Cuba’s Revolution Sold Out? II. Stalinism, Permanent Revolution and Capitalist Restoration in the Light of Marxist Theory

 

 

 

In the following chapter we will outline some theoretical considerations which are important for a Marxist understanding both of Cuba’s transformation into a degenerated workers state in the early 1960s as well as its recent return towards capitalism.

 

 

 

i) Trotsky’s Theory of the Permanent Revolution

 

 

 

A number of centrist, quasi- -Trotskyists claimed, and some still claim, that the Castro leadership led Cuba towards a healthy worker state, or at least one with some bureaucratic deformations, but which could be removed via some reforms and hence a political revolution of the working class was not necessary.

 

The United Secretariat of the Fourth International of Pablo and Mandel unconditionally supported Castro. Nahuel Moreno proclaimed himself a Castroite and said his objective was to create united Castroite parties throughout Latin America. In Bolivia, where Guevara was operating in 1967, Guillermo Lora, leader of the “Trotskyist” the POR, claimed that this “foco” was the vanguard of the Bolivian revolution. [1]

 

This was and is, of course, totally wrong. The fact that the Castro leadership not only oppressed the Cuban working class for decades but is also leading it now in a bureaucratic-authoritarian way towards capitalism, shows once more its non-revolutionary character.

 

The Castroite leadership never understood – and could not understand, due to its petty-bourgeois nature – and many quasi-Trotskyists ignored that only the program of permanent revolution could have avoided such an outcome. The Achilles’ heel of the Cuban revolution was the lack of a revolutionary workers’ party which could have led the proletariat and the popular masses towards the expropriation of the bourgeoisie, as well as the bourgeois state apparatus through working class power (workers control, soviets, militias, etc.).

 

It would also have meant to fight for the internationalization of the revolution – not via some guerilla foci adventures – but by building a revolutionary workers’ international. Such a new revolutionary International would have advanced the international class struggle instead of praising the Soviet invasion in Czechoslovakia in 1968, or politically supporting the treacherous Popular Front government of Allende in Chile 1970-73.

 

Such a program of permanent revolution is a key element of the working class program in the modern era of imperialism. It was developed by Leon Trotsky who elaborated it based on the experience of the three Russian Revolutions in 1905 and 1917, as well as various failed revolution like that in China from 1925-27. Understanding this theory is essential not only to understand the failure of the Cuban revolution, but also to find the way forward for the coming class struggles in Cuba and world-wide.

 

What are the central elements of this theory? Let us briefly summarize Trotsky’s concept of permanent revolution.[2] It is based on the dialectical concept that the revolution cannot be divided schematically into stages which are separated from one another. This does not mean that there are not different stages in the development of the revolution. Of course, this is the case. But in all stages of the revolution, it is one and the same class which must lead the struggle in order to win the democratic, as well as economic, goals of the revolution: the working class. Naturally the working class must seek allies amongst the peasantry and the urban petty bourgeoisie. But it is the proletariat and only the proletariat which can lead the struggle to victory. The reason for this is that the peasantry and the urban petty bourgeoisie – regardless of their numerical size – are not classes that can act independently and, therefore, they cannot play a leading role. They must rather subordinate themselves sooner or later under one of the two main classes of capitalist society – the proletariat or the bourgeoisie.

 

From this follows that during all stages of the revolution the strategic goal is to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat, and not to take power in the name of any other class. While temporary blocs with sectors of the bourgeoisie cannot be excluded, it would be criminal for the working class to subordinate its goals and interests so as not to wreck a potential alliance with such bourgeois forces. It would be even more criminal to support the taking of power by bourgeois forces. Every sector of the semi-colonial bourgeoisie will look for a compromise with imperialism and thereby betray the working class and the popular masses.

 

The theory of permanent revolution assumes that, if the revolution is not continued up to the socialist seizure of power, it will inevitably end with the victory of the ruling class and a counter-revolution. Similarly, the theory of permanent revolution maintains that the revolution cannot remain victorious in a single country (as Stalin claimed), but must spread internationally. The modern economy, especially in the age of global capitalism, makes all countries dependent on the international exchange of goods, technology and knowledge. Moreover, sooner or later, the imperialist powers would not tolerate a victorious revolution in a single country. Marxists therefore support the strategy of Permanent Revolution not because it is more radical or ”exciting,” but because it represents the only realistic way to overcome the capitalist system and establish a truly socialist society.

 

In his book The Permanent Revolution, written in 1929, Trotsky explained the three basic elements of this theory:

 

The permanent revolution, in the sense which Marx attached to this concept, means a revolution which makes no compromise with any single form of class rule, which does not stop at the democratic stage, which goes over to socialist measures and to war against reaction from without: that is, a revolution whose every successive stage is rooted in the preceding one and which can end only in the complete liquidation of class society.

 

To dispel the chaos that has been created around the theory of the permanent revolution, it is necessary to distinguish three lines of thought that are united in this theory.

 

First, it embraces the problem of the transition from the democratic revolution to the socialist. This is in essence the historical origin of the theory. (…)

 

The theory of the permanent revolution, which originated in 1905, declared war upon these ideas and moods. It pointed out that the democratic tasks of the backward bourgeois nations lead directly, in our epoch, to the dictatorship of the proletariat and that the dictatorship of the proletariat puts socialist tasks on the order of the day. Therein lay the central idea of the theory. While the traditional view was that the road to the dictatorship of the proletariat led through a long period of democracy, the theory of the permanent revolution established the fact that for backward countries the road to democracy passed through the dictatorship of the proletariat. Thus democracy is not a regime that remains self-sufficient for decades, but is only a direct prelude to the socialist revolution. Each is bound to the other by an unbroken chain. Thus there is established between the democratic revolution and the socialist reconstruction of society a permanent state of revolutionary development.

