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9-08-2015, 21:42

‘COMMUNISM IN TRANSITION’

The Soviet leadership, after the departure in 1922 of the Japanese, the last foreign troops on Soviet territory, was able to fashion and create Soviet society free from outside interference. The Allies had withdrawn. The Whites were defeated. Bolshevik armies had established control over the Caucasus region, central Asia and the whole of Siberia during 1920 and 1921. With the end of the civil war, and Russia’s own foreign war with Poland – fighting stopped in October 1920 – not only was Soviet revolutionary power established, but for two decades, until Hitler’s invasion of 1941, the expected concerted capitalist attack did not materialise. It never in fact materialised as the Soviet Union eventually fought Germany in alliance with capitalist Britain and the US. But the fear that the half-hearted Allied intervention immediately after the revolution was not the end but the precursor of an attempt by the capitalist world to liquidate the first communist state powerfully influenced the Soviet Union’s foreign relations. To preserve Soviet power every weapon appeared to be justifiable. Britain and the West were to be weakened by pursuit of a vigorous anti-imperialist policy in Asia and the Middle East. Western communist parties, members of the Comintern (the First Congress of the Third International was convened by Lenin in Moscow in March 1919) were to join the struggle for the survival of the Soviet Union, however much such a policy might conflict with a purely national interest. Simultaneously, foreign relations with the West were conducted so as to exploit divisions between them. Arrangements for mutual military and technical aid were developed with Weimar Germany after the signature of the Treaty of Rapallo in April 1922. Such a policy was combined with the apparently contradictory support for the German Communist Party’s attacks on the ‘social fascists’ which contributed to the fall of Weimar and the coming to power of the Nazis. Even when the German communists became the first victims of Nazi violence, they held to the doctrinal correctness of the analysis that the overthrow of bourgeois socialists had brought the communist revolution a step closer. The imminent danger of foreign intervention was thus as much an illusion of the Soviet leaders in the 1920s as the expectation of communist revolution spreading in the West which, as late as 1921, the Soviet leadership still believed was the only hope of Russia’s survival. But, for anyone living in Russia in the winter of 1920–1, there could be no illusion about the country’s virtually total collapse after six years of war and civil war. Then a new disaster struck: in the summer of 1921 the grain crop failed. Added to the millions killed in war, countless more millions now died of starvation and disease. This time the West ‘intervened’ in a humanitarian mission of relief. In March 1921, even before the actual famine, Lenin told the Tenth Congress of the Communist Party: ‘We are living in such conditions of impoverishment and ruin that for a time everything must be subordinated to this fundamental consideration – at all costs to increase the quantity of goods . . .’ Principal among these goods were food and medicine. The aid of Hoover’s American Relief Administration was, therefore, later accepted. Yet, all such efforts had only a limited effect in the face of the scale of the disaster. No understanding of the early years of Soviet rule is possible without an appreciation of the suffering of the Russian people amid mounting chaos such as had not occurred in the history of Europe in modern times. Foreign military intervention, albeit halfhearted, contributed to the general breakdown. Lenin, whose authority towered above that of his frequently arguing lieutenants, heading a Communist Party which at first was only small, sought to establish some sort of stable basis on which communism could be built. Between 1919 and 1922 the Bolshevik Party became a mass movement of 700,000 members, by no means all of whom were still revolutionary. In Lenin’s policies there was little consistency – they were more reactions to successive emergencies. During the civil war the Red Army of 5 million men as well as the workers in the cities had to be fed. The term ‘war-communism’ is used to describe the measures taken during the years from July 1918 to 1921, which were as extreme as was the situation facing Lenin. A Supreme Council of National Economy had already been created in December 1917 to take over such industry and finance as it considered necessary and to plan centrally the Soviet economy. After June 1918, industrial enterprises were rapidly nationalised and workers and managers subjected to rigid control. As money became virtually valueless with the collapse of the economy, theorists saw one advantage in the misfortune: communism might be attained not gradually but in one leap; state industries could now be ‘purely’ planned – the money economy abolished and with it all private enterprise and trade. The key problem of the war-communist period was how to secure food from the peasants, whose alliance with the urban proletariat Lenin had declared to be essential to the success of the revolution. The value of money had been reduced to almost nothing; the factories were not producing goods that could be bartered. The peasants obstinately clung to the ownership of their land and refused to join state farms. Lenin at first attempted to divide the peasants, the poor from the better off – the kulaks, or exploiters, as they were called. This no doubt succeeded in spreading hatred in the villages but it did not yield grain. Then he wooed the so-called ‘middle peasants’ – the supposedly less poor (these categorisations corresponded to policy tactics rather than realities: only one in a hundred peasant households employed more than one labourer). Force was applied since the state could give nothing to the peasants in exchange for what were defined as ‘surpluses’. With the utmost ruthlessness, detachments were sent into the countryside to seize food. Peasants were shot for resisting expropriation. Villages were searched, peasants left destitute. Bolshevik punitive expeditions attempted to overcome peasant resistance and violence. The excesses of war-communism were encouraged by Lenin. The only answer he could find as the crisis deepened in early 1920 was even more ruthless pressure on the peasants. Those who were accused of retaining food were condemned as ‘enemies of