Ernest Germain

The XXIst Congress of the
CP of the Soviet Union

(Spring 1959)

From Fourth International [Amsterdam], No. 6, Spring 1959, pp. 20–27.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

A “dreary” congress, a “disappointing contrast with the XXth Congress,” an “insignificant” congress, a “purely technical meeting”: such are some of the formulae used by Western observers about the XXIst Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which met in the Soviet capital from 27 January to 5 February 1959. All these remarks contain a kernel of truth – but only a kernel.

After the dramatic XXth Congress, culminating in the denunciation of the Stalin cult and Khrushchev’s secret report, the XXIst Congress could not offer an equivalent in the way of sensation. The Soviet bureaucracy, after the harsh lesson of the October-November 1956 events in Poland and Hungary, made an exceptional effort to retighten up its political control over the whole of its realm. Khrushchev accepted the point of view that any new “resounding” stage of destalinization would be a direct threat to the rule of the bureaucracy. It was, furthermore, after this concession made to Molotov & Co. that the “anti-party group” seems to have misestimated the extent of the victory it had won; it went over to the attack in the Political Bureau in June 1957, with the consequences we now know. But in its defeat, it kept the advantage on one essential point. At the XXIst Congress there was no new denunciation of Stalin; his name was scarcely mentioned once or twice.

But on the other hand, nothing that was said or done at this congress gives any credit to the hypothesis that the decisions of the XXth Congress have been in their turn subjected to revision. On the contrary, the reporter himself and a large number of speakers insisted on the fact that the “violations of Soviet legality,” the “infractions of socialist democracy and of internal party democracy,” had been totally and definitively abolished. The XXIst Congress thus appears to be a congress which on the political plane confirms and consolidates the main trends of “destalinization” without going beyond the limits set by the bureaucracy beginning with late 1956.

The emphasis of the congress was given to the Seven-Year Plan, lengthily developed in Khrushchev’s report. We have already analyzed the main aspects of this plan in our last issue [1]; we shall therefore not treat them again now. It is other subjects discussed at the XXIst Congress that we wish to treat more extensively, subjects to which neither the bourgeois nor the Stalinist press paid sufficient attention, and which nevertheless reveal important trends in the development of Soviet society and of the policy of the CP of the USSR.

The Struggle Against the “Anti-Party Group”

Next to the Seven-Year Plan itself, it was the denunciation of the “anti-party group” that served as the general theme for all the congress speakers. And in what terms!

Like a Byzantine litany, the “shameful,” “shameless,” “ignoble,” “criminal,” “fractional” machinations were denounced in a stereotyped and monotonous way by the bureaucrats who succeeded one another on the rostrum. What a far cry it is from this congress to not only the congresses of the Leninist period but even to the congresses of the beginning of the Stalinist period, when the Bolshevik tradition and cadres had not yet been destroyed. There, at least, political arguments – even if false, demagogic, or even slanderous – were still exchanged. Here there is nothing of that. What is in question here is a “denunciation” lying midway between an excommunication and a stool-pigeon’s report. On the level of style, the CP of the USSR seems still not to have overcome either the “personality cult” or the after-effects of the “criminal activities of the enemy of the state, Beria.”

If we examine it closer, however, this dreary litany still reveals some interesting facts. First of all, out of a total of 83 Soviet speakers who took the floor at the XXIst Congress, 60 denounced the “anti-party group” and 23 did not. Who are these 23? We shall find among them, with three exceptions, all the workers and agriculturists from the ranks who took the floor at the congress, as also all the academicians and savants.

This deserves to be noted. The 83 speakers are divided between 64 party and state bureaucrats (including the sole army spokesman, Marshal Malinovsky) and 19 representatives of the “ranks” (workers, agriculturists, and intellectuals). Out of the 64 bureaucrats, 58 took part in the ritual “denunciation”; seven abstained. Out of the 19 representatives of the “ranks,” only three (a worker and two kolkhoz-members) attacked the “anti-party group”; 16 abstained.

