Joseph Hansen

Peasant and Bureaucrat

(Spring 1955)

Source: Fourth International, Vol.16 No.2, Spring 1955, pp.69-70.
Transcription/Editing/HTML Markup: 2006 by Einde O’Callaghan.
Public Domain: Joseph Hansen Internet Archive 2006; This work is completely free. In any reproduction, we ask that you cite this Internet address and the publishing information above.

Communism and the Russian Peasant and Moscow in Crisis
by Herbert S. Dinerstein and Leon Goure
A Rand Corporation Research Project. Free Press, Glencoe, Ill. 254 pp. 1955. $4.50.

These two studies, printed as a single book, are of unequal value. Moscow in Crisis deals with a brief period in 1941 when the German imperialist armies came close to taking the capital city of the Soviet Union. It is a sketch of the incompetence of the bureaucracy, the cowardice of the ruling caste and their panic-stricken exodus from the threatened city.

As background, the two authors indicate how Stalin“s military policies in the early part of the war played directly into the hands of the German generals and how during the war the bureaucracy lied to the Soviet people about the real situation.

The main point of the study – to discover, if possible, why the flight of the whole top officialdom, and the removal of police controls for some three days, did not touch off an uprising – offers nothing new. In the absence of a program, of a party, of leaders, what else could be expected? The authors reach this conclusion but do not indicate so well a perhaps even more important factor – the need felt by the people for solidarity, despite the hated bureaucracy, in face of the imperialist invaders.

Even had an organized working-class political opposition to the Stalinist regime been present, it is doubtful that it would have taken such an occasion to organize an uprising, although it would surely have made big political capital of the flight of the locusts. How well revolutionary criticism of the Stalinist bureaucracy would have fitted in with the mood of the Moscow workers is indicated by facts cited by the authors about the wide-spread “verbal hostility”

displayed toward the “parasites” and sporadic acts of rough justice carried out on the spot by workers and soldiers who stopped Stalinist officials fleeing in automobiles heaped high with food and baggage.

The other study, Communism and the Russian Peasant, by Dinerstein, is more useful, providing good background material for an appreciation of the long-standing crisis in agriculture, the crisis that recently registered itself in the downfall of Malenkov.

From a study of the Soviet press, particularly farm publications, interviews with refugees from the USSR and reports of students of Soviet affairs, the author attempts to draw conclusions about the relationship of peasants and the Stalinist officials immediately over them. These are fitted into the general theory Dinerstein holds about Bolshevism and planned economy. How valid his theory is, I will consider later. The facts he presents, however, have an interest of their own and are well documented.

According to the official propaganda of the Stalinist bureaucracy and its sycophants, socialism has been “achieved” in the Soviet Union. The status of the peasant, however, resembles much more that of a serf than that of the free, all-sided man of the socialist future. By law, a peasant must work 233 days a year on kolkhoz property (the collective farm). The other days he is free to work on his own midget garden plot. He tends to be bound to the soil like a serf in that he cannot leave the kolkhoz without official permission. Theoretically he is supposed to be taken care of by the kolkhoz – he cannot be fired without official permission and he is also supposed to have his needs and those of his family taken care of by the production of the kolkhoz. In this too a serf-like relation is evident.

But the first call on kolkhoz production is the government, and this is a government over which the peasant, like the worker, has no control, this having been usurped by the Stalinist bureaucracy. The parasitic caste makes sure of its share, first by setting the quota without consulting either peasants or workers; second, by harvesting the crop through the Machine and Tractor Stations which, hold and operate the farm machinery used on the kolkhozes. Besides the government, a good part of the crop goes to the local bureaucracy. In many cases the government not only gets the whole crop, but the kolkhoz is forced to buy additional on the market to make up its exorbitant quota.

In order to get by at all, the peasant is thus forced to work intensively on his own little plot. And since it is from his own bit of ground that he has the best chance of deriving a surplus, his interest centers there. Thus a bitter conflict is set up between the bureaucracy and the peasant.

