Bureaucratism or Workers’ Power

For our May 2013 monthly organizational reading we republish “Bureaucratism or Workers’ Power,” written by Ted Grant and Roger Silverman. In this important document is a restatement of our tendency’s defense of the nationalized planned economy that existed in the Soviet Union and other Stalinist regimes. Drawing on the experiences of the Hungarian Revolution, the perspectives for the overthrow of these regimes and the establishment of genuine workers democracy were laid out. These perspectives were ultimately falsified by events with the restoration of capitalism in these countries, but the method and analysis still stands the test of time in defending the basic ideas of Marxism from both those on the right and those on the left.

From an India to an America

Fifty years ago the world was shaken to its foundations by the greatest single event in human history. In a vast empire spanning one-sixth of the earth’s surface—a barbaric land of savage despotism ruled for centuries by the knout and the pogrom—the workers, poor peasants and soldiers brought the age-old Tsarist edifice of repression crashing to its downfall. Within the space of eight months they came out on to the streets five times to assert their rights and consciously to shape the course of history in the interests of the exploited masses. They chased out Tsars and landowners, racialists and bureaucrats, generals and executioners, capitalists and renegades. Organized into the most democratic system known to mankind—the Soviets of Workers’, Soldiers’ and Peasants’ Deputies, elected at every unit of labour with direct right of recall—they took state power into their own hands. Production was to be consciously planned instead of being geared to individual profit and the blind forces of the market. The Russian revolution of October 1917 was the opening act of the drama in which the wage slaves and the toiling masses of East and West would achieve their emancipation from class oppression. Its shadow falls across the whole of the world’s subsequent history.

To workers the world over, Russia since 1917 represents a paradox. It is a symbol of liberation and solidarity, and at the same time a bloodstained chapter in the story of workers’ repression, slave labour, frame ups, intrigue and red tape. The ideals of October were cynically perverted into a mockery of socialism. But the very survival of the nationalized economy for half a century and its extension to one third of the world, provides glaring proof of the decadence and impotence of capitalism in our era. The most striking lesson of all lies in the scale and speed of Russia’s transformation.

Fifty years of planned economic progress in the USSR tell us, in the irrefutable language of iron and steel, more than all the theoretical treatises put together about the need for society to exercise complete control over production. In 1917 the country produced less than 3% of total world industrial output. Today the figure is 20%. In the fifty years from 1913 (the highest point of the Russian pre-revolutionary economy) to 1963, through two bloody world wars, one ruthless revolutionary war against world imperialist intervention, two devastating famines, and one semi-civil war, and burdened throughout by red tape and mismanagement, total industrial output rose more than 52 times over. The corresponding figure for the USA is less than six times, while Britain just about managed to double her output. If we ignore the effects of massive urbanization, expanding the size of the industrial working class from under one tenth to half of a growing population, and consider only industrial productivity of labour, the key index of society’s advance, we find that, whereas Britain has progressed by 73% in the same period and America by 332%, the USSR has achieved the phenomenal figure of 1,310%! Steel production rose from 4.3 million tons in 1928 (at the start of the first Five Year Plan) to 100 million tons today—more than Britain, France, West Germany and Italy put together, and only 20 million tons less than the USA. The chemical industry has grown 200 times, and many branches of Soviet engineering today lead the world. The land that half a century ago was the barren ‘granary of Europe’, racked with illiteracy and disease, now sends sputniks round the Earth and rockets to the Moon.

Out of a population that has grown by less than 15%, the number of technicians has grown 55 times; the number in full time education over six times; the number of books published 13 times; hospital beds nearly ten times, and children at nurseries 1,385 times. The urban population has increased four times, from 15% to nearly 60%. Life expectancy has more than doubled and child mortality has dropped nine times. Russia produces more scientists, technicians and engineers every year than the rest of the world put together and more than twice as many are employed there as in America. Four times as much per head of population is spent on education in Russia as in Britain.

These colossal achievements have no parallel in history. They are even more startling than they seem, in that steady growth was confined to the period between the start of the first Five Year Plan in 1928 and the outbreak of war in 1940, and then, after post-war reconstruction, from 1950 onwards, about thirty years in all. Public ownership and planning have been vindicated, despite the terrible handicaps with which Russia was afflicted—backwardness, illiteracy, capitalist encirclement and a vast parasitic bureaucracy clinging on to its back. It is not for its failures but for its successes that capitalist politicians hate the Soviet Union. They rejoiced at every setback and every crime, which enabled them to pose as “democrats” and to explain that “socialism does not work.”For workers, it is vital to examine the balance sheet and understand the reasons for the terrible price as well as the historic gains of the revolution. In this pamphlet we attempt to explain the contradictory nature of Soviet society; the terrific impetus of the planned economy, and the sinister totalitarian shadow cast over it by the prolonged survival of capitalism in the West. The labour movement the world over must grasp the vital lessons of this experience, if it is to move forward in the struggle for socialism.

All Power to the Soviets

The worldwide epoch of wars and revolutions began in 1914, after decades of relative social harmony that had led the first revisionists to conclude that “capitalism has solved its problems.” Faithful to their prospects of “national roads to socialism,” the European Social Democratic parties all swung into support of their “own” capitalist governments in a world war that led twelve million workers to their slaughter. The war was followed by two decades of social explosions; mass unemployment, revolution, civil war, and fascist barbarity—death throes of a rotten social order, culminating in a new and even bloodier world war.

The working class began the world wide defeat of capitalism in the country where the system was least secure. Russia in 1917 was a semi-colony, producing less than 3% of world industrial output, while her territory covered one sixth of the globe. For every hundred square kilometres of land, there were only 0.4 kilometres of railway track. While industry was highly concentrated in the few urban oases within a desert of peasant barbarity, 80% of the population scratched a bare existence out of their tiny strips of land, using the most primitive tools and methods. Agriculture was fragmented into nearly 24 million smallholdings. Over 70% of Russian subjects were totally illiterate, and what reactionary priest-ridden education there was aimed only at rearing a new generation of bureaucrats within the upper caste. Heavy industry was dependent on foreign finance Capital; French, British, Belgian and other Western investors owned shares amounting to 90% of Russia’s mines, 50% of her chemical industry, over 40% of her engineering plant, and 42% of her banking stock.

Russia had had no bourgeois revolution, destroying feudal restrictions, as in the West. With its vast under-populated territory overrun throughout the centuries by nomadic hordes, Russia had a very weak, sluggish economic development. Capitalism had been too weak to come to power through the peasant revolt of the eighteenth century or the abortive liberal coup d’etat of 1825 and it had arrived on the scene too late to pursue an independent historic role. Its resources were too limited to hope to compete with the modern Western monopolies on the world market. It was bound hand and foot to the Tsarist autocracy at home and the big financiers abroad. Its sudden spurt of development followed the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, whereby the absolutist monarchy began to balance more heavily on liberal landowners, nascent capitalists and foreign bankers, releasing the reserves of manpower for industry. Thus, capitalism in Russia did not evolve in such a way as to rest securely on a wide stratum of intermediate small businessmen, stable capitalist farmers, etc. It was suspended over society by world imperialism on the strings of the Holy Tsar, and had no wide social foundations. The speed of its belated growth prepared the rapid advance of the industrial workers’ class consciousness, and the violent upheavals that ensued. Once industry did spring up, propped up by huge foreign investment, it imported ready made the most up to date machinery. In 1914, while 17.8% of American industrial workers were employed in factories with over 1,000 workers, the corresponding figure in Russia was as high as 41.4% and much higher in Moscow and Petrograd. Young peasants streaming off the land were suddenly plunged into great mechanical sweatshops of the most intensive exploitation, and they came fresh to the realities of industrial class struggle and militant organization more rapidly than the now mighty British labour movement did, with its gradual evolution over centuries through handicraft and manufacture, and its craft traditions.

The early Russian socialists were “Populists” who believed that the Russian peasantry could jump straight into a peculiarly “Russian” rural form of “Communism.” They were paralyzed by the inertia of the masses, and tried to find a short cut to utopia by evangelism and terrorism alternately. They preached revolution in the villages and were indignantly turned over to the police. They managed after twelve years’ efforts to assassinate a Tsar, and found that vicious reaction was the only consequence. It was the stirrings of the Petrograd workers in the stormy strikes of the 1890s that established Marxism in Russia. By 1905—in a revolution that taught more to the labour movement than any event since the Paris Commune, and in which the working class, independently of any theorist or “agitator,” created the Soviets, models for workers all over the world—the capitalist politicians hastily abandoned their liberal demands for a measure of control over the government’s actions, in face of the militancy and solidarity of the working class. Any challenge to the tottering regime could only be led by the workers.

By confining the workers’ tasks within the boundaries of Russia the nationalistic Menshevik wing of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party had no perspective but the installation by proxy of a capitalistic government, which would then mechanically repeat the experience of Western capitalism. Until all the tasks of capitalism had been fulfilled and the economy had reached Western standards, the workers’ parties would serve indefinitely as a loyal opposition. Lenin and the Bolsheviks answered this narrow and scholastic theory with internationalist horizons. The victory of the democratic agrarian revolution in Russia, led by the workers and peasants, would precipitate the world socialist revolution. Trotsky predicted that the socialist revolution in Russia would be the first breakthrough of the workers of the world into the future. Supported by the poor peasants and allied to the workers of the metropolitan countries, the Russian workers would be the first to overthrow the capitalist class. While a capitalist Russia would remain a semi-colony of Western imperialism, socialism would only be built hand in hand with the workers of the advanced countries. Trotsky was proved right in his prognosis.

The great events of 1917 brought the two outstanding revolutionaries Lenin and Trotsky together. Lenin returned to Russia in April to find the Bolshevik party thrown into confusion by the unexpected fall of Tsarism and the assumption of power by liberal politicians. The so-called “Provisional Government” which had stepped uninvited into the vacuum had no following in the Soviets of Workers, Soldiers and Peasants who had overthrown the old regime. Greeted on his return with bouquets and flowery speeches by Menshevik leaders, Lenin spoke over their heads to the masses, welcoming the “advance guard of the world proletarian army” and condemning the capitalist government. The revolution had to be completed by the unchallenged victory of Soviet power.

In April, demonstrations led by the Bolsheviks forced the direct representatives of capital out of the “Provisional Government,” and by their simple slogans “Bread, Peace, Land” and their brilliant propaganda the Bolsheviks exposed the inability of all the compromisers within the labour movement to solve even the most elementary problems. When Petrograd was threatened in August by the counter-revolutionary army of General Kornilov, the Kerensky Government was unable to put up any resistance. It was completely under the thumb of the capitalists, who feared the Bolsheviks a thousand times more than the reactionary relics of Tsardom. It was the Bolsheviks who organized the masses in a united front with Kerensky to repel Kornilov. Months of patient explanation against a background of concentrated experience won an overwhelming majority to Bolshevism, and the culmination of the revolution in October 1917 behind the cry “All Power to the Soviets!” met with very little internal opposition. Power was in the hands of the people.

Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky had recognized the state itself to be a barbaric relic of the past, an instrument of class oppression which would wither away from the very inception of the workers’ dictatorship. “Government over people” would be superseded by the mere “administration of things.” Lenin saw that a smooth transition to a classless and stateless society was impossible within the confines of a backward Russia, in which not one of the tasks already performed in the West (industrialization, education, etc.) had been achieved. Capitalism had exhausted all its possibilities of developing society on a world scale, and the Bolsheviks looked with confidence to the main world centers in the West for a further advance of the world revolution.

