From New International, August 1944.
Leon Trotsky’s name will be forever linked with the Russian Revolution, not of course as a Russian revolution but as the beginning of the international socialist revolution in Russia.
He fought for this revolution with pen and sword, from his study and from his armoured train in the Red Army. Between the start of his fight, under Tsarism, and its end, under Stalinism, there is a continuous line, the line flowing from Trotsky’s great contribution to Marxism, the theory of the permanent revolution.
Except for the first period of the Bolshevik revolution, when the theory was not — and could not be — attacked, it might be said that all of Trotsky’s literary-political activity revolved around the elaboration of his theory, and its defence from critics. Which critics? The guide in choosing the objects of his polemics was not always their prominence or importance, the extent of the front along which they attacked Trotsky’s views, the weightiness of their criticism. Wherever Trotsky was given an opportunity to elucidate his views, to expand upon them from a new angle, to fortify them in a new way, he seized upon it. The critic did not need to be Stalin or Radek. Even if he was so obscure, and his criticism so trivial or absurd, that the mere mention of his name by Trotsky sufficed to save him from oblivion, Trotsky did not for that reason disdain to deal with him. Ample evidence of this is to be found throughout Trotsky’s writings. The evidence relates not only to polemics about his theory of the permanent revolution but more generally to any of the important views he held.
Similarly with those who were his students and his followers in every country. One example is The New International, which, month in and month out, from its first issue onward, emulated Trotsky by its systematic defence of the principles and program of Marxism against all critics, honest or mendacious, big or small, partial or total. It is, after all, only by this method that the Marxian movement can maintain theoretical alertness, preserve its pre-eminence over all other currents in the working class, and imbue its followers with informed confidence, in contrast to the blind faith, nurtured ignorance or confusion, and slick demagogy that hold together other movements.
What is said above applies not only to debate of Marxists with non- or anti-Marxists, but to discussions within the Marxian movement itself. There we have too often heard that a discussion is a “luxury.” It is as much a luxury to the movement as the circulation of the blood is a luxury to the human body.
In the 1939-40 discussion in the Socialist Workers Party, Trotsky repeatedly challenged the then opposition (now the Workers Party) to debate first and foremost the question of the class character of the Soviet Union, he taking, as is well known, the standpoint that Russia is a degenerated workers’ state.
It goes without saying that he did not for a moment consider it a “closed question” precluding all discussion, although it is no less true that on this question his own position was firm and aggressive. For reasons that were then, and often since, advanced, the opposition did not wish to debate on this ground.
If the writer may speak personally for a moment: I not only did not wish to debate the view that Russia was still a workers’ state, but I could not if I would. Like so many other members of the opposition (and not a few of the majority), I had developed some doubts (as an otherwise dull commentator correctly observed) on the correctness of our traditional position, without being able to say to myself, and therefore to others, that this position was fundamentally false and that an alternative position had to replace it. Inasmuch as only a dilettante, but not a serious politician, can be “sceptical toward all theories,” or engage in a dispute on the basis of “doubts,” let alone make them a polemical platform, it was manifestly impossible for me, and not me alone, to take up Trotsky’s challenge.
Doubts are a bridge you cannot stand on for long. Either you go back to the old views or move on to new ones. Along with several other comrades who sought to probe the question seriously, thoroughly and in an unclouded atmosphere, I helped work out, in 1940-41, a critique of Trotsky’s theory of Russia as a degenerated workers’ state. We arrived at an analysis and conclusions of our own, summed up in the phrase “bureaucratic collectivism,” a new class, exploitive state in Russia which is neither bourgeois nor proletarian but is basically different from any other class regime preceding or contemporary with it.
We proceeded to set forth our views in dozens of articles in our press. Stalin’s assassin deprived Trotsky of the opportunity, which he would undoubtedly have taken, to subject these views to criticism. But the “official” Trotskyist press, The Militant and the Fourth International? For three years it maintained complete silence. It did not, you see, deign to reply, unless a reply means repeating that we are “petty bourgeois,” “counter-revolutionists,” “enemies of the Soviet Union,” “renegades from Marxism... common thieves” and the like — “arguments” which had failed to convince us when they originally appeared in the Daily Worker.
Yet not only we, but all those interested in Trotsky’s views, especially those who supported them, had a right to expect an objective reply to our point of view from the SWP spokesmen. Our theory is the first serious attempt to present a rounded analysis of the Stalinist state from the Marxian standpoint, which, while basing itself in many respects on the invaluable contributions of Trotsky, is at the same time a criticism of Trotsky’s conclusion. Our theory, furthermore, is a unique contribution to the question and not a rehash of old, refuted and discredited doctrines. We do not contend that it cannot be successfully disputed, only that it has not been. The SWP did not even make an attempt to do so.
When we finally published the first English edition of Trotsky’s classic, written in 1923, The New Course, and added to it, as is our custom, an essay by the editor, it explained to the new reader the historical circumstances of the work, its significance in the light of subsequent events, plus a critical re-examination of Trotsky’s later theory of the “workers’ state.”
We felt that the SWP would now have to reply. Some of us thought it would assign a responsible, theoretically and politically equipped spokesman, to review the book as it deserves to be reviewed. Others thought that at most it would assign the job to some unschooled lad equipped with an advanced case of psittacosis and a penchant for abuse. Obviously, some of us were wrong. Under the characteristically restrained title, “A Defamer of Marxism,” a review of the book appeared at last in the May, 1944, issue of the Fourth International, over the signature of Harry Frankel. This is, as we shall see, the literal equivalent of saying: Since the soup is too hot to handle, we might as well spit in it.
Frankel wastes only a few indifferent words on the section of the book written by Trotsky. He concedes, it is true, that The New Course is “beef,” whereas “Shachtman’s essay is the antipode: it is tripe.” But he leaves the impression in the few sentences he devotes to The New Course that it is merely an initial, immature and dated effort by Trotsky. This is in the order of things.
