Date: Fri, 6 Jun 97 15:00:26 CDT
Trotsky on the contradictions of the Soviet state
By Leon Trotsky, 1937–38
As the imperialist powers prepared for the second world war, Leon Trotsky, a central leader of the Russian revolution who was forced into exile by Joseph Stalin in 1929, explained that clarity on the class character and contradictions of the Soviet Union was interlinked with the political tasks and orientation of revolutionary workers the world over.
In the excerpt below, Trotsky makes an analogy with trade unions and why working people should defend the Soviet workers state, despite its bureaucratic deformations.
The excerpt is taken from the article "Not a workers' and not a bourgeois state?" in the Writings of Leon Trotsky (1937-38) the volume is copyright 1970 and 1976 by Pathfinder Press, reprinted by permission.
The class character of the state is determined by its relation to the forms of property in the means of production. The character of a workers' organization such as a trade union is determined by its relation to the distribution of national income. The fact that Green and Company defend private property in the means of production characterizes them as bourgeois.
Should these gentlemen in addition defend the income of the bourgeoisie from attacks on the part of the workers; should they conduct a struggle against strikes, against the raising of wages, against help to the unemployed; then we would have an organization of scabs, and not a trade union. However, Green(1) and Company, in order not to lose their base, must within certain limits lead the struggle of the workers for an increase - or at least against a diminution -of their share of the national income. This objective symptom is sufficient in all important cases to permit us to draw a line of demarcation between the most reactionary trade union and an organization of scabs. Thus we are duty bound not only to carry on work in the AFL, but to defend it from scabs, the Ku Klux Klan, and the like....
The assertion that the bureaucracy of a workers' state has a bourgeois character must appear not only unintelligible but completely senseless to people stamped with a formal cast of mind. However, chemically pure types of state never existed, and do not exist in general.
The semifeudal Prussian monarchy executed the most important tasks of the bourgeoisie, but executed them in its own manner, i.e., in a feudal, not a Jacobin style. In Japan we observe even today an analogous correlation between the bourgeois character of the state and the semifeudal character of the ruling caste. But all this does not hinder us from clearly differentiating between a feudal and a bourgeois society. True, one can raise the objection that the collaboration of feudal and bourgeois forces is immeasurably more easily realized than the collaboration of bourgeois and proletarian forces, inasmuch as the first instance presents a case of two forms of class exploitation. This is completely correct. But a workers' state does not create a new society in one day. Marx wrote that in the first period of a workers' state the bourgeois norms of distribution are still preserved. (About this see The Revolution Betrayed, the section "Socialism and the State," P. 53.) One has to weigh well and think this thought out to the end. The workers' state itself, as a state, is necessary exactly because the bourgeois norms of distribution still remain in force.
This means that even the most revolutionary bureaucracy is to a certain degree a bourgeois organ in the workers' state. Of course, the degree of this bourgeoisification and the general tendency of development bears decisive significance. If the workers' state loses its bureaucratization and gradually falls away, this means that its development marches along the road of socialism.
On the contrary, if the bureaucracy becomes ever more powerful, authoritative, privileged, and conservative, this means that in the workers' state the bourgeois tendencies grow at the expense of the socialist; in other words, that inner contradiction which to a certain degree is lodged in the workers' state from the first days of its rise does not diminish, as the "norm" demands, but increases. However, so long as that contradiction has not passed from the sphere of distribution into the sphere of production, and has not blown up nationalized property and planned economy, the state remains a workers' state.
Lenin had already said fifteen years ago: "Our state is a workers' state, but with bureaucratic deformations." In that period bureaucratic deformation represented a direct inheritance of the bourgeois regime and, in that sense, appeared as a mere survival of the past. Under the pressure of unfavorable historical conditions, however, the bureaucratic "survival" received new sources of nourishment and became a tremendous historical factor. It is exactly because of this that we now speak of the degeneration of the workers' state.
This degeneration, as the present orgy of Bonapartist terror shows, has approached a crucial point. That which was a "bureaucratic deformation" is at the present moment preparing to devour the workers' state, without leaving any remains, and on the ruins of nationalized property to spawn a new propertied class. Such a possibility has drawn extremely near. But all this is only a possibility and we do not intend beforehand to bow before it.
The USSR as a workers' state does not correspond to the "traditional" norm. This does not signify that it is not a workers' state. Neither does this signify that the norm has been found false. The "norm" counted upon the complete victory of the international proletarian revolution. The USSR is only a partial and mutilated expression of a backward and isolated workers' state.
Idealistic, ultimatistic, "purely" normative thinking wishes to construct the world in its own image, and simply turns away from phenomena which are not to its liking. Sectarians, i.e., people who are revolutionary only in their own imagination, guide themselves by empty idealistic norms. They say: "These unions are not to our liking, we will not join them; this workers' state is not to our liking, we will not defend it." Each time they promise to begin history anew. They will construct, don't you see, an ideal workers' state, when God places in their hands an ideal party and ideal unions. But until this happy moment arrives, they will, as much as possible, pout their lips at reality....
1. William Green was president of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), the conservative craft union federation.
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