In my opinion, there is no question today more important and simultaneously more difficult than understanding the degeneration of the workers state in the Soviet Union. Interest in socialism is growing as capitalism produces greater and greater income disparity, and more open measures of police repression in response. There are the “socialism is a good idea but—,” people, and there are the, “I’m in favor of it as long as it can be accomplished peacefully” people, and the “I’d be in favor except that it always turns into a dictatorship” people. It is impossible to talk to any of them without the question of the Soviet Union coming up. Only once in history has the working class taken and held state power; how can those with an interest in socialism not care about it? With this in mind, I’m going to be rereading the classic work on the subject, The Revolution Betrayed by Leon Trotsky, and working through it here as I do.
In the course of discussing the Soviet Union with people, one will find a great range of assumptions, from the mystical (“It’s human nature that any group in power will want to keep that power, even if it means harsh measures of repression”) to the deeply ignorant (“Stalin simply continued what Lenin had started.”) These, and all of the other quick and easy explanations, are natural and understandable. If the Trotskyist position is wrong, that by itself explains why so few accept it; if it right, then it is a strong argument in favor of socialism, and so hardly in the interest of the educational system and capitalist propaganda to represent it fairly.
And, speaking of propaganda, if you want to follow along on these posts, be clear that that is what I am doing: propaganda, defined as conveying one’s opinion in an attempt to convince. In my previous efforts at logging notes from books I was reading (The Wealth of Nations, Capital Volume 1, and Anti-Duhring) my agenda was, above all, trying to clarify my own understanding; as a result, I mostly ignored comments unless answering them helped me work through the issue. In this case, my agenda is more polemical—I’m hoping to persuade you that I’m right. Of course, I still won’t bother answering comments from those who seem only interested in taking shots, unless doing so gives me the opportunity to advance an argument in a positive way. Reactionaries, and those who have an interest in preserving oppression, will obviously not be interested in giving my remarks a fair hearing: the view of the Soviet Union as proof that communism can never work is simply too important to them to relinquish it—just as, on my part, I have no interest in giving a “fair hearing” to avowed representatives of capital. I am coming at this from being on a particular side (the working class) and viewing things from a particular perspective (Marxism). If I do this well, those of you who are already on my side, will, perhaps, come to see the value of my perspective.
My intention for these posts is that they’re designed for those who are reading along with them; in other words, I’m going to be attempting to comment on and explain the points I want to emphasize, not recapitulate Trotsky’s arguments. I’m going to be using the Labor Publications edition, Copyright 1991, introduction by David North. I hope some few of you, at least, will follow along with genuine curiosity, motivated by a sincere desire to make the world a better place. That is all a propagandist can reasonably ask.
ETA: Will Shetterly pointed out that the text is available free on-line. Here’s the link.
Next Post: Introduction by David North.