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Tom Kemp

Socialist Equality by 1965?

(Summer 1959)

From International Socialist Review, Vol.20 No.3, Summer 1959, pp.83-87.
Transcribed &marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

What is the significance of the goals announced by Khrushchev at the Twenty-First Congress? Study of the Seven Year Plan provides illuminating data

THE targets adopted at the Twenty-First Congress of the Communist party of the Soviet Union are claimed not only to mark the entry into the last leg of the race to catch up and outstrip the advanced capitalist countries in per capita output but also to lead to the threshold of communism. These claims need to be appraised carefully and realistically on the basis of the present and potential capacity of the Soviet economy, their relationship to the balance of social forces inside the USSR and their consequences for international political developments in the coming fifteen years.

Industrial Growth

The economic tasks are defined by Khrushchev as entailing “the all-round development of the productive forces” while conserving the priority development of heavy industry. [1] Indeed, capital investments provide the limiting factor in the rate of growth of the economy and the attainment of figures in the plan turns upon their full realization. The scope and nature of the investments comprised in the seven-year target figures give a fairly full guide to the way in which the economy will have to be redirected to take advantage of what has been achieved in past plans, as well as to make good, as rapidly as possible, the lags and deficiencies which still hold back the Soviet economy. Without overcoming these weaknesses it is idle to talk of “balanced development.”

The range and abundance of minerals to be found in that part of the earth’s surface within the USSR apparently ensures that the physical possibility for the achievement of the target figures is sound enough. However, it will be necessary to bring about considerable shifts in the relative importance of the various areas in total output of iron ore, petroleum and other minerals. This means further rapid development in Central Asia, the Urals and Siberia and will involve the urbanization of new areas and the recruitment of workers for the new enterprises from the countryside or perhaps from Western Russia. Although there may be disadvantages in this, it will be possible for the new productive units to be built on an optimum scale, making use of the latest in technology.

At the same time technical efficiency now imposes wider use of alloys, especially in developing branches of industry such as electronics. Nonferrous metal production therefore takes prominent place in the plan. In chemicals the Soviet leadership has been expressing dissatisfaction with output, especially of artificial and synthetic fibres and plastics. Output of the former is to grow four times, that of the latter to be stepped up over sevenfold. In addition, though not mentioned by Khrushchev at the Congress, production is to be greatly increased in East Germany and Czechoslovakia and machinery is to be obtained from those countries. It will be recalled that machinery for building up this lagging sector of industry was one of the items which Khrushchev sought for purchase from the USA in his letter to Eisenhower in the summer of 1958.

Special attention is being paid to the power base, and significant changes in the relative importance of different fuels is involved. The share of oil and gas is to rise from 31% to 51% and that of coal to decline correspondingly. This follows a trend already marked in the USA and Western Europe. In the case of electric power the need for speed has clearly dictated the preference for thermal over hydroelectric stations. The figures announced for electric power output will bring Soviet per capita consumption in 1965 up to only 73% of the American level for 1957, a sobering thought which prompted Academician Strumlin in an article published last December to query the adequacy of the plan in this direction. [2] He also proposed the completion of the Krasnoyarsk hydroelectric station. It is difficult to tell whether his criticisms carried any weight in the adopted target. Khrushchev did, however, have to explain that to keep the existing proportions between thermal and hydroelectric station construction would either involve a cut in the planned capacities in operation or greatly increased investments.

This underlines the inevitable limiting role of investment as well as the heavy burden of “catching up.” What it means is that the period of planning has to be confined within a time-span which cramps the rational allocation of resources and which threatens to provoke waste, if not disproportions. Thus Lenin’s ideas on electrification are being deformed to suit the specifications of “socialism in one country.”

