Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

A comment on the Swedish comrades’ articles: How to approach the study of capitalist restoration in the Soviet Union

First Published: The Workers’ Advocate Supplement, Vol. 5, No. 7, August 10, 1989.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The economic and political crisis in the Soviet Union is laying bare features of Soviet society that had previously been shielded behind official demagogy about "advancing socialism." What we see is not socialism at all. We see the ugly features of a bureaucratic, state capitalist system. We see even more clearly what the true Marxist-Leninists have been saying for years: the proletarian revolution of October 1917 has been reversed. The working class no longer rules. A new class of capitalist bureaucrats holds the reins of power in the once socialist Soviet Union.

But how did this come about? How did the socialist revolution in Russia proceed? How was it defeated? What are the features of the revisionist system that replaced working class rule? It is up to the revolutionary Marxist-Leninists to answer these questions.

This analysis can help confront the present-day mudslinging against the very idea of working class socialism. The attack on socialism is growing thicker and dirtier as the capitalist newspapers and politicians, countless professors, and other anti-communist sages gloat over the "free market" reforms of Gorbachev and the other revisionist chieftains from Peking to Warsaw. The revolutionary movement is also facing mounting pressures from reformism and opportunism; and deepening the critique of Soviet revisionism helps confront these pressures.

Most important, deepening the analysis of what happened in the Soviet Union is needed in order to rescue the Marxist-Leninist principles of socialism. These principles need to be restudied, carefully reexamined and reconfirmed so that proletarian socialism can once again become the fighting banner of change and liberation for the working class and oppressed around the world. These principles include not just the criticism of capitalism and the development of the idea of a new society without exploitation, but how to go about obtaining this new society. In this, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 not only aimed at the goal of socialism, but broke new ground in developing tactics for the step-by-step transformation of a country towards socialism. What is right and wrong has to be sorted so that the lessons of this history can continue. to enrich revolutionary theory.

The revolutionary Marxist-Leninists in a number of countries are studying how capitalist restoration took place in the Soviet Union. In Sweden, the comrades of the Communist League of Norrkoping are energetically taking part in this work. We have received and studied a translation of two major articles on this subject from numbers 7 and 9, 1988 of their journal Red Dawn. (Reprinted elsewhere in this issue of the Supplement.)

We agree with the starting point of these Swedish articles, which is the necessity to undertake a deeper analysis of Soviet history and of the origin, economic roots, and development of the capitalist restoration in the Soviet Union, In the anti-revisionist movement in the 60’s, there was a certain amount of discussion about why capitalist restoration took place, including some discussion of events prior to Khrushchov. But over a period of time, for a number of reasons, this discussion withered: some of the methods of approach became discredited; some groups drew conclusions that led them to non-revolutionary practice or simply reiterated bourgeois views; no one achieved a definitive answer; etc.

Thus, from the anti-revisionist movement and elsewhere, a number of answers were proposed for the riddles of Soviet history. But, it seems to us, none of them answered the questions that the revolutionary Marxist-Leninists have come to ask. It is up to the Marxist-Leninists of today to build up a fundamentally deeper analysis.

Yet nowadays such discussion comes smack up against the objections and prejudices of, for example, a number of parties that declare themselves to be opponents of revisionism. They object to Soviet revisionism, but they stubbornly put a thousand and one obstacles in the way of looking into how this revisionist treachery arose. This is because they want to cling to the opportunist ideas that produced this treachery, including the wrong orientations adopted by the world communist movement at the Seventh Congress of the CI. They use these historic errors as an ideological crutch to prop up their present turn to the right. Such is the case with the Party of Labor of Albania and others that follow their views closely, and with most of the Theory and Practice grouping that for a time had some quiet differences with the Party of Labor of Albania.

We welcome the Swedish comrades’ efforts as part of the efforts of the revolutionary Marxist-Leninist forces around the world to deal with these questions important for the progress of the movement. The Communist League of Norrkoping may be a small organization, but it has an active spirit. The Swedish comrades have not taken the attitude of waiting for others to do things, but instead have passionately thrown themselves into the struggle to sort these issues out. We have reprinted their articles with the aim of giving a picture of some of their thinking on Soviet history and the roots of capitalist restoration. We think it is important for the Marxist-Leninists of different countries to have an idea of each other’s views on key issues.

With respect to our own views, our work on the theory of socialism in general and on the degeneration of the Soviet Union in particular is far from complete. The discussions at our recent Third Congress stressed this. As the Swedish articles cover a tremendous range of issues and events, on many of them we still only have initial views, or have not finished our research. Nevertheless, we feel that an exchange of views is quite useful.

In our opinion, the Swedish articles raise many issues that have to be dealt with in this study. At the same time, we see some underlying weaknesses in these articles. Many of their conclusions we think may not hold up to more careful scrutiny, but our main concern is about the methods of study. We think a different approach is needed.

The following comments point to some of what we see as shortcomings in the Red Dawn articles. In doing so, we try to highlight the issue of the method of study. We hope to give some idea of the methods that our Party is trying to use in the study of what happened in the Soviet Union.

When Did the Decisive Turn Take Place?

The focus of the Red Dawn articles is the question of when capitalist relations were restored in the USSR, The Swedish comrades reject the view that capitalist restoration began in the mid-1950’s with the seizure of power by Khrushchov, and hold it began much earlier and led to a capitalist society at the time of the first five-year plan.

The question of when the Soviet Union began to degenerate into capitalism, and of when it arrived at capitalism, are now being closely examined in the Marxist-Leninist movement. It is possible that such questions will not be answered by precise dates, because we are dealing with social processes that may have taken years or even decades to evolve. Nonetheless, assessing roughly when the backward turn was made in the USSR has its importance. Among other things, it is part of studying what are the features of a society in transition to socialism, as opposed to one in transition to a revisionist-capitalist society, And it has importance in judging the transitional methods and tactics used by the Bolsheviks-which ones are contributions to revolutionary tactics and which are mistakes that contributed to the revisionist tragedy.

One view that had existed was that the coming to power of the renegade Nikita Khrushchov in the years following Stalin’s death in 1953 marked the beginning in earnest of the process of capitalist restoration. But such a view cannot explain the depths of bureaucratic corrosion that had already been reached when Khrushchov took power in the mid-1950’s. It cannot explain the basic continuity in the economic and political system in the Soviet Union during the years of Khrushchov and Brezhnev with the one already existing for a number of years while Stalin was still alive. At our 3rd Congress there was discussion, on the view the turn towards capitalist restoration took place decades before, A speech on our study said:

It appears that the mid-30’s is the crucial turn in the Soviet revolution. Until this time, there is still an attempt to be revolutionary, even if with weaknesses and problems. But from now on, what takes place is the institutionalization of the revolution in a bourgeois direction. After the turn, the Soviet Union is no longer pursuing a forward march towards socialism, but is in a trajectory of degeneration. In this case, since private capitalism had been largely defeated, the degeneration is towards the state monopoly capitalism we are familiar with in recent decades." (The Supplement, vol. 5, #1, Jan. 15, ’89, p. 24, col. 1)

What the Red Dawn Articles Say

The Swedish articles point out that they were presenting, in 1987 and 1988, similar views concerning when the turn took place. However, further study has led them to conclude that the degeneration began much earlier. They now hold that the "decimation of the working class" caused a "substitutionalist" situation in 1920 in which the Soviet government no longer had a class basis, although it was still a "workers’ government", and that a bureaucracy of new "communist" bosses and old czarist civil servants gained the real power and initiative several years later in 1923. They believe that this bureaucracy became a ruling class of a state capitalist social system with the first five-year plan that began in 1928. New Dawn states:

"What happened during the period from 1923 to 1928 was a quantitative process in direction towards a counterrevolution–in other words, precisely what we hitherto have thought took place between about 1934 and 1956!" (emphasis as in the original)

Our principal concern with the Red Dawn articles does not hinge on the assessment of the first five-year plan or on what dates are fixed for the various turns in Soviet history. Indeed, our own views on these issues are still only preliminary. What we want to address is some of the methods used by the Swedish comrades in studying Soviet history.

Studying a Society in Flux

The study of Soviet history is above all a study of a society in the midst of various transitional stages. The early Soviet Republic was a society in flux. The proletariat had seized power in a vast country. In the midst of civil war and social convulsions and a series of abrupt turns, the working class and its Bolshevik Party took steps to transform society from capitalism to socialism.

It was impossible to create socialism at one stroke. The proletariat had to work with what it had inherited from the old society. Even in highly developed, industrialized countries there will be transitional steps needed for the proletarian revolution to establish the classless, communist system or even its first stage of a fully socialist system. (The speech "On the party-wide study of the Marxist-Leninist concept of socialism" in the Jan. 15 Supplement discusses the issue of what a full socialist system is.) And in Russia, this took particularly painful forms as Russia was a backward society, and moreover it had been laid waste by war and crisis.

