Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Socialist Construction – the Russian Experience

Socialist Construction – the Russian Experience*

by Nick Glais

January 17, 2011

Around the time of the October Revolution there were two types of so-called Marxist views with regard to the building of socialism.

One was the view represented by the Mensheviks and others like them. These people were opposed to going ahead to the socialist revolution and wanted power to remain in the hands of the bourgeoisie. Their argument was that since capitalism had not advanced sufficiently and concentrated the means of production, particularly in agriculture, the time was not appropriate for the proletariat to capture power. They proposed that the proletariat should wait for some time till capitalism had been advanced to some extent under the rule of the bourgeoisie. This would create the conditions for the nationalisation of all the means of production and for the construction of socialism. The Mensheviks were thus altogether against the proletariat seizing power and going ahead with a programme of socialist construction.

The other view was represented by a group within the Bolshevik party called ‘Left’ Communists. Their stand was that power should be captured and all the means of production immediately nationalised even by means of seizing the property of the small and middle peasants and other producers. These ‘Left’ Communists thus wanted to take an antagonistic stand to the peasantry and thus drive away the main ally of the revolution.

Lenin, in a struggle against these two trends, drew up the correct path for socialist construction. The main aspects of Lenin’s path of socialist construction can be outlined as follows:

a) The proletariat should not lose the chance but make full use of the favourable conditions to seize power. Waiting will only mean that capitalism will go ahead and ruin millions of small and medium individual producers.

b) The means of production in industry should be confiscated and converted into public property.

c) The small and medium individual producers should gradually be united in producers’ co-operatives, i.e., in large agricultural enterprises, collective farms.

d) Industry should be developed to the utmost and the collective farms should be placed on the modern technical basis of large-scale production. The property of the collective farm should not confiscated, but on the contrary they should be generously supplied with first-class tractors and other machines;

e) Exchange through purchase and sale, i.e. commodity production should be preserved for a certain period, because the peasants would not accept any other form of economic tie between town and country. However trade should only be through Soviet trade—between the state, co-operative, and collective farm. This should be developed to the full and the capitalists of all types and descriptions should be ousted from trading activity.

Of these five points, the first two steps, the seizure of power and the nationalisation of big industry were completed in the first few months itself. However the further steps in the process of socialist construction could not be taken up immediately because of the extremely difficult conditions of all-sided enemy attack faced by the first proletarian state. Due to the civil war the very survival of the state was in question. In order to face this all-round attack, the Party had to mobilise the whole country to fight the enemy. A set of emergency measures called ‘War Communism’ was introduced.

Under War Communism the Soviet government took over control of middle and small industries, in addition to large-scale industry; it introduced a state monopoly of the grain trade and prohibited private trading in grain; it established the surplus-appropriation system, under which all surplus produce of the peasants had to be handed over to the state at fixed prices; and finally it introduced universal labour service for all classes, making physical labour compulsory for the bourgeoisie, thus releasing workers required for more important responsibilities at the front. This policy of ‘War Communism’ was however of a temporary nature to fulfil the needs of war. It helped mobilise the whole people for the war and thus resulted in the defeat of all the foreign interventionists and domestic reactionaries by the end of 1920 and the preservation of the independence and freedom of the new Soviet Republic.

From 1921 there was another turn in the situation in Russia. After completing victory in the civil war, the task had to shift to the peaceful work of economic restoration. For this a policy shift was made from War Communism to the New Economic Policy (NEP). According to this, the compulsory surplus appropriation from the peasants was discontinued, private trade was restarted and private manufacturers were allowed to start small businesses. This was necessary because the War Communism measures had gone too far ahead and were being resented by certain sections of the mass base of the party—particularly the peasantry. However the Trotskyites strongly opposed the NEP as nothing but a retreat. Lenin, at the Tenth Congress of the Party, in March 1921, countered the Trotskyites and convinced the Congress of the policy change, which was then adopted. He further gave a theoretical substantiation of the correctness of the NEP in his Report on the Tactics of the Russian Communist Party presented before the Third Congress of the Communist International in July 1921. The NEP continued till end 1925, when the Fourteenth Party Congress took the decision of moving to the next phase of socialist construction, that of socialist industrialisation.

Socialist Industrialisation: The Soviet Union was at that time still a relatively backward agrarian country with two-thirds of the total production coming from agriculture and only one-third from industry. Further being the first socialist state, the question of being economically independent of imperialism was of central importance. Therefore the path of socialist construction had to firstly concentrate on socialist industrialisation. In Stalin’s words, “The conversion of our country from an agrarian into an industrial country able to produce the machinery it needs by its own efforts—that is the essence, the basis of our general line.” Thus the main focus was on heavy industry which would produce machines for other industries and for agriculture.

This policy succeeded in building a strong industrial base independent of imperialism. It also enabled the defence of the socialist base in the World War II. Also industry expanded at a pace several times faster than the most advanced imperialist countries thus proving the immense superiority of the socialist system. The principal factor in this was the wholehearted participation in increasing production by the whole working class. At a time when the whole capitalist world was reeling under a very severe economic crisis socialist industry was marching ahead without any problems whatsoever.

However, due to special emphasis on priority development of heavy industry, agriculture was neglected in the plans. Thus in the period when industrial production went up by over nine times, grain production did not even go up by one-fifth. This showed that the growth of agriculture was very low as compared to industry. This was also the case within industry with heavy industry growing at a much faster speed than light industry. Mao, in his Critique of Soviet Economics, criticised this emphasis and called for simultaneous promotion of both industry as well as agriculture. Within industry he called for the development of both light and heavy industry at the same time.

