Communism Vol. 3, Part 5 - The problems of the period of transition (I)

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In the previous article in this series we began a study of the efforts of the Italian communist left to draw the lessons of the first international wave of proletarian revolutions and of the revolution in Russia in particular, and to understand how these lessons could be applied to the revolutionary transformations of the future. We noted the characteristic methods of the Italian Fraction in this work:

  • its intransigence in defending class principles, but also its openness to discussion with other internationalist currents. Both aspects were particularly relevant to the problem of the period of transition at that time, because the workers' movement was confronted with the monstrous claim that Stalin's USSR was on the verge of achieving "socialism", and because among the various internationalist groups there was a great deal of confusion about the nature of the economic developments taking place under the "Soviet" state;

  • its modesty and prudence, its insistence on sticking fast to the basic analytical framework of marxism - but also its willingness to question received wisdom and to search for new answers to new problems.

In International Review no. 127 we showed how these methods were concretised in a series of articles written by Vercesi under the heading "Parti, Etat, Internationale". In this issue, we begin the publication of another major series on the same basic theme: "Problems of the period of transition" written by Mitchell, who at the time the series began was a member of the Belgian group the Ligue des Communistes Internationalistes but who subsequently helped to found the Belgian Fraction of the Communist Left, which split from the LCI on the question of the war in Spain, and with the Italian Fraction formed the International Communist Left. To our knowledge this is the first time this series has been published since the1930s and the first time it has been translated into other languages.

In the opening section of this article, Mitchell makes it clear that he is "in accordance with the whole framework and spirit of Bilan", rejecting any speculative approach to the problems of the transition period and affirming that "marxism is an experimental method and not a game of guesses and forecasts", since it bases its conclusions and its predictions on the real events of history and the authentic experience of the proletarian movement. He then goes on to outline the main axes of the series he proposes to write:

"a. the historic conditions in which the proletarian revolution arises;

b. the necessity of the proletarian state;

c. the social and economic categories which will inevitably survive in the transitional period;

d. finally, certain requirements for a proletarian management of the transitional state".

This outline was more or less followed in the ensuing articles, although the space devoted to the complex economic problems of the transitional period meant that the series eventually took up five articles in Bilan over the next few years. In particular, a lot of attention was given to the debate with the Dutch internationalist current and its approach to the economic transformation as developed in Basic Principles of Communist Production and Distribution by Jan Appel and Henk Canne-Meier, summarised in Bilan by the LCI militant A Hennaut.

In this first article, Mitchell takes up the historic conditions of the proletarian revolution. Briefly stated, he focuses on the following key questions and debates:

  • communism is a historic necessity because capitalism, the last form of class society, has entered its phase of decadence and has become a definitive barrier to the development of mankind's productive forces. Bourgeois relations of production have created the possibility of a society of abundance in which the communist principle of "to each according to his needs, from each according to his means" can finally become a reality. However, a society of abundance and freedom cannot be installed overnight, but only after a more or less long period of social and economic transformation set in motion by the political victory of the proletariat;
  • this transformation can only be seriously undertaken on a worldwide scale. In contrast to previous modes of production, which could exist in different regions of the globe in relative isolation from each other, capitalism is necessarily a world system, creating a complex network of interdependence which would make it entirely impossible for communist relations of production to exist in separate locations. By the same token, capitalism reaches its epoch of historical decline as a global system and not in particular countries or regions, imposing the same revolutionary tasks on the working class all over the world;
  • it is on this resolutely internationalist basis that Mitchell undertakes a polemic with the most important theoretical errors of the day. First and foremost, he rejects the Stalinist doctrine of "socialism in one country" and its supposed theoretical underpinning in the "law of uneven development", an explanation given for the fact that different parts of the global capitalist system evolve at different rates and attain different levels of technological and social development. It should be remembered that Stalin made selective and abusive use of a passage from Lenin's August 1915 article "On the Slogan for a United States of Europe" to justify this argument: "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. After expropriating the capitalists and organising their own socialist production, the victorious proletariat of that country will arise against the rest of the world - the capitalist world - attracting to its cause the oppressed classes of other countries, stirring uprisings in those countries against the capitalists, and in case of need using even armed force against the exploiting classes and their states".1 Stalin took this one phrase by Lenin ("the victory of socialism is possible first in several or even in one capitalist country alone") to draw the totally unfounded conclusion that Lenin meant by this phrase not the essentially political victory of the working class as a first step towards the world revolution, but the achievement of a fully socialist mode of production behind national borders. In his text "The Third International after Lenin", a critique of the draft programme that was adopted at the 5th Comintern Congress of 1928, and which essentially constituted the suicide-note of the International by committing it to the theory of socialism in one country, Trotsky ably shows why this new theory does not at all logically follow either from Lenin's understanding of the phrase "victory of socialism" or from his conception of uneven development. Trotsky in particular insisted that capitalist development was always both "uneven" and "combined", so that all parts of the world capitalist system, though clearly at different stages of material development, functioned as a mutually-determining whole. The result of this was that an autarchic evolution towards socialism was completely impossible;
  • Mitchell recognized that Trotsky and his followers had been among the first to oppose the theory of socialism in one country. At the same time, he takes them to task for themselves accepting uneven development as an "unconditional law" and for making concessions to the possibility of national steps towards socialism. In "The Third International after Lenin", Trotsky even goes so far as to argue that uneven development is a law that governs the whole of human history; in reality, it is more precise to argue that it is a particular consequence of the social relations that "govern" various modes of production: in capitalism, it is a result of the laws of accumulation, which determine that the generation of wealth at one pole is the generation of poverty at another. In terms of the disparities between different geographic regions, this is especially the case in the epoch of imperialism. It could also be argued that the Trotskyists' acceptance of a "law" of uneven development led them to make concessions to the notion of individual workers' states making significant steps towards socialism within a national framework; and much of Mitchell's series is directed against the Trotskyists' tendency to lose their critical faculties in the face of the frenetic growth of industrial production in the USSR during the 1930s;
  • Mitchell also criticizes the Menshevik/Kautskyite thesis, echoed by genuine internationalists like Hennaut and the Dutch council communists, who see the failings of the Russian revolution in the backwardness of material conditions in Russia itself. Against this whole view of particular countries being "ripe" or "unripe" for socialism, Mitchell once again insists that the whole problem can only be approached in an international framework: "At the beginning of this study we underlined the fact that although capitalism has powerfully developed the productive capacity of society, it has not succeeded in developing the conditions for an immediate passage to socialism. As Marx indicated, only the material conditions for resolving this problem exist ‘or are at least in the process of formation' [...] These restrictions apply even more strongly to each national unit in the world economy. All of them are historically ripe for socialism, but none of them are ripe in the sense of possessing all the material conditions needed for the building of an integral socialism. This is true whatever level of development they may have reached".

As we publish and review the series of articles by Mitchell, we will have occasion to point out some weaknesses and inconsistencies in his contribution, some minor, some more substantial, but passages like the one just quoted confirm that when it comes to the fundamentals, we, like Mitchell, are still working "in accordance with the whole framework and spirit of Bilan".



Bilan no. 28: Problems of the period of transition

The title of this study should not lead anyone to the conclusion that we're going to start peering into the mists of the future or sketching out a solution to the many and complex tasks which will confront the proletariat when it has become the ruling class. Such a project would not be in accordance with the whole framework and spirit of Bilan. We will leave it to the "technicians" and the recipe-mongers or to the self-proclaimed "orthodox" marxists to indulge in such anticipations, to stroll down the byways of utopia, or to offer the workers formulae which have been emptied of any class content.

For us it can never be a question of inventing panaceas which are valid once and for all and which can be adapted to any historic situation. Marxism is an experimental method and not a game of guesses and forecasts. It has its roots in a historic reality, which is a moving, contradictory, process; it is nourished by past experience, tempered and corrected by the present, so that it can be enriched by further experience to come.

By synthesising the events of history, marxism has shown the true meaning of the state, laid bare of all idealist prejudices; it has developed the theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat and affirmed the necessity of the transitional proletarian state. But although it is possible to define the class content of such a state, we are as yet still limited to a mere outline of its social forms. It has still not been possible to situate the principles for running a proletarian state on a solid basis, or to clearly draw the lines of demarcation between party and state. This immaturity inevitably weighed heavily on the character and evolution of the Soviet State.

But it is precisely the task of those marxists who have survived the shipwreck of the workers' movement to forge the theoretical weapons which will make the future proletarian state an instrument of the world revolution and not a cog in the wheels of world capitalism.

This contribution to that theoretical task will examine:

a) the historic conditions in which the proletarian revolution arises;

b) the necessity of the proletarian state;

c) the social and economic categories which will inevitably survive in the transitional period;

d) finally, certain requirements for a proletarian management of the transitional state.

The historical context of the proletarian revolution

It became axiomatic to say that capitalist society, overflowing with a productive capacity which it can longer make full use of, drowning in a flood of commodities which it can't sell, has become a historic anachronism. From this it is but a short step to conclude that the disappearance of capitalism must open up the reign of abundance.

