Kostas Mavrakis, ON TROTSKYISM Problems of theory and history



Problems of theory and history  of Kostas Mavrakis


Chapter 3 

The incapacity for concrete analysis which afflicted Trotsky throughout his militant life resulted from his failure to comprehend the materialist dialectic, an incomprehension even worse than Bukharin’s, although less flagrant, for, prudently, he ventured only rarely into the higher spheres of Marxist philosophy. When he did so, particularly at the time of his polemic against Burnham, the results reach no more than an elementary level. He disparages formal logic but knows nothing of the developments in symbolic logic since Hilbert, Peano and Russell. He assumes that to acknowledge the dialectic implies rejecting the principle of identity or its restriction to elementary and subordinate tasks. For him, ‘the dialectic and formal logic bear a relationship similar to that between higher and lower mathematics’.(1) Furthermore, formal logic is supposedly inapplicable, even approximately, to phenomena exhibiting appreciable quantitative changes. He would be at a loss to explain to us how mathematics (based on the principles of identity and non-contradiction) could be applied to nearly instantaneous physical transformations like those which occur at the moment of a nuclear explosion. In fact, Trotsky confused Aristotelian logic with the metaphysical inferences which are wrongly drawn from it by certain philosophers and which deny movement and change.
He had so little idea of the dialectic that he imagined Marx’s mode of exposition in ‘Capital’ to be a vain display of philosophical pedantry. He was reduced to regretting that the creator of the theory of value was ‘the doctor of philosophy’ Marx and not ‘Bebel the turner’ who ‘could have formulated it in a more popular, simple and direct form’.(2)
Trotsky was more serious when he argued as a politician. His conception of materialism is none the less very schematic. He conflated the instances of the social formation (economic, legal-political, ideological) and saw neither how these instances are articulated, how the contradictions proper to each of them can converge and fuse, nor that contradictions displace one another, a secondary contradiction being able to become temporarily the principal one at a given stage, pushing the principal contradiction ‘de jure’ into the background within the framework of a wider historical period.(3) It follows that the necessity for detours in the revolutionary struggle generally escapes him and even when he accepts it in principle he is unable to understand its nature and implications.
It is Mao Tse-tung who has systematised this dialectical logic and produced its concepts but it was already active in Lenin’s writings, models of concrete analysis leading to the definition of a scientific strategy and tactics: cf. for example, ‘Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution‘. Trotsky, on the other hand, although in his own terms he ‘went through Lenin’s school’, was failed by history in the most important subject, political science. Lenin made a fundamental criticism of him when he said that ‘in all his theses, he looks at the question’ from the angle of ‘general principles’.(4)
With a few examples we shall show in greater detail his inability to rise to the concrete in thought, which is neither the immediate empirical nor abstract principles cut off from practice.


It is well known that in 1917 the Bolsheviks seized power by inscribing on their banners this triple slogan: ‘Peace to the people, bread to the workers, land to the peasants’.
However, the peace which they sought was ‘without annexations and indemnities’. The Germans were deaf to such a conception.
Even before October the Russian soldiers had started to ‘vote for peace with their feet’. The trenches at the front were deserted. Lenin was therefore faced with this problem: how could the survival of proletarian power be ensured without an army at a time when German imperialism was preparing to take it by storm. He opted for the acceptance of the German conditions, disastrous as they were, thus giving up space in order to win time. He was then defeated in the Central Committee by a coalition composed on the one hand of the left wing of the party led by Bukharin, supporters of revolutionary war; and on the other hand, of Trotsky, whose point of view (which prevailed at the time) was summed up in the slogan: ‘Neither peace nor war’, or more precisely: ‘We interrupt the war and do not sign the peace – we demobilise the army’.(5)
It was a bluff based on three postulates, all of which turned out to be false:

1.  that the attitude of the Soviet government would incite the German proletariat to rise before the Kaiser’s troops attacked;
2.  that Bolshevik power could not be sustained in Russia unless it received assistance from victorious proletariats in the countries of Western Europe: ‘The only way out of the current situation is to act on the German proletariat in a revolutionary way’; and lastly
3.  formulated in a letter to Lenin at the end of January 1918: ‘We shall declare that we end (the Brest-Litovsk) negotiations but do not sign a peace. They will be unable to make an offensive against us’.(6)

The facts soon called this bluff, to Russia’s great cost. In short, Trotsky was incapable of analysing the concrete situation.

