Red Medicine: Socialized Health in Soviet Russia

Stages in the Introduction of Communism

LENIN, from the beginning, emphasized that complete communism could not be established at once, and that, to make its ultimate success possible, Bolsheviki must resign to their leaders their intellectual liberty and abandon their right of private judgment, once a decision by these leaders is taken. Prior to this decision there was and still is abundant freedom of discussion. To a minor degree similar disciplinary control has been attempted in the parliamentary discipline of one party in Britain; and in certain orthodox Christian churches, as well as in Islam, a similar demand has been made in religious dogma; but nowhere has this been carried out with such completeness as in Soviet Russia.

This completeness was not attained at once. During Lenin's rule criticism of administration was invited and errors were acknowledged. Since his death criticism of the central government is a to be regarded as high treason; but in local administration and especially in factory organization criticism appears to be welcomed, so long as it is not anticommunist in principle.

Discipline has been steadily tightened; and even from the first Lenin's oft-repeated formula was that "the State is the tyranny of a minority over the majority," thus endorsing Marx's aphorism that force is the midwife of history. It was held that this tyranny with compulsion over the majority was necessary not only in inaugurating the Soviet regime, but also through its early years; and on this assumption the dictatorship of the proletariat was so organized that a small oligarchy controlled the main elements of government. According to communist theory this control will ultimately diminish and cease, leaving a Soviet "democracy"; but in the present stage of communist development this highly centralized organization of government is still regarded as essential. It has been laid down that "the directive principle of the organizational structure of the Party is democratic centralization."

The extent to which the Communist Party itself and the general proletariat have representative voting power will be discussed in the next chapter. There is extreme bureaucratic centralized control, while the workers and peasants participate in a large range of democratic discussion and organization. In factories and in hospitals and other institutions, workers take a real share in determining detailed management. The voting power of the peasants is on a much lower scale than that of the industrial workers.

Article 69 of the Constitution of the R.S.F.S.R. enumerates the following persons as those who may not vote or be elected :

(a) Any person who employs labor for the purpose of deriving a profit therefrom; (b) any person who lives on unearned income; (c) private traders and middlemen engaged in trade or commerce ; (d) ministers of any religious denomination or sect who practice this calling as a profession, and monks; (e) employees and agents of the former police force, of the Special Corps of Gendarmes and of the Tsarist Secret Service, members of the former reigning dynasty of Russia, and persons who directed the activities of the police, or the gendarmes or of the penal authorities; (f) any person who has been duly declared of unsound mind or mentally defective; and (g) any person who has been sentenced for a crime, if the sentence of the court specified that he was to be deprived of his political rights for a period of time.

Although many different classes are included in this list, it is obvious that the total number of disfranchised persons cannot be very large.

The actual development of the Soviet State proceeded, as we have seen, in stages. During the first months following the February Revolution, "key" positions were socialized, and the Soviets secured control of the social production and distribution of goods. Many of the great estates were parceled out to peasants; and agriculture in consequence reverted to more primitive conditions. Utterly incompetent Soviets took over the factories, managers and technicians being driven out by the classconscious proletariat. Everything was in a terrible muddle.

Then followed the period of "War Communism" in which the chief problem was military defense of the Soviets against foreign and Russian enemies. The terrible police force known as the Chekha was organized, the secret and hateful operations of which rivaled those of the Tsarist police Okhranka. Its earlier activities in shooting men and women without trial surpassed the horrors of the first French Revolution. Later the Chekha was replaced by the All-Union State Political Department (OGPU) commonly known as the "Gay-Pay-Oo."

During this period (1918-22) private property was expropriated on a wholesale scale; in towns the municipalities annexed house property and rationed it to workers; while in rural Russia agricultural products were forcibly requisitioned. Virtual martial law prevailed, and a multitude of persons suspected of hostility to communism were shot. The State took over all profits, after paying expenses, including wages, and it undertook to supply each industry with raw materials and fuel, and every citizen with all the necessities of life. Money was abolished for a time, and everything was supposed to be free (if available at all).

The natural result was chaos throughout Russia. The old propertied class had been dislodged, and four fifths of the total industry had become socialistic and was being mismanaged, and its production fell to almost nil. Agriculture also was on the verge of collapse, for the individualistically inclined peasants led by the richer kulaks among them refused to cultivate the land, once their grain was requisitioned by the authorities.

