The Soviet Novel

Presentation made to the Stalin Society by Ella Rule

The Russians have a literary tradition that is at least the equal of the French, English or Germans. They have a history of countless novelists and poets of world renown. One would, however, imagine that this whole tradition came to an end with the Bolshevik revolution after which, Russian society, having thrown off the yoke of exploitation and oppression, failed to produce anything of any great merit, except perhaps Gorky’s work, or then Ostrovsky (of whom the Encyclopaedia Britannica writes that his “passionate sincerity and autobiographical involvement lends a poignant conviction [to his hero] that is lacking in most heroes of socialist realism”). And then again there is Sholokhov, who got a 1941 Stalin Prize for ‘The Silent Don’, and was subsequently, in 1965, a winner of the Nobel prize for literature for his “artistic strength and honesty when depicting a historical epoch in the life of the Russian people.”

One can imagine how hard it must be for the bourgeoisie to acknowledge any merit at all in anything that depicts the working class as victorious in struggle against the bourgeoisie. The Encyclopaedia Britannica pours scorn on socialist realism in writing as follows:

“The primary theme of Socialist Realism is the building of socialism and a classless society. In portraying this struggle, the writer could admit imperfections but was expected to take a positive and optimistic view of socialist society and to keep in mind its larger historical relevance.

“A requisite of Socialist Realism is the positive hero who perseveres against all odds or handicaps. Socialist Realism thus looks back to Romanticism in that it encourages a certain heightening and idealising of heroes and events to mould the consciousness of the masses. Hundreds of positive heroes – usually engineers, inventors, or scientists – created to this specification were strikingly alike in their lack of lifelike credibility”.

Yet in spite of bourgeois critics’ snide, unsubstantiated, sneers, it turns out that not a few Soviet works forced their way, socialist realism and all, into the front ranks of world contemporary literature in spite of everything the bourgeoisie could do to prevent it. Just as Soviet art and Soviet music have pressed themselves into the front ranks also, and for the same reason: they are the products of a vibrant new society, which has released an exhilarating tide of energy and enthusiasm. To fail to be caught up in this spirit once you have made contact with it, you would have to have been quite dead for several years – or to be worrying about your pension fund!

Anyway, I had initially intended to spend a leisurely summer re-reading Soviet novels on the beach – to present myself to you having read 20 or 30 relatively recently, to give you a brief rundown of their themes, bring out some enjoyable quotations and generally to be erudite, albeit rather hurriedly so. Comrade Secretary, however, has brought my presentation forward by two months, so I’m afraid the erudition has rather bitten the dust.

Nevertheless I think I can still make a fair first at the overall task which I had in mind when I volunteered to present a session on the Soviet novel, and this was simply to encourage you to read these masterpieces – as many of them as you can get your hands on. On the one hand you will enjoy them, and on the other hand I think you will learn a great deal which will stand you in good stead in the harsh conditions of political struggle that we wage today. In addition, once you have familiarised yourself with these texts, you will also be able to pick out the ones which are most likely to help your less experienced comrades see their way out of ideological difficulties that do not always respond readily to abstract prescription. For instance, in the course of some Soviet novels it is possible to see positive, as well as negative examples, of criticism and self-criticism in practice, that may be helpful in ourselves utilising these concepts in a way that is helpful to advancing the interests of the working class. Soviet novels give you in effect prolonged and elaborate examples of various principles operating in practice, so that even at second hand, you can gain better understanding of the social phenomena discussed.

To get you into the swing of things, however, I thought I would read you a passage from Steel and Slag by Vladimir Popov, a 1948 Stalin Prize winner. His novel concerns the German occupation of the Ukraine in the early part of the Great Patriotic War. The steel plant is evacuated to the far east in advance of the Germans’ arrival, but workers left behind are pressed by them into forced labour, under quisling management. As one can imagine, the workers do as little as they can get away with, and in this section have settled down to read a German propaganda newspaper, the Donetsky Vestnik, calculating that nobody will try to prevent them doing this.

“‘Genuine Personal Liberty,’ Sasha read out, and paused to clear his throat.

“The workers exchanged glances.

“‘Well, well,’ said Dyatalov encouragingly. ‘It certainly does sound interesting!’

“‘The great German army has brought the Ukrainian people genuine liberation,’ Sasha continued loudly. ‘At long last, we can be our own masters, and choose our occupations at will. Anyone is free to establish his own workshop, mill or factory. Taxes have been abolished. We may forget them to the end of time. The new order is based on the principle of inviolability of private property. This gives full scope to private initiative. Develop commercial activities more energetically! Tradesmen and manufacturers are entitled to high incomes precisely because they are not rank-and-file philistines, but leaders, activists. We may say more: in present conditions, they are great men, vehicles of culture and civilisation. They carry out a noble mission. We already have a number of private stores; but what is holding up our remaining entrepreneurs? True, there is great difficulty in obtaining merchandise. But it must be procured, from the bottom of the sea if necessary…’

“‘That’s enough of that!’, put in Opanasenko. ‘There’s no deep-sea divers here. We’re ‘rank-and-file philistines’ every one of us. ‘From the bottom of the sea’’. He snorted derisively.

“‘All right,’ said Sasha, laying the paper aside and taking up another. ‘Let us try the announcements then. Here’s a big one: ‘Universal Labour Service for Civilian Population’.

“The announcement was set in very small type, and Sasha had difficulty in making it out in the unlit shop.

“‘I command’, he read slowly, ‘First: all residents of the ‘Donetz’ Oberfeldkommandatur are liable to labour service, from the age of fourteen. Second: consequently, said residents are obliged to obey any working orders which may be issued by the employment bureau. If so ordered, they are obliged to go to work away from their place of residence. Third: actions violating this order are punishable by fine, imprisonment, confiscation of property, or two or more of these penalties simultaneously.’

“‘What do they mean, simultaneously?’ demanded the collective farmer, who had seemed half asleep on his pile of bricks. ‘You can’t take two skins off one ox.’

“Sasha read on:

“‘Penalty of death may be imposed. Signed. Oberfeld-kommandant von Claire, General of Infantry.’

“Folding up the newspaper, he put it away and produced still another.

“‘Svetlana’s over fifteen,’ said Opanasenko thoughtfully. ‘Why, she’s still a baby! And here they say – fourteen. Yes, it’s nicely put. Page one: personal liberty, and page two – hmph!’

“The others made no comment. Sasha began a new article.…

“While Sasha was unfolding a new paper, Lyutov came up and stood waiting, al attention. What were they reading? A leaflet?

“… Sasha began to read the first thing that caught his eye.

“‘The municipal board reminds all taxpayers that arrears on former state taxes – ground rent, cattle tax, income tax, and tax for cultural development – must be paid immediately.’

“‘What do you mean, spreading lies like that,’ demanded Lyutov. Striding up to Sasha, he wrenched the paper from his hands and tore it up. ‘Taxes are done away with for good. I read it myself in No. 5’

“‘That was No. 5’, Sasha retorted, ‘and this is No. 10’.

“‘There can’t be any collecting of old taxes now. I’ll make you stop poisoning people’s minds, you little son-of-a-bitch.’

“Opanasenko laid a heavy hand on Lyutov’s shoulder.

“‘You, meister,’ he said, ‘don’t you tear that paper. It’s the Germans’ paper, put out by the new authorities. I can beat you up for that, and never fear. And you’ll have the Gestapo to answer to. We’re having a talk here all about the new order, and you come interfering!’

“‘But it’s lies,’ Lyutov insisted – more quietly, however. Bending, he began to gather up the torn newspaper.

“‘What do you mean – lies?’ demanded Sasha growing bolder still. ‘Here, take another and read for yourself. Only don’t tear it this time. Look, this one’s about taxes too.’

“He pointed to one of the announcements in small type.

“‘Go ahead! Read it out loud!’ the workers cried.

“Lyutov read rapidly:

“‘Certain institutions and private individuals hold the opinion that taxes need no longer be paid. This opinion is erroneous, and liable to severe punishment. Standartkommandant.’

“The workers guffawed. The crestfallen ‘meister’ sat down and ran through the announcement again, this time to himself.”

This illustrates another invariable feature of Soviet writing – the wit and humour. Like Shakespeare, it’s not a laugh a minute: serious themes are the mainstay of the products of socialist realism. But a bit of light relief, a gentle dig at minor backwardness, and not so gentle, mockery (as in the quote above) of people who are inexcusably backward, is typical. Socialist realism definitely allows for parody and caricature the better to illustrate a point.

The Zhurbins

Having made some general points, I would like to familiarise you further with four specific novels to try to give you an idea of how very well worth reading they are. I will start with The Zhurbins by Vsevolod Kochetov. This was the first Soviet novel I ever read, and I think everybody will always retain a special affection for the first work that introduced them to this genre, simply because of the terrific impact you are bound to feel if you had no idea beforehand of what to expect.

The Zhurbins has no ‘hero’, as such. In this novel, as in all other Soviet novels, the ‘hero’ is the Soviet working people. In The Zhurbins the people whose lives are described are working-class people working in the shipbuilding industry. Of course, it is nowadays not so unusual to deal in fiction media with the lives of working people. But what is different about The Zhurbins is that these working people live in the unique conditions that they are masters of society. They are not in the slightest bit downtrodden – they’re the ruling class. To the extent that there are social hierarchies, this is only for the purpose of organisation and maximisation of resources, not for the purpose of exploitation and oppression.

This is what produces the Soviet man and the Soviet woman whom the Encyclopaedia Britannica considers lack “lifelike credibility”. If your view of working-class people has been indelibly informed by (1) acquaintance at most with workers who are exploited and oppressed, but, more importantly, (2) by the bourgeois stereotypes of working-class people, as seen in, say, East Enders or Coronation Street, as generally rather poor specimens, then a Soviet worker of the 1950s, even if you met him in the flesh, would seem to you to lack “lifelike credibility”.

But let us look at one of the many heroes of The Zhurbins, and consider whether such a charge of lack of “lifelike credibility” could stick if anybody took the trouble of investigating the facts:

“One evening at about 8 o’clock Ivan Stepanovich put his head into one of the workshops. There he saw Anton, the trade-union organiser of the sector, the chairman of the shop committee, and Gorbunov.

“‘But what can I do, comrades? What am I to him?’ Anton was asking.

“‘Aren’t you his brother, man?’ argued the chairman of the shop committee.

“‘What’s the problem?’ inquired Ivan Stepanovich.

“The trade-union organiser pointed at a metal framework in the second bay. It was a jig for assembling ship sections. On one of the cross–pieces of the framework sat a welder, his face covered by a protective mask. Pulling an electrode out of his overall pocket, he fitted it into the holder; the arc hissed, showering sparks on all sides; the welder moved on further – a new electrode, again fireworks. He worked fast, dextrously and calmly, and it was impossible to understand why the trade-union officials were so worried.

“‘He won’t leave the shop after the day shift, Ivan Stepanovich’, explained Gorbunov. ‘We shall have to report it.’

“‘Who is he?’

“‘Anton Ilyich’s brother, Konstantin Zhurbin.’…

“‘Zhurbin!’ shouted Ivan Stepanovich. ‘Zhurbin! Get down from there, get down at once! What do you think you’re doing?’

“‘I’ll be through in a moment, then I’ll come down’, replied Kostya, without turning round.

“‘Zhurbin!’ shouted Ivan Stepanovich. ‘Do you realise what you’re doing?’

“‘What?’ Kostya switched off the instrument and raised his face guard.

“‘Just this. If the BBC or the Voice of America were to get to know what you’re doing they’d go yelling all over the world about forced labour.’

“‘They do that in any case, Comrade Director, even if you work only three hours a day. No good going by them! … Do you expect me to leave this till Monday? Why, that means spoiling my Sunday.’

“‘How will it spoil your Sunday?’

“‘It would be left hanging over my head. I don’t like leaving a job unfinished. And I’ve just a scrap more to do.’

“… Ivan Stepanovich did not leave it at that. On Monday he summoned Kostya to his office and started telling him off.

“‘Let’s forget about the BBC, we’ll put up with them somehow,’ he said. ‘The bad thing is that overtime casts a shadow on the whole shipyard. This isn’t wartime. It could make people say that we can’t work rhythmically, according to the timetable, that we still do things by the old rush method. Understand?’

“‘No, I don’t’, answered Kostya boldly. ‘This is no rush method. What did our father always say to us when we were kids? Eat up your food and eat up your work; don’t leave things half done.’

“‘Did you finish your quota before the hooter went?’

“‘Forty per cent over.’

“‘That’s not half, it’s half as much again, Zhurbin.’

“‘I didn’t want to leave it till Monday.’

“‘I’m not asking what you want. There’s discipline at this shipyard and you’ve got to observe it.’

“‘I still don’t understand, Ivan Stepanovich. Who do you think I am – a hired labourer? I’m a worker!’

“So the director and the worker did not reach agreement.

“After Kostya left, Ivan Stepanovich recalled the days when he, as a Komsomol leader, had fought against the slackers, the rolling stones and the absentees, when he had called in young lads just like this and tried to prove to them that they must work in a new way, in a socialist way. And often he had failed.

“‘You are the owner of the shipyard now,’ he would explain.

“‘Me, the owner!’ the lad would sneer. ‘The owner’s the director. Our job’s to go slogging away and getting paid for it.’…

“Yes, there was much that Kostya did not know. But Ivan Stepanovich had been through it all. He had something with which to compare the new times of his country. And when he compared that lad who had said ‘Me, the owner! The owner’s the director’, with Kostya, he would feel a glow of excitement. He had not just lived a certain number of years, he had entered a new epoch. Yes, that lad and Kostya were representatives of different epochs …

“It had seemed that a hundred or two hundred years would be needed to nurture the new man, but only 20 years had passed and the new man had grown up. Things had come to a pass when the director of a plant was obliged to cool a worker’s ardour!”

The Zhurbins centres round the effect on people’s lives of modernisation of a shipyard – the abandonment of riveting and going over to arc welding, plus the introduction of the production line into an area where it had been hitherto unknown. This process, so necessary to improve productivity (not for the sake of greater profits but for the sake of building up production levels so as to satisfy an ever-increasing amount of workers’ needs), is obviously going to change people’s lives in a drastic manner. To start with, the craft of the riveter is going to become virtually redundant. How will the workers and their families cope with the disruption that this reorganisation must unavoidably bring to their lives? In true socialist realist tradition, after the initial feelings of reluctance to alter the routine in which they feel at home, the workers are soon taking the changes in their stride and making all the necessary adjustments.

The novel also raises any number of social questions.

One of these is the relationship of theory to practice and the implications of this relationship for decisions a person must make about his or her life. Is one content to be an excellent worker or craftsman, or should one also study scientific theory, and if one should study, then when and under what conditions?

The changing role of women in society is also touched on at some length. One encounters a whole number of different kinds of Soviet woman in the novel, from the housewife who never had an opportunity to go to receive much of an education, go to work, etc., but who has always worked hard helping her family to make their contribution to the new Soviet society, to the young university-trained engineer. Even in the 1950s it becomes clear that Soviet society has not yet managed to remove every barrier in society to women’s equality – but Soviet writers of what Encyclopaedia Britannica considers to be simply ‘propaganda literature’, add their efforts to the common effort to rid society of this kind of backwardness, as indeed every other.

“‘You’re a good girl, Zinaida Pavlovna,’ [says the foreman, but … ] ‘the point is this … I’ve been at many different shipyards on travelling assignments, I’ve been working here a good quarter of a century, and never in my life have I seen a woman in the stocks, except at the furnaces and as crane drivers … and may be an assistant here and there, or a caretaker. Is that just a matter of chance? No, it isn’t. You need self control and character on our job. And women haven’t got much self control nor the right kind of character.”

When, however, this same foreman begins to feel a need to acquire more theoretical knowledge in order to be able to keep up with changes at the shipyard, it is to Zinaida Pavlovna that he decides to go for lessons. Ultimately, when a vacancy occurs for a foreman on the stocks he puts her forward. Before long, after seeing her work, and observing her exemplary behaviour in an emergency caused by extreme weather conditions, he finally concedes:

“Now I’m quite certain you’ll make a ship builder.”

Another of the characters in the novel, Katya, becomes an unmarried mother. In the 1950s in capitalist countries this would have been an unparalleled disaster. It would have given rise to condemnation of the mother’s stupidity, if not her downright immorality, or to the nauseating patronage of do-gooders. In The Zhurbins, however, though there is some condemnation of the man who left his girlfriend in this state, on the whole the event is no big deal. The child goes to a nursery shortly after birth. The mother goes to work and is well able to provide for her child by herself. Shortly afterwards she starts on a course at the university. Nobody thinks any the less of her simply because she is an unmarried mother.

Another theme relevant to women’s liberation is that of breakdown of marriage where the parties turn out to have little in common. While all Soviet novels are disapproving of people who trifle with the affections of others, it is a different matter when parties who have tried hard to make a go of their marriage actually find that the marriage has become a fetter on their being able to contribute in the way that most inspires them to the building of the new society. Again these are themes which in the capitalist societies of the 1950s were revolutionary in the extreme. Now of course we have fallen into the decadence of the age and have become somewhat hardened to the idea of personal disloyalty and trifling with people’s affections. Soviet novels, however, force one to consider whether, under the influence of reactionary classes, we are not engaged in destroying the happiness of a lifetime’s comradeship for the sake of an eternal chase after the chimeras of eternal youth and instant gratification. As far as Ostrovsky was concerned, anybody who did that could not be trusted as a communist, never mind as a friend.