In reality, capitalist accumulation has reached the extreme limits of its progressive evolution and the capitalist mode of production is nothing but a fetter on historical progress. This doesn't mean that capitalism is like a ripe fruit which the proletariat simply has to pluck in order to find true happiness; it simply means that the material conditions exist for constructing the base (and only the base) of socialism, for preparing the ground for a communist society.

Marx said that: "The very moment civilisation begins, production begins to be founded on the antagonism of orders, estates, classes, and finally on the antagonism of accumulated labour and actual labour. No antagonism, no progress. This is the law that civilisation has followed up to our days. Till now the productive forces have been developed by virtue of this system of class antagonism".2 In his Anti-Duhring Engels asserted that the existence of a society divided into classes: "was the necessary consequence of the deficient and restricted development of production in former times" and from this he deduced that "if, upon this showing, division into classes has a certain historical justification, it has this only for a given period, only under given social conditions. It was based upon the insufficiency of production. It will be swept away by the complete development of modern productive forces". 3

It is clear that the final stage of capitalist development does not correspond to "the complete development of modern productive forces" in the sense that all human needs can now be satisfied. But what we do have today is a situation in which the persistence of class antagonism not only stands in the way of any social development, but actually leads to the regression of society.

This is what Engels was getting at when he said that the: "abolition of classes...presupposes...the development of production carried out to a degree at which appropriation of the means of pro-

duction and of the products, and, with this, of political domination, of the monopoly of culture, and of intellectual leadership by a particular class of society, has become not only superfluous, but economically, politically, intellectually a hindrance to development".4 And, when he added that capitalist society had reached this state and that we now had: "the possibility of securing for every member of society, by means of socialised production, an existence not only sufficient materially, and becoming day by day more full, but an existence guaranteeing to all the free development and exercise of their physical and mental faculties" there can be no doubt that he was envisaging the possibility of moving towards the full satisfaction of needs and not saying that we already had the material means for immediately achieving this.

As Engels said, the liberation of the productive forces: "is the one precondition for an unbroken, constantly accelerating development of the productive forces, and therewith for a practically unlimited increase of production itself".5 Consequently the period of transition (which can only unfold on a world scale and not within one state) is a political and economic phase which will inevitably be characterised by the inability of production to satisfy all individual needs, even when we take into account the prodigious levels which the productivity of labour has already achieved. The suppression of capitalist relations of production and of their antagonistic expression makes it possible to immediately begin providing for essential human needs (if we leave out the necessities of the class struggle which could temporarily reduce the level of production).

To go beyond this requires an incessant development of the productive forces. The realisation of the formula "to each according to their needs" will come at the end of a long process, which will go forwards not in a straight line but through a winding course of contradictions and conflicts, and in conjunction with the world-wide development of the class struggle.

The historic mission of the proletariat is, as Engels said, to lead humanity "from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom"; but the proletariat can only carry out this mission if it analyses the nature and limits of the historic conditions in which this act of liberation takes place, and applies this analysis to the whole of its political and economic activity. The proletariat cannot abstractly pose socialism against capitalism, as though they were two entirely independent epochs, as though socialism was not the historic prolongation of capitalism and fatally scarred by it, but something clean and new which springs form the virgin womb of the proletarian revolution.

It wasn't because of indifference or negligence that the founders of marxism didn't go into the details of the period of transition. But Marx and Engels were the antithesis, the living negation, of the utopians. They didn't try to construct abstract schema, to imagine things which could only be resolved scientifically.

And in 1918, Rosa Luxemburg, who made an immense theoretical contribution to marxism, still felt it necessary to point out that: "For from being a sum of ready made prescriptions which only have to be applied, the practical realisation of socialism as an economic, social and juridical system is something which lies completely hidden in the mists of the future...(socialism) has as its prerequisite a number of measures of force against property, etc. The negative, the tearing down, can be decreed; the building up, the positive, cannot".6

In his preface to Capital Marx had already indicated that: "When a society has discovered the natural laws which regulate it own movement (and the final purpose of my book is to reveal the economic laws of motion of modern society), it can neither overleap the natural phases of evolution, nor shuffle them out of the world by decrees. But this much, at least, it can do; it can shorten and lesson the birth pangs."

A policy of proletarian management, therefore, can only envisage the general tendencies and orientation of economic development, while historic experience (of which the Russian revolution is a gigantic though incomplete example) can provide the proletariat with an understanding of the social forms suitable for the implementation of its economic programme. This programme will only have a socialist content if it follows a way which is diametrically opposed to capitalism - if it aims at a constant and progressive elevation of the living conditions of the masses, and not at holding them down or lowering them.


If we want to understand the revolution not as an isolated phenomenon but as a product of an historical development, we must relate it to the fundamental laws of history - to the dialectical movement generated by the class struggle, which is the living substance of historical events.

