In Defence of Marxism - Reply to Israel Shamir – Part One

An article by Israel Shamir, La saga de Woods, appeared on October 15, on the Spanish language web site Rebelión. Shamir brings out all his Stalinist venom against genuine Marxism – i.e. Trotskyism – but he also adds some of his own novel ideas. Alan Woods, basing himself on the classical writings of Marx, Engels and in particular Lenin, shows how Stalinism and Marxism are opposites. In Part One he deals mainly with the question of ‘Socialism In One Country’, stressing that this represented the narrow nationalist outlook of the bureaucracy and was in total contradiction with the internationalism of Lenin.

By Alan Woods

Part One

I must confess that I had never heard of Israel Shamir before now. I have been informed that he is a writer and journalist who lives in Jaffa in Israel. Although we have never met, I have come to the conclusion that he must be a very clever man. He manages to do something that would be quite impossible for ordinary mortals. He answers articles he has not read. This is an art I confess I have never mastered. Some time he must tell me how he does it.

He seems to think that he has comprehensively demolished the ideas of Trotskyism. This reminds me of the Little Tailor in the fairy story who went around boasting that he had killed “seven with one blow”. People thought he was referring to seven men and were duly impressed. But when they found out he was only referring to seven flies, their admiration for the little man was somewhat diminished. In the case of Israel Shamir, he has not even killed one fly, but is merely flailing the air with his arms and making himself ridiculous.

Mr. Shamir is kind enough to describe me as, “the prolific Trotskyite writer Alan Woods” and, to give him his due, he publishes a link to the three articles I wrote in response to his attack on Celia Hart. But he immediately starts to complain about my “triptych” as he calls it. I regret to say that he found it, “an extremely lengthy response to my short piece”.

I regret that this reply will not be any shorter, and for this reason: it is easy to write distortions and lies in a few lines, but to answer them takes a lot more. As we have pointed on several other occasions like this, in order to nail a lie it is necessary to quote sources, facts and figures. This our critic never does in his articles, which is why they are worth about as much as the little tailor’s seven dead flies.

Israel Shamir cannot be bothered to read long books and articles, which is why he objects not only to “the prolific Trotskyite writer Alan Woods”, but also to the even more prolific writers Marx, Engels and Lenin, who he also has not bothered to read. There is a Spanish proverb that says “ignorance is audacious” (la ignorancia es atrevida). This is a classical case.

A few preliminary questions

Israel Shamir begins his latest diatribe with a warning: “Do not take my polemics with Alan Woods for a learned discussion of the Russian Revolution; the argument is not about Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin (let their souls rest in peace in the bosom of Marx in the Communist paradise) but about extremely relevant issues of our day, though presented in historical perspective.”

On one thing at least we can agree. There is nothing “learned” about what Israel Shamir writes. What we find here is a complete absence of scientific rigor and seriousness. The most scandalous assertions are put forward, one after the other without the slightest attempt to prove them. We have merely to accept everything our friend says and ask no questions. The general approach is light minded in the extreme.

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with his tablets of stone and his face shining like the sun, the ancient Israelites prostrated themselves before him. They asked for no proofs. But that was in another, more credulous age. Now we are living in the 21st century, Stalin is dead, the Soviet Union has collapsed and sacred tablets are in very short supply.

For a long time after the death of Lenin the world Communist movement was required to accept everything the Stalinist leaders told them without question. Those who did ask awkward questions were labelled “Trotskyists” and expelled – or worse. This monstrous Stalinist regime had nothing in common with the Bolshevik Party, the most democratic party in history, or with the regime of soviet workers’ democracy established by Lenin and Trotsky in 1917.

Mr. Shamir obviously misses the good old days when no questions were asked. But those days are dead and gone. The collapse of the USSR has raised many questions in the minds of honest Communists everywhere. They are not prepared to accept the old sophistry and lies. It is in this context that the question is raised of a reappraisal of the ideas of Leon Trotsky by the Communist movement. People want to know the truth about the man who, together with Lenin, led the October Revolution and who, together with those Communists who defended the real traditions of October and Bolshevik-Leninism, opposed Stalinism.

