December 12, 2021

The experience of the Paris Commune, the first instance of proletarian revolution, brought Marx and Engels to a transformative conclusion regarding their understanding of the State. Unlike prior revolutionary processes, the conquest of political power by the revolutionary proletariat should not result in the adoption and application of the state apparatus, but rather the destruction and replacement of the bourgeois state by a new, workers’ state, a dictatorship of the proletariat which could both take action against the former ruling class’s attempts to cling to power and set in motion the transformation of society and the economy in order to end exploitation and class inequality as part of the socialist transition to communism.

by Jorge Martínez, translated to English by Carlos Sapir

They also asserted that the transition to a classless society will be “in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges.”[1]

The experience of the Russian Revolution led by the Bolsheviks lasted much longer than the 74 days of the Paris Commune. Over more than seven decades, the Russian workers’ state went from its revolutionary period with Lenin at the vanguard, through long decades of Stalinist counterrevolution, taking on not only the challenge of winning a victorious revolution, but also the practical task of dealing with the “birthmarks” of the new workers’ state, as well as other contradictions not predicted by Marx and Engels, brought on by the surprising victory of a socialist revolution in a country with an underdeveloped capitalist economy.

In February 1917, in the middle of a world war, an insurrection succeeds in toppling the Tsar, establishing a provisional government with the goal of moving Russia forward from its tsarist past and establishing a bourgeois state. The following months of political turmoil, counterrevolutionary plots and dual power set the stage for a second revolution, the October Revolution, in which power was transferred to the soviets under the leadership of the Bolsheviks, themselves swayed by Lenin’s decisive influence, whose views on the revolution in Russia would end up coinciding with Trotsky’s, allowing the Bolshevik party to overcome its difficulties and successfully win the revolution.

The Bolshevik party’s existence and its revolutionary leadership, however, were not able to overcome the fact that their revolution took place in the middle of the Russian Empire, which experienced feudal backwardness, the demographic predominance of the peasantry over the other classes (80% of the population), the existence of a weak local capitalism heavily dependent on foreign capital, and the minority position of the working class relative to the rest of society. These “birthmarks”, peculiarities specific to Russia, would become major obstacles on the road to socialism, an already difficult task further imperiled by the ongoing war bleeding Europe dry.

For the leadership of the October Revolution, the ultimate goal was the victory of socialist revolution across Europe. These leaders, particularly Lenin and Trotsky, were aware of the precarious position and fragility of the Russian revolution, and that its fate would depend on international aid from the victorious working classes of the main capitalist powers of Europe, for them to take power, defeat imperialism, and commence the construction of socialist society at the global level.

Thus, for them the primary strategy was the establishment of an international organization, the Communist International (3rd International) to support and lead the global revolution; even the establishment of a soviet Russia was subordinated to this goal of global revolution. For as long as revolution failed to take hold in Germany or other European countries, even the Bolsheviks’ greatest efforts would be at most contingency measures to preserve the survival of the revolution while waiting for the arrival of a global revolutionary wave.

Lenin at the third congress of the 3rd International (1921) by Alexander Bulla (1881-1943) – scan from Mrazkowa.

The revolutionary regime: the Russia of Soviets

The Bolshevik’s seizure of power was ratified at the Second Pan-Russian Congress of the Soviets which also approved the first decrees that laid the groundwork for the new state, addressing the concerns of the masses of workers, peasants and soldiers: they demanded a just and democratic peace from the imperialist powers fighting against Russia; the expropriation without compensation of land held by the nobility, landlords and church; and workers’ control of factories. Additionally, the Congress took up the question of power, a topic of key importance and subject to fierce polemics within the Bolshevik party and other parties participating in the revolution. The question was: following the fall of the Kerensky government, who should take charge?

