After 1945 Stalin's power was absolute. He could never tolerate anyone too big alongside him. Nobody was to be taller than Stalin, nobody wiser, stronger, more artistically aware, more brilliant, more far-sighted, more beloved by the People. He hated intellectuals and anyone on a higher cultural level than himself because he felt inferior in their presence. There was, however, a simple remedy for this: the physical removal of such people.
Stalin and the intellectuals
"Who could seriously maintain now that Stalin had some idea of a general order of things? Or that he had some ideology? Stalin never had any ideology or conviction or ideas or principles. Stalin always held whatever opinions made it easy for him to tyrannize others, to keep them in fear and guilt. Today the teacher and leader may say one thing, tomorrow something else. He never cared what he said, as long as he held onto his power." (Dimitri Shostakovich, Testimony, p. 187.)
These lines are quite true. Stalin had no ideology, other than to gain power and hold onto it. He had a tendency towards suspicion and violence. "Theory" was added as an afterthought, like the fairy on the Xmas trees. He was a typical apparatchik - narrow and ignorant, like the people whose interests he represented. The other Bolshevik leaders spent years in western Europe and spoke foreign languages fluently, and participated personally in the international workers' movement. Stalin spoke no foreign languages and even spoke Russian poorly with a thick Georgian accent.
Unlike Lenin, whose modesty was proverbial, Stalin loved grandiose titles like "Father of all the Peoples" and the "Corypheus of Science". Though ignorant and uncultured himself, he liked to be considered as the acme of artistic wisdom and the arbiter of taste. He hated intellectuals and anyone on a higher cultural level than himself because he felt inferior in their presence. There was, however, a simple remedy for this: the physical removal of such people.
The so-called policy of "socialist realism" had nothing to do with either socialism or realism, but everything to do with a totalitarian desire to police the arts, to force them to put on a straitjacket. Like every other social activity, culture was subject to the constant surveillance of the state through the activities of an artistic GPU and a web of informers, toadies and stooges. The rulers of the USSR were well aware that dissent may be expressed through a wide variety of channels and in many different ways. In a totalitarian regime where all opposition parties and tendencies are banned, opposition to the regime can surface in other ways - hence the compulsive need to censor the arts.
Innovation was frowned upon. It was seen as dangerous, like any other departure from the official norms handed down from on high by the all-seeing, all-knowing Leader. The aesthetic and social content of "socialist realism" can be simply stated: it is the art of singing the praises of the bureaucracy and the Supreme Boss in a language they could understand. Stalin, the bureaucrats whose interests he represented, was crude and narrow. His artistic tastes were conservative. In the 1920s there was an explosion of artistic experimentation in the USSR. The Party expressed its opinions about the various artistic and literary trends, but never dreamed of using the state to promote some and repress others. More than ant other human manifestation, art requires freedom to breathe, develop and experiment. Under Stalin all that changed into its opposite.
In the new environment a suffocating and deadening uniformity was imposed that made truly creative activity almost impossible. Mayakovsky, the famous poet and life-long Bolshevik, committed suicide in 1931 in protest against the bureaucratic counterrevolution. Later the regime took him over and published his work in big editions, which Boris Pasternak said was his second death: "Mayakovsky began to be introduced forcibly, like potatoes under Catherine the Great. This was his second death; he had no hand in it."
During the Purges many artists and intellectuals were killed or disappeared, including some outstanding writers like Isaak Babel. Gorky caused Stalin some problems because he was always pleading for some arrested person or other. He had done the same with Lenin. But this time the results were different. Stalin almost certainly had Gorky poisoned. Yagoda was later accused of this crime. He may have done so, but on Stalin's instructions. The fact that articles were published attacking the hitherto sacrosanct Gorky is an indication that his downfall was being planned, and such a step could only come straight from Stalin himself. There could be no question of putting someone like Gorky on trial. He had to disappear quietly.
As the Purges gathered momentum, a whole generation of artists and intellectuals was wiped out. In the 1930s a large number of talented people were sent to their deaths in Stalin's camps. Among them were the celebrated theatre director Meyerhold, a brilliant innovator, who was deported in 1937 and died in a camp. A similar fate befell Isaac Babel, the author of Red Cavalry. The celebrated poet Osip Mandelshtam was arrested for writing an epigram bout Stalin and died in a camp. There were many others.
