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John G. Wright

Stalin’s Move Reflects Crisis in Soviet Union

Depth of Internal Economic and Political Crisis,
Weakening Soviet Defenses,
Drives Stalin to Ever More Dictatorial Role

(May 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 19, 10 May 1941, pp. 1 & 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Stalin’s “right-hand man,” his “closest comrade-in-arms,” Molotov, has been removed from the post of Chairman of People’s Commissars which he has occupied for ten years, since December 1930. Stalin himself has assumed this key post in the Soviet government, his first public office in years. The only other governmental post ever held by Stalin was that of People’s Commissar of Nationalities under Lenin.

Why has Stalin taken such an unprecedented step? Reflected in the purge of Molotov and the assumption by Stalin of the premiership is the intensification of the unprecedented international and internal crisis into which the Soviet Union has been plunged by none other than Stalin himself. The international position of the Soviet Union is little short of catastrophic. Stalin’s latest maneuver is in part intended to make Molotov the scapegoat for the isolation of the USSR.

Among the Soviet masses, and within the ranks of the bureaucracy itself, there is growing alarm as Hitler’s war machine draws an ever tighter ring of steel along the Western frontiers. Hitler is now poised on the Scandinavian peninsula within striking distance of Leningrad, and in the South he threatens not only Soviet shipping lanes through the Dardanelles but also the oil supply in the Caucasus.

Red Army Weak

The weakness of the Red Army was revealed last year during the Finnish adventure. The real source of the weakness of the Red Army lies in the fatal bureaucratic regime. Stalin’s answer – he has no other – was to make Voroshilov the scapegoat. Last May, he removed Voroshilov, by kicking him “upstairs,” and appointed a nonentity, Timoshenko, as Commissar of War.

In the year that has elapsed the Red Army has not been strengthened but weakened, above all through the introduction of a new officer-caste from General to corporal.

This officer-caste has been invested with the power of life and death over the rank and file. The new disciplinary statutes of the Red Army are the severest in the world. But savage discipline cannot increase an army’s fighting morale, no more than investing an officer with the rank of a General can increase his capacity for leadership, or raise the confidence of the soldiers in his ability. The very first tests under fire will reveal how all of Stalin’s measures have served only to weaken the Red Army,

Simultaneously with assuming his new post of Premier, Stalin delivered his first public speech in years – a forty minutes’ address to the graduates of Soviet military academies. The sum and substance of this speech is a boast that the Red Army has been completely reorganized and rearmed. The very fact that it has been necessary to subject the Red Army to such “reorganization and rearming” constitutes a public admission of the inadequacy of the Red Army.

Stalin fools nobody, least of all Hitler, by his boasts of what has been achieved in the space of a single year, especially by his methods and under his regime. Under the best conditions, a year is too brief an interval for the reorganization and re-equipment of a vast modern army. No boast of Stalin can bolster up the morale of the Red Army or increase its fighting ability.

Economic Havoc

The defensive capacity of the Soviet Union has been weakened most gravely by the economic havoc created by the Stalinist regime.

The country is in the grip of the most serious economic difficulties since the termination of the Civil War and the introduction of the New Economic Policy (the NEP) in 1921. The Third Five Year Plan has been disrupted since 1938. The Kremlin’s own figures show that production in the key industries – iron, steel, coal – has remained stationary or has declined in recent years despite the investment of colossal sums for expansion. Soviet railway and river transport which collapsed under the burden of military requirements during the Finnish invasion cannot possibly withstand the strain of a major war.

Burden of Armament

Further unbearable strain has been placed upon industry by the need to divert more and more of the national production into military channels. Although the Soviet Union has not yet been sucked into the armed conflict, almost 70 billions of the 1941 budget have been allotted for the requirements of the Soviet armed forces. This amounts to not less than 40 per cent of the total national production. Far from lessening, this tendency will become more pronounced, especially with the actual outbreak of hostilities.

Dependence on Market

On top of the disruption of foreign trade has still further intensified the internal crisis. Far from having become self-sufficient in accordance with Stalin’s theory of building socialism in one country, Soviet economy still depends on the world market, above all for machines and machine tools. With the United States embargo, imposed by Roosevelt, the last source of these vital necessities has been cut off.

