A competing alternative society to capitalism, emerging from its margins, could only thrive and develop if capitalism were in irreversible decline and fated to be overtaken by a historic reversion to a more rudimentary system.
Within his framing ideas about broad historical development, and as aspects of them, Trotsky rejected the notion that Russia should be classified as a new class society for two linked reasons.
What existed in the USSR was a by-product, seized and transformed by the bureaucracy, of the 1917 revolution. That revolution, in turn, was a product of the world crisis of capitalism. It was not an episodic quirk like the seizure of the city of Münster in 1534-5 by communistic Anabaptists, or the Paris Commune of 1871, but a beginning of a world transformation for which the world was not merely ripe but becoming rotten-ripe.
In Marxist thought, the idea of state capitalism — the full realisation of the tendency of modern capitalist societies to concentrate more and more of industry and of the whole economy into gigantic monopolies — was accepted in theory but rejected as something that could happen in reality.
“Theoretically, to be sure, it is possible to conceive a situation in which the bourgeoisie as a whole constitutes itself a stock company which, by means of its state, administers the whole national economy... Such a regime never existed, however, and, because of profound contradictions among the proprietors themselves, never will exist — the more so since, in its quality of universal repository of capitalist property, the state would be too tempting an object for social revolution”.
No such concentration of the bourgeoisie into a single “stock company” had happened in Russia. In the Russian revolution, the working class had overpowered and destroyed the bourgeoisie as a class. Then the bureaucrats had politically — and therefore socially — expropriated the working class.
The existing nationalised economy of Russia was in that way rooted in the workers’ revolution. The bureaucracy that had expropriated the working class, from the heights of the state created by the working-class revolution, could not have arisen as a class able to overthrow the bourgeoisie. In that sense, the system remained rooted in the October revolution. It could not have existed without the working class first destroying the bourgeoisie. The state bureaucracy was a parasitic growth, a freak of history.
One aspect of this singularity or freakishness of the bureaucratic system was that it was unique in the world. In terms of the nationalised economy there was nothing like it.
Trotsky wrote: “State-ism, no matter where in Italy, Mussolini, in Germany, Hitler, in America, Roosevelt, or in France, Leon Blum — means state intervention on the basis of private property, and with the goal of preserving it... To expropriate the capitalists would require other forces, other cadres and other leaders... The first concentration of the means of production in the hands of the state to occur in history was achieved by the proletariat with the method of social revolution, and not by capitalists with the method of state trustification”.
Despite Stalin’s “Second Revolution” — forced collectivisation of agriculture and forced-march industrialisation — there was proof that the system was rooted in October, and could not have come about without the workers’ revolution. It was an epiphenomenon of the October revolution.
For reasons rooted in the most fundamental ideas of Marxism on the necessary shape of history, the system could not survive, consolidate itself, and compete with advanced capitalism — not unless that capitalism was in precipitate and terminal decline towards a “new barbarism”, not unless World War Two was, as Trotsky feared, one of a continuing series of world wars that would be “the grave of civilisation”.
Trotsky believed that for the Stalinist system to turn out to be a stable social regime, neither capitalist nor socialist but an alternative class society, capitalism would have to plunge down into history’s abyss, without producing socialism as the progressive answer to the contradictions that had convulsed caoitalism since the breakdown of the old world order in 1914. The working class created by capitalismand seen by Marxists as the bearer of an alternative, progressive, system would have to be shown to be bankrupt. Then “Nothing else would remain except only to recognize that the socialist program, based on the internal contradictions of capitalist society, ended in Utopia. It is self-evident that a new minimum program would be required — for the defence of the interests of the slaves of the totalitarian bureaucratic society”.