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The Bolsheviks: From Ideological Conflict to Civil War

Domenico Losurdo

Translated using the Portuguese edition of the book, often consulting the Spanish edition, not the original Italian edition.

Translated by David Ferreira

The Russian Revolution and the Dialectic of Saturn

In the eyes of Khrushchev, Stalin is tarnished by the horrendous crimes against comrades from his own party, having deviated from Leninism and Bolshevism and having betrayed the ideals of socialism. But it’s precisely the reciprocal accusations of betrayal that contributed in a very  important way to the tragedies which struck Soviet Russia; accusations that hasten or deepen the internal divisions in the leadership group from October 1917. How to explain these divisions? The dialectic of “Saturn devouring her own children” is certainly not a trait exclusive to the October Revolution: the consensus that presides over the overthrow of an old regime rejected by  the majority of the people can inevitably crumble or wither at the moment in which they try to determine how the new order should be constructed. This is also true for the English and American Revolutions.129 But this dialectic in Russia is felt in a particularly violent and prolonged way. Even at the time of the Czarist autocracy’s collapse, while the attempts to restore the monarchy or to establish a military dictatorship persist, there’s a painful decision imposed on those who are determined to avoid a return to the past: to concentrate on peace first or, as the Mensheviks argue, to continue or even intensify the war efforts, rallying Russia behind the slogan of democratic interventionism.

The consolidation of the Bolshevik victory in no way ends the dialectic of  Saturn, which gets  further intensified, in fact. Lenin’s call for the conquest of power and the revolution’s transformation in a socialist direction is considered an intolerable deviation from Marxism in the eyes of Kamenev and Zinoviev, who alert the Mensheviks to the situation and therefore invite upon themselves the accusation of betrayal from the majority of the Bolshevik party. It’s a debate that extends beyond Russia’s borders and the communist movement itself. The social democrats are the first to cry out against the scandalous abandonment of orthodoxy, which excluded the possibility of a socialist revolution in a country that hadn’t yet passed through full capitalist development; while both Karl Kautsky and Rosa Luxemburg condemned Lenin’s embrace of the slogan “land to the peasantry” as an abandonment of the path toward socialism.

Here, however, it’s worth concentrating on the divisions that occur within the Bolshevik leadership group itself. The millenarian expectations that arise from a combination of circumstances, both objective and subjective, explains the particularly devastating strength demonstrated by the dialectic of Saturn. Fear and indignation, universally shared, caused by the unspeakable carnage and conflict between different states as if it they were Moloch, determined to sacrifice millions and millions of men on the altar of national defense, when in reality they are competing in an imperialist race for world hegemony, all of this strengthens the demand for a completely new political and social order: it’s a matter of once and for all ripping out the roots from from which all the horrors since 1914 had emerged. Nurtured by a world view (which with Marx and Engels appears to call for a future without national borders, market relations, a state apparatus, and even judicial coercion) and by an almost religious approach to the texts of the communist movement’s founders, that demand could only be a disappointment once the structure of the new order begins to take form.

Therefore, well before being central to Trotsky’s thoughts and the criticisms he made, and after having already manifested itself during the collapse of the Tsarist autocracy, the theme of the revolution betrayed looms like a shadow over the history that begins with the Bolshevik rise to power. The accusation or the suspicion of betrayal emerges at every turn of  this  particularly tortured revolution, driven by the government’s need to reconsider some of the original utopian motives, and in any case forced to moderate their grand ambitions given the extreme difficulties of the objective situation.

