The Russian Revolution and Stalinism
By François Forgue
On October 25th, the Second Congress of Soviets met in Petrograd. In his History of the Russian Revolution Trotsky writes: “In Smolny on the 25th of October the most democratic of all parliaments in the world’s history was to meet. (…) The Congress resolves: that all power in the localities be transferred to the soviets.” (…)The Provisional Government is deposed. The Congress assumes power. …”
On October 26th, the new power takes its first decisions. The decree for immediate peace is adopted:
“The workers’ and peasants’ government created by the revolution of October 24-25, and resting upon the soviets of workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ deputies, proposes to all the peoples and governments at war, the opening up of immediate negotiations for a just, democratic peace.” (Leon Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution)
On the same day the decree on land is passed which says in the first point: “The landlord’s property in land is annulled immediately and without any indemnity whatever.”
And thus the first act of this new administration, on which the majority of the Soviet’s deputies have conferred power, is to implement straight away, the measures it had announced as its immediate programme of action: to give the land to those who work it, thereby paving the way for peace for all the peoples who had been embroiled in the horrendous imperialist war against their will. And this call will be echoed on every frontline in every country bled dry by a war that has been going on for three years. From the start, the October revolution asserts its international character and sends tremors through the ranks of the property-owning classes.
They did not take long to respond. Only the German government, which saw the opportunity of loosening the stranglehold the “allied” forces had tightened around their armies, agreed to start negotiations with the young republic with a view to reaching a separate peace agreement. There would be draconian conditions attached to the end of hostilities, and Soviet Russia would be deprived of some of its territory. No sooner had the peace agreement been signed than German contingents were taking part in fighting aimed at bringing down the government that had been established on October 25th, 1917. As soon as the First World War was over, the imperialist powers that were involved, got together to organise direct intervention against the government of the workers and peasants of Russia. French, British and American forces brought their support to the counter-revolutionary forces, the White armies. Not only did all the forces of world capitalism agree to provide them with weapons, but they also did all they could to isolate the Soviet Republic by means of a blockade which meant terrible suffering for the whole population, not to mention the destruction caused by the war itself and the civil war.
After such terrible years, the country was left disorganised, devastated and blighted by famine.
It is impossible to deal with the question of the regime that stemmed from the October Revolution, the question of its degeneration — and therefore of Stalinism — and not start from this international reality.
Years later, Leon Trotsky, in the book he devoted to that precise question, to the analysis of Stalinism, was to say:
“The bureaucracy has not only broken with the past, but has deprived itself of the ability to understand the most important lessons of that past. The chief of these lessons was that Soviet power could not have held out for 12 months without the direct help of the international – and especially the European – proletariat, and without a revolutionary movement of colonial peoples. The only reason the Austro-German military powers did not carry out their attack upon Soviet Russia through to the end was that they felt the hot breath of revolution down their necks. In some three quarters of a year, insurrections in Germany and Austro-Hungary put an end to the Brest-Litovsk treaty.
The revolt of the French sailors in the Black Sea in April 1919 compelled the government of the Third Republic to renounce its military operations in the Soviet South. The British government, in September 1919, withdrew its expeditionary forces from the Soviet North under direct pressure from its own workers. After the retreat of the Red Army from the vicinity of Warsaw in 1920, only a powerful wave of revolutionary protests prevented the Entente from coming to the aid of Poland and crushing the Soviets. The hands of Lord Curzon were bound, at the decisive moment when he delivered his threatening ultimatum to Moscow in 1923, by the resistance of the British workers’ organizations. These clear episodes are not peculiar. They depict the whole character of the first and most difficult period of Soviet existence. Although the revolution triumphed nowhere outside the limits of Russia, the hopes of its triumph were far from being fruitless.”(The Revolution Betrayed)
Right from the beginning, what paved the way for Stalinism was first and foremost the international reality of the Russian revolution and the fight to the death waged by world counter-revolutionary forces; Stalinism being in no way a continuation under some form or other of the Bolshevik Party or the power of the Soviets, but an intrinsically counter-revolutionary force.
Why is it necessary to go back over Stalinism?
