I first met Ted Grant in early 1998, while living in London on a work exchange program after graduating from university.1 I had come to London to gain some job experience and to “see the world.” Little did I know that a chance encounter with a member of the International Marxist Tendency at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park would change the course of my life forever.2 After listening to him speak a few times—about the potential for direct democracy, how we could use technology to rationally plan society, and the absurdities of capitalism—I mustered up the courage to talk to him after one of his speeches. When he told me he was a Marxist, my mind was blown, the world flying past my head like in the movies. Weren’t these ideas “good in theory, but bad in practice”? Wasn’t “human nature” eternally greedy, thus rendering socialism an unattainable utopia? He sold me a copy of the Communist Manifesto for £1, and as they say, the rest was history.
I was more than intrigued—I was hooked. Finally, I had found the ideas I had been unconsciously looking for, ideas that could not only explain the contradictory and complex world around me, but provide a lever for actually changing things. Here was a way to truly tackle poverty, war, discrimination, environmental degradation, and generalized misery at its roots.
I began to read voraciously, and within a couple of weeks, I visited the International Center of the IMT in Old Street. It was there that I first met Ted, surrounded by towering stacks of well-read copies of the Financial Times and tottering piles of fruit peels. He peered at me curiously, and when he heard I was from the US, his eyes lit up with genuine interest, and he came over and began asking me questions and answering my own. That first day, he recommended Lenin’s State and Revolution and Engels’s Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State as a good next step after having read the Manifesto. I also picked up a copy of Marx and Engels’s Selected Works. Sometime during those first few weeks, I also bought a copy of the “Program of the International,” one of the founding documents of the IMT, written in 1970, again for the grand sum of £1. Between reading that and the Manifesto, both relatively short documents, I felt that I learned more about the hows and whats and above all the whys of history than I had learned in my entire university career—and all for less than $3.00!
As my studies progressed, I began to meet with Ted regularly to better understand this new world of ideas and methods. Despite his advanced age and a few eccentricities, he was politically sharp as a razor and always available to answer my often very basic questions. We started meeting once a week for a curry in Bethnal Green, followed by a political discussion at a pub. I’d usually order a Guinness; he’d always have an orange juice. During the preceding week, I’d write down my questions in a little notepad I carried with me. After answering each question, he’d stare back across the table at me, patiently waiting for the next one.
It usually only took a few minutes to cover all the questions I had accumulated over the week, as his concise and precise answers usually clarified things in just a few sentences. He could recall events, people, political debates, meetings, and above all, ideas, with immediate and uncanny clarity. We would then usually delve into my favorite subject as a Marxist novice: dialectical materialism, the philosophy of Marxism. It was Ted Grant and Alan Woods’s book Reason in Revolt: Marxist Philosophy and Modern Science that had finally convinced me that these ideas not only make sense on a profound philosophical level—as evidenced by the workings of nature itself—but that this was the only organization that could develop and apply these ideas in the present epoch.
But it was not merely the philosophical side of things that convinced me to dedicate myself to these ideas and organization. The IMT’s approach to the mass organizations of the working class was also deeply convincing. In the difficult post-war period, Ted had developed and deepened the basic approach of the Bolsheviks, as outlined in works such as Lenin’s Left Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder, and Trotsky’s writings from the 1930s, explaining that when the masses begin to move, they will always do so through organizations and leaders they are familiar with. 3 The masses do not understand small organizations!
No matter how rotten, corrupt, bureaucratic, pro-capitalist, and reformist the leaders of these organizations are at present, great events will inevitably shake them from top to bottom. The consciousness of the rank and file can and will change dramatically, and the old leaders will either be pushed out or to the left. In the last historical period, the leaders of the workers’ parties and trade unions have moved far further to the right than even Ted could have imagined. Nonetheless, it is a historic law that the masses will in the first instance attempt to improve their conditions through these organizations and leaders, despite all the deformities and parasites at the top. And if these parties and leaders fail the test, new ones will inevitably arise, in some form or another.
Events since Ted’s passing absolutely confirm this basic hypothesis: the collapse of PASOK and the rise of SYRIZA; the decline of the PSOE and the PSF and the rise of Unidos Podemos and France Insoumise; and of course, the dramatic changes within the Labour Party, with the massive wave of enthusiasm and support for Jeremy Corbyn among British workers and youth.
