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‘The Revolution Betrayed’



-[.J. Arthur
In spite of Trotsky’s tremendous role in the
victory of the Russian Revolution, his name will be
forever associated primarily with the struggle
against its decline, with his patient exposures
of Stalin’s falsifications of the programme, and
the history, of the revolution.

as opposed

In my view his main work of analysis in this
field, The Revolution Betrayed, has still not been
superseded. Cl) ’10s t of Trotsky’ s cri tics fall into
one or other of two camps whose physiognomy he
accurately described as follows:

It is this doctrine, and in particular the idea
that we can counterpose political and social
revolution in our programmes so slickly, that I
propose to re-examine.

“There: are some who say that since the
actual state which has emerged from the
proletarian revolution does not correspond
to ideal a priori norms, therefore they turn
their backs on it.

That is political
snobbery, common to pacifist-democratic,
libertarian, anarcho-syndicalist, and
qenerally ultra-Left circles of the
petty-bourgeois intelligensia.

are others who say that since this state
has emerged from the proletarian
revolution therefore every criticism
u[ it is sacrilege and counter-revolution.

That is the vo~ce of hypocrisy behind
whic!) lurk most often the immediate
materlal interests of certain groups
“mony this very same petty-bourgeois
lntelliJensia, or among the workers’

!Jurcaucracy.” (2)

In the first place let us note the unfortunate
ambiguity in the term “Workers’ State”. By this
is meant, of course, the basic character of society
as a whole. The state in the narrower sense of the
word (i.e. the complex of coercive institutions) is
acknowledged by Trotskyism not to be in the hands of
the proletariat, but of the party bureaucracy, which
has expropriated the proletariat politically. Even
so, it is held that in so far as the interests of
the bureaucracy itself are connected with nationalised
property, it will in some way or other be likely to
defend the latter against encroachment
and thus be partially a defender of proletarian

So far so good. However, the neat dichotomy
political/social begins to disintergrate when
Trotsky argues that is is inexplicable how such a
degeneration could occur solely at the political
level and fills out his account of the political
expropriation of the proletariat by giving this a

Ih)H’Vl’r, it would be surprising if this first
attempt, hy even a very capable ~1arxist, to grasp
thC’ll)’l’t i ,’;( 11:- the mean ing of the horrors of Stalinism
h:ld -;llL’~’L’l’ded, given the unforeseen nature of the
( I t’L’UIlI-; LIIlCl’S.

I think one can detect a certain
fu)’cin)..: (If the ~Iarxist categories in Trotsky’s
:1 tt cmpt -; to comprehend the new material, conceptual ise
it. and ,ldapt the revol ut i onary programme to the new
t:]-;/-.5. ilere I try to argue, in a tentative way,
th:!t the concepts relied on in The Revolution
n0tra~cd do not adequately grasp the dialectic of
tr:ln5ition from capitalism to socialism. The
I’l’CC i ved doct r i ne revolves around the Trinity of
l’oncepts: Ca) Workers’ State; Cb) Political Revolution,

social basis.

“This whole stratum which does not engage
directly in productive labour, but
administers, orders, commands, pardons
and punishes – teachers and students we
are leaving aside – must be numbered at
five or six million .”
“In the whole mass of the bureaucracy,
the communists together with the Communist
Youth ‘constitute a block of l~ to 2
million – at present, owing to continued
purgations, rather less than more.

is the backbone of the sta te power.

same communist administrators are the
backbone of the party, and of the
Communist Youth.

The former Bolshevik
party is now no longer the vanguard of
the proletariat, but the political
organisation of the bureaucracy …

Even such a severe critic of Trotsky as Nicolas
Krasso (in his New Left Review article of 1967)
can find no objection ~o the work other than its
“demagogic title”. The -debate started by Krasso
has been republished as TROTSKY: THE GREAT DEBATE
RENEWEO, ed. N Krasso, New Critics Press (St
Louis, ~10.) 1971. This book also contains an
earlier, longer, version of my present argument.



Social Revolution.

The dOctrine is that in the Workers’ State a
bureaucratic degeneration or deformation has
occured which re~uires a political revolution to
establish socialism proper, but that no social
revolution is required because capitalist property
relations have, broadly speaking, iHready been
replaced. The objection that a Workers’ State can
hardly be said to exist when the workers ~ave no
rights and are tyrannised over by bureaucratic
gangsters is got round by pointing out that ‘the
political form of bourgeois dictatorships can vary
from parliamentary to fascist without affecting the
social base of society, because the latter is
determined primarily by the economic form.

The unprecedented and unforeseen problems
associated with the decline of the revolution faced
~Iarxism with an acute crisis of theory and practice.

~Jo-one can deny Trotsky the foremost place amongst
those who faced up to them seriously on the basis
of uncompromising revolutionary principle.

‘The Workers’ State and the Question of
Thermidor and Bonapartism’, New International,



“Hypothetically, we may assume that the
labour and collectivised peasant aristocracy,


th6 Stakanovists, the non-party ‘active’

trusted personages, their relativ6s and
relatives in law, approximate
the same
figure we adopted for the bureaucracy, that
is five to six million ‘”
Twel V8 pe>:

cent, or perhaps 15 per cent of the
population – that is the authentic
social basis of the autrocratic ruli~g
circles.” (3)

“I am a K.P.D. official invited here from
the Wes t.

I ha ve been gi ven sorre chi ts
for meals, but I don’t know where the
dining room is.”
“That depends what sort of ticket you have.”
He looked at me in surprise an~ showed me
his ticket.