Lenin’s political stance was to transfer all power to the Soviets (workers councils), which were dominated by the Bolshevik party, the only party that was able to propel the revolution forward and establish a new workers’ states. The other socialist parties (the Mensheviks, the Socialist Revolutionaries, and the Internationalists) fell into dire crises due to their collaboration with the bourgeoisie under the now-deposed provisional government, as well as due to their opposition to open revolt, advocating a policy of a coalition government that would also collaborate with the bourgeoisie and foreign powers. In other words, to continue with a class collaborationist government. Others continued to support the already faltering position of bourgeois democracy, insisting on a “democratic” solution. But the experience of the workers, soldiers and peasants meant that they were already tired of bourgeois democracy. The Tsarist Duma, and the provisional government, its socialist ministers included, had failed to do more than trick and delay the desires of the masses, supporting the imperialist war effort and repressing the opposition. They continued to have a laser focus on the next election cycle and the convocation of a constituent assembly, a proposal which would also be rejected as obsolete in the wake of a workers’ state whose construction was in progress.

Assembly of the Soviets, Petrograd 1917. Uploaded by User:Kristallstadt on en.wikipedia

Finally, the Congress of Soviets ended up approving the Bolshevik proposal and endorsed the slogan of “all power to the Soviets”. Despite opposition from the Socialist Revolutionary Party and the railway workers’ union that it dominated, which preferred a coalition government, the proposal was adopted by an overwhelming majority.

 

The Soviet Regime

Since the earliest days of the revolution, the insurrection and seizure of power has been incorrectly portrayed as a coup d’etat led by a minority clique imposing its rule in place of a “democratic” provisional government. Even today, this simplistic and reactionary perspective persists, a conspiracy theory that continues to attract adherents arguing for the theory of the coup. During the revolution itself, Lenin and Trotsky took it upon themselves to publicize the true nature of their seizure of power. The Bolsheviks were able to win a majority of the soviets by adopting political perspectives summarized in the slogans “All power to the soviets”, and “Bread, peace, and land”. Thus, the insurrection was not a bolt of lightning out of the blue. It was anticipated by the masses, which had already demonstrated their dissatisfaction with Kerensky in July. Its support was majoritarian in the soviets, on the frontlines, and in the fields. Thus, the revolution was not an act of the elites carried out on the backs of the people. Lenin had full confidence in the “creative initiative of the masses”, that is to say, the capacity for the working class and the masses to take up the initiative for revolutionary action and organization. The streets, barracks, and fields were brimming with revolutionary fervor and Lenin knew how to channel it.

Members of the provisional government deposed by the soviets

 

On the eve of revolution, Lenin vehemently defended the policy of power to the soviets against other solutions to the central question of political power. In this sense, Lenin was completely in agreement with the lessons of the Paris Commune and the work of Marx and Engels. Lenin’s formula was directed at the fundamental question of a socialist workers’ revolution: to destroy the old state apparatus and build upon its ruins a new state that would correspond to the historic mission of the working class to liberate humanity from under capitalism and to build socialism. In response to those who defended the policy of bourgeois democracy, Lenin said:

Power to the Soviets—this is the only way to make further progress gradual, peaceful and smooth, keeping perfect pace with the political awareness and resolve of the majority of the people and with their own experience. Power to the Soviets means the complete transfer of the countrys administration and economic control into the hands of the workers and peasants, to whom nobody would dare offer resistance and who, through practice, through their own experience, would soon learn how to distribute the land, products and grain properly. [2]

In various writings written just before the insurrection, Lenin displayed confidence in the legitimate, democratic power of the soviets, up to the point of arguing that they would guarantee a relatively peaceful revolution, as argued in The Russian Revolution and Civil War” (1917)

The peaceful development of any revolution is, generally speaking, extremely rare and difficult, because revolution is the maximum exacerbation of the sharpest class contradictions; but in a peasant country, at a time when a union of the proletariat with the peasantry can give peace to people worn out by a most unjust and criminal war, when that union can give the peasantry all the land, in that country, at that exceptional moment in history, a peaceful development of the revolution is possible and probable if all power is transferred to the Soviets.[3].

and in “The Tasks of the Proletariat in our Revolution” (1917), he argues

By seizing full power, the Soviets could still today—and this is probably their last chance—ensure the peaceful development of the revolution, peaceful elections of deputies by the people, and a peaceful struggle of parties inside the Soviets; they could test the programmes of the various parties in practice and power could pass peacefully from one party to another.

