The Marxist Theory of the State; the Formation and Destruction of Workers States

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14/06/2019 by socialistfight

By Gerry Downing 14-6-19


Socialist Fight holds that Cuba and North Korea are the only remaining deformed workers states (DWSs).

Following recent social media discussions and previous efforts, including In Defence of Trotskyism No 6, The Marxist Theory of the State [1] we have decided to unify all our theoretical efforts in a single document. This has a programmatic motivation; Socialist Fight holds that Cuba and North Korea are the only remaining deformed workers states (DWSs). Therefore, defending these two very obviously dissimilar in some respects but nonetheless closely related states in other ways not only against imperialist assault but also against capitalist restoration is of prime importance. This is central to our understanding of how we struggle for the Leninist/Trotskyist programme of world revolution as inherited from the whole history of Marxism and Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution of October 1917 in particular, the greatest single political act in human history.

In order to achieve this, we will first examine the formation of the only historic healthy workers state in Russia/the USSR in 1917 (its spread to the whole of the territory of the former Russian Empire took some time), how that degenerated under Stalin, the formation of a deformed workers state in eastern Poland in 1939, the post WWII formation of DWSs in eastern Europe in 1948-49 and the different ways DWSs were formed in Yugoslavia, China, North Korea, North Vietnam from 1945-49, Cuba in 1961, Cambodia and Laos and unified Vietnam in 1975. Our comrade Dov Winter has agreed with some and questioned others of our previous conclusions so we will deal with those along the way.

Comrades may object to some of the formulations in this essay but we have discovered that conclusions we may draw from close examinations of capitalist overturns and restorations in one state or group of states may prove inadequate and one sided in the formulation of a unified theory that applies to all such states.

Stormimg the Winter Palace, the crucial act in the formation of the first, and only healthy workers state.

The formation of the first and only healthy workers state in 1917

The Theoretical journal of the Leninist-Trotskyist Tendency, 1995, In Defence of Marxism, Number 3 (June 1995), The Marxist Theory of the State and the Collapse of Stalinism has the following section which summarises our views exactly:

According to Trotsky’s succinct definition:

“The class character of the state is determined by its relation to the forms of property in the means of production”

and

“by the character of the forms of property and productive relations which the given state guards and defends”. [2]

This implies a dialectical rather than a mechanical relationship between base and superstructure: it is not merely a question of the existing forms of property but of those which the state defends and strives to develop.

Underlining this approach, Lenin argued in early 1918 that: “No one, I think, in studying the question of the economic system of Russia, has denied its transitional character. Nor, I think, has any Communist denied that the term Socialist Soviet Republic implies the determination of Soviet power to achieve the transition to socialism, and not that the new economic system is recognised as a socialist order.” [3]

Thus, despite the fact that between 1917 and 1918, the Bolsheviks ruled over a bourgeois economy, only economistic pedants would deny that the infant soviet regime was a workers’ state. Not only did workers hold state power directly through soviets, but the Soviet regime was committed to expropriating the bourgeoisie.

Elsewhere, we have attempted the following definition: “At root, a workers’ state is one in which the bourgeoisie is politically suppressed, leading to its economic expropriation as a class. This is what such apparently disparate events as the October Revolution of 1917 and the bureaucratic overturns in Eastern Europe, Asia and Cuba after 1945 have in common . . . We reject both purely “economic” and purely “political definitions of a workers’ state.’ [4]

History abounds with examples of contradiction between the state and economic forms, which demonstrate that the class character of the state cannot be defined in purely mechanical terms. For instance, feudal states continued to exist during the formative period of merchant capital in Europe. In this century, Marxists have recognised as bourgeois states both countries which contain many survivals from pre-capitalist economic formations and countries in which substantial sections of the means of production have been nationalised (e.g. Algeria, Angola, Burma, Ethiopia, Libya, Mozambique, Syria, etc). Among what we previously recognised as deformed workers’ states were countries with numerous pre-capitalist survivals and/or significant private sectors within their economies. Moreover, most of the countries of Eastern Europe had large state sectors prior to 1947-48 – the period most Trotskyists identify as marking the emergence of deformed workers’ states.

The cutting edge of distinction between bourgeois states and workers’ states is not some decisive degree of nationalisation (Militant / CWI), nor the existence of “central planning” (Workers Power / LRCI), nor the alleged “commitment” of the state apparatus to defend the socialised forces of production (ICL and IBT), but which class interests the economy and the state apparatus ultimately serve.

Neither elements of private ownership on the one hand, nor extensive nationalisation on the other, in and of themselves, determine the class character of the state, because the state is at least partly autonomous from the economy. This is why the character of the state and the economy can change at different speeds. For example, the New Economic Policy (NEP) in the 1920s was a concession to private capital forced on the Bolsheviks in the difficult circumstances of the period, which was – at least initially – within the overall framework of defending working class interests. In contrast, the Chinese Stalinists’ policy today of encouraging private enterprise in the special economic zones is preparing the restoration of capitalism.

Extract ends [5]

In reference to the last comment we hold that the capitalist state was restored in China in October 1992 at the 14th Congress of the CPC. We will follow up on this later.

What is the state?

