Series about the Soviet Union (Part 4)

On the Development of the Productive Forces
and the Class Relations in the Soviet Union

by Elisabeth Wagner

A slower pace of industrialization
would have led to the downfall of the Soviet Union

Was all of that really inevitable? Was it not possible to take another path, by which one could achieve industrial development at a slower pace? Couldn't one have gone slower, in particular, in the development of heavy industry, which in comparison to the capitalist countries was put through at an enormous speed? The answer to this question was given by Stalin in 1931, and it was the bitter truth: "To slacken the tempo would mean falling behind. And those who fall behind get beaten. But we do not want to be beaten. No, we refuse to be beaten!... We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must make good this distance in ten years. Either we do it, or we shall go under." (SW Vol. 13, p. 40, 41, English edition) That this was correct was shown very clearly in retrospect. And this goal was reached, and one can say without exaggeration, that such a development of the productive forces, in such a short period of time, was unique in world history. But one had no choice about the means to achieve this goal.

However, could the relations of production that were established in the thirties be considered socialist? Was there not already at that time a new ruling class, which gave orders to the working class and enriched itself? No, and principally for two reasons. It was not a class but only a ruling stratum, because this stratum was constantly recruited from the working class. "A large part of the old working class rose to leadership positions. From 1930 to 1933, the management personnel in heavy industry rose from 125,000 to 362,000 people. Almost two-thirds of the managerial forces of 1933 only came to their positions after 1930." (Karuscheit/Schrφder, p. 217) On the other hand, the production decisions – in any case by and large – were made in the interest of the working class. The forces of production were being created which were necessary to maintain the workers' power and to be able to advance to communism.

At another point we stated, however, that in this situation, the inevitable means themselves had to become a danger for the working class. Even if the majority of the leaders were recruited from the working class, there was a danger to socialist relations in a system of management with such a steep contrast between leaders and the masses, that an increasing number of leaders would develop a mentality that was directed against the proletariat and against communism. That on this basis, a class interest of the leading stratum had to arise. Thus, as necessary and inevitable as the system of management which was established in the thirties was, it was just as necessary to overcome it in order to maintain socialism.

From this point of view, World War II – even though the Soviet Union was victorious militarily – was a terrible blow for socialism. Of course, the forms of management could not be democratized during the war; on the contrary, they had to be militarized. "On June 26, 1940, four days after the victory of Hitler Germany over France, and one year before the attack on the Soviet Union, the seven-hour day was done away with (in the Soviet Union, RM) by decree and the freedom of work relations was abolished altogether. Work was placed under military rule and leaving the work place was punished as desertion." (Karuscheit/Schrφder, p. 215) What else could have been done, but the position of the leading stratum had to be strengthened by these necessary measures, and to be sure, in a manner that was contrary to the communist goal.

The relations limited the possibilities of understanding

However, the party did not develop any clarity about the development of class forces. For instance, in the report by Zhdanov on the amendments to the party rules at the 18th Party Congress of the CPSU(B) in 1939, it says: "The class boundaries dividing the working people of the U.S.S.R. are being obliterated; the economic and political contradictions between workers, peasants and intellectuals are disappearing – becoming obliterated. A basis for the moral and political unity of Soviet society has been formed." (Zhdanov, Amendments to the Rules of the C.P.S.U.(B.), published in "The Land of Socialism Today and Tomorrow," FLPH Moscow, 1939, pp. 447-8, English edition)

This became the official position of the party, and in this way, the party itself lost sight of the class reality, lost sight of the obstacles which – together with the enormous victories, or actually as the price of these victories – mounted up in relation to the communist goal. By this obscuring of the real class relations, the theory was changed in part – in the areas we are concerned with here – in ideology in a bad sense. (Besides, the typical fact that the abolition of the party maximum obviously took place underhandedly, that no decision regarding this was made known, not to mention any reason for and political assessment of such a decision, can also be seen in this connection.)

