- Contents of the Introduction
- 1. Constructing the socialist order
- 2. Bolshevism at bay: Trotsky on the USSR
- 3. The "Locum" and Totalitarian Economism
- 4. The neo-Trotskyists and Stalinist expansion
- 5. Max Shachtman and James P Cannon; 6. Trotsky and the future of socialism
Immediately after his expulsion from the USSR in February 1929, Trotsky, the Left Oppositionist reformer inside the USSR, was a hard-faced man of the regime to the outside world. When he wrote for the general public, his criticisms of the regime were selective, general and muted. Sharper criticism was reserved for his communist-oppositionist audience. He split with the German Leninbund, the biggest organisation in the early international Left Opposition, because it would not support Stalin's policy of holding on to the Chinese Eastern Railway against the Chinese. (Stalin would cede it to Japan in 1935). Himself author of acute social analysis of that system (see the next section), and a critic of the lack of democracy in the USSR, one, moreover, whose comrades there were already being shot, Trotsky reacted violently, as late as 1934, against talk of general democracy in the USSR. "There is a tendency among our friends in Paris to deny the proletarian nature of the USSR, to demand that there be complete democracy in the USSR, including the legalisation of the Mensheviks, etc.... We regard this tendency as treason which must be fought implacably" [Writings, Supplement 1934-40, p.538]. By the end of the 1930s there would be a very telling inversion. Trotsky would become a strident critic of the Stalinist internal regime and Stalinist foreign policy when he addressed the general public, and write about "defence of the USSR" almost exclusively in the intra-Trotskyist literature. At the same time, after 1930, when Stalinist industrialisation seemed miraculously successful and capitalism spiralled into the great slump, many of the Social Democratic critics of Bolshevism would move towards a friendly attitude to Stalinism - friendlier, as Trotsky will note, ironically, than they ever were to Bolshevism. The leading theoretician of the Austro-Marxist school, Otto Bauer, and Mensheviks like Fyodor Dan were critical of Stalinism for its lack of democracy, but saw the USSR as representing one road to socialism, suitable for backward Russia but not for Western Europe. True to the docile philistine spirit of rationalising from hard "facts" and accommodating themselves to power, they were very impressed by the USSR's economic achievements. The peak performance in this spiritually and intellectually athletic journey by the Social Democrats to Stalin's Moscow was the conversion of Sydney and Beatrice Webb - Lord and Lady Passfield, epitomes of the British Fabian type described by Frederick Engels as "middle-class reformers who think socialism is too good to be left to the workers" - to the conclusion that the USSR was "A New Civilisation". As the experience of Stalinism accumulated, Trotsky virtually swapped places with most of the social-democratic critics of the USSR. By the mid-1930s, the once implacable and unrepentant defender of the Bolshevik regime against Social-Democratic and vulgar-democratic critics was scornfully castigating the Bauerites and the "Brandlerite" Right Communists, for being apologists and rationalising defence lawyers for Stalin and Stalinism. In his root-and-branch opposition to Stalinism Trotsky after 1936 was close to Karl Kautsky. In his theoretical summaries, however, Trotsky remained tied to the idea that the Stalinist USSR was still a workers' state of some sort. What follows is an attempt to trace the evolution of Trotsky's ideas on the Stalinist USSR.
By 1933 it had become clear that Stalin's "left turn" of 1929-30 was no mere zig-zag or temporary improvisation. The regime had survived the convulsive crisis of 1932-3. It had given a new shape to USSR society. Until his death in 1940, Trotsky would continue to call the USSR a "workers' state" of sorts. Yet the basic trend of his detailed, concrete analyses of the USSR - and of most of his political conclusions - was, in my view, sharply and increasingly at odds with that summary description. Trotsky gives his first comprehensive anatomy of Stalinist society in an article of April 1933, "The Theory of Degeneration and the Degeneration of Theory". Trotsky discusses the question of why, if, as the Stalinists say, socialism has been realised, the state is not, as in Marxist theory it should be, withering away, becoming less and less of a social force. In fact it has grown to unprecedented power and dominance. He links the state with a discussion of inflation and money: like the state, money has a necessary social function, as measure of value and means of exchange; like the state, its role will diminish with social development. It too will finally wither away. As with two flashlights, one in each hand, playing from different angles on something obscured and darkly hidden, Trotsky examines the nature of Stalinist society from the two sides of state and economy. He lights up a picture which does not fit easily - or, indeed, fit at all - into the historical and theoretical framework that he insists on. The society he describes and anatomises is unmistakably a new form of class society, neither capitalism nor socialism, or in transition to socialism. It is what will at the end of the 30s be called bureaucratic collectivism. "The soviets have lost the last remnants of independent significance and have ceased being soviets. The party does not exist". Insisting that "the relative independence of the trade unions is a necessary and important corrective in the system of the soviet state... the workers must defend themselves, even in a workers' state, through their trade-union organisations", Trotsky observes that "the trade unions are completely crushed... under the cover of the struggle with the right deviation". [Tomsky, the main trade-union leader, had been a prominent Bukharinite]. "The state not only does not wither away... but... becomes ever more openly the instrument of bureaucratic coercion... The apparatus of the trade unions themselves has become the weapon of an ever-growing pressure on the workers". Referring to the "regime of terror against the party and the proletariat", Trotsky asks: "Where does such a terrible, monstrous, unbearable exercise of the political regime come from?". He finally answers: "The intensification of repression is necessary for the defence of the privileged positions of the bureaucracy". He now draws out "an analogy between the role of money and the role of the state in the transitional epoch". Money, Trotsky says, "a direct heritage of capitalism", cannot simply be abolished. It will wither away as its functions as measure of value and means of exchange decline in a society of abundance. In the first period of working-class rule its role will grow rather than diminish: it is an essential tool of real planning and of real social knowledge. There will be an "extreme expansion" in the turnover of goods in the transition period. All branches of a growing economy "must determine their relation to each other qualitatively and quantitatively". "Money as the means of accounting evolved by capitalism is not thrown aside but socialised. Socialist construction is unthinkable without the inclusion in the planned system of the personal interest of the producer and consumer. And this interest can actively manifest itself only when it has at its disposal a trustful and flexible weapon: a stable monetary system". That is what happens in a workers' state developing towards socialism. And in the USSR? Trotsky describes the reality of bureaucratic arbitrariness and inflation. "Money regulated by administrative prices fixed for goods loses its ability to regulate plans. In this field as in others, socialism' for the bureaucracy consists of freeing its will from any control: party, Soviet, trade union or money ... Economic planning frees itself from value control as bureaucratic fancy frees itself from political control. The rejection of objective causes' ... represents the theoretical' ravings of bureaucratic subjectivism ... The Soviet economy today is neither a monetary nor a planned one. It is an almost purely bureaucratic economy. To support unreliable and disproportionate tempos, a further intensification of pressure on the proletariat became imperative. Industry, freed from the material control of the producer, took on a supersocial, that is, bureaucratic, character. As a result it lost the ability to satisfy human wants even to the degree to which it had been accomplished by the less-developed capitalist industry... "From this and from this alone... flows the necessity for the introduction of coercion into all cells of economic life (strengthening of the power of [factory] managers, laws against absentees, death penalty for spoiliation of collective-farm property by its members, war measures in sowing campaigns and harvest collections... the [internal] passport system, political departments in the villages, etc. etc.)... The dictatorship of the proletariat withers away in the form of bureaucratic inflation, that is, in the extreme swelling of coercion, persecutions, and violence. The dictatorship of the proletariat is not dissolved in a classless society, but degenerates into the omnipotence of bureaucracy over society". By the time Trotsky writes his major study of the USSR, The Revolution Betrayed (1935-6), the acute monetary instability of the early 1930s has subsided. The "bureaucratic arbitrariness" - the regulation of economic and social life by the arbitrary exercise of unbridled state power more than any before known - has not. Stalinist autocracy has not. Trotsky poses the problem. "If exploitation is "ended forever"... [as the Stalinists claim] then there remains nothing for society to do but to throw off at last the straitjacket of the state. In place of this - it is hard even to grasp this contrast with the mind! - the Soviet state has acquired a totalitarian-bureaucratic character... What social cause stands behind the stubborn virility of the state and especially behind its policification? The importance of this question is obvious. In dependence upon the answer, we must either radically revise our traditional views of the socialist society in general, or as radically reject the official estimates of the Soviet Union". The programme of the Bolsheviks was: "A strong state, but without mandarins; armed power, but without the Samurai! The party programme demands a replacement of the standing army by an armed people. The regime of proletarian dictatorship from its very beginning thus ceases to be a state' in the old sense of the word - a special apparatus, that is, for holding in subjection the majority of the people. The material power, together with the weapons, goes over directly and immediately into the hands of the workers' organisations such as the soviets. The state as a bureaucratic apparatus begins to die away on the first day of the proletarian dictatorship. Such is the voice of the party program... Strange: it sounds like a spectral voice from the mausoleum.". The USSR regime has not begun to "die away" but "has grown into a hitherto unheard of apparatus of compulsion. The bureaucracy... has turned into an uncontrolled force dominating the masses. The army... has given birth to a privileged officers' caste, crowned with marshals, while the people, the armed bearers of the dictatorship', are now forbidden in the Soviet Union to carry even nonexplosive weapons.". Trotsky starkly sums up the contrast between the USSR and the workers' state: "With the utmost stretch of fancy it would be difficult to imagine a contrast more striking than that which exists between the scheme of the workers' state according to Marx, Engels and Lenin, and the actual state now headed by Stalin". "The regime became totalitarian' in character several years before this word arrived from Germany". "From the first days of the soviet regime the counterweight to bureaucratism was the party. If the bureaucracy managed the state, still the party controlled the bureaucracy. Keenly vigilant lest inequality transcend the limits of what was necessary, the party was always in a state of open or disguised struggle with the bureaucracy. The historic role of Stalin's faction was to destroy this duplication, subjecting the party to its own officialdom and merging the latter in the officialdom of the state. Thus was created the present totalitarian regime".
State property under such a regime cannot be socialist. "The new constitution [of 1936] - wholly founded, as we shall see, upon an identification of the bureaucracy with the state, and the state with the people - says: ... the state property - that is, the possessions of the whole people.' This identification is the fundamental sophism of the official doctrine. It is perfectly true that Marxists, beginning with Marx himself, have employed in relation to the workers' state the terms state, national and socialist property as simple synonyms. On a large historic scale, such a mode of speech involves no special inconveniences. But it becomes the source of crude mistakes, and of downright deceit, when applied to the first and still unassured stages of the development of a new society, and one moreover isolated and economically lagging behind the capitalist countries. In order to become social, private property must as inevitably pass through the state stage as the caterpillar in order to become a butterfly must pass through the pupal stage. But the pupa is not a butterfly... State property becomes the property of the whole people' only to the degree that social privilege and differentiation disappear, and therewith the necessity of the state. In other words: state property is converted into socialist property in proportion as it ceases to be state property. And the contrary is true: the higher the soviet state rises above the people... the more obviously does it testify against the socialist character of this state property.". "The transfer of the factories to the state changed the situation of the worker only juridically. In reality, he is compelled to live in want and work a definite number of hours for a definite wage... the new state resorted to the old methods of pressure upon the muscles and nerves of the worker. There grew up a corps of slave drivers. The management of industry became superbureaucratic. The workers lost all influence whatever upon the management of the factory. With piecework payment, hard conditions of material existence, lack of free movement, with terrible police repression penetrating the life of every factory, it is hard indeed for the worker to feel himself a free workman.' In the bureaucracy he sees the manager, in the state, the employer."
Trotsky recalls that in 1846 Karl Marx defined the development of the productive forces as the prerequisite of communism. "Without it want is generalised, and with want the struggle for necessities begins again, and that means that all the old crap must revive." In the USSR the "struggle for necessities" has given rise to a monstrous autocracy. A system built for forced-march industrialisation in an isolated and backward economy can be defined as socialism only by disregarding the most basic ideas of Marxism. By socialism Marx meant: "a society which from the very beginning stands higher in its economic development than the most advanced capitalism... on a world scale communism, even in its first incipient stage, means a higher level of development that that of bourgeois society... Russia was not the strongest, but the weakest link in the chain of capitalism. The present Soviet Union does not stand above the world level of economy, but is only trying to catch up to the capitalist countries. If Marx called that society which was to be formed upon the basis of a socialisation of the productive forces of the most advanced capitalism of its epoch the lowest stage of communism, then this designation obviously does not apply to the Soviet Union, which is still today considerably poorer in technique, culture and the good things of life than the capitalist countries... The soviet regime is passing through a preparatory stage, importing, borrowing and appropriating the technical and cultural conquests of the West... this preparatory stage is far from finished. Even under the improbable condition of a continuing complete capitalist standstill it must still occupy a whole historic period". "Socialism, or the lowest stage of communism... assumes... more humane forms of control than those invented by the exploitative genius of capital. In the Soviet Union, however, there is now taking place a ruthlessly severe fitting in of backward human material to the technique borrowed from capitalism... state ownership of the means of production does not turn manure into gold, and does not surround with a halo of sanctity the sweatshop system...". Trotsky indicts the autocracy's use of "the classic methods of exploitation... in such naked and crude forms as would not be permitted even by reformist trade unions in bourgeois countries". In the interaction between bosses and workers - but not only there - "The relations between men... have not only not yet risen to socialism, but in many respects are still lagging behind a cultured capitalism". And why? The programme of the Bolshevik Revolution "was based wholly upon an international perspective. The October revolution in Russia has realised the dictatorship of the proletariat.... The era of world proletarian communist revolution has begun.' These were the introductory lines of the program." The Bolsheviks could not then imagine or analyse "what character the Soviet state would assume, if compelled for as long as two decades to solve in isolation those economic and cultural problems which advanced capitalism had solved so long ago." That has led to "the ultra-bureaucratic character of its state"; the delay of international revolution has also "led in the capitalist countries to fascism or the pre-fascist reaction". "In the last analysis, Soviet Bonapartism owes its birth to the belatedness of the world revolution. But in the capitalist countries the same cause gave rise to fascism... the crushing of soviet democracy by an all-powerful bureaucracy and the extermination of bourgeois democracy by fascism were produced by one and the same cause: the dilatoriness of the world proletariat in solving the problems set for it by history. Stalinism and fascism, in spite of a deep difference in social foundations, are symmetrical phenomena. In many of their features they show a deadly similarity."
In "theses" on "The Fourth International and the Soviet Union", written in July 1936 as he finishes The Revolution Betrayed, Trotsky declares that the economic successes of the USSR "are already proving adequate for the emergence of a broad privileged stratum". Social antagonisms are "enormously accentuated". Inequality "is growing by leaps and bounds". "The soviet bureaucracy has acquired an actual independence from the toilers"; it is "the most privileged of all the privileged strata". For its people soviet society "presents an enormous hierarchy: from vagabond children, prostitutes, slum proletarians - to the ruling ten thousand' who lead the life of Western European magnates of capital". The bureaucracy is thus, so Trotsky writes, "something more than a bureaucracy". "In its intermediary and regulating function, its concern to maintain social ranks, and its exploitation of the state apparatus for personal goals, the Soviet bureaucracy is similar to every other bureaucracy, especially the fascist. But it is also in a vast way different. In no other regime has a bureaucracy ever achieved such a degree of independence from the dominating class". By "the dominating class" Trotsky here means the working class. Why, and in what sense, Trotsky believes that it "dominates", we shall see later. The essential point here is the contrast with the bureaucracy in capitalist society, representing the interests of "a possessing and educated class" having "innumerable means of everyday control over" the bureaucracy. The fascist bureaucracy in power intertwines with the big bourgeoisie, but "the soviet bureaucracy takes on bourgeois customs without having beside it a national bourgeoisie. In this sense we cannot deny that it is something more than a bureaucracy. It is in the full sense of the word the sole privileged and commanding stratum in the Soviet society". "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. The means of production belong to the state. But the state, so to speak, belongs' to the bureaucracy... If these as yet wholly new relations should solidify, become the norm and be legalised, whether with or without resistance from the workers, they would, in the long run, lead to a complete liquidation of the social conquests of the proletarian revolution". [emphasis added] Here, Trotsky falls into presenting the relations between people as relations between the bureaucracy on one side and things ("the riches of the nation"), not people, on the other. And, as we shall see, Trotsky will later make great play with the qualification "so to speak" - "the state, so to speak, belongs to the bureaucracy". But the sociological picture of Stalinist society which Trotsky paints is clear and full in its outlines. The straightforward implication is that the bureaucracy is the ruling class. It organises production in a way unique to itself. It appropriates the social surplus product on the basis of controlling the means of life. There is no other privileged elite. The entire population is at its disposal. Many aspects of this society and this ruling class are new, mysterious and still unfolding, and its stability is not to be assumed, but the basic socio-economic relations fit the pattern of all previous class societies. Trotsky has described all this, explained the basic reasons for it, and connected it up to the whole history of class society. If the relations are not "solidified", normalised, and legalised, they do certainly exist. They are the pattern of Stalinist society as it has functioned through its industrial revolution of the last several years. In fact history will show those relations to be "solidified" enough that they survive the World War and expand and reproduce for over fifty years after 1936.
The Great Terror began in late 1934 and rose to a frenzy of unparalleled slaughter after August 1936, when Stalin organised the first of the three Moscow Trials in which almost all the surviving leaders of the 1917 revolution were forced to confess to having been "counter-revolutionaries" even while leading the October Revolution and then killed. On 1 May 1939 Trotsky wrote "The Bonapartist Philosophy of the State" (it appeared in New International, June 1939). Just four months before the great political dispute in the Trotskyist movement, in which he would insist on the description "workers' state", this article presents a stark picture of a distinct socio-economic formation, not of any possible sort of workers' state. Trotsky depicts Stalinism as a system more akin to Dark Age feudalism or to the rigidifying Roman Empire of about 300 AD than to either socialism or capitalism, or anything in between. By now Trotsky's analysis and descriptions of the USSR are in flat contradiction to his theoretical framework - it is a "degenerated workers' state" - and two distinct Trotskyisms exist in Trotsky himself. They will separate in 1939-40. Articles like this are educating those who, like Shachtman, will soon come out against Trotksy's political conclusion and then against his ossified theoretical paradigm. "The realities of soviet life today can indeed be hardly reconciled even with the shreds of old theory. Workers are bound to the factories; peasants are bound to the collective farms. [Internal] Passports have been introduced. Freedom of movement has been completely restricted. It is a capital crime to come late to work. Punishable as treason is not only any criticism of Stalin but even the mere failure to fulfil the natural duty to get down on all fours before the Leader'. The frontiers are guarded by an impenetrable wall of border patrols and police dogs on a scale heretofore unknown anywhere. To all intents and purposes no one can leave and no one may enter. Foreigners [in fact, communists, and especially communist refugees from capitalist police states] who had previously managed to get into the country are being systematically exterminated. "The... soviet constitution, the most democratic in the world', amounts to this, that every citizen is required at an appointed time to cast his ballot for the one and only candidate handpicked by Stalin or his agents. The press, the radio, all the organs of propaganda, agitation and national education are completely in the hands of the ruling clique... How many have been shot, thrown into jails and concentration camps, or exiled to Siberia, we do not definitely know. But undoubtedly hundreds of thousands of party members have shared the fate of millions of non-party people". Though the "official edict" is that "socialism has been realised", Stalinism has "brought the state to a pitch of wild intensity unprecedented in the history of mankind". In this "totalitarian state", "the party, the government, the army and the diplomatic corps have been bled white and beheaded". "The growth and strengthening of the military and civil caste signifies that society is moving not towards but away from the socialist ideal". The purges and "frame-ups" "must flow from the very structure of Soviet society... Inequality always requires a safeguard; privileges always demand protection; and the encroachments of the disinherited require punishment..." Trotsky pictures the life of the "ruling caste". In addition to publicly acknowledged salaries, "they receive secret salaries from the treasuries of the Central Committee or local committees; they have at their disposal automobiles (there even exist special plants for the production of finest automobiles for the use of responsible workers'), excellent apartments, summer homes, sanatoria, and hospitals. To suit their needs or their vanity all sorts of soviet palaces' are erected". Trotsky shows that the bureaucrats can pass on to their children, if not property in the means of production, then status and future membership in the elite: the ruling caste "almost monopolise the highest institutions of learning". Trotsky summarises: "The Bonapartist apparatus of the state is thus an organ for defending the bureaucratic thieves and plunderers of national wealth". In his capacity as the pontiff of lies, that is, chief liar in the state, and as the chief state terrorist, Stalin is "the spokesman of privileged parasites. In the land that has gone through the proletarian revolution, it is impossible to foster inequality, create an aristocracy, and accumulate privileges save by bringing down on the masses floods of lies and ever more monstrous repressions". Is this strange social system, in which 170 millions of people live, which is neither capitalist nor socialist, a new form of society? Indisputably, this society exists, and therefore it is a new form of society. Trotsky, confining himself to analysis and description, here says nothing of this. He does not believe it has reached stability. He stresses, as an explanation for the social convulsions, that the bureaucrats' income is in large part sanctioned neither by "the principles of socialism" nor by "the laws of the country". "Embezzlement and theft, the bureaucracy's main sources of income, do not constitute a system of exploitation in the scientific sense of the term. But from the standpoint of the interests and position of the popular masses, it is infinitely worse than any organic' exploitation. The bureaucracy is not a possessing class, in the scientific sense of the term. But it contains within itself to a tenfold degree all the vices of a possessing class. It is precisely the absence of crystallised class relations and their very impossibility on the social foundations of the October Revolution that invest the workings of the state machine with such a convulsive character. To perpetuate the systematic theft of the bureaucracy, its apparatus is compelled to resort to systematic acts of banditry. The sum total of all these things constitutes the system of Bonapartist gangsterism".
