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

The Socialist Offensive

BY THE TENTH ANNIVERSARY of the Revolution the restoration of industry was completed, and made possible the advance to higher levels both in economic forms and in production. Only the very first steps had been taken so far in the direction of Socialist reconstruction. The U.S.S.R. was still an agrarian country, still an ocean of agriculture with islands of industry, still backward and partly medieval in its technique.

Of pre-revolutionary Russia Lenin had said that it was “equipped with modern implements of production one-fourth that of Great Britain.” Ten years ago, in 1927-8, the U.S.S.R. was in these respects not far advanced upon Tsarist Russia. To make such a country Socialist, not only in its direction (that had been the case since 1917), but in its social-economic forms, was a formidable task. The problem of building Socialism in the U.S.S.R. depended in the first place upon the creation of a modern large-scale machine-industry, capable of producing the means of production. Without this as the foundation, there could be no transformation of N.E.P. Russia into Socialist Russia. How long would it take? With what means would it be carried through? With what resources? Against what resistance? What class forces had to be taken into account? Already some preliminary answers had been formed to these and other such questions with the growth and extension of planning since the Civil War, notably in the Goelro (electrification plan of 1920) and in the subsequent annual control figures. But now the answer was to be given in a fuller way. By 1927-8 restoration was complete. The time was at last ripe for further advance. Accordingly, the next year there began the Socialist offensive. This took the form of the famous “Pyatiletka,” or Five-Year Plan. When the plan was announced by which the productive capacity of the Soviet Union, under Socialist economic forms, was to be more than doubled in five years, it was regarded throughout Europe and America as a fantastic dream. Solemn articles were written proving that the Five-Year Plan was economically and from every point of view impossible. Serious doubts were expressed of the sanity of the leaders of the Bolshevik Party.

The plan had been drawn up in two variant forms. The second, or optimum, variant had been proposed only if certain exceptionally favourable conditions were present. As it turned out, none of these conditions was present in the years 1929 and onwards. On the contrary, particularly unfavourable conditions existed. Nevertheless, not only did the Soviet Congress adopt the optimum variant, but the masses of the Soviet Union, millions working to a single end, also adopted it. It meant privation; it meant tightening the belt; but the masses themselves had willed it and were determined to see it through. An immense fire of enthusiasm swept through the country. Everywhere was seen the slogan, “The Five-Year Plan in four years!” The slogan became an irresistible mass force. By the end of 1932, in four and a quarter years from its start, the “impossible,” “absurd,” “fantastic” Five-Year Plan had been completed, had become reality.

The plan had been fulfilled as a whole, but there were revealed weaknesses and unexpected strengths. In the first Five-Year Plan, steel, transport, and labour productivity did not fulfil expectations. But there were three aspects where the achievements far outran expectation. The first was unemployment; the second was the new metallurgical base in Siberia and the Urals; the third, as will be seen later, was the collectivisation of the countryside.

With the survival of capitalist economic forms in the period up to the Five-Year Plan, there had also been the survival of unemployment, though on nothing like the scale of capitalist countries. It was contemplated under the first Five-Year Plan that unemployment would be greatly reduced. What was unexpected for the Soviet Government, and astounding to the rest of the world, was the complete abolition of unemployment by the summer of 1930. It was the more astounding because the tidings of a Land Without Unemployment began to be told to the workers throughout the world at the very time when in the other countries the greatest onset of unemployment in history was ravaging homes and spreading starvation. Crisis and decline of capitalist industry had coincided with the rise of Socialist industry. The contrast was startling. If we take the output of industry in capitalist countries in 1928 and 1932, measure it by an index number, giving its volume, we have the following result.

If we take in this same period the capitalist world and compare it with its historic rival, the nascent world of Socialism, the index numbers showed a recession from 100 to 67 for capitalist countries, an advance from 100 to 233 for Socialism.




