In its last chapter, the balance sheet of the 1917 revolution examines the development of the Russian economy from the New Economic Policy of the early 1920s, through Stalin’s struggles against the Marxist left and Marxist right of the Bolshevik Party, up to the late 1960s.
Our party theses on the Soviet economy have an importance that goes far beyond their purpose; they are indeed an integral part of the defence of the communist programme, which some believe has been proved to be utopianism by the “Russian experiment”, and which others have totally falsified in three ways: first by claiming that the tasks carried out by the proletarian party in Russia in 1917, as formulated by the Bolsheviks, were socialist tasks; second, by claiming that the “achievements” of the Stalin era were in perfect continuity with the goals of the initial programme; and third, by passing off these “achievements” as the “construction of socialism” itself; thus, as a new global mode of production destined to succeed capitalism after a revolution and the establishment of a class dictatorship, successively winning over all the countries and continents of the world, that it is in the conception of Marx and Lenin, that socialism would become the business of national states animated by a single party, but speaking a democratic and populist language and living in peaceful coexistence with the white guard of bourgeois order, the super-imperialism of the USA. Conscious or unconscious, interested or blind, these distortions all have only one effect: not to destroy the faith of the proletariat in socialism, since it was seriously shaken by the Stalinist counter-revolution, but to paralyse the class’s recovery, that is to say the reorganization, based on an authentic communist programme, of the proletarian forces which the already overt bourgeois crisis pushes to struggle and revolt after so many years of apathy – in short to obstruct the reconstitution of the proletarian international on the ruins of the old communist movement, stranded in shame and denial. If this is true for the Western proletariat, what can we say about the proletariat of Germany and Central Europe, which witnessed Stalinist “socialism” directly before their eyes and felt it in their flesh? They can hardly escape all the bourgeois and democratic insinuations of the “destalinizers” [note: this refers to the leaders of the USSR who followed Stalin] and all the less so if their theses are even further from the socialist theses than those of the old “despot”; they are also the product of the purely bourgeois economic progress that has been accomplished under his stick. It is this bourgeois progress to which the oppressed masses cannot be insensitive and it is this alone that allows Stalin’s heirs to adorn themselves with the prestige of a superior wisdom as they sink deeper than ever into the swamp of bourgeois ideology.
In radical opposition to all these distortions, the class party’s theses on the Russian question are briefly as follows:
1) The initial Bolshevik economic programme and some of the political formulations corresponding to it (Soviet democracy) are neither the programme nor the formulations of the transformation of a developed capitalist economy into a socialist economy, since in Russia there existed only the nuclei of a such a capitalist economy, drowned in the sea of small-scale agricultural production; in no way could they be transported as such, that is to say detached from the Russian and world context of 1917-26, into the immediate programme of the future socialist revolution in Europe and America. We could not be so positive that the dynamics of the social struggle could push a proletarian party of the Bolshevik type to the fore in Africa and Asia; but this is based precisely on an assumption that the absence of proletarian revolutionary traditions, even remotely comparable to those from which Bolshevism emerged in the framework of pre-1914 Europe and the Second International, makes this highly improbable, if not absurd, especially if we add to it the crystallization of a purely bourgeois anti-imperialist current, and the transition on the part of imperialism itself (except [in 1967] for China and Vietnam) from the policy of economic blockade to one of capital export.
2) This initial Bolshevik economic programme is also not the programme of transition from pre-bourgeois Russia to full capitalism. If Lenin and the Bolsheviks never believed it possible to “skip” the capitalist phase entirely, if they even radically excluded the possibility of shortening it without the help of the World Revolution, they also never accepted the idea of becoming the managers of a national capitalism pure and simple, even if this was as “progressive” as anyone would like in the strictly Russian framework: on the contrary, they predicted the fall of the dictatorship of the proletariat if this revolution were to fail. In reality, their programme was a set of measures intended for two contradictory ends: on the one hand to revive economic life within the frameworks imposed by the past; then, pending the revolution, to implant capitalist progress (increase in the productivity of labour and production through the mechanization of agriculture and the nationalization of industry) in a still barbaric country; on the other hand, to combat the political and social effects of such resuscitation and such progress, namely the opportunist corruption of the party, social differentiation, and the oppression of the working class. It was only when this struggle to control renascent capitalism in the class interest of the proletariat would stop that the theory of socialism in one country would appear at the same time and with it... uncontrolled capitalism.
3) Already under the NEP and during Lenin’s lifetime, real economic development no longer responded to the Leninist programme of “controlled capitalism”, because it was accompanied by phenomena that the Marxist wing of the party vainly tried to combat, and which, under the appearances of bureaucratization (to use Lenin and Trotsky’s term as they refer to them) reflect, on the contrary, the victory of mercantile and bourgeois anarchy over revolutionary will. The first manifestation of the new opportunism in Russia consisted in denying these phenomena, in idealizing the NEP, in rejecting any attempt to combat them as a threat directed against the democratic alliance of workers and peasants. The second – much more serious – consisted in claiming that, even without the technical bases of advanced capitalism, it was possible to curb the anarchy resulting from the predominance of petty commodity production by the sole virtue of the sovereign authority of the State and proceed with what Trotsky, with cruel but justifiable irony, would call the “administrative liquidation of the NEP”. Here, the nationalist deviation is accompanied by a voluntarist deviation. In the domestic sphere, the opposition of “socialism in one country” to the initial Bolshevik programme is twofold: it blessed as “socialist” all those categories (value, price, wages, capital) and relationships (exchange, factory despotism, State oppression, swelling of the administrative apparatus) which Lenin and the true Bolsheviks had never defined as anything other than capitalist; it abandoned all preoccupations with class defence of the proletariat against the effects of “necessary capitalism”, going so far as to re-establish, in the name of socialism, the forms of exploitation of labour proper to the ferocious opening period of the bourgeois era. In the international field, this was accompanied by “capitulation to world capitalism, conciliation with social-democratic opportunism and the crushing of the proletarian current in the International”.
In conclusion, Stalin’s uncontrolled capitalism in socialist disguise emerged from Lenin’s “controlled capitalism”, this resulted on the one hand from economic laws stronger than the will of the best revolutionary party and on the other from the failure of the European and global proletariat, which did not respond to the genuinely communist call for the double revolution in Russia. It was therefore an irreversible process; it was impossible to start from the beginning again to correct the historic course from October in a direction that would be more favourable to us: this is what condemns the programme of the “anti-bureaucratic revolution”, politics born purely out of Trotsky’s nostalgia for the first glorious years of the Bolshevik Revolution. The paths of history are not crossed twice. Besides, the painful road travelled will not have been just a useless torment: today, after fifty-one years of Russian and world capitalist development, one can calmly affirm that finally having got rid of all “transitional tasks”, the future International will be able to tackle its great task directly, the only one that has ever mattered to the proletariat and its party: the socialist transformation of the vile bourgeois world.
Initial Bolshevik programme and socialism
Contained in the programmatic article: The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat It (September 1917), this programme is both inferior to the social programme of an advanced bourgeois republic and extremely daring for the Russia of the time. It simply advocates State intervention in economic life to avoid the crisis, to which the political inertia resulting from the February revolution was inevitably leading, a crisis that would obviously weigh cruelly on the proletariat and the poor peasants. This “intervention” was limited to a merger of the banks into a single bank under State control, giving visibility into the movement of capital “without removing a single kopeck from any depositor”; a nationalization of the capitalist syndicates controlling production and consumption in certain sectors, a measure which would make it easier for the State to regulate industrialists without expropriating them either of their capital or their profits; the abolition of commercial secrecy, without which State control over the flight of profits and surplus profits was impossible; forced cartelization, that is, the obligation for private employers to unionize; the regulation of consumption, in other words, the fight against the “black market”, which favoured the rich; finally, against financial bankruptcy, a highly progressive tax on capital.
Of all these measures, Lenin said three essential things: they were not in the least socialist in character, since belligerent states had taken similar measures in less backward countries than Russia; they would never be taken by the Socialist Revolutionaries and the Mensheviks in spite of their intrinsic modesty and it would require nothing less than the proletarian revolution, supported by the peasants, to apply them; if in the advanced countries the transition (which had taken place since the start of the war) from private capitalism to monopoly capitalism and from the latter to State monopoly capitalism opened the economic anti-chamber of socialism to the proletarian revolution, in Russia, where much more backward forms predominated, they could only take steps in this direction: “But socialism is now gazing at us from all the windows of modern capitalism; socialism is outlined directly, practically, by every important measure that constitutes a forward step on the basis of this modern capitalism”. To understand this position, two things are necessary: first, understanding that for Lenin, this appreciation is tied to the prospect of a victory for the proletarian revolution, at least in Europe; second, knowing what socialism is in real Marxist doctrine and not the current bogus versions. This is what we will define briefly to avoid any ambiguity, before starting the next part.
Socialism can be characterized as a new and original mode of distribution of products among members of society, resulting from an equally new and original distribution of the conditions of production. This distribution is characterized by the disappearance of the exchange of equivalents (or the law of value) and its replacement by an allocation, first of all contingent, then unlimited, of the social product to all members of society, based exclusively on the social productivity of labour. The role of the proletarian dictatorship, at all stages of development, is precisely to break down the barriers opposing the new distribution of the conditions of production, without which the new mode of distribution cannot appear, and to introduce it, sector by sector, as soon as the conditions exist. But the programme of this dictatorship necessarily changes, depending on whether the obstacle is constituted, as in Russia, by the existence of an enormous sector of small-scale market production, or on the contrary, as was the case in the West, by the domination of a powerful capitalist class imposing economic and social objectives on all of society that are in contradiction with the development of its productive forces and the class interests of the proletariat.
In small-scale market production, the distribution of products according to the principle of the exchange of equivalents results from the private character of the work: because they do not produce all the use values necessary for existence, independent producers can only obtain them from other independent producers; but, without a measurement of the working time contained in their product and a comparison with that which is contained in the product of others, in each of these acts they would risk being robbed of a greater or lesser part of their effort, if by chance the products they sell required more work than the ones they receive. Such conditions of production rigorously impose the form of commodities on products and therefore their exchange; it is thus impossible to graft on them a different and higher mode of distribution. In capitalist production, where labour is already collective and social production is social, the obstacle lies less in private ownership of the means of production and in the independence of enterprises that has been inherited from simple small-scale market production than in the class objectives that it pursues. Here, the exchange of products results essentially from the reduction of the labour force itself to the state of a commodity and its exchange for wages (whereas when capitalism first emerged, it was the exchange of labour power which, on the contrary, necessarily resulted from the exchange of products). It is indeed this act that makes it possible to define capitalist objectives as the pursuit of surplus value, the use of labour power to provide more value to the capitalist than the worker receives in payment for this commodity, the only commodity that the worker takes to the market.
In this second case, the destruction of the bourgeois State, the legal abolition of the property of companies and trusts and their taking into possession by the proletarian State are the sufficient conditions for a reorganization which tends to coordinate all previously disparate and competing economic units into one harmonious whole. The reason is that production is already social in nature; the economy has already undergone concentration. Above all, the productivity of labour is at such a level as to render useless the odious limitation of the share of social product returning to producers, which is imposed by the bourgeois practice of considering labour power to be a commodity that can only be sold at “its fair price” (and more often below rather than above this price). These developments also render useless the excessive length of the working day, the prison-like regime of factories, in short, all the flaws resulting from the exigencies of the production of value and surplus value which turn wage labour into a new form of slavery. In the first case, on the contrary, neither political dictatorship nor legal measures can overcome the disadvantages resulting from the scattering of the means of production, rudimentary technology, low labour productivity and therefore the meagre surplus likely to return to society once the requirements of the direct producer are met. Then the “obstacle” becomes a mountain. A whole phase of mechanization, rationalization, technical progress and concentration becomes necessary, a whole phase of bourgeois progress that goes into reverse, even at the very core of the country’s economic activity, the moment that the capitalist dynamic ceases to drive profit and a quantitative increase in production and ceases to subordinate the immediate interests of the working class to this goal. So the principle of the exchange of products and of labour power itself still has a long future ahead of it and the pretension to be able to abolish it quickly is only a voluntarist utopia. And yet, without this abolition, no emancipation of the proletariat is possible.
The economic measures taken after the insurrection
The measures taken by the Soviet government1 equally constitute stages in the realization of the programme formulated before the insurrection: not the expropriation of the capitalists, but the organization of State capitalism under the Soviet regime and in support of workers’ control. This control, to which Lenin attached the greatest importance, was designed to prevent any sabotage by employers in industries of national importance. Owners and workers’ delegates were responsible to the Soviet State for order and discipline in production. But the control commissions had no responsibilities for the management of companies, nor the right to give orders, nor the right to deal with financial matters. The main concern was to ensure the best possible functioning of a severely shaken economy by leaving companies in the hands of those who had management and business experience and by submitting them to the supervision of workers, but without giving up centralization and unity, the bêtes noires of “self-managed socialism”. This is what gives real meaning to the more distant prospect of “workers’ control of production”; in any case, it would not have been able to obey autonomist principles! The anarcho-syndicalists therefore have no more right to attach themselves to the “early Lenin” than the partisans of “socialism in one country”.
In the agrarian domain, the measures taken were the abolition of private ownership of the soil and the nationalization of all land: these are not socialist measures nor even State capitalist insofar as their scope is purely legal and not economic; in fact, the land confiscated without compensation was handed over to the local municipalities, which were left to share it according to the principle of “equal possession”. A petty-bourgeois utopia of the Socialist Revolutionaries, egalitarian possession of the land could only immobilize Russian agriculture in its ancient backwardness and, leaving to the small peasant the integral product of his work (from which the nobleman, the religious order and the State previously took the greater part), expose proletarian towns and cities to starvation. The Bolsheviks could not but hope for the formation of larger units than family plots and the introduction of associated labour and mechanization; but neither could they not make a compromise with the Socialist Revolutionaries’ demands, which were those of the enormous peasant masses, and which alone could pull them behind the proletariat. There was nothing “opportunistic” about such a compromise, however, since Bolshevism in so doing did not in the least renounce any more advanced measures that were immediately achievable, and still less did it renounce the use of purely legal nationalization to promote the gradual introduction of large-scale modern agriculture.
The “State capitalism under the workers’ and peasants’ Soviets” established by these first measures was soon to collapse under the pressure of its internal contradictions, the worsening of the economic situation and finally the civil war, which ended it definitively. On the one hand, business owners resisted workers’ control, sabotaged production, or took flight. On the other hand, the workers, strong in the political power that they held, expropriated more than they could manage, in spite of the Bolsheviks’ counsels of moderation. Thus the communist power was forced to move, even before the outbreak of the civil war, to a transformation of all joint stock companies into State property. It was not yet a general nationalization of the whole economy, but it was nevertheless more than had been planned and justified only as an “extraordinary measure”. The balance upset by the unleashing of the class struggle would soon be shaken even more deeply by the civil war and foreign intervention, which put an end to the transitional regime and opened the phase of “war communism”.
“Military communism was, in essence, the systematic regimentation of consumption in a besieged fortress”, wrote Trotsky in The Revolution Betrayed. It was indeed a question of making the best use of the scarce existing resources, of saving the proletarian towns and cities from starvation, and of supporting the war industry to ensure the victory of the proletariat in the civil war. These aims could only be achieved by strengthening the dictatorship of the proletariat in the framework of the democratic alliance with the peasantry. So long as the civil war lasted, this alliance would nevertheless persist, the peasantry supporting the “Commune” out of hatred and fear of restoration.
Trade was prohibited; the State directly appropriated production, and distributed products directly. Foodstuffs that were sorely lacking were requisitioned in the countryside by detachments of armed workers who gave “nothing in exchange except varicoloured pieces of paper, named, according to ancient memory, money”. We are dealing here with a kind of “socialism of distribution”, which had a clear revolutionary efficiency, but had nothing to do with the first phase of socialism, the technological and economic base being completely missing. It is true that in the field of production, war communism was characterized by the complete expropriation of big industry and of a large part of small and medium-sized industrial enterprises, with the substitution of workers’ management by workers’ control, and with the heroic attempt to reorganize entire branches of industrial production by direct coordination, rather than by exchange, but none of this could compensate for the extreme shortage of reserves, the dilapidation of the productive apparatus and the lack of management experience. Trotsky testifies that, “The Soviet government hoped and strove to develop these methods of regimentation directly into a system of planned economy in distribution as well as production” and he recalled that the programme of 1919 stated: “In the sphere of distribution the present task of the Soviet Government is unwaveringly to continue on a planned, organized and State-wide scale to replace trade by the distribution of products”. How can we explain such a contradiction with the previous programme, and above all a theoretical error that emerges from all that we said above? Trotsky replies: “The theoretical mistake of the ruling party remains inexplicable, however, only if you leave out of account the fact that all calculations at that time were based on the hope of an early victory of the revolution in the West”. Such an honest mistake by the Bolshevik internationalists is far more respectable than that of the renegades who not only later ceased to hope for the international revolution, but who torpedoed it and who had the impudence to assert that socialism is compatible with exchange, trade and the market!
The “New Economic Policy” (spring 1921‑1928)
If, in the short period before the civil war, Lenin and the Bolsheviks considered that in backward Russia all the economic tasks of the proletarian party were limited to “warding off the imminent catastrophe” threatening the poor classes of society, in 1921, after more than three years of fierce struggle, the whole “novelty” consisted in acknowledging that the catastrophe had already occurred and that it was necessary to escape from it at all costs. What was called the New Economic Policy was therefore only a return of the Bolsheviks to the modest – but exceedingly difficult – initial programme under the new conditions created by the intensification of the class struggle up to the civil war. These conditions were the total ruin of productive forces, both industrial and agricultural, the decrease and dispersion of the small nucleus of the urban proletariat, which had carried the burden of all the weight of the revolution, and the deterioration of the relations between Bolshevik power (the proletarian “Commune”) and the vast peasantry. Under such conditions, to claim that once the civil war had been won, the economic task was to “eradicate capitalism” from Russia was no longer simply an ultra-leftist error, but pure nonsense. You cannot “eradicate” what does not exist. A “capitalism” whose production fell by 69% – the most spectacular fall in history – is no longer “capitalism”2 . A “capitalism” that provides only one kilo of pig iron – a key product for industry – per person (3% of the pre-war figure, less than was needed just for the annual production of nails, nibs and needles) is no longer “capitalism”. At this level, the quantitative fall is equivalent to a qualitative regression to a pre-bourgeois level of the economy. At this level, the crucial question of knowing who has control of the means of production, and who sets them to work, no longer even arises: when companies no longer have usable machines, or the supply of fuels and raw materials, or workers, or managers, whoever controls them – even the most revolutionary power – disposes of no material reality, there is nothing over which they can exercise any right. The only question which then arises is to mobilize the few remaining productive forces, to coordinate and associate them by any means (administrative constraint as well as the call for revolutionary enthusiasm, material profit as well as free communist work) in order to revive production, the basis of all life in society. But at the time it mattered little who was the agent of this resuscitation, provided that it took place: foreign capitalism, if it accepted offers of concessions, Russian capitalists if there were any left, communists if they were capable of it and if the defection of the former forced them to do so. It mattered little what forms the new life would take, provided death could be avoided; when we fight to emerge from total ruin, there is no question of realizing at the same time a superior model of economy and society: as distant as it is from socialism, even under the political regime of the dictatorship of the proletariat, State capitalism would already be a tremendous success, an enviable success for communists who came to power in a country dominated by a peasant petty bourgeoisie, were fought against by the world bourgeoisie and were deprived of the aid of the international proletariat for an indefinite period. This is the general meaning of Lenin’s violent attacks in the Congress that adopted the NEP against those who, in the name of the “purity of communism” did not want to renounce the methods of war communism3 .
On the general economic level, it is certain that the whole question boiled down to developing the productive forces, even in capitalist forms, under the control of the proletariat, and Lenin rightly pointed out that the NEP, far from being anything new, fell perfectly within the framework of the theory of “State capitalism”, which he had always supported. But Lenin also knew very well that the economic question being posed within the framework of a society that was still divided into classes could only be resolved by a class struggle. However, this same NEP assigned such narrow limits to this struggle by setting as its main objective the restoration of the alliance of the two fundamental classes of Soviet society – the proletariat and the peasantry – that Lenin also qualified it (and rightly so) as a retreat of the proletariat and its party. We must now show that there was no inconsistency in making these two apparently contradictory statements, or rather that the contradiction was not in Lenin’s head, but in the terrible situation in which the delay in the world revolution had placed the Russian proletariat and the Communist Party of Russia.
Asking the questions that result from the end of the civil war and the persistent isolation of the revolution no longer in general economic terms, but in class terms, what does Lenin say? “War communism... Was not a policy corresponding to the economic tasks of the proletariat. It could not be so. It was a temporary measure. The correct policy of the proletariat, which carries out its dictatorship in a country of the small peasantry, rests on the exchange of cereals for the industrial products that the peasant needs. It is no other than a food policy corresponding to the tasks of the proletariat, it is only this that is capable of strengthening the foundations of socialism and bringing about its total victory”4 . The definition is crucial and deserves attention.
During war communism, there was no “exchange” between industry and agriculture, but the forcible removal from the peasants of the minimum amount of food necessary to save the cities from starvation and for the Red Army to fight. The peasants had tolerated these requisitions for better or for worse out of fear of a restoration, but they had also reacted economically, and the result had been a fall in cereal production from an average of 770 million quintals to an average of 494 million! Continuing this coercion, even after the military victory over the Whites, could only aggravate the fall in agricultural production and would, moreover, risk peasant insurrections that could bring down the Bolshevik power. This is the precise and limited meaning of Lenin’s definition: “The policy... which carries out the dictatorship of the proletariat in a country of the small peasantry, rests on the exchange of cereals for the industrial products that the peasant needs”. Does this mean that this exchange automatically ensures political supremacy and economic advantage for the proletariat? Does this mean that, on condition of giving the peasants the possibility of trading in their products and offering them the manufactured articles they need, on the market at suitable prices, the proletariat was assured not only of not being driven out of power, but of making its own internal and international class policy triumph? This is the question. It is certain that the Russian peasantry was hostile to the Communist International and to the links of Soviet power with this “foreign” organization: the only possible exception being the poorest peasants (the distribution of land having in no way abolished social differences in the countryside), but in 1921 and even much later, the Party recognized that it lacked direct supporters in the countryside and even quite simply a communist newspaper readable by the peasants. However, the peasant, being pragmatic in outlook and therefore showing little inclination to reason in terms of principles, meant that this circumstance should not be an obstacle to the maintenance of the proletarian dictatorship, provided that it did not manifest itself economically. However, having had to accept its defeat in the field during the Russian civil war, the international bourgeoisie subjected Bolshevik Russia to a terrible economic blockade, which obviously had repercussions on the peasantry. To be able simply to supply the peasantry with manufactured goods on conditions as advantageous as the Russian bourgeoisie did before the war, or would have done if it had kept power and at the same time maintained Russia’s ties with the world market, the proletariat already had to make an enormous productive effort; but in order to supply it, moreover, with all the means of production necessary for the passage from the miserable fragmented agriculture then predominant to collective large-scale agriculture, it had to forego even a very slight improvement in its living and working conditions for a very long time. The exchange of industrial products for agricultural products was indeed a necessary condition for the maintenance of Bolshevik power and, if you like, “the policy achieving the dictatorship of the proletariat”, insofar as it proved that the proletariat was capable of taking charge of the general interests of society and not simply defending corporative interests, as some workers would have liked. But it was also the dagger that Russia’s enormous petty bourgeoisie held to the throat of the proletariat, the overwhelming weight that forced the proletariat to pull small-scale commodity production, with its derisory yield, behind it; the merciless constraint that the attachment of the rural petty bourgeoisie to small property and plot management inflicted upon it. In short, partnership with the peasantry, far from expressing the democratic equality of the two classes, contrary to what the renegades would later assert, let alone providing a solid foundation for the political supremacy of the proletariat, meant that the latter was the class condemned to pay all the costs of the revolution, leaving its dictatorship with a fragile and compromised foundation.
