The Brazilian Trotskyist group the LBI (International Bolshevik League) and its fraternal partner the POR (Revolutionary Workers Party) of Argentina recently published an English language collection of articles towards revolutionary regroupment. Among them was an article contributed by the LRP [League for a Revolutionary Party], a tendency that holds that the Soviet Union became State Capitalist in 1939. We find it strange that tendencies that claimed to defend the former SU as a degenerated workers state until the restoration of capitalism in 1991, should be debating a tendency that rejected Trotsky’s position of unconditional defence of the SU after 1939. Here we summarise our arguments against the LRP position.
The recent publication of Tribune of Debates by the LBI and POR contains some very important documents. In particularly there are those which set out the basis for rebuilding the Fourth International on a correct basis, and the Trotskyist orientation to the counter-revolution of restored capitalism in the former workers states. In one of the articles "Ten years since the fall of the Berlin Wall" we find a strong condemnation of the PSTU which:
"follows Stalinophobic lines of the Trotskyist revisionists as Burnham, Schactman (who left the American SWP because they opposed to defend the USSR after the agreement between Stalin and Hitler), and Tony Cliff (recently dead leader of the English SWP, who was excluded from the Fourth International in 1950, when he opposed openly to defend China and North Korea against the Yankee imperialism). However, the deserters of Trotskyism have not added anything new to the anti-Marxist thesis of the old adversaries of the Trotskyism, as Hugo Urbahns, Lucien Laurat, and Majaiski who developed as theories about the bureaucratic class expropriation, the state capitalism, and the existence of neither proletarian nor capitalist states (criticized by Trotsky in "The Class Nature of the Soviet State" and in In Defence of Marxism).
Given this correct criticism of state capitalist theorists as "deserters of Trotskyism" we find it very strange that the LBI/POR includes the LRP tendency in its discussions and publishes its defence of state capitalism, "Stalinist Expansion, the Fourth International and the Working Class". What do these comrades add that is "new" any more than the "old adversaries of Trotskyism"? Surely the LBI/POR are not thinking that the LRP version of state capitalism is any less destructive of Trotsky’s method and practice today than were the old adversaries that Trotsky confronted in In Defence of Marxism?
For according to the logic of the LBI/POR article "Ten years since the fall of the Berlin Wall" all those stalinophobes who refused to unconditionally defend the USSR right from the start must have contributed to the counter-revolution in 1991. The LRP has not changed its position, nor taken any responsibility for the counter-revolution, so why is it considered to be a worthy debating partner of the LBI/POR? Let us look at why the LRP state capitalist position must be condemned today no less than before the counter-revolution.
The LRP like Tony Cliff before them, try to turn the tables on Trotskyism by claiming that it was Trotskyism that lost the plot by abandoning Marx, Lenin and Trotsky after 1944. For the LRP any attempt to claim that the buffer states, and the USSR itself after 1939, were workers states revised a number of "Marxist fundamentals".
Workers must make revolution
First, the LRP claim that the notion of ‘deformed workers state’ breaks with the fundamental principle that:
"Only the working class can make a socialist revolution, i.e. establish a proletarian dictatorship."
This would be true if we were talking about the creation of the USSR rather than its expansion into Eastern Europe. Not only the LRP but the whole Fourth International forgot Trotsky’s analysis of the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939 where the national rights of the Poles and the property of the bourgeoisie were subordinated to the defence of the SU, despite the fact that it was the Red Army that invaded Poland and expropriated the bourgeoisie. Therefore Trotsky did not put the failure of Polish workers to expropriate their bosses before the unconditional defence of the SU and the world revolution.
The situation was no different when the Red Army reinvaded Poland in 1944. The polish working class did not expropriate the Polish bourgeoisie, the Red Army did. The fact that the Red Army stood back and allowed the Nazi’s to smash a proletarian uprising is no different from the Stalinist suppression of opposition in the SU. This is what made the Stalinist bureaucracy counter-revolutionary. What made the bureaucracy an ally of workers was its defence of state property.