In his famous book, The State and Revolution Lenin quotes this definition from Engels’, The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State, accepted by all serious Marxists:

“The state is, therefore, by no means a power forced on society from without; just as little is it ‘the reality of the ethical idea’, ‘the image and reality of reason’, as Hegel maintains. Rather, it is a product of society at a certain stage of development; it is the admission that this society has become entangled in an insoluble contradiction with itself, that it has split into irreconcilable antagonisms which it is powerless to dispel. But in order that these antagonisms, these classes with conflicting economic interests, might not consume themselves and society in fruitless struggle, it became necessary to have a power, seemingly standing above society, that would alleviate the conflict and keep it within the bounds of  ‘order’; and this power, arisen out of society but placing itself above it, and alienating itself more and more from it, is the state.” [6]

And:

“The second distinguishing feature is the establishment of a public power which no longer directly coincides with the population organizing itself as an armed force. This special, public power is necessary because a self-acting armed organization of the population has become impossible since the split into classes…. This public power exists in every state; it consists not merely of armed men but also of material adjuncts, prisons, and institutions of coercion of all kinds, of which gentile [clan] society knew nothing….” [7]

Having quoted these two extracts from Engels Lenin goes on to summarise thus:

Were it not for this split, the “self-acting armed organization of the population” would differ from the primitive organization of a stick-wielding herd of monkeys, or of primitive men, or of men united in clans, by its complexity, its high technical level, and so on. But such an organization would still be possible. It is impossible because civilized society is split into antagonistic, and, moreover, irreconcilably antagonistic classes, whose “self-acting” arming would lead to an armed struggle between them. A state arises, a special power is created, special bodies of armed men, and every revolution, by destroying the state apparatus, shows us the naked class struggle, clearly shows us how the ruling class strives to restore the special bodies of armed men which serve it, and how the oppressed class strives to create a new organization of this kind, capable of serving the exploited instead of the exploiters. [8]

How states function

In a bourgeois democracy there is a separation of powers between 1. The Executive; the government. 2. The Legislature; the parliament and 3. The Judiciary; including the police, army and the rest of the organs of repression of the state, prisons, secret services, etc.

This separation confers some advantage on the working class and oppressed in that they can organise and agitate for their welfare and rights under it. Bourgeois democracies differ in how free they are, ranging from the most oppressive, mainly semi-colonial nations like Turkey, India etc., to relatively free imperialist nations like the USA, Britain France, Germany etc. All bourgeois democracies are becoming increasingly more oppressive now as the “War on Terror” grants increasing powers to the Executive via the secret services and the Judiciary and less power to the Legislature as civil rights get constantly eroded. But this is challenged by some, albeit diminishing parts of the liberal mass media.

In a fascist bourgeois dictatorship, the separation of powers is wholly abolished, Nazi Germany is the prime historical example. In far right bourgeois dictatorships, a recent example is Egypt, where a very limited bourgeois democracy was overthrown on July 2013 the separation of powers is largely but not wholly abolished.  The former dictator/President Mubarak is treated very leniently, under Sisi he was acquitted on 2 March 2017 of murdering the protestors in 2011 by the Court of Cassation, Egypt’s top appeals court and released on 24 March 2017. In November 2016 the same Court of Cassation overturned a death sentence by hanging imposed in June 2015 on the deposed President Morsi and four others. But he is still imprisoned.

As we can see from this the Judiciary have largely become an arm of the Executive and the Legislature is a sham body, effectively also a part of the Executive. This is also the case in Ukraine where Poroshenko was effectively the Executive on behalf of US Imperialism until replaced by Volodymyr Zelensky on 20 May 2019. But they are not full fascist states, there is still some separation of powers between the Executive and the Legislature and Judiciary in both these cases and the working class can exploit these to their advantage. The Bolsheviks did so after 1905 in the Russian Duma and they contested elections and put up stout defences at trials of their members. And, of course, there is a qualitative difference between Nazi Germany and the above; Adolph Hitler, the most complete example of a dictator in popular imagination, was able to concentre the three arms of the state in his own personal rule.

As we can see from this the Judiciary have largely become an arm of the Executive and the Legislature is a sham body, effectively also a part of the Executive. This is also the case in Ukraine where Poroshenko was effectively the Executive on behalf of US Imperialism until replaced by . But they are not full fascist states, there is still some separation of powers between the Executive and the Legislature and Judiciary in both these cases and the working class can exploit these to their advantage. The Bolsheviks did so after 1905 in the Russian Duma and they contested elections and put up stout defences at trials of their members. And, of course, there is a qualitative difference between Nazi Germany and the above; Adolph Hitler, the most complete example of a dictator in popular imagination, was able to concentre the three arms of the state in his own personal rule.

Five successive phases of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the USSR

Joseph Stalin held absolute personal dictatorial power in his rule from 1934 to 1953. But it still remained a much distorted form of the dictatorship of the proletariat even under Stalin, a mirror image of the rule of Hitler but crucially based on working class property relations and not on bourgeoisie property relations. This remained the case until the ‘constitutional crisis’ of September/October 1993, the political and military stand-off between the Yeltsin and the Russian parliament which ended with the defeat of the parliament by an initially neutral military in a clear dual power situation. We will examine this proposition in detail later.

Let us now examine the five successive phases of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the USSR from October 1917.

  1. The rule of the soviets, October 1917 to the period just prior to the death of Lenin, January 1924 and the Fifth Congress of the Comintern, June/July 1924. A new and far more progressive form of democracy (the Soviets, workers’ councils) rules, there is a separation of the Executive; the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, the Legislature; the Party Congress decisions carried out by the Central Committee and a relatively independent Judiciary operates, due process and Soviet legality obtains. It must be stressed, however that this is still a real dictatorship, the Executive is obliged to prevent the degree of separation between the three arms of the state that a free bourgeois democracy has. The capitalist class is supressed, they cannot vote, and their parties are not allowed to operate; for or against the revolution is the criterion for all legality and freedom of speech etc. But inner party democracy still operated, albeit restricted by the unfortunate decision of the 10th Party Congress “ban on factions” in 1921.
  2. The Interregnum, 1924-1928. Still relatively democratic in inner party democracy to begin with but an increasingly repressive period of political struggle between Zinoviev, Stalin, Bukharin, Kamenev and Trotsky. Zinoviev dominant initially, Bukharin in alliance with Stalin latterly, Stalin emerged at the top in 1928.
  3. Consolidation of the rule of the bureaucracy, Stalin as its central representative, 1928-1934, the end of the original Bolshevik party as a political entity. Some non-Bolshevik opposition still existed, increasingly repressed. The working class is now totally politically expropriated by the bureaucracy, yet that same bureaucracy still rules on its behalf as shown in the universal free welfare, health and education systems, the total absence of unemployment and homelessness, paid holidays for all etc. Production is according to the central state plan (albeit hideously undemocratic and bureaucratically distorted) and not for profit.
  4. , the Great Purges etc., December 1934 (assassination of Kirov) to March 1953 (death of Stalin) and execution of Beria in December 1953. The secret police (OGPU/NKVD/MGB/KGB) mass executed and assassinate all real and imagined opponents unchecked on Stalin’s instructions in this time. The heads of the secret police in this period were: Yagoda 1934–36 (shot), Yezhov 1936–38 (shot), Beria 1938–43, again Beria 1953 (Mar–Jun). He ruled the NKVD by proxy from 1943 to death of Stalin in March 1953, arrested in June 1953, shot December 1953). The distorted dictatorship of the proletariat still remains in the economy and in the welfare state.
  5. Return of rule of bureaucracy, 1953-91, the “Red Army” smash the rule of the NKVD and the secret police become an arm of the entire bureaucracy again as in 1928-34. (Defence Minister Nikolai Bulganin ordered the Kantemirovskaya Tank Division and Tamanskaya Motor Rifle Division to move into Moscow to prevent security forces loyal to Beria from rescuing him in June 1953.)

