The Willing Destruction of Self Belief in History: Socialism in One Country

I like 19th century philosophies, and this extends into the 20th century too.

Marxism is one that I’ll probably touch upon a few times while writing.  Fair enough.

Marxism fits well into the framework of the 19th century attempts to build a theory that explains virtually everything.  And it works remarkably well, piggybacking on William Thompson of Cork, Epicurus, and most notably Hegel.  The idea is relatively simple at its most basic and works outward into more complicated branches.

Simply, it is dialectic-materialism.  Which is to say, our perception of the world comes from physical things around us.  When we see a chair, we think of sitting in it.  The opposite of this would be an idealist (in the philosophical sense in this case) like Plato that would argue that we think of the chair, creating a perfect abstraction that exists in thought, before an imperfect physical representation is created.

Thus, for Marx (and other materialists) the reason you have trouble understanding why a peasant would get in the knees and grovel on his knees at the sight of a young aristocrat; or why someone would willingly slice his belly open because of a bit of dishonor, or anything else: these things we don’t understand because we’re not in the material conditions that created the thoughts that made such things inevitable.


The dialectic is that there are two parts: a thesis and its opposite, an anti-thesis, that make up everything.  The sun is powered by fusion that wants to explode out and dissipate (thesis), but held together by gravity (anti-thesis).  Eventually this friction comes to a head and something occurs, either the thesis occurs and the star supernovas, or the anti-thesis does and the star collapses.  In doing so, a new system is created (thesis) out of its opposites (anti-thesis).  If I’m not explaining it well enough (and that’s possible as I want to move on) then this is a good source to use.

So in dialectic-materialism, the world we know would come from our interaction with the material world.  This interaction with the material world (thesis) would create a friction (anti-thesis).  This really started when man began manipulating the world, ending, “primitive communism,” which set up the series of frictions that broadly make up history.

Patricians and other masters (thesis) were reliant upon slaves as the means of production; and barbarians and slave-uprisings used to keep the slave system going (anti-thesis).  This system collapsed with the Han, Rome, and other systems collapsing resulting in…

Landed aristocracy exploiting the peasantry (thesis) via the land being the means of production; and merchants and traders (the bourgeoisie) moving the abstract property value around (anti-thesis)

In each of these cases, the classes become more simplified, and today there are those that control the wealth, and those that work in exchange for wealth—the bourgeoisie that own the means of production (thesis) and the proletariat that work on the means of production (anti-thesis).

The next change, in theory, would be, “an end of history,” in that the proletariat would take the means of production and there would be no need for the bourgeoisie any more.  This would be called, “socialism,” which would eventually develop into a more refined form of, “communism,” that we can’t even really come to an abstraction about because the relations would be so different from how we understand the world.


Right, so this is a long (but actually extremely simplified) way in me setting up the foundation for what I’ve been musing about, which has been the ideas that developed after Marx.

Lenin led the Russian Revolution as WWI was slowly closing, and ushered in the hopes and fears that this was going to work out.  When he died, he had two potential political heirs.

Stalin ended up winning out and became the, “official,” way to look at things.  He immediately declared that the Soviet Union was socialist.  This was a big deal, socialism was supposed to rise out of capitalism—and capital was a world-wide system.  Which would mean that socialism is a world wide system.  This was laid out pretty plainly:

Marx’s analysis is pretty heady, but he does make clear that capitalism is a world-wide system that will have a world-wide consequence:

National differences and antagonism between peoples are daily more and more vanishing, owing to the development of the bourgeoisie, to freedom of commerce, to the world market, to uniformity in the mode of production and in the conditions of life corresponding thereto.

The supremacy of the proletariat will cause them to vanish still faster. United action, of the leading civilised countries at least, is one of the first conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat.

The logic here is simple enough; capitalism is a world-wide system. If socialism, as a system, is a higher form of production born from the contradictions of a world system – it too should be international in scope.

It’s, of course, not that cut and dry as the struggle to create a socialist system, so Marx correctly implies, takes on a national scope. But he is also right to lampoon socialists claiming they have been socializing their own country exactly because it completely ignores the fact that capitalism is a global economy:

Lassalle, in opposition to the Communist Manifesto and to all earlier socialism, conceived the workers’ movement from the narrowest national standpoint. He is being followed in this — and that after the work of the International!

It is altogether self-evident that, to be able to fight at all, the working class must organize itself at home as a class and that its own country is the immediate arena of its struggle — insofar as its class struggle is national, not in substance, but, as the Communist Manifesto says, “in form”. But the “framework of the present-day national state”, for instance, the German Empire, is itself, in its turn, economically “within the framework” of the world market, politically “within the framework” of the system of states. Every businessman knows that German trade is at the same time foreign trade, and the greatness of Herr Bismarck consists, to be sure, precisely in his pursuing a kind of international policy.

And to what does the German Workers’ party reduce its internationalism? To the consciousness that the result of its efforts will be “the international brotherhood of peoples” — a phrase borrowed from the bourgeois League of Peace and Freedom, which is intended to pass as equivalent to the international brotherhood of working classes in the joint struggle against the ruling classes and their governments. Not a word, therefore, about the international functions of the German working class! And it is thus that it is to challenge its own bourgeoisie — which is already linked up in brotherhood against it with the bourgeois of all other countries — and Herr Bismarck’s international policy of conspiracy.

