Leon Trotsky

Writes on Stalin’s Latest Speech

A New Zig-zag and the New Dangers

(July 1931)

Written: 15 July 1931.
Source: The Militant, Vol. IV No. 19, 15 August 1931, p. 4.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2013. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

Stalin’s speech at the conference of the economists on June 23, is of exceptional interest. Not because it contains any deep generalizations, broad perspectives, precise summaries, clear practical indications. There is nothing of this sort. Clipped thoughts, as always, deliberately ambiguous formulations which may be twisted one way or the other, the casting of the blame upon the executors, complete disharmony between conclusions and premises – all these qualities and features of bureaucratic inconsistency penetrate Stalin’s speech through and through. But out of the confused web of the speech, facts break through which can no longer be passed over in silence. These facts give the speech its genuinely political significance. If it should be liberated from the shell, the following will be the result: “The Left Opposition, this time too, proved to be right. All its warnings have been justified. But we, the bureaucrats, with our rude slander and with our oppressions of the Opposition, proved to be the fools.” Stalin, it is understood, expressed these thoughts in different words. He continued, of course, to thunder at “Trotskyism” with cast iron banalities. But it is not the bureaucratic logic of Stalin which interests us, but rather the dialectics of the economic process which is mightier than the mightiest bureaucratic incompleteness of thought.

The Five Year Plan in Four Years

We learn from the speech that the execution of the industrial plan presents a “variegated picture”. There are branches which have, for five months yielded an excess of forty percent over the corresponding period last year, there are branches which have grown twenty to thirty percent, and finally, there are branches which have yielded only six to ten percent of growth, and even less than that. As if in passing, Stalin remarks that to the last category belong the coal industry and heavy metallurgy, that is, the real base of industrialization. What is the relation of the different parts of economy among themselves? On this score, there is no reply. Yet, upon the reply to this question depends the fate of the Five Year Plan. With a wrong computation of the parts, a house in construction may collapse at the third or the fourth storey. With incorrect planning, and what is still more important, with the incorrect regulation of a plan in the process of its execution, the crisis may unfold towards the very end of the Five Year Plan and create insurmountable difficulties for the utilization and development of its indubitable successes. Nevertheless, the fact that heavy industry has shown, instead of a thirty to forty percent growth, only a growth of six percent, “and even less than that”, is covered up by Stalin with the meaningless, trivial phrase: “The picture is variegated.”

From the same speech, we learn that “in a number of enterprises and economic organizations, they long ago [!] ceased to count, to calculate, to make up actual balances of incomes and expenditures”. When one reads these lines, he does not believe his eyes: How is this so? What then does the leadership of industry consist of if its effectiveness is not measured and not checked up in an ever more precise manner? We learn further that “the regime of economy ... rationalization of industry have long ago [!] gone out of style”. Does the speaker weigh his own words? Don’t they sound like a monstrous slander of Soviet economy, and primarily a merciless indictment of the highest command? ‘’It is a fact,” Stalin continues, “that lately the costs of production in a whole series of enterprises started to rise.” We know what such words as “here and there”, “in a whole series of enterprises” mean with Stalin. This means that the speaker is afraid of the facts, smears them up, and minimizes them. Under the words “in a whole series of enterprises” is concealed heavy industry: Yielding six percent increase instead of forty percent, it at the same time drives upward the costs of production, undermining in this manner the possibility of its further growth. In addition to this, it turns out that calculation is thrown overboard, and rationalization is out of style. Does not the alarming conclusion come to the fore that the actual situation is even darker than it is presented by the speaker?

How could this happen? Why and how have accounting and calculation been thrown overboard? Stalin keeps silent about it. Since when are the walls of the economic plant built, not according to plumb line but according to the eye? With his characteristic precision, Stalin replies: “Long ago”. How is it that the leaders did not notice it? Stalin is silent. We will reply in his stead. Calculation, which was not ideal even before, because the Soviet state has only begun to learn to keep an accounting on a state scale, was thrown completely overboard from the time that the bureaucratic leadership substituted for Marxian analysis of economy and flexible regulation, the naked administrative spur. The coefficients of growth have become questions of bureaucratic prestige. Where is there place here for calculation? That director or chairman of a trust proved to be the hero who “completed and exceeded” the plan, having robbed the budget and having laid a mine, in the form of bad quality of production, under the adjacent branches of economy. On the contrary, the economists who tried to calculate correctly all the elements of production and did not drive out the sacred bureaucratic records, constantly fell into the category of the penalized. Now we hear from Stalin that in industry there is an “uninterrupted working week on paper”, “successes on paper”, “a paper”, that is, a false, accounting. Did not the Opposition warn in every number of its Bulletin that naked administrative pressure is much more capable of accelerating accounting under orders, but not industry itself: state figures are far more flexible than steel and coal? Didn’t we write dozens of times that the further Stalin leads the Five Year Plan, the more extinguished are the lanterns? This was, of course, proclaimed a counter-revolutionary slander. All the blockheads, all the rogues, yelled about the “defeatism” of the Left Opposition. But what does the phrase: “have long ago ceased to count, to calculate” mean if not that the apparatus-men have extinguished the lanterns? If long ago, then why did the chief mechanic keep silent so long? We wrote about the extinguished lanterns two years ago. The question arises: can anyone more clearly, more categorically, attest to his inconsistency? Isn’t it clear that the transformation of the Five Year Plan into a four plan was an act of the most light-minded adventurism?

