The line of development of the Soviet economy is far from an uninterrupted and evenly rising curve. In the first 18 years of the new regime you can clearly distinguish several stages marked by sharp crises. A short outline of the economic history of the Soviet Union in connection with the policy of the government is absolutely necessary both for diagnosis and prognosis.
The first three years after the revolution were a period of overt and cruel civil war. Economic life was wholly subjected to the needs of the front. Cultural life lurked in corners and was characterized by a bold range of creative thought, above all the personal thought of Lenin, with an extraordinary scarcity of material means. That was the period of so-called “military communism” (1918-21), which forms a heroic parallel to the “military socialism” of the capitalist countries. The economic problems of the Soviet government in those years came down chiefly to supporting the war industries, and using the scanty resources left from the past for military purposes and to keep the city population alive. Military communism was, in essence, the systematic regimentation of consumption in a besieged fortress.
It is necessary to acknowledge, however, that in its original conception it pursued broader aims. The Soviet government hoped and strove to develop these methods of regimentation directly into a system of planned economy in distribution as well as production. In other words, from “military communism” it hoped gradually, but without destroying the system, to arrive at genuine communism. The program of the Bolshevik party adopted in March 1919 said:
“In the sphere of distribution the present task of the Soviet Government is unwaveringly to continue on a planned, organized and state-wide scale to replace trade by the distribution of products.”
Reality, however, came into increasing conflict with the program of “military communism.” Production continually declined, and not only because of the quenching of the stimulus of personal interest among the producers. The city demanded grain and raw materials from the rural districts, giving nothing in exchange except varicolored pieces of paper, named, according to ancient memory, money. And the muzhik buried his stores in the ground. The government sent out armed workers’ detachments for grain. The muzhik cut down his sowings. Industrial production of steel fell from 4.2 million tons to 183,000 tons – that is, to 1/23 of what it had been. The total harvest of grain decreased from 801 million hundredweight to 503 million in 1922. That was a year of terrible hunger. Foreign trade at the same time plunged from 2.9 billion rubles to 30 million. The collapse of the productive forces surpassed anything of the kind that history had ever seen. The country, and the government with it, were at the very edge of the abyss.
The utopian hopes of the epoch of military communism came in later for a cruel, and in many respects just, criticism. The theoretical mistake of the ruling party remains inexplicable, however, only if you leave out of account the fact that all calculations at that time were based on the hope of an early victory of the revolution in the West. It was considered self-evident that the victorious German proletariat would supply Soviet Russia, on credit against future food and raw materials, not only with machines and articles of manufacture, but also with tens of thousands of highly skilled workers, engineers and organizers. And there is no doubt that if the proletarian revolution had triumphed in Germany – a thing that was prevented solely and exclusively by the Social Democrats – the economic development of the Soviet Union as well as of Germany would have advanced with such gigantic strides that the fate of Europe and the world would today have been incomparably more auspicious. It can be said with certainty, however, that even in that happy event it would still have been necessary to renounce the direct state distribution of products in favor of the methods of commerce.
Lenin explained the necessity of restoring the market by the existence in the country of millions of isolated peasant enterprises, unaccustomed to define their economic relations with the outside world except through trade. Trade circulation would establish a “connection”, as it was called, between the peasant and the nationalized industries. The theoretical formula for this “connection” is very simple: industry should supply the rural districts with necessary goods at such prices as would enable the state to forego forcible collection of the products of peasant labor.
To mend economic relations with the rural districts was undoubtedly the most critical and urgent task of the NEP. A brief experiment showed, however, that industry itself, in spite of its socialized character, had need of the methods of money payment worked out by capitalism. A planned economy cannot rest merely on intellectual data. The play of supply and demand remains for a long period a necessary material basis and indispensable corrective.
The market, legalized by the NEP, began, with the help of an organized currency, to do its work. As early as 1923, thanks to an initial stimulus from the rural districts, industry began to revive. And moreover it immediately hit a high tempo. It is sufficient to say that production doubled in 1922 and 1923, and by 1926 had already reached the pre-war level – that is, had grown more than five times its size in 1921. At the same time, although at a much more modest tempo, the harvests were increasing.