At our last meeting before moving back to the US, I could tell Ted was sizing me up, scrutinizing me with every fiber of his being, clearly wondering whether I might simply disappear into the vastness of America, never to be seen or heard from again. His piercing, no-nonsense gaze penetrated into my very being as he told me, “The weight of the world is on your shoulders!”
Heavy words for a 24-year-old! Starting from scratch in the belly of the beast—from my hometown of Fargo, North Dakota, to be precise—was certainly going to be a long and grueling struggle. But I was confident that, armed with what I had learned from Ted and other comrades during my time in London, I would eventually succeed in finding plenty of other like-minded individuals. After all, I was a product of the United States, and I was enthralled by these ideas and the perspective of world revolution. Surely there must be others!
Finding those like-minded individuals wasn’t as easy as I’d hoped—but it wasn’t impossible either. In the summer of 2000, myself, along with a handful of others I had met through the Internet, formally founded the US section of the IMT. Although we are still in the early stages of building the forces of American Bolshevism, we can be proud that we have accomplished the first stage of this process: laying viable foundations for a much larger and more influential organization in the years ahead. As the pace of our growth accelerates along with the pace of history itself, we can be sure the next decade of our development will be very different from the last!
Through all the ups and downs of building an organization from nothing, Ted’s advice to always maintain a sense of humor and a sense of proportion has served me well. This is, after all, a marathon, not a sprint. I have also never forgotten his inspired insistence that I should “have faith in the working class,” despite all its contradictions. This is not due to any romanticization of the working class in the abstract, but because of the workers’ role in the productive process: what Marxists call its “relation to the means of production.” As Ted explained, time and again, not a wheel turns and not a light shines without the kind permission of the working class! Therein lies the “secret” to the socialist revolution: once the colossus of the working class, which comprises the vast majority of society, becomes aware of its tremendous potential power, nothing on earth will be able to stop it!
And as far as how to begin analyzing any given situation, Ted had the following simple rule of thumb: That which is good for the working class we support; that which is bad for the working class we do not. In other words, that which serves to raise the international working class’s consciousness, unity, and confidence in its collective strength and ability to change society, we support; that which serves to divide, disorient, and atomize the class we do not. This is a bit of an oversimplification but is not a bad starting point.
With just a few months of study under my belt before I headed back to the US, I was far from having anything approaching a real command of Marxism and the many political positions Ted and the IMT had developed in the decades since the murder of Leon Trotsky. Above all, I had very little experience in developing political positions myself, of sifting through the contradictory facts and cutting through the whirlwind of events to focus on the essential elements in any given situation. It is one thing to read the Communist Manifesto or State and Revolution; it is another to be able to concentrate that theory into effective slogans or demands, appropriate for the needs of the moment.
I was forced to learn fast, diving as I was into the “deep end,” building alone in the heart of world imperialism. But truly understanding the art and science of Marxism is a process that takes decades—a lifetime of persistent study and practice. But when building a cadre organization, it is above all the appropriate application of the Marxist method to the concrete situation that is important, not the blind repetition of dates, facts, and positions learned by rote. Ted always emphasized the importance of theory as a guide to action, and I took this to heart. I spent my final weeks in London reading and discussing as much theory as I possibly could, as well as buying up as much Lenin and Trotsky as I could find in used bookstores.
What gave me the confidence that I could do it was the knowledge that I was not really alone in this endeavor, despite being the first member of the IMT “on the ground” in the US.4 Ted made it clear that if I was ever stumped on a question—and I would be—I should simply admit that I wasn’t quite sure what the answer was, take a crack at it to the best of my ability, and then ask him or Alan Woods or Rob Sewell or Jorge Martin or any of the other more experienced comrades back in London what they thought. The aim wasn’t to look up answers and positions in a “revolutionary cookbook,” but to organically grasp the method of Marxism to come up with the correct conclusions myself. I was also encouraged to experiment, to make mistakes, and to learn from them, as I figured out how best to build a national section across an entire continent.
Above all, it was my conviction in the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky, which Ted had preserved and developed throughout his lifetime, during a period when the forces of genuine Marxism were reduced to a tiny handful worldwide, that gave me the determination to keep plugging away. Through thick and thin, Ted had stuck to his guns through the dog days of the postwar boom, persistently defending the fundamentals of Marxism against all those who sought to “revise” them. He stood fast against those who were always looking for shortcuts, instead of dedicating themselves to the long term, patient grind of building a cadre organization rooted in the working class. As he put it, there are no shortcuts in this work, and those who have tried, end up taking a “shortcut over a cliff!”
