Russia:

from Revolution to counterrevolution

Part Six:

The Period of Stagnation

A good harvest the following year came too late to save Khrushchev. The bureaucracy decided that things had gone too far, and that the policies of the present Leader were putting the whole system in danger. They were terrified that the reforms from the top would indeed open the floodgates, just as De Tocqueville had predicted. And they acted just as one would expect a threatened autocracy to act. They organised a conspiracy to put an end to the "irresponsible reformist adventure".

In October 1964 Khrushchev was dismissed. Typically, there was no congress, no explanations, no votes. The "beloved leader Nikita Sergeyevich" was removed by a coup organised by his closest colleagues. No gratitude in politics--at least of the bureaucratic kind! Overnight the man who had been lionised by the world communist press suddenly became transformed into a non-person. Without a murmur, with no questions asked, the leaders of the Communist Parties immediately fell into line. This reminds one of something that Maxim Gorky once wrote:

"Question: What do you do when you see a man falling?
Answer: Give him a push."

The bureaucracy hoped a change at the top would lead to better times. Leonid Brezhnev rose to power. He immediately blamed Khrushchev for the past failings, reversed a number of his reforms, and even went so far as to hide the improved 1964 statistics because they proved too favourable. But under Brezhnev, the crisis of Stalinism intensified with the rate of growth steadily declining to about 3 per cent or less. New measures were needed to reverse the slow-down.

To begin with, Brezhnev was forced to abandon in practice the reactionary utopia of economic autarky ("socialism in one country"). In a desperate attempt to stimulate the economy, the bureaucracy decided to participate in the world market. In fact, amazingly, this was written into the text of the Brezhnev constitution, the first time in history that participation in world trade has ever been elevated to the level of a constitutional principle! Probably this fact reflected internal conflicts within the ruling elite.

Lenin and Trotsky argued in favour of the participation of the Soviet Union in world trade, but they did not regard it as a panacea, but only as a means of obtaining a temporary breathing space until the victory of the workers in the advanced capitalist countries would come to the aid of the USSR. The Soviet Union then was a very backward country. Trotsky predicted that, as the Soviet economy developed, it would be forced to abandon autarky and participate more and more in the world economy. But precisely because of that, the crisis in the West would have a bigger effect than in the past, albeit a marginal effect in terms of a fall of production. Far more important however, were the political consequences. Lenin correctly insisted on the need to integrate the Soviet economy as much as possible with the world economy, to get the maximum benefit from the world division of labour. The short-sighted Stalinist bureaucracy was eventually compelled, under Brezhnev, to abandon autarky and embark on at least a limited participation on the world market.

Participation on world markets could have partially provided a check on the irresponsible and uncontrolled bureaucracy. Under the capitalist system, the working out of the law of value through the market to some extent provides a check. It is true that the big monopolies distort and mangle the operation of the market in their own interests. The 500 big companies which presently account for something like 90 per cent of world trade use their muscle, immense strategic stocks, the speculative movement of funds, political pressure and outright corruption to obtain a bigger share of the labour of the working class than would be "normal" through the working of the law of value. Nevertheless, they too are ultimately compelled to operate on the basis of the law of value.

From a Marxist point of view, the participation of the Soviet Union in the world economy was not only inevitable, but progressive. Already in the pages of the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels explained that capitalism develops the world economy as a single, interdependent whole. It is impossible to separate off one of its component parts without introducing the gravest distortions. The experience of the USSR over half a century is sufficient proof of this assertion. By participating on the world market, the Soviet economy could have benefited from the world division of labour. Its scientists and technicians could have access to the most modern techniques and ideas. But by the same token, it was compelled to compare itself to the most advanced economies in the world, and in this mirror it was compelled to see all its defects shown up in the cruellest light.

The total trade turnover of trade for the USSR at the end of the 1970s stood at $123 billion, a big increase, but still insufficient in proportion to the size of the Soviet economy. If we bear in mind that the equivalent figure for little Holland (which, admittedly, devotes an exceptionally high proportion of its GDP to exports) was $132 billion, the discrepancy is immediately revealed. In the 1960s and 1970s, the foreign trade of the USSR went up from 4 per cent to 9 per cent of GDP. However, since world trade was growing still faster at that time, its actual share of the total decreased from 4.3 per cent to 3.8 per cent in this period. This was the amount of the USSR's share of world trade in 1979 and how it compared to other main countries:

1979 share of world trade:

USSR

3.8 per cent

Netherlands

4.1 per cent

Italy

4.6 per cent

UK

6.0 per cent

France

6.4 per cent

Japan

6.5 per cent

West Germany

10.1 per cent

USA

12.3 per cent

Others

46.2 per cent

It should be added that, although the USA held 12.3 per cent of world trade, this represented a mere 6 per cent of its gross domestic product. Subsequently, however, this situation changed. With the squeezing of living standards, and the consequent reduction of internal demand, the USA has adopted an aggressive policy of increasing its exports at the expense of its rivals, in the first place, Japan. In the 1980s, it pushed up the portion of its GDP devoted to world trade from 6 per cent to 13 per cent, and plans to increase it to a staggering 20 per cent by the year 2000. This is tantamount to a declaration of war (at least, a trade war) against its main rivals, who are all equally determined to increase their share of world markets. It goes without saying that in such a context, the outlook for a Russian capitalist regime are not very bright. But we shall return to this subject later on.

There was an immense potential in the Soviet bloc itself, if it had been organised as a harmoniously integrated whole. The Comecon was a unit of 450 million people, with a developed industry, a huge number of scientists and technicians, a vast area of agricultural land, and access to almost limitless mineral resources. The population of Comecon was 180 million more than the European economic community as then constituted. If to this we add over one billion Chinese, the staggering potential for economic development immediately becomes clear. But the prior condition for this was the formation of a socialist federation of the USSR, Eastern Europe and China.

The only obstacle for realising this were the narrow national interests of each bureaucracy bent on defending its frontiers against its "socialist" neighbours. In fact, the degree of economic integration between the countries of Comecon was even less than that between the member states of the EEC. Thus, the pursuit of socialism in one country materially held back the progress of all these countries. Instead of pooling their resources in a rational way, each national bureaucracy insisted in constructing its own heavy industry--even tiny Albania, with predictably disastrous results. The final bankruptcy was the spectacle of Soviet and Chinese troops killing each other over an artificial and irrational frontier drawn up in the nineteenth century by the Russian Tsar and the Chinese emperor.

The Soviet Union lags behind

The important advances in absolute terms did not exhaust the issue. In relative terms, although progress was made, the gap with the most developed capitalist countries remained, as the following figures show:

GDP per capita 1979 (in US$) was as follows:

West Germany

11,730

USA

10,630

France

9,950

Japan

8,810

UK

6,320

Italy

5,250

East Germany

6,430

Czechoslovakia

5,290

USSR

4,110

Hungary

3,850

Poland

3,830

Bulgaria

3,690

(Source: World Bank, World Development Report 1981, p.135.)

Nevertheless, if the USSR had maintained the average growth rate of 10 per cent, this gap could have easily been closed. Even if it had maintained a growth rate of 3 per cent per annum, by 1990 it would have attained the level of the EEC and Japan for 1980. This, in itself, would have been a remarkable success. It would undoubtedly have been sufficient to prevent the break-up of the USSR and the subsequent disaster which has befallen all the peoples of the former Soviet Union. All that would have been necessary was to reach at least the average rates of growth attained by the West at this time. Given the potential of the planned economy, this should have been easily possible. In fact, such a target is far below the real possibilities, as the period of the 1950s and 1960s graphically show. Yet, shamefully, criminally, the bureaucracy was incapable even of reaching this miserable target.

By the 1960s, growth rates had begun to decline, and with this the growth of living standards. In the period 1951-60, the growth of industrial production was more than 10 per cent and the average for the decade was around 12 per cent per year. But in 1963 and 1964, officially claimed industrial growth rates fell below 8 per cent, the lowest peacetime figures except 1933. It is no accident that in May 1961 the death penalty was introduced for a range of economic offences. Only in 1967 did industrial production increase by 10 per cent, while the average annual growth rate for the decade fell to 8.5 per cent.

The fall in Soviet economic growth was not due to the lack of new investment. In an article written in October 1966 by the Soviet economist V. Kudrov, he reveals the colossal investment that took place: "As regards overall investments, the USSR is close to the US level (roughly 90 per cent) and for the production investments and overall accumulation it has already achieved noticeable superiority. But since this superiority is observed in conditions where the national income is only 62 per cent of the US national income, a certain strain is felt in the Soviet economy." (World Marxist Review, October 1966. Quoted by R. Black, Stalinism in Britain, pp.383-5.) Despite the strains, this mighty investment still failed to bring about comparable increases in labour productivity.

He continues: "During the Seven-Year Plan over one million metal cutting machine tools, over 200 forge and die presses, and many automatic and continuous-flow lines were put into operation, but their productivity was, as a rule, rather low. By and large machine tools in the USSR are younger than in the USA in age … but older in design. As a result, the USSR is catching up with the USA more rapidly in volume of capital invested per worker than it is in actual productivity." In the realm of agriculture things were much worse: "Agricultural production depends considerably on technical equipment and labour productivity," stated Kudrov. "In this respect the Soviet Union is still considerably behind the United States. We have in the USSR 13.7 tractors per 1,000 hectares of cultivated land compared with 40.8 in the USA; for harvest combines the figures are 3.9 and 15.7 respectively."