Lenin had faith in the Communist Party of Russia and in the international revolution which, sooner or later, would come to the aid of the Russian proletariat. But he was well aware of the unequal balance of power, he who denounced “the error of those who do not see that the main enemy of socialism in our country is the petty-bourgeois character of the economy and the petty-bourgeois element”, which defined the struggle as follows: “It is not State capitalism that is at war with socialism, but the petty bourgeoisie plus private capitalism fighting together against State capitalism and socialism. The petty bourgeoisie oppose every kind of State interference, accounting and control, whether it be State-capitalist or State-socialist”; finally, it was he who concluded, in the exact opposite of current opportunism, all oriented towards the middle classes and vilifying monopolies: What is needed is “an agreement, an alliance, a bloc between the Soviet, i.e., proletarian, State power and State capitalism against the small-proprietor (patriarchal and petty-bourgeois) element”. The precariousness of the proletariat’s position appears in any case clearly in this other definition that Lenin gives of the NEP and which sums up the whole question: “... not to break up the old social economic system – trade, petty production, petty proprietorship, capitalism – but to revive trade, petty proprietorship, capitalism, while cautiously and gradually getting the upper hand over them, or making it possible to subject them to State regulation only to the extent that they revive”. This did not prevent, a few years later, less than a decade, the forces that had long passed for the “centrist” current of Bolshevism, from proclaiming that it was time to “liquidate the NEP”, to move onto the attack and enter upon the royal path of the socialist transformation of petty-bourgeois and rural Russia. It is true that before reaching this point, these forces had carried out the political counter-revolution.
Bankruptcy of the NEP
Nonetheless, the historical question that arises is obviously whether or not the NEP achieved its goals, and why. There are two essential consequences of the above: from the economic point of view, the goal of the NEP was neither an impossible national socialism (!) nor (a less crude thesis, but just as false and dangerous) a simple “escalation” from small commodity production to State capitalism. In other words, it is not even State capitalism in general, as the most advanced form of capitalism and, therefore, the closest, in time, to socialism: “State capitalism is capitalism which we shall be able to restrain, and the limits of which we shall be able to fix” in the immediate and long-term interests of the proletariat, said Lenin. To answer the question, however, it is not only the economic, but also the political goals of the NEP that need to be clearly understood. Just like the revolution of 1917, this political goal is fundamentally double: to ensure economic conditions such that Soviet power, considered in its entirety, cannot collapse, causing with its fall the democratic conquests of the revolution and delivering the country to white terror, but also to fight, both economically (if possible) and politically so that this Soviet power in general remains proletarian and therefore internationalist, an enterprise infinitely more difficult than avoiding outright restoration, but which is the characteristic and the function par excellence of the Communist Party of Russia, without which there would no longer be either Bolshevism or Leninism, and which, consequently, it is impossible to ignore even momentarily if one wants to understand the least thing about the NEP and the debates that it aroused.
Our party thesis, supported by a multitude of programmatic texts to which we will not return here, is that the political counter-revolution occurred before the economic phase of the NEP had ended, so much so that even if the dreaded restoration did not take place, even if the power remained “Soviet” although not communist at all, it is impossible to admit that the NEP had achieved its goal. This is all the more true if the collapse of the dictatorship of the proletariat (or rather the liquidation of what remained proletarian in Soviet power, so long as there were true revolutionary communists in the ruling party) was not accompanied by the collapse of the Soviet State as such; this was not at all thanks to the NEP, but rather thanks to its liquidation in 1928. The current heirs of the Stalinist counter-revolution therefore ridicule themselves doubly when, in their theses on the fiftieth anniversary, they present the NEP not only as the “scientific plan” imagined by Lenin to make socialism in a country where vain “doctrinaire” Marxists had judged this to be impossible, but as the true source of all the wonders that can be beheld in Russia – because if the first statement is a theoretical monstrosity, the second is a crude historical falsification.
The political question having been elucidated, it remains to study the economic determinism which not only undermined and liquidated the dictatorship of the proletariat in the years 1923-27, but pushed the Russian economy in directions that it irresistibly followed from the liquidation of the NEP in 1928 to its so-called “re-establishment” from 1956.
For agriculture, the abolition of forced requisitions and their replacement by a tax in kind (payment by the peasants of a certain quantity of cereals to the State, the quantity being fixed district by district and year by year according to uniform criteria) and the restoration of free trade in agricultural surpluses; for the urban economy, the re-establishment of the freedom of trade in manufactured goods, in short, the very simple and clear practical measures adopted by the Party in 1921 quickly had the undoubted effect of reviving economic activity.
To start with cereal production – of capital importance since feeding the cities depended on it – we have the following progression in millions of quintals5
However, these figures are insufficient to enlighten us on the vital question of supplying cities in these harsh years. It is the percentage of wheat actually marketed that is of more interest in this regard. But in this case, the progression turns into a regression, since we have: 1913 25% - 1925-26: 14.5% - 1927-28: 11% (that is to say, 200 million quintals for 1913, 106 for 1926 and 81 for 1928). The difference between the two series proves one thing: the Russian peasantry, chronically undernourished under Tsarism, derived from the October Revolution the advantage that it could feed itself better; in this sense, the spectre of the peasant counter-revolution that hung over the country in 1921 receded throughout the NEP, and also in this sense, the Soviet regime was strengthened. That said, the Soviet regime was a democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasants, which implied that the improvement of even the immediate and basic conditions of material life in the cities and among the workers did not greatly delay any improvement that appeared in the countryside and among the peasants. Without re-establishing more normal economic relations than those attested by the two sets of figures mentioned above, Soviet power may well have been strengthened, but it rested on an imbalance working to the detriment of the urban working class, which, in the long run, made its proletarian character and the effective predominance of the proletariat in the common dictatorship hypothetical, even if, obviously, neither this character nor this predominance could be reduced to a question of relative consumption of calories by the worker and the peasant, and if, on the contrary, they depended on infinitely more complex and higher questions, such as the orientation of the State in the international class struggle and the subordination of its immediate policy to the final socialist goals even with regard to the domestic situation.
As trivial as they may seem at first, these two scenarios alone would be enough to ruin the opportunistic idealization of “Soviet democracy” and to reveal the latent antagonism between the two temporarily allied classes, even on the humble immediate level and therefore all the more so with regard to historical ends. In addition, the question of their interpretation poses almost all the most crucial questions of the “transition period”, the very ones that objectively caused the loss of the communist and proletarian dictatorship (the NEP could not resolve them given, on the one hand, the dilapidated state of industry and on the other the economic blockade of the USSR by the bourgeois countries). If you are indeed wondering why, production having increased, the cereals available for the working class were decreasing, creating a perilous situation for working class power, there are three causes, whose relative importance is very difficult to establish in the absence of sufficient statistical information: 1) The extension of the small peasant economy with low economic surplus and large relative subsistence consumption due to the division of land through the democratic agrarian revolution; 2) The persistence of a sector of capitalist agricultural economy likely to produce such a surplus, but actually producing it only under favourable market conditions; 3) The need for Soviet power to export a fraction of its agricultural production, in spite of workers’ malnutrition, as the only means, in the give-and-take capitalist conditions in force throughout the world, to procure the few essential means of production, if only to restart industry. But that amounted, based on a simple and concrete example understandable to the least informed, to point out the triple pressure exerted on the Russian working class, its party and its power by the very small rural bourgeoisie, by the residual agrarian capitalist-class kulaks and, last but not least, by the great imperialist world bourgeoisie.
We regret that we only know the absolute quantities of grain in these cruel years of hunger, when the proletariat had to deny itself adequate nourishment to pay for the few machines that it could import, but the simple juxtaposition of the shrinking volumes of wheat being marketed on the one hand and, on the other, the growth in exports of this same wheat, a condition for the growth of the much-needed imports of manufactured products, illustrates with enough eloquence the terrible contradictions in which the isolation of the revolution inexorably locked up the soviet proletariat and its party. However, it is immediately obvious that if this growth did not continue much beyond the NEP (it stopped abruptly in 1930-31), the subsequent decrease, which corresponds to the concerted autarky of the era of “socialism in one country”, does not illustrate any alleviation of the economic situation of the workers, quite the contrary, and moreover constitutes the logical continuation of the political counter-revolution within the Soviet camp.
In millions of roubles based on 1 January 1961 values, these are the figures for the period which interests us now, according to the Soviet Encyclopaedia.
Export growth is limited by grain production, which, from 1926, plateaued at an average of 730 million quintals. Thus, it was not only the supply of cities that was compromised, but also industrial development which, within the framework of the NEP, and in the absence of foreign capital, depended essentially on the exchange of Russian wheat for foreign machine-tools6 . Still within the NEP framework, the key question is therefore that of increasing agricultural production. Compared to the pre-war period, there was still a deficit of more than 40 million quintals, while from 1918 to 1926 the population increased by 10 million and continued to increase each year by three million inhabitants. The increase in agricultural production and, moreover, that of the availability of grain (which depends on the first but is not the same thing, as we have seen) is not only an economic question, but also social: increasing productivity obviously depends on a technical revolution, the means of which can only be provided by industrial development, and, more precisely, by massive production of agricultural machinery and fertilizers; but on the one hand this industrial development is precisely limited by low agricultural productivity and, on the other hand, the rational use of hypothetical new means of production presupposes the overcoming of the fragmented structure of agriculture; the big kulak enterprise is obviously superior to the economy based on small plots both in terms of its ability to use subsequent technical progress and in terms of its immediate productivity, but this advantage does not directly affect the social availability of cereals, because it is private production, which expands or contracts not exclusively according to technical and natural possibilities, but according to the market, and which therefore cannot be regulated at will by revolutionary power. The whole secret of the counter-revolution that took place in the Soviet camp, even before the end of the NEP, must therefore be sought in the social structure of Russian agriculture, but it is unfortunately very difficult to get a complete picture of it, due to the absence of statistics. If we rely on the speech made by the Stalinist Molotov at the 15th Congress (the Congress at which the unified left of Trotsky-Zinoviev-Kamenev was liquidated in December 1927), we can admit that the extension of the small-plot production which, before the revolution, was at 60 million hectares had grown, due to the division of the land belonging to the nobility, the Church and the Tsarist State, to 100 million hectares, to which should be added 40 million hectares of “idle land” before 1917 that had been recovered for cultivation, and 36 million hectares, if it is true that out of 40 million hectares belonging to wealthy peasants before October, they did not have more than 4 million left in 1927, the difference having been returned to middling and poor peasants. According to the same speech, made towards the end of the NEP, there would still have been 24 million small farms, of which eight million were so small that “even the employment of the horse was too expensive” and which therefore would not have provided any surplus, even supposing that they fed their owners. Thus, almost 98% of the soil was in the hands of small farms with small surpluses, while the rest, which contributed more than 50% to marketable production7 , was in the hands of a capitalist class which, to put it mildly, was in no way interested in the success of the NEP and which, without feeding an “opposition in principle” to the Soviet regime, should of course produce and deliver its production for the market only to the extent that it had an interest in it, strong enough to store its surpluses when the prices did not suit it in order to force them upwards.
To consider this situation in agriculture, “everything depended on industrialization”, but at the very low level to which the productive forces had fallen and in the framework of the exchange between town and country, the weakness of agriculture could only act as a brake on industrial development, since agriculture was unable to provide industry with either capital or market; nor could it provide food surpluses for a working class in the process of growth. Thus, although at a level much lower than that of socialist transformation, the demand for industrial development posed insoluble questions within the framework of the economic liberalism of the NEP. In industry, 1913 levels of production seem to have been reached in 1926, but at the cost of an extreme social tension. In some sectors, it would have been surpassed in 1927-28. It was no coincidence that this was when the crisis broke out and the great turning point occurred which, with “dekulakization” and small and medium peasants being forced into collective farms on the one hand, and the forced march towards industrialization on the other, would open the “Stalinist” era proper, under the absurd and false banner of “socialism in one country”. But if this turning point obeyed a determinism independent of the “ideas” of the leaders and was situated in real economic relations, it was also conditioned by the political counter-revolution of 1926-27.
The economic debate and the struggle over principles in the Bolshevik Party from 1923 to 1928
The explosive contradictions of the Russian economy and society, subjected as it was to the criminal blockade of the world bourgeoisie, could not fail to be reflected in the internal life of the party. Each economic crisis – first 1923, then 1925 and 1927-28 – corresponds to a crisis in the party. The struggle was very lively at each phase and it is not always easy to distinguish differences of principles from those having only secondary significance. Until 1928, the struggle seemed to be between a liberal right, whose theorist was Bukharin, and an interventionist left, whose theorists were Trotsky and Yevgeni Preobrazhensky, with a centre represented by Stalin, tacking a course between the two. From 1925 on, this left and this right did not only oppose each other on questions of practical economic policy, but also on a question of principle, the question of the possibility or not of socialism in a single country, a question on which the entire orientation of the party depended, and therefore also that of the Russian State in the international class struggle and (insofar as the Russian section exercised a preponderant influence in the International) the entire orientation of the latter as well. Up until 1928, because the liberal right was in the same camp as partisans of “socialism in one country” while the interventionists were in the internationalist camp, it may see that the same class frontier separating national socialism and internationalism also separated the interventionism of Trotsky and Preobrazhensky from the liberalism of Bukharin. Russian militants were so permeated by this false belief that when Stalin made his “left turn” of 1928 in practical economic policy, without renouncing, far from it, his national communism in principle, the disarray would be such among those who believed that they saw in Bukharin’s liberalism the main danger and anti-proletarian opportunism par excellence, that the majority of the militants of the unified opposition would judge the time to join the Stalinists, the very first of them being Preobrazhensky, whom Stalin would use to apply the programme. It must be said in honour of Trotsky that he would not capitulate.
Unlike in 1928, the crisis of 1923 was a “crisis of growth”. Cities underwent a renaissance and industrial production, still representing only a quarter of what it was in 1913, nevertheless increased by 46% compared with the previous year. State industry’s share of this increase was much lower than that of artisan industry and the private companies that dominated in light industry, companies leased to individuals by the workers’ State, which was unable to manage everything that had been nationalized. The consequence was holding back heavy industry, which remained in the hands of the State and was organized in companies operating in relation to the market for raw materials, labour and products as isolated businesses having their own balance sheet and receiving a profit, that is to say as companies organized in the capitalist way with the difference, compared to the private sector, that their profit returned to the workers’ State, which thus had economic resources that it could, theoretically at the very least, use for class purposes, which explains why the Bolsheviks designated them as “socialist enterprises” despite their economic characteristics. The strengthening of industry leased to private entrepreneurs in relation to State industry should not be seen as a strengthening of capitalism in relation to a non-existent socialism, despite this ambiguous terminology used by the Russian Communists; but it nonetheless constituted a danger, insofar as it marked the extension of an uncontrollable economic sector compared to the only one that was subject to a certain degree of control.
That said, both the private sector and the State sector were, as a result of the increase in industrial prices, faced with the need to reduce their overhead costs, which resulted in the closure of unprofitable companies for the purpose reorganization, and stagnant wages. Unemployment rose from 500,000 at the end of 1922 to 1,250,000 in the summer of 1923, while “red industrialists” and executives in State industry exerted pressure on the workers with a view to increasing their productive effort, which the unions were concerned about. Compared to the curve of agricultural prices, which stagnated at around 50% of their pre-war levels, the rise in industrial prices, which reached 180 and 190% of pre-war levels, defined what Trotsky denounced at the 12th Party Congress as the “scissors crisis”, a direct threat to the development of agriculture insofar as it robbed peasants of a part of the fruit of their labour, and therefore threatened the political alliance between the working class and the peasantry. To close the “scissors”, Trotsky proposed a correction of the NEP with aid to industry and planning intended to encourage the recovery of heavy industry. Most members of the political bureau, on the contrary, wanted to maintain the NEP in full, that is to say the policy of conciliation with the peasants, by resorting to an authoritarian reduction in industrial prices on the one hand and, on the other, by reducing the tax burden on the peasants. They only foresaw an increase in exports to improve industrial equipment, postponing the development of heavy industry8 .
In fact, at the 12th Congress, there was not yet a conflict in the Bolshevik Party on the economic question. Furthermore, it was not the adoption of the status quo in this matter that would push Trotsky into opposition. It was the otherwise crucial question of the threat of degeneration of the party, which Bukharin, the future “right-winger” in economic matters, as well as Preobrazhensky and so many others who were considered to be leftists in this respect, had been denouncing since February 1923, just as Lenin himself did before his illness. This alignment in 1923 was not circumstantial: it was all that was healthy in the party, drawn up against the foreign body represented by Stalin and his methods, with whom, to their subsequent misfortune, old companions of Lenin like Kamenev and Zinoviev, entered into alliance. We must not forget that, whatever the internal struggles between “right” and “left” and the appearances provoked by individual failures during the great turning point of 1928, it was the same alignment of the Marxist party against Stalinist national communism that we find in the unfortunately short-lived attempt at an alliance between Bukharin and Trotsky during the “liquidation of the NEP”.
Trotsky would join the Opposition in October 19239 . writing from that date to December his famous The New Course which, without being devoted to economic policy, nevertheless contained the positions which, in the absence of Trotsky, the Opposition would support at the 12th conference of January 1924 through the mouth of Preobrazhensky, encountering a resistance from the Stalinists10 and Kamenev, whose source was clearly outside of the economic question. In The New Course, as he foresaw at that time the outburst of demagoguery that did indeed occur, Trotsky began by recalling that he was the first to advocate the NEP for the rural areas and that this proposal was “linked to another dealing with the new organization of industry, a less definitive and much more circumspect proposal, but directed on the whole against the regime of the glavs11 which was destroying all contact between industry and agriculture”. Thus, it was neither a question of “underestimating the peasantry”, nor of imposing on industry a return to the regime of war communism: “The capital economic task of the day consists in establishing between industry and agriculture and, consequently, in industry, a correlation that would permit industry to develop with a minimum of crises, collisions and upheavals, and in assuring industry and State commerce a growing preponderance over private capital... what methods should be followed in the establishment of a rational correlation between town and country, between transportation, finance and industry, between industry and commerce? Which institutions are chosen to apply these methods? What, finally, are the concrete statistical data that make it possible at any given moment to establish the plans and the economic calculations best suited to the situation? Each one, obviously, a question whose solution cannot be predetermined by any general political formula whatever... Do these questions bear a principled or programmatic character? No, for neither the programme nor the theoretical traditions of the party have bound us, nor could they bind us, on this point, due to the lack of necessary experience and its generalization. Is the practical importance of these questions great? Immeasurably. Upon their solution depends the fate of the revolution... There ought to be an end to the jabbering about underestimating the role of the peasantry. What is really needed is to lower the price of merchandise for the peasants”.
What is important, from the point of view of principle, is that, contrary to what would happen later, when he got carried away with his fight against the right around Bukharin, Trotsky, who fought vigorously in The New Course for the defence of the party, recognized that in economic policy, on the one hand there are no principles you can rely on, and on the other, that all the questions raised concerned the conditions for the survival of Soviet power and not the socialist transformation of the Russian economy and society. With regard to industrialization, Trotsky insisted that “it is absurd to assert that the question boils down to the tempo of the development” and that what really mattered in reality was the direction of development. In this regard, his demands were most measured: put an end to improvisations, strive to specify a production plan for State industry in accordance with material conditions and resources, taking into account the fact that “it is impossible to get an exact advance estimate of the peasant market and of the world market” and that “errors of evaluation are inevitable, if only because of the variability of the harvest, etc”.; not to claim that the principal branches of State industry and transportation12 will yield a profit in the third year of the NEP, but rather limit the losses suffered, more than was the case in the second year, by streamlining the activity of State industry; in short, act in such a way as to ward off the danger of a smychka (“welding together”) of the anarchic peasant economy and private capital, which would “restart the process of primitive accumulation, first in the commercial domain, then in the industrial domain” and would thus tend to intervene between the workers’ State and the peasantry, acquiring an economic and therefore political influence over the latter, a serious symptom of the possibility that the counter-revolution would triumph.