Beginning with the critical year 1923, the disagreements observed earlier in the ruling party on the relation between industry and agriculture began to grow sharp. In a country which had completely exhausted its stores and reserves, industry could not develop except by borrowing grain and raw material from the peasants. Too heavy “forced loans” of products, however, would destroy the stimulus to labor. Not believing in the future prosperity, the peasant would answer the grain expeditions from the city by a sowing strike. Too light collections, on the other hand, threatened a standstill. Not receiving industrial products, the peasants would turn to industrial labor to satisfy their own needs, and revive the old home crafts. The disagreements in the party began about the question how much to take from the villages for industry, in order to hasten the period of dynamic equilibrium between them. The dispute was immediately complicated by the question of the social structure of the village itself.
In the spring of 1923, at a congress of the party, a representative of the “Left Opposition” – not yet, however, known by that name – demonstrated the divergence of industrial and agricultural prices in the form of an ominous diagram. This phenomenon was then first called “the scissors”, a term which has since become almost international. If the further lagging of industry – said the speaker – continues to open these scissors, then a break between city and country is inevitable.
The peasants made a sharp distinction between the democratic and agrarian revolution which the Bolshevik party had carried through, and its policy directed toward laying the foundations of socialism. The expropriation of the landlords and the state lands brought the peasants upwards of half a billion gold rubles a year. In prices of state products, however, the peasants were paying out a much larger sum. So long as the net result of the two revolutions, democratic and socialistic, bound together by the firm snow of October, reduced itself for the peasantry to a loss of hundreds of millions, a union of the two classes remained dubious.
The scattered character of the peasant economy, inherited from the past, was aggravated by the results of the October Revolution. The number of independent farms rose during the subsequent decade from 16 to 25 million, which naturally strengthened the purely consummatory character of the majority of peasant enterprises. That was one of the causes of the lack of agricultural products.
A small commodity economy inevitably produces exploiters. In proportion as the villages recovered, the differentiation within the peasant mass began to grow. This development fell into the old well-trodden ruts. The growth of the kulak 1 far outstripped the general growth of agriculture. The policy of the government under the slogan “face to the country” was actually a turning of its face to the kulak. Agricultural taxes fell upon the poor far more heavily than upon the well-to-do, who moreover skimmed the cream of the state credits. The surplus grain, chiefly in possession of the upper strata of the village, was used to enslave the poor and for speculative selling to the bourgeois elements of the cities. Bukharin, the theoretician of the ruling faction at that time, tossed to the peasantry his famous slogan, “Get rich!” In the language of theory that was supposed to mean a gradual growing of the kulaks into socialism. In practice it meant the enrichment of the minority at the expense of the overwhelming majority.
1. Well-off peasant, employing labor.
Captive to its own policy, the government was compelled to retreat step by step before the demands of a rural petty bourgeoisie. In 1925 the hiring of labor power and the renting of land were legalized for agriculture. The peasantry was becoming polarized between the small capitalist on one side and the hired hand on the other. At the same time, lacking industrial commodities, the state was crowded out of the rural market. Between the kulak and the petty home craftsman there appeared, as though from under the earth, the middleman. The state enterprises themselves, in search of raw material, were more and more compelled to deal with the private trader. The rising tide of capitalism was visible everywhere. Thinking people saw plainly that a revolution in the forms of property does not solve the problem of socialism, but only raises it.
In 1925, when the course toward the kulak was in full swing, Stalin began to prepare for the denationalization of the land. To a question asked at his suggestion by a Soviet journalist: “Would it not be expedient in the interest of agriculture to deed over to each peasant for 10 years the parcel of land tilled by him?”, Stalin answered: “Yes, and even for 40 years.” The People’s Commissar of Agriculture of Georgia, upon Stalin’s own initiative, introduced the draft of a law denationalizing the land. The aim was to give the farmer confidence in his own future. While this was going on, in the spring of 1926, almost 60 per cent of the grain destined for sale was in the hands of 6 per cent of the peasant proprietors! The state lacked grain not only for foreign trade, but even for domestic needs. The insignificance of exports made it necessary to forego bringing in articles of manufacture, and cut down to the limit the import of machinery and raw materials.