The impasse of the bureaucracy was graphically revealed by the figures of economic growth of the Soviet Union. Before the war, under the first Five-Year Plans, Russia had an annual growth rate of a staggering 20 per cent. Even by the 1950s and early 1960s, the growth rate was still around I0-11 per cent. This figure was still vastly superior to that of the other main capitalist powers. While it is true that Japan, on occasions, reached figures as high as 13 per cent, this was exceptional. The Soviet Union's growth in the period under consideration was a consistent growth rate, every year, uninterrupted by recessions. The main capitalist economies obtained at most 5-6 per cent (the rate of Britain, already in decline, was much lower), but not every year. Japan was able to achieve a higher rate largely because, under the American nuclear umbrella, it spent little on arms (1 per cent of its GNP), and was able to plough back most of its surplus in investment.

To all the other problems must be added the monstrous burden of arms expenditure. About 11-13 per cent of Soviet GDP went on arms, compared to about 8 per cent in the USA. Thus, a huge proportion of the wealth produced by the working class in both countries was wasted on what amounted to the production of scrap metal. This was also determined by the fact that the USSR was unable to extricate itself from the rest of the world and constitute itself as a self-contained, self-sufficient entity. In these figures, the bankruptcy of socialism in a single country are cruelly revealed.

Technological advance

In the 1930s, when the economy was still quite primitive and the tasks related to the building up of heavy industry were relatively simple, the method of autocratic command from above could still get results, although at a terrible cost. Later, however, one million different commodities were produced in the USSR, and with the sensitive interrelationships of a complex modern economy, the bludgeon of bureaucratic control, without the participation of the masses, led to absolute chaos.

The laws of motion of capitalism are fundamentally different to those of a nationalised planned economy. Under capitalism, at least in the past, the mechanism of the market served as a rough and ready check on inefficiency (although the big monopolies nowadays are able to manipulate the market, in their own interests, distorting the entire process). But in a society where the entire economy is in the hands of the state, the automatic mechanism of the market no longer applies. The only check possible is the conscious checking and control of the masses at every phase of the drawing up and implementation of the plan.

Trotsky explained that a nationalised planned economy requires democracy as the human body requires oxygen. Without workers' control and management, without free trade unions and the right to discuss and criticise without fear, there had inevitably been rampart corruption, waste and nepotism. Theft and swindling flourished on an unimaginable scale. The Soviet Union was a subcontinent, with huge numbers of enterprises. Under Stalin, all economic decisions, from the most important to the most insignificant, were taken by 15 ministries in Moscow. Even if these ministries were staffed by geniuses, all kinds of bungling and mismanagement would be inevitable, without the necessary check of workers' democracy. While the economy was more or less primitive, the overheads caused by the bureaucracy, while still staggeringly wasteful, could be tolerated because the economy was going forward at a very fast rate.

A modern, sophisticated economy, such as Russia had become by this time, is a delicate mechanism. The precise relations between heavy industry, light industry, agriculture, science and technique, cannot be established by arbitrary administrative fiat. In the absence of competition, the only way to avoid colossal bungling and corruption is through the conscious control of society, by means of the democratic administration of the working class. The crisis in the USSR and Eastern Europe was not the same as the crisis of capitalism in the West, which is fundamentally a crisis of overproduction manifesting itself as a crisis of over capacity, inherent in the capitalist system of production. The crisis of Stalinism was a crisis of the bureaucratic system of control and planning which was undermining the advantages of the planned economy. In the West, the productive forces have come up against the barrier of private ownership and the nation state, while in Russia and Eastern Europe, the productive forces were constricted by the strait-jacket of the nation state plus bureaucratic control. This was starkly revealed in the crucial field of technology. Thus, for socialism, democracy is not an optional "extra" but a fundamental precondition. The limits of bureaucratic planning had been reached. This fact manifested itself in a steady fall in the rate of growth, not only in the USSR but also in Eastern Europe:

Growth rates:

1950-55

1955-60

1960-65

1965-70

USSR

11.3%

9.2%

6.3%

4.0%

Czech

8.0%

7.1%

1.8%

3.4%

Poland

8.6%

6.6%

5.9%

6.7%

Bulgaria

12.2%

9.7%

6.5%

4.5%

In the 1970s growth fell further, and by 1979 the economy of the USSR only grew by a mere 3.6 per cent. This meant that the relatively progressive role played by the bureaucracy in building up the productive forces of the Soviet Union had been exhausted. It had become an absolute fetter on the further development of the economy. The annual average increase in labour productivity was still rising in the 1960s and early 1970s. But from 1975 to 1980, this slumped to 3.4 per cent and by 1982 it was 2.5 per cent per year. In 1979, the Gross National Product grew by a mere 0.9 per cent, and by 1980 by 1.5 per cent. The advances made on the basis of the nationalised economy and the plan were now being cancelled out by the bureaucratic strangle-hold of Stalinism. The rate of growth--which was once the highest in the world--became hardly different to the sluggish growth rates of the capitalist West. The bureaucracy had now exhausted any progressive role it may have played in the past.

During the first Five-Year Plans, capitalism showed itself to be an absolute fetter on the productive forces, with mass unemployment and the great depression. The USSR was a beacon of hope for millions. Not only workers but the best of the intellectuals were attracted to the Soviet Union. By the 1970s this was no longer the case, at least as far as the advanced capitalist countries were concerned. The bureaucratic totalitarian system with its sclerotic economy was not attractive to the masses in Western Europe, America and Japan. How could it be, when they were developing the productive forces at a lower rate than capitalism in boom periods like the 1980s?

Nowadays it has become fashionable to deny that the Soviet Union achieved anything worthwhile in the field of technology. That is a lie. The scientists and engineers produced by the Soviet Union were as good as anything in the West, if not better. This was demonstrated, not only in the space programme and armaments, but in engineering, especially on difficult large-scale projects. The Financial Times (18/2/86) more than ten years ago wrote that "the development of Siberia's wasteland in an appalling climate over the past 15 years is an engineering achievement which matches the construction of the Panama Canal in scale and difficulty". (My emphasis.) There were many such projects. An amazing number of inventions and discoveries were made by Soviet scientists and technicians, a field in which they had caught up with the USA, and actually outstripped Japan, Britain and France:

"The Soviet Union and the US are neck and neck in the patenting of inventions, each registering about 80,000 a year, a long way ahead of Japan's 50,000 registrations, and far ahead of the 10,000 of Britain and France There are currently over 20,000 Soviet patents registered abroad, and the country earns about $100 million a year from foreign license fees. That figure is going to rise sharply as the new generation of Soviet inventions becomes available. This month, they seem to have perfected their 1,500 kilowatt electricity transmission line, the world's most powerful." (The Guardian, 19/11/86.)

But the enormous promise of Soviet science and technology was never allowed to materialise. Just as in agriculture, they could not get the same results as the West although investment was higher, so they could not make use of the inventions and technology at their disposal. The bureaucratic system acted as a gigantic brake at all levels. By the early 1980s, the Soviet economy was a highly complex organism, with 50,000 plants producing 20 million products. The old methods of bureaucratic control were now strangling production. In a 526-page study produced in 1982, prominent Soviet academics attempted to analyse the problems of the economy, based on case studies of eight Soviet industries, including chemicals, machine tools, industrial process control and branches of the defence industry:

"They focus attention on over-rigid planning and management structures and procedures, and on problems caused by the separation of science from industry, its bureaucratisation and organisational fragmentation. They speak of widespread conservatism and inertia which sees innovation as more trouble than it's worth, the absence of competitive elements, the existence of a 'seller's market' and the lack of long-term relationships between producers and customers." (Morning Star, 5/8/82, my emphasis.)

Writing in Pravda, the Academician Vadim Trapeznikov, senior vice-chairman of the State Commission for Science and Technology, observed that:

"Soviet plants can often do better by going on turning out outdated products on outdated machines than by installing new machines and launching new products. Innovation--the speedy application on the shop floor of the latest research achievements--is today a key issue confronting Soviet planners and managers and is widely discussed in the Soviet press. The Soviet Union has more scientists and engineers than any other country in the world, and is in the forefront in many fields of theoretical research, with achievements with regard to its practical application to its credit in a number of fields. But the general level of Soviet technology and the rate of absorption of new advances lags behind that of the most advanced capitalist countries, and most Soviet goods cannot yet compete in export markets with the best that capitalism can offer." (Quoted in the Morning Star, 5/8/82.)

The same was true of the other fields of advanced technology, such as industrial robots. In 1980, the Comecon was only operating 3.6 per cent of the world's stock of 14,000 industrial robots, compared to 9.3 per cent in West Germany and 43 per cent in Japan. However, Comecon then envisaged the installation of no fewer than 200,000 industrial robots in the Five Year Period up to 1990, of which more than half were to be in the Soviet Union. Other plans were made to mass produce microprocessors, micro and macro computers as well as developing new fields of electronics, robotics, atomic power engineering and other areas of new technology.

There was no objective reason why these targets should not be met. But they were not. Despite the enormous number of scientists and technicians in Russia and Eastern Europe, they could not get the same results as in the West. Throughout this entire period, in a whole series of fields like computers, the gap between East and West continued to grow. This fact alone indicated that, whereas in the past it had played a relatively progressive role in developing the means of production, the bureaucracy had now become an absolute barrier.

To these thoughts, it is necessary to add one more. The movement in the direction of capitalism, far from aiding the development of science and technology in Russia has had the most ruinous effects. It suffices to give just one example from the jewel in the crown of Soviet technological achievement--the space programme. Here the superiority of the USSR was not in doubt. It led the world. But not any more. Although the remarkable Mir programme with its space stations still bears eloquent testimony to the achievements of the past, the movement towards capitalism has meant deep cuts which has shamefully undermined a great Soviet success story. For lack of funds, in 1996 out of 27 planned space launches, only 11 got off the ground. In the world ranking of expenditure on space programmes, Russia is now 19th.