Great Britain















For many years the only Russian metallurgical base—that is, heavy industry, coal, iron and steel, chemicals—had been in the Don Basin. Before the end of the first Five-Year Plan there had been constructed a second metallurgical base, the famous Ural-Kuznetsk Combinat, in which the rich iron-ores of Magnitogorsk were combined with the coal of Kuznetsk Basin in Siberia. All along the Trans-Siberian Railway for a thousand miles, what had previously been untilled or sparsely cultivated land was now to become a hive of industry, and especially heavy industry. This second metallurgical base, begun in the first Five-Year Plan, signified a tremendous increase in the material well-being of the people as well as in the defensive capacity of the Soviet Union. Now, together with all the other supplements to the Five-Year Plan of which it was the type, the metallurgical base and the machine-building signified that the U.S.S.R. had become a land of heavy industry, transformed from an agrarian into an industrial country. The economic basis for Socialism had been well and truly laid.

This first Five-Year Plan was only carried through in the face of a stiff Party struggle and in face of attempts at wrecking. The attempts at wrecking were at first organised from outside by former Russian capitalists and counter-revolutionaries acting in conjunction with foreign Governments. There were technicians who devoted their skill, not to building up, but to tearing down; not to planning, but to wrecking of plans. In 1928 occurred the Schachd trial of wreckers; in 1930, the trial of the so-called “Industrial Party” headed by Professor Ramzin; in 1931, the Menshevik trial in which Suchanov was perhaps the most prominent figure. In 1933 there was the trial of the Metro-Vickers engineers—which, because it included amongst those accused and found guilty a number of Englishmen, was made the subject of diplomatic exchanges between the British and Soviet Governments. Throughout, the Socialist offensive was accompanied by a counter-offensive from the encircling capitalist countries.

The resistance on the part of the “Lefts,” headed by Trotsky, had begun earlier and had developed, in the alliance with Zinoviev and Kamenev, into an extremely bitter conflict during 1926-7. The Leftist standpoint took a variety of forms, but the essence of it lay in the Trotskyist slogan that it was “impossible to build Socialism in one country.” This had its roots back in the old 1905 standpoint, in what Lenin had described as “the absurdly ‘Left’ theory of permanent revolution.”

How did Trotsky himself place this question? In the preface to his book entitled The Year 1905, he says:

“It was during the interval between January 9th and the general strike of October 1905 that the views on the character of the revolutionary development of Russia, which came to be known as the theory of the ‘permanent revolution,’ gradually crystallised in the author’s mind. This somewhat complicated term represented a rather simple idea; though the immediate objectives of the Russian Revolution were bourgeois in nature, the revolution, upon achieving its objectives, would not stop there. The revolution would not be able to solve its immediate bourgeois problems except by placing the proletariat in power. And the latter, upon assuming power, would not be able to limit itself to the bourgeois framework of the revolution. On the contrary, precisely in order to secure its victory the proletarian vanguard would be forced in the very early stages of its rule to make deep inroads, not only into feudal property, but into capitalist property as well. In this the proletariat will come into hostile collision not only with the bourgeois groupings which supported the proletariat during the first stages of revolutionary struggle, but also with the broad masses of the peasants who were instrumental in bringing it into power. The contradictions in the situation of the workers’ Government in a backward country with an overwhelming majority of peasants can be solved only on an international scale, on the arena of the world proletarian revolution.”

In reply to this, Stalin had only to compare Lenin’s expressed views for the chasm to become apparent between Lenin’s theory of the dictatorship and Trotsky’s theory of “permanent revolution.”

“Lenin,” wrote Stalin, “speaks of the alliance of the proletariat and the toiling strata of the peasantry as the foundation of the dictatorship of the proletariat. In Trotsky we find the ‘hostile collision’ ‘of the proletarian vanguard’ with ‘the broad masses of the peasants.’

“Lenin speaks of the leadership of the toiling and exploited masses by the proletariat. In Trotsky we find ‘contradictions in the situation of the workers’ Government in a backward country with an overwhelming majority of peasants.’

“According to Lenin, the revolution draws its forces chiefly from among the workers and peasants of Russia itself. According to Trotsky, the necessary forces can be found only ‘on the arena of the world proletarian revolution.’

“But what is to happen if the world revolution is fated to arrive with some delay? Is there any ray of hope for our revolution? Comrade Trotsky does not admit any ray of hope, for ‘the contradictions in the situation of the workers’ Government . . . can be solved only . . . on the arena of the world proletarian revolution.’ According to this, there is but one prospect left for our revolution: to vegetate in its own contradictions and decay to its roots while waiting for the world revolution.