The army opposing them having evaporated, the Germans merely had to get into a train to go to Petrograd. This is what they did. They had to be halted by a hurried acceptance of their new conditions and these were much more onerous than the previous ones. However, by signing the peace, the Soviet government obtained a respite which enabled it to mobilise ‘a new army into which there was an influx of peasants eager to defend the expropriated lands’ (Bukharin).
A few months later, the consequences of the Brest-Litovsk peace were erased.
In retrospect, Lenin’s position seems obvious to us and Trotsky’s seems absurd. Even if this is an optical illusion, the face [fact?] remains that in those serious circumstances, when the future of the revolution was at stake, Trotsky’s formalism, i.e., proceeding from principles and not from reality, led to errors all along the line. These principles were, moreover, those of the permanent revolution, which can be summarised under the formula: ‘The Russian proletariat cannot possibly maintain itself in power unless it is aided by a triumph of the revolution in the West’. For Trotsky, the principal contradiction was always the fundamental contradiction of our whole epoch, namely the one between capital and labour. For him, the alternative was therefore: world revolution or world defeat of the proletariat. On the other hand, Lenin saw that in the conjuncture at the beginning of 1918, the principal contradiction was the one between the necessity of maintaining Soviet power and the temporary impossibility of making the peasant majority fight in its defence. The alternatives were therefore immediate peace at any price (an indispensable respite for the Bolsheviks) or the destruction of their power. Resolutely grasping the first alternative was the condition for all later success.


The same weaknesses, abstract dogmatism and incapacity for concrete analysis were even more apparent when Trotsky was confronted with economic problems, pedestrian perhaps but decisive for the survival of Soviet power. Better equipped than anyone to ensure the application of the line adopted by Lenin and the Central Committee, he became dangerous when he tried to arrive at his own solutions to these problems.

During the Civil War, then as Commissar of Transport, Trotsky demonstrated remarkable abilities as an organiser and leader. He effectively combatted disorder and slovenliness, firing his subordinates with his own zeal, and in this way redressing very dangerous situations in a very short time. But this gives no one the right to conclude, as the Trotskyists do, that he was capable of stepping into Lenin’s shoes. The latter attacked him in his ‘Testament’ for his ‘excessive preoccupation with the purely administrative side of things’.(7) From Lenin’s pen, this criticism has a precise significance which refers to a latent defect in the person at whom it is aimed. Lenin’s thoughts on this point are explicit when he made the same complaint about Piatakov, ‘unquestionably . . . of outstanding ability, but shows too much zeal for administrating and the administrative side of the work to be relied on in a serious political situation’.(8)

In other words, ‘to show too much zeal for administrating’, means to claim to resolve problems which are posed at the highest central level without taking into consideration the repercussions of any decisions in the arena of the class struggle or its effects as to the strengthening or weakening of proletarian power.

How right Lenin was can be confirmed by considering some of the positions adopted by Trotsky on the questions of the economic reconstruction of the USSR after the introduction of the NEP.

In the period of ‘war communism’, he had advocated the militarisation of labour, which undoubtedly corresponded to a necessity in the conditions of the period. But, while Lenin called ‘war communism’ a ‘necessary error’ (that is to say, one imposed by the circumstances) but an error nevertheless in the sense that it was impossible to draw from it a universal norm applicable to one of the stages on the transition to socialism, and also in the sense that this policy had to be abandoned as soon as this became possible, Trotsky himself retained and generalised his ideas at the 10th Congress, the Congress at which the New Economic Policy had been announced.(9) According to Trotsky, forced labour ‘would reach its highest degree of intensity during the transition from capitalism to socialism’.(10) The militarisation of labour, he said, ‘is the basis of socialism’. He did not hesitate to assimilate this forced labour to that of slaves and to the serf’s corvée.(11)

