Max Shachtman

Off the Leninist Track

Stalin’s “New Economic Policy”

(July 1931)

From The Militant, Vol. IV No. 14, 11 July 1931, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The “new economic policy” enunciated by Stalin at a meeting of industrial directors on June 23, and made public only two weeks later, has brought him paeans of praise from the bourgeois press. “This latest step back toward the normal in working conditions,” writes the New York Times on July 7, “is scarcely shorter than the restoration of private property rights and liberties would be.” Fortunately, the elation of the Times contains more wish than reality. There is no doubt that the Times and other bourgeois commentators would prefer to have the Soviet Union restore those “private property rights and liberties” which have demonstrated their “superiority” over the socialist system by the planetary crisis of capitalism and the misery and want that have accompanied it. There is equally no doubt, however, that the whole spirit of Stalin’s “new policy”, the formal and official adoption of which is naturally a foregone conclusion, marks a step backward from the revolutionary policies of Lenin’s time.

How the New Policy Is Made

The manner in which the new turn is made is in itself characteristic of the state of affairs in the Soviet Union today. In the days before the bureaucracy had fastened its talons upon the party, questions of this sort were subjected to a thorough discussion by all the Communists, and the non-party workers as well. Every phase of the problem was treated in so adequate and clear a manner that it had the guarantee of the collective wisdom of the party. What is more, its promulgation was assured of an understanding and a popularity among the workers. The best instance of this mode of procedure – the only one proper for a workers’ state – was the manner in which Lenin first introduced, had adopted and applied the New Economic Policy. In the present case, the new turn was first made public upon the sole responsibility of the infallible General Secretary. The party – much less the working class as a whole – was never consulted. The speech was deliberately withheld until the day when the Central Committee session opened. In this way, Stalin insured himself against any discussion at all. The Central Committee, a purely “advisory” body to the General Secretary, will adopt the measures proposed by him without a word.

What is the essence and the spirit of the new measures proposed? It is a disquieting continuation of the course which the Stalinist bureaucracy has pursued since its rise to power. It means that the hand is stretched out more openly to the bourgeois elements, while the working class is pushed back another step from control or influence over industry.

“The sabotagers still exist and will exist so long as classes exist, but sabotagers are now isolated (?). The attitude towards the old intelligenzia must change. The desire for cooperation, together with efforts to improve the material situation of the intelligenzia must be stresser.”

A realistic Communist statesman cannot, to be sure, reject or ever fail to seek the cooperation of the bourgeois specialists in the construction of a socialist society. They are some of those “bricks” of the old society which are found at hand when the old structure is torn down by the insurrectionary proletariat. But the most vigilant attitude must be observed towards them. Assurances must be given that the workers have the opportunity to control them, to prevent them from undermining the rule of the proletariat. It was the failure to establish these assurances in the past that made possible the penetration into the highest posts of the party, the Soviet and the economic institutions of such elements as were finally uncovered in he recent trials and those that preceded them. Does Stalin’s “new policy” strengthen these assurances? The contrary is unfortunately true.

“Clumsy, topheavy Soviet organizations,” says Stalin, “must be divided up and amplified to permit leaders the possibillty of learning what happens to all parts of the apparatus. Collective leadership must develop into individual responsibility. A chairman, with a few assistants must head concerns, whilst remaining members of the collegium must descend into practical work to their own advantage and that of the cause.”

How Lenin Viewed the Problem

Lenin did not oppose the “subjecting of the will of thousands to the will of one” in Industry, any more than the Bolsheviks were ever opposed to the establishment of piece work during the transition period to Communism. But Lenin did not fail to emphasize that “the more firmly we now have to advocate a merciless and firm rule and dictatorship of individuals for definite processes of work during certain periods of purely executive functions, the more diverse should be the forms and means of mass control in order to paralyze every possibility of distorting the Soviet rule, in order repeatedly and tirelessly to remove the wild grass of bureaucratism”. (Soviets at Work, page 42)

The “forms and means of mass control” have been reduced to a minimum under the Stalinist regime. The Bessodovskys and Agabekovs can rise to the top in the party because the workers do not control them from below. The Itamzins, the Ossatchis, together with the Menshevik conspirators, can go on for years with their criminal work because collective leadership has not only developed into individual responsibility” but because there is no control of the workers over this “responsibility”.

In 1927, Stalin told the American trade union delegation to Russia that “not a single factory manager can remain at his post contrary to the will of the workers or the particular trade union. It must be observed also that in every factory and workshop there is a factory council elected by the workers which control the activities of the management of the particular enterprise,” etc., etc. Since then, the decree was issued abolishing all these guarantees, which were exaggerated by Stalin even then. “Members of the Communist party, union representatives and shop committees,” said the decree, “are instructed not to interfere in questions of management.” (Freiheit, September 9, 1929)

Socialism cannot be built up by bourgeois specialists. Not even the foundations for a socialist economy can be laid by them. They can be of great aid, but the main task requires the wholehearted, enthusiastic, collective, initiative, self-activity and participation of the proletarian masses. They must not merely “descend into practical world”, they must also guide, manage, control, check the plans by the results: they must feel in the most intimate sense of the word that they, the working class, are the rulers of society, the masters of their destiny. Without the stubborn maintenance and deepening of this feel among the workers, industries may grow to fabulous proportions, all the efficiency systems in the world may be introduced but a socialist society will not be erected.

Four years ago, the Left Opposition issued the warning in its Platform:

The Opposition’s Warning

“The regime within the shops has deteriorated. The administrative organs are striving more and more to establish their unlimited authority. The hiring and discharge of workers is actually in the sole hands of the administration. Pre-revolutionary relations between master and workmen are not rarely to be found ... Never before have the trade unions and the working mass stood so far from the management of the socialist industry as now. The self-activity of the mass of workers organized in the trade unions is being replaced by agreements between the secretaries of locals, the factory directors, and the chairmen of the factory and shop committees (the ‘triangle’). The attitude of the workers to the factory and shop committees is one of distrust.”

Since these lines were written, the process of removing the workers from control of management has advanced with giant strides. Even the agreements of the “triangle” no longer obtain. The latest “turn” only makes matters worse.

How much longer will the Stalinist bureaucracy be permitted to pursue its disastrous course which strengthens the elements hostile to proletarian rule, which weakens the hold of the working class, which threatens the revolution with dissolution and decay?

Shachtman button
Max Shachtman
Marx button
Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 5.1.2013