Mary Bell Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Mary Bell

Russia: The New Exploitive System of Bureaucratic Collectivism

Moscow: Arch-Enemy of Socialism

(1 May 1950)

From Labor Action, Vol. 14 No. 18, 1 May 1950, p. 8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

If all the propaganda of all the defenders of what has now been popularly simplified into two antagonistic world forces could be boiled down to two lines of dialogue, they might read like this:

THE “EAST” (boasting): We are building socialism.

THE “WEST” (with contempt): Yes, that’s socialism!

Face-value acceptance of Russian proclamations that Russia is a socialist society and her rulers the inheritors of the Russian Revolution is common both to those who follow the Stalinists and to those who support the governing powers of capitalism. The theory that Russia is a socialist state is at once a weapon utilized by both of the two major ruling powers in their ideological contest to capture the allegiance of the hearts and minds of men.

The propagandists for the Moscow Politburo take advantage of the disaffection of the peoples in the weak extremities of capitalism (Eastern Europe, China, the colonies) and to a lesser degree, but still importantly, in the major centers, to extol the virtues of their system. They can make out an effective case against the ills of capitalism and then hold out the lure of a self-proclaimed socialist society which can replace the chaos and poverty of declining capitalism. (Their effectiveness would be redoubled in the United States if unemployment became more severe here and a depression ensued.) Many nations and individuals are caught in this net.

The spokesmen for capitalism – which has really only one vital center left, the United States – make political capital against the Stalinists by pointing to its totalitarian features and the economic backwardness of Russia and her satellites. Washington and Wall Street plead an effective case too. If this totalitarianism can be represented as socialism – and one has only to take the Stalinists at their word – then it is only natural to conclude that, whatever one wants to do to better the world, one does not want socialism. It would be much Wetter to stick with “a gradually improving” capitalism.

What Socialism Is

The theory that Russia equals socialism, held by both Stalinists and bourgeois apologists, is not merely a total falsehood but a weapon in the struggle against genuine socialism. It is a political truism that the identification of Russia with socialism is the strongest barrier to the reconstitution of the socialist movement. Thus the problem of defining Russian society is not one of narrow semantic interest, nor the mere concern of historiographers, but one which is essential for understanding the politically polarized world we live in. Its solution is paramount in the building a new socialist movement. It is no less important for the orientation of the labor movement.

To settle whether or not Russia is socialist, one must define socialism. For this we first turn to the classic thinkers of socialism, who believed that socialism will be achieved when it is possible for society to apply the Marxian rule, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” The prerequisites for such a society are the abolition of private property and the establishment of nationalized, or social, property. This implies, at least in the first stages, state ownership of property. but it is a state whieh in the words of Engels is in the process of “withering away.”

Nationalized property also implies the democratic management of property by the working class through their class institutions. The workers, by virtue of electing their representatives in government, control the state. Socialism, by ending private property, by nationalizing industry, thereby ends the exploitation of man by man.

Socialism also means elimination of the “scarcity that stems from abundance,” in the phrase of Fourier, a predecessor of Marx, and the establishment of a society of plenty for all. It is the economy of scarcity that makes the big stick necessary to keep the “haves” and “have-nots” from tearing society apart.

The Marxist View

Socialism is internationalist to the core. Never, prior to the Stalinist enunciation of the theory of “socialism in one country,” had any socialist ever entertained the notion that socialism was possible on any but a world scale. Internationalism is as necessary to achieve abundance through the world division of labor as it is to eliminate the competitive drive of nations toward wars of plunder and annihilation.

The motivation for the socialist reorganization of society is the struggle of mankind to lift itself from the “prehistoric stage of human society,” into which Marx and Engels relegated all previous social forms up to socialism. Its aim is to achieve human freedom by ridding the world forever of dependence upon blind economic forces, to replace insecurity and poverty with abundance, backwardness with advanced technique, competition with cooperation, ignorance with consciousness.

