XIV. The Internationalist Character of the Struggle against Imperialist War and the Social-Patriotic Nature of the Stalinist Theory of “Socialism in One Country”

Note of the Editorial Board: The following Chapter contains several figures. For technical reasons these can only be viewed in the pdf version of the book which can be downloaded here.




It is also necessary to point out additional factors which make it obligatory to view the proletariat as an international class and, hence, the class struggle as international by its nature. Marxists have always insisted that capitalism in general and monopoly capitalism (i.e. capitalism in the epoch of imperialism) in particular can only be grasped if it is understood as a political and economic world system. The political and economic relations in each country can never, from a Marxist point of view, be derived simply from internal factors. Imperialism does not constitute a set of national states and economies which are strung together. It is rather the case that the world economy and world politics are the decisive driving forces. They act as a melting pot for national factors, forming an independent totality raised above and imposed upon the national states. The combined and uneven development of world capitalism concurs with the given local peculiarities of a country and fuses with the specific national dynamic of the political and economic relations of that state. [1]


Marx already pointed this out in the Grundrisse, his "groundwork" for Capital:


In the world market the connection of the individual with all others, but at the same time also the independence of this connection from the individuals, has itself developed to such a point that its formation already contains the conditions for its being transcended.[2]


Later, Trotsky systematically elaborated these fundamental ideas and developed his theory of permanent revolution. He emphasized that one must not start with the national economy but with the world as an entirety. Trotsky correctly stressed the importance of the world market. The same is true on the terrain of politics.


“Marxism takes its point of departure from world economy, not as a sum of national parts but as a mighty and independent reality which has been created by the international division of labour and the world market, and which in our epoch imperiously dominates the national markets.” [3]


If we look at the developments in the world economy in the recent decades we can see a complete vindication of the Marxist prognosis of the increasingly dominant role of the world market. Globalization has led to the massive growth – in relation to global production – of the export and import of world commodities. Similarly, capital export has increased substantially in relation to the total global accumulation of capital.


As we have pointed out somewhere else, “monopolies are driven to greater internationalisation by falling profit rates in their home markets, and such a high mass of capital accumulation that national markets alone are too small for them. This is because the huge investments in the ever bigger production facilities required by competition themselves require an ever bigger market in which to realise profits. This also drives them to the outsourcing of parts of production to the export markets and the cheapest labour on the planet. Modern technology and cheap transport costs help in this process. The forcing open of markets across the world goes hand in hand with this. The result of this development is that, in the last 25 years, the export of capital has become massively more important both in the imperialist states and in the semi-colonial world.[4]


Let us demonstrate this with two figures. As we show in Figure 33, capital export (expressed in Foreign Direct Investment) and the global integration of the world market have, via this phenomenon, risen to a level never before seen in the history of capitalism.




Figure 33. Global FDI flows to GDP (in %), 1880-2000 [5]








Likewise we demonstrate in Figure 34 the extent to which global trade has increased – when viewed relative to world output – throughout the entire history of capitalism from 1820 until today.




Figure 34. World Exports as a Share of World GDP, 1820–2013 [6]








From such a world view of capitalism follows that Marxists base themselves on a world view of the proletariat and, hence, a world view of the class struggle. This has profound consequences for the politics of the working class in general and in its anti-war and anti-imperialist tactics in particular.


Such a view is in complete contradiction to the reformist theory of “socialism in one country” which was developed by the Stalinists and which they counterposed to the internationalist strategy developed by Lenin and the Bolsheviks and later defended by Trotsky’s Fourth International. This Stalinist theory declared that socialism, i.e. a prosperous society with a higher living standard for the population than capitalism can provide, could be built in a single country without the victory of the working class in other countries. From this followed that the foreign policy of the Soviet Union, and hence the politics of the Communist International, had to serve no longer the goal to internationalize the revolution, but rather to help building “socialism” in Stalin’s USSR.


Trotsky summarized the contrast between the two theories in his book on the permanent revolution in the following words:


It is precisely here that we come up against the two mutually exclusive standpoints: the international revolutionary theory of the permanent revolution and the national-reformist theory of socialism in one country. Not only backward China, but in general no country in the world can build socialism within its own national limits: the ‘highly-developed productive forces which have grown beyond national boundaries resist this, just as do those forces which are insufficiently developed for nationalization. The dictatorship of the proletariat in Britain, for example, will encounter difficulties and contradictions, different in character, it is true, but perhaps not slighter than those that will confront the dictatorship of the proletariat in China. Surmounting these contradictions is possible in both cases only by way of the international revolution. This standpoint leaves no room for the question of the ‘maturity’ or ‘immaturity’ of China for the socialist transformation. What remains indisputable here is that the backwardness of China makes the tasks of the proletarian dictatorship extremely difficult. But we repeat: History is not made to order, and the Chinese proletariat has no choice. [7]


What does this mean for the revolutionary struggle against imperialist aggression and war?


