Leon Trotsky

The New Course

Appendix 3
(On the ‘Smychka’ Between Town and Country –
More Precisely: On the ‘Smychka’ and False Rumors)

December 6, 1923

Several times in these recent months, comrades have asked me just what was my point of view on the peasantry and what distinguished it from Lenin’s. Others have put the question to me in a more precise and more concrete way: Is it true, they have asked, that you underestimated the role of the peasantry in our economic development and, by that token, do not assign sufficient importance to the economic and political alliance between proletariat and peasantry? Such questions have been put to me orally and in writing.

But where did you get that? I asked, astonished. On what facts do you base your question?

That’s just it, they answer, we don’t know; but there are rumors abroad ... At the outset, I attached no great importance to these conversations. But a new letter I have just received on the subject has made me reflect. Where can these rumors come from? And quite by accident, I recalled that rumors of this sort were widespread in Russia four or five years ago.

At that time, it was simply said: Lenin is for the peasant, Trotsky against. I then set out to look into the articles that appeared on this question: mine, in Izvestia, the paper of the All Union Central Executive Committee, of February 7, 1919, and Lenin’s, in Pravda of February 15. Lenin was replying directly to the letter of the peasant G. Gulov, who recounted (I quote Lenin):

“the rumor is spreading that Lenin and Trotsky are not in agreement, that there are strong differences of opinion between them precisely on the subject of the middle peasant.”

In my letter I explained the general character of our peasant policy, our attitude toward the kulaks, the middle peasants, and the poor peasants, and I concluded with this: There have not been and there are not any differences of opinion on this subject in the Soviet power. But the counterrevolutionists, whose business is going from bad to worse, have left as their only resource to fool the toiling masses and to make them believe that the Council of People’s Commissars is torn by internal dissension.

In the article which he published a week after mine, Lenin said, among other things: “Comrade Trotsky says that rumours of differences between him and myself are the most monstrous and shameless lie, spread by the landowners and capitalists, or by their witting and unwitting accomplices. For my part, I entirely confirm Comrade Trotsky’s statement.” [CW, Vol.36, Reply to a Peasant’s Question (February 14, 1919), p.500].

Nevertheless, these rumors, as is seen, are difficult to uproot. Remember the French proverb: “Slander, slander, something will always stick.” Now, to be sure, it is not the landed proprietors and the capitalists whose game would be played by rumors of this sort, for the number of these honorable gentlemen has declined considerably since 1919. On the other hand, we now have the Nepman and, in the countryside, the merchant and the kulak. It is undeniable that it is in their interests to sow trouble and confusion as to the attitude of the Communist Party toward the peasantry.

It is precisely the kulak, the retailer, the new merchant, the urban broker, who seek a market link with the peasant producer of grain and buyer of industrial products, and endeavor to crowd the Soviet state out of this smychka. It is precisely on this field that the main battle is now developing. Here too, politics serves economic interests. Seeking to forge a link with the peasant and to gain his confidence, the private middleman obviously readily welcomes and spreads the old falsehoods of the landlords only with a little more prudence, because since then the Soviet power has become stronger.

The well known article of Lenin entitled Better Fewer, but Better gives a clear, simple, and at the same time conclusive picture of the economic interdependence of the proletariat and the peasantry, or of state industry and agriculture. It is not necessary to recall or to quote this article, which everyone well remembers. Its fundamental thought is the following: During the coming years, we must adapt the Soviet state to the needs and the strength of the peasantry, while preserving its character as a workers’ state; we must adapt Soviet industry to the peasant market, on the one hand, and to the taxable capacity of the peasantry, on the other, while preserving its character as state, that is, socialist industry. Only in this way shall we be able to avoid destroying the equilibrium in our Soviet state until the revolution will have destroyed the equilibrium in the capitalist states. It is not the repetition of the word “smychka” at every turn (although the word itself is a good one), but the effective adaptation of industry to rural economy that can really solve the cardinal question of our economy and our politics.

Here we get to the question of the “scissors.” The adaptation of industry to the peasant market poses before us in the first place the task of lowering the cost price of industrial products in every way. The cost price, however, depends not only on the organization of the work in a given factory, but also on the organization of the whole of state industry, state transportation, state finances, and the state trade apparatus.

If there is a disproportion between the different sections of our industry, it is because the state has an enormous unrealizable capital that weighs upon all of industry and raises the price of every yard of calico and every box of matches. If the staves of a barrel are of different length, then you can fill it with water only up to the shortest stave; otherwise, no matter how much water you pour in, it pours out. If the different parts of our state industry (coal, metals, machinery, cotton, cloth, etc.) do not mesh with each other, or with transportation and credit, the costs of production will likewise include the expenditures of the most inflated branches of industry and the final result will be determined by the less developed branches. The present selling crisis is a harsh warning that the peasant market is giving us: Stop jabbering about the smychka; realize it!

