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OCTOBER 1917-2017 (Part 1)

From a decolonial Communism to the democracy of the Commons:

The ‘Soviet century’ – in the turmoil of the ‘permanent revolution’

By Catherine Samary

2017 12 17 01 Catherine SamaryBut when it comes to the nature of the thousand concrete, practical measures, large and small, necessary to introduce socialist principles into economy, law and all social relationships, there is no key in any socialist party program or textbook…  Only experience is capable of correcting and opening new ways. Only unobstructed, effervescing life falls into a thousand new forms and improvisations, brings to light creative new force, itself corrects all mistaken attempts.

Rosa Luxembourg, The Russian Revolution, 1918.

We are no longer in the context of the ‘Soviet century’ (Moshe Lewin, 2003) and we are witnessing various forms of transcendence of the organisations of the ‘workers’ movement’ anchored in this era. Yet, while the political polarisations and crisis of civilisation (ecological, socio-economic, political) intrinsically associated with globalised capitalism unfold, the ‘classic’ strategic questions of the 20th century are reformulated in a complex fashion and, under radically new conditions, confront all organisations which remain convinced of the urgent need to ‘change this world’.[1] The ‘pure capitalism’ of the 21st century (Husson, 2008), based on globalised firms and institutions, both financial and military, tends to revert to the 19th century in wishing to treat all the movements of resistance of the ‘short 20th century’ as a simple and aberrant parenthesis, thus reducing revolutions which precisely wanted to transform the world to the gulag. Its social war is accompanied by ideological operations worthy of George Orwell’s formulation (in a work which should have been called 1989!): ‘He who controls the present controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future’. It isn’t possible to resist this without a plural and systematic inventory of the advances, setbacks and defeats of the ‘permanent revolution’ at work through the ‘Soviet century’ – around key issues which are still current but deepening the democratic and egalitarian dimensions of a decolonial Communism born in October 1917.[2]

Putting the task of inventory in perspective

The new social and geopolitical era opened by the so-called ‘neoliberal’ turn of the 1980s is that of a radicalised and globalised social war and of new total wars ‘of civilization’, since the events of 1989/1991. Its point of departure has been the class response, under a ‘neoliberal’ ideology, to the profound challenge to the ‘capitalist world system’[3] which marked the 1960s and 1970s: which was experienced by those dominant as the internal/external threat of ‘Communism’ – as witnessed by the secret and police reports ‘covering’ the ‘Conference of Solidarity with the Peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America’, the so-called Tricontinental conference held in Havana in 1966.[4] This threat, opened by October 1917, was not interrupted despite the bureaucratization of the soviets and the totalitarian Stalinisation of the USSR, and despite the behavior of this new ‘great power’ seeking to subordinate the Communist Parties (CPs) of the whole world to its diplomacy, in the worst of ideological interferences.

We must then return to the ‘impure’ scenario (in relation to Trotsky’s predictions in particular) of what was the Second World War and the new revolutions that engulfed in a structural crisis of capitalism marked by the rise of fascism and ruptures at the heart of two world wars and the post-Stalinist phase of the ‘Soviet century’.[5] There were various ways of ‘defeating Communism in its victory’[6] – with a blockage of socialist transformations by the bureaucratism and ‘substitutionism’ of the ruling parties (speaking in the name of the workers) which would facilitate capitalist restoration – but not without revolutionary advances in the world. This requires the concrete analysis of the unexpected, of the hybrid, and notably of the orientations of the different CPs according to whether they bent or not (and how?) to the ‘defence of socialism in one country’. But also, the detailed examination of that which, in the defeats of this century, was due neither to class adversaries, nor to reformisms of adaptation to capitalism, nor to Stalinism – but to all those who, as sincere revolutionaries, were able to get it wrong and mutually ‘excommunicate’ each other without criticising, in their own ranks, the methods denounced ‘elsewhere’.

The task of inventory is necessary then, as Daniel Bensaïd (2009) puts it, both inside each political family and on egalitarian basis with views from both sides: this task has begun and should be continued in a plural fashion in the name also of a Communism which is, as Bensaïd said in continuity with Marx and Engels,  ‘neither a pure idea, nor a doctrinaire model of society’, but ‘the name of a movement which permanently transcends/suppresses the established order’ and contests all relations of domination.

It is necessary to analyze how this Communism also worked on the ‘Soviet world system’, in the sense inclusive of all these revolutions, against and despite Stalinisation: this is true up to and including the emergence of the workers’ councils against the occupation of Soviet tanks in Czechoslovakia in 1968, or in the same year in Yugoslavia in the movements demanding ‘self-management from below’ against the ‘red bourgeoisie’;[7] and this was again verified, in spite of an increasingly muddled ideological context, with the ‘Give us back our factories’ of the Polish workers[8] and the project of the self-managed republic of their autonomous trade union Solidarnosc in 1980 – the polar opposite of the neoliberal shock therapy and privatisations a decade later – as well as movements aspiring to reduce the gap between the proclaimed Communist ideals and reality, revealing the real contradictions of these regimes.

The Communist task of inventory should then integrate several requirements and objectives, enriching and updating the problematic of a decolonial Communism of ‘permanent revolution’ at work in the October revolution, towards a ‘decolonial pluriversalism’ (Zahra Ali & Sonia Dayan-Herzbrun, 2017).

This contribution can only be a partial enlightenment in this necessary plural inventory. It proposes an interpretation of the ‘Soviet century’ which integrates fully the torment of the ‘permanent revolution’, from an international angle and from that of the transformation which wanted to be socialist – in its ‘impurities’, advances and setbacks, not reducible to Stalinism, and not interrupted by Stalinism. The objective is also the transcendence of old debates on the ‘construction of socialism’ by their updating, going beyond false dilemmas in the light of elaborations on a self-managed society born from experience – that of the contradictions and crises of the Yugoslavia of the 1960s and those which concern the territories and goods ‘put in common’[9] in the world. The most elaborated reflections on the latter can help to understand what was lacking in Yugoslav self-management; but reciprocally the latter allows us to raise the issues of power and of system in the current debates and experiences on the ‘commons’ in such a way as to reflect on the conditions of emergence of a ‘society of commons’ contradictory with capitalist logic – a concrete utopia?

1- From the October revolution to Stalinisation

The conception of the socialist transformation and the beginning of a decolonial Communism

Was Stalinism the price of a ‘premature’ revolution’? In The Lessons of October, Trotsky (2014) criticises those who argue that ‘the country that is more developed industrially only shows, to the less developed, the image of its own future’.[10] The formulation synthetizes the rupture between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks[11] – but also an evolution of Marxist thought: before the October revolution, the dominant scenario supposed that the socialist revolution would take place in the most developed capitalist societies which ‘would show the way’ – not without ‘civilizing’ visions penetrating the earliest Marxist formulations, analyzed by K.B. Anderson (2010). The popular uprisings in (neo)colonised countries but also in Russia were essential to modify this perception. This question is at the heart of many current debates against the Western-centric visions of the struggles and transformations on the agenda.

The revolutions of February and October 1917 emerged from the specific contradictions of Russian society linked to the ‘capitalist world system’, then in crisis. Lenin had forcibly affirmed in April 1917 the actuality of an anti-capitalist rupture beginning in Russia in the context of inter-imperialist world war [12]. This approach was anchored in his analysis of imperialism,[13] marking an inflection of Marxist thought that Stalinisation would hide:  capitalism was understood as a system, articulated and hierarchical, and not as a sum of states which would all experience the same scenario of industrialisation. It was also to update and extend the initial recognition by Marx of the emergent resistance in ‘the margins’ of the British Empire, stressed by K.B. Anderson[14] – from Ireland to India  – but also in Russia: in his letters to Vera Zasulich from 1881 concerning Russia, Marx had raised the strategic importance of the peasantry in this type of social formation; and he had raised the hypothesis of a Russian revolution which would become ‘the signal for proletarian revolution in the West, so that the two complement each other’.

In his History of the Russian Revolution, Trotsky says: ‘In order to realise the Soviet state, there was required a drawing together and mutual penetration of two factors belonging to completely different historic species: a peasant war – that is, a movement characteristic of the dawn of bourgeois development – and a proletarian insurrection, the movement signalizing its decline. That is the essence of 1917’. Rosa Luxembourg (1918) informed by her own research on imperialism, shared this viewpoint. She criticised the Menshevik approach, supported by Kautsky, of a Russian revolution which ’should have’ remained simply ‘bourgeois’ and anti-Tsarist (the February revolution): ‘The problems of the Russian Revolution, moreover – since it is a product of international developments plus the agrarian question – cannot possibly be solved within the limits of bourgeois society.

