Gustav Klutsis, Public domain

This article was featured in Issue #1 of Communist Revolution. You can subscribe to Communist Revolution here.

One of the most common misconceptions about the Russian Revolution is that the ideas and methods of Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik Party led inevitably to the Stalinist regime and all the crimes that went with it. This argument takes different forms.

The capitalists, of course, hate nothing more than Bolshevism. In the Russian Revolution, the working class took power, guided by Lenin’s Bolshevik Party. The workers set up an entirely new regime—one without capitalists or landlords, based on the democratically planned economy. The revolution advanced society like never before. Women got the right to abortion decades before any capitalist country. Thanks to the planned economy, the Soviet Union went from a largely undeveloped, peasant country to a world superpower in a few decades. The living standards of ordinary people leaped ahead: by the 1960s, they enjoyed free education, free health care, and consumer goods like washing machines and TVs. Rent was fixed for decades: in 1970s Moscow, rent was around six per cent of the average wage. The workers defended this new regime against a vicious counter-revolution. For all this, the ruling class can never forgive Bolshevism.

But for thousands of young communists in Canada today, the Russian Revolution is a beacon. It shines in the darkness of capitalism, proof that there is a way out of this nightmare, that ordinary people can and must overthrow the capitalists and run society ourselves.

It’s understandable that some of these people sympathize with Stalinism. It can appear that Stalinism is synonymous with the achievements of the October Revolution. Stalin certainly wanted us to think so. Others entirely reject Stalinism, but want to understand how the October Revolution turned into the monstrosity of Stalinism.

One way or another, the first issue of Communist Revolution is the perfect place to discuss the true nature and origin of Stalinism.

One cannot understand a political tendency without looking at its history, so to do this, we need to talk about the Russian Revolution. 

Tsarist Russia

Before the Russian Revolution, Russia was still ruled by a tsar. Under the tsar’s police state, trade unions and any socialist organizing were illegal. The peasants, though “freed” from serfdom in 1861, were still ruled by landlordism.

It is difficult to picture just how undeveloped Russia was. The overwhelming majority of the population were peasants, who lived in extreme isolation. Many of their villages were a day’s ride from the nearest train station. They still farmed using medieval methods: they had no machinery. Their tools were the sickle and the ox-drawn plow. Living in such isolation, the average peasant was extremely ignorant of the wider world. When the First World War broke out, many had not even heard of this country called Germany that they were now being told to die fighting.

Alongside this rural backwardness, you had the most advanced industry in the cities. In the late 19th century, the capitalists of western Europe poured money into Russia to profit off its cheap labour. They built massive factories, with tens of thousands of workers and the most sophisticated techniques.

Staffing these factories was a brand-new working class. The workers toiled for long hours in loud, dingy factories. In exchange, they were paid barely enough to live in misery. For example, a report from the late 19th century found: “Sanitary conditions in the workers’ settlement of Yuzovka are highly conducive to the contraction and spread of disease. The marketplace and streets are full of filth. The air is rotten with the stench from factory smoke, coal and lime dust and the filth in gutters and organic wastes on streets and squares.”

This new working class had no traditions of reformism. It gravitated to the forces of revolutionary Marxism. These forces were organized above all in Lenin’s Bolshevik Party. The Bolsheviks attracted all the best, most resolute revolutionary fighters. After a decade of class struggle, including the failed 1905 revolution, they had gained considerable revolutionary experience. 


The organizational structures of the Bolsheviks were always highly flexible. They went through a huge variety of conditions—from underground work in small circles, to mass legal work during the 1905 revolution, to work in parliament and in police unions. This required a variety of approaches.

Thus in 1903, when security against the police state and keeping out weak petty-bourgeois elements were paramount, Lenin favored restrictive membership requirements. But in 1905 he insisted on opening up the party: “We need young forces. I am for shooting on the spot anyone who presumes to say that there are no people to be had. The people in Russia are legion: all we have to do is to recruit young people more widely and boldly, more boldly and widely, and again more widely and again more boldly, without fearing them.” Different needs—different organizational forms.

