MIA: History: ETOL: Document: Workers Party/Independent Socialist League: Neither Capitalism nor Socialism

Workers Party/Independent Socialist League

E. Haberkern & Arthur Lipow (eds.)

Neither Capitalism nor Socialism


Yvan Craipeau

The Fourth International and
the Russian Counter-Revolution


Neither Capitalism nor Socialism, pp. 25–39.
Quatrième Internationale, 1937


For many long years now, the Russian proletariat has lost any hope of political power, any control over the economy, any right to organization and expression, both in the Stalinist party and in the trade unions and soviets. In fact the latter have just been juridically liquidated by the new constitution, which officially puts an end to the dictatorship of the proletariat. Thus, under the pretext that the USSR has become a “classless society,” the dictatorship of the proletariat – which in fact was no longer anything but a juridical fiction – is replaced by the plebiscite of the bureaucracy, by the “whole people,” including the priests, the czarist police, the speculators and the rich peasants. But at the same time, in “the most democratic state in the world,” the terror is intensified over the proletarians, on whom the internal passport is imposed, as in the czar’s time, and who are sent to concentration camps on any suspicion. And the GPU deports, and shoots as “Trotskyists,” tens of thousands of revolutionary workers, plus the entire old Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party.

As for Soviet society, it is developing in such a way as to give reassurance and enthusiasm to the worst bourgeois, like Mercier and the Croix de Feu deputy Robbe [5]; the army is readopting the external forms of the czarist army with its marshals and Cossacks: the soldier is being inculcated with the most vulgar nationalism. The factory is oppressed under the whip of the Stakhanovists and of piecework, spied on by an army of informers. Divorce is forbidden, the family and bourgeois morals reinstated in good standing; religion is encouraged, private property restored; inheritance re-established; inequality growing, while the school children, who have been put back in uniform as in the czar’s time, are taught to be faithful and loyal subjects.

Social differentiation has reached unprecedented proportions (70 rubles up to 10,000). It has become stabilized. The new aristocracy now can wallow in expensive luxuries, amass fortunes, acquire fixed property, accumulate and pass on its wealth. Besides, today the Stalinist oligarchy has a collective, but exclusive, control over production, hiring and firing of labor, and the division of capital and surplus value.

Thus, it is for the benefit of this new class of exploiters, and through it, that the Russian reaction is carried on. Yet comrade Trotsky and the International continue to deny a specific class character to the ruling Russian oligarchy, and to portray them as an excrescence on the dictatorship of the proletariat, as badly trained functionaries who appropriate too great a proportion of the surplus value. Trotsky asks: take the functionaries of reformist trade unions or English clergymen, who swallow up a huge portion of the surplus value – do they however constitute an independent class?

Always and under all regimes, the bureaucracy absorbs a rather large part of the surplus value. It would be interesting to calculate, for example, how much of the national revenue is eaten up in Italy and Germany by the fascist locusts. But this fact is entirely insufficient to transform the fascist bureaucracy into an independent ruling class. It is an agent of the bourgeoisie. What has just been said can be applied also to the Stalinist bureaucracy. (The 4th International and the USSR) [6]

But in The Revolution Betrayed Trotsky himself gives a decisive rejoinder:

“One cannot deny that it [the bureaucracy] is something more than a simple bureaucracy; the very fact that it has taken power in a country where the most important means of production belong to the state creates entirely the new relations between it and the nation’s wealth. The means of production belong to the state; the state in some respect belongs to the bureaucracy.”

And that is the key to the enigma. Jouhaux, Citrine and Green (not to mention the English clergymen) have no economic power. They get fat on the crumbs dropped by the bosses, but only their masters, the bosses, dispose of the surplus value. One can say almost the same about the fascist servants of capital, even though the latter, controlling as they do a huge police apparatus, can at times give trouble to their masters. But it is an entirely different matter with the “Soviet bureaucrats.” They hold in their hands all the levers of the national economy, all the means of production. All this is a long distance away from simple parasites or English clergymen.

“The clergy of the Middle Ages were a class,” writes Trotsky, “to the extent that its rule rested on a definite system of landed property and serfdom.” [7] Precisely this is the difference between American clergymen who live by collecting money from Christian simpletons, and the class of the medieval clergy who lived by exploiting the labor of the Christians themselves. In other words: “Classes are defined by their place in the social economy and, above all, by their relation to the means of production.” [8] Today comrade Trotsky recognizes that in the USSR the means of production belong to the state and the state belongs to the bureaucracy. Thus the rule of the ruling Russian oligarchy does not depend only on the fact “that it has Rolls Royces at its disposal,” but on the fact that it has unqualified control of the means of production, capital, and surplus value. That is what makes it the ruling class of the Russian society.

