Leon Trotsky

Alarm Signal!

Danger Draws Closer in U.S.S.R.


Source: The Militant, Vol. VI No. 19, 18 March 1933, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
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One would be a coward or purblind to minimize the extent of the danger – catastrophe looms over the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks), the ruling party of the first proletarian state. It can be prevented only by the self-sacrificing struggle of the advanced workers.

The situation is so pregnant with danger that to confine oneself to phrases and hints would mean to participate in the activities of the ruling faction that is sapping the October Revolution. Under the Stalinist regime, the class enemies are better informed of all that takes place or is about to be undertaken, than the working class. The possible attempts on the part of counter-revolutionists to make use of our outspoken criticism do not present one one-hundredth part of that danger which is borne by the malignant misinformation spread by the bureaucracy and by the enforced silence of the proletarian vanguard.

In a broad historical sense, the situation of the Soviet Union cannot be so hopeless as is the situation of world Capitalism which finds itself up against an absolute impasse. This general historical perspective not only completely justifies the October Revolution, insofar as it requires justification, but it also dooms beforehand as utterly reactionary all programs of the petty bourgeois democracy (Mensheviks, Social-Revolutionists, etc., etc.), which inevitably reduce themselves to the restoration of “democratic” capitalism. Even in the event of the victory of the counter-revolution, the Soviet hydra will grow a new head in place of each one that is chopped off. But this does not at all mean that one may with an easy conscience, permit the Stalinist bureaucracy to bring ruin upon the present, living Soviet regime. In the given case, the historical reckoning is a reckoning in terms of decades. Ultimately, the downfall of the Soviet State would express itself only as an historical episode. But should this happen, it would be one of the most horrible episodes in universal history. Our sole task lies in preventing it. Meanwhile the danger approaches closer and closer. Sound the alarm! We must sound the alarm!

Bureaucratic Sabotage of Socialist Construction Under the Guise of Infallible Leadership

By dint of unbelievable exertions on the part of the toilers, at the cost of innumerable privations and sacrifices there have been created grandiose technical values, there have been gained extraordinary productive victories. The October revolution has demonstrated to mankind the potentialities inherent in Socialism, by speaking in terms of steel, cement and kilowatts of electrical energy. But during this same period, the bureaucratic leadership, which is self-sufficient and irresponsible, which is incapable of foreseeing and intolerant of criticism, which has been blinded by the mirage of socialism in one country, has brought national economy to the brink of absolute chaos. Industrial conquests and technical achievements are devoured by disproportions and gaps. No one so much as bothers to consult the opinion of workers and peasants upon the most fundamental question in the life of the nation – how much should be used, and how much put away for the future. The bureaucracy takes stock at a glance and proceeds to act, rejecting the objective criteria of achievements, recognizing no laws other than the laws it willfully wills, supplanting plans with commands and balance-sheets with coercion. The task that is most complex, the task that not only was never before solved but never even undertaken – to achieve by means of planned forecasting and regulation the mutual congruity between the branches of a growing economy of an enormous country; this task which by its very nature is insolvable without the daily experience of millions, without their critical checking over their own collective experience, without their openly expressing their needs and demands – this gigantic, all-embracing, nation-wide historical task is solved within official sanctums, in the secretariat of the CEC, all depending upon how the spirit moves it, and upon what this or the other spetz buzzes. What could be more monstrous?

Even if the Politbureau consisted of seven universal geniuses, of seven Marxes, or seven Lenins, it would have still been incapable all on its own, with all its creative imagination, to command over the economy of 170 million souls. But that is precisely the gist of the matter, the Politbureau of Marxes or Lenins would have never even posed itself such a task. And on the other hand, the present Politbureau consists of second-rate bureaucrats who are drunk with the power they have wrested from the party, who have lost the ground from under their feet and who are most of all concerned with preserving their inflated personal prestige.

Is it so long since that these homunculi repeated their badly thought out formula of the alliance between workers and peasants, as the foundation of foundations? How long ago is it that they worshiped the middle peasant? How long ago did they ignore the very existence of the kulak? How many ages is it since they rejected the program of planned industrialization in the name of, presumably, preserving the “link” between the city and the village? Frightened by the consequences of their own negligence, they threw themselves into the extremes of 100 percent collectivization. Twenty-five million of isolated peasant egos, who only the day before represented the motive power of rural economy – greedy, feeble as the moujik’s nag, but prime movers nevertheless – these millions the bureaucracy attempted to supplant at a single blow by the administrative will of 200,000 Kolkhozi (collective farms) directorates which were without the necessary equipment, the necessary training, and which lacked the necessary support of the peasantry itself.