the people’. The civil war, above all, and the policies of war-communism resulting from it, led, however, to the total collapse of what remained of the Russian agricultural and industrial economy. Transport had broken down and there was a large exodus from the starving towns and idle factories back to the country. During his years of power, Lenin never wavered from his insistence on the supreme authority of the party and centralised control. No sectional interest of workers or peasants organised in the form of trade unions should act as a counterpoise to the party. Power was to be retained by the centre with iron discipline. In this he was strongly supported by Trotsky, who wished to rebuild Russia by mobilising the people under military discipline. Under the harsh realities of the civil war and its aftermath Lenin had given up his earlier views that once the revolution had succeeded the state would begin to wither away and socialism would evolve by the spontaneous enthusiasm and work of the masses. He convinced himself that it was necessary to replace the revolution with a one-party state. But as he conceived it there was flexibility; especially after 1921 ‘nonparty’ specialists were encouraged. The bureaucracy was an inevitable outcome of the centralised state, though it deeply worried Lenin during the last months of his life. He began to alter course in 1921–2 and simultaneously government employees were drastically reduced. It was also Lenin who urged the use of force and terror where other means failed to achieve the desired ends. However much he criticised the consequences of the direction of state policy, the foundations of the Soviet state had been laid by Lenin. While it is true that Lenin permitted debate within and outside the higher echelon of the party as in newspapers, men of the old guard, such as Lev Kamenev, Grigori Zinoviev, Aleksei Rykov, Nikolai Bukharin and Leon Trotsky, who differed on the right policies to be followed, ultimately had to obey the party line once Lenin had reached a decision. On the issue whether there could be any but a one-party state no debate was possible. The Tenth Party Congress, held in March 1921, passed the resolution ‘On Party Unity’, which though it did not stifle all debate and criticism forbade the formation within the party of any political groups ‘with separate platforms, striving to a certain degree to segregate and create their own group discipline’ and then to publish views not authorised by the party. The infamous Paragraph Seven of this resolution empowered the Central Committee by two-thirds majority to expel from the party members of the Central Committee who diverged, and so to banish them into political exile. The weapon for stifling any dissident view not favouring the leader or group of leaders in power had been forged. Stalin later made full use of it to eliminate anyone he chose to accuse of factionalism. In March 1921, simultaneously with the resolution on party unity, came the about-turn of Lenin’s policy – the inauguration of the slogan New Economic Policy (NEP), coined to cover the dramatic reversal. The conviction that everincreasing ruthlessness, especially in extracting food from the peasantry, was threatening the whole country’s coherence must have been taking shape for some time. It was a mutiny of the sailors in the fortress of Kronstadt early in March 1921, bloodily repressed, which Lenin claimed ‘was the flash which lit up reality better than anything else’. But the decision had already been taken by him following peasant riots and workers’ strikes in the previous months. The NEP began when the Tenth Party Congress passed a resolution replacing the seizure of surplus food with a less onerous and a properly regulated ‘tax in kind’. Any further surplus the peasant could market freely. Three years later in 1924 the tax in kind became a money payment. Free trading and, with it, a money economy revived. Small-scale production by not more than twenty workers was allowed once again. Large industries continued under state ownership with few exceptions. The vast majority of production was by state enterprises or by individual artisans. Between 1921 and 1926, the mixed industrial economy, part private part state, recovered so that by 1926 the level of production of 1913 had been reached. In agriculture, individual peasants farmed more than 98 per cent of the land sown. Agriculture recovered from the low levels of 1921 and 1922, but the amount left over from peasant consumption was less than in 1913; yet the need for grain to feed the expanding urban population and for export to provide capital grew much faster than the traditional peasant agriculture supplied. Nor were the peasants imbued with enthusiasm for socialism despite attempts to arouse a sense of common solidarity against the better-off peasants, the kulaks. A peasant farming his land traditionally, and encouraged to improve his standard of living by having stimulated in him a desire for profit, was not likely to accept the ideals of communism. The more successful a peasant, the less socialist he became. NEP on the land helped to save Russia from starvation, but did not provide the surplus to allow the economy to advance rapidly. A complementary element of the more liberal economic approach of NEP in the 1920s was the tightening of party discipline and centralism. Cultural concessions, for instance, were made to the non-Russian nationalities, but not at the expense of centralised party and military control. The Tenth Party Congress of March 1921, which saw the beginnings of NEP, also, as has been noted, passed the resolutions against factions within the party. The swollen Communist Party itself was purged of some 200,000 members considered unreliable to the Bolshevik ideals. Lenin warned that the revolutionary old guard must hold together through all the transitional phases of communism, even those like NEP which marked a retreat from socialist objectives. How temporary would the retreat have to be? That was a fundamental and contentious issue. As long as Lenin remained the indisputable leader, however much debate and individual criticism took place within the party, great changes of policy were still possible without destroying the cohesion of the party or without producing a savage fight, literally to the death, between Lenin’s lieutenants. Lenin’s own premature death so early in the formation of the state was therefore of enormous significance. The struggles of the revolution and war had sapped Lenin’s strength. Towards the end of 1921 he fell seriously