These were the concepts of the founders of scientific socialism about the future social order. Their ideas were held and translated into practice by Lenin and Trotsky in the Russian Revolution of 1917. They initiated the first transformation of society on a socialist basis. “Who would believe,” wrote the Russian general, Zalessky, in indignation at the facts, “that the janitor or watchman of the court building would suddenly become chief justice of the Court of Appeals? Or the hospital orderly, manager of the hospital; the barber a big functionary; yesterday’s ensign, the commander-in-chief; yesterday’s lackey or common laborer, burgomaster; yesterday’s train oiler, chief of division or station superintendent; yesterday’s locksmith, head of the factory?”

Revolution Isolated

But Lenin and Trotsky and all the Bolshevik leaders, including Stalin at the time, knew that the revolution would be defeated if it remained in isolation. Thus Lenin: “The proletariat is already struggling to preserve the democratic conquests for the sake of the socialist revolution. This struggle would be almost hopeless for the Russian proletariat alone, and its defeat would be inevitable ... if the European socialist proletariat did not come to the help of the Russian proletariat ...

Help did not come. The revolution turned back upon itself. The pattern of the socialist theorists fits Russia no more today than does that of the early workers’ government established by the revolution.

Russian society is therefore the result of a revolution which failed to complete itself and developed (degenerated) in national isolation and became transformed into a new type of society. If it does not have the distinctive features of socialism, neither does it have the distinctive features of capitalism. It is a new social mutation.

Property is collectivized in Russia. The state owns the property; it is not owned by private individuals who have the right to sell, buy and transmit to their heirs, as is characteristic of capitalism. But it is not the nationalized, democratically controlled collectivization of socialism. The collectivized property is managed by a state which is in the hands of bureaucrats who have wrested all control from the workers and popular organizations. Hence the new name which has been applied to this phenomenon by the Independent Socialist League: bureaucratic collectivism.

A kind of planning is possible, with bureaucratic distortions, in this new society. For the bureaucratic control is a collective control, and not a private ownership. Hence, the profitability of any given enterprise is not the motive force of production, as it must be under the capitalist system. It is naturally not planning for society as a whole, but planning in the interests and preservation of the bureaucracy.

Marxism determines the classes in any society by their relation to property or the means of production. In a social order of private property, whether in slaves, land or factories, the class is easily determined by establishing who owns the property and who are the dispossessed. In a collectivized economy, where the means of production are organized and controlled by the state, it is necessary to examine the intermediary of the state to determine the classes. And an examination of Russian society reveals the emergence of a vast bureaucracy which has constituted itself as the new exploiting class in Stalinist society.

They Own the State

One of the Russian oppositionists described the situation in the following manner:

“Under our very eyes there has been formed, and is still being formed, a large class of rulers which has its own interior groupings, multiplied by means of premeditated cooptation, direct or indirect (bureaucratic promotion, fictitious system of elections). The basic support of this original class is a sort, an original sort, of private property, namely, the possession of state power. The bureaucracy ‘possesses the state as private property,’ wrote Marx (Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of LawThe New International, April 1947.

It is only by understanding Russia as a new exploitive society, with a new ruling class, that one can understand the role of Russia in world politics and the motive force of its expansion. This motive force is not, as the adherents of “Russia is socialist” would have us believe, the urge to extend the world revolution, even if, because of its historic origin, the Russian bureaucracy so proclaims its mission. The motive force is the power and privilege of the bureaucratic ruling class, which in turn determines the pattern of expansion. They overturn capitalism, to be sure, in all the countries they overrun; but they remake their empire in their own image and likeness. So it has been in Eastern Europe.

Fight Goes On

But it is in this expansive drive that a fundamental weakness of Stalinism has shown itself. The first crack in the Iron Curtain appeared in one of the satellites when Tito staged his rebellion against the Cominform. The fissures appear in all the Iron Curtain countries. The United States is freely counting on some kind of Titoist upsurge in China.

Far from creating any kind of international society, the Russian bureaucratic-collectivist empire creates new national antagonisms as its victims attempt to throw off the yoke. It is as unsuccessful as capitalism in creating any kind of stable world society. This remains the task of socialism.

Mary Bell Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers’ Index  |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated:10 January 2024