Ernest Germain

The 23rd Congress of the CPSU

(March 1966)

From International Socialist Review, Vol.27 No.4, Fall 1966, pp.145-152.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Ernest Germain is a member of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International

The 23rd Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was not marked by any sensational incidents or revelations. One might conclude, therefore, that it does not merit much attention. Such a conclusion would be mistaken, however.

On the one hand, the gray and monotonous character of the Congress revealed subsurface conflicts and tensions in Soviet society owing to the inability of the Bonapartist leadership of the bureaucracy to settle the controversial questions in the Party and in Soviet society. On the other hand, one can draw conclusions from the data presented to the Congress, notably, in the reports of Brezhnev and Kosygin, and in the few speeches which were not confined to the mere repetition of cliches, which can serve as a basis for a better understanding of the economic and social situation in the USSR and the contradictions which lie hidden within it.

The most important fact emerging from this congress is that the USSR has undergone a serious crisis of slackening economic growth in recent years. I noted this development at the time it was first manifested [1] but its extent has surely exceeded the estimates made at that time.

The following figures give a picture of this deceleration: It was decided at the 22nd Congress of the CPSU to increase industrial production two and one half times by 1970 over the base year of 1960. It is now stated that industrial production rose from 100 to 150 between 1960 and 1965 and that it will go from 150 to 225 in 1970; the program adopted at the 22nd Congress set the production of from 900 to 1,000 billion kilowatts of electricity as the goal in 1970; the new five year plan provides for the production of 840-850 billion kilowatts only. Several important industrial objectives set by the seven year plan for 1965 have not been attained: the production of gas was about 129 billion cubic meters instead of the 150 cubic meters promised; the production of chemical fertilizers was 31.3 million tons instead of the 35 million tons promised; the production of consumer goods, which was to rise by 50 per cent, went up only 36 per cent altogether; the productivity of industrial labor which had risen by an average of 6.5 per cent, in the years 1956-60 had an average annual increase of only 4.6 per cent in the period 1961-65 in contrast to the 6.5 per cent provided for by the plan.

Both the national income and the real income of the population rose more slowly than predicted. The national income increased by less than 50 per cent, while the seven year plan had provided for an increase of 62-65 per cent. The real per capita income increased by only 20 per cent between 1960 and 1965, which indicates an annual increase of about 3.5 per cent, a much lower figure than that for the seven preceding years. The increase in the average monthly wages of blue and white collar workers for the entire seven year period 1958-1965 did not exceed 23 per cent (it went from 78 to 95 rubles). Taking into account the more rapid rhythm of growth in 1958, 1959 and 1960, it is probable that there was one year – 1963 – in which the real income of the Soviet workers even declined.

Economic Slowing Down

In my opinion, the fall of Khrushchev was caused, at least in part, by this decline in economic growth in the USSR and by the quasi-stagnation of the standard of living which resulted from it. This slowing down had three basic causes: the failure of agricultural policy (which was the major failure of Khrushchev’s economic policy); the lower than expected productivity of investment in industry realized during the seven year period; and the ever heavier burdens of the arms race and the space race for the Soviet economy.

These three causes of the crisis have evoked three corresponding responses on the part of the Soviet bureaucracy in the attempt to overcome the obstacles to a revival in economic growth: a new agricultural reform, announced by the Plenum of the Party Central Committee in March 1965; the reform of the methods of economic planning and management, of which the so-called Liberman proposals are a part; and the attempt by the bureaucracy to “rationalize” the arms race with American imperialism, notably by means of the Moscow treaty on the cessation of nuclear testing in the atmosphere.

The group in power expects to gather the fruits of these three reforms, which are already realized or on the way toward realization (the third has been seriously checked by the imperialist aggression in Vietnam which took the Kremlin by surprise), in the form of a recovery in the economic growth rates, above all, that of the national income and the real incomes of the population. The latter are scheduled to rise by 30 per cent between 1965 and 1970, in contrast to an increase of 20 per cent for the period 1960-65. The efforts toward this end are directed as much toward agriculture as toward the production of goods for industrial use.

It is out of the question, however, for the level of American industrial production to be exceeded by 1970-72 and above all, for the “material and technical bases for communism” to be attained by that time. These Khrushchevite boasts were justly condemned as “voluntarism” and “subjectivism.” So much the worst for those who gave credit to them ...

