Walter Kendall 1970

The Breakdown of Stalinist ‘Socialism’

Source: A chapter in Julius Jacobs (editor), Soviet Communism and the Socialist Vision (Transaction Books, New Brunswick, 1972); also New Politics, Volume 8, no 2, Spring 1970. Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

Communist orthodoxy alleges that the Communist Party is the sole authentic voice of the working class, that as such it is the irreplaceable agent of the proceeding world socialist revolution, that within the Soviet bloc, wherever the party rules, the working class is enthroned in power, while production goes ahead on uninterrupted, rationally-planned lines in stark contradiction to the anarchy and chaos of capitalist society.

The contention of this essay is that all these claims belong more to the realm of myth than actuality. Further, that these claims are being increasingly exposed by events, that the monolithic character of world Communism is being destroyed, in short, that in Marxist terms, the ‘breakdown’ of Stalinist socialism is on the order of the day. The Czech events, coming as they have done in the most advanced and cultured of the nations of the Soviet bloc, are in no sense an accidental aberration. Rather they indicate the future of the other members and in particular of Russia, where the problems which led to the Czech decentralisation are already exercising a marked and considerable influence on the progress of the economy and of society as a whole.

Lenin, writing in August and September 1917, quoted approvingly Marx’s own opinion that the task of the socialist revolution was ‘not merely to hand the bureaucratic and military machine over from one set of hands to another – but to shatter it; and it is this which is the preliminary condition of any real people’s revolution’. [1]

In reality, the Soviet state which has sprung from the Russian Revolution is more bureaucratic than Czarist rule. The bureaucratic and military middle class exercises more power over the working class than in any other European state with the doubtful exception of Franco Spain.

The Myth of Planning

The roots of this transformation lie in the isolated, primitive and backward conditions which existed in Russia at the time of the Revolution. These were the decisive objective conditions for the transformation. Yet within the limits predetermined by objective necessity men do not fail to make their mark on history. There can be no doubt that the process of centralisation and bureaucratisation in Russia, Eastern Europe and China has been markedly hastened and accentuated by certain false conceptions about the nature of ‘planned’ economy itself.

In one of the closing chapters of Anti-DŁhring, Frederick Engels draws attention to ‘the fact that the social organisation of production within the factory has developed to the point at which it has become incompatible with the anarchy of production in society’. ‘... anarchy in social production’, he concluded, must be ‘replaced by conscious organisation on a planned basis.’ [2]

The conclusion drawn by Soviet authorities was that the analogy between factory and society was not illustrative but exact. The whole gigantic, delicately-balanced economy could and must be planned as if it were a single industrial plant. ‘Our plans are not forecasts, nor guesses’, warned Stalin majestically. ‘They are instructions.’ [3] The Soviet plan demonstrated the superiority of the ‘socialist’ system to the anarchy of capitalist production.

In reality the ‘plan’ of which Stalin and his parties spoke was a myth. The attempt to plan everything proved impossible. Capitalist anarchy was ended. A form of Stalinist ‘socialist’ anarchy took its place. The party built a prison and pronounced it ‘socialism’. The over-planning of the economy created a new ruling caste and of necessity excluded the working class from power.

Engels aptly described the socialist transition as ‘the leap from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom’. Oskar Lange, an economist of world renown, in 1960 Chairman of the Economic Council of Poland, offers the definition: ‘Under capitalism... production is done for private profit; under socialism... for the satisfaction of human wants.’ [4]

In reality, under the Soviet system the satisfaction of human wants is at the bottom of the scale of priorities; subsistence wages have been the rule for a past generation, while for most citizens the leap has been from freedom to necessity and not the other way around.

