Problems of the Soviet Regime

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Author(s) Leon Trotsky
Written 23 September 1933


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Source: The Militant, Vol. VI No. 44, 23 September 1933, p. 3.
Collection(s): The Militant


(The Degeneration of Theory and the Theory of Degeneration)

PART I[edit source]

Socialism developed to completion (communism) means a society without a state. But the transition period from capitalism to socialism demands an extreme strengthening of the functions of the state (dictatorship of the proletariat). This historic dialectic of the state has been sufficiently illuminated by the theory of Marxism.

The economic basis for the withering away of the workers’ state is the high development of economic power, when productive labor no longer needs to be driven and the distribution of human goods no longer needs any juridical control.

The transition from revolutionary dictatorship to classless society cannot be accomplished by decree. A state cannot be dissolved by special order but gradually disappears from the scene, “withering away” to the extent to which the powerful and culturally higher socialist society conquers all the living functions with the aid of its manifold and flexible organs which no longer stand in need of coercion.

1. The Withering of the State[edit source]

The process of the liquidation of the state takes place along two different roads. To the extent that the classes are being liquidated, that is, dissolved in a homogeneous society, coercion withers away in the direct sense of the word, dropping out forever from social circulation. The organisational functions of the state, on the contrary, become more complex, more detailed. They penetrate into ever new fields which until then remained as if beyond the threshold of society (the household, children’s education, etc.) and for the first time subject them to the control of the collective mind.

The general manner of posing the question does not change whether it concerns a single country or the whole planet. If we should assume that a socialist society is realizable within national boundaries, then the withering away of the state could also occur within the framework of a single country. The necessity of defense against capitalist enemies threatening from without is in itself entirely compatible with the weakening of state coercion from within: the solidarity and conscious discipline of the socialist society should yield the greatest results on the field of battle as well as on the field of production.

The Stalinist faction declared as far back as two years ago that the classes in the U.S.S.R. are liquidated “in the main”; that the question who will prevail is decided “completely and irrevocably”; more than that: that “we entered into socialism.” From this, according to the laws of Marxian logic, it should have followed that the necessity of class coercion is “in the main” liquidated and that the period of the withering away of the state had begun. But such a conclusion, insofar as it has been attempted by some indiscreet doctrinaries, was immediately declared as “counter-revolutionary.”

However, let us leave aside the perspective of socialism in one country. Let us proceed not from bureaucratic construction, already brought to an absurdity by the march of development, but from the actual state of affairs: the USSR is of course not a socialist society but only a socialist state, that is, a weapon for the building of a socialist society; the classes are as yet far from abolished; the question who will prevail is not decided; the possibility of capitalist restoration is not excluded; the necessity of a proletarian dictatorship therefore retains its full force. But there still remains the question of the character of the Soviet state, which does not at all remain unchangeable throughout the whole transitional epoch. The more successful the economic construction, the healthier the relation between town and country, the broader therefore should be the development of Soviet democracy. This does not constitute as yet the withering away of the state since Soviet democracy is also a form of state coercion. The capacity and flexibility of this form, however, best reflects the relation of the masses to the Soviet regime. The more the proletariat is satisfied with the results of its labor and the more beneficial its influence on the village, the more the Soviet government attempts to be – not on paper, not in a program, but in reality, in everyday existence – the weapon of the growing majority against the diminishing minority. The rise of Soviet democracy, while as yet not signifying the withering away of the state, is equivalent nevertheless to the preparation for such a process.

The problem will become more concrete when we take into consideration the basic changes in the class structure for the period of the revolution. The dictatorship of the proletariat as an organization for the suppression of exploiters was necessary against landlords, capitalists, generals and kulaks insofar as they gave support to the higher possessing strata. Exploiters cannot be drawn to the side of socialism. Their resistance had to be broken, no matter at what cost. The years of civil war marked the greatest exercise of the power of the dictatorship by the proletariat.

