From New International, Vol. II No. 2, March 1935, pp. 37–40.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
A new chapter is being opened in the history of the Soviet Union. To the majority, the shot which was fired at Kirov struck like thunder from a clear sky. Yet the sky was not at all clear. In Soviet economic life, despite its successes, to a large measure because of its successes, profound contradictions have accumulated which it is impossible not only to eliminate but even to mitigate by the sole means of issuing decrees and orders from above. At the same time there has been an extreme sharpening of the contradiction between the bureaucratic methods of management and the needs of economic and cultural development as a whole. The unexpected terroristic act, and particularly the trials, the administrative reprisals, and the new cleansing of the party which followed it, provided only an external and dramatic form to that general turn in Soviet policies which has been unfolding during the last year and a half. The general direction of this turn is to the Right, more to the Right, and still further to the Right.
he crushing of the German proletariat which resulted from the fatal policies of the Communist International that supplemented the perfidious role of the social democracy, has led to the entry of the Soviet Union into the League of Nations. With its characteristic cynicism, the bureaucracy represented this action not as a forced retreat necessitated by the worsening of the international position of the Soviets, but on the contrary as a supreme success. In Hitler’s victory over the German proletariat, the Soviet workers and peasants are duty-bound to see the victory of Stalin over the League of Nations. The essence of the turn is amply disclosed by the speeches, the votes at Geneva, and the interviews by Litvinov: if Soviet diplomacy did score a victory over anything, it was, perhaps, only a victory over its last vestiges of restraint in the face of the public opinion of the proletariat. In international policies, all class, and national-liberationist criteria have been entirely discarded. The sole, guiding principle is – the preservation of the status quo!
In harmony with this, the Communist International – without any discussion, and without the promised Congress of course (after all, of what service are Congresses in serious matters?) – has executed the most breakneck turn-about in its entire history. From the theory and practise of the “third period” and “social-’Fascism”, it has gone over to permanent coalitions not only with the social democracy but with Radical Socialists, the main prop of the national government in France. The program of the struggle for power is today decreed to be counter-revolutionary provocation. The policies of the vassal “alliance” with the Kuo Min Tang (1925–1927) are transferred without a hitch to the soil of Europe. The turn has the very same goal of – preserving the European status quo!
In the sphere of Soviet economic life, the turn is no less profound in its tendencies. The planned beginning has demonstrated what forces were latent in it. But at the same time, it has also indicated the limits within which it can be applied. An a priori economic plan in general – all the more so, in a backward country with a population of 170 million, and a profound contradiction between the city and the village – is not a military decree but a working hypothesis which must be painstakingly checked and recast in the process of fulfillment. Two levers must serve to regulate the plan, the financial and political levers: a stable monetary system, and an active response on the part of the interested groups in the populace to the incompatibilities and gaps in the plan. But the political self-action on the part of the population has been stifled. And at the last party convention, Stalin proclaimed that the need for a stable currency was a “bourgeois superstition”. This happy aphorism had to be revised together with another and no less famous one – about the “twins”, Fascism and social democracy.
How long ago was it that this very same Stalin promised to send the NEP, that is to say, the market to “the devil”? How long ago was it that the entire press trumpeted that buying and selling were to be completely supplanted by “direct socialist distribution”? It was proclaimed that the consumers’ card was the external symbol of this “distribution”. According to this theory, the Soviet currency itself, by the close of the second Five Year Plan, was already to be transformed into mere consumers’ tokens like theater or street car tickets. Indeed, is there really room for money in a socialist society where no classes, no social contradictions exist, and where products are distributed in accordance with a provided plan?
But all these promises grew dimmer as the second Five Year Plan drew closer to its conclusion. Today, the bureaucracy finds itself compelled to apply to “the devil” with a very humble request that the market given over to his safekeeping be returned. True, according to the blueprints, trading is to take place only through the organs of the state apparatus. The future will show to what extent it will bej possible to adhere to this system. If the collective farm engages in trading, the collective farmer will also trade. It is not easy to fix the boundaries beyond which the trading collective farmer becomes transformed into a tradesman. The market has laws of its own.
The system of consumers’ cards, beginning with bread cards, is being eliminated gradually. The relations between the city and the village are to be regulated in an increasing measure by monetary calculation. For this, a stable chervonetz is required. Colossal and not unsuccessful efforts are being made in the production of gold.
