Reply to Comrade Daniel Bengoechea

Part One

by Sy Landy, May 2001

I will reply to your document by taking it up section by section.

I. Your section: On the Stalinist States and Revolutionary Defensism

A. The Shattering of the State

The most central point that you raise in disagreement with us concerns the class nature of the USSR up to 1990. Here you examine the theory of “degenerated and deformed workers states,“ a conception which we have fought over the years.

You state with reference to our views on the supposed “deformed workers’ states,“ that,

In your reasoning there are two central points with which I agree. The first is that workers’ states can only be created by workers’ revolutions, which in the postwar period either did not happen or were suffocated by Stalinism. The second is that the concept of a degenerated workers’ state was conceived by Trotsky for a particular situation in the USSR which could not be indefinitely prolonged in time. On the other hand, the weak point of your reasoning is the affirmation that the capitalist counterrevolution took place in the USSR at the end of the 30’s. Just as you have done with the postwar Stalinist states, one can affirm that in the USSR there was no change in the state apparatus at that time. Before and after, the police, the army and the governing forces were the same.

You agree with us on the decisive all-important point for authentic Marxists: only the proletariat can create authentic workers’ states. This constitutes a deathblow to all the Pabloite-capitulationist theories, since they defend the idea that the post-World War II Stalinist nations were “deformed workers’ states,“ which admittedly were not created by working class-led revolutions.

And you also give credit to our attack on those Pabloites who believe that these states were created in 1947-48, rather than earlier in 1944-5. We have pointed out that they are saying that the socialist transformation of the popular frontist bourgeois states existing in those countries before those dates occurred without a revolutionary smashing of the state apparatuses.

However, you assert that the latter argument we have made undermines our own understanding of the capitalist restoration in the Soviet Union, since at the end of the 30’s, there was no change in the state apparatus. And, you say that the police, army and other governing forces remained the same.

I believe that this point is at the heart of our difference concerning Stalinism. Both of us agree that if no fundamental transformation in the Soviet state took place until 1989-91, then it would have been a proletarian state until then, despite its bureaucratic domination by the Stalinists. It is therefore crucial to note that our difference here seems to be more one of fact rather than theory. We claim that the apparatus of the workers’ state was not only smashed by 1939, it was annihilated.

We have both learned from Marx that for a successful socialist revolution, power must be seized by the victorious proletariat and the apparatus of the capitalist state must be destroyed and a new state apparatus must be erected in its place. And since no ruling class gives up power voluntarily, the armed power centers of the previous state power must be destroyed via the violent revolutionary struggle waged by the proletariat.

Likewise, for the counterrevolutionary termination of a workers’ state to take place, the essence of that state – its armed power – must be shattered. As with a revolutionary seizure of power, here too a civil war must occur. The counterrevolutionary force must wage war on the proletariat, while creating a new state apparatus. Trotsky, referring to the USSR, pointed out in 1936 that: “Without a victorious civil war the bureaucracy cannot give birth to a new ruling class.”

On several occasions, Trotsky labeled the great purges which Stalin ruthlessly conducted in the last years of the 1930’s decade as being a “preventive civil war.” To this day, historians debate whether the series of Moscow trial purges wiped out hundreds of thousands or multiple millions of toilers (and many bureaucrats) during this massive bloodletting.

Trotsky still believed that the Soviet Union was a rapidly degenerating workers’ state. He analyzed the regime as Bonapartist, momentarily teetering between the imperialist bourgeoisie and the proletariat. He thought that the imminent world war would terminate USSR’s character as a degenerated workers’ state. That would occur by a political revolution – a byblow of the proletarian socialist revolution, which he predicted would sweep the world at the end of the war. Or, he said, the collapse would happen through an overturn conducted by the victorious imperialists. He asserted that the USSR was profoundly weak and “a hollow workers’ state.” In “In Defense of Marxism,“ he pointed out that by the late 30’s, the USSR was caught in an absolutely fundamental contradiction, it had become “a counterrevolutionary workers’ state”! Such an incredibly torn state could not continue for long.

For Trotsky, the totalitarian character of the Stalinists was evidenced by the purges which were designed to wipe out any and all potential sources of workers’ revolt. It was a civil war waged out of weakness, designed to stave off the inevitable collapse of a fragile bureaucratic rule. The huge and insane scope of the Stalinist terror flowed from the regime’s maniacal fears over its impending doom.

In Behind the Moscow Trials, he concluded,

The struggle between the bureaucracy and society becomes more and more intense. In this struggle victory will inevitably go to the people. The Moscow trials are but episodes of the death agony of the bureaucracy. Stalin’s regime will be swept away by history.

We think that Trotsky was obviously correct in that the great purges were a civil war waged against the working class and designed to wipe out the cream of its vanguard. But we believe that history has shown that he was wrong as to their purpose and direction. The purges were a sign of the relative strength of the bureaucracy within the USSR rather than a signal that it was about to be “swept away”! They were Stalin’s moves to re-mold and consolidate the bureaucratic caste as a counterrevolutionary ruling class by ruthlessly wiping out every vestigial political force which traced back to the October revolution. The bureaucracy itself was whipped into its new shape, murderously disciplined and transformed.

As is well known, the Communist Party was the power instrument dominating the functioning of the state. In our book, The Life and Death of Stalinism, with figures taken from Khrushchev’s reports in 1956, Walter Daum points out that,

The purge wiped out hundreds of thousands of advanced workers and party officials. the party was totally transformed in its top levels: by the time of the 18th Party Congress in 1939, 70 to 90 percent of those who held office in 1934 (at the previous Congress) were removed, imprisoned or killed. Almost the entire layer of ‘red directors,’ the communists who had managed industry from the 1920’s on, was eradicated. they were replaced by the ‘new intelligentsia,’ the Brezhnev/Kosygin/Andropov generation of the party who had been trained under Stalin, elevated precipitously into responsible positions and committed to the rule of the party over the masses. The purges cemented the decentralized structures and social relations established in the mid-thirties. Thus was produced the bureaucratic capitalist class and the statified class that defines Stalinism today.

The extent of the purge at peak levels is astounding. by the end, 100 out of 139 Central Committee members were executed; likewise 90 percent of Central Committee leaders in the Soviet republics; all of the central committee of the Young Communists; six of the seven presidents of the Soviet Executive Committee; 90 percent of People’s Commissars of the republics; nearly all of the Control commission, of the Council of War and of leaders of the secret police and formers Chekists; 60 percent of Comintern functionaries. in the Soviet Armed Forces, 86 percent of all superior officers and 50 percent of all officers (including noncommissioned) were shot, specifically; 14 of 16 generals of the army, 66 of 199 generals of divisions, 221 of 377 brigade generals, 8 admirals of 8, 11 of 11 commissars.

The general staff of the Red Army was destroyed. Such eminent generals and top officers as Tukhachevsky, Muralov, Yakir, Uborevich, Mrachkovsky, Kork, Alksnis, Yegorov and Bluecher were executed as traitors. Yagoda and the rest of the leaders of the secret police for the past ten years – themselves minions of Stalin who conducted the initial bloody purges – fell victim to the later trials and were themselves summarily executed. The judicial system was purged and re-purged. By 1939, the composition of the Communist Party was thoroughly transformed in terms of class. Trotsky rightfully referred to the fact that the Bolshevik Party had been “exterminated.”