We must naturally be careful not to attribute to this revealing fact more importance than it deserves. Among the bureaucrats who did not join in the campaign against the “anti-party group” is to be found the wretchedly famous Semichastny, secretary of the CC of the Komsomols at the time of the congress (he has since then been removed from that post), and Khrushchev’s son-in-law. Semichastny has the reputation of being a hyper-Stalinist in “firmness”; he “distinguished himself” by comparing Pasternak to a “hog that dirties his own pen.” It is, furthermore, not very probable that he had been an ally of Molotov, since he owes his whole rise to Khrushchev. The fact that he demonstrated a “lack of orthodoxy” can be explained simply by an oversight or by the desire to show that the Komsomols “do not engage in politics.”

Furthermore, the workers who abstained from attacking the “anti-party group” are described to us as workers only by the official congress documents. We do not know whether we have here genuine workers, or foremen, or superintendents, or members of management personnel.

Nevertheless, this curious division of the speakers deserves being emphasized; it deserves it all the more in that Khrushchev in his reply referred by name to a certain number of speakers who had given “remarkable” exposés – and who with a few exceptions were precisely the speakers who had abstained from attacking the “anti-party group”!

What is more, there was a certain gradation in the attacks against the “anti-party group.” Whereas the majority of speakers were satisfied to repeat the above-mentioned adjectives, toward the end of the congress, the attacks became more and more harsh and more and more loaded with implications.

Thus J.P. Kolushchinski (leader of the Omsk CP) spoke of the “group of conspirators.” Zhudin outbid him by affirming that, if the “criminal conspirators” had not been “disarmed” by the CC, Communism would have been “decisively weakened” in the USSR. Kuzmin, head of the Plan Commission, took a step further by accusing Pervukhin and Saburov of having in bad faith (hence with evil intentions?) slowed down the development of the petroleum and chemical industries, and of having pushed solid-fuel rather than liquid-fuel thermal power-plants. The accusation almost touches on the domain of sabotage! One Chegalin, a party chief from Stalingrad, picked up and broadened this same accusation, and one Denisov, a bureaucrat from Saratov, even accused the “anti-party group” of having knowingly wished to slow down the advance of the country toward communism.

All these accusations are of a nature to recall the formula “enemy of the people” which Attorney-General Rudenko uttered at the last session of the Supreme Soviet. Yet Khrushchev, in his reply, did not echo them. The members of the “anti-party group” were not expelled from the party; Pervukhin and Saburov were not even expelled from the Central Committee. It is true that the renewal of this organism was not on the agenda. But Kuzmin’s “campaign” was without any doubt aiming at “extreme” measures, and these were not taken. Kuzmin himself, soon after the congress, was removed from his functions. Must there be seen in this a sign that the leadership wanted to reassure the mass of the bureaucrats and party members? The latter, of course, must have feared that the attacks against the “antiparty group” were giving the signal for new “extreme” measures which, however, it had been promised to avoid.

We said that the style of this congress remains closer to that of the Stalinist congresses than to those of the 1923–27 period, not to mention the congresses in which Lenin took part. The composition of the congress, revealed by the report of the mandates commission, concretizes this statement by some terrifying details. Of the 1,269 delegates to the congress, eight – repeat, eight – were Old Bolsheviks, i.e., members of the party at the moment of the October Revolution. Now at that time the Bolshevik Party had 240,000 members, of whom tens of thousands were young people between 20 and 30, who would today be between 62 and 72. Many died in the civil war, but tens of thousands survived. Furthermore, at the end of the civil war the Bolshevik Party in March 1921 had 732,500 members. Now of these members, of whom surely a third were people under 35 (who would be less than 73 today), 45 – repeat, 45, out of say 200,000 – were delegates to the XXIst Congress.

Do we need other figures to realize what a frightful hecatomb Stalin made in the ranks of the Bolsheviks?

