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Why The Soviet Bureaucracy is not a New Ruling Class (1979)

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Published in Monthly Review, 31.1979/80 (3) pp.63-86.
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Paul Sweezy has finally started to discuss the Marxist tradition – which, he acknowledges, is by and large represented by Trotskyism – with regard to the Russian Revolution and its subsequent fate. True, he still rejects that interpretation. But he is at least ready to discuss it, and his first comments contained in Monthly Review (October 1978) are of a provisional nature. By answering them an the main challenges they raise, we hope to be able to contribute to a constructive debate – both with Paul Sweezy, the editors of Monthly Review, and the readers of that magazine – about what remains a key issue for the future of the international labor movement.

Sweezy takes us to task for repeating – forty years after Trotsky’s analysis of 1939 – the thesis that the Soviet Union’s fate and, therefore, the question of the nature of the bureaucracy isn’t settled yet. Trotsky, Sweety claims, made sense because he posed the question in a short-term perspective. Mandel, he continues, just repeats Trotsky without realizing that the very time-scale he is talking about undermines the credibility of the theory.

The point Sweety seems to miss is that what is involved in the problems Trotsky posed was not a question of time-scale, but the basic trends of development of the contemporary world. This becomes clear if we reproduce again the two passages from Trotsky’s article The USSR in War, quoted by Sweezy:

If, however, it is conceded that the present war will provoke not revolution but a decline of the proletariat, then there remains another alternative: the further decay of monopoly capitalism, its further fusion with the state and the replacement of democracy wherever it still remained by a totalitarian regime. The inability of the proletariat to take into its hands the leadership of society could actually lead under these conditions to the growth of a new exploiting class from the Bonapartist fascist bureaucracy.

And again:

If contrary to all probabilities the October Revolution fails during the course of the present war, or immediately thereafter, to find its continuation in any of the advanced countries; and if, on the contrary, the proletariat is thrown back everywhere and on all fronts – then we should doubtlessly have to revise our conceptions of the present epoch and its driving forces. In that case it would be a question not of slapping a copybook label on the USSR or the Stalinist gang but of re-evaluating the world historic perSpective for the next decades if not centuries: Have we entered the epoch of social revolution and socialist society, or on the contrary the epoch of the declining society of totalitarian bureaucracy?

Now, Sweezy stresses, there has been no new victory of a proletarian revolution in an advanced country, either in the course of the Second World War or immediately thereafter. This is undoubtedly true. But Sweezy forgets the second part of the question posed by Trotsky: Has there been a “decline of the proletariat”? In numbers? In skill? In levels of organization or militancy? How can one argue such a thesis after May 1968, which saw three times as many strikers occupying factories in France as in the previous record level of June 1936? After autumn 1969 in Italy, which saw eight times as many workers occupying factories as in the famous strike wave of November 1920? After the first six months of 1976 in Spain, which saw three times as many strikers as at the height of the revolution in 1936? This is besides Britain, Japan, the smaller European countries, Portugal, and elsewhere, where the working-class struggles in the last decade have far outdistanced their highest prewar levels.

Has the proletariat been “thrown back everywhere and on all fronts”? Has (bourgeois) democracy, wherever it still remained in 1939-40, been replaced by a totalitarian regime? Again, obviously not. So it is not out of routinism or exaggerated respect for “the master” that we still stick to the terms of Trotsky’s 1939 thesis. We come to this conclusion because we base ourselves upon a sober balance sheet of what has happened in the last forty years.

Indeed, the question of the secular trend is and remains that posed by Trotsky in his 1939 article. However, the time-scale was obviously wrong. And because of this, an “intermediary” variant was left out, which explains precisely why the question has not yet been decided by history. There was a rise of world revolution during and after the Second World War. There was an upsurge and not a further decline of working-class struggles. But because of the effects on the average consciousness of the working class of twenty years of defeats of revolution, this rise was only partial and it could therefore be channeled in the main by political force of, or originating from, the bureaucracies of the traditional labor movement (British Labor Party, French, Italian, Greek Communist parties, Titoism, Maoism, etc.).

In some semi-colonial countries this did not prevent new victorious socialist revolutions, even if they were bureaucratically distorted from the start (Yugoslavia, China, Vietnam). In the imperialist countries on the other hand, where the bourgeoisie is much more powerful and hence a much higher level of consciousness and leadership of the proletariat are necessary for a revolutionary victory, it led to the emasculation of the anti-capitalist potential of the mass struggles, but not without the working class having gained new and important reforms inside bourgeois society, and having prevented the bourgeoisie from resorting to open dictatorships.

