C L R James
The World Revolution 1917–1936

Chapter 13


INSIDE RUSSIA THE BUREAUCRACY HAD MADE ITS FIRST concessions in May 1932 and the rightward swing was accelerated by the German defeat.

Beginning first with the peasantry, it spread to the proletariat, gathered strength and permeated the whole economic, social and political life of Russia. Stalin now ruled supreme. Every rival had been disgraced, the party was his docile instrument. The bureaucracy, welded by the combined fight against peasantry and proletariat, was now a distinct caste of millions, through Stalin and the apparatus controlling all the organs of politics and economics. Deprived of Trade Unions and Press, their Soviets being merely a screen for the manipulation of Stalin’s monolithic party, the workers were helpless.


The first business of the regime was to placate the peasantry. Despite the entering into Socialism Stalin had realised even before the bombastic report of 1930 that the abolition of the market and Socialist exchange would have to be put off for some little time. Early in 1930 the Central Committee had issued a circular prohibiting the closing down of markets, re-opening the bazaars and warning party members, in large letters, “NOT TO HINDER the sale by peasants, including members of collective farms, of their products in the market.” As the Fascist menace forced itself upon their consciousness the Stalinists had to restore production and take measures to unify the nation. The peasant is not interested in statistics of collective farm construction. If collectivisation had given him such a standard of life, such facilities for education and culture as would make him see that it was better than private property, he would have cheerfully given up his private ownership. But only Stalin could believe that Russian industry could do this for over a hundred million peasants in five years. There was only one thing to be done – stimulate peasant production by encouraging him to sell. This meant the restoration of the market. The collective farms gave the State a broader basis from which to fight private ownership, but the struggle between the two continues, as it will continue to do until the socialised industry of Germany or Britain is thrown in the scale against the backwardness of the countryside.

In January 1934 Stalin and Molotov signed a decree giving permission to the Central Consumers’ Co-operative and its chain of subsidiaries to buy 100 million poods (about sixty million bushels of grain) from collective and individual farmers. The decree established the principle that such purchase of grain should “serve the interest of the sellers” ...

“Collective farms, collective farmers and individual peasants retain the right to sell their grain at the market price in city and village markets and at railroad stations ...

“Administrative pressure to influence the collective farmers and peasants to sell their grain is categorically forbidden.” [1]

In that same winter, in the far-Eastern region most threatened by Japan, collective farms were exempted from delivering grain and rice to the State for ten years, individual farms for five. In a number of other districts the quota of products was reduced by fifty per cent. [2] Exemptions were given all over the Soviet Union for 1934 to encourage trade-plants, cattle-trading and collective farm-trade. Collective farm-trade became the slogan of the day, and was improved to be Socialism. But it is deeds and not words that count with the peasant, and in January, 1935, came the new decrees restoring private property on the countryside. The collective farms were given to the owners for ever and ever. It was a last desperate attempt to assure the embittered peasantry that never again would the Soviet regime interfere with them. Before the growing wrath of the proletariat the bureaucracy needed some mass support. Socialism was defined anew. “It is a deliberate attempt to mislead the working peasantry in the capitalist countries when they are told that the collectivisation of the working peasantry deprives them of anything they have owned. On the contrary: it leaves them in possession to it.” [3]