The Stalinists, believing in the possibility of nationally isolated enduring victories of the working class, conclude that it is possible to build socialism in a single country if only the working class succeeds in stopping the imperialist bourgeoisie from interfering and attacking the socialist country. They ignored the fundamental truth, stated by Lenin and many other Marxists, that war is inevitable in capitalism and that the imperialists will never and can never peacefully co-exist with a workers state. Hence, the imperialists provoked World War II, the Korea War, the Vietnam War and the Cold War between the West and the USSR until the collapse of the latter in 1989-91.


As a tactical consequence of their mistaken theory, the Stalinists proclaimed the possibility of the “neutralization of the world bourgeoisie”, i.e. to put pressure on it so that it would desist on attacking the workers state. This theory was theoretical nonsensical and historically falsified.


A condition in which the proletariat is as yet unable to seize power, but can prevent the bourgeoisie from utilizing its power for a war, is a condition of unstable class equilibrium in its highest expression. An equilibrium is called unstable precisely when it cannot last long. It must tip toward one side or the other. Either the proletariat comes to power or else the bourgeoisie, by a series of crushing blows, weakens the revolutionary pressure sufficiently to regain freedom of action, above all in the question of war and peace. Only a reformist can picture the pressure of the proletariat upon the bourgeois stale as a permanently increasing factor and as a guarantee against intervention. It is precisely out of this conception that arose the theory of the construction of socialism in one country, given the neutralization of the world bourgeoisie (Stalin). Just as the owl takes flight at twilight, so also did the Stalinist theory of the neutralization of the bourgeoisie by the pressure of the proletariat arise only when the conditions which engendered this theory had begun to disappear.[8]


Such pacifist nonsense about the possibility to make the bourgeoisie pacifist had to result inevitable in an open capitulation to imperialism. Trotsky already foresaw in 1928 that the Stalinist nationalist deviation had to result in a social-patriotic collapse and the collaboration of the bureaucracy with one camp of imperialism (against the other).


It is possible to lead the proletariat to the position of defeatism in relation to the bourgeois state only by means of an international orientation in the program on this central question and by means of a ruthless rejection of the social-patriotic contraband which is masked as yet but which seeks to build a theoretical nest for itself in the program of Lenin's International.[9]


One could belittle the relevance of these thoughts for today as no workers states exist anymore. But, first, a significant sector of Stalinists and semi-Stalinists still view China as a “socialist state” or a “deformed workers state”, as we have demonstrated above. Other revisionists don’t go that far but still view China and Russia as something political qualitatively superior to the old imperialist states and, hence, advocate support for the emerging Great Powers. Furthermore, it is easily comprehensible to imagine a scenario where reformists will defend a, let us say, “liberal”, “more democratic” European Union against a “semi-fascist”, ultra-reactionary USA. Social-patriotism knows many different roads but it all ends up in the camp of defense of the imperialist fatherland. Or to put it in Trotsky’s formula: “Social patriotism is only a mask for social imperialism.” [10]


Its theoretical root is the ill-fated revisionist theory of “socialism in one country” which liquidates the international nature of the working class and the internationalist essence of class struggle embodied in the program of revolutionary defeatism.


The theory of the possibility of realizing socialism in one country destroys the inner connection between the patriotism of the victorious proletariat and the defeatism of the proletariat of the bourgeois countries. The proletariat of the advanced capitalist countries is still traveling on the road to power.[11]


The disastrous Stalinist theory of “socialism in one country” is not only relevant for the issue of revolutionary struggle against imperialist war. It has also massive influence on the issues of program and party-building. “Socialism in one country” means to prioritize the class struggle in one’s own country and to deprioritise the class struggle in other countries. Consequently, it also means to prioritize the building of a party in one’s own country and to deprioritise the same in other countries. Furthermore, it usually goes also hand in hand with an ignorant or even social-chauvinist attitude towards national minorities and migrants in their own country. In short, “Socialism in one country” results in national-centeredness and national-reformism in the theoretical, programmatic and organizational field.


As a matter of fact, we see numerous organizations which are willing to act as revolutionaries but which are, unconsciously, infected with the ideas of “socialism in one country” since they put a strong priority on national work in contrast to international work. As a result they refuse to deal appropriately with issues of the international class struggle and the building of Revolutionary World Party.


