The Soviet Union and the other degenerate workers' states rest on property forms that are qualitatively different from, historically superior to, and globally irreconcilable with capitalism.
Capitalism's own remorseless inner logic drives it to attempt to subordinate the whole world to its laws and needs. Its survival ultimately depends on this. But the very existence of the degenerate workers states means that huge markets and vast natural resources are closed to direct imperialist exploitation. Capitalism's crises drive it to attempt to reconquer these areas of the world and subject them again to its exploitation.
Its entire history proves that Stalinism has no qualitatively new or distinct programme or ideology. As a petty bourgeois political tendency it borrows ideologically from the two fundamental classes on a world scale – the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Its programme of “peaceful coexistence” between social systems, of “peaceful competition” rooted in socialism in one country, is a petty bourgeois utopia, historically borrowed from social democracy. Its “peaceful” parliamentary road to socialism via social reform conducted in a series of stages is borrowed from bourgeois liberalism and its labourite or social democratic mimics.
The Stalinists attempt to conceal the counter-revolutionary content of their programme from the proletariat of the world with the emptied husks of Marxism and Leninism, which they have borrowed, or rather stolen, from the revolutionary workers’ movement. In the workers’ states it identifies its police state dictatorship over the proletariat and its vanguard – a dictatorship which is the principal obstacle to the advance towards socialism – with socialism itself. It identifies the dictatorship of the proletariat with a weapon of bureaucratic violence against the working class. It poisons the very goal of the Marxist workers’ movement before the workers of the world.
Stalinism necessarily has a highly contradictory character. The Stalinist bureaucracies and parties rest upon proletarian formations – either workers’ states or proletarian parties. The objective sharpening of the class struggle, which the bureaucracy is incapable of indefinitely avoiding, can force it, despite itself, to act against the bourgeoisie. When it acts thus it is forced to do so under the pressure of both the working class and the class enemy.
Whenever the bureaucracy is forced to fight against the bourgeoisie, genuine revolutionaries, if they are not able to immediately overthrow and replace the Stalinist bureaucrats, must act together with them in a united front in order to defend the interests of the working class. In such struggles the Stalinists do not cease to be a counter-revolutionary force. If their leadership is not broken in struggle then either the workers’ organisation or state will suffer defeat, or it will be defended or even extended, in a counter-revolutionary fashion.
By this we mean that the working class will be denied proletarian democratic control of their own organisation or state. They will be obstructed from utilising their conquests to serve their own historic goals. Their revolutionary communist vanguard and all tenacious defenders of the working class will be subject to brutal police terror.
All such bureaucratic “victories” have the effect on the working class of atomization, demoralisation and the strengthening of petty-bourgeois and lumpen proletarian consciousness in its ranks (i.e. religion, nationalism, racism). Despite the tactical victory of fending off an attack from the class enemy, the victory for the bureaucracy retains its counter-revolutionary character, judged from the perspective of the revolutionary consciousness of the working class.
It is wrong to characterise Stalinism as monolithically reactionary – “counter-revolutionary through and through” – in the manner pioneered by the SWP (US) in its anti-Pabloite period.
Such a view is dangerously undialectical. It can, and does, lead to thoroughly opportunist adaptations to Stalinism itself and to social democracy. Within the Fourth International in the 1940s this position led the movement to deny the Stalinist nature of the Yugoslav Communist Party under Tito because the YCP had led a revolution and because Stalinists were “counter-revolutionary through and through”, it was deduced that the YCP could not be Stalinist. This “logical” deduction ignores the fact that Stalinists can and do lead revolutions, and can, and do, carry out acts which, taken by themselves, are progressive.
However the predominantly counter-revolutionary nature of Stalinism, which is a constant factor, means that where acts, progressive in themselves, are carried out by Stalinists, they are done in a counter-revolutionary manner and with counter-revolutionary results. The “victory” of the YCP and its transformation of the property relations in Yugoslavia (an act in itself progressive) was accompanied by the political expropriation of the working class and the creation of planned property relations that, in the hands of the bureaucracy, remained an obstacle to the transition to communism.
