The Crisis of the Stalinist States

Despite the subsequent degeneration of the Russian revolution, its effects continue to reverberate around the world. By overturning the barriers of capitalism in an area covering one-sixth of the earth, the revolution allowed a backward country to rise in the space of two generations to what is now the second greatest industrial power.

In the fifty years from 1913 (which was the high point of the pre-revolutionary economy in Russia) total industrial output increased more than 52 times, compared with 6 times in the USA and twice in Britain. This was despite the terrible destruction wrought, and tens of millions of lives lost by the people of the Soviet Union in this period, as a result of imperialist invasions, civil war and famine.

In the same fifty years, industrial productivity in the USSR increased by 1 310%—as compared with a 332% increase in the capitalist USA, and a 73% increase in capitalist Britain.

The fastest rate of growth of the productive forces in the USSR took place in the decade before the Second World War, when industrial production grew at an annual average of 20%. Despite the devastation of the Soviet Union in the War, state ownership and economic planning allowed a rapid recovery. Industrial growth averaged 10% in the 1950s, and 8,5% in the 1960s.

Output of electricity increased from 91 billion Kwh to 740 billion Kwh between 1950 and 1970. Oil production increased from 38 million tons to 353 million tons. Similar dramatic increases were achieved in all the industrial sectors.

In the case of steel, which is the single most important indicator of the industrial base of an economy, production was only 4,3 million tons in 1928 (the start of the first five-year plan). By 1970 it had reached 116 million tons. (Today it is 150 million tons—more than the United States, and more than the whole of the EEC.) Also the production of consumer goods multiplied. The output of knitwear rose from 197 million units in 1950 to 1 134 million units in 1970, and the production of domestic refrigerators from 1 500 to 4 100 000.

In 1950, the average annual consumption of meat per head of population in the USSR was 26 kg; by 1970 it was 48 kg. Milk consumption rose from 172 kg to 307 kg; eggs from 60 to 158; fish from 7 kg to 15 kg; sugar from 12 kg to 39 kg.

For the people of the Soviet Union, the strength of the planned economy meant (by the mid-1970s) 25 doctors and 112 hospital beds for every ten thousand people; rents at an average of 4,5% of total family expenditure; 20 weeks’ paid maternity leave; retirement at 60 for men and 55 for women. In transport, housing and heating, tremendous advances have taken place.

By the end of the post-war upswing of capitalism in the West, the Soviet Union was spending twice as much on social welfare per head of population as the British ‘welfare state’, and five times as much on education, science and culture.

From the Marxist point of view, these facts are the historical justification of the Russian Revolution, and provide overwhelming proof of the superiority of planned economy over capitalist anarchy. They were achieved despite the Stalinist degeneration of the revolution and the horrible bureaucratic deformity of the workers’ state.

The overthrow of capitalism in Eastern Europe after the Second World War led to similar leaps forward by economies that were in most cases relatively backward.

At the end of the War, the Stalinist dictatorship in Russia robbed the equivalent of R80 billion in money, goods and industrial plant from East Germany, annexed Rumanian and Polish territory and plundered the whole of Eastern Europe by imposing distorted terms of trade on the ‘fraternal socialist countries’. Yet the superiority of state ownership and planning meant that these economies were able to grow at over 9,5% per year in the 1950s, and over 6,5% per year between 1960 and 1973—much faster than any of the major capitalist countries with the exception of Japan.


Impressive though these achievements may be, they nevertheless fall far short of the progress which would have been possible had the bourgeoisie been overthrown in the advanced capitalist countries and the socialist revolution carried through internationally.

With regimes of workers’ democracy, and the integration of the productive forces and economic planning world-wide, all the problems of poverty, oppression and war would already have been eliminated from the face of the earth. Contrasted with workers’ democracy and socialism, the national bureaucratic dictatorships of Russia, Eastern Europe and the other deformed workers’ states have always been a reactionary shackle on the development of society.

Nonetheless, given the delay of the social revolution in the industrialised countries of the West, the Stalinist bureaucracies have played a relatively progressive role in comparison with capitalism. They have (at least in the past) been able to develop the productive forces at a far higher rate than the bourgeoisie, even though, as Trotsky explained, at three times the cost. The development of the productive forces is the mainspring of human progress.

Considered historically, the Stalinist bureaucracies have played the role in relatively backward countries of organising the development of industry in an epoch when the capitalist class could no longer do so. Thus, in this sense, Stalinism has played the role previously performed by capitalism in other countries in its own progressive stage.


The whole existence of Stalinism has depended on the delay of the world revolution—on the ripeness of the world for socialism combined with the defeats of the proletariat and its failure to take command of the productive forces internationally and reorganise society on the basis of its own democratic rule.

The totalitarian regimes of Stalinism do not represent a new historical stage in the development of humanity, but a deformity and distortion in the course of the transition of society from capitalism to socialism.

The process of history can be very slow, and very convoluted, but it is also very thorough. The almost 70-year existence of the bureaucratic regime in Russia, and subsequently in the other workers’ states, is really only the blinking of an eye in the span of history.

The transition from feudalism to capitalism extended over centuries and produced a wide variety of regimes. Over a long period the bourgeoisie, owning the most advanced means of production, became the dominant economic class and ruled the economic system—without having yet attained direct command of the state. In France, for example, capitalist predominance over production was established well before the French Revolution which led to the establishment of their political rule.

In contrast, the transition from capitalism to socialism requires the conscious control of the producers over every aspect of production, society and the state. Workers’ democracy is absolutely necessary in order to carry through socialist transformation.

The bureaucratic castes which have usurped power from the working class, in a series of relatively undeveloped countries in peculiar historical circumstances (see Chapters 2 and 5 of South Africa’s Impending Socialist Revolution), are no more than a temporary aberration. The progress of the world revolution, the rise to power of the working class in the industrialised countries of capitalism, would remove the entire basis on which Stalinism has existed, with the result that these regimes would be swept away.

At the same time, even while the socialist revolution in the West has been delayed, the development of industry in the deformed workers’ states of the East has itself laid the basis for the replacement of the bureaucracies by regimes of workers’ democracy.

The very successes of the planned economy in the USSR, Eastern Europe and elsewhere have provided, for an extended period, a basis of stability for Stalinist rule. In the process the bureaucracies have hardened as a privileged aristocratic caste, now largely hereditary, and growing ever more apart in life and outlook from the mass of working people on whose backs they sit.

Precisely as the productive forces have developed, so the possibility has grown of more and more exaggerated privileges, disparities of income, and all the associated trappings of status, power and prestige. And the more the state-owned and planned economies progressed, the more their bureaucratic overlords swelled with the delusion that their system would last forever.

In the decades after the Second World War, while the bourgeoisie in the West became supremely confident that it had solved the problems of capitalism and could look forward indefinitely to a rosy future, the Stalinist bureaucracies of the East drew similar conclusions for themselves on an opposite economic foundation.

But in the West, capitalism was preparing its gravedigger in the form of the renewed strength of the working class; and in the East likewise the planned economies have prepared the social forces and conditions for the overthrow of Stalinism.

(In this chapter we are dealing with the situation in Russia and Eastern Europe. We shall refer in the next chapter to the essentially similar processes affecting the Chinese Stalinist regime.)