For reasons we cannot go into here, there then followed a new period of accelerated economic growth in the imperialist countries, leading to a new growth of the proletariat. This in turn laid the basis for a new revolutionary potential in the West – the May 1968 explosion being its first expression. In other words, there was no “retreat of the proletariat on all fronts” but a rise, insufficient to overthrow capitalism, but sufficient to prevent a slide into “the declining society of totalitarian bureaucracy.” But after the “long wave of expansion” of postwar capitalism, the turn of the late 1960s relentlessly inaug urated a new period of profound and prolonged crisis which restates the problem in Trotsky’s terms.

Let us add that Trotsky’s 1939 article was only a first sketch of the historical perspective in relation to the Second World War. In a more programmatic document – his real political testament – The Manifesto of the Emergency Conference of the Fourth International (May 1940), Trotsky poses the problem of the time-scale in a much more realistic way:

Will not the revolution be betrayed this time too, inasmuch as there are two Internationnls in the service of imperialism, while the genuine revolutionary elements constitute a tiny minority? ... In order to answer this question correctly, it is necessary to pose it correctly. Naturally, this or that uprising may end and surely will end in defeat, owing to the immaturity of the revolutionary leadership. But it is not the question of a single uprising. It is the question of an entire revolutionary epoch.

It is necessary to prepare for long years, if not decades, of war, uprisings, brief interludes of truce, new wars, and new uprisings. A young revolutionary party must base itself on this perspective. History will provide it with enough opportunities and possibilities to test itself, to accumulate experience, and to mature. (Documents of the Fourth International, pp.345-346)

In that sense, the postwar time-scale Sweezy opposes to Trotsky’s thesis, is the very one in which Trotsky envisaged it in a more programmatic and less propagandistic formulation of the question. But, one may ask, what has all this to do with the class nature of the Soviet bureaucracy? In answering this, we are at the historical heart of “Trotskyism,” i.e., contemporary revolutionary Marxism. Workers and poor peasants, Trotskyism holds, should take power wherever the opportunity presents itself. In the epoch of imperialism the opportunity might present itself in a less developed country before it occurs in the more advanced ones. But the taking of power (and the suppression of private ownership of the means of production) is only one necessary but in and of itself insufficient precondition for the building of socialism. This process can only be successfully achieved on an international scale. (It should of course be initiated wherever power is wrung from the capitalists.)

Stalinism, the victory of the bureaucracy in the Soviet Union, is the result of partial defeats of world revolution. World revolution did not spread to the advanced countries. But neither was it defeated to the point where capitalism could be restored in the Soviet Union (the imperialists tried hard to achieve that, in 1918-21, in 1941-44, and again, although less directly, in 1948-51). The final fate of the USSR depends upon the outcome of the worldwide struggle between capital and labor. If the world proletariat is decisively defeated, then the bureaucracy will become a ruling class (whether a new one or a capitalist one is another question). If, on the other hand, the socialist revolution triumphs in the West or the political revolution triumphs in Eastern Europe, then it will not take the Soviet proletariat long to overthrow bureaucratic rule in the USSR before the bureaucracy has had the chance to become such a ruling class.

We stress: “or the political revolution triumphs in Eastern Europe.” For Sweezy’s other argument – the idea that the working class of the Stalinist countries accepts the regime, albeit grudgingly – is contradicted by spectacular events to which he does not refer at all: the workers’ uprising in the German Democratic Republic of 1953, the Hungarian revolution of 1956, the Prague spring of 1968, and the repeated mass uprisings of the Polish workers. Indeed, has not the “abstract” idea of political revolution, put forward by Trotsky and the Fourth International some 45 years ago, been given a real “concrete” content by these historic events? 


The hypothesis that the Soviet bureaucracy is a new ruling class does not correspond to a serious analysis of the real development and the real contradictions of Soviet society and economy in the last fifty years. Such a hypothesis must imply, from the point of view of historical materialism, that a new exploitative mode of production has emerged in that country. If this were so, we would be confronted, for the first time in history, with a “ruling class” whose general behavior and private interests (which of course dictate that behavior) run counter to the needs and inner logic of the existing socio-economic system. Indeed, one of the main characteristics of the Soviet economy is the impossibility of reconciling the needs of planning, of optimizing economic growth (not from an “absolute” point of view, but from within the logic of the system itself) with the material self-interest of the bureaucracy.

