On this day, the 93rd anniversary of the Russian Revolution, we are publishing an excerpt from a speech given by Trotsky on the occasion of the Fifth Anniversary of the revolution. The text is taken from the volume, The First Five Years of the Communist International, Volume 2. This HTML version is from the Marxist Internet Archives.
Nov. 7, 2010
Nov. 7, 2010
The Fifth Anniversary of the October Revolution and the Fourth World Congress of the Communist International
Delivered Before the Active Membership of the Moscow Organization
October 20, 1922
Comrades, the Fourth World Congress of the Communist International will convene during a jubilee for the Soviet power, its Fifth Anniversary. My report will be devoted to these two events. The jubilee is of course a purely formal one; involving a date on the calendar, but events are not regulated by the calendar. The fifth anniversary of the Soviet power does not represent any kind of completed historical period, all the less so because in our revolutionary epoch everything is undergoing change, everything is in flux, everything is still far from static, nor will the finished forms be reached soon. Nevertheless it is quite natural for every thinking individual, all the more so a Communist, to strive toward an understanding of what has taken place, and to analyse the situation as it shapes up on this formal date on the calendar, on the fifth anniversary of the Soviet power and, therefore, also on the occasion of the Fourth World Congress of the Comintern.
The Tangled Skein of Capitalist Contradictions is Becoming Unravelled, Beginning with Russia
Two day ago I happened to attend a party cell meeting at the former Bromley plant. One of the comrades there, a member of the cell, raised the following question: In what country would the proletarian revolution be most advantageous from the standpoint of Communist interests? After a moment’s reflection I replied that taking it so abstractly one would have to say that a revolution in the United States would be the most advantageous. The reason for this is quite easy to understand. This country is the most independent in the world, economically speaking. Its agriculture and industry are so balanced as to enable the country to lead, in the event, say, of a savage blockade, a wholly independent existence. Moreover it is the richest country in the world, disposing of the foremost industrial technology, holding in its hands approximately one-half, perhaps slightly less, of the visible gold reserve. It is a country concentrating in its hands the bigger half of world production in the most important branches. Naturally, were the proletariat of this country to take power into its hands, it would possess unsurpassed material foundations, and organizational and technical premises for socialist construction. The next country in order is – Great Britain, while Russia would come on this list if not the very last in the series (because there exists Asia, there is Africa), then at any rate very low toward the bottom of the list of countries within the borders of Europe. Yet history is, as you know, unravelling this tangled skein from the opposite end, namely from the end where Russia is located, a country which, in the cultural and economic sense, is the most backward among the major capitalist countries, a country which is extremely dependent in the economic and technological sense, and which, in addition, has been utterly ruined by the war. And if we were to ask ourselves today what are the political premises for the proletarian revolution in the United States, then naturally one may grant a possible course of events such as may extraordinarily hasten the conquest of power by the American proletariat. But if we take the situation as it stands today, then we must say that in this strongest, largest, and most decisive leading capitalist country, the political premises, i.e., premises on the plane of the creation of systematic party and class organizations, are the least prepared. One could devote an entire report to explain why history began unravelling the skein of revolution from such a weak and backward country in the economic sense as ours, but in that case I would be able to speak of neither the Fourth World Congress nor of the fifth anniversary of the Soviet power. It suffices right now that we have been compelled for these five years to pursue the work of socialist construction in the economically most backward country, while capitalism, mortally hostile to us, has been preserved in bourgeois countries far superior to us economically. This is the fundamental fact, and from it, naturally, stemmed the fearsome intensity of our civil war.
The Fundamental Lesson of the Russian Revolution
Here, if we wish to draw our fundamental conclusion, we must say in praise of our party that it has set a colossal example – for the proletariat of all countries – of how to fight for power and of how, after conquering it, to defend this power by means of the most resolute measures, applying wherever necessary harsh and ruthless methods of dictatorship, without flinching before any decisive measures in trampling upon bourgeois hypocrisy, when at stake is the securing of state power by the revolutionary proletariat. And this textbook of the Russian Revolution, which ought to be written, the workers of all countries will study in the course of the next few years or perhaps decades, because it is impossible to say how long the proletarian revolution will endure from its beginning to its termination: It is a question of an entire historical epoch. Whether we did or did not make mistakes during the civil war (and of course there were mistakes), we nevertheless did on the whole accomplish the most classic part of our revolutionary work. We have more than once spoken of the mistakes which conditioned our need to retreat in the economic sphere, a major retreat which is known among us as the NEP (New Economic Policy). The fact that we marched forward at the very beginning along a certain road, and then retreated and are now fortifying ourselves on certain positions, tends to disrupt in the extreme the perspective not only among our enemies but also among many of our friends. Correspondents sympathetic to us and many Communists, European and American alike, pose as the first question, both during the departure of our delegation to Genoa as well as today, the fact that many things have changed in Moscow (and there were many visitors to Moscow in 1919 and 1920) and that Moscow now resembles too much other European and American cities. And in general where is the guarantee that you Russian Communists will check the further development and head for Communism and not for capitalism? Where is the guarantee?
