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Julius Jacobson

The Limits of Reform in Russia

(September 1961)

First Published: Soviet Communism and the Socialist Vision, as a two-part critical study of Deutscher by Julius Jacobson is reprinted in this volume, pp.86-162, September 1961.
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The many reforms in Russia since Stalin’s death provide a seeming basis in fact for an all-too-popular image-transformation of Russia from a demonic force under Stalin, to an acceptable society under Khrushchev. A system which, current clichés advise us, is “dynamic,” in “a state of ferment” and with “creative factors at work” organically evolving toward its historically determined liberal, democratic end. This view is not only projected by many who consider themselves radicals and socialists; it is far more popular than that. There is the case of George Kennan, a highly cultivated man of somewhat conservative tastes who, in an interview with Melvin Lasky (Encounter, March 1960), made the statement – astounding for a man of his background – that “in the main the goals and trends of Russian Communism lie along the same path as those of Western liberal-industrialism.”

(Perhaps it is this recently unearthed liberal dynamic which encourages Kennan, in the same interview, to dis-parage “as most doubtful in point of adequacy to the needs of the time ... the system of political parties and parliamentary institutions” known to the West and to advise us that “... for the endless varieties and gradations of normal [!] authoritarianism we in the West can afford to manifest a relaxed and even sympathetic toleration.” Added to the cynicism of the “sympathetic toleration” for “normal authoritarianism” is the confusion arising from Kennan’s promise that Russia, in the main, is moving onto the path of liberal-industrialism and the suggestion that the same country is settling down to a “normal” authoritarianism.)

Indeed, there have been many changes in Russia, and any balanced analysis of the meaning of the reforms, their im-plications and limits must mention, at least in summary fashion, what has prompted them and what areas of Russian life have been affected by them.

The labor discipline that was required for Communist Russia to industrialize in the 1930s – even when one discounts the excesses of Stalin – was an anachronism even before Stalin’s death in 1953. The continued growth of the economy no longer depended on a relentless intensification of labor, forced labor camps or the Stalin-directed transfer of millions from the countryside to cities. Labor had to be more efficient to be more productive and for this it was necessary to provide political and economic incentives via relaxation of terror and rising living standards.

For the sake of science and technology it was indispensable that the hundreds of thousands of scientists, technicians, professionals engaged in manual labor in slave labor camps be released (along with millions of others removed from the normal work force and engaged in unproductive labor).

Terror and slave labor were not only without the same economic and political rationale of the thirties, they were also liabilities for Russia’s new level of involvement in inter-national politics after World War II.

Another inspiration for the post-Stalin reforms that must not be underestimated was the thinly disguised fear in the Kremlin that the peoples’ hatred of Stalinism, unless mollified, might overwhelm a totalitarian system momentarily weakened by the loss of its main engineer.

Finally, and this must be underscored, the bureaucracy, for its own sake, wanted to relax. The bureaucrats wanted their class privileges and they wanted to live to enjoy them. This privilege of living was not certified so long as Stalin dominated the ruling Party. The Party Presidium had good reason to suspect that just before his death the “Great Mountain of Himalaya” was planning to bury some of his imminent pallbearers. Less certain was the identity of the victims ... a disquieting state of affairs!

The bureaucrats not only wanted a greater assurance of normal longevity, they wanted – and needed – a set of procedures in the Party and laws in the country to live by which were explicit, ameliorative and predictable in oper-ation to replace the Vyshinskyite “philosophy” of law that established the legal basis for the murderous and unpredictable whims of Stalin.

In a word, then, the bureaucracy sought to “normalize” its rule.

Almost immediately after Stalin’s death, reforms were effected. The slave labor system was sharply curtailed in the amnesties of 1953 and 1955. The pernicious Doctrine of Analogy and Confession as Queen of Proof were eliminated in the letter of Russian law. The power of internal security agencies and secret services used by Stalin was reduced.

Wages were raised, the work week shortened and added free social services provided for the workers. A rise in consumer goods production made pay increases more meaningful.

There has been a vast extension of free educational facilities. And in the cultural thaw of 1955-1956 creative talents could produce with a modicum of artistic integrity for the first time in over 20 years. The cultural atmosphere has tightened since then but remains many degrees above the Stalin freeze. It was still possible for Ilya Ehrenburg recently to write of Pasternak not approvingly, but with some compassion. Also, limited debates are now permitted on such topics as the meaning of life and socialist humanism.

Then there is the great overall change: the reduction of terror coupled with Communist efforts to win the approval of the masses.


Before reviewing the theory of a self-democratising Russia, it is important to look first at the realities of Russian life for two reasons: first, to help correct the false image created by the superficialities of Stalinoid journalism and sightseers’ tidbits; second, the level of social, political and economic life in Russia today reveals something of the very definite limits to Russian reforms.

The most common misimpression is that Russia is in the process of political “democratization.” But lessening of terror and growth of democracy are separate propositions. To un-derstand this is essential to comprehending the nature of Russian society and the limits of the reforms. There was not a single democratic institution under Stalin. There is not a single democratic institution under Khrushchev: no right to organize a critical press; no right to organize political parties; no right to freedom of speech; no right to free elections. The denial of these rights is codified in many sections of Russian law. For example, in the statutes on “State Crimes,” Article 7, labelled “Anti-Soviet Agitation and Propaganda” outlaws:

Slanderous fabrication defaming the Soviet State and social system, or the dissemination, production or keeping the literature of such content for the same purpose.

Obviously, any organized movement of opposition to the Party line via a political party, press, publication, speech, etc., would be for the purpose of “slanderous fabrication defaming the Soviet State and social system,” punishable by imprisonment for up to seven years or exile and banishment for two to five years.

