Tuesday, January 1, 2008

La revolucion rusa y la dictadura de los Bolcheviques

Socialist Education Bulletin, NÂș 3, November-December 1973.




Education Committee, The Socialist Party of Great Britain, 52 Clapham High Street, London, S.W. 4.



Russia before1914 was a country of big but inefficiently farmed landed estates, side by side with millions of peasants impoverished by the high rents they had to pay to the landlords, and a growing population of industrial workers. Capitalist industry had made big strides (largely by the investment of foreign capital) and railways had been built bringing Russian grain to the outside world. Further development was hindered by the lack of a home market where the industrial products could be sold. Apart from the minority of capitalist farmers and landlords, the rural population (peasants and labourers) were too poor to buy industrial products in large quantities. Discontent was rife among the peasants, and the prolonged industrial depression and consequent unemployment in the towns during the early years of the 20th century provided material for working-class trade union and political organisation. On top of this, the majority of the capitalists were also strongly opposed to the Tsarist regime, because its repressive methods and undemocratic structure were out of keeping with the needs of capitalist industry and commerce .

The Russian Social Democratic Party was divided into two sections which ultimately became separate parties – the “Mensheviks” (a word meaning “minority”) and the “Bolsheviks” (meaning “majority”) .The Mensheviks believed that Russia must pass through the normal stage of capitalist development and democratic government. The Bolsheviks urged the need for illegal organisation and activities, and as early as 1905 believed that the conquest of power in Russia might precede and inspire revolution in the advanced countries of Western Europe. Both sections of the Party put forward a programme of reforms as their immediate demand.

The basis of the Bolshevik illegal organisation in the years before 1914 was the three “fundamental” slogans: a democratic republic; expropriation of the landowners; and the eight-hour day. Both Mensheviks and Bolsheviks believed in seeking seats in Parliament and were, in fact, represented in the “Dumas”, which the Tsar called as a promised step towards representative government.

When Russia entered the war in 1914,the Bolsheviks opposed it and voted against war credits. They strongly condemned all of the so-called socialists who supported the war on the one side or the other, and, indeed, they solicited the assistance of the Socialist Party of Great Britain to gain publicity in England for their manifesto protesting against this conduct(see Socialist Standard, March,1915).

After years of defeat at the front, Russia came to the stage where a continuance of the war became impossible. The backward industrial development of the country put it beyond her powers to conduct warfare in conflict with a highly industrialised power like Germany on the enormous scale of the 20th century. Another factor was pro-German influences at the Russian court. The hardships imposed both on the civilian population and on the troops through inadequate transport, defective equipment, scarcity of food, and high prices, together with the inefficiency and corruption of the ruling class, brought about conditions of revolt. There were constant strikes in the large towns, not only for higher wages, but also for peace. There were mutinies of troops at the front. Soldiers brought out against the workers at home openly sided with them. Crowds attacked the houses of Tsarist ministers .

In this situation the Tsar, on March 11th,19l71, ordered the dissolution of the Duma, but the Duma decided to carry on. After the revolt of a number of regiments and a few days of confused fighting in the streets, the Tsar abdicated on March 15th. A Provisional Government was formed by the Liberals and other capitalists’ and landowners’ representatives in the Duma, together with Kerensky, who, as Minister of Justice, was supposed to represent the workers and peasants. At the same time Councils of Workers, Peasants and Soldiers (“soviets”) were being formed. The Provisional Government was monarchist, although convinced that the Tsar must go, and was in favour of continuing the war.

At first the Soviets were largely controlled by delegates hostile to the Bolsheviks, and they gave general support to the openly capitalist Provisional Government. Kerensky, Minister of Justice in the Provisional Government, was vice-president of the Soviet, and was the connecting link between the Soviet and the Committee of the Duma, the two bodies by which the Provisional Government was organised. The Soviet of Workers and Soldiers had, from the first, established the right to hold its sittings in the Hall of the Duma, where the Duma Committee also met.

In May 1917 the government became a coalition, in which the avowedly capitalist parties had a majority. Then in July Kerensky became head of a government containing a majority of so-called socialists and supported by the Soviets. The fact that the Kerensky government had the backing of the Soviets was of decisive importance. Because of that the Bolsheviks were for the time being unable to make headway against the government. The position was entirely changed later on when the Bolsheviks obtained control of the Soviets, but until then the Soviets were used to suppress Bolshevik activities.

For example, in June 1917 the Bolshevik minority called for an armed demonstration of soldiers and workers with the slogan, “Down with the Capitalist Government! Down with the War! All Power to the Soviets!” The counter proclamation appealing to soldiers and workers to abstain was issued jointly by the Peasants’ Soviet., and the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Soviet. The latter appeal was successful and the Bolsheviks called off their demonstration.

It was on the motion of the Mensheviks that a Joint Conference of the two Soviets (July 3rd-5th ) passed a resolution recognising the supreme authority of the Soviet, and denying membership to those who would repudiate or try to overthrow it. Troops called from the front to suppress a Bolshevik armed rising acted with the support of the Soviets. They claimed to be protecting the Government and the Soviets against the Bolshevik minority. Later, when the government had to deal with the revolt of Kornilov and his military supporters it was to the Soviets that Kerensky turned for help. .

During this period, with the war dragging on and with the former hardships aggravated by army officers attempting to seize power, the Bolshevik Party, in spite of persecution by the Kerensky government, was carrying on active propaganda in favour of peace, the giving of the land to the peasants, etc. At first the Bolsheviks had demanded the calling of a democratically-elected Constituent Assembly to decide on the future constitution of Russia. Then in April 1917 they were popularising the slogan “All Power to the Soviets”, although this would have meant at that time power falling into the hands of the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries who had a majority on the Soviets. In July the Bolsheviks, believing that there was no longer a chance of splitting these groups from the openly capitalist parties abandoned their slogan of “All Power to the Soviets”, only to revive it again two months later. In September they were even prepared to support a Menshevik and Social Revolutionary government responsible to the Soviets on the condition (in the words of Lenin) of “absolute liberty of agitation, and the calling of the Constituent Assembly at the date fixed, or even within a shorter period”. This offer came to nothing.

In the meantime, owing to the general discontent, Bolshevik propaganda made continual headway. The whole political situation was transformed when they managed to get the support of a majority of the Soviet delegates, thus coming into possession of the most representative political machinery of Russia at that time.

On September 9th a Bolshevik was elected President of the Krondstadt Soviet. On October 1st the Moscow Soviet elected a Bolshevik majority. On October 8th Trotsky was elected President of the Petrograd2 Soviet, which, on October 15th, demanded the transfer of all power to the Soviets, and the conclusion of an immediate peace. During October there were seizures of land by the peasants all over Russia. On October 22nd the Petrograd Soviet formed a Military Revolutionary Committee to control the Red guards of soldiers and armed workers. Faced with this new situation the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party, on October 23rd, accepted a resolution moved by Lenin in favour of armed insurrection.

The All-Russian Soviet Congress was arranged to meet on November 7th. On that day the Petrograd Soviet (with a Bolshevik majority) declared in favour of the overthrow of the Provisional Government. At the All Russian Soviet Congress there were 670 delegates, of whom 390 (a clear majority) were Bolsheviks and 179 were Left Social Revolutionaries who in the main supported the Bolsheviks. The Congress passed resolutions moved by Lenin in favour of peace, the abolition of the right of landowners to possession of the land, and the setting up of a “temporary” workers and peasants government pending the summoning of a Constituent Assembly. The Congress approved the “victorious insurrection of the workers and the garrison of Petrograd” and declared that “the Congress takes all power into its hands". On November 9th a victorious rising took place in Moscow, inspired by the events in Petrograd. The Bolsheviks, within a comparatively short space of time, consolidated their position, based upon the support of majorities in the Soviets.


The significance of these episodes of Russian history in 1917 is the one Marx so constantly stressed, viz., the need to gain control of the political machinery. The Bolsheviks were enabled to do this through controlling the Soviets. The Duma, elected on a limited franchise, which excluded most of the workers and peasants, was less representative and less popular than the Soviets, and had accordingly fallen into the background soon after the overthrow of the Tsar.

Trotsky has brought out the point well in his Lessons of October3 Writing of the struggle during 1917 between the Bolshevik minority and the Kerensky government, he said:

“The struggle between us and the compromisers centred round the constitutional position of the Soviets. In the minds of the people the Soviets were the source of all power. Kerensky, Tseretelli, and Skobelev came from the Soviets. But we, too, were closely connected with the Soviets, for our cry was ‘All Power to the Soviets’. The Bourgeoisie considered that they inherited their rights from the State Duma. The compromisers inherited theirs from the Soviets, and so did we; but they wanted to get rid of the Soviets, and we wanted to transfer all power to the Soviets. The compromisers could not yet break the Soviets, and so they tried to make a bridge, as quickly as they could, from them to a parliamentary system. And this was why they convened the Democratic Conference and created the Preliminary Parliament . . .

“But it was our interest, too, to take advantage of the constitutional position of the Soviets. At the end of the Democratic Conference we forced the compromisers to agree to convene the Second Congress of Soviets. Convening the Congress embarrassed them very much; they could not oppose it, because then they would have given up the constitutional position of the Soviets; and yet they could not help seeing that this Congress – on account of the way it was composed – promised them very little good.

“...It was one thing to make an armed insurrection under the mere cry of seizing power for the party, and quite another thing to prepare an insurrection – and carry it out – under the cry of protecting the rights of the Congress of Soviets” (pp. 63-4, emphasis added).

With regard to the peculiar position of Russia, a backward country overwhelmed by the strain of the war, Trotsky said:

“The first necessity was an army that did not want to fight. The whole course of the revolution would have been changed, if at the moment of the revolution there had not been a broken and discontented peasant army of many millions, and this applies specially to the period from February to October . . . It is only because of this that the experiment with the Petrograd garrison was successful; and that experiment determined the October victory” (pp. 67-8. Note that Trotsky is using the old

Russian calendar; the “October Revolution” actually took Place in November according to the modern calendar).

The “experiment” referred to by Trotsky was a decision of the Petrograd Soviet in October opposing the removal from Petrograd of troops garrisoned there. This was , said Trotsky, “really an armed insurrection . . .armed though bloodless . . . an insurrection of the Petrograd regiment against the provisional government . . . under the cry of defending and protecting the Second Congress of Soviets” (p.61).

