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Socialist Alternative, September 1936, Volume 2 No. 8, Pages 13-15
Transcribed, Edited and Formatted by Damon Maxwell and David Walters in 2008 for the Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line.

The New Soviet Constitution

By S. J. Weaver

THE NEW Constitution of the Soviet Union places a historic signature on the work of the gradual Weakening, undermining and final abolition of the Soviets by the policies of Stalin. All the sly cunning of words cannot hide the plain facts; the attempt to pervert the meaning of Soviet by applying it to the new territorial (the old bourgeois) system of voting, instead of to voting by factories, can deceive only the most ignorant. Created by the masses under the leadership of the proletariat as the instrumental expression of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the Soviets became the means by which, for the first time in history, the oppressed and exploited class had the opportunity to participate actively in the free construction of a new society. The function of the Soviets was to get the “whole” population, the vast majority of toilers as against the small minority that had previously ruled, to share in the management of social life, to help solve the big problems of production and consumption, to take part in state affairs.

Thus the Soviets were the most democratic organs ever known. The old Soviet Constitution recognized the fact that the proletariat is the only class in modern society that can carry to completion the overthrow of capitalism and the creation of a new socialist society. Hence the workers were given the preponderance of political strength; and since Russia was a backward country with the vast majority still peasants, the workers in the cities received a larger proportionate representation in the new organs of power than any other section of the population. The new Constitution abolishes, along with the Soviets based on factories, the electoral inequalities that gave the leadership to the proletariat, and sets up instead the bourgeois method of territorial representation with the equal, universal, secret ballot.

Constitution and “Socialism in One Country”

The new Constitution “decrees” the correctness of Stalin’s theory of “Socialism in One Country.” The bureaucracy explains the new Constitution by vague references to the achieving of socialism, to the abolition of all classes, to the fact that the dictatorship can therefore be “softened.” The right to work is “ensured” by the socialist organization of national economy, the steady growth of the productive forces of Soviet society, the absence of economic crises, and the abolition of unemployment: in short, by the freedom of the Soviet Union from the laws governing world economy. Of the original leaders of the Soviets, the class-conscious vanguard led by Lenin and Trotsky, not one believed that the Soviets in one single country, particularly backward Russia, could march straight forward to the full realization of the socialist society. For this it was necessary that the proletariat of one or more of the advanced Western countries should come to the aid of Russia. It was only when this aid failed to materialize and when the Soviet Union was faced with overwhelming internal economic contradictions due to the advanced political regime and the backward economic basis for this regime, that it became possible for the Stalinist bureaucracy to arise. The success of that bureaucracy, concurrently with the defeats suffered by the world proletariat, is itself proof of the correctness of the contention of Lenin and Trotsky that the October Revolution would be endangered unless the proletariat of the western countries came to its aid. Like a malignant cancer the bureaucracy, interested only in the preservation of its own power and privileges rather than in advancing the cause of the world proletariat, spread, sapping the strength over a period of years of both the Bolshevik party and the Soviets led by this party. Today, when only the empty shell remains, Stalin can, with a stroke of the pen, put the quietus on the Soviets.

Bureaucracy Mediates Between Groups

Russia remains today, despite the tremendous achievements of industrialization and the gains in production, a backward country. With not enough consumers’ goods as yet to go around, want still exists. Under existing conditions theft becomes a menace to socialized production. The bureaucracy wields a tremendous power in its control of the distribution of consumption goods to the various strata of the Soviet Union’s population. Its decisions on wage categories, on rights and privileges, on taxes, determine the apportionment of the national income to town and country, to factory worker and collective farmer, to hand and brain worker. The pressure of these various groups and classes for more goods, representing under the given conditions antagonistic interests, throws on the bureaucracy the task of mediating among the various sections of the people, more particularly between the town workers and the peasants. In this mediation the Stalin regime has consistently given way to the pressure, not of the workers, but of the peasants, particularly the middle peasants.

