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Perry Anderson

Trotsky’s Interpretation of Stalinism

Trotsky’s interpretation of the historical meaning of Stalinism, to this day the


most coherent and developed theorization of the phenomenon within the
Marxist tradition, was constructed in the course of twenty years of practical
political struggle against it. His thought thus evolved in tension with the major
conflicts and events of these years, and can be conveniently periodized into
three essential phases.*

Trotsky’s early writings on the subject date from the inner-party struggle that
broke out in the CPSU after the Civil War. They do not name Stalinism as such.
Their focus is what party tradition called ‘bureaucratism’. The New Course
(1923) is the key text of this period. In it, Trotsky took over the two major
terms of what had been Lenin’s explanations of this before his death.
Bureaucratism, Lenin had argued, was rooted in the lack of culture of the
Russian masses, rural or urban, that deprived them of the necessary aptitudes
for competent postwar administration, and in the petty-commodity and
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subsistence character of the agrarian economy, whose immense dispersal of
the primary producers rendered inevitable an over-centralization of the
state apparatus in Russia. Trotsky subjoined a third cause—the inevitable
contradiction between the immediate and long-term interests of the
working class, amidst the great shortages and dire exigencies of postwar
construction. More significantly, however, he insisted that bureaucratism
was not ‘only the aggregate of the bad habits of office-holders’, but
represented ‘a social phenomenon—a definite system of administration of
men and things’.1 The main locus of this phenomenon was the state
apparatus, but the latter—by absorbing ‘an enormous quantity of the
most active party elements’2—was infecting the Bolshevik Party itself.
The expression of this contamination was the increasing dominance of
the central apparatus within the party, operating through an appoint-
ments system, repressing democratic debate, and dividing the Old Guard
from the rank-and-file and younger generation. This development posed
the danger of a ‘bureaucratic degeneration’3 of the Old Guard itself.
Bureaucratism was thus—here Trotsky broke clearly beyond Lenin’s
analysis—‘not a survival of some preceding regime, a survival in the
process of disappearing; on the contrary, it is an essentially new
phenomenon, flowing from the new tasks, the new functions, the new
difficulties and the new mistakes of the party’.4
Defeat of the Left Opposition
The New Course warned of the dangers of bureaucratism prior to the
victory of Stalin’s grouping within the CPSU. After the consummation of
that victory, Trotsky’s oppositional writings in the later 1920s attempt to
provide a more comprehensive explanation of the phenomenon. The
Third International after Lenin (1928) is probably the most important text
for his views in this intermediary phase of his thought. There, he
attributes the defeat of the Left Opposition within Russia, which sealed
the triumph of a bureaucratic internal regime, to the downswing of the
international class struggle: above all, the disasters that had overtaken the
German Revolution in 1923 and the Chinese Revolution in 1927,
respectively on the Western and Eastern flanks of the USSR. The shift in
the world balance of class forces to the advantage of capital was inevitably
translated into an increase in alien social pressures on the Bolshevik Party
itself, within Russia. These were in turn compounded by the failure of
Stalin’s faction to pursue rapid industrialization in the USSR to date, which
would have strengthened the countervailing weight of the Soviet
proletariat. After the effects of the First Five-Year Plan became visible,
Trotsky modified this claim to argue that the new ‘labour aristocracy’
created by Stakhanovism, above the mass of the working-class, objecti-
vely functioned as a support of the bureaucratic regime within the party.
Stalin’s own faction, which had won its victory on the social-patriotic
slogan of Socialism in One Country, Trotsky still characterized as a
Centre, poised between the party Right (Bukharin-Rykov-Tomsky) and
the Left, the creature of the permanent apparatus of the CPSU.

* Text of a talk given in Paris in 1982.