One could say: such an ideological development corresponded to the interests of those who had taken the leading positions in the existing system of management, those who wanted to keep these posts and the privileges connected with them at any price, those who, in reality – whether consciously or unconsciously – had a definite interest in preventing a development in the direction of communism. That is certainly also the case, but it would looking at it from too short a perspective, to see this as the only reason for the development of such an ideology. There were also reasons that the revolutionary communists could not see clearly the reality in this connection. There were enormous struggles and enormous efforts, which had to be made since October of the year 1917, to maintain the perspective of communism; the clear view of the great detours and concessions, which were combined with the victories achieved in the thirties, would have sapped the fighting spirit and the communist enthusiasm. The force, energy and steadfastness which Stalin in particular had to show at the head of this extremely contradictory social structure, must have been enormous. In such a position, one stood constantly at the cross-roads of all social contradictions, and that must have been an enormous test of ones breaking point, even for such a very strong personality. Therefore, one would have to be a pure know-it-all, if one said in retrospect: "How could one have been so deceived about class the development of class relations?" Since being determines consciousness, then the thinking of very great personalities is also subject to certain limitations that are created by the objective conditions. Stalin fought against the degenerated apparatchiks, who grew developed increasingly. But he was in the final analysis forced to rely on the existing apparatus. This necessity limited the possibilities of a Marxist analysis.

It was obviously Stalin who on all large questions made the final decisions. Not by any means because he sought such a role due to a subjective desire for power, but based on the objective development of conditions. Given the necessity to bring about an enormous advance in the development of the productive forces in record time, given the necessity of a hierarchical, strictly centralized management apparatus, so there was also the necessity of such a strong head of this apparatus. Such a position of the highest leader of the party and state is obviously unfavorable for development in the direction of communism, in the direction of the abolition of classes. On the other hand, the extremely strong position of Stalin in the given circumstances, from another point of view, was also the prerequisite for the maintenance of socialism. If the existing class differentiation brought about the fact that the manifestation of degeneration increased the more one looked upwards, then there was needed at the very top of this apparatus a powerful person with a proletarian standpoint and an iron will, who did set some limits on the activities of these forces. This made it possible for ordinary communists and workers who sensed and rejected the manifestations of decomposition of the apparatus, nevertheless, to maintain their revolutionary enthusiasm, since they felt at the same time that at the top stood a party leader with a communist standpoint. This proletarian, communist basis further made it possible for Stalin to put through decisions which were increasingly in contradiction to the interests of leading stratum. However, this could only work for a certain period. The more the apparatchiks at the top strengthened their position, the more their possibilities grew to "underhandedly" put through their special interests and all the more the proletarian power was endangered.

Today one must soberly analyze the developments of that time

If one approaches the question in a historical-materialist manner, then one must see clearly that in action as well as in thought the communists at that time were subject to objective limitations. On the other hand, today, in retrospect, one cannot simply limit oneself to repeating the mistakes of the people of that time. It is necessary based on historical experiences to further develop the theory and cleanse it of ideological aberrations.

A basic mistake, not only about the class reality in the Soviet Union at that time, but also about the content of socialism as the transition society to communism, is expressed in the following statement of Stalin: "... because it [socialist society, RM] does not include the obsolescent classes that might organize resistance. Of course, even under socialism there will be backward, inert forces that do not realize the necessity for changing the relations of production; but they, of course, will not be difficult to overcome without bringing matters to a conflict." ("Economic Problems of Socialism in the U.S.S.R.," Reply to Comrade Alexander Ilyich Notkin, FLP Peking, 1972, p. 52, English edition) To be sure the stratum of the leading people was not yet a class, but they already had their own class interests and there was the possibility they would develop into a class. Furthermore, as things developed in the thirties (and they had to develop that way in the interests of the proletariat, on the basis of the given backwardness of the productive forces), there was a spontaneous tendency for this stratum to develop into a new ruling class. This could only have been prevented by the goal-oriented activity of the proletariat under the leadership of its party. It was then and is now in no way true that "in general, time is working for socialism" (Nexhmije Hoxha, Some Fundamental Questions of the Revolutionary Policy of the Party of Labour of Albania about the Development of the Class Struggle, English edition reprinted by Albania Report, p. 9) [This quote is taken entirely out of context, for N. Hoxha makes the same essential point as the author in RM, for she says immediately preceding the passage quoted: "The struggle which is going on at present between socialism and capitalism is not automatically crowned with the victory of socialism, although in general..." – translator.] "Time" does nothing, but certain sections of the leading stratum do everything they can to pursue their class interests directed against the proletariat, and under certain circumstances this section of the stratum will grow. That had to be the case under the given conditions in the Soviet Union. Stalin's view, that there were only "inert forces" in this stratum, who however had no class interests but did "not realize the necessity," again made him lose sight of the shifts in the class forces actually taking place before him. On the other hand, Stalin very obviously felt this, he sensed the growing dangers throughout. This sense, for instance, was expressed in a remark made in anger that Svetlana Alliluyeva described: "You damned caste!" (see Part 2, in RM 3, 1996) But the self-deception of the communists about the real content of events and the consolidation of this self-deception in the official and "unquestionable" theory, was obviously so strong, that he could not develop theoretically these realistic dark premonitions.