While placing enormous emphasis on “the correct organization of the work by our State Planning Commission” (Gosplan), “the direct and rational way of approaching successfully the solution of the questions relating to the smychka [is] not by suppressing the market, but on the basis of the market”, Trotsky conceded that “the question does not depend solely on Gosplan” and that “the factors and conditions on which the advance of industry depends run into dozens” but that it is “only with a solid Gosplan... that it will be possible to appreciate how it suits these factors and conditions and to adjust our action accordingly”. In conclusion, Trotsky wants the party to expect more from industry and less from State aid for the recovery of agriculture: “The workers’ State must come to the aid of the peasants (to the degree that its means will permit!) by the institution of agricultural credits and agronomical assistance, so as to lighten the task of exporting their products (grain, meat, butter, etc.) on the world market. Nevertheless, it is mainly through industry that we can act directly, if not indirectly, upon agriculture. It must furnish the countryside with agricultural implements and machines at accessible prices... In order to organize and develop agricultural credits, the State needs a substantial revolving fund. In order to procure it, its industry must yield profits, which is impossible unless its constituent parts are rationally harmonized among themselves”. Just like Lenin, Trotsky linked these prudent economic considerations to the international question: “If the counter-revolutionary danger rises up, as we have said, out of certain social relationships, this in no wise means that by a rational policy it is not possible to parry this danger (even under unfavourable economic conditions for the revolution), to reduce it, to remove it, to postpone it. Such a postponement is in turn apt to save the revolution by assuring it either a favourable economic shift at home or contact with the victorious revolution in Europe”. The only weakness of Trotsky’s position lay in the fact that, judging that “the kulaks, the middlemen, the retailers, the concessionaries” are “much more capable of surrounding the State apparatus than the party itself”, he seemed to think that, on the basis of a revived State industry, but functioning, in the last analysis, in a capitalist fashion, the party could victoriously contest the State apparatus with all these bourgeois strata and, recruiting new forces in the proletariat on the basis of the successes of State industry, preserve, thanks to this contribution, its threatened proletarian character. When he ponders the paths of the counter-revolution, it is on the political paths that it could take, if the economic hypothesis of a victory of private capitalism over State capitalism is verified. Thus, “there could be many: either the direct overthrow of the workers’ party, or its progressive degeneration, or finally, the conjunction of a partial degeneration, splits, and counter-revolutionary upheavals”. If he also cites the danger resulting from the merger of the party and the State apparatus, and from the penetration of administrative methods into the life of the party, whose functioning it fundamentally changes, if he notes that at the time when he was writing: “This is precisely the danger that is now most obvious and direct. The struggle against the other dangers must under present conditions begin with the struggle against bureaucratism”, he does not seem to be aware of the fact that in the event of the development of State industry, this danger would not decrease, but increase; on the contrary, he concludes that: “The struggle against the bureaucratism of the State apparatus is an exceptionally important but prolonged task, one that runs more or less parallel to our other fundamental tasks: economic reconstruction and the elevation of the cultural level of the masses”. But – however great the courage of the militant who only defined the difficulties and warned of the dangers in order to combat them all the better – the insoluble character of the contradictions within which the defection of the European proletariat confined the Russian revolution is nonetheless cruelly apparent in the entire text.
At the 13th conference in January 1924, the left, which defended these economic theses through the voice of Preobrazhensky, while also especially demanding a cleansing of the party’s internal regime, underwent a total defeat13 . In fact, the real object of the debate was by no means the question of economic policy, on which the Stalinists only weighed in ironically, denouncing the danger that “bureaucratization” would cause the USSR if the party listened to Trotsky! Rather, it was the question of the party, to which the main report, that of Stalin, was devoted. The opposition was accused of having issued the slogan of “the destruction of the party apparatus by seeking to transfer the centre of gravity of the fight against the State bureaucracy to the party itself” and it was condemned as the trouble-maker behind “an abandonment of Leninism, objectively reflecting the pressure exerted by the petty bourgeoisie”. So there was no struggle between two currents of the party defending different economic policies: there was only the mobilization of dark forces (who would soon reveal their true nature), not for the defence of principles, but against certain people (in the first place, Trotsky), the ruling fraction being imposed not by force of argument, but by threats of repression and the empty invocation of the name of Lenin, whose illness only emboldened them, in reality, to strike such blows at party traditions that they overturned them.
The victory of the opponents of the left in 1923 obviously could not prevent the explosion of the objective contradictions of the NEP, which, far from being attenuated, were aggravated by economic development itself14 . Thus, in 1925, a new crisis brought back all the problems of 1923 and provoked a new controversy in the party, all the more violent since it did not only concern the questions of practical economic policy, but a question much higher in principle and programme, on which depended the fate of Soviet power as a proletarian power, its relationship to the international proletarian struggle and the direction in which its influence on the communist international would be exercised. In fact, these were two entirely different polemics, but they inevitably overlapped one another, the first bringing a right and a left into opposition on the question of industrialization and relations with the Russian peasantry, the second (the famous question of socialism in one country) establishing, against the left, a deceptive coalition of the right and of a centre whose true nature and true importance would only reveal themselves to all actors too late in the drama. Forty years later, we must therefore carefully distinguish them from each other, and above all rid the entire debate of the prejudices fuelled by the militants of the time and which history has invalidated.
From 1923 to 1925, agricultural and industrial production resumed, transport was reorganized, trade and commerce intensified. However, a peasant revolt in Georgia, from the summer of 1924, and in 1925, a further reduction in wheat deliveries (so severe that it provoked a supply crisis in cities and the cancellation of orders for industry that the State intended to finance through exports of agricultural products) resurfaced the central problem of the NEP, that of the relations between proletarian power and the peasantry. In fact, the peasantry was in the long run dissatisfied by the concessions that had already been granted with the renunciation of war communism and the re-establishment of free trade. It put pressure on the State for the reduction of taxes and the increase in agricultural prices, to which the communist power had hitherto not consented, on the one hand for the sake of industrialization, and on the other to defend industrial workers’ standard of living (which was still lower than in 1913). More seriously, in the country the wealthy peasantry15 was calling for the abolition of constitutional prohibitions on the employment of hired labour in agriculture and the leasing of land, and, in general, the abolition of all measures which, hitting the richest peasants with a higher tax and depriving them moreover of the right to vote, discouraged the average peasants from making the least improvement in their operations for fear of being classified in this category.
The party’s first reaction to this situation was given by the decisions of the 14th Conference in April 1925, in which everyone agreed on the need for a retreat within the framework of the NEP: reduction of the agricultural tax, relaxation of restrictions on the employment of hired labour and leasing and therefore the development of private capital in the countryside16 .
It was only after the fact – and in the face of the developing implications of this retreat – that the rupture occurred between the adversaries, hitherto still united within the left of 1923, which would split into a right (Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky) and the new left (Zinoviev, Kamenev and the entire Leningrad section of the party) and a centre (Stalin, Molotov and Kalinin). However, it is impossible to understand the meaning of these arguments without referring to the party’s previous positions with regard to the peasantry. During the civil war, with the military and political questions taking precedence over economic questions, the party relied on the poor peasants, as the natural and unreserved allies of the urban proletarians, and whose committees had played an important role in the establishment of the Red Army. The transition to the NEP had prompted Lenin to focus on the average peasants, whose economic reserves were slightly less in deficit than those of the poor peasants on the one hand and who, on the other, being neither exploiters of labour nor speculators like the rich peasants, were not a priori opponents of proletarian power. In times of economic reconstruction, it was therefore natural that, without disguising the average peasant’s nature and faults as a petty bourgeois, Lenin had been led to make him an “impressive defence”, showing the party that the supply of food to the cities depended entirely on this social category.
There was still no question of giving up the struggle against the kulak as a loan shark and speculator, and also as a potential supporter of the restoration of the Constituent regime. At most, according to Lenin, his quality as a producer of essential commodities for the city earned him less rigorous treatment than that suffered by the urban bourgeoisie.
In 1925, after four years of tolerance towards the average peasant and limitation of the kulak economy, it was this very pattern that was challenged, not by one tendency, but by the facts themselves, because the “bourgeois cooperation”17 on which Lenin had placed great hopes, not of socialism but of modernization of agriculture, had not advanced by a single step, due to the weak development of industry. The right was the current which, drawing conclusions from the facts, boldly passed from the policy of support for the average peasant to a policy favouring the development of private capitalism in the countryside; the left violently resisted this turning point, considering the previous policy of limiting the kulak economy, the defence by the proletarian power of the poorest strata of the countryside against the exploitation and usury of the kulaks, and economic assistance to the latter to be sacrosanct; as for the centre, it was not on this question that it was destined to distinguish itself: accepting the policy of the right for the sake of saving the State, it disapproved the too visible encouragement of the rural bourgeoisie by means of a petty-bourgeois anti-capitalism and concern for formal party orthodoxy; drowning the whole debate in eclectic formulas, supporting the policy of the right in the name of the principles of the previous phase (the alliance with the average peasant), it appeared as a “conciliator” in the eyes of all, while all the time preparing the “purification” of the party of its two Marxist wings, and therefore its destruction. Leaving the centre aside for the moment18 , we must see if the opposition between right and left was really the opposition between the “pro-kulak” current and the purely proletarian current that the left believed and said, while at the same time being between “anti-industrialists” and “industrialists”.
In reality, no one in the Russian party was an opponent of industrialization, everyone knowing perfectly well that it was indispensable to the recovery and concentration of agriculture and, to varying degrees, dangerous to the dictatorship of the proletariat insofar as it could only be done on the basis of wage labour and the accumulation of capital. The divergence does not relate to the need for industrialization, but to the paths it should follow. For the Trotskyist left of 1923, industrialization essentially depended on State volition and on the deliberate choice of an industrialization policy. It is no coincidence that, in 1925, Zinoviev and Kamenev adhered to this position, in perfect logical alignment with their resistance to a turning point which they considered to be “in favour of the kulak”. For the right, on the contrary, industrialization was as much the result of as the condition for of the organic recovery of the rural economy. Noting that the first development of industry served to expand industrial production itself, while also enriching the social strata linked to trade rather than serving the development of agriculture19 , Bukharin concluded that workers’ power must allow the rural petty bourgeoisie itself to accumulate the working capital essential for increasing output, which was impossible if the employment of hired labour remained illegal in the countryside and if the party persisted in a policy of assistance to the poor strata which, without freeing them from misery, turned them into economically parasitic strata. The Bukharin compromise was in fact a “Lenin compromise”: the direct transition from the small fragmented economy to State capitalism being impossible in the countryside, it was necessary, according to Bukharin, to accept an indirect passage through private capitalism. All development – including that of State industry – being condemned to take place within the forms of commerce and wage labour, this is no more a renunciation of socialism than the NEP of 1921 itself.
Indignant at Bukharin’s provocative “get rich” exhortation to the peasants, which does not mean “eat more off the backs of the proletariat”, but rather, accumulate the agricultural capital that the economy needs to get out of stagnation, since we cannot do it, the left accused the Bukharin right of “defending the kulak”: in reality, the right never advocated the abolition of the nationalization of land, it did not favour the formation of a class of agrarian capitalists rich in land, but only of a class of large State farmers employing salaried workers under its control while waiting to be expropriated when the necessary degree of concentration of rural capital was reached. The accusation of the left is therefore scientifically unsustainable, even if it remains in the Marxist tradition when, relying on Engels, it objects to Bukharin that, while being an opponent of petty land ownership, the proletariat must implement a policy on the peasant question distinct from capitalist politics, which vows the ruin, pure and simple, of small farmers, whom it abandons without hesitation to misery and stagnation20 . It would not have been difficult for the right to respond to this valid objection theoretically by noting that the proletarian power defended the poor peasant, who became an agricultural waged worker on the same basis as industrial waged workers, but it could not respond practically by actually protecting him against the abuses of the kulak, and this is the reason why the left never converted to the right’s viewpoint nor even recognized its validity from the Marxist point of view.
If it is impossible for us today to associate the politics of the right with a policy of “restoring capitalism” and “social-democratic degeneration” of the State, as the left did in the years 1925-27, and at the same time to associate the politics of the left with a policy which, without political defeat, would have marched without deviation in the direction of socialism, this is not only because historically, it was not the right that presided over the transformation of the double revolution into a purely capitalist revolution, but because it had to a certain extent foreseen and tried in advance to conjure up the particular type of “capitalist restoration”, which occurred in the guise of a turn to the left, and which turned out to be worse for the world communist movement than it would have been under the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries. Nowhere is this more evident than in the debate in 1925 between the leader of the right, Bukharin, and a member of the 1923 opposition, the “Trotskyist” Preobrazhensky, while Trotsky himself remained silent.
The “left” thesis of the “industrialist” Preobrazhensky was as follows21 : The economy of a backward and isolated country (or even of a group of countries that have not reached maximum capitalist development) where a proletarian power, directing a nationalized industry, strives to create the material bases of socialism, obeys objective laws which, for better or worse, will end up being imposed on this power and which are those of “primitive socialist accumulation”. Far from trying to resist these laws, the proletarian party must therefore promote their manifestation through its political activity. It must use its “socialist monopoly” (that is to say the State authority it exercises over industry and foreign trade) to implement a pricing policy that ensures the syphoning off of funds normally intended for the income of the peasantry towards the State industrialization fund, the only way to put an end to the “blackmail that the kulaks exert on it” on the one hand, and rural overpopulation on the other. Furthermore, such syphoning being insufficient to allow it rapidly to go beyond the critical point where the country of the revolution has lost the advantages of the capitalist regime, without yet having attained those of the socialist regime, the “socialist monopoly” must not hesitate to syphon off funds from the incomes and revenues of the private industrial sector. Preobrazhensky admitted that in the event of a revolutionary victory in Europe, this phase of “primitive socialist accumulation” could not last less than twenty years (and therefore more without such a revolutionary victory) and that it could not go without clearly anti-socialist effects: the exploitation (in the economic and non-moralizing sense of the term) of the peasantry whose income, according to him, should grow more slowly than that of the proletariat under a regime of workers’ dictatorship; the development of a huge monopoly apparatus with parasitic tendencies, which is also a nest of social privilege. Convinced that “workers’ action exercised from the point of view of the consumer” would be enough to correct the parasitic tendencies of the monopoly “exercised from the point of view of the producer”, Preobrazhensky nevertheless invited the Party to abandon all the prevarication of the right to embark on this path resolutely. What he had not foreseen was that a “socialist monopolism” thus conceived was irreconcilable with any form of “workers’ action”, so that in order to take such a path, the Party should first have ceased to be the proletarian party.
Bukharin immediately branded the so-called “law of primitive socialist accumulation” as a monstrosity, justifying not only the exploitation of the peasantry, but that of the proletariat, and the rebirth of a new exploiting class hidden under the cover of a State apparatus with a socialist label. If it were really only a question of sharing, once and for all, a given output between the worker and the peasant, the “truly workers’ policy”, he said, would consist in obtaining the maximum share. “But then there would be no question of raising production, nor of progressing towards communism, nor of defending the alliance of workers and peasants. It is incumbent upon the working class to take responsibility for the national economy, and it must ensure that this process is conducted in the right direction, that is to say, that it does not fall into a narrow corporatism by taking care only of its own immediate interests while betraying general interests, and it must understand the interdependence of the constituent parts of the national economy”. And: “It is not by extracting every year the maximum of resources from the peasantry to put them in industry that we will ensure the maximum rate of industrial development. The greatest permanent rhythm will be obtained by a combination in which industry grows on the basis of a rapidly growing economy”. It is industry that provides the lever for the radical transformation of agriculture, but the authoritarian maintenance of low agricultural prices, the measures preventing the affluent layer of the peasantry from accumulating and the poor peasants from becoming wage earners for hire not only caused discontent among all the peasant strata, not only created enormous costs of assistance to the State, but also slowed down industrialization itself. The proletariat must maintain its hegemony in the Soviet State, but the lesson of war communism and the meaning of the NEP were that it must be exercised by other methods than during the civil war. The proletariat cannot run the economy in its entirety: “If it takes on this task, it will be obliged to build a colossal administrative apparatus... The attempt to replace all the small producers, the small peasants, by bureaucrats produces such a colossal apparatus that the expenditure to maintain it is incomparably greater than the unproductive expenditure resulting from the anarchic conditions of small production; in short, the entire economic apparatus of the proletarian State not only will not facilitate, but will only hinder the development of the productive forces. It will lead to the direct of opposite of what it was intended to achieve”. Bukharin’s conclusion was that Preobrazhensky’s theses were only an idealization of the methods of war communism, that “an imperative necessity compelled the proletariat to destroy the entire economic apparatus inherited from that time, and that if it did not do so, other forces would overthrow its domination”.
It took more than 25 years before these “other forces” – as foreign and hostile to the proletariat and socialism as Bukharin had feared – manifested themselves, denouncing in turn, with Khrushchev and the rest of the gang of “destalinizers”, the brake opposed to “the development of the productive forces” by the “State economic apparatus” born of the irresistible anti-bourgeois revolution of October, but which, as a State apparatus, never had and never could have anything “proletarian” about it, the strength of the working class being embodied in its party and not in any “apparatus”, and the march to socialism accompanied not by a strengthening of any such “apparatus”, but, on the contrary, by its decline”22 ; but it did not take more than two years for the left to be liquidated politically, no more than four for the right to suffer the same fate, that is to say, for the complete destruction of the Bolshevik Party, which by the same token meant the overthrow of the political domination of the proletariat, something Bukharin had feared no less than the left, but which he had not realized was being prepared in the debate on the principle of socialism in one country that raged from the Fourteenth Congress of the Russian Party of December 1925 to the Fifteenth Congress of December 1927, via the Enlarged Executive Committee of the Communist International of 1926, in which he covered himself with opprobrium by uniting with the centre against the left, and worse, by lending his help as a theorist to the coarse empiricism of Stalin.
It was inevitable that the justified Marxist condemnation of socialism in one country spilled over onto the economic policy defended by the right, that no one even made the necessary distinction between renegade doctrine and “right-wing” policy. This was however wrong, and it is one of the great merits of the Italian left to have pointed it out23 . The left expected the counter-revolution that it foresaw all too well to come from the right, and it was with the left alone that the right identified the dangers threatening the revolution: now it was the centre that was the real agent of the counter-revolution; the centre that no one had ever considered as a separate current, the centre that was despised by all, that now suddenly “empowered” itself, striking the left in 1927 and the right in 1929 before massacring them less than ten years later.
Carried out, at least in its initial phase, more quietly than the counter-revolutions of the past that had put an end to great historical revolutions, it also hid behind the façade of the same party. In reality, the empowerment of the centre in relation to the Marxist right and the Marxist left did indeed signify the appearance of a new party, and the destruction of the party of October. In the international field, this is evidenced by the dismantling of the Communist International, which was in any case debilitated by opportunism and its reduction to the role of “border guard” for the USSR. Everything changed in domestic affairs, too. We cannot speak of an economic regression from socialism to capitalism to the extent that, as all of Lenin’s work confirms, there was not a single atom of economic socialism in the USSR in 1927-29, but the Stalinist regime identified itself with the Bolshevik regime in the grossest fashion in that, from the dictatorship of the proletariat, a political conquest that had always been threatened and passionately defended, and now of course destroyed and conflated with Soviet democracy, there emerged an intangible constitutional creed: in the USSR the State became a “workers’ State”, just as elsewhere the State is monarchical or republican. In the same way socialism ceased to be a still distant objective (but one that will be a definite and demonstrable reality when it actually appears in history) and became a sort of constitutional principle; the USSR became “the motherland of socialism”, which means that its economy is socialist like that of France is French or that of Germany is German. Any doubt in this regard became a matter for the police: as to appearances to the contrary, they were the results of sabotage and conspiracy. This lead-footed palinode was slavishly diffused under the name of “Marxism-Leninism” by the official communist parties of the whole world, but it was through the show trials, designed to make the most famous old Bolsheviks appear “beyond question” as saboteurs, conspirators and spies of foreign imperialism that less than ten years later the Soviet State undertook to demonstrate once and for all the “truth” to the working masses of Russia and the world. The destruction of Bolshevism opened the darkest phase of reaction that has ever affected the international proletarian movement.
The crisis of 1927‑28 and the liquidation of the NEP
The elimination of the unified left of the Bolshevik Party in 1927 and that of the Bukharin right in November 1929 heralded, beyond dispute, the end of the brief proletarian cycle of the revolution, but not of the revolutionary cycle itself. The reason is simple. First, it was not enough to imprison and deport the revolutionaries or to keep them hostage in the new party after spectacular “recantations” in order to settle the peasant problem; second, the elimination of the Marxists did not in any way imply the renunciation of revolutionary, that is to say non-peaceful, methods, since the use of violence is by no means the prerogative of Marxism. Of course, by “purging” the party, the counter-revolution wanted to unburden itself of the yoke of principles and of the communist programme which, at the end of the reconstruction, became an obstacle not only to the country’s capitalist development, but also to the conquest of its independence from Western capitalism, for which Tsarist Russia had never been more than a semi-colony – a hindrance that it regarded as odious; but such an “emancipation” had no reason to act in the exclusive sense of unleashing conciliatory tendencies. With regard to the international class struggle, where the party had originally been intransigent, it would act in this conciliatory direction, and only in this direction. It was no coincidence that, of all the opponents, Trotsky was the one most hated by the Stalinists: he was the only one to fight conciliation with the bourgeoisie and world social democracy, which the opportunism of Zinoviev and Bukharin, on the contrary, accommodated very well. But in the economic field, the opposite was true. The party’s position in this respect being one of compromise from the start24 . In short, the logic of the Stalinist counter-revolution in no way involved the transition to universal conciliation, but only the reversal of authentic Bolshevik positions: conciliation in international politics, but a “revolutionary” method in the domestic sphere insofar as conservation of the State and national independence required it. Easily understandable today, this logic nonetheless threw communists trained in the struggle against reformist (and also revolutionary syndicalist) deviations into complete disarray, obeying a different logic. This inversion also placed them in an ambiguous position since it led them to reproach the Stalinist party, whose conciliatory approach they had previously denounced, for wanting to settle the peasant question with violence. Thus the Opposition seemed to have all the appearances of bad faith, whereas the Stalinist party, by bravely returning to methods of civil war in the years 1929-30, gave the impression of “having more rights than the left opposition (and a fortiori than the right) to proclaim themselves the champions of intransigent communism”25 .
Without a prior political counter-revolution, the “dekulakization” and the forced so-called “collectivization” would not have been possible, and it is precisely because a truly Marxist and proletarian party could never have carried out such a task that its defeat was inevitable; for it is perfectly true that “collectivization” responded to a historical necessity and that the whole complex of conditions that existed in 1929-30, and which were inherited from the previous era, did not allow any other policy26 . That said, it is untrue that this dekulakization and this forced “collectivization” responded to a concerted plan, and all the more untrue to claim that they had always been planned in the Bolshevik programme for the day when reconstruction would be completed. This is simply an a posteriori justification for the dismantling of the party, which tends precisely to deny the counter-revolutionary character of this act: it suggests that, on the path of the “second revolution”, of the “new October” (these rascals dared to speak of a “Peasant October”!) harmoniously complementing the “first revolution” of October 1917, the party had encountered resistance from “opportunists”, “pacifists”, “enemies of the muzhiks” and “friends of the kulaks” who had delayed their arrival until 1929-30. It was a very effective version since it put Trotskyists and Bukharin’s followers in the position of neo-Mensheviks and neo-Revolutionary Socialists, and Stalin in the role of a new Lenin, but this beautiful symmetry collapses as soon as we expose the precise course of the so-called “second October revolution” and especially its economic and social effects. The reality of the agrarian revolution of 1929-30, of course, remains27 , but not only the “socialist”, but simply “progressive” sheen with which the gravediggers of the Bolshevik Party wanted to embellish it fades away pitifully; the nature of the cause it really served dazzles the eyes, as does the odiously defeatist character of the comparison between the universal proletarian and communist October and the confused and painful convulsions from which Capitalist Russia Mark 2 finally emerged.