In the meantime, Lenin enumerated a number of measures designed to fight against the constant danger of bureaucratism, including:No standing army, but the armed people.All officials, managers, etc., to be elected by the workers’ organizations, with direct right of recall.All officials to receive the same wages as a skilled worker. (In view of the shortage of technicians, etc., the Bolsheviks were compelled to allow a clearly defined maximum differential of four to one, which Lenin frankly described as “a capitalist differential.”)Popular participation in all administrative duties; direct management and control by Soviets. (“When everybody is a bureaucrat, nobody is a bureaucrat.”)The revolutionary government was a coalition of the Bolsheviks and the left Social Revolutionaries (representing the poor peasants). At first even the capitalist parties (apart from the fascist Black Hundreds) were left free to organize. It was only the exigencies of the subsequent civil war and the dangerous activities of the saboteurs and counter-revolutionaries that forced the Bolsheviks to ban other parties, as a temporary measure.

Based on a publicly owned and planned economy, the most democratic system in history shone as a beacon to workers all over the world. The oppressed and exploited of East and West cheered the victory of their comrades in Russia. In the hour of danger that was approaching, with the brutal intervention of no less than twenty-one armies of foreign capitalism, their support was the vital factor in saving the revolution from defeat.

Workers of All Countries Unite

The overthrow of the capitalist government, once confronted with the organized wrath of the masses, had been a simple matter of hours, with practically no bloodshed in the capital and only a short period of fighting in Moscow. The Russian ruling class had lost all authority, and the “socialist” stooges in the “Provisional Government,” behind whom they had been forced to shelter after April, had demonstrated their real bias in practice to their former supporters. The people wanted peace, bread and land. Kerensky had led a million more to the slaughter on the front, halved the bread ration, and turned his guns on to peasants spontaneously taking over the great landed estates. The October revolution was the highest expression of the socialist consciousness that had been attained through their experience by peasants as well as workers. Lenin, an eminent respecter of theory, said: “The masses learn more in a day of social revolution than in decades of socialist theory…An ounce of experience is worth a ton of theory.” At last the soviets, democratic organs of workers’ power, had full and undivided power.

Horror-stricken, the capitalists of the whole world refused to believe that the Bolsheviks could stay in power for a week. When they finally faced up to reality, they saw (as did the Soviet masses) that the victorious October revolution constituted a dire threat to their own survival. Revolution raised its banner in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Italy, France, Britain and elsewhere. In Britain, the immediate effect was the general strike on the Clyde, the great mutinies among the British forces in France, the Triple Alliance, the adoption by the young Labour Party of its socialist program (Clause Four) and, during the intervention, the mass Councils of Action which Lenin characterized as “Soviets—in essence if not in name.” Suddenly the rival robber gangs that had massacred millions for the previous four years in the scramble for markets joined together in combined attack on their common enemy—revolution. Early in 1918, British naval forces landed in Murmansk, on the flimsy pretext of “helping to defend the gains of freedom won by the revolution against the iron hand of Germany.” Within days they were in fact marching South on Petrograd, disarming the workers and shooting local Bolsheviks. In April the Japanese landed at Vladivostok, and an “Omsk All Russian Government” was set up—an alliance of Cadets, Mensheviks and SRs which, relying willy-nilly on Tsarist ex-officers, was shattered after two months by a coup installing Admiral Kolchak as dictator. Meanwhile, Germany occupied the Ukraine in collusion with White Guards Krasnov and Wrangel. While the Allies screamed that Lenin and Trotsky were “German agents,” it was claimed in Germany that “in the Bolshevist movement…the hand of England is seen. By these movements England has gained much, since owing to Bolshevik phrases and money the strike movement was called forth in the Central Empire.” The police mentality sees in social clashes only the malevolent plots of conspirators. Every major capitalist power, and many minor ones too, joined in the rush to smash the revolution for all time.

The original excuses were replaced by the hackneyed pretext of assisting the “vast portions of the population struggling against Bolshevik tyranny.” Respectable British diplomats and officers on the spot, sensitive to the mood of their subordinates, revealed the true situation. Colonel Robins of the British Embassy in Moscow telegraphed home in March 1918: “Know of no organized opposition to Soviet Government.” Kerensky’s revolt had been crushed in hours and in April the Don Cossacks mutinied, murdering the hated Kornilov and driving their Hetman (Chieftain) Kaledin to suicide. Colonel Robins wrote “Death Kornilov verified, this final blow organized internal force against Soviet Government.” But organized external force had hardly begun. The British agent Lockhart admitted: “I had little faith in the strength of the anti-Bolshevik Russian forces… The one aim of every Russian bourgeois [and 99% of the so-called ‘loyal’ Russians were bourgeois] was to secure the intervention of British troops [and failing British, of German troops] to establish order in Russia, suppress Bolshevism and restore to the bourgeois his property.”

Colonel Sherwood-Kelly of the Siberian forces said, “I formed the opinion that the puppet government set up by us in Archangel rested on no basis of public confidence and support, and would fall to pieces the moment the protection of British bayonets was withdrawn.” It was officially admitted that “the North Western (Baltic) Government was organized by General Marsh in 45 minutes’ time.” General Gough recognized that “the Russians are determined to prevent the return to power of the old official classes, and if forced to a choice, which is what is actually happening at the moment, they prefer the Bolshevik Government.” Count Kokutsev, for the Whites put it even more delicately: “Without intervention, we cannot get through, for, while the moderate element exists, it is not concentrated…” The unspeakable atrocities of White Guards Denikin, Kolchak, Yudenich, Wrangel, etc., reflected the panic of a doomed elite. Wrangel boasted that, after shooting one red prisoner in ten, he would give the others the chance to prove their “patriotism” and “atone for their sins” in battle. Thus, most White soldiers were Red prisoners. What crushed the White generals was not superior force of arms, but mass desertion, mutiny and constant risings in occupied areas (Archangel, Ukraine, Kuban etc.). The people rallied heroically to the Red Army, which grew to become a militia of five million workers and peasants, despite hardship and initial war weariness. Count Kidovstev could offer the masses very little: “To start with, it is clear that you must have a military dictatorship, and afterwards that might be combined with a business element…”The Bolsheviks knew that their ultimate strength lay in the common class interest of workers everywhere. Their supreme task was the foundation in 1919 of the Communist International, the world party of socialist revolution. They granted autonomy and the rights of secession to all the nations of the former Great Russian Empire. They chose to suffer the humiliating terms of the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty with Germany, ceding large areas of territory and provoking crises within the Party and a government split with their Left SR allies, rather than break the faith of the people and allow them to drift into the clutches of the White terror. They made open appeals for peace, renounced all claim to booty and annexations and published the secret treaties, to expose to the workers the real interests of the capitalist governments.

And once the intervention had begun, they greeted the enemy soldiers with leaflets printed in all languages, explaining that they had been sent by their bosses to crush a workers’ republic, reporting the news of the revolution raging throughout Europe, and appealing for active help. This had an immediate effect on the foreign war-weary workers in uniform. It was the invincible power of workers’ internationalism that saved the Russian Revolution. At one point, only a small area surrounding Moscow and extending barely to Petrograd had been in the hands of the Red Army. Russia was starved of arms. Against twenty-one confident, well equipped armies Russia could not have held out. But mutinies in the French fleet stationed off Odessa, in the British, German, Czechoslovak and other armies, came to the rescue. In Britain, the main contributor to the intervention, the TUC condemned the Siberian occupation in September 1919—and Siberia was evacuated within days! General Golovin reported on his negotiations with Winston Churchill in May 1919 as follows: “The question of giving armed support was for him the most difficult one; the reason for this was the opposition of the British working class to armed intervention…”In May 1920 the men in London’s East India Docks refused to load the “Jolly George” with hidden cachements of arms for Poland: mass demonstrations were held throughout the country, and a joint meeting of the TUC, the Labour Party NEC and the Parliamentary Labour Party threatened a General Strike unless the intervention was called off. The intervention stopped most abruptly and the Red Army had no difficulty in clearing up the native Tsarist relics within a few weeks. The revolution survived. The capitalist chain around the globe had been decisively broken. The world revolution had begun.

Retreat and Reaction

As Lenin explained, it was at its weakest link that the imperialist chain had snapped. Indissolubly linked with the peasantry, the most advanced working class in the world came to power earliest in a country of age old backwardness, with little industry, low productivity, long hours, mass illiteracy and per capita income of about one tenth of that of the USA. Less than 10% of the population were wage earners, and a much smaller proportion were heavy industrial workers.

Three years of savage civil war had aggravated the problems still further. In 1921 industrial production was down to one ninth of the 1913 figure, and agricultural produce had slipped below the pre-1900 level. Seven million homeless waifs roamed the country, the people were starving and the peasants, thirsting for private land and fair prices, were beginning to get restive once the immediate danger of capitalist restoration had been removed. The country had been forced to the stark emergency restrictions of War Communism—”Communism in a besieged fortress,” as Trotsky described it. Grain requisitioning at bayonet point, famine which led even to cannibalism, malaria, over-hasty nationalization, payment in kind, militarization of labour, and the scarcity of finance, technical expertise and spare parts—this was the price paid to save the Soviet Republic. The peasantry revolted as soon as the exigencies of war had ended. At Kronstadt the peasant sailors mutinied, and riots broke out elsewhere. So critical was the situation that the Tenth Party Congress in March 1921 was compelled to resort to the emergency expedient of temporarily forbidding factions within the Party, in view of the danger of disintegration presented by groupings like the Workers’ Opposition—a measure quite unprecedented, even at the moment of the October Revolution itself.The revolution in Russia had a Bolshevik Party, a cadre steeled in long and varied experience and moulded over years of principled education. The revolutionary efforts of the workers in other countries were squandered by bad and often treacherous leadership. The workers’ victory internationally was delayed for a whole period. An industrialized workers’ state in the West would have been able to assist Russia to the mutual benefit of both countries, and the problem of the transition to socialism would have been attenuated. It was necessary to consolidate the gains of October in preparation for the resurgence of socialism in the West and concessions had to be made to retain the support of the masses. Hence the New Economic Policy (NEP) was introduced by Lenin, who frankly called it “a temporary retreat.” Concessions were made to peasants, minor private industrial concerns and foreign companies, in order to encourage investment and to get the economy’s wheels moving again.

The failure of the German Revolution in 1923 (largely thanks to the arrogant and bureaucratic behavior of Stalin and Zinoviev) marked a decisive turning point in the morale of the Russian workers. The working class was ruling in conditions of terrible weakness and exhaustion. Already a tiny section of the population, it had been decimated by the World War, the intervention and the famine, in which its most heroic and self-sacrificing fighters had perished. It had to work long hours in the effort to reconstruct the economy, which meant that democratic rule through Soviets demanded superhuman sacrifice. (Lenin’s first piece of advice to the victorious Bavarian Communists had been to bring in a seven hour working day, to give every worker the opportunity to participate in administrative duties and check incipient bureaucratism.) The Russian workers suffered agonies of demoralization at the defeat of the revolution in the West and were nauseated at the sight of the “Nepmen” crawling out of the crevices once War Communism was over—speculators, kulaks (rich peasants), careerists, profiteers, black marketeers and bureaucrats. Mass illiteracy forced society to rely on old administrators and experts, many of them former counter-revolutionaries. That is why Lenin announced that “we still have the same old Tsarist state machine today, with a thin veneer of socialism spread on top.”

In 1924 with the so-called “Lenin Levy,” the party of October was engulfed in a flood of careerism. The Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspectorate (Rabkrin) set up to root out bureaucracy, under the direction of Josef Stalin, was turned into an instrument for putting hacks and routinists grateful to Stalin into key positions. The first Party purge, initiated by Lenin, was aimed at ridding the Party of non-proletarian elements; and to unite the Party at a time of fierce controversy, the brooding Georgian non-entity Stalin, who held no principled position either way, was temporarily elected General Secretary.

