That is the significance of Trotsky’s discussion “with” Rizzi. Rizzi was a political crank, an anti-semite, and believed that both fascism and Stalinism were routes to one and the same goal, “bureaucratic collectivism”. That was a progressive system that would ultimately lead peacefully into socialism.
Anti-semitism was a mode of anti-capitalist opinion and feeling. Fascism and Stalinism (“communism”) should unite into one movement.
In a sharp definition, Rizzi was a quirky fascist, but on Russia he avowedly based himself on Trotsky. Nothing he said on Russia, specifically, was original or new, or even new as a target for Trotsky’s polemic.
Trotsky had dealt with similar issues in 1933 in polemics with Hugo Urbahns, who called Russia state-capitalism, and with Lucien Laurat (Otto Maschl), who called it bureaucratic-collectivist; and again in 1937 with the French Trotskyist Yvan Craipeau (who had a sort of “bureaucratic-collectivist” assessment of the USSR) and two Americans, James Burnham and Joseph Carter, who argued that bureaucracy had coalesced into a sort of “petty-bourgeois” ruling class, halfway on the road to full restoration of capitalism.
In his writings “about” Rizzi in 1939, Trotsky did not even allude to most of Rizzi’s ideas. What interested Trotsky was Rizzi’s generalisation — his idea that the world was evolving towards a new bureaucratic-collectivist class system.
Hal Draper later wrote that: “Trotsky was in the midst, right after the outbreak of World War Two, of a general revolt inside the Trotskyist groups... against his insistence that the Stalin regime... had to be defended in the war as a ‘workers’ state’, solely because its economy was statified... Trotsky was busy casting anathemas and thunderbolts in [the minority’s] direction; on reading Rizzi’s book, he seized on it for ammunition. Rizzi entered history when Trotsky whirled him around his head like a dead cat and let fly at the opposition”. (Workers’ Liberty 57).
This account of what Trotsky was doing is altogether too sweepingly dismissive and far too uncomprehending.
What Trotsky did was state the issues as he saw them in the historical framework — the view of the “shape of history”‘ — which in fact determined what he made of Russia. The two articles of September and October 1939, The USSR In War and Again And Once More On The Nature Of The USSR, are as we have seen above very important in embodying an enormous step in Trotsky’s thinking.
Trotsky’s polemics from 1939-40 — though not his articles for the public press, giving his public assessment of the invasions of Poland and Finland — were later, 1942, collected into a book, In Defence Of Marxism. The polemics collected there stop at 25 April 1940 (though the book contains a few letters from later months).
Trotsky lived four more months. In those months he had a lot to say about Stalinism — as indeed he had had in the public press, side by side by the pieces for internal Trotskyist discussion bulletins collected in In Defence Of Marxism. The short excerpts from those articles printed in this Workers’ Liberty give a truer picture of Trotsky’s evolution than the one-side selection in In Defence Of Marxism.
If Trotsky had lived, how would his thinking on Stalinism have evolved? Would he have gone on to elaborate a theory of “bureaucratic revolution”, creating “deformed workers’ states”, as the “orthodox Trotskyists” did? Would he have gone on to make a theory out of the view which he repudiated, as if his skin had been tabled by corrosive acid, when Shachtman and others attributed it to him?
“My remark that the Kremlin with its bureaucratic methods gave an impulse to the socialist revolution in Poland, is converted by Shachtman into an assertion that in my opinion a ‘bureaucratic revolution’ of the proletariat is presumably possible. This is not only incorrect but disloyal. My expression was rigidly limited. It is not the question of ‘bureaucratic revolution’ but only a bureaucratic impulse”.
Capitalism did not spiral down into the “grave of civilisation”. Having levelled large parts of Europe and especially of Germany, and divided the world with the Stalinists and their system, world capital, centred around the USA, revived and eventually prevailed in competition with the Stalinist system.
It was “history’s” last word on the position that Trotsky had taken against “socialism in one country” and against the idea that Stalinism could be a new form of exploiting society, arising on the margins of capitalism and then successfully competing with it. History, after a long delay, echoed Trotsky’s answer to the question if that could happen: a resounding no.
The development of nuclear weapons prevented war between the Stalinist system and capitalism. The two strands of post-Trotsky Trotskyism coming out of the split in 1940 both had great difficulty coming to terms with the revival of capitalism, Shachtman and his friends no less than some of the “orthodox Trotskyists”. The idea that capitalism was on its deathbed shaped their view of Stalinism and its prospects up to its end.
How Trotsky would have responded to the survival and tremendous expansion of Stalinism is, on one level it is an unanswerable question. Trotsky’s response to the invasion of Poland had been startlingly unexpected to many of his comrades. However, if for the sake of argument we take it that Trotsky’s ideas in his last period — the last nine months, say, dating it from the innovation in The USSR in War, would have guided him, then he would have broken with the “degenerated workers’ state” theory some time in the war, as Stalin’s empire burgeoned and the looting and mass-raping “Red” Army advanced as far as central Europe.
Trotsky had said that it was a matter of seeing what happened in the war: if the bureaucracy survived, then the phenomenon of Stalinism would have to be reconceptualised. As it was, Trotsky died in August 1940, seventy years ago, and left a movement in a state of ideological and theoretical flux.
Those who shaped post-Trotsky “orthodox Trotskyism” — in the first place, James P Cannon — finally, after much wavering, opted for a variant of the “bureaucratic revolution” account of Stalinism. In 1952-3 Cannon would recoil from the pro-Stalinist implications some “orthodox Trotskyists” were drawing from what had been a common position of critical support for the Stalinist empire and for further Stalinist expansion (which was deemed to be the “World Revolution”, a “deformed World Revolution”, though they did not use the term).
Cannon and his comrades would in 1953 split the Fourth International they had re-established on a very narrow political basis at the end of World War Two, and recoil back towards the crossroads of 1939-40. They would never get there, stopping halfway.