Marxism teaches us that the causes of revolutions are not to be found in philoso-

phy, but in the economy of a given society. The gradual changes that occur in the mode of production and exchange, spurred on by the class struggle, inevitably culminate in a revolutionary "catastrophe" which tears through the envelope of the existing social and productive relations.

In this respect the 20th century is for capitalist society what the 18th and 19th centuries were for feudal society - an epoch of violent revolutionary convulsions engulfing the whole of society.

In the epoch of bourgeois decadence, then, proletarian revolutions are the product of the historical maturity of society as a whole, links in a chain of events which, as history since 1914 has shown, can easily alternate with defeats of the proletariat and wars.

The victory of one proletariat, although the immediate result of particular circumstances, is definitely part of a whole: the world revolution. For this reason there can be no question of assigning an autonomous development to this revolution because of any social or geographical peculiarities.

Here we come up against the problem underlying the theoretical controversy which led Russian centrism (and subsequently the Communist International) to put forward the theory of "socialism in one country". We are referring to the interpretation of the unequal development which has been a constant factor in historical evolution.

Marx observed that economic life was in some ways analogous to biological processes. Once life has transcended a given period of development and gone from one stage to the next, it begins to obey other laws, even though it is still dependent on the fundamental laws which regulate all manifestations of life.

It's the same for each historical period, which has its own laws, even though history as a whole is regulated by the laws of dialectical evolution. For example, Marx denied that the law of population was the same in all times and all places. Each stage of development has its own particular law of population and Marx pointed this out when refuting the theory of Malthus.

In Capital, in which he dissected the mechanisms of the capitalist system, Marx didn't dwell on the many uneven aspects of its expansion, because for him: "What we are concerned with primarily is, not the higher or lower degree of development of the social antagonisms which arise out of the natural laws of capitalist production, but these laws in themselves, the tendencies which work out with an iron necessity towards an inevitable goal. A country in which industrial development is more advanced than in other simply presents those others with a picture of their own future".7 From this passage we can see clearly that what has to be considered as the fundamental element is not the uneven development of the different countries which make up the capitalist system - as though there was some kind of law ensuring the historical necessity of uneven development - but rather the specific laws of capitalist production, which regulate the whole of society and which are themselves subordinated to the general laws of dialectical evolution.

The geographical milieu explains why the historical evolution and the specific laws of a society manifest themselves in varied and uneven forms of development, but it cannot explain the historical process itself. In other words, the geographical milieu is not the active factor in history.

Marx pointed out that while capitalist production is favoured by a moderate climate, this is merely a potential factor which can only be made use of in historical conditions which are independent of geographical conditions. "It by no means follows that the most fruitful soil is the most fitted for the growth of the capitalist mode of production. This mode is based on the dominion of man over Nature...It is not the tropics with their luxuriant vegetation, but the temperate zone, that is the mother country of capital. It is not the mere fertility of the soil but the differentiation of the soil, the variety of its natural products, the changes of the seasons, which form the physical basis for the social division of labour, and which, by changes in the natural surroundings, spur man on to the multiplication of his wants, his capacities, his means and modes of labour".8

The geographical milieu is thus not the primordial element which determines the way different countries will develop. If we locate this development in the sphere of geographical conditions, and not in the context of the general historical laws of a whole epoch, then we would have to come to the conclusion that each country has developed in an autonomous manner, independent of any historical context.

But history has only unfolded because of the intervention of men acting (with the exception of primitive communism) within a framework of antagonistic social relations, which have varied according to the historical epoch and which have imposed a particular form on the class struggle: slave against master, serf against landlord, bourgeois against feudal lord, proletariat against bourgeois.

Obviously this doesn't mean that various pre-capitalist social formations - Asiatic, slave, feudal - always succeed each other in a mechanical way and that their specific laws have a universal validity. Such a pattern of evolution was ruled out by the fact that these social formations were all based on modes of production which by nature were very progressive.

Each of these societies was unable to expand beyond a certain geographical radius (e.g. the Mediterranean basin in classical antiquity), while outside this radius other modes of production could exist, in a more or less evolved manner, and under the influence of various factors, of which the geographical factor was not the most essential.

But, with the arrival of capitalism, the whole course of history broadens out. Although capitalism inherited a historic situation characterised by considerable differences in development, it did not take it long to overcome these differences.

Dominated by the need to accumulate surplus value, capitalism appeared on the historical arena as the most powerful and progressive mode of production ever seen, the most expansive of all economic systems. But although it was characterised by a tendency to universalise its mode of production and although it partially succeeded in creating a world in its own image, it never completely destroyed all previous social formations. Rather it annexed them, sucked them dry, or pushed them aside.