It was Category III – a ticket
for less important rrembers af staff.

showed him the way.

“But tell me – are the meals different for
different rrembers of staff in the
Central Corrunittee?”
“Yes of course.

There are different
kinds of ticket, according to the
class of work one is doing.

The last
two categories are for technicians and
clerks.” .

“Yes but … aren’t they all members
of the Party?”
“Yes, of course,
They are all certified
Party rrembers, including the charwomen
and chauffers and night-watchmen.”
He looked at me in astonishment and said,
“Different tickets – different meals and they are all rrembers of the Party!”
He turned and went wi thout another word.

A morrent later I heard the creak of the
front door.

My comrade had left the
Central Corrunittee building.

I crossed the courtyard to the diningroom.

I went through the rooms in which
Categories III and IV
the lower classes
were fed; a~for tii; first time I had
an uneasy feeling as I opened the door
into the dining-room reserved for our

Here at a table covered with
a white cloth, the senior members of staff
enjoyed an excellent rreal of several

Curious, I thought, that this
has never struck me before!” (5)

Thus Trotskyists always argue that even the
personal dictatorship of St~lin had social roots in
a stratum of society – a stratum which Trotsky had
little difficulty in showing had very conisderable
material privileges which sharply differentiated
their interests from those of the masses.

A question that immediately arises is that if,
even allowing for the relative autonomy of the
politic~l sphere, ~e find this political expropriation
has a soclal basis in such a stratum, can we talk
about a merely political r~volution wh~n such a
revolution would clearly involve dispossessi~g thi~
stratum not only of its political expression but
also of its material privileges? Especially when
Trotsky computes that over twelve per cent of the
population may be involved?

In The Revolution Betrayed Trotsky bases his
analysis primarily on antagonisms in the sphere of
distribution flowing from a low level of productivity.

However far more important than its effect on
distribution will be the effect of the so-called
political revolution on production itself. Trotsky
does not stress this, partially because of the
administrative bent Lenin noted (4) no doubt,
partially again perhaps because the low level of the
masses in his day makes my point academic. This
point is that the social character of production in
the Soviet Union sets fetters on the most important
productive force of all, namely the initiative and
creativity of the worker himself. The completely
hierarchical command structure of the Soviet economy
makes the individual worker the same kind of labour
power machine and nothing else, that he is in a
capitalist factory. Who can doubt that a new upsurge
of proletarian revolution, sweeping away bureaucratic
privilege, would also restructure production itself
so as to provide avenues of expression for the
enthusiasm and ingenuity of the workers. It is not
at all a question, as the C.P.S.U. right-wing and the
bourgeois press duet, of personnel changes, i.e.

replacing politically reliable but stupid cadres with
technically competent ones; but of the entry of an
educated working class into the arena.

What is important in this example is not so
much that such a hierarchy exists but that no-one
thinks it particularly odd. Values have to change
with the structures – large-scale transformations
of people’s unders tanding of themselves and thei r
social relationships – if socialism is to come out
of this
The Basis of the degeneration
Before we proceed let us consider the vulgar
Trotskyist thesis that the case of the Soviet Union
and its degeneration is an ‘exception’ easily
explicable by certain special circumstances ones that we have no reason to expect to obtain
generally:- backwardness, isolation, encirclement,
and so on. However, although it is obvious enough
that the circumstances cited clearly conditioned
Soviet development, the ‘exception’ theory begins
to seem over-simple when we take into account other
experiences. There are now some dozen or more
“workers’ states” and, although there are enormous
differences between them, none of them corresponds
to the expected ‘model’ of socialism. All these
regimes, like the U.S.S.R. are in a traditional
state somewhere between capitalism (or colonialism)
and socialism.

Such an access of strength to the productive
forces again requires us to ask if it can be
comprehended by the merely ‘political revolution’.

Moreover (if with some trepidation) one is also
forced to speak of cultural revolution here. A new
upsurge of proletarian revolution in the Soviet Union
could not possibly succeed in changing organisational
forms in abstraction from the forms of thought,
values, and character of the population. It is
perfectly clear that, in many respects, bourgeois
values and ideology, superstition, religion, all
kinds of vice, profoundly permeate Soviet society.

One simple example from WOlfgang Leonhard’s
book Child of the Revolution illustrates the
necessity for a thoroughgoing reappraisal of Soviet
style ‘socialism’ by its citizens – though the
actual example is from Soviet-sponsored East Berlin.

Leonhard relates that in Berlin in October 1945 a
communist from the West, who had spent the war
underground, accosted him in the Central Committee


NY, P .138


In the ‘Testament’

Indeed, only abstract moralisers with no Marxist
understanding could fail to understand that a more
or less long period of transition towards socialism
is unavoidable. Furthermore, this period cannot be
expected to be one of continuous smooth transition:

it too must have its dialectic, its periods of
decline and renewal. It should be recognised that
historical experience proves that any revolution
inevitably undergoes a period of ebb, of degeneration,



W Leonhard: CHI LP
1957), p.377



not in a position to know all the relevant
considerations. It was always possible that some
new revolutionary breakthrough in the West might
have come to the aid of the U.S.S.R., which w~uld
have changed the conditions of their struggle.

Then again it could be argued that a stubborn rearguard action might ameliorate or slow-down a process
of degeneration. Finally it is possible for a
revolutionary tendency, even if defeated, to make a
positive contribution from the longer term point of
view; for when a new upsurge of revolution comes
it can go back and learn from the struggle and analyses
of the heroic groups that kept alive the programme of
revolution instead of capitulating to ‘realities’.