Collectivisation of Agriculture: The first step in this process was taken in the NEP restoration period itself with the formation of the first co-operatives among small and medium peasants. However due to the resistance of the kulaks (rich farmers) there was not much progress. Further the kulaks had taken a position of active opposition and sabotage of the socialist construction process. They refused to sell to the Soviet State their grain surpluses. They resorted to terrorism against the collective farmers, against Party workers and government officials in the countryside, and burned down collective farms and state granaries. In 1927, due to this sabotage, the marketed share of the harvest was only 37% of the pre-war figure. Thus the Party, in that year took the decision to launch an offensive to break the resistance of the kulaks. Relying on the poor peasants and allying with the middle peasants, the Party was able to achieve success in grain purchasing and take ahead the collectivisation process. However the major advance came from the end of 1929.

Prior to 1929, the Soviet Government had pursued a policy of restricting the kulaks. The effect of this policy was to arrest the growth of the kulak class, some sections of which, unable to withstand the pressure of these restrictions, were forced out of business and ruined. But this policy did not destroy the economic foundations of the kulaks as a class, nor did it tend to eliminate them. This policy was essential up to a certain time, that is, as long as the collective farms and state farms were still weak and unable to replace the kulaks in the production of grain.

At the end of 1929, with the growth of the collective farms and the state farms, the Soviet Government turned sharply from this policy to the policy of eliminating the kulaks, of destroying them as a class. It withdrew the laws on the renting of land and the hiring of labour, thus depriving the kulaks both of land and of hired labourers. It lifted the ban on the confiscation of the kulaks’ property. It permitted the peasants to confiscate cattle, machines and other farm property from the kulaks for the benefit of the collective farms. The kulaks thus lost all their means of production. They were expropriated just as the capitalists had been expropriated in the sphere of industry in 1918. The difference, however, was that the kulaks’ means of production did not pass into the hands of the state, but into the hands of the peasants, united in the collective farms.

A step-by-step plan was adopted for the implementation of this policy. Depending on the conditions in various regions, different rates of collectivisation were established and the targeted year for completion of the collectivisation was fixed. The production of tractors, harvesters and other agricultural machinery was increased manifold. State loans to collective farms were doubled in the first year itself. 25,000 class-conscious industrial workers were selected and sent to the rural areas to help implement this plan. The process of collectivisation despite some errors, advanced rapidly towards success. By 1934 ninety percent of the total crop area of the country had been brought under socialist agriculture, i.e. state farms or collective farms.

The whole process of the collectivisation of agriculture was nothing less than a revolution in which the proletariat had allied with the poor and middle peasants to break the hold of the kulaks.
This revolution, at one blow, solved three fundamental problems of Socialist construction:

a) It eliminated the most numerous class of exploiters in the country, the kulak class, the mainstay of capitalist restoration;

b) It transferred the most numerous labouring class in the country, the peasant class, from the path of individual farming, which breeds capitalism, to the path of co-operative, collective, Socialist farming;

c) It furnished the Soviet regime with a Socialist base in agriculture—the most extensive and vitally necessary, yet least developed, branch of national economy.

With the victory of the collectivisation movement, the Party announced the victory of socialism. In January 1933, Stalin announced that, “The victory of Socialism in all branches of the national economy had abolished the exploitation of man by man.” In January 1934, the 17th Party Congress Report declared that, “the socialist form of social and economic structure—now holds undivided sway and is the sole commanding force in the whole national economy.” The absence of any antagonistic classes was later repeatedly stressed while presenting the Constitution in 1936 and in later Political Reports.

Errors in Russian Experience:

The Russian experience in socialist construction was of central importance to the international proletariat, and particularly to all countries where the proletariat seized power. Stalin in his work Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR tried to theorise regarding the process of socialist construction and the economic laws of socialism. He however did not make a self-critical analysis of the Russian experience. Later Mao made an analysis of the Russian experience and pointed certain errors in the practice, as well as in Stalin’s formulations.
Mao pointed out the following principal errors in the Russian experience: -

1) Not giving due importance to the contradiction between the production relations and productive forces. This was reflected in the prolonged coexistence of two types of ownership – on the one hand ownership of the whole people, as represented in the nationalised industries and the stated farms and on the other hand ownership by the collectives. Mao felt that prolonged coexistence of ownership by the whole people with ownership by the collectives was bound to become less and less adaptable to the development of the productive forces. Essentially a way had to be found to make the transition from collective to public ownership.

2) Not giving importance to the mass-line during socialist construction. Mao pointed out that in the earlier period mass-line was adopted, but afterwards, the Soviet party became less reliant on the masses. The things emphasised were technology and technical cadre, rather than politics and the masses.

3) Neglecting the class struggle. After the success of the collectivisation process not enough importance was given to continuing the class struggle.

4) Imbalance in the relation between heavy industry on one side and light industry and agriculture on the other.

5) Mistrust of the peasants. Mao criticized the Russian policy for not giving due importance to the peasantry.

Besides drawing these lessons from Stalin and the Russian experience, Mao learnt from the Chinese experience. He thus made an attempt to develop the Marxist theory of socialist construction.

* Url:http://democracyandclasstruggle.blogspot.com/2011/01/socialist-construction-russian.html