All the successive economic reforms introduced in the USSR under the bureaucracy – from the re-introduction of enterprise-based cost accountancy (khozrazhot) under Stalin, to Khrushchev’s sovnarkhoz experiment, to Liberman’s projected use of profit as an indicator for overall economic performance, to Kosygin’s introduction of “mixed indicators” for measuring that performance – have been designed to overcome that contradiction, but without lasting success. One can easily explain this apparent paradox by stressing the parasitic nature of the bureaucracy which acts contrary to the logic of the system. One can also add that social planning can function smoothly only under management by associated producers, materially interested in a “social dividend” and not in separate distinctive gains which pit factory against factory, town against town, branch against branch, and region against region. But all this precisely implies that the bureaucracy – which seeks such particular gains – is not a new ruling class, running a sell-reproducing new mode of production, but a cancer on a society in transition between capitalism and socialism. Bureaucratic management is not only increasingly wasteful. It also prevents the system of the planned economy, based upon socialized property, from operating effectively. And this undeniable fact is in itself incompatible with the characterization of the bureaucracy as a ruling class and with the USSR as a new “exploitative mode of production” whose “laws of motion” have never been specified.

In the second place, we would be confronted, again for the first time in history, with a ruling class without the capacity to perpetuate itself through the operation of the socio-economic system itself. There is no guarantee for a bureaucrat that he or she will remain a bureaucrat. There is even less guarantee that his or her sons and daughters will remain bureaucrats. We agree that vertical mobility in Soviet society – one of the main social safety valves under Stalin – has significantly decreased during the last decades. The “gerontocracy” of the Presidium is symbolic of what is happening in all Soviet society. The “security of tenure” of the bureaucrats has undoubtedly increased. But this only leads to increasing social tension (e.g., pressure for access to higher education), and not to a real solution to the problem of the bureaucrats’ inability to guarantee the permanence of their position of power and privilege. Moreover, these positions continue to be tied essentially to particular functions and depend upon political decisions (e.g., the famous nomenklatura) and not to a specific role in the process of social production. Hence the bureaucrats’ pressure to obtain permanent ties with specific factories, enterprises, trusts (i.e., to restore private property in the economic sense of the word before restoring it in the juridical sense). Hence the consistent pressure of large layers of the bureaucracy to gain a qualitatively higher degree of autonomy at factory or branch level (i.e., to escape the iron framework of a centralized plan). Hence their tendency toward private capital accumulation, through bribes, corruption, “grey” and black market operations, hoarding of foreign currency and gold, etc. Hence also the trend towards a growing “symbiosis” with their counterparts in the West, including the establishment of bank accounts in Western banks (especially visible in the “Peoples’ Democracies”).

All this points in the direction of the potential emergence of a “new ruling class” – not a “new one” but a good old capitalist one, based upon private property. But before this process can come to fruition, two formidable obstacles have to be overcome: the resistance of the working class, which would tend to lose in the course of such a restoration that which it values most in the present set-up (in fact, probably the only thing which it values): guaranteed job security, i.e.. the right to work, full employment, and, flowing from that. a much less hectic work tempo than in the West; and the resistance of key sectors of the state apparatus (note the way Tito clamped down upon the Yugoslav “billionaires” in the early seventies, when the danger of “restoration” became real). So to say that a new ruling class exists and rules misreads the real social struggles occurring in these countries. It assumes as already decided in the past a struggle whose outcome is still open.

In the third plate, we would be confronted, likewise for the first time in history, with a “ruling class” representative of a “mode of production” whose “overthrow” would leave the basic economic structure intact. In a well-known passage of volume 3 of Capital, Marx writes that each mode of production is characterized by a specific form of appropriation of the social surplus product. Now in the USSR, the social surplus product is appropriated in a dual form: in the form of use values, inasmuch as it is composed in its major part of additional equipment and raw materials; and in the form of commodities, inasmuch as it is composed in its minor part of luxury goods (and special services) bought by the bureaucracy with its privileged income. But after the overthrow of the bureaucratic dictatorship, this dual form of appropriation of the social surplus product would not change – if only because the Soviet workers will certainly not transform the means of production into commodities (which would mean restoring capitalism!); but they will also be unable to suppress the commodity aspect of the nature of consumer goods rapidly (a new revolution in the USSR would not permit the building of socialism in one country). Likewise, neither the suppression of the private ownership of the means of production, nor centralized planning, nor the state monopoly of foreign trade would be changed by such a revolution (which we therefore prefer to call a political one). If one assembles all these factors, one obviously gets an economic structure which remains basically unchanged.

