The USSR: The Thwarted Transition

We publish here an article by Ariel Dacal Diaz, Chief Editor at the politics section of Social Sciences Publishers, a leading publishing house in Cuba. This is a contribution to the ongoing debate about the collapse of Stalinism in the Soviet Union which is taking place within Cuba. The author explains clearly how the rise of the Soviet bureaucracy meant a clear break with Bolshevism and shows how it was precisely this bureaucracy which led the restoration of capitalism in the USSR.

We publish here an article by Ariel Dacal Diaz, Chief Editor at the politics section of Social Sciences Publishers, a leading publishing house in Cuba. This is a contribution to the ongoing debate about the collapse of Stalinism in the Soviet Union which is taking place within Cuba. The author explains clearly how the rise of the Soviet bureaucracy meant a clear break with Bolshevism and shows how it was precisely this bureaucracy which led the restoration of capitalism in the USSR. Translated for CubaNews by Ana Portela from Cuba Literaria and published on


The intended transition to socialism in the USSR has fostered many debates for decades, in which the ideological antagonism gains more importance than the subject requires after the Soviet collapse. Yet, the final decision was to disdain a precious opportunity to uproot the bases of bourgeois domination; an opportunity to rethink, understand and assume (assume above all) the characteristics of the Soviet process as a whole that offers important elements for anti-capitalist alternatives demanded by the 21st century.

Towards this end we develop our study, beginning with the understanding of the history of the USSR, given its essential importance, both outside and within its borders analyzing the following problems: Who held power in the Soviet Union?, What was their ideology? At what point can we speak of the rupture of the Bolshevik project? In the following pages, we attempt to make some notes on these questions.

“The unforeseen class” [1]

Stalin was the visible face and representative of the bureaucracy that gradually broke ties with the Bolshevik essence and that broke the weak mechanisms of political participation of the masses.

It would be moot now to ask: what were the sources of Soviet bureaucracy? Second-rate figures rose to occupy the main administrative posts within the revolution since many of the old combatants of the vanguard died during the civil war or broke with the masses occupying less important posts, accommodating themselves to the new conditions of power. At the same time, Soviet power was forced to use people of the previous governmental apparatus, incorporating technical and specialized personnel as well as the peasant masses that were proletarianized. In this manner, Lenin’s party was declassed, in which the requirements for entry of new militants was the result of a long and rigorous process of checking, except for the workers who had worked in industry for more than ten years. [2]

The Soviet bureaucracy went through a complex process in its formation, separated from all historically known means. It later took over power, dominated knowledge and its transmission, controlled the means of production of ideas, whose reproduction was guaranteed for decades. The process of bureaucratization had its origins from the very beginning of the Revolution, but its consecration as a dominant sector in society occurred during the 30s.

Lenin explained the rise of bureaucracy as a parasitic and capitalist excrescence in the institution of the worker’s State, rising up through the isolation of the Revolution in a country of peasants, backward and illiterate [3]. He had his opinion of this new group of leaders that had their own ideas, their own feelings and their own interests. Trotsky noted that “these men would not have been capable of making the Revolution but have been the best adapted to exploit it[4].

The raw material for the “ideological” activities of those in power in the USSR were the great masses of illiterates who, certainly, rose from darkness and were easily managed in the name of something better, falling into a secondary ignorance that it was precisely this to rise up as a society. Except for the most politically advanced sectors, the minority, of course, the ideas of socialism had not been taken up by the population that had to be educated and prepared for the revolutionary debate.

This unforeseen class that was privileged with state power was, in theory, representatives of the interests of the masses, while in practice, it administered public property benefiting from it. It is true that members of the bureaucracy did not have private capital; but without any control over the rest of the social sectors, it directed the economy – extending or restricting any branch of production – set prices, organized their allotments, controlled surplus. In this manner, they took over the party, army, policy and the propaganda that sustained them.

With the passing of time, primarily towards the latter part of the seventies, they coined the phrase in the socialist camp as “they and us” that reflected the differences that were being revealed and that was deep-rooted, warned of during an earlier stage by many revolutionaries who pointed to the stratification of society or, more precisely, to its preservation.

The analysis on the subject of bureaucracy has one of its most controversial sides in its ties or autonomy regarding other classes. For some authors, this could not become a central point in a stable system, since it was only able to express the interests of another class. According to this criterion, the Soviet case fluctuated between the interests of the proletariat and the owners.

On the other hand, some authors affirmed that the bureaucracy did not express foreign interests, nor did it move between two extremes but was manifest as a social group aware of its own interest.