Trotsky’s The New Course is even more timely today than when it was first written. It is one of his most durable works. It is a classic socialist statement on workers’ democracy. It is perhaps the clearest exposition ever written of what democracy means in a centralised, revolutionary proletarian party. It is, of course, a specific analysis of the problem of a specific party, after it has taken power, in a specific country and under specific conditions. This does not detract from its general applicability. What Trotsky says there about party democracy, about a free and vibrant internal life, about the role of tradition and the need of constantly enriching it, about critical and independent party thought, about Leninism, about discussions and how they should be conducted, about loyalty in discussion and in leadership, about the relations between leaders and ranks, between “young” and “old,” about bureaucratism and conservatism, about factions and groupings, and a dozen other vital problems of any revolutionary party amounts to an annihilating criticism of the inner-party regime of the SWP today, of its leaders and their methods. Frankel’s silence on all this, his generally deprecatory remarks, are in the order of things. Had he spoken commendatorily and at length about the ideas Trotsky puts forward in The New Course, he could only have brought a wry smile to the lips of every thinking member of the SWP.
Perhaps we do him an injustice. Perhaps he is so eager to work on the tripe that he has no time for the beef. The tripe he divides into five important parts. He deals with the parentage of our theory; the question of its significance in the “whole of Trotskyism”; the question of the roots of class rule; the question of the historical place of the Stalin bureaucracy; the question of the analogy between Russia and a trade union. If we pursue him through his often dreary and never bright abuse, it is because the task, though thankless, is not without profit.
Today, Burnham writes from the standpoint of an avowed enemy of Marxism, while Shachtman espouses the former position of Burnham, who in turn borrowed it from Bruno. Today, Shachtman even adduces as his main “proof” of the existence of a new class the argument adduced originally by Bruno, namely, Stalin’s purges and frame-up trials of 1936-38. A modest disciple never fails gratefully to acknowledge his teacher. Shachtman ungraciously ignores his true preceptors: Burnham and Bruno.
Burnham’s theory of “bureaucratic collectivism” (borrowed from Bruno) is now coolly offered as an “indispensable correction” to Trotskyism.
About Burnham, our readers know something, and so, presumably, does Frankel. But who is this sinister Bruno? All we know of him is that just before the war lie wrote a big book in France on the “bureaucratisation of the world.” This book we never read. Neither did Frankel. The only thing he knows about Bruno, about whose views he speaks with such impressive familiarity, is the reference to it made by Trotsky in 1939 in a few sentences. It takes a high grade of impertinence or transoceanic vision, one of which Frankel certainly possesses, to speak with such assuredness about views elaborated in a book you have neither seen nor read, and about which all you know is a dozen paraphrasing sentences written by a critic.
But can’t it be assumed that the sentences in which Trotsky sums up the views of one of the “parents” of our theory are adequate? We are ready to do so. According to Trotsky’s summary, Bruno seems to hold the theory that “bureaucratic collectivism” or the bureaucratic state is a new, unprecedented exploitive social order, with a new ruling class, which exists not only in Russia but also in Germany and in a less developed form in “New Deal” America, and is, in a word, sweeping the world. According to this theory, there is no class difference between the German-US type of state and the Russian type. As is known, Burnham’s latest theory is similar, apparently, to Bruno’s.
What, however, has such a theory to do with ours? In every article we have written on the subject, in the official resolution of our party, we have repeatedly emphasised the unique class character of the Russian state, its fundamental difference not only from a workers’ state, but from all the bourgeois states, be they fascist or democratic. Time and again we have polemised against the theory that Russia and Germany, for example, have the same class state or social system or ruling class — against those who, like Burnham and Macdonald, held that both countries were “bureaucratic-collectivist,” as well as against those who held that both were capitalist. Our party has formally rejected both these standpoints. If our cavalier is aware of these facts, he is practising a fraud on his readers by concealing them. If he is unaware of them, lie is practising a fraud on his readers by dealing with matters he is ignorant of. Take your choice.
In The New Course, Trotsky lays the greatest stress on loyalty in discussion, on the importance of an honest presentation of your opponent’s views, on the reprehensibility of amalgamating one view with views that are essentially alien to it. No wonder Frankel thinks so little of the book.
Where does our theory have its roots? Primarily in the writings of Trotsky! More accurately, in the resolving of the two basic, irreconcilable theories about Russia as a “degenerated workers’ state” which are to be found in Trotsky’s writings. For a long time Trotsky rightly based his theory that Russia is a degenerated workers’ state on the view that, to one degree or another, in one form or another, the Soviet proletariat still retained political power, that it could yet submit its bureaucracy to its control, that it could regenerate the state by means of a profound reform. Indeed, Trotsky repeated that the proof of the working class character of the Soviet states lies in the fact that the regime could still be changed by reform. This theory he later abandoned, substituting the point of view that, although the proletariat had lost all semblance of political power and control, and an uncontrolled, counter-revolutionary bureaucracy had complete possession of the state power, and that it could not be removed save by means of a violent revolution, the state was nevertheless proletarian by virtue of the existence of state property. Only Trotsky’s immense authority in the movement made possible the acceptance by it of a theory which, up to that time, had never been held by any Marxist.
In numerous articles we have pointed out the contradiction between the two theories. We have pointed out how Trotsky abandoned the one for the other without so much as a link between them. We have showed how Trotsky was compelled to abandon his original theory because events refuted the essential predictions about Russia’s evolution which he based on it. The voluminous quotations we have adduced from Trotsky’s writings are simply irrefutable. Enough of them are again cited in our essay on The New Course. Frankel does not even hint at their existence (we are making the audacious assumption that he actually read the book). With consummate native skill, he plays dumb on this point. And not on this point alone.
This is not all. Frankel knows — and if he does not know, why does he venture to blacken so much innocent white paper? — that our press, the present writer in particular, has called attention to the fact that the first man (so far as we know) in the Trotskyist movement who put forward the theory that the Stalinist bureaucracy is a new ruling class, based on a new “property form,” was neither Shachtman, Burnham, nor, God help us, the mysterious Bruno, but Christian Rakovsky. More than a decade ago, Rakovsky, next to Trotsky the outstanding leader of the Opposition, presented this view in a theoretical document of his own, which was circulated throughout the Russian Opposition. Trotsky, although he obviously did not share this view, printed it in the organ of the Russian Opposition without comment and certainly without denunciation — he was not made of the same stern and intransigent stuff as his eminent theoretical successor, Frankel. There is enough evidence, moreover, in letters of Oppositionist exiles and in the testimony of A. Ciliga, that Rakovsky’s theory was shared by a considerable number of Russian Trotskyists. Poor devils! They had no Frankel to explain to them that they were “defamers of Marxism,” purveyors of tripe, and belonged, as he so delicately puts it, to the “legion of emasculators, vulgarisers and falsifiers” of Trotskyism.