Those who think things are moving too slowly today should be thankful they didn’t have to live through the incredibly difficult period of the 1950s, and early 1960s—the height of the postwar boom. Anticommunism reigned, and there were widespread illusions that perhaps capitalism wasn’t so bad after all. After all, why study and organize for the overthrow of capitalism when it was creating jobs, expanding healthcare coverage, housing, and education?
The possibilities for connecting the ideas of revolutionary Marxism with the experience of the workers are far greater today than they have been in decades. Ted often explained that consciousness can take a long time to catch up with objective reality, but that when it does, it can do so with a bang that can take even the most prepared revolutionaries by surprise. But even with the rapidly changing consciousness, it is not a linear process. This is an aspect of the dialectical functioning of history and party building that all revolutionaries must fully absorb.
To remain rooted to the fundamentals and oriented in the right direction during objectively difficult periods, Ted always returned to the classics, especially when confronted with new political and social phenomena. “It’s all in there!” he’d tell me, “In Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Trotsky!” I once asked him what I should read after making my way through those authors, and he replied, “Well, then read Trotsky, Lenin, Engels, and Marx!”
The publication of the first volume of Ted’s Selected Works in the US was a significant step toward making Ted’s ideas more widely known to a new generation of Marxists. To be sure, many people around the world were familiar with at least some of Ted’s work, published on www.marxist.com, www.tedgrant.org, and marxists.org. Others may have read The Unbroken Thread, a selection of his works produced in the UK, but long out of print and difficult to find in the United States. However, much of this material had never been published in book form and never had such a volume been produced in the US.
Since we first went to press, interest in the first print run was steady, as hundreds of Americans discovered Ted for the first time, and the first edition is now sold out. As we go to press with the second edition of these writings, there is an even wider audience for revolutionary Marxist ideas. Although Ted would blush at the idea of being included among the “Four Great Marxists,” his contribution towards preserving the Marxist method handed down by these giants deserves to be more widely appreciated. It is not hyperbole to say that, more than any other Marxist since Trotsky, Ted’s writings on the momentous events of the 20th century are a textbook example of how to apply the ideas and methods of Lenin and Trotsky to a complex and changing world.
One aim of this volume, as well as the others in the Ted Grant Selected Works series, is to clear up many misconceptions as to what Trotskyism is and what it isn’t. The “57 varieties” of sectarians, as Ted would call them, have done an excellent job of tarnishing the real essence of Trotskyism, which represents a deepening and development of the work Marx, Engels, and Lenin.
The roots of this confusion can be traced to the postwar boom. Unfortunately, after Trotsky’s death, the leaders of the Fourth International, and especially of its US section, the Socialist Workers Party, proved incapable of applying the Marxist method to the dramatically changed situation. On the eve of the war, Trotsky had predicted that the most likely scenario was either the overthrow of the Soviet Union by Hitler’s fascists or that Stalin would be toppled by the Soviet masses in a political revolution. However, this perfectly reasonable perspective was falsified by the unpredictable twists and turns of events as they actually played out.
Had Trotsky not been struck down by a Stalinist assassin in August 1940, he would have adapted his perspectives to the changing realities, as he had always done. However, the leaders of the Fourth International were incapable of wrapping their heads around the new situation without Trotsky’s guidance. They zig-zagged from one exaggerated position to another, from one impressionistic “analysis” to another. Instead of discovering the inner essence of the contradictions unfolding around them and allowing their perspectives, strategy, and tactics to flow from living reality, they instead chose facts that fit their preconceived schemas. This is the very opposite of the Marxist method and could not but lead to the stale, lifeless, and impotent political and organizational conclusions they are wallowing into the present time. Their degeneration has led to the proliferation of dozens of “rrrevolutionary” microsects, entirely cut off from the living mass movement, with no understanding of how the working class moves and develops, shrilly denouncing each other from the sidelines of the class struggle.
There were many new developments in the years after the war: The prolonged capitalist boom; the strengthening of the Stalinist bureaucracy and the balance of power between US imperialism and the Soviet Union; the overthrow of capitalism and the imposition of regimes in the image of Moscow in Eastern Europe; the variants of Stalinism that existed in Tito’s Yugoslavia, Mao’s China, and Ho Chi Minh’s North Vietnam; the broader colonial revolution from India to Cuba to Algeria; the seizing up of the Soviet economy due to the parasitic role played by the Stalinist bureaucracy, and much more.