For Trotsky, as we have seen, the Stalinist USSR, simultaneously with being a "system of Bonapartist gangsterism", was also a "degenerated workers' state". In Trotsky's mind this bizarre contradiction was possible only because the Stalinist USSR was a momentary concatenation of opposites, a freak socio-economic formation. Or so he thought. In fact he was faced with analysing and understanding and integrating into Marxist theory something entirely new in history. This new state and society were not working-class in any previously understood sense - as Trotsky himself put it, "the realities of soviet life [could] be hardly reconciled even with the shreds of old theory" - and not capitalist either. Almost to the very end - and then, in September-October 1939, he made only tentative moves to a rectification - Trotsky was like a man trying to find his way in unknown territory, using a map of another, radically different, terrain. He saw Stalinism as in transition either to capitalism like that in, say, China, or Turkey, or to a regenerated workers' state - but not as a distinct system viable, beyond maybe a few years, in its existing form. He refused to give it a static' label - or identify it as a distinct socio-economic formation. He described the "system of Bonapartist gangsterism" and developed a working-class programme to fight its rulers, but on the level of theory had not, so to speak, recognised its distinct character. The rupturing of the forms of nationalised economy would lead to the first alternative, capitalism; the rupturing of the political form, bureaucratic rule, to the second, regeneration of the workers' state. Stalinism in the Soviet Union would last six and a half decades. Trotsky's work covered its first decade and a half. It is not surprising that he left the work of analysing a new and unexpected socio-economic formation uncompleted at his death. Contrast Trotsky's situation as he analysed Stalinism with Marx's as he analysed capitalism 90 years before. When Marx began to analyse capitalist society in the 1840s, capitalism had existed in varying forms and phases and in different countries for perhaps 400 years (Marx's own dating, in Capital). Industrial capitalism was 70 years old. Capitalism had produced its own revolution in Holland (16th century), England (17th century), America and France (18th century). The class struggles within capitalism had a long history. Capitalism had a large body of political, social and economic theory; the working class had already created its first mass movement (Chartism, in Britain at the end of the 1830s and in the 1840s). In 1831 the silk-workers seized the city of Lyons, in France, and held it for a while. Trotsky, however, faced a Stalinist system which came into being and developed in a short time - in all its unexpectedness, and operating by its adaptation to its own purposes of old ways and by the transmutation into their opposites of old forms, some bearing a formal resemblance to what the October Revolution had created. It had arisen within the working-class state of the October Revolution, heavily disguised and bearing its own form of nationalised economy which it established by way of conquest of the economic forms set up by the revolution. Scrupulously recording the facts of bureaucratic rule, Trotsky spent 17 years until his death wrestling with the contradictions between those facts and socialist norms and the perspectives of the October Revolution.
Trotsky denounced Stalinism with unequalled acuteness. He developed an adequate working-class programme of action against it. Why should the general theoretical definition - "degenerated workers' state" or otherwise - matter? Central to the power of the Russian bureaucracy in its international political operation was its credibility as the leadership of a still-alive Russian workers' Revolution. Therefore analysis of Russia, as it evolved and mutated in the 1920s and '30s, was central to the work of marginalised Bolshevism in rebuilding a mass revolutionary international. So long as the USSR's "communist" credentials remained good with the revolutionary workers, the Trotskyists would not be a force in the labour movement. Their failure to grasp early the fact that a new class ruled - that despite appearances and despite the nationalised property, the USSR had nothing to do with working-class rule - was an immense weakness. It led to wholesale desertion from the ranks of the Russian Left Opposition in 1928-30, and it would make competition for the allegiance of revolutionary workers extraordinarily difficult for a Trotskyist movement which believed that despite everything it had a vast common ground with the Stalinists in defence of the Soviet Union. On the eve of Trotsky's death a new twist, in response to a new stage of self-assertion by the new Stalinist ruling class - the beginning of Russian imperialist expansion, at first in alliance with Hitler's Germany - would rip apart the Trotskyist movement, and set in motion a process that would change the meaning of words and symbols in a way that paralleled the changes that Stalinism had wrought in the vocabulary and perspectives of the 1917 revolution. Revolutionary Marxism is more than a socialist programme: it is a series of broad historical perspectives based on analysis and research. On the accuracy of those analyses ultimately depends the intellectual validity of the revolutionary socialist programme. Without Marx's analysis of capitalism, in which he uncovered the mechanisms of exploitation within relations of legal equality between capitalist and worker, socialism would still be only an inchoate yearning for a better world. Stalin's "second revolution" of 1928-30 shaped the USSR for the next 60 years. Trotsky interpreted it as a continuation and development of 1917. This enormous error generated over a decade, and after Trotsky's death five decades, of theoretical disorientation and historical misunderstanding. Much of it persists, long after the collapse of the USSR. It led to an irresoluble contradiction between Trotsky's accurate and probing concrete descriptions of the USSR and his theoretical paradigm that the USSR was a degenerated workers' state. From the 1920s to long after Trotsky's death, those who shared his view that the Stalin regime preserved the "gains" or "remains" of October found themselves ambivalent towards Stalinism. At root this was because of the nature of Stalinism itself. It was anti-capitalist: at the end of the 1920s it annihilated the pro-capitalist forces. In the 1940s and 1950s it wiped out capitalism in many countries. Stalinism's Trotskyist critics were driven into embodying two incongruous political personalities - that of the advocate and defender of the existing working class, in the USSR and outside, and that of the proponent of a broad historical perspective of anti-capitalist revolution, in which the Stalinist rulers were for now the custodians of the October Revolution, and later of other revolutions which created as much as was said to "remain" of October. The Stalinist rulers, who savagely oppressed and exploited the workers, were nonetheless, in their role of custodians or creators of nationalised property, part of the world revolution. Until the workers got rid of them, even they had to be "defended" against capitalism. Trotsky saw the nationalised property as post-capitalist in form, less than advanced-capitalist in content, and shackled by the bureaucracy. At the heart of this contradictory system stood an ineradicable antagonism between the bureaucracy and the proletariat. Because of this contradiction, planning was vitiated. The bureaucrats ruled and planned "with all the lights out", in a system deprived of democratic self-monitoring and self-rule. The Stalinist terror functioned as a crude substitute instrument of control, dynamism and monitoring. It was not enough to have a programme of action against the bureaucracy: the system needed to be explained, to have its real relationship to both capitalism and socialism, to the bourgeoisie and to the proletariat, and its place in historical evolution worked out and established. Nothing was what it was proclaimed to be. The Stalinist system dressed up as the Russian workers' revolution departed most from the goals and purposes of old socialism where it seemed most to realise the methods and techniques - nationalisation for example - that socialism had advocated. Real Marxism needed to be starkly separated from the "Marxism" with which, confusingly, it seemed to share so much - the "official Marxism" of obfuscations and scholasticism purveyed by Stalinism. The Stalinist lies, and their systematic reversal of the meaning of all the terms in real Marxism, needed to be dissected and analysed. The precise points at which Stalinism parted company with unfalsified Marxism had to be clearly established; the joints at which interests alien to the working class had been grafted on to old Marxist anti-capitalist concepts located. Much of the work of Marxism was a matter of uncovering lies and falsifications and establishing on the level of plain fact the reality of the USSR, measured against Marxist theory, working-class programme and socialist purpose. The secret of how out of "common ownership" there came not socialism but this system of state tyranny had to be uncovered. Trotsky was close to the end of his life before the problem as posed by history - the Stalinist USSR as a distinct system in its own right - was posed by him clearly: almost all his theoretical work on the Soviet Union took for granted the framework in which regression to capitalism was seen as the alternative to a new socialist revolution. He did not adequately define and characterise the social mutation that actually existed. Faced with a new social system in the USSR Trotsky pictured it, explored its oppressions and its real meaning for working people in their day-to-day lives. He opposed to Stalin's system a working-class programme: essentially, the 1917 programme of the Bolsheviks. He put down the elements of an analysis like pin-points on a board, but did not draw the lines between the points that would make an adequate theoretical outline of the Stalinist system. In fact, in articles like "The Theory of Degeneration" and "The Bonapartist Philosophy", and in his book The Revolution Betrayed, he portrayed the Stalinist USSR clearly as the new system it was; but he never, until the eve of his death and then only hypothetically, defined it as such . [In The USSR in War (September 1939) and Again and once more... (October 1939)]. In 1936 he depicted the real relationship between the "legal" owners of state property, the workers, and its political "owners", the bureaucrats who "owned" the state. But he drew back from the conclusion plainly indicated by what he wrote. He was not allowed to live long enough to draw that conclusion, though he unmistakably moved towards it. At the end of his life he still saw Stalinism in terms of other social formations - capitalism, socialism - and only tentatively, and as if through a shifting mist, as what it really was, something distinct both from capitalism and from socialism: distinct from capitalism, although the bureaucracy was exploitative; and distinct from working-class socialism, although it was anti-capitalist and, in its own bureaucratic way, collectivist. Much of Trotsky at the end is unclear and self-contradictory. This led to a split that would define two very different "Trotskyisms" in the years after Trotsky's death. The roots of that split lay in the conflicting elements that had accumulated to the point of unmanageable contradiction in Trotsky's view of the USSR. Russia's role at the outbreak of the Second World War brought it to a head. Trotsky's heirs, after his assassination in August 1940, inherited theoretical chaos in a world undergoing changes that would shape it to the end of the twentieth century. One reason why Trotsky at the end is "difficult" and confusing on this question is, I think, that he sometime shifts from one framework to another, and does not always make it plain - if it was always clear to him - what framework he is using. He had changed his framework for viewing the USSR substantially several times - around 1929-30; around 1933; around 1936 - and at the end was tentatively proposing yet another framework. Trotsky had responded to each new stage, each new event, each new horror and outrage, with protests, analysis, proposals for labour movement action. He advocated revolution. But until the Stalinist status quo was disrupted by bourgeois counter-revolution or a new workers' "political" revolution - until then, the USSR remained a degenerated workers' state. Even when Trotsky believed the autocracy had become an absolute brake on the economy, it remained the supervisor of the military defence of the USSR, for its own self-interested reasons and in its own way, and in that sense it remained relatively progressive against any capitalist forces. Time after time in the 1930s, Trotsky expected that the Stalinist system simply could not go on. The system was not - and, he thought, could not be - stable. We know now that it would survive Trotsky for half a century, and spread nationalised property in various ways, or inspire its spread, to a further one-sixth of the globe, and to vastly greater populations than the USSR's. Trotsky's position committed those who agreed with him to "defend" the USSR as it became an expansionary imperialist power and to defend the regimes it set up in Eastern Europe, first as a junior partner of Hitler (August 1939 to June 1941); then as a less junior partner of Britain and the USA (1941-45); and finally, after the fall of Hitler's Reich, as the greatest power in Europe and one of the two great powers of the world - a predatory, looting, savagely repressive, worker-enslaving, backward, ultra-reactionary empire. In fact, despite all that had changed, it was an empire strangely like the Tsarist empire, as Marx had known and loathed it, in its relationship to Europe. Given Trotsky's baseline criteria for classifying the USSR, he was tied to that "workers' state", however degenerated, reactionary, or imperialistic it might be. To put it crudely, so long as the USSR was imperialist on the basis of nationalised property, it was not imperialist - or, anyway, not quite like reactionary capitalist imperialism. As the horrors piled up, culminating, with the Hitler-Stalin pact, in the eruption of Stalin's bureaucratic imperialism, the outlines of Trotsky's theory again and again were stretched out of shape to accommodate the dogma that this, whatever it was, remained a workers' state, and progressive so long as nationalised property was preserved. Trotsky, of course, did not think that system could last. Expecting, at point after point, the rupturing of the USSR, Trotsky was by the end disoriented - for example in his comments on the Stalinist invasion of Finland - and he must have known and felt it. His followers, in the movement he founded to continue the work of the early Communist International, would be derailed by the survival of the Stalinist system - and its expansion as a revolutionary anti-capitalist force. If Trotsky's position on the USSR was correct, then "orthodox" neo-Trotskyism - with its ineradicable tendency to assume the role of loyal liberal critic to various Stalinist regimes - followed logically and necessarily. Who says A and B and so on to the 19th letter of the alphabet must then say the rest - or change the alphabet. Trotsky was by the end reduced to defending his position with the argument that it would be "ridiculous" to append to the Stalinist bureaucracy and the system in which it ruled the designation of a new class society just a few years or months before its collapse. But the system did last, and it did expand. The "orthodox" neo-Trotskyists arrived reluctantly - those who survived the ideological rocks and rapids of the strange voyage - at absurdities and ideological inversions that sometimes compounded the absurdities of Stalinism itself and, anyway, paralleled and "Trotskyised" them. They arrived at the idea of - "for now" - progressive Stalinism. When history provided neither capitalist counter-revolution nor working-class "political" revolution, the only way out of this reductio ad absurdum, and the destruction by accommodation to Stalinism of the norms and parameters of socialism, was to find the original error in the calculations and to go back and learn to see the Stalinist system for what it was, a unique socio-economic formation - to reconceptualise the USSR.
Trotsky's first detailed attempt to square the fact of the USSR as a bureaucratic tyranny with the concept of it as a workers' state was in an article of October 1933, "The Class Nature of the Soviet State". In it he codified and developed all the main ideas that would inform his polemics on this issue up to his death; though, over the next six or seven years, he would radically shift the balance and meaning of many of the terms of the theory. At the end the content of what he said would be radically different, though the terms remained the same. Through the 1930s, Trotsky stretched the meaning of the old terms again and again until by the end his theory was very difficult to understand. He maintained an increasingly fictitious continuity by a method which resembled the medieval art of palimpsestry - writing new content into an old text. Trotsky's starting-point in the October 1933 article is the fact that, since the German Communist Party's collapse without a fight after Hitler's coming to power in January 1933, he believes that the Communist International must now be written off as a potentially revolutionary working-class force. The genuine Bolsheviks must seek to build new parties. But the same Stalinist apparatus rules both the International and the USSR. It is "equally ruinous" in the USSR and in the Communist International. "Isn't it then necessary to recognise the simultaneous collapse of the Communist International and the liquidation of the proletarian dictatorship in the USSR?". Recall that Trotsky has written only a few months before that the USSR "is an almost purely bureaucratic economy" in which industry has "lost the ability to satisfy human wants even to the degree to which it had been accomplished by the less-developed capitalist industry...". And when in the October 1933 article Trotsky discusses the idea that Stalinism is what would be called "bureaucratic collectivism", he does not try to show any immediate factual differences between the Stalinist USSR as it is from "bureaucratic collectivism". The view of the Social Democrat and ex-Communist Lucien Laurat that the USSR is "neither proletarian nor bourgeois" but "represents an absolutely new type of class organisation, because the bureaucracy not only rules over the proletariat politically but also exploits it economically, devouring that surplus value that hitherto fell to the lot of the bourgeoisie" is, says Trotsky, a "superficial and purely descriptive sociology'". He does not deny that it is an accurate description. Contemptuously, Trotsky equates the Social Democratic "compilator" Laurat with "the Russo-Polish revolutionist Makhaisky" who "with much more fire and splendour" had over 30 years previously "define[d] the dictatorship of the proletariat' as a scaffold for the commanding posts of an exploiting bureaucracy". Makhaisky "only deepened' sociologically and economically the anarchistic prejudices against state socialism". Trotsky does not here distinguish between the USSR under
Stalin and the so-called "state socialism" - the regime of a profoundly democratic workers' state - which is the substance of the dispute between Marxists and anarchists. The industrial growth has produced an "economic and cultural uplift of the labouring masses" - this is in fact not true - and that "must tend to undermine the very bases of bureaucratic domination". "In the light of this fortunate historical variant, the bureaucracy turns out to be only the instrument - a bad and expensive instrument - of the socialist state". Trotsky does not think this will happen gradually. The bureaucracy must be tamed by working-class force, and the USSR working class will assemble the necessary force only under the impulse of working-class revolution in the West. And in the meantime, the bureaucracy retards the economic and cultural growth of the country. "The further uninhibited growth of bureaucratism must lead inevitably to the cessation of economic and cultural growth, to a terrible social crisis and the downward plunge of the entire society". But bureaucratic domination would end with this collapse. "In place of the workers' state would come not social bureaucratic' but capitalist relations". In this way Trotsky defines away the problem of the USSR as it exists in the year 1933, conjuring it out of existence by logic-chopping with perspectives. Fundamentally, the USSR is a workers' state because it was one in 1917-21; it has not yet reverted to capitalism, and Trotsky is not yet ready to concede the existence in the modern era of a society outside the two main alternatives, bourgeois or workers' rule. "Whether we take the variant of further successes for the Soviet regime or, contrariwise, the variant of its collapse, the bureaucracy in either case turns out not to be an independent class but an excrescence upon the proletariat". The idea of the USSR as a product of development and degeneration from 1917, and as heading for either bourgeois counter-revolution or working-class regeneration, has replaced any definition of what it is. This will remain a central characteristic of Trotsky's thinking to the very end. Although in reality the USSR is already in its essentials a stable entity for a meaningful period by the scale of human life, in Trotsky's theory it is a mere moment of ever-changing historical flux. It is as if the moving film is counterposed to the "snapshots" that make it up; Trotsky replaces analysis of being by considerations of becoming and passing out of existence. Trotsky argues with Laurat not about facts, but about the interpretation of agreed facts and of an agreed picture of the USSR. Laurat's argument about the bureaucracy's "uncontrolled appropriation of an absolutely disproportionate part of the national income" is based on "undubitable facts" but it "does not... change the social physiognomy of the bureaucracy". Decisive in Trotsky's view is the idea that "the bureaucracy derives its privileges not from any special property relations peculiar to it as a class', but from those property relations that have been created by the October Revolution and that are fundamentally adequate for the dictatorship of the proletariat". The bureaucracy practises "not... class exploitation, in the scientific sense of the word, but... social parasitism". The "necessity" or otherwise of the bureaucracy's role in the economy should be derived from an account of the society as it is; but Trotsky derives it from the general theory of previous societies, using that general theory against the facts of the USSR he himself has recorded.
If firstly and irreplaceably proletarian dictatorship means the political rule of the workers, then Trotsky's writing-off of the Communist International and his picture of the realities of the USSR must tell him that the USSR is no longer a workers' state. He arrives at the opposite answer by changing the meaning of the terms and by postulating, on the basis of the experience of the USSR, that the question of working-class politics is posed after a successful revolution altogether differently from the way it is posed in the class struggle under capitalist rule. The Communist Parties of the West, he writes, have nothing but themselves, "no inherited capital"; by contrast, "the soviet government represents an instrument for the preservation of conquests of an already accomplished overturn... Nine-tenths of the strength of the Stalinist apparatus lies not in itself but in the social changes wrought by the victorious revolution". This explains how the Stalinist apparatus could still "preserve a part of its progressive meaning as the gatekeeper of the social conquests of the proletarian revolution". By "social conquests" he means nationalised property. Essentially Trotsky's position now is that the workers' revolution is, so to speak, congealed in the economic forms which Trotsky sees as its product, rather as living labour is congealed in capital. Why? Trotsky knew the arguments of the Marxist classics against identifying nationalised economy with socialism or working-class rule. For example, Antonio Labriola: "It is better to use the expression democratic socialisation of the means of production' than that of collective property' because the latter implies a certain theoretical error in that, to begin with, it substitutes for the real economic fact a juridical expression and moreover in the mind of more than one it is confused with the increase of monopolies, with the increasing statisation of public utilities and with all the other fantasmagoria of the ever-recurring State socialism, the whole effect of which is to increase the economic means of oppression in the hands of the oppressing class" [In Memory of the Communist Manifesto, 1895].