 

The second aspect of the ‘permanent’ theory has to do with the socialist revolution as such. For an indefinitely long time and in constant internal struggle, all social relations undergo transformation. Society keeps on changing its skin. Each stage of transformation stems directly from the preceding. This process necessarily retains a political character, that is, it develops through collisions between various groups in the society which is in transformation. Outbreaks of civil war and foreign wars alternate with periods of ‘peaceful’ reform. Revolutions in economy, technique, science, the family, morals and everyday life develop in complex reciprocal action and do not allow society to achieve equilibrium. Therein lies the permanent character of the socialist revolution as such.

 

The international character of the socialist revolution, which constitutes the third aspect of the theory of the permanent revolution, flows from the present state of economy and the social structure of humanity. Internationalism is no abstract principle but a theoretical and political reflection of the character of world economy, of the world development of productive forces and the world scale of the class struggle. The socialist revolution begins on national foundations – but it cannot be completed within these foundations. The maintenance of the proletarian revolution within a national framework can only be a provisional state of affairs, even though, as the experience of the Soviet Union shows, one of long duration. In an isolated proletarian dictatorship, the internal and external contradictions grow inevitably along with the successes achieved. If it remains isolated, the proletarian state must finally fall victim to these contradictions. The way out for it lies only in the victory of the proletariat of the advanced countries. Viewed from this standpoint, a national revolution is not a self-contained whole; it is only a link in the international chain. The international revolution constitutes a permanent process, despite temporary declines and ebbs.“ [3]

 

Such is the theoretical concept of revolutionary Marxism regarding the internal mechanics of the revolutionary process. However, these internal mechanics can only be actualized if a revolutionary workers party, which consciously understands and implements such a program, possesses the leadership of the working class. Indeed this was one of the major failures of various centrist splitters of the Fourth International which believed that the program of permanent revolution can be implemented by “unconscious revolutionaries” like the Castroites. [4]

 

But without the revolutionary party, the objective process of sharpening class contradictions based on the uneven and combined development of class forces and relations can never be transformed into an actual permanent revolution. When confronted with similar arguments about the “objective process of the permanent revolution” by left-centrist Stalinists in the late 1920s, Trotsky explained:

 

In capitalist society, every real revolution, above all if it takes place in a large country, and more particularly now, in the imperialist epoch, tends to transform itself into a permanent revolution; in other words, not to come to a halt at any of the stages it reaches, not to confine itself up to the complete transformation of society, up to the final abolition of class distinctions, consequently, up to the complete and final suppression of the very possibility of new revolutions. (…) The Chinese revolution contains within itself tendencies to become permanent in so far as it contains the possibility of the conquest of power by the proletariat. (…) Now, Lominadze has made of the possibility of a permanent development of the revolution (on the condition that the Communist policy be correct) a scholastic formula guaranteeing at one blow and for all time a revolutionary situation “for many years”. The permanent character of the revolution thus becomes a law placing itself above history, independent of the policy of the leadership and of the material development of revolutionary events.” [5]

 

This is even truer today, after we have seen the failures not only of the Cuban revolution but also the one in Nicaragua, Bolivia, Venezuela and many other countries. Only a revolutionary party which understands and fights for the program of permanent revolution, can lead the working class to a successful social and political revolution.

 

 

 

ii) The Nature of the Stalinist Bureaucracy in a Degenerated Workers State

 

 

 

By providing an overview of the development and contradictions of the Cuban Revolution, we have shown how the Castroite bureaucracy – while keeping the control over the working class – was forced to move much further than it intended and to install a degenerated workers state. This poses an important question which caused, by the way, huge confusion amongst Trotskyite centrist tendencies: How was it possible, from the viewpoint of Marxist theory, for a petty-bourgeois populist force like the M-26-7 – which did not even pretend to follow the goal of creating a socialist society – to be at the head of a political process which had as its outcome the formation of a degenerated workers state and the movement’s transformation into a self-proclaimed “Marxist-Leninist” party?

 

To answer this question, we have to understand the class character of the ruling bureaucracy in a degenerated workers state. As Trotsky explained repeatedly, this bureaucracy is not a class but rather a caste. It does not, as a class does, own the means of production, since the bureaucracy rules on the basis of proletarian, and not capitalist, relations of production. Under such proletarian relations of production, the law of value – which is the basis of capitalism – does not dominate the economy. The bureaucracy is, therefore, not an exploiting class which appropriates surplus value (as the capitalist class does). Rather, it constitutes a social stratum which plays no necessary role in the running of the economy and the society as a whole. Thus, it parasitically appropriates numerous privileges because of its commanding position in the state.