The purges featured incredible trials during which it was claimed that the overwhelming number of comrades who had led the October revolution, and the first glorious workers’ state in our epoch, were actually traitors, many of whom had become servants of Hitler. These Byzantine trials had a devastating impact upon the vanguard everywhere: The members of the Communist Parties across the world become increasingly cynical as a result of accepting these unbelievable lies. Unfortunately, as well, Trotskyist workers, the true defenders of the revolutionary workers’ state, also suffered a massive shock. Not only did they lose so many Bolshevik comrades in the USSR, but the fact that something so inconceivably bizarre could have taken place in the land of October had a monstrously negative impact upon their revolutionary optimism.

You say, “...there was no change in the state apparatus at the time. Before and after, the police, the army and the governing forces were the same.” Here, you are very, very, wrong. I urge you to sit down and re-read Trotsky on the Moscow trials, as he painfully recounts the judicial murder of all the leading comrades he knew and worked with in the leadership of the governing forces, the police and the army – the essence of proletarian state power.

Both the formal institutions and the people that ran them were transformed. Even wings of the bureaucracy itself, loyal to Stalin but with too many unsevered ties to October, had to be exterminated in order to transform a transient caste into a long lasting class.

Now, please compare the events of 1936-39 in the USSR to the events that took place in the USSR and East Europe in 1989-90. You claim that capitalism was restored in 1990; yet by your own standard which demands that the previous state apparatus be smashed, no such transformation occurred! Where did a civil war and a counterrevolutionary (or any kind of) crushing of the old army and police power take place? Where did the “governing forces” become annihilated? The same armed forces and police who defended nationalized property one day, defended its privatization the next day. For example, in Poland this was literally true when the same police who had defended nationalized property under the Stalinist Jaruzelski went on to defend – from the irate workers! – the sale of the Gdansk shipyards even before the new bourgeois regime. The nomenklatura ruled the day before and the day after. The bureaucracy was torn, but torn between those who wanted to go fast with respect to privatization and those who wanted to go more slowly. In Russia, Putin, formerly a paid assassin for the Stalinist KGB secret police, is today’s leading statesman, an open capitalist.

Trotsky stated that those who thought that the social counterrevolution could take place without violent destruction of the proletarian state were “unwinding the film of reformism in reverse.” This is exactly what we accuse the present-day holders of the “degenerated and deformed workers’ state” theory of doing. The theory was disproven by reality during the collapse of Stalinism in the USSR and East Europe. It is a justification for reformism and the utopian-reactionary notion of a peaceful transformation of state power.

In direct contradiction to Trotsky’s predictions, the Soviet Union not only survived the war, it vastly expanded its power and took over neighboring countries. It proved to be not a “hollow,“ fragile degenerated workers’ state ruled by a momentary Bonapartist caste, but a consolidated capitalist state. While economically far weaker than the United States, the only bourgeois superpower left at the war’s end, it was far stronger than Trotskyists had thought possible given their mistaken and uncorrected analysis. No wonder that after the war, they were so severely disoriented.

We believe that today’s centrists (Cliffites, Shachtmanites and Pabloites), underneath their Marxist verbiage, really blame the proletariat for not carrying through on the revolutionary wave that the Bolshevik-Leninists had predicted would follow the Second World War. Yet revolutionary and potentially revolutionary outbreaks and situations did proliferate at the end of World War II. As you point out, Stalinism was a key factor in suppressing them. It quelled such upheavals in East Europe and Vietnam; contained them in France and Italy; sidetracked them in China, etc. Counterrevolutionary Stalinism was a lot stronger than Trotsky had concluded after the purges, in the last analysis he made before the Stalinists assassinated him.

We agree with you theoretically; your criteria for understanding whether a social revolution or counterrevolution has occurred are absolutely right. It is a question of the destruction of an old state power and the creation of a new one. We are far less impressed with the defensist argument we have seen that says that since violence occurred at points during the collapse of Stalinism, that proves that a genuine social counterrevolution occurred. In our opinion that is a religious fundamentalist exercise, akin to a literal interpretation of the Bible. Since “violence” is a well-known and codified aspect of revolution/counterrevolution and violent incidents definitely occurred during the period of collapse, that supposedly satisfies the “definition” and proves the point. History, especially in the U.S., is full of examples of violence between classes that had nothing to do with imminent revolution or counterrevolution. For violence to have social revolutionary or counterrevolutionary meaning, it has to be associated with the shattering of the existing state and the creation of a new one, as you correctly point out.

The civil war in the late 1930’s consolidated power under Stalinism. There was no civil war in 1989-90 and the power centers of the capitalist state remained intact. By your own criteria, the ones that you raise as a challenge to us, which analysis proved more accurate from a revolutionary Marxist point of view? And which analysis unwound “the film of reformism in reverse”?

B. Counterrevolution and the question of property relations and proletarian gains in the 1930’s

You say,

For me, the fact that Stalinism definitively crystallized in the 30’s into a counterrevolutionary force is not sufficient to determine a change in the class character of the USSR. This is always determined by the property relations and these did not take on a bourgeois character until the 90s. Until that moment the Stalinist bureaucracy maintained the monopoly of foreign trade, and the gains of the working class had not yet been liquidated.

Yes, Stalinism was a counterrevolutionary force before the class character of the Soviet Union was definitively transformed. Its counterrevolutionary character did not ipso facto change the nature of the state, it merely pointed to that direction and made it inevitable if proletarian revolution did not intervene.

And yes we agree: property relations are crucial in determining the class nature of state power. A contradiction between state power and property relations certainly could not have persisted until the 90’s. We believe that property relations in the USSR, as well as the organs of state power, were decisively transformed prior to World War II. Specifically, you maintain that the monopoly of foreign trade was a property relation which had not changed until the 1990s. We assert that it was effectively destroyed in the 1930’s.

What was the purpose of the centralized monopoly over all foreign trade by the USSR? In the struggle against the encirclement of the revolutionary workers’ state it had been necessary to control trade in order to prevent imperialist economic penetration and consequent dependence on the West. The isolated USSR could not achieve socialism alone, but it could not simply wait for the revolution abroad. To move toward the abundance necessary to sustain the proletarian state and help in the advance toward socialism, modern technology was vital for the Soviet Union and that could only be attained on the world market. If, however, each factory or each industry were allowed to import necessary technology from the advanced countries, enormous duplication and overexpenditures would burden a society already desperately mired in scarcity. Without centralized control over trade, economic planning and scientific allocation of resources would have been a shambles and a joke.

In fact, massive studies (published by Stanford and University of North Carolina) of the patterns of technological imports by the Soviet Union from the mid-1930’s onward, show that the same technology was bought and imported by industry after industry in multiple separate transactions. In the West, when a particular technological advance is developed in one industry, if it is useful in another non-competitive industry, it will inevitably be sold to that industry. That is known as “spillover.” In addition, the state being the creature of the private ownership bourgeoisie, when it develops a new technology in the military, space, agricultural, etc. industries, it will inevitably find its way into profitable use by the various industries. In the USSR, no such spillover occurred. Notoriously, despite the fiction of “central planning,“ the economic connections between separate industries were virtually non-existent, except through the black market. (The attempt to create such lateral links was one element in the Gorbachev perestroika reform efforts.) Hence, each industry purchased identical technologies on the world market – all technically conducted through the ministry in Moscow, whose control was centralized largely in name only. This occurred over and over again on a massive scale.

As you know from reading our book, we claim and I think we prove that the military industry was run on a highly competitive market-simulated basis from the mid-30’s on. As such it developed technological advances. However, the rest of the Stalinist economy was generally incapable of generating new technology and therefore had to constantly buy it – and rebuy it – from the Western imperialists.