But there is one thing Lenin was far from flexible on: Marxist theory. Theory is the bedrock of Bolshevism. Lenin understood that a revolutionary party must have the most advanced theory. Theory is like a compass: nothing else gives the necessary understanding to orient the party in the heat of the class struggle. For example, without his understanding of the counter-revolutionary role of the bourgeois liberals, Lenin would not have understood the need for the working class to take power. The opportunity of 1917 would have been lost.

For this reason, Lenin always fiercely defended Marxist theory. This does not mean Marxism is a dogma—far from it. Marxism is a living, scientific theory that explains the development and contradictory transformations of society and the natural world. Naturally Marxism must take into account new developments. But Lenin always opposed any deviation from the fundamental ideas of Marxism, especially its philosophy, dialectical materialism. This is not because Lenin was a doctrinaire—far from it. It’s because a correct philosophy is indispensable for a revolutionary party, and dialectical materialism is the highest philosophy yet developed. Lenin once wrote that history knows all sorts of transformations. Dialectical materialism is the only philosophy that can understand these transformations. Taking away dialectical materialism would have disarmed the party.

The Russian Revolution

Immediately before the revolution broke out, Russia was embroiled in the disastrous First World War. The armed forces were underequipped: many soldiers went into battle without boots. Under the leadership of incompetent generals, the army was defeated again and again. The Germans conquered vast swathes of Russia.

Red Guard in Petrograd, 1917. Public domain

While the capitalists were profiting massively from the war industries, millions of soldiers died. There was a shortage of flour. Bread lines were common.

These miserable conditions are what produced the Russian Revolution. But even more important was the accumulated anger from decades of misery, and the regime whose rottenness was visible to all.

The year 1917 began with a massive strike wave in Petrograd, the capital of Russia. Revolution then exploded on February 23, International Women’s Day. Women workers demonstrated for peace and bread. More than 100,000 workers struck that day. The next day, more than half of the Petrograd workers were on strike. Police bullets only temporarily dispersed the demonstrators. The movement soon turned into a general strike.

The army was brought in. But the shooting didn’t last long. The army was unwilling to defend the rotten tsarist regime. The workers fraternized with the soldiers, who mutinied, arresting their officers. The seemingly powerful tsarist army melted away. By the end of the month, the tsar was overthrown and Petrograd was in the hands of the workers. The rest of Russia soon followed.

Along with the soldiers, the workers set up soviets, Russian for “councils”. These were massively democratic—far more democratic than the sham democracy of bourgeois parliaments. Organized in the soviets, the armed workers held the real power.

Terrified of the working class, the bourgeoisie set up the Provisional Government, as a manoeuvre to head off the revolution. This government held little real power. At the end of the day, political power must be backed up with force, and the Provisional Government’s troops had abandoned it. But it was still able to rule, thanks to the reformist Mensheviks and the Social-Revolutionaries (SRs), a popular party with the peasantry. These were the dominant parties in the soviets after the February Revolution. They used their controlling position in the soviet executive to artificially prop up the Provisional Government.

The Provisional Government solved none of the Russian people’s problems. It did not provide bread, give land to the peasants, or end the war—because it couldn’t. As a bourgeois government, it represented the same people who were profiting from the war: the big landowners and their capitalist friends in the cities. These people feared that if they gave land to the peasants, this would encourage the workers to go after their property in the cities.

The advanced workers distrusted the bourgeois Provisional Government. But they trusted their leaders in the soviets, who were supporting it. Workers in the smaller industrial centres, as well as the peasants, had genuine illusions that bourgeois democracy could solve their problems. This shows the power of spontaneous mass action, but also its limits. The workers were not organized or conscious enough to finish the job. This is understandable. Revolution awakens the most downtrodden layers of society, those who have no previous political experience.

The Bolsheviks and the October Revolution

Immediately after the February insurrection, Lenin saw that the Provisional Government could solve nothing. Lenin knew that the working class had to take power via the soviets, overthrowing the Provisional Government. The urgent task of his Bolshevik Party was to win the majority of the working class to this perspective: The Provisional Government was already consolidating its forces to crush the revolution. Once it was strong enough, it would strike.