The great distances of Russia and the spacing out of natural resources and fertile and populated areas has always given the transport system a key place in economic development. All advance hinges upon the transport system which, if it lags behind, spreads high costs and disorganization far and wide. The pressure on the transport system has always been immense and it has barely kept pace with the demands imposed upon it. Inevitably, therefore, considerable funds have to be provided for the modernization of the railways and the extension and improvement of the road system. The railways, again following in the wake of the advanced countries, will be turned over to diesel and electric propulsion, while traffic capacity is planned to double.

As for the road system, that has always trailed behind. For a country of such distances and with such a large and scattered rural population the number of motor vehicles is remarkably small; an index of the still considerable weight of inherited backwardness. [3]

Likewise many of the roads are incapable of coping with the speeds and loads of modern vehicle traffic. “Motor roads will be built with a durable cement and concrete surface,” Khrushchev says, implying that too many still have the rough dirt track of the days of the peasant cart.

Both roads and houses consume immense quantities of concrete and cement. The clear lag here makes necessary a gigantic target: an increase in the next seven years equal to the present output of the USA.

All the constructional industries will be subjected to heavy strains to attain such targets. Nor is it any longer merely the comparatively crude task of adopting and assimilating a ready-make technique from the more advanced capitalist countries. The tasks now being set are far more delicate and difficult, involving the carrying forward of the all-round level of technology to a higher level and fitting it to the requirements of a planned economy. At least one element in the reorganization of economic areas carried out in 1957 was precisely determined by the changing level of the Soviet economy.

Realization of the new difficulties likely to be encountered has evidently prompted the setting of a lower rate of growth than that attained in the earlier five-year plans, a point which has been seized on by most hostile critics. Khrushchev’s own words are no doubt true enough when he states that the plan “is being drawn up in such a way that it can be carried out without overstrain” and in order to make it easier to avoid disproportions, the great nightmare of Soviet planners.

In other words, it might be said that a slackening growth rate is, among other things, a precautionary step. The current planners and their regime cannot in fact release all the energies inherent in a planned and nationalized economy. They are constantly launching broadsides against waste, neglect and mismanagement – to no apparent avail. They are constantly exhorting one or another section of the population to work harder and better. In words, at any rate, they pay respects to the need for the support and active participation of the masses. But it is clear, if only from these repeated pleadings and warnings that they do not have, and cannot attain to this situation.

The Promises of More and Better

Nevertheless it is undeniable that the fruits of past economic development are now being reaped, if still laboriously – and if still unequally distributed. The expansion in production means that, even with no change in the proportionate production of consumer goods, there is more to distribute in absolute terms. The growing availability of many goods which until recent years could not be found even in the Moscow shops is attested to by all visitors to the Soviet Union. It is true that they mostly tell about the capital, where per capita retail sales may be as high as three or more times those in the provinces. Even so, improvement has been taking place, and the insistence of the Russian workers and peasants upon more and better consumer goods of all kinds means that there can be no turning back. Not only that but it is evident from the words and deeds of the Soviet tops in the past few years that, even while defending their privileges and the prevailing inequality in the receipt of the good things of life, they are increasingly sensitive to criticism. To defend their order it is no longer enough to distort Marx, it is also necessary to deliver the goods.

Their ability to do this, greater than before because they now handle an economy at a higher level of industrialization, is still limited by many factors. Their own incomes and perquisites obviously constitute one barrier. A closed book in the official record, for obvious reasons, unequal distribution of the “good things of life” is itself admitted. When Khrushchev states, however, in reply to the unmentioned offstage critics with whom he frequently debates, that what he calls “equalitarian Communism” [4] “would only eat up our stockpiles, make extended reproduction impossible and block successful expansion of the economy” he says precisely nothing about the point at issue.

He seems to be trying to say that more equal distribution would mean reduced production, but that is not necessarily so. Once a certain volume of consumer goods production has been planned the problem is how it shall be distributed – and that can have nothing to do with eating up stockpiles, preventing extended reproduction or blocking economic expansion. Perhaps the wrong things are being produced for a more equitable distribution – too many limousines and not enough washing machines – just because incomes are unequal – that is what happens in capitalist countries; there is no doubt that it occurs in the USSR as well.

