A Letter to Natalia Trotsky on the Theory of State Capitalism

The Marxists Internet Archive has made available the text of a 1947 letter from Raya Dunayevskaya to Natalia Sedova Trotsky, Russian revolutionary and widow of Leon Trotsky. Dunayevskaya served as Russian language secretary to Trotsky in 1937 and 1938 during the period of the Dewey Commission of Inquiry and became close to Natalia. The position of Russian language secretary was regarded as the single most important one in the Fourth International because of the priority Trotsky placed on communications from oppositionists and sympathizers inside the U.S.S.R. Dunayevskaya was present when the devastating news about the murder of Lev Sedov in Paris reached the Trotsky compound, an event she describes in her 1962 “Memorium: Natalia Sedova Trotsky: Role of Women in Revolution” (reproduced in Women’s Liberation and the Dialectics of Revolution).

Dunayevskaya maintained relations with Natalia Trotsky after she returned to the U.S. and broke with the orthodox Trotskyist position on defense of the Soviet Union. The two corresponded and Dunayevskaya traveled to Mexico City for in-person discussions on several occasions.

The subject of the 1947 letter is Dunayevskaya’s analysis of the Russian economy, published in several installments between 1942 and 1947 in New International, the theoretical journal of the Workers Party. Dunayevskaya defends her thesis against criticisms Natalia Sedova Trotsky expressed in a letter to Sara Weber, an American SWP member who also served as secretary in Coyoacan. She also attacks the official WP theory of bureaucratic collectivism (the Johnson-Forest Tendency was to leave the WP later that year).

Dunayevskaya’s letter—written in January—contains some concise formulations of her theory, including this paragraph:

My contention was that it was not these two phenomena [“inequality and bureaucratic willfulness”] that brought about state capitalism. But that this inequality of distribution was merely the reflection and the natural result of the existing production relations and subordination to the law of value, which is a law of the world market. That, furthermore, it would have been impossible for a Marxist of Trotsky’s stature to have left us so false a position of Russia as degenerated workers statism had he based himself on what economic laws and production relations were characteristic of Russia. Instead, despite parenthetical (parenthetical not in the sense that they were merely incidental but in the sense that they were not the basis of his position) remarks as to the capitalist elements that pervaded the Russian economy, he in actuality remained on the superstructural level of property forms and historical origin of Soviet Russia. It was this which made him dismiss the concept that Russia might be state capitalist, although, theoretically, he maintained that such a development was conceivable. It is this position of workers statism which is keeping the Fourth International so hemmed in the present indefensible position of defensism.

She also identifies the period that the definitive transition to state-capitalism occurred: 1935-1937.

Although Natalia Trotsky at this point was still committed to the orthodox workers state position, she soon moved away from it. She collaborated with Grandizo Munis and the Surrealist Benjamin Péret on criticisms of the Fourth International’s position (both lived in Mexico City at the time). In 1951, she broke openly with the SWP in a sharply-worded statement. She wrote, “Obsessed by old and outlived formulas, you continue to regard the Stalinist state as a workers state. I cannot and will not follow you in this.”

Natalia Trotsky became ill during a trip to Paris and passed away in 1962. Shortly before her death she granted a French newspaper an interview, the resulting in an account in which the reporter took liberties with her words, making it sound as if she believed that Mao was a legitimate successor to Trotsky. She quickly delivered a written rebuttal to the published interview, which appeared in the pages of the paper. Along with making it clear that Mao was the direct heir of Stalin, not Trotsky, her rebuttal closed with these unequivocal words,

“Any de-Stalinization will turn out to be a confidence trick if it does not lead to the seizure of power by the proletariat and the dissolution of the police, political, military and economic institutions, the basis of the counter-revolution, which established the Stalinist state capitalist regime.”

• • •

The Marxists Internet Archive contains several texts by Natalia Sedova Trotsky, including her 1951 resignation from the Fourth International and her rebuttal to the France-Soir article.

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One thought on “A Letter to Natalia Trotsky on the Theory of State Capitalism

  1. Pingback: A Letter to Natalia Trotsky on the Theory of State Capitalism | Work of the Negative: A Marxist-Humanist blog

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