Elated with his success at putting transport back on its feet during the Polish campaign by using authoritarian, indeed bureaucratic methods, Trotsky aspired to erect into a rule what was only an expedient designed to meet a critical situation. He threatened ‘to shake up’ the elected leaders of the different unions as he had those in the transport unions. In other words he wanted to replace these elected leaders by others appointed by the state. He incurred a firm retort from Lenin but refused to be convinced and pushed blindness and obstinacy so far as to initiate a factional struggle against the Central Committee. During this controversy, Lenin showed that Trotsky was ‘forgetting the ABC of Marxism’ in wanting to keep the debate on ‘economic’ grounds. ‘Politics must have precedence over economics . . . without a proper political approach to the subject the given class cannot maintain its rule, and consequently, cannot solve its production problems.’ Now, ‘the political mistake expressed in the shaking up policy that permeates the whole of Trotsky’s pamphlet-platform . . . will lead to the downfall of the dictatorship of the proletariat’.(12)

In short, it was a question of practising not economic administration but political economy, which can only be economically advantageous to the extent that it does not contain any political mistakes.

It was these recent struggles which Lenin had in mind when he wrote in his letter to the Central Committee about Trotsky’s preoccupation with the administrative side of things. He was thereby attacking him for being incapable of analysing concretely and dialectically the conjuncture of the class struggle in all its breadth and complexity in order to define the tasks of the moment.

At the time of the dispute over planning under the NEP Lenin had been able to state, moreover, that Trotsky’s method of thinking consisted of deducing from the most general principles of socialism the ‘solutions’ to economic problems posed by life, without any mediation between the two levels (without any concrete theoretical analysis), which occasionally gives the impression that he is skipping from one subject to another.

Lenin, on the other hand, knew that in the situation of total destitution and semi-barbarity of Russia in 1921, in which small peasant production was broadly predominant, ‘a complete integrated plan for us at the moment = a bureaucratic utopia’.(13) In the following section we shall see how Lenin, as opposed to Trotsky, was able to determine the link which had to be grasped in order to draw the whole chain to him – in other words, how to go about restoring to health a Russian economy drained by eight years of foreign and civil war in order to create the premises of effective planning.


In ‘The New Course’ (January 1924), Trotsky described what a planned socialist economy ought to be. He then introduced what he called a ‘complication’, namely the existence of the market. He laid down a certain number of secondary exigencies to overcome it.

Now the very essence of the NEP as it was defined by Lenin includes a procedure and a deduction which were exactly opposite to those of Trotsky, namely:

1. that Trotsky’s ‘complication’ is its principal determination. It is the market which is the centre of gravity of the unity to be realised between industry and agriculture; henceforth it is the means through which the agricultural surplus has to be realised; industry works for and as a function of the peasant market;

2. that systematic planning – ‘de jure’ the principal determination of the socialist mode of production – is only relevant at this stage as a secondary determination.

How could a true centralised state plan be built on an immense, scattered, private, peasant market developing and reacting spontaneously on the basis of the laws of capitalism? Trotsky got around the difficulty by a new abstract demand: ‘An exact knowledge of the market conditions and correct economic forecasts’.

This demand is abstract:

1. because Trotsky does not establish the means by which to realise it, except in part – this is the question of ‘the dictatorship of finance’ which we shall consider later;

2. because even if some realistic means were given, the minimum of knowledge and forecasts (without which planning is only a joke or a utopia) required a radical upheaval of the structure of agricultural production and of the agricultural market (the upheaval which historically took the form of collectivisation in 1929).

Now in 1924 Trotsky did not consider collectivisation and the abandonment of the NEP. He thought that it would be possible for the state economy to adapt itself to the peasant market by a few ‘corrections’ and ‘necessary modifications’ as its development proceeded. He did not explain how it would be possible to obtain this result.

Trotsky moves from the deductive definition of the socialist mode of production to the problem of its ‘application’ pure and simple – conceived, what is more, in an ultra-modest fashion: some detailed adjustments, a progressive adaptation – and thus entirely liquidates the Leninist science of strategy and tactics. He annihilates the phases, stages, moments and successive displacements of the contradictions; hence the atemporal character of his analysis.