In order to defend the privileges of the bureaucracy, for that is what it amounts to, there has to be constant insistence that the actual distribution of income follow the socialist principle of “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his work.” The incomes of the ruling stratum are thus assimilated to their “labor contribution,” which it is implied, is greater than that of other members of society. Let us leave aside here the theoretical difficulties of reconciling this view with the claim that the USSR is in sight of communism, and consider how Khrushchev faces up to the critics.

He refers, for example, to “some scientific workers” who alleged that “distribution according to work signifies application of bourgeois law to Socialist society.” He wriggles round this charge by asserting that inequality of shares are inevitable in “the first phase of Communist society” and has nothing to do with “bourgeois law.” Either the “scientific workers,” out of discretion, perhaps, did not state their case very well, or, which is more probably the case, Khrushchev has distorted it as wilfully as he distorts Marxism. Certainly, and that is the important thing, the bourgeois norms of distribution penetrate everywhere into Soviet society hidden behind such expressions as “payment according to work performed” and “material incentives.” The bad faith, bluster and apologetics of the spokesmen of the ruling group bear witness to their bad consciences and their sensitivity to criticism.

In fact it is constantly necessary to refute what the Political Economy Textbook called the “petty bourgeois doctrine of the equality of wages.” Doubtless no one has put forward such a demand, but the strong current of opinion rising against special privileges and glaring inequalities can be inferred from the space devoted in Soviet publications to an oblique, but increasingly sophistical defense of them. Not long ago, for example, the same Professor Ostrovityanov who was editor-in-chief of the textbook showed signs of some second thoughts.

“As we advance to communism,” he wrote, “the gulf between maximum and minimum wages will be reduced by further raising the wages of the lower paid workers, which will be brought about by the growth of production, the lowering of production costs, the cutting of the staff apparatus and the reduction of the excessively high incomes of various groups.” [5] (My emphasis.)

It is not often that reference is made to “excessively high incomes” and Khrushchev did not feel called upon, at the Congress, to ask for any sacrifices from the assembled functionaries and members of the staff apparatus. [6] Even the members of the “anti-party group” were not given the severe punishment of having their emoluments reduced to the level of the lower-paid workers.

Definite promises have been made, however, to raise the wage levels of the lower-paid grades, and what has been said about them points to the existence of a submerged fifth of the working population still on the standard of bare necessities. Thus it is promised that workers paid from 270 to 350 rubles a month will be raised to 500-600 rubles over the seven-year period. In other words there are many workers whose day’s wages can buy no more than a quart of milk, a meter of cotton cloth or twelve pounds of potatoes. Where there is talk of an increase in real incomes of 40% note must be taken of the actual level of consumption prevailing among the working class. Even a skilled worker, taking home about 1,000 rubles a month, is not able to buy the quantity or variety of goods available to the employed worker of comparable skill in the advanced capitalist countries. For example, he will need about 150 rubles for a pair of shoes (not of very good quality) and over half a month’s pay to acquire a bicycle. [7] No doubt he will be adequately fed, with the help of cheap meals in the factory, but his standards are still creeping up rather slowly – and far from fast enough to satisfy his aspirations.

To counter this, Khrushchev has to emphasize the importance of “social income” not included in the wage and maintain the dogma of an actual increasing pauperization of workers and peasants under capitalism. In fact income levels so far attained, or even to be reached in seven years, if all goes according to plan, hardly make good the claim to have built “socialism,” let alone to be on the threshold of communism. Abundance has not yet come for the Soviet working class, nor is it around the corner as long as inequalities of an injustifiable kind exist and the bureaucracy itself, through its domestic and foreign policies, stands in the way of a more rational utilization of resources.