To this very day the leaders of the Communist Parties internationally have not provided any serious explanation for the collapse of the Soviet Union. They are incapable of providing one. It is only in the pages of The Revolution Betrayed and the numerous other books and articles written by Leon Trotsky in the 1930s that you will find a genuine Marxist explanation of everything that happened after Lenin’s death in the USSR.

Trotsky not only predicted that the Stalinist bureaucracy would end by restoring capitalism in the USSR. He gave a precise description of what would happen afterwards: “The fall of the present bureaucratic dictatorship, if it were not replaced by a new socialist power, would thus mean a return to capitalist relations with a catastrophic decline of industry and culture.” This is exactly what has happened in Russia over the last ten years or so.

Let us begin with some awkward questions for our Stalinist opponents. The first question is: if we accept what you say, that the Soviet Union was a socialist paradise, then how come it collapsed?

The second question will be: if, as you say, the CPSU was a genuine Communist Party led by committed Marxist Leninists, how does it happen that most of them have gone over to capitalism with arms and baggage and are now multi-millionaires through looting state property?

The third question will be: if there was a genuine workers’ democracy in the USSR, why did the Soviet workers not fight to defend the old regime? How does it happen that after over half a century of what Israel Shamir calls socialism, they could re-establish capitalism without a civil war?

Shamir covers his rear

Being a clever man, Israel begins by covering his backside. Having declared the “non-learned” (that is to say, completely arbitrary, frivolous and unscientific) nature of his articles, he then adds (contrary to what he said before) that argument is not about Trotsky and Stalin at all! Moreover, we are cordially invited to let their souls rest in peace.

We draw the reader’s attention to the self-evident tone of bourgeois cynicism in these lines, especially the phrase “in the bosom of Marx in the Communist paradise.” We have come across this kind of thing too many times in recent years. Marx and Lenin? Bah! That is old hat! What do we need them for? Let these old guys rest in peace! Let us deal with the problems of the modern world.

This is the position, not of a Communist, but of a bourgeois sceptic or rather an ex-Communist bureaucrat who has drawn the conclusion after the fall of the USSR that the idea of fighting for socialism (the “Communist paradise”) is completely utopian and must be abandoned, along with all those old-fashioned ideas of Marx.

Here we immediately come to the heart of the problem. The essence of this discussion is not whether the ideas of Trotsky are correct. It is whether the ideas of Marx, Engels and Lenin are correct and still applicable to the modern world.

In reality there is no difference between the ideas of Lenin and those of Marx and there is no difference between the ideas of Lenin and those of Trotsky. Trotsky and his followers called themselves Bolshevik-Leninists. It was the Stalinists who invented “Trotskyism”. But there is an enormous difference between Stalinism and Bolshevism – a line of blood separates the two. They have nothing in common.

The “three whales” of Alan Woods

The real significance of Isreal Shamir is that he expresses with admirable clarity the fact that Stalinism represents the absolute negation of Marxism and Leninism. We will now pass on to what Israel Shamir calls my “three whales”.

“Woods draws a full picture of the sort of communism he subscribes to, and wishes you to adopt it. It rests upon three whales, as did the world in ancient cosmography.”

As a matter of fact, I did not draw “a full picture of the sort of communism I subscribe to”, whatever that is. I did not deal with communist society at all. In my articles I wrote on the problems facing the Bolsheviks after the working class had taken power in Russia, an extremely backward country in which, as even Stalin knew, the material conditions for building socialism were absent. Lenin never claimed that socialism existed in Russia (let alone communism).

What existed in Russia after the October Revolution was neither socialism nor communism but a workers’ state or the dictatorship of the proletariat, as Marx called it. Moreover, as Lenin pointed out to Bukharin in 1920, given Russia’s extreme backwardness, it was a workers’ state “with bureaucratic deformations”. This is known to Marxists as the transitional period – the period between capitalism and socialism. Since Mr. Shamir considers that the ideas of Marx should be left in peace, we apologise for mentioning this, but it is a fact anyway.

Anybody who is even slightly acquainted with the “old” ideas of Marxism knows that between capitalism and socialism there is a transitional period, in which the bourgeoisie is expropriated and a nationalised planned economy is installed. This represents a colossal conquest and a big step forward, as the history of the USSR (and also Cuba) demonstrated. But it is not yet socialism.

