[Classics] What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat

11. The Contradictions Between the Economic Successes of the USSR and the Bureaucratisation of the Regime

One cannot work out the foundations of revolutionary policy “in one country.” The problem of the German revolution is at present inextricably tied up with the question of political leadership in the USSR. This connection must be understood thoroughly. The proletarian dictatorship is the reply to the resistance of the possessing classes. The restriction of liberties arises from the military regime of the revolution, i.e., from the conditions of the class war. From this point of view it is entirely self-evident that the inner stabilisation of the Soviet republic, its economic growth, and the weakening of the resistance of the bourgeoisie, especially the successes in “liquidating” the last capitalist class, the kulaks, should result in the burgeoning of party, trade-union, and Soviet democracy.

The Stalinists never weary of repeating that “we have already entered into socialism”; that the present collectivisation signifies by itself the liquidation of the kulaks as a class; and that the next five-year plan will carry these processes to their conclusion. That being so, why did this same process lead to the complete suppression of the party, the trade unions, and the soviets by the bureaucratic apparatus, while the latter in its turn has taken on the character of plebiscitarian Bonapartism? Why did the life of the party proceed in full swing in the days of famine and civil war? Why didn’t it even enter into anyone’s mind to question whether it was or wasn’t permissible to criticise Lenin or the CEC as a whole? And why does the slightest divergence with Stalin now lead to expulsion from the party and to administrative repressions?

The threat of war on the part of imperialist governments can in no case explain, much less justify, the growth of bureaucratic despotism. If within a national socialist society the classes have been liquidated more or less, then that should signify that the dissolution of the state is beginning. The socialist society may victoriously combat foes from without precisely as a socialist society and not as a state of proletarian dictatorship, much less a bureaucratic one.

But we are not speaking of the dissolution of the dictatorship: it’s too early for that, we have not as yet “entered into socialism.” We speak of something else. We want to know: How to explain the bureaucratic degeneration of the dictatorship? What is the origin of the strident monstrous, and murderous contradiction between the successes of the socialist construction and the regime of personal dictatorship which leans upon an impersonal apparatus and which holds by the throat the ruling class of the nation? How explain the fact that economics and politics are developing in directions directly opposite?

The economic successes are very great. Economically the October Revolution has justified itself fully even now. The high coefficients of economic growth are irrefutable demonstrations of the fact that socialist methods reveal themselves to be immeasurably superior even for the solving of those problems of production which were solved in the West by capitalist methods. How great then will be the superiority of socialist economy in the advanced countries!

Nevertheless, the question posed by the October overturn has not been answered as yet even in outline.

The Stalinist bureaucracy calls the economy “socialist” on the strength of its postulates and tendencies. These are not enough. The economic successes of the Soviet Union are still taking shape on a low economic base. The nationalised industry is passing through stages which have been passed long since by the foremost capitalist nations. The working woman who stands in line has her own criterion of socialism, and this “consumer’s” criterion, as the functionary scornfully refers to it, is the decisive one in the given question. In the conflict between the views of the working woman and the bureaucrat we, the Left Opposition, side with the working woman against the bureaucrat who exaggerates the achievements, glosses over the contradictions, and holds the working woman by the throat lest she dare criticise.

Last year, a sharp about-face was made from the equalised to the differential (piecework) working wage. It is absolutely undebatable that given a low level of productive forces and hence of general culture, equality in payment for labour cannot be realised. But this itself means that the problem of socialism is not solved by social forms of ownership only, but postulates a certain technical power of society. Meanwhile the growth of technical power automatically draws the productive forces beyond the national boundaries.

After returning to wages by piecework, which was abandoned too soon, the bureaucracy refers to the equalised wage as a “kulak” principle. This is an out-and-out absurdity and shows into what blind alleys of hypocrisy and falsehood the Stalinists drive themselves. As a matter of fact they should have said, “We have rushed too far ahead with methods of equalised wages for labour; we are still far from socialism; and since we are still poor, we must needs turn back to semi-capitalist or kulak methods of paying for labour.” We repeat, in this there is no contradiction with the socialist goal. Here we only have an irreconcilable contradiction with the bureaucratic falsification of reality.