Lenin explained many times that the future of the Soviet Union could not be separated from the position of world capitalism, and particularly its most advanced countries, beginning with the USA. Despite the extraordinary advances, the USSR remained relatively backward in comparison with the US economy in a whole series of areas. For instance, the US railway network, despite a much smaller area, was two and a half times as great as in Russia. The USSR lagged further behind in relation to computers and automated equipment. A book published by Medvedev in 1972 pointed out that: "Electric power and production of electricity in the USA is still more than twice that of the USSR. The United States produces within its own borders almost one and a half times as much oil and three times as much natural gas as the Soviet Union. At the end of the 1960s, the Soviet Union manufactured a quarter of the number of trucks produced in the United States and Japan. We produce far fewer passenger cars than countries like Italy, France, Japan and West Germany. The United States manufactures almost 20 times as many as we.

"We make half as many radios as the United States and one quarter as many as Japan. As to refrigerators we are about on the level of the US in 1950. In the production of synthetic resins and plastics we remain behind almost all the European countries including Italy; the US produces six times as much as we do. In 1970 Japan manufactured five times and the US ten times as much synthetic fibre as we did." (R. Medvedev, On Socialist Democracy, pp. 5-6.)

The main weakness was the inability to raise the productivity of labour sufficiently. Marx pointed out that in the last analysis the success of a given economic system can be reduced to the productivity of labour, or economy of labour time. Productivity did increase, but the gap with the most advanced capitalist economy--the USA--remained very great. The difference was narrowed considerably between the two countries as a result of the successes of the Five-Year Plans. It must be remembered that before the Revolution, Tsarist Russia was at the level of a third world economy today, and not one of the more developed ones. In 1913, the productivity of Russian industry was estimated at 25 per cent of the Americans. In 1937-39, it had closed to 40 per cent of the United States.

Although labour productivity increased in the postwar period its rate of increase slowed down: between 1956 and 1960, the average annual rate of growth of industrial productivity was 6.5 per cent; between 1961 and 1965 it had slowed to 4.6 per cent. In 1980, one American worker in industry produced as much as 2.8 Soviet workers, that is to say, the overall productivity of labour in the USSR was about one-third of the level in the USA. Far more than the volume of production, these figures show the actual difference between the level of economic development attained, and are therefore of crucial significance. For the bureaucracy, this lagging behind the West, especially in the vital field of the productivity of labour, remained the key question. With a larger working class, and over twice the number of technicians and engineers, the USSR produced only 65 per cent of American output in the mid-1960s. Two thirds of workers were not able to work efficently, and one-third at least of production was wasted through mismanagement, swindling, sabotage and theft.

Agriculture--the Achilles' heel

The situation in agriculture was far worse. Under Brezhnev, it took four Soviet agricultural workers to get the same results as one American farmer. Soviet agriculture had still not yet recovered from the forced collectivisation of the early 1930s, when peasants destroyed crops and slaughtered livestock. The number of horses and pigs fell by 55 per cent, sheep by 66 per cent and so on. Between 1930 and 1955, per head of population, agricultural production (excluding technical crops) and the number of farm animals (for pigs this applies only to 1953) were lower than in 1916, and for horned cattle and cows the figure had not reached the level of 1913 nor that of 1928. The productivity on the land remained very low. In 1982 it was reported that one agricultural worker fed six people in the USSR compared to 40 in the USA. Despite all the investment and resources, the Soviet economy was unable to take advantage of these factors. Nor was Brezhnev able to solve the problems of Soviet agriculture. On the contrary, they got steadily worse. Agriculture remained the Achilles' heel.

This had a direct bearing on living standards. The following figures for diet illustrate the difference in living standards between USA and the Soviet Union. In the USSR 48 per cent of calories were derived from grain (mainly bread), as opposed to 22 per cent in USA. On the other hand, only 8 per cent were derived from meat and fish, against 20 per cent in the USA. Soviet citizens consumed one half the meat eaten in the United States, and less than in Poland. Even on this elementary plane, Russia lagged behind. The USSR had to import grain. This cost $6.5 billion in 1984 alone. Yet potentially Russian agriculture could feed the world. Why?

Agriculture is a more complicated question than industry because here one is dealing with the elements--both natural and human. There are only two ways of securing a lasting improvement in productivity in agriculture--either by the general application of better techniques and machinery, or by securing a greater motivation of the workforce. In fact, the two things go together. Even if modern machinery is made available, unless the rural workers are motivated to work properly and get the best out of the instruments in their hands, it will not be possible to get the desired results. Such human motivation can only be secured in one of two ways--either if the peasant or rural proletarian is morally inspired and convinced of the need for socialism, or else by material incentives. The Russian bureaucracy was unable to do either. On a socialist basis, the problem could easily be solved. But the task of introducing a different consciousness into the peasant means changing his relation to society, contact with other producers, participation in the life of society, democratic decision-making, co-operatives and so on. This is impossible on basis of a bureaucratic system.

In the extreme conditions of War Communism, the Bolsheviks were compelled to resort to the forced delivery of grain in order to feed the starving workers in the cities, at a time when the collapse of industry meant that it was impossible to provide the peasants with goods in exchange for their products. But this was never seen as anything but a temporary measure forced upon the workers' state in an exceptional situation when the existence of the revolution was in danger. The policy was soon abandoned in favour of a free market in grain and the New Economic Policy. Lenin and Trotsky were in favour of gradual collectivisation by example, and, in the meantime, encouraged co-operatives. But they never considered the possibility of forcing the peasants into collectives at gun-point, as Stalin did in the 1930s. This monstrous policy led to the collapse of Soviet agriculture, a terrible famine and the deaths of millions of people. Soviet agriculture never recovered from this insane and criminal policy of Stalin.

No-where was the dead-hand of bureaucracy clearer than here. They tried to blame the weather. True, the Russian winter poses problems unknown in more benign climes, but with modern technology it would have been possible to overcome this to a large extent. The problem was not the weather but the disaffected attitude of the rural population. Even where silos were built, the harvested grain was often left out in the rain to rot on the ground. A tractor driver was paid in terms of the area that was ploughed, so more would be gained the greater the shallow ploughing. All the evils of a bureaucratic system were here multiplied a hundred fold--mismanagement, swindling, chaotic conditions of transport--combined with the still backward conditions of the Russian countryside--all combined to produce sabotage on a vast scale.

In the past agriculture had been neglected, but this was no longer true. The problem was not now lack of investment. The bureaucracy was investing vast sums in agriculture, which now amounted to one-third of the total civilian investment. Yet they could not get the desired results. The USA, for example, spent only 5 per cent of Gross National Income on agriculture but obtained much better results. Despite large-scale investment and tractor production on the collective farms, agricultural productivity of labour was officially about a quarter--actually it was much less--than the USA. With almost one-third of the population (27 million) still working on the land--six times the American figure--the Soviet Union had 20 times as many agricultural workers per tractor as the US. The average income of a Russian collective farmer was half of an industrial worker. Youth were leaving the villages at the rate of two million a year. There was a huge subsidy to agriculture, which received 27 per cent of total investment.

The USSR was the biggest producer of tractors in the world. Its harvested area was two thirds bigger than that of the USA. However, owing to poor quality and inefficient repairs, the average life of a Soviet tractor was only five or six years. This meant that about 300,000 tractors had to be replaced every year. Despite the increased number of tractors, the annual yield per tractor on collective farms in the 1960s, far from rising, actually went down--in the period 1960-67, by 17 per cent. The Soviet Union was a vast subcontinent. Yet only a third as many trucks were used in agriculture as in the United States.

"At the present time," wrote Medvedev in 1972, "an agricultural worker in the United States is in effect as well equipped with the means of production as an industrial worker and in some respects is even ahead of him. In 1960, each American agricultural worker had 39 horsepower at his disposal, compared with a mere 5.4 for his Soviet opposite number. By 1967 the supply of power to an agricultural worker in the United States had increased to 78 hp--it had exactly doubled. The equivalent figure in the USSR for the same period was only 8.8 hp, an increase of about 65 per cent." (Roy Medvedev, On Socialist Democracy, p. 12.)

Between 1966 and 1970, 1.5 million tractors were delivered to the collective farms, but 1,150,000 were written off from existing stock. Half a million combine harvesters were also delivered, but more than 350,000 were written off. This explains the worried tone of Brezhnev's speech at the 23rd Party Congress in 1966:

"The Central Committee considers it necessary to draw attention to yet another problem, that of utilising machinery at collective and state farms, The countryside is steadily receiving and increasing the number of tractors, lorries, harvester-combines and other machines. Labour there is acquiring the features of industrial work. Yet, in recent years, there has been a drop in many key indicators of the utilisation of the fleet of machines and tractors. Machine operators tend to leave their jobs, causing fluidity in the labour force. all this creates difficulties. Facilities for repairing farm machinery must be enlarged to the utmost, the Selkhoztehnika enterprises and the collective and state farms supplied with modern equipment, and machine operators given better training and bigger material incentives," and so on. (Report of the 23rd Congress CPSU, pp. 89-90.)

Reading between the lines of this report, we get a picture of collective farms equipped with old, out of date machinery, or machines of poor quality which continually break down, and an ill-prepared workforce with no motivation, which does not look after or repair this machinery, and which has to be bribed with more material incentives in order to perform the most basic tasks. The picture had changed little since Trotsky wrote: "The tractor is the pride of Soviet industry. But the coefficient of effective use of the tractors is very low. During the last industrial year it was necessary to subject 81 per cent of the tractors to capital repairs. A considerable number of them, moreover, got out of order again at the very height of the tilling season." (Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, p. 12.)