With regard to the peasantry as a whole the task was and is an entirely different one. The peasantry must be drawn to the side of the socialist regime. We must prove to the peasant in practice that the government industry is capable of supplying him with goods on much more advantageous conditions than under capitalism and that collective farming is more advantageous than individual farming. Until this economic and cultural task is solved and we are very far from it, especially as it is solvable only on an international scale – class frictions are inevitable and consequently – also state coercion But if in the struggle against landlords and capitalists revolutionary violence served as the basic method, in relation to the kulaks the problem was a different one; while crushing unmercifully the outright counter-revolutionary resistance of the kulaks, the state was ready to compromise with them on the economic field. It did rot “dekulakize” the kulak but merely limited his exploiting tendencies. With regard to the peasantry as a whole revolutionary violence should have played only an auxiliary and what is more an ever diminishing role. The practical success of industrialization and collectivization should have expressed themselves in the moderation of the forms and methods of state coercion, in the growing democratization of the Soviet regime.

2. Political Regime of the Dictatorship and its Social Foundations[edit source]

On January 30, 1933, Pravda wrote: “the second five-year plan will liquidate the last remains of capitalist elements in our economic life.” It is clearly evident that from the standpoint of this official perspective the state should have withered away completely during the second five-year plan, since where the “last remnants” (!) of class inequality are liquidated, there is no room for the state.

In reality however we witness processes of a diametrically opposite character. The Stalinists do not dare to assert that the dictatorship of the proletariat has assumed more democratic forms in recent years, but on the contrary, try tirelessly to prove the inevitability of a further sharpening of state coercion. Reality itself, however, is more important than all the perspectives and prognoses.

If we should estimate Soviet reality through the lens of the political regime – such an estimate, although insufficient, is absolutely justifiable and extremely important – we should get not only a gloomy picture but an outright ominous one. The Soviets have lost the last remnants of independent significance and ceased being Soviets. The party does not exist. Under the cover of the struggle with the Right deviation, the trade-unions are completely crushed. The problem of the degeneration and stifling of the party and the Soviets has been discussed many times. Here we find it necessary to take up in a few lines the fate of the trade-union organizations during the period of the Soviet dictatorship.

The relative independence of the trade-unions is a necessary and important corrective in the system of the Soviet state which finds itself under the pressure of the peasantry and bureaucracy. Until the classes are liquidated, the workers must defend themselves, even in a workers’ state, through their trade-union organizations. In other words: the trade unions remain trade unions while the state remains a state, that is, an instrument of coercion. The “statification” of the trade unions can only go parallel with the “destatization” of the state itself. This means: to the extent that the liquidation of classes deprives the state of its functions of coercion, dissolving it in society, the trade unions lose their special class tasks and dissolve themselves in the “withering away” state.

This dialectic of the dictatorship, imprinted in the program of the Bolshevik party, is recognized in words also by the Stalinists. But the actual relations between the trade-unions and the state develop in a diametrically opposite direction. The state not only does not wither away (despite the heralded liquidation of classes), not only does not moderate its methods (despite the economic successes), but on the contrary becomes ever more openly the instrument of bureaucratic coercion. At the same time, the trade unions transformed into offices of functionaries, have completely lost the possibility of fulfilling the role of buffers between the state apparatus and the proletarian masses. Worse than that: the apparatus of the trade-unions themselves has become the weapon of an ever-growing pressure on the workers.

The preliminary conclusion from the above is that the evolution of the Soviets, the party and trade unions does not follow an ascending but a descending curve. If we were to accept on faith the official estimate of industrialization and collectivizaton, we would have to admit that the political superstructure of the proletarian regime is developing in a diametrically opposite direction to the development of its economic basis. Does it mean that the laws of Marxism are false? No, but the official estimate of the social foundations of the dictatorship is false and false to the core,

The problem can be formulated more concretely in this fashion: why was it possible during the years of 1917–1921, when the old possessing classes still fought with weapons in hand, when they were actively supported by the interventionists of the whole world, when the armed kulaks sabotaged the army and the provisioning of the country – why was it possible then to discuss openly in the party the sharp questions of the Brest-Litovsk peace, the methods of the organization of the Red Army, the composition of the Central Committee, the trade-unions, the transition to the NEP, national policy and the policy of the Comintern? Why is it impossible now, after the ceasing of intervention, after the rout of the exploiting classes, after the successes of industrialization, after the collectivization of the overwhelming majority of the peasantry – to allow discussion of the tempos of industrialization and collectivization, of the co-relation between heavy and light industry, or of the policy of a united front in Germany? Why would any member of the party who demanded the calling of the next congress of the party in accordance with its constitution, be immediately expelled and subjected to persecutions? Why would any Communist who openly expressed doubt as to the infallibility of Stalin be immediately arrested? Where does such a terrible, monstrous, unbearable exercise of the political regime come from?