There were no trade unions under Stalin. There are no trade unions under Khrushchev. By trade unions, we mean the organization of working men in independent bodies which advance the interests of their members through the right to strike, to boycott, to pressure, to engage in political action. In Russia, there are institutions called trade unions with no internal democracy which exist as an integral part of the State. While the leaders of these misnamed trade unions handle workers’ grievances occasionally and administer in other respects to some of their needs, the main function of these Party-State adjuncts is to discipline the labor force and see to it that production goals are met. As Khrushchev put it:

Simple freedom of physical movement is still sharply curtailed in Russia. All citizens are required to carry internal passports and permission must be granted by the police before one can change his locality. Without this passport, a worker cannot get a job and, in certain key industries such as coal and armaments, management is required to take away workers’ passports in order that they be sealed to their jobs.

The campaign for “socialist legality” has eliminated some excesses of Stalinist terror; but socialist legality under Khrushchev remains a brutal hoax.

Despite improved living standards, the Russian people are worse off than almost any other people in a modern, industrial nation. Their pay is less, they eat less (during the first quarter of 1961 there was a 13% drop in meat processing) and they enjoy fewer comforts of life.

In the Seven Year Plan – which is to introduce Russia to the lower range of the higher stages of communism – the average wage of the Russian worker is to increase by a grand total of 26%: a rise from 78 to 99 rubles a month after five years. In dollars, from $86 to $109 per month by 1965. About $25 a week for the average worker! Even if the percentage increase is doubled, that would still leave the average weekly take home at about $30.

Much is made of the “free” social services provided for the Russian worker. There is something to this. Perhaps this adds the equivalent of another one-third to his paycheck (surely, a generous estimate). That still leaves him with a meager income by bourgeois standards, not to speak of the standards of a nation charging toward Communism. On the other hand, what needs to be emphasized no less is the worker pays through the nose for these “free” services via the in-famous “turnover tax” – a tax on consumer goods added to the normal price, which socialists have traditionally fought. In Russia, the government revenue from this tax, borne mainly by the poorer classes, came to approximately $35 billion in 1960. Some consumer foods are taxed as high as 50% of their normal selling price, Thus, a pair of men’s shoes in Moscow costs about 32.50 rubles ($36.00) or considerably more than a week’s pay. The same pair of shoes in New York costs about $10 and is of superior quality.

Other revealing prices: a dozen eggs – $2.33 (about $0.55 in New York); a pound of sugar – $0.45; a man’s overcoat – $166.50 (one that retails for about $40 in New York); a four-cylinder car – $2,775 (nearly three years pay for the average worker).

But there have been widely touted tax reforms in Russia! By 1965, the personal income tax is to be completely eliminated! This will mean a saving of about three-quarters of one ruble per week for the average Russian worker in a factory or an office! Peasants with income from private plots are not even granted this insignificant relief.

How many times have we heard that if wages are low and taxes high, at least the Russian worker lives virtually rent-free! What is often omitted, however, is that the working class lives virtually space-free, as well.

In 1960, there were approximately seven square yards of living space for each Russian worker. This provided one averaged-sized room for every three people. The average family had little more than one room with a kitchen shared by other families and a communal toilet.

By the end of 1965 – if the Seven Year Plan quota is met – there will be eight square yards of living space for each person. Assuming that this is oversubscribed heavily, it is still doubtful that the average Russian family will have much more than one-half the living space currently enjoyed by the average urban family in bourgeois America. And the average family in an industrial Russian city will not have much more living space than its parents had in 1917!

One of the worst outrages of the Stalin era was the mass persecution of the Jews. Stalin practiced a policy that hinted at racial genocide. That he killed thousands of Jews for being Jews is now denied by few outside the hard core of Communist party members.

In the present period Jews are not murdered by the regime en masse. That is certainly an improvement. But the false image of Russia as a self-reforming system blurs the view of a society in which anti-Semitism has been raised to a thinly veiled government policy. Russia, today, is the most anti-Semitic of any industrial nation.

On every internal passport, a Russian citizen must mark his nationality. A Georgian puts down “Georgian”; a Great Russian puts down “Russian”; but a Georgian Jew or a Great Russian Jew must mark down as his nationality – “Jew.”

This gross anti-Semitic act has its bitter irony: the Jew, forced to write “Jew” as his nationality, is deprived of all the cultural rights of a national people, as well as of a cultural and religious minority. There is no Yiddish theater, no Yiddish publishing house, no Yiddish national organization permitted.

(It appears that one Yiddish publication may be tolerated in the near future – this is hailed by some apologists as disproof of anti-Semitism.)

In the past several years, a rash of anti-Semitic stereotypes have appeared in the Russian press. We are told, for example, that rabbis “were active in spreading anti-Soviet slander and, with foaming mouths, called on the Jewish bourgeoisie to finance the intervention against the USSR.”

In the Ukrainian language, Radio Kirovograd ranted that Jewish ministers and circumcisers execute the rite of circumcision, which has a “strikingly nationalistic character” and accused religious Jewish leaders in Kirovograd of praying “only to the Golden Calf: how to collect more money from believers for their own needs and to pray for the militant spirit of the Israeli militarists. Thus praying, they call for the killing of all those who deny the Pentateuch – the Jewish prayerbook.”

Is it any wonder that against this background there have occurred desecrations of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues, that Jews have been beaten, even killed in this society reported on the path of “Western liberal-industrialism?” And is it surprising to learn that in a Moscow suburb a “Beat the Jew Committee” distributed a circular demanding that the “Jew be thrown out of commerce where he damages socialist property” and bemoans that “we rescued them from the Germans who treated them more wisely”?

I have acknowledged the cultural relaxation – the famous thaw – that has been effected in Russia. But after these reforms are acknowledged, what remains is a society most reactionary in its government restrictions on cultural free-dom and most primitive in cultural and intellectual thought generated. Where else but in Russia does one find as a typical party-encouraged attitude a denunciation of “Freudianism, [as] a typical product of bourgeois ideological reaction in the epoch of imperialism, [which has been] employed by bour-geois ideologists as a means of benumbing the masses in the interests of imperialism and as an ideological weapon in the struggle against Marxism.”