The five successive stages of the dictatorship of the proletariat above have another thing in common apart from the economic plan and the welfare provisions mentioned above. As a real dictatorship the separation of powers in the three sections of the healthy workers’ state was largely abolished under Lenin and the Bolsheviks up until 1924, with the important exceptions pointed to in phase 1, the rule of the Soviets, above up to 1924.

The Soviets collapsed from the early to mid-1920s due to defeats of revolutions in Germany, Italy and Hungary and lost pre-revolutionary situations elsewhere. This retreat of the working class internationally and the dimming of the prospects for world revolution demoralised the class. Stalinist bureaucratic repression was the expression of this. Consequently, the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary merged fully by 1928 with Stain’s ascendancy. The personal dictatorship of Stalin, 1934-53, that of Mao, 1949-76 (with some interruptions), many in Eastern Europe from 1948-89 and North Korea today are extreme forms of personal dictatorship that nevertheless do not abolish the distorted forms of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The safeguards in phase 1 above are eliminated but nonetheless the degenerate and deformed workers’ states continued to exist.

From then on in all Stalinist-controlled degenerate and deformed workers’ states, and still in Cuba and North Korea today, the Communist Party that ruled WAS and IS the state, as long as it retains control of the ‘Red Army’. As with Louis IVX ‘L’etat c’est moi. They appointed all state officials, all the judiciary and all the state officials directly. Elections were shams with only one candidate when they bothered to go through the motions.

The class character of the state therefore depends on what that state determines to do, i.e. on the decisions of the ruling stratum and their ability to implement those decisions. Once a leading faction in the workers’ state decides to restore the capitalist system it embarks on a campaign to win over the entire bureaucracy, or at least the leading sections of it and to marginalise and defeat those who wish to maintain the old bureaucracy in power, and in privileges, on the basis of the established proletarian property forms. It must defeat any resistance the working class may present, often in alliance with a section of the bureaucracy as there are no independent trade unions organisations of the working class remaining. It is clear that Stalin toyed, at least, with the notion of the restoration of capitalism in implementing the New Constitution in 1936 during the Great Purges, which proposed a form of bourgeois democracy. War with Nazi Germany made this impossible, but the tactic of the Great Patriotic War was clearly a big step in the direction of restoration, which would have been completed if US imperialism had allowed it to happen. But like Cuba in 1961, they preferred the option of defeat rather that a negotiated surrender.

The 14th Congress which restored the capitlist state in China on 12 October 1992.

From 1976 Deng had set course for the restoration of capitalism in China, finally achieving that in the 14th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) on October 12, 1992 when the vote at the congress endorsed his political outlook in the report of President Jiang Zemin with the snappy title: Accelerating the Reform, the Opening to the Outside World and the Drive for Modernization, So As to Achieve Greater Successes in Building Socialism with Chinese Characteristics. [9] From 1986 Mikhail Gorbachev set a course for the restoration of capitalism in the USSR but lost out to Yanayev and then Yeltsin in the coup and counter coup of August 1991.

Therefore, the degenerated or deformed workers states can be transformed into capitalist states by defeating the hold-out forces within the state bureaucracy which still wish to defend proletarian state property relations and the opposition of the working class by greater or lesser violent confrontation. It is significant that only in China and Romania where there genuine beginnings of political revolutions between the period of capitalist restoration of 1989-92. These were the two states with the most pro-imperialist leaderships and the only two workers states to maintain diplomatic relationships with Chile following Pinochet’s coup in 1973. The opposition there came not from within the bureaucracy but from the working class itself. Nowhere did the bureaucracy itself fight to maintain the workers’ states, despite the claims of the Spart family (ICL, IG, IBT/BT) to the contrary.

The formation of DWSs summed up [10]

Post-WWII is more difficult and created many theoretical problems for Trotskyists. The occupation of Eastern Europe by the Red Army did NOT create workers’ states of any type. Neither did the victory of the peasant Red Armies in Yugoslavia, Albania or China immediately initiate DWSs but bourgeois forms of rule were first tried:

Yugoslavia: “On 7 March 1945, the provisional government of the Democratic Federal Yugoslavia (DFY) was assembled in Belgrade by Josip Broz Tito, while the provisional name allowed for either a republic or monarchy. In November 1945, Tito’s pro-republican People’s Front, led by the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, won the elections with an overwhelming majority, … On 29 November 1945, King Peter II was formally deposed by the Yugoslav Constituent Assembly.” (Wikipedia)

We can take the latter date as the initiation of the DWS in Yugoslavia.

Albania: After Hoxha liberated Albania with the defeat of the fascist army on 29 November 1944, “The Democratic Front, dominated by the Albanian Communist Party, succeeded the National Liberation Front in August 1945 and the first post-war election was the held on 2 December. The Front was the only legal political organisation allowed to stand in the elections, and the government reported that 93% of Albanians voted for it. On 11 January 1946, Zog was officially deposed and Albania was proclaimed the People’s Republic of Albania.” (Wikipedia)

The latter date signifies the initiation of the DWS in Albania.