Trotsky described this as an “almost constitutional insurrection”:

“We call this insurrection ‘constitutional’ because it grew from the ‘normal’ relations of the existing division of power. It happened more than once, even when the compromisers were in power, in the Petrograd Soviet, that the Soviet examined or amended decisions of the government. This was, as it were, part of the constitution under the regime named after Kerensky. When we Bolshevists got the upper hand in the Petrograd Soviet we only went on with the system of double power and widened its application. We took it on ourselves to revise the order sending the troops to the front, and so we disguised the actual fact of the insurrection of the Petrograd garrison under the tradition and precedents and technique of the constitutional duplication of authority” (p.62).

It only remains to add that when the Constituent Assembly met on January 5th,1918, a body which the Bolsheviks had themselves demanded, they promptly dissolved it on finding that a majority of its delegates were opposed to them.


The Mensheviks argued that a premature attempt to set up Socialism in Russia would fail and lead to privation and hardship for the working class. Although the Bolsheviks did not set out to realise Socialism immediately, the outbreak of the Civil War forced them in a direction which they thought was the immediate establishment of Socialism. So it is worth having a look at the first few years of Bolshevik rule to see how the Marxian theory of social development was confirmed.

Soon after gaining control of political power the Bolsheviks agreed to share it with their new allies, the Left Social Revolutionaries. This coalition lasted until the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918. The Left Social Revolutionaries – and many Bolsheviks – opposed the treaty as a sell-out to Germany. Lenin argued that it was necessary in order to gain time, an argument he was to have to use many, many times later to explain why practice diverged from theory. .

One of the slogans raised by all the Russian revolutionaries was for the convocation of a Constituent Assembly. The Provisional Government had fixed the date of the elections. to this Assembly for November 1917. They took place on time, under the Bolshevik-Left Social Revolutionary government. The results for the 707 seats (that were still part of Russia) gave a majority to the Social Revolutionary Party with 410 seats; the Bolsheviks got 175; the Kadets (Constitutional Democrats, or liberals) 17 and the Mensheviks 16. The Bolsheviks were thus clearly in a minority. When they dissolved the Assembly in January 1918 they gave various excuses, notably that the Social Revolutionaries had split after the list of candidates had been drawn up. A more powerful argument was that they had a majority in the industrial centres and that to hand over power to the country-dominated Assembly would be to hold back the anti-Tsarist, anti-landlord revolution.

Soon after winning power the Bolsheviks had to face a Civil War with the forces of counter revolution, aided by the Allied Forces of Japan, France, Britain and the United States. To deal with counter-revolutionaries within the territory they

controlled the Bolshevik-Left Social Revolutionary government set up in December 1917 the Cheka (to become in February 1922 the GPU, the forerunner of Stalin's secret police). Capitalists, landlords, Kadets and Right Social Revolutionaries were the first to be dealt with. Although the Mensheviks (or most of them) and the Left Social Revolutionaries supported the Bolsheviks in the Civil War, they too were subject to restrictions. Both maintained a semi-legal existence til11921,participating in trade union and Soviet meetings, when their leaders, including Martov, were “allowed” to go into exile.

At the same time as the opposition parties were done away with, the Bolshevik leaders took steps to curb opposition within the ranks of their own party. Since 1918 there had been a Left Opposition, opposed to Lenin's compromises, which had assumed various forms. What presented a particular threat in 1920-1 was the Workers Opposition which put forward demands mainly of a syndicalist nature. The 10th Congress of the Bolshevik Party which met in March 1921 – at the time of the Krondstadt affair – passed a resolution banning “fractionalism”, that is, organised opposition to party policy; opponents could still express their views but they were not to join together to try to change the Party's policy. The first man to be expelled under the new rules was one, Miasnikov, who had advocated freedom of the press for everybody, including Kadets. Miasnikov, incidentally, was one of the first Bolsheviks, or ex-Bolsheviks, to see that Russia was heading not for Socialism but for state capitalism. He later ended up in a concentration camp.

Krondstadt was a naval base outside Petrograd. Traditionally revolutionary, it set itself up as an independent Soviet republic in 1921,as it had done earlier under the Provisional Government. The Bolsheviks were made of sterner stuff than Kerensky, and the Krondstadt Soviet was ruthlessly crushed.

Russia, as we saw, was basically an agrarian country. In 1917 some 80 per cent of the population was engaged in agriculture. So the Bolsheviks had to give some priority to settling the land question. One of their first decrees was that on Land. This abolished the rights of the landlords and rubber-stamped the peasants’ seizures of land that were going on. The land of the landowners was divided up amongst the peasants – more or less in line with the Social Revolutionaries' programme, as opposed to the Bolshevik’s pre-war programme of nationalisation and State farms – so that the predominant form of agriculture became the peasant and his family working his own land with perhaps one horse. Peasant proprietorship, in other words, became dominant. The Bolsheviks, who had some understanding of history, knew that this was the decisive stage in the revolution: Having got their land would the peasants be prepared to go any further? Before this question could be answered the Civil War broke out. To feed the towns, the Bolsheviks organised parties to go and take grain from the peasants. As part of this policy they set the poor, almost landless peasants, against the rich peasants, or kulaks. When, however, the war was almost over in 1921 the Bolsheviks had to back down-. To encourage agricultural production, they allowed the peasantry free trade and security of tenure.

Lenin had always been an admirer of the way the German war-machine had organised industry. He knew full well that Socialism was out of the question in Russia in 1917. As an immediate measure once the Bolsheviks had gained power, he advocated State capitalism on German lines. By which he meant that capitalist-owned industry should be controlled by the State. A few attempts were made by the Bolsheviks to reach agreement on this with the capitalists but the Civil War forced them into an extreme position. Industry was nationalised without compensation. So were the banks.

The Bolsheviks also faced the problem of re-imposing industrial discipline which had broken down under the Provisional Government, not without the encouragement of the Bolsheviks. They had supported the anarcho-syndicalist slogan of “workers control” and had urged the workers to take over and run the factories where they worked. Once in power themselves they took a different view and did their best to replace “workers control” by State control; they went even further and tried to impose “one-man management” Even the Bolshevik-dominated trade unions protested at this. During the Civil War the working class was subject to military discipline: labour books were introduced for all workers in 1919, and “labour desertion” became an offence. Some debate went on in the Bolshevik party over the relations of the unions to the State. All the participants were agreed on one point: that the role of the unions was different in a State run by a “socialist” party than under capitalism; they should strive for labour discipline and higher productivity. Only the Mensheviks and anarchists challenged this view. The Mensheviks, who refused to recognise the rule of the Bolsheviks as that of the working class, said that as the revolution was, and could only be, a bourgeois one the unions should keep their traditional role and independence of the State.

The period from 1918 to 1921 is known as “war communism”. It is clear that if it had not been for the Civil War the Bolsheviks would have acted in 1918 as they did after the introduction of the “New Economic Policy” in 1921. In any event, they seemed to have believed that the course on which the Civil War forced them was towards the immediate realisation of Socialism, as both Lenin and Zinoviev later admitted. For instance, during this period there was a galloping inflation so that money was little used and workers were paid in kind. This, the Bolsheviks theoreticians argued, was a prelude to an eventual moneyless society. Some went so far as to welcome the inflation as the beginning of the end of money, so what did it matter if the rouble was worthless!

The end of the Civil War soon brought the Bolshevik government face to face with social reality, and a halt was called to these policies. Lenin introduced the New Economic Policy and returned to the theme of State capitalism. The changes which NEP involved were far-reaching :

+ The nationalised industries ceased to be run as government departments and were told to fend for themselves as independent concerns on strict commercial-accounting principles, aiming to make a profit.

+ Some of the smaller nationalised industries were handed back to their former owners or to co-operatives .

+ The peasants were, as we saw, given the right to sell their surpluses.

+ Steps were taken to balance the budget and get a stable currency based on gold. The State Bank (Gosbank) set up in November 1921 pursued a conservative financial policy.

+ A State loan was floated in 1922.

In other words, the Bolshevik government was trying to establish the political, economic and financial conditions in which capitalist industry could flourish. The larger industries were state capitalist trusts; the smaller industries and agriculture were in private hands; commerce in the lands of co-operatives and licensed (and unlicensed) private traders known as nepmen. By now, many Bolsheviks were becoming disillusioned (including, it can be argued, Lenin himself). Opposition groups appeared denouncing the growing state capitalism and the emergence of a new privileged bureaucracy.

At this time the Bolsheviks never claimed that the nationalised industries were examples of Socialism. As people with at least some understanding of Marxism they knew that Socialism was a complete system of society and that bits of it could not exist inside capitalism. Where they did use “socialist” they meant it in a political sense: that the party of the working class controlled political power. But this of course was not true either. While it is true that in order to abolish capitalism the working class must organise itself into a political party, in no sense was the Bolshevik party the working class of Russia organised for Socialism. They only claimed to be the vanguard of the working class and, according to Trotsky, only had 240,000 members at the time they came to power. It is true again that many of the members of the Bolshevik Party were well-versed in the literature of Marxism and knew what socialism meant. But this was true also of the Social Democratic parties of the rest of Europe and was not sufficient to make them the working class organised for Socialism. The Bolsheviks sought, and got, the support for their seizure of power not on a Socialist programme. As we saw, they also did have a reform programme, and those who supported them in November 1917 did not really want or understand Socialism; what had attracted them were the various slogans the Bolsheviks had advanced, such as “All Power to the Soviets!”, “Peace, Bread and Land!” and “Workers Control!”.

When they realised that they were wrong in having believed the world socialist revolution to have been imminent in 1917, the Bolsheviks saw their task as to develop large-scale production at the expense of petty industry and especially petty agriculture. Thus did material circumstances – the low level of the unproductive forces in Russia – force the Bolshevik government to take the only course open to them: to develop capitalism in Russia. That this took the form of state capitalism is to be explained by the ruthless determination of the Bolsheviks to hold on to power, come what may. This determination did ensure that the emerging private capitalist class in Russia (nepmen, kulaks and wealthy bondholders) never became strong enough, as at one time seemed possible, to oust the Bolshevik government, but at the expense of the leaders of the Bolshevik party and government gradually evolving into a new privileged class, monopolising the means of production and exploiting the working class.

Further Reading

The authoritative scholarly historical work on this period is E. H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution 1917-1923.

The Russian Revolution

Joel Carmichael, A Short History of the Russian Revolution.

