Rivoluzione comunista

Russia History

a cura di Guido Bassi

In this essay I will try to explain and analyse the “struggle”, within the Soviet Union administration  that took place after Lenin’s death in 1924.

After the death of the sovietic leader, the soviet leadership split itself on the issue of “Permanent Revolution” supported by Trotsky, and the “Revolution in one country” supported by Stalin.

The struggle between Stalin and Trotsky, is the most known inside the Soviet leadership. In fact since 1923, this struggle involved other political characters, like Kamenev and Zinoviev. The “Triumvirate”, made by Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev, made a strong opposition to the Trotsky theories. The Triumvirate split in 1925 and Zinoviev and Kamenev joined Trotsky in the struggle against Stalin.

But this struggle was not just a doctrinal and philosophical issue, it does not concern just an analysis about Marx’s and Lenin’s ideology, but it concerns a bigger and more important issue as well; the struggle for leadership in the USSR.

Reading the Trostky and Stalin opinions, we can understand not only the ideas they had about spreading of socialism abroad, but we can also see how the power mechanisms worked in the early Soviet Union and what they thought about the mass role and power management.

Reading the paper about the struggle between Stalin and Trotsky, we can see that the Bolshevik party was not monolitic.There was a big opposition, especially a left one, to Stalin leadership. The symbol of that opposition was Trotsky and his “Permanent Revolution” theory. This opposition did not come from the people opposite to Marxism, but the people that were inspired by it, and that were scared by the Stalin interpretation of Marxism, and by the Stalin application of the power.

As I said above, the main issue on which the Soviet leaders “fought” in the early 1920’s was the idea of how to spread the Socialist revolution and the socialist way of life to the world capitalist countries, especially to the Europe.

We can understand by reading the Lenin paper, that Marx’s ideas have been revisited by him, especially the idea about the conditions for Socialism.

According to Marx the human development has to pass through five steps: 1) Primitive communal  or clan society 2) Slave holding society 3) Feudalism 4) Capitalism 5) Socialism.

It’s not the aim of this essay to analyse the Marx theory, but we have to know that according to Marx, the French Revolution represented the mile stone that shifted the European society from feudalism to capitalism.

For Marx, Socialism could only take place in a country with a strong and well developed capitalist system, that country was not Russia.[1]

Lenin and, some years later, Stalin as well, revisited the Marx’s ideas.

For them and, especially for Lenin, it was possible to apply socialism in Russia even if Russia was not a capitalist country. The proletariat of that country had to organized a socialist production, and then stand up against the rest of  the capitalistic world.

“…Lenin, himself a genius and a follower of Engel and Marx, should have understood the new possibilities of the proletarian revolution under the new condition of capitalist development and thus establish the truth that victory of Socialism in one country alone is possible…”[2]  

Once the Socialist Revolution had taken place and the Proletarian Dictatorship had been established, a professional class of revolutionary people would have had to lead the Socialist revolution abroad. Lenin, and Stalin as well, insisted upon a strongly centralized party, without autonomy for national or other component groups. He demanded strong authority at the top, by which the central committee would determine the doctrine (or the party line) and control personnel at all levels of the organization. 

But the spreading of socialism could be made just when the socialism in Russia  had been consolidated. The Revolution must be lead by Sovietic leadership and not by the proletarian world mass.

The conception of the revolution that is known with the name of “Revolution in one country” was extremely elitaristic, it did not leave space for the proletarian mass like leader of the socialist revolution abroad, it reflected the autocratic power conception that Stalin and Lenin had.

Stalin, quoting selectively from Lenin’s writing, advocated “Socialism in one country” was possible to built before that international revolution took place.[3]

Trotsky had a different conception of the Russia situation, power, and the spreading of the revolution. He was in disagreement with the “Revolution in one Country” theory, in fact he belived in the”Permanent Revolution” theory, an incessant drive for proletarian objectives on all fronts in all part of the world[4]

Trotsky believed that Russia was not “landed” to the real socialism, like Zinoviev says “…I feel that the thing here is really the attempt of certain comrades to declare that the NEP is socialism…the assertion that the NEP is not socialism also seems to me indisputable…”[5]. To carryouta socialist state, Russia needed the help and the support of all the proletarian world, it especially needed the support of  the West Europe proletarian mass. Without this support the revolution would have degenerated into a bourgeois state.

