A Contribution from Russia: The Unidentified Class: Soviet Bureaucracy as seen by Leon Trotsky

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What was the nature of the system that existed in our country during the "soviet" period?


This is certainly one of the most important questions for history, and to an extent for the other social sciences. And it is not at all an academic question - it is very closely tied to the present epoch, for it is impossible to understand the reality of today without understanding that of yesterday.


And yet this question can be summed up as follows: what was the nature of the central actor of the "soviet" system, which determined the country's development, ie the ruling bureaucracy? What were its relations with other social groups? What motives and needs determined its activity?


It is impossible to study these problems seriously without knowing the works of Leon Trotsky, one of the first writers to try to understand and analyse the nature of the "soviet" system and its ruling strata. Trotsky devoted several works to this problem, but his most general and concentrated view of the bureaucracy is set out in his book The Revolution Betrayed, published 60 years ago[1].

Principal characteristics of the bureaucracy

Let us recall the main characteristics of the bureaucracy that Trotsky gives in his book:

1) The upper levels of the social pyramid of the USSR are occupied by "a ruling caste in the proper sense of the word" (p 117), and this caste "does not do any directly productive work, but directs, orders, commands, pardons and punishes". According to Trotsky, this stratum comprises between 5 and 6 million people.

2) This stratum which rules everything is removed from any control by the masses who produce social commodities. The bureaucracy reigns, the toiling masses "obey and are silent".

3) This stratum maintains relations of material inequality in society: "Limousines for the "activists", fine perfumes for "our women", margarine for the workers, stores "de luxe" for the gentry, a look at delicacies through the store windows for the plebs" (P120). In general, the living conditions of the ruling class are analogous to those of the bourgeoisie: "the ruling stratum comprises all gradations, from the petty bourgeoisie of the backwoods to the big bourgeoisie of the capitals" (P 140).

4) This stratum rules not only objectively, but subjectively, for it considers itself sole master of society: according to Trotsky it "possesses the specific consciousness of a ruling class" (p135).

5) The domination of this stratum is based on repression, and its prosperity on "the masked appropriation of the fruits of other's labour". "The privileged minority", notes Trotsky, "lives at the expense of the non-privileged majority".

6) There is a latent social struggle between this ruling caste and the oppressed majority of workers.

Trotsky in fact is describing the following picture: there exists a fairly numerous social stratum which controls production, and therefore its produce, in a monopolistic manner, and which appropriates a large part of production (in other words, exercises a function of exploitation), which is united around an
understanding of its common material interests, and is opposed to the producing class.

What do marxists call a social stratum that displays all these characteristics? There is only one answer: this is the ruling social class in every sense of the term.

Trotsky leads his reader to the same conclusion. But he does not come to it himself, even though he notes that in the USSR the bureaucracy "is something more than a bureaucracy" (P249). Something more ... but what? Trotsky does not say. Moreover, he devotes a whole chapter to refuting the notion of the bureaucracy's bourgeois class nature. Trotsky starts with "a", but after describing the exploiting ruling class, Trotsky hesitates at the last moment, and refuses to go on to "b".

Stalinism and capitalism

Trotsky demonstrates the same reticence when he compares the Stalinist bureaucratic system with the capitalist system.

"Mutatitis mutandis, the Soviet government occupies in relation to the whole economic system the same position as the capitalist does in relation to the single enterprise" (p43), says Trotsky in Chapter 2 of Revolution Betrayed. In Chapter 9, he says:

"The transfer of the factories to the state changed the situation of the worker only juridically [my emphasis - AG]. In reality he is compelled to live in want and work a definite number of hours for a definite wage (...) The workers lost all influence whatever in the management of the factory. With piecework payment, hard conditions of material existence, lack of free movement, with terrible police repression penetrating the life of every factory, it is hard indeed for the worker to feel himself a "free workman". In the bureaucracy he sees the manager, in the state the employer" (p241/2).

In the same chapter, Trotsky notes that the nationalisation of property does not liquidate the social difference between the ruling and subject strata: the former enjoy every possible luxury, while the latter live in poverty as before and sell their labour power. He says the same thing in Chapter 4: "state ownership of the means of production does not turn manure into gold, and does not surround with a halo of sanctity the sweat-shop system" (p82).

