Economic and Political Consequences of the Attempted Socialization of Agriculture in the Soviet Union (page 2)

by Erwin Marquit
(Nature, Society, and Thought, All rights reserved.)

Socialization of Agriculture in the USSR continued...

Shortly after this was written, the civil war forced a switch in economic organization to what became known as “war communism.” In 1921, Lenin put forth the New Economic Policy (NEP), under which market relations were restored. The requisition (that is, seizure) of grain from the peasants was replaced by a tax in kind. The peasants were then allowed to market any surplus that remained after the tax. Lenin hoped that under NEP the process of industrialization would be accelerated by a significant influx of capital from abroad, but conditioned on the controlling dominance of the state sector, as implied by his use of the term concessions. He repeated what he had written back in 1917 when Kerensky was in power:

“State-monopoly capitalism is a complete material preparation for socialism, the threshold of socialism, a rung on the ladder of history between which and the rung called socialism there are no intermediate rungs.”
   . . . Is it not clear that the higher we stand on this political ladder, the more completely we incorporate the socialist state and the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviets, the less ought we to fear “state capitalism?” (1973c, 336)

While he saw NEP as a short-term measure, he made no predictions regarding its duration. Earlier, in 1918, after first projecting the utilization of state capitalism for socialist development, he reminded his Left Communist critics that

the teachers of socialism spoke of a whole period of transition from capitalism to socialism and emphasized the “prolonged birth pangs” of the new society. An this new society is again an abstraction which can come into being only by passing through a series of varied, imperfect and concrete attempts to create this or that socialist state. (1974a, 341)

NEP’s mixed economy consisted of state ownership of the basic large-scale means of industrial production, mineral resources and means for their extraction and transport. Concessions to foreign firms would be limited to contractual lease-like arrangements under which the state retained ultimate control of the means of production. Private capital could be tolerated in smaller-scale industrial production and trade. Although the land was nationalized, the peasant families would retain the right to work the land and ownership of their means of production and the right to retain or market agricultural products produced on their land after paying a tax in kind. Moreover, the wealthier peasants (kulaks) would continue to be able to employ restricted amounts of peasant labor. Because the peasants constituted the majority of the population, Lenin continually stressed that the dictatorship of the proletariat is the direction of policy by the proletariat in alliance with the middle and poor peasants (1973b)

Lenin’s New Economic Policy bears only a very limited resemblance to the socialist-oriented market economies of China and Vietnam, under which large-scale enterprises can be under full control of domestic or foreign capitalists in parallel and in competition with state-owned enterprises. In putting forth the NEP, he was cautious to make no long-term projections for the future development of the Soviet economy in regard to the way market relations would unfold within the state sector of the economy.

His long-term projections for agriculture included cooperative associations but he did not attempt to detail the manner in which the cooperation would take place.

Lenin’s brief “Ideas about a State Economic ‘Plan’” illustrates the scope of state economic planning for 1 October 1921 to 1 October 1922. The note begins:

The principal mistake we have all been making up to now is too much optimism; as a result, we succumbed to bureaucratic utopias. Only a very small part of our plan has been realized. (1973a, 497)

He projected that 700 “large establishments, enterprises, depots (railways), state farms, etc.” must be started up and kept running for the year in question and the some thirty persons from the State Planning Commission should be assigned with primary responsibility for the task and supervised “unremittingly.” Another 30 to 70 less important persons about whom he adds “don’t keep them under constant observation, but make inquiries in passing from time to time” (498).

Stalin and the Left Opposition

After Lenin’s death, the CPSU, under Stalin’s leadership, pursued Lenin’s moderate course of implementing the dictatorship of the proletarian in the framework of alliance of the working class with the middle and poor peasants. It successfully resisted the demands of the Left Opposition, led initially by Trotsky, later joined by Zinoviev, for large-scale expropriation of the grain from the peasants to provide resources for a policy of super-industrialization on the one hand and diversion of resources on the other to increase material support for revolutionary movements abroad on the grounds that it was impossible to build socialism in one country.

