From Fourth International, vol.5 No.11, November 1944, pp.323-326.
Transcribed, marked up & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.
THE MEANING OF OCTOBER Twenty-seven years ago, in the fourth year of the first imperialist world war, occurred the October Revolution, the greatest and most significant event in world history. It ushered in an entirely new epoch of social development. Hitherto the march of events had been determined by the automatic and blind interplay of social laws, operating in the course of centuries and even thousands of years behind the backs of the masses and independently of their consciousness. Man was the object of history rather than its subject. The October Revolution demonstrated once and for all that mastery not only over nature but also over his own social destiny lies within man’s grasp.
What was accomplished in October was achieved consciously. The architect of October was the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky. This party, comprising the organized vanguard of the Russian working class, acted on the basis of the scientific method of Marxism and depended at every stage on the forces and the creative power of the only progressive class in modern society, the proletariat. There is no other method, no other means of social progress. This has been affirmed and reaffirmed by the entire course of events in the twenty-seven years that have elapsed since October. Failure to follow the road first opened up by the Russian masses in 1917 will spell the destruction of civilization, which has already been gravely undermined by more than 10 years of world slaughter within the last three decades. Civilization will hardly withstand another world holocaust, another series of economic crises and the intrenchment everywhere of political and cultural reaction more bestial even than that of fascism. All of which is inescapable if capitalism is permitted to survive.
WHAT MARX AND ENGELS TAUGHT The economic foundation of society, as Marx and Engels proved long ago, constitutes the real and material base of all progress. Throughout the ages, however, economic development has occurred not freely but invariably within artificial frameworks imposed by the various ruling classes. The productive forces have been monopolized in one form or another by powerful minorities whose primary concern was the preservation of their class power and privileges and not the expansion of production for the benefit of society as a whole. Thus epochs have periodically arrived when the abolition of outworn modes of production and their replacement by new and higher forms became life-and-death questions. Otherwise, the given societies could only stagnate and rot. We are living precisely through the last of these revolutionary epochs. In its essence the proletarian revolution is economic. Its primary task is to discard the capitalist mode of production and replace it with a new and higher socialist form. This is the material essence of the October Revolution. The Russian workers and peasants abolished the rule of capitalists and landlords in the former empire of the Czars and established the workers’ state which introduced planned economy on the basis of socialized industry. This is the unpostponable task that still confronts all the peoples of the world, first and foremost the stricken millions in Europe.
Capitalism introduced the first system of world economy, only to set extremely narrow limits to the growth of the world market and the world-wide division of labor; because under capitalism the productive forces are of necessity strangled by the fetters of private ownership and the archaic, reactionary system of national states. Only world organization and planning can assure the indispensable arena of expansion for the modern productive forces, let alone harness them to prevent wars and other social convulsions. That is why the proletarian revolution is internationalist in its spirit and scope.
LENINISM MEANS INTERNATIONALISM From its very inception Marxism set as its task of tasks: to imbue the working class with internationalism. There is no poison more destructive than the poison of chauvinism. The October Revolution was the quintessence of internationalism. The Russian Bolsheviks, under Lenin and Trotsky, taught that the Russian proletariat was only the vanguard of the world army of the working class; they carried out the October Revolution as the first victorious battle for the establishment of the World Socialist Federation; they tied the fate of the Soviet Union, to the fate of the world revolution; they invariably approached every major task confronting the USSR from this standpoint and no other. In the most critical days of October, Lenin reiterated time and again that he would unhesitatingly stake the existence of the Soviet regime in coming to the defense of the German and the European revolution. As a matter of fact this was implied in the very formation of the Third International which Lenin characterized as the “ante-chamber” of the Socialist United States of Europe and of the World.
Stalin long ago betrayed all this. His fraudulent and reactionary theory of “socialism in one country” has served to inject the poison of chauvinism into the USSR and the Communist International. That is why Trotsky waged his irreconcilable, historic fight against this “theory” from the day Stalin enunciated it in the autumn of 1924. As Trotsky correctly predicted the Third International has been destroyed by Stalino-chauvinism. The Fourth International founded by Trotsky, is the true heir of October and of Lenin’s Communist International. It alone has remained faithful to the internationalist banner and program of Leninism. Therein lies the secret of the unconquerable power of Trotskyism.
