Stalin’s warning concerning 1991

In his extended struggle with Trotsky, Stalin turned to a detailed study of Lenin. Both sought to claim the legacy of Lenin, in what may be called a ‘scriptural dialectic’, in which the texts interpreted can lead to both positions. It was also part of the growing veneration of Lenin (rather sought to negate any veneration of himself). Repeatedly in those arguments, Stalin sought to counter Trotsky’s argument that socialism would be successful only with a world, or at least European, revolution. So Stalin argued that socialism in one country is indeed possible, yet that does not remove the threat of international intervention, if not the potential destruction of socialism. He writes:

The point at issue is not complete victory, but the victory of socialism in general, i.e., driving away the landlords and capitalists, taking power, repelling the attacks of imperialism and beginning to build a socialist economy. In all this, the proletariat in one country can be fully successful; but a complete guarantee against restoration can be ensured only by the ‘joint efforts of the proletarians in several countries’ … for as long as capitalist encirclement exists there will always be the danger of military intervention. (Works, volume 7, pages 122-23).

A foreboding of 1991, or perhaps a warning concerning events he hoped would never come to pass?


6 thoughts on “Stalin’s warning concerning 1991

  1. Both Stalin and Trotsky would be very surprised if they learnt that socialism in the USSR was overthrown not by a military intervention from outside but by counterrevolution from inside, and that the counterrevolutionary forces had grown within the Soviet society itself.

    1. Good point, although the continuing internal struggles suggest a distinct awareness of that possibility. Each side saw the other as a ‘bourgeois’ deviation or even a ‘capitalist roader’ (to borrow a later term), and thus as a fifth column for international capital. The growing consensus is that the large waves of purges were undertaken in light of this belief in a fifth column.

  2. Actually, the element of encirclement is much more decisive than people allow for. The sociologist Randall Collins used his geopolitical theory (Weberian style) to predict the vulnerability of the USSR to collapse already in early 1980s. This is the later, more polished version of his argument:

    Part of it is just the geographical position of Russia, and its military-political overextension relative to its material-economic and demographic base. No need to invade in a case of overextension, for it will stifle the possibility of making breakthroughs in the economic and social spheres. Then petrification will set in, well we all know what happened.

    For the USSR to survive it would either have had to make up with China and recreate this alliance, or it would have required some divine intervention by Prometheus. Or the Soviet soldiery would have to become as effective as Rambo, who after all could singlehandedly kill an entire batallion of Vietcong.

    1. The Chinese learnt this the hard way, with the US bombing vital industrial facilities soon after 1949 as China desperately sought to rebuild after decades of civil war and Japanese occupation. Through the prolonged economic the US aimed to retard Chinese development by decades, even it led to millions of deaths from enforced famine and so on. In this case, China is beginning to have the last laugh.

  3. I don’t think its accurate to ascribe the fall of the USSR to capitalist encirclement. After all, the soviets didn’t have to invade afghanistan, the idea that the CIA pulled a nefarious trick over on the soviets by ‘tempting’ them is somewhat rich. Aside from the unreality of it even if it were true, the question remains how they were enticed into making and committing to such a costly adventure in the first place. I don’t even think it can be defended on similar grounds as, say the invasion of Finland.

    There are other non-military factors, civilian discontent, bad leadership, low-oil prices, poorly economy which have relatively little to do with capitalist encirclement.

    I’m not sure on what grounds you object to the Maoist line on revisionism and the restoration of capitalism. It seems like Stalin entertains those possibilities in this passage and others, although not to the same extent as Mao who was pretty clear about the subject.

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