Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

At the Source of Eastern Europe’s Bureaucratic Governments : the Degeneration of the Soviet Union

On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution, Left Voice in collaboration with Révolution Permanente, will publish a series of articles on the different aspects of one of the most heroic struggles of the working class in the 20th century.

Philippe Alcoy

December 5, 2016
Facebook Twitter Share

The nature of the Hungarian Stalinist regime is obviously closely linked to that of Stalinism in the Soviet Union. The main Stalinist leaders in Hungary were directly attached to the bureaucratic apparatus that ruled the Soviet Union. The brutality of Hungary’s police regime was very similar to that which existed in the Soviet Union since the mid-1920s. There was, however, an important difference. Although the bureaucracy benefited from a relative legitimacy among the masses in the Soviet Union, the Stalinist leaders in power in Hungary had almost no legitimacy among the workers and peasants. During the war, like so many other Stalinist leaders in Europe (the French Communist Party’s Maurice Thorez for example), they fled to the Soviet Union to live there. Unlike the Communist Party’s rank and file, they did not fight against the occupier. They only returned to Hungary once the country was liberated from Nazi occupation. Their main mission was to represent the Soviet bureaucracy’s interests locally. As such, their subordination to Moscow was absolute.

But Moscow’s policies were the political expression of a completely bureaucratized ruling minority. This bureaucracy was the very result of the bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet Union. The economic, cultural and social backwardness of Czarist Russia compared with the West, further aggravated by the WWI and years of civil war in the early 1920s, along with the isolation of the new workers’ state after the failure of revolutions in Europe, were the main causes of this degeneration.

Although the social bases of the workers’ state, notably the nationalization of the means of production, were maintained, a bureaucracy politically expropriated the country’s workers and peasants. The state apparatus controlled by Stalin and this bureaucratic caste became a tool to repress and oppress the working class: the soviets were dissolved, the trade unions were emptied of their contents and, in total service of the bureaucracy, confined to the role of disciplining the working class. The Stalinist police dictatorship progressively eliminated, with the most barbaric methods, all revolutionary opposition, including Leon Trotsky who was assassinated by a Stalinist agent in Mexico. However, this totalitarian construction was not unfailing. The internal and external contradictions became stronger and pushed the bureaucracy to oftentimes waver abruptly from right to left. The situation was thus far from stable.

At the end of WWII, the Red Army’s role in defeating Nazi Germany gave, although only momentarily, Stalinism a great prestige among the masses on a global scale. Its militarily achievements allowed it to establish in Central and Eastern Europe a series of so-called “socialist” regimes, fashioned in the very image of Stalinism in the Soviet Union. In other words, these regimes were bureaucratically deformed workers’ states from the very start.

In 1937, in his “The USSR in War”, Trotsky, predicting a scenario of this kind, wrote that “in the territories scheduled to become a part of the USSR, the Moscow government will carry through the expropriation of the large landowners and statification of the means of production. This variant is most probable not because the bureaucracy remains true to the socialist program but because it is neither desirous nor capable of sharing the power, and the privileges the latter entails, with the old ruling classes […] Inasmuch as Stalin’s Bonapartist dictatorship bases itself not on private but on state property, the invasion of Poland by the Red Army should, in the nature of the case, result in the abolition of private capitalist property, so as thus to bring the regime of the occupied territories into accord with the regime of the USSR.”

These regimes inherited all the economic, political and social contradictions of the Soviet Union, but with weaker and less consolidated state apparatuses. The risks of revolt and revolution were thus potentially stronger. As such, one could have possibly expected that revolutionary movements capable of overthrowing the Stalinist bureaucracy and regenerating the deformed workers’ state could come from the countries of the “Eastern Bloc.” The Hungarian Revolution was probably the most convincing piece of proof for this.

Facebook Twitter Share

Philippe Alcoy

Philippe is an editor of Révolution Permanente, our sister site in France.



Protesters march alongside a huge banner that reads Insurgiamos

The ‘Insorgiamo!’ Movement in Italy: Take Back a Factory, Organize a City, Fight for Everything

On Sunday, May 15, a national public assembly organized by the “Insorgiamo!” — “We are Rising up!” — movement will be held in Florence, Italy. The movement began with the struggle against a factory closure and the workers’ efforts to reopen it, and from there has taken up other social demands.

A New Phase of the War in Ukraine

Russia’s war in Ukraine has entered its third month. Putin’s failure to win a quick victory, while NATO-armed Ukraine resists but cannot defeat the Russian invasion, has led to a stalemate — one that is deepening the international character of the conflict and thus the risk of escalation.

Claudia Cinatti

May 2, 2022
French President Emmanuel Macron raises his fist in front of a crowd of supporters waving French flags.

Macron, the ‘President of the Rich,’ Reelected in France Amid Record Abstention

Emmanuel Macron has won a second term as president of France in an election marked by record abstention. As he prepares to continue his war against French social gains, the Far Right is consolidating its base in opposition to the failures of Macronism. Building a bloc of resistance is now more urgent than ever.

Damien Bernard

April 25, 2022

Thousands Take to the Streets in France against the Far Right, Many Reject Both Le Pen and Macron

More than 10,000 people demonstrated in Paris on April 16 against the Far Right. Students blamed the government for the Right’s rise, rejected a lesser-evil vote for Macron against Le Pen in the second round of voting on April 24, and called for preparing a “third social round” to protect the gains of the French people.

Mahdi Ali

April 20, 2022


The Kids Are Alright: Meet the 17 Year Olds That Want to Unionize Starbucks

They haven't finished high school yet, but they are already fighting to organize the first union at Starbucks in the San Francisco Bay Area. Driven by the unionization wave sweeping the country, two 17-year-olds are organizing with their coworkers through a chat called "Union Babes" and fighting the company's union-busting campaigns.

Police office crouches behind a riot shield which reads "Shelby Township Police"

BLM Leader In Court to Challenge Racist and Retaliatory Charges

A Detroit leader of the Black Lives Matter movement is set to appear in court to challenge racist and retaliatory felony charges for marching to demand the firing of a Chief of Police who called BLM protestors “subhuman” and said they belonged in “body bags”.

Somali troops stand in formation during a graduation ceremony after being trained by U.S. forces in Mogadishu on Aug. 17, 2018.

Biden Is Expanding U.S. Military Intervention in Somalia

President Biden recently approved an order to send hundreds of troops to Somalia. This move serves the interests of U.S. imperialism by taking advantage of the very political instability it helped create.

Sam Carliner

May 20, 2022
Semi-empty store shelf with a few cans of baby formula.

The Baby Formula Shortage Is a Capitalist Crisis of Social Reproduction

The baby formula shortage is a consequence of capitalism and a crisis of social reproduction. Formula should not be commodified and sold — it should be free and a basic right for all parents.