On Trotskyism Revisited

[Below we reproduce an article for discussion published in the December 1995 issue of Proletarian Path, New Series Vol.II, No.1]

The CPI(M-L)-Liberation has published a collection of Central Party School Papers entitled "Marxism and Indian Revolution." There are altogether three papers, of which we will take up "Trotskyism Revisited" by Arindam Sen.

The author opens this section by saying: "For our present purposes, two questions — or rather two sides of the same question — are highly relevant. These are the Stalin-Trotsky debate on `Socialism in one country’ and Trotskyite theory of world revolution ..."

How does the author present the question of socialism in one country?

He says — "After the death of Lenin, the most fundamental debate that cropped up in the CPSU(B) was: Is it possible to build socialism in one country."

Further — "On the particular question of socialism in one country we must say that in terms of Marxist orthodoxy Trotsky’s position was unassailable." (emphasis added)

But, "Stalin led the majority in the party leadership hammering out a theory of socialism in one country. Of course, it was going too far to attribute this new theory to Lenin which Stalin did presumably to invoke the authority of the deceased leader in the face of Trotsky’s powerful onslaught ..." (emphases added)

This is how the author presents the question of the birth of the theory of the possibility of socialism in one country. As the author is not willing or prepared to completely break his relation with the mainstream of Marxism-Leninism, he adds: "In that particular juncture Trotsky’s insistence on the impossibility of socialism in one country was not only theoretically stale but also politically harmful." (emphasis added)

The students at the Central Party School together with us will naturally be eager to know how the "unassailable position of Trotsky" can be "theoretically stale" and "politically harmful" and how then can it be "unassailable"? Besides that, without stating concretely his that political juncture how can the author justify Stalin? And how, then, "in terms of Marxist orthodoxy" is taken into account in assessing the situation?

Instead of clarity, it becomes more confusing on the most vital issue of the "Stalin-Trotsky debate". This confusion becomes even more confounded when the author further says that though Stalin’s "new theory" of socialism in one country served well the need of that "particular juncture".

"Yet, questions remain or freshly crop up: Was there no truth in Trotsky’s allegation that Stalinist leadership of the USSR and the C.I. often subordinated the interests of the revolutionary struggles in other countries to those of one country where socialism was being built? If so, did that not hurt the cause of the world revolution and thereby Soviet Union’s real long term interests which lay in overcoming isolation?"

And the author quits the stage.

The students of the Central Party School went back not with any clear conception about ‘socialism in one country’ nor about the theory of world revolution of Trotsky BUT with more confusion together with the impression that — 1. Socialism in one country is a "new theory" "hammered out" by Stalin after the death of Lenin; 2. Stalin dishonestly "went too far to attribute this new theory of Stalin" to Lenin with which Lenin had no relation at all; 3. Trotsky’s position was "unassailable" from the point of view of "Marxist orthodoxy" and it was Stalin who revised Marx from the same point of view; and 4. Though socialism in one country served the need of a "particular juncture", it engendered narrow nationalism against the interests of the world revolution.

This is how the Central Party School organised by CPI(ML)-Liberation reviewed the question of socialism in one country.

This is a challenge to Marxism-Leninism. It is also a challenge to the history, theory and practice of the international communist movement and the communist movement in India.

Let us accept the challenge with all seriousness.

The History of the Origin and development of the
Theory of Socialism in One Country (and its Opposition):

During the first world war when nation states were warring amongst themselves, a slogan of United States of Europe emerged in the international socialist movement. Lenin, in an article entitled "The United States of Europe slogan" in 1915 wrote — "As a separate slogan, however, the slogan of a United States of the World would hardly be correct one, firstly, because it merges with socialism, secondly, because, it may give rise to a wrong interpretation in the sense of the impossibility of the victory of socialism in a single country and about the relation of such a country to the rest.