ill. In May 1922 at the age of fifty-two he suffered a serious stroke which paralysed his right side. By October he had recovered sufficiently to resume a partial workload. In December 1922 his health again deteriorated and on 21 January 1924 he died. Of particular interest during his last weeks of active work from the end of 1922 to 4 January 1923 are the notes he dictated which together comprise what was called his ‘testament’. In these memoranda he stressed the need to strengthen the unity of the Central Party Committee, and characterised the strengths and weaknesses of six leading members of the party. The characterisation of Stalin, ‘who having become the General Secretary has accumulated enormous power in his hands and I am not sure whether he will be able to use this power with due care’, was especially important in view of the question who should succeed Lenin. During his illness he was outraged by Stalin’s attempt to cut him off from influence in January 1923, a year before his death. He urged Stalin’s dismissal and replacement by a new general secretary ‘more tolerant, more loyal and less capricious’. It was too late. Lenin was too ill to act as unquestioned leader any longer. He had also criticised Trotsky, though describing him as the other leading personality of the party, for ‘his too far-reaching selfconfidence’ and as too much attracted to pure administration. What was the purpose of this critical testament? Lenin was preoccupied by what would happen after his death. He concluded that no single one of the Bolshevik leadership could be designated as his successor. By his frank criticisms of all his lieutenants he was arguing for his own solution to the succession. This was to increase the Central Committee to fifty, even a hundred persons, by adding industrial workers and peasants close to the feeling of the rank and file of the party and for this body to control and supervise the collective leadership. Following Lenin’s death no stable collective leadership took over. Stalin, who had been appointed general secretary with Lenin’s support in 1922 to bring order to the organisation of the party, transformed this important but secondary position into a vehicle for the advancement of his personal power. His work for the party before this elevation had shown him to be ruthless and a good organiser. To these qualities he added cunning and a sense of timing in political intrigue. Using his powers to the full, he promoted to key posts men who would follow him, and strengthened his position further by removing others who supported rivals. Among the old guard, Trotsky was widely disliked for his arrogance, intellectual brilliance and showmanship. Stalin aligned himself with Zinoviev to undermine Trotsky’s influence. In a little more than five years, he had ousted all the prominent former leadership. But he was not Lenin’s undisputed heir; nor did he enjoy the veneration granted to the late leader. Stalin encouraged a Lenin cult. He then kept himself at the top by the ruthless liquidation of all real and potential rivals who might conceivably challenge his control. Not until the end of the Great Terror in 1938 did any challenge to Stalin’s supreme control become unthinkable. Yet his paranoid fear of plots and conspiracies beset him to the end of his life. Lenin tolerated party discussion; Stalin could not stifle it in the 1920s as the better-known, more prominent Soviet leaders still overshadowed him. He supported a moderate internal economic policy, upheld NEP and identified himself with Lenin’s policies after the latter’s death. Appealing to party unity, while packing key positions with his supporters, Stalin was ready to take on the most prestigious of the old Bolshevik leaders. The big quarrel with Trotsky occurred at the end of 1923 and early 1924 after Trotsky’s attacks on the old guard. Trotsky was effectively defeated at the Thirteenth Party Congress in January 1924. Together with Zinoviev, president of the Comintern, whose power base was the Leningrad party, and Kamenev, chairman of the Moscow Soviet, Stalin had already made himself the leading member of the triumvirate controlling the party, the key to controlling the country. Trotsky had published a book, Lessons of October, in which he bitterly attacked the credentials of Zinoviev and Kamenev, who had been ‘Right’ Bolsheviks opposed to the October Revolution in 1917. In his denunciation Trotsky implied that such shortcomings were responsible for the failure of revolution beyond the Soviet Union, for instance in Germany. The triumvirate countered by stressing the longstanding quarrel between Trotsky and Lenin about ‘permanent’ revolution, which Trotsky had fervently advocated; and Stalin enunciated the slogan ‘socialism in one country’. Stalin declared more realistically that the Soviet Union had survived and claimed that the conditions existed in Russia for the complete construction of socialism; this he saw as the primary task. The policies of communists in other countries, too, were therefore expected in practice to make this their primary objective, subordinating national considerations to the strengthening of the Soviet Union. Trotsky and Stalin were not so far apart as their polemics made it appear. At moments of great danger, such as the Soviet leaders believed existed in 1927 and 1928, Trotsky was just as ready as Stalin to place the safety of the Soviet Union first. In this respect they were both heirs of Lenin’s Realpolitik. In the power struggle in the top echelon of the party, Stalin calculated that a moderate line would be the most successful, while Trotsky assumed the mantle of the ardent, unquenchable revolutionary and the champion of ‘democracy’ within the party. The genuineness of Trotsky’s democratic sentiments was never tested, for he never wielded supreme power. He was certainly no less ruthless than Stalin in his readiness to subordinate means to an end. But Stalin’s control of the party machine secured Trotsky’s gradual elimination. In January 1925 Trotsky lost the argument of his Lessons of October and the Central Committee deprived him of his nominal leadership of the Red Army. Stalin now pushed from key control two other members of the Politburo, his fellow triumvirates, Kamenev and Zinoviev. Instead he allied with those who fully backed the NEP, Nikolai Bukharin, a longstanding companion of Lenin and editor of Pravda, and two other Politburo members, Aleksei Rykov and Mikhail Tomsky. But Trotsky, Kamenev and Zinoviev still retained their places on the Politburo, at least until 1926. That