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The New International, November 1942

Mary Casting

Books in Review

Behind Russia’s War Front


From New International, Vol. VIII No. 10, November 1942, pp. 318–320.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


An Appraisal of the Three Five-Year Plans

by A. Yugow
Harper & Bros., New York

Yugow’s book has been more or less lost amid the voluminous writings about Russia, although the author indicates by the title that he is trying to write a book for the war, for the “American war front.” He examines the economic forces of Russia from the point of view of the possibility of this ally of the United States “holding out” and their usefulness for the crushing of Hitler Germany.

A. Yugow was a member of the Russian Social Democratic Party. He now belongs to the Dan group which shortly before the war split in Paris from the Abramowitz group. The cause of the split was what attitude to take toward Stalinism and Russia. Already at that time the Dan group took a “pro-Soviet,” People’s Front position. This development is in itself very interesting. Dan and his friends belong today to the numerous Social Democratic splinter groups which have reconciled themselves with Stalinism and which also have, so to speak, forgiven his revolutionary past since the Russian Army fights on the right side, namely, on the side of the United Nations. And for this, Dan and his friends return to their original position of departure, i.e., to their pro-Allied position during the First World War. In New York the Dan group is closely associated to the Austrian Social Democrats, who have surrendered to the same pro-Ally, People’s Front position. In their monthly magazine, Labor Information, they advocate an open pro-Stalinist war policy, in which all the crimes of the Stalin regime are forgiven since they were necessary for the building of a powerful Red Army to resist Hitler Germany, This brand of socialists have similar co-thinking groups in England. They are, without any doubt, an important political tendency in the British labor movement which, under the present political circumstances, has great chances for a temporary political upsurge. Therefore, these neo-Stalinists must be watched and fought.

Yugow is one of their typical representatives. He held a bureaucratic position in the Moscow Food Trust from about 1918–19 up to 1924. Although a member of the Russian Social Democratic Party he was able to hold this job until 1924 and then leave peacefully for Berlin which at that time was the headquarters of the Mensheviks, who worked closely together with the Executive Committee of the SPD. There he worked as an economist until 1927. By using official Soviet government statistics he was able to organize his own small bureau of economic statistics. In 1933 Yugow and his bureau moved to Paris and, so the neo-Stalinists tell, his statistical expositions were so excellent that even the Soviet Government bought his goods regularly! (Thus the Soviet Government bought back its own statistics, contributing in part to the continued existence of the bureau of the economist, Yugow!)

This book is based upon a diligent compilation and exploitation of all these official statistics. Yugow utilizes no critical material whatsoever. He does not give a concrete picture of the development of Soviet economy. He fails, for instance, to make use of Russian newspaper reports, critical party congress speeches, etc. This uncritical, un[an]alytical collection of facts often makes the diligent compilation worthless. In spite of this insufficient method, something appears which could be used as material in a critical analysis of Russian industry and its development.

Yugow examines the industrialization of the years 1929–41, the reconstruction of agriculture, foreign trade, finance and the geographic distribution of industry, the problem of the standard of living and of working conditions in the Soviet Union. On the whole, this presentation amounts to idealization of the results of the Stalin five-year plan in the field of Russia’s industrialization. In so far as there are remarks of a critical nature in Yugow’s book they are timid justifications of his former Social-Democratic position. He cannot conceal the fact that the cost of production in Russia is 30 to 50 per cent higher than in the European countries, that prices of goods are 100 to 200 per cent higher than in all capitalist countries. He cannot altogether gloss over the cruel process of Stalin’s industrial construction, but as soon as he is faced with a deeper theoretical question he carefully evades it. His remarks about the problem of whether industrialization everywhere must be paid for so dearly as it was in the case of Russia are characteristic.

But perhaps the privations which the Russian people are now bearing are the inevitable result of any industrialization. It may be the inescapable price of the rise from the level of a backward economy to that of an advanced industrial country; perhaps the nation had to be “starved into industrialization.” We do not admit the correctness of this thesis. It is a historical fact that a considerable number of capitalistic countries paid for the period of original capital accumulation by the impoverishment of their masses. But it is not permissible to draw an analogy between Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century and England of the early eighteenth. Russia has long outlived its period of original accumulation of capital, when the first factories and mills were built by the slave and semi-slave labor of former peasants in the latter half of the nineteenth century. (Page 4)