Stalin personally interfered in the Purge of artists. The opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk by Dimitri Shostakovich was a great success, until Stalin walked out of a performance. The following day an editorial appeared in Pravda with the title "Chaos instead of music". The author was Stalin himself, and the closing phrase was: "This can end very badly." These words in the given context were equivalent to a death sentence. The reason why Stalin hated Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk was not only that he could not understand the music. The plot involves a condemnation of the brutality of the tsarist police, which, at the height of the Purges, could not be tolerated.
The dictator was making the point that nobody, no matter how famous, was safe. After the publication of Stalin's Pravda article, Shostakovich's fate seemed to be sealed. He kept a small suitcase packed day and night in preparation for the fatal knock at the door. The reason he survived shows the capricious nature of Stalin's regime. It happened that the dictator liked films, especially ones in which he featured prominently like The Fall of Berlin. There were Soviet actors who did nothing else but play the role of Stalin in films. And naturally, only a great composer could write the score for such films. And Shostakovich was undoubtedly a great composer. That saved his life.
The other great Soviet composer Sergei Prokofiev, who had returned to Russia in 1936, was denounced as a "modernist" and found it increasingly difficult to get his works performed. His opera Simyon Kotko was based on a Soviet theme - the partisans in the Ukraine at the time of the Civil War. But the director was Meyerhold, who was arrested in the middle of his work and later shot.
In the late thirties Prokofiev collaborated with the celebrated Soviet film director Sergei Eisenstein in the film Ivan the Terrible. From the standpoint of early Soviet historians Ivan Grozny was a tyrant and a butcher, but since Stalin admired him, this view had to be modified. Eisenstein's film starts out as an apology for Ivan, but in its second part, which describes the cruelty of Ivan's regime, it becomes increasingly ambivalent. The parallel between Ivan's oprichniki and Stalin's GPU was too obvious. Stalin called Prokofiev and Eisenstein and attacked them viciously for their portrayal of his hero. Eisenstein's nerves were shattered. Shortly after he had a heart attack and died. The third part of Ivan was left unfinished and the film disappeared into the archives.
After 1945, Stalin felt the need to re-establish his grip on society in general and the arts in particular. He used the services of one of his creatures, Anderi Zhdanov to launch a vicious Purge of artists, writers and composers after the War. Prominent Soviet composers like Prokofiev and Shostakovich were vilified and humiliated. Special meetings were held in which Party hacks and repulsive careerists of the Zhdanov type would be queueing up to denounce the "formalists" Prokofiev and Shostakovich. Prokofiev's wife was arrested and sentenced to ten years in a labour camp.
Why did Stalin persecute these composers so cruelly? How can a piece of music represent a danger to the state? Music has a language of its own and can say many things to who understand its language. The Soviet musical public was highly sophisticated and well used to reading between the lines not just of newspaper articles but also symphonic scores. Prokofiev's Sixth Symphony was like a musical anti-Stalinist manifesto, which was why it was banned. This is even more true of all of Shostakovich's symphonies from number five on.
It is appropriate to leave the last word to a man who knew Stalin well and suffered personally from his regime: "Why are people so eager for tyrants to be 'patrons' and 'lovers of art'? I think there are several reasons. First of all, tyrants are base, clever and cunning men who know that it is much better for their dirty work if they appear to be cultured men rather than ignoramuses and boors. Let the ones who do the work be boors, the pawns. The pawns are proud to be boors, but the generalissimo must always be wise in all things. And such a wise man has a huge apparatus working for him, writing about him and writing speeches for him and books too. A huge team of researchers prepares papers for him on any question, any topic.
"So you want to be a specialist in architecture? You will be. Just give the order, beloved leader and teacher. Do you want to be a specialist in graphic arts? You will be. A specialist in orchestration? Why not? Or in languages? You name it. […]
"All the pawns, toadies, screws, and other tiny souls also desperately want their leader and teacher to be an undisputed and absolute titan of thought and pen." (Dimitri Shostakovich., Testimony, p. 125-6.)