The Film of the Stalinist Counter-Revolution

Comrade Trotsky senses that this means the definitive suppression of the conquests of the proletarian revolution. He tries to put off the day of reckoning: “If these relations became stabilized, legalized, normalized without resistance or against the resistance of the workers, they will end with the complete liquidation of the conquests of the proletarian revolution.” [9] Thus comrade Trotsky envisages (in the future) the possibility of a transition without military intervention from the workers’ state to a capitalist state. In 1933 that was called unreeling the film of reformism backwards. Well, now the same film can be unreeled “without resistance by the workers” and they don’t even have to change anything essential at bottom in the relations of production and wealth. It would be enough if the existing relations became stabilized, legalized and normalized!

The International theses of July 1936 explain that it is the new constitution which permits gradual transition to “the economic counter-revolution, that is to say, to the reintroduction of capitalism by the dry route.” All that by the power of a new constitution! Marxist language, on the contrary, says that a new Stalinist constitution only reflects “the dictatorship of the privileged strata of Soviet society over the working masses,” that is, the economic counter-revolution which has dispossessed the proletariat for the benefit of the ruling oligarchy.

And this Stalinist counter-revolution is far from having triumphed “by the dry route.” The Stalinist oligarchy had to have recourse to a surgical operation in order to subdue working-class resistance. They have temporarily broken the advanced workers through deportations, jail, prison camps, and shootings. Does it follow that the counter-revolution has been carried out without the aid of thousands of executions and hundreds of thousands of deportations, that is, without a large-scale class collision? That depends on the extreme exhaustion of the Russian proletariat, who have been deceived, divided, demoralized, terrorized; on the tight solidarity of the ruling oligarchy; on the privileged strata on which they base themselves; on the international counter-revolution, and on the support of world capitalism.

[Next Craipeau replies to some Majority arguments: The fact that the oligarchy hides its revenues and conceals its true social physiognomy like every ruling class, this only shows its class consciousness. It constitutes a class which is not as closed as the ruling class of the old capitalist countries. The frequency of “accidents” in the career of bureaucrats does not at all stand in the way of their constituting a class, any more than “accidents” to individual capitalists stand in the way of the existence of the capitalist class. The bureaucrats can as yet transmit his “right” to exploit the state only indirectly, thanks to nepotism. It is probable that one day he will obtain the right to transmit it directly by inheritance. Besides, it is not the title-deeds to property that count:]

Ownership is control. The bureaucracy – as a collectivity – has unqualified control over all the means of production, all the accumulated capital, and it freely divides up the surplus value. As a collectivity, obviously; for just as the big stockholders and boards of directors are really the only ones who have a voice in running business, to the exclusion of the small and middle-sized stockholders, so also the right to unchecked control over the means of production becomes smaller and smaller the further one gets from the bureaucratic summits.

Let us come to this conclusion: even if it were established that the new masters were willing to have their rights over the means of production sanctioned directly by an official transferable and negotiable document, it is very clear that by the presence or absence of such a notarized writ in their strong-boxes can change nothing in the real class relations. Then it follows that they have exclusive control over the means of production, over hiring and firing, the wages of labor, over the division of capital and surplus value. No notarized writ will have the validity of this essential fact written down by comrade Trotsky:

“All the means of production belong to the state, and the state belongs in some respect to the bureaucracy.”

The Planned Economy

[Can such a state be called a workers’ state? The Bolshevik-Leninist theses [10] continue to say yes, though not without reservations and a certain reticence. To the end they base themselves on one argument: the existence of a planned economy. But the class character of a state is not defined by the existence of an economic plan. The USSR was indisputably a proletarian state at a time when the economic plan did not yet exist. In a pinch, one could conceive of the nationalization of a whole economy by a bourgeois state without anything being changed in the nature of the state (see the analysis by Engels in Anti-Duehring [11]). Planned economy is proletarian only if the proletariat is its master and if it is oriented toward socialism.

Nowadays, many capitalist states strive to resolve their contradictions by putting economic plans into effect. However, these plans are nothing but partial and timid ones, fettered by private property in the means of production. Therefore the Minority reporter makes note of the important difference between the role of the fascist bureaucracy, which is a lackey of finance capital, and the Russian oligarchy, which is its own master:]

Historically, the fascist bureaucracy uses the police power to save the regime of private property and to maintain capitalist anarchy by curbing it. Historically, the Russian oligarchy inherited a planned economy, which gives it, as the ruling class, unprecedented powers over the exploitation of labor, but which likewise will facilitate the exercise of economic power by the proletariat. The Russian economy is neither working-class, nor socialist, but rather economically progressive.