In the 1950s, as a result of Khrushchev's reforms, agricultural output improved. But under Brezhnev, the position worsened again. In the 1950s, the annual growth rate of agricultural production was 4.9 per cent. In the 1960s, it fell back to 3 per cent, and later to a miserable 2 per cent. And in the 1970s there was actually a decline in agricultural productivity. Yet investment in agriculture had enormously expanded. Agriculture absorbed 20 per cent of total national investment--twice the prewar level. The production of fertiliser increased greatly. Yet the value of net farm output was four fifths less than that of the USA. Productivity of labour in agriculture remained stubbornly low. This was partly connected to the outflow of youth from the villages, and the resulting manpower shortage. By 1980 only 20 per cent worked on the land, and they were mainly old people. But this cannot explain everything. In Western Europe there was an even bigger shift from country to town, yet the productivity of labour in agriculture enormously increased.

The real root cause was the passive resistance and sabotage of an alienated agricultural workforce, plus the colossal waste, mismanagement, inefficiency and corruption of the bureaucratic system. Brezhnev attempted to increase the motivation of the rural workforce by allowing small private plots in the kolkhozy. He actually included this in article 13 of the new constitution. Such a measure was not incorrect, given the situation. Until such time as the development of the means of production is sufficient to guarantee the rural population a decent standard of life, until the collective farms, properly equipped with modern machinery, have demonstrated in practice their superiority over small-scale individual production, it is necessary to make concessions to small businesses in both the town and, especially, in the countryside. Under Brezhnev, small private plots accounted for only 3 per cent of the total, but produced one-third of meat, milk and vegetables, more than one-third of eggs, and, surprisingly, almost one-fifth of the wool.

The authorities were concerned at the serious problems in the countryside because there is a direct link between agriculture and the production of consumer goods, and therefore the standard of living. In his economic report to the 1966 Party Congress, Alexei Kosygin pointed to the slowdown in the growth rate of real incomes, which he linked, in part, to the low productivity of labour, but also to agriculture:

"As a result of the lag in agriculture, the food and light industries fell short of their targets and this could not help but slow down the growth of the national income and of the nation's prosperity." (Report of the23rd Congress CPSU, p. 175.)

A series of bad harvests culminated in the disaster of 1972. In March 1974 the regime then hailed a big turnaround when 225 million tons had been produced. However, there was a shortage of storage facilities and only 180 million tons were saved. This catastrophe was directly linked to bureaucratic mismanagement, the scourge of Soviet agriculture. Grain was left to rot on the ground for lack of silos, transport dislocation or simple bungling. Later Soviet leaders attempted to overcome the problems of agriculture, but to no avail. The problem was inherent in the bureaucratic regime itself.

Living standards in the 1970s

Before the war, when Stalin announced the dawn of "a happy life", Trotsky pointed out that in the Soviet Union there was only half a pair of shoes for every worker. Under Brezhnev this was no longer the case. In 1979, the USSR was producing more shoes than any other country and there were five pairs of shoes per person. For a period of 30 years after the death of Stalin the rate of consumption grew by an average 3.6 per cent per annum. Living standards more than doubled. True, living standards in the USSR at the end of the 1970s still lagged far behind the West. Nevertheless, consumption continued to rise under Brezhnev, as the following table shows:

Soviet Living Standards 1965-78:

1965

1978

Monthly wage

96.5 roubles

159.9 roubles

Number of doctors

554,000

929,000

Families with TV sets

24 per cent

82 per cent

Families with refrigerators

11 per cent

78 per cent

Living space per person (urban areas)

10 sq. metres

12.7 sq. metres

Consumption of meat/meat products per person

41 kilograms

57 kilograms

Consumption of vegetables per person

72 kilograms

90 kilograms

Consumption of potatoes per person

142 kilograms

120 kilograms

Consumption of bread/grain per person

156 kilograms

140 kilograms

(Source: The Guardian, 17/8/81. Quoted in F. Halliday, The Making of the Second Cold War, p.139.)

However, the growth in living standards gradually slowed down in the 1970s, as the following figures show:

Increase in consumption 1966-78:

1966-70

5 per cent

1971-75

2.9 per cent

1976-78

2.1 per cent

Food consumption in the same period increased in the following proportion:

1966-70

4.2 per cent

1971-75

1.7 per cent

1976-78

0.6 per cent

Marx assumed that the starting point of a movement in the direction of socialism would be a high level of living standards. Only by completely satisfying all the material aspirations of men and women will it be possible to arrive at a level where such aspirations cease to dominate people's lives and thoughts, preparing the way for a qualitatively superior level of human civilisation. So long as scarcity exists, and with it the humiliating struggle for material things, class barbarism, and all its attendant evils, will never be overcome. The vision of a classless society will remain a tantalising phantom, like a horizon which recedes further into the distance as you approach it. This explained the growing mood of scepticism and even cynicism among layers of Soviet society in relation to the hypocritical speeches of the bureaucrats who lived in luxury while the ordinary Soviet citizen had to stand in endless queues to obtain scarce goods.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the living standards of the Soviet population did experience a dramatic improvement in comparison to the past. According to a report in The Guardian in the mid-1980s:

"Almost every home now has a TV set and a refrigerator. Seventy per cent of households have a washing machine, and 40 per cent have a vacuum cleaner and about 15 per cent have a car. Nearly half have a motorbike or a moped." (The Guardian, 7/2/86.)

Moreover, these figures do not tell the whole story. The growth in living standards was achieved with virtually no inflation. Above all, the prices of basic necessities were kept low. Bread was so cheap that the peasants would feed it to their livestock instead of grain. A particularly important gain was low rents. Whereas a worker in the West spends anything between a third and a half of his wage on rent, the situation in the USSR was totally different. Out of a 200 rouble monthly wage, only 10 roubles a month went on rent, and this included hot water, central heating, and, at least in Moscow, free local phone calls. There was a completely free education and health service, no unemployment and a month's free holiday at resorts run by the trade unions. The Soviet Union probably had the best public transport system in the world, with extremely low fares--five kopecks for any distance in Moscow, for example.

However, despite these improvements, living standards still lagged behind those of at least the most advanced capitalist countries. The housing shortage remained serious. Living conditions for the great majority were still very cramped, and in many cases intolerably bad. One quarter of families shared a bathroom and/or kitchen. The workers no longer suffered from the privations of the earlier period. There was no real shortage, at least of the basic commodities. There were queues, of course, but eventually people got what they were waiting for. But the quality of the goods produced under the bureaucratic system was another matter. Trotsky already pointed out before the war that quality escaped the bureaucracy like an elusive phantom. The nearer the product stood to the consumer, as a rule, the poorer the quality. The lack of democratic control revealed itself most glaringly in the field of consumer goods. Above all in a society which claimed to have built "socialism", the material well-being of the population cannot be measured purely in terms of how much bread and potatoes are consumed, or, for that matter, how much meat and butter.

There is an intimate connection between economic growth and living standards. Above all, the correct balance between heavy and light industry, and between industry and agriculture, is a fundamental question. In 1971, the Ministry of Light Industry received complaints about 7.6 million pairs of shoes, 1.5 million pairs of hosiery, 1.7 million items of knit wear, and 175,000 suits. In the first half of 1971, the retail network in Moscow alone rejected 33 million roubles' worth of industrial goods. In the same year total losses from rejected industrial output were estimated at over Rbs600 million, but the journal Finansy USSR commented that "such losses were actually much larger". In 1970 and 1971, 50 per cent of the goods checked by the Inspectorate of the Trade Ministry of the Russian Soviet Republic did not meet official minimum standards. This resulted in the stockpiles of unsold goods in the warehouses increasing yearly. From 1968 to 1971, the unsold surplus came to 32-52 per cent of sales. By early 1972, the surplus totalled Rbs3,400 million.

Here we see the fundamental defect of bureaucratic planning. Without the democratic control and participation of the working class, it inevitably leads to an uncontrolled flourishing of waste, corruption and mismanagement. This was always true--even in the best period in the USSR--but under the conditions of a sophisticated modern economy, producing a million different commodities each year, it became a nightmare. The Soviet press in the period under examination was full of the most appalling examples of bureaucratic bungling. The following is a typical example:

"The more expensive the material is, the fewer clothes required to fulfil the plan!… The cheaper the model, the more cars needed to be manufactured in order to fulfil the plan, and that would require additional capacity and manpower… A power engineer once praised me for leaving the electric light on: 'Good for you! The more energy you consume, the bigger our bonus!' The director of the Riga Electro-Mechanical Plant commented: 'Any quantitative index used as the basis for planning and evaluation will inevitably be one sided and ultimately damaging. If the ton is the measure, output will get heavier. If the rouble is the measure, it will get costlier. If consumer satisfaction were used as the base, then production volume would certainly never be the measure'." (Managers quoted in Literaturnaya Gazeta, November 1976.)

The purely quantitative approach to planning inevitably produced the most grotesque distortions in the absence of the democratic control and participation of the working class:

"If the director can get away with producing only a few styles of shoes, he will have long production runs and be able to cut costs. If he can bias his production toward small-size shoes and away from large ones, he can save on leather inputs. Finally, although the state sets the prices for his shoes, different styles will yield him different profit markups. The director can try to specialise in those styles which offer the highest profit.

"How far the director can go in all this depends on his bargaining position. In the past, this position has been good, indeed. Always less has been produced than the customers would buy. Thus, wholesalers have been fairly easy to deal with; since they could sell anything, why antagonise the producer in a sellers' market? Only the final customer complained bitterly about the results of this system." (David Granick, The Red Executive, p. 34.)

