Mature Leninism-Trotskyism vs Stalinist sophistry


11/02/2018 by Ian

This comment was in an earlier thread, originally beneath the text of Socialist Fight’s leaflet to PSC conference in January. Since it veered widely away from the original topic it deserves its own space for discussion. This is part of an ongoing debate with Chris Barratt, a supporter of the Economic and Philosophic Science Review trend.

“Marxists are absolutely convinced of the bourgeois character of the Russian revolution. What does this mean? It means that the democratic reforms in the political system and the social and economic reforms, which have become a necessity for Russia, do not in themselves imply the undermining of capitalism, the undermining of bourgeois rule; on the contrary, they will, for the first time, really clear the ground for a wide and rapid, European, and not Asiatic, development of capitalism; they will, for the first time, make it possible for the bourgeoisie to rule as a class. The Socialist-Revolutionaries cannot grasp this idea, for they are ignorant of the rudiments of the laws of development of commodity and capitalist production; they fail to see that even the complete success of a peasant insurrection, even the redistribution of the whole of the land for the benefit of the peasants and in accordance with their desires (“Black Redistribution” or something of that kind), will not destroy capitalism at all, but will, on the contrary, give an impetus to its development and hasten the class disintegration of the peasantry itself. The failure to grasp this truth makes the Socialist-Revolutionaries unconscious ideologists of the petty bourgeoisie. Insistence on this truth is of enormous importance for Social-Democracy, not only from the theoretical standpoint but also from the standpoint of practical politics, for from it follows that the complete class independence of the party of the proletariat in the present “general democratic” movement is obligatory.”

Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, chapter 6, 1905

This was the strategic conception of the Russian Revolution held by Lenin prior to the April Theses in 1917. I don’t see how anyone who reads this can deny that Lenin’s view was that the outcome of the Russian revolution would be a prolonged period of capitalist development, after the democratic/agrarian revolution, to lay the basis for a later struggle for socialism.

The pre-1917 Bolsheviks believed that the bourgeoisie were incapable of carrying out this revolution, and that the proletariat and peasantry would be forced to carry it out against the will of the bourgeoisie through a democratic, not socialist, dictatorship.

Lenin’s concept of uninterrupted revolution was in contradiction to this strategic conception. A ‘growing over’ from such a regime to a socialist revolution has to depend on an impetus from revolution elsewhere. The concept that a revolution in Russia that set itself the kind of bourgeois objectives described above would trigger off a socialist revolution in Europe was a weak and incoherent perspective. There is as is clear above, a whole era of capitalist development between Lenin’s original democratic revolution concept and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

It was always going to take a socialist overturn in Russia to create the conditions for a working class upheaval in Europe, which is what happened in 1917.

It was always the case also, that were the proletariat to take political power for non-socialist, bourgeois democratic purposes as Lenin advocated, it would inevitably seek social reforms which the bourgeoisie would resist. It would therefore be forced to attack the bourgeoisie by expropriation, or to lose power. Trotsky pointed out this contradiction in 1906, in Results and Prospects.

Lenin did not denounce Trotsky’s work Permanent Revolution before 1917. This work was written in 1929. Trotsky’s basic work was Results and Prospects and there is no polemic by Lenin against it or even evidence that he read it. Nor did Trotsky ever call for ‘No Tsar, but a workers government’. This slogan came from Parvus, not Trotsky – it is not to be found in Trotsky’s works on this subject, the main ones being Results and Prospects and Trotsky’s book 1905.

And no, Trotskyists have never claimed Lenin learned Permanent Revolution from Trotsky. On the contrary, Lenin independently moved to the left in 1917 under the impact of the class configurations that emerged as a result of the overthrow of Tsarism. His April Theses clearly call for establishing a proletarian dictatorship as the means of resolving the agrarian question and the questions of oppressed nations, which were the key obstacles to capitalist development that were supposed to be resolved by the democratic revolution. Not to forget the war itself. Now these were to be resolved by the dictatorship of the proletariat and the world revolution. Which was the same as Trotsky fought for from 1905. A workers state where the peasant masses supported the rise of the proletariat to power to act as their emancipator.

It is simply a fact that Stalin and Kamenev, and then Zinoviev, resisted this leftward move within the party and continued to defend the previous perspective. It is well known that Zinoviev and Kamenev vocally opposed the October uprising and Stalin played no role. Trotsky, however was at the head of the Petrograd Soviet’s armed forces that won the uprising in October, just as he was at the head of the Soviet in 1905.

That was the basis of a principled bloc and fusion of Lenin and Trotsky in political terms in 1917.

Incidentally, differences on the formulation of the slogan of the United States of Europe have no necessary connection to the Russian revolution per se. Particularly in a period when Lenin himself, prior to 1917, as is well known and often quoted, did not believe he would live to see the revolution he was working for. A year later he was in power at the head of the first workers state.

A real turnaround because as the passage I quoted above makes clear, the ‘Democratic Dictatorship of the Proletariat and Peasantry’ was no workers state.