"Uneven economic and political development is an absolute law of capitalism. Hence the victory of socialism is possible first in several or even in one capitalist country alone. The victorious proletariat of that country having expropriated the capitalists and having organised socialist production would stand up against the rest of the capitalist world, attracting to its cause the oppressed classes of other countries raising revolts in these countries against the capitalists and in the event of necessity coming out even with armed force against the exploiting classes and their states..." (emphases added — C.W. Vol.21,p.342)

Again, in September 1916, Lenin, in his article The Military Programme of the Proletarian Revolution wrote:

"... The development of capitalism proceeds extremely unevenly in different countries. It cannot be otherwise under commodity production. From this follows irrefutably that socialism cannot achieve victory simultaneously in all countries. It will achieve victory first in one or several countries, while others will for some time remain bourgeois or pre-bourgeois ...." (Ibid.,23;p.79, emphasis in italics added)

This is how the theory of socialism in one country originated. The above two quotations from Lenin irrefutably prove that it was he and not Stalin who was the author of theory of socialism in one country. The economic basis of socialism in one country is not any "particular juncture" and so not utilitarian, but the operation of the absolute law of uneven development of capitalism both in the spheres of economics and politics. This is a general theory meant for all capitalist countries, and in its application to a particular country analysis of the concrete condition of that country is required.

How can, then it be called a "new theory" propounded by Stalin after Lenin’s death. Stalin only analysed the then (1925) concrete conditions of the Soviet Union on the basis of Lenin’s general theory of socialism in one country and the international situation in particular. If the question of "Marxist orthodoxy" can at all arise, it was not Stalin but Lenin who is to be blamed. Stalin only followed Lenin. It is not clear why Arindam Sen says "in terms of Marxist orthodoxy" "Trotsky’s position was unassailable"? It cannot be said without renouncing and denouncing Leninism. And as a result, his "in terms of Marxist orthodoxy" confuses his real identity. The question arises whether he is an "orthodox Marxist" or a Marxist-Leninist. It is clear that the author has quite deliberately erased from the pages of history of the origin and development of the theory of possibility of socialism in one country with a view to prove himself a Leninist — but not `Stalinist’. It is the silly old `tactics’ of the Trotskyites by which they fight against Lenin and Leninism. That is why the author calls the theory of socialism in one country a "new theory" of Stalin — as if one can be a Leninist while opposing Stalin!

It may be noted that the very theory of the possibility of socialism in one country of Lenin was opposed by the very same Trotsky in 1915 when Trotsky was anti-Lenin and anti-Bolshevik. Opposing Lenin’s theory of socialism in one country Trotsky called Lenin "a narrow nationalist" as he later called Stalin in 1925 in the Stalin-Trotsky debate. Trotsky in opposing Lenin wrote in 1915 in Nashe Slovo (Our World) — ".... It would be hopeless to think— as historical experience and theoretical considerations testify — that for example a revolutionary Russia could hold out in the face of a conservative Europe or that a socialist Germany could exist in isolation in a capitalist world. To accept the perspective of a social revolution within national bounds is to fall a prey to that very national narrow mindedness which constitutes the essence of social patriotism." (emphasis added)

Trotsky flung the same argument at Stalin.

Arindam Sen has managed to forget all this. Why? Only to "prove" that Lenin had no relation with the theory of the possibility of socialism in one country. Sen claims to be a Marxist — orthodox or non-orthodox — but writes history like an idealist skepticist or rather "professorially." He speaks of the theory of the possibility of socialism in one country, but does not relate it with its origin and development, its economic and material basis and presents it as an utilitarian theory — as a product of Stalin’s opportunist brain. There is not an iota of historical materialism in Sen’s "Challenges to Marxism today". In fact, Lenin’s theory of socialism in one country in general developed as the theory of socialism in one country in particular, in the Soviet Union, within the very framework of that general theory. And Trotsky’s opposition to the theory of socialism in one country in general developed into a particular (in the Soviet Union) also within the framework of his general stand. This was the general relation of Lenin with the particular theory of socialism in one country, in the Soviet Union. Did Lenin have anything to do with the theory of socialism in one country, in the Soviet Union in particular? Yes. And we will also come to that point.

There is no gainsaying the fact that neither Lenin nor Stalin or anyone else in the Bolshevik Party thought to the possibility of building socialism singly in Russia before or immediately after the November revolution. But it is also a fact that it was Lenin and not Stalin who first envisaged not only the possibility but also the dire necessity of building socialism in the Soviet Union alone, single handedly. Lenin was not a man of that mettle who would give up the dictatorship of the proletariat — once won — in the Soviet Union so easily and would retreat simply because history was not turning out exactly that way the "theorists" had wanted. So, when someone says that Lenin had no relation with the theory of socialism in one country, he not only distorts the facts of history and theory but also debases himself.

