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John G. Wright

Class Relations in the Soviet Union

(July 1941)

From Fourth International, Vol. 2 No. 6, July 1941, pp. 166–170.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Although the military operations at the front are of extreme importance, the fate of the Soviet Union will not be decided on a purely military plane but on the arena of the class struggle.

It cannot be repeated too often that the greatest breach in the defensive power of the USSR lies not so much in any salient which the Nazi armored divisions have driven through the Red Army’s lines of defense as it does in the atomization, disorientation, demoralization and resulting passivity of the European labor movements. No matter how stubbornly and heroically the Red Army resists the Nazi onslaught, if the world working class remains prostrate the end result will be not only the downfall of Stalin’s regime but also of the remaining conquests of the October revolution. As Lenin and Trotsky warned time and again, the fate of the Soviet Union will be decided on the international arena.

The foreign policies of the Kremlin, carried out obediently and unquestioningly always and everywhere by the parties of the Third International, prepared the ground for Hitler’s previous triumphs. Stalin’s policy is once again clearing the way for Nazi successes. It is not accidental that from the Communist International there emanates today only the silence of the grave. Dimitrov, the “helmsman of the Comintern” has not dared to this day to open his mouth. When and if he is permitted to do so it will not be to rally the world masses to the policy of defense through revolutionary war. The Kremlin is once again staking everything on another alliance with imperialists, this time the camp of Anglo-American “democracies.” A victory of Churchill and Roosevelt opens up only the perspective of a new and much worse edition of the Versailles Treaty. What appeal can this possibly have for the German masses? It only drives them into Hitler’s hands. The German workers will begin to move only if the way out through socialism – through the Socialist United States of Europe – is opened for them. But this is the road which the Kremlin seeks to block at all costs. Stalinism is again dealing the greatest blows to the defense of the Soviet Union.

Stalin Fears the October Tradition

After having boasted for so many years of having “irrevocably” achieved the building of socialism in one country, after having announced that the very “threshold of Communism” had already been reached, the Kremlin now prohibits even a whisper about it. All references to socialism are carefully deleted from Moscow’s official statements, in particular, from all appeals to the German soldiers. The Manifesto of the Communist Party in this country follows suit (Daily Worker, June 30). This curries favor with London and Washington but will not spur German soldiers to fraternize with the Red Army fighters.

There is also another reason for Stalinist reticence about socialism. The Kremlin’s fear of the resurgence of the traditions, program and spirit of October surpasses its fear of the Nazi military might. This fear epitomizes the renegades from Bolshevism. This fear is expressed in everything the Kremlin says or does. It should be recalled that the Stalinists always have sworn that the great victories of the Civil War of 1918-1921 in which imperialist intervention was repelled on 22 fronts were primarily gained through the efforts of Stalin. But Molotov preferred to refer instead to the traditions of the Czarist triumph over Napoleon. He carefully evaded all references to those historical events with which Stalin is, according to the official myth, most closely associated. Was this perhaps done out of consideration for the modesty of the “Great Father of the Peoples”? No, it was done because the bureaucracy must at all costs prevent the banner of October and of the Civil War – the banner of Lenin and Trotsky – from being raised high again over the battlefields.

But the final decision in this sphere, as in so many others, does not rest with the Kremlin. It rests with the greatest internal bulwark of defense, the Soviet working class. With the aid of the international vanguard the Soviet workers must and can summon the workers of the world to a revolutionary war.

The Soviet Proletariat

The Soviet working class today is ten to twelve times stronger numerically than were the workers in 1917 who led the Russian masses to the conquest of October and who defended them against the entire capitalist world in the greatest civil war in modern times. Thirty million soviet workers now operate the modern industrial apparatus and inhabit the cities of one-sixth of the world.

In addition to quantitative differences there are profound qualitative differences between this numerically and productively more powerful working class and the workers under the Czar.