Before going any further a question should be answered: today is it only out of historical interest that we ought to deal with Stalinism?
Strictly speaking, the Stalinist system, i.e. the dictatorship of a parasitic and counter-revolutionary bureaucracy and the submission of working-class organisations, created in connection with the Russian Revolution (The Communist International and its national parties), to the interests and needs of that social stratum, which, after destroying any sort of expression of working-class democracy, was undermining the very bases of the revolutionary conquests of October (the expropriation of capital, state ownership of the means of production and planning), came to an end with the collapse of the USSR and the disintegration of the leading bureaucracy itself.
Of course, it can be observed that the methods used by Putin’s government are largely borrowed from those used by the Stalinist bureaucracy when it was in power. However they are no longer used to defend the interests and the hold of a social stratum enjoying privileges due to its parasitic control of state property, in so far as the latter has been dismantled. Nevertheless, even though it has broken up into numerous clans, the social stratum that made up the bureaucracy has not disappeared. It is trying to survive, at the same time as it is breaking up, by placing itself in the direct service of imperialism. Its various fractions are therefore seeking, within the framework of imperialist rule, to play a part and keep a role in the plundering of the country’s wealth, through the liquidation of state ownership.
Similarly the high-skilled counter-revolutionary know-how of leaders trained in the parties submitted to the Stalinist bureaucracy is today very much in use, for the benefit of imperialism.
Blocks of the international apparatus, trained to be subservient to the interests of the leading stratum in the USSR — the bureaucracy — are today playing a crucial role, directly in the service of imperialism, in dismantling and decomposing the working-class movement. To mention only a few examples, a very good illustration is given in France by the role of someone like Thibault (the leader of the CGT, a direct product of that apparatus), who in 2003 opposed right to the end, the general strike and is at the forefront of all the attempts made to co-opt the working-class movement into the framework of “world governance”.
The social basis for this apparatus, in the process of decomposition, originated in the international apparatus of Stalinism, which was both an instrument and a component of the bureaucracy. The only way it can survive — even in a temporary manner — is to act as a direct agency for imperialism, at a time when the latter is itself undergoing a process of decomposition.
In Italy, it is the central leadership of the former Italian Communist Party, converted into a Democratic Party, that proposes the objective of building a “large centre party” on the grounds that, to quote one of its leaders, “there can only be two parties: a centre-right party and a centre-left party.” In other words, there is no more conflict between social classes and consequently there is now no need for a working-class movement or even a confrontation between various political parties. There is only room for slightly different versions of “governance.” …”
But could the leaders of the former PCI have expressed their views so clearly if they had not been trained to think and act, within a framework that enshrines the worldwide capitalist system, founded on private ownership of the means of production? (And that was precisely the content of the “peaceful coexistence” policy pursued in accordance with the preservation of the bureaucracy.). Would it have been the same if they had not been components of that social stratum that owed its very existence to its submission to the policies and needs of the leading bureaucracy in the USSR? For instance in 1974, the Italian Communist Party decided not to challenge Italy’s membership in NATO. Berlinguer, its General Secretary said at the time : “It is not realistic to think that isolated countries can unilaterally leave one of the two camps.”
And those who claim to position themselves to the “left” of the policy being followed by D’Alema and Co. and pretend to be “her Majesty’s opposition” do not find it difficult to support with their votes, the presence of a military contingent in Afghanistan in conformity with NATO. It should be noted that they are joined by the Italian supporters of the United Secretariat, who dare to invoke “Trotskyism.”
This element of continuity does not mean in any way that Stalinism, as a system that ensures the political domination of the bureaucratic caste, might outlive its collapse. Let us repeat that, under the conditions of economic and social backwardness, and particularly in a situation where the USSR was isolated, the degeneration of the workers’ state led to the usurpation of political power by the Stalinist bureaucracy, a counter-revolutionary caste, which Trotsky defined as “the transmission belt for imperialism within the workers’ state.”
The IVth International — after Trotsky and on the basis of its foundation programme — has always emphasised the specific features of the Stalinist phenomenon; contrary to all those who conferred a historic mission on the bureaucracy and made it the “model” or the “ embryo” of a new worldwide class, or a substitute for the working-class and its action.