This was ABC for every Marxist (including Stalin until 1924), although it is something completely new for Israel Shamir. For this great genius there is capitalism and there is socialism, and nothing else. Therefore, when Alan Woods says that it was not possible to build socialism in Russia as long as it remained isolated in conditions of frightful backwardness, he becomes apoplectic with rage.

Using that brand of sophistry peculiar to the Jesuits and certain types of scholastic rabbis of the Talmudic type, Shamir then concludes that Alan Woods is not in favour of the socialist revolution in Russia, China, Vietnam, Cuba – or anywhere else! What this shows is that, as usual, he does not have the slightest idea of what he is talking about.

What is the theory of the permanent revolution?

Prior to 1917 all the tendencies in the Russian Marxist movement agreed that the coming revolution would be a bourgeois-democratic revolution, i.e. a revolution produced by the contradiction between the developing capitalist economy and the semi-feudal autocratic state of Tsarism. But the mere general admission of the bourgeois nature of the revolution could not answer the concrete question of which class would lead the revolutionary struggle against autocracy.

The Mensheviks assumed by analogy with the great bourgeois revolutions of the past, that the revolution would be led by the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois democrats, whom the workers’ movement would support. This was fiercely opposed by Lenin, and this constituted the central political difference between Bolshevism (proletarian revolutionism) and Menshevism (petty bourgeois reformism).

In all of Lenin’s speeches and writings, the counter-revolutionary role of the bourgeois-democratic Liberals is stressed time and time again. However, up until 1917, he did not believe that the Russian workers would come to power before the socialist revolution in the West. Following in the footsteps of Marx, who had described the bourgeois “democratic party” as “far more dangerous to the workers than the previous liberals”, Lenin explained that the Russian bourgeoisie, far from being an ally of the workers, would inevitably side with the counterrevolution:

“The bourgeoisie in the mass,” he wrote in 1905, “will inevitably turn towards the counter-revolution, towards the autocracy, against the revolution, and against the people, as soon as its narrow, selfish interests are met, as soon as it ‘recoils’ from consistent democracy (and it is already recoiling from it!)” (Works, vol. 9, page 98)

In Lenin’s view the only class that could lead the bourgeois-democratic revolution was the proletariat, in alliance with and the peasantry:

“The proletariat alone can be relied on to march on to the end, for it goes far beyond the democratic revolution. That is why the proletariat fights in the forefront for a republic and contemptuously rejects stupid and unworthy advice to take into account the possibility of the bourgeoisie recoiling.” (ibid)

On the question of the attitude to the bourgeois Liberals the ideas of Lenin and Trotsky were in complete solidarity as against the Mensheviks who hid behind the bourgeois nature of the revolution as a cloak for the subordination of the workers’ party to the bourgeoisie. Arguing against class collaboration, both Lenin and Trotsky explained that only the working class, in alliance with the peasant masses, could carry out the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution.

The only difference between Lenin and Trotsky on the perspectives for the Russian Revolution was that before 1917 Lenin thought that the working class would not carry through a socialist revolution in backward tsarist Russia before the socialist revolution had triumphed in the West. Here is what Lenin had actually did say on the class nature of the “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry”:

“But of course it will be a democratic, not a socialist dictatorship. It will be unable (without a series of intermediary stages of revolutionary development) to affect the foundations of capitalism. At best, it may bring about a radical redistribution of landed property in favour of the peasantry, establish consistent and full democracy, including the formation of a republic, eradicate all the oppressive features of Asiatic bondage... lay the foundations for a thorough improvement in the conditions of the workers and for a rise in their standard of living, and – last but not least – carry the revolutionary conflagration into Europe.” (Works, vol. 9, page 57, my emphasis, AW)

Lenin’s position is absolutely clear and unambiguous: the coming revolution will be a bourgeois revolution, led by the proletariat in alliance with the peasant masses. The best that can be expected of it is the fulfilment of basic bourgeois-democratic tasks: distribution of land to the peasants, a democratic republic, etc. Not only did Lenin not believe in the possibility of building socialism in Russia, but before February 1917 he did not even believe that the Russian workers could come to power before the workers of Europe.