Similarly the rest of the buffer states became ‘deformed’ or degenerate workers states because they were an extension of the SU under the rule of the Red Army. Of course, as Trotsky made clear in his analysis of Poland in 1939, while it was necessary for the working class to bloc with the Stalinists to defend workers property, workers had to resist being smashed by the bureaucracy and prepare for a political revolution when they could overthrow the Stalinists and take power directly.
In Trotsky’s analysis, these several aspects were not isolated but taken together in order to weigh them up and determine the class line. Thus while national workers movements were directly suppressed, internationally the working class continued to make revolutions in Eastern Europe by extension of the SU as a degenerated workers’ state. So that far from breaking with Marx view that ‘only workers can make a revolution’, under these complex concrete conditions, defence of the SU, and therefore defence of the buffer states, was the way in which "workers made the revolution". Later we will argue that the failure to take this line is in fact counter-revolutionary.
The revolutionary vanguard
Second, the LRP says that:
"the socialist revolution can only occur when the proletariat is led by its most conscious advanced sector, organized into a Bolshevik-Leninist vanguard."
Again this is correct and can be shown to hold in Eastern Europe because of the seizure of power by the Red Army that continued to defend workers property in the SU. Why? Because this property form resulted from the October revolution led by the Bolshevik party. Though the Bolshevik party degenerated in the SU and along with it the revolutionary Comintern, the Left Opposition and later the Fourth International kept alive the Bolshevik heritage. Therefore, once more our guide on this question must be the position of the healthy Fourth International under Trotsky until his death in 1940.
Trotsky’s method and program directed at Eastern Europe is precisely the "organized Bolshevik-Leninist vanguard" in action. Its fundamental principle is that of unconditional defence of the SU against capitalist restoration. So what would the LRP have put forward as its program in these complex concrete conditions? According to the LRP the SU ceased to be a workers state and underwent a bourgeois counter-revolution by 1939. The Stalinists had become a class of state capitalists. Therefore in the SU and in the buffer states the working class would fight for a social revolution against the Stalinists just as they would against the bourgeoisie in any other capitalist state. The fundamental principle of unconditional defence of workers property is abandoned and with it the LRP lines up on the side of the counter-revolution. Had they been a large influential organization, they would have hastened the counter-revolution of 1991.
Stalinism as counter-revolutionary
The LRP claims that:
"Stalinism constituted an alien and counter-revolutionary force within the working-class movement. By 1940, the Stalinist bureaucracy had become, in Trotsky’s words, an ‘absolute obstacle in the path of the country’s development’ and an imperialist tool. Its murderous struggle against Trotskyism was designed to prevent socialist revolutions, not to lead them."
In fact this was Trotsky’s position on the bureaucracy in 1933 when it betrayed the revolution in Germany. But as well as being a counter-revolutionary force inside the working class that had to be overthrown, it was also a necessary ally in the defence of workers property against imperialism while the working class was too weak to win a political revolution.
What the LRP does is to take Trotsky’s political assessment of the bureaucracy as counter-revolutionary and ignore its economic position as a parasitic on workers property. So long as the bureaucracy defended workers property in its own caste interests, it was not counter-revolutionary through and through. It was not as bad as the bourgeoisie – an antagonistic class.
Of course, this aspect of the bureaucracy becomes redundant for the LRP who argue that the bureaucracy overturned workers property in 1939 and constituted themselves as a bourgeoisie. So we come back to the question of "when is a workers state not a workers state" already dealt with by Trotsky in In Defence of Marxism.
The LRP states that:
"popular fronts are class collaborationist blocs created to prevent socialist revolution, not aid and abet it."
Applied to the buffer states this was true only in the sense that the Stalinists did not want a political revolution, or a bourgeois counter-revolution. They in fact wanted to use the "Peoples’ Democracies" to gain access to the capitalist market via the national bourgeoisies to boost the SU economy without causing a civil war or imperialist invasion.
The LRP claims that:
"the bourgeois state apparatus must be destroyed by an actual revolution (a civil war by the working class against the capitalist class) rather than reformed or manipulated at the top – if a workers’ state is to be created."