The resulting policy with which Lenin set off the October insurrection, the transfer of power to the soviets, and the first measures of workers’ government were the product of this political vision. Nonetheless, the counterrevolutionary offensive was extremely violent and bloodthirsty from its inception, which forced the revolutionaries to respond with violence in order to ensure the survival of the revolution.

The soviets and workers’ democracy

Delegates at the Second Congress of the Soviets (1917) From Wikimedia Commons.

The revolutionary soviets continued the project initiated in the Paris Commune. They were its spiritual successors, and provided the main tool for primarily workers, but also soldiers and peasants, to express their “creative initiative” and govern their own lives. The Soviets, which had been created as organs of struggle against the tsar, were transformed into the organs of a new struggle, the fight for the survival of the revolution and the application of a revolutionary program.

The soviets were workers’ councils made up of delegates elected in factories, neighborhoods, barracks, and fields. Per the description provided by Pierre Broué [5], they had the autonomy to resolve local issues while also putting into practice decrees made by more central authorities. They carried out the executive and legislative tasks of the day through deliberative and democratic assemblies. The election of members to the soviet was based on elections divided by class lines, where the workers’ were granted a majority in the soviets relative to the peasantry. Those who employed other workers were not given the right to vote. All representatives in the soviets (and elsewhere throughout the revolutionary state) were subject to immediate democratic recall.

The question of civil and democratic rights was taken up from the very beginning, under the principle of according the greatest amounts of rights to the workers as possible without endangering the dictatorship of the proletariat. The Soviet regime began to grant broad democratic liberties. For example, it prohibited the death penalty, although it was later forced to reinstate it in 1920 during the height of the civil war. Similarly, the first arrests and sentencing of counterrevolutionaries were extremely benign. Following the arrest of the White general Krasnov, he was freed from arrest following a simple verbal promise that he would not take any further counterrevolutionary action. He would later disappear and play a major role coordinating the violent White Terror during the civil war.

Lenin himself hoped to expand freedoms of the press and of organization, insisting that the power wielded by the masses in the soviets was all that was needed in order to remain effective.

The parties which existed prior to October for the most part continued to participate in the new Soviet regime. In the first few months, both the Left and Right Socialist Revolutionaries, the Mensheviks, anarchist groups, and even the bourgeois Cadet party had the ability to organize and print publicly, maintaining their organizations and publications, activities which included agitation against the Bolshevik party and soviet power. The constituent assembly election in Petrograd alone saw the participation of 19 parties, and socialist, bourgeois and minority-nationality parties participated at the national level.[6]

But the opposition parties did not limit themselves to debates in the soviets, or to focus on the most relevant and disputed policies. The Mensheviks and the SRs continued to believe that the insurrection and the establishment of a soviet state were serious errors, and their political activities in this period focused on the defeat of the Bolsheviks in order to put Russia back on the path to bourgeois democracy. The Mensheviks ended up supporting the white counterrevolution, and the SRs, true to their terrorist roots, carried out various terrorist attacks with the goal of destabilizing the Bolshevik government. An assassination attempt against Lenin in 1918 which successfully wounded him was carried out by an SR terrorist. Meanwhile, the Cadets from the very beginning conspired with the White generals to form the counterrevolutionary White Armies.

The circumstances of civil war, the positions of the SRs and Mensheviks, which vacillated between support for counterrevolution and support for the soviets, meant that measures taken against these parties were not permanent. This shows that there was no “intent” to install a single-party regime that suppresses civil liberties a priori. Restrictions on political liberties were the necessary steps taken to defend the dictatorship of the proletariat and guarantee the survival of the revolution in the middle of a hostile reality.

The soviet regime would later have to assemble itself amidst enormous, complex challenges presented by the moment. The regime had a key perspective: it would be the base of operations for the development of revolutionary forces, both in Russia and the rest of the world.