The abstract character of his argument is also revealed in the absence of any consideration of the concrete conditions of ‘the current situation’, the absence of any analysis into levels and instances – the ‘de jure’ principal contradiction being the ‘de facto’ principal contradiction, it being presupposed that the instruments of social practice are adequate to their object.

Trotsky called for a centralised plan as early as 1922-3: but who was going to do the planning? Not an ideal state apparatus, not an ideal Gosplan, but the bureaucratic apparatus inherited from Tsarism which Lenin pitilessly criticised. When the state apparatus was still largely in solidarity with the former state of the social formation, it could not be the principal link in the economic offensive of Soviet power.

Trotsky’s position on the question of ‘the dictatorship of finance or the dictatorship of industry’ is a significant example of his method.

In 1923 and 1924, a conflict developed between Gosplan and the People’s Commissariat of Finance (Narkomfin). The former demanded the acknowledgment of the subordination of finance to industrial planning; that is to say, the power to fix the policy of credits to industry as a function not of the needs of a sound monetary policy, but of the necessities of industrial development. Narkomfin, for its part, defended its autonomy.

‘De jure’, Gosplan’s position was the only correct one for a socialist economy. But the NEP was not socialism; it was only a preliminary phase laying the groundwork for the offensive to come. By allowing the market to operate in almost normal conditions, the Soviet power restored the spontaneous process of accumulation interrupted by the war; moreover, in this way, it prepared the elementary stock of information without which a plan is impossible.

As the principal tool of the market, money plays a decisive role at this level. Its stabilisation appears as a fundamental objective in relation to which the others are subordinate, as the ultimate is in relation to preliminary circumstances.

Now Trotsky entirely supported Gosplan’s claims, did not attribute any importance to the problem of money and was content to affirm without any justification that the stabilisation of money depended on the dictatorship of industry.

The essence of the attitude of the Trotskyist opposition is visible here: an attitude of all or nothing which lays it down in principle that if the fundamental contradictions of socialism and the fundamental determinations of socialism are not put on the immediate agenda, anything else is simply unprincipled empiricism.

In his refutation of the Trotskyist line in his report to the session of the expanded Executive on 3 April 1925, Bukharin exclaimed: ‘To demand the dictatorship of industry over finance is to fail to see that industry depends on its agricultural outlets.’

The inflation in 1923 – indispensable at the time for the realisation of the agricultural surplus – would normally have worried the private peasant and prompted him in the following year, if the situation was not stabilised, to hoard stocks of agricultural products rather than a steadily depreciating currency. Now, as it was taking place on the basis of the market, accumulation was easily jeopardised. In a general way, to acknowledge the market as the meeting point of the two economies without giving attention to the practical conditions for the functioning of the market – in the first place, money – was to talk abstractly. Furthermore, since money was invested under the NEP, in the framework of the market and of the normal functioning of the law of value, with the role of an ‘indicator’ of the broad lines of the structure of production, consumption and reproduction, its depreciation seriously prejudiced the preparatory work of planning.(15)

‘De facto’, what the Opposition globally challenged in the name of ‘a general schema of socialism’, rigorous ‘de jure’ but presented as a ‘preliminary “de facto” demand’ (nothing can be done without centralised and planned accumulation for industry), was the very principle of a reformist (in the sense of non-revolutionary) stage; that is, one not bearing on what is essential in the long run and in a general theory of the modes of production. Now it is precisely the principle of a reformist phase (with all the incoherent, contradictory, apparently unprincipled aspects implied by such a phase) that was the great innovation theorised by Lenin under the name of the NEP – a phase of tactical retreat preparing the conditions necessary ‘de facto’ for the socialist offensive to come.

It was this setting to work, at the level of the NEP, of the Leninist science of strategy and tactics as the revelation of the specific contradictions of the stage (contradictions which were not the principal contradictions in the phase of the NEP and even less those of socialism), that is denied in the Trotskyist explanation.

In all questions of current political interest Trotskyism appears as a set of radical demands deduced from a general schema of the socialist mode of production – without consideration of stages and phases – and a refusal to accept any partial measures, as well as a systematic neglect of everything which relates to practical realisation.