We have already expressed our opinion (see "Crises and cycles") on the perspective of the advent of a pure and balanced capitalist society, which Marx is supposed to have put forward; we don't want to go back over this here, since the facts of history have eloquently refuted not Marx's pseudo-predictions, but the hypotheses of those who have used it to reinforce bourgeois ideology. We know that capitalism entered into its epoch of decomposition before being able to complete its historic mission because its internal contradictions developed faster than the system could expand. But capitalism was still the first system of production to give rise to a world economy, which is characterised not by homogeneity and balance, which would in any case be contrary to its nature, but by a strict interdependence of all its parts. It is this which, in the final analysis, subjugates the whole world to the laws of capital and to the yoke of the imperialist bourgeoisie.

The development of capitalist society, spurred on by competition, has produced this complex and remarkable worldwide division of labour which can and must be perfected and purified (this is the task of the proletariat) but which cannot be destroyed. It is not called into question at all by the phenomenon of economic nationalism, which, with the general crisis of capitalism, appears as a reactionary manifestation of the exacerbated contradiction between the universal character of the capitalist economy and this division into antagonist national states. In fact, this is further confirmed by the stifling atmosphere created by the existence of what might be called obsidian economies. Under the cover of an almost hermetically sealed protectionism, we are seeing a prolific growth of industries built up on the basis of enormous waste expenditure, the development of war economies which exact a heavy tribute from the living conditions of the masses. These are economically unviable, parasitic growths which will be eliminated in a socialist society.

A socialist society is obviously inconceivable without this global division of labour.

The interdependence and reciprocal subordination of the various spheres of production (which is today confined within the framework of bourgeois nations) is a historic necessity, and capitalism has taken this to the highest possible level, both from the economic and political point of view. The fact that, once this social structure appears on a world scale, it is shaken by a thousand contradictory forces, does not mean that it doesn't exist on this scale. It is based on a distribution of the productive forces and of natural resources which is the product of the whole historical development. It is not at all dependent on the desire of imperialist capitalism to counter-act the strict interdependence of all the regions of the world by retreating behind national frontiers. If capitalism is attempting this mad project today, it is because it is being driven by its own contradictions, but it can only do this by destroying the riches which concretise the surplus value produced by generations of workers, by precipitating a gigantic destruction of the productive forces into the holocaust of imperialist war.

The international proletariat cannot afford to ignore the laws of historical evolution. Once a section of the proletariat has made its revolution, the price of the theory of "socialism in one country" is the abandonment of the worldwide class struggle, and thus the defeat of that revolution.


The idea that uneven development is a historical law giving rise to the necessity of autonomous national development is a denial of the concept of society as a worldwide phenomenon.

As we have shown, uneven economic and political development, far from being an "absolute law of capitalism",9 is simply a sum of phenomena determined by the specific laws of the bourgeois system of production.

In its period of expansion, capitalism, through a tortuous and contradictory process, tended to even out inequalities of development, whereas now, in its regressive phase, the necessities of its evolution have led to a deepening of these inequalities: the advanced capitalisms suck the backward countries dry and destroy any possibility of their development.

The Communist International sees this retrograde and parasitical development, and concludes that "uneven development is augmented and accentuated even further in the imperialist epoch"; it thus puts forward its theory of "national socialism", by pointing out the impossibility of a world proletarian revolution as a simultaneous act, and confusing national socialism and a revolution which breaks out in a national framework.

In order to back up these arguments, it elaborates on certain of Lenin's writings, notably his article of 1915 "On the Slogan for the United States of Europe" (Against the Stream) where he said that "Uneven economic and political development is an unconditional law of capitalism. Hence it follows that the triumph of socialism is to begin with possible in a few, or even a single capitalist country."10

Trotsky has dealt quite adequately with these falsifications in The Third International After Lenin and we don't need to refute them again here.

But all the same, Trotsky, seeking to follow Marx and Lenin, thinks that it is possible to use the "law" of uneven development - which he also makes into an absolute law of capitalism - to explain both the inevitability of the revolution assuming a national form and also why it should first break out in the backward countries: "The uneven, sporadic development of capitalism gives the socialist revolution an uneven and sporadic character, but the advanced degree of mutual interdependence between all countries means that it is both politically and economically impossible to build socialism in one country"11 and again that: "the prediction that Russia, a historically backward country, could undergo a proletarian revolution before an advanced country like England, was based entirely on the law of uneven development."

First of all, although Marx recognised the necessity of national revolutions, he never invoked a law of uneven development, and he always made it clear that the necessity for national revolutions derived from the fact that society was divided into capitalist nations, which was simply the corollary of the fact that it was divided into classes.