Another question raised by the novel is that of the role of the elderly in the new society. Matvei is a war veteran, a former shock worker. As the years go by he ceases to have the steadiness of eye that his trade requires. He starts falling more and more behind in his work as far as both quantity and quality are concerned. He resigns himself to being pensioned off as ‘night director’, shuffling into his office every evening armed with a good book and a blanket, intent on a good snooze. As emergencies at the yard crop up, however, he finds that his intimate knowledge of the workings of the shipyard and the community is a huge asset for those seeking prompt solutions. Far from being out to grass, Old Matvei finds himself not only in the thick of things, but in a position of considerable authority.

“Since he had become the ‘night director’ Old Matvei’s attitude towards his sons had changed. The subjects of their conversations changed too. Old Matvei drew less frequently on his fund of stories and talked mostly about shipyard affairs. Now … Old Matvei … ‘moved in high circles’ and he, too, would see a thing or two from the top of the hill. He was the first in the family to learn the contents of the Ministry’s orders and he was well-informed about any changes in the production programme. The years seemed to be dropping from him. Only a short time previously, when he was being criticised for his mistakes in marking, a strange feeling had begun to creep over him: for some reason he had started looking up to his sons and even his grandsons as if he had become half as tall as he was before. Now, however, Old Matvei had regained his former magnificent stature. Once again he would boom out in a confident bass, not caring how his words would be taken, unafraid of being laughed at. He straightened his bent back, took his battle and labour medals out of the ancient chest, and pinned them on his coat …”

The novel, like other Soviet novels, expresses optimism and hope. There are problems in life, certainly, but none is insuperable. This is not ‘official propaganda’. It is a fundamental truth in a working-class state. With effective party leadership, i.e., a leadership guided by the most advanced Marxist-Leninist leadership, there is no limit to what the working class can achieve. Mistakes are made, but mistakes are not held against you if you are willing to learn. The working-class state is a land of opportunity for the masses of working people. This is the reality of working-class state power, not some hollow ‘party line’.

There are a million controversial issues raised in The Zhurbins, but I know that you will all enjoy one of them. There are two anti-heroes in the book. One of them is a thorough bad lot who slinks off one dark night, never to be seen again. The other is a weak man who nevertheless manages to retrieve himself at the last minute and settle down in a post where he can make himself useful. These two ‘baddies’ have one trait in common, a trait so unusual that it makes other workers suspicious of them straight away. Neither of them drinks!

How the Steel was Tempered

 When I read The Zhurbins for the first time I was quite sure that no other Soviet novel could be as good, but I was soon to find out that, on the contrary, the genre contained a vast treasurehouse of interesting reading. Nevertheless, when I took up with the much-vaunted How the Steel was Tempered, I didn’t think it would easily come up to the standard of The Zhurbins – that of course was before I read it. The Zhurbins is a rattling good read, as well as being educational and informative. How the Steel Was Tempered goes that little extra distance that makes it great literature. It shares the other features of Soviet novels – socialist realism, occasional humour, its depiction of the Soviet working class as the masters of society, who are, however, not perfect either as individuals or even en masse, but are nonetheless heroic – both as a whole and as regards a high proportion of the individuals who make up that whole. It is not, by the way, a book that has anything whatever to do with the steel industry. The steel of the title represents the will and determination of the working class to remove every obstacle, however intractable, that stands in the way of their building their new future. In the course of fighting these obstacles, the dross falls away – that is to say that workers overcome backward thinking, and new Soviet men and women are born.

The action takes place mostly in the Ukraine in the aftermath of the Great October Revolution, when the Soviets are still fighting to free the area of German and Polish interventionists and of bourgeois nationalist ambitions to control it. It is a book which does not flinch from describing the horrors of the struggle – and in particular the cruelty with which the proprietor classes treated the proletariat in an effort to hang on to their estates and privileges in the face of the ever greater Bolshevisation of the masses. The author describes, for instance, the terror, bravely borne, of a young girl in prison who knows that she can expect to face rape and murder at the hands of her captors the following day. He describes a pogrom against helpless, defenceless, unarmed Jewish poor – detailing the tactical considerations of the perpetrators of the pogrom, whose aim in organising it is to distract attention from the defeats they are suffering and attempt to lift the morale of their followers. He describes the venality of local peasants, poor people themselves, who loot the homes of the unfortunate victims. Perhaps Ostrovsky’s genius lies in depicting how humanity – which can sink so low – can also rise so high once exploitation and oppression are removed.

Ostrovsky’s novel is very much based on his personal experiences as a very young man in the years following the Great October Revolution. His hero, Pavel Korchagin, is of an age with himself and many of the incidents he describes are based on his own involvement in the struggles of the period. For instance, one incident that describes the implacable heroism of ordinary people and which really occurred, and in which Ostrovsky himself also played a leading role, was the laying of a special narrow-gauge railway track into the forest under extremely adverse winter weather conditions. The work was done between October and January and will have taken some 3 months. It was a case of either lay the track or leave the town without fuel supplies for the winter – which would have led to starvation as the ability to replenish food stocks was also dependent on fuel at that time of year. The conditions of work were unimaginably dreadful and, having laboured all day, the workers had to sleep at night on a cold, bare, wet concrete floor in a building without heating, without glass in its windows and which had a badly leaking roof. While originally volunteers were taken on for only two weeks – and many of them could not take even that – because it was considered that the conditions were too arduous for anybody to stay any longer on the project, in fact many of the volunteers remained on the project throughout for lack of volunteers to take their place.

This episode broke the health of both Korchagin and his creator, Ostrovsky. Their contribution to the work was ended when as a result of coming down with typhus they quite literally were unable to work any longer.

Nevertheless the job was completed. The town was saved.

There are two vivid scenes associated with this episode which perhaps help to show what makes Ostrovsky a great author as opposed to just a very good one. He has Shakespeare’s knack of keeping several stories going at the same time, and the love interests of Korchagin and the other young people whose lives he describes do peep out from time to time, although they are never central to the story he is telling.

Pavel early on in the novel, when he is little more than a young urchin of 16, is befriended by a middle class girl of similar age, and they fall in love. Of course, nothing much comes of it because they are rarely able to meet. The girl nevertheless influences Pavel to tidy himself up and try to make something of himself. At this early stage one is thinking – oh dear, still some vestiges here of the bourgeois philanthropic idea that a man can be saved by a good woman, especially one who has been educated and thus able to show the great unwashed the proper way of doing things. Anyway, Pavel goes off to fight the interventionists and the Petlyura bandits. In a short time his class consciousness is heightened, along with his sense of dignity and self-respect as a worker. Nevertheless he still remembers his old girl friend with great fondness and is delighted to be meeting up with her again, even hoping that they might get married. This doesn’t work out, as they have considerably grown apart while he has been away at war. During the course of the building of the narrow-gauge railway, however, the two meet up again. The scene is very beautiful and allegorical. She happens to be travelling in a train which is brought to a stop near where the volunteers are working. The workers on the project are a rough sight, for they have been living for weeks in conditions unfit even for animals. Most, including Pavel, are too poor even to be able to afford proper boots. She steps off the train with her husband, some smooth professional type, and comes face to face with Pavel, whom she is hardly able to recognise. Her reaction? How sad that he has been unable to make something of himself and has simply ended up as a navvy. She is ashamed to acknowledge their previous acquaintance.

Through this minor theme I think Ostrovsky was, without making heavy weather of it in any way, actually encouraging people to shed any illusions they might have in educated people (i.e., people who had received education because they came from privileged backgrounds) as opposed to education. He is pointing out that their class instincts tend to nullify the value of their education. Such people were not worthy of the respect that had traditionally been accorded to them. Their lives and thoughts were full of empty-headed frivolity and philistinism.

In an ordinary novel the little middle-class girl might have been saved by the working-class hero, but How the Steel Was Tempered is a great novel. His concern is not for the fulfilment of wishful thinking but of the practical importance of attacking backward thinking habits which could lead the revolution into difficulties.

The second incident I was referring to comes slightly later when the railway line is complete. The town is no longer facing disaster. Pavel is dragged off to a party at some friends’ house. Here he finds workers apparently engaged in aping the frivolity and empty-headedness of the privileged classes of yore. They are playing various kinds of kissing game. He is paired off with a very young teenage girl who is expected to read from a card saucy questions of the ‘Blind Date’ variety, which he in turn is supposed to answer. He walks out of the party, overwhelmed with disgust, seething with contempt for the foolishness of the whole thing.

Again, Ostrovsky’s light touch does not lay down the law or explain to you why Pavel was so strongly affected by this admittedly silly but harmless enough fun. You are left to work it out for yourself. This is in fact a very common feature in Soviet novels. They do not spell out rights and wrongs. They raise genuine social dilemmas with the arguments on both sides, heightening consciousness of the difficulties and then leaving it to the good senses of their readers to work through these difficulties, now that they are more aware of them, in the course of their own experience.

Throughout the book the reader takes a ride, as it were, in a proletarian mind whose class-consciousness is gradually and inexorably developing and maturing. That person’s views on social obligations, on courage and self sacrifice, on various manifestations of backwardness, on the woman question, on personal questions (such as love, friendship and family relations) somehow become one’s own, at least for the duration of the ride. Through the eyes of this person you see the history of this critical period of proletarian history evolve. The words of bourgeois cynics try to break through to you as you ride this roller coaster. How can these uneducated workers and peasants possibly be expected to defeat the highly-trained German or Polish armies? How can they possibly win out against Ukrainian nationalism, which is what the Ukrainian people REALLY relate to? How can they complete construction works that are clearly impossible? A good novel – but just propaganda! The facts, however, prove otherwise. The Germans and Poles were driven out of the Ukraine. The nationalists were defeated. And the people who did it were none other than the downtrodden worker and peasant masses of the Ukraine. This novel helps you to understand in human terms how these victories were possible. They were possible not because there was no backwardness, no cowardice, no wavering, no philistinism – there were plenty of all those things among workers. They were possible because of the leadership of the Bolshevik Party, which organised the advanced workers to lead the less advanced, enabling the massive creative energies of the working class to emerge from the swamp of backwardness. How the Steel was Tempered really shows you how this was done.

Just before leaving the subject of How the Steel was Tempered, let me give you a short example of the humour that also pervades this great novel:

“‘In April of that turbulent 1919, the respectable citizen, dazed and terrified, would open his shutters of a morning and, peering out with sleep-heavy eyes, greet his next-door neighbour with the anxious question:

“‘Avtonom Petrovich, do you happen to know who’s in power today?’

“And Antonom Petrovich would hitch up his trousers and cast a frightened look around.

“‘Can’t say, Afanas Kirillovich. Somebody did enter the town during the night. Who it was we’ll find out soon enough: if they start robbing the Jews, we’ll know they’re Petlyura men, and if they’re some of the ‘comrades’, we’ll be able to tell at once by the way they talk. I’m keeping an eye open myself so’s to know what portrait to hang up. Wouldn’t care to get into trouble like Gerasim Leontievich next door. You see, he didn’t look out properly and had just gone and hung up a picture of Lenin when three men rushed in – Petlyura men as it turned out. They took one look at the picture and jumped on him – a good twenty strokes they gave him. ‘We’ll skin you alive, you Communist sonofabitch,’ they shouted. And no matter how hard he tried to explain and how loud he yelled, nothing helped.’”

Incidentally, for Ostrovsky himself as well as for Pavel Korchagin, his creation, the hardships of his youthful penury, the fighting for Soviet Ukraine, the hard labour of the forest rail track, culminated in an irretrievable breakdown in his health. The novel details the struggle of Korchagin to continue to serve the revolution in spite of increasing infirmity. Finally, blind and with his body mostly paralysed, he makes one of his most important contributions to the proletarian revolution in the form of his novel. Ostrovsky died at the age of only 32.

A brief look at the wide variety of Soviet novels

Every Soviet novel sets out to add to the knowledge of its readers, not just their class consciousness and understanding. All set out to provide you with a delicious, enjoyable, nutritious, healthy and balanced meal for the mind, as it were, rather than the cheeseburger of the bourgeois detective novel, say. While one can, after a fashion, satisfy one’s hunger with a cheeseburger, and one can enjoy some detective novels, one is not left much the better off for having consumed it. Soviet novels are informative on a wide variety of interesting topics. They are often set among, and often written by, non-Russian Soviet people, and introduce us through their own eyes to people such as the Chukchi of the Soviet Arctic (Timon Syomushkin, Alitet goes to the hills), the Nanai of far eastern Siberia (Vasili Azhayev, Far from Moscow), the Yakuts of the Soviet North (Antonina Koptayeva, Ivan Ivanovich), the Lithuanian peasants (Hans Leberecht, Light in Koordi). In addition they deal with the major social concerns of the Soviet people – for instance, Light in Koordi deals with collectivisation and Far From Moscow with the industrialisation of the far east. While in Ivan Ivanovich, according to the jacket, “Koptayeva tries to show that the Soviet family must be founded not only on legal equality between man and wife, but on true comradeship and mutual respect. Without that there cannot be real friendship or genuine love.

“The conflict which arises between Dr Arzhanov and his wife is the conflict of the new, communist concept of the family, and old-fashioned notions of family life, from which Dr Arzhanov, a progressive member of Soviet society in every other respect, frees himself only when tragedy enters his life.”

Does that make you feel you want to read it? It does me.

In Students, one learns a few things about Russian literature while following the adventures of university students striving to sweep out the bad habits of expectation of privilege and self-seeking that had hitherto been associated – and to some extent still was – with the pursuit of higher learning.

The Soviet Union also produced excellent historical novels. Genghis Khan, for instance, is extremely informative about the economics of the Mongol empire. Of course, the bourgeoisie also publishes interesting historical novels – for instance, Colleen McCullough’s novels set in ancient Rome – but the Soviet ones are in no way inferior to these, even though the bourgeoisie does not circulate them. Since the writers of Soviet historical novels research not just the lives of the rich and powerful but are also consistently interested in the life of ordinary people and their means of livelihood, Soviet historical novels are also tend to be more consistently informative than their bourgeois counterparts.

Light on Koordi would be a good book to circulate to people who have been fed the bourgeois line of ‘forced collectivisation’. It most graphically shows rich, middle and poor peasants’ reaction to collectivisation, based firmly on the conditions of life that they have had to endure. It shows that while it was certainly the business of Party organisers to make sure peasants knew of the possibility of collectivisation, facilitating visits, for instance, to existing collective farms in Russia or elsewhere, for the peasants to pool their resources in collectives had to be their own decision. The novel shows how easy the decision is for the poorest peasants, even though Soviet power brought them land of their own when never previously had they had any, or enough. They can quickly see how much easier life will be when resources are pooled, land is not wasted in supporting dividing boundaries, rational use can be made of machinery, and how the collective can carry people who are temporarily deprived of their ability to work (e.g., through illness) or distribute the effects of any disaster so that nobody is wiped out by bad luck. Middle peasants are a lot less decisive about the whole thing: for them there are advantages and disadvantages, but in many cases they will convince themselves that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages and they had better go along with the collective. For the rich peasants, however, the collective is very bad news. Even though they remain outside it, the collective deprives them of the labour of impoverished peasants which they were formerly able to exploit. Their path to riches is blown away, and they use every bit of their power and influence to try to prevent the path of collectivisation from running smoothly.

One of the nicest touches about Light in Koordi is that it presents us with a series of mysteries as to how people will react in the long run. Presented with a number of peasants, all of whom have strong points as well as weaknesses, we follow the process of their evolution as the lure of collectivisation catalyses their social progress. The book opens in the home of a middle peasant, and ends with that same peasant’s decision vis-à-vis joining the collective. Throughout the whole book we are shown the various pressures pulling him this way and that, but his denouement, so to speak, is, in fine mystery tradition, left to the end.

When I undertook to talk about the Soviet novel, it has become clear to me that my eyes were a lot bigger than my stomach. The very richness of the genre means that I could not do it any real justice in just a few weeks of re-reading novels. I would like to suggest that in connection with the Soviet novel there are still many themes that the Stalin Society might like to take up at some future date. One obvious one is an assessment of Gorky. Another might deal with the education and training of Soviet writers. Another might be the historical evolution of socialist realism in fiction, including its roots in pre-Soviet traditions. It would also be good to persuade comrades to make presentations as to various novels so that those of us who do not have time to read them in their entirety can be given a good grounding in what they contain.

I apologise for the deficiencies of this talk, but I do hope that I have inspired comrades to read Soviet novels for themselves. I can assure you that you will not be disappointed.

Presentation made to the Stalin Society on July 2000

A brief history of the Working-Class Internationals

Presentation made to the Stalin Society by Ella Rule

The First International

As is well known, there have been three internationals – international organisations of the working class offering leadership to the working class in its struggle for its emancipation.

What is known as the First International was actually known as the International Working Men’s Association (IWMA). It was formed in 1864 and lasted as an effective organisation until 1872. Thus its duration was a mere 8 years, although, as will be seen, it achieved a great deal during this time.

The formation of the organisation was suggested at a meeting of the London Trades Council with representatives of French, Polish and German workers that had been set up to organise an international workers’ congress. The French proposed that a permanent association should be set up.

At the time, the organisations that joined the IWMA were for the most part very ideologically advanced. The British delegations were predominantly reformist – with English trade unions already very much under the sway of labour-aristocratic elements who had arisen as a result of Britain’s emerging imperialism. The French were predominantly Proudhonist, Proudhonism being a petty-bourgeois ideology that opposed political action, strikes or class struggle but claimed that by the formation of consumer co-operatives and the formation of people’s banks which would extend free credit, socialism would gradually come of itself. A minority of the French delegates were supporters of Blanqui, who advocated predominantly terrorist methods of struggle to the exclusion of all others. The Germans were predominantly Lassallean, again supporting a form of utopian socialism to the exclusion of the realities of class struggle. The Spanish, Swiss and Italians were very much influenced by the Anarchism of Bakunin. Into this battleground Marx and Engels devoted themselves body and soul with a view to bringing theoretical clarity to the working-class movement.