The peasant is inclined to favor his own piece of land against the kolkhoz in choice of seed, care in use of fertilizer and stock, and intensity of cultivation. Seed, fertilizer, tools, stock tend to vanish from the kolkhoz. Even the kolkhoz boundary lines tend to shrink and the small plots to expand at their expense.

The bureaucracy attempts to counter by incessant propaganda about “building socialism” in Russia, about not “stealing from the state,” by punitive legislation, brutal seizures of garden produce, pressure on extent of holdings, and by various tax measures. This is seasoned with appeals to the self-interest of the peasant, occasional relaxation of taxes, permission to own a few head of stock, more generous returns from labor on the kolkhoz, purges of minor officials, and so on. But the deep-going conflict in interests remains paramount.

The lower ranks of the bureaucracy are caught between the two pressures. Their first loyalty is generally toward the officialdom and their first task is to meet the arbitrary paper plans that are decided upon by the bureaucrats in Moscow. These are often so far out of line with the real possibilities that they cannot possibly be met. Yet not to meet them invites prosecution as a “saboteur” and “conspirator.” In addition, many of the smaller bureaucrats sympathize with the peasants in their charge. Consequently they cut corners and doctor reports on fulfillment of plans. This, in fact, is a universal feature of planning in agriculture, as Dinerstein proves with abundant evidence.

The theoretical explanation offered for this state of affairs does the author no credit. First of all we are told about the alleged peculiarities of the Russian character, from this is derived the alleged peculiarity of Bolshevik aims, which finally show up in the form of the bureaucratic drive. Along with this, planning as such is held accountable for the many evils suffered by the peasant in the Soviet Union. Such an explanation tells us nothing, however, except how superficial the author is when he tries to reach general conclusions, for the facts he himself has so laboriously gathered from hundreds of sources speak against his theory on every page.

The deformation of planning in the Soviet Union – particularly the lack of either check or control by the peasants and workers – cannot be ascribed to the Russian national character. Is the deformation of planning in Yugoslavia due to the Yugoslav national character? Or in China to the Chinese national character? As for the Bolsheviks, they were liquidated long ago. Their party was smashed by the Stalinist bureaucracy which was a product of Russia“s backwardness and prolonged isolation.

The root cause of the ills that beset the workers and peasants in the Soviet Union lies ultimately in the pressure exerted by world imperialism on the degenerated workers state. The immediate cause lies in the growth of the Stalinist caste, a parasitic formation comparable to a gangster-type, capitalist-minded, trade-union bureaucracy.

It would be difficult enough for an isolated workers state of a normal type to expand its heavy industry while at the same time assuring maximum production of consumers goods. The Bolsheviks under Lenin and Trotsky understood this very well and consequently placed main emphasis on securing help from the rest of the world by revolutionary mean? Their defeat at the hands of the bureaucracy placed a new terrible burden on the backs of the Soviet people – the caste whose main drive is privileges at the expense of the country. It is the greed of this caste that has caused the deformations in planning described by Dinerstein.

To secure and maintain its privileged position, the caste had to smash workers democracy in the USSR, institute police controls and police terror. These in turn required an enormous expansion of the bureaucracy to carry cut these functions. They also meant a decline in living standards of the masses, curtailment of the rate of growth of the productive forces, constant goading of the workers and peasants, smoldering unrest continually threatening to take revolutionary political forms, and consequently further police controls and intensified terror. Development of this vicious cycle, the main feature of Stalinist rule, has led to a whole series of deepening contradictions between industry and agriculture, between heavy and light industry, city and country, etc., that cannot be gone into here.

As a study of the relationship between the peasant and the bureaucrat who rules his daily life, Dinerstein“s research merits reading. Unfortunately the author spoiled the scientific value of his contribution by substituting the most superficial psychology for an explanation of class relations in the Soviet Union and by making out the revolutionary socialist politics of the Bolsheviks in the time of Lenin and Trotsky to be the same as the counter-revolutionary politics of the Stalinist caste.


Last updated on: 22.2.2006