That is why The Revolution Betrayed is still an
important book today – because it represents not only
the dying embers of one revolutionary upsurge but
also a point of renewal for the future.

its severity depending on circumstances. The swift
rise of bureaucratism in post-revolutionary Russia
was conditioned not only by the allegedly exceptional
conditions of the time, but also had, in addition,
endemic roots in the revolutionary process itself.

When the Left Opposition was grappling with the
frightening phenomena of degeneration, Rakovsky was
the one who saw this most clearly. Trotsky justly
quotes his document on the subject several times in
The Revolution Betrayed.

In his analysis of the “professional dangers”
of power, RakQvsky stressed:

“I do not refer here to the objective
difficulties due to the whole complex of
historical conditions, to the capitalist
encirclement on the outside, and to the
pressure of the petty-bourgeoisie inside
the country. No, I refer to the inherent
difficulties of any new directing class,
consequent on the taking, and on the
exercise of power itself, on the ability
or inability to make use of it”

To return to the main point: we have enough
experience of transitional regimes to see now that
tendencies towards bureaucratic degeneration are
endemic to the transitional situation, are internal
to it, and would have to be guarded against even if
Imperialism did not exist.

The main such inherent feature is that upon
taking power proletarians do not automatically
become supermen. They are the same proletarians
whose behaviour before the revolution fluctuated
wildly; as their confidence rose and sank; as they
were shaped by their political and cultural
experience. The revolutionary seizure of power by
a previously oppressed class that has lived all its
life under the hegemony of another class, represents
by definition an extraordinarily high peak of
activity, unity and consciousness on its part.

Is it surpr~sing that when all problems are not
solved the day after taking power, the revolutionary
tide ~egins to ebb?

All these preliminary queries impel us to try
to develop a more sophisticated methodology for
analysing transitional regimes.

We must understand that the historical dialectic
is not one-dimensional; nor are its phases of a
single amplitude. Indeed it might be more accurate
to speak of an infinitely large number of dialectics;
of differing social levels (economic, ideological,
etc.); of differing historical specificity; and of
differing generality with regard to space and time.

(Thus from. the point of view of a very general
historical dialectic, proletarian revolution may
represent a simple moment of transition, but judged
internally it reveals enormous complexities which
require a more specific historical analysis to
supplement the other.) Those who think that all
Dialectics has to say about the transition from
capitalism to socialism is: bourgeoisie v proletariat
results in classless society; or, private property
relations v socialised productive forces results in
a socialist mode of production – or even both inevitably fall into mechanistic or fatalistic views
with regard to questions posed at more concrete
levels. They tend to reduce the related but
automomous dialectics to a single simple contradiction;
and they treat transitional phases with the criteria
of formal abstract categories (often of a highly
‘moral’ content) instead of grasping their historicity,
seeing them as moments of a development and analysing
their specific contradictions.

,’;pathy, cynicisr.l, fragmentation, selfishness,
withdrawal, disperses the masses from the stage of
history again, leaving behind the apparatus thrown
up by them, but no longer representative of, or
controlled by, the class in whose name it rules.

Now the road is open for negative developments in th~
apparatus itself which reinforces the demoralisation
of the class (bureaucratic arrogation of power and
privilege; careerism; corruption); until finally,
instead of expressing the dictatorship of the
proletariat the apparatus exercises dictatorship
ever the proletariat. How far such tendencies
actually go, of course will be conditioned by the
kind of circumstances usually cited in explaining
the degeneration that took place. Also, it goes
without saying that we have here, not simply an
objective process, but one mediated by particular
people and their subjectivity (Stalin etc.) so that
there is a certain openness about the situation,
within which area subjective factors (e.g. Stalin’s
jealousy and suspiciousness) help to determine the
outcome. Nevertheless, we must recognise that the
objective forces do set limits to what even the
greatest individual can achieve.

What I am pointing to here, to put it crudely,
is the ‘Chinese-box’ character of the historical
dialectic – we have totalities within totalities,
dialectics within dialectics.

This involves, not only seeing that the
transitional period has its own phases and stages,
but also of seeing that an epoch like capitalism is
not just a stage in history but has its own history,
i.e. is made up of a series of transitions. It does
not just grow smoothly up to its limit, it has its
own internal dialectic in which various subordinate
contradictions work themselves out and fetters are
overcome. The Common Market project for example,
is an outstanding case of an attempt by the more
far-sighted European capitalists to overcome the
fet~ers of tariffs and piddling markets, and to
resolve the contradictions between national capitals,
by creating F’Jropean firms in a European market.

It is not a question of saying that if Trotsky
had been leader, he would have done the same as
Stalin. That is horribly abstract. For Trotsky
to have been at the head of affairs, either the
objective circumstances would have had te have been
other than they were, or, Trotsky would have had to
have been … Stalin!

On any objective consideration, the Left
Opposition was doomed to defeat. This is not to say
that their struggle was worthless, that they should
have helped Stalin or retired into private life.

Apart from the psychological impossibility of such
a course by a man like Trotsky, at the time they were
S Rakovskv:

in A




Once we get away from concentrating on the single,
simple, global contradiction and begin to develop
the idea of dialectics of different levels of
specificity, it begins to seem less extraordinary
tt-at Dost-revolutionary societies may exhibit all
‘”,,,'” n<:<:l fv into various

forms of partial supercessson of previous conditions
which then be:::ome fetters on further c:eve lopment. (7)

sociality cannot be completely established in a
positive way.