Here Yugow states that what must not be, cannot be and simply disregards the problem of the original accumulation that arose during the five-year plan. Anton Ciliga in his book, Land of the Great Lie, has given a very well written description of working conditions during the construction of the White Sea Canal, Dneipostroy and other great undertakings, in which he draws a comparison between the working conditions of this period and the forced proletarianization of the Felahin in Egypt, as described by Rosa Luxemburg in Accumulation of Capital. A whole series of reports of the period of industrialization gives the same picture; for example, the construction of Magnitogorsk for which the Kirgis were brought from the steppes. These Kirgis, a people of hunters and shepherds, were crowded into mass quarters and were forced to live and work under the most primitive conditions. An analytical examination of Russia’s industrialization should give its most attentive consideration to a thorough investigation of the theoretical as well as practical side of the process. The question should be raised whether a genuine dictatorship of the proletariat would not find more fertile and democratic methods to draw backward people into industry.

The same light-minded method is applied when investigating the living and working conditions of the Soviet Union. Of course, Yugow cannot be silent about the sharp differences in wages, the relatively low purchasing power and the indirect, anti-social taxes. Nor can he help mentioning the measures of compulsion applied to the working class in industry, the reactionary rôle of the trade unions and its fusion with the state bureaucracy. Nevertheless, here too, he tries to paint the picture as favorably as possible. Naturally, no serious attempt is made to define the position of the working class in its relation to the bureaucracy.

The development of the Kolkhoz and the Sovkhoz is described in the same manner. Yugow estimates that 35 to 40 per cent of the Kolkhoz’s income goes to the government. He reports on the forced collectivization of the Kolkhoz, the lack of self-administration, and the Stakhanovism (i.e., piecework) present even in agricultural work. He has to admit that the standard of living of the average peasant is still very low, in spite of the cultural and technical improvements in the village. He speaks of a certain class differentiation in the Kolkhoz, but again without any critical attitude toward the system of the ruling bureaucracy which exploits them mercilessly.

At the same time a new process is taking place a new social stratification among the peasants. Thousands are more or less prosperous while millions are struggling for a mere existence.

The comparatively strongest criticism is applied to the problem of foreign trade. Although he says (in just a single paragraph) that it is bad for Russia to exclude herself from the rest of the world and that this has done harm to her economy, he asserts in the same sentence that in view of the present war it might have been a great blessing that Russia developed in such an autarchic manner. However, since Yugow has set himself the task of finding a middle road between American democracy and Stalinist Russia, he immediately expresses his belief of a breakdown of the monopoly of foreign trade which would make it possible for American finance capitalism to export goods to Russia, to peacefully conquer the Russian market and to make it part of capitalist world economy. Yugow’s goal for Russian economy is to see her with a stable currency and engaged in export trade.

If the war between Germany and Russia ends in the defeat of Hitler it would seem that the existing system of foreign trade monopoly will be bound to undergo considerable change.

In the last chapter entitled The Test of War, Yugow summarizes his viewpoints: The Russian soldier is fighting so boldly because the Stalinist economy has proven to be progressive and realistic. The Russian soldier knows why he is dying, suffering, sacrificing himself, and that explains the success of the Soviet armies. After the war it will be easy to adopt the necessary democratic reforms peacefully, in spite of the bureaucratic leadership. The Russian planned economy will be peacefully replaced by a”democratic” economy.

Yes, patriotism is a powerful emotion, capable of moving people to great heroism. But not patriotism of the “geographic,” everyday variety. That kind of “love of fatherland” was not able to hold at the front the scattering Russian army in 1917; it was not able to inspire the French army to prolonged, stubborn resistance in 1940. In order to fire millions of people with a great passion for a battle to the death, to inspire them to great deeds, that patriotism itself must be imbued with great social passions and high aims for which millions are willing to fight and die.

When the “will to die” is proof of a social regime’s firmness, then Hitler and his armies have succeeded best in maintaining such a theory. In the fourth year of the war, millions of his people have died “the patriotic death of a martyr,” and when the defenders of Sevastopol conduct themselves like heroes, those who are attacking behave likewise. The problem of the present imperialist war can neither be posed nor solved in this manner a’nd the whole shallowness of “neo-Stalinism” immediately reveals itself, if one seriously considers the question. When warlike virtues are taken as criteria for the social or reactionary character of a warring country we are dealing with false and reactionary concepts. The reason why the Stalinist regime has comparatively succeeded in meeting the aggressor’s attack until now is an entirely different question which cannot be answered by a “neo-Stalinist.”

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