On all of these decisive questions, the leaders of the Fourth International staggered from one mistake to another. It is not an exaggeration to say—and the documents written at the time confirm this—that the Revolutionary Communist Party in the UK, of which Ted was the leading theoretician, was the only group to understand the new situation. Not only that, they also understood that it was going to be a difficult period for the foreseeable future. But they were confident that, no matter how long the boom went on, the system’s contradictions would inevitably assert themselves, as none of them had been eliminated.
Along with his writings on European and world politics in the postwar period, perhaps Ted’s most important contribution to the deepening of Marxist theory was his development of the concept of “Soviet Bonapartism.” This was a theoretical framework, first formulated by Trotsky in the 1930s, for understanding what was taking place in the Soviet Union.5
For Marxists, an analysis of the class nature of a given society begins with an examination of the economic base upon which the ruling class and its state maintain power. This is the fundamental—and in the final analysis—determining factor when characterizing the class nature of a given society. What concerns us above all are the relations between the classes and to the means of production, i.e., how the wealth is produced, distributed, and exchanged in a particular social formation. Under capitalism, private ownership of the means of production is the dominant economic form. Wealth is produced socially by the working class, but the surplus wealth it creates is privately appropriated and distributed by the capitalists, who own the means of production. This is the economic framework for capitalist exploitation, oppression, and the bourgeois state.
The economic basis of a workers’, or proletarian state, on the other hand, is when the key levers of the economy—landed estates, banking, major industries, and corporations—are nationalized, i.e., publicly owned by the state, and integrated into a conscious plan of production and distribution. In other words, wealth is socially produced, and the surplus created is socially appropriated and distributed.
However, this basic framework does not exhaust the question. The relationship between the “superstructure” and the “base” is complex and dialectical, not direct and automatic. Base and superstructure are interrelated and can and do produce feedback on one another. Conceiving of the economy as society’s “skeleton,” which supports an extremely complex range of nerves, organs, and tissue is perhaps a more nuanced analogy than base and superstructure, which lends itself to a mechanical interpretation. Furthermore, a wide range of states can be supported by the same basic economic base. For example, a democratic republic, military junta, constitutional monarchy, and fascist dictatorship are all forms of state basing themselves on the capitalist, or bourgeois, mode of production.
The ideal form of bourgeois state is the democratic republic, which allows for the exploitation and control of the working majority of the population through economic coercion, the rule of law, force of habit, tradition, pitting sections of the population against one another, and when necessary, the outright use of force. Compare this to the open reaction of a military dictatorship, which, while defending capitalism in the face of political and social ferment, inevitably distorts the normal operation of the system, and therefore cannot last indefinitely.
The history of the 20th century showed that, unforeseen by Marx and Engels, there are also different types of state that can sit atop an economy basing itself on a nationalized, planned economy. The “ideal form” is state ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange, combined with the direct, democratic participation of the working class majority in the running of society. In other words, the workers’ state would be directly controlled and administered by the working class itself. However, there is another variant, often referred to in shorthand as Stalinism or as a “deformed” or “degenerated” workers’ state. When describing this kind of state, Ted preferred the more scientific term “proletarian Bonapartism,” as it describes both the fundamental economic basis of the regime (proletarian), as well as the type of state superstructure (Bonapartism).
The term “Bonapartism,” after Napoleon Bonaparte, describes a phenomenon in which, during periods of intense social ferment, neither of the main contending classes in society—the ruling class and the ruled—can gain the advantage. Under capitalism, these two classes are the workers and the capitalists. When the class struggle comes to a stalemate, the impasse can be broken through the forcible imposition of a dictator from above, balancing between the classes to reestablish “order.” In the ancient world this was known as “Caesarism,” after Julius Caesar; under capitalism, “Bonapartism” or “bourgeois Bonapartism”; and on the basis of a nationalized, planned economy, “proletarian Bonapartism.” It is “rule by the sword,” naked force and repression imposed from above, all while maintaining and defending the dominant property relations.
