Tony Cliff

On the Class Nature of the “People’s Democracies”

Theoretical bankruptcy and political dishonesty

The record of the International Secretariat (IS) on the “people’s democracies”

The first big document written by a member of the IS dealing with the “People’s Democracies”, officially declared to “express in its entirety the leading opinion of the IS”, was E. Germain’s The Soviet Union after the War (September 1946). Here Germain tells us, first of all, that all the “People’s Democracies”, Yugoslavia included, are capitalist countries. He proves that their states are bourgeois thus:

This structure (hierarchical and centralised administration, apparatus of repression, etc.) is preserved everywhere, with the same officials still functioning, since the “purge” touched only the smallest fraction of them. The only exception is Yugoslavia, and to a lesser degree Poland. In these countries the people who made up the former state apparatus have almost completely disappeared as a result of certain historical factors. Further proof of the bourgeois character of the state is the fact that the new state apparatus makes use of roughly the same structure as the previous apparatus did.

We are told that the Stalinists did not bring about a revolution in Eastern Europe, but a counter-revolution. To quote only what is said about Yugoslavia (and Albania):

In these two countries, the Soviet bureaucracy did not have to carry on any consistent counter-revolutionary activity; the native Stalinists took this upon themselves.

[In both countries, the Stalinists constructed] a new bourgeois state apparatus.

On the question of whether the Stalinist bureaucracy can smash capitalism in these countries, or whether there must be revolutionary activity on the part of the proletariat, Germain is unambiguous:

... in the last analysis only the revolutionary action of the proletariat can determine the final crushing of capitalism in the buffer countries.

In the same document Germain calls to task the ex-Trotskyist, Leblanc, who put forward the “theory” that the Stalinists did carry out the proletarian revolution in Eastern Europe. He says:

This theory is a complete petty bourgeois revision of the Marxist-Leninist concept both of the state and of the proletarian revolution ... Leblanc’s thesis completely revises the Trotskyist conception of the objectively counter-revolutionary role of the Stalinist bureaucracy both in Russia and in other countries ... The whole struggle of the Bolshevik-Leninists against Stalinism has been based on the fact that its role is that of grave-digger of the world revolution, and grave-digger of the USSR. And now suddenly this grave-digger is offered to us as the one who will “objectively carry through the proletarian revolution”. From the conclusions which Leblanc draws in his thesis it is clear that what we have here is a capitulation under the pressure of Stalinism – a very powerful pressure among the French intelligentsia – a capitulation resulting both from disillusionment in the absence of a victorious revolutionary movement and from complete lack of confidence in the revolutionary potentialities of the world proletariat.

On 15 November 1946, E. Germain wrote (The Conflict in Poland, Fourth International, February 1947):

No one can doubt for a moment that in Finland, in Hungary, in Rumania or in Bulgaria ... capitalism continues. [And then:] Does he [Shachtman – TC] really think that the Stalinist bureaucracy has succeeded in overthrowing capitalism in half of our continent? Shachtman again finds himself in this hardly enviable condition of having to share his views with the Stalinists! ... It is precisely because the Polish Stalinists, like the Spanish Stalinists, want to force the workers to remain within the limits of a bourgeois society and state that we accuse them of betrayal ... That is why we fight against Stalinism!

The Resolution of the Second World Congress of the Fourth International, April 1948 (Fourth International, June 1948), says on the class nature of the “People’s Democracies”, Yugoslavia included:

... these countries retain their fundamentally capitalist structure. (The] mixed corporations, Soviet-owned stock companies, preferential trade treaties, etc. [are] forms of capitalist exploitation ... The nationalised sector itself continues to retain a capitalist structure (individual profit balance, role of money, individual management and accounting, and so on).

(The Resolution, by the way, forgot to mention that the “individual profit balance, role of money, individual management and accounting” apply not only to the “nationalised sector” of the “People’s Democracies”, but also to the whole of the Russian economy.) The same Resolution tells us about the nature of the States in the “People’s Democracies”, Yugoslavia included:

... In the “buffer” countries the state remains bourgeois: a) Because the state structure remains bourgeois ... b) Because the function of the state remains bourgeois. Whereas the workers’ state defends the collective ownership of the means of production, arising from a victorious socialist revolution, the state of the “ buffer “ countries defends property which, despite its diverse and hybrid forms, remains fundamentally bourgeois in character ...