Lenin and Socialism in the Soviet Union Alone

It is undoubtedly true that after the November revolution Lenin said in March 1918, at the Seventh Congress of the Party:

"Regraded from the world historical point of view, there would doubtlessly be no hope of the ultimate victory of our revolution if it were to remain alone, if there were no revolutionary movements in other countries. When the Bolshevik Party tackled the job alone it did so in the firm conviction that the revolution was maturing in all countries and that in the end — but not at the very beginning — no matter what defeats were in store for us, the world socialist revolution would come, because it is coming, would mature because it is maturing and will reach full maturity. I repeat our salvation from all these difficulties is an all-European revolution." (C.W., vol. 27, p.95; emphasis added)

On the third anniversary of the November Revolution, November 6, 1920, Lenin said: "We knew at that time that our victory would be a lasting one only when our cause had triumphed the world over, and so when we began working for our cause, we counted exclusively one world revolution.... We staked our chances on world revolution and were undoubtedly right in doing so." (Vol. 31. p.397-98, emphasis added)

Many similar quotations on the exclusive dependence on European revolution can be given, but the above two are more than enough. This proves that Lenin’s theory of the possibility of socialism in one country in general had no place as far as Russia was concerned. And the Trotskyites are very much fond of quoting these to "prove" that Lenin’s theory of the possibility of socialism in one country had no relation with Stalin’s socialism in one country, in the Soviet Union. But these quotations about chances of the lasting victory of the Russian Revolution are half truths and half truths are always untruths. The dishonest Trotskyites are afraid of quoting the other half from Lenin’s writings as we shall see presently.

Socialism in one country, in the Soviet Union, was imposed by the cruel hand of history. It was neither desired nor cherished by Lenin and the Bolsheviks. So long victory or defeat in the civil and interventionist wars was hanging on a thin thread, Lenin tried his utmost to save the dictatorship of the proletariat even at the cost of some of the ideals of the Paris Commune in the expectation of a revolution in Europe. The paramount question then was: how can the socialist revolution be firmly secured or at least maintained in one country until it was joined by other countries.

But there was no revolution. Meanwhile a ‘miracle’ happened. And that ‘miracle’ was the immediate political basis of socialism in one country, in Russia alone in practice . What was that ‘miracle’? The revolution came out victorious in civil and interventionist wars without any revolution in Europe on which the Bolsheviks staked their chances. What was Lenin doing from the time of victory of the revolution up to his death, then? Was he vegetating or was he striving to build socialism in one country, in spite of everything?

There was no revolution in Europe, yet the Russian Revolution came out victorious. The Soviet Government and the proletarian dictatorship was safe, at least, for sometime, however brief it may be. There was a breathing space for consolidation of the gains of revolution and it meant rehabilitation and reconstruction. Towards what? A dictatorship of the proletariat would certainly not rebuild capitalism in its national economy. Should the efforts of the Bolsheviks be directed towards building socialism — if not socialism itself or should the dictatorship of the proletariat be abandoned? These were the practical questions facing the Bolsheviks. Revolution or no revolution in Europe, of course, still remained a vital question, but the question of rehabilitation and reconstruction of the national economy and the question of giving up the make-shift economy of War Communism came to the fore.

This ‘miracle’ was quite beyond any imagination of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. They were not prepared for this ‘miracle’. Lenin said after the victory: "But is the existence of a socialist republic in a capitalist environment at all conceivable? It seemed inconceivable from the political and military aspects. That it is possible both politically and militarily has now been proved. " (C.W., vol. 33, p. 151, emphases added)

The question now was: should the Bolsheviks accept the cruel challenge of history, i.e., build socialism in Russia alone, single handedly while expecting revolution in Europe or exit from the dais of revolution allowing the counter-revolutionaries to fill up the vacuum? The wise leaders, of course, advised Lenin to exit but Lenin replied that while we have come out victorious economically, and that was the beginning of socialism in one country, in Russia alone in practice, though there was not theoretical formulation as yet, as Lenin did not give up his hope in a European revolution, nor did the revolutionary crisis in Europe deteriorate further till then.

