Francisco Martins Rodrigues
Notes about Stalin
1. “Proletarian Justice”
In 1936-38, in three big successive trials, ninety leaders and outstanding members of the Bolshevik Party (Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin, Rykov, Radek, Smirnov, Piatakov, etc.) confessed publicly to having organized two parallel centers of espionage and terrorism, in connection with Trotsky and the Gestapo. They were almost all executed. In the same period, in another closed door trial, some of the chief commandants of the Red Arms’ were condemned and executed. They were accused of treason in the service of nazism.
It came to be known afterwards that this was only the tip of a giant iceberg. During those three years, many thousands of members of the party were sentenced in secret trials or executed without charges in a true hunt for the accomplices, supporters or simple relatives of the “spies”. Torture was the usual procedure.
It has been also known that the hunt for the “trotskyite-fascist spies” was widened to the ranks of the Communist International. More than a hundred leaders and cadre of various parties who were staying in Moscow were carried of to execution. Finally, in order to complete the macabre cleaning-up, Trotsky himself was assassinated in Mexico.
For the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois critique, this overwhelming summing-up would be the proof that Leninist theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat and of the leading role of the communist party ends up into a most ferocious dictatorship. The “national socialism” of Stalin would be the left reply to Hitler’s “national socialism”. Conclusion: the Marxist endeavour for overthrowing bourgeois democracy leads to a barbarism symmetrical with nazism the proletarian revolution is a totalitarian aberration adorned with Marxist rhetoric.
With the secret report of Krushchov, the modern Soviet leaders tried to throw overboard that untenable ballast. They were supposedly stricken with horror by the “violations of socialist legality” (in which all of them were implicated up to the neck and of which they only confessed a small part). They made a weeping posthumous rehabilitation for the victims of the “personality cult”. They shot Beria, the right arm of Stalin. He was unmasked behind closed doors as a spy of imperialism since 1921…
The final act in the Moscow trials was a new and not less awesome Moscow trial. The main question was left without explanation: was it an accident that socialism had produced such monstruosities? With their parody of self-criticism, the Soviet leaders only showed one thing: that the consolidation of their power allows them to evolve from the repressive violence of Stalin’s time towards a pseudo-socialist democracy, as hypocritical in its manner as bourgeois democracy.
Against this wretchedness, the Marxist-Leninist trend held out a firm standing in the thesis that the repression of Stalin served “proletarian justice”.
Punishing the Trotskyite-Zinovievite-Bukharinite spies, assassins and saboteurs, Stalin would have assured the triumph of socialism in the USSR.
The “excesses” committed must be considered a tragedy, resulting Ifrom having given over to the political police the vigilance which belonged above all to the masses. Atenuating circumstances had to be taken into account – the inexperience, the tension provoked by the capitalist encirclement, the unawareness of Stalin as for the abuses committed. Anyway the proper time had not come yet to discuss the possible errors of Stalin, because to do so would strengthen even more the anti-communist campaign of imperialism.
All these justifications tumbled however, as they were tortuous duplicity unfit to appear as class firmness.
Can torture, forged trials, summary shootings of thousands ol innocents, and the deportation of entire populations be absolved as mere “excesses”? Can police terror be mistaken with the revolutionary terror of the masses? Is it secondary to know for sure whether or not the opponents to Stalin were spies? If the depurations reinforced socialism, how come the revisionists took so easily charge after Stalin? And if socialism rested only upon the vigilance of a “sentinel”, what kind of workers and peasants power was this? The rehabilitation of Stalinism has revealed indefensible. Above all, when life itself demonstrated that the veneration of the so-called Marxist-Leninist trend for Stalin aimed at more than the mere justification of the past. The recent elimination of Mehmet Shehu (and hundreds of his supporters) in Albania, after he was accused (without public trial) of having been a “triple spy” of imperialism for 40 years only shows that the so-called Marxist-Leninist trend does not admit to questioning the Moscow trials precisely because it needs to continue to make them.
Thus, revisionists and “Marxist-Leninists”, each one to their manner and in antagonist camps, feed with their excuses the campaign of the bourgeoisie tending to discredit the dictatorship of the proletariat as an arbitrary regime.
2. Russia pregnant with terror
The escalation of terror accompanied the gestation of a new social regime in the Soviet Union, already with nothing in common with the October revolution, except for the slogans. Between the trial of Shakhty in 1928 and the shooting of Bukharin, ten years had gone by of violent transformation of all the structure of soviet society, during which the repression widened in crescendo. It is in this social convulsion that we must seek the key of the terror and not in the silly stories spread about the “suspicious character” or the “vindicative Caucasian spirit” of Stalin.
But could not this convulsion have been avoided, as the Bolshevik power was already stabilized, after the 1917 and civil war combats? For the criticist trend inspired in the Maoist school, the terror would have resulted from the obsession of Stalin for industrialization at all costs and for the forced agricultural collectivization, which provoked the rupture of the worker-peasant alliance and compelled the immense strengthening of state, party and police intervention. The pursuit of NFP, as it was defended by Bukharin, would have permitted a less accelerated but more equal economic growth; it would have maintained the worker-peasant alliance and would have given base to a genuine socialist democracy.
This idea of a period of gradual and moderate transition towards socialism after taking power is no doubt attractive. But it forgets the exasperated resistance of the petty bourgeoisie to expropriation and the loss of its privileges.
In 1927 the Russian revolution had arrived at a crossroad which imposed antagonistic options: either more concessions were made to the petty bourgeoisie, fattened in the shadow of NEP, in order to maintain the economy going on, and in that case it would not be possible to dominate the evolution towards the right; or war was declared on the nepist bourgeoisie, and in this case the sole way out was to rapidly substitute the kulak economy with a collectivized agriculture having big industry as its base.
The polemic, which had been mounting between the party right and left wings, was decided in favour of the second when the dominant Stalinist current, until then allied with the right, decided to “send NEP to hell”, to settle accounts with the kulaks, whose economic and political pressure became threatening, and to proceed to “integral socialization”.
Once the “great turn” was started, the dynamic of the class struggle imprinted it a gigantic dimension and a dizzy rhythm. In four years, millions of family plots were expropriated, all the private economy was suppressed, the country was covered with big cooperative farms based in mechanization, the industrial production more than tripled, the working class doubled its size, there was a massive promotion of workers to leading posts.
This revolution (can it be called by another name?) was marked by the violence which accompanies great class battles. Terror emerged, in the first period, from the necessity to annihilate the economic and political power of the kulaks and nepmen, of the old technical and intellectual elite as well as of the faction of the party which expressed their interests.
We know today that the “third revolution” of Stalin was not the socialist revolution which its promoters imagined. But it is important to underline that, in the point at which the correlation between classes had arrived in the USSR of 1928, a violent way out was inevitable for one side or for the other.
More: the road proposed by the right opposition would have dragged along, with the gradual restoration of capitalism and the new dispute between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, an explosion of terror probably not lesser but bigger than that of Stalin. The illusions of Bukharin in a “soviet pacification” at the cost of concessions would be implacably swept away as capitalism would gain new positions. The retreat to the old order would cost rivers of blood.