WE ARE THE TRUE HEIRS OF OCTOBER Stalin began by usurping the banner of October and ended by appropriating – and destroying – almost all of its great conquests. But the revolution was made neither by the Stalinist bureaucracy nor for its sake. It was made by the masses and was intended from the first to serve their interests and their interests only.
The October Revolution marked, as we have stated, the first conscious and triumphant intervention in favor of the disinherited and the oppressed. It raised these masses to their feet in order through their own organizations and efforts to slash more deeply into the roots of exploitation and inequality than any other event in world history.
LENIN ON THE SOVIET STATE Lenin saw the essence of the Soviet state in this, that “it enables those who were oppressed to rise, and more and more to take into their own hands the entire direction of the state, the entire direction of economic life, the entire direction of production.” (Lenin’s Collected Works, Vol. XXIV, p.201. Third Russian edition.)
In March 1921, on the occasion of the International Working Women’s Day, Lenin characterized Bolshevism and the October Revolution as follows:
“The chief, the essential feature of Bolshevism and the Russian October is that they draw into politics precisely those who were most oppressed under capitalism (and) ... through the abolition of the private ownership of land, mills and factories concentrate all state power in the hands of the toiling masses.”
In Lenin’s lifetime these were no empty words. Every measure was taken to ensure the self-action, intervention in and control of ever-wider spheres of political, cultural and economic activity by the masses. The mass organizations – the Soviets, the party, the trade unions, cooperatives, etc. – seethed with vitality and exercised the actual power.
In the twenty years since Lenin died, all this has been destroyed. The masses have been politically expropriated. All power is wielded by Stalin, the personal dictator, at the head of a totalitarian bureaucracy.
The prime concern of Lenin’s party and government was the welfare of the masses, the immediate and constant improvement of their working and living standards. It is impossible to cite a single piece of legislation or a single action in Lenin’s day which was at variance with this policy.
WITH AND FOR THE OPPRESSED Illustrative of the spirit, and practice of October is a letter of greeting that Lenin sent to the Bavarian Soviet Republic which existed from April 7 to May 1, 1919. The chief concern expressed in this letter is over the steps that had been taken for the immediate improvement of the conditions of Bavarian workers, agricultural laborerers and small peasants. Lenin wrote:
“Have you utilized the stocks of clothing and other products in order to extend immediate aid to the workers, and especially the agricultural laborers and small peasants? Have you expropriated the factories and the wealth of the capitalists in Munich, along with the capitalist agricultural enterprises in the environs? Have you cancelled the mortgages and the rents of the small peasants? Have you doubled or tripled the wages of agricultural laborers and unskilled workers? Have you confiscated all the paper and newsprint and all the printing establishments in order to publish popular leaflets and newspapers for the maws? Have you introduced the 6-hour working day, with two or three hour daily exercises in the administrative affairs of the state? Have you squeezed the bourgeoisie in Munich in order to divide the apartments of the wealthy among the workers? Have you taken the banks into your hands? ... Have you introduced bigger rations for the workers than for the bourgeoisie?” (Lenin’s Collected Works, Vol.XXIV, p.264. Third Russian edition.)
In these words is to be heard the genuine voice of October. Whereas Bolshevism never failed to range itself with the oppressed and the weak against the privileged and the mighty, Stalinism has no less consistently pursued just the opposite course. The difference here is the difference between revolution and counter-revolution.
Whatever else Stalinism has been able to destroy, it cannot destroy the meaning, the lessons and the example of the first decisive victory scored by the oppressed and the disinherited in the age-long liberationist struggle. The heritage of October has been preserved by the Trotskyist movement. The workers in Europe are already mobilizing their forces and welding their ranks. On the morrow they will march into battle and win the final victories under the same banner and program that brought the first triumph in Russia in October 1917.
WHAT IS HAPPENING INSIDE THE USSR? It is of course impossible to give a detailed picture of the USSR as it is emerging from the war. The Stalinist censorship, so skilled in hiding and distorting facts in peacetime, has sealed off the country from the rest of the world for years. The Kremlin stopped publishing all official data concerning industry and agriculture since 1939, the period of the Stalin-Hitler pact. Nevertheless the picture is quite clear in its main outlines.