So Lenin, in the month of June-July 1921, at the Third Congress of the Communist International (after the victory in the civil and interventionist wars) said: "Actually however, events did not proceed along a straight line as we had expected. In the other big capitalistically more developed countries the revolution has not broken out to this day. True, we can say with satisfaction that the revolution is developing all over the world and it is only thanks to this that the international bourgeoisie is unable to strangle us, in spite of the fact that, militarily and economically, it is a hundred times stronger than we are...

"... As for our Russian Republic, we must take advantage of this brief respite in order to adapt our tactics to this zig zag line of history." (C.W., vol. 32 p. 480-81, Emphases added)

What advantage did Lenin take?

Lenin placed two alternatives at the Tenth Party Congress in 1921. These two alternatives were:

".. Here industrial workers are in a minority and petty farmers are the vast majority. In such a country socialist revolution can triumph only on two conditions. First, if it is given timely support by socialist revolution in one or several advanced countries... The second condition is agreement between the proletariat which is exercising its dictatorship, that is, holds state power and the majority of the peasant population." (C.W., vol.32, p.215, emphases added)

"What is needed now is an economic breathing space". (ibid; p. 224, emphasis added)

Finally Lenin said: "Basically the situation is this: We must satisfy the middle peasantry economically and go over to free exchange, otherwise it will be impossible — economically impossible — in view of the delay in the world revolution, to preserve the rule of the proletariat in Russia." (ibid, p. 225, emphases added)

Abandonment of make-shift war communism and introduction of a ‘normal’ economy in the shape of the new economic policy meant the ‘normal’ operation of the laws of political economy in Russia and the laws of political economy under the dictatorship of the proletariat cannot but be directed in such a manner so that it may create all the preconditions of building socialism in the national economy. What can it be than socialism in one country alone in practice.

Lenin had to retreat even on the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat for building socialism in one country in Russia according to the alternative he suggested. Why did Lenin accept the second condition? Because he became convinced that there is no possibility of getting "timely support by a socialist revolution in one or several advanced countries."

What was the character of this agreement with the peasantry — as far as the dictatorship of the proletariat over the peasantry was concerned"?

The agreement abandoned the dictatorship of the proletariat over the peasantry a special form of class alliance with the peasantry.

It may be noted that Lenin in the ‘Plan of the Pamphlet The Tax in Kind’ questioned himself in the following way: "Agreement" with the peasantry? Or dictatorship? (C.W., vol. 32, p.321)

Finally Lenin decided in favour of agreement with the peasantry. This is how he put it: "For the first time in history there is a state with only two classes, the proletariat and the peasantry. The latter constitutes the overwhelming majority of the population. It is, of course, very backward. How do the relations between the peasantry and the proletariat, which holds political power, find practical expression in the development of the revolution? The first form is alliance, close alliance." (C.W., vol. 32, p. 485; emphasis added)

If, after the acceptance of the "second condition", i.e. "agreement between the proletariat and the peasantry" by Lenin, one cites the example of Lenin’s "exclusive stake on the world revolution", he surely states half truths — not full truths. Lenin was no longer, exclusively staking his chances on the European revolution. Lenin quite correctly felt the need of the hour was standing on one’s own feet.

Now the question arises: why Trotsky, with his "unassailable position" from the point of "Marxist orthodoxy" did not oppose Lenin for the "adulteration" of the dictatorship of the proletariat by making alliance with the peasantry at the state level? In the Stalin-Trotsky debate in 1925, Trotsky’s alternative was: not to depend on Russian peasantry — but to depend on the European proletariat which would have already won state power — implying it was better to strive for organising the revolution in Europe but not to waste energy and time in relying on the Russian peasantry. Our author Arindam Sen, in his paper "forgot" to note Trotsky’s distrust of the peasantry in the Stalin-Trotsky debate, but recollects his memory on the point of Trotsky’s distrust of peasantry in relation to the Chinese revolution. However, it is a fact that when Lenin said in the Tenth Congress that socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat could not be saved without relying on and making an agreement with the peasantry, Trotsky did not oppose it, but when Stalin, in 1925 said the same thing in defence of socialism in one country, Trotsky opposed it.