You are currently arguing Stalinist views. And you arrived at them through Roy Bull’s tendency that splintered away from Healy’s terribly deformed organisation with its Stalinist-like functioning and embraced key elements of Stalinism ideologically. That was a disastrous wrong turn.

11 thoughts on “Mature Leninism-Trotskyism vs Stalinist sophistry

  1. Chris Barratt says:

    I do intend to reply to comrade Ian’s article above more fully in a short while, when I have gathered together more material from both Trotsky and Lenin.
    But to begin with, here’s Trotsky in “Revolution Betrayed” (1936) forgetting the Marxist impossibility of the Soviet workers state, having won the incredibly ferocious Russian civil war (see Evan Maudsley’s great book), suddenly becoming a capitalist ruling class separate from the working class. Oooops, he forgot to use the trick, cheating word “caste”:
    Trotsky: “The Soviet bureaucracy is like all ruling classes in that it is ready to shut its eyes to the crudest mistakes of its leaders in the sphere of general politics, provided in return they show an unconditional fidelity in the defence of its privileges.”
    And here he is repeating the crude libel, using the word caste but insisting that despite the USSR working people winning the civil war they then LOST IT at the same time(!) in “The USSR and Problems of the Transitional Epoch” (1938).
    Trotsky: “The Soviet Union emerged from the October Revolution as a workers state. State ownership of the means of production, a necessary prerequisite to socialist development, opened up the possibility of rapid growth of the productive forces. But the apparatus of the workers’ state underwent a complete degeneration at the same time: it was transformed from a weapon of the working class into a weapon of bureaucratic violence against the working class and more and more a weapon for the sabotage of the country’s economy. The bureaucratization of a backward and isolated workers’ state and the transformation of the bureaucracy into an all-powerful privileged caste constitute the most convincing refutation – not only theoretically, but this time, practically – of the theory of socialism in one country.”
    This just before the USSR went on to build up its industry, smash Nazism, and liberate Eastern Europe and build workers states in OTHER COUNTRIES – admittedly led by Stalinist bureaucratic revisionism – but still workers states in OTHER COUNTRIES.
    Not bad for a Soviet party and state leadership determined to “sabotage the economy” and only have “socialism in one country” (which as I’ve pointed out, Lenin himself advocated)!
    I find it hard to credit comrade Ian’s talk of Lenin “turning to the left” after February 1917. This man’s life work was fighting for the socialist revolution, and Lenin’s Two Tactics is all about how the working class first need to overthrow Tsarism, leading everybody willing to do this, then need to end capitalism AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE & PRACTICABLE by leading the poor peasantry and keeping in alliance with them to run a workers state.
    Trotsky specifically failed to see the revolutionary role of the poor peasantry, and there are LOTS of Lenin quotes to show that he nailed Trotsky for this light-minded and adventurist failing.
    To Lenin, February 1917 crushed Tsarism but left the war and the rich trying to keep it going to crush the people into famine and destitution. There was only one way out, and that was October 1917.
    Lenin fought & scorned Trotsky for his entire life, and had to battle with Trotsky’s showboating at Brest Litovsk and his factionalising and bureaucratic approach in the trade union debate. Trotsky only did any worthwhile work UNDER LENIN.
    During October 1917, Stalin was tasked by Lenin with preparing a line of retreat, should things go badly. A serious job, and Stalin was generally a very organised man.


  2. Chris Barratt says:

    I also feel compelled to add that you could scratch your head at times over whether the Pope really was Catholic; you could be forgiven for thinking that bears would shit anywhere they wanted if they were not in the woods; but the idea that Lenin was not a socialist revolutionary all his adult life and had to move “to the left” after February 1917 to arrive at Trotsky’s level is truly preposterous.
    Two minor points, just for the record: I spell my name Chris Barratt, not Barrett, and it is the Economic & Philosophic Science Review (EPSR), not Philosophical.


  3. Ian says:

    Apologies for the mis-spellings – fixed now.

    However, your outrage here is a bit mechanical. Both the political perspective of Permanent Revolution, and that of the April Theses, were in my view to the left of the ‘old Bolshevik’ stages conception of revolution epitomised by Lenin’s earlier ‘two tactics’ pamphlet. The problem that you have is that they contradict each other, it is not possible for both Two Tactics and the April Theses to be right as they have opposite class positions in terms of which class rules.

    However, this does not mean that Lenin was not a revolutionary when he held to Two Tactics. He simply did not believe that the dictatorship of the proletariat was possible in Russia. This is a question that obviously loomed large in Russia, but this is a revolutionary, interntionalist left we are talking about. Its not all about Russia. He was still responsible for a revolutionary, internationalist position on the war, for turning the imperialist war into civil war, etc etc. On some questions associated with that, he was right against Trotsky, who was at times more conciliatory to centrist currents that were still half in the Second International, as with Zimmerwald.