The translation of economic relations into the language of money is absolutely necessary at the given, initial stage of socialist development in order to have the basis for calculating the actual social usefulness and economic effectiveness of the labor energy expended by workers and peasants; only in this way is it possible to rationalize economic life by regulating the plans.
For the last few years we have dozens of times pointed out the need for a stable monetary unit, the purchasing power of which would not depend upon plans but which would be of assistance in checking them. The Soviet theoreticians saw in this proposal only our urge to “restore capitalism”. Now they are compelled to reeducate themselves in a hurry. The ABC of Marxism has its superior points.
The transition to the system of monetary calculation implies inevitably and primarily the translation into the ringing language of gold of all the hidden and masked contradictions in the economic life. Someone, however, will have to pay for the accumulated miscalculations and disproportions. Will it be the bureaucracy? Of course not; for, indeed, the keeping of accounts and the treasury will remain in its hands. The peasantry? But the reform is taking place to a large measure under pressure of the peasantry, and at least during the period immediately ahead it will prove most profitable for the tops in the village. The workers are those who will have to pay; the mistakes of the bureaucracy will be corrected at the expense of their vital needs. The repeal of the consumers’ cards hits the workers directly and immediately, especially the lowest, and most poorly paid sections, that is, the vast majority.
The primary aim of returning to the market and to the stable monetary system (the latter is still in project) consists in interesting the collective farmers directly in the results of their own labor, and thus eliminating the most negative consequences of forced collectivization. This retreat is dictated unconditionally by the mistakes of preceding policies. We must not close our eyes, however, to the fact that the regeneration of market relations inevitably implies the strengthening of individualistic and centrifugal tendencies in rural economy, and the growth of differentiation betweeen the collective farms, as well as inside the collectives.
The political sections were instituted in the village, according to Stalin’s report, as supra-party and supra-Soviet militarized apparatuses to exercise ruthless control over the collective farms. The party press celebrated the political sections as the ripest product of the “Leader’s genial mind”. Today, after a year’s labor, the political sections have been liquidated on the sly, almost without any obituaries: the bureaucracy is retreating before the moujik; administrative pressure is being supplanted by a “smytchka” through the chervonetz; and because of this very fact, the forced levelling must give place to differentiation.
Thus, towards the conclusion of the second Five Year Plan, we have not the liquidation of the “last remnants” of class society, as the conceited and ignorant bureaucrats had promised, but on the contrary new processes of class stratification. The epic period of the administrative “liquidation of the kulak as a class” is followed by entry into the belt of economic concessions to the kulak tendencies of the “well-to-do collective farmer”. In the very heat of 100% collectivization, the Bolshevik-Leninists forecasted the inevitability of retreat. Zinoviev was sentenced to ten years of imprisonment for having dared to express doubts as to the possibility of realizing 100% collectivization (no other accusations are brought against him!). But what did experience prove? The retreat has begun. Where it will stop cannot be known as yet. Once again the Stalinist bureaucracy has shown that it is never able to foresee the day after tomorrow. It’s short-sighted empiricism, the product of crushing all criticism and thought, plays dirty tricks upon its own self, and, what is much worse, upon the country of socialist construction.
Even before the Neo-NEP, which was unprovided for in any of the plans, has had a chance to manifest any economic results, it has called forth very acute political consequences. The turn to the Right in foreign and domestic policies could not fail to arouse alarm among the more class conscious elements of the proletariat. To alarm there was added dissatisfaction, because of the consider-
able, rise in the cost of living. The mood of the peasantry remains unstable and tense. To this must be added the dull rumbling among the youth, particularly among that section which, being close to the bureaucracy, observes it arbitrariness, its privileges and abuses. In this thick atmosphere, the shot of Nicolaiev exploded.
The Stalinist press strives to deduce the terrorist act of 1934 from the opposition platform of 1926. “Every opposition [we are told] leads inevitably to counterrevolution.” Should one seek to locate here a political idea, it would turn out to be approximately the following: although the platform as such excludes the idea of individual terror, it, nevertheless, awakens criticism and dissatisfaction: and since dissatisfaction can find no normal outlet through party, Soviet, or trade union channels, it must in the end, inevitably lead those who are unbalanced to terroristic acts. There is a kernel of truth in such a supposition, only one must know how to husk it. As is well known, criticism and dissatisfaction do not always lead to terroristic attempts and to assassinations, which arise only under those exceptional circumstances when the contradictions become strained to the utmost, when the atmosphere is surcharged electrically, when dissatisfaction is very widespread, and when the bureaucracy holds the advanced elements of the country by the throat. In its aphorism: “every opposition leads inevitably to counter-revolution”, the Stalinist press supplies the most merciless and somber criticism possible of the Stalinist regime. And this time it speaks the truth.