The retreat to piecework wages was necessitated by the resistance of a backward economy. There will be many such retreats, especially in the sphere of rural economy, where too great an administrative leap forward has been executed.

Industrialisation and collectivisation are being put through by the one-sided and uncontrolled laying down of the law to the labouring masses by the bureaucracy. The trade unions are deprived entirely of any means of influencing the correlation between consumption and accumulation. The differentiation within the peasantry is still being liquidated not so much economically as administratively. The social measures of the bureaucracy as regards the liquidation of the classes run much too far ahead of the basic process, the development of productive forces.

This leads to the rise in basic industrial costs, to the lowering of the quality of products, to an increase in prices, and to a dearth in goods for consumption, and it offers as a perspective the threat of a return to unemployment.

The extreme tension in the national political atmosphere is the consequence of the contradictions between the growth of Soviet economy and the economic policies of the bureaucracy, which either straggles monstrously behind the economic needs (1923-1928) or, taking fright at its own straggling, leaps forward and tries to make up for lost time by purely administrative measures (1928-1932). Here, too, after the right zigzag, we get a zigzag to the left. During both zigzags, the bureaucracy finds itself in contradiction with the realities of economy and consequently with the mood of the workers. It cannot permit them to criticise—neither when it straggles behind, nor when it leaps ahead.

The bureaucracy cannot exercise its pressure upon workers and peasants except by depriving them of all possibility of participating in decisions upon questions that touch their own labour and their entire future. Herein lies the greatest danger! The constant dread of meeting opposition on the part of the masses leads in politics to the “closed ranks in double time” of the bureaucratic and personal dictatorship.

Does this mean that the tempos of industrialisation and collectivisation should be lowered? For a given period—undoubtedly. But this period may not long endure. The participation of workers themselves in the leadership of the nation, of its politics and economy; an actual control over the bureaucracy; and the growth in the feeling of responsibility of those in charge to those under them—all these would doubtless react favourably on production itself: the friction within would be reduced, the costly economic zigzags would likewise be reduced to a minimum, a healthier distribution of forces and equipment would be assured, and ultimately the coefficients of growth would be raised. Soviet democracy is first of all the vital need of national economy itself. On the contrary, bureaucracy secretes within itself tragic economic surprises.

Surveying as a whole the history of the period of epigonism in the development of the USSR, it is not difficult to arrive at the conclusion that the basic political postulate for the bureaucratisation of the regime was the weariness of the masses after the shocks of the revolution and civil war. Famine and epidemics ruled the land. Political questions were relegated to the background. All thoughts centred on a piece of bread. Under War Communism, everybody received the same famine ration. The transition to the NEP brought the first economic successes. The rations became more ample but they were no longer allotted to everybody. The reestablishment of a commodity economy led to the calculation of basic costs, to rudimentary rationalisation, and to the elimination of surplus hands from the factories. For a long time economic successes went hand in hand with the growth of unemployment.

One must not forget for a single moment that the strengthening of the power of the apparatus arose from unemployment. After the years of famine, every proletarian at his bench stood in fear of the reserve army. Independent and critical workers were fired from factories, blacklists of oppositionists were kept In the hands of the Stalinist bureaucracy this became one of the most important and effective weapons. Lacking this condition, it could have never succeeded in strangling the Leninist party.

Subsequent economic successes gradually led to the liquidation of the reserve army of industrial workers (the concealed rural overpopulation, masked by collectivisation, still remains in full force). The industrial worker already no longer fears that he will be thrown out of the factory. Through his daily experience, he knows that the lack of foresight and the self-will of the bureaucracy interfered enormously with the fulfillment of his tasks. The Soviet press exposes individual workshops and factories where insufficient freedom is allowed the initiative of workers, as if the initiative of the proletariat can be restricted to factories, as if factories can be oases of industrial democracy amidst the complete subjugation of the proletariat within the party, the soviets, and the trade unions!

The general state of mind of the proletariat now is no longer what it was in 1922-1923. The proletariat has grown numerically and culturally. Having accomplished the gigantic labour of restoring and uplifting the national economy, the workers are now experiencing the restoration and uplift of their self-confidence. This growing inner confidence is beginning to change into dissatisfaction with the bureaucratic regime.