The events reveal that the bureaucratic class completely took over power and property. It vanquished in the power struggle after having crushed all its opponents. However, it revealed its diffused interests in an underhanded discourse claiming to be representatives of the proletariat.

For decades, the dominant class did not dare to reinstate private property over the means of production until, in 1991, deviously; it began to knit ties with the Russian bourgeoisie. According to the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, more than 75% of this “political elite” and more than 61% of the “business elite” have their origin in the Nomenklatura of the “Soviet” period. Consequently, the social, economic and political positions of society were in the same hands. Bureaucracy, itself, was responsible for the transformation of the economic and political forms of its domination, maintaining control over the system, but again on behalf of a class.

The hidden mentality

By which codes of political culture was the Soviet bureaucracy able to dominate? Let us begin with the masses that carried out the Revolution of 1917; a mass that had a mentality of servitude, with no experience in democracy and the development of a proletarian conscience, the class called on to lead the Revolution, that was in the hands of a small group of persons. The rural masses, a majority at the time, were the most conservative, sustained by the high level of existing illiteracy.

For its part, the usurper bureaucracy, holding power, was another historical example of how the vanquishers incorporated the mentality of the vanquished. In this case, they inherited the codes of domination by absolute control, a political elitism, the idea that the “throng” did not know how or was unable to lead, needing a figure that would synthesize the destiny of the country. It should be noted that one of the features most appreciated by the average citizen in Russia regarding its leaders is the image of a strong man, capable of confronting with determination the crucial difficulties of the country.

Linked to the above-mentioned characteristic, the norm of the dominators broke with the responsibility of the high figure regarding the problems, creating a mystical environment around him. Together with this in the social imagination, an opinion was formed that the responsibilities of the state of existing situations was the responsibility of the intermediate levels of the dominators.

The result was that, with the rise of Stalinism, the principles fostered by the Bolshevik uprising regarding policy and participation of the masses as the driving force in the subversive explosion, where they would make and carry out political decisions, was rooted out. Also pushed aside was the manner in which the Soviets that had transformed into spontaneous institutions of the struggle of the masses and acquired functions of State, giving the masses the possibility of participating in policy decisions as well as the mechanisms of mobilization, real and independent. In this process, the political organizations and masses suffered a considerable atrophy.

This same mentality was observed in the “great Russian pride” of which Lenin gave warning. The bureaucracy made its imperial policies during this Soviet period, coining the phrase “big brother” by which East Europe became known and by the doctrine of limited sovereignty placed in black and white by Brezhnev.

On the other hand, these components of Russian mentality are the basis to understand why the standard of living of the ruling Soviet class was similar to those of the bourgeoisie. As early as 1936, Trotsky gave an example of this stratification. A marshal, a director of a company, the son of a minister, had an apartment, vacation villas, cars, schools for their children, special clinics and many other benefits that were not accessible to the maid of the first, the farmhand of the second and the vagabond. For the first group this difference was no problem. For the second it was of utmost importance.

An individual in the Soviet society who yearned for features, goods and standard of living that were part of the capitalist culture was the most evident test that he, at least, had not flourished in the new socialist mentality, the new man and a new acuity. The socialist Soviet, post Lenin, symbol of real socialism, was never a valid, articulate or viable alternative to the previous system. The cultural substitution did not arrive, considering that socialism was, above all, a project that was sustained by a new culture. Therefore, the outcome was not “a socialist society (nor a capitalist one, of course) but a new form – state directed, bureaucratized – of domination and exploitation, opposed the nature of the fair and liberating emancipation of socialism[5].

The rupture

The political practice of the Soviet bureaucratic class was a break with Leninist ideas in the most diverse spaces of Soviet society. Following are some notes to corroborate this hypothesis.

The leader of the October revolution stressed, “It is necessary to maintain awareness that the struggle demanded the communist to think. It is possible that they know perfectly well about the revolutionary struggle and the state of revolutionary movement in the world. However, to overcome the terrible scarcity and poverty, what we need is culture, honesty and the capacity to reason[6].

The bureaucracy barred revolutionary controversy, prevented effective political participation of the masses. The Soviet leaders ignored that socialism cannot triumph over freedom of thoughts, against man but, on the contrary, through freedom of thought, improving the living conditions of this man.