Retarding industrialization and striking a blow at the general mass of the peasants, this policy of banking on the well-to-do farmer revealed unequivocally inside of two years, 1924-26, its political consequences. It brought about an extraordinary increase of self-consciousness in the petty bourgeoisie of both city and village, a capture by them of many of the lower Soviets, an increase of the power and self-confidence of the bureaucracy, a growing pressure upon the workers, and the complete suppression of party and Soviet democracy. The growth of the kulaks alarmed two eminent members of the ruling group, Zinoviev and Kamenev, who were, significantly, presidents of the Soviets of the two chief proletarian centers, Leningrad and Moscow. But the provinces, and still more the bureaucracy, stood firm for Stalin. The course toward the well-to-do farmer won out. In 1926, Zinoviev and Kamenev with their adherents joined the Opposition of 1923 (the “Trotskyists”).
Of course “in principle” the ruling group did not even then renounce the collectivization of agriculture. They merely put it off a few decades in their perspective. The future People’s Commissar of Agriculture, Yakovlev, wrote in 1927 that, although the socialist reconstruction of the village can be accomplished only through collectivization, still “this obviously cannot be done in one, two or three years, and maybe not in one decade.” “The collective farms and communes,” he continued, ” . . . are now, and will for a long time undoubtedly remain, only small islands in a sea of individual peasant holdings.”
And in truth at that period only 8 per cent of the peasant families belonged to the collectives.
The struggle in the party about the so-called “general line”, which had come to the surface in 1923, became especially intense and passionate in 1926. In its extended platform, which took up all the problems of industry and economy, the Left Opposition wrote:
“The party ought to resist and crush all tendencies directed to the annulment or undermining of the nationalization of land, one of the pillars of the proletarian dictatorship.”
On that question, the Opposition gained the day; direct attempts against nationalization were abandoned. But the problem, of course, involved more than forms of property in land.
“To the growth of individual farming [fermerstvo] in the country we must oppose a swifter growth of the collective farms. It is necessary systematically year by year to set aside a considerable sum to aid the poor peasants organized in collectives. The whole work of the co-operatives ought to be imbued with the purpose of converting small production into a vast collectivized production.”
But this broad program of collectivization was stubbornly regarded as utopian for the coming years. During the preparations for the 15th Party Congress, whose task was to expel the Left Opposition, Molotov, the future president of the Soviet of People’s Commissars, said repeatedly:
“We not slip down (!) into poor peasants illusions about the collectivization of the broad peasant masses. In the present circumstances it is no longer possible.”
It was then, according to the calendar, the end of 1927. So far was the ruling group at that time from its own future policy toward the peasants!
Those same years (1923-28) were passed in a struggle of the ruling coalition, Stalin, Molotov, Rykov, Tomsky, Bukharin (Zinoviev and Kamenev went over to the Opposition in the beginning of 1926), against the advocates of “super-industrialization” and planned leadership. The future historian will re-establish with no small surprise the moods of spiteful disbelief in bold economic initiative with which the government of the socialist state was wholly imbued. An acceleration of the tempo of industrialization took place empirically, under impulses from without, with a crude smashing of all calculations and an extraordinary increase of overhead expenses. The demand for a five-year plan, when advanced by the Opposition in 1923, was met with mockery in the spirit of the petty bourgeois who fears “a leap into the unknown.” As late as April 1927, Stalin asserted at a plenary meeting of the Central Committee that to attempt to build the Dnieperstroy hydro-electric station would be the same thing for us as for a muzhik to buy a gramophone instead of a cow. This winged aphorism summed up the whole program. It is worth nothing that during those years the bourgeois press of the whole world, and the social-democratic press after it, repeated with sympathy the official attribution to the “Left Opposition” of industrial romanticism.
Amid the noise of party discussions the peasants were replying to the lack of industrial goods with a more and more stubborn strike. They would not take their grain to market, nor increase their sowings. The right wing (Rykov, Tomsky, Bukharin), who were setting the tone at that period, demanded a broader scope for capitalist tendencies in the village through a raising of the price of grain, even at the cost of a lowered tempo in industry. The sole possible way out under such a policy would have been to import articles of manufacture in exchange for exported agricultural raw materials. But this would have meant to form a “connection” not between peasant economy and the socialist industries, but between the kulak and world capitalism. It was not worthwhile to make the October Revolution for that.