Or James Connolly: "State ownership and control is not necessarily socialist - if it were then the army and the navy, the police, the judges, the gaolers, the informers and the hangmen would all be socialist functionaries, as they are all state officials - but the ownership by the state of all the lands and material for labour, combined with the co-operative control by the workers of such land and materials, would be socialist... To the cry of the middle-class reformers, Make this or that the property of the government', we reply - Yes, in proportion as the workers are ready to make the government their property'.". This was commonplace Marxism. Or Karl Kautsky: "The economic activity of the modern state is the natural starting point of the development that leads to the Co-operative Commonwealth. It does not, however, follow that every nationalisation of an econimic function or an industry is a step towards the Co-operative Commonwealth, and that the latter could be the result of a general nationalisation of all industries without any change in the character of the state. The theory that this could be the case is that of the state Socialists. It arises from a misunderstanding of the state itself ... As an exploiter of labour, the state is superior to (i.e. worse than) any private capitalist. Besides the economic power of the capitalists, it can also bring to bear upon the exploited classes the political power which it already wields... The state will not cease to be a capitalist institution until the proletariat, the working class, has become the ruling class; not until then will it become possible to turn it into a Co-operative Commonwealth" [Commentary on the Erfurt Prograsmme, 1891].
At first, after 1928, Trotsky has seen Stalin's new command economy as a foredoomed desperate administrative attempt to flout the laws of economics and society, certain to collapse quickly. It has not collapsed. Industry has grown. At the same time, western capitalism has spiralled into slump. Instead of identifying the creation of the totalitarian command economy as the full social, as well as political, bureaucratic counter-revolution it was, Trotsky, extrapolating the logic of his view in 1923-8 that the neo-bourgeoisie was the main threat, and the Stalinist "centre" dangerous primarily because of its inadequate response to that threat, chooses to interpret the industrial growth of the USSR as an expression of the immanent force of the nationalised economy. He separates agency from means and begins to fetishise means, in a process that will end for Trotskyism in confusing means with ends. Trotsky is swayed by the weight of the fact that, as he will write in The Revolution Betrayed, "The first concentration of the means of production in the hands of the state to occur in history was achieved by the proletariat with the method of social revolution, and not by capitalists with the method of state trustification". This nationalised economy is a working-class conquest, allowing unique progress. If the state is preserving that nationalised economy, however badly and with whatever overhead costs, it is a workers' state. For his bottom-line argument Trotsky is reduced to vicarious boasting about Stalin's economic achievements, which he attributes to "October". But this picture depends on not giving due weight in the analysis to the part played by the "corps of slave-drivers" [Trotsky: The Revolution Betrayed] and by the driving down of the USSR workers' share of social produce to the subsistence level of ancient serfs and slaves, and, for the enslaved many millions, below that level. It also depends on forgetting or downplaying what Trotsky himself has written: that the USSR's industrial progress is limited to catching up with the advanced capitalist countries - or, rather, reducing the distance by which it lags behind them.
Trotsky's "overestimation" of the forms of nationalised property is unintelligible unless it is understood as inextricably linked with and dependent on his parallel "underestimation" of capitalism. For Trotsky in the 1930s capitalism was a collapsing system at the end of its historical span. Marx, in contrast to previous socialists, saw socialism not just as a negation of capitalism but also as something "springing from an existing class struggle, from a historical movement going on under our very eyes" [Marx: The Communist Manifesto]. The working class, he wrote, "have no ideals to realise, but to set free the elements of the new society with which old collapsing bourgeois society itself is pregnant" [Marx: The Civil War in France]. In Marx's view, capitalism did progressive work, by producing the elements for socialism - advanced technology, socialised production, an educated working class, able, as a rule, to organise, even if not in full legality. After World War 1, the communist movement believed that those elements were sufficiently developed to make socialism a short-term possibility: capitalism had entered a period of decay. War and crises stopped it advancing and had even begun to destroy some of its previous progressive achievements. Nevertheless, as Lenin remarked, there is no situation without a way out for the bourgeoisie. Capitalism had not reached a dead stop. If the workers failed to seize the opportunities to overthrow capitalism, then, eventually, out of blood, suffering and chaos, capitalism would revive. Trotsky explained this as late as 1928: "Theoretically, to be sure, even a new chapter of a general capitalist progress in the most powerful, ruling and leading countries is not excluded. But for this, capitalism would first have to overcome enormous barriers of a class as well as of an inter-state character. It would have to strangle the proletarian revolution for a long time ... In the final analysis, this question will be settled in the struggle of international forces." [Strategy and Tactics in the Imperialist Epoch].
In the 1930s, however, a blanket "negativism" in relation to capitalism became central to Trotsky's positive appreciation of nationalised economy in the USSR. In The Transitional Programme (1938) he would write: "The economic prerequisite for the proletarian revolution has already in general achieved the highest point of fruition that can be reached under capitalism. Mankind's productive forces stagnate... The bourgeoisie itself sees no way out". In "The USSR in War" (September 1939) he would assert: "The disintegration of capitalism has reached extreme limits, likewise the disintegration of the old ruling class. The further existence of this system is impossible". The classic studies of Lenin and Bukharin on imperialism had foreseen a rapid development of capitalism in the less-developed countries accompanying crises in the more advanced countries. In the long run they were right, even for the 1930s, where some Third World countries started substantial "import-substitution industrialisation"; but in 1928 the Stalinists made it their official doctrine that imperialism forced total stagnation on those less-developed countries. Trotsky never took issue with the new teaching. If in the 1930s he had seen the industrial growth of countries such as Japan and Mexico as indicating an important and substantial pattern, though limited and on the margins of world capital, that would have put Stalin's economic successes into a more balanced and nuanced perspective; but he never did. In his last period, this vision would push Trotsky into a sort of "sectarian" anti-capitalism, and later his neo-Trotskyist followers into "unconditional" support for anything - never mind what - that was anti-capitalist.
The USSR must still be a workers' state, Trotsky argues, because it was established by means of a "political overturn" and three years of civil war. Experience shows that peaceful proletarian revolution is impossible. "How, in that case, is the imperceptible, gradual', bourgeois counter-revolution conceivable?... He who asserts that the soviet government has been gradually changed from proletarian to bourgeois is only, so to speak, running backwards the film of reformism". Although Trotsky will continue to use this argument to the end, and it will play an immense role in the politics of neo-Trotskyism, he answers it himself in "The Workers' State, Bonapartism, and the Question of Thermidor" (1935). "The present-day domination of Stalin in no way resembles the soviet rule during the initial years of the revolution. The substitution of one regime for the other occurred not at a single stroke but through a series of measures, by means of a number of minor civil wars waged by the bureaucracy against the proletarian vanguard...". Trotsky asks: how can the dictatorship of the bureaucracy over the proletariat be a form of the dictatorship of the proletariat? The dictatorship of the proletariat is not a pristine norm, but a historical reality, born in backward Russia and evolving in history to what it is, in which can be seen elements of continuity and of rupture. There are no a priori recipes for the dictatorship of the proletariat. It is rooted in its own history. Trotsky declares that the dictatorship of a class "does not mean by a long shot that its entire mass always participates in the management of the state". He makes analogies with the rule of propertied classes - nobles ruling through monarchies, bourgeois ruling through political dictatorships, like fascism, that disenfranchise the bourgeois class. He anticipates the argument that "the bourgeoisie, as an exploiting minority, can also preserve its hegemony by means of a fascist dictatorship, the proletariat building a socialist society must manage its government itself, directly drawing ever-wider masses of the people into the task of government. In its general form this argument is undeniable". But here, he says, it means only "the present soviet dictatorship is a sick dictatorship... the bureaucracy has expropriated the proletariat politically in order to guard its social conquests with its own methods. The anatomy of society is determined by its economic relations. So long as the forms of property that have been created by the October Revolution are not overthrown, the proletariat remains the ruling class". In fact the issue is not, as Trotsky states it, only one of involvement of large or small numbers in government. It is fundamentally whether with the existing bureaucratic regime, and the actual place of the working class in the system, the workers can rule at all. Or, to put it another way, whether the "forms of property" actually define the economic relations, or whether new economic relations, shaped by the nature of the political power that controls the socio-economic and political relations, have been created within the formalities of nationalised property. The Bolsheviks' idea in 1921 that they must act as a "gatekeeper", "watchman" or "locum" for the enfeebled working class, entwined with the new "norms" created when the Bolsheviks made virtue out of the exigencies of the civil war and the economic collapse in 1921, still grips and distorts Trotsky's vision even now that, on his own account: "The party does not exist" and anti-working class careerists and political turncoats rule. He dismisses "dissertations upon the dictatorship of the bureaucracy over the proletariat' [which] without a much deeper analysis, that is, without a clear explanation of the social roots and the class limits of bureaucratic domination, boil down merely to high-faluting democratic phrases so extremely popular among the Mensheviks". He goes on to assert that soviet workers, though they hate the bureaucracy, fail to resort to violent mass action not simply because of repression: "The workers fear that they will clear the field for the class enemy if they overthrow the bureaucracy". So long as revolution does not come in the West, "the proletariat with clenched teeth bears ( tolerates') the bureaucracy and, in this sense, recognises it as the bearer of the proletarian dictatorship... No soviet worker would be sparing of strong words addressed to the Stalinist bureaucracy. But not a single one of them [!] would admit that the counter-revolution has already taken place. The proletariat is the spine of the soviet state.." Here, quite fantastically, he argues from a reluctant acquiescence by the workers to Stalinism which is unknowable to him; which must seem highly spurious to us; and which anyway is not decisive. Many bourgeois-democratic regimes have been grudgingly tolerated, or even positively supported, by the majority of workers - without being workers' states. Trotsky's argument grossly and strangely minimises the power of the fierce Stalinist repression, undervalues the power of the state, and takes away the significance of the atomisation of the working class - sans party, sans soviets, sans unions - all of which he himself already records. Trotsky will use this idea of the bureaucracy resting on the workers, and ideas of working-class opinion being a force in the Soviet Union, far into the 1930s, as the Stalinist system reveals its most terrible features in purges and Nazi-like mass terror. It will add an element of ideological consolation, giving a flickering aureole to his bedrock, all-else-stripped-away definition of the workers' state: nationalised property, plan, and monopoly of foreign trade, allegedly rooted in the October Revolution but in its present form the creation of Stalin's "second revolution" after 1928. In July 1936 ("The Fourth International and the Soviet Union") he will write that "the soviet bureaucracy has acquired an actual independence from the toilers... the new constitution liquidates de jure the ruling position of the proletariat in the state, a position which, de facto, has long been liquidated"; yet in The Revolution Betrayed, written around the same time, he asserts that "the bureaucracy... continues to preserve state property only to the extent that it fears the proletariat". [In part the flat meaning-of-words contradiction here is only apparent. Trotsky frequently talks of the relation of the autocracy to the nationalised property as its relation to the proletariat. The autocracy can be utterly independent from the actual living workers and simultaneously subordinated to the proletariat as a historical concept because it is tied to "proletarian" nationalised property]. As late as 1938 he will write about how "the discontent of the masses produces different currents even in the bureaucracy... the pressure of the masses produces disintegration in the ruling caste" [Writings 1937-8, p.303]; even in 1940 he will discuss the politics of the USSR's invasion of Finland in terms of the majority of the population disapproving of the invasion but "understanding" or at least "feeling" that "behind the Finnish question... stands the problem of the existence of the USSR", which they would want to defend. In 1933, Trotsky insists that the autocracy is a bad locum for the working class. "The bureaucracy in all its manifestations is pulling apart the moral tie-rods of soviet society". If the Marxist party were in power, "it would renovate the entire political regime; it would shuffle and purge the bureaucracy and place it under the control of the masses; it would transform all of the administrative practices and inaugurate a series of capital reforms in the management of economy; but in no case would it have to undertake an overturn in the property relations, i.e., a new social revolution". Considering the scope of the rectification, whose scale will have to be commensurate with the abuses Trotsky has repeatedly described, the question of whether the "property relations" would be the same afterwards arises. Trotsky means the forms of property: nationalised or private. The point is that the class content of nationalised property would change with the changes he proposes. But Trotsky defuses the concrete questions concerning what is by discussing what will be. He will do it again and again throughout the 1930s. Trotsky asserts that "the further development of the bureaucratic regime can lead to the inception of a new ruling class; not organically, through degeneration, but through counter-revolution". This will be his perspective to the end of the 1930s, when he will expect the culmination of Stalin's bloody work to be the "guillotining" of Stalin by the bourgeois counter-revolution he has incubated. "Today, when there is no longer a Marxist leadership, and none forthcoming as yet", the Stalinist bureaucracy "defends the proletarian dictatorship with its own methods; but these methods are such as to facilitate the victory of the enemy tomorrow". The Stalinist bureaucratic centre is a vile and destructive locum for the working class, but a locum it is and will remain so long as it preserves nationalised property and the working class has not overthrown it.
One central argument in the 1933 article - about "norms" - is developed more vigorously in "The Workers' State, Bonapartism and the Question of Thermidor" (1935). There, Trotsky concedes: "There is no doubt that the USSR today bears very little resemblance to that type of soviet republic that Lenin depicted in 1917... The domination of the bureaucracy over the country, as well as Stalin's domination over the bureaucracy, have well-nigh attained their absolute consummation". Some say "that since the actual state that has emerged from the proletarian revolution does not correspond to ideal a priori norms, therefore they turn their backs on it. This is political snobbery, common to pacifist-democratic, libertarian, anarcho-syndicalist and, generally, ultra-left circles of the petty-bourgeois intelligentsia". Their mirror-images, Trotsky adds, consider criticism of the state coming out of the revolution to be "sacrilege and counter-revolution"; these are the hypocrites. Why can only a slave to a priori norms, or a sniffy historical snob, baulk at accepting as a workers' state this USSR in which on Trotsky's own account the working class is in a condition close to serfdom? Trotsky himself holds to the "norms" and will base his political conclusions on them. What is he doing? As on this entire question, Trotsky combines immense lucidity in close-up and detail with dark obfuscation in the broad picture. He is teaching to later Trotskyists a philistine spirit of accomodation to Stalinism and other malign social forms, which he himself does not have - because he has an immense background of experience and political culture, and because, as we shall see, he interprets the USSR not as a coherent system, still less in later neo-Trotskyist terms as in transition to socialism, but as a freakish combination of elements in rapid flux. The condemnation of "norms" will, alas, be a major element in what he bequeaths to followers who will have to define themselves politically in relation to a solid and expanding Stalinist system and who thus need the norms as a man drowning in a raging tide needs a life belt, and to whom he can bequeath neither his own breadth of vision and knowledge nor his skill at dialectical tightrope-walking. Trotsky thinks he is teaching historical perspective and objectivity and dialectics; he cannot conceive of the Stalinist reality that his comrades after 1940 will encounter, because he cannot conceive of Stalinism surviving for decades. In his denunciations of "normative" thinking, Trotsky begs the central question. Is it true that this USSR concretely expresses the essence which the old abstract socialist norms sought to describe? Does it render the oldnorms more real, more precise and more concrete to any degree at all, or does it shatter them and negate them and establish other norms? On Trotsky's own account, "the realities of soviet life [can] be hardly reconciled even with the shreds of old theory". The social relations - in the proper sense, that is, the relations between people - "in many respects are still lagging behind a cultured capitalism". The old socialist norms are fully rounded social norms, norms of culture, manners, morals, intellect. They embody the achievements of civilisation and the historical contribution of capitalism, and not only economics. Trotsky here reduces the essential "norm" of a workers' state to the purely economic, and within that to aridly abstract forms of property. He will show in The Revolution Betrayed that the concrete economic relations within those abstract forms are "a ruthlessly severe fitting in of backward human material to the technique borrowed from capitalism" and "the classic methods of exploitation... in such naked and crude forms as would not be permitted even by reformist trade unions in bourgeois countries". The only possible point of contact between Marxian socialist norms and USSR reality is the nationalised property forms. But in the Stalinist USSR those forms do not arise organically from capitalist development - as they should, if they are to play the role ascribed to them in previous Marxist theory. With the exception of the 1917-18 takeover of big industry - which the Bolsheviks were pushed into by working-class direct action when the old owners sabotaged production or simply quit - they arise from the drive of the autocracy to grab the whole of the surplus product of society. In the 1933 article Trotsky "asks" - and the proper "answer" is clear; it can be read off from the most obvious surface facts - whether the "distortions" from the programmatic norms "have extended to the economic foundation". By "economic foundation" he means only the forms of nationalised property, considered in abstraction from the relations within them. Here Trotsky has elevated a caricature of one of the old socialist norms, nationalised property, out of the whole complex of other norms that give it its significance in Marxist theory. The result is not a replacement of abstract and normative theorising by a more concrete approach. It is the opposite. In his polemics, Trotsky establishes a new norm - nationalised property - and argues "normatively" from that. He extrapolates the new norm from the experience of the USSR. There is here too, as on the question of the party, a dualism in Trotsky. For he holds these ideas about the USSR in parallel to the older socialist ideas about the rest of the world. The question is what it has to do with socialism. Trotsky complains that the "normative" thinkers want to turn their backs on reality and proceed according to ideal schemes in their heads. But Trotsky, too, wants to escape the reality and "begin again" - begin with the fiction that there is something of workers' rule left in the USSR, that the unspeakable tyranny is really something else deep down, in the form of its bureaucratic economy. Trotsky can only relate to the reality by way of constructing an ideal parallel of it in his head, and then defining the reality as a more-and-more distorted version of that ideal. Though Trotsky still writes about the "roots" of the bureaucracy among the soviet workers, he has by now elaborated a baseline method of assessing the class character of the USSR that can only be called "totalitarian economism". One "factor", the nationalisation of the means of production, is valued for its "achievements", its progressive potential and its ascribed place in history, in abstraction from all that in Marxist, socialist or Bolshevik theory had so far been understood to determine the class character of a state - the political regime and the social relations erected on the nationalised means of production. As a working-class politician, Trotsky is concerned with the real socio-economic relations in his concrete programme. He paints painfully clear and true pictures of what they are in the USSR. When he makes his theoretical summaries, however, he leaves them aside. The two parts of the picture do not match. He thinks they will match up in the flux of events, in the near future. His theory thus rests heavily on the idea that the USSR in the 1930s is not any sort of coherent system, but only a temporary concatenation of conflicting elements moving rapidly in different directions. In the 1933 article Trotsky also erects a dual conception of working-class politics, destroying previous Marxist norms on this question. For the task of making a working-class revolution against capitalism, clear ideas and a party organised around those ideas are essential. The proletariat does not gain power, property, wealth and culture bit by bit - as the bourgeoisie did in feudal society - but remains the basic slave class, the prime source of the social surplus product, of the society it must overturn. The proletarian revolution is not a mechanical reflex or outgrowth of even the conditions most ripe for it. That is why ideas, consciousness, programme, politics and voluntary organisation are decisive for the working-class revolution, and are at the heart of Bolshevik-Marxist politics. This is the keynote idea of Lenin's and Trotsky's Communist International and the guide to everything Trotsky did in the 1930s to rebuild a revolutionary movement. But - so Trotsky now argues - having once taken power, the working class can lose direct political power, and yet retain social power. If the "social conquests" of the revolution survive, then the working class rules in the broad historical sense, even when the living and producing working class is in thraldom to a dictatorship of parasitic, privileged and slave-driving bureaucrats. In this argument is the seed of the later neo-Trotskyist idea that "working-class" revolutions could be made in China or Eastern Europe by brutally anti-working-class forces.