A week after the 15th Congress of the CPSU, which had condemned the positions of the left and rejected the request for reintegration of a certain number of its members, the Russian cities were again threatened with famine and incidents broke out between the wheat collectors and peasants demanding further price increases. In January 1928, the quantity of wheat delivered to the market was found to be 25 percent less than that of the previous year, the deficit against the minimum necessary for urban food supplies being two million tons. At the congress, Stalin mocked the “panickers” of the left, “who call for help as soon as the kulaks poke their noses in a corner”, but when the Political Bureau met on 6 January to examine the situation, he blamed the crisis on hoarding by the kulaks. Emergency measures were taken in secret: the order was given to apply Article 107 of the Criminal Code to the kulaks, providing for the confiscation of stocks held by speculators and, to encourage them to help with detection, the distribution of a quarter of the seized grains to poor peasants. The results were meagre, which seems to attest much more to a genuine shortage than speculative storage. From February to July, a real mobilization was organized of the city against the countryside, poor peasants against the kulaks; hit squads of young workers supervised by ten thousand party activists were sent against the rural population, the poor peasants invited to “wage the class struggle” against the rich and to participate in the seizures on the promise of a distribution of a fraction of the loot. New exceptional measures were taken publicly: forced loans, the prohibition of sales and direct purchases in the village. As for the press, it not only denounced “the kulak renaissance”, but also the invasion of the party and the State apparatus by elements “who do not see social classes in the village” and who “seek to live in peace with the kulak”, that is to say the right, whose policy had been reaffirmed a few months earlier. While the fear of famine reigned in the cities, the atmosphere of war communism revived in the countryside; the peasantry resisted: according to Bukharin, the State had to suppress more than 150 peasant revolts in the first six months of 1928. In April, thanks to the seizures impacting all categories of peasants, stocks in the cities were sufficient to dispel the spectre of famine; the Central Committee then condemned “administrative arbitrariness, violation of revolutionary law, raids on peasants’ houses and illegal excavations”, prohibited confiscations (except in the case of speculative storage) and compulsory borrowing, and finally re-established the freedom of sales and purchases in the village. Stalin affirmed: “NEP is the basis of our economic policy and will remain so for a long time”; but when the grain crisis seemed to rebound for the following month, in May 1928, this sufficed for the same Stalin to unveil, in a public speech, a new line breaking with the clear line of the 15th Congress: the way out of the grain crisis, he now said, “lies in the transition from individual peasant farming to collective, socially-conducted economy in agriculture”; moreover, under no circumstances “should the development of heavy industry be retarded”, nor should “light industry, which produces chiefly for the peasant market, [be] the basis of our industry”. Far from having defended, as it would pretend a posteriori, a clear line, a distinct party line and opposed as much to the “deviation of the left” as to “that of the right”, the Stalinist centre thus oscillated at the whim of the crisis, supporting the economic policy of the right against the left first, then rallying that of the left and imposing it on the right when the first difficulty arose, demonstrating constancy and continuity in one thing and one thing only: the systematic demolition of the party of Lenin.
The right, for its part, fully maintained the positions that it had unceasingly defended since the first controversy in 1923, not out of blindness, but because they were based on reasons of principle that were stronger than the intimations of the crisis. This is why it is appropriate to evoke the final battle fought by Bukharin in response to the “leftist” turn of the Stalinist fraction in May 1928. Bukharin conceded that the increase in agricultural production depended on the gradual replacement of capitalist enterprises by cooperatives of middle and poor peasants and on the transition from small to large enterprises on this basis, but he maintained that this process would take place through the development of individual farms and not through economic pressure on the peasantry. He also conceded that the development of agriculture depended on the development of industry, but at the same time he rejected the idea of an acceleration of the rhythms of industrialization, warning against the source of the pressure in this direction: “the gigantic State apparatus in which nestled elements of bureaucratic degeneration, absolutely indifferent to the interests of the masses, their lives, their material and cultural interests” and “functionaries... ready to work out any old plan”. Despite the sarcasm of the left, which saw in the crisis a vivid confirmation of its own positions, what Bukharin defended in this final phase of the struggle was the programme of Lenin, that is to say the principle of control by the Party of the natural tendency of capital, even State-controlled, towards the frenzied accumulation on the back of the working class and the peasants, a tendency for which the State machine is the natural channel, the blind and inert agent, but an agent which cannot fail to triumph over all socialist intentions if, unfortunately, instead of trying to maintain its control over this machine, the party begins to obey its injunctions, which are only the injunctions of an impersonal Capital, by inscribing to its own programme the “acceleration of industrialization”. In doing so,
Bukharin also defended the Marxist conception of the role of the proletarian dictatorship against the distortion to which, without realizing it, the left was subjecting it, under the suggestion of an economic environment characterized by insufficient capitalist development. In Marxist doctrine, which is based on the hypothesis of a revolution occurring in an advanced capitalist country, the role of the proletarian dictatorship is to break down the obstacles opposing the advent of a new economy, full stop. At this stage, there is no opposition between the party on the one hand and the State apparatus on the other: insofar as the revolutionary will of the party goes in the direction of the demands of a society that the imperatives of the accumulation of capital condemned to a perpetual crisis and which, precisely for this reason, had to go through a violent revolution, nothing is easier for the party than to direct the machine of the State in the direction it wants, this machine having absolutely no energy of its own, being by itself, presenting an image, just bodywork, the engine obviously being elsewhere.
What Bukharin vainly tried to make his adversaries understand28 is that at the lowest stage of the struggle for socialism, where Russia was (at the stage where the very material bases of this socialism are lacking) there is no reversal at all of the role of the party and of the proletarian dictatorship which, from being the breakers of shackles, would become transformed into the forces of “construction” and “enlightenment”. The only real force of “construction” and “enlightenment” is found in the very dynamics of a still backward economy, which naturally tends towards capitalism. At this stage, the influence of revolutionary will, of the political factor of the class dictatorship, is exercised with results that are quite different from those that they would have at a more advanced stage, but it cannot be exercised by any other method: party and dictatorship have no other means of acting on the economy than prohibiting or lifting prohibitions; the difficulty is that, if they ban all capitalist development, they block all progress at the same time, condemning them to act like a reactionary brake in the short term, whereas if they lift all the prohibitions they renounce all influence. If they believe, however, that they can escape this harsh alternative by giving up their strictly political role, by attempting to carry out an economic task directly, it is even worse: it is not their influence that they lose, it is their own nature as instruments of the proletariat. Thus it is at the moment when they believe they are reaching maximum influence that the specific aspect of their influence is cancelled out. The economic dynamic finds in the apparatus of the State, which has replaced the bourgeois class as a result of the revolution, its natural transmission belt. At the lower stage of the struggle for socialism, there is consequently a latent conflict between the party and this apparatus, inconceivable at a higher stage where, having lost the historic initiative, capitalism also largely loses the power to compete with the proletarian party for influence over the State apparatus.
This conflict derives quite simply from the conflict which opposes the communist party to capitalism. It cannot ban capitalism, but on the other hand, it cannot renounce the task of restricting capitalism without negating itself.
The party’s acceleration of industrialization and shifting of all resources from light industry to heavy industry would signify the party’s abdication before the capitalist dynamics of the economy for which, in the absence of an established capitalist class, the economic apparatus of the State found itself fulfilling all the requirements of capitalist development, without regard for the needs of the proletarian class and the masses in general. All this explains why in the industrial field, the measures advocated by Bukharin seemed, to the left, to be pitifully modest in view of the immense needs: being content to maintain the rate of growth already achieved by compressing the enormous unproductive expenditure, by shortening the time to production, which was twelve times higher than time to production in the advanced industries of the United States, by fighting against waste, given that the quantity of materials used in Russia for a given output reached one and a half and two times what was required in America, in short rationalizing and economizing rather than proceeding at breakneck speed. The concern that inspired him is obvious: that Russia’s industrialization should not weigh too heavily on the condition of workers. It was a class concern to which the Stalinist centre was totally indifferent, but the warning was prophetic: the proof is that, faced with Stalinist industrialization, the criticism of Trotsky himself would take on “Bukharinian” accents.
From the speech of May 1928 (which marked the turning point for Stalin on the peasant question and on that of industrialization) to April 1929, when for the first time Bukharin was denounced as the leader of the right, and to November 1929, when he capitulated, the struggle unfolded according to the usual Stalinist schema: “purging” of the party on the one hand, and a violent campaign against its infiltration by kulaks29 , but perpetual oscillations in the economic policy on the other. In July 1928, the Central Committee took “unanimous” right wing measures30 : a second ban on searches and seizures among peasants, and a 20 percent increase in wheat prices. However, at the same time, the Stalinist fraction demanded a “cruel struggle against the kulak”, accused the right of being “neither Marxist nor Leninist, but made up of peasant philosophers looking towards the past”. According to his usual eclecticism, Stalin did not deny wanting any less to turn his back on the NEP and spoke of a “new phase” within its framework; in July 1928 he wrote again: “There are people who think that individual peasant farming has exhausted its potentialities and that there is no point in supporting it. That is not true, comrades. These people have nothing in common with the line of our Party”. At the end of 1929, the first five-year plan approved by the party provided that in 1933, only 20 percent of the cultivated area would be “collectivized”, that is to say, managed by peasant cooperatives. In the spring of 192931 , Stalin still maintained that “poor and middle individual peasant farming plays a predominant part in supplying industry with food and raw materials, and will continue to do so in the immediate future”. A few months later, the so-called “general collectivization” was in full swing.
The so-called “second revolution”, whose violent phase covered the entire second half of 1929 and lasted until the beginning of March 1930, was not only an improvisation carried out under the pressure of the facts, but also a compromise, the worst possible option. First of all, the form of “collectivization” provided for in Stalin’s speech in May 1928 was not the sovkhoz, or State enterprise run by any civil servant and employing hired labour, but the artel, a form of intermediary kolkhoz between the simple farm enterprise and the commune. In this, Stalin did not innovate at all, since in previous years, no Bolshevik ever asserted that it was possible to generalize the sovkhoz form rapidly, given that the State had neither the enormous capital (machines, tools, fertilizers, etc...) nor the immense skilled workforce (agronomists and mechanics) necessary to allow its direct substitution for fragmented peasant enterprises, and given that the scheme could not survive the attempt to turn millions and millions of peasants into pure workers.
On the other hand, Stalin gave, through his anti-kulak demagogy, a strong opportunist imprint to the policy that he advocated: it was this anti-capitalist demagogy that served to pass off the artel, a simple cooperative functioning as an autonomous enterprise in relation to the market, as a communist form, even though it was still inferior to the State capitalist form of the sovkhoz, itself a simple lever for socialist transformation under certain conditions. It was a huge falsification, desperately trying to equate the rivalry between poor and average peasants and rich peasants for the possession of the land and its products, with the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie. However, the Marxist party knew very well from the Manifesto that only this struggle was emancipatory, while that of the layers linked to private property to defend their living conditions was reactionary, seeking to turn the wheel of history backwards. That said, the kolkhoz form, which finally prevailed after violent convulsions and whose “statute” was not defined until 1935, was still inferior to the artel, not because the government had wanted it but because it had to take the route it did, which only goes to show the stupidity of the bureaucratic optimism which in 1929-30 claimed to be “introducing communism into agriculture”.
What is rather difficult to establish is, what were the exact relationships between “forced collectivization” and “dekulakization”? If it were possible to impute the agrarian crisis of 1927-29 to the extension of the kulak economy, the thing would be easy: threatened with collapse by the economic blackmail of the kulak, Soviet power would have found salvation only by delivering the peasant class rich in pasture to the covetousness of the poorer strata, that is to say by handing over the kulaks’ land and their machines, even if it meant using force to bring them into cooperatives themselves, which, even without the technical equipment essential for increasing agricultural output, could provide a global product more in line with the needs of the cities by the mere fact of the substitution of individual effort by collective effort. But what seems precisely most questionable (despite the convergence of the positions of the left opposition and the Stalinists on this point, or perhaps because of this convergence) is that the decline in agricultural stocks available on the market was due not to the growth of the fragmented production of the average peasant (seredniak), but to the growth of the capitalist enterprise of the rich and speculative peasant (kulak). The speech given by Stalin in person on December 27, 1929 to justify “the liquidation of the kulak as a class” invalidates this thesis without realizing it, since it states that kulak production was respectively 1,900 million poods (1 pood =16.38 kg) of grain before the revolution and 600 million in 1927, whereas that of the seredniaks and bedniaks (poor peasants) increased from 2,500 million to 5,000 million poods in the same period. Stalin’s concern to demonstrate the benefits drawn by poor and average peasants from the October Revolution explains the obvious exaggeration of this increase of 100% (!) But the figures for the kulak economy indicate the complete opposite of a strengthening of the kulak class.
In this case, the turning point of 1929 could be explained not so much by the urgency of the kulak danger as by the fact that Bukharin’s approach to the progressive transformation of peasant smallholders into kulak employees exclusively by means of the market was much too slow, while the liquidation of small-scale production had become a vital necessity; rather than being the origin of “forced collectivization”, dekulakization then appears as its complement: the expropriation of wealthy peasants in favour of collective farms constituted both a weak element of economic start-up for these poorly equipped cooperatives, an anti-bourgeois camouflage for the State capitalist offensive against the rural petty bourgeoisie and sub-bourgeoisie, that is to say the demagogic compensation that the State offered them to better bend them to its harsh coercion and finally the surest way of preventing country dwellers from rallying around the most enterprising (because least poor) and resisting the dictatorship of the city. The first interpretation (the urgency of the kulak danger) is more compatible with the positions of the left, the second (compensation to the rural petty bourgeoisie for forced collectivization) with those of the Marxist right, but whether you adopt the one or the other, the conclusion is the same: the policy of Stalinist pseudo-centrism was resolutely anti-Marxist and anti-proletarian.
On the one hand, it was the success of the forced requisitioning of grain, and on the other, the encouraging reports from State institutions on the cooperative training movement in the second half of 1929 that encouraged the Stalinist fraction to push for “collectivization” well beyond the limits originally set. Indeed, these successes demonstrated that the peasantry as a whole was much less capable of resistance than had been feared and that the poorer peasant strata were also more amenable to the campaign for collectivization than had been hoped. Being incapable of respecting any principles, when Stalin’s fear of the peasantry had subsided enough, he put aside any last hesitations which, until mid-1929, still bound him to the right. Never mind that in 1929, only 7,000 tractors were available, while by Stalin’s own admission 250,000 would have been needed; it did not matter that the “collectivization” of 5 to 8 million tiny holdings still using wooden swing ploughs bore no relation to the conquest of a higher mode of production: the order was given to the administration to “hasten collectivization” and “strike at the kulaks, strike so hard as to prevent them from rising to their feet again”. From October 1929 to May 1930, the proportion of families supervised in collective farms would officially rise from 4.1% to 58.1% without the number of machines of course having changed appreciably. But this result was obtained at the cost of such a struggle, with such disastrous economic effects, and caused such an aggravation of the tension between cities and countryside that Stalin would have to put an end to his administrative “revolution”. If we take as exact the statistics fixing the number of heads of prosperous agricultural holdings at between one and a half and two million, those of poor farms at between five and eight million, and those of medium-sized farms at between 15 and 18 million, it is clear that, encompassing more than half of peasant farms, the forced establishment of collective farms mainly impacted upon the average peasantry, all the more so since the families of the kulaks were excluded. This is the whole secret of the violent character assumed by the operation, the peasant’s attachment to his plot increasing “with the differential rent”, as Trotsky noted in an article that we quote below; but it is probable that the poorest strata really welcomed it with the enthusiasm that has been claimed, insofar as it did not worsen their already desperate situation32 .
We must leave to bourgeois liberalism the simplistic thesis that “if they had left the peasants alone, everything would have gone much better in the USSR” and that, inspired by an ultra-moralistic but hypocritical horror of violence, makes the grave mistake of forgetting that nowhere in the world has the capitalist mode of production established itself without violence, sparing small producers, during its stage of primitive accumulation, no more than the proletarians themselves. That said, without the slightest concession to the pacifist ideology of its adversary, the proletarian party could not and cannot approve a policy which, under the pretext of accelerating the course of history, could only delay it disproportionately, without taking into account that it exposed communist politics to the most sinister comparisons with the worst exploits of ruling classes past and present. “The liquidation of the kulak as a class” (the official euphemism suggesting that Stalin had nothing against the millions of well-to-do peasants or their family members, but only their mode of production) and “accelerated collectivization” translated in reality into the uprooting and deportation of ten million people (the USSR then had 160 million inhabitants). Sometimes the small peasants eagerly shared out the spoils left by the kulaks, sometimes they united with them, in which case the rebel villages were surrounded by machine guns and forced to surrender. The pillage that certain urban brigades engaged in, the excessive zeal of an ignorant or terrified administration that went so far as to “collectivize” the shoes, clothing and even the glasses of rural people, the cynical corruption of authorities selling goods back to the “kulaks” that they had robbed from them; all this increased tenfold the despair of the peasants who not only assassinated as many “communists” (and, more generally, townspeople) as they could33 , but also slaughtered their cattle, even destroyed material and burned the harvest to leave nothing to the collective farm, where they knew they would receive little more than a worker’s salary. The Stalinist State would wait three years (until January 1934) before revealing the immense economic devastation thus provoked: the disappearance of 55 percent of horses (18 million animals) in a country almost totally lacking tractors, 40 percent of horned animals (11 million animals), 55 percent of pigs, 66 percent of sheep, and the transformation of vast cultivated areas into fallow land.
Insurrections flared up across the entire USSR34 . The improvised and exhilarated government operation degenerated into a civil war, but in this civil war the Stalinist authorities could not firmly rely on the Red Army, in which a very large number of officers turned out to be the sons of kulaks and whose soldiers were mainly peasants35 , nor could it even rely on the working class of the cities which, in 1929, was mainly formed of recent emigrants from the countryside, and which lost its initial sympathy at the beginning for the “collectivization” all the more quickly as the pressure on the peasants worsened food supplies. Moreover, such a policy was likely to limit spring sowing to a much greater extent than that of previous years and therefore provoke shortages that were likely to spell the end of Soviet power this time. This mortal danger forced Stalin to publish in the 2 March 1930 edition of Pravda the infamous article “Dizzy with Success: Concerning Questions of the Collective-Farm Movement” whose repercussion throughout the country (which considered it as a decree) was immense. He denounced the use of coercion to bring the peasants into the collective farms (whereas a few months earlier, he had loftily insulted Engels and his caution), the confusion between average peasants and kulaks, the purely administrative setting up of collective farms with insufficient preparation, the establishment of agricultural communes instead of artels, and of course blamed the militants and officials who suffered a new and rigorous “purge”. This article was followed on 15 March 1930 by a party decree, On the Deviations from the Party Line in the Kolkhoz Movement, deciding that henceforth the entry of peasants into collective farms would be exclusively voluntary, that the “intolerable denaturation of the class struggle in the countryside” should cease (but “the liquidation of the kulak as a class” should continue relentlessly) and – quite symptomatically – it was also necessary to end the intensive anti-religious propaganda and the compulsory closure of churches! Having also authorized peasants to leave the collective farms that had already been established, the decree caused “decollectivization” at an even faster rate than the “collectivization”: the number of families organized in cooperatives fell from the official 58 percent (the figure was higher in wheat-producing farms, lower elsewhere) to 23 percent. The confusion was extreme, but completely incapable of forming its own political movement, the peasantry ceased resistance as soon as the pressure was released. It is thanks to this and also to the fact that the harvest of 1930 was a good one that the regime, which had been on the brink, was able to stand its ground. So it was that with lies and violence, boasting and denials, a Capitalist Russia Mark 2 emerged from the NEP in less than three years under the iron fist of Stalin, gravedigger of Bolshevism. The unprecedented crisis of 1929-30, which followed many other ordeals, the depth of social antagonisms that “the disappearance of the bourgeoisie” did nothing to attenuate and which national isolation further exasperated, all that marked it for a long time with a sinister but original imprint. And that is why, under the mask of socialism, it would have another half a century to disconcert and sometimes terrify the world.
Capitalist Russia Mark 2
To put it in a few words, we will start with a good formulation of the position that is the exact opposite of the correct Marxist appreciation of the turning point of 1927-30 and contemporary Russia: “The struggle between the city and the countryside, the clash between the two revolutions dominated the domestic scene of the USSR for at least two decades, throughout the 1920s and the 1930s; Lenin, in his last years, attempted to resolve the dilemma peacefully, by means of the New Economic Policy and a mixed economy; but by 1927 or 1928 the attempt had failed. Stalin then sought to resolve the conflict forcibly and embarked on the so-called wholesale collectivization of farming. He divorced the socialist revolution from the bourgeois one by annihilating the latter”36 .
According to this thesis, Stalinism represented the current which, not hesitating to hit the kulaks and the rural petty bour-geoisie, aimed to transform the impure socialist revolution of Russia into a purely socialist revolution. As for the left and the right, compared to Stalinism they must only have constituted one large right wing, by opposing, with pacifism and democratism, the emancipation of the socialist revolution from the shackles in which the relations of production inherited from the bourgeois democratic revolution had imprisoned it, that is to say the pre-dominance of unproductive small-plot agriculture. It pains us to see such untruths disseminated to a defenceless public as the quintessence of Marxist thought.