The International Working Men’s Association was based in London. It was to have an Annual Congress in September every year, the Congress being the supreme body. However, a General Council in London, attended by representatives from the national sections of each country, took decisions between meetings of the Congress. Membership of the International Working Men’s Association was individual, but trade unions affiliated to the national sections.

Marx gave a famous Inaugural Address at the first Congress in London in 1864. This was adopted by the General Council and confirmed by the 1866 Congress, which was held in Geneva. This Address laid down the basic programme of the International:

1. The emancipation of the working class must be conquered by the working class themselves – “the great end to which every political movement ought to be subordinate”.

2. Collective ownership of industry and land (the latter being opposed by Proudhon).

3. Support for trade unions and strikes. Yet it was made clear that trade unions should not confine themselves to defending wages and conditions, but should also be turned into organising centres for the working class in its political struggle. Marx said: “While … the trade unions are absolutely indispensable in the daily struggle between labour and capital, still more important is their other aspect as instruments for transforming the system of wage-labour and for overthrowing the dictatorship of capital.” Naturally, the IWMA was also able to co-ordinate workers’ defensive actions on an international basis. For instance, “When employers in Britain imported workers from Belgium, Holland and France to break strikes of British workers, the General Council intervened directly with the imported workers to induce them to return, and the British unions compensated the imported for their loss of time after they had refused to act as scabs. Similarly, when the Paris bronze workers went on strike in 1867, the General Council appealed to British unions for support and more than £1,000 was sent, leading to the victory of the Paris strikers.”

4. The International also took a stand on co-operatives. There were great illusions in the co-operative movement among workers’ organisations, which was supported not only by the Proudhonists, but also the Lassalleans in Germany and the Owenites in England. Marx pointed out in his Address:

“However excellent in principle, and however useful in practice, cooperative labour, if kept within the narrow circle of the casual efforts of private workmen, will never be able to arrest the growth in geometrical progression of monopoly, to free the masses, nor even to perceptibly lighten the burden of their miseries…”. This is why the Report adopted by Congress noted:

“The cooperative movement is incompetent, by its own unaided powers, to achieve a transformation of the capitalist order of society … That is why workers must seize the administrative power, wresting it from the hands of the capitalists and the landlords.”

5. The Congress came out in favour of fighting for protective labour legislation, despite the misgivings of those who considered that such reforms are dangerous because they only render capitalism more comfortable.

6. Need for the working class to have its own party. The 1871 Congress, which took place in the Hague, resolved: “In its fight against the collective forces of the possessing classes, the proletariat can only act as a class by organising its forces into an independent political party working in opposition to all the old parties formed by the possessing classes. Such an organisation of the proletariat as a political party is indispensable in order to achieve the triumph of the social revolution, and above all, to attain its ultimate aim, the abolition off classes.”

7. On the national question, the Congress stressed the need to support oppressed countries struggling against their oppressors – for instance the Irish liberation struggle.

8. On war and peace, the Congress opposed all ruling class wars of subjugation and demanded the abolition of standing armies, to be replaced by people’s militias. Marx in his Inaugural Address said:

“If the emancipation of the working classes requires their fraternal concurrence, how are they to fulfil that great mission with a foreign policy in pursuit of criminal designs, playing upon national prejudices, and squandering in piratical wars the people’s blood and treasure?”.

In practice too the First International struggled against war, specifically the Franco-German war of 1867. As a result Bebel and Wilhelm Liebneckt, leaders of the German Social Democratic Party that had been founded at Eisenach the previous year, voted against war credits in the North German Reichstag – and were subsequently prosecuted for treason.

As a result of the war, the Congress that was scheduled to take place in Paris in 1870 could not take place. On 9 September 1870 the General Council resolved:

“Let the branches of the IWMA in all lands summon the working class to action. If they fail to fulfil this duty, the present disastrous war will merely be the prelude to yet more murderous international conflicts. Everywhere the lords of war, land and capital will triumph anew over the workers.”

The Franco-Prussian war led to the collapse of Napoleon, precipitated by insurgency in France unleashed by the war, and the setting up of the republic. The General Council considered that French workers should support the new republic and not attempt to overthrow it, but when under Thiers the new government surrendered besieged Paris to the Germans and sought to disarm the national guard, Paris rose up in revolt. The people of Paris set up the famous Paris Commune on 18 March 1871, which held power for six weeks. The International rallied to the support of the Commune.

After its defeat – drowned by the bourgeoisie in blood – Marx drew from its experience the important lesson for the working class that the task was “no longer, as before, to transfer the bureaucratic-military machine from one hand to the other, but to smash it” (Letter to Kugelmann, 17 April 1871).

The defeat of the Commune, however, led to the end of the First International, whose members became subject to persecution. Moreover the International’s support of the Commune caused reformist elements to withdraw in protest.

The anarchists had formed in 1868 an ‘Alliance’ with a mish-mash programme, as part of their offensive against working class organisation which it dubbed ‘authoritarian’ and ‘a dictatorship’. These accusations were totally absurd, as Marx pointed out:

“Who but our enemies have any reason to feel suspicious of the powers of the General Council? Does it possess a bureaucracy? Does it command the services of an armed police force whereby it can force obedience? Is not its authority purely moral?”

As a result of the factional activities of the anarchist ‘Alliance’, the Congress of 1872, held in the Hague, expelled Bakunin and his main associates from the International. Marx and Engels also moved a resolution to transfer the General Council to America. This resolution was passed, but led to the Blanquists also withdrawing from the International. Effectively, the International was over and it was formally dissolved in 1876 when a Congress was convened in Philadelphia but only one foreign delegate appeared.

Marx and Engels were not too sorry to see the First International fade away. Marx wrote to Sorge on 27 September 1873:

“As I view European conditions it is quite useful to let the formal organisation of the International recede into the background for the time being … Events and the inevitable development of things will of themselves see to it that the International shall rise again in improved form … Furthermore it upsets the calculations of the Continental governments that the spectre of the International will fail to be of service to them during the impending reactionary crusade; besides, everywhere the bourgeoisie considers the spectre laid for good”.

The Second International

The English Trades Union Congress organised an International Labour Conference in 1888 in London to set up a permanent international ‘labour’ organisation which would exclude socialist parties. In response to that, Marxist parties called an International Workers’ Congress to meet in Paris on 14 July 1889, to found a permanent organisation which would include socialist organisations. 467 delegates from 20 different countries attended. Thus was founded the Second International.

As with the First International, however, there continued to be represented Anarchists who were opposed to the struggle for immediate reforms and electoral struggle – the Anarchists were excluded after 1896 – and the reformism that emanated from the representatives of the imperialist countries, which opposed violent revolution in favour of legal struggle to the exclusion of all else.

The German petty bourgeois intelligentsia in workers’ organisations in Germany infiltrated a “rotten spirit” of revisionism led by Bernstein, who dressed up British avowedly anti-communist Fabianism in a ‘Marxist’ garb. The effect was to substitute the struggle for reforms for the struggle for power. In a situation where imperialist plunder made substantial reform actually possible, the resultant effect was blatant class collaboration. The Bersteinians claimed that class struggle was abating, that classical Marxism was ‘out of date’ and that one therefore only needed to concentrate on fighting for reforms. Lenin, however, showed that the apparent abatement of class struggle was a dangerous delusion because the contradictions of capitalism were deepening and could not but give rise to revolutionary struggles.

Under the leadership of Kautsky, the International put up a strong fight against Bernsteinianism. There was a full theoretical debate at the Amsterdam Congress in 1904 and in 1905 at Dresden the following resolution was carried by an overwhelming majority:

“The Congress most decisively condemns the Revisionist endeavours to change our hitherto consistently maintained and victorious tactics based on the class struggle. The Revisionists seek to replace the conquest of political power through the defeat of our opponents by a policy of meeting the existing order of things halfway. The consequences of such Revisionist tactics would be to transform our party from one working for the speediest possible transformation of the existing bourgeois order of society into a socialist order, that is a revolutionary party in the best sense of the word, into a party satisfied with merely reforming bourgeois society.”

But despite these strong words, the revisionists were allowed to remain in the Second International, even though they had clearly abandoned its most basic tenets. Kautsky was forever looking for formulas that would paper over the differences between the revisionists and the revolutionaries – for the sake of unity, while Lenin recognised that there was no point in maintaining unity with those who were in fact on the opposing side. The Labour Party from Britain was allowed to join the Second International in 1908 despite the fact that it did not expressly accept proletarian class struggle. The International took the view that it in fact conducted class struggle in practice and therefore admitted it on this basis. India rubber resolutions were constantly being “agreed” that would stretch to accommodate the desires of both the revolutionaries and the opportunists.

The second international and colonial policy

The class collaborationist nature of many of the members of the Second International was already very apparent on the question of colonialism. In theory the Second International was thoroughly opposed to colonialism. However, at the Stuttgart Congress of 1907, someone called Van Kol, supported by Bernstein, denounced what he called the negative anti-colonialism of previous Congresses. The revolutionaries, however, put forward a resolution confirming the anti-colonial position, which was carried by 127 votes to 108. But it is significant that a large minority was able to record its minority position. As Palme Dutt points out in The International, p.108-9, “it was significant that the minority view (majority on the Commission), proclaiming that ‘Congress does not on principle and for all time reject all colonial policy, which under a socialist regime can fulfil a civilising role’, received so large a vote. Even more significant was the line of division. The vote for a ‘socialist colonial policy’ included the representatives of all the European colonial powers except Russia: that is, the majority in Britain and France; and as a whole, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Holland, also Sweden and Denmark, and South Africa (a party of Whites only). The majority rejecting colonialism included Russia, Japan, the United States, and smaller European countries or those suffering national oppression.”

The second international and war

The second international passed any number of resolutions opposing war, but many of its members, believing from the relative comfort in which they lived in imperialist countries that capitalism had “stabilised”, did not think war was on the cards. Some even went so far as to interpret the military alliances that various capitalist countries were putting together as alliances that would guarantee peace! Nevertheless the resolutions passed by the second international were unexceptional. In 1907 the resolution passed on this question read as follows:

“If a war threatens to break out, it is the duty of the working class and of its parliamentary representatives in the countries involved to exert every effort to prevent the outbreak of war, using the appropriate means, which naturally vary and rise according to the degree of sharpening of the class struggle and of the general political agitation.

“Should war none the less break out, it is their duty to intervene to bring it promptly to an end, and to strive with all their energies to utilise the economic and political crisis brought about by the war in order to stir up politically the masses of the people and hasten the downfall of capitalist class rule.”

This resolution was carried unanimously and it was confirmed and adopted anew at the Congresses in Copenhagen in 1910 and Basle in 1912.

When the first world war broke out, however, very many of the parties that had voted no fewer than three times for this resolution nevertheless backed ‘their’ bourgeois governments and turned their backs on the commitments they had made to the international. As late as 2 August 1914 a rally took place in Trafalgar Square, London, addressed by various Labour Party worthies, against the war. A Manifesto issued the following day by the British representatives on the International Socialist Bureau (the secretariat of the international) called on the working class to:

“Hold vast demonstrations against war in every industrial centre. Compel those of the governing class and their press who are eager to commit you to cooperate with Russian despotism to keep silence and to respect the decision of the overwhelming majority of the people, who will have neither part nor lot in such infamy”.

One day later war was declared, and the Labour Party speakers at the Rally and signatories of the Manifesto backed the British government. Most of the parties from imperialist countries also backed their ‘own’ governments in this war – the French Socialist Party, the German Social-Democratic Party, the Austrian Social Democratic Party, the Belgian Labour Party, and the Australian and South African parties. Those who held fast to the resolutions against war of the international were the Bolsheviks, the Hungarian Social-Democratic party, the main Bulgarian Social-Democratic Labour Party, the Italian Socialist Party and the Socialist Party of the United States. The corrupting effect of imperialism on the working-class movement was plain and stark.

The crimes of the class collaborationists during the course of the war and later did not stop at siding with their own bourgeoisie for the purpose of waging war. Arthur Henderson of the British Labour Party was among those responsible for the execution of the legendary Irish revolutionary, James Connolly, following the suppression of the Irish Easter uprising of 1916. German social-democrats Scheidemann and Noske murdered the truly revolutionary Karl Liebneckt and Rosa Luxemburg. The Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries in Russia joined with Kolchak and Denikin in a vain attempt to overthrow the Soviet regime. These tendencies were the reflection of the labour-aristocratic and/or petty-bourgeois intellectual class nature of the parties in question.

The crisis put an effective end to the second international, which was deserted by all revolutionaries. The parties which continued to oppose war convened a Conference at Zimmerwald in Switzerland, where Lenin ensured that a correct understanding of the war then raging permeated the debate.

“Lenin’s analysis cut through [the] confusion. First, it showed the character of the war as an imperialist war, recalling the very precise definition of it already given by the Basle resolution. Second, it clarified the Marxist attitude to wars; the distinction between just and unjust wars; and the judgement of each war concretely, not on the basis of categories of aggressive or defensive wars or allegations who began it, but according to the class waging the war, and the policies and aims of the class waging the war. Third, the plea of ‘national defence’ was thus exposed as a sophistical alias for imperialist aims in an imperialist war. This was not a question of indifference of socialists to national independence … In fact, in the imperialist world war of 1914, while the mass of the people were called on to fight and give their lives in the name of national defence, that is, to save their countries from invasion and subjugation, their rulers were in reality fighting for secret aims to fulfil colonial ambitions and redivide the world…” (Palme Dutt, p. 136-137).

Under Lenin’s guidance, the tasks of socialists were held at Zimmerwald to be:

“(1) unconditional refusal to vote for war credits, and immediate withdrawal of all socialists from bourgeois governments; (2) rejection of any agreement with the bourgeoisie and of ‘class peace’; (3) establishment of illegal organisations in countries where they did not exist and where work in legal organisations was difficult; (4) support of fraternisation by the soldiers at the front; (5) support for all revolutionary mass actions of the proletariat.” (Palme Dutt, ibid. p.138).

Nevertheless it was soon apparent that the Zimmerwald organisation was just as effectively stuffed with people who espoused socialism in words but deserted when it came to practice. Their desertion was ‘justified’ in the name of unity with the social chauvinists for the sake of maintaining influence over ‘good people’ who associated themselves with class collaborationist parties as a result of being taken in by their socialist phraseology. As Lenin pointed out, the majority in the Zimmerwald organisation were a bunch of Kautskyite centrists:

“The impassable gulf that separates the Socialists who have remained loyal to the Basle Manifesto and ‘responded’ to the war by preaching and preparing for the proletarian revolution from the social-chauvinists, who responded to the war by supporting ‘their’ national bourgeoisie, is clear. It is clear, also, how helpless, naïve and hypocritical are the attempts to ‘reconcile’ or to ‘unite’ the two trends.

“It is precisely such attempts that are observed in all their wretchedness on the part of the third trend in world Socialism, the so-called ‘Centre’ or ‘Kautskian’ trend (named after the most prominent representative of the ‘Centre’, Karl Kautsky). During the three years of war, this trend has revealed in all countries its utter lack of principle and its helplessness. In Germany, for example, the progress of events compelled the Kautskians to break away from the German Plekhanovs and to form a separate, so-called ‘Independent Social-Democratic Party’; and yet this party is afraid of drawing the necessary conclusions, preaches ‘unity’ with the social-chauvinists on an international scale, continues to deceive the masses of the workers with the hope of restoring this unity in Germany, and hinders the only correct proletarian tactics of revolutionary struggle against ‘one’s own’ government, a struggle which must be waged even in war time, a struggle which may and must change in form, but which cannot be postponed, put off” (‘The Stockholm Conference’, September 1917, Selected Works, Vol 10, p. 16-17).

The revolutionaries at Zimmerwald formed themselves into a ‘Left Zimmerwald’ faction, with its own separate organisation in order to fight for the revolutionary position. Lenin, for his part, pressed for the formation of a Third, Communist, International which would be completely cleansed of any class collaborationist influence. The victory of the February and October Revolutions in Russia ensured that a flood of parties were anxious to join it, but Lenin was determined to weed out those who would bring an opportunist influence with them. Therefore he suggested no fewer than 19 conditions of entry – and actually each condition was several conditions:

1. Everyday propaganda and agitation must bear a genuinely Communist character. All organs of the press belonging to the party must be edited by reliable Communists who have proved their loyalty to the cause of the proletarian revolution. The dictatorship of the proletariat must not be discussed simply as if it were a fashionable formula learned by rote; propaganda for it must be carried on in such a way that every rank-and-file working man and working woman, every soldier and peasant, shall see that the necessity for it arises from the vital facts which are systematically reported in our press day after day. In the columns of newspapers, at mass meetings, in the trade unions and co-operative societies – it is necessary systematically and ruthlessly to denounce not only the bourgeoisie but their assistants, the reformists of all shades.

2. Every organisation that wishes to affiliate to the Communist International must in a planned and systematic manner REMOVE from all positions in the working class movement that are at all responsible (in the party organisation, editorial board, trade unions, parliamentary fraction, co-operative societies, municipalities, etc.) reformists and adherents of the ‘Centre’ and put in their place reliable Communists – and they must not be disturbed by the fact that in some cases it may, at first, be necessary to substitute rank-and-file workers for ‘experienced’ leaders.

3. In all countries where as a consequence of the prevalence of a state of siege or of emergency laws the Communists are unable to carry on all their work legally, it is absolutely necessary to combine legal with illegal work. In nearly all countries in Europe and America the class struggle is entering the stage of civil war. Under these circumstances, the Communists can have no confidence in bourgeois legality. They must EVERYWHERE create a duplicate illegal apparatus, which, at the decisive moment, could help the Party to perform its duty to the revolution.