In fact, the internationalism of the program stands even infinitely below that of the Free Trade party. The latter also asserts that the result of its efforts will be “the international brotherhood of peoples”. But it also does something to make trade international and by no means contents itself with the consciousness that all people are carrying on trade at home.

The international activity of the working classes does not in any way depend on the existence of the International Working Men’s Association. This was only the first attempt to create a central organ for the activity; an attempt which was a lasting success on account of the impulse which it gave but which was no longer realizable in its historical form after the fall of the Paris Commune.

Bismarck’s Norddeutsche was absolutely right when it announced, to the satisfaction of its master, that the German Workers’ party had sworn off internationalism in the new program.



Engels, Marx’s collaborator, is more blunt:

Will it be possible for this revolution to take place in one country alone?

No. By creating the world market, big industry has already brought all the peoples of the Earth, and especially the civilized peoples, into such close relation with one another that none is independent of what happens to the others.

Further, it has co-ordinated the social development of the civilized countries to such an extent that, in all of them, bourgeoisie and proletariat have become the decisive classes, and the struggle between them the great struggle of the day. It follows that the communist revolution will not merely be a national phenomenon but must take place simultaneously in all civilized countries – that is to say, at least in England, America, France, and Germany.

It will develop in each of these countries more or less rapidly, according as one country or the other has a more developed industry, greater wealth, a more significant mass of productive forces. Hence, it will go slowest and will meet most obstacles in Germany, most rapidly and with the fewest difficulties in England. It will have a powerful impact on the other countries of the world, and will radically alter the course of development which they have followed up to now, while greatly stepping up its pace.

Lenin was equally as blunt.  In 1919:

Hence, the socialist revolution will not be solely, or chiefly, a struggle of the revolutionary proletarians in each country against their bourgeoisie-no, it will be a struggle of all the imperialist-oppressed colonies and countries, of all dependent countries, against international imperialism. Characterising the approach of the world social revolution in the Party Programme we adopted last March, we said that the civil war of the working people against the imperialists and exploiters in all the advanced countries is beginning to be combined with national wars against international imperialism. That is confirmed by the course of the revolution, and will be more and more confirmed as time goes on. It will be the same in the East.

It is self-evident that final victory can be won only by the proletariat of all the advanced countries of the world, and we, the Russians, are beginning the work which the British, French or German proletariat will consolidate. But we see that they will not be victorious without the aid of the working people of all the oppressed colonial nations, first and foremost, of Eastern nations. We must realise that the transition to communism cannot be accomplished by the vanguard alone. The task is to arouse the working masses to revolutionary activity, to independent action and to organisation, regardless of the level they have reached; to translate the true communist doctrine, which was intended for the Communists of the more advanced countries, into the language of every people; to carry out those practical tasks which must be carried out immediately, and to join the proletarians of other countries in a common struggle.

And as a more practical theory after the Russian Civil War, especially toward the end of his life, Lenin condemned the party when it attempted to declare that they were making a socialist system in one country. This is actually pretty interesting to follow insofar as Agitprop and women’s issues were concerned. Regardless, Lenin:

Socialist revolution can triumph only on two conditions. First, if it is given timely support by a socialist revolution in one or several advanced countries. As you know we have done very much in comparison with the past to bring about this condition, but far from enough to make it a reality. 

The second condition is agreement between the proletariat, which is exercising its dictatorship, that is holds state power,and the majority of the peasant population

And the next year, 1922:

But we have not finished building even the foundations of socialist economy and the hostile power of moribund capitalism can still deprive us of that. We must clearly appreciate this and frankly admit it; for there is nothing more dangerous than illusions (and vertigo, particularly at high altitudes). And there is absolutely nothing terrible, nothing that should give legitimate grounds for the slightest despondency, in admitting this bitter truth; we have always urged and reiterated the elementary truth of Marxism – that the joint efforts of the workers of several advanced countries are needed for the victory of socialism.


And there’s little need to go in to Trotsky—Stalin’s chief rival—on this detail as he always violently disagreed with Socialism in One Country and got exiled and assassinated by Stalin for his troubles.

It’s funny, in a sense, that this is something that Trotsky gets saddled with. In fact, he thought the worker’s revolution was further along in Russia than Lenin did. When debating what to do with labour unions, Trotsky and Lenin came to crossroads. Trotsky thought that, since the state was a worker’s state that would later blossom into socialism, there was no real need for unions anymore since worker representation was already a manifestation of the state. Lenin disagreed:

Comrade Trotsky falls into error himself. He seems to say that in a workers’ state it is not the business of the trade unions to stand up for the material and spiritual interests of the working class. That is a mistake. Comrade Trotsky speaks of a “workers’ state”. May I say that this is an abstraction. It was natural for us to write about a workers’ state in 1917; but it is now a patent error to say: “Since this is a workers’ state without any bourgeoisie, against whom then is the working class to be protected, and for what purpose?” The whole point is that it is not quite a workers’ state. That is where Comrade Trotsky makes one of his main mistakes. We have got down from general principles to practical discussion and decrees, and here we are being dragged back and prevented from tackling the business at hand. This will not do. For one thing, ours is not actually a workers’ state but a workers’ and peasants’ state. And a lot depends on that. (Bukharin : “What kind of state? A workers’ and peasants’ state?”) Comrade Bukharin back there may well shout “What kind of state? A workers’ and peasants’ state?” I shall not stop to answer him. Anyone who has a mind to should recall the recent Congress of Soviets,[3] and that will be answer enough.