In Russia at the time of the Revolution, the working class was less than 15% of the population. In the Soviet Union today there are 135 million workers in a population of about 260 million. Taking also the workers’ families into account, all but a small percentage of the entire population are working class.

Also in Eastern Europe, in what were formerly mainly peasant countries, the working class is now the absolutely overwhelming social force. Together with the economic contradictions of bureaucratic rule, this prepares the way for the political revolution against Stalinism.

Basis of the Political Revolution

The tasks which confront the peoples of the deformed workers’ states are to replace bureaucratic dictatorships with regimes of workers’ democracy, which will mean democratic transformation in every aspect of society and will clear away the barriers in these countries to transition to socialism.

The overthrow of the bureaucracies will mean a political revolution and not a social revolution because in contrast with the West, the fundamental social task of the revolution has already been carried through. This is the abolition of private ownership of the means of production and the replacement of capitalism by a system of state ownership and economic planning.

The basis of the political revolution is prepared not only by the rise of the working class, but also in the increasing change of bureaucratic rule from being a relatively progressive factor in the development of the productive forces, to an absolutely reactionary fetter.

The beginnings of this change have been evident for some decades, and it was already anticipated in the analysis made by Trotsky fifty years ago. But in the course of the 1970s this change has become so blatantly obvious that the bureaucracies themselves are now affected with uncertainty, anxiety and dread for the future.

Nobody, not even the ‘all-powerful’ regimes of Stalinism, can escape the dialectic of history. As things develop, they change, and turn into their opposites. It was possible for the bureaucracy to play a relatively progressive role in developing industry when it was still mainly a question of laying down the basic infrastructure of a modern economy in underdeveloped countries. But the methods of diktat and bureaucratic command are incapable of effectively managing a sophisticated industrial economy, and of ensuring the harmonious further development of the productive forces.

There is a very delicate balance in a modern economy between industries making the means of production, and consumer industries. The relationships of interdependence between the various enterprises are extremely complex because of the extent of the division of labour and specialisation.

Under capitalism, despite its contradictions, the market has played the role of an automatic check on quality, on productivity, on maintaining the linkages within the productive system, and on relating the economy to the needs of society.

While state ownership and planning frees the economy from the anarchic forces at work under capitalism, and from periodic slumps and booms, it increasingly requires the direct participation of the bulk of working people in planning, managing and controlling production. Workers’ democracy is as essential to the development of the planned economy as oxygen to the human body.


In an economy freed from market relations, the plan has to determine what goods and services shall be produced and by whom, and allocate the means necessary to produce them.

Centralised planning has to cover incomes, prices, investment, costs, quality, technical progress, the allocation of the surplus and much else besides, and co-ordinate the efforts of tens of thousands of production units, in respect of vast numbers of products. The number of products in the Soviet economy today runs to 12 million!

Without workers’ democracy—without the constant involvement, initiative, check and corrective of the producers in every level of the system—all these functions are carried out by bureaucratic edict. The various layers of the bureaucracy may involve millions of officials and functionaries, but everything centres on a top hierarchy in Moscow, Prague, Warsaw, Sophia, Bucharest, Belgrade, etc.

Even with computers, it is impossible for the bureaucracy to manage the economy so as to release the maximum possibilities inherent in the level of the productive forces at each stage in the development of industry. In fact, the more sophisticated the level of development, the more the system seizes up.

Plans are incomplete, contradictory and late. Bureaucracy stifles initiative and innovations by the workers, and thereby hamstrings the advance of the productive forces themselves. A dead hand rests on science, education and culture.


Within the bureaucracy, each layer of minions aims to please the higher bureaucrats, so as to ensure privilege and promotion. At the same time, everyone is looking over his or her shoulder for the secret police. The system breeds boot-licking mediocrities. There is an enormous inertia of officialdom leading to frustration at all levels.

Above all, as Trotsky warned, it is in the realm of quality that the system breaks down. Without democratic control, production is adjusted merely to the quantities laid down in plan-instructions, while the needs of the people for goods of quality are neglected.

Because quality is difficult to define, it is impossible to achieve by methods of command. Within the lower levels of the bureaucracy, complex devices of falsifying figures, cheating, cutting corners, etc., have been evolved.

Thus, inevitably, monumental waste plagues the system. In the Soviet Union, the regime has itself revealed that up to one half of goods produced in the factories have to be rejected as unfit for use. This in turn means severe dislocations throughout the economy—machinery left rusting and unusable for want of parts, delays in the completion of investment projects, shortages of consumer goods, and so forth.

Despite spending proportionately much more than do most of the capitalist countries on research and development, the pace of innovation in industry in the Stalinist states has been sluggish. Again this is because of bureaucracy. While the USA and West Germany have been putting more than 50% of their inventions into practice within roughly a year, Russia takes more than three years to get that far.

Inventions often require the signatures of 36 different ministries before they can be implemented! Thus, in a survey of machine-tool factories, it emerged that four-fifths of all decisions to replace equipment were taken because the machine was physically worn out, and only one-seventh because it was obsolete. Out of total investment, twice as much is spent on replacing and repairing equipment than is the case in the USA. As a result, repair bills are enormous, occupying one-tenth of the entire industrial work-force.

Agriculture in the Soviet Union has never really recovered from the forced collectivisation under Stalin. At that time the peasants actively resisted and sabotaged production, because of the monstrous way collectivisation was imposed. Today, seeing little advantage for themselves in the advancement of agriculture, seeing the bureaucrats lording it over everything and fattening themselves on the backs of society, the peasants and agricultural workers continue a passive resistance to the commands of the regime.

The rate of growth of agriculture has lagged persistently behind industry. In the 1950s it was under 5% per year; in the 1960s only 3%; and in the last four years it has averaged 2%.


Much of the growth of agriculture in the past has come from extending the area under cultivation, rather than raising the productivity of existing farms. In the 1950s agricultural productivity rose only 2% annually; in the 1960s only 1%; and in the 1970s productivity actually fell. This is despite high levels of investment in agriculture. Now, moreover, the possibility for extending agriculture is reaching its limits.

Because of relatively higher wages, and better conditions in the cities, there has been a big migration of youth from the land. It is now mainly old people who are left on the farms, and many state farms are entirely without mechanics and have very few male workers. Students and factory workers have had to be drafted to bring in the harvests.

The real crisis of agriculture is shown in the fact that, while private plots cover only 3% of total farmed area, they produced in 1976-79 just over 25% of agricultural output. This induced the turn by the bureaucracy last year to a policy of encouraging private farmers’ plots, the keeping of a cow, chickens, etc, as a means of attempting to relieve shortages.

But for the bureaucracy there is no escape from the absurdities and imbalances produced by Stalinist methods. For instance (as Soviet officials have admitted), waste, inadequate storage provisions, and poor packaging and distribution mean that at least 50% of all fruit and vegetables grown get spoiled by the time they reach the shops.

At the same time, the lag of productivity in agriculture has necessitated enormous subsidies in order to keep food prices from rising steeply. Thus, today, it is actually cheaper for farmers to buy bread and feed it to their pigs, rather than feed them grain! Pravda has recently announced stiff penalties for peasants who do this.

The crisis of agriculture under Stalinism is an important ingredient in the developing crisis of the whole system, because of the role of agriculture in determining the standard of living of the population.