The disjunction political revolution/social
revolution obscures this reality because it locat(‘~

As far as the Soviet Union is concerned, its
constitution declares that the state is ‘the state
of the whole people’: but this is an obvious
mystification. In the absence of concrete institutions
of proletarian democrac)’ – soviets, rights of
tendency, workers’ councils etc. – talk of ‘the
state of the whole people’ is a form of fetishism
behind which are concealed the interests of the
bureaucrat ic stratum. (10)

the trouble (at any rate, in its terminology) at onh’

one level, thus introdu~ing arradical discrepancy
between this level and others. In fact a’more
sophisticated analysis would surely show contradictions
at other levels. The terminology is an attempt to
express theoretically the progressive character of
Soviet society with respect to capitalism; but
because of its poverty-stricken conceptual framework
it can do so only by locating the ‘good side’ in the
base and the ‘bad side’ in the superstructure.


The Nature of Bureaucracy
Let us now proceed to look more closely at the
nature of bureaucracy. To begin with it is necessary
to recognise that the institution of state property
is an historical necessity. As Trotsky puts it:

“In order to become s oc ia l, pr i va te pro per t y
must inevitably pass through the state stage
as the caterpillar in order to become a
butterfly must pass through the pupal stage.

But the pupa is not a butterfly … State
property becomes the property of ‘the whole
people’ only to the degree that social
privilege and differentiation disappear
and therewi th the necessi ty of the s ta te … ”

Clearly, in the case of the U.S.S.R., state
property is more than a convenient juridical mediation,
because of the role played by the bureaucracy (which
Trotsky did not hesitate to compare with the fascist
There has always been a somewhat intractable
problem of locating the state bureaucracy in the
class structure of society. Marx criticised, very
early on, Hegel’s idealisation of bureaucracy, (11)
and he writes (in a striking passage in The Eighteenth
Brumaire) of “this executive power with its enormous
bureaucratic and military organisation, with its
ingenious state machinery, embracing wide strata,
with a host of officials numbering half a million,
besides an army of another half million, this
appalling parasitic body which emeshes the body of
French society like a net and chokes all its pores.”


State property is therefore an intermediate form.

From one point of view it is the first form of
communism; from another, the final term of the
property system, universalised private property hence private prop3rty in the process of being

This is very reminiscent of Trotsky’s description
of the Soviet bureaucracy. lloh’ever the pr ob lem is
compounded here by further features:

“In no other regime has a bureaucracy ever
achieved such a degree of independence from the
dominating class. In bourgeois society, the
bureaucracy represents the interests of a
possessing and educated class, which has at its
disposal innumerable means of everyday control
over its administration of affairs. The Soviet
bureaucracy has risen above a class which is
hardly emerging from destitution and darkness,
and has no tradition of dominion or command.”

This property form has its peculiar ideological
expression. The state is seen as the incarnation and
guardian of the socialist economy over against the
individual members of society. The individual is
subjugated to a hypostatized universality which
nominally includes him, but also constrains him.

Marx criticised this ideology in advance when he

“What is to be avoided above all is the
re-establishing of ‘society’ as an
abstraction vis a vis the individual.

The individual is the social being.” (9)

However the existence of some form of state
through the transition period seems to imply that
there are good material reasons why this implicit”

There is a utopian, apocalyptic strain in
Marxism that views socialism as the final
resolution of all contradictions. Personally
I take such talk with a grain of salt, preferring
to regard such a resolution as an asymptotic
limit never reached. In particular I reject
Marcuse’s reduction (in REASON AND REVOLUTION)
of the manifold contradictions ‘of social life
to a single class-based dialectic. He concludes
that socialism makes it obsolete, and the new
development must be understood as a ‘purely
rational’ one. This looks suspiciously like the
re-insertion of Hegel’s absolute. Curiously
enough the Maoists characterise Liu Shao-ch’i in
a similar way: “In the opinion of [Liu] Communist
society is a bed of roses, without darkness or
contradiction; all is well, without the existence
of opposites …. What [Liu] is doing here is
preaching metaphysics.” Peking Review, 12 May
1967, p.9.


R. B., 248


(1844) Moscow FLPH, p. 104.


The Stalinist bureaucracy appears to have a
preponderant role in social life beyond anything
previously experienced in history. This is what
makes facile comparisons between it and previous
6tatist formations located within class systems so
misleading. The Stalinist bureaucracy has. not only

I Deutscher once said to ~e, on the question of
the existence of alienation in the U.S.S.R., that
it was not their labour but their state that was
alienated from the proletariat.


“Hegel proceeds from the separation of the
‘state’ and ‘civil society’ – from ‘particular
interests’ and the ‘completely existent universal’.

And bureaucracy is indeed based on this separation …. For the individual bureaucrat the
state’s purpose becomes his private purpose of
hunting for higher positions and making a career
for himself …. In bureaucracy the identity of
the state’s interest and particular private
purpose is established in such a way that the
state’s interest becomes a particular private
purpose opposed to other private purposes.

The transcendence of bureaucracy can mean only
that the universal interest becomes the
particular interest in actuality and not, as
with Hegel, merely in thought and abstraction.