And in what other country can one find a parallel to Khrushchev’s following instructions on literary matters to a Central Committee Plenary session:

Among the writers in our country are individuals who say: How can there be Party guidance of literature? “We tell such people: Do you mean to say, ray dear fellow, that you do not recognize Party guidance? What is Party guidance? It is the will of millions of people, the will of millions of minds, the collective wisdom of millions. But one writer or another may sit at his country house, hatching a snivelling book, yet want it to be recognized as an expression of the sentiments of the people of our times, of all the people. Is that not a real cult of one’s own personality, which, you see, does not want to suffer the guidance of the Party, expressing the will of millions? And such a man with his con-trived book wants to rise above the Party, above the people. How many different kinds of people there are! This is, of course, a departure from the norm, a psychological phenomenon, so to speak, and such deviations evidently will take place with some individuals even under Communism.

The writer of a “snivelling book” in Khrushchev’s inspirational message on literary criticism was Pasternak. Pasternak was permitted to live, even after he wrote Doctor Zhivago. That is a reform compared to what would have occurred during the Stalin era. Pasternak’s punishment was meted out posthumously by Khrushchev with his vengeful sentencing of Mme. Olga Ivinskaya, Pasternak’s Larisa, and her daughter, Irina, to a prison labor camp for eight years and three years respectively. Such is the true measure of the limits of reform ... “sniveling” authors impinging on beloved and reforming tyrants.


Under Stalin, bureaucratic purges and extorted confessions were endemic to the system. That remains the case under Khrushchev. In the earlier instance, bureaucrats were purged of life itself; since Stalin’s death – with a few deadly exceptions – the purges bureaucratically deprive bureaucrats of position, prestige and power – but not life.

Only someone totally blinded by Stalinophobia could dismiss the difference as unimportant. On the other hand, it usually takes a special kind of mentality to disregard or minimize the horror of a society where purges and confessions continue on a massive scale. And if the victims do not confess with the same degree of abjectness, this is not to say that the style and form of Russian confessions do not remain a distinct contribution to political psychopathology: Malenkov “could see with clarity [sic] my guilt and responsibility for the unsatisfactory state of affairs in agriculture.” Molotov realized that his “formulations [are] theoretically erroneous and politically harmful”; Pervukhin grew “profoundly aware of my guilt before the Party”; while that old war horse, Bulganin, was forced to confess with some of the old flavor:

What, then, is Molotov ...? Molotov is a person who has cut himself off from the life of the Soviet people and is totally [!] ignorant of both industry and agriculture. Kaganovich is an intriguer who proved himself capable of every sort of vileness... in 1957 I joined them, supported them and ... later shared with them all the anti-Party filth.

A society without a single democratic institution, without a free labor movement, with a populace ill-fed, ill-housed and ill-paid; with all the “normal” trappings of an abnormal society: anti-Semitism, cultural barbarism, large-scale purges, bizarre confessions and an antediluvian code of justice – all this remains in Russia after the reforms. Yet, it is this frightful society that has captured the imagination of many; looked upon by some as a socialist society, by others as kind of socialism, and by yet others as a society evolving toward liberalism or democracy or socialism.

What more distressing evidence can there be of the decline of radical culture and the loss of nerve and intelligence?


The new mood of toleration for the Kremlin has removed from unwarranted obscurity the names and works of such historians as Edward Carr and Isaac Deutscher. It is the latter, above all others, who was much maligned and misunderstood by those who misconstrued his distaste for the excesses of Stalinism as the emanations of a virulent anti-Sovietist. How wrong they were, many now realize. For it is Deutscher who has elaborated a grand historical apologia for Stalinism (and Stalinist terror) which now meshes with a growing Stalinoid mood.

According to Deutscher, Marxism was originally a body of thought that was rational, humane, democratic and alien to chauvinist prejudices. However, Marxism in its pure form failed; neither in Marx’s time nor after has there been a single successful proletarian revolution. This failure was not without its compensations. For, Deutscher writes, “Marxism has spread to the East; and by the efforts of the intelligentsia and a young and small working class it has conquered primitive peasant nations .... At the middle of this century Marxism has become in a sense displaced from the West and naturalized in Russia and China. Where it has survived as a mass movement in the West, in France and Italy, it has done so in its ‘Orientalized’ form: and it exists there as a broad reflex of the Russian metamorphosis of Marxism” (emphasis added),

What, more explicitly, is meant by Marxism’s “Orientalized” form? Deutscher obliges: “In the East, Marxism has absorbed the traditions of Tsardom and Greek Orthodoxy.” And, in a similar vein, “Stalinism represented the amalgamation of Western European Marxism with Russian barbarism.”

Moreover, Deutscher finds accompanying Orientalized Marxism a parallel to the primitive magic of tribal cults in the complex totem and taboos of Stalinism. Thus, Stalinism is not only Orientalized Marxism, it also “appears as the mongrel offspring of Marxism and primitive magic.”

It is not this writer’s purpose to conduct an extended polemic over such matters; that is reserved for another occasion. [1] But I must note my view that what Deutscher has conveniently concocted with his mongrelized-barbarized-orientalized-mysticized-metamorphized Marxism is a poisonous brew that is fatal for socialism.

To believe that socialism can be itself and its negation is not a paradox, which is a seeming contradiction; it is pure absurdity. It is one thing to say that Marxism is being touched, even influenced, by totalitarian methods or concepts; it is another thing to say that there is such a beast as “Autocratic Socialism” (to use Deutscher’s phrase) in which “autocratic” (or “barbaric” or “oriental”) is used to describe or define Marxian socialism.