Lenin’s watchword was “patiently explain”. He always based himself on workers’ democracy: he did not believe the Bolsheviks could take power without majority support. All his approach throughout 1917 aimed to convince a decisive majority that the soviets had to seize power and begin the socialist transformation of society. Thus began the process of patiently convincing the working class, through agitation and democratic debate.

Lenin’s perspective at the time shows that he is far from the ruthless sectarian he is often accused of being. Until July 1917, his approach was to call on the reformists to take power. Hence the slogan “all power to the soviets!” He even believed that if the reformists took power, the revolution could be achieved peacefully—without civil war. The Bolsheviks would then accept being a minority in the new soviet government controlled by the reformists, and would fight to win the government to the program of building socialism through democratic debate in the soviets.

Of course, the reformists refused to do this. As the year rolled on, the Provisional Government still solved nothing. This was teaching the masses through experience how rotten the Provisional Government was. This discredited the reformist leaders in the soviets, who were still supporting it. The Bolsheviks skillfully aimed their slogans at exposing these facts. They also patiently argued their perspective in the soviets. In this way, by October they had won majority support in the soviets. 

The most democratic government in history

The October insurrection finished off the Provisional Government, handing all power to the soviets. The insurrection was nearly bloodless: no one was willing to defend the government.

The new soviet regime was the most democratic government in history. The soviets held ultimate power, backed up by the armed working class. This was a state run by the majority for the first time in history. The government, to the greatest degree possible, was organized along the lines of Lenin’s four-point program for the organization of a workers’ government:

  • Free and democratic elections of all positions in the state,
  • The right for any state official to be recalled by those who elected them,
  • No official to be paid more than a skilled worker,
  • Gradually, all the tasks of running society and the state to be performed by everyone in turn. As Lenin said: “Any cook should be able to be prime minister.”

The new soviet government took over the running of industry and planned production. It abolished landlordism, granting land to the peasants, and finally got Russia out of the war. In this way it began the process of transforming Russia into a socialist society. 

The revolution also abolished the barbaric tsarist laws where the wife was the property of her husband, who had the right to abuse her. The revolution granted the rights to divorce and abortion. Public daycares and canteens were created to liberate women from domestic slavery. Homosexuality was also decriminalized.

Party democracy

But 1917 was hardly a straight line to victory for the Bolsheviks. Besides the setback of the July Days—when state repression forced the party underground—the party was far from unified. In February, the main Bolshevik leaders in Petrograd, Lev Kamenev and Joseph Stalin, began supporting the Provisional Government in the Bolshevik newspaper Pravda. They essentially aligned with the Menshevik theory of stages, which the Mensheviks used to justify their support for the Provisional Government. This theory says that the bourgeoisie must take power and run society for a long period before a socialist revolution would be possible. The problem was: the bourgeoisie wanted nothing more than to restore the tsar—they were too afraid of the working class to accept a democratic republic.

Kamenev and Stalin also refused to publish Lenin’s letters from afar, which called for no support for the Provisional Government. When Lenin wrote to the party Central Committee that the party must immediately begin working toward a socialist revolution, they actually burned his letter. Kamenev also wanted to fuse with the Mensheviks. Stalin, though more guarded, aligned with this. He actually wrote that the differences between the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks were insignificant—as if the difference between reformism and revolution were insignificant!

When Lenin returned to Russia in April things changed. From the second he arrived in Russia, Lenin opposed these Bolshevik leaders. The moment he stepped off the train, he turned his back on the assembled Bolshevik leaders and turned to the crowd of workers, greeting them with “Long live the world socialist revolution!” Basing himself on the revolutionary workers, who were already drawing socialist conclusions, Lenin opened a sharp debate in the party. Initially in a minority at the special April party conference, through democratic debate he won the majority of the party to his program. Then the task of winning the masses really began.

This is just one example, but the whole history of the Bolshevik Party was full of internal debate and disagreement. Lenin was frequently in a minority and had to win the debate. Rather than being the dictatorship of Lenin, or a party of mindless followers, the Bolshevikhad a lively internal democracy. This is vital for a revolutionary organization. Democratic debate allows those with the correct ideas to win over the others, forging party unity. The only caveat is that the party cannot debate forever. A party is not a discussion club: it must eventually pass from discussion to action.