To be sure, Stalin was correct in speaking of the sharpening of the class struggle. However, he saw the roots of this class struggle in the remnants of the destroyed class, in the imperialist countries abroad and in the consciousness lagging behind being. He did not analyze those roots, which lay in the production relations created by the Soviet power itself. But these roots were the main ones which later led to the downfall of the Soviet power. They were based, as we shall see in a later installment, not only on the particular conditions in the Soviet Union. Class differences always result from the division of labor of the old society, which can not be completely overcome under socialism (and will be overcome completely only under communism), and these differences can lead to the downfall of socialism, if the working class loses the revolutionary initiative. In order to keep the initiative in their hand, the working class and its party also needs, among other things, a theory which scientifically analyzes the class differences which have their roots in the socialist production relations themselves. The Soviet working class and its party lacked such a theory.

Besides, this lack of theory was also not overcome in Albania later. So, for example, at the scientific conference in Tirana in 1983, it was declared that the antagonistic contradictions in the society can "not be traced back to the socialist relations of production, rather, they are a product of the existing birthmarks of the old bourgeois society internally, and of the pressure of the capitalist-revisionist encirclement externally." (Tirana, 1984, p. 175, German edition) This "rather" expresses a completely wrong assessment: Socialism contains as an essential part of its nature the birthmarks of the old society, in particular old divisions of labor, and here again in particular the division of labor between the functions of management and carrying out. These birthmarks are by no means something external to socialism, but are its essential part. If they are not more and more pushed back, they will expand and thus bring down the communist kernel of socialism and with it socialism itself. Besides, this view expressed in 1983 at the scientific conference in Tirana was not new. Enver Hoxha said in 1978 that "the base and the superstructure... in our socialist society... are free from class antagonisms and, as such, they are constantly perfected." (Proletarian Democracy is Genuine Democracy, Tirana, 1978, p. 9, English edition) The evident mistake in logic points to the fact that such a thesis is of an ideological nature: if the base and the superstructure were really "free from class antagonisms," then "as such" they could hardly be "perfected."

On the other hand, Enver Hoxha in another situation pointed to "the socio-economic conditions" that exist within socialist society and lead to the danger of a development back to capitalism: "The productive forces and the relations of production, the mode of distribution based on them, are still far from being completely communist. The distinctions which exist in different fields, such as between country and town, manual and mental work, qualified and unqualified work, etc., which cannot be wiped out immediately, also exert their influence in this direction... Socialism can greatly restrict the emergence of negative phenomena alien to its nature, but it cannot avoid them completely." (Report Submitted to the 7th Congress of the Party of Labour of Albania, Tirana, 1976, p. 110, English edition) A real analysis of these material conditions still remains to be done, and here too Hoxha finally emphasized that such phenomena are "alien" to socialism. But they are produced by it as a necessity. Lenin: "Theoretically, there can be no doubt that between capitalism and communism there lies a definite transition period which must combine the features and properties of both these forms of social economy. This transition period has to be a period of struggle between dying capitalism and nascent communism – or, in other words, between capitalism which has been defeated but not destroyed and communism which has been born but is still very feeble." (Economics and Politics in the Era of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, in LW Vol. 30, p. 107, English edition) It is therefore a mistake to consider socialism exclusively as the not yet completed communism and to play down its inherent birthmarks or properties of the old society as "alien" phenomena, instead of analyzing them soberly and mercilessly exposing their class roots, not only the external ones but also the internal ones.