The failure of the Khrushchevite economic policy was particularly serious in agriculture. Khrushchev had promised 180 million tons of harvested cereals, first by 1960 (the 6th five year plan), and then by 1965 (the seven year plan). They are still far from that! In fact, they are so far removed that the Soviet leaders do not dare to publish precise figures for the year 1965, but take refuge in the average for the years 1961-65. The average for cereals production is about 130 million tons, a figure which was attained and exceeded already in 1958, and the new five year plan provides only for a production of 167 million tons by 1970, that is, a figure below the provision of the plan for ... 1960.

This failure is also apparent in areas other than that of cereals production. For sugar beets, the seven year plan provided for a production of 76 to 84 million tons in 1965; the average in 1961-65 was 59 million tons. For potatoes, Khrushchev had promised 147 million tons in 1965; the average for 1961-65 was, in fact, 81.5 million tons, or a figure lower than the average production in 1956-60.

The trend was still worse in the case of animal products. At the 21st Congress, Khrushchev had promised to increase the production of meat on the hoof from 8 million tons in 1958 to 16 million tons in 1965. At the 23rd Congress, Kosygin stated that the average meat production for the period 1961-65 was 9.3 million tons, and that it would only reach 11 million tons in 1970, or much less than that promised for 1960 by the seven year plan. In 1958, milk production was about 60 million tons; the seven year plan promised to bring it to 100-105 million tons by 1965; Kosygin put the average for the period 1961-65 at 65 million tons and promised a production of up to 78 million tons only during the new five year period.

In the light of these figures, the promises of Khrushchev in the program adopted at the 22nd Congress take on an almost grotesque note. The total volume of agricultural production, which was to increase by 250 per cent from 1958 to 1970, will only increase by 40 per cent at best. The meat production which was to triple (sic) during this period will only increase by 36 per cent; the milk production which was to double in this period, will only increase by just 30 per cent ...

Even agricultural raw materials for industry, which always enjoyed preference in the Stalinist period, have not been produced in the required quantities; this is true, notably, for wool, cotton, wood and leather. To take only the examples of wool and cotton – for wool, production increased to 320,000 tons in 1958; the seven year plan promised 548,000 tons for 1965. In reality, the average attained for the period 1961-65 was only 361,000 tons and the new five year plan has prudently set a goal for 1970 below that initially set for 1965.

Actual Gains in Production

The seven year plan provided for an increase in cotton production from 4.4 million tons in 1958 to 5.76 million tons in 1965. In reality, production only reached 5 million tons in 1965 (that is an increase of less than 15 per cent in the space of seven years), and the goal initially set for 1965 is now simply reassumed by the new five year plan as a goal for 1970. It goes without saying that light industry suffers from the scarcity of raw materials which results from the lag in agriculture. Here we come upon one of the negative effects of the unbalanced development of agriculture and industry for industry itself.

I have already pointed out three causes for the slowing down in agricultural production after 1959 in a previous article [2]: inadequate investment, irrational use of the available means of production, insufficient interest in increasing production by the kolkhoz peasants. The group which now rules the Soviet bureaucracy and the CPSU seems to want to take on all three of these problems at once. With regard to investment, it is giving as much attention to the increase in the pool of agricultural machinery as to the increase in the production of fertilizer. This constitutes a step forward in comparison with the Khrushchevite attempts to solve the chronic agricultural crisis from which the Soviet Union suffers by successive “campaigns” around a single theme (the cultivation of the virgin lands; corn growing; the elimination of meadow and fallow lands; the development of the production of chemical fertilizers, etc.).

Agricultural Planning

The new five year plan provides for a considerable increase in investment in agriculture. While industrial production is to rise only by an average of 50 per cent, the production of agricultural machines and tractors is to increase by 70 per cent, and that of chemical fertilizer is to double. While the production of electricity is to increase by a total of 66 per cent, the supply of electricity to agriculture is to triple. It is true that Brezhnev and Kosygin are silent on the subject of the productivity of this investment. In this regard, the balance sheet of the seven year plan is disastrous. The plan had provided for a total investment of 50 billion rubles in agriculture. Owing to this investment, an increase in production on the order of 70 per cent was to be obtained. In reality, investment in agriculture increased during the seven year period to 56 billion rubles, but the increase in production obtained was only 12 per cent. This time, an increase in production of 25 per cent is promised from an investment of 72 billion rubles.