Upon seizing power the proletariat did not have the strength, the organization, the culture, or the material conditions (with a devastated industry and vast peasant, agriculture) to immediately reorganize the economy on fully socialist lines. Instead the Bolsheviks were compelled to retreat from the immediate establishment of socialism and develop transitional steps. The Soviet Union was a society that was only just beginning to pass through state capitalism under proletarian control to socialist relations. From the very outset the revolution was forced into any number of zig-zags and retreats from the principles that will govern a fully socialist society, and yet at first it made progress. As part of this, they were often compelled to make use of capitalist and state capitalist forms and methods of economic organization. All of Lenin’s writings from the Soviet period stress this reality. There are repeated references in Lenin’s writings that even steps towards state capitalist forms in certain fields would be progress over the then-prevailing anarchy and shambles of the bourgeois relations. Lenin spoke clearly and bluntly about the bourgeois and petty bourgeois forces at work in the economy and the difficult and protracted struggle required to overcome them.

An understanding of this transition process is fundamental to making an assessment of the Soviet revolution. What are the principles of this transition to socialism? How are the capitalist forms overcome? How is socialism brought closer? What led to this process being cut short in the USSR? The various forms used for transition have to be examined. Which ones worked or failed? And, of the various problems hindering the transition to full socialism, which ones were adequately dealt with and which ones deepened and helped kill the socialist society?

The study of the transition is not something that should be hurried over because it is crucial to the assessment of Soviet history and because it has vast significance beyond the Russian revolution. And indeed, the question of transitional steps is not just forced upon the proletariat as a sad necessity, but it provides an important impetus for revolution, for it shows that the socialist revolution doesn’t have to wait for a country to develop a higher and higher level of industrialization and capitalism.

As a result of the need for transitional measures, it is not enough to discover that the Soviet economy had many features in common with state capitalism, because this is characteristic of the transition period. It is not enough to see that various Soviet decrees or Bolshevik resolutions do not implement the principles of a full socialist society in order to conclude that the economic roots of capitalist restoration are being laid. It is necessary to make a more careful and difficult analysis in order to see whether such measures helped or hurt proletarian power, and helped develop or pushed backward Soviet society.

Further complicating matters is that it often takes a good deal of work to determine what the significance of a particular law or resolution or decree is. One must judge how far various measures were implemented, and what their actual effect was, because many Soviet decrees never got beyond the paper they were written on. As well, often measures are implemented under the same general name as previous measures which actually differ from them.

So the measures taken must be looked at in the light of the economic and social conditions of the time. Moreover, they must be looked at from the theoretical side. The revolution in Russia provided a test on a vast scale of the Marxist theory of revolution, and of the question of transitional steps. The theoretical expression of this revolution, especially the writings of Lenin, must be carefully weighed.

With this approach we can judge the issues that confronted the Soviet working class and its Bolshevik Party; the steps they took; the strengths and weaknesses of what was done; and their impact on Soviet society. We can deepen our grasp of the Marxist-Leninist theory of socialism. And we can draw out revolutionary principles to provide guideposts for the socialist revolution that we are working towards.

In our opinion, such an approach wasn’t held to in the Red Dawn articles. Insufficient attention was paid to the issue of the measures and methods of work needed in a transition period. Moreover, not enough thought was given to the theoretical side of the question, to the consideration of the Marxist-Leninist principles of socialist transition. And it appears that the difficulties in establishing the facts about Soviet history and social conditions were not appreciated, These weaknesses undermine much of their argumentation.

Let us look at some of the principal reasons that the articles give for their view that the decisive turn in the Soviet Union took place with the first five-year plan in 1928.

Relations in Soviet Industry

The first five-year plan," Red Dawn, contends, "created a completely new base of society–and this base was not socialist except in form. The first five-year plan was a qualitative leap–a counterrevolution.

Instead of the workers’ state with bureaucratic deformations, there appeared the social-fascist dictatorship of the new bureaucratic bourgeoisie." (Emphasis as in the original.)

Red Dawn then points out what it sees as "the measures which manifested the new socioeconomic relations" in Soviet industry.

When we look at some of these measures, it turns out that the dates given often miss the mark. Most of the measures of industrial organization that are attributed to the first five-year plan were actually put into effect years earlier, or at least were already well underway. And many of the social consequences that are said to have occurred at this time actually occurred later.

This factual inaccuracy affects more than whether something took place a little earlier or later. In revolutionary periods, a huge amount of experience can be concentrated in a short time. The Soviet Union, in a relatively brief period, passed from capitalist rule, to working class political power and control over the economy, to various transformations of the economy displacing the old capitalist classes, and finally to the capitalism of a new revisionist ruling class. A wrong date for a measure can tear it out of its context.

Indeed, it is hard to draw conclusions from any step taken in the course of the Soviet revolution apart from its historical context; outside of the sharp twists and turns in the class struggle in these years; or without carefully thinking through the theoretical principles involved.

To see some of the issues at stake, let us examine some of the measures in Soviet industry listed by Red Dawn. Our comments will not prove whether a turn took place during the first-five year plan, but we aim to show that the measures taken in Soviet industry have to be considered more carefully. A careful consideration of transitional measures is not only necessary to judge the evolution of the Soviet economy, but may be even more important than the final conclusion about when the capitalist restoration in the Soviet Union began. As far as the five-year plan itself goes, we will not deal with a series of issues that we have not yet investigated in detail.

a) Economic Autonomy and Profit Accounting

"In 1929, the ’khrozraschot’ principle was introduced at Soviet enterprises, which," according to Red Dawn, "meant that the enterprises got economic autonomy and became juridical persons [entities with legal standing]. The enterprises were to have their own balance account with profit and loss, at which the income normally was supposed to meet the expenses and therefore also give ’profitability.’ The principle of and the striving for cash limit and profit is thus nothing new in the Soviet economy, but was quite the contrary a cornerstone in the planning system already from the first five-year plan on."

There may have been changes in the profit and accounting system in 1929, such as shifting the center of responsibility away from the "trusts" to the individual enterprises. (Soviet "trusts" were coordinated groups of related small enterprises or, sometime, a single large enterprise.) This may bear further looking into. However, the ’khrozraschot’ principle was introduced long before the first five-year plan. Although mainly pushed aside by the extreme measures of "war communism" during the civil war, economic autonomy of enterprises and financial accounting were in force in the Soviet economy from the outset of the revolution. Part of the New Economic Policy (NEP) of 1921 was to allow these forces greater play while, at the same time, keeping them under state control and regulation.

In April 10, 1923, a decree was issued reformulating the functions and powers of the industrial trusts. This decree defined that the trusts had a whole range of autonomous rights in marketing products, purchasing supplies, receiving loans, etc. They also carried out profit accounting. There was a system of division of profits between the state, the trust, and the workers and employees in the form of bonuses and benefits. There were also various kinds of profit accounting at the enterprise level, with many nonprofitable enterprises closed or amalgamated in the early years of the NEP. (See Joseph Freeman, The Soviet Worker, International Publishers, 1932, pages 47-51.)

At the time the Bolsheviks said openly that such measures were a retreat from socialist organization. They were necessary to make possible going over in the future to fully socialist principles. They were part of a transitional system whereby a market economy and state capitalism existed under the proletarian dictatorship. This was discussed as follows in a Central Committee resolution that was drafted by Lenin. Section 1 said in part:

"Changes in the forms of socialist development are necessary because the Communist Party and the Soviet government are now adopting special methods to implement the general policy of transition from capitalism to socialism and in many respects are operating differently from the way they operated before: they are capturing a number of positions by a ’new flanking movement’, so to speak; they are retreating in order to make better preparations for a new offensive against capitalism. In particular, a free market and capitalism, both subject to state control, are now being permitted and are developing; on the other hand, the socialized state enterprises are being reorganized on commercial lines..."

"The transfer of state enterprises to the so-called profit basis," the resolution continued in Section 3, "is inevitably and inseparably connected with the New Economic Policy; in the near future this is bound to become the predominant, if not the sole, form of state enterprise. In actual fact, this means that with the free market now permitted and developing the state enterprises will to a large extent be put on a commercial basis..." (See Lenin, "The Role and Functions of the Trade Unions Under the New Economic Policy" - decision of the CC, RCP(B), Jan. 12, 1922 or Collected Works, vol. 33, pp. 184-196)

Lenin discussed these and related questions of what he called "state capitalism under communism" in his political report to the 11th Congress of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) in March of 1922:

"The state capitalism discussed in all books on economics," Lenin explained, "is that which exists under the capitalist-system, where the state brings under its direct control certain capitalist enterprises. But ours is a proletarian state; it rests on the proletariat; it gives the proletariat all political privileges; and through the medium of the proletariat it attracts to itself the lower ranks of the peasantry (you remember that we began this work through the Poor Peasant Committees).... Our society is one which has left the rails of capitalism, but has not yet got on to new rails. The state in this society is not ruled by the bourgeoisie, but by the proletariat. We refuse to understand that when we say ’state’ we mean ourselves, the proletariat, the vanguard of the working class. State capitalism is capitalism which we shall be able to restrain, and the limits of which we shall be able to fix. This state capitalism is connected with the state, and the state is the workers, the advanced section of the workers, the vanguard. We are the state.

"State capitalism is capitalism that we must confine within certain bounds; but we have not yet learned to confine it within those bounds. That is the whole point;..."