Stalin was suspect for his long history of personal intrigue inside the Party, and his opportunist position in 1917 while editor of Pravda before Lenin’s return (when he advocated fusion with Mensheviks and a continuation of the war pending a German mutiny—precisely the old social chauvinist excuse), but at this time of backsliding and disintegration his gift for organizational maneuvering was appreciated. Lenin, speechless on his deathbed after an unsuccessful assassination attempt and subsequent strokes, began to conduct a bitter struggle to the last against Stalin and the emboldened bureaucracy he represented.

Increasingly aware of the powerful machine Stalin was constructing, the blatant growth of careerism and red tape, the deception and intrigue he personally suffered at Stalin’s hands and hearing of the Great Russian chauvinist repression of Georgia, he broke off all relations with Stalin, formed an anti-bureaucratic bloc with Trotsky and sent a testament to the Party Congress urging Stalin’s removal from his post. This letter was suppressed and denounced for years as a “Trotskyist forgery” until its publication in Moscow after Khrushchev’s “de-Stalinization” speech of 1956. Such was Lenin’s tenacity and dedication that he was again slowly beginning to recover—until his sudden and mysterious death in January 1924. There seems little doubt that Stalin was at least partially responsible for this tragedy. This ambitious mediocrity had gained a key position and if the formidable Lenin were to recover, his career would be over.

Stalin did not create the reaction—he was its most lethal expression, and once created, he prolonged it. Bureaucratic degeneration under one dictator or another was inevitable, given the isolation of the revolution; but Stalin was anxious to play the leading role himself. If he had known that this road would lead him to the murder of all his old comrades, and the betrayal of the world revolution, he would never have started along it. But the shrewd Georgian proceeded pragmatically, taking the line of least resistance at every turn; and this made him as ideal a focus for the whole of the Soviet bureaucracy as Lenin and Trotsky had been brilliant leaders of the revolutionary working class.

Socialism in One Country

While canonizing Lenin as a saint, renaming Petrograd “Leningrad,” storing his body in the Mausoleum as an icon to be venerated by the peasants, and invoking his authority for all Stalin’s perversions of Marxism, Stalin suddenly tore up the whole heritage of Leninism by announcing the building of “Socialism in a single country.” Over decades of free polemic within the labour movement, it had not occurred to a single grouping ever even to mention the idea of socialism within the borders of Russia alone. Scientific socialism had emerged in opposition to the utopians who had believed that socialism could be created merely by the will of individuals. Marx and Engels had hammered home the basic lesson that it was the historic task of capitalism to create the material prerequisites of socialism, namely, the technological basis for an economy of superabundance, and the grave diggers of capitalism, a concentrated and propertyless industrial proletariat.

Capitalism unified the world into a single economic unit with an international division of labour. They wrote in the Communist Manifesto that “modern industry had established the world market…In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we now have the many-sided intercourse of nations and their universal interdependence.” Engels later admonished the French socialist Lafargue: “The emancipation of the proletariat can be only an international event. You make it impossible if you try to make it a purely French event.” How much more impossible to make it a purely Russian event!

Lenin emphasized that “without aid from the international world revolution, a victory of the proletarian revolution is impossible…We did our utmost to preserve the Soviet system under any circumstances and at all costs, because we knew that we are working not only for ourselves, but also for the international revolution.” At the critical moment of the civil war in 1920, Lenin wrote his Left Wing Communism, specifically in order to correct errors in other sections of the Communist International. He was prepared to lose power in backward Russia if it were necessary in order to successfully take power in industrial Germany.

Stalin himself said as late as in 1924, repeating Lenin, that “for the final victory of socialism, for the organization of socialist production, the efforts of one country, particularly of such a peasant country as Russia, are insufficient. For this the efforts of the proletarians of several advanced countries are necessary.” He abandoned internationalism to appease the Nepmen, the small capitalists and the careerists who had found a snug niche within the bureaucracy, as well as to foreign capitalist governments from whom favors were sought. Stalin explicitly abandoned all interest in the world revolution.

For society to inscribe on its banner “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” it must have at its disposal highly developed technological resources to provide for the needs of all. Capitalism on a world scale has created such resources. No single unit of the world economy can opt out. In a country as backward as Russia was, food, clothing and housing were inadequate, and where there is shortage there is inequality. Marx said: “A development of the productive forces is the absolutely necessary practical premise [of socialism] because without it want is generalized and with want the struggle for necessities begins again, and that means that all the old crap must revive.” A policeman is needed to control a food queue, as Trotsky explained, and he will always see to it that he eats first and best. In the peculiar circumstances in which the revolution was isolated for a whole period to backward Russia, the state, far from withering away, rose to domination over the masses. For the workers, the only solution was aid to the world revolution. For bureaucrats with a stake in the status quo, it was “Socialism in one country.” They were satisfied with the position as it was, their privileges and power were secure.

The new course was accompanied by a vicious campaign against “Trotskyism” on the part of Stalin (abetted initially by Zinoviev and Kamenev) using all the Stalinist paraphernalia that later became notorious; the falsification of history, the police spies at Party meetings, the slanders and vilifications, the mass expulsions, the blackmail, assassinations and forced suicides. The mediocrity who had hypocritically donned the mantle of Lenin was to transform himself, not into a revolutionary teacher, but into an Oriental despot. Lenin’s widow Krupskaya commented as early as 1927 that, “if Vladimir Ilyich were alive today he would be in one of Stalin’s jails.” No single revolutionary would have been able to resist the deluge of reaction.

From 1923 onwards the Left Opposition campaigned for workers’ democracy and internationalism, not with any hope of easy successes, but with a determination to reaffirm the program of Bolshevism, to survive as a rallying point when the tide would turn and socialism could take further strides forward.

Liberal historians eagerly point out that “every revolution is followed by reaction.” Nothing changes after a revolution, they gloat, so why bother? Marx’s reply was that “history is not a vicious circle, but a spiral.” Certain historic gains survive in the teeth of reaction. In revolution, the masses invade the arena of history to change their position in society. At every stage they move further to the left in their break with the past, until they come up against objective obstacles which block their path. In earlier revolutions, where the only future lay in capitalism (which would prepare the material conditions for socialism) the extreme plebeian left wing always dissipated its energies in the end. Mass demoralization would then set in, and a military dictatorship would place itself above society, ruling in the last analysis by leaning on the capitalists against the populace.

In Russia, after the masses had arrived at a supreme revolutionary consciousness, their will was smashed against the rocks of the failure of the revolution in all the advanced countries. Backward Russia was condemned to stand alone in a capitalist world, in conditions too primitive to permit a smooth transition to socialism. Again there followed what Marx termed Bonapartist rule—rule by the sword, based on the balance between the Nepmen and the world bourgeoisie, on the one hand, and the workers and peasants of Russia, on the other. But at this time capitalism on a world scale had exhausted all its possibilities of developing society, so the restoration of private property did not ensue. A military police state raised itself above the people, but still it stood for the main gains of the revolution: the nationalization of the means of production, which remained the source of its privileges. The bureaucracy fed parasitically on the body of the planned economy. Though to maintain its position it denied the workers democratic control and thus severely limited the potential strength of the plan, it had no alternative but to defend state ownership. The world saw the new phenomenon of Stalinism, or proletarian Bonapartism.

Zinoviev and Kamenev broke with Stalin in 1925 on the issue of “Socialism in one country,” so glaringly opposed to all the teachings of Marx and Lenin. As always taking the line of least resistance, Stalin lined up with the right (Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky) who advocated further concessions to private enterprise. “Socialism at a snail’s pace” became the Party motto. Stalin promised “forty years of private ownership of the land” and Bukharin’s curt advice to the kulaks was, “Get rich!” Industry stagnated as the new regime leaned on the Nepmen to strike blows against the workers, the bureaucracy’s principal stumbling block. Although the standard of living in 1929 was already 25% higher than in 1913, it was not until 1928 that production actually reached the 1913 level. Whereas Lenin had popularized the need for industrialization with the slogan “socialism equals electrification plus soviet power,” Stalin sneered at the Dnieprstroy dam project—it was like “giving a muzhik a gramophone instead of a cow.” Wages were depressed to reduce the morale of the workers, bureaucrats became entrenched in the factories, Soviet control was abolished. The right of workers to hire and fire their managers was inverted. Democratic centralism was superseded by bureaucratic despotism.

Only in 1927 did Stalin prudently make a concession to the workers, in order to pacify them while he suppressed the Opposition. The working day was reduced to seven hours, without loss of pay, a gain very soon to be swept away during the Five Year Plan. Workers who were suspected of supporting the Opposition were blacklisted, and as many as a million were unemployed in 1927, when courageous demonstrations were held in defense of the Opposition in Moscow and Leningrad. The excuse was used to expel all the hardened Oppositionists from the Party, including Lenin’s main comrade-in-arms since the April Days of 1917—Leon Trotsky, who was arrested and sent into exile.

Stalin had come out of obscurity into power against the background of the defeat of the German Revolution of 1923. It was the failure of the British General Strike in 1926 and then of the Chinese workers’ revolution of 1927 that deepened the demoralization of the workers and thus allowed Stalin to withdraw the last rights of the Left Opposition. Stalin’s blatantly Menshevik and opportunist policy in China had led him to order the Chinese Communists against their will to support the capitalist party of Chiang Kai-Shek. Hundreds of thousands of workers perished in the ensuing bloodbath. To those of Trotsky’s supporters who thought that this would finally expose Stalin to the masses and vindicate the program of the Opposition, Trotsky pointed out that, although this might be the effect with individual Communists, for the masses generally the decisive factor would be the defeat of the revolution, whatever the reason. The reaction would be enormously strengthened by their further demoralization. The new triumphs of counter-revolution in Germany, France and Spain were finally to reinforce the tyranny of the Stalinist bureaucracy in Russia.

The Plan and the Purges

The kulaks took Bukharin’s advice to “get rich” so literally that soon they presented a real danger of capitalist restoration. They were hoarding grain, gold and even arms. The bureaucracy has to stand guard in the last analysis over the nationalized economy against the attacks of capitalism and will tolerate no rivals for its privileges. Stalin panicked and switched overnight to an adventurist policy of “complete collectivization.” Where Lenin and Trotsky had urged the establishment of voluntary model collectives on the basis of industry and tractors and gradual “collectivization by example,” Stalin on the basis of the primitive wooden plough used for 1,000 years shifted his base to a demagogic mobilization of workers and soldiers, to force the peasants off their plots at bayonet point. The peasants responded by slaughtering their livestock and burning their crops. As a result of this insane ultra-left policy ten million died in the subsequent famine. Industry meanwhile lurched forward in the first Five Year Plan, which was far more ambitious than the projects so caustically ridiculed by Stalin only months before. The adventurist slogan “Fulfill the plan in four years” wrought havoc in the economy.

The economy was still too backward to permit gross luxuries to the bureaucrats. The maximum wage differential of 4:1 was not formally abolished until 1931 and a general was court-martialed as late as in 1931 for having had his boots cleaned by a private. The officialdom had to be purged of those who were too hasty in their greed. A demagogic “campaign against bureaucratism” was needed to galvanize it into action in developing the economy. In the sharp “left turn,” Stalin’s long-standing allies and relative theoretical giants Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky were expelled and soon arrested. Many who had supported the Left Opposition were disorientated and deceived by the bureaucracy’s new shift of balance. The new change in line was reflected in the crude “third period” of the Comintern, which split the working class by declaring (in Stalin’s inimitable turn of phrase) that “Social Democracy and Fascism are not antipodes but twins.” “Social Fascism” was a grotesque mockery of Leninism, which weakened the labour movement in the face of bitter reaction. It was this policy, arrogantly imposed on all the parties of the Comintern, which split the German workers so disastrously that Hitler was able to seize power without so much as smashing a window pane, although three million workers were still armed after fifteen years of heroic efforts to overthrow capitalism. The slide towards reaction was accelerated, as Stalin led the revolutionary workers up the blind alleys, first of Menshevism, then of ultra-leftism and soon afterwards of open class collaboration.

