Ted Grant

What is happening in Russia

Written: June 1963
Source: Socialist Fight, vol. 5 no. 1 (June 1963)
Transcription: Francesco 2008
Markup: Manuel 2008

Almost daily the capitalist press is filled with stories of trials and shootings in Russia, of new economic and political difficulties which are facing the rulers of Russia, especially in the field of agriculture and culture. What is the truth behind these stories? What is the meaning of these developments?

At a time when economic developments in the capitalist world are at best that of relatively slow economic progress, the emphasis on the economic difficulties of the Soviet Union is compounded of envy and malice. Despite all the difficulties the Soviet Union is advancing at the rate of a steady rhythm of 10 per cent per year at a time when her giant rival America even in the best periods of economic growth can only manage 3.5 per cent and is even then faced with chronic under utilisation of capacity. Even in times of heightened economic activity America can only use her industrial capacity to the extent of 70 to 75 per cent. In agriculture there is a chronic ‘surplus’ of capacity.

Capitalism outstripped

Capitalist apologists have abandoned all the old arguments in favour of “free enterprise” and even the Tories speak of a “plan” of production. This is because in economic terms the decisive superiority of a plan of production over the unplanned and chaotic haphazard growth of capitalism has been demonstrated once and for all in the Soviet Union. In the field of education, science and technique capitalism finds itself overhauled and in many fields outstripped by the formerly backward Soviet Union. There is no need for any Socialist to ‘apologise’ for the results of nationalisation of the industry and resources of Russia.

In the past four years 3 times as much has been invested in industry as in the whole period of 22 years before Russia was involved in the war. In some fields Russia has outstripped America. In Magnitogorsk the biggest iron and steel combine in the world has achieved the world’s highest labour productivity, 50 per cent higher than that of the best steel factories in America. At the same time Kruschev complains of the colossal waste in engineering. 1/5th of all ferrous metal used is turned into scrap, partly because of the bad methods used! The contrasts are endless. The picture is a contradictory one. Because of the bureaucratic control there is enormous and unnecessary waste. Because of the over-extension of resources a lathe factory being built in Ivanovo—has remained uncompleted for 11 years! The big machine building plants nearly all have their own foundries and shops producing their own instruments. Among other reasons this is because of the fear of each bureaucrat of delays in executing orders which will hold up production in the factory he is managing. This is enormously inefficient, wasteful and costly… However 7 specialised foundries were to be built in 1962… None were completed! 1.5 billion rubles of equipment have accumulated but cannot be installed because the buildings have not been completed!

Control from top

All these contradictions are the result of bureaucratic control from the top. This in turn provokes corruption at the top and cynicism at the bottom.

Despite dazzling successes, Pravda, Izvestia and the provincial press of Russia continue to denounce corruption, embezzling, malfeasance, nepotism, embezzling, abuse of power in a whole series of industries and towns stretching from one end of the vast Soviet Union to the other! For example in April Bobodzhanov, Mayor of Dushanbe, capital of the Soviet Asian Republic of Tadjikistan, was shot for corruption. The former local Party Secretary Khasanov and the former city prosecutor Hussanov were sentenced to various prison sentences for the same crime.

“Swindlers and hooligans”

The Russian press has become almost hysterical in denouncing corruption in high places. People are asked to watch for and denounce those who live “on a grand scale without being employed anywhere.” Kruschev has denounced “…swindlers, thieves, hooligans, criminals…” who are infesting Russian society. The seriousness of the situation is demonstrated by the drastic penalties. While at peace the drastic measures of a state of siege are being imposed.

Something wrong

That 46 years after the Russian revolution such measures have to be taken indicate that there is something wrong. At a time when Kruschev and his apologists in this country are boasting that Russia is “advancing towards Communism” these drastic measures expose their falsity. At the same time Kruschev's recent economic measures indicate a frantic zigzag in the policies of Russia’s rulers. After denouncing the fantastic centralisation of the economy in the Stalin period, which resulted in enormous losses and threatened the virtual seizing-up of the economy, Kruschev announced the de-centralisation of the economy. This was intended to facilitate its development. As Socialist Fight predicted it resulted, instead of one bureaucracy with its fountainhead in Moscow, in 16 bureaucracies, in the 16 areas into which the country was divided. At first giving an impetus to the development of production by allowing a certain amount of initiative to the local bureaucrats it soon hampered the economy as much as the former system, by allowing the development of untrammelled bureaucracy in each centre.

Without control and a check there was even more bureaucracy and corruption than previously. Lifted from the fear of the extreme police state of Stalin, the local bureaucrats tended to exceed all bounds in their corruption and plunder of the economy in their own interests.

This threatened to have more catastrophic consequences than even the extreme centralisation of Stalin. Consequently the leadership of the bureaucracy has been compelled to re-centralise the economy now under the direct control of the Communist Party itself.

Kruschev like Stalin before him has not been above using thinly veiled anti-Semitic themes to distract the attention of the masses from the crimes of the bureaucratic leadership. In the trials for corruption stress has been put in the press on those involving bureaucrats of Jewish origin. Thus the corruption is given an anti-Jewish slant.