The collective farmer was given a plot of land for himself and allowed to cultivate it for his own profit. He need only do two days work on the collective farm and that on the basis of piece-work. After the Government tax is paid the Socialist peasant receives his share of farm-produce, not in money but in kind, which he may sell where he pleases. The peasant may own one cow, two calves, two pigs with their litter, ten sheep, twenty bee-hives, and an unlimited quantity of poultry. Such yearly surplus as he may have over this he will certainly sell to his own private benefit. But this is only the lower limit. The private property allowed by law proceeds by upward stages to the districts occupied solely in rearing live-stock, where the collective peasant will own eight to ten cows, 100 to 150 sheep, ten horses, five to eight camels, and unlimited quantities of small livestock. [4] On the depleted countryside this is a fortune. Behind the facade of the collective farm, the kulak, liquidated at such enormous cost, is on his way back. Nothing can stop him, and Stalin has learnt another lesson in Marxism – that only an industry far beyond the capacity of the Soviet Union for another generation can liquidate the kulak. His whole policy for five years, which brought so much loss and suffering, has not been able to prevent a process of differentiation which is growing and will grow with every succeeding year. But there is not only the differentiation between individual collective farmers. There is the differentiation between collective farm and collective farm. Great or lesser fertility of soil, distance from or proximity to industrial centres or easy transport, the free play of the market, means that certain collective farms are making rapid progress while others are falling behind. Pravda of September 30, 1935, has already spoken of millionaire collective farms. These can buy better equipment and thus increase their production. They can invest in State-loans and draw interest, they can speculate on the market. Early in 1936 the State, in order to corner the market against the speculators, had to issue a decree offering inducements for sale to itself. From 50 to 100 double centners, the increase in price is fifteen per cent, from 100 to 150, twenty per cent, and on a graduated scale to an increase of ninety per cent for sales to the State of from 800 to 1,000 centners; every collective farm which sells to the State over 1,000 double centners of wheat will receive double price for the entire quantity sold. Individual farmers will receive similar bonuses, but on a smaller scale. Speculation is rife. The division into rich and poor goes and will go ceaselessly on, with the inevitable social and political consequences.

The downward trend in grain production has been checked by the large-scale organisation of the collective farms, and there has been an increase since 1931. But the amount produced per hectare is still little more than it was in 1913, and even the Webbs hesitate to say with certainty that the food position is safe for the future. Actual achievement can be easily measured. The original plan in 1927, envisaging a collectivisation of twenty per cent of the farmers by 1932, forecast 106 million tons of grain as the probable production. Thousands of millions of roubles have been spent on agriculture. Hundreds of thousands of tractors have been distributed over the countryside. The sown area has been increased by millions of hectares. The kulak was liquidated at the cost of an administrative devastation such as has no equal in modern history. Yet the grain production for 1935, with ninety per cent of the countryside collectivised, is 92 [5] instead of the 106 million tons which Stalin, in July, 1930, promised to achieve in less than a year. While the pigs have increased, the cattle are still fourteen million less than they were in 1929, the horses still little more than half what they were in 1929, the sheep and goats still less than half. The Soviet Union is still an agricultural country, and a very backward agricultural country. It is on the basis of increasing class differentiation within low production, bitter disillusionment after fantastic hopes, that arise the present and future troubles of the Stalinist regime.


And yet the five-year plan won great successes. In the actual achievements the Stalinists in their propaganda have as usual shamelessly lied, and their claim to fulfilment of over ninety per cent is so flagrantly false as not to be worth repeating. In addition to the monumental failure in agriculture, the plan was twenty-eight per cent short in coal, sixty-two per cent short in pig-iron, seventy-four per cent short in steel, eighty-two per cent short in rolled steel, twenty-eight per cent short in oil, fifty-eight per cent short in electric power, ninety per cent short in motor cars, eighty-one per cent short in tractors, eighty-six per cent short in copper, forty-eight per cent short in housing, and sixty-two per cent short in railway-building. It must be remembered too, that Russia, a backward country, offered more scope for increased industrialisation than a country already highly developed. Nevertheless when every allowance has been made, the fact remains that in a world-crisis, with an economy steadily falling, the Soviet Union, from its own resources, has shown a progress that has not been equalled by any Capitalist country in its most expansive period. Whereas, if we take production in 1929 as 100, the industrial output of the U.S.A. in 1934 was 67, that of Great Britain 96, that of Germany 86, France 71, Italy 80 and the world as a whole 76, Russia went from 100 to 239. Had the Social Democrats had the courage to make Germany a Soviet State in 1919, the compensating economy of both these countries under collective ownership and the leadership of the German proletariat would have produced results which would have astonished the world. [6] But the average production per head of the population is still low. Follows inevitably competition, between the unskilled labourer and the skilled, between the skilled labourer and the petty bureaucrat, between these and the upper bureaucracy and the highly-skilled technicians. Nothing can stop this, and a rise in productivity can intensify instead of lessening the economic and therefore political divisions in the population. The Bolshevik Party intended by Lenin to regulate economics and politics in the interests of the workers was now the instrument of the bureaucracy against workers and peasants, but chiefly against the advanced workers seeking to make Leninism a reality. And this was taking place in a country bearing the scars and deep wounds and festering sores of the most turbulent twenty years in all history. The social contradictions, and the contradiction between the promises of the bureaucracy and its actions, all could only be met by an increasing terror.