Trotsky pointed out that to portray economic growth purely in terms of volume is like attempting to demonstrate the strength of a man on the basis of chest measurement alone. The purely quantitative approach to targets led to the production of the most heavy and cumbersome vehicles, so that a given number of tonnes would meet the target; or so many thousands of shoes would be produced, but all left-footed. Of course, such "mistakes" would be noticed by the workers, but, in the absence of free speech and independent trade unions, there was no way of denouncing them. Too outspoken criticism would only lead to problems, dismissal, imprisonment, confining in a mental home. It was better to keep your head down and your mouth shut, get your pay packet at the end of the month, and hope that things would get better, which in many ways seemed to be happening.

In a speech at the Party Congress in 1986, Gorbachov described the position in Soviet light industry:

"Last year millions of metres of fabrics and millions of pairs of leather footwear and many other consumer goods were returned to the factories or marked down as inferior grade goods. The losses are significant: wasted raw materials and the wasted labour of hundreds of thousands of workers." And he added: "Bureaucracy is today a serious obstacle… Bureaucratic distortions manifest themselves all the stronger where people are held less accountable for what they do." (The Times, 27/2/86.)

Freed from all popular controls, the bureaucracy behaved in an absolutely irresponsible manner. They showed the same short-sightedness, the same criminal disregard for the broader interests of society as the big monopolies. In general, they were just as bad as the bourgeois in relation to the environment. This was shown by the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, by the destruction of the Aral Sea, the poisoning of the Caspian sea and lake Baikal and the sinking of nuclear vessels in the Arctic Ocean.

The absolute mess and chaos was indicated by the crazy proliferation of ministries of all kinds. In the machine-tool sector alone there were no fewer than 11 separate ministries--the Ministry of General Machine Building, the Ministry of Heavy Machine Building, etc. In transport there were five ministries, and so on. There were many examples of the problems caused by this situation. For example, natural gas was discovered in Central Asia. But in order to commence exploitation, they had to obtain the signatures of 27 different ministries and departments. This took seven years, after which the gas had been lost.

The problem of quality

The quality of Soviet consumer goods was not as bad as the pro-bourgeois press now likes to make out. At any rate, there was no reason in principle why the quality of these goods should be any worse than those produced in the West. In those sectors where quality received due attention, very good products were made. This was the case in the defence industry, where the generals insisted on high quality, and got it. The same was true of the space programme. But not only that. An article that appeared in The Guardian in 1986 revealed surprising data about the success of certain Soviet exports to the West:

"When we think of Soviet excellence in technology, we are accustomed to their achievements in space, and to the high quality of many of their military products. The titanium armour in the Hind combat helicopter, or the titanium hull of their new submarines, for example, are said to be significantly ahead of Western metallurgical skills.

"But somehow space and military hardware can be tuned out of our appreciation of Soviet technological capacity. We can file it all under the general heading of military superpower, and continue with our cosy and complacent belief in a general Western superiority in the things that really matter, like computers and cars and consumer goods.

"Maybe we should think again. In the first six months of last year, Britain imported 30,000 Snowcap refrigerators and 32,000 TV picture tubes from the Soviet Union. Belgium bought TV sets and electric razors, and France bought coffee grinders, electric irons and air conditioners. The Dutch bought 60,000 cameras and electric hair clippers, and even the Japanese bought Soviet TV sets. In the third world, the Chaika sewing machines and Orbita electric fans are steadily creeping into traditional Western and Japanese markets."

In fact, the picture was contradictory. For example, the actual recorded sound of Soviet LP records was very good--as good as anything in the West, if not better--but was let down by poor pressing. In an article in Pravda (28/11/95), one Russian commentator pointed to the greater durability of certain Soviet products when compared to Western equivalents. The author correctly ascribes the difference to the contrast between a planned economy, essentially based on production for need, and a market economy, based on profit, which includes such phenomena as "conspicuous consumption", advertising, and all kinds of waste:

"What our economy produced as a final product suited precisely the Soviet society and was absolutely unsuitable in principle for the Western market, for the 'consumer society.' For instance, efforts were directed into achieving product durability rather than design. The market, on the contrary, aims at shortening product life, thus forcing people to 'consume' both goods and services." And he continues:

"Look at the difference between two cars of the same class--one produced for a thrift economy, the other for a chrematistic one. In a Zhiguli, all the main engine components where problems usually arise are positioned in such a way that they are accessible without the aid of an auto shop. One can use the car for a decade without turning to a mechanic--you fix the problems yourself. In a Citroen--a car of the same class--the same components are completely inaccessible. You have to pay for a service for every little thing. If you need to replace the breaker contacts--it costs $80; if a generator brush is worn out--you pay $300 for a new generator; if you need to replace a pump belt--you have to take out the engine.

"As is known, exactly half of the effort and cost in the production of consumer goods in the West goes into packaging (also a part of design). What does it mean to create in Russia industries capable of competing on the 'market'? It means creating production oriented to the criteria of strangers, people of a different lifestyle, which in itself is absurd (or means consciously turning Russia into a colony). Without a doubt, 90 per cent of the Russian population would prefer to bring their own bags to buy sugar and their own bottles to buy unbottled oil rather than buying a 'competitive' product at twice the price because of the packaging."

However, undoubtedly, the general level of quality lagged far behind Western standards. Colour television sets had to be taken back for repairs on average twice in their first year of use. They also had a tendency to explode. Shoes were, for some reason, of a particularly poor quality, and so on. For the privileged officials, who had access to special shops, this was not a problem. The quality of goods destined for the consumption of ordinary working people was a matter of indifference to them, while the factory managers were interested only in meeting the targets of the plan in terms of volume. If that meant cutting corners on quality, so what?

In other respects also the conditions of life left a lot to be desired. Even in Moscow there was a shortage of places of recreation such as decent bars, cafes and restaurants. There were queues for all these, and this actually made the problem of drunkenness worse. It was common to see men drinking in the street. The situation in the provinces was worse still. Nizhnevartovsk in Siberia, a town of 200,000 inhabitants, in the early 1980s still did not have a single cinema. Town planners did not pay much attention to the recreational needs of ordinary people. Needless to say, the officials had no such problem.

The situation in the USSR could not be separated from that existing on a world scale. The reactionary notion of socialism in one country was bound to fail. Despite all the efforts to shut the Soviet people off from the rest of the world, they would inevitably find out about the level of life in the West, and compare their own position to it. This was what Lenin warned of when he said that the future of the USSR would ultimately be determined on a world scale ("Who shall prevail?"). To the degree that people became aware that Western consumers had access to better quality goods at cheaper prices, discontent would inevitably grow. The difference was underlined by the fact that people with access to Western currency could, without standing in queues, obtain superior Western goods in the so-called diplomatic shops (diplomaticheskye magaziny).

The official figures on living standards, in fact, conceal almost as much as they reveal. They tell us nothing about the different levels of wages enjoyed by different layers of the population. In general, Soviet statistics were always very coy about this question. Averages in general can be very misleading. They remind us of the story of the two peasants, one with nine cows, the other with one. "On average" they had five cows each! In practice, the growth of the Soviet economy, which, in a healthy workers' state should have meant a steady reduction in wage differentials and privileges, here signified the opposite.

Rather than narrowing under Khrushchev and Brezhnev, the gap continued to widen. While the living standards of the masses undoubtedly rose, the income and perks of the bureaucracy (both legal and illegal) increased still faster. This was above all true of the top elite. Brezhnev was well known for his luxurious life-style and fondness for expensive cars. When Nixon, who one assumes to have enjoyed a reasonably prosperous existence, went to visit Moscow, he professed to be astonished at the ostentatious luxury of Brezhnev's life-style, with a swimming pool in the basement of his house, and so on.

In a study of Nixon's fall from power, The Final Days by Woodwood and Bernstein, a small glimpse is given of the life-style of Brezhnev and the top bureaucrats. "The President [Nixon] had his usual present for Brezhnev--an American automobile for the Secretary's extensive collection. Their first two summits, in 1972 and 1973, had yielded two $10,000 models, a Cadillac limousine and a Lincoln Continental. This time it was a $5,578 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, not very impressive in a garage that already housed a Citroen-Maserati speedster, Rolls Royce and Mercedes sedans, and Brezhnev's favourite, a new Mercedes 300SL roadster. But Brezhnev had learned that the Monte Carlo was named 'Car of the Year' by Motor Trend magazine, and he had let it be known that he would like one."

According to Jan Sejna, a top Czech bureaucrat, who defected to the West and published his memoirs We Will Bury You: "Brezhnev is very fond of vodka, and pilsner beer, which we used to send to him direct to Moscow. He also loves Western clothes… Whenever he came to Prague, the Director of our Politburo shop--where the elite could buy luxuries unavailable to lesser men--would have to fly to Italy and West Germany before his arrival, to lay in a special stock for him." The same was true of the bureaucratic rulers of Eastern Europe. Writing about his own predecessor, Alexei Cepicka, Sejna explains: "He had a huge personal fortune, worth millions of dollars, for which he never accounted, and which he spent on magnificent luxuries--villas, cars, jewellery--for himself and his friends. His wife, for example, owned 17 mink coats."

