R. Page Arnot

A Short History of the Russian Revolution

from 1905 to the present day (1937)

Part II
from February 1917 to the present day


IN THE SPRING OF 1921, the civil war in the main was over. The devastation had been terrific. The means of production had been destroyed. Over five million men had been withdrawn from production into the Red Army. The necessary policy of Military Communism had secured the minimum needs of the population, but at the cost of a diminishing return of agriculture. Economically, Russia appeared to be ruined. Total production had sunk to one-fifth of the pre-war level both in industry and agriculture.

The Tenth Congress of the Party, convened in the spring of 1921, had to meet this situation and find a solution. The Congress was preceded by a prolonged discussion, in which various false solutions were put forward by Trotsky, Bucharin, and others. The discussion became an inner Party struggle, in which Lenin, Stalin, and the majority of the Central Committee eventually defeated the platforms of Bucharin and Trotsky. Lenin’s proposals, adopted by the Congress, were for a radical turn—which was to receive the name of the New Economic Policy. Briefly put, this policy abolished War Communism, restored to the peasants the right to sell their products on the open market, and thus enabled the petty-bourgeoisie to start business. The peasant had to pay a tax in kind. This once paid, he was free to dispose of the remainder of his grain or other produce. At the same time every effort was made, through all kinds of co-operative societies, to accustom the peasants to collective work. The small capitalist was once again allowed to carry on his business, but with a stimulated competition from Consumers’ Co-operative Societies and State enterprises.

In this plan for the restoration of agriculture and industry the Dictatorship of the Proletariat retained the following main positions: (1) The nationalised land; (2) Banking and the monopoly of foreign trade; (3) Heavy industry; (4) The railways: as well as the Red Army, Red Fleet, etc. On these there was no question of retreat. For the rest, it was a strategic retreat on the economic front in order to prepare for a subsequent advance. This advance would be slower but shorter, said Lenin: it would proceed with a greater mass of the whole population and finally would develop at a pace undreamt of.

Following on this revival of private small capitalist production, of buying and selling, there revived with it all the apparatus of petty trading and some of the apparatus of wholesale trading. Enterprises and shops opened once more on a profit-making basis. Everything had to be submitted to the commercial test. Accordingly, this meant a progressive denationalisation not merely of small factories but of some of the larger works, and even of branch lines on the railways. The ordinary business test—“Will it pay?”—had to be applied almost everywhere. Finally, the re-establishment of the credit and financial system had to be tackled; the rouble had to be established, the State budget balanced by other means than the emission of paper money. The Soviet State had to retreat very far, to contract the area of its operations, to leave a wide field for profit-making and private enterprise.

With ill-concealed delight, the capitalist Governments of Europe beheld what they imagined was the restoration of capitalism in Soviet Russia. It proved, they thought, what they had always maintained—that Socialism was impossible, not in one country, but in any country at any time. They thought it would do no harm to hasten the process and to use every method of compulsion upon the Bolsheviks. Accordingly, when in the summer of 1921 there took place a recurrence on the Volga of one of those dreadful famines which had periodically recurred in Tsarist times and were banished for ever by the subsequent Socialist development, Lloyd George and others made very notable speeches offering humanitarian assistance to the famine-stricken millions on the Volga. But it turned out that only the organisations headed by Nansen and the Quakers of Britain and America actually gave any assistance, for the Governments had stipulated the complete restoration of capitalism in the former territories of the Tsar as the price of their assistance to the starving.

Still under the illusion that the Bolsheviks had seen the error of their ways and were reluctantly “advancing” towards capitalism, the capitalist Powers abandoned the boycott of Soviet Russia and invited the Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic to participate in the Conference of Genoa held in the spring of 1922. There it was coolly proposed that capitalism should be completely restored. They were disillusioned: and both at Genoa and at the Lausanne Conference of autumn 1922 on the question of Turkey and the Straits, the growing power of the R.S.F.S.R. had to be recognised.

Actually, of course, there was a very clear perspective before the Bolshevik Party—through a period of the New Economic Policy to advance to Socialist Russia. This was clearly envisaged and stated by Lenin in the last periods of his activity; it was clearly envisaged and stated by Stalin, on whose shoulders from 1922 onward fell the main burden of carrying through the Bolshevik programme.

2. THE U.S.S.R.
At the end of 1922 it was agreed to gather the various Socialist Soviet Republics into a union. The Constitution of the new Union of Socialist Soviet Republics was finally ratified by the Congress of Soviets at the opening of 1924. The Union of Socialist Soviet Republics consisted, to begin with, of four units—the Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic, the Ukrainian S.S.R., the Byelorussian S.S.R. and Trans-Caucasian S.F.S.R.; in 1925, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan entered the Union, and, four years later, Tadjikistan.