The bureaucracy’s reply to the shot of Nicolaiev was a rabid attack against the Left wing of the party and the working class. It almost seems as if Stalin only awaited a pretext for the onslaught upon Zinoviev, Kamenev and their friends. The newspapers, just as in 1924-1929, are waging an absolutely inconceivable campaign against “Trotskyism”. Enough to say that Trotsky is now being depicted in Pravda as the planter of “counter-revolutionary nests” within the Red Army during the period of the civil war; and, of course, the salvaging of the revolution from these “nests” is the heroic feat of Stalin. In schools, universities, periodicals and commissariats are being discovered ever new “Trotskyists”, in many instances backsliders. Arrests and exiles have once again assumed a mass character. About 300,000 individuals, 15-20%, have again been removed from the many times cleansed party. Does this mean that the Bolshevik-Leninists have had such large successes during the recent period? Such a conclusion would be too premature. The dissatisfaction among workers has indubitably grown; there has also been a growth in the sympathy toward the Left Opposition. But suspicion and fear of the bureaucracy have grown still greater. The bureaucracy is already incapable of assimilating even capitulators who are sincere. For its sharp turn to the Right it requires a massive amputation on the Left. Nicolaiev’s shot served to provide the external justification for Stalin’s political surgery.
Individual terror is adventuristic by its very essence: its political consequences cannot be foreseen, and they almost never serve its goals. What did Nicolaiev want? This we do not know. Very likely he wished to protest against the party regime, the uncontrollability of the bureaucracy, or the course to the Right. But what were the results? The crushing of the Lefts and semi-Lefts by the bureaucracy, the intensification of the pressure and of uncontrollability, and a preventive terror against all those who might be dissatisfied with the turn to the Right. In any case, the fact that Nicolaiev’s shot could have called forth such disproportionately great consequences is indubitable testimony that these “consequences” were already lodged in the political situation, and were only awaiting a reason to break out into the open.
The bureaucracy is entering the period for checking the balance of the two Five Year Plans, and it hastens to insure itself beforehand. It is ready to make economic concessions to the peasantry, that is to say, to its petty bourgeois interests and tendencies. But it does not want to make any concessions to the political interests of the proletarian vanguard. On the contrary, it begins its new turn towards the “well-to-do collective farmer” with a wild police raid against every living and thinking element in the working class and the student youth.
Today, one can already forecast that after the raid against the Lefts, there will sooner or later follow a raid against the Rights. Bureaucratic Centrism, which has developed into the Soviet form of Bonapartism, would not be what it is, if it could maintain its equilibrium in any other manner save by continual attacks on “two fronts”, i.e., in the last analysis, against proletarian internationalism, and against the tendencies of capitalist restoration. The basic task of the bureaucracy is – to hold its own. The enemies and the opponents of the ruling clique, or merely those friends who are not quite reliable are classified as Left or Right “agencies of the intervention”, often depending only upon the technical conveniences of the amalgam. The expulsion of Smirnov, the former People’s Commissar of Agriculture, from the party is a subtle warning to the Rights: “Don’t bestir yourselves. Remember there is a tomorrow!” Today, at any rate, the blows are being directed entirely at the Left.
The Diplomatic retreat before the world bourgeoisie and before reformism; the economic retreat before the petty bourgeois tendencies within the country; the political offensive against the vanguard of the proletariat – such is the tripartite formula of the new chapter in the development of Stalinist Bonapartism. With what does this chapter close? In any case, not with a classless society, and a bureaucracy peacefully dissolving within it. On the contrary, the workers’ state is again entering a period of an open political crisis. What endows it with an unheard-of acuteness today is not the contradictions of the transitional economic system, however profound they may be in themselves, but the singular position of the bureaucracy which not only refuses, but which can no longer make political concessions to the vanguard of the toilers. Having become itself the captive of the system it has erected, the Stalinist clique is now the main source of the political convulsions in the country.
