From the April 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Origins of Stalinism
In the eulogies of Stalin, as with those following the death of Lenin, the movement to which both their names are given—Stalinism and Leninism—is represented as an innovation; as an essential departure from the ideas and policies of the social democratic movement, though at the same time it was claimed to be in line with the views put forward by Marx. In fact, however, though both of them broke away from the 2nd International (which had already fallen to pieces), they carried out policies that were implicit in the aims and the practice of the 2nd International. The face of Russia today is the logical working out of these aims and policies. The disputes between the Social Democrats and the Bolsheviks, in spite of the vituperation and clouds of words, was not over aims and policies but over the methods of pushing forward the policies and accomplishing the aims. It was the utter ruthlessness of the Bolsheviks that frightened them.
Both Lenin and Stalin poured loads of scorn and denunciations upon the old Social Democratic Parties and their leaders, as well as upon the syndicalist section of the International, but Bolshevik policy embraced the outlook of them all. Lenin and his associates claimed that the Social Democratic leaders were renegades when, in fact, all that the Bolsheviks could have argued against these leaders was that they were more cautious in pressing forward similar aims. Lenin was a fraternal delegate to 2nd International Congresses and only fell out with these leaders in 1914 on a particular interpretation of the war as the propitious moment to aim at the conquest of power. Although the Social Democrats made much of the minority aspect of the Bolshevik capture of power it was also accepted in their own practical actions in spite of theoretical statements to the contrary.
What has led many people to see a fundamental difference between, for instance, the Social Democrat, the Bolshevik and the Syndicalist in the ranks of the 2nd International is simply that the International contained what is called a left, a centre and a right wing— a group that carried 2nd International ideas to their logical conclusion in practice, a group that vacillated and a group that shut their eyes to the logical outcome of the ideas they advocated.
The Future as seen by Social Democrats
To what, briefly, were the leaders of the 2nd International looking forward? A transition period in which Capitalism would merge into Socialism. And how did they define this transition period? Let us see what they had to say about it. Owing to the limitations of space we can only quote from three sources, but they were leading representatives of the 2nd International on the theoretical side—German, Belgian and American.
First let us see what Karl Kautsky said about the society that would follow capitalism. The quotations are from “The Class Struggle,” a book published in English by Kerr & Co. of Chicago in the early years of the present century.
“The distribution of goods in a socialist society might possibly continue for some time under forms that are essentially developments of the existing system of wage payments.” (page 141)
“All forms of modern wage-payment—fixed salaries, piece wages, time wages, bonuses—all of them are reconcilable with the spirit of a socialist society; and there is not one of them that may not play a role in socialist society, as the wants and customs of its members, together with the requirements of production, may demand.” (page 143)
Russia has carried these ideas out.
In 1907 Emile Vandervelde, another leading member of the 2nd International, wrote a book entitled “Collectivism and Industrial Revolution.” In this book he went into considerable detail about the future, and we are quoting from it at some length because the extracts give a fair idea of what the prominent theoreticians of the 2nd International were anticipating as the face of the future.
“Consequently, under a regime of pure collectivism—to suppose what we do not assume beforehand, that this regime is to be realised some day—the land, mines, manufacturing establishments, the instruments of credit, the means of communication and transport will belong to the community: only articles of consumption would remain personal property.
