Stalinism by Christopher Pickering

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Lenin and Trotsky both tried to stop Stalin. But Lenin was ill and Trotsky didn’t push hard enough when he could have.

Inherent in all this an apparent contradiction (or at least a problem) with revolutions. Those that you knock out of power are often the same people that know how the system works, the ones that keep the factories going and the electricity on. They are the ones that run things on a day to day basis. Push them out and things might stop functioning smoothly. Venezuela had this happen recently when they nationalized the oil companies and fired most of those who ran them. Production dropped 20%.

Those you want to push out of power might also be the same folks you need to run things. How do you keep that same strata, those who run things in a society, from forming a self-perpetuating class beholden mainly to itself? The USSR under Stalin had a ruling class with power capitalists could only dream of having, with no institutionalized checks and balances either. Then the horrors began.

Tip: LeftClick


  1. Actually the presentation doesn’t call the bureaucracy in the Soviet Union a class –although some on the left have preferred that classification.

    Trotsky’s traditional analysis held up I think when he called it a “bureaucratic caste” (see Trotsky’s The Revolution Betrayed).

    This isn’t semantics because if you consider states like Cuba and you want to wonder where the threats to that revolutionary process may emanate from you do indeed face two challenges:

    (1) A capitalist restoration which would indeed mean the return of a ruling class — a bourgeoisie — and everything that entails. In Cuba that would entail a violent overthrow of the revolution and probably an invasion. (Essentially this was what the Nazi war ion Russia was all about during the second World War.) But today there is no capitalist class in Cuba.

    (2)A reaction where the bureaucracy gained the upper hand and began to run the state as its own fiefdom without recourse to Peoples Democracy. (This is the sort of process that unfolded in the USSR).

    What we are seeing in Russia at the moment is a return to capitalist economic relations and a consolidation of a capitalist ruling class. That process is well advanced I think.

    In China over the past 20 years especially the bureaucracy — which was always in the drivers seat — has been converting itself into a “ruling class’ by ushering in capitalist mode of production.

    If Russia was ruled by a ruling class from the early 1920s then the revolution spent itself rather quickly and you’ll find those who believe that, also insist that in Cuba that process has been bad — indeed worthless — since day one.

    So you then have to explain Cuba away as some form of hybrid capitalism — a “state capitalism” — these last 50 years.

    So you need to watch your language because a class has certain attributes and a particular context. I may have been screwed over by my union’s bureaucracy but they are nonetheless in the same “class” as I. On the other hand Rubert Murdoch is in a very different class than I and there are no Rubert Murdoch’s in Cuba but there are his kin in China today.

    Similarly there were no Rupert Murdochs in the USSR between1917 and until the early 1990s. There was oppression and stuff — and income differentials — but a ruling class wasn’t behind it: a self interest, self serving bureaucracy was. And that bureaucracy didn’t own a lot of stuff in the same way that Bill Gates does. Rupert Murdoch got his lift up in life because he inherited the family’s media empire. In the old USSR that wasn’t possible because of state ownership and control and you could not hand on to your offspring a segment of the country’s capital as their birthright

  2. But they could hand their offspring or friends important contacts and introductions to the right people that would insure their success, which is a kind of inheritance. And while their dachas might have technically been owned by the state, they had use of them.

    As Mayor Daley the first of Chicago once said, money doesn’t guarantee power, but power does guarantee money.

    Class is such a malleable term that even leftists use it in different contexts. The proletariat doesn’t own the means of production but a union local leader making $250,000 a year in the US, most would say, is in a different class than the guy in the local making $35,000.

    As I’ve mentioned before, maybe the Left needs to redefine or clarify what it means by class. Especially in the states where just mentioning class can end the conversation.

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