Trotsky’s analysis of ‘permanent revolution’ (caricatured by Stalin) rests on a notion which remains essential to current analyses: it starts from the ‘combined and uneven development’ of a social formation of the capitalist semi-periphery, like Russia, combining in its structures traits of pre-capitalist phases and an impetuous industrialisation, narrowly dependent on the imperialist metropoles.[15] Socialist transformation in such a society depended on three articulated processes of what Trotsky called the ‘permanent revolution’: the growing over of the bourgeois democratic revolution (the February revolution against Tsarism) into an anti-capitalist rupture (October) anchored in the same dynamic of class struggle;[16] the radical transformation of the old society to the benefit of the dominated classes, workers and peasants, towards a classless socialist society – without recipes on how; and the global extension of the revolution against a capitalist system in structural crisis.

It was then in an internal/external revolutionary optic heavy with uncertainties and tensions that the Bolshevik leaders in the early the 1920s had to tackle strategically combined tasks faced with the existing world order. On the one hand, the construction of the Communist International (CI) led to big splits in the Second International: these differentiated the new Communist Parties from social democracy both in opposition to imperialist war and for the extension of the world socialist revolution in the aftermath of October. The cleavages imposed by the ‘21 conditions’ for adhesion to the CI took place both at the heart of the European imperialist hearland and in the colonised countries, notably in the East[17] – and in the relations with the dominated populations of the Russian Empire.[18]

The practical tasks of organisation of the new society of ‘transition to socialism’ were simultaneously posed for the first time concretely.

What permanent revolution at the societal level?

The Bolsheviks assumed that the first revolutionary rupture could take place in a ‘weak link’ of the imperialist chain. This introduced a phase of ‘transition to socialism’ nonetheless handicapped by the ‘under-development’ of the productive forces and with a peasant majority population – with the dominant perception of the vital relay of the extension of the revolution in Europe, to Germany in particular.

But, with hindsight we can synthesise several weaknesses: absence of clarity on the national questions[19], in particular that of the oppressed nations of the Russian empire; the distrust shown towards the peasantry; an economist vision of the ’primacy’ of the growth of the ‘productive forces’ favouring the postponement of the transformation of the social relations of production to a subsequent ‘stage’. These are significant dimensions of the ‘permanent revolution’ opened by October: the challenging of the relations of domination between nations, the alliance of the workers and poor peasantry, the self-organisation of the subaltern populations in the soviets and factory committees.  

 The difficulties encountered on the road of ’direct management ‘of the economy by the producers themselves, without any experience and with a massively illiterate population, were often stressed. And the breadth of the educational tasks undertaken by the Bolsheviks[20] underlines moreover the political will to overcome this handicap for the realisation of socialist objectives. But this ‘backwardness’ had not prevented the impressive emergence of the soviets and of ‘workers’ control’ in the factories, the self-organisation of the councils (or ‘soviets’) of workers, peasants and soldiers in the revolution of 1917. All this had convinced the Bolsheviks of the overall revolutionary dynamic and of these forms of organisation as ‘schools of communism’. They had practiced in this phase a real political pluralism (internal and external), polarised around the complex issues of peace against imperialist war and patriotic orientations (not without major conflicts of orientation between the various internationalist currents, indeed inside the Bolshevik party) - and of the relevance of demanding ‘all power to the soviets!’

The passage from the struggle against to the struggle for [21] would catalyse a change of stakes and reveal much lack of preparation. Their complexity is tangible for anybody who re-examines the precise scenarios indicating the rapid evolutions of viewpoints and crossovers on various questions in the phase 1918-1927, which cannot be seriously dealt with here.

The noting of a disastrous course, that can be deemed erroneous, is easier to do than its interpretation - with the unacceptable assimilation between that which smacks of ‘counter-revolutionary’ actions or treason, and that which concerns serious errors and divergences between revolutionaries (Marxist and/or libertarian) sharing the same defence of October.  It’s better to go beyond the invective and focus on the analyses and notes: that of a hyper-centralist course advocated by Lenin, minutely described by Jean-Jacques Marie (2011). We won’t describe here his tilts, from the ‘iron hand’ to the ‘steel corset’ imposed not only on the enemies (real or presumed) of the revolution, but on layers of the proletariat and peasantry ‘who do not act in the state interest’ – that is, in practice, interests interpreted by the party, if not the Bolshevik leadership indeed Lenin, with all his prestige. This radical substitutionism and the worst violence in the actions of the Cheka (supposedly in defence of the revolution against its enemies and often hasty and arbitrary), accompanied the militarisation of the economy and measures increasingly reducing political pluralism both externally and inside the party –although oppositions and public viewpoints continued until 1926.

In Lenin’s State and Revolution,[22] the new – Soviet – state, based on the dominated classes of the old regime, is to ‘wither away’ and become ‘accessible for all’ The thesis of the necessary withering away of the state was contested by Lenin himself the following year faced with the decay of the economy and the explosive character of the situation.  The immense gap between this affirmation and the content taken by the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ has been analysed and criticised,[23] notably (beyond the libertarians) by the ‘left Communists’ and other oppositions inside Bolshevism[24]. The members of the ‘democratic centralism’ current (also called ‘decists’ from ‘D.C’ - its initials in Russian) formed in 1919 to defend a democratic party life against bureaucratic centralism; also advocated the revitalisation of the councils and workers’ control over the ‘specialists’ placed at the head of the enterprises – against Lenin’s viewpoint on this question which advocated a ‘single’ leadership under the control of the Bolshevik party alone. This opposition also expressed itself against the militarisation of labour advocated by Trotsky.[25] For its part, the Workers’ Opposition[26] stressed the collective character of the management of the enterprises passing by the activity of the Bolsheviks inside the industrial trade unions.[27]

The positions would evolve faced with the decomposition of the economy and then the war, all the while being marked by certain initial theoretical approaches. One year before their introduction, Lenin had been rather reticent towards over-radical measures of nationalisation: in the context where he perceived peasant individualist and commodity decentralisation as an essential problem, he had advocated a certain ’state capitalism’ combining nationalisations and a recourse to Russian or foreign capital –under the control of the ‘proletarian state’. Bukharin was rather opposed to this, supporting the radical nationalisations of what was called ‘War Communism’, including opposition to the appeal to qualified specialists, far from the positions he subsequently defended in the context of the NEP for a ‘tortoise paced planning’ which would placate the peasantry. The ABC of Communism drawn up by Bukharin in 1919 (and broadly circulated in the Communist International) reflected an initial radicalism close to that of Lenin as to the fashion in which capitalism developed and was analysed as ‘preparing Communism’ by the destruction of petty commodity production and monopolist concentration. He created a principal critique of capitalism from the angle of the anarchy of its crises, associated with commodity mechanisms, while being obviously critical of the appropriation of the surplus value produced by the workers through private profits.

In a certain way, War Communism was perceived, through its radical nationalisations and the suppression of any currency (no central bank, as Jean-Jacques Marie reminds us), as the means of brutally suppressing this ‘capitalist anarchy’ and that of petty commodity production (supposedly nourishing capitalism) at the same time as the private appropriation of the surplus. The valorisation by Lenin of ‘the scientific organisation of labour’ associated with piece work, or the proposals for militarisation of trade unions integrated in the ‘proletarian’ state which Trotsky supported, reflected these ‘economist’ illusions and errors – confronted with the bureaucratisation of the state: Lenin was rapidly conscious of the latter, for this reason opposing Trotsky on the trade union question, arguing that the autonomy of the unions should be preserved to defend the workers against ‘their state’.

But the ABC of Communism did not emphasise ‘the political economy of the workers’ (Michaël Lebowitz, 2003), in conflict with the criteria of political economy of Capital. The ‘despotism of the enterprise’ was not challenged – and the approach dominant among Marxists on the ‘primacy’ of the growth of the productive forces[28] as condition for a socialist transformation undoubtedly marked, beyond the pragmatism of the emergency, a form of economist stagism. The notion of ‘transition to socialism’ undoubtedly partially reflected – in a debatable fashion – this stagism. The anarchists and the ‘left Communists’ would criticise it, advocating democracy at the heart of the enterprises – correctly. This implied no simple and obvious response on the way to organise the economy and ‘power’.

