by Zinoviev, led the charge against Lenin, right up to their open strikebreaking against the revolution when they publicly denounced Bolshevik plans for an insurrection on the eve of October.
Lenin concluded in an article written after he won a majority of the Bolshevik All-Russian Conference in April to his side: “Only assumption of power by the proletariat, backed by the semi-proletarians, can give the country a really strong and really revolutionary government” (“A Strong Revolutionary Government,” May 1917). Lenin had in effect adopted the program of Trotsky’s permanent revolution.
Trotsky and Lenin Reunite
At the same time, Trotsky had come to recognize the correctness of Lenin’s bitter struggle from 1903 on to build a disciplined, programmatically solid vanguard party. In the period before the 1903 split between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks at the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP) Second Congress, Trotsky had earned the nickname of “Lenin’s cudgel.” But in 1903, Trotsky balked at Lenin’s insistence on a hard party of professional revolutionaries. However, he also opposed the Mensheviks’ orientation to the liberal bourgeoisie.
Trotsky declared himself to be outside both factions. He worked closely with the Bolsheviks in the 1905 Revolution, but in the years that followed, his attempts to unify all factions cut against Lenin’s fights to sharply differentiate revolutionaries from opportunists and inevitably led Trotsky into episodic rotten blocs against the Bolsheviks. This came to a head in 1912, after the Bolsheviks’ final split with the Menshevik faction, when they constituted themselves as a separate party. In August 1912 Trotsky took the lead in organizing a conference with “pro-party” Mensheviks in Vienna—what became infamous as the “August Bloc”—which sought to reverse the split.
Once the February Revolution had taken care of tsarism and brought the supposedly “democratic” bourgeoisie to power, the majority of the Menshevik leadership joined the bulk of the Second International in adopting a line of “defensism” toward its “own” ruling class. Under the impact of the war and Lenin’s scathing polemics against his conciliationist efforts, Trotsky was increasingly drawn toward Lenin’s insistence on a complete break with opportunism.
Thus in 1917, Trotsky and Lenin were in agreement on the decisive questions of the party and the class character of the revolution. Upon his return from exile on May 4, Trotsky did not immediately join the Bolsheviks but worked with them while in the leftward-moving Mezhrayontsi (Inter-Borough) organization, which he steered toward fusion with the Bolsheviks. The fusion was consummated at the Bolsheviks’ Sixth Congress which began in late July. As Lenin later acknowledged, once Trotsky had recognized the impossibility of unification with the Mensheviks, “from that time on there has been no better Bolshevik” (quoted in Trotsky, The Stalin School of Falsification ).
Throughout the events of 1917, Lenin pounded on the need for a proletarian seizure of state power. After the first Provisional Government was brought down in a firestorm of outrage over its pledge to continue the hated imperialist war, a new government was formed in early May. SR and Menshevik leaders formally accepted ministerial portfolios. Lenin explained that the Russian bourgeoisie had “resorted to a method which for many decades, ever since 1848, has been practised by the capitalists of other countries in order to fool, divide and weaken the workers. This method is known as a ‘coalition’ government, i.e., a joint cabinet formed of members of the bourgeoisie and turncoats from socialism.” He went on:
“The simpletons of the Socialist-Revolutionary and Menshevik parties were jubilant and fatuously bathed in the rays of the ministerial glory of their leaders. The capitalists gleefully rubbed their hands at having found helpers against the people in the persons of the ‘leaders of the Soviets’ and at having secured their promise to support ‘offensive operations at the front,’ i.e., a resumption of the imperialist predatory war, which had come to a standstill for a while.”
—“Lessons of the Revolution” (August 1917)
In his classic work The State and Revolution (September 1917), Lenin retrieved the writings of Marx and Engels on the question of the state from under a mountain of social-democratic obfuscation. Pointing to the key lesson Marx drew from the experience of the 1871 Paris Commune, when the Parisian proletariat held power for nearly three months before being bloodily crushed, Lenin cited Marx’s statement in The Civil War in France (1871) that “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purposes.” Lenin explained: “Marx’s idea is that the working class must break up, smash the ‘ready-made state machinery,’ and not confine itself merely to laying hold of it.”
Lenin revived Marx’s understanding that the proletariat cannot maintain an alliance with, let alone lead, the peasantry unless the workers wield state power: “The proletariat needs state power, a centralised organisation of force, an organisation of violence, both to crush the resistance of the exploiters and to lead the enormous mass of the population—the peasants, the petty bourgeoisie, and semi-proletarians—in the work of organising a socialist economy.”