Consumption has risen, and will rise, there is no doubt about that. Continued advance will have a particularly great impression, as in the past, on the peoples of the underdeveloped countries, there is no doubt about that either. Nevertheless, as the working class in the Soviet Union imposes an improvement in its living conditions, as it grows in skill and self-confidence, so it will desire more and faster improvement, an end to bureaucratic privileges and an actual, not a nominal, place as the leading force in the state and in society.

Even the realization of the promises on consumption could not forestall this deep-running social process, but only speed it up. Moreover, the antagonism between accumulation and consumption continues to have profound consequences for Soviet economic development and social relations.

In relation to consumption a word needs to be said about housing. Despite the pace of new construction – which opens up further possibilities for inequality in the distribution of “the good things of life” – there is still a chronic shortage of house space. In many towns the actual level of overcrowding is hardly less than in 1928 and the further expansion of the economy, requiring movement into the towns, as well as prospective increases in population, mean that a good deal of new housing construction will be needed actually just to keep pace with demand.

The target figure set is “to bring about a change in housing distribution, that of providing a separate flat for each family,” and not on a very lavish scale either. No wonder that Soviet citizens, to escape the squalor and overcrowding of their home life, spend a good deal of their recreational time on the streets or in other public places. [8] How much better off they will be in respect to housing in seven years largely remains to be seen, but it is doubtful whether what is achieved will measure up, in respect to quantity and quality of living space for the ordinary family, to the demands of socialism. [9] In any case housing and its corollary, the furniture and domestic equipment industries, will absorb considerable resources, and consequently limit the expansion possible in other sectors. It will certainly be impossible to cut back on the housing program without raising the ire of the Soviet people.

The Peasantry and the Plan

Since the slashing exposure of the defects of Soviet agriculture which he made in the stocktaking that followed Stalin’s death in 1953, Khrushchev has been associated with a succession of spectacular policy changes. The virgin lands campaign, the planting of corn, the promises about meat and milk production, the sale of machinery by the Machine Tractor Stations to the collective farms, new policies on purchasing and on prices – these represent so many gambles designed to extricate agriculture from its stagnation, increase urban food supplies and win the good will of the peasantry. Khrushchev’s personal reputation is more closely tied up with these than perhaps with any other part of government policy of recent years and his clash with the Malenkov-Molotov faction seems to have been a result in large part of their doubts about such innovations.

To draw up a full balance sheet of Khrushchev’s policies will be possible only at the end of the Seven Year Plan. Results in agriculture take time to prove themselves, especially when they concern measures of such immense scope. It can be taken that the main lines of approach to agriculture have been established for the next few years and will only be disturbed by an untoward event or by their failure to do what is expected of them.

So far Khrushchev has been favored by the context within which he is operating. In 1953 agriculture was in a serious impasse. The peasantry was resentful, food shortage endemic and bad harvests could still spell disaster. According to Khrushchev, Malenkov was responsible for a gross overestimation of grain production and Beria for the sorry state of livestock production. As compared with 1910-14, the period 1949-53 showed scarcely any increase in sown areas, crop fields and grain returns “though,” Khrushchev asserts, “in numerical strength the population, and especially that of the industrial centers and cities, had considerably increased, and the state’s grain requirements were immeasurably greater than those of Czarist Russia.”

No doubt to shed contempt on his predecessors – the great culprit, after all, being Joseph Stalin, who was said never to have visited a collective farm – Khrushchev overcolors the picture and depicts his own retrieval of the situation as all the greater by comparison. [10] There has been no miracle, but by dint of great efforts – including much time and energy on his own part – the peasant has been cajoled and encouraged into producing more.

Khrushchev is able to claim big increases in output over the past five years, part of which is attributable to a measure of luck. [11] But big concessions have had to be made to the peasants. Furthermore, as far as grain production is concerned, a considerable contribution has been made by the once virgin lands. Not only has the supply of such areas diminished, but those in cultivation are subject to lower yields and the risks of drought. [12] In other words, it is from the collective farms that the great additions to output necessary to fulfill the Seven Year Plan must largely come, by higher yields per acre and by increasing the number and improving the quality of farm animals. This involves immense new investments in agriculture, an increase in the supply of agronomists and technicians and improvements in farm management and cost controls.

