Socialism in One Country

Socialism in One Country. With the concepts of the party and of imperialist capitalism the theory of communism as a logical structure was complete, yet it lacked what proved to be its main driving force as a political system. This was the concept of socialism in one country added by Stalin and his sole venture into theory. In one sense this was a normal capstone to Leninism at least to the concept of Leninism developed in this chapter, For Lenin’s achievement as it has been here described with to produced a version of Marxism applicable to an industrially underdeveloped society with an agrarian peasant economy.


Socialism in one country therefore completed the divergence between Lenin’s Marxism and the Marxism of Western Europe, which had been conceived by Ma and Marxists as a theory to transform a highly industrial economy from a capitalist to a socialist society. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that from the standpoint of Marxian theory, as this was commonly understood, Stalin’s concept of socialism in one country was logically weak he scarcely tried to meet the arguments that made the concept seem a paradox.

In origin it was hardly more than an incident in the scramble for the succession that followed Lenin’s death, and Stalin’s purpose when he put the theory forward was to eliminate Trotsky. It included an unfair, even a mendacious, representation of the theory of permanent revolution and of Trotsky’s relations with Lenin. This phase of the theory needs no further exposition here. In spite of this, socialism in one country became the operative factor in Leninism.

Under this slogan communist Russia emerged as a great industrial and military power, for it initiated in 1928 the first of the five-year plans which began a revolution with far greater long-term political and social consequences than Lenin’s revolution of 1917. By harnessing communism to the tremendous driving force of Russian nationalism, the five year plans became the first great experiment with a totally planned economy. And by its success Russian communism became a model to be followed by peasant societies with national aspirations the world over.

In 1924 Stalin put forward very abruptly the thesis that Russia can and must build up a socialist society. Only a few months before he had repeated the conventional opinion, current since 1917 and before, that the permanence of socialism in Russia depended on socialist revolutions in Western Europe.

Stalin argued that the only bar to a complete socialist society in Russia was the risk created by capitalist encirclement the intrigues, the espionage nets, or the intervention of the capitalist enemies. There was nothing new, of course, in the belief that communist and capitalist states could not permanently coexist; Lenin held this opinion, but this was not the obstacle, from the standpoint of Marxism, to completing socialism in Russia.

Marxists had supposed that socialism required an economy with a high level of production and hence an industrial society, which Russia obviously was not Stalin did not meet this argument but argued instead that socialism could be built in a country of great extent with large natural resources. In effect he neglected the economic argument normal to Marxism and substituted a political argument.

Stalin assumed that, given adequate resources, an adequate labor force, and a government with unlimited power, a socialist economy could be constructed as a political policy. This of course is what socialism in one country became, and in theory it is quite different from the supposed dependence of politics on the economy which had been a principle of Marxism. On the other hand Stalin’s assumption fitted rather easily with some elements of Leninism.

It was not at all clear that Stalin was proposing a different policy from that which the party had long been following, for no one in 1924 denied that it ought to move toward socialism as fast and as far as it could. For practical purposes this had been settled when Lenin persuaded the party to abandon projects for carrying communism into Western Europe and to accept the German terms at Brest-Litovsk.

As was then said, Lenin traded space for time when he acceded to the loss Of territory that the Germans demanded. But there was no point in gaining time except on the supposition that communism had a future in Russia. From the moment of the victory of socialism in one country, Lenin had then said, the only important question is the best conditions for the development and strengthening the socialist revolution that has already started.

As far as tactics were concerned, Lenin was banking on the possibility provided by his theory of imperialism that a significant period of coexistence might be possible. In developing the idea that capitalism develops unevenly, he had said, the victory of socialism is possible first in a few or even in one single capitalist country. He was then thinking of countries already industrialized, but less ingenuity than Lenin’s would nave sufficed to apply the idea to Russia.

Finally, in some of his latest writings he seemed to be saying that through its own cultural and industrial development Russia could go a long way toward socialism. There was perhaps even a suggestion of Russian nationalism when Trotsky told the Communist International. The struggle for Soviet Russia has merged with the struggle against world imperialism. The fact is that Stalin’s theory was more remarkable because of its dialectical awkwardness than because it made any important change in Leninism.

If, then, Stalin was proposing no change of policy, it seemed as if nothing were left of his theory except the academic question whether socialism in Russia could be completed. There were, of course, other important questions, notably of rate, but Stalin and said nothing about this. Should industrialization rapid with correspondingly rapid changes in agriculture?

Or should it be slow with a corresponding, long toleration of the peasant agriculture permitted in 1917? On the questions there were sharp differences of opinion in 1924, and society ism in one country then seemed to be more acceptable to the gradualism than to their opponents, perhaps because it seemed to acknowledge the magnitude of the task.