In the immediate, the self-managed logics of workers’ control were blocked, either because they were perceived as contradictory with the state of development of the economy, or by mistrust of the capacities of inexperienced workers to overcome a certain logic of ‘workers’ control’ or enterprise management, faced with the urgency of the tasks of coordination of the economy. Statism imposed itself against the transformation of social relations expressed in embryonic fashion in the Factory Committees and soviets – which would facilitate the crystallisation of the Stalinist apparatus. Twenty years later, this statist logic would be challenged by the Yugoslav Communists, against Stalin. The permanent revolution renewed its sinuous course. But in the immediate the regressive spiral would continue amidst debates and major confrontations.

The tragic error of the repression of Kronstadt

The increasing awareness among Bolshevik leaders of the bureaucratisation of the state and of the party – which now contained a good part of the members of the old Tsarist apparatus – and the note of the counter-productive effects of the suppression of any market in agricultural production, came under the pressure of growing popular revolts. But this would be too late, and in an insufficiently clear manner, to avoid the ‘tragic error’ of the repression of the Kronstadt uprising (and not, as it was seen very widely at the time, including by all the internal oppositions to the Bolsheviks and by Victor Serge, the ‘tragic necessity’ against the threats of the Whites).

In his chapter on ‘the crisis of the revolution’ Pierre Broué (1988) relies notably on the work on this subject by the historian Paul Avrich (1970). While confirming the reality of counter-revolutionary components inside the rebellion, he concludes clearly:

Do these significant discoveries support the caricatural version of the insurrection-conspiracy, a conspiracy theory version of history according to which the insurgents would have been in some way only the instruments of the manipulation effected by ‘agents’? Such an interpretation is unsustainable. The sailors of Kronstadt undoubtedly reflected, in their demands and their programme, the popular anger, the will to put an end to the oppression which War Communism signified for them, of a unanimous peasant mass and a significant fraction of the working class.[29]

He also stresses the preponderant influence of anarchists ‘in tune with the feelings of the sailors which the historian Paul Avrich sums up as ‘disgust at privilege and authority, hatred of regimentation, the dream of local autonomy and self-administration’ – in a context of great ‘distress in the country’.

This tends to confirm the similar viewpoint expressed by Victor Serge in 1947 – a significant viewpoint, because it was still located in a position of support for the October Revolution, and explicit refutation of the lies concerning Bolshevik policies (supposedly putschist or refusing to work with other currents in the revolution).[30] But he subsequently clearly denounces a fatal chain of errors: notably the establishment of the Cheka with all its arbitrariness, and the repression at Kronstadt. One can support his conclusion at this level:

Lenin, by proclaiming the end of ‘War Communism’ and the ‘New Economic Policy’, satisfied the economic demands of Kronstadt, after the battle and the massacre. He recognised thus that the Party and himself were wrong to maintain an untenable regime whose perils had been denounced by Trotsky, who had proposed a change one year before.  The New Economic Policy abolished requisitions in the countryside, replaced by a tax in kind, re-established freedom of trade and small enterprise, unscrewed in a word the deadly framework of complete state ownership of production and exchange. But, (he adds) it would have been natural to unscrew at the same time the framework of government, by a policy of tolerance and reconciliation towards the socialist and libertarian elements disposed to place themselves on the terrain of the Soviet constitution.[31]

Such was not Lenin’s choice: on the contrary, the repression of pluralism was extended with the ban on factions. However, the manner of apprehending society and economy changed among Russian Marxists, breaking with the illusions of ‘War Communism’ which had been widely shared: it was now located on the more realistic level of a ‘society in transition to socialism’. This conceptualisation dominated the debates of the 1920s between Trotsky, Preobrazhensky and Bukharin[32] – and was taken up post-Stalinism, in Cuba or in Yugoslavia.[33] Its virtue is to make explicit (rather than hide as was persistently imposed by Stalinism) the reality of a fragile and conflictual society, non-socialist, where questions of the relations between planned industrialisation and market agriculture were concretely posed. But the ‘economic’ debates did not explicitly integrate the question of the bureaucratisation of the state (and of the party), thus also of the ‘despotism’ of the factory that only an explicit approach of self-management could hope to challenge.

Objective difficulties in the democratic issues at the heart of the permanent revolution

Victor Serge (1947) in ‘Thirty Years After’, like Rosa Luxembourg (1918) expressing her criticisms of the Bolsheviks, began by ‘situating’ himself: whatever their criticisms, both remained faithful to an impressive revolution whose profundity had been confirmed by the work of historians[34] as had the links subtly forged between a Bolshevik party (far from being homogeneous and disciplined with Lenin often being in a minority) and the democratic self-organisation of the popular masses inventing the soviets and factory committees. It was the attractive character of such a party which allowed it to be present on numerous battle fronts, indeed to rally to its ranks libertarians like Serge,[35] inasmuch as the Bolsheviks defended fundamental popular aspirations – bread, peace, workers’ control in the factories, the land to those who worked it and ‘all power to the soviets’. But what kind of Soviet democracy was to be constructed? 

After October 1917 did the concrete opposition to the logic of the single party and to its power in the Soviet state imply proposing ‘soviets without parties’, or ‘without Bolsheviks’, as some libertarian currents proposed? Was it necessary to leave to the members of the soviets themselves the choice over whether or not to accept the different parties (or their members) according to their practical behaviour and their respect for the democracy of the soviets – according to the rules to be drawn up in a congress – or a ‘constituent assembly’ on pluralistic bases?

The dissolution of the Constituent Assembly by the Bolsheviks was questioned by Rosa Luxemburg (1918).[36] But she considered that they were right inasmuch as ‘They did not want to entrust, nor should they have entrusted, the fate of the revolution to an assemblage which reflected the Kerenskyan Russian of yesterday, of the period of vacillations and coalition with the bourgeoisie.’ Her differences with Lenin and Trotsky concerned their arguments rejecting any project for a new constituent assembly. Even if it was not convincing to say as she wrote from prison that it was necessary to ‘immediately convene’ a new assembly, her arguments against the democratic restrictions, from the viewpoint of the consolidation of the revolution, are essential.

Did the difficulties of the situation justify repressive measures? Here again, Luxemburg explicitly raised this difficult question, without contesting the need for repressive measures ‘to protect the collectivity’. But her dominant logic was rather that the difficulties were, on the contrary, an argument against a general attack on liberties: ‘It is the very giant tasks which the Bolsheviks have undertaken with courage and determination that demand the most intensive political training of the masses and the accumulation of experience, which is not possible without political liberty’, she said. That went for the soviets and the party also, and not only for the convening of a constituent assembly.

Far from turning away from the tasks of socialist transformation, Luxemburg said she wanted to combat the illusion which is ‘to regard the social revolution as a thing for which there is a recipe ready in the pocket of the revolutionary party.’ And she added:

This is, unfortunately – or perhaps fortunately – not the case. Far from being a sum of ready-made prescriptions which have only to be applied, the practical realisation of socialism as an economic, social and juridical system is something which lies completely hidden in the mists of the future... Only experience is capable of correcting and opening new ways. Only unobstructed, effervescing life falls into a thousand new forms and improvisations, brings to light creative new force, itself corrects all mistaken attempts.[37]

In 1923, highlighting the urgency of the struggle against the bureaucratisation of the apparatus and of the party, Trotsky[38] stressed the need for debate, all the while confronted with the rise of ‘factionalism’ and its destructive polemics. This was the illustration of Luxemburg’s concerns. He added the critique of that, (including in the practices of Trotsky or Lenin themselves) which had begun to affect the freedom to express political divergences: ‘there should be no oversimplification and vulgarisation in the understanding of the thought that party differences, and this holds all the more for groupings, are nothing but a struggle for influence of antagonistic classes. Thus, in 1920, the question of the invasion of Poland stirred up two currents of opinion, one advocating a more audacious policy, the other preaching prudence. Were there different class tendencies there? I do not believe that anyone would risk such an assertion. There were only divergences in the appreciation of the situation, of the forces, of the means. But the essential criterion of the appreciation was the same with both parties.’

Soon, the entire Bolshevik old guard would be eliminated – politically and physically – by Stalin, the various ‘factional regroupings’ and critical positions, whatever they were, from Bukharin to Trotsky, would be likened to those of an infiltrating ‘class enemy’.

Stalinisation, internal and international – and the political-social bureaucratisation at the heart of the revolutions   

In the immediate situation of a hungry and exhausted population, and major tensions inside society and the Bolshevik party, where the ‘succession’ to Lenin was being prepared, it was in the context of the isolation of the Russian revolution,[39] notably after the checking of advances in Germany, that Stalin put on the agenda the concept of ‘socialism in one country’ (against the weary ‘permanent revolution’!).  