The key part of this perspective is its international aspect. For Lenin and Trotsky, the victory of a socialist revolution in Europe was their primarily goal and their greatest hope for survival. They understood perfectly well that capitalism’s international character, and particularly so during its imperialist phase, was an enormous obstacle on the road to socialism in an economically backward country. This internationalist perspective was a fundamental point of agreement and a source of inspiration for revolutionary internationalists who found themselves isolated and disorganized following their betrayal by the social democrats in the Second International.

For Bolshevik internationalism, now in power, the first problem to address on the international stage was the imperialist war which continued underway. This only increased the importance of the revolution’s appeals to the peoples of Europe for a democratic and just peace without annexations of territory. The peace negotiations between Germany and Russia at Brest-Litovsk set off a sharp discussion within the party. The urgent need to end the war on the German front entailed the acceptance of undesirable concessions to Germany, which some Bolsheviks saw as unacceptable or outright betrayal. Eventually, Lenin’s line of accepting the demands was adopted. The goal was to buy time for the establishment of a workers’ government in Russia and for the victory of the revolution in Europe. Although revolutionary processes broke out in various countries, none of them were successful. These defeats did not extinguish Lenin and Trotsky’s confidence in a global revolution, which would arrive sooner or later. Thus, one of their key tasks was the reorganization of revolutionaries within the 3rd International.

The task of developing revolutionary forces within Russia was the other top priority. To advance towards “building the socialist order” meant a transition from soviet power to the reorganization of the economy on new terms. Total workers’ control over industrial, commercial, service sector, and agricultural activity is decreed and put into practice through committees and councils controlled by workers, who would have the authority to control all aspects of production (volume, price, etc.) These committees were also charged with raising the rate of production, which at the time had been halted. This required the conscious self-discipline of the workers working to meet the needs of the population and to fight against sabotage.

Another decree established the nationalization of banks, the canceling of debts foreign and domestic, mandatory work for all citizens between the ages of 16 and 55, and the centralized distribution of basic goods to citizens.

The Bolsheviks as yet did not propose the expropriation of private property in the means of productions [7], understanding that capitalist property relations could be maintained until the moment when the working class had developed to the point where it could take total control of production, with the prior committees being an intermediary step towards this goal. The needs of the day, particularly the needs imposed by the vivil war against the counterrevolutionary armies, forced the state to take total control over strategic sectors of the economy.

But even beyond the historical backwardness of the Russian economy, even the productive capacity that existed was half-destroyed by the war and the political crises which had occurred since 1917. On top of this, the state had to deal with sabotage, speculation and outright pillage committed by bourgeois forces hostile to the bolsheviks and the new state. These problems were followed by civil war, where the combined forces of the White Armies, imperialism, and all other enemies of the revolution, including a large portion of the Mensheviks and SRs, brought the White Terror down on the young soviet state. This created the need for struggle against the counterrevolution and the establishment of the Red Army under the leadership of Trotsky. Thus, for the duration of the civil war, the priority in both the fields and the cities was to guarantee the continuation of the defense of the revolution.

Following victory in the civil war, economic concerns took primary importance. The need to subordinate agricultural production and industry to the needs of the Red Army delayed the meeting of the basic needs of the population. Scarcity and hunger were rampant in both city and field.

Discontent began to grow in rural areas. Peasants were tired of their harvests being requisitioned for soldiers. As peasants were not able to reliably sell their harvests, production fell to the bare minimum necessary for the peasants to survive.  In the cities, workers’ control over production was not sufficient for raising industrial production. The best workers were fighting on the battlefront, and many industries were semi-paralyzed for lack of resources or even outright abandonment by their workforces. Individual survival was the rule of the day in the streets, and calls for citizens to obey discipline and focus on the ultimate goal of building socialism were not enough for maintaining morale. The collaboration engendered by “war communism” was not enough either, and discontent began to rise dangerously.

Thus, it was necessary to adopt new policies. The need to revitalize the economy led to the adoption of capitalist forms of organization, focused on stimulating surplus production in agriculture through market incentives. This measure was promoted as a temporary emergency measure, to be adopted until hunger was addressed and industrial production picked up.

