C L R James
The World Revolution 1937-1936
THE REPUTATION OF THE AUTHORS MAKES THIS THE MOST dangerous of the unofficial Stalinist books. It is necessary to expose it thoroughly, and this is very easily done. We are not concerned with factual slips. These are inevitable in any large and comprehensive book, may be quite serious, and yet not invalidate the book as a whole or a particular argument. We are concerned with basic structural errors.
1. The Webbs do not understand the agricultural question in the Soviet Union.
They say (p. 246) that "only 20 per cent of collectivization had been contemplated during the first year." Elsewhere (p. 565) they say again that collectivization was planned to take place at the rate of 10 per cent per year. This is completely wrong. On page 300 we give the references which show that 10 per cent was the programme for five years. This double mistake is no accidental slip. Every line of their account shows that they have accepted completely the great change from 20 per cent in five years to Stalin's "liquidation of the kulak as a class," without a thought for the industrial resources which the change demanded, and which made it certain to be the ruinous experiment that it was. You cannot collectivize 20 per cent or 80 per cent at will. But you can try, with the results that we have seen.
Of the Left Opposition and the kulak they say (p. 243): "This faction demanded the most drastic measures for the suppression of the kulaks, but failed to make clear by what means it proposed to increase the agricultural output of the minute holdings of the majority of poor peasants otherwise than by the slow spread of one or other form of voluntary co-operation."
Every fact is wrong. On pages 271-272 we summarise the Platform on agriculture, with a long quotation. The Opposition did not demand drastic suppression of the kulak, but "an all-sided limitation of the efforts of the kulak to exploit." The Opposition made it quite clear that collectivization on the basis of industrialization was the only road towards Socialism.
The Opposition explicitly condemned the idea of Bucharin and Stalin that voluntary co-operation could bring Socialism. We have quoted Stalin on page 211 laying it down in 1925 that re-equipment of factories and expansion of industrial capital had nothing to do with Socialism. We have shown at length that for four years the Opposition fought this costly Stupidity. We have shown on page 291, that it was only in April, 1929, that Stalin announced as a new discovery what had been hammered into his head for six years. Only space prevents us giving more evidence. The Webbs do not understand this controversy at all. Those who look askance on the Trotskyist criticism of the Soviet Union should ponder why those who support Stalinism as against Trotskyism can do so only by propagating the most grotesque blunders.
2. The Webbs juggle with Socialism in a Single Country.
If the peasantry and industrialization was the practical question of the Soviet Union, Socialism in a single country is the theoretical question which cannot be avoided. The Webbs are believers in Stalin's theory. By Socialism, say Stalin and all the Stalinists, Lenin meant what exists in Russia to-day. The Webbs go one better. "What the proletariat of every country means by Socialism is the suppression of the landlord and capitalist, together with the profit-making motive, by collective ownership, in a condition of social equality, with the universalization of security by the appropriate organization Of social services" (p. 1103). So it is not Lenin according to the Webbs, but the proletariat. Doubtless the proletariat of Western Europe and America will be glad to know that that is what it means by Socialism. But the Russian proletariat has some experience of Stalin's Socialism. The Russian worker, with his sixty shillings a month, watching the technician or high official pass by in one of the limousines, or hearing of the collective farmer with his 100 to 150 sheep, ten cows, ten horses, camels, etc., does he think as the Webbs do? We can only guess. For Stalin sees to it that nobody discusses an alternative view. Do the Webbs know of the workmen, who, says Pravda of August 11th, were arrested for having the "impudence" to discuss Socialism in a single country? And, if so, what sort of Socialism is this that does not allow itself even to be discussed? And why all the trials and the shooting and the thousands of Trotskyists arrested? Why do the Trotskyist "conspirators" capture the Communist Party organisations of Kiev and Rostovdon (Pravda, January 4th)? Is it that the Russian proletariat has other ideas of what Socialism should mean than those Stalin presents them with? Stalin at least passes the baby on to Lenin to hold. The Webbs pass it on to the proletariat.
But this subject, too, has a history. The Webbs cannot evade it, and the subterfuge they adopt is painful even to point out. They say (p. 1101) that neither Marx nor Engels nor Lenin, "no one had directly and explicitly grappled with the particular problem in the light of all the facts, economic, social and political, even as they were in 1845 or in 1905; and, of course, these great authorities were none of them conversant with the state of things in 1925, which alone was relevant to the issue."
Marx and Engels had not grappled with the problem. Neither had Lenin in 1905. We will not argue about that. The Webbs are entitled to their opinions once it is understood that these are their opinions. But they have to deal here with history. If even Lenin, poor man, had not examined the question as he ought, at least he had ideas on the question. He had them in 1905. But he had them in 1923 when he ceased to write. Stalin had the same ideas in 1924. The Webbs have not the nerve to say, as Stalin does, that Lenin always said that Socialism could be built, so they stop at 1905. Lenin died in 1924. Stalin produced his theory in autumn 1924. The Webbs skip all that and begin in 1925 "these great authorities were none of them conversant with the state of thing in 1925, which alone was relevant to the issue."
Lenin's whole position held to his death, Stalin's crude volte-face tire Webbs simply put 1905 and hop over to 1925. It is a very poor case that needs such defence.
Now for the actual arguments they use as to why Socialism in a single country is possible. Even with the definition of Socialism which they fasten on to the proletariat, they have a heavy field to plough. They claim that Marx and Engels did not dream of the monopoly of foreign trade. Do they really believe that Marx and Engels thought that collective ownership would come all over the world at once? Or that if it came in any one country they would calmly advocate free trade and allow Capitalism to ruin the nascent Socialist industry? To support Stalinist history and politics you have to make ignoramuses and fools of Marx and Engels.