    But on this strategic quesition of the Russian Revolution, his position was wrong, his theory was inadequate and incomplete, He therefore felt compelled to change it, under pressure of events. That actually proved that despite his inadequate theory, he WAS a revolutionary. Ultimately the test of an actual revolution proved that about both Lenin and Trotsky. They arrived at identical conclusions at different times but when the decisive opportunity came, they both had effectively the same view, albeit with a different route to it. What’s wrong with that? That’s how these things work in the real world.


  4. Chris Barratt says:

    One of comrade Ian’s main thrusts in his defence of Trotskyism is that the EPSR’s Leninist analysis is “Stalinist sophistry”.
    So here is former EPSR editor Roy Bull tackling all these questions, ranging from the Cold War anti-Sovietism of the Trotskyist Fourth International, to the “disaster” inflicted on the workers movement by Stalinist “popular frontism” and “peaceful road to socialism” nonsense (eg in the Spanish Civil War), to Lenin’s strategic thinking in 1917 – showing the EPSR are not Stalinists of any variety but most of all highlighting how all theory claiming to be “revolutionary” needs to match up to objective reality:
    Roy Bull:
    By far the most harmful thrust of Trotsky’s ‘perspectives’ intervention [in the 1930s – Chris Barratt] was to completely brainwash all workers attracted to the Fourth International against seeing any useful or worthwhile further international role against imperialism for the Soviet workers state to play.
    Surely THE turning point in all history, on a par with the Bolshevik Revolution itself, was the demonstration by 1945 that the most reactionary, degenerate and savage conspiracy in the whole record of civilisation (the deliberate plan by the West to build up German imperialism again from the 1930s onwards to achieve the total destruction of the Soviet workers state so as to eliminate any possibility of the dictatorship of the proletariat coming to power ever again on the planet) was still not strong enough to wipe out the planned socialist state, regardless of all the appalling bureaucratic weaknesses and mistakes afflicting the USSR caused by its tragic Stalinist Revisionist leadership.
    As a result of that monumental epoch-making triumph for the dictatorship of the proletariat by 1945 in spite of facing the mightiest and most ruthlessly competent war terror machine in all imperialist history virtually single-handed (Western imperialism did not start seriously taking on Nazi Germany’s vast armed forces until June 1944), world development then took another massive turn with the enforced dismantling of the physical colonial control over the planet by the European empires; with the opportunity to build more workers states in East Europe, etc; & above all with the guarantee of eventual success for the Chinese Revolution, which in turn helped allow the titanic victory of the Vietnamese Revolution directly over the new imperialist world power (the USA) and the Korean Revolution to survive, and more indirectly helped the Cuban Revolution to survive, etc, etc, etc.
    But here was Trotsky in 1938 urging the international working class to hate and attack the Soviet workers state as much or even more than the Nazi German imperialist state, repeatedly virtually identifying the two. Western war conspiracy leads the USSR too!!!
    Trotsky: “The revolutionary elements within the bureaucracy, only a small minority, reflect, passively it is true, the socialist interests of the proletariat. The fascist, counter-revolutionary elements, growing uninterruptedly, express with even greater consistency the interests of world imperialism.”
    Calling for the overthrow of the “bureaucratisation of a backward and isolated workers state”, Trotsky warns that this “new ruling layer”, this “all-powerful privileged caste”, would become “ever more the organ of the world bourgeoisie” if it was not overthrown.
    Just seven years before the dictatorship of the proletariat in the USSR achieved the greatest-ever working-class feat of arms over imperialism in 1945, and thereby ensuring the equally colossal military triumph of the Chinese Revolution replacing Western imperialist domination with the dictatorship of the proletariat too, here was Trotskyism urging active hatred and disruption of the USSR and the Comintern, exactly the supreme aim of world imperialism at that precise moment!
    Trotsky: “As in fascist countries, from which Stalin’s political apparatus does not differ save in more unbridled savagery …. the impetus to the Soviet workers revolutionary upsurge will probably be given by events outside the country. The struggle against the Comintern on the world arena is the most important part today of the struggle against the Stalinist dictatorship.”
    Not the slightest understanding do these Weekly Worker/Socialist Alliance [this is from a polemic Roy Bull originally wrote against the CPGB poseurs – Chris Barratt] ‘communist’ posturers have of the plainly obvious real historical crime of Trotsky’s Fourth International middle-class ‘revolutionary’ opportunism – namely in trying to undermine international working class support for the real anti-imperialist perspective of 1938 that despite its handicaps from Stalinist Revisionist stupidity, the Soviet workers state could nevertheless still rout the world’s greatest imperialist warmongering conspiracy ever, and, on the strength of exposing this further degenerate rottenness of the imperialist system and the virtues of the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat, could in turn encourage and help further anti-imperialist revolutionary advances in the world (which is exactly what happened after the war in the overthrow of Europe’s physical colonial empires, the Chinese Revolution, etc, etc, etc).
    That would have been the realistic perspective to encourage international working class revolutionism with, and to it could and should have been added some constructive criticism of Stalinist revisionism’s already glaring failings in THEORETICAL UNDERSTANDING which was the Comintern’s real crime in the Spanish Civil War, deluding the working class that a coalition of ‘anti-fascist’ forces around Republican petty-bourgeois parliamentarianism could save Spain from bestial reactionary dictatorship.