The truth is that “popular” Russia of 1928 was pregnant of terror, as it came to happen with “popular” China of 1966. And this is because the settling of accounts with the petty bourgeoisie has revealed itself as an inevitable second stage after the destruction of the old social order, specially in countries with largely pre-capitalist economy.
The Maoist receipts of “democratic-popular” consensus sought to adapt Bukharinism, not so much to the Chinese countryside, where the revolutionary impulse was indomitable, but to a peaceful integration of the commercial, industrial, and intellectual petty-bourgeoisie. But after all the “new democracy”, aimed at the “solution of the contradictions inside the people” didn’t succeed in avoiding a violent confrontation and had an end little different front that of Russia.
This experience helps to understand that Stalinism was not an aberration but an attempt towards breaking the petty-bourgeois snare which strangled the Russian revolution. A late attempt thrusted above the head of the working class, it ended in the liquidation of the soviet power, already profoundly weakened during NEP.
3. “The Old Bolshevik Guard”
The image of the opposition bloc as the “old Bolshevik guard”, loyal to Leninism and for that reason victim of Stalin, may please the T rotskyists but has no foundation.
The “old guard” (which Stalin also belonged to) was dispersed along theyears by right, left, and center tendencies. Many of its members VaC d and passed from one position to the other under the opposing class pressures. Trotsky’s attempt of uniting the opposers to Stalin and Bukharin in an unified bloc, in 1926, failed, above all, because it aimed at melting together, in the old Trotsky’manner, the wholefan ofantagonistic positions in which the Bolsheviks were divided.
Anyway, Stalin’s rupture with Bukharin, when it became evident that the result of the politics of concessions to the “allied” bourgeoisie, in internal as in international affairs (China, English Labour Party) was disastrous, provoked a realignment of the internal struggle in the party.
In adopting the path of “socialization at forced march”, Stalin gained the support of the majority of the left wing of the party, which finally saw its program in application and removed the danger agitated by Trotsky of a “termidorian” capitulation.
Bukharin and those defending NEP, deprived of the corrective suport of Stalin, dislocated themselves frankly to the right. And Trotsky, forced to celebrate in exile the realizations of the regime which had expelled him, found himself without a political base.
The reality, which the anti-Stalinists try piously to hide, is that, after 1930, the regrouping of the oppositions could only take place upon a rightist platform because no one had a revolutionary alternative in opposition to the five-year plans, the collectivization and the new line of the International.
Fragments of a left criticism to the Stalinist road had been formulited by Trotsky and by others (criticisms to the growth of the bureaucracy, to the suppression of debate in the party, to the falsification of history). There were even oppositionists, like Rakovsky, who had the perception that the regime led by Stalin would end into state capitalism of a new type.
But it was not clear for anyone how the proletarian dictatorship of the first years had faded away and what was to be done in order to give it a new life. There was not a proletarian revolutionary program for counterposing the ambiguous radicalism of Stalin and the evident rightism of Bukharin – and this says everything about the impasse to which the revolution arrived.
Precisely because only these two roads appeared possible, the “old Bolshevik guard” lost its social base of support and entered in political decomposition. Trotsky, Zinoviev, Radek, Bukharin-old rightists and leftists converged in the struggle against Stalin, in a common right opposition. It is not the fact of having been victims of an unjust and cruel repression that can cover this.
Bukharin’s self-criticism in trial, which cannot be confused with whatever confession extorted by torture, portrays lucidly this political wreckage of the opposition: “We began by a deviation, by the discontent towards collectivization and industrialization. We made jokes about the kolkhozes and we defended the multiplication of the wealthy property owners. We considered the big factories in development as insatiable monsters which would devour everything and deprive the masses of consumer goods. And after that, we came to find ourselves, literally from the night to the day, on the other side of the barricade, on the side of the kulaks, of the counter-revolutionaries, of the debris of capitalism.
“Which of us in 1919 would have the idea to attribute the ruin of the economy to the Bolsheviks? No one. It would be considered as pure and simple treason. Nevertheless, already my criticism of 1928 about the ‘military-feudal exploitation’ of peasantry charged the proletariat with the responsibility of encouraging the class struggle.
“The summing-up of my platform-program for the economy would be: state capitalism, defence of the wealthy peasants, reduction of the agricultural cooperatives, concessions to the foreign capitalism, abandoning of the state monopoly on foreign commerce; in conclusion, restoration of capitalism in the country.
“In the political terrain, our program implied a sliding towards democratic bourgeois liberties, towards a coalition with the Mensheviks, socialist-revolutionaries and others. And, as we foresaw the necessity of a block with them and of a ‘palace revolution’, it would even tend towards a dictatorship.”1
4. The “’Construction of Socialism”
The social nature of the tumultuous “construction of socialism” undertaken in the beginning of the thirties under the leadership of Stalin uncovers more clearly when we observe it through its different periods (according to Bettelheim): In the first, from 1928 to 1931, there is an impetuous ascent of the masses, when the leading group supports the workers and poor peasants in order to destroy the bases of private capital. The expropriation of the kulaks, the control over the bourgeois technicians, the realization of the first five year plan, summons to the vanguard of the struggle great working masses, above all the working youth, enticed by the objective of finishing with exploitation, building with feverish rhythm big factories and new cities, dominating the technique, rooting out ignorance. The working class faces with revolutionary temper the tremendous economic difficulties, convinced that this is finally the construction of socialism and the road towards communism.
It is the period of the criticism of the right deviation, of the proletaria-nization of party and state apparatus, of the “cultural revolution”, the factory assemblies, the attack on the privileged and the speculators, the campaign for the formation of a million and a half new technicians and cadres, “red and expert”. The number of pupils in the schools doubles, the new’ workers universities open, the copies of newspapers triple, and these are largely opened to the criticism of the base.
It is also the period in which the party stamps upon the Communist International a new combative orientation, conttrary to the previous vacillations. The communist parties break away fromi .their expectancy of social-democracy and transform themselves into parties ol the workers’ struggle against the capitalist crisis.
In the second period (1932-34), when the success ol tlhe 1 ive-year plan and the liquidation of the traditional petty bourgeoisie are confirmed, the leading group orients itself towards the moderation of the “excesses” and towards passing from revolutionary agitation to the restoration of order. It promotes the struggle against “igualitarianism”, widens the wages gap (1 to 30!), institutes the working passbook and a severe discipline in the factories, supports the authority and the privileges of the new cadres, suppresses the salary limitations for the communists, rehabilitates the formerly marginalized intellectual elite.
The “congress of victors” in 1934 is the consecration of the new social order, formally “socialist”, in which the cadre assume an unimpeachable position of command and the masses of workers and peasants are expropriated of all their conquests and relegated to the function of simple producers.
At the same time, facing the ascension to power of nazism, the international politics of the Bolshevik Party abandons its former course, inflects in a moderate direction and begins looking for alliances with social-democracy and the liberal bourgeoisie.
Third period (1935-38): the new regime, which pretends itself to be based in the “harmonious” alliance of the workers, kolkhozians, employees and intellectuals, is modelled by the terror. Cult of the “genial” leader, absolute power of the political police, hunting of “saboteurs, traitors and spies”, mass executions.
The general improvement of the standard of living accompanies the suppression of all the political rights of the workers under cover of the new Constitution, “the most democratic in the world”, the consolidation of the privileges of the cadre and their mass recruitment for the party.