Trying to keep a balance between his recognition of the bureaucracy as a "locum" for the working class, and his condemnation of its tyranny and "parasitism", Trotsky spells out the political conclusions. "Is it possible to remove the bureaucracy peacefully'?... After the experience of the last few years it would be childish to suppose that the Stalin bureaucracy can be removed by means of a Party or soviet congress". The last real congress of the Bolshevik party, Trotsky writes, was the 12th at the beginning of 1923; by saying so, he seems to concede that with hindsight his present conclusions are overdue and should have been drawn soon after 1923. No normal constitutional' ways to remove the ruling clique remain. The bureaucracy can be compelled to yield power into the hands of the proletarian vanguard only by force". Trotsky recalls that in 1927 Stalin had said that his "cadres" could be removed only by civil war. "Having concentrated all the levers in its hands, the bureaucracy proclaimed openly that it would not permit the proletariat to raise its head any longer". But "the question of seizing power will arise as a practical question for [the Opposition] only when it will have consolidated around itself the majority of the working class". And the new revolution - Trotsky does not yet use the word "revolution" - will be "not an armed insurrection against the dictatorship of the proletariat but the removal of a malignant growth upon it. A real civil war could develop not between the Stalinist bureaucracy and the resurgent proletariat but between the proletariat and the active forces of the counter-revolution. In the event of an open clash between the two mass camps, there cannot even be talk of the bureaucracy playing an independent role. Its polar flanks would be flung to the different sides of the barricade". A new Bolshevik party is the essential condition for working-class victory. This perspective, saturated with the idea of the bureaucracy as an insubstantial force, of no real substance in comparison to the "two mass camps" of bourgeois (peasant-based) counter-revolution and working-class revolution, is not very different from Trotsky's outlook when he stated his aim as reform. Then there would be crisis and a recomposition of the Bolshevik party, with the "return" of the Opposition; now, the Opposition is to be a separate party. All avenues via reform or self-recomposition of the dispersed and fragmented Bolshevik party are closed. But it still fears "spontaneity". Struggle will decide whether a new party can be built in time to avert collapse brought on by the bureaucratic burrowing and "sapping" at the foundations of the regime. If there is a further decline of the world proletarian movement and further extension of fascist domination, "it is not possible to maintain the soviet power for any length of time by means of the internal forces alone. The fundamental condition for the only rock-bottom reform of the soviet state is the victorious spread of the world revolution". At this point, in 1933, Trotsky believes that the conditions outside the USSR are ripe for a large-scale regroupment of revolutionary forces in a Fourth International. The idea of the small forces of Trotskyism just proceeding to set up the Fourth International by themselves he sees now as absurd. He warns that no regeneration of the USSR will come from internal developments alone, without a big Fourth International being built in the West. Recalling the evidence in the Russian Stalinist press of Left Opposition activities there, Trotsky warns: "Illusions would be out of place here; the party of revolutionary internationalism will be able to free the workers from the decomposing influence of the national bureaucracy only in the event that the international proletarian vanguard will once again appear as a fighting force on the world arena". The Russian Bolshevik-Leninists cannot lead this revival. "The extremely difficult conditions under which the Russian Bolshevik-Leninists work exclude them from the possibility of playing the leading role on an international scale. More than this, the Left Opposition group in the USSR can develop into a new party only as a result of the successful formation and growth of the new International. The revolutionary centre of gravity has shifted definitively to the West, where the immediate possibilities of building parties are immeasurably greater".
What if no big Fourth International is built? In that case, Trotsky writes, working-class actions in the USSR - mass strikes - are likely to lead to counter-revolution rather than regeneration. "Under the conditions of the transitional epoch, the political superstructure" - even the Stalinist locum of the 1920s Bolshevik locum - "plays a decisive role. A developed and stable dictatorship of the proletariat presupposes that the party functions in the leading role as a self-acting vanguard, that the proletariat is welded together by means of trade unions, that the toilers are indissolubly bound up with the state through the system of soviets and, finally, that the workers' state is aligned through the International into a fighting unit with the world proletariat. In the meantime, the bureaucracy has strangled the party and the trade unions and the soviets and the Communist International... The strangulation of the party, the soviets and the trade unions implies the political atomisation of the proletariat... "The first social shock, external or internal, may throw the atomised soviet society into civil war. The workers, having lost control over the state and economy (emphasis added), may resort to mass strikes as weapons of self-defence. The discipline of the dictatorship would be broken. Under the onslaught of the workers and because of the pressure of economic difficulties, the trusts would be forced to disrupt the planned beginnings and enter into competition with one another... The socialist state would collapse, giving place to the capitalist regime or, more correctly, to capitalist chaos". The proletariat, which can rule under Stalin, cannot take back full power without a proper Bolshevik Party... Trotsky is cautious. Just as there was much of "revolution" in Trotsky's calls for "reform" of the USSR, so too now that he is for a new party in the USSR and advocates an early version of "political revolution" (though the name is three years in the future), there are still large elements of the old "reformism": "Today the rupture of the bureaucratic equilibrium in the USSR would almost surely serve in favour of the counter-revolutionary forces. However, given a genuine revolutionary International, the inevitable crisis of the Stalinist regime would open the possibility of revival in the USSR. This is our basic course". This vision, common to Trotsky's "reform" and to the early "political revolution" periods points up the enormity of the shift when Trotsky will call for a working class onslaught on that apparatus in conditions where its replacement is open-ended and problematic. This will be a call for full-scale revolution, the name "political revolution" notwithstanding. "Correct evaluation of the world situation, including the class nature of the Soviet Union" is essential to the work of rebuilding the revolutionary movement. The new International, "before it will be able to reform the soviet state... must take upon itself its defence... the tragic possibility is not excluded that the first workers' state, weakened by the bureaucracy, will fall under the joint blows of its internal and external enemies. But in the event of this worst possible variant, a tremendous significance for the subsequent course of the revolutionary struggle will be borne by the question: where are those guilty for the catastrophe? Not the slightest trace of guilt must fall upon the revolutionary internationalists. In the hour of mortal danger, they must remain on the last barricade". In "the inevitable crisis of the Stalinist regime... the new International will demonstrate to the Russian workers not in words but in action that it, and it alone, stands for the defence of the workers' state... The position of the Bolshevik-Leninists inside the Soviet Union will change within twenty-four hours. The new International will offer the Stalinist bureaucracy a united front against the common foe. And if our International represents a force, the bureaucracy will be unable to evade the united front in the moment of danger. What then will remain of the many years' encrustation of lies and slander?". Examine the flux of Trotsky's reasonings, the patterns of his polemical swordplay, and it becomes plain that he is using the method of provisional estimation, empirical calculation matched - or for now not quite matched - to theory, dancing on the rolling, bobbing logs in the flow of politics and history. He has more than one concern in his head. It is plain that he sees and understands the arguments against his theoretical conclusions, that his rebuttals and rejections are provisional and conditional, subject to further experience and the test of the political line. His first preoccupation is always with living politics, grasping links in a chain of development, seeking openings and leverage points. In 1927, in the Politburo, Trotsky had proclaimed what became known as the "Clemenceau thesis". (The patriotic French imperialist Georges Clemenceau had bitterly opposed the French Government after 1914 in order to win control and prosecute the war more effectively, which he did.) For the socialist fatherland - Yes! For the Stalinist course - No! Right up to his death, a variant of this perspective would remain his basic practical conclusion from the "degenerated workers' state" theory. Over the years he would hugely modify the proportions of different elements in this perspective, and implicitly concede that the 1933 version, of "the many years' encrustation of lies and slander" melting away within twenty-four hours, was unreal; but the basic line would remain. One way or another - whether by palace coups, invasion, peasant uprisings, or workers' strikes - the USSR would be thrown into a crisis, facing internal counter-revolution and, probably, foreign armies. The bureaucracy would fall apart. A new leadership, formed by allying the persecuted Bolshevik-Leninists with a fraction of the apparatus, would take the lead and simultaneously repel counter-revolution and, by breaking the old bureaucratic encrustation, regenerate the soviets and the workers' state, and recompose the international communist movement. The political line of "defence of the workers' state" would be essential because otherwise the Bolshevik-Leninists will be left on the sidelines in the crisis. As the years go on, Trotsky would accumulate doubts and qualifications about this perspective, but insist that it should not be renounced unless absolutely hard evidence - he thought the coming world war would, one way or another, provide it - made that necessary; for to renounce it would mean that definitively the Marxists were back at the stage of building a new movement from scratch among the ruins of the old. Five years later, when his picture of the autocracy as having most of the features of a ruling class had become very much sharper, he would sum up the perspective in the founding programme of the Fourth International (September 1938). "From this perspective [of a powerful section of the bureaucracy, as Trotsky saw it, desiring bourgeois restoration], impelling concreteness is imparted to the question of the defence of the USSR'. If tomorrow the bourgeois-fascist grouping, the [fascistic] faction of Butenko', so to speak, should attempt the conquest of power, the [Trotskyist] faction of Reiss' inevitably would align itself on the opposite side of the barricades". Butenko was a bureaucrat who had defected to fascist Italy; Reiss, a GPU officer who came out for Trotsky in 1937 and was very soon afterwards murdered, in Switzerland, by the Stalinists. "Although it [the "Reiss faction"] would find itself temporarily the ally of Stalin, it would nevertheless defend not the Bonapartist clique but the social base of the USSR... Any other course would be a betrayal... It is thus impermissible to deny in advance the possibility, in strictly defined instances, of a united front' with the Thermidorian section of the bureaucracy against open attack by capitalist counter-revolution." (The "Thermidorian section" here means that section of the bureaucracy with origins in the Bolshevik party of 1917, by analogy with the "Thermidorians" in the French Revolution, Jacobins who overthrew Robespierre in July 1794 and then found themselves overtaken by open big-bourgeois reaction). Here Trotsky is trying to prefigure mentally how to "grasp the links in the chain". From it we can get a pretty firm indication that Trotsky would not have been an "orthodox" neo-Trotskyist - not a platonic revolutionary spinning "working class" fantasies around the expansion of Stalinist "revolution". But, nonetheless, the united front he proposes here is in fact one between the enslaving class and its victims. For Trotsky it is a means of reducing the enslavers to nothing; but with the survival of the bureaucracy and the eruption of Stalinist imperialist expansion in 1939-40, as we shall see, it became a way of reducing independent working-class politics to nothing.
In 1936, from his comprehensive denunciation of the Stalinist regime in The Revolution Betrayed, Trotsky deduces an equally comprehensive programme. He now uses the term "political revolution". "Bureaucratic autocracy must give place to soviet democracy. A restoration of the right of criticism, and a genuine freedom of elections, are necessary conditions for the further development of the country. This assumes a revival of freedom of soviet parties, beginning with the party of Bolsheviks, and a resurrection of the trade unions. The bringing of democracy into industry means a radical revision of plans in the interests of the toilers. Free discussion of economic problems will decrease the overhead expense of bureaucratic mistakes and zig-zags. Expensive playthings - palaces of the soviets, new theatres, show-off subways - will be crowded out in favour of workers' dwellings. Bourgeois norms of distribution' will be confined within the limits of strict necessity, and, in step with the growth of social wealth, will give way to socialist equality. Ranks will be immediately abolished. The tinsel of decorations will go into the melting pot. The youth will receive the opportunity to breathe freely, criticise, make mistakes, and grow up. Science and art will be freed of their chains. And, finally, foreign policy will return to the traditions of revolutionary internationalism." In substance here Trotsky is calling for full revolution. By doing so he shows, surely, that nationalised property characterises not just one social and economic system, but at least two - depending on the social-political context and on the political rulership. The revolution is "political" only in the sense that there will be continuity of nationalised property - but which nationalised property? Everything Trotsky proposes says it will not be the same nationalised property. Moreover, Trotsky himself writes that "a bourgeois restoration would probably have to clean out fewer people than a revolutionary party", while in the July 1936 "theses" on The Fourth International and the Soviet Union he has written that "The new constitution [of 1936] seals the dictatorship of the privileged strata of soviet society over the producing masses... [it] opens up for the bureaucracy legal' roads for the economic counter-revolution, that is, the restoration of capitalism by means of a cold stroke'.". Momentarily Trotsky has abandoned an argument he makes much of both earlier and later: that the idea of a cold-stroke restoration of capitalism is "rolling the film of reformism backwards". In short, the "political revolution" he advocates is a much more deep-going affair than the "social counter-revolution" he fears. Trotsky's strength here was that on the concrete political issues he was adequate, theoretical frame and names notwithstanding. To left-wing critics (and maybe to himself) he could say: "what do you want to add, concretely?". But the programmatic adequacy also disarmed Trotsky and his comrades. It disguised the theoretical inadequacy and "for now" seemed to render it less than pressingly important. The accumulating contradictions in the realm of the general theory of the nature of the USSR would in time take their terrible political toll. In 1935 ("The Question of Thermidor") Trotsky had written: "the inevitable collapse of Stalinist Bonapartism would immediately call into question the character of the USSR as a workers' state. A socialist economy cannot be constructed without a socialist power... the replacement of a workers' government by a bourgeois or petty-bourgeois government would inevitably lead to... [bourgeois] restoration". The notion of Stalin's regime as any sort of "socialist power" or "workers' government" had been strained enough then. Now Trotsky has recognised (in "The Fourth International and the Soviet Union", 1936) that "Control over all fields of economic and cultural life [is] in the hands of the Stalinist party', which is independent both of the people and of its own members and which represents a political machine of the ruling caste... The constitution liquidates de jure the ruling position of the proletariat in the state, a position which, de facto, has long been liquidated". How could this possibly be a workers' state in any sense at all? Trotsky's answers, in The Revolution Betrayed, are all indirect. He argues that the bureaucracy lacks essential features of a ruling class; then, if the bureaucracy is not the ruling class, and bourgeois power has not been restored, it must follow by elimination of the other possibilities that the workers are still the ruling class. "The bureaucracy enjoys its privileges under the form of an abuse of power... It... pretends that as a special social group it does not even exist... All this makes the position of the commanding soviet stratum in the highest degree contradictory, equivocal and undignified, notwithstanding the completeness of its power and the smoke screen of flattery that conceals it". Yet Trotsky has written that the new constitution formalises the identification of the bureaucracy with the state. "The attempt to represent the sSoviet bureaucracy as a class of state capitalists' will obviously not withstand criticism. The bureaucracy has neither stocks nor bonds. It is recruited, supplemented and renewed in the manner of an administrative hierarchy, independently of any special property relations of its own... The individual bureaucrat cannot transmit to his heirs his rights in the exploitation of the state apparatus". In fact, the bureaucrats can, through education, contacts, access to "party" nepotism, etc., transmit a great deal. Moreover, at any given time the parasitic autocracy as a whole, as a collective, confronts the working class as a political, social, economic, moral and intellectual force monopolising the social place of a ruling class, and excluding the working class from it. Bourgeois ideologists argue that under modern capitalism social mobility - and there is social mobility, though not quite as they say - means there is no distinct ruling class. Individuals of the proletariat can "rise". Some do; petty bourgeois can rise higher; some new people join the big bourgeoisie; and there is a downward movement too. Yet the bourgeoisie, at any given moment, exists for the working class. Even if social mobility were far greater than in fact it is, that would not negate the fundamental class relations of capitalism. Why would not the same principle apply to the Stalinist autocracy?
All such arguments of Trotsky's, however, are secondary to the basic idea that the bureaucracy has no "special property relations of its own". "The nationalisation of the land, the means of industrial production, transport and exchange, together with the monopoly of foreign trade, constitute the basis of the soviet social structure. Through these relations, established by the proletarian revolution, the nature of the Soviet Union as a proletarian state is for us basically defined". Under capitalism, "in general the productive forces, upon a basis of private property and competition, have been working out their own destiny. In contrast to this, the property relations which issued from the socialist revolution are indivisibly bound up with the new state as their repository". But this is the Stalinist state, the state in which the bureaucracy is "the sole privileged and commanding stratum"! Here the nationalised property defines the class character of the state - and the state in turn gives the nationalised property its class character. This is a vicious circle; nationalised property defines the class character of the state which defines the class character of the nationalised property... Trotsky's answer to this objection, that the system originates in the October Revolution and could not have originated otherwise, cannot wipe out the social facts of bureaucratic rule; and in fact it is not true. Between October and the system he is studying came the Stalinist revolution after 1928. Trotsky admits that: "The means of production belong to the state. But the state, so to speak, belongs' to the bureaucracy. If these as yet wholly new relations should solidify, become the norm and be legalised, whether with or without resistance from the workers, they would, in the long run, lead to a complete liquidation of the social conquests of the proletarian revolution". Then he pulls back: "But to speak of that now is at least premature. The proletariat has not yet said its last word. The bureaucracy has not yet created social supports for its dominion in the form of special types of property. It is compelled to defend state property as the source of its power and its income. In this aspect of its activity it still remains a weapon of proletarian dictatorship". At the end of this passage Trotsky comes back to his starting point: the USSR is a workers' state because it retains nationalised property. But he has had to go through two stages to get there. At first, when he talks about the "wholly new relations" solidifying, he seems to have in mind the existing collectivised property - state property where the state "so to speak" belongs to the bureaucracy. He then imperceptibly slips into discussing not this continuing system but possible future destinies. In the last sentence - when Trotsky tells us that because the bureaucracy defends state property it remains "a weapon of proletarian dictatorship" - we realise that in the course of the paragraph Trotsky has slid into discussing something else. He winds up offering as reason for seeing the system as proletarian dictatorship that same nationalised property which at the beginning of the paragraph he looked at in a fresh and new way - and whose character is precisely the problem he is unravelling. The movement is circular. We wind up back where we started. Trotsky poses a problem - bureaucratic nationalised economy - then substitutes another - the danger of bourgeois restoration for it. The first problem - the fact that a nationalised economy exists and that the bureaucracy defends it - becomes the solution to the problem he has substituted for it (bourgeois restoration)! Here again, the theory depends on dissolving the USSR as it is into the flux of the process - from workers' revolution to bourgeois restoration or socialist regeneration - it is deemed to be part of.