    The ‘Popular Front’ was crap theory and a wrong perspective then, and it remains so today where it still rules anti-Marxist and anti-communist circles such as the Socialist Alliance with its class-collaborative attitude towards the Labour Party (see below).
    But the petty-bourgeois emotional anti-proletarian dictatorship hysteria of the Trotskyites at that time obliterated with anti-communism any hope of a constructive exposure of Stalinism’s weaknesses and mistakes, as it still does today.
    All the [Trot – CB] propaganda had to be about the Soviet workers state deliberately “strangling the Spanish Revolution”, which was a completely idiotic description of Revisionist stupidity in Spain. But it is this irrational middle-class recoil from possible mistakes which a proletarian dictatorship might make which still rules to this day in all sections of the Socialist Alliance (and even wider throughout the 57 varieties of Trotskyism, anarchism, and Revisionism), thus leaving the Stalinist disaster still not properly analysed and overcome in the international workers movement, a rational Marxist explanation still unable to make progress against all manner of anti-communist hysterics.
    Trot paranoia was worse than Stalinism’s. The CPGB itself cannot begin to grasp the real fault in the Transitional Programme perspectives because of its own anti-communist bile befogging the brain. Thus what actually happened to Trotsky’s perspective, completely missing what was going to be the main framework of anti-imperialist struggle for the next 50 years and the main arena for trying to constructively improve upon the truly flawed Stalinist Revisionist view of the world’s long-term future (the anti-revolutionary idiocy of ‘peaceful roads to socialism’ and ‘imperialism no longer able to economically re-expand’ etc, etc, (see EPSR 2001 Perspectives document)), simply does not register with the Weekly Worker middle class mentality which wishes to know nothing about any workers-state successes in the 20th century but knows only about some “slave states” which existed then but “now fortunately no more”, etc, etc.
    The crippling problem of having a wrong perspective on the next possibilities for anti-imperialist struggle in the world is not remotely addressed by the CPGB pompously issuing sterile academic lectures about the formal ‘need’ for both a maximum and a minimum programme.
    […] there is no committed analysis at all about how the international imperialist economic crisis will end up, how Labour Party reformist ‘stranglehold’ will be brought to a close, or in what form the socialist revolution will actually take place. Noticing the degeneracy of Labour’s internal democracy, and the popularity of anarchist views now, is mere description, and provides not a scrap of perspective at all.
    Saying that a parliamentary reformist route to the socialist revolution is impossible does explain something, at least, but, once again, it is mere ‘revolutionary’ posturing if not accompanied by any attempt at all to describe in what conditions the socialist revolution can actually come about in Britain.
    And longwinded attempts at academic exhibitionism, showing off the CPGB’s feeble grasp that Lenin ‘merely modified’ the Bolsheviks’ minimum perspective on state power (“the revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry” effectively realised (as far as it was ever going to be) by the dual-power Soviet authority standing behind the provisional bourgeois government during the first months after February 1917), rather than abandoned it as the Trots allege, also tell us nothing about what the CPGB envisage as the conditions for the forthcoming socialist revolution in Britain.
    Incidentally, Lenin far from wanted to prolong the revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry as “the lynchpin which joined the minimum and maximum sections of the programme”, as the CPGB totally falsely allege, pretending that “the Bolsheviks were committed to using the salient of state power to help spark the socialist revolution in the countries of advanced capitalism”, thereby further promoting the fake-‘left’ lunacy that no sane Marxism would ever have dreams of trying to build socialism in backward Russia, but would wait for “the advanced workers of the West” to do it first, “as Marx always intended” they ludicrously and misleadingly add.
    But as early as April 1917, within five days of Lenin arriving back in Russia, from his long years of exile, his Letter on Tactics was already agitating to split the ‘democratic dictatorship’ (embodied in Soviet dual power behind the bourgeois provisional government) in order to rescue the working class from the ‘revolutionary defencist’ trap of chauvinism into which the peasant petty-bourgeoisie was already falling. Already, after only a few weeks of dual power, Lenin was becoming convinced that the ‘democratic dictatorship’ formula of the minimum programme had already been completely by-passed by reality, and that if it was to take power on its own, detached from the provisional bourgeois government, it could only become a reactionary influence on the revolution.
    Extract from polemic by Roy Bull ends.
    Chris Barratt: The last passage in the above extract is referring to the tactical period of 1917, when Lenin is declaring both no confidence in the Provisional Government but has withdrawn the “All power to the Soviets” call – because the Soviet majority are determinedly ceding power to the reactionary forces and are pro-war.
    I still aim to provide some more detailed material against some of comrade Ian’s specific points but I feel strongly that Ian’s determination to show that Lenin became a Trotskyist in 1917 needs to be countered most of all by showing that Lenin would never have been a Trotskyist because his perspectives for the building of a strong workers state and projecting this to all countries as the essence of the world revolutionary outlook are what truly separates Leninism from anti-Soviet Trotskyism.
    I hope Roy’s references to “all the appalling bureaucratic weaknesses and mistakes afflicting the USSR caused by its tragic Stalinist Revisionist leadership” have some effect on the obstructive insistence on calling all critiques of Trotskyism “Stalinist”.
    A series of conferences, eventually on an international scale, need to be held to tackle these questions and tear workers’ revolutionary leadership away from both museum-Stalinist revisionism and anti-Soviet Trotskyism.