We actually had a period in the socialist countries, maybe with the exception of China... when the output of the least important commodity was planned [writes Oskar Lange]. There was the famous joke of Poland – really it was not a joke, but it was true – that the production of pickled cucumbers is in the national plan. Another case which was not a joke either but was a fact – was that the State Planning Commission made a plan of the number of hares which will be shot during the year by hunters. At the same time you could not get, for instance, buttons, or hairpins for ladies, simply because they were forgotten in the national economic plan. [5]

In Poland at this very moment toilet paper still arrives in the shops on one day a month; he who fails to survive the queues on that momentous occasion goes raw and uncomfortable until the next great day of opportunity comes round again in four weeks’ time. ‘In Hungary’, writes the Communist economist JŠnos Kornai, ‘the final draft of the annual plan was in some sectors not available until past the middle of the year of operation.’ [6]

The outcome of this situation has been that in many cases the plan has existed only on paper, as an abstract scheme which did not exist in concrete form. In many cases plans were made which were impossible of achievement because the objectives were over-ambitious. In all, the feasibility of planning all economic life from a single centre was proved to be an illusion. The refusal to recognise this fact led to a necessary attribution of non-fulfilment of the plan to subjective ‘sabotage’ and not economic impossibility. Penal sanction, witch-hunts, death sentences, terror, followed as an inexorable consequence.

If the plan is too rigid the centre cannot react to unforeseen developments at the base until it is too late. Corrections arrive behind time, underestimate or exaggerate the need. The plan begins to go ‘wild’:

The central decision responds to a situation too late – unless there is decentralisation, central planning becomes fictitious: what actually is obtained is an elemental development. For instance, in Poland in a certain period the amount of elemental processes became so great that you could ask whether there still exists a planned economy. On the one hand there was a plan, but on the other the economy produced results in a very elemental way. [7]

The myth of a mammoth plan that goes like clockwork has been so well propagated by Stalinist apologists in the Western labour movement that these statements, despite their irrefutable source, merit some further documentation.

Stalin told an astonished party conference in June 1930 that industry was under orders to increase output by 50 per cent in that single year. In 1928 Russia produced 3,500,000 tons of pig iron. Stalin now ordered at all costs the economy must produce 17,000,000 tons in 1932. The target had still to be reached in 1941. [8] Stalin’s totally ‘idealistic’ and un-Marxist belief that ‘there are no fortresses which Bolsheviks cannot conquer’ led to similar exaggerated targets not only in many other sections of Soviet economy but to precisely comparable costly absurdities in the satellites. ‘We mechanically copied the methods of building socialism accepted in the Soviet Union’, Oskar Lange declares. [9]

In Hungary, writes Kornai, ‘in order to secure early increases of the volume of output on as large a scale as possible, machinery production was expanded disproportionately faster than that... of materials, power, semi-finished products and components’. New installations were being brought into operation at breakneck speed, but provision was not being made for providing necessary support for these advances:

In a number of fields, relative rates of growth have been the reverse of what would have been required for balance. The growth of machine manufacturing has outstripped that of iron and steel production, manufacturing industry has grown faster than the industries supplying power, coal, electricity, etc. [10]

The situation which Kornai describes is not unknown to political economy. The description is precisely that of a trade crisis under capitalism, typified by a dis-balance of factors of production, caused by the anarchic, unplanned character of the productive process. The distinction of Stalinist bureaucratism is that it has successfully planned the very chaos which capitalism itself produces only unintentionally and ‘by accident’.

The analogy with the trade cycle is in no sense forced. The Hungarian plan requirements were assigned by monthly, quarterly and annual check/target figures. Economic, political and penal sanctions were applied to seek their fulfilment. As a result the periodic (but relatively long-spaced) capitalist trade cycle disappears. In its place a new cycle – ‘the peak always found to occur at the end of the month, quarter or year and the troughs at the beginning’ – takes its place’. [11]

Statistics from the Chief Planning Division of the Ministry of Light Industry in Hungary bear this out. The output of cloth and shoes during the single month of May 1956 varied as follows: [12]