Thus, while maintaining bourgeois function and structure, the state of the “buffer” countries represents at the same time an extreme form of Bonapartism ...

From the bourgeois character of the state in the “buffer” countries results the necessity for the violent destruction of its bureaucratic machine as an essential condition for the victory of the socialist revolution in these countries.

We are told again about “the bourgeois function and structure of the state”: “Its destruction is impossible without a revolutionary mobilisation of the masses.” We are assured that up to then (April 1948) this did not happen anywhere, and as an illustration of how the Stalinist bureaucracy maintained the bourgeoisie states we are referred to the February coup in Czechoslovakia:

Wherever it is forced to undertake a limited mobilisation of the masses in potential organs of dual power (e.g. Action Committees in Czechoslovakia) it insists both in action and propaganda that these organs are not intended to replace the state organs but merely to supplement them.

From all this the Congress drew the inevitable conclusion as regards the attitude to be taken in case of a war between, let us say, capitalist USA and capitalist Czechoslovakia or Yugoslavia: “The capitalist nature of these countries imposes the necessity of the strictest revolutionary defeatism in war time.”

What is more natural after this than that the IS should severely attack the new edition of Leblanc – Haston’s declarations (three years after his French fellow-thinker) that the Stalinists carried out the proletarian revolution in Czechoslovakia!

Thus in April 1948 we are told that the “People’s Democracies” are capitalist countries with “extreme forms of Bonapartism”, “police dictatorships”, etc., that the destruction of capitalism can be carried out only by the “revolutionary action of the masses” which was not yet a fact, that a revolution demands the “violent destruction of the bureaucratic state machine”, that you cannot defend any of these states but must observe the “strictest revolutionary defeatism”. And we are assured all along that anyone who says that the Stalinists did carry out a proletarian revolution in these countries is “capitulating to Stalinism”.

There came the Tito-Stalin conflict, and the IS wrote an Open Letter to the Congress, Central Committee and members of the Yugoslav Communist Party. Not a word is said about the capitalist character of the regime, about the “extreme forms of Bonapartism”, the necessity for “violent destruction of the bureaucratic state machine”. Not a word about why it was necessary to observe the “strictest revolutionary defeatism” in Yugoslavia in case of a war with capitalist US, and thus ten times more so in case of a conflict with the workers’ state of Russia.

To avoid the unpleasant duty of self-criticism, the IS does not tell us that the position it held as regards the “People’s Democracies” in the years 1945-48 was totally wrong. Thus the International Executive Committee’s Seventh Plenum (April 1949) finds the temerity to declare: “... the tasks of the Fourth International in these countries [‘People’s Democracies’ including Yugoslavia – TC] remain, in a general way, those enumerated by the Second World Congress” (i.e. “strictest revolutionary defeatism”).

In the last few months we are told, firstly that Yugoslavia is a workers’ state (without the reservation “degenerated”), secondly that Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania and Bulgaria are also workers’ states. It is only a question of time till Eastern Germany and China will also be included among the workers’ states.

What a picture of the IS years after the “People’s Democracies” were established, after the proletarian revolution took place in half Europe and half Asia (according to the new IS version) they told us that these countries were capitalist, with the most reactionary Bonapartist police dictatorships. Now, suddenly, they have discovered that the leadership of the world revolutionary organisation succeeded in finding a series of proletarian revolutions carried out years back. If people cannot distinguish easily between the two extreme opposites – capitalist state and workers’ state – something must be amiss in the conceptions of these people as regards what constitutes the one or the other. The IS, by missing a series of proletarian revolutions and finding them only years after they assumedly broke out, as if they were needles in a haystack, expose themselves as completely bankrupt theoretically.

To match the theoretical bankruptcy now comes political dishonesty. The IS does not make a balance sheet which will include at least the answer to these questions: If there were proletarian revolutions in Eastern Europe, how did they happen to miss the sight of the IS? Was the IS right to attack Leblanc and Haston as capitulators to Stalinism when they said that the Stalinists did carry out the proletarian revolution in Eastern Europe? Was the is right in declaring Stalin counter-revolutionary? Was the is right in declaring – in the steps of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky – that the bourgeois state machine must be smashed by the “revolutionary action of the masses”, etc. etc.?


Last updated on 19.7.2002