This is possible only when the particular
interest becomes universal.” (‘Critique of
K H Guddat [NY, 1967] pp.183-l87)

5 12

R.B., 248

st :-i~

all power in its hands. As Trotsky
dass in whose name it rules is utterly
“. i t’

“lpans whatever of exerting hegemony over

‘Oh which has separated itself from the
cla”; ..,.” )Ppo<;ed itself to it. Indeed some
comm(~:'l 1:)'S have gone so far as to say that, following
the llquidation of the old proletariat ritself a tiny
minority in Russian society) in the Civil War, and
the gradual displacement and final liquidation of
their political representatives (the revolutionary
Bolsheviks), the Stalinist bureaucracy created and
moulded the expanding proletariat that is supposed to
furnish its basis.



states, superintendance and universa1 ~::”
rence by the government comprises both ~.:;,c,::harge
of communi ty affairs the need for :,:,;:::h ar”,- ses
in all societies, and the speclfic ~unctions
arising from the antagonism betwE·_-r. the:;overnment and the mass of the people.”




This dual function is also apparent in the case
of the Soviet bureaucracy. Some of its functions and
functionaries are concerned with the organisation of
production, others with the SUbjugation of the workers.

But here this is not done in the interests of some
third group, the rentiers, but, through the media:ion
of state property, simply in the interest of jefending
the material privileges of the bureaucracy itself.

Trotsky concedes that:

The organisation of industry has, been rat ionalised,
by instituting, at the level of the economy as a whole,
the rationality of the capitalist workshop. This is
good: but it is not good enough.

” … the very fact of its appropriation of
political power in a country where the principal
means of production are in the hands of the
state, creates a new and hitherto unknown relation
between the bureaucracy and the riches of the
,nation. The means of production belong to the
state. But the state, so to speak, ‘belongs’ to
the bureaucracy.”

“The same bourgeois mind which priases the division
of labour in the workshop, life-long annexation of
the labourer to a partial operation and his complete
subjection to capital, as being an organisation of
labour that increases its productiveness- that same
bourgeois mind denounces with equal vigour every
conscious attempt to socially control and regulate
the process of production, as an inroad upon such
sacred things as the rights of property, freedom
and unrestricted play for the bent of the individual
capitalist. It is very characteristic that the
enthusiastic apologists of the factory system have
nothing more damning to urge against a general
organi~ation of the labour of society, than that
it would turn all society into one immense

Trotsky characterises this new and hitherto
unknown relation as one of a gigantic parasitism.

However this metaphor strikes me as giving rather too
passive a picture, and one too orientated towards
distribution. The metaphor implies that. attached to
an otherwise whole and healthy body, there is a
separate organism exacting tribute. But it is clear
that there is no such distinct separation in Soviet
society. The bureaucracy is as much constitutive of
the body of Soviet society as is the working class.

It does not simply levy a toll on the produce of the
economy – it organises production itself; it alone
projects the course of the econa.y.

Although the workshop organisation is more
rational than the macro-economic anarchy, it remains
despotic, maintains a division of labour (especially
crippling in the form of a division between mental and
physical labour), and makes the labour of the
producers a meaningless routine. It is clear that
this estrangement from the process of production, this
‘forced labour’, is as characteristic of the Soviet
Union’s industry (as .far as its factory organisation
is concerned). as it is of capitalist industry. In
ideology this is denied. The Soviet worker has a quite
different attitude to his work, finds meaning in it,
because he is now working for himself instead of for
the capitalist – such is the story. It follows that
he has no right to strike because that would be
striking ‘against himself’. Such a purely ideological
connection of the worker with the purposes of the
despotic hierarchy above him has no empirical meaning
because there exist no mediating institutions which
would enable the workers in reality (not in ideality)
to control their collective organisation, to set its
purposes, rules. etc.

Of course there are sectors of the bureaucracy
solely employed on the non-economic functions necessary
for the general rule of the stratum (army and political
police) and this represents an enormous waste of
resources. ~evertheless it is incontestable that the
bureaucracy does not simply exact tribute with the
mailed fist, but has a basis in production itself right
down to factory level. The mode of production itself
has a bureaucratic character.

In this connection it is interesting to see what
‘larx had to say about the managerial stratum in

“The labour of superintendence and .aanagement will
naturally be required whenever the direct process
of production assuaes the form of a combined
social process, and does not rest on the isolated
labour of independent producers. It has, however,
a two-fold character.

On the one hand, all work in which atany
individuals co-operate necessarily requires for
the co-ordination and unity of the process a
directing will, and functioas which are not
concerned with partial operations but with the
total activity of the workshop, siailar to those
of the conductor of an orchestra. This is a kind
of productive labour which aIIst be performed in
every mode of co-operative production.


This direct organisation of production by the
bureaucratic stratum as an independent power. serving
no class but itself. represents a new historical

Trotsky tries to understand this power on the
basis of traditional analyses by taking over, and
making use of. the somewhat problematical term,
“Bonapartism” .

On the other hand .•. this supervisory labour
necessarily arises in all modes of production
which are based on the antagonism between the
worker as direct producer and the owner of the
means of production. The greater this antagonism
the more mportaltt is the role played by supervision~
lIence it reaches its aaxilJllDl in the slave
system. art it is iDdispentMble also in the
capitalist .ade of pzoclrlct.ion, since the process
of production is at the sa.e t.I.e the process by
which the capitalist the l&bour-power
of the worker. In the saae _9, in despotic

“Caesarism, or its bourgeois form, Bonapartism,
enters the scene in those moments of history
.,·fWli the sharp struggle of two ccuaps raises the
state Pt,wer, so to spealc, above the nation, and


R.B., 249


Marx: CAPITAL, Vo1.111 (FLPH 1962 p.376: Kerr
1909 pp.451-452)


CAPITAL, Vol. I, ch.XIV, FLPH 1954 p.3S6; Kerr

._ _–_ …… -._— _.. _– – . _ – – – – – – – – . – – – – – – ..

to go beyond anything that could be comprehended by
such analogies with the past.

guarantees it, in appearance, a complete
independence of classes – in reality, only the
freedom necessary for the defence of the privileged.