It is furthermore significant that Khrushchev himself did not join the Bolshevik Party till after October 1917 in spite of the fact that he was already 23 at the time of the Revolution. He was not to be found among the elite of the Russian working-class youth, of whom tens of thousands, of his age or younger, entered the party ranks before the victory of the Revolution.

Let us further add that, out of 1,269 delegates, there were only 399 workers and kolkhoz-members, and 50 intellectuals active as such; the rest, viz 820 delegates, were bureaucrats. The latter thus formed close to two thirds of the congress delegates: a significant proportion, even if it is slightly less than that at the XXth Congress.

The Liquidation of the “Violations of Soviet Legality and Democracy”

A large number of speakers took the floor on the subject of the decisions of the XXth Congress concerning the “repression of the violations of Soviet legality and democracy.” This was the third theme more or less generally treated at the congress.

Although many statements on this matter as well were rather stereotyped, several remarks deserve to be signalized.

Thus Khrushchev himself stated that there were no longer any political prisoners in the USSR today, and that nobody was any longer persecuted for his political opinions. Mikoyan spoke at some length on the same subject and stated in particular:

Soviet democracy has taken great steps forward, and, the farther one goes on, the more thorough this evolution becomes, at the same time that the social order of the country is consolidated and perfected. Each step that brings us nearer to communism gives more and more importance to the role of persuasion, of social influence, of Communist education, and of the conscious discipline of the members of Communist society, and tends to reduce more and more the use of means of constraint. Among us today there are no longer reprisals against citizens for political reasons.

Mikoyan’s tone here is different from that used by all his colleagues. He is the only speaker who states that “the XXIst Congress is the organic development of the XXth Congress.” One senses that it is a different school that is speaking here, and in fact Mikoyan is one of the eight congress delegates who were already party members in October 1917. That is felt in his words. It is furthermore interesting to note that Mikoyan states that never before have the bonds between the party and the masses been so solid as now. Of course this ritual affirmation is to be found in all previous congresses of the Bolshevik CP. But perhaps it should be connected up with the “withering away of the function of constraint”? Perhaps it will be admitted today, that when the state and the police, far from withering away, attain a degree of unknown total power, as was the case between 1934 and 1954 this scarcely testifies to society’s being solid, but on the contrary internally rent, and proves, not the enthusiastic rallying but on the contrary the opposition – even if it be tacit – of the citizens toward the state?

There is no doubt but that this opposition has lost much of its violence now that the fundamental needs of consumers are beginning little by little to be satisfied. Nevertheless Chelepin, the new police chief, felt obliged to observe that the security services (political police), while limiting their functions, remain indispensable; and he also contradicted in fact the affirmation according to which these services were aimed exclusively abroad. His objectives, he said, are: a few renegades, degenerates, drunkards, and blatherers who might be capable [!] of falling into the nets of the enemy.

If there were really only such exceptions, it is not very easy to see why it would be neces sary to maintain an extremely cumbersome and expensive apparatus (even though it has been considerably reduced, as Khrushchev – doubtless truthfully – says). Indeed, though the cohesion of Soviet society has been increased in these last years, we are still far from a “classless society.” It is there, and only there, that lies the secret of the survival of the “domestically oriented organs of repression.” But this cannot be explained without casting doubt upon the dogma of the “completed construction of socialist society.”

Khrushchev as well as Chelepin insisted on the need to transfer to “social organizations” certain functions heretofore fulfilled by the state apparatus. Chelepin quotes the large number of juvenile delinquents brought before the courts (which, parenthetically, casts a very harsh light on the “social harmony” reigning in this “classless society”). He quite correctly deplores this, and asks that it be made possible for the youth to be reeducated and corrected in a friendly way bv the trade unions, the youth organizations, and the factory collectives, rather than by courts and reform schools. Khrushchev on his side proposes the administration by the trade unions of vacation homes, the turning over of sporting equipment to sports organizations, and the development by benevolent organizations (especially amateur theatre groups, amateur orchestras, etc) of divers cultural activities.