Emphasis on technique and organization will be inadequate unless the peasants can be won for complete confidence in, and co-operation with, the ruling power. But the collective farm peasantry has a will of its own. Besides, the twenty million or so peasant households by no means form a homogeneous group. There are rich peasants, such as the cotton farmers of Central Asia with their cars and good frame houses; and poor peasants, even around Moscow, who prefer to migrate to the cities. [13] Differences in income and influence run through the collective farms as well. Concessions to the strong peasants may not suit those on the poorer farms, and so on. [14]

A big problem is that of the collective farmers’ private plots. These plots were conceded after the first mass collectivization drive of the 1930’s had fanned revolt in the villages. Since the war they have diminished in size but still provide an important addition to the family income of the peasants, as well as some office and factory workers. Peasant individualism, still strong because of mistrust of the regime, plus the general low level of living has caused the private plots to be worked to the utmost, while the work on the collective farms has been half-hearted. The peasants’ own plots and animals continue to provide an important addition to the food supply, and wistful gazes are cast at the contrasts between the intensity of work put in them compared with that in the collective. On the one hand the plots are necessary, and at least have to be recognized – the market for private produce has now been made completely free; i.e., no more obligatory deliveries. At the same time, no occasion is lost to point out that it is really to the advantage of the peasants (the peasant women in particular) to merge their fields and animals with the resources of the collective farms.

As part of the progress towards communism, it is argued, not only the private plots but also the collective farms themselves must be merged into an integral form of state property. [15] To speed up matters, some officials, who earned the appropriate rebukes, have put pressure on the peasants to surrender their private plots. For the moment the problem still remains on the agenda. The peasantry as a whole appears to take the concessions offered it with both hands, but to be reluctant to accept changes which might mean a weakening of its position. It understands what Khrushchev means by material incentives, because the bureaucracy itself – including that on the farms – enjoys these in full measure and it wants to do likewise. When it comes to Khrushchev’s theoretical propositions it is not so interested – unless they can be linked with real improvements too; and there is obviously still plenty of skepticism. But this represents not only the legacy of Stalinism in the village, it also flies in the face of the claim to have built socialism. The peasant question in Russia has still not been solved; and this fact makes problematical the achievement of the target figures set for agricultural production.

It is, however, more than a question of increasing the food supply – much as that is imperative to meet the expectations of urban consumers – it is also one of social and political power relations. Relatively, too, the proportion of the population engaged in agriculture in the USSR is excessive; it represents a factor of backwardness which bears down upon the per capita income figures of the population as a whole. It means, further, that the peasantry remains a powerful social force. It has to be reckoned with, maneuvered this way and that and used, where necessary, as a counterweight to the working class.

The bureaucracy, despite Khrushchev’s muddled theoretical effusions, remains quite empirical in its approach to the peasant. It makes sweeping concessions at the same time that it reminds the peasants of the leading role of the working class (your “elder brother,” Khrushchev recently told the peasants of Ryazan, completely reversing the sequence of class development). Behind the abstraction “the working class” lurks the will of the bureaucracy intimating to the peasants, “Play ball with me and I’ll play ball with you; if not, concessions may shrink.”

The Challenge to Capitalism

What remains when the layer of propagandistic exaggeration and theoretical distortion surrounding the record and future prospects of the Soviet economy is stripped off is a testimony to the capacity of planning to transform a backward country into an industrial giant. During the 1970’s – if targets are reached – per capita output will begin to overhaul that of the United States, and the Soviet Union will have become the foremost industrial country. Economists and politicians in the capitalist countries, while casting doubt on this or that portion of the plan targets, are still digesting the significance of this prospect.