The position that Stalinist parties are “counter-revolutionary through and through” has another logic – equally dangerous for Marxists. It can lead to Stalinophobia – i.e. a differential hostility to the Stalinist parties as opposed to social democracy. This position is best exemplified today by the PCI (formerly the OCI) in France, an organisation whose hostility to Stalinism has led them, repeatedly, to adapt to social democracy.
But it is similarly wrong to argue that Stalinism has a “dual nature.” Theories of Stalinism’s “dual nature” lead to the petty bourgeois eclecticism of choosing the “good” or “positive” acts or aspects of Stalinist policy and supporting them uncritically while rejecting the “bad” or “reactionary” ones. The Spartacists with their “Hail the Red Army” position on the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan typify this position.
Stalinism came to power in the Soviet Union under the slogan of “socialism in one country” against the International Left Opposition. Its fundamental political platform (from which all other positions were derived) was that socialism could be constructed in the Soviet Union, without the victory of the proletariat in an advanced capitalist country as long as the Soviet Union was protected against armed intervention.
Turning their back on the International programme of the Comintern and the Leninist Bolshevik Party, the Stalin faction amalgamated with the philistine conservative Russian bureaucracy on the basis of a nationalist programme.
It follows inevitably that if socialism can be built “in one country”, then there must be a series of national programmes, of national roads to socialism. The theory of “socialism in one country” propounded for Russia, leads inevitably to each Stalinist party adopting national programmes for its particular socialism. Trotsky pointed this out as early as 1928 (in The Third International After Lenin):
“If socialism can be realised within the national boundaries of backward Russia, then there is all the more reason to believe that it can be achieved in advanced Germany. Tomorrow the leaders of the Communist Party of Germany will undertake to propound this theory. The draft programme empowered them to do so. The day after tomorrow the French will have its turn. It will be the beginning of the disintegration of the Comintern along the lines of social patriotism.”
The process of disintegration along the lines of social patriotism, of petty-bourgeois Stalinism, led it to accommodate to, and seek to amalgamate with, the labour bureaucracy in the metropolitan countries and both the labour bureaucracy and layers of the petty-bourgeois in the imperialised and semi-colonial countries. It means that the Stalinist parties cannot simply be understood as agents of the Kremlin.
In the imperialised and semi-colonial countries the Stalinists seek, via the labour bureaucracy, to bind the working class to alliances with the “national” or “progressive” bourgeoisie on a programme of realising the “stage” of national independence and “bourgeois” democracy. In practice such alliances can only mean the subordination of working class interests to those of the bourgeoisie or petty bourgeoisie. In every instance where the working class has attempted to act in its own interests the bourgeoisie have immediately broken the alliance and meted out violence and repression against the workers, and their parties, including the Stalinist parties. From 1927 in China to Chile in 1973, this strategy has proved a death trap for the proletariat and its vanguard.
Stalinism has necessarily accommodated ideologically and programmatically to the petty-bourgeois of the imperialised world. Its Menshevik programme for a national democratic revolution gives expression to the utopian horizons of petty bourgeois nationalism. In concrete circumstances the model of the Soviet bureaucratic plan and economic assistance from the USSR can stand as a strategy for sections of the petty bourgeoisie in their struggle for freedom from imperialism’s yoke, and in order to overcome the massive unevenness and underdevelopment of the productive forces that imperialism has maintained in these countries.
Stalinism in the west
The communist parties of Western Europe are reformist in their domestic policies (i.e. bourgeois workers’ parties). Their political programme is one of peaceful transformation of the capitalist state via a reactionary utopian cross class alliance (“anti-monopoly alliance”, “historic compromise”, “new” or “advanced” democracy, etc.), a stage prior to “socialist” measures. A “peaceful” progressive anti-monopoly section of the Western bourgeoisie is appealed to for a common front to isolate the war-mongers. The origins of this policy of Stalinism lie in the Popular Front of 1935-39 and the war-time alliance of 1941-45.
