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10-08-2015, 16:38

Socialism in One Country

With their victory over the White Russians in 1920, Soviet leaders now could turn for the first time to the challenging task of building the first socialist society in a world dominated by their capitalist enemies. In his writings, Karl Marx had said little about the nature of the final communist utopia or how to get there. He had spoken briefly of a transitional phase, variously known as “raw communism” or “socialism,” that would precede the final stage of communism. During this phase, the Communist Party would establish a “dictatorship of the proletariat” to rid society of the capitalist oppressors, set up the institutions of the new order, and indoctrinate the population in the communist ethic. In recognition of the fact that traces of “bourgeois thinking” would remain among the population, profit incentives would be used to encourage productivity (in the slogan of Marxism, payment would be on the basis of “work” rather than solely on “need”), but major industries would be nationalized and private landholdings eliminated. After seizing power, however, the Bolsheviks were too preoccupied with survival to give much attention to the future nature of Soviet society. “War communism”—involving the government seizure of major industries, utilities, and sources of raw materials and the requisition of grain from private farmers—was, by Lenin’s own admission, just a makeshift policy to permit the regime to mobilize resources for the civil war. In 1920, it was time to adopt a more coherent approach. The realities were sobering. Soviet Russia was not an advanced capitalist society in the Marxist image, blessed with modern technology and an impoverished and politically aware underclass imbued with the desire to advance to socialism. It was poor and primarily agrarian, and its small but growing industrial sector had been ravaged by years of war. Under the circumstances, Lenin called for caution. He won his party’s approval for a moderate program of social and economic development known as theNew Economic Policy, or NEP. The program was based on a combination of capitalist and socialist techniques designed to increase production through the use of profit incentives while at the same time promoting the concept of socialist ownership and maintaining firm party control over the political system and the overall direction of the economy. The “commanding heights” of the Soviet economy (heavy industry, banking, utilities, and foreign trade) remained in the hands of the state, while private industry and commerce were allowed to operate at the lower levels. The forced requisition of grain, which had caused serious unrest among the peasantry, was replaced by a tax, and land remained firmly in private hands. The theoretical justification for the program was that Soviet Russia now needed to go through its own “capitalist stage” (albeit under the control of the party) before beginning the difficult transition to socialism. As an economic strategy, the NEP succeeded brilliantly. During the early and mid-1920s, the Soviet economy recovered rapidly from the doldrums of war and civil war. A more lax hand over the affairs of state allowed a modest degree of free expression of opinion within the ranks of the party and in Soviet society at large. Under the surface, however, trouble loomed. Lenin had been increasingly disabled by a bullet lodged in his neck from an attempted assassination, and he began to lose his grip over a fractious party. Even before his death in 1924, potential successors had begun to scuffle for precedence in the struggle to assume his position as party leader, the most influential position in the state. The main candidates were Leon Trotsky and a rising young figure from the state of Georgia, Joseph Djugashvili, better known by his revolutionary name, Stalin. Lenin had misgivings about all the candidates hoping to succeed him and suggested that a collective leadership best represented the interests of the party and the revolution. After his death in 1924, factional struggle among the leading figures in the party intensified. Although in some respects it was a pure power struggle, it did have policy ramifications as party factions debated about the NEP and its impact on the future of the Russian Revolution. At first, the various factions were relatively evenly balanced, but Stalin proved adept at using his position as general secretary of the party to outmaneuver his rivals. By portraying himself as a centrist opposed to the extreme positions of his “leftist” (too radical in pursuit of revolutionary goals) or “rightist” (too prone to adopt moderate positions contrary to Marxist principles) rivals, he gradually concentrated power in his own hands. In the meantime, the relatively moderate policies of the NEP continued to operate as the party and the state vocally encouraged the Soviet people, in a very un- Marxist manner, to enrich themselves. Capital investment and technological assistance from Western capitalist countries were actively welcomed. An observer at the time might reasonably have concluded that the Marxist vision of a world characterized by class struggle had become a dead letter.