Which Way Russia?
Socialists have always held that dictatorship, even though it is inaugurated by people who call themselves Socialists, cannot lead to Socialism. Russia is now showing us where it does lead. Hardly anybody but the editor of the Communist Daily Worker, can regard the latest wave of plots and executions as evidence of a healthy condition in the Soviet State. To him it is a simple story of treachery by men in high positions who wished “to place the people of the U.S.S.R. under the yoke of capitalist slavery” (Daily Worker editorial, June 12th, 1937). Happily, the ever-vigilant intelligence service unearthed their dastardly plot and crushed it in the nick of time. Otherwise “they would have wrought incalculable harm to the cause of peace, progress and Socialism.” This may satisfy the members of the Communist Party, but nobody else. How, for example, does it come to pass that highly-placed army generals with distinguished records, some with 20 years’ membership of the Communist Party, should have conceived the desire to turn their backs on what an admirer, Mr. G. B. Shaw, calls “the amazing success of the Soviet Government” in order to establish the capitalism they had spent a lifetime trying to destroy? How does it happen that men bred from their youth in the Communist tradition could have such aims? And how came they to believe that those aims could be welcomed by or forced upon the 160-million j population of Russia? The Daily Worker does not give the answer because it is so mesmerised by Stalinist self-advertisement that it does not even know there is a problem.
Explanations – Plausible and Otherwise
Many explanations have been offered, some of them as unconvincing as the Daily Worker’s. One which fits at least some of the known facts and probabilities is that published by the News Chronicle (June 16th, 1937). It is based on statements made by Soviet circles in London. It is that the executed generals had decided to seize power and set up a military dictatorship in place of the present party dictatorship. They did not want Germany and Japan to profit by the temporary disturbance by declaring war, so they asked the military staffs of those countries for a pledge to lay off. In return those two countries were promised territorial concessions. Inside Russia the plotters relied on the support of the army to raise them to power and crush the opposition. That is the story told to the News Chronicle. It is by no means impossible, for dictatorships have a habit of breeding vaulting ambitions among the military leaders. And colour is lent to it by the known fact that the Russian and German general staffs secretly maintained close relationships for years before Hitler came to power. It was Russian policy to help Germany to rearm against their common enemy, the allied powers. It is now said that the dead Russian generals were some of those in active charge of these secret contacts and that when the Russian Government ordered their discontinuance, some time after Hitler took office, they maintained them without the knowledge of their own Government.
An explanation along these lines is at least a possibility, and it is not much different from the official version given out in Moscow, but it is credible only on two very significant assumptions. One is that the generals were so stupid as to be on the borderline of imbecility. The other is that there is something very much amiss with the Soviet system. The generals formed the idea of setting up a military dictatorship, but how could they form that idea unless they were confident that their movement would be actively supported by a large proportion of the military and civil rank and file? And how could they have that confidence unless they thought they could see convincing evidence of widespread discontent with the existing regime? We are forced, therefore, to choose between two conclusions. If the generals thought that they could establish a military dictatorship without having any popular support at all, and against the determination of army and civil population alike, then they must have been weak in the head and utterly incompetent to judge any kind of situation. But everyone agrees that they were clever and experienced men, many of them as much at home in Communist political circles as in military ones. The only alternative, and one we have to accept, is that they did not believe the Stalinist claim that all Russia, except a handful of Trotskyist plotters and foreign-paid agents, is behind the existing regime. On the contrary, they counted, evidently, on widespread discontent and disillusionment to give them the support without which they knew they could not possibly succeed.
“Everyone Suspect in Russia”
The most terrible indictment of the belief that party dictatorship is a means of achieving Socialism is to be found by comparing a current account of Russia, written by a correspondent who has hitherto shown himself sympathetic towards the Stalinist point of view, with a claim made a few years ago by the Government itself.
First, the claim made for Russia in preamble to the Constitution adopted in 1923:
” Here – in the camp of Socialism – are mutual confidence and peace, national freedom and equality, and dwelling together in peace and the brotherly collaboration of peoples.”
Now for statements about the present peaceful and brotherly condition of Russia, by the correspondent in Moscow of the Daily Herald.
“EVERYONE SUSPECT IN RUSSIA.
Suspicion, denunciation, high and low hunts for alleged Trotskyists, spies and wreckers have reached such a pitch throughout Russia that it is safe to say that the past and future of everybody in the country is under review. Members and officials of trades unions, the Army and all political organisations are being sifted and sorted as though by a gigantic sieve. . . . Idols of the past become Trotskyists, wreckers or enemies overnight. So swift and vast are the changes in industry, from leadership down to the lowest grades, that it is impossible to keep track of them.” – (Daily Herald, June 5th, 1937.)
“News of arrests, suicides, plots, still pours into Moscow from all parts of the Soviet Union. In the city of Ordjonikidze, in the North Caucasus, 5,362 people have been expelled from the Communist Party, according to newspaper reports. More than 30 Party and Government officials have been arrested at Rostov. One prominent Communist had committed suicide. The “Pacific Ocean Star” reports that Krutov, President of the Executive Committee of the Far Eastern Region, has been denounced as a “Japanese and Trotskyist enemy.” In White Russia, wreckers are alleged to have maimed thoroughbred bulls sent there to improve local stocks.” – (Daily Herald, June 18th, 1937.)
“Wholesale denunciations and arrests of officials for alleged shortcomings in their work are threatening to bring Soviet industry practically to a standstill. Demoralisation increases rather than diminishes because of the element of fear under which all are working – each one fears he may be the next to be denounced.” – (Daily Herald, June 19th, 1937.)
Mr. G. B. Shaw may go on thinking that the Russian Communist dictatorship is an amazing success, but Socialists remain of their first opinion: that dictatorship of a party does not lead to Socialism. Russia appears to be one more proof that it leads to a condition in which threatened chaos gives ambitious Napoleons their opportunity to plot for military dictatorship.
(Socialist Standard, July 1937)