To remedy these difficulties the New Economic Policy (NEP) was introduced in 1921. It was the practical acknowledgment by Lenin that Russia could not reach fully developed socialism in a single bound. The general principle of NEP was to substitute taxation for the previous requisitioning of the peasants' superfluous grain. Peasants were permitted to sell this grain, and thus once more private trading was allowed, and a truce was established between the Marxian Government and the individualistic peasants. But simultaneously State trusts and syndicates were formed to manage the State industries. This was a temporary retreat, known as Lenin's "great strategic retreat."

An instalment plan was substituted for a fullblooded policy. Attention was concentrated on the development of an advanced industrial system, and for this purpose a supply of electric energy all over the country was made a chief point in policy. It was about this time that Lenin gave his slogan-Electrification plus the Soviet power equals Socialism in which lay the seed of the Five Year Plan. But great extensions of railway facilities and better and more roads were equally important, though they could not at once be undertaken; and many of Russia's subsequent difficulties are traceable to these deficiencies. The general policy was one of industrialization on a gigantic scale, in the shortest possible time, and, associated with this, an almost complete prohibition of importation of manufactured goods except immediately necessary machinery. The immediate consequence was a wide and serious lack of many necessities and conveniences of life.

Then followed the formulation of the Five Year Plan, under which was conceived, and has very largely been carried through, a vast extension of largescale industry, some of the developments of which outshine in magnitude - though not in efficiency - those of the vastest combines of the United States.

The plan for agricultural control was even more ambitious than that for industry, but it proved much less successful in its application. The laboremploying farmers have been the main obstacle to the complete socialization of Russia, and the end of the battle between bureaucratic socialism and the individualist instincts and longings of the worker on the land is still to seek.

Agricultural Socialization

Under the New Economic Policy private trading in agricultural products was resumed; but antiquated methods of agriculture continued, and the Government was unable to obtain enough food for the towns and for export. One reason for this was the unwillingness of the farmers to sell at the low price fixed by the Government. Then the Five Year Plan was initiated, under which it was decided that 15 per cent of the land must be collectivized by October, 1933, and 3 per cent turned into State farms, and that the small holdings and farms still individually ownedrecognized by both Lenin and Stalin as the strongholds of individualismshould ultimately become either State farms or should be collectivized. Actually, up to June, 1933, about 80 per cent of the peasants had already joined the collective farms. These comprise more than 60 per cent of the total cultivated area. A steady, persistent, and often cruel "liquidation" of the kulaks (laboremploying farmers) was carried on, and they were compelled to join with other peasants as recruits on collective farms; or even this opportunity was refused to them and many were shot; others were sent to industrial camps or to Siberia, and their property was confiscated. With these kulaks went also much of the experience needed for successful collective farms. The peasant who enlisted in the collective farms often came emyhanded. Two or three years ago their widespread slaughtering reduced the livestock 30 to 40 per cent.(According to Walter Duranty in the New York Times, February 28, 1933) Incidentally this slaughtering is one of the main causes of the present shortage of milk and meat foods. The propaganda and resultant compulsion had been too rapid and too drastic, and disaster impended. Stalin in a letter dated March, 1930, entitled "Giddiness from Success," called a partial halt, and insisted on the village emissaries of the Government replacing compulsion by persuasion.

The peasants in the early revolution had been allowed to seize their landlords' estateswithout this they would not have come in on the Soviet side. Although the land was theirs only to hold and cultivate in behalf of the State-Russia's entire land being nationalizedthey realized only their actual possession of the land. In France, after the French Revolution, the peasants came into permanent ownership of the land, with the result that France is perhaps the most individualistic country in Europe, for socialism and peasant proprietorship are incompatible. After their entry into possession of the land the Russian peasants had first been obliged to hand over its produce to the State; under the NEP they gained the right to sell their surplus supplies; but the Government realized that the continuance of this, as Lenin said, would mean "a union of the peasantry with the bourgeoisie." Then followed the persecution of kulaks, and the forced abolition of small holdings in favor of collective methods of production and living. There was utter mercilessness in the methods pursued.

More recent developments of Communist policy, both in industry and in agriculture, can be more conveniently stated in the chapter on industrial life in Russia.