“To accelerate industrialization,” answered the representatives of the Opposition at the party conference of 1926, “in particular by way of increased taxation on the kulak, will produce a large mass of goods and lower market prices, and this will be to the advantage both of the worker and of the majority of the peasants . . . Face to the village does not mean turn your back to industry; it means industry to the village. For the ‘face’ of the state, if it does not include industry, is of no use to the village.”
In answer Stalin thundered against the “fantastic plans” of the Opposition. Industry must not “rush ahead, breaking away from agriculture and abandoning the tempo of accumulation in our country.” The party decisions continued to repeat these maxims of passive accommodation to the well-off upper circles of the peasantry. The 15th Party Congress, meeting in December 1927 for the final smashing of the “super-industrializers”, gave warning of the “danger of a too great involvement of state capital in big construction.” The ruling faction at that time still refused to see any other dangers.
In the economic year 1927-28, the so-called restoration period in which industry worked chiefly with pre-revolutionary machinery, and agriculture with the old tools, was coming to an end. For any further advance independent industrial construction on a large scale was necessary. It was impossible to lead any further gropingly and without plan.
The hypothetic possibilities of socialist industrialization had been analyzed by the Opposition as early as 1923-25. their general conclusion was that, after exhausting the equipment inherited from the bourgeoisie, the Soviet industries might, on the basis of socialist accumulation, achieve a rhythm of growth wholly impossible under capitalism. The leaders of the ruling faction openly ridiculed our cautious coefficients in the vicinity of 15 to 18 per cent as the fantastic music of an unknown future. This constituted at that time the essence of the struggle against “Trotskyism.”
The first official draft of the five-year plan, prepared at last in 1927, was completely saturated with the spirit of stingy tinkering. The growth of industrial production was projected with a tempo declining yearly from 9 to 4 per cent. Consumption per person was to increase during the whole five years 12 per cent! The incredible timidity of thought in this first plan comes out clearly in the fact that the state budget at the end of the five years was to constitute in all 16 per cent of the national income, whereas the budget of tzarist Russia, which had no intention of creating a socialist society, swallowed 18 per cent! It is perhaps worth adding that the engineers and economists who drew up this plan were some years later severely judged and punished by law as conscious sabotagers acting under the direction of foreign powers. The accused might have answered, had they dared, that their planning work corresponded perfectly to the “general line” of the Politburo at that time and was carried out under its orders.
The struggle of the tendencies was now translated into arithmetical language. “To present on the 10th anniversary of the October Revolution such a piddling and completely pessimistic plan,” said the platform of the Opposition, “means in reality to work against socialism.” A year later, the Politburo adopted a new five-year plan with an average yearly increase of production amounting to 9 per cent. The actual course of the development, however, revealed a stubborn tendency to approach the coefficients of the “super-industrializers.” After another year, when the governmental policy had radically changed, the State Planning Commission drew up a third five-year plan, whose rate of growth came far nearer than could have been expected to the hypothetical prognosis made by the Opposition in 1923.
The real history of the economic policy of the Soviet Union, as we thus see, is very different from the official legend. Unfortunately, such pious investigators as the Webbs pay not the slightest attention to this.
Irresoluteness before the individual peasant enterprises, distrust of large plans, defense of a minimum tempo, neglect of international problems – all this taken together formed the essence of the theory of “socialism in one country”, first put forward by Stalin in the autumn of 1924 after the defeat of the proletariat in Germany. Not to hurry with industrialization, not to quarrel with the muzhik, not to count on world revolution, and above all to protect the power of the party bureaucracy from criticism! The differentiation of the peasantry was denounced as an intervention of the Opposition. The above-mentioned Yakovlev dismissed the Central Statistical Bureau whose records gave the kulak a greater place than was satisfactory to the authorities, while the leaders tranquilly asserted that the goods famine was out-living itself, that “a peaceful tempo in economic development was at hand”, that the grain collections would in the future be carried on more “evenly”, etc. The strengthened kulak carried with him the middle peasant and subjected the cities to a grain blockade. In January 1928 the working class stood face-to-face with the shadow of an advancing famine. History knows how to play spiteful jokes. In that very month, when the kulaks were taking the revolution by the throat, the representatives of the Left Opposition were thrown into prison or banished to different parts of Siberia in punishment for their “panic” before the spectre of the kulak.