The first challenges faced by the new political order is that represented by the dissolution of the state apparatus and by the continued widespread anarchy among the peasantry (who lack any state or national vision, and are therefore quite indifferent to the plight of the cities, which lack any sources of food) inclined to establish short lived “peasant republics”; anarchy was also present among deserters, already hostile to all forms of discipline (as is confirmed by the rise of  a “Free Republic  of Deserters” in a district of Bessarabia). In this case, it’s Trotsky who’s labeled a traitor, who as leader of the army is on the front line in the restoration of centralized power and the very existence of the State: at this time it’s the peasantry, the deserters (among them deserters from the Red Army) and outcasts who lay claim to the “authentic” socialism and the “true” soviets, and who long for Lenin (who had endorsed or encouraged the revolt against state power) and who consider Trotsky and the Jews to be vile usurpers.130 One can place in that same context the revolt in 1921 by sailors in Kronstadt. From what it appears, on this occasion Stalin had spoken in favor of a more cautious approach, that is, waiting for the depletion of fuel and food provisions available to the besieged fortress; but in a situation in which the danger of civil war and intervention by counter-revolutionary powers had not yet vanished, a quick military solution ends up being imposed. Again, it’s Trotsky, the “police officer” or marshall, who is considered the “defender of bureaucratic organization”, “dictator”, and, in the last analysis, traitor to the original spirit of the revolution. Trotsky, for his  part, suspects Zinoviev of having for weeks encouraged the agitation that then turns into a revolt, demagogically wielding the banner of “worker democracy [...] like in 1917."131 Judging from these events, the first accusation of “betrayal” is an inevitable step in all revolutions, but it’s especially painful when it’s a revolution carried out in the name of the state’s withering away, from the moment of the old regime’s overthrow up until the construction of the new order, from the “libertarian” phase up until the “authoritarian” phase. Naturally, the accusation or suspicion of “betrayal” is tied to personal ambitions and the struggle for power.

The Foreign Ministry “Closes Up Shop”

The jingoistic rhetoric and national hatreds, in part “spontaneous”, in part intentionally fanned, led to the nightmare of imperialist war. The need to put an end to all this takes on an all consuming importance. Thus, a totally unrealistic internationalism emerges in certain parts of the communist movement, which tends to dismiss different national identities as mere prejudices. Let’s see in what terms, at the start of 1918, Bukharin opposes not only the peace of Brest-Litovsk, but any attempt on the part of Soviet power to exploit the contradictions among the various imperialist powers, whether by stipulating agreements or doing deals with one or the other: “What are we doing? We are turning the party into a dung heap [...]. We always said [...] that sooner or later the Russian Revolution would have to clash with international capital. That moment has now come."132

It’s easy to understand the deception and unease of Bukharin who nearly two years earlier―against a war to the last drop of blood between the great capitalist powers and between different nation  states, and against the chauvinist turn by social democracy―had supported a vision of humanity finally united in brotherhood thanks to the “social revolution of the international proletariat, that through arms toppled the dictatorship of financial capital." With the defeat of “the  socialist epigones of Marxism” (guilty of having forgotten or repressed “the well known thesis from the Communist Manifesto”, according to which “the workers have no fatherland”), “thus ends the final way of limiting the proletariat's conception of the world: the limitations of its nation state and its patriotism”; “the slogan for the abolition of state borders and the convergence of the peoples into a single socialist family."133

It’s not a matter of a single person’s illusions. Upon taking the position as People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Trotsky would declare: “I shall publish some revolutionary decrees to the peoples of the world, then I will close up shop."134 With the arrival of a unified humanity across the world following the ruins of war and a wave of global revolution, the ministry that would prove to be superfluous is that which would normally handle relations between different states. Compared to this enthusiastic perspective, reality and the political project―as revealed by the Brest-Litovsk negotiations, with the return of state and national borders and even the return of the state’s raison d'être―must appear mediocre and disappointing! It’s not a small number of Bolshevik members and leaders who experience that event as the fall, or even the vile abandonment and betrayal of an entire world of ideals and hopes. Certainly, it would not be easy to resist Wilhelm II’s armies, but to make concessions to German imperialism just because the Russian peasantry, self absorbed in their own interests and ignorant of the responsibilities imposed on them by world revolution, refuse to continue fighting? Is that not proof of the nascent “peasant degeneration within our party and Soviet power”? Toward the end of 1924 Bukharin describes the common sentiments among “the ‘pure blooded’ left communists” and the “circles that sympathized with comrade Trotsky” during the Brest-Litovsk period: “comrade Riazanov stood out in particular, who at the time quit the party because, in his opinion, we had lost revolutionary purity."135 Apart from individual figures, there are important party organizations that declare: “In the interest of the international revolution, we judge it opportune to accept the possibility of losing Soviet power, which has now become something purely formal." They are “strange and monstrous” words from Lenin’s perspective,136 who’s suspected and accused of treason, and even becomes the target of a coup plot by Bukharin,  however vague it may have been.137

All of the prestige and energy of the great revolutionary leader is needed to overcome the crisis. But it emerges again some years later. With the defeat of the central powers and the outbreak of revolution in Germany, Austria, Hungary and its potential outbreak in other countries, the outlook the Bolsheviks were forced to abandon with Brest-Litovsk appears to again acquire new vitality and relevance. At the conclusion to the First Congress of the Communist International, it’s Lenin himself who declares: “The victory of the worldwide proletarian revolution is guaranteed. The founding of the International Soviet Republic draws near."138 Therefore, the imminent defeat of capitalism around the world would have been rapidly followed by the fusion of different nations and different states into a single entity: again, the foreign ministry was about to become superfluous!