We do not hesitate for a moment to say that this or that element of our theory as a whole is taken from numerous other sources, including, if you please, Burnham (the Burnham of 1937-38, of course, and not the Burnham of 1940 or today). If our critics derive satisfaction from this readily-made acknowledgement, it is either because they do not know anything about the “alien” origins and components of the entire theoretical system of Marxism, or because they do not care. For the construction of our theory, for its synthesis, for the ideas of others and of our own incorporated into it, for the manner in which they are incorporated and interlinked, we and we alone are responsible.
“With typical impudence,” says Frankel, to whom impudence of any kind is as foreign as a bad odour to a sty, “Shachtman pretends that Trotsky’s class analysis of the Soviet Union as a degenerated workers’ state ‘is not even a decisively important part’ of Trotskyism. This is like saying that a man could function without a heart.”
We thus learn for the first time, but from an authority, that the “heart” of Trotskyism is the theory of the “degenerated workers’ state.” Which of the two theories Trotsky held on this subject is the “heart” of Trotskyism, the authority does not say. After all, what does it matter?
In our own confused way, we have always though that the “heart” of Trotskyism is the theory of the permanent revolution and the struggle for it. Frankel, we regretfully record, has not changed our opinion. For if the theory that Stalinist Russia is still a degenerated workers’ state is the “heart” of Trotskyism, then obviously Trotskyism was without a heart, and consequently non-existent, before the Russian Revolution and during the early years of the revolution. It seems equally obvious that if Russia should tomorrow cease to be a “degenerated workers’ state,” either by virtue of its regeneration or its transformation into a capitalist state, the “heart” of Trotskyism would thereby be removed, leaving only a lifeless carcass which Frankel would not consider worthy of decent burial. To put it differently, the restoration of the Russian revolution to full life would produce the instantaneous death of Trotskyism. Or, to strain fairness toward our inimitable dialectician to the groaning point, if the “degenerated workers’ state” were replaced by a revolutionary workers’ state, Trotskyism would have a new “heart” grated into it, its old one being removed to a bottle of formaldehyde labelled: “This was the heart of Trotskyism when Russia was a degenerated workers’ state. Remove only in case of similar contingency — Dr. Frankel, M.D.”
Only one other thing need be said about this nightmarish idiocy.
We consider ourselves Trotskyists because we are partisans of the theory of the permanent revolution, because Trotskyism incarnated the tradition and principles of revolutionary Marxism, of socialist internationalism, above all in a period when these principles were being trampled under every foot. We are not idolators, precisely because we are Trotskyists. We know how easy it is, as Lenin used to say, sardonically, to “swear by God,” and we have only pitying contempt for those who substitute the quotation for the living idea, worshipful parrotry for critical thought. We are Trotskyists, but we do not “swear by God.” But if it can truly be demonstrated that the very “heart” of Trotskyism is the belief that Russia today is a “degenerated workers’ state” and that all the other organs and limbs of Trotskyism live from the bloom pumped to them by this heart, then the present writer, at least, would promptly cease calling himself a Trotskyist. At the same time, however, he would have to conclude that Trotskyism and Marxism are not reconcilable. Fortunately, no such conclusion is indicated, or necessary, or possible.
We come now to the third of Frankel’s five points. Here we must admonish the reader. He must resolve in advance not to laugh himself sick. On this he must be firm, for Frankel offers more temptations than the unforewarned reader can possibly resist.
The reader is surely acquainted with the point: An analogy is made between the bureaucratised trade unions, with their bourgeois-minded leaders, and bureaucratised Russia. “Just as trade unions have become corrupted and degenerated, losing their internal democracy and giving up militant struggle in defence of the interests of the membership, just so, the Soviet Union, subject to far more enormous pressures, has been altered,” writes Frankel. But the degenerated workers’ state and the degenerated trade union remain class organisations and a struggle must be conducted to reform (!) them and to defend them against the capitalists.”
(According to Trotsky, the “degenerated workers’ state” cannot be reformed; according to the heart specialist, it can and must be reformed. Frankel does not know the difference between revolution and reform, but in every other respect he is an authority on Trotskyism and above all on what lies at its heart.)
The “trade union analogy” has long been a favoured argument of the defenders of the theory that Russia is a degenerated workers’ state. Following Trotsky, the present writer used the “analogy” more than once. Along with others, he accepted it uncritically from Trotsky. This acceptance was eased, so to speak, by the fact that the analogy has a long and worthy standing dating back to the earliest days of the Russian Revolution. But if it is traced back clearly to those days, it will be seen that the analogy was entirely legitimate in its time. It was not employed to prove that Russia was a workers’ state, however. It was employed to show why the workers’ state did not always operate as the ideal program indicated. Between the two uses of the analogy, there is a world of difference.
Whatever may have been our errors on this point in the past, they look like downright virtues in comparison with what Frankel does with it. We beg the reader to follow very closely. It would be a pity to miss any part of it.
“Shachtman discusses the trade union analogy only to abandon this time the Marxist position on trade unions,” says our relentless Spartan. Shachtman, it is clear, has left very little of Marxism, and Frankel has left very little of Shachtman. But even if there were less, it would still suffice for what follows.
Wherein lies this new “abandonment”? Read carefully the quotation from Shachtman which Frankel cites:
The trade unions remain trade unions, no matter how bureaucratised they become, as long as they fight (ineptly or skilfully, reformistically or militantly) in the defence of the workers’ share of the national income, or at least against its diminution. Once they give up that fight, they may call themselves what they will, they may have ever so many workers in their ranks (as many company unions have), but they are no longer class organisations. John L. Lewis’ organisation is still a trade union; Robert Ley’s is not.
Now read just as carefully Frankel’s comment on this definition, part of which we ourselves emphasise:
This point of view is clear, It is consistent, it is harmonious with the Shachtmanite point of view on the Soviet Union. It likewise happens to be the traditional position of the ultra-leftists. Lenin polemicised against it in The Infantile Disease of Left-Wing Communism. It is precisely on this theory that the Stalinists constructed their thesis of “social fascism,” and their designation of the AFL as a “fascist” organisation.
What’s right is right; our view on the trade unions is clear, consistent and harmonious with our views on Russia. Every thing else in this quotation, except for the spelling and punctuation, is — if we may be forgiven the abusiveness provoked by snarling, stubborn ignorance — wrong and stupid.