At the end of the 1920s, the forced collectivisation of agriculture (with all its dimensions of Great Russian national oppression, notably in Ukraine), consolidated the apparatus of the state/party which had become one after having radicalised the repressive measures taken by the Bolsheviks when Lenin was alive. The waves of major trials and purges aimed particularly at the old Bolsheviks, and the physical liquidation of real or supposed opponents, would accompany the putting in place of hyper-centralised and detailed planning, radicalising the approach of Preobrazhensky in a repressive fashion.

Accelerated industrialisation also favoured a massive vertical social and political promotion of peasants in the working class, and of workers in the state/party apparatus up to the very top. Despite Lenin’s last struggles (Moshe Lewin, 2015) as he became conscious of the bureaucratisation of the ‘workers’ state’ and of Stalin’s ‘Great Russian’ orientations, a totalitarian Stalinist system crystallised. At the end of the 1930s, Stalin proclaimed that the USSR had become socialist. His model of planning henceforth became the basic ‘criterion’ of ‘socialism’ in the Stalinised CPs. Certainly, socialism was also supposed to be free of conflict. The regime thus would henceforth suppress any expression of conflict – of classes or otherwise. The very rapid industrial growth and the immediate priority given to heavy industry was accompanied by a ‘Stakhanovite’ dragooning of the workers.

However, the rise of fascism and the Second World War would produce bloody and opaque polarisations. After the breaking of the Soviet-German pact, the involvement of the CPs and the USSR in the anti-fascist camp and its victories gave a new impetus and international prestige to the Stalinist regime. They would not conceal the forced annexation of the Baltic countries or the deportation of the Crimean Tartars, accused of being collectively complicit with the Nazis.

But the CPs would henceforth popularise in apologetic fashion the Soviet successes and avoid any anti-capitalist excesses for fear that they would be attributed to the USSR – which would hinder it in its negotiations for the division of the world between the great powers, on the backs of the peoples, as at Yalta. If aid had been provided by the USSR to those fighting Francoism, the latter were fought against and killed by the Kremlin if they went beyond the anti-fascist struggle – as Ken Loach highlighted in his film Land and Freedom

Faced with the rise of fascism and the behaviour of the CPs, Trotsky judged that the Stalinised CI was dead and decided with his comrades to create the Fourth International at the end of the 1930s – even before Stalin had decided to replace the Comintern with a simple Bureau of information. This act made concrete reality of a strategic turn:  henceforth the world socialist transformation was subordinated to ‘the construction of socialism in one country’.

The reformism of the Communist parties was then distinguished from that of social democracy by its lastingly maintained reference to a socialist project – incarnated by the USSR. It was credible in the context of the reconstruction of the countries of the capitalist centre after the war.  It was otherwise in the semi-peripheries of capitalism characterised by dictatorship and extreme class polarisation. This is where new revolutionary crises would emerge, first of all following the Second World War.

2- The pursuit of the permanent revolution after Stalin, in a scrambled century

The Yugoslav Communists rejected the Marshall Plan and did not bend to the Yalta agreements. In the same way, the Chinese revolution did not respect the limits of a stagism that the radicalism of the social and political confrontations rendered impractical. All these revolutions were, according to different chronologies and scenarios, sources of a major crisis of Stalinist hegemony in the Communist world, without however putting an end to the substitutionism of the single party speaking in the name of the workers, nor to bureaucratism – as evils affecting the whole workers’ movement, even its revolutionary component.[40]

The Chinese and Yugoslav revolutions endangered the control of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) over the CPs and the anti-capitalist struggles of the entire world.  But it was the Yugoslav revolution that was in direct conflict with the diplomacy of Yalta and which had a direct and immediate continental impact on the Kremlin’s sphere of influence (as witnessed by the popularity of the projects of a Balkan confederation).  That is why Stalin decided to hail the victory of Communist China but to ‘excommunicate’ ‘Titoism’ in 1948 by slandering it – and imposing a purge in the CP.

It was in the context of Khrushchev’s excuses to the Yugoslav Communists and the denunciation of ‘Stalin’s crimes’ at the 20th Congress in 1956 – without warning to the fraternal parties who had identified with Stalin – that relations with China would become tense. But Mao sided with Stalin against Khrushchev – while radicalising support for anti-imperialist resistance, against the ‘peaceful coexistence’ advocated by Moscow; whereas the Yugoslav Communists identified with Marx and the Paris Commune against Stalin – by introducing self-management in 1950. This singularity would open the floodgates to an experience and debates of huge value without equivalent elsewhere which we will return to later.[41]

In other words, the revolution continued to extend – but at the same time incorporating both conflicts with the imperialist world and those internal to the Communist movement. The ‘construction of socialism in one country’ was defeated; but it did not for all that mean the end of the single party and the relations of domination between fraternal countries. It modified the world relationship of forces, marking a decisive stage of decolonisation.

The impact of the Communist movement in the colonial world accentuated the shift of the United States: presenting itself initially as anti-colonialist through rivalry with the old European powers, it would henceforth adopt the warlike profile of ‘defender of the free world’. Their fear of Communism was a self-fulfilling prophecy in Cuba, where US interventionism radicalised the revolutionary process up to anti-capitalist rupture and rapprochement with the USSR in 1962. But the fight against Communism was also the explicit motive for US intervention in Vietnam after the French defeat. Such was henceforth, in this century, the ‘axis of evil’ legitimating supposedly civilising imperialist wars, reinforcing in its turn the crossing over of anti-colonial struggles into anti-imperialism.

Mehdi Ben Barka, the Moroccan leader who chaired the 1965 preparatory committee of the Tricontinental conference (assassinated before it was held in Havana in 1966), summed up the historic importance of this conference.[42] in his eyes: what would be represented there was ‘the current emerging with the October revolution and that of the revolution of national liberation’. The Cuban revolution was at the juncture of these two currents. This conference was certainly more important and politically radical than that of Bandung which is valued more by postcolonial studies, as Robert J. C. Young (2005) analyses.

Che’s appeal at the Tricontinental, the following year – ‘create one, two, three Vietnams’ – would stress its dynamic: seeking to vanquish imperialist aggression and extend the revolution, – which was at the antipodes of the ‘peaceful coexistence’ between systems sought by the Kremlin. Saïd Bouamama recalls the impact of this conference against colonialism, neo-colonialism and imperialism both in the third world and at the very heart of the imperialist powers, confronted both with the rise of the anti-war movement and the radicalisation of all the components of the US black movement, or again in the revolutionary fringes of May 1968 in France.

But this impact was also felt in Belgrade in June 1968 in the rise of strikes and occupations of faculties where the texts of the French May 1968 circulated, but also photos of Che Guevara and slogans for the victory of the Vietnamese NLF. Demands were raised - ‘self-management from below!’ and against the ‘red bourgeoisie’ – influenced by the criticisms of Marxist academics around the review Praxis, against ‘market socialism’. During this time, in Czechoslovakia, workers’ councils, supported by the pro-self-management wing of the CP and the trade unions, resisted Soviet tanks, after the Prague Spring for ‘socialism with a human face’. On a world scale, 1968 was marked by this ‘dialectic of world revolution’[43] and the radicalism of the confrontations[44].

The post-Stalinist USSR confirmed its weight in a contradictory fashion: on the one hand the rallying to the Cuban regime expressed for the latter the search for an essential counterweight against US imperialism at its doors; such a rallying was a source of prestige in the Kremlin’s wish for support in the anti-imperialist world. But this did not put an end to its bureaucratic reality and its behaviour as a great power. Its policy of ‘coexistence’ was that of a rival with capitalism – (in the context of a strong growth in the USSR, higher than the average in the developed capitalist countries, with Khrushchev predicting the overtaking of capitalism by 1980!). But this was not a rivalry free of tensions, as the Cuban ’missile crisis’ had attested. And it was more than ever accompanied by the demand of the post-Stalinist regime to control the ‘fraternal countries’: Soviet aid involved an alignment on the ‘model’, in a manner that could not be contested by the temptation of other orientations. The Soviet intervention in Hungary in 1956, against the revolution of the workers’ councils, put an end to the illusions of the Yugoslav Communists of a ‘post-Stalinism’ which would be egalitarian and respectful of the diversity of choices: hence the convening of a congress of self-management to proclaim the ‘self-managed road to socialism’ – and the insertion in the non-aligned movement (with all its ambiguities).