It is not surprising that some of Trotsky's comrades - Joseph Carter and James Burnham in the USA - conclude after The Revolution Betrayed that the idea that the USSR remains a workers' state makes no sense and should be formally repudiated. Yvan Craipeau in France had held that view for some time already. On 4 November 1937 Trotsky replies to Craipeau. "This terminological radicalism does not advance things very much", he writes. If the bureaucracy is a class "in the sense of Marxist sociology", then we "have a new form of class society which is identical neither with feudal society nor with capitalist society, and which never was foreseen by Marxist theoreticians" [Writings 1937-8, p.34]. Capitalism, writes Trotsky, is in "a blind alley" because it is no longer capable of developing the productive forces, "either in the advanced countries or in the backward countries". "The world imperialist chain was broken at its weakest link, Russia. Now we learn that in place of bourgeois society there has been established a new class society". Suppose that is so. Then clearly "the new society is progressive in comparison with capitalism". Why? With nationalised property - and, though Trotsky fades this out, with a state slave-driving, starving and working the population to death - the "new possessing class' has assured a development of productive forces never equalled in the history of the world". "Marxism teaches us... that the productive forces are the fundamental factor of historic progress". Capitalism surpassed feudalism because capitalism "opened up new and grandiose possibilities for the... productive forces". "The same applies to the USSR. Whatever its modes of exploitation may be, this new society is by its very character superior to capitalist society. There you have the real point of departure for Marxist analysis!" The core of fact here - the USSR's industrial growth - is the axis around which Trotsky's analysis oscillates throughout the 1930s. Except through reasoning based on slotting the USSR into a prior historical scheme - that the economically progressive sequel to capitalism, when it falls into decay, is a workers' state - the assessment of the USSR as progressive because of its industrial growth is entirely separable from any idea of it being a workers' state. From now on Trotsky will often separate them in his polemics. The method of setting aside the question of whether the USSR is a workers' state, arguing that the USSR is in any case progressive, and identifying it as a workers' state only secondarily and by abstract deduction from the historical scheme, will come to be a central feature of Trotsky's polemics. Already, in his theses, "The Fourth International and the Soviet Union", of July 1936, Trotsky has developed all his political positions without reference to the claim that the USSR was a workers' state, which is asserted only in the 18th and last of the theses. The "workers' state" idea is now just a matter of the supposed historical roots in 1917 of the USSR; the historical progressiveness of the nationalised economy; and the general Marxist scheme that says that the progressive successor to capitalism is a workers' state. Trotsky makes no substantial argument for it based on the actual, empirical relations between the Stalinist state and the real, living workers. Now Trotsky himself will explain that: "Economic progress is not identical with socialism. America, [the] United States, had in its history more grandiose economic progress on a capitalistic basis. Socialism signifies the progressive equality and the progressive abolition of the state" [Writings 1939-40, p.23]. Trotsky's honesty, his real understanding of social and political relations in the real USSR, make it impossible for him not to see that the USSR's "economic progress" is isolated entirely from all the social, intellectual, and political prerequisites assumed in the Marxist shorthand that says "socialism grows out of advanced capitalism" and "is created by capitalism's gravediggers, the working class". In order to replace capitalism, the proletariat must be able to organise itself and grow in culture and understanding. Even for Trotsky's backstop argument on the progressiveness of the USSR, much depends on the idea of capitalism being at a dead end. He complains that Craipeau wishes "not to distinguish between a society which is absolutely reactionary, since it fetters and even destroys the productive forces, and a society which is relatively progressive, since it has assured a great upsurge in economy". "Relatively" embodies Trotsky's awareness of what Stalinism is - and his false picture of capitalism. Trotsky makes an utterly false and impermissible exaggeration of the decrepitude of capitalism and its effect on working-class perspectives, including the prospective end of bourgeois democracy everywhere, to "relativise" what Stalinism does to the working class. He is forced to exaggerate the hopelessness of capitalism to sustain his line on the USSR. Even Stalinism is better than dead-end capitalism. In fact, from a working-class point of view, an advanced capitalism that still allows labour movements is better than this barbaric collectivism. Its socialist potential is greater. But Trotsky is an economic fetishist by now. He makes judgements that were shared by many, even anti-socialists, in the 1930s, but which now cannot but seem bizarre . "The nationalised and planned economy of the USSR is the greatest school for all humanity aspiring to a better future. One must be blind not to see the difference!". All this depends on the USSR being seen on split levels. On an inner, deeper level it is a "nationalised and planned economy" that exists in Trotsky's head; the empirical reality combines that deep reality with a more superficial, temporary, freakish level of reality, namely Stalinism. This is an aberration, out of kilter with the true logic and the true needs of "proper" nationalised and planned economy. There is in fact a huge gulf - so great that a revolution will be needed to cross it - between the actuality of Stalinist nationalised economy and the working-class nationalised-economy model from which Trotsky draws the justification, by analogy, for the real USSR. By expounding a case for "defence of USSR" separate from the idea that it is a workers' state, Trotsky provisionally and conditionally propounds some of the bases of the later neo-Trotskyist idea of progressive Stalinism - the "deformed workers' state" created by a peasant army (China, Yugoslavia) or Russian invasion. In the reply to Craipeau he also elaborates the first of a series of auxiliary arguments for defence. "In the war between Japan and Germany on one side, and the USSR on the other, there would be involved not a question of equality in distribution, or of proletarian democracy, or of Vyshinksy's justice, but the fate of the nationalised property and planned economy". Imperialist victory would mean "the collapse not only of the new exploiting class' in the USSR, but also of the new forms of production - the lowering of the whole Soviet economy to the level of a backward and semi-colonial capitalism". Trotsky puts it starkly: "Faced with the struggle between two states which are - let us admit it - both class states, but one of which represents imperialist stagnation and the other tremendous economic progress, do we not have to support the progressive state against the reactionary state? Yes or no?" Now even on Trotsky's own account the Stalinist USSR - the empirical USSR, as distinct from the USSR in Trotsky's head - has very limited possibilities of further progress even on the narrowest economic measures. In The Revolution Betrayed he has written: "The progressive role of the soviet bureaucracy coincides with the period devoted to introducing into the Soviet Union the most important elements of capitalist technique. The rough work of borrowing, imitating, transplanting and grafting, was accomplished on the bases laid down by the revolution... It is possible to build gigantic factories according to a ready-made Western pattern by bureaucratic command - although, to be sure, at triple the normal cost. But the farther you go, the more the economy runs into the problem of quality... Under a nationalised economy, quality demands a democracy of producers and consumers, freedom of criticism and initiative - conditions incompatible with a totalitarian regime of fear, lies and flattery. Behind the question of quality stands a more complicated and grandiose problem which may be comprised of the concept of independent, technical and cultural creation. The ancient philosopher said that strife is the father of all things. No new values can be created where a free conflict of ideas is impossible.". Worse, progress here is too narrowly defined. This USSR is a slave state, a state that has experienced an enormous regression on every level above that of abstract economic forms. The idea that socialist politics should be defined by choosing the side of "progress" in abstraction from class definitions and immediate class conflicts - remember, in this polemic Trotsky is still conceding for the sake of argument that the autocracy is a new exploiting class - is logically, and would be in history for the neo-Trotskyists, entirely destructive of working-class socialism. The revolutionary socialists would logically attach themselves to the progressive forms, quite apart from class rule, working-class conditions and socialism. Socialism and the proletariat ultimately express the progressive social tendencies of capitalist economy; but in real history the really progressive real labour movement, the proletariat, fights the bourgeois, slows down accumulation, hinders adoption of labour-saving devices on capitalist terms. Despite our historic overview, we are not partisans of economic development before all else, nor inspectors general of economy. We are the warlike working-class party concerned for the class at the expense, where necessary, of "progressive" economic development. Here Trotsky lays the basis for collapsing the class viewpoint into the view of an administrator, a developmentalist or an inspector general of history and economic development. There is another innovation, and an even worse one. From now on Trotsky's argument for defence of the USSR does not rest on its alleged working-class character or on the superiority of the "new forms of production" alone, but on the idea that defeat will reduce the USSR to a semi-colony. This reflects the fragility and "immaturity" which Trotsky sees in the real USSR. Yet it is an argument entirely distinct from any idea of the USSR being a workers' state or even economically progressive. As we will see below, Trotsky will soon indicate that the USSR is itself a Great Russian empire (he will not use this term) because it oppresses many of the USSR's component peoples in the world war. Any imperial power may be dismembered after defeat. In fact, Germany will be defeated and half of it will, after barbarous plunder, be turned into a colony of the USSR. Marxists will not therefore conclude that they must defend Germany! Trotsky's defence of the USSR is of course rooted in his position that it is a workers' state, with a progressive system of production (though the two have become separable); the bringing in of the "anti-colonial argument" indicates only how shaky he now feels his position to be. But it has its implications... and they are not little ones - as we will see when, in 1939-40, Trotsky will "support" the Soviet Union expanding into the former Russian imperial provinces of Finland and Poland. [It is curious that Trotsky's argument here is the same argument used by G. Plekhanov, the "Father of Russian Marxism", for turning patriot in 1914: defeat would make Russia a German colony and destroy the progress of decades, and the progressive potential thus created].
Trotsky dated the article "Not a bourgeois and not a workers' state", a reply to the opinion of two US Trotskyists, James Burnham and Joseph Carter, exactly three weeks after his argument against Craipeau. [Burnham responded: "Is this a no-class' state? Of course not. It is simply not, primarily, the instrument of either of the two major classes in contemporary society. But it is the instrument of the new middle class' striving to become a consolidated bourgeois class within the Soviet Union..." (James Burnham: "From Formula to Reality", in E.Haberkern and A.Lipow (eds.), Neither Capitalism nor Socialism: Theories of Bureaucratic Collectivism, p.17).]
Burnham and Carter still thought the USSR progressive as against contemporary capitalism. They were for its defence against "imperialist attacks". Drawing out the logic of Trotsky's own writings - the disintegration of Trotsky's position into discrete and incongruent elements - they separated those questions from the "class character" of the USSR. Plainly it was not a capitalist state; but they could see no sense in Trotsky's arguments for its working-class character. They could not, like Trotsky, draw a working-class identity from negative arguments - from what the USSR was not - and Marxist historical perspectives and Trotsky's prolonged sense of walking a tightrope across an interregnum. They represented the positive print-out from Trotsky's own position, a positive as distinct from a negative picture of the Stalinist phenomenon as Trotsky himself portrayed it, a plain, flat picture of what was. They wanted downright, categorical statements, and they offered some. Neither bourgeois, nor proletarian - what was it, then? They "admit that the economic structure as established by the October Revolution remains basically unchanged'", and Burnham and Carter "do not forget that the main difference between the USSR and the contemporary bourgeois state finds its expression in the powerful development of the productive forces as a result of a change in the form of ownership". Burnham and Carter think that while the working class has ceased being the ruling class, the "economic structure [which] still remains basically unchanged" means that it is not bourgeois either. They "deny... that the bureaucracy is an independent class". Trotsky says that they conclude that the soviet state "is not an organisation of class domination". Burnham and Carter accept that the rule of the proletariat can take different forms but, they argue, a workers' state must have some form of workers' political rule. "The concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat is not primarily an economic but predominantly a political category... All forms, organs, and institutions of the class rule of the proletariat are now destroyed, which is to say that the class rule of the proletariat is destroyed". Trotsky replies: "Of course, the dictatorship of the proletariat is not only predominantly' but wholly and fully a political category'. However, this very politics is only concentrated economics... The regime which guards the expropriated and nationalised property from the imperialists is, independent of political forms, the dictatorship of the proletariat". Even if it also "guards the expropriated property" from the workers. Trotsky takes refuge in an assertion based on the identification of nationalised property with working-class rule. He merely restates what Burnham and Carter have challenged, by asserting that though the proletariat does not rule politically, it does nonetheless rule "politically", if not through politics, because the USSR's economy is nationalised. To the question of how the proletariat can rule where clearly it rules not, Trotsky answers that the nationalised economy coming out of the October Revolution is the rule of the proletariat. In the degenerated workers' state, the formula which Trotsky quotes from Lenin - "politics is concentrated economics" - is more true the other way round: economics is congealed and concentrated bureaucratic politics. Working-class economic rule can operate only through politics, because the economic and political are fused in a way quite unlike politics and economics in a self-regulating or largely self-regulating economy. In the USSR, both politics and economics are concentrated in the hands of the autocracy and its totalitarian state.
On 23 August 1939 Stalin reversed his diplomatic orientation of the previous four years - which had been based on an alliance with the democratic imperialist powers, France and Britain - and signed a pact with Hitler. On 1 September Hitler seized western Poland. Britain and France stood by their treaty obligations to Poland, and declared war on Germany. On 17 September - in line with secret clauses in his pact with Hitler - Stalin invaded eastern Poland. On 30 November the USSR invaded Finland. It met fierce resistance, and had to settle (on 13 March 1940) for minor territorial gains. In April-June the German army swept through most of western Europe - Norway, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, France. In June 1940 the USSR seized the Rumanian provinces of Bukovina and Bessarabia; in July, it annexed the Baltic states (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia), which it had brought under its effective control in late 1939. These events, the beginning of the USSR's imperialist expansion, divided Trotskyism into two clearly distinct strands. Formally, Trotsky was heavily on one side; politically, as we will see, he was on both. In the eastern part of the Polish state, seized by Stalin, Poles were a minority. According to the national composition of the population, it was more accurately described as western Ukraine and western Byelorussia. The greater portions of the Ukrainian and Byelorussian peoples lived in the USSR. There were also smaller areas of Ukrainian population in Rumania, and, after March 1939, Hungary. Well before these events Hitler had called for a "Greater Ukraine", and early in 1939 the Nazis had allowed a conference of Ukrainian nationalists to be held in Berlin in obvious preparation for war. Trotsky responded with great urgency. The Ukrainian national question was now so explosive, he argued, that communist oppositionists in the USSR must be armed with the slogan: for the independence of the Ukraine. Otherwise the revolutionaries in the Ukraine would be disarmed and reactionaries, including Nazi invaders when they came, would be able to exploit Ukrainian national disaffection. In fact, when the Nazis eventually did invade, in June 1941, many Ukrainians did at first welcome them, though the Nazis' anti-Slav racism soon turned the people against them and drove them back to support for Stalin's state. On 22 April 1939, Trotsky wrote "The Ukrainian Question", which was published in the Socialist Appeal, in New York, on 9 May. Trotsky realistically sums up how things stand for the Ukrainians outside the USSR. "Not a trace remains of the former confidence and sympathy of the Western Ukrainian masses for the Kremlin. Since the latest murderous purge' in the Ukraine no-one in the West wants to become part of the Kremlin satrapy which continues to bear the name of the Soviet Ukraine". Now: "The question of the fate of the Ukraine has been posed in its full scope. A clear and definite slogan is necessary that corresponds to the new situation. In my opinion there can be at the present time only one such slogan: A united, free and independent workers' and peasants' Soviet Ukraine". Anticipating objections from the "friends" of the USSR, Trotsky replies: "The fervid worship of state boundaries is alien to us. We do not hold the position of a united and indivisible' whole. After all, even the  constitution of the USSR acknowledges the right of its component federated peoples to self-determination, that is, to separation". To raise the slogan of Ukrainian independence in the USSR would bring immediate shooting for treason. "It is precisely this ruthless hounding of all free national thought that has led the toiling masses of the Ukraine, to an even greater degree than the masses of Great Russia, to look upon the rule of the Kremlin as monstrously oppressive... It is naturally impossible even to talk of Western Ukraine voluntarily joining the USSR as it is at present constituted. Consequently the unification of the Ukraine presupposes freeing the so-called Soviet Ukraine from the Stalinist boot". Wouldn't this weaken the USSR militarily? The weakening is caused by the "ever-growing centrifugal tendencies generated by the Bonapartist dictatorship... In the event of war the hatred of the masses for the ruling clique can lead to the collapse of all the social conquests of October". Trotsky's new slogan is directed against Hitler - but also against Stalin. "An independent workers' and peasants' Ukraine might subsequently join the Soviet federation; but voluntarily, on conditions that it itself considers acceptable, which in turn presupposes a revolutionary regeneration of the USSR". Genuine Ukrainian independence is impossible without revolution in Western Europe. The Ukraine would join a Soviet United States of Europe. Trotsky may now even be contemplating a European working-class revolutionary war, if necessary, against Stalinism. "The proletarian revolution in Europe, in turn, would not leave one stone standing of the revolting structure of Stalinist Bonapartism". This Trotsky, faced with real political questions, is the opposite of the Trotsky who thinks that the preservation of the forms of property is all-important. Here he advocates deliberate fomentation of a revolutionary maelstrom against both Hitler and "the rapist clique in the Kremlin". This sort of violent language, expressing all-out hostility to the Stalinist regime as to a particularly monstrous class enemy, is by now Trotsky's only public tone. It is very close to the mid-19th century tone of Karl Marx against Tsarist Russia. Trotsky's "orientation" articles on the "working-class" character of the USSR, and for its defence, are for the narrower circles of his comrades. The balance is close to being the very opposite of what it was in the early 1930s. On 30 July Trotsky returned to the Ukrainian question, writing "Independence of the Ukraine and Sectarian Muddleheads" (published in Socialist Appeal, 15 and 18 September 1939) in reply to critics of his earlier article. In this polemical article against a rigid group of "Trotskyists" (those associated with Hugo Oehler) Trotsky confronts a caricature of himself on the question of defence of the USSR - the issue that will split the Fourth International within a very short time. Trotsky's critic denounces the slogan, among other reasons, because it "completely negates the position of the defence of the Soviet Union". How, asks Trotsky in reply, "can a socialist demand that a hostile Ukraine be retained within the framework of the USSR?" Oehler does, Trotsky believes, support the political revolution against "the Bonapartist bureaucracy". But this "like every revolution, will undoubtedly present a certain danger from the standpoint of defence... Such a danger is an inescapable historical risk which cannot be evaded, for under the rule of the Bonapartist bureaucracy the USSR is doomed". "The revolutionary national uprising... represents nothing else but a single segment of the political revolution" [Writings 1939-40, p.51, my emphasis]. This is not only full revolution but national struggle against an imperial power. And the logic of the argument for the Ukraine applies also to the USSR's other oppressed nationalities - who comprise, between them, the majority of the state's population. What if "the separation of the Ukraine threatens to break down the plan and to lower the productive forces"? "This argument, too, is not decisive. An economic plan is not the holy of holies... [After Ukrainian independence] insofar as the plan is advantageous for the Ukraine she will herself desire and know how to reach the necessary economic agreement with the Soviet Union, just as she will be able to conclude the necessary military alliance". Here Trotsky steps outside the fetish of the planned economy, to which elsewhere all else is subordinate. He will soon split the Fourth International by championing an opposite position. "It is impermissible to forget that the plunder and arbitrary rule of the bureaucracy constitute an important integral part of the current economic plan, and exact a heavy toll from the Ukraine... The outlived ruling caste is systematically destroying the country's economy, the army and its culture; it is annihilating the flower of the population and preparing the ground for a catastrophe. The heritage of the revolution can be saved only by an overturn" (emphasis added). Trotsky sees the championing of self-determination as a matter of arming the Left Opposition with a full revolutionary programme& "The bolder and more resolute is the policy of the proletarian vanguard on the national question among others, all the more successful will be the revolutionary overturn, all the lower its overhead expenses". "The barb of the slogan of an independent Ukraine is aimed directly against the Moscow bureaucracy and enables the proletarian vanguard to rally the peasant masses... the same slogan opens up for the proletarian party the opportunity of playing a leading role in the national Ukrainian movement in Poland, Rumania and Hungary. Both of these political processes will drive the revolutionary movement forward and increase the specific weight of the proletarian vanguard". Trotsky is advocating full-scale proletarian and anti-imperialist revolution - implicitly for the majority of the peoples of the USSR where the Great Russians are the minority. The call for an independent Ukraine implied a clear-cut characterisation of Stalin's USSR, even before it started to expand, as an imperialist state. Trotsky and his comrades characterised pre-war Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Poland as imperialist states because they contained minorities held against their will and variously ill-treated and discriminated against - in Czechoslovakia, for example, three million Sudeten Germans as well as Slovaks and Hungarians.
"Even irrespective of its international ties, Czechoslovakia is an absolutely imperialist state" [Writings 1938-9, p.62]. There was no logical way to exclude the USSR from the same category. At that time, and up to the end of 1939, the US Trotskyist newspaper, the Socialist Appeal, summed up its politics as a call for "the Third Camp". Trotsky expounded it like this: "The attempt of the bourgeoisie during its internecine conflict to oblige humanity to divide up into only two camps is motivated by a desire to prohibit the proletariat from having its own independent ideas. This method is as old as bourgeois society, or more exactly, as class society in general. No one is obligated to become a Marxist; no one is obligated to swear by Lenin's name. But the whole of the politics of these two titans of revolutionary thought was directed towards this, that the fetishism of two camps would give way to a third, independent, sovereign camp of the proletariat, that camp upon which, in point of fact, the future of humanity depends" [Writings Supplement 1934-40, p,868-9]. In the politics Trotsky developed on the Ukraine in the months leading up to World War 2 he applied the same approach, in essence, to conflict between the two camps of Hitler and Stalin on one side and the Allies on the other. "The question of first order is the revolutionary guarantee of the unity and independence of a workers' and peasants' Ukraine in the struggle against imperialism on the one hand, and against Moscow Bonapartism on the other".
Trotsky's response to the partition of Poland by Hitler and Stalin in September 1939 is in line with those politics. Ever since 1933, Trotsky and the Trotskyist press have explained from time to time that fundamentally Stalin wanted an alliance with Hitler as the best way to keep out of war; but he bitterly denounces the Hitler-Stalin pact. It is "a military alliance in the full sense of the word, for it serves the aims of aggressive imperialist war", writes Trotsky on 2 September 1939, the day after the Nazis attack Poland [Writings 1939-40, p.77]. The German-Soviet pact "is a military alliance with a division of roles: Hitler conducts the military operations, Stalin acts as his quartermaster...". Thinking in terms of years of European war - though in fact it will be only ten months before Hitler is master of the continent - Trotsky predicts that if Hitler, with Stalin's help, wins the war, then "that will signify mortal danger for the Soviet Union". The Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union was then 22 months in the future. Believing that Stalin's rule is too unstable for him to risk war, Trotsky does not expect the USSR invasion of eastern Poland. When it comes, he responds in high indignation. He scorns the Moscow story that its concern was to "liberate" and "unify" the Ukrainian and White Russian people. "In reality, the Soviet Ukraine, more than any part of the Soviet Union, is bound by the ferocious chains of the Moscow bureaucracy". Ukrainian aspirations for liberation and independence are legitimate and intense. "But these aspirations are directed also against the Kremlin". The Ukrainian people "will find itself unified', not in national liberty, but in bureaucratic enslavement... It is not a question of emancipating an oppressed people, but rather one of extending the territory where bureaucratic oppression and parasitism will be practised". "It is true", concedes Trotsky, "that in the occupied regions the Kremlin is proceeding to expropriate the large proprietors. But this is not a revolution accomplished by the masses, but an administrative reform, designed to extend the regime of the USSR into the new territories. Tomorrow" - in fact, it is simultaneously - "in the liberated' regions, the Kremlin will pitilessly crush the workers and peasants in order to bring them into subjection to the totalitarian bureaucracy" ["The US will participate in the war", 1 October 1939; New York Times 4 October 1939; Writings 1939-40, p.94].