The war has struck deeper and harder in the USSR than in any other major country of Europe. The destruction is incalculable. It will take years of unremitting toil and sacrifice to restore the ruined industrialized and agricultural sections to their pre-war levels. The remaining sectors of the Soviet economy, even those areas far behind the fronts, have been so completely geared to war production, with both equipment and personnel so strained that there can be no talk of a rapid reconversion to peacetime production. Here, too, the prospect is a long range one. Here, too, great obstacles must first be overcome.
The Soviet fiscal system has been shattered. The actual extent of inflation can only be approximated. But it appears to verge on runaway inflation. According to figures published in the American press, the prices on the Soviet “free market” are from 60 to 400 times the fixed state prices. Thus a pound of bread costs 60 rubles (state price: 1 to 2 rubles); one egg 20 rubles (state price: 65 to 75 kopeks) ; sugar 500 rubles a pound (state price: 3 to 4 rubles); butter 400 rubles a pound (state price: 1½ rubles); and so on.
Consumers goods have long ago become inaccessible to the mass of the population. Sufficient food, fuel and clothing likewise remain only within the reach of the military caste and the highest layers of the bureaucracy. The highest ration issued to workers provides a little over a pound of bread a day. It can be stated without any fear of exaggeration that even in such favored places as Moscow, the populace has been living below subsistence levels since the outbreak of war.
THOSE WHO NOW CARRY THE LOAD Military and civilian casualties run to astronomic figures. The loss of manpower is graphically indicated by such official admissions as that almost 2 million children have been drawn into plants and that both in industry and agriculture the overwhelming majority consists of women, adolescents and children.
In his speech on the occasion of the 27th Anniversary of October – in which even the stereotyped reference to Lenin was omitted – Stalin acknowledged that “the main burden of the labor in factories and plants, in the collective and state farms” had fallen on the shoulders of “Soviet women and our glorious young people.”
It is therefore not at all surprising that the productivity of labor, always extremely low in the USSR, has declined still further. In a leading editorial, June 8, Pravda singles out the crucial coal industry among those “where the productivity of labor remains below the pre-war level,” and then goes on to add that in the sphere of raising the productivity of labor “we still have an untapped territory of work.” Similar comments have become more and more frequent in the recent period.
These and other facts indicate that the prolongation of the war is straining the Soviet masses to the extreme limits. In the USSR, as throughout Europe, the winter of 1944 may well be the blackest winter in modern times.
While the Stalin gang seeks to usurp the credit and the prestige for the epic victories of the Red Army, the brunt of the war has been of course borne by the workers and the mass of the peasantry.
THE SOVIET PROLETARIAT How will the Soviet working class emerge from this war? We have already pointed out that a vast change has occurred in the composition of the industrial force. The extreme youth of a section of this new working class is a factor that is not at all negative from the revolutionary standpoint. The revolution has always drawn its heaviest forces from the youth. Nor are working class women, any more than the men, suitable as reserves for the open counter-revolution. Moreover, the change in composition means that in addition to millions who have already been killed or wounded, other millions of workers still remain under arms. The conditions they will return to after demobilization will be below those miserable levels that existed in 1939.
The process of the political expropriation of the proletariat has been completed by the Kremlin. The mass organizations – the Soviets, the trade unions, the cooperatives – have been stripped even of the functions that remained after these were reduced to mere bureaucratic shells. The factory administration – the director, the specialist, the engineer – today reigns supreme. They are now the “party.” They are now the “law.” They have contempt for the masses. Least of their concerns, is the improvement of the working and living conditions. Will all this be accepted by the worker-soldiers? Victorious soldiers have never before accepted docilely worse conditions than those which previously prevailed.
In addition to the sacrifices they have already made, the Soviet workers will have to bear the main burden of the transition from peace to war as well as of the entire reconstruction period. Neither of these periods will be brief. The Soviet workers, we repeat, will get no concessions from the bureaucracy; these will have to be wrested in an open struggle. In other words, the long-unfolding contradiction between the parasitic regime and the needs of the toiling masses must come to its breaking point in the next period. Although they have undoubtedly been drained by the war, there is little likelihood that the Soviet workers, steeled by their war experiences and imbued with a new confidence in themselves, will submit without a struggle to the perpetuation of the Stalinist regime. The outcome of this struggle is inextricably bound up with the revolutionary developments in Europe, above all in Germany. Every blow aimed by Stalin at the unfolding European revolution is at the same time a blow at the Soviet workers and at the Strict Union. That the Kremlin is aligned with the counter-revolution can today be denied only by the agents and dupes of Stalinism. But there is no ground whatever for pessimism concerning the role of the Soviet workers in the titanic events ahead. When the European revolution sounds its tocsin of liberation, they will be found in the front ranks.