In other words, the state monopoly of foreign trade remained as a form; the dominant portion of the content was decisively changed. The appearance of proletarian property remained while the essence – the actual class relationship – was fundamentally altered. Form cannot exist in a total and unmediated absence of all its original content; however, what is left is turned by the dominant relations against its original purpose. And that is what happened in the USSR. Necessary protection of industrial resources until the isolation was broken turned into a drive for autarkic nationalist growth; economic nationalism. Property forms remained the same in the USSR under Stalin, but social relations were changed qualitatively. And while political power was autocratically centralized, it presided over the move toward effective de-centralization of the economy.

During the post-World War II colonial revolution, new ex-colonial states often created centralized institutions designed to control foreign trade in order to stave off imperialist economic penetration and to be able to channel resources into building nationalist capitalist economies. These institutions soon failed to actually exercise such control and centralization was left in tatters, thus paving the way for neo-colonialization and rule by compradores and imperialists.

The USSR was far stronger and more inherently able to keep foreign imperialist penetration at bay for a longer time. Russia had been strongly centralized and had a sizable concentration of industry already under Tsarism; it had undergone a proletarian revolution which added considerably to its centralized character; it had greater resources than the ex-colonial lands. “Socialism in one country,“ turned into capitalist nationalism.

Lenin had counted Russia as one of the world’s imperialist powers despite its backwardness and the fact that it was subjected to imperialist penetration itself. So too, under Stalin, Russia had its own form of imperialism and voraciously exploited the rest of the USSR and, before the revolts in the early 1950’s, East Europe.

Therefore, the USSR’s greater ability, as compared to the ex-colonial countries, to withstand foreign imperialism in order to preserve the national capital for a longer period of time was obvious, but the class content was similar. From a proletarian means to defend a workers’ state, the Soviet state monopoly became a weapon of a nationalist capitalist bureaucracy trying to avoid becoming a compradore class. It finally failed completely.

Planning was another creation of the revolutionary transitional workers’ state, but planning ceased to plan. Once again, as you know from reading our book, we have pointed out over and again, actual production under Stalinism never came close to producing what was “planned.” And even when the plan called for massive allocation of resources to boost production in Department II (consumers’ goods), they went in reality to Department I (producers’ goods). To be sure, a genuine workers’ state would emphasize production in Department I, as a means to acheive higher consumption. But the particular failure of Stalinist planning duplicated the pattern of production under traditional capitalism rather than a planned economy. Planning for a workers’ state is planning for use – yet the incredibly inefficient economy produced massive amounts of waste, literally destroying use values. Already present in the 30’s, the subterranean and rapidly expanding black market – unplanned – eventually held the economy together.

You know that we have argued that since real production diverged from planned production in consistent rather than random ways, this means that production was governed by economic law, the law of value, rather than simply by a bureaucratically mis-managed plan. Planning in the workers’ state was necessary in order to overcome the law of value – the economic law which determines allocation of resources under conditions of scarcity in class society. Stalinist planning became a creation of and a facade for the continued and increasingly dominant operation of the capitalist law of value. The property form remained, the essence had already decisively changed by the late 1930’s. We claim that was one crucial reason why economic decentralization developed so rapidly. (1)

After the collapse, the fact that the economy had been baronially divided, rather than centrally determined, was made more than clear. Further, our claim that the economy of the USSR under Stalinism was anarchic and decentralized under the cover of the so-called central plan is routinely attested to by the Stalinists themselves. For example, the economist David Laibman, once the editor of the journal, Science and Society, pointed out, “In the Soviet Union, the vast majority of enterprises were not under central (Gosplan) jurisdiction; most were what we would call municipal enterprises, operated by city or regional governments.” (Dialogue & Initiative, Spring 1993, p.21.)

Like “planning,“ nationalized industry also remained. However, here too the actual relations of production changed while the form persisted. Trotsky pointed out that the Stalinist bureaucracy was parasitically looting production. We claim that, over time, the bureaucratic parasites became capitalist parasites. Stalinist relations in production became durable and systematized. How long can systematic parasitic looting of the surplus produced by the working class go on without achieving the character of exploitation? Certainly, half a century is beyond belief. Under the form of nationalized industry, the relationship between the extractors of value, and those whose labor power produced it, was transformed. Extraction became exploitation. Quantity turned into quality.

The continued existence of form is important. The denial of the fact that the USSR retained proletarian property forms in the theories developed by anti-dialectical pragmatists like Tony Cliff (state capitalism) and Max Shachtman (bureaucratic collectivism) showed that they did not understand the contradictions which drove Stalinism – and also drove it to its death. However, it is equally true that the theory put forward by Michel Pablo, Ernest Mandel, Nahuel Moreno, et al, (degenerated and deformed workers states) also confused form and content and had just as bad an understanding of the life and death of Stalinism. Dominant property relations rather than forms are decisive in determining the class nature of the state – in this case its non-proletarian character.

He who attempts to burn petrified wood is in for a frustrating surprise. And only petrified “Marxists” can deny the fact that one cannot simply determine the dominant content from its persistent form; yet that is exactly what the overwhelming majority of today’s defensists (Pabloites) do. And then they make the leap in saying that therefore the state as a whole must remain as it was, suspended in time for over fifty years.

In Das Kapital Marx had to put the commodity under the scientific microscope in order to even begin his famous study of capitalist production. This was necessary because it was the domination of commodity production that distinguished capitalism from other systems, and the nature of the commodity was totally misunderstood by all other analysts and political economists. Marx pointed out that Adam Smith and other commentators, even those of the left, saw the commodity as an objectified “thing.” Instead, he insisted its underlying reality was that of a “relationship.” The commodity embodied a class relationship of exploitation, a relationship of struggle over value between a wage-earning proletariat and the capitalist class at the point of production. Thus, he directed his polemical arsenal at “the fetishization of the commodity.”

Today, there is an all-pervasive fetish about nationalized property. On the left, including the far left, instead of it being understood by its changing content and examined historically and concretely as to its actual class relationship, it is thought of as an object, a thing. The dialectical propositions that all phenomena have their own internal drives toward transformation and that all phenomena proceed by contradiction are ignored. Form and content are generally assumed to be identical and consistent. And therefore the nationalized “thing” is deemed ipso facto as always essentially uncontradictory. For such viewers, there is no need to probe into the dynamics of how the particular Stalinist economy is driven, what are its laws of motion – that is, how does the class struggle work within the Stalinist states, because the basis of the political economy is determined by the equation of the form of the object with its content. We believe that such left politicians have much more in common with Marx’s enemies than with him and his work. No wonder that Marx said that he was no “Marxist!“

You point out that other gains of the working class remained in addition to the trade monopoly after the 30’s. We agree. Stalinism had to maintain some of the important gains in order to stay alive. Ironically – that is, dialectically – that retention also finally was substantively responsible for its death. The gains, which had to be maintained for the sake of counterrevolution, were also a viper in the bosom of Stalinism.

The October revolution negated Tsarism and was itself, in turn, negated by the Stalinist counterrevolution. For Marxists, “negation” certainly does not mean erasure, it means transcendence. History prior to October was not simply wiped out. The Bolshevik revolution occurred in Russia at international capitalism’s weakest link. Its weakness stemmed from the fact that it featured a highly concentrated and modern proletariat existing within a large and vastly contradictory capitalist country dominated by a huge outmoded agricultural sector. In order to maintain itself as a nationalist power, the Stalinists had to constantly expand the working class, especially since the system could not eliminate outmoded waste-producing capital nor generate labor-saving technology. And try as it did, the “workers state” could not force or entice the workers to work as hard as it demanded.