Article Unit First 10 days Second 10 days Third 10 days
Finished cotton cloth 1000 m2 4343 5825 7674
Men’s shoes 1000 pairs 40.9 37.2 50.4
Women’s shoes 1000 pairs 75.6 98.2 128.5
Children’s shoes 1000 pairs 103.6 115.2 133.5

Even when 100 per cent plan fulfilment is achieved the result may well be illusory. ‘It is possible to “juggle” to the tune of a few per cent by manipulating stocks of semi-finished products and work in progress.’ ‘In the leather trade – the way out is to dump large amounts of raw hides into the tanks for soaking. In an hour they can throw as much as two wagonfuls into the tanks and these hides immediately appear in total production as work in progress. Net value added is practically nil, but the material instantly assumes a value equal to 75 per cent of that of finished leather’, for the purposes of reckoning total production. The plan is saved!

The use of production indicators is prone to lead to absurdities. A plan expressed in tons encourages the production of wastefully heavy commodities; factories making cement blocks manufacture large ones and the target is the more easily attained. Industrial machinery carries an excessive content of steel, becomes inordinately expensive and makes exceedingly costly demands on power supply if it is to function effectively. Change the plan target to roubles, no cheap blocks will be produced: all will be unnecessarily dear. Plan roofing iron by square metres and it will become dangerously thin. Plan cloth by length, then width will be sacrificed to yardage. The ‘optique’ of the plan, the easiest way to achieve targets, takes precedence over objective needs. The problem is acknowledged by Soviet authorities. A Krokodil cartoon once caricatured a factory which fulfilled its entire month’s nail output programme by the manufacture of one gigantic nail, which hung from an overhead crane extending the whole length of the workshop. [13]

Idle plant, un-utilised labour, wastage of materials follows, directly created by the plan. In Hungary the plan consistently failed to make adequate provision for stocks. In several light industries in 1956 these amounted to barely 15 to 30 days’ supplies. The stocks of cotton in the main capitalist importing countries during 1952, 1953, 1954 averaged respectively 140, 104, 108 days’ supply. In Hungary the figure was 31, 36 and 40 days’ supply. Since these stocks were very unevenly allocated between requirements the result was that plant was constantly out of action for lack of material; costly waste through use of inappropriate materials resulted and inferior goods were produced. The short stock position was ‘planned'; it was in no sense accidental. One factory with stocks of six to 12 months under capitalism found them reduced to five to 15 days under Stalinist planning. [14]

Centralisation breeds bureaucracy and contempt for the consumer. The ‘orders for the entire supply of woollen cloth for the whole country are placed by a single official of the Ministry of Domestic Commerce’. ‘Even if the person had an excellent grasp of his business, is it right’, asks Kornai, ‘that a single human being should decide in a matter such as this?’ [15]

Over-Planning and Its Consequences

The consequences of over-planning are in no sense accidental. A rigid party dictatorship creates the plan and gives it the force of law. The arbitrarily-decided plan quotients necessitate the destruction of a free trade-union movement whose activities might otherwise disrupt the achievement of plan targets. The total character of the plan makes impossible the exercise of consumer choice. The impossibility of fulfilling the plan targets in the form outlined leads to hold-ups, to endless corrective campaigns, to administrative sanctions, to penal sentences, and if the crisis grows bad enough, to purges on the scale seen in Russia in the 1930s and in postwar Eastern Europe in the 1940s and 1950s. The connection is not fortuitous. The sequence is a logical outcome of cause and effect.