The post-capitalist societies after Stalinisation: the social content of the politics and reciprocally.

But the history of the USSR did not end with Stalinisation, and the latter would even be challenged in a spectacular and unexpected – although partial – fashion with the global shock of the 20th congress of the CPSU. But it amounted, after the death of Stalin, to the need of the bureaucratic apparatus itself to stabilise its power by other means. From inside the apparatus itself, the need to break with the arbitrariness of totalitarianism was then expressed, along with to attempt to render planning more effective – without challenging the reign (and the privileges) of the single party. It was necessary from the viewpoint of the ruling nomenklatura, for the protection of the lives and jobs of the bureaucrats themselves; but also, to legitimate their power – and they would wish to do it ‘in the name of the workers’ and of socialism (something the repression would not allow for very long). This involved the official repudiation of the gulag and at least some of Stalin’s crimes – thus the rehabilitation of some of his victims: the apologies expressed to Belgrade to the Yugoslav Communists were part of this.

But it was also about changing the priorities of planning to satisfy the needs of consumption. The role of the trade unions was modified although they would remain a transmission belt for the party’s choices: it was necessary to render the planned distribution of material resources compatible with a henceforth free choice of employment for workers. Thus, it was necessary to stabilise the labour force in the plan’s priority sectors by other means than imperative assignation: the unions would ensure the distribution to the workers of benefits in kind associated with employment (housing, crèches, medical dispensaries, products and so in) in the priority sectors. The stabilisation of the system would increasingly require the development of these hybrid forms of non-commodity ‘socialisation’ at the heart of the big enterprises, expressing the pressure of the workers in an alienated but often effective fashion.

The absence of real democratic power of the workers (in the broadest sense, of all kinds and categories), as producers and citizens, remained. That is why anti-Stalinist Marxists refused to characterise the USSR and similar regimes as ‘socialist’. This was not changed by Khrushchev’s reforms.  But as Moshe Lewin pointed out, this did not mean it was capitalist.  But it could re-become so. What criteria would decide this?

Considering that any alienation of labour is ‘capitalist’ is a weakness which does not allow analysis of the unforeseen (anticipated by the anarchists, without their responses being convincing) – notably the bureaucratic relations inside the workers’ movement and revolutions. In the same way it is not convincing to reduce the specific forms of socialist legitimation of the one-party regimes to simple ‘scraps of paper’, without constraint. The concrete analysis of the real relations of production is necessary, behind the opacity and the lies of the speeches and constitutions. But the capitalist restoration clarifies the ‘essence’ of what distinguishes this system from a system of capitalist exploitation.

Karl Polanyi (1983) stressed in his work of 1944 the contours of the ‘Great capitalist transformation’: labour power, land, and currency becoming specific commodities. The market of goods pre-existed capitalism, and was ‘built into’ societies and social relations not dominated by commodity production. And such a market has also existed in post-capitalist societies, built into its non-commodity social-political relations. The concrete analysis of the real property relations involves the examination of the ‘active’ role of the currency and the market.[45]

The ‘targets’ of capitalist restoration since 1989 have in fact been analogues to those analysed by Polanyi, but in a profoundly different context. The concrete analysis of the scenario of the privatisations of the 1990s allows us to measure to what point – notably indeed above all in the USSR - capitalist restoration means a structural change in the role of the currency and the state, a privatisation of natural resources and means of production – covering a whole non-market industry that has become dominant – a commodification of labour power, losing its legal status and its previous protections. Indeed, in the ‘Soviet’ system, money did not function as capital liable to be accumulated and invested. There was no market of capital or private banks; and the ‘accounting’ rouble used to express the administrative prices in industry was distinct from the currency-rouble distributed as the purchasing power of consumer goods. The economic imbalances (shortages, queues) expressed a poor production of use values, without any market sanction of enterprises (no bankruptcies) or workers (no lay-offs), without even any real accounting of costs, and without market mechanisms of adjustment and investment choices.

The party/state political system was related both to the ideological ‘superstructure’ and the economic ’infrastructure’ of these   societies – creating contradictions, rational behaviour (of managers and workers) and specific imbalances. Gérard Roland (1989) has produced an interesting conceptualisation concerning the manner in which this ‘political economy of the Soviet system’ tried very hard to ‘measure’ and fix (via various non-monetary indices) the production of use values and not of commodity values – in spite of the use of ‘prices’ and a currency. Also, the international exchanges between these countries illustrate a logic combining relations of ‘barter’ and political choices, taking world prices partially into account – but very distant both from commodity relation and from an effective and efficacious egalitarian socialist cooperation.[46]

The absence of domination of commodity relations and the impossibility of a capitalist accumulation of monetary surplus value did not prevent pro-capitalist pressures and social forces manifesting themselves. Nor did it prevent the workers being subject to specific, bureaucratic relations, which in many cases had nothing to learn from actually existing capitalism. This was what the concept of ‘state capitalism’ was partly intended to explain.[47] By the expansion of the revolutions and the specificity of the CPs in relation to social democracy were better taken into account by the partisans of ‘new class’ theses.[48] However, on the ‘space-time’ of the ‘Soviet century’, the different phases, experiences, contradictions and crises of the countries identifying themselves with socialism cannot be fully understood with ‘pure’ concepts. It is necessary to take ‘the best’ from each approach, but retain that which allows integration of the diversity of the phases and countries and the real and global bifurcation of what was the new ‘great capitalist transformation’ of these countries.[49]

The approach proposed by Michaël Lebowicz (2012) of the ‘contradictions of actually existing socialism’ (in the sense of actual countries which identified themselves as socialist) is useful in that it stresses both the main contradiction in the absence of real power of the workers in whose name the party governed; but it fully integrates the political-economic dimension of governing ‘in the name of the workers’ and of socialism:  it was reflected – outside of phases of totalitarian repression[50] which should not be assimilated to the ‘whole’ (as Moshe Lewin stresses), in a ‘contract’ (de facto) between the party (the so-called ‘vanguard’) seeking to find a form of legitimation of its power in the name of the workers; but the society and the party-state are ‘worked’ by contradictory logics, including pro-capitalist pressures[51].

These conflicts were dependent on open social and political struggles (in several historic phases) with several variants. Including capitalist restoration. It’s possible to get the judgement wrong. The falling off of the crises and dynamics noted allows rectification. Globally the characterisation of these societies as ‘transitional between capitalism and socialism’ makes sense, providing this formula is not associated with any hypothesis of an assured socialist transformation. This inclusive concept in no way prevents analysis of the contradictory tendencies evoked by Lebowicz. We can add here the analysis of the tendencies of the bureaucracy to crystallise as a non-bourgeois ‘class’[52] (which has always sought to transmit its privileges to its offspring!): Castoriadis was right to say that the ruling CPs (nor even those in the capitalist countries) did not behave as ‘defenders of capitalism’ – while stressing the defeat of this tendency: before the 1980s-1990s, the specific constraints of governing in the name of the workers had never allowed a real coherent autonomisation of a new class. The ‘Bonapartist’ semi-class bureaucracy had, then, oscillated between the fundamental classes, according to context. And it was towards capitalism that a good part of the nomenklatura sought to consolidate its privileges of power in the 1990s. This amounted to a choice, political-social in nature, including the effects of the political repression of anti-bureaucratic aspirations and struggles seeking to reduce the gap between reality and socialist promises.

The socialist ideology was contradicted by everything which prevented the workers themselves from controlling their labour. But this system, which forbade the self-organisation of workers including at the trade union level, combined with a breadth of social protections antagonistic to commodity relations and to full powers of bureaucratic ownership, cannot be understood without analysis of this alienated ‘political-social dimensions’ penetrating the relations of production and hybrid ownership: the bureaucrats were ‘nominated’ and without stability in property relations. They were not ‘real’ proprietors (they could not transmit any ownership to their descendants or close and sell enterprises) – they were only managers, ‘in the name of the workers’.