Having already dropped his earlier formula of a “revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry,” Lenin explicitly asserted that the state could not represent two different classes:
“The essence of Marx’s theory of the state has been mastered only by those who realise that the dictatorship of a single class is necessary not only for every class society in general, not only for the proletariat which has overthrown the bourgeoisie, but also for the entire historical period which separates capitalism from ‘classless society,’ from communism. Bourgeois states are most varied in form, but their essence is the same: all these states, whatever their form, in the final analysis are inevitably the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. The transition from capitalism to communism is certainly bound to yield a tremendous abundance and variety of political forms, but the essence will inevitably be the same: the dictatorship of the proletariat.”
When the Bolsheviks led the proletariat to power in October 1917, they gave flesh and blood to the Marxist understanding of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The Comintern and the Colonial Revolution
The October Revolution had an electrifying effect internationally. It was felt most immediately among the workers of the other warring European powers, especially Germany. But the tidal wave it set off reached far beyond Europe, including throughout the colonial world.
Prominent among those drawn to the banner of Communism were students and other intellectuals who wanted to overcome profound social oppression, autocratic government and subservience to imperialism in their own countries and had become disillusioned in the capacity of their own weak, corrupt bourgeoisies to achieve anything resembling the Great French Revolution of 1789-93. But the early Communist International (CI) was still breaking new ground when it addressed the question of the relationship of Communist parties in the colonial world to bourgeois-nationalist movements. The Bolsheviks expected workers revolution in the imperialist centers to by and large resolve the colonial question.
The Comintern’s early work on the national and colonial question was largely aimed at drawing a hard programmatic line between the Communists and the chauvinist cesspool of the Second International. Before World War I, there had been a spread of attitudes on the colonial question within the Second International. On the left wing were many who solidarized with the colonial victims of their “own” rulers. But these Kautskyan “parties of the whole class” also included right-wing elements who championed the “civilizing” mission of imperialism (and were sometimes openly racist toward “lesser” peoples overseas and at home). Once the war broke out, the pro-war Socialist leaders acted as recruiters for the imperialists’ efforts to defend and extend their colonial empires.
Lenin drew the sharpest line against such social-chauvinism. He insisted, “Repudiation of the right to self-determination, i.e., the right of nations to secede, means nothing more than defence of the privileges of the dominant nation” (“The Right of Nations to Self-Determination,” 1914). A working class in bloc with its own rulers against oppressed nations and the colonial masses would never make a socialist revolution.
The “21 Conditions” adopted at the Second CI Congress in 1920 demanded that the Communist parties in the imperialist countries support “every liberation movement in the colonies not only in words but in deeds” and carry out “systematic propaganda among their own country’s troops against any oppression of colonial peoples.” At the same time, the Second Congress “Theses on the National and Colonial Questions” warned against subordinating the colonial proletariat to the bourgeoisie, stating: “The Communist International must enter into a temporary alliance with bourgeois democracy in the colonial and backward countries, but should not merge with it, and should under all circumstances uphold the independence of the proletarian movement, even if it is in its most embryonic form.”
The Second Congress had not yet assimilated the significance of the changes wrought by the world war. Before 1914 there had been virtually no industrial development in the colonial and semicolonial countries, whose economies were built around agriculture and the extraction of raw materials for the benefit of the imperialist powers. But with the disruption of international trade and the emphasis on war production in the belligerent powers, countries such as China and India experienced substantial industrial growth and the rapid development of a militant, young proletariat. The war choked off the supply of consumer goods and capital from the West European powers, giving a powerful impetus to local capitalist industry.
Unlike India, China was not an outright colony. The Chinese Revolution of 1911, led by Sun Yat-sen’s bourgeois-nationalist movement, had overthrown the decrepit Qing (Manchu) dynasty, which was beholden to the imperialist powers. However, the country was soon riven by warlordism and remained prostrate before the Western and Japanese imperialists, chopped up into “spheres of influence.” On the other hand, by 1919 there were some 1.5 million industrial workers, concentrated in large enterprises in a few urban centers (see “The Origins of Chinese Trotskyism,” Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 53, Summer 1997). These changes gave the Chinese proletariat great potential social power; however, by themselves they did not answer the question of whether this proletariat, a tiny minority in a country of extreme social backwardness, could become politically conscious and contest for state power. By the time this question was posed pointblank in 1925-27, the Comintern had begun its qualitative degeneration.
The “Anti-Imperialist United Front”
At its Fourth Congress in November-December 1922, the CI introduced the slogan of an “anti-imperialist united front” in its “Theses on the Eastern Question.” This went beyond the correct consideration of common actions against imperialism with bourgeois forces in the colonial and semicolonial world and mooted a political bloc with such forces on the basis of a minimum program of democratic demands.