It should be clear by now, that if you define the bureaucracy as a bourgeoisie and workers property as state capitalism, then the Red Army cannot be the agency of a workers revolution. However, if the bureaucracy is a totalitarian caste inside the working class that defends and extends state property by means of the Red Army then that constitutes the overthrow of the bourgeois state.
Ironically, the LRP has to show when a social counter-revolution occurred in the SU in the 1930’s to prove their position. Trotsky at the time of his death had not abandoned the view that the bureaucracy had yet to overturn workers property in the SU. To be consistent with their own reading of Trotsky and yet claim that a counter-revolution occurred in the SU in 1939, the LRP must show that the workers state apparatus was "destroyed by actual revolution" i.e. a "civil war" rather than be "reformed (or deformed) at the top".
1939 vs 1989
According to the LRP, the last "Marxist fundamental" revised by those who defend the buffer states as ‘deformed workers states’ is the misuse of: "Marxist theory and analysis to broadly predict developments in the class struggle and thereby guide "the line of march" for our class, the proletariat. Its aim is not to serve as a retrospective rationalisation for tailism; especially with an analysis which lacks any predictive capability."
Lets put this to the test.
The essence of the LRP position is that there was a bourgeois counter-revolution in 1939 and not 1989. If indeed this was the case then Marxism is put to good use in abandoning unconditional defence retrospectively in 1939 and in advance of 1989. If it is wrong, then Trotskyism has not only failed to explain events, it has tailed them retrospectively and in advance thereby betraying, retrospectively and in advance, the revolution to the counter-revolution.
If we compare the events of 1939 with 1989 we find that in 1939 nothing important changed. The bureaucracy remained in power. There was a form of civil war but no overturning of state power. Trotsky did not think that the ‘civil war’ of the Stalinist purges was sufficient to smash workers property.
What makes the LRP’s theory more powerful than Trotsky’s? It is not necessary to turn the bureaucracy into a class in order to explain the post-war survival of the SU, nor its attempts to bolster the failing plan by market experiments. More importantly, it was the survival of workers’ property even under a bungled plan, and not the imposition of bourgeois work norms, that allowed the SU to survive for so long.
Therefore, not only is the LRP state capitalist theory superfluous, it is reactionary because it failed to understand the ‘gain’ represented by workers’ property and to defend it against the counter-revolution. The only advantage of the LRP theory is in its retrospective and prospective "tailism".
By contrast what happened between 1989 and 1991 in Eastern Bloc? As the LBI/POR document "10 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall" recognises, there were a series of overturns of the state in which the bureaucracy as the ruling caste was replaced by the bourgeoisie as the ruling class. And this took the form that Trotsky had also predicted as one possibility – a social counterrevolution without a bloody civil war.
If the LRP thinks that its "Marxism" has explanatory and predictive power in the case of these events, how does it account for the massive destruction caused by the unleashing of market forces in the Eastern Bloc since 1989? Is this merely an instance of what it says is a "political transformation"? Tell that to the workers!
The Fourth International
Ironically the very explanation that the LRP adopts to account for the collapse of the Fourth International can be applied more forcefully to its own positions. In our view the whole of the Fourth International succumbed to Imperiocentrism as its leadership failed to adjust to the post-war conditions. It split into two tendencies depending on the view taken of Stalinism in the Cold War.
On the one side the majority took a stalinophile line and liquidated the vanguard behind numerous petty bourgeois ‘vanguards’ including the Stalinists.
On the other, the stalinophobes rejected Stalinism as ‘authoritarian’ and junked defence of workers’ property.
While both views were one-sided and led to opportunism or sectarianism or both, the stalinphobes did the most damage because they sold-out the gains of October in order to gain popularity with the Western labour aristocracy. It was they who prepared the way for the counter-revolution of 1989.
We count the LRP in the latter category.
As we began by saying, there is nothing in the LRP’s position today that excuses it from an active role in preparing the counter-revolution of 1989. Events since 1989 have done nothing to validate its role in history and this role must not be allowed to get in the road of the urgent task of rebuilding a new revolutionary international today.
From Class Struggle No 35, October-November 2000