This position has been, on the one hand, common to all the variations on “state capitalism” or “bureaucratic capitalism” and on the other hand, typical of the “Pabloites” (briefly alluded to above) for whom, in the end, the bureaucracy was supposed to be the instrument that would achieve socialism.
As is explained in The Revolution Betrayed:
“The bureaucracy has not yet created the social support for its dominion in the form of special types of property. (…) 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, in spite of the completeness of its power and the smoke screen of flattery that conceals it.”
Having said this, it does not mean, as already mentioned, that the analysis of Stalinism today is only relevant to the past.
First of all when you deny the working-class the right to organise and to fight for its emancipation, you are trying to put revolution and Stalinism, Bolshevism and Stalinism in the same category.
And most important of all, as the class struggle goes on, the problems of the “transition to socialism”, of the bureaucracy and of working-class democracy, arise in numerous and often unexpected forms, as will be noted when referring to China.
Stalinism, as has been said, emerges and becomes established through the transformation of the regime stemming from the October revolution. In 1937, in his article “Stalinism and Bolshevism”, Trotsky summed up the question in the following way:
“But since the October Revolution has led to the present stage of the triumph of the bureaucracy, with its system of repression, plunder and falsification – the ‘dictatorship of the lie’, to use Schlamm’s appropriate expression – many, with a superficial, formal cast of mind, jump to a summary conclusion: one cannot struggle against Stalinism without renouncing Bolshevism. (…) Certainly Stalinism ‘grew out’ of Bolshevism, not logically, however, but dialectically; not as a revolutionary affirmation but as a Thermidorian negation.”
Far from eradicating the idea that Stalin perpetuates Lenin and that Stalinism, with its trail of lies and mass murders, is the legitimate heir to Bolshevism, the collapse of the USSR and the dismantling of the bureaucracy have given this conception a prominent place. Since the revolution can only bring about disaster — verified by the collapse of the USSR, so they say — there is no alternative but to make do with the regime of exploitation of man by man; as the revolutionary party transforms itself inexorably into an instrument of oppression, a party, a tool to fight exploitation, is not needed and should be done away with.
Those arguments have been repeated again and again ad nauseam in many different forms and overemphasized with a view to “criminalizing” the fight against capitalist exploitation. The recognition of the class struggle has been presented as the primary cause of the Gulag, since Stalin made use of the necessity of fighting the class enemy as a pretext for justifying repression.
It is somehow a way of continuing to use counter-revolutionary Stalinism, after it has collapsed.
In its heyday, any challenge to the directives issued by the “genius leader” and the bureaucracy’s needs, because they were in direct contradiction to the masses’ fight for emancipation, was unfailingly condemned as a “service rendered to imperialism”. Today, any reference to the working-class struggle against exploitation is condemned — often by the same people — as a return to Stalin’s criminal positions.
Finally — and that is essential — the Stalinist system did not arise out of the blue: it was a product and at the same time a crucial element of the class struggle at international level.
The class struggle is an ongoing process, characterised by increasing decomposition of the system of exploitation based on private ownership of the means of production; because, as Trotsky put it, “the spontaneous tendency of the masses to rebuild society on a communist basis” is gaining strength in spite of all the different obstacles. The questions linked with the emergence of Stalinism, its definition, its role, are still relevant today and directly related to present development of the class struggle.
In what context did Stalinism emerge?
The IVth International included in the roots of its foundation a scientific, Marxist analysis of Stalinism, which demolished the attempts made to explain its emergence by the characteristics of Bolshevism.
As Trotsky pointed out in the text mentioned above (Stalinism and Bolshevism):
“How and why did the party degenerate? No one but the Bolsheviks themselves have, up to the present time, given such an analysis. To do this they had no need to break with Bolshevism. On the contrary, they found in its arsenal all they needed for the explanation of its fate.”
Let us stress that our political current, the IVth International, has time after time gone back over these questions. For instance in 1997, the French section of the IVth International had devoted study days to the lessons of the Russian Revolution.