In the capitalist régime, the crisis is the natural and, in the long run, the only way of regulating economy, that is, of realizing a harmony between the different branches of industry, and between total production and the capacity of the market. But in our Soviet economy — intermediate between capitalism and socialism — commercial and industrial crises cannot be recognized as the normal or even inevitable way of harmonizing the different parts of the national economy. The crisis carries off, annihilates, or disperses a certain portion of the possessions of the state and a part of this falls into the hands of the middlemen, the retailers in general, of private capital. Inasmuch as we have inherited an extremely disorganized industry, the different parts of which, before the war, served each other in entirely different proportions than we must now have, there is great difficulty in harmonizing the different parts of industry in such a manner that it can be adapted, through the medium of the market, to the peasant economy. If we resign ourselves to just letting the effect of the crises achieve the necessary reorganization, we will give all the advantages to private capital, which already interposes itself between us and the countryside, that is, the peasant and the worker.

Private trading capital is now realizing considerable profits. It is less and less content with operating as a middleman. It tries to organize the producer and to rent industrial enterprises from the state. In other words, it is recommencing the process of primitive accumulation, first in the commercial field and then in the industrial field. It is plain that every failure, every loss that we experience, is a plus for private capital: first, because it weakens us, and then because a considerable part of this loss falls into the hands of the new capitalist.

What instrument do we have at our disposal to fight successfully against private capital under these conditions? Is there such an instrument? There is a consciously planned approach to the market and to economic tasks in general. The workers’ state has in its hands the fundamental productive forces of industry and the means of transportation and credit. We do not need to wait until a partial or general crisis discloses the lack of coordination of the different elements of our economy. We do not need to grope in the dark, because we have in our hands the principal playing cards of the market. We can and this we must learn! Evaluate better and better the fundamental elements of the economy, foresee their future mutual relationships in the process of production and on the market, bring into harmony quantitatively and qualitatively all the branches of the economy, and adapt the whole of industry to rural economy. That is the real way to work for the realization of the smychka.

To educate the village is an excellent thing. But the foundation of the smychka is the cheap plow and nail, cheap calico, and cheap matches. The way to reduce the price of the products of industry is through correct (i.e., systematized, planned) organization of the latter in conformity with the development of agriculture.

To say: “Everything depends upon the smychka and not upon industrial planning,” means not to understand the very essence of the question, for the smychka cannot be realized unless industry is rationally organized, managed according to a definite plan. There is no other way and there can be none.

The correct posing of the work of our State Planning Commission is the direct and rational way of approaching successfully the solution of the questions relating to the smychka not by suppressing the market, but on the basis of the market. This the peasant does not yet understand. But we ought to understand it; every communist, every advanced worker, ought to understand it. Sooner or later the peasant will feel the repercussions of the work of Gosplan upon his economy. This task, it goes without saying, is very complicated and extremely difficult. It demands time, a system of increasingly precise and decisive measures. We must emerge from the present crisis as wiser men. The restoration of agriculture is of course no less important.

But it takes place in a much more spontaneous manner, and sometimes depends much less upon the action of the state than upon that of industry. The workers’ state must come to the aid of the peasants (to the degree that its means will permit!) by the institution of agricultural credits and agronomical assistance, so as to lighten the task of exporting their products (grain, meat, butter, etc.) on the world market. Nevertheless, it is mainly through industry that we can act directly, if not indirectly, upon agriculture. It must furnish the countryside with agricultural implements and machines at accessible prices. It must give it artificial fertilizers and cheap domestic articles. In order to organize and develop agricultural credits, the state needs a substantial revolving fund. In order to procure it, its industry must yield profits, which is impossible unless its constituent parts are rationally harmonized among themselves. That is the genuinely practical way of working toward the realization of the smychka between the working class and the peasantry.

To prepare this alliance politically, and in particular to refute the false rumors and gossip that are spread through the medium of the intermediary trading apparatus, a genuine peasant journal is necessary. What does “genuine” mean in this instance? A journal that would get to the peasants, be comprehensible to them, and bring them closer to the working class. A journal circulating in fifty or a hundred thousand copies will be perhaps a journal in which the peasant is talked to, but not a peasant journal, for it will not get to the peasant; it will be intercepted on the way by our countless “apparatuses,” which will each take a certain number of copies for their own use. We need a weekly peasant journal (a daily paper would be too expensive and our means of communication do not make regular delivery possible), with a circulation in the first year of about two million copies. This journal should not “instruct” the peasants or “launch appeals” at them, but tell them what is happening in Soviet Russia and abroad, principally what affects them and their economy directly. The post-revolution peasants will rapidly acquire a taste for reading it if we know how to give them a journal that suits them. This journal, whose circulation will grow from month to month, will assure for the first period weekly communication at the very least between the Soviet state and the vast rural mass. But the very question of the journal itself brings us back to that of industry. The technical side of the journal must be perfect. The peasant journal should be exemplary, not only from the editorial standpoint but also from the typographical point of view, for it would be a shame to send the peasants specimens of our urban negligence every week.

That is all I can say, at this moment, in reply to the questions that have been put to me on the subject of the peasantry. If these explanations do not satisfy the comrades who addressed themselves to me, I am ready to give them more concrete new ones, with precise data drawn from the experience of our whole last six years of Soviet work. For this question is of capital importance.

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