P. Sorokin, Leaves from a Russian Diary (Kerensky’s secretary).

N. N. Sukhanov, The Russian Revolution 1917. “A Personal Record”.

L. Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution.

L. Trotsky, Lessons of October 1917.

An Illustrated History of the Russian Revolution (Martin Lawrence, 1928).

The First Years of the Bolshevik Dictatorship

M. Brinton, The Bolsheviks and Workers Control.

A. Ciliga, The Russian Enigma.

D. and G. Cohn-Bendit, Obsolete Communism. The Left-Wing Alternative (Part IV).

K. Kautsky, The Dictatorship of the Proletariat.

A. Kollontai, The Workers Opposition.

V. I. Lenin, Last Letters and Articles.

J. Martov, The State and the Socialist Revolution.

I. Mett, The Krondstadt Commune.



The next issue of the Education Bulletin, to be published in January next year, will be devoted to the subject of inflation, its theory and mechanics. In preparation for this we publish below an article outlining the Marxian Labour Theory of Value.

The Labour Theory of Value is a theory in the science of political economy (now called economics) to explain how the working class are exploited under capitalism and how capitalist society works.

Capitalism is the stage in the development of human society characterised by class monopoly of the means of production, with wage-labour and commodity-production. Thus to be explained are such phenomena as wages, prices, and profits. The Labour Theory of Value is central to an understanding of the economics of capitalism because capitalism is commodity-production par excellence, and the Labour Theory of Value basically explains what fixes the value of a commodity. At one time there were rival theories of value, but now academic economics tends to deny the need for such a theory. All you need, they say, is a theory of price. We shall see, however, that prices cannot be explained without recourse to the concept of value.

First, some definitions. Wealth is anything useful produced by human labour from materials found in nature. In capitalist society, Marx said, wealth takes the form of an immense accumulation of commodities. A commodity is an article of wealth produced for the purpose of being exchanged for other articles of wealth. Thus commodity- production is an economic system where wealth is produced for sale, for the market. In its simple forms it exists only on the outskirts of non-commodity producing societies where wealth is produced directly for use, either by the producers for themselves or by a subject class for their masters. In the beginning commodities were bartered, but as commodity-production developed one commodity came to assume a special role: it became the universal equivalent, for which all commodities could be exchanged and vice versa; it became, in short, money (as we shall see in the next issue, you cannot begin to understand modern monetary phenomena without first grasping this commodity origin of money).. Here we have a problem for the science of political economy: what determines the proportions in which commodities exchange one for the other?

One conclusion we can draw from the fact that commodities consistently exchange for one another in fixed ratios is that all commodities must share some common characteristic to a greater or lesser degree. What? As articles of wealth all commodities share two characteristics: they are useful and they are products of human labour. Which of these could provide a standard? Some have suggested usefulness (or utility), but the trouble here is that the same article can be useful to a greater or lesser degree to a different person. Usefulness is a personal matter: a personal relation between the commodity and its consumer. So utility would be a changing; subjective standard and could not explain why commodities consistently exchange at stable ratios. We are thus left with commodities as products of human labour.

Unlike usefulness the amount of labour embodied in a commodity can be objectively measured : by how long it took to make it, for instance. However, all wealth, not just commodities, shares this characteristic of being products of human labour. What we want to know is how do commodities differ from other forms of wealth. Wealth, we know, only takes the form of commodities under certain social conditions, specifically when it is produced for sale. Similarly with labour (used-up human energy. Cf. “work“ in engineering); under the same social conditions it becomes “value”. Thus value is not something you can find in the physical or chemical properties of a commodity, for it is a social property, a social relation. However, as value only expresses itself in exchange, as exchange-value, this social relation appears as a relation between things. This is what is behind Marx’s writing about the “fetishism of commodities”. Price is the monetary expression of value.

Labour, says the Labour Theory of Value, is the basis of value. But how does labour determine the value of a commodity? The value of a commodity, said Marx, is determined by the amount of socially necessary labour contained in it or, what is the same thing, by the amount of socially necessary labour-time spent in producing it from start to finish. Note that the Labour Theory of Value does not say that the value of a commodity is determined by the actual amount of labour contained in it. That would mean that an inefficient worker would create more value than an efficient worker. By socially necessary is meant the amount needed to produce, and reproduce, a commodity under average working conditions, e.g. average productivity, average intensity of labour. For instance, in the British coal industry the average output is about 40 cwts. and there are a little under 300 pits. In some of these output per shift will be above 40 cwts. and in others below, but the value of the coal is not fixed by the labour of the workers at pits of either sort. Its value is the social average brought out by the market. This means of course that what is socially necessary is continually changing.

Under capitalism nearly everything is a commodity, or takes the form of a commodity, is bought and sold. This qualification is necessary to counter the argument often advanced against the Labour Theory of Value that some things that are bought and sold either are not products of labour or sell at prices quite out of proportion to the amount of labour embodied in them, e.g. land and objects of art. Land, under capitalism, has a price which, in its pure form, is merely the capitalisation of its rent. Land has no value as it is not the product of human labour. Paintings and antiques are indeed products of human labour but are not really commodities because they cannot be reproduced; the concept of “socially necessary labour” therefore has no meaning with reference to such articles. One silly objection is: why is a lump of gold from a meteorite valuable, when there is no labour embodied in it? Actually, this is a confirmation of the Labour Theory of Value since its value is the same as that of gold produced under normal conditions. If gold were to regularly fall from the skies then its value would drop to what is needed to collect it.

Another thing that under capitalism takes the form of a commodity is labour-power (the ability of human beings to work, human energy). Indeed this fact is the basis of capitalism since it presupposes the separation of the producers from the ownership and control of the means and instruments for producing wealth. But there is one very important difference between labour-power and other commodities. labour-power is embodied in human beings who can think, act and struggle to get the best price for what they are selling. Otherwise its value is fixed in the same way as that of other commodities: by the amount of socially necessary labour spent on creating it and recreating it. The labour spent on creating a man’s labour power is that spent in producing the food, clothing, shelter and the other things needed to keep him in a fit state to work. Thus the value of an unskilled man’s labour-power is equal to about enough to keep him and his family alive and working. Skilled men get more because it costs more labour to produce and maintain their skills. When the worker finds an employer he is paid a wage, which is the price he is paid for allowing the employer to use his labour power for, say, 8 hours. Wages, then, are a special kind of price; they are the monetary expression of the value of labour-power. This is why you will never understand wages if you think of them as “the reward of labour” or “the product of labour”.

Labour-power has a peculiar characteristic. Because wealth can only be produced by human beings applying their mental and physical energies to materials found in nature and because labour ( = the expending of labour-power) is the basis of value, labour-power has the property of being able to produce and create new value. Let us assume that our worker’s labour-power is worth 4 hours labour a day. After he has worked 4 hours does he stop? Of course not. Under his contract he must work for another 4. Since he is working in his employers’ place, with his employers’ tools, machinery and raw materials anything he produces belongs to his employer. Thus, in this case, the employer gets 4 hours free labour. This is the source of his profit, which he shares with his creditors as interest and with his landlord as (ground) rent (and with the State as taxes). So the source of all Rent, Interest and Profit is the unpaid labour of the working class.

Let us look into this process of exploitation a little closer. The first point to notice is that it takes place at the point of production. Workers are exploited at work. When a worker receives his wage (or salary, another name for the price of labour power) he has already been exploited. He cannot therefore be exploited again by moneylenders or shopkeepers or landlords or taxmen (though of course they can rob and cheat him, and he them, but that’s a different matter). So-called secondary exploitation is a myth.

For Marx capital, like value, is not a thing but a social relation; indeed it is value or rather a collection of values. Only under certain social conditions do the means of production become capital, specifically, when they are used to exploit wage-labour for surplus value. Thus we find Marx describing the process of capital accumulation as the “self-expansion of value”. Capital, in its pure form, is money-capital. A capitalist invests his capital, say, in producing cotton textiles. He must advance his capital to buy a factory, textile machinery, raw cotton, etc, and also to buy labour-power. His capital can be divided into categories. Fixed capital is the buildings and machinery that are not consumed entirely in the production process; circulating capital is the raw materials and labour power that are. More significant from the socialist point of view is the division into constant and variable capital. Constant capital is that invested in the buildings, machinery and raw materials. In the process of production their value, or a part of their value, is only transferred to the finished product. Variable capital is that invested in labour-power and is so called because this is the part of capital that expands. Labour-power not only transfers its own value and is instrumental in transferring that of the constant capital, but it also creates new value. We see then, that machines do not create value. All they do, and this only when set in motion by human beings, is transfer part of their own value (itself of course a past creation of the work of human beings) to the finished product. Even capitalist accountants recognise this: the part of the cost of a commodity they put down to depreciation is to cover the value transferred from the buildings and machinery.

We saw earlier that part of the working day is spent in producing the equivalent of the labour-power used up, and the rest in producing surplus value for the capitalist. The first part of the working day Marx called necessary labour (not to be confused with “socially necessary labour”) and the second surplus labour. We are speaking here in terms of parts of the day. This is not to be taken literally otherwise you make the mistake of the economist in Marx’s day who opposed the Ten Hour Bill to limit the working day on the grounds that all the profit was made in the last hour! In fact, surplus value is produced each moment the worker is at work.

It is obviously in the interest of the capitalist to increase the proportion of surplus to necessary labour. Marx called the ratio, which is the same as the ratio of surplus value to variable capital, the rate of surplus value4, or rate of exploitation (s/v). There are two ways the capitalist can do this. He can prolong the working day, the extra surplus value so produced being absolute surplus value. But this of course has its limits. The alternative is to lessen the necessary labour by intensifying work or cheapening the value of labour-power, which results in relative surplus value.

How do the complications of capitalist production affect the value of a commodity? The value of each unit of cotton textiles turned out will be made up of the value of the raw materials, the value of the machinery transferred, the value of the labour power and the surplus value, or the commodity’s value = c + v + s, where c is the part of the total constant capital (C) transferred to the product. The rate of profit is S/(C + V).

The value of a commodity is fixed by the amount of socially necessary labour embodied in it from start to finish, not just in the final stage of its production. Thus it is inaccurate to say that agricultural workers produce food or that car workers produce cars. Production under capitalism is a social process in which all workers take part. An important corollary of this is: the capitalist class as a whole exploits the working class as a whole. The worker is not exploited just by his particular employer, but by the whole class of capitalists.