They say (p. 1102) that another of the objections to Socialism in a Single Country is the fact that if it were established it would be destroyed by hostile Capitalisms. Who made that argument we do not know. The Webbs say that it is irrelevant to the issue. Every Trotskyist will agree fervently. We who deny the possibility of something have little time to argue as to what would happen if it took place. But the Webbs go on (p. 1102): "Unless the objectors wished all attempts at industrial reconstruction of the U.S.S.R. to be abandoned, and the penury and periodical famine to be continued, whilst waiting for the socialist revolution to take place in the capitalist countries....."
This of Trotskyists, with their long fight for the plan, sneered at as super-industrialists for years. Let the reader turn to chapter VIII, particularly pp. 202-208.
But the limit is reached in what they term is the final Trotskyist objection. "It was, so Trotsky alleged, the policy of a narrow nationalist egoism, unworthy in the successors of Lenin, Engels and Marx. Better, far, it was said, devote all the energies of the U.S.S.R. to the tasks of the Comintern." It is difficult to restrain oneself at this malicious slander. "Better far, it was said." Whoever said that? When? Where? We are accustomed to this, coming from all sorts of nondescript Friends of the Soviet Union. What is it doing in a book of this kind? The mere phrasing, "it was said," shows what the authors think of the validity of the argument, but again, this is where you land, whatever your gifts, whatever your training, when you set out to defend Stalinism against Trotskyism. The best way is to put on a pair of blinkers, get the loudest megaphone possible and shout "Socialism victorious in the U.S.S.R." "Trotskyism is Fascism," etc., as insistently as possible. One gets to believe it in time if it is shouted long and loudly enough. but reasoned, historical argument, no. It cannot be done.
The Webbs end with an argument that the Stalinists do not use, for obvious reasons. They say that the world revolution was a proved failure, and therefore it was the only thing left to do, this building of Stalin's Socialism. Bourgeois nationalism, bourgeois empiricism, the shallowness of bourgeois political thinking are here amply demonstrated. For the Webbs, Socialism could always have been built. Lenin and Trotsky wanted the world revolution, probably because it was a fine thing. But once you saw that you couldn't have it, then you naturally turned back to the building of Socialism; that is neither Marxism, nor Leninism, nor Stalinism. Marxism, Leninism, Trotskyism, preach the interdependence of world economy and therefore of world politics. The world revolution was and is a necessity for Russia. Over 1,000 million pounds is being spent on armaments this year in the Soviet Union. Socialism can only come when that money, for instance, is going into production for use and not for destruction. Such expenditure means poverty for the population, necessary though it is. The necessity proves the folly of Stalin's theory. Russian economy could have been developed without cultivating idiotic and costly illusions. The world crisis played havoc with Soviet economy in 1930-1933. A World war may shatter the basis of collective ownership. The Webbs switch over from world revolution to national Socialism more easily than they cross the road. Even Stalin took a little more trouble. Show the workers of the world what Socialism can do, and that will bring world Socialism infinitely quicker than revolution. That is their argument. The workers and peasants of Catalonia found other more urgent arguments. France and not Soviet statistics stimulated their desire to emulate the Soviet Union. The Webbs should found a society for converting Hitler, Japanese Imperialism and Baldwin to the theory of Socialism in a single country. They and the classes they represent need conversion--by those who have the time.
These are the principles on which the book is based. It has much useful detail. But on major issues its history is wrong in a score of places, and its political insensitiveness (we have given an example on p. 369) is a thing to wonder at. Of the arrest for the Kirov murder of Zinoviev and Kamenev, they say (p. 560) that it was "open to misconstruction." The penalties of Soviet secrecy on such matters is that the "world at large puts a bad construction on everything" (p. 560), and the arrest and summary execution of so many persons "could not but excite adverse comment," etc., and much in the same strain, like the Times whitewashing some brutality of the British Imperialists in India. And for the same reason. The ice is so thin that the skaters do not even wish to pretend that they have crossed it. Stalin, they argue, is no dictator. The proof they give is irrelevant. Such a statement needs no proof. Finally (p. 1042) there is this priceless passage: "When, however, the Soviet Government feels itself as secure as the British Government does, there seems no reason why popular lectures and speeches at open meetings and discussions in cheap pamphlets and newspapers, should be any more restricted than they are in England," and "We may hopefully expect that, with the Soviet characteristic of universalism in all its administration, those in authority in the U.S.S.R. will, in due season, take this view." The only answer to this piety is Amen.
Is this what the proletariat (according to the Webbs) mean by Socialism? So the British Government, with its Sedition Bill and Public Order Bill, is the standard of security of Stalin's Socialism. Andre Gide has dropped his Stalinism at last. The Webbs have performed eminent services to the working-class movement by their sociological studies. But nothing will be so valuable as a book from them on the lines of Gide's Return from the U.S.S.R., recanting their Stalinist follies. Support of the Soviet Union? Yes. It is to their credit that they align themselves on the side of the Workers' State. But in the last analysis their book does infinitely more harm than good, for the simple reason that it is false; and falsehood has no place in the Socialist movement. If they wish to help Lenin's work they must use Lenin's intellectual methods. He never spread any fables about the Soviet Union. Why should they? That is bourgeois and Stalinist. But workers do not need it. The workers must beware of all these new recruits to Stalinism. The Webbs transfer their discredited "inevitability of
gradualism" to a new field. Its discredit there will be swifter than it was in Western Europe. The Soviet Union depends on the world revolution, and not all the authority of the Webbs, Stracheys and Maurice Dobbs can alter the laws of history, though they can confuse the workers striving to see the light, and thus bring nearer the catastrophe which
we all wish to avert.