While the capitalist world was paralyzed by the worst slump in its history, the Soviet economy took gigantic strides forward—a superb vindication of planned production. Meanwhile the paradoxes within Soviet society began to intensify. The way was clear for official salaries and perks to swell and the idea of maintaining a strict control on differentials was dismissed as a “fetish of petty bourgeois egalitarians”!

The isolation of the Russian Revolution and the subsequent exhaustion of the Russian workers were the sole objective basis of the rise of the bureaucracy. The failures of the German Revolution of 1923 and the Chinese Revolution of 1927 and the rise of Fascism in Germany in 1933, all mainly results of Stalin’s bureaucratic centrism and his gross political blunders, all strengthened the Stalinist degeneration.

The bureaucracy began to grow aware of its debt to the defeats in the West, and from then onwards the Comintern was used directly to avert revolutions which would have ignited the dampened revolutionary ardor of the Russian workers and ended the rule of the totalitarian clique for ever. The essential reactionary content of “Socialism in one country” came to the surface. The Communist Parties were transformed, in Trotsky’s words, from vanguards of world revolution to frontier guards of the Soviet union. But the workers needed the destruction of all frontiers in a world socialist federation. The revolutionary workers of Spain, who had occupied the factories, were forced by Stalin to hand over power to the abandoned liberal mask of a capitalist class that had in reality long since torn it off and gone over to Franco. The Comintern in public eyes had inherited the authority of October. In fact, the “Popular Front” was a trick imposed by the gravediggers of October. Cynical betrayal and fear of revolution was from then on the basis of Comintern policy. In 1943 Stalin finally dissolved the Comintern as a friendly gesture to his imperialist allies.

As the Spanish workers made one attempt after another to take power, the growing Soviet working class began to sense again the whiff of world revolution in its nostrils and to resist bureaucratic encroachments. That was why the terror was unleashed, to entrench the totalitarian state, to draw a river of blood between October and today. After the Kirov assassination frame-up in 1934 a series of ghastly trials and “confessions” was staged. An entire generation of old Bolsheviks was wiped out (crimes recently admitted by Stalin’s own daughter). The old Tsarist state machine warned against by Lenin asserted its supremacy through the “purges” by obliterating the revolutionaries and distorting the whole heritage of Bolshevism. Zinoviev, Kamenev, Bukharin, Rykov, Radek, Rakovsky and a number of other old revolutionaries “confessed” to being lifelong imperialist agents. Their “accuser” Vyshinsky was an old Menshevik lawyer who had collaborated with the White counter-revolution. Out of the Central Committee of the Party of October 1917 only two survived: Kollontai, as a diplomat—and Josef Stalin. Among the entire early Party membership, only a few of Stalin’s hand-picked proteges and hatchet men were left—the Molotovs, Kaganovitches, Mikoyans and Voroshilovs. The transformation of the Party from the vanguard of the revolutionary workers to a lever in the bureaucratic apparatus was at last complete. Between 1939 and 1952 there was not a single Party Congress—and even during the Civil War this supreme body of any Bolshevik organization had met to hammer out a common policy.

Every murder had to be covered up with ten more; the consecutive police butchers Yagoda and Yezhov themselves drowned in the blood they had spilt. For every economic bungle, and they were inevitable without the democratic control of the workers, scapegoats had to be found. Every day another group of officials branded themselves as paid counter-revolutionaries. Bolshevik workers and light-fingered bureaucrats perished alike in the bloodbath. Beloved figures like the writer Gorky, whose connections with October were uncomfortably close, disappeared mysteriously. Literature (and especially drama in conditions of mass illiteracy) had played an important role in mass communication since the revolution. It stood opposed to rule by ukaz; so it was brutally suppressed and a generation of geniuses was exterminated. Anybody who had even the most tenuous connections with October was “liquidated,” even some of Stalin’s aides and accomplices in distorting the heritage of Bolshevism. Denunciations and informers were encouraged and every friend or relative of any suspected malcontent was imprisoned. In the mass paranoia, every zealous policeman found as many victims as could be manufactured, to avoid denunciation himself.

Just before the German invasion, the whole of the General Staff was arrested and brilliant strategists like Tukachevsky, Yakir, Samarnik, from the Civil War days, were executed to avert the danger of a coup d’état. Hundreds of thousands were shot and millions sent to concentration camps, while Stalin solemnly condemned them all as spies, assassins and wreckers, “fiends” and most heinous of all—”Trotsky-Fascists.” The economy was so uprooted that for two years production remained the same. The bureaucracy had protected its usurpation of the revolution’s traditions by what Trotsky aptly described as “a one-sided preventive civil war.” Trotsky was tracked down and murdered in Mexico in 1940. The opposition was wiped out. The last vestiges of popular control were obliterated.

It had been suddenly announced after the first plan that “socialism” had been already achieved, and that social classes no longer existed. The co-operative peasantry had “merged” with the proletariat. To those who dared to wonder why the class struggle against “Trotsky-Fascism” had been so violent during the 1930s if classes had disappeared, the enigmatic answer was given that “under socialism class contradictions do not die down, they become sharper.” Anyone who further challenged this statement was shot as an obvious saboteur.

In reality the last rights of the workers had vanished. They could not change their jobs at will. Fines, unpaid labour and deportation were the penalties for lateness. Strict supervision was maintained in the factories and the vicious sweated labour system of “Stakhanovism” was imposed, whereby every worker had to achieve the quota fixed by the “shock worker” who obtained lucrative rewards. Industry was stifled by a monolithic hierarchy. Every decision had to run the gauntlet of committees within each ministry, from brigade, shop, department, firm, trust, chief committee, Ministry, Economic Council, to the Council of Ministers of the USSR. Every official at each rung of the ladder was understandably afraid to take any initiative for which he might be blamed, and he passed the buck on to his superior. The tiniest problems took months to solve and there was a wasteful duplication and imbalance between the Ministries. The plan nevertheless achieved tremendous results. Society was developed, but at three times the cost under capitalism.

The lunacy of “collectivization overnight” held agriculture back. Even when the tractors were at last produced, so little attention had been given to raising the cultural level of the peasants correspondingly that tractors that had run out of petrol were left to rust in the fields while applications were sent up for new ones! Concessions were granted permitting the cultivation of private strips and the collectives were starved of labour as a result.

Meanwhile, the huge reserves of slave labour in the concentration camps were used, as an auxiliary to paid labour in the economy, to construct the great installations that formed the basis of Soviet industrial might—the dams and hydro-electric power stations at Bratsk, Magnitogorsk, Dnieprstroy, etc. When Khrushchev eloquently talked in 1956 of erecting monuments to Stalin’s countless victims, one ex-inmate of a labour camp commented bitterly: “All he’d need to do is paint all the dams and power stations black!”

Stalinism in War

The terrible defeats of the workers in the West made war inevitable. Panic-stricken at the prospect, Stalin made opportunist deals first with the “democratic” imperialist states, then with Nazi Germany, thereby precipitating the outbreak of war. “We don’t want an inch of your territory,” he told the imperialists, “but don’t push your swinish snouts into our beautiful Soviet garden.” On the world arena as at home, he maintained a precarious balance by pragmatic maneuvers, playing off hostile forces in constant zig-zags. So trusting was he in Hitler’s promises, as Krushchev revealed, that, faced first with intelligence reports and later with the actual German invasion, Stalin refused to believe that he had been tricked. While German tanks were rolling into the USSR, Stalin urged against any kind of resistance. This must be the mistake of one stray unit, he said, and it would be dangerous to provoke Hitler’s retaliation! When it was quite clear that a full-scale invasion had begun, he sulked and vanished from Moscow for three weeks, lamenting that “all that Lenin built is lost!” With 80% of the officer caste “purged,” in the absence of any capable military command Zhukov and Rokossovsky were released from jail.

Popular legend suggests that it was Stalin who won the war. But Krushchev revealed that countless unnecessary casualties were caused by the colossal and obstinate blunders of the “wise Generalissimo,” against the desperate advice of his officers. The clear internationalism of the Civil War days was replaced by the poisonous chauvinism of the “Glorious Patriotic War.” German workers who had been trying for fifteen years to achieve revolution and been betrayed by their leaders, workers in uniform languishing under the heel of Fascism, were slandered as “Nazis.” “The only good German is a dead German,” screamed the “Communist” newspapers. But the Soviet workers and peasants rallied heroically to defend their revolution, and at the appalling cost of 20 million lives and 30% of the national wealth, they were victorious.

The main concern of the Kremlin once the invasion had been beaten back was to dampen down a revolutionary wave similar to the one following the First World War, which would have broken the isolation of the first socialist revolution and struck at the objective roots of Stalinism. The power of internationalism had been proven by the work of the French Trotskyists who had won over entire regiments of German soldiers. The Communist partisans in Eastern Europe, like the Communist underground resistance movements in France and Italy, constituted the sole authority following Hitler’s defeat and the terrified flight of the entirely collaborationist capitalist class. The world civil war already unfolding was smothered, though capitalism was impotent, thanks to the collusion of the Kremlin. But after the Second, as after the First World War, the Russian revolution was saved by the revolutionary mood of the masses. Churchill and Roosevelt, who had planned to finish off Russia after it had defeated Germany, were unable to use troops against the Chinese Revolution, let alone Russia. They contented themselves with an atom bomb dropped on Japan as a warning to Russia.

Stalin at Yalta and Potsdam traded “spheres of influence” with Roosevelt, betraying the revolution in the West and stabbing the Greek workers in the back. In liberated Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Rumania and Eastern Germany he artificially counter-weighted the workers’ embryonic Soviet power with the “Popular Front” trick used in Spain. Reactionary politicians, propped up not by the capitalists, who had fled, but by the bayonets of the Red Army, were imposed on “national” governments. Slice by slice the reactionaries were whittled away by what Rakosi of Hungary called the “salami tactic” and the regime leaned on the workers to nationalize the economy. Only the peasant armies of Tito in Yugoslavia and Mao in China were able to ignore the dictates of Moscow and there too the revolution was carried through in the same Bonapartist fashion.

Deformed workers’ states in the image of Moscow, bureaucratically disfigured from their very inception, were created on the backs, either of the Red Army or of independent peasant armies. A period of rapacious plunder opened up; between 1945 and 1956 about $20,000,000,000 were pumped out of Eastern Europe in unequal trade terms, “war reparations” squeezed from workers and peasants to pay for the crimes of their old oppressors, etc. The first break in the Stalinist ranks came when the relatively independent Tito bureaucracy levered itself out from under Moscow’s hold by making separate trade deals with imperialist countries. Political turmoil in Eastern Europe and the shattering break with China lay not far ahead.

Stalinism Without Stalin

The war devastation was overcome within five years, not with Marshall “Aid,” but by planned use of available resources and the peoples’ unstintingly strenuous efforts. The machine was monolithic. The country was flushed with military triumph and jubilation at the tremendous blows struck against capitalism in whole areas of Europe and Asia. A wholly new correlation of forces was emerging inside the Soviet Union, with a growing and confident working class. Education and technique shot forward, and illiteracy had been practically wiped out.

The crimes weighing on Stalin’s conscience were beginning to take their toll on his mind. Terrified by the undercurrents of opposition to the old despotic methods, he prepared to reply with a new era of purge terror. On the outbreak of the “Cold War,” to retain a bogey and a pretext for totalitarian methods, resident emigres (mostly starry-eyed Stalinists) were rounded up and imprisoned. Stalin accused his faithful puppet Voroshilov of being a British spy; the paranoiac “Doctors’ plot” scare story was drummed up and, accompanied by his sinister police chief Beria, Stalin dropped ominous hints that he planned to “liquidate” most of the present leadership of the Party. The Party bosses trembled in their shoes. Few of them would last much longer. But it was not mere individual self-interest that worried them. A new round of purge trials, denunciations and arrests under the new conditions was suicidal lunacy for the whole of their caste.