It suffices to compare the constitution of 1918 with that of 1936 to see that the party which, in power, capitulated to the democratic-bourgeois revolution, was not the Bolshevik Party of 1917-29, but the Stalinist party that survives as the government party of Russia even in 1968! The first, unlike all constitutions throughout history, proclaimed none of those personal rights (property and security) that characterize the bourgeois era, but which capitalist practice constantly tramples on, nor any other kinds of “personal rights”. On the contrary, it loudly proclaims its socialist aim, incompatible not only with the survival of a class of small farmers, but also with the existence of a class of cooperative members assured for life of the possession of the soil and delivering their products to society through the market: the entire abolition of the division of the people into classes. In this constitution, the nationalization of the land, accompanied by a transfer of plots (without compensation to the dispossessed owners) to the workers, is not misleadingly presented as a socialization of the land, but as a legal measure justified by the fact that this socialization was the final goal, a goal that is only achieved when no obstacle (no cooperative property any more than small plot property or capitalist property) prevents the whole of society from direct access to agricultural production. With the constitution of 1936, everything changed: “The land occupied by collective farms is secured to them for their use free of charge and for an unlimited time, that is, in perpetuity” and cooperative property is proclaimed to be “the sacred and inviolable foundation of the Soviet system”! There is no longer the abolition of classes with a distinct and contrasting mode of production and life: the complex constituted by the cooperative, and machinery and tractors belonging to the State, with the “exchange” of services for agricultural produce is defined as a finished socialist system. At the same time, instead of dissolving, the class opposition between the proletariat and the peasant-owner engaged in a perpetual dispute with the State is completely denied; equal political and voting rights (boldly denied in the declaration of 1918, which attributed four votes to the worker against one for the peasant) is restored. The new regime is officially defined as a political democracy, while the old one proclaimed itself without hesitation as a dictatorship of the proletariat which had only concluded a non-aggression pact with the peasants for the obvious reason that violence is the midwife, and not the mother of progress, which is based on the growth of productive forces. These anti-socialist novelties were fully confirmed in 1953 when, in his Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR, Stalin attacked those who wanted to treat collective farm property, the pillar of the regime, as capitalist property had been treated in 1917 (and in 1929) and he proclaimed, against all evidence, that being a popular property, it was also a socialist property, a stupidity which amounts to saying that the power of a company (and, pushed to the limit, the totality between them all) to make use of its products is equivalent to the power of society in its entirety to dispose of them, on the condition however that it does not officially employ employees (!) In a “socialist revolution” made in this way, there is only one thing missing, if we calmly examine the facts, if it is to constitute a complete capitulation to the “bourgeois-democratic revolution”: to give up tempering productive anarchy by means of State despotism. Everyone knows it took care not to do so; that, on the contrary, it raised State coercion to such heights that the world bourgeoisie envied Stalin his power, and that it even raised it to the rank of an eternal factor of production insofar as it presented the sacred form of property in the kolkhoz as eternal. Don’t be deceived: have we ever seen the powers erected on the basis created by the bourgeois-democratic revolution respect naïve hopes and illusions?
The only “foundation” of the construction that presents the Stalinist era as the era of pure communist revolution (and which nevertheless resists political scrutiny even less than any other)37 is provided by the fact that the civil war that ended the Bolshevik era was not, as the Bolsheviks feared, the war of the countryside against the city, but rather that of the city against the countryside. Consider this, the renegade thesis tells us, and add to it the fact that this “war” continued, no longer in military but in economic forms, until 1956, that is to say until the Khrushchev reforms, and do not forget above all the State ownership of industrial enterprises and planning. Now you have the faithful image of a purely communist revolution. This was enough to pander to the entirely justified distrust and hostility of the proletariat towards the peasant-owner, undoubtedly; the unfortunate thing is that the city’s struggle against the countryside, far from characterizing communism in its own right, is as old as civilization itself! It undoubtedly continues under the dictatorship of the proletariat, in the phase of transition to socialism, but it turns out that it is precisely then and only then that it loses its ancient characteristics of economic, moral and intellectual oppression of the countryside by the city, to transform itself into a progressive abolition of the separation between the city and the countryside. No doubt the proletariat can and must exert its class coercion against the small landowner classes in the countryside. No doubt it may be led (as was the case during the civil war in Russia) to inflict some violence on them. What the proletariat can and will never do at any stage of its struggle (not even at the very low level on which it was forced to lead the struggle in Russia) is to emancipate itself by oppressing and squeezing other classes, condemning them to their misery as owner-classes. Lenin’s politics never committed the sin of “pacifism” nor that of “democratism” (!): his politics simply conformed to the very essence of socialism; and socialism is nothing if not the process of proletarian emancipation, which, contrary to bourgeois emancipation, is not the establishment of the eternal reign of one class over the others, but the dissolution of all classes in the concord of a classless society. Although it claimed that it had achieved “socialism in one country”38 , Stalinist policy therefore no longer even deserved to be considered as a continuation of the policy of “building its material bases” which, although infinitely more modest in its claims, deserved to be characterized as proletarian and communist. Whether we consider the relations that prevailed between town and country or the situation of the proletariat in Russian society, its entire economic history after 1929 shows that Russia was dominated by a new primitive accumulation of capital that the owner-State planned in directions that were imposed on it by the demands of the USSR for imperialist greatness; in this effort, the only obstacles it had to remove were the humble needs of the masses – not only workers, but to a certain extent also peasants, and if capitalist cynicism and the centuries-old traditions of deception and class oppression sufficed for this purpose, that did not prevent it from striking the heroic postures of a fight to the death against a powerful and frightening enemy!
The proof obviously starts with the examination of the economic results of the “forced collectivization” carried out, as we have seen, with the help of the large-scale manoeuvre called “strengthening the class struggle in the countryside” and “dekulakization”. Stalin himself estimated the value of the goods transferred from the kulaks to the collective farms at 400 million roubles (!) and a good part of this was certainly wasted in the confusion that followed: this proves the economic inanity of the measure39 for the purposes of any increase in the productivity of under-equipped Russian agriculture. On the other hand, a few years later, Stalin himself would admit the destruction of economic resources caused by the operation, as we saw above. As for the harvest, although it would reach 835 million quintals in 1930, it fell to just 700 in 1931 (compared with 801 in 1913, under the Tsar); it was lower still in 1932-1933 when the terrible “Stalin famine”, which caused millions of deaths, raged through the countryside, similar to the Great Famine in the more backward India of 1876-8, but in this case in the name of a full “revolution” calling itself “purely communist”! This fine result is fortunately not to be credited to the class struggle of the modern proletariat, but to that of the archaic “class struggle in the village” tending to restore the equality of small producers in the exploitation of the land and its products to the detriment of the general interests of society and the development of productive forces40 . Stalin did not intend, of course, to put the State at the service of the utopian egalitarian aspirations of small peasants; but if he had been at all concerned to put it at the service of socialist demands, he would never have tried to resuscitate and encourage a reactionary anti-capitalism in the village41 , which would only bring that new sufferings and privations to the proletariat by its effects on the urban supply, but also open the way to a modus vivendi between city and countryside constituting a double insult to the emancipatory mission of the proletariat: by draining the maximum value from the countryside to the cities through the policy of low agricultural prices (rightly condemned by Bukharin) on the one hand and, on the other hand, by bringing farmers to the barbarism of family micro-production because, in the new organization of agriculture which, after four years of unheard-of convulsions emerged from the chaos of 1930, granted them free ownership of parcels of land, whose economic importance would grow, by way of compensation for the earlier State pillage. This was the kolkhoz in which, for all the reasons we have seen, we must recognize, along with the brilliant Italian Marxist left (out of which the International Communist Party was born) “the true capitulation of the glories of Bolshevism” in the social-economic domain.
The scope of this policy was limited to supplying, no matter how, meagre fare to the cities, towards which the early stages of accelerated industrialization would draw an increasingly large supply of labour. How is it possible to see the slightest trace of “communism” in this, since at all stages of civilization, even the most backward, the most diverse regimes have had to ensure the supply of food to the cities? It is so little a proletarian task that at roughly the same time as the dekulakization witch hunt was unleashed, the State launched a parallel offensive against the workers. The facts are well known42 . “In the middle of the battle against the Moscow right-wingers, on 19 October, the Central Committee agreed a statement laying down a new industrial policy: ‘Because of our technical backwardness, we cannot develop industry to such a level that it not only is not behind the capitalist countries, but catches up and surpasses them, without our setting to work all the forces of our land, without great perseverance and iron discipline in the proletarian ranks.’” It defined the hesitations of certain layers of the working class and of certain sections of the party as “running away from the difficulties”. The Economic Council opposed the proposal of a Five-Year Plan for industry, and a collision became inevitable with the second of the great bastions of the right, the trade unions, over which Tomsky presided. [Tomsky, a social democrat in 1904, then a Bolshevik, political prisoner under Tsarism, member of the Central Committee from 1919, of the Politburo from 1922, and President of the Central Council of Trade Unions from 1917 to 1929, may have been treated as “the Gompers of the Soviet Union” in reference to the founder of the American AFL, but was in fact an old revolutionary militant, we might add!] “Tomsky... had thoroughly made up his mind to preserve for the unions their general function of defending the workers’ interests, which was... in his opinion, an indispensable element of Soviet organization. The new policy would reduce the role of the trade unions simply to the struggle to raise profits and production. In June 1928, the Central Committee criticized numerous ‘bureaucratic abuses’ in the activity of the trade union apparatus and called on the party ‘fractions’ to work to correct them. In this way the party could intervene directly over Tomsky’s head... Pravda turned its guns on the rightists in the trade unions and attacked them for refusing to criticise themselves and failing to mobilise the masses for socialist construction. At the All-Russian Congress of the trade unions (at the end of December 1928) Tomsky admitted some deficiencies but proposed new efforts to raise workers’ pay generally. Nonetheless, the Communist fraction [n.b. this means the Stalinist faction in the trade unions] presented a motion condemning the rightists; it called for accelerated industrialization and rejected the ‘purely working-class’ [sic] conception of the trade unions – the tasks of which were ‘to mobilise the masses’ to ‘overcome the difficulties of the reconstruction period’. This was carried by an overwhelming majority. After having rejected Tomsky in this way, the Conference elected to the new leadership five important members of the party apparatus... The right was well and truly beaten”. It was quite clear that, in this phase, the old distinctions between “right” and “centre” had lost all meaning: there remained nothing to the right of the centre (quite the opposite of Deutscher’s thesis) and the weak defence of the union by Tomsky should not be dismissed as a manifestation of ‘workers’ corporatism’, but recognized as resistance (though pathetically weak, unfortunately) to the crushing of the Russian working class by State capitalism in “socialist” disguise.
Once it has been demonstrated that in 1927-29 the Russian working class suffered not only a political defeat, but an economic one, and that it had therefore not won the much-vaunted victory over the rural bourgeoisie and micro-bourgeoisie, it is easy to understand that the peasant policy of Stalinism was ultimately only an exacerbated form of economic oppression that capital has, to a greater or lesser extent, imposed on small producers at all times and in all places. This intensification can be explained without there being any need to invoke any particular essence of Stalinist power, much less Stalin’s “misconceptions” about socialism. Its source lies in the fact that the classic phenomenon (at least in the old world) of imbalance between capitalist industry and petty-bourgeois agriculture had reached a degree in Russia probably never previously observed, and this because of the delay of the bourgeois revolution on the one hand, and on the other hand, the expulsion of the USSR from the world market. If the peasant policy of Stalinism hardly resembles those of the powers which, in the past, had also inherited the conditions of a democratic revolution, it is not because it obeyed non-bourgeois class imperatives, but because the situation to which it responded was unique, since it basically boiled down to a conflict between the 20th century and the “Middle Ages” not between distant continents, but within the same country!
If Stalinism had of course gambled on the so-called “radicalism” of its peasant policy, it nevertheless based its socialist demagogy on the existence of State ownership of the industrial means of production and on the existence of central planning; it was much more liberal with regard to the countryside and much more cautious with regard to the economic utility of State intervention in all the acts of production and circulation. The post-Stalinists [i.e. Khrushchev, Brezhnev etc.] continue to defend the sacred dogma that State ownership of the “principal” means of production and socialism are one and the same thing. Despite the credence that this thesis disastrously earned within the working class, it is inconsistent. The formula of State ownership defines a legal form, not an economic relationship of production, and above all it teaches us absolutely nothing about the direction in which development is taking place. By the very fact that they indicted State enterprise executives for sabotage, corruption or abuse of power now and again, the Stalinists themselves clearly suggested that the replacement of salaried employees of limited companies by State employees had nothing to do with the socialist virtues that they attributed to nationalization, virtues which on the contrary were to be attributed to the vigilant control of the party.
The “theoretical” approach of Moscow revisionism thus consists on the surface in deflecting the potential objector of the uncertain and changing domain of politics to the solid realities of the economy (“yes, many mistakes have been made, but it remains the indisputably socialist property of the State”), although in reality it is still kept locked in a single and unsustainable political axiom: party control is proletarian and socialist control. The Stalinists claimed to introduce entirely new relationships between men within the framework of an economy that remained based on wage labour and had all the other characteristics of capitalism: the dual aspect of use value and exchange value, that is to say, the mercantile nature of production – metamorphoses from commodity capital to finance capital and vice versa. On this basis, the only possible relationships were not universal cooperation, but general competition between all interests: competition between State-owned enterprises, required to carry out the plan, to obtain the essential but insufficient raw materials, as well as labour; competition between the State and its co-contractors, whether they were the peasant collective farms or the “organizations” awarded a thousand different “construction and assembly” contracts; competition between the city and the countryside. Could the working class, theoretically the pillar of the regime, remain outside all of this bourgeois ferment, which so openly contradicted the official myth of the socialist redemption of the Soviets on the basis of wage labour and exchange, under the pretext that the trade union struggle (which is the expression of competition between wage labour and employers) was forbidden to it? Obviously not. On the contrary, harsh necessity cast it into this ferment with greater force than any other social layer, and no class tradition could hold it back from this fall, since it had been formed for the most part from newly arrived peasants with profoundly individualist habits43 . It therefore struggled, but underground and in the most primitive forms, ranging from complete productive inertia and the degradation of the instruments of production to the generalized theft of “State property”, in exactly the same manner as the peasantry.
Here, the question of knowing whether or not the ruling party is revolutionary and proletarian does not arise: frankly, it is not to deny outright all State influence over the economy, but any possibility of imposing social control over a mode of production that is not social, either because the fragmented work and property of particular social groups still reign in an immense sector of the economy, or because, even where collective work exists – as in industry – the antagonistic character resulting from the persistence of wage labour and organization into companies far outweighs the social character of the economy, as has always been the case under capitalism. Trotsky, who had nevertheless fought more than anyone in favour of “planning” and the extension of the powers of Gosplan44 , magnificently refuted this claim of the Stalinist party to defeat mercantile anarchy effectively and therefore to achieve effective control over the economy simply because it cynically made an abstraction of the vital needs of the masses in its “plans”, subordinating them to quantitative growth for the sake of quantitative growth: “If a universal mind existed, of the kind that projected itself into the scientific fancy of Laplace – a mind that could register simultaneously all the processes of nature and society, that could measure the dynamics of their motion, that could forecast the results of their inter-reactions – such a mind, of course, could a priori draw up a faultless and exhaustive economic plan, beginning with the number of acres of wheat down to the last button for a vest. The bureaucracy often imagines that just such a mind is at its disposal... But, in reality, the bureaucracy errs frightfully in its estimate of its spiritual resources. In its projections it is necessarily obliged, in actual performance, to depend upon the proportions (and with equal justice one may say the disproportions) it has inherited from capitalist Russia, upon the data of the economic structure of contemporary capitalist nations, and finally upon the experience of successes and mistakes of the Soviet economy itself45 .
“But even the most correct combination of all these elements will allow only a most imperfect framework of a plan, not more46 ... The processes of economic construction are not yet taking place within a classless society. The questions relating to the allotment of the national income compose the central focus of the plan [n.b. Trotsky means here not the Stalinist plan, but what would be a ‘plan’ subordinated to the immediate and final interests of the proletariat]. It shifts with the direct development of the class struggle and that of social groups, and among them, the various strata of the proletariat itself. These are the most important social and economic questions: the link between the city and the village, that is, the balance between that which industry obtains from agriculture and that which it supplies to it; the interrelation between accumulation and consumption, between the fund for capital construction and the fund for wages; the regulation of wages for various categories of labour (skilled and unskilled workers, government employees, specialists, the managing bureaucracy); and finally the allotment of that share of national income which falls to the village, between the various strata of the peasantry. All these questions by their very nature do not allow for a priori decisions by the bureaucracy”. For Trotsky, there is no question of “surmounting contradictions and disproportions within a few years (this is utopian!), but [of] their mitigation, and through that the strengthening of the material bases of the dictatorship of the proletariat47 until the moment when a new and victorious revolution will widen the arena of socialist planning and will reconstruct the system” (The Soviet Economy in Danger, Prinkipo, 1932).
The official phraseology is poles apart from these Marxist considerations: Article 11 of the 1936 Constitution is not afraid to make this preposterous assertion, a splendid expression of Stalinist voluntarism: “The economic life of the USSR is determined and directed by the State national economic plan”. It is quite clear that in reality economic life is determined by the development of the productive forces, class relations and the world situation; as for the power to direct the plan, it must obviously come up against the social defence mechanism that the economic policy of power provokes in the various strata of the population, reality making fun of the constitutional articles of faith. As for Stalinist planning, it is poles apart from the class concerns which appear in Trotsky’s text; when Stalin’s heirs come to “rebuild the system” in their own way from 1956 (instead, alas! of the “revolutionary victories”, which are still long overdue), it will not at all be because the economic and social nature of their concerns will have changed, but simply because the USSR will have reached a different stage in the development of its productive forces, including the producers.
Among all the economic figures that we could cite, there are none that more strikingly convey the absolute triumph of capitalist imperatives over – let us not say socialist, but simply proletarian – requirements than those in the table of the comparative evolution of production in Sector A (capital goods) and Sector B (consumer goods)48 , the figures in each of the columns establish the ratio of total industrial production, capital goods and consumer goods in various years with what they were in capitalist Russia in 1913; this latter value is given as equal to 100 in the three cases, not (of course!) because the absolute values were the same for the three items, but because it is not the absolute values that matter, but only the increases.
Even the most unskilful reader of these indicators can see a very simple phenomenon: when the false “socialists” of Russia invite the rabble to admire their “grandiose achievements” in the fact that its industrial production increased 62 times between 1913 and 1964, they of course suggest that the improvement in the lot of the proletarian and peasant masses has been enormous, unrelated to what can be affirmed in the West. In reality, the production of consumer goods of industrial origin increased far more modestly: by 20 times in total and, taking into account the fact that the Russian population grew from 159 million to 208 million between 1913 and 1958, only 12 times per capita. For a population whose standard of living was incomparably lower than in Europe in 1913, this is a most modest result. By contrast, what can we tell from the means of production and armaments in sector A, which by definition are unfit for consumption in the usual sense of the term? Their production increased by 141 times overall, and by 113 times per capita, which is an impressive figure. What does this mean? That under Stalin, Russia’s national power increased spectacularly, without the lot of its population (mainly of its proletariat, of course)49 improving to any significant degree. This is a vivid confirmation of the Marxist thesis that national grandeur and proletarian interests are not reconcilable, but rather antagonistic, so that socialism in one country is a reactionary utopia. To escape these conclusions, pro-Moscow hypocrisy generally argues that socialism cannot by any means be reduced to increases in individual consumption and it even insinuates that it is rather capitalism that artificially inflates the consumption of the masses by creating for them, by all the means at its disposal, often absurd or even unhealthy needs with the sole aim of opening up new fields of accumulation to capital! This is true, to a certain extent50 , but it is a bizarre argument when we look not so much at the evolution of consumption in itself, but rather, the striking contrast between the growth of consumption and that of the production of capital equipment.
This is a typically capitalist contrast, which reveals that under the capitalist mode of production, unlike what has always been verified under previous modes, and will be verified again under socialism, the production of consumer goods is not the goal, but a simple condition of economic activity. The mass of products in Sector B represent for companies in this sector commodity-capital, the sale of which makes a profit just like any other. For capitalist society as a whole, it is quite different: the use-goods that leave economic circulation precisely at the moment when they are consumed do not appear as capital, but as income, since they are exchanged either against wages, or against the fraction of the surplus value that the ruling class devotes to its personal consumption. For the bourgeois State, true capital, at the level of the entire country, is formed by capital goods, that is to say all the industrial plants, their equipment and the raw materials that are “consumed productively” as they say. It is the growth in this physical capital (which is not only the apparent source of all the profit that the
national economy produces in one year, but the basis of its global economic and military power) which is of the utmost interest to capitalism. Consumption in the literal sense is considered “unproductive”; it is considered only as a means that makes it worthwhile for someone to do business and make a profit on the one hand, and on the other hand as a precondition for the workers continuing work (the table above only includes consumer goods of industrial origin, but it is clear that most agricultural production enters Sector B) and where capitalists would not feel impelled to invest if they were totally disenchanted with the earnings. It is quite clear that capital does not grow and accumulate year after year for the charitable purpose of supplying workers and other labourers with goods of all kinds, as is amply proven by the lamentations provoked by a general strike for the increase in wages exchangeable for consumable goods, or even by the dangerous “overheating” or “market frenzy” caused by too-strong demand: but it is no more (whatever foolish opportunists say) for the more plausible but overly narrow aim of allowing a handful of big bourgeois to lead the life of nabobs! In short, capitalism turns the subordination of production to meeting human needs on its head, a subordination that had been as old as civilization itself, and creates a new civilization in which the needs of humanity are subjected to the demands of production, down to the last detail.
If this contrast probably presents itself in the Russian economy with even more clarity than in any other, it is not only because, having started from a very low level, it had to acquire a capital base, something that Marxists have never denied, as we have seen; it is also because the ruling party had the “courage” to practice a capitalist policy without making any concession to the “vain illusions” of the naive masses, who imagine that production is supposed to be there to serve humankind, rather than humankind being there to serve production, and a fortiori without making any concessions to the “sentimental and social-democratic” objections of revolutionaries who maintain that this is also the conviction that distinguishes proletarian socialism; but if at least right up to the day after the Second World War, it could still take a similar hard line, it is only because an exceptional relationship of class forces, the one neutralizing the other, allowed it to do so, as well as the USSR’s global isolation, and not because of any intrinsic quality of Soviet institutions! “The problem of economic choice in the USSR”, admits the expert on the Soviet economy Charles Bettelheim, who sees in it a kind of socialism, “is in no way resolved by the simple application of planning instruments”: in other words, economic choice is the result of a policy whose application is made possible by “planning instruments”, but which is determined by class considerations and not by the fact of nationalization, as the fools claim. This is what we are saying. It was the capitalist suggestion of national grandeur which, even in the absence of a recognizable capitalist class, imposed itself on Stalinist and post-Stalinist power and pushed it to opt for the absolute predominance of heavy industry, a credo that the “liberalizers” of today are not about to give up, whatever small reforms they introduce in the administrative management of the economy. The “planning instrument” that allows it to control this choice best of all is the revenue tax on State and cooperative enterprises, which Soviet economists call “one of the most important methods of distribution of socialist accumulation [sic] and financial action on the socialist economy”. This tax, the rate of which varies according to sector51 and the situation of each institution is one of the main sources of budget finance, along with the tax on company profits (which varies from 10 to 80 percent of the benefits considered), which goes together with the self-financing of these in variable proportions to ensure the necessary capital investments. Perhaps it can be admitted that without the elimination of the more or less autonomous and rival groups that constituted the urban capitalist class and were overthrown in October, the State would never have been able to ensure such a systematic and rigorous transfer of resources from consumer goods industry (Sector B) to capital goods industry (Sector A) by means of heavy taxation, without them however being able to cease their socially necessary activities, which were nevertheless politically of secondary importance in the eyes of neo-capitalist power. But if the depersonalization of capitalism really constituted an “advantage”; it worked only in favour of the most virulent capitalist accumulation and not in favour of the prole-tariat, to say nothing of socialism which, as we have amply demonstrated, had never been on the Bolsheviks’ immediate programme, and it begins precisely when the questions of funding and subsidies, value transfers and economic policy cease, these belonging either to a very inferior phase in the transition towards the new society, or, as was the case in post-1929 Russia, to the transition to modern imperialism52 .
