The Revolution Betrayed, by Leon Trotsky

Chapter 1

What Has Been Achieved

1. The Principal Indices of Industrial Growth

Owing to the insignificance of the Russian bourgeoisie, the democratic tasks of backward Russia – such as liquidation of the monarchy and the semi-feudal slavery of the peasants – could be achieved only through a dictatorship of the proletariat. The proletariat, however, having seized the power at the head of the peasant masses, could not stop at the achievement of these democratic tasks. The bourgeois revolution was directly bound up with the first stages of a socialist revolution. That fact was not accidental. The history of recent decades very clearly shows that, in the conditions of capitalist decline, backward countries are unable to attain that level which the old centers of capitalism have attained. Having themselves arrived in a blind alley, the highly civilized nations block the road of proletarian revolution, not because her economy was the first to become ripe for a socialist change, but because she could not develop further on a capitalist basis. Socialization of the means of production had become a necessary condition for bringing the country out of barbarism. That is the law of combined development for backward countries. Entering upon the socialist revolution as “the weakest link in the capitalist chain” (Lenin), the former empire of the tzars is even now, in the 19th year after the revolution, still confronted with the task of “catching up with and outstripping” – consequently in the first place catching up with – Europe and America. She has, that is, to solve those problems of technique and productivity which were long ago solved by capitalism in the advanced countries.

Could it indeed be otherwise? The overthrow of the old ruling classes did not achieve, but only completely revealed, the task: to rise from barbarism to culture. At the same time, by concentrating the means of production in the hands of the state, the revolution made it possible to apply new and incomparably more effective industrial methods. Only thanks to a planned directive was it possible in so brief a span to restore what had been destroyed by the imperialist and civil wars, to create gigantic new enterprises, to introduce new kinds of production and establish new branches of industry.

The extraordinary tardiness in the development of the international revolution, upon whose prompt aid the leaders of the Bolshevik party had counted, created immense difficulties for the Soviet Union, but also revealed its inner powers and resources. However, a correct appraisal of the results achieved – their grandeur as well as their inadequacy – is possible only with the help of an international scale of measurement. This book will be a historic and sociological interpretation of the process, not a piling up of statistical illustrations. Nevertheless, in the interests of the further discussion, it is necessary to take as a point of departure certain important mathematical data.

The vast scope of industrialization in the Soviet Union, as against a background of stagnation and decline in almost the whole capitalist world, appears unanswerably in the following gross indices. Industrial production in Germany, thanks solely to feverish war preparations, is now returning to the level of 1929. Production in Great Britain, holding to the apron strings of protectionism, has raised itself 3 or 4 per cent during these six years. Industrial production in the United States has declined approximately 25 per cent; in France, more than 30 per cent. First place among capitalist countries is occupied by Japan, who is furiously arming herself and robbing her neighbors. Her production has risen almost 40 per cent! But even this exceptional index fades before the dynamic of development in the Soviet Union. Her industrial production has increased during this same period approximately 3½ times, or 250 per cent. The heavy industries have increased their production during the last decade (1925 to 1935) more than 10 times. In the first year of the five-year plan (1928 to 1929), capital investments amounted to 5.4 billion rubles; for 1936, 32 billion are indicated.

If in view of the instability of the ruble as a unit of measurement, we lay aside money estimates, we arrive at another unit which is absolutely unquestionable. In December 1913, the Don basin produced 2,275,000 tons of coal; in December 1935, 7,125,000 tons. During the last three years the production of iron has doubled. The production of steel and of the rolling mills has increased almost 2½ times. The output of oil, coal and iron has increased from 3 to 3½ times the pre-war figure. In 1920, when the first plan of electrification was drawn up, there were 10 district power stations in the country with a total power production of 253,000 kilowatts. In 1935, there were already 95 of these stations with a total power of 4,345,000 kilowatts. In 1925, the Soviet Union stood 11th in the production of electro-energy; in 1935, it was second only to Germany and the United States. In the production of coal, the Soviet Union has moved forward from 10th to 4th place. In steel, from 6th to 3rd place. In the production of tractors, to the 1st place in the world. This also is true of the production of sugar.