The excessive shift in the apportionment of national income – from the village to the city, from light industry to the heavy industry; the ominous disproportions within industry, light as well as heavy – has excessively lowered the efficient functioning of labor power and capital expenditures. The economic link (smytchka) between the state industry and the peasantry turned out to have been broken prior to its having been achieved. The chervonmetz in the pocket of a moujik fell into the same relation to commodities as a lottery ticket stands in relation to the prize. The new form of the link, which is so important in the perspectives of transforming the village, namely the productive link, which is realized by tractors and farming machinery, lost at once all its force of attraction in the eyes of the peasant, insofar us its actual fruits remain unrealized by him. Fifteen million peasant farms have been collectivized, and ten million private enterprises have been consciously placed under such conditions are not to permit the exposure of the superiority of barbaric small-scale economy over the purely bureaucratic collectivization. Thus by means of combined resources the bureaucracy succeeded in weakening if not in killing all stimulus for work within the peasantry. The harvest of crops, even previously extremely low, began to drop ominously. From quarter to quarter the supply of industry with raw materials and of cities with foodstuffs worsens catastrophically. The onerous conditions under which the workers live generate the turnover of labor within enterprises as well as lapses, careless work, damaging of machinery, high percentage of damaged products, and low quality in grade of production. The entire planned economy falls under the blow.

Money Inflation

The bureaucracy has rid itself not only of political control on the part of the masses but also of the automatic control on the part of the chervonetz. All the draft figures pertaining to the economic budget, to the quality of production, to basic costs and the productivity of labor – all these have been swirled away like so much dust when the inflation completely liquidated the stable unit of value. Bureaucratic supervision tried its hand in this case as well to supplant economic reality; the gospel of “Stalin’s six conditions” was designated from then on to fulfill the function of a stable system of currency. This amounts to the same thing as feeding excerpts from a cook-book in place of proper food.

Money inflation means an ever increasing tax upon the living standards of the masses. By killing the interest of the worker in piecework wages, by fostering the indignation of the peasant against fixed prices for rural products, inflation sets a frenzied premium upon speculation and the speculator.

He lies who affirms that under socialist construction there would be nothing to fear from inflation. On the contrary, during the first steps of planned economy – and this covers a series of five year plans – inflation becomes especially dangerous, not to say ruinous. That is precisely how a plan checks itself by being compelled to make both ends meet, without inflation. To proclaim that the very existence of a plan nullifies the danger of inflation is approximately the same thing as to insist that the presence of a compass on the ship eliminates the danger of an existing leak. Money inflation becomes the source of credit inflation. The gaps within the plan are stuffed with printed paper. Real criteria give way to fictitious criteria. Planned economy is ravaged from within. For the employees of the Planning Commission there should be hung signs within all offices where the contradictory specifications of the Political Bureau are translated into statistics, each sign with the warning: “Inflation is the syphilis of Planned Economy”.

Who Will Prevail?

The costliness of premature rudimental bureaucratic collective farms alongside of dislocation of the ties between rural economy and industry, leads to the paralysis of the peasants’ will to economic activity. In order to partially return to the moujik the economic stimulus he has lost, the Stalinist leadership has legalized within well-known limits, free markets, screening them under the Jesuitical name of kolkhoz trade. The exclusion of traders – middlemen – under the legalization of private trade, signifies a monstrous crazy-quilt of prices in a speculation which is atomized and therefore more insane. The prices on the markets at once rose ten, fifteen and twenty times over the fixed government prices.

Naturally enough, the collectivized farmer sent bread and other products into those channels outside of the state. “This constitutes the negative side of kolkhoz trade,” asserts Stalin, without, however, drawing any further conclusions. “Negative sides!” But this very fact – the fact that the collectivized moujik prefers the channels of private trade and speculation to the planned trade with the state – means nothing else but that the economic link between the state and the peasantry has still not even been attained.

Free trade, by raising to the most excessive heights the column of mercury that gauges prices, has brought out into the open the malignant condition of the economic organism. The struggle against this disease demanded a radical re-examination of economic plans and a no less radical revision of the methods of management. Frightened by the facts recorded by the rise of the mercury, the bureaucracy, however, decided to direct its activities towards the thermometer itself. Molotov proclaimed the impending “regulation” of market prices. According to the signs, the economic centers have already taken to this course. As if it is possible to reduce the temperature of a sick organism by lowering the zero point on the scale of the thermometer! The economy must be cured. One must begin with an open acknowledgment that the question Who Will Prevail?, despite the official boasting, remains not only still unsolved even in the rough, but that the very conditions for its solution have excessively worsened as a result of the incessant and uncoordinated bureaucratic coercion of the living tissues of economy.

The piling up of fixed prices, those set conventionally and the prices in the free market; the transition from planned collection of raw material stock, that is, the semblance of trade between the government and the peasantry, to grain, meat, and milk taxes; the struggle not for survival but against death itself, against the mass pillage of kolkhoz property, and against the mass concealment of pillage; the out and out military mobilization of the party for a struggle against kulak sabotage, after the “liquidation” of the kulak as a class; and simultaneously with all this: the undernourishment in the cities, the return to the card system and to the rations, and finally, the restoration of the passport system – what do all these measures mean, independently of the fact whether they are correct or no, if not the return of that cruel struggle between the capitalist and the socialist tendencies, which in 1932 revived a number of features of 1918–1919?