The twilight of that illusion coincides with Lenin’s illness and death. The new crisis is even more serious because now, inside the Bolshevik party, there’s no indisputable authority. From the point of view of Trotsky, his allies, and his followers, there can be no doubt: what had dictated the choice of “socialism in one country” and the consequent neglect of the idea of world revolution, wasn’t political realism and a calculation of the balance of forces, but bureaucracy, opportunism,  cowardice, and in the last analysis, betrayal.

The first to face this accusation is Stalin, who from the start had dedicated special attention to the national question, looking toward the victory of the revolution at an international level, but thinking first of Russia. Between February and October of 1917, he had presented the proletarian revolution not only as the necessary instrument to build the new social order, but to also reaffirm Russia’s national independence. The Entente tried to force Russia, through all possible means, to continue fighting and bleeding, and similarly tried to transform it into some type of “colony of Britain, America and France”; worse yet, they behaved in Russia as if they were “in Central Africa”;139 complicit in this operation were the Mensheviks, who with their insistence on the war’s continuation, accepted the imperialist diktat, and were open to the “gradual sale of Russia to the foreign capitalists”, leading the country “to ruin” and revealing themselves, therefore, as the true “traitors” to the nation. Against all this, the completion of the revolution not only promoted the emancipation of the popular classes, but cleared “the way to the effective liberation of Russia."140

After October, the counter-revolution, unleashed by the Whites and supported or encouraged by the Entente, was also defeated due to the appeal to the Russian people by the Bolsheviks to resist the invasion by the imperialist powers determined to reduce Russia to a colony or semi-colony of the West; it’s for that reason even officers from the nobility had given their support to the new Soviet order.141 And Stalin had distinguished himself once again in promoting this line, describing the situation during the civil war as follows:

A victory by Denikin and Kolchak means the loss of Russia’s independence, the transformation of Russia into a rich source of money for the Anglo-French capitalists. In that sense, the Denikin-Kolchak government is the most anti-popular and anti-national government. In that sense, the soviet government is the only popular and national government in the best meaning of this term, because it carries with it not only the liberation of the workers from capital, but also the liberation of all of Russia from the yoke of world imperialism, and the transformation of Russia from a colony into a free and independent country.142

On the battlefield, “Russian officers who’ve sold out, who’ve forgotten Russia, who have lost their honor and are ready to switch to the side of the enemy of workers’ and peasants’ Russia” confront soldiers of the Red Army, who are aware that “they fight not for capitalist profit, but for the liberation of Russia."143 From this perspective, the social struggle and the national struggle are interlinked: replacing “imperialist unity” (that’s to say the unity based on national oppression) with a unity founded on the recognition of the principle of equality between nations. The new Soviet Russia had put an end to the “disintegration” and the “complete ruin” represented by the old Tsarist Russia; at the same time, while increasing its “strength” and its “weight”, the new Soviet Russia had contributed to the weakening of imperialism and the victory of the revolution around the world.144

However, when the course of the civil war and the struggle against foreign intervention started to improve, illusions had taken hold about a rapid expansion of socialism in the wake of the Red Army’s successes, and its advance far beyond the borders established in Brest-Litovsk. Due to his realism and profound sensitivity to the national question, Stalin noted the dangers that would arise from entering far into Polish territory:
The rear of the Polish armies [...] differ notably to those of Kolchak and Denikin, to Poland’s great advantage. Different from the rearguard of Kolchak and Denikin, the Polish troops are homogeneous and have a single nationality. From there arises their unity and stability. “Patriotic sentiment” prevails in the spirit of their people, which reaches the frontlines in a number of ways, creating a sense of national unity and steadfastness among the troops.
Therefore, it was one thing to defeat in Russia an enemy discredited in national terms, but it was another matter to confront outside of Russia a nationally motivated enemy. Therefore, proclamations in favor of a “march on Warsaw”, and the declarations according to which one could “only accept a ‘red and soviet Warsaw’”, were expressions of empty “bluster” and a  “self  satisfaction damaging to the cause."145