Moreover, the Stalin-Hitler pact serves only to drain increasing quantities of raw materials, and foodstuffs. Even if Hitler were willing to send the Soviet Union the necessary machinery and equipment in exchange, the needs of his own war economy would prevent him.

Stalin’s “Solution”

With what domestic measures has Stalin met this crisis? So far as the bureaucracy is concerned, Stalin has only reinforced its privileges. The bureaucracy has proved that it is incapable of making the least sacrifice for the defense of the Soviet Union. The bureaucrats refuse to relinquish by a single iota the enormous proportion of the national income which they devour.

In respect to the masses, however, no sacrifice is considered too great. The wages of the Russian workers have been slashed. Hours of work have been increased. The prices of daily necessities have skyrocketed, accompanied by increasing inflation and growing scarcity of goods. By a series of decrees the workers face criminal prosecution for quitting a job or even coming late to work; they face prison terms for turning out defective goods; they face charges of “hooliganism” in the event of accidents or breakdowns in the factory.

Children have been driven out of schools through the imposition of prohibitive tuitions and child labor has been introduced. The repressive measures adopted against the peasantry have been no less severe. The peasants have been corralled in the “collectives.” The cultivation of the landstrips has been severely restricted. The high taxation imposed on the peasants is tantamount to forced grain collections. All these laws have been passed in the last 12 months.

Stalin Fears Masses

The ferocity of these repressive measures is a gauge of the fear of the Stalin regime in the face of the increasing discontent and resistance of the masses. The fear of the regime is further indicated by such significant items as the allocation in the 1941 budget of 10 billion rubles to the GPU. This is the first time in history that the GPU has been openly included in the budget.

The crisis in the economy, which was further sharpened by the outbreak of World War II, has been reflected in a political crisis. In the past, Stalin has refurbished the prestige of his regime when confronted by such crises, by instituting a mass purge (Moscow Frameups, hunts for “spies” and “wreckers,” etc.). Since the outbreak of the war another mass purge has been in progress. But Stalin’s apparatus, of repression has become so corroded that it can no longer be reconstructed by a mass purge alone. More drastic measures are necessary.

Like the previous Bonapartes, Stalin is finding it necessary to reach for a crown. The formality of ruling through a party must be discarded – the danger of a clash between the upper and lower tiers of the party is too grave in the face of the domestic crisis and the war. It has become necessary to curb and stifle and weaken even the last vestiges of the party by concentrating all power in the state and by concentrating the state in the personal rule of one man.

The task of the 18th Party Conference last February was to remove the Communist Party from its dominant position in the country. At that time we wrote:

“Even the formality of ruling through the party – (which never was a monolithic bureaucratic entity but remains very heterogenous) – not only becomes cumbersome but actually turns into a grave obstacle to stability because of the very danger of a rift between its upper and lower tiers, because of the very threat, especially in war time conditions, that the Bonapartist rule may be challenged within the ranks of the party itself.” (Socialist Appeal, February 1, 1941)

At the same time we predicted in that same article that the bureaucracy is so ravaged by the crisis and so hopelessly divided that the only possible means of stabilizing the regime “lies in the open assumption of power by a single individual who rules as ar absolute dictator by virtue, of the control of the army and the GPU alone.”

Stalin’s open assumption of power, however, does not solve the crisis in the Soviet Union any more than a boil coming to a head cures an infection. The crisis will inevitably deepen still further and aggravate the discontent and resistance of the masses to the regime. By coming out into the open, Stalin only makes it possible for this discontent to precipitate itself upon his head as the real criminal responsible for the present unbearable impasse. Stalin’s present imposing height only measures the depth of the abyss he is approaching. The monolithic facade he has created will soon split wide, open, revealing the enormity of the crisis he is trying to cover up.

Today more than ever before, the defense of the Soviet Union means first and foremost a political revolution that will overthrow Stalin and his regime and restore workers’ democracy in the Soviet Union.

Last updated: 4 November 2015