Trotsky explained in 1928 in his critique of the Stalinist program that an international program is not only important for a world party but even for any national organization since national politics can not be understood without the international context:


In our epoch, which is the epoch of imperialism, i.e., of world economy and world politics under the hegemony of finance capital, not a single communist party can establish its program by proceeding solely or mainly from conditions and tendencies of developments in its own country. This also holds entirely for the party that wields the state power within the boundaries of the U.S.S.R. On August 4, 1914, the death knell sounded for national programs for all time. The revolutionary party of the proletariat can base itself only upon an international program corresponding to the character of the present epoch, the epoch of the highest development and collapse of capitalism. An international communist program is in no case the sum total of national programs or an amalgam of their common features. The international program must proceed directly from an analysis of the conditions and tendencies of world economy and of the world political system taken as a whole in all its connections and contradictions, that is, with the mutually antagonistic interdependence of its separate parts. In the present epoch, to a much larger extent than in the past, the national orientation of the proletariat must and can flow only from a world orientation and not vice versa. Herein lies the basic and primary difference between communist internationalism and all varieties of national socialism.” [12]


For the same reason a revolutionary organization can not built on the national terrain alone. It must be built simultaneously as an international organization. Trotsky replied to those revolutionaries who considered the building of an international organization as “premature” the following:


Your conception of internationalism appears to me erroneous. In the final analysis, you take the International as a sum of national sections or as a product of the mutual influence of national sections. This is, at least, a one-sided, undialectical and, therefore, wrong conception of the International. If the Communist Left throughout the world consisted of only five individuals, they would have nonetheless been obliged to build an international organization simultaneously with the building of one or more national organizations.


It is wrong to view a national organization as the foundation and the international as a roof. The interrelation here is of an entirely different type. Marx and Engels started the communist movement in 1847 with an international document and with the creation of an international organization. The same thing was repeated in the creation of the First International. The very same path was followed by the Zimmerwald Left in preparation for the Third International. Today this road is dictated far more imperiously than in the days of Marx. It is, of course, possible in the epoch of imperialism for a revolutionary proletarian tendency to arise in one or another country, but it cannot thrive and develop in one isolated country; on the very next day after its formation it must seek for or create international ties, an international platform, an international organization. Because a guarantee of the correctness of the national policy can be found only along this road. A tendency which remains shut-in nationally over a stretch of years, condemns itself irrevocably to degeneration.


You refuse to answer the question as to the character of your differences with the International Opposition on the grounds that an international principled document is lacking. I consider such an approach to the question as purely formal, lifeless, not political and not revolutionary. A platform or program is something that comes as a result of extensive experiences from joint activities on the basis of a certain number of common ideas and methods. Your 1925 platform did not come into being on the very first day of your existence as a faction. The Russian Opposition created a platform in the fifth year of its struggle; and although this platform appeared two and a half years after yours did, it has also become outdated in many respects.” [13]


In summary, capitalism and imperialism exist and can only exist as a world system. The struggle against it must take the road of the international class struggle and its must aim for the creation of a socialist world economy and a worldwide federation of workers and peasant republics. Such a struggle requires a world party, i.e. an international organization and not national-isolated groups.


[1] We have dealt with this issue in more detail in an essay by Michael Pröbsting: Capitalism Today and the Law of Uneven Development: The Marxist Tradition and its Application in the Present Historic Period, in: Critique: Journal of Socialist Theory, Vol. 44, Issue 4, 2016, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03017605.2016.1236483

[2] Karl Marx: Grundrisse [Outlines of the Critique of Political Economy (Rough Draft of 1857-58)]; in: MECW 28, p. 98

[3] Leon Trotsky: The Permanent Revolution (1929), Pathfinder Press, New York 1969, p. 146

[4] See Michael Pröbsting: Imperialism and the Decline of Capitalism (2008), in: Richard Brenner, Michael Pröbsting, Keith Spencer: The Credit Crunch - A Marxist Analysis (2008), http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/imperialism-and-globalization/

[5] Michael Roberts: A world rate of profit. Globalisation and the world economy (2012), p. 2, http://thenextrecession.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/roberts_michael-a_world_rate_of_profit.pdf

[6] The super-cycle lives: EM growth is key, Standard Chartered Bank, Special Report, 06 November 2013, p. 13

[7] Leon Trotsky: The Permanent Revolution (1929), Pathfinder Press, New York 1969, p. 255

[8] Leon Trotsky: The Permanent Revolution (1929), Pathfinder Press, New York 1969, pp. 267-268

[9] Leon Trotsky: The Third International After Lenin. The Draft Program of the Communist International: A Criticism of Fundamentals (1928), Pathfinder Press, New York 1970, p. 73

[10] Leon Trotsky: Progressive Paralysis. The Second International on the Eve of the New War (1939), in: Writings of Leon Trotsky, 1939-40, p. 37

[11] Leon Trotsky: The Third International After Lenin. The Draft Program of the Communist International: A Criticism of Fundamentals (1928), Pathfinder Press, New York 1970, p. 72

[12] Leon Trotsky: The Third International After Lenin (1928), Pathfinder Press, New York 1970, p.4

[13] Leon Trotsky: To the Editorial Board of Prometeo (1930); in: Writings 1930, pp. 285-286