The principal characteristic of Trotskyism is the absence of a theory of contradiction, the absence of a theory of phases and stages and consequently the absence of a theory of strategy and tactics.


Marxist theory did not have any ready-made formula to solve the concrete problem which Stalin came up against in 1928. The kulaks, who were the only farmers to have appreciable surpluses at their disposal, were hoarding their grain and threatening to starve the towns, as they were dissatisfied with being unable to get enough industrial goods at the prices which they were being offered for it. On the other hand, the development of industry forecast by the First Five-Year Plan assumed an increase in the urban population and therefore an increased need for foodstuffs.

There were two ways out of this vicious circle: one consisted of giving the kulaks a free rein, helping them to ruin the small peasants and to set up big capitalist farms with high productivity. Trotsky and his supporters (particularly Rakovsky) were absolutely convinced that Stalin would take this road. They obstinately clung to this prognosis even after the launching of the great offensive against the kulaks designed to liquidate them as a class. It was only at the beginning of 1930 that they began to take into consideration the historical upheavals taking place in the USSR. Even then, Trotsky considered that industrialisation and collectivisation were only a passing phase in Stalin’s policy. Precisely because Stalin was not the counter-revolutionary Trotsky saw him as, this road – that of the development of traditional forms of capitalism – was closed to him.

The other was collectivisation and accelerated industrialisation. Speed was essential otherwise there was a risk that the tensions produced by a struggle against the kulaks would become too dangerous. In fact, the kulaks had succeeded in uniting the majority of the peasants around them. They let loose a White terror against communist cadres and the poor peasants who wanted to join the kolkhozy. This resistance had to be smashed immediately, otherwise it would have smashed the proletarian power. If the communists had joined in a war of attrition with the kulaks they, not their enemies, would have been worn down. What was needed was a quick decisive engagement. Collectivisation and industrialisation had to keep pace, moreover, even if this initially demanded sacrifices. The former made possible the extraction of the surpluses thanks to which one could invest; the latter provided tractors and agricultural machines which made the kolkhozy attractive and led to an even higher productivity.

As we have suggested, the line followed by Stalin in this conjuncture resembled in more respects than one the line advocated by Trotsky in 1924, which does not, however, make the latter right retrospectively, as is claimed by his supporters whose thought is as atemporal as their master’s since the combined conditions in 1929 were not there in 1924. Declaring that Stalin had ‘plagiarised’ his programme (Lenin did as much to that of the Social[ist] Revolutionaries), Trotsky did not conclude from this that he should rally to the Central Committee as thousands of his supporters had at the time, but opted for a complete shift in his own ideas. In this way he continued to set himself apart from Stalin and preserved his ‘raison d’être’ as leader of ‘the Opposition’. He condemned the liquidation of the kulaks and argued that the kolkhozy were not viable and would collapse of their own accord because of their lack of modern machines. According to him the amalgamation of small farms with primitive equipment was equivalent to joining together small boats to make a liner. He did not understand that simple co-operation and the manual division of labour were enough to ensure a higher productivity to the kolkhozy. He argued, therefore, for the dissolution of the kolkhozy and the sovkhozy as unprofitable or even fictional. Thus, even if the bloc of Trotskyists and ‘rightists’ which Stalin spoke of did not have an organised existence, it is nevertheless true that from then on Trotskyist criticisms coincided with the positions of the Bukharinists in their defence of the rural petty bourgeoisie. Isaac Deutscher writes that ‘the differences between the Right and Left Bolsheviks were becoming blurred and obliterated’.(16)

The same Deutscher is struck by this rejection on Trotsky’s part of the revolution in the countryside: ‘He still thought . . . that . . . the “transition from capitalism to socialism” should proceed in an essentially peaceful and evolutionary manner. In his approach to domestic Soviet issues the author of “Permanent Revolution” was in a sense a reformist.'(17)

Like all reformisms, Trotsky’s was both utopian and reactionary: utopian, because a gradual and peaceful transformation of structures has always proved impossible; reactionary, because by pursuing this utopia one ends up maintaining the ‘status quo’.