4. Persistent and systematic propaganda and agitation must be carried on among the armed forces, and Communist nuclei must be formed in every military unit. Mainly, the Communists will have to carry on this work illegally: but abstention from such work would be equivalent to betrayal of revolutionary duty, and would be incompatible with membership of the Third International.

5. Systematic and planned agitation must be carried on in the rural districts….

6. Every party that wishes to affiliate to the Third International must not only expose avowed social-patriotism, but must also expose the falsehood and hypocrisy of social-pacifism; it must systematically be pointed out to the workers that without the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, no international courts of arbitration, no talk about reducing armaments, no ‘democratic’ reorganisation of the League of Nations will save mankind from new imperialist wars.

7. Parties desiring to affiliate to the Communist International must recognise the necessity of a complete and absolute rupture with reformism and the policy of the ‘Centre’; and they must carry on propaganda in favour of this rupture among the broadest circles of party members. Without this it is impossible to pursue consistent Communist policy. …

8. On the question of colonies and oppressed nationalities, the parties in those countries where the bourgeoisie possesses such colonies and oppresses other nations must have a particularly distinct and clear line. Every party that wishes to affiliate to the Third International must ruthlessly expose the tricks of ‘their’ imperialists in the colonies; they must support not merely in words but by deeds, every liberation movement in the colonies, demand the expulsion of their imperialists from these colonies, imbue the hearts of the workers of their respective countries with a truly fraternal attitude towards the toiling population of the colonies and of oppressed nationalities, and carry on systematic agitation among the armed forces of their own country against all oppression of colonial peoples.

9. Every party that desires to affiliate to the Communist International must carry on systematic and persistent Communist work in the trade unions, the co-operative societies and other mass workers’ organisations. In the trade unions it is necessary to form Communist nuclei which, by means of prolonged and persistent work, must win the trade unions for the cause of Communism. These nuclei must at every step in their everyday work expose the treachery of the social patriots and the vacillation of the ‘Centre’. These Communist nuclei must be entirely subordinated to the party as a whole.

10. The party that is affiliated to the Communist International must wage a persistent struggle against the Amsterdam ‘International’ of yellow trade unions …

11. The parties which desire to affiliate to the Third International must overhaul the personnel of their parliamentary fractions, remove the unreliable elements from them, subordinate these fractions, not merely in words but in deeds, to the Central Committee of the party, and call upon every Communist member of parliament to subordinate all his work to the interests of genuine revolutionary propaganda and agitation.

12. Similarly, the periodical and non-periodical press, and all publishing enterprises, must be entirely subordinated to the Central Committee of the party, irrespective of whether the party as a whole is legal or illegal at the given moment …

13. The parties affiliated to the Communist International must be built up on the principle of democratic centralism. In the present epoch of acute civil war the Communist Party will be able to perform its duty only if it is organised in the most centralised manner, only if iron discipline bordering on military discipline prevails in it, and if its party centre is a powerful organ of authority, enjoying wide powers and the general confidence of the members of the party.

14. The Communist Parties of all countries in which the Communists are carrying on their work legally must periodically purge (re-register) the membership of the party organisations so that the party may be systematically purged of petty-bourgeois elements which inevitably attach themselves to it.

15. Every party that wishes to affiliate to the Communist International must render selflessly devoted assistance to every Soviet Republic in its struggle against counter-revolutionary forces. The Communist Parties must carry on persistent propaganda urging upon the workers to refuse to transport war materials for the enemies of the Soviet republics; and they must carry on legal or illegal propaganda among the armed forces that are sent to strangle the workers’ republics, etc.

16. The parties which still adhere to the old Social-Democratic programmes must revise these programmes as speedily as possible and draw up a new Communist programme applicable to the special conditions prevailing in their respective countries in the spirit of the Communist International…

17. All the decisions of the congresses of the Communist International, as well as the decisions of its Executive Committee, are binding upon all parties affiliated to the Communist International… Needless to say, in all their work the Communist International and its Executive Committee must take into account the great diversity of conditions under which the various parties have to fight and operate and they should adopt universally binding decisions only on questions on which such decisions can be adopted.

18. In view of all this, all parties which desire to affiliate to the Communist International must change their name. Every party desiring to affiliate to the Communist International must bear the name: Communist Party of such and such a country (Section of the Third, Communist International). The question of name is not merely a formal question, but one of great political importance. The Communist International has declared resolute war against the whole bourgeois world and against all yellow, Social-Democratic parties. The difference between the Communist Parties and the old, official ‘Social-Democratic’ or ‘Socialist,’ parties, which have betrayed the banner of the working class, must be made absolutely clear to every rank-and-file toiler.

19. After the Second World Congress of the Communist International has concluded its labours, all the parties desiring to affiliate to the Communist International must at the earliest date convene a special congress of their respective parties which shall officially endorse the above-mentioned obligations on behalf of the whole party.

These were the conditions laid down by Lenin in July 1920 for parties desiring to affiliate to the Communist International.

It is clear that he saw the Third International as an organisation that would help workers’ parties stick to the interests of the international working class, and support each other in the battles against the class enemy, be they within or without the working-class movement. Like the Communist parties themselves, the International was to play a leadership role in the working-class movement fighting to draw the masses away from the clutches of the opportunists and all other anti-working class tendencies which prey on them.

The Third (Communist) International

As we have seen, Lenin’s conditions for admission into the Third International were very stringent. The International, like the Communist Party in any given country, was to be swept clean of opportunism, and each was to fight wholeheartedly to win the working class over to proletarian revolutionary politics.

This did not, however, mean either withdrawal from mass organisations that had a reactionary leadership, nor the absolute refusal to have any dealings with, or make compromises with, the hostile class under any circumstances whatsoever.

In order to convince you that the very same Lenin who demanded the utmost revolutionary purity in the revolutionary party and the revolutionary international, was happy to broker any deal with any reactionary at all if it helped, or might help, advance the cause of the working class, I will quote to you what Lenin had to say on the subject of doing a deal with the French monarchists in 1918. In a letter to American workers he wrote:

“When the German imperialist robbers in February 1918 threw their armies against the defenceless demobilised Russia, which staked its hopes on the international solidarity of the proletariat before the international revolution had completely ripened, I did not hesitate for a moment to come to a certain ‘agreement’ with the French monarchists. The French Captain Sadoul who sympathised in words with the Bolsheviks, while in deeds a faithful servant of French imperialism, brought the French officer de Lubersac to me. ‘I am a monarchist. My only purpose is the defeat of Germany’, de Lubersac declared to me. ‘That goes without saying’ …, I replied. But this by no means prevented me from coming to an agreement with de Lubersac concerning certain services that French officers, experts in explosives, were ready to render by blowing up railway tracks in order to prevent the advance of German troops against us. This is an example of an ‘agreement’ of which every class conscious worker will approve. We shook hands with the French monarchist, although we knew that each of us would readily hang his ‘Partner’. But for a time our interests coincided. To throw back the rapacious advancing Germans we made use of the equally rapacious counter interests of the other imperialists thereby serving the interests of the Russian and of the International Socialist Revolution. In this way we served the interests of the working class of Russia and other countries, we strengthened the proletariat and weakened the bourgeoisie of the whole world, we used the justified practice of manoeuvring, necessary in every war, of shifting and waiting for the moment when the rapidly growing proletarian revolution in a number of advanced countries had ripened.

“And despite all the wrathful howling of the sharks of Anglo-French and American imperialism, despite all the calumnies they have showered upon us, … I would not hesitate a single second to come to the same kind of agreement with German imperialist robbers should an attack upon Russia by Anglo-French troops demand it.”

To be in an international organisation composed of only the most advanced elements of the working class, and to be in such a party of the working class, gives you a forum in which you can work out the very best strategies and tactics for your revolution. But there is not a great deal of point in having perfect knowledge of the best possible strategy and the best possible tactics unless you actually put them into practice. To do this involves reaching out to the masses wherever they are to be found, on the one hand, and engaging in the day-to-day struggle for the achievement of progressive objectives in alliance with whoever will genuinely lend at least some weight to your side of the struggle, even where as allies they are far from ideal.

There is no way that Communists can expect mass organisations to be free of wrong thinking. If they were there would be no need for a Communist Party. After all Lenin’s fulminations against the labour aristocracy and their treacherous leadership of trade unions, there were those who would have expected Lenin to tell them that under no circumstances should Communists work in these reactionary trade unions. But in ‘Left-wing’ Communism, an infantile disorder, Lenin thoroughly disabused them of these idiotic views:

“In countries which are more advanced than Russia, a certain amount of reactionariness in the trade unions has been revealed, and was undoubtedly bound to be revealed much more strongly than in our country. … In the West … the craft-union, narrow-minded, selfish, hard-hearted, covetous and petty-bourgeois ‘labour aristocracy’, imperialistically-minded, bribed and corrupted by imperialism, represents a much stronger stratum than in our country. … Struggle must be waged ruthlessly to the very end … until all the incorrigible leaders of opportunism and social-chauvinism have been completely discredited and expelled from the trade unions. It is impossible to capture political power (and the attempt to capture it should not be made) until this struggle has reached a certain stage.

“But we wage the struggle against the ‘labour aristocracy’ in the name of the masses of the workers in order to attract the working class to our side. To forget this most elementary and self-evident truth would be stupid. But the German ‘Left’ Communists are guilty of just this stupidity when, because of the reactionary and counter-revolutionary character of the heads of the trade unions, they jump to the conclusion that … it is necessary to leave the trade unions!! To refuse to work in them!! To create new, artificial forms of labour organisations!! This is an unpardonable blunder equivalent to the greatest service the Communists could render the bourgeoisie.” (Selected Works, Vol. 10, p. 92).

United front tactics

In view of this, one can see that the function of the International, like that of the Communist Parties in the various different countries, is to act as a General Staff developing the strategy and tactics that are likely to lead to success in the battlefield, while at the same time training the working class masses to understand their own class interests so that they can play the best possible role in the struggle for their own emancipation.

Repeatedly the Congresses of the Comintern spelt out the desirability of building united fronts of struggle on specific questions:

“The attempts of the Second International to represent the united front as the organisational fusion of all ‘workers’ parties’ must of course be decisively rebutted… The most important thing in the united front tactic is and remains the agitational and organisational rallying of the working masses. Its true realisation can come only ‘from below’, from the depths of the working masses themselves. Communists, however, must not refuse in certain circumstances to negotiate with the leaders of the hostile workers’ parties, but the masses must be kept fully and constantly informed of the course of these negotiations. Nor must the communist parties’ freedom to agitate be circumscribed in any way during these negotiations with the leaders.

“It is obvious that the united front tactic is to be applied in different ways in different countries, according to the actual conditions prevailing there.” (Theses on Tactics, adopted by the 4th Comintern Congress).

In the light of the above some communists claim that the Communist International made an error in leading an ideological offensive against social democracy under the slogan ‘class against class’ adopted by the 6th Congress in 1928, and that it was wrong of the Tenth Plenum of the ECCI in July 1929 to say that social democracy had in certain countries taken on the character of “social fascism”, on the basis this violated the principle of building united fronts on various issues with social democracy, the better to spread the ideas of revolution.

Was it correct to characterise social democracy in certain countries as social fascism? If we remind ourselves of certain of their activities as related by Palme Dutt in The Internationale (Lawrence & Wishart, London, 1964) we can see straight away that the characterisation was entirely justified:

“The Hungarian Social-Democratic Party signed an official secret treaty on December 22, 1921, with the White Guard dictatorship pledging cooperation and support of ‘the Magyar standpoint’ in return for legality, and thereafter served as an agency for passing on to the police reports of activities or of names of members of the illegal Communist Party. The Chairman of the Belgian Labour Party, De Man (who in 1928 in a stirring address ‘Beyond Marxism’ had called for ‘the substitution of the sentiment of justice as the basis of socialism in place of class interest’ and had proclaimed ‘Marxism is dead! Long live socialism!’) was later, after the invasion of Belgium, found to have been a Nazi agent; his last act in 1940 was to dissolve the Labour Party. Varjonen of Finland was a member of the fascist ‘Brotherhood in Arms’ during the Second World War, preached a march of conquest and rapine ‘as far as the Urals’, repeatedly visited Hitler Germany, and after the armistice became the Secretary of the Finnish Social-Democratic Party. The Braun-Severing Prussian Social-Democratic Government boasted in an official memorandum in 1932 that it had ’caused more deaths on the Left than on the Right'” (page 210).

It cannot therefore be incorrect to characterise social democracy as social fascism in these circumstances, and it must be remembered that it is an absolute duty of those working with the masses thoroughly to expose the opportunist elements that have been influencing them.

Palme Dutt, however, no doubt under the influence of Khrushchevite revisionism by the time he came to write The Internationale, says the ECCI was wrong on this question, not because the social democrats were not social fascists, but because “It gave an easy handle for the enemies of communism to spread wilful misunderstanding … and to imply that it was meant to designate the millions of rank-and-file members of the social democratic parties. Thereby the social-democratic workers were antagonised at the very moment when it was most important to dispel their prejudices and hostility and win their cooperation (ibid. p. 211).”

In response to that it must be noted:

1. The ECCI did not give a directive to the effect that any communist encountering a rank and file member of a social-democratic party should scream ‘social-fascist’ in his face;

2. One cannot recoil from exposing the truth just because some section of the masses does not much like it. When the masses are steeped in the ideology and culture of the bourgeoisie via the relentless propaganda of the bourgeois media and education system, the truth expressed by communists is often found at first to be jarring and offensive. The masses, however need to be helped to seize that truth so that through understanding it they will fight more effectively and steadfastly in pursuit of their own class interests. Anybody who tells us we must conceal the truth in case it puts people off is objectively calling for the retardation of the working class movement. It must be added that those who insist on repeating perfectly true statements over and over again at moments when they have no relevance to the task in hand, thereby making these true statements appear doctrinaire and ridiculous are actually hindering the seizure of truth by the masses in their own way – a way in which Trotskyists are particularly adept – would that it were they alone!

3. Opportunist leaders under attack ALWAYS try to present the attack as being directed at their followers, and their followers, who obviously trust them, tend to believe them, at least at first, and initially to be ‘put off’ the attackers. To say it is the fault of the attackers, however, that the social-democratic workers are ‘put off’ is tantamount to saying it is a mistake to attack social democracy – a viewpoint that Palme Dutt’s Party – the Communist Party of Great Britain – had, under the influence of Khrushchevite revisionism, certainly adopted by 1964. This amounts to leaving the masses in the clutches of social democracy and doing nothing to expose social democracy and win the masses for communism. Ultimately it means in a revolutionary situation leaving the masses prey to fascism. So clearly, whatever the difficulties of exposing social democracy, they must be faced – and faced in an intelligent manner. Ultimately, with persistence and tact, the masses can be won over because the communists are expressing their class interests.

4. At the very same 1928 Congress at which the Communist International is supposed to have erred by putting forward the ‘leftist’ slogan of class against class, the Congress also drew the urgent attention of the working class to the danger of fascism and war and to the need to organise the masses of workers, from every possible organisation, against them.

In the course of the Third International’s existence, there was an extremely complicated world situation, with changing ruling class tactics for controlling the working masses – tactics which, moreover, differed in different parts of the world at any given time. The principal feature of this period was that it was one of capitalist instability throughout the world. The belligerents had been damaged by the First World War and were finding it quite hard to get back to normal, notwithstanding the enthusiastic assistance they received from social-democracy. Moreover, not only had the First World War not solved the problem of redistribution of colonies between the various imperialist states, so that the newly-arrived imperialist powers had in no way been able to satisfy their need to partake of a greater share of the spoils, but in addition they were saddled with heavy war reparations to pay. Since the cause of war was not extinguished, the threat of a new war hung over the world. In addition, despite a short rally towards the end of the 1920’s, the bourgeois economy was in permanent crisis, which the bourgeoisie of various imperialist countries tried to push on to the shoulders of the working class by lowering wages, etc. The depth of the crisis of overproduction which was engulfing the world was not generally understood, except among the communists. A high share price, such as we have at present (2002) (even after the heavy falls of recent months), encouraged a feel-good factor that resolutely closed its eyes to the lack of substance behind the prices. President Hoover even made a speech to the effect that “the outlook for the world today is for the greatest era of expansion in history”. That was on 27 July 1928. The following year stock markets crashed all over the world and a depression ensued that only the outbreak of the second world war brought to an end.

The various imperialist powers knew that there had to be war, for none of those in possession of colonies were disposed to give them up to rivals. Inter-imperialist war was, however, dangerous to their class interests, as the first world war had shown, as it had been the basis of the creation of the Soviet Union, and the working class had also given a good account of itself in Germany and Hungary even though they had not been able in the end to hang on to their gains. The diplomacy of the imperialist powers in possession of colonies was to try to direct the warmongering of German imperialism against socialism – let the Germans colonise the Soviet Union, overthrow communism, then all the imperialists could be happy.

From the point of view of the working class, however, the Soviet Union was its bastion, its headquarters. It could not but be extremely harmful for the working class movement of every country in the world, as well as the world’s national liberation movements, if it were to lose the Soviet Union.

In these circumstances, to frustrate imperialism’s plans it was essential for communists to rally everybody possible against war, and against the tool the imperialists were using to prepare for that war – Hitlerite fascism.