(See "11th Congress of the RCP(B) – Political Report of the CC," March 27, 1922 or Collected Works, vol. 33, pp.278- 9.)

This is not the place to delve in depth into Lenin’s arguments. The point of citing this passage is to indicate the tasks of our historical and theoretical investigation. Here we are looking at a society "which has left the rails of capitalism, but has not yet got on to new rails." What was the process that blocked the way to climbing onto these new rails and eventually led to falling back into capitalism? One doesn’t get one step closer to this by declaring that the workers’ revolution was finished in 1929 because one can find profit-accounting or other features common to capitalism or state capitalism. If that is so, then the workers’ revolution ended before it began.

If we are to make a serious consideration of the question of profit accounting and autonomy of enterprises, a different approach is needed. We have to look at what were the economic and political conditions that compelled Lenin and the Bolsheviks to argue for a retreat and accept such things as running enterprises on a "commercial basis." It has to be weighed whether or not such measures were permissible from the standpoint of the principles of the transition from capitalism to socialism. And if so, to examine how such measures were carried out. Were they carried too far? How were they modified by the first five-year plan and subsequently? Without examining these things concretely it is impossible to say whether they should or could have been modified differently at this time. Or whether they should or could have been abolished altogether. Or whether and how they differ from what the revisionists are doing today in their name.

b) One-person Management

"Before the five-year plan," the Red Dawn article continues, "the enterprises had been headed by a ’troika,’ consisting of a technical director, a trade union official and a political commissar from the Party. According to a decision by the central committee of the Party in 1929, this system was abolished and replaced by one-man, management. According to the Central Committee resolution, the orders of the director should thereafter be unconditionally binding on his subordinate administrative staff and on all workers.’..."

Here, too, it is simply erroneous to imply that one-man management only began in Soviet enterprises in 1929. There may have been adjustments in the organization of management at this time; something that bears looking into further. However, if we are to judge the significance of the introduction of one-man management in Soviet industry we must go back more than ten years previous.

In March of 1918, only months after the Bolshevik Revolution, Lenin wrote his famous article The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government, which set forth some of his ideas on the principles of the transition from capitalism to socialism. A section of this article (with the heading "’Harmonious organization and dictatorship") is devoted precisely to the question of one-man management in Soviet enterprises, which is also described, with a certain violence of language typical of the times, as "one-man dictatorship". At one point of this section Lenin discusses the outcry from the Left Socialist Revolutionaries (also the "Left Communists" among the Bolsheviks) and others, against the decree of the Soviet government investing "unlimited" powers in the directors of the railways. Immediate Tasks raises whether this violates socialist democracy. It argues strongly that it does not.

With respect to industry and railroads, Immediate Tasks goes on to state that

"... unquestioning subordination to a single will is absolutely necessary for the success of processes organized on the pattern of large-scale machine industry. On the railways it is twice and three times as necessary."

Finally, Lenin explains, this does not negate the importance of the mass forms of workers democracy, but must go hand-in-hand with it. Lenin appeals to lead the people "along the true path, along the path of labor discipline, along the path of coordinating the task of arguing at mass meetings about the conditions of work with the task of unquestioningly obeying the will of the Soviet leader, of the dictator, during the work." (Collected Works, vol. 27, pp. 267-71)

There was a stormy debate, both inside and outside the party, over the question of one-man management. It culminated at the 9th Congress of the Communist Party in March 1920. From that time it was decided to replace the "troika" or various forms of the "collegial" system with a single director at most Soviet enterprises. By the end of 1920, about 88% of the large enterprises in the Soviet Republic were already under individual managers, and this system was further extended in the following years. (See E.H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution 1917-1923, Vol. 2, pages 190-191.)

There is the question, however, of what the actual situation was in enterprises which formally had a one-person management system. According to some sources, informal "troika" systems may have developed. (It is not yet clear to us whether the late 20’s "troika" in the factory is the same as the earlier "troika.") Various statements reaffirming one-person management occur in the late 20’s. There is the question of what effect they had, and when. As well, there is the question of the experience of one-person management.

Here, too, the problem with the Swedish comrades’ article is not so much that they fixed the wrong date on the adoption of this measure. But they have skipped over addressing the conditions and issues that gave rise to the decisions in favor of one-man management, or assessing the experience of one-person management. As well, they have not dealt with the theoretical issues raised on this by Lenin. It is one thing to agree or disagree with Lenin’s views on this question, but it is another thing to ignore them.

Was one-person management a necessary step in the face of the acute crisis, bourgeois sabotage and social disintegration? Should it have been adopted? Should it have been continued or modified? Is it compatible in principle with steps towards socialism? What is it’s relationship to proletarian power, democratic centralism, and working class democracy?

Some of these issues were raised for discussion at our 3rd Congress. We do not have final views on these matters. However, it seems wrong to simply present that one-man management, as opposed to collective management, is necessarily–outside of time and place–incompatible with the transition to socialism. (See the Supplement, vol. 5, #1 and #4, January and April, ’89).

c) Wage Policy

The Red Dawn article then points to a number of issues of wage policy that were supposedly introduced with the first five-year plan. They discuss both the piecework system and the disparities in pay according to work done, job skills, and so forth.

But here too, it is a mistake to begin the examination of these questions at the outset of the first five-year plan. Both the issues of piece work and wage discrepancies were posed from the early days of Soviet power. For instance, in April-May, 1918 the CC of the Communist Party adopted Lenin’s Six Theses on the Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government. The fifth thesis reads:

"5. Particular significance now attaches to measures for raising labor discipline and the productivity of labor. Every effort must be exerted for the steps already undertaken in this direction... This includes, for example, the introduction of piecework, the adoption of much that is scientific and progressive in the Taylor system, the payment of wages commensurate with the general results of the work of a factory..." (Collected Works, vol. 27, p. 316)

Piecework was seen as a necessary means to raise output and instill discipline at work in the midst of economic collapse and chaos. It was introduced to the extent that it was possible to organize it, and it became widespread under the NEP. The system was apparently further consolidated with the first five-year plan.

Similarly, the discrepancies in pay according to work done and relatively high salaries for specialists and technical experts were put into effect from almost the beginning. Lenin repeatedly referred to this as "unjust" and a retreat from socialist equalization. He stressed that it was a "step backward and departure from the principles of the Paris Commune." (See, for example, the fourth thesis in Six Theses) At the same time, Lenin considered this "departure" absolutely essential for the revival of the economy and the eventual transfer to fully socialist principles of distribution.

To make an assessment of both piecework and unequal wages, it seems necessary to judge whether such measures are permissible in principle during the transition to socialism. As well, it is necessary to look at the concrete situation that Lenin and the Bolsheviks faced in order to assess the steps that they took. Only then can we answer whether these things were correct and necessary.

If they were correct and needed, then the question arises of when were they carried too far. Why were these things allowed to go unchecked and, eventually, consciously spurred on to huge levels? It is clear that they contributed to the deep stratification of Soviet society that became obvious by the mid and late 30’s with the consolidation of a labor aristocracy and a wealthy stratum of Soviet technicians and intellectuals. (The questions of wages, piecework and related matters were also discussed at our 3rd Congress. See the January and April issues of the Supplement.)

The Red Dawn article goes on to draw further conclusions from what it considers the low wage levels and the piecework system. It sums up that by the first five-year plan the Soviet working class was subject to a "belt tightening policy." Moreover, that it suffered from a "rate of exploitation that would make any western private capitalist pale with envy."

Some of the facts presented to prove this seem questionable. Moreover, by focusing on money wages, it fails to take into account the social measures that were made in favor of the working masses: in health care, in education, in childcare, in assuring low cost of housing despite shortages, etc. These things were remarkable given that the revolution was only beginning to work out of the extreme poverty which it inherited. There is no question that the Soviet Union was a poor country, and the revolution could not immediately change this. But its idea of social measures was remarkable when compared to the much richer capitalist west, which was plunged into economic crisis.

Beyond this, phrases like "belt tightening" and "rate of exploitation" must be used with care. After all, no revolution is possible without sacrifice. For the first years of the; revolution the workers had gone cold and hungry, fought a brutal civil war, and suffered every torment in order to defend their power. By the late 20’s the economy was barely getting off of its knees. A huge effort was still undoubtedly necessary if the working class was to turn back the capitalist forces at work in the fields of trade and the vast private kulak economy in the countryside.

Sacrifices on the part of the workers to guard their power, to reorganize society along socialist lines, to build up their factories and lay the foundations of socialist prosperity–that is one thing. For workers to be squeezed in order to fatten the rich ruling bureaucrats–that is something else. How and when the one reverted to the other can’t be answered as simply as just measuring "belt tightening" with the same assumption, that all the surplus product goes to the rich as under capitalism.

d) Bonuses for Officials

Part of answering this is to examine how and when the new class of wealthy Soviet officials and bureaucrats was formed. Red Dawn proceeds to list a series of perks and bonuses aimed at party and state officials, and technicians and intellectuals. Unfortunately, Red Dawn gives few hard facts. What’s more, developments in the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s are thrown together in a heap. Sometimes it is left unclear what took place when. In other cases the dates simply do not seem accurate.