The last three years of disastrous harvests in the USSR have produced serious shortages of fodder, and made it exceptionally difficult to increase meat production. Indeed, in 1980 there was a 3% drop in meat production, with possibly a 5% drop in meat supplies to the cities. Rationing has been imposed in some cities, while queueing for food and other consumer goods has become endemic.

Over the past 15 years, individuals’ deposits in savings banks have increased more than eight times over, mainly because of the shortage of consumer goods on which to spend the money. Those city-dwellers who can afford it carry a month or two’s salary with them at all times, to snap up scarce items in bulk as they appear the shops.

The ‘parallel market’ (what used to be called black market) has not disappeared over time but, on the contrary, is flourishing. It now covers not only consumer goods, but even steel, coal and other materials! Increasingly, goods are obtained and even allocated to factories by means of the bribery and corruption of officials.

Bureaucracy breeds corruption, and this is a permanent feature of the Stalinist system. Of course, the most senior bureaucrats rail publicly against corruption, just as they condemn mismanagement, waste, inefficiency, red tape—in fact ‘bureaucracy’ itself. In like manner might the devil preach against sin!

Action is taken from time to time when these abominations reach such proportions that the rule of the bureaucracy itself might be jeopardised if they were allowed to continue unchecked. Also, allegations of corruption against senior officials tend to surface when struggles are taking place behind the scenes within the bureaucracy.

Just a few recent examples should be enough to show the extent and scale of corruption (although volumes of cases can be compiled from the official press itself, going back decades).

In the ‘Caviar scandal’ of 1980, more than 200 officials of the Ministry of Fisheries (including top Secretariat members) were arrested in connection with a multi-million rouble swindle which had apparently gone on for ten years. By arrangement with a Western firm, they sold caviar under the label of herring and deposited their share of the rake-off in secret Swiss bank accounts.


In June 1981, the deputy minister for the petro-chemical industry in the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan was placed on trial for corruption, with four other officials. Over four years he had embezzled 4 million roubles with the help of senior management in one of the factories under his control. The funds were spent on a luxurious administration building instead of on laboratories, and on buying cars, apartments and holiday homes for themselves. But how was this not detected for four years?!

As we go to press, there is news of the arrest of Kolevatov—the most senior official in charge of Russian circuses. For years, it is alleged, he had extorted from circus performers a bribe in return for giving them permission to go on overseas tours. When his home was raided he was found with diamonds worth more than a million roubles.

Simultaneously there are reports in the Russian press of a scandal at the visa office, where bribes have been demanded for permission to Soviet citizens to travel abroad.

These instances merely lift a corner of the lid on the sewer of corruption and pilfering in the Stalinist system. In one way or another every layer of society is affected. As a result, to protect the publicly-owned economy from personal plunder, over two million guards and watchmen have to be employed in the USSR – 30 times the corresponding figure for capitalist Britain, which has only a quarter of the Soviet population.


In 1974 the Soviet Minister of Culture, Mrs Furtseva, was exposed and dismissed for embezzling the equivalent of R100 000. She replaced the misappropriated funds—but where, in a supposedly ‘socialist’ country could she possibly lay her hands on such big sums, completely out of the reach of ordinary workers? The question answers itself in showing the real privileges, incomes and opulent standards of the top bureaucracy of managers, generals and politicians.

In the Soviet Union, many Communist Party officials earn five times the wage of the average worker—and Marshalls of the armed forces more than 20 times as much. To this must be added all the perks and privileges which go with power. Special luxury shops, special holiday facilities and rest homes, special medical services, special suburbs, luxury flats, country villas, cars with chauffeurs, and special schools are reserved for an elite of approximately 250 000 top party and state officials and their families.

Bureaucratic segregation from the mass of the working people even extends to having specially reserved lanes of the streets for their limousines to drive down, so that their highnesses are not delayed by irritating traffic jams.

Brezhnev, for example, is well known to have a fleet of private limousines. Even Kissinger, the representative of American capitalism, was staggered when he visited Russia by the lavish opulence and luxury enjoyed by members of the Communist Party Politburo—on a scale which only multi-millionaires in the USA can afford.

The Stalinist bureaucracy has nothing in common with the Bolshevik regime led by Lenin and Trotsky, except the economic foundation resulting from the overthrow of capitalism. In the early years of the revolution, when privileged salaries four times the wage of ordinary workers had to be paid to technicians and specialists because of the terrible shortage of skills, Lenin frankly described this as a “capitalist differential”.

But Bolsheviks did not profit from these conditions. When, for instance, in 1918, the business manager of the Council of People’s Commissars tried to raise Lenin’s salary on grounds of his tremendous workload, Lenin denounced it as “illegal” and wrote the man a severe reprimand. Krupskaya (Lenin’s widow) wrote in her memoirs that he got very angry when any attempts were made to create favoured living conditions for him. “I remember how angry he was over a pail of khalva which Malkov, then commander of the Kremlin, once brought him.”

Stalinism is separated from Leninism by a chasm of history—of bloodshed, degeneration and corruption. Now history has prepared its downfall.

The very development of the economy which the bureaucracies believed would consolidate their rule, on the contrary undermines it completely. More and more, bureaucratic planning and command is stifling the advance of production, not only in the USSR but throughout Eastern Europe as well.

The rate of growth in the COMECON countries averaged 10% in the 1950s, 7% in the 1960s and only 5% in the 1970s. This slow-down reflected the gradual clogging up of the productive system and its increasing suffocation under the deadweight of bureaucracy. By the end of the 1970s the Stalinist oases of Eastern Europe and Russia were in the grip of a severe economic crisis which the following graph plainly illustrates:

From being relatively progressive in their development of the productive forces, the bureaucracies have become absolutely reactionary. There is no way out of the impasse facing the peoples of these countries except the political revolution and the establishment of workers’ democracy, which alone can lead to socialism.

Economic, Social and Political Contradictions

The claims of the Stalinists that Russia has achieved “mature socialism” and that the present generation would “live in communism” have boomeranged, and now stand as an unanswerable indictment of the bureaucracy in the eyes of the masses.

There is an enormous cynicism among ordinary people towards the lies and postures of the bureaucracy. This is reflected in the jokes which circulate among the workers.

Ingrained scepticism towards the official propaganda of the radio, television and press such as Pravda (“Truth”) and Izvestia (“News”) has given rise to the popular saying that “there is no Izvestia in Pravda, and no Pravda in Izvestia.”

In the food queues there is a standing joke about the difference between ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’: “Under socialism you cannot get any meat. Under communism you know you don’t need meat.”

Living standards of the population continued to rise up to about the mid-1970s, which provided a means of reinforcement of the Stalinist regimes. But now, with few exceptions, living standards are stagnating. Economic plans have to be revised downwards, and there is no possibility of returning to the rates of growth of the past.

In fact, the economies of the deformed workers’ states are now growing at a rate only slightly faster than capitalism, and can even be exceeded by some of the capitalist countries during temporary periods of boom. Thus, while we are in the epoch of the social revolution in the West, we are also in the epoch of the political revolution in the East.

Some older workers in the Soviet Union, not seeing a way forward, actually hark back to the days of Stalin and say that even a bloody tyranny was “better” because at least living standards rose at that time. But in such distorted ways, the ripeness of the political revolution against Stalinism itself is shown.