Gigantic achievement in industry, enormously promising beginnings in agriculture, an extraordinary growth of the old industrial cities and a building of new ones, a rapid increase of the numbers of workers, a rise in cultural level and cultural demands – such are the indubitable results of the October revolution, in which the prophets of the old world tried to see the grave of human civilization. With the bourgeois economists we have no longer anything to quarrel over. Socialism has demonstrated its right to victory, not on the pages of Das Kapital, but in an industrial arena comprising a sixth part of the earths surface – not in the language of dialectics, but in the language of steel, cement and electricity. Even if the Soviet Union, as a result of internal difficulties, external blows and the mistakes of leadership, were to collapse – which we firmly hope will not happen – there would remain an earnest of the future this indestructible fact, that thanks solely to a proletarian revolution a backward country has achieved in less than 10 years successes unexampled in history.

This also ends the quarrel with the reformists in the workers movement. Can we compare for one moment their mouselike fussing with the titanic work accomplished by this people aroused to a new life by revolution? If in 1918 the Social-Democrats of Germany had employed the power imposed upon them by the workers for a socialist revolution, and not for the rescue of capitalism, it is easy to see on the basis of the Russian experience what unconquerable economic power would be possessed today by a socialist bloc of Central and Eastern Europe and a considerable part of Asia. The peoples of the world will pay for the historic crime of reformism with new wars and revolutions.

2. Comparative Estimates of These Achievements

The dynamic coefficients of Soviet industry are unexampled. But they are still far from decisive. The Soviet Union is uplifting itself from a terrible low level, while the capitalist countries are slipping down from a very high one. The correlation of forces at the present moment is determined not by the rate of growth, but by contrasting the entire power of the two camps as expressed in material accumulations, technique, culture and, above all, the productivity of human labor. When we approach the matter from this statistical point of view, the situation changes at once, and to the extreme disadvantage of the Soviet Union.

The question formulated by Lenin – Who shall prevail? – is a question of the correlation of forces between the Soviet Union and the world revolutionary proletariat on the one hand, and on the other international capital and the hostile forces within the Union. The economic successes of the Soviet Union make it possible for her to fortify herself, advance, arm herself, and, when necessary, retreat and wait – in a word, hold out. But in its essence the question, Who shall prevail – not only as a military, but still more as an economic question – confronts the Soviet Union on a world scale. Military intervention is a danger. The intervention of cheap goods in the baggage trains of a capitalist army would be an incomparably greater one. The victory of the proletariat in one of the Western countries would, of course, immediately and radically alter the correlation of forces. But so long as the Soviet Union remains isolated, and, worse than that, so long as the European proletariat suffers reverses and continues to fall back, the strength of the Soviet structure is measured in the last analysis by the productivity of labor. And that, under a market economy, expresses itself in production costs and prices. The difference between domestic prices and prices in the world market is one of the chief means of measuring this correlation of forces. The Soviet statisticians, however, are forbidden even to approach that question. The reason is that, notwithstanding its condition of stagnation and rot, capitalism is still far ahead in the matter of technique, organization and labor skill.

The traditional backwardness of agriculture in the Soviet Union is well enough known. In no branch of it has progress been made that can in the remotest degree bear comparison with the progress in industry.

“We are still way behind the capitalist countries in the beet crop,” complains Molotov, for example, at the end of 1935. “In 1934 we reaped from one hectare [approximately 2½ acres] 82 hundredweight; in 1935, in the Ukraine with an extraordinary harvest 131 hundredweight. In Czechoslovakia and Germany, they reap about 250 hundredweight, in France, over 300 per hectare.”

Molotov’s complaint could be extended to every branch of agriculture – textile as well as grain growing, and especially to stockbreeding. The proper rotation of crops, selection of seeds, fertilization, the tractors, combines, blooded stock farms – all these are preparing a truly gigantic revolution in socialized agriculture. But it is just in this most conservative realm that the revolution demands time. Meanwhile, notwithstanding collectivization, the problem still is to approach the higher models of the capitalist West, handicapped though it is with the small-farm system.

The struggle to raise the productivity of labor in industry runs in two channels: adoption of an advanced technique and better use of labor power. What made it possible to establish gigantic factories of the most modern type in the space of a few years was, on the one hand, the existence in the West of a high capitalist technique, on the other, the domestic regime of planned economy. In this sphere foreign achievements are in process assimilation. The fact that Soviet industry, as also the equipping of the Red Army, has developed at a forced tempo, contains enormous potential advantages. The industries had not been compelled to drag along an antiquated implementation as in England and France. The army has not been condemned to carry an old-fashioned equipment. But this same feverish growth has also had its negative side. There is no correspondence between the different elements of industry; men lag behind technique; the leadership is not equal to its tasks. Altogether this expresses itself in extremely high production costs and poor quality of product.