So, for Trotsky, the proletarian mass should lead the revolution around the world and not a professional class of revolutionary people like Lenin and Stalin said. 

Moreover the revolution should be made as soon as possible. In fact, just with the support of all proletarian mass around the world, Socialism could be established.

“…real progress of a socialist economy in Russia will become possible only after the victory of the proletariat in the major European countries…”[6].

So there were huge differences between the two soviet theory’s leaders, Trotsky’s and Stalin’s ideas about who, when, and how developed the revolution abroad should be were completely different.

The “Permanent Revolution” theory was less elitaristic than the Stalin one, according to Trotsky the revolution had to come from below, it should be lead by the people, by the mass.

But we know the Stalin theory won, the theory of “Socialism in one country” was accepted as official party policy in 1925 at the 14th party congress. Stalin imposed, a revolution from above, composed by a forced industrialization, collectivisation and a strong leadership that did not leave space to the oppositions[7].

According to Daniels[8] the Trotsky leadership would have made a difference in the social and cultural field, or in the foreign relation, we do not know if it would has been true, but I think that the Trotsky idea of socialism and revolution was more democratic than Stalin idea.

But the struggle concerning the best way to spread revolution, was not just a ideological issue, it  was essentially a struggle for power, the ideological issue was used to delegitimize the politic enemy, to clear the way to the leadership “…Comrade Kamenev has played the role of housemaid to Comrade Trotsky by cleaning the way for him…”.[9]

In all statements, Stalin attacks Trotsky and the left of the Party that was against Stalin. For him they were the enemies of the revolution, the enemies of socialism, but above all they were the enemy of his leadership.

Trotsky worked against the revolution and the soviet proletariat, for Stalin the theory of “Permanent Revolution” was the negation of Lenin’s theory of the proletarian revolution. The “Permanent Revolution” theory showed a “…lack of faith in the revolutionary potentialities of the peasant movement…lack of faith in the strength and capabilities of the proletariat in Russia…”[10] .

The point of reference of  this struggle is Lenin’s theories. What Stalin tried to show was that who ever disagreed with Lenin’s original theories was an enemy of the revolution, was an enemy of the people. I think he tried to show that only he was the legitimate person to succeed Lenin.
The main question was not what is the best theory to spread socialism abroad and to improve the economy and the society of Soviet Union, but who was the “best” person that to lead the Soviet Union into the future, who was the real heiress of Marx and Lenin.

We do not know if Trotsky’s leadership would have been completely different from Stalin’s.

Daniels in his book (Trotsky,  Stalin and Socialism) states that the Trotsky’s leadership could be completely different from Stalin’s leadership.

It could make a difference in the social and cultural area, it could bring more democracy and a deeper political debate, it could leave  space for the opposing idea and theory.

But we can only suppose it, as we know, Trotsky was first exiled in Siberia and the he moved to Mexico where he was killed in 1940.

[1] Jhon M. Thompson “Russia and the Soviet Union. An historical introduction from the kievan state to the present”, Westview Press, Oxford, 1990, p.161.

[2] From the papers handed out in class “Soviet Comunism: Era of Controversy, 1922-1929”, p. 199.

[3] P.Boobbyer, The Stalin era, Routledge, London, 2000, p. 16.

[4] Palmer,Colton, Kramer, A history of the modern world, Mc Graw Hill, New York, 2002, p.727.

[5] From the papers handed out in class “Soviet Comunism: Era of Controversy, 1922-1929”, pp. 183-84.

[6] From the papers handed out in class “Soviet Comunism: Era of Controversy, 1922-1929”, p.174.

[7] Jhon M. Thompson , Russia and the Soviet Union. An historical introduction from the kievan state to the present, Westview Press, Oxford, 1990, p 211.

[8] Daniels, Robert V.  Trostky,  Stalin and Socialism, Boulder&Co, London, 1993, p.139.

[9] From the papers handed out in class “Soviet Comunism: Era of Controversy, 1922-1929”, p.199.

[10] From the papers handed out in class “Soviet Comunism: Era of Controversy, 1922-1929”, p.175.