CLASS DIFFERENTIATION WITHIN THE PEASANTRY What role will the Soviet peasantry play? Stalin long ago proclaimed that with the “irrevocable triumph of socialism” the peasants constitute a “new” class in the Soviet Union. Like all the other lies, the Stalinist lie that the Soviet peasantry is unlike any other in history will be exploded by the coming events.
The actual fact is that the heaviest reserves of the internal counter-revolution are now to be found among the Soviet peasantry. Prior to the war the class differentiation within the collectives had already produced a strong formation of “millionaire kolkhozniks” who can be scientifically designated as a nascent rural bourgeoisie. The processes in war-time, especially the growing scarcity of necessities, have tended to greatly strengthen this rural bourgeoisie. Just what portion of the national wealth they have accumulated may be roughly estimated by the “voluntary donations” which the Kremlin has been siphoning off from the collectives in 1944. For six days in June, Pravda reports the receipt – and Stalin’s personal acknowledgment – of 165,912,748 rubles, along with several hundred grams of gold and “other valuables” from collectives, some even in the recently liberated areas. Sums like these can come only from one source – the “millionaire kolkhozniks.” These sums are obtained in the guise of a spontaneously initiated campaign in which individuals and groups donate their personal savings, currency, state bonds, etc., to aid children of the veterans, to build tanks, planes, and so on. Needless to mention, the CPU has ample means of obtaining and expediting these “patriotic” donations. It is likewise self-evident that the rural bourgeoisie will not submit indefinitely to the continuation of this “bloodless” expropriation.
The Soviet rural bourgeoisie possesses social support in the village in the person of another layer that has grown luxuriously in wartime – the well-to-do peasant, the speculator in the “free market” – in short, none other than the kulak whose complete extinction had been fraudulently proclaimed long ago by the Kremlin.
CONDITIONS WITHIN THE COLLECTIVES The growth of individualistic tendencies in Soviet agriculture is reflected in Stalin’s own press. The collectives do not even bother to sign agreements with the Machine Tractor Stations, agreements on which a large portion of grain deliveries to the state depend. A report from a district in Northern Caucasus states that:
“In the course of the last two years the Mamlyutsk regional Soviet has not reviewed nor registered a single agreement.”
And in conclusion, it is added:
“The Mamlyutsk region is, unfortunately, not an exception.” (Pravda, June 8. Our emphasis.)
The collectives do not bother to fulfill the plan. They prefer to raise and harvest those crops which are the most profitable. Hay and other fodder are apparently relatively cheap in the “free market” and are therefore neglected, with the resulting loss of horses and cattle. Thus a report from a single region in the autonomous Kazakh Republic affirms that:
“Last year the collectives fulfilled the plan of hay-mowing only 68 per cent. Fodder lasted only until January-February [of this year] ... During the winter the collectives found a deficit of thousands of sheep, cows, goats, horses.” (Pravda, June 10. Our emphasis.)
Throughout May and June the Moscow press carried reports – carefully buried in the local correspondence – of similar “deficits” from one end of the country to the other. For example, during the first quarter of 1944 a single district in the Ural region suffered the loss of “165 heads of large horned cattle, 760 sheep and 195 horses” for lack of fodder. (Pravda, June 15)
Such a wholesale destruction of cattle in the face of the already grave shortage portends a catastrophe in agriculture. Pravda’s reports may very well indicate actual conditions of famine in the areas far behind the front. In any case, the situation cannot be improved without drastic measures, which, in turn, can only bring the bureaucracy into an open conflict with the peasantry.
Added to this chaotic situation is the monstrous dislocation of the relations between the city and the village. There exists a shortage not only of consumers goods produced by industry but also of the simplest agricultural implements. A communication from the Tambov oblast, one of the richest farm areas, informs that “last year many collective farmers had to travel 100 kilometers to get rakes.” They obtained 600 rakes from another collective (Pravda, June 11). The same report mentions an acute lack of scythes, which are likewise unobtainable through the normal trade channels.
In the face of a dire shortage of tools, draught animals, etc., whatever mechanized equipment still remains is abused and neglected:
“The collectives are showing little concern about the mechanized cadres. Time and again machines are entrusted to untrained people, while experienced tractor operators are employed in other work.” (Pravda, June 8.)