China:  Mao’s Red Army took state power in 1949 but he did not initiate a workers’ state and had no intention of doing so. His perspective was the Bloc of Four Classes, the working class, the peasantry, the urban middle class and the nationalist bourgeoisie, who were supposed to be anti-imperialist, as oppose to the comprador bourgeoisie, those who were more obviously pro-imperialist. The nationalist bourgeoisie were on no account to be appropriated. So, the state remained a capitalist state. In 1950 the Korean War began, and Mao initiated the ‘Three Antis’ in late 1951 to expropriate the comprador bourgeoisie. Mao had sent his Red Army to Korea in late 1950 and the nationalist bourgeoisie grew very wealthy by supplying the Red Army from its inception but now in war its loyalty was very questionable. If the US/UN army came across the border into China a fifth column existed in China to assist and threaten the regime itself.

So, the nationalist bourgeoisie was proven as unreliable as the comprador and also had to be expropriated via the ‘Five Anti’, an extension of the ‘Three Anti’:

“Eventually the Communist Party revealed that it would no longer protect private business, and that Chinese capitalists would receive treatment no better than foreign (the CCP acknowledgement that the nationalist bourgeoisie were no better than the comprador bourgeoisie – SFG). The Korean War initially provided opportunities in Northern China, giving rise to a new class of capitalists, many of whom would be prosecuted under the Marxist policies of the Communist Party.” [11]

Although almost no native capitalists remained behind what was later to be dubbed the Iron Curtain Stalin retained capitalist property relations in the ‘Peoples democracies’ there up to late 1948 and early 1949.

Likewise, with North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, these economies were only cloned with the USSR when the absolute necessity of political and personal survival dictated. After late 1948, when the revolutionary post-war upsurge ebbed, Marshall Aid was introduced by the US in Europe because western imperialism no longer needed Stalin to crush revolutions in Poland, Czechoslovak, Italy, Greece and Vietnam directly by crushing workers’ uprisings himself of in conjunction with imperialism or the eight popular front governments in western Europe where the Communists parties participated. So now Marshall Aid was offered to the people’s democracies and many were willing to accept so deformed workers’ were then initiated, most often by a controlled mobilisation of the working class to oust the capitalist-minded managers as the owners had already been expropriated by the Nazis and the remaining Nazis sympathetic once fled the advance of the Red Army.

Cuba: Castro’s entry into Havana on 8 January 1959 did not initiate a DWS and most serious Marxists admit that now. It was not enough for Castro to expropriate the pro-imperialist bourgeoisie, albeit the vast majority, in the Summer and Fall of 1960, it was the institution of full state planning of the economy for perceived human need after the Bay of Pigs in 1961. The Spart Family position is: “Cuba became a deformed workers’ state with the pervasive nationalizations in the summer and fall of 1960, which liquidated the bourgeoisie as a class” [12] but they did not consider state planning as an essential element of the DWS; Castro did not abandon the prospect of rapprochement with the USA until after the Bay of Pigs and did not clone the state with the USSR until after that. This may seem hair-splitting at the time, but it is vital for the understanding what happened when the process went the other way from the late 1980s and early 1990s. [13]

Message to the Spart Family who believe China is still a DWS and Russia imperialist:

Let us list the capitalist features of the Chinese and Russian economies and states:

  1. The Chinese “iron rice bowl” of Chairman Mao is basically gone. His welfare state has been abolished apart from in a few places. The USSR welfare state collapsed quickly after 1991, with the life expectancy in the USSR/Russia fell from 62 in 1980 to 58 in 1994, and similar declines in all of the former communist East European states. It was 74 in Sweden at that time. “The immediate cause of the rising mortality is the rise in self-destructive behaviour, especially among men. Old problems such as alcoholism have increased; drug misuse a relatively new problem in the former communist bloc has risen dramatically in recent years … Suicide rates have climbed steeply too, by 60% in Russia, 80% in Lithuania, and 95% in Latvia since 1989.”
  2. There is a thriving capitalist sector in China with its own class differentiated bourgeoisie and working class. Forbes rich list puts the number of billionaires in China in 2017 at 400, Asia as a whole at 637, the US at 563 and Europe at 342. However, the US and European billionaires are far richer than the Chinese ones. China has only 2 in the top 25 richest people in the world, the US’s Bill Gates is number 1 at $86 B, and China’s Wang Jianlin comes in at number 18 at $31.3 B. Russia has about 100 billionaires with its richest, Leonid Mikhelson coming in at 46 with $18.4 B. The USA has 15.7 million millionaires, the UK 2.4, Japan 2.1, France 1.8, Germany 1.5 whereas China has only 1.3 million in a population 4 times the size of the USA, just ahead of Italy at 1.1 and Canada at 961,000. Chinese income inequality is reported to be falling since 2015 but only Brazil has a higher Gini coefficient among the world’s 10 largest economies. Russia has the fastest-growing number of dollar millionaires in the world but, with only 182,000, it comes in at 15 in the world just above Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Norway. Russia has “an extreme level of inequality,” with the top 1 percent holding up to 25 percent of Russia’s wealth. All deformed and degenerated workers’ states expropriated their capitalists and inequality never reached those levels because the bureaucracy prevented that class arising anew.
  3. There is a Stock Exchange and capitalist banks in both Russia and China, although, a la Bismarck, Stolypin, and Keynes, they are state-controlled (unlike in Britain under Blair and Brown) to ensure the better development of capitalism. All deformed and degenerated workers’ states had/have no stock exchanges. This is not neo-liberal capitalism, but it is capitalism, nevertheless.
  4. The monopoly of foreign trade collapsed in 1991 in Russia, but it was also gone in theory in China since the 1992 restoration but far more so since China joined the World Trade Organisation in 2001. However, the state still retains strategic control over its state banks and regulates trade as good capitalist planners. All deformed and degenerated workers’ states had/have a state monopoly of foreign trade.
  5. Few now doubt that Russia was a capitalist state after October 1993. The scramble by the state functionaries for privatised state assets doled out by Yeltsin was obscene; these wealthy oligarchs emerged almost overnight. The constitutional crisis of October 1993, when Yeltsin used military force to attack the anti-Yeltsin demonstrators, dissolve the parliament and arrest its leaders was the last defence of the distorted dictatorship of the proletariat which was lodged in the Supreme Soviet and a section of the bureaucracy. The working class eventually did rise to combat the brutally corrupt pro-Western imperialist regime of Yeltsin. But they were defeated by the state forces and the second part of the counterrevolution was consummated; the street fighting between 2 and 4 October resulted in some 2,000 deaths according to some sources; the bloodiest single outbreak of violence in Moscow since the Russian Revolution.
  6. China and Russia seek to become imperialist powers; their investments in Africa, South America and Sri Lanka etc. are for purely commercial and strategic/military purposes. This is unlike the practice of the USSR where support and investment were to strengthen their hand and give them more pawns in the chess game of achieving peaceful cooperation and compromise with world Imperialism. The Chinese bureaucracy, under both Mao and Deng, sought to conciliate US imperialism by Mao’s theory of three worlds, where the first was the ‘great powers’, US and USSR who were ‘imperialists’, the second was the other advanced capitalist nations and the third world was China and the semi-colonial countries. This was an opportunist capitulation which resulted in the ‘Ping Pong’ diplomacy of 1972; welcoming Kessinger and Nixon to China whilst he was carpet bombing Vietnam with napalm and Agent Orange. In Africa, Latin America and elsewhere China sided with the USA against the USSR in a shamefully unprincipled manner. The USSR was prepared to sponsor, ideologically and materially, armed opposition to imperialism to achieve peaceful co-existence, China arms its clients today but, like Russia, has no ideological opposition to imperialism, however. distorted, to offer. However, China still retains strong elements of a semi-colonial state in its far-flung backward regions, which are prey to US/CIA interventions as in Tibet and Uyghuristan, to begin the breakup of a developing rival. Neither China nor Russia can become fully fledged imperialist powers in the Marxist sense as long as the USA remains the global hegemonic imperialist power. [14] [15]