The general impression at a superficial glance is that the socialist conquests gained in the first period are now spontaneously and automatically melting and crumbling away and there does not seem to be a power capable of retaining them. It is possible, Comrades, to approach the question from the other end and say as follows: Let us for a moment forget that we proceeded along the line of the so-called War Communism and later retreated to the present position. Let us take the situation as it exists today and compare it with what it was on October 25, or on the eve of the 1917 revolution. If our foreign well-wishers or the European and American Communists were to submit us to a cross-examination, we would say: The railways, the mines, the plants and the factories were at that time in the hands of private owners. Enormous areas of the land and the country’s natural resources were in the hands of private owners. Today all the railways, the overwhelming majority, or in any case all of the most important plants and factories, all of the most valuable natural resources in the country are in the hands of the state, which is, in turn, the property of the working class, supporting itself upon the peasant masses. This is the fact which we have before us as the product of five years. There was an offensive followed by a retreat, but here is the balance sheet: As the product of five years, the most important means of industry and production and a considerable sector of agricultural production are under the direct supervision and management of the workers’ state. This is a fundamental fact. But what has produced the retreat? This is a very important question, because the very fact of the retreat tends to disrupt the perspective. How did we conceive the successive order, the course of nationalizing the means of industry and of the organization of socialism? In all our old books, written by our teachers and by us, we always said and wrote that the working class, having conquered state power, will nationalize step by step, beginning with the best prepared means of production, which will be transferred to the socialist foundations. Does this rule remain in force today? Unquestionably it does, and we shall say at the Fourth World Congress, where we will discuss the question of the Communist program: will the working class on conquering power in Germany or in France have to begin by smashing the apparatus for organizing the technical means, the machinery of money economy and replace them by universal accounting? No, the working class must master the methods of capitalist circulation, the methods of accounting, the methods of stock market turnover, the methods of banking turnover and gradually, in consonance with its own technical resources and degree of preparation, pass over to the planned beginnings, replacing accounting by a computation of the profitability or non-profitability of a given enterprise, replacing accounting by taking stock of the centralized means and forces, including the labour force.
This is the fundamental lesson which we must once again teach the workers of the whole world, a lesson we were taught by our teachers. If we violated this lesson, it was owing to conditions of a political character, owing to the pressures brought to bear upon us after our conquest of state power. This is the most important difference between the proletarian revolution as it has occurred in Russia and the revolution which will occur, say, in America. In that country, prior to the conquest of power, the working class will have to surmount the most colossal difficulties but once it has conquered power, the pressure on those fronts on which we were compelled to fight will be far less, because our country with its petty-bourgeoisie, its backward kulaks (well-to-do peasants), experienced the revolution in a different way and because our revolution caught the Russian bourgeoisie by surprise. By the very fact of the October revolution we taught the bourgeoisie to understand just what it has lost when the workers took power and it was only the fact of the revolution itself that impelled the bourgeoisie, the kulaks and the officers to organize. We smashed the bourgeoisie not so much prior to October 25 and during the night of October 25-26 as in the three years’ interval following October 25, when the bourgeoisie, the landlords and the officers fathomed what was involved and began the struggle against us with the aid of European capitalism. In Europe we have a process differing profoundly from that in our country, because there the bourgeoisie is far better organized and more experienced, because there the petty-bourgeoisie has graduated from the school of the big bourgeoisie and is, in consequence, also far more powerful and experienced; and, in addition, the Russian Revolution has taught them a good deal. In these countries therefore the preparation and the arming of counter-revolutionary gangs is now taking place parallel with the preparation and tempering of the Communist Party for this struggle, which will be far more intense prior to their October 25, but not afterwards. Only before. The fact that in our country, the day after the conquest of power, the plants and factories turned out to be the fortresses and citadels of the bourgeoisie, the main base upon which European imperialism was able to depend, this fact compelled us to resort to nationalization, independently of our ability or the extent of our ability to organize these enterprises with our own forces and resources.