The Bolshevik Party was the polar opposite of the later Stalinist parties, where comrades were expelled for disagreeing. In October 1917, Zinoviev and Kamenev, who opposed the insurrection, leaked the plans in the bourgeois press! It’s hard to imagine a bigger betrayal from Lenin’s two primary lieutenants. Yet neither was expelled from the party. Not only that, but both were given responsible positions in the soviet state after the October Revolution. Lenin’s method was not bureaucratic expulsion but patient explanation. Lenin never demanded mindless obedience. As Lenin once said: “If you want obedience, you will get obedient fools.” This internal democracy was essential to the victory of 1917. Without it, Lenin could never have convinced the party of his program—it would have been paralyzed.

The civil war

So if the Russian Revolution was so great, what happened? How did it end up in Stalinism?

The capitalists waged a brutal civil war against the new soviet government. This was a no-holds-barred struggle, a fight to the death. Captured communists were executed en masse by the counter-revolutionary White Army, which was assisted by an invasion force of 21 foreign armies.

Public domain

Conditions were desperate. At the darkest hour, the soviet government was reduced to a small territory surrounding Petrograd and Moscow. But under the leadership of Leon Trotsky, and above all thanks to the efforts of the revolutionary workers, the Red Army was victorious.

The disaster of the First World War, two revolutions, and the brutal civil war devastated the Soviet Union. In 1920, iron ore production was reduced to 1.6 per cent of pre-war levels. Coal production fell to 2.4 per cent. In 1921, the harvest was 43 per cent of the pre-war average. Millions starved. Disease spread like wildfire.

With the collapse of industrial production, the working class—the bedrock of soviet power—almost disappeared as a class. The communist workers, always first to volunteer for the Red Army, were either dead or dead tired. The soviets broke down. They stopped even meeting: the All-Russian Congress of Soviets, the supreme authority in the country, only met annually in the years 1918–1922. How could it be otherwise? In the words of Trotsky, “the country, and the government with it, were at the very edge of the abyss.” The soviets’ primary base had ceased to exist. The proletariat did not exist in a form that could carry political power on its shoulders. People were too busy trying to stay alive to be bothered with soviet meetings. Thus political power necessarily became more and more concentrated in the hands of the party. Lenin recognized the danger of this, but the only way out was world revolution.

The world revolution

Bolshevism is inherently internationalist. The Bolsheviks understood that while the socialist revolution can be carried out in one country, building a socialist society—especially in a backward country like Russia—cannot. Socialism must be based on the most advanced productive forces. Without this, the people must struggle to survive. Then, in the words of Marx, “all the old crap revives.” These advanced productive forces cannot be built in a single country. An isolated socialist government would remain on a lower economic level than the advanced capitalist countries which benefit from the efficiencies of the world economy. The only way forward was for the Russian Revolution to set off revolutions across the advanced capitalist world. This was the prediction of the Bolsheviks. For example, in March 1918, Lenin wrote:

Regarded from the world-historical point of view, there would doubtlessly be no hope of the ultimate victory of our revolution if it were to remain alone, if there were no revolutionary movements in other countries. When the Bolshevik Party tackled the job alone, it did so in the firm conviction that the revolution was maturing in all countries … At all events, under all conceivable circumstances, if the German Revolution does not come, we are doomed.

The Bolsheviks saw the Russian Revolution as the first link in the chain of world revolution. They knew that the Russian Revolution would set off a wave of revolutions across Europe. This is what justified taking power in Russia. The Russian workers could not build socialism alone, but they could begin the process and help the workers of other countries come to power. With the help of the workers of advanced Western Europe, Russia could then develop socialism. This internationalist perspective is why Lenin and Trotsky put so much effort into building the Communist International (Comintern), which was to be a world communist organization to help the communists in other countries overthrow their own capitalists.