Degradation of intellectual life, rebirth of nationalism under socialist colours, opportunist pragmatism in external politics. The new line of Dimitrov in the 7th Congress of the Communist International nourishes, in the name of the politics of the Popular Fronts, the reformist degeneration of the communist parties. ‘Hie support to the proletarian revolution is sacrificed as an obstacle to the diplomatic manoeuvres with the liberal bourgeoisie (like in the Spanish civil war). The ultra-Bolshevik terror in the interior matches with opportunism in the exterior.
1 hus, the revolution which triumphs in the Soviet Union in the thirties begins by supporting itself in the working class in order to eliminate the petty-bourgeoisie and finishes by subordinating workers, peasants and cadres to the autocratic power of Stalin, which seems to reign above classes. This “totalitarianism of the Party-State” is not a “wicked deviation” (Bettelheim) but a political system of compromise, built over the failure of the proletarian revolution, aborted in the years of the NEP.
5. Monolithism and class compromise
Monolithism made its first steps in the years 1922-28, when the effort for maintaining the unstable balance of NEP against the left and the right pressures took the Stalinist leading group to entrenching itself in an apparatus endowed each time with more vast powers.
Under the action of the interests of contradictory classes, the Bolshevik Party, as the sole party in power, was in danger of transforming itself in a mosaic of tendencies and disintegrating itself. For Stalin, the answer was in the building of a monolithic party, which might ban the risk of tendencies, currents and factions. He needed to demonstrate that the party could be simultaneously “made of a single bloc” “cleaned of dross”: the infallible organ of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
This new conception of the party (which could be applied only thanks to the majority of support for Stalin) unknowingly expressed the demands of the intermediate politics of the NEP. In order to restrain the socialist aspirations of the workers, to freeze the revolt of the poor peasants, to maintain under control the petty bourgeoisie, it was necessary to build a party independent of the class impulses, a supposed arbitrator of the class struggle – and, as arbitrator, absolutely monolithic.
The exceptional restrictions against the polemics established by the 10th Congress became permanent law. The homogeneization of the apparatus was attained by the summary sanctions on dissenters. The secretaries of the committees were transformed into controllers appointed from the top. A gigantic corps of functionaries was created in order to compensate the political paralysis forced on the base. Debate was limited to the central committee, then only to the political bureau, until it was completely suppressed.
The monolithic unity removed the dangers of division but it was a machinery which always demanded more; it had to be always perfected in order not to fall apart. To admit discordant public voices was it not to undermine the authority of the leadership and the discipline of the ranks? The expelling of Trotsky and Zinoviev in 1927, before the 15th Congress, initiated the tradition of the depurated and unanimous congresses, reduced to the function of consultative organs and democratic legitimators of the leading group.
In the situation of permanent élat de siege which was imposed after 1928, the monolithic remodelling of the party and of the whole society was completed. The Party became an administrative super-apparatus of the state, rigorously hierarchized in military style. All the rich tradition of ideological struggle of the Bolsheviks, which had permitted the maintenance of a broad debate during the dramatic years of the civil war and of the foreign intervention, became now obsolete.
For some mysterious reason which escaped the Stalinists, accessing to “socialism” produced a regime different from that which was imagined by Lenin. Power of the soviets, workers democracy, creative freedom, became empty propaganda slogans. The reality which imposed itself was the iron unity around the leading nucleus. No breach could be allowed so that the germ of the division could not pass and bring ruin to the party and to the regime.
Phis is how the cult of the authority and the infallible clearsightedness of the chief was established, as the unifying cement without which all the structure would fall into pieces. And thus came the conclusion, by the logic oi the things, that those who persisted in disagreeing were not anymore only opportunists; they had to be necessarily enemies and traitors. The monolithism was going to give its fruits of terror.
The important thing to stress here is that monolithism and terror, appearing under the mask of an “implacable law of the proletariat”, expressed a politics of compromise between the proletariat, the petty bourgeoisie and the cadres. It was the maintenance of this unstable balance which forced the elevation of the bureaucratic apparatus as a power above all the society.
The subsequent evolution would come to reveal that, in spite of its convulsive efforts to maintain itself as the virtual balance-keeper between the soviet classes, the Stalinist system served as a vehicle for the formation of a new state bourgeoisie.
When Mao Tsetung attempted, thirty years later, to avoid in China a repetition of the spiral of monolithism and terror, admitting the internal debate in the party, the “struggle between two lines” and the “education by the ideological struggle”, he only succeeded in postponing the confrontation.
But the decline of the revolution was brought about some other way. Because the question was not the methods of internal struggle – it was rather the class compromise in which the revolution, in Russia as in China, was forced to maintain itself, for want of the strength of the proletariat for carrying it forward.
6. The upsurge of terror
From 1928 to 1932 the first stage of repressive escalation occurred.
Technicians and administrators implicated in acts of sabotage or resistance to the first five year plan (and teleguided by the circles of the emigrated bourgeoisie), were condemned in different trials. The repression was still selective, death penalty exceptional, but the regime discovered the advantage of manipulation of the trials by the police.
Exaggerating the size of the counter-revolutionary embryos to the dimension of clandestine party structures (the “industrial party”, the “peasant party”, the “bureau of the interior of the Menshevik party”) made it possible to reinforce the educative character of the trials: it gave a severe and blowing example to all potential opponents; it jolted the workers from their political torpor, making them feel more concretely the danger of capitalist restoration in case they did not support the regime; and the defendants were blamed for all the faults of the system, diverting upon them the discontent which might exist against the regime.
But in order to catch the defendants in the trap of their real faults and to force them to confess not only what they had done but also what they could have done, it was necessary to put aside the scruples of legality. Torture became current practice. Depriving of sleep and food, interrogations of tens of hours, beatings. And why not? After all the defendants were old bourgeois, Mensheviks, there was nothing bad in making them feel the sting of the proletarian justice…
This manipulation of the class hatred for the bourgeoisie was applied in large scale in the “dekulakisation” of 1930. The kulaks resisted the requisitions, buried the wheat, shot down the livestock, assassinated communist agitators in the villages, provoked riots – they were asking for a definitive lesson. Enormous numbers of kulaks families and “pro-kulaks” (millions, according to calculations impossible to verify) were expropriated; men, women and children were condemned to forced labour and deported to distant regions, where many perished for the lack of subsistence conditions.
The “Peasant October”, as it was called, was a caricature of the other October. The poor peasants and day-labourers, sacrificed and restrained for 10 years of muzzle of the NEP, served only as lever. The initiative of the “revolution” belonged to the apparatus of the party and of the police, with all the display of arbitrariness which this caused.
But the spectacular success of this operation of mass deportation, which remodelled in a few years all the agrarian structure, reinforced in the leading apparatus the euphoric confidence that the road to socialism consisted in putting aside all the liberal scruples about human costs, methods of struggle, mass democracy.
The Bolsheviks “could do anything” if they might free themselves of the ingenuous confidence of the time of Lenin, might be ten times more vigilant and implacable to the enemy, might not hesitate in eliminating physically the adversaries and if they might lead the workers towards “socialism” with a firm hand.
