Brian Pearce

Interesting But Careless

(Summer 1955)

From Anglo-Soviet Journal, Vol. 16 No. 2, Summer 1955.
Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Jacob Miller
Soviet Russia: An Introduction
Hutchinson’s University Library, 8/6

‘The most obvious thing that the Russian people have done’, writes Mr Miller (p. 13), ‘and one which influences all their other work, is the industrialisation of their country.’ Quite a number of countries have become industrialised in the twentieth century: some observers have thought that what was most obvious, and indeed striking, about the Russian experience was not so much industrialisation as the introduction of socialism. Mr. Miller does not discuss this view, he simply ignores it. The revolution of October 1917 is for him just a ‘political revolution’ (as contrasted with an ‘industrial revolution’) such as happened earlier in England and in France (pp. 17, 102), and it was about industrialisation (p. 16). Who fought against whom, and why, in the Civil War, is not at all clear: ‘the supposed political dividing lines ran through rather than between the armies…’ (p. 19). ‘Early Soviet Socialism’ is simply a convenient name for the state of affairs in Russia, 1917–52 (p. 11).

According to the Short History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (which Mr. Miller notes – p. 140 – to be ‘the most important book of Early Soviet Socialism’ and ‘completely neglected by specialists on Russia’), a change of fundamental significance came about in Soviet life with the completion of the Second Five-Year Plan of 1933–37, namely the actual achievement of socialism. Since then, it is held, the Soviet economy and social order has been essentially socialistic, the ‘last exploiting class’ (the kulaks) having been eliminated. The turning-point was marked by the adoption of a new Constitution. The principal difference of approach between some books about the Soviet Union and others is often taken nowadays to be whether the writer agrees with this evaluation of what happened in the mid-1930s or not.

Mr. Miller passes by the whole problem. For him what happened in and around 1936 was simply the completion of ‘industrialisation’, and he treats of the Soviet economy thereafter as being essentially similar to our own, at least as it was in war-time. Soviet workers are concerned at their meetings with ‘all the ordinary problems of production anywhere in conditions of full employment’ (p. 51). In his survey of Soviet economic life Mr. Miller fails, however, to find us a Soviet shareholders’ meeting. Nevertheless, he does reveal the possession by the trade unions of powers and privileges which are clearly the key to the absence of strikes in the Soviet Union, and cannot but suggest that there is some fundamental difference between the social structure of that country and the capitalist countries which is more important than Mr. Miller chooses to admit. Is it really sufficient to state that ‘the Russian economy differs from its contemporaries in that the government decides, and decides in real and not financial terms, what changes there shall be in the proportions of the national wealth dedicated to each purpose’ (p. 65)?

The review of Russian history included in the book contains some useful information, but this is strangely selected. Confidence in Mr. Miller’s bolder generalisations is unfortunately impaired by his carelessness on elementary points. Thus, to state (p. 91) that in 1654, with the reunification of the Ukraine and Russia, ‘in law the three Russian peoples were once more under one rule’, is simply not true, for Byelorussia was not brought back to the fold until 1772–95; and a passage on page 89 makes plain that what has misled Mr. Miller here is that he thinks Pskov (recovered in 1510) to be a Byelorussian city. Again, the quotation from Chaucer which is used twice (pp. 85, 115) is given incorrectly: it is not ‘oft had he raysed in Lettice [sic] and in Pruce’ but ‘in Lettow had he raysed and in Ruce’ (Prologue, 1, 54). That Mr. Miller should refer to the causes of the Reform of 1861 (pp. 14, 33) without letting on that a wave of peasant revolts swept Russia in 1859–61 (or even referring to Tsar Alexander II’s well-known remark on the subject) is perhaps to be expected in view of his consistent care not to let the class struggle rear its ugly head between the pages of this book.

Pages 45–50 give an interesting and suggestive brief account of problems and change in the spheres of agriculture and food supplies in 1950–54. As regards industrial developments in recent times, however, surely it is exaggerating to write (p. 66) that ‘the only [consumer goods] industries there are now are textiles, footwear and food-processing; other things are still, even after the improvements of 1953, produced in the holes and corners of the economy ...’ Pobeda and Moskwich cars, for instance, are certainly consumer goods and as certainly are not produced in any holes or corners.

Readers of this journal will note that, in Mr Miller’s view, ‘most of its articles ... are intended to serve friendship between the two countries by pretending that the difficulties in the way of friendship are slight’ (p. 143).

Last updated on 6 June 2015