Comrades, when we see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, we call that bird a duck. James Robertson had pragmatically seen the significance of the long swim of the capitalists from Cuba to Miami by 1966 but the International Committee of Gerry Healy and Pierre Lambert refused to look at what had happened there after 1959. In his play Galileo Bertolt Brecht’s Galileo invites the leading scholars of Florence to peer into his telescope for the ultimate proof that the Church and Aristotle were wrong; but the men refused to look, instead making evasive, dogmatic speeches about why the telescope could not possibly show any such thing. A little more pragmatism and common sense would now assist comrades, before we progress to the more complex world of the Marxist dialectic. China is capitalist, look; it waddles and paddles and quacks, it’s a duck! [16] [17]

After 30 years of acting as a fraction towards an organisation without roots within the working class, you are degenerating yourselves.

How the Cuban DWS was formed: Fidel Castro as Revolutionary

In the following passage from Fidel Castro is dead Defend the Cuban Workers State on 26-11-16 we identified Castro’s speech after the defeat of the Bay of Pigs invasion as the moment when Cuba became a DWS:

In 1959, following his ousting of Batista, Fidel denied being a communist or seeking to become a dictator:

“I am not a dictator, and I do not think I will become one. I will not maintain power with a machine gun … I am not a communist and neither is the revolutionary movement, but we do not have to say that we are anti-Communists just to fawn on foreign powers.” [18]

But on the day after the Bay of Pigs failed invasion, on 16 April 1961, in a funeral oration in Vedado for victims of the air raids the day before he had changed his outlook fundamentally:

“Fellow workers and peasants, this is the socialist and democratic revolution of the working people, with the working people, and for the working people. And for this revolution of the working people, by the working people, and for the working people we are prepared to give our lives.” [19]

And by 2 December 1961 he made a speech on the anniversary of the Granma landing and explained:

If we had paused to tell the people that we were Marxist-Leninists while we were on Pico Turquino and not yet strong, it is possible that we would never have been able to descend to the plains … I am a Marxist-Leninist, and I will be a Marxist-Leninist until the last days of my life. [20]

The blockade of Cuba began October 19, 1960. Cuba had done a barter deal of sugar for oil with the USSR because restrictions of Cuban sugar sales to the US were imposed. The US-owned refineries refused to process the Soviet crude and Castro nationalised them without compensation. The imposition of the blockade forced Castro into the arms of the USSR and as we see from the quotes above, he now began to proclaim himself a Marxist-Leninist and the revolution as socialist. The blockade was extended in September 1961 after full nationalisation and state planning was introduced and the country was obviously now a workers’ state. [21]

Has capitalism been restored in Cuba? Discussion:

Comrade W wrote:

Then “capitalist restoration is fundamentally done when the state is in the hands of the restorationists who are in power” would mean that today Cuba being ruled by an already transformed new capitalist ruling class, has regressed from deformed workers state to a ,,, neo-colony, of whom?

Gerry D:

I do not agree that Cuba is a capitalist state now, but it is in the hands of capitalist restorationists. But the opposition of the working class and I would say elements in the state itself is not broken.

If we took as our criterion that the state was in the hands of restorationists then we would have to adjudge China capitalist since 1978 when Deng established his dictatorship. But Tiananmen Square 1989 showed the working class opposed to restoration, unlike the initial student occupation.

Deng supported the students but undoubtedly ordered the massacre of the workers and the mass executions of the leaders of the new trade unions. The student leaders were treated with kid gloves in contrast. There followed a purge of the CCP 30,000 or so. So opposition in the party was crushed. Then followed Deng’s famous 1992 Southern tour of the capitalist costal enterprises and the change in official press attitudes to him, the capitulation of the President and then the acceptance of Deng’s capitalist restoration programme by the Congress in October 1992. China was then a capitalist state.

Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos

Vietnam had already become a capitalist state in 1986, the first deformed workers’ state to be abolished by a ‘cold stroke’ in the period of the ‘collapse of Communism’. Wikipedia tells us:

“At the Sixth National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam in December 1986, reformist politicians replaced the “old guard” government with new leadership. The reformers were led by 71-year-old Nguyen Van Linh, who became the party’s new general secretary. Linh and the reformers implemented a series of free-market reforms – known as Ðổi Mới (“Renovation”) – which carefully managed the transition from a planned economy to a “socialist-oriented market economy”. Though the authority of the state remained unchallenged under Ðổi Mới, the government encouraged private ownership of farms and factories, economic deregulation and foreign investment, while maintaining control over strategic industries. The Vietnamese economy subsequently achieved strong growth in agricultural and industrial production, construction, exports and foreign investment. However, these reforms have also caused a rise in income inequality and gender disparities.”

The deformed workers’ state was transformed into a capitalist state in both Vietnam and Cambodia controlled by a ‘Marxist-Leninist’ government when they decided to promote capitalism as the source of their privileges and state planning was directed at that object. Although Vietnam effectively controlled the Cambodia state through their influence on the Salvation Front they were unable to restore a capitalist state there until 1989 because the continuing war against the US/China/Thai guerrilla armies on the Thai border made a compromise with Imperialism impossible then. The fact that Imperialism was able to force the ‘Marxist-Leninists’ from office in Cambodia but not in Vietnam or Laos does not change the dynamic of the situation.

Now we must look at Laos to complete the picture. Laos became a deformed workers’ state in 1975 with the overthrow of the constitutional monarchy under Sisavang Vong by the Communist Pathet Lao movement with the assistance of Vietnam. Laos is the most heavily bombed nation per head of population on the planet:

“During the Vietnam War, the US spread combat operations to neighbouring Laos. The US secretly waged widespread bombing runs on nearly every corner of the country… Laos experienced more than 30,000 casualties during the bombings, more than 20,000 people have died since bombing ceased in 1974 due to leftover unexploded munitions, and many more tens of thousands were needlessly displaced. A UN report notes that Laos is, per capita, the most bombed country on the planet, with .84 tons of explosives dropped per person from the years 1965 to 1974.

The Wikipedia article on Laos claims:

“The Lao People’s Democratic Republic, along with China, Cuba, Vietnam, and North Korea is one of the world’s five remaining socialist states. The only legal political party is the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP). The head of state is President Choummaly Sayasone, who is also the General Secretary of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party. The head of government is Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong, who is also a senior member of the Politburo. Government policies are determined by the party through the all-powerful eleven-member Politburo of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party and the 61-member Central Committee of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party. Important government decisions are vetted by the Council of Ministers. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam maintains significant influence over the Politburo of Laos and the one-party communist state apparatus and military.

Laos was dependent on military and economic aid supported by the Soviet Union until its dissolution in 1991. A new constitution was adopted in that year which enshrined a “leading role” for the LPRP but also restored the capitalist state as the following passage in the Wikipedia article demonstrates:

“The chapter on the socioeconomic system does not mention the establishment of socialism, a principal goal of earlier dogma. Instead, the objective of economic policy is to transform the “natural economy into a goods economy.” Private property appears to be assured by the statement that the “state protects the right of ownership,” including the right of transfer and inheritance. The state is authorized to undertake such tasks as managing the economy, providing education, expanding public health, and caring for war veterans, the aging, and the sick. The constitution admonishes that “all organizations and citizens must protect the environment.” [22]

In 2019, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights conducted an official visit to Laos and found that the country’s top-down approach to economic growth and poverty alleviation “is all too often counterproductive, leading to impoverishment and jeopardizing the rights of the poor and marginalised.” [23]

Three Criteria for Capitalist Restoration

So, three related conditions are needed to declare it capitalist state:

  1. A restorationist ruling caste.
  2. A restorationist party with no serious internal opposition. And
  3. A working class which had accepted restoration.

Using these criteria, capitalism was not restored in the USSR/ Russia by the Yanayev coup or the Yeltsin counter coup of August 1991 but by crushing of the working class and other party leaders who defended the Parliament in October 1993. All three criteria were then fulfilled.

In Cuba it is mainly the resistance of the working class with support from the lower and some middle rank leaders that continues to maintain the workers’ state. This is based on the excellence of the health service and education and elements of grass roots democracy, popular but not Soviets as some claim. It remains a deformed workers’ state.

In North Korea the leadership of Kim Jung-un is not as yet capitalist restorationist and neither is the middle or lower ranks of the party. On this the continued existence of the deformed workers’ state depends.

There is little evidence of mass working class support for that state. There is a huge difference in the vital statistics of life expectancy and infant mortality between North and South Korea, unlike Cuba. So it is much more dependent on the military and state secret police. Even though the privileges of the Stalinist are substantial this deformed workers state would not survive at all without some working class support. This is based on the memory of the Korean war when scarcely a brick was left on a brick in all the carpet-bombed cities.

Were the American occupation forces to leave South Korea capitalism might well be relatively peacefully restored in the North by agreement with Moon and the South. Not so in Cuba, I suggest.

Comrade Dov commented:

I had a discussion with Gerry Downing about when a state is transformed from a degenerated/deformed workers state to become a capitalist state. I agree that Cuba is still a deformed workers state; mainly because the working class will not give up its benefits from the workers state without a civil war; and, also because Raul Castro and Stalinist bureaucracy are not fully committed to restore capitalism; and they are certainly not committed to smash the working class resistance to capitalist restoration.

