“A Nazi-defeating, Space-Racing, Industrial Powerhouse”: The case for ‘Socialism in One Country’

JR, Baile Átha Cliath

As the burgeoning Soviet Union was coming to terms with the death of Lenin, two theories on how the Soviets should move forward arose; Stalin’s ‘Socialism in One Country’, and Trotsky’s ‘Permanent Revolution’. Stalin insisted that a revolution that could not defend itself can never successfully build socialism. He sought to develop a theory of socialist construction that would continue the work of Marx, Engels and Lenin on the Proletarian Dictatorship. With the loss of the First World War and the scars left behind by the brutal Civil War, the Soviet Republics were destitute in their early years. The Bolsheviks had inherited a feudal, agrarian backwater. Soviet industrialisation and modernisation lagged far behind that of capitalist Europe. Stalin identified this at the First Conference of Workers in 1931:

”We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must make up this gap in ten years. Either we do it or they will crush us”.

In opposition to Stalin, Trotsky proposed his theory of “‘Permanent Revolution”. Again, to properly discuss this theory, we must first understand the conditions from which it grew. Marx theorised that it would be in the most advanced capitalist nations that revolution would occur. At the time of the Great October Revolution, Germany, Marx’s homeland, was one such advanced nation. As such, Lenin and the Bolsheviks, as students of Marx, had hoped that the Social Democratic Party of Germany, with Luxemburg and Liebknecht in their ranks, would fulfill the prophecy, so to speak, and lead the world in Marxist revolution. This never happened. Both Liebknecht and Luxemburg were murdered by the agents of capital. The Bolsheviks were on their own, and the imperialists were closing in.

Following Lenin’s death, Trotsky feared the imperial encirclement. He felt the Soviets must push ever outwards and wage “Permanent Revolution” against the capitalists and imperialists until global revolution was won. This was an attractive proposal to many comrades of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, but it betrayed an idealistic, utopian, unscientific and, ultimately, un-Marxist view of revolution and historical materialism. Wrapped up in the romantic language of revolution, Trotsky’s chauvinism and opportunism were laid bare. How does a nation force revolutions globally without becoming expansionist? As Marxists, we understand that only the people can liberate themselves, we can’t wait for a hero to show up and do it for us. The German proletariat must liberate Germany, the Irish proletariat must liberate Ireland. On top of this theoretical failing of Trotsky, he also failed to accurately identify the material realities and conditions of the new Soviet Union. As we have already mentioned, the Soviets were underdeveloped in core areas and in no position to pursue such a policy even if they wanted to. Ultimately, the concrete theoretical foundations of Stalin’s “Socialism in One Country” won out. In much the same way as Lenin laid out his theory of building a successful revolution in What is to be Done?, then tested it in practice, so too did Stalin test the theory of “Socialism in One Country” and found it to be successful. The laboratory for this experiment was one of life or death for the young Soviet Union: the invasion of Nazi Germany.

Alexei Stakhanov, a Soviet miner who became a symbol of Soviet industrial advances.

The Soviets were years behind Nazi Germany in terms of industrial and military development. The scale of the Nazi incursion into Soviet territory between 1939 and 1942 is testament to this. Nazi forces swept across the Soviet Republics, totally destroying Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldavia, being halted only on the outskirts of Moscow, some 1000km from their starting point. However, ten years after Stalin theorised, the Battle of Stalingrad became the turning point in the war. It was the point in which Soviet engineering and industrial strength caught up to or exceeded that of the Nazis, as Stalin had said they would need to. The power of socialism was evident here in the united efforts of the Soviet people in defence of their homeland against the Nazi hoards.

Today, it may seem as though many citizens of the more peripheral former-Soviet Republics remember socialism less fondly than, say, Russians might. This is understandable. Those Soviet Republics were decimated, razed to the ground by the Nazis. They left nothing behind. The development of these republics was set back years behind the less affected republics because they had to entirely rebuild after the war. This would set back or halt any country’s development by a considerable time. Even Britain, far more industrialised than some of these Soviet Republics, still took a decade or so to recover from the war. My father, born in 1960s London, remembers playing in the bomb craters, scars left by Luftwaffe bombing raids during the Blitz. That the Soviets were able to rebuild as quickly as they did so as to be a challenger to the US, which was entirely unaffected at home except for Pearl Harbour, is nothing short of miraculous. In just four decades, socialism changed this feudal, undeveloped backwater into a Nazi-defeating, Space-Racing, industrial powerhouse. This is what socialism is capable of. This is what unity of purpose and collective dedication can accomplish.

Once the Nazi hoards were defeated, in the post-war years, the Soviets very much supported international revolutions, supplying material support where they could. Their material conditions had developed to a point which could allow for it. However, there is a fine line between supporting revolution and expansionism. The party can only assist the unions and fraternal parties of another nation in their organising efforts. This is what the Soviets did after the Second World War in South America, Asia and Africa, providing material and political support to revolutionary movements around the globe. Today, all of those countries where Communist parties are still in power with the popular support of the people, are those countries which established revolution by their own hand, where the people were the direct arbiters of their own fate.

The north and south spearheads of the Soviet encirclement of German forces in Stalingrad meet, November 1942.