For Lenin, no other outcome was possible on the basis of a backward, semi-feudal country like Russia. Before 1917, the only Russian Marxist who put forward the perspective that the Russian workers could come to power before the workers of Europe was Trotsky. As early as 1904 he advanced the theory of the permanent revolution, which states that in underdeveloped countries like tsarist Russia (but also China, Cuba, Vietnam and Venezuela), the tasks of the bourgeois democratic revolution can only be carried out by the working class taking power into its own hands, placing itself at the head of the nation and expropriating the landlords and capitalists:

“It is possible [wrote Trotsky in 1905] for the workers to come to power in an economically backward country sooner than in an advanced country...In our view, the Russian revolution will create conditions in which power can pass into the hands of the workers...and in the event of the victory of the revolution it must do so...before the politicians of bourgeois liberalism get the chance to display to the full their talents for governing.” (Results and Prospects, page 195)

The correctness of the permanent revolution was triumphantly demonstrated by the October Revolution itself. The Russian working class – as Trotsky had predicted in 1904 – came to power before the workers of Western Europe. They carried out all the tasks of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, and immediately set about nationalising industry and passing over to the tasks of the socialist revolution. The bourgeoisie played an openly counterrevolutionary role, but was defeated by the workers in alliance with the poor peasants. The Bolsheviks then made a revolutionary appeal to the workers of the world to follow their example.

Socialism in one country?

When the Mensheviks argued that the material conditions for socialism were absent in Russia nobody argued with them, least of all Lenin. He knew very well that without the victory of the revolution in the advanced capitalist countries, especially Germany, the revolution could not survive isolated, especially in a backward country like Russia. Did this mean that therefore the Bolsheviks should not take power? Not at all. That was precisely the argument of the Mensheviks.

If the Russian Revolution had been conceived as an isolated and self-sufficient act – the way in which the narrow nationalist Shamir sees it – then the Mensheviks would have been correct and the taking of power by the Bolsheviks would have been an adventure. But the whole point was that Lenin never saw the Russian Revolution in the way that Shamir sees it – as a purely isolated national act. He always saw the Russian Revolution as the first step in the European and world revolution.

This was the case even when Lenin still thought that the Russian Revolution could not go beyond the limits of an advanced bourgeois democratic revolution (a position he held up until 1917). He always stressed its international dimension and pointed out that the final destiny of the Russian Revolution would depend on the extension of the revolution to Germany and the other countries of Europe.

Israel Shamir does not want us to quote Lenin, but we must beg his pardon and do just this. In his book Two Tactics of the Social Democracy, Lenin explains that the Russian revolution will not be able to affect the foundations of capitalism “without a series of intermediary stages of revolutionary developments.” What developments did Lenin have in mind? He says the bourgeois democratic revolution in Russia will:

“...last but not least carry the revolutionary conflagration into Europe. Such a victory will not yet by any means transform our bourgeois revolution into a socialist revolution; the democratic revolution will not immediately overstep the bounds of bourgeois social and economic relationships, nevertheless, the significance of such a victory for the future development of Russia and for the whole world will be immense. Nothing will raise the revolutionary energy of the world proletariat so much, nothing will shorten the path leading to its complete victory to such an extent, as this decisive victory of the revolution that has now started in Russia.” (ibid, page 57)

Lenin’s internationalism is in complete contradiction to the narrow nationalism of the Stalinists. Neither Lenin, nor any other Marxist, seriously entertained the idea that it was possible to build “socialism in a single country”, much less in a backward, Asiatic, peasant country like Russia. Elsewhere Lenin explains, what would be ABC for any Marxist, that the conditions for a socialist transformation of society were absent in Russia, although they were fully matured in Western Europe. Polemicising against the Mensheviks in Two Tactics, Lenin reiterates the classical position of Marxism on the international significance of the Russian revolution:

“The basic idea here is one repeatedly formulated by Vperyod [Lenin’s paper] which has stated that we must not be afraid... of Social Democracy’s complete victory in a democratic revolution, i.e. of a revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry, for such a victory will enable us to rouse Europe; after throwing off the yoke of the bourgeoisie, the socialist proletariat in Europe will in its turn help us to accomplish the socialist revolution.” (ibid, page 82, my emphasis)

In April 1917 Lenin changed his mind. He immediately saw that the only way forward was that the working class should take power into its own hands (“all power to the soviets”). This idea – which was the same idea Trotsky had defended since 1904 – was opposed by the other Bolshevik leaders, Kamenev, Zinoviev – and Stalin. They had the same position of our friend in Jaffa, that the working class must not take power but must ally itself with the progressive national bourgeoisie. When Lenin submitted his celebrated April Theses to Pravda (then edited by Kamenev and Stalin) they were published in his own name as a personal opinion. But after a fierce struggle Lenin won the majority and, together with Trotsky, led the working class to victory.