The Communist Manifesto says that: "Since the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy, must rise to be the leading class of the nation, must constitute itself the nation, it is, so far, national, though not in the bourgeois sense of the word."12 In the Critique of the Gotha Programme Marx goes on say: "It is altogether self-evident that, to be able to fight at all, the working class must organise itself at home as a class and that its own country is the immediate arena of its struggle. In so far its class struggle is national, not in substance, but as the Communist Manifesto says ‘in form'."13

When the national struggle breaks out into a proletarian revolution, it shows that it is the product of the historical maturation of the social and economic contradictions of capitalist society as a whole. The dictatorship of the proletariat is a point of departure, not the final goal. It is an expression of the worldwide class struggle, and can only live by remaining part of that struggle. Only in the sense of this continuous revolutionary process can we talk about a "permanent" revolution.

Although Trotsky absolutely rejects the theory of "socialism in one country" and considers it to be reactionary, the fact that he bases his argument on the "law" of uneven development leads him to distort the significance of proletarian revolutions. This "law" is incorporated into his theory of permanent revolution which, according to him, consists of two basic theses: one based on a "correct" conception of the law of uneven development, the other on a precise understanding of the world economy.

If, during the imperialist epoch the various expressions of uneven development are the result not of the specific laws of capitalism (whose effects are intensified by the general crisis of decomposition) but of a historical law of uneven development which has the character of necessity, it is impossible to understand why the effects of this law should limit themselves to national revolutions which begin in the backward countries. Why shouldn't they also permit the development of autonomous economies, i.e. of "national socialism"?

By ascribing a preponderant importance to the geographical milieu (because this is what happens when you make uneven development into a law) rather than to the real historical factor - the class struggle - you are opening the door to a justification of a "socialism" based on the physical possibilities of independent development. As far as Russia is concerned, this means opening the door to centrism.

In vain Trotsky accuses Stalin of "making a fetish of the law of uneven development and declaring it as a sufficient condition for the build up of national socialism" because, beginning from the same theoretical premise, he must logically come to the same conclusions, unless he arbitrarily stops half way. Trotsky said of the Russian Revolution that: "it was the greatest of all expressions of the unevenness of historical development; the theory of the permanent revolution, which predicted the October cataclysm, was itself based on this law."

The backwardness of Russia can to a certain extent be used to explain why the revolution had to jump over the bourgeois phase, although the essential reason for this was that it took place in a period when the national bourgeoisie was incapable of carrying out its historic tasks. But the real significance of this backwardness was expressed on the political level, because the historic impotence of the Russian bourgeoisie was accompanied by an organic weakness which was aggravated by the pressures of imperialist conflict. In the chaos of the imperialist war, Russia was revealed as the weak link in the imperialist chain. The world revolution began in the place where conditions were favourable for the proletariat and the building of its class party.


To conclude the first part of this study, we would like to look at the theory of countries being "ripe" or "unripe" for socialism, a theory which is especially favoured by the "evolutionary socialists" but which has found some echo in the thought of the communists of the opposition when it comes to defining the character of the Russian Revolution or seeking the origins of its degeneration.

In his preface to the Critique of Political Economy Marx summed up his position on what it meant to say that a phase of social revolution had arrived at a level of maturity: "No social formation is ever destroyed before all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed, and new superior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society. Mankind thus inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able to solve, since closer examination will always show that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already present or at least in the course of formation."14 This means that the condition of maturity will always have its repercussions on the whole society regulated by the dominant mode of production. Moreover, the notion of maturity can only have a relative, not an absolute, meaning. A society is "ripe" to the extent that its social structure and juridical framework have become too narrow in relation to the material forces of production which it has developed.

At the beginning of this study we underlined the fact that although capitalism has powerfully developed the productive capacity of society, it has not succeeded in developing the conditions for an immediate passage to socialism. As Marx indicated, only the material conditions for resolving this problem exist "or are at least in the process of formation".

These restrictions apply even more strongly to each national unit in the world economy. All of them are historically ripe for socialism, but none of them are ripe in the sense of possessing all the material conditions needed for the building of an integral socialism. This is true whatever level of development they may have reached.

No nation on its own contains all the elements for a socialist society. The idea of national socialism is in diametrical opposition to the international nature of the imperialist economy, to the universal division of labour, and the global antagonism between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

It is a pure abstraction to see socialist society as a sum of complete socialist economies. The world-wide distribution of the productive forces (which is not an artificial product) makes it impossible both for the "advanced" countries and for the "backward" countries to complete the transition to socialism within their own borders. . The specific weight of each of the countries in the world economy is measured by the degree to which they are reciprocally dependent, not by how independent they might be. England, which is one of the most advanced sectors of capitalism, a country in which capitalism exists in an almost pure form, could not operate in isolation. Facts today show that, even when only partially cut off from the

world market, the productive forces begin to break down. This is the case with the cotton and coal industries in England. In the U.S.A, the automobile industry can only go into decline if it is limited to the home market, no matter how vast the latter is. An isolated proletarian Germany would soon see its industrial apparatus breaking down, even if it initiated a huge expansion of consumption.