All these developments are to be welcomed and mark the unquestionable lessening of tension now being shown in social relations in the USSR. But certain Western apologists – especially the German group “Arbeiterpolitik” – have in this connection spoken of a “withering away of the state.” This is an exaggeration that comes close to the ridiculous. At that rate, “the state would have withered away” long since in bourgeois democracy, where phenomena now signalized have been current practice for decades. The day when workers’ councils take over the management of the plants, the day when groups of workers carry out in turn the administrative functions of big municipalities, the day when groups of citizens take the initiative of publishing political daily papers all over the USSR – that will be the day when it will be possible to talk about a “withering away of the state’’ in the meaning in which Lenin used the term. For on that day, the democratized workers’ state will be both a state and a state-that-is-withering-away, by its growing fusion with the mass of its citizens.

In the USSR, where the administrative apparatus remains the most cumbersome in the world, and where the political and administrative initiative of the workers is infinitely limited compared to the first years of the Revolution, to talk about a “withering away of the state” is cynically to fool the masses – unless it is to fool oneself.

Chvernik stated that all Communists condemned without real cause have been readmitted to the party,” and he added that these measures concerned particularly “leading cadres [!] of the party, the state, the economy, and the army.” Suslov promised that the minutes of the congress and of conferences of the Bolshevik Party would be reproduced. It is unquestionable that the most hysterical falsification of history tends to “wither away” in the USSR, but it is not replaced by an objective search after truth, at least not by the leaders of the party and the state.

The preface to the Memoirs of Antonov-Ovseienko, and the preface and notes to John Reed’s Ten Days that Shook the World – two of the most sensational publications in the USSR in recent years – show that destalinization stops at the level just preceding the big “purge.” Trotskyism continues to be fought against by the use of political calumnies, but they are the calumnies of 1926–32 rather than those of 1936. The objective result of this evolution is to give the youth and honest researchers the possibility of getting reoriented by their own means; and that is promising for the future!

The “liberalization” of public life in the USSR was a concession not only to the broad masses but also to the mass of the bureaucracy who, under Stalin, were excluded from the effective exercise of power and in permanent danger of losing their privileges and their lives for arbitrary reasons. We have often insisted on this fact, as we have emphasized in this connection that the present leadership of the party was seeking to broaden the bases of the dictatorship, to associate a growing number of bureaucrats in the exercise of power.

We have found a striking confirmation of this thesis in economic decentralization. We find another one at the XXIst Congress in Kirishchenko’s declaration, according to which, in plenary sessions of the Central Committee, and at conferences that end up in Central Committee decisions for important questions,

there are invited the most progressive [!] personalities in the country, the leading [!] collaborators of the organs of the party, the state, and the economy, i.e., the big plants and the kolkhozes, savants, engineers, technicians, etc.

This enumeration speaks volumes. Democracy within the bureaucracy is manifestly spreading; the plenary sessions of the Central Committee are more and more transformed into representative assemblies of the bureaucracy as a whole. But Kirishchenko forgets one trifling detail: do not the non-leading workers of the plants perhaps belong to the “most progressive personalities” in the country? It is doubtless by mere oversight that they are not invited to these sessions ...

The Struggle for Improvement in the Standard of Living

The fourth key-theme of the XXIst Congress – after the Seven-Year Plan, the denunciation of the “anti-party group,” and the “reestablishment of the Leninist norms of Soviet legality and democracy” – was the steady improvement in the standard of living of the Soviet people. In this matter, the achievements of these last years have unquestionably been impressive, even if often all promises have not been kept or not been kept by the proposed target-dates. [2] Many speakers came forward to confirm with figures the progress achieved or the progress forecast for the coming years. Let us hope that all these plans – especially that of the construction of housing, the most impressive and the most urgent of all – will be actually carried out and that the Soviet people will see its living standards rise notably after decades of terrible sacrifices.