Frankel thinks I cited the Lewis union because it is “the one union which has conducted four general coal strikes in the midst of the war ... This generous fellow would give ice away at the North Pole.” A heart specialist, a trade union expert, and a wit to boot. The fact is the United Mine Workers was cited by me not because it “conducted four general coal strikes in the midst of the war,” but because it is one of the most bureaucratically constructed, managed and controlled unions in the country, and yet is a proletarian organisation. Our wit is persistent: “But the question remains: what is the Hod Carriers Union, which holds conventions every ninety-nine years? Or the Stalinist-run UE, which fights for incentive pay, not against it? Or anyone of a dozen others.”
The answer to these questions must be given, we fear. Frankel is old enough to be told the truth, at least in a whisper. The members of the Hod Carriers Union are among the highest-paid workers in the United States. The union leaders are despots, some are even said to be gangsters, grafters and corruptionists, some have made a mighty good thing for themselves out of unionism. But, by terroristic methods, if you will, by bureaucratic and reactionary methods, and with the aim of feathering their own nests, they work and must work “in the defence of the workers’ share of the national income, or at least against its diminution.” If they did not, the union would disappear and so would the very basis on which their autocratic power and privileges are built up. The Stalinist-led unions are, of course, somewhat different, but fundamentally the same. Take even incentive pay. The Stalinists put it forward, and are compelled to put it forward, as a means of increasing the workers’ income. We say that the incentive-pay system, while it would increase the income of some workers, or of all of them temporarily, would do so at the expense of the muscles and nerves of the workers, at the expense of their long-range interests, at the expense of the solidarity and fighting power of the union, etc., etc. How mortifying the thought that the ABC’s have to be explained to a Marxian theoretician of such height, breadth and weight.
Four times we read Frankel’s comment on our definition. But nowhere did we find a word to indicate how he defines a trade union, how he would distinguish even the most reactionary trade union from a company union or from Ley’s “Labour Front.” What standard would he employ? That it was originally formed by workers? That it is composed of workers? That it claims to speak for workers? What? What?
If instead of comparing Russia with a union, we would compare a union with Russia, then by Frankel’s standards, a union would still deserve the name: if the “union” bureaucracy had all the power, if it had an army and police at its disposal to oppress the members, if it could be removed from office only by violent insurrection, if it ran prisons for recalcitrant members, if it made an alliance with U. S. Steel for joint picket lines against Republic Steel, if we opposed the organisation of the unorganised (“against the seizures of new territories by the Kremlin” — Trotsky), if we favoured the withdrawal, say, of its Negro members to form a separate union (“independence of the Ukraine” — Trotsky), and so forth. Ley’s “union” could easily fit into such a definition
Disappointed by Frankel’s failure to define a union, we seek elsewhere. Perhaps the following definition will prove acceptable:
The character of such a workers’ organisation as that of a trade union is determined by its relation to the distribution of the national income. The fact that Green & Co. defend private property in the means of production characterises them as bourgeois. Should these gentlemen in addition defend the income of the bourgeoisie from the attacks on the part of the workers, should they conduct a struggle against strikes, against the raising of wages, against help to the unemployed, then we would have an organisation of scabs and not a trade union. However, Green & Co., in order not to lose their base, must lead within certain limits the struggle of the workers for an increase — or at least against diminution — of their share in the national income. This objective symptom is sufficient in all important cases to permit us to draw a line of demarcation between the most reactionary trade union and an organisation of scabs. Thus we are duty-bound not only to carry on work in the AFL, but to defend it from scabs, the Ku Klux Klan, and the like.
Is this the “traditional position of the ultra-leftists”? Is this what Lenin polemised against? Is this “precisely” the theory on which “the Stalinists constructed their thesis on “social fascism”? Is this clear? Is it consistent? Is it, too, “harmonious with Shachtman’s point of view on the Soviet Union”?
Doesn’t every one of Frankel’s strictures against Shachtman’s definition apply equally to this definition? Absolutely! No more, no less! Who is the author of this second definition? Shachtman? No! Shachtman is guilty only of having copied it, in some places word for word, in all places meaning for meaning. It is Trotsky who is guilty of writing it! Our “authority” will find it in the December, 1937, Internal Bulletin of the Socialist Workers Party, No. 3, page 4.
Trotsky says you recognise the difference between a scab outfit and a union by the fact that the latter, even under Green and Co., “must lead within certain limits the struggle of the workers for an increase — or at least against diminution — of their share in the national income.”
Shachtman, frankly “plagiarising” from Trotsky, says you recognise the difference between a fascist “front” and a union by the fact that the latter, even under Lewis and Co., “fight (ineptly or skilfully, reformistically or militantly) in the defence of the workers’ share of the national income, or at least against its diminution.”
The thought and even the language are identical, and not by accident, for both are dealing, Mr. Authority, with the ABC’s of Marxism; both are dealing, Mr. Trade Union Expert, with the ABC’s of trade unionism. And what does the Expert-Authority say about these definitions — not the stupid things about Lenin and social-fascism, but the unwittingly intelligent things? He says, let us remember, that “this point of view... is harmonious with the Shachtmanite point of view on the Soviet Union.” Agreed! No complaint!
We could complain, however, if we were given to indignation over such things. If we were, then we might say: Have we really committed such unforgivable crimes that in a discussion of this importance you send against us a zero who does not know what the “heart” of Trotskyism is, where the roots of our theory lie, what the difference is between revolution and reform in Russia, or even what a common, ordinary trade union is — not even what Trotsky said it is — and who argues that Trotsky’s definition of a union is harmonious with Shachtman’s definition of Russia?
Inasmuch as indignation is really not called for here — pity is the more appropriate emotion — we do not make this complaint. It seems to us, however, that the membership of the SWP does have grounds for energetic complaint — Does our party have to discredit itself so ridiculously? Is this the only way we have of replying to the views of the Workers Party?
These questions will gain greater poignancy when we examine next month the last two points dealt with by the Authority. We fear he will not fare too well under the examination. We invited honest, sober and informed criticism of our position. Instead, we got Frankel. The fault is clearly not ours.
We have already seen that our critic does not know what the “heart of Trotskyism” is, what are the sources of our criticism of Trotsky’s theory of the “degenerated workers’ state,” and that he does not even know what a trade union is. We have also established that by Frankel’s involuntary admission, Trotsky’s conception of a trade union (which Frankel attributes to Shachtman alone) “is clear, it is consistent, it is harmonious with the Shachtmanite point of view on the Soviet Union.” There remain two of the original five points to deal with: the question of the roots of class rule and the question of the historical place of the Stalin bureaucracy.