The current appears to be flowing swiftly in favor of Khrushchev and Company. But the deep undertow which the rate and extent of the changes taking place in the USSR generate in fact makes it ever more difficult for them to keep their feet. They cannot master the forces which they have unleashed; behind their confidence is an acute awareness of storms and stresses in prospect both at home and abroad as a result of Soviet successes. Hesitation and switches in policy, wide divergences of interest and outlook within the ruling group and the main themes of propaganda and policy indicate such awareness.

“The Soviet Union is no longer in capitalist encirclement,” announces Khrushchev, the theoretician. “We shall be able to repel any attack by any enemy,” proclaims Khrushchev, the practical man. “The triumph of socialism is not only complete but final,” the theoretician goes on; “the question of building Socialism is one country has been decided by the course of the historical development of society.” “As long as capitalism exists there may always be people who, contrary to common sense, will want to launch out on a hopeless venture” (i.e., war against the Soviet Union), says the man-in-charge.

Such confusion of thought, like the attribution to Lenin of the theory of “socialism in one country,” is only to be expected from one who is primarily concerned with protecting the position of the caste he represents and who selects bits and pieces from Marxism as occasion demands.

The facts show that the nature of Soviet society is still transitional. The targets set for the next seven years are a clear refutation of the claim to have built socialism. The “abundance” of which Khrushchev speaks is still ahead and looks suspiciously like an output per head no greater than in advanced capitalist countries today. For the present it is still a “socialism” that can guarantee materially little more than the necessary minimum for the mass of the people, and with the minimum in some spheres low indeed.

On the political side the claim is no better grounded. To the question, “Who rules?” the official doctrine replies with a tissue of sophistries. The working class is promised benefits, told to be inspired by the economic achievements of the USSR and to give active participation in carrying out plans; that it has entered into its heritage and now rules the state no one can believe. The elaborate pretense of nationwide discussions of theses sent down from the Central Committee of the CPSU enables the popular pulse to be felt and minor changes to be made. In practice firm and narrow limits are set to dissidence – imposed by the antagonisms inherent in a society in which indefensible disparities in income and power still exist. In short, decisions are made at the top, there is no real democracy in the sense of responsibility from the top to the bottom.

Of course, since 1953, and more rapidly since 1956, there has been a rationalization of procedures made necessary by social forces and made possible by economic improvement. The arbitrary repression of the Stalin era would now be intolerable. The old strict curbs on consumption by the masses can now to some extent be dispensed with. Life is easier, tension has relaxed. The coercive apparatus is no longer a blind power, striking into the ranks of the bureaucracy itself. It is now a conscious force, subdued and less obtrusive (“socialist legality”). Nevertheless, tense conflicts are still fought out behind closed doors, revealed as and when the victor deems expedient and in such a way as to leave the defeated no possibility of stating their case. The “anti-party group” then provides a convenient scapegoat for anything which has been going wrong and members of the lower echelons of party and state hasten to add their obloquy to that already heaped on once powerful figures.

The ways of “liberalization” are indeed mysterious to behold – but not impossible to explain, once it is understood that there has been no real shift in power, only a change in the balance of forces. The ruling bureaucracy retains power through all mutations and has no intention of relinquishing it or sharing it. But the very economic expansion which it is obliged to promote strengthens the hand of the working class and undermines its own position.

The external policy of the Soviet leadership is composed of a complex combination of strength and weakness, of bluster and caution, of desire for peace and fear of war, of a special theory of capitalist “collapse” with anxiety for a deal with the capitalist states.

Completely missing is any reliance on the working-class movement in the capitalist countries to overcome capitalism and take power. The Seven Year Plan is spoken of as “a powerful moral support for the international workers’ and Communist movement.” At the same time the “socialist” and capitalist systems are to expose their wares and the peoples are to “choose.” How and under what conditions is not made clear. If the statements of Mikoyan are to be taken at their face value a new version of “Marxism” has been adopted in which the capitalists are going to improve the lot of their workers in order to prevent them from wishing to emulate the USSR. Fresh from his American trip, Mikoyan went on the Congress platform to say that improving living standards would increase the power of attraction of “the land of Soviets” and, he added, this “will be indirectly instrumental in improving the condition of the working people in the capitalist countries, for it will inspire them to still more effective struggle against their exploiters and will make it easier for them to wage this struggle as it will compel the capitalists to make concessions to the working class and to the peasantry and to do something to improve their lot.”