And if, for political reasons, we drove the property owners out of the factories, while being ourselves bereft of the possibility of even immediately gaining hold of these factories; if, for political reasons, we brought down the sword of dictatorship and of terror upon the stock market and the banks, it is self-evident that we thereby mechanically destroyed the apparatus in the service of the bourgeoisie and which the bourgeoisie employed for organizing the economy and for distributing the productive forces and commodities in the country. Insofar as we destroyed this apparatus at a single blow, we were, generally speaking, obliged to replace it with another – with the apparatus of centralized accounting and distribution. But such an apparatus had first to be created; we had to have it; but, naturally owing to all the preconditions, owing to our entire past, owing to our level of development and knowledge, we could not possibly create it. And so, because of the titanic and ineluctable aspects of the civil war as such, and because of the impossibility even for an advanced working class and all the more so for us, in a backward country, to create an apparatus of socialist calculation and distribution in the space of twenty-four hours – precisely because of this there arose the entire tragedy of our economy. War Communism, too, was not our program – it was imposed upon us. To the extent that there were fronts in the civil war, to the extent that we were compelled to destroy the enemy’s bases of support behind these fronts, i.e., the private capitalist enterprises of all categories, to that extent we were driven to manage the enterprises in a migratory and warlike manner. This was the epoch of War Communism and I shall not conceal that here, as is always the case, people tended to make a virtue out of necessity, i.e., in the same measure as War Communism was imposed upon us, the party workers and the leading party institutions tended to be carried away by inertia, in the sense of deluding themselves that we had here a complete solution of the tasks of socialist economy. But if we draw the balance sheet, we must say that the offensive and the retreat in the domain of economy had been dictated by the requirements of the civil war, which were absolutely imperative, and which cut across our economic conditions and the degree of our economic adaptation, or lack of adaptation. In other words, essentially both our offensive along the line of War Communism as well as our retreat along the line of the NEP were historically unavoidable in part and as a whole; and only on the basis of this historic necessity is it possible and necessary to analyse our subjective errors – both as a party and as a state power.
The Overhead Expenditures of the Revolution
There remains, Comrades, the most important question of all. As a result of five years, the workers’ state, as I said, disposes, after our retreat, of the most important means of production, and wields power. This is a fact. But there also is another fact – namely that we represent today one of the poorest countries in Europe. Yet it is quite obvious that socialism has meaning only to the extent that it assures a higher productivity of labour. Capitalism in its day superseded feudalism, while the latter superseded slave economy. Why? Because each succeeding economic order was more profitable in the socio-technological sense than the order it shunted aside; and socialism will naturally acquire its practical and not theoretical justification only on the condition that it supplies a greater quantity of goods per each unit of labour power for the satisfaction of social needs. And this is the chief argument employed against us. It was made use of even by the French representatives at Genoa; and Colrat, the French economic expert, repeated it in a crude and insolent form: “Don’t you dare teach us socialism when your own country is in a state of complete disorganization.” We would have preferred to provide in the last five years proofs of empirical character that is, show Europe an economy superior to the one which we obtained in 1917. This does not happen to be the case, but this is already ascribable entirely to the expenditures incurred by the revolution itself. Not a single revolution was ever accomplished without a lowering of the country’s economic level; and one of the conservative bourgeois historians of the French Revolution, Taine, so highly esteemed in the Third French Republic, has affirmed that for eight years following the Great French Revolution, the French people remained poorer than they were on the eve of revolution. This is a fact. Society is so shot through with contradictions, that it is capable of reaching a higher stage of development only through an internal class struggle. Society is so constituted that an internal class struggle in the fully unfolded form of civil war implies a lowering of economic levels. But, at the same time, of course, (every school boy knows this today), it was precisely and exclusively the Great French Revolution that created in France those governmental, juridical and cultural premises which provided the sole basis for the development of capitalism there, with all of its prowess, its technology and its bourgeois culture. In other words, what I wish to say is that the five-year period (and we must say this to all our critics, malicious and well-meaning alike who employ this argument) does not provide a historic scale by means of which it is possible to weigh the economic results of the proletarian revolution. All that we see up to now in our country are the overhead expenditures in the production of the revolution. These are expenditures for the revolution itself. And naturally, since these expenditures had to be covered from inherited capital, which, in turn, had been disorganized and devastated by the imperialist war, it therefore follows that we see in our country many more ruins of capitalism than results of socialist construction. The scale is far too small. This is what we must repeat once again at the Fourth World Congress of the Communist International. Five years in relation to the task of superseding capitalism by socialism, a task of the greatest historical magnitude – five years could not naturally bring about the necessary changes and what is, naturally, most important these five years constituted the period when socialism – as I said in the beginning – was being built or attempts were made to build it in the most backward country. The Great French Revolution, on the other hand, unfolded in the most advanced country on the European continent, a country that had attained a higher level than any other, with the exception of England across the Channel. In our country, the state of affairs assumed a far less favourable turn from the very beginning.
Here, Comrades, are in rough outline, those arguments which we shall develop in our party’s name at the Fourth World Congress where we are bound to ask our European and American comrades and at the same time ourselves, too: How do matters really stand with regard to the chances for the development of the European revolution? Because it is perfectly self-evident that the tempo of our future construction will in the highest measure depend upon the development of the revolution in Europe and in America.