year the three men, calling themselves the United Opposition, mounted attacks on Comrade Stalin’s capacity to unite the party and on the economic state of the country and bureaucracy. Stalin expelled all three from the Politburo and purged their supporters. Trotsky’s further attacks on Stalin, and the organisation of an open demonstration against the leadership in November 1927 led to his and Zinoviev’s and many of their followers’ exclusion from the party in December 1927. A year later Trotsky was expelled from Russia. Two years later it was the turn of the ‘right’ opposition. Bukharin lost control of the Comintern at the end of 1928, and in 1929 and 1930 Tomsky and Rykov were replaced. All eventually died violently, victims of Stalin’s purges of the mid-1930s. But it is simplistic to reduce the struggles at the centre of power to Stalin’s completely cynical manoeuvrings to reach the top. Three deep concerns formed just a part of the immense nexus of problems associated with ‘communism in transition’: transforming a predominantly peasant society into an industrial power capable of catching up with the capitalist West, while keeping the goal of a communist society in view; at the same time the leadership was anxiously scanning the international horizon for an impending attack by the capitalist nations; just as disastrous was the possibility that their own imperialist rivalry would start a second world war involving Russia in the maelstrom. Any one problem was, in itself, gigantic; together they were truly baffling. And there were no models to follow. Marxism was based on revolution in an advanced industrial nation, not an overwhelmingly peasant society. Lenin, when confronted with practical problems, had made bewildering changes of policy, justifying each with fresh doctrinal pronouncements. The mark of the dominant leader was his capacity radically to change policy and retain power. After Lenin, only Stalin as it turned out could do that. But this does not mean that he changed policy merely for the sake of discrediting his rivals or that he had plotted in advance first a policy to the ‘right’ and then to the ‘left’. Stalin’s own uncertainty about his ability to hold on to supreme power in the face of the policies he felt it necessary to pursue is, indeed, the basic explanation of his murderous purges of the 1930s. He linked the survival of the communist regime with his own survival as undisputed leader. He wanted to be regarded as infallible; for proof he presented an unending stream of wrongdoers who, in public trials, confessed their errors and were shot. Their confessions to foreign conspiracies were intended to underline the mortal dangers to which the Soviet Union was exposed, but saved from by Stalin’s vigilance. At the same time an understanding of Soviet policies is not possible without the assumption that there were deep and genuine problems, that more than one plausible option of action presented itself; and even granted that Stalin never lost sight of his tenure of power and would stop at nothing to maintain it, he was also concerned to discover the right policy to follow. Stalin had reached the leadership group through Lenin’s own selection and Lenin had an eye for remarkable men to act as the founding members of the new state. Unlike Lenin and the rest of the Bolshevik leadership, Stalin spent the years of preparation not in comfortable and argumentative exile, but in Russia, in constant danger and engaged in organising the party when not in tsarist prison or Siberian exile. In Stalin, the cobbler’s son born in Georgia in December 1879, Lenin saw a hardened, totally dedicated revolutionary leader, painstaking, and an effective organiser. Stalin showed a total disregard for ‘conventions’ of the law and civil rights when they impeded what he deemed necessary. As a young revolutionary in tsarist days he was lawless in a cause; in power he became lawless without restraint, filling the prisons, the places of execution and the labour camps in the 1930s and later with millions of people innocent of any crime except to arouse Stalin’s suspicions. The apparently benign, modest and down-to-earth leader – it was easy for the Stalin cult to portray him as the father of his people just as the tsars before him had been – had turned into a monstrous tyrant. Stalin was a consummate actor who could hide his true nature and, if he chose, charm those who had dealings with him, just as he was to charm Churchill and Roosevelt when the three leaders met during the Second World War. He was capable of carefully weighing alternatives, of calculating the risks and proceeding rationally, of outwitting his enemies at home and abroad. Secretive, suspicious, malevolent and lacking Lenin’s intellect, he made himself into Lenin’s heir and saw himself as such. His crimes were immense. His mistakes brought the whole country close to catastrophe in 1930 and in 1941, yet both he and the Soviet Union survived. During the Stalin era, there occurred the decisive shift that was to propel the Soviet Union from being a backward country to a state capable of grinding down and, during the latter part of the Second World War, overwhelming Germany. He achieved the industrial and military transformation of Russia, the creation of tens of thousands of technically proficient men, of administrators and doctors from a backward peasant society. The other legacy: millions of dead, victims of collectivisation, deportation and the Gulags. That the New Economic Policy had to be a ‘transitional’ phase in the construction of communism was obvious, unless communism itself was to abandon its Marxist goals. NEP had brought about an amazing recovery but was it capable of continuing at its previous pace of growth, after the first five years, given the low base from which it had started? Would the Soviet Union not merely catch up with tsarist pre-war production but decisively move beyond it? Then how could NEP enable the Soviet Union to acquire the sinews of the modern industrial state with an iron and steel industry, machinery and armaments, improved transportation and adequate power? A vast network of electric power stations was one of Lenin’s pet dreams. With a ‘mixed’ economy would too many resources be swallowed up in providing the consumer with their needs rather than investing for the future? Had the essentially tsarist agricultural methods reached the limit of their productive capacity? On purely economic grounds, leaving aside ideological considerations, there were powerful arguments for a change of policy at the point