Russia and the Trade Unions

[The minority report next criticizes the comparison of the Russian state with a trade union:]

“The Soviet union,” the Majority theses go on to say, “can be called a workers’ state in nearly the same sense – in spite of the enormous difference in scale – that a trade union which is led and betrayed by opportunists, i.e. by agents of capital, can be called a workers’ organization.” An astonishing comparison!

A workers’ trade union in a capitalist regime is a combination of exploited working men for the purpose of reducing their rate of exploitation, particularly in order to raise their wages and thus decrease the surplus value which remains in the hands of the ruling class. The bourgeoisie succeeds in corrupting the leadership of the unions and of putting its own agents in. The result is that such unions – which have bourgeois agents at their head – inadequately fulfill their task as against the ruling class. While struggling to put in charge a proletarian leadership which will not betray, revolutionaries obviously struggle to safeguard the existence of these workers’ organizations (even though inadequate) whose aim is to reduce the rate of exploitation of the workers. And how is it in Russia? The bureaucracy itself holds all the means of production, itself divides up the capital and the surplus value without any other control, itself determines the rate of exploitation of the workers in its own interest (the theses of the International conference). Nothing that resembles a combination of workers to reduce their rate of exploitation. The comparison comes down to comparing a trade union with a trust! It seems that there is an “enormous difference in scale” between them. Indeed, what “scale” could lead from one to the other? And it is on such images – a simple play on words on the term “bureaucracy” – that the “working class” character of the USSR rests!

The Russian State is no Longer a Workers’ State

Thus it is that the formal property relations remain those that were created by the proletarian revolution, while the real property has passed into the hands of the Russian oligarchy. The latter use it in their own interests and in the interests of the new privileged strata, to the exclusion of proletarian interests. To proclaim that this state which is in their hands is a “workers’ state” is like proclaiming that Hitler’s state is “democratic” simply because it has largely retained “the form” of the Weimar constitution, the shadow of a Reichstag, and the illusion of the secret ballot. We ourselves prefer the definition given in April 1930 by Rakovsky (then leader in the USSR of the Bolshevik-Leninist opposition) together with Kossior, Muralov, and Kasparova.

“From being a proletarian state with bureaucratic deformations, as Lenin defined the political form of our state, we are developing into a bureaucratic state with proletarian Communist survivals. Before our eyes there has been formed, and is forming, a large class of rulers with growing internal subdivisions, multiplying through partisan co-optation, through direct or indirect appointment (bureaucratic promotions, fictitious electoral system). As the supporting basis of this peculiar class, one finds a kind – a peculiar kind – of private property, namely, the possession of state power. The ‘bureaucracy’ possess the state as its private property, said Marx.” [12]

We are told that “the workers will not have to make a social revolution in the USSR, that they will only have to give the existing organizations new life and democracy.” Let us be clear about this. It is true that in Russia there still remains a part of the old framework of the workers’ state: monopoly of foreign trade, planned economy, collective (oligarchic) character of the division of capital and surplus value, as well as certain social conquests (regarding hygiene, urban development, protection of children and maternity), although more and more these conquests have been monopolized by the ruling oligarchy (see Yvan and Trotsky). From this one can conclude that when the Fourth International takes power in the USSR, its job will be facilitated by the USSR’s economic structure, which is progressive in relation to the capitalist countries.

But does this mean that this seizure of power will not be a social revolution? Suppose, for example, that the workers of a big capitalist trust take over their factories, or indeed that these French railway workers take over the (nationalized) railways: they will be satisfied to replace the board of directors (representatives of the stockholders’ oligarchy) by representatives of the workers. It is possible they will keep a part of the personnel of superintendence. The overturn will consist in this: instead of the division of capital and surplus value being carried out by the stockholders’ oligarchy and in their interests, this division will henceforward be carried out under the effective control of the workers and in their interests.

On the national plane, it is a revolution of this order that the Russian workers will make. They will tear out of the hands of the ruling oligarchy the management of the factories, of the trusts, of the planned economy; they will carry on this management no longer in the interests of the oligarchy, but in their own interest. They will decide themselves (through their representatives) the division of capital: the part assigned to the producers, to the employees, to the renewal of fixed capital, etc. It will be up to them to rebuild the proletarian social order by smashing the social order which the Stalinist oligarchy built up little by little, by abolishing the privileges, the new private property, inheritance, the reactionary laws on the family, divorce, army ranks, the cult of nationalism, etc.