No wonder that the Stalinist group, which constructed a new society with audacious blows, gave signs not of revolutionary vitality but of insecurity and fear. The exalted sentiment that “there are no barriers which can resist the assault of the Bolsheviks” combined itself with a super-human tension in order to anticipate the blows which could emerge from where they were not expected and towards dragging in the “revolution” the politically inert masses.
The more it penetrated into “socialism”, the more encircled the regime felt itself: by the corrupt cadres or saboteurs, by the dissidents who undermined the discipline of the party, by the displeased workers, by the peasants’ who resisted collectivization, by the black-marketeers and speculators, by the foreign spies, by the fraudulent careerists, by the leaders seeking personal power.
‘Hie sole weapon capable of putting order in this turmoil was the political police. It soon became “the supreme fortress of the dictatorship of the proletariat” and. as it was to expect, transformed the class struggle into a police case. The regime, which continued to speak in name of the working class but which in reality considered itself free of any class ties, was going to pay the price for this “freedom” with the terrorist police power.
7. The winners at the crossroad
In 1934, in the “Congress of victors”, Stalin celebrated the triumph of the revolution, the end of the opposition, the consolidation of the unity of the part}’. After five years of convulsions, the NTP was past history, the integral socialization had become an indisputable reality, the cause of old differences of opinion had disappeared. Bukharin, Zinoviev, Kamenev r^5ognized their errors and they declared support for the stalinist line Accompanying the prosperity which was announced, a period of pacification seemed to begin. Millions of prisoners were set free and many trials anndled; the political police, the GPU, was restructured as the NKVD and deprived of the power to bring charges and to decree death penalties; a special commission was entrusted to draw up a new Constitution, which would reflect the social harmony of the new society; the first Congress of the Writers exalted the new “soviet humanism”. A wind of change was blowing.
foday we know that this spell of liberalization of the 17th Congress of the pany concealed a new struggle of tendencies, more secret and more exasperated than all the previous ones. The great social transformations had projected an unexpected technocratic and intellectual trend, sceptical as to the Stalinist model, anxious to enjoy their privileges in a climate of pacification.
Under the unanimous praises to Stalin there developed a dispute over what lorm the new regime ought to take. Many of those who had stuck without reserve to the battle of “socialization”, converged now with old oppositionists in the opinion that the need was no more for an unmeasured concentration of power into Stalin’s hands and his apparatus. They wished to institutionalize a legality which might neutralize Iejov, Kaganovitch, Molotov, Malenkov, Beria, Proskrebitchev, feared by their style of implacable persecution in name of “class firmness”.
The liberal current, which found in Kirov, the first secretary of Leningrad, its political leader, had already tested its force in the political bureau and in the central committee by avoiding, in 1932 and 1933, the death penalty on right dissidents (Riutine) or Trotskyists, as Smirnov and his group.
Its influence in the congress was unexpected and preponderant. Kirov, who was elected to the Secretariat of the CC, remained in a more outstanding position than Stalin, who had large numbers of votes against him. Bukharin, who was appointed as director for Izvestia, was again recognized as the eminent ideologue of the party, in spite of degradation which he suffered in previous years. And, above all, the powers of the police were restrained.
The assassination of Kirov, in December of that year, demolished the advantages with which the liberal wing deceived itself. Attributed to the oppositionist environment (the killer belonged to a youth nucleus prone to terrorism), the crime was, as it came to be known later, facilitated by the police themselves and, directly or indirectly, set up by the Stalin apparatus.
Thus, the Stalinist wing, which was forced to temporize in the immediate months of the congress, saw itself free of the main liberal personality and had found a pretext for an overall attack. The crime had demonstrated that centralization should not be slackened. On the contrary, it had to be more rigorous.
A decree allowing exceptional court proceedings was enforced the day following the crime. (Already the month before a police organism had been created with powers to deport “socially dangerous” elements without trial).
A hundred prisoners were summarily shot in the immediate days. Thousands of militants of Leningrad were deported to Siberia for suspicion of being associated in one form or the other to the oppositionists. Zinoviev and Kamenev, considered “morally responsible” for the crime, were condemned to heavy punishment.
But this was only the preliminary stage of the final confrontation. The Stalinists, w’ho had been, against all odds, in the breach of the revolution and who felt themselves as the constructors of socialism, were not willing to tolerate this unexpected reappearance of a current which threatened their cehtralization of powers. If this liberal fraction wanted to ruin all the COIlquests of the previous years, they would be taught the lesson they deserved.
The year 1935 finished with the liberals taking the last desperate chances to detain the repressive avalanche. By inscribing in the proposed Constitution the rjght of universal vote, the independence of justice, the right of defence of the accused, Bukharin and Radek still hoped to handcuff the ultras. In fact, the only tlllhg they obtained with this paper barrier was providing them with a new legal cover.
The apparent standstill of 1935 provided the Stalinists with a massive accumulation of strength. Iejov took the place of Kirov in the secretariat. A bundle of decrees were passed to allow an increased repression (like the possibility of condemning to death children of 12 and those who would not denounce crimes), All the charges of the great trials were meticulously prepared. In 1936 every thing was in place for the “definitive uprooting of the evil” and the annihilation of the “men of two faces”.
After the first trial and the shooting of the first group, Stalin and Molotov blamed the softness of the police, who appeared to hesitate in liquidating the remainder of the leading oppositionists: “Our security services have four years of delay”. After 1937, w ith Iejov in the head of the NKVD, the machine was able to reap without obstruction all the “harmful weed”. And one of the targets aimed at was naturally the ill-fated 17th Congress: more than half of the delegates and more than two thirds of the CC elected there were shot.
8. “Monsters of perversity”
The history of the Moscow trials will not be made as long as the mass of documentation about the subject will be kept secret. In all events, two facts seem today incontestable. First, there was among the oppositionists a real conspiracy to limit the powers of Stalin and to overthrow him. No wonder that they attempted it. The network of Trotsky’s ties with the oppositionist circles, the articulation of these within the party, the army, and the police, the contact of Bukharin with the Mensheviks in Paris, were not invented.
Second, the “center of espionage and terrorism” described in the tribunal and confessed by the defendants, never existed. Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin, Rikov, Piatakov were shot under false accusations.
In reality, the trials, accepted at the time as truthful owing to the public confession of the principal defendants, were later revealed as forged: documents were not presented confirming the accusations, but only a web of mutual denunciations and confessions; torture was applied in a large scale; only a small part of the defendants (the “repented’) were judged in public; many of the accusation witnesses did not appear in court; none of the alleged spies and professional criminals attempted to take refuge in the West, as it would be natural; nothing was found in the nazi archives at the end of the war about the alleged financing and directives to the oppositionists.
The truth is that if some real nazi agents had been uncovered in the Ukraine in 1933 and 1936, nothing allows us to believe that chief members of the party might have any implication whatsoever in this activity. There exist the same strong indications that Tukhatchevsky and other generals shot as spies and later rehabilitated might have been victims of documents forged by the nazis themselves and made to arrive in Stalin’s hands through Czechoslovakia.
The terrorist and espionage organization was then a scenario set up by the accusation in order to punish a different “treason” – the resistance to Stalin. When judge Vichinsky stigmatized the defendants as “monsters of perversity”, charging them of acts of sabotage and espionage somewhat incredible (they mixed ground glass in the bread, they knocked down trees in order to destroy the patrimonial forests…) he attempted to objectify their political treason in crimes against the state, in crimes of common offence.