German imperialism needed to resort to fascism, i.e., naked terror, to control the masses precisely because it had relatively little (compared to its imperialist competitors) by way of superprofits with which to distribute largesse among the working class. Whatever it did distribute was not enough to enable German social democracy to guarantee control over a German population suffering considerable economic hardships. As Palme Dutt points out in Internationale (p.196), Fascism “arose in countries racked by intense class contradictions, where there was a potential revolutionary situation, but where there was not yet a sufficiently developed revolutionary working class leadership to be able to carry through a victorious socialist revolution; where the social-democratic leadership was able to maintain its hold on the majority or the working class to come to the rescue of capitalism and bar the road to the revolution, but in the face of increasing working class discontent; and where the discredited capitalist regime was able in consequence to utilise a motley array of demagogues, mouthing radical-sounding, chauvinist and racialist slogans, and in fact financed by big capital, in order to mobilise a reactionary ‘mass movement’ of the most miscellaneous disillusioned and frustrated elements, mainly from the middle strata, but also from backward sections of the workers, to make war on the organised working-class movement and thus prepare the way for the establishment of the terrorist dictatorship of the most aggressive and reactionary sections of big capital.”

The Enlarged Executive of the Communist International in July 1923 similarly gave an preliminary analysis of the character of fascism – a phenomenon first observed in Italy in the aftermath of the first world war, where the bourgeoisie organised a gangster offensive against working class organisations in response to a wave of workers’ occupations of factories that was first sold out by reformist social democrats. This is what the Enlarged Executive had to say:

“Fascism is a characteristic phenomenon of decay, a reflection of the progressive dissolution of capitalist economy and of the disintegration of the bourgeois state.

“Its strongest root is the fact that the imperialist war and the disruption of the capitalist economy which the war intensified and accelerated meant, for the broad strata of the petty and middle bourgeoisie, small peasants and the ‘intelligentsia’, in contrast to the hopes they cherished, the destruction of their former condition of life and especially their former security. The vague expectation which many in these social strata had of a radical social improvement, to be brought about by reformist socialism, have also been disappointed. The betrayal of the revolution by the reformist party and trade union leaders … has led them to despair of socialism itself. The weakness of will, the fear of struggle shown by the way in which the overwhelming majority of the proletariat outside Soviet Russia tolerates this treachery, and under capitalist whips drudges to consolidate its own exploitation and enslavement, has robbed these small and middle bourgeois, as well as the intellectuals, brought into a state of ferment, of their belief in the working class as the mighty agent of a radical social transformation. They have been joined by many proletarian elements who, looking for and demanding action, feel dissatisfied with the behaviour of all political parties. Fascism also attracts the disappointed and declassed, the rootless in every social stratum, particularly ex-officers who have lost their occupation since the end of the war…

“The old allegedly non-political apparatus of the bourgeois state no longer guarantees the bourgeoisie adequate security. They have set about creating special class-struggle troops against the proletariat. Fascism provides these troops”.

To prevent the working class fighting back against this terror and oppression, every kind of bourgeois-democratic freedom to organise, strike, meet, etc. is taken away so that any attempt to organise can be used as an excuse for violent suppression, thus – or so the bourgeoisie hope – nipping working-class resistance in the bud.

Both war and democratic rights are issues on which it is possible to mobilise broad masses of workers, for these are things that threaten every civilised standard. Hence it is right to form united fronts to mobilise the working class on these issues. Of course, communists explain to the masses at all times the real causes of the war, and who it is who is depriving them and conducting terror against them and why. They will constantly be making it clear to workers that only through the dictatorship of the proletariat will they be able properly to suppress the warmongers and their oppressors.

In the particular circumstances of Germany, the social-democrats, having helped the fascists take over the government by accepting the supposed legitimacy of their rigged election (fatally flawed by widespread intimidation and fraud) and refusing to take action against the ”elected representatives of the people”, then found that they too became the victims of fascist terror. In these circumstances it is certainly correct to call on social democrats to join the united front against fascism and even to moderate one’s public criticism of them in order to give them every opportunity to fight against imperialism for once now that they have been rejected as its handmaidens. The fact that social democracy refused to cooperate with the communists accounts for the victory of fascism in Germany. Nobody, however, can say that the communists should never have approached them.

If, and to the extent that, social democracy successfully is drawn into an intense anti-imperialist struggle – as happened for instance in Korea – one can expect that in the course of struggle it will become apparent that there is no raison d’être for the continued existence of a separate social-democratic party. In these circumstances it should be possible to merge the social-democratic party into the communist party. The labour aristocracy and petty-bourgeois intelligentsia, once they have lost the privileges that weds them to class collaboration with the bourgeoisie, are at the end of the day paid wage workers whose real class interests coincide with those of the mass of the working class, even if they constituted bribed strata in the past.

Nevertheless, it is not always and everywhere that the question of overthrowing bourgeois rule can be put on the order of the day. The Third International has been criticised in some quarters for apparently abandoning the path of ”with all their energies to utilise the economic and political crisis brought about by the war in order to stir up politically the masses of the people and hasten the downfall of capitalist class rule.” This does not mean, however, as many people erroneously believe, that one calls for an uprising against the bourgeoisie when there is no revolutionary situation, the masses are not prepared and there is not the slightest chance of success. The first world war and the chaos of its aftermath created in many countries a revolutionary situation which it was the duty of working class leaders to turn to the maximum advantage of the working class by pressing for the seizure of power. But by the mid 1920s the situation was very different. JR Campbell in Soviet Policy and its Critics (London, Victor Gollancz Ltd – Left Book Club – 1939) draws the distinction that has to be made between the time the Third International was first set up and the situation in 1939 when he was writing:

“In this period [the first world war and its aftermath] the tactic of the capitalist class was to rally all the reactionary elements of society round the slogan of democracy, to use this slogan against the advancing Socialist revolution, to buy off the working class with concessions that did not undermine the fundamental basis of the capitalist system, and to gather their forces for the counter-offensive. In these tactics the capitalist class were helped by Right-Wing Socialism which saw, or pretended to see, in the new democratic rights that had been won, the means of advancing peacefully to Socialism. It was under such conditions that Communists sought as part of their effort to lead the people forward to a higher order of democracy – Soviet Democracy – to reveal the class essence of parliamentary democracy.

“Clearly there is a much different situation in the world today. In Germany the Labour movement has been driven underground, and workers and petty middle class alike are squeezed to the limit of endurance in order to provide resources for the insatiable Fascist war-machine. …

“In these circumstances the working class is not in the position in which it was in Central Europe in 1919 – to put the question of the seizure of power on the order of the day. This does not mean that power is a long way off, but it does mean that the issues which must be fought out in order to lead up to the seizure of power are different from those of 1917-1920. In 1917, the Bolsheviks put forward the slogan of peace, whose concrete application was the ending of the European war on the basis of no annexations, and no indemnities, through the seizure of power by the working class. Today we put forward the slogan of peace, which means concretely the creation of a bloc of Socialist and democratic Governments which will force Fascism to keep the peace, and enable us to prepare the forces for Socialist advance.

“In 1917-1920 capitalism was defending parliamentary democracy against the drive of the Socialist revolution, seeking to establish Soviet Democracy. Today, capitalism, in order to maintain itself, is seeking to undermine and destroy parliamentary democracy and to dissolve the organisations of the working class. To defend democracy in 1919-1920 was to defend capitalism against the revolution. To defend democracy in 1938 is to frustrate the capitalist attack on the working class, and is the starting point of any working class advance to power” (pages 137-138).

Furthermore: “When in 1919 German reaction defended bourgeois democracy from Socialist revolution it was a crime of Social Democracy to co-operate with German reaction. But when in 1937 the most reactionary, chauvinistic and war-making sections of monopoly capitalism are attacking bourgeois democracy, whom are they attacking? They are attacking the democratic rights of the working class, they are seeking to break up the mass organisations of the workers, to massacre tens of thousands of local leaders, to imprison hundreds of thousands in concentration camps” (page323).

“Yet … people tell us that for the working class to unite its forces, and to seek an understanding with those middle sections of society which, while not Socialist or Communist, are prepared to resist the capitalist attack on democracy – is nothing more nor less than class co-operation. It is class co-operation to struggle to prevent the middle class falling under capitalist influence; it is class co-operation to seek to isolate the monopoly capitalists who are driving to Fascism. The Spanish civil war is a wicked example of class co-operation.

“These arguments are backed by a lot of pseudo-scientific arguments about Fascism being the product of monopoly capitalism in decay and that therefore it can only be finally defeated by the workers’ revolution. All of which is true but irrelevant.

“Unemployment is a product of capitalism, but we do not therefore abandon the struggle for a higher scale of benefits; wage cuts are a product of capitalism, but no Socialist argues that the worker should accept wage cuts. Faced with an attack on wages and unemployed relief, we do not merely go about with propaganda shouting that capitalism is the cause of all the trouble.

“We organise the mass struggle for wages and relief, and in the course of the struggle we explain how capitalism is the enemy and must be got rid of before unemployment can be ended and attacks on wages stopped.

“So with Fascism. We have to organise the fight to defend democracy in all its aspects, and in the course of the struggle to defend democracy we will succeed in demonstrating that the capitalist system is the enemy of democracy” (ibid. p. 326-7).

Many communists find handling the question of social democracy and its bourgeois influence on the working class extremely difficult. They would do well to remember that if this ideology reflects the position of a bribed and corrupt section of the working class, very little basis remains for it once this bribery and corruption is withdrawn. At this time strenuous efforts need to be made – without of course sacrificing principle – to heal the split in the working class and unite it for the advancement of its class interests.

Palme Dutt also moans that the Communist International made a “serious tactical error” in instructing the German communists to support the Nazi demand for a referendum calling for the resignation of Germany’s social-democratic Braun-Severing government (the one which boasted of having killed more lefts than rights). Why this should have been a serious tactical error is not spelt out, but what is certain is that Palme Dutt is trying to convince us that it was wrong for the communists to try to seize the initiative away from the fascists who were capitalising on mass disillusionment with social democracy, which the masses equated with socialism. Palme Dutt considers it would have been better to leave the social democrats alone on the principle it is better to have a bourgeois-democratic government than a fascist one. This particular social-democratic government, however, was positively a recruiting sergeant for the fascists. Preserving this government could only have marginally delayed the setting up of a fascist government – it would not have prevented it. Only if the working class was organised to resist fascism could a fascist government have been prevented from coming into power. And this organisation against fascism German social democracy worked tirelessly to prevent.

Dimitrov in The United Front (International Publishers, New York, 1938) spells out the culpability of the social democrats for the rise of fascism in Germany, which Palme Dutt in 1964 tried to blame on the Communist International:

“Was the victory of fascism inevitable in Germany? No, the German working class could have prevented it.

“But in order to do so, it should have achieved a united anti-fascist proletarian front, and forced the Social-Democratic leaders to put a stop to their campaign against the communists and to accept the repeated proposals of the Communist Party for united action against fascism.

“When fascism was on the offensive and the bourgeois-democratic liberties were being progressively abolished by the bourgeoisie, it should not have contented itself with the verbal resolutions of the Social-Democrats, but should have replied by a genuine mass struggle, which would have made the fulfilment of the fascist plans of the German bourgeoisie more difficult.

“It should not have allowed the prohibition of the League of Red Front Fighters by the government of Braun and Severing, and should have established fighting contact between the League and the Reichsbanner [a Social-Democratic semi-military mass organisation] with its nearly one million members, and have compelled Braun and Severing to arm both these organisations in order to resist and smash the fascist bands.

“It should have compelled the Social-Democratic leaders who headed the Prussian government to adopt measures of defence against fascism, arrest the fascist leaders, close down their press, confiscate their material resources and the resources of the capitalists who were financing the fascist movement, dissolve the fascist organisations, deprive them of their weapons and so forth.

“Furthermore, it should have secured the re-establishment and extension of all forms of social assistance and the introduction of a moratorium and crisis benefits for the peasants – who were being ruined under the influence of crises – by taxing the banks and the trusts, in this way securing for itself the support of the working peasants. It was the fault of the Social-Democrats of Germany that this was not done, and this is why fascism was able to triumph” (p. 20-21).

If errors were made in Germany in the fight against fascism, they were not made by the Communist International but by the German Party itself, for, as Dimitrov says:

“Our comrades in Germany for a long time failed to reckon with the wounded national sentiments and the indignation of the masses against the Versailles Treaty; they treated as of little account the waverings of the peasantry and petty bourgeoisie; they were late in drawing up their programme of social and national emancipation, and when they did put it forward they were unable to adapt it to the concrete demands of the level of the masses. …” (p. 24).

If people carry out a correct policy and thereby end up in failure, it is no evidence whatever that the policy was wrong. If ordinary followers of social democracy were not won over to communism in sufficient numbers this was partly due to sectarianism among the German communists:

“Self-satisfied sectarianism will not and cannot understand that the leadership of the working class by the Communist Party does not come of itself. The leading role of the Communist Party in the struggles of the working class must be won. For this purpose it is necessary, not to rant about the leading role of the Communists, but to merit and win the confidence of the working masses by everyday mass work and correct policy. This will be possible only if in our political work we Communists seriously take into account the actual level of the class consciousness of the masses, the degree to which they have become revolutionised, if we soberly appraise the actual situation, not on the basis of our wishes but on the basis of the actual state of affairs. Patiently, step by step, we must make it easier for the broad masses to come over to the Communist position. We ought never to forget the words of Lenin, who warns us as strongly as possible: ‘… this is the whole point – we must not regard that which is obsolete for us as obsolete for the class, as obsolete for the masses’.

“Is it not a fact, comrades, that there are still not a few such doctrinaire elements left in our ranks who at all times and places sense nothing but danger in the policy of the united front? For such comrades the whole united front is one unrelieved peril. But this sectarian ‘stickling for principle’ is nothing but political helplessness in the face of the difficulties of directly leading the struggle of the masses.

“Sectarianism finds expression particularly in overestimating the revolutionisation of the masses, in overestimating the speed at which they are abandoning the positions of reformism, and in attempting to leap over difficult stages and the complicated tasks of the movement. In practice, methods of leading the masses have frequently been replaced by the methods of leading a narrow party group. The strength of the traditional connection between the masses and their organisations and leaders was underestimated, and when the masses did not break off these connections immediately, the attitude taken toward them was just as harsh as that adopted toward their reactionary leaders. Tactics and slogans have tended to become stereo-typed for all countries, the special features of the actual situation in each individual country being left out of account. The necessity of stubborn struggle in the very midst of the masses themselves to win their confidence has been ignored, the struggle for the partial demands of the workers and work in the reformist trade unions and fascist mass organisations have been neglected. The policy of the united front has frequently been replaced by bare appeals and abstract propaganda” (p.84-85).

To the extent that sectarianism hinders the mobilisation of the masses this also causes a tendency to try to create an instant ‘mass following’ by merging to some extent with social democracy:

“While fighting most resolutely to overcome and exterminate the last remnants of self-satisfied sectarianism, we must increase in every way our vigilance toward Right opportunism and the struggle against it and against every one of its concrete manifestations, bearing in mind that the danger of Right opportunism will increase in proportion as the wide united front develops. Already there are tendencies to reduce the role of the Communist Party in the ranks of the united front and to effect a reconciliation with Social-Democratic ideology. Nor must the fact be lost sight of that the tactics of the united front are a method of clearly convincing the Social-Democratic workers of the correctness of Communist policy and the incorrectness of the reformist policy, and that they are not a reconciliation with Social-Democratic ideology and practice. A successful struggle to establish the united front imperatively demands constant struggle in our ranks against tendencies to depreciate the role of the Party, against legalist illusions, against reliance on spontaneity and automatism, both in liquidating fascism and in conducting the united front against the slightest vacillation at the moment of decisive action” (p. 86).

We must not underestimate this danger, because to the extent that communists try to make themselves popular by merging with social democracy they are creating conditions for the victory of fascism should the bourgeoisie decide that the time has once again come to resort to naked terrorism as the only means of maintaining its control of the exploited and oppressed classes.

To sum up:

When the masses of the workers are in thrall to social democracy (either taken in by it absolutely, or passive in the face of its attacks on the working class), Lenin and the Communist International made it quite clear that it is ESSENTIAL to wage an unremitting day-to-day struggle against social-democracy and its representatives in the working class movement.

This struggle does NOT preclude alliances, deals and united fronts of every kind. On the contrary, it often demands them.

Communists MUST, however, be left free to act as the general staff of the working class. The party must be free to develop strategy and tactics on a communist basis. It CANNOT dissolve itself, or in any way cease to perform its role as the brain of the working class movement for the sake of unity.

The dissolution of the Comintern

The Comintern was dissolved in 1943 by common consent of all participating parties. The official reason given was that the parties were all sufficiently mature to conduct their own affairs without the need for an International. It is likely, however, that the real reason was a concession to Anglo-American imperialism for the sake of maintaining the alliance against fascism during the second world war. Failure to maintain that alliance would have made the task of preserving the Soviet Union exceptionally hard – perhaps impossible. If anybody has doubts as to the wisdom of making any such concession, they have only to look at the dire state of the people of the former Soviet Union and the aggression unleashed by imperialism all over the world to be convinced of the importance of fighting to preserve the Soviet Union as long as was humanly possible. It is, however, unlikely that preservation of the Comintern could have hindered the triumph of revisionism after Stalin died. Only a a staunchly Marxist-Leninist CPSU, with all its prestige and influence, could have done that. As soon as the CPSU stepped on to the revisionist road, all the worst features of the various European Communist Parties were unbottled and overwhelmed the revolutionary spirit that the Comintern had embodied. Should we be concerned to restore the Comintern today? Without the unifying influence of a party such as the CPSU of Lenin and Stalin, it is unlikely that national communist organisations would be prepared to submit to the discipline of an international. Nevertheless there is much that various national communist organisations can learn from each other, but for the moment it is likely that the best way of securing this is by voluntary co-operation.