1 The New Course, Ann Arbour 1965, p. 45.
2 Ibid, p. 45.
3 Ibid, p. 22.
4 Ibid, p. 24.

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In his autobiography My Life (1929), he sketched what he saw as the
social-psychological mechanisms that had converted so many revolu-
tionaries of 1917 into functionaries of this regime—‘the liberation of the
philistine in the Bolshevik’—as the elan of the insurgent masses declined
in the aftermath of the Civil War, and fatigue and apathy set in, creating a
period of generalized ‘social reaction’ in the USSR. In subsequent essays
on Stalin’s industrialization drive, Trotsky extended the notion of a
factional ‘Centre’ into the more far-ranging category of Stalinist
centrism—arguing that while centrism was an inherently unstable
phenomenon in capitalist countries, a posture mid-way between reform
and revolution in the labour movement, reflecting shifts from left to right
or vice-versa in mass pressures, in the USSR it could acquire a durable
material basis in the bureaucracy of the new workers’ state. The abrupt
zig-zags of Stalin’s policies at home and abroad, from appeasement to
all-out war on the kulaks, from class conciliationism to ultra-leftism in the
Third International, were the logical expression of this centrist character
of his regime, subject to complex and contradictory class pressures on it.
The decisive court of these pressures, however, was international, not
national.
The Four Fundamental Theses

Trotsky’s interpretation of Stalinism, hitherto still fragmentary and


tentative in many respects, became systematic and conclusive from 1933
onwards. The reason, of course, was the triumph of Nazism in Germany,
which convinced Trotsky that the Comintern—for whose rectification of
line he had fought down to the last moment—was now unrecuperable, and
with it the Stalinized CPSU itself. The decision to found a new
International was thus the immediate impulse for his frontal engagement
with the problem of the nature of Stalinism, which for the first time now
became the direct object of extended theoretical interpretation in itself,
rather than an issue treated in the course of texts discussing many other
questions, as previously.
The crucial essay that provides nearly all the main themes of Trotsky’s
mature thought on Stalinism was written within a few months of Hitler’s
seizure of power: The Class Nature of the Soviet State (1933). In it, he set out
the four fundamental theses that were to be the basis of his position down
to his death. Firstly, the role of Stalinism at home and abroad had to be
distinguished. Within the USSR, the Stalinist bureaucracy played a
contradictory role—defending itself simultaneously against the Soviet
working-class, from which it had usurped power, and against the world
bourgeoisie, which sought to wipe out all the gains of the October
Revolution and restore capitalism in Russia. In this sense, it continued to
act as a ‘centrist’ force. Outside the USSR, by contrast, the Stalinized
Comintern had ceased to play any anti-capitalist role, as its debacle in
Germany had now irrevocably proved. Hence ‘the Stalinist apparatus
could completely squander its meaning as an international revolutionary
force, and yet preserve part of its progressive meaning as the gate-keeper
of the social conquests of the proletarian revolution’.5 Soon afterwards,
Trotsky would argue that the Comintern performed an actively
5
The Class Nature of the Soviet State, London 1968, p. 4.