Regarding the evolution of agricultural production, which constitutes the essential element of Sector B (consumer goods), since food supply depends on this, we cannot present a table comparable to the previous one, but on the other hand we have a graph drawn up according to data from Soviet sources53 , which is sufficiently eloquent: while the curve of industrial production marks a continuous ascent from 1921, with only a plateau and a fall between 1940 and 1945, the curve for agricultural production has an almost horizontal shape with oscillations above the 100 index, but clearly below the 200 index, until 1953-54, with a fall corresponding to that of industry, but below the 100 index during the war years for obvious reasons. However, we do have a table of average yields per hectare of various crops, which shows the agricultural balance sheet of Capitalist Russia Mark 2 as even more dismal than that of its consumer goods industry.
To properly assess these results with regard to cereals, we must compare them with those of other countries with extensive agriculture and a continental climate: in the USA, yields which were 9.9 quintals per hectare in 1909-13 rose to 13 quintals in 1954-56; in Canada, from 11.2 quintals to 13.7 quintals; the Russian increase is roughly in the same proportions, but smaller; for sugar beets and potatoes, the yields are even more clearly lower than those of countries whose natural environment presents analogies. The gap widens further if we consider the yield of animals, and in particular dairy cows. As for the evolution of the livestock per capita, it marks a clear worsening of the food situation in the country, except with regard to pork:
Another crucial consideration to complete the picture of agriculture in Capitalist Russia Mark 2 is the qualitative evolution of cultures, which is given to us by the following table, again from a Russian source:
This table shows that by the 1960s Russia had still not emerged from the “cereal phase” of agriculture, which characterizes pre-capitalist societies and the early stages of capitalism. By introducing fodder crops in the second half of the 20th century, contemporary Russia started the agricultural revolution 150 years later than when it started in Europe55 .
What is the meaning of all this data, which is well known and which the most banal bourgeois thought naturally ascribes to communism’s poor record? As regards the contrast between the industrial and agricultural curves, (and when we say industrial, it is true even for the consumer goods industry, the results of which are nevertheless anything but brilliant), it is precisely characteristic of the historical phase of capitalism if only for one obvious reason: the number of possible shifts of direction of capital in a year is much higher in industry than it is in agriculture, which obeys the natural rhythm of the seasons; the acceleration of capital restructuring
accompanied by technical progress is precisely a means of combating the fall in the rate of profit; other than in countries populated by immigration, such as the USA or Australia, where the needs for agricultural products increased at an accelerated rate and where small peasant property did not hinder the development of a large capitalist agriculture, capital has therefore always preferred to focus on industry rather than agriculture; food needs being also much less “elastic” than the needs for various industrial products, agriculture remained, despite the concentration of land and progressive mechanization, a petty-bourgeois production sector, the most common recent trend moving towards the disappearance of agricultural workers and the family exploitation of larger and larger areas supported by machinery, while obviously the absolute number of workers in industry has grown.
The backwardness of agriculture compared to Russian industry therefore presents no mystery: it is perfectly in conformance with the laws of the capitalist mode of production; instead, its backwardness compared to the agriculture of the advanced countries is also blamed on “communism”.
It is a fact that Russian agriculture experienced a certain concentration, that it no longer resembled the miserable fragmented agriculture of 1927-28, whose crushing weight on the city caused the defeat of the proletarian party and the big-capitalist offensive of the Stalin era: to what then can we attribute such stagnation? The opponents of communism, of course, blame it on
“collectivism”. The explanation is worth nothing: if there is
“collectivism” in the USSR, it exists in industry as well as in agriculture: how would it then explain the specific backwardness of the latter? The reactionary backdrop to this vulgar but widespread thesis now becomes clear: what they want to imply is that it is folly to want to organize agricultural work according to principles that are only valid in industry (associated work and the division of tasks, not to be confused with the social division of labour). If this were true, we should mourn all communist hopes, given that, without the suppression of the current antagonism between town and country, between agricultural work and industrial work, we will never arrive at a society working according to a common plan and in which all class differences will have disappeared; however, this is not true, because if we compare the collective farms (mixed units, cooperative and private sector) and the sovkhozes (agricultural enterprises with salaried workers and industrial type organization), we note that it is the latter that perform best.
From Khrushchev’s report to the Central Committee of the government party of 5 December 1958, it appears that the labour costs in the kolkhozes, per unit of production, were greater than those of the sovkhozes in the following ratios:
What is at issue, therefore, is the kolkhoz, the dominant form today of Soviet agriculture and the relations that the industrialist State maintains with it.
The comparison between industrial investment and agricultural investment and the study of the evolution of the percentage of State investment in agriculture are particularly suggestive. By taking two sets of figures from Bettelheim, which are comparable since they come from the same source, we find the following percentages, which are certainly too big, other sources giving much higher figures for investment in industry, without unfortunately saying anything about those that were made in agriculture; we indicate on the right the percentages that we obtain by using, first, the Bettelheim series for agriculture and second, the other series for industrial investments: the truth must lie between the two56 but it should be noted that the curve is the same.
From this table (which nevertheless takes pride of place among Stalinists, whose effort to equip agriculture at a miserable level it undoubtedly emphasizes in an exaggerated way) it is however clear that agriculture remained the poor relation, even during the years of acute crisis 1930-35 when the supply of machines and fertilizers to the kolkhozes in the process of being set up57 was a vital necessity for the survival of the regime; it appears just as clearly that hardly had the danger been averted than the State hastened to transfer a larger fraction of its resources to industry, heavy industry in particular, as we have seen: we now see that from 1936, the percentage of agricultural investment fell to the very mediocre level of 15.8%, still less in 1939 and 1940, when the series of figures in the first column was interrupted, but up to this point it was increasing. For the post-war period, we are reduced to conjecture: after the enormous destruction of the conflict, the Fourth Plan provided for an investment of only 19.9 billion for the years 1945-1950, or 3.3 billion per year. If we consider that, from a Soviet source, the investments of the Fourth Plan were those that we indicate below, the percentage of agricultural investment would have fallen to 7.7% in 1945 and even to 3.6% in 1950!
In his 1961 work Les paysans soviétiques (“The Soviet Peasantry”) Jean Chombart de Lauwe affirms: “The total investment in agriculture during the first five five-year plans and even up to 1956 was 13 to 15 percent of total investment in the national economy”58 . So great was the concern that the so-called “workers’ State” had for the food supply to urban workers...
Not only is such an investment policy of a strictly capitalist character, since it enhances industrial production to the detriment of agricultural production, but it constitutes the economic root of the preference given by the Stalinist regime to the mixed, private cooperative form of the kolkhoz, over the more advanced form of the State farm or sovkhoz. It is quite clear, in fact, that in order to be able to generalize the sovkhozian form in the years preceding the war (or in the reconstruction period of 1945-50), the State would have had to continue to increase its direct investments in agriculture instead of dropping them to the insignificant percentages that we see from 1936 to 1940 and from 1945 to 1950 and which would not improve (quite the contrary) in the Khrushchev era, as we will see later. It would also have had to face an enemy other than the small industrial proletariat of the cities, in the form of the enormous rural proletariat into which the small producers would have been transformed. Already, even as petty bourgeois individualists that remained in the kolkhozes, they did not cease to frighten the regime from the moment when, as a result of forced “collectivization”, they found themselves less dispersed than before59 . Finally, the generalization of the sovkhoz would not have been compatible with the maintenance of the relative agricultural overpopulation that is borne out in the kolkhoz, thanks precisely to the tolerance towards the exploitation of small plots that it accommodated; it would have “freed up” more labour than industry could immediately absorb, even when fully expanded, and at the same time would have created the risk of the emergence of serious social movements, whereas the kolkhozian system made it possible to maintain, in agriculture, a quantity of labour certainly greater than the normal needs of large mechanized farms; but, for the regime, it was advantageous to be able to draw supplements to industrial labour from this surplus population as and when required. In Russia as elsewhere, it was therefore the demands of capitalist development that, in a form that was admittedly original, prevented the liquidation of the archaism of small production in the countryside. However, its more or less camouflaged persistence, while itself being only a consequence, played its own part in slowing the increase in Russian agricultural yields. In addition to the sparse investment, there was actually a deplorable use of the available capital owing to the indifference of the petty-bourgeois kolkhoz farmer with regard to the interests of society in general, and, in particular, his technical incapacity as a producer working a small plot of land, and for whom the “cultural revolution” (literacy, and the dispatch of specialists of all kinds to kolkhozes) had probably not been accomplished even in the 1960s.
The concentration of land achieved in Capitalist Russia Mark 2 only highlighted the incredible vitality of the parcellized sector of kolkhoz agriculture that the Stalinist opportunism of the years 1934-35 protected as a simple “adjunct” to the kolkhoz (which it was necessary to tolerate in compensation for the draconian demands that it was ready to impose on the peasantry, as well as the proletariat), without foreseeing that it would become an insatiable parasite that would relentlessly suck in the workforce, even mechanized, that the collective farm needed. Between 1928 (the year of the creation of the first station for machines and tractors) and 1959, the average size of kolkhozes rose from 33 hectares and 13 homesteads to 5,800 hectares (including 2,400 hectares sown) and 300 homesteads60 ; in the kolkhoz of 13 homesteads, the authorized individual plots ranging from 0.25 to 0.70 ha in principle, but reaching 3 to 6 ha with fodder land, the total area exploited privately by peasant families members of the kolkhoz could reach from 39 to 78 ha against the average 33 ha of the collective farm, that is to say from 54 to 70 percent of the total area belonging to kolkhozes. With the same tolerance, privately operated land was allowed to increase to areas between 900 and 1,800 ha within the 300 homestead kolkhozes of 1958, which, compared to the 3,200 ha average of the collective farm did not represent more than 21 to 36% of the total. For a supposedly “collectivized” agriculture, that’s still a lot!
Too much, if one thinks of the “barbaric waste” of labour – and in particular of female labour – that such a mode of production implies, and which is a cruel contradiction of the goals of emancipation of all the working masses under the leadership of the proletariat that was always the aim of Bolshevism. Too much also, given that far from playing a small role in the agricultural economy of Russia, the family farms of the kolkhozes owned 54% of the area devoted to the cultivation of potatoes and vegetables in 1957 and that in 1959 they owned 41% of cattle, 57% of cows, 36% of pigs, 26% of sheep, providing in 1958 half the production of meat and milk for the USSR61 .
It is useless to underline the impudence of the Soviet regime which, having improperly equated socialism and the State economy (things which are completely incompatible, as we have already seen, the economy having a State character only in the phase of transition to socialism under the dictatorship of the proletariat), dared to maintain that the post 1920-30 economy was fully socialist, while it sheltered like cancer such a considerable private sector in agriculture, to say nothing of the real situation of industry, which we will examine more usefully when we come to the Khrushchev and post-Khrushchev reforms. The only question that arises is why archaic family-based production showed such vitality in the USSR. Government tolerance alone does not explain much, any more than the “property instinct” of the petty peasantry. In France, where the government has no socialist pretensions and where “tolerance” of small-scale farmers is taken for granted, it is likely that their share of the economy has shrunk by far greater proportions than in Russia over the past 15 or 20 years; as for the “property instinct”, there is nothing about this that is inherent in “human nature” (even among peasants) contrary to what the servants of the bourgeoisie claim, rather, it is a simple defensive reaction on the part of individuals (obviously attached first and foremost to their own physical preservation) in all societies that doom those who have no capital or no reserves to slavery, to forfeiture, even to death: the dictatorship of the proletariat will bring such an “instinct” to an end, if not easily then at least for certain, by replacing the miserable and illusory “guarantee” of individual property with a social and collective guarantee that is far higher and more effective! The secret of the fossilization of Russian pseudo-socialism in private forms far inferior to those observed in the most advanced Western countries is thus to be found elsewhere; it resides, as you might suspect, in the economic relations between State industry and the kolkhozian peasantry, an issue that is not exhausted by the study of the State’s investment policy.
As early as 1928, Trotsky noted that the accounts between the Soviet State and the Russian peasantry were so muddled that it would have taken a very clever person to establish whether or not the State was the effective owner of the land rent as was its right (that is to say, from a purely legal point of view) as much as the theoretical owner of the land: until the Khrushchevite semi-capitulation, we can say that the relations between the Stalinist State and the peasantry remained those of a furious struggle, which took place behind the protective screen of “workers’ and peasants’ democracy” just as the furious struggle of the bourgeois classes against the proletariat takes place behind the much more worm-eaten façade of parliamentary democracy in Western countries; and at stake in this struggle was precisely rent, that is to say the agricultural product exceeding the direct consumption of the peasants, which is by nature uncontrollable.
In agriculture, the so-called planning that admirers of “Russian socialism” are always so full of does not concern production itself, or rather only concerns it very indirectly: it is limited to the investment of State capital in agriculture, which we have seen is very limited; to this should be added the repeated intervention of the authorities to prevent the kolkhozes from distributing funds resulting from the sale of their products at low prices among their members, rather than preserving and increasing the “indivisible funds” prescribed by law and which were supposed to constitute the working capital of the cooperative. So we see that in terms of production, all “planning” is ultimately reduced to encouraging a private accumulation of capital by the collective farms that will relieve the State of the painful obligation to divert part of its resources from heavy industry towards agriculture: it is therefore the complete opposite of socialist planning, which is aimed, on the contrary, at reducing the sector based on private initiatives, because, by definition, private initiatives are uncontrollable and unpredictable.
If there is “planning”, it only intervenes at the product collection stage, which it organizes on the basis of a complicated system of compulsory deliveries to the State: there is no forecasting, without which it is not possible to speak of a plan, but only a constraint that is in no way exercised in favour of the urban proletariat, but in favour of State capitalist industrialism, and again according to the empirical data of “established practice”: the quantities required from each republic, region or district are fixed by “standards” according to the existing location of production and its traditional yield, based on the climate and local production capacities; there is no question of intervening directly on these elements: they are taken into account, that’s all, even if it means modifying the distribution of delivery quotas between regions or farms when this change occurs of itself and becomes obvious: a nice kind of “planning”!
There were no fewer than five distinct distribution channels for agricultural products, at least until the 1958 reform. They are as follows62 :
Distribution Channel #1: The kolkhozes deliver part of their production in kind to the machine and tractor stations (MTS – State industrial enterprises serving several collective farms) which hand them over to the State. As counter-party, the State operates the MTS, which works for the kolkhoz. Theoretically, the delivery of products by the collective farm is equivalent to the services rendered by the MTS. What is it in reality? The same applies to this allegedly “socialist” exchange as to any other exchange: it is who will cheat the partner; it is all a question of the balance of power; the “planning” State of course claims to win every time, which is rather unlikely; but the kolkhoz, jealous of its autonomy, while complaining bitterly of the tyranny of the State, claims the same thing just as much: the joy of “socialist” harmony!
Distribution Channel #2: The kolkhozes must fulfil their compulsory deliveries to the State; the products are paid for to the kolkhoz at a very low price and resold at a much higher price to the consumer; the State therefore makes a significant profit. We remember, on this subject, what Lenin said: in Russia before the revolution, that capitalist exchange only established trade between town and country based on cheating and stealing, but at least, rest assured; we communists cannot unfortunately guarantee this relationship other than by trade given the current situation, but we must ensure that it takes place by means of a modern, European trade and not the primitive, usurious trade of former speculators. What did the Stalinist State do? It did not destroy this old trade, which robbed producers of most of their product: it did the same itself. The State became the loan shark and the chief speculator, and the only thing that concealed this reality from all the mugs who believe in “socialism in one country” is that it was in the service of the accelerated industrialization of the Russia: a fine “dictatorship of the proletariat”!
Distribution Channel #3: The kolkhoz enters into State contracts, especially for industrial crops; the State pays the agreed sum and delivers the means of production (fertilizer or seeds) specified in the contract to the kolkhoz. The sale price of the agricultural product to the public being higher than the purchase price from the collective farm, the State also makes a profit from this operation. Note that the “contract”, as a form of exchange, is the opposite of socialism since it supposes the existence of independent and rival economic units.
Distribution Channel #4: The State can buy part of the kolkhoz’s production at fixed prices, but much higher than those for compulsory deliveries. The kolkhoz is not obliged to deliver, so prices are close to those of the kolkhoz market.
Distribution Channel #5: Once the kolkhoz has fulfilled its obligations towards the MTS and the State, it can sell the rest of its produce to the public directly on the kolkhoz market. Prices (in this case) are the result of supply meeting demand; they are very advantageous for the kolkhoz, but the transactions are for small quantities only.
The whole secret of the survival of the fragmented economy based on small plots is there. In theory, the member of the kolkhoz is a “co-operator” who, in addition to wages calculated according to the “working days” he has rendered, receives his share of the profit from the kolkhoz; but in practice, the State levies are so large in volume and the prices it pays are so low (below market prices, and even, for compulsory deliveries, at cost prices) that once deducted the “indivisible fund” (that is to say the part of money income intended for capitalization, which the State jealously watches over, for the reasons we have seen), there is nothing left to share between the members of the kolkhoz63 , whose character is in reality more that of an employer than a cooperative; the kolkhoz peasant receives only a meagre wage, a wage which in technically backward kolkhozes or in poor regions is probably still lower than that of urban workers, all observers noting a marked inferiority of the standard of living in the countryside compared to that of the city. “By selling a few tonnes of vegetables through his own separate activities on the collective farm market, the peasant obtains, with a few hours of work, a higher income than that paid by the collective farm for the entire year”64 . In 1958, the income that the peasant earned from micro-commerce still averaged 50% of his total income. It should therefore come as no surprise that for a long time kolkhozian commerce was fuelled for the most part by kolkhozians as opposed to the kolkhozes65 : the work that the Soviet peasant performed on his plot was of the same nature as the “cash in hand” work of the poorly paid worker, and as long as the conditions which gave rise to it continued, was just as firmly entrenched. Even if the State had wanted to prohibit such work (al-though that would make no sense, just as the small boss who pays starvation wages would never prohibit his workmen from doing more or less illicit work on the side, as this helps keep them fed), such a prohibition would have had no effect: small production cannot be suppressed by constitutional decree; it only disappears when it has become economically absurd, something that is already happening in more advanced capitalisms than that of Russia, capitalisms which therefore find themselves economically and socially further advanced than Russia on the path towards socialism, even if politically speaking they are just as reactionary. Cruelly denying the official lies about Russian socialism, the small private economy of the kolkhoz did not cease to impose a burden on the “cooperative” economy to the extent that the hours of work devoted to it were (and could only be) stolen from the latter66 . The Soviet regime has always made a mockery of socialism, but in the long run it could not make fun of the disastrous results of its agriculture. It should therefore come as no surprise that the agrarian question is at the root of the ultimate mutation that Russia has undergone with the so-called “Khrushchevite” reforms, as it was at the root of other policy turns carried out under entirely different conditions: the NEP, the 1925 liberalization of agrarian policy, then the turning point of 1929-30. It is nevertheless fair to note that, within the framework of Capitalist Russia Mark 2, this ultimate mutation affected many other things besides the government’s agricultural policy.
With its rural proletariat, which the Stalinist regime did not hesitate to subject to a labour law every bit as harsh as the legislation in force at the dawn of capitalism in the motherland of this mode of production, England, and with its immense kolkhozian masses, which this same regime flattered, while at the same time keeping them in the same misery and, what is more, keeping them in the stupefying idiocy of small-production, Capitalist Russia Mark 2 victoriously passed the test of the second imperialist war, bloodily negating the hare-brained doctrine of the emancipation of the proletariat and workers within the national framework, since it cost the Russian population 23 million lives (“Stalin’s most precious capital”); but the country emerging from the reconstruction of 1947-55 (the fourth and fifth five-year plans) was no longer the country of the era of industrialization. There is a lack of information to allow direct comparison with the years 1929-30, that is to say with the start of the offensive of the capitalist revolution, but the progression of the urban population from 56 million in 1938 to 61 million in 1940, 87 million in 1956 and 99.3 million in 1958 is already quite eloquent. Because the rate of demographic growth was higher in the countryside than in the city, the regression of the rural population was slower than urban growth: from 115 million in 1938, it fell slightly to 113 million in 1956 and 109 million in 1958. More interestingly, the composition of the active population, which reveals a social division of labour sufficient in itself to ruin the thesis of the existence of “socialism” in Russia67 , allows us to characterize precisely the stage reached by Russian capitalism:
It was now an adult capitalism since it had crossed the 50% mark of the active population employed in agriculture; but it was still a young capitalism, as the percentage of peasants was still very high (compared with 12% in the USA and 28% in France at the same time) and the share of services was much lower (27% compared with 51% in the United States and 35% in France); as for the 5% in commercial activities (against 16.5% in the USA and 13.4% in France), this is because of the low circulation of consumer goods and not a hypothetical socialism; if they correspond to “Spartan mores”, as a bourgeois commentator puts it, it is not those of a proletarian regime, which would surely disdain the rampant and imbecile consumerism of western society, but those that the Stalinist capitalist industrialism imposed without great difficulty on a population with reduced needs, because it was little “civilized” at the time of the revolution, besides which it was protected from dangerous covetousness by the infamous Iron Curtain, which not only stopped the inflow of foreign goods, but also any inflow of information about the world beyond the socialist paradise. As poor as it remains, this country has an endowment of productive capacities much higher than those of 1928-29: not just because of the intense mechanization, which you can easily read into the figures on the increase in the production of heavy industry, nor only because of the increase in the number of workers (11,590,000 in 1928; they must be 23-24 million in 1958 if we take the figure of 4 to 5 million various “managers” and “technicians” in industry as exact), but also because of the qualitative transformations that are still observed in the second generation of an urban population of recent rural origin and which, in the case of Russia, were in any case sufficient to allow the abrogation of the fierce labour code in force under Stalin, due to the need to bend millions of peasants, who were accustomed to the slow rhythms of traditional agricultural work, to industrial discipline: uprooted villagers, recalcitrant, desperate, anarchic and powerless... transporting their fierce muzhik individualism to the factories, which Stalinism was able to exploit perfectly with its vast system of individual competition by means of overtime wages, performance bonuses or Stakhanovite rivalry70 . By “qualitative transformations” we mean all the conditions which, from literacy to the disciplines imposed by industrial and urban life, contribute at least as much as the use of the machine to increased labour productivity; they fall into the category of those “material conditions of socialism” that the Bolsheviks had hoped to be able to develop while awaiting the world revolution, without falling back into the shame and horrors of capitalism. However, far from constituting “socialist conquests” they do not go beyond the framework of similar bourgeois progress that has accompanied industrial development in all countries, but which, at no other time, had drawn the servile respect that we see manifesting itself in today’s pseudo-Marxists tagging along behind the Soviet Union.