Nevertheless, the leaders of the bureaucracy, who for the first time could quote solid arguments in favor of the Soviet regime, could not refrain from falling into facile and outrageous demagogy; it is not easy to get rid of bad habits.

Thus in comparing sugar consumption in the USSR and the USA, XXIst Congress speakers quoted figures of current production and forecasts for seven to twelve years hence, carefully not mentioning that the major part of American consumption is covered, not by domestic production, but by the import of Cuban sugar! Other speakers, outbidding Khrushchev’s declarations, recklessly affirmed that by 1970 the standard of living of Soviet workers will already be higher than that of American workers at that time – an unfounded affirmation, as we have already demonstrated. [3] Khrushchev himself contends that medical care in the USSR is the best in the world, and quotes as proof the expenditure of 360,000 million rubles for public health during the coming seven-year period. But that comes after all to only 250 rubles per capita annually, i.e., scarcely half what the state is spending in Great Britain to finance the health services. And so on.

Once more it was Mikoyan who, contrary to many speakers who insisted on “absolute priority for the development of heavy industry,” stressed what is particular about the Seven-Year Plan:

The Seven-Year Plan is characterized to a much greater degree than our preceding economic plans by the fact that, while basing itself on the enormous successes of heavy industry and its later development, it foresees a much more rapid growth than heretofore in the production of consumers’ goods and a more rapid elevation of the welfare of the population.

Here we have simultaneously a programme and a confession, both quite truthful. We must not doubt the promise, which is sincere (even if it will not be possible to fulfill it completely). But the confession is no less real. It inflicts a smashing denial to the lackeys of the bureaucracy, and especially its lackeys in the West, who outdid themselves in concealing or minimizing the sacrifices imposed on the Soviet population during past decades, and described for us in pastel colors the miserable life of the mass of the people, in this way insulting it in its distress. Another speaker, Kirishchenko, moreover, completed this confession by confirming that we were right when we criticized with the same argument the latest economic work by Stalin. [4] There in fact he said that everyone knows the situation in which our agricultural production found itself just a few [!] years ago. There was too little wheat, there was a great penury [!] of meat, milk, butter, sugar, vegetables, and other important food products.

Other speakers moreover pointed out in passing just as deplorable cases of penury which persist even today in the world’s second industrial power. The poet Tvardovski pointed out that it is extremely difficult to find in stores shelving on which to keep one’s books. Another speaker, the worker Gorbunov from the Leningrad shipbuilding works, reminded that it is difficult, even for big enterprises, to find nails, bolts, and small tools, and that they are often forced to manufacture them at great cost. Here again we find the bureaucratic leaden lid that burdens the functioning of the planned economy and continues to cause it enormous losses and wastes.

The Deficiencies of Bureaucratic Planning

In this connection the XXIst Congress confirmed the complaints of the XlXth and XXth Congresses – which is a good demonstration that the reforms introduced in the meantime have not changed the roots of the evil at all.

Thus the vice-president of the council of ministers, Sasyadko, announced that as of 1 January 1959 there were in the USSR not less than 320,000 (!) construction projects that remained unfinished, and that the expenditures frozen in this construction reached the sum of 179,000 million rubles. This situation has enormously slowed down the rhythm of advance of the economy. Aristov added that in the Russian Federative Republic alone there were 60,000 machine-tools and 15,000 groups of machines, already produced and capable of functioning, that had not been installed. Hence another source of losses.

The regular and uninterrupted supply of raw materials and auxiliary products is far from being ensured. The worker Gorbunov, already quoted, stated that just the regularization of supplies to the Leningrad shipbuilding works would permit of a 20 to 30% increase in production without any additional investment. “There are the unused reserves in our industry,” he shouted. Indeed they are; and an identical situation was denounced by Malenkov ... at the XlXth Congress of the CP!