When was capitalist restoration took place in Russia? Was Russia a degenerated workers state until “the 1993 crushing of the working class and middle party leaders who defended the Parliament” as Gerry claims? I do not think so. There were two main factions in the CP during the critical days of the 1990s. Both were for capitalist restoration. The Yeltsin’s faction that was subordinated to Western imperialism, wanted a fast restoration in which the nationalized economy would be privatized quickly, and the spoils to be divided between the new native bourgeoisie and the major imperialist countries. The slow-pace restorationists, that include a good chunk of the Stalinist bureaucracy, wanted a slow restoration that allow them to control the process, and eventually privatize some of the major state industry for themselves. That was in line with Trotsky’s prediction in the Revolution Betrayed, in which he wrote that the restorationists would have to rest on the nationalized economy for some time after taking state power.

One important question is what was the nature of the state in 1991, after the restorationists took control of the state, but the dust was not settled because the army was not ready to fully support them? I don’t think that Russia was a workers state, because the state did not longer defend collective property relations. For Lenin the nature of the state was relatively simple. It consists of special bodies of armed men committed to defend one class against the other:

“. . .civilized society is split into antagonistic, and, moreover, irreconcilably antagonistic classes, whose “self-acting” arming would lead to an armed struggle between them. A state arises, a special power is created, special bodies of armed men, and every revolution, by destroying the state apparatus, shows us the naked class struggle, clearly shows us how the ruling class strives to restore the special bodies of armed men which serve it, and how the oppressed class strives to create a new organization of this kind, capable of serving the exploited instead of the exploiters.” (https://www.marxists.org/…/le…/works/1917/staterev/ch01.htm…)

The nature of the state in capitalist restoration is more or less the same in reverse. When Yeltsin took power in Aug 1991, Russia could not be characterized as a degenerated workers state, because the new state apparatus in power was committed to capitalist restoration.

But it was a fluid situation as long as part of the army and the working class were committed to defend the gains from the workers state. This turn into a military battle between the Yeltsin’s government and the Parliament in September-October of 1993. Rutskoy was the Stalinist general who directed the battles against Yeltsin. The Parliament was defended by workers who opposed to capitalist restoration. For a period of time in September and October there was a dual power situation between the Yeltsin government and the Parliament, each issuing their own decrees. It all ended when the hesitant army stormed the parliament after it decided to back Yeltsin. Thus, the restorationist state has become a “stable” capitalist state when all resistance to capitalist restoration was broken in the parliament battles of Sep-Oct 1993.

As we see, the process of counterrevolution and capitalist restoration, as well as the process of revolution, do not fall into a neat formula. It is usually a back and forth zigzag process, for example, the revolutionary process of 1917 met attempts to stop it, such as the Kornilov counterrevolution in September 1917 that failed to crush the Soviets due to mass desertions and resistance by the workers. And while we can say that the nature of the state in Russia was capitalist-restorationist when Yeltsin took power, the restorationist process was not fully done until the army crushed the parliament resistance in 1993. At this point the state was no longer capitalist-restorationist, but outright capitalist.

Gerry’s Reply:

In the three criteria I have adopted above to cover all capitalist restorations there must be:

A restorationist ruling caste.

A restorationist party with no serious internal opposition. And

A working class which had accepted restoration.

Dov says: “I don’t think that Russia was a workers state, because the state did not longer defend collective property relations” and later, “for a period of time in September and October there was a dual power situation between the Yeltsin government and the Parliament, each issuing their own decrees” and he finishes with “And while we can say that the nature of the state in Russia was capitalist-restorationist when Yeltsin took power, the restorationist process was not fully done until the army crushed the parliament resistance in 1993. At this point the state was no longer capitalist-restorationist, but outright capitalist.”

The differences here are small in that Dov acknowledges the importance of the constitutional crisis of September/October 1993. He correctly observes that it revealed a situation of dual power and the regime changed as a result of that defeat from “capitalist-restorationist” to “outright capitalist”. But this presupposes a form of transitional state from August 1991 to October 1993. In Marxist theory there cannot be a transitional state, it is either a workers state or a capitalist state in modern times (feudal states are not possible in the epoch of imperialism). The argument must be when to designate the moment of the overturn, when quantity changed to quality.

Dual power means that no class dominates, and this means that the state had not yet become capitalist and none of our three criteria has really been realised. Many of the top leaders of the bureaucracy increasingly opposed Yeltsin as the economic crisis of 1992 halved workers’ incomes in most of the economy. Alexander Rutskoy was Vice President of Russia from 10 July 199, when he was elected on a joint ticket with Yeltsin, until Yeltsin defeated the uprising on 4 October 1993. He had been Acting President of Russia from 22 September to 4 October, real dual power

Ruslan Khasbulatov was the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR/Russian Federation from that same election in 10 July 1991. Together with Valery Zorkin (Chairman of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation), Yuri Voronin (first vice-chairman of the Supreme Soviet), Alexander Rutskoy and Valentin Stepankov (Prosecutor General) they immediately publicly condemned Yeltsin’s declaration of 20 March as unconstitutional and were all arrested when the army eventually came off the fence and resolved the crisis by crushing the parliamentary resistance. That was the decisive action in restoring capitalism in the Russian Federation and the old USSR.

Official trade unions independent of the state have not existed in Stalinist states since the mid-1920s (despite Lenin’s correct struggle against Trotsky on this question), although their emergence as independent organisations do signal an advance of class consciousness, opening up the possibility of political revolution as seen in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Consequently, the only workers organisations the class can participate in and influence is the Communist party, and as Trotsky pointed out in 1938, “all shades of political thought are to be found among the bureaucracy: from genuine Bolshevism (Ignace Reiss) to complete fascism (F. Butenko).” [24] We hold that there are no longer any genuine Bolsheviks in the remaining Stalinist bureaucracies but there are obviously still leftist layers, in Cuba which do respond to the pressure from the working class, national and international.