The economic upheaval, the social crises, had been overcome, could only have been overcome by increasing terror and the grip of the ruling caste. Nothing could stop that process now. The fate of Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Radek, Bucharin, Rykov, Tomsky, warned all who dared to oppose: their personal supporters would be ruthlessly cut away, they themselves would be accused of counter-revolution in the Stalinist-controlled Press, Stalin’s majority would condemn them, and they would have to take the road to exile or make humiliating confessions of penitence. In 1928 it was still possible to argue with Stalin at a congress. But after his crushing of opposition in early 1930 the party itself sat and listened to his pronouncements in silent terror. Through cynicism or because a pretence cannot be eternally maintained, there were times when his speeches showed the true state of affairs. Announcing the return to 100 per cent collectivisation in July, 1930, he showed to what a pitch of terror-stricken servility he had already reduced the party: “Here and there voices can be heard to the effect that it is necessary to abandon the policy of mass collectivisation. We have information to the effect that even in our Party there are some who support this ‘idea.’ But such things can be said only by those who, willingly or unwillingly, have joined forces with the enemies of Communism.” [7] Party members, it was clear, not only dared not speak at the congress. If they criticised even among themselves Stalin was aware of it. And the phrase, “joined forces with the enemies of Communism,” was not rhetoric. The critic, whoever he was, would be accused, like Rykov, of counter-revolution and wishing to restore Capitalism. If that was the lot of party members, it could be imagined what scope was allowed to the ordinary worker. Through the years of revolution and civil war Lenin had held the yearly congresses, with fierce debates for the clarification of policy and the education of the party and the country. But during the critical four years after 1930 Stalin held no congress. Then in January 1934 came the Seventeenth Congress. He delivered a long report: “It must be admitted that the toiling peasantry, our Soviet peasantry, has completely and irrevocably come under the red flag of Socialism.” There were thousands of delegates there from all over Russia, who knew the state of the countryside. The decrees restoring private property were still to come. But no man dared speak. Stalin reviewed the work of the Central Committee. The privileges of the bureaucracy, now all-powerful, had been causing discontent among the masses, and Stalin explained the Marxian conception of equality. We need weary the reader only with the conclusion: “To draw from this the conclusion that socialism calls for equality, for the levelling of the requirements of the members of society, for the levelling of their tastes and of their personal lives, that according to Marxism all should wear the same clothes, and eat the same dishes and in the same quantity – means talking banalities and slandering Marxism.” What mortal had ever thought so! But this explanation sufficed.

The report was typical, including the usual shrill abuse of Trotskyism. But what was most significant is that after this exhibition the delegates, meeting to discuss the economic political and social results of the five-year plan, the greatest economic experiment in history, made no single objection to Stalin’s lies and evasions. Many spoke, but after the debate, in a speech lasting three minutes, Stalin summed up: “As you know, no objections whatever were raised against the report. Hence, an extraordinary ideological political and organisational compactness of the ranks of our Party has been displayed.” He modestly begged to be excused a reply. The delegates shouted: “Long live Stalin!” and all standing sang the International. Nothing in the history of the Soviet Union so completely sums up the internal situation as this incredible session.

Those who like H.G. Wells are begging the Soviet authorities to introduce free speech seem to think that free speech is introduced or withdrawn at the caprice of rulers. There was a moment in 1923 when the party stood at the crossroads. It took the wrong turning, and the session of 1934 was the culmination of an inevitable process. Stalin does not introduce free speech because he dare not. The cult of the leader in Italy, Germany and Russia is today due to the same cause, the unbearable social and political tension in the country. Fascism is bankrupt. With the help of revolution in the West Russia has a great future, and even without that revolution has won and still wins great successes. But that vast difference does not alter the proved quality of the Stalin regime, the reasons for it, the immense dangers it holds for international Socialism.