 

Embezzlement and theft, the bureaucracy’s main sources of income, do not constitute a system of exploitation in the scientific sense of the term. But from the standpoint of the interests and position of the popular masses it is infinitely worse than any “organic” exploitation. The bureaucracy is not a possessing class, in the scientific sense of the term. But it contains within itself to a tenfold degree all the vices of a possessing class. It is precisely the absence of crystallized class relations and their very impossibility on the social foundation of the October revolution that invest the workings of the state machine with such a convulsive character. To perpetuate the systematic theft of the bureaucracy, its apparatus is compelled to resort to systematic acts of banditry. The sum total of all these things constitutes the system of Bonapartist gangsterism.[6]

 

From this it follows that the ruling bureaucracy in a degenerated workers’ state is neither part of the proletariat (which the bureaucracy oppresses and robs), nor does it constitute a capitalist class, but rather possesses a petty-bourgeois character. Because of its parasitism and its conservative, anti-revolutionary role, both in the fields of international as well as domestic policy, it serves the world bourgeoisie. However, as long as it stands at the top of a workers state and administers and defends the proletarian property relations, the bureaucracy is not part of a capitalist ruling class but is instead a petty-bourgeois, counter-revolutionary defender of the workers state.

 

Trotsky reached these conclusions during the factional struggle against the Stalinist leadership. In early 1928 he wrote:

 

The petty-bourgeois elements in the AUCP [Communist Party in the USSR] rule the party and the state, but they are obliged to base themselves on the working class and to oppose imperialism. They are heading towards concessions to the bourgeoisie. But a sharper onslaught by the bourgeoisie can create a decisive shift to the left in the party. [7]

 

It is clear that a fundamental antagonism exists between the economic basis of the workers state – the proletarian relations of production – and its anti-proletarian, petty-bourgeois bureaucracy which rules the political super-structure of the state. To maintain its rule, the Stalinist bureaucracy necessitates a state apparatus which is immune from control by the working class and the popular masses and which can, to the contrary, be utilized against the working class to defend the bureaucracy’s privileges. Such a state apparatus, which is totally alienated from the working class, has therefore a bourgeois character.

 

Trotsky explained that such class contradictions between the economy and the state are not only possible, but had indeed already existed several times in history. In a debate with Burnham and Carter, two leaders of the Socialist Workers Party (US), in 1937 Trotsky wrote:

 

But does not history really know of cases of class conflict between the economy and the state? It does! After the “third estate” seized power, society for a period of several years still remained feudal. In the first months of Soviet rule the proletariat reigned on the basis of a bourgeois economy. In the field of agriculture the dictatorship of the proletariat operated for a number of years on the basis of a petty-bourgeois economy (to a considerable degree it does so even now).[8]

 

In the same article, Trotsky continues by comparing the ruling bureaucracy in a Stalinist workers’ state with the bureaucracy of a trade union:

 

The class character of the state is determined by its relation to the forms of property in the means of production. The character of a workers’ organization such as a trade union is determined by its relation to the distribution of national income. The fact that Green and Company defend private property in the means of production characterizes them as bourgeois. Should these gentlemen in addition defend the income of the bourgeoisie from attacks on the part of the workers; should they conduct a struggle against strikes, against the raising of wages, against help to the unemployed; then we would have an organization of scabs, and not a trade union. However, Green and Company, in order not to lose their base, must within certain limits lead the struggle of the workers for an increase – or at least against a diminution – of their share of the national income. (…)

 

The function of Stalin, like the function of Green, has a dual character. 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 does Stalin defend nationalized property from imperialist attacks and from the too impatient and avaricious layers of the bureaucracy itself. However, he carries through this defense with methods that prepare the general destruction of Soviet society. It is exactly because of this that the Stalinist clique must be overthrown. The proletariat cannot subcontract this work to the imperialists. In spite of Stalin, the proletariat defends the USSR from imperialist attacks. (…)

 

Comrades B. and C. are completely correct when they say that Stalin and Company by their politics serve the international bourgeoisie. But this correct thought must be established in the correct conditions of time and place. Hitler also serves the bourgeoisie. However, between the functions of Stalin and Hitler there is a difference. Hitler defends the bourgeois forms of property. Stalin adapts the interests of the bureaucracy to the proletarian forms of property. The same Stalin in Spain, i.e., on the soil of a bourgeois regime, executes the function of Hitler (in their political methods they generally differ little from one another). The juxtaposition of the different social roles of the one and the same Stalin in the USSR and in Spain demonstrates equally well that the bureaucracy is not an independent class but the tool of classes; and that it is impossible to define the social nature of a state by the virtue or villainy of the bureaucracy.

 

The assertion that the bureaucracy of a workers’ state has a bourgeois character must appear not only unintelligible but completely senseless to people stamped with a formal cast of mind. However, chemically pure types of state never existed, and do not exist in general. The semifeudal Prussian monarchy executed the most important tasks of the bourgeoisie, but executed them in its own manner, i.e., in a feudal, not a Jacobin style. In Japan we observe even today an analogous correlation between the bourgeois character of the state and the semifeudal character of the ruling caste. But all this does not hinder us from clearly differentiating between a feudal and a bourgeois society. True, one can raise the objection that the collaboration of feudal and bourgeois forces is immeasurably more easily realized than the collaboration of bourgeois and proletarian forces, inasmuch as the first instance presents a case of two forms of class exploitation. This is completely correct. But a workers’ state does not create a new society in one day. Marx wrote that in the first period of a workers’ state the bourgeois norms of distribution are still preserved. (…) One has to weigh well and think this thought out to the end. The workers’ state itself, as a state, is necessary exactly 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 in the workers’ state. Of course, the degree of this bourgeoisification and the general tendency of development bear decisive significance. If the workers’ state loses its bureaucratization and gradually falls away, this means that its development marches along the road to socialism. On the contrary, if the bureaucracy becomes ever more powerful, authoritative, privileged, and conservative, this means that in the workers’ state the bourgeois tendencies grow at the expense of the socialist; in other words, that inner contradiction which to a certain degree is lodged in the workers’ state from the first days of its rise does not diminish, as the “norm” demands, but increases. However, so long as that contradiction has not passed from the sphere of distribution into the sphere of production, and has not blown up nationalized property and planned economy, the state remains a workers’ state.[9]