I t may come as a surprise, after all that has been said about commodities exchanging in fixed proportions according to their values, to be told that under capitalism commodities do not sell at their values. But this is in fact the case. This is why it is important to understand that the Labour Theory of Value is not a mere theory of price. There are two simple reasons why price and value can differ: prices fluctuate with supply and demand, and, with monopoly, a commodity will sell at above its value (or, with subsidies, below its value). The third reason is more complicated but must be grasped if you want to understand the observable workings of capitalism, e.g. what is behind the pricing policies of businesses. Those who decide on prices, don’t know what the value is, and don’t need to. What do they act or, then?

We saw that the capital advanced can be divided into constant and variable and that it is only the variable capital that increases to create the surplus value. The ratio C/V Marx called the organic composition of capital. Given the same rate of exploitation (s/v) in all industries, if all commodities sold at their value this would mean that the highest rates of profit should be made in the technically backward, labour-intensive industries. But is this so? Not at all; the tendency is rather for capital to get more or less the same rate of profit wherever it is invested.

How to reconcile a labour theory of value with the averaging of profits was a problem that baffled Adam Smith and Ricardo. But Marx solved it in the only way possible: by abandoning the assumption that all commodities sell at their values. Critics have called this the “great contradiction” in Marx’s work, but it is nothing of the sort. As we have seen capitalist production and circulation is a social process: each individual capitalist does not exploit only his own employees but the whole capitalist class exploits the whole working class. Each capitalist employs so many workers who produce so much surplus value. Instead of going to the individual capitalist this surplus value goes, as it were, into a pool from which it is shared along with the rest of the surplus value amongst all the capitalists in accordance with how much capital they have invested. (This explains why, incidentally, a fully automated factory would still make a profit.)

Consider the consequences of this on prices. Say s/v is 100 per cent and that there are three sectors with different organic compositions:

C V S value rate of profit

A 80 20 20 120 20%

B 40 60 60 160 60%

C 60 40 40 140 40%

With no averaging of profits B is the most profitable sector, but with an averaging we get:

C V S profit value price

A 80 20 20 40 120 140 above value

B 40 60 60 40 160 140 below value

C 60 40 40 40 140 140 at value

Marx called this selling price, which is made up of cost plus average rate of profit, the price of production. This, in fact, is how businesses do operate and is regarded by academic economics (who, as Marx pointed out, merely take a businessman’s view of economic events) as enough. But it is not. It is all very well talking airily about price being set at cost plus “normal profit”. But what is normal profit? Something fixed by custom! This is only what it appears to be. Only the Labour Theory of Value, with its concept of value and surplus value, based on labour, can adequately explain why the “normal” rate of profit is, say, 10 per cent rather than 15 per cent.

So Socialists do not argue that commodities sell at their values (only those in industries with the average composition of capital do). But what we do say is that it is not possible to explain prices without recourse to value.

1 Dates according to the modern Western calendar not adopted in Russia till February 1918. The calendar in use before then was 13 days behind, a neat illustration of the backwardness of Tsarist Russia.

2 Formerly St. Petersburg, now Leningrad, then capital of Russia.

3 The quotations that follow are from the 1925 translation published by the Labour Publishing Co. A second translation was published in America in 1937.

4 At least he did in Capital. Note that in Value, Price and Profit, a popular exposition of economics he gave to a meeting of the First International, he calls this ration “the rate of profit”, a term to which, as we shall see, he gave a different meeting in Capital.

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Trtosky el profeta ridiculizado

Trotsky: The Prophet Debunked
Fifty years ago this month Leon Trotsky was assassinated by an agent of Stalin's secret police. We take this opportunity to critically assess his life and views. Trotsky was born Lev Davidovitch Bronstein, the son of moderately well-off peasant farmers in the southern Ukraine, in 1879. As a student at the University of Odessa he became an anti-Tsarist revolutionary. He soon fell foul of the authorities and was sentenced to prison and exile in Siberia from where he escaped in 1902 using the name of one of his jailers on his false identity card; this name Trotsky he was to use for the rest of his life.

Trotsky played a prominent part in the 1905 revolt that followed Russia's defeat in the Russo-Japanese War, being elected the Chairman of the St. Petersburg "soviet" ("soviet" is simply the Russian word for "council"). Oddly in view of his later political evolution, when the split occurred in the Russian Social Democratic movement in 1903 between the Mensheviks (orthodox Social Democrats like Kautsky in Germany) and the Bolsheviks (supporters of Lenin and his concept of a vanguard party of professional revolutionaries), Trotsky tended to favour the Mensheviks. Stalin and his supporters later took great pleasure in publishing one of Trotsky's writings from this period in which he violently criticised Lenin's conception of the party. Trotsky in fact tried to develop a middle position, evolving his own theory of how the anti-Tsarist revolution would develop.

Both the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks saw the anti-Tsarist revolution as being one that would lead to the establishment of a bourgeois Democratic Republic in Russia (the difference between them was that the Mensheviks tended to see this as being done by the liberal bourgeoisie while the Bolsheviks said it would have to be the work of the vanguard party). Trotsky took up a different position, arguing that if the working class were to come to power in the course of the coming bourgeois revolution in Russia it was unreasonable to expect them to hand over power to the bourgeoisie; they would, and should according to Trotsky, take steps to transform society in a socialist direction.

Anti-Tsarist revolutionary
This theory, which Trotsky called "the theory of the permanent revolution", latching on to a phrase used by Marx in one of his articles on the abortive German bourgeois revolution of 1848–9, was absurd in that it implied that socialism could be on the agenda in economically backward Russia. It was however important historically as it was adopted by Lenin himself in April 1917 when he returned to Russia from exile in Switzerland. As a result Trotsky himself then rallied to the Bolsheviks.

In a very real sense Bolshevik ideology can be seen as a combination of Trotsky's theory of the revolution and Lenin's theory of the party. In 1932 Trotsky wrote a book called The History of the Russian Revolution, which is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand this event, not only because the author was an active participant in it but also because it unintentionally shows how this wasn't a working class socialist revolution but an anti-feudal revolution led by a vanguard party.

After the Bolshevik seizure of power Trotsky became, first, Commissar for Foreign Affairs and, then, Commander of the Red Army which successfully won the Civil War against the "White Guards" supported by the Western powers. This gave him an immense prestige both in Russia and among sympathisers with the Russian revolution in the rest of the world. His attitude on other issues during this period was even more anti-working class than that of Lenin who, on one occasion, was forced to intervene to attack as going too far Trotsky's proposal to "militarise" labour and the trade unions.

After Lenin's death Trotsky was gradually eased out of power. He was exiled first to Alma Ata in Russian central Asia and then to Turkey, Norway and finally Mexico. If he had stayed in Russia he would almost certainly have been tortured, tried and shot like Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin and the other original leaders of the Bolshevik Party. All the same he still ended up with a Stalinist ice-pick in his head.

Degenerate Workers State
In exile Trotsky played the role of "loyal opposition" to the Stalin regime in Russia. He was very critical of the political aspects of this regime (at least some of them, since he too stood for a one-party dictatorship in Russia), but to his dying day defended the view that the Russian revolution had established a "Workers State" in Russia (whatever that might be) and that this represented a gain for the working class both of Russia and of the whole world.

His view that Russia under Stalin was a Workers State, not a perfect one, certainly, but a Workers State nevertheless, was set out in his book The Revolution Betrayed first published in 1936. This is the origin of the Trotskyist dogma that Russia is a "degenerate Workers State" in which a bureaucracy had usurped political power from the working class but without changing the social basis (nationalisation and planning).

This view is so absurd as to be hardly worth considering seriously: how could the adjective "workers" be applied to a regime where workers could be sent to a labour camp for turning up late for work and shot for going on strike? Trotsky was only able to sustain his point of view by making the completely unmarxist assumption that capitalist distribution relations (the privileges of the Stalinist bureaucracy) could exist on the basis of socialist production relations. Marx, by contrast, had concluded, from a study of past and present societies, that the mode of distribution was entirely determined by the mode of production. Thus the existence of privileged distribution relations in Russia should itself have been sufficient proof that Russia had nothing to do with socialism.

Trotsky rejected the view that Russia was state capitalist on the flimsiest of grounds: the absence of a private capitalist class, of private shareholders and bondholders who could inherit and bequeath their property. He failed to see that what made Russia capitalist was the existence there of wage-labour and capital accumulation not the nature and mode of recruitment of its ruling class.

Trotsky's view that Russia under Stalin was still some sort of "Workers State" was so absurd that it soon aroused criticism within the ranks of the Trotskyist movement itself which, since 1938, had been organised as the Fourth International. Two alternative views emerged. One was that Russia was neither capitalist nor a Workers State but some new kind of exploiting class society. The other was that Russia was state capitalist. The most easily accessible example of the first view is James Burnham's The Managerial Revolution and of the second Tony Cliff's Russia: A Marxist Analysis. Both books are well worth reading, though in fact neither Burnham nor Cliff could claim to be the originators of the theories they put forward. The majority of Trotskyists, however, remain committed to the dogma that Russia is a "degenerate Workers State".

Transitional Demands
Trotskyist theory and practice is rather neatly summed up in the opening sentence of the manifesto the Fourth International adopted at its foundation in 1938. Called The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International, and drafted by Trotsky himself, it began with the absurd declaration: "The world political situation is chiefly characterised by historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat". This tendency to reduce everything to a question of the right leadership (Trotsky once wrote a pamphlet on the Paris Commune in which he explained its failure by the absence of a Bolshevik Party there) reminds us that Trotskyists are 102 per cent Leninists and believers in the vanguard party. They believe, in other words, that workers by their own efforts are incapable of emancipating themselves and so must be led by an enlightened minority of professional revolutionaries (generally bourgeois intellectuals like Lenin and Trotsky). Thus they fall under the general criticism of Leninism and indeed of all theories which proclaim that workers need leaders.

The other important point in the manifesto of the Fourth International was the concept of "transitional demands". The manifesto contained a whole list of reform demands which was called "the transitional programme". This reform programme was said to be different from those of openly reformist parties like Labour in Britain and the Social Democratic parties on the Continent in that Trotskyists claimed to be under no illusion that the reforms demanded could be achieved within the framework of capitalism. They were posed as bait by the vanguard party to get workers to struggle for them, on the theory that the workers would learn in the course of the struggle that these demands could not be achieved within capitalism and so would come to struggle (under the leadership of the vanguard party) to abolish capitalism.