These theses seem to observe very clearly phenomena that are elementary from a marxist viewpoint. For Marx always emphasised that the principal characteristic of a social system was not its laws and "forms of property", whose analysis as things in themselves leads to a useless metaphysics[2]. The decisive
factor is the real social relations, and principally the position of social groups in relation to society's social product.

A mode of production can be based on different forms of property. The example of feudalism shows this well. During the Middle Ages, it was based on private feudal ownership of the land in the west, and on state feudal ownership in the east. Nonetheless, social relations were feudal in both cases, since they relied on the feudal exploitation of the class of peasant producers.

In Volume III of Capital, Marx defines the principal characteristic of any society as "the specific economic form in which free labour is directly extracted from the producers themselves". Consequently, what is decisive is the relationship between those who control the process and the fruits of production, and those who carry it out. The attitude of the owners of the means of production towards the producers themselves: "This is where we discover the most profound mystery, the hidden foundation, of every society"[3].

We have already shown how Trotsky described the relationship between the ruling stratum and the producers. On the one hand, the real "owners of the means of production" embodied in the state (ie the organised bureaucracy), on the other the de jure owners, in fact the workers deprived of any rights, the wage workers, from whom "free labour is extracted". We can only draw one logical conclusion: there is no fundamental difference in nature between the Stalinist bureaucratic system and "classical" capitalism.

Here again, Trotsky starts with "a" by demonstrating the essential identity between the two systems, but does not go on to "b". On the contrary, he sets himself firmly against any identification of Stalinist society with state capitalism, and puts forward the notion of the existence in the .USSR of a specific form of "workers' state", where the proletariat remains the ruling class from the economic viewpoint, and is not subjected to exploitation despite being "politically expropriated" .

Trotsky supports this thesis by referring to the nationalisation of the land, the means of production and exchange, and transport, and the monopoly of foreign trade. In other words, he uses the same "juridical" argumentation which he has already convincingly refuted (see the quotations above). On page 82 of Revolution Betrayed, he denies that state property can "turn manure into gold", while on page 248 on the contrary, he declares that the sole fact of nationalisation is enough to make the oppressed workers into the ruling class.

The schema that replaces reality

How is this to be explained? Why does Trotsky the publicist, the merciless critic of Stalinism who cites the facts proving that the bureaucracy is a ruling class and a collective exploiter, contradict Trotsky the theoretician when he tries to analyse these facts?

Obviously, we can name two major factors which prevented Trotsky from overcoming this contradiction, one theoretical and one political.

In Revolution Betrayed, Trotsky tries to refute theoretically the thesis of the bureaucracy's bourgeois class nature with arguments as weak as the fact that it "has neither stocks nor bonds" (p249). But why should the ruling class necessarily possess them? For it is obvious that the possession of stocks and bonds is of no importance in itself: the important thing is whether this or that appropriates to itself a surplus product of the direct producers. If yes, then the function of exploitation exists whether the distribution of the appropriated product is done via dividends on shares, or through a salary and privileges attached to a job. The author of Revolution Betrayed is just as unconvincing when he says that the representatives of the leading stratum cannot bequeath their privileged status (P249). It is highly unlikely that Trotsky thought that children of the elite could become workers or peasants.

In our opinion, it is not worth considering superficial explanations like this to determine a serious reason for Trotsky's refusal to consider the bureaucracy as a social ruling class. Instead, it is to be found in his firm conviction that the bureaucracy could not become the central element of a stable system, that it was only capable of "expressing" the interests of other classes, but by distorting them.

During the 1920s, this conviction had already become the basis for Trotsky's schema of the social antagonisms of "soviet" society. For him, the framework for all these antagonisms was reduced to the strict dichotomy between the proletariat and private capital. There was no place in this schema for a "third force". The rise of the bureaucracy was seen as the result of the pressure of the rural and urban petty bourgeoisie on the Party and the state. The bureaucracy was seen as balancing between the interests of the workers and those of the "new owners", unable to serve one or the other. Such a regime dominated by an unstable group "between the classes" could only fall, and the group itself split, at the first serious threat to its stability. This is what Trotsky predicted at the end of the 1920s[4].