The abolition of private property and of the proprietors is sharply expressed in the social composition of modern Soviet cities. The world has never seen such urban centers before. For the first time in history, events will occur under wartime conditions in cities where no bourgeoisie exists. Nor is there an urban petty bourgeoisie in the proper sense of the term. The proletariat constitutes the overwhelming majority of the urban population with a thin crust of the bureaucracy at the top, and a thinner stratum of the Stalinist underworld at the bottom. Even in Moscow, Leningrad and other capital cities of the Federated Republics and autonomous regions the same thing holds true. The bureaucracy in these capital cities constitutes but a minority. Only in the cities of the occupied areas (Esthonia, Lithuania, Latvia) are there still sizeable remnants of the old ruling classes and a middle class of any proportion. But the cities in Soviet Union proper have no middle class. All the petty bourgeois tendencies are concentrated within the ranks of the bureaucracy itself, and in the villages. This means that the counter-revolution faces an unprecedented task in the cities, i.e., the decisive centers, the counter-revolution lacks a genuine class base and will have either to improvise it or to import it. On the other hand, this provides the revolution with class resources never before at its disposal.

Although the bulk of the workers stems from the land and was absorbed into industry during the first two Five Year Plans, the Soviet working class is far more homogeneous, despite its relative youth, than the Russian workers were in 1917, or the workers in any advanced capitalist countries are today. Trotsky estimated that at the outbreak of the February 1917 revolution, about 40 per cent of the Russian proletarian was of recent petty bourgeois origin, consisting predominantly of those who went into industry to avoid military service. Among the workers today not more than ten per cent are recent recruits from rural areas; moreover, they are extremely young and therefore tend to become proletarianized much more rapidly and readily than older peasants. The other workers who originally came from the villages have already behind them from five to ten years of proletarianization.

Contrast Between Bourgeoisie and Kremlin

The bourgeoisie possesses many means for intensifying differentiation within the ranks of workers. The bourgeoisie of any given nation can create a stable labor aristocracy; a social ladder, as it were, with gradations between the various skilled workers, and between the skilled and the unskilled. In addition, through the functioning of its educational, religious and state organs, the bourgeoisie is able to divide the workers along racial and religious lines. It is able to maintain its own political agencies within the working class from the outright bourgeois parties down to the various varieties of reformism.

In contrast to this the Kremlin bureaucracy, which lacks a genuine class function, has not been able really to stratify the Soviet workers. Not that it hasn’t sought to create a labor aristocracy and to create all possible divisions among the workers.

But the Kremlin, while successful in creating an unbridgeable gulf between the privileged bureaucracy and the rest of the population has not been successful, despite all its efforts, in its attempts to foster any broad and stable labor aristocracy as a basis of support. What happened instead was this: the Stalinist aristocrats of labor – the Stakhanovists – became incorporated with the bureaucracy itself, replacing in many instances the older generations of revolutionists who became bureaucratized during and after the period of the NEP and who were by and large removed during the purges (1935–1938).

Furthermore, the marked tendency in recent years has been to drive down the living standards of all workers, both skilled and unskilled. This has acted to fuse the various sections of the working class in a common hatred against the rapacious and oppressive bureaucracy.

The living standards of all workers must now inevitably fall still lower. The working day, which was fixed at eight hours and a six-day week by the vicious decrees of June 21, 1940 has now been hiked to nine, ten and eleven hours a week. A dispatch from Moscow dated June 27, 1941, announces a decree which makes “obligatory overtime work from one to three hours daily, both for all workers and office employees.” (Daily Worker, June 28). This means a legal working day of 11 hours and more.

New Conflicts Between Workers And Bureaucrats

The vast majority of the Soviet workers will undoubtedly strain every ounce of energy to supply the fighters at the front. But their efforts come at all points into conflict with the irresponsible administration. The contradiction between the bureaucratic method of management and the demands of defense instead of weakening will intensify literally with every hour of war. For instance, the transportation facilities, already overstrained in peacetime, must now be used primarily to supply the front. How will the plants be supplied?

The already monstrous physical strain upon the workers must presently reach the breaking point. The bureaucracy apparently realizes this, and has offered a special inducement in the form of an increase in pay for overtime. The decree specifies that “remuneration for obligatory overtime (is) one and a half times the regular rates.” What will the workers be able to purchase with their increased wages in the face of scarcity and skyrocketing prices? Nevertheless, the “raise” is highly symptomatic. It is the first time in years that the Kremlin has deemed it advisable to make any sort of concession to the workers. It is a tacit admission of the rising tide of opposition.