No longer the primitive economy of the past, the USSR was emerging as the second super-power in the world. About half the population now lived in the towns. The education and morale of the working class was high. What was needed was not an intensification of the terror, which would have provoked dangerous upheavals and utterly sabotaged the progress of the economy (as it had in 1938-40) but “liberal” reforms from above to prevent political revolution from below. Stalin had to be removed if the bureaucracy was to remain at the helm. Suddenly and unexpectedly, one night in 1953, Stalin met his death. And even if he was not murdered, then certainly his death came at a convenient moment for the forces he had represented.

The old methods were strangling further growth. The use of slave labour was enormously wasteful, especially so of the most important productive force—human labour-power itself. Sweated labour in the factories was likewise uneconomic, with the relatively advanced techniques of modern industry. It was necessary somehow to remove the fear that gripped the lower echelons of the officialdom, to stimulate more initiative from below. Stalin’s death heralded political turmoil. It was as if a stifling deadweight had been lifted; all the long accumulated tensions burst out into the open. Crisis at the top (as the leaders intrigued for power the secret police faction was brought to heel and Beria was shot) was accompanied by powerful upheavals at the bottom—mass uprisings in the labour camps; clamoring in the factories for an end to Stakhanovism, piecework, and dictatorial methods of production supervision; riots and insurrections throughout Eastern Europe and an unstemmable flow of questioning and criticism of sweeping dimensions, from the intellectuals.

An amnesty was granted to all, except political prisoners. Time and motion experts were sent into the factories to calculate more realistic production norms and the workers seized the opportunity to slow down their work rate, so that on an average day the “norm” could be easily exceeded and bonuses could be gained. Wages were raised and some elementary rights restored. The “thaw” was cautiously introduced as a safety valve. The monolithic system of industrial mix-management was replaced by a new “decentralized” division of the country into “Economic Councils” (Sovnarkhozi). And to consolidate the new tactic Khrushchev made his famous “de-Stalinization” speech at a secret session of the Twentieth Party Congress in 1956, reviling the man he and all his fellow upstarts had groveled before throughout their careers. Stalingrad became “Volgograd.” The whole country, and all the loyal and long-suffering foreign Stalinists reeled from the shock of this sudden disavowal.

But no hint of explanation was forthcoming as to the objective basis of the “personality cult”; what social interests this monstrous tyrant had represented and why the population of a “socialist” country had had no control or check on its leaders for thirty years. The revelations were never even published inside the USSR. Apart from the demotion of a handful of top level “diehards” (Malenkov, Molotov, Kaganovitch) trying to steer the Party back on to an obsolete course, there was absolutely no reorganization or even re-staffing of the admittedly corrupt apparatus. And although one or two of the more innocuous nonentities Stalin had happened to catch in the sweep of his hand were “rehabilitated,” not one word was published of the writings of a single Bolshevik who had died fighting for Leninist principles. Stalinism merely dropped its trade mark in order to retain its iron grip for a little longer.

Cracks in the Monolith

By an irony of history, it was only a matter of months before Khrushchev was forced to demonstrate to the whole world how little had really changed. Following stormy rumblings of revolt in East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Poland, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 blazed into history. The program of Bolshevism can never be buried while the working class continues to suffer oppression or exploitation. The Hungarian workers fought spontaneously for Lenin’s 1919 program against bureaucratization: workers’ management and control through Soviets; a maximum wage differential of 4:1; election of all officials with right of recall; abolition of the standing army and its replacement by a workers’ militia; freedom of expression and association for all except capitalist counterrevolutionaries; immediate withdrawal of all armies of occupation. Within weeks all Hungary rallied around these demands. Two general strikes and two insurrections (before and after intervention) received 100% solid support. The peasants formed farm Soviets. The students and intellectuals, grouped around the Petofi circle, gave the workers enthusiastic assistance. The munitions workers provided arms and the soldiers fraternized. Even the lower levels of the bureaucracy swung into support of the new workers’ government. Like generals without an army, the top bureaucracy found itself suspended helplessly in mid-air. The Soviet soldiers stationed in Hungary refused point blank to turn their guns on to workers struggling against brutal Stalinist repression and victory seemed secure.

Terrified at the prospect that the shining example of revolutionary Hungary, pointing forward the real road to socialism, would bring Stalinism crashing to its downfall in the USSR itself, Khrushchev hastily withdrew all the Soviet troops already stationed in Hungary and posted them to remote barracks inside Russia where they could not tell of the political revolution they had witnessed. Backward Mongolian troops were sent in to replace them, ignorant of the truth, encased in gigantic tanks, and informed in many cases that they were fighting the Anglo-French Imperialists at Suez and even that they were back in Berlin fighting the Nazis! Hungarian workers, crushed for twenty five years under Admiral Horthy’s White terror and struggling once again for socialism, were slandered as “fascists.” But the general strike has never been a favorite weapon of fascists, and imperialist agents proved unable to gain any foothold. Workers who have successfully wrested the factories from the control of privileged bureaucrats are hardly likely to hand them over to private capitalists for their own exploitation and if the Hungarian workers’ slogans were “fascist,” then so were Lenin’s!

Although the first political revolution in a deformed workers’ state was drowned in blood, the lessons of the experience were impossible to obscure. A clique desperately anxious to shed its old totalitarian image had been compelled to prove that Great Russian chauvinism and fear of the working class still dominated its actions. On the other hand, within weeks the workers of Hungary had returned afresh to the banner of internationalism and workers’ democracy. Their demands were identical to those predicted by Trotsky for the coming political revolution in Russia. Hungary outlined the shape of things to come—and Khrushchev proved he knew it.

It was not long before the international monolith began decisively to crack open. The Chinese Revolution which finally achieved power in 1949, loomed as a threat to Russian Stalinism from its very inception. After Stalin had betrayed the Chinese workers in 1927 into the brutal hands of the Chiang dictatorship, the Chinese Party leaders took to the hills and organized the land hungry peasants into a guerrilla army, which succeeded after 20 years in driving the rotten despotism into the sea. The Maoist clique at the head had no October tradition of Soviet power to contend with, and operated as a Stalinist regime from the outset. First the rifles of the peasantry were turned on to the urban workers to consolidate the bureaucracy and placate the capitalists (who were paid long term dividends as compensation for nationalization) then on to the landlords with a demagogic mobilization of the toiling masses. The workers’ states in Asia as in Eastern Europe were bureaucratically deformed from the beginning. But in China these developments took place in rebellion against the decrees of Stalin, who urged compromise even after the US Ambassador in China had reported home that victory belonged to Mao. The greatest defeat for world capitalism since October 1917 received not a nod of acknowledgement from the Kremlin until it was a fait accompli.

Stalin and his successors, anxious for “normal” relations and a rapprochement with US Imperialism, offered no real protection to the new workers’ state and when the Camp David sell out in 1957 provoked the Chinese bureaucracy into outright opposition, Khrushchev suddenly withdrew all Soviet technicians, tore up all the agreements and even spitefully burnt all the blueprints, thus dealing China a crippling blow. China began to agitate against Soviet hegemony in the international Stalinist movement—not from the standpoint of the world revolution, but in the doomed attempt to construct an Asiatic caricature of the pre-war Comintern, an international network of Chinese frontier-guards. Despite the Maoists’ long experience of Stalin’s treachery and double-dealing, they counter-balanced their attack on Soviet “revisionism” with idolatry of Stalin. Within their “sphere of influence” they played the same game of power-politics as Stalin had before them. Their advice to the three-million strong Indonesian Communist Party to support the “progressive” dictator Sukarno was as opportunist and as disastrous as Stalin’s orders to themselves in 1925-27. Their friendship towards the deposed Imam of Yemen and the Sultan of Zanzibar, their support of Ayub Khan’s dictatorship in Pakistan, their ridiculous attempt to compete with the mighty USSR in deals with ruling cliques in the colonial countries, all ape the colossal cynicism of Stalin’s maneuvers. Stalinism in marked contrast to Bolshevism, proved incapable of transcending national barriers.

The Bureaucratic Impasse

The schism with China brought to its clearest expression the petty nationalism of the bureaucracies of all the deformed workers’ states. In place of internationalism, unity, planned economic dovetailing and harmonious integration to the mutual benefit of the workers of all these countries, the leaders of each little state strove for a bureaucratic utopia of autarchy and self-sufficiency. COMECON was mainly a machine for “integration” in the interests of its strongest national member-state. Its division of labour confined Romania to the role of Russia’s bread-bin, Bulgaria its fruit-basket, etc. On the basis of federation there would be no harm in such a division of labour. Imposed by the Russian national bureaucracy at prices never better than those of the capitalist world market, while national barriers remain, it is fundamentally reactionary.

In reply to this plunder, each national clique sought to develop an entirely national economy, with its own infra-structure, preserving the ridiculous old frontiers of the Balkan states, etc. Czechoslovakia, with a population of 14 million, seriously attempted to develop an entire national heavy industry, with ball-bearings plants, electronic computers, and so on. Little Romania tried equally impossible adventures. With a federation of workers’ states of Europe and Asia, the difficulties in attracting manpower to develop rich Eastern Siberia could have been overcome. The old monolithism has been superseded by fragmentation. Yugoslavia, fifteen years ago the black sheep of the family, has been imitated by little Albania, Romania, Poland and all the others in a chaotic maze of national roads to socialism. Precisely similar policies, when practiced by Kosygin’s miniature versions in the Union republic governments, were condemned by Kosygin for their “real parochial approach, a harmful and absolutely impermissible phenomenon in our socialist state.” The USSR heroically demands “internationalism” from all except itself. The split with China provides each national bureaucracy with a new dimension in which to balance between opposing forces, playing off each side against the other. Meanwhile, the sharp shocks of the Twentieth Congress, Hungary and the Sino-Soviet split have finally shattered the iron grip of the Kremlin on the world’s Communist Parties. As Soviet “frontier-guards” they are today of doubtful use. In part they have become reserve teams of reformist statesmen, and only partially do they remain agents of the Russian bureaucracy.

It was the inability of the leaders to live up to the plan’s potential even within the boundaries of the USSR which brought the 1964 coup and Khrushchev’s downfall. The new faceless “technocrats” Kosygin, Brezhnev and Podgorny talked scathingly of “economic voluntarism and subjectivism” which signified in official jargon the figurehead “Khrushchev” just as surely as “the cult of the personality” meant “Stalin.” The line was changed and the smears were flung—but the same social caste clung on to power.

Although the Soviet national income had risen by 570% between 1945 and 1964 (compared to a corresponding figure of 55% in the USA), the economy faced serious crisis. Bureaucratic control was becoming a greater and greater impediment to progress, as the ever more complex economy got more and more clogged up with red tape. Unable to provide adequate consumer goods, food or housing facilities to a dedicated and long-suffering working class, unable to live up to past performance even in developing industry, the bureaucracy was putting a question-mark over its very existence in the minds of the workers.

Khrushchev had tried to rationalize the hierarchical structure of industry by veering towards “decentralization.” This meant, not voluntary self-abolition by the bureaucrats, but a relative transfer of initiative between them. Instead of one monolithic bureaucracy, Russia had to contend with sixteen little bureaucracies, one for each of the Union republics. The pettier parasites indulged in a binge of swindling and wholesale plunder. The containment of the police terror had heralded the age of unbridled license for the corrupt officialdom. Grossly exaggerated output reports were sent, in return for handsome bonuses, and there was chaos in the planning offices. Some of the more glaring anomalies of “centralized” control were at first corrected (e.g. the transportation of materials thousands of miles when they were required next door, etc.) but soon even more ludicrous problems were created by the needless duplication of investment and even of scientific research within each “Economic Council.” Not internationalism but minuscule parochialism became the unit of planning. In 1960 the death penalty was reintroduced for “economic crimes.” One poor scapegoat for the crimes of his caste was found to have hoarded one million roubles by profiteering and pilfering. The central bureaucracy stepped firmly back in the manner of Stalin, to punish the most conspicuous parasites and thus stabilize their rule.