These measures strengthened rich peasants (kulaks), who would sooner or later seek a political expression for their newfound privileged positions as the beneficiaries of the market policies. This risk was to be addressed through progressive taxes, and by the voluntary collectivization of production carried out by poorer peasants.

The break with the Soviet regime

Over the course of a period extending around ten years, from the end of the civil war until the beginning of forced collectivization of agricultural production, the revolutionary regime, the (Bolshevik) Communist Party and the Third International all underwent a process of bureaucratization which implemented a de facto counterrevolution within the internal apparatuses of the Soviet Union. This period coincided with Lenin falling ill and later dying. In his last days, Lenin began to sound the alarm about the bureaucratic course asserting itself within the party, but his death interrupted the battle against bureaucracy. Following his death, as Stalin and his allies isolated and suppressed their critics through intrigue and manipulation, resulting in the liquidation of nearly all of the leading cadre that had led the revolution since 1917.

The civil war of the first few years of revolution brought with it the consequence of thousands of deaths and the prolongation of economic suffering, but beyond that it also brought about the weakening of the soviet state itself. The best elements of the working class that had led the revolution of 1917, the most disciplined and sharpest comrades eager to fight for the socialist program, were also the first to march to the front lines and defend the revolution from the White Terror. Alongside them, the militant rank and file of the Bolshevik party formed the backbone of the Red Army, which heroically defended the revolution and successfully defeated the white counterrevolution.

Red Army soldiers (1921) At the center are Lenin, Trotsky and Voroshilo. By Lev Yakovlevich Leonidov (1889 – 1952)

This victory cost thousands of lives, among them the better part of the workers’ and Bolshevik party vanguard. In the factories, work positions were taken over by a working class that was poorly trained, recently recruited from the rural regions, demoralized, and subdued by years of war and suffering. Without technical knowledge of production or socialist political education, the revolutionary energy of the Russian working class waned.

Meanwhile, a similar process was underway in the party itself. Since 1917, the party had experienced exponential growth following its victory in the October revolution. But it was not just the best of the working class who joined the party. The Bolshevik’s victory also attracted many careerists and opportunists to join the party in hopes of receiving a slice of the victors’ spoils. At the same time, the collapse of the other parties that had historically fought for socialism meant that many militants who had been trained in the political traditions of reformism and opportunism now hoped to join the Bolshevik party and continue their political work there.

At the level of the state, although the soviets were a powerful tool, their ability to administer the state effectively rested on their ability to address the countless problems that arose every day. In this sense, it was necessary from the beginning to maintain some of the roles and positions of the old state. This layer of functionaries, hostile to the Bolsheviks from the outset, held onto the same hope as the SRs and Mensheviks, that the Bolshevik party would be defeated. But the Bolsheviks were successful in the civil war, and many of these functionaries stayed on, resigned to work with the new regime and to find a way to maintain their private interests within the state bureaucracy. This layer of bureaucrats prospered while the working class suffered during these years, and raised its voice within the organs of the ruling Communist Party.

This political will would eventually find its expression in Stalinism. Stalin, who had already displayed a tendency towards bureaucratic organizing, intrigue, and authoritarianism (tendencies which were denounced by Lenin himself), first surrounded himself with the party’s least polarized cadre, and then gradually added to them the conservative wing of the party and the new members who hailed from the old tsarist bureaucracy.

Unlike the Bolshevik Party of Lenin’s day, where the key organizers were professional militants working undercover and the internal regime was one of disciplined democratic centralism with frequent internal debates and discussions, the Communist Party of the 1930s was a monolithic party, where decisions were made by a small ruling clique and the rank and file had little choice other than to follow orders from on high.

In this context, Stalin and his accomplices justified their political method as the right and proper continuation of Lenin’s politics. This ideology, characterized by hero-worship, lies about history and a dogmatic approach to theory was mislabeled “Leninism”. But this ideology is none other than the degeneration of Lenin’s principles and a break with the revolutionary legacy, the program and theories of Marxism. Stalin constructed a sterile doctrine, devoid of actual dialectal materialist analysis, formulaic and vulgar, an attempt to construct a theoretical justification for the abandonment of the strategy of international revolution in favor of class collaboration and bureaucracy.