Presentation made to the Stalin Society on October 2002

Education in the Soviet Union

Presentation made to the Stalin Society by Ella Rule

The Soviet Union during the time that Stalin was General Secretary of the CPSU was a country at the lower stage of communism building itself up towards the higher stage. As is well known, at the lower stage of communism productive forces are not yet sufficiently developed to meet all the physical and cultural needs of the people, but the whole aim and purpose of this lower stage is to develop the productive forces so that these needs can be met at the earliest. It is precisely for these reasons that at the lower stage of communism workers are rewarded according to their labour. There is insufficient productivity to satisfy all needs so the higher stage of communism has to be delayed until this changes. The system of rewarding people according to the amount of work they do is quite good at encouraging hard work among people whose attitude to work has been scarred by years of working under capitalism and who regard work as nothing but drudgery rather than life’s prime want.

Article 121 of Soviet Constitution

Citizens of the USSR have the right to education. This right is ensured by universal and compulsory elementary education; by free education up to and including the 7th grade, by a system of state stipends for students of HE educational establishment who excel in their studies; by instruction in schools being conducted in the native language, an by the organisation in factories, state farms, MTSs, and collective farms of free vocational, technical and agronomic training for the working people.

But how exactly is a high level of productivity to be achieved, and when achieved, how is it to be maintained? Clearly a highly productive society must be equipped with all the latest technology. But in order to acquire that technology and then use it effectively, an educated population is necessary. Illiteracy must be eliminated. Hundreds upon thousands of Soviet experts must be trained.

At the start of this enterprise, the task is enormous, and the forces to tackle it are extremely meagre.. Education was a key factor, as is well explained by a petty-bourgeois English writer on education who studied the Soviet education system:

“The task of building from the ruins of the Russian Empire a modern, industrial, and socialist society has pushed on with a ruthlessness – and at a human cost – that is well known. But no measure of ruthless determination could in itself be enough; for the success of such projects as the FYPs [Five-year plans], the authorities depended on educational development no less than on the mustering of manpower and economic resources. There had to be a new force of engineers, scientists, technicians of all kinds … no possible source of talent could be left untapped, and the only way of meeting these needs was by the rapid development of a planned system of mass education.” (Grant, p.20 – see bibliography for detail).

In Tsarist Russia the education of the masses had been neither necessary or desirable as capitalism was little developed and did not need a literate working class, and education gives people expectations of a better life that Tsarist Russia could never satisfy. The result was that 73% of the population of Tsarist Russia (excluding children under 9) were illiterate. Only a quarter of all children ever went to school.

In Soviet Russia, by contrast, besides educating people for higher productivity Soviet education had also to prepare them to be good citizens in a communist society, encouraging them to let go of attitudes, towards work and possessions for instance, which capitalism had fostered and which many in the older generations still cling to. Grant writes that Soviet education is “designed not merely as a machine for the production of scientists, engineers, and technicians, but as an instrument of mass education from which the younger generation gain not only their formal learning, but their social, moral and political ideas as well.” (p.15).

Last, but not least, political understanding must be developed so that there is an enormous pool of workers with a high level of class consciousness to form the vanguard of the continuing class struggle. Grant writes: “… Soviet society … requires ‘political awareness’ in the mass of the population. This is more than mere conformity, which usually comes more easily through ignorance. Dumb acquiescence will not do; what is wanted is conformity versed in knowledge and study of political theory, conformity in the positive sense.” (p.23-24).

The question of education, then, is critical to the survival of communism and its development towards its higher stage. As Lenin said; “Without teaching there is no knowledge and without knowledge there is no communism.”

That is why during the period of the first two 5-year plans, when the Soviet people were straining to ensure their industrial productive capacity caught up with that of the most advanced imperialist countries, as they knew working-class state power in the USSR would be wiped out by imperialist military intervention if they did not succeed, huge resources were nevertheless poured into education – education of adults and of children. Between 1917 and 1937, 40 million adults were taught to read! The number of children and students in full-time education increased from 8 million in 1914 to 47 million in 1938-9. Secondary school attendance increased from under a million in 1914 to over 12 million in 1938-9. Numbers of university students increased from 112,000 in 1914 to 601,000 in 1938-9, and more schools were built in the USSR in 20 years than the Tsarist autocracy built in 200 years.

But besides providing education in schools, the Soviet Union also organised education for those in work. S. Sobolev (a member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR and of the Supreme Soviet of RSFSR) wrote in Soviet Youth at Work and Play (in USSR Speaks for Itself pp.229-230)

“An extensive system of courses and study circles provides a wide range of educational facilities enabling them to become proficient in their particular trade or profession.”

“A system of vocational training schools attached directly to the factories has been functioning in the Soviet Union for more than 15 years. In these schools highly skilled workers from all branches of industry and the transport services are trained free of charge. The pupils in these schools acquire a general education equal to that provided in secondary schools, and under the supervision of qualified instructors, learn to become proficient in the trade they’ve selected…

“Since their foundation the vocational training schools have supplied the country with about 2 million skilled workers in various trades. Many of their graduates have since developed into master craftsmen, setting outstanding records of labour productivity.”

Besides secondary level education, there was also immense provision for workers to study for university degrees on a part-time (mostly correspondence course) basis but closely linked with the universities where students would be called to attend frequently special seminars or activities , much like the Open University in the UK today. This system was observed in operation by Grant in 1959. Part-time students accounted for 45% of total in 1959, (38% correspondence).

Nevertheless, providing education is one thing, but what about the quality of that education? Is it 3-R type education limited to enabling a worker to read the instructions for operating a machine and to have enough arithmetic to be able to measure materials adequately? Or is it education aimed at enabling workers to acquire a real understanding of nature and society? Is it the oppressive rote learning of a vast amount of apparently irrelevant facts, or is it the acquisition of genuine competence in the face of the complex situations that the world presents to humanity? Is it the inculcation of propaganda designed to enslave, or is it the passport to freedom via appreciation of necessity?

One book which enables us to glimpse the reality of Soviet education during Stalin’s days is Deana Levin’s book Children in Soviet Russia (Faber & Faber Ltd., 1942). Deana Levin worked as a teacher in a Moscow school from 1938-42 having first acquired 7 years experience as a Maths teacher in the UK. The school was a typical Soviet school in every respect except one, namely, that teaching was in English. The reason for having an English-medium school was that the Soviet Constitution guaranteed to children an education in their mother tongue and there were many children in Moscow whose mother tongue was English, be they the children of American or English experts working in Russia or children of Russian workers who had gone abroad to an English-speaking country with their families, whose children on their return found it easier being educated in English than in Russian. However, the school followed exactly the same syllabus as Russian-medium schools. They used exactly the same textbooks, only translated into English. They also used exactly the same teaching and discipline methods. It is clear that Deana Levin’s was a very good school among very many other very good schools though, as is to be expected, not every school had reached the same very high standards at the time Deana Levin was in Moscow.

On the surface, much of what Deana Levin says about the methods used to ensure high standards of learning and discipline would sound to a person brought up in bourgeois society as if it might be close to the rhetoric of Mrs Thatcher, but on closer inspection it is apparent that there is a difference between rhetoric about the need for high educational standards (this rhetoric being designed to dump the blame for the ills of society on teachers while doing nothing at all to improve standards – after all what is the point of disseminating high educational standards to a working-class the majority of whom are going to be unemployed or confined to unskilled jobs?) and the experience of the Soviet Union where the actual achievement of high educational standards was a pressing necessity.

Deana Levin wrote in the preface to her book:

“The only acknowledgement that I wish to make here is to the freedom with which I lived and worked in the Soviet Union. Although I was controlled in my work like any other Soviet teacher, and had to teach according to the fixed syllabus in my subject, I was encouraged to experiment in methods of teaching and to use my initiative in the organisation of my time. I felt throughout my experience in Moscow that I was being judged for what I was worth, as was every other teacher. Good work was appreciated and encouraged; poor work was always criticised and disapproved of in such a way as to ensure its speedy elimination. The names of good teachers were known and honoured in the teaching world.” ( p.6).

The key difference in attitude in Soviet Russia as opposed to Thatcherite Britain lies in the words “poor work was always criticised and disapproved of IN SUCH A WAY AS TO ENSURE ITS SPEEDY ELIMINATION”. The elimination of poor work came through supporting, training and encouraging the teacher concerned so that he or she could improve – to the relief of both his pupils and himself, rather than humiliating him and depriving him of his livelihood.. Let us see some examples of how the Soviet system set about identifying good and bad teaching and how it set about remedying bad teaching.

Deana Levin writes: “Our natural science teacher, Comrade Edmunds, was far too lenient. At the same time I noticed that she had poor discipline and that the quality of the children’s answers was not good.” (The way this would have been noticed is by virtue of the fact that any teacher could sit in on any other teacher’s class, as could any parent).

“After visiting a botany lesson in the 6th class, where the children were obviously unprepared for their lesson, I kept the class after school and asked Comrade Edmunds and the class adviser to be present. I went straight to the point. ‘Your discipline was not good during the botany lesson, and many of you had not done your homework … will you please explain this to me. Tanya, you are the president of the class, let us hear what you have to say first’.’

“Tanya … thought for a moment … ‘Comrade Edmunds is not strict enough. She should not mark so easily … many of the class do not bother to prepare their homework carefully. They think they will get good enough marks anyway’…

‘“Well, Joseph, what do you think?’

“‘Our discipline is bad because we have not always enough to do … Today’s lesson was too easy, everybody knows it, so no-one felt inclined to work seriously.’

“‘I think that the unit leaders are getting slack’, said Edward. ‘They should take up the question in unit meetings. If we know that Comrade Edmunds is a good teacher we should listen to her lessons, even if she is too kind’.’

“When the children had gone, after having decided to improve their discipline and study harder, Comrade Edmunds and I remained to discuss the matter. I could see that she was impressed by the children’s opinions. We planned the next three or four lessons carefully together, remembering to keep the children ‘busy’. I arranged to attend her lessons regularly for the next week or two, and to mark all questions simultaneously with her, comparing notes with her afterwards. She also agreed to visit my lessons to see how I conducted them and how I marked oral answers.

“Discipline and work improved steadily after that … she kept the children well occupied during her lessons, and that was one of the main reasons for improved discipline.” (p.56).

We can see from this example the spirit of mutual respect, cooperation and support with which teaching and learning problems were dealt with – quite different from the blame-dumping exercises that Thatcherism (eagerly emulated by Jack Straw) demands.

We can also see the children having a quite different attitude to discipline than one would expect to find in a British school. Discipline in a Soviet school was not perceived by students as something imposed on them so that teachers could have a quiet life. It was in no way equivalent to oppression or submission to arbitrary authority. Consider for example Deana Levin’s description of an exchange which took place between herself and her pupils in her early days in Moscow:

“I found the children very intelligent, rather noisy and uncontrolled, but very easily interested. The first lesson I had with them was arithmetic, and as I kept them very busy, they worked fairly quietly. But when it came to geography, I found it more difficult to control them. They were seemingly very much interested in this subject, but all began to ask questions at once, without any idea of order. I stopped the lesson to explain that unless we had some sort of discipline we should not be able to get on fast enough. One girl raised her hand. ‘The trouble with our class is that although everyone knows the rules, we forget to keep them’.’

“‘What are the rules?’ I asked anxiously.

“‘Well’ she answered, ‘we know that while the teacher is talking and explaining a lesson, we should listen. Then we know that we should raise our hands if we wish to ask questions, because if we all speak at once, it is impossible to hear anything. I think we should have a socialist competition with the 4th class, as we did last term’.

“‘Yes, yes’, everyone agreed.

“At the end of the last lesson a girl and a boy came into the room. The girl, a … child of about 12, asked my permission to make an announcement to the class. On my giving permission, she turned to the class. ‘The fourth class challenges you to socialist competition for this term on the following points: excellent discipline during class, always ready for lessons, towel and soap always in order. Sidney and I have been chosen by our class to check up. If you agree, you must also choose two representatives to help us to check. Do you agree?’” (pp.18/19)

Class 3 agreed unanimously.

In order to facilitate checking the competition the children themselves prepared charts and books for the class teacher to sign as evidence of performance, with the class president elected from among the students also keeping records.

Deana Levin goes on to say “In practice I found socialist competition a wonderful lever. The children crowded round the board in the hall every day to see who was ahead … The rivalry and bad feelings that I feared … seemed entirely lacking. Although for some days our class and the fourth were level and feeling ran high, Julia said to me, ‘wouldn’t it be nice if both classes won?’

“Vova, who overheard, said ‘`I wish the whole school could be a red banner school, then we might get the district red banner.’

“This remark gave a new aspect to the whole competition. If all classes became red banner classes, then our school would have a choice in the district competitions. If our district became a red-banner district, it would have a chance in the city competition – the possibilities became endless.”(pp 21-22).

So besides the infrastructure to encourage an interest in excellence, it is noteworthy the extent to which these 11-year old children were allowed to take the initiative and to control the proceedings. It was not the teacher who told them to enter into competition – it was the children who told the teacher they wished to do so and who expected her to cooperate in keeping the necessary records.

A. Makarenko in an article entitled ‘Children in the Land of Socialism’ in USSR Speaks for Itself’ (p.223) is fully justified in saying:-

“[C]hildren in the Soviet Union are [not] brought up to be idle and irresponsible. On the contrary, we expect rather a lot from our children: we expect them to be good pupils at school, we expect them to develop themselves physically, to prepare themselves to be good citizens of the USSR when they grow up, to know what is going on inside the country, what our society is striving for, where it is making progress and where it is still behind. We promote the general and political development of children, help them to be active and intelligently disciplined. But we have not the slightest occasion to use force against them, or cause them the slightest suffering. Our children cannot but be conscious of the affection, solicitude and care which attend them at every step without being morally convinced of their duties, so that they fulfil their obligations willingly, without their becoming irksome.

“Our children can see that all they do is necessary not for the pleasure of their elders but for themselves, and for the whole future of our state. Soviet children are strangers to fawning and servility. They do not have to demean themselves to a taskmaster as to one who can make or break them.”

In Britain it is still the case all too often that as the urge for independence strikes young people as they enter their adolescence, they have to confront authority to be allowed to take charge of their own lives and make their own decisions – leading to disastrous breakdown in discipline. In the Soviet Union, the children’s desire to be respected and responsible adults was fostered and built upon in a way that is impossible in capitalist countries because schools (at least in the public sector) are not so much concerned with preparing the young to take over responsibility in society but to submit meekly to their masters, their employers, and to accept bad conditions, unemployment, bullying by the authorities, etc., as a necessary fact of life. Many teachers suffer from an irresistible urge to extinguish every spark of rebellion. In the Soviet Union such teachers would have to be criticised and helped to understand that rebellion can and should be channelled in a constructive direction, as well as being shown how to ensure this actually happens in practice, supported by other teachers until the teacher’s new learning is secure.

Teaching methods

Teaching methods appear at first glance somewhat conservative. One saw students sitting at desks, wearing uniforms, obeying the teacher’s instructions, listening to what he or she had to say. Nigel Grant is misled by this outward appearance into failing to understand the differences with traditional teaching. He describes lessons as “a one-way process, the job of the teacher is to tell the pupils, theirs to accept and absorb … the role of the children is mainly passive.”

He then effectively contradicts himself by saying that 20% of class time is taken up by examining the students’ homework: “This”, he says, “consists largely of the retention of memorized material, problems solved, sentences translated etc., or the answering of the teacher’s questions by selected pupils, who stand out at the blackboard to say their piece or perform the task required” (p.104)

It appears that after all for 20% of the time at least it is pupils who are working actively, not the teacher performing. The children are given marks for their answers, and their success or failure as students depends on the marks they get in this way. In this way, the way the class is organised is supporting the students in completing learning tasks outside school. Backsliding is not left to accumulate as everybody can see if the work has been done or not at an early enough stage to intervene effectively if the child is having problems. This all leads to a high degree of involvement on the part of the students with what the teacher is saying. They are able mentally to interact with the teacher. In any event, after the teacher has said his piece, the teacher then questions various members of the class to see if they have understood. So again, we see even more time devoted to student activity, not just teacher activity. And it should be noted that if students have not understood, then the teacher takes this not as a sign of the stupidity of the student but as a sign of the inadequacy of his teaching which he is going to need to put right. He is going to have to find ways of putting things right.

He would be able to discuss the problem with the class, with the head teacher, with his trade-union committee, all of whom would help in every way they could. The head teacher might come and observe classes to help identify the problem, or another teacher might come at the instance of the trade-union committee. As we saw above, Comrade Edmunds had problems with her class not only because she was not strict enough but because she was not giving them enough to do. We saw how Deana Levin, acting as head mistress, helped her plan her next few classes in order to correct this and how she supervised her in her first trials with this new type of teaching plan, ready to offer more support if the new plan required adjustment.

The relatively formal appearance of the classroom is dictated by class size, and class size is determined by the number of teachers available in relation to the number of students. As a matter of fact, of necessity, class sizes were large. Deana Levin says “the numbers are limited to 42 children in the lower classes and 30 in the 8th – 10th classes. In some cases, due to shortage of school buildings or teachers, there are as many as 46 or 47 in a class, but the teacher is then paid extra for every child over the maximum in the class.” (pp153-154). These class sizes are too large to allow for much interaction between children in the class itself. English primary school teachers find they cannot, using interactive methods, readily manage classes much larger than 30.

Since large classes are unavoidable if all children are to have access to education, the problem to be solved is: how to make best use of the resources available. We can see, then, how the Soviet system of attention to problems, freedom of criticism, focusing on finding solutions rather than on hankering after unattainable ideals, produced a very effective educational system, which even Grant has to admire, albeit somewhat grudgingly:-

“Nevertheless, [he writes] the schools do seem to bring a surprisingly high proportion of the population to a standard that we tend to think of as within reach of the most able 30% at best” (p.44).