Comrade Pierre Lambert in particular, who chaired the meeting, spoke about the conditions in which the bureaucracy was formed. He reminded us that in 1920-1921, famine wreaked havoc in Russia. He explained that the reason was that fourteen armies from capitalist countries were trying to strangle the Russian Revolution, turning the country into a bloodbath. He said:
“The October Revolution took place on the basis of working-class democracy. In the army, officers were elected and recallable. But war is the least democratic thing as far as methods are concerned. You can argue before, after, but not during the fight. You cannot argue, you fight, and you follow orders.
And then a series of processes gets under way. The government that stems from the Soviets, which is a coalition between the Bolsheviks and the left Social-revolutionaries, passes a decree for peace. Imperialism responds by starting a war and unleashing its forces. They have to defend themselves and they do defend themselves (…)
Let us repeat that even if some wars have democratic goals, the war itself, the methods it requires cannot be more antidemocratic.
The Russian Revolution has won, but there is famine. Equipment is bought to rebuild the economy; it costs a fortune. Many of the best workers, the best fighters, have been decimated on the front line during the civil war. The workforce in the factories is mostly made up of young unskilled peasants (…). The Bolsheviks who were the leaders in the army have to retrain. They become factory managers and tend to use military methods to give orders to workers who are most often illiterate (…). Victor Serge explains these things very clearly and so does Trotsky in The Revolution Betrayed. The same methods are maintained. Those Bolsheviks, those Red Army officers, those who have survived and become factory managers, work 50 kms from Moscow. They have a car, all day.
The bureaucracy will have its origin in that social differentiation, which begins during the civil war and immediately afterwards.”
How did a quantity of processes lead to a change in quality? How is it, that a dangerous excrescence of reality, which Lenin had very clearly described in the early years of the revolution — “Our state is a workers’ state with bureaucratic distortion” — become transformed into the counter-revolutionary dictatorship of a social stratum?
Revolution and counter-revolution
Essentially, together with the specific features of the social and economic reality of Russia, the isolation of the regime that stemmed from the October Revolution was the product of blows dealt to international development of the revolution: the failure of the revolution in Germany in 1923, its defeat in China in 1927. The German revolution was defeated because the leadership of the Social- Democratic Party slavishly submitted to the bourgeoisie. The defeat in China was the direct result of political subservience to the bourgeoisie (precisely the reverse of the Bolshevik party’s policy in October 1917) imposed by the Stalinist leadership.
As the European revolution suffered a setback, a situation was created in which the degeneration of Soviet power could develop. And the elements that fostered this degeneration would put forward the so-called “theory of socialism in one country”, to justify their orientation and their privileged position.
The bureaucracy’s “foreign policy” originates in its national situation: it is determined first and foremost by the defence of its privileges; and the basis for these, would disappear not only if state ownership (on which the bureaucracy acts as a parasite) came to an end, but also directly if the class struggle developed throughout the world in such a way that it would result in new victories for the proletariat, especially in advanced industrial countries.
Trotsky relates this specific analysis of the bureaucracy in the USSR to the Marxist theory of the State. For instance he writes that “the bureaucracy of a workers’ state has a bourgeois character”. He goes on to say that this “must appear not only unintelligible but completely senseless to people stamped with a formal cast of mind.”
And yet Trotsky explains that this theoretical assessment springs from the Marxist theory of the State:
“In the first period of a workers’ state the bourgeois norms of distribution are still preserved.” (…) “The workers’ state itself, as a state, (Trotsky’s emphasis) is necessary precisely because the bourgeois norms of distribution still remain in force. This means that even the most revolutionary bureaucracy is to a certain degree a bourgeois organ (Trotsky’s emphasis) in the workers’ state. Of course, the degree of this bourgeois development as well as the general tendency of development bear decisive significance. (…) Under the pressure of unfavourable historical conditions, however, the bureaucratic ‘survival’ received new sources of nourishment and became a tremendous historical factor. It is exactly because of this that we now speak of degeneration (Trotsky’s emphasis) of the workers’ state. “ Not a Workers’ and Not a Bourgeois State, Written: November 25, 1937.