By late 1939, in short, the balance of Trotsky's politics has shifted heavily towards the advocacy of revolution by the workers and oppressed nationalities against the USSR autocracy; "defence of the USSR against imperialism", though not at all renounced, has become very secondary. Moreover, Trotsky sees that "defence" not as an alignment with Stalin but as a revolutionary mass slogan against the autocracy, deemed to be bound on the bourgeois road. "It is our task to call upon the working class to oppose its own strength to the pressure of the bureaucracy - for the defence of the great conquests of October" ["The Fourth International and the Soviet Union", July 1936]. Trotsky is unsure about the theoretical definition. He does not know. That is why he oscillates between different "defencisms". He can only operate politically on what he has known, while questioning and developing and trying to hold together the possibility of revolutionary action by the Fourth International. But the exigencies of politics are wreaking havoc with "science". Trotsky's metaphysics of the nationalised economy under the Stalinist locum has separated political and international affairs from, and in the last analysis subordinated everything else to, the nationalised economy seen as the legacy of October 1917 and the polar contrast to world capitalist decline. In this conception nothing that the autocracy can do, killing millions, deporting nations, destroying labour movements, or even, after 1944-5, conquering and pillaging a large part of eastern and central Europe - nothing but denationalising the economy - can stop the USSR being a workers' state. (Nor, once Stalinism begins its vast expansion after 1944, can any crime cancel out the logical implication that Stalinism is both progressive and revolutionary.) Trotsky has already written, in his reply to Craipeau, that the autocracy can and does do worse than any ruling class in history, and yet is still the custodian of the workers' state. "We can and must say that the Soviet bureaucracy has all the vices of a possessing class without having any of its virtues' (organic stability, certain moral norms, etc.)". Tied by his fetish of nationalised property to USSR "socialism" and after 1928 again and again adapting to it, Trotsky has created an immensely elastic system of ideologising around Stalinism as workers' state. Trotsky has insisted that: "Only dialectical materialism, which teaches us to view all existence in its process of development and in the conflict of internal forces, can impart the necessary stability to thought or action". In contrast, "a superficial idealistic mode of thinking that operates with ready-made norms, mechanically fitting living processes of development to them" "easily leads one from enthusiasm to prostration". In fact, this is not a bad description of Trotsky himself, except that for the "idealistic norms" of Marxian socialism, derived from socialist extrapolation from advanced capitalism, Trotsky has, as we saw, erected a norm-fetish extrapolated from the experience of one backward country. Trotsky's strength is that he does not let this "norm" shape his picture of the "living processes" or blur his viewpoint - that of the working class. He lets his vision split into two parallel pictures of the same world, two not-properly-integrated views of the same thing. A duality runs through it all - between the "legitimate" - norm-sustaining - nationalised economy, the one that really fits the underlying historic processes of the October Revolution and its goals and will re-emerge at the other side of a new working-class revolution, and the actually-existing autocratic nationalised economy, that is the very opposite of nationalisation that serves socialist goals. For Trotsky's structure of a finely tuned and balanced series of conditional positions erected above his conscientious concrete analysis, his own image for Bonapartism will also do: it is a weight finely balanced on the top of a pyramid - finely balanced between his "old communist" politics and analyses on one side, and on the other the encroaching totalitarian-economist logic of his theories about the progressive nationalised economy in which the bureaucracy is locum for an enslaved working class and creates seeming economic miracles in part by driving living standards down to subsistence level and, for millions, below. Trotskyism must roll down on one side of the pyramid or the other; and, as we shall see, it starts to do so in 1939-40. Trotsky has invoked the basic Marxist scheme of the succession so far of class societies in history to caution Craipeau and all like him and expand on the concerns that inhibit Trotsky's own thinking. Trotsky's way of keeping to it is to be unable to see the USSR as a whole ... and mentally oscillate between seeing it as bourgeois or proletarian or both. Of Craipeau Trotsky had said that he did not deal with the questions of historical perspective raised by his description of Stalinism as a class society - "if this new society is an inevitable stage between capitalism and socialism or if it is merely a historic accident'.". From the point of view "of our general historical perspective as it is formulated in the Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels, the sociological definition of the bureaucracy assumes capital importance". The retardation of the world revolution produced soviet degeneration. It is "the result of political and conjunctural' causes... Can one speak of a new... conjunctural' class? I really doubt that... From the point of view of the historic succession of social regimes... to give the bureaucracy the name of a possessing class is not only an abuse of terminology, but moreover a great political danger which can lead to the complete derailment of our historical perspective". There is more than a little in this of special pleading, of an invitation to collude in a conspiracy of silence and of the incantatory, ideologically prophylactic repetition of increasingly doubtful "official truths" lest the furies escape and chaos follows. This sort of consideration - if this, then that, and we must think of the implications - is inimical to the task Trotsky is ostensibly engaged in, of thinking the problems through to the end. Trotsky's concern, let us repeat, is that of a revolutionary politician. He could truly claim to have kept the terrible chronicles of Stalinist rule and Stalinist crimes with matchless strictness, scrupulosity and objectivity. He is right to approach the question cautiously and in wishing to err rather on the side of belatedness than to rush needlessly to conclusions that will bring theoretical disarray to a movement whose morale and capacity for action at decisive moments may shape the future. Yet the art is to know when quantity passes to quality. From 1936 onwards, at least, when he comes as near as makes no difference to defining the USSR as a new form of class society and then unconvincingly retreats, Trotsky is fighting a rearguard action - and fighting it in such a way as to suggest that he knows that is what he does. His motive is honourable and understandable. Trotsky is a revolutionary politician, not an academic or backwards-focused historian. His focus and prime, proper concern is the future and the preparation of action. The cost of his theoretical tardiness for the future of his movement will be higher than he could ever have imagined. Trotsky is teaching his followers to live on a political tightrope; he is teaching "convenience" and "implications" as a legitimate factor in political-theoretical calculations and "not yet" as a pseudo-answer to avoid an indicated but unwanted answer. Others after him will be less able to keep the balance than Trotsky is. And, on a certain level, Trotsky has revised Marxism. In the interests of a preconceived perspective and of dogmatism he is using Marxism as a narrowly conceived and defined political artefact that is as only a servant of political expediency - he has impermissibly stretched the terms and concepts so out of shape that they begin to look like the thing they supposedly encompass, the USSR. Essentially, as we have seen, he uses the technique of palimpsestry: writing new meanings into old "texts" and concepts. The idea that the theory either solves or evades the theoretical problems posed by Stalinism is illusory: he only takes them out of rational assessment by corrupting the very language of old Marxism. Fighting Stalinism, he does, under the pressure of Stalinism, what for different reasons the Stalinist bureaucracy has done to Marxism. By his tardiness, he has destructured his doctrine and introduced into it a disabling incoherence and many destabilising elements, including something akin to Russian patriotism (Russia will be reduced to a colony). Trotsky believes the USSR bureaucracy cannot risk war and will collapse if war is forced on the USSR. In 1939-40 it will be the Fourth International and Trotsky who find that war throws them into chaos and political collapse.
At the Political Committee of the American Trotskyist group, the SWP, on 5 September 1939, James Burnham put down a set of theses on the USSR and the war. Burnham has already, in 1937, said that the USSR is neither a fully bourgeois nor a proletarian state, and that it is reverting to capitalism. He shares Trotsky's basic framework - there are only two alternatives, capitalism or workers' power - but thinks restoration has gone very far already. He now re-raises the question and calls for a clear denunciation of the USSR as imperialist. Contrary to myth, Burnham did not argue that the USSR is "bureaucratic-collectivist". He will later write "The Managerial Revolution" with a different thesis: here he is still arguing for the perspective of capitalist restoration. In the subsequent arguments, the only person to advance the idea of bureaucratic collectivism will be Trotsky, who expounds it tentatively and defends it from the charge of "revisionism", but - for now - rejects it. [Joseph Carter had a distinct position, according to Max Shachtman, but did not put it on paper]. Trotsky's main antagonists in the faction fight that would develop, Max Shachtman and Martin Abern, share Trotsky's basic position that the USSR is a degenerated workers' state. Shachtman has doubts and reservations - but does not propose, or indeed have, an alternative to Trotsky's formal position. Shachtman will never adopt the position of Burnham; he will adopt the position Trotsky, wearing the mask of Bruno Rizzi, puts forward. The split that develops is one in Trotsky's own camp. The dispute is not about theories of the USSR, but about political responses to the USSR's invasions of Poland and Finland, and to the beginning of the imperialist expansion of the USSR. The essential innovators are not Shachtman and his friends. Trotsky is the innovator, on the one hand inserting new substance into the old formula of "defence of the USSR" in response to the new imperialist phase of Stalinism, and on the other provisionally sketching out a new theory of Stalinism. Trotsky's public comments on the invasion of Poland are such as might be a manifesto stating the views of Max Shachtman and his allies. The US Trotskyist leaders with whom he will be allied in that faction fight respond very differently: Albert Goldman initially wants to support the USSR invasion of Poland as a "lesser evil", and James P Cannon says that it is a matter of the USSR's military business rather than political right or wrong [Cannon would have a reductio ad absurdum of this position as late as 1944, and on that basis he defended the USSR's treachery to the insurgents of Warsaw (see The Bureaucratic Jungle, in this volume)]. As events unfold, however, Trotsky is drawn along by the logic of "holding the line" for the theoretical system he is not yet ready to discard - and in fact into holding the line for the birth of a new, regressive "Trotskyism". There are differences over Poland, but they are a matter of commentaries on an accomplished fact. They do not have the explosive power of differences over the four-month war in Finland that will start on 30 November. Cannon and Trotsky will say that defence of the USSR obliges them to be "Soviet partisans"; Shachtman and the opposition will oppose Stalinist conquest. They grasp that a new situation has emergedn. The faction fight will sharpen. Trotsky will write an article, "A Petty Bourgeois Opposition in the SWP" (15 December 1939)which pours raging scorn and contempt on the heads of Burnham, Shachtman and Abern - and on much that was "Trotskyism" in September 1939. He will savage Shachtman for advocating the "Third Camp", "oppose both sides", position he himself propounded for the Ukraine a few weeks earlier. In April 1940 the Trotskyist movement will split.
In "Again and once more on the Nature of the USSR" (18 October 1939), Trotsky replies to Albert Goldman's idea that the Stalinist occupation of eastern Poland was "a lesser evil'". Yes, German occupation would have been worse for the people involved. (The enslaving and exterminating genocidal Nazis in Eastern Europe have a horror all their own, and that - not nationalised property - is what Trotsky means here.) But the lesser evil was obtained "because Hitler was assured of achieving a greater evil. If somebody sets, or helps to set a house on fire and afterwards saves five out of ten of the occupants of the house in order to convert them into his own semi-slaves, that is to be sure a lesser evil than to have burned the entire ten". If Stalin, the "firebug", deserves "credit", he also deserves hanging. (In fact the population ratio was two for Hitler's slavery and one for Stalin's semi-slavery). [Of the 15 million people in the territory Stalin annexed, 6 million were Poles. Of these one and a half million were killed or deported to slave labour.] Trotsky responds sympathetically to the alarm of some of his comrades about "unconditional defence of the USSR". In doing so he lays the basis of the policy adopted by Shachtman in the Finnish war - "conjunctural defeatism". Trotsky defines " unconditional' defence of the USSR" to mean "that independently of the motives and causes of the war we defend the social basis of the USSR, if it is menaced by danger on the part of imperialism". He cannot, without embracing a terrible logic, interpret that to mean: we must back the USSR whenever the USSR is at war, even a war to subjugate a small neighbouring people, because imperialism may get drawn in and any military defeat will encourage the larger enemies of the USSR. No, Trotsky says that we do not, of course, support the "Red" Army in an occupied territory - an invasion of India by the USSR in alliance with Hitler is being hypothetically discussed - any more than we support it in the USSR. "If the Red Army menaces workers' strikes or peasant protests against the bureaucracy in the USSR shall we support it? Foreign policy is the continuation of the internal. We have never promised to support all the actions of the Red Army which is an instrument in the hands of the Bonapartist bureaucracy. We have promised to defend only the USSR as a workers' state and solely those things within it which belong to a workers' state". In fact, in war the USSR and the "Red" Army are a single entity, indivisible. But here Trotsky labels "adroit casuistry" arguments he will shortly use or imply: "If the Red Army... is beaten by the insurgent masses in India, this will weaken the USSR". He replies: "The crushing of a revolutionary movement in India, with the cooperation of the Red Army, would signify an incomparably greater danger to the social basis of the USSR than an episodic defeat of counter-revolutionary detachments of the Red Army in India" (emphasis added). Are not all the detachments counter-revolutionary? In any case, this is "conjunctural defeatism". When the Red Army is sent to suppress, annex and crush the Finnish nation, why are the "Red" Army detachments there not counter-revolutionary? Trotsky adds: "In every case the Fourth International will know how to distinguish where and when the Red Army is acting solely as an instrument of the Bonapartist reaction and where it defends the social basis of the USSR". It is a question of judgment - of whether the Fourth International judges the "social basis" to be at stake, and other circumstances. This will be the basis of the opposition case on Finland. But when the Finnish war erupts, Trotsky's own arguments will be improvised in line with a rooted determination to stick with his theoretical, "totalitarian-economistic", basics and the "Clemenceau thesis". In "Again and once more...", Trotsky also discusses the argument of some of his US comrades that the USSR must now be called "imperialist". In substance he gives a pretty plain "yes" to the existence of Russian imperialism, but he refuses to use the word. We must, writes Trotsky, first establish what social content is included. History has known the imperialism of ancient slave society, of feudal lords, of commercial and then industrial capital, of the Tsarist monarch, etc. The train of thought, plainly, is that history now knows the imperialism of the Stalinist bureaucracy. "The driving force behind the Moscow bureaucracy is indubitably the tendency to expand its power, its prestige, its revenues. This is the element of imperialism' in the widest sense of the word which was a property in the past of all monarchies, oligarchies, ruling castes, medieval estates and classes" - and now plainly of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Having admitted this and thus opened the door to the development of a rational "Trotskyist" understanding of the enormous explosion of Russian Stalinist imperialism that the next half decade would experience, Trotsky closes it: "in... Marxist literature, imperialism is understood to mean the expansionist policy of finance capital". Trotsky keeps the facts under review with stringent honesty - as in the assimilation of Russian expansion to the many and varied experiences and types of imperialism in history - but, as on the question of class and exploitation posed by the Stalinist experience, Trotsky's essential position is: our theory does not know of this phenomenon, and our perspectives exclude it. Where the point of this discussion is what is new - what current Marxist literature, like Trotsky's, should deal with - Trotsky points to the fact that Marxist literature has not done it so far... He systematically - in the wake of and in parallel to Stalinist "dialectics" - destructures and paralyses with sophistic relativism the proper socialist and democratic response. "To employ the term imperialism' for the foreign policy of the Kremlin - without elucidating exactly what this signifies - means simply to identify the policy of the Bonapartist bureaucracy with the policy of monopolistic capitalism on the basis that both one and the other utilise military force for expansion". All that is conveyed by the outrage at the impermissible abstraction involved in equating finance capital and the USSR on the basis of expansion is that these are different systems. The facts are not denied; Trotsky has put them with admirable clarity. He won't call the autocracy a class or what it does exploitation and imperialism - but he is sharp and clear about what it is they are in life and what they do - and on what a proper socialist response is, including on the national question in the USSR (Ukraine). Yet here, at the birth of expansionary Russian bureaucratic imperialism, he begins to fail to be himself. On Finland he will fail utterly and completely to maintain his consistently Bolshevik politics. For the first time since he came out for "political revolution" in the USSR he cannot respond to a critic who wants to define the autocracy as a new exploiting class by retorting: what do you want to add to the poltical conclusions? When Trotsky says the identification of USSR expansion and the imperialism of expansionary finance capital can sow "only confusion" and that "it is much more proper to petty bourgeois democrats than to Marxists", he puts out the eyes of his surviving comrades, of the Fourth Internationalist movement.
Trotsky's response for the general public to the invasion of Finland was "The Twin Stars: Hitler-Stalin", written on 4 December 1939 [Writings 1939-40, p.113], four days after Stalin invaded Finland on 30 November. He had not to the last moment expected the USSR to go to war against Finland, any more than he had expected Stalin's initial expansion, which he had said was impossible. He still argues that Stalin cannot wage an offensive war with any hope of victory. War will provoke revolution against Stalinism. In war, "the whole fraud of the official regime, its outrages and violence, will inevitably provoke a profound reaction on the part of the people, who have already carried out three revolutions in this century". The USSR is capable of being a reactive force only. Germany, to draw the USSR into the war, "obviously pushed Moscow against Finland". Trotsky seems to expect an easy USSR victory. "But the sovietising of the Western Ukraine and White Russia (Eastern Poland), like the present attempt to sovietise Finland - are they not acts of socialist revolution? Yes and no. More no than yes. When the Red Army occupies a new province, the Moscow bureaucracy establishes a regime which guarantees its domination. The population has no choice but voting yes to the effected reforms in a totalitarian plebiscite. A revolution' of this kind is feasible only on army-occupied territory with a scattered or backward population... This revolution' can indeed be accepted by the Kremlin. And Hitler has no fear of it". After this article is published in Liberty magazine (27 January 1940) a member of the SWP minority, Dwight MacDonald, will comment that in Liberty Trotsky is " in reality' a... Shachtmanite" and pro-USSR only in the Trotskyists' private discussion bulletins. In fact the "two Trotskys" phenomenon that now emerges is remarkable. It is as if the two Trotskys don't even communicate with each other very well. In his public writings, including those in the Trotskyist press, Trotsky responds as a working-class socialist to the USSR that actually exists and to what it really does; in his "internal", orienting, "esoteric" writings he deals with the USSR of his theory, with a USSR that does not exist except in Trotsky's map of history - that exists in his imagination and in his hopes. Trotsky's first contribution to the SWP's internal debate after the invasion of Finland is "The Petty Bourgeois Opposition in the SWP" (15 December 1939), a roar of anger and alarm, an attempt to beat down the opposition, which, he claims, "is leading a typical petty-bourgeois tendency". Trotsky presents James Burnham as the central leader of the opposition, and focuses on Burnham's views on dialectics, on the nature of the USSR, and on how the SWP should be organised, more than Finland. These are all issues on which Burnham has had longstanding and well-known differences with Trotsky - but on which the other leaders of the SWP opposition, Max Shachtman and Martin Abern, share Trotsky's views. A month later Trotsky will sum up his picture of the opposition: "The relationship of forces within the bloc is completely against Shachtman. Abern has his own faction. Burnham with Shachtman's assistance can create the semblance of a faction constituting intellectuals disillusioned with Bolshevism. Shachtman has no independent programme, no independent method, no independent faction" ["From a Scratch to the Danger of Gangrene"]. Trotsky and Cannon fear that Burnham will dominate the opposition. But he did not dominate. After Burnham's defection from Shachtman's Workers' Party, soon after the April 1940 split, perhaps a dozen youth - no more - would join the Socialist Party. Abern would never play an independent political role in the Workers' Party. The idea of Burnham's dominance was pretty spurious in 1939-40. By 1942, when Trotsky's polemics from 1939-40 were published by the SWP as a book (In Defence of Marxism) and since, it had become plain, matter-of-fact libel on the Workers' Party. The spuriousness of it is displayed in an eloquent passage where Trotsky develops the idea of a parallel between dialectics and the Russian question in Burnham and Shachtman. "Burnham... possesses a method - pragmatism. Shachtman has no method. He adapts himself to Burnham". But Shachtman has a conscious method - and it is the same as Trotsky's. If it is true that Shachtman on the USSR "gravitates" towards Burnham, an explanation for this may be sought in the difficulties and contradictions and inadequacies of the conclusions that Trotsky - and Shachtman - have, with their "dialectical" method, reached so far. The opposition asserts that their position does not depend on Burnham's thesis on the USSR; Shachtman and Abern have reasons of their own: neither of them will ever come to share Burnham's position of 1939. Trotsky's insistence that Burnham is central is a way of insisting on Trotsky's own method as he uses it and with his conclusions as the only legitimate ones - or, in other words, a refusal to admit Shachtman's and Abern's conclusions as possible from the standpoint they held in common with him. It is denial of a split in his own camp. But both on the rights of small nations against the USSR, and on "conjunctural defeatism" he has broken their ground for them. The opposition are developing the entire trend of Trotsky's thought since 1936/7 and the Workers' Party they found will continue to do it. In "The Petty Bourgeois Opposition" when he deals with Finland, Trotsky comes out more "for" Russia than in any previous writings for many years. To punish the Stalinists "for their unquestionable crimes", Trotsky says, the opposition resolution does not mention "by so much as a word that the Red Army in Finland expropriates large landowners and introduces workers' control while preparing for the expropriation of the capitalists". Trotsky hoped for class struggle in the interstices and maybe for the Red Army catching alight, and the revolutionary blaze spreading back to the USSR. He has explained that if, hypothetically, the Russian Army invades India: "We will teach the Indian workers to fraternise with the rank and file soldiers and denounce the repressive measures of their commanders and so on" [Writings 1939-40, p.108]. This is Trotsky's full revolutionary attitude to the "Red" Army: we "fraternise" to disrupt it. Yet Trotsky's disorientation here is palpable; and not only in that the entire picture he conjures up of War-Revolution is without basis in fact and contradicts the long considered and true picture he has painted only a few months back of the attitude of peoples bordering the USSR, like the Ukrainians and Finns - "no-one in the West wants to become part of the Kremlin satrapy which continues to bear the name of the Soviet Ukraine". But even if, in December, Trotsky thinks the Red Army is introducing workers' control, how can he evaluate it as positive, as other than the Stalinist equivalent of fascist social demagogy and manipulation? Trotsky goes on: "Tomorrow the Stalinists will strangle the Finnish workers. But now they are giving - they are compelled to give - a tremendous impulse to the class struggle in its sharpest form". This "class struggle" - if it were real - would be only an auxiliary to the Russian Army, a "quisling" helpmeet of the totalitarian imperialist invaders. Anything that might "in itself" be good, like sparks of class struggle and workers' control, would "tomorrow" be stifled together with the Finnish workers. Trotsky will compare support for the USSR in Finland with support for the Republic in the Spanish civil war, but if there is a greater and a lesser evil here, an enemy using a machine gun and one dripping slow poison, then Finland is the analogue of the Spanish Republic and the Red Army of the Franco fascists. Why, even on Trotsky's own account of things, should socialists call on the Finnish workers to be "Soviet partisans" - traitors not only to Finland but to their own labour movement? The only possible answer is that nationalised property is more important than the survival of Finland's labour movement or Finnish national rights. In Finland the dogma of defence of the USSR as part of the workers' revolution comes starkly up against defence of the Finnish labour movement - of the workers, the subjects of history in Marxist understanding. If nationalised property is, so to speak, congealed dead revolutionary activity, here it confronts a living working-class movement, whose existence the USSR threatens. The fetish of nationalised property, raised above society, politics and history, now acts as a social, political, military, historical hallucinogen. The US Trotskyist press skirmished on behalf of Stalin, making propaganda against bourgeois-democratic Finland of a shameful sort that presented it as if it were a military dictatorship identical with the regime that 20 years before massacred the Finnish Bolshevik workers.
