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.

What divided the two men, therefore, was the practical schemata through which they perceived particular situations, rather than any abstract principles or even any programme. In each of them, praxis constituted itself as a kind of voluntarism. But Stalin, having been a militant for twenty years, was an opportunist with an iron fist. It was not that he had no precise objectives; but his objectives were already incarnated. The supreme necessity was to preserve what had been done, and this meant that a defensive apparatus had to be built. What he wanted to preserve at all costs was not principles, or the movement of radicalization; it was the incarnations, or, so to speak, the Revolution itself insofar as it was incarnated in this particular country, power, internal and external situation. When he made compromises, it was above all in order to preserve this foundation. In order to save the nation which was building socialism, he was willing to abandon the principle of nationalities. Collectivization? He was to push it forward as circumstances required and in order to ensure that the towns would be fed. Industrialization? He began by holding it back; then, when he realized it was necessary, he tried to promote it at such a rapid pace that the targets of the early plans could not be fulfilled; and he did not hesitate to exact extra work from the workers, either directly by increasing norms, or indirectly by Stakhanovism and the restoration of piece-work. What he hated about Trotsky was not so much the measures he proposed as the whole praxis in the name of which he proposed them. If Stalin initially opposed stepping up industrial production and collectivization when Trotsky advocated them, it was because he understood the total project of their advocate. Trotsky wished to industrialize and collectivize for the sake of an ever-deepening radicalization of revolutionary praxis—at least this was how Stalin saw Trotsky’s intention. What he feared was that the Revolution might fail through trying to remain an abstract dialectic of the universal, just when it was being individualized by its incarnation.footnote3

Obviously this attitude was never expressed either in these terms or in any other verbal forms. But Stalin saw an absolute difference between practical arrangements or operations proposed by Trotsky, and the very same ones put into practice later by himself. In the first form, they were alarming because they might be a means whereby the Revolution would utilize the concrete situation in the ussr in order to realize itself. In the second form, however, though they led to exactly the same measures, they were reassuring because they arose purely from concrete exigencies. As advocated by Trotsky and the Left, collectivization was a leap in the dark, a practical statement that the only possible defensive strategy was an all-out offensive. Stalin too was hard and aggressive; he too was capable of going on the offensive when necessary. But he was alarmed by such a priori determinations of praxis, the direction of temporalization and future schemata of action, because he saw the situation in terms of what had to be saved, consolidated and developed rather than in terms of what had to be created.footnote4