The failed attempt to export socialism to Poland, that until not long before had been part of the Tsarist empire, had strengthened Stalin’s convictions. In 1929, he pointed to a phenomenon in large part unexpected by the protagonists of the October Revolution: “the stability of nations is tremendously solid."146 They appear destined to be a vital force for a long time in history. As a consequence, for a long period of time humanity would have to remain divided not only between different social systems, but also between different linguistic, cultural and national identities. What relations would have to be established between them? In 1936, in an interview with Roy Howard (of the Times), Stalin states:
Exporting revolution is nonsense. Each country can have its revolution if it wishes, but if it doesn’t want it, there won’t be a revolution. Our country wanted to have a revolution and it did.
Outraged, Trotsky comments:
We cite word by word. The theory of revolution in one country is the natural next step after the theory of socialism in one country [...]. We have proclaimed an infinite number of times that the proletariat in the country with the victorious revolution is morally obligated to help the revolting and oppressed classes, and not only in the realm of ideas, but also with weapons, if possible. And we haven’t limited ourselves to declaring it. We have defended with weapons the workers of Finland, Estonia and Georgia. We tried, by marching on Warsaw with the Red Army, to offer the Polish proletariat the opportunity to have an insurrection.147
Having exhausted the vision of an “International Soviet Republic”, and with it the final disappearance of state and national borders, Stalin makes use of the principle of peaceful  coexistence between countries with different social systems. But this new principle, that was the result of a learning process and that guaranteed the Soviet Union the right to independence in a world that was hostile and militarily stronger, in the eyes of Trotsky appeared to be a betrayal of proletarian internationalism, as well as the abandonment of the duty of mutual and active solidarity between the oppressed and exploited around the whole world. His polemic against the political turn is unending, against the transformation of the initial “internationalist revolutionary” program into a “conservative-national” program; against “the national pacifist foreign policy of the Soviet government”; against ignoring the principle based on the idea that a single workers state should alone carry out the role of “leading the world revolution."148 In any case, since the peaceful transition from capitalism to socialism is impossible, “a socialist state can’t peacefully integrate and develop (hineinwashsen) within a world capitalist system." It’s a position that Trotsky stresses still in 1940: it would have been better not to have started the war against Finland, but once started, it should have been “seen through until the end, that is, until the sovietization of Finland."149

129. Losurdo (1996), ch. 2.

130. Werth (2007a), pp. 49-50.

131. Broué (1991), pp. 274-75.

132. Cohen (1975), p. 75.

133. Bukharin (1966) pp. 329-331.

134. Carr (1964) pp. 329-331.

135. Bukharin (1970), pp. 104-105.

136. Lenin (1955-1970), vol. 27, pp. 54 onward.

137. Conquest (2000), p. 35.

138. Lenin (1955-1970), vol. 28, p. 479.

139. Stalin (1971-1973), vol. 3, pp. 127 and 269 (=Stalin 1952-1956, vol. 3, pp. 161 and 324).

140. Stalin (1971-1973), vol. 3, pp. 197 and 175-78 (=Stalin 1952-1956, vol. 3, pp. 243 and 220-22).

141. Figes (2000), pp. 840 and 837.

142. Stalin (1971-1973), vol. 4, p. 252 (= Stalin, 1952-1956, vol. 4, pp. 312-13).

143. Stalin (1971-1973), vol. 4, pp. 236 and 131 (= Stalin, 1952-1956, vol. 4, pp. 293 and 166).

144. Stalin (1971-1973), vol. 4, pp. 202,199, 208 (= Stalin, 1952-1956, vol. 4, pp. 252, 248, 258).

145. Stalin (1971-1973), vol. 4, pp. 286 and 293 (= Stalin, 1952-1956, vol. 4, pp. 354 and 363).

146. Stalin (1971-1973), vol. 11, p. 308.

147. Trotsky (1988), pp. 905-06 (-Trotsky 1968, pp. 186-87).

148. Trotsky (1997-2001), vol. 3,

149. Trotsky (1988), pp. 1001 and 1333

The End of “the Money Economy” and “Market Morality”