And yet in reality, events developed quite differently. After the most violent conflict with the peasantry and the petty bourgeoisie, the bureaucracy had neither fallen nor split. After easily obtaining the capitulation of an insignificant internal "right", it set about liquidating the NEP and "the kulaks as a class", and establishing a regime of forced collectivisation and industrialisation. All this came as a complete surprise to Trotsky and his supporters, convinced as they were that the "centrist" apparachiks would by nature are incapable of it! It is not surprising that the bankruptcy of the Trotskyist opposition's political calculations should be followed by its catastrophic capitulation in Russia, and its political bankruptcy at the international level[5].

Trying in vain to find a way out, Trotsky sent letters and articles from exile where he proved that the bureaucracy had only one option, and that it would "inevitably collapse long before achieving any serious results"[6]. Even when the leader of the opposition saw the practical incoherence of his idea of a role dependent on the "centrist" bureaucracy, he obstinately stuck to his bankrupt schema. At the time of the "great turn", his theoretical reflection is striking for its remoteness from reality. For example, at the end of 1928, he writes: "Centrism is an official line of the apparatus. The bearer of this centrism is the party functionary. The functionaries do not form a class. So what class line is represented by centrism?". Since Trotsky denied the possibility of the bureaucracy having its own line, he arrived at the following conclusion: "The rising owners of property find their expression, though a cowardly one, in the right fraction. The proletarian line is represented by the Opposition. What is left for centrism? When we remove the above social strata, all that is left is ... the middle peasant"[7]. And he writes all this at the same time as the Stalinist apparatus is conducting a violent campaign against the middle peasantry, and preparing its liquidation as an economic formation!

As time went on, Trotsky continued to expect an imminent split in the bureaucracy between the proletarian and bourgeois elements, and those "who would be left to one side". He predicted the "centrists ", fall from power, first after the failure of a "complete collectivisation", then as the result of an economic crisis at the end of the first Five Year Plan. In his Draft Platform for the International Left Opposition on the Russian Question written in 1931, he even envisaged the possibility of a civil war when the elements of the state and party apparatus would be divided "on the two sides of the barricades"[8].

Despite all these predictions, the Stalinist regime survived, the bureaucracy not only remained muted but even strengthened its totalitarian power. Trotsky nonetheless continued to consider the bureaucratic system in the USSR as extremely precarious. And during the 1930s, he thought that the bureaucracy’s power could collapse at any moment. In other words, it should not be considered as a class. Trotsky expressed this idea most clearly in his article The USSR at War (September 1939): "Would we not be mistaken to describe the Bonapartist oligarchy as a new ruling class a few years or even months before its shameful fall?"[9].

All Trotsky's predictions of the "Soviet" bureaucracy's imminent fall have been refuted, one after the other, by events themselves, Despite everything, he did not want to change his ideas. For him the attachment to a theoretical schema was worth more than anything else. But this is not the only reason, since Trotsky was more a politician than a theoretician, and generally preferred the "concrete political" approach to a problem than that of "abstract sociology". We will look here at another important reason for his obstinate refusal to call things by their real names.

Terminology and Politics

If we examine the history of the Trotskyist Opposition during the 1920s and at the beginning of the 1930s, we can see that his entire political strategy was based on the imminent disintegration of the USSR's governing apparatus. Trotsky thought that an alliance between a hypothetical "left tendency" and the Opposition would be necessary for the reform of the party and the state. At the end of 1928, he wrote: "A bloc with the centrists [ie the Stalinist apparatus] is admissible and possible in principle. Moreover, only such a regroupment in the party can save the revolution"[10]. Because they counted on such a bloc, the leaders of the Opposition tried not to put off the "progressive" bureaucrats. This tactic explains the highly equivocal attitude of the Opposition leaders towards workers' class struggle against the state, their refusal to create their own party, etc.

