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Vol. 74/No. 21      May 31, 2010

Trotsky’s answer to Stalin’s
‘socialism in one country’
(Books of the Month column)
Printed below is an excerpt from The Third International after Lenin, one of Pathfinder’s books of the month for May. It presents Leon Trotsky’s defense of the proletarian course of the Russian Revolution that triumphed in October 1917 under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party led by V.I. Lenin. In 1919 the Communist (or Third) International was founded to advance this revolutionary internationalist course. By the time of Lenin’s death in 1924, a privileged petty-bourgeois social layer—whose leading representative came to be Joseph Stalin—had gained the upper hand in the Communist Party and Soviet state apparatus. It justified its actions with the anti-Marxist slogan of building “socialism in one country.” This book presents Trotsky’s 1928 criticism of this perspective, which was laid out in the draft program presented by Nikolai Bukharin and Stalin to the Communist International’s Sixth World Congress held that year in Moscow. Copyright © 1957 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

The new doctrine proclaims that socialism can be built on the basis of a national state if only there is no intervention. From this there can and must follow (notwithstanding all pompous declarations in the draft program) a collaborationist policy towards the foreign bourgeoisie with the object of averting intervention, as this will guarantee the construction of socialism, that is to say, will solve the main historical question. The task of the parties in the Comintern assumes, therefore, an auxiliary character; their mission is to protect the USSR from intervention and not to fight for the conquest of power. It is, of course, not a question of the subjective intentions but of the objective logic of political thought.

“The difference in views lies in the fact,” says Stalin, “that the party considers that these [internal] contradictions and possible conflicts can be entirely overcome on the basis of the inner forces of our revolution, whereas Comrade Trotsky and the Opposition think that these contradictions and conflicts can be overcome ‘only on an international scale, on the arena of the worldwide proletarian revolution.’” (Pravda, no. 262, November 12, 1926.)

Yes, this is precisely the difference. One could not express better and more correctly the difference between national reformism and revolutionary internationalism. If our internal difficulties, obstacles, and contradictions, which are fundamentally a reflection of world contradictions, can be settled merely by “the inner forces of our revolution” without entering “the arena of the worldwide proletarian revolution” then the International is partly a subsidiary and partly a decorative institution, the congress of which can be convoked once every four years, once every ten years, or perhaps not at all. Even if we were to add that the proletariat of the other countries must protect our construction from military interventions, the International according to this schema must play the role of a pacifist instrument. Its main role, the role of an instrument of world revolution, is then inevitably relegated to the background. And this, we repeat, does not flow from anyone’s deliberate intentions (on the contrary, a number of points in the program testify to the very best intentions of its authors), but it does flow from the internal logic of the new theoretical position which is a thousand times more dangerous than the worst subjective intentions.

As a matter of fact, even at the Seventh Plenum of the ECCI [Executive Committee of the Communist International], Stalin became so bold as to develop and defend the following idea:

“Our party has no right to fool [!] the working class; it should declare openly that the lack of assurance [!] in the possibility of building socialism in our country leads to the abdication of power and to the passing of our party from its position as a ruling party to the position of an opposition party.” (Minutes, vol. 2, p. 10. Our emphasis.)

This means that we have only the right to place assurance on the scanty resources of national economy but that we must not dare to place any assurance upon the inexhaustible resources of the international proletariat. If we cannot get along without an international revolution, then give up the power, give up that October power which we conquered in the interests of the international revolution. Here is the sort of ideological debacle we arrive at if we proceed from a formulation which is false to the core!

The draft program expresses an incontrovertible idea when it says that the economic successes of the USSR constitute an inseparable part of the worldwide proletarian revolution. But the political danger of the new theory lies in the false comparative evaluation of the two levers of world socialism—the lever of our economic achievements and the lever of the worldwide proletarian revolution. Without a victorious proletarian revolution, we will not be able to build socialism. The European workers and the workers the world over must clearly understand this. The lever of economic construction is of tremendous significance. Without a correct leadership, the dictatorship of the proletariat would be weakened; and its downfall would deal a blow to the international revolution from which the latter would not recover for a good many years. But the conclusion of the main historical struggle between the socialist world and the world of capitalism depends on the second lever, that is, the world proletarian revolution. The colossal importance of the Soviet Union lies in that it is the disputed base of the world revolution and not at all in the presumption that it is able to build socialism independently of the world revolution.  
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