Reference to outside danger from capitalist governments does not in itself explain everything. We do not wish of course to underrate the significance of capitalist encirclement for the inner regime of the Soviet Republic: the very necessity of keeping up a powerful army is a great source of bureaucratism. However, hostile encirclement is not a new factor, it accompanies the Soviet Republic from the first days of its existence. Under healthy conditions within the country, the pressure of imperialism would have only strengthened the solidarity of the masses, especially the welding together of the proletarian vanguard. The penetration of foreign agents, such as sabotaging engineers, etc., in no case justifies or explains the general intensification of the methods of coercion. A social committee of common interests should be able to eject the hostile elements with greater ease, as a healthy body ejects poisons.

An attempt might be made to show that the external pressure has grown and the co-relation of forces on the world scale has changed to the advantage of imperialism. Leaving aside the question of policy of the Comintern as one of the causes for the weakening of the world proletariat, the incontrovertible fact remains that the intensification of pressure from outside can lead to the bureaucratization of the Soviet system only to the extent that it is coupled with the growth of inner contradictions. Under conditions in which the workers must be squeezed between the vise of the passport system and the peasantry between the vise of political departments, the pressure from without must inevitably weaken the inner ties ever more. And vice-versa, the growth of contradictions between town and country must incontrovertibly sharpen the danger from the outside capitalist governments. The combination of these two factors pushes the bureaucracy along the road of ever greater concessions to the external presure and ever greater repressions against the working masses of their own country.

L. Trotsky

PART II[edit source]

3. Official Explanation of Bureaucratic Terror[edit source]

Some comrades,” Stalin said at the January Plenum of the C.C. “understood the thesis on liquidation of classes, creation of a class less society and withering away of the state as justification for laxity (?) and placidity(?), justification for the counter-revolutionary theory of the slow extinguishing of the class struggle and weakening of state power.” Vagueness of expression serves Stalin in this case as in so many others, to cover up the logical gaps. A programmatic “thesis” on the liquidation of classes in the future need not mean as yet, it is understood, the extinguishing of the class struggle in the present. But it is not a question of a theoretical thesis but of an officially proclaimed fact of the liquidation of classes. Stalin’s sophism consists in the fact that he times the idea of the inevitable strengthening of state power in the transitional epoch between capitalism and socialism, an idea which following Marx, Lenin advanced for the explanation of the necessity of the proletarian dictatorship in general, to a definite period of the dictatorship, after an allegedly already accomplished liquidation of all capitalist classes.

To explain the necessity for the further strengthening of the bureaucratic machine, Stalin said at the same plenum: “The Kulaks are routed as a class but not finished off.” If we should accept this formula, it would seem that to finish the routed Kulaks off, a more concentrated dictatorship is necessary in the literal expression of Stalin – “to finish off the remnant of the dying classes.” The finished expression is, in its way, given to this paradox of bureaucratism oy Molotov, who has, in general, a fatal inclination to develop the idea of Stalin to completion. “In spite of the fact,” said he at the January Plenum, “that the forces of the remnants of the bourgeois classes of our country melt, their resistance anger and fury grow, knowing no bounds.” The forces melt, but the fury grows! Molotov does not suspect, it seems, that the dictatorship is needed against force and not against fury: fury which is not armed by force ceases to be dangerous.

Class Enemy Powerless – Why the Repression?

It cannot be said,” Stalin admit on his part, “that these former people could change anything in the present situation of the USSR by their damaging and thieving machinations. They are too weak and impotent to resist the measures of the soviet power.” It seems cleat that if all that is left from these former classes are “former people” if they are too weak “to do any thing (!) to change the situation in the USSR” – that from this should have followed both the extinguishing of the class struggle and the easing of the regime. No, Stalin argues: “the former people can play us some tricks.” But revolutionary dictatorship is needed not against impotent tricks but against the danger of capitalist restoration. If, for the struggle with powerful class enemies, it was necessary to put into use the steel-clad fists, against “tricks” of former people the little finger will do.