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counter-revolutionary role in world politics, colluding with capital and
shackling labour in the interests of protecting the Stalinist monopoly of
power in Russia itself, which would be threatened by the example of any
victory of a socialist revolution, creating a proletarian democracy,
elsewhere.
Secondly, within the USSR Stalinism represented the rule of a bureaucratic
stratum, emergent from and parasitic upon the working class, not a new
class. This stratum occupied no independent structural role in the process
of production proper, but derived its economic privileges from its
confiscation of political power from the direct producers, within the
framework of nationalized property relations. Thirdly, the administra-
tion over which it presided remained typologically a workers’ state,
precisely because these property relations—embodying the expropriation
of the expropriators achieved in 1917—persisted. The identity and
legitimacy of the bureaucracy as a political ‘caste’ depended on its defense
of them. Therewith, Trotsky dismissed the two alternative accounts of
Stalinism most widespread in the labour movement in the 1930s (which
had emerged within the Second International during the Civil War
itself)—that it represented a form of ‘state capitalism’ or of ‘bureaucratic
collectivism’. The iron dictatorship exercised by the Stalinist police and
administrative apparatus over the Soviet proletariat was not incompatible
with the preservation of the proletarian nature of the state itself—any
more than the Absolutist dictatorships over the nobility had been
incompatible with the preservation of the nature of the feudal state, or the
fascist dictatorships exercised over the bourgeois class were with the
preservation of the nature of the capitalist state. The USSR was indeed a
degenerated workers’ state, but a ‘pure’ dictatorship of the proletariat—
conformable to an ideal definition of it—had never existed in the Soviet
Union in the first instance.
Fourthly and finally, Marxists should adopt a two-fold stance towards the
Soviet state. On the one hand, there was now no chance of the Stalinist
regime either reforming itself or being reformed peacefully within the
USSR. Its rule could only be ended by a revolutionary overthrow from
below, destroying its whole machinery of privilege and repression, while
leaving intact the social property relations over which it presided—if
now within the context of a proletarian democracy. On the other hand,
the Soviet state had to be defended externally against the constant menace
of aggression or attack by the world bourgeoisie. Against this enemy, the
USSR—incarnating as it did the anti-capitalist gains of October—needed
the resolute and unconditional solidarity of revolutionary socialists
everywhere. ‘Every political tendency that waves its hand hopelessly at
the Soviet Union, under the pretext of its “non-proletarian” character,
runs the risk of becoming the passive instrument of imperialism.’6
‘The Revolution Betrayed’

These four corner-stones of Trotsky’s account of Stalinism remained


stable down to his assassination. It was on them that he erected the major
edifice of this study of Soviet society under Stalin: the book entitled Where
6
Ibid, p. 32.

52
is Russia Going? (1936: misleadingly translated as The Revolution Betrayed).
In this work, Trotsky presented a panoramic survey of the economic,
political, social and cultural structures of the USSR in the mid thirties,
combining a wide range of empirical materials with a deeper theoretical
foundation for his analysis of Stalinism. The whole phenomenon of a
repressive workers’ bureaucracy he now anchored in the category of
scarcity (nuzhda), basic to historical materialism since Marx’s formulation
of it in The German Ideology. ‘The basis of bureaucratic rule is the poverty
of society in objects of consumption, with the resulting struggle of each
against all. When there are enough goods in a store, the purchasers can
come whenever they want to. When there is little goods, the purchasers
are compelled to stand in line. When the lines are very long, it is necessary
to appoint a policeman to keep order. Such is the starting-point of the
power of the Soviet bureaucracy. It “knows” who is to get something
and who has to wait.’7 So long as scarcity prevailed, a contradiction was
inevitable between socialized relations of production and bourgeois
norms of distribution: it was this contradiction that fatally produced and
reproduced the constraining power of the Stalinist bureaucracy.
Trotsky then went on to explore each side of the contradiction, assessing
and emphasizing the grandeur of Soviet industrial development, how-
ever barbaric the methods the bureaucracy employed to drive it forward,
while at the same time meticulously exposing the vast gamut of
economic, cultural and social inequalities generated by Stalinism, and
providing statistical estimates of the size and distribution of the
bureaucratic stratum in the USSR itself (some 12–15% of the population).
This bureaucracy has betrayed world revolution, even if it still felt
subjectively loyal to it; yet it remained an irreconcilable enemy in the eyes
of the world bourgeoisie, so long as capitalism was not restored in Russia.
The dynamic of its regime was equally contradictory: on the one hand, the
very development it had promoted at breakneck pace within the USSR was
rapidly increasing the economic and cultural potential of the Soviet
working class, its capacity to rise up against it; while on the other hand its
own parasitism was increasingly an impediment to further industrial
progress. However spectacular the accomplishments of the Five-Year
Plans, Trotsky warned, they still left social productivity of labour far behind
that of Western capitalism, in a gap that would never be closed until a
shift to qualitative growth was achieved, which bureaucratic misrule
precisely blocked.
‘The progressive role of the Soviet bureaucracy coincides with the period
devoted to introducing into the Soviet Union the most important
elements of capitalist technique. The rough work of borrowing,
imitating, transplanting and grafting, was accomplished on bases laid
down by the revolution. There was, thus far, no question of any new
word in the sphere of technique, science or art. It is possible to build
gigantic factories according to a ready-made pattern by bureaucratic
command—although, to be sure, at triple the normal cost. But the farther
you go, the more economy runs into problems of quality, which slips out
of the hands of a bureaucracy like a shadow. The Soviet products are as
though branded with the gray label of indifference. Under a nationalized
7
The Revolution Betrayed, New York 1945, p. 112.

