Max Shachtman

Pravda on the Second 5 Year Plan

A National Socialist Utopia or the Leninist Conception of Socialist Economy?

(February 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 9 (Whole No. 105), 27 February 1932, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The convulsions of the world crisis are tearing wide gaps In the edifice of international capitalism. A seismograph recording the economic and political eruptions of bourgeois society at the present moment would show jagged, spasmodic lines for every country like the fever line of a dying man whose blood runs hot and cold in turn. Everywhere the masters of a great tomorrow are awakening, becoming more rebellious, moving at various speeds towards the insurrection which is to destroy an outlived social structure. Revolutionary problems of the greatest magnitude confront the class conscious vanguard everywhere, Spain, Germany, China – here are only three of the countries which are reaching the boiling point. In all three – to mention no others – the Communist movement bends beneath the tremendously urgent historical tasks it is called upon to solve because no other movement is capable of even dealing with them, much less solving them.

More than ever is the Communist movement in sore need of guidance, of wise advice, of the lessons and experiences of the past. They are justified in looking for this guidance and advice to the country in which the theory and practise of the proletarian revolution were successfully tested in action, that is, to the Soviet Union and its Communist party.

The Disregard for the International And here lies the great tragedy. The leaders of the Soviet Union party not only fail to give them this advice but they do not even concern themselves with the burning problems of the rest of the International working class. In 1923, the Central Committee of the Russian party, keenly preoccupied with the impending revolutionary clashes in Germany, called together a special conference on the question, together with representatives of the largest local organizations. It adopted theses on the problems of the German revolution, mobilized the whole party, and through its representatives in the Executive Committee of the Comintern, organized an international conference. In 1932, with the tension of the class struggle far more compelling than it was nine years ago, the Russian party acts in a totally different manner. The cannon-roar in Shanghai may be the first thunderclaps of a world catastrophe of imperialism, Fascism and Communism may be coming to death-grips in Germany, the lava of the social revolution may soon inundate the Spanish bourgeoisie – but all this appears to be happening on a different planet so far as the present leaders of the Russian Communist Party are concerned.

That is the only conclusion one can come to after the accomplishments recorded by the just concluded 17th party conference in Mosow. Outside of agitational references to the contrast between the advances of industrialization and collectivization in the Soviet Union and the increasing misery of the workers under the world capitalist crisis, we do not know of a single problem of the international revolutionary movement that was given an hour of serious consideration at the congress. Not a single movement has yet emerged from this assembly of what was once Lenin’s Bolshevik party, dealing with the tasks of the Communists in the capitalist countries.

To compare the proceedings of the present congress with one held under Lenin’s leadership is to see at a glance how ruthlessly the party chiefs of today have chopped down one prop after another from under the bridge which, despite the assiduous efforts of the Stalinists, still traditionally connects the nationalistically degenerated apparatus of 1932 with the party of revolutionary internationalism which Lenin trained up for two decades. No more murderous indictment of a leadership speaking in the name of Marxism can be conceived of today than this: the waves of the international revolution beat upon the closed doors of the 17th congress of the Russian party without the bureaucratic congress managers allowing a single one of the hand picked delegates to as much as get his feet wet.

The conscientious Communist worker to whom internationalism is something more real than a badge to be worn on holidays, will not only feel humiliated and mortified at this state of affairs in the ranks of the leaders he is instructed to obey blindly as “infallible chiefs”, but will reflect upon the basic causes that make it possible, or rather, that make it logical and inevitable.

The Second Five Year Plan

If the congress had nothing – absolutely nothing – to say about the problems of the international revolution, it had more than enough to say about the problems of the Soviet power. And on this point we witness the canonization in a veritable nationalistic orgy of the theory of “socialism in one country” which, we are now taught, is to spring forth full-panoplied, like Minerva from the brow of Jove, at the end of the second Five Year Plan adopted at the congress. Whereas, according to the apostolic revelations of the time, the first Five Year Plan, which was to be completed in three, would merely end with the Soviet Union having “caught up with and outstripped” the most advanced capitalist countries, Pravda now informs us (Daily Worker, 2-23-1932) that, according to the report of the incomparable Molotov:

“The basic politcal task of the second Five Year Plan is the final liquidation of capitalist elements and of classes in general, the complete extermination of causes which tend to create class distinctions and exploitation, and the conquest of the remnants of capitalism in the economy and in the consciousness of the people; the transformation of the whole toiling population of the country into conscious and active building of a classless socialist society.”

What is to happen in the rest of the world while this stupendous project is being accomplished in the brief span of five years (or will it be four? or three?), its authors do not inform us, nor are they concerned. For whoever seriously believes that Russia will become a classless, socialist society, in which “the final liquidation of capitalist elements and of classes in general” has been achieved, – that it will do this before the workers in a culturally (technico-industrially) more advanced country have taken power and come to Russia’s aid, has definitely turned his back upon the prospect and idea of the international proletarian revolution. Such an oleomargarine “Marxist” has an infinitely more optimistic view of the possibilities for capitalist world stabilization than is entertained by the average bourgeois statesman of mature intelligence. Despite all his fine holiday pretenses, he believes in his heart that the “foreign Communist parties would die without our wasted subsidies”. He is convinced deep down that these parties and their leaders, whom he regards with scarcely concealed disdain and contempt, will never seize power in this generation, at least; and. if that is the case, what is to be gained by this interminable din and agitation about a “world revolution”, especially when it antagonizes the foreign bourgeoisie who must, above everything else, be prevented from intervening with troops to disrupt the bureaucratic Eden of a national socialism? Legion is the name of those decadent Stalinist bureaucrats whose conduct is animated by these ideas.