The Stalin regime, rising above a
politically atomised society, resting upon a
police and officers’ corps, and allowing of no
control whatever, is obviously a variation of
Bonapartism – a Bonapartism of a new type not
before seen in history …. Stalinis~ is a
variety of the same system, but upon the basis
of a workers’ state torn by the antagonism between
an organised and armed soviet aristocracy and

the unarmed toiling masses.”

The only sound point in Tony Cliff’s book


A Marxist Analysis is that, ”’ith a nationalised economy,

the distinction between the political and the social
revolution is put in question. Of course he gives
away more than he realises here, since, if this is the
case in the U.S.S.R.; then it must have undergone a
profound transfonnation which makes it absurd to
classify it as capitalist, because in the latter system
the distinction can be made.

(Even so, one shou Id always bear in mind l,1arx’ s

Thus Trotsky sees the novelty solely in the
occurrence of a Bonapartist regime in a workers’ state.

But since Bonapartism is supposed to take advantage of
a sharp struggle between the classes to perform a
balancing function it is a little hard to interpret
this in the case of the antagonism between the “anned
soviet aristocracy” and the ”unarmed toi ling masses”.

How, and in what way, could the Stalinist bureaucracy
be independent of both camps when it constitutes the
core of one of them, the side that has all the cards?

“There is never a political movement which is
not at the same time social.”

Leaving aside the precise way in which one might
distinguish political and social revolution there
seems to me no question but that, hecause of the role
the bureaucracy plays in the ‘base’-production
itself – and its fettering of the most important
productive forces, it represents a social layer related
to production in a definite way (.i.e. control) and
one which is oppo~5d to the working class (which
latter naturally has an interest in controlling
production for its own benefit).

Sometimes Trotskyists refer to Stalinism as a
Bonapartist mediation between the Soviet proletariat
and Imperialism. But this is even more problematical.

It is true that the Soviet bureaucracy accommodates
itself to Imperialism and demobilises the world
revolution by playing the ‘peaceful coexistence’ game.

Nevertheless, although this illustrates something about
the nature of the regime, I do not find it plausible
to use this to explain its basis. After all, any
conservative national bureaucracy has to pay some
attention to the international conjuncture in its

Even when Trotsky formulates his thesis in tenns
of “political revolution” he is formed to mention
“social consequences”:

“The revolution which the bureaucracy is
preparing against itself will not be social,
like the October revolution of 1917. It is not
a question this time of changing the economic
foundations of society, of replacing certain
forms of property with other forms.

History has
known elsewhere not only social revolutions
which substituted the bourgeois for the feudal
regime, but also political revolutions which,
without destroying the economic foundations of
society, swept out an old ruling upper crust
(1830 and 1848 in France, February 1917 in Russia

The overthrow of the Bonapartist caste
will, of course, have deep social consequences,
but in itself it will be confined within the
limits of political revolution.”

~ore suggestive perhaps than these accounts is to
compare the situation in Russia with the analysis Harx
gives in The German Ideology of conditions in Gennany
around 1800:

“The impotence of each separate sDhere of life
(one cannot speak here of estates or classes, but
at most only of former estates and classes not
yet born) did not allow any of them to gain
exclusive domination.

The inevitable consequence
t-“as that … the special sphere in which, owing
to the division of labour, was responsible for
the work of administration of public interests
acquired an abnormal independence, which became
still greater in the bureaucracy of modern times.

Thus the state built itself up into an apparently
independent force, and this position, which in
other countries was only transitory, a transition
stage, it has maintained-in Germany until the
present day.”

Is not the situation in which the only forces in
the field are a primitive peasantry, a dispossessed
bourgeoisie, and a small proletariat whose experienced
cadres were shattered by civil war and economic collapse
precisely such a situation of universal impotence?

And of hi atus between a broken social order and an
unfomed new one?

Notice here that Trotsky bases his case on the
assertion that the bourgeois epoch can and does
accommodate itself to radical changes in political
superstructures without these affecting the base.

Are we being perverse in questioning this possibility
in the proletarian epoch? I do not think so, because
it is precisely the separation of political and civil
life that 4arx takes to be one of the key features of
the bourgeois epoch – and this makes such a way of
talking plausible in that case but not necessarily in
other cases – such as feudalism for example. It is
the partial overcoming of this separation, in
societies transitional between capitalism and socialism that produces the sense of strain in carrying over
a way of speaking previously appropriate.

This thoroughly atomised social situation was
reconstituted under the aegis, and in the image, of
the bureaucracy into whose hands power fell.

When a critic seized on the phrase “social
consequences” in the above quotation Trotsky replied
by arguing:

How”.’ver, the weakness of the ‘Bonapartist’

anJlysis, I suggest, is that it does not do justice
to t~e extent of the bureaucracy’s power. Bonapartism
is essentially a state form, which, however much it
xYlterferes in civil life, leaves the class structure
~ore or less as it finds it.

The role of the
Staljnist bureaucracy in production itself seems to me


n.d.) p.197



R.B.,288. Notice the expression “caste”.

In struggling to avoid “class” Trotsky has hit
on an even more rigid, hereditary, type of
social stratification.

R _B .