The Soviet press was full of examples of corruption and economic crime. But it was only the tip of the iceberg. Apart from grossly inflated salaries, Party and state functionaries at all levels were engaged in plundering public resources. In 1974, Mrs Furtseva, the minister of culture, was sacked for misappropriation of state funds. In July 1976, according to Finansy USSR, investigations were made into 300 state enterprises. This revealed that in Belan, "a group of thieves ensconced in the city department store, led by former managers" had pinched Rbs116,500. In Tomsk, Rbs463,000 had been embezzled. In Georgia "thieves in leadership positions" were exposed. When the police raided the flat of one official "…they found his property included 12 cars, 47 tape recorders and colour televisions and 3,000 bottles of cognac and wine. He had three Volga cars, 23 dinner services with 380 settings, 74 suits and 149 pairs of shoes. 'He had hidden some things away for emergencies,' reported Moscow Radio, 'including Rbs735,000 (£668,000) in cash. Rbs18,300 worth of 3 per cent loan bonds, 450 gold coins and 39 gold wrist watches".

Again: "The deputy minister of fisheries was executed in 1982 because of his involvement in a swindle whereby caviar was exported from the Soviet Union in tins labelled as containing salted herring…He had dealt with over 30 cases involving the theft of 3m roubles-worth of goods by some 100 management personnel from the capital's best-known shops. He said officials received 1m roubles in bribes 'and paid three-quarters of this sum in bribes themselves' … They found that in 156 of 193 purchases they were cheated. The profits were then systematically passed up in line." (Financial Times, 2/7/86.)

The same life-style was common to Brezhnev's children, and to the ruling elite in general. In 1980, after the arrest of 300 officials in the "Sochi caviar" scandal, Brezhnev's family was investigated for involvement in corruption. A vast amount of the wealth created by the Soviet workers was being used up in this way. One textile bureaucrat had actually accumulated the astonishing amount of seven million pounds--although this sum now pales in insignificance beside the billions looted from the state by the nascent bourgeoisie. The parasitism of the bureaucracy was undermining the very foundations of the planned economy. Simultaneously, the gulf between the bureaucracy and the masses was getting ever wider. The whole psychology of the ruling caste was becoming transformed. The consequences of this were to be seen in the next phase.

The state under Brezhnev

When Brezhnev introduced the new 1978 constitution of the USSR, he dismissed suggestions (as Stalin had done) that the Soviet state showed no signs of withering away. On the contrary, he insisted that "our statehood is gradually being transformed into communist self-government. This is, of course, a long process, but it is proceeding steadily. We are convinced that the new Soviet constitution will contribute effectively to the attainment of this important goal of Communist construction". But behind all this rhetoric stood, not a state in transition to communism, but a vast bureaucratic apparatus that dominated all aspects of life. Far from "withering away" it was getting more powerful and grotesque--not the "dictatorship of the proletariat", but the dictatorship over the proletariat of a vast and repressive bureaucratic apparatus.

Lenin envisaged that, as the productive capacity of society increased, and with it the standard of living and cultural level of the population, the functions of running the state and society would gradually be performed by the working class on a rotating basis. Thus, the state itself would become more and more absorbed into society. Instead, the totalitarian monstrosity that was the state under Brezhnev became ever more oppressive, corrupt and divorced from the mass of the population.

This fact cannot be explained by "imperialist encirclement" or by the existence of the "remnants of the old regime" (the usual excuses employed by the apologists of Stalinism). The weak and embattled workers' state under Lenin and Trotsky, invaded by 21 armies of intervention, maintained a scrupulously democratic regime which protected all the rights of the working people. By the late 1960s, the USSR was the second most powerful country on earth, with a modern economy and a mighty army. Yet the regime could not permit even the slightest concession to democratic rights. This was not because of the external threat, but because the bureaucracy was at war with its own people.

As for the other excuse, what "remnants" are we talking about here? Half a century after the October Revolution, to talk about a threat from "capitalist remnants" was plain nonsense. These had long since disappeared--mainly absorbed into the bureaucratic machine itself. The heirs of the old Tsarist state were effectively in control of Russia! Subsequent experience has shown that the real danger to the conquests of October did not come from this quarter, but precisely from that voracious caste which had undermined the planned economy through its bungling, swindles and theft, and a section of which is striving to convert itself into a new class of Mafia capitalist oppressors.

Under Lenin and Trotsky, a certain amount of repression against class enemies was made necessary by the extreme backwardness and primitiveness of the state and economy, imperialist intervention and the threat of capitalist counter-revolution. The very weakness of the workers' state meant that at times the struggle assumed very harsh forms. Today, as part of the campaign to discredit Bolshevism, unscrupulous writers exaggerate this repression and try to link it to the horrors of Stalin's Purges. But even under these conditions, there was an unparalleled flowering of workers' democracy, which was only destroyed during Stalin's fight against the Left Opposition, which stood for the defence of Lenin's ideas of democracy and internationalism.

In place of the democracy and freedom which the working class enjoyed in the period immediately after the October Revolution, there was a system of rigged elections, where everything was decided in advance from the top, i.e. from the privileged ruling elite. Lenin envisaged the gradual withering away of the state from the very beginnings of workers' power. Instead, we had an enormous growth of the state machine. This had a material basis. The new Tsars jealously protected their swollen privileges and loot. At the same time as they talked about "building communism" and the "new Soviet Man", they clamped down on all forms of dissent and free speech.

State repression assumed new and more refined (though not less cruel) forms. Under Brezhnev the criminal code, already sufficiently draconian, was further tightened up to combat dissidence. The addition of sections 193-1 and 193-3 multiplied the possibilities of repression. Arrest no longer had to be tied to an intent to subvert the Soviet government. Demonstrations (though the articles did not use that word) and the dissemination of any form of material aimed at disrupting the state were punishable, respectively, by three years' imprisonment and three years' labour camp.

This measure met with the protests of, among others, the celebrated Soviet composer Dimitri Shostakovich, and a group of Old Bolsheviks. All to no avail. The protests went unanswered, and the decree was confirmed by the Supreme Soviet in December 1966. By January 1967, a wave of arrests were carried out against dissident writers who were tried in kangaroo courts and sent to labour camps. Those who protested about such trials were sacked from their jobs and persecuted. Academics were deprived of their degrees and titles.

Every manifestation of free and independent thought was looked upon as suspicious. Authors were not allowed to publish anything without the authorities' permission. Any attempt to do so was punishable by long terms of imprisonment with hard labour (seven and five years in a severe regime camp). The horrific picture of these camps in Anatoly Marchenko's Testimony shows that, while in some ways the conditions in the camps were better than in Stalin's day, in some respects they were even worse. Moreover, upon arrival in camp, the prisoners often found that their sentences had been increased by a few more years, and at the end of the period, they would be informed that a new case had been prepared and that if they refused to confess they would get another seven or ten years. In this way, the prisoners could be, in effect, buried alive in the camps, with no prospect of ever getting out alive.

Far worse than this, however, was the ghoulish practice of incarcerating political prisoners in mental hospitals. In an attempt to avoid criticism in the West, they began to send dissidents to mental hospitals. Among other advantages, this meant that the accused did not have to be placed on trial. Perfectly sane people were locked up in this way, simply on the basis of two doctors' signatures. Of course, anyone who complained about the "socialist paradise" had to be insane! Among others, the former General Petro Grigorenko and Zhores Medvedev were subjected to this inhuman treatment which blackened the name of socialism throughout the world. This phenomenon had already existed under Stalin, but it was developed and perfected in the Brezhnev period, when it became widespread. Grigorenko, who spent years in these awful places, recalls that:

"A special psychiatric hospital was opened in Sychyovka in Smolensk province. Then another in Chernyakhovsk. Things moved swiftly. In the late sixties and seventies the special psychiatric hospitals sprouted like mushrooms after a rain. I know about more than ten: Kazan, Leningrad, Sychyovka, Chernyakhovsk, Dnepropetrovsk, Oryol, Sverdlovsk, Blagoveshchensk, Alma-Ata, and a 'special psychiatric sanatorium' in the Poltava-Kiev area. In addition, departments for forced treatment were set up in all of the provincial psychiatric hospitals. Thus were created wide scale opportunities to scatter mentally stable political prisoners among a mass of seriously ill patients." (Grigorenko, op. cit., pp. 408-9.)

And he gives a nightmarish glimpse into the conditions in these hell-holes:

"This is the horror of our inhuman system of forced treatment. A healthy person confined among the insane knows that in time he may become one of those he sees suffering around him. This is particularly frightening for people with sensitive psyches who suffer from insomnia, who are incapable of isolating themselves from a hospital's sounds.

"The Special Psychiatric Hospital is located in the building of a former women's prison, alongside the notorious 'Kresty'--Leningrad's principal prison for political prisoners. Here, as in regular prisons, there is a normal partition only on the ceilings of the cells. The middle of the building is hollow. From the corridor of the first floor you can see the glass skylight of the roof over the fifth floor. Sounds intensify and reverberate as they travel up and down this well. During Stalin's time, this fact was used to carry our psychic torture.

"Luckily I was able to ignore most of what went on in the hospital. I could get used to and not notice the incessant tap-dancing over my head for whole days at a time--with intermissions coming only when the dancer fell into total insensibility. The one thing that I cannot forget and that sometimes awakened me at night was a wild night-time cry, mingled with the sound of breaking glass. In sleep evidently the nerves are not protected from such stimuli. I can only imagine what a person must suffer whose nervous system takes in everything around him.

"A patient in a Special Psychiatric Hospital does not have even the wretched rights of a prisoner. He has no rights. The doctor can do whatever they please to him and no one will interfere, no one will defend him. None of his complaints will ever leave the hospital. He has left only one hope--the honesty of the doctors." (Ibid., p. 295.)

Some of the doctors were indeed honest, and attempted to shield the patients from the worst abuse. But since the whole system was under the control of the KGB, and the chief doctors like the notorious Professor Lunts, were in fact serving KGB officers, such attempts were doomed to impotence. The entire conception of the system deprived the prisoner of all rights. "They are entirely in the power of the personnel of these 'hospitals'." (Ibid., p. 407.)