Stalin performed one of his devious political maneuvers he sided with the gradualism to eliminate, the opposition, and having established his power, he started in five-year plan a far more rapid rate of industrialization than anyone had ever considered possible. In view of his political methods one might suppose that the whole proceeding, including the studio, vagueness of his theory, was an example of deliberate guile, but it is really not possible to say how much of the end Stalin foresaw from the beginning.

In view of the feebleness of the theory, it can hardly be supposed that the party’s acceptance of socialism in one country was due to logic. The truth seems to be that the party was heartily tired after seven years of governing against heavy odds, of being told that it held power on the sufferance of a revolution that looked less and less likely to happen.

With success its confidence had grown in its ability not only to hold on but to go ahead, and its inherited theory of revolution had become a frustrating clog on its energies. The simple human explanation of socialism in one country seems to be ha Stalin told the party what it wanted to hear, a form of political argument more persuasive than dialectic.

Though the party saw little of what it was committing itself to, its acceptance of socialism in one country meant adoption of the forced-draft industrialization that Stalin began in 1928 and the forced collectivization of agriculture begun the year following. The second was entailed by the first, not as Stalin said to increase agricultural production but to get a ready source of labor for expanding industry and to simplify the administration of the forced levies on the peasant hoarded grain.

The practical success of the policy is one of the miracles of recent history, a miracle controlled and directed throughout by the party. In little more than a decade the party created in Russia a military force able, with Western support, to withstand the German onslaught of World War II. It created an industrial system with a greatly expanded productive capacity and capable of indefinite further expansion at an extraordinarily rapid rate of annual increase.

It created a government stable enough to remain master of its military force and resourceful enough to initiate and in some fashion to manage the industrial system, while the party retained its control over the government. It worked on Russian society the necessary corresponding changes.

It created the literacy needed to turn peasants into an industrial working force, and it trained the managers, technicians, engineers, and scientists without whom a modern industrial society is impossible. This was a third revolution imposed, as Stalin said, from above and by an utterly totalitarian dictatorship.

It also imposed on Russia, in little more than a decade, the hardship and barbarism that Marx, in his historical account of the primitive accumulation of capital, had described as spread through more than two centuries of English history of this he had said, Capital comes into the world soiled with mire from top to toe, and oozing blood from every pore. In Russia this was literally true.

The story of Stalin’s revolution belongs to general history. What is relevant here are its implications for the political theory of Russian Marxism. Its effect was to make Stalin’s Russia, socialist in name, into the greatest of European national powers. No fiction could make the Russian state appear to be a superstructure on the Russian economy, for the superstructure was visibly creating its economic base. Socialism in one country cut the last tie with the conventional meaning of economic determinism, already made tenuous by Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution and Lenin’s theory of imperialism.

The motive to which Stalin appealed was Russian patriotism, for there was no more than a verbal difference between building up the socialist homeland and building up the Russian homeland. The regime was socialist only in the sense that the nation owned the means of production; its realities were political absolutism and the imperatives of industrialization. It claimed indeed to have abolished exploitation, but the claim rested on a semantic argument the workers own the factories and cannot exploit themselves.

It claimed also that it had conquered the class struggle, that relations between the industrial workers and the peasants were friendly, but the accumulation of capital was effected by forced saving which came mostly out of peasants standard of living. The party still called itself proletarian, but it tended more and more to consist of the executives that industrialization required, and when in 1931 Stalin enumerated the duties of managers, they differed from the duties of managers in capitalist industry chiefly in not including advertising.

Socialist emulation introduced wage differentials between classes of labor similar to those in capitalist industry, though in deference to its socialist claims the regime provided a considerable range of fringe benefits like socialized medicine and paid rest periods. It is true that industrial expansion opened a wide range of opportunity, especially to able and energetic young people who could benefit from publicly supported education, and this no doubt contributed greatly to the stability of the regime it is true also that its harshness was gradually mitigated as its goals were realized.

The fact remains that the whole process was one of extraordinary hardship eye, allowing for the terrible hardship caused by World War II. Not the least of the hardship was the chronic insecurity caused by Stalin, habitual use of terrorism and forced labor exercised through the secret police, which fell on the party as well as on the population at large The determination to create a collective industry and a Collective, agriculture is a trace of Marxism that chiefly distinguished Stalin methods from those that might have been used by a star bent oy building up Russia’s national power.

The concept of a national state, which is also socialist, was, from the standpoint of Marxian social philosophy, a logical monstrosity, for Marxism had no positive concept either of a state or a nation, and it had always conceived socialism to be incompatible with either, Nationalism was conceived by Marx and by Marxists generally to be merely a relic of feudalism and national patriotism to be a vestigial sentiment which, like religion, belonged to the false ideological consciousness that laid the working class open to exploitation by the more rational bourgeoisie.