True, there will be a radical change in the modus operandi of the system. The mass of producers will get a decisive say about what is produced and how it should be produced. Social inequality will be radically reduced. The enormous waste caused by bureaucratic mismanagement will cease. The organization of work and its hierarchical structure will he radically overhauled. But the above- sketched structure itself – the specific form of appropriation of the social surplus product – remains basically the same.

In the fourth place, the hypothesis of the bureaucracy’s being a new ruling class leads to the conclusion that, for the first time in history, we are confronted with a “ruling class” which does not exist as a class before it actually rules. Where does it come from? Sweezy answers: “The new exploiting class develops out of the conditions created by the revolution itself.” But this really begs the question. Serial classes are groups of human beings engaged in specific relations emanating from the process of production (“relations of production”). Social transformations can transform them; but they cannot create them ex nihilo. In reality, a consistent theory of a “new exploiting class” in the Soviet Union only makes sense if one assumes that sectors of the working class (the labor bureaucracy and labor aristocracy) and of the intelligentsia (the petty bourgeoisie and higher state functionaries) were potentially a new ruling class even before they “take power,” i.e., before “the revolution.” [1] But formidable consequences, involving practically all aspects of the contemporary class struggle throughout the world, and a revision of all the constituent elements of Marxist theory, arise from such an assumption. And without that assumption, the notion of a “new ruling class” having arisen “out of the historical process” becomes utterly absurd – after all, the bureaucracy took power; how can a “non-existent” social layer take power? 


The idea that the Soviet bureaucracy (like the trade-union bureaucracy in the West) has not cut its umbilical cord with the working class, and that its specific interests and political decisions can be seen within the framework of that special parasitic-relationship with the proletariat, leads to the conclusion that the class struggle in the capitalist countries continues to be a bi-polar process: capital versus labor (with the bureaucracy operating by and large as “labor lieutenants of capital”).

The idea that the Soviet bureaucracy is a new ruling class and the unavoidable conclusion that the Communist parties not in power can be seen – at least as far as their central apparatuses are concerned – as the nucleus of a potential new exploiting class, implies of necessity the complete revision of that way of looking at the whole of twentieth-century history. The class struggle now becomes a tri-polar affair: “capital versus labor versus the potential new exploiting class.”

This is not simply a question of modifying historical analysis (which in and of itself would already be hair-raising and, at least so far as the evidence we possess is concerned, an impossible task). It has political implications of the greatest and gravest magnitude. We are then left only with the choice between two evils, both of which lead to conclusions which would pit consistent advocates of the theory of a “new exploiting class” squarely against the struggle of the international working class for emancipation. For there are indeed only two possible ways of looking at that alleged new “exploiting class.” Either it is, globally and essentially, progressive compared to the capitalist class, i.e., it stands in the same relation to the bourgeoisie as the bourgeoisie stood toward the semi-feudal aristocracy before and during the bourgeois revolutions. Such a hypothesis would of course be perfectly consistent with a sharp critique of its exploitative character. But it would mean that in all straightforward conflicts between the bourgeoisie and the “potential new class,” one would have to give the same kind of “critical support” to the “new class” which the Communist Manifesto envisages for the revolutionary bourgeoisie. And one would then have to restrict – at least partially, if not completely – anti-bureaucratic struggles of the working class so as not to hinder the victory of the “progressive” bureaucracy over the reactionary bourgeoisie.

The very idea of a socialist revolution and a conquest of power by the working class would become at least questionable. Granted: one could say that decadent capitalism could lead either to socialism or to the establishment of a new class system, progressive compared to capitalism. But in that c ase all victorious revolutions which have occurred up till now would then have to be re-characterized as “bureaucratic revolutions” and not proletarian ones. Then, the allegation that the idea of a direct transition from capitalism to socialism was a utopian conceptual error by Marx and Marxists alike would become rather credible, to say the least.

If the “new ruling class” is progressive compared to capitalism, this would imply that class society, contrary to what Marx thought, had not exhausted its progressive potential with the rise of capitalism; that a new and momentous development of the productive forces – leading in the long run to a broader development of the “social individual,” i.e., of human freedom – was still possible without abolishing class society. Socialism would then become merely a moral preference, not a historical necessity to avoid barbarism and the decline of human civilization.