The government tried to pretend that the grain strike was caused by the naked hostility of the kulak (where did he come from?) to the socialist state – that is, by ordinary political motives. But the kulak is little inclined to that kind of “idealism.” If he hid his grain, it was because the bargain offered him was unprofitable. For the very same reason he managed to bring under his influence wide sections of the peasantry. Mere repressions against kulak sabotage were obviously inadequate. It was necessary to change the policy. Even yet, however, no little time was spent in vacillation.
Rykov, then still head of the government, announced in July 1928:
“To develop individual farms is . . . the chief task of the party.”
And Stalin seconded him:
“There are people who think that individual farms have exhausted their usefulness, that we should not support them . . . These people have nothing in common with the line of our party.”
Less than a year later, the line of the party had nothing in common with these words. The dawn of “complete collectivization” was on the horizon.
The new orientation was arrived at just as empirically as the preceding, and by way of a hidden struggle within the governmental bloc.
“The groups of the right and center are united by a general hostility to the Opposition” – thus the platform of the Left gave warning a year before – “and the cutting off of the latter will inevitably accelerate the coming struggle between these two.”
And so it happened. The leaders of the disintegrating bloc would not for anything, of course, admit that this prognosis of the left wing, like many others, had come true. As late as the 19th of October, 1928, Stalin announced publicly:
“It is time to stop gossiping about the existence of a Right deviation and a conciliatory attitude towards it in the Politburo of our Central Committee.”
Both groups at that time were feeling out the party machine. The repressed party was living on dark rumors and guesses. But in just a few months the official press, with its usual freedom from embarrassment, announced that the head of the government, Rykov, “had speculated on the economic difficulties of the Soviet power”; that the head of the Communist International, Bukharin, was “a conducting wire of bourgeois-liberal influences”; that Tomsky, president of the all-Russian Central Council of Trade Unions, was nothing but a miserable trade-unionist. All three, Rykov, Bukharin and Tomsky, were members of the Politburo. Whereas the whole preceding struggle against the Left Opposition had taken its weapons from the right groups, Bukharin was now able, without sinning against the truth, to accuse Stalin of using in his struggle with the Right a part of the condemned Left Opposition platform.
In one way or another the change was made. The slogan “Get rich!”, together with the theory of the kulak’s growing painlessly into socialism, was belatedly, but all the more decisively, condemned. Industrialization was put upon the order of the day. Self-satisfied quietism was replaced by a panic of haste. The half-forgotten slogan of Lenin, “catch up with and outstrip”, was filled out with the words, “in the shortest possible time.” The minimalist five-year plan, already confirmed in principle by a congress of the party, gave place to a new plan, the fundamental elements of which were borrowed in toto from the platform of the shattered Left Opposition. Dnieperstroy, only yesterday likened to a gramophone, today occupied the center of attention.
After the first new successes the slogan was advanced: “Achieve the five-year plan in four years.” The startled empires now decided that everything was possible. Opportunism, as has often happened in history, turned into its opposite, adventurism. Whereas from 1923 to 1928 the Politburo had been ready to accept Bukharin’s philosophy of a “tortoise tempo”, it now lightly jumped from a 20 to a 30 per cent yearly growth, trying to convert every partial and temporary achievement into a norm, and losing sight of the conditioning interrelation of the different branches of industry. The financial holes in the plan were stopped up with printed paper. During the years of the first plan the number of bank notes in circulation rose from 1.7 billion to 5.5, and by the beginning of the second five-year plan had reached 8.4 billion rubles. The bureaucracy not only freed itself from the political control of the masses, upon whom this forced industrialization was laying an unbearable burden, but also from the automatic control exercised by the chervonetz. 2 The currency system, put on a solid basis at the beginning of the NEP, was now again shaken to its roots.