Even after his exile from the USSR, Trotsky continued to place his hopes in a rapprochement with the “centrists". His hope to gain the support of a part of the ruling bureaucracy was so great that he was prepared to compromise (under certain conditions) with the Secretary General of the CP's Central Committee. The story of the slogan "Stalin resign!" is a striking example. In March 1932, Trotsky published an open letter to the Central Executive Committee of the USSR where he launched an appeal: "It is necessary at last to carry out Lenin's final, insistent advice: make Stalin resign"[11]. However, a few months later he had already gone back on this, explaining: "What matters is not Stalin as an individual, but his fraction... The slogan "Down with Stalin!" could be (and inevitably would be) understood as a call for the overthrow of the fraction which is today in power, and more widely of the regime. We do not want to overthrow the system, but to reform it"[12]. Trotsky made the question of his attitude towards the Stalinists completely explicit in an unpublished article-interview written in December 1932: "Today, as before, we are ready for co-operation in many forms with the present ruling fraction. Question: Are you as a result ready to co-operate with Stalin? Answer: Without any doubt"[13].

During this period, Trotsky linked a possible turn of a part of the Stalinist bureaucracy towards a "multiform cooperation" with the opposition, to an imminent "catastrophe" for the regime, which as we have said above, he considered inevitable because of the "precariousness" of the bureaucracy's social position[14]. As a result of this catastrophe, the leaders of the Opposition were ready to consider an alliance with Stalin in order to save the party, nationalisation, and the "planned economy", from the bourgeois counter-revolution.

And yet, the catastrophe did not happen. The bureaucracy was much stronger and more firmly consolidated than Trotsky thought. The Politburo did not respond to his appeals to ensure "an honest cooperation between the historic fractions" in the CP[15]. Finally, in the autumn of 1933 and after many hesitations, Trotsky abandoned any hope - which was utopian anyway - in a reform of the bureaucratic system with the participation of the Stalinists, and called for a "political revolution" in the USSR.

However, this change to the Trotskyists' principal slogan did not mean any radical revision of their view of the nature of the bureaucracy, the Party, and state, any more than it meant a definitive rejection of their hoped-for alliance with its "progressive" wing. When Trotsky wrote Revolution Betrayed, and afterwards he still considered the bureaucracy theoretically as a precarious formation devoured by growing antagonisms. In the IVth International's TransitionaL Programme (1938), he declared that the state apparatus in the USSR comprised all political tendencies, including a "truly Bolshevik" one. Trotsky thought of the latter as a minority within the bureaucracy, but nonetheless a significant one: he was not talking of a few apparachiks, but of a fraction within a social stratum of 5-6 million people. According to Trotsky, this “truly Bolshevik" fraction was a potential reserve for the left opposition. Moreover, the leader of the IVth International still thought it admissible to form a "united front" with the Stalinist part of the apparatus, in the case of a capitalist counter-revolution, which he considered "imminent" in 1938.[16]

It is this political orientation, first towards co-operation and the bloc with the "centrists" - ie the majority of the ruling" Soviet" bureaucracy - (in the late 20s and early 30s), then towards an alliance with the "truly Bolshevik" fraction and a "united front" with the ruling Stalinist fraction (after 1933), that we must bear in mind when we examine Trotsky's ideas on the nature of the bureaucratic oligarchy and social relations in the USSR, expressed in their most complete form in Revolution Betrayed.

Let us suppose that Trotsky had recognised in the totalitarian "Soviet" bureaucracy the exploiting ruling class and bitter enemy of tile proletariat. What would have been the political consequences? In the first place, he would have had to reject the idea of uniting with a part of this class - the very idea of the existence of a "truly Bolshevik fraction" within the exploiting bureaucratic class would have been as absurd as its existence within the bourgeoisie, for example. Secondly, a supposed alliance with the Stalinists to fight the "capitalist counter-revolution" would have become a “popular front", a policy categorically rejected by the Trotskyists because it would have amounted to a bloc of enemy classes instead of a "united front" within the same class, an idea well within the Bolshevik-Leninist tradition. In short, understanding the class essence of the bureaucracy would have dealt a heavy blow to the foundations of Trotsky's political strategy. Naturally, he did not want to accept this.

Thus the problem of determining the nature of the bureaucracy was much more important than a mere matter of theory or terminology.