A little more crass than the platitudes of Khrushchev, and perhaps closer to the real nature of Soviet international policy, Foreign Minister Gromyko, for instance, considered that the continued economic advance of the USSR “changes the correlation of world forces and puts the policy of peaceful coexistence on a new and still firmer foundation.” Nevertheless, he went on to speak of the new military treaties directed against the USSR, the feverish efforts to increase the number of nuclear and missile bases aimed at the USSR and the unwillingness of the Western powers to reach an agreement on nuclear weapons and the use of outer space. He described this as representing the hopes of “certain influential circles” that “it may somehow be possible to turn back the wheel of history ...” Gromyko was confident, however, that “the ground was slipping away from under their feet” and realization of the need for peaceful coexistence was growing and such trends would be met halfway by the Soviet government.

Such is the overt policy of the USSR. It can only mean a willingness to reach an understanding with capitalism which, in fact, would entail its indefinite existence. “Peace-loving” capitalists are to be supported against warmongers. Agreements are to be reached on nuclear disarmament and other matters. Trade between the “world socialist system” and capitalist countries will be welcomed, in accordance with the reinstated principle of the international division of labor. [16] It is a reasonable deduction that working-class initiative to overthrow capitalism is not favored, for that would rear up powerful social and political forces which the bureaucracy could not control and which would reverberate throughout Eastern Europe, the USSR and China.

If the latter possibility throws up innumerable undesirable possibilities, a deal with capitalism, brought about by a measured mixture of flexibility, firmness and bluff, can only have advantages, the bureaucrats reason.

Above all, diminution of the foreign threat would enable full concentration on economic tasks and would bring considerable prestige to the ruling group itself. Reduction of armaments would be a positive advantage of great importance to the USSR, though not to the capitalist countries. More resources would become available which could then be deployed as circumstances warrant between investment, consumption and aid to underdeveloped countries. This would also mean fewer risks of strain as the plan proceeds.

Likewise, there can be no doubt that a political understanding with the main capitalist states would permit fuller participation in the international division of labor. The USSR would thus be able to obtain equipment for which otherwise heavy investment will have to be made and from which results, in the shape of consumer goods adequate to satisfy the appetite of the population, might not otherwise be forthcoming for six or seven years. While it is true that the USSR demonstrates mastery of the most advanced techniques in some spheres, in others there is still backwardness – freer intercourse with the capitalist states could help here too. Likewise, it might be expedient to import some consumer goods directly from the manufacturers in the capitalist world who possess many advantages in efficiency and price, not to speak of quality.

Such is the attractive vista which peaceful coexistence presents. Meanwhile, it is hoped, the balance of advantage will tilt steadily in the direction of the USSR and its allies of the “socialist camp.”

There are, however, a number of omissions from this estimate of future prospects. Even Khrushchev and Gromyko know full well that there are, in the West, sections of the ruling class who would prefer to see an attack on the USSR despite the frightful risks and undoubted heavy costs of a nuclear war. There is no guarantee that “the peace-loving forces” will win – if it is left to the capitalists. That goes likewise for the Communist parties – in the USA a discredited fragment, in Western Europe a declining force for a whole decade.

The growing challenge of Soviet economic strength is just as likely to increase hostility in the capitalist ruling classes as to impress them with the need for a deal; and if they make a deal they, in turn, will require concessions ...