“What is the dictatorship of the proletariat, according to Lenin?

“The dictatorship of the proletariat is the power which relies on the alliance between the proletariat and the toiling masses of the peasantry for ‘the complete overthrow of capital’ and ‘the final establishment and consolidation of Socialism.’

“What is the dictatorship of the proletariat, according to Trotsky?

“The dictatorship of the proletariat is a power which enters ‘into hostile collision . . . with the broad masses of the peasants ‘and seeks the solution of its ‘contradictions’ merely ‘on the arena of the world proletarian revolution.’

“In what respect does this ‘theory of the permanent revolution’ differ from the well-known theory of Menshevism which repudiates the concept: dictatorship of the proletariat?

“In substance there is no difference” [1]

During this long discussion—and also since—several attempts were made by Trotskyists to show that Lenin could not possibly have meant what he said when in 1915 he had written:

“Uneven economic and political development is an absolute law of capitalism. Hence the victory of Socialism is possible first in a few or even in one single capitalist country taken separately.”

To-day, with the victory of Socialism in the U.S.S.R., these Trotskyist writings exhibit the same effect of insanity as is conveyed by the “proofs” of the Narodniki (see Vol. I. Ch. I) that Russia would not pass through the stage of capitalism.

When the Party referendum was taken in 1927, after years of prolonged and exhaustive discussion, Trotsky and his adherents received 4,000 votes. If abstentions, etc., be taken into account, then perhaps 12,000 at the outside sympathised one way or another with Trotskyism. No less than 724,000 voted for the Bolsheviks.

Scarcely had the struggle with the Trotsky-Zinoviev bloc finished than an opportunist Right Wing emerged, headed by Rykov, chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars. With him were Bucharin and Tomsky, general secretary of the trade unions. They were against the class struggle for the realisation of the planned Socialist reorganisation of national economy; they thought the kulaks would grow into Socialism peacefully; and Bucharin gave out the slogan to the kulaks, “Enrich yourselves.” They were against the building up of heavy industry, against the Five-Year Plan of industrialisation, for which they wished to substitute a two-year plan of “aid to agriculture.” In practice, this would have meant the further development of the kulaks and jeopardising the gains of the revolution.

How strong the kulaks had grown in these last few years was shown by their refusal to sell grain to the Government.

Anything less than the Five-Year Plan, with all the hardship it inevitably entailed on the population, a hardship willingly accepted, would have meant a victory of the kulaks. The attitude of the Right opportunists (who, it may be mentioned, entered into an agreement with the Left) was most fully developed by Bucharin. He presented a picture of the whole world as one in which capitalism was becoming organised, in which the class struggle within each country was likely to be softened, and, accordingly, the tactics of the Communist Parties would be affected. This standpoint did not differ very far from some of the Social-Democrats who, again, had much the same outlook on this matter as some of the liberal capitalists. The difference between the standpoint of the Bolsheviks and the Right Wing can be crystallised on the international field on one significant question.

It is part of the method of science to be able to predict. A false prediction casts doubt on the validity of the scientific premises. The Right opportunists predicted that sharp economic crises would be avoided in future by capitalism, and therefrom deduced that the sharpness of the class struggle in each country would be dulled. In practice, it can be seen, this represented an attempt to demobilise the working class in its struggle. The implications of this were worked out for each country. In the Soviet Union it implied the avoiding of a sharp class struggle with the kulaks.

Stalin predicted in 1928 the coming of an economic crisis, and reaffirmed this in the spring of 1929. In the spring of 1929, Stalin’s arguments destroyed theoretically the arguments put forward by Bucharin and Rykov and the others of the Right Wing. The outbreak of the world economic crisis in October 1929 demonstrated the correctness of Stalin’s policy with the same finality as was achieved by Galileo’s experiment from the leaning tower of Pisa.

