Jenö Varga's Manuscripts from Before his Death
An analysis by a member of our editorial board Elizabeth Wagner
If one deals with a stratum of people (and later with a class), who are trying to get all the levers of society irrevocably into their hands, instead of eliminating class differences, then it is an unavoidable consequence that these people also want to acquire as much private wealth as possible. "A ruling stratum that does not take advantage of its economic and political rights does not exist." (Wittfogel, History of Bourgeois Society, Vienna, 1924, p. 86) Clearly Wittfogel did not write this in relation to socialism, but there is no reason why it should not apply there. Thus Stalin in 1926 was already forced to make the following remarks:
"We see prevailing among us now a regular riot, an orgy, of all kinds of fêtes, celebration meetings, jubilees, unveilings of monuments and the like. Scores and hundreds of thousands of rubles are squandered on these 'affairs.' There is such a multitude of celebrities of all kinds to be fêted and of lovers of celebrations, so staggering is the readiness to celebrate every kind of anniversary – semi-annual, annual, biennial and so on – that truly tens of millions of rubles are needed to satisfy this demand. Comrades, we must put a stop to this profligacy, which is unworthy of Communists...
"Most noteworthy of all is the fact that a more thrifty attitude towards state funds is sometimes to be observed among non-Party people than among Party people. A Communist engages in this sort of thing with greater boldness and readiness. It means nothing to him to distribute money allowances to a batch of his employees and call these gifts bonuses, although there is nothing in the nature of a bonus about it. It means nothing to him to over-step, or evade, or violate the law. Non-Party people are more cautious and restrained in this respect. The reason presumably is that some Communists are inclined to regard the law, the state and such things as a family matter. This explains why some Communists do not scruple sometimes to intrude like pigs (pardon the expression, comrades) into the state's vegetable garden and snatch what they can or display their generosity at the expense of the state." (SW 8, p. 141-2, English edition)
As the second part of this quote shows, already at this period these pigs understood very well the need to organize themselves in such a way that the person in front always did something good for the person behind. And these people thanked them with their "loyalty," not, to be sure, with loyalty to the working class, the party and the state, but with loyalty to their patron. Let us recall once more at this point, how ridiculous is the statement of Holz, that it was inevitable that the dictatorship of the proletariat should have represented itself as the dictatorship of the party, because after all the broad masses gain economic advantages from it.
To be sure, for the time being, more questions have been raised than have been answered. What kind of state power was this? From where did the privileges for the leaders of the state, party and society come from? Did it have to be this way? Was what happened under Khrushchev then not just the logical consequence of the previous situation? And why did Stalin tolerate this?
Let us return to our point of departure, to the manuscripts of Varga. These manuscripts still contain some facts that are worthwhile to relate. Of interest, first of all, his description of the abolition of the party maximum. A discussion or a decision about abolishing this party maximum can not be found in Soviet literature.
According to Holmberg, Peaceful Counter-revolution, Berlin 1976, the regulation regarding the party maximum had provided that for any income above 210 rubles, 90% should go to the party. According to Holmberg, this regulation was first abolished for the Stakhanovite workers. After that, according to Holmberg, "it disappeared also for the bureaucrats, and their wages were high without exception, most of all for the top bureaucrats. At the same time, the higher bureaucrats and also the officers received further privileges. Special closed stores were established where they could freely buy goods of various kinds that were not available for the broad masses, or which with rations they could only get in limited quantities. The bureaucrats were also assigned summer residences and other benefits." (Holmberg, op. cit., Vol. I, p. 36.)
An indication of a discussion of the party maximum can already be found in the '20s in Stalin's Reply to the Discussion at the 13th Party Congress in 1924. Stalin expressed himself there disparagingly about "a certain number of Party members receiving 1,000 or 2,000 rubles a month, who are considered to be Party members but who forget that the Party exists" (SW Vol. 6, p. 240, English edition), who did not pay the contribution they owed according to the rules.
The descriptions of Varga, as vague as they are, are of interest, since there is so little information regarding this question:
"I do not know exactly when the 'party maximum' was abolished. In the year 1930, when I formally went from the Comintern to the Communist Academy, the party maximum still existed; it was then 150 rubles, later it was raised to 225 rubles. It is interesting that none of the 'party histories' say even one word about the 'party maximum.'...!
"In the '30s the radical division of Soviet society into strata with very different incomes began. One after the other – according to their importance for Stalin's regime – privileged strata were created: first the high and higher party bureaucrats, then the officer corps. Much later, after the war, the academics." (Varga, p. 137f.)
That Varga turned the personality cult on its head, according to which all this obviously derived from a devilish plan of Stalin and therefore could not have any causes, especially any objectively operating ones, need not concern us here, even though such a view of things is rather miserable for a Marxist political economist. We will return later to the question of the true causes of this development. We want to point out here that Varga confirms overall Holmberg's description about the abolition of the party maximum in the '30s.