All these horrors took place at a time when the government of the USSR was still proclaiming that it was "building communism", that is, the highest form of human civilisation, a classless society in which the state has withered away and the need for coercion has been replaced by a free and voluntary co-operation between the members of society. The leaders of the Communist Parties now wring their hands and express their belated criticisms of all these horrors of which they alone appear to have been ignorant. But nowhere do they offer an explanation of how such monstrosities could occur under "real socialism". Thus, the whole thing is mystified and presented as merely arbitrary actions on the part of individuals. But that relegates them to the status of accidents (that is something which cannot be explained). And that means that this kind of thing can happen in any society, including a socialist one. That is a fine advertisement for socialism! In fact, it can easily be explained by a Marxist as a means whereby a privileged ruling caste tried to defend its power and wealth against the majority of society. Once this fact is grasped, there is nothing mysterious or accidental about it. It merely reproduces a pattern of behaviour which is very familiar to any serious student of history who knows that, in the words of old Engels, in any society where art, science and government are the monopoly of a minority, that minority will use and abuse its position in its own interest.

Capitalists are necessary to capitalism. They are the "repositories of the means of production". The capitalist system cannot function without private profit--the only source of the investment fund. The greed for surplus value is thus the driving-force of the system. The workers see this as quite normal. A worker may demand a larger slice of the surplus value derived from his labour, but it would never occur to him to demand that the bosses should receive no profit. But where does the material wealth of the bureaucracy come from? All they were entitled to from an economic point of view were what Marx called the wages of superintendence. Anything more they got, not as productive agents, but as thieves, parasites and gangsters.

Even the most basic of democratic rights was therefore too dangerous to concede, since the very first point which would be raised was the cutting down of privileges. Of course, from an economic point of view this was absolutely correct. But from the caste standpoint of the bureaucracy, it was the kiss of death. This is the real material basis of the totalitarian regime.

Far from the administration becoming more simplified, with the increased participation of the masses, a monstrous bureaucratic machine had been consolidated, with a far greater rate of officials to workers than in any capitalist nation. Compared to this, even the American state with its vast military-industrial complex seemed small beer. Far from assisting the forward movement of society, the mass of ministries, departments and sub-departments and its mountains of paperwork, directives and red tape constituted one of the main impediments to the development of the productive forces. Not the interests of society and the working class, but the vested interests of the swelling army of functionaries determined policy.

The most criminal thing of all is that, under Brezhnev, the material conditions existed for the Soviet Union at least to begin to move in the direction of socialism. The division of society into classes is historically determined by the division of labour, above all the division between mental and manual labour. But now the material basis existed for the abolition of this division. In 1917, there were only four million workers in Russia. In the Soviet Union in 1980, there were 120 million workers. This was the biggest and probably the most educated working class in the world.

On the basis of the massive development of industry, science and technology, there was no reason why there should not have been the fullest flowering of workers' democracy. The prior condition for this was that the running of industry and the state be in the hands of the working class. There should have been full rights for all parties and trends to defend their opinions even including those few cranks who wanted to go, back to capitalism. Such a regime of real workers' democracy would have been a preparation for beginning to move towards socialism. But the prior condition for this was the overthrow of the bureaucracy, which was determined to hold onto power by all the means at its disposal.

This contradiction became increasingly clearer, more blatant and more insufferable, not less, as the Soviet Union overcame its backwardness and developed into a modern economy. The rule of the bureaucracy remained an insurmountable obstacle, blocking the road towards socialism. That is why the level of repression increased, instead of decreasing as Lenin had envisaged, and as should have been the case as the material basis for social conflict disappeared. In fact, the Soviet Union was moving further away from socialism, the differentials were growing ever greater, the social antagonisms ever sharper, the rule of the bureaucracy ever more intolerable. The totalitarian state was only the most palpable manifestation of this fact, not its cause.

Art and science

"I am surprised that you are surprised that a poet speaks out against bureaucracy because the words poet and bureaucrat are mutually exclusive."

Yevgenii Yevtushenko.

The October Revolution had a tremendously liberating influence on art and culture. A whole new generation of artists, poets and musicians were inspired to new heights by the revolution. But this inspiration did not survive the ebb of the revolution and the suffocating atmosphere of spiritual and artistic repression that accompanied the Stalinist regime. Art and science, more than any other sphere of social life, require freedom to stretch their wings. They thrive in an atmosphere of free thought, debate, discussion and controversy. But they will wither under the dead hand of conformism, routine and bureaucratic rigidity.

The Stalinist attitude to the arts cannot be separated from the mode of operation of the totalitarian state in general. This applies as much to fascism as Stalinism, although the socio-economic base is quite different. No doubt a bureaucratic caricature of Marxism is preferable to the poison of racism, the master race and the distilled essence of imperialism which forms the basis of fascist ideology, just as a regime of nationalisation and planning is preferable to the rule of the banks and monopolies. Nonetheless, in their treatment of art and science, there are clear similarities that are not accidental. A totalitarian state can accept no area of social life which it does not control utterly. Hitler not only banned the Socialist and Communist Parties and the unions, but even closed down the workers' chess clubs.

The Stalinist bureaucracy kept the artists and writers under the strictest control, because, in the absence of parties and unions, the opposition of the workers and intellectuals could be expressed in other ways. Literature was particularly dangerous. But the pictorial arts, and even music, might also be used for subversive purposes. Hence the zeal with which the paid hacks of the state in the leadership of the Writers and Musicians' "Unions" pursued each and every deviation from the officially approved norms of "socialist realism". Just compare this suffocating atmosphere with the bubbling cauldron of artistic life in the 1920s, with its myriad schools of thought and style--Futurism, Acmeism, Symbolism, Imagism, Constructivism, and many other "isms" with the soulless conformism of later decades, and we see how a great opportunity was lost.

The great Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky was one of the few well-known writers who had actively sympathised with the Bolsheviks before the Revolution (Maxim Gorky was another). Whereas other famous poets like Sergei Yesenin and Alexader Blok sympathised with the revolution as fellow travellers (the term was invented by Trotsky in the 1920s), Mayakovsky identified with it heart and soul, and this was reflected in his poetry, earning him the nickname "the drummer-boy of the revolution". In later years, his poetry and plays frequently contained biting satirical attacks against the Soviet bureaucracy. In 1930 he committed suicide, which was almost certainly a protest against the slide towards bureaucratic reaction.

Many others did not take their own lives but were swept up in the Purges and perished in Stalin's camps. This was the fate of another great Russian poet, Osip Mandelshtam. From 1932 on, the regime demanded complete submission from the writers and artists. Boris Pasternak stopped writing for a period of ten years. During the war he published some poetry, but then fell silent again in protest against Zhdanov's Purges, writing nothing until the publication of Doctor Zhivago which was awarded the Nobel Prize in Sweden, and promptly banned in Russia.

In the field of music, great Soviet composers like Shostakovich and Prokofiev found themselves humiliated in public, their works denounced by ignorant bureaucrats such as Zhdanov, the equivalent of Vyshinsky in the world of culture. As in the Purge trials, they were compelled to engage in ritual confessions. Even then, some of their best works were banned. This was the fate of Shostakovich's opera The Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and Prokofiev's sixth symphony, both banned by Stalin and not performed in Russia until many years later.

Under Stalin, science was in the hands of a bureaucracy that decided which theories were acceptable to the ruling elite and which were anathema. Thus, in the field of genetics, Soviet research was held up for decades by the acceptance of the false theories of Lysenko who enjoyed the protection of Stalin. A similar situation existed in the field of linguistics, where the bogus theories of Marr were imposed on scholars for years, until the Boss shortly before his death unexpectedly intervened with his work on linguistics, whereupon it was a question of "About Turn!" in 24 hours.

Worse still, such a key science as cybernetics was denounced as bourgeois reactionary nonsense and virtually banned. This step alone set the Soviet Union back many years in the vital field of computer research. The same was true of resonance theory, for some reason or other. Einstein too was regarded with suspicion, although the physicists generally escaped lightly, since Stalin was anxious to get the atom bomb as soon as possible. Only pure mathematics seemed to get off scott-free, presumably because the bureaucrats could not make head or tail of it! Those who dared to protest found themselves cold-shouldered, passed over for promotion, or even arrested. In such a climate, no one dared to make a move before looking over their shoulder first. Hardly the kind of atmosphere to encourage great advances and innovative thinking.

Add to this the fact that Soviet scientists were largely cut off from contact with the most advanced currents of scientific thought on a world scale, except by reading the digests made available to them, and a discouraging picture emerges. This explains why, despite having a large number of good scientists, they were unable to get the same results as in the West. The freedom to criticise, to experiment, to make mistakes, is essential to the progress of science.

The same situation existed in philosophy. It is a condemnation of the Stalinist regime that for seventy years not one original work of Marxist philosophy or economics came out of the Soviet Union. With all the resources of a subcontinent at their disposal, they were not able to match the achievements of one man sitting alone in the reading room of the British Museum. That alone is a sufficient commentary on the so-called Marxism-Leninism of the Stalinist regime. Small wonder that the rigid, lifeless dogmas that were fed to generations of students under this heading provoked aversion, and only served to discredit the very idea of Marxism in the eyes of a large number of serious intellectuals and youth.

It is no accident that the first stirrings of revolt against the bureaucracy in Eastern Europe were felt among the intellectuals. The intelligentsia is not capable of playing an independent role in society, but it is an extremely sensitive barometer which can reflect the tensions that are building up in the depths of society at a very early stage. This often gives rise to the illusion that students can cause a revolutionary movement, whereas in reality they merely act as the spark which ignites the combustible material accumulated in the previous period. This was the case in France in 1968, and also with the Crooked Circle in Poland and the Petöfi Circle in Hungary in 1956.