The effect, too, of the changing relationship of world forces will, as Khrushchev suggests, stimulate the colonial liberation movement. Eventually, and perhaps the time is not distant, the colonial revolution will pass beyond the control of the national bourgeoisies, so far largely supported by the Moscow bureaucracy. At the same time, the all-round weakening of capitalism which can be expected, and to which the growth of the Soviet economy contributes, provides the basis for the intervention of the working class outside, and against, the control of the official Communist parties. The repercussions this would have within the USSR have already been indicated.


1. Most quotations, unless otherwise stated, are from Khrushchev’s Theses of Report on the Targets of the Seven-Year Plan, Nov. 1958, his report on Target Figures for the Economic Development of the Soviet Union, 1959-65 given at the Congress on Jan. 27, 1959, or from the reports of other speakers.

2. Several criticisms were embedded in the general approval given to the plan. Soviet News (London), No.3967, Dec. 10, 1958.

3. The production target for all motor vehicles in 1965 will be 750,000 to 856,000. Current output in three West European countries – Federal Germany, France and Britain – runs at over one million a year. US productive capacity for commercial vehicles is well over one million and actual production near this level (nearly one and a half million in 1951).

4. “The wage policy of the Socialist State involves a struggle against petty bourgeois equalising tendencies.” Eng. Ed., p.603.

5. In a communication to the Academy of Sciences entitled Theoretical Problems of Building Communism in the USSR.

6. On the contrary, the tax cuts announced were a gift to the recipients of big incomes.

7. Applying Moscow prices as reported in the pro-Soviet review Economie et Politique, Nov.-Dec. 1957. Prices given in other sources seem to tally.

8. It contributes, too, to the scourge of alcoholism.

9. The indications are that it will still be below the current level in Western Europe. Immense disparities exist, of course, between those in the new flats and other families in old tenements and wooden cottages. There is more honesty about such things in official propaganda than there once was.

10. Khrushchev’s report, Results of the Development of Agriculture in the Past Five Years, made to the plenum of the Central Committee Dec. 15, 1958. This is an attempt to vindicate his policies through reference to increases in crop areas, farm animals and yields. The “anti-party group” is accused of having opposed all these policies, of not understanding agriculture and of having had “a wrong attitude to the peasantry, regarding it as a force resisting the building of socialism.”

11. But perhaps not. When a representative from the Stavropol region claimed a two and one-half increase in maize production in 1958 as compared with 1953 before the Central Committee, Khrushchev intervened. “In 1958,” he said, “you sowed part of the maize on top of winter grain which had perished, and you got a good crop. One might say that you would not have been lucky if bad luck hadn’t helped. So God helped you.”

12. The Economic Survey of Europe, 1957, mentioned as disadvantages of the virgin lands the need for more fertilizers (this links up clearly with the strain on the chemical industry), heavy ancillary investment and the patchy nature of the soil, giving stalks of uneven length and reducing the efficiency of combine harvesting. Khrushchev claims a big success not only because they have been decisive in increasing grain production but also since they have been “a major source of state accumulation.”

13. During his election speech in Moscow, March 1958, Khrushchev spoke of industrial executives who recruited workers for “rough” work from other areas, presumably the surrounding countryside.

14. Differences between the income of peasants on different farms can hardly fail to increase since the farms took over (or rather bought) the machinery formerly held by the Machine Tractor Stations.

15. Production on the state farms is cheaper than that on the collectives: hence (a) the emphasis on increasing productivity in the latter, and (b) the suggestion that collective and state property should be merged. Khrushchev says this is “historically inevitable” – thus squaring himself with theory and trying to satisfy those who believe he is leaning too far towards the peasants. In the meantime, to win the peasants to increase yields, he has to take practical steps tending in the opposite direction. He steers a tricky course.

16. “The Soviet Union is in favor of an international division of labor, not only between the countries of the world socialist system, but also between socialists and all other countries, including the West.” A. Mikoyan at the Twenty-First Congress. “The experience of history ... shows that the higher the industrial standard of a country, the greater is its need and possibility for extensive foreign trade.” Idem.

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Last updated: 17.12.2005