In capitalist countries workers have no direct stake in raising productivity. It is a synonym for intensified exploitation and mass unemployment. In a planned and publicly-owned economy, where production is not restricted by the market and there are no private shareholders amassing the fruits of the workers’ unpaid labour, higher productivity is the only road to shorter hours, higher wages and the achievement of “Communism” (which Khrushchev rashly promised “by 1980″—a question on which his successors are conspicuously vague). The workers watch the statistics keenly. But the bureaucrats lounging behind their desks have the sole ambition of some day stepping another rung up the ladder; each one is responsible only to a superior standing even further away from the masses and so on ad infinitum. Proposals sent down for the installation of new technique, the implementation of new designs, or other rationalization of labour, get lost at the bottom of the “in” tray of some bureaucrat who only wants to avoid extra paperwork that would disturb his peace of mind. The only section of the population with a direct interest in the economy’s progress—the workers—are kept desperately at arms’ length from management, in the justified fear that they might question the inflated salaries and expense-accounts paid with their labour.

The seven-year plan (1959-65) was in trouble. In agriculture, in many indices of industrial output, in the key index of labour productivity itself, the targets were not to be fulfilled. Inexorably the rise of industrial productivity slowed down, and with it the growth of real income. Between 1956 and 1960 the average annual rate of growth of industrial productivity was 6.5%. Between 1961 and 1965 it had slowed down to 4.6%. By comparison with, say, Britain’s snail-pace advance, this is still a great performance. But workers have a right to expect incomparably better results from a planned economy, and in the Soviet context, which at one time achieved annual rises of 10%, these figures are disturbing. Despite the breakneck speed of its growth in the past fifty years, surpassing the whole of Western Europe, Soviet industrial productivity today is still admitted to be only “40-50%” of that of the USA. With a larger working class, with over twice the number of technicians and engineers, the USSR produces only 65% of American output. To outstrip the capitalist countries and to introduce a “two-hour working day” (both once promised by 1980) remains a formidable task, even after the great Stalinist millstone is removed from the neck of the Soviet economy.

At the 23rd Party Congress of the CPSU, held in March 1966, the Party leaders named and blamed one factory manager after another for delay in raising productivity—and this is merely the tip of the iceberg. The extent of wastage exposed in Russia was even more scandalous. A Soviet Press report talked of 1,600 million roubles’ worth of productive plant lying idle in the RSFSR alone. The figure for wastage of production in the USSR has been put as high as 30-50%. Every 1% reduction in expenditure is equivalent to an increase in the national income of 1,500 million roubles. Thus, even leaving aside the question of raising productivity, the prevailing chaos pours up to 75,000,000,000 roubles down the drain (£30 thousand million at the official exchange rate).

Aware of the workers’ horror at wastage in their own factories, and desperately anxious to circumvent their wrath, the Party leaders shrilly condemn individual scapegoats in the Press, on posters, at conferences. Thus they pose as great “fighters against bureaucratism,” to whip the lower levels out of an apathy that could endanger the whole political structure. Kosygin spoke at the Party Congress of increasing industrial output in the current five year plan (1966-70) by the comparatively modest figure of 40%, and simultaneously lowering the consumption of many materials by as much as 20-25%. It was hoped to save in 1970 over 8 million tons of ferrous rolled stock (equivalent to the annual output of the giant Magnitogorsk steel plant), 85 million tons of fuel, 40-50 thousand million kW/h of electricity and “a great quantity of other material values” by a more efficient use of resources. This indicates colossal wastage. Kosygin blamed among other things delayed construction, uninstalled equipment, unsaleable goods, delay in ordering new equipment, unmechanized auxiliary operations, underestimation of cost leading to unfinished construction, and countless other bottlenecks, for this scandal.

In September 1965 Kosygin complained that only 17% of productive capacity at the Voskresensk chemical plant was being used and only 32% at the Volkhov aluminum plant. Inexcusable delay in building new factories meant that the equipment installed became technically obsolescent even before the plant began to operate. Kosygin singled out the chemical, iron and steel, building materials, and pulp and paper industries for special blame in wasting productive capacity.

At the Congress he revealed delays of eight years in the implementation of new designs in the production of diesel locomotives more than twice as productive as the old ones still produced in bulk.

Unspecified delays of “several years” had occurred in the adoption of newly-invented metal-working processes superior to anything in the world; and in the production of new and highly efficient transistorized electric current converters, in which, he said, “our industry is lagging inexcusably.” A far more efficient method of producing the useful material polypropylene was invented by Soviet scientists; but it took five years for the final decision to be made to adopt it and another year later Kosygin had to complain that “the Moscow City Economic Council and the State Chemical Committee have not as yet put it into operation…” The implementation of new technique was called “unsatisfactory… inadequate… not in conformity with modern standards.”

Two different designs of tractors are produced, and two of lorries, each for identical purposes and each of equal capacity—but the spare parts are not interchangeable. Ten separate designing organizations of various departments are in charge of the design of tugboats, so that tugboats of equal capacity are made according to nine different designs! The official chaos was clearly indicated by Kosygin in his description of how it took nearly one year just to agree on the schedule for the manufacture of an oil-drilling turbodrill suspended on a flexible cable. “Unfortunately,” he continued, “it has not been settled to this day because this matter required the signatures of fifteen representatives of different organizations under various state committees and economic councils. The schedule must be approved by four chairmen of state committees and two heads of republican economic councils. But even this is not the limit by far,” added Kosygin, “Comrade Zarobyan today described another instance when thirty signatures from various departments were needed to agree upon a simple matter.”

The wasteful tendency towards introversion and autarchy of all the “big fishes in small ponds” is not confined to nations or even to Union republics, but actually to individual factories, which insist on resisting specialization and carrying through entire manufacturing processes under one roof. Thus, for instance, only 56% of lathes are used in the engineering and metal-working industries themselves and productivity is kept at a tiny fraction of its possible level. This is an inevitable consequence of the bureaucratic system whereby each factory is judged in isolation and each factory manager has to “prove” himself with the record of his factory as a self-sufficient unit. The woodworking industry often works at “one-third to one-fifth” of possible productivity, and in regard to transport Kosygin stated simply that “About half of all journeys are performed by empty lorries.”

An engineer and “Hero of Socialist Labour” complained in Pravda in April 1966 that, although all the authorities were unanimous in accepting the need to raise the quality of engineering products,

“its practical execution meets with resistance all the time on the part of many executives. The roots of their resistance lie in the mistaken view that, since expenditure to raise quality doesn’t actually bring direct returns in the form of increased output, there’s no great hurry, it can always be put off for a bit…”

In construction itself, Kosygin blamed “dispersion of capital investment” as a “serious shortcoming…many construction projects about to be commissioned are not provided with financial and material resources…Building was hampered by the absence of technical documents or their low quality. The supply of building sites with equipment was not satisfactory. Designing organizations at times prepared poor designs and made gross miscalculations in estimating the cost of projects…In a number of cases, the designs of enterprises under construction…incorporated manufacturing process which…specified obsolete equipment…Productivity of labour is still low, the use of machinery and mechanisms is unsatisfactory and there are big losses of labour time.” The organizations involved had “not coped with their duties.”

As Kosygin himself puts it: “we have the potential; all we need is to use it rationally.” But he warned the State Planning Commission in investigating the muddle to ignore “pressure brought to bear on it by Government departments and local organizations.”

The agricultural crisis was even more severe. During the whole of the seven-year plan agricultural output increased by only 14%—a figure well below the target and dwarfed beside an increased industrial output of 84%. A series of catastrophic harvests highlighted the terrible backwardness and helplessness of Russia’s economic “Achilles’ Heel.” Kosygin’s proposals to drag the Russian countryside into the 20th century reveal a general level of culture hardly less primitive than in the early days of collectivization—an appalling scarcity in many areas of electricity, gas, brick houses, schools, and any kind of cultural amenities. These are not the conditions for the creation of an agricultural proletariat, and it is hardly surprising that the collective fields lie visibly barren while the private strips flourish and blossom.

It has been calculated that half the meat, milk, butter and eggs consumed in the USSR are privately produced. In the fertile “black-earth” belt of the Ukraine and the Caucasian republics, peasant millionaires are not unknown; Georgian peasants fly in daily to Moscow by aeroplane to sell flowers on street-corners! But in the vast infertile territories of parts of Russia, Siberia, the Central Asian deserts, etc., poverty and squalor remain. The cash income on some collective farms can be as low as 20 roubles per month (£5-8), plus private plots. Despite large-scale investment and tractor production, agricultural productivity of labour is officially “about one quarter”—actually it is much less—of that of the USA. With nearly one-third of the population still working on the land—six times the American rural labour force—the USSR has twenty times as many farm-workers per tractor as the USA, and wheat has still to be purchased from the West.

A mass exodus from the farms into the towns aggravates the problem still further, and meanwhile huge reserves of rural labour for harvesting are kept kicking their heels all year in Byelorussia, Moldavia, the Ukraine, the Caucasus and the Transcaucasian republics. A modern society can never be built on the back of a primitive countryside. Prices remain high, raw materials are in short supply, manpower is squandered, and precious foreign exchange is consumed, while town and country stand apart in mutual antithesis.

The contradiction between town and country in the USSR is still particularly glaring. The capital city is choked to the seams: it is impossible to qualify for a new flat unless present quarters provide a maximum of three square meters per person; a special permit is needed to move in from the provinces; and whole strata live five to a room—seven families or twenty-five people housed in one five room flat is not exceptional. It will take until 1980 to reach 82% of the legal minimum living space—itself a modest standard, doubled in capitalist Belgium. Meanwhile, most of the country’s vast continental land-mass is sparsely populated or completely deserted. Moscow’s population density is about 250 times greater than that of the enormous territory of Eastern Siberia. The under-populated areas contain potentially some of the most fertile soil and richest mineral deposits in the world. The artesian basins alone in Western Siberia, Kazakhstan and Transcaucasia could supply free hot water to one hundred million people.

It is not barrenness that keeps these areas deserted: it is pure incompetence. Khrushchev’s notorious “virgin lands” scheme failed to attract people because no amenities, and often no shelter, were provided. So urgent was the housing shortage for the pioneers in the Yakutia diamond region that Russia, one of the world’s major producers of timber, actually imported prefabricated wooden huts from Finland! When the great Moscow building program became hindered by the restrictions which reduced the reserves of building labour, and special legislation was passed opening Moscow up again for people who could find homes or jobs there, even agronomists and veterinary surgeons seized the chance to find a way into the glittering capital, rather than move to deserts from which they might never be able to return. Siberia, thirsting for manpower, has suffered a net loss of 250,000 people in five years, and the agricultural areas have only a third of the necessary labour. The pioneering thousands sent out to the East by some state organization find little to keep them there, and there they meet emissaries of other organizations actually sent out to coax them back to fill training vacancies in Leningrad or Moscow, with all expenses paid! Thus, at great cost the bureaucrats fail in their aims.

The bureaucracy in Stalin’s day, because of its monopoly of culture at that time, was able to play a relatively beneficial role in developing society, thought it saddled the economy with a heavy burden of wastage and performed its tasks at an exorbitant cost. Now that the task is no longer to build up the industrial resources already created by capitalism in the West, now that quality is as necessary as bulk, now that the economy is second only to America, the stranglehold of the bureaucracy has become an absolute fetter on further progress. The examples quoted reveal only a fraction of the chaos caused by bureaucratism run wild. On every front the bureaucracy has no other effect but to block the path forward and to hold society back from realizing the unlimited potential of the planned economy.

