by Erwin Marquit
(Nature, Society, and Thought, All rights reserved.)
The scissors crisis
The Fifteenth Party Congress took two major steps that were that were to form the basis for socialist development of the economy: acceleration of collectivization of agriculture and the introduction of five-year plans for economic development in a framework of centralized economic planning.
In view of their consequences, the rationale for these two measures needs further discussion. I will begin with the question of collectivization of agriculture.
The transition from capitalism to socialism is unlike all previous transitions from one socioeconomic system to another in that it does occur spontaneously, but requires a conscious theoretical understanding of the socio-historical process that is unfolding. The socialization of the labor process under capitalism leads spontaneously to a class consciousness, but not to a socialist consciousness. It was the task of the Bolsheviks to transform the class consciousness of the working class into a socialist consciousness. The workers’ experience with socialized labor under capitalism is key to their ability to develop the socialist consciousness to the level needed for the revolutionary process.
The Russian peasants wanted the land nationalized so that it would not be taken away from them as it had been under the feudal landlord system that was overthrown. They did not, however, want it to be converted into state farms on which they would be employed as wage workers on a par with the urban workers. They wanted the land divided among the peasant families with perpetual usage rights through inheritance. Among the first decrees of the revolutionary government was the Decree on Land, according to which all land was nationalized. The peasants were accorded use of one hundred and fifty million hectares of land confiscated from the royal family, landowners, monasteries, etc. The decree established egalitarian land-use rights for peasants with periodic redistribution based largely on the size of the family (Kim et al., 1974, 64)
In 1917, the Bolshevik program had not provided for distribution of the land to peasant families, but the Bolsheviks, although preferring socialization of agriculture acceded to the peasants’ wishes. Nevertheless, the land socialization law of 19 February 1918, although granting use of agricultural land to “individual families and persons,” also prescribed:
the development of collective farming as more advantageous from the point of view of economy of labour and produce, at the expense of individual farming, with a view to transition to socialist farming (Article 11, paragraph e). (quoted by Lenin [1974c, 308])
Lenin exercised extreme caution on the question, preferring to use the term cooperatives rather than collective farming:
NEP is an advance, because it is adjustable to the level of the most ordinary peasant and does not demand anything higher of him. But it will take a whole historical epoch to get the entire population into the work of the co-operatives through NEP. At best we can achieve this in one or two decades. Nevertheless, it will be a distinct historical epoch, and without this historical epoch, without universal literacy, without a proper degree of efficiency, without training the population sufficiently to acquire the habit of book-reading, and without the material basis for this, without a certain sufficiency to safeguard against, say, bad harvests, famine, etc.—without this we shall not achieve our object. (1974b, 470)
The Fourteenth Party Congress in 1925, set socialist industrialization as the focus for the next state of socialist construction. The next three years saw the beginning of many major construction projects, including the world’s largest hydroelectric dam (on the Dniepr), the Turkestan-Siberian Railway, the Stalingrad Tractor Works, and ZIS automobile works.
By 1926–27, the main indicators for Soviet agricultural production exceeded the prewar level, the standard of living of the peasantry greatly improved, and the number of middle peasants rose to 63 percent of the peasant population. Despite the overall gain in agricultural production, the gross yield of grain was 91 percent of the prewar level. while the market share of the grain was a mere 37 percent of the prewar figure (History of the CPSU 1939, 256). Despite the growth of industrial production, the growing peasant demand for textiles, shoes, agricultural tools, and other products could not be satisfied because the industrial investments were tilted in favor of heavy industry and national industrial infrastructure (electrification, transport, etc.). At the end of 1927, the manufacture of consumer goods was 1 to 2 percent higher than the previous year, while the after-tax peasant income from the sale of grain sold to the state was up by 31 percent (Medvedev 1989, 216). The well-to-do elements in the countryside accumulated a great deal of currency, which could not be use for the purchase of the goods that they needed. These principal producers of marketable grain—the kulaks and richer middle peasants—had no need to accumulate banknotes and either stored their grain while waiting for higher prices or reduced the acreage of sown grain. The poorer peasants preferred to increase their own personal consumption in face of the lack of products to buy. As a result, there was not enough grain to satisfy the demand for feeding the urban population and for export abroad to provide foreign funds for importing machinery needed for industrialization. The high price of industrial goods needed by the peasants and the low price that they received for their grain was termed the “the scissors crisis.” To solve the crisis, that is, to close the scissors, Bukharin argued that it was necessary to lower the cost of industrial goods increase the amount the peasants received for the grain.
In December 1927, in his report to the Fifteenth Party Congress, Stalin, however, declared that the way out
is to turn the small and scattered peasant farms into large united farms based on the common cultivation of the soil, to introduce collective cultivation of the soil on the basis the of a new and higher technique. The way out is to unite the small and dwarf peasant farms gradually but surely, not by pressure, but by example and persuasion, into large farms based on common, operative, collective cultivation of the soil with the use of agricultural machines and tractors and scientific methods of intensive agriculture. There is no other way out. (History of the CPSU 1939, 288)
Was this really the only way out for an agricultural economy that still lacked the means for mechanization? Toward the end of the 1970s, Vietnam, concerned about the slow growth of agricultural production in the absence of mechanized agriculture, gave its peasants, then organized into collective farms, the right to return to family farming. The peasants overwhelming chose this option (Marquit 2002). In 1981, China reorganized its agriculture from the collective farming in the communes to family farming. Even in the most highly industrialized capitalist countries with their highly mechanized agriculture, family farms, rather than corporate farms predominate in grain production. The reason for this is both economic and cultural.
Marxist theory traditionally viewed peasants, once they move from subsistence farming to the production of a surplus for the market, as petty bourgeois. Trotsky even considered the peasants as natural enemies of socialism. There is, however, a fundamental difference between the peasants as a petty bourgeoisie and the urban petty bourgeoisie. The peasants have deep cultural-historical roots in their attachment to the land that they have traditionally tilled. They do not view themselves as entrepreneurs. In this sense they are a class in themselves. When under conditions of capitalism, they produce a surplus for the market, their economic role is similar to the urban bourgeoisie. Insofar as their incomes depend on their own labor, their class interests are with alliance with the working class. For example, in the United States, right-wing political leaders raise arguments against farm subsidies on the grounds that the government has no business in subsidizing business people who cannot make a profit. Marxists and other progressives, however, argue that, that farmers, who are forced by the agribusiness monopolies to sell their grain at prices below the cost of production, are not failed business people, but are victims of capitalist exploitation. In my home state of Minnesota, where we have 100,000 family farmers, the Minnesota Farmers Union, a progressive farmers organization, is closely allied politically with the state’s labor movement, which, in turn, supports (as does the Communist Party USA) federal subsidies for the farmers as long as the price the farmers receive for their products is below the cost of production.
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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