The dialectic of Saturn is demonstrated in a number of other political and social settings. Internally, how should equality be understood by the regime born out of the October Revolution and that was called upon to realize it? War and hardship had produced a “communism” founded on the more or less egalitarian distribution of quite miserable food rations. With respect to that practice and the ideology that had developed upon it, the NEP [New Economic Policy] was an upsetting shock, with the emergence of new and stark inequalities, made possible by the toleration of certain sectors of  the capitalist economy. The sense of “betrayal” is a widespread phenomenon, and it heavily affects the Bolshevik party: “In 1921 and 1922, literally tens of thousands of Bolshevik workers ripped up their membership cards, so disgusted by the NEP they had renamed it the New Extortion of the Proletariat."150 Outside of Soviet Russia, we see a French communist leader accept the radical change, but not without adding, while writing in L’Humanité: “The NEP has brought with it some of the capitalist rot that had completely disappeared during war communism."151

At times, one has the impression that it’s not specific aspects of the economic reality that are looked at with distrust or indignation, but that very reality as a whole. It’s necessary not to lose sight of the millenarian expectations that characterize revolution for the lower strata of the people, and which persist after a crisis of long duration. In France 1789, even before the storming of the Bastille, the meeting of the Estates General and the agitation by the third estate awaken “the popular spirit of  the old millenarism, the anxious expectations for the revenge of the poor and the happiness of the humiliated: it will deeply permeate the revolutionary mentality." In Russia, driven by tsarist oppression and especially by the horrors of the First World War, millenarism had already demonstrated its strength during the February Revolution. Welcoming it as the Easter Resurrection, Christian circles and important sections of Russian society had expected a complete transformation, with the emergence of an intimately unified community and with the disappearance of the division between rich and poor, even theft, lies, gambling, blasphemy, and drunkenness.152 Disillusioned with the Menshevik program and by the continuation of the war and its carnage, these millenarian expectations had ultimately brought no small number of supporters to the Bolshevik cause.

For example, that’s the case with Pierre Pascal, a French catholic who will later be deeply disappointed with the move toward NEP, although he had initially welcomed the events of October 1917 as follows:
It’s the realization of Psalm Four from Sunday Vespers and the Magnificat: the powerful are toppled from their thrones and the poor are rescued from misery [...] There’s no longer any rich, only the poor and the very poor. Knowledge does not confer privilege or respect. The former worker promoted to manager gives orders to the engineers. The gap between higher and lower salaries is narrowed. The right to property is reduced to personal possessions. The judge is no longer obligated to apply the law if his sense of proletarian equality contradicts it.153
Upon reading this fragment Marx’s affirmation comes to mind, according to which there’s “nothing easier than to give Christian asceticism a socialist tinge." One shouldn’t think that this vision exists only within openly religious circles. As always, the Manifesto of the Communist Party notes that the “first proletariat movements” are often characterized by demands along the lines of “a universal asceticism and a rough egalitarianism."154 It’s what takes place in Russia after the catastrophe of the First World War. In the 1940s, a Bolshevik effectively describes the pervading spiritual climate in the period immediately following the October Revolution, having emerged from a war caused by imperialist competition to plunder the colonies, the drive to conquer new markets and natural resources, and by the capitalist search for profits and super profits:
We, communist youths, all grew up with the conviction that money would disappear once and for all [...]. If money returned, wouldn’t the rich also reappear? Would we not find ourselves on a slippery slope that leads us to capitalism?155
It’s a spiritual climate that’s also expressed in the work of eminent Western philosophers. In 1918, the young Bloch invites the Soviets to put an end not only to “all private economic activity”, but also the entire “money economy”, and with it the “market morality that blesses all the evil that there is in man." Only by liquidating such rottenness in its entirety was it possible to once and for all end the pursuit of wealth and domination, the conquest of colonies and hegemony, that lead to the catastrophe of war. On publishing in 1923 the second edition of The Spirit of Utopia,  Bloch  considers it opportune to remove those previously cited excerpts marked by millenarianism. However, the state of mind and the vision that had inspired them didn’t disappear, not in the Soviet Union or outside it.156

While on the one hand they attenuate it, this moral crisis is nonetheless reignited by the healing of the wounds opened by the First World War and the two civil wars (against the Whites and the kulaks), as well as by the economic recovery. Especially after the completion of the collectivization of agriculture and the consolidation of the new regime, it’s no longer possible to blame  the remnants of capitalism or the danger of an immediate collapse to explain the continued differences in wages. Were they to be tolerated, and to what point?