Another speaker, Koslov, spoke at some length about the losses caused by excessive metal scrap. He figured these at 4,500,000 metric tons a year, i.e., 25,000 million rubles in value.

Various speakers went on about certain harmful consequences of industrial decentralization – which was otherwise duly vaunted by the whole congress. They emphasized the development of regionalism, of plant or local egotism, the violation of supply contracts, and the arbitrary modification of the choice of products, etc.

One of the facts officially revealed for the first time by the XXIst Congress was the lack of calculation of comparative costs of investment projects carried out up till now in the USSR. Thus various steel-making projects were compared by Sasyadko to calculate their long-term profitability, taking into account the remuneration of investment; a project that produces 16% on its invested capital must be preferred to a project that brings in only 7%, he affirmed. Indeed it seems that Soviet planners will henceforth be led to include interest charges (the calculation of monetary profitability and not only the increase in physical productivity) in the choice among various investment projects.

The enormous diversity in production costs was emphasized, especially by speakers treating the subject of electric power-stations. One speaker from Tadchikistan – since then removed from his functions – proposed the construction of a hydraulic power-plant that would furnish current at 0.3 kopecks per kWh (this was a veiled attack on Khrushchev who asked for concentration on thermal power-stations using gas or petroleum products). The average cost per kWh in the big electric power-stations was figured by Novikov, minister of the electric industry, at eight kopecks. But side-by-side with these big plants, there are little ones that provide current at from one to two rubles per kWh! Novikov revealed, moreover, that these “small power-stations,” to the number of 100,000, concentrate 80% of the personnel of the Soviet Union’s electric industry while furnishing only 10% of the current.

It is certain that such anomalies continue in many branches of the Soviet economy, and that “decentralization” is not exactly what overcomes them.

One Last Time: On the Completed Construction of Socialism in a Single Country

Though the XXIst Congress of the Soviet CP was above all a practical, and even pragmatic, congress, it could not pass over in silence a series of more and more complicated and contradictory theoretical problems that are posed to the theoreticians of the bureaucracy, as well as to all Marxist theoreticians per se. What is the real stage of social development that the USSR is now going through? What are the stages that remain for it to traverse before it reaches a higher stage of social development? What political, economic, and social transformations must accompany this evolution?

These questions are all the more painful for the theoreticians of the bureaucracy in that they all touch, directly or indirectly, on the problem of the bureaucracy itself. And so the official theoreticians go forward into this “terra incognita” only on tiptoe, constantly looking over their shoulders, and each time retracing their steps. It is not by chance that the famous programme of the Soviet CP, which has been promised to us for years, is still not drafted, and that at the XXIst Congress a speaker put forward the proposition that Khrushchev’s report be used as the inspiration for drafting this programme!

It cannot be questioned that the first secretary of the Soviet CP has a certain courage, even in the field of theory. He has hurled himself valiantly into it, as if it were a question of plowing up virgin lands or imposing a new technique for raising Indian corn. Unfortunately, Marxist theory is not a fallow field, even if Stalin did his possible and impossible to render it arid and uncultivated. And Khrushchev, who has the merit of raising certain questions, can proffer only banal answers, which his courtiers hasten to acclaim as remarkable if not indeed showing genius.

Khrushchev observes that in the USSR socialism has completely and definitively triumphed; this verb was picked up by numerous speakers, who found in it a sensational innovation. What must we think of this?

It is now nearly ten years ago that our movement, on the morrow of the Chinese revolution, affirmed that the relationship of forces was evolving in a decisive way in favor of the anti-capitalist camp and at the expense of the imperialist camp. Nothing that has happened since then justifies revising this estimate; on the contrary, it has been completely confirmed by events. This world evolution in the relationship of forces – a function both of the victory of the Chinese revolution and the steady progress of the colonial revolution and of the economic advances carried out in the USSR – has unquestionably reenforced the Soviet regime to a degree unknown before 1941. It is, however, difficult to see in it a confirmation of the theory according to which it is possible to achieve socialism in a single country. For is it not precisely the international extension of the Revolution that has modified the global relationship of forces between the classes?