The destiny of the bureaucracy

To do Trotsky justice, towards the end of his life he began to revise his vision of the Stalinist bureaucracy. We can see this in his book on Stalin, the most mature of his works, although incomplete. Examining the decisive events at the turn of the 20s and 30s, when the bureaucracy completely monopolised power and property, Trotsky already considered the state and Party apparatus as one of the main social forces in struggle to "control the nation's surplus product". In declaring all-out war on the "petty bourgeois elements" they were not driven by the "pressure" of the proletariat, nor were they "pushed by the opposition" (as Trotsky had once claimed)[17]. Consequently, the bureaucracy did not "express" anyone else's interests, and was not "balancing" between two poles, but appeared as a social group conscious of its own interests. After beating all its competitors, it had won in the battle for power and profits. It alone disposed of surplus product (ie, the function of a real owner of the means of production). Admitting this, Trotsky could no longer neglect the question of tile bureaucracy's class nature. Indeed, speaking of the 1920s, he writes: "The essence of the [Soviet] Thermidor ... has crystallised new privileged strata, and has led to the birth of a new substratum of the ruling class in the economic sense [my emphasis]. There were two pretenders to this role: the petty-bourgeoisie and the bureaucracy itself”[18]. Thus this substratum nourished two pretenders to the role of ruling class. It only remained to see who would win - and the winner was the bureaucracy. The conclusion is very clear: it is the bureaucracy that has become the new ruling social class. In reality, although he prepared for this conclusion, Trotsky did not in fact reach it, preferring not to complete his reflections politically. But he had taken a great step forward.

In his article The USSR at war, published in 1939, Trotsky took one more step in this direction: he thought it possible in theory that "the Stalinist regime may be the first stage of a new society of exploitation". Certainly, as always he emphasised that there was another viewpoint: the "Soviet" system, and its ruling bureaucracy, were only an "episode" in the process of transformation of bourgeois into a socialist society. Nonetheless, he declared his willingness to revise his opinions in certain circumstances, notably should the bureaucratic government in the USSR enter the world war which had already begun, and should this spread to other countries[19].

We know what happened thereafter. According to Trotsky, the bureaucracy had no historic mission, was situated "between the classes", had no autonomy, was precarious, and so constituted an "episodic event". In reality, the bureaucracy did nothing less than radically alter the social structure of the USSR by proletarianising millions of peasants and petty-bourgeois, carry out an industrialisation based on the super-exploitation of the workers, transform the country into a great military power then subject it to a terrible war, and export its form of domination to Central and Eastern Europe and South-East Asia. After all that, would Trotsky have changed his view of the bureaucracy? It is hard to say: he did not survive World War II, and never saw the formation of a "socialist camp". But for decades after the war, his political adepts continued to repeat word for word the theoretical dogmas contained in Revolution Betrayed.

The march of history has obviously refuted all the main points of the Trotskyist analysis of the social system in the USSR. To understand this, only one fact is necessary: none of the "successes" of the bureaucracy fall within Trotsky's theoretical schema. And yet even today, some savants (not to mention the representatives of the Trotskyist movement) continue to claim that his conception of the ruling "caste", and forecasts as to its destiny, have been confirmed by the collapse of the CPSU regime and the events which followed in the USSR and the "Soviet bloc". Here they are talking about Trotsky's prediction that the power of the bureaucracy would inevitably fall, either as a result of a "political revolution" by the working masses, or after a social coup d’état by the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie[20]. For example, V.Z. Rogovin[21], writes that the "counter-revolutionary variant" of Trotsky's predictions "has been carried out 50 years late, but with extreme precision"[22].

Where are we to find this precision, especially "extreme precision"?

The essence of the "counter-revolutionary variant" of Trotsky's forecasts lies above all in his predictions as to the bureaucracy's fall as a ruling stratum. "The bureaucracy is inseparably linked to the ruling class in the economic sense [he means the proletariat], is nourished by the same social roots, stands and falls with it [my emphasis)"[23]. Supposing that a social counter-revolution did take place in the countries of the ex-Soviet Union, and that the working class did lose its economic and social power, then according to Trotsky the ruling bureaucracy should have fallen with it.