For example, at a certain point the Soviet government no longer confiscated the inheritances of the wealthy. When this took place may have significance because it may perhaps indicate when a wealthy stratum was in place that would be worried about passing down its riches. Red Dawn claims that the October Revolution’s confiscatory high level of taxation on inheritances was lifted in 1929. At that time it claims that a new law was passed allowing inheritances above 500,000 rubles and putting a lid of 10% on the level of taxing even such large inheritances.

It appears that some changes in the inheritance laws may have taken place in 1929. However, the sources we have seen say that the confiscatory levels of taxation were still in force in 1929, although there may have been some other changes in the law at that time. One source puts the date of adoption of what seems to be the law Red Dawn is referring to as 9 January 1943. This source also claims that from the early days of the revolution, the "confiscatory level of taxation [of inheritances] was retained until the forties," (See Mervyn Matthews, Privilege in the Soviet Union, pages 72 and 102)

Besides the question of inheritance, there is a whole string of other questions about the whens and hows of the creation of the USSR’s rich, bourgeois stratum. As we have already discussed, even from the days of the NEP there were high salaries, privileges and bonuses for the technicians and experts that had been trained under the capitalists. At the early stages, this was discussed openly as a necessary retreat from proletarian principle born of the need to purchase the use of their expertise. Lenin’s discussion of this is pretty clear. Less clear is why there was the step-by-step introduction of higher salaries and other perks for communist and Soviet officials. Exactly what was done and why needs further examination. However, this, too, did not begin with the first five-year plan. Moreover, it seems that it was after the first five-year plan that these salaries and bonuses became truly exorbitant.

e) Work Books and Restrictive Measures

Finally, Red Dawn lists a number of measures which it says added up to "political and administrative oppression to a considerable degree" against the working class. It decries various measures enforcing a stiff labor discipline and, in particular, condemns the work books, introduced for industrial and transport workers in 1931, as "An effective way of blacklisting ’trouble-making’ workers!"

We ourselves have looked with concern on the increasing resort to administrative measures as one of the major weaknesses and problems in the period of the first five-year plan. (See the Supplement, Jan. 15, pp. 20, 21) This is an issue that definitely deserves further consideration.

However, here too there has to be careful consideration of what actually happened in this period to determine how the problem developed.

Take the issue of work books. They were first used in the Soviet Union during the war communism period. They were later reintroduced in late 1930 or 1931 and "arbitrary termination of employment" listed. It may well be significant that this did not take place in 1928 or 29, at the beginning of the first five-year plan, but later on, when already certain changes were being made. For one thing, it does not fit in with the idea that the beginning of the first five-year plan marked the social-fascist dictatorship over the workers. Moreover, it seem that it was not until 1938-that is, the third five-year plan, not the first-that all disciplinary measures at the workplace were entered in work books. (Geoffrey Hosking, The First Socialist Society, pp. 156-7)

Red Dawn says that the work books were an effective way to get rid of trouble-making workers. We don’t know if they are just assuming this from the nature of the regulations or have found this out from study. In any case, Red Dawn also says that in 1932 the Labor Code was revised and that "workers were forbidden to change their employment or place of residence without permission." But in fact there seems to have been massive turnover in Soviet factories and migration of workers from factory town to factory town, throughout most of the 1930’s. This was discussed as a problem during this period, and it seems to have persisted anyway. We do not yet know the full nature of the internal passport and work books, but it doesn’t seem that one can just assume that everyone was simply ordered about.

Furthermore, the issue of work books itself requires discussion beyond simply assuming that any work books are automatically oppression of the workers. Undoubtedly, under a capitalist regime work books could be used as another chain binding the workers to their employers. But under a proletarian regime the issue is more complex. Lenin considered that work books could also be used in the process of socialist reorganization of the society. A work book was seen as a weapon against the rich, submitting the former idlers and speculators to the socialist principle "those who do not work, neither shall they eat."

During the First World War, the capitalist government of Russia had imposed work books and compulsory labor on the workers. On the eve of the October Revolution, Lenin discussed the significance of these measures under the workers’ government that was about to be born:

"...The means and instruments for this have been placed in our hands by the capitalist state in the war. These means are the grain monopoly, bread rationing and labor conscription. ’He who does not. work, neither shall he eat’–this is the fundamental, the first and most important rule the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies can and will introduce when they become the ruling power.

"Every worker has a work book," Lenin continued. "This book does not degrade him, although at present it is undoubtedly a document of capitalist wage-slavery, certifying that the workman belongs to some parasite.

"The Soviets will introduce work books for the rich and then gradually for the whole population (in a peasant country work books will probably not be needed for a long time for the overwhelming majority of the peasants). The work book will cease to be the badge of the ’common herd’, a document of the ’lower’ orders, a certificate of wage-slavery. It will become a document certifying that in the new society there are no longer any ’workmen,’ nor, on the other hand, are there any longer men who do not work." (See "Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power?", September, 1917 in Collected Works, vol. 26, pp. 109-110)

This was written before the socialist revolution. Then, from the first days after the triumph of the Soviet revolution, the Bolsheviks tried to tackle the problem of organizing a universal and compulsory labor service in the face of sabotage and social disintegration. Debates raged in the ranks of the Bolshevik Party and the trade unions on how this was to be accomplished, on the proper role and forms of compulsion, and so forth.

In the first days, labor exchanges connected to the unions controlled employment. Later the labor exchanges became part of the Peoples Commissariat of Labor and various other forms were used. The workers of Petrograd and Moscow were issued work book in June, 1919. (See E.H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, vol. 2, page 192.) From the beginning severe sanctions were taken against those who refused assigned work or violated labor discipline. (Frederick I. Kaplan, Bolshevik Ideology and the Ethics of Soviet Labor, chapter XII "Labor Discipline," page 335-372.) With the adoption of the NEP there was a relaxation of the measures of compulsion used during "war communism" in the civil war.

Now the conditions of the civil war and the first five-year plan vary a good deal with respect to the problems of labor discipline. And a measure like work books can change and have different significance at different periods–there may already have been severe problems with the work books of 1931. Nevertheless, what all these considerations show, is that one has to discuss the issue more carefully than just pointing to work books and labor discipline. There are issues to weigh, both concerning what actually happened, and concerning the principles at stake with different methods of labor discipline in the transition to socialism. Were certain forms wrong from the start? And if not, how does one ensure that they are used in favor of the working class? Etc.

There are a number of other issues of restrictive measures that are of importance, but which we do not yet have sufficient knowledge to discuss. It seems to us that, precisely because the issue of the growth of administrative measures, draconic threats, and bureaucratic decrees was a problem in the 1930’s, it has to be discussed more carefully than Red Dawn does.

* * *

Such are the points on industry from which Red Dawn concludes that the workers were placed under a state capitalist regime with the first five-year plan. On each point, there is a lack of a concrete historical assessment. In our comments here, we have not given this assessment, but simply pointed to some factors that have to be taken into account in making it. Whatever the final conclusion on the five-year plan, such a historical assessment is vital to actually get a picture of revolutionary methods as contrasted to methods of capitalist restoration.


The other major economic issue raised by Red Dawn with respect to the five-year plan is the collectivization of the peasantry. The peasant question is, if anything, even more complex. At least it is a more foreign subject for us as we have no experience with a peasantry like that in Russia. Nonetheless, it is evident that Red Dawn makes similar lapses in historical concreteness on this front as well.

In 1928, along with the first five-year plan, came the launching of the collectivization of the peasantry on a mass scale. Up until that time the great majority of peasants had been engaged in individual farming on a capitalist or commodity production basis. Red Dawn condemns the collectivization campaign of the late 20’s and early 30’s with sweeping strokes. It is declared to be an assault against the peasantry as a whole:

"The aim of the enforced collectivization – which is estimated to have been the death for millions of peasants–not only kulaks – was to eliminate the economic power of the peasantry and to pump foodstuffs and raw materials into the town for the industrialization, without having to give the peasants manufactured goods in return."

Red Dawn then argues that collectivization could have been carried out voluntarily without so much violence, destruction and opposition.

To begin with, whatever can be said about collectivization, it certainly cannot be said to have been simply to plunder the countryside without supplying anything in return to the peasants. For example, one of the key elements of the first five-year plan was a crash effort to build up the industry to build tractors, machinery and other necessities of modern large-scale farming. And large number of tractors and other supplies were sent to the countryside throughout the 1930’s. There may have been major problems connected to the fast pace of collectivization at the beginning of the first five-year plan when industry was just beginning to produce the farm machinery and other supplies needed to attract the peasants to the collective farms. There may have been any number of weaknesses in how agriculture was supplied, and even larger amount of supplies may well have been needed. But it cannot be said that the peasants were simply squeezed for grain and raw materials "without having to give the peasants manufactured goods in return."