In The Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel demonstrates the aporia contained in the idea of material  equality that’s rooted in the demand for a “community of goods." When an equal satisfaction of the different needs of individuals is put into practice, it’s obvious that the result will be an inequality in relation to the “quota of participation”, in other words, the distribution of goods; if there’s  an  “equal distribution” of goods, however, then it’s obvious that the “satisfaction of necessities” for individuals become unequal (as needs are always different). In any case, the “community of goods” is unable to maintain the promise of material equality. Marx, who was quite familiar with Phenomenology, solves the problem (in the Critique of the Gotha Programme) by matching the two different approaches to rejecting “equality” (which always seemed partial and limited) to two different phases of development in the post-capitalist society: in the socialist phase distribution is according to “equal right”, in other words, redistribution according to the same measurement of work realized by each individual. It’s always different for each individual, producing an evident inequality in total redistribution and in income; in that sense, “equal right” is nothing else but the “right to inequality." In the communist phase, the equal satisfaction of different needs also brings with it an inequality in the distribution of resources, except that the enormous development of the productive forces, completely satisfying the needs of all, makes such inequalities lose their importance.157 In other words, in socialism material equality is not possible; in communism it no longer has any meaning. With the permanence of inequality in the distribution of resources, the transition from unequal satisfaction to equal satisfaction presupposes, aside from the overthrow of capitalism, the prodigious development of the productive forces, and this can be achieved solely through the affirmation, during the socialist stage, of the principle of redistribution to every individual based on the different work carried out by them. It’s here that Marx’s insistence arises on the fact that, once having seized power, the proletariat is called upon to commit themselves to the development of the productive forces, in addition to committing themselves to the transformation of social relations.158 On the other hand, however, in praising the Paris working class for  confronting the French bourgeoisie, which enjoys its luxuries while it carries out a bloody repression, Marx highlights a measure approved by the Commune as a model : “public service had to be done at workman’s wage."159 In that case, redistributive and material equality becomes an objective of a socialist society.

It’s not easy to reconcile those two perspectives, and their divergence will play a non-negligible role in irremediably dividing the Bolshevik party’s leaders. As it’s consolidated, Soviet power is forced to address the growing problem of economic development, for the purpose of establishing social consensus and achieving national legitimacy in the eyes of the Russian people, as well as a means to defend “the homeland of socialism” from the threats growing on the horizon. Referring to the polemic already found in the Manifesto of the Communist Party, against “universal asceticism” and its “egalitarian tinge”, Stalin insists: “It’s time to understand that Marxism is the enemy of egalitarianism”, The equality achieved by socialism consists in the elimination of class exploitation, certainly not in the imposition of uniformity and equalization, which is what religious primitivism aspires to:

Leveling in the context of necessities and personal life is a reactionary and petty-bourgeois absurdity, worthy of any primitive ascetic sect, but not for a socialist society organized in the Marxist spirit, because one can’t demand everyone have the same needs and tastes, that everyone live their personal lives according to a single and universal model [...]. In terms of equality, Marxism no longer understands it as leveling in the context of personal necessities and living standards, but as the elimination of classes.160

Religious primitivism can only be expressed through the aspiration for a communal life, in which individual differences are meant to disappear, with serious damage to the development of the productive forces as well:
The idealization of agricultural communes was encouraged at a certain time, going as far as to introduce workshops and factories into the communes, where skilled and unskilled workers, working each according to their vocation, had to put their salary in the common fund, and later divide it in equal parts. It’s well known how much damage was caused for our industry by these puerile exercises in leveling due to “left” bunglers.161
Stalin’s long term objective is quite ambitious, both at the social and national level: “To make our Soviet society the society with the greatest standard of living”; to complete the “transformation of our country into the most advanced country”; but to achieve this result “it’s necessary that in our country labor productivity surpass the labor productivity of the most advanced capitalist countries”,162 which once again requires material incentives in addition to moral incentives, and therefore the need to overcome that egalitarianism, considered by the Soviet leader to be crude and mechanistic.