In spite of the deceptive Soviet labels (many of which, anyway, have now been liquidated even on paper), it will be up to them to make a complete reconquest of political power by smashing the state cadres of the Stalinist bureaucracy, which they will be able to sweep out only by the armed insurrection of the proletariat. It seems that the “defense of the conquests of October” is, in reality, their reconquest, and necessarily leads through the proletarian revolution in Russia. To refuse to give the name of social revolution to this proletarian revolution comes under the head of casuistry.

Defense of the USSR?

[Next Craipeau passes on to the question of the defense of the USSR. There can be no question about the solidarity of the international proletariat with the USSR, as the advance bastion of the Proletarian Revolution, in attack as in defenseEH: ]

For us, who see in the USSR a new form of the exploitation of man by man, it is obviously impossible for us to consider Voroshilov’s victories as equivalent to victories of the World Revolution.

Besides, even the Majorityites justify the defense of the USSR not as the “socialist fatherland,” but (a) because its economy is progressive; (b) because the defeat of the USSR would mean the return of private property and capitalism; (c) because only the world revolution can be a faithful ally of the USSR; (d) through the comparison with the reformist trade unions.

To this the Minority reporter replies: (a) A progressive economy defends itself by itself, as is shown by all the examples from the past (the restoration of 1814–15 in France, the annexation of Finland etc.).

... If the present economy of Russia is progressive in relation to the economy of individual capitalism – even if we admit a bourgeois military victory – capitalism would no longer move to push this economy back to a more backward stage, indeed one which it is itself striving to transcend. The absolute retardation in the output of Russian production would, besides not permit the Russian ruling class to resist international finance capital. And what we would see would be, not a return to individual capitalism, but the colonization of the statified industry by the finance capital of the imperialist countries. Let us take a concrete look at the problem: the Italian and especially the German capitalists see in Russia, above all, an inexhaustible reserve of raw materials which they lack (oil, minerals, etc.), as well as an immense outlet for their manufactured products and their machines, mainly with an eye to the exploitation of the raw-materials resources. Imagine a German victory (or a French victory, for that matter). If Russian planned economy establishes its economic superiority, then finance capital, which already holds the upper hand in Germany, will obviously refuse to dismantle it in order to introduce a more backward system which will lessen the profit on capital. In the same way that a business man would refuse to dismantle his machines in order to replace them with older machines. German finances capital will make itself master (militarily or economically) of the whole state machine, will transform the bureaucrats into its employees, and will turn the state production to its own profit. The surplus value will go to new masters with different modes of division, but the statified and planned industry will remain in existence. Thus once more this law will be confirmed: a more advanced economy defends itself by itself ...

... But, it is said, wouldn’t defeat mean the triumph of the bourgeoisie and even, without doubt, the triumph of its fascist wing? The same fallacious reasoning is used against revolutionary defeatism in general and its Bolshevik Leninist protagonists, by the Comintern: “the defeat of democratic France would mean the victory of fascism.” Which means: if the workers are bound up with the defeat of bourgeois democracy, the victors can only be the fascists. But the point is: the defeat of our bourgeois has a progressive meaning for us only if it is bound up with international revolutionary action for proletarian victory. Same thing in Russia: revolutionary defeatism is no more bound up with the victory of capitalism in Russia than with the victory of fascism in France and Germany. In proportion as the political and economic power of the ruling oligarchy weakens, the workers will begin to rise up. Without doubt, a part of the peasants – maintaining the tradition of individual property – will welcome the invader as the liberator who will re-establish individual in the fields. But the other part of the peasants – for whom collectivization means tractors – will join the workers in order to re-establish the workers’ and peasants’ power. As for the bureaucracy, it is possible that one part of them will try to prolong their rule by a compromise with the workers, while the other part will try to sell themselves to the foreign capitalism as their functionaries.

The USSR and World Imperialism

[Finally, Craipeau brings up the international role of the USSR: an integral part of the system of imperialist alliances and one of the principal counter-revolutionary factorsEH:]

... They have, a long time ago, even rejected the cast-off clothing of bourgeois pacifism, disarmament and the petty-bourgeois tinsel of the Briand-Kellog type. They still talk about peace, no doubt, as do Eden, Blum, Hitler and Mussolini. But at the same time they push the frightened democratic governments – especially England, made timid by its slowness in rearming – to oppose their own audacity to the audacity of the Berlin-Rome axis; they push these governments to understand that delays can only accentuate the disintegration, of the Versailles bloc and that it is necessary to take advantage of the opportunities without being afraid of war. It is necessary for them to prepare the allies for war materially and morally: they order their lackeys to [attack] pacifism in the allied countries, to sound the chauvinist note, to destroy all class struggle in the name of “Union of the whole nation” against the foreign menace. They strive to unleash an arms race in the Allied countries, to multiply General Staff conferences, to seal new military alliances and to strengthen existing alliances. It is in this sense that they have rendered serious aid (often underestimated by us) to the Spanish government: on the sole condition that they keep Spain under the capitalist regime and crush attempts at proletarian revolution. With them it is a matter of keeping a strong military place of the first importance for the French-Russian-English coalition.