He was not free, in the face of “socialist legality’ to shoot Zinoviev or Kamenev only because they had conspired to change the course of politics and to dismiss Stalin from power. The political crime, in order to be punished, had to be related to something more palpable, a popular translation that would be convincing to the masses.
For that reason, the accusation worked to extort confessions and to confuse the defendants who denied the crimes with them, until a convincing edifice was constructed. Simple opinions contrary to Stalin were exaggerated into “directives inciting to crime”; the forcefully clandestine meetings of the oppositionists appeared as meetings of structured organisms; cases of negligence were transformed into deliberate crimes; mere intentions into deliberate acts.
Smimov received a manifesto of Trotsky? Why not say that he had received instructions for assassinating Stalin and Vorochilov? Some of the oppositionists had contacted in the twenties, in official missions of the soviet government, the German general Von Seekt? What prevented the supposition that they might have been then recruited into the secret service? An oppositionist was guilty of grave economic negligence? Why not charge him of organized sabotage? Molotov suffered a slight automobile accident – and if the driver had made it intentionally, at the orders of spies? Bukharin outlined in 1918a conspiracy to remove Lenin from power? From there to “attempts to assassinate Lenin”, was there a big difference? Thus, the badly articulated organization of the opponents in panic was made up with implacable detail until it took on the dimensions of an efficient terrorist machine, led externally by Trotsky and paid for by nazi money.
Above all Trotsky had to be definitively slushed as a “super-spy”. At first view, one would say that it was not difficult to demonstrate that this “Bolshevik-Leninist”, as he was fond of labelling himself, was only continuing his career as a talented left social-democrat, an expert in combining acute and demolishing analyses with reformist solutions and mostly ambiguous maneuvers. But a principled criticism of Trotsky was already not within the reach of the Stalinists because it would have seriously exposed their own contradictions: it was more expedient to classify the desperate initiatives of Trotsky as espionage.
While trying to present convincing proof of the crimes, the prosecutors did not realize that they were providing an awesome picture of their own regime. So, Yagoda, sub-chief of the police, imprisoned as accomplice of the “terrorist center”, admitted in court that he had forced doctors under his orders to poison and assassinate several persons (among them Maxim Gorki) and that he had placed spies in key posts, because “being the chief of the NKVD, I threatened with death those who would not obey me”! And as the wave of denunciations got bigger and bigger, it became more difficult to control. Falsely accused persons were executed for vengeance, or denounced only out of the eagerness of demonstrating vigilance and loyalty to the regime; the slanderers were executed afterwards, because they had accused innocent victims; and policemen were executed for having participated in crimes and for knowing too much. Meanwhile, assemblies of workers were made to approve under coercion “unanimous” motions applauding the repression. Even lejov himself had to be depurated in order to deter the carrousel of terror.
The struggle to maintain the regime in equilibrium between the opposite pressures of the proletariat, the peasants and the cadres led to sheer arbitrariness. Finally, this enormous regulatory apparatus of “socialism” was absorbed, step by step, by the dominant social force, the cadre, and used by them for the full restructuring of a new type of capitalism.
9. The theory of spies
“In the Trotskyists and Zinovievists fascism found loyal servants”, commented the History of the Bolshevik Party in the balance-sheet of the trials. “The power of the soviets castigates with a hand of iron this refuse of the human race, represses them implacably as enemies of the people and traitors to the country”.
The oppositionists were thus only degenerated elements who, for love of power and money, had put themselves in the pay of imperialism therefore, “scum” at the margin of society and not spokesmen of some hostile class current. Far gone was the year of 1930, when names of parties and political platforms were made up in order to frame the defendants. Now they were not even entitled to the category of political opponents — they were the scum of society.
In reality, what political opposition could there be in a society that, by definition, was constituted only by “friendly classes”? The conflicts w’hich arose could have nothing more than an external cause – the defendants had to be necessarily spies and assassins, strangers to the Soviet society.
Stalin was able thus to assert in 1939, in the end of the macabre “cleaning up”: “There is nothing more to suppress. The only thing left is to punish some criminals in the service of imperialism”. After all, even in a perfect society as was the Soviet Union, one could not avoid that the degenerate elements would come from the outside…
This theory forced to forging trials, but it was the only one that guaranteed coercion to the political system. If socialism was in risk of being demolished by the infiltration of spies at the highest level, then the reinforcement of the state apparatus, of centralism and of the police powers was the decisive question for the consolidation of socialism. Engels (and one could cite also Marx and Lenin) was mistaken when he foresaw the gradual reduction of the State powers under socialism.
On the other hand, if the spies resorted to political pseudo-criticism in order to create favourable ground for their action of sabotage, then it was necessary that everyone might be attentive to the critical voices, because they could be inspired by a hidden spy. The surest thing, in order to “not to give the flank to provocation” was to cut short whatever criticism, to denounce the critics, to blindly trust the party and Stalin. The “war on the spies” thus gave powerful impulse to the integral monolithization of the party and of the State.
Besides, the liquidation of the oppositionists as nazi spies served another goal: it demonstrated to England, France and the United States that the Soviet Union was willing to wage a common struggle against Hitler’s expansionism.
The fact that most West circles accepted the trials favorably showed that the message had been received. And it gave ground, after the sharp inflexion of the Munich capitulation and the german-soviet pact, to the anti-fascist alliance during the war.
The theory of spies was only one among the many arbitrary manipulations of the faints in order that they might be adjusted to the ideological edifico constructed by Stalin. In order to maintain the fiction of a “workers’ and^ ‘peasants’ power and to negate the evidence of the social ascension of tho cadres to the place of a new state bourgeoisie, it was necessary to reconstruct Marxism-Leninism from top to bottom. The Stalinist theory of maintenance* the state under communism crowned the struggle against the spies.
10. The mystery of the confessions
The most important defendants confessed their crimes in the presence of the public, press correspondents and foreign ambassadors. This was the definitive weapon of the accusation. If they were innocent, what would prevent them to say so, instead of providing the court with lengthy circumstantial evidence of their own criminal acts? It is not enough to invoke the tortures (that were not exerted on all of them) nor the promises of pardon, nor the threat of reprisal against their families. The bottom cause was political.
The oppositionists discovered in 1936 that their plan fell at the first blow. They were counting on the inevitable bankruptcy of the “revolution on forced march” and had predicted the economic ruin and social chaos.
But the country was in impetuous progress, and the people had finally ridden themselves of misery and ignorance. They had denounced Stalin as the “gravedigger of the revolution” but he was full of prestige and the affection of the people for him was authentic. They had been seduced by the sharp criticism of Trotsky but found out that, by inventing a phantom “Fourth International” to light against the Soviet Union, he had become a collaborator of social-democracy. They had lied dozens of times, proclaiming their loyalty to Stalin but they were unmasked in their game. They had been caught in complicity with declassified people and had been very close to authentic counter-revolutionaries.
And all this happened in the moment when the imminence of an external attack against this new “socialist” regime which they had fought grew dramatically. The anti Comintern pact, the Japanese attack on China, the fascist uprising in Spain, announced the world war and an imperialist assault against the Soviet Union. They felt degraded to the role of “fifth column” of Hitler.
