Trotsky’s Three Questions
Leon Trotsky’s last major political struggle was against a revisionist faction in the Socialist Workers Party (SWP—the American flagship section of the then recently founded Fourth International) which proclaimed that the Soviet workers’ state had been destroyed and a new exploiting class had arisen. The chief advocate of this “new class” theory was James Burnham. In criticising this “petty-bourgeois opposition,” Trotsky observed:
“If Burnham were a dialectical materialist, he would have probed the following three questions: (1) What is the historical origin of the USSR? (2) What changes has this state suffered during its existence? (3) Did these changes pass from the quantitative stage to the qualitative? That is, did they create a historically necessary domination by a new exploiting class? Answering these questions would have forced Burnham to draw the only possible conclusion—the USSR is still a degenerated workers’ state.”
—Leon Trotsky, A Petty-Bourgeois Opposition in the Socialist Workers Party, December 1939
Answering these same questions is similarly useful in determining the class character of China today:
- The Chinese deformed workers’ state was created by the 1949 social revolution led by the Communist Party which resulted in the expropriation of both foreign and domestic capital and the creation of an economy based on collectivised property;
- The social order established in 1949, characterised by the political monopoly of the CCP and centralised control of the national economy, remains essentially intact despite the existence of a substantial private sector geared to production for the world market;
- While the introduction of market mechanisms and the opening to international capital represented a significant shift by the CCP, they fall well short of a qualitative change; the core of the Chinese economy remains state property and an effective monopoly of foreign trade has been maintained. Rather than an expression of the “historically necessary domination by a new exploiting class,” the CCP today, like the CPSU of the 1930s, remains a bureaucratic caste, not a new social class.
Trotsky rightly ridiculed “new class” theorists like Bruno Rizzi and James Burnham for their “disdainful attitude toward theory and…inclination toward eclecticism,” their lack of “anxiety for objective truth” and their “readiness to jump from one position to another.” The capricious characterisation of China’s supposed transformation from a deformed workers’ state into “capitalism pure and simple” by the SEP, IMT and various other ostensibly Marxist tendencies today exhibit these same unfortunate traits.
See our accompanying in-depth article on the Chinese deformed workers’ state – The Myth of Capitalist China