Ishall concentrate on a single, contemporary example: the emergence in the ussr of the ideological monstrosity of ‘socialism in one country’. A critical investigation will show: 1. that the slogan was a product of conflicts within the leadership; 2. that beyond these conflicts, the slogan represented contradictions and transformations in Soviet society as a whole; 3. that inasmuch as it survived, it produced other verbal forms which supplemented and corrected it—which enriched both knowledge and practice, transcending the monstrosity and changing it into a truth. Obviously we cannot go into the extraordinarily complex conflicts which divided the Soviet leadership after Lenin’s death; still less can we embark on a dialectical interpretation of them. We are simply taking an example, and looking at it not for itself but for the lessons we can learn from it.

Trotsky understood the situation in the ussr in those difficult years as well as Stalin did. He had once believed that there would be revolutions in Germany and other bourgeois democracies, and that the internationalization of workers’ power would rapidly alter the conditions of the problem in Russia; but events had proved him wrong. He knew as well as Stalin that the European workers’ movements were temporarily on the wane. For both of them, the ussr was in mortal danger: alone, surrounded by strong and hostile powers, it had to either make immense sacrifices in order to expand its military and industrial potential, or resign itself to extinction. We need only add that the circumstances determining their earlier activities had made the émigré Trotsky more aware of foreign revolutionary movements, while Stalin—who had practically never left Russia—was more ignorant and suspicious of Europe. However, Stalin did not claim that a communist system could be built in the ussr unless it was at the same time established in the rest of the world.

Thus it appears that the two leaders and the factions they represented might have agreed on a minimum programme, as necessitated by the situation itself. This would have involved starting immediately to build the new society, without for the time being any expectation of help from outside; and sustaining the revolutionary enthusiasm of the masses by making them conscious of the direction in which construction would proceed—that is, by offering them a future. The Russian people had to be told both ‘we must survive and we can construct’, and ‘we shall survive by constructing’. But these very simple exigencies did not imply that the construction of a powerful Russia—on the twin basis of industry and arms—would get beyond what might be called a pre-socialist stage. The working class would appropriate the means of labour, and industrialization would be accompanied by a progressive installation of the structures and cadres necessary for the establishment of a truly socialist society when revolutions took place elsewhere in the world. It would, moveover, have been possible for Stalin and Trotsky to agree on another point: poverty cannot be socialized, so—under threat from abroad—it was necessary to enter into the difficult phase of pre-socialist accumulation. And, of course, Trotsky was the first to insist on the necessity of total commitment to a policy of collectivization and industrialization.

The same pressures and objective exigencies were recognized by both men: for both of them, the praxis of the revolution in the ussr had to be both defensive and constructive, and its withdrawal into itself would last as long as the circumstances which imposed it.footnote1 It was in other fields that conflicts arose. The two men represented two contradictory aspects of the struggle that the revolutionaries had waged in the past against Tsarism. Trotsky, though a remarkable man of action when circumstances required it, was primarily a theorist, an intellectual. Even in action he remained an intellectual, which means that he always favoured a radical course. Such a structure of practice is perfectly valid provided it is adapted to circumstances: otherwise Trotsky would not have been able to organize the army and win the war. The basic factor was emigration. The revolutionaries in exile did not really lose contact with the Russian masses; nevertheless, for a time they had closer links with the Western workers’ parties. The internationalism of the revolutionary movement was simply the reality of their experience; Marxism, both as theory and as practice, presented itself to them in its universality. Universalism and radicalism were, so to speak, the manner in which Trotsky interiorized his exposure to the West and his exile itself—which tended to make him, like other émigrés, into an abstract, universal man. The theory of permanènt revolution was simply a formulation of these interiorized features in terms of the language of Marxism; in this sense, it was genuinely Marxist. The only thing which came from Trotsky—but it was all-important—was the urgent power which these theses acquired in his writings. In a single dialectical movement, the revolution had to drive deeper and deeper, transcending its own objectives (radicalization); it had to spread progressively throughout the world (universalization). Up to 1917, this meant that the proletarian revolution would take place in a highly industrialized European country. So, of course, these ‘Westernized’ revolutionaries were dazed when circumstances led them to take power in an underdeveloped country: they hesitated, and contemplated creating transitional forms, until circumstances forced them to press forward.

Stalin, in contrast, always represented an intermediary between the émigré leaders and the Russian masses. His task was to adapt the instructions of the former to the concrete situation and the actual people who were going to do the work. He was on the side of these people; he knew the Russian masses and, before 1914, did not conceal his somewhat contemptuous mistrust of the émigré circles, almost without exception. The history of his conflicts with them after 1905 throws light on what might be called his practical particularism. For him, the problem was one of carrying out orders with the means at hand; he knew what these means were, and in his opinion the émigrés did not. For him, Marxism was a guide to tactics, rather like Clausewitz’s On War; he had neither the education nor the time to appreciate its theoretical side. Though he admired Lenin, he was horrified when the latter wrote Materialism and Empiriocriticism, regarding it as a waste of time. In this sense, although he talked about the universality of Marxism, he never grasped it. It was incarnated by him in a praxis that was always individualized by the circumstances in which it occurred (Tsarism; rapid industrialization combined with tremendous backwardness in relation to the West; foreign capital; a new proletariat which, though growing in numbers, was still weak; a bourgeoisie which was practically non-existent, or made up of ‘compradors’; the overwhelming numerical superiority of the peasant class; the political power of the landowners).footnote2 These circumstances had two aspects. On the one hand, they required a constant adaptation of precepts forged in proletarian struggles against capitalists in the Western democracies. On the other hand, to those fighting day in and day out and exploiting them for their own actions they revealed that—contrary to the expectations of the émigrés and contrary to the letter of Marxism—agricultural Russia was ripe for a workers’ Revolution.