Tony Cliff

Soviet Studies

(Winter 1961)

First published in International Socialism (1st series), No.7, Winter 1961, p.31.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Soviet Economy
Alec Nove
George Allen & Unwin. 25s.

The Conscience of the Revolution. Communist Opposition in Soviet Russia
Robert Vincent Daniels
Oxford University Press. 55s.

Nove’s is a very good book. Written mainly for the non-specialist who has some knowledge of economics, it will be of great value to the specialist too. Nove describes and analyses the structure and the formal and actual working of the economic enterprise in the USSR. He also illumines the historical background that shaped it and shows the matrix of the Stalinist set-up to be the specific Russian conditions of forced industrialization. By enforcing a high rate of capital accumulation while paralyzing the power of the workers and peasants to press for the satisfaction of their needs, Stalin’s regime led to a very high rate of industrial growth. But the same institutional set-up has become an impediment to the rational, effective running of a modern industrial economy, leading to distortions from the angle of optimum resource allocation.

The conflict between the actual and formal administration of the economy, a result and concomitant of bureaucratic management or mismanagement, is illustrated with a wealth of data; likewise the defects of ‘Campaigns’ inherent in bureaucratic management, which carry big risks of waste, gigantomania, and other deformations.

Distortions of the laws of value, the lack of correct, rational tie-in between different prices, are shown to be a result and a cause of mismanagement. To meet these difficulties, efforts are being made at decentralization, but this often leads to even greater irrationalities, and compels return to centralization (Chapter 7). Thus the post-Stalin reforms in the administration of the economy – including the decentralization plans – are shown to be contradictory, hazy and half-hearted.

Nove shows clearly the lack of built-in growth-inducing forces in the Soviet economy, and the role of bureaucratic intervention as a substitute for such forces. The question of workers’ control should have been raised here as a substitute for both the profit-motive and bureaucratic ‘planning’ as growth-inducing factors. Nove unfortunately does not consider the workers as an active liberating force. This is the central weakness of an otherwise excellent study.

In The Conscience of the Revoution Daniels aims to give the history of the Opposition groups in the Russian Communist Party from its foundation in 1903 to the liquidation of the groups in the late twenties.

However his book devotes more attention to the personalities and factional combinations than to the issues involved, and the latter appear largely to be made up of simple formulae or combinations of formulae (such as Leninism consisting of the primacy of the Party).

Daniels does not illuminate at all the contradictions in the revolution itself: between the collectivism small industrial working class, and the mass of the petty bourgeois peasantry; between the socialist aims of the revolution which demanded plenty for their realization, and the economic and cultural poverty of the country; between the international character of socialism and the national limitations of Russia. These objective contradictions should have in the main explained the contradictions in which all Opposition groups found themselves entangled. Overlooking, or at least underestimating, the impact of this objective matrix, Daniels sees the story of the Opposition groups as that of subjective failures, as a story of ‘vacillation, disunity, tactical obtuseness, and organizational ineptness’, to use his words.

That he is aware of the historical forces moulding the Bolshevik Party and its Opposition groups – as the last chapter makes clear – is not felt as he tells his story in the rest of the book.

His generalization suffers from both a Menshevik conception of the Russian revolution, and the general concept of bureaucracy as inherent in every large-scale modern industry. The outcome is that the Opposition groups look like Menshevik deviators from Bolshevism, and unrealistic utopian dreamers. Trotsky as well as other Opposition leaders, seems to be a Raskolnikov-type Dostoievskian heroes.

The fact that Daniels’ values and concepts are totally different to that of the actors, and that he lacks sufficient imagination to judge the actors in relation to their own motives, makes the story seem like the movement of lifeless shadows. As a factual record, however, the book deserves praise. It is an accurate, careful study. Its bibliography alone should be very useful for students of Soviet affairs.

Last updated on 25 February 2010