Thus, a social stratum was formed and took control of State machinery through great upheavals: the Left Opposition was expelled, any form of political life was banned both in the party and in the country (in consequence all the elements of working-class democracy were destroyed), in preparation for the massive “purge” which was in full swing from 1936 to 1939. In a totally arbitrary manner this stratum took all decisions concerning the distribution of resources resulting from the development of the economy based on collective ownership of the most important means of production — for its sole benefit.
Robert Conquest, the British historian, does not use Marxist categories to analyse the Soviet Union but as he gives an account of the emerging social reality, he says that Stalin creates “a large privileged stratum [that] had no rights of ownership over the means of production”. Precisely, because it has no rights of ownership over the means of production and therefore has no roots in the fundamental relations of production, the bureaucracy is not a class, but a caste living as a parasite on state ownership while eroding its very bases. At the same time it needs state ownership in so far as it represents the source of its power and privileges.
This bureaucracy is not formed independently of the developments of class struggle at international level, but on the contrary, on the basis of their consequences in the USSR itself. To use Trotsky’s words, it is formed as the bourgeois bureaucracy of the workers’ state and is accordingly the instrument used by imperialism to exert pressure on the isolated workers’ state. In the article mentioned above Trotsky explains:
“Stalin serves the bureaucracy and thus the world bourgeoisie; but he cannot serve the bureaucracy without defending that social foundation which the bureaucracy exploits in its own interests. To that extent Stalin defends nationalised property from imperialist attacks and from the too impatient and avaricious layers of the bureaucracy itself. However, he carries out this defence with methods that prepare the general destruction of Soviet society. It is exactly because of this that the Stalinist clique must be overthrown.”
The analysis of the formation and development of the bureaucracy made by Trotsky, based on the Marxist theory of the State and the reality of the unified character of the international class struggle, leads him to bring to the fore the full significance of the ongoing process in the founding programme of the IVth International:
“Either the bureaucracy, becoming more and more the organ of world bourgeoisie in the workers’ state, will overthrow the new forms of property and plunge the country back into capitalism; or the working class will crush the bureaucracy and open up the way to socialism.”
The resilience of social relations arising from the October Revolution, the resistance of workers in the USSR, in spite of bureaucratic repression, together with the development of the class struggle worldwide, have resulted in long delays, postponing the moment when the bureaucracy’s policies were able to produce a direct attack on the relations of production created by the revolution. Consequently, the collapse of the USSR took place under conditions and forms that could not be anticipated; at a time when the world capitalist system was undergoing increasing decomposition, precluding any stable reintroduction of capitalism in the former USSR.
Confronted with a world situation leading up to World War II Trotsky points out:
“Twenty-five years in the scales of history, when it is a question of the profoundest changes in economic and cultural systems, weigh less than an hour in the life of man.”
And he goes on to explain:
“A quarter of a century proved too brief a span for the revolutionary rearming of the world proletarian vanguard, and too long a period for preserving the Soviet system intact in an isolated backward country.”
From a political point of view, the Soviet system, i.e. the power of the proletariat achieved through working-class democracy, has been completely disintegrated by the bureaucratic counter-revolution. This situation calls for the overthrow of bureaucratic absolutism, in other words for political revolution, political in the sense that it does not aim to change the fundamental basis created by the October Revolution, but on the contrary to preserve it; a political revolution whose social content (“the emancipation of the workers must be the act of the working class itself,”) links the struggle of the working-class in the USSR with the struggle of workers throughout the world.
That is the reason why events in the international class struggle have had a direct impact on every stage of social and political development in the USSR. The failure of the German revolution in 1923 is plainly at the origin of the overdevelopment of the bureaucracy and the dismantling of the institutions of working-class democracy. But as soon as the bureaucracy begins to secure its power, as a result of the isolation of the regime established by the October Revolution, it becomes the most dangerous of factors favouring isolation. The defeat of the Chinese revolution, due to the policy imposed by the Stalinist leadership on the young Chinese Communist party, has a logical outcome, the expulsion of the Left Opposition, which means in fact the destruction of the party that made the October Revolution possible.