Trotsky criticised Soviet planning for wanting to go too fast and for aiming at maximal and optimal results. In fact, the rise of fascism, with the threat of war which it involved, obliged accelerated industrialisation. It was necessary to advance by forced marches. It was a matter of the survival of the proletarian power. Stalin spelled it out in a speech in 1931:(18)

No, comrades, this is impossible’ It is impossible to reduce the tempo’ On the contrary, it is necessary as far as possible to accelerate it. This necessity is dictated by our obligations to the workers and peasants of the USSR. This is dictated by our obligations to the working class of the whole world . . . we are 50-100 years behind the advanced countries. We must cover this distance in ten years. Either we do this or they will crush us.

Ten years later, Hitler’s armies invaded the USSR.

The political line adopted at the time of the launching of the Five-Year Plans and accelerated collectivisation led to great successes but included some negative aspects, the most pernicious effects of which were not those felt immediately. Let us mention briefly some of the mistakes made in this period:

– The exaggerated importance given to material incentives, illustrated by the Stakhanovite movement. These workers often earned ten or fifteen times as much as their comrades.

– The enormous widening of wage differentials to the advantage of a narrow privileged stratum at the top of the hierarchy, in total contradiction to the Marxist-Leninist principles actually applied until Lenin’s death.

– The largely forced character of collectivisation.

– The unilateral emphasis on the technical and material conditions of socialism to the detriment of the political and ideological conditions (economism).

Some of these mistakes were culpable: others were avoidable but were not avoided owing to subjective weaknesses of the Soviet leadership; others were inevitable in the absence of a historical precedent; others, finally, were necessary, in other words imposed by the objective conditions.(19)

Collectivisation, for example, must inevitably have appeared in the eyes of the peasants, even of the non-kulaks, as an externally imposed measure, for historical circumstances had not enabled the Soviet Communist Party to sink roots among the masses: to quote only one example, ‘a slight misunderstanding with the women collective farmers . . . over the cow’, which Stalin mentions, could have been avoided.(20) The women peasants who had to hand over their cows to the kolkhozy thought that they would be left without any milk for their children. In the end they should have been allowed to keep one per household. In the meantime a large part of their livestock had been sacrificed.

The mistakes made during this struggle were combated very energetically by leading echelons of party and state. Even before the publication of Stalin’s ‘Dizzy With Success’, urgent orders had been sent forbidding the imprisonment of poor and middle peasants for refusing to enter the kolkhozy. However, although the widespread coercion was the responsibility of local cadres who disobeyed their instructions, it was true, nevertheless, that they were driven into a corner, caught between the peasant resistance and the demands of the centre which had in 1929 fixed a rate of collectivisation too high to be reached in too short periods.(21) The end result was not the one sought, because Stalin’s Central Committee did not apply the mass line in the elaboration of its policy. Hence it followed that the orders which it issued underwent a diffraction at the base, the effect of a concrete situation which had not been taken into account. Only the mass line enables this type of error to be minimised. Despite their relative efficacy in the struggle against abuses, the ‘selkor’ (village correspondents) of the newspapers, the personal and collective petitions, and the system of reciprocal surveillance by the representatives of the party and those of the police services, could not provide a valid substitute for control by the masses themselves.

Some of Trotsky’s criticisms at this time coincide formally with ours but they are an integral part of his analysis as a whole, which denounces the Stalinist state as a counter-revolutionary power and denies the necessary character of certain mistakes deriving from the unfavourable objective conditions inherited from the preceding periods. A comparison will clarify what we mean: in 1922 Lenin refused the Mensheviks the right to criticise the regime of war communism although the content of their criticism was the very same as that put forward by the Bolsheviks themselves. When the latter adopted the NEP their enemies gloated: ‘What you are saying now we have been saying all the time, permit us to say it to you again!’ they cried, and Lenin replied: ‘Permit us to put you before a firing squad for saying that.'(22)

Stalin’s answer to the Trotskyists in the 1930s was somewhat, indeed very, similar; for even when they contained a grain of truth their criticisms from then on became those of anti-communists.