Varga: "the crassest in appearance was this division into strata during the World War. In the fall of 1941, the Academy found itself in Kazan: the members of the Academy received for their noon-time meal a watery soup and a plate of lentils. I was at that time a very highly regarded lecturer on the international situation: I gave lectures in the Obkom and in factories. The Obkom secretary rewarded me with the right of admission to the 'G' canteen. I went there once; there was everything: meat, fish, even beer. But it took up too much of my time and it was repugnant: I did not go there again...
"In December, I moved to Kuibyshev. There was the diplomatic corps, the Ministry of the Exterior. They were prepared for the possibility that the government might have to move there. Therefore the Kremlin-Canteen functioned there, that I (coming from Moscow) had the right to use. Never was there in Moscow such abundant provisions for those 'authorized' to use it (Varga means: as was the case at that time in Kuibyshev, RM) with all the provisions, while the people of the city were in bitter need..." (Varga, p. 138)
This description corresponds to the presentation by Stalin's daughter Svetlana Alliluyeva. Her book was published in the West as anti-communist literature, but it shows, contrary to the intentions of its publisher, in many respects, that Stalin's class standpoint was that of the working class.
Svetlana was politically naive, and at the time she wrote this book she was religious; she was all the more unbiased, to a certain extent, in her description of the facts. Actually in 1941 parts of the government were moved to Kuibyshev, and Stalin's daughter was also evacuated there and went to school there. She reports about a visit with Stalin in Moscow. Stalin asked her whether she had made friends with anyone in Kuibyshev yet.
"'No,' I said. "They've set up a special school there for children who have been evacuated, and there are a whole lot of them." It never occurred to me that this remark might cause any special reaction.
"My father suddenly turned a pair of darting eyes upon me as he always did when something made him mad. 'What? A special school?' I saw that he was getting angrier by the minute. 'Ah, you –' he was trying to find a word that wasn't too improper – 'Ah, you damned caste! Just think! The government and the people from Moscow come and they give them their own school. That scoundrel Vlasik (a general who was responsible for such matters, RM) – I bet he's behind it!' By this time he was furious...
"Our evacuee school really was full of the children of well-known Moscow people. It was so distilled a group and so awesome a spectacle that some of the local teachers were too intimidated even to go into the classrooms." (Svetlana Alliluyeva, Twenty Letters to a Friend [English edition, Harper & Row, 1967, p. 166, 167].)
From this description one can already see that there were many developments which Stalin had not in any way initiated, but even opposed with impotent anger, even though Varga considered him the initiator of them.
Varga: "still worse (than in Kuibyshev, RM) was my experience in Leningrad. In September, 1942, I went voluntarily (as one of the first from Moscow) to Leningrad to give lectures. I wanted to find out about the life of the city under siege. I took with me half a loaf of bread. But in Leningrad, where literally hundreds of thousands had died of hunger, where the nourishment of the population always bordered on hunger and where many were still dying of the consequences of hunger, I was taken to a canteen at the 'Moica'... where everything was 'normal.' There was only one limitation at the noon-time meal: one was not allowed to eat two portions of meat. Everyone received a package of food – enough for supper and for breakfast. These were civilian party functionaries – no officers – who ate there. When I returned to the Hotel Astoria, I gave the half loaf of bread that I had brought from Moscow to the chamber maid: she was beside herself with happiness!
"I give these details so that the reader (if anybody will ever read these lines) should see concretely what a chasm there was between the privileged ones and the working people. This chasm became even wider after the war...
"Khrushchev had built for himself in ten years 13 new luxurious residences. In the Crimea on the sea shore a new residence was built for him: the fortification of the sea shore alone required a sum of 8 million (new) rubles! In the nature park in the Crimea at the site of the old hunting lodge, a marble palace was built, etc." (Varga, p. 139)
Of course, the question arises, to what extent did Stalin also live in such luxury. The description of his daughter, who writes much about personal matters, is in many ways of interest here. On the basis of this description, one can briefly answer: Stalin himself lived modestly and also asked his family to live modestly. For example, the children were not given a great deal of money, but he could not completely get away from the conditions that were prevalent. He evidently received a high salary that was administered by certain people and disappeared into certain channels.
Svetlana's writings have long been known, but it was for a long time difficult to assess, about certain things that she related, whether her observations were objective or subjectively colored, or whether they were revised in the interest of her Western publishers. However, many of the descriptions correspond amazingly to those of Varga, so that it seems that a relatively high degree of truth is at least likely.