So, although starting by damning the bureaucracy as new exploiters, bloodsuckers, deadly enemies of the working class and of human freedom, etc., etc. – and, undoubtedly, 99 percent of the real motivation for any self-proclaimed Marxist’s calling the bureaucracy a new ruling class stems from such understandable moral indignation rather than cool scientific analysis – one would paradoxically end up by historically justifying that very same bureaucracy, if not becoming a straightforward apologist for all its crimes.

This is not accidental. Within the conceptual framework of classical Marxism, classes – including ruling classes-are at least at some time of their existence historically inevitable, i.e., necessary instruments of social organization. If the Soviet bureaucracy is a new ruling class, and progressive compared to the bourgeoisie, then the conclusion is unassailable: it has played, at least temporarily, a necessary and progressive role in Soviet society. So, after a long detour, one would end where one started. Granted: the Gulag isn’t so good, the harshest labor code in the world was rather unpalatable, but was there really any choice? After all, Russia had to be industrialized and modernized, and one cannot make an omelet without breaking eggs – one-could only overcome backwardness by barbaric means. Yesterday “we” called that building socialism “by barbaric means.” Today “we” call it building a new class society in advance of capitalism “by barbaric means.” But today, as yesterday, “we” have to “objectively” approve of the bureaucracy – all its despotic crimes notwithstanding – as “historically necessary.” And so on ad nauseam.

That pitfall is easily avoided by the Marxist, i.e., Trotskyist, interpretation of Soviet history and the role of the bureaucracy. Everything which is progressive about the development of Russia. China, etc., is the product of a socialist revolution. Everything which is reactionary is the product of the rule of the bureaucracy. There is no logical intermeshing but a glaring contradiction between the two. This implies that the bureaucracy is not a class but a parasitic cancer on the proletariat’s body: that Soviet society is not a new despotic mode of production, but a society in transition between capitalism and socialism, arrested in its progressive development – bogged down, frozen – by a bureaucratic dictatorship, which has to be overthrown to reopen the road toward socialism.

But if the assumption that the bureaucracy, as a new exploiting ruling class, is a progressive one compared to the bourgeoisie leads to grave conclusions, the assumption that it is reactionary compared to the capitalists has implications ten times worse. It would mean that when confronted with a conflict between the “new class,” or the potential “new class,” and the bourgeoisie, one would have to give critical support to the latter against the former. 


If bourgeois society has not led and does not lead – at least in the foreseeable future – to proletarian revolutions but to “bureaucratic” ones; if in a dozen countries not a workers’ state (be it a heavily bureaucratized one) but a new despotic class society has replaced capitalism, then, obviously, there was something basically wrong with the historical projections and perspectives of Marx and the classical Marxists. Moreover, there was obviously something basically wrong with their social, economic, and political analysis of bourgeois society itself, of the nature of its inner contradictions and especially of the nature of the modern proletariat.

Marx’s concept of socialism – which was shared by nearly all socialists until the late 1920s – was that of a free society of associated producers developed out of the specific economic, social, political, cultural, and even psychological characteristics of the working class (the wage-earning class), sketched in the Communist Manifesto and further refined in the subsequent writings of Marx and Engels on the subject.

If one believes that capitalism could lead to a new class society as well as – or, rather, instead of – socialism, that the working class could itself throw up such a new “exploiting ruling class” rather than lead the process of general human emancipation, then the question arises: Wasn’t that analysis of the revolutionary and liberating potential of the modern working class completely wrong from the start? Not a few theoreticians have gone far in that direction, Baran-Sweezy’s last chapter of Monopoly Capital being one of the first and most notable efforts along that road. Recently, the East German oppositional communist Rudolf Bahro has tarnished his otherwise impressive book The Alternative – by far the most thorough Marxist critique which has come out of a country dominated by the Stalinist bureaucracy since Trotsky’s The Revolution Betrayed – by an even more outspoken and synthetic judgment of this kind: “The proletariat struggles spontaneously only in order to adopt the way of life of the bourgeoisie, at least of the petty bourgeoisie which is nearest to it.” Herbert Marcuse, as one could have expected, of course expresses his enthusiastic agreement with that judgment.