Marx pointed out that it was the capitalists who needed to preserve and expand the working class; the proletariat in power is driven to eliminate itself as a separate class. In a particularly horrendous way, Stalinism served to preserve and expand the working class.

As you and we both know from our study of Permanent Revolution, no capitalist nation is capable of overcoming its fundamental contradictions in this epoch because of the threat presented by the potent working class. Given its capitalist character, the post-30’s USSR was not able to overcome the fundamental contradictions it inherited – including the fact that it faced an increasingly expanding proletariat, its gravedigger.

Trotsky pointed out that state capitalism – the nationalization of the basic industry – was theoretically possible:

Theoretically, to be sure, it is possible to conceive a situation in which the bourgeoisie as a whole constitutes itself a stock company which, by means of its state, administers the whole national economy. the economic laws of such a regime would present no mysteries.... Such a regime never existed, however, and, because of profound contradictions among the proprietors themselves, never will exist – the more so since in its quality of universal repository of capitalist property, the state would be too tempting an object for social revolution.

He thought their internal division as private owners would deter the bourgeoisie. Further, he saw that the bourgeoisie would be too frightened to actually try such a property transformation because it would present too great a temptation for seizure by the proletariat. He was right on both counts. However, the internally competing bourgeoisie was no longer an inhibiting factor. The nationalist bureaucrats in the USSR inherited an already nationalized industry and had to maintain it for as long as possible in order to keep control over the country. And to keep its capital away from the foreign imperialists on the one hand and the workers on the other. If the political control exercised by the state over industry was loosened by the advent of privatization, Western imperialism would pour into the vacuum of power. If state control of industry were loosened, the transformation in property form, as well, would be dangerously tempting to an undefeated working class. The status quo – statification – had to be maintained because the Stalinist nationalists would be caught between two antithetical dangers if the state ownership of property was terminated. Permanent Revolution casts a long shadow.

Because of the tempting character of state property and the inherent danger of altering that form, the workers had to be constantly repressed. Hence Stalinism had to be authoritarian – and that is the reason it could never permit even the bourgeois democratic facade used in the West. The gain of proletarian Soviet democracy, far more egalitarian than bourgeois democracy, was one crucial gain not retainable by the Stalinist state.

However, no modern state can last based upon terror alone. The regime was unable to terminate certain important gains made by the workers’ state such as full employment, free health benefits and the like. If the Stalinist states removed these concessions, they would have faced constant industrial turmoil and the ever-present threat of a massive social revolution. Their function as a makeshift means to repress the proletariat in the areas where world capitalism was weakest would have been destroyed.

Certain gains persisted – but for what class reason? The persistence of some gains by itself doesn’t answer that question. For example, there are progressive gains made by the working class and by Black people in the U.S. which are embodied in laws carried out by the state institutions. Dominant sectors of monopoly capital favor their retention for now in order to prevent upheavals. That certainly does not mean that the bourgeois state is progressive and defensible. And in the long run, the monopolists will have to rid themselves of these gains because they can become triggers for future revolts by workers and oppressed peoples.

I use the U.S. example not to claim that these gains are equivalent to the gains of October in the USSR. My only point here is methodological. I am sure that you agree that even clearly reactionary states can retain proletarian gains for their own reasons. Their aim is to use those gains against the working class; to entrap them within the system. But they are dangerous cudgels for the capitalists; they simply have no immediate choice, so they use them, while trying to whittle them away in favor of other more preferable weapons.

Imperialism itself is rooted in using the gains of the working class against that class. Imperialism has given capitalist states the profits to be able to concede gains to a section of the working class, the aristocracy of labor; which in turn gives the system needed support. Of course, these concessions were not acts of charity but gains taken from the system by struggle. In our epoch, in order to stay alive, decadent capitalism uses such working class gains against that class. In that sense, the Stalinized Soviet Union joined the rest of the capitalists in using proletarian achievements against the working class at home – and abroad, as well.

The USSR used the attraction and authority of October to sustain its power as a bastion of counterrevolution which propped up world capitalism as a whole, even when engaged in Cold War rivalry. Not by accident, Moscow and the foreign CP’s it led were instrumental in helping to keep post-World War II colonial revolutions around the world restricted to “the first stage,“ bourgeois democracy, and to using every means to prevent workers’ socialist revolution. In the advanced countries since the mid-1930’s, the CP’s constantly supported class-collaborationist Popular Fronts designed to maintain capitalism in power, no matter what other changes in political line they went through. Of course, the achievement of Communist Parties in the first place had been a gain of the workers’ movement (like the social democratic parties), which was later turned to its counterrevolutionary opposite.

Contained rivalry within industry maintains capitalism. Contained rivalry between the big national powers maintains the imperialist status quo, as even the traditional “balance of power” foreign policy theorists know. The Cold War rivalry was a phenomenon which fostered counterrevolution and maintained the system on a qualitatively new plane. Its collapse opened up new vistas for imperialist war on the one hand and proletarian revolution on the other.

The utilization of working class gains as a weapon against the working class is one aspect of the overall anti-human use capitalism makes out of all human gains in order to preserve its rule. The tremendous conquests that humanity has made in the sciences and technology, advances capable of giving our species security, comfort and a platform for vast cultural attainments are instead funnelled into barbarism: atomic war, technologically advanced forms of torture and environmental destruction. The world is at the crossroads – the key question is not whether or not there are gains, but to what class use will those gains be put?

The Stalinist aims involved in the retention of gains cannot obliterate the inherent contradiction; these gains are a double-edged sword. And the sword can be taken up by the workers at the expense of the system at certain points in time. Biologists tell us that even recessive genes can give rise to dominant characteristics under changed conditions.

Hidden unemployment existed and grew under Stalinism. The fact that workers could not be fired – a gain that the Stalinists were forced to retain – was a vast stumbling block for the planners. Not by accident, in the last years of the decline of Stalinism, that was one of their bitterest open complaints. Without a reserve army of unemployed and the threat of firing, speed up and greater productivity were impossible goals. Under Stalinism, the unwillingness of the working class to work harder and produce more was one major reason for the rampant inefficiency of the patchwork capitalist system imposed by the statified capitalist ruling class.

In fact, the guarantee of full employment was one of the reasons for the Stalinist economic collapse. Another was nationalization. While industry was in reality far more decentralized than the state property form would indicate, and while there was real competition over resources – including the supply of labor power – far more extensive competition was necessary in order to force greater production and overcome the steady decline in the rate of growth in the USSR. In turn, the adoption of market competition would carry out the central capitalist goal of deepening the attack on the living standards of the working class. Stalinism was no longer a tolerable weapon for the capitalists; it had become a major barrier to the continued existence of capitalism in the USSR and East Europe. The question was how to eliminate the gains without sparking a revolution by the increasingly explosive working class.

C. The Stalinist ruling class

You state that “if capitalism was restored at the end of the 30’s we would have to be able to determine who was the bourgeoisie in the USSR at the time.”

The Stalinist ruling class was not the traditional capitalist ruling class, but it was a capitalist ruling class, nevertheless.