The stranglehold of bureaucracy will be felt to be more and more intolerable by the working people of these countries, with the result that hardships, shortages, price rises, crimes of corruption, police provocations and brutalities, etc., can lead at any time to explosive movements of the population and set a revolution in motion.


The unresolved national question in the Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe inflames the situation even further and can precipitate mass upheavals.

In many of the Soviet Republics over the years there have been repeated local outbursts of rebellion against the domination of the Russian bureaucracy, struggles for equality, language rights, etc. Quickly crushed by military and police action, these events are usually only reported much later as news of them creeps past the official censorship.

Better known is the seething resentment of the peoples of most of the countries of Eastern Europe against what they feel as domination by the Soviet Union. Within many of these countries too—as in the Kosovo province of Yugoslavia—national divisions and antagonisms fester.

Because each bureaucracy defends and strengthens the existing national state as the basis of its self-interest, power and privileges, it is incapable of solving the national question. Only on the basis of workers’ democracy can the free cooperation of the peoples be ensured and national divisions overcome.

For decades now, in attempts to overcome the suffocating effects of their own system, the bureaucracies have passed through a series of zig-zags in their methods of economic planning and control. Without in any way altering the character of their regime, they have attempted moves towards greater centralisation; then swung over to policies of decentralisation. As each has failed in turn, and seized up in its own contradictions, there has been a renewed swing in the opposite direction—to re-centralisation, then to re-decentralisation, and so on.

The bureaucracies have also come up against the limits of the national boundaries of their economies, and in the process the reactionary idea of “socialism in one country” has had to be thrown away. Policies of autarky or self-sufficiency are impossible in a world dominated by modern industry and a highly developed international division of labour.

Where cheaper goods, produced on the basis of the most advanced technique, are available on the world market, there is an inescapable pressure on all economies to enter the market in order to obtain the advantages of the international division of labour. Especially in relation to electronics, computers and other technologically advanced equipment, the Stalinist states have been compelled to turn to trade with the West.

At the same time Russia, for example, has been forced to go to the world market to buy grain as a result of repeated bad harvests coming on top of bureaucratic bungling. This year its grain purchases from the West are expected to amount to 42 million tonnes. The situation has now developed where the planting programme of United States agriculture is heavily geared towards exports to the Soviet Union.

In order to buy on the world market, the Stalinist states must also sell on the world market. Total East-West trade has increased six times in the 15 years up to 1980. 30% of East European trade is now with capitalist countries, while Russia’s trade with the West has been increasing faster than her trade with Eastern Europe. By 1990, for example, some 30% of West Germany’s gas is expected to be supplied by pipeline from Siberia.

All this demonstrates the inseparable inter-relation of the whole modern world economy, as Marxism has always explained.


Forced by the crisis of bureaucracy to seek a blood transfusion of technology from the West, the Stalinist states – in particular those of Eastern Europe – also turned to borrowing heavily from Western governments and banks. By 1980 the total COMECON debt to the capitalist countries amounted to $70 billion.

Russia’s debt now totals about $11 billion (net), and could well double or even treble by 1985. Hungary owes more than $7 billion; East Germany $12 billion; Rumania $9 billion; and Poland alone more than $27 billion.

The case of Poland dramatically illustrates both the impasse of Stalinism and the complete abandonment by the bureaucracy of even the most basic understandings of Marxism. In 1971 the Polish bureaucracy, faced with severe economic and political problems, embarked on a ‘dash for growth’ with the aid of Western technology bought with Western loans. These loans were premised on the ability of Poland to export to the West sufficient coal, shoes, textiles and other goods to finance the interest and repayments.

Like the capitalists, the bureaucracy did not have a grain of an idea that the post-war upswing of capitalism would come to an end. They were therefore hit hard by the onset of the capitalist crisis, which has had the result that there is no longer the expected market for Polish exports in the West.

As Polish exports slumped, while payments of foreign debt fell due, the bureaucracy tried to exact greater output from the workers and farmers.

Faced with the worsening crisis of agriculture, the bureaucracy had previously tried to raise food prices—but had repeatedly been forced to back down in the face of determined resistance by the workers. Now the bureaucracy moved again to impose price rises, at a time of chronic food shortages and widespread breakdowns in supplies.

This precipitated the explosion of the Polish revolutionary events from 1980-81.

In turn, of course, the inevitable consequence of the revolutionary turmoil was a further dramatic drop in production and the virtual grinding to a halt of the Polish economy. The Western banks were faced with the choice of either agreeing to postpone (‘reschedule’) Polish debt repayments, or else suffer a complete default.

95% of the debt which was due in 1981 was in fact rescheduled. Now there is the situation where, to finance the imports which it must have to get industry working again, Poland needs another $12-15 billion in loans by 1985. The Western banks now want guarantees from their own governments before advancing more.

Not only Poland but also Rumania cannot meet its debts and requires rescheduling.


Running through the economies of the deformed workers’ states today is the infection of inflation. This has mainly been imported from the capitalist economies as a result of East-West trade.

For example, the prices of imports to Hungary between 1970 and 1977 increased by 165%. By 1979-80 inflation in Hungary was running at 12%, while wages rose only 3%.

In Poland the rate of inflation was between 11% and 9% a year between 1978 and 1980. Now it will be vastly higher because, under martial law, the regime has been able to impose price rises of as much as 400% on consumer goods.

Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Rumania, East Germany and the USSR itself have all announced price rises from 1979 onwards. Yugoslavia has had a 50% rate of inflation, and on top of that the bureaucracy raised food prices massively in August 1981.

Inflation is a serious disease for a planned economy, disrupting the complex inter-relations of the productive system. In the case of the Stalinist states, it adds to the severe dislocations and imbalances inherent in bureaucratic rule.

Participation on the world market is absolutely necessary and unavoidable, as Trotsky pointed out. But it merely heightens the contradictions of Stalinism and raises all the more clearly the need for the carrying through of the social revolution in the West and the political revolution in the East.

Hungarian Revolution of 1956

The first big outbreaks of the political revolution against Stalinism occurred in Eastern Europe in the 1950s—most notably in Hungary in 1956.

It is a monstrous falsehood to allege that the Hungarian revolution was an attempt at capitalist counter-revolution. This, of course, is the way the Hungarian working class was slandered by the Stalinist regime and by Communist Party leaders and their hangers-on internationally. It is also the myth put about for their own purpose by the imperialists, who have always sought every opportunity to pretend that freedom equals capitalism.

In fact the movement in Hungary proceeded immediately to lay the foundations for a healthy, democratic workers’ state. With virtually the whole working population of Hungary in action, the bureaucracy lost control of the military-police apparatus of repression, and its complete lack of support in society was exposed.

With two general strikes—hardly the weapon of ‘capitalist counter-revolution’—and two insurrections, the bureaucracy was overthrown in Hungary.

Workers’ councils sprang up, linking up regionally and beginning to take the affairs of society into their hands. Weighing up and testing in the initial confusion the different possibilities that were available to them, the workers rapidly turned to the task of establishing democracy on the basis of the planned economy.