The first plan was safely over, the solid industrial foundations had been laid. The remorseless economic pressure on the masses could be eased. More provision could be made for consumption goods. The standard of living began slowly to rise again to what it had been before the 1928 crisis. There are numerous indications that Stalin and the bureaucracy, imperialist war excluded, looked forward to the steady building of some sort of Socialism and the liquidation of Trotskyism in an era of prosperity and internal peace. To their horror they once again had to learn another elementary lesson of Marxism. The masses during the last years of the five-year plan, half-starved and shivering, had been too cowed to fight. But as their standard of living began to rise they gained strength and started on the inevitable struggle with the bureaucracy; for their political privileges, destroyed by the bureaucratic domination of the Soviets, for their industrial privileges stolen from them by the merging of the Trade Unions with the State. Stalin regularly purged the party, and then announced that it was united as never before. But the discontent among the masses continually forced itself even into the bureaucratised party. And this mass discontent, as it realised what Stalin’s Socialism meant, began to centre around Trotskyism. It was not surprising.

For Stalin, haunted by Trotskyism, had never ceased to besmirch it and he had done all he could to degrade Trotsky’s name in the eyes of the Russian people. Ever since 1923, and indeed long before, Stalin’s curious mind had conceived the idea of rewriting the history of the October Revolution so as to eliminate the part Trotsky had played in it and substitute himself instead. Year by year the history of the party, of the revolution, of the whole country, was rewritten. Trotsky’s picture was taken out of the composite photographs where he stood side by side with Lenin. Year after year Stalin’s meagre contribution to October became more and more; year after year Trotsky’s less and less. Trotskyism had been finally liquidated in 1927, but every year saw the campaign against it steadily increasing. The bourgeois empiricists, who have seen in this nothing more than a personal vendetta, have once more proved their incapability to understand history and particularly Russian history. Never was a campaign more solidly based on a political issue. Trotsky was expelled from the party in 1927, but all through 1928 the failure in China and the failure of the kulak policy had to be covered up with louder and louder blasts against Trotskyism. Industrialisation and collectivisation had to be purged of every memory of Trotskyism, which had advocated them so long. When Trotsky condemned the over-stretched tempo of industrialisation and collectivisation and the lie of having entered into Socialism, Stalin, confident of success, derided Trotskyism, but as party and masses recognised the limitations of Stalin’s Socialism, he of necessity had to destroy Trotskyism once more. Trotsky had ridiculed Social Fascism as the crowning example of Stalin’s ignorance and stupidity and had fought for the United Front in Germany. The press of the whole International had condemned him. But when Social Fascism had to be dropped, and it became clear that the United Front might have saved Germany from Fascism, the only thing to do was to fulminate against Trotskyism.

Had Stalin been more cautious in attacking Trotsky and boasted less of all he intended to do after the five-year plan, his control of the Press would have kept Trotsky’s name from the Russian people. Had Stalin’s policy at home and abroad been successful, Trotskyism would have died a natural death. But, as it was, the masses were never allowed to forget Trotskyism. The Permanent Revolution seemed to haunt Stalin. Like so much of Stalin’s policy this reaped its own reward. Abuse of Trotsky had been drummed so steadily by Stalin into Russian ears that now at least one thing was certain – Trotskyism was the direct antithesis of Stalinism. Thus it was that the mass discontent in Russia, the opposition to tyranny in the party, the protest against the ceaseless terror, began to crystallise round Trotskyism. The Left Opposition had traced this process carefully. The first hint the outside world had was the terror after Kirov’s murder in 1934.

Marxism, Leninism, Trotskyism, condemn terrorism, Marxism being concerned with mass movements and political and social revolutions, not with murder. This has been revolutionary policy for nearly a hundred years. No single word of Trotsky or any Trotskyist can be found in all their writings advocating terrorism.

The first reports of the trial spoke of White Guards and a Latvian Consul. The conjunction of Trotsky and terrorism might seem to be fantastic. But the Left Opposition knew the situation in the country and knew Stalin. As far back as 1929 Trotsky, after his expulsion, had warned the Opposition that sooner or later Stalin would draw a trail of blood between the Soviet regime and the Trotskyists. He needed it for his campaigns. [8] Stalin ordered mass shootings and arrests of all whom he suspected of opposition, under a general charge of Trotskyism. An Opposition Circular of December 10 [9] warned Trotskyist groups everywhere to be on guard against a frame-up, and it followed within a few days. Trotsky was directly accused of organising the murder, Zinoviev and Kamenev were implicated, banished, confessed to “moral responsibility” and were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. Stalin feared them as old associates of Trotsky who might form a rallying centre for the militants in the masses and dissentient elements in the party. Ultimately thousands of persons were deported from Leningrad, where Zinoviev had formerly been president of the Soviet, and people could not be bluffed with lies about Trotsky and the great part Stalin had played in October. To whoever had eyes to see it was clear that the proletariat was on the march again and that the advance-guard was pressing the regime.