This was the position in which they objectively had placed themselves, whatever their intentions were – so the interrogators told them, for weeks and months. Would they go on betraying and negating all, or would they have a last positive act to the revolution by confessing? And if it was necessary to repent, what difference did it make to confess what they had not done? “Do you confess your activities of spying?” asked Vichinsky to one ot the defendants. “In fact, I am as worthy as a spy”. The essential thing was the political guilt. The rest was details.
Thus, the confessions of the accused and their hymns of praise to the successes of soviet socialism and to their leader Stalin were not necessarily the abject creeping of prisoners broken up by torture and by the tear ot death. At least for many of them, it was an ideological surrender ol individuals who felt overwhelmed by the hatred of their own party, by the contempt of their own people, and who did not want to die in the camp ol the enemy. “When we asked ourselves: if you die, you die in the name ol what? – a black abyss appears suddenly before us” The last words of Bukharin in court were eloquent.
In the historical perspective, we verify today that the Moscow confessions express the impasse to which the Russian revolution and Marxism itself had arrived to. No one knew how to criticise the terrorism of Stalin from a left point of view. Even his adversaries felt that to go on fighting him would serve the purpose of imperialism.
The regime bom of the October revolution no longer had anything in common with the dictatorship of the proletariat. But the prestige of its origins and the power of its nationalized system projected it as a threat for the imperialist bourgeoisie and a revolutionary banner for the proletariat and oppressed people. This would still be, during two more decades, the basis for the popular support of Stalin.
11. Stalin – the transition
The explosion of terror of the thirties in the Soviet Union was not the bloody madness ol the communists devouring one another in a power dispute that bourgeois propaganda paints for us: nor an accidental (and incomprehensible) diversion in the course ol socialism, as the modern revisionists attempt to convince us ol; much less a positive example of proletarian justice, as aberrantly defends the so-called Marxist-Leninist current.
The Moscow trials appear to us as the culminating of a revolutionary convulsion that developed in the USSR in the passing of the 20’s to the 30’s. It was a bourgeois revolutionary convulsion bom upon the strangulation of the proletarian revolution and of the soviet power. The way to socialism was out of question, due to the weakness of the proletariat and the vitality of petty bourgeoisie (and also due to the absence of proletarian revolutions in Europe, still in embryonic phase), the Bolsheviks found themselves in a no-man’s land. They were no longer able to restore the dictatorship of the proletariat and they wanted to prevent the restoration of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.
The essential contradiction of Stalinism summarizes itself in this intermediate situation: after having made excessive concessions to the petty bourgeoisie during the NEP and having made the party lose the character of revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat, Stalin attempted to liquidate the petty bourgeoisie and to assure the access to socialism at the cost of an unheard concentration of powers. Thus he paralysed all the revolutionary potential of the proletariat and allowed the conditions for the rebirth of the bourgeoisie.
The more the “socialist” state sharpened his defensive weapons, the more it appeared as a power above society, the more it transformed itself in an armour under whose protection the bourgeoisie thrived anew, metamorphosed as communist. The petty bourgeoisie, persecuted and exterminated in 1930, was reborn under the form of directors and red cadres.
The “power of steel” which took upon itself the task of giving socialism to the people, as if it hovered above the classes, only succeeded in serving as the birthplace to a new and unexpected state bourgeoisie under socialist slogans.
Stalin was the ideologue and political conductor of this transition of soviet and internationalist Russia of 1920 towards capitalist and social-imperialist URRS of the fifties. As he represented a transitory, contradictory period, he was not able to grasp the class content of the transformation which he led. He suppressed indiscriminately kulaks, cadres, workers, leaders of the party, in order to maintain the course in direction to what he considered to be the socialist goal – a nationalized economy. He fought against the left and against the right, searching desperately for the way out to a society without classes. But at the end of the tunnel he found once again the bourgeoisie.
The Stalinist ideology portrays this double and contradictory social haracter of the Bolshevik leading group of the thirties. Their critical half, made out of remainders of Marxism, combines itself with a conservative íalf, defender of the privileges of the hierarchy, finding support in a reborn nationalism.
After Stalin died, it was enough for Kruschev and Brezhnev to take a step forward in order to proclaim the program of revisionism. Perhaps this explains why the new soviet bourgeoisie had to start by renouncing Stalin in order to slowly incorporate him today as their national hero. Whatever might be his intentions and his excesses, he remained as the precursor of state capitalism in the USSR.
(Published in Política Operária, no. 7, November/December 1986)
Still about Stalin
In October 1920, speaking in a conference of communists of southern Russia, Stalin drew an optimistic assessement of the perspectives for soviet power: the former idea that the proletarian revolution could not hold out ip backward Russia unless a deeper and more advanced revolution would break in the West, had been denied by the facts: the soviets could have their way, follow their course and even come to “serve as an example for developed capitalist countries”; this was, he said, a new conclusion of Marxism.
During a whole historical period the communist movement nourished on this conviction that backward Russia was indicating the path of socialism to the world. And the new wave of revolutions inspired in October 1917 which preceded and topped the crisis of World War 11 (China, East Europe, Korea, Vietnam) strengthened even more the idea that socialism was advancing precisely through the “weak links of the imperialist chain”.
The socialist revolution would thus be following a more sinuous track than that foreseen by Marx and it was of no avail for imperialism to entrench in its citadels, for a ring of victorious proletarian revolutions in agricultural countries was tightening around it, capable of passing directly to socialism and of dragging in their wake the billow of national liberation revolutions.
Now this all belongs to the past. At the very moment it seemed to attain the peak of power and world influence, the communist movement started to decline. The “crisis of communism”, a hundred times proclaimed by the bourgeoisie, finally deflagrated and has spread out in successive and increasing shocks as to render unrecognisable the panorama of international class struggle.
The proud socialist field which had proclaimed the near fall of capitalism now comes to beg technology, to recognize the virtues of market economy, to offer truce. One after the other, through varied convulsions, socialist countries flow into capitalism as rivers into the sea, whichever the meanders of their course. No wonder that the new countries emerged from the national liberation struggles, now exhausted and bankrupt, are reduced to beg the western finance for debt moratoria.
Attributed firstly to accidents (Tito’s treason) or to ideological deviances (Kruchev’s revisionism), this crisis now shows itself as structural, rendered inevitable at a more or less long term by the internal frailty of which suffered such backward countries’ socialism.
Life itself forces the reopening of the issue brought up by Stalin in 1920: can in fact proletarian revolution succeed and progress towards socialism in backward countries? Or would it be that the twentieth century staged a cycle of premature revolutions, doomed by their own immaturity to being reabsorbed by capitalism? And, in that case, what hopes for socialism since in developed countries the possibility of revolution seems more and more remote? Two and a half falsifications The doubt, of course, is not brought forward by the “communists” of the modem soviet school. For them it is a matter of faith, against the whole evidence of facts, that the “socialist community” keeps progressing victoriously to communism, headed by the Soviet Union. Even if they are now forced to admit that much does not correspond to what was expected from socialism, they plead by arguing the delays and “distortions” caused by Stalin’s “violations of legality”, Mao’s “subjective and adventurous deviances”, Brezhnev’s bureaucratic stagnation… However, all would be now in the course of correction.