2. Theoretical par = $5.
The chief danger, however, and that not only for the fulfillment of the plan but for the regime itself, appeared from the side of the peasants.
On the 15th of February 1928, the population of the country learned with surprise from an editorial in Pravda that the villages looked not at all the way they had been portrayed up to that moment by the authorities, but on the contrary very much as the expelled Left Opposition had presented them. The press which only yesterday had been denying the existence of the kulaks, today, on a signal from above, discovered them not only in the villages, but in the party itself. It was revealed that the communist nuclei were frequently dominated by rich peasants possessing complicated machinery, employing hired labor, concealing from the government hundreds and thousands of poods 3 of grain, and implacably denouncing the “Trotskyist” policy. The newspapers vied with each other in printing sensational exposures of how kulaks in the position of local were denying admission to the party to poor peasants and hired hands. All the old criteria were turned upside down; minuses and pluses changed places.
3. 1 pood = approximately 36 lbs.
In order to feed the cities, it was necessary immediately to take from the kulak the daily bread. This could be achieved only by force. The expropriation of the grain reserve, and that not only of the kulak but of the middle peasant, was called, in the official language, “extraordinary measures.” This phrase is supposed to mean that tomorrow everything will fall back into the old rut. But the peasants did not believe fine words, and they were right. The violent seizures of grain deprived the well-off peasants of their motive to increased sowings. The hired hands and the poor peasant found themselves without work. Agriculture again arrived in a blind alley, and with it the state. It was necessary at any cost to reform the “general line.”
Stalin and Molotov, still giving individual farming the chief place, began to emphasize the necessity of a swifter development of the soviet and collective farms. But since the bitter need of food did not permit a cessation of military expenditures into the country, the program of promoting individual farms was left hanging in the air. It was necessary to “slip down” to collectivization. The temporary “extraordinary measures” for the collection of grain developed unexpectedly into a program of “liquidation of the kulaks as a class.” From the shower of contradictory commands, more copious than food rations, it became evident that on the peasant question the government had not only no five-year plan, but not even a five months’ program.
According to the new plan, drawn up under the spur of a food crisis, collective farms were at the end of five years to comprise about 20 per cent of the peasant holdings. This program – whose immensity will be clear when you consider that during the preceding 10 years collectivization had affected less than 1 per cent of the country – was nevertheless by the middle of the five years left far behind. In November 1929, Stalin, abandoning his own vacillations, announced the end of individual farming. The peasants, he said, are entering the collective farms “in whole villages, counties and even provinces.” Yakovlev, who two years before had insisted that the collectives would for many years remain only “islands in a sea of peasant holdings”, now received an order as People’s Commissar of Agriculture to “liquidate the kulaks as a class”, and establish complete collectivization at the “earliest possible date.” In the year 1929, the proportion of collective farms rose from 1.7 per cent to 3.9 per cent. In 1930 it rose to 23.6, in 1931 to 52.7, in 1932 to 61.5 per cent.
At the present time hardly anybody would be foolish enough to repeat the twaddle of liberals to the effect that collectivization as a whole was accomplished by naked force. In former historic epochs the peasants in their struggle for land have at one time raised an insurrection against the landlords, at another sent a stream of colonizers into untilled regions, at still another rushed into all kinds of sects which promised to reward the muzhik with heaven’s vacancies for his narrow quarters on earth. Now, after the expropriation of the great estates and the extreme parcellation of land, the union of these small parcels into big tracts had become a question of life and death for the peasants, for agriculture, and for society as a whole.
The problem, however, is far from settled by these general historic considerations. The real possibilities of collectivization are determined, not by the depth of the impasse in the villages and not by the administrative energy of the government, but primarily by the existing productive resources – that is, the ability of the industries to furnish large-scale agriculture with the requisite machinery. These material conditions were lacking. The collective farms were set up with an equipment suitable in the main only for small-scale farming. In these conditions an exaggeratedly swift collectivization took the character of an economic adventure.