The communist parties’ programmes are in essence similar to those of “left” social democracy with the addition of the central role of the Soviet Union as a force for world peace and socialism that must be defended. Powerful social democratic tendencies have developed within these parties (“Eurocommunism”) which involve the junking of the long-dead ideological baggage of Stalinism, such as the “dictatorship of the proletariat”.
The Eurocommunists reject the “Russian model” and express criticism of the USSR’s “human rights” record. Carillo of the Spanish CP has developed this to the furthest point in an attempt to prove to the Spanish and the US bourgeoisie the governmental trustworthiness of his party. Both the Spanish and the Italian CP accept NATO and the Western Alliance. Yet the Western bourgeoisie will not trust them with governmental office except in an extreme revolutionary crisis and then only temporarily, as in 1945-47.
The objective basis for this lies in the continued Stalinist nature of these parties. To the extent that they recognise the USSR as socialist, i.e. a higher historical form of society than capitalism, to the extent that they recognise the USSR as the force for world peace, their patriotic fervour rings falsely in the bourgeoisie’s ears. They may peddle chauvinist poison to the working class in the place of communist internationalism but can they be relied upon to be patriotic against the USSR? Despite individual leaders’ statements, none of these parties has definitively and historically put itself at the service of imperialism against the Soviet bureaucracy.
In Spain, Italy and France, these parties have repeatedly aborted revolutionary situations and mass movements of the working class. But unless - like the social democracy - they effectively deny that the USSR and the other workers’ states are historic gains of the working class, i.e. deny their “socialist” or working class character, unless they espouse (bourgeois) democracy as a higher good to be defended against totalitarianism they remain Stalinist parties.
Are these parties then “defenders of the USSR?” No, they are defenders of the Kremlin bureaucracy and its international policy of class collaboration. They “defend the USSR” via the popular front and petty bourgeois pacifism and through the subordination of the class struggle in their own countries to these strategies. In so doing they abort the only decisive act against imperialist war and capitalist restoration - the over throw of the bourgeoisie in the capitalist countries.
An important contradiction exists, however, within the make-up of these parties. Added to the contradiction that exists within social democratic reformism (i.e. between its working class base and the bourgeois programme of the labour bureaucracy) these parties are historically committed to the defence of the bureaucracies of the workers’ states. They are counter-revolutionary workers’ parties which serve the bourgeoisie to the extent that its interests are at one with the bureaucracy of the workers’ states.
The bureaucracies of the workers’ states strategically pursue collaboration with imperialism whilst tactically being forced to engage in actions which conflict with imperialism in order to buttress and extend its bargaining position. Imperialism, in its turn, has struck only a tactical compromise with the workers’ states – crisis and decay will force it to seize the opportunity to reverse the overturns in these states.
War presents the Stalinist parties with the decisive choice of loyalty to “its own” bourgeoisie, or the Kremlin. There can be little doubt that the largest section of the apparatus of these parties and their trade union and municipal functionaries indistinguishable in their social conditions and integration into bourgeois society from their social democratic peers within the labour bureaucracy with which they have historically amalgamated – will serve the fatherland in war as in peace. But large sections of the proletarian base of these parties consist of the more militant spontaneously class conscious sections of the proletariat. They are isolated from the bourgeois public opinion by the same bureaucratic apparatus that stifles workers’ democracy in their ranks.
They have not experienced the same degree of integration into bourgeois society via the labour bureaucracy.It is this section of Stalinism’s base, hardened by isolation in bourgeois society that will turn from the social patriotic apparatus with revulsion. The task of unfalsified Trotskyism is to provide the programme, the rallying point for internationalist opposition to the war drives of the bourgeoisie, for defence of the USSR and the other bureaucratically degenerate workers’ states, for unremitting struggle for a political revolution against the Stalinist bureaucracies, for socialist revolution in the imperialist heartlands based on proletarian soviet democracy, and led by a Leninist democratic centralist party.