While remaining critical of the colonial bourgeoisie, the Theses were ambiguous on the key question of the proletariat’s relationship to it: “The proletariat supports and advances such partial demands as an independent democratic republic, the abolition of all feudal rights and privileges, the introduction of women’s rights, etc., in so far as it cannot, with the relation of forces as it exists at present, make the implementation of its soviet programme the immediate task of the day.” Implicitly the Theses posed a Menshevik, “two-stage” program for the colonial revolution, with the first stage being a democratic struggle against imperialism.
Though the Theses were vague about the work of Communist sections in the backward countries, the Congress delegate from the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI), Tan Malaka, openly defended his party’s prior entry into the bourgeois-nationalist Islamic League (Sarekat Islam). The PKI’s practice clearly ran counter to the Second Congress insistence on the political independence of the proletariat from the bourgeois nationalists. And where the Second Congress had stressed “the need to combat Pan-Islamism and similar trends, which strive to combine the liberation movement against European and American imperialism with an attempt to strengthen the positions of the khans, landowners, and mullahs, etc.,” the Fourth Congress Theses instead neutrally asserted, “As the national liberation movements grow and mature, the religious-political slogans of pan-Islamism will be replaced by political demands.”
Well before the Fourth Congress, CI chairman Gregory Zinoviev had declared at the First Congress of the Toilers of the Far East that a “division of the program of the Communist Parties into a minimum program and maximum program...must be considered valid in the immediate future particularly for the countries of the Far East, to the extent that the next stage of development of these countries is the democratic overturn and the independent—political and economic—class organization of the proletariat” (“Theses on the Tasks of Communists in the Far East,” January 1922).
When Bolshevik Central Committee member and future Left Oppositionist A. A. Joffe was commissioned as the head of a Soviet diplomatic mission to negotiate with Sun Yat-sen’s Guomindang (Nationalist Party—GMD), he sought to hew to the principled stance adopted at the Second Congress as against the policies then being pushed by the emissary of the CI’s Executive Committee (ECCI) in China. In a 22 July 1922 letter to the Russian Communist Party Politburo, Joffe asserted:
“Our policy in China, as throughout the world, must above all else pursue the goals of world proletarian revolution.... In internal Chinese politics, conduct a line for the national liberation and unification of China and the creation of a united, truly independent and free-democratic (soviet?) Chinese republic.... Support the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) even more [than Sun Yat-sen], not fearing its open closeness with the Embassy. Irrespective of the weakness of this party, to regard its complete independence as necessary, and the efforts of certain agents of the CI ECCI to fuse this party organization with the party of Sun Yat-sen as completely incorrect.”
—translated from Bol’shevistskoe rukovodstvo, Perepiska [Bolshevik Leadership, Correspondence], 1912-1927 (Moscow: ROSSPEN, 1996)
The ECCI agent to whom Joffe referred was G. Maring (Henricus Sneevliet), a Dutch Communist who had engineered the PKI’s entry into Sarekat Islam. In August 1922, Maring strong-armed the young CCP into a partial entry into the GMD. Maring was supported by the ECCI. Lacking an alternative to Maring’s course, and in an effort to pressure Sun Yat-sen to act against the imperialists in China, Joffe signed a January 1923 “non-aggression pact” with the GMD that foreswore attempts to introduce communism into China. That August, a Politburo motion by Stalin assigning Mikhail Borodin as Political Adviser to Sun stated: “To instruct comrade Borodin in his work with Sun Yat-sen to be guided by the interests of the national liberation movement in China, and not at all be distracted by aims of planting communism in China” (emphasis added). Stalin got his way. At its third national conference that year, the CCP voted to turn the partial entry into a full entry and resolved that the “GMD should be the central force of the national revolution and should assume its leadership.”
By the time of the Fourth Congress of the CI, Lenin was increasingly sidelined by illness, and an anti-Trotsky “Troika” (triumvirate) of Stalin, Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev coalesced and came to the fore in the Soviet Communist Party and the CI. All five members of the CCP Central Committee had initially opposed entry into the GMD. Their objections should have been fully discussed and debated inside the Comintern. But these differences were kept secret from opponents of the bureaucratic clique then congealing at the top of the Soviet state and Comintern.
Even so, Trotsky opposed the Troika’s line on entry into the GMD when it came up for a vote in the Politburo in 1923 and thereafter. While Trotsky kept his overt opposition to the Troika within the Politburo, he at the same time distinguished himself publicly by warning the Communists of the East against blending their programs into the nationalism of parties like the GMD. He opposed the concept of two-class “worker-peasant” or “farmer-labor” parties promoted by Zinoviev and Stalin for the U.S., Poland and other countries—to disastrous effect—and insisted that the Guomindang was a bourgeois party.
