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
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
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.
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