“But the bourgeois political revolutions of 1830,
1848, and September 1870 also had social consequences in so far as they seriously changed the
division of the national income. But .•. the



It was relatively easy to evade the prohlem in
the analysis of the pre-revolutionary period hy seeing
bureaucratic formations, even including the labour
bureaucracy, simply as servants of capital. Thus,
denying that any authentic problem exists in its own
right, this crude approach in the case of Russia
results either in denying the facts (i.e. whitewashing of the bureaucracy) or in saying that since
the bureaucracy was an epiphenomenon of capitalism
before, so it must be now – ergo capitalism still

social changes provoked by the so-called political
revolutions, serious as they were, really appear
to be secondary when they are compared with the
great French Revolution, which was the bourgeois
social revolution ~ excellence.”

He goes on to invoke the law of quantity into

The trouble is that in Russia we are not talking
Simply of changes in income, but of the management of
industry. If this change is “secondary” it must be
so in a quite different sense.

Although taking state power enormously facilitates
the opportunities for bureaucracy to develop, its
germ can easily be seen in eXisting working-class
organisations. (One classic study of this was Robert
~ichel’s book Political Parties,.written before the
First World War, and based mainly on a study of the
Continental social-democratic parties. It provided the
empirical basis for his well-known “iron law of
oligarchy”. (21)

The Ultra-Left View
However I do wish to say that I distinguish my
position from that of many ultra-lefts.

As far as the history of the Russian Revolution
is concerned my view, very definitely, is that the
negation of the revolution was brought forth by, was
internal to, the revolution itself. Just as in
developing its power and strength the bourgeoisie
produced its own gravediggers, the revolutionary
prOletariat; so the proletariat, on a less ‘cosmic’

scale, produced its own butchers who expropriated
the revolution and built a society in their own image
rather than that of the proletariat. However, because
this negation developed within the movement itself,
on the basis of new conditions and structures, it
could not be simply a re-installation of the former
regime – ho~ever updated.

In the last part of this paper let us summarise
Trotsky’s view and advance our qualifications of it.

Trotsky provided his own summary in Chapter IX of
The Revolution Betrayed:

“To define the Soviet regime as transitional, or
intermediate, means to abandon such finished
social categories as capitalism … and also
socialism …. The Soviet Union is a contradictory
society halfway between capitalism and socialism,
in which:

(a) the productive forces are still
very far from adequate to give tha state property
a soCialist character;
(b) the tendency toward
primitive accumulation created by want breaks out
through innumerable pores of the planned economy;
(c) norms of distribution preserving a bourgeois
character lie at the basis of a new differentiation of society; (d) the economic growth, while
slowly bettering the situation of the toilers,
promotes a swift formation of privileged strata;
(e) exploiting the social antagonisms, a bureaucracy has converted itself into an uncontrolled
caste alien to socialism; (f) the social revolution, betrayed by the ruling party, still exists
in property relations and in the consciousness of
the toiling masses; (g) a further development of
the accumulating contradictions can as well lead
to socialism as back to capitalism;
(h) on the
road to capitalism the counter-revolution would
have to break the resistance of the workers;
(i) on the road to socialism the workers would
have to overthrow the bureaucracy. In the last
analysis, the question will be decided by a
struggle of living social forces, both on the
national and the world arena.

Once again a movement in the name of humanity,
has negated conditions which were the negation of
human ones. But, once again, instead of this negation
of the negation growing over into the self-sustaining
positive, free of contradiction, it has developed
its own contradictions, and established a new negation
of humanity in the shape of the repressive bureaucratic

But that this system, permeated as it may be by
contradiction, is different from capitalism can only
be denied by those who have no dialectical sense and
simply lump together all conditions that are formally
opposed to truly human ones, as indifferently hostile,
thus in effect eliminating history as a form of
knowledge and going back to utopianism.

The kind of people that I am thinking of here are
those who talk in terms of a capitalist restoration not just of tendencies, but of actual restoration.

The main trouble with the label ‘state capitalism’ as
applied to Russia, is that it makes no economic sense,
but I have no space to deal with that – I simply draw
attention to a sociological point.

What the ultra-left critics simply refuse to
recognise is the origin of authoritarian strata in the
workers’ own organisations; they simply spirit in a
state-capitalist class from nowhere, without explaining its origins. It is useless to point to the old
Tsarist officers – the working-class can and did
provide plenty of its own bureaucrats.

Doctrinaires will doubtless not be satisfied with
this hypothetical definition. They would like
categorical formulae; yes-yes, and no-no ••.

In our analysis, we have above all avoided doing
violence to dynamic social formations which have
no precedent and have no analogies. The scienti~
fic task, as well as the political, is not to give
a finished definition to an unfinished process,
but to follow all its stages, separate its
progressive from its reactionary tendencies,
expose their mutual relations, foresee possible
variants of development, and find in this foresight a basis for action.”

It is not accidental, by the way, that the same
ul tra-lefts who view the Soviet bureaucrats as a
state-capitalist class, generally see in the Trade
Union bureaucrats in the West nothing but capitalist
lackeys; without locating their specific role through
the fact that they are also dependent on a working
class basis. Conceiving of the proletariat in an
essentially idealist way, as the bearer of simon-pure
socialist values, they persistently duck away from the
problem of bureaucratisation, which must be understood
as a problem internal to the workers’ movement.

This insistence by Trotsky on doing justice to

R Michels: POLITICAL PARTIES (English translation


‘Once Again: The U.S.S.R. and its Defence’

~0vember 1937


(See especially p.305, 383, 407-8)

R.B., 254-256


the complexity and originality of the problem is
undoubtedly impressive.

As he points out elsewhere there are further
implications of one’s analysis of the Soviet Union
(and, one must now add, of the other countries that
have escaped the domination of Imperialism). For
the question is bound up with the more general problem
of World Revolution.