Instinctively they advanced essentially the same programme for workers’ democracy that Lenin had outlined. In the first years of the Russian Revolution, before the bureaucratic degeneration took hold, the Bolsheviks had insisted on four vital safeguards:

• All power to be vested in Soviets, i.e. councils composed of delegates elected from their workplaces and districts, and subject to immediate recall by those who had elected them. This obliged delegates to report back to mass meetings of their workmates on the issues under discussion, and harnessed the energies of the workers in the tasks of government. The Soviets were the most sensitive instrument yet devised for measuring the changing consciousness and will of the masses and translating it into action.

• All the working people were to bear arms and to be trained in a militia to guard against abuses under a separate standing army, and so defend the gains of the Revolution against attacks from any quarter, internal or external.

• All simple administrative duties were to be rotated among the widest possible number of the working people, to prevent the crystallisation of an entrenched caste of bureaucrats.

• No official of the workers’ state was to receive a salary above that of the average skilled worker, plus the necessary expenses to be strictly audited by the workers’ organisations. This was to ensure that there was no material incentive for careerism to take root among state officials.

But, by the process of degeneration explained in Chapter 2, all these safeguards were dismantled and eliminated as the Stalinist dictatorship took hold in Russia. In the struggle against Stalinism in the 1920s and 1930s, the International Left Opposition had based itself on Lenin’s original programme for workers’ democracy—which became the programme for the political revolution against the bureaucracy.


In Hungary in 1956, the newly created revolutionary councils immediately hammered out a programme containing similar demands:

For a broad government comprising representatives of the workers’ organisations and the youth; for a “national guard composed of workers and young people”; for workers’ councils in all the factories “to establish (a) workers’ management and (b) a radical transformation of the system of central planning and direction of the economy by the state”.

To these were added basic demands for pension and family allowance increases, and wage rises for the lower paid. With the national average wage at about 1 000 forints, the programme demanded “maximum monthly wages to be fixed at 3 500 forints”. This was aimed against the bureaucrats and army officers who were earning between 9 000 and 12 000 forints.

Together, these demands formed the essential programme for the political revolution in Hungary—adopted less than three days after the uprising began.

Full-scale Russian military invasion was needed to destroy these historic achievements and to smash the movement of the Hungarian workers. In fact, two Russian invasions and the slaughter of as many as 50 000 Hungarians was the only basis on which the grip of the bureaucracy on society could be restored.

The first Russian troops sent to Hungary became infected with the revolutionary mood, and began to respond to the appeals of their Hungarian brothers and sisters. The bureaucracy had to call in what were then backward peasant troops from Siberia and tell them they were being sent to put down a fascist uprising in Berlin!

On several other occasions, most notably in the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, the bureaucracy has resorted to the use of military force against the workers. The developments in Czechoslovakia were different from those in Hungary, in that the process started as an experiment in ‘liberalisation’ by the Czech bureaucracy. This evoked a response from the population that threatened to go beyond the ability of the bureaucracy to control. But also in Czechoslovakia there was no possibility of the restoration of capitalism

In the whole of Eastern Europe, and the USSR—as also in China and other states where capitalism has been decisively overthrown—there is now no material or social basis for the restitution of the bourgeoisie. The mass of the population take state ownership of the means of production and planned economy as entirely natural, and it would be as absurd to pose the restoration of capitalism there as it would be to pose the return of feudalism in Europe.

The fact that in these countries some reactionary individuals and small groups of intellectuals can be found who favour a return to capitalism (or in Solzhenitsyn’s case, even a return to Tsarism!) merely demonstrates the extent to which they have been driven mad by the crimes of the bureaucracy.

In all these countries it is a social impossibility to restore private ownership of industry and of the other main means of production—which is what a return to capitalism would necessitate. This would be obvious to anyone who takes the trouble to think the matter through concretely.[1]

Naturally the Stalinists love to highlight the statements of these ‘dissidents’, to use them as a smokescreen and justification for the bureaucracy itself. Thus all who oppose the bureaucracy are denounced as “enemies of socialism” intent on restoring capitalism. Nevertheless, the movement of history itself explodes these lies.

The Movement in Poland

Above all it has been the events in Poland over the past two years which have exposed internationally the real character of the bureaucracies and brought out clearly the essential lessons of the political revolution.

There have been repeated movements of the Polish workers against the regime since the 1950s. Although temporary and partial victories were achieved, each time the bureaucracy was able to reconsolidate its position and impose renewed repression on the masses.

But in July-August 1980 there was a renewed mass movement—involving the whole working population in opposition to shortages and price increases, and demanding higher wages and the right to independent trade union organisation. (The official ‘trade unions’ in the Stalinist states are not trade unions at all but instruments of the bureaucratic apparatus for disciplining and controlling the working class.)

In the Gdansk region, power effectively passed into the hands of a joint council representing 400 factories (in essence, a soviet). Out of this ferment, without the permission of the bureaucracy, Solidarity was set-up and its membership quickly swelled to 10 million. Solidarity spoke for the Polish people against the parasitic caste that oppresses them.

Despite all the crimes of Stalinism committed in the name of ‘socialism’, there was not the slightest basis of support on the part of the Polish masses for a return to capitalism. This was made clear in all the mass meetings and conferences of Solidarity, where what was demanded was democratic change in the direction of bringing the planned economy and state ownership under workers’ control.

Even the bourgeois press in the West had to drop its conventional propaganda and admit that there was no movement against socialism itself. It was only as the movement declined, and all the more so once the Polish workers were silenced by military dictatorship, that the Stalinists dared raise their voices to claim that a capitalist counter-revolution was under way in Poland. Naturally, the bourgeois media are now only too pleased to report this slander as though it were the truth.

It is the fate of a defeated revolution to be vilified by its enemies when it cannot answer back.


The movement in Poland was a political revolution to establish workers’ democracy and clear the way for the transition to genuine socialism. But tragically, because of the weakness of the forces of Marxism internationally, the Polish working class was led from the start by a leadership which squandered all the opportunities presented to them, and condemned the workers to defeat.

They did not understand that it is impossible to achieve gradual reform of the Stalinist system, and that Poland could not be half totalitarian and half free. No genuinely independent workers’ organisation can long co-exist with the Stalinist bureaucracy. Either the bureaucracy had to be totally eliminated and workers’ control established over every aspect of production and society — or else eventual defeat of the movement was inevitable.

This position, explained in Inqaba ya Basebenzi in January 1981, was confirmed by events.

The bureaucracy of a deformed workers’ state is inherently totalitarian, and incapable of reform in the direction of workers’ democracy. The totalitarian nature of these regimes, of course, is made much use of by the bourgeoisie in its propaganda against ‘socialism’.

It is indeed a paradox, which needs to be explained, that (at least in many countries) capitalism has been able to tolerate forms of democratic expression, opposition parties, independent trade unions, etc., while similar freedoms are intolerable to Stalinism.

Even in its most liberal form, bourgeois democracy is a distorted and truncated system, tolerating opposition only within limits which do not fundamentally threaten the property and social power of the capitalist class. But the Stalinist bureaucratic castes, in contrast, can maintain their rule only by ruthless police-state methods and the complete suppression of opposition of any kind.