The Communist Manifesto had laid down the principle that the workingmen have no country, and it had been regarded as a major strength of Marxism that it emancipated the workers from a crippling illusion. Marxism had always counted itself internationalist, but its internationalism had been negative in the sense that it expected national distinctions simply to disappear as the working class became enlightened enough to pursue its real class interests.

Lacking any positive concept of a nation or any recognition that nationalism might represent a real cultural value, Marxism lacked also any concept of an international organization of national states. Its internationalism was a relic of early nineteenth-century individualism, which had been engrossed in abolishing institutions felt to be obsolete and oppressive, and which had therefore assumed that some ideal form of collectivism would be left merely by the removal of obstacles and obstructions.

This assumption was responsible for the vein of utopian-ism that underlay the essentially realistic temper of Marx’s thought. The attitude of Marxism toward the state was substantially similar. The state, too, in Marxian mythology was expected, in the phrase that Engels made famous, to wither away after a successful! socialist revolution.

Marxism, in its own understanding of itself, had always been a class movement and its revolution was conceived as a proletarian revolt against a middle-class dictatorship. The concept of the class struggle, which the Communist Manifesto had asserted to describe the history of all hitherto existing society, left no room for any concept of a general national or state interest, nor was any considered to be needed.

The dictatorship of the proletariat succeeded to the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, with the negative mandate to repress counter-revolution and with a positive mandate to create communism, which for all practical purposes was almost undefined.

When I the success of socialism in one country turned Stalin’s Russia into a very powerful national state, it was a state as nearly as possible without a political philosophy. Or more accurately, it had an elaborate philosophy but one which had no clear-cut positive application to what it was doing.

The consequence was that its policies had little perceptible relationship to the theories that it professed, which often seemed a mere facade for conventionally nationalist and imperialist behavior.

The government which Lenin founded and which Stalin inherited, according to its own conception of itself, was an alliance between an urban industrial proletariat and the peasants. Both Lenin and Trotsky expected that this alliance would be temporary, for neither supposed  that the peasants would voluntarily follow the,worker in either the collectivism or the internationalism that they supposed would be the policy of a working-class government.

Nor did they expect that the working-class minority either could or would coerce the overwhelming majority Of peasants. In this they were mistaken, as Lenin was mistaken in supposing that at some point the alliance with the peasants would be replaced by an alliance with the Western proletariat.

The problem of the peasantry was solved not in the light of any social philosophy, either socialist or nationalist, but by the savage Coercion of Stalin’s program of collectivization at the end of the 1920’s, which reduced the peasantry to a state of misery that Tsarist Russia never matched.

This policy did indeed succeed in the sense that it made possible the rapid development of industry, but it also left a chronic imbalance between industry and agriculture which, by the end of Stalin’s life, put the whole regime in jeopardy.

Stalin’s agricultural policy exemplified the recklessness of an irresponsible despot, covered by the hollow pretense that relations between industrial workers and peasants were friendly. It represented no rational concept of national interest, which the regime’s philosophy lacked. In a similar way the regime’s concept of itself as a working-class government obstructed its own policy of industrialization.

Almost the only positive remnant of the philosophy was Stalin’s constant pretense that any opposition to his totalitarian despotism was counter-revolutionary; hence the wild charges of treasonable conspiracy by which he liquidated men with a lifelong record as dedicated revolutions.

Both the party and the government discarded any valid claim to represent the working class  which was in fact impossible if the purpose were effective to Construct a large Struct a large-scale industrial system. The regime coerced workers as impartially as it coerced every other group, and if it was in truth thy exponent of any social class, its favorite seemed to be the new class of managers and technicians which it was creating, as disappointed Marxists like Milovan Dijilas freely predicted. Its industrial policy Created another imbalance between the production of capital goods and the production of consumers goods for which its socialist profession, provided no justification, but which might represent a militarism that belied its professed peaceful intentions.

Socialism in one country provided Russia with no cues for it, relations to other states different from those of conventional nationalist imperialism. Communism is represented as itself an ideological that provides communist countries with a common interest, but there is no perceptible reason why this should be so.

The national ownership of the means of production does not affect any advantage that the Russian industrial system might gain from controlling, for example, the output of Silesian steel or make her more charitable in dealing with Poland. By and large Russian policy toward her ring of satellite states in Eastern Europe has been one of using them to enhance her own economic and military power. The only one of these states that retained much independence of action was Yugoslavia, which was also the one not included in Russia’s area of occupation at the end of the war.