It has been said that Lenin worked always on the
basis that this century is at the time of the actualit~
~f proletarian revolution.

To put in question the

achievements of the October Revolution is to put in
question the whole historical perspective of Harxism.

The bourgeoisie came into the world as a social
class born of a new form of production; it remained
an historic necessity as long as the new form of
production had not exhausted its possibilities. The
same applies to all previous social classes. “In
their time, they were all the representatives and
leaders of a system of production which had its place
in the advance of hum an i ty.” Trotsky argues that
“to give the bureaucracy the name ‘possessing class’

IS not only an abuse of terminology, but moreover a
~reat political danger which can lead to the complete
derailment of our historical perspective.” (23)
He counterposes to such a pessimistic outlook the
view “that the degeneration of the Soviet State is the
product of the retardation in the world revolution”,
that is to say, the result of political and conjunct~
ural events.

I would certainly agree that the period up to
the completion of the world revolution, through the
final overthrow of Imperialism on a world scale, is
bound to be one in which we cannot expect socialism
to be established in a single country – it is a
transitional epoch with the problems of transition.

Given that, in spite of its primitive character
and its infection by bourgeois norms of distribution,
consumerist ideology etc, the U.S.S.R. is a crucial
step beyond capitalism, it is still worth defending.

Just as Marx said that the proletariat could join with
the bourgeoisie in the overthrow of feudalism, but
must maintain its own organisation to fight its future
enemies, so today capitalism is the main enemy: but we
must be preparing to smash the existing bureaucracies
(not least in order to fight capitalism more effectively) and must fight the seeds of authoritarianism
already evident in the workers’ organisations.

The bureaucracy (particularly once in power in
society) is a social layer developed on the basis of
functional differentiations in the workers’ organisations and post-revolutionary institutions, which soon
developes interests of its own, becoming a conservative
force strangling further revolutionary development.

However, precisely because of its origin in the
process of the proletarian revolution itself, the
distinction between the proletariat and the bureaucracy
is more ill-defined and variable than is the sharp
distinction between capitalist property owners and the
proletariat. This means that the ‘space’ between
capitalism and pure socialism, can be filled by an
almost infinite variety of transitional forms, in
assessing which more than one dimension has to be
taken into account – inequalities in income,
distribution of power, even ideological criteria that
may help to determine the direction of change etc.

The U.S.S.R. is an extreme case. Yugoslavia, China,
and Cuba, provide less severe, more complex, cases,
in which one should by no means assume homogeneity in
the bureaucracy. There is the political bureaucracy,
the technocrats, and even sections still in contact
with the masses that might well come over if the latter
launch a struggle.

Broadly, these transitional regimes are ones in
which proletarian power has been deformed and overlaid
by bureaucratic power; in which the programme of
socialist revolution remains in the consciousness of
the toilers, if in a distorted way (so that the
bureaucracy has to legitimate itself in these terms).

However I would argue that even after the overthrow of capitalism on a world scale problems will
still exist because they are internal to the nature
of post-revolutionary society and its struggle to
move towards abundance. Michels’ ‘Iron Law of
Oligarchy’ remains a permanent danger, but one which
becomes less acute as the material basis of society
improves (thus allowing the masses to express more of
their energy in controlling the direction of social
life), and as people learn from experience of the

The task is to establish workers’ power. What I
think is inadequate, even to Trotsky’s own analysis,
is the slogan ‘make a political revolution’; because
more or less acute contradictions exist at all levels.

What is required is a new upsurge of proletarian
revolution. Permanent proletarian revolution must
continue throughout the pre-socialist epoch. Its
meaning will vary according to the precise nature of
the fetters that need to be overcome at each time and
place. There is no general formula. The demands that
revolutionaries will advance will depend upon what is
possible and where the contradictions are manifesting
themselves. However, the aim should always be to
maximise the opportunities for the creative energy of
the masses to express itself. Communism, the fullest
expression of human power and freedom, is not a state
of affairs to be presented on a plate; it grows
throughout history by the continual overcoming of
obstacles, through the struggle of the masses. Marx
has already replied to those who talk of the benignity
of certain rulers, or of the possibility of reform
from on top.

Nationalisation of the economy does not dispose
overnight of deeply-rooted social habits and attitudes.

Given a material basis in relative scarcity, these
will find expression somehow. (Everyone knows that
there exist enormous scandals in the U.S.S.R. about
the turning of state property to personal use.)
The root cause of the consolidation of a bureaucratic dictatorship in the Soviet state is undoubtedly
the low level of productive forces in the country.

The further development of the productive forces will
bring present contradictions (economic, political,
cultural et c) to a head, and the future history of the
U.S.S.R. and the establishment of socialism on a world
scale will continue to develop on the basis of the
working out of further contradictions.

“Both for the production on a mass scale of this
canmunist consciousness, and for the success of
the cause itself, the alteration of men on a mass
scale is necessary, an alteration which can only
take place in a practical movement, a revolution;
this revolution is necessary, therefore, not only
because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in
any other way, but also because the class ~
throwing it can only in a revolution succeed in
ridding itself of all the muck of ages and
became fitted to found society anew.”

The contradiction as far as the sphere of
production is concerned, is that between the productive
force represented by the initiative of the workers and
the command structure into which they are integrated
and which stifles this force. The contradiction between
social forces is that between those who relate to the
means of production as controllers and those who relate
to it as its slaves. Associated with this are
conspicuous differentials in income.


‘Once Again: The U.S.S.R. and its Defence’

November 1937




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