We can be certain, moreover, that had they been in power and hypothetically chosen the socialist road, not only would they have made the same mistakes(23) (Trotsky had erected their ‘theoretical’ justification in advance),(24) but also would have proved to be inflexible and ruthless in pushing a pernicious policy to its logical conclusions, whereas Stalin did know how to stop in time on a slippery slope because he did not feel compelled, like Trotsky, to base each change of course in the storms of the class struggle on eternal principles. It is interesting to record that the forced labour camps, the excessive sacrifices demanded of the workers (Trotsky said that they must give their blood and nerves), the idea of squeezing the peasants to the limit to extract investment funds: all this was theorised at the beginning of the 1920s by Trotsky and his friends under the absurd name of ‘primitive socialist accumulation’.


Deutscher says of this concept: ‘The Marxist historian may indeed describe and analyse those decades, the Stalinist decades, as the era of primitive socialist accumulation; and he may do so in terms borrowed from Trotsky’s exposition of the ideas in 1923.'(25) Lenin described the expression ‘primitive socialist accumulation’, which was coined by Smirnov at the time of war communism and taken up by Bukharin in ‘The Economy of the Transition Period’, as a ‘very unfortunate’ expression and ‘a copy of schoolboy terms’. It was propagated by Trotsky in a different context from 1922 on. Preobrazhensky theorised it in ‘The New Economics’, published in 1925. Here is how the latter author justified the petinence of his analogy:(26)

Just as the functioning of manufactures and still more of factories with machine techniques, so also for enabling the complex of state economy to develop all its economic advantages and to place itself under a new technical basis, a certain minimum of previously accumulated means in the form of natural elements of production is needed. Setting out Trotsky’s ideas on the same problem, Isaac Deutscher defines Marx’s view of primitive accumulation as follows:(27)

The era of primitive accumulation (was) the initial phase in the development of modern capitalism when normal accumulation of capital had hardly begun or was still too feeble to allow industry to expand from its own resources, that is from its own profits. The early bourgeoisie shrank from no violent, ‘extra- economic’ method in its striving to concentrate in its whole hands the means of production.

In 1922 Trotsky said: ‘The proletariat . . . is compelled to embark upon a phase which may be described as that of primitive socialist accumulation. We cannot content ourselves with using our pre-1914 industrial plant. This has been destroyed and must be reconstructed step by step by way of a colossal exertion on the part of our labour force.’ And again, the working class ‘can approach socialism only through the greatest sacrifices, by straining all its strength and giving its blood and nerves’.(28)

These three quotations demonstrate that there is a theoretical contradiction underlying the comparison with the primitive accumulation discussed by Marx. The latter defined it like this: ‘The so-called primitive accumulation, therefore, is nothing else than the historical process of divorcing the producer from the means of production’.(29) Initially Marx had stressed the fact that ‘In themselves money and commodities are no more capital than are the means of production and of subsistence. They want transforming into capital.'(30) This is an idea which constantly recurs in his ‘magnum opus’: ‘Capital is not a thing but a social relation between persons, established by the instrumentality of things.'(31)

Marx gave the example of Mr Peel who took with him from England to Australia means of production worth £50,000 and 3,000 workers. Once he had reached his destination he was left without a servant to make his bed or to fetch him a glass of water. ‘Unhappy Mr Peel,’ Marx concluded, ‘who provided for everything except the export of English modes of production to Swan River!'(32)

Trotsky, Preobrazhensky and Deutscher make the same mistake. They do not understand that primitive accumulation is only the historical process of the creation of capitalist relations of production and not simply the accumulation of ‘the natural elements of production’ (Preobrazhensky) or ‘industrial plant’ (Trotsky). For writers who pride themselves on their ‘classical Marxism’, this is not without irony.

It is now clear that the historical analogy implied in the expression ‘primitive socialist accumulation’ is totally illegitimate.

Our purpose is not to discuss in detail Preobrazhensky’s economic theory, that is, not the expression, but the concept. It is enough to point out that Trotsky proved much less consistent than Preobrazhensky on this question. Preobrazhensky argued that in a predominantly agricultural country the bulk of investment funds in the socialist industrial sector would come from the surplus agricultural product and that accelerated industrialisation could only be realised by means of a transfer of value from the countryside to the town. It is doubtful whether this form of exploitation was compatible with the raising of the peasants’ standard of living. Although basically sharing Preobrazhensky’s views, Trotsky feared that he would be accused of advocating the exploitation of the peasantry and refrained from openly adopting them. The concept of primitive accumulation was useful to him anew fifteen years later in ‘The Revolution Betrayed’.