Marxists view classes as the product of historical development, in other words, all classes have a past and a future, as well as the present. Shachtman’s “new exploitive class” is, in Shachtman’s own words, “without a past and without a future.” (Max Shachtman, The Struggle for the New Course.)
Lenin insisted that the roots of all class rule are to be found in the productive foundations of society. He said: “The rule of the class is determined only by the relationship to property.” To explain the rule of his “new class,” Shachtman points not to the foundation but to the political superstructure. It thus turns out that Shachtman’s “indispensable correction” applies not only to Trotsky but to Lenin and Marx as well. But Shachtman simply forgets to mention such trifles.
“Wherein does the rule of the class [the proletariat] express itself?” asked Lenin. And he answered: “The rule of the proletariat expresses itself in the abolition of landed and capitalist property.” Not the introduction of nationalised property and planning but the abolition of the old property forms sufficed for Lenin.
How does Shachtman get around this? Very simply. He denies that his new class needs either to abolish previous property forms or institute new ones of its own.
Shachtman’s class that has no past and no future possesses for its “fundament” not property relations but the “ownership” of “political power.” Needless to add, this “ownership” in its turn has neither a past nor a future. Such tripe is, according to Shachtman, “the veriest commonplace of Marxism.” (Fourth International, May, 1944, page 150.)
This is typical Frankel: x parts ignorance (principal ingredient), x parts falsification (never omitted), x parts insolence (the style is the man), and x parts plain, ordinary, anhydrous muddleheadedness; the solvent is not even tap-water. This chemical analysis requires demonstration. Here it is.
1. For Lenin, the roots of class rule are to be found in the productive foundations of society; Shachtman, however, who simply forgets to mention (note: “forgets to mention”) such trifles, points not to the foundation but to the political super-structure.
That Shachtman, who is in his way as human as Frankel, may forget to mention one trifle or another, is more than possible. But the trifle of which Frankel speaks with that mastery of sarcasm which marks him out from a world of dullards, was not forgotten by Shachtman. Not only was it not forgotten, but it is to this very trifle that the origin of the new ruling class in Russia was traced. In The Struggle for the New Course it says:
At bottom, classes have risen and come to power throughout history in response to the developing needs of production which preceding classes were unable to satisfy. This is the case, also, with the new ruling class in Russia. The Russian bourgeoisie had ample opportunity to prove that it could not, or could no longer, develop the productive forces of the country. It came upon the scene too late to play the historically progressive role it played in the Western countries....
But if the bourgeoisie came too late, the proletariat of Russia came to power, so to speak, “too early.” It is of course more proper to say that the rest of the European proletariat did not come to power early enough. The results of this retardation of the world revolution are known. The isolated Russian proletariat, in a backward country, could not satisfy the needs of production, either. It could not satisfy them on a socialist basis. That was the quintessential point made by Trotsky in his theory of the permanent revolution. It was with this conviction in mind that he combatted the bureaucracy’s theory of “socialism in a single country.” The bureaucracy won, the revolution degenerated. But not in accordance with the predictions of Lenin or Trotsky. The revolution did not turn to capitalism. (Pages 241f.)
The reader, we think, is getting some idea of who it is that simply “forgets to mention” the “trifles.” Let us continue.
“All modern nations,” we noted on page 219, “experience the need of an economic organisation and strength that will enable them to survive.” The Russian bourgeoisie, however, was unable to develop the productive forces, an inability which conditioned its social impotence and the triumph of the Russian revolution under the hegemony of the proletariat. (A contrary view is a capitulation to Menshevism.) The proletariat, in turn, was able to develop the productive forces — in Trotsky’s words, make possible an “authentic rise of a socialist economy” — only with the state aid of the victorious Western proletariat. (A contrary view is a capitulation to Stalinism.) The old prediction said: Without the world revolution, Russia will inevitably stagnate and then succumb to capitalism in the form of foreign imperialist exploitation; also, Stalinism is turning the country in that direction. The prediction, however understandable, was erroneous. A tremendous economic advance was made under Stalin’s “Planning.” It was not a socialist advance — this prediction of Trotsky was absolutely borne out. But neither was it capitalist! It was not accomplished by restoring private ownership in the means of production and exchange or by abolishing the monopoly of foreign trade.
The productive forces were not developed by way of socialisation (which implies a trend toward socialism) but by way of bureaucratic collectivism. The new bureaucracy was born, grew, and took power in response, not to the needs of society as a whole — the world proletariat is sufficiently capable of satisfying those — but to the organic needs of a backward, isolated country, existing in unique and unprecedented world conditions. (Page 242.)
Let us temper the verdict with charity, and say: Frankel “simply forgets to mention” that he wrote his review before reading the book. Impossible! the reader may protest. Impossible or not, the statement has the virtue of mercifully avoiding the right name for Frankel.
2. For Lenin, the rule of the class is determined only by the relationship to property; Shachtman, however, tries to get around this by arguing that “his new class” establishes no new property forms of its own, and does not have property relations but the ownership of political power as its fundament.
That looks bad — but only if there lingers in you a faith that Frankel understands what he reads, or even reads what he reviews and condemns. It does not look so bad when you understand that the rule of the class is determined in the same way in Lenin’s conception and in Shachtman’s. The latter wrote in The Struggle for the New Course: “It is of the ABC of Marxism that the fundament of all social relations (that is, relations of production) are property relations. That holds for the old slaveholding societies, for feudal society, for capitalist society and for the proletarian state.” (Page 233.) “How,” asked Frankel, “does Shachtman get around” Lenin’s conception? Very simply: by sharing it.
But it is necessary to know what conception it is we share. Lenin speaks of property relations, of the relationship of a class to property, that is, to the means of production and exchange. Let us present a little more of the speech by Lenin at the 9th Congress of the Russian party in 1920, from which Frankel takes his quotations.
When the question of property was decided in practice, the rule of the class was thereby assured: thereupon the constitution wrote down on paper what life has decided: “There is no capitalist and landed property,” and it added: “The working class has more rights than the peasantry, but the exploiters have no rights at all.” Therewith was written down the manner in which we realised the rule of our class, in which we bound together the toilers of all strata, of all the little groups....
The rule of the class is determined only by the relationship to property. That is precisely what determines the constitution. And our constitution correctly sets down our attitude to property and our attitude to the question of what class must stand at the head. (My emphasis — M. S.)