We do not claim that the bureaucratic caste became a bourgeoisie at the end of the 30’s; merely that it became a capitalist class. The bourgeoisie evolved historically within pre-capitalist society and became the dominant ruling class with the advent of capitalism itself. In the ascending progressive epoch of capitalist development, it appeared as an entrepreneurial class. It transcended its largely entrepreneurial character as the system changed into its counterrevolutionary and decadent epoch, that of imperialism and monopoly capitalism. It was essentially a private property-holding class throughout its historical transformations from entrepreneurialism to stock ownership. It evolved from a class configured by a more or less “free enterprise” economy through one that Lenin described having social production combined with private appropriation.

The Stalinist bureaucracy had a different origin and a different historical role; it rested on statified property rather than on private property in the means of production. It arose in capitalism’s decadent epoch of imperialist wars, revolution and counterrevolution and the transition to socialism. In the Marxist sense of the words, it was an accidental phenomenon and not a necessary development. It arose out of the massive counterrevolutionary defeat of the proletariat and the destruction of the workers’ state. The October revolution had destroyed the Russian bourgeoisie, itself always a very weak class. The bureaucracy arose as the personification of the increasingly powerful capitalist laws of production which grew rapidly in dominance, in lockstep with the degeneration of the workers’ state. It acted as a regent class for the absent bourgeoisie.

The “Marxism” which has been foisted upon us by its social democratic, Stalinist and even centrist usurpers has more in common with the heavenly dictates of sterile religious hierarchical institutions than it does with the richness of Marx’s scientific world view. Marx’s political descendants in the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party did not have the luxury of thinking in immutable categories – sealed boxes which become mental coffins. Russia was already capitalist by the turn of the century, as Lenin demonstrated in his first book, The Development of Capitalism in Russia. Yet, the bourgeoisie was not the ruling class. The Tsarist ruling class was pre-capitalist, as everyone including Lenin and Trotsky knew. The bourgeois-democratic revolution had not yet been accomplished.

Our purpose here is certainly not to claim that the Stalinist bureaucracy was a pre-capitalist, post-capitalist or non-capitalist ruling class. It is simply to say that the equation of the ruling class under capitalism with “bourgeoisie,“ an idea that has been taught to the movement by the orthodox “Marxist” stranglers of Marxism, is not an absolute. Nor, by itself, is its absence a proof of the continuance of the proletarian state in the USSR.

Capitalism has seen other regent ruling classes which have had to substitute for an absent bourgeoisie. In fact, in many of the states which emerged from the colonial revolution in the post-World War II world, the bourgeoisie was either virtually absent or too weak and compromised to rule. These nationalist states sought to build up their autarchic national capitals as a way of preventing imperialist domination by the former colonial powers and/or the now-dominant U.S. The infrastructure: roads, railroads, electricity, dams, etc. was for achieving indigenous capital development but unprofitable to build and own. State property was unavoidably necessary and became extensive.

The new ruling classes generally were extruded out of the old colonial bureaucracies or the new middle class bureaucratic-professional strata. Some of these new ruling classes took a Stalinist form; many others presented themselves as state “socialists” in one style or another. What they had in common was that they were all state-oriented regencies filling in for an absent bourgeoisie. Needless to say, they justified their statist capitalism by adopting the ideological label of “socialism” in order to placate the working class and get it to sacrifice for the “national interest.”

When the weak and doomed institutional defenses against the world market built by these new states became porous, the capitalist state nationalists became state comparadores. Then, increasingly, as profitable relations with the imperialists developed, they moved to privatize and bourgeoisify and became ordinary compradores. Regency faded as the rulers evolved toward their present neo-colonial relationship. Certainly, going back under the imperialist wing was far preferable to facing mass internal revolts or social anarchy alone.

Of course, as we have already stressed, the Stalinist nationalist bureaucracy in the USSR was far stronger and could hold out against Western imperialism and maintain its regency for a far longer time before bourgeosifying.

Bureaucracy, which has flowered in the decadent epoch of capitalism, is the hierarchical substitute for the conscious planning by the working-class producers which is demanded by the accumulative but transforming, monopolizing and statifying, economy. (2) Thus, it is a stratum which arises out of the changing relationships in the mode of production. Under decadent traditionally-evolved capitalism in the West, the bureaucracy is an ancillary stratum which serves the interest of the monopolizing bourgeoisie, a class which no longer existed in the USSR by the 30’s. The counterrevolutionary bureaucracy within the degenerating workers’ state finally succeeded in the late 1930’s in restoring the capitalist system with the servants ruling in the absence of the masters.

We use the term “regency” in relation to the Stalinist capitalists because we certainly believe that the traditional bourgeoisie is the norm in capitalist society. Marx correctly described entrepreneurial and highly competitive capitalism as the the model of the system in its ascendant epoch. Using that model he was able to trace the transforming factors at work which moved the system toward monopoly and increased statification – the system in its decadent epoch. Just so, the normative historic entrepreneurial bourgeoisie evolved into the monopoly bourgeoisie. The Stalinist class was a byproduct of capitalist decay where the system was weak. It ruled in place of the normative ruling class – in the absence of that class as an effective means of social domination.

In contrast to the Pabloites, Cliffites and Shachtmanites we always saw Stalinism as weak in comparison to Western capitalism, a prop for maintaining the world system. With all their differences, these centrists saw Stalinism as part of the future, for better or for worse. We saw it as part of the past; a ramshackle patchwork affair designed to be a nationalist regency until overcome and supplanted by either the imperialist bourgeoisie or the proletariat.

D. Counterrevolutionary leadership of the masses

You say, must not lose sight of the counterrevolutionary character of the bourgeois leadership of the masses, which made use of the processes of the 90’s to the benefit of imperialist interests. To propose defeatism and fight on equal footing both Stalinism and the bourgeois leaderships of the masses has helped make some view the installation of the new regimes as a conquest of the masses. In that sense I agree with the LBI’s criticisms of Morenoism and other centrist currents who were dazzled by the processes in Eastern Europe and who place the necessity of defeating Stalinism above the defense of gains of the masses.

First, let me say that criticism of the centrists’ capitulation to Western imperialism and its indigenous bourgeois allies during the collapse of Stalinism was not just made by the LBI, but by us. And, to be fair, other centrists besides the LBI also made criticisms of Mandel, Moreno and other such direct and obvious capitulators.

However, I also should note that the Morenoites and the Mandelites were defensists like the POR and the LBI – Pabloite defenders of the theory of “degenerated and deformed workers states” – and did not share our analysis and its steadfast opposition to both capitalist sides during the collapse.

Long ago in the middle-1970’s, we predicted that the anti-defensist Shachtmanites and the defensist Pabloite followers of Mandel would land up on the same side – the wrong pro-bourgeois side – in the coming collapse of Stalinism. We said that both theories were fundamentally bourgeois democratic. Despite the different labels – “social revolution” versus “political revolution” – they both would come to similar conclusions as to the essence of what they supported, the “democratic revolution.” That is exactly what happened. Once again, let us use Poland as an example – both of these tendencies, plus the Cliffites and so many others, ended up as ardent supporters of the reformist Lech Walesa and his counterrevolutionary misleadership over the struggling anti-Stalinist Polish working class.

The example of Poland is instructive in another way. You claim that the blame falls upon the shoulders of those “who place the necessity of defeating Stalinism above the defense of gains of the masses.” In reply, we say, 1. As we have pointed out most of the centrists who directly and immediately capitulated were defensists in their theory – they too claimed to defend the “gains of the masses.” 2. Those who defended Jaruzelski and the Stalinist state because of the gains also capitulated to the exact same forces! It was not by accident that the Stalinists not only paved the way for the restoration of traditional capitalism and welcomed Western imperialist penetration, they ushered into governmental rule their “opponent,“ the counterrevolutionary Lech Walesa, himself!