The last period
During the War Stalin had been obliged to loosen the bonds of the Terror in order not to undermine the will of the people to struggle. But immediately after 1945 the shutters came down again. On Stalin's orders a campaign began against "cosmopolitanism" and "kowtowing to the West". Mass arrests and deportations began again; several harsh anti-Jewish drives were carried out. Simultaneously, Russian nationalism was celebrated at every opportunity.
Stalin's power was now absolute. Fear of the masses drove the bureaucracy to close ranks still more fervently around the Leader who guaranteed their privileges. Political reasons with Stalin were often mixed up with personal and psychological considerations. He could never tolerate anyone too big alongside him. Since Stalin was of short stature he made sure that he was not photographed next to anyone taller than himself. Artists went to extraordinary lengths to paint portraits of the Boss from a particular angle that exaggerated his stature. Nobody was to be taller than Stalin, nobody wiser, stronger, more artistically aware, more brilliant, more far-sighted, more beloved by the People.
Stalin was always suspicious and envious of anyone with talent, as if this represented an affront to his genius. He was particularly suspicious of the heads of the armed forces, fearing a coup. Marshal Zhukov, who played an important role in the victory over Hitler, earned Stalin's undying hatred because he showed a certain independence of mind and occasionally expressed opinions contrary to those of the Father of the Peoples. But in the summer of 1945, to Zhukov's surprise, Stalin insisted that he take the salute at the victory parade in Moscow. Zhukov recalls the circumstances precisely in his memoirs:
"I cannot recall the exact date but I think it was somewhere around June 18 or 19 that I was summoned by Stalin's to his country house. He asked me whether I had forgotten how to ride a horse.
"'No I haven't,' I replied.
"'Good,' said Stalin. 'You will have to take the salute at the Victory Parade. Rokossovsky will command it.'
"'Thank you for the great honour, but wouldn't it be better for you to take the salute? You are the Supreme Commander-in-Chief and by right and duty you are to take the salute.'
"'I am too old to review parades. You do it, you are younger.'"
(G. Zhukov, Reminiscences and Reflections, vol. 2, p. 424.)
This was a typical example of Stalin's cunning and his rudeness and disloyalty. By putting Zhukov in this position - an apparent gesture of friendship and modesty - he was preparing a trap. He wanted to get rid of Zhukov and needed an excuse. Since Zhukov was too well known and respected to murder, Stalin satisfied his desire for revenge by humiliating his chief general. He sent Zhukov to an unimportant post in an obscure place in the south. The reason for this was his "lack of modesty".
The Cult of Stalin
The growth of the economy was paralleled by a sharp increase in repression and in the cult of Stalin. At the 19th Party Congress, the cult of Leader attained its most grotesque expression. Here are just a few examples from Malenkov's closing speech:
"Of cardinal importance to Marxist-Leninist theory and to all our practical activity is the work of Comrade Stalin just published: Economic Problems of socialism in the USSR. (Loud and prolonged applause)
"Thus the Party's plans for the future, defining the prospects and ways of our advancement, are based on a knowledge of economic laws, on the science of the building of communist society worked out by Comrade Stalin. (Loud and long continuing applause.)
"A major contribution to the Marxian political economy is Comrade Stalin's discovery of the basic law of modern capitalism and the basic economic law of socialism (!)
"Comrade Stalin's discovery […] Comrade Stalin shows […] Comrade Stalin has shown us […] Comrade Stalin discovered Comrade Stalin has revealed […]
"The works of Comrade Stalin are graphic testimony to the paramount importance our Party attaches to theory […] Comrade Stalin is constantly advancing Marxist theory […] Comrade Stalin has disclosed the function of language as an instrument of social development, and indicated the prospects for the future development of national cultures and languages."
And finally, after numerous interruptions by "applause", "prolonged applause", and "loud and long continuing applause":
"Under the banner of the immortal Lenin, under the wise leadership of the great Stalin, forward to the victory of Communism!