As expected, revolution swept Europe, from England to Germany, France to Poland. The German Revolution ended the First World War. But, though the working class was rising up in country after country, their reformists leaders refused to take power. And the Communist forces outside the Soviet Union were too poorly organized and too inexperienced to offer a revolutionary alternative. They had not yet learned the lessons of the Russian Revolution. They either hesitated at the moment of truth or stood aside from the mass organizations of the working class, rendering them unable to win the masses to the communist program. This is the opposite of what the Bolsheviks had done in 1917, when they participated in the soviets and won over the workers with patient explanation.

Lenin and Trotsky explained these lessons in the Comintern, but by the time the International’s inexperienced forces understood them, it was too late. These revolutions were defeated.

The rise of the bureaucracy

These defeats had a massive effect on the Soviet Union, giving an opening for a bureaucratic clique to seize power. This is a danger for any workers’ state, as Lenin knew, particularly if it remains isolated. Only by advancing production far beyond the most advanced capitalism—which will eliminate class divisions and allow everyone to take all they need and work as much as they want—can this danger be entirely avoided, by getting rid of the need for compulsion in the form of the state. In the meantime, degeneration can only be prevented by making the state as democratic as possible, involving all the workers in decision-making, and ensuring that state positions are a responsibility, not a privilege. Hence Lenin’s four points, mentioned above. Those holding responsible state positions must be elected, recallable, and receive no special privileges for their position, including no more pay than a skilled worker. 

But in Russia, the opposite happened. Because of Russia’s backwardness and the devastation of the civil war, it was not possible to create a new kind of state along the lines described by Lenin. The soviet government had to essentially take over the old state machine, without much modification. There were not many workers or peasants who could do certain administrative tasks, because of the general illiteracy and low levels of education. They had to employ the old tsarist bureaucrats, who were often hostile to soviet power. Lenin was always frank about this, saying: “We took over the old machinery of state”, which he described as “slightly anointed with soviet oil.”

The Bolsheviks tried to keep these bureaucrats under supervision by reliable workers and peasants, but this was increasingly difficult with the civil war and the incredible size of the bureaucracy. At the end of the day, the bureaucracy’s roots were economic backwardness and isolation. World revolution was the only way out.

To attract the necessary bureaucrats, bourgeois specialists, and technicians, the Soviet state had to offer them higher wages. The highest salary allowed in 1921 was four times the lowest salary, a wage differential which Lenin honestly called a “bourgeois differential.” Wanting to expand their power and privileges, more and more bureaucrats crept into positions of power, including into the Bolshevik Party itself.

A victory of the world revolution would have been the death of their comfy position. The Russian workers would stand up straighter, confident enough to challenge the bureaucracy. Help would come from the workers of advanced Western Europe. Economic aid in the form of supplies and technical experts would push the Soviet economy forward by leaps and bounds. This would enable a shorter working day, better living standards, and more education. With these ingredients, the workers would elbow the bureaucracy aside.

Thus each defeat for the world working class further demoralized and exhausted the Russian workers. Each defeat bolstered the bureaucracy. The bureaucrats became more confident, bolder. The state apparatus was developing a will of its own, independent of the party or the soviets. The tail began to wag the dog.

What about Stalin?

Many critics of the Russian Revolution blame a few people—Stalin especially—for the rise of the bureaucracy, and with it the totalitarian Stalinist state. This explains nothing. Stalin was the political centre. His role was important. But it was not decisive. Marxists understand that individuals do play a role in history, but they are limited by the conditions of their time. For a person to have a great historic influence, they must have some social force, some group of people, to base themself on, especially a rising force. This is how the Bolsheviks won. They based themselves on the rising, revolutionary class—the working class—the only class capable of building a future socialist society.

Molotov, Stalin and Voroshilov, 1937. Public domain

Stalin was the leader of a very different layer—the bureaucracy. He was their perfect representative: he had little in the way of an independent political outlook, and was inclined to use manoeuvres instead of political argument to get his way. Most importantly, he deeply believed that the task of building socialism was national and administrative.

With Stalin in the lead, the bureaucracy took over the Bolshevik Party, which degenerated under the massive social weight of the bureaucracy. The democracy of Lenin was replaced by the bureaucratic regime of denunciations and expulsions. The party turned into a tool of the bureaucracy. Reinforced by the shattered revolutions abroad, the bureaucracy consolidated its power. This process accelerated with the 1924 death of Lenin, who fought the bureaucratic reaction to his last. By the end of the 1930s, the bureaucracy held ultimate power. 