 

When Le Temps, the leading paper of the French bourgeoisie, commented on the reinstitution of symbols of ranks in the Red Army, that this move reflects a wider process in the Soviet Union and concluded “The Soviets are getting more and more bourgeois”, Trotsky wrote:

 

“We encounter such statements by the thousand. They incontrovertibly demonstrate that the process of bourgeois degeneration among the leaders of Soviet society has gone a long way. At the same time they show that the further development of Soviet society is unthinkable without freeing that society’s socialist base from its bourgeois-bureaucratic and Bonapartist superstructure[10]

 

Trotsky’s analysis of the social contradictions in Stalinist states has important consequences for the program of the working class liberation struggle. Trotsky explained that the working class cannot remove the bureaucracy via a reform, via pressure from below, but only by a political revolution, i.e., an armed insurrection to overthrow the bureaucratic caste. At the same time the working class does not have to expropriate a capitalist class but rather has only to reform the economic planning. Trotsky elaborated the tasks of the political revolution in his major work on Stalinism – The Revolution Betrayed:

 

In order better to understand the character of the present Soviet Union, let us make two different hypotheses about its future. Let us assume first that the Soviet bureaucracy is overthrown by a revolutionary party having all the attributes of the old Bolshevism, enriched moreover by the world experience of the recent period. Such a party would begin with the restoration of democracy in the trade unions and the Soviets. It would be able to, and would have to, restore freedom of Soviet parties. Together with the masses, and at their head, it would carry out a ruthless purgation of the state apparatus. It would abolish ranks and decorations, all kinds of privileges, and would limit inequality in the payment of labor to the life necessities of the economy and the state apparatus. It would give the youth free opportunity to think independently, learn, criticize and grow. It would introduce profound changes in the distribution of the national income in correspondence with the interests and will of the worker and peasant masses. But so far as concerns property relations, the new power would not have to resort to revolutionary measures. It would retain and further develop the experiment of planned economy. After the political revolution – that is, the deposing of the bureaucracy – the proletariat would have to introduce in the economy a series of very important reforms, but not another social revolution.[11]

 

While Trotsky did not formulate it explicitly, it is clear from his writings that he expected the working class revolution against the Stalinist bureaucracy to be much more violent than a possible capitalist restoration overthrowing the proletarian property relations. The reason is that the “bourgeois-bureaucratic” state machine (i.e., police, standing army, bureaucracy) is not a proletarian instrument, but one of the petty-bourgeois Stalinist bureaucracy which is much closer to the bourgeoisie than the working class. Therefore the political revolution required not the reform but the smashing of the Stalinist-Bonapartist state apparatus. [12]

 

In one of his final articles on the Stalinist bureaucracy, Trotsky wrote in 1939:

 

The Bonapartist apparatus of the state is thus an organ for defending the bureaucratic thieves and plunderers of national wealth. (…) To believe that this state is capable of peacefully “withering away” is to live in a world of theoretical delirium. The Bonapartist caste must be smashed, the Soviet state must be regenerated. Only then will the prospects of the withering away of the state open up.[13]

 

In this he foresaw that any serious attempt of the working class to topple the bureaucracy would meet the full military force of the Stalinist apparatus. This is what happened in Eastern Germany in 1953, Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, Poland in 1980/81 and China in 1989. On the other hand, when the capitalist restoration took place in Eastern Europe, the USSR or China in 1989-92, this was hardly met with violent resistance by any faction of the Stalinist bureaucracy. In The Revolution Betrayed Trotsky explicitly stated that the capitalist restoration would find much more support amongst the Stalinist bureaucracy than a working class political revolution:

 

If – to adopt a second hypothesis – a bourgeois party were to overthrow the ruling Soviet caste, it would find no small number of ready servants among the present bureaucrats, administrators, technicians, directors, party secretaries and privileged upper circles in general. A purgation of the state apparatus would, of course, be necessary in this case too. But a bourgeois restoration would probably have to clean out fewer people than a revolutionary party. The chief task of the new power would be to restore private property in the means of production.[14]

 

This presentation of Trotsky’s deliberations about the petty-bourgeois Stalinist bureaucracy helps us to find a theoretical explanation for the fact that the petty-bourgeois Castroite M-26-7 apparatus could oversee a bureaucratic social revolution and transform itself into a petty-bourgeois Stalinist bureaucracy without major frictions. It was these dynamics which made it possible – as we stated in The Degenerated Revolution that:

 

Castro, who in 1959 was a bonaparte for the enfeebled Cuban bourgeoisie was, by 1962, a bonaparte ‘for’ the politically expropriated Cuban working class.[15]

 

Trotsky himself already foresaw such a possibility as he wrote in the Transitional Program, the founding document of the Fourth International in 1938:

 

Is the creation of such a government by the traditional workers’ organizations possible? Past experience shows, as has already been stated, that this is, to say the least, highly improbable. However, one cannot categorically deny in advance the theoretical possibility that, under the influence of completely exceptional circumstances (war, defeat, financial crash, mass revolutionary pressure, etc.), the petty bourgeois parties, including the Stalinists, may go further than they wish along the road to a break with the bourgeoisie. In any case one thing is not to be doubted: even if this highly improbable variant somewhere at some time becomes a reality and the “workers’ and farmers’ government” in the above-mentioned sense is established in fact, it would represent merely a short episode on the road to the actual dictatorship of the proletariat.[16]

