How correct was Marx’s deduction from his social studies, that a society
“can neither clear by bold leaps nor remove by legal enactments the obstacles offered by the successive phases of its normal development. But it can shorten and lessen the birth pangs.” (Preface to Capital.)
is shown by the present position in Russia. When the Bolsheviks had obtained control of power it was pointed out that the economic conditions of a country still largely in a feudalistic state, with the bulk of its population consisting of peasants, prevented the establishment of social control of the means of life. The blind followers of the Bolsheviks answered by pointing to the vast mass of propagandist literature circulated among the peasantry—8o per cent. of whom could not read!—which had converted the large majority to Socialism in two or three months.
What was the magic in this wonderful literature that accomplished more in days than the Socialists of the Western World had been able to achieve in years? Or was it that the Russian peasant is possessed of an intelligence immensely greater than that of the Western worker? Generally the answer was in line with the second query. The Russian peasant’s mind, we were told, had not been poisoned by the teaching and the propaganda of the capitalists, and so was far more able to understand and appreciate the Socialist teaching than the Western worker. It is true that no evidence, beyond the continued rule of the Bolsheviks, was ever given for these statements. Still this did not prevent the claims being constantly made.
For some time past certain writers in the capitalist press,. i.e., M. Farbman in the “Observer,” had stated that small production and trading for private profit, was not only being allowed, but even encouraged in Russia. At first these reports, that were in such flat contradiction to the claims of Lenin’s followers, were denounced as “capitalist lies.”
Now, however, in the “Labour Monthly” for November, appears an article by J. Larin, a Bolshevik official, entitled “The New Economic Policy in Russia,” in which he attempts to defend this policy (embodied in Decrees of April 7 and May 13) of allowing free trading and domestic industry for private profit. Not only does he defend these decrees, but to the utter confusion of Lenin’s followers here, he claims that these things were on the original programme of the Bolsheviks in 1918 and had existed for some time after the Bolsheviks had come into power.
In 1919 and 1920 small production and trading for private profit were forbidden. It is true that the Bolsheviks were not able to suppress this trading altogether, and a great deal of illegal business was done during those years. Still, the law was passed and all business was supposed to be under Government control.
Why this new change of policy? Larin’s explanation is worth noting. A Decree had been issued in November, 1918, under which
“Trading in the products of domestic, craft, and small private industry remained free both for individuals and for the co-operative societies. . . . But here we met with political reasons which paralysed our policy in practice—and these reasons must be sought for not amongst the peasantry, and not amongst the workers. The town bourgeoise itself simply refused to trade and refused to carry on its small undertakings. The laws remained, but the stores and workshops became empty, as the owners would not any longer risk their capital under the Bolsheviks. ” P. 431-2.)
Here we have not only the claims of Lenin’s followers torn to shreds, but also a splendid example of how conditions force policies in spite of all theories to the contrary.
Larin’s explanation, however, is to some extent, contradicted by Lenin. In the weekly edition of the “Manchester Guardian” for 11th November, is a report of a speech by Lenin, taken from two Communist papers—the Berlin “Novy Pont” and the Riga “Novy Mir.” According to this report Lenin stated that
“their economic policy during the first period assumed the possibility of passing directly from the old economic system to the State control of production and to distribution on a Communist basis.”
It will be seen that this statement contradicts Larin’s claims, while further on, Lenin, after referring to their being compelled to wage civil war, continues :—
“Under the influence of this state of things and of the desperate situation in which the Republic then was, under the influence of other circumstances of which this is not the time to speak, we made a blunder; we decided to pass immediately to Communist production and distribution,”
and a little later he describes the result as “a severe economic defeat,” and said they were “falling back in a disorder.”
Despite the contradictions between Larin and Lenin, they are both agreed upon the fundamental fact—namely, that it was impossible to establish Socialism in Russia to-day, and that, therefore, they must allow capitalism to operate, beginning with small industry and trading. Surely a striking vindication of Marx.