“And it added” — what Frankel failed to add: The working class has more rights than the peasantry, but the exploiters have no rights at all. “Therewith was written down the manner in which we realised the rule of our class.” Class rule is determined only by the relationship to property. “Our constitution correctly sets down our attitude to property and our attitude to the question of what class must stand at the head.” Today, the working class does not have “more rights than the peasantry.” The capitalist exploiters have no rights at all in the Stalinist state, but neither have the workers or the peasants. The working class does not “stand at the head.” It is in the prison house that — so Frankel says — Stalin has made out of Russia.
In Russia in 1917, the proletariat first took political power. Then, the proletariat — in — power “did abolish property and abolished it completely.” The “rule of the class was thereby assured.” The constitution then gave the proletariat ruling rights; it provided that the proletariat “must stand at the head.” The means of production and exchange became the property of the workers’ state. The setting up of a new class state by the Stalinist counterrevolution was accomplished by wiping all this out, by establishing fundamentally different property relations.
All wiped out? This is where Frankel is baffled. Isn’t it a fact that property is still nationalised, still state property? Do not the property forms set up by the Bolshevik revolution still remain? Isn’t it a fact that “the abolition of the old [capitalist] property forms sufficed for Lenin”? and that these old forms have not yet been restored by the counterrevolutionary bureaucracy?
Here we approach the nub of the problem.
The “abolition of the old property forms” would not have “sufficed for Lenin” if these forms (capitalist private property) had been burned out in a fire, inundated in a storm, or bombed into rubble by Flying Fortresses.
The abolition sufficed because it was accomplished by the proletariat-in-power which converted capitalist property into the property of a proletarian state. By this action, the proletarian state completed (the first stage of) the transformation not only of the old property relations. What is the meaning of this distinction between “forms” and “relations”? Does it exist in reality or is it purely verbal?
Under capitalism, property exists in the form of capitalist private property. This simple sentence already shows what are the property relations under capitalism. Regardless of the political regime (be it monarchical, democratic, militarist, Fascist or even semi-feudal), the capitalist class owns the property (means of production, etc.) and the proletariat works, as Marx would say, “with conditions of labour belonging to another.” That is how we find the relationships of the classes to property. The state exists to maintain these relationships. The minute, therefore, you say “capitalist property forms” you have already said “capitalist property relations.” Similarly, under slavery and feudalism, and in general wherever property is privately owned. The class that owns the property is the ruling class.
But what about the society in which property is not privately but state-owned? Trotsky wrote about the Stalinist bureaucracy that “the very fact of its appropriation of political power in a country where the principal means of production are in the hands of the state, creates a new and hitherto unknown relation between the bureaucracy and the riches of the nation” (Revolution Betrayed, page 249). Let us re-emphasise: a new and hitherto unknown relation. This thought, however, needs supplementation: the seizure of political power by the proletariat in a country where it turns over the principal means of production to the hands of the state also creates a new and hitherto unknown relation between the rulers and the property. For the third time we emphasise: a new and hitherto unknown relation.
Why new? Why hitherto unknown? Because the proletariat, its revolution, and the social order whose establishment is its historic mission, differ fundamentally from all preceding classes, their revolutions and their social orders. The proletariat is not a property-owning class under capitalism; and it does not become a property-owning class when it takes power. When it takes state power, it turns the property over to its state. Its relations to property are then expressed only through its state. It “owns” the property only inasmuch as it rules the property-owning state. That is the only way the proletariat ever did own property, ever will own it and ever can own it. It owns it through its state, the workers’ state, through its political power!
That is why there is such lamentable ignorance in the sarcastic question: “Since when did a ruling class have for its fundament not property relations but the ownership of political power? Are the Fascists a new ruling class? Is an absolute monarch a new ruling class?”
No, the monarch was not a ruling class; the feudal lords were, because they owned the landed property. The fascists are not a ruling class; the bourgeoisie is, because it owns the means of production and exchange. The proletariat, however, is not merely “another” class, but a fundamentally different one: It does not and cannot own property. It can only “own” the state when it takes power. By that “ownership” it establishes state property which it organises and operates so that it ceases to be state property and becomes social property. The state itself ceases to be.
The complete expropriation of the political power of the working class by the Stalinist bureaucracy only makes this point clearer. The property forms seem to be the same as they were before: property exists in the form of state property. Therefore, cries Frankel triumphantly, it is still a workers’ state, even if politically degenerated.
But hold on a moment: What are now the property relations in Russia? That is, what are the relations of the various classes (or, let us say, the various social groups) to the state property? We have been told by Lenin, through Frankel, that the rule of the class is determined only by the relationship to property. Granted. But just how shall we now determine what the relationship is?
In a society where property is privately owned, the question answers itself: this class (or social group) owns the property, this class does not. Such an answer is obviously impossible in a society where property is not privately owned but state owned. To determine then the relations to property of the various social groups, is it not clear that we must first find out what are their respective relations to the state-which-owns-the-property?
“From the point of view of property in [ownership of] the means of production,” wrote Trotsky, “the differences between a marshal and a servant girl, the head of a trust and a day labourer, the son of a people’s commissar and a homeless child, seem not to exist at all.” (Revolution Betrayed.)
That’s just the point, although Trotsky did not draw the right conclusion. If you look at Russia from the standpoint of ownership of the means of production in the same way you look at a society in which these are privately owned — the trust head and the labourer have exactly the same property relations. Yet, in reality, their respective relations to property are as fundamentally different as the respective relations to property of the bourgeois and the proletarian under capitalism (except that in Russia the gap between the classes is so much greater). The bureaucracy is the ruling class. It has all the political power, the proletariat has none.
That is why Frankel’s “irony” about Shachtman because the latter “points not to the foundation but to the political superstructure,” is so utterly out of place. He does not understand the historically unprecedented nature of the proletarian state power, the peculiarity of the proletariat as a ruling class. He does not understand what is unprecedented about the class rule of the Stalinist bureaucracy. He derides its “ownership” of “political power” as something quite secondary, because he cannot grasp the simple idea that where property belongs to the state, the “ownership” of the state power means the monopolisation of all economic and social power. The bureaucracy is the ruling class because its “mere” political power makes it the owner of the conditions of production. It is always the relation of the owners of the conditions of production to the actual producers that shows us the real basis of a class society and establishes the true class character of the state. The Stalinist state is no exception to this rule.
