The Trump Card of Trotsky
The international situation is changing with the rapidity of a film, and amidst the many voices clamouring to elucidate the cause of what is happening we are attracted to the statements of the refugee who, when driven from Moscow, and after attempting to reside in various countries, has been allowed to stay in Mexico.
The French papers recently circulated a report to the effect that Trotsky’s grandson had disappeared and inferred that the latter had been kidnapped by the secret police of the only “Socialist” country in the world.
When one reads carefully Trotsky’s “Revolution Betrayed,” it requires no great stretch of the imagination to arrive at the conclusion that Stalin and Co. will go to any lengths to silence his vitriolic pen for a more deadly indictment of the Soviet regime has never appeared in print.
There is also another aspect ably dealt with, the treachery of the “Left”; we can well understand the silence in certain quarters regarding the book; our respectable Fabians are stripped so naked that their real bourgeois character stands plainly revealed: the Webbs will feel towards Trotsky much as Stalin does, and unless we judge incorrectly, so will Sir Stafford Cripps. These evangels of Fabianism—that is, of traditional respectability and worship of what exists—haven’t changed, apparently.
“There can be no talk of any sudden change in the views of the Webbs during recent years. These same people who, during the war, supported their bourgeoisie, and who accepted later, at the hands of the King, the title of Lord Passfield, have renounced nothing, and changed not at all, in adhering to Communism in a single and, moreover, a foreign country.
“Sidney Webb was Colonial Minister—that is, chief jail-keeper of British imperialism—in the very period of his life when he was drawing near to the Soviet bureaucracy, receiving material from its bureaux, and on that basis working upon his two-volume compilation.
“As late as 1923 the Webbs saw no great difference between Bolshevism and Tzarism (see, for example, the Decay of Capitalist Civilization, 1923). Now, however, they have fully recognised the “democracy” of the Stalin regime. It is needless to seek any contradiction here. The Fabians were indignant when the revolutionary proletariat withdrew freedom of activity from ‘educated’ society, but they think it quite in the order of things when a bureaucracy withdraws freedom of activity from the proletariat. Has not this always been the function of the Labourites’ workers’ bureaucracy?
The Webbs swear, for example, that criticism in the Soviet Union is completely free. A sense of humour is not to be expected of these people. They refer with complete seriousness to that notorious ‘self-criticism’ which is enacted as part of one’s official duties, and the direction of which, as well as its limits, can always be accurately foretold.
“Naiveté? Neither Engels nor Lenin considered Sidney Webb naive. Respectability rather. After all, it is a question of an established régime and of hospitable hosts. The Webbs are extremely disapproving in their attitude to a Marxian criticism of what exists. They consider themselves called to preserve the heritage of the October Revolution—from the Left opposition. For the sake of completeness we observe that in its day the Labour Government, in which Lord Passfield (Sidney Webb) held a portfolio, refused the author of this work a visa to enter Great Britain. Thus Sidney Webb, who in those very days was working on his book upon the Soviet Union, is theoretically defending the Soviet Union from being undermined, but practically he is defending the Empire of His Majesty. In justice be it said that in both cases he remains true to himself . . . “The older generation of the foreign ‘friends’ for decades regarded as Real politiker the Russian Mensheviks, who stood for a ‘people’s front’ with the Liberals, and rejected the idea of dictatorship as arrant madness. To recognise a dictatorship when it is already achieved and even bureaucratically befouled—that is a different matter. That is a matter exactly to the mind of these ‘friends.’ They now not only pay their respects to the Soviet State, but even defend it against its enemies—not so much, to be sure, against those who yearn for the past, as against those who are preparing the future. When these ‘friends’ are active patriots, as in the case of the French, Belgian, English, and other reformists, it is convenient for them to conceal their solidarity with the bourgeoisie under a concern for the defence of the Soviet Union.
Where, on the other hand, they have unwillingly become defeatists, as in the case of the German and Austrian social patriots of yesterday, they hope that the alliance of France with the Soviet Union may help them settle with Hitler or Schussnigg. Léon Blum, who was an enemy of Bolshevism in its heroic epoch, and opened the pages of Le Populaire for the express purpose of publicly baiting the October Revolution, would not now print a line exposing the real crimes of the Soviet bureaucracy. Just as the Biblical Moses, thirsting to see the face of Jehovah, was permitted to make his bow only to the rearward parts of the Divine anatomy, so the honourable reformists, worshippers of the accomplished fact, are capable of knowing and acknowledging in a revolution only its meaty bureaucratic posterior.”