Marxists believe that there was a liberal dynamic to capitalist industrialization. But its existence was not proved by abstract references to industrialization as a force generating democracy. The democratizing dynamic was established only after the concrete workings and class relations of capitalism were carefully examined; only after it was established that in the nature of capitalism, despite all its misgivings about democracy and for all its violence against revolutionary democratic movements, capitalism itself was obliged, from within, so to speak, to permit individual freedom and democratic institutions to a degree unthinkable under the old order. It was shown that there was no permanently irreconcilable conflict between capitalism and parliamentary democracy; capitalist parties and socialist parties could coexist up to a point; the growth of a legally and politically free working class was necessary for capitalism and its organization in free trade unions presented no direct fundamental challenge to the social rule of the bourgeoisie.

Because industrial growth impelled the formation of a large and homogeneous working class and an intelligentsia, and provided leisure, education, culture, etc., it multiplied the physical agents and conditions for further democratization within the widely permissive limits of capitalism.

Now, if it can be shown that a free working class, trade unions, antagonistic political parties, parliamentary democracy, free press, free speech, cultural freedom, etc., can co-exist within the limits of the Russian social system (even as these freedoms have a limited coexistence with most advanced capitalist nations today) the overwhelming probability is that the continued expansion of Russian industry will generate political freedom. But this has never been proven, for two related reasons: one, because it is impossible (in my opinion); two, it is far easier to be a prophet-apologist for Stalinism on the basis of broad, sweeping generalizations than to relate them to the realities of Russian class rule.

Nor is anything clarified by endlessly repeating the mystique of Russia as a Planned Economy with a Nationalized industry and therefore freed from the limitations placed on democracy by capitalism. It is a logical fallacy to suppose that because Russia is relieved of the liabilities of capitalism it is therefore possessed of a special sociological disposition favoring democratization.

Soviet apologists see the precondition for Russia’s democratization as the growth of the productive forces. As the link between Stalinism and socialist freedom they must be free from excessive external interference.

Should the exigencies of the cold war oblige the Kremlin to overinvest in heavy industry and in the means of destruction, then, it is possible, they inform us, that the whole process of de-Stalinization would be impeded, perhaps forced into reverse gear. An excessive military budget would only penal-ize consumer industries; this, in turn might exacerbate the dissatisfaction of the Russian people; and a dissatisfied populace might oblige the Kremlin to resort to more repres-sive measures.

In this manner, the Russian social system is exonerated in advance of basic responsibility for the failure of domestic reforms to move forward. Instead, it would be the fault of those outside of Russia who resist the Kremlin’s ambitions in West Berlin or protest the Russian “sphere of influence” in East Europe. This, of course, in the age-old argument of all apologists for imperialism who attribute retrogression in their favored land to its obligation to defend itself against alien subversion, or foreign imperialism. It is the counterpart of those who apologize for American imperialism in Cuba or Latin America as a purely defensive move against Communist aggression.

Given this self-contained system, the only way one could conclusively check the democratic potential of Russian industrialization abstracted from the real world of inter-national conflict would be for the Kremlin to eliminate the capitalist third of the world and absorb the uncommitted third. Then, we could really see if Russia, freed from the restraining influence of the cold war would evolve toward democratic socialism.

This is a test we can readily forego.

Let us look at one implication of any theory which makes a virtual law of the industrial-freedom relationship.

Under the guidance of the Fuehrer and his Nazi party (a party ridden with totems, taboos and primitive magic), Germany recorded industrial advances impossible under the old, weak, vacillating, internally divided Weimar Republic. Under the pressure of internal needs and external threats, its technology and science led the world, its unemployed were put to work, and a limited sort of economic rationalization was introduced. It is true that this economic progress was achieved by barbaric methods equalled only by Stalin’s superindustrialization during the same period. But historical necessity leaves little room for sentimental moralizing. Human rights and democracy come later.

The dynamism of the German economy was evidenced by Germany’s ability to fight the entire world almost single-handledly for four bloody years. That it was brought to its knees was no sign of weakness. (Had Germany been matched only with Russia during the war, Nazism’s social superiority would have been proved.) But what would have happened if the Nazis had conquered Europe? We have no illusions about the immediate political consequences. National boundaries would have been destroyed, millions murdered and terror would have beset an entire continent. Germany’s industrial expansion, however, would have been incalculable as it accumulated the wealth, the talent, the manpower and other resources of subjugated Europe.

But with the methods of terror, it could go so far and no further. Yet, the demands for continued expansion would be there, generated by the economic ambitions of German capitalists and the political ambitions of the Nazi party. Since neither the German bourgeoisie nor the Nazi party would have been prepared to pay the penalty of stagnation, they would have been obliged to eliminate, gradually, the grossest of their terroristic excesses and slowly, reluctantly, to move toward democracy.

Germany would have had to release her aircraft designers, unmuzzle her intellectuals and provide the working class with the incentive of freedom as a political investment to raise the productivity of labor. Thus, Nazism, with the weap-ons of barbarism, would have been the source of its own democratic negation. (Unless international tensions would have set back these democratic reforms.)

I know that some will answer this Nazi analog by saying that the German bourgeoisie (and all capitalism) could not possibly extend rights to the people that ran counter to the “rights” of the bourgeoisie to exploit the worker and produce goods for a profit on the market; and the Nazi party could not afford to extend political or social democracy to the masses since democracy ran counter to its ideology. The matter of ideology I will come to shortly. It is the first part of the answer that is interesting here, not because it is wrong but, on the contrary, so correct. Certainly, the limits to democracy under capitalism are set by the “rights” of the capitalists to exploit and to make a profit. But these are considerations of class and class relations which do not enter into the calculations of the apologists for Russia. The point of this analogy is that if one judges Nazism without any serious discussion of class relations, it is possible to build a rationale for Nazism similar to that of the Stalinist apologists.


Commonly added to the mystique of Industrialization and Planning is the myth of Stalinist ideology as a force impelling democratization.

Inherent in Communist ideology, so the argument goes, is commitment to freedom. Even during the worst years of Stalinist terror, when ideology was warped by “primitive magic,” Communism was obliged to speak of national inde-pendence, racial equality and the future classless society where all men will be brothers. It also placed on required reading lists many Marxist classics. This “ideal inherent in Stalinism,” Issac Deutscher wrote in his political biography of Stalin, “has remained the inspiration” in Russia, although the ideal was “given a grossly distorted expression” by Stalin.