The reason for this is not, as the bureaucracies claim, because of the threatening encirclement by imperialism. The absurd logic of their argument is that ‘socialism’ cannot be defended against capitalism by the workers of the workers’ states—cannot be defended by Lenin’s method of revolutionary internationalism, and an appeal to the fraternal aid in common struggle of the workers of the West. On the contrary, ‘socialism’ has to be defended by the bureaucracy and its secret police against the Polish, Hungarian, Russian, etc., working classes!

In fact it is not socialism which is defended by the totalitarian system of Stalinism; but the power, privileges, incomes and prestige of the parasitic bureaucratic caste itself.

Under capitalism, a form of democracy (however limited) is possible because it does not necessarily and directly challenge the position of the bourgeoisie as the economic ruling class. The entire system is based on private ownership of the means of production, and there is thus a separation between the mechanism of the economy and the state. Those who own and control production do not necessarily and directly control the state.

Of course, the state intrudes into the economic process, and in the last analysis the state apparatus is the means for the maintenance and defence of capitalist property.

As capitalism becomes less and less able to provide for the material needs of the working people—as the workers’ struggle threatens more and more to overstep the limits of the bourgeois-democratic system and attack the basis of capitalism itself—the ultimate incompatibility of capitalism and democracy is revealed. The suppression of democratic rights under regimes of outright dictatorship becomes the order of the day if capitalism is not overthrown by the working class.


But in a society where the system of private ownership of the means of production has been abolished, where the state owns and controls land, the factories, mines, the financial system, trade, etc., the situation is intrinsically different. The market relations which follow from private ownership are replaced by centralised planning.

The superiority of workers’ democracy to bourgeois democracy is bound up with the fact that the working class, in taking power politically, in establishing its own democratic state, becomes at the same time the master of production. Thus, on the basis of workers’ democracy, every aspect of economic, social and political life is harmonised and liberated in a transition to socialism.

But once the workers’ state falls into the hands of a bureaucratic caste, which rises in power and privilege above the mass of the people, democracy is necessarily eliminated from every sphere. Unlike the bourgeoisie, the bureaucracy cannot tolerate even limited democratic reform, because such reform of necessity must lead directly to challenge the bureaucracy’s economic position—its status, income and privilege.

The bureaucracy depends absolutely on its complete monopoly of state power in order to maintain its very existence. This is because it has no necessary role in production, and is simply a parasite, in a society where, on the basis of state ownership, the working class is able itself to organise, manage and control the economy.

Hence the ruthless totalitarian police-state system of Stalinism. Hence also the falseness of the idea that by ‘pressure’ these regimes can be induced to usher in democratic changes. Unless the movement of the working class in the deformed workers’ states proceeds to the complete overthrow and dismantling of the bureaucratic apparatus, and its replacement by organs of workers’ democracy at every level, it is inevitable that the bureaucracy will again and again inflict defeat on the workers.


In Poland, so powerful was the movement of the working population immediately after August 1980 that the regime found itself suspended in mid air without any point of support in the body of society. As Jaruzelski himself warned the ‘hard-liners’, it was quite impossible to use the Polish army at that time against the workers, because it would have disintegrated. It was only the secret police which remained loyal to the bureaucracy—and that is an insufficient basis for rule.

Even the Polish Communist Party underwent a profound collapse under the impact of the mass movement. Rakowski, the deputy Prime Minister of Poland (in an interview published in February 1982), was obliged to admit this about the Polish CP:

Disintegrated, I agree. Which is quite clear since the military had to take its place in the government. Who could deny that it went bankrupt, intellectually and politically, that it was unable to organise the society, to get the country out of the disaster, even to defend the state?

We should say a word at this point about the character of the ‘Communist Parties’ in the Stalinist states. Unlike CPs in the capitalist countries, some of which have a mass base in the working class, these organisations are not workers’ parties at all. They are organisations of the bureaucracy, for the defence of privilege and for the suppression of the working class. They are organisations of the officials, the army officers, the police and police agents, the managers, the careerists and the stool-pigeons.

The Communist Parties are hated by the masses in all the countries of Stalinism. In Czechoslovakia, for example, such is the contempt of the ordinary workers for CP members, that if one of their fellows joins the party he normally has to move with his family to another area and seek new friends because of the ostracism which results. The parallel in South Africa would be the workers’ attitude to supervisors, ‘boss boys’ and ipimpi.

By and large, however, the predominant element making up the Communist Parties are the higher officials. In the Soviet Union, the CP are referred to as “the bosses” by the workers. Not surprisingly, when we see that a survey on collective farms in Russia found that the proportion of managers in the CP was 86% and the proportion of workers only 5%. In the engineering industry in Leningrad, the corresponding figures were managers 60% and manual workers only 13%.

The Communist Parties have no role to play in the political revolution against Stalinism, but as organisations of the bureaucracy will disappear with it. As the events in Poland showed, the CPs are not immune to the pervasive pressures of revolution, even before the bureaucracy is overthrown. They can completely collapse in a short space of time.

The initial policy of Solidarity was in fact to exclude all CP members from membership of the union (in much the same way as workers in SA want to keep agents of the bosses out of their organisations). Nothing could more clearly demonstrate the attitude of the ordinary workers to the CP.

However, after a time, about one million CP members succeeded in joining Solidarity on the instructions of the party leadership, initially with the intention of trying to bring it under control. But such was the ferment in society that these people were affected, and instead of the CP having a million members in Solidarity, Solidarity had in effect a million members in the CP! This contributed to the disintegration of the latter.

This again confirmed Trotsky’s perspective that under the pressures of the political revolution, the bureaucracy would be split, with the lower layers drawn to the side of the workers, leaving those at the top in complete isolation.

There was no force in Poland preventing the working class from taking state power—and it was held back from this task only by the mistaken policies of its leader-ship. The policies of the Solidarity leaders were heavily influenced by the ‘dissident’ intellectuals, such as Kuron of KOR, and by the Catholic Church hierarchy to whom they turned for advice.

Blind to the inner laws of the revolution in which they were caught up, Walesa and the other main leaders of Solidarity counselled caution, moderation, limiting the movement to demands for partial reforms, and attempting to reach an accommodation with the bureaucracy.

The continued hold of the Church on the minds of the Polish masses—itself an indication of their alienation from Stalinism—turned in fact into a powerful advantage for Stalinism against the working class.


Even today it is still being argued by supporters of Stalinism in the ranks of our movement that the dissent, opposition, etc. in Poland was a result of the counter-revolutionary activities of the Catholic Church.

But in reality, the Church establishment in Poland and elsewhere in Eastern Europe long ago reached an accommodation with the bureaucracy in order to secure its position. Having over the centuries reconciled itself to the regimes of slave society, then feudalism and then capitalism, the Church now reconciles itself to Stalinism also.

The Church bureaucrats felt as much threatened by the prospect of a political revolution as the bureaucrats of the state. Between them, there was a division of labour. While the state tried to re-consolidate its instruments of repression, the Bishops worked to hold the working class back from taking power.

The church leaders, posing as the champions of humanity, don’t often reveal their true attitudes openly. But in a sermon on 24 January 1982, not long after the coup, Archbishop Glemp stated that he considered it essential that General Jaruzelski should continue in power, and even described him as the last chance for Poland! “If you fight for freedom with too much enthusiasm you run the risk of losing it,” he said.