"(On the conclusion of the report, all the delegates rise and greet Comrade Stalin with loud and prolonged cheers. There are cries from all parts of the hall: 'Long live the great Stalin!' 'Hurrah for our dear Stalin!' 'Long live our beloved leader and teacher, Comrade Stalin!')."
(Report of 19th Congress of the CPSU, pp. 134-44.)
It is sufficient to compare this sycophantic circus to the democratic congresses of the Bolshevik Party under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky to see the abyss that separates Stalinism from Leninism. Here we have the Cult of the Leader in all its glory.
Yet the Leader was not satisfied with this. In the years before his death Stalin was preparing to launch a further series of bloody purges in Russia on the lines of 1936-38. The real purpose of Stalin's "theoretical" works of this period (which are empty of any real theoretical content) was to prepare the ground for a new Purge. In his last work Economic Problems of the USSR, published in 1952, Stalin hinted strongly that "errors" in action and thought were reappearing in the Communist Parties, including that of the USSR. That was a warning of worse to come. Stalin's "theoretical" work on Marxist economics had drastic consequences. N.A. Voznesensky, member of the Politburo and planning chief, disappeared in 1949 and was shot in 1950. Later, he was accused of over-emphasising the law of value in economics and creating the impression that economic laws can be created by subjective action.
In actual fact, extreme subjectivism and what Marxists call voluntarism was always one of the main ingredients of Stalin's thought, combined with the crudest formalism and empiricism. But occasionally life itself gave him a flip on the nose and compelled him to stage a 180 degree change of course. These zig-zags are a constant feature of his political line. The "theory" was always just an afterthought to justify these violent turns. In the late 1940s there was deep discontent in the masses because of the low living standards, which contrasted scandalously with the pampered existence of the elite. Scapegoats were necessary.
The Leningrad Purge
Stalin had used Zhdanov in his campaign against Soviet writers and composers. But Zhdanov proved too successful and provoked Stalin's jealousy. Like Kirov and Yezhov before him, he was becoming too prominent in the public eye. On Stalin's insistence, his old friend was sent to a Kremlin sanatorium. Zhdanov's medical records, which were recently made public, show that he was suffering from a serious heart condition and that the correct medical treatment would have been to order rest. But the Kremlin doctors prescribed a regime of vigorous exercise. In on August 31, 1948, one month after entering the sanatorium, the patient was dead. Zdanov's death was certainly not accidental. The Kremlin doctors helped him on his way, and they took their orders from Stalin.
It is quite clear that Stalin had him killed in order to blame his death on the Kremlin doctors (the "Doctors' Plot"). Like the Kirov assassination, this was intended to prepare the ground for mass arrests. All those who had been leaders of the Leningrad Party organization during the War were to share Zhdanov's fate.
Zhdanov's assistant Alexei Kuznetsov had taken control of Leningrad in the blackest days of the war, when it was besieged by the Nazis. The great Zhdanov naturally distinguished himself by extreme cowardice, spending most of the time in the safety of his bunker. Most other Leningraders showed great courage. But Stalin did not trust them. On Stalin's seventieth birthday, just to show who was Boss, he had Kuznetsov and other leaders from Leningrad executed. After the siege of Leningrad, Stalin told Kuznetsov "Your Motherland will never forget you". And he was not forgotten. He was tortured until he confessed to treason, and then in 1950 after a secret "trial" he was shot.
Paranoia and the totalitarian regime
By this time Stalin was almost certainly insane. This is no accident. By blurring the difference between reality and the will of the individual, a regime of absolute power, in which all criticism is prohibited, serves eventually to unbalance the mind. This almost certainly happened with Hitler. And the history of mad Russian tsars and Roman emperors tells the same story. Towards the end, Stalin's mind was clearly unhinged. In the absence of any check or control he believed himself to be omnipotent.
Stalin was completely paranoid. He lived like a recluse in his dacha. He saw enemies everywhere. In his paranoid state, he no longer trusted anyone. Lifelong Stalinists were rounded up and imprisoned. In 1952, Stalin accused his faithful puppets Voroshilov and Molotov of being British spies, and banned them from attending meetings of the leadership. Mikoyan was denounced as a Turkish spy and even Beria was banished from Stalin's presence. He even arrested members of his own family, including both his sisters-in-law and had them sent to camps.