Let us not dwell on the question whether such a rejection of the classical Marxist analysis of the working class – the Western one as well as the Soviet one – does or does not imply that socialism and a classless society have become impossible. The various attempts to find a substitute “revolutionary subject” to replace the modern proletariat – Third World peasants, revolutionary students, the intelligentsia, or even marginalized paupers – fail to take into account what was the main advance that Marx achieved for the socialist movement: that the nature of the society to be created is at least correlated with the social nature, the economic power, the socio-political potential, and the material interests of the “revolutionary subject,” and not to the degree of moral indignation and individual rebellion against the existing order of this or that group of people. One cannot demonstrate how any of the above-mentioned social strata could develop any of the necessary material and social conditions for bringing about a truly classless society to a higher degree than the modern working class. But is it true that 150 years of class struggle of the modern proletariat (leaving aside the hunger revolts of the earliest stages, which Bahro correctly exempts from his analysis and characterization) can be subsumed in the formula of tending “spontaneously ... only to adopt the bourgeois – or petty bourgeois – way of life”?

How blind one must be to the rich, manifold, and passionate history of working-class struggles, where chapters of drab “conformism” stand side by side with chapters of breath-taking capacity of imagination, of dating innovation, of unequaled heroism, t o make such an unwarranted generalization! Were the workers of the Paris Commune, the revolutionary workers of Russia in 1917-21, of Germany in 1918-23, of Spain in 1936-37, of Yugoslavia in 1941-45, of Hungary in October-November 1956, of Cuba in 1959-65, of France in May 1968, of Prague in 1968-69, of Italy in autumn 1969, of Portugal in 1975, of Iran in 1979, just “spontaneously tending to adopt the life-style of the bourgeoisie”? And again: Were the workers of Spain in 1975-76 – where for the first time in history we witnessed, in the face of an intact fascist repressive apparatus, several political regional general strikes for that typical “bourgeois life-style demand,” the defense and liberation of political prisoners – behaving according to Bahro’s precepts? And these are just the most outstanding examples which come to mind. One could add dozens of other examples to this list – quite a few from American working-class history too.

In face of that real picture of working-class struggle over the last century or so, in face of the overwhelming historical evidence, the question. “Why hasn’t there been a victorious socialist revolution in the West?” has to be reformulated in its historically correct way: Why has there not yet been such a victory, in spite of the proletariat’s periodic spontaneous attempts to reconstruct society along socialist lines – attempts which obviously confirm the possibility of such victory? Then the answer has to be looked for in terms of the difficulty of the enterprise, the role of the subjective factor, the need to have a revolutionary leadership, the uneven development of proletarian class consciousness, the role of a deliberate brake played by social democracy first (Germany 1918-19), the Stalinist parties later (Spain 1936-37), i.e., the real historical dialectic of the objective and subjective preconditions for world socialism, which can only come about as a conscious enterprise by a society objectively and materially capable of realizing it. There is no force of this kind in bourgeois society other than the modern proletariat.

Marxists are not religious people. Our conviction about the revolutionary potential of the proletariat is based upon scientific analysis and careful checking of the historical record – not on irrational faith or scholastic syllogisms. If overwhelming historical evidence would show that Marx’s assumptions have been proven wrong, then one would have no choice but to state the truth – in the true spirit of Marx himself who, not only as a witticism, stated that his favorite motto was de omnibus dubitandum.

But we contend that the evidence provided by history so far does not warrant any such hasty generalization. It is both Western capitalism and the dictatorship of the bureaucracy which are in deep and insoluble social crisis today – not Marxism. If one wants to avoid retreating into a simple rationalization or one’s own disappointment with the relative slowness of the historical process, of one’s revulsion against political misleaders, of one’s fatigue and demoralization, then one should keep a sense of proportion and say: let us wait and see how the workers will fight the next few decades, nay half-century. And let us not wait passively but do what we can to ensure that these workers’ struggles end in victorious socialist revolution, before drawing premature balance-sheets and before barbarism takes over.

We are back where we started, but with a vengeance. Yes, the question of whether the Soviet bureaucracy is a new ruling class is directly linked with the question of the future of world revolution and, therefore, the future of humanity. It is likewise directly related to the question of the revolutionary socialist potential of the working class, to the very possibility of socialism, i.e., to scientific socialism as such. For these questions are at the very center of Marx’s analysis and of the “Marxist system.” And there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that this system is no longer as solid and firmly based as it ever was.


1. The bureaucracy’s taking of power does not simply “develop out of the conditions created by the revolution itself” – a statement which avoids taking a stand on the concrete political struggles which occurred during the twenties in the USSR! It develops out of a victorious political counter-revolution (a “counter-revolution within the revolution,” if one wishes, the classical precedent being the Thermidor during the French Revolution). In light of that fact, Sweezy does the Left Opposition a serious injustice in not mentioning that it started as early as 1923 – perhaps a couple of years too late, granted – a consistent struggle for Soviet democracy and increased political rights for the working class.


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