And of the Church, the bureaucrat Rakowski says “They need us as much as we need them.” Even the Polish Politburo hardliner, Olzowski, was reported as saying on Hungarian radio and television that “the Church in Poland is a gigantic factor for stabilisation.” (BBC World Service, 25/1/82)


From the time of the rise of Solidarity in August 1980, the main argument used by the Catholic Church, KOR, Walesa, etc., against the carrying through of the political revolution was the threat of a Russian invasion. Indeed, the military manoeuvres of the Warsaw Pact on the borders of Poland were intended to leave the Polish people in no doubt that Brezhnev would order an invasion in the event that the movement proceeded to overthrow the bureaucracy.

Just as in 1956, in the case of Hungary, the bureaucracies of all the Stalinist states understood that the victory of the political revolution and the establishment of workers’ democracy in even one country, would electrify the working people in all these states and lead to revolutionary movements in country after country.

Therefore, in the event of the overthrow of the Polish bureaucracy, they would have had to stake everything on the military card.

Nevertheless, the qualitative change in the position of the Stalinist regime over the past 25 years meant that an invasion would have been an extremely dangerous course for the bureaucracy to pursue. Therefore they held back and prepared to go in only as a last resort.

A number of factors combined to produce this hesitation. Firstly, as the Kremlin recognised, and as they were no doubt advised by Jaruzelski, in the first period of the Polish movement at least there would have been a determined armed resistance by the Poles. In all likelihood the Polish army itself would have taken part in the resistance.

Probably a drawn-out guerrilla war would have ensued, and possibly as many as a million people slaughtered in order to subdue it. This would have had incalculable effects on the Soviet Union’s position internationally—its relations not only with imperialism but also with the ex-colonial world, together with its position in world trade. Most important, however, would have been the perilous consequences for the bureaucracy within Russia itself, where an enormous revulsion among the people would have swelled up.

Unlike 1956, the Stalinist bureaucracy today has no confidence in the viability of its rule, and can look forward with nothing but anxious dread to the future.

Brezhnev proclaimed Russia’s “right” to invade Poland as the very essence of “consistent internationalism”! In the pollution and falsification of everything that was fine in the tradition of the Russian Revolution, the Stalinist bureaucracy knows no limits.

In fact, it is the real proletarian internationalism on which Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky always relied which alone could have brought about the overthrow of the bureaucracy and the victory of the political revolution in Poland.

While the Polish working class could have taken power in their own country, they could not have sustained their victory within the boundaries of Poland alone. What was needed was a decisive and audacious revolutionary policy when power lay within their grasp—combined with a fraternal, internationalist revolutionary appeal to their brothers and sisters, the working class, of Russia, East Germany, Hungary, etc., to actively support them.

Only by these means could a military intervention of the Warsaw Pact armies have been paralysed and reversed. In turn that would have meant the sweeping of the political revolution throughout Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, spilling over also in Asia. At the same time it would have evoked a tremendous response of the working class in the West, and frustrated completely any attempt by imperialism to take advantage of the situation.

Indeed the Polish revolution could have set in motion an entire international chain of revolutions, social and political, in West and East. But without this internationalist perspective—their vision narrowed also by prejudices of Polish nationalism—the leadership of Solidarity inevitably led the movement to defeat.

Trying to find an impossible solution within the framework of one country, they based their strategy on the illusion of securing a reform of the system while leaving the bureaucracy in power in the state.

Therefore Walesa persistently tried to prevent Solidarity from being anything more than a trade union, when the whole logic of its development was towards the taking over of state power. Walesa even boasted that Poland’s revolution was “unique” in that it did not seek to change the government! Only at the last minute, far too late, and under pressure from the rank and file, did the Solidarity leadership concede that confrontation with the regime was inevitable.


Spontaneously, the Polish working class moved through Solidarity to challenge the privileges of the bureaucracy, to expose corruption, and to demand political rights and freedoms irreconcilable with Stalinist rule. All the time, however, the top leadership of Solidarity acted as a dampener and fire-hose to subdue the movement.

Because of the profound feebleness of the bureaucracy, and its inability to use force initially against the workers, the impasse in the Polish revolution was long drawn out.

But no mass movement, however powerful, can remain at white heat indefinitely. Without a resolution of the question of power the movement must inevitably tire and ebb. At the same time, the turmoil of a revolution brings further disruption into economic life and, if indefinitely protracted, appears more and more as the cause of shortages, delays, and chaos.

In the first five months of 1981 alone, industrial production dropped 12% in Poland. Coal exports fell by two-thirds.

By the middle of the year, 60 000 tractors were immobilised without spares. 5 500 potato combines were unready for the harvest. The country was short of 150 000 scythes, 600 000 forks, 54 000 milking machines, etc.

Because of the suspension of new loans from the West, together with selective sabotage of the economy by bureaucratic measures and the witholding of supplies from the other Stalinist states, all sorts of spares, materials, and fuels could not be obtained.

There was an almost complete breakdown of the transport system. Food shortages reached the scale that even the basic rations could no longer be obtained in the shops. ‘Parallel market’ prices rocketed to five times the official prices and more. Homes were without heating. There was a virtual absence of soap and numerous other essentials.

All these hardships and more would be endured by the working class in the course of a revolution when they have the perspective of taking power and organising society. But without that perspective, facing a nightmare without end, with their movement worn down again and again by the policies, of the leadership, even the most resolute can begin to lose spirit.

With considerable cunning, General Jaruzelski, at the head of the bureaucracy, bided his time. Over the period before the coup he carried out (with Russian assistance) a reorganisation and propaganda campaign in the armed forces. Having assured himself of the reliability of his troops, and that armed resistance was unlikely, he moved rapidly to impose martial law.

Now the same rank-and-file soldiers who only months before could have been won to the side of the revolution by a bold policy have been left with no real option but to obey their officers and hold their people under the military jackboot.

That is the fate of a revolution which does not complete its work.

From such a defeat there can be no immediate recovery. While the hatred of the Polish people for their bureaucratic masters is deeper than ever, it will be a matter of years before there can be a revival of a mass movement on the scale of the past two years. That revival will come; the reprieve of the Polish bureaucracy is only temporary.

Political Revolution is International

In the other deformed workers’ states of Eastern Europe and the USSR, political revolution can break out at almost any time. There is no solution to the problems of the economy and society either in Poland or in any of these countries on the basis of Stalinism.

Anxious to forestall revolutionary uprisings in their own countries, the various bureaucracies are making U-turns and zig-zags in the hope of revitalising their system.

In some cases, there are experiments in giving greater scope to market forces—in effect legalising aspects of the existing ‘parallel market’—as a means of cutting through the entanglements of red tape. These do not, as some people imagine, represent a turning back to capitalism. But nor do they provide a way out of the impasse of bureaucracy, and will soon lead to new contradictions, seizures and reverses.

In Rumania, which has the lowest living standards in Eastern Europe, the bureaucracy had attempted to escape from the suffocating effects of its own rule by attempting a policy of high-pressure industrialisation with the aid of loans from the West. Intoxicated with this, President Ceausescu had boldly asserted Rumanian ‘national independence’ from Moscow.


But the onset of economic crisis in the West, the slowing of exports, and severe problems in agriculture, produced serious dislocation. Shortages of food became chronic, and there was a mushrooming of queues. The miners’ strike in the Jiu valley in 1977, and the renewed strikes of miners and other workers in October 1981 in Rumania, profoundly disturbed the bureaucracy. Its anxiety was redoubled by the Polish events.