The Ujpest leather factory in Hungary received between 1 September and 31 December 1955 no less than 102 specific instructions relating to production, excluding other more general requisitions. [16] To hold the line, a system of fines, reminiscent of the early industrial revolution and extending even to managerial staff was introduced. Thus among other instances the Hungarian official Light Industry Gazette recorded punishment of ‘top management staff for failing to make use of a steam engine’, ‘for negligent warehouse management’, ‘for not having visited the Ministry in person [!] about a payment of wages in excess of the planned amount’. The repression develops as a consequence of the system and not as an excrescence upon it. The more impossible and absurd the plan, the more inevitable the consequence that the bureaucratic machine will grow disproportionately, the apparatus of administration, legal and penal sanction mushroom in size; in other words the more the dictatorship of a bureaucratic caste over the nation and, most important, over a disenfranchised working class, will grow powerful, vicious and all-embracing in its scope and consequences.

Courage, independence, initiative, intelligence, innovating capacity are all at a discount. Creative activity retires within a protective shell. ‘The main thing really is not so much to see that all is well in our factory, but to make sure that my superiors are satisfied. I must fulfil the indices which are most insisted upon: I must not make too many difficulties by arguing about plans.’ Abruptness, dictatorial methods, a tendency ‘to order people about in the course of their work’ become the rule; it spreads like a contagious disease. Production suffers. Human beings suffer most of all. Socialism is to be introduced to free mankind. Stalinism in the name of freedom begins to turn society into one vast prison.

A bureaucratic group entirely divorced from the people, possessed of a new supreme power, begins to rule. Rationality loses its effect. To challenge an irrational command is to risk position, liberty and even life itself. As in Hungary under RŠkosi, in Russia under Stalin, in Czechoslovakia under Gottwald, the brakes are off. Any insanity is possible, the limits of the oppression of the people is decided only by the possibility of revolt, the economic waste is limited only by the certain eventual ‘seizure’ of the whole machine. Thus, Czechoslovakia, in defiance of plan growth targets, experienced in 1963 a net decline in production. In unexcelled Stalinist gobbledegook the party described this downturn as a ‘negative rate of growth’. The Czech economy, once among the most advanced in Europe, now finds itself in a state of general qualitative decline, unable to compete effectively in markets held easily before the Communist coup. After 20 years of Stalinist ‘socialism’ the wave of Czech tourists to the ‘West’ in the 1960s was shocked beyond measure to discover that ‘socialist’ Czechoslovakia had been overtaken and surpassed by neighbouring capitalist nations formerly viewed as social and cultural inferiors.

The State as an Agent of Capital Accumulation

The portrait of a smooth-as-clockwork execution of the state plan, of a steadily rising production graph, of a system divorced from cycles of production, unencumbered with economic waste and inefficiency, freely administered according to the will of the working masses, this portrait, so artistically created by Soviet propaganda, proves on examination to be almost a total reversal of the truth.

Hierarchical command replaces democratic decision. Bureaucratic allocation replaces consumer choice. The waste of advertising is replaced by the maintenance of a superfluous bureaucratic administration and the vastly expensive secret police force which total command makes inevitable. [17] The capitalist trade cycle ends – the monthly, quarterly, annual plan cycle takes its place. The output graph, far from rising steadily upwards, suffers irregular crises of its own; the limits to insensate waste provided by market force and democratic control have been equally eliminated. The whole of Soviet architecture comes to reflect the wasteful Victorian exuberance of Stalin’s bad taste.

‘The great intensity of the industrialisation process’ (in Eastern Europe) wrote Oskar Lange, ‘required methods reminiscent of war economy.’ [18] ‘Such methods are not peculiar to socialism – they are also introduced in capitalist countries too, in wartime; they are rather certain techniques of war economy.’ [19]

Lange’s statement is very revealing. The characteristics of wartime society are the very antithesis of those of socialism. What then has become of the ‘socialism’ of the Soviet state? Nominally socialist, the Soviet state apparatus has in fact performed a role best described as that of a classic agent of rapid capital accumulation. ‘Capital’, wrote Marx, ‘comes into the world soiled with mire from tip to toe and oozing blood at every pore.’ The growth of Stalinist society, the events which have accompanied the ‘planning’ already described provide illustrations equally as moving as those which Marx himself provided in the pages of Volume One of Capital. ‘The secret of the self-expansion of capital finds its explanation in this’, wrote Marx, ‘that capital has at its disposal a definite quantity of other people’s unpaid labour.’ As if to offer mute evidence of this fact statistics show that ‘the purchasing power of money wages (in the USSR) in 1937, 1940 and (particularly) 1947 was below 1928’. Capital for the expansion of Soviet industry has been obtained by forcing working-class living standards to subsistence level or below.