The picture is even more bleak with regard to the division of investment between the state and the kolkhozes. The seven year plan had provided that the kolkhozes would invest 35 billion rubles and the state would account for 15 billion rubles. In reality, the kolkhozes invested only 26 billion rubles and the state was forced to double its investment (30 billion rubles instead of 15 billion), in order to reach the established goal. The decrease in investments by the kolkhozes was not only relative but absolute. The total investment per kolkhoz decreased from 254 rubles in 1959 to 249 rubles per kolkhoz in 1963, and this in spite the fact that the long term credits increased from 41 to 61 rubles per kolkhoz in this same period. The funds then belonging to the kolkhozes which they could have freed for investment therefore actually decreased from 213 rubles to 188 rubles per kolkhoz (Voprosy Ekonomiki No.12, 1965). For the new five year plan, the state will invest 41 billion rubles (nearly 40 per cent more than during the past seven year period) and the kolkhozes are to invest 31 billions (that is, less than that provided for in the preceding seven year period).

The problems in the utilization of the available means of production in agriculture have by no means been overcome by the sale of tractors and agricultural machines to the kolkhozes themselves. If this reform produced some results and increased the intensity of the utilization of these machines, it also produced opposite effects, as Brezhnev and the Minister of Agriculture Maskevich confessed at the 23rd Congress. Maskevich (Pravda, April 1, 1966) even pointed out that production per day per tractor had declined in recent years, and that the fund of spare parts had shrunk. It is on this point, above all, that the ruling group seems to want to concentrate its efforts in the years to come. (The speech of the Chairman of Gosplan, Lomako, at the March 1965 plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU seems to indicate that since 1958 the productivity per hectare itself has begun to decline for numerous products.

With regard to the raising of “material incentive” in agricultural production for kolkhoz peasants, the 23rd Congress made no fundamental innovations. It promised, it is true, that they would move toward a guaranteed monthly salary for kolkhoz peasants by stages and that kolkhoz peasants would henceforth collect old age pensions. The Congress flashed the perspective of an increase in “kolkhoz democracy.” It also emphasized the fact that in the course of the five year plan, the average income of kolkhoz peasants will increase by more than the average income of workers in the state sector (40 per cent in contrast to 20 per cent). But it did not proclaim the radical transformation of the structure of the agricultural economy; it limited itself to defending equally the status of the kolkhozes against the progressive transformation of them into sovkhozes, and the status of the private plots against their progressive elimination, two reforms which Khrushchev had proclaimed as intermediate objectives in his report before the 21st Congress and in the new program adopted at the 22nd Congress.


“It is our task to discuss what we will produce yesterday.”
(Hospodarske Noviny, Prague, Feb. 28, 1966)

But on the eve of the Congress, the Soviet press gave considerable attention to a method of dividing up the kolkhozes into sections of from 500 to 3,000 hectares, each one entrusted to a group of four or five families whose incomes would depend directly on the productivity of these fields alone and thus on the productivity of their labor. According to Komsomolskaya Pravda of October 15, 1965 (cited in The Economist of December 18, 1965), this method would permit an increase in productivity of 250 per cent and reduce by six or seven times the number of kolkhoz peasants necessary to harvest a given quantity of cereals; the income of kolkhoz peasants was to rise by nearly 250 per cent (which is quite another matter from the 40 per cent promised by the 8th five year plan). It goes without saying that such a reform, which would be an important step backward toward private agriculture, is highly controversial in bureaucratic circles. And like many other problems, the 23rd Congress did not care to tackle this question.

Khrushchev’s Errors Rebuked

The great majority of the speakers who took the floor at the 23rd Congress were severe in their attitude toward Khrushchev, without naming him, however – reproaching him with taking measures in direct contradiction to the principles of agronomy in agriculture. They emphasized that the virgin lands onto which Khrushchev had wanted to extend the growing of cereals at any cost were, at least in part, dry lands, where cultivation produced disastrous results in speeding erosion. The new five year plan provides for important irrigation measures which, in reality, should have preceded the cultivation of these lands. The attempt to impose the cultivation of corn and leguminous plants in all cases on all kolkhozes (above all, at the expense of the meadow and fallow lands) was equally criticized.