If this “remained the inspiration” under Stalin, how much more inspiring it Is today! For, as economic advances have brought Russia beyond the point where terror is required, the idea of freedom inherent in Communist ideology takes on new and more powerful meaning. The masses, who do not have to be convinced of the value of freedom, are made even more conscious of its absence. They press for freedom, and the bureaucracy, with less reason to resist such pressures, and themselves under the “inspiration” of Communist ideology moves, slowly, gradually – sometimes reluctantly – to bring reality into conformity “with ideological commitment to freedom. There is also a more educated and confident intel-ligentsia in Russia, many of them young and uncompromised by personal responsibility for Stalin’s terror. They find posi-tions on all levels of government and industry. They, too, are “inspired” and encouraged by the relaxation and become a potent force for democratization.

There is something to be said for this popular thesis only as a “grossly distorted expression” of the truth.

Ideology is of tremendous moment In the Communist system. Its greater importance as compared to capitalism is rooted in the fact that Russia is ruled by a propertyless class whose authority is established by its political power. By contrast, the social power of capitalists resides in their private ownership of the means of production in a market economy. As long as government protects the sanctity of free enterprise, there is no absolutely compelling reason for capitalists to concern themselves with ideology. Doctrine can become a subject for pedants; politics for politicians.

In Russia, there is no such division between economics and politics. The means of production are owned by the State. And those who collectively control the State own the means of production. Where social power is thus politically determined, the ruling class rules directly, and the ruling agency – in Russia, the leadership of the Communist party – becomes in a most literal sense “the executive committee of the ruling class.’5 Clearly, politics for this “executive committee” implies the highest levels of political sophistication and class consciousness. This consciousness is invested in the complex and well-tended ideology with which the ruling class struggles against opponents, justifies its rule, gives itself purpose, fights for popular support outside and inside Russia.

This is not to say that the politics of the bureaucratic class is determined by its ideology. On the contrary, it is more con-cerned with power than consistent principles. But a class ideology does not require consistent principles. Indeed, a basic function of Communist ideology is to provide a broad, Jesuitical system to prove all contradictions to be nothing more than strategic shifts, or new responses to new situations, all of them consistent with the larger historical purpose of Communism and therefore consistent with each other. Thus, with its medieval casuistry called ideology, the contradiction between Popular Front and the Nazi-Soviet Pact becomes a logical sequence of strategic moves; totalitarianism becomes freedom, subjugated nations becomes People’s Democracies, and, as we shall see, the future classless society in Russia means the dictatorship of the Communist party, whose authority becomes even more absolute than in Stalin’s day.

This totalitarian class, and its ideology, did not arise out of the efforts of an indigenous, prerevolutionary force in Russia, contending for power with the armies and ideologies of socialism and Czarism. It arose gradually, without any clear perspective, out of the ranks and leadership of the Communist movement – a movement already festering in the early twenties – filling a vacuum created in that unhappy land by the inability of socialism to survive in isolation, and the impossibility of any other class to assume power. The Stalinist faction in the Bolshevik party – the Russian ruling class in embryo – to satisfy its own needs, to win support in and out of the Party, was obliged to speak in the name, and with the idiom, of socialism. It would do nothing else and nothing else would do. As it manipulated socialist language and concepts, it set the stage for transforming the Party, murdering its leaders and subverting everything that gives meaning to socialism.

(I should add here, just in passing, that when I speak of the Communists’ ideological manipulation of language, I do not mean that they do so out of purely evil and undirected motives. Ideology fulfils an indispensable moral and psycho-logical need for the bureaucracy. If the Russian leaders, even the most evil of them, were so many Iagos without a higher moral rationale, deceiving and manipulating for the pure joy of doing evil, we would not be discussing either a social system or an ideology, but a vast lunatic asylum.)

This writer, then, understands the historic roots of Com-munist ideology and why some (not all) of the socialist idiom has become a fixed ideological feature, and why it is obliged to bring to the public some (not all) books of some (not all) great socialist figures of the past.

But, after this is established – and exaggerated – what is there about these aspects of Communist ideology which gives them such force that the basic foundations of Communist class rule will gradually give way?

The answer might be given that “there are objective laws in Russia as in any society and these laws are more important than what this or that bureaucrat wants to do.”

To which one might well reply: what laws? I know of economic laws under capitalism which exist independently of the whim of this or that capitalist. However, as has been pointed out, those who rule in Russia make their own laws. Their rule predicates conscious direction of society and they know, not by blind instinct but through consciousness, that their special privileges and prestige as a class rests on their control of the State and that this control is secure only as long as they can prevent contenders from arising. Khrushchev knows this; so does Suslov; it is known to that drab, anti-Semitic Minister of Culture, Mme. E.A. Furtseva; it is known to Brezhnev, to Mikoyan, to all Party secretaries from Raions up to the Central Committee; it is known to the Communist heads of the so-called trade unions; it is known to the super-annuated Komsomol chieftains. It is known, as well, to the editors of Izvestia, Pravda and Party Life. They all know that the limits to reform are set in this conscious class resistance to democratic institutions. They know that political parties, free press, free unions and similarly alien institutions can come to Russia only over their dead bodies – figuratively speaking, of course.


Yet, there is a liberalizing force generated by the language and texts of freedom. But it is not the dynamic that is going to see the self-redemption or self-immolation of a “historically progressive” totalitarian class.