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economy, quality demands a democracy of producers and consumers,
freedom of criticism and initiative.’8 Technological superiority would
rest with imperialism so long as Stalinism persisted, and assure it victory
in any war with the USSR—unless a revolution in the West broke out. The
task of Soviet socialists was to accomplish a political revolution against
the entrenched bureucracy beforehand, whose relation to the socio-
economic revolution of 1917 would be as the change of power in 1830 or
1848 was to the upheaval of 1789 in France in the cycle of bourgeois
revolutions.

In the final two years of his life, as the Second World War started, Trotsky
reiterated his basic perspectives in a series of concluding polemics with
Rizzi, Burnham, Schachtman and other proponents of the notion of
‘bureaucratic collectivism’. The working class was in no way congenitally
incapable of establishing its own sovereign rule over society. The
USSR—‘the most transitional country in a transitional epoch’—lay
between capitalism and socialism, gripped by a ferocious police regime
that yet still defended in its own fashion the dictatorship of the
proletariat. But Soviet experience was an ‘exceptional refraction’ of the
general laws of transition from capitalism to socialism, in a backward
country surrounded by imperialism—not a modal type. The contradic-
tory role of Stalinism at home and abroad had been confirmed by the most
recent episodes of international politics—its counter-revolutionary
sabotage of the Spanish Revolution (beyond its control) contrasted with
its revolutionary abolition of private property in the border regions of
Poland and Finland incorporated by it into the USSR. The duty of Marxists
to defend the Soviet Union against capitalist attack remained undi-
minished. Disillusionment and fatigue were no excuses for renouncing
the classical perspectives of historical materialism. ‘Twenty-five years in
the scales of history, when it is a question of profoundest changes in
economic and cultural systems, weigh less than an hour in the life of man.
What good is the individual who, because of empirical failures in the
course of an hour or a day, renounces a goal that he set for himself on the
basis of the experience and analysis of his entire previous life-time?’9

A Reassessment: Forty Years Later


Another forty years on, we are still only a few hours into that life-time.
Do these hours—which subjectively seem so long—give us reasons to
question Trotsky’s basic judgements? How should we assess the legacy of
his overall perspective on Stalinism?

The merits of Trotsky’s interpretation, it might be said, are three-fold.


Firstly, it provides a theory of the phenomenon of Stalinism in a long
historical temporality, congruent with the fundamental categories of
classical Marxism. At every point in his account of the nature of the
Soviet bureaucracy, Trotsky sought to situate it in the logic of successive
modes of production and transitions between them, with corresponding
class powers and political regimes, that he inherited from Marx, Engels or