The apparatus was careful, in this process, to suppress any opposing forces, particularly among the Old Bolsheviks and the rising Soviet Youth. Thus the Society of Old Bolsheviks was done away with, at the same time that the YCL was “reorganized”; that is, non-politicalized. But the more the bureaucracy succeeded in getting rid of any possible organized opposition, the more the Communist Party and the Soviets became emasculated, the more the apparatus lost touch with the masses and the more it felt itself isolated at the summits of power. This weakness of social basis the Stalinists proceeded to correct, in order to bolster up the regime, following the precepts of the early American bourgeois ideologists, Hamilton, Madison, Jay. These Federalists saw the need of enlisting support for their new state and its bureaucracy from those strata who could be shown the benefits to be derived from the new regime. Similarly the Stalinists, feeling the need of “authentic” support, proceeded to create this support bureaucratically in their own image.

The apparatus utilized its economic power to build up a new privileged layer in Soviet society, dependent entirely on the bureaucracy for its new position, and therefore ready to support it through thick and thin. Stakhanovism is an important manifestation of this process of creating the new labor aristocracy with special privileges. A tremendous gulf is growing between the elite and the ordinary worker. The average salary of the privileged is from six to eight times as much as that received by the Russian worker in 1913, whereas the ordinary worker gets today only seventy percent of the wages paid in 1913. Which means that the average Soviet worker gets now (with the “attainment” of Socialism!) only half as much as the Czechoslovak worker, the worst paid in Europe! To. make matters worse, those special privileges that made the lot of the ordinary worker endurable, have been withdrawn one by one: the special workers’ distribution centers, the special cards granting to proletarians prior and cheaper rights to enter sanitaria and “places of rest,” special reduced rate tickets to places of amusement—these have all gone by the board. Instead of workers organized to take care of their own interests—factory committees are non-existent and the trade unions are mere bureaucratic rubber stamps—we now have “ladies of leisure,” the wives of highly paid functionaries, taking over such functions in the form of “social service.”

Inequalities Incorporated in the Constitution

These striking inequalities are justified in the new Constitution by the crass misquotation of the Marxist dictum: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his WORK (instead of NEEDS).” In this way, according to Stalin, the principle of Socialism (which is distinguished from Communism for this purpose) is being realized. Compare this piece of philistinism with Lenin’s characterization of the necessity of paying high salaries even to bourgeois specialists as a step backward. In the SOVIETS AT WORK Lenin remarks: “It is clear that such a measure is a compromise, that it is a defection from the principles of the Paris Commune and of any proletarian rule, which demand the reduction of salaries to the standard of remuneration of the average worker—principles which demand that career hunting be fought by deeds, not by words.”—The corrupting influence of high salaries is beyond dispute.

By incorporating the new inequalities in the Constitution, the contradiction between the socialized means of production and the bourgeois methods of distribution, made necessary both by a backward economy and the needs of a long transition period, is built permanently into the social system.

Stalinism resorts not only to economic measures to create a budding aristocracy for its support, but also uses titles and honors which bear a not-too-distant resemblance to the old nobility. Thus army chiefs are given the batons of “Marshals,” and an officer class is set up in the Red Army at the same time that the Red Army Soviets are abolished. The further flowering of Bonapartism is revealed just in such details. The new aristocracy also includes the upper strata in the kolkhozes and collectives, which are already somewhat honey-combed with a superimposed system of private trade for individual enrichment. Thus, behind the new Constitution, Stalinism looms as a greater and greater menace to the system of the collectivized ownership of the means of production, and for the restoration of the system of private property.

The bureaucracy takes another leaf from the notebook of bourgeois democracy in the creation of a bicameral system, of lawmaking. The American capitalists adopted the two-house system in their time as part of the scheme of checks and balances: that is, a method of baffling and preventing majority rule. In every bourgeois country one of the first demands made by the workers in order to challenge the bourgeoisie to take a step towards real and not fictitious democracy, is for the abolition of two houses of parliament and the establishing of a single chamber combining both legislative and executive functions. Stalin’s motives are clear on the surface, the same motives that appealed to the bourgeoisie in their day. Despite all the precautions to ensure bureaucratic control, Stalin wishes to take no chances that, even with the city proletariat weakened electorally and with the more easily managed scattered majority of peasants, the territorial elections should nevertheless bring about real opposition to the Bonapartist regime. The second house, like a house of lords or a senate, is based on the functionaries in the various Republics, forming an integral part of the bureaucratic apparatus. Here bureaucratic control is assured, and hence “legal” dissolution of the chambers could be engineered if necessary by the disagreements provided for in the Constitution.

