Balance sheet of a revolution / Bilan d'une révolution

Armed soldiers in 1917 Moscow carry a banner reading 'Communism'

As one of the major works of the communist left, Bilan d'une révolution covers the undistorted reality of the great and tragic October revolution, the various false interpretations that still surround it, as well as the development of the Russian economy up until the 1960s and, in much detail, its capitalist character.

Notes on this version: This is a combination of two translations that were created around the same time.
Part I was translated by an anonymous group, Part II and III by the ICP - "Il Partito Comunista".

The title was lifted from the translation by the anonymous group, the ICP on the other hand calls this text "A Revolution Summed Up".
We decided on "Balance sheet / Bilan" due to the historical importance of balance sheet texts within the communist left, as well as to keep this source in line with other already existing translations of works in the same tradition that use this phrase.

Bilan d’une révolution was written in 1967-68 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Russian revolution and appeared in our French language theoretical magazine at the time, Programme communiste. It is fully aligned with all the theoretical work of Marxism from its foundation text in 1848 to the current epoch.

At the time of writing, everyone on the entire bourgeois political spectrum from conservatism to Trotskyism presented the USSR as “communist”. Western conservatives and liberals delighted in pointing to the Soviet Union as a monolith that threatened freedom and world peace, as well as the relative poverty of the Russian working class. The existence of an imperialist rival with an “alien” ideology was used to justify not only massive increases in arms expenditure, but also the infiltration and corruption of cultural, scientific and educational institutions as part of a global offensive against any emergence, however weak, of resistance to capitalism. In reality, the USSR was no match for the USA and its NATO allies.

Social democrats, for their part, insisted that the aftermath of 1917 demonstrated the danger of revolution. Socialism could only be achieved through the slow process of democratic reform, and radical socialism only played into the hands of conservatives. A few years before this text was written, the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), once the jewel in the crown of proletarian movement, formally and definitively removed all reference in its constitution to Marxism and the class struggle.

The Stalinist and post-Stalinist official Communist Parties, at the peak of their electoral influence in countries such as France and Italy in 1967, systematically falsified Marxism and the theses defended by Lenin in their efforts to present the USSR as a workers’ paradise. Trotskyists added to the confusion, falsely portraying the Soviet economy as essentially socialist, while calling for an overthrow of “the bureaucracy”.

In the mid-sixties a variety of new “libertarian communist” and third-worldist critiques of the Soviet Union emerged, as well as that other great polluter of proletarian theory and practice, Maoism. The democratic and self-managerial deviations of the “new left” moved further and further away from authentic Marxism, but were often co-opted by parties claiming a Marxist heritage, such as the Socialist Workers’ Party in the United Kingdom – so the ideological mush was complete. It is the task of our party, the International Communist Party, to debunk all of these falsifications and restore the crystal-clear doctrine of revolutionary Marxism.

The victory of the counter-revolution in Russia was not the result of a fatal flaw in Bolshevism such as the lack of “party democracy”, nor of an alleged invincibility of the bourgeoisie and the capitalist mode of production. Nor was the revolution defeated on the field of battle. Lenin and the Bolsheviks knew perfectly well that it ran counter to everything Marxism teaches to believe that the revolution could survive in an isolated and backward country like Russia. The Bolshevik revolution must be understood, as Lenin understood it, in the context of proletarian internationalism.

Communist-led Russia lasted only a few years and Marxist orthodoxy was gradually abandoned, a process that started during Lenin’s final illness; the interests of the Russian State were then placed before those of the international revolution. There is no need to list here all the crimes committed against the working class of all countries in the interest of Stalin’s Russia. Suffice it to say that in 1943 the Russians themselves acknowledged the uselessness of the International and abolished it.

For Stalin and the clique around him, the (corrupted) Marxist language of the class struggle provided a suitable foil for carrying through the entirely capitalist reforms at great human cost, most notably through the “dekulakization” campaign.

The retreat of the western communist parties of the 1920s, then of the International, enabled opportunism, democratism, class collaborationism, popular frontism and political and economic romanticism to flourish in leftist and pseudo-Marxist circles.