Caught unawares by the radicalism of its own shift of policy, the government did not and could not make even an elementary political preparation for the new course. Not only the peasant masses, but even the local organs of power, were ignorant of what was being demanded of them. The peasants were heated white hot by rumors that their cattle and property were to be seized by the state. This rumor, too, was not so far from the truth. Actually realizing their own former caricature of the Left Opposition, the bureaucracy “robbed the villages.” Collectivization appeared to the peasant primarily in the form of an expropriation of all his belongings. They collectivized not only horses, cows, sheep, pigs, but even new-born chickens. They “dekulakized”, as one foreign observer wrote, “down to the felt shoes, which they dragged from the feet of little children.” As a result there was an epidemic selling of cattle for a song by the peasants, or a slaughter of cattle for meat and hides.
In January 1930, at a Moscow congress, a member of the Central Committee, Andreyev, drew a two-sided picture of collectivization: On the one side he asserted that a collective movement powerfully developing throughout the whole country “will now destroy upon its road each and every obstacle”; on the other, a predatory sale by the peasants of their own implements, stock and even seeds before entering the collectives “is assuming positively menacing proportions.”
However contradictory those two generalizations may be, they show correctly from opposite sides the epidemic character of collectivization as a measure of despair. “Complete collectivization”, wrote the same foreign critic, “plunged the national economy into a condition of ruin almost without precedent, as though a three years’ war had passed over.”
Twenty-five million isolated peasant egoisms, which yesterday had been the sole motive force of agriculture – weak like an old farmer’s nag, but nevertheless forces – the bureaucracy tried to replace at one gesture by the commands of 2,000 collective farm administrative offices, lacking technical equipment, agronomic knowledge and the support of the peasants themselves. The dire consequences of this adventurism soon followed, and they lasted for a number of years. The total harvest of grain, which had risen in 1930 to 835 million hundredweight, fell in the next two years below 700 million. The difference does not seem catastrophic in itself, but it meant a loss of just that quantity of grain needed to keep the towns even at their customary hunger norm. In technical culture, the results were still worse. On the eve of collectivization the production of sugar had reached almost 100 million poods, and at the height of complete collectivization it had fallen, owing to a lack of beets, to 48 million poods – that is, to half what it had been. But the most devastating hurricane hit the animal kingdom. The number of horses fell 55 per cent – from 34.6 million in 1929 to 15.6 million in 1934. The number of horned cattle fell from 30.7 million to 19.5 million – that is, 40 per cent. The number of pigs, 55 per cent; sheep, 66 per cent. The destruction of people – by hunger, cold, epidemics and measures of repression – is unfortunately less accurately tabulated than the slaughter of stock, but it also mounts up to millions. The blame for these sacrifices lies not upon collectivization, but upon the blind, violent, gambling methods with which it was carried through. The bureaucracy foresaw nothing. Even the constitutions of the collectives, which made an attempt to bind up the personal interests of the peasants with the welfare of the farm, were not published until after the unhappy villages had been thus cruelly laid waste.
The forced character of this new course arose from the necessity of finding some salvation from the consequences of the policy of 1923-28. But even so, collectivization could and should have assumed a more reasonable tempo and more deliberated forms. Having in its hands both the power and the industries, the bureaucracy could have regulated the process without carrying the nation to the edge of disaster. They could have, and should have, adopted tempos better corresponding to the material and moral resources of the country.
“Under favorable circumstances, internal and external,” wrote the émigré organ of the “Left Opposition” in 1930, “the material-technical conditions of agriculture can in the course of some 10 of 15 years be transformed to the bottom, and provide the productive basis for collectivization. However, during the intervening years there would be time to overthrow the Soviet power more than once.”
This warning was not exaggerated. Never before had the breath of destruction hung so directly above the territory of the October Revolution, as in the years of complete collectivization. Discontent, distrust, bitterness, were corroding the country. The disturbance of the currency, the mounting up of stable, “conventional”, and free market prices, the transition from a simulacrum of trade between the state and the peasants to a grain, meat and milk levy, the life-and-death struggle with mass plunderings of the collective property and mass concealment of these plunderings, the purely military mobilization of the party for the struggle against kulak sabotage (after the “liquidation” of the kulaks as a class) together with this a return to food cards and hunger rations, and finally a restoration of the passport system – all these measures revived throughout the country the atmosphere of the seemingly so long ended civil war.