Numerous strikes (although forbidden as being ‘against the workers’ state’!) had a very rapid effect on a management apparatus which was politically ‘nominated’, in the name of the workers. This expressed a very structural, but very alienated (without capacity of coherent control) form of ‘veto’ power of the workers, blocking both the putting in place of market mechanisms[53] and full bureaucratic power. To take the final example from the ‘Soviet century’: the autonomous trade union Solidarnosc in Poland in the early 1980s was born out of the opposition to the introduction of market prices for consumer goods – a decision perceived, correctly, as ‘political’ (coming ‘from above’) and contrary to the egalitarian principles of the system. In spite of the ideological confusion affecting the meaning of words, it was certainly a ‘self-managed republic’ which emerged from the programme of Solidarnosc, the polar opposite of what would, ten years later, be the neoliberal shock therapy of privatisation. And in each of these phases many members of the single party supported the workers’ demands, while the ruling spheres hesitated between recourse to Soviet intervention or a Polish ‘Communist’ general.

Globally, the very fact of no longer being subject to the ‘blind’ laws of the capitalist market while identifying with socialism always gave, as has been stressed, a political content to the social-economic issues – and reciprocally[54]: this opened specific contradictions whose outcome was not fixed in advance. This legitimated including all the countries of ‘actually existing socialism’ in the same ‘conceptual boat’ (until the shift to capitalist restoration), that is, in the category adopted by the Bolsheviks from the 1920s: ‘societies of transition between capitalism and socialism’ - without any assurance as to the direction of the evolutions, and without suppressing the internal critique on the great gap between reality and socialist/communist finalities, rejecting any stagism. It would be aberrant to include the USSR of ‘War Communism’ in the 1920s (before Stalinisation) in the category of ‘society of transition between capitalism and socialism’ - and not the Yugoslavia of self-management. But it is still necessary to understand why self-management could be (and was) introduced by a CP while the USSR was dominated by Stalin.

The introduction of self-management because of the break with Stalin – why?

The ‘development of productive forces’ in the Yugoslavia which emerged from the war was in no respect more advanced than was the case in the USSR of the 1920s. And neither was self-management the product of a spontaneous movement from below, like the introduction of soviets – it was very much a political choice. It was and remains both an asset of this leadership and a weakness. But what party? Tito declared himself ‘the biggest Stalinist in the world’! And the Fourth International had been built on the basis of the note of ‘the revolution betrayed’ by Stalin, and the subordination of the CPs to the ‘construction of socialism in one country’ and, after the sectarian then rightist ‘zigzags’ of the CI, its inability to orient the CPs against fascism: it was to record the end of an effective Communism of the CI a little before it was explicitly dissolved by Stalin to give credibility to his polices. The diagnosis was then clear: the CPs linked to Moscow were variants of reformism. That meant for sincere anti-Stalinists (called ‘Trotskyists’ by Stalin and the Stalinists to associate with the label the worst insults and to liquidate them), to judge that there could no longer by a revolution led by the Stalinist CPs. The acceptance of the assassination of Trotsky and numerous real or presumed Trotskyists or their repression could not be, for them, the deed of revolutionaries. This was moreover, why, with sadness, Natalia Sedova-Trotsky had broken with the Fourth International when it supported the Yugoslav revolution against Stalin.[55] 

But in the repressive Stalinised world, it was necessary to see the hidden conflicts well before the 1948 break with Stalin – and this aids understanding of both what this party was and the causes of the introduction of self-management. They are located in the reality of a revolution led by the Yugoslav Communists during the Second World War (thus still alive in the popular memory in 1950) – a party which was protected from the pure dissolution suffered by the Polish fraternal party, and had become independent from Moscow, even at the financial level, since the 1930s. The revolution itself was in contradiction with the orientation advocated by Stalin (arising from the strategy of ‘construction of socialism in one country’) which fitted in with the framework of the Yalta agreements: according to the sharing of ‘spheres of influence’ decided between the great allied powers, Yugoslavia was to remain within the Western sphere under the domination of a Serbian dynasty which had sought refuge in London. The reign of the latter had been both a social dictatorship (the Communist Party was banned, as were trade unions) and Great Serbian nationalist (oppression of non-Serbian nationalities). And this ideology and the project of a return of the king were supported on the ground by the Chetnik résistance whose radical anti-Communism tempered their anti-fascism.

What the Yugoslav Communists rejected was both this past, the subordination to the resistance of the Chetniks supported initially by the Allies, and Stalin’s instructions demanding the renunciation of the hammer and sickle so as to apply the Yalta agreements. While the Yugoslav CP had barely more than 5,000 members before the war, its strength was to organise the struggle of the partisans, on the basis of a People’s Army of several hundred thousand peasants, workers and intellectuals in arms, and the Liberation Committees (inspired by the soviets) both against the fascist invaders, and on social and federative national bases. But it is also why the Yugoslav Communists could face down Stalin and his allies for what was essential in the here and now, the victory against the Axis forces led by Germany. To say, like some Trotskyist currents, that there was only a ‘political’ or ‘petty bourgeois’ revolution, or again that it was the pressure of the masses which pushed the CP – is blindness.

Yet it is true that until 1948 any public critique of the Soviet ‘big brother’ was forbidden, and aid from the latter was (legitimately) hoped for. But the conflicts with Stalin, notably revealed in the writings of Milovan Djilas (1980) or Dedijer (1970), were major. Tito, who had organised the international brigades in Spain, had noticed the disappearance of many members of the brigade in the Stalinist trials and purges – and he had protected himself. And above all, the strategic orientation was autonomous: beyond the line evoked by the Partisans, meetings multiplied between the Communist parties of the region, for a projected Balkan federation escaping Stalin’s control (stretching from Bulgaria to Greece) – illustrating the dynamic of permanent revolution inside the Soviet century. Such was the real cause (behind the lies and pretexts advanced by Moscow) of the ‘excommunication’ of Titoism decreed by Stalin in 1948: we cannot analyze all its consequences here, notably for Albania and Greece; but it was accompanied by purges throughout the region, with ‘Titoism’ becoming a new insult, like ‘Trotskyist’. For all those who had joined the struggle of the Partisans, indeed joined a Communist Party which identified with October 1917 and ‘thus’ Stalin, the rupture was a profound shock: Kosturica’s film When Father Was Away on Business highlights with humour how the pro-Soviet ‘Cominternists’ were from one day to the next repressed in Stalinist fashion.

As has been said, self-management did not emerge ‘from below’ or in continuity with revolutionary mobilisations, but from above. Not to ‘restore capitalism’ (as some Trotskyist currents continue to argue!), but to resist on two fronts. The choice of a self-managed system in 1950 met several objectives: in identifying with Marx’s praise for the Paris Commune, against the Kremlin leader, the Titoist leaders claimed their full legitimacy inside the world Communist movement and sought support there. But it was also about consolidating the social base of the regime, by ensuring the industrialisation of the country despite the halting of all Soviet aid – thus, in this phase of isolation, by mobilising the population in a concrete and popular programme of ‘construction’ of the country (its infrastructures, its factories), associated with the proclamation of a self-managed status. The latter would also provide a counter-weight to the pressures of imperialist ‘aid’ – even if concessions were made on this aspect, faced with the Korean war. Finally, it was also necessary to explain (and compensate for) a traumatic break with the ‘Fatherland of socialism’ which had until then been glorified (and with which there still remained the hope of a reconciliation: the critique of statism, notably expressed by Milovan Djilas, allowed an explanation of the bureaucratic consolidation of a revolutionary party become state and behaving as a ‘great power’. It was necessary then to protect oneself and dissociate from it by a popular mobilisation, while seeking support on the left, among those who valued the reference to the Paris Commune against Soviet statism.

As was the case from the USSR to Cuba as well as in all other revolutions, the same ‘substitutionist’ tendencies of a vanguard party, which had led a revolutionary armed mass struggle were manifested – on broadly state-directed bases. But self-management was a reality experienced by hundreds of thousands of workers, in all spheres of society (except the army!), with constitutional recognition of a ‘status’ which would be very popular, even if it had to find the resources to realise itself coherently. Three great combinations of plan, market and self-management would be experienced – and not only the variant of ‘market socialism’ (1965-1971). All the reforms were introduced and interrupted from above – taking account of the contradictions and struggles which emerged, after repression of any autonomous movement. But until the death of Tito (and other historic leaders) at the turn of the 1980s), all the reforms strengthened the rights of self-management and national rights – the two bases ‘legitimating’ the revolutionary regime, at the constitutional level. After 1989, it was on the contrary about the dismantling of this system and its bases, in the logic of capitalist restoration. 1968 would be the high point of the advances of struggles and proposals in the direction of the transcendence of the alienation of the self-management of the workers by statism and by the market.


[1]    I cannot deal with the question here, but I have tried to interpret it from the perspective of the strategic issues ‘L'essor et les crises du mouvement altermondialiste’ in an article entitled En quête d'alternative. L'état du monde 2018, see Samary (2017).