We can approve Khrushchev when he affirms that a restoration of capitalism in the USSR can be considered as excluded. Such a restoration could be a function only of an international reinforcement of the counter-revolutionary forces as compared to the forces of the revolution. Such a reenforcement can scarcely be forecast in a foreseeable future.

Unfortunately, as we have already said in the past, the Kremlin has gone over from one extreme to the other: from an overestimation of imperialist strength (which characterized the strategy of the Stalinist epoch) to a no less dangerous underestimation. If we go along with Khrushchev when he affirms that a restoration of capitalism is impossible in the USSR, we no longer go along with him when he affirms that the “victory of socialism is definitive.” For he forgets that there is alas a tertium quid here: viz. the reciprocal destruction of the United States and the Soviet Union in a nuclear war.

To affirm that such a material destruction of the bases of the Soviet economy is impossible would be to affirm that American imperialism is no longer in a position to unleash a world war. Several speakers at the XXIst Congress more or less declared this: but what we have here is an extremely dangerous illusion – an illusion which for that matter does not seem to influence the behavior of the heads of the Soviet armed forces, to judge by the mass of the annual military expenditures.

Can it furthermore be affirmed, as Khrushchev (following his teacher Stalin) does, that socialism is already “definitively achieved” in the USSR? That immediately involves flagrant contradictions. Socialism is a social system superior to capitalism, characterized by the disappearance of social division into classes. Now Soviet “socialism” foresees only seven to 15 years from now surpassing the level of productivity of American capitalism, and the disappearance of social classes – especially the distinction between the working class and the kolkhoz peasantry – is postponed by Khrushchev himself to a rather misty future.

It is therefore more logical, and furthermore more in conformity with Marxist tradition, to state that in the USSR we are still witnessing a transitional society between capitalism and socialism, but one which is beginning to near its goal, as the upsurge of the productive forces, the raising of the levels of living and culture, and the “industrialization” of the countryside, permit of the solution of the main contradictions of this stage. Needless to add, the overthrow of the dictatorship (even slightly democratized) of the bureaucracy, and the reestablishment of a full and complete soviet democracy, are the conditions sine qua non for the achievement of the construction of a socialist society.

In reality, several characteristics quoted by Khrushchev for a communist society are in fact characteristics of a socialist society, as for example the attainment of a level of productivity, of living standards, of health, and of culture, superior to that of the most advanced capitalism. If therefore Khrushchev affirms in a rather surprising fashion – fortunately revising Stalin – that “communism” will not be built in a single country, but in the “socialist camp” as a whole (i.e., over one third of the surface of the globe, even if it were admitted that this camp did not become more extensive in the coming years), he is in reality affirming, perhaps unconsciously, that history has definitively swept away the “theory of socialism in a single country,” and that it will doubtless be a dozen if not more countries that will end up all together at the socialist society.

Problems of Communism

But if numerous questions raised by Khrushchev as questions of communism are in reality questions of socialism, what then are the real problems of communism?

It is known that in his Critique of the Gotha Programme Marx distinguishes between the two stages of socialist society, the lower stage, and the higher stage, called the communist stage. He enumerated the following characteristics thereof:

  1. In the lower stage – which today we call the socialist stage – value and exchange have disappeared. What remains is the exact measure of labor contributed by each individual to society; for it is this measure that presides over the egalitarian sharing out of the means of consumption.
  2. In the higher stage – which today we call the communist stage – the measure of labor of each person will have disappeared at the same time as the measure of what each consumes. The rule of “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” will be applied. We shall be in the reign of abundance, rendered possible by

    a) a prodigious development of productive forces;

    b) a psychological revolution caused by the automatic satisfaction of all fundamental needs in the course of the preceding stage, which will thus cause to disappear the desire for becoming individually rich as a motive for economic and social activity.