These criticisms are justified in general. I raised them at the time the measures were introduced; many Western critics did the same. But one might ask how these same bureaucrats, who state today that these measures were taken in contradiction to the warnings of specialists, could have voted unanimously for them no more than a few years ago, without making any public references at all to these warnings.

Doesn’t this mean that the “habits of the period of the cult of the personality” have been maintained even after the cult was “denounced.”

The famous “Liberman reforms” did not play the central role in the 23rd Congress of the CPSU that some seemed inclined to attribute to them. They were duly mentioned since they were inscribed in the decisions of the September 1965 Plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU. But they were mentioned only in passing by almost all the speakers and some limited themselves to just a few words about them or completely passed them by in silence. (This was the case, notably, of Pyotr Shelest, the secretary of the Ukrainian CP, of Rashidov, a member of the Politburo and the secretary of the Uzbek CP, of Snieckus, the secretary of the Lithuanian CP and of Tolstikov, the secretary of the Leningrad CP.)

It was still Kosygin who went most into the causes which, from the point of view of the leading bureaucrats, determine the necessity of profoundly reforming the system of management and planning in industry. The need to accelerate modernization of industrial

plants outmoded by technical progress, the need to assure the rapid introduction of new technical processes already developed by scientists, the need to calculate the relative productivity of various proposed investments in the most precise manner possible – such are the problems which the typical representative of the “technocrat” group at the summit of the Soviet bureaucracy emphasized. He insisted at the same time on the need to combine industrial decentralization based on the individual enterprise with the maintenance and even the reinforcement of central planning, taking careful account of the disruptive tendencies for the plan which might result from more and more daring initiatives on the part of the “plant managers” in the sphere of investment.

The concrete experiments which culminated in the partial adoption of the “Liberman reforms” at the September 1965 Plenum and the concrete experiments made in the application of these reforms since September 1965 were scarcely mentioned at the 23rd Congress. Some speakers, however, made veiled, rather mysterious allusion to them, to be sure. Thus the secretary of the Byelorussian CP, Masherov, indicated that in many cases since September 1965 the relations between the enterprises and the ministries have not only improved but have been “disturbed” (sic). The head of the Gorki CP, Katushov, asked that norms be developed so that “direct material incentives” could be used to economize raw materials.

Indeed, the conclusion to be drawn from the 23rd Congress with regard to the Liberman reforms is that debate on these “reforms” is far from ended in bureaucratic circles. Rather then permitting this debate to unfold in public, the leaders of the bureaucracy decided to suppress it, at least for the moment, and agreed that no one would speak either for or against the reforms at this congress. This explains why the pillorying of the most disastrous consequences of bureaucratic management, which was in vogue in the last four congresses of the CPSU (including the 19th Congress, with Stalin present, notably, in the report of Malenkov), was conspicuously absent from the 23rd Congress.

Material Improvements Promised

On the other hand, one of the predominant features of the 23rd Congress was the promise of a new series of material improvements in the lives of the Soviet workers. Kosygin especially made it one of the central themes of his report and attempted to show, not without reason, that the last four years of the Khrushchev era were marked by a quasi-stagnation, if not a deterioration, in the standard of living (as a result of an increase in the prices of meat and butter, accompanied by a wage freeze).


The three suitcases are marked “initiative,” “courage,” and “sound judgment.”
“With all that baggage, there won’t be room for you
in the director’s office.” (Szpilki, Warsaw, May 29, 1966)

It is indisputable that the new five year plan promises a much more ample effort in the area of consumer goods than that realized under the Khrushchev seven year plan. While the increase in heavy industrial production had been 58 per cent in the five year period, 1960-65, in contrast to an increase of 36 per cent in the production of consumer goods, Kosygin promised that in the five year period 1965-70, production in the two sectors will increase in practically the same proportion-49-52 per cent in the sector of the means of production and 43-46 per cent in the consumer goods sector. He promised as well to double the production of machines for the consumer goods industry.

Some promises were spectacular, like the promise to increase the production of television sets from 3.7 million in 1965 to 7,5 million in 1970, of refrigerators from 1.7 million in 1965 to 5.3 million in 1970 and of private automobiles from 201,200 in 1965 to 800,000 in 1970. [3]

We must conclude that, contrary to the opinions of certain superficial commentators, the new group which succeeded Khrushchev in power has accentuated and not limited the “consumer orientation.” This, moreover, is what explains why the mass of Soviet workers have little regret about the removal of Khrushchev. Above all, they have seen the end of the wage freeze and the beginning of a new betterment in their standard of living.

