E. Germain

Where Is the Soviet Union Going? 5

Role of the Masses Since End of War

(July 1946)

From The Militant, Vol. X No. 29, 20 July 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The old generation of the Russian proletariat lost its revolutionary potential during the years of revolution and civil war; the next generation which grew up after the civil war was decapitated by the Thermidorian terror; it was affected by all the terrible defeats of the world proletariat, and could be considered therefore as incapable of a serious movement of revolt against the bureaucratic dictatorship.

Competent observers expected a reawakening of the Russian proletariat by 1940–1945. By then, according to them, the improvement of living conditions in Russia, the appearance of a new fighting generation, and the change of the relationship of social forces on the world arena would give hope of a renewal of activity on the part of the proletariat.

Independent Activity

But in 1941 the possibility of such an evolution was abruptly – and not accidentally – removed by the outbreak of the Soviet-German war. During the first months the attitude of the proletariat was hesitant and somewhat passive. When it realized the real nature of the Hitler war – a war of pillage, of destruction of everything progressive that the October Revolution had brought about, of a return to capitalist exploitation – it threw itself into the struggle with all the ferocious energy of which it was capable.

There is considerable evidence of the independent activity of the masses during the war. During the defense of Odessa and Leningrad, workers’ militias made their reappearance. This was especially ’illustrated by the spectacular reconquest of Rostov in 1941, ending the 1941 campaign. The manual of the French Military Academy, edited by Vichy in 1943, flatly declared that it was “the intervention of the civilians in Rostov which changed the course of the war.”

Is it necessary to insist on the bitterness and implacability of the partisans’ struggles whose formations often bore names more than indicative of the moods which animated them, such names, for example, as “For the Power of the Soviets”?

Discontent Breaks Out

But if the Soviet masses were willing to bear the worst privations in the struggle against Hitler, they observed with resentment which became more and more marked that speculation, good food, the most shameless privileges were flaunted openly behind the front, while millions of workers were killed together with their wives and children. Once the country was free, this discontent found numerous ways of expressing itself. The number of deserters-marauders increased rapidly. In a sensational speech Kalinin admitted that working class wives asked, “Why do you wear boots when we haven’t any?”

Contact with the higher standard of living in central and western Europe, completed the awakening of the Soviet worker. And since the end of 1945 there is only one cry heard from the proletariat: “More bread! More clothes! More consumers’ goods!”

These cries penetrate into the Soviet press very clearly; the whole “electoral campaign” was centered about them. The rapid demobilization measures, the abolition of rationing, as well as the “left turn” on the industrial plane which characterizes the beginning of 1946, were certainly imposed in a large measure by the pressure of the masses.

Perspectives of Mass Struggle

The third generation of Soviet workers was certainly struck hard blows by the war. But these blows are not defeats. Quite the contrary. There are many indications that the Russian masses are showing a. renewal of confidence, assurance and faith in their own powers, after victory against Hitler.

In the present circumstances, so long as the police terror keeps weighing on them more heavily than ever and so long as they are still unable to find open forms of struggle, an inspiring example of a striking victory of the workers abroad remains without doubt the necessary condition for stimulating and coordinating mass movements.

But Stalin’s very fear of the proletarian revolution is the best guarantee that the role of the Russian proletariat is still far from finished. Stalin hastily withdrew his troops from Czechoslovakia where the working class almost raised itself to an understanding of its historic role. All over Germany GPU troops are replacing the regular army. These are eloquent signs that permit us to look to the future with hope.

Since 1937 Trotsky considered that the role of the bureaucracy, which historically consisted of introducing the advanced technology of the capitalist countries into the backward workers’ state, had reached its end; the tempo of industrial development became slower and slower. The war interrupted this process and made the bureaucracy appear as the “agency empowered to conduct the defense of the land of socialism against Hitler.”

At present they draw upon a new prestige from the undeniable successes of reconstruction. But this role is approaching its end. To the extent that the reconstruction is achieved, the bureaucratic management will come more and more into contradiction with the further growth of the productive forces. Violent social crises will result from this by the time when the class struggle will attain its peak in Asia, in Europe and undoubtedly also in America.

The Russian proletariat will see itself no longer isolated. There is reason to believe that it will attempt its first decisive showdown with the bureaucracy even before imperialism launches an open attack against Stalin.

(The sixth and final article in this series by Ernest Germain will be printed in next week’s Militant.)

Last updated on 22 June 2021