The strangling of the party and the overgrowth of the personal regime and the personal arbitrariness may at first glance evoke the idea that the Soviet system is weakening. But that is not so. The Soviet system has become very much stronger; but simultaneously the contradiction between this system and the iron rule of its bureaucracy has been sharpened extremely. With amazement the Stalinist apparatus observes that economic successes, instead of strengthening, are undermining its sway. In fighting for its positions, it is forced to turn the screws still tighter and to forbid all forms of “self-criticism” other than the Byzantine flattery addressed to the leaders.

It is not the first time in history that economic development has come into contradiction with those political conditions within whose framework it is achieved. But one must clearly understand precisely which of these conditions engenders dissatisfaction. The oncoming opposition wave is not in the least degree directed against socialist tasks. Soviet forms, or the Communist Party. The dissatisfaction is directed against the apparatus and its personification, Stalin. Whence arises the new phase of the furious battle against the so-called “Trotskyist contraband.”

The adversary threatens to become unconquerable; he is everywhere and nowhere. He bobs up in factories and in schools, he penetrates into historical journals and into all textbooks. This means that facts and documents convict the bureaucracy, exposing its vacillations and mistakes. One cannot calmly and objectively recall the bygone day, one must remodel the past, one must plaster up all the cracks, through which suspicions might leak out as regards the infallibility of the apparatus and its head. We have before us all the traits of a ruling caste that has lost its head. Yaroslavsky himself proves to be unreliable! These are not accidental episodes, not trifles, nor personal quarrels: the root of the matter lies in the fact that the economic successes, which in their first stages strengthened the bureaucracy, are now becoming, by the dialectic of their development, opposed to the bureaucracy. That is why during the last party conference, i.e., during the conference of the Stalinist apparatus, the thrice and four times annihilated and buried “Trotskyism” was decreed to be “the vanguard of bourgeois counterrevolution.”

This silly and politically quite unterrifying resolution lifts the veil from some very “practical” plans of Stalin in the sphere of personal reprisals. Not for nothing did Lenin warn against the appointment of Stalin as general secretary, “This cook will prepare only peppery dishes.” ... The cook has not yet completely exhausted his culinary prowess.

But despite the tightening of all theoretical and administrative screws, the personal dictatorship of Stalin is clearly nearing its eclipse. The apparatus is all in cracks. The crack called Yaroslavsky is only one of a hundred cracks who today still remain nameless. The fact that the new political crisis is being prepared on the basis of the self-evident and undebatable successes of Soviet economy and the numerical growth of the proletariat and the initial successes of collective farming—that is sufficient guarantee that the liquidation of bureaucratic absolutism will coincide not with the breakdown of the Soviet system, which was a danger some three or four years ago, but on the contrary, with its liberation, advance, and flowering.

But precisely in this, its final period, the Stalinist bureaucracy is capable of causing much evil. The question of prestige has now become for it the central question of politics. If nonpolitical historians are expelled from the party only because they proved incapable of shedding lustre on Stalin’s feats in 1917, can the plebiscitary regime permit the recognition of the mistakes it perpetrated in 1931-1932? Can it renounce its theory of social fascism? Can it whitewash Stalin, who formulated the gist of the German situation as follows: let the fascists come first, then we will follow?

By themselves the objective conditions in Germany are so imperative that, had the leadership of the German Communist Party at their command the necessary freedom of action, they would no doubt even now be orienting to our side. But they are not free. At the time when the Left Opposition submits the ideas and slogans tested by the victory of 1917, the Stalinist clique, aiming to create a diversion, sends orders by telegraph to inaugurate an international campaign against “Trotskyism.” The campaign is carried on not on the basis of the questions of the German revolution, that is, on the life-and-death questions of the world proletarian but on the basis of a wretched and falsified article of Stalin on the questions of the history of Bolshevism. It is difficult to conceive of a greater disproportion between the tasks of the epoch on the one hand and the petty ideological resources of the official leadership on the other. So degrading and unworthy and at the same time profoundly tragic is the position of the Comintern.

The problem of the Stalinist regime and the problem of the German revolution are tied up with an absolutely indissoluble knot. The coming events will untie or cut this knot—in the interests of the Russian as well as of the German revolution.