To continue functioning, Soviet industry requires entirely different incentives and entirely different methods of management. Initiative on the part of the masses is now more indispensable than ever before. The struggle for rational working conditions and for the revival of workers’ democracy coincides at all points with the life and death needs of Soviet enterprises and of the Red Army. The bureaucracy bars the way. The traditions of October and of the Civil War – the program of Lenin and Trotsky – point the only way out. Will the Soviet workers take this road which is dictated by necessity? They have no other.

To be sure, there exists as yet no organized and independent political force within the ranks of Soviet labor. But it ought not be forgotten that there still remain many millions in the land who participated directly or indirectly in the October revolution and who passed through the years of the Civil War. There are other thousands who have not forgotten the lessons of the struggle of the Left Opposition from 1923 to 1929, a struggle which reached the masses. In Stalin’s jails and concentration camps now sit many who are capable of providing the necessary leadership and of working and fighting shoulder to shoulder with the masses, the Red Army ranks and with the new leaders now being tempered at the front, in the factories, the collective farms and among the youth.

The traditions and methods of the great historical experiences of the Soviet masses will revive under the pressure of this gravest crisis. Once revived they will sweep the land with a speed and power beyond that of any Panzer divisions the imperialist world could muster. The very fact that Stalin chooses to keep so rigid a silence on the subject of October is in itself evidence that the bureaucracy already senses its approaching death.

The Soviet Peasantry

What will the peasants do? They still constitute the great majority of the Soviet population. Has this social force, next in importance only to the proletariat, been irretrievably lost to the revolution because of the criminal policies of Stalinism? Or will they again as in 1917 and in the Civil War follow the lead of the revolutionary workers?

The differentiation within the peasantry – its heterogeneity – contrary to Stalin’s empty boasts of yesterday – does not fundamentally differ from that in capitalist countries. In general, the agricultural population is divided into the same main classes as exist in capitalist countries – the rural bourgeoisie (landlords, large scale farmers), the rural petty bourgeoisie (the well-to-do-farmers, the individual proprietors), and the rural proletariat (the agricultural laborers).

Although the Czarist landlords have been abolished along with the old rural bourgeoisie, there nevertheless remains in Soviet agriculture a clearly delineated rural petty bourgeoisie in the shape of the kolkhoz (collective farm) aristocracy. Among the so-called “millionaire kolkhozi” are even to be observed personages who strikingly resemble large scale farmers, i.e., rural bourgeois. In other words capitalist tendencies, far from having been abolished in agriculture, have merely been driven inside the collectives, and have luxuriated there. The capitalist tendencies in the collectives are further reinforced by some three million individual homesteads which have survived. In addition there are almost two million artisans most of whom are organized into cooperatives, with special privileges, tax exemptions, etc. granted them in January of this year. As the scarcity of foodstuffs and necessities becomes more and more acute, all the individualistic tendencies in agriculture will intensify. This is one of the main reservoirs of the counter-revolution. With the aid of Hitler or other imperialists, these elements might well be able to turn the hatred of all the peasants against Stalin into channels leading to capitalist restoration.

The camp of the revolution, however, possesses this advantage: Hitler has really little to offer the peasants. The mask of “liberator” sits poorly on a conqueror, all the more so an invader who comes to pillage after first sowing destruction and death. Phrases and promises, even threats and violence, will carry little weight with the great masses of the peasantry. They have had their fill of this diet from Stalin.

The most backward and superstitious peasant is capable of reasoning. He is cognizant of the superiority of tractors and scientific large scale farming. Besides there has been an acute shortage of horses since the days of forced collectivization when all cattle were slaughtered. How will the crops be raised?

Once the peasant is convinced that the fruits of his labor will not be devoured by bureaucratic blood suckers or fascist despoilers – nothing will swerve him from his support of the resurgent revolution. Once the peasant is convinced that he is free to choose whether he wishes to cultivate his own land or to participate as a full-fledged and genuine shareholder in a collective farm, he will fight tooth and nail against the counter-revolution both from within and without. Once the peasant is convinced that the nationalized economy will be so planned as to take his vital needs into account he will readily lay down his life in defense of it.