The mass-arrests, the shootings, would have been meaningless otherwise. January 1935 brought the abolition of the ration-cards for bread. The last privilege of the Socialist worker was now gone, for his few roubles a month now had to buy bread at the same price as that paid by the officials with thousands. In that same January came the decrees re-establishing private property on the countryside, and the announcement of the new Constitution giving equal voting power to the peasantry – destroying the Soviets by making the unit of representation territorial instead of being based on the factories; and by direct election to a parliament placing the function of government as in bourgeois countries out of even the nominal control of the masses. The face of the Stalinist regime was now turned definitely to the right. The fate of Zinoviev and Kamenev, the terror in Leningrad, had shown that there was no legal way out of the tyranny and terror of the regime. More militant sections of the proletariat, and particularly the youth, began to fight the regime openly. So violent did the struggle all over the Soviet Union become [10] that in April 1935 Stalin published the decree instituting the death penalty for children from twelve years of age and upwards. The regime, on the defensive against the proletariat, leaning on the peasantry, but cheating both proletariat and peasantry, could meet opposition only by terror. In May came the France-Soviet Pact, and Stalin gave his blessing to French war-preparations, Three hundred thousand were purged from the party to make the party united on this extension of Leninism.

The decree in April had not checked mass dissatisfaction among the youth. Now after this purge Stalin struck at the whole youth movement. The Consomols, the famous youth organisation, over five million strong, fourteen to twenty-three years of age, the Soviet citizens of the future, at one stroke of the pen were ordered not to concern themselves too much with production and were forbidden to take any part in politics. [11] Henceforth they were to concentrate on education and read the classics. That sure barometer of discontent in Russia, the campaign against Trotskyism, rose higher and higher as Stalin began determinedly to sweep away the whole ideology of revolution, and create an atmosphere which would give confidence to his new allies abroad and guarantee at home the peaceful enjoyment of their privileges by the millions of technicians, specialists, administrators, officials, secret police, etc., whose man he was. The army had been a Socialist army under Socialist discipline. The bourgeois paraphernalia of field-marshals, generals, etc., had no place in it. Off duty there was no saluting, in the early days officers and men had drinks together and fraternised in Socialist fashion despite the strict discipline when on duty. Stalin abolished this. As in bourgeois countries regiments are the Duke of York’s Own or the Prince of Wales’ Own, so in the Socialist State many regiments were linked to factories, knitting together army and people instead of striving to keep them apart as the bourgeois have to do. Despite all the bureaucratic distortions some contact between army and people remained. It was the distinguishing characteristic of a Socialist as opposed to a Capitalist regime, one of the precious legacies from the days of Lenin and Trotsky. Stalin abolished it. There was no doubt now as to where he was tending. The Society of Old Worker Bolsheviks was abolished. The Old Political Convicts Association was abolished. The Communist Academy, the famous association for the study of Marx and Engels, was wiped away by a decree. The Stalinist bureaucracy was not only going to the Right, it was seeing to it that there would be no means of turning to the Left except by a violent overturn of the regime.

The bureaucracy was assuring its privileges. In the academies the students were given uniforms, and the Tsarist methods of discipline, including semi-military supervision, were restored, so as to keep them under psychological and physical control. The cult of the family was reintroduced. It made for stability, it sanctified the privileges which the better paid bureaucrats could give to their own children. Laws dealing with abortion and marriage, that could have been signed by Mussolini or Hitler, were clamped on Russia by decree. Stalin’s crude mentality, which for so many years has lain like a huge shadow over Russia, dwarfed every healthy growth, did not leave even art or history untouched. The magnificent early films were replaced by jazz-comedies. Shostakovitch, the brilliant young modernist composer, was disgraced for writing “leftist” music, and instead a rival who wrote an opera with Cossack folk-melodies was elevated in his place with Stalin’s special approval. Pokrovsky, that clumsy but able and devoted Stalinist historian and stalwart arsenal of historical arguments against Trotskyism, was excommunicated, and his works written in an earlier and more revolutionary period were put on the index. Bucharin who, as he had written and said a thousand times, wrote that Russia had been a backward country before the war, was pulled up so sharply that he had to apologise. All history books had to be once more rewritten to suit the new nationalist conservative Russia. And side by side with this burying of the revolutionary ideas went the concentration of all power into the hands of the bureaucracy and the reduction of the workmen to units of labour.