  5. Ian says:

    The hysterical and esoteric tone of Roy Bull’s writings are a reflection of his politics,and really are an echo of the rantings of the Soviet bureaucracy of Stalin’s day against those who criticised its multifarious treachery against the working class. The bureaucracy’s verbal violence was matched by its police violence when revolutionary militants were unfortunate enough to fall into its hands. Roy Bull’s ferocious rhetoric notwithstanding, his criticisms of the bureaucracy are half-hearted and servile.

    He talks of “appalling bureaucratic weaknesses and mistakes afflicting the USSR caused by its tragic Stalinist Revisionist leadership”. But note the term “mistakes”. This is a whitewash. Was it a ‘mistake’ to exterminate virtually the entire generation of Communists who overthrew capitalism in 1917? Was it a ‘mistake’ to shoot the tested leaders of the Red Army in 1938, the very military cadre who were in charge when Lenin and Trotsky’s Red Army defeated the whites in the Civil War? The complete hypocrisy of apologists for Stalin’s regime attacking Trotsky for correctly noting that the degeneration of October began during the civil war when the Soviets atrophied and the bureaucracy began to crystallise as a distinct layer, is quite breathtaking.Its also entirely subjective and self-serving.

    Stalinists know that Stalin was guilty as charged. That’s where the hysterical response to criticism of Stalin’s crimes, as ‘aiding imperialism’, ‘aiding the Nazis’ ,etc. etc. ad nauseum comes from. Stalinists had such contempt for the world proletariat that they feared that if the workers knew the full truth about their regime they would immediately regard the Nazis as the lesser evil. That does
    not say anything about the proletariat, which within the USSR and without, fought with great heroism against Hitler even under Stalinist leadership, and indeed followed the advice of Stalinist and social democratic misleaders fighting loyally for British, French and US imperialism. The proletariat was well aware that Stalin was the lesser evil.

    It is obscene to credit Stalin for the victory in WWII against Hilter. His regime bore enormous responsiblity for Hitler’s ascent to power in 1933, by sabotaging the struggle for the United Front of Germany workers organisations that could have crushed the Nazis given proper leadership. The Stalin-led KPD denounced the German Social Democrats as ‘social fascists’ and even on occasion united with the Nazis against them. They and the SPD jointly ensured that there was no armed resistance from the German working class, the strongest in Europe.

    Its just drivel to denounce the popular front and yet refuse to mention its biggest crime: the crushing of the Spanish workers revolution to appease ‘democratic’ imperialism. Before Franco got his turn, the Stalinists shot down revolutionary workers on the streets of Barcelona in a situation that was a combination of the July Days in Petrograd, running concurrently with the Kornilov coup. Its as if the Bolsheviks had joined Kerensky and Miliukov in shooting the workers instead of placing themselves at the head of the proletariat and orienting them for the seizure of state power. But the Stalinists did not want workers power in Spain or anywhere. Any revolutionary victory of the proletariat threatened them. So they smashed the revolution in aliance with the British and French, and thus opened the gates to Franco.

    Stalin was taken by surprise by Hitler’s invasion in June 1941. That is why the Soviet forces collapsed in disarray, and were only able to regroup and fight back after terrible suffering and mass extermination of Jews and Communists. The defeat of Hitler was a great defensive victory against counterrevolution, but it is absurd to paint it as a great victory for world revolution. The deformed workers states created collapsed after only half a century. On the scale of the lifetime of capitalism that is minor. Their very collapse is proof of this; on the level of a struggle between social systems, they lost. Not through defeat in war, but from the enemy within, the bureaucracy. These states were hollow; in Eastern Europe their roots in the actual proletariat proved nugatory and the proletariat largely did not see them as worthy of defence when the regimes collapsed in 1989. In the decisive countries,such as the USSR, China and even Vietnam, the capitalist forces came from within the bureaucracy.