And again, and more than ever, the religious primitivism makes itself felt, with its distrust not only  in relation to difference in income, but above all else in relation to wealth as such: “if everyone becomes rich and the poor cease to exist, who will then have need of the Bolsheviks and our work?”: thus, according to Stalin, argue the “‘left’ bunglers who idealize the poor peasants as the eternal supporters of Bolshevism."163 This causes us to think of the critical observations developed by Hegel with regards to the evangelical commandment that obligates one to help the poor. Losing sight of the fact that it’s “a conditional rule”, and instead absolutizing it, Christians then end up absolutizing poverty, which alone can give meaning to the rule that demands aid to the poor.  Instead, the quality of aid to the poor ought to be measured by the contribution given to overcoming poverty as such..164 In the state of horror caused by capitalism’s butchery and by the auri sacra fames, a religious distrust for gold and wealth as such is created, and the idealization of misery, or at least of scarcity, understood and experienced as an expression of spiritual fulfillment or of revolutionary rigor. And Stalin feels obligated to stress a key point: “It would be stupid to think that socialism can be built on top of misery and deprivation, by reducing personal needs and everyone’s standard of living to that of  the poor”; on the contrary, “socialism can be built only on the basis of a relentless development of society’s productive forces” and “on the basis of a comfortable life for the workers”, or better yet, “a comfortable and civilized life for all members of society."165 Just like the Christian doctrine of helping the poor, the revolutionary doctrine, that insists that communist parties first place themselves among the exploited and the poor, is also “conditioned”, and it is only taken seriously once it is understood for its conditionality.

Therefore, for Stalin it was necessary to intensify efforts with the aim of decisively increasing social wealth, adding “new energy” to “socialist emulation”; it would demand resorting to both material incentives (making use of the socialist principle of redistribution according to work) as well as moral incentives (for example, granting “the highest honor” to the most eminent Stakhanovites).166 Both different and opposed is Trotsky’s orientation: in “restoring ranks and decorations” and in liquidating “socialist equality” as such, the bureaucracy also lays the groundwork for changes in “property relations."167 While Stalin explicitly makes reference to the polemic from the Manifesto against a socialism understood as synonymous with “universal asceticism” and “crude egalitarianism”, the left opposition knowingly and unknowingly makes use of the thesis found in The Civil War in France, according to which even the highest ranking leaders should be paid according to “workers salaries." Trotsky insists that, to justify their privileges, the bureaucracy and Stalin mistakenly reference the Critique of the Gotha Program: “Marx didn’t speak of creating a  new  inequality, but in the gradual elimination of inequalities in income, preferable to its abrupt elimination."168

Based on that political line (the leveling of wages both in the factories and in the state apparatus), it was quite difficult to promote the development of the productive forces, and Stalin stressed that salary differentiation did not mean the restoration of capitalism. It was necessary not to confuse social differences that exist within the new regime with the old antagonism between exploiting classes and exploited classes. But from Trotsky’s perspective, it was a clumsy simplification: “the contrast between misery and luxury is all too apparent in the urban centers." In conclusion:
Whether “radical” or “superficial”, the differences between the worker aristocracy and the proletarian masses matter little from the perspective of Stalinist sociology; in any case, it’s this difference that gave birth in its time to the need to break with social democracy and to found the Third International.169
According to Marx, socialism was also called upon to overcome the distinction between intellectual and manual labor. Here again the problem would reappear: how to achieve such an ambitious objective? And once again the Bolshevik leadership group is divided; in this case as well, the stance elaborated by Stalin in the thirties stands out for its caution:
There are some who think that the suppression of the antagonism between intellectual labor and physical labor can be achieved through a certain cultural and technical leveling of intellectual and manual workers, that it could be attained by lowering the cultural and technical level of engineers and specialists, of the intellectual workers, and even the level of moderately skilled workers. That is absolutely wrong.170
Instead, it’s a matter of encouraging access to education for all social strata who had been excluded up until then. On the opposing side, Trotsky recognized that there had been a process of “training scientific cadre originating from the people”, and yet he claimed: “The social gap between manual and intellectual labor has increased during the last few years instead of decreasing."171 The continuation of the division of labor and the continuation of social and economic inequalities were two sides of the same coin; in other words, it’s the return of capitalist exploitation and, therefore, of the complete betrayal of socialist ideals:
The new constitution, in declaring that “exploitation of man by man is abolished in the USSR”, says the opposite of the truth. The new social differentiation created the conditions for a rebirth of exploitation under the most barbaric forms, like the hiring of a man for another’s personal service. Servants are not counted in the census, having evidently been included under the category of “workers." The following questions are not made: does the Soviet citizen have servants and what kind (maid, cook, nurse, governess, driver)? Do you have an automobile? How many rooms do you have? Nor does it even speak of the amount of their salary! If the Soviet rule that deprived political rights to those who exploited the work of others was restored, you would suddenly see that the top leaders of Soviet society ought to be deprived of their constitutional rights! Fortunately, a complete equality has been established… between master and servant.172
Therefore, the very presence of the “maid” as a social figure, and the servant in general, was synonymous not only with exploitation, but “exploitation under its most barbaric forms”; and how do you explain the continuation or the reemergence in the USSR of such relations, if not by the abandonment of an authentically socialist perspective, in other words, by betrayal?