The revolutionary turmoil of the Thirties, the unprecedented disaster that devastated the country and resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of deportees, the repression against entire peoples, this “permanent civil war against peoples and workers” waged by the bureaucracy, to use Jean-Jacques Marie’s words, cannot be dissociated from Hitler’s victory in Germany. That victory meant the best organised and most experienced working-class in Europe had been crushed, its organisations suppressed; and this victory had been prepared by the Stalinist policies of the “Third period” that rejected the United Front.
The Moscow trials coincided with the revolutionary upsurge in Europe, the beginning of the proletarian revolution in Spain in response to the Francoist coup. They reinforced the Popular Front policies and plainly paved the way for the Second World War caused by Imperialism being preserved at international level. That is why the day the IVth International was formed, it stated the Stalinist bureaucracy had “definitely passed over to the side of bourgeois order.” And Trotsky could write:
“To deduce Stalinism from Bolshevism or from Marxism, is the same as to deduce, in a larger sense, counter-revolution from revolution.”
Bolshevik Party, Stalinist Party
Today, in the same way as yesterday and perhaps with even more clamour, it is repeated in all quarters that Stalinism was generated by Bolshevism; and therefore, the Stalinist party, a totalitarian State party in a one-party system, is said to be the product of the evolution of the Bolshevik Party, since it was in charge of State affairs.
That question was posed in the early years of degeneration and on several occasions Trotsky provided an answer. For instance in his Stalin he had this to say:
“The Bolshevik Party, in its past form, with its former traditions and its former membership becomes increasingly hostile to the new stratum of leaders.
The essence of Thermidor lies in this contradiction. Those who try to reduce the developments in a period, to a few alleged fundamental characteristics of the Bolshevik Party, undertake a pointless and absurd task, like the labour of Sisyphus; as if a political party was a homogeneous entity and an all-powerful historical factor.
A political party is only a temporary historical tool, one of the many tools of history and also one of its schools.
The Bolshevik Party set itself a goal: the conquest of power by the working-class.
To the extent that this party achieved this task for the first time in history and thanks to this conquest, enriched human experience, it performed a tremendous historical role. Only those who are distracted by their liking for abstract discussion can demand that a party should subjugate and eliminate the much more weighty factors related to mass and class, when these are hostile. The limits of the party are expressed in the fact that at some point, at a given moment, it begins to disintegrate under the tension created by pressure from inside and outside: cracks can be noticed that grow bigger and some organs begin to atrophy.
This process became apparent, very slowly at first in 1923, then accelerated quickly. (…)
The old Bolshevik Party and heroic cadres went the way all things go: in the grip of fever, it went into spasms, suffered atrocious attacks and in the end passed away.
Before the establishment of the regime that was to be called Stalinism, what was necessary was not a Bolshevik Party but the crushing of the Bolshevik Party.”
Figures prove that the establishment and reinforcement of the Stalinist regime could only be achieved on the basis of destruction of the Bolshevik Party.
To begin with, the membership of the party was transformed.
It had 381,000 members in 1923 but over a million in December 1925
In December 1927, 90% of the secretaries and members of the cell committees in the workplace had joined the party after Lenin’s death.
As the party itself was brought to heel, massive expulsions took place: more than 250,000 members were expelled on the grounds of “right deviation” or “Trotskyism.”
In January 1934, the 14th Congress of the party was convened; it was called the “Congress of Victors.” According to various estimates, 160, or 360 votes maybe, did not go to Stalin in the election to the Central Committee. His revenge was terrible. At this Congress Stalin had in fact been hailed as “the organiser of victory”, any echo of the oppositions had disappeared and — it is an established fact — the dignitaries who filled the State machinery had been carefully selected. And yet most of these delegates were eliminated.
In 1936-1938 Stalin liquidated 60 of the 63 members of the committee in charge of counting votes, 1,108 of the 1,196 delegates who attended the Congress and 98 of the 139 members of the Central Committee.
When, after Kirov’s murder, the Great Terror started, it was aimed primarily at party members. The introduction of legislation against the working-class, annihilating workers’ rights, their freedom of movement and even the opportunity to express their needs, was accompanied by a systematic, fierce and total destruction of all that could in any manner still express the reality of the October Revolution.