He will be further impelled to this choice by the fact that even his present scanty ration is directly threatened by the Nazis. All history teaches that the bitterest struggles are waged over the scantiest rations. Whatever territories Hitler may succeed in overrunning temporarily, he will have to hold with armies of occupation. It took more than 500,000 German soldiers to hold the Ukraine during the last war, when the Kaiser’s Germany had the support of the old Ukrainian and Russian ruling classes. The results were very disappointing to the Kaiser. Hitler may well experience even a greater disappointment.

Success for the counter-revolution can come only in the event that the proletariat fails to advance its own class program, and follows blindly Stalin’s policy. The majority of the peasants who are members of the collectives or employees of Machine Tractor Stations, Sovkhozi (state farms), etc., are really agricultural laborers. Their interests coincide most closely with the interests of the urban workers. They will rally to the program of October; no other program can win them over, least of all the nationalist demagogy of the Kremlin.

The Soviet Youth

A crucial role in deciding the fate of the USSR is destined for its youth, the primary reservoir of the revolution. The giant Soviet proletariat is young not only in point of formation but also in actual age. A decisive section consists of young men and women under 27. Among the staunchest fighters in the Red Army are those young soldiers who received their training under the old command – the legendary heroes of the Civil War, the idols of the people, who modernized and mechanized the troops, developed the air force, introduced parachute troops and many other innovations, and whom Stalin murdered.

The bureaucrats stand in greater fear of the youth than of any other single section of the population. The Komsomol (the Russian YCL) has been purged more frequently and savagely than any other branch of the apparatus. Five years ago, shortly before the staging of the first Moscow Frameup Trial in 1936, the Komsomol was dissolved as a political organization for fear lest it develop into an opposition political party. The ideas and program of Trotskyism (Bolshevism) have from the outset met their maximum response and sympathy precisely among the Soviet youth.

Even in its spontaneous forms the resistance of the youth to the regime was marked by its militant spirit. For example, the official press was compelled to admit that it was the young workers and members of the Komsomol who were in the forefront of resistance to the Ukases of June 26, 1940, which lengthened the working day to eight hours (and six days), and chained the workers to their jobs like medieval serfs.

The most astonishing thing is that this militancy characterizes even striplings. When the decrees were adopted drafting children and youngsters from fourteen to seventeen into large scale industry, mines and railways, the bureaucracy insisted on paying them only one-third of the prevailing wages. But these bureaucrats reckoned without the children. They forced the Kremlin to change its mind and to grant them very substantial increases.

Article 19 of Order No.1 issued by the Labor Reserves Administration in October 1940 fixed the following wage scale:

“It is hereby established that one-third of the revenues accruing from the fulfillment of orders as well as work done ... during their period of training for industry is allotted to the state budget; one third is to remain at the disposal of the Director ... and one-third is to be given into the hands of those fulfilling the work.” (Pravda, October 5, 1940. Our emphasis)

The children began work on December 1, 1940. Eight weeks later, their wages were increased to 80 per cent of the prevailing rates for those sixteen to seventeen and to 50 per cent for those fifteen and under (Pravda, February 5, 1941) Noteworthy, indeed, is the fact that the initiative compelling this “concession” came from below, that is, from the most defenseless section of the working class, the child laborers. More than a million of these children are already in industry. Let us recall that the original party of Bolshevism under Czarist illegality was a party of very young workers.

The Stalinist Bureaucracy

The chief obstacle in the path of successful defense is the Stalinist bureaucracy. Although all data relating to this malignant and monstrous growth upon the organism of the first workers’ state in history are a most closely guarded secret, it is nevertheless possible to estimate its numerical strength as somewhere in the neighborhood of ten per cent of the entire population, i.e., from 10 to 15 million, approximately twice the size of the former ruling classes and their retinue in Czarist Russia.

In point of social origin and composition this bureaucracy is no monolith but a sort of crude patchwork. The oldest generation of those who either supported Stalin or capitulated to him after Lenin’s death, has been annihilated physically. Hardly more than a few hundred survivors still remain, most of whom are in jail. The next generation, brought up and trained in the school of Stalinism and in utter ignorance of Bolshevism, its history, its traditions, its leaders, its methods, and its program, was likewise decimated during the purges before and after the signing of the Stalin-Hitler pact (1935-1938). The “bloodless” purges of 1940 – after the Finnish invasion – completed the devastation of its ranks. The incumbent bureaucracy now largely consists of callow recruits.

