Lessons from the Past: Markets, Plans, Bureaucracy

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 1856 ... July 3, 2019

Lessons from the Past: Markets, Plans, Bureaucracy

Between May 6 and 8, 2019, an International Colloquium dedicated to Leon Trotsky was held in Havana, with a range of international writers and activists presenting and debating Trotsky, the trajectory of 20th century socialist experiences, and international solidarity. Eric Toussaint is spokesperson for the CADTM (Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt), contributor to the World Social Forum, a member of the Fourth International and prolific author. He was interviewed during the conference by Wilder Pérez Varona, deputy director of the Institute of Philosophy of La Havana, Cuba.

Wilder Pérez Varona (WPV): My first question to you is about the issue of bureaucracy. Before 1917, the issue of the socialist transition is one thing. The Revolutions of 1848, the Paris Commune (which is a crucial episode, but of a momentary nature in 1871) were always limited to matters of theory, principles, projections (we know that Marx and Engels were reluctant to be very detailed about these projections). The Revolution of 1917 placed this problem of transition in another way,... on to a different level; a level that involved essentially practical elements. One of them involved the issue of bureaucracy, which gradually appeared throughout the 1920s.

On the issue of bureaucracy as it was being developed in those circumstances, how do you define the function of bureaucracy by according it an autonomous role of such a relevant actor at the level of the class triad: the working class, the peasantry, and the bourgeoisie? Why this important place? I would also like you to say something on the distinctness of ‘class’. You are cautious to talk about the bureaucracy as a class; however, other authors do.

Eric Toussaint (ET): Well, it is clear that the Russian experience and then that of the Soviet Union is, I would say, almost the second experience of attempting to take power to begin a transition to break away from capitalism. The first experience, the Paris Commune, lasted three months in 1871, was as such limited to the boundaries of Paris, isolated from French territory and attacked. So, it is clear that revolutionaries like Lenin, Trotsky, and other leaders of the Bolshevik Party had no other experiences as a point of reference and conceived the problem of transition, as I mentioned in my presentation, in a triangular manner, that is, the need for an alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry to defeat the bourgeoisie and imperialism, and to resist imperialist aggression after the seizure of power.

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