The basic ideas of socialism did break through the curtain of Communist ideological falsification even during the era of Stalinist terror. They penetrate with even greater force in periods of relaxation. As terror becomes more latent, the ruling class is compelled to reiy more on persuasion. It removes socialist books from the Index; it permits greater freedom of discussion of a wider range of subjects. It produces the “intellectual ferment” familiar to all. This may have made the masses hopeful at first. But the bureaucracy cannot possibly eliminate those glaring contradictions be-tween the realities of its rule and the promises suggested by the reforms, The working class will not be permitted to enjoy either leisure or freedom; students and intellectuals will grow increasingly aware of the difference between Marx’s promise of Communism as “the true resolution of the strife between existence and essence, between objectification and self-confirmation, between freedom and necessity, between the individual and the species” and the actuality of a one-Party system where the Party grows stronger and man remains the alienated object of class exploitation.

The dynamic of democratization, then, which inheres in Communism is to be found neither in its commitment to the socialist idiom, nor in its reforms. The dynamic resides only in the ability of these circumstances to educate, arouse and encourage the people to resolve the permanent contradiction between Communism and freedom in massive democratic struggles from below which aim not at reforming the ruling class but destroying it.

Any “ideal inherent” in Stalinism is but the “false consciousness” of a ruling class. A truer image of Communism can be found in the specific doctrines and general concepts inherent in a bastardized ideology that crosses some of the language and concepts of socialism with the strategic and fundamental social needs of a totalitarian class. It is not the ideal of racial equality or the brotherhood of man, but the theories of “socialism in one country,” “social fascism,” “Popular Frontism,” which truly inhere in Communism. More than such reactionary notions, tribal rites, hero-worship and cultism continue under Khrushchev, as they will continue under his heir. The magic potion is less heady today, but it is there, and in recent years the cultist brew has taken on more of the stench of Stalin’s day.

In addition to its inherent and unique antisocialist doctrines and “primitive magic” the true role, essence and measure of Communist ideology has been the corruption of the concepts and definitions which are at the very heart of socialism.

The Communist Manifesto states that the “first step in the workers’ revolution is to make the proletariat the ruling class, to establish democracy.” Stalinist ideology can neither ignore nor permit such formulations. Thus, according to the 1959 edition of the History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Russia today is a “socialist democracy ... which secures to all citizens genuine freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, meetings and demonstrations.” Here, the History recognizes that democracy does mean freedom of press, speech, meetings, demonstrations. But the decisive content of democracy is denied and thereby redefined by the asser-tion that democracy in practice is exemplified by what exists in Russia. This gross redefinition of democracy is one edge of a multi-bladed ideological knife thrust into the heart of the whole humanist ethic of socialism: the disjunction between freedom and socialism, between “political democracy” and “economic democracy.”

Such notions existed before Stalin, but it is Communism which, made them a central feature of an ideology, and pro-moted it throughout the world. How effective this campaign has been can be seen in all the pseudosophisticated jabberwocky of those who assume that Russia has a “socialist economy” with a “political dictatorship,” that it is a “workers’ state” and, in the same breath, that its working class is disfranchised. This loss of concern in the left wing world with the relevance of freedom to socialism implies surrendering the values of both.

Stalinist ideology was always concerned with the future. To be sure, it was not the socialist future envisioned in broad outlines by socialist theoreticians. Stalinism had to weave the totalitarian reality into the egalitarian vision. In Stalin’s day, this took the form of two grotesque theories: as the State moves toward the classless society, the class struggle becomes sharper; and, second, once in the classless phase, the State not only doesn’t wither away but becomes more oppressive. Ideological concern with the future is further heightened today under the impetus of a totalitarian regime trying to substitute persuasion for the naked use of a now latent terror. If only the peasants produce more, the workers meet quotas, everyone keeps his proper place and capitalism doesn’t upset the schedule, then in 1970, or thereabouts – when Ameri-can levels of production are reached – Russia will move into its higher Communist phase. (As though all that has to be done to reach Communist abundance is to match capitalist America’s production figures!) Khrushchev feels the need to discuss the future not only for the sake of economic incentives, or to win favor, or because Communism is imminent, it also relates to the most important sociological change in Russia – the role of the Communist party.

Since this change provides the clearest evidence of the limits to Russian reform, it is worth a brief review; after which we will see that these changes have inspired reversals of Marxist thought similar to those contributed by Stalin.


The Communist party under Stalin – and under Khrushchev – was a vast coordinating agency embracing individuals on various levels of authority: factory managers, technicians, scientists, army men, teachers, intellectuals and the host of officials associated with non-Party government agencies. However, within the Party structure there were not only government officials and the like, but the Party Specialists – the apparatus men who rose to prominence not by serving any special branch of government or economy but by serving the needs of the Party.

It was inevitable that within the Communist party conflicts would arise between the 3% which composed the Party machinery and other leading Party members prominent in government or military agencies. Army men, for example, who were Party members, had their own apparatus outside the Party. They developed narrower interests, thought more of combat training than of Party indoctrination. To a lesser degree, this was true of Party members who headed government ministries where they built private machines to which they had to cater, bringing them into conflict with professional Party functionaries. Certainly the ministers of various security agencies who had their own economic empires in slave labor camps and a powerful military apparatus under them, did not and could not have an identity of interests with the Party specialist.

It was a conflict between the Party machine, which must think in terms of power and be concerned with questions of ideology, foreign strategy, etc., and those whose loyalty to the Party competed with their own special interests as gov-ernment officials.

This conflict between ministers and functionaries in Stalin’s Party had its corollary in broader conflicts between the Party as a whole and non-Party technicians, managers and administrators. These conflicts which generated in-trigues, purges and inefficiency were essential for the rule of the personal dictator. Stalin remained on the peak of each hierarchy and through his unique position, he could play one force against another and thereby see to it that no hierarchy or individual in either the Party or the government could ever challenge his supreme authority as the final arbiter of all disputes.

To maintain a kind of equilibrium of power, subordinate to his own, Stalin consciously set about to weaken (not destroy) the primacy of Communist party organizations in various government ministries. For example, it was expressly stated in the Party rules in 1939, and repeated in 1952, that the Party organizations in local industrial enterprises were not to dictate policies in the event of disputes with local managers.