But here Stalin introduces still another element. The dying remnants of the routed classes “appeal to the backward strata of the population and mobilize them against the Soviet power” ... But have the backward strata grown in the period of the first five year plan? It would seem, not. Does it mean that their attitude toward the state changed for the worse? That would mean that the “maximum strengthening of state power” (more correctly repressions) is necessary for the struggle against the growing discontent of the masses. Stalin adds: “through the mobilization of the backward strata of the population, ‘fragments’ of counter-revolutionary opposition elements from the Trotskyites and Right wingers may again stir and come to life.” Such is the final argument: since the fragments (only fragments!) may stir (so far they only may) ... the greatest concentration of the dictatorship is necessary.

Entangled hopelessly in the “fragments” of his own ideas, Stalin unexpectedly adds: “Of course, we have no fear of that.” Then why be frightened and frighten others, if “we have no fear of that.” And why introduce a regime of terror against the party and the proletariat if it is only a matter of impotent fragments incapable of “changing anything in the USSR?”

All this piling up of confusion, leading to pure nonsense is a consequence of the inability to tell the truth. In reality, Stalin-Molotov should have said: due to the growing discontent of the masses and an ever stronger gravitation of the workers to the Left Opposition, the intensification of repressions is necessary for the defense of the privileged positions of the bureaucracy. Then everything would easily fall into place.

4. The Withering Away of Money and the Withering Away of the State[edit source]

The knot of contradictions in which the theory and practice of bureaucratic centrism got itself hopelessly entangled will become clear to us from a new side when we draw an analogy between the role of money and the role of the state in the transitional epoch. Money, just as the state, represents a direct heritage of capitalism: it must disappear but it cannot be abolished by decree, it withers away. Different functions of money, as those of the state, expire by different deaths. As a means of private accumulation, usury, exploitation – money expires parallel with the liquidation of classes. As a means of exchange, standard of measurement of labor value, regulator of the social division of labor, money is gradually dissolved in the planned organization of social economy, ft finally becomes an accounting slip, a check for a certain portion of social goods for the gratification of productive and personal wants.

The parallelism of both processes of withering away, that of money and that of the state, is not accidental; they have the same social roots. The state remains a state so long as it has to regulate the relations between various classes and strata, each of which draws up its accounts, endeavoring to show a profit. The final replacement of money as a standard of value by the statistical registration of live productive forces, equipment, raw materials and needs will become possible only at the stage when social wealth will free all the members of society from the necessity of competing with each other for the size of the dinner-pail.

This stage is far off yet. The role of money in Soviet economy is not only not completed but in a certain sense, is only about to be developed to completion. The transition period, in its entirety, means not the curtailment of the turnover of goods, but, on the contrary, an extreme expansion thereof. All branches of economy are transformed, are growing and must determine their relation to each other qualitatively and quantitatively. Many products, which under capitalism are accessible only to the few, must be produced in immeasurably greater quantities. The liquidation of the peasant economy, with its internal consumption, the closed family economy means the transition to the field of social (money) turnover of all that productive energy which is now being used up within the limits of the village and the walls of a private dwelling.

Money Socialized Under Planned Economy

Taking complete stock of all the productive forces of society, the social state must know how to apportion and use them in a manner most advantageous for society Money as the means of economic accounting evolved by capitalism is not thrown aside but socialized Socialist construction is unthinkable without the inclusion, in the planned system, of the personal interest of the producer and consumer. And this interest can actively manifest itself only when it has at its disposal a trustful and flexible weapon: a stable monetary system. Increase in the productivity of labor and improvement in the quality of goods, in particular, are absolutely unattainable without an exact measuring instrument which penetrates freely into all the pores of economy, that is, without a stable monetary unit. If capitalist economy which reached its unstable proportions with the aid of wasteful fluctuations of the conjuncture, needs a stable monetary system, the more so is such a system necessary for the preparation, make-up and regulation of planned economy. It is insufficient to build new enterprises; an economic system must familiarize itself with them. This means testing in practice, adapting and selecting. The mass, nationwide check-up of productivity can mean nothing else but a test by means of the rouble. To erect a plan of economy on a slipping valuta is the same as to make a blue print of a machine with a loose compass and a bent ruler This is exactly what is taking place. The inflation of the Chervonetz is one of the most pernicious consequences and also instrument of the bureaucratic disorganization of Soviet economy.