when NEP failed to provide for the economic growth desired by the Bolshevik leadership. During the winter of 1927 and 1928 the peasants reacted to increased taxes, low official prices, threats against the offence of hoarding and simply a lack of goods to buy by hanging on to their grain. Industrial investment had already speeded up industrialisation, the ‘selfishness’ and ‘pettybourgeois’ behaviour of the kulaks, in Stalin’s judgement, threatened the whole economy. Violence against the peasant to extract the grain needed to feed the towns was again resorted to in ‘emergency’ measures. The peasantry from rich to poor were hard hit in 1928 and alienated from the Soviet regime, though it was obviously the kulaks and better-off peasants who had most grain and so suffered the most. After the summer of 1928 Stalin faced the prospect of annual crises to purchase sufficient grain unless some fundamental changes were effected in dealing with the peasantry and agricultural productivity. Stalin had little love for the Russian peasantry, which he believed was holding the country to ransom. Industrial expansion was jeopardised by the crisis in agriculture. If the peasantry were to be appeased, more goods would need to be released for their consumption. This was in contradiction to a policy of catching up rapidly with the advanced capitalist countries. No Soviet leader ever lost sight of Russia’s comparative weakness, which was believed to offer a temptation to the capitalist nations to attack it. The more relaxed attitudes of the mid-1920s, which also affected foreign policy – the slogan here used to describe Soviet aims was ‘peaceful coexistence’ – came to an end in 1927 and 1928. The Soviet leadership was beset by acute new fears that some concerted onslaught on the Soviet Union was imminent. The Soviet policy in China of supporting the nationalist revolution of Chiang Kai-shek had collapsed when Chiang turned on his former communist partners. Relations with Britain had deteriorated, and Britain, France and Poland were credited with plans to launch an offensive against the Soviet Union. There was a sense that the breathing space in Europe and the Far East could be short. The worldwide depression added a new element of uncertainty. We have little indication of Stalin’s thinking during this or any other period. One can plausibly surmise that in 1928 and 1929 he was still much concerned with rivals and criticisms of his policies and economic developments, which were certainly not going well. The problem of the change of course of the economic and social policies of the Soviet state has been debated by historians and we may never be able to fathom what perceptions and plans were Stalin’s at any precise moment. Certainly a vociferous group of his supporters was calling for rapid industrialisation and Stalin leant on them in his struggle with opponents of the policy. At what point in particular did he regard NEP as an obstacle to be cleared away if the pace of Russian industrialisation and its direction were to conform to his own objectives? If industrialisation were to be pushed ahead rapidly, the necessary investment would not significantly come from foreign loans, or even significantly from exports of grain, but from the higher productivity of workers and peasants and a holding back of consumption by them. In plain English, the industrial advance was achieved at the sacrifice of their own living standards, the work being rewarded with only low real wages. Long-term state planning by the State Planning Commission was certainly well under way and resources were increasingly transferred to large-scale industrial projects. By 1926 the increasing shortages of goods led to multi-pricing of the same goods in ‘commercial’ shops or at artificially low prices but strictly rationed. Despite rises in wages the actual cost of living rose much more steeply. By 1933 living standards had declined precipitously. While there was none of the unemployment that plagued Western economies at the time, the great industrial leap forward was accompanied by mass misery and hunger. A ‘maximum’ version of the First Five-Year Plan was adopted by the Sixteenth Party Congress in 1929. Industrial output was intended to increase more than twofold and agricultural output to rise by half. The industrial growth actually achieved fell far short of such unrealisable targets. In trying to fulfil them there was huge waste and confusion. Coercion and regulation were necessary means to drive industrialisation forward especially in the primitive regions of Russia, the Urals and Siberia, where for military strategic reasons new industrial complexes were set up. The emphasis was on heavy industry, iron and steel, and machinery. The First Five-Year Plan, declared to be fulfilled a year in advance, actually fell short of its target in most industrial sections. But great iron and steel works were being constructed, the gigantic Dnieper dam was built and the engineering industry greatly expanded. The basis of a modern industry had been constructed. The Second Five-Year Plan (1933–7) brought improvements for the Russian people. The economic sacrifices demanded of the people were not as harsh and there was greater emphasis on producing goods for consumption. Planning became more efficient and a greater self-sufficiency was achieved. After 1937 the massive switch to arms production once more created new bottlenecks and shortages. Control over the labour force became much harsher. Workers were tied in 1940 to their place of work and absenteeism became a crime. Industrially the Soviet Union, in a decade and a half, had been transformed and proved strong enough to withstand the shock of the German invasion. Statistics should always be considered with caution and this is especially true of Soviet statistics. But the figures shown in the table indicate and reflect the change of Soviet Russia’s industry. Whether Soviet statistics are to be relied on is an open question. The results were in any case impressive, the human cost equally enormous. Enthusiasm for building socialism was replaced by terror and coercion. Ideals of socialist equality did not inhibit Stalin from decreeing differential rewards. With much stick, and the carrot of high rewards for successful skilled piecework, he drove the mass of new peasant workers in industry to pull Russia out of the morass. Socialism could not be built in a society predominantly peasant and backward, Stalin believed. Nor could a backward Soviet Union survive, surrounded as it was by enemies. But the arbitrary