It is thus an abstraction to pose the question of countries being "ripe" or "unripe" for socialism, because on these terms you would have to say that neither the advanced countries nor the backward countries were mature enough.

The problem has to be posed in the light of the historical maturation of social antagonisms, which in turn results from the sharpening conflicts between the productive forces and the relations of production. To limit the question to the material factors at hand would be to take up the position of the theoreticians of the Second International, of Kautsky and the German Socialists, who considered that because Russia was a backward economy dominated by a technically weak agrarian sector, it was not ripe for a proletarian revolution, but only for a bourgeois revolution. In this their conception was the same as that of the Russian Mensheviks. Otto Bauer declared that the proletarian state inevitably had to degenerate because of Russia's backwardness.

In the Russian Revolution, Rosa Luxemburg remarked that, according to the conception of the social democrats, the Russian revolution ought to have stopped after the fall of the Tsarism. "According to this view, if the revolution has gone beyond that point and has set as its task the dictatorship of the proletariat, this is simply a mistake of the radical wing of the Russian labour movement, the Bolsheviks. And all difficulties which the revolution has met with in its further course, and all disorders it has suffered, are pictured as purely a result of this fateful error."

The question as to whether Russia was or was not ripe for the proletarian revolution can't be answered by looking at the material conditions of its economy, but at the balance of class forces, which had been dramatically transformed by the international situation. The essential condition was the existence of a concentrated proletariat - despite the fact that it was a tiny minority in relation to the huge mass of peasant producers - whose consciousness expressed itself through a class party powerfully armed with revolutionary ideology and experience. We agree with Rosa Luxemburg that: "The Russian proletariat has to be seen as the vanguard of the world proletariat, a vanguard whose movement is the expression of the development of social antagonisms on a world scale. What is happening in St Petersburg is the result of developments in Germany, England, and France. It is these developments which will decide the outcome of the Russian revolution, which can only achieve its goal if it is the prologue to the revolution of the European proletariat." Certain comrades of the communist opposition have however, based their appreciation of the Russian revolution on the criterion of economic "immaturity".

In his study "Classes in Soviet Russia", comrade Hennaut takes up this position. In his interpretation of those statements of Engels which we looked at earlier, Hennaut sees them as having a particular significance which can be applied to a given country, rather than as referring to a whole social order that has reached the historic limitations of its development. If this were the case, Engels would obviously be contradicting what Marx said in his preface to the Critique of Political Economy. But as we shall see, this is not the case. According to Hennaut, it is the economic factor and not the political factor which is most important when we are trying to establish whether or not a proletarian revolution is possible. He says: "if we apply them to the present period of human history, these considerations (of Engels) can only mean that the seizure of power by the proletariat, the maintenance and use of this power for socialist ends, is only conceivable where capitalism has already cleared the path for socialism, i.e. where it has given rise to a numerically strong proletariat which comprises, if not the majority, then a powerful minority of the population, and where it has created a developed industry which is able to stamp its seal on the further development of the whole economy." Further on, he stresses that: "In the final analysis it was the cultural and economic capacities of the country which determined the final outcome of the Russian revolution when it became clear that the proletariat outside Russia wasn't ready to make the revolution. The backward state of Russian society had to make all its negative sides felt." But perhaps comrade Hennaut might have added that, whether we like it or not, any proletarian revolution that tries to draw its "legitimacy" from the material conditions in one country will be drawn irresistibly into the trap of "national socialism".

We repeat that the fundamental condition for the life of the proletarian revolution is its ability to link up on a world scale, and this consideration must determine the internal and external policies of the proletarian state. This is because, although the revolution has to begin on a national scale, it cannot remain indefinitely at that level, however large and wealthy that nation might be. Unless it links up with other national revolutions and becomes a world revolution it will be asphyxiated and will degenerate. This is why we consider it an error to base one's arguments on the national conditions of one country.

On the basis of these political considerations we can arrive at an understanding of the "leap" the Russian revolution made over the various intermediary phases. The October revolution showed that in the epoch of imperialist decadence the proletariat cannot stop at the bourgeois phase of development, but must go beyond it by taking the place of a bourgeoisie incapable of carrying out its historic tasks. In order to attain this objective, the Bolsheviks did not spend their time drawing up an inventory of the productive forces at their disposal, but based their activity on an evaluation of the balance of class forces.