8
Ibid, p. 276.
9
In Defense of Marxism, New York 1965, p. 15.

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Lenin. Hence his insistence that the proper optic for defining the relation
of the bureaucracy to the working class was the antecedent and analogous
relationships between absolutism and aristocracy, fascism and bourgeoi-
sie; just as the relevant precedents for its future overthrow would be
political risings such as those of 1830 or 1848 rather than a new 1789.
Because he could think the emergence and consolidation of Stalinism in a
historical time-span of this epochal character, he avoided the explanations
of hasty journalism and improvised confections of new classes or modes
of production, unanchored in historical materialism, which marked the
reaction of many of his contemporaries.
Secondly, the sociological richness and penetration of his survey of the USSR
under Stalin had no equal in the literature of the Left on the subject. Where
is Russia Going? remains a topical masterpiece to this day, by the side of
which the collected articles of Schachtman or Kautsky, the books by
Burnham or Rizzi or Cliff, appear strikingly thin and dated. The major
advances in detailed empirical analysis of the USSR since Trotsky’s time
have largely come from professional scholars working in Sovietological
institutions after the Second World War: Nove, Rigby, Carr, Davies,
Hough, Lane and others. Their findings have essentially developed rather
than contradicated Trotsky’s account, providing us with far greater
knowledge of the inner structures of the Soviet economy and the Soviet
bureaucracy, but without an integrated theory of it such as that
bequeathed by Trotsky. The greatest historical work on the fate of the
Revolution, the writings of Isaac Deutscher, was composed in profound
continuity with this legacy.
Thirdly, Trotsky’s interpretation of Stalinism was remarkable for its
political balance—its refusal of either adulation or commination, for a
sober estimate of the contradictory nature and dynamic of the bureaucra-
tic regime in the USSR. In Trotsky’s life-time, it was the former attitude
that was unusual on the Left, amidst the intoxicated enthusiasm not only
of Communist parties but of so many other observers for the Stalinist
order in Russia. Today, it is the latter attitude that is the more unusual,
amidst the apoplectic denunciation not only by so many observers on the
Left but even within certain Communist parties of the Soviet experience
as such. There is little doubt that it was Trotsky’s firm insistence—so
unfashionable in later years, even among many of his own followers—
that the USSR was in the final resort a workers’ state that was the key to this
equilibrium. Those who rejected this classification for the notions of
‘state capitalism’ or ‘bureaucratic collectivism’ were invariably left with
the difficulty of defining a political attitude towards the entity they had so
categorized. For if one thing was evident about ‘state capitalism’ or
‘bureaucratic collectivism’ in Russia, it was that it lacked any vestige of
the democratic liberties to be found in ‘private capitalism’ in the West.
Should not, therefore, socialists support the latter in a conflict between
the two, as far the lesser—because ‘non-totalitarian’—evil? The logic of
these interpretations, in other words, always ultimately tended (though
with individual, less consistent exceptions) to shift their adherents to the
Right. Kautsky—father of ‘state capitalism’ and ‘bureaucratic collecti-
vism’ alike in the early 1920s—is emblematic of this trajectory;
Schachtman ended his career applauding the US war in Vietnam in the
1960s. The contrasting solidity and discipline of Trotsky’s interpretation
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of Stalinism has only acquired retrospective relief from the attempts to
rethink Stalinism that followed it.
The Limitations of Trotsky’s Analysis