“The management of affairs, instead of being as today monarchical or oligarchical, would take the republican form; instead of being given over by right of birth or by right of conquest, to capitalists competing or combined it would belong not to the State, as it is said and repeated in order to mislead, but to autonomous public corporations under the control of the State." (Introduction pages xiii-xiv)
"By the very fact of its magnitude, this revolution can only be the result of a long and complex series of partial variations. 'Radical changes cannot be sudden: sudden changes cannot be radical.'" (page xv)
“In fact there is nothing to prevent us imagining a socialist state, in which individual ownership and labour would co-exist with collective ownership and labour." (page 47)
After distinguishing between the authorative and economic functions of the State—the former gradually decreasing and the latter gradually increasing—he projects across the future the “Governmental State" and the “Administrative State" based upon voluntary cooperation and then says of the “Administrative State":
"States when thus transformed, regulating in different hierarchical ranks the movements of commerce and finance, presiding over the external industrial relations of the different centres of population, are nothing else than Agencies appointed by more or less numerous associations, and invested with the confidence of those who have chosen them." (pages 160-161)
"Likewise, in a Socialist state, it is after having satisfied all needs which are of general concern, after having secured for all members of the community the right to existence, that the excess of products, or rather of values produced, should form the object of differential distribution.
“In the proportion in which it would be socially useful from the point of view of production to allow special advantages to certain workers or to certain categories of workers, in order to stimulate their energies and their power of labour, nothing would prevent a collectivist society from maintaining—mutatis mutandis—the graduated scale of salaries which exists today in the public services.
“Collectivism does not, then, necessarily imply equality of remuneration.” (pages 177-178)
It will be noticed that at one time Vandervelde uses the State to mean governmental machinery and at another a particular society but, even so, for him the State is still something apart from the mass of people, the controlling and deciding body.
The Practical Result of the Vision
What is the essence of all these quotations but, near enough, what at present obtains in Russia? True, freedom to think does not exist there; the dictatorship is ruthless and bureaucratic—but this was the logical outcome of Social Democratic theory. They held up their hands in horror at the speeding up process which involved the sacrifice of millions of lives, but they accepted, as part of their own idea of protracted development in which millions of lives were also sacrificed in “Offensive" and “Defensive" wars, in which was also implicit the “socialism in one country” idea—the “armed militia,” the “armed people" and the “citizen army.”
So close was the fundamental identity between the policy of the 2nd International and the policy of the Bolsheviks that leaders of the 2nd International were at pains to try and find some distinguishing characteristic that would enable them to dissociate themselves from the ruthlessness and rebut the criticisms of Lenin. They all had to agree that the Bolsheviks were socialists but —they were doing some things they “didn’t orter do"— they were forcing the pace too much. Not that this would fail to achieve the object, but that it would shake their hold on power.
After the Bolshevik Capture of Power
The third member of the 2nd International whom we will quote, is Morris Hillquit, once a prominent theoretician of the Socialist Party of America. He summed-up the position in 1921 in his book “From Marx to Lenin." Here are some extracts from it:
"And it is idle cavilling to dispute the Socialist character of the Russian Revolution. A socialist revolution does not mean the immediate establishment of the Socialist Commonwealth. It is only the political act of seizing the power of government on behalf of the workers and with the object of using it for the abolition of private ownership in the means of production and for the development of collective work and enjoyment.
“The Russian revolution has taken possession of the government in the name of the workers. It has effectively expropriated private capitalist owners and has nationalised the greater part of the industries. It has also written into its program the socialisation of the land. Measured by all practical tests it is therefore a Socialist revolution in character as well as intent.” (Page 33) .
“What is the historic form of a Socialist government?
“Every attempted answer to the question must take into account the fact that political institutions are not viewed by Marxist students as static forms, nor as definitely demarcated historical periods. The Socialist political revolution marks the conscious beginning of the process of transformation into Socialism, but only its beginning.