The bureaucracy leans harder and harder upon the administrative lever instead of pulling asunder the framework that restricts the personal interests of the peasants in conformance with the real condition of rural economy. It has been decided “to place” Communists, who will obey the orders of the ruling center, in charge of the kolkhozi which ideally represent volunteer producing cooperatives. Simultaneously with this, the CEC testifies that the village Communists are becoming soaked with the spirit of peasant opposition and must undergo a mass purification. In the meantime, no less than one and a half million of kolkhoz Communists are required in order to fill the commanding kolkhoz positions by party members. Where will they come from?

To force upon the peasant collectives, economic leadership in accordance with party tokens means to undermine not only the kolkhozi but also the authority of the party; it means to substitute a new dose of administrative coercion for the task of economic competition; it means not to go ahead of the Nep but to retrace one’s steps back away from it, to “Military Communism”, even if on a higher economic plane.

The Balance Sheet of the First Five Year Plan

The moment at which the first five year plan was concluded coincided with the extreme sharpening of economic difficulties which did not obtain since the period of civil war. But the bureaucracy leads a double life, one for display and the other – in reality. This duality it transfer’s everywhere, among others, into the sphere of economic statistics.

With a stop-watch in his hands, Stalin insists that if the plan is fulfilled only 93.7, and not 100 percent, it is only because the threat of Japanese intervention, which could not have been forseen at the time the plan was formulated, had swallowed up 6.3 per cent. In other words, the blueprints of the CEC have been confirmed to the dot by the fulfillment of a gigantic plan which constitutes the first experiment of mankind in that sphere, which encompasses from all sides the life of a nation with a 170,000,000 souls and which moreover, was drawn five full years beforehand! If nothing else, this astonishing precision in identity between the design and the realization must arouse the acutest distrust in the entire report on the part of anyone familiar with the ABC rudiments of the question. It is sufficient to remark that, according to the casual admission of Molotov, the productivity of industry in 1932 grew only 8.5 percent against the 36 percent which was set by the yearly plan! Where has this grandiose lapse disappeared as well as the lapses of preceding years? Stalin can produce falsified figures, consciously misleading workers and peasants. The report is necessarily drawn in rubles. Within this supple implement of the report there is to be found the key to the secret of the astonishing coincidence between the initial and final figures. Thus, the tremendous over-expenditures in construction are set down as over-fulfillments of the plan, when as a matter of fact, the material results of the construction, despite the billions of over-expenditure, lag behind the plan several times ten per cent. [1]

We are least of all inclined to look! upon the fulfillment of the economic plan as a hit and miss affair and would have considered the fulfillment of the five year plan within six, seven or eight years a grandiose success, under the condition that, simultaneously, the disproportions were mitigated and the standard of living of the masses was raised. But it is precisely upon these more important criteria that we have the most unfavorable evidence.

The composers of a plan proclaimed in their own time as their task, “to lift up the country to a new and hitherto unseen, high level of material and cultural development”. Even during the first two years the mitigation of the famine in commodities was to have been attained; the next two years were to have initiated the superabundance of goods. In the fifth year, the consumption of industrial products, should have increased, according to various categories, one and a half, two, and two and a half times. The increase in meat consumption was specified at 25 percent, in dairy products – 50 percent, etc., etc. In actuality, the shortage in commodities has become unbearably acute, the supply of bread has sharply decreased, meat and dairy products have become rarities. But in return for this, there has been created the theory that socialism is not a consumers’ organization of society. The consolation bears too close a resemblance to mockery! In the midst of newly erected factories, plants, mines, electric stations, collective and Soviet farms, the workers and peasants begin to feel more and more as if they are in the midst of gigantic phantoms, indifferent to the fate of living men. An acute feeling of disillusionment has possessed the masses. The populace, as consumers, can no longer understand to what end they are straining their forces as producers.

Had Stalin openly confessed, “the results obtained did not match our expectations because we had neglected much, over-estimated a great deal, and failed to fulfill a great deal more” – then the toiling masses, of course, would not have fallen into ecstasy about the leadership; but they would have taken the confession into account; and, in all probability, would have extended the leaders an additional respite. But Stalin said the plan was marvelous, the leadership holds the heights, the design has been fulfilled to the slightest detail. In that case, what about the lamentable results? Stalin is imposing upon the masses the idea that it is not he, Stalin, who is rotten, but the very elements of the plan. The bureaucracy identifies its own blindness with socialism and, while saving the reputation of its own infallibility, vilifies socialism in the eyes of the workers and especially the peasants. It seems, as if the bureaucracy is consciously striving to force the masses to find a way out other than socialism.

(Continued in the next issue)


1. We shall consider in detail the question about the balance sheet of the first five year plan in a book on Soviet economy that is now in preparation.

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Last updated on: 3 September 2015