When Stalin died, he left no heirs. Without his decisive voice and with no other to replace it immediately, heads of Party and State openly spoke of “panic and disarray,” and within the Party the rivalry between apparatchiki and government ministers grew less restrained. This conflict has been resolved in the only way possible for the more viable functioning of a totalitarian system. The apparatchiki has become supreme in the Party, and the Party has become supreme in the country. And, once again, there is a personal dictator.

The Presidium of the Communist party after Stalin’s death consisted of ten full members and four candidate-mem-bers. Of these, only one was a Party specialist who held no ministerial post: Nikita Khrushchev. All but one of the others have been purged: Beria was executed and his Ministry of the Interior eventually subdivided and rendered powerless as a potential threat to the supremacy of the Party; Maienkov tried to build his machine in the government apparatus as Premier and he was purged. Bulganin, who took over Malenkov’s job, was purged, as were Pervukhin, the economic specialist, Kanganovich, Minister of Heavy Industry, Molotov, head of the Foreign Ministry, etc.

Of the original post-Stalin Presidium, only one minister, Mikoyan, remains. And between the Presidium as it stood in 1953 and today, there have been several turnovers with purges of governmental leaders a continual process until there has emerged, today, a Presidium of the Communist party on which only a minority have any leading ministerial posts. Evidence that this struggle broke out openly in the Party immediately after Stalin’s death was provided by the frame-up and execution of Beria. (He was accused of being in the pay of foreign imperialism during the civil war!)

Whatever motives others may have had in liquidating the head of the powerful Minister of Internal Affairs, the Party apparatus men feared this powerful Ministry as well as threats to the Party’s primacy.

Pravda announced immediately after his arrest:

The party organization must exercise regular and systematic surveillance over the work of all organizations and governmen-tal offices as well as the activity of all leading officials. In line with this, it is necessary to maintain systematic and continuous supervision over the activity of the organs of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. This is not merely the right, but the direct duty of the party organization.

Khrushchev makes little pretense about his objection to leading Communists who have special allegiances outside of the Party sitting on the Presidium. In the case of Zhukov, for example, it was explained:

Zhukov pursued a line separating our armed forces from the Communist Party, of weakening the party organization and essentially of weakening the political organs in the Soviet Army. His work was clearly marked by a tendency to regard the Soviet Armed forces as his own domain.

The Party, which controls and directs the activity of all organi-zations and agencies, cannot leave the armed forces outside its field of vision. Leadership of them cannot be outside the control of the Party, of its Central Committee.

The idea that what we have in Russia is a managerial society or a managerial revolution was given the death, blow in 1957 in a series of economic changes pushed through by Khrushchev, In these changes, the state economic commission was emasculated and the country broken down into a large number of economic regions. This was advertised as designed to Increase the efficiency of industry by removing bureau-cratic control from the center and giving local managers an incentive to increase production. That might have been one purpose, but of no less significance, the economic “reforms” of 1957 were designed, to give the Party a better chance to supervise the work of the managers and technicians. By giving greater authority to local economic bodies, it became easier for local bodies of the centralized Communist party to oversee directly and supervise production schedules and the behavior of economic managers. As explained in an editorial in Pravda:

The reorganization of the management of the economy on the territorial principle will increase immeasurably the respon-sibility of the Party agencies in the republics, territories and regions for the development of production... the Party will guide efficiently and concretely industrial enterprises and construction projects.

The growing power of the Communist party is also evidenced, by the revival of Comrades Courts and the formation of People’s Guards. Hailed by many as “reforms,” they are no such thing. The “Comrades Courts are elected public agencies charged with actively contributing to the inculcation in citizens of a spirit of a Communist attitude toward labor and socialist property, and the observance of the rules of socialist behavior,” according to the Model Statutes on Comrades Courts. They are organized everywhere: in schools, enterprises, apartment houses, collectives. The court is selected at a general meeting of workers, students. These courts hear minor infractions of discipline and can pass light sentences on a worker found guilty of “poor quality work, allowing defective output or idle time resulting from a worker’s unconscientious attitude toward his duties,” “foul language,” “petty arrogance” or “leading a parasitic way of life.”

In March 1959, by joint Decree of the Communist Party and the Council of Ministers, the People’s Guard was organized. These are “voluntary detachments” – over 2,000,000 strong – recruited locally, ostensibly “to stop violations of public order and restraining violators mainly through persuasion and warning.” That one of the more popular methods of persuasion includes beatings with clubs, feet and fists is commonly reported even in the Russian press.

These kangaroo Comrades Courts and vigilante Guards have a number of purposes. Obviously, they are intended as counterbalances to the lessening of terror and to “persuade” the people that relaxation does not mean that they can depart from what the Kremlin calls the “everyday laws of Soviet life.” They have the related purpose of prying into and regulating the greater leisure time of the people since Stalin’s death. (Leisure is anathema to totalitarianism, and the Kremlin makes no secret about its anxieties that free time might seduce people into subversive thinking, leading a parasitic way of life, or departing in any way from acceptable Communist behavior.)

However, what basically motivates the formation of these two extremely important “public organizations” is the Party’s campaign to inject itself into every phase of Russian life – political, economic, social, cultural, juridical and personal. Neither the Comrades Courts nor the People’s Guards has its own national ministry; both are under the effective control of local units of the Communist party. Thus, the Party arrogates police and repressive powers formerly held by governmental agencies at the same time as it more closely supervises the people.

The Comrades Courts and People’s Guards are also further evidence that modern totalitarianism is not simply an authoritarian rule imposed above society but that it penetrates and sinks its roots into every nook and cranny of society. It not only extends and deepens its areas of supervision but requires the participation of wider and deeper strata of the people. Ultimately, like any great evil, it seeks to involve its victims – in this case, the personnel of the Comrades Courts and People’s Guards – in its own system of immorality and corruption.


Parallel to the extension of Party power there has now emerged a personal dictator – Nikita Khrushchev.