The blows at the most shameless unbridled and greedy bureaucrats who are made scapegoats for the whole undemocratic regime and methods have not prevented the Kruschev leadership from also threatening reprisals against the workers. In this too, although on a very much milder scale, the bureaucracy is returning to the methods of Stalin. Kruschev advocated that there should be “extra leave given for those who work well and reduced leave or none at all for those who do not…” In theory this would be a violation of the rights allegedly guaranteed to the workers by the new constitution. In practice it is only the passive resistance of the workers in the factories which can prevent this being put into practice. By this resort to a milder version of Stakhanovism it is also intended to split the workers, if it could be carried out. In practice it would be difficult to do so especially in the big factories employing tens of thousands of workers. Most probably it will be used merely to give ‘extra leave’ to the blue-eyed boys without affecting the rights of the workers as a whole. The working class is in a different condition and different mood to the past. It has enormously increased in numbers, power, and cohesion. Thus this new zigzag of repression, following on previous concessions will not reach the same depth of insanity as in the blood purges of the past.

Oppositional moods

At the same time the bureaucracy is endeavouring to tighten up all round. The workers and peasants have been emboldened by the Kruschev reforms and as always the first effects are felt in the field of culture among the intelligentsia, who reflect the mood of opposition among the people. The freer atmosphere had encouraged critical thought and even disguised opposition among the poets, writers and artists. The fact that 12,000 people could attend a poetry reading is an indication of tendencies among the youth. Consequently recognising this danger Kruschev and the bureaucracy have cracked down and demanded complete conformity with the policy of the “Party” i.e. of the interests of the millions of bureaucrats. As Kruschev announced “The Party Central Committee will insist that all, from the most justly esteemed and famous worker in literature or art to the young beginner, shall adhere firmly to the party line.”

Cultural crisis

There is a connection between the measures on the economic field and the steps taken on the cultural front. They indicate the crisis which is facing the Stalinist regime. It is true that the worst excesses of Stalinism such as the slave camps and the unbridled terror have disappeared. But on a higher economic level the Kruschev regime faces the same crisis as Stalin. In 1936 Stalin introduced the “most democratic constitution in the world.” This was intended as a check on the worst excesses of the ruling officialdom in the Soviet Union. Far from succeeding in its purpose it ushered in the terrible blood purges. Similarly the reforms of Kruschev have not solved the problems of Russian society. As one thoughtful student remarked to a correspondent of the Times, “Only the leadership has changed while the system which permitted the aberration of Stalinism has remained intact, with no constitutional guarantees to prevent a relapse…”

Plagiarising Stalin

It is also interesting that this crisis takes place, again plagiarising Stalin, after the introduction of a new constitution “the most democratic in the world.” Similar causes have produced similar results. Stalin’s ‘constitution’ was meant as a reassurance to the workers without changing anything fundamentally. It was meant as a whip against bureaucracy. So with Kruschev’s.

Corruption rampant

Hooliganism at the top of society in the form of corruption, teddy-boyism reflecting hooliganism in the bottom layers of society, are symptoms that something is fundamentally wrong. Kruschev declared:

“Individual representatives of the creative intelligentsia have come to wrong conclusions in approaching the work done by the party in overcoming the harmful effects of the Stalin personality cult.

“They have failed to understand that the struggle against the cult of personality does not at all mean any relaxation of leadership, of organised administration of state and public life in the country.”

This means that fundamentally the system will remain as formerly. Yet with the tremendous development of the Russian economy all excuses used by Stalin of the danger of the restoration of capitalism have been rendered ridiculous. The remnants of the old ruling class in Russia have been absorbed into the bureaucracy itself. There have been two generations of people born since the revolution. Yet there is less freedom than existed in the poor and weak Soviet Union, fighting a civil war and intervention from the imperialist states in 1917-1920.

Under Lenin and Trotsky despite bureaucratic excesses and deformations Soviet democracy, discussion and control by the workers and peasants existed. Kruschev claims that Russia is approaching Communism. Today Russia is one of the two most powerful nations on earth. Yet the same measure of freedom is not allowed. Why?

The economic and cultural difficulties of the Soviet Union re fleet the fact that the officialdom—millions of officials of party, state and the managers of the economy—are not prepared to give up control of the economy which they usurped under Stalin. This is the source of the privileges, power and inflated standard of living of this ruling group. But Socialism requires the full participation and control of the mass of the people in state, and economy. Lenin had expected the state and all measures of repression to begin to wither away immediately on the workers taking power. Instead of that we have Kruschev underlining the power of the state and its separateness from the people.

Inequality reigns

All excuses for a repressive apparatus have disappeared. But inequality remains. It is to guard this that the Kruschev regime insists on maintaining totalitarian control intact.

The first measures of a transition to socialism require the fullest democracy. The conditions for a healthy workers state worked out by Marx and Lenin were summed up by Lenin in State and Revolution. These were:

  1. Soviets with right of election and recall of all representatives. (Complete democracy and full freedom for all tendencies within the working class)
  2. No official to receive a higher wage than a skilled worker.
  3. No standing army but an armed people.
  4. No permanent bureaucracy. Each to do the job of “accounting and control” in turn. “Every cook should be able to be prime minister.”

These were the ideal which Lenin put forward. Yet in the mighty Soviet Union today none of them exists at the present time. That is the explanation of the economic difficulties. That is the explanation of the corruption. That is the explanation of the cultural crisis.

Political revolution

All the measures of the bureaucracy cannot prevent colossal waste, mismanagement and red tape in the economy. All the measures cannot prevent the corruption of an uncontrolled officialdom at the top.

In its turn it cannot prevent the development of opposition. The intellectual crisis is similar to the one that prevailed in Hungary which was the harbinger of the political revolution there. The reforms of Kruschev at the top to prevent revolution from below will inevitably fail in their purpose. The new generation which is growing up in the Soviet Union in the coming years will overthrow the bureaucracy while maintaining the conquests of the revolution. They will restore the workers democracy of Lenin and Trotsky, through political revolution but on a higher economic and cultural foundation.