It was not only the Trotskyists, members of the Left Opposition — or those who were associated with the Left Opposition — .who were imprisoned or assassinated; even if the methodical extermination of the Trotskyist activists in the camps might be referred to as “political genocide”, directed against all those who adhered to the Left Opposition and later to the IVth International. The victims were also the members of various oppositions, those who were in touch with them and thousands of members of the party who had accepted and promoted Stalinist policy.
In 1935 the political police arrested 270,000 people, 274,000 in 1936. However, as Jean-Jacques Marie points out in his Stalin:
“Those figures are misleading in as much as they conceal the fact that the target of repression had shifted to the party itself and the former opponents who had been reinstated.”
In 1937alone, the Gulag received 700,000 additional prisoners.
“Figures confirm that the 1939 Stalinist party was built on the debris of the old Bolshevik Party. In 1939, on the eve of the 18th Congress, the Russian Communist Party had 1,589,000 members. Only 0.3%, i.e. about 5,000 had joined before 1917 and 16,000 (1%) in 1917. Only 10% of members had joined between 1918 and 1920 and were still members.” (Jean-Jacques Marie, Stalin)
True the war took a heavy toll of the cadres of the Bolshevik Party, the revolutionary workers who formed its backbone. But if we take into account the fact that only twenty years elapsed between October 1917 and this 18th Congress and that consequently the majority of the militants who had joined during the revolution or immediately afterwards, were in the prime of life, it becomes obvious that what was called ‘the Party” had for the most part been emptied of all the elements that linked it with the October Revolution.
Bureaucracy and Mafia
The Stalinist party, a counter-revolutionary party, was built on the basis of destruction, by means of terror, of the party that in the wake of October had been called the party of Lenin and Trotsky.
For all that, the caste that found itself in power and had its origins in the social differentiation imposed by the isolation of the Soviet Union, that social formation, which Trotsky defines as “the formation of a whole caste of privileged people bound to one another by a solemn oath, by their commons interests and by a widening chasm between them and the working people, “ would never achieve stability.
It would go through a continuous series of crises and convulsions until its final collapse.. While it was being formed, Stalin had as it were “brought together” these parvenus. As Trotsky explains in this extract: “He unwittingly organised not only a new political machine but also a new caste.”
It is worth noting that the bureaucracy is defined straightaway by Trotsky as a mafia whose members share out among themselves the fruits generated by their function as parasites of state ownership. When the latter is dismantled, what survives is the Mafia — itself made up of clans, hostile to each other — which forges links with the decomposed world capitalist system and is entirely subservient to this system in order to receive its subsidies.
In this respect the disappearance of Stalinism as a system does not put an end to its counter-revolutionary action.
This has included the countless crimes committed by Stalinism, and we have only mentioned some of them in this article. Those horrendous crimes have a common denominator: they have preserved the domination of the imperialist system at international level, brought into disrepute the very notion of socialism in the eyes of millions of workers, spread confusion and organised defeat.
In the world in which we are fighting — where the imperialist system is decomposing — everywhere, under extremely difficult conditions, the masses are rising up to defend their very existence, attacking with their action the regime of capitalist exploitation, aiming at its destruction. Their movement is based on previous struggles led by the world proletariat, always seeking the means for winning emancipation and which, at each point, has had to confront the apparatuses that acted hand in glove with those who endeavoured to maintain capitalist rule. In that sense at the present time, the difficult fight of the working masses and indeed all political relations, particularly those directly concerning the organisation of the working-class, are marked by the consequences of Stalinism and the collapse of the USSR, which Stalinism hastened.
It is impossible to rebuild the working-class movement in each country and at international level; it is impossible to resolve the key problem of mankind, namely the leadership of its fight for emancipation (Stalinism having played a crucial role in the failure to address this problem, despite the uninterrupted activity of the exploited and oppressed masses), without drawing up a precise balance sheet of Stalinism. It cannot be done unless you start from the Marxist analysis of this historical phenomenon, and this analysis has in fact been carried out by Trotsky and the IVth International.