This is the nub of the problem, we said. Without understanding this essentially simple idea, the Stalinist counter-revolution will remain an enigma and a source of confusion.
We wrote that our criticism of Trotsky’s theory “introduces into it an indispensable correction.” The key to this correction is given by Trotsky. If we quote Trotsky himself, this may be of help to Frankel, whose Marxism consists, in Lenin’s excellent phrase, of “swearing by God.”
In the Revolution Betrayed, Trotsky shows how bourgeois society has maintained itself and developed in spite of different political regimes and bureaucratic castes. “In contrast to this, the property relations which issued from the socialist revolution are indivisibly bound up with the new state as their repository. The predominance of socialist over petty bourgeois tendencies is guaranteed, not by the automatism of the economy — we are still far from that — but by political measures taken by the dictatorship. The character of the economy as a whole thus depends upon the character of the state power.” (Page 250. My emphasis — M.S.)
Our whole difference with this basically unassailable statement of the problem lies in the fact that we draw the consistent conclusion. The new state is the repository of the property relations and is indivisibly bound up with them! The character of the economy depends upon the character of the state power! And that in contrast to bourgeois society! Once this is understood, the rest follows.
It is this conception that lay at the heart of Trotsky’s first theory of Russia as a degenerated workers’ state: the state is the repository of the property relations; the character of the economy depends upon the character of the state power. In this first theory, Trotsky, as Frankel would put it, “pointed not to the foundations but to the political superstructure.” That is why Trotsky used to repeat and repeat that Russia is still a workers’ state because the political power can be reformed, “that the proletariat of the USSR has not forfeited the possibility of submitting the bureaucracy to it, of reviving the party and of mending the regime of the dictatorship — without a new revolution, with the methods and on the road of reform.” (Problems of the Development of the USSR, page 36.)
With the abandonment of the program of reform and the adoption of the view that the Stalinist bureaucracy can be overthrown only by a revolution, Trotsky was compelled also to abandon his first theory and to develop an altogether different one, namely, Russia is still a workers’ state because property is still nationalised. This complete change has been demonstrated by us in detail and in several places, including The Struggle for the New Course. Frankel just acts as if he never heard of the point. His silence encourages the belief that our demonstration is irrefutable.
The second theory of Trotsky is radically different from the first. Originally, the state was the repository of the property relations; now the “property relations” (nationalised property) are the “repository” of the state. Originally, the character of the economy was determined by the character of the state power (Frankel’s “political superstructure”); now the character of the state power is determined by the character of the economy.
If you understand and hold to the first, and only correct, conception of Trotsky, you understand why the counter-revolutionary bureaucracy, in conquering state power and establishing itself as the new ruling class, did not need “to abolish previous property forms or institute new ones of its own,” at least not in appearance. By completing its conquest of state power, the bureaucracy established new property relations. Thereby (will Frankel ever understand this?) it established property forms of its own, if by that is meant social property forms. When the proletariat was in power, property existed and was exploited in Russia in the form of property-of-the-workers’-state. With Stalinism in complete power, property exists and is exploited in the form of property-of-the-bureaucratic-collectivist state. Stalinism has wiped out all the conquests of the proletarian revolution.
The trouble with Frankel, at bottom, is that he accepts and his party repeatedly disseminates the fundamental sophism of the Stalinist doctrine, which, in the new Russian constitution, legalises the lie that state property equals “the possessions of the whole people.”
3. A ruling class without a past and without a future? In a terse, but all the more devastating reply, Frankel says: “Such tripe is, according to Shachtman, ‘the veriest commonplace of Marxism’.”
Neither the commonplaces nor the complexities of Marxism are made up of tripe. This we will grant. But only if we are allowed to add that discussions of Marxism should not be made up of forgeries.
In the chapter on the bureaucracy as a new ruling class, Shachtman analyses the hopeless contradiction into which Trotsky’s theory drove him in 1939 when he presented us with a proletarian revolution carried out in Russian-occupied Poland by the “counterrevolutionary workers’ state.” (Brave Frankel, like his friends, has not one word to say in defence of Trotsky on this point.) At the end of his analysis, Shachtman writes that “In comparison with this, our theory of the Stalinist bureaucracy as a new and reactionary exploitive class, and of Russia as a bureaucratic-collectivist class state, neither proletarian nor bourgeois, is the veriest commonplace of Marxism” (page 241). Several pages later, at the end of the volume, Shachtman writes, in an entirely different connection, about “the new bureaucracy, without a past and without a future” (page 247).
Frankel, who belongs to the “only moral people,” simply cuts away the couple of thousand words that separate the two quotations, pastes together the two unrelated clauses with a little trip, and passes it off on the public as a genuine check written “according to Shachtman.” Following right after this clumsy little forgery appears a sub-heading over another one of Frankel’s stern indictments of us. It reads (O Coincidence!): “A Petty Bourgeois Counterfeit.” The only comment this requires is two punctuation marks: !!
However, we did speak of the Stalinist bureaucracy as being without a past and without a future. It is a question that is best dealt with — in so far as it can be adequately treated in an article — in connection with the final point raised (i.e., muddled up) by Frankel:
According to Marxists, the historical justification for every ruling class is the ability under its particular system of exploitation to raise the development of productive forces of society as a whole to a new level. Does Shachtman grant this ability to Stalinism, i.e., his own “new exploitive class”? ...
The gist of Shachtman’s 128-page argument boils down to a representation of the crimes of Stalinism as the birthpangs that marked the rise of a new class to power. No more, no less. It is an elementary principle of Marxism that ruling classes rise in society through the operation of forces beyond the control of men’s consciousness, reason or will. The rise of new ruling classes can be retarded or facilitated but never prevented — until and unless these classes have exhausted their historic mission. In the light of this, what is Shachtman’s version of the evolution of the Soviet Union if not an attempt to supply an historical justification not for the ascendancy of a new class but actually for the abominations of the Kremlin?
Ex ungue leonem — you know the lion by his claws. Another species of animal, however, you know by its bray. From the braying, we gather that Shachtman is not only trying to provide an historical justification for Stalinism, “but actually for the abominations of the Kremlin.” Obviously a detestable creature this Shachtman. Much deeper he cannot sink.
However, if we fumigate the air a little and reflect a little, things look more cheerful.
