Workers need state power that
fights bureaucracy, dies away
(Books of the Month column)
The Revolution Betrayed: What is the Soviet Union and Where Is It Going? is one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for June. In the excerpt printed here, author Leon Trotsky takes up the challenges facing the victorious October 1917 proletarian revolution in Russia in consolidating a state power of a very different kind, one that represented the political power of the toiling majority that would advance the struggle for world socialism and lay the basis for its own withering away. But with the victory of the Stalinist counterrevolution the opposite happened. Workers were pushed out of politics and the state apparatus was reinforced and expanded to serve the interests of a privileged bureaucracy. Copyright © 1937 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.
BY LEON TROTSKY
Lenin, following Marx and Engels, saw the first distinguishing feature of the proletarian revolution in the fact that, having expropriated the exploiters, it would abolish the necessity of a bureaucratic apparatus raised above society — and above all, a police and standing army. “The proletariat needs a state — this all the opportunists can tell you,” wrote Lenin in 1917, two months before the seizure of power, “but they, the opportunists, forget to add that the proletariat needs only a dying state — that is, a state constructed in such a way that it immediately begins to die away and cannot help dying away.” (State and Revolution.) This criticism was directed at the time against reformist socialists of the type of the Russian Mensheviks, British Fabians, etc. It now attacks with redoubled force the Soviet idolators with their cult of a bureaucratic state which has not the slightest intention of “dying away.”
The social demand for a bureaucracy arises in all those situations where sharp antagonisms require to be “softened”, “adjusted”, “regulated” (always in the interests of the privileged, the possessors, and always to the advantage of the bureaucracy itself). Throughout all bourgeois revolutions, therefore, no matter how democratic, there has occurred a reinforcement and perfecting of the bureaucratic apparatus. “Officialdom and the standing army —” writes Lenin, “that is a ‘parasite’ on the body of bourgeois society, a parasite created by the inner contradictions which tear this society, yet nothing but a parasite stopping up the living pores.”
Beginning with 1917 — that is, from the moment when the conquest of power confronted the party as a practical problem — Lenin was continually occupied with the thought of liquidating this “parasite.” After the overthrow of the exploiting classes — he repeats and explains in every chapter ofState and Revolution — the proletariat will shatter the old bureaucratic machine and create its own apparatus out of employees and workers. And it will take measures against their turning into bureaucrats — “measures analyzed in detail by Marx and Engels: (1) not only election but recall at any time; (2) payment no higher than the wages of a worker; (3) immediate transition to a regime in which all will fulfill the functions of control and supervision so that all may for a time become ‘bureaucrats’, and therefore nobody can become a bureaucrat.” You must not think that Lenin was talking about the problems of a decade. No, this was the first step with which “we should and must begin upon achieving a proletarian revolution.”
This same bold view of the state in a proletarian dictatorship found finished expression a year and a half after the conquest of power in the program of the Bolshevik party, including its section on the army. A strong state, but without mandarins; armed power, but without the Samurai! It is not the tasks of defense which create a military and state bureaucracy, but the class structure of society carried over into the organization of defense. The army is only a copy of the social relations. The struggle against foreign danger necessitates, of course, in the workers’ state as in others, a specialized military technical organization, but in no case a privileged officer caste. The party program demands a replacement of the standing army by an armed people.
The regime of proletarian dictatorship from its very beginning thus ceases to be a “state” in the old sense of the word — a special apparatus, that is, for holding in subjection the majority of the people. The material power, together with the weapons, goes over directly and immediately into the hands of workers’ organizations such as the soviets. The state as a bureaucratic apparatus begins to die away the first day of the proletarian dictatorship. Such is the voice of the party program — not voided to this day. Strange: it sounds like a spectral voice from the mausoleum.
However you may interpret the nature of the present Soviet state, one thing is indubitable: at the end of its second decade of existence, it has not only not died away, but not begun to “die away.” Worse than that, it has grown into a hitherto unheard of apparatus of compulsion. The bureaucracy not only has not disappeared, yielding its place to the masses, but has turned into an uncontrolled force dominating the masses. The army not only has not been replaced by an armed people, but has given birth to a privileged officers’ caste, crowned with marshals, while the people, “the armed bearers of the dictatorship,” are now forbidden in the Soviet Union to carry even nonexplosive weapons. With the utmost stretch of fancy it would be difficult to imagine a contrast more striking than that which exists between the schema of the workers’ state according to Marx, Engels and Lenin, and the actual state now headed by Stalin. While continuing to publish the works of Lenin (to be sure, with excerpts and distortions by the censor), the present leaders of the Soviet Union and their ideological representatives do not even raise the question of the causes of such a crying divergence between program and reality. We will try to do this for them.
The proletarian dictatorship is a bridge between the bourgeois and the socialist society. In its very essence, therefore, it bears a temporary character. An incidental but very essential task of the state which realizes the dictatorship consists in preparing for its own dissolution.