How far-reaching will be the political, the Communist International, and the economic turn to the Right? To what new social consequences will it bring the USSR? Judgment on these questions can be passed only on the basis of carefully estimating all the stages of the development during the years immediately ahead. In any case, nothing can save the Comintern. Falling step by step, its completely demoralized bureaucracy literally betrays the most vital interests of the world proletariat in return for the favors of the Stalinist clique. But the state which was created by the October revolution is virile. The years of forced industrialization and collectivization, under the lash and with all lights extinguished, have produced vast difficulties along with great successes. The present forced retreat secretes, as always, new difficulties, economic and political. It is possible, however, to state even at this moment with absolute certainty that the political crisis engendered by bureaucratic absolutism represents an immeasurably more immediate and acute danger to the Soviet Union than all the disproportions and contradictions of the transitional economy.
The bureaucracy not only has no desire to reform itself but it cannot reform itself. Only the vanguard of the proletariat could restore the Soviet state to health by ruthlessly cleansing the bureaucratic apparatus, beginning with the top. But in order to do so, it must set itself on its feet, close its ranks, and reestablish, or more exactly, create anew the revolutionary party, the Soviets, and the trade unions. Has it sufficient forces to meet such a task?
The working class in the USSR has had an enormous numerical growth. Its productive role has grown even more immeasurably than its numbers. The social weight of the Soviet proletariat today is tremendous. Its political weakness is conditioned by the variegated nature of its social composition; the lack of revolutionary experience in the new generation; the decomposition of the party; and the interminable and heavy defeats of the world proletariat.
At the given stage, the last reason is the decisive one. The absence of international perspectives constrains the Russian workers to enclose themselves within the national shell and to tolerate the theory of “socialism in one country”, with the deification of the national bureaucracy, flowing from this theory. In order to restore confidence in their own forces, the Soviet workers must once more regain faith in the forces of the world proletariat.
The struggle between the forces within the USSR as well as the zigzags of the Kremlin are, of course, of tremendous significance in respect to the hastening, or on the contrary to retarding the consummation. But the main key to the internal position of the Soviet Union is today already outside the Soviet Union. Should the western proletariat surrender the European continent to Fascism, the isolated and profoundly degenerated workers’ state will not maintain itself long. Not because it must inevitably fall under the blows of military intervention : under a different set of conditions Soviet intervention can lead, on the contrary, to the overturn of Fascism. But, right now, the internal contradictions of the USSR have been brought to the point of extreme tension by the victories of the world counterrevolution. The further spread of Fascism, by weakening still further the resisting force of the Soviet proletariat, would render impossible the supplanting of the degenerated Bonapartist system by a regenerated system of the Soviets. A political catastrophe would become inevitable, and in its wake would follow the restoration of private ownership of the means of production.
In the light of the present world situation, the theory of “socialism in one country”, this gospel of the bureaucracy, stands out before us in all its nationalistic limitation and its braggard falsity. We refer here, of course, not to the purely abstract possibility, or impossibility of building a socialist society within this or another geographic area – such a theme is for scholiasts; we have in mind the vastly more immediate and concrete, living and historical, and not metaphysical, question: Is it possible for an isolated Soviet state to maintain itself for an indeterminate period of time in an imperialist environment, within the constricting circle of Fascist counter-revolutions ? The answer of Marxism is, No. The answer of the internal condition of the USSR is, No. The imperialist pressure from without; the expenditure of forces and resources for defense; the impossibility of establishing correct economic ties – these obstacles by themselves are sufficiently profound and grave; but vastly more important than these is the fact that the defeats of the world revolution are inevitably disintegrating the living bearer of the Soviet system, the proletariat, compelling it to place its neck obediently under the yoke of the national bureaucracy, which, in turn, is being corroded by all the vices of Bonapartism. Outside of world revolution there is no salvation!
“Pessimism!” – the trained parrots of the so-called Comintern will say. And the hired charlatans, who have long since waved goodbye to revolution and Marxism will howl, “Defense of Capitalism!” On our part, we really view with no “optimism” at all the Stalinist system of directing the workers’ state, that is to say, of suppressing the workers’ state. The collapse of this system is equally inevitable under all possible variations of the historical development. The Soviet bureaucracy, however, will fail to drag the workers/ state down with itself into the abyss only in the event that the European and world proletariat takes to the road of offensive and victories. The first condition for success is the emancipation of the world vanguard from the deadly, numbing jaws of Stalinism. This task will be solved despite all the obstacles introduced by the powerful apparatus of lies and slanders. In the interests of the world proletariat, and of the Soviet Union, onward!
January 30, 1935
Last updated on 26 February 2016