In contrast to every other tendency that we know of, from the beginning we not only supported the Polish working-class upheaval, we fought against its betraying leadership, Walesa & Co. We pointed out that his treasonous transformation of the Gdansk MKS dual power institution into Solidarity was a disaster. We pointed out that his subservience to the West and to the Catholic Church was only matched by the fact that he was a reformist toward the Stalinist state! We pointed out that Walesa and Jaruselski had far more in common than they did with the working class they pretended to favor. We pointed out that Walesa & Co. were leading the workers to the slaughterhouse because only the vanguard Trotskyist party and socialist revolution could provide a way out for the masses. We pointed out that underneath the surface, Jaruselski, Walesa, Washington and the Vatican all wanted the same bourgeois transformation of the state – a transformation which would mean the destruction of the past gains. In other words, those who defended the Stalinist side under the guise of defending the gains of the working class were complicit in the destruction of those gains! (3)

Who on the left defended the nationalized property gains as rigorously as we did?

You recognize this, at least in part, when you state,

Of course, as you say, to defend these gains it was necessary to oppose the privatizations of the economies of the USSR and the rest of Eastern Europe, which implied also the necessity of a revolutionary opposition to the state and the Stalinist bureaucracy, which had initiated the attacks on the working class well before the changes in government.

To carry this important insight to its conclusion, I think you would have to add, “And the Stalinist bureaucracy was instrumental in trying to control the workers in order to transform the state into an openly bourgeois and pro-imperialist state which would be more capable of destroying the gains of the masses.”

With that conclusion, you would have to agree with us that it was good to “propose defeatism and fight on equal footing both Stalinism and the bourgeois leaderships of the masses.” We would put the same proposition another way: We supported the proletariat and its struggles, in opposition to the counterrevolutionary reformist misleaders and the Stalinist regimes, both allies of Western imperialism led by Washington.

It is our view that the upheavals which forced the destruction of Stalinism were working-class in composition. Certainly, as we have said, the massive rising in Poland scared the hell out of Gorbachev and his cohorts. Tragically, there was no proletarian vanguard party leadership. This (enforced) absence opened the way for the hijacking of the revolutionary thrust of the workers by counterrevolutionary misleaderships. Throughout the events we fought for that position and that understanding, virtually alone as far as we knew at the time.

Let me give you an exact statement of our overview: We regard the collapse of Stalinism and the victory of the bourgeoisie as a political revolution, that is, a transfer of power from one segment of the counterrevolutionary capitalist class to another. With respect to the working class upheavals, we regard their betrayal as a counterrevolutionary act perpetrated by a counterrevolutionary pro-bourgeois force.

The hijacking of working-class revolutionary uprisings is nothing new. The initial revolt which ushered in the bourgeois Provisional Government in February of 1917 was working-class in composition. It was the proletariat, most notably the oil workers, who led the revolt against the Shah in Iran, an upheaval unfortunately capitalized upon by Khomeini and his clerical reactionaries. Sadly, that was what happened in the USSR and Eastern Europe in 1989-90 as well, in our opinion. As you know, we hold the pseudo-Trotskyists in great part responsible for the absence of an international proletarian communist leadership which could have led an authentic socialist revolution in the East at that time. It was this vacuum of leadership which permitted the capitalists to risk the transformation from one form of capitalist control to another.

E. “Deformed Workers States”

You say,

... I have to recognize that the definition of ‘deformed workers’ states’ used by us to characterize both the Stalinist states created after the Second World War and those resulting from anti-imperialist revolutions (China, Cuba, Vietnam and North Korea) is based upon the repetition of the concept established by the Pabloite Fourth International. Assuming that the USSR was a workers’ state until the Stalinist collapse of the 90’s, the resounding similarity between these societies and the USSR made us assume pragmatically that they were, in a certain sense, the same. At any rate, we understand that the ‘deformed workers’ state’ definition always must be applied with much skepticism, lacking a better characterization, and without attributing any sort of viability to those societies.

Indeed, the concept of deformed workers states had to be a reflection of your view of the USSR as still being a degenerated workers state, a view shared by all Pabloites, including both the Mandelites and their left critics. Since we have superficially the same title for our analysis of Stalinism as do the Cliffites, that greatly added to our need to elaborate our class differences with them and their theory, which we have done at length. If POR and LBI reject the label of “Pabloites,“ what are their different fundamental analyses of these states which have led them to presumably fundamentally different conclusions?

We use the term “Pabloite” to include both sides in the international split which occurred in 1953. Cannon, Pablo, Mandel, Healy, Lambert, Moreno, et al, split over the consequences of a common theory of “degenerated and deformed workers states.” The fact that the theory was an incoherent muddle which left open fundamental questions is beside the point; they all agreed with it, only disagreeing with the concrete assessments and tactics which followed from the theory. We also use the same term to include the LBI and the POR despite their attempts to differentiate themselves from the main currents of that tendency such as the Mandelites, the Socialist Workers Party in the U.S., the Morenoites, Lora & Co., the followers of Altamira, etc. The LBI and the POR don’t like the tactical conclusions of Pabloism that have followed from the theory, but as far as we know they have not even elaborated an alternative and counter theory. We have made the same point against the Spartacists, Nordenites and the IBT.

We know that some of the POR militants whom we have met are sincerely dedicated to proletarian revolution. However, a subjective commitment to revolutionism – even a deeply felt commitment – is far from enough. It is not enough to dislike the Pabloite centrists, it is necessary to probe into the heart of the phenomenon – its material and theoretical roots. The LBI and the POR have not done this; they share the same fundamental outlook and are doomed to capitulate to capitalism in a fundamentally similar way, until they engage in a systematic re-evaluation of the common orthodox Pabloite theory.

Cde. Daniel, you know as well as we do that Lenin was right when he said that there could be no revolutionary practice without revolutionary theory. And serious theory demands serious examination and re-examination; it abhors orthodoxy.

In defending the analysis, at least in part, you might reply as to the degenerated workers state aspect of the position that this was Trotsky’s analysis as well, most notably elaborated in The Revolution Betrayed. And we would reply that this work was published over 60 years ago! As far as I know, no serious study or book has been issued since which even pretends to be a further in-depth analysis of that view, in the light of the further developments in the USSR and the wealth of material available only after Trotsky’s death. What serious Marxist study exists of the dynamics and laws of motion of the Stalinist political economy since then? How have they withstood the test of time and change and how they have worked themselves out in practice? Conceivably, such a study exists, but we have researched the topic extensively and we do not know of it. We eagerly await hearing of one.

Clearly, Stalinism has had an enormous impact on the fate of the class struggle. Theories of Stalinism concern vitally important life and death issues for humanity; they guide action by potential leaderships of the workers’ movement. How would, let us say, an atomic physicist have felt about splitting the atom if the analysis of the available evidence concerning such phenomena had been in such an unexamined and deplorable condition?

Let us go further. The post-Trotsky “deformed workers state” concept has existed for over half a century. It lacks not only any body of serious Marxist analysis as to how the political economy of such states work, but there is no agreement as to even how such entities could be created in the first place. The best that you can say for the concept is that it “...always must be applied with much skepticism, lacking a better characterization....” That echoes what many others have said in its defense. The holders of that theory have repeatedly asked the workers during revolutions and wars to risk their lives based upon a belief about which they are not only “skeptical” but have devoted so little resources to examining in a Marxist fashion. Wow!