The collectivisation of agriculture—that is, the pooling of the means of production into a common stock so as to form an artel (a productive co-operative society of a special kind)—had begun in 1929, in the first year of the first Five-Year Plan. The sweep of collectivisation was unexpected. During the restoration period, up to the end of 1927, by model collective farms as well as by cooperative societies, progress had been made in getting the Russian peasantry to understand the need for collective agriculture. There had been sixteen million peasant households before the revolution in 1917; ten years later, after the sharing out of the church land and the big estates, there were twenty-five million peasant households. Before 1917 millions of peasants were landless, millions hungered. As a consequence of revolution the peasants had more to eat than in Tsarist days. The peasant method of agriculture remained primitive. In many cases they were without draught animals. At the beginning of the Five-Year Plan there were still five million wooden ploughs in use in the U.S.S.R. Nearly half the harvest was still reaped by scythe and sickle. The peasants had been released from feudal bondage, but much of their technique of agriculture was still medieval.

The Five-Year Plan held out to the peasantry the prospect of utilising modern agricultural technique. Here a special role was played by the thousands of Machine-and-Tractor Stations, which demonstrated to the peasantry the necessity and economic advisability of changing from petty individual farming to collective farming. The Five-Year Plan replaced the old bond between the workers and the peasantry by which the harvest was exchanged for town goods (articles or consumption) by a new bond, stronger and more durable, by which the harvest would be exchanged for agricultural means of production. But modern agricultural means of production, tractors, ploughs, and harvesting machines, could only be utilised effectively and to the fullest extent by large-scale agricultural units. This meant the coming together of the peasants in a village, or in a number of villages, into a single economic unit in which the land would be ploughed, sown, and reaped in common; in which the instruments of production—ploughs, draught animals, etc.—would be thrown into a common pool.

Lenin had already indicated that, quite apart from the example given by the State farms and by the pioneer collective farms of one variety or another, it would be possible through co-operation, i.e. through the Cooperative Productive Societies of peasants, to build Socialist forms of agriculture. But the substitution for small peasant economy, where each peasant works separately on his dwarf plot of land, tenaciously holding to “his own,” of large-scale agricultural economy had never been voluntarily carried through by peasants in the history of the world. The substitution had taken place, but it was not voluntary. In England in the eighteenth century comparatively large-scale farming had been introduced by the expropriation of the peasant holding and the destruction of the peasantry as a class. This path was not open. Naturally, another path had to be found—the path already indicated by Lenin. Slowly and gradually, up to 1928, collective farms had been organised here and there. But now, in the Five-Year Plan, the progress quickened; and suddenly, in the years 1929-30, there came a tidal wave of collectivisation sweeping over vast territories of the Soviet Union and embracing, not scores, thousands, or hundreds of thousands, but millions of peasants.

The success of collectivisation in this first Five-Year Plan not only went beyond expectation but in some outran discretion. The difficulties caused, which dealt with by Stalin in his famous article of March 1930, “Dizzy with Success,” and other difficulties that accrued, were overcome in the course of the following years. The greatest difficulties came from the resistance of the kulaks, who fought with the desperate resistance of a doomed class. They assassinated Soviet officials, carried on extensive sabotage, and organised local risings—all of it tellingly set forth in Sholokhov’s Virgin Soil. But the greatest damage the kulaks inflicted on the growing collective farm movement was when they entered the collective farms—leaving behind them their dead cattle. Throughout the Soviet Union the kulaks slaughtered their draught animals and other cattle. The reduction in total livestock was extremely serious. In 1929 there were 34,000,000 horses in the U.S.S.R. By 1933 the number had gone down to 16,600,000.

Such a figure is eloquent of the casualties in the bitter class struggle that carried through collectivisation. The most difficult years of this reorganisation of agriculture were 1931 and 1932, but the struggle as a whole lasted fully five years, up to the end of 1934. The struggle issued in victory. The kulaks, the last capitalist class, were routed. “The Soviet peasantry,” said Joseph Stalin in his report to the Seventeenth Congress of the C.P.S.U. (1934), “have put off from the shores of capitalism for good and are sailing forward in alliance with the working class towards Socialism.”



1. Stalin, The October Revolution, pp. 102-3, Co-op. Publishers, Moscow.

Next: V. Socialist Society