What is socialism?

For Marxists the October revolution was the greatest event in human history. Here for the first time, if we exclude that glorious episode of the Paris Commune, the masses – those millions of ordinary working men and women – overthrew the old regime of oppression and at least began the task of the socialist transformation of society. The Bolsheviks expropriated the bourgeoisie and instituted a nationalised planned economy. They based themselves on workers’ democracy and the rule of the working class through the soviets. It was a tremendous victory. But was it socialism?

Marx once said that the socialist revolution would begin in France, be continued in Germany and finished in England. Russia was not even mentioned. The reason was that at that time capitalism had not yet developed in countries like Russia. There was no industry and no working class. But with the development of imperialism and the export of capital, the situation changed dramatically. Asia, Africa and Latin America began to enter the capitalist road as a result of foreign capital.

The law of combined and uneven development meant that even in underdeveloped agrarian countries like semi-feudal Russia, there were centres of industry with high concentrations of workers. This did not mean that the underdeveloped countries would experience an identical development to the metropolitan capitalist countries. The bourgeoisie of these countries had come onto the stage of history too late to play a progressive role. It was tied with a thousand threads to the landlords and to imperialism. On the other hand, the workers of Russia were open to the most revolutionary ideas.

This created the possibility of the working class coming to power in a backward country before the workers of Europe were ready to take power. Contrary to Marx’s expectation, the first workers’ state in the world came to power, not in a developed industrial country, but in backward agrarian Russia. The capitalist system, in Lenin’s words, “broke at its weakest link”. The Bolsheviks had the perspective of developing the revolution in Europe, especially Germany. They regarded the October Revolution as the beginning of the new world socialist order.

Socialism, as understood by Marx and Lenin, presupposes that the development of the productive forces has reached a sufficient level that it would eliminate all material inequality. The abolition of classes cannot be established by decree. It must arise from a superabundance of things that would universally raise the quality of life to unheard-of levels.

All the basic human needs would be satisfied, and therefore the humiliating struggle for existence would cease. A general reduction in working hours would provide the conditions for an unparalleled development of culture. It would enable men and women to participate in the administration of industry, the state and society. From the very beginning the workers state would be characterised by a level of democratic participation far superior to the most democratic bourgeois republic.

As a consequence, classes would dissolve into society, together with the last vestiges of class society – money and the state. This would give rise to genuine communism and the replacement of the domination of man by man with the “administration of things”, to use Engels’ expression. This, and nothing else, is what Marxists call socialism. Ultimately, the success of socialism can only be guaranteed by world socialism and a socialist planned world economy.

The nationalization of the productive forces was a great step forward, but it by no means guaranteed the victory of socialism in Russia. As Trotsky put it:

“Socialism is the organisation of a planned and harmonious social production for the satisfaction of human wants. Collective ownership of the means of production is not yet socialism, but only its legal premise. The problem of a socialist society cannot be abstracted from the problem of the productive forces, which at the present stage of human development are worldwide in their very essence.” (Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, p. 1237)

Rather than building on the foundations of the most advanced capitalism, the Soviet regime was attempting to overcome pre-socialist and pre-capitalist problems. The task became “catch up with Europe and America”. This was very far even from the “lowest stage of communism” envisaged by Marx. The Bolsheviks were forced to tackle economic and cultural problems that had long ago been solved in the West.

What we had in Russia was not socialism but a workers’ state, and moreover a workers’ state in conditions of terrible backwardness, encircled by hostile capitalist powers. This backwardness, and the isolation of the revolution, began to bear down on the Soviet working class. Civil war, famine and physical exhaustion forced them into political apathy and gave rise to increasing bureaucratic deformations in the state and party.