Undoubtedly, every type of mistake was committed in this collectivization. After all, it was an unprecedented social undertaking involving tens of millions of households. Undoubtedly there were all kinds of abuses. There were tendencies to rely on administrative measures from above that undercut mass mobilization and provoked antagonism among the rural masses. However, any overall evaluation must make an assessment of the class struggle that was gripping the society at the time. What were the prospects of the revolutionary power holding out in the face of the tightening vice of the kulak (capitalist) economy in the countryside? What was the nature of the class contradictions among the peasants? What stand did the poorer sections take towards the collectivization? Is it even conceivable that such a vast reorganization of the peasant economy was possible without a relatively deep foundation of sympathy, if not active support, among the poor? What role did the working class play? It seems that these things must be posed and studied carefully before drawing the conclusion that this collectivization was simply imposed against the will of the peasantry.

Red Dawn says that collectivization "is estimated to have been the death for millions." There are indeed widely conflicting stories on collectivization, but Red Dawn does not explain why it believes such estimates and how it thinks the deaths occurred. If this actually took place during collectivization, it would have been a major disaster, and undoubtedly would have had a big effect on the country as a whole. It would pose a number of serious questions about the cause of these deaths, the conditions under which they took place, and who was involved. It would show the gravity of the social conflict at the time. This was a’ time in Soviet history of extremely acute struggles and social upheaval. And such a tragic result of the struggle would underline the necessity of carefully studying the situation. To say that many died without discussing how and why arid under what conditions is of little help in analyzing this history.

The collectivization of the late 20’s and early 30’s, with the enormous strains that it placed on the whole society, surely had a major impact on subsequent development in the 1930’s and afterwards. It was a huge experiment in social and economic transformation. To learn from this experiment, to understand the economic and social results, to judge the strengths and weaknesses cannot be done by reducing it to plundering the peasants.


Red Dawn also takes up the question of education. Here too it finds that the first-five year plan marks a dividing line. Although in general Red Dawn believes that the 1923-28 period was a period of quantitative degeneration leading to a qualitative counterrevolution, in the field of education it finds that the situation was pretty good until the first five-year plan. It says that:

"...The 1920’s was also a period of radical pedagogical experiments, aiming at breaking down the traditional grinding, stimulating collectivism and independent thinking and providing the toilers’ sons and daughters with as fair possibilities as the situation allowed. As well, a quota was established, which reserved the majority of places at institutions of higher education for children of workers and peasants.

"But during the first five-year plan, a marked change took place. In 1930, a new curriculum was passed, which meant an end to the radical aim and direction. Theoretical and practical education was now separated from each other, the quotas were removed and the old pre-revolutionary mark and examination system was restored. Soon the result appeared. In 1938, as much as 47.3% of the students were children of civil servants and intellectuals–stratas constituting only 6% of the population of the country.... In 1940, fees were introduced for all education from middle school and upwards."

Education is actually quite an important issue for the Soviet Union. Among other things, it is connected to the issue of how the working class is to take over practical direction of the entire state and economy.

But here again the situation is more complicated than what Red Dawn depicts. In fact, the first five-year plan seems to be the period with the greatest efforts to have the working class conquer the educational strongholds. A look at this may be of value not only for its own sake, but to show some, of the complexity and zig-zags typical of Soviet history and to show that one cannot study history solely from decrees.

First let us look into the question of admissions to higher education.

In 1918, right after the socialist revolution of October 1917, the Soviet government proclaimed a policy of open, admissions to higher education for all who wanted. Secondary school education was not a requirement for such admission. In some places, experimental "rabfaks"–workers’ faculties–were opened up to provide workers with an alternative to formal secondary schooling.

But this policy could not be sustained. On the one hand, the scarcity of resources meant that there were only a limited number of seats in the universities. On the other hand, under the NEP an important concession to the old intelligentsia and some remnants of the urban propertied classes was giving their children the possibility of getting a university education. Thus by 1922 the policy of open admissions was replaced by a quota system under which preference would go to students of worker or peasant origin.

However, the implementation of this quota system was quite weak. For one thing, almost anyone could pose as a son or daughter of the working class. For another, the professors, overwhelmingly from the old society, took a positive delight in making life miserable for the "riff-raff" foisted on them by the quota system. As a result of professorial persecution, of economic pressures, and of the poorer quality of secondary schooling of most working class students, the drop-out rate for working class students was very high. The proportion of students of working class origin in this period was nominally no more than 30%, and was probably lower in reality. (Early Soviet education is dealt with by Kendall E. Bailes, Technology and Society under Lenin and Stalin, pp. 189-191)

In fact, the quota system was dropped altogether in 1926, during NEP, not the first five-year plan. (Lewin, in Cultural Revolution in Russia 1928-1931, Sheila Fitzpatrick editor, p. 51).

In 1928, with the start of the first five-year plan, a new quote system was introduced. It focused on the admission of industrial workers to higher technical education, which became the principal area of higher education, A mass campaign was run in the factories for the nomination of workers to go to the university; in this campaign special attention on placed on nominating Party members. The rabfaks were greatly extended, and workers were frequently given time off for study. The proportion of students of working class origin reached 58% in 1932-33, a level never reached during the NEP in the 20’s. (Lapidus, in Cultural Revolution in Russia 1928-1931, p. 92)

However, a change began in 1931, in the latter part of the first five-year plan. Quotas were revised, giving the technical intelligentsia equality with industrial workers. It was not until 1935, during the second five-year plan, that they were abolished altogether. (Lewin, p, 73, Bailes, p. 205) The rabfaks were curtailed and in 1938 (at the start of the third five-year plan) gave way to the "zaochnye fakultery", which were night schools, with no time off for study. (Geoffrey Hosking, The First Socialist Society, p. 216) During the mid and latter 1930’s the proportion of students of working class origin fell to NEP levels, though there were twice or three times more such students than a decade earlier. (Lewin, p.73 and Frederick Schuman, Soviet Politics at Home and Abroad p. 337)

Meanwhile the period of the first five-year plan also witnessed the growth of primary and secondary education by some two million students. As well, pre-school enrollment grew from about 100,000 to one million or so. (Lapidus, p. 101)

What about the question of curriculum, which is raised by Red Dawn? Here too the twists and turns seem more complex than what Red Dawn presented. There were educational experiments after the socialist revolution. But nevertheless, through the bulk of the 1920’s, the "gymnasium" system of the old society was preserved, although under a different name. (Sheila Fitzpatrick, Education and Social Mobility in the Soviet Union 1921-1934). For better or worse, the height of radical experimentation in curriculum may have come in the period of 1929-1931. (See Lapidus)

There do appear to be reversals in educational policy in 1931-1932. But these were reversals of policies launched in 1928-29, earlier in the first five-year plan.

Red Dawn also talks about 1938 and 1940, but this refers to a much later period. 1938 and 1940 are in the third five-year plan, and can hardly be used as evidence of the policy followed in the first five-year plan.

We will come back to the issue of education again later while discussing Red Dawn’s use of educational figures with respect to party composition. But here it is already clear that the policy on education went through a series of convulsions, of leaps forward and turns back. It is necessary to study this process carefully to understand its meaning, what was consistent with the march towards socialism, and what weighed against it. It is clear that it was not practically possible to immediately introduce a truly Socialist educational system, and so the study of the various leaps and twists is not simply a study of some quirks, but has a good deal of interest. But this study of education, however, requires a good deal of effort to ascertain the facts, and a broad conception of what issues are at stake.

What About the New Economic Policy?

Red Dawn contends that what it considers to have been a catastrophic collectivization was created by the previous wrong policy:

"A correct policy," Red Dawn concludes, "would have been to much earlier base the policy on a proletarian class stand, basing it on the poor peasants and the main parts of the middle peasants, sharpen the class struggle in the countryside against the kulaks, and thus develop the tiny collectivization movement which in fact did exist.

But the bureaucracy instead made concessions to the kulaks, held back the poor peasants and neglected their interests, thus helping drive many middle-peasants in under the influence of the kulaks-and because of that, later the bureaucracy was forced to turn right about, smash the kulaks and, through force instead of mass mobilization, carry through a collectivization."

This presumably is put forward as an alternative or replacement for the New Economic Policy, which was carried out in the period before first five-year plan. But there is no overall consideration of the NEP, although there is the condemnation of "making concessions to the kulaks."

The NEP was adopted in 1921 after a broad party debate. Lenin argued strenuously for its adoption as a necessary retreat in the process of socialist transformation- a retreat that would open the way for a further socialist advance. He stated openly and repeatedly that the NEP was a series of unpleasant concessions to the capitalist elements, including concessions to the kulak elements among the peasants, that had been forced on the proletariat and poor by the situation.

In order to judge the "concessions to the kulaks," it would be necessary to discuss the conditions in which these concessions were made. Were these backward steps necessary? Were Lenin and the others correct in arguing that drastic concessions were permissible in principle and essential for the eventual transition to socialism in the given conditions? As well, there is not just the issue of how NEP was originally conceived, but how it was carried out in practice and whether additional and harmful concessions were made. Finally, what did NEP accomplish? Was it carried on too far or for too long?