It is a ridiculous excuse, since daily news from this “socialist community” are workers’s strikes, conflicts of nationalities, promotion of the new rich, extension of the market economy, priority for profit, restoring of private enterprises, interweaving with multinationals – all enfolded by an immense wave of bourgeois and petit-bourgeois ideology.
Even the “irrefutable proofs” of the “noncapitalism” of Soviet Union – planning, inexistence of a class of proprietors, the work force no longer being a merchandise… – have started to fall apart under the blows of perestroika.
Decades ago USSR or China could stand out as new and different societies no matter what interrogations they gave rise to. Now their new path, corrector of Stalinism and Maoism, is gaining a more and more clear outline of capitalism. The transformation is so deep as to outdate old polemics: what is now to be discussed are the rhythms and modalities that this capitalist rebirth is to take in the old “socialist bastions”.
Should a counterproof be necessary for this regression in the East, a comparison of today’s “communist” movement with that of the old times would suffise. Those who look today at Soviet Union as a model are no longer the revolutionary workers but a narrow minded petty bourgeoisie who see socialism at their own image and resemblance. Delighted by this new “pluralist”, not excessively bourgeois or proletarian “market socialism”, which comes very much at hand for them to sell to the workers their quack medicine, they redouble their calls to “impose against monopolies an amplified democracy, peace and social progress”, as a first step towards peaceful transition to socialism…
Unfortunately for these asswashers to the bourgeoisie, Gorbatchev’s “humanist communism” is but a glimpsy moment in the accelerated course of the USSR towards a naked and raw fight between proprietors and proletarians. At the present speed of events it will not take many years for perestroikan “socialism” to converge with capitalism, thus depriving its Western supporters of any kind of referential and letting them fall in the arms of social democracy.
And quite fairly, one should say; if the remainders of the proletarian revolutions are digested by capitalism, why should not modern revisionism be devoured by social democracy? It is in fact social democracy, that popular version of imperialist policy, the one that took revenge of the years of the great Bolshevik fright. Now they can savour the soothing sensation that everything is back in order, condescendingly comment on the “death of the revolutionary myths”, the “end of the equalitarian utopia” and proclaim the confirmation of their previsions.
Indeed, they said, since Kautsky, that the Russian revolution could not lead to socialism; that the Bolsheviks were forcing the pace of history with an impossible bound over the capitalist stage of Russia; that not only Stalin but also Lenin represented a voluntarist and authoritarian deviance of Marxism; that “Stalin’s totalitarian perversion” was but the mature fruit of Lenin’s ideas on the vanguard party and the conquest of power through violence; that Marx himself ought to be made responsible for having opened the doors to barbarianism with his invention of a “proletarian dictatorship” called in to destroy individual liberties…
History can now be rewritten: it can be said that the revolutions led by the communists in the name of the proletariat and socialism were mere bourgeois revolutions, despite the Marxist slogans with which inhuman sacrifices were torn from the masses and a massive accumulation of capital was obtained; that Stalin was an emulator to Hitler if not his master in crime: that communists have been guilty of everything, even of fascism, even of World War II, and that the social democrats were their victims.
Communists should thus renounce their “revolutionary messianism” which makes sense no more, in this informatics and robotics era, should stop their “demagogic” harangues against exploitation, abandon Leninism, critically stand away from Marx, recognize finally that the ideal of socialism can only be approached by enlarging “spaces of democratic consensus” as made possible by the techno-scientific revolution.
Most flagrant in all this is not those people’s cynicism – it is their myopia. But what else can geckos and rats do than bask in the sun after the storm, convinced that it will never come back? Social democrats need to convince themselves that the revolution is but a nightmare happily over and that the proletariat will never again take the bit in their teeth. To depict the present capitalist degeneration of the USSR as a triumphal march towards communism or, inversely, to pretend that the proletarian revolution was nothing more than a ferocious invention of Bolshevism – these two competing falsifications of Marxism are bound in a common task: to conceal the summing up of revolution in the 20th century.
The same can be said of its minor variant, Trotskyism, which has found, as always, an original interpretation of events, equidistant from both modern revisionism and social democracy: although bureaucratically degenerated by Stalin’s fault, the USSR would remain a workers’ State, still today trailing an endless transition from capitalism to socialism…
By analysing the modem soviet phenomenon as a peaceful restoration of capitalism over the remnants of the degenerated proletarian dictatorship, the Marxist-Leninist current has, 25 years ago, thrown the foundations for the restart of revolution. That is so, because this idea, then considered a doctrinal aberration, provided the key to place modem “destabilized” USSR face to face with the Russia of workers’ soviets, of which it claims to be the heir, to confront today’s “humanistic Leninism” with Lenin’s Leninism and, through such confrontation, to grasp, many years ahead, in which direction would move not only the USSR but its protégés of the “international communist movement”.
However this was only a first step. The thread of Leninism would not be resumed until one could tell how and why the bourgeoisie had been able to revive over its own expropriation. And it was at this point that the Marxist-Leninist current found its wreck.
Today it is possible for us to understand that the criticism made to the degeneration of the USSR by the Chinese and Albanian parties, trailing themselves a path similar to that of the Bolshevik party, remained enclosed by inexorable limits. Maoism has dramatically illustrated that the split with revisionism could not come from inside a decaying socialist camp.
And if the failure of the “proletarian cultural revolution” had an earthquake effect upon the incipient ML current, it was because at stake was more than a battle – the wager was the whole theory elaborated by Mao to explain the genesis of revisionism in power and the antidotes which he thought he had discovered to fight it. Mao attributed the germination f revisonism, in Soviet Union as in China, to the degeneration of “a bunch of leaders who took the capitalist path”. Conscious that Stalin’s police raids had been impotent to root out the evil in the USSR, he thought to apply to China the shock treatment of mass mobilization, which would immunize the proletarian dictatorship from revisionist degeneration. But the cultural revolution ended chaotically, together with the roaring collapse of the Maoist idea on the almost miraculous role to be played by the ideological education of the party and the masses. Moreover: it laid bare that the Maoist confidence on the subjective factors, on the “re-education” of the bourgeoisie and of the party right wingers, rested upon a hope of conciliation of class conflicts he did not know how to overcome otherwise. In fact, the Maoist attitude towards class struggle under the dictatorship of the proletariat represented in many ways a step backwards as to the very Stalinism it intended to correct. One may say it was unavoidable, given the difference of stature between the two revolutions – Mao was the product of the peasant wars in China, whereas Stalin was the product of the upheaval of the Russian proletariat – but the sure thing is that Maoism, by taking as backbone the re-education of the national bourgeoisie and its integration into socialism, corrected Stalin in a rightist manner.
One thing can be said today, as a result of the disastrous experience of China: modem revisionism was not cause for anything, since it is itself the consequence and ideological expression of new class relations which germinated after the revolution, both in the USSR and in China. After this fiasco, to think that it would be possible to erase the Maoist experience, to go back and rebuild the Ml. current on the integral defence of Stalin’s legacy, amounted to ineptness to be expected only from the despair in which Albania was sinking. The merit ol this current, thus to speak, consisted in its refusal to answer every problem set by the degeneration of the USSR; for every issue one sole answer: Stalin did not commit mistakes, he had only been deceived and betrayed… If not very coherent, such fidelity gave them at least a unique flag with which to stand apart from everyone else. However, the logic of class struggle is unforgiving and so the Albanian-reared ML parties, as much as the last faithful Maoists, are sinking in a triple misery: senility in ideology, ‘people’s democratic’ reformism in politics, and a sectarian spirit in organization. What else can a Stalinist be today but a risible caricature of Stalin?