Actually, most Trotskyists are not as cynical as they pretend to be here: in discussion with them you gain the clear impression that they share the illusion that the reforms they advocate can be achieved under capitalism (as, indeed, some of them could be). In other words, they are often the victims of their own "tactics".

Splits and sects
After the Second World War, all the Trotskyists in Britain were united for a time in a single organisation, the Revolutionary Communist Party, which was affiliated to the Fourth International. All the leaders of the various Trotskyist sects (Gerry Healy, Ted Grant, Tony Cliff, etc.) were together in the RCP.

Most of the splits that subsequently occurred were over the attitude to adopt towards Russia and the Cold War. The group around Cliff, as we have already noted, took the view that Russia had been state capitalist since about 1928 (up till then it had supposedly been a "Workers State"). Logically they adopted the slogan "Neither Washington nor Moscow". Longtime known as the "International Socialists" they are now the Socialist Workers Party. Except on Russia they share all the other Trotskyist illusions (vanguard party, transitional demands, etc.).

In 1949 the RCP dissolved itself and most Trotskyists decided to join the Labour Party and "to bore from within". This tactic, known in Trotskyist parlance, as "entryism", is again based on the premise that the mass of the workers need leaders and are there to be manipulated. As would-be leaders of the working class, the argument goes, we must be where the workers are; as in Britain the Labour Party is "the mass party of the working class" this is where we Trotskyists must be if we are to have a chance of influencing (that is, manipulating) the workers.

After the general strike in France in May 1968, which seemed to show that student activists could influence the working class directly without needing to pass through "the mass party of the working class", most of the Trotskyist groups decided to abandon entryism and openly form their own parties. Thus parliamentary elections in Britain came to be enlivened by the presence of parties bearing such titles as "Workers Revolutionary Party", "Socialist Workers Party", "Revolutionary Communist Party", "Socialist Unity", etc. Needless to say, they got no more votes than we in the Socialist Party did.

This abandoning of entryism should not be interpreted as meaning opposition to the Labour Party, because nearly all the Trotskyist groups continue to support the election of a Labour government and to call on workers to vote Labour.

One Trotskyist sect, however, decided not to abandon the Labour Party after 1968 but to continue boring from within: the sect now known as the Militant Tendency (leader: Ted Grant). The absence of the other sects meant that they had a monopoly of this particular hunting ground. So when Labour turned left after 1979 they were there ready to recruit new members and increase their influence. In fact the Militant Tendency has undoubtedly been the most successful of all the Trotskyist groups that have ever infiltrated the Labour Party.They control a number of constituency parties as well as the Labour Party Young Socialists. There are even two or three Trotskyist MP's sitting on the Labour benches at Westminster.

From an ideological point of view, the Militant Tendency follows orthodox Trotskyism. Thus, for instance, they regard Russia as a "degenerate Workers State" which means they are more backward than many Labour Party members who willingly recognise that Russia is state capitalist.

Trotsky entirely identified capitalism with private capitalism and so concluded that society would cease to be capitalist once the private capitalist class had been expropriated. This meant that, in contrast to Lenin who mistakenly saw state capitalism as a necessary step towards socialism, Trotsky committed the different mistake of seeing state capitalism as the negation of capitalism. Trotskyism, the movement he gave rise to, is a blend of Leninism and Reformism, committed on paper to replacing private capitalism with state capitalism through a violent insurrection led by a vanguard party, but in practice working to achieve state capitalism through reforms to be enacted by Labour governments.

Alemania, Noviembre del 1918

Germany, November 1918
The German revolution of 80 years ago was the only ever nation-wide workers' revolt in an advanced capitalist society. It overthrew the Kaiser but not capitalism. It didn't and couldn't have done this as there was no majority for socialism amongst the workers.

Last Autumn saw the spectacle of Trotskyists and other assorted Leninists remembering the 80th Anniversary of the Russian revolution with great enthusiasm. The Trotskyist "Marxist" Party held a meeting for the occasion round my way. When asked by myself at a stall promoting the revolution meeting (with some very pretty looking flyers, it must be said) what exactly their platform was, their reply was "well, you know the Russian revolution?". I indicated that I was aware of its existence. "Well, we, er, well, we think it was a good thing". Great, nice platform, well thought out, mate. Likewise our local SWP enthusiast exhorted me to come to their big meeting on the Russian revolution and "see Tony Cliff before he dies", which struck me as insufficient incentive to attend what would doubtless have been a very tedious evening.

All of this inevitably led me into numerous dog-fights with these sort of people, about quite why the Russian revolution isn't the best thing that's ever happened, including one very nasty and terrifying encounter with a bloody-thirsty professional revolutionary from the SWP head office ("The Cheka were necessary, to stop counter-revolutionaries," she said, and I contemplated suicide, despairing over the condition of a human race that produced such a "socialist"). Inevitably, whenever I elucidated the crimes of the Bolsheviks, pointed out the many failings of the revolution, demonstrated how even Nice and Shiny Mr Lenin perpetrated the sorts of crimes they normally said only started with that Evil Mr Stalin, they had one last line of defence: "The Russian Revolution turned rotten because of invasion by umpteen foreign countries, and the failure of the German Revolution."

The point about invasion largely makes a mockery of their whole support for the victorious revolution, if in fact it wasn't victorious, and so can be dismissed. But their second point is worth a closer look. It is true that Lenin was probably predicating the success of his revolution upon a successful socialist revolution in Germany as well and hoping that it would spread world-wide from there. Fine and dandy, but all this changes Lenin from instead of being a dangerous man who thought he could lead the world to socialism, to a dangerous gambler who thought he could lead the world to socialism. Further, the proponents of such a thesis seem remarkably capable of over-looking the obvious conclusion to which this line of defence points—that Russia was really the side-show, an historical footnote, to the only ever attempted workers' revolution in an advanced capitalist state; and that all their celebrations of Russia and desire to follow its model are flawed, because Germany is the real case history that bears examination.

At the time of the first world war, Germany was the second biggest industrial economy in the world. This was despite having a full third of the population still living as feudal peasantry, and still retaining a quasi-feudal government under an autocratic hereditary ruler. It also had one of the largest workers' movements in Europe (despite socialism having been a criminalised creed for many years in Germany). The Social-Democratic Party of Germany (the SPD) had over a million members and some 4½ million voters, along with numerous papers, affiliated social groups, etc.

The SPD still talked of—and reckoned itself as—being a radical socialist party, though over the years running up to the war it drifted further and further towards outright reformism, partly because it had become so institutionalised. Running its own papers and allied with unions, it was very much a part of the fabric of society. Despite this, a small section of revolutionary socialists remained within the SPD, typified by Rosa Luxemburg, and who numbered some three to four thousand.

The true colours of the SPD were shown during the war, when nearly all of its members in the Reichstag openly backed the war, and the party spread propaganda to the effect that the war was necessary to stop the threat of tyranny from Russia. This slowly led to a split in the SPD, three ways, with the eventual formation of the Independent Social-Democratic Party (USPD) within the parliamentary party and then more slowly within the membership itself. The "far-left" contingent formed themselves into the Spartakusbund (Spartacist League) with Karl Leibknecht and Rosa Luxemburg as prominent members. However, they remained within the official ranks of the USPD.

By September 1918 it was clear that Germany had already lost the war. The most the ruling class could expect was to preserve their state more or less intact. They were desperate to avert a repetition of events in Russia and the massive upheaval there. The powerful generals in the army proposed a way of saving the German state by liberalising it and bringing some of the more obliging elements of the SPD into the government. These latter accepted and joined a government under Prince Max von Baden as Chancellor.

Workers' Councils

Under this regime events deteriorated. Long suffering workers began to vent their frustration at the grind and penury they faced after four years of draconian war-time restrictions. More and more workers and disenchanted soldiers and sailors began to strike and mutiny. By late October insurrection was spreading, as workers throughout the country rose up against the government. Beginning in the northern port of Kiel workers' councils began to be formed all across the country. By 5 November, Hamburg (one of the biggest cities in the country) became subject to control by a workers' council. By the 8th so had many of the great cities of Germany, Munich, Cologne, Frankfurt and even Berlin.

The outcome of the uprising was that the leader of the SPD, Erbert, took power, and his colleague Scheidemann unilaterally declared Germany a republic, in a bid to appease the rebels by ending the rule of the German aristocracy. The Kaiser went into exile. Whilst this part of the revolt was successful, it in fact merely finished the job begun by the revolutions of 1848, in establishing a fully bourgeois republic in Germany.

Very few of the German working class were revolutionary socialists. The vast majority of workers supported the SPD as a matter of course, including its general programme of the reform of capitalism. On the other hand, the revolutionary workers were tiny in number. When in February 1919 the Spartakusbund renounced its links with the USPD and formed a German Communist Party (KPD) it recognised this problem: "Socialism cannot be created by decrees; nor can it be established by any government. Socialism must be created by the masses themselves, by every proletarian". Their problem was that not enough proletarians wanted socialism. The November uprisings had been a reaction to hardship and tyranny, not a coherent wish to establish socialism. Contrary to what the SWP's Chris Harman writes in his book The Lost Revolution, in which he patronisingly claims that the workers were "confused" by the splits within the "socialist movement", what most workers wanted was for the SPD to end their hardship. The Spartacists recognised that the mass support needed to establish socialism was lacking and that socialism was not on the agenda at that time, and so they resolved to oppose the calling of a constituent assembly which they felt would help consolidate the German state and instead to try and make socialists within the workers' councils.

Some hot-headed elements of the German left (in the USPD and another group called the Socialist Shop-Stewards) were not satisfied with this reality, and 5 January 1919 mounted the misnamed Spartacist uprising ("Spartacist" within SPD circles had become was a catch-all for anyone vaguely disagreeing with the leadership, much as "Trot" has become in the modern Labour Party—the Spartacists, including Rosa Luxemburg, actually opposed an uprising, realising as they did that mass support for socialism just wasn't there). These elements led the workers of Berlin in a putsch to try and seize power, with the hope of it spreading nation-wide. It failed. Lacking any plan the workers who had followed the glorious revolutionaries stood around waiting to be told what to do, and when they were told it was a mish-mash of confused orders and muddle. On 11 January 1919 the SPD government sent in the troops, the notorious Freikorps, which very effectively crushed the abortive putsch. By 17 January both Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg had been murdered by Freikorps troops, and Berlin was under government control once more.