Svetlana: "now (1937 or 1938, RM) the entire household (of Stalin, RM) was run at state expense. At once the size of the staff, or 'service personnel,' as they called it to avoid the old bourgeois word 'servants,' increased enormously. At each of my father's houses there suddenly appeared commandants, a detail of bodyguards each with a chief of its own, two cooks to take turns during the day, and a double staff of waitresses and cleaning women, also working in two shifts. These people were all hand-picked by a special section for personnel, and, of course, once they had been appointed as part of the household staff, they automatically became employees of the MGB (or GPU, as the secret police were still known.)" (Twenty Letters to a Friend, letter 11, p. 124, English edition)
"Our household staff grew by leaps and bounds. It wasn't just in our house that the new system was put into effect, but in the houses of all the members of the government, at least the ones who belonged to the Politburo... They were all paid for out of government funds and maintained by government employees who kept their masters under close surveillance night and day." (P. 125)
For Stalin's pay "the secret police had a division that existed specially for this purpose and it had a bookkeeping department of its own. God only knows how much it cost and where the money all went. My father certainly didn't know.
"Sometimes he'd pounce on his commandants or the generals of his bodyguard, someone like Vlasik, and start cursing: 'You parasites! You're making a fortune here. Don't think I don't know how much money is running through your fingers!'
"But the fact was, he knew no such thing. His intuition told him huge sums were going out the window... From time to time he'd make a stab at auditing the household accounts, but nothing ever came of it, of course, because the figures they gave him were faked. He'd be furious, but he couldn't find out a thing. All-powerful as he was, he was impotent in the face of the frightful system that had grown up around him like a huge honeycomb." (P. 209-10)
"The other bodyguards... The one thing they wanted was to grab as much as they could for themselves. They all built themselves country houses and drove government cars and lived like ministers and even members of the Politburo." (P. 125-6) "My father never cared about possessions. He led a puritanical life, and the things that belonged to him said very little about him." (P. 15)
Svetlana also describes how much Stalin hated the personality cult that had grown up about him, but evidently he could not do anything about it.
To the question, how such things can be explained, we will try to give an answer later. But first, we still want to provide some observations from Varga that relate to Stalin himself.
Varga: "I would like to add here a few things about Stalin personally. I often had to deal with him. He turned to me regularly to get data and an analysis of the situation, when he was concerned with questions of world economics." When an appointment was made, Varga "never had to wait in the ante-chamber at the arranged time." (P. 168)
This seemingly unpolitical passage, which relates to a courtesy that should be a matter of fact in dealing with people, is not so uninteresting, because such courtesy was evidently not a matter of fact for some high Soviet functionaries of the time. Varga: "This punctuality he had in common with Lenin, in contrast to the lordly manners of Zinoviev, who would arrange to see 10 or 20 people from the Comintern at the same time and make them wait for hours. Once I got fed up and I simply left. The next day his secretary said to me that Zinoviev was 'surprised' that I went away without being received by him..." (ibid)
Varga describes how, in 1934 before the 17th Party Congress, he had put together very detailed material about the economic situation of capitalism, material which, contrary to the leadership of the Comintern at that time, came to the conclusion that the great economic crisis had ended. They refused to print Varga's material.
However, Stalin was convinced of Varga's arguments. He saw to it that the material was printed, and he wrote an anonymous forward which said that the material had been printed at Stalin's suggestion. Varga also opposed the statement of the Khrushchevites that Stalin had dressed up his analysis with other people's feathers: Stalin always stated it when he took something from Varga.
Regarding the material that he developed for Stalin's report to the 17th Party Congress, Varga relates the following details about his collaboration with Stalin: "A characteristic episode: when I asked him how much I should write and how much time he had for it, he answered: 'As much as you consider necessary.'" (P. 169f) It does show Varga's confusion, that he says in the very next sentence, that Stalin was "unquestionably an oriental despot," and continues a few sentences later: "At the same time it is not true that Stalin did not allow objections. One could safely contradict him. That was my experience..." (P. 170)
Varga does not fail to deplore that Stalin had personally on his conscience the deaths of many excellent communists, but declares on the other hand that "he saved me twice: in the year 1938, when the GPU wanted to have me arrested based on many false reports, and in the year 1943..." (P. 170) The second case Varga describes in detail:
During the Second World War, several people spread the absurd thesis that fascism was part of the German national character. Varga gave a lecture, in which he refuted this thesis with Marxist arguments. After that, some apparatchiks tried to bring him "to the gallows." According to his description, he really had to fear for his life.
At the suggestion of Dimitrov, Varga turned directly to Stalin, that is, he sent Stalin his lecture with a brief description of the situation. Stalin called Varga and said: "That is a good Marxist lecture. Who accused you?" "He let me inform him about all the people who slandered me. What happened thereafter I know only from a remark of Dimitrov, that he gave those people a terrible dressing-down." (P. 170ff) Varga's lecture was printed.
It is of less importance that Varga raised the question: "Why Stalin did this I do not know! Perhaps he thought he would still need me..." (P. 170) That the reason could be that Stalin was against slanderers, that he was interested in the spread of Marxist and not of anti-Marxist theses, Varga did not consider. But that was his problem.
This ends our description of the facts that Varga relates. We have scarcely evaluated these facts until now. As has already been said, up to now there have been more questions raised than answered. In the next article we will try to solve some puzzles.
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