This counterrevolution expressed itself across virtually every aspect of soviet life. Progressive social advances won by blood and sacrifice were repealed bit by bit, social stratification and inequality grew day by day as a caste of party bureaucrats working as state functionaries grew more and more separate from the working class and peasantry suffering repression and deprivation.

As far as the relationship between the Communist Party and the soviets was concerned, it was no longer a relationship of a vanguard party that leads and educates the people in cooperation with the broader masses in the functioning of the state, the economy, and society with the goal of transforming society, and instead, the Party took up the role of stamping out revolutionary initiatives in order to impose totalitarian and antidemocratic control in order to cement into place the privileges of the new bureaucratic class.

All of the restrictions on proletarian democracy within the state, society, and party. as well as the adoption of capitalist economic methods in the New Economic Plan were, during the revolutionary era, temporary measures adopted with the goal of defending the workers’ state from imminent counterrevolutionary attack. Under Stalin, however, democratic liberties and revolutionary consciousness comprised a threat to the bureaucrats’ privileges. Stalin’s regime set out to defend the economic and social bases that provided them privileges.

In this way, the creative and revolutionary initiative of the masses expressed in the soviets lost its impulse, and ended up a thin coating of paint over the realities of state power in the USSR: a state bureaucracy comprising the Communist Party and the organs of the state was replaced by a hollow shell supported by the brutal repression of all expressions of discontent or opposition.

Socially, inequality began to grow, the result of the strengthening of the position of party and state functionaries against a backdrop of shortages and repression.

Proletarian internationalism, defended by Lenin and Trotsky, was replaced by a retreat to nationalism, accepting the defeat of the European revolutionary uprisings in the 1920s and taking the survival of the Soviet Union in a hostile world as a sign of the viability of building socialism in one country, independent of the international revolution. Thus, the Soviet Union would adopt the pseudo-theory of “socialism in one country”.

The position of the peasantry also changed in this period. Lenin and Trotsky always upheld a policy of reaching out to the peasantry to convince them of the advantages of socialism, collective production, and technological advancement as compared to the old ways of feudal production. They knew perfectly well that this process would be neither quick nor easy, and that it depended on both the emancipation of the peasantry from the landlord class and the maintenance of proletarian leadership over society, that is to say the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Consequently, the first policy was peaceful persuasion. Decrees for land reform made concessions to the peasantry and transferred land ownership to them, rather than immediately collectivizing rural property.

Trotsky said as much in 1933

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

With regard to the peasantry as a whole the task was and is an entirely different one. The peasantry must be drawn to the side of the socialist regime. We must prove to the peasant in practice that the government industry is capable of supplying him with goods on much more advantageous conditions than under capitalism and that collective farming is more advantageous than individual farming. l[8].

Stalin’s policy was otherwise. Forced collectivizations were put into practice, replacing the Leninist policy of peaceful persuasion. Facing the strengthening of the kulaks and the development of capitalist tendencies not controlled by the state apparatus, Stalin, who had up until now counted the kulak peasantry as a key base of support, turned and imposed violent expropriation of land, harvests and livestock from rich and poor peasants alike, unleashing a new wave of discontent, protests and drops in food production.

Within the party, having made permanent the prohibitions against fractions and tendencies, Stalin carried out the persecution and expulsion of any and all leaders or militants who expressed criticism of the party apparatus. The 1930s were characterized by detentions, deportations, assassinations and show trials, which one by one removed the former leaders of the Bolshevik party. Trotsky would find himself first expelled from the party, later exiled, and finally murdered by a Stalinist agent in Mexico. Even those who had catered to Stalin’s interests were not spared. Stalin’s one-time allies, among them Kamenev, Zinoviev, and Bukharin, found themselves accused of counterrevolutionary activities and being fascist or imperialist agents following falls from Stalin’s grace.