But that is not all. Our Party Programme—a document which the author of the ABC of Communism knows very well—shows that ours is a workers’ state with a bureacratic twist to it. We have had to mark it with this dismal, shall I say, tag. There you have the reality of the transition. Well, is it right to say that in a state that has taken this shape in practice the trade unions have nothing to protect, or that we can do without them in protecting the material and spiritual interests of the massively organised proletariat? No, this reasoning is theoretically quite wrong. It takes us into the sphere of abstraction or an ideal we shall achieve in 15 or 20 years’ time, and I am not so sure that we shall have achieved it even by then. What we actually have before us is a reality of which we have a good deal of knowledge, provided, that is, we keep our heads, and do not let ourselves be carried awav by intellectualist talk or abstract reasoning, or by what may appear to be “theory” but is in fact error and misapprehension of the peculiarities of transition. We now have a state under which it is the business of the massively organised proletariat to protect itself, while we, for our part, must use these workers’ organisations to protect the workers from their state, and to get them to protect our state. Both forms of protection are achieved through the peculiar interweaving of our state measures and our agreeing or “coalescing” with our trade unions.

Trotsky eventually fell back into line. But this wasn’t because he did whatever Lenin said, it was because he was wrong and Lenin was correct. It was not a socialist state or close to becoming a socialist state where labour unions could be safely said to be irrelevant.

Lenin continued, toward the end of his life, warning the communists against the “bureaucratic twist” that he had conceived of before:

The main economic power is in our hands. All the vital large enterprises, the railways, etc., are in our hands. The number of leased enterprises, although considerable in places, is on the whole insignificant; altogether it is infinitesimal compared with the rest. The economic power in the hands of the proletarian state of Russia is quite adequate to ensure the transition to communism. What then is lacking? Obviously, what is lacking is culture among the stratum of the Communists who perform administrative functions. If we take Moscow with its 4,700 Communists in responsible positions, and if we take that huge bureaucratic machine, that gigantic heap, we must ask: who is directing whom? I doubt very much whether it can truthfully be said that the Communists are directing that heap. To tell the truth they are not directing, they are being directed. Some thing analogous happened here to what we were told in our history lessons when we were children: sometimes one nation conquers another, the nation that conquers is the conqueror and the nation that is vanquished is the conquered nation. This is simple and intelligible to all. But what happens to the culture of these nations? Here things are not so simple. If the conquering nation is more cultured than the vanquished nation, the former imposes its culture upon the latter; but if the opposite is the case, the vanquished nation imposes its culture upon the conqueror. Has not something like this happened in the capital of the R.S.F.S.R.? Have the 4,700 Communists (nearly a whole army division, and all of them the very best) come under the influence of an alien culture? True, there may be the impression that the vanquished have a high level of culture. But that is not the case at all. Their culture is miserable, insignificant, but it is still at a higher level than ours. Miserable and low as it is, it is higher than that of our responsible Communist administrators, for the latter lack administrative ability. Communists who are put at the head of departments—and sometimes artful saboteurs deliberately put them in these positions in order to use them as a shield—are often fooled. This is a very unpleasant admission to make, or, at any rate, not a very pleasant one; but I think we must admit it, for at present this is the salient problem. I think that this is the political lesson of the past year; and it is around this that the struggle will rage in 1922.

Will the responsible Communists of the R.S.F.S.R. and of the Russian Communist Party realise that they cannot administer; that they only imagine they are directing, but are, actually, being directed? If they realise this they will learn, of course; for this business can be learnt. But one must study hard to learn it, and our people are not doing this. They scatter orders and decrees right and left, but the result is quite different from what they want.

It was only long after this that Trotsky put Lenin’s ideological victory over his own, as well as Lenin’s subsequent warnings to the party into a coherent theory that explained the general arc of Soviet history.

In doing so, he pulled from Lenin’s conception of a worker’s state that was not socialist – which had been counter to his own earlier conception. It was only then that the formalized theory of the Worker’s State was made.

But what I don’t understand is the underpinnings for the theory of Socialism in One Country.  I’ve read the work done by Stalin and his cohorts, but I can’t make it add up into a dialectic process that makes any sense.

So if anybody was wondering why I’ve been preoccupied with trying to make a fun post about drinking, now you know why.

  1 comment for “The Willing Destruction of Self Belief in History: Socialism in One Country

  1. Juke
    July 24, 2014 at 7:27 pm

    From the above cartoon, broken skulls do exist.
    Hmm, Borken Skulls, that’s a cool band name.

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