The picture obviously changes if, instead of comparing the achievements of the Khrushchev seven year plan to the promises of the new five year plan, one compares the promises of yesterday to the promises of today. We are far from some of the boasts of the 22nd Congress; the idea that by 1970 “there will no longer be categories of underpaid workers” has been quietly shelved. The promise that the minimum wages would be increased by 300 per cent during this same period has not been fulfilled either; the minimum wage of 27 rubles in 1958 rose to a minimum wage of 60 rubles in 1970, or an increase of 222 per cent. As for the promise to reduce the gap between high and low wages, it has been completely abandoned by the new masters of the Kremlin. On the contrary, they are emphasizing the necessity of using the wage rate as “an instrument of material incentive for the workers,” which means in practice that the wage spread, and above all, the differential of real incomes, will have a tendency to increase instead of being gradually reduced.

More serious for a regime which proudly proclaims that its plans are always “adopted unanimously” after the “most thorough discussion” is the abandonment of one of the key promises of the program adopted at the 22nd Congress - that of achieving a six-hour day, with one day off per week, or a 34-36 hour week with two days off before 1970. The realization of this promise would have made the work week in the USSR the shortest in the world. They are still far from that. The present leaders limit themselves to the promise to extend the five-day week and eight hour day, that is, the 40-hour week, throughout the economy by 1970.

The profoundly bureaucratic and completely remote-controlled character of this “congress” was revealed by the fact that not one of the 5,000 delegates asked an accounting from the leaders for the non-realization of one of the essential promises of the 22nd Congress, not one of the 5,000 delegates even raised a question about the former promises.

The Kosygin report promised that during the next five year plan the real per capita income will increase by about 30 per cent, while the volume of retail sales will increase about 43.5 per cent. Taking into account the increase in population which will be on the order of 3.5 per cent, these figures imply a gap of 10 per cent which is difficult to understand. Is Kosygin using the term “volume” in the sense of “turnover at current prices,” which would imply a price rise of 10 per cent, or does his hypothesis imply a phenomenon of declining saving (saving which is often a form of hoarding, expressing simply the scarcity of consumer goods on the market which encourages consumers to put off their purchases until better years)?

Price Increases

On this subject, it must be underlined that in his own report Kosygin stated that in the course of the period 1960-65 the average income of blue and white collar workers increased by only 23 per cent while sales of merchandise had increased by 60 per cent. The gap here is too pronounced to be explained by the increase in population and the more than proportional increase in the incomes of certain categories of kolkhoz peasants or old people collecting their pensions for the first time. It is explained without any doubt by the increase in certain prices (particularly, those decreed by Khrushchev for meat and milk products).

On the eve of the Congress, there were fears of an ideological “hardening” of the Soviet bureaucracy even to the point of a “rehabilitation” of Stalin. Frightened by this perspective, diverse forces publicly demonstrated their opposition to such an eventuality: the Italian CP in a confidential communication which it deliberately made public; the old Bolsheviks, by holding a public demonstration in Red Square in Moscow; leading intellectuals, by sending a letter on this question to the leaders of the CPSU. This “rehabilitation” did not occur. On the contrary, the majority of the speakers explicitly referred to the “general line of the 20th and 22nd Congresses,” which they avowed would continue to be respected in the future.

Artists Under Attack

On the other hand, an indisputable “ideological hardening,” already evinced in the Sinyavsky-Daniel trial and in the elimination of two intellectuals considered to be leaders of the moderate “liberal” wing, Tvardovski and Polevoi, from the Congress and from the Central Committee of the Party, definitely occurred at the 23rd Congress. The attacks against “certain writers and artists” multiplied. The inadequacies of “ideological work” were denounced. The head of the Komsomol, Pavlov, figured prominently with his diatribe against a section of the youth and his demand that the work of educating the youth take its inspiration from military principles.

Bodjul, the first secretary of the Moldavian CP launched an attack against the book, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, and distinguished himself by giving this eminently bureaucratic definition of the freedom of artistic creation:

“In our country, as we all know, every artist has the right to create [!] freely in accordance with his own tastes and to write without the least restriction. But in the same measure [!] our Party and our State Agencies apply the right to freely choose which works will be printed.”