This is the true nature of Stalinism. It is the product of a social formation in which a bureaucratic caste which had usurped power from the working class ruled over the primary gain of the revolution, the planned economy. The Soviet Union achieved great things long after the Stalinist bureaucracy took power, but this was despite the Stalinist bureaucracy, not because of it.

The degeneration of the Comintern

Another ingredient in the rise of Stalinism was the degeneration of the Communist International. This took place in parallel with the degeneration of the Bolshevik Party, the crown jewel of the Comintern. Thanks to the massive prestige of the Bolsheviks, a series of bureaucratic manoeuvres—as well as straight-up lies against Trotsky and others—Stalin’s clique seized control, especially from the Fifth Congress on. This leadership led the world Communist parties to defeat after defeat. 

An example: the Chinese Revolution of 1926. The direction from the Comintern followed the Menshevik theory of stages, though this theory had been proven wrong in practice by the Russian Revolution. Believing that the “national bourgeoisie” must take power, the leadership directed the Communist Party to dissolve their party into the Guomindang, a bourgeois nationalist party. In Shanghai, the Communists told the workers to surrender their weapons to the Guomindang. The Guomindang then turned around and massacred the workers, beheading them in the streets. The revolution was thus defeated.

This process was a vicious cycle. Defeats abroad reinforced bureaucracy at home. Bureaucracy at home reinforced defeats abroad.

A turning point was the victory of Hitler in 1933. This was thanks to the now Stalinized Communist International. At the advice of Stalin, the Communist Party of Germany called the social democrats “social-fascists”, saying they were just as bad as the actual fascists—if not worse. The Communists even teamed up with Nazis to break up union meetings. This ultra-left insanity paralyzed the working class, rolling out the red carpet for Hitler. Hitler accurately boasted that he came to power “without breaking a window pane.” Then he annihilated all workers’ organizations.

The German disaster massively fortified the bureaucracy. At first, the clique at the top around Stalin had made genuine mistakes because they held to false theories like the theory of stages and had no faith in the working class. But under the pressure of the bureaucracy, the Comintern became consciously counter-revolutionary. The bureaucracy was realizing that a successful revolution was a danger to its interests. The Comintern became a counter-revolutionary force, as well as a pawn of Stalin’s foreign policy. 

When Stalin needed an alliance with Germany, the Communist parties were ordered to apologize for Hitler; when he wanted to help his bourgeois allies in the Second World War, the Communists were ordered to oppose strikes. Each flip-flop, each praise of the bourgeoisie, further dirtied their name. Rather than making mistakes, in Spain 1936, Stalin’s forces in Spain were the fighting vanguard of the counter-revolution. Finally, Stalin ended the charade. He dissolved the Comintern in 1943.

Particularly striking right now is the destruction of the Communist Party of Palestine (PCP) in the 1930s and ’40s. This young movement was full of potential. It could possibly have even overthrown the British rulers of Palestine, avoiding the bloody trap of the past 75 years. The party had successfully built a base of both Jewish and Arab workers. They held the correct revolutionary policy—united class struggle.

But at the direction of the Comintern, the PCP abandoned working class unity. They pandered to Arab nationalism in the 1936–39 Great Palestinian Revolt. This lost most of their support with Jewish workers. Then the Comintern u-turned. They began to support the British, the Soviet Union’s ally in the Second World War. This support for the colonial masters crumbled the PCP’s Arab base. The killing blow came in 1948, when Stalin supported the creation of Israel. This was nothing more than a manoeuvre to weaken British imperialism.

Socialism in one country

The degeneration of the Comintern and Bolshevik Party was the political expression of the needs of the Soviet bureaucracy. Stalinist theory is their ideological expression.