Everyone lived in fear of the Boss, whose every whim was law. In his memoirs, Shostakovich recalls an incredible incident that occurred shortly before Stalin's death. He always lived a nocturnal existence and had a habit of ringing people in the middle of the night. On one occasion he rang the head of the State Broadcasting House to inquire about a Mozart piano concerto he had heard on the radio. Who was the pianist and could he get a recording of it?
The director of the radio entered into a state of panic. No such recording existed. But how could he tell this to the Boss? Nobody could tell how he would react, and life, as Ostrovsky wrote, is man's dearest possession. There was no alternative but to summon all the members of the orchestra and the pianist to the recording studio in the middle of the night and make a record of the concerto - just one - to be delivered to the Boss in the morning. This record was still on the turntable when Stalin died.
At the 22nd Congress, Khrushchev described the paranoid atmosphere in Stalin's leading circle: "Stalin could look at a comrade sitting at the same table with him and say: 'Your eyes look shifty today.' It could be taken for granted that afterwards the comrade, whose eyes were supposedly shifty, would be under suspicion." (The Road to Communism-Report on the 22nd Congress CPSU, p. 111.)
The Polish ex-Stalinist Bienkowski wrote: "the working class and all other forces were placed in the position of being a potential enemy of the socialist order, the true exemplar and devoted defender of which was the bureaucratised apparatus of power." (Bienkowski, Rewolucji, Ciag Dalszy, Warsaw, 1957, p. 36.)
On Stalin's personal role, Bienkowski stated: "Stalin, in a suspiciousness typical of dictators, persecuted first morally, and then physically, not only those who had the courage of their opinion, but also those whom he suspected of being able to have it." (ibid., p. 6)
However, it is not sufficient to refer to Stalin's mental state to explain the situation that existed in the USSR at this time. How was it possible for one crazy old man to impose his will on millions of people without any opposition? The diseased state of Stalin's mind was merely a reflection of a sick regime. Millions of state and Party officials shared in the crimes of Stalin. They accepted the unacceptable in order to preserve their privileged situation, their big houses and cars, their bloated salaries and even greater legal and illegal perks and privileges.
Servility and corruption were endemic to the bureaucratic totalitarian system. Spies and cronies were to be found at all levels of society and the state, eager to denounce anyone who was not 101 percent loyal to the leadership, and thus to attract the attention of their superiors and earn promotion. This was not only not discouraged but actively encouraged by the hierarchy. Thus, the number of careerists "tends to increase because, instead of denouncing them, the leaders tolerate and quite frequently even pamper them, since their kow-towing flatters the vanity of the leaders, as they will do anything or carry out any orders for them without reservation." (Imre Nagy, On Communism, p. 60.)
'The Doctors' Plot'
In January 1953, Pravda announced the so-called Doctor's Plot, a "group of saboteur-doctors" who had been arrested for murder and attempting to "wipe out the leading cadres of the USSR". Seven out of nine of the doctors named were Jews and were accused of links with the Jewish organisation Joint, which was under the direction of US imperialism. Three of those arrested were accused of working for British intelligence. A campaign against the Jews was conducted under the guise of "cosmopolitanism and Zionism". Pravda began to whip up a campaign against threats of "counter-revolution".
In addition to the Leningrad affair and the Doctors' Plot there was another Purge in Georgia. This was directed against Lavrenty Beria, Stalin's faithful Georgian stooge. Beria was very close to Stalin since he took over control of the NKVD from Yezhov in 1938. He made it his business to issue a "history" of the Communist Party of Transcaucasia, which was a complete falsification. Stalin, who was a minor figure in the Georgian Party, was portrayed as the great leader. Although Beria's name features as the author, in fact he enlisted the services of a professional historian, Erik Bediya, to write it. Since Bediya knew it was a falsification, immediately after its he was later shot as an Enemy of the People.