Mao, however, accused the Soviets at this time of being social imperialists. As I Wor Kuen (an Asian-American Marxist collective) analysed in Soviet Social Imperialism and the International Situation Today, the revisionism that cannibalised the CPSU following Stalin’s death led to significant and problematic changes. I Wor Kuen notes that 60% of Brezhnev-era Soviet industrial capacity was dedicated to military-related industries. Soviet military spending accounted for 19.6% of all expenditure of the national income at this time, up from 13.1% in the Khrushchev era, surpassing pre-war Nazi Germany (19%) and even the demands of the US military in Korea (15%) and Vietnam (10%). This is evidence of the development of revisionist and imperialist machinations of the post-Stalin CPSU, according to the Chinese communists. “These military forces are not to fulfill the defense needs of a socialist country, but rather are the forces of a mighty imperialist superpower aiming for domination of the world.” Fidel Castro hit back at such claims, though. At the Algiers Non-Aligned Congress in 1973, he stated:

“How could the Soviet Union be classified as imperialist? Where are its monopolist enterprises? What is its participation in multinational companies? What industries, what mines, what petroleum deposits does it own in the underdeveloped world? What worker is exploited in any country of Asia, Africa or Latin America by Soviet capital? The economic cooperation which the Soviet Union is offering Cuba and many other countries did not come from the sweat and the sacrifice of exploited workers of other peoples, but from the sweat and effort of Soviet workers.”

Whether or not you agree with the Chinese critique of the post-Stalin Soviet Union, “Socialism in One Country” proved crucial to Soviet survival. Instead of diverting defence forces, resources and infrastructure abroad in “Permanent Revolution”, thereby weakening you at home, you dig in and do what’s necessary for survival in a hostile international setting. It’s not ideal, it’s reality. It’s not idealism, it’s scientific socialism. A revolution that can’t defend itself isn’t worth anything.

This is just one example of the efficacy of scientific socialism, of “Socialism in One Country”, of Marxism-Leninism.

Let’s look at another example and return to Cuba, the tiny giant of the Caribbean. Initially, the US weren’t necessarily hostile to Castro and the revolution. They presumed it to be a bourgeois independence struggle. “No big deal”, they thought. “Our profits shouldn’t be too affected”. However, once the revolution declared itself socialist and began to nationalise industry, including American businesses, only then did the US become hostile. The capitalists and imperialists do not like it when the proletariat rises up against them. 

The Marxist-Leninist revolutionary government of Cuba adopted ‘Socialism in One Country’ as their next step. They dug in against the imperial barrage and survived the Bay of Pigs invasion, as well as the countless other US attempts to destabilise and undermine the Cuban socialist project. In retaliation, the CIA attempted to assassinate Castro over 600 times.

Through “Socialism in One Country”, Cuba survived the imperial onslaught. Their Proletarian Dictatorship was able to preserve the revolution. Once they survived these initial invasion attempts, like the Soviets, we see Cuba begin to support global revolutions. Cuban forces assisted revolutions the world over, from Nicaragua to Angola, and Che Guevara personally led guerilla struggles in both the Democratic Republic of Congo and Bolivia, where he gave his life for the workers of all countries.

Cuban soldiers at Cuito Canavale, Angola, 1988. Over 55,000 Cubans, primarily Afro-Cubans, supported the MPLA’s struggle for independence.

Even the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has proven that, once the policy of ‘Socialism in One Country’ has proven successful in defending the revolution against the initial barrage of capital’s forces, you can then begin to support your international comrades. The D.P.R.K. was decimated by the US in the imperial Korean War. 75% – yes, seventy-five percent – of Pyongyang was destroyed by US carpet bombing. As well as this, roughly 15% of the Korean population, close to 2 million people, were killed by the US. Despite this, the Korean people, guided by Marxism-Leninism (and their adaptation according to their material conditions, Juche) were able to defend their revolution and build it back stronger than ever. Yet again we see that, once the D.P.R.K. had survived this imperial onslaught, they began to support international struggles. The D.P.R.K. has given much material and political support to the Palestinian liberation struggle. To this day, the D.P.R.K. remains one of the loudest voices in the UN in condemning Israel’s violent colonial crimes against the Palestinian people.

Pyongyang, 2017. The country’s recovery from the decimation of the US bombing campaign of the 1950s is a testament to the efficacy of “Socialism in One Country”.

I may not be a scientist, but I understand the scientific method to be this: you hypothesise, theorise, run experiments accordingly, then interrogate the findings, and adapt based on those results. This is the method central to scientific socialism. Marxism-Leninism has been theorised, tested and developed more than any other revolutionary strategy. And time and again, it proves to be the most efficacious revolutionary strategy. If it didn’t work, if it was proven wrong, or if other revolutionary strategies proved successful, as scientific socialists, we would have to analyse these new findings and adapt our theory and strategies accordingly. But as yet, no such strategy has been able to prove itself more effective than Marxism-Leninism, and nothing as of yet has disproved it, or found it wanting.

Where are the successful Trotskyist revolutions? The successful anarchist revolutions? Only Marxist-Leninist revolutions have been able to survive and build towards socialism. Only the achievements of Marxist-Leninist political projects still have a positive influence on people’s daily lives today.

That is why we are Marxist-Leninists. That is why we adopt ‘Socialism in One Country’.

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