 

How should revolutionary workers have reacted to such bureaucratic social revolutions like that which happened in Cuba in 1959-61? They should have supported all concrete measures against the imperialists and the domestic Cuban bourgeoisie. They should have called for a full and rapid expropriation of the capitalist class. However at the same time they would have fought against the oppression of independent working class initiatives. They would have called for the expropriation of the bourgeoisie under the control of the workers and poor peasants and not the Castroite/Stalinist bureaucracy. They would have opposed the bureaucratic social revolution and instead fought for the formation of workers’ and peasants’ councils and militias and the formation of a revolutionary workers’ and peasants’ government. Such a workers’ and peasants’ government should have carried out an authentic social revolution leading to the creation of a healthy workers state as it happened in Russia in 1917 when the working class took power under the leadership of the Bolshevik party.

 

Trotsky explained – taking the example of the bureaucratic social revolutions in Poland, parts of Finland and the Baltic countries in 1939-40 – that revolutionaries should support the expropriation of the bourgeoisie as such, but not the political process of such a bureaucratic transformation as a whole. The reason is simply that it leads to the political expropriation and oppression of the working class. This is why such bureaucratic social revolutions are “reactionary”:

 

The primary political criterion for us is not the transformation of property relations in this or another area, however important these may be in themselves, but rather the change in the consciousness and organization of the world proletariat, the raising of their capacity for defending former conquests and accomplishing new ones. From this one, and the only decisive standpoint, the politics of Moscow, taken as a whole, wholly retain their reactionary character and remain the chief obstacle on the road to the world revolution. Our general appraisal of the Kremlin and Comintern does not, however, alter the particular fact that the statification of property in the occupied territories is in itself a progressive measure. (…) The statification of the means of production is, as we said, a progressive measure. But its progressiveness is relative; its specific weight depends on the sum-total of all the other factors. Thus, we must first and foremost establish that the extension of the territory dominated by bureaucratic autocracy and parasitism, cloaked by “socialist” measures, can augment the prestige of the Kremlin, engender illusions concerning the possibility of replacing the proletarian revolution by bureaucratic maneuvers and so on. This evil by far outweighs the progressive content of Stalinist reforms in Poland. In order that nationalized property in the occupied areas, as well as in the USSR, become a basis for genuinely progressive, that is to say socialist development, it is necessary to overthrow the Moscow bureaucracy. Our program retains, consequently, all its validity.” [17]

 

 

 

iii) Trotsky’s Program of Political Revolution against the Stalinist Dictatorship

 

 

 

Trotsky elaborated the program of political revolution against the dictatorship of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the 1930s which he presented in the founding document of the Forth International – the Transitional Program.

 

On the basis of the experience of the fast degeneration of the Soviet regime which culminated in a pre-emptive civil war against the workers vanguard and significant parts of the Communist Party itself, he came to the conclusion that “the chief political task in the USSR still remains the overthrow of this same Thermidorian bureaucracy. [18] Such an overthrow was the only way to open the road to socialism: “Only the victorious revolutionary uprising of the oppressed masses can revive the Soviet regime and guarantee its further development toward socialism.

 

In case of an attack by a capitalist force (as, in fact, happened when Hitler attacked the USSR in 1941 and, yet again, when the imperialist powers opened the Cold War against the Stalinist states), it was necessary to defend the USSR. Trotsky elaborated this by taking the examples of an openly pro-capitalist/fascist “faction of Butenko” amongst the bureaucracy and the “faction of Reiss” as the revolutionary force:

 

If tomorrow the bourgeois-fascist grouping, the ’faction of Butenko,’ so to speak, should attempt the conquest of power, the ’faction of Reiss’ inevitably would align itself on the opposite side of the barricades. Although it would find itself temporarily the ally of Stalin, it would nevertheless defend not the Bonapartist clique but the social base of the USSR, i.e., the property wrenched away from the capitalists and transformed into state property. Should the ’faction of Butenko’ prove to be in alliance with Hitler, then the ’faction of Reiss’ would defend the USSR from military intervention, inside the country as well as on the world arena. Any other course would be a betrayal.

 

It was based on this understanding that the Fourth International rallied to the defence of the USSR during the Second World War and later during the Cold War.

 

Such a defence would include a temporary united front with those sectors of the bureaucracy which were prepared for this within the USSR and its planned, post-capitalist property relations: “… it is thus impermissible to deny in advance the possibility, in strictly defined instances, of a ’united front’ with the Thermidorian section of the bureaucracy against open attack by capitalist counterrevolution…

 

Trotsky expected that the struggle against the Stalinist bureaucracy would begin around social demands and for political freedom. “A fresh upsurge of the revolution in the USSR will undoubtedly begin under the banner of the struggle against social inequality and political oppression. Down with the privileges of the bureaucracy! Down with Stakhanovism! Down with the Soviet aristocracy and its ranks and orders! Greater equality of wages for all forms of labor!

 

The experience of the workers’ uprisings in 1953 East Germany, 1956 Hungary, 1968 Czechoslovakia, Poland in 1980-81, and Eastern Europe, USSR, and China in 1989-91 demonstrated that economic as well as democratic demands indeed played a central role in mobilizing the masses against the Stalinist regime.