The formation of the Soviet Union was a fact of the greatest significance. It was the expression of the national policy of the Bolsheviks. The care of this cornerstone of Bolshevik policy had been entrusted in 1917 to Stalin, who became the Commissar of Nationalities in the Council of People’s Commissars.

Stalin before the war had devoted particular attention and study to the national and colonial question, to the slogan of “the right of self-determination of the peoples.” On the basis of Marx’s teachings, the International Socialist Congress of 1896 had made the right of self-determination an integral part of Socialist policy. But the elaboration of this principle over a period of forty years, and its practical application, was the work of Lenin and Stalin. At the famous 1902 Congress there was already a struggle over this question in the programme. Both the opportunists and the sectarian “Leftists” fought against this Socialist principle. In one way or another the struggle was continued right up to the war. In the years of reaction and of revival, both Lenin and Stalin wrote extensively on this question, carrying on a struggle against opponents within the ranks of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, and, within the Second International, against Rosa Luxembourg. The war made it a burning question. The revolution made it possible to solve this burning question in a Bolshevik manner. The culmination of five years of Stalin’s work, carried on amid a hundred other activities, was the formation of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics.

The Bolshevik leadership of Stalin, already tested for nearly twenty-five years in the struggle against Tsardom, in the internal Party struggle, in the insurrection and in the civil war, had now to go through the prolonged ordeal of a renewed period of Party struggle. Lenin, “whose illness, caused by the bullets of the assassin Kaplan, began to develop in 1921, had become worse in health in 1922, and then, after a short period of recovery, had entered his last sickness in the spring of 1923. During this last illness, the struggle which Trotsky and others had carried on up to 1917 outside the ranks of the Bolsheviks, and from 1917 onwards inside the ranks of the Bolshevik Party against the line of Lenin and the majority of the Central Committee, now broke out afresh. With the content and meaning of this struggle we deal in the next chapter. For long, discussions raged within the Party. From autumn 1923 for a year and a half the discussion lasted, at the end of which time the Trotskyist opposition was defeated. Within a few months, Trotsky had formed a bloc with Zinoviev and Kamenev and resumed the struggle; so that, with hardly any intermission, the struggle went on during the whole period up till 1927. At the end of 1927 the remoteness of Trotsky from a Bolshevik policy, and the factional measures taken against the Party, including the attempt to launch an anti-Soviet demonstration on the tenth-year anniversary of the Revolution, led to his exclusion from the Party, followed at the end of 1928 by his exclusion from the Soviet Union as an element alien to Socialism and to the working class.

During these years, in spite of this opposition within the Party, the work of restoration went steadily on. By the end of 1927—the tenth anniversary of the Revolution—not only had the work of economic restoration been completed, but the economy of the country was already, in its level of production, well above the pre-war stage. It should be remembered that, as late as 1929, British economy was still below the pre-war level. Such progress in the U.S.S.R. had been made that as regards the material conditions of the working class the tenth anniversary of the Revolution saw the proclamation of the seven-hour day.

On the international field in this period there may be singled out three features which show the development of the Russian Revolution. The first, the development of the Communist International, falls outside the limit of this short history. The second is the assistance given by the masses of workers and peasants in the Soviet Union to the strike struggle of the British workers in 1926. During the prolonged seven-months’ miners’ strike, the largest single trade union strike of such duration in working-class history anywhere, the solidarity of the workers in other countries was expressed by the help they were able to send. By collections, the Russian masses sent over one million pounds sterling to help the starving miners of Britain. Third, in relations with capitalist Governments, the most significant feature was the entry into the Disarmament Commission which, set up at the time of the Versailles Treaty, began its work in 1927. The Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Maxim Litvinov, in the interests of peace proposed complete immediate and total disarmament. The proposal was rejected. Later, he proposed partial disarmament. The proposal was rejected. Later still, when President Hoover proposed a substantial cut in armaments, the Soviet Union supported this; and, when the Americans themselves did not vote for this proposal, the Soviet Union brought it forward. Again it was rejected.

It was from this time onwards that throughout the world it began to be realised that the Power which to the greatest extent was pursuing the policy of peace was the Soviet Union. When Japan and Germany left the League of Nations in 1933, the Soviet Union entered; and its entry under these conditions sufficed to transform the League from a Council of victor States for enforcing the Versailles Treaties into an instrument which could be an obstacle to the aims of the warmongers.

Next: V. The Socialist Offensive