    There are only two deformed workers states left now, Cuba and North Korea, and who knows how long they will last? Both seem to be in the process of rapprochement with capitalist enemies that would have seemed unthinkable only a few years ago. Cuba may be saved for now by Trump’s renewed belligerence, but it is not clear where North Korea’s current rapprochement with the South will end. Even apparently hard-line Stalinists are in the market to follow the urging of Deng Xiaoping if the opportunity comes along: “to get rich is glorious” said the Chinese super-Bukharin as the Chinese state turned overtly to promoting capitalist restoration in the early 1990s.

    The hysterical response of Stalinists to left-wing criticism actually reminds me of the response of Zionists to left-wing criticism today. The knee-jerk cynicism and self-delusion that those who criticise crimes against the oppressed have some kind of sinister, racist or fascistic motive for the criticism. The idea that the criticism might just be justified by the magnitude of the crimes involved is ruled out by the construction of ideological prisons where black is declared white – anti-racism is racism, workers democracy or the desire for it is counterrevolution, etc.

    And Chris will not be able to refute the fact that Lenin in Two Tactics envisioned a period of many years of capitalist development after the overthrow of Tsarism. That is crystal clear from the strategic passage of that work I quoted. Lenin was mistaken; Lenin was not a god. And actually, in trying to wish this strategic difference away, Chris and the EPSR are in the company of Jack Conrad, the Weekly Worker, the third-camp academic Lars T Lih and other opponents of Trotskyism who want to rehabilitate Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev in 1917. They are not doing this because they want to defend the gains of the USSR that remained under Stalin, even in a platonic sense. They are doing it because they want to bury Trotskyism, and Lenin’s April Thesis with it. They really want to bury the October revolution itself. Those are Chris’s bedfellows on this today, which makes the somewhat frothy attacks above on the Weekly Worker on this look very strange now.


  6. Chris Barratt says:

    Much to be said about the above comment by comrade Ian, and any reader’s assessment of its truth really depends on the reader’s actual knowledge of Leninism, world events and the realities of Soviet achievements in the USSR’s 70-year history, in workers education, healthcare, job prospects, military might, space exploration, sport, culture, aiding the anti-colonial struggle etc.
    I think the above comment exactly reflects the essence of Trotskyism, and sums up its role, just as the EPSR’s late Roy Bull describes in his polemic, reproduced above.
    Trotskyism was on the WRONG SIDE in the Cold War (ie. helping “democratic” imperialism).
    Its watchwords (and those of the CIA too) are “democracy” and its devious enough to always call for “workers democracy”. Lenin has nothing but total scorn and contempt for those calling for “workers democracy” as opposed to the Soviet proletarian dictatorship, most specifically in “State and Revolution”, which comrade Ian has urged me to read – but I have, and it backs Lenin’s view of this question, as you might suspect it would, not Trotskyism’s.
    On the question of Lenin thinking in Two Tactics (1905 – when the “dress rehearsal” for February 1917 took place) that after a democratic revolution in Russia there would have to be a prolonged period of capitalist development, comrade Ian is mistaken again.
    In the same section from Two Tactics that Ian quotes, Lenin says that the democratic dictatorship is the means to shorten the time in which conditions would be ripe for socialist revolution (the “complete victory” of the proletariat), not “a prolonged period of capitalist development”, as Ian suggests:
    Lenin: “Such a victory will by no means as yet transform our bourgeois revolution into a socialist revolution; the democratic revolution will not directly overstep the bounds of bourgeois social and economic relationships; nevertheless, the significance of such a victory for the future development of Russia and of the whole world will be immense. Nothing will raise the revolutionary energy of the world proletariat so much, nothing will shorten the path leading to its complete victory to such an extent, as this decisive victory of the revolution that has now started in Russia.”


  7. Ian says:

    The problem Chris and Roy Bull have in dealing with Lenin is that these writings can be quoted easily. Thus when Chris writes:

    “Lenin has nothing but total scorn and contempt for those calling for “workers democracy” as opposed to the Soviet proletarian dictatorship, most specifically in “State and Revolution”, which comrade Ian has urged me to read – but I have, and it backs Lenin’s view of this question, as you might suspect it would, not Trotskyism’s.”

    It really doesn’t wash. Earlier Chris ridiculed the idea that Lenin considered that the norm of the proletarian dictatorship was a ‘semi-state’ which should be beginning to wither away. But here is Lenin not only confirming my point, about the ‘semi-state’, making it quite clear that the dictatorship of the proletariat normally functions according to workers democracy, and also noting that such democracy itself imposes the views of the majority on minorities, and that under communism even that form of authoritarian subordination would end. These are the views of Lenin, they are orthodox Marxist and they are Trotskyist therefore. They are totally alien to the kind of Stalinist worship of ‘strong’ states the EPSR demonstrates. Lenin wrote:

    “In the first place, at the very outset of his argument, Engels says that, in seizing state power, the proletariat thereby ‘abolishes the state as state’. It is not done to ponder over the meaning of this. Generally, it is either ignored altogether, or is considered to be something in the nature of ‘Hegelian weakness’ on Engels’ part. As a matter of fact, however, these words briefly express the experience of one of the greatest proletarian revolutions, the Paris Commune of 1871, of which we shall speak in greater detail in its proper place. As a matter of fact, Engels speaks here of the proletariat revolution ‘abolishing’ the bourgeois state, while the words about the state withering away refer to the remnants of the proletarian state after the socialist revolution. According to Engels, the bourgeois state does not ‘wither away’, but is ‘abolished’ by the proletariat in the course of the revolution. What withers away after this revolution is the proletarian state or semi-state.”