The main task was to hold on to power for as long as possible. Lenin never envisaged the prolonged isolation of the Soviet state. Either the isolation would be broken or the Soviet regime would be doomed. Everything depended upon the world revolution. Its delay created enormous difficulties that were to have profound consequences. Instead of the withering away of the state, the opposite process took place. On the basis of destitution aggravated by the civil war and economic blockade, the “struggle for individual existence”, to use Marx’s phrase, did not disappear or soften, but assumed in succeeding years an unheard of ferocity.

International assistance was vital to ensure the survival of the young Soviet republic. The Bolsheviks tried to hold on to power – despite all the odds – for as long as possible until assistance came from the West. That is why Lenin and the Bolsheviks attached such importance to building the Communist International and carrying out the world revolution. On the basis of a worldwide plan of production and a new world division of labour, this would give rise to a mighty impulse to the productive forces. Science and modern technique would be used to harness nature and turn deserts into fertile plains. All the destruction of the planet and the appalling waste of capitalism would be brought to an end. Within a generation or so the material basis for socialism would be laid.

Lenin and “Socialism in One Country”

Whale No. 1., says Israel, is “No to Socialism in One Country”. Here, for once, Shamir manages to quote something I wrote: “At the heart of the ideology of Stalinism is the so-called theory of socialism in one country. The anti-Marxist theory of ‘socialism in one country’, first expounded by Stalin in the autumn of 1924, went against everything the Bolsheviks and the Communist International, had preached. Such a notion could never have been countenanced by Marx or Lenin.”

At once Israel springs into action, waving his sword and brandishing his shield: “Let us disengage ourselves from the Talmudic discussion about what exactly was said by Marx, Lenin or Stalin.” The shield here is considerably more important than anything else, since it is necessary to cover his bare backside. He does not want us to quote from Marx or Lenin, because he knows very well that his position is flatly opposed to everything they ever said or wrote.

He says that to quote Lenin is to fall into a “Talmudic discussion.” As Mr. Shamir knows, the medieval Talmudic scholars, like the Christian Schoolmen, were highly intelligent people and capable of very skilful argument on the minutiae of religious doctrine. If they had a fault it was that, in order to defend an untenable position, they resorted to what is known in philosophy as sophistry. This is precisely the method of Israel Shamir, who has thoroughly absorbed the most negative aspects of Talmudic thought. This is the “clever” method he uses throughout.

“Never mind what Marx, Lenin or Stalin said, he says. Just listen to me!” But if the argument is about Marxism, how can we not quote what Marx and Lenin actually said? Unless, of course, we accept the argument of the ex-Marxists that all that Marx and Lenin wrote is really “old hat” and not worth the paper it is written on.

We are obliged to quote Lenin to prove that these ideas were not invented by Alan Woods, but were, in fact, the ideas of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. And to save Israel Shamir a lot of time and effort by providing him with a few relevant quotes from Lenin’s Collected Works. The following are just a few examples. They could be multiplied at will:

24th January 1918:

“We are far from having completed even the transitional period from capitalism to socialism. We have never cherished the hope that we could finish it without the aid of the international proletariat. We never had any illusions on that score. The final victory of socialism in a single country is of course impossible. Our contingent of workers and peasants which is upholding Soviet power is one of the contingents of the great world army, which at present has been split by the world war, but which is striving for unity. We can now see clearly how far the development of the Revolution will go. The Russian began it – the German, the Frenchman and the Englishman will finish it, and socialism will be victorious.” (LCW, Vol. 26, pp. 465-72.)

8th March 1918:

“The Congress considers the only reliable guarantee of the consolidation of the socialist revolution that has been victorious in Russia to be its conversion into a world working-class revolution.” (LCW, from Resolution on War and Peace, Vol. 27. p. 119.)

23rd April 1918:

“We shall achieve final victory only when we succeed at last in conclusively smashing international imperialism, which relies on the tremendous strength of its equipment and discipline. But we shall achieve victory only together with all the workers of other countries, of the whole world.” (LCW, Vol. 27, p. 231.)

