What Do Zyuganov and Trotsky Have in Common? "Market Socialism" Yesterday and Today

V. Shapinov


We present here the translation from the original Russian of an excellent article by Shapinov. This article was published in 2004 in one of the organs of the Russian Communist Workers Party (RCWP). The article is a polemic against the national-chauvinistic positions of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) which consistently stands for the capitalist path of development in Russia. The CPRF, as many others in modern Russia, dwells on the successes of the Soviet past, such as industrialization, collectivization, the victory over fascist Germany and capitalizes on the nostalgic sentiments prevalent among vast layers of Russian toiling masses with regards to the might of the Soviet state. While the CPRF tantalizes many in Russia with their superficial support to the victory of socialist construction in the Soviet Union, they identify themselves with the theories of the so-called market socialism and, as such, they stand against socialization of the means of production or of private property in the conditions of today’s Russia. As a result, the CPRF stands against socialist transformation altogether, notwithstanding their positive appraisal of the Soviet past. In all fairness, the CPRF’s position is inherently self-consistent, as the theory of market socialism has proven time and again to be anti­socialist and reformist to its core. It is here where the value of the article lies, in that the author eloquently links up the theories of market socialism with capitalist restoration and reformism. In successfully establishing that link the author takes it further to expose Trotsky’s views with regards to socialist construction in general and in the Soviet Union in particular. The author does not only correctly characterize Trotsky’s economic views in the historical context but also successfully demonstrates that Trotskyism, despite its “leftist” phraseology, is a form of revisionism that the CPRF strongly overlaps with. To the extent that Trotskyism is a form of right- wing revisionism and opportunism in the Soviet historical context, the CPRF is rendered its natural heir.

Shapinov points to the fact that Trotsky’s economic views are derivative and superficial, as they emanate from other revisionist thinkers. Indeed, Trotsky is a talented publicist but he can hardly be regarded as a theorist of political economy. He certainly does not deserve to be compared with Bogdanov, Bukharin, Preobrazhenski and others in terms of the depth of their economic thought. Shapinov gives a rundown of Trotsky’s views on socialist construction in the Soviet Union with emphasis on an analysis of his article the “Soviet Economy in Danger”. Published in 1932, when the success of the first five-year plan and large-scale collectivization became apparent, Trotsky reverts to the postulates of the Bukharin-Rykov right-wing opposition: slowing down of industrialization, preservation of capitalist elements in the economy, especially in the countryside, expansion of commodity-money relations, diminishing the role of the socialist plan and the opening up to foreign goods and investment. These tenets come straight from the playbook of right-wing revisionist traditions, which are chiefly responsible for the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union. Trotsky’s right-wing recipes for the Soviet Economy are underpinned by the postulates of the theory of equilibrium. The theory of equilibrium is a bourgeois conception that is expanded on by Bogdanov in Russia and was taken up as a methodology by Bukharin in his works in political economy. The theory of equilibrium in practice tries to demonstrate that the law of value and commodity-money relations are forms of exchange that operate in socialism, hence, Trotsky’s assertion that “the plan is checked and, to a considerable degree, realized through the market.” In Trotsky’s views the market is indispensible in socialism to curb disproportions and to restore the state of equilibrium that is natural to any economic process. These views were not invented by Trotsky.

Shapinov logically concludes that Trotsky’s views on socialist construction have been misrepresented as a left alternative to Stalin’s. Much to the contrary, the author elegantly dissects Trotsky’s superficiality by exposing its lack of originality and how it overlaps with right-wing, pro-capitalist opportunism.

Indeed, Trotsky’s views on socialist construction revolve around his conviction that socialism cannot be built in an isolated country or group of countries, where he takes quotes from Marx and Engels out of context. This postulate is in open contradiction with Lenin’s vision and his development of Marxist political economy in the era of imperialism. It is because of the uneven development of capitalism that socialism will break out in a small number of countries. Lenin, while never underestimating the relevance of the struggle of the proletariat internationally, was explicit with regards to the possibility of building socialism in an isolated country:

“Uneven economic and political development is an absolute law of capitalism. Hence, the victory of socialism is possible first in several or even in one capitalist country alone. After expropriating the capitalists and organising their own socialist production, the victorious proletariat of that country will arise against the rest of the world—the capitalist world—attracting to its cause the oppressed classes of other countries, stirring uprisings in those countries against the capitalists, and in case of need using even armed force against the exploiting classes and their states.” (V. I. Lenin, "On the Slogan for a United States of Europe," Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, [1974], Moscow, Volume 21, page 343.)

On the surface the slogan of the permanent revolution, as formulated by Trotsky may appeal to some as revolutionary. Lenin demonstrated that this slogan is not only incompatible with Marxism, but it is in practice counter-revolutionary. Lenin gives an unequivocal assessment as to the practical implications of advocating for the permanent revolution in the concrete historical context of the Russian Revolution:

“I know that there are, of course, wiseacres with a high opinion of themselves and even calling themselves socialists, who assert that power should not have been taken until the revolution broke out in all countries. They do not realize that in saying this they are deserting the revolution and going over to the side of the bourgeoisie. To wait until the working classes carry out a revolution on an international scale means that everyone will remain suspended in mid-air. This is senseless.” (V I Lenin, "Report on Foreign Policy Delivered at a Joint Meeting of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee and the Moscow Soviet," 14 May 1918, Collected Works, Vol. 27, pp. 372-3.)

Bourgeois and Trotskyite analysts, as correctly pointed out by Shapinov, converge to portray Trotsky as a left-wing advocate. Examination of his works and political activity reveals a very different picture, that of a political movement that advocates going too far when the conditions are not given for radical transformation, thus jeopardizing the alliance between the peasantry and the working class, and to slow down when the socialist transformation is making strides. Trotskyism may have sounded ultra-revolutionary in the 1920s, when the conditions for large-scale socialization were not yet given, but drastically changes tone when the material conditions emerge and socialist construction is on the offensive in the 1930s.

It is then that Trotsky takes up the narrative of the right-wing opposition with regards to the interrelation between plan and the market and how to deal with capitalist elements in the economy. The alleged ultra-leftist becomes a mainstream right-winger. This speaks to the true essence and political motivations underpinning Trotskyite phraseology: consistently and fundamentally counter-revolutionary.

Shapinov’s brilliant appraisal of Trotsky’s economic views should not go without criticism. Shapinov adheres to the view that the Soviet Union remained socialist till the end of its existence as a State, where Perestroika is viewed as a counter-revolutionary movement chiefly responsible for the latter. At the time when the article was published Shapinov still considered China as a socialist state. While upholding the victory of the socialist construction in the Soviet Union, Shapinov overlooks the fundamental economic transformations of the 1950s that end the essence of the Soviet economy that emerged as a result. This contradictory attitude is inherent to left-wing Brezhnevites in Russia and elsewhere. That being said and with that in mind, Shapinov’s article is a valuable critique of Trotsky’s economic views.

Bikram Mohan

here to return to the October 2019 index.