While all historical analogies have their limitations, they can provide a basic framework for understanding complex historical processes, not only in retrospect but as they unfold around us. By a series of successive approximations, continually deepening our understanding of the latest facts and developments, we can arrive at much richer, nuanced, and concrete understanding of what is occurring. It goes without saying that the purpose of outlining such perspectives is to allow us to intervene in events, not simply to analyze them academically from afar.
To this end, Leon Trotsky used the analogy of Thermidor to shed light on the process of degeneration of the Russian Revolution. Thermidor is the name used to describe the political counterrevolution that took place during the Great French Revolution, which began with the overthrow of Robespierre and the Jacobins in 1794, followed by the subsequent rise of the dictatorship of Napoleon Bonaparte, who eventually crowned himself Emperor of France in 1804.
Given the cultural and economic backwardness of Russia, compounded by the devastation and disorganization of society wrought by World War I and invasions by 21 foreign armies, there was simply not the material basis for socialism: enough to go around for everyone. The revolution’s isolation, following the failed attempts at socialist revolution in advanced capitalist countries such as Germany, led to a process of bureaucratic degeneration. When there is generalized want, i.e., not enough to go around, measures must be taken to ensure the orderly distribution of those resources that are available. Breadlines spring up and with them, police to police them. But who polices the police? By degrees, a bureaucratic caste encrusted itself at the top of Soviet society, personified by Stalin himself. This totalitarian caricature of socialism was a nightmare, a cruel smashing of the hope for the world socialist revolution that burned in the hearts of millions of workers in the Soviet Union and around the world.
However, the Stalinist counterrevolution did not reestablish the capitalist property relations that had existed in Russia before the conquest of power and the economic transformations of the Bolsheviks. On the contrary, in a deformed and bureaucratic manner, even more of the economy was brought under the control of the state. Stalinism was a political counterrevolution, usurping political power from the Soviet masses, who in the early years of the USSR had directly participated in the running of society. But it was not a social counterrevolution; it did not overturn the new, nationalized property forms established during the early years of the revolution.
Although the economy was planned bureaucratically from above, without the direct, democratic input from the workers and peasants, it was nationalized and planned nonetheless. This was the economic foundation upon which Stalin’s political and economic power was based. Therefore, despite these severe deformations, it was in that fundamental and decisive sense a workers’ state, as compared to a capitalist state in which the commanding heights of the economy are owned and controlled by private capitalists.
In works such as “The Workers’ State, Thermidor, and Bonapartism,” Trotsky explained the basic phenomenon of Stalinism:
From the standpoint that interests us, the difference in the social basis of the two Bonapartisms, of Jacobin and Soviet origin, is much more important. In the former case, the question involved was the consolidation of the bourgeois revolution through the liquidation of its principles and political institutions. In the latter case, the question involved is the consolidation of the worker-peasant revolution through the smashing of its international program, its leading party, its Soviets. Carrying the policies of Thermidor further, Napoleon waged a struggle not only against the feudal world but also against the ‘rabble’ and the democratic circles of the petty and middle bourgeoisie; in this way, he concentrated the fruits of the regime born out of the revolution in the hands of the new bourgeois aristocracy.
Stalin guards the conquests of the October Revolution not only against the feudal-bourgeois counterrevolution but also against the claims of the toilers, their impatience, and their dissatisfaction; he crushes the left wing that expresses the ordered historical and progressive tendencies of the unprivileged working masses; he creates a new aristocracy by means of an extreme differentiation in wages, privileges, ranks, etc. Leaning for support upon the topmost layer of the new social hierarchy against the lowest—sometimes vice versa—Stalin has attained the complete concentration of power in his own hands. What else should this regime be called if not Soviet Bonapartism?
Bonapartism, by its very essence, cannot long maintain itself; a sphere balanced on the point of a pyramid must invariably roll down on one side or the other. But it is precisely at this point, as we have already seen, that the historical analogy runs up against its limits. Napoleon’s downfall did not, of course, leave untouched the relations between the classes; but in its essence, the social pyramid of France retained its bourgeois character. The inevitable collapse of Stalinist Bonapartism would immediately call into question the character of the USSR as a workers’ state. A socialist economy cannot be constructed without a socialist power. The fate of the USSR as a socialist state depends upon that political regime that will arise to replace Stalinist Bonapartism. Only the revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat can regenerate the Soviet system if it is again able to mobilize around itself the toilers of the city and the village.