To be sure, the Leninist formula in State and Revolution is somewhat different. But no delegate in this “communist” congress had the courage to recall this. Need it be added that the question of erecting a monument to the victims of Stalin did not come up? The one who made this proposal, Shelepin, is, just the same, today one of the main secretaries of the Central Committee of the Party.

We find here the echo of profound concerns in Soviet bureaucratic circles. On the one hand, the bureaucrats are worried by the activity and the boldness of a growing number of semi-clandestine or clandestine groups among the youth and intellectuals. On the other hand, they are worried by the “ideological void” that the renunciation of “Stalinism” and the “goulash communism” dear to Khrushchev have created in the youth, a “void” which facilitates, in their opinion, the infiltration of “pro-imperialist” ideas as well as the ideas of the Left Opposition.

The ideological “hardening” with respect to the youth and the intellectuals, that is the two layers of Soviet society which today are most susceptible to the ferment of new ideas, corresponds perfectly to this double concern of the bureaucracy. It serves both as a warning and as a stern reprimand. The real and potential oppositionists were warned that the bureaucracy does not intend to abdicate its power and its privileges and that it will prefer to abandon “innovations” like the rotation of secretaries rather than permit non-conformist forces to win their way to a large public audience.

Some commentators thought that they were able to see a contradiction between the “liberalization” pursued in the area of economics and this ideological “hardening.” In reality, there is no contradiction, but rather a logical posture of self-defense by the bureaucracy. A series of economic measures are objectively inevitable in order to prevent stagnation and serious economic crises, which would be contrary to the interests of the bureaucracy.

The concessions to the workers as consumers themselves were necessary to prevent the working masses from beginning to move, an eventuality which the bureaucracy wants to avoid at all costs (strikes against the price increases and the wage freeze without doubt helped to precipitate the fall of Khrushchev). The blows struck against the vanguard of the youth and the intellectuals were blows against the already active centers of the opposition. The sum total of these measures is intended to isolate these centers in order to prevent them from linking up with the broad masses and to maintain a climate of “reformist” hopes in the proletariat. Whether or not this strategy of the bureaucracy will be crowned with success is, obviously, another question.

Does re-establishment of the names “politburo” and “general secretary” indicate a concession to the supporters of a definitive halt to “de-Stalinization?” If it does, in any case, only a minimal concession is involved which would change nothing in the prevailing relationship of forces.

Bureaucracy Strengthens Position

This relationship of forces is such that a return to the methods of the Stalin regime is impossible. But this by no means indicates that the bureaucracy is not ready to defend its power, if necessary, with methods of violent repression. Khrushchev gave an example of this in Hungary and he also led a campaign against the “modernist” artists and writers which surpassed in violence anything seen at the 23rd Congress. His successors will do the same when they are confronted with similar situations. What has changed is that the illusions of a “progressive democratization” of the bureaucratic dictatorship in an evolutionary manner and on initiatives from above have diminished considerably in recent years. This cannot but favor the formation of a new revolutionary Marxist vanguard in the USSR in the long run.

The leaders of the bureaucracy were forced to take a somewhat harsher tone toward American imperialism in the face of the escalation of the imperialist aggression in Vietnam. It is not impossible, however, that this hardening reflects less the pressure of the Chinese CP and of the international Communist movement than the pressure of a current in the USSR itself – notably, in the Komsomols – in rebellion against the criminal passivity of the bureaucracy in the face of the multiplication of counterrevolutionary moves by imperialism throughout the world. In this connection, it is obviously necessary to attach considerable importance to the news transmitted from Moscow by Reuters on April 12, according to which a young Ukrainian truck driver, 25 years of age, named Nikolai Didyk, committed suicide by setting his clothing on fire in Dzerzhinsky Square in Moscow near Lubianka Prison to protest the fact that the authorities had refused his request to be sent to south Vietnam as a volunteer to fight with the National Liberation Front.

That this hardening with respect to imperialism implies no ideological turn, was shown by the glacial silence with which the 23rd Congress greeted the impassioned speech of Armando Hart, the delegate of the Castroite Cuban CP. The “crime” of Hart had been to call for an international extension of the revolution and to characterize the Latin American revolution as a socialist revolution. Khrushchev’s successors remain more than ever faithful to “Khrushchevism without Khrushchev” in rejecting this revolutionary orientation in favor of peaceful coexistence and the theory of “revolution by stages.” And, with all due deference to the leaders of the Chinese CP, this “Khrushchevism without Khrushchev” is only the continuation of the policy of Stalin, inspired by Menshevik concepts to which “communists” abroad continue to cling desperately in spite of disastrous experiences like those of Brazil and Indonesia.