14th May 1918:

“To wait until the working classes carry out a revolution on an international scale means that everyone will remain suspended in mid-air. It may begin with brilliant success in one country and then go through agonising periods, since final victory is only possible on a world scale, and only by the joint efforts of the workers of all countries.” (LCW, Vol. 27, pp. 372-3.)

29th July 1918:

“We never harboured the illusion that the forces of the proletariat and the revolutionary people of any one country, however heroic and however organised and disciplined they might be, could overthrow international imperialism. That can be done only by the joint efforts of the workers of the world. We never deceived ourselves into thinking this could be done by the efforts of one country alone. We knew that our efforts were inevitably leading to a worldwide revolution, and that the war begun by the imperialist governments could not be stopped by the efforts of those governments themselves. It can be stopped only by the efforts of all workers; and when we came to power, our task was to retain that power, that torch of socialism, so that it might scatter as many sparks as possible to add to the growing flames of socialist revolution.” (LCW, Vol. 28, pp. 24-5.)

8th November 1918:

“From the very beginning of the October Revolution, foreign policy and international relations have been the main question facing us. Not merely because from now on all the states of the world are being firmly linked by imperialism into one, dirty, bloody mass, but because the complete victory of the socialist revolution in one country alone is inconceivable and demands the most active co-operation of at least several advanced countries, which do not include Russia. We have never been so near to world proletarian revolution as we are now. We have proved we were not mistaken in banking on world proletarian revolution. Even if they crush one country, they can never crush the world proletarian revolution, they will only add fuel to the flames that will consume them all.” (LCW, Vol. 28, pp. 151-64.)

20th November 1918:

“The transformation of our Russian Revolution into a socialist revolution was not a dubious venture but a necessity, for there was no other alternative: Anglo-French and American imperialism will inevitably destroy the independence and freedom of Russia if the world socialist revolution, world Bolshevism, does not triumph.” (LCW, Vol. 28, p. 188.)

15th March 1919:

“Complete and final victory on a world scale cannot be achieved in Russia alone; it can be achieved only when the proletariat is victorious in at least all the advanced countries, or, at all events, in some of the largest of the advanced countries. Only then shall we be able to say with absolute confidence that the cause of the proletariat has triumphed, that our first objective – the overthrow of capitalism – has been achieved. We have achieved this objective in one country, and this confronts us with a second task. Since Soviet power has been established, since the bourgeoisie has been overthrown in one country, the second task is to wage the struggle on a world scale, on a different plane, the struggle of the proletarian state surrounded by capitalist states.” (LCW, Vol. 29, pp. 151-64.)

5th December 1919:

“Both prior to October and during the October Revolution, we always said that we regard ourselves and can only regard ourselves as one of the contingents of the international proletarian army. We always said that the victory of the socialist revolution therefore, can only be regarded as final when it becomes the victory of the proletariat in at least several advanced countries.” (LCW, Vol. 30, pp. 207-8.)

20th November 1920:

“The Mensheviks assert that we are pledged to defeating the world bourgeoisie on our own. We have, however, always said that we are only a single link in the chain of the world revolution, and have never set ourselves the aim of achieving victory by our own means.” (LCW, Vol. 31, p. 431.)

End of February 1922:

“But we have not finished building even the foundations of socialist economy and the hostile powers of moribund capitalism can still deprive us of that. We must clearly appreciate this and frankly admit it; for there is nothing more dangerous than illusions. And there is absolutely nothing terrible in admitting this bitter truth; for we have always urged and reiterated the elementary truth of Marxism – that the joint efforts of the workers of several advanced countries are needed for the victory of socialism.” (LCW, Vol. 33, p. 206.)

As you can see, it is not at all difficult to establish beyond doubt Lenin’s position on the necessity for world revolution. Unless the Soviet state succeeded in breaking out of its isolation, he thought that the October Revolution could not survive for any length of time. This idea is repeated time after time in Lenin’s writings and speeches after the Revolution. In the end, the revolutionary movements in Germany, Hungary, Italy and other countries were defeated, but they were sufficient to halt the attempts of imperialism to overthrow the Bolsheviks by armed intervention. The Russian workers’ state survived, but prolonged isolation in conditions of extreme backwardness produced a process of bureaucratic degeneration that was the basis for the Stalinist political counterrevolution.