[2]    The Communist International established by the Bolsheviks could not yet be ‘post’ colonial but certainly began to be ‘decolonial’. Franz Fanon (1961) argues in ‘The Wretched of the Earth’ that ‘Marxist analysis should always be slightly stretched every time we have to do with the colonial problem’. On ‘post-colonial’ Communism see notably http://revueperiode.net/provincialiser-le-sujet-occidental-pour-un-communisme-postcolonial/  See also Benjamin Bürbaumer (2014) and K.B. Anderson (2010).

[3]   I borrow this notion of ‘capitalist world system’ in a sense which is appreciably different from that given to it by Immanuel  Wallerstein (2009). I retain from his approach the idea (common to Marxist theses on imperialism) of a capitalist system articulated and marked in the 19th century by relations of domination between the countries of the ‘centre’ and (neo)colonial ‘(semi)peripheries’; but I explicitly insert here, contrary to Wallerstein, the Marxist approach of relations of  production and crises of capitalism at the root of imperialist globalisation, exploiting  the assets of the previous colonisation. In omitting to do so, Wallerstein ‘extends’ the notion of ‘capitalism’ in an unconvincing fashion – which is criticised by Robert Brenner (1981) in relation to the emergence of capitalism; but this critique applies, in my view, to Wallerstein’s failure to take into account another, non-capitalist (and largely autarkic) ‘world system’ which emerged from the revolutions of the ‘Soviet century’ over a third of the planet – also favouring anti-colonial resistance movements. See Samary (2016b) 

[4]    See R. Galissot, 2005; S. Bouamama, 2016

[5]    Following Moshe Lewin, we should distinguish a specifically totalitarian phase – which Trotsky himself compared in many of its traits to Nazism - and the USSR post 20th congress, when the regime attempted to stabilise itself by other methods and specific relations of production without socialist democratic transformation: this amounted then to a semi-rupture with Stalinism. See notably Lewin’s texts as gathered and presented by Denis Paillard, Russie/URSS/Russie (1917-1991), Paris, Syllepse. Lewin does not analyze the international dimensions of the Soviet century.

[6]    Formula borrowed from Henri Maler (2000).

[7]    We will explain below the context and contributions of these movements which took up the propositions of the Yugoslav Marxists seeking to challenge alienation by both statism and commodity relations.

[8]    This is the title of Zbigniew Kowalewski’s book (1985) on Solidarnosc’s fight.

[9]    This contribution is situated within the problematic of ‘common goods’ explained by Silvia Federici (2011) or again, among others, David Harvey (2011), Jean-Marie Harribey (2013), Pierre Dardot & Christian Laval (2014), Benjamin Coriat (2015): it implies a critical approach to debates on ’common goods’ which ‘would define’ their management on the basis of their ‘nature’, or again which do not analyze in which dynamic the experiences of management of the commons is registered. It is about stressing the choices established between human beings (or a given population), deciding    the ‘putting in common’ of various goods or/and territories and determining together the criteria and terms of their management.

[10]   Except that in this text the cleavage is expressed on the question of a parliamentary democracy versus soviet powers. There is in fact a superposition and mixing up of several debates: Rosa Luxemburg supported the global approach of the Bolsheviks on October and the soviets as component of the world socialist revolution, but that did not stop her from contesting their approach to the democratic issues, including the Constituent Assembly. We will come back to this point.

[11]  The Russian Marxists, organised at the beginning of the century in the RSDLP (Russian Social Democratic Labour Party) became divided into two current on various organisational and strategic issues – the ‘Bolsheviks’, with Lenin at their head (from the Russian term for ‘majority’) and the ‘Mensheviks’ (minority). Trotsky initially criticised Lenin on the organisational questions but had at the same time supported the thesis of an anti-capitalist dynamic of the Russian revolution in its world context (see below on the ‘permanent revolution’), a thesis which Lenin would take up explicitly in April 1917. After the October revolution, the Bolsheviks took the name of Communist Party, establishing the Communist International/CI or Comintern. The Mensheviks remained linked to the Second International along with the ‘social democrats’, an appellation which then took on the meaning of a ‘reformism’ inside capitalism., associated with the rejection of the October revolution.

[12]  See Jean-Jean-Marie (2011) on Lénine. La révolution permanente 

[13]  On ‘the classical analyses of imperialism’, see Claudio Katz (2014)

[14]  See also, on Marx and the Russian peasantry, Teodor Shanin (1983), Late Marx and the Russian Road: Marx and the ‘Peripheries’ of Capitalism, NY Monthly Review Press

[15]   On the actuality of the permanent revolution see Michaël Löwy (2000); see also the debates on ‘combined and uneven development’, Benjamin Bürbaumer (2014)

[16]   At the heart of this dynamic, Marc Ferro (1997) stresses the radicalism of class antagonisms; but above all it is necessary to measure the complex dialectic between spontaneous actions and political orientations which worked in various senses, remarkably highlighted, notably by Alexander Rabinowitch (2016) or David Mandel (2016).

[17]  See the organisation by the CI of the Congress of the Peoples of the East in Baku in 1920 whose texts, published by Maspero in 1971, republished in 2017 by Editions Radar and La Brèche. See the presentation https://npa2009.org/idees/culture/1920-le-premier-congres-des-peuples-dorient 

[18]   On ‘The Marxists and the national question’ see Georges Haupt, Michaël Löwy and Claudie Weill (1979); and the critique by Roman Rosdolsky of the positions of Engels on peoples ‘without history’. https://www.marxists.org/francais/rosdolsky/works/1948/00/rosdolsky-engels-table.htm . More specifically on the Ukrainian question, K. Kowalewski (1989, 2015); see also N.G. Varela (2014).

[19]   See note 17. NB: even the defence of the right of self-determination of dominated peoples and thus the distinction between dominated and dominant nations (on which Lenin insisted as conditions of proletarian unity), did not imply any clear programmatic viewpoint on the interwoven national, social, political and indeed religious questions: see the emergence of a Communist Bund or of Muslim Communist currents, like the Tartar Bolshevik Mirsaid Sultan Galaiev: on this subject see Renault Matthieu http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article41639

[20]   See Samuel Joshua (2017): ‘Ils ont osé! L'expérience de l'école soviétique des années 1920’ - https://www.contretemps.eu/ils-ont-ose-ecole-sovietique-1920/

[21]   See in relation to this notably the presentation by Jean-Michel Kay (2005), L'Epreuve du pouvoir, Russie 1917. See also D. Mandel and A. Rabinowitch, op. cit. note 15. Also, on the general problems of lack of preparation, from libertarian as well as Marxist viewpoints, see the introductory remarks of the ‘Platform’ of 1926 of the Russian anarchist group abroad, Bielo Trouda, on the site dedicated to Nesto Makhno  http://www.nestormakhno.info/index.htm )

[22] Drawn up in August-September 1917, and published in May 1918.

[23]   See also on this subject Antoine Artous (1999) or Henri Maler (1995, 2016), or Isaac Johsua (2012) and his controversy over ‘Marxism in question’ with Pierre Khalfa in the review Contretemps (2012).

[24]  See on the ‘Left Communists’ and the review Kommounist, L. Shapiro (1997) who evokes the various oppositions, whether inside the Bolshevik party or outside it – libertarian, socialist revolutionary, Menshevik; Maurice Brinton (1970), Michel Olivier (2012) who criticise Shapiro’s ending his study in 1922, as if there was no internal opposition in a position to express itself after that date.

[25]  Which did not prevent many of them from participating some months later in the United Opposition, with Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev which was formed in the spring of 1926.  See also Broué (1963).

[26]   Alexandra Kollontaï (1921) drew up its platform. 

[27]  According to Michel Olivier (2012), there were three positions inside the Bolsheviks on trade unions. That of the Workers’ Opposition, invoked above; that of Trotsky who wanted an integration of the unions in the state apparatus, with the function of increasing the productivity of labour in a militarised fashion; and that of Lenin, for the maintenance of unions independent of the state and without responsibility for management, with the function of defence of the workers against the ‘Workers’ state’ (whose bureaucratisation he perceived).

[28]   Charles Bettelheim (1971) in his texts of the early 1960s, before his tilt towards the Chinese Proletarian Cultural Revolution, thus characterised this type of society as marked by a ‘non-correspondence’ between productive forces and relations of production. 