The word utopian comes readily to the lips of certain Communist ideologists. Yet, beyond doubt, the greatest utopians of the twentieth century are the Communists themselves. Sir Thomas More confined his ‘Utopia’ to the field of literature. The Communists claim theirs exists in real life, in the Soviet Union, and this despite the fact that almost every aspect of reality confronts and denies its utopian portrayal.

Communism and Revolution

The Communists have sedulously propagated the myth that without their party there could be no proletarian social revolution. Yet in reality the only proletarian revolution seen in Europe since the war took place in Hungary and was directed against the Communists’ own monopoly of power. Similar events took place in Eastern Germany and were only narrowly avoided in Poland.

The party’s claim to hegemony over the colonial revolution has similarly collapsed. In Algeria, a non-Communist movement has concluded a successful revolutionary war against French imperialism. In Algeria, for a number of years, workers’ control of productive processes in land and industry existed in forms more advanced than those in Russia after four decades of Communist rule. It becomes increasingly obvious that in defiance of Stalinist orthodoxy the former colonial states intend to avoid the bourgeois stage altogether. The state as in Nasser’s Egypt or Nkrumah’s former Ghana begins to replace the idle or non-existent capitalist entrepreneur and to do so quite without working-class democracy or support. Stalinist state method begins to emerge – yet the Stalinist party is nowhere present.

Nor is this all. The central Leninist thesis commands that the revolution be led by the proletarian party at the head of the peasantry. In real life, in Poland, in Hungary, in Czechoslovakia, in Romania, in Bulgaria, a statised transformation has taken place in which both workers and peasants have been passive observers, while the whole operation has been conducted by a party, a state, a police and a military bureaucracy.

‘Salami Socialism’, to use RŠkosi’s cynical but expressive phrase, the technique of slicing off the bourgeoisie in layers, by means of the forces of the bourgeois state, infiltrated from within, is in fact not a socialist technique at all. The precedent is clear and beyond question. It is that of Mussolini following the March on Rome in 1922 and Hitler following his installation as Reich Chancellor in 1933.

These facts in themselves are immensely damaging to the Stalinist world view. They do not exhaust the list. The greatest revolutionary transformation in world history, the Chinese overturn, was not only made in opposition to the ‘advice’ of the CPSU, it was also a transformation effected by a military civil war, based on the peasantry, in which the working class played no part at all. The Chinese experience does not stand alone. Castro’s revolution, itself opposed by the Cuban Communist Party, possesses an agrarian-military character which cannot be fitted within the framework of Marxist-Leninist thought.

Nor have the Russian – Chinese and, one might add, Yugoslav doctrinal divisions proved to be the end. In the years since 1945 the Russian-imposed regimes in Eastern Europe have been able to create new ruling bureaucratised strata of their own, with specific state and sectarian interests to defend as against those of the USSR. To the extent, as in Albania, Czechoslovakia and Romania, that these bureaucratic groups have been able increasingly to maintain themselves independently of the CPSU, so separate and specific doctrinal and state interest disputes and divisions emerged. The level of development, historical and cultural traditions, economic problems of the Soviet bloc territories differ. To deny that in the future these differences will increasingly assume doctrinal form would be to deny the validity of the materialist conception of history.

