Leon Trotsky

Soviet Economy in Danger

The Situation on the Eve of the Second Five Year Plan

(October 1932)

Written: 22 October 1932.
Source: The Militant, Vol. V No. 46, 12 November 1932, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2014. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

The successes of the first two years of the Five Year Plan demonstrated to the bourgeoisie of the entire world that the proletarian revolution was a much more serious business than was apparent in the beginning. The interest in the Soviet “experiment” grew apace. Conspicuous groups of eminent bourgeois publications in divers countries began printing comparatively objective economic information.

At the same time the international Communist press played up the most optimistic estimates of the Soviet press, exaggerating them crudely, presumably in the interests of propaganda, and transforming them into an economic legend.

Petty bourgeois democrats, who were not at all in a hurry to form an opinion about so complex a fact as the October revolution, welcomed with glee the possibility to discover support for their belated sympathies in the statistics of the Five Year Plan. Magnanimously, at last, they “recognized” the Soviet Republic in reward for its economic and cultural attainments. This act of moral heroism provided many of them with an opportunity to take an interesting trip at reduced rates.

It is infinitely more deserving, forsooth, to defend the socialist construction of the first workers’ state than to sustain the pretensions of Wall Street or of the City. But one can take as little stock in the lukewarm sympathies of this gentry toward the Soviet government as in the antipathies of the Amsterdam Congress toward militarism.

People, after the type of the Webbs (and they are not the worst of this lot) are, naturally, not at all inclined to break their heads over the contradictions of Soviet economy. Without in any manner committing themselves, they strive chiefly to utilise the conquests of Soviets in order thus to shame or urge ahead the ruling circles of their land. A foreign revolution serves them as a subordinate weapon for their reformism. For this purpose, as well as for their personal peace of mind, “the Friends of the U.S.S.R.”, together with the international Communist bureaucracy, require a picture of the successes in U.S.S.R., as plain, as homogeneous and as comforting as possible. Whoever disturbs this picture is none other than an enemy and a counter-revolutionist.

A crude and detrimental idealization of the transitional regime has particularly intrenched itself in the international Communist press during the last two years, i.e., during that period in which the contradictions and disproportions of Soviet economy have already found their way into the pages of the official Soviet press.

There is nothing so precarious as sympathies that are based on legends and fiction. There is no depending on people who require fabrications for their sympathies. The impending crisis of Soviet economy will inevitably, and within the rather near future, crumple the sugary legend, and, we have no reason to doubt will scatter many deadbeat friends into the bypaths of indifference, if not of enmity.

What is much worse and much more serious is that the Soviet crisis will catch the European workers, and chiefly the Communists, utterly unprepared, and render them receptive to social democratic criticism, which is absolutely inimical to the Soviets and to socialism.

In this question, as in all others, the proletarian revolution requires the truth, and only the truth. Within the scope of this brief pamphlet, I have deemed it necessary to present in all their acuteness the contradictions of Soviet economy, the incompleteness and the precariousness of many of its conquests, the coarse errors of the leadership and the danger’s that stand In the path of socialism. Let our petty bourgeois friends lavishly apply their pink and baby-blue colorations. We deem it more correct to mark with a heavy black line the weak and indefensible points whence the enemy threatens to break through. The clamor about our enmity to the Soviet Union is so absurd as to bear within itself its own antidote. The nearest future will bring with it a new confirmation of our correctness. The Left Opposition teaches the workers to foresee dangers and not to lose themselves when they impend.

He who accepts the proletarian revolution not otherwise than with all the conveniences and life-long guarantees cannot continue on the road with us. We accept the workers’ state as it is and we assert, “This is our state.” Despite its heritage of backwardness, despite starvation and sluggishness, despite the bureaucratic mistakes and even abominations, the workers of the entire world must defend tooth and nail their future socialist fatherland which is within this state.

First and foremost we serve the Soviet republic in that we tell the workers the truth about it and thereby teach them to lay the road for a better future.

Prinkipo, October 22, 1932

* * *

The Art of Planning

The prerequisites for socialist planning were first laid by the October overturn and by the fundamental laws of the Soviet state. In the course of a number of years state organs of centralized management of economy were created and put in operation. Great creative work was performed. What was destroyed by the imperialist and the civil war has been re-established. New grandiose enterprises were created, new industries, entire branches of industry. The capacity of the proletariat organized into a state to direct economy by new methods and to create material values in tempos unheard of hitherto has been demonstrated in actuality. All this was achieved against the background of decaying world capitalism. Socialism, as -a system, for the first time demonstrated its title to historic victory not on the pages of Das Kapital but by the praxis of hydroelectric plants and blast-furnaces. Marx, it goes without saying, would have preferred this method of demonstration.

However, light-mnded assertions to the effect that the U.S.S.R. has already entered into socialism are criminal. The achievements are great. But there still remains a very long and arduous road to the factual victory over economic anarchy, to the surmounting of disproportions, to the guarantee of the harmonious character of economic life.

Even though the first Five Year Plan took into consideration all possible angles, by the very nature of things it could not be anything but a first and a rough hypothesis, doomed beforehand to fundamental reconstruction in the process of the work. It is impossible to create a priori a complete system of economic harmony. The planning hypothesis could not but include old disproportions and the inevitability of the development of new ones. Centralized management implies not only great advantages but also the danger of centralizing the mistakes, i.e., of elevating them to an excessively high degree. Only continuous regulation of the plan in the process of its fulfillment, its reconstruction in part and as a whole, can guarantee its economic effectiveness.

The art of socialist planning does not drop from heaven nor is it presented full-blown into one’s hands with the conquest of power. This art may be attained only by struggle, step by step, not by units but by millions as an integral part of the new economy and culture. There is nothing either astonishing or disheartening in the fact that at the 15th anniversary of the October revolution the art of economic management still remains on a very low plane. The newspaper For the Industrialization deems it possible to announce, “Our operative planning has neither hands nor feet” (September 12, 1932). And in the meantime, the crux of the matter is precisely in operative planning.

We have stressed more than once that “under incorrect planning or, what is more important, under incorrect regulation of the plan in the process of its fulfillment, a crisis may develop toward the very end of the Five Year Plan and may create insurmountable difficulties for the utilization and development of its indubitable successes” (Bulletin of the Opposition, No. 23, July 15, 1931). It is precisely for this reason that we considered the hasty and purely fortuitous “translation of the Five Year Plan into four years was an act of light-minded adventurism” (idem). Both our fears and our warnings have been unfortunately fully confirmed.

The Preliminary Totals of the Five Year Plan

At the present moment there cannot even be a discussion about the actual completion of the Five Year Plan in four years (or more exactly, four years and three months). The most frantic lashing and spurring ahead in the course of the final two months will have no effect any longer on the general totals. It is as yet impossible to determine the actual percentage, i.e., measured in terms of economy – of the fulfillment of the preliminary program. The data published in the press take on more a formally statistical than an exact economical character. Should the construction of a new plant be accomplished up to 90 percent of its completion and then the work be stopped because of the obvious lack of raw material, then from a formally statistical viewpoint one may enter the plan as fulfilled 90 percent. But from the point of view of economy the expenses accrued must simply be entered under the column of losses. The balance sheet of the actual effectiveness (the useful functioning) of plants constructed or in the process of construction, from the viewpoint of the national economic balance, still belongs entirely to the future.

(To be continued)


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