Crushed by the state

This was a pattern that was to be repeated in many parts of the country, as any struggles and gains by the workers were brutally crushed by military might. The workers discovered too late the danger of following leaders, and, much as the Bolsheviks crushed all independent working class activity in Russia to establish their dominance, so too did the SPD in Germany to preserve the German capitalist state. The workers discovered to their cost the impossibility of fighting against a co-ordinated and well-armed state, and if little blood was spilt in the initial revolt much was spilt when it was put down.

The workers of Germany persistently followed their old leaders, believing these would solve their problems for them, and even bring about socialism, and for a while they believed the lip-service the SPD government gave to "socialisation" of industry. In the end, however, they had to learn the hard way the folly of following leaders. The German revolution shows, not as Chris Harman believes, that if the KPD had had more discipline (read had it enacted the Leninist principle of "democratic-centralism" and obedience to the leadership) it might have controlled events more and thus been able to lead the workers to successful revolution (on Russian lines). It was that where the working class does not have the resolve to establish socialism, it will not, and trying to make socialists in the heat of an ongoing quasi-civil war is almost impossible. No amount of leadership but only a majority of socialist-minded workers could have made the revolution in Germany. The bloody defeat of the putsch and the uprisings showed how violence, especially by a minority, is suicidal against an existing organised state. History shows it is not the state that gets "smashed" but the revolutionaries and many innocent workers too.


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Medio siglo de verguenza

Half a century of shame

So, it's fifty years since that other Great Dictator himself – Josef Stalin – finally departed this mortal coil. Fifty years on from the death of a man who probably did as much as anyone else in human history to sully the name of socialism. Today, few outside of Arthur Scargill's mis-named Socialist Labour Party and their friends in the near-moribund Stalin Society have anything but contempt for one of the greatest destroyers of working class hopes (and lives) this century.

Stalin presided over a ruthless dictatorship over the proletariat which was the model followed by a host of other unsavoury regimes which believed that the only way to achieve a socialist society was to oppress the very class – the only class – capable of bringing it about. Their vision of this socialist society was, in any case, distorted virtually beyond recognition, where Marx's dictum “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need” was replaced with “from each according to their ability, to each according to their (supposed) work” and where the Party bureaucrats drove round in limousines and accessed shops only they could access while the rest of the population lived miserable lives of poverty.

It is difficult to think that a sane person could hanker back to the type of regime that Stalin helped develop in Russia and which was replicated across most of Eastern Europe and parts of Africa, East Asia and the Caribbean. And yet, thousands of people – even in a country like the UK – still do. Not that most of them would call themselves followers of Josef Stalin though – far from it. Unlike Scargill and his ilk, these are people who profess to abhor Stalinism and all that it led to: the fear, the intolerance, the labour camps and the murders. But they are people who still agree with most of what Stalin stood for, because even though they might be latter-day supporters of Stalin's great rival in the Russian Communist Party, Leon Trotsky, they are united in their fervour for the politics of the man who mentored them both: Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.

The bureaucratic Russian police state which terrorised its political opponents (including genuine socialists) did not originate with Stalin, nor did it die with him. Neither was the idea that socialism was really state-run capitalism when operated under the dictatorship of the Russian Communist Party one of Stalin's contributions. These ideas were Lenin's and they were adopted by Stalin and Trotsky alike.

Today, many political parties exist which still extol the virtues of Lenin and Trotsky while supposedly denouncing Stalin and all his works. And yet they undoubtedly agree with 95 percent of his politics, including most of the bits others (rightly) find abhorrent. Groups like the Socialist Workers Party, Militant (now masquerading under a nom-de-plume), the Alliance for Workers Liberty and others all believe that the working class must be led to socialism (read state controlled capitalism) by a dedicated band of revolutionaries (them) who will then proceed to set up a “dictatorship of the proletariat” in time-honoured fashion.

We must point out that their politics stands in clear distinction to the honest, open and democratic political tradition of the Socialist Party. This is a political tradition which insists that the working class of wage and salary earners must themselves – organised democratically – bring about socialism: a society without class division, the wages system, a state or national frontiers.

Whatever our political opponents may say about us, we have a proud tradition of standing by our principles and of conveying a consistent analysis of capitalism and of how it can be democratically transformed into socialism. As all reminders of the Soviet Union's murky existence demonstrate, our opponents on the political Left meanwhile have a past to hide from and a future that is merely a promise to repeat yesterday's nightmares. In refusing to learn the lessons of the Russian debacle they have tarnished the words “socialism” and “communism” to describe the society that can replace capitalism. For these reasons, their protestations of innocence this month will ring hollow to all those with a decent knowledge of history and a political conscience to match.

La politica externa de Rusia


Russian Foreign Policy

THE REVOLUTION brought about an abrupt reversal of Russian foreign policy. The
day after the seizure of power the Congress of Soviets adopted a Decree on Peace
drafted by Lenin. This called for an immediate peace without annexations and
indemnities and stated that the new Russian government was ready to begin peace
talks immediately. In the months that followed the Bolsheviks exposed the capitalist
nature of the war and called on all workers to repudiate the aggressive policies of their
governments. They published the secret treaties on the post-war division of Europe
and Asia which the Tsarist government had made with the Allies. They renounced
Tsarist Russia’s aim of controlling the Dardanelles, and voluntarily gave up the
Russian ‘spheres of influence’ in China and Iran which had been extorted by force
from governments too weak to resist. They proclaimed the right of ‘selfdetermination’
and allowed Finns, Poles, Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians to
secede and become independent states. These actions won sympathy for the
Bolsheviks among the workers throughout the world.
Lenin’s government, however, soon showed a different attitude towards breakaway
movements in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Georgia, which had been recognised
as independent in 1919, was reoccupied by Russian troops in 1921 and the two other
areas were incorporated in it. When the British Labour Party protested and proposed a
referendum to find out the wishes of the population, Lenin ridiculed the idea and
proposed that the British Government start by evacuating India and Ireland and
having referenda in those countries. (David Shub, ‘Lenin’, Pelican Books 1966, page
Trotsky, who had been appointed Commissar for Foreign Affairs, declared that in this
field there were two tasks. To end the “shameful and criminal slaughter which is
destroying Europe” and to aid the coming revolution which would overthrow
capitalism in Europe.
It is to the credit of the Bolsheviks that they did put a stop to the slaughter on the
eastern Front. An armistice and then peace were quickly concluded with the Central
Powers. That peace for Russia was not maintained was not their fault, for after
defeating Germany the victorious Allies turned on Soviet Russia. In the period 1918-
20 a state of undeclared war existed between Russia and the Allies. British, French,
Japanese and other troops occupied parts of Russia and aided the reactionaries who
were seeking to restore the Tsarist regime.
The Bolsheviks were however deluding themselves in thinking that a socialist
revolution in Europe was imminent. Yet in the early days of the revolution their
policies were based on this hope: Zinoviev, the first president of the Communist
International which was set up in 1919, wrote on 1 May 1919 that “in a year the
whole of Europe will be communist”.
As their dreams of a European revolution faded the Bolsheviks were forced to pursue
a more realistic policy. Their aim became to get international recognition as the
legitimate government of Russia. In March 1921 an Anglo-Soviet trade agreement
was signed and in 1922 the Bolshevik government was invited to an international
conference in Genoa. Later in the year the treaty of Rapallo with Germany was
signed. The Bolsheviks justified these moves as a means of gaining time by playing
off capitalist states against each other. But with the failure of the insurrection led by
the Comintern in Bulgaria and Germany in 1923, the Bolshevik government, now
coming increasingly under the control of the Stalin group, began to abandon all hope
of a world revolution and to concentrate on building up industrial strength at home.
During the years that followed the Bolshevik government gradually gained
international recognition but was still not fully accepted as a respectable member of
the international capitalist community. It denounced the League of Nations as a
“league of bandits”. Lip service was still paid to the aim of world revolution and in
1927 the Comintern did try an insurrection in China which once again failed. This
was to be the last of such experiments in insurrection.
With the rise of Germany under the Hitler government, the Bolsheviks changed their
policy to one of actively seeking friendship of the rest of the capitalist world. In 1934
Russia applied for membership of the “league of bandits” and signed a Defence Pact
with France. The aim of this policy was to use the League to organise the capitalist
states opposed to Germany to deter any aggression which might deter any aggression
which might endanger Russian interests. The Comintern, now entirely purged of
opposition elements, became a simple tool of Russian foreign policy. The various
Communist Parties dropped their pseudo-revolutionary talk and campaigned for a
‘popular front against fascism’. The slogan ‘world revolution’ was openly replaced by
‘defence of the Soviet Union’.
The first shock for those who thought of Russia as an anti-imperialist, peace-loving
state came in 1939 with the Russian attack on Finland. Three months before this, in
August 1939, Ribbentrop flew to Moscow to sign a Russo-German non-aggression
Pact. This change represented a recognition that their previous policy of using the
League of Nations as a deterrent had failed. The new policy was a return to power
politics; an attempt to gain security by playing off the other European powers against
each other. The Pact was followed by secret agreements for the division of Eastern
Europe into Russian and German ‘spheres of influence’. Russia was to have the Baltic
Republics and part of Poland. These agreements were put into effect almost
immediately. Russia also took the opportunity to annex a part of Rumania. In the end
this policy too was a failure and in June 1941 Russia was brought into the world-wide
slaughter which had begun in Europe nearly two years previously.
The Bolsheviks had denounced the First World War as a “predatory war” for the
redivision of the world amongst the imperialist powers. The Second World War was
no different, but now Bolshevik Russia was one of the predatory powers. On coming
to power the Bolsheviks had denounced secret diplomacy and called for a peace
without annexations or indemnities. During the Second World War Russia was a party
to the secret agreements for the post-war division of the world made at the Yalta
conference in 1945. at this and other conferences Russia made a number of claims: for
a base in Turkey to control the Dardanelles; for a UN trusteeship in Libya; for “the
former rights of Russia violated by the treacherous attack of Japan in 1904” (a war
which the Bolsheviks opposed at the time). On top of this, ten thousand million
dollars reparations was demanded from Germany. All these claims were not accepted
by the other powers, but as the Red Army overran Eastern Europe, more parts of the
former Tsarist Empire were annexed including the Baltic republics, Latvia, Estonia
and Lithuania. In Asia parts of China and Japan were annexed. The Red Army also
marched into Northern Iran and while there forced the government to accept an
agreement giving Russia fifty years’ control of the oil industry in the region which
before 1914 had been a Tsarist Russia ‘sphere of interest’. (Under American and
was once again a fully-fledged imperialist power, strong enough to impose its will on
weaker states.
After the war Russia extended its political control over all Eastern Europe: Poland,
Czechoslovakia, Albania, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Rumania and parts of
Germany and Austria. These areas were not actually annexed though they might well
have been. Their industries were looted to rebuild Russian industry without regard to
the effect on the workers; and their trade was entirely in Russian hands. Just after the
war Russian power in Europe was greater than it had been under the Tsars.
The Western powers, which had just beaten off an attempt by Germany and Japan to
dislodge them as dominant world powers did not look kindly at Russian expansion in
Europe. After the Russian coup in Czechoslovakia in 1948 it became obvious to the
American government that Russia represented a new threat to their dominant position
and they determined to act. They put on the Berlin airlift to break the Russian
blockade in 1948, and in 1949 organised NATO.
The years that followed were those of the cold war. The older and fatter bandits used
their strength to try to keep a newer bandit in his place.
Although the Comintern had been dissolved in 1943 to please the Allies, the
Communist parties outside Russia were once again brought in to serve the aims of
Russian foreign policy. By their patriotic flag-waving during the war and their claim
to be anti-fascist these parties had built up some support and sympathy. This was now
to be turned to good use through a bogus ‘peace campaign’. The pre-war slogans of a
‘people’s front’ were replaced by slogans for ‘peace’. The Russian rulers calculated
that, with a strong pacifist sentiment at home, the Western powers would not be
prepared to react so decisively against Russian attempts to expand at their expense.
Many of the twists of Russian foreign policy since the end of the war – as of foreign
policies of the Western powers – were prompted by the development of nuclear
weapons, the re-emergence of Germany in the European economic community and
the growing military power of China.
During the rise of the Hitler regime the Russian government had held the view,
proclaimed by Foreign Minister Molotov at the time of the Stalin-Hitler pact of
friendship in 1939, “we have always held that a strong Germany is an indispensable
condition for durable peace in Europe”. After the war this was turned into its opposite,
that of preventing them from having nuclear weapons.
These were the years during which Russia was trying to overtake the American lead
in nuclear armaments and the Attlee Labour government in Britain was building its
own atomic bomb and starting work on the H-bomb. The Russian government’s view,
faithfully echoed in the Communist Daily Worker, was that the first Russian atom
bomb was “tremendous news” calculated to encourage “peace-loving people
everywhere” (24 September 1949), but the British bomb was “an unmitigated curse”,
“a coward’s weapon, designed for the unrestrained massacre of the civilian
population.” (18 February 1952.)
From 1958 to 1961 America, Russia and Britain suspended nuclear tests and thus
halted for a time the hideous poisoning of the world’s atmosphere with atomic fallout.
The Russian government then resumed massive tests in the air, including the
explosion of the megaton bomb, on the cynical plea that they had a ‘right’ to make the
tests the Americans had made earlier.
During this period Russia and China had been seeing more eye to eye in foreign
affairs and Russia had helped China with its own nuclear development. Then relations
worsened – Russia provided military help to India in its conflict with China and
Chinese propaganda began to include claims on Russian territories; frontier incidents
were reported. There were too, mutual accusations of having ‘betrayed the revolution’
and of being capitalist and fascist. Already in 1963 the British Communist Party was
criticising the Chinese government’s policy of equipping itself with nuclear missiles.
(Daily Worker, 17 august 1963.) as Russia’s relations with china turned to cold war so
Russian-American relations became less overtly hostile.
In 1963 a Test Ban treaty was negotiated and in 1966-7 talks were going on between
the American and Russian governments about the possibility of mutual agreement not
to embark on an enormously expensive plan to defend their cities with anti-missile
defence systems.
Only the future can tell whether this is the beginning of a new international line-up of
the powers.
The history of Russian foreign policy since 1917 is the history of the abandonment of
revolutionary slogans for ‘realistic’ policies designed to further the interests of Russia
as a great capitalist state.