The basic conclusion is pointed out quite precisely in the draft of the platform of the International Opposition.

“The administrative chase after ‘maximum’ tempos must give way to the elaboration of optimum (the most advantageous) tempos which do not guarantee the fulfillment of the command of the day for display purposes, but the constant growth of economy on the basis of the dynamic equilibrium, with a correct distribution of domestic means and a broad, planned utilization of the world market.” (page 43)

The Problem of the Working Force

Stalin informs us, for the first time with such clarity, that the execution of the plan is hindered by the lack, not only of skilled workers but of live working forces in general. This fact may appear improbable at first sight. The Russian village has included within itself, from time immemorial, obvious and hidden reserves of surplus population which, moreover, increased annually by hundreds of thousands. The growth of the Soviet farms, the collectivization and the mechanization of agriculture should naturally have increased the number of those migrating from the village. The danger, it would appear, proceeded from the formation of gigantic reserves of the army of labor. But no, it appears that the attraction of the peasants to the city has ceased completely. Is it not because the contradictions between the city and the village have disappeared? After all, in the third year of the Five Year Plan, we “entered into socialism”. But no, in Stalin’s last speech, we do not see anything about the realization of socialism. The speaker became much more modest and confined himself to a simple reference to the improvement of the position of the peasant poor. We have no intention to contest the fact itself. However, as an explanation of the stopping of the flow of people from the village, it is completely insufficient. Have the conditions of life of over one hundred million peasants improved so radically that the cities have lost the power of attraction for them? This might be the case only if we assumed that the position of the city workers did not rise simultaneously during this time but was stationary or even lowered. Stalin brings us right up to this harsh conclusion, without, however, calling it by its name.

The chief place in his speech is devoted to the fact that industry is undermined by the turnover of the working force by the “general” movement from enterprise to enterprise. At a time when the flow from the village to the city stopped completely, the turnover within industry and partly away from industry altogether has grown immensely. Stalin informs us that in the majority of enterprises the composition of the workers changes “during half a year or even a quarter of a year by at least from thirty to forty percent”. This figure, which would appear improbable had it not come from Stalin, will appear particularly threatening if we take into consideration the administrative struggle which the trade union bureaucracy, together with that (if the party and the Soviets, led against the turnover for the past years. The proverb says, “Let well enough alone”. The growth of a turnover signifies that under the conditions existing in the third year of the Five Year Plan, the working masses feel restless. The chief reason for the turnover is seen by the bureaucracy in the incorrect system of wages, in its too great equalization. No matter how this question should be solved – we shall return to this later – it does not in itself exhaust the problem of the turnover to any extent. If, during half a year or even a quarter, the workers of an enterprise are renewed “at least thirty to forty percent”, this means that not only the skilled upper strata but the working mass as a whole are in a position of perpetual migration. According to the words of Stalin, the worker makes it his aim to “work a little and then to go elsewhere, to a different place, to seek fortune”. In this benign, but in essence tragic phrase, Stalin, without noticing it, approaches the basic defect of the Five Year Plan: the rude disturbing of the economic balance to the detriment of the workers. Gigantic electric stations, factories, are being constructed, great quantities of machinery, tractors, are turned out, the village is being collectivized but the proletarians, who should be the basic core of this whole gigantic process, migrate at the same time from place to place in search of “fortune”. No, the flow of working forces from the village to the city ceased not because the peasantry achieved some sort of an ideal well-being, but because the position of the workers – this must be said honestly, clearly, openly – extraordinarily worsened in the last period.

The draft platform of the International Left Opposition says: “The standard of living of the workers and their role in the state – is the highest criterion of socialist successes.” If the Stalinist bureaucracy would approach the tasks of planning and of a living regulation of economy from this standpoint, it would not miss fire so wildly, every time, it would not be compelled to conduct a policy of extravagant zig-zags, and would not be confronted by political dangers.

The Platform of the Russian Opposition warned five years ago:

“The Mensheviks, agents of the bourgeoisie among the workers, point triumphantly to the material wretchedness of our workers. They are trying to rouse the proletariat against the Soviet state, to induce our workers to accept the bourgeois-Menshevik slogan, ‘Back to capitalism.’ The complacent official who sees ‘Menshevism’ in the Opposition’s insistence upon improving the material condition of the workers, is performing the best possible service to Menshevisim. He is pushing the workers under its yellow banner.” (Page 42)

One must not deceive himself. The physical migrations of the workers may become the pre-condition for political migrations.

(To Be Concluded)


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Last updated on: 13.1.2013