The Central Committee continued the tradition established by Lenin that those taking a position strongly opposed by the majority should continue to retain positions of responsibility as long as they were willing to implement Party policies. In July 1927, Stalin placed the question of the expulsion of Trotsky and Zinoviev on the agenda of a Central Committee meeting, but lacked the votes and had to settle for a warning to them (McNeal 1988, 104).

He raised the question again in October in view of their continued factional activity. Trotsky and Zinoviev were then removed from the Central Committee, but not from Party membership (105). In November, Stalin claimed that reliable evidence showed the opposition had been planning a coup for 7 November—during the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the October Revolution—but called it off because the Party was ready to deal with it. The Trotskyites and Zinovievites did, however, join the main street demonstrations on 7 November, both groups bearing their own slogans (Conquest 1991, 139; History of the CPSU 1939, 285). On 14 November, the Central Committee expelled Trotsky and Zinoviev from the Party; Kamenov and other members of the opposition were expelled from the Central Committee. Later in November or early December, the Politburo rejected Stalin’s subsequent call for their arrest (McNeal 1989, 105–6).

The Fifteenth Party Congress in December 1927 again overwhelmingly rejected the position of the Left Opposition. Seventy-five leading members of the opposition (including Kamenov) were expelled from the Party. The next day, the Zinoviev group, but not Trotsky and his supporters, submitted a statement in which they acknowledged their violation of party discipline and the incorrectness of the view that denied the socialist character of the revolution, the socialist character of state industry, the socialist path of development of the countryside under the conditions of the proletarian dictatorship, and the policy of the alliance of the proletariat with the great masses of the peasantry on the basis of socialist construction and proletarian dictatorship in the USSR They did not, however, say that these were their views (Popov 1934, 327–38).

In 1928 Trotsky and many of his supporters who did not request readmission under these terms were deported to Siberia and other regions of the USSR (Trotsky to Kazakhstan). In 1929 Trotsky, not abandoning his efforts to maintain an organized opposition from afar, was expelled from the USSR.

As one can see from these events, there was still collective leadership on the level of the Politburo, which was still accountable to the Central Committee in a meaningful way. Strong disagreements were tolerated without personal recrimination. Within the Party, Stalin’s emerging tendency to physical repression of opposition was constrained by the Politburo.

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1. The draft of the first edition of Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism, in most respects a Marxist-Leninist critique of the Stalin period by Soviet historian Roy Medvedev, then a member of the CPSU, began circulating informally in the USSR in 1964. After Brezhnev replaced Khrushchev as leader of the CPSU in 1964, criticism of Stalin was limited to the phrase cult of the individual; no details about the terror of the 1930s were permitted, nor criticism of forced collectivization other than what had been allowed in Stalin’s time. Stalin was, in effect, rehabilitated. Soviet publications such as History of the USSR, written in 1974, again justified the excesses—for example, the 1928 Shakhty frame-up trials in the course of which confessions were beaten out of members of fictitious organizations of wreckers and saboteurs “in the service of Russian and foreign capitalists and foreign intelligence;” Bukharin, Rykov, and Tomsky were again referred to as leaders of the Right Opposition, who “expressed the interests of the kulaks and other well-off elements in the villages that were opposed to the socialist reconstruction of agriculture” (Kim et al. 1982, 252, 259). Medvedev was expelled from the CPSU in 1969 after his book was published in the West. His Party membership was restored in 1988.

2. The Impossible Fact

Palmstroem, old, an aimless rover,
walking in the wrong direction
at a busy intersection
is run over.

“How,” he says, his life restoring
and with pluck his death ignoring,
“can an accident like this
ever happen? What’s amiss?"

"Did the state administration
fail in motor transportation?
Did police ignore the need
for reducing driving speed?"

"Isn’t there a prohibition,
barring motorized transmission
of the living to the dead?
Was the driver right who sped . . . ?”

Tightly swathed in dampened tissues
he explores the legal issues,
and it soon is clear as air:
Cars were not permitted there!

And he comes to the conclusion:
His mishap was an illusion,
for, he reasons pointedly,
that which must not, cannot be.


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