But despicable as their attitude is towards the international problems, the bureaucrats have an equally reactionary and far more Utopian standpoint towards the problems of Soviet economy. Here an objective consideration of its complex structure is replaced by administrative commands to race at top speed for new records which are not always as unblemished as they appear. In many, perhaps in the majority of the cases, the “records” are achieved at the expense either of a dangerous tensile strain on the physique and nerves of the workers or else of a marked inferiority in the quality of the product turned out. Frequently it is both. For a short period and under the pressure of a partial aim. such strains are conceivable. But to imagine that the workers can or will bear up under the concert pitch to which they have been tuned for the whole historical period that separates us from socialism in Russia, is to reveal a mad ignorance which threatens the existence of the workers’ republic more than do a thousand deliberate sabotagers.

What Socialism Means

This should be an obvious truth, unless one is a blind official whose idea of what constitutes socialism is different from everything we have learned from the teachers of our movement. To those for whom Marx, Engels and Lenin are not “outlived”, socialism is not a social system in which everybody has been levelled down to a common low plane of a so-called “equality”, but a society in which the classes have really been abolished, in which the. distinction between “town” and “country” has been eliminated, in which agriculture no longer exists as an economic entity but has become an industry, in which such a rise has been accomplished in production that there can no longer be any comparison between the living conditions of the workers (i.e., of the whole population) under the new society and under the most highly developed capitalist state, and above all, in which the state power and coercion are beginning to die out and to be replaced by the administration of things.

But this assumes such a tremendous rise in the productivity of labor and the national wealth based upon a highly developed machine technique – all of which must, moreover, keep pace with the concomitant absolute and relative growth of population – as has only begun in the Soviet Union and which cannot be brought to a successful conclusion on the basis of the efforts of Russia’s economy alone. Pravda informs us that “the proletariat of the U.S.S.R. is in possession of absolutely all the possibilities, all the power, all the means and all the resources for the victorious fulfillment of this gigantic plan of construction of a socialist society in that period,” that is, in another five years. But, bearing in mind the classic definition of socialism, such a contention is not only root false, but is based upon a reactionary outlook, in the strictest sense of the word, particularly for the following reason:

Socialism and World Economy

Socialism is a form of socio-economic relations that must rest upon a far higher plane than that occupied by the most developed capitalist unit, it is an advance from capitalism and in no respect a retreat to pre-capitalist relations. Now, not a single one of the important capitalist powers has developed its productive forces on a strictly national scale. The growth of capitalism in its classic cradle, England, was based essentially upon its world connections, that is, its ever closer interweaving with world commerce, world economy. The low point of capitalist strength in the United States – which has more internal resources than almost any other country – was nevertheless the period of its “isolation” from the rest of the world. Like every other country, it became the economic and .political colossus it is today by its increasingly inextricable association with world economy. Indeed, the crisis rendering world capitalism today supervened, essentially, because the bonds that tie it all into the waters of international economy in which the most backward country is as much a necessary component part as the weaker, were cut at vital points by the contradictions inherent in commodity production itself.

Socialism, or even the transitional economy which prevails in Russia on the road to socialism, cannot be based upon an increasing withdrawal from world economy, but must be predicated upon an extended participation in it. That is why the second Five Year Plan, with its consecrated nationalist ideal is conceived in a reactionary Utopian spirit, not by accident, but as an inexorable result of the – by your leave! – “theory” of socialism in one country. For it is based upon the fantastic idea of a complete withdrawal from what Lenin characterized as that “international market to which we are subordinated, with which we are connected and from which we cannot escape”. (To refer to but one example: a striking rise in the crops, exceeding domestic needs would soon show in a glaring light how subordinated the U.S.S.R. is to the world market.)

It is, of course, impossible to deal in a short article with all the problems raised by the second Five Year Plan, most of which have already been analyzed in anticipation in the works of comrade Trotsky. It will suffice for the moment to point out that the plan and the whole environment surrounding its elaboration, once more reveal, perhaps more harshly than ever before, the catastrophic practical results of the nationalist theory of Stalin and the abyss he has placed between himself and the revolutionary internationalist essence of Bolshevism. It is easy to imagine in advance – it would even be easy to write them for the paid scribblers! – the answers that will be made to our arguments, the accusations of “pessimism” and “counter-revolution” that will be flung at us because the Left Opposition, which fought for years for plan in economy, for industrialization and collectivization, which was expelled while trying to convince the bureaucracy of the progress that Russia could make in socialist construction with a correct policy – nevertheless refuses to be a party to duping the working class with fatal illusions or drugging them with theoretical opium. These accusations about “pessimism” we can answer in advance, with finality, by the words of Lenin which are as applicable in every essential today as they were when written in 1922:

“We have not even finished the foundation for a socialist economy, this can again be taken from us by the hostile forces of dying capitalism. This must be clearly recognized and openly admitted, for nothing is more dangerous than illusions (and attacks of dizziness on high places). And in this recognition of the bitter truth there is nothing ‘terrible’, nothing that gives any just cause for even the slightest despair, because we have always defended that elementary Marxian truth, we have constantly repeated: that for the victory of socialism the joint efforts of the workers of several advanced countries are necessary”. (Works, Vol. XX, part 2, page 487)

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