Khristian Rakovsky

The Five Year Plan
in Crisis

Translator’s Afterword

When the Stalinist leadership of the Bolshevik Party launched its drive for forced collectivization and wholesale industrialization under the banner of the First Five-Year Plan (1928–1932), marxists both inside the Soviet Union and abroad were faced with the problem of how to understand these awesome events. The Soviet Union was in turmoil. The private peasants were in the process of disappearing, the old working class was under attack, while a new working class and a new elite were being formed on the basis of new relations of production. None of the analytical approaches of the 1920s – including those of the Left Opposition – were adequate to explain what now was taking place.

One extremely rich theoretical current emerged in the late 1920s and early 1930s that attempted to challenge the Soviet leadership’s pretensions to building a “planned economy”. Working independently of one another, the left wing of the exiled Mensheviks (grouped around the journal Socialist Herald [Sotsialisticheskii vestnik]), the trotskyist opposition leader, Khristian Rakovsky, and to a limited extent Trotsky himself, began to develop a theory of the “planlessness” of the Soviet economy (besplannovost). The essence of their critique was that genuine planning required positive preconditions that were absent in the Soviet Union: rational coordination between the interlinked parts of the economic mechanism based upon proletarian democracy. Only then could the results of centralized instructions conform to the instructions themselves. The “forced tempos” of the five-year plan – based on bureaucratic caprice and coercion – were producing precisely the opposite result, Proportionality and coordination were breaking down, transport was in chaos, and quality was deteriorating.

What the Mensheviks and Rakovsky were describing (Trotsky in these years based most of his political economy on Rakovsky, only to abandon this ground in the mid-1930s) was the setting in place of the basic core of modern-day Soviet production relations. Their analysis showed uncanny foresight in bringing to light the reproduceable nature of such phenomena as waste, defective production, and the permanent disproportionalities engendered by the system of bureaucratic command.

This theoretical tradition, once a part of the marxist critique of Soviet society, faded into virtual oblivion, to the great cost of the socialist movement. Many of the theoretical tools that later marxists (including those around Critique) have laboriously tried to develop in an attempt to analyze the class character of the USSR were already there in these long ignored writings of forty to fifty years ago.

Last updated on 16.10.2011