The Official Theory of Inflation

The official theory of inflation stands at the same level as the official theory of the dictatorship analyzed above. “The stability of Soviet valuta,” said Stalin at the January Plenum, “is guaranteed first of all by the tremendous quantity of goods in the hands of the state, which are put into circulation at fixed prices.” If this phrase has any meaning at all it can be only that Soviet money has ceased being money; it no longer serves to measure values and by that the fixation of prices: “stable prices” are fixed by government power; the Chernovetz is only an accounting tag of planned economy. This idea is entirely parallel and equivalent to the idea of the “liquidation of classes” and “entry into the realm of socialism.” Consistent in his half-heartedness, Stalin does not dare, however, to reject the theory of a gold reserve completely. No, a gold reserve “also” does not harm but its importance is only a secondary one. At any rate, it is needed for external trade, where payment must be made in specie. But for the well-being of the internal economy, stable prices fixed by the secretariat of the Central Committee or by its assignees are sufficient. That the rate of decline of the purchasing power of bills of exchange depends not only on the number of revolutions of the printing press but also on “the quantity of goods” is known to any student of economies. This law is applicable to capitalist as well as to planned economy. The difference is that in planned economy it is possible to hide inflation, or at any rate its results, for a much longer period. The more terrible therefore will be the day of reckoning! In any case, money regulated by administrative prices fixed for goods loses the ability to regulate such prices and consequently the ability to regulate plans. In this field as in others, “socialism” for the bureaucracy consists of freeing its will from any control: party, Soviet, trade union, or money ...

A Purely Bureaucratic Economy

Present Soviet economy is neither a monetary nor a planned one. It is an almost purely bureaucratic economy. Exaggerated and disproportionate industrialization undermined the foundations of agricultural economy. The peasantry tried to find salvation in collectivization. Very early experience showed that a collectivization of despair is not yet a socialist collectivization. The further decline of agricultural economy struck a hard blow at industry. To support unreliable and disproportionate tempos, a further intensification of pressure on the proletariat became imperative. Industry, freed from the material control of the producer, took on a super-social, that is, bureaucratic character. In consequence of which it lost the ability of satisfying human wants even to the degree to which it had been accomplished by the less developed capitalist industry. Agricultural economy retaliated on the impotent cities with a war of exhaustion. Under the constant burden of disproportions between their productive efforts and the worsening conditions of existence, workers, kholhoz members and individual peasants lose interest in their work and are filled with irritation against the state. From this, and from this alone, and not from the malicious will of the “fragments” flows the necessity for the introduction of coercion into all cells of economic life (strengthening of the power of shop managers, laws against absentees, death penalty for spoliation of kholhoz property by its members, war measures in sowing campaigns and harvest collections, forcing of individual peasants to lend their horses to kholhozes, the passport system, political departments in the kholhoz village, etc., etc.) Parrallelism between the fate of money and the fate of the state looms up before us in a new and brilliant light. Disproportions of economy lead the bureaucracy to the road of ever growing paper-money inflation. Discontentment of the masses with the material results of economic disproportions, pushes the bureaucracy on the road of open coercion. Economic planning frees itself from value control as bureaucratic fancy frees itself from political control. The rejection of “objective causes,” that is, of material limits for the acceleration of the tempos as well as the rejection of the gold basis of Soviet money, represent “theoretical” ravings of bureaucratic subjectivism.

Stalinist System Exhausted

If the Soviet monetary system withers away, it withers away not in a socialist sense but in a capitalist one: in the form of inflation. Money ceases to be a working tool of planned economy and becomes a tool of its disorganization. It can be said that the dictatorship of the proletariat withers away in the form of bureaucratic inflation, that is in the extreme swelling of coercion, persecutions and violence. The dictatorship of the proletariat is not dissolved in a classless society but degenerates into the omnipotence of bureaucracy over society.

In the sphere of money inflation as in that of bureaucratic arbitrariness is summed up all the falseness of the policy of centrism in the field of Soviet economy as well as in the field of the international proletarian movement. The Stalinist system is exhausted to the end and is doomed. Its break-up is approaching with the same inevitability with which the victory of Fascism approached in Germany But Stalinism is not something isolated; as a parasitic growth it has wound itself around the trunk of the October revolution. The struggle for the salvation of the dictatorship of the proletariat is inseparable from the struggle against Stalinism, This struggle has reached the decisive stage. The denouement is approaching. But the last word ha’ not yet been spoken. The October revolution will yet know how to fend for itself.

L. Trotsky