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Trotsky holds the view that the ruling class in Russia cannot correctly be classified as “State Capitalists,” because the bureaucracy has neither stocks nor bonds.
“The bureaucracy enjoys its privileges under the form of an abuse of power. It conceals its income; it pretends that, as a special group, it does not even exist. Its appropriation of a vast share of the national income has the character of social parasitism. . . .
“A collapse of the Soviet régime would lead inevitably to the collapse of the planned economy and thus to an abolition of State property. . . . The fall of the present bureaucratic dictatorship, if it were not replaced by a new Socialist power, would thus mean a return to capitalist relations, with a catastrophic decline of industry and culture. . . . .
“As a conscious political force, the bureaucracy has betrayed the revolution. But a victorious revolution is, fortunately, not only a programme and a banner, not only political institutions, but also a system of social relations. To betray it is not enough. You have to overthrow it. The October Revolution has been betrayed by the ruling stratum, but not yet overthrown. It has a great power of resistance, coinciding with the established property relations, with the living force of the proletariat, the consciousness of its best elements, the impasse of world capitalism, and the inevitability of world revolution.”
“Victor Serge, who lived through all the stages of the repression in the Soviet Union, has brought startling news to Western Europe from those who are undergoing torture for their loyalty to the revolution and hostility to its gravediggers. “I exaggerate nothing,”- he writes, “I weigh every word. I can back up every one of my statements with tragic proof and with names. Among the mass of martyrs and Protestants, for the most part silent, one heroic minority is nearer to me than all the others, precious for its energy, its penetration, its stoicism, its devotion to the Bolshevism of the great epoch. Thousands of the Communists of the first hour, comrades of Lenin and Trotsky, builders of the Soviet Republic when Soviets still existed, are opposing the principles of Socialism to the inner degeneration of the régime, are defending as best they can (and all they can do is to agree to all possible sacrifices), the rights of the working class. . . . I bring you news of those who are locked up there. They will hold out, whatever be necessary, to the end. Even if they do not live to see a new revolutionary dawn . . . the revolutionists of the West can count upon them. The flame will be kept burning, even if only in prisons. In the same way they are counting upon you. You must—we must—defend them.”
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Trotsky shows that there is an even greater distinction between the rich and the poor in Soviet Russia than in many of the capitalist countries of the West. About 20 per cent, of the population devour 50 per cent, of the wealth, the remainder going to the 80 per cent.! The bureaucracy has its house servants, “the slave sleeps often with the cockroaches and the calves.”
“The Soviet State, in all its relations, is far closer to a backward capitalism than to Communism.” It cannot yet even think of endowing each “ according to his needs.” But for this very reason it cannot permit its citizens to work “according to their abilities.” It finds itself obliged to keep in force the system of piecework payment, the principle of which may be expressed thus, “Get out of everybody as much as you can and give him in exchange as little as possible. . . . ” The most brutal as well as the most refined methods of exploitation run into limits set by nature. Even a mule under the whip works “according to his ability,” but from that it does not follow that the whip is a social principle for mules. Wage labour does not cease, even under a Soviet regime, to wear the humiliating label of slavery. Payment “according to work” —in reality, payment to the advantage of “intellectual” at the expense of physical, and especially unskilled work—is a source of injustice, oppression and compulsion for the majority, privileges and a :happy life ” for the few.
Trotsky’s ideas of the transformation of society are not ours. Like Engels, he has a military psychology, but his views are interesting, nevertheless.