The most outrageous example is the theory of “socialism in one country”. This was a theory perfectly suited to the bureaucracy, which wanted to settle down to the business of governing Russia. Reflecting this, Stalin came out with his new theory, which argued that socialism can and should be built in a single country. This was a radical break from Leninist internationalism, which Stalin had previously agreed with! In 1924, he wrote in Principles of Leninism:

The overthrow of the power of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of a proletarian government in one country does not yet guarantee the complete victory of socialism. The main task of socialism—the organization of socialist production—remains ahead. Can this task be accomplished, can the final victory of socialism in one country be attained, without the joint efforts of the proletariat of several advanced countries? No, this is impossible. To overthrow the bourgeoisie the efforts of one country are sufficient—the history of our revolution bears this out. For the final victory of Socialism, for the organization of socialist production, the efforts of one country, particularly of such a peasant country as Russia, are insufficient. For this the efforts of the proletarians of several advanced countries are necessary.

Just a few months later, this was changed:

But the overthrow of the power of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of the power of the proletariat in one country does not yet mean that the complete victory of socialism has been assured. After consolidating its power and leading the peasantry in its wake the proletariat of the victorious country can and must build a socialist society.

This betrayal of Lenin’s internationalism had dire consequences. When Stalin first hatched this theory, Trotsky predicted that it would lead to the national-reformist degeneration of every communist party in the world. This is precisely what happened.

Today, only shadows remain of the parties of the Communist International. For just one example we can look to the French Communist Party (PCF). After the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, instead of condemning Israel, PCF Leader Fabien Roussel condemned the leader of France Insoumise, Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Why? Because Mélenchon did not bow to the ruling class’s demand that anyone who comments on Palestine must first condemn Hamas. Another example: the Communist Party of Canada’s response to inflation. Rather than exposing how capitalism itself is responsible for high prices, it calls for a mass movement to… force the government to “roll back prices”.

Keeping Bolshevism alive

But there was one force during the rise of Stalinism that kept the torch of true Marxism burning: the Left Opposition. This was founded by Trotsky and his supporters in 1923, who called themselves the “Bolshevik-Leninists”. In the Soviet Union, the Left Opposition struggled against the bureaucratic policies of Stalin, opposing grave mistakes like “forced collectivization”. They defended Soviet democracy and the ideas, methods, and democratic traditions of Bolshevism. Basing themselves on Leninist internationalism, the Left Opposition gave an accurate analysis of the world revolution, opposing the madness of the Stalinists. In short, the Left Opposition remained Bolsheviks while the Stalinists abandoned every one of Lenin’s principles.

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The Left Opposition, and above all Trotsky, were slandered as counter-revolutionaries for opposing the bureaucracy. All the Opposition’s leaders were expelled from the party in 1927. For refusing to capitulate, Stalin had Trotsky exiled to Kazakhstan in 1928 and expelled from the Soviet Union in 1930. The Left Oppositionists were later jailed.

Even this was not enough for the bureaucracy. To consolidate their position, they needed to extinguish all memory of Bolshevism. Thus the infamous Great Purges of the late 1930s, which saw practically every living member of the pre-1917 Bolshevik Party—including many who had fully capitulated to Stalin—arrested and tortured into falsely confessing to hideous crimes against the revolution. Then, broken shells of their former selves, they were executed.

The capitalists see Stalinism as the inevitable result of Bolshevism. The Stalinists agree. The river of blood between Bolshevism and Stalinism tells a different story. Of Lenin’s Central Committee of 1917, by 1940 only two remained: Alexandra Kollontai, safely far away in Sweden, and Stalin, the executioner of Bolshevism.

In 1938, Trotsky founded the Fourth International with some of his supporters in the world communist movement, to prepare a true Bolshevik force for the revolutionary upheavals to come. He analyzed and explained the Stalinist degeneration of the Soviet Union. In this way, it was the Bolsheviks themselves, now organized in the Left Opposition and the Fourth International, who explained Stalinism.

The comrades of Communist Revolution can trace our revolutionary heritage through the unbroken thread of Marxism: back to Trotsky’s Left Opposition, through the Bolshevik Party, and all the way to the First International of Marx and Engels. We organize around the genuine ideas and traditions of Bolshevism, the highest expression of Marxism, the ideas of that party which first showed the working class how to win.

If you’re a communist, join us. Together we’ll change the world.