 

Trotsky emphasized the need to create the soviets as democratic organs of the working class and the oppressed and to expel the bureaucrats from their ranks: “The bureaucracy replaced the soviets as class organs with the fiction of universal electoral rights—in the style of Hitler-Goebbels. It is necessary to return to the soviets not only their free democratic form but also their class content. As once the bourgeoisie and kulaks were not permitted to enter the soviets, so now it is necessary to drive the bureaucracy and the new aristocracy out of the soviets. In the soviets there is room only for representatives of the workers, rank-and-file collective farmers, peasants and Red Army men.

 

He also underlined the importance to fight for democratic demands so that the working class and the poor peasants can organize and discuss freely: “The struggle for the freedom of the trade unions and the factory committees, for the right of assembly and freedom of the press, will unfold in the struggle for the regeneration and development of Soviet democracy…Democratization of the soviets is impossible without legalization of soviet parties. The workers and peasants themselves by their own free vote will indicate what parties they recognize as soviet parties…All political trials, staged by the Thermidorian bureaucracy, to be reviewed in the light of complete publicity and controversial openness and integrity.

 

Trotsky also called for the democratisation of the bureaucratically deformed planned economy through the control of the working class: “A revision of planned economy from top to bottom in the interests of producers and consumers! Factory committees should be returned the right to control production. A democratically organized consumers’ cooperative should control the quality and price of products.

 

The reactionary policy of the Stalinist regime had to be broken not only domestically but also in the field of foreign policy: “The reactionary international policy of the bureaucracy should be replaced by the policy of proletarian internationalism. The complete diplomatic correspondence of the Kremlin to be published. Down with secret diplomacy!”

 

Finally, Trotsky emphasized that – as in all other countries – the working class revolution against the Stalinist regime can only succeed if a revolutionary party, part of a worldwide party for socialist revolution, is build in time: “There is but one party capable of leading the Soviet masses to insurrection—the party of the Fourth International!

 

 

 

iv) The Program of Political Revolution against the Castroite/Stalinist Regime in Cuba

 

 

 

Cuba was a degenerated workers state from 1960/61 onwards until 2010/11. In this period as Trotskyists we fought for a program of political revolution in Cuba.[19] Thus, we called for defense of the planning system and the proletarian property relations against any step towards capitalist restoration. The best defense of the post-capitalist economy was the struggle against the bureaucratic control over it. Planning had to be put under the control of freely elected working class delegates with full integration of consumer needs. Instead of the dictatorship of the director of an enterprise, the workers themselves had to take control of it. All privileges of the bureaucracy had to be abolished and for this all their income and living conditions had to become transparent for the Cuban workers. Part of the program for political revolution was also the struggle against all forms of oppression against women, youth and lesbian and gays. We note in passing that homosexual relations were criminalized in Cuba until 1979.

 

Such a program requires the struggle for working class independence. A central demand is the legal right of workers to strike. It also includes the need to build action committees in the enterprises as well as the neighborhoods and also the need to form independent trade union which are not – unlike the official Central de Trabajadores Cubanos (CTC) – absolutely tied to the Cuban state bureaucracy.

 

Revolutionaries would have fought against the one-party dictatorship of Castro’s PCC. They would have called for the right of the workers and peasants to form their own parties independent of the Stalinist bureaucracy as Trotsky already stated in the “Transitional Program” in 1938: Democratization of the soviets is impossible without legalization of soviet parties. The workers and peasants themselves by their own free vote will indicate what parties they recognize as soviet parties.[20]

 

The struggle for working class independence must find its highest form in the formation of action councils (soviets) and armed popular militias – like the Russian workers did in 1905 and 1917 and the Hungarian workers did in 1956, to give just a few examples. Such action councils would be authentic and democratic assemblies of the masses, in contrast to the so-called Comités de Defensa de la Revolución (CDR, Committees for Defense of the Revolution) which act in reality as a secret police force to prevent workers and the oppressed organizing independently of the regime. Authentic councils of the masses must be completely free from any bureaucratic control. In fact, they can only be created as a result of the struggle against the Castroite bureaucracy.[21]

 

Of course the Castroite-Stalinist regime would never tolerate any challenge to its power and would use all force available to smash working class resistance. The political revolution could only succeed as an armed insurrection in order to smash the Stalinist-bourgeoisified state apparatus and to replace it with a healthy workers’ state, i.e., a proletarian dictatorship as it existed in the young Soviet Union in the times of Lenin and Trotsky. Such a revolutionary workers’ state would have strived to internationalize the revolution in Latin America and all over the world.

 

However a successful outcome of the political revolution against the Castroite/Stalinist regime required the timely formation of a Bolshevik organization as a nucleus to build a revolutionary party. Only under the leadership of such a revolutionary party could the working class have successfully overthrow the bureaucracy and take power in its own hands.