“The revolution, which is the working-class conquest of the political power, leaves the capitalists for the time being in possession of the economic power. On the day of the revolution the capitalist class still owns the essential means and instruments of wealth production and distribution. It manages the financial, industrial and commercial institutions of the country and controls the whole intricate and delicately interwoven economic life of the people. The transfer of all industries from private capitalist ownership into communal property and public management; in short, the break-up of capitalism and the building up of a pure Socialist order, calls for a series of planful and fundamental industrial and political changes. Such changes will, of course, not be undertaken by the capitalist class. They can only be brought about by the workers. In order to accomplish them the workers must be in control of the governmental machinery and their control must continue until the task of Socialisation of the industries has been fully performed, all economic class divisions have been abolished, the working class itself has ceased to exist as a class, and the working class government has given way to the classless administration of the Socialist regime. The consecutive stages of development roughly succeeding each other may be regarded from different points of view and characterised according to the angle from which they are viewed.” (pages 49-50)
Here again we see clearly expressed the harmony between the outlook of the 2nd International and the practice of the Bolsheviks in spite of the hot air that developed between them over the years. Hillquit identifies the conquest of power by the Bolsheviks as the conquest of power by the workers. Thus, by implication, he illustrates the accepted idea of leadership which was ingrained in the 2nd International, in spite of protestations about capture of power by the workers. Lenin, at a time when he was writing eulogies on Kautsky and the German Social Democratic Party, was also contending that the workers were incapable of developing social democratic ideas from within their own ranks; these, he said, they could only get from outside, from the “ bourgeois intellectuals.” Stalin has only carried on this contempt for the mass of people along with the expansion of the bureaucratic machinery so dear to the social democrats.
Syndicalists and Bolsheviks
Now let us compare the ideas of the advocates of Syndicalism in the International with those of the Bolsheviks. Syndicalists argued that Syndicalism was based on the principles of Marx; they were opposed to democracy as a capitalist form; they contended that the mass of workers were ignorant and inert, requiring an intelligent and militant minority to lead and force them into the promised land; they claimed that Syndicalism was the form at last discovered under which the workers could work out their emancipation; they propagated the idea of violence against both workers and capitalists; they claimed that the days of theory had passed and the days for action had come; they also put forward a number of other ideas which, as well as those mentioned, became a part of Bolshevik propaganda and demonstrate a certain similarity of outlook between Syndicalism and Bolshevism, indicating the common source of both movements. Even the much vaunted Soviet organisation was a reflection of Syndicalist ideas eventually set out in detail as a social organisation by the Industrial Workers of the World in 1905, a group that included a confused mixture of political and industrial action as a means to accomplish the end they had in view.
Syndicalism set out to secure the victory of a militant minority by the use of violence just as the Bolsheviks did. The claim that they were acting in the interest of all reminds one of the anarchist in Richard Whiteing’s novel “No. 5 John Street” who defined anarchism as a system of society in which everyone shall do as he likes, and those that don’t shall be made!
Beginning and End of the Dream
Lenin constantly referred back to the French Revolution and the attitude of the Jacobins for inspiration. The practical policy that grew out of the French Revolution and continued like a red thread through the working class movement afterwards, openly adopted successively by Blanqui, Bakunin, De Leon and Lenin was based upon the idea that an active minority can carry with it an inert and ignorant mass; it is a policy that depends upon leadership and ultimately places power in the hands of one or two outstanding people, finally degenerating into personal quarrels between these leaders as Bolshevism has amply demonstrated. The 2nd International was soaked in this despite the protestations and lip service to the control by the masses by some of its outstanding spokesmen. What Lenin and Stalin did was to stress whatever part of the 2nd International hotch potch best suited their purpose to get and keep control in Russia; thus they vacillated from one aspect to another and then back again, but always moving towards, and eventually achieving, that alleged transition form envisaged by the spokesmen of the 2nd International. Time has had its joke. The “transition form” has emerged as simply a particular form of unbridled Capitalism.
It should be clear from the quotations we have given that the Russian dictatorship, far from representing a fresh and fundamental departure from the ideas accepted by the 2nd International, has only been the logical working in out in practice of those ideas, though at a more rapid pace than was originally anticipated. The end of the process has been—just a particular form of Capitalism. No wonder Wilhelm Liebneckt was apprehensive and took time off from a holiday to write “No Compromise” in 1899, which contained the following pregnant words:
“We cannot traffic in our principles, we can make no compromise, no agreement with the ruling system. We must break with the ruling system and fight it to a finish." (page 55)