‘Just as our opinion of an individual is not based on what he thinks of himself, so we cannot judge of... a period of transformation by its own consciousness’, wrote Marx in his Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, ‘on the contrary, this consciousness must be rather explained from the conditions of material life, from the existing conflict between the social forces of production and the relations of production.’ [20]

Revolutions made without the Party (Algeria), revolutions made in opposition to the Party (Cuba), revolutions made with a peasant and not a proletarian party (China), revolutions made without either workers or peasants (Eastern Europe), and finally revolutions made against the Party (Hungary), near-revolutions made against the Party from within the Party (Czechoslovakia), these illustrate the contradictions which Stalinist dogma can no longer resolve or explain away.

The Nasser dictatorship in Egypt, strangely enough, gives a real clue to the so far unrevealed character of the Stalinist regimes. War is a great forcing house of economic and political development. In a backward society the army is frequently the group most highly organised and educated in modern technique, a condition forced upon it by external circumstances. As such it is both impressed by foreign superiority and dismayed by the backwardness of its own social base. Significant sections of the officer corps incline to national revival. As in Egypt the hierarchic character of the officer corps, now extended, comes to form a spinal column for the state. The revolution is controlled, hierarchic, the masses are excluded, yet the social structure changes in a statised direction. Externally, a superficial similarity with the structural aims of socialism may be perceived. Internally, in social content, this is almost entirely lacking.

Exchange the army for the Communist Party hierarchy and one finds the closest parallel with Eastern Europe.

The past characteristics of the Stalinist regimes have been those of backward and primitive societies accumulating capital at a rapid rate by means of statised economy. ‘All this led to a system which today we call bureaucratic centralism’, writes Oskar Lange of postwar development of Polish economy:

After a time this system becomes, to some extent, an independent factor, growing beyond necessity by its own inertia and interested in deepening and spreading centralised methods of administration in the national economy. In time a social stratum was created with marked interests and opinions. It began to function as an independent factor in the national economy, in social relations and political life. Bureaucratic centralist methods in our country were methods of building socialism with the help of war economy, technical means which in certain situations during war are also used by capitalist states... [21]

If we excise the reference to ‘building socialism’, which plays the same role for the Communist hierarchy as the ‘hereafter’ for the Catholic Church, the quotation from Lange gives an excellent account of the development of postwar Eastern European economy and of the ruling group. Stalinist ideology stands revealed as no more than a revised version of the Protestant ethic updated to fit a collectivist age. The Party and its bureaucratic apparatus substitutes itself for the working class and the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, in the same way as Nasser’s army substitutes itself for the ‘people’ and the ‘nation’.

Yet if this is socialism, then every army represents the dictatorship of the common soldier over the officer caste. If this is socialism, then our prisons are hitherto unrecognised prototypes of a planned society. The early socialists declared that property is socialist because it is owned by a workers’ state, that is the organised working class in power. ‘The Stalinists declared that the state is socialist simply because it owns the property.’ [22] If that were so, the Catholic Church would be a socialist institution, the Peru of the Incas and Pharaoh’s Egypt both socialist states.

Nor can it be argued that like toffee and chocolate socialism comes in varied brands dressed in different wrappings. To argue that under one brand of socialism the workers may rule and under another they may be enslaved is to deprive the word ‘socialism’ of all its meaning. One might as well argue ‘that there are two brands of freedom, one in which you are free and the other in which you are in jail’. [23]

The Bureaucratic Stage of Socialism

The true perception of Soviet reality has unfortunately proved difficult for all sections of the socialist movement. The world continues to treat the Soviet regime of 1970 as if, despite aberrant failings, it remained essentially the same as that of October 1917, an error as gross as to equate the France of Louis Phillipe with that of the Revolution of 1789.

The difficulty has been enhanced by the belief that in his views on sociological development Marx outlined only three stages, ancient, feudal and capitalist, whereas he had explicitly considered a fourth, ‘Asiatic’, as anterior to all the others. [24] This has led in turn to the fallacious belief that property relations alone were the key to class rule as in the case of slave, feudal and capitalist societies and to the total neglect of the historical evidence for a further ‘functional’ mode of exploitation. As a result, otherwise intelligent and honest persons, having proved to themselves that Russian society was not capitalist, felt justified in asserting that it must be both proletarian and socialist, a quite unjustified and un-Marxist assumption.