The bureaucratic nature of the CPSU has rarely been revealed with as much clarity and frankness as it was at the 23rd Congress. Rarely have we witnessed a spectacle of the prefabrication of speeches down to the last detail, to the degree exhibited in the 23rd Congress. And rarely have the leaders of the bureaucracy taken so little trouble to conceal the real nature of their party as the successors of Khrushchev did at this congress.

Brezhnev revealed in his report that workers presently make up only 37.8 per cent of the members of the CPSU and kolkhoz peasants 16.2 percent. The category discreetly termed, “white collar workers,” in reality, the bureaucracy, provides 46 per cent of the members of the CPSU. The party of the bureaucracy is composed in its majority of bureaucrats – this at least puts things straightforwardly. In these conditions, Brezhnev displayed a cynicism bordering on shamelessness when, immediately after having cited these revealing figures, he pronounced the ritual phrase:

“The working class must continue [!] to play the leading role in the social make-up of the Party in the future.”

Breakdown of Delegates

But Kapitonov’s report on the social composition of the delegates to the 23rd Congress was still more eloquent. Of 4,943 delegates, there were 1,205 party functionaries, 1,141 workers, 874 kolkhoz peasants and sovkhoz workers (including the “managers of kolkhozes and sovkhozes”), 704 economic functionaries, 539 state functionaries, 352 members of the armed forces (all officers!), 82 trade union officials and 44 Komsomol functionaries. In other words, there were 1,141 workers, 700 peasants, and the rest, 3,000 delegates, were party, state and economic functionaries or functionaries of various other organizations, that is bureaucrats. The worker delegates constituted only 23 per cent of the Congress; the bureaucrat delegates constituted more than 60 per cent of the delegates. This proportion leaves nothing to be desired as a mirror of the realities in the exercise of power in the USSR ...

The speech of the Nobel Prize winner in literature, Mikhail Sholokhov, received considerable publicity in the world press for its spiteful attack on the nonconformist Soviet writers and those who dared come to their defense. Certain formulas used by Sholokhov were so manifestly false [4] to the point where one wonders if they were not deliberately included in the diatribe that the leaders of the bureaucracy required from him in order to warn the public that he didn’t believe a word of what he said in this regard.

But the world press gave much less publicity to the second part of Sholokhov’s speech, which in a way was a parallel diatribe, but altogether revealing and true, directed against the bureaucrats who rule the Soviet Union today. He cited the example of a factory for the production of dried vegetables constructed in the city of Kaliasin but which could not be supplied with raw materials (vegetables!) and which had to be successively transformed into a factory for the production of soya sauce and factory for the manufacture of milk products, without once being able to commence work. The factory had existed for ten years; it had still not produced a thing. And Sholokhov asked, “what kind of planning is that”? Indeed ...

He cited the absence of water purification plants on the Volga and the Don which had caused the death of millions of valuable fish. He cited the danger to the “natural riches of Lake Baikal and the Sea of Azov caused by the multiplication of chemical plants not accompanied by water purification plants, by the systematic cutting down of forests without the planting of new nurseries and new forests, by excessive fishing which does not respect the need to maintain an adequate breeding stock. These examples of the squandering of natural resources, imitated from similar methods of capitalism which Marx denounced with so much vigor constitute a terrible indictment against the leaders of the bureaucracy.

Sholokhov Appeals

And he ended his speech by giving an impressive sketch of the pleas to the ministers in Moscow to which leading officials in the Rostov region had to resort in order to get tractors and roofing tile for stables. Sholokhov himself had to take part in these appeals:

“And when an individual has to beg like this all the time, one notes disagreeable transformations in his character and even his physical posture (applause). Where are the proud bearing of the writer and the military erectness of the soldier of former years? One notes that his spine is humbly bent and that he doesn’t even address the minister with the official formula, ‘Comrade minister’ but that he addresses him flatteringly, ‘my dear Ivan Ivanovich.’ The corrections in the plan, required by life itself, produce progressively in us certain tendencies to malfeasance, even in the interludes of this congress itself, we go into the corridors, we search out a certain minister with hawk’s eye, and we wonder what we might get from him. And when one telephones to ask for an appointment with a minister he does not say that he is a deputy to the Supreme Soviet but rather that he is a writer. The ministers have a more delicate attitude towards writers. In brief, one exploits his position as best he may.”