The Reply of the Workers

The Soviet working class has rich revolutionary traditions. It has proved its capacity for heroic sacrifice. But when the sacrifice is manifestly unnecessary and unequal, it is forced to stare straight at the roots of the contradictions—the political perversion of socialism in Soviet society. Khrushchev’s era began to expose the source of the social tensions. “Decentralization” meant that for every extra effort workers made, generous bonuses were paid…to the managers! Once the firing squad had been abandoned, privilege was flaunted openly in the factories. Workers today receive on average 90-100 roubles per month (approximately £25, or at the inflated official exchange rate, £40 at the most). Ministers, on the other hand, are paid up to 5000 roubles per month (£125 to £200) plus unchecked expense accounts, dachas (private villas), private sanatoriums, private theaters and bars, etc. Although the abolition of profiteering through landlordism, money lending, etc., means that rents are very low, living conditions for most workers are backward; teeming Moscow has scandalous overcrowding, while shoddy blocks of flats and old wooden houses stand the length and breadth of the USSR. Food is costly, owing to low agricultural productivity, and for entire seasons in some of the provinces all that can be bought is the staple poverty diet of bread and potatoes.

Against this grim background, the workers saw the contrasts sharpening after the bureaucracy’s new lurch away from “centralization.” They saw the USSR grow into an industrial power, whose export of machinery grew from 1 million roubles in 1955 to 270 million in 1964; trade with ruling cliques in Asian and African countries increased accordingly by 20% every year between 1953 and 1964—twice as fast as the overall figure—and, in the bid to buy friends, cheap long-term credit facilities (giving the USSR a stake in social “stability” there) and even diplomatic free gifts were extended to colonial dictators, often of countries where communists were still languishing in jail (e.g. Indonesia, Iran, Ethiopia, Iraq, Ghana, and the UAR—in the latter alone 127 projects have been constructed with Soviet help).

They saw Western tourists flooding in by the thousands, and special “Valuta” shops established, ostentatiously flaunting priceless luxury goods for sale at ridiculously cheap prices—for foreign currency; and they saw the sprouting of lucrative black-marketeering gangs at all the main tourist centers. They saw billions of roubles poured into great prestige projects—sputniks, cosmonauts, rockets to the moon, etc. The bureaucratic mentality of “socialism in one country” degenerated still deeper with Khrushchev’s “peaceful coexistence” and his “goulash not revolution” outburst, casually brushing aside any prospect of socialism in the West. But the workers sensed the thrill of the extension of the revolution notwithstanding into the American hemisphere with the victory of Castro’s guerrillas against American Imperialism.

Khrushchev, so affectionately patronized by Western politicians, became a hated symbol of nepotism and corruption, an upstart rumored to own six private dachas and one million-rouble swimming pool. The state apparatus grew to monstrous proportions, consuming a gross proportion of the growing volume of production, and every worker noted with disgust and indignation the bungling and mismanagement blatantly conducted under his very eyes in his own factory. Pride at the USSR’s staggering achievements was mixed with growing resentment against the careerism and red tape, squalor and drunkenness that marred them. The bureaucracy’s whole claim to power, allegedly expertise and administrative efficiency—was jeopardized in the eyes of the workers, and Khrushchev was hurriedly replaced against a rumbling background of growing discontent.

Krasnodar, a mining town in Southern Russia, revolted in protest at continued food shortages and local corruption. Within a few hours the whole town was on strike, a workers’ Soviet had been created, the police were disarmed, and the workers massed in the central square. The significant point was that, although all conscripts are deliberately stationed as far away as possible from their homes (so that industrial Leningrad in the North West is patrolled by Asiatic soldiers and vice-versa), the soldiers based at Krasnodar refused to open fire on a workers’ demonstration. It was days before a small backward detachment of special “National Guard” troops could restore “order,” and the mutinous soldiers were arrested.

Class-conscious workers in the Leningrad Communist Party branches mounted a campaign for independent trade unions, to be encouraged by Communists to fight against the bureaucrats. The Party’s anti-bureaucratic posture was exposed. Lenin’s slogan for an armed working class was taken up and pressed—and the Leningrad shipyard workers created an underground organization of their own.

An entire ball-bearings plant in Moscow employing tens of thousands of workers struck for one day in 1957. A Minister had to attend a strike meeting and explain that, after all, their wages had risen considerably since the revolution—from 25 to 70 roubles a month. His voice was interrupted by jeers of “And how much do you get?” Some of the “ringleaders” were imprisoned for five years.

Workers threatening to strike in one shop in the huge Zil car plant near Moscow in 1964 defended their action by saying: “If the French workers can go on strike, then so can we.” (There was a transport strike in Paris at the time.) The director protested: “But you can’t strike against a workers’ government!” Their reply was: “This is a government of bureaucrats.” The strike was narrowly averted by the gratis gift of a fifty-rouble bonus to every worker in the shop.

Where free political association and expression are denied, glimmerings of dissent can always be found refracted through the prism of the arts. Drama in the first years of the revolution was a primary medium of expression for the masses—revolutionary pageants re-enacting the storming of the Winter Palace, key battles from the civil war, etc., involved as many as ten thousand “actors” in the actual scenes of the events. When the degeneration set in, the theatre became a stronghold of resistance. A biting satire produced by Meyerhold in 1925 roused the audience to stand up at the end of the premiere shouting “Down with Stalin! Down with the bureaucracy!” In the bitter year 1927 Stalin introduced restrictions on dramatic freedom as his first task after the expulsion of the Left Opposition. The turgid repertory of industrial achievement, historical distortion and Tsarist chauvinism engulfed it.

But still, by ingenious subterfuges. resistance to the distortions of Stalinism was occasionally smuggled in past the eyes of the censors. A play by Mayakovsky, produced only weeks before his suicide in 1930, ended with the lone figure of a contemptible busy-bodying bureaucrat trotting up and down the stage, after all the other characters have been whisked into the communist future by a time machine, plaintively whining: “Surely you’re not saying that me and my kind are not necessary for communism?” and answered only with a roar of jeers from the audience. A children’s fairy tale was staged in 1942, about the slaying of a dragon that had terrorized a village for centuries by a hero named Lancelot. Lancelot disappeared after the good deed, and the corrupt mayor stole all the glory, built up a web of myths concerning his own supreme role in this heroic event, and arrested all who continued to praise the ideals of Lancelot. During the terror, secret revolutionaries would paint the letter “L” on the walls at night. The play ends with the dramatic return of Lancelot and the flight of the Mayor and all his lackeys.

Khrushchev walked the precarious tightrope between artistic license and philistine repression, knowing that, while strict censorship would drive the intelligentsia into opposition, freedom of expression would only strengthen a voice independent of the state officials and reinforce the social undercurrents of criticism. The desperate zig-zags both whetted the writers’ appetite for uncensored expression and infuriated them with the arbitrary pettiness of the censor. Thus there began the crystallization of a parallel with the Hungarian “Petofi circle” of 1956 that sparked off the suppressed wrath of the working class.

The floodgates were wide open. The constant zig-zags in the party line, politically and economically, nationally and internationally, the periodic abuse of the long-revered leaders, the repeated re-writing of Soviet history, the shock of Hungary, the fragmentation of what was once the “Soviet bloc” into its national components, all hammered home both the eclecticism and chauvinism of the party leadership. Genuine worker communists were forced to go back to the writings of Marx, Engels and Lenin to find the answers to the problems confronting them. Clandestine discussion groups sprang up spontaneously in factories and universities alike throughout the length and breadth of the Soviet Union—tiny embryos of the Soviets of the future.

Lieberman or Lenin

On every front the new leadership has searched around for an alternative to genuine Soviet power, one last card on which the survival of the bureaucratic machine itself is staked. Faced with uproar at the continuing deprivations at home despite enormous economic advances, panic measures have been taken. Wild promises have been made of “a Western standard of living by 1970.” But the proposals for achieving this ring very hollow. Prudently restricting the target for the growth of heavy industry to 49-50% in the current five year plan, the government hopes to raise the growth of the consumer industries to 43-46%, as against a rise of 36% in the previous five years. The consumption fund must also increase by 11,000 million roubles annually, in comparison with an annual increase of 6,500 million roubles over the last five years. Assets of the food industry, trade, housing and the social services must double and the engineering and chemical industries must produce a greater proportion of consumer goods. At the same time, great emphasis is given to the quality of consumer goods. In the past shoddy and often quite unsaleable goods were produced in bulk, simply to fulfill the quota quickly. “Not infrequently,” said Kosygin, “our enterprises are producing low quality goods which the consumer does not want and which therefore remain unsold.” Without democratic control by workers, who will insist on high standards, there is no way of preventing this. If output looks adequate on paper, then the managers’ comfortable superiors will be satisfied.

The constant zig-zags from centralization to de-centralization and back again are the clearest proof of the insoluble crisis of bureaucratic control. As a last resort, the party leaders have devised an unwieldy hybrid structure which will undoubtedly give the Soviet economy the worst of both worlds. The adoption of Professor Lieberman’s “profit incentive” scheme implies, not a reversion to capitalism, but an episodic gimmick in the leadership’s long efforts somehow to trick the managers into seeming to have identical interests to those of the workers, into enthusiastically overcoming all the contradictions inevitably associated with their own existence: Kosygin tries to reconcile the irreconcilable on a bureaucratic basis: to combine “controlled state planning with the complete cost accounting of enterprises, the centralized management of industries with a broad local economic initiative, the principle of one-man management with a greater role for the personnel!”

While engineering has again come under the control of no less than nine central ministries, other industries were left to eleven ministries in each of the Union Republics, and others were still to be run on an even more parochial local scale. Meanwhile, the factory manager at each unit of production would be paid according to the profitability of his enterprise. He would borrow money from the state (with interest charged), buy his raw materials, and fix the prices of the finished goods, and the decision would be left to him on the proportion of profits to be reinvested, the proportion to go into the workers’ wage packets, the proportion to be put into housing and other welfare services provided by the place of employment and the proportion to find its way into his own pocket.

In the capitalist Victorian heyday of “laissez-faire” and private enterprise, before the age of monopolization, rampant bureaucratic wastage was checked with the whip of the market. The Soviet bureaucrats today, on the basis of a planned economy, and fifty years after the October revolution, can think of nothing better than to ape the free play of market forces, in a grotesque child’s pantomime. The immediate effect of the reorganization was to provoke the revival of totally unnecessary unemployment for the first time since the days of the NEP. Kosygin’s aim was to “strengthen and perfect centralized planning and at the same time to develop democratic bases of economic management, to assist in every way the unfolding of the creative activity of the masses.” But not by any means the masses of the workers. Kosygin had in mind the “masses” of petty managers and officials up and down the vast territory of the USSR. He was unable to deny that “perfection of economic management is impossible without a further development of its democratic principles, without a considerable extension of the participation of the masses in industrial management…A feeling must be instilled in all workers that they are masters of their factory.”

It is precisely because the whole situation cries aloud for democratic management and control over production by the workers through Soviets with the right of appointment and recall over all administrators, that Kosygin feels impelled to add in desperation that “the role of one-man management in industry is becoming of special importance now.” But a river of blood divides Lenin’s system of management responsible to Soviets from the Stalinist system of managerial tyranny.

As with every other twist and turn in the past, for a year or two the new system will undoubtedly correct certain anomalies and produce impressive statistics. But again as at every time in the past, initial progress will come to an end as new anomalies are created. As the managers get to know all the loopholes, a new spate of swindling and corruption will result, mixed this time with the bungling associated with the clumsy multiplicity of supervisory bodies that have been resurrected from the era of centralized ministerial control. Other features will be the added fingers of the local and Union Republic authorities in the pie, plus wasteful duplication arising from control at individual enterprise level, plus the extra wastage of cut-throat competition, profiteering and squandering on manpower, as the economy is distorted into a faint caricature of a market economy. (Managers have been told to “create a demand for consumer goods”!)