In the resolution on organisation submitted to the Seventeenth Conference by Kaganovitch, covering fourteen pages, [12] orders for concrete leadership, personal responsibility, and one-man management occur no less than twenty times. The fiction of workers’ control, after twenty years of the revolution, is dead. But the bureaucracy fears the proletariat. It knows, none better, the temper of the people it so mercilessly cheats and exploits. Furthermore it was necessary to raise the productivity of labour. At these manoeuvres Stalin and his group are matchless. In August 1935 the Stakhanovite movement was hurled upon the Russian people as the greatest discovery of centuries. By means of a system of co-ordination of work, a commonplace under Capitalism, certain individuals in industries were enabled and encouraged by careful manipulation to achieve record-breaking output. Norms of production doubled, trebled and quadrupled. And as a reward, the Stakhanovites received fantastic sums with which they bought fur-coats (like one a miner saw in a picture of King George V), gramophones, silk underwear, two-horse droshkies, etc., etc. But the rank and file workers knew what this would mean ultimately – a general raising of the norms demanded. Fierce fights broke out in the factories; Stakhanovites were attacked. The Stalinist overlord of the Ukraine says in Pravda of November 13: “The struggle against the sabotageurs and those who are resisting the Stakhanovist movement is now one of the main sectors of the class struggle,” and Zhdanov, ruler of Leningrad, in Pravda of November 18 warned the recalcitrant: “In certain industries, the Stakhanovist movement has met with a certain resistance, even on the part of backward workers. The party will stop at nothing to sweep out of the road of the victory of the Stakhanovist movement all those who resist it.” Economic realities cannot be entirely suppressed by terror. The workers continued to beat up the record-breakers, to wreck their tools, even to murder some. [13] But the Stalin regime has achieved one important aim. By giving the Stakhanovite workers not only high wages but privileges, such as special schools for their children and special seats in the cinema [14], it is splitting the workers and creating a labour aristocracy, thus helping to stabilise the position of the bureaucracy.

And as the Right turn inside the Soviet Union far exceeded the bounds that had been reached in 1924–1927, so the corresponding turn in the International, taking the Social Fascists of yesterday in its stride has hailed Liberalism as the ally of revolution and offered the hand of friendship to Fascism.


[1] Moscow News, January 27, 1934.

[2] International Press Correspondence, December 22, 1933.

[3] International Press Correspondence, March 30, 1935.

[4] International Press Correspondence, March 30, 1935.

[5] International Press Correspondence, Nov. 14, 1936.

[6] Mr. Lloyd George knows that very well. This great Liberal was one of the first to welcome Hitler’s coming to power. These Germans, he said in effect, will know how to manage their Communism.

[7] Leninism, Vol. II, p. 327.

[8] See Fight, the organ of the Marxist Group, Vol. 1, No. 1, October 1936, p. 16.

[9] See The Kirov Assassination, by L. Trotsky, Pioneer Publishers, New York.

[10] The English Press is singularly deficient in serious studies of the social and political developments in the Soviet Union. For the struggle of the youth against the Stalinist terror see L’Ou vent l’enfance et la jeunesse Sovietiques, La Revue Hebdomadaire, September 21, 1935, p. 346 The writer hopes to translate and publish this article soon. Based exclusively on a mass of Soviet material, it is the kind of exposure which silences even Stalinist bluff and abuse.

[11] The Webbs, on p. 395 of their book, Soviet Communism, give a detailed account of this typical piece of Stalinist tyranny. But so petrified is their political judgment by admiration for the Soviet Union that they do not spend on it a note of exclamation, far less a word of explanation.

[12] Socialism Victorious, p. 673.

[13] Trud, November 18, September 24, October 23, November 1, November 12; Izvestia, November 28; Pravda, November 3. For murders Pravda, October 30 and November 2.

[14] See New International, February 1936.

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