Consequently, Ceausescu has executed an about-turn. Investment is to be diverted to agriculture, industrial growth is to be inhibited by slashing imports, while at the same time an attempt will be made to increase exports by 14%!

Simultaneously, the bureaucracy has turned again towards Moscow, in search of the advantages of cheap Soviet oil and subsidies, as well as to seek shelter in anticipation of the coming political storms. Increasingly now, the crisis of the economies and regimes of Eastern Europe is turning them into a millstone round the neck of the Russian bureaucracy, and a drain on the Soviet economy.

While economic austerity is bound to continue for the Rumanian and other workers, the bureaucracy offers them political phrases both plentiful and cheap. Thus Ceausescu has announced his intention of dropping the formula “dictatorship of the proletariat” in favour of “a state of workers’ democracy”! (No matter that neither phrase applies to his regime of bureaucratic absolutism, which, of course, is to remain unchanged. In fact there is now virtually a Ceausescu family dynasty at the head of the Rumanian bureaucracy.)

We cannot go into the situation in all these countries here. All of them to one degree or another are affected by economic and political difficulties. In Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia these are particularly severe. In contrast, Hungary and East Germany are temporarily able to maintain relatively higher rates of growth. But here, too, the fear by the bureaucracy of explosions of the working class is indicated in the repressive nature of the regimes.

In East Germany, during the height of the Polish events, even trains from Poland were turned back at the border to prevent the German people seeing the Solidarity slogans painted on the sides!

But wherever the political revolution against Stalinism breaks out first, it can only be in the Soviet Union that the process will be completed. Social revolution is international, and so is the political revolution. That has been sharply demonstrated by the examples of Hungary and Poland.

A regime of workers’ democracy cannot survive within the boundaries of one country. The process must spread or it will be reversed. Victorious revolutions are possible in all the countries of Eastern Europe, but to sustain victory, enormous difficulties of carrying forward the process internationally will be faced.

But when the giant proletariat of the Soviet Union begins to move, there will be no force on earth which can stop it. The largest, and probably the most educated and cultured working class in the world, it will rediscover its revolutionary traditions.

The mass strikes during May 1980 which closed the huge Togliatti and Gorky auto works (employing 170 000 and 200 000 workers respectively), gave a foretaste of this. More recently, fearing the repercussions in the Soviet Union of the Polish events, the Russian Politburo has complained to the official trade unions that they should not be quite so servile to the state. They should make some effort (says the Politburo) to articulate the grievances of the workers instead of leaving the regime to be taken by surprise!

Finding itself cut off from the working people by a wall of contempt, hostility and sullen resistance, the bureaucracy has turned to sociological opinion surveys—in factories, schools, among youth groups, pensioners, and others—in order to find out what people are thinking! The results are sent to factory directors, city authorities and local party committees to be used as a basis for decision-making.

This is also an indication that the effectiveness of the secret police informer network, which has served the bureaucracy thus far as a gauge of the workers’ views, has become inadequate. There could hardly be clearer proof of the complete absence of any organs of workers’ democracy.

When the Soviet workers move on the road of political revolution, there will be no army that will be able to intervene against them, once the troops of the Red Army defy the orders of the bureaucracy and cross to the side of the working class.

And once the repressive power of the Kremlin bureaucracy is paralysed, there will be nothing to inhibit a movement of the working population throughout Eastern Europe, which would also spur movements towards social revolution in the West.

World War?

Meanwhile, with the delay of the social revolution and the delay of the political revolution, the peoples of East and West continue to live under the shadow of the arms race, of nuclear weapons and the threat of annihilation. While world war would become a real prospect in the circumstances explained in Chapter 3, the onset of such a war is not an immediate perspective.

A conventional attack by imperialism on Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union is now an impossibility. In the period since the Second World War, Russia has developed its conventional forces to the point where it and its Warsaw Pact allies have an overwhelming military advantage over imperialist forces in Europe.

Warsaw Pact tanks, artillery and aircraft outnumber NATO’s by nearly three to one. The Warsaw Pact has 47 divisions in northern and central Europe compared to NATO’s 27. By spending 2-3 times the proportion of GNP on arms as, e.g., the USA, the Soviet Union is now estimated to have an overall advantage of about four to one in conventional terms.

Small wonder that in NATO’s most recent full-scale manoeuvres, ‘Operation Crusader’, the whole exercise was based on the calculation of the generals that a Soviet advance across Western Europe could be held back for no more than three or four days.


At the same time, the Stalinist bureaucracies have no interest in initiating a military invasion of the West even if they could do so without precipitating nuclear war. An attempt to establish bureaucratic dictatorship, on the Stalinist model over the powerful working class of Western Europe—when the bureaucracies are having trouble as it is maintaining their regimes in their own countries—would be a suicidal absurdity.

In terms of nuclear weapons, Russia now has tactical superiority in the European ‘theatre’ and has achieved at least strategic parity with the USA in the event of an intercontinental nuclear war. Both countries, together with the rest of mankind, would be wiped out in such an event.

Because of the economic transformation which has been carried through in the deformed workers’ states, imperialism remains in fundamental antagonism to them. Most of all, the antagonism is directed towards the most powerful, the Soviet Union.

While US imperialism would not shrink from any real opportunity to destroy the Soviet Union by nuclear weapons, this is now impossible as a conscious policy of the ruling class because of the certainty of destruction in return.

For all these reasons, world war is ruled out in the short-term and even the medium-term. In the longer term, for the reasons already explained, the holocaust of nuclear war nevertheless hangs over us if the socialist revolution in the West is not victorious in the coming one to two decades.

Meanwhile, it is in the interests of both the capitalists and the Stalinists to employ the threat of world war as a means of subduing the working class of West and East. In the case of Russia particularly, the fear of war is a very powerful weapon of propaganda in the hands of the bureaucracy, because within living memory the population has experienced millions of deaths and the most terrible suffering and privations as a result of imperialist invasion.

In a contradictory way, imperialism and Stalinism buttress each other. As a prop to its own rule, the bureaucracy maintains an uneasy relationship of ‘détente’ with imperialism and forswears any encouragement or support for social revolution in any of the industrialised capitalist countries.

Despite the opposing character of their economic systems, Stalinism, as much as imperialism, fears any struggle of the workers to take power into their own hands. This is because a regime of workers’ democracy in any important industrialised country would serve as a beacon to the working class of East and West, and set in motion the downfall of both Stalinism and imperialism.

The ripeness of the whole world for socialism, and the pressing urgency of socialist revolution is indicated in these perspectives. It has now become a race, in fact, between the social revolution in the West and the political revolution in the East. Whichever occurs first, it will mean the transformation of the world.

Continue to Chapter Five

[1] This perspective, originally written in 1982, was proved incorrect by the restoration of capitalism across the countries of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in the 1990s. This paragraph is an unfortunate slip in posing perspectives for the Stalinist countries in absolute terms. Trotsky himself in fact anticipated the possibility of capitalist restoration as far back as 1936 if there was a significant delay in the political revolution, a point that is emphasised throughout the MWT’s The Legacy of Leon Trotsky (1990) – Eds. 2017