The dogmatism that Marxism suffered, the persecution and discredit of those who attempted to defend it, the erroneous Marxism-USSR synthesis (including its disastrous international consequences), and the impossibility of developing other lines of thought, promoted the formation of generation of Soviet people lacking the necessary conceptual theoretical experience to confront contemporary historical challenges.

The cultural transition of the Bolshevik project is restrained, above all, by the authoritarian nature of the Soviet bureaucracy. The absence of real participation, of civic space for answers and control of power, affected all levels of social life, from an economic performance to ethnic conflicts.

Regarding the above mentioned and analyzing the project of approval of the Soviet Constitution, Trotsky pointed out that “it is true that the project was submitted in June for the approval of the peoples of the USSR . But it would be in vain to search in all of the sixth part of the surface of the globe, for the communist who would dare criticize the work of the central committee or, anyone, not a party member, who would have the courage to reject the proposition of the leading party[7]

In a sample of this catastrophic blunder was the attempt to dilute individuality to an ever-increasing abstract collectivity, with a marked lack of respect for what is different, schematizing a model of the strong, inflexible citizen as if the man dreamt of could be formed by decree. What was at the basis was a simplistic concept of man, completely ignoring the psychology and modifications in diverse environments. The Soviet leadership did not only reveal its incapacity to maintain the revolutionary spirit alive in a process of confrontations to historic circumstances of their interaction, but they crushed any vestiges of diverse, critical thought challenging authority.

Under the pretext of being the guide of society, the CPSU became the machine that halted, undermined and assaulted the natural processes of the society. The difference between Lenin and Stalin, among the many, is the fact that the latter, taking advantage of some of the conditions created, in life, by that great revolutionary leader, deflected the essence of partisan direction towards totalitarianism [8]. Lenin had prepared the Bolshevik Party to direct the workers, not to tame them or subjugate them [9].

With the economic hyper-centralization that followed this process, the Soviet bureaucracy managed the minutest detail, the control of production through a mediocre framework of intermediate levels, as a means of separating it from the control by the masses. This intermediate level was made up of technicians, administrative managers and specialist, becoming a true plague that could not be torn down during the existence of the USSR . The historian, Eric Hobsbanw recalls that “shortly before the (Second World) War there were more than one administrator for every two manual laborers[10].

From that moment, the Soviet model presented to basic problems that are proof, from a Marxist theoretical point of view, that there was a breach between socialism as a higher state of development of the productive forces and production relations and Soviet reality. On the one part, the remaining socio-economic forms that could converge in building the bases of a new society were arbitrarily eliminated. On the other hand, “economic islands” were created (industrial, mining and agricultural complexes) violating the social division of labor while ignoring the necessary cooperation between sectors and branches of the economy.

This practice halted specialization and the introduction of new techniques that prevented a rational use of resources. Due to the vertical and willfully that imposed on the productive process the development of a sector in detriment of another, without the proper integration between them. In this situation, the productive units, far from being autonomous, were prisoners of an uncontrolled primacy of political criteria over economic necessities.

The workers continued separated from the means of generating wealth. They did not become real owners as a result, of the bureaucratic-administrative factors that kept them from an effective ownership. The adulteration was in identifying state ownership of property with socialization, limiting these to the complexity and depth that Marx had understood as improvement of the capitalist means of production [11].

Also in the question of gender there was a rupture of the ideals of the October Revolution. The new Worker’s State granted ample legal and political rights such as the right to divorce, abortion, elimination of marital authority, equality of legal marriage with common law unions, etc. Alexandra Kollontai was the first woman elected by the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party in 1917 and the first woman to occupy a post in the government of the new state: People’s Commissar for Health and later the first woman ambassador in history.

As of 1926, under Stalin, the civil marriage was again instituted as the only legal union. Later the right to abortion was abolished, together with the suppression of the women’s section of the Central Committee and its equivalent branches in the different party organization levels. In 1934 homosexuality was forbidden and prostitution became a crime. Not respecting the institution of family became a “bourgeois” conduct or “leftist” in the eyes of the bureaucracy. Illegitimate children returned to that category that had been abolished in 1917 and divorce became a costly and difficult process [12].

Police institutions also became a function of the new interests. At the beginning, the objective of the Committee for State Security (KGB) [13] was to combat counterrevolution, sabotage and speculation, objectives of legitimate defense against the reactionary opposition of the Revolution. But, these logical aims were progressively modified with the ascension of bureaucracy to power until it became the institution that preserved the interests of the bureaucratic State, whose objective was to eliminate the opposition of the revolutionary forces [14].