Let us just toss out a few of the more glaring problems with the theory, beyond how workers’ states could be achieved by counterrevolutionaries, without proletarian socialist revolutions and without a vanguard party in the leadership.

  1. How can you establish whether or not a state qualifies? It can’t be immediate nationalization of the means of production. Until 1953, industry was more nationalized on Taiwan than in mainland China, yet the Pabloite milieu was divided over whether China became a workers state in 1949 or 1953. (The American SWP avoided answering the question for years, while the majority of European Mandelites thought China to be an undeformed workers state from the outset.)
  2. How can you predict when a revolution is going to produce a deformed workers’ state since even Communist Party leadership – or even a proletarian vanguard leadership! – isn’t essential, according to the theory? This is compounded by the Cuban experience, where power was taken by a leadership which didn’t even pretend to be working-class. And, in addition, so many tendencies thought that Sandinista Nicaragua was or would become a workers’ state, based upon the supposedly subjective intention of its leaders. Many thought that Angola and Mozambique were such states. (It is a hell of a theory which cannot distinguish between capitalist and workers’ states.) Those Pabloites who disagreed did not probe the fundamental reasons why the common theory led to different class conclusions. Maybe the theories were different, not just the topical application? No one deeply explored. We think that it is because the “theory” is no theory but a rationalization (often retrospective) for wanting to support something pragmatically seen as “progressive.”
  3. How can such socially backward countries as Cambodia and Laos be described as workers’ states when they barely had working classes at all? The Pabloite Spartacists exposed the nonsense behind the defensist theory when they said that of course Cambodia was a workers’ state, it couldn’t have been capitalist since it was too primitive to even have a money economy! Evidently, it wasn’t too primitive to be transitional to socialism!
  4. How can people who claim to be so impeccably Trotskyist claim these Stalinist states as working-class when Trotsky sneered at the idea that the very extensive regions in China, politically, economically and militarily ruled by the Maoists during the 1930’s, were anything but capitalist?

We have more such questions but will hold off on them for now.

Maintaining a palpably dubious theory for such a length of time about a living phenomenon is a prima facie case for the need to have re-examined its roots long, long ago.

If you and/or POR persist in regarding these states as somehow progressive, then in this epoch of decadent counterrevolutionary capitalism, despite your “skepticism,“ you must regard them as some form of workers’ states. In a momentary, relative and conditional sense we could have regarded the bourgeois democratic colonial revolutions as progressive, but never was it possible to regard the new capitalist states they produced in that way. If they were progressive but not workers’ states, what else could they have been? For those who regard these states as progressive, the only alternative to the deformed workers’ state notion is the idea put forward by early Shachtmanism in relation to the USSR: progressive bureaucratic collectivism which is both anti-capitalist and anti-socialist.

However, one of the myriad ways in which the bureaucratic collectivist theory falls apart is that it is impossible to conceive of a working class (a value-producing class) as opposed to a semi-serf or semi-slave toiling class in such a non-capitalist state. And, we think that you would agree based upon historical developments that a strong working class did exist within most of those states. Therefore you are, in our opinion, stuck with the dubious theory of “deformed workers’ states,“ produced by “socialist revolutions” led by other social classes and without a proletarian vanguard – unless you come fully to our conclusions.

In addition to all its other problems, the deformed workers’ state idea has proven to have no predictive value as to when and how such states would arise. It was simply a rationalization for putting a positive label on the new states after Stalinist or other petty bourgeois forces that Pabloites wanted to tail came to power. And, often enough, it was purely retrospective.

F. The Berlin Wall

You say that,

...I understand that it is an exaggeration on the part of the LBI and the POR to equate the defense of the gains of the masses with the defense of the Berlin Wall, since the Wall formed a part of the Stalinist repressive apparatus which supported the bureaucracy’s attacks against the masses.

We obviously agree with your change in position on the Wall, but I feel that you are being too soft on the organizations involved. From our point of view, the differences that we in the LRP and COFI have with the LBI and the POR on this issue cannot be posed abstractly or diplomatically. You assert that it is an “exaggeration” on their parts to claim that the defense of the Wall is equivalent to defending the working class gains in general. We call it an outright betrayal – a capitulation to anti-working-class murder in cold blood. The Wall was never in any sense a gain for our class.

As internationalists, when we take a position as to what is to be done by comrades (actual or potential) of a different nationality than our own, we know we must place ourselves in their position and be prepared to identify with what we feel they must do. That means that we would do what they should do. For example, we advocated military defense of the Serbs against the U.S. imperialist bombardment of Belgrade. To us, that means if we were there we would be firing side by side with the Serbs against the bombers. Just so, in the same internationalist sense, if we and the LBI and POR were in Stalinist East Germany (GDR) at the time of the Wall, it would have often been our duty to fire our guns on the LBI and POR. (4)

The Wall was not simply a wall. It wasn’t the concrete that kept the East German workers from fleeing into West Germany; walls like that one can be scaled with ease. It was the soldiers on top of the Wall who shot and killed escaping workers that were the real barriers. For the LBI and POR to take their position seriously, they would have to agree that they too would have been willing to shoot the unarmed workers down.

The LBI claims that the Wall was a means “to contain the escape of qualified professionals.” (5) Undoubtedly, the East German Stalinists wanted to retain the intelligentsia but the far greater worry was the drain of skilled and ordinary workers who wanted to flee the hell-like conditions in the East. The purpose of the Wall was to keep workers in and certainly not to keep imperialism out. The LBI went on to call the Wall “a defensive and bureaucratic measure taken by the Stalinists to protect the GDR from the external pressures.” (6) Frankly, that is nonsense.

Many of the Pabloite defensists hailed the purportedly huge productive advances of the East German economy prior to the 1990 collapse and in comparison to the declining economies of the other Stalinist states. The Spartacist liars called it an “economic miracle.” However, in fact it was only huge annual subsidies by West German imperialism that kept the GDR’s very outmoded industry functioning. By the 1980’s, the East German Stalinists desperately wanted the Western imperialists to be in and not out!

Likewise, the West Germans were willing to funnel millions of marks into East Germany because they feared workers’ revolution there and wanted to stabilize the economy. The Pabloites have often tried to portray the imperialists as trying to destroy the Eastern bloc nations by whatever means necessary. That is simply untrue.

After the first days of the Cold War and the advent of McCarthyism in the U.S., such ideas in the West began to quickly fade. Just as Moscow (and its fellow Stalinists abroad) always attempted to undermine revolutions against Western domination by preventing them from going beyond the bourgeois-democratic stage, the Western imperialists tried to forestall workers’ revolutions in the East against the Stalinist rulers. From the late 1940’s-early 1950’s onward, they began to learn from Tito that the least risky course during the Cold War was to win Stalinists and not topple them. The Yugoslav Stalinists more than proved themselves worthy of subsidization by supporting the U.S. during the Korean War.

At an early point in the Eisenhower administration in the middle of the 1950’s, the actual policy of the U.S., which had evolved into “containment” of the Stalinists, was indeed ended in favor of “rollback,“ an attempt to eliminate the Stalinist rule where possible. This was quickly dropped as a result of the East German, Czechoslovak and Polish working-class uprisings, quickly followed by the huge Hungarian revolution in 1956. Washington became so scared of the danger of proletarian revolt spreading that it dramatically changed its policy and began subsidizing key areas of East Europe. The nationalist Stalinist Gomulka regime in Poland was rapidly funded and propped up. Even the Kadar government in Hungary, installed by the Russian Stalinist re-invasion, was supported. The policy became trying to prevent the spread of Stalinism while helping to ward off the danger of revolt. It was the Hungarian threat which immediately ushered in the period of detente between the frightened Stalinist and Western imperialists.