In reality, history offers numerous examples, amongst them those of Pharaoh’s Egypt, Ancient China, India and pre-conquest South American civilisations within which social domination was based less on property than on bureaucratic functions and this in a fashion which offers a striking and illuminating parallel with modern Soviet society.

The essential thesis is simple to understand. In certain climates and locations land is of little productive value without water. The provision of water requires large-scale irrigation. A high level of technique, the capacity to deploy large forces of labour in irrigation projects, the creation of a highly-centralised bureaucratic apparatus, become the preconditions for the supply of water to the would-be rural producer. Real power lies with the water ‘supply’ rather than the land ‘ownership’. Water ‘supply’ is a bureaucratic function. The bureaucracy emerges as the ruling group. A vast, static, hierarchic, immensely powerful state machine, as in ancient Egypt and the Chinese mandarinate, now emerges. Exploitation exists but on a bureaucratic rather than on a property base. The regime may last in this form for thousands of years. [25]

One may well argue that in the twentieth century, the complexity of society makes necessary a bureaucratic apparatus in the form of scientists, technologists, administrators, economists, propagandists, police, government and political functionaries who interpose themselves inevitably between the worker and his product in a similar fashion to that of the ruling bureaucracy in former ‘Asiatic’ society. The intellectuals’ monopoly of education in Marxist terms constitutes a form of property right by which they dominate society. If this be so, then Stalinist society emerges as the crude prototype of a new regressive social order. The Stalinist parties manifest themselves as the nuclei of the new ruling caste, the power monopoly of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union stands revealed as quite analogous to that of the priestly caste in ancient Egypt. The phenomenon of Stalinism thus becomes explicable as a manifestation of a new force in its own right (which it plainly is) and not a degeneration from something quite different (which by now it quite plainly is not).

Such a hypothesis would give an excellent explanation of the failure of all opposition communist groups. Uniformly under the illusion that they are defending ‘true communism’, they are in fact no more than idealistic enthusiasts who have made the stereotype error of mistaking the movement’s ideological form for its true but concealed reality. In such circumstances the possibility of ‘true communism’ (whether of Trotskyist, Guevarist, Dubcek or any other variety) over the ‘degenerate’ version, simply does not exist.

The treatment of the Communist ruling group by the state apparatus also becomes explicable. The members of the ruling group, like those of a feudal aristocracy, may be exiled, imprisoned or executed by the faction in command. They always retain more in common with one another than with the mass below. Imre Nagy, to whose courage and devotion one must pay full tribute, was no more prepared to raise the mass against the party than would have been any feudal lord to stir a peasant jacquerie against his king. Dubcek’s rebellion, important though it was, sought always to remain within the court of the Czar. Rehabilitation, restoration with full privileges to the ruling group, is the prospect always open to those who survive the ultimate sanction. Once restored, they become as much a part of the power structure as any feudal lord restored to his confiscated estates after a forced exile in a foreign land.

The roots of such a development can certainly be traced to Leninism. Yet to argue that they are an inevitable consequence would be as unsound as to suggest that a man must die of every germ which transitionally takes hold of his body. What is plainly more important is that with two Popes, one in Peking and another in Moscow, with rebellious bishoprics appearing in most corners of the globe, the ideological uniformity of Stalinism has irrevocably broken down. The state interests of different ruling groups must in the nature of things continue to accelerate this process of fission. The ideological schema of Stalinism ever more plainly fail to fit the facts. Stalinism progressively abandons the whole field of scientific explanation to enter that of mysticism and ‘ideology’. The characteristics and behaviour of Stalinist parties and states prove capable of explanation without the necessity to credit them with even a shred of socialist purpose. The domination which Stalinism has wielded over large sections of the labour movement is about to end.