Trotsky writes an open letter to Burnham on 7 January 1940. Civil war in Finland did not unfold, say the SWP opposition. "Your predictions did not materialise". Trotsky replies: "With the defeat and retreat of the Red Army, I reply, the civil war in Finland cannot, of course, unfold under the bayonets of Mannerheim". Carl Mannerheim commanded counter-revolutionary forces which killed thousands of communist workers in civil war in Finland in 1918-9. After twenty years in retirement, he has been recalled as Commander in Chief for the war with the USSR. Finland is a parliamentary democracy with a coalition government of Social Democrats and the Agrarian Party. But what sort of civil war can unfold under the bayonets of Stalin? Trotsky continues: "We did not foresee the defeats of the first detachments of the Red Army", but such "a military episode... cannot determine our political line. Should Moscow... refrain from any further offensive against Finland, then the very question which today obscures the entire world situation to the eyes of the opposition would be removed from the order of the day. But there is little chance for this. On the other hand, if England, France and the United States... were to aid Finland with military force, then the Finnish question would be submerged in a war between the USSR and the imperialist countries. In this case, we must assume that even a majority of the oppositionists would remind themselves of the programme of the Fourth International". Doesn't Trotsky here admit that the actual Finnish-USSR conflict is not covered by the Fourth International programme? Or not quite? Or will be only if imperialist powers like Britain and France intervene? Trotsky proposes a policy, determined by considerations of defending the USSR from imperialist attack - which will not in fact come by this route. Why does Trotsky not wait for this, keep separate defence of the USSR against western imperialism - as Shachtman wants - from support for USSR imperialism against Finland? Why merge defence of the USSR with half-hatched ideas of expanding bureaucratic revolution? Trotsky concedes that the notional "civil war" in Finland "is introduced on bayonets from without. It is controlled by the Moscow bureaucracy. Nevertheless", Trotsky continues, having shown it to be a very unusual, indeed an oxymoronic, sort of civil war, "it is precisely a question of civil war, of an appeal to the lowly, to the poor, a call to them to expropriate the rich, drive them out, arrest them, etc. I know of no other name for those actions except civil war". In fact it is a call by a would-be conquering and subjugating imperialist state to the oppressed classes of invaded Finland to help them overrun the country and overthrow the old rulers whose position in society the invaders' ruling class - or as Trotsky would prefer, ruling autocracy and caste - will replace. They will not only add national oppression but a uniquely intense and all-encompassing new social oppression too. Trotsky's approach here is palimpsestry, writing new content into old terms. Workers' states that are slave states, civil wars that are invasions, appeals against the rich to the poor by worse slavemasters who want their help. On the same level of fantasy, Trotsky constructs a policy which, he says, socialists should have followed in eastern Poland when the USSR invaded. They should "conduct a struggle against the landlords and the capitalists" (does he imagine this is somehow separate from the occupying army of the USSR?) "Do not tear yourself away from the masses" who have "naive hopes in Moscow" - "fight in their camp, try to extend and deepen their struggle, and to give it the greatest possible independence. Only in this way will you prepare the coming insurrection against Stalin". Here, though, his picture of reality is radically false. Trotsky continues the tradition of being specific and concrete about revolutionary tasks. In principle that is correct. It does not demand calling the USSR a workers' state, being for its defence, or anything other than tact. However, the idea that Marxists should decide what they say about the USSR's imperialism - and five thousand miles away in New York, which is where the actual dispute and Trotsky's main audience is - according not to the facts but to what they think will bring the best results implies the death of Marxism. It depends on half-truth telling, half-picture painting, opportunistically or even mimetically suspending disbelief. The politics of fantasy here is essentially passive, manipulating ideas and images in imagination rather than grasping and changing realities. It is linked in Trotsky and neo-Trotskyism to the loss of a credible working-class agency for the immediate socialist struggle they urgently desire. Mimicry, pretence, and suspension of disbelief will be a big part of "orthodox" neo-Trotskyism and the mainstay of its relation to Stalinism. In Trotsky's scenario about revolution as an aureole around the Red Army there is more than confusion and amnesia, there is a quality of delirium. In May 1940, in a manifesto for the Fourth International, he will sum it up: the seizure of Eastern Poland, he writes, "was accompanied by the nationalisation of semi-feudal and capitalist property". Without nationalisation, he says, the new territories could not have been incorporated into the USSR. "The strangled and desecrated October Revolution served notice that it was still alive". This is King Lear at the end, drained and expiring, who thinks he sees his dead daughter Cordelia, who has been hanged, smiling at him! Faced with new events, Trotsky has since 1927 preferred to cram and stretch old terminology and old concepts as if that can tidy up unruly reality and ward off theoretical problems. In fact it only destructures meaning and erodes and corrupts words. It was one of the historic roles of Stalinism to erode and corrupt the vocabulary, the perspectives, the goals and the models of revolutionary socialism. Here, on a different plane but accommodating to the "historical fact" of Stalinism, Trotsky is, for what he thinks are good revolutionary reasons, doing the same. Trotsky denounces Burnham for writing about "experimental", "critical" and "scientific" - rather than "Marxist" - politics. Burnham "culled the label imperialist to describe the foreign policy of the Kremlin"; this "innovation" creates "less sectarian', less religious', less rigorous formulas, common to you and - oh happy coincidence! - bourgeois democracy". Trotsky is trying to imprison and freeze thought by freezing terminology. He asserts that: "Terminology is one of the elements of the class struggle". It can be - but not always on the real Marxist side of it. Fixed terminology can become a substitute for thought; the living method of Marxist analysis can be and often is smothered under it like fire under ashes. Unless we reconquer the meaning of the terminology again and again, it becomes dead matter learned by rote, with unclear, imprecise and receding meanings. And this attitude to terminology would make much that neo-Trotskyism said incomprehensible to outsiders - a series of self-hypnotising mantras. The idea of insisting on a fixed and rigid terminology in, for example, journalism, is the mark and to a considerable extent the substance of a fundamentalist sect. In some neo-Trotskyist groups it would eventually lead to a uniformity of phrasing even about current events. Terminological "orthodoxy" is the enemy of thought and of effective politics if it is imposed as a rigid uniformity or cracked up as a necessary tribute of fealty to Marxism. In this Open Letter Trotsky turns on his own politics and begins to pull them down, striking at himself. He claims that the opposition showed glaring "impotence in the face of great events" on Poland, the Baltic states and Finland. "Shachtman began by discovering a philosopher's stone: the achievement of a simultaneous insurrection against Hitler and Stalin in occupied Poland. The idea was splendid; it is only too bad that Shachtman was deprived of the opportunity of putting it into practice. The advanced workers in eastern Poland could justifiably say: A simultaneous insurrection against Hitler and Stalin in a country occupied by troops might perhaps be arranged very conveniently from the Bronx; but here, locally, it is more difficult. We should like to hear Burnham's and Shachtman's answer to a "concrete political question": What shall we do between now and the coming insurrection?'." What is Trotsky saying? To "tell the truth" and point to twin tyrannies (slavery and semi-slavery, on Trotsky's own account) is not possible until we can organise insurrection, and simultaneous insurrection? What did Trotsky advocate for the Ukraine six months before? "The struggle against imperialism on the one hand, and against Moscow Bonapartism on the other". The sarcasm about simultaneous risings amounts to jeering at the weakness of the proletariat and of the Trotskyist movement. Trotsky was wont to quote Lassalle: Every great movement begins with the statement of what is. When, here, he reduces his own idea of "Third Camp" politics to the nonsense of simultaneous insurrection, Trotsky is being pushed into one of two camps - Stalin's.
Two weeks later, following his Open Letter to Burnham with another long polemic, Trotsky wrote "From a Scratch - to the Danger of Gangrene" (24 January 1940). Charging that "the petty-bourgeois tendency reveals its confusion in its attempt to reduce the programme of the party to the small coin of concrete' questions", Trotsky excises Finnish national self-determination and the right to life of the Finnish labour movement from his programme in deference to Russian nationalised property - that is, he counterposes the supposed dead residue of the Russian workers' revolution to the living workers' movement of Finland. In contrast to the small-coin petty bourgeois, "the proletarian tendency... strives to correlate all the partial questions into theoretical unity". Aye, but do they unify when you "correlate" them? The system-building of Trotsky increasingly traps him in absurdity. This too is dialectical; because the errors in Trotsky's system are now all-devouring, his striving for wholeness and virtue is transformed dialectically into a ragged and politically vicious travesty. Fear that the whole intricate Chinese-box theoretical structure he has built on the USSR will collapse (probably) and belief in the likelihood of immediate clashes between the USSR and Britain or France in Finland (certainly) push Trotsky to "abstract" everything except nationalised property from the situation. It is nationalised-property fetishism pushed to the point of an absolute and flat contradiction with the working class - immediately, with the Finnish working class. Invoking basic Marxist ideas on the ultimately fundamental role of economics, Trotsky complains: "Our attempt to reduce the politics of the Kremlin to nationalised economy, refracted through the interests of the bureaucracy, provokes frantic resistance from Shachtman". But what do you get if you try to see the USSR economy as crudely expressed in Stalin's foreign policy? Economic pillage, a slave hunt and confiscation of the surplus product for the autocracy. Even if nationalised property forms can give a boost to production, how does the spread from a backward society of this property form, coupled with national oppression and "semi-slavery", constitute progress? Take it as a whole - nationalised property and "semi-slavery" - and what kind of economic form superior to capitalism is this? Trotsky is, of course, impelled by the seeming hopeless collapse of capitalism and the scenario of a succession of world wars rapidly digging "the grave of civilisation". But the idea of Stalinist "bureaucratic revolution" would become the dominant operational element in neo-Trotskyism, and serve to obfuscate and disguise the class realities of the new Stalinist states of the 1940s and after, seemingly assimilating them to the October Revolution. What Trotsky says on this in "Gangrene..." is a fantastic tissue of contradictions. Trotsky accuses Shachtman: "My remarks that the Kremlin with its bureaucratic methods" - police-state methods, totalitarian conquest - "gave an impulse to the socialist revolution" - what revolution? - "is converted by Shachtman into an assertion that in my opinion a bureaucratic revolution' of the proletariat is presumably possible. This is not only incorrect but disloyal. My expression was rigidly limited. It is not a question of bureaucratic revolution' but only a bureaucratic impulse". Impulse to what? And what is the result now, which we must defend in the annexed territories as we defend the nationalised property in the USSR? "The popular masses in western Ukraine and Byelo Russia, in any event, felt this impulse, understood its meaning and used it to accomplish a drastic overturn in property relations". What has happened, then, was the result of a fleeting moment of workers' revolution? In backward east Poland, where there is very little industry and most of the people are peasants? The idea of deformed workers' states encapsulating a fleeting moment of real revolution would become common in neo-Trotskyism. But what did the Red Army and the GPU do? Who had control at the end? What property relations replaced the ones overturned? Whose is the property now, after the "drastic overturn"? "This impulse in the direction of socialist revolution was possible only because the bureaucracy of the USSR straddles and has its roots in the economy of a workers' state. The revolutionary utilisation of this impulse' by the Ukrainian Byelo Russians [sic] was possible only through the class struggle in the occupied territories and through the power of the example of the October Revolution. Finally, the swift strangulation or semi-strangulation of this revolutionary mass movement was made possible through the isolation of this movement and the might of the Moscow bureaucracy". Trotsky is repairing the theoretical fabric - with assertions, "deductions", and fantasies. Mocking "Shachtman's" Third Camp policy as tantamount to a "rising on two fronts organised from the Bronx", Trotsky winds up with something far more awkward, especially for those doing it not from the Bronx or Coyoacan but on the spot - organising a proletarian revolution, in a largely agrarian society, under the guns and the military-political surveillance of a totalitarian invader! When he goes on to discuss Poland, Trotsky starts with a coherent account of the call by the puppet "People's Government" for workers' control - "nothing more than crowding out the native bourgeoisie, whose place the bureaucracy proposes to take". Exactly! "Furthermore... of greatest urgency to the Kremlin is the extraction of a new administrative apparatus from among the toiling population of the occupied areas" - that is the cooption of workers and peasants into the new ruling class as quislings. Then, once again, as with the "Third Camp", Trotsky turns to mock his own politics. Shachtman asked Trotsky why he placed significance in the manifesto of "the idiot" Kuusinen, head of Stalin's stooge "government" for Finland. Trotsky replies: "The idiot' Kuusinen acting on the ukase of the Kremlin and with the support of the Red Army represents a far more serious political factor than scores of superficial wise-acres who refuse to think through the internal logic (dialectics) of events". And how many battalions does the Fourth International have? Imagine Trotsky writing in response to such a thing six months earlier; nameless seriousness and classless politics! No: the difference in Trotsky's approach has to be that things are on the move. "The strangled and desecrated October Revolution served notice that it was still alive". This is the revolution, for now. The politics here are of two camps (back Stalin against Hitler) and two stages (Stalin-controlled bureaucratic revolution first, working-class revolution later). And Trotsky adds a further devastating twist: "The programme of the Kuusinen government, even if approached from a formal' point of view does not differ from the programme of the Bolsheviks in November 1917". As Trotsky, after Lenin, said to the Left Opposition "administrators" who capitulated in 1929-30, the decisive question is "who? whom?" The "1917 programme" - or shards of it, sans internationalism, sans workers' democracy - is now in the hands of an oligarchic elite. Trotsky's great mistake in 1939-40 is that he deepens the confusion on Stalinism that has reigned since, after 1928, he interpreted the Stalinist autocracy's move against the kulaks and Nepmen as a deformed working-class response rather than the consolidation of a new exploiting class. When the autocracy moves out on to the world arena, challenging capitalists and destroying capitalist classes - not "defending" or "deepening" what the 1917 revolution had achieved, but acting plainly as an independent anti-bourgeois and simultaneously anti-working-class force - that is the point when Trotsky's theory comes into irreconcilable conflict with international working-class politics and becomes a satellite of expansionary Stalinism. Essentially, Trotsky says "wait"; it is too early to identify the autocracy as a new exploiting class; it is absurd to imagine Stalinist conquest reaching beyond small border states. "It is fantastic to imagine that Germany could be sovietised from Moscow as was small and backward Galicia" (i.e. eastern Poland: Outline of Hitler-Stalin twin star article. 15 November 1939). James P Cannon would put this even more clearly: "Stalin could take the path of Napoleonic conquest not merely against small border states, but against the greatest imperialist powers, only on one condition: that the Soviet bureaucracy in reality represents a new triumphant class which is in harmony with its economic system..." [Struggle for a Proletarian Party, p.104]. By the time the USSR does conquer half of Germany, Cannon and his comrades will be too walled off by Trotsky's fierce polemics of this period, and by their own factional elaborations and party competition with the Shachtmanites, to rethink. A logic will unfold which relegates the proletarian socialist programme to something for the future: a quasi-private set of glosses on the horrors unfolding in the world in the "first stage" of "the revolution". The parallel with the destruction of norms after 1917 is important; the continuity, blurring, merging with what Stalin did - the Trotskyist programme relegated to the future; "centuries of deformed workers' states" - all that is there implicitly in Trotsky, seeds waiting to sprout.
"Gangrene..." is Trotsky's last writing for the SWP faction fight, followed only by a "Balance Sheet of the Finnish Events" written (25 April 1940) after the end of the Finnish war and after the Trotskyists have split. "The attempt of the conjunctural defeatists, i.e. the adventurers in defeatism, to extricate themselves from their difficulty" - the Trotskyists' common difficulty - "by promising that in the event the Allies intervene they will change their defeatist policy to a defencist one is a contemptible evasion. It is in general not easy to determine one's policies according to a stopwatch, especially under wartime conditions". It is known now, Trotsky writes, that the Allied general staffs discussed bombing the Murmansk railway to aid Finland. Intervention "hung by a hair. From the same hair, apparently, the principled position of the third camp' also dangled. But... we considered that it was necessary to determine one's position in accordance with the basic class camps in the war. This is much more reliable". Why was it not sufficient to switch if Murmansk was bombed? And in fact it wasn't bombed. Here Trotsky justifies a monolithic position, unnuanced, making no distinction between defence against imperialism and support for the USSR in a predatory war, by what might but did not happen. It was a policy of eyes closed and steering with Stalin's politics and army as lode star - because Stalin is the custodian of nationalised property. Why does Stalin represent the working-class "camp"? Trotsky restates his reasons for "defence of the USSR". "First, the defeat of the USSR would supply imperialism with new colossal resources and could prolong for many years the death agony of capitalist society. Secondly, the social foundations of the USSR, cleansed of the parasitic bureaucracy, are capable of assuring unbounded economic and cultural progress, while the capitalist foundations disclose no possibilities except further decay". Yet, subject to conditions - a workers' revolution, essentially identical to what "cleansing" the USSR involves - the capitalist "foundations" in a wealthy country like Germany can do what Trotsky says the USSR can do, "on condition", and greatly more so. In every respect advanced capitalism is more progressive than the USSR. Trotsky implies a concession to the Stalinist utopia of "Socialism in One Country" here, by placing the USSR (after revolution) above advanced capitalism (after revolution). But if socialism must grow out of advanced capitalism, then the idea that imperialism is "the main enemy of the world working class" - and that it would be decisively worse for Germany or Britain to feed off a defeated USSR than for the USSR to feed off a defeated Germany - is nonsensical from an international socialist point of view, when the alternative is the triumph and expansion of the non-capitalist, backward USSR (which is also imperialist). The basic question here is as old as the Communist Manifesto's arguments against reactionary socialists and Lenin's argument against the petty bourgeois anti-imperialists. One descendant of these ideas will be neo-Trotskyist support for many varieties of Third World barbarism in the name of "World Revolution".