Next Chapter 10

Estableciendo los fundamentos para la dictadura de los Bolcheviques

Laying the foundations

Workers Against Lenin. Labour Protest and the Bolshevik Dictatorship 1920-22. By Jonathan Aves. IB Taurus.

A so-called Workers' State that oppressed the workers was not just a feature of Russia under Stalin. It also existed under Lenin and Trotsky; in fact, it was they who laid the foundations for the reinforced dictatorship Stalin later built up.

In 1920 the Civil War ended and the Western powers' blockade of Russia was lifted. The workers, who had suffered terribly from food and fuel shortages and from harsh labour discipline, expected improvements in their conditions. The Bolshevik government, however, made no immediate steps in this direction. The result was a wave of labour discontent which lasted until 1922 and which Jonathan Aves here analyses in detail on the basis of contemporary Russian press reports and other archive material.

The coming of peace led to a debate in the Bolshevik Party as to how to deal with the working class. Trotsky, fresh from his military success as commander-in-chief of the Red Army, notoriously favoured the militarisation of labour; which would have meant that absenteeism would be treated as desertion and strikes as mutinies, to be punished in accordance with the terms of the military code of discipline. Lenin was more flexible; he wanted to maintain the Bolshevik dictatorship at all costs and was prepared to make some concessions to the workers to achieve this. Another group, known as the "Workers' Opposition", composed largely of Bolshevik trade unionists, was more favourable to the demands of the workers.

Russian workers at this time had many grievances. They objected to not being allowed time off to search for food and wood in the countryside. They objected to having to work compulsory unpaid overtime on traditional holidays, even on May Day. They objected to their unions being taken over by the Bolsheviks and turned into organs of managerial control, labour discipline and speed-up. In a number of places they went on strike and elected as their representatives members of the non-Bolshevik anti-Tsarist parties such as the Mensheviks and the anarchists.

Lenin was not amused. The strikes were suppressed. Many of the strikers were sent to labour camps. Some were shot. Some concessions were finally made but not until 1921 when Lenin announced to the 10th Congress of the Bolshevik Party a "new economic policy" which, among other things, allowed local peasant markets, where the workers had traditionally bought their food but which the Bolsheviks had suppressed, to operate again.

But there was a price --the suppression of the few remaining vestiges of independent trade unionism that had managed to survive the first years of the Bolshevik dictatorship. The unions became incorporated into the state; in fact, ceased to be unions, becoming instead organs of the state similar to the Labour Front Hitler later set up in Germany. This, let it be noted, was done under Lenin and Trotsky and was not a product of a later "Stalinism". The Menshevik leaders were forced into exile. The "Workers' Opposition" --and all other "factions"-- within the Bolshevik Party was banned, so establishing the principle of "monolithic unity" of which the next victim was to be one of its main architects . . . Trotsky.

From a socialist point of view the Bolsheviks had got themselves into an impossible position. Having seized power as a minority in a country where socialism was not possible for all sorts of reasons (economic backwardness, isolation from the rest of the world, lack of a majority will for socialism), they had no alternative but to do the only thing that was possible: to continue to develop capitalism.

The Bolsheviks found themselves in the position of having to preside over --and, in fact, to organise-- the accumulation of capital. But, as capital is accumulated out of surplus value and surplus value is obtained by exploiting wage-labour, this inevitably brought them into conflict with the workers who, equally inevitably, sought to limit their exploitation. The Bolsheviks justified opposing and suppressing these workers' struggles on the ground that they (the Bolsheviks) represented the longer-term interests of the workers. But did they?

Certainly, they claimed to be acting to further the cause of socialism, but Marx when formulating his materialist conception of history had already pointed out that you shouldn't judge a historical movement by what it said --and genuinely thought- it was doing but on what, objectively, it did. And objectively what the Bolsheviks did was to develop capitalism in Russia in the form of what Lenin himself in his more honest moments called state capitalism.

(December 1996)

Porque Rusia nunca fue Socialista


What We Said Over The Years


When we are told that Socialism has been obtained in Russia without the long, hard and tedious work of educating the mass of workers in Socialism we not only deny it but refer our critics to Lenin's own confessions. His statements prove that even though a vigorous and small minority may be able to seize power for a time, they can only hold it by modifying their plans to suit the ignorant majority. The minority in power in an economically backward country are forced to adapt their programme to the undeveloped conditions and make continual concessions to the capitalist world around them. Offers to pay war debts to the Allies, to establish a Constituent Assembly, to compensate capitalists for losses, to cease propaganda in other countries, and to grant exploitation rights throughout Russia to the Western capitalists all show how far along the capitalist road they have had to travel and how badly they need the economic help of other countries. It shows above all that their loud and defiant challenge to the capitalist world has been silenced by their own internal and external weaknesses as we have so often predicted in these pages.

( . . .)

We have often stated that because of a large anti-Socialist peasantry and vast untrained population, Russia was a long way from Socialism. Lenin has now to admit this by saying: 'Reality says that State Capitalism would be a step forward for us; if we were able to bring about State Capitalism in a short time it would be a victory for us. How could they be so blind as not to see that our enemy is the small capitalist, the small owner? How could they see the chief enemy in State Capitalism? In the transition from Capitalism to Socialism our chief enemy is the small bourgeoisie, with its economic customs, habits and positions' (The Chief Tasks of Our Times, p. 11).

(. . .)

Here we have plain admissions of the unripeness of the great mass of Russian people for Socialism and the small scale of Russian production.

If we are to copy Bolshevik policy in other countries we should have to demand State Capitalism, which is not a step to Socialism in advanced capitalist countries. The fact remains, as Lenin is driven to confess, that we do not have to learn from Russia, but Russia has to learn from lands where large scale production is dominant.

(. . .)

That Socialism can only be reached through State Capitalism is untrue. Socialism depends upon large-scale production, whether organised by Trusts or Governments. State Capitalism may be the method used in Russia, but only because the Bolshevik Government find their theories of doing without capitalist development unworkable --hence they are forced to retreat along the capitalist road.

--"A Socialist View of Bolshevist Policy", Socialist Standard, July 1920.

* * * * *

We have always contended that the Bolsheviks could only maintain power by resorting to capitalist devices. History has shown us to be correct. The January 1920 Congress of Executive Communists in Russia abolished the power of workers' control in factories and installed officials instructed by Moscow and given controlling influence. Their resolutions printed in most of the Labour papers and the Manchester Guardian here show how economic backwardness has produced industrial conscription with heavy penalties for unpunctuality, etc. The abolition of democracy in the army was decreed long ago, but now that the army is being converted by Trotsky into a labour army it means rule from the top with an iron hand.