Unlike Deana Levin who actually spent 4 years teaching in Russia, Grant was not able to observe a great deal of what went on outside the class, where in fact a great deal of interaction between students was planned and occurred in practice, teachers among others having responsibility for ensuring that it did. One of the principal vehicles for organising children’s out-of-class activity was the Pioneer Movement to which nearly all children belonged. The Pioneers organised not only social events, like trips to the theatre, or museums, etc., but also class newspapers. The Pioneers were allotted a generous budget to conduct these serious cultural activities and were involved in regional and national networks which ensured the quality and quantity of activities was maintained.

Besides the Pioneers, there were also special interest circles meeting in the school buildings after school was finished to develop subjects outside the prescribed curriculum in response to interest expressed by pupils. Circles at Deana Levin’s school included drama, literature, physics, chemistry, art, young naturalists, orchestra, choir, technical and instructional circles of aspiring engineers. “Each circle has a leader paid by the school or Pioneer organisation but one of the children is elected secretary and keeps records of attendance and helps running the work of the circle.” (p.76). Again nearly all children were involved in these activities. An example of what it meant not to confine school to the classroom is given by Deana Levin. She describes a child named George who had study problems.

“George rarely did his homework properly, came late to school, and teased all his comrades on all occasions. Several members of the class asked to have a class meeting to discuss him and we arranged to have one after school… (p.31)

“Elga took the chair, having been elected class president for the term …

“‘George is spoiling our chance for the red banner…he does not do his homework…He is rude to his comrades’… ‘I think the class can help George by taking no notice of him in class’, said a very quiet boy called Alec. ‘Some people laugh at him when he says something silly, and that only makes him worse. I shall help him by checking his homework every morning before school, to see he is doing it. I shall sit next to him too’…”

George was good at art and was keen to join the after-school art circle but had previously been excluded for bad behaviour. A deal was struck that he would be allowed to join if his behaviour improved.

“George improved from that day. Of course, he had his ups and downs, but Alec proved a very good friend to him and I often talked to him about his difficulties and coached him in his weak subjects so that his marks improved all round. The whole class behaved in a very comradely way towards him, and at the following meeting Elga reported with satisfaction that George had kept his word. He joined the drawing class at the art school and attended 3 times a week after school. He became one of their best pupils…”

In addition older pupils often opted as part of the social work required of them as Pioneers to help younger students with their study problems.

It should be noted that all schools were co-educational and comprehensive. There was no streaming and no setting. All students followed the same syllabus, no matter how “bright” or how “dull”. As Grant says (p.43) “In the USSR, all children are given the extensive course in the sciences mentioned before, all learn one foreign language, all go through the same course in history, geography, Russian, and so on. The inevitable difficulties rising from this are got round to some extent by encouraging the abler pupils to help those who are slower with their work. Students who fail a year simply repeat. This seems to have been 5% of all students. Even in the special schools for the handicapped the mainstream syllabus is followed as far as humanly possible”.

Grant points out (p.46) “This rejection of streaming stems, fundamentally, from the Marxist insistence on the importance of environment in shaping a child’s personality and abilities, rather than his hereditary equipment…The Soviet educator … is likely to attribute failures not to his theories, but to misapplication of them or to practical difficulties like lack of space, inadequate pre-school training..[etc]. The bright child may lose by not being able to forge ahead at his own pace; but the social training he receives in learning to help others instead of concentrating exclusively on his own advancement is felt to be one of the important foundations of communist morality.”

The role of parents

We have seen that parents were free to enter the school, and indeed were expected to do so, to talk to teachers and even observe classes. Deana Levin explains (p.68):

“Every school has its parents’ committee, which is elected yearly by a general parents’ meeting and which plays an important part in the life of the school. This committee helps in the organisation of celebrations and parties for the children, appoints parents to take duty in the school at recreation time and in the dining-room, and serves as a check on the work of the school in general. The principal gives a full report on the work of the school at a termly parents meeting and there is always a display of keen interest and lively discussion.

“In addition to general meetings, there are monthly class meetings at which the specific problems of that class are discussed …”

Like in an English school today (but not seen in the UK till fairly recently) children kept homework diaries which had to be countersigned by parents who could add comments. If the diary were not signed the teacher would immediately contact the parents.

In addition teachers were expected to visit children at their homes on a regular basis, to understand what their problems might be and to try to find helpful ways of overcoming them.

Parents who failed to take a proper interest in their children’s welfare would find themselves surrounded by people taking an interest in their difficulties and trying to help them overcome them. A really recalcitrant parent might find his union branch at work asking what the problem is and whether he needed time off – as Grant describes (pp.61-2) “A recent case in Kiev can serve as an example; in the Krasny factory, a notice was pinned up (by another parent) to the effect that Anatoly Orlenko, Class 1V pupil, was behaving badly at school. Orlenko Senior speedily found himself before the factory committee, and was told that he ought to do something about this, since it reflected on the factory as well as the child, the parent, and the school. They pointed out that if Orlenko was unable to do anything because he lacked knowledge, his best course would be to consult the appropriate organ of the Parents’ Committee, or the teacher, who would certainly be able to help him with advice.” The father would have complied because otherwise the matter would have been brought up for discussion at a full branch meeting with all his workmates. “Techniques of this kind are effective, but rarely used, they are regarded as a drastic step to be used only when gentler methods have failed.”

Revisionism and Soviet Education

I do not propose to say a great deal about this, but Grant’s book is already in 1959 noticing some of the trends attacking the principles we have seen at work above.

First of all there was chaos in history lessons because all the history books were re-written to suit the interests of revisionism, and the old ones were withdrawn before the new ones were available to replace them.

Secondly progress towards compulsory 10-year school education was turned instead into compulsory 8-year education followed by 2 years of education combined with work. This was done apparently more in the interests of relieving pressure for university places than in the educational interests of the students. It seemed a good idea from a Marxist point of view insofar as it combated elitism (a tendency of some young people to imagine they were more important than people who did manual labour) and theoretically it enabled learning and work to be combined. In practice it was badly organised and the errors were not corrected. The net effect was to turn people away from practical education back to wanting a more academic approach, a well-organised academic course being better than a practically-based shambles. It would, however, be necessary to consult far more widely than just Grant’s book to get an accurate picture of what was really going on.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. N Grant, Soviet Education, Penguin Books, 1970

2. D Levin, Children in Soviet Russia, Faber & Faber Ltd., 1942).

Presentation made to the Stalin Society on June 1996

Health in the USSR

Presentation made to the Stalin Society by Carlos Rule

The bourgeois press understandably brushes the question of health under the carpet, but it is a subject which has the greatest of importance, especially for people who are fighting for improved conditions of life, as good health is central, fundamental to a decent life. In our comparisons of socialist and capitalist societies we should give the example of health, for it is a fact that every single socialist society has a good record on public health, has prioritised health, has made comprehensive health care of the highest quality available to all people, whereas no capitalist country has done this. You only have to look at the situation in the world today to see capitalism’s regard for health. According to official statistics, 40 million people die every year due to starvation-related diseases. Yet the amount of money that would be needed in order to provide every single person on the planet with decent basic health care is equivalent to around 3% of the world-wide annual military budget. You can see how decadent monopoly capitalism has become!

Technology and medical science has progressed so much that, in this day and age, there is no reason why everyone cannot be afforded excellent quality health care. There is no reason why all people cannot enjoy good health. Indeed, this should be considered to be a fundamental human right. Instead we face waiting lists and shortages of doctors and beds.

The questions I have been asked to address are the following: What was the policy of the Soviet state regarding health? What was the USSR’s record on health? How was health care organised in the Soviet Union? What developments were made? In the pages that follow I will attempt to tackle these questions.

MEDICINE IN PRE-REVOLUTIONARY RUSSIA

The builders of socialism in the USSR inherited a medical system in an appalling state. There was no central medical body in Russia to co-ordinate health matters, the vast majority of the population lived in extreme poverty, there was a shortage of doctors (in some districts there were as few as 1 doctor per 40,000 of the population), and huge section of the population had never even received medical care from a doctor. Yet despite all this, there did exist a medical movement in Russia which would provide a basis for the first steps towards a socialist health care system.

The first catalyst for an organised medical system in Russia was Peter I, who set up the first Russian hospitals (in Moscow in 1706 and in St. Petersburg in 1715), using doctors from abroad, and the Academy of Science (in 1724) to train Russian doctors. Catherine II followed the lead of Peter, founding a number of hospitals and the first Russian mental asylum (in 1776). However, Russian medicine was still extremely backward. The tsarist bureaucracy was stifling, and professional health care was rarely available to propertied peasants, and virtually never to the serfs and the industrial workers.

In 1884, the zemstvo – local government system – was introduced in Russia. The zemstvo was a district assembly designed to deal with local matters, including health. It was controlled by the individual landowners, the bourgeoisie and the propertied peasants, each group carrying one-third of the votes. Zemstvo medicine was the first to bring medical care to the peasants, and was the first to set up networks of medical care in the rural areas. Henry Sigerist, author of ‘Socialised Medicine in the Soviet Union’, describes the zemstvos as “paving the way” for Soviet medicine by creating a network of medical stations all over the country that could be improved and increased in number.

The zemstvo medical system was associated more with good intentions than with good practice. It was badly funded and by far unable to fulfil the task it set itself. The exploiting classes, who held the majority vote ,were not willing to contribute in a meaningful way to the public health organisations. The zemstvo doctors were enthusiastic and driven by a passion and concern for the health of the population -they devoted their lives to the service of the people. Had their interest been in money they would have been far more successful as private doctor to the rich in the cities. [As a matter of interest, the great Russian playwright Anton Chekhov was at one time a zemstvo doctor]. One of the foremost zemstvo doctors was the famous N.A. Semashko, who would become the first People’s Commissar of Health of the USSR, and who was one of the leading organisers of what would become the best heath care system in the world.

THE ATTITUDE OF THE BOLSHEVIKS TO HEALTH

The following was included in the program of the CPSU(B):

“As the basis for its activity in the sphere of protecting people’s health, the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) considers primarily the implementation of extensive health-building and sanitary measures with the object of preventing the incidence of disease. Accordingly, the RCP(B) makes its immediate task:

1. To carry through resolutely extensive sanitary measures in the interests of the working people, such as:

a) improvement of health conditions in populated places (protection of soil, water and air from pollution),

b) organisation of public catering on a scientific and hygienic basis,

c) launching of measures to prevent the outbreak and spread of infectious diseases,

d) creating a code of health legislation.

2. To combat social diseases – tuberculosis, venereal diseases, alcoholism etc.

3. To make competent medical and pharmaceutical services available to all free of charge.”

The underlying principles of the medical system put forward by the Bolsheviks were: comprehensive preventive medicine, healthy working and living conditions, social insurance and health education. The trend of Soviet medicine was from the start towards prevention rather than cure. In the words of N.A. Vinogradov, writing in the Soviet book ‘Public Health in the Soviet Union’, “The Soviet state has set itself the aim not merely to cure disease but to prevent it; the state is out to create such living and working conditions as would make the occurrence of illnesses impossible”. Such an approach to healthcare is, of course, logical – any child can tell you that prevention is better than cure. However, when the interest of those controlling society is to extract as much profit as possible out of the workers and to provide them with as little as possible in the way of social facilities, living standards which are conducive to good health are simply not an option. And the question is not just economic but also organisational. Under socialism, the whole of society, the people, the government agencies etc. are all fighting towards the same aim – the improvement of the standard of people’s lives – thus making planning and organisation possible. This is not the case in capitalist society.

PUTTING THEORY INTO PRACTICE

Soon after the revolution of 1917, Russia was plunged into civil war. Epidemics were spreading and the death rate was high. In June 1918 the People’s Commissariat of Health was established and “for the first time in the history of medicine a central body was directing the entire health work of a nation” (Sigerist). The first task was to tackle the epidemics which were rapidly spreading across the country and which were gravely affecting the troops fighting for the young socialist state. At the 7th Congress of Soviets, held in December 1919, Lenin said “…and still a third scourge is moving upon us – the louse, typhus, which is mowing down our troops…Comrades, every attention must be given to this problem” Either the lice will defeat socialism or socialism will defeat the lice!”

In the face of extreme adversity, in the face of a shortage of soap, a shortage of clothing, poor water supply etc., the Commissariat of Public Health embarked upon its most honourable mission on the basis of systematic, planned action. The focus was on improving the network of medical stations, keeping houses in sanitary conditions, providing the population with bathhouses, combating typhus and improving the water supply. In April 1919 vaccination was made compulsory. The effect of this measure was profound: for example in Petrograd the number of smallpox cases fell from 800 a month to 7 a month. It was in this period that the old Russian doctors saw that the Soviet government were the defenders of the people and their health, and the majority joined in the struggle for the survival of the socialist state, rather than deserting.

Health education played a very important role in the battle against pestilence. In 1920, 3.8m Red Army soldiers attended lectures and talks on hygiene, and in 1919 and 1920, 5.5m hygiene posters, booklets and leaflets were published for distribution in the army alone. Such health education campaigns were also carried out amongst the population as a whole.

In 1922 the imperialist armies were finally defeated, in large part due to the work of the new nation in improving its health. With the end of the war came a new health slogan: “On from the struggle against epidemics to the fight for healthier working and living conditions.”

POST WAR

Although conditions after the Civil War were far from easy, health improved steadily during the years of the New economic Policy. By 1928, the number of physicians had increased from the pre-war level of 19,785 to 63,219, the allocation for health protection from 128.5m to 660.8m roubles per year, and the number of hospital beds from 175,000 to 225,000 and the number of nursery places from 11,000 to 256,000. But much more rapid progress was achieved under the first Five Year Plan. People tend to think of the Five Year Plans as they are portrayed in bourgeois history books – concerned only with industrial production and in no way linked to the welfare of the people. Nothing could be further from he truth. The Five Year Plans dealt with all aspects of Soviet life: economic, social and cultural. The plans were not imposed from above but based on extensive discussion and data collection by the workers themselves. In health terms, the First Five Year Plan was largely concerned with increasing availability of, and access to, the medical service: more medical stations, more hospital beds, more nurses and more physicians were needed. The plan was based on a full report by the regional health bodies, the hospitals, the farms and the factories on what was required and what was achievable. In the four years it took to complete the first Five Year Plan, the number of doctors increased from 63,000 to 76,000, the number of hospital beds increased by more than half and the number of nursery place increased from 256,000 to5,750,000. 14 new medical colleges were established, along with 133 newsecondary medical schools.

By now medical facilities were available to all Soviet citizens, and so the Second Five Year Plan concerned itself more with improving the quality of the health care administered. One of the principal tasks was to improve medical education and hence to improve the standard of physicians. New medical and scientific research institutes were established, among the enormous Institute of Experimental Medicine, on the initiative of Stalin, Molotov, Voroshilov and A.M.Gorky. Health education among the workers and peasants continued to form a central part of the fight to improve health. S.M. Manton, a British scientist who visited the USSR in 1951, gives a useful account of the widespread health education in the USSR in her book ‘The Soviet Union Today’. She notes that: all doctors were obliged to spend at least 8 hours of every month teaching preventive medicine and answering the questions of the public in places such as parks, lecture rooms and health centres; education in preventive medicine and hygiene was carried out thoroughly in schools; posters and pamphlets are to be found all over the Soviet Union, in different types of institutions, giving instruction on basic health care.

By the end of the Second Five Year Plan, the foundations for a socialist health system characterised by excellence had been cemented. The health system of the USSR was far and away the best in the world.

HOW WAS HEALTH CARE ORGANISED IN THE USSR?

In the Soviet Union, the health program was administered in the most democratic way, and, like everything in the soviet Union, its administration had the form of a “triangle with a very broad base”. The base of this triangle was formed by the thousands upon thousands of committees which existed in every factory, every farm, every place of work. These committees co-operated with the local doctors in order to give feedback and improve services; they made sure that the workers’ social insurance funds were spent in the most appropriate way; they controlled the hygienic conditions of their place of work and the nurseries; and they organised health education in the workplace. Elected representatives from the workplace would be involved in the next highest form of organisation – the Soviets. The Soviets were responsible for the supervision of all hospitals and sanitary establishments, sanitary inspections, wider organisation of education in personal hygiene and so on. The next highest form of organisation was the rayon/district, of which there were around 3,000 in the USSR. In each district there was a Health department, headed by a Rayon Inspector of Public Health, who was held responsible for the entire health work of the district, The Health Departments controlled, inspected and advised all medical institutions in the district. At the apex of the pyramid stood the Commissariat of Health, which was advised by the various scientific research institutions.

By organising the health system in such a way, the entire population was involved directly, and hence felt very strongly about improving the health of the nation. Habits and attitudes of the people changed dramatically from the pre-revolutionary days. Sigerist describes some of his experiences in 1936:

“The habits of the Russian people have been changed radically in a very short time. The cities are spotlessly clean, and the foreigner soon leans that cigarette butts are not supposed to be thrown on the street but into special cans placed at every corner. I remember a long railroad ride from Moscow to Kazan during which the conductor came to clean my compartment every two hours, which was more often than I liked. When I asked he to let me sleep in peace, she said ‘Well, citizen, I have to clean the compartment because the inspector may come in at any station, and the car must be kept as clean as it was when we left Moscow – but I will do it without disturbing you.’ No visitor is allowed to go into food factories, medical institutions, or nurseries without sterilised gown and cap. Such regulations may sometimes seem exaggerated, but they are part of a great educational programme, and far-reaching results cannot be expected unless there are strict rules which must be followed literally.”

