The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 75/No. 5      February 7, 2011

Lessons from defense of first
workers state in history
(Books of the Month column)

Below is an excerpt from In Defense of Marxism: The Social and Political Contradictions of the Soviet Union on the Eve of World War II by Leon Trotsky. The Spanish-language edition is one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for February. In August 1939 the governments of the Soviet Union and Germany, led by Joseph Stalin and Adolph Hitler respectively, signed a “non-aggression” pact. This precipitated a far-ranging debate within the Socialist Workers Party with a minority arguing the Soviet Union was no longer a workers state that should be defended from imperialist attack. Trotsky answered this argument in a September 1939 article titled “The USSR in war.” At the heart of this debate was the question of what kind of party needed to be built in the United States and around the world: a revolutionary party that was truly part of the working class and its struggles, not a petty-bourgeois radical party calling itself working-class that would buckle under the pressure of bourgeois pubic opinion. Copyright © 1973 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

Is it possible after the conclusion of the German-Soviet pact to consider the USSR a workers state? The future of the Soviet state has again and again aroused discussion in our midst. Small wonder; we have before us the first experiment in the workers state in history. Never before and nowhere else has this phenomenon been available for analysis. In the question of the social character of the USSR, mistakes commonly flow, as we have previously stated, from replacing the historical fact with the programmatic norm. Concrete fact departs from the norm. This does not signify, however, that it has overthrown the norm; on the contrary, it has reaffirmed it, from the negative side. The degeneration of the first workers state, ascertained and explained by us, has only the more graphically shown what the workers state should be, what it could and would be under certain historical conditions. The contradiction between the concrete fact and the norm constrains us not to reject the norm but, on the contrary, to fight for it by means of the revolutionary road. The program of the approaching revolution in the USSR is determined on the one hand by our appraisal of the USSR as an objective historical fact, and on the other hand, by a norm of the workers state. We do not say: “Everything is lost, we must begin all over again.” We clearly indicate those elements of the workers state which at the given stage can be salvaged, preserved, and further developed.

Those who seek nowadays to prove that the Soviet-German pact changes our appraisal of the Soviet state take their stand, in essence, on the position of the Comintern1—to put it more correctly, on yesterday’s position of the Comintern. According to this logic, the historical mission of the workers state is the struggle for imperialist democracy. The “betrayal” of the democracies in favor of fascism divests the USSR of its being considered a workers state. In point of fact, the signing of the treaty with Hitler supplies only an extra gauge with which to measure the degree of degeneration of the Soviet bureaucracy, and its contempt for the international working class, including the Comintern, but it does not provide any basis whatsoever for a reevaluation of the sociological appraisal of the USSR….

What do we defend in the USSR? Not that in which it resembles the capitalist countries but precisely that in which it differs from them. In Germany also we advocate an uprising against the ruling bureaucracy, but only in order immediately to overthrow capitalist property. In the USSR the overthrow of the bureaucracy is indispensable for the preservation of state property. Only in this sense do we stand for the defense of the USSR.

There is not one among us who doubts that the Soviet workers should defend the state property, not only against the parasitism of the bureaucracy, but also against the tendencies toward private ownership, for example, on the part of the kolkhoz aristocracy. But after all, foreign policy is the continuation of policy at home. If in domestic policy we correlate defense of the conquests of the October revolution with irreconcilable struggle against the bureaucracy, then we must do the same thing in foreign policy as well….

Mistakes on the question of defense of the USSR most frequently flow from an incorrect understanding of the methods of “defense.” Defense of the USSR does not at all mean rapprochement with the Kremlin bureaucracy, the acceptance of its politics, or a conciliation with the politics of her allies. In this question, as in all others, we remain completely on the ground of the international class struggle….

We are not a government party; we are the party of irreconcilable opposition, not only in capitalist countries but also in the USSR. Our tasks, among them the “defense of the USSR,” we realize not through the medium of bourgeois governments and not even through the government of the USSR, but exclusively through the education of the masses through agitation, through explaining to the workers what they should defend and what they should overthrow. Such a “defense” cannot give immediate miraculous results. But we do not even pretend to be miracle workers. As things stand, we are a revolutionary minority. Our work must be directed so that the workers on whom we have influence should correctly appraise events, not permit themselves to be caught unawares, and prepare the general sentiment of their own class for the revolutionary solution of the tasks confronting us.

The defense of the USSR coincides for us with the preparation of world revolution. Only those methods are permissible which do not conflict with the interests of the revolution. The defense of the USSR is related to the world socialist revolution as a tactical task is related to a strategic one. A tactic is subordinated to a strategic goal and in no case can be in contradiction to the latter.

1. The Comintern (Communist International) was founded in 1919 under V.I. Lenin’s leadership as the revolutionary successor to the Second International. After Lenin’s death and with the bureaucratization of the Russian Communist Party under the leadership of Joseph Stalin, the Comintern became an instrument of Soviet foreign policy. It was finally dissolved in 1943 as a gesture to Stalin’s imperialist allies in World War II.

Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home