Pravda abstains from explaining what happens to the machines entrusted to unskilled hands.
Fragmentary as the information is, the conclusion is inescapable. The war has placed a huge question mark over the fate of the entire collective farm system which is now being pulled powerfully in the direction of capitalist restoration. This crisis in the collective directly involves the fate of nationalized industry and planned economy as a whole.
FOUNTAIN-HEAD OF COUNTER-REVOLUTION Meanwhile in the political sphere the Stalinist bureaucracy has already accomplished everything in its power to clear the road for capitalist restoration. The capitalist, or more correctly, the restorationist wing of the bureaucracy, has been strengthened by the ascendancy of the military caste, by the restoration of the Greek Orthodox Church, by the injection of the poison of chauvinism into the Soviet masses, and all the other reactionary measures introduced in recent period. The strong agricultural base of the counter-revolution reinforces and is itself reinforced by the restorationist section of the bureaucracy. The “democratic” Anglo-American imperialists provide the forces moving toward capitalist restoration within the USSR with a powerful ally.
Finally, Soviet industry has been undermined not only by the war but also by the bureaucracy which has remained just as rapacious, arbitrary, wasteful and inefficient in war time as it was in peace. The war has freed the managers, engineers, and specialists even of the inadequate controls previously exercised. They remain, of course, completely free from any check or supervision by the masses. One of the first casualties of the war was the system of cost-accounting in the plants. In some factories bookkeeping departments were virtually liquidated by the transfer of clerks, bookkeepers, etc., to other departments under the pretext of war emergency. Embezzling of state funds could now proceed with impunity. On June 2 Pravda printed the report of the Collegium of the People’s Commissariat of Medium-sized Machinery under the title: FACTORIES IN WHICH THEY HAVE LEARNED TO COUNT NEITHER RUBLES NOR KOPEKS. Among the plants singled out in this report is the key State Ball-bearings Plant.
On June 8 Pravda in its leading editorial returned to this touchy subject:
“Some of our directors and party workers have become accustomed to look rarely into the balance sheet of the operations of their enterprises ...”
In this context, “some enterprises” is Stalinist double-talk for most enterprises; and the “rare looks” signify complete unconcern on the part of the bureaucrats.
Side by side with embezzlements, so widespread even in peace-time, there continues unchecked the wastage of raw materials, fuel etc. Deficient products pile up. One recent report in the Pravda refers to the clearing away of thousands of tons of “rubbish” from a single plant. In the already cited editorial, it is stated:
“As is evident from a number of materials published by Pravda in the recent period, the losses of raw materials, fuel, electrical energy are very great in many enterprises. Damaged products are considerable.” (Pravda, June 8.)
STALINIST WRECKERS Listed among the “laggard” and “deficient” enterprises are those in “ferrous metallurgy, and in coal industry, and in the People’s Commissariat of War Industry.” Pravda then continues its list:
“Especially noteworthy is the lag of a number of enterprises in the textile industry, heavy machine building, cellulose industry and structural materials. Facts of the unfultillment of the plan continue to take place in an assorted number of fabrications.” (idem)
Let us observe that Pravda’s “assorted number” amounts to a virtual roll-call of Soviet industries. In any case it is now officially admitted that a considerable section of Soviet industry has been consistently operating at a huge loss. If these losses, superimposed on the havoc directly caused by the war, do not spell bankruptcy, they most certainly foreshadow it. The Kremlin has brought Soviet industry to the verge of the abyss. For these disproportions between and within industry and agriculture are piled on top of the previously existing grave disproportions.
The war has postponed the crisis of Stalin’s regime only to reproduce it in the sharpest form at the moment when the military hostilities approach their termination. Superficial observers, and this includes the Kremlin itself, are convinced that the military victories and the accruing prestige have definitively stabilized Stalin’s rule. Just the contrary is true. The real test of Stalin’s regime lies not in the past but in the period immediately ahead. The historical alternative forecast years ago by Leon Trotsky is becoming more and more the reality: Either Stalinism, as it falls, will drag down with it the workers state and capitalism will be restored in the USSR; or the Soviet masses will overthrow the Stalinist bureaucracy, re-establish Soviet democracy, and resume their march to socialism shoulder to shoulder with the European masses.
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Last updated on 12.9.2008