Ever-increasing spending on health resulted in continually-improving services. By 1937 there were 132,000 doctors in the USSR, as compared to 2,000 in tsarist Russia. The difference was most marked in the non-Russian republics. In Azerbaijan there were, by 1941, 2,500 doctors, whereas before the revolution there had been 291. In Tajikistan there had been only 13 physicians. By 1941 there were 372. In tsarist Russia there were 9 child and maternity welfare centres. In 1938 there were 4,384. Kindergartens, nurseries, rest homes for mother and child – all of these were built. By the time the 2nd 5-year plan had been completed, hospitals, hygiene institutes and health centres were to be found all over the USSR. All types of treatment – hospital treatment, physiotherapy, radiotherapy, sanatorium cures, dental treatment, maternity services and so on – were available to Soviet people free of charge. Sanitary Commissions were organised in apartment homes. The members of these commissions had been elected by the local population and were trained in special Hygiene Education Centres. The public health budget of the USSR in 1937 was approximately 75 times that of Russia in 1913. The per capita expenditure for medical purposes in 1913 was just 90 kopecks. By 1937 it had increased to 60 roubles.

As a result of the social insurance system whereby all workers and peasants contributed a certain percentage of their earnings to the social insurance fund, ALL aspects of health care were free – not like in England, where you have to pay for prescriptions, for dental care, for physiotherapy, for osteopathy, and where the national health service is so badly funded that you cannot expect decent health care from it.

Private medicine in the USSR was never banned, but withered away, since people had a free service of equally good, if not better, quality.

The material basis for bad health was got rid of. In the capitalist world, the main source of disease is poverty. It is well documented that the poor suffer considerably worse health than the rich. Pappas et al (1993) report that, in 1986, Americans with yearly income less than $9,000 had a death rate 3-7 times higher than those earning $25,000 or more.

The British General Household Survey of 1989, in a study of thousands of people, showed the existence of long-term illness to be twice as high for unskilled manual workers as for professionals such a doctors and lawyers, and surely a comparison taking into account the vast army of unemployed would produce even more frightening results. These statistics are no coincidence, nor are they indicative of some kind of genetic weakness of poor people. They merely highlight the fact that the working class is forced into living conditions which are not conducive to good health. If you are short of money, you are forced to live in poor accommodation. The council does not clean your streets, and you’re lucky if your rubbish is taken away even on a weekly basis. Heating is expensive, so you must compromise your health in order to keep the bills low; healthy food is expensive; warm clothing is expensive; hot water is expensive; cleaning products are expensive; exercise is expensive; treatment is expensive; the air is polluted; the streets are dirty; the buses and trains are rarely cleaned and are hence a breeding ground for disease. It is little wonder that the nation’s health is so bad.

“In the USSR… unemployment, destitution and poverty have been permanently done away with on the basis of the abolition of the exploitation of man by man. In a remarkably short period of time the socialist state has succeeded in raising the material and cultural level of the entire population enormously, thereby laying a firm foundation for successful work in the field of public health” (Professor N. Propper-Grashchenkov, Assistant People’s Commissar of Public Health, in an article entitled ‘Public Health Protection’). The Soviet Union wiped out slums and provided both town and country with water mains, sewer systems and electricity. In addition to this, the quality and quantity of the foods available were increased beyond all recognition. The output of the food industry in the USSR in 1938 was approximately 6 times the output of the food industry of Tsarist Russia in 1913. Nutritious food was made available to the entire population, and its production and consumption increased constantly. Over the period of the second Five Year Plan, consumption by workers of fruits and berries increased three-fold, consumption of ham, bacon and other cured meats increased five-fold, and consumption of eggs increased two-fold. In 1938 the per capita consumption of protein was over 100g per day, compared with 35g in Germany. The national payroll in 1938 was three times what it was even in 1932.

Not only this. Research over the last few decades has proved that, in addition to material factors, psychological factors are a major cause of illness. There has been found to be a direct link between stress, especially stress over which a person has no control, and immune function. Of course the workers, with the conditions they face, suffer the greatest stress, and this affects their health. It has also been demonstrated that there is a definite link between levels of control and health. Researcher such as Kobasa et al (1979) show that those who feel themselves to have little control over their lies, even when adjusting for other influencing factors, suffer from worse health. Under capitalism, he small minority, the bourgeoisie, is in control, and the life of the average worker is in the hands of the ruling class. The USSR, by putting control in the hands of the proletariat, by allowing the necessities of life to be supplied plentifully, and by providing decent leisure facilities, was able to improve peopls’ psychological as well as material conditions, and hence further improve health.

RESULTS OF THE HEALTH CARE IN THE USSR

I would like to concluded by quoting some of the direct results of the USSR’s attention to health care:

  • By 1938, the 21 years of Soviet rule had brought about a 50% reduction in child mortality rate.
  • The height of the average Soviet child in 1938 was one and a quarter inches greater than that of the average child in tsarist Russia.
  • The weight of the average Soviet child was eleven and a half pounds greater in 1937 than in 1925.
  • The chest expansion of the average Soviet child in 1938 was roughly 1 inch greater than that of the average child in tsarist Russia.
  • Incidence of tuberculosis decreased 83% under Soviet rule up till 1938 and continued to decrease.
  • Cases of syphilis decreased 90% by1938 and continued to decrease.
  • The death rate in 1937 in the USSR was 40% below the death rate in Russia in 1913 (implying a much higher life expectancy)
  • The birth rate increased constantly. Even just from 1936 to 1937 the birth rate increased by 18%. In Leningrad the natural increases in population increased from 5.3 per 1000 in 1913 to 18.6 per 1000 in 1937.
  • Reported cases of sickness and accidents decreased consistently.

Such figures provide absolute proof of the benefits of socialism to peoples’ health, even though they really only reflect 10 years of socialism construction. I have not had the time or material to cover much of the period after the second world war (this shall be done at a later date), but the period from 1945 to 1953 certainly saw massive improvements in the peoples’ health in the USSR.

Even by the mid-thirties, health care in the USSR far outstripped the health care in the western world. The report of the Administrator of the United States Federal Security Agency, published in 1948, showed that a sixth of the US population suffered from chronic ailments, 200,000 children were afflicted with epilepsy, 175,000 had tuberculosis and 500,000 were in need of surgical or orthopaedic treatment. However, decent medical care remained out of reach for the majority of the population. This situation has still now seen very little improvement, while health care in socialist countries has continues to improve by leaps and bounds. Today’s world leaders in health are Cuba and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. It is in these countries that the people enjoy the world’s best health care and where the greatest innovations in medical science are being made.

The superiority of socialism is proven beyond all shadow of a doubt. Let us get on with building it!

Presentation made to the Stalin Society on February 2000

Imperialism’s Interest in Afghanistan

Presentation to the Stalin Society by Ella Rule

Afghanistan, like Palestine, has suffered throughout history because of its geographical situation. For centuries misfortunes have arisen from the fact that Afghanistan lay not only on the North-South crossroads for those seeking to reach India – be they the Greeks or the Moguls for instance – but also on the east-west crossroads between China and Persia and access routes to the black Sea. In the modern world, however, the question of trade routes has been completely swamped by the question of gas and oil – substances that are an essential component of modern life – and, in the case of the latter, of modern death too, for oil fuels imperialism’s war machines. As E F Schumacher wrote in Small is Beautiful, published in the 1950s, “There is no substitute for energy. The whole edifice of modern society is built upon it … It is not ‘just another commodity’ but the precondition of all commodities, a basic factor, equally with air, water, earth”.

Over more than 100 years the world has become dependent, above all, on one form of energy – oil. The whole infrastructure of society is built on the assumption that oil will be forever available, and therefore, partly because of this, it is the cheapest form of energy available, along with natural gas. Industry demands them, war machines demand them, even domestic users demand them for transport, temperature control, electricity generation.

However, of all the “basic factors” on which humanity depends, energy derived from oil and gas is the only one which is never freely available. It is the only one of which the world’s supplies are both limited and capable, at least in theory, of being monopolised. And the history of the last 100 years has been dominated by the struggle of various players to corner the world’s oil supply, both for the purpose of guaranteeing their own supplies and for the purposes of denying supplies to their opponents’ war machines. In the 18th and 19th centuries a Great Game was fought out over Afghanistan between Russia and Britain for control of trade routes. Today’s Great Game is the struggle for control of oil, and suddenly Afghanistan has once more moved centre stage. There are many who have spotted the analogy. But today’s Great Game is multi-dimensional, not just two-sided. While the US imperialist quest for world domination is undoubtedly the major player, along with various other imperialist parties pursuing their own interests, the people of the countries in which gas and oil supplies are situated also have vital interests which they are struggling to defend. No party is strong enough to win on its own, yet none can afford to share the booty, so the whole game involves a seething mass of shifting alliances and betrayals. It is not a game for the faint hearted.

Dwindling supplies

A further twist of urgency is added to the whole process by the fact that the world’s gas and oil supplies are fast running out. According to Alexander’s Gas & Oil Connections Vol. 6, issue 15 (4 August 2001):

“World oil reserves are depleting faster than new discoveries are made…

“Proven recoverable world reserves are now estimated at 1,100 billion barrels of oil, enough for another 41 years at current rates of consumption…”

However, “the UK… is pumping out its reserves over 5 times faster than it is finding new ones. OPEC countries are producing oil almost three times faster than it is finding new ones.”

Current consumption is running at 26 billion barrels a year. But in the decade 1991-2001 107 billion barrels were consumed, i.e., 10.7 billion barrels a year on average. In other words, from last decade’s average to what we are using today, consumption has more than doubled. Alexander’s estimate of 41 years supply, however, assumes that consumption remains at today’s levels. Everybody knows that it will not. The figure being bandied around for estimated global demand over the next decade is an increase of 30%. This is obviously excessively conservative an estimate.

Even the most conservative figures cannot hide the fact that oil is fast running out. Of course, besides ‘proven reserves’ there are also ‘estimated reserves’ that the oil multinationals spend $89 billion a year (1998 figure) to try to locate. For instance, imperialism is pinning its faith on the Caspian region. Proven reserves there are currently assessed at anywhere between 16 to 32 billion barrels, but estimated reserves reach at least 60 billion, and some go as high as 200 billion. Nevertheless, if these hopes are fulfilled to the utmost, it will only postpone the day of reckoning – the day the oil finally runs out.

Political effects of shortage

The impending depletion of the world’s oil cannot but influence the political views of the people who live in the countries from which the oil is extracted. In Saudi Arabia until 10 years ago the population mostly accepted the monstrous rule of US imperialism’s puppet Saudi Royal family, since they lived very well on that fraction of the oil revenue that was allowed them. Since the Gulf War, however, the Saudi people’s standard of living has fallen drastically, and the movement for the overthrow of the imperialist yoke and the royal family that keeps it in place has been developing apace, albeit mostly taking on a religious fundamentalist guise. It is unlikely to have escaped the attention of the Saudi people that in 20 years there is likely to be no oil at all. Where will they all be then? Will they be left in a barren country bereft of any means of livelihood? The Saudi people need to seize control over what is left of the oil in order to use its entire proceeds for the purpose of building a future economy for themselves: they simply cannot afford to allow it all to inure for the megaprofits of foreign multinationals.

Ecological considerations

Even if additional reserves are discovered, it is a fact that these reserves could not be used without threatening the habitability of our planet. The burning of any fossil fuel – oil, gas or coal – adds heat-trapping carbon dioxide and methane to the atmosphere, leading to the global warming that has already caused climatic disasters round the world. “It could combine with acid rain and loss of ozone to unleash consequences … second only to nuclear war” writes Jeremy Leggett in the New Internationalist of June 2001.

“Burning even a quarter of KNOWN reserves will ensure climate catastrophe: three quarters of all the oil in the ground needs to stay there in order to protect the planet for future generations” (Wayne Ellwood, also in the New Internationalist of June 2001).

Ecologically the burning of fossil fuels is a recipe for disaster, and yet, if the New Internationalist is to be believed, each day’s sunshine contains more energy than would, if harnessed, be consumed in 27 years (see BP Amoco website !! ), and it would take an investment of about $660 million to make solar electricity competitive, about 0.5% of the $89 billion spent by oil companies on exploration and production in 1998 alone (Solar Fact Sheet, Greenpeace International, 1999).

Why, then, is solar and wind-powered electricity not immediately introduced? Could it be that to do so would undermine the mega-profitability of the oil giants and invite economic chaos? Or is it that war machines don’t run too well on windmills?

Oil shortage and war

Wayne Ellwood continues:

“More than 800 billion barrels of oil have been burned since the oil era was launched in the backwoods of Pennsylvania nearly 150 years ago. But all the big strikes have already been made..

“The respected geologist, Colin Campbell, raised the scarcity issue in … 1999 … ‘The world’s oil companies are now finding only one barrel of oil for every four that we consume’. North Sea oil… is at its peak. Venezuela, the former USSR, Mexico and Norway are all past theirs. Saudi Arabia will peak in less than a decade… global production will begin to feel the pinch around 2005 when reserves begin to dwindle by 3% a year…” (op. cit.).

Though the New Internationalist seems to think that the mad scramble for the dwindling oil supplies won’t really get going until 2005, Ellwood is prepared to admit that western access to Kuwait’s oil was the main reason for the Gulf War. This Ellwood considers to be a mere “hint” of what is to come, and he admits “Washington’s Plan Colombia, a $1.3 billion aid plan supposedly designed to torpedo the country’s cocaine trade has more to do with oil than drugs” I would go further and say that Plan Colombia has everything to do with oil and nothing whatever to do with the desire to suppress cocaine cultivation.

US energy policy and Afghanistan

And now we have Afghanistan.

Behind the war in Afghanistan lie the Caspian/Black Sea region reserves mentioned above – those reserves that might reach 200 billion barrels in quantity. Besides the hoped-for 200 billion barrels of oil, there is also 50 trillion cubic metres of gas up for grabs. The bulk of oil production is expected to come from Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, which have more than 80% of expected reserves, and are the countries where 85% of foreign investment is concentrating. The oil and gas reserves of these Central Asian Republics (which also include Armenia, Georgia and Turkmenistan) also have the merit, from the point of view of US imperialism, of not being controlled by OPEC. The problem for US imperialism, however, is removing the oil from the Caspian through pipelines it controls to markets where favourable conditions for US imperialism prevail. Since the fall of the USSR, the question of who is to own and control these reserves has become the big issue of our times.

The main problem with these wonderful Caspian/Black Sea reserves is their accessibility. They cannot be transported to other parts of the world without pipelines crossing different countries. Each imperialist player in the Great Game is feverishly seeking to promote its own position and block its rivals’ moves.

US imperialism has long been plotting a pipeline under its control through Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Indian Ocean. The idea for this particular pipeline, incidentally was one which the US multinational Unocal brazenly stole from Argentina’s Bridas Corporation after the latter had done all the preparatory work. Bridas made this mistake of inviting Unocal to become part of the consortium that would finance the pipeline, only to find a few months later that Unocal had taken over the whole project and ousted Bridas altogether. Having taken over the project, with the backing of the US government, however, Unocal was very soon disappointed to find that hauling in the profits was not going to be simple, principally because continuing civil war in Afghanistan meant the pipelines simply could not be built..

As the Sibexlink.com.my website explains:

“In January 1998, the Taliban signed an agreement that would allow a proposed 890-mile, $2-billion, 2-billion-billion-cubic-feet-per-day natural gas pipelines project led by Unocal to proceed. Unocal subsequently estimated that construction on the line, which would transport gas from Turkmenistan’s 45-Tcf Dauletabad gas field to Pakistan, would begin in late 1998. The proposed $2-billion pipeline tentatively would run from Dauletabad south to the Afghan border and through Herat and Kandahar in Afghanistan, to Quetta, Pakistan. The line would then link with Pakistan’s gas grid at Sui. Gas shipments had been projected to start at 700 Mmcf/d in 1999 and to rise to 1.4 Bcf/d or higher by 2002. In March 1998, however, Unocal announced a delay in finalising project details due to Afghanistan’s continuing civil war …

“In August 1998, Unocal announced that it was suspending its role in the Afghanistan gas pipeline project in the light of the recent US government military action in Afghanistan, and also due to intensified fighting between the Taliban and opposition groups. Unocal has stressed that the gas pipeline project will not proceed until an internationally recognised government is in place. To date, only three countries – Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates – have recognised the Taliban government.”

Even more important, however is that “Besides the gas pipeline, Unocal has also considered building a 1,000 mile, 1-million barrel-per-day capacity oil pipeline that would link Charzou, Turkmenistan to Pakistan’s Arabian sea coast via Afghanistan. Since the Charzou refinery is already linked to Russia’s Western Siberian oil fields, this line could provide a possible alternative export route for regional oil production from the Caspian Sea. The $2.5 billion pipeline is known as the Central Asian Pipeline Project. For a variety of reasons, including high political risk and security concerns, however, financing for this project remains highly questionable.”

In order to secure the pipeline the US had created and financed the Taliban through its surrogates in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Their expectation was, to quote a US diplomat that: “The Taliban would probably develop like the Saudis did. There will be pipelines, an emir, no parliament, and lots of Sharia law. We can live with that”.

To bring about this result, Saudi Arabia, with full US support, funded madrassas in Pakistan to provide education, mainly religious education, for thousands of young Afghani boys whose families had sought refuge in Pakistan at the time of the Mujaheddins’ war against the Soviet Union (1979 to 1989). These madrassas preached the Saudi version of Islam, Wahabbism, which has a lot more to do with medieval tribal custom than with Islam. These boys were subsequently mobilised by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia into the newly-created Taliban.

Failure of the Taliban to deliver US demands

Why then has US imperialism now turned against the Taliban? There would appear to be a number of reasons for this. The principal one is clearly that the Taliban is unable to deliver pacification of Afghanistan. Wahabbism reflects the traditions of Saudi tribes, not Afghan ones. Afghanistan is a country of many different tribes and languages. Although all the tribes are Muslim, their interpretation of Islam is heavily influenced by their respective tribal customs. To be able to live together at all, Afghanis developed a tradition of religious tolerance. Each