And a Peaceful Counterrevolution Was Had by All

Those who believe the fall of Stalinism meant a change in class rule have a problem: with the exception of Romania, the changes in regime occurred peacefully without destroying the state apparatus. Such an idea runs directly counter to the Marxist understanding that the state is the property of a ruling class that defends its power and privileges using a monopoly of force. Yet “Trotskyists” of all stripes have argued that peaceful social revolutions that did not smash the workers’ state are just what happened in the USSR and Eastern Europe.

Workers Power

Workers Power has attempted a theoretical justification of this notion, as we have noted previously in this magazine. They posed the dilemma themselves when Stalinist East Germany was swallowed up by bourgeois West Germany:

Does [East Germany] prove that a peaceful overthrow of a workers’ state is possible? If the answer is yes, and we believed it must be at least for Eastern Europe, this appears to bring us into head-on collision with Trotsky. (Workers Power, July 1990.)

The LRCI lawyers tried to resolve the problem by quoting as a precedent a comment by Trotsky on the new constitution Stalin imposed on the USSR in 1936:

The new constitution seals the dictatorship of the privileged strata of Soviet society over the producing masses, thereby making the peaceful dying away of the state an impossibility, and opens up for the bureaucracy “legal” roads for the economic counterrevolution, that is, the restoration of capitalism by means of a “cold stroke.” (Trotsky, Writings 1935-36, p.358.)

Of course, Trotsky was not suggesting that the counter revolution could be peaceful. He was saying, first, that the bureaucracy’s political counterrevolution had been completed and had closed off hope for a peaceful transition to socialism. And second, that the new constitution provided a legal facade for the capitalist, or social, counterrevolution. Workers Power legalistically reads a “cold stroke” to mean non-violence. But as Trotsky wrote a year later, “Without a victorious civil war the bureaucracy cannot give birth to a new ruling class.” (Writings 1937-38, p.37.)

When LRCI first came up with their rationalization for rejecting Marxism on the state, it applied only to East Germany, for they contended that the other post-Stalinist states remained workers’ states with one or another modifying adjective. But in 2000, when they abandoned their “moribund workers’ states” and admitted that Russia et al. were capitalist, they boasted that they were not “thrown” by the admission of counterrevolutions that smash no state.

We have already recognized that the restoration does not require a “smashing” of the state. The social counter-revolution took place peacefully. Under Stalinism the bureaucratic-military apparatus already had a bourgeois form: unlike a genuine revolutionary working-class state, it had a standing army, secret police, unelected officials. All that was necessary was for a new government committed to capitalism to assume control within the commanding circles of this state power. (Capitalist Restoration and the State, November 2000.)

In other words, the same state apparatus can serve two contending classes, depending on the intentions of its leaders. This is precisely the Pabloite theory of deformed workers’ revolutions in reverse. It smashes Marxism, not the state.

The Spartacists

Workers Power was soon followed by the Spartacist League. The SL’s chief theoretician, Joseph Seymour, had once written straightforwardly:

Capitalist restoration cannot occur either through gradual evolution or a mere reshuffling of personnel at the top; it requires a violent counterrevolution.... Capitalist restoration could triumph only through a civil war in which the class-conscious elements of the proletariat were annihilated in the course of their bitter struggle to defend collectivized property ... (Why the USSR is Not Capitalist, pp. 62-64.)

But after the Stalinist fall, acting as the Spartacists’ legal adviser, Seymour sought new precedents. Trotsky, he now found, had suggested in 1928 that a capitalist military coup was possible in the USSR and “projected that such an overturn need not provoke a full-scale civil war.” But he admitted that Trotsky never returned to such a scenario once the Stalinists had set up their police state. (Spartacist Winter 1990-91, pp.5-6.) The Spartacists at this point had not determined that the Stalinist states had already become bourgeois; they held that the governments but not the states in Eastern Europe were capitalist, and insisted that violent convulsions would be necessary to finish the job. Seymour added that in the USSR the victory of a bourgeois government, not just a state, would likely require violence: “it is difficult to envision the capitalist-restorationist forces achieving governmental power short of civil war, as has occurred in East Europe.” (p.14.) In both the USSR and East Europe Seymour placed his prime faith in the Stalinist military and police to defend the “workers’ states.”

However, when the Spartacists finally revealed retroactively that capitalism had triumphed, there had been no civil-war-scale violence and the Stalinist military apparatus had not been smashed. They gave a nod to the Marxist theory of the state by opining that “the consolidation of this [capitalist] state through a big bloodbath -- either a violent crackdown against the workers movement or a large-scale inter-ethnic conflict à la Yugoslavia -- is likely in the near future.” But the counterrevolution had already happened. For the Spartacists, like LRCI, “regime change” from one class to another was possible without smashing the state.

International Socialists

Neither LRCI nor the SL was the first to invent a peaceful counterrevolution. Tony Cliff of the IST had defended the idea in his book long before. For Cliff, the restoration of capitalism had taken place in Russia around 1928. As with LRCI, he cited the passage from Trotsky about the “cold stroke,” claiming that through it Trotsky “withdrew the argument that a gradual change from a proletarian to a bourgeois state is `running backwards the film of reformism’.” Like the Spartacists, Cliff nodded to the Marxist theory of the state by pointing to the violent period of the Moscow trials in the late 1930’s, which he called, following Trotsky, “the civil war of the bureaucracy against the masses, a war in which only one side was armed and organized.” (State Capitalism in Russia, p.195-6.) But by then, according to the IST, the counterrevolution was a decade past.

After the Stalinist collapse, another IST leader, Alex Callinicos, tried to score a point against the orthodox Trotskyists by comparing the 1989-91 turnovers with the period when the IST says the workers’ state was overturned. “The 1989 revolutions ... were remarkable for the absence of large-scale social conflict and violence,” in contrast to “the savagery involved in the transformations wrought after 1928.” Cliff, he noted, “describes the 1930’s as a `civil war of the bureaucracy against the masses, a war in which only one side was armed and organized’.” (The Revenge of History, 1991; p.53.) Here Callinicos is making a feeble attempt to misquote Cliff and cover his abandonment of Marxism on the state. By attributing the civil war to “the 1930’s” rather than the Moscow trials, he tries to link the IST’s 1928 date directly to the later convulsions. It is another attempt to replace the truth by a lawyer’s argument. The fact remains that for the IST, the counterrevolution did not smash the workers’ state.

Workers Power brought the maneuver full circle. They commented on the Cliff-Callinicos point that dating the counterrevolution to 1989 would be tantamount to reformism: “It is clear that any charges of reformism leveled against Trotskyists today would also have to be leveled at Cliff’s original analysis of the 1920’s.” (“The Crisis of Stalinism and State Capitalist Theory,” Permanent Revolution No.9, 1991.)

That is, if the LRCI is reformist, so is the IST. Exactly.

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