The supply to the factories of food and raw materials grew worse from season to season. Unbearable working conditions caused a migration of labor power, malingering, careless work, breakdown of machines, a high percentage of trashy products and general low quality. The average productivity of labor declined 11.7 per cent in 1931. According to an incidental acknowledgement of Molotov, printed in the whole Soviet press, industrial production in 1932 rose only 8.5 per cent, instead of the 36 per cent indicated by the year’s plan. To be sure, the world was informed soon after this that the five-year plan had been fulfilled in four years and three months. But that means only that the cynicism of the bureaucracy in its manipulations of statistics and public opinion is without limit. That, however, is not the chief thing. Not the fate of the five-year plan, but the fate of the regime was at stake.
The regime survived.
But that is the merit of the regime itself, which had put down deep roots in the popular soil. It is in no less degree due to favorable external circumstances. In those years of economic chaos and civil war in the villages, the Soviet Union was essentially paralyzed in the face of a foreign enemy. The discontent of the peasantry swept through the army. Mistrust and vacillation demoralized the bureaucratic machine, and the commanding cadres. A blow either from the East or West at that period might have had fatal consequences.
Fortunately, the first years of a crisis in trade and industry had created throughout the capitalist world moods of bewildered watchful waiting. Nobody was ready for war; nobody dared attempt it. Moreover, in not one of the hostile countries was there an adequate realization of the acuteness of these social convulsions which where shaking the land of soviets under the roar of the official music in honor of the “general line.”
In spite of its brevity, our historic outline shows, we hope, how far removed the actual development of the workers’ state has been from an idyllic picture of the gradual and steady piling up of successes. From the crises of the past we shall later on derive important indications for the future. But, besides that, a historic glance at the economic policy of the Soviet government and its zigzags has seemed to us necessary in order to destroy that artificially inculcated individualistic fetishism which finds the sources of success, both real and pretended, in the extraordinary quality of the leadership, and not in the conditions of socialized property created by the revolution.
The objective superiority of the new social regime reveals itself, too, of course, in the methods of the leaders. But these methods reflect equally the economic and cultural backwardness of the country, and the petty-bourgeois provincial conditions in which the ruling cadres were formed.
It would be the crudest mistake to infer from this that the policy of the Soviet leaders is of third-rate importance. There is no other government in the world in whose hands the fate of the whole country is concentrated to such a degree. The successes and failures of an individual capitalist depend, not wholly of course, but to a very considerable and sometimes decisive degree, upon his personal qualities. Mutatis mutandis, the Soviet government occupies in relation to the whole economic system the position which a capitalist occupies in relation to a single enterprise. The centralized character of the national economy converts the state power into a factor of enormous significance. But for that very reason the policy of the government must be judged, not by summarized results, not by naked statistical data, but by the specific role which conscious foresight and planned leadership have played in achieving these results.
The zigzags of the governmental course have reflected not only the objective contradictions of the situation, but also the inadequate ability of the leaders to understand these contradictions in season and react prophylactically against them. It is not easy to express mistakes of the leadership in bookkeeper’s magnitudes, but our schematic exposition of the history of these zigzags permits the conclusion that they have imposed upon the Soviet economy an immense burden of overhead expenses.
It remains of course incomprehensible – at least with a rational approach to history – how and why a faction the least rich of all in ideas, and the most burdened with mistakes, should have gained the upper hand over all other groups, and concentrated an unlimited power in its hands. Our further analysis will give us a key to this problem too. We shall see, at the same time, how the bureaucratic methods of autocratic leadership are coming into sharper and sharper conflict with the demands of economy and culture, and with what inevitable necessity new crises and disturbances arise in the development of the Soviet Union.
However, before taking up the dual role of the “socialist” bureaucracy, we must answer the question: What is the net result of the preceding successes? Is socialism really achieved in the Soviet Union? Or, more cautiously: Do the present economic and cultural achievements constitute a guarantee against the danger of capitalist restoration – just as bourgeois society at a certain stage of its development became insured by its own successes against a restoration of serfdom and feudalism?
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00