This theoretical mistake of the communists was always used by the sections of the leading stratum which pursued their own interests against the proletariat; it aided their efforts to develop into a new ruling class. Characteristic here is the claim of the Textbook of Political Economy, Moscow, [[1955 edition]], Part 3 A, Ch. XXVI, p. 486-487, that in the Soviet Union, "the whole people – the working class, the peasantry and the intelligentsia – are profoundly interested in the creation of communist society." At the time that this textbook appeared, the leading stratum had just carried out the decisive political action that was the prerequisite for its emancipation to a new ruling class. It thereby sealed the irreversible renunciation of the communist goal of a classless society.

Incorrect assessments on the question of the state

The incorrect assessment of class reality also led to an incorrect assessment in the Soviet Union of the character and functions of the socialist state power. In 1939 Stalin declared to the 18th Party Congress that, since there was no more exploitation, the state had lost its function of suppression: "there was no one to suppress" (except for "thieves and pilferers of the people's property" as well as "spies, assassins and wreckers" that imperialism had sent into the country) (SW Vol. 14, p. 421, English edition). "The function of economic organization and cultural education by the state organs" remained; but the repressive character of the state power was only directed "to the outside, against external enemies" (ibid).

That was a crass misjudgment of reality. The labor book, the internal passport, the penalties for violation of work discipline, were these not repressive functions of the state, which stood in direct connection to the organization of production? The basic problems here were evidently neither in the criminal tendencies nor in the work of foreign agents but in the Soviet production relations themselves. The above-mentioned repressive functions of the Soviet state, overall, were unquestionably necessary, and they were in the final analysis in the interest of the working class. That is the dialectic of the matter, that the working class in power has to take certain coercive measures against a section of itself, and that, to the extent to which this is necessary, produces a leading stratum and that this stratum at a certain point of development can run counter to its own strategic goals.

But there were still other repressive functions of the state power internally. One should not forget that all the twists and turns of the policy of the party since the October Revolution were based on class interests. These interests expressed themselves in fierce party struggles. There was a very strong left opposition which thought that the policy of alliance with the peasantry went too far. On the other hand, there was also a right opposition which turned against the repression of the kulaks. At a certain point, there was an alliance of these two wings against Stalin, who in these matters represented the only policy that would not lead to the downfall of Soviet power. This opposition bloc conducted its fight from a certain period of time by all methods: sabotage, murder, secret dealings with the foreign imperialists, and so on. On the other hand, in this way the repressive measures of the state power were strengthened. And one should not forget: about 9 million people were affected by the dekulakization; most of them were certainly bitter enemies of the Soviet power.

In whose hands was the state power? As we have already said, the direct influence of the workers and peasants on the state power was rather slight, and it could not have been otherwise under the given circumstances. However, it was still a proletarian state power, because it served the realization of the strategic goals of the proletariat. But, looked at from this view, that it was a socialist state power, it had very strong bureaucratic tendencies. To an increasing extent, certain parts of the state power became independent and they thus developed their own interests. This state power was led directly by the leading stratum, and large parts of this stratum had begun, as we already said, to develop class interests against the proletariat. This had to have an effect on the state power itself. This difficult and contradictory situation was removed from the possibility of a Marxist analysis by the thesis that there was no longer any internal basis for repression.