In these circumstances how prophetic sound the words of Rosa Luxemburg, written in her critique of the Russian Revolution, completed in the closing months of 1918.

Socialism [declared Rosa Luxemburg] by its very nature cannot be built by decree... Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of press and assembly... public life gradually falls asleep, a few dozen party leaders of inexhaustible energy and boundless experience direct and rule... a dictatorship to be sure; not the dictatorship of the proletariat, however, but only the dictatorship of a handful of politicians, that is the dictatorship in the bourgeois sense... [26]

The socialist revolution, a socialist society, involves of necessity the self-administration of production and of society by the citizens and the producers of their own behalf and not by any self-appointed clique claiming to rule in their place. Viewed in retrospect the ‘Soviet Experience’ appears significant not as a model for others to follow (as previously has widely been thought) but rather as indicative of a series of colossal errors they ought at all costs to avoid. It is the failure to appreciate and act upon this lesson that more than any other factor has led to the isolation and sterility of socialism in large areas of the modern world, not least in the USA where the Russian model could least of all be in any sense relevant. Socialists must live with the fact that there exists no textbook recipes for either revolution or socialist construction. The Soviet Communist Party experience is irretrievably exploded. Recognition of this fact is the precondition for any progress of the socialist movement not only in the USA but also in all countries of the capitalist world.


1. Lenin, State and Revolution (London, nd), p 49 [available on the M.I.A.]. The full letter, dated 12 April 1871, in a different translation, will be found in Karl Marx, Letters to Dr Kugelmann (Moscow, 1934), p 123 [available on the M.I.A.].

2. Frederick Engels, Anti-DŁhring (London, 1934), pp 304, 311 [available on the M.I.A.].

3. Report of Central Committee to Fifteenth CPSU Congress [available on the M.I.A.].

4. Oskar Lange, The Political Economy of Socialism (The Hague, 1960), p 7.

5. Lange, The Political Economy of Socialism, p 21.

6. JŠnos Kornai, Over-Centralisation in Economic Administration (London, 1959).

7. Oskar Lange, Role of Planning in Socialist Economy (The Hague, 1958), p 25.

8. Isaac Deutscher, Stalin (London, 1950), pp 321-22.

9. Oskar Lange, Some Problems Relating to the Polish Road to Socialism (Warsaw, 1957), p 9.

10. Kornai, Over-Centralisation, p 181.

11. Kornai, Over-Centralisation, p 139.

12. Kornai, Over-Centralisation, p 145.

13. Alec Nove, The Soviet Economy (London, 1961), pp 157-58.

14. Kornai, Over-Centralisation, pp 54-55.

15. Kornai, Over-Centralisation, p 188.

16. Kornai, Over-Centralisation, pp 68, 78.

17. According to the London Observer of 28 July 1968, in post-1948 Czechoslovakia: ‘There were probably 100,000 people imprisoned for long sentences... perhaps 2000 died in prison from fever and other diseases. About 30,000 people served 15 years.’ According to one Czech estimate published in the Guardian, the secret police network numbered 200,000 men.

18. Oskar Lange, Problems of Political Economy of Socialism (Calcutta, 1962), p 18.

19. Lange, Problems of Political Economy of Socialism, p 17.

20. Karl Marx, ‘Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy’ (London, 1904), p 12 [available on the M.I.A.].

21. Lange, Some Problems, p 13.

22. Max Shachtman, The Bureaucratic Revolution (New York, 1962), p 237 [available on the M.I.A.].

23. The Bureaucratic Revolution, p 278 [available on the M.I.A.].

24. Marx, ‘Preface to A Contribution’, p 13 [available on the M.I.A.].

25. See for example, Karl A Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism (Yale, 1957).

26. Rosa Luxemburg, The Russian Revolution, available on the M.I.A..