“Our works,” writes the head of the oil industry, “possess the same equipment as the American. But the organization of the drilling lags; the men are not sufficiently skilled.” The numerous breakdown, he explains are a result of “carelessness, lack of skill and lack of technical supervision.”

Molotov complains: “We are extremely backward in organization of the building industry . . . It is carried on for the most part in old ways with an abominable use of tools and mechanisms.” Such confessions are scattered throughout the Soviet press. The new technique is still far from giving the results produced in its capitalist fatherlands.

The wholesale success of the heavy industries is a gigantic conquest. On that foundation alone it is possible to build. However, the test of modern industry is the production of delicate mechanisms which demand both technical and general culture. In this sphere the backwardness of the Soviet Union is still great.

Undoubtedly the most important successes, both quantitative and qualitative, have been achieved in the war industries. The army and fleet are the most influential clients, and the most fastidious customers. Nevertheless in a series of their public speeches the heads of the War Department, among them Voroshilov, complain unceasingly: “We are not always fully satisfied with the quality of the products which you give us for the Red Army.” It is not hard to sense the anxiety which these cautious words conceal.

The products of machine manufacture, says the head of the heavy industries in an official report, “must be good quality and unfortunately are not.” And again: “machines with us are expensive.” As always the speaker refrains from giving accurate comparative data in relation to world production.

The tractor is the pride of Soviet industry. But the coefficient of effective use of the tractors is very low. During the last industrial year, it was necessary to subject 18 per cent of the tractors to capital repairs. A considerable number of them, moreover, got out of order again at the very height of the tilling season. According to certain calculations, the machine and tractor stations will cover expenses only with a harvest of 20 to 22 hundredweight of grain per hectare. At present, when the average harvest is less than half of that, the state is compelled to disburse billions to meet the deficit.

Things are still worse in the sphere of auto transport. In America a truck travels 60,000 to 80,000 or even 100,000 kilometer a year; in the Soviet Union only 20,000 – that is, a third or a fourth as much. Out of every 100 machines, only 55 are working; the rest are undergoing repairs or awaiting them. The cost of repairs is double the cost of all the new machines put out. It is no wonder that the state accounting office reports: “Auto transport is nothing but a heavy burden on the cost of production.”

The increase of carrying power of the railroads is accompanied, according to the president of the Council of People’s Commissars, “by innumerable wrecks and breakdowns.” The fundamental cause is the same: low skill of labor inherited from the past. The struggle to keep the switches in neat condition is becoming in its way a heroic exploit, about which prize switchgirls make reports in the Kremlin to the highest circles of power. Water transport, notwithstanding the progress of recent years, is far behind that of the railroads. Periodically the newspapers are speckled with communications about “the abominable operation of marine transport”, “extremely low quality of ship repairs”, etc.

In the light industries, conditions are even less favorable than in the heavy. A unique law of Soviet industry may be formulated thus: commodities are as a general rule worse the nearer they stand to the mass consumer. In the textile industry, according to Pravda, “there is a shamefully large percentage of defective goods, poverty of selection, predominance of low grades.” Complaints of the bad quality of articles of wide consumption appear periodically in the press: “clumsy ironware”; “ugly furniture, badly put together and carelessly finished”; “you cant find decent buttons”; “the system of social food supply works absolutely unsatisfactorily.” And so on endlessly.

To characterize industrial progress by quantitative indices alone, without considering quality, is almost like describing a man’s physique by his height and disregarding his chest measurements. Moreover, to judge correctly the dynamic of Soviet industry, it is necessary, along with qualitative corrections, to have always in mind the fact that swift progress in some branches is accompanied by backwardness in others. The creation of gigantic automobile factories is paid for in the scarcity and bad maintenance of the highways. “The dilapidation of our roads is extraordinary. On our most important highway – Moscow to Yaroslavl – automobiles can make only 10 kilometers 1 an hour.” (Izvestia) The president of the State Planning Commission asserts that the country still maintains “the tradition of pristine roadlessness.”

1. 10 km = 6 miles.