At the same time, like all historical judgements, Trotsky’s theorization of


Stalinism was to reveal certain limits after his death. What were these?
Paradoxically, they concern less the ‘internal’ balance-sheet of Stalinism,
than its ‘external’ record. Domestically, Trotsky’s diagnosis of the motor
and the brake on Russian economic development, so long as bureaucratic
rule persisted, proved extraordinarily accurate. Enormous material
progress was to be registered in the Soviet Union in the four decades after
he died; but labour productivity has revealed itself more and more as the
Achilles heel of the economy, as he predicted. As the epoch of extensive
growth has come to an end, over-centralized authoritarian planning has
proved increasingly unable to effect a transition to qualitative, intensive
growth: a slow-down threatening an entropic crisis for the regime, if
unresolved. The durability of the bureaucracy itself, surviving well past
Stalin, has been greater, of course, than Trotsky imagined in some of his
conjunctural writings; although not a real ‘longevity’ in terms of the
historical time of which he spoke at the end of his life.
Part of the reason for this persistence has probably been the very social
promotion of sectors of the Soviet working class through the channels of
the bureaucratic regime itself—the proletarian recruitment of so many of
whose cadres has often been emphasized by subsequent scholars (Nove,
Rigby, etc.). Another part, of course, has lain in the political atomization
and cultural stunning of the greatly enlarged working class that emerged
during the 1930s—its lack of any pre-Stalinist memory, which Trotsky
underestimated. But by and large, the portrait of Russian society he drew
nearly half a century ago remains arrestingly accurate and contemporary
in its vision today.
Abroad, however, Trotsky’s diagnosis of Stalinism proved more fallible.
There were two reasons for this discrepancy in his prognostications.
Firstly, he erred in qualifying the external role of the Soviet bureaucracy
as simply and unilaterally ‘counter-revolutionary’—whereas in fact it was
to prove profoundly contradictory in its actions and effects abroad, just as
much as it was at home. Secondly, he was mistaken in thinking that
Stalinism represented merely an ‘exceptional’ or ‘aberrant’ refraction of
the general laws of transition from capitalism to socialism, that would be
confined to Russia itself. The structures of bureaucratic power and
mobilization pioneered under Stalin proved to be both more dynamic and
more general a phenomenon on the international plane than Trotsky ever
imagined. He ended his life predicting that the USSR would be defeated in
a war with imperialism, unless revolution broke out in the West. In fact,
for all Stalin’s own criminal blunders, the Red Army threw back the
Wehrmacht and marched victoriously to Berlin, with no aid from a
Western Revolution. European fascism was essentially destroyed by the
Soviet Union (242 German divisions deployed on the Eastern Front to a
mere 22 on the first Western Front in Italy). Capitalism was abolished
over one half of the Continent, by bureaucratic fiat from above—the
Polish and Finnish operations extended to the Elbe. Thereafter, the
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commanded the masses in their assault on power. The states they created
were to be manifestly cognate (not identical: affinal) with the USSR, in their
basic political system. Stalinism, in other words, proved to be not just an
apparatus, but a movement—one capable not only of keeping power in a
backward environment dominated by scarcity (USSR); but of actually
winning power in environments that were yet more backward and
destitute (China, Vietnam)—of expropriating the bourgeoisie and
starting the slow work of socialist construction, even against the will of
Stalin himself. Therewith, one of the equations in Trotsky’s interpreta-
tion undoubtedly fell. Stalinism as a broad phenomenon—that is, a
workers’ state ruled by an authoritarian bureaucratic stratum—did not
merely represent a degeneration from a prior state of (relative) class grace it
could also be a spontaneous generation produced by revolutionary class
forces in very backward societies, without any tradition of either
bourgeois or proletarian democracy. This possibility—whose realization
was to transform the map of the world after 1945—was never envisaged
by Trotsky.

Stalinism Today

In these two critical respects, then, Trotsky’s interpretation of Stalinism


encountered its limits. But they remain consonant with his central
thematic emphasis—the contradictory nature of Stalinism, hostile at once
to capitalist property and to proletarian liberty. His error was, ironically,
only to have thought that this contradiction could be confined to the USSR
itself: whereas Stalinism in One Country was to prove a contradiction in
terms. In pointing out the ways in which Stalinism continued to act as an
‘international revolutionary factor’ here, it should not be necessary to
recall at the same time the ways in which it also continued to act as an
international reactionary factor. Every unpredictable gain had an incalcul-
able price. The multiplication of bureaucratized workers’ states, each
with its own sacred national egoism, has inexorably led to economic,
political and now even armed conflicts between them. The military shield
the USSR can extend to socialist revolutions or national liberation forces in
the Third World also objectively increases the dangers of global nuclear
war. The abolition of capitalism in Eastern Europe has unleashed the
furies of nationalism against Russia, which has in turn responded to
popular aspirations in the region with the most purely reactionary series
of external interventions, repressive and regressive, of the Soviet
bureaucracy anywhere in the world. Czechoslovakia and Poland are only
the latest examples.