The crucial test of a community of interest between communist states will no doubt be provided by the long-term relations between Russia and China, since neither will be able to treat the other as a satellite. It may well be true, however, that socialism in One country has made an important change in Russia’s international orientation. The adoption of Stalin’s policy meant in substance abandoning the theory that communism depended on the support of the working class in Western Europe.

There were in fact substantial reasons why support from this quarter should not have been forthcoming, though the concept of communism as a working-class movement prevented these reasons from being acknowledged. Except perhaps in a few special cases, there was no reason why the Western European worker, with a higher standard of living, his own independent labor unions, and generally liberal political Institutions, should be attracted by communism.

The political role of communism in the West has on the whole been one of subversion, effective only where grievances existed that made subversion a tempting form of political activity. The state of affairs was different in countries with a social and economic structure closer to that of Russia when Stalin launched his theory. A country with an agrarian economy and a largely peasant population, subject to the pressure of a rapidly growing population, is  almost under an imperative to industrialize even to keep the low  standard of living it has.

The problem of industrialization in such a society is substantially that of Russia, namely, accumulation of capital, and short of the ability to borrow on very favorable terms, capital can be accumulated only by methods of forced saving similar to those followed by Russia.

As a rule, also, countries of this sort lack a political structure able to pose any obstacle to a dictatorship. The attraction exerted by the success of Stalin’s rapid industrialization is therefore  obvious, and in consequence the international effect of communism in one country was to face Russia toward the East.

As early as 1923 Lenin foresaw this possibility when he said that his theory of imperialism implied the division of the world into two camps. He attributed this to the imperialists and regarded it as a disadvantage, because he assumed that greater power lay on the side of the highly industrialized European bloc. After the temporary alliance of World War II, Stalin revived the idea of the two camps but possibly he no longer thought it a disadvantage.

In any case, the international effect of communism in one country has been a division between two power blocs, variously described as capitalist-communist, imperialist-peace-loving, or simply West-East. The future of each depends, apparently, on its success in attracting the uncommitted nations. The spread of liberal political institutions probably depends on providing an alternative to violent methods of forced saving. in Russia the rigors imposed by socialism tn one country were lightened by the prospect held out by the Marxian tradition that they were temporary.

Their purpose was first described as the building of socialism, which Stalin proclaimed to have been accomplished about 1936, and second by the transition to communism, the higher stage mentioned by both Marx and Lenin and said by Stalin also to be possible in one country. Beyond this, repression would no longer be required and the state might wither away. This prospect, so deeply rooted in the Marxian tradition, was a kind of promissory note that the regime might sometime have to meet, or it might be a focus for criticism and discontent.

Why, it might be asked, since there are no longer exploiting classes, should the state not begin to wither away? In 1939 Stalin said that this question was indeed sometimes asked. His answer was the usual one given by a Marxian theorist when his predictions fail. The questioners, he said, have conscientiously memorized the words but have failed to understand the essential meaning.

They have overlooked the espionage nets spread by encircling capitalist powers. He concluded that the state would remain in the period of communism also,unless in the meantime the capitalist encirclement vanished by the whole world becoming communist.

Stalin approached the question again, rather circuitously, in one of his latest writings. In 1950 he wrote several articles on Marxism and language, the purpose of which was to show that neither logic no, language depended on the class struggle, since language was a medium of communication between persons of all social classes.

This some what esoteric question seems an improbable subject of interest, but his purpose apparently was revealed when he reproved those comrades who have an infatuation for explosions as the method | for any kind of important social change.

In Soviet society there are no hostile classes he instanced the revolution from above that brought about collective agriculture-and hence no need for explosions. In other words, the transition to communism will take place under the direction and control of the party.

Khrushchev, too, has occasionally taken pains to strip the transition cf its utopian connotations. At the Twenty-first Party Congress (1959) he described his seven year plan as the building of communism and at the same time warned that a communist society would not be formless and unorganized.

Yet he also spoke of a possibility that would have horrified Stalin, the growth of public organizations or voluntary associations that might take over many functions hitherto carried out by state organs of course, under the direction of the party.

It seems a fair presumption that what is left of the withering away of the state, at least as far as concerns the party’s intentions, is a regime with the services usually attached to the concept of a welfare state a level of production that will permit more consumers goods without reducing the production of capital goods below whatever level the party deems necessary, a corresponding increase in living standards with a reduction of the working day, and some lightening or decentralization of administrative regulations.

Read More Related Topics:

The Philosophy of Communism
Russian Marxism
Lenin’s Theory of The Party
Lenin on Dialectical Materialism
The Bourgeois and the Proletarian Revolutions
Imperialist Capitalism
Approach to March Revolution
Revolution in Prospect
The Problem of Success in Bolshevik Revolution
The Vanguard of the Proletariat
Lenin Doctrine of Democratic Centralism
Communism in China
The Temper of Communism

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