Red Dawn skims over the top of these issues. At one point it may be implying that the NEP was extended too long. But at other points it appears to condemn the NEP altogether without necessarily realizing that it is doing so. For example, as early as 1923 it refers to the bureaucracy in power having a policy of "acquiescing to the pressures from the NEP-men and kulaks"–which apparently is a reference to the concessions to the kulaks and capitalists involved in the NEP. In this way Red Dawn tends to dispense with all the issues involved in the NEP policy and instead present it as mere unprincipled bending on the part of the evil bureaucracy. This is an easy explanation but, in our view, not a very good one.

The Party Between 1920 and 1928

Besides the particular question of the NEP, the Red Dawn touches on other issues from the earlier Soviet history. It sums up that:

"What happened during the period from 1923 to 1928 was a quantitative process in the direction towards counterrevolution," with this process culminating in the consolidation of state capitalism by 1928. Why, given its points of view, it says that the process towards counterrevolution began in 1923 and not before is unclear. Of course, it may be influenced by the fact that Lenin was still playing a major role up until then. But many of the policies Red Dawn denounces actually began soon after the triumph of the Soviets in October, 1917 or were advocated and defended by Lenin.

Red Dawn says that a process of bureaucratization took place in the party. It states that

"By the end of the 1920’s most of those who had been part of the Party which had led the revolution, had been removed from real influence over politics. They were replaced by men whose role in the revolution had been insignificant: the second-order functionaries who had manned the apparatus of the party, such ones who had passed over to the Bolsheviks from the Mensheviks after the revolution and, in many cases, even after the civil war, the new bureaucracy which had multiplied during the 1920’s."

But what basis is there for all these assertions? What type of study has been made of the nature of the party, and of the influx of new members (which is something that should take place in a living party)? What evidence is there that the people who carried out the revolution were gone, and that those who joined the party after the revolution were all insignificant or bad elements? This is a dramatic assertion, but it doesn’t seem to be based on any close study of the Party. In any case, little is given in the article to back it up.

The second article, On the question of the Stalinist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union, gives some statistics about party membership, so let’s look at them. It talks of the "disappearance of the old Guard" and says that only 10% of those who were in the Party in 1917 were still there in 1939. This, however, leaves open the question of what happened in the 1920’s. Furthermore, unless one could trace this figure over the years between 1917 and 1939, it is hard to see how one could get any idea of the question Red Dawn asks "what happened with the others?" How many were killed by the counterrevolutionaries in the Civil War? How many proved incapable of disciplined party work? How many had political disagreements? How many were expelled, and for what? Etc. Without examining these things, the significance of the figures is unclear.

Furthermore, 1917 was a year in which the Bolshevik Party expanded immensely and rapidly with a new influx of workers during the revolutionary upsurge. If one doesn’t take a sentimental attitude to 1917, but looks at it realistically, then one would generally expect that such an influx into the party might be very volatile. There is the process of sorting out those who can carry out party work. There are the many unexpected turns of the revolution, from the Civil War to the various changes in economic policies, which would take its toll on new members who came in during a inebriating upsurge of the revolution, a time of immediate action when there may not have been much time for theoretical tempering. And there may be many who only wanted to devote so many years to active revolutionary work before they "settled down."

And what happens if we look not at those who joined the party in the 1917 upsurge, but those who were in the party prior to 1917, those few thousands Bolsheviks who had gone through long painful years of underground work? We find that this "old guard" or former "undergrounders" seems to have maintained great influence in the party. One source claims that, on the eve of the first five-year plan, "the further up one looked in the party hierarchy the more prominent the ’under-grounders’ became. ’Undergrounders’ formed 44 per cent of the delegates to the Fourteenth Congress in 1925, for example, and together with civil war veterans still dominated the higher party committees in 1927. Thus, about three-quarters of all senior secretaries were of pre-1917 seniority in 1925, and the ’undergrounders’ still formed 71 per cent in 1927; 14 percent were civil war veterans. All but 10 of the Central Committee elected in 1927 had joined the party before 1917." (Schapiro, The Communist Party of the Soviet Union, revised edition, 1971, p. 314)

It doesn’t appear that the position of this "old guard" was shaken in the next years. They did suffer badly in the repression of the late 30’s (which is long after the events of the 20’s). However, this was because the repression hit heavily at party members in influential positions, and the "old guard" was concentrated in these positions. J. Arch Getty, in his doctoral thesis The ’Great Purges’ Reconsidered: The Soviet Communist Party, 1933-39 examined whether this "old guard" was singled out for repression, and he holds that it wasn’t. (See the section "the Question of the Old Bolsheviks" in Chapter 9, "the 18th Party Congress and Retrospective". Getty’s doctoral thesis has apparently also been published as a book.)

This is hardly a picture of the "old guard" being reduced to insignificance, whether in the 20’s or the first five-year plan or even after. The idea that a bureaucracy displaced the "old guard", thus allowing the restoration of capitalism, just doesn’t work. As far as we can tell, it is simply not true that the "old guard" was pushed aside.

Red Dawn also raises that only 18% of the 730,000 members in the party in March 1921 were still in the Party in 1939. But once again, without a study of what happened to them in the intervening years, one is left only with suppositions. The study of Party history has to base itself on careful analysis, and not on impressions or sentimentality

Red Dawn, in order to show the bureaucratization of the Party, gives percentages on the number of factory directors who are party members. It states that

"In 1923, 29% of the factory directors were party members, while already in 1925 the figure reached 95%. In 1936, it was reported to be 99.1%."

But what does this show? If it were really possible to use these figures without further consideration, they would show that something happened as early as 1925, rather than three years later. But actually, without knowing more about the situation, it is hard to deal with these figures at all. As we discussed above, there was a policy to establish one-person management. In the course of setting up this system there were a series of experiments with who the directors should be. So do these figures mean that the old administrators and managers are now filling the party? Or do they show that a policy exists to place communists in the position of directors? And if the latter, does this indicate an increase in the ability of the working class to actually direct the factories that it has formally taken over from the capitalists, or is it solely a bad phenomenon?

Such concrete questions have to be asked. And it is quite possible that the answer varies over time, with apparently similar statistics about managers being party member having different meanings at different times. Consider, for example, that one source claims that, with regard to the directors of state enterprises in 1928,

"The great majority of the directors, nearly nine-tenths, were party members, but only 2.8 per cent of them had had higher education. As against this, of the non-party directors, 58 per cent had higher educational training," (See Schapiro, The Communist Party of the Soviet Union, who is citing the Soviet journal Bolshevik)

This suggests that, at this time, there was a process of ordinary communists taking over management posts.

Another statistic given by Red Dawn to deal with the composition of the party goes as follows.

"...in 1939 only 5% of the Soviet citizens had gone through secondary school, but 29% of the Party members. That had been the case with somewhat above 11% of the members in 1927."

This is part of the evidence for the degeneration of the Party into a bureaucratic elite. Now, in fact we know that by 1939 a bourgeois strata was being consolidated out of the Soviet bureaucracy and intelligentsia, and that the Party stand towards its own class composition had changed. Nevertheless, to study this process, one has to do more than just cite this particular statistic. For one thing, this figure about 1939 doesn’t say anything about whether the decisive change was in 1928 or much later. As well, at the very minimum, one would probably have to ask how many urban workers had high school education, especially among the relatively younger workers, and not just take the presumably much lower figure for society as a whole.

But there is also a more fundamental question. When using such a statistic, one would have to discuss the general relationship of the Party to education. When the working class becomes the ruling class, is it surprising that politically active people seek education? Wouldn’t one expect that young party members, recruited from the more energetic and active section of the population, would tend to seek education? At a time when the working class needed to run society and industry, and given the shortage of technically competent people, and the need to displace the old specialists and bureaucrats, wouldn’t education even be one of the political tasks of active people? If so, one would have to analyze educational figures more carefully in order to see what is bourgeoisification and what is typical of the thirst for education of the working class.

In fact, any workers’ party when it takes power will be faced with the issue of managing the economy, training communist workers for administrative and technical work, and so forth. Moreover, this isn’t only a question for the party itself, but a broader question for the working class as the new ruling class. In the Soviet Union, hundreds of thousands of workers were taken out of factory and manual work to carry out administrative and white collar tasks–the alternative would be to leave this to the old technical and bourgeois strata. This raises some fundamental questions about how to handle this process while keeping the party and society revolutionary? How is the crystallization of a labor aristocracy and bureaucracy above the class to be avoided? How is the bourgeoisification and bureaucratization of the party to be prevented? There is a great deal that can be learned about these questions from the tragic degeneration of the revolution in the Soviet Union. However, it takes more than simply showing that communists received education or took over factory management.

After all, we are studying Soviet history not just to provide a thousand and one facts to back up our condemnation of the present-day Soviet Union as a capitalist ruling class. First and foremost, we are studying it to learn the laws of revolution and to deepen our knowledge of issues that will affect all proletarian revolutions.

"Substitutionalism" and the Role of the Proletarian Party

As we mentioned, Red Dawn dates the bureaucratization of the party from 1920, although actually various of the policies and difficulties it discusses go back to the very start of the revolution. In 1920, Red Dawn says in the article Some Remarks..., "the working class which had made the revolution was itself decimated" by the impact of the wars and the economic collapse. It concludes from this:

"In the absence of the proletariat, there was no alternative than that the dictatorship of the class under the leadership of the party instead became the dictatorship of the party itself. This was a substitutionist situation."