The Cheka, which was created during the first years of the revolution in order to repress counterrevolutionary activity and sabotage, was replaced by the GPU, a political police that bore greater resemblance to the tsarist Okhrana than the Bolshevik Cheka, was placed in charge of carrying out detention, torture, and mass surveillance. The Moscow Trials would begin in 1936, kangaroo courts which detained, condemned, and executed practically the entire Bolshevik generation.

The dimensions of the purge suggest that Stalin sought to annihilate the revolutionary vanguard that had led the revolution.

Comparing the lists of those executed with the lists of members of leading bodies is equally instructive: the better part of the members of the Central Committee 1917-1923, the three party secretaries 1919-1921, and the majority of the Politburo’s membership 1919-1924 were eliminated. Between 1924 and 1934, we are unable to continue this analysis for lack of data. Regardless, of the 139 comrades elected to serve or stand as alternates for the Central Committee in 1934, at least 10 were imprisoned in the spring of 1937, and a further 98 were detained and executed between 1937 and 1938, 90 of whom between the second and third session in Moscow. Only 22 members, less than one sixth of the body, would find themselves on the Central Committee in 1939; the vast majority of those absent were already executed by this date.[9]

The accusation that the Stalinist terror and bureaucratization of the USSR were a direct consequence of Lenin’s political vision is repeated all over. But both a reading of Lenin’s ideas, as expressed in his own writing, and the historical evidence of this period show that rather than being a product of Leninism, Stalinism comprised a derailing of Leninism and Marxism, a break with prior policies, and a new political reality first in the USSR, and later in other workers’ states established following World War II.

The key difference between the revolutionary Leninist period of the early USSR and the prior Stalinist of bureaucratization and degeneration was a shift in how the state addressed the capitalist “birthmarks” and massive contradictions present following the victory of a socialist revolution in a backwards country.

Lenin placed his trust in the working class, and upheld a policy of class struggle and the sparking of revolutionary initiative among the masses, with the masses themselves playing a leading role in moving the state towards socialism. Faced with threats and the danger of counterrevolution, restrictions on workers’ democracy and freedoms were adopted, but explicitly as transitional measures that would only be temporary.

By contrast, Stalin, despite his Bolshevik past, resolved the contradictions and “birthmarks” by strengthening the bureaucratic apparatus, in opposition to proletarian democracy and the participation of the masses in the workings of the state through the use of the soviets. The totalitarian suppression of workers’ democracy, the absolute and bureaucratic centralization of state functions and society by means of the party guaranteed the survival of the bureaucracy and its privileges, eventually resulting in the restoration of capitalism in the USSR and the rest of the workers’ states, largely due to their own suffocation of the social and economic bases of the workers’ states.

 

References

Broué, Pierre. El Partido Bolchevique. Ediciones Alternativa Socialista, 2005.

Lenin. «One of the Fundamental Questions of the Revolution»

———. «The Russian Revolution And Civil War». 1917

———. «The Tasks of the Revolution». 1917

Marx, Karl. «Critique of the Gotha Program»

Pipes, R. La revolución rusa. DEBATE. Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial España, 2016. https://books.google.com.co/books?id=CzoxDQAAQBAJ.

Trotsky, Leon. «Control obrero y nacionalización». En Naturaleza y dinámica del capitalismo y la economía de transición. Buenos Aires: CEIP León Trotsky, s. f.

———. History of the Russian Revolution. 3 vols. Bogotá: Pluma, 1982.

———. «Problems of the Soviet Regime». 1933

[1]     Marx, «Critique of the Gotha Program.»

[2]     Lenin, «One of the Fundamental Questions of the Revolution»

[3]     Lenin, «The Russian Revolution And Civil War»

[4]     Lenin, «The Tasks of the Revolution»

[5]     Broué, El Partido Bolchevique, 67.

[6]     Pipes, La revolución rusa, 585.

[7]     Trotski, «Control obrero y nacionalización», 229.

[8]     Trotski, «Problems of the Soviet Regime».

[9] Broué, El Partido Bolchevique, 213.