The return to one-man rule – though obviously Khrushchev does not have, and will not have, the same power as Stalin – is not accidental. The idea and implications of collective leadership strike at the core of the totalitarian system.

Collective leadership implies the diffusion of power and diffusion of power among a committee of equals implies the organization of factions. If Khrushchev and Bulganin were equals, each would normally seek to bolster his power by currying favor among the lower echelons of the Party. And in the event of a dispute between equals, these factions would be contending for power. The factions, in turn, in order to strengthen their position, would seek support in non-Party institutions and might even turn to the masses for support. This would be catastrophic for the system.

These are the consequences of collective leadership. They are understood by the Kremlin leadership, which has the collective intelligence to understand that a supreme arbiter must be selected or win out in a power struggle confined to the highest circles of the Party.

Along with Khrushchev’s rise as personal dictator, go the cultist trappings reminiscent of his predecessor.

At the Twenty-first Party Congress, we learned from A.N. Nesmayev, President of the Academy of Science, that “the theses of Comrade Khrushchev’s report... point a clear road for biology.” (And this accolade only a few months after Khrushchev dismissed the editor of Russia’s leading botany publication for criticizing Lysenko!)

Minister of Defense, Marshal K. Malinovsky: “... thanks to the daily solicitude of the Communist Party, its Central Committee, and Nikita Khrushchev personally, our armed forces fully meet present day military requirements.” Malinovsky learned well the lesson of Zhukov’s fate.

And I cannot resist quoting the following sentence by P.N. Pospelov, Secretary of the Presidium:

We must say quite plainly, comrades, that in the great political, theorectical and organization work that has been carried out in all spheres by our Leninist Central Committee, beginning with the solution of the most complex and urgent international questions, the consistent struggle for the cause of peace, for the prevention of war, the solution of the most important question of the development of agriculture, the collective farm system, the reorganization of the management of industry and construction, and ending with the question of science, literature and arts, the question of enhancing links between school and life, the out-standing role belongs to the initiative, the rich political experience and tireless energy of Comrade Nikita Sergeycvich Khrushchev.

This, we are told, was followed by “stormy applause.” These samples of the new cult of the individual are two years old! Since then, the “applause” has become “stormier,” more “prolonged” and occurs at more frequent intervals.

What happens to Communist ideology in light of the growing power of the Party and the increasing concentration of power in the hands of one person? Political parties reflect class interest. How is it possible, then, for a ruling Party to become stronger as classes are dissolving with the State presumably, then, withering away? But these are not really such sticky questions for Party theoreticians. They resolve this dilemma with two ideological “thrusts.” The first is simply a matter of linguistics. The Communist party becomes a “public organization” that will exist only for the purpose of enforcing the everyday rules of Communist life – and see to it, naturally, that competing “public agencies” do not arise to challenge the prerogatives of the supreme “public agency.”

This is too disingenuous even for Communist theoreticians, so they go back to Stalin’s text to let us know that, after all, under special circumstances, the State might be obliged to exist under Communism.

Thus, Suslov, a reputed theoretician and member of the Party Presidium speaks:

Marxist-Leninist theory and historical experience have established that after the victory of the socialist revolution the state remains in existence not only under socialism but, in certain historic circumstances, under communism as well, if capitalism remains a threat to it.

In the same vein, Party historian M.V. Khuralmov also gives credit when credit is due:

He (Stalin) ... boldly posed the question of the insufficiency of the well-known formula of F. Engels about the withering away of the state, and gave a new formulation to the question of the possibility of preserving the state even under Communism, if the danger of attack from outside still exists.

The Russian Party’s new Draft Program talks of the “withering away of the state” and simultaneously asserts the need for the Party to “strengthen discipline, control the activities of all the elements of the administrative apparatus, check the execution of the decisions and laws of the Soviet state and heighten the responsibility of every official for the strict and timely implementation of these laws.”

Herein is the evidence from Communist ideology that the theoretical limit to reforms in Communist countries is set where freedom begins.

By way of summary and conclusions:

  1. Reforms have considerably improved the overall conditions of life for the people. Russia, however, remains a totalitarian system in the most precise meaning of that term: a society where all power is in the hands of a single Party, where this Party must have a personal dictator at its head, where Party and dictator are removed from all popular control by the people (at the same time as they seek to es-tablish their authority among the people through coercion, persuasion and corruption with the assistance of “public agencies”), and where the Party has developed its own ideology reflecting and reinforcing its rule.
  2. This ruling Party is not a political party as is commonly understood. It is the heart, brain and nervous system of a totalitarian ruling class. To the extent that this Party has substituted itself for other repressive, non-Party bureaucra-cies, there has been a tightening of Communism’s totalitarian fabric since Stalin’s death, along with the relaxation of terror.
  3. There is nothing to justify viewing industrialization as though it were possessed of some mystical qualities, teleologically pulling a totalitarian society to its democratic destiny. Far more important than the alleged imperative of democratization in Russia’s planned economy is the totalitarian imperative inherent in the consciousness and ideology of a bureaucratic class whose economic rule is established by its political control of the State.
  4. The Russian ruling class cannot move toward democracy. Neither can it revert to Stalinist terror – except as a means of suppressing overt revolutionary discontent. This dilemma is, indeed, an “internal contradiction.”

But it is inconceivable that the people, encouraged by the more relaxed atmosphere, will not take advantage of the re-forms and make their demands upon the regime for more of the same and eventually for some of what the regime cannot possibly give – political freedom.

Opposition is inevitable and there are already many signs among Russian workers, peasants, youth and intellectuals that totalitarian reform has generated discontent, not apathetic consent. We can expect to see this discontent grow, not only among these groups, but even among elements of the bureaucracy itself which, under the pressure of events and their own inner moral resources, will rise above their own class and weld their strength to that of the masses below.

It is only this discontented populace, acting in revolutionary concert, which can finally resolve the “inner contradiction” of Communism.

September 1961


1. The note has not been included.

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