“Socialism in One Country”: A “Theory” of Betrayal
When Lenin recovered from a stroke in the fall of 1922, he was horrified to learn that the pressures of the growing bureaucratic layer in the Soviet state and party were finding increasing expression within the Politburo. He collaborated with Trotsky to beat back a proposal pushed by Stalin and others to weaken the state monopoly of foreign trade—a crucial bulwark of the collectivized economy. Lenin later resolved to consummate a bloc with Trotsky to have Stalin removed as General Secretary at the 12th Party Congress in April 1923, in no small part due to an abusive policy pursued by Stalin and his cohorts toward non-Russian nationalities in the Caucasus that smacked of Great Russian chauvinism. But Lenin was again struck down by illness in March 1923, after which Trotsky pulled back from a sharp fight. With the Troika in charge, the 12th Congress made a special agenda point to welcome into its ranks the old Economist and Menshevik, Alexander Martynov.
Martynov would become central to the Troika’s fight against Trotsky over China. It was Martynov, for instance, who coined the characterization of the GMD as a “bloc of four classes” (workers, peasants, petty bourgeoisie and national bourgeoisie), which was used to justify the CCP’s liquidation into that bourgeois-nationalist party. As Trotsky later noted in “Who Is Leading the Comintern Today?” (September 1928):
“Martynov not only wormed his way into the party, but he became one of the chief sources of ‘inspiration’ in the Comintern.... They have come closer to him and they have stooped to him—solely because of his struggle against ‘Trotskyism.’ For this he did not need reeducation. He simply continued to fight ‘permanent revolution’ just as he had done for the previous twenty years.”
A few months after the 12th Party Congress came the defeat of the 1923 revolution in Germany, which had enormous worldwide consequences. The failure in Germany was due to the incapacity of the Communist International under Zinoviev and the lack of a sufficiently steeled Communist Party in Germany: the German KPD adapted to the Social Democracy and, in October, even entered Social Democratic-led regional bourgeois governments (see “Rearming Bolshevism: A Trotskyist Critique of Germany 1923 and the Comintern,” Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 56, Spring 2001). The postwar revolutionary wave, already receding by 1921, was stopped and the global bourgeois order stabilized. In Soviet Russia, the workers had been intensely following the course of the German workers revolution. Its defeat had a huge demoralizing effect on Soviet workers, prolonging the isolation of the workers state and helping pave the way for the usurpation of political power from the proletariat by the nascent Soviet bureaucracy.
The elections to the January 1924 13th Party Conference were rigged to allow only three representatives of the loose grouping of oppositionists associated with Trotsky, despite their broad support in the urban centers and in the Red Army. “Trotskyism” was condemned as a heresy antithetical to Leninism. Lenin died on January 21, the day after he learned the outcome of the Conference. After January 1924, the people who ruled the USSR, the way the USSR was ruled and the purposes for which the USSR was ruled had all changed. In the fall of 1924, Stalin generalized the conservative bureaucracy’s aversion to the proletarian, revolutionary, internationalist program of the October Revolution with his “theory” that socialism—a society based on a qualitatively higher level of productivity, in which classes have disappeared and the state has withered away—can be built in a single country, and in economically devastated Russia at that.
“Socialism in one country” was a program of retreat and a false promise of the stability for which Soviet society ached after years of war, revolution and privation. It crystallized the mood of conservatism that affected not only the Soviet party but the young Communist parties of the West in the face of the restabilization of world capitalism. It flew in the face of the theory and practice of not only Lenin and the Bolshevik Party but of Marx and Engels, who had always been explicit that socialism would prevail only as a world system.
“Socialism in one country” was the banner under which countless revolutionary opportunities were betrayed by the Stalinists. But the transformation of the CI from an instrument for world socialist revolution into an agency for diplomatic maneuvers did not happen overnight. During the 1920s, first Zinoviev and later Stalin experimented with various coalitions with bourgeois forces, eventually leading to the murderous sabotage of the Second Chinese Revolution of 1925-27. By 1933, Stalin’s Comintern could not be awakened by what Trotsky called “the thunderbolt of Fascism”—the victory of Hitler’s Nazis without a shot being fired by the powerful German workers movement. The CI had proved itself utterly dead as a force for revolution. By 1935 it had explicitly codified a program of class collaboration (the Popular Front) and played an aggressive counterrevolutionary role in the Spanish Civil War in order to prop up bourgeois rule. The Stalinized Comintern was indeed, as Trotsky described it, “the great organizer of defeats.”
[TO BE CONTINUED]