The U.S. State Department under the Nixon administration moved quickly to try to win China away from the USSR, not by revolt or war but by accommodation. As far as East Europe was concerned, Kissinger openly bemoaned the fact that the Russians were “lousy imperialists.” The danger was that given Russian economic weakness, East Europe could explode and destabilize Europe and the world.

Under the Carter administration, the State Department warned that unless Moscow could “democratize” – that is, couple a facade of democracy with economic reform – the danger of revolt in a few years would become overwhelming.

In the Polish events of the early 1980’s, Washington’s policy of supporting the reformist Walesa was openly an attempt to restrain the working class and to see that the Polish state was reformed enough to deter revolution. As a result of the massive general strike in Poland and the deepening crisis of world capitalism manifesting itself most critically within the Stalinist bloc, it became obvious to Gorbachev as well as to Reagan that decisive steps had to be taken to maintain state power in the East and ward off the proletariat and “anarchy.” Hence, “glasnost” and “perestroika.” Rollback was never contemplated by Washington; intra-ruling class collaboration was far more in the interest of imperialism and the rate of profit. Reform was the weapon used to stave off and throttle revolution.

From the 1970’s onward, the West German imperialists pursued the Ostpolitik, designed to establish increasingly friendly relations with the Stalinist countries. It had the double intention of giving the West the edge in the Cold War as well as to better prepare the ground for German economic penetration of the East. (The U.S., already wary of Germany’s developing rivalry, had mixed feelings toward this policy but did not actively counter it.)

The Wall was never an attempt to stop Western “pressures;” the Stalinists proved in practice that they would far sooner welcome Western imperialism (and its demands for reform) as an ally when faced with the threat of the proletariat. Communist revolutionaries defend the right of workers to flee oppression, but are always forthright that we prefer that if at all possible the workers stay and wage the class struggle at home. The chief danger faced by the German Stalinist state was its own working class and not its friends in Bonn – and certainly not its friends in the LBI.

G. Defense of China, et al and the workers’ gains

You state, the cases of China, North Korea, Cuba and Vietnam, if it is in fact true that the assault on the workers’ gains is being led by the Stalinist bureaucrats, I suppose that you would also accept that these gains will fall more rapidly in the event of a military defeat of these regimes by imperialism. In that sense, if in fact these states must be defended from imperialism like any other oppressed nation, there has to be special emphasis on their defense because the gains embodied in them are greater.

Undoubtedly, you didn’t include Cambodia and Laos on your list through oversight. However, if you did, it would have made the claim to serious remaining “workers’ gains” even more tenuous than it already is, given the tiny proletariat and the lack of gains in those nations. The gains you and we pointed to in the former USSR were directly and palpably connected to the October revolution. We see the gains in the “deformed workers states” as still being working class achievements, but in a far more attenuated sense. Not only were these states not created by workers’ revolution, many of the gains did not occur as a result of direct pressure of the proletarians of those countries. Rather, important transformations like nationalization were introduced only after the workers were safely defeated or contained (for the moment). Nevertheless, it was vital to propitiate the workers and make concessions if there was to be any production at all. Of course, we defend these gains against both the Stalinist bureaucrats/bourgeoisie and their imperialist allies.

The gains were not only sparse to begin with, many of them are now unrecognizable; the frequent workers’ eruptions in China spell out how unreal the remaining gains are. Stalinism in China acts as the disciplining agency over the superexploited working class, serving the interests of world imperialism. In Cuba, the sharp differentiation in workers’ income between the tourist sector of the economy and the rest is growing rapidly and along racial lines. There too, imperialist investment demands superexploitation. North Korean toilers are perpetually on the edge of starvation. Vietnam is desperately seeking imperialist investment in order to even survive. Fundamentally the responsibility for these conditions lies with imperialism; however, it is precisely the inability of the Stalinist regimes to measure up to or to cope with the imperialists that has led them to an increasingly compradore status. They are capitalist and therefore complicit.

If you ask us to somehow fight harder because of the remaining gains, are we supposed to fight less because of the tremendous growth of superexploitation in those states? Either way it is necessary for revolutionary internationalists to do whatever they can in defending any oppressed state against imperialist attack. Intensity and concentration of efforts are conditioned by many factors. For example, the intensity of Trotskyist defense for Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia was great but had nothing to do with the fact that his state was ruled in a barbarous fashion. It had to due with the role of colonialism and imperialism in Africa and the world just prior to World War II, the role of Italian fascism, the importance of fighting racism, etc.

Intensity of defensive efforts can of course be affected by the state of working-class gains in the besieged country. However, it will be even more affected if a major reason for the attack is the imperialists’ need to crush a mass revolt by live workers. In all cases, our defense must include warnings that the Stalinists are now enemies of whatever gains exist, and while we train our fire against the imperialists, we also never stop telling that truth.

As with the internationalist duty to defend Ethiopia, Chiang’s China in the 1930’s or Galtieri’s Argentina during the Malvinas War, the degree of progressiveness of the internal regime cannot by itself be the decisive question. We are sure that you agree with that proposition. However, it is important for us to understand why you are raising the question of the relation of gains to the intensity of revolutionaries’ defense of these states against imperialism? Is it in order to retain some lingering idea that these states are progressive? Clearly, we do not think so.


1. Most Pabloites, as well as Cliff and Shachtman, deny that the law of value was inherent and compelling within the Stalinist economy, even though Stalin himself insisted as to its importance. However, despite Stalin’s testimony – he no more understood what the law of value really was than did Pablo, Mandel, Cliff or Shachtman – the argument against the role of value in the USSR is a Stalinist argument.

By the mid-1930’s, Stalin and his new constitution proclaimed the USSR as a socialist society, that is a society that was, or was near to being, a classless society. Trotsky opposed that absurdity, claiming that it was still a workers’ state, out of necessity. (He added that, nevertheless, the constitution was actually a weapon designed to further subjugate the proletariat in the interests of the coming capitalist restoration.)

As we all know, the proletariat is by its very essence the value producing class. Marx spent much effort spelling out the difference between the working class and the use-value producing classes in history – slaves and serfs. The human species acting as producers in the future socialist/communist classless society would also create products for use and not value. If value was not decisive in Stalinist production, then there was either no working class or a marginal working class – and Stalin was nearer to being right than was Trotsky. Not so! Return to main text

2. The attempt to equate modern bureaucracy – devoted to trying to expand accumulation – with the Mandarin type of bureaucracy which appeared in Asian Despotic society is ahistorical. Asian Despotic society was anti-accumulative by its essence, and its bureaucracy was devoted to preventing accumulation in the means of production. They are not the same class. Return to main text

3. See Socialist Voice, Numbers 10-16. Return to main text

4. It is also true that after having met some of the working-class cadres of the POR in Argentina, we don’t actually believe that they would have carried out their political line in living practice. In fact, we think that they would be revolted by it. We have no such favorable estimate of the obviously middle-class LBI, which seems to be similar to the Spartacists not only in class composition but in taking this position on the Berlin Wall as well as other pro-Stalinist positions. Return to main text

5. The Wall of Shame or the Shameless[ness] of Those Who had Supported the Imperialist Offensive in Tribune of Debates, p.58 Return to main text

6. ibid. Return to main text