This ferment among the intellectuals also existed in the Soviet Union. From the death of Stalin, a section of Soviet writers, cautiously at first, began to assert their rights against the palsied hand of official censorship. The official Soviet literature was dying on its feet. The poetess Vera Inber boldly stated that nobody read Soviet poetry and nobody ever would so long as it was about "the same old dam, the same old steam shovel". In a play published during the so-called Thaw, the dramatist Zorin portrays the conflict between an old revolutionary veteran, Kirpichev, and his son, the Party bureaucrat and careerist, Pyotr:

"'The country has become stronger,' says old Kirpichev, 'and the people have become richer. But alongside the toilers and the willing horses there have appeared, imperceptibly, yet now in great numbers, such people as you; white collar aristocrats, greedy and conceited, far from the people.'

"…'I simply worked side by side with the great toilers of our lands,' old Kirpichev exclaims. 'I worked. And I did not know the taste of power. But you have known its taste since childhood; and it has poisoned you'." (Quoted in Edward Crankshaw, op. cit., p. 108.)

Zorin's play was too much for the authorities. Sovietskaya Kultura protested:

"Only a person totally ignorant of the facts of life and intentionally closing his eyes to what goes on every day in front of us all could talk such pernicious nonsense. Where is the person who does not know that the aim and content of the whole activity of the Soviet organs--ministries, departments, and the rest--is daily concern for the vitally important interests of the working people, and that the very word 'power' has become here, because of this, something lustrous, gladdening, the embodiment of the finest hopes and aspirations of every Soviet man and woman, and that our people regard their popular power with unshakeable trust and warm, filial love?"

It was not enough for the artist or writer to accept the totalitarian state. It was necessary to look upon it with "unshakeable trust" and "warm, filial love". In other words, the artist was expected to prostitute himself, to sing the praises of the state and the bureaucracy, and moreover do so sincerely, with all his heart--or else be condemned as a traitor dealing in "pernicious nonsense". Is it any wonder that such a regime alienated the best of the artists and intellectuals? The so-called Unions of writers, composers and artists were no more than auxiliary arms of the police, run by trusties and agents of the bureaucracy like the old Stalinist Fadeyev, chairman of the Writers' Union.

Zorin fell into disgrace, and by the summer of 1954, all the major literary magazines were heavily censured and the editors of three of them dismissed. The reaction of the regime was not dictated by literary considerations. They feared that the opposition of the intellectuals could provide a point of reference for the accumulated discontent of the masses. And they were right. The appearance of Dudintsev's novel Not By Bread Alone sparked off a new wave of criticism and opposition among the youth which spread to the factories:

"Authority was alarmed. All over Russia students at universities and technical colleges were launching wall-newspapers and duplicated manifestos expressing and demanding revolt--not against the Soviet system itself but against the corruption, the philistinism, and the dreary and oppressive conventions of the Establishment. When the mood spread to the factories, when in the Naval barracks at Kronstadt and Vladivostok wall-newspapers started to appear and official agitators began to be heckled at factory meetings, the situation was clearly serious." (Crankshaw, op. cit., pp. 115-6.)

The young poet Yevgenii Yevtushenko was hostile to the bureaucracy, but always defended the Revolution. In October 1956, he dared to publish verses which called into question the so-called de-Stalinisation campaign:

"Certainly there have been changes; but behind the speeches
Some murky game is being played.
We talk and talk about things we didn't mention yesterday;
We say nothing about the things we did ourselves."

Yevtushenko was expelled from the Komsomol (the Young Communist League) in 1957, when the government cracked down on the students who sympathised with the Hungarian Revolution. With great courage, he hit back in a poem which was somehow published in Novy Mir:

"How terrible never to learn,
To claim the right to sit in judgement
To charge pure-hearted youth, rebellious,
With impure designs.
There is no virtue in the zealotry of suspicion.
Blind judges do not serve the people."

Trials of writers

Years later in 1988, Yevtushenko made a courageous speech against the bureaucracy at the Writers' Union, in which he denounced the privileges of the Party elite, quoted at the beginning of this chapter. Under Brezhnev, the position of artists and writers got steadily worse. At least under Khrushchev the "de-Stalinisation" campaign left the window of artistic expression half open. But, for reasons we have already explained, a totalitarian regime cannot tolerate the slightest concessions to free speech. The experiments of Khrushchev proved to the ruling caste that this was dangerous terrain. The window was slammed shut. A series of notorious trials of writers like Sinyavsky and Daniel were a grim warning to the whole artistic community not to step out of line. They were once more compelled to grit their teeth and keep their heads down--or suffer the consequences. The result of this persecution was to push a section of the artists and intellectuals into anti-Soviet attitudes, thus further undermining the system.

Scandalously, the Party hacks attempted to attribute to Lenin the doctrine that writers must only put forward ideas which reflect the "General Line". This is false from start to finish. A simple glance at the articles by Lenin show that they have been taken completely out of context. Lenin was referring to the party press, which is entirely different from general literature. A party is a voluntary union. Nobody is obliged to join it. But it is reasonable to expect that articles in the public journals of the party should in general reflect the ideas of the party. But Lenin never dreamed of applying this principle to the state.

As a matter of fact Lenin wrote little on art and literature, being absorbed by other matters. His literary tastes were generally rather conservative, mainly the classics. For example, he did not like Mayakovsky's poetry, which was too modern for his liking. On one occasion, after the Revolution when paper was in very short supply, he was appalled to discover that Mayakovsky's verse was to be published in a large edition, but it never entered his mind to use his influence to stop it. Under Lenin and Trotsky, the artists and writers enjoyed the widest freedom to work and experiment. This explains the extraordinary blossoming of art and literature in the early period of Soviet power.

Stalinist totalitarianism had a baneful influence on art and literature. It succeeded in pushing a section of the cultural intelligentsia into the arms of the pro-capitalist reaction. The demand for "freedom" struck a responsive chord. But the movement towards a market economy has meant that the world of Russian culture has jumped from the frying pan into the fire. In the world of the jungle, culture has no place. The crooks, Mafiosi and get-rich-quick merchants are no less philistine than the old bureaucrats. The slashing of state expenditure on education and culture has the character of blatant vandalism. The effects have been immediate and predictable.

Unemployment and poverty affects the intelligentsia as well as the workers. National institutions like the Bolshoi theatre have seen artistic standards plummet. Promising young musicians emigrate abroad to find a living in second-rate provincial orchestras in Spain and Ireland. It is even possible to see professors from Ukrainian conservatories busking for a few francs before the tourists on the streets of Paris. Thus, in place of the old chains, the world of culture finds itself bound fast with new ones. For it just as easy to enslave, oppress and silence the individual using the monopoly of wealth as it is through control of the state. It means the exchange of one slavery for another. That is all.

Meanwhile, a new generation of cultural spivs and opportunists cater for the tastes of the Mafia capitalists. Some have become millionaires, like the Georgian sculptor Zural Tseretelli who, for obscure reasons appears to have a monopoly on contracts for putting up monumental sculptures in public places in Moscow. His work is of such dubious value that the managers of one park decided to quietly shunt it into a corner where it could go unnoticed. Tseretelli now lives in what used to be the German embassy. On this road there is no real future for art, science and literature. Only a genuine regime of socialist democracy offers a fertile ground for the free flourishing of culture. Socialism was once defined by Trotsky as "human relations without greed, friendship without envy and intrigue, love without base calculation". The struggle for such a society is a worthy objective for men and women who have dedicated their lives to the search after harmony, truth and beauty.

Trotsky, unlike Lenin, did write a great deal on art and literature. He somehow found time to participate in the lively debates between the different schools of literature in the 1920s. His writings, which defend a Marxist, class attitude to art, appeared under the title Literature and Revolution. But, while giving his opinions on each school from a Marxist standpoint, he never attempted to foist his views, or those of the Bolshevik Party on artists, much less demand "filial love" and "unshakeable trust" of them. Love and trust must be earned, not demanded or imposed by laws and censorship.

Years later, when Trotsky was in exile in Mexico trying to regroup the forces of Bolshevism-Leninism, he did not forget the creative intelligentsia. In a letter dated 1st June 1938, he wrote the following:

"The dictatorship of the reactionary bureaucracy has stifled or prostituted the intellectual activity of a whole generation. It is impossible to look without physical repugnance at the reproductions of Soviet paintings and sculpture, in which functionaries armed with brushes, under the surveillance of functionaries armed with guns, glorify as 'great' men and 'geniuses' their chiefs, who in reality are without the slightest spark of genius or greatness. The art of the Stalinist epoch will go down in history as the most spectacular expression of the most abysmal decline that the proletarian revolution has ever undergone.

"Only a new upsurge of the revolutionary movement can enrich art with new perspectives and possibilities. The Fourth International obviously cannot take on the task of directing art, that is to say, give orders or prescribe methods. Such an attitude toward art could only enter the skulls of Moscow bureaucrats drunk with omnipotence. Art and science do not find their fundamental nature through patrons; art, by its very existence, rejects them. Creative revolutionary activity has its own internal laws even when it consciously serves social development. Revolutionary art is incompatible with falsehood, hypocrisy, and the spirit of accommodation. Poets, artists, sculptors, musicians will themselves find their paths and methods, if the revolutionary movement of the masses dissipates the clouds of scepticism and pessimism which darken humanity's horizon today. The new generation of creators must be convinced that the face of the old Internationals represents the past of humanity and not its future." (Trotsky, Writings 1937-38, pp. 351-2.)


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