We have shown that Trotsky’s and Preobrazhensky’s notion of the primitive accumulation of capital was not a Marxist one. It is not surprising to discover that the primitive ‘socialist’ accumulation which they talk about is precisely not socialist.

On the one hand, the socialisation of the economy cannot be likened to the separation of the producers from their means of production which, on the contrary, they come to own collectively through their control of state power. Of course, in so far as the units of production function as enterprises they reproduce the pattern of the double separation of the immediate producers from their means of production and of the units from each other. However, that is a problematic only attained by Charles Bettelheim in his latest works and one whose existence Trotsky did not even suspect. Moreover, the latter regarded the tendency to primitive accumulation as a law of the transition, which the example of China disproves.

On the other hand, the comparison of the primitive accumulation of a supposed socialism with that of capitalism is significant and legitimate in a certain sense. The model of construction of socialism proposed by Preobrazhensky assumes that it will be realised mainly starting from the towns thanks to the resources freed by maintaining poverty in the countryside, and by relying on techniques and methods of labour organisation which have given the best results in the advanced countries, and copied as such. This sort of accumulation or expanded reproduction reproduces at the same time relations of production of the capitalist type. Like Preobrazhensky, Stalin thought that it was necessary to levy a ‘tribute’ on the peasants (cf. his report to the Central Committee in July 1928); just like the Trotskyist theoretician, he identified the construction of socialism purely and simply with the development of a large-scale modern industry based on giant, highly productive units.

This ‘economistic’ idea prevailed for a long time, even to a certain extent in China. Today it is the common heritage of Trotskyists and revisionists as well as the common ground between them and the traditional bourgeois specialists.

Stalin and Trotsky identified the construction of socialism with a mere increase in the productive forces, themselves reduced to machines, the human factor being eliminated. They did not see that after the abolition of the individual ownership of the means of production the essential remains to be done – to revolutionise the relations of production and all the social relations connected to them. They suspected even less the dialectical interaction between these transformations and the development of specifically socialist productive forces. Assembly-line work, the parcellisation of tasks, the conception of the machines, the capitalist organisation of production, presuppose a recalcitrant labour force which submits unwillingly and passively to wage slavery. Taylorism aims to extract the maximum from workers by making them simple appendages of machines devoid of will. The authoritarian relationships in the factory, the type of discipline which rules it, the gulf between intellectual and manual work are equally necessary conditions for exploitation. On the other hand, the productive forces proper to socialism are based on the initiative and creativity of the masses, their enthusiasm, their ingenuity, their self-discipline and their self-education. The Anchan Charter drawn up by Mao in 1960 takes the opposite course to that of Magnitogorsk, which was held up as an example to Soviet industry at the time of the First Five-Year Plan because this latter charter was inspired by capitalist organisation of labour.

The experience of the Great Leap Forward and the cultural revolution enabled the guidelines of a different model to be established. In China the Maoist principle is applied – ‘Make the revolution and promote production’. The creation of ‘the material basis of socialism’ is subordinated there to the destruction of the social relations inherited from capitalism which are replaced by socialist relations. In turn, the socialist relations call forth new productive forces which are proper to socialism. Thanks to the people’s communes, the small rural industries, and the principles ‘stand on both feet’ and ‘self-reliance’, this process of ideological, political and economic revolutionisation is developing on a very wide basis and transforming the whole country.(33) In their practice, the Chinese workers consciously confirm the thesis already stated by Marx: ‘The working class itself is the greatest of all productive

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...."L’ineguaglianza dello sviluppo economico e politico è una legge assoluta del capitalismo. Ne risulta che è possibile il trionfo del socialismo all’inizio in alcuni paesi o anche in un solo paese capitalistico, preso separatamente...." Lenin -Sulla parola d’ordine degli Stati Uniti d’Europa-Pubblicato sul Sozial-Demokrat, n. 44, 23 agosto 1915.
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