In this systematic work of Sacred Union, the Stalinists run into two enemies: a conjunctural enemy, fascism, which would prefer most often to avoid the Russian alliance but which, it may be hoped, can be brought back into the straight and narrow path: and an irreconcilable enemy, the revolutionary “Trotskyists,” proletarian defeatists. Since the latter are irreconcilable, the only way to settle matters with them is violence. It is therefore significant that the USSR takes the lead in the bloody repression against “Trotskyism, agent of Germany and Japan.” Under these conditions, one can understand the danger of the “unconditional defense of the USSR.” The question is all the more serious since our theses on war explain our defeatism by the necessity to denounce our capitalist government, allied to the USSR, as a perfidious ally that will betray the USSR, which we have to replace with a workers’ state, the only faithful ally of the USSR. The Russian counter-revolution itself gives us a scathing reply: it supplies arms, planes and officers to the Spanish government on the sole condition that it maintain capitalism and destroy the working-class opposition (POUM, FAI, etc.). [13] Whether we like it or not, the faithful allies of the USSR (that is, of the Russian counter-revolution) are imperialism, and only its lackeys can be for “unconditional defense of the USSR.”

Given this tight solidarity between today’s Russia and imperialism and its decisive role in the imperialist conflict, the solidarity of the world proletariat with the Russian state could not but find itself in perpetual contradiction with its revolutionary action in its own country (just the contrary of what happens in the case of solidarity with a proletarian state or with a country oppressed by imperialism). Under these conditions all equivocation is a grave danger. That is why the theses presented to the conference have this conclusion:

To the slogan of the defense of the USSR it is necessary to counterpose revolutionary defeatism by the Fourth International and fraternization with the Soviet revolutionaries.



5. The reference is to a right wing French politician and a right wing French political organization. This article was written at a time when the French government was allied with Russia. It was the first Western power to do so. For a memoir of this period which describes the blow delivered by the Stalin-Laval pact to the reawakened French labor movement see Daniel Guerin Front Populaire, revolution manquée (Paris, René Julliard 1963).

6. This citation is not accurate. It actually appears in The Class Nature of the Soviet State, Lanka Samasamaja Publications (Ceylon, 1952), p. 12.

7. Ibid., p. 13.

8. Leon Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, p. 280.

9. Ibid., p. 249.

10. “Bolshevik-Leninist” was the term used by the adherents of Trotsky to describe themselves.

11. See Frederick Engels, Herr Eugen Dühring’s Revolution in Science, Marxist Library Vol. XVIII (International Publishers, New York). Craipeau is probably referring to the discussion of the role of the state in Part III, Section II.

12. Christian Rakovsky, Declaration of the Bolshevik-Leninist Opposition at the Central Committee and to all Party Members, Biulleten Oppozitsii, No. 1718, pp. 11–19. This quote can be found on page 16. An English translation of this declaration, which omits this passage, and curiously enough only this passage, can be found in Christian Rakovsky, Selected Writings on Opposition in the USSR 1923–1930, edited by Gus Fagan (Allison & Busby Limited, London 1980).

13. See Burnett Bolleton, The Spanish Revolution (The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1979) for the most thorough description of this process. The FAI was the Federacion Anarquista Iberica (Spanish Anarchist Federation), the anarchist non-party which was organized on totalitarian lines and functioned as a disciplined caucus inside the Confederacion Nacional de Trabajo (National Federation of Labor) one of two major labor federations. The POUM was the Partido Obrera de Unification Marxista (Workers’ Party of Marxist Unity), which was an amalgamation of a number of communist opposition groups.

Neither of these two groups acted as, or thought of themselves as, an alternative to the Popular Front government even though they protested its attempt to role back the revolutionary movement that rose to defend the Republic against Franco’s insurrection. Hence, the quotes around the word trotskyist. Trotsky’s insistence on an open political break with the Popular Front government was accepted by a very small minority of militants.

Last updated on 8 November 2020