In his masterpiece Stalin, written in 1940, Trotsky outlined the process of degeneration of the political regime in the Soviet Union, while maintaining the economic base conquered by the revolution:
The counterrevolution sets in when the spool of progressive social conquests begins to unwind. There seems no end to this unwinding. Yet some portion of the conquests of the revolution is always preserved. At any rate, the struggle against equality and the establishment of very deep social differentiation has, so far, neither been unable to eliminate the socialist consciousness of the masses nor the nationalization of the means of production and the land, which are the basic socialist conquests of the revolution.
At the end of the eighteenth century, private ownership of the means of production was a factor of powerful progressive significance. It still had Europe and the whole world to conquer. But in our times private ownership is the greatest single barrier to the adequate development of the productive forces. The Russian Thermidor would undoubtedly have opened a new era of bourgeois rule, if that rule had not proved obsolete throughout the world. Thus, in spite of monstrous bureaucratic distortions, the class basis of the USSR remains proletarian.
Confronted with the post-World War II regimes in Eastern Europe, the Chinese Revolution, Cuba, and the colonial revolution generally, which in many cases resulted in junior military officers seizing power and proceeding to nationalize the economy, Ted Grant built on Trotsky’s basic thesis and applied it to the new situation. For example, in “Against the Theory of State Capitalism—Reply to Tony Cliff,” included in this volume, he explains:
Anyone who compared the Bonapartist counterrevolution with the revolution—at least in its superstructure—would have found as great a difference as between the regime of Lenin and Trotsky in Russia and that of Stalin in latter years. To superficial observers the difference between the two regimes was fundamental. In fact, insofar as the superstructure was concerned, the difference was glaring. Napoleon had reintroduced many of the orders, decorations and ranks similar to those of feudalism; he had restored the Church; he even had himself crowned Emperor. Yet despite this counterrevolution, it is clear that it had nothing in common with the old regime. It was counterrevolution on the basis of the new form of property introduced by the revolution itself. Bourgeois forms of property or property relations remained the basis of the economy.
However, like Trotsky, Ted was also clear that the degree of deformation must also be determined. It is not enough to simply demand a change of regime in a deformed workers’ state while defending the nationalized property forms. For example, whether one must work towards the political overthrow of the regime in power, or whether decisive change can be effected through a series of reforms alone, increased participation of the masses from below, and the spread of the revolution internationally can only be determined by examining each situation concretely. The answer to these questions is not academic; it affects our real-world approach when engaged in revolutionary work in such countries: the program we present, the slogans and demands we raise, our strategy and tactics.
So what was the class nature of the Soviet Union? This debate engaged those who considered themselves followers of Trotsky for many decades and continues today. Many theories have been put forward to explain the aberration of Stalinism. The possibility that the USSR was “state capitalist” and not a workers’ state at all was one of the more popular. Ted thoroughly dissected this thesis and his conclusion, outlined in several articles in this volume, was that that the USSR was indeed a deformed workers’ state, and not at all capitalist—state or otherwise.
Volume One of Ted’s Selected Works also contains articles in which he explores the complex nature of the transitional society between capitalism and communism, in both healthy and deformed workers’ states, questions we will be confronted with in the future as the working class inevitably seizes power in one country or another—the first steps toward the world revolution.
This collection also contains some of Ted’s most important writings on the crisis of Stalinism, the conflict between Stalin and Yugoslavia’s Tito, the attempted political revolution in Hungary in 1956, and more. We also include the article “Bureaucratism or Workers’ Power,” co-authored with Roger Silverman, which explains what a healthy workers’ state would look like, as compared to the travesty of Stalinism.
It should be emphasized that despite the crimes of Stalinism and his lifelong struggle against it, Ted, like Trotsky, was implacable in his unconditional defense of the gains of the Russian Revolution against imperialism and capitalist restoration. The Stalinist bureaucracy was a parasite on Soviet society, skimming off the cream for itself, and eventually collapsed under its own dead weight. This set off a chain reaction that reversed all the gains of the revolution as capitalist property relations were reestablished in the years following the fall of the Berlin Wall, a process Ted analyzed in the final years of his life.5
Despite the inefficiencies and brutality of the Stalinist regime, the potential of a planned economy was revealed in the USSR. Russia went from the most backward country in Europe to the first in space, with more doctors and scientists than all the major advanced capitalist countries combined. The power of the plan was shown in practice, with astronomical growth rates during the 1930s, while the capitalist world languished during the Great Depression. Imagine what will be possible when such a plan is directly and democratically controlled and administered by the working masses themselves, and not bureaucratically from above. On the basis of the vast technological advances attained under capitalism, the transition from capitalism to stateless, classless communism will be far more rapid than Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, or even Ted could have possibly imagined. And even this is just scratching the surface of what future generations will achieve under socialism.