The first major consequence of this bourgeois progress, combined with the complex consequences of the war, was that it made it impossible to maintain that Iron Curtain, under whose shelter Stalin imagined he could resist the global capitalist commercial system: the more a national economy is developed, and, at the same time, the greater the needs of its population, the more it needs the world economy and the less tolerable economic self-sufficiency becomes71 .
This consequence which, in politics, was translated into the “doctrine” of “peaceful coexistence” (long practised on the class level, if not on the national level), manifested itself economically by a spectacular reversal of the evolution of Russia’s world trade. However, although the absolute values of this trade had remained very modest, this reversal reflected an underground current that would no longer leave much standing in the laborious edifice of lies that constituted Stalinist “socialism”. In prices in millions of roubles based on the rouble’s 1961 value, this is the picture of Soviet trade: from 1932 to 1945, a spectacular fall, with an average annual decrease of 7% (the import figure of 2,514, recorded in 1945, corresponds to wartime deliveries on loan and lease); from 1946 to 1961 (we do not have more recent comparable figures), an equally spectacular rise, with an average annual increase of 15%:
In connection with this re-establishment of trade relations with the outside world, that is to say with the world capitalist market, a curious change took place in Russia from 1956: after a quarter of a century of “socialism in one country”, there was a demand on all sides for a... return to the NEP! The meaning of this is quite clear: it was not at all a question of softening the pressure that the demands of the accumulation of capital exerted on the proletariat of Russia (or even on its petty peasantry) as a class concern; that bygone era would never return. It was a matter of restructuring the process of accumulation in a capitalist direction. The watchword was: prioritization of heavy industry remained in all its rigour, given that the obligation to “catch up and overtake” the most developed capitalist country (the USA) also remained, if Russia was not to be crushed economically and then militarily. That this was a race lost before it even started72 was not in any way a reason to motivate Russia to give it up; on the other hand, her inferior position, which she felt as a mortal danger, dictated her new slogan: “cut the costs of production!” – an obsession that dictated all the measures it had been taking for ten years [up until 1967] and which bourgeois imbecility presented as a “restoration of capitalism” as if, under Stalin, anything had reigned other than the impersonal Capital of the State!
The background to the increasingly bitter criticism of “old planning” and of the reforms carried out can be summed up in a few words: as long as it was a question of providing Russia with the productive apparatus that it totally lacked, centralizing, authoritarian and bureaucratic methods were very good; now they have become an obstacle to economic development. The industrial reform of 1957 therefore began by replacing vertical national ministries with horizontal regional management: 23 central industrial ministries out of 33 were liquidated and enterprises were attached to local authorities: the sovnarkhozes, 104 of them across the entire territory. The reform makes perfect sense from a capitalist point of view: how could the pretension of the centralized State that it could control in detail the activity of more than 200,000 industrial enterprises and more than 100,000 construction not lead to administrative anarchy? What was its economic interest? It is not a question, as in socialism, of drawing up balances of resources and needs in order to distribute social tasks according to possibilities and utility, progressively to equalize local conditions and reduce imbalances. It is only a question of not braking production.
Central control, essential in socialism, becomes a hindrance from this point of view as soon as the number of production units reaches a certain number. The system of snabzheniye i sbyt (supply and marketing), those administrative organs through which all companies must pass when they wanted to get in touch with each other, was felt to be particularly odious. When the volume of these relationships was further reduced, and the products that were dispatched from one company to another were not very differentiated in quality, it was a good way of distributing the existing means of production as well as possible. But, with the increase in the volume of trade, and above all the differentiation of the needs of companies with regard to the means of production (differentiation ignored by bureaucrats who know nothing about technology without knowing everything about the economy), sbyts were the best way to prevent such an enterprise from obtaining, as quickly as possible, some improved or scarce machine that it needed from another company that produced it. The sbyts would therefore go to join the central ministries at the museum of “socialism in one country”.
That’s not all. Authoritarian methods are reproached for their purely administrative and anti-economic nature: they relied too much on obedience to hierarchical leaders and not enough on the search for an economic rationality, understood in the capitalist sense of profitability, not of the whole national economy, but of each individual unit. The back-and-forth system of plans from the planning centre to businesses and from businesses back to the planning centre was first resolved by a duel between the latter and central government, the one seeking to obtain the easiest plan to execute, and the other to impose higher targets. Not only is there nothing “scientific” about the final compromise, but it was the best-performing companies that were penalized; this system also encouraged companies not to use their productive capacities to the full, but, on the contrary, to “stock” part of them to cope with a possible increase in the State’s targets that were in the process of being implemented.
Anxious to apply the plan, or even to exceed it, companies were not concerned with making the best use of their plant and equipment. Whether their management was good or bad from this point of view did not influence the allocation of the State funds necessary for the expansion of production; moreover, the equipment being financed from a budgetary allocation without any direct financial participation of the establishments themselves, however small, meant the latter were not responsible for growth or modernization. Under these conditions, even if the principle of the profitability of different economic entities continues to be reaffirmed, the only guide to their real activity is whether they achieve the easiest targets, the execution and exceeding of which ensure the most material benefits for management and even the staff of the company. In order to achieve this “economic rationalism” in the most bourgeois sense of the term, the kolkhozes were forced to buy the machinery of the State, which thus became a cooperative capital for which the kolkhozes were solely responsible; in this way, the State hoped to instil in them the “healthy” habit of calculating their “costs” and making savings by reducing the scandalous waste that they used to produce when their means of production belonged to the State and their main concern was to produce the quantities of foodstuffs they were forced to deliver.
The same hopes were pinned on an increase in the responsibility of directors of industrial enterprises. The crowning achievement of the whole new edifice resided in a policy of “honest pricing”, based on this overarching principle: if the prices fixed by the State, in particular for agricultural products, are systematically below the true cost, the productive unit has no interest in producing at a lower cost, since it does not derive any profit from its efforts. In the case of the kolkhoz, this lack of profit-sharing favoured the small enterprises on the side at the expense of the collective enterprise and ensured a permanent food crisis unworthy of a civilized country. In short, on all sides, for more than ten years these were nothing but tributes paid to the “great work of Stalin”, and at the same time sighs of lament over the archaism of his methods and a demand for “healthier” economic principles – which just happened to be the tenets of classical capitalism.
Then we see the perfectly idle old discussion on “historical necessities” being dredged up again. With a heavy heart, the old school Stalinists bow down to these necessities while swearing blind that Russian socialism remains Russian socialism. In reality, from the point of view of the historical necessities of capitalism, there is no doubt that the “principles” they are thus throwing overboard are really outdated. But, for Marxists and revolution-aries, the real problem that arises has absolutely nothing to do with the question of whether it is the Stalinists or their critics who are right, whether centralization or decentralization is better, authority or liberalism, material profit-sharing or coercion.
For Marxists and revolutionaries, these debates are perfectly insipid because the genuinely communist conception of economic rationalism differs precisely from economic rationalism as the Soviets conceive it, just as socialism differs from capitalism. In other words, the “historical necessity” that they embody differs from the historical necessity that Soviet power obeys. From the point of view of this rationality, of this historical necessity, the post-Stalinist critics of Stalinism cut as poor a figure as the Stalinists themselves, and perhaps an even worse figure. To put it in a nutshell, the “rationalism” of these neo-socialists-in-one-country is limited to economy in the use of constant capital to delay and slow down the fall in the rate of profit and to confront “peaceful competition” with the more developed capitalist countries more advantageously on the world market. The only “rationalism” that we proletarian communists recognize as such is the abolition of the gigantic waste of living labour practised by capitalism in all its forms. Their rationalism demands due deference towards the law of value, economic freedom, competition, in short commercial anarchy and sordid bourgeois interests.
Our rationalism, by contrast, sees it as necessary to liquidate this freedom, this competition and therefore this anarchy, through the substitution of the law of value by the law of social utility, through the substitution of “profit-taking” by solidarity. Their rationalism73 kindled the monstrous Khrushchevite doctrine of commercial socialism after the no less monstrous Stalinist doctrine of national socialism. Our rationalism is what inspires today’s small international party to defend, unconditionally, the internationalist and anti-commercial principles that the Bolsheviks never disowned. Their rationalism is leading us towards a third imperialist war. Ours will lead the global working class onto the path of the revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat.
When the hour strikes again it will not only be the revenge of the glorious Bolshevik October, slowly stifled in the suffocating framework of capitalist forms resuscitated behind the screen of “national socialism”. It will be the beginning of a total emancipation, not only of the proletariat, but of the entire human race, and the end of the barbaric prehistory that capitalist and bourgeois progress will never be able to end.
Translation taken from: A Revolution Summed Up - Part 3: The Soviet economy after October; International Communist Party
- 1Decrees on workers’ control, the nationalization of banks, the organization of consumer cooperatives, the suspension of the payment of dividends to shareholders of public limited companies, the cancellation of State loans and the State monopoly of foreign trade.
- 2The industrial production index being set equal to 100 for the year 1913, in 1921 it was just 31, i.e. less than a third of what it was before the war.
- 3The 10th Congress, held in March 1921, eight days before the outbreak of the Kronstadt revolt and under the threat of a peasant counter-revolution.
- 4The meaning is clear: the social base of the party fighting for socialism. The “total victory” which is discussed next is just as clearly a political victory for this party, and not... the triumph of the economic and social form of socialism... in Russia alone, because this would contradict all of Lenin’s assertions about the need for a long struggle for State capitalism.
- 5Source: Charles Bettelheim, The Soviet Economy, 1950.
- 6A point that should be noted here, which is of no practical importance but great significance in principle. In 1921-22, Lenin essentially relied on concessions to revive industry, that is to say, the leasing of Soviet enterprises by foreign capital under Bolshevik control. It was, of course, impossible to dress up these concessions as Lenin had to note, but it is significant that concern for “national independence” and “socialist” protectionism (terminology that came later, and was entirely Stalinist) represented everything completely foreign not only to Lenin, but to the whole party at the start of the NEP, since no one thought of opposing this audacious position of Lenin’s.
- 7According to the platform of the left opposition for the 15th Congress, which would be held after the exclusion of Trotsky and Zinoviev in December 1927, and which, of course, would not even consider this platform. The proportion is estimated at exactly 53% for 1926.
- 8Trotsky attached such importance to the economic question that he focused all his efforts on it, renouncing any intervention on the Georgian question in which Stalin, Ordzhonikidze and Dzerzhinsky were compromised, even though on 5 March Lenin, already in the grip a second sickness, expressly instructed him “to defend the Georgian cause”. Likewise, when Lenin had announced his intention to “throw a bomb” at Stalin at the congress, if he was able participate, Trotsky was silent during the denunciations of the State apparatus and the Stalin-Kamenev-Zinoviev troika, in which Bukharin (who called Stalin’s policy towards nationalities chauvinist) as well as Preobrazhensky (who attacked the internal regime of the party) and Rakovsky (who denounced “russification” on behalf of the Ukrainian delegation) took part. Against the express wishes of Lenin, who, on the night of 5 to 6 March, had sent a letter to Stalin breaking off relations, which spoke volumes about his political judgement, Trotsky did nothing to oppose the re-election of Stalin to the political secretariat, proclaiming the solidarity of the Political Bureau and the Central Committee and appealing to party discipline. It is therefore clear that, for Trotsky, the question of economic policy was the capital question in March 1923; but he did not yet foresee the campaign that would only start in the autumn on his alleged “underestimation of the peasantry”, and which was a purely political campaign with social pretexts!
- 9Trotsky’s entry into the Opposition in October, after making desperate efforts to ease the tension in March, provoked in the party by the Troika’s entirely parliamentary struggle for power, is explained by the serious events in the summer. The economic situation having worsened, waged labourers were no longer being paid; wildcat strikes broke out, with party members who had not accepted the NEP intervening to take the lead. These were Gavril Myasnikov and about thirty members of “The Workers Group” as well as Alexander Bogdanov and his group “Workers’ Truth”. These militants would be expelled but – more seriously – they would first be arrested by the GPU and imprisoned, which would give its leader, Dzerzhinsky, the opportunity to ask the Political Bureau that “each member of the party be required to denounce any opposition activity to the GPU”. To Trotsky, who had a very reserved attitude towards the appeals of the Opposition (and especially of Preobrazhensky and Bukharin) “for the restoration of democracy in the party”, this request would reveal such a “deterioration of the situation inside the party since the 12th Congress” that he would immediately break the alliance he had forced himself into with Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin.
- 10These were Vyacheslav Molotov and Anastas Mikoyan, who were heavily sarcastic about industrial planning projects for several years and reproached the Opposition for bureaucratic conceptions of the economy and wanting to sacrifice the peasantry for industrial development
- 11These “glavs” were the central economic directorates built during war communism and which managed State industry using authoritarian methods, in the absence of any exchange and any market. They were dissolved in 1921 at the same time as free trade was re-established.
- 12At the time of preparation for the 12th Congress, it was Rykov (the future representative of the right) who, while noting that the fixed and working capital of State industry had continued to decrease in 1922-23, nevertheless judged, in 1923, that State industry had to produce profits; an “optimistic hope”, which Trotsky said he did not share.
- 13An alarming symptom, which speaks volumes about the state of exhaustion of the party’s healthy forces, especially after the earlier defeat of October 1923 in Germany. “This defeat led to the suicide of old militants like Lutovinov and Yevgenia Bosch, Glatzmann, one of Trotsky’s secretaries and a number of other less-known militants. Others paid in their material situation for taking up a position which was punished by being transferred. Some made up their minds to be more prudent in future” (Broué).
- 14A victory that was completed, in January 1925, by the elimination of Trotsky from the Commissariat for War, and therefore from the government, to which Trotsky submitted with perfect discipline and without ever stooping to personal controversy.
- 15A thing that is very difficult to establish, given that the two struggling currents in the party said the most contradictory things on this subject and foreign observers, being so struck by the terrible backwardness of Russian agriculture in its entirety that the distinction between poor, middle and rich peasants (bedniaks, seredniaks and kulaks) appeared to them of little economic significance, if they did not go so far as to assert that the “kulaks” were only an invention of local administrators eager to apply the directives of the party (which, for political reasons, attached the greatest importance to social differentiation within the peasantry) even if it meant falsifying the summary of the headcount of the various categories in their sector.
The supposition would not have shocked Lenin who noted at the end of his life: “Our State apparatus is worth absolutely nothing” and who, from March 1919, at the Eighth Party Congress, remarked: “In places careerists and adventurers have attached themselves to us like leeches, people who call themselves Communists and are deceiving us, and who have wormed their way into our ranks because the Communists are now in power, and because the more honest government employees refused to come and work with us on account of their retrograde ideas, while careerists have no ideas, and no honesty”. According to the left, in 1925, the true beneficiaries of the NEP were around three to four percent of the peasants; these, the kulaks, would have held half of the sown land at that time illicitly (ceded by poor or middle peasants who could not afford to work this land, or at least make a living from it) and 60 percent of the machines; two percent of the richest kulaks would have supplied 60 percent of the products brought to market; they would hold three-quarters of the illegally rented land, on which they would employ, still illegally, three and a half million agricultural workers and more than 1.5 million day-labourers receiving wages 40 percent lower than before the war. These figures, quoted by Victor Serge in Towards Industrialization (1927) and cited by Pierre Broué in his Bolshevik Party, are unverifiable.
- 16Even Trotsky would admit that these were inevitable concessions, while claiming that they had become so through the fault of “management”, which had neglected the efforts essential for faster industrialization.
- 17By “cooperation” the Bolsheviks meant all forms of collective work from the simple tovarishchestvo (or society of culture in common) in the artel and in the commune, this cooperation reaching the stage of State capitalism only in the sovkhoz. In tovarishchestvo, land was cultivated in common, but cattle and other objects remained private property. In the artel, not only was the land cultivated in common, but all farm animals and livestock intended for consumption belonged to the association, and not of its members (in this sense, the future kolkhoz was below the level of the artel). In the commune, the houses themselves, the gardens and the farmyard animals belonged to the association. The distribution of produce was egalitarian and not related to the individual’s actual performance of work: it was therefore a true communist association from the internal point of view, but its relations with the outside were mercantile and bourgeois. In the sovkhoz, the ownership of the working capital passed entirely to the State and the members became pure employees.
- 18It should nevertheless be noted that, in his opportunist land policy, Stalin had gone, before the unrest in Georgia, to the point of proposing the denationalization of the soil, which would have meant the renunciation of proletarian power to control or attempt to control the agrarian economy and its developments in any way. Faced with the unanimous opposition from both the right and the left to such a position, Stalin retreated cautiously, claiming that only enemies of Soviet power could have spread such rumours!
- 19We know that in 1925, the 900 million roubles placed in private trade annually brought in 400 million in interest, obviously lost to the development of productive forces, which did not bother the Nepmen at all!
- 20The reference here is to Engels, who, while strongly attacking the French socialists who wanted to “defend small property”, had noted that the proletarian party did not have to promote the ruin of the peasantry. See Lenin himself, in “Report on the Attitude of the Proletariat to Petty-Bourgeois Democrats” of 27 November 1918.
- 21It was exhibited in a two-volume work, The New Economics, of which only the first appeared before the left was outlawed, and which was translated from Russian and known in the West only belatedly.
- 22The mere fact that these “other forces” manifested themselves nevertheless proves the correctness of Bukharin’s Marxist thought, which only had the misfortune to “foresee” exactly what was only going to happen a quarter of a century later, but to understand only at the last minute what was happening before his eyes!
- 23The Italian left was the only current to do this. The degenerate disciples of Trotsky, as wretched in this as in all things, rehabilitated Bukharin only as a supposed supporter of “proletarian democracy”. Given on the one hand the role he played against the left, for whom “proletarian democracy” meant “defence of the party”, his rebuff of Trotsky’s proposal in 1927 of a right-left bloc to ensure this defence against the centre, and knowing on the other hand that Bukharin was very probably the author of the 1936 constitution, which was rightly denounced by Trotsky, we can only admire the blinding power of democratic prejudice.
- 24Compromise with the peasantry, but also with the world market, in a sense. While he was very aware of the fact that market pressures would impose on Russia the application of strict capitalist methods, Lenin warned of the danger should it avoid the challenge, that is to say, of falling back into economic autarchy. In 1925, this was exactly the position that Bukharin continued to defend when he fought the already clear autarchic tendencies (business leaders demanded “highly protective” tariffs for Russian industry, and not purely fiscal) at the same time that he performed the so-called “pro-kulak” turn. As for the so-called Stalinist “radicalization”, it would break with the world market as much as possible at the same time as it crushed the kulaks.
- 25The judgment of an American observer of the forced collectivization, Calvin B. Hoover, author of The Economic Life of Soviet Russia (1931), which perfectly followed to the obtuse “common sense” rightly denounced by Trotsky in Their Morals and Ours on the same question, but which was unfortunately not the prerogative of opponents of communism like Hoover, since it was ultimately he who explained the terrible epidemic of recantations that raged among the Russian communists in the years 1927-30.
- 26There is no contradiction between the act of affirming this and the act, for a proletarian current, of refusing to endorse or support such a policy. It is one of the infamies of opportunism to believe that it is necessary to bow to all “historical necessity”, once this has been recognized. Rosa Luxemburg rightly noted that in fact, there were always two historical necessities in struggle, that of capitalism and that of socialism, and that if “theirs” was often the strongest, it nevertheless had “much shorter breath than ours”, which would eventually prevail. We can easily reject the argument that if we admit that the Marxist party could not have applied “revolutionary methods” where Stalin applied them, it was Marxism itself that was compromised, recognizing in it an “inferiority”, precisely the one that Stalin did away with. But Marxism is the doctrine of the socialist revolution, not the doctrine of improving backward countries, a historical work in which it is of little importance to us that other political and social currents can boast of any “superiority”. The only true betrayal of Marxism is precisely if you grant any socialist significance to such work, whether it be the modernization of Russia or that of China, Stalinism or Maoism.
- 27A good observer of Russia (where he was during the “forced collectivization”) and an objective historian, but a disastrous and pitiful political theorist, the Stalino-Trotskyist Isaac Deutscher exclaimed somewhere that if a transformation that overwhelms the mode of production for hundreds of millions of people in the space of a few years is not a “social revolution”, he did not know what else a social revolution could be. Agreed. The International Communist Party has never denied the capitalist revolution carried out in Russia after 1927, any more than its historical necessity, but it affirms that the agrarian transformation of 1929-30 impressed a backward character on this revolution, even as a capitalist revolution, and the proof is the dismal figures on agricultural yield, an indisputable condemnation of what even an observer as well disposed towards the Russians as the urban economist Paul-Henri Chombart de Lauwe rightly called “the aberrant kolkhoz” in his work on the Soviet peasantry.
- 28In 1928 Bukharin had not yet realized that the unified left and the Stalinists constituted two parties expressing opposing class interests and that he himself belonged to the same class party as the unified left, and not to Stalin’s party. He therefore addressed himself to Stalin: it was the Stalinist fraction that he wanted to convince, because he thought it was a useful ally to prevent a victory for the left. It was not the latter’s views on the party issue, nor even its criticism of socialism in one country that set Bukharin against the left, because his own rallying behind it was never anything but a political manoeuvre; his scientific convictions on the one hand, and on the other his attitude to the question of the autarchy or non-autarchy of the Russian economy excluded the possibility that he ever took it literally and especially that he shared its nationalist implications. What set Bukharin against the left – which precisely led him to his deadly alliance with Stalinist centrism – was his conviction that the triumph of the left’s conceptions of economic policy would cause a terrible degeneration of the workers’ State, which indeed is what happened when Stalin turned leftwards, but it is quite clear that if anyone could register his warning while there was still time, it was not Stalin, the potential leader of the new party in gestation, but the Bolshevik left.
- 29Educated since 1921 in the idea of the importance of “the alliance with the peasantry” and since 1923 in the conviction that “hostility towards the muzhik” was a Trotskyist deviation, the militants and even party officials did not take to the U-turn easily, opposing emergency measures or criticizing them. The repression was ruthless, as was the ideological campaign against them, but the fiction of the unanimity of the Political Bureau was maintained (with the complicity of Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky) until January 1929. Still in October 1928, in the midst of a struggle with Bukharin, Stalin had the brass neck to affirm: “There are no right-wingers in the Political Bureau. In the Political Bureau, we are united, and we will remain so until the end”. Very imprudently, the right let him get away with this and abandoned its own supporters to his charges: it judged that it should not let itself be chased out of the leadership before the fall of Stalin, which it considered inevitable, and which would constitute a critical moment for the revolution.