[29]   See Broué (1988), ‘La crise de la revolution’, online archives

[30]   See in the first part of his text: http://alencontre.org/societe/histoire/trente-ans-apres-la-revolution-russe-i.html

[31]   See the second part of his text, concerning the errors, at http://alencontre.org/societe/histoire/trente-ans-apres-la-revolution-russe-ii.html 

[32]   See Bukharin, Preobrazhensky, Trotsky (1972) Le débat soviétique sur la loi de la valeur.

[33]  It is also common to Ernest Mandel or to Charles Bettelheim, whose divergences are of the same nature as those between Preobrazhensky and Bukharin. But the ideological Stalinisation of Mao’s China would produce a caricatural variant of the analyses of conflicts assimilated to a class struggle

[34]   See Marc Ferro (1997), Alexander Rabinowitch (2016), Pierre Broué (1963) on the Bolshevik party and 1988 on Trotsky, or Jean-Jacques Marie, op. cit, on Lenin;

[35]  On the politics of the Russian anarchists, see Victor Serge (1920). See also the archive site in several languages: http://www.nestormakhno.info/index.htm and notably the Platform of the Dielo Truda group of Russian anarchists abroad (Makhno, Mett, Archinov, Valevski, Linski) criticised by others like Voline for being ‘Bolshevised’. See also the reportage for  Médiapart of July 17, 2017 by Jean-Arnaud Dérens  and Laurent Geslin, ‘Octobre 17 sur ‘Nestor Makhno, le ‘batko’ anarchiste d'Ukraine’ https://www.mediapart.fr/journal/culture-idees/190717/octobre-17-nestor-makhno-le-batko-anarchiste-dukraine?onglet=full. It does not seem that the libertarians had a homogeneous position on the national questions and in particular the independence of the Ukraine.

[36]   I cannot discuss here the other criticisms she formulates, which are far from being convincing, and which I do not share, against the slogans ’the land to those who work it’ (which Lenin had taken from the S-R) and the ‘right of self-determination’ of peoples who want it.

[37]   Spartacus editions have reproduced Kautsky’s texts and Lenin’s replies in a collection introduced by Jean-Michel Kay (2005): L'Epreuve du pouvoir, Russie 1917. The convergences between Kautsky and Rosa Luxemburg on this democratic question did not imply, as has been stressed, that the latter shared Kautsky’s hostility to the Russian revolution. 

[38]  See The New Course, Trotsky (1923) and Pierre Broué on ‘the crisis of the revolution’ https://www.marxists.org/francais/broue/works/1963/00/broue_pbolch_8.htm#sdfootnote207anc, and Trotsky (1923) The New Course and Letter to a Party Meeting See https://www.marxists.org/francais/trotsky/livres/coursnouveau/cn6.html

[39]   I cannot discuss the causes here. Yet the impact of October would be broadly felt throughout Europe. The role of social democracy, the leftist orientations and repression are combined in the necessary interpretation.

[40]   In his essay On Bureaucracy, Ernest Mandel (1978) distinguishes the critique of ‘substitutionism’ of party at work from the 1920s and facilitating the Stalinist bureaucratic crystallisation, and this latter. He synthesises simultaneously the significant stages of becoming conscious of the bureaucratic evil, notably inside the workers’ movement – and the means of consciously fighting it. Moshe Lewin has written of Lenin’s last struggle notably against Stalin’s Great Russian tendencies and the bureaucratisation of the workers’ state. On the debates and struggles inside the Bolshevik party against bureaucratism in the 1920s, read notably Eric Toussaint (2017). 

[41]   This debate is especially necessary with the anarchist currents, attached to principles of self-management, with a necessary review of both the Titoist past and the phase of ‘mass privatisation’ (by popular shareholding) after 1989. See my contribution to the centenary of the CNT in Barcelona, (Samary 2010). My site http://csamary.free.fr contains texts on the different dimensions and phases of this experience.

[42]  This conference brought together forces mobilised against imperialism and colonialism on three continents (Africa, Asia and Latin America) in the presence of delegations from the USSR, China and numerous other countries. See on this subject (R. Galissot, 2005; S. Bouamama, 2016)

[43]   These are the terms of the resolution adopted by the Fourth International which can be found in its digitalised archives (FI, 1963).

[44]   A special number of the review Contretemps (2008) on 1968: un monde en révolte stresses this international context. It includes, notably, an article on the Prague Spring of 1968 and the autumn of the workers councils under the occupation of the Soviet tanks, and another on June 1968 in Belgrade and the impasses of Titoism.

[45]  Charles Bettelheim has – correctly – insisted on the need to distinguish juridical relations of property and real relations – in other words the gap between the proclamation of ‘socialism’ and the reality. But this sensible method has been applied by all Marxists and other analysts who did not follow an apologetic and ideological approach to ‘actually existing socialism’ – notably Ernest Mandel. It in no way implies the use of concepts of capital outside of a capitalist system.  On the modalities of the new ‘great capitalist transformation’ in Eastern Europe, see Samary (2008b).

[46]   The non-market character of international exchanges between the countries of ‘actually existing socialism’ is organically linked to similar traits at the national level. Read on this subject Marie Lavigne (1990). These realities of a non-capitalist ‘system of production’ without commodity regulator were expressed in the growing importance (in the USSR) of the non-monetary  ‘social wage’,  (housing, crèches, health services and free shops, associated with the work place) rendering employment more rigid, well analyzed by David Mandel (1997); but also through the ‘passive role’ of the currency (not orienting investment choices) analyzed by  Wladimir Brus (1968, 1975) or again, by the ‘absence of strong budgetary constraint’ weighing on the enterprises, to take up the well-known formulations of Janos Kornaï (1971). See also Gérard Roland (1989), on the dominant role of use values.

[47]   But the currents using this concept are eclectic, like the criteria underlying this concept – encompassing Stalino-Maoists or currents identifying with anarcho-communism as well as variants of Trotskyism (see Tony Cliff (1955-1974), State Capitalism in Russia, https://www.marxists.org/archive/cliff/works/1955/statecap/ ). This is also true of the other concepts – analyzing the bureaucracy as new class – or preferring the approach in terms of caste and bureaucratised workers’ states. With the same concepts totally polar positions could be taken in relation to major events (revolutions and uprisings). Conversely, with different concepts, common positions – indeed a durable presence in the same International (the United Secretariat of the Fourth International) were possible – and desirable.

[48] I will return below to the failures of this conceptualisation (notably the absence of real autonomisation of this ‘new class’ in relation to the workers’ movement both at the social and international political levels. But the basic aspects of these approaches – the crystallisation of specific social interests, antagonistic to those of the workers under a non-capitalist form – can be fully integrated with more convincing approaches of the bureaucracy as ‘caste’ or intermediary quasi-class oscillating between the fundamental classes according to context.

[49]  It is necessary to study each scenario, which does not involve any ‘economic’ automatism: the contradictions and impasses of the said societies of ‘actually existing socialism’ imposed no fatality of capitalist restoration inasmuch as the dominant apparatuses had not decided on it. While preserving a solid control of the party-state (contrary to what was the case in Russia), China has shifted towards a true bureaucratic state capitalism (see Au Long Yu 2012) – I don’t know enough about the Vietnamese scenario, which has also clearly shifted towards capitalism. For the scenarios of Russia and the comprador bourgeoisies of eastern Europe, see Samary (2008b, 2015); Myant M. & Drahokoupil J. (2011), Transition Economies: Political Economy in Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia. See also the works coordinated by Wladimir Andreff notably (1990, 2006, 2007). For the specific situation of Cuba, see Samuel Farber (2016), Brana et al, (2002)

[50]  With certain traits of the epoch of Lenin.

[51]  This is what I have tried to do, in the context of Soviet planning or reforms, with or without self-management. See Samary (1988, 2008b) – and the articles on this subject on my site http://csamary.free.fr

[52]  See notably Cornélius Castodiaris (1982)

[53]  This is a very concrete element of the social relations of ownership, at work in planning and which has always been completely absent from Bettelheim ‘s analyses on the ‘market’ character of the links between enterprises.

[54]  Hence the dialogue of the deaf on the ‘political revolution’ although the notion had the function of describing the resumption of the ‘permanent revolution’ in the sense of a phase opened by October – which would be closed in 1989/91.

[55]   Published with the response of the United Secretariat in the dossier Controverses’, D’Octobre 1917 à l'effondrement de l'URSS of the Forum pour la Gauche communiste internationale:  http://www.leftcommunism.org/IMG/pdf/CT-1.pdf

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