Hence, supposedly, this situation compelled the Bolsheviks to resort to bureaucratic and authoritarian methods. And Red Dawn follows this to the rise of "communist bosses" and the defeat of the revolution.

It is certainly true that the small size of the working class and its dispersal was an acute problem for the new Soviet power. Among other things there was a severe shortage of trained workers to take on the new tasks of Soviet administration and organization in this vast peasant country. This made it that much harder to dispense with the bureaucracy.

However, it would be a mistake to consider that this dispersal of the working class is something altogether particular to the Russian revolution. Every workers’ revolution in history has taken place in connection with wars or devastating crises. Even a severe economic crisis in "ordinary" times leads to major dislocations and even dispersal of the proletariat. That is one of the reasons why the workers need organization if they are to act as a cohesive class in a revolutionary crisis. In the first place that is why they need their political party which can organize and direct the action of the conscious workers, even when their natural factory organization is undermined or broken, even when dispersed in the midst of desperate civil war. This is one of the most fundamental positive lessons of the Russian Revolution.

Indeed, when the Red Dawn says that the revolutionary proletariat disappeared, it is overstating the situation. The existence of the Bolshevik Party, of the workers’ state, of the Red Army, of the trade unions, etc., showed that the working class had succeeded, through organization, in maintaining itself in a difficult situation. It is impossible to work out the concept of the "substitutionalist" situation without downplaying or devaluing the role of working class political organization and the role of party form of organization in particular. It is impossible to work out this theory consistently without ending up in a position that would deny the class basis for many events, regarding them all as a substitution of the revolutionary struggle for the masses.

In our opinion, the conditions facing the Bolsheviks in 1920 that Red Dawn points to, pose a different series of questions. Among other things, what were the tasks of party building in this difficult’ situation? How did the Bolshevik Party undertake its work of organizing and mobilizing the masses?

Red Dawn cites Lenin on the dangers of bureaucracy to the Bolshevik Party. But it bypasses dealing with his overall analysis of the class struggle at that time. Lenin did not believe that a "substitutionalist" situation existed. He did not think that admitting the difficult problems facing the party meant denying its class basis or regarding it as an alien body sitting over the working class, and he bitterly denied the charge that the Party was a "Bonapartist" force detached from the working class. It seems to us that Lenin’s views should be examined and studied. If one disagrees with these views, then the reasons for thinking they are wrong should be presented–it is misleading to instead leave things on the level of asserting that Lenin too talked about the dangers of bureaucracy.

"Substitutionalism" and the tasks of the revolution

The "substitutionalist" analysis appears to replace consideration of the tasks of the revolution with doubts about the legitimacy of various revolutionary methods and of the centralism that is part of any revolution. The method of approach tends to be to take every flaw, every weakness (some real, some not) in the early Soviet period and draw a parallel to features of the later bureaucratic-revisionist regime. Thus Red Dawn denounces from 1920 the "authoritarian methods", "appointment from above", and "new ’communist’ bosses." And it is hard to see why this denunciation should not logically apply to earlier years as well, since forceful methods were particularly used in the civil war and the "war communism" period and were in the process of being relaxed by 1920-3.

Of course, there were bureaucratic distortions, authoritarian excesses, and every type of flaw in the new Soviet power. But Red Dawn’s treatment of these issues breezes over the necessary context.. And that context is revolutionary methods to smash the old system and liberate the masses.

In the writings of Lenin and the Bolsheviks in the first years, there is merciless criticism of bureaucracy, militarist tendencies, and other shortcomings of the new Soviet power. However, that is only one side of things. On the other side, they repeatedly referred to the criticism that Engels leveled at so-called anti-authoritarians, "Have these gentlemen," Engels asked, "ever seen a revolution? A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is..." (Cited in Lenin’s The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, near the end of the first chapter)

Lenin and Bolsheviks stressed that for the workers’ revolution to be successful it requires severe, even ruthless when necessary, methods against the class enemy and against disorganization. To defeat the more powerful forces of counterrevolution and to unite the efforts of the masses across a vast land required centralism as well, which implies the necessity of certain appointments from above. The

Bolshevik revolution introduced freedom for the masses, mass meetings of all types, democratic centralism, but it also required the building up of revolutionary authority.

No doubt the revisionists and bureaucrats of all types have and continue do try to legitimize themselves by presenting their iron-heeled methods of bureaucratic rule over the masses as the revolutionary methods and discipline required when the proletariat (and not the fat-cat state capitalists) are on top. But the task of Marxist-Leninist criticism is teach the masses how to distinguish revolutionary dictatorship, revolutionary force based on the masses, from the revisionist counterfeit. Otherwise the critique of revisionism, no matter how satisfying it may seem, will fall apart the moment it is applied to the real test–guiding the next attempt of the proletariat to take and consolidate power.

Thus blanket and unqualified denunciation of the "new ’communist’ bosses" in the first years of Soviet Russia carries the danger of renouncing the authoritarian, forceful, coercive-in short, dictatorial side-of revolution. And without this side, proletarian revolution and the transition to socialism are impossible, and the dictatorship of the proletariat is an empty phrase.

Did the Soviet government have a class basis?

The concept of the "substitutionalist" situation also seems to divert away from the issue of revolutionary policy by implying that the situation was hopeless. The objective situation had led to the alleged end of proletarian democracy and of working class power by 1920. Red Dawn does not give any mistakes that led to this alleged situation in 1920, but simply relates the objective difficulties facing the devolution.

Red Dawn does stress the character of the 1917 October Socialist Revolution as a proletarian revolution. It stresses that

"such allegations...that the working class played a small or no role and that Lenin seized power with an autocratically-run party, without the workers or over their heads, are nothing but lies and slanders."

for 1917.

Then comes 1920.

"...three years later the party still was in possession of power... but the working class itself hardly existed any more....Of course, the regime still remained socialist, but now not because of its class basis, but through the fact that the government, the party holding power, in its activities represented the objective class interests of the working class and worked in the direction of a socialist construction. In the absence of the proletariat, there was no alternative than that the dictatorship of the class under the leadership of the party instead became the dictatorship of the party itself. This was a substitutionalist situation." (Emphasis in the original)

Taken seriously, this would raise whether the Soviet government was still legitimate in 1920.

Red Dawn however holds that the Soviet government was "still by definition a workers’ state." But, if there really was a "substitutionalist" situation, it was a strange workers’ state. One without a class basis. One which was based on a party dictatorship substituting for the working class. One which had to build up a bureaucracy because it couldn’t rely on the workers. But this is hard to understand theoretically or practically. How can a "workers’ state" not have a class basis? What is left of the concept of workers’ state? What is left of the concept of the class struggle? And how could the Soviet government stand up against foreign intervention and internal counterrevolution without a class basis?

There may well be such a thing as a substitutionalist government. For example, historically certain reformist governments have tried to carry out certain measures of benefit to the masses while refusing to mobilize the masses themselves. But such governments do have a class basis (although not a proletarian one) and are not workers’ governments.

But back to the Soviet government in 1920. It is supposed to be a socialist state anyway, but only because its policies represented the objective interests of the working class (or, perhaps, the future working class, since the class conscious working class is supposed to be basically nonexistent.) But, although Red Dawn doesn’t say so, can these policies completely represent the workers’ interests when they lead to the alleged takeover by the bureaucracy in 1923? And doesn’t this whole conception lead to divorcing the analysis of Soviet history from the class struggle to an arbitrary struggle of policies or personalities?

Red Dawn refers to Lenin’s his famous description of the Soviet state as "a workers’ state with bureaucratic distortions." But this doesn’t fit in at all with the idea of a "substitutionalist situation", unless one can show that Lenin believed in the concept of a workers state "without a class basis". The significance of the concept of the "substitutionalist" situation is not the recognition of the problem of bureaucracy, but the conclusions it draws from this problem. Similarly, in discussing Lenin’s views, one must not leave it at that Lenin recognized that there were problems, but continue onto Lenin’s analysis of the tasks of the time, the way to fight bureaucratic distortions, and how the class struggle was unfolding.

We Must Study the Problems That Confronted the Soviet Revolution

Overall, it seems to us that the presentation of Soviet history made in the Red Dawn article does not have sufficient depth. For example, various basic economic measures are assigned the wrong date, the reasons for their original establishment are not dealt with, nor is the experience with them examined. Nor has attention been paid to the theoretical side of these measures-such as the issue of transitional measures in the transition from capitalism to socialism, or the views of Lenin on the early Soviet state. In many cases conclusions have been drawn from isolated facts or statistics, apparently without seeing the need for a more painstaking study of the circumstances involved and the often complex history. Meanwhile the concept of the "substitutionalist" situation is, it seems to us, a step backwards, which is not historically accurate and which obscures the revolutionary tasks of the time and the role and significance of the proletarian political party.

Nevertheless Red Dawn has eagerly began the process of looking into a wide range of issues on Soviet history, and we expect that it will continue to take an active part in sorting out the burning questions of revolutionary theory.