Above all, however, while the basic Stalinist model of a transition beyond
capitalism may have propagated itself successfully across the backward
zones of Eurasia, its very geographical extension and temporal prolonga-
tion—complete with the repetition of dementia like the Yezhovschina in
the ‘Cultural Revolution’, and ‘Democratic Kampuchea’—have deeply
tarnished the very idea of socialism in the advanced West, its absolute
negation of proletarian democracy inhibiting the working class from an
assault on capitalism within the structures of bourgeois democracy, and
thereby decisively strengthening the bastions of imperialism in the late
twentieth century. Rien ne se perd, alas. We have still to settle accounts with
57
permanent threat of the ‘socialist camp’ acted as the decisive accelerator
of bourgeois decolonization in Africa and Asia in the postwar epoch.
Without the Second World of the 1940s and 1950s, there would have been
no Third World in the 1960s. The two major forms of historical progress
registered within world capitalism in the past fifty years—the defeat of
fascism, the end of colonialism—have thus been directly dependent on
the presence and performance of the USSR in international politics. In this
sense, it could be argued that, paradoxically, the exploited classes outside
the Soviet Union may have benefited more directly from its existence than
the working class inside the Soviet Union: that on a world-historical scale
the decisive costs of Stalinism have been internal, the gains external.
Yet these effects have, of course, been largely objective and involuntary
processes, rather than the products of conscious intentions of the Soviet
bureaucracy (even the destruction of fascism, which certainly formed no
part of Stalin’s plans in 1940). They testify, nonetheless, to the
contradictory logic of a ‘degenerated workers’ state’—colossally
distorted, yet still persistently anti-capitalist—which Trotsky wrongly
suspended at the Soviet frontier-posts. By the late 60’s, the USSR had even
achieved something like that strategic parity with imperialism which he
had thought impossible under bureaucratic rule, and therewith proved
capable of extending vital economic and military aid to socialist
revolutions and national liberation movements abroad—assuring the
survival of the Cuban Revolution, permitting the victory of the
Vietnamese Revolution, securing the existence of the Angolan Revolu-
tion. Such entirely conscious and deliberate actions—in diametric
contrast to Stalin’s options in Spain, Yugoslavia or Greece—were
precisely those Trotsky had ruled out for the Soviet Union, when he
pronounced it an unequivocally and ubiquitously counter-revolutionary
force beyond its own borders.
The second disconfirmation of Trotsky’s interpretation was more radical.
For him, Stalinism was essentially a bureaucratic apparatus, erected above
a broken working class, in the name of the ‘national-reformist’ myth of
Socialism in One Country. The foreign parties of the Comintern, after
1933, he judged to be simply subordinate instruments of the CPSU,
incapable of making a socialist revolution in their own countries because
to do so would be to act against Stalin’s directives. The most he would
concede was that—in absolutely exceptional cases—insurgent masses
might compel such parties to take power, against their own will. At the
same time, he looked forward above all to the industrialized West as the
theatre of successful socialist advance, inspired by anti-Stalinist parties, in
the wake of the Second World War. In fact, as we know, history took
another turn. Revolution did spread, but to the backward regions of Asia
and the Balkans. Moreover, these revolutions were uniformly organized
and led by local Communist parties professing loyalty to Stalin—Chinese,
Vietnamese, Yugoslavs, Albanian—and modelled in their internal
structures on the CPSU. Far from being passively propelled by the masses
in their countries, these parties actively mobilized and vertically
the immense skein of international consequences and connections,
progressive and regressive, revolutionary and counter-revolutionary,
that followed from the fate that befell the October Revolution, that give
rise to the phenomenon we still call Stalinism today.
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