Long before there is the slightest danger of private accumulation leading to capitalist restoration, the government will do yet another sharp volte-face and nip the profiteering in the bud with another round of shootings, probably seasoned again with a delicately disguised dash of anti-semitism. For reasons of economy, all workers are to transfer on to a five-day week—but it is noticeable that no opportunity is being taken in the process to advance towards the “two-hour working day,” and workers still work a forty-one hour basic week. The bureaucracy is prepared to do anything at all for the Soviet economy—except get off its back. But this is the last real service it could perform.

To raise the general economic level, a crash program of massive investment into agriculture is planned. More is to be spent on agriculture within the current five-year plan than in the previous twenty years, more than on the vast defense machine. Tractor production is to rise by 60%, and other mechanical aids are to be rapidly developed. The low productivity of labour in agriculture must rise by 40-45%—faster than in industry—and capital resources on the farms are to be almost doubled and renovated.

Further efforts are to be made to cultivate the non-black-earth belt and irrigate the Kazakhstan deserts. The collective farmer’s income (in cash and in kind) is to rise by 35-40%, compared with a mere 20% rise in the wages of “workers and clerical employees.” (The two categories are always lumped together in Soviet statistics and no figures are officially available on the distribution of personal incomes.) For the moment, reactionary proposals to divide farms into tiny “co-operatives” of half a dozen peasant households have been rejected. In the effort to hold the manpower on the farms, the provision of a guaranteed minimum income for collective farmers (closer to the wages of the farm workers on the minority of state farms) is gradually to be introduced; and theaters, cinemas, concert halls, schools, etc., are being built—a policy amusingly entitled “abolition of the differences between town and country.” Large-scale electrification and gasification are planned. Rural consumption of electricity is to be trebled by 1970.

Thus, where Stalin had rejected the long-term solution, of gradually raising the cultural level of the peasantry and “collectivizing by example,” and hurriedly adopted instead the panic-stricken emergency adventure into “complete collectivization,” his successors today, faced with an immediate crisis, have belatedly introduced measures which would take at least a generation to produce results. In the short term, a guaranteed income can only discourage the peasants from making anything like full use of the vastly expanded productive forces. Kosygin has tacitly admitted this by making advance grain purchases from the West for a further three years, bad harvest or not.

Far from overcoming the social contradictions, the new system will greatly widen the gulf between workers and managers. To relieve the housing difficulties, and further appease the managers, it has been decreed that, side by side with state construction, it is permissible for officials, professors, star performers, and others who can afford it to invest in “housing co-operatives” and build private blocks of flats, at up to 200 roubles (£50-£80) per square meter. Promises have been made to double, treble and quadruple the number of Soviet cars, televisions, refrigerators etc., not for the workers, but to provide the material incentives to the managers who will raise profits only if there are luxury goods to be bought and they need not risk their necks by accumulating money. To give the consumer industries an artificial push forward, huge orders have been placed with Western car, electronics and chemical monopolies for the construction of productive plant. Used to strengthen the revolution by raising productivity, this economic policy would be absolutely correct. But here the bureaucracy, terrified of social revolution in the West, is making a political offer of the expanding Soviet market as a final prop to the countries most exposed to the fluctuations of the capitalist world market. This marriage of convenience cannot solve the problems for either side. Only the program of world socialism can point a clear way forward.

Two programs are offered to the Soviet Union. One, that of the “profit motive,” compromising deals with Western countries, great-power politics and betrayal—a further degradation which has gained the unconcealed approval of Tory politician Sir Fitzroy Maclean, who gloated that “in the land of revolution, revisionism is now rampant.” (Noting the existence today of 500 Soviet rouble millionaires, Sir Fitzroy remarked “this is not enough, but it is a step in the right direction!”) The other program is the program of Marx and Lenin to fight against bureaucratism, a program gaining close attention throughout the USSR; the program of the Paris Commune, the October revolution, Hungary, State and Revolution and the Left Opposition. Only the latter can solve a single problem facing the workers of the Soviet Union and of the world.

Towards a New October

Bourgeois professors, to whom the very idea of socialism in the West is unthinkable, conclude empirically that “Stalinism was necessary to industrialize the country,” that all the blood and bungling was only an inevitable by-product of Russia’s advance. But it was inevitable only while the revolution remained isolated. The bureaucracy never had any shadow of the historical purpose and mission of a ruling class. From the very beginning, the Stalinist bureaucracy was parasitic and wasteful, only a cancerous appendage of the workers’ state. Its contribution while the workers were weak and illiterate has long since passed.

The Soviet bureaucracy today has become an absolute strait-jacket on further progress. It is not only the vast privileges it consumes which hold society back, but above all its usurpation of control to safeguard those privileges. Only democratic Soviet power can efficiently harness the resources of the economy. The price of Stalinism today amounts to 30-50% of production.

By clinging on to the national states which are the source of their positions, all the Stalinist bureaucracies stand in the way of socialism. The lowest point of nationalist degeneration has been reached today, with actual border skirmishes sacrificing the blood of Soviet and Chinese soldiers to preserve frontiers established by Tsars and Mandarins.

The income differential between managers and workers, officers and soldiers, state bureaucrats and the people in the USSR is higher than that of the capitalist countries. The news that the disgraced ex-leader Khrushchev retains private servants makes one wonder what luxuries are spared for the current Ministers, Party bosses, Generals, etc.

The working class is no longer weak, weary and illiterate. It is today a hundred million strong, and is undoubtedly the best educated working class in the world. One third of the population over seven years old is studying, and well over half the working population has had a full secondary education. In 1966, 68 million engaged in study, including 13 million at adult classes, of whom two million were workers taking university courses outside working hours. Such is the thirst for knowledge that 80% of pupils at secondary schools apply to enter university, and the bureaucracy has to limit this tremendous demand from lack of vacancies. The first pretext of the bureaucrats, superior culture, has vanished. No longer can they pose as the saviors of the revolution.

The rapid development of technique has turned the tasks of administration into a simple mechanical operation. Planning, accounting and control no longer pose the problems they once did. A brand new chain of 800 computer centers has just been built, to operate all over the USSR in the mechanization of accounting. The sole problem now is to check the accuracy of the figures sent in by greedy managers.

The economy screams out aloud for popular control. Only workers on the job are in a position to eradicate wastage and irrationality. The Party leaders themselves know that only the vigilance of the workers can prevent swindling, pilfering and bungling—but one thing they will never do is encourage the workers to supervise production. No privileged group in history has ever surrendered its position without a fight. In the ludicrous attempt to get all the benefits but none of the dangers of a check on the lesser administrators, they have presided over the most grotesque and absurd swelling of the official apparatus. Planning clerks plan the work of the planning organizations; one flippant Soviet professor has calculated that planning grows as the square of production, and by 1980 the entire population will have to be planners! Accountants are enrolled to check the accounts drawn up by other accountants within the factories; and now as many as one million accountants work in the USSR, in dozens of quasi-independent auditing bodies. To protect the publicly-owned economy from personal plunder, over two million guards and watchmen are employed in the USSR—thirty times the corresponding figure for Britain, with a quarter of the USSR’s population. If we add to this the millions of managers and directors of state organizations and committees, factories, mines, farms and other institutions, plus the large standing army, plus the pervasive network of police, patrols, secret police and paid informers, plus the enormous volume of needless clerical work performed for all these bodies, operating on national, Union-republic and regional levels, we can get a faint conception of the monstrous squandering of manpower which consumes incalculable portions of production and whose only effect is to clog up the economy until it reaches near-standstill.

The traditions of October, the traditions of Budapest and Krasnodar are the only force that can burst through the Stalinist bottleneck. And although the self-sacrificing and loyal Soviet working class is extending just one final period of patient trust, the inevitable shortcomings in the plan will meet with angry criticism. The bitter experiences of treachery, deceit and distortion have destroyed the authority of the bureaucracy under whatever label it parades itself.

“The wind blows the tops of the trees first,” as Trotsky said, and the ferment today among the intelligentsia is an ominous indication of the winds blowing through society. The panic and indecision of the government, publishing Solzhenitsyn’s masterly exposure of the horrors of Stalin’s labour camps, on the one hand, and imprisoning the writers Sinyavsky and Daniel, on the other, have infuriated the writers. At the Writers’ Congress this year Solzhenitsyn himself took the unprecedented step of circulating a private letter to 300 delegates, asking the Congress to “discuss the intolerable oppression to which literature has been subjected for decades by censorship…a medieval anachronism.”

Dozens of leading writers and poets signed a circular supporting his stand. The literary struggle (at this stage the clearest symptom of social unrest) has actually brought the ideas of Trotsky and the Left Opposition into print again (though in a grossly distorted form) in a novel by an apologist of Stalinism who seeks to blacken ideas that are once again coming to the fore, despite decades of falsification. The ideas of internationalism and Soviet democracy cannot be obliterated; they are borne out today with redoubled force. It was a demonstration of the Hungarian Petofi circle that began the revolution of 1956. The radicalization of the Soviet intellectuals will reinforce the undercurrents of criticism and rouse the population out of its decades of inertia.

Hungary, Krasnodar and countless other incidents prove that, once the working class demands its political right to control, only the top handful of bureaucrats will offer any resistance. The bureaucracy is not a social class; it has no independent relationship to production; it is not based upon personal property; it performs no historically progressive function; and it is impossible to determine where it begins and where it ends. It has all the vices of a ruling class, without having any historic mission. The underpaid clerical workers and the soldiers have the same interests as the industrial workers; and the lower echelons of the bureaucracy will give support to the workers, once a lead is given.

In the worldwide advance towards socialism, the basic economic gains of October 1917 ensure that what will take Western workers years of bitter struggle, in uprooting the old society, can be achieved overnight in the Stalinist countries. All that are needed are political changes, on the lines of Lenin’s four points safeguarding workers’ management against bureaucratism. Unlike the capitalists of the West, the bureaucracy has no separate ideology and culture based on private property, religion, “law and order,” etc. For their privileges the bureaucrats pay a heavy tribute to the working class: the constant pretense that they are Communists, the sanctification of every maneuver with a quotation from Lenin, the mass publication of the works of Marxism. Every move has to be justified with reference to the attainment of communism, a stateless and classless society. Under what banner can they resist the demand for Soviet power?

Fifty years is a drop in the ocean of history. In the transition from feudal to capitalist society many political upheavals brought one section after another of the capitalist class to power. It was nearly a hundred years after the great French Revolution that the capitalists finally achieved direct control over the state. The need for a new, political revolution in Russia is the price of the isolation of the social revolution in 1917 and its subsequent degeneration. The Stalinist bureaucracy will crumble away as soon as its position faces a serious challenge.

Crisis faces the diseased capitalist class in the West as it does the diseased bureaucracy in the East. Nobody can say which will be overthrown first. But, just as the Stalinist cancer fed on the stability of capitalism beyond the Soviet borders, the most valuable support we can give to the Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indonesian or American workers is to work for the downfall of capitalism at home in Britain.

The resurgence of the ideas of October in Russia will be based now not on a backward semi-colonial society, but on the second mightiest economy in the world, on a working class that is strong, solid and educated, on modern technological resources. The lessons of October, the program of Socialism, workers’ democracy, Soviets, internationalism, the principles of the Paris Commune, the Russian revolution, and Hungary, will inspire the workers of East and West. The worldwide overthrow of capitalism, begun fifty years ago, will be completed, and Mankind will pass on to socialism and dazzling new peaks of civilization. If it fails, and the mighty labour movement suffers cataclysmic defeats, the only prospect is a return to the horrors of the 1930s, this time on the level of a nuclear holocaust. The message of October is the only answer to the crisis of Mankind.

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