Among them are many sons and daughters of the former ruling classes, the progeny of former landlords, former capitalists, bourgeois intellectuals, Czarist generals, functionaries, etc. Another large tier is composed of Stakhanovists, most of whom are of very recent peasant origin and background. Fewest are those with proletarian background and origin.

In the coming events, the bureaucracy will not be able to play an independent role. The final differentiation in its ranks will occur along class lines. There already exists an embryonic Fascist wing, typified by such individuals as Butenko, who, it will be recalled, deserted to Mussolini. Hitler no doubt hopes there are many more Butenkos who will desert to him.

The days of this bureaucracy, as it is now constituted, are numbered. The war submits it to the final test.

Stalin’s regime now stands stripped of all its trappings and masks, naked before the world in its true despicable reactionary colors under conditions which make secrecy or camouflage no longer possible.

“There are no Municheers in the Soviet Union!” screams the Daily Worker in one more hysterical attempt to hide all the abominations and crimes of Stalinism. The Moscow Frameups, all the purges, the beheading of the Red Army, the destruction of the entire generation of Bolsheviks who made the October revolution and fought to victory in the Civil War, and, the crowning crime of all, the murder of Leon Trotsky – all this, these hirelings of the GPU are trying to palm off as measures indispensable for the defense of the Soviet Union.

What these scoundrels are really saying is this: that it is impossible for Stalin any longer to produce scapegoats for his own crimes. Yes, the Soviet masses and the whole world will now fix the responsibility for every breach in the lifelines of Soviet defense where it really belongs – upon the Judas-Cain in the Kremlin.

Why Stalin Must Fall

Stalin’s regime – which has stifled all initiative, every living voice and every creative tendency in Soviet society – must crumble if only for the reason that initiative and creative ability are most indispensable precisely in war-time. Wherever this intiative arises it will come into mortal conflict with the bureaucracy.

The initial impetus against the regime may come from the beheaded Red Army which is in direst and most immediate need to free itself from the dead hand of the totalitarian “leadership.” The Kremlin has not the ability nor the policy for preserving the morale of the soldiers; it cannot keep the front properly supplied and equipped. The Kremlin and its flunkies put their own prestige and power above all other considerations.

Moscow’s official war communiques reveal the panic in the Kremlin which seeps through in its frantic attempts to paint up the officer-corps, to instill it with confidence, and, especially, bolster up its prestige. It is the lieutenants, majors, colonels, who are singled out for acclaim. If a rank-and-file Red soldier receives brief mention, it is only to mention his unquestionable readiness to shed his life-blood under any and all conditions. Yet it is precisely the initiative and the spirit of daring of the rank-and-file soldier and of the lowest command which will prove most decisive on the military arena. The Kremlin has done everything in its power to destroy this. Only a revolutionary war can release the vast creative forces latent in the masses at the front as well as behind the lines.

We proceed from the knowledge that the strangled revolution still lives in the USSR. Every day of war will refresh the memories of those who fought in Trotsky’s Red Army. Their sons and daughters, too, have not forgotten.

But war speeds up in the extreme all processes, not only those of regeneration but also those of degeneration. It is a race for time between the still living forces of October and the march of the German imperialist war machine whose path is being cleared more by the corrupt and degenerate regime than by its own military might. Stalin is staking everything on the assistance of Churchill and Roosevelt. No force is too reactionary for Stalin if only he can temporarily summon it to his aid. His latest ally is the Russian Orthodox Church in the person of the Acting Patriarch Sergei, Primate of the Ail-Russian Orthodox Church and Metropolitan of Moscow. Pray on, gentlemen!

We, however, stake everything on the real defense of the USSR – revolutionary war. We stake everything on the resurgence of the October spirit and the traditions of the Civil War.

The strength of the resistance of the Soviet Union is not, as Hitler calculates, identical with the strength of resistance of Stalin’s regime. The revolution once arisen will prove unconquerable. It will rise – as it has risen in the past – from the shambles of the most terrible defeats – and lift high once again the great and glorious banner of struggle and victory – the unconquerable banner of the October revolution and of the Civil War – the banner of Lenin and Trotsky.

Last updated: 28 May 2016