Critique to Stalin
After life has shown the falseness of the improvements to Stalinism brought forward by Mao, the next step for communists was to tackle directly the issue which had been kept taboo, precisely because it was the target for the concentrated attack of all bourgeois forces: Stalin’s historical role. The file on Stalin was packed with such a variety of studies, (social-democrat, Trotskyist, academic) that it was not difficult, when using these materials in a Marxist perspective, to withdraw new conclusions and achieve real progress in the understanding of the soviet phenomenon.
It is a fact that Stalin had not been sensible to the concerns which Lenin let, out in his last years as to the dangers of bureaucratic stagnation of the regime and allowed bureaucracy to grow as a cancer, devouring the revolutionary rights conquered by the producing masses during the revolution.
It is indisputable that Stalin held loo long a rightist trust on the possibility of integrating the bourgeoisie through the NLP, to come later, almost without transition, to the “socialization at forced marches”, with all the irreparable convulsions it brought about.
Stalin changed the manifestation of social contradictions and party internal struggle into crimes, emptying the dictatorship of the proletariat in proclamations and the ideological creation in dogmatic formulae, which had the effect of fertilizing the ground for the revisionist ‘revolution’. Whereas Lenin had defended the need for the USSR to gain time until a new revolutionary wave could come, Stalin perfected that idea with the theory of “socialism in one country”, which implied, in disastrous sequence, the pragmatic tactics of support to national bourgeoisies of other countries, the policy of the popular fronts of the 7th Congress of the Communist International, the growing subordination of the communist movement to the role of pro-soviet pressure force, and lastly the dissolution of the International and the opportunist dispersion of the communist parties.
The enumeration of Stalin’s mistakes could go on. But most important of all is perhaps that, in the “centrist” political atmosphere transmitted by Stalinism to the international communist movement, surreptitiously the notion was installed that the deed of the Russian workers in October 1917 could not be repeated, that it was not realistic to fight for proletarian revolutions of the soviet type. If the “new democracy” revolution in China and the “people’s democracy” revolutions in Eastern Europe and Asia were faint and deformed echoes of the Russian revolution and became, instead of an impulse to the socialist progress of Soviet Union, rather a ballast holding it back, that was due before anything else to the ideas spread by Stalin himself.
The centrist mistakes of Stalin have thus gradually appeared as the key to explain the degeneration of the communist movement. Had Stalin been a good Leninist, the history of the last half century would have been something else – such is the conclusion today in the communist ranks.
And nevertheless this explanation is as limited and deceitful as the previous ones. To impute the failure of XX century revolutions to Stalin’s mistakes can bring us near the episodes of the degeneration but, after all, this differs little from attributing it to Mao’s deviances, to the revisionists’ betrayals or to the selfishness of the bureaucracy. It will always lead us to the same type of subjective explanation incapable of covering such a huge phenomenon as was the inversion of course of one fourth of mankind.
No doubt all these errors, deviances and treasons were quite real and had an ominous effect. But they were the forceful expression of deep social causes, and these are the ones which matter to clarify.
The closing of a cycle
If we look at class struggle rather than at the positions of the leaders, we shall see that what is ordinarily called Stalinism – the superhuman concentration of efforts in the construction of socialism in an isolated and moreover economically backward country, with the explosion ot violence it brought about – was no arbitrary creation sprung from Stalin’s head as a result of the “primariness” of his Marxism, but the product ot an objective strangling of the revolution.
The presumption on which the Bolsheviks and Lenin had based their action – that World War I and the Russian revolution had matured the conditions for proletarian revolutions in Europe – this idea did not materialize. Imperialism, supreme and last stage of capitalism, was much more distant from exhausting its capabilities of survival than could have been thought in Lenin’s time. And thus, deprived from the support of revolutions in Europe, the soviet regime in Russia became confronted, in the middle of the twenties, with two sole alternatives, both disastrous: to surrender (and to that end were leading the opposed policies defended by Bukharin and Trotsky), or to push forward at any cost, as the only way gain time. This was what Stalin’s leadership tried, spurred, moreover, by the imminence of a world war and a new devastating impm.ali.tf aggression. In this perspective, it is forceful to admit that the abandonment of the NEP and the war with the petty bourgeoisie, the terror of the thirties, the growing delegation of power in the bureaucratic apparatus, the militarization of work and of the party’s life, the loss of confidence in world revolution, the irreparable deviation from Marxism – every feature of Stalinism was the product of the stalemate asphyxiating the Russian revolution. From the fifties on, such impasse was already suffocating not only Soviet Union but the whole revolutionary field that in the meantime had risen in its wake.
1 he overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the socialization of the productive forces in backward countries with scarce accumulation of capital, small working class and enormous peasant mass essentially petit-bourgeois, was causing, together with the huge revolutionary conquests of the beginning, the gradual ascent of an omnipotent bureaucracy, acting as administrator and referee between proletariat and petit-bourgeoisie and, as a result, the transformation of socialism and dictatorship of proletariat into caricatures.
The conclusion seems to be this: the “weak links” were in fact ruptured under the clash of the proletarian and peasant revolution, but they marked it with their flaws, and at the end devoured it. The bourgeoisie finally retook the baton previously snatched from it. It was as if capitalism had taken its revenge from the surprise of 1917.
To conclude from this that the cycle of revolutions was “premature” or “useless” as social-democrats do, is to reason upside down, in a bourgeois logic. In fact the great proletarian revolutions of this century were not invented nor forced by communists. They were inevitable and the communist leadership only allowed them to push to the highest degree their potential for transformation. Had they been suffocated, the situation of the masses today would be much worse and the bourgeoisie would be much more consolidated. We can thus say that proletarian revolution in this XX century went through a pioneering start, that it fulfilled its cycle of growth, maturation, crisis and decomposition, cycle from which it could not break away unless new and more advanced proletarian revolutions had come to its rescue.
Today, this first cycle of proletarian revolutions is re-absorbed and we live in a kind of pause, during which the revolutionary movement is trying to get firm ground in the new situation and prepare a new assault. Like all pauses, this one is accompanied by the aberrant flourishing of panic, stupidity and incoherence of the petty bourgeoisie, completely covering the stifled voice of the proletariat.
We cannot know through which means the new proletarian revolutionary cycle will make its way, nor where nor how. Of one thing we are sure: it will learn from the accumulated experience, in order to carry out, in the most effective and inexorable way, the task enunciated by Lenin in 1920: “To overthrow the exploiters and, in the first place, the bourgeoisie; to inflict them an absolute defeat; to crush their resistance; to render impossible any attempt from tJaeir side to restore the yoke of capital and of waged slavery”.
1 Pierre Broué, The Moscow Trials. Paris, Julliard, 1964, pp. 193-6.
(in Política Operária no. 17, September/October 1988)