Wright Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

John G. Wright

Soviet Economy Lags as Purge Intensified

Denny Succeeds Duranty as Cover-Up Man for Stalin;
But Facts Show Bureaucracy Is Digging Grave of Workers’ Power

(July 1938)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. II No. 27, 2 July 1938, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

At the beginning of May we wrote that “judging from the past procedure, it can be stated with virtual certainty that the present wave of arrests will reach its crest early in June, in the days immediately preceding the elections, and that shortly after the elections the next trials will be staged.” (Socialist Appeal, May 7, 1938.)

The first part of this forecast has been completely confirmed by recent dispatches from Moscow. Kossior and Chubar, two of Molotov’s deputies and yesterday pillars of Stalinism, have been “missing” for weeks. The secretaries of party organizations in the Ukraine, Kazakstan, Kirghizia, and Bashkiria have been removed.

Sukhomlin Out

Sukhomlin, former member of the Ukrainian Political Bureau, has been removed from his post as vice-chairman of the Ukrainian Council of People’s Commissars. Sukhomlin’s downfall leaves only one member still remaining of the 13 who composed the Ukrainian Political Bureau at the beginning of the latest purge.

The purge has been extended to lower officials in Biro-Bidjan. Harold Denny, in reporting the latest purge in the Ukraine, cites the arrest of 10 important party officials and comments as follows: “The fact that confessions have been obtained indicates a trial will be held or that a secret one has been held.” (N. Y. Times, June 20.) On June 21, the Times carried a dispatch concerning “an intensive purge in the political ranks of the army” which is being directed by Mekhlis, Stalin’s former private secretary. These and many other additional facts are indubitable proof that the current purge is as widespread and intensive as the preceding ones.

Everlasting Purge

To have forecast this latest development required no particular prophetic gifts, but rather an understanding of the inextricable position in which the Stalinist clique is situated, and the mechanics whereby it has thus far maintained itself in power. In the face of growing internal and external difficulties it has and can have only one formula: Purge, purge and re-purge – with the periodic “elections” serving as a cover for the bloodbaths. The only difference between the past and present purges is that the current one has received far less publicity both in the Soviet and foreign press.

We have already pointed out on several occasions the intimate connection between the crisis in Soviet economy and the purges. Is the economic crisis one of the causes of the current purge?

Only the other day Harold Denny broke a rather prolonged period of silence to report “progress” and “gains” in Soviet economy. (N.Y. Times, June 5.) Denny, who has apparently supplanted Duranty (so mysteriously silent) as foreign press agent for Stalin’s “victories,” centered his extremely optimistic dispatch on the alleged fact that “industry as a whole has been increasing production from month to month this year after a poor start in January.”

Duranty Style

Denny wrote this dispatch in the familiar Duranty manner, arraying statistics, citing “average increases,” indicating “further progress” and so on, with a few evasive comments on past difficulties, calculated to cover the report with an air of objectivity. According to Denny (and the official Stalinist press which Denny echoes), the current purge is taking place against the background of economic recovery.

But from Denny’s own dispatch we learn that at the beginning of the year Soviet industries were disorganized and the state planning apparatus had broken down. Further on, Denny gave another inkling as to the real extent of the crisis: “... just when the second Five-Year-Plan was drawing to a close, no third Five-Year-Plan was announced.” The reason? “Trotskyist-Bukharinist wreckers,” of course! After thus glibly linking up the “exposure” of the “Wreckers” with the unprecedented failure to even announce a new plan, Denny stated the following:

“The disorganization of industry was one cause of the purge that took such toll of industrial executives last year. The purge itself caused further disorganization by the removal of experienced executives and technicians and the discouragement of initiative among those remaining.”

What We Learn

And so, we learn: (1) that Soviet industries were “disorganized” not only at the beginning of this year but throughout all of last year; (2) that this critical condition of industry was one of the causes of the purge (and of the Moscow frame-ups!); (3) that in the process of this purge the bulk of the administration staff was removed; (4) that this “removal of experienced executives and technicians’’ only acted to aggravate further the “breakdown of industry.”

What then caused the alleged miraculous improvement? Denny assures us that “new executives” were now mastering their jobs. But he himself is obliged to list grave “lapses’” in such branches of industry as “coal, copper, petroleum and the like.” He likewise reports a lag in the cement industry. “The same is true of timber.” This “lag” is holding up construction “both of industrial plants and dwellings.” Denny also comments on a shortage of paper supply and textiles. Yet, to believe Denny and the Stalinist press, industry as a whole has nevertheless been increasing its production.

Unfounded Optimism

There is no ground whatever for the official optimism which Denny has dished up in his dispatch. Apart from the purge itself, those official statistics that are still issued by Stalinist authorities (reports of average daily production in industry have been suspended for months) give the lie to assurances that Soviet industry is being pulled out of the rut. Far from increasing, the production of steel, iron and rolled products has been stagnating. The figures for May and June even indicate a serious decline. We cite the figures for the coal industry. Since the beginning of the year the daily average (in thousands of tons) has been as follows:


Sov. Union


Don Basin













May (first part)



The surprising thing is not that the crisis in Soviet economy is still raging, but that Soviet economic life has not been more drastically affected. How long could industry in any capitalist country have functioned after “removal” of its staff of experienced executives and technicians?

What, then, has thus far prevented a complete collapse in the Soviet Union? There is only one answer. It has been prevented by the colossal force that is lodged in the nationalized means of production, the real foundation that Stalinism has been undermining all these years. But how long can the debacle be averted? How long will the blood-baths and the reign of terror continue to maintain Stalinism in power?

Last updated: 14 September 2015