It suffices to cast a glance over this succinct summary to realize that the problems of communism – the problem of passing over from an egalitarian distribution to a distribution of abundance – can scarcely yet be raised in a serious way in the USSR.

The academician Ostrovitianov, who has brought off the tour de force of remaining an official economist in the USSR for 30 years – before Stalin, during Stalin, and after Stalin – affirms that during the higher stage of communism the production of commodities and commodity-money relationships will wither away. He adds that, thanks to electronic calculating machines (!), it will be possible directly to measure the time of social labor in everybody’s individual labors.

The confusion is obvious. It is during the transitional phase and at the beginning of the first stage of communism – the socialist stage – that commodities, value, and money will wither away and give place to accountancy in working hours of each person’s effort. To the extent that Ostrovitianov insists on the upsurge in the categories of commodities, value, and money, not only inside the USSR, but also in relations between the USSR and the “socialist” countries, he provides, in spite of himself, the best proof that the construction of a socialist society is far from being achieved in the Soviet Union.

Khrushchev explains much more correctly that in the communist society the measured sharing out of consumers’ goods will disappear – including when they are measured by the “electronic calculating machine.” What will remain, he says, is the need to share out in a scientific way the available labor forces among the different branches of industry. We are here very close to the famous formula of Yarochenko, the young economist with whom Stalin was obliged to cross blades before his death: the only economic problems that will remain in communist society will be the problems of the organization of production.

Only to arrive at this conclusion, Khrushchev is obliged to borrow from Stalin the famous absurd formula of “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his labor [!]” as the formula that would guide the sharing out of goods in a socialist society. This formula is not found in any classic work of Marxism; it is a crude counterfeit. Better yet: it must veil the bourgeois character of the norms of distribution in the USSR, a definition that corresponds to the whole Marxist tradition and which, according to Khrushchev, has been recently taken up again by “certain scholars.”

Discussion of the “problems of communism” thus inevitably comes back to discussion of the “problems of socialism,” and this leads to the analysis of the real problems of the stage of transition that the USSR is still going through. This analysis runs up against the fact that a whole series of definitions currently in vogue within the bureaucracy are of the nature of apologetics. But the Soviet youth, which has so vigorously attacked the practical problem of the bureaucracy, will not fail to raise these theoretical problems as well.

The US Social-Democratic periodical, The New Leader, published in its 18–25 August 1958 issue an extremely significant article by David Burg, a young Soviet émigré who was a student there until 1957. He describes therein the “neo-Bolshevik current” which is one of the main currents of the non-conformist intellectual youth today in the USSR:

[The neo-Bolsheviks] are searching for a “true Marxism.” [...] There is a widespread nostalgia for the pre-Soviet period and for the early years of the post-revolutionary period. Today Soviet youth frequently show their opposition to the regime by holding the mirror of the classics of Marxism-Leninism up to contemporary reality. In their view, the purges of 1937 liquidated the true leaders of the Revolution. They contrast Thermidor with October. [...]

[...] They idealize the Revolution and call for a return to the original ideals of Leninism, which they think they find in some of Lenin’s works (State and Revolution). They frequently talk about “bureaucratic degeneration” of the regime and the emergence of a ruling, privileged bureaucracy which has constituted a dictatorship against the people. Those who subscribe to these views lean toward the traditions of the old revolutionary parties and favor radical methods of active combat.

The neo-Bolsheviks, he concludes, see “the bureaucracy as only a malignant growth” to be removed by “surgical means” in order to permit “a basically healthy” social organism to “develop normally.”

This youth, which is Trotskyist without knowing it, and which is drawing nutriment more and more from the same sources from which our ideas sprang forth, will prepare and execute its “surgical operation” in spite of Khrushchevian euphoria.


1. Vide From the XXth to the XXIst Congress of the CPSU, in the Winter 1959 number.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Les Problèmes économiques de l’URSS, published by Les Editions de la Quatrième Internationale.


Last updated on 29 January 2016