In reality, did it fall, to give way to a bourgeoisie come from somewhere else? According to the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, more than 75 % of the Russian "political elite" and more than 61 % of the "business elite" have their origins in the Nomenklatura of the "Soviet" period[24]. Consequently, the same people are in the same ruling economic, social, and political positions in society. The origins of the other part of the elite can easily be explained. O. Krychtanovskaya writes: "Apart from direct privatisation ... whose principal beneficiaries were the technocratic part of the Nomenklatura (economists, professional bankers, etc.), we saw the quasi-spontaneous creation of commercial structures which appear to have no ties to the Nomenklatura. At the head of such structures are to be found young people, whose biographies reveal no links with the Nomenklatura. Their great financial success can only be explained in one way: although not part of the Nomenklatura, they were in its confidence, its "trusted agents", in other words its plenipotentiaries [emphasis in the original]"[25]. All this shows very clearly that it was not some "bourgeois party" (where could this have come from in the absence of a bourgeoisie under the totalitarian regime?) which took power and succeeded in using a few individuals from the previous ruling "caste" as its servants. It was the bureaucracy itself which organised the transformation of the economic and political forms of its rule, while remaining master of the system.

Thus, contrary to Trotsky's forecast, the bureaucracy did not fall. What about the other side of his predictions: the imminent split of the ruling social "stratum" between proletarian and bourgeois elements, and the formation within it of a "truly Bolshevik" fraction. Indeed, today the leaders of the "communist" parties formed from the debris of the CPSU claim to play the part of "true" Bolsheviks and to defend the interests of the working class. But it is unlikely that Trotsky would have recognised in a Zhuganov or an Ampilov[26] his "proletarian elements", since the aim of their "anti-capitalist" struggle is nothing other than the restoration of the old bureaucratic regime in its classic Stalinist, or "patriotic statist" form.

Finally, Trotsky saw the "counterrevolutionary" version of the bureaucracy's fall from power in almost apocalyptic terms: "In the unlikely event of capitalism being restored in Russia, this could only be done through a cruel counter-revolutionary coup d’état, which would claim ten times more victims than the October revolution and the civil war. Should the soviet regime fall, its place could only be taken by Russian fascism, compared to whose cruelty the regimes of Mussolini and Hitler would look like philanthropic institutions"[27]. This prediction should not be seen as a fortuitous exaggeration, for it springs inevitably from Trotsky's whole theoretical vision of the nature of the USSR, and above all from his firm conviction that the "soviet" bureaucratic system served the mass of the workers, in its own way, by guaranteeing their "social conquests". Such a vision naturally considered that a counter-revolutionary transition from Stalinism to capitalism would be accompanied by a rising of the proletarian masses to defend the "workers" state and their "own" nationalised property. And surely only a ferocious fascist regime could defeat and crush the workers' powerful resistance to a "capitalist restoration".

Obviously, Trotsky could not have known that in 1989-90 the working class would not only fail to defend nationalised property and the "communist" state apparatus, but would actively contribute to their abolition. Since the workers saw nothing in the old system to justify its defence, the transition to the market economy and the denationalisation of state property led to no bloody class struggle, and no fascist or semi-fascist regime proved necessary. Trotsky's predictions cannot be said to have been confirmed in this domain either.

If the "soviet" bureaucracy were not a ruling class, but as Trotsky put it only a "policeman" of the distribution process, the restoration of capitalism in the USSR would have required a primitive accumulation of capital. And indeed, contemporary Russian commentators often use the expression "initial capital accumulation". In doing so, they generally mean the enrichment of this or that person, the accumulation of money, the means of production, or other goods, in the hands of the "new Russians". However, this has nothing to do with scientific understanding of primitive capital accumulation uncovered by Marx in Capital. In analysing the genesis of capital, Marx emphasised that "so-called primitive accumulation is nothing but the historic process of separating the producer from the means of production"[28]. The formation of an army of wage workers by the confiscation of the producers' property is one of the main conditions for the formation of a ruling class. In the countries of the ex-USSR during the 1990s, did the "restorers of capitalism" need to form a class of wage workers by expropriating the producers? Obviously not: this class existed already, the producers had no control whatever over the means of production - there was nobody to expropriate. Consequently, the time for capital's initial accumulation had already passed.