The facts ran increasingly counter to this thesis. The repressive functions of the state did not become weaker but increased, and they were not only directed against the enemies of socialist construction. It is noteworthy that twice during Stalin's lifetime, the leaders of the secret police had to be executed on account of counter-revolutionary crimes (Yagoda and Yezhov). One should also see in this context the various intrigues at the Hotel Lux, where during the war German emigrants of the KPD [Communist Party of Germany] were lodged. Apparently the intrigues of various fractions of the Soviet secret service took place there, and one could thereby easily lose ones head, literally. In this context one should also see the description by Varga, that certain forces wanted to see him dead, because during the war he opposed the thesis that fascism was part of the German national character, and that only Stalin's intervention saved him. Despite Stalin's strong position, the possibility grew that the apparatchiks, who were becoming increasingly powerful, would be able to enforce their class interests against the proletariat and against communism. If they could not yet do so on a large scale, then they would do it increasingly on a small scale, and also in vendettas to settle personal accounts. At the same time, they presented themselves as particularly consistent Stalinists, and they represented their crimes as an expression of the proletarian dictatorship. Besides Varga's depiction there are also other descriptions, in which Stalin frequently defended people who were slandered by such forces as opportunists and enemies. (Stalin's works themselves show such examples.) But despite his power to determine the "large questions," Stalin clearly could not totally counter the activity of these forces.

Obviously, Stalin was increasingly helpless in relation to the intrigues of the various independent sections of the state power. As an example, take the so-called doctors' plot. At the end of 1952, several doctors were arrested under the pretext that they wanted to murder party leaders. According to bourgeois propaganda, this is a standard example of Stalin's alleged despotism. However, Stalin's daughter, Svetlana Alliluyeva, whose book was also placed at the service of anti-communist propaganda, writes that her father was "exceedingly distressed" by this affair. At the dinner table he remarked that "he didn't believe the doctors were 'dishonest' and that the only evidence against them, after all, was the 'reports' of Dr. Timashuk." (Alliluyeva, Twenty Letters to a Friend, p. 207, English edition) This doctor was, in fact, exposed after Stalin's death as a maker of intrigues, and the accused doctors were rehabilitated, while the Khrushchevites blamed Stalin for the arrest of these doctors. Svetlana Alliluyeva further points out that Vinogradov, the only doctor whom Stalin trusted, was himself arrested (p. 207, English edition). The question is, who was behind the intrigue of Timashuk. Still, in our opinion, there is rather natural suspicion that Stalin was murdered, and that could have been a preliminary measure, to take the doctor whom he trusted out of circulation. We do not want to speculate, and the question as to whether Stalin was murdered is not in the final analysis decisive for the evaluation of the class struggle that we are concerned with. However, if Stalin – as was obviously the case – at this point was the decisive obstacle who confronted the apparatchiks at the head of the state and party (because after his death, things were obviously easy for them): what reason would they have had to wait for his natural death? Khrushchev himself said later that there had been talk of an attempt on Stalin's life, but it had not been carried out because "the Soviet people would not have understood it."

But enough of the details. The fact is that working class increasingly lost its control of the state apparatus. This was furthermore an expression of the fact that the leading stratum increasingly clearly developed its own class interests and that it accordingly attempted to develop itself into a new ruling class. But Stalin was an obstacle to that, since now as before he was the one who determined the basic economic and political questions. In a certain manner, he still forced the apparatchiks to serve the working class, but they did it less and less willingly, and they always found more ways and means, alongside and finally against it, to achieve their special interests. Khrushchev's later lament is characteristic, that when one was called to Stalin, one never knew whether it was for lunch or to be sent to jail. This is what the majority of the leading apparatchiks must have increasingly felt in this situation. Thus the dictatorship of the proletariat had to become weaker, the more imperatively the development of the productive forces demanded other forms of management, forms of management in which the workers could participate directly in a stronger way. Instead of this, the privileged leaders strengthened their position, and so the proletarian dictatorship was increasingly undermined.

With all that, it must be seen clearly, that Stalin during the war and immediately after it could not take up the fight with the increasingly degenerated leading stratum. During the war, it was absolutely necessary to concentrate all forces against the external enemy. Thus it can be understood, for example, why Stalin's indignation about the shenanigans of the Moscow government in Kuibyshev that Svetlana Alliluyeva described had to remain an impotent anger.

But wouldn't there have been an opportunity, after the end of the war and after the repair of the worst of the war damage, for the revolutionary forces to regain the initiative? Well, for various reasons the situation was very complicated. We will discuss this in the next issue.

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