We realize that our comments have posed questions rather than answering them. However, the study of the Soviet degeneration needs to address these and other questions or we will wind up with a critique of the Soviet Union that is hardly less superficial than the one offered by the Chinese or Albanians before us. Moreover, and this is the main thing, we will not be a step closer to grasping the Marxist-Leninist principles of the socialist transformation of society.

The Soviet revolution provides invaluable experience for the revolutionary proletariat precisely because it posed a series of the complex problems that this socialist transformation entails. It did so in a sharper way than any mass revolution before or since. The weakness in Red Dawn’s critique is that it tends to bypass even posing what these problems and contradictions were.

We need to go deeper and further. This is the only way to give the working class a clear perspective of their socialist goals. This is the only way to instill confidence that they can organize themselves as the ruling class. Moreover, that they can successfully use their power to complete the transition from capitalist to socialist and communist society.

* * *

Postscript on Tony Cliff

As we were finishing the above article a few days ago, we received the June 15 issue of Red Dawn, along with Red Dawn’s brief summary in English for the foreign reader. This issue contains a number of useful items on world events. It also contains some materials relating to theoretical issues. It includes a brief article on Tony Cliff’s book State Capitalism in Russia. As well, it reprints the pamphlet Deflected Permanent Revolution by Tony Cliff, whom they regard as an "English Marxist theoretician". In our view, however, Cliffs framework is anti-Leninist And, although he is critical of certain well-known trotskyist formulas, he basically is an ardent promoter of the trotskyist ideology.

Red Dawn certainly doesn’t agree with Cliff on everything. But it seems to us that they have an overly favorable impression of his work. In studying their articles on Soviet history, we had noticed that a number of specific mistakes with regard to facts and certain weaknesses with regard to the method of study paralleled those in Cliff’s book.

Perhaps the attraction of Cliff’s book is that he presents a lot of facts about the Soviet Union that have not been dealt with by the Chinese and Albanians. He seems on the surface to carefully document his work, and, for example, includes statistics and abundant footnotes. The book appears to be comprehensive, and Cliff makes a great display of supposed theoretical depth. As well, he argues against the well-known trotskyist defense of the Soviet revisionist state as a "degenerated workers’ state".

But we think that revolutionary Marxist-Leninists will find that the apparent strengths of Cliffs book vanish step by step as they look at it more carefully. The worst thing is that Cliffs method of approach inhibits further study. His historical framework is not only wrong, but it is so shallow and emotional it may inhibit interest in looking into further facets of Soviet history. Here we are not giving a full review of his book and his views, partially because we would prefer to be further along in our own study before doing so. But we will point to certain features of Cliffs work.

For one thing, his facts are often wrong or distorted or presented in a misleading way. He puts next to each other events taking place in quite different time periods, thus mixing together very different periods in Soviet history.

One of his key methods is to take some fact about the Soviet economy, and ask what is the worst thing it would mean if it were implemented under a capitalist or even a fascist regime. He then turns around and uses this answer to say that, see, the Soviet Union is obviously capitalist–and even worse than most capitalist states. Does the question of piece-work come up? He immediately says piece-work was used in Nazi Germany, and quotes an analysis of Nazi methods and motivations. Does the Soviet Union spend much effort on insuring its military preparedness? This shows how it squeezes the workers. Is the Soviet Union still poorer than the advanced capitalist states despite the revolution? This shows how its exploitation is even worse than that in the West.

This method of approach shows that Cliff is actually unable to analyze how capitalist restoration proceeded.

He essentially presents Soviet history, from a fairly early period, as one long horror story. This creates an atmosphere of indifference to checking the accuracy of such stories, and to studying Soviet history closely. After all, what difference would it make if 5% or 50% or 95% of the horrors are false, or if they are attributed to the wrong year–since it is not going to change the one basic conclusion the reader is supposed to draw, that things were really horrible in the Stalinist hell? The complexity and interest of Soviet history is basically lost–It is all reduced to just the police and repression. And he ends up looking to the manifestos of pro-Nazi Ukrainians working with the Hitlerites in World War II in the section of his book entitled "The social goals of the anti-Stalinist opposition,"(pp. 262-3)

On the theoretical side, he may discuss many things, including "Arab feudalism under the Mamelukes" of past centuries as "an example of class society based on state property." (Cliff, pp. 273-5) But the more one comes to terms with such key and fundamental issues as the necessary transitional steps to socialism, how they were begun in the Soviet Union, how they evolved, how things went wrong, and how can correct transitional measures be distinguished form revisionist distortions of them, the more shallow and superficial Cliff turns out to be. Cliff, believes that the basic answer is simple: "...as the October revolution did not spread, what social order could appear in Russia?" (p. 146) He asks, could it "be anything but ’a point in the process’ of the development of capitalism, even if the capitalist class is abolished?" (p. 152) So naturally, for him, there can be no real issue of the correct revolutionary measures and transitional stages to deal with such a situation. All that is left is to contrast the general idea of socialism, or of the transition to socialism in ideal and easy conditions, with various bad things that eventually took place in the Soviet Union.

Thus, on the theoretical side, his book is actually directed against Lenin’s views on the transition to socialism. He doesn’t openly say this. He will quote Lenin on this or that, to imply that he is a Leninist, and then be silent about Lenin’s views when he disagrees. Let us take just one example. Cliff deals with the relation of the "Taylor system" of industrial management to socialism. Since Taylorism, and the rationalization of production in general, mean bitter oppression under capitalism, he implies that any use of Taylorism in the Soviet Union is also oppression. He sees nothing in Taylorism other than "the most refined method of capitalist exploitation" and cites Lenin’s" article The Taylor system–the enslavement of man by the machine, and even footnotes this to a Russian-language edition of Lenin’s works. (Cliff, Chapter 1, p.22) However, Lenin, even in that very article, says the opposite. Lenin stresses that the rationalization of labor from Taylorism, under capitalism, leads to "still greater oppression and exploitation". But he also points that, under workers’ rule, the rationalization of labor will help the workers improve their productivity and make themselves much "better off than they are today." (See Lenin’s Collected Works, vol. 20, pp. 152-54, March 13, 1914. Later, after the socialist revolution of October 1917, Lenin again raised the issue of using what he saw as the positive part of Taylorism. See, for example, "The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government", Collected Works, vol. 27, pp. 258-9 in 1918 or "A Fly in the Ointment," Collected Works, vol. 33, p. 368 in 1922.) Cliff undoubtedly knew Lenin’s views on this, but he didn’t want to give his reader a chance to consider them.

The result is that the more the revolutionary study of Soviet history develops, the more the emptiness of Cliff appears. And, with Cliff, the horror story approach to Soviet history seems like a concession to Cold War anti-communism.

Indeed it is notable that Cliffs pamphlet The Deflected Permanent Revolution displays a positive grudge about the development of revolutionary movements in the last fifty years. But we’ll leave for later a theoretical discussion of his pamphlet.

If one doesn’t recognize the empty nature of Cliffs approach, the danger exists that one may be diverted from further study. As we said in the introduction to this article, we have a high opinion of Red Dawn’s enthusiasm to deal with Soviet history. But, it seems to us, that for Red Dawn, as for ourselves, the study of Soviet history is just beginning, If hasty conclusions were to be drawn and the study were to stop now, the results would be unfortunate. By denouncing Cliffs framework, we wish to point out that it is necessary to continue and deepen the study of Soviet history.

It seems to us that the method of revolutionary Marxism-Leninism in the study of Soviet history has to be slower and more painstaking than Cliffs collection of horrors. We must get a far more concrete picture of Soviet history. And we have a far deeper set of questions to ask about economic and political evolution in the Soviet Union. We expect that this will be a slow and even frustrating process. For that matter, it is not easy when one has to take weeks and months to verify the real reality and not just make quick assumptions. It is not easy when one has to bear in mind constantly the problem of dealing with various sources all of whom have their own axes to grind. And at first each step of, study seems to raise more questions than it answers. But serious work is the only way to get a fundamentally deeper analysis than has existed in the past. It is the only way to answer the questions needed to direct revolutionary practice.

It should also be noted that Cliff, despite his disagreement with certain formulas upheld by most trotskyists today-such as that the Soviet revisionist state is today a "degenerated workers’ state"–is nevertheless a fervent trotskyist. Thus his superficial approach to Soviet history, and his anti-Leninism, are in line with his overall ideology. Cliff, in fact, has been a big figure in one of the major trends of trotskyism–the trend which used to call itself "International Socialists" and whose most prominent grouping is the SWP in Britain. In practice, underneath its phrasemongering, this has been one of the more rightist trends in its practical stand toward the political struggle.

Today revolutionary Marxist-Leninists are faced with the task of unrelenting struggle against the anti-Leninist ideology of Trotskyism, as well as against Soviet revisionism. True, in doing historical, research on the Soviet Union, one just judge everything with open eyes, unprejudiced, the acts and role of Trotsky too. But everything we have seen so far reinforces not only our opposition to Soviet revisionism, but our determination to carry through the struggle against Trotskyism as well.