Sholokhov began by pillorying “amoral” writers (Daniel and Sinyavsky). But reread the striking sketch he gives of the “morality” which prevails in the higher spheres of Soviet society; disgraceful squandering of natural resources; writers who must kowtow, all-powerful ministers who distribute boons, deputies to the Supreme Soviet who – “in the country of the Soviets” – are scorned by these same “comrade ministers,” communists and military heroes who must “beg” boons from the all powerful bureaucrats. Who are the real defendants in this accusatory brief, two unfortunate writers, or rather a political regime which has nothing in common with the Soviet democracy established by the October Revolution?

This article was already finished and published in French when the London daily, Morning Star, (the CP organ which replaces the Daily Worker) printed the following story in its May 12 issue, from its Moscow correspondent Peter Tempest, datelined May 11:

“A last-minute plea to save Lake Baikal from pollution and deforestation of its shores was made here today by over 40 leading figures in science and the arts. They call for an immediate dismantling of two huge paper mills nearing completion near the Siberian lake in order to avert a calamity for the national economy in the region. Their letter, published in today’s Komsomolskaya Pravda, is signed by 20 academicians, including Kapitsa, Berg and Artsimovich, by sculptor Sergei Konenkov, painter Pavel Korin, writer Leonid Leonov and Bolshevik veteran Petrov, who joined the Communist Party in 1896.

“They accuse the State Committee for Forestry and the Timber Industry of remaining deaf to all warnings from competent authorities, and of investing huge sums in the construction without even having approval for the project.

“The committee had deceived the government about the suitability of the site, which lies in an earthquake zone, and about the impossibility of obtaining pure water elsewhere.

“Operation of the mills, say the signatories, will destroy the flora and fauna in the lake, lead to forest degeneration, soil erosion, the drying up of tributaries and disruption of the lake’s regime.

“They call for the setting up of a lake conservancy board to control the utilization of its resources on a scientific basis.

“In an editorial footnote, Komsomolskaya Pravda, which first sounded the alarm five years ago, recalls that Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest inland lake, contains one-fifth of the world’s stocks of fresh water.

“Its southern stretches alone, which will be polluted first, are worth nearly $105 million – much more than the investment in the paper mills. . .

“A new inquiry commission is now preparing a final report for Gosplan, the state planning organization, but its chairman Academician Zhavoronkov refused to tell Komsomolskaya Pravda anything about its work.

“Why should the work of a body, whose decisions are awaited by thousands, be conducted in such an atmosphere of secrecy, the paper asks, adding that it is high time to end this long-drawn-out affair.”

So it appears that Sholokhov’s appeal at the 23rd Congress has not failed to get some response after all. But whether the paper mills will disappear remains to be seen. And how many hundreds of millions of rubles the Soviet people will have lost in any case through this single typical example of bureaucratic mismanagement, which could have been prevented by elementary democratic measures of workers and citizens control, will probably never be known ...


1. See my political report to the World Reunification Congress (7th World Congress) printed in the November issue of Quatrième Internationale.

2. See my article, The Difficulties of Soviet Agriculture, in the December 1962 issue of Quatrième Internationale.

3. The realization of this goal seems to be dependent on the conclusion of an agreement with the Italian trust FIAT which is to construct a factory producing 600,000 private automobiles per year.

4. Thus Sholokhov stated:

“If these little gentlemen with their bad consciences had lived in the memorable years of the twenties when judges did not hold to the strict letter of the penal code but let themselves be guided by the ‘conscience of revolutionary justice,’ oh then these renegades would have suffered a much more severe penalty!”

In reality, when there was still real revolutionary justice in the USSR, and even during the early years of the establishment of the bureaucratic regime, in the course of the twenties, no writer was condemned for his ideas for having sent manuscripts abroad. At that time, the group of writers called the “Serapion Brothers,” which included poets, novelists and satirists much further away from communism than Daniel and Sinyavsky, were able to publish their works freely in the USSR. It took the establishment of the Stalinist dictatorship for the non-conformist writers to find themselves denied access to print in the Soviet Union.


Last updated on 30.12.2005