While dictatorship of the proletariat in one country, in the Soviet Union was working in practice, Lenin said in unambiguous terms that there were all the conditions necessary in Russia for the building of socialism in one country alone. Lenin in his article "On Cooperation" (January, 1923) said: "Indeed, since political power is in the hands of the working class, since this political power owns all the means of production, the only task, indeed, that remains for us is to organise the population in co-operative societies. With most of the population organised in co-operatives, the socialism which in the past was legitimately treated with ridicule, scorn and contempt by those who were rightly convinced that it was necessary to wage the class struggle, the struggle for political power, etc., will achieve its aim automatically. ... Indeed, the power of the state over all large scale means of production, political power in the hands of the proletariat, the alliance of this proletariat with the many millions of small and very small peasants, the assured proletarian leadership of the peasantry, etc. — Is this not all that is necessary to build a complete socialist society out of co-operatives, out of co-operatives alone ... Is this not all that is necessary to build a complete socialist society? It is still not the building of socialist society, but it is all that is necessary and sufficient for it. (C.W. vol. 33 pp. 467-68; emphases added)

And what was Lenin building, then, when he said: ‘Socialism is no longer a matter of distant future or an abstract picture or icon ... all of us together fulfill it whatever the cost, so that NEP Russia will become socialist Russia." (ibid.)

If all this was not socialism in the Soviet Union alone in practice, what was it then please?

And lastly. Immediately before his death Lenin gave up hope in the European revolution and envisaged world revolution beginning from the weakest link in the imperialist chain, say, in India or China, and ending in the European and world revolution.

Lenin, in his last writing, "Better fewer, but better" written in March 2, 1923, said: "Thus, at the present time we are confronted with the question — shall we be able to hold on with our small and very small peasant production, and in our present state of ruin until the West European capitalist countries consummate their development towards socialism. But they are not consummating it through the gradual "maturing" of socialism, but through the exploitation of some countries by others, through the exploitation of the first of the countries vanquished in the imperialist war combined with the exploitation of the whole of the past. On the other hand precisely as a result of the first imperialist war, the East has been definitely drawn into the revolutionary movement, has been definitely drawn into the general maelstrom of the world revolutionary movement. (C.W. Vol. 33, p. 499; emphases added)

"Can we save ourselves from the impending conflict with these imperialist countries? May we hope that the internal antagonisms and conflicts between the thriving imperialist countries ... will give us a second respite.....?

"In the last analysis, the outcome of the struggle will be determined by the fact that Russia, India, China etc., ... it is this majority that has been drawn into the struggle for emancipation with extraordinary rapidity, so that in this respect there cannot be the slightest doubt what the final outcome of the world struggle will be. In this sense, the complete victory of socialism is fully and absolutely assured." (ibid, p. 500)

There was no place for the immediate prospect of an European revolution in Lenin’s article under discussion. Of course, we find a firm conviction about the inevitability of the world socialist revolution not immediately, but in the future. That was why Lenin further said: "But what interests us is not the inevitability of this complete victory of socialism but the tactics which we, the Russian Communist Party, we, the Russian Soviet government should pursue ... Until the next military conflict, between the counter-revolutionary imperialist West and the revolutionary and nationalist East....." (ibid, p. 500)

There in no ambiguity in this article of Lenin. He not only gave up hope in the immediate prospect of the European revolution but also envisaged a prolonged lull. The immediate practical importance on which Lenin gave emphasis was building of socialism in Russia, step by step.

"We must strive to build up a state in which the workers retain the leadership of the peasants, in which they retain the confidence of the peasants and by exercising the greatest economy remove every trace of extravagance from our social relations." (ibid., p. 501)

Then he asks — "Will not this be a reign of peasant limitations?" (ibid.)

What did Lenin mean by this?

By this he meant that such limitations cannot be socialist even under the dictatorship of the proletariat since socialism demands large scale machine production and the relations of production bases on that. And Lenin answered: "No. If we see to it that the working class retains its leadership over the peasantry, we shall be able, by exercising the greatest possible thrift in the economic life of our state, to use every saving we make to develop our large-scale machine industry, to develop electrification, the hydraulic extraction of peat, to complete the Volkhov Power Project, etc.

