1930s >> 1932 >> no-335-july-1932

The Outlook for Socialism in Russia

A correspondent questions our attitude towards the Russian Bolsheviks on the ground that we are wrong in ruling out the possibility and probability of Socialism developing in Russia from the existing conditions.


A first objection to our correspondent’s view is that it is an illusion to suppose that Socialism can be established nationally. Socialism is not a means of solving national problems of production in industrially backward areas. It is the solution to the international conflict between the working class and the capitalist class.


Our correspondent supports his contention by arguing that

(1) Production is advancing at a phenomenal rate. (2) Soviet capitalism has characteristics of a novel order. (3) The ruthless and sweeping social policies of the Communists must have compelled an interest in social affairs phenomenal for so backward a people.

As evidence, he quotes Michael Farbman’s statement in the “New Republic” (September 16th, 1931), that while “immediately before the world depression, even the United States rate of annual increment was no more than 4 per cent. . . . the rate of annual increment in Soviet Russia in the first two years of the Plan’s operation averaged 24 per cent.”


This argument leaves out of account the initial backwardness of Russian industry. Expressed as a percentage the development from a relatively low level will appear to be very rapid, although the actual amount of the increase is small compared with the productivity of more advanced countries.


During the year following the abandonment of so-called “Military Communism” and the introduction of the new Economic Policy, the rate of increase was 34 per cent., far exceeding anything that has been achieved since (Grinko “Five Year Plan,” p. 34).


The restoration of the pre-war level of production in Russia took ten years, approximate|y. On pp. 35-36 Grinko speaks of “the failure to restore the iron industry to even nearly the pre-war level, and its lagging far behind the growth of machine construction and the general requirements of the national economy,” and “the considerable deficiency of grain production.” According to the “Economic Handbook of Soviet Russia, 1931” (published by the American-Russian Chamber of Commerce), the yield per acre on the collective farms was no higher in 1930 than in 1927, in spite of enormous increases in the total acreage and in the average size of the collective farms, plus machinery, fertilisers, etc. On page 8 we read : ‘‘The progress of agriculture has not been as rapid as that of industry. After having approached in 1926 the pre-war level as far as sown area and production of principal crops are concerned, agriculture failed until this year to show further progress commensurate with the growing demands of industry for agricultural raw materials and of the population for foodstuffs.” Recent reports show that in many industries the 1931 production plans failed to be realised. In view of these facts, we would suggest to our correspondent that it is far too early to speak of Russia having solved the problem of production; nor does this appear feasible apart from foreign aid. Grinko (“Five Year Plan,” p. 117) speaks of “the ever widening stream of technical assistance from the world’s largest industrial concerns.” This assistance is financed, for a profit, by the world’s capitalists.


Regarding argument (2), our correspondent asserts as a fact that in Russia “80 per cent. of industry is under centralised control.” He does not quote his authority, but if we accept the statement as correct, he exaggerates its importance. Maurice Dobb, in his “Russian Economic Developments” (p. 337), quotes J. M. Keynes to the effect “that two-thirds of the capital in large-scale undertakings in Britain was in enterprises of a State capitalist character, i.e., enterprises either in State hands or subject to some form of State regulation and control” (Liberal Summer School, July 30th, 1927). No advanced capitalist country is run on the “individualistic” principles so dear to the heart of some early nineteenth century economists and philosophers. The joint-stock companies, the combines and public utility corporations, together with numerous Acts of Parliament, have changed all that. The capitalist class organise to an increasing extent upon collective lines. What, if anything, distinguishes Russian methods is bureaucratism, regarded by many observers as baneful. As Prof. Hoover puts it in his “Economic Life in Soviet Russia” (p. 10)“ The elaborate machinery which is set up to prevent graft is, however, one cause of the immense amount of bureaucracy and red tape which weighs down the entire Soviet economy.” Dobb, also, describes at length this aspect of the situation in his last chapter.


Our correspondent denies that capital in Russia is concentrated in the hands of a capitalist class. “Most of the capital,” he says, “belongs to the State.” What is this State which is “independent” of the property-owning class? He does not tell us, but its essentially capitalist nature was made clear by no less an authority than Lenin. “In view of the cultural and technical backwardness of Russia the solution of the economic problem could not be reached without learning from the capitalists and also using them as advisers, experts, managers, even as independent entrepreneurs ” (quoted by Dobb on p. 162).


In Russia, embryo capitalists (euphemistically known as “specialists”), receive a State-guaranteed income of 500-600 roubles (£50 to £60) per month. The highest category of workers’ wages (including administrators and highly-skilled technicians) is 225 roubles (£22 10s.) per month (Dobb, p. 340). The usual run of workers’ wages at the time Dobb wrote was less than 70 roubles (£7) per month (see Soviet Union Year Book, 1930, pp. 464-5).


Commenting on the incentives held out to specialists in Russia to run production, Prof. Hoover says (p. 8):—


   These material advantages (better living quarters, opportunity for travel, use of cars, clubs, etc.) are better than those which accrue to the mass of the population and are the best which can be obtained under the circumstances.

Our correspondent discusses these increasing class distinctions as “trivial,” and maintains that their disappearance involves, “a far less drastic change of outlook on the part of the workers” in Russia than elsewhere. We wish we could believe this. But our correspondent provides us with no evidence in support of such a view.


As for argument (3), the vast majority of the population of Russia are still peasants, in spite of industrial development. The attempt to organise them into collective farms has provoked various forms of active. and passive resistance. That of the so-called “kulaks” is too well-known to need emphasis, and our correspondent himself admits it. Even more serious from the standpoint of the Soviet Government, however, is the type of resistance mentioned by the Moscow correspondent of the “New York Times” (November 4th, 1931):—

   Many collective farms and some state farms chose to distribute their surplus grain, fodder and other products among their own workers rather than sell them to the State grain collectors.

The SOCIALIST STANDARD pointed out years ago that the peasants were not Socialists and would not produce for any other motive than their own use or profit except under compulsion. Recent reports in the Press indicate that wholesale arrests of Soviet grain agents have taken place (for “failing to fulfil the Plan”?) and we may expect to hear of further screws loose in the bureaucratic machinery of the Russian State.


Maurice Hindus, in “Humanity Uprooted,” points out that the peasants control the bread basket and are the backbone of the Red Army. They do not want Socialism, and are unlikely to want it until it has been established elsewhere. Their “interest in social affairs” shows every sign of taking the form of hostility to the Government which professes to speak in the name of Socialism and whose attempt to i impose it from above has inevitably been a failure from the first. The activities of the Communists in Russia have cleared the way for the development of capitalism.


The workers in Russia or elsewhere cannot emancipate themselves simply by supporting the imposition of political disabilities upon the capitalists. They can do so only by organising consciously and politically as a class for the capture of the powers of government in order to convert the means of life into the common property of all.


For this Russia is yet very far from ripe.


The Stalinist doctrine of “Socialism in Russia Alone” is a fantastic Utopian myth, as harmful in its effects upon the minds of the workers as its kindred chimeras, the Fabians’ “gradualism,” the I.L.P.’s “Socialism In Our Time” — in fact, the entire outfits of opportunist reformers in Western Europe and America.


Eric Boden