Beria was a vicious tyrant and a moral degenerate who specialised in kidnapping and raping attractive women. One of his victims was a famous Soviet film star who has talked about her ordeal in public. Apart from this charming hobby, Beria was also a keen football fan, and naturally always wanted his NKVD team, Dynamo, to win. But sometimes an excessive interest in football can become an unhealthy obsession. If Beria's team lost he would fly into an uncontrollable rage. Unfortunately, it did lose to its main rival, Spartak. Serious consequences flowed from this.
The chairman of Spartak, Nikolai Staroshin, was an old friend of Beria's. But that did not save him. Beria had him arrested and tortured to confess that he was the head of a secret terrorist cell that was planning to assassinate Stalin during a sports parade! In the end the unfortunate Staroshin was sentenced to ten years in a labour camp for a lesser offence. Other members of the Spartak team followed him. After that, Beria's team always won every match.
Beria's position seemed impregnable. But in fact, nobody was safe, particular in the inner ruling circle. Stalin trusted none of them, and the more powerful they were, the less he trusted them. At his all night drinking parties, he would make all the members of the inner circle drunk in order to make fools of themselves. This was one of the ways he could feel superior. At these orgies Beria acted the clown, cracking crude jokes and playing tasteless tricks on the others.
By 1949 Stalin had decided to get rid of all of them, beginning with Beria himself. He used Beria's deputy, Viktor Abakumov, to undermine him, just as he had earlier used Beria to undermine his boss, Yezhov. That was Stalin's style. He started arresting members of the Georgian Party. Among the large number of people arrested there was a group of Party leaders, all of them Mingrelains, and all of them close to Beria, who was a member of the same national minority. They were accused of corruption and conspiracy, and probably at least the first accusation was true. But the intention behind the arrests lay in the second accusation - conspiracy. The "Mingrelian affair" was discussed in the Politburo. Khrushchov started to remove Beria's friends from key posts in the Security Services. Preparations were clearly being made for the arrest of Beria.
At the same time Stalin had promoted a whole series of new Party leaders in preparation for the elimination of all the old timers. It was the prelude of another mass Purge like 1937. These moves sent a shudder through the ruling circle. A new Purge would not only mean their liquidation; it would endanger the whole position of the bureaucracy and undermine all the gains of the planned economy and the Soviet Union itself.
There were warning signs that the discontent of the masses was reaching its limit. A new Purge could be the spark that lit the powder keg. Therefore the ruling circle decided to put an end to the old man before he put an end to them. After one of the usual late night drinking bouts in his dacha on the first of March 1953, Stalin is said to have suffered a stroke. Given his age, it is possible, though there may be other explanations.
On March 5th 1953 Stalin died. He may have died naturally, but it is more likely that it is what is now called an "assisted death". His comrades in arms helped him on his way. What is certain that his death came at a very convenient time for the ruling circle. It is admitted that when he was in his death-throes none of the members of the leadership went to his assistance or called a doctor.
When the guards reported that Stalin was ill, the members of the Politburo in the next room told them to "leave him on the couch". Then they just waited for him to die. Probably this nest of vipers played an even more active role in sending the beloved Leader and Teacher to a better world. At any rate when the doctors finally arrived, two hours later, the Boss was already dead, and they all breathed a sigh of relief.
After Stalin's death
After Stalin's death, the doctors - or rather those who were still alive - were set free without charge. In July 1953 Beria's arrest was announced. On Xmas eve he was shot, along with six other secret police chiefs. Later millions of prisoners were quietly released from the camps. Case by case, some 700,000 victims of Stalin's Terror were judicially rehabilitated. But Trotsky has never been rehabilitated up to the present day. He will be rehabilitated when the Russian working class takes power and returns to the traditions of 1917.
The revelations about Stalin at the 20th congress caused shock-waves in the USSR and even more so in Eastern Europe. Already in June 1953, a few months after Stalin's death, there was a rising of the workers in East Berlin. Later we saw the Polish October and, above all the Hungarian revolution of 1956.
In 1956 the Hungarian Communist Imre Nagy wrote that the secret police, with the "far-reaching aid" of Stalin, was raised "above society and party and made […] the principal organ of power." This led to a "degeneration of Party life" and the extermination of the cadres. (On Communism, New York, 1957, p. 51.) The result was "Bonapartism". But this conclusion was reached long before by Trotsky, whose analysis of the social basis of Stalinism was far more profound than that of Nagy. The best Marxist analysis of Stalinism, or to give it its scientific name, proletarian Bonapartism, is to be found in his masterpiece, The Revolution Betrayed.