- 30Trotsky, convinced that the victory of the right was complete, spoke of the “final phase of Thermidor”.
- 31Bukharin had only just been publicly denounced.
- 32Stalin of course insisted on the spontaneous nature of the collective farm movement and for him it was the occasion for one of those “theories” that are just so many slaps in the face of Marxism. In an article written in March 1930 (published in August) entitled “Stalin as Theoretician” on the economic problems of the USSR, Trotsky presented Stalin’s thesis thus, in order to refute it: “Why”, he asks his unfortunate audience, “do we succeed so easily (!!) in demonstrating, under the condition of nationalized land the superiority (of collectives) over the small peasant economies? This is where the tremendous revolutionary significance of the Soviet agrarian laws lies, which abolished absolute rent... and which established the nationalization of land”. Very satisfied with himself, Trotsky continues... “And here Stalin makes reference – the Marxian agronomists [Trotsky is referring to the followers of Bukharin, whom he wants to shame for their alliance with Stalin] are recommended not to exchange glances, not to blow their noses in confusion, and what is more, not to hide their heads under the table – to the third volume of Capital and to Marx’s theory of ground rent. According to Stalin, it would appear that the Western peasant is tied down to the land by nothing else than ‘absolute rent’. And since we ‘destroyed’ this monster, that in itself caused it to disappear... Under the conditions of market economy, rent is determined by that quantity of products which can be extracted by the owner of the land from the products of the labour applied to it... As to the actual liquidation of absolute rent, we will be able to speak of that only after the socialization of the land all over the planet, that is, after the victory of the world revolution. But within national limits, if one may say so without insulting Stalin, not only socialism cannot be constructed, but even absolute rent cannot be abolished. Ground rent finds its expression on the world market in the price of agricultural products. Insofar as the Soviet government is an exporter of the latter – and with the intensification of agriculture grain exports will increase greatly – to that extent, armed with the monopoly of foreign trade, the Soviet government appears on the world market as the owner of the land whose product it exports, and consequently, in the price of these products the Soviet government realizes the ground rent concentrated in its hands. If the technique of our agriculture were not inferior to that of the capitalists and at the same time the technique of our foreign trade, then precisely with us in the USSR absolute rent would appear in its clearest and most concentrated form... If Stalin now brags of our ‘abolition’ of absolute rent, instead of realizing it on the world market, then a temporary right to such bragging is given him by the present weakness of our agricultural export and the irrational character of our foreign trade, in which not only is absolute ground rent sunk without a trace, but many other things as well. This side of the matter, which has no direct relation to the collectivization of the peasant economy, nevertheless shows us by one more example that the idolization of economic isolation and economic backwardness is one of the basic features of our national-socialist philosopher”. Thus, Trotsky refutes Stalin’s absurd attempt to present “a wide movement, so far very primitive in content, and very unstable, toward collectivization” as a communist movement. This movement is primitive in that it represents – as we have noted – an escape, by a fraction of the peasantry farming small plots from a level of poverty completely unknown in the West at the same time. “Certain elements of the petty conservatism of private ownership are inherent here, consequently not in an abstract category of absolute rent, but in the material conditions of a higher parcellized culture. If it is comparatively easy”, continues Trotsky, “to break the Russian peasants away from a piece of land, it is not at all because Stalin’s ‘new argument’ liberated them from absolute rent but for the very reason for which, prior to the October revolution, periodic repartition of land took place in Russia”. Thus, unlike his degenerate disciples, Trotsky in no way idealized the movement establishing kolkhozes. On the contrary, as a Marxist he recognized them as being backward.
- 33An American witness to “accelerated collectivization”, Calvin B. Hoover, wrote in his book The Economic Life of Soviet Russia: “To aid the group of twenty-five thousand workers who had been sent out to organize and administer the new collective farms, every other type of urban inhabitant who could be induced by favours or pressure to go to the villages was pressed into service. For example, in Moscow the students of the advanced musical schools were mobilized for the purpose of carrying the cultural revolution to the kolkhoz. Hospitals and clinics in Moscow were stripped of doctors and nurses in order to supply the needs of the collective farms... School teachers in increasing numbers... Students in the agricultural and technical schools... The peasants were inclined to regard all persons who came from the city as agents of the Soviet Government... In districts inhabited by national minorities, the natives regard all Russians as supporters of the Soviet Government. In raids by insurgents, Russians are often killed regardless of the exact political affiliations of the unfortunate victims. Since self-preservation was involved, every inhabitant of the city who was sent to the country became a soldier for the Communist cause [ Hoover was no Marxist and was totally ignorant of ‘the communist cause’: what he means by this is the government offensive]. Isolated assassinations of workers who had gone out to manage the collective farms were numerous... The most appalling stories of torture and mutilation of these workers by the peasants spread by word of mouth, for the government rarely permitted news of these peasant assassinations to appear in the press... Many stories were told of instances in which the peasants at night had surrounded houses occupied by workers sent out from the city, and had burned their houses and their occupants”.
- 34Hoover notes, in the work cited above: “Peasant insurrections flared up all over the Union. In particular, there were risings in the Northern Caucasus, in the small republics making up the Caucasian Federation, in Turkestan, and even in Riazan, which is only a few hours from Moscow. In general, these revolts occurred in districts inhabited by national minorities, where there still existed the tradition of freedom supported by the sword, and where the feeling of racial solidarity had prevented winning over even the bedniaki to the cause of collectivization. But the revolts were not confined wholly to these districts”.
- 35There was a case of refusal to obey orders by the army, which had been ordered to shoot peasant crowds. Deutscher, moreover, relates the distress of a GPU officer he met at that time in Russia and who, as an old militant in the civil war of 1918-21, “was utterly in despair about recent events in the countryside”, a state of mind which could not have been out of the ordinary.
- 36Thousands of readers will have seen this definition found in The Unfinished Revolution (1967) by the “Marxist” Isaac Deutscher, who must recognize the merit of formulating the most unsustainable theses of opportunism in all their purity, disdaining the demagoguery in which they are usually wrapped.
- 37The thesis cited above for the purposes of the presentation implies that the destruction of the Bolshevik Party (which only hardened Stalinists dare to deny) did not mean the destruction of the class party of the proletariat and the loss of power by this class, but rather only the elimination of the hitherto predominant current, which constituted a mixture of communism and revolutionary bourgeois democracy. Let us not shudder at the thought and examine what this actually means. If this were true, then the political counter-revolution of 1927-29 would not have had, with regard to socialism, any greater significance than, with regard to capitalism, the substitution of Napoleon’s bourgeois Empire for the Jacobin Republic (the political form of the democratic revolution, after a series of transitions that we can overlook). In both cases, those who meditate on history to find this political change “regrettable” are free to do so. But the revolutionary internationalism of the Bolshevik Party on a world scale ceases to be capable of being considered as a characteristic, that is to say, an inalienable principle of the communist programme, without which there no longer exists a class party, It becomes a sort of ornament on Lenin’s republic rather like Jacobin virtue appears as an ornament on Robespierre’s republic; both of them ultimately superfluous. The collapse of the Communist International, the global discredit which fell on communism, the second imperialist war and the powerlessness of the working class to put an end to it, the political disorganization that persists a quarter of a century later and gives contemporary capitalism an easy ride, all this is counted for nothing, or considered secondary. One wonders if any doctrine, as conservative and traditionalist as you could imagine, could be more odious than this urbane watering down of revolutionary Marxism.
- 38Deutscher confides to his unfortunate readers (readers that no party tradition and no class doctrine can protect against his sophistry, since the class party has been reduced to a quasi-impotence and its propaganda only reaches a tiny number of proletarians) that the official economist of the regime, Eugene Varga in person, readily admitted in private, in the 1930s, that the doctrine of “socialism in one country” was only a “doctrine of consolation”. It is obviously an incentive to conclude that ultimately idealization does not matter if the work accomplished has been proletarian. It is to count for nothing the role of the party, which must educate and emancipate, not only the working class, but all the members of society, and not mislead and deceive, as all the other class regimes have done. It is to count for nothing the capital importance of this fatal doctrine of socialism in one country in dismantling the international movement of the proletariat, in forcing it to accept the worst political about turns. This question had already been posed clearly in 1925 at the 14th Congress. Bukharin (who was however never a national communist) objected to the left opportunistically: “If we want to declare to the new layers of the working class that we are building State capitalism instead of socialism, that we will not be able to overcome the difficulties resulting from our defective method and the delay of the world revolution, we have to repudiate and fight this state of mind”. Zinoviev made the following proud retort, much sharper than many made by the great Trotsky himself, but which unfortunately did not pass into posterity: “Workers do not need to be fooled by beautiful phrases. They know perfectly well the strong and the weak sides of our economy, principally in State industry. They know perfectly well that we have conquered these companies and have driven out the exploiters... but they also know that their factories are tied to the market. They see the shortcomings perfectly well and there is no point in sugaring the pill... It is clear that there is capitalism here, and State capitalism. We must say this openly to the workers: if we do not do this, they will notice our falsehoods and in this they will be right. It is a serious political question, which cannot be passed over, and no one will succeed in revising Leninism on this basis any time soon”. (Quoted from La Russie vers le socialisme, library of the French Communist newspaper, l’Humanité).
- 39Investment for the year 1929 in industry, while woefully low, reached 7.6 billion! We do not know what fraction of this it would have taken to provide agriculture with the 250,000 tractors then deemed necessary, but the 400 million roubles of kulak goods are certainly a paltry figure beside that.
- 40Marx says of this vulgar and “crude communism” that its essence is envy, which is the inverse rather than the negation of bourgeois property.
- 41To convince oneself of this, it suffices to compare the hysterical cries in favour of the “extermination” of the kulaks (who, thrown into labour camps, hunted down everywhere and prevented from engaging in any kind of economic activity, even as workers, sometimes turned to banditry, according to Trotsky’s testimony) and Lenin’s lucid pleas in 1921-22 in favour of the lease of Russian companies to foreign capitalists who would eventually agree to invest in them, his sarcasm against the braggarts who boasted of “building communism with their hands”. Lenin’s anti-capitalism is above all suspicion: but it is a proletarian and modern anti-capitalism not a Socialist-Revolutionary ideology.
- 42The citations are from P. Broué, The Bolshevik Party.
- 43After 1929, we are dealing with a new working class that no longer has anything in common with the October proletariat, “the wonder of history” as Preobrazhensky aptly called it in a moment of lyricism. We can understand nothing of the tremendous political and social setback that had occurred since the years of the civil war, if we do not have this phenomenon of gigantic change uppermost in mind.
- 44It is important to note that Lenin, who would reproach Trotsky precisely in his famous “Testament” for “his too administrative conception of things”, resisted Trotsky’s exhortations for an extension of the powers of Gosplan for quite some time. It was Trotsky himself who, in his criticism of Stalinist planning, highlighted what might have been Lenin’s reasons: no administrative authority can transcend real economic conditions and socialist control of the social economy cannot be realized by the virtue of the will alone. It is not only clear that Bukharin was closer to Lenin and Marxism when he fought the “planners” than Trotsky himself, but also that in the face of the follies of the first Stalinist five-year plan, Trotsky’s criticism took up the substance of Bukharin’s argument. In fact, as we noted in connection with the 1932 controversy, Trotsky never attributed to State planning the magical virtues that Stalinism attributed to it, and his struggle never went beyond the bounds of Marxist determinism. The criticism cited above therefore does not have the significance of a real “turning point”.
- 45The irony obviously targets Stalinist voluntarism, which claims to achieve this control of society over its own production by the sole virtue of State authority, which is not intrinsically impossible, contrary to what the post-Stalinist reformers suggest today, but which presupposes the generalization of associated work and the cessation of the struggle of all against all within the empire of need.
- 46It is therefore clear that Trotsky does not claim that if he were still in power, Bolshevism would achieve social control over the commercial economy. His criticism only denounces the illusion that Stalinism wants to create.
- 47We know that in 1932, the date of the text, Trotsky did not recognize that it had been overthrown, which does not detract from the value of a criticism aimed at the bragging about “socialism in one country”.
- 48Food production is part of Sector B. We treat it separately because it not only poses all the questions raised by the table [that follows] but also that of the reaction of the kolkhoz farmers to the economic oppression of big industrial State capital.
- 49A strange fact for people who supposedly “crushed the bourgeois democratic revolution” and developed a “purely communist” revolution. According to the bold construction of Deutscher, the Soviets make no secret of the fact that the October Revolution was of greater material benefit to peasants, whose standard of living increased by 11% than to the working class, which had to be content with just 7%.
- 50Socialism is as much a rationalization of, as an increase in, consumption. It is above all a harmonization of social life as a result of the disappearance of classes with diverging interests; in its ultimate and parasitic phase, capitalism undoubtedly increases the consumption of the masses at times, but these times contrast with others when, as a result of war or crisis, consumption itself falls to very low levels; we must not forget, moreover, that capitalism increases needs more than real consumption, and that if, to a certain extent, it corrupts the working masses, their needs and consumption are always very clearly distinguished in any epoch from the needs and consumption of the upper bourgeoisie and even of the middle classes, whose shameless waste is directly linked to concerns about social prestige. If we look from the viewpoint of people at the start of the 20th century, the current needs of the working masses and their consumption itself may well seem “bourgeois”, but it does not make much sense to do this. What matters is that bourgeois progress inflames rather than attenuates economic antagonism, so that today’s workers are not the copy of the bourgeois of fifty years ago, but the oppressed and the exploited of today, with or without cars, fridges and other trifles of this kind. Any other reasoning is already suspect, but then comes the dodgy practice of equating accelerated mechanization (which is only one aspect of the development of the productive forces that, in the eyes of Marxism, resides essentially in the productive capacities of men, which capitalism maintains at a low level, through stupidity and dismemberment through specialization) and socialism on the one hand and increased consumption and... capitalism on the other!
- 51From 33 to 88% on the production of vegetable oils, edible fats and meat; 100% for tobacco and brandy, which is less shocking.
- 52That of the Tsar, with his semi-colonial dependence on the Entente countries and the extraordinary archaism of his army, was not modern at all!
- 53Published by J. Chombart de Lauwe in his well-documented work Les paysans soviétiques (1961). It is from him that we have borrowed the data concerning the yield per hectare and the qualitative evolution of crops.
- 54For 1965, the results are as follows. Cattle: index 110 (+ 10%) cows: 95 (- 5%) pigs: 180 (+ 80%) sheep: 103 (+ 3%)
- 55We will neglect here the extra-economic and extra-historical argument according to which this revolution that introduced, then generalized, meat as a foodstuff alongside traditional cereals was disastrous for the health of the species, a doctrine which is a variety of the “bourgeois socialism”, mocked by Marx and Engels: “vegetarianism”.
- 56The other series gives, for industrial investments: 1929 7.6 billion (instead of 2.615 in the table above); 1930: 18.7; 1931: 18.4; 1932: 21.6; 1933: 18; 1934: 23.7; 1935: 27.8; 1936: 33.8; 1937: 38.1 billion (instead of 13.928); 1939: 40.8 billion; 1940: 43.2 billion. It is from a Soviet source like the first, and we do not know the reasons for these enormous differences. Bettelheim, who draws his figures from a 1936 work, SSSR Strana sotsializma, himself indicates a percentage of 25% for the year 1931, 20% for 1932 and 18% for 1935, which are clearly lower than those than that can be calculated on these; it seems that the difference comes from the fact that he relates the figures for agricultural investment not to those of investment in industry, but also to investment in the economy in general, taking account of transport and trade.
- 57The progression of the kolkhozes appears in the following series from Soviet sources, which gives the percentage of land cultivated by them: 1929: 3.9% (before the autumn offensive, of course); 1930: 52.7%; 1932: 61.5%; 1937: 93%
- 58Here, Chombart de Lauwe refers to an “unpublished document” that he probably obtained from a member of the scientific institutes he attended, but which the pseudo-communist party obviously had no interest in disseminating since it sheds light on one of the reasons for its agrarian bankruptcy. The naive French specialist, who equates Stalinism with communism, did not realize it, since he judges (in the official perspective of the regime) that “if we adopt the perspective of agricultural policy of the USSR based on the march to communism, the absolute priority given to heavy industry is not shocking”!!! He is another one who does not understand that “the march to communism” is the process of emancipation of the proletariat, which cannot of course be reduced to good food, but which takes it for granted – especially after fifty years of a so-called communist regime!
- 59In his Stalin, Isaac Deutscher notes that in January 1934, when the height of the crisis of “dekulakization” and famine had passed, Stalin assured a plenary session of the Central Committee that the danger having been averted, it was no longer necessary to push industrialization at the same accelerated pace as during the first five-year period. He adds that: “A few days later, he was found again on the platform, describing the dangers that threatened the countryside. He surprised the party by saying that collective farms could become even more dangerous for the regime than private farms. In the past, the peasants were scattered and slow to react. Since collectivization, they were organized in compact bodies that could support the Soviets, but also turn against them more effectively than the independent cultivators could. Rural political sections were established so that the party could monitor them more closely”. We can gauge here the vast difference in party function compared to the Bolshevik era: then, when we deplored the weak political implantation of the Communist Party of Russia in the countryside, it was because this translated into weak proletarian and communist influence; in 1934, by contrast, it was to bolster the State police in the countryside!
- 60Figures supplied by Chombart de Lauwe in his Les paysans soviétiques. This author has the merit of insisting on the fact that this does not at all mean the liquidation of the individual kolkhoz economy, whose disastrous weight on the general agrarian economy the Soviet regime did not want to recognize, for the quite obvious reason that the fact is a clear contradiction of the doctrine of the 1936 Constitution and the Kolkhoz Statute (1935) according to which, “The path of kolkhozes, the path of Socialism [sic] is the only right path for the toiling peasants”. According to these two monuments of opportunistic infamy, by taking “upon themselves an obligation to strengthen their artel, to work honestly, to distribute the kolkhoz income according to the amount of work done, to guard the common property, to take care of the kolkhoz goods, to keep the tractors and machinery in good order, to tend the horses carefully, to execute the tasks imposed by the workers’ and peasants’ State in order to make their kolkhoz a Bolshevik one and all members of the kolkhoz affluent people”. But “affluence” being late in coming, the peasants did none of all that, which moreover had nothing to do with “Bolshevism”.
- 61Data taken from “Statistical Compendium of the National Economy of the USSR”, 1957, and from the United Nations study on the economic situation of Europe in 1958, from 1959, cited by Chombart de Lauwe in the work mentioned above.
- 62This clear description is taken from Les paysans soviétiques by Chombart de Lauwe as well as the details below.
- 63An excellent factual proof of Marx’s critique of the utopia of the emancipation of the workers by the substitution of cooperatives for employer enterprise.
- 64Chombart de Lauwe, Les paysans soviétiques.
- 65For 1938, Bettelheim gives the following figures: share of individual collective farmers in kolkhoz trade: 73%; share of the kolkhozes: three-fifths of the remaining 27%, the last two-fifths going to the last of the Mohicans on their individual farm.
- 66The invaluable observer that is Chombart de Lauwe writes on this subject: “A farmer in the Paris Basin would be very embarrassed if he were told that he had twenty workers to cultivate his 200 hectares, but that it was impossible to know if each worker will give him 1,500 or 3,000 hours of work. Well, the chairman of the collective farm is in a similar situation because the collective farmer divides his time between his individual enterprise and the collective farm... Worker absenteeism is a serious malady for the kolkhoz”, and he cited an example from Soviet economic literature: “In the second cultivation brigade of a kolkhoz in the Kaluga region, there are 63 able-bodied men. A large number of them did not take part in collective production in 1955. In January, 26 people did not work, 31 in February, 32 in March, 29 in April, 19 in May, 22 in June, 15 in July, 11 in August, 23 in September, 20 in October, 27 in November and 25 in December. Yet the kolkhoz could provide work for all of its members. It could, with the amount of land it owns, increase its livestock several times, give more work in collective farming to members of the kolkhoz and increase all of its production”. Why this haemorrhage of labour? “Because if the prices on the kolkhoz market are high, the farmer works first for himself and only then for the kolkhoz”.
“A nonsensical collective farm”, indeed; but even more nonsensical was Stalin’s claim to “liquidate the market” by administrative means, and to ensure a more rapid development of Russian society by forcing levies of labour and products (which no regime could have done without) on the population for industrialization.
- 67Especially 28-year-old socialism, as would be the case if you wanted to accept the thesis of the pure communist revolution of 1929-30!
- 68With both Deutscher and Chombart de Lauwe we found the surprising figure of 17-18 million kolkhoz workers. This is probably because only heads of households are counted.
- 69It is impossible to distinguish the number of real workers in this overall figure.
- 70Deutscher: The Unfinished Revolution.
- 71It is for this reason that, all other considerations aside, the Opposition on the right as on the left pointed out to the Stalinists that to be proud of Russia’s “splendid isolation” was to be proud of its backwardness.
- 72This point has been abundantly developed in all of our party studies on Russia and we will not return to it again here. New readers just need to know one thing: while Capitalist Russia Mark 2 runs out of breath behind its American competitor the latter does not wait placidly for Russia to catch up: it runs at the speed that its strength and age allow, benefiting from a considerable lead. Now, if Russia benefited for many years from the considerable annual growth rates of the youngest capitalisms, it was also subject to the law of decreasing annual growth, which is a reflection of the law of the downward trend of the rate of profit and which is verified for all capitalist countries. In everyday terms, as we get older, the competitor who started last runs ever more slowly, so that his chance of catching up with his rival decreases, even if the competitor’s own speed also decreases. This law of deceleration is well illustrated by the following numerical data:
- Period before the 5 Year Plans 23% average annual increase
- First 5 Year Plan (1929-32): 19.2% average annual increase
- Second 5 Year Plan (1933-37): 17.1% average annual increase
- Third 5 Year Plan (1938-40): 13.2% average annual increase
- Fourth 5 Year Plan (1941-46): 4.3% average annual decline
- 4 years after the Fourth Year Plan (1947-51): 22.6% average annual increase
- Fifth 5 Year Plan (1951-55): 13.1% average annual increase
- Sixth 5 Year Plan (1956-58): 10.3% average annual increase
- 7 Year Plan (1959-65): 9.1% average annual increase
- 73And even more so, the economic rationalism of the bogus “Communist” regimes still in power in China, Vietnam etc.