Municipal economy is in a similar condition. New industrial towns arise in a brief span; at the same time dozens of old towns are running to seed. The capitals and industrial centers are growing and adorning themselves; expensive theatres and clubs are springing up in various parts of the country; but the dearth of living quarters is unbearable. Dwelling houses remains as a rule uncared for. “We build badly and at great expense. Our houses are being used up and not restored. We repair little and badly.” (Izvestia)

The entire Soviet economy consists of such disproportions. Within certain limits they are inevitable, since it had been and remains necessary to begin the advance with the most important branches. Nevertheless the backwardness of certain branches greatly decreases the useful operation operation of others. From the standpoint of an ideal planning directive, which would guarantee not the maximum tempo in separate branches, but the optimum result in economy as a whole, the statistical coefficient of growth would be lower in the first period, but economy as a whole, and particularly the consumer, would be the gainer. In the long run the general industrial dynamic would also gain.

In the official statistics, the production and repair of automobiles is added in with the total of industrial production. From the standpoint of economic efficiency, it would be proper to subtract, not add. This observation applies to many other branches of industry. For that reason, all total estimates in rubles have only a relative value. It is not certain what a ruble is. It is not always certain what hides behind it – the construction of a machine, or its premature breakdown. If, according to an estimate in “stable” rubles, the total production of the big industries has increased by comparison with the pre-war level 6 times, the actual output of oil, coal and iron measured in tons will have increased 3 to 3½ times. The fundamental cause of this divergence of indices lies in the fact that Soviet industry has created a series of new branches unknown to tzarist Russia, but a supplementary cause is to be found in the tendentious manipulation of statistics. It is well known that every bureaucracy has an organic need to doll-up the facts.

3. Production per capita of the Population

The average individual productivity of labor in the Soviet Union is still very low. In the best metal foundry, according to the acknowledgement of its director, the output of iron and steel per individual worker is a third as much as the average output of American foundries. A comparison of average figures in both countries would probably give a ratio of 1 to 5, or worse. In these circumstances the announcement that blast furnaces are used “better” in the Soviet Union than in capitalist countries remains meaningless. The function of technique is to economize human labor and nothing else. In the timber and building industries things are even less favorable than in the metal industry. To each worker in the quarries in the United States falls 5,000 tons a year, in the Soviet Union 500 tons – that is, 1/10 as much. Such crying differences are explained not only by a lack of skilled workers, but still more by bad organization of the work. The bureaucracy spurs on the workers with all its might, but is unable to make a proper use of labor power. In agriculture things are still less favorable, of course, than in industry. To the low productivity of labor corresponds a low national income, and consequently a low standard of life for the masses of the people.

When they assert that in volume of industrial production the Soviet Union in 1936 will occupy the 1st place in Europe – of itself this progress is gigantic! – they leave out of consideration not only the quality and production cost of the goods, but also the size of the population. The general level of development of a country, however, and especially the living standard of the masses can be defined, at least in rough figures, only by dividing the products by the number of consumers. Let us try to carry out this simple arithmetical operation.

The importance of railroad transport for economy culture and military ends needs no demonstration. The Soviet Union has 83,000 kilometres of railroads, as against 58,000 in Germany, 63,000 in France, 417,000 in the United States. This means that for every 10,000 people in Germany there are 8.9 kilometres of railroad, in France 15.2, in the United States 33.1, and in the Soviet Union 5.0. Thus, according to railroad indices, the Soviet Union continues to occupy one of the lowest places in the civilized world. The merchant fleet, which has tripled in the last five years, stands now approximately on a par with that of Denmark and Spain. To these facts we must add the still extremely low figure for paved highways. In the Soviet Union 0.6 automobiles were put out for every 1,000 inhabitants. In Great Britain, about 8 (in 1934), in France about 4.5, in the United States 23 (as against 36.5 in 1928). At the same time in the relative number of horses (about 1 horse to each 10 or 11 citizens) the Soviet Union, despite the extreme backwardness of its railroad, water and auto transport, does not surpass either France or the United States, while remaining far behind them in the quality of the stock.

In the sphere of heavy industry, which has attained the most outstanding successes, the comparative indices still remain unfavorable. The coal output in the Soviet Union for 1935 was about 0.7 tons per person; in Great Britain, almost 5 tons; in the United States, almost 3 tons (as against 5.4 tons in 1913); in Germany, about 2 tons. Steel: in the Soviet Union, about 67 kilograms 2 per person, in the United States about 250 kilograms, etc. About the same proportions in pig and rolled iron. In the Soviet Union, 153 kilowatt hours of electric power was produced per person in 1935, in Great Britain (1934) 443, in France 363, in Germany 472.