    “Thirdly, in speaking of the state ‘withering away’, and the even more graphic and colorful ‘dying down of itself’, Engels refers quite clearly and definitely to the period after ‘the state has taken possession of the means of production in the name of the whole of society’, that is, after the socialist revolution. We all know that the political form of the ‘state’ at that time is the most complete democracy. But it never enters the head of any of the opportunists, who shamelessly distort Marxism, that Engels is consequently speaking here of democracy ‘dying down of itself’, or ‘withering away’. This seems very strange at first sight. But it is ‘incomprehensible’ only to those who have not thought about democracy also being a state and, consequently, also disappearing when the state disappears. Revolution alone can ‘abolish’ the bourgeois state. The state in general, i.e., the most complete democracy, can only ‘wither away’.”

    (Chapter 1.4)

    “In the usual argument about the state, the mistake is constantly made against which Engels warned and which we have in passing indicated above, namely, it is constantly forgotten that the abolition of the state means also the abolition of democracy; that the withering away of the state means the withering away of democracy.

    “At first sight this assertion seems exceedingly strange and incomprehensible; indeed, someone may even suspect us of expecting the advent of a system of society in which the principle of subordination of the minority to the majority will not be observed–for democracy means the recognition of this very principle.

    “No, democracy is not identical with the subordination of the minority to the majority. Democracy is a state which recognizes the subordination of the minority to the majority, i.e., an organization for the systematic use of force by one class against another, by one section of the population against another.

    “We set ourselves the ultimate aim of abolishing the state, i.e., all organized and systematic violence, all use of violence against people in general. We do not expect the advent of a system of society in which the principle of subordination of the minority to the majority will not be observed. In striving for socialism, however, we are convinced that it will develop into communism and, therefore, that the need for violence against people in general, for the subordination of one man to another, and of one section of the population to another, will vanish altogether since people will become accustomed to observing the elementary conditions of social life without violence and without subordination.

    “In order to emphasize this element of habit, Engels speaks of a new generation, ‘reared in new, free social conditions’, which will ‘be able to discard the entire lumber of the state’–of any state, including the democratic-republican state.”

    (Chapter 4:6)

    Its pretty clear that Lenin was a partisan of the ‘semi-state’ that is the dictatorship of the proletariat run according to workers democracy and eventually relaxing even that, which process begins immediately upon the seizure of power by the workers. Lenin was no worshipper of state power as Bull argues. Very much the opposite.


    It is also clear that Lenin’s scenario from Two Tactics is not what happened in 1917. Lenin stated explicitly that the victory of the revolution would:

    “really clear the ground for a wide and rapid, European, and not Asiatic, development of capitalism; they will, for the first time, make it possible for the bourgeoisie to rule as a class.”

    This is a epochal perspective. It involves capitalist development in Russia to a European level as a precondition of the proletariat coming to power. In the quote Chris gives above, Lenin explicitly states that you cannot ‘overstep’ the bounds of bouregois social relationships until this ‘European’ level of capitalist development is achieved. But it is clear that in October 1917 these bourgeois relations were overstepped without any such epoch of ‘European’ capitalist development.

    Lenin changed his perspective, to the understanding that in order to solve the democratic tasks that he previously assigned tto the bourgeois revolution, it was necessary to ‘overstep’ bourgeois relations and establish the dictatorship of the proletariat. Lenin came to that conclusion in early 1917 and put it in writing in the April Theses. Trotsky came to that conclusion as a result of his experience in 1905 and codified it in 1906 in Results and Prospects. The two on the basis of this identical understanding, gained separately, proceeded to lead the establishment of proletarian dictatorship in Russia.

    Chris cannot dodge this. Was Lenin right in Two Tactics to say that the revolution would finally allow the bourgeoisie to rule as a class? Did that actually happen? Or was the dictatorship of the proletariat established instead?

    If the latter is true, which it obviously is, then Lenin was wrong in Two Tactics. The infallible Lenin cult, which is central to Stalinism and which Lenin did not live to see, is dead. Then you have to think these things through on their own merits as a Marxist instead of relying on mangled fragments of quotes from deceased hacks. Go to the primary sources!