Again, this leap was not conditioned by economic factors, but by political ones, since the only way the Russian revolution could give rise to a material development of the economy was by linking up with the world revolution. The "immaturity" of the backward countries - which makes such "leaps" necessary - as well as the "maturity" of the advanced countries, must all be incorporated into the same process of the world-wide class struggle.

Lenin gave a clear answer to those who reproached the Bolsheviks for having taken power. "It would an irreparable error to say that, because there is an obvious imbalance between our economic strength and out political strength, we shouldn't have taken power! To argue in such a way you have to be blind, you have to forget that such a balance will never exist and can't exist in any process of social revolution, and that it is only through a whole number of experiences, each one of which will be incomplete and marred by a certain imbalance, that the triumph of socialism can be realised by the revolutionary co-operation of the workers of all countries."

No matter how "poor" a proletariat might be it does not have to wait for the "richer" proletariats to make its own revolution. The fact that such a revolution might encounter many more difficulties than would confront a stronger proletariat is undeniable, but history doesn't offer other alternatives.

The historic epoch of bourgeois revolutions led by the bourgeoisie is over. The survival of capitalism has become an obstacle to progress, and thus also to the development of the bourgeois revolution, since we are now faced with a saturated world market. Moreover, the bourgeoisie can no longer win the support of the working masses like it did in 1789; even as early as 1848, 1871, and 1905 in Russia, it was unable to do this.

The October revolution was a striking example of one of these apparent historical paradoxes; it showed a proletariat completing a short-lived bourgeois revolution but then compelled to realise its own objectives in order to avoid being strangled by imperialism.

The Russian bourgeoisie had been weakened from birth by western capital's domination of the economy. The price of keeping Tsarism going was that a considerable portion of the national revenue was soaked off by foreign capital, and this was an obstacle to the economic development of the Russian bourgeoisie.

1905 was an attempted bourgeois revolution marked by the absence of the bourgeoisie. A highly concentrated proletariat already appeared on the scene as an independent revolutionary force; this forced the politically impotent liberal bourgeoisie into the arms of the feudal autocracy. But the bourgeois revolution of 1905 couldn't end in a victory for the proletariat, because although it was a product of the convulsions caused by the Russo-Japanese war, it wasn't accompanied by a maturation of social antagonisms on an international scale. Thus Tsarism was able to receive financial and material aid from the whole European bourgeoisie.

As Rosa Luxemburg said, "The Revolution of 1905-1907 roused only a faint echo in Europe. Therefore, it had to remain a mere opening chapter. Continuation and conclusion were tied up with the further development of Europe".15 The revolution of 1917 arose in a more developed historical situation. In The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky Lenin traced its successive phases: "First, with the ‘whole' of the peasantry against the monarchy, against the landlords, against medievalism (and to that extent, the revolution remains bourgeois, bourgeois democratic). Then, with the poor peasants, with the semi-proletarians, with all the exploited against capitalism, including the rural rich, the kulaks, the profiteers, and to that extent the revolution becomes a socialist one. To attempt to raise an artificial Chinese Wall between the first and the second, to separate them by anything else than the degree of preparedness of the proletariat and the degree of its unity with the poor peasants, means monstrously to distort Marxism, to vulgarise it, to substitute liberalism in its place. It means smuggling in a reactionary defence of the bourgeoisie against the socialist proletariat by means

of quasi-scientific references to the progressive character of the bourgeoisie as compared with medievalism."16

The dictatorship of the proletariat was the instrument which made it possible first to complete the bourgeois revolution, then go beyond it. This is the explanation behind the Bolshevik slogan "land to the peasants", which - mistakenly, in our opinion - was opposed by Rosa Luxemburg.

With Lenin, we say that: "...the Bolsheviks...strictly differentiated between the bourgeois-democratic revolution, and the socialist revolution: by carrying the former to its end, they opened the door for the transition to this latter. This was the only policy that was revolutionary and Marxian".17


(Bilan no. 28, March-April 1936)

1 Collected Works, Vol.21.

2 The Poverty of Philosophy. Collected Works, Vol. 6.

3 Collected Works, Vol.25.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 The Russian Revolution

7 Preface to the first German edition of Capital.

8 Capital vol. 1, Part V, Chapter XVI "Absolute and relative surplus value".

9 Programme of the 6th Congress of the CI.

10 Collected Works, Vol. 21.

11 The Third International after Lenin.

12 Collected Works, Vol. 6.

13 Collected Works, Vol. 24.

14 Collected Works, Vol.29.

15 The Russian Revolution.

16 Collected Works, Vol. 28.

17 The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky.


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