Developments in Russia since 1967 have been entirely in line with our party’s expectations (though nobody could have predicted the exact form they would take; in China, for example, the evolution of the political superstructure has followed a different course).

As shown in the final section of this work, the process of “liberalization” of the Soviet economy – i.e. its steady adjustment to capitalist norms – began in the 1950s with the reforms of the Khrushchev era. By the late eighties, in the Gorbachev era, it was clear to many in the Soviet leadership that the USSR was too bankrupt, dictatorial and over-centralized to keep pace with its main competitor, the USA.

But, as the Communist Left had pointed out since the Stalinist counter-revolution of the mid to late 20s, the direction of the USSR was entirely capitalist and bourgeois. Wherever wage labour, capital, and an economy based on exchange exist, we are in the presence of capitalism, its economic cycles and the falling rate of profit. This is quite simply, and has always been, the authentic Marxist position.

Despite the terrible ideological defeat suffered by the working class that has resulted from the portrayal, by all schools of thought across the bourgeois spectrum, of the Soviet Union as “communist”, we know that this defeat is not definitive. That is why in August 1991 we published an article entitled “Communism Is Dead, Long Live Communism!” It was not communism that was dead, but rather the false myth of socialism in one country: “We asserted in the past that when the Russian myth had collapsed, as was bound to happen, we shouldn’t expect an honest recognition of our foresight, but rather, if anything, oppression or silence. And such it is. But this is not what rankles... We anticipate and know that an entire historical cycle must come to a close for communism to arise again as an urgent necessity... ‘The national roads to socialism’ have degenerated into conflicts, which, though apparently ethnic and racist, are in fact nothing other than the expressions of struggles within the bourgeois class camouflaged in the most horrible and cannibalistic way”.

The Communist Left was the only current that made a thorough Marxist analysis of Soviet Russia’s degeneration. Our critique of the USSR began with a famous intervention at the 1926 Sixth Enlarged Executive of the Communist International, which was the subject of organic works presented at our General Meetings through the 1950s; of these, The Economic and Social Structure of Russia Today is an outstanding example, and is being translated and published in our international magazine, Communist Left.

All of our work demonstrates that the USSR was nothing more than a capitalist State, distinguished from western capitalist States merely by the amount of State capital present in its industrial and commercial enterprises, a phenomenon already envisaged by Marxists, notably in Frederick Engels’ Anti-Dühring of 1878, which is cited at length in Part 2 of this work. The alleged “fall of communism” that took place in 1991 proved that a centralized and planned capitalism is impossible. The USSR was nothing other than a fascistic State, one of many versions of capitalist rule, and even proved unable to convert to a democratic regime as demonstrated by Putin’s tricks to stay in power forever with the persecution of opponents, selected assassinations and the rigging of elections, and most recently, the 2020 referendum on the constitution. The really strong bourgeois State is the one that can control the population by means of “deception, flattery, fine phrases, promises by the million” (Lenin) through the mass media, schools, religion, flags, national anthems and other democratic paraphernalia, resorting to violence only in extreme situations.

Nevertheless, the material pressure exerted by the economic laws of capitalism will push the working class to rebel against worsening living and working conditions. Whereas in 1967 the industrialized countries were at the peak of the post-war boom, since then inequality has grown and economic crises have worsened, while capitalism, unable to free itself from its own iron laws, rampages through the environment and destroys public health, despite all the technological advances that have taken place since 1967. Only revolutionary Marxism can make sense of this anarchy and offer a way forward not just for the working class but for the whole of humanity.

This translation of a great Marxist text broadly covers three main themes: in Part I, it examines what the Bolshevik revolution was, and what it was not. In Part II, it considers the various false interpretations of October 1917 and it explores, in much greater depth, the most pernicious falsification of all: modern day Trotskyism, while hailing the unparalleled contribution of Trotsky himself to proletarian theory and practice. In Parts III the text goes on to examine the development of the Russian economy from the New Economic Policy of the early 1920s, through Stalin’s struggles against the Marxist left and Marxist right of the Bolshevik Party, up to the time the text was written in 1967-68.

This book is dedicated to the new generation of militants who are rediscovering the Marxist doctrine of proletarian internationalism and communist revolution.

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