    • Viriato says:

      The problem with this Ian’s argument “Chris cannot dodge this. Was Lenin right in Two Tactics to say that the revolution would finally allow the bourgeoisie to rule as a class? Did that actually happen? Or was the dictatorship of the proletariat established instead?”, is that things changed between 1905 and 1917.
      Lenine who was a master in analysing the real situation (Trotsky there was less good) has a perspective for 1905 as written in “Two tactics” and another after the Stolypine reforms and the First World War: The April Theses. Things have changed.
      A clock even if broken gives the actual hour two time a day and, in my opinion that was one of the main deficiencies of Trotsky, he hardly was in face with the actual situation in the most important moments of the political life, his and others. His generalities were almost always correct, but he missed frequently the “to the dat” or “to the moment” situation. Perhaps I am wrong but is my perception as fas as I know his actions.
      When taken in a whole perspective, when you study the whole matter, Trotsky was the one who was right, but Lenine was, perhaps, not wrong in 1905. Difficult to say in a so changing situation, perhaps what was correct in 1905, was not in 1917, or the other way round, I men what Parvius said in 1905 (who has a strong impression on Trotsky) was leftists but in 1917 was then correct, who knows?


  8. Ian says:

    I think Virato is talking about things that are quite difficult to pin down. Lenin was undoubtedly a more successful practical politician than Trotsky at the level of organisation and results. He built a large, powerful party with deep roots based on a theory that proved inadequate and had to be revised. However even within that theory there were sufficient elements that were correct to allow it to switch to a correct overall strategy when the need became inescapable, albeit with some resistance.

    The idea, central to the democratic dictatorship theory, that the Russian bourgeoisie was incapable of leading, and hostile to, a bourgeois revolution in Russia was correct. What was incorrect was Lenin’s theory that therefore the proletariat and peasantry could substitute for the bourgeoisie and in effect force the bourgeoisie to accept power as a class against its will.

    Trotsky’s position in Results and Prospects simply said: this will not work. If the proletariat takes power at the head of the peasantry and attempts to resolve the agrarian question, it will have no choice but to ‘overstep’ capitalism itself because the bourgeoisie will not wear such a regime. This became obvious in 1917 when it was clear right from February that the Menshevik-Kadet-Trudovic coalition would continue the war and fight to the death against the expropriation of the landlords in the countryside.

    But then again, Trotsky never succeeded in building a party around his superior view. He was sceptical of the worth of Lenin’s party and did not see a fundamental difference between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks.

    So he became a conciliator within the broad framework of the 2nd International. This did indeed result in clashes with Lenin on a confused basis in which there were elements of truth and error on both sides. It would have been better if Trotsky had joined the Bolsheviks much earlier and fought for his views on Permanent Revolution within.

    But this is easy to say with hindsight. These things are not always so obvious at the time.

    I don’t see that Lenin’s strategy was affected by the Stolypin reforms. It was the world war, the advance in understanding imperialism, and the experience of February that caused the change as I see it.


    • Viriato says:

      Fundamentaly, this (your comment), if it is exact: “Trotsky’s position in Results and Prospects simply said: this will not work. If the proletariat takes power at the head of the peasantry and attempts to resolve the agrarian question, it will have no choice but to ‘overstep’ capitalism itself because the bourgeoisie will not wear such a regime.” is what my little experiency dictates.

      In Chile, between 1970-73, petit-bourgeois reformisms tried to convince big bourgeois and imperialism that their reforms (very profound ones) were the best for them and for “the country”. That was right for the bourgeoisie as practice has demonstrated. But the bourgeois don’t want them, because those reforms rise the conciousness and the demands of peasants and proletarians.

      The only possible way for marxists (but they were not) was to go further for socialism in whole Latin America (because I doubt that the chilian working class isolated could resist the assault of the other national bourgeoisies and the imperialism).

      It is not quite the same but, in essence, a revolution cannot take half-ways and could not because of the dynamics of the process.

      My comment pointed to the real possibilities of passing to socialism (i.e. worker’s power) in 1905, wich in Lenin’s opinion was not at hand but it was in 1917. Trtosky was right “in general” but to be “right in general” most of the time is to be wrong in the actual moment in terms of real possibilities.

      I point this also, because one of the main problems with “trotskists” is that they are always preaching generalities and going quite wrong or fully wrong in tactics (albeit SF and few others). On the contrary “stalinists” (or revisionnists or reformists) are always wrong in generalities but quite correct in every days tactics for their aims.

      Very often, so-called “trotskists”, to stick to the “socialist revolution” generalities, put aside all sort of tactical steps, compromises, and instables or short lived but necesary alliances, and rested isolated. When not dividing themselves because of ever appearing discussion because of lack of practical worker’s propaganda with transitional demands.

      The question then is not only the theoretical discussion between “dictatorship of worker’es and peasants” and “socialist revolution” but also of the wat this polemics take place in a given situation, in a given year.


  9. Ian says:

    Thats fair criticism of many Trotskyist groups in the recent past but I don’t see how that applies to Trotsky who played a leading role in both the 1905 and 1917 revolutions.

    These were in many ways pioneers. Its very difficult to get all these things right first time and neither Trotsky nor Lenin managed it. But they did when it really mattered. That’s what is most important and this is what we need to learn from.


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