murderous excesses of Stalin’s rule in the 1930s bear no relation to the achievement of such goals. On the contrary, they gravely jeopardised progress. In dealing with the peasantry and agriculture his policies led to disaster. Here, the ‘revolution from above’ not only inflicted enormous hardship on the majority of the population, the peasantry, but also failed in its purpose to ‘modernise’ agriculture on a scale similar to industry. Stalin’s cure for Russia’s backward agriculture was to transform the small, scattered peasant holdings into large farms, collectively and cooperatively farmed. In theory this was sound. In practice, productivity slumped when the individual peasant’s personal ownership of his lands and his livestock was abolished. The peasants did not voluntarily give up their land and join collective farms. By 1928 less than three acres in a hundred of sown land were cultivated by collective or state farms. At the beginning of that year Stalin organised from his own secretariat the forcible seizure of grain as the peasants were unwilling to part with it for the artificially low prices laid down. It was a return to the methods of war-communism. Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky, once Stalin’s allies against the Trotsky ‘left’, as has been seen, attacked Stalin from May 1928 onwards when they realised he intended to continue the emergency measures. Bukharin, in particular, condemned Stalin’s dictatorial pretensions, declaring: ‘We stand by the principle of collective action and refuse to accept the principle of control by a single individual, no matter how great his authority.’ Stalin countered by savagely attacking Bukharin as a right-wing deviationist. Between February and July 1929 the political standing of the three leaders was progressively undermined and the expulsion from the Politburo of Tomsky and Bukharin in November 1929 marked the elimination of their opposition to Stalin’s industrial and agricultural plans. (Rykov retained his membership of the Politburo until 1930.) From the summer of 1929 Stalin issued party directives to secure more grain for state purchase at low prices. The kulaks were singled out as the most prosperous and therefore pressure on them would, it was thought, yield a good return. Not only their grain but their farms too began to be seized. NEP was breaking up. On 7 November 1929 Stalin signalled the drive for forcible collectivisation at the greatest possible speed. He characteristically declared that the middle peasants as well as the poor peasants had turned to the collective farms. The continuing crisis caused by the difficulty of getting grain was a crucial reason for the sudden urgency, but behind Stalin’s assault also lay a long-felt suspicion of peasants as reliable allies of the urban proletariat. Between the Bolsheviks and the peasants there was a large gap. The notion of petty-peasant proprietorship simply did not fit into the communist model of the future classless society. Stalin saw even the poorest peasant defending his possession of land and animals as exhibiting the characteristics of the ‘petty-capitalist class’. As long as the landed peasant persisted in Russian society, Stalin believed, a communist state would never be built. He may have calculated that by ruining the more prosperous peasants, the kulaks, by defining them as a class to be destroyed, all the peasants would be taught the lesson that successful private enterprise held no future for them. Certainly, party leaders believed that they could stir up class war between the poor peasant and the kulak and so gain some peasant support. ‘Kulak’ was, moreover, an entirely elastic definition and could be extended to any peasant; those too obviously poor could simply be labelled as kulak sympathisers. Under the cover of the supposed kulak enemy, land could be seized, peasants expelled and sent by cattle trucks to Siberia, and the whole peasantry could be terrorised. Without forcible measures to overcome the agricultural crisis, Stalin believed, the acceleration of industrialisation would fail, and one of his close supporters improbably claimed that all industrial growth would come to a standstill halfway through the Five-Year Plan if industrialisation was not accelerated. Plans for the acceleration of industrial production went hand in hand with plans for the acceleration of collectivisation of the peasant farms. From the summer of 1929 onwards the peasants were being pressurised by party representatives in the villages to join the collective farms. The peasants reacted with suspicion or outright hostility. By October 1929 collectives were farming almost one acre in eleven of sown land. Meanwhile, forcible procurement of grain by party task forces over the whole country was securing results. In the autumn of 1929 Stalin, supported by Molotov and Kaganovich, determined to break all resistance to a great leap forward and to the mass discontent that coercion in the procurement of grain was producing. It was in part wishful thinking and in part a command that collectivisation was to be quickly achieved regardless of what resistance remained. In December 1929 mass ‘dekulakisation’ began. Stalin decreed their ‘elimination as a class’. Elimination of the individual peasant defined as kulak did not yet mean death, except in the case of those categorised as the most active counterrevolutionaries, but meant the confiscation of his property and imprisonment or the deportation of the whole family to Siberia, where with a few tools they began to farm again. Some kulaks were allowed to remain in their locality and were integrated into the collective system. The whole programme was carried through with the utmost violence and barbarity; 6 million peasants were the victims. Many perished through deprivation or suicide. The miseries of the depression do not compare with the human disaster that unfolded in Stalin’s Russia. The result in the countryside was chaos. More than half the peasant farmers had been collectivised by the spring of 1930. As the time for spring sowing approached, reports from the countryside came back to Moscow that the forcible collectivisation was preparing the way for an unparalleled disaster. There was much peasant resistance, including uprisings. The new collectives were unlikely to produce a fraction of the food produced by the individual peasants before collectivisation. Stalin, faced with disastrous failure, compromised. In the face of so great a failure, his own standing could be jeopardised. He published an article, ‘Dizzy with Success’. Local