 

 

 

v) Stalinism and the Restoration of Capitalism

 

 

 

Stalinism and the degenerated workers states were, and could only be, temporary phenomena. On the one hand, the working class was not willing to indefinitely tolerate the bureaucratic tyranny, while on the other hand, the Stalinist ruling caste was not prepared to indefinitely satisfy itself with only privileges, but without formal rights to private property. Trotsky already predicted this in his book The Revolution Betrayed:

 

Let us assume (…) that neither a revolutionary nor a counterrevolutionary party seizes power. The bureaucracy continues at the head of the state. Even under these conditions social relations will not jell. We cannot count upon the bureaucracy’s peacefully and voluntarily renouncing itself on behalf of socialist equality. If at the present time, notwithstanding the too obvious inconveniences of such an operation, it has considered it possible to introduce ranks and decorations, it must inevitably in future stages seek supports for itself in property relations. 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. On the other hand, the victory of the proletariat over the bureaucracy would insure a revival of the socialist revolution.[22]

 

Indeed, we have seen in the former Stalinist states in Eastern Europe, the USSR and China that the Stalinist bureaucracy, specifically majority factions among them, initiated and actively pursued the capitalist restoration in their countries. In the case of China and Vietnam (and also Cuba as we will show below), we even saw the process of capitalist restoration completely taking place under the unabated rule of the Stalinist party. In our book “The Great Robbery of the South” we have shown that, in the case of China, the capitalist restoration in the early 1990s even led to the creation of an emerging imperialist power.[23]

 

As we saw in the case of Cuba, where during its early days the petty-bourgeois Castroite M-26-7 apparatus oversaw a bureaucratic social revolution and transformed itself into a petty-bourgeois Stalinist bureaucracy without inciting significant opposition, so too, in the more recent past, the reverse process has taken place: the petty-bourgeois Stalinist bureaucracy is overseeing a process of capitalist restoration, and is transforming relatively large portions of its members into a new ruling capitalist class without inciting significant opposition. In other words, Castroism has come full cycle and returned to its bourgeois roots.

 

When can we state that such a capitalist restoration has taken place? The answer is: when a Stalinist bureaucratic workers’ government is replaced by or transforms itself into a bourgeois restorationist government. Such a bourgeois restorationist government is one which is firmly resolved, both in words and deeds, to reestablish a capitalist mode of production, i.e., to move decisively against planned property relations in favor of creating a capitalist economy based on the law of value.[24]

 

As we can unequivocally state that a workers’ state has been created the moment a government that has taken power starts implementing a process of establishing proletarian relations of production, similarly we can unreservedly state that capitalism has been restored the moment a bourgeois government takes power and starts carrying out a set of measures intended to establish a system of capitalist exploitation.

 

As we have already noted, Trotsky maintained that the class character of a state is determined by the class property relations it defends. This is why we can speak about the creation of a workers’ state in Russia in October 1917 – when the Bolsheviks took power – despite the fact that they only started to nationalize the economy in mid-1918.

 

The class nature of the state is, consequently, determined not only by its political forms but by its social content; i.e., by the character of the forms of property and productive relations which the given state guards and defends.[25]

 

Analogously, we don’t identify the turning point in the process of capitalist restoration simply when the economy has been privatized or entirely operates under the law of value. Rather, capitalist restoration is a process which takes time. Trotsky predicted that a restored capitalist state would, at its beginning, have to operate on the basis of nationalized enterprises.

 

But does not history really know of cases of class conflict between the economy and the state? It does! After the “third estate” seized power, society for a period of several years still remained feudal. In the first months of Soviet rule the proletariat reigned on the basis of a bourgeois economy. In the field of agriculture the dictatorship of the proletariat operated for a number of years on the basis of a petty-bourgeois economy (to a considerable degree it does so even now). Should a bourgeois counterrevolution succeed in the USSR, the new government for a lengthy period would have to base itself upon the nationalized economy. But what does such a type of temporary conflict between the economy and the state mean? It means a revolution or a counter-revolution. The victory of one class over another signifies that it will reconstruct the economy in the interests of the victors. But such a dichotomous condition, which is a necessary stage in every social overturn, has nothing in common with the theory of a classless state which in the absence of a real boss is being exploited by a clerk, i.e., by the bureaucracy.[26]

 

Indeed this was the case not only in China and Vietnam but even in several Eastern European and Central Asian countries, where the core sectors of the economy remained largely state property for some time after the capitalist restoration in 1989-91.

 

The thoroughly pro-capitalist role of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the restoration process in the late 1980s and early 1990s demonstrated once more the non-proletarian, petty-bourgeois class character of the Stalinist bureaucratic caste.

 



[1] See e.g. Hugo González Moscoso: The Cuban revolution and Its Lessons, in: Ernest Mandel (Editor): 50 Years of World Revolution 1917-1968. An International Symposium, Merit Publishers 1968, pp. 182-204. For a Marxist critique we refer our readers to the chapter “Centrism and Stalinism: the falsification of Trotsky's analysis” in our book The Degenerated Revolution. The Origin and Nature of the Stalinist States (1982), pp. 87-101

[2] We have taken parts of this sub-chapter from the chapter “The Theory of Permanent Revolution and its Program for the Working Class Struggle” which we recently published in our book Michael Pröbsting: The Great Robbery of the South. Continuity and Changes in the Super-Exploitation of the Semi-Colonial World by Monopoly Capital. Consequences for the Marxist Theory of Imperialism (for details see www.great-robbery-of-the-south.net).