Trotsky was doubtless right to link primitive accumulation with a cruel and bloody dictatorship. Marx also writes that "new-born capital sweats blood from every pore", and that in its first stages needs a "regime of blood"[29]. Trotsky's mistake was not in linking primitive accumulation to the counter-revolution, but in failing to see how that counter-revolution was taking place under his very eyes, with all its characteristics of massacres and monstrous political tyranny. The millions of despoiled peasants dying of poverty and hunger, the workers deprived of every right and forced to work beyond endurance, whose tombs were the foundations of the buildings constructed according to the Stalinist 5- Year Plans, the innumerable prisoners of the gulag: these are the real victims of primitive accumulation in the USSR. Today's property owners do not need to accumulate capital, they need only redistribute it amongst themselves by transforming state capital into private corporate capital[30]. But this operation did not mean a change in society, nor in the ruling classes, nor did it demand any great social cataclysm. If we do not understand this, then we will understand neither "soviet" history, nor Russia today.

To conclude. The conception of the bureaucracy contained in Trotsky's fundamental theoretical views and political perspectives is incapable of explaining the realities of Stalinism or its evolution. We can say the same of the other elements of the Trotskyist analysis of the social system in the USSR (the "workers" state, the "post-capitalist" nature of social relations, the "dual role" of Stalinism, etc.). Nonetheless, Trotsky did succeed in resolving one problem: this remarkable commentator directed a crushing critique against the claims of "socialist" construction in the USSR. And that was not too bad for his day.


[1] All quotations from Revolution Betrayed are taken from the New Park edition of 1973.

[2] See Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy, Chap 2.

[3] Marx, Capital, Book III.

[4] See the article Towards the New Stage in the Russian Centre of Collections of Documents for New History (RCCDNH), drawer 325, list I, folder 369, p1-11.

[5] By about 1930, the Opposition had lost two thirds of its members, including almost all its "historical leadership" (ten out of the thirteen who had signed the Platform of the Bolshevik-Leninists).

[6] RCCDNH. drawer 325,1.1…folder 175, p4, 32-34.  

[7] Bioulleten oppositsii (Bulletin of the Opposition), 1931, no.20, p.10.

[8] Bioulleten oppositsii (BO), 1931, no.20, p.10.

[9] ibid. 1939, no.79-89, p.6

[10] RCCDNH, drawer 325, 1.1, folder 499, p2.  

[11] BO, 1932, no. 27, p.6.  

[12] ibid., 1933, no.33, p9-10.

[13] See Broue, "Trotsky et Ie bloc des oppositions de 1932". Cahiers Leon Trotsky. 1980, no.5, p22.

[14] See Trotsky, Dnevniki i pisma, (Letters and Correspondence). Moscow. 1994. p54-55.

[15] ibid.

[16] BO, 1938, no.66-67. p.15  

[17] Trotsky, Stalin, Vol. 2 

[18] ibid.  

[19] The USSR in the war, Trotsky, 1939.

[20] Trotsky, Revolution Betrayed, p290.

[21] During the "soviet" epoch, Vadim Rogovin, professor at the Russian Institute of Sociology , was one of the main official propagandists and commentators on the social policy of the CPSU. During Perestroika, he converted himself into an "anti-Stalinist" and an unconditional admirer of Trotsky. He is the author of several apologetics for Trotsky and his ideas.

[22] Rogovin, Stalinski neonep, (The Stalinist NeoNEP), Moscow, 1994, p.344.

[23] BO, 1933. no.36-37, p.7

[24] O. Krychtanovskaya, "Finansovaya oligarkhia v Rossii", (The Financial Oligarchy ill Russia), Izvestia, 10101/96.

[25] ibid.

[26] Zhuganov is the leader of the "renovated" Communist Party and Yeltsin's main rival in the last presidential elections. Victor Ampilov is the main leader of the hard-line Stalinist movement in Russia, and the founder of the "Russian Communist Workers' Party". He calls for the restoration of the "classical" totalitarian regime of the 1930s.

[27] BO, 1935, no.41, p3.

[28] Marx, Capital, Book I, p663.

[29] ibid.

[30] Arriving at a similar conclusion after concrete sociological studies, O. Krychtanovskaya writes: "If we analyse carefully the situation in Russia in the 1990s, we see that the only "primitive accumulation” was the work of unlucky doctors turned stock-broker, or engineers buying a kiosk. This stage of accumulation almost always ended in the purchase of shares in MMM [a failed financial "pyramid"] (the result is well-known), and was rarely transformed into "secondary accumulation?" (Izvestia, 10/01/1996)

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