2. 1 kg. = 2.2 lbs. approximately.

In the light industries, the per capita indices are as a general rule still lower. Of woolen fabric in 1935, less than ½ metre per person, or 8 to 10 times less than in the United States or Great Britain. Woolen cloth is accessible only to privileged Soviet citizens. For the masses cotton print, of which about 16 metres per person was manufactured, still has to do for winter clothes. The production of shoes in the Soviet Union now amounts to about one-half pair per person, in Germany more than a pair, in France a pair and a half, in the United States about three pairs. And this leaves aside the quality index, which would still further lower the comparison. We may take it for granted that in bourgeois countries the percentage of people who have several pairs of shoes is considerably higher than in the Soviet Union. But unfortunately the Soviet Union also still stands among the first in percentage of barefoot people.

Approximately the same correlation, in part still less favorable, prevails in the production of foodstuffs. Notwithstanding Russia’s indubitable progress in recent years, conserves, sausages, cheese, to say nothing of pastry and confections, are still completely inaccessible to the fundamental mass of the population. Even in the matter of dairy products things are not favorable. In France and the United States, there is approximately one cow for every five people, in Germany one for every six, in the Soviet Union one for every eight. But when it comes to giving milk, two Soviet cows must be counted approximately as one. Only in the production of grainbearing grasses, especially rye, and also in potatoes, does the Soviet Union, computing by population, considerably surpass the majority of European countries and the United States. But rye bread and potatoes as the predominant food of the population – that is the classic symbol of poverty.

The consumption of paper is one of the chief indices of culture. In 1935, the Soviet Union produced less than 4 kg. per person, the United States over 34 (as against 48 in 1928), and Germany 47 kg. Whereas the United States consumes 12 pencils a year per inhabitant, the Soviet Union consumers only 4, and those 4 are of such poor quality that their useful work does not exceed that of one good pencil, or at the outside two. The newspapers frequently complain that the lack of primers, paper, and pencils paralyzes the work of the schools. It is no wonder that the liquidation of illiteracy, indicated for the 10th anniversary of the October Revolution, is still far from accomplished.

The problem can be similarly illumined by starting from more general considerations. The national income per person in the Soviet Union is considerably less than in the West. And since capital investment consumes about 25 to 30 per cent – incomparably more than anywhere else – the total amount consumed by the popular mass cannot but be considerably lower than in the advanced capitalist countries.

To be sure, in the Soviet Union there are no possessing classes, whose extravagance is balanced by an under-consumption of the popular mass. However, the weight of this corrective is not so great as might appear at first glance. The fundamental evil of the capitalist system is not the extravagance of the possessing classes, however disgusting that may be in itself, but the fact that in order to guarantee its right to extravagance the bourgeoisie maintains its private ownership of the means of production, thus condemning the economic system to anarchy and decay. In the matter of luxuries, the bourgeoisie, of course, has a monopoly of consumption. But in things of prime necessity, the toiling masses constitute the overwhelming majority of consumers. We shall see later, moreover, that although the Soviet Union has no possessing class in the proper sense of the word, still she has very privileged commanding strata of the population, who appropriate the lions share in the sphere of consumption. And so if there is a lower per capita production of things of prime necessity in the Soviet Union than in the advanced capitalist countries, that does mean that the standard of living of the Soviet masses still falls below the capitalist level.

The historic responsibility for this situation lies, of course, upon Russia’s black and heavy past, her heritage of darkness and poverty. There was no other way out upon the road of progress except through the overthrow of capitalism. To convince yourself of this, it is only necessary to cast a glance at the Baltic countries and Poland, once the most advanced parts of the tzar’s empire, and now hardly emerging from the morass. The undying service of the Soviet regime lies in its intense and successful struggle with Russia’s thousand-year-old backwardness. But a correct estimate of what has been attained is the first condition for further progress.

The Soviet regime is passing through a preparatory stage, importing, borrowing and appropriating the technical and cultural conquests of the West. The comparative coefficients of production and consumption testify that this preparatory stage is far from finished. Even under the improbable condition of a continuing complete capitalist standstill, it must still occupy a whole historic period. That is a first extremely important conclusion which we shall have need of in our further investigation.

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:05