[3] Leon Trotsky: The Permanent Revolution, The Permanent Revolution and Results and Prospects, Pathfinder Press, New York 1969, pp. 131-133

[4] A leader of the Mandelite United Secretariat of the Fourth International for example said: “In these circumstances a group of radicalized youth, expressing the historical necessities of the moment, created the July 26 Movement; later, in the Sierra Maestra, they organized the Rebel Army with a broad peasant base. These political formations, in an exceptional way, performed the role of a revolutionary Marxist party.” (Hugo González Moscoso: The Cuban revolution and Its Lessons, in: Ernest Mandel (Editor): 50 Years of World Revolution 1917-1968. An International Symposium, Merit Publishers 1968, p. 196)

[5] Leo Trotzki: Die chinesische Frage nach dem VI. Weltkongreß (1928); in: Trotzki Schriften 2.1, pp. 397-398; in English: The Chinese Question After the Sixth Congress, http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1932/pcr/08.htm

[6] Leon Trotsky: The Bonapartist Philosophy of the State; in: Trotsky Writings, 1938-39, New York 1974, p. 325

[7] Leon Trotsky: Problems of the International Opposition (Two Letters), (1928); in: Challenge of the Left Opposition (1928-29), New York, 1981, p. 42

[8] Leon Trotsky: Not a Workers' and not a Bourgeois State? (1937); in: Trotsky Writings, 1937-38, p. 63

[9] Leon Trotsky: Not a Workers' and not a Bourgeois State? (1937); in: Trotsky Writings, 1937-38, pp. 65-67 (our emphasis)

[10] Leon Trotsky: Preface to Norwegian edition of ‘My Life’ (1935); in: Trotsky Writings, Supplement 1934-40, New York 1979, p. 619

[11] Leon Trotsky: The Revolution Betrayed (1936), Pathfinder Press 1972, pp. 252-253

[12] See on this also our elaborations of the Marxist theory of the state in the context of the beginning and end of the Stalinist states: League for a Revolutionary Communist International: Marxism, Stalinism and the theory of the state, in: Trotskyist International No. 23 (1998), pp. 33-43. This article, written by Mark Abram and Clare Watson, is largely based on a resolution which our predecessor organization – the League for a Revolutionary Communist International – adopted at its IV Congress in summer 1997.

[13] Leon Trotsky: The Bonapartist Philosophy of the State (1939); in: Trotsky Writings, 1938-39, New York 1974, pp. 324-325 (emphasis in original)

[14] Leo Trotzki: Die Verratene Revolution (1936); in: Trotzki Schriften 1.2, pp. 956-957; in English: The Revolution Betrayed, http://marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1936/revbet/index.htm

[15] League for a Revolutionary Communist International / Workers Power (Britain): The Degenerated Revolution. The Origin and Nature of the Stalinist States (1982), p. 73

[16] Leon Trotsky: The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International: The Mobilization of the Masses around Transitional Demands to Prepare the Conquest of Power (The Transitional Program); in: Documents of the Fourth International. The Formative Years (1933-40), New York 1973, p. 203

[17] Leon Trotsky: The USSR in War (1939), in: Leon Trotsky: In Defense of Marxism, New York 1990, p. 19

[18] Leon Trotsky: “The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International: The Mobilization of the Masses around Transitional Demands to Prepare the Conquest of Power” (The Transitional Program); in: Documents of the Fourth International. The Formative Years (1933-40), New York 1973, p. 212. All quotes in this chapter are taken from Trotsky’s Transitional Program.

[19] We have analyzed the situation in Cuba and elaborated our program for political revolution more in detail in various articles. See on this John Bowman: Taking the capitalist road? The market reforms in Cuba, LFI, in: Fifth International Vol. 3, No. 1 (2008), pp. 25-33, http://www.fifthinternational.org/content/taking-capitalist-road-market-reforms-cuba; Keith Harvey: Cuba: Socialism in a “special period”?, LRCI, in: Trotskyist International No. 21 (1997), pp. 20-25, http://www.fifthinternational.org/content/cuba-socialism-%E2%80%9Cspecial-period%E2%80%9D; John McKee: Cuba—the final domino? LRCI, in: Trotskyist International No. 6 (1991), pp. 38-45, http://www.fifthinternational.org/content/cuba%E2%80%94-final-domino

[20] Leon Trotsky: The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International: The Mobilization of the Masses around Transitional Demands to Prepare the Conquest of Power (The Transitional Program); in: Documents of the Fourth International. The Formative Years (1933-40), New York 1973, p. 213

[21] Trotsky explained in the “Transitional Program” that the masses have to expel the bureaucracy from future soviets: “The bureaucracy replaced the soviets as class organs with the fiction of universal electoral rights—in the style of Hitler-Goebbels. It is necessary to return to the soviets not only their free democratic form but also their class content. As once the bourgeoisie and kulaks were not permitted to enter the soviets, so now it is necessary to drive the bureaucracy and the new aristocracy out of the soviets. In the soviets there is room only for representatives of the workers, rank-and-file collective farmers peasants and Red Army men. ” (Leon Trotsky: The Death Agony of Capitalism …, p. 213) The experience of the revolutions in Eastern Europe after the Second World War (e.g. Hungary 1956) demonstrated the correctness of Trotsky’s consideration.

[22] Leon Trotsky: The Revolution Betrayed (1936), Pathfinder Press 1972, p. 253

[23] See Michael Pröbsting: The Great Robbery of the South. Continuity and Changes in the Super-Exploitation of the Semi-Colonial World by Monopoly Capital. Consequences for the Marxist Theory of Imperialism. Chapter 10, pp. 241-290 (for details see www.great-robbery-of-the-south.net)

[24] See on this League for a Revolutionary Communist International: The error of the 'Moribund Workers State' - a correction, Resolution of the LRCI’s V. Congress in July 2000, in: Workers Power (Britain) No. 248, November 2000, pp. 12-13. The author of the resolution was Richard Brenner.

[25] Leon Trotsky: Not a Workers' and not a Bourgeois State? (1937); in: Trotsky Writings, 1937-38, p. 61

[26] Leon Trotsky: Not a Workers' and not a Bourgeois State? (1937); in: Trotsky Writings, 1937-38, pp. 63-64 (our emphasis)