“Military defeats, although they customarily entail great political changes, do not always of themselves lead to a disturbance of the economic foundations of society. A social régime which guarantees a higher development of riches and culture cannot be overthrown by bayonets. On the contrary, the victors take over the institutions and customs of the conquered, if these are beyond them in evolution. Forms of property can be overthrown by military force only when they are out of accord with the economic basis of the country. A defeat of Germany in a war against the Soviet Union would inevitably result in the crushing not only of Hitler, but of the capitalist system. On the other hand, it is hardly to be doubted that a military defeat would also prove fatal, not only for the Soviet ruling stratum, but also for the social bases of the Soviet Union. The instability of the present structure in Germany is conditioned by the fact that its productive forces have long outgrown the forms of capitalist property. The instability of the Soviet regime, on the contrary, is due to the fact that its productive forces have far from grown up to the forms of Socialist property. A military defeat threatens the social bases of the Soviet Union for the same reason that these bases require in peaceful times a bureaucracy and a monopoly of foreign trade— that is, because of their weakness. . . .
“The very possibility of a rule of the Nazis over the German people was created by the unbearable tenseness of social antagonisms in Germany. These antagonisms have not been removed, and not even weakened, but only suppressed by the lid of Fascism. A war will bring them to the surface. Hitler has far less chances than had Wilhelm II of Germany of carrying a war to victory. Only a timely revolution by saving Germany from war, can save her from a new defeat. . . .
“The population of Japan is suffocated under the combined yoke of Asiatic agrarianism and ultra-modern capitalism. Korea, Manchukuo, China, at the first weakening of the military pincers, will rise against the Japanese tyranny. A war will bring the empire of the Mikado the greatest of social catastrophes.
“The situation in Poland is little better. . . . The workers are shaking the country with continual strikes and rebellions. Trying to insure itself by a union with France and friendship with Germany, the Polish bourgeoisie is incapable of accomplishing anything with its manoeuvres, except to hasten the war and find in it a more certain death.
“The danger of war and a defeat of the Soviet Union is a reality, but the revolution is also a reality. If the revolution does not prevent war, then war will help the revolution. Second births are commonly easier than the first. Once it is begun, moreover, the revolution will not this time stop half-way. The fate of the Soviet Union will be decided in the long run, not on the maps of the general staffs, but on the map of the class struggle. Only the proletariat, implacably opposing its bourgeoisie, and in the same camp with them the ‘friends of peace’ (italics mine) can protect the Soviet Union from an allied stab in the back. Even a military defeat of the Soviet Union would be only a short episode, in case of a victory of the proletariat in other countries. And on the other hand, no military victory can save the inheritance of the October Revolution if imperialism holds out in the rest of the world. . . .
“It is not under the banner of the status quo that the European workers and the colonial peoples can rise against imperialism, and against the war which must break out and overthrow the status quo almost as inevitably as a developed infant destroys the status quo of pregnancy. The toilers have not the slightest interest in defending existing boundaries, especially in Europe—either under the command of their bourgeoisies, or still less, in a revolutionary insurrection against them. The decline of Europe is caused by the very fact that it is economically split up among almost forty quasi-national States, which, with their customs, passports, money systems and monstrous armies in defence of national particularism, have become a gigantic obstacle on the road of economic and cultural development of mankind.
“The task of the European proletariat is not the perpetuation of boundaries, but, on the contrary, their revolutionary abolition, not the status quo, but a Socialist United States of Europe.”
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Trotsky trumps the hand of Stalin with the ace of living fact: he proves that the policy of the latter is formulated, not in the interests of the working class, but is consciously designed to aid the exploiter.
Those who run may read the “Revolution Betrayed” but what were those doing who allowed themselves to be betrayed? The working class of Russia did not understand: the vast majority were, and still are, ignorant of what is essential to the establishment of the new social order: those who were true to Socialism manfully did their bit, but the soil was not there—the tree of economic freedom could not be nurtured; its seeds, however, will take root in the days that are coming! The faithful never struggle in vain.
Many a comrade who to-night lays his weary bones on a prison-bed in the vaults of Moscow will realise to the full the real nature of the bureaucracy. Socialists, when detected, are placed in jail in the only “Socialist” country in the world, . . .
In the fermenting vat of wage-slave misery the true spirit of class-consciousness is now everywhere being distilled; it is up to those who understand to take every advantage of the present situation to explain to their inquiring fellow-workers the nature of the job our class is called upon to tackle.
The lesson we learn from this article is that we of the working class must know before we can do. It is a class proposition: It is essential that we should work now, as never before, to enlighten our fellows.
When they understand then are we free—not before.