Stalinism without Stalin
The ruling circle was compelled to carry out some reforms after 1953. But in essence, the same system established by Stalin continued in existence after his death. Only the ugliest warts were removed. The days of the mass Purges were over, but there was no return to Lenin. The bureaucracy remained firmly in power. Its income and privileges increased continually, and although the living standards of the working class improved, the gulf between the workers and the bureaucratic parasites increased still faster.
In retrospect, it is possible to see that Stalinism was a temporary historical aberration. It lasted for such a long time because for a whole period the Soviet Union developed the means of production, albeit at enormous cost to society and the working class. Nevertheless, despite the crimes of Stalin and the bureaucracy, the superiority of a nationalised plan of production is shown by the rapid transformation of what was a backward semi-feudal country like Pakistan today to a mighty industrial power with an educated population and more scientists than the USA, Germany and Japan put together.
Before the War, in the first Five Year Plans, the USSR achieved an annual rate of growth never before seen in any capitalist country: approximately 20 percent. This remarkable result was achieved with full employment, no inflation and a balanced budget. It is sufficient to compare these results with the miserable three percent or so that is nowadays considered to be a great success in the West to see the advantage of a nationalised planned economy.
It is true that the USSR set out from a very low starting point and that it is easier to get such results in the building of big steel factories than in a complex modern economy. It is also true that the rate of growth after 1945 was not so spectacular. But even then, an annual growth rate of 10 percent - which was the norm in the USSR until the mid-sixties - was also unprecedented. If this rate of growth had been maintained, the USSR could have overtaken the West not just in absolute but even in relative terms.
The main reason the growth rate was not maintained was the colossal waste caused by the mismanagement, bungling and corruption of the bureaucracy itself. This was an enormous drain, which by the mid-60s was wasting between one third and one half of the wealth produced by the Soviet working class every year. Without the democratic control and management of the working class, the bureaucracy was undermining the planned economy, clogging up all the pores and suffocating all the creative powers of the Soviet people, both the workers and intellectuals. This led to a steadily falling growth rate in the 1970s that ended in collapse by the end of the 1990s.
Contrary to the lie so assiduously peddled by the enemies of socialism, bureaucracy is not the inevitable result of central planning - it is the inevitable result of economic and cultural backwardness. The Stalinist political counterrevolution was the result of the isolation of the revolution in a backward country where the working class was a minority. But by the 1970s the USSR was already a modern and advanced economy where the working class was the overwhelming majority. All the objective conditions existed at least for beginning to move in the direction of socialism. But instead, the USSR moved backwards - towards capitalism. How can one explain such a monstrosity?
Long ago Trotsky predicted that either the Soviet working class would overthrow the bureaucracy and restore Lenin's regime of workers' democracy (soviet power) or else the bureaucracy would inevitably move in the direction of a restoration of capitalism.
The old Stalinist bureaucrats, like Stalin himself, were ignorant and crude, but they had some kind of link with the old traditions. But the sons and grandsons of the old bureaucrats had a purely bourgeois lifestyle and mentality. They had not even the slightest link with the working class or socialism. Therefore, they went over to capitalism with the same careless ease of a man passing from a smoking to a non-smoking compartment of a train.
The so-called "Communist" Party of the Soviet Union collapsed overnight like a pack of cards, and its top members fell over themselves in their eagerness to transform themselves into private capitalists. The same thing occurred in all the countries of Eastern Europe and is now unfolding before our very eyes in China. It is impossible to understand these phenomena if one accepts the view that what existed in the USSR was genuine socialism.
That is a vicious slander against socialism that can only assist its worst enemies. Marxists will defend what was progressive in the USSR - that is, the nationalised planned economy. But it is absolutely necessary to separate what was progressive from what was reactionary. The bureaucratic totalitarian regime established by Stalin had nothing in common with the October revolution or socialism. It was their complete antithesis and negation.