Russia has agreed to repay foreign property-owners their losses and allied Governments their 'debts'. This means continued exploitation of Russian workers to pay foreign exploiters.

With all the enthusiasm of the Communists they find themselves faced with the actual conditions in Russia and the ignorance of the greater part of its population.

There is no easier road to Socialism than the education of the workers in Socialism and their organisation to establish it by democratic methods. Russia has to learn that.

--"The Super-Opportunists. A Criticism of Bolshevist Policy", Socialist Standard, August 1920.

* * * * *


The Bolsheviks will probably remain in control for the simple reason that there is no one in Russia capable of taking their place. It will be a question largely as to whether they will be able to stand the strain, for the task is a heavy one, and they are by no means overcrowded with capable men. But this control will actually resolve itself into control for, and in the interests of, the Capitalists who are willing to take up the development of raw materials and industry in Russia. The New Economic Policy points the way.

--"The Passing of Lenin", Socialist Standard, March 1924.

* * * * *


Trotsky presents a long list of remedies which serve only to confirm what we have always said as to the necessity for Russia to go through capitalism. Trotsky does not admit this in so many words. In fact, he vigorously denounces Stalin's 'capitalist tendencies'. But when we examine his programme we find that it is all based implicitly on the continuance of capitalism in Russia until such time as a developed capitalist industry and a Socialist revolution outside Russia make Socialism possible.

Most of his proposals might have been lifted out of the programme of any trade union in Germany or England: 'Equal pay for equal work', less overtime; more unemployment pay; no more Government faking of labour and industrial statistics; retail prices to be brought down to the world price level; no profiteering by capitalist middlemen; no increase in the rents of working class houses; every effort to be made to lower the cost of production in order to promote the growth of industry; more taxes on rich peasants; abolition of the State sale of Vodka, etc. A long programme of reforms, but no mention of the abolition of capitalist farming, capitalist trading and capitalist investment. Both Trotsky and Stalin draw up their programmes within the framework of state and private capitalism which prevails in Russia.

--"Trotsky States His Case", Socialist Standard, December 1928.

* * * * *


The facts given in this Year-Book sufficiently illustrate how illusory the communist dreams have been. Like many pious hopes embodied in the official documents and constitutions of the rest of the capitalist world these phrases have no relation whatever to the actual facts. Russian capitalism, although administered by the Communist Party, reproduces almost down to the last detail the paraphernalia of the capitalist world as we know it here.

The lesson of this is the one we have tried to drive home for so many years, that it is not possible for a minority to impose Socialism upon a majority who are hostile or indifferent; nor is it possible to remedy backward economic development by means of fine-sounding but ineffective decrees, issued by dictators.

--"Russia: Land of High Profits (review of Soviet Union Year-Book 1930), Socialist Standard, September 1930.

* * * * *


As Russia has not established Socialism and is not doing so in spite of the repeated statements of Communists, it has to carry on its work and build up its industries on lines similar to normal capitalist countries; it must therefore enter into normal trade relations with the rest of the world, and it does so.

(. . .)

When, in 1924, the Bolsheviks decided to throw overboard the 'world revolution' (except as a mere phrase to give lip-service to) and to concentrate on building up the internal resources of the country on the plea that they were building up Socialism in a single country (a complete reversal of their former views), the Communists of the world, who take their policy from Moscow, have simply been used to help on this object.

The foreign policy of Russia is aimed at living more or less amicably with the rest of the capitalist world, and they can only do this because they are building as the capitalists do.

Socialism is a system diametrically opposed to capitalism and impossible in a predominantly capitalist world. It is impossible in one country alone, owing to international economic interdependence. It is international not national.

The extravagant claims held out of the success of Socialism in Russia have one by one been proved by time to be groundless and Russia is rapidly approaching the stage of taking its place as a first-class capitalist power.

--"Changing Russia", Socialist Standard, September 1934.

* * * * *


Russia is not a Socialist country --its low industrial productivity and the non-Socialist outlook of the vast majority of its population do not bring such a thing within the realms of present possibility. It is based on various forms of State capitalism. Goods are produced, not for use only, but for sale at a profit. Industry is carried on largely on lines familiar to us in the Post office and other State-capitalist organisations outside Russia. The Russian Government borrows from investors (mostly Russian citizens) hundreds of millions of pounds for investment in industry, and pays them a high rate of interest on their investments; this payment to the investors being the first charge on industry. Inside the industries there are the same kind of gradations of pay as in capitalist industry generally from the mass of workers on or about the bare subsistence level at the bottom up through numerous grades to the very favoured few at the top who can enjoy the most pleasant and interesting work and live on a high standard of comfort and luxury.

--"The New Russian Constitution", Socialist Standard, January 1937.

* * * * *


Certainly Russia has its privileged section of the population and they will buy (because they can afford to do so) the bulk of the luxury articles which the average worker cannot afford. These privileged people are the party officials, technical experts, writers, doctors, lawyers, etc. Some of these people receive incomes a hundred times bigger than that of the average worker. With the legality of inheritance in force, accumulation of wealth is today bound to be taking place in Russia among the wealthy. They are the exploiters, and the Dean is wrong when he says (p. 282) 'exploitation of man by man is entirely abolished'. They can obtain their big incomes only out of the wealth produced by the workers.

--"Is Russia Socialist?" (review of The Socialist Sixth of the World by Hewlett Johnson, Dean of Canterbury), Socialist Standard, July 1943.

* * * * *


The reader of these reprinted articles will have seen that the attitude of the SPGB has been consistent from the start of the Bolshevik regime. We said then as we say now, that it is impossible for Socialism to be imposed from above even if the minority who hold power genuinely have that as their object.

The articles are important also to help to combat the efforts of various political groups which seek to discredit the Socialist movement by holding up Russia as a proof of the impossibility of abolishing capitalism. It is not true that Marxian Socialists at first approved of the Bolshevik dictatorship and Bolshevik policy and only later discovered that Socialism would not be the outcome. As these articles prove, the SPGB foresaw from the first that the attempt must fail.

Nor is it correct that the failure in Russia has been the failure of the men in control --though dictatorship inevitably corrupts those who wield it-- it has been the failure of the whole mistaken policy of the Bolsheviks. Had Lenin lived or Stalin died the result would not have been appreciably different.

--Postscript to Russia Since 1917 pamphlet, 1948.

* * * * *


The 1917 Revolution overthrew Tsarist Absolutism and allowed nascent capitalist industry to develop more freely and rapidly, but only at the expense of submitting the country to a more barbarous absolutism, the Stalinist regime. Now this absolutism has in its turn become a fetter on capitalist expansion and is being cast aside.

(. . .)

Russia now has the productive forces of a developed capitalist country yet still the political regime of a developing country. This contradiction shows itself in the disagreement between the liberal and conservative elements in Russia, in the campaign against police excesses, in the demand for more freedom of expression in poetry and art, in the Liberman controversy and in anti-Stalinism. Russian industry has developed to such a stage that political and other changes are required before it can develop further. Once liberalisation has triumphed in Russia, as it will, the capitalist character of Russian industry will have become more obvious. Russia will lose its attraction in 'left-wing' circles. History, by destroying the illusion that Russia is Socialist, will once again have done our work for us.

--"Changing Russia", Socialist Standard, August 1963.

* * * * *


The social system in Russia can be described as capitalist since the essential features of capitalism predominate: class monopoly of the means of production, commodity production, wage-labour and capital accumulation. (. . .)

A class is made up of people who are in the same position with regard to the ownership and use of the means of wealth-production and distribution. One class has a monopoly over these means of production if the rest of society are allowed access to them only on terms imposed by the group in control. This monopoly does not have to be legally recognised though in fact, as in Britain, this is generally so. Here the privileged minority, the capitalist class, have titles backed by law to the wealth they own. In Russia the ownership of the privileged minority is generally not given formal legal backing, but, as in Britain, they maintain their monopoly through control over the machinery of government. They occupy the top posts in the party, government, industry and the armed forces. Their ownership of the means of production is not individual but collective: they own as a class. Historically this is not a new development as is shown by the position of the Catholic church in feudal times. The privileged class in Russia draw their 'property income' in the form of bloated salaries, bonuses, large monetary 'prizes' awarded by the government, and other perks attaching to the top posts.

--from chapter "Capitalism in Russia" in pamphlet Russia 1917-1967, 1967.

* * * * *


If it is implemented --and it remains to be seen whether or not this reform will suffer the fate of previous ones-- perestroika will represent a fundamental change in the form of capitalism that has existed in Russia until now. It will represent a transition from centrally planned commodity-production and exchange to a more competitive system in which the competing units would be, as in the West, legally and economically autonomous enterprises. The economic laws of capitalism will come to operate in Russia through competition rather than through the State which (. . .) has proved to be an inadequate substitute.

--"Where Is Russia Going,", Socialist Standard, September 1988.

* * * * *


It is the longer-term implications of the decision to abandon the Leninist principle of one-party dictatorship that could prove to be the most significant though, as this could herald a change in the way the means of production are monopolised in Russia with the ruling class there changing itself from a class of collective owners into a class of individual owners as in the West.

(. . .)

The transformation of the Russian ruling class from a collectively-owning state bureaucracy into a class of private capitalists with private property rights vested in them as individuals certainly won't take the form of the present members of the nomenklatura abdicating and handing over their power and privileges to the small group of privately-owning capitalists who have always led a precarious existence on the margins of the Russian state-capitalist economy. Nor would it need to take the crude form of them simply dividing up the presently state-owned industries amongst themselves. It would be more likely to take the form of the Russian government gradually introducing more and more opportunities for private capitalist investment --which only those who have already accumulated wealth would be able to take advantage of. Most of these will inevitably be individual members of the nomenklatura as the group which for years has enjoyed bloated salaries, cash prizes and opportunities to speculate on the black market (. . .).

Gorbachev (. . .) realises that it is now no longer possible for the nomenklatura to rule in the old way and that some sort of flexibility is called for, if only to be able to push through perestroika without provoking a workers' revolt. He probably isn't consciously working towards ushering in a Russia where the nomenklatura has disappeared as such and has succeeded in converting itself into a class of Western-type privately-owning capitalists, but it is in this direction that his reforms can now be seen to be leading.

--"Russia and Private Property", Socialist Standard, April 1990.

(November 1997)