"In this, and in this alone, lies our hope. Only when we have done this shall we, speaking figuratively, be able to change horse, to change from the peasant, muzhik horse of poverty, from the horse of an economy designed for a ruined peasant country, to the horse which the proletariat is seeking and must seek — the horse of large-scale machine industry, of electrification, of the Volkhov Power Station, etc." (ibid, p. 501; emphases added)

What was then, Lenin’s plan for immediate practical work concretely? It was the ‘change of horse’, it was the change from the muzhik horse to industrial horse, taking ‘advantage’ of the prolonged lull.

Was it not building socialism in one country, in the Soviet Union singly, in practice?

Meanwhile, the German Revolution, which began in January, 1923, failed finally in October, 1923. Lenin was in his death bed at that time. Lenin said in March 1923: "...But we are labouring under the disadvantage that the imperialists have succeeded in splitting the world into two camps, and this split is made more complicated by the fact that it is extremely difficult for Germany, which is really a land of advanced, cultured, capitalist development, to rise to her feet. All the capitalist powers of what is called the West are pecking at her and preventing her from rising...." (C.W. vol. 22 p. 499; emphasis added)

The imperialists came out stronger after the failure of the German revolution died down and that was the end of the revolutionary crisis. Lenin died on January 21, 1924.

After the failure of the German Revolution and the end of revolutionary crisis, Stalin, on the basis of Lenin’s studies of the international situation and the national situation of Russia, came to the conclusion that a temporary stabilisation of capitalism has set in and there was no prospect of any immediate world revolution. So, Stalin felt the need of a theoretical formulation — as a guide to work especially in the absence of Lenin — what was in vogue in practice in Lenin’ time, since the abandonment of the make-shift economy of War Communism and the introduction of NEP — a ‘normal’ economy.

This then was Arindam Sen’s "that particular juncture", i.e., the temporary stabilisation of capitalism on the one hand and the ebb of the revolutionary crisis on the other — which he deliberately forgot to mention.

From 1921, when Lenin introduced NEP, till his death, Trotsky did not oppose Lenin because he was certain that he will be completely isolated. He was biding his time. It was Trotsky — after the abandonment of War Communism, when the question of reshaping the relations between the trade unions and the state came to the fore — who tested his strength in the party by threatening to ‘shake up’ the trade unions by militarising them, in opposition to Lenin’s stand and was defeated. In fact, in opposing Stalin in 1925, Trotsky was opposing Lenin. Why in 1925, after the death of Lenin? Why in 1921, when Lenin introduced NEP — relying on the peasantry and even ‘compromising’ the dictatorship of the proletariat, did Trotsky oppose Lenin? Because Trotsky thought it would be easier and safer for him to fight Lenin’s ideas in his absence and usurp Leninism by defeating Stalin.

No wonder then that Lenin had this to say about Trotsky in a letter to Zinoviev: "Trotsky behaves like a despicable careerist and factionalist ... He pays lip service to the party and behaves worse than any other the factionalist." (C.W., vol. 34.; p. 399-400)

And this same Trotsky came out against Lenin’s analyses of the international situation in which he categorically stated that there was no prospect of an immediate revolution in Europe and there would be a prolonged respite (already quoted), after Lenin’s death. In opposing Stalin and advocating immediate world revolution he was practically opposing Lenin. Trotsky did not oppose socialism in one country (in the Soviet Union) alone in words but also opposed Lenin’s theory and practice of reliance of the European proletariat whose state help would facilitate the building of socialism in the Soviet Union. Trotsky did not clarify how state help of the European proletariat can be had without any revolution in Europe — thus implying an export of revolution by the Soviet Union to Europe when there was no revolutionary crisis and called Stalin "a narrow nationalist" as he had called Lenin in 1915.

Stalin basing his programme on the instructions and directives of Lenin went to ride on the ‘industrial horse’ rejecting the ‘horse of the muzhik.

This is the history of the origin and development of the theory of socialism in one country in general and in particular which Arindam Sen had deliberately distorted.