In addition, KGB officials received high salaries as well a good destinations abroad, comfortable housing and enjoyed privileges within the USSR that also affected the moral importance. Undoubtedly, it was a privileged sector within society that was understandable considering its real function as guardian of the interests of bureaucracy.

The Red Army was created from the bases in January of 1918. The worker’s state needed its own armed institution to defend its interests, primarily due to the aggressions that soon followed by more than 14 countries, at the same time. As a new concept, the policy of the Bolshevik leadership was open to constant debate where the armed forces played an important role and, naturally, the army had the same ideas of party and State.

The Red Army did not escape the reactionary attacks of the bureaucracy that immediately began to change it into the defender of its interests, progressively eliminating its popular basis. The measure that clearly reflects this process was the decree that re-established the body of officials, dealing a crushing blow to the revolutionary principles that gave rise to this armed institutions and whose important pillars was, precisely, the elimination of the officials body, giving importance to the command that is won with capacity, talent, character, experience, etc.

This measure acquired a political objective by giving the officials a social importance. In this manner, they closely joined them with the leadership group weakening their union with the troops that led to the rupture of the communication between the troops and the political leadership. The officer’s body carefully watched over the “purity” and loyalty of the officers to the “Party” and the “ Socialist State “. Also weakened was the spirit of freedom and debate that had existed among the ranks of the Army in strong correlation with the opinion that “no army can be more democratic than the regime that nourishes it[15].

One of the most sensitive factors was the rupture of the basic principles of the Bolshevik program that determined that the salaries of the high officials could not surpass the mean of a worker’s salary. By 1940, when a worker earned 250 rubles a month, a deputy received 1000 rubles, a president of a republic received 12,500 rubles and the president of the Union received 25,000 rubles for the same period [16]. During the years of the Perestroika, there was a well-known “special supply” that increased the purchasing power of the high officials far above what a worker or engineer received.

The Bolshevik leadership, based on events that it had to confront in the last months of political life, foresaw the danger of the inherited “great Russian” of the years of Czarist domination and exploitation remaining in the politics of the new State. “Under these conditions – Lenin pointed out – it is natural that the freedom to separate from the union (...) be it by a simple piece of paper incapable of defending the non Russians from the attack of that real Russian (...) that oppressor that is the typical Russian oppressor. Undoubtedly the Soviet and Sovietized workers, an extremely low percentage, would drown in the ocean of the great chauvinist Russian beast like a fly in the milk[17].

The real facts, in spite of the letter of the Law of laws and other regulations, indicated the impossibility of affirming that the republics that formed the Soviet State coordinated their activities with the Center but, instead, were directly subordinated to Moscow . Stalin simply named from above the political representatives. The elite of the republics, although occupying posts of certain importance at the level of the republics, found it hard to occupy important ones at the Union level, were Russian predominance had a fundamental weight [18].

The head of the Russian revolution paid special interest to the concepts of political practice in terms of the Union . “One thing is the need to unite against the Western imperialists, defenders of the capital world. There is no doubt whatsoever (...) Another thing is for us to fall, even in questions of detail, in imperialist attitudes towards the oppressed nationalities undermining, consequently, the principles of all our defense of principles in the fight against imperialism” [19].

Final Notes

Soviet socialism after Lenin was not a valid, articulate and viable alternative to capitalism because the usurping bureaucracy was not, and could not be, the bearer of a superior ideology, of a cultural project, understood as a surgical instrument to make a new society or create conditions to achieve it.

The men who took power were neither the thinking communists nor the educated ones that Lenin foresaw as the raw material necessary to confront and conquer the great historical challenge that Russia assumed in 1917. In truth, his political practice was a break with that principle. These men, gradually ascending from society and becoming the dominant sector were a by-product of the Revolution and revealed their incapacity to guide history towards the ultimate objective: the creation of socialism.

The current Russian politicians with a bourgeois outlook hidden for decades under the cloak of Soviet bureaucracy. The Yeltsin regime changed the party men, the government and security members into businesspersons and property owners.

Despite the postponement of the transition to socialism that events of the USSR presuppose for Russia, the revolutionary triumph of the October revolution continues to be of utmost importance. In 1922, Lenin wrote, “our state machine may be defective but they say that the first steam engine was also defective. Also, it is not known if it ever worked but that is not important. It does not matter that the first steam engine was useless, the fact is that today we have a locomotive. Although our state apparatus is poor what is still important is that it was created; that it was the greatest invention in history; a State of the proletariat was created[20].