After "Gangrene" (January 1940), Trotsky, however, continues to develop another strand of his politics in his public writings. In a press interview on 14 February 1940, he explains again what he knew and said before the invasion of Poland: "The strangling of the peoples of the USSR, particularly of the national minorities, by police methods, repelled the majority of the toiling masses of the neighbouring countries from Moscow. The invasion of the Red Army is seen by the populations not as an act of liberation but as an act of violence". After the end of the Finnish war, he sums it up like this (13 March 1940): "Under Hitler's cover Stalin attempted to apply Hitler's methods in foreign policy... Not capable of evaluating the tradition of the long Finnish struggle for independence, Stalin expected to break the Helsinki government by mere diplomatic pressure. He was badly mistaken... So began a shameful war without a clear perspective, without moral and material preparation...". The bureaucratic revolution is there only as a flimsy speculation on what might have been. For Stalin "to reconcile the peoples of the USSR to the senseless invasion of Finland, would be possible only in one way - namely, by winning the sympathy of at least part of the Finnish peasants and workers by means of a social upheaval". Trotsky insists that: "I stand completely for the defence of the Soviet Union", but it is very strange defence. Trotsky does not want the USSR overrun, but his "defence" is such bitter condemnation of policy and government that it must seem either hypocrisy or self-contradictory to those who do not grasp the "secret doctrine". "All this does not lead me to defend the foreign policy of the Kremlin". An open struggle against "Stalin and the oligarchy headed by him... in the view of world public opinion, is inseparably connected for me with the defence of the USSR". There is as little left of substance, as distinct from claim, in Trotsky's "defence" as there is of a real workers' state in the name of workers' state. In a "Letter to the Workers of the USSR" (23 April 1940) [Writings 1939-40, p.165] Trotsky gives a very different picture of the Finnish war than that of a bureaucratically-impelled socialistic revolution stalled only by the "bayonets of Mannerheim". "During the war with Finland, not only the majority of the Finnish peasants but also the majority of the Finnish workers proved to be on the side of their bourgeoisie. This is hardly surprising since they know of the unprecedented oppression to which the Stalinist bureaucracy submits the workers of nearby Leningrad and the whole of the USSR". Trotsky calls for defence of the USSR, but says this can only be promoted by overthrowing the autocracy. "The conquests of the October Revolution will serve the people only if they prove themselves capable of dealing with the Stalinist bureaucracy, as in their day they dealt with the Tsarist bureaucracy and the bourgeoisie". And who exactly will the "conquests of October" serve otherwise? The whole idea of "defending October" is now displaced by the imperative to fight the existing bureaucratic system. All that is left is the hope that this will be done by the USSR people and not by Germany and Britain. Trotsky's last major writing on the USSR before he was murdered (20/21 August 1940) by a Stalinist agent is "The Comintern and the GPU" (17 August 1940) [Writings 1939-40, p.348]. Here he definitely revises the conclusion he has reached from the Spanish Civil War and his notion of the Stalinist autocracy as too inorganic to have any substantial international programme of its own. "As organisations, the GPU [the Stalinist secret police] and the Comintern are not identical but they are indissoluble... the GPU... completely dominates the Comintern". The Comintern is the obedient tool of the Kremlin. The Comintern's "leading tier... comprises people who did not join the October Revolution but the triumphant oligarchy, the fountainhead of high political titles and material boons. The predominating type among the present communist' bureaucrats is the political careerist, and in consequence the polar opposite of the revolutionist. Their ideal is to attain in their own countries the same position that the Kremlin oligarchy gained in the USSR. They are not the revolutionary leaders of the proletariat but aspirants to totalitarian rule. They dream of gaining success with the aid of this same Soviet bureaucracy and its GPU. They view with admiration and envy the invasion of Poland, Finland, the Baltic states, Bessarabia by the Red Army, because these invasions immediately bring about the transfer of power into the hands of the local Stalinist candidates for totalitarian rule". The word "immediately" implies also a revision of Trotsky's previous scheme of bureaucratically-impelled workers' revolution followed by suppression. And it is accurate. It is an enormous comment on the recent dispute in the Fourth International. Trotsky plainly comes down on the side of the most "extreme" of his factional opponents. Finally, in his unfinished book on Stalin, Trotsky radically revised his old view and the fundamental mistake from which so much confusion and self-contradiction grew and will grow long after Trotsky is no more - that Stalin's turn in 1928-30 reflected working-class pressure, and reclassified it as driven by the autocracy's drive to grab the fruits of exploitation. "The kulak, jointly with the petty industrialist, worked for the complete restoration of capitalism. Thus opened the irreconcilable struggle over the surplus product of national labour. Who will dispose of it in the nearest future - the new bourgeoisie or the Soviet bureaucracy? - that became the next issue. He who disposes of the surplus product has the power of the state at his disposal. It was this that opened the struggle between the petty-bourgeoisie, which had helped the bureaucracy to crush the resistance of the labouring masses and of their spokesman the Left Opposition, and the Thermidorian bureaucracy... for the surplus product and for power" [Stalin, pp.221, 236]. If we take Trotsky's final assessment of the Comintern and of Stalinist expansion in 1939-40 together with this summation of the class content of the 1928-30 struggle in the USSR, they add up to an enormous step towards the idea that the bureaucracy is a new ruling class.
In the SWP faction fight the minority were in revolt - like Romantics against Enlightenment rationalism or women against an insensitive "male" consensus - against a worked-out all-embracing system, which none of them could fully see through, not even Burnham and Carter, who had started to criticise Trotsky's system three years earlier. The further development of a sound theoretical basis for working-class politics could only come through backing out of the common theoretical frame which, despite all their bitter and brave indignation, yoked Trotsky and his comrades to Stalinism, the idea that the statised property of the USSR defined it as a workers' state. In two articles at the beginning of the 1939-40 dispute Trotsky tentatively suggested ideas - soon sidelined as the faction fight escalated - which pointed to the way out. Taken together with his reassessment of 1928-30 in Trotsky's unfinished biography of Stalin, it pointed to a radically different post-Trotsky "Trotskyism" than the one Trotsky's "best disciples" developed. In 1939-40 Trotsky was very near - waiting for the war to put the final stamp on events - to developing the logic of his trajectory since 1936. Unless the factional polemics represented a great shift by Trotsky towards a quite different political trajectory - and the evidence of his writings after "Gangrene..." suggests the opposite - they were only a "blip" or zig-zag. In "The USSR in War" (25 September 1939), as we have already seen, Trotsky writes: "In order that nationalised property in the occupied areas, as well as in the USSR, become a basis for genuinely progressive, that is to say socialist development, it is necessary to overthrow the Moscow bureaucracy". Later in the faction fight, and even in the same article, he would repeat his old idea, that the nationalised property was progressive even with the bureaucracy. This sentence, however, seems to close off one of the main strands of Trotsky's thinking since 1936: that the USSR's nationalised economy is progressive as it is, and can be "genuinely progressive" without being "socialist". We have seen how, in reply to Craipeau for example, Trotsky dealt with all the political issues in dispute on the basis of the claim that the economy was progressive, while conceding for the sake of argument Craipeau's claim that the autocracy was a new exploiting class. In "The USSR in War" Trotsky draws this strand in his thought - the idea that the USSR represents a new form of class exploitation, more progressive than capitalism - out into a theory, and discusses it head-on. In "The USSR in War" Trotsky focuses his polemic against one Bruno Rizzi - though at that point no-one in the USA had heard of Rizzi, or read his book - because he wants to discuss, not Burnham's version of Trotsky's own restorationist idea, but the more radical notion that the Stalinist autocracy is a new sort of ruling class. Evidently he thinks it is the logical and necessary conclusion that must follow if one abandons Trotsky's own position that Stalin's USSR is an untenable temporary combination of incompatible elements. Trotsky is, as it were, wearing Rizzi as a mask of convenience: creating a dialogue about what he thinks are the issues. Let us, Trotsky writes, concede "for the moment" that the autocracy is a new class and that the USSR is "a special system of class exploitation". Then, he asks, "what new political conclusions follow for us from these definitions? The Fourth International long ago recognised the necessity of overthrowing the bureaucracy by means of a revolutionary uprising of the toilers. Nothing else is proposed or can be proposed by those who proclaim the bureaucracy to be an exploiting class'.". The goal is to overthrow the bureaucracy and re-establish the rule of the soviets. "Nothing different can be proposed or is proposed by the leftist critics". For Trotsky, "inasmuch as the question of overthrowing the parasitic oligarchy still remains linked with that of preserving the nationalised (state) property, we call the future revolution political". Some "want, come what may, to call the future revolution social. Let us grant this definition. What does it alter in essence? To those tasks of the revolution which we have enumerated it adds nothing whatsoever". Grant the critics their "terminology" - not a workers' state; a ruling class; a social, not a political, revolution - and they "would not know what to do with their purely verbal victory". Therefore it would, Trotsky proclaims, "be a piece of monstrous nonsense to split with comrades who on the question of the sociological nature of the USSR have an opinion different from ours, insofar as they solidarise with us in regard to the political tasks". Trotsky has come a long way since the first half of the decade, when he wrote that "denying the proletarian character of the USSR is incompatible with membership in the Bolshevik-Leninists" (11 November 1934) [Writings Supplement 1934-40, p.538]. He has not even included "defence of the USSR" in the political tasks, so far. "I hope that... we shall succeed by means of simply rendering our own ideas more precise to preserve unanimity on the basis of the programme of the Fourth International... despite the attempt of some comrades to uncover differences on the question of the defence of the USSR'.". Scientifically and politically, as distinct from terminologically, "the question poses itself as follows: does the bureaucracy represent a temporary growth on a social organism or has this growth already been transformed into a historically indispensable organ?". Trotsky responds to this question by sketching out a hypothetical future within which subsequent development will prove that the Stalinist autocracy has indeed "already been transformed" into a new exploiting class. The whole discussion depends on one stark assertion: "The disintegration of capitalism has reached extreme limits, likewise the disintegration of the old ruling class. The further existence of this system is impossible. The productive forces must be organised in accordance with a plan. But who will accomplish this task - the proletariat or a new ruling class of commissars' - politicians, administrators and technicians?" "If... it is conceded that the present war will provoke not revolution but" - the "but" is not a straight link but a sharp corner turn; what follows is a restatement that capitalism is in irrevocable decline - "but a decline of the proletariat, then" - then what? - "there remains another alternative: the further decay of monopoly capitalism, its further fusion with the state and the replacement of democracy wherever it still exists by a totalitarian regime". Then, capitalism having played out its historic role and the proletariat being shown congenitally incapable, "it would be necessary in retrospect to establish that in its fundamental traits the present USSR was the precursor of a new exploiting regime on an international scale". "The historic alternative, carried to the end, is as follows: either the Stalin regime is an abhorrent relapse in the process of transforming bourgeois society into a socialist society, or the Stalin regime is the first stage of a new exploiting society. "If the second prognosis proves to be correct, then, of course, the bureaucracy will become a new exploiting class". What is impossible is not the (fantastic) scenario of the Stalinist USSR showing the shape of their future to all other countries, but the idea of admitting that it is so. But in the possible-but-not-yet-to-be-admitted scenario the bureaucracy will, as part of a new world system, do exactly as it does now in the USSR. It will have exactly the same relationship with the people and the proletariat as it has now. If it will be a new exploiting class then, worldwide, it is a new exploiting class now, in the USSR! If the bureaucracy, essentially unchanged, can "become" an exploiting class, then it is that already.
Trotsky, of course, is talking about the conditions in which Marxists would have to recognise "bureaucratic collectivism" as such. But the idea that it can be recognised and identified in the USSR, the only place it now exists, only if it spread into a world system, is arbitrary and plainly false. The other alternative, that the Stalinist autocracy is only "a parasitic growth on a workers' state", Trotsky likewise tests by sketching a future that will confirm it. "If this war provokes, as we firmly believe, a proletarian revolution", then the bureaucracy will be overthrown and soviet democracy regenerated "on a far higher economic and cultural basis than 1918. In that case the question of whether the Stalinist bureaucracy was a class' or a growth on the workers' state will be automatically solved". Having sketched the alternatives - the actual outcome, revival and spread of capitalism and of the working class, is not dismissed as improbable, as it might reasonably have been, but as inconceivable - Trotsky concludes that what seem to be "terminological experiments" imply "a new historic conception... in an absolute contradiction with our programme, strategy and tactics". To adopt them would be an "adventuristic jump", and "doubly criminal now" when in the world war "the perspective of socialist revolution becomes an imminent reality and when the case of the USSR will appear to everybody as a transitorial episode in the process of world socialist revolution". Trotsky writes that we have not "the slightest right" - as revolutionaries, concerned with action in the new situation - to throw the theory on which we must act, and which we cannot quickly mend or replace, into disarray. The alternatives are exaggerated fantastically. Trotsky states that "if... the October Revolution fails during the course of the present war, or immediately thereafter, to find its continuation in any of the advanced countries", then we must revise our concept of the socialist potential of the working class. This ultimatum to history is unwarranted by the facts and could only lead to despair - or the hysterical fighting-off of incipient despair. Later in the article, Trotsky puts it as an ultimatum to the activists: "in the process of this war and those profound shocks which it must engender, will a genuine revolutionary leadership be formed capable of leading the proletariat to the conquest of power?". The urgency comes from Trotsky's picture of capitalism and the prospects for civilisation, and part of his purpose is to stiffen and galvanise the cadres; yet it is a form of political adventurism to pose it like this. With the defeat of his mid-30s attempts at broad revolutionary regroupment, in the later 1930s Trotsky has shifted towards expecting revolutionary benefits from the war, a drive towards revolution generated as a mechanical product of the worsening crisis of capitalism. "The harsh and tragic dialectic of our epoch is working in our favour. Brought to the extreme pitch of exasperation and indignation, the masses will find no other leadership than that offered to them by the Fourth International" [A Great Achievement, 1938]. The notion of "leadership" here, abstracted from any perspective for transforming the existing labour movement and starkly juxtaposed to an expected sudden mass upsurge of raw working-class rage, can very easily lead to the disruption of Marxist politics by the towering need to "build the party" and therefore to adopt whatever policies will speed that work, even if they make no Marxist sense. It can lead to the concept of building an elite sect, an "alternative" leadership, to do single combat with the incumbents: to the typical mix of spontaneism and sect-ism in neo-Trotskyism... Nor does Trotsky give any reason why, if workers' revolution is delayed, the future of human society can or should be extrapolated from a mutation in a backward country. Inverting Marx, Trotsky seems to say that the backward country shows their future to the advanced ones. The perspective is a derivative form of the Stalinist idea of USSR "Socialism in One Country" showing the world's future. World revolution is neatly inverted. What evidence from the present does Trotsky offer for the idea that the autocracy has not yet destroyed the workers' state? Only the violence of the Stalinist purges. "The historical justification for every ruling class consisted in this - that the system of exploitation it heads raised the development of the productive forces to a new level. Beyond the shadow of a doubt, the soviet regime gave a mighty impulse to economy". Therefore the autocracy which, in its own brutal way, organised this "impulse to economy", is both a ruling class and progressive? No. "The source of this impulse was the nationalisation of the means of production and the planned beginnings, and by no means the fact that the bureaucracy usurped command over the economy". As the economy rose higher, its needs grew more complex and the bureaucratic regime became "unbearable". The "constantly sharpening contradiction between them leads to uninterrupted political convulsions, to systematic annihilation of the most outstanding creative elements in all spheres of activity. Thus, before the bureaucracy could succeed in exuding from itself a ruling class', it came into irreconcilable contradiction with the demands of development". This shows that "the bureaucracy is not the bearer of a new system of economy peculiar to itself and impossible without itself, but is a parasitic growth on a workers' state". Trotsky's argument here depends entirely on his dual system, his split-level view of the USSR. The "deep" reality is Trotsky's ghostly version of what might have happened, rooted in October 1917; the empirical reality is that essence distorted and corrupted by what Trotsky dubs " accidental' (i.e. temporary and extraordinary) enmeshing of historical circumstances", namely, the bureaucratic counter-revolution against October. Trotsky uses it to insist that "being" - the autocratic system which has been a fact for 12 years or more - is still only a flickering moment in a different "becoming", to dissolve being into becoming, to argue that what is and long has been is less than real because, he believes, it does not exist "stably". Always the "snapshot" is abolished in favour of projecting the moving film into the future. This is the dialectic here, and there is nothing artificial in Trotsky using it in his polemics against Burnham and Shachtman. For Trotsky it has become everything. Method is splitting from its application to become the last auxiliary argument - and here, it is sophism.
In a supplementary article discussing reactions to "The USSR in War" ("Again and Once More...") Trotsky adds: "Some comrades evidently were surprised that I spoke in my article ("The USSR in War") of the system of bureaucratic collectivism' as a theoretical possibility. They discovered in this even a complete revision of Marxism. This is an apparent misunderstanding". In later years, Cannon and others will nevertheless go on flinging this nonsense about "revisionism" at those, like Max Shachtman, who develop Trotsky's ideas. They will feel bolstered because of Trotsky's frequent use in the SWP faction fight of the charge "revisionist", aimed against elements of the opposition. In fact what Trotsky considered "revisionist" on the USSR was Burnham and Carter's theory, which he took as claiming that there was no ruling class in the USSR. He defined "bureaucratic collectivism" not as "revisionist" but as the proper Marxist alternative to the "revisionist" view if one were to abandon his "degenerated workers' state" theory - which he was not yet ready to do. Trotsky certified "bureaucratic collectivism" as both Marxist and as the conclusion that must follow rejection of the workers' state theory if the USSR neither reverted to capitalism nor was transformed by a workers' revolution. In the second article Trotsky sets out the idea that should have been at the heart of post-Trotsky Trotskyism when it ceased to be even residually reasonable to continue what was in Trotsky already culpably wrong, the theoretical policy of "wait". "The Marxist comprehension of historical necessity has nothing in common with fatalism. Socialism is not realisable by itself', but as a result of the struggle of living forces, classes and their parties". Trotsky believes the working class will conquer. "But we have full right to ask ourselves: What character will society take if the forces of reaction conquer?" Trotsky is talking about world-wide alternatives. Yet his thought plainly applies to the USSR now. In the USSR, in the struggle of living forces, the bureaucracy has conquered and Trotsky is not remiss in describing its barbaric character. Without first, as Trotsky did in "The USSR in War", running up the ladder of grand historic generalities, apply what Trotsky says to the USSR and both the conclusion and the inner logic of Trotsky's thinking on the USSR are clear and unavoidable. Trotsky goes on: Marxists have formulated the broad historical alternatives as socialism or barbarism. After Mussolini's victory - communism or fascism. Shachtman and the Workers' Party will develop this train of thought in the face of expanding Stalinism: socialism or Stalinist barbarism. Events, Trotsky continues, have shown that the delay of the socialist revolution engenders barbarism - "chronic unemployment, pauperisation of the petty bourgeoisie, fascism, finally wars of extermination which do not open up any new road... We have the possibility of expressing ourselves on [barbarism] more concretely than Marx. Fascism on one hand, degeneration of the soviet state on the other outline the social and political forms of a neo-barbarism. An alternative of this kind - socialism or totalitarian servitude - has not only theoretical interest, but also enormous importance in agitation, because in its light the necessity for socialist revolution appears most graphically". However much this is attached in Trotsky's article to speculations about the future, it applies also to the present: Stalinism is barbarism. The reductio ad absurdum of Trotsky's final position in that what Trotsky, expecting that it will soon be overthrown, calls a political, social, and economic system in one country, or one empire, becomes outright barbarism in the prototype of threatening world barbarism if it spreads to the world at large and is consolidated. It spread only to a further large part mainly of the backward parts of the world, but it was consolidated there - and it was barbarism.