In the first place, the two accusations are in conflict: Shachtman says the bureaucracy has no past and no future, and he gives the bureaucracy an historical justification. If it is historically justified, it has both an historical past and an historical future.
In the second place, Shachtman nowhere speaks of an historical justification of Stalinism, nor does he suggest that it has one. Here we have not a forgery, but an invention.
And in the third place, the only one in our movement who ever spoke of an historical justification of the Stalinist bureaucracy was — Leon Trotsky. As in the case of the definition of a trade union, Frankel does not know where Trotsky ends and where Shachtman begins (this is his only qualification for writing on either one of them).
On December 28, 1934, Trotsky wrote: “Indeed, the historical justification for the very existence of the bureaucracy is lodged in the fact that we are still very far removed from socialist society.” (The Kirov Assassination, page 10.) Further, he notes that the Stalinist dictatorship is both a heritage of past class struggles and an instrument for preventing a new class struggle. “In this and in this alone rests the historical justification for the existence of the present Soviet dictatorship.” (Ibid., page 11.) Again, in the same work: “It would be criminal to deny the progressive work accomplished by the Soviet bureaucracy.” (Ibid., page 25.)
(This Trotsky pamphlet was translated by J. G. Wright. Wright is editor of the Fourth International. Without a murmur, he prints Frankel’s ignorant and venomous observations on “historical justification.” What does it matter? Who will read the answer to it? Is it against the “petty bourgeois opposition”? Is it true and harsh and tough and vicious? Well, so much the better! That’s how we rough-and-tumble proletarians (i.e., J G Wright! i.e., H Frankel! i.e., J. Hansen!) write, and if you don’t like it you can lump it. Let’s print it, damn it all.)
In a sense, we are able to accept Trotsky’s characterisation of the bureaucracy. That is why we are able to speak of the new class without a past and without a future — that is, without an historical past or future. If Frankel had resisted his penchant for tearing phrases out of their context, the meaning would have been clearer.
We say the Stalinist bureaucracy is a new ruling class because it is the “owner of the conditions of production.” Despite similarities in certain aspects with other class societies (the capitalist, for example), it differs basically from all of them in its own unique mode of production, in the “specific economic form in which unpaid surplus labour is pumped out of the direct producers,” in the distribution of the means of production and of the products of economy.
As a result of unforeseen historical circumstances, it arose out of “the needs of production”; it did develop the productive forces in a way that no other class could under the given conditions.
We say this class is without a past. We seek thereby to distinguish it from the great and durable classes of history which, for various objective reasons (economic, geographical, etc.), went through a long evolution and decisively directed the course of social development. What Frankel says about “every ruling class” is true only in a manner of speaking, that is, with the necessary historical limitations. In other words, it is not true as an absolutely valid dogma. History is studded with the record of classes under whose rule society stagnated and which could not be fitted into Frankel’s rigid formula. Whoever does not know this had better rush to a serious history before he even pretends to speak about Marxism.
Marxism does not say that the world, and everything in it, marches straight from primitive communism to slavery, then to feudalism, then to capitalism, then to the proletarian dictatorship and communism, with no reversions, sideleaps, combinations or “oddities” whatsoever. This is an utterly primitive conception of Marxism.
“My critic,” wrote Marx to the Russian Populist, Danielson, “must needs metamorphose my outline of the genesis of capitalism in western Europe into a historic-philosophical theory of the general course, fatally imposed upon all peoples, regardless of the historical circumstances in which they find themselves placed, in order to arrive finally at that economic formation which insures with the greatest amount of productive power of social labour the most complete development of man. But I beg his pardon. He does me too much honour and too much shame at the same time....
“... Strikingly analogical events, occurring, however, in different historical environments [lead] to entirely dissimilar results. By studying each of these evolutions separately and then comparing them, one will easily find the key to these phenomena, but one will never succeed with the master-key of a historico-philosophical theory whose supreme virtue consists in being supra-historical.” (My emphasis — M. S.)
Marx often repeated the same thought. All classes and all ruling classes are not the same and do not always have the same characteristics. They cannot always be measured by the same criteria. The same obviously holds true of all societies, for in each of them, as Marx points out, the “prevailing element” is a different one. To apply the same criteria to the present ruling class and the present social order in Russia as is applied, for example, to feudalism, simply makes no sense from the Marxian or any other standpoint. “By studying each of these evolutions separately, and then comparing them, one will easily find the key to these phenomena.” This is what we have sought to do in our analysis of Stalinist Russia. A suprahistorical master-key does not exist. Not even a thinker of Frankel’s stature can, if we may say so, forge one.
We say, further, that this new class has no future. Why?
Because it arose at the stage of the final decay and crisis of class society. It has given no sign of an ability to resolve the crisis which the combined forces of world capitalism have failed to resolve. It is historically conditioned by the concrete circumstances of its origin. One of these circumstances is the existence of its origin. One of these circumstances is the existence of a modern proletariat which, on a world scale (but not on a national scale), is capable of breaking the fetters on the productive forces, on social development, on freedom, and thus resolving the last social crisis of humanity.
That is how it stands historically. Theoretically, it is conceivable that this new class may have “a future” and that on a world scale. Such a perspective might open up for it if, for example, it was conclusively demonstrated that the proletariat is organically incapable of resolving the crisis, of taking and holding power and employing it to inaugurate a classless society. Nothing of the sort has yet been demonstrated, much less demonstrated conclusively. There are some dilettantes and ex-radicals who confine themselves to just such speculations, and even make them their program of “action.” We for our part find little interest in them, and less need for them. Our task is the mobilisation of the working class for the revolutionary assault against decaying capitalism. Our task is not ponderation over the growth and “future” of Stalinism, but the struggle against it for the future of the proletariat.
Successful struggle against a foe requires an understanding of his nature. That Frankel and his like do not understand, is already bad. That they refuse to understand — and a precondition of understanding is intelligent and loyal discussion, be it ever so vigorous — is worse. Frankel is only a minor epigone of Trotsky. Trotsky’s whole New Course is an instructive protest against the type of methods, outlook, procedure that Frankel and his friends represent. That is why Frankel speaks so cavalierly of Trotsky’s work. That is why he does not give the reader as much as an inkling of its contents. We have already suggested that he does not know much. But he knows enough to see that what Trotsky wrote in 1923-24 is a timely and thorough indictment of what he stands for.
In this sense, a reading of The New Course may be recommended all over again as an excellent preparation for a fruitful discussion of “the Russian question.”