party workers were blamed for the excesses; coercion was wrong; those peasants who wished to leave the collective farms could do so. But instead of the expected few there was a mass exodus; more than half the peasants left the collectives and took back some of their land to farm. The collective farmers retained the best land. To counter this unexpected turn of events, Stalin in the summer of 1930 ordered a resumption of forcible collectivisation. There was no letup this time. By 1935, 94 per cent of the crop area of land was collectivised. The results in productivity were appalling. The peasants slaughtered their animals; the collectives were inefficient; the yield of crops dropped and party purges and coercion could not relieve the food shortages. The conditions of the early 1930s revived the experiences of the early 1920s. There were widespread famines and millions perished. The situation would have been even worse if Stalin had not learnt one lesson from the winter of 1929–30 and the widespread peasant violence and resistance to collectivisation. The collectivised peasants were permitted small plots and to own a few animals from 1930 onwards. After 1932 they were even allowed to sell food privately over and above the quota to be delivered to the state at state prices. The private peasant plot became an important element in the supply of milk and meat. Agriculture recovered slowly from the onslaught, but there was no leap forward as occurred in the industrial sector. The pre-1928 levels were only just attained again, though the population had grown in the meantime. Economically Stalin’s collectivisation did not solve Russia’s need for growth of agricultural production before the German invasion in 1941 dealt a devastating blow. Even Stalin had to compromise with the peasantry in allowing some private production and sale, or face the prospect of permanent conditions of famine. The enormous tensions created by Stalin’s industrial and agricultural policies from 1929 to 1934 were accompanied by a policy of terrorisation to thwart any possible opposition. Propaganda sought to raise Stalin to the public status of a demigod, the arbiter of every activity of society – art, literature, music, education, Marxist philosophy. Terror tactics were not new under Soviet rule. Show trials, which turned those who were constructing the new Russia into scapegoats for failures, had begun in 1928. It appears that Stalin’s power was not absolute between 1928 and 1934 and that the failures, especially in agriculture, were weakening his position. Perhaps a straw in the wind was the curious fact that the Seventeenth Party Congress early in 1934 changed his title from that of ‘general secretary’ to just ‘secretary’ of the party. Was this a rebuke against his attempt to gather all power in his hands? Was the leader of the Leningrad party, Sergei Kirov, who was also a member of the Politburo and hitherto a Stalin supporter, among those who attempted to clip Stalin’s wings? That December 1934 Kirov was murdered, Stalin was implicated. That he acted as pallbearer at Kirov’s funeral is no evidence to the contrary. The first mass terror-wave of arrests and executions followed. Then there was a pause, just as there had been with collectivisation. Stalin in 1936 even promulgated a constitution guaranteeing every conceivable human and civic right! It was no more than a façade that misled only the most gullible. Then the arrests and executions were resumed. The years from 1936 to 1938 are known as the Great Terror. At the end, Stalin emerged as the undisputed dictator whom none could resist. Stalin turned on the elite of communist society, the party functionaries, the army officers from the junior to the commander-in-chief, the technocrats and managers. The world learnt only a little from the show trials of the prominent leaders, the ‘fathers’ of the revolution, who were now paraded to confess publicly their sins, confessions secured beforehand by torture and threats. Not only they, but also their wives and associates, were murdered. Nothing like this had ever occurred before. Stalin acted with cold and ruthless calculation. The victims of these purges have never been counted. Dekulakisation, the famine and the purges claimed millions of victims. No one was safe. Death, exile or incarceration in the huge complex of labour camps, the Gulag, was the fate of anyone who fell under suspicion. The Gulags were not like the later Nazi extermination camps but unbelievably brutal, the guards sadistic. Lenin had started them to break the spirit of the ‘enemies of the people’. Stalin expanded the system of forced labour and torture, inefficient even in extracting work. Khrushchev admitted to the state abuse in his celebrated 1956 speech. By then more than 18 million had been herded into these camps and, 15 million survived – 3 million, largely innocents, lost their lives, families were destroyed, children orphaned. The brutal reality of Soviet rule was denied by armchair communists in the West and admirers of Stalin, until the truth had to be faced well after the end of the Second World War. The material loss to Russia of skilled people was incalculable. The grip of the secret police under the hated Beria was not loosened until after Stalin’s death. There were thousands willing to do Stalin’s bidding and commit all these crimes. He justified them by claiming there were conspiracies with outside Western powers, with Japan, Germany, Britain and France, to sabotage and attack the Soviet Union. Did he believe it? Stalin thought it theoretically possible and that was enough. Stalin had little experience of foreign travel. Behind his notion of Russia’s correct foreign policy two assumptions or principles can be discerned: Russia’s defence in a hostile capitalist world must come first at all costs; second, the behaviour of other powers could be deduced by a Leninist analysis. Not only were these powers motivated by a joint hostility to the only communist state, but they were also locked in an imperial struggle for supremacy among themselves. Thus Soviet theoreticians, including Stalin in the 1920s, believed in the likelihood of war between Britain and the US. Later, in the early 1930s, Stalin hoped that rivalry in eastern Asia would lead the US to check Japanese expansion in China. But Soviet hopes were disappointed by American non-intervention during the Manchurian crisis of 1931–3. The Soviet view of the West was grotesquely distorted. The Western social democrats were cast in the role of ‘right deviationists’ or ‘social