Conclusion

We hold that No 1 alone is not enough. That condition was fulfilled in China by Deng by 1978, but there was still the other two obstacles to Deng’s capitalist restorationist project which was not overcome fully until the working class was crushed in Tiananmen Square in June 1989 and the last resistance of the lower ranks of the bureaucracy capitulated on the vote of acceptance of Jiang Zemin speech, “Socialist with Chinese Chrematistics” on 12 October 1992. Likewise, we have argued that in Cuba the bureaucracy under Miguel Díaz-Canel, is capitalist restorationist but cannot proceed to overturn the property relations of the workers state until the resistance of the working class and lower layers of the bureaucracy is broken.

In North Korea it No 1 dominates, the bureaucracy under Kim Jong-Un has not decided on restoration although he faces little resistance from within the party or from the working class that we know about due to the very repressive nature of the regime, similar to the personal dictatorship of Stalin via the secret police from 1934 to 1953. As already noted, unlike Cuba, all the social indices of progress; life expectancy, infant mortality, etc. are far worse in North Korea than in South Korea, despite the high level of literacy. In marked contrast to the far superior life indices of Cuba compared to Haiti, the poorest and most exploited/oppressed country in the western hemisphere, barely 25 miles across the water. The restoration of a capitalist state would not guarantee the survival of Kim’s bureaucracy, and he will oppose it unless and until he gets that guarantee.

We hope that this essay clarifies these very tricky theoretical issues that we have struggled with since before the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 or at the very least opens up a really serious discussion on these vitally important questions for the future of the world revolution. Stalinism is counterrevolutionary as a doctrine of socialism in a single country, but it is not “counterrevolutionary through and through”; the contradictions within it that Trotsky pointed out in 1938 still exist in many ways and we must learn how to fight through those contradictions.


Notes

[1] In Defence of Trotskyism No. 6, Deformed and Degenerated Workers’ States and Capitalist States Reply to RCIT Part 3 (assessment also of the positions of Workers Power/LFI, Ted Grant and the Socialist Party/CWI, Socialist Appeal/IMT, the Spart family ICL/IBT/IG, Mandelites/USFI/US SWP, David North’s SEP/WSWS/ICFI and a passing look at the Cliffite UK SWP).

https://socialistfight.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/idot-6.pdf

[2] L. Trotsky, Writings of Leon Trotsky (1937-38), p.65, p.61.

[3] V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 27, Moscow, 1965, p.335.

[4] CWG / LTT Fusion Declaration, Workers News, No. 44, Mar-Apr 1993.

[5] In Defence of Marxism, Theoretical journal of the Leninist-Trotskyist Tendency, 1995, In Defence of Marxism, Number 3 (June 1995), The Marxist Theory of the State and the Collapse of Stalinism

https://www.marxists.org/histo…/…/document/ltt/ltt-idom3.htm

[6] See Frederick Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, Vol. 3, Moscow, 1973, pp. 326-27).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Vladimir Lenin, 1917, The State and Revolution, Class Society and the State, https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/staterev/ch01.htm

[9] Full Text of Jiang Zemin’s Report at 14th Party Congress, http://www.bjreview.com.cn/document/txt/2011-03/29/content_363504.htm

[10] Socialist Fight, The Marxist Theory of the State, 27-7-17,  https://socialistfight.com/2017/12/27/the-marxist-theory-of-the-state/

[11] Wikipedia, Three-anti and Five-anti Campaigns, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three-anti_and_Five-anti_Campaigns

[12] Here the Sparts acknowledge that it was NOT Castro’s entry into Havana in 1959 which initiated the DWS, rather it was the far vaguer ‘the victory of the revolution’. So why does this criterion not apply to the Iron Curtain, Yugoslavia, Albania, China, North Korea, North and South Viet Nam, Cambodia and Laos? Because Castro was then a self-declared left nationalist and did not call himself a communist at all, these latter were so much better because they called themselves communists; Stalinophilia!

[13]  https://socialistfight.com/2018/10/28/what-is-a-workers-state-how-does-it-come-into-being-and-how-does-it-cease/

[14] Socialist Fight, 30/12/2018, Capitalism in Russia and China in December 2017, https://socialistfight.com/2018/12/30/capitalism-in-russia-and-china-in-december-2017/

[15] Socialist Fight, The Hegemonic Domination of US Imperialism, 13-12-2017, https://socialistfight.com/2017/12/30/the-hegemonic-domination-of-us-imperialism/

[16] Socialist Fight 26-6-18, Is China still a Deformed Workers State? https://socialistfight.com/2018/06/25/is-china-still-a-deformed-workers-state/

[17] Socialist Fight, 17-8-18, China is no longer a deformed worker state, https://socialistfight.com/2018/08/17/china-is-no-longer-a-deformed-workers-state/

[18] Wikiquotes, Fidel Castro https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Fidel_Castro

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Gerry Downing, 26-11-16, Fidel Castro is dead Defend the Cuban Workers State https://socialistfight.com/2016/11/28/fidel-castro-is-dead-defend-the-cuban-workers-state/

[22] Wikipedia, Laos, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laos

[23] Alston, Philip (28 March 2019). “UN expert: Lao PDR’s economic strategy entrenches poverty”. http://www.ohchr.org. Vientiane: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

[24] Leon Trotsky, The USSR and Problems of the Transitional Epoch, (1938), “The public utterances of former foreign representatives of the Kremlin, who refused to return to Moscow, irrefutably confirm in their own way that all shades of political thought are to be found among the bureaucracy: from genuine Bolshevism (Ignace Reiss) to complete fascism (F. Butenko). The revolutionary elements within the bureaucracy, only a small minority, reflect, passively it is true, the socialist interests of the proletariat. The fascist, counterrevolutionary elements, growing uninterruptedly, express with even greater consistency the interests of world imperialism. These candidates for the role of compradors consider, not without reason, that the new ruling layer can insure their positions of privilege only through rejection of nationalization, collectivization and monopoly of foreign trade in the name of the assimilation of “Western civilization.’’ i.e., capitalism. Between these two poles, there are intermediate, diffused Menshevik-SR-liberal tendencies which gravitate toward bourgeois democracy.” https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1938/tp/tia38.htm

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