Constitution a Safety Valve

Internally and externally, from the press releases emanating from the Kremlin, it is clear that the Constitution is a sham performing the same “democratic” function as in capitalist countries: to permit steam to be let off without bringing about explosions; to act as a safety valve in preserving the regime against its own excesses. The new “parliament” is intended to perform the same functions as the Hitler counterpart, to permit a “public” expression of confidence in the great leader. The elections are not to be based on political issues which would necessitate the formation of different political parties, but on persons and cliques. The most hated bureaucrats may thus be eliminated, to the benefit of the bureaucracy as a whole. There will still be only one political party, the degenerated Communist party, with all its controlled cultural, social, trade union organizations. Under the heading “Government Can’t Lose Under Soviet Elections,” the NEW YORK TIMES gives this authentic account: “A promise by Joseph Stalin that the Soviet Union will avoid an electoral system under which one party could defeat the government and take its place was quoted today by Ordjonikidze, Commissar of Heavy Industry.” How much even criticism will be ALLOWED is revealed in a further quotation: “Any criticism of our failings must come from ourselves,” says Stalin.

What meaning is thus given to the excellent “Bill of Rights” appended to the “new” Constitution? Freedom of speech, press, assembly, even freedom to demonstrate and use the streets—but don’t dare to criticize! In this naked manner is revealed the entire mockery of the “democracy” handed down by the regime; the plebiscitary—“for the leader”—nature of the elections to be granted. The American Constitution, foisted on America by a different class, also contains a Bill of Rights granting full freedom of speech, assembly, press. But under the administration of the capitalist class, these rights are honored in the breach so far as the proletariat is concerned. Under the ministrations of the present Soviet apparatus, we are promised in advance that the freedom “granted” in the Constitution will extend only up to the point where the regime will not be challenged or endangered. Opposition will not be brooked, democracy or no democracy. And the real opposition today in Russia comes from the left, from the Trotskyists, who are periodically purged from the CP. At the same time that the apparatus sets up a new aristocracy of privilege, it crushes the Left Opposition with an iron hand and sends these real revolutionists into the concentration camps to suffer worse tortures than ever under the Czarist regime. We are guaranteed in advance that the “counter-revolutionary Trotskyist scoundrels” will be the recipients of the same treatment after the adoption of the Constitution as before. In fact, from the point of view of the bureaucracy, the “elections” may help to reveal any hidden opposition not yet ferreted out by the GPU, to be dealt with in true “democratic” fashion.

Constitution Evidence of Opposition

However the very fact that the bureaucracy has been forced to go through the motions of granting the Constitution, reveals its fears and at the same time the recognition of oppositional forces that must be given some kind of vent if they are not to take the form of individual terror. Evidently the younger generation is expressing in one way or another its dissatisfaction.

This is also revealed in the new school regulations. One of the achievements of the October Revolution was the abolition of student uniforms and of special surveillance by the police. The student body always formed a rich soil for revolutionary propaganda. It must be that a similar phenomenon is now afoot, or how explain the actions of the bureaucracy in 1935-6 in reestablishing severe discipline and “politeness” with respect to adults, in requiring uniforms once more, in bringing back the system of special surveillance both in and out of school, forming the YCL into a spy organization for this very purpose? This meaning of the new Constitution must not be lost. The bureaucracy is coming into increasing conflict with the new generation. In the struggles to come for the regeneration of the Soviet system, even the small loopholes of freedom permitted by the new Constitution will be utilized by the revolutionary Marxists to organize the new forces for the defense of the Soviet Union against its present bureaucracy.

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