fascists’ from 1929 to 1934, more dangerous than the real fascists. The Nazis were seen as a shortlived right-wing excess against which the workers would soon react. There was a lingering fear of Poland and its ally, capitalist France, and of ‘hostile’ Britain. Thus, from the West as well as from Asia, the Soviet Union appeared to be in continuing and great danger. From 1934 to 1938 there was some readjustment of Soviet policy and a rapprochement with the Western democracies. The Soviet Union was recognised finally by the US when Roosevelt agreed to establish diplomatic relations in 1933. In 1934 the Soviet Union joined the League of Nations, and the Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Maxim Litvinov, now preached the need for collective security against Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italian expansionist policies. The genuine search for peace did not mean, however, that the Soviet Union was ready to go to war in alliance with the Western democracies against Germany. Rather, the Russians wanted to avoid a war breaking out altogether, and believed a firm stand would deter Hitler and Mussolini. If it did not, as it did not in September 1939, the Soviet leaders were determined to avoid being involved in war themselves. If there had to be a war – a situation full of danger for Russia – then at least it should be confined to a war between the Western powers. As long as Nazi Germany could be prevented from turning first on Russia, then the Soviet Union would remain neutral and appease Germany to any extent necessary to preserve peace. But the nightmare of the Soviet leadership was a reverse of that situation, that France and Britain would stand aside while Hitler conquered Lebensraum (living space) in the east. What is more, would the Ukrainians and Georgians and other non-Russian nationalities fight for Russia, when the people were suffering from such terrible communist repression? While socialism was still in transition, Russia could not afford war without risking the very survival of socialism. The Soviet Union attempted to create a ‘barrier of peace’ by signing non-aggression treaties with its neighbours, of whom the most important was Poland. Until the autumn of 1938 Hitler employed no direct violence near Russia’s borders. In eastern Asia the threat of war was met by a combination of policies, in the first place by appeasing Japan: in 1935 Russia sold its interest in the Chinese Eastern Railway to the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo. It was lessened, furthermore, by encouraging Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalist resistance to Japan in the hope that Japan would then be too busy fighting China to turn on Russia as well. When necessary, however, the Soviet Union did not hesitate to resist militarily any direct Japanese attacks on Soviet spheres of influence, on the People’s Republic of Mongolia and along the Russo-Chinese frontier. There was full-scale fighting between Soviet and Japanese troops in 1938 and in the summer of 1939. These were no mere ‘incidents’. Marshal Zhukov in 1939 had the advantage of modern tanks and troops far better armed than the Japanese. The Japanese suffered a severe defeat and left behind 18,000 dead. Thereafter, they avoided open conflict with Russia. The Soviet Union and Japan, in fact, remained at peace until it suited Stalin, shortly before Japan’s surrender, to attack the Japanese in China in 1945. In the West, the Soviet Union did what it could to persuade France and Britain to stand up to Hitler and Mussolini. The menace they presented to peace and so to the Soviet Union was belatedly recognised in 1934. The Soviet Union then signed a treaty of mutual assistance with France in May 1935 to strengthen the deterrent alignment. The Soviet Union also joined in the League’s ineffectual sanctions to deter Mussolini from conquering Abyssinia. In 1934 the new United Front tactics were acquiesced in when France itself seemed in danger of succumbing to fascism. But at the same time the communist leadership was always conscious of, and never wished to repeat, the experiences of the First World War when Russia was cast in the role of providing military relief to the West and, in the effort, went down in defeat. Russian policy aimed to maintain a careful balance and to avoid war by encouraging the will of France and Britain to resist. In line with this overall strategy the Russian help afforded to the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War was carefully limited to exclude any possible risk of war. It was left to the Comintern to organise the International Brigades to fight as volunteers on the Republican side. But Soviet technical advisers, tanks, aircraft and supplies played a role in the war. The year 1937 saw Stalin’s military purge at its height. Russia was more unready than ever to face military attack from the West. The Soviet Union almost frantically attempted to construct a diplomatic peace front in 1938. It failed. Britain and France went to Munich in September and consented to the partition of Czechoslovakia. The Russians, meanwhile, had promised to support the Czechs only to the extent of their limited treaty obligations. Whatever Russian aid might have been forthcoming if the Czechs had fought, it appears certain that Stalin would not have risked war with Germany. Simultaneously Soviet diplomats sought to stiffen French and British resistance to Hitler by warning their governments that Hitler meant to defeat them. Stalin’s faith in ‘collective security’, probably never strong, did not survive after the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in March 1939. It was unlikely that peace could be preserved much longer between Hitler and his neighbours, and Stalin’s prime objective remained to stop the Soviet Union from going to war. And so after simultaneous and secret negotiations with France and Britain on the one hand and Germany on the other – a double insurance policy – Stalin, having delayed as long as he dared, concluded a nonaggression pact with Germany on 23 August 1939. Stalin had calculated correctly and kept the Soviet Union at peace. The Germans extracted a price in requiring supplies from the Soviet Union. The war that began in September 1939, Stalin believed, afforded the Soviet Union a long breathing space during which communism would strengthen the Soviet Union’s capacity to meet the dangers still to come. It lasted barely two years. 180 THE CONTINUING WORLD CRISIS, 1929–39

 

 

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