So why should we bother studying Stalinism today? Why does it matter whether the USSR was proletarian Bonapartist, bureaucratic collectivist, state capitalist, or something else altogether? Nearly thirty years after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, haven’t these questions been definitively answered by history? Isn’t capitalism, for all its faults, the best we can hope for?
The world has changed dramatically since the Warsaw Pact fell apart. The dismantling of the planned economy across Eastern Europe was a historic defeat for the international working class—look no further than Ukraine for the fruits of capitalist restoration. The overthrow of socialist property relations in Russia and Eastern Europe meant an end to universal education, healthcare, housing, and employment, and to a massive rise in unemployment, crime, prostitution, drug abuse, a collapse in life expectancy, and all the other joys of life under capitalism. This reversal had and continues to have a disorienting and demoralizing effect on millions of workers and activists around the world.
But it opens other possibilities as well. No longer does the stifling, uninspiring dominance of the Stalinist bureaucracy cast its long shadow on the banner of revolutionary Marxism and socialism. No longer does the foreign policy of the Soviet Union—aimed not at bringing about the world revolution, but at defending the bureaucracy’s power and privileges—play its counterrevolutionary role. The once-mighty Communist Parties of the world are mere shadows of their former selves, and many have been blotted out altogether. With interest in socialism skyrocketing, Trotsky’s writings are being rediscovered as people seek an explanation for the ignominious demise of the world’s first workers’ state (with the exception of the short-lived but heroic Paris Commune). Most young people have no direct experience of the Cold War, and growing numbers are open to the genuine ideas of Marxism as a solution to their collective problems, which have no individual solution. And with interest in Trotsky rising, interest in Ted Grant’s contribution is also growing.
Given the impasse of capitalism, it is not theoretically ruled out that new regimes of proletarian Bonapartism could emerge in the coming period—history knows all kinds of twists and turns. Until the working class seizes power in one of the advanced capitalist countries—where the material wealth of society all but rules out the emergence of such regimes—many variants are possible. The masses in the ex-colonial world cannot simply wait around until the workers in the advanced countries have constructed a leadership capable of overthrowing capitalism. As in the 1960s and 70s, we may see regimes in which the economy is nationalized and bureaucratically planned from above, in an attempt to solve the dire problems of the masses. How we orient to these processes and intervene in them will depend on our having a profound theoretical understanding of the nature of these regimes. Nonetheless, after the experience of Stalinism and without the specific weight of the Soviet Union on the world stage, this is far from the most likely perspective. No matter what course history takes us, we can draw on the rich lessons of the past to illuminate our path.
For revolutionary internationalists, there is also the crucially important question of how to defend the Cuban Revolution against capitalist restoration, and the equally vital question of how to build the forces of revolutionary Marxism in countries such as China and Vietnam, where capitalism has also been reinstated.
The writings in this volume are therefore not simply of historic interest. Mistakes in theory lead inevitably to mistakes in practice. Mistakes in perspectives, orientation, and method, if not openly admitted, appraised, and corrected can lead to disaster in the real world.
As they say, hindsight is 20/20—it is easy to analyze things with pinpoint precision after the fact. Ted Grant was able to explain these phenomena as they developed—not by parroting Trotsky or cobbling together quotes to support a predetermined conclusion—but due to his profound grasp of the Marxist method. To be sure, Ted made plenty of mistakes in his day—no one is infallible. But he learned from them and from the experience of life itself and kept plugging away at his life’s goal: the world socialist revolution, which he badly wanted to live to see.
It has been said far better by others, but it is worth repeating here: the best monument we can build to honor the life and work of Ted Grant is a mass revolutionary Marxist International, the embodiment of his ideas in practice. Around the world, thousands of comrades of the International Marxist Tendency are doing just that. As we enter the Trump era and confront the most severe global capitalist crisis in living memory, we hope this book will help theoretically arm a new generation of class fighters in the struggle for the world socialist revolution.
September 13, 2017 (updated for the Second Edition)