This is the necessary reference point to prepare and carry out the anti-capitalist alternatives of the XXI century.


[1] The title of this epigraph was suggested by the article by Alexei Goussev, The unforeseen class: Soviet bureaucracy as seen by Leon Trotski, In:

[2] Robert Weil. “Burocratization: The problem with out the class name. In this article, the author makes a detailed analysis of this social group, its origins, its characteristics and the manner in which it took power. The article would be of interest for those who want more information on such an essential question to understand the Soviet process. In the journal Socialism and Democracy. Spring/Sommer, 1988.

[3] Taken from Ted Grant and Alan Woods: Lenin and Trotsky, what did they really stood for. In:

[4] Leon Trotsky. The Revolution Betrayed. What is the Soviet Union and where is it going? Pathfinder. New York . 1992

[5] Adolfo Sánchez. “¿Vale la pena el socialismo?” In: Revista El viejo topo, November 2002, number 172.

[6] Vladimir I. Lenin. “Political Report to the eleventh congress of the Party”. In: The last fight of Lenin. Speeches and articles. 1922-1923. Pathfinder, New York, United States, 1997, p. 65

[7] Leon Trotsky. The Revolution Betrayed. What is the Soviet Union and Where is it Going? Pathfinder. New York. 1992, p.211

[8] Regime in which the leaders forcefully impose one unique system for all society and even penalize an alternative idea. Robin Blackburn. “After the fall “, p.177. In a broad exposé, domination of a party of the masses led by a charismatic leader, an official ideology, the monopoly of the mass media, the monopoly of the armed forces, a terrorist police control, a centralized control of the economy. Philippe Bourrinet. “Víctor Serge: totalitarismo y capitalismo de Estado (Deconstrucción socialista y humanismo colectivista)”

[9] The Bolsheviks, against their better intentions, were forced to establish a monopoly of political power. This situation, considered extraordinary and temporary created great dangers at the time in which the vanguard of the proletariat was subjected to a growing pressure of other classes. Ted Grant and Alan Woods, Lenin and Trotsky, what did they really stood for. In:

[10] Eric Hobsbawn. Historia del siglo XX. 1914-1991. Serie Mayor, España, Barcelona, 1998, p.383

[11] Jorge Luis Acanda. Sociedad Civil y hegemonía. Ob. Cit., p.264

[12] Adriana D’Atri. An analysis of the role of socialist women in the fight against oppression and of working women at the beginning of the Russian Revolution. October 20, 2003 . Inn Diario electrónico alternativo Rebelión. www.Rebelió

[13] Until the death of Stalin, the secret services of the USSR functioned under different names: Cheka, GPU, OGPU, NKVD, KGB, MGB. In 1935 the MGB (Ministry of State Security) fused with MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs) and took over the command of the new Komitei Gosudarstvennoi Bezopasnosti (KGB).

[14] Although this institution never abandoning its function of the regime’s political police, its most aberrant period, in terms of crimes and contempt for human life, was headed by Stalin who relied on one of the most despicable persons during the tragic period of Stalinism: Beria, who headed the KGB for 15 years, accumulating a criminal file in a 50 page folio of charges for which he was tried after the death of his boss and which took him to the firing squad. He was the man who guaranteed the security of Stalin and, perhaps, his most efficient collaborator endowed with a unique moral rottenness that supported him to stay for such a long time at the side of the General Secretary of the CPSU. For more information see: Maximovich , Ala. “Lavrenti Beria”. In: Revista Sputnik. No 12, Moscow, December 1988.

[15] León Trotski. La revolución traicionada... Ob. Cit, p.184

[16] Suzzane Labin. Stalin el Terrible. Ob. Ct. , p.136

[17] Vladimir I. Lenin. La última lucha de Lenin. Ob. Ct. , p.204

[18] Often, within the territorial demarcations that were not a part of the Russian Federation, the Russian representatives were favored with the best posts in key sectors of the economy and policy that, according to Barbara Sarabia, subtly inclined the balance in favor of the Center because the bordering republics supplied important raw materials, whereby the industrial development was concentrated in key regions and the Baltic, assuming a gradual economic and technological backwardness that was the fate of the Asian Soviet. Bárbara Sarabia. “Reflexiones en torno al desmonte de la URSS” In: La Perestroika en tres dimensiones: expediente de un fracaso. Investigaciones, Centro de Estudios Europeos, La Habana, 1992, p. 108

[19] Ibd., p. 210

[20] Vladimir I. Lenin. Ob.Ct., p.70