The long reach of millenarianism, certainly already implicit in Marx’s more utopian thinking, but frighteningly increased in reaction to the horrors of the First World War, continues to make itself felt. In his Report to the Seventeenth Party Congress of the CPSU (January 26th, 1934), Stalin feels it necessary to warn against “the leftist chatter, that in part exists among our militants, according to which Soviet commerce is a stage that’s been surpassed, and that money should soon be abolished." Those who make that argument, “with their haughty attitude toward Soviet commerce, don’t express a Bolshevik point of view, but a point of view belonging to decadent nobles, full of pretensions, but without a cent in their pocket."173 While Trotsky doesn’t miss the opportunity to condemn the previously mentioned “economic adventurism” rejected by Stalin, he still mocks the “rehabilitation of the ruble” and the return of “bourgeois methods of distribution."174 In any case, he insists that they are destined to disappear under communism, together with the state, but also “money” and markets in all their forms.175

150. Figes (2000), p. 926.

151. Flores (1990), p. 29.

152. Furet, Richet (1980), p. 85; Figes (2000), p. 434.

153. Furet (1995), p. 129.

154. Marx, Engels (1955-1989), vol. 4, pp. 484 and 489.

155. Figes (2000), p. 926.

156. Losurdo (1997), ch. IV, § 10

157. Hegel (1969-1979), vol. 3, p. 318; Marx, Engels (1955-1989), vol. 19, pp. 20-21.

158. Marx, Engels (1966-1989), vol. 4, p. 466.

159. Marx, Engels (1955-1989), vol. 4, p. 339.

160. Stalin (1971-73), vol. 13, pp. 314-15 (= Stalin 1952, p. 573).

161. Stalin (1971-1973), vol. 13 pp. 316-17 (= Stalin 1952, p. 575).

162. Stalin (1971-1973), vol. 14 p. 33 (= Stalin 1952, p. 601).

163. Stalin (1971-1973), vol. 13, pp. 317-19 (= Stalin 1952, pp. 575-77).

164. Losurdo (1992), ch. 10, § 2.

165. Stalin (1971-1973), vol. 13, pp. 319 and 317 (= Stalin 1952, pp. 577 and 575).

166. Stalin (1971-1973), vol. 14, pp. 33 and 46 (= Stalin 1952, pp. 599 and 613).

167. Trotsky (1988), p. 957 (= Trotsky 1968, p. 232).

168. Trotsky (1962), p. 431.

169. Trotsky (1988), pp. 972-73 and 969 (= Trotsky 1968, pp. 248 and 244).

170. Stalin (1971-1973), vol. 14, p. 34 (= Stalin, 1952, p. 602).

171. Trotsky (1988), p. 941 (= Trotsky 1968, p. 218).

172. Trotsky (1988), p. 946 (= Trotsky 1968, pp. 222-24)

173. Stalin (1971-1973), vol. 14, p. 304 (= Stalin 1952, p. 564).

174. Trotsky (1988), pp. 763 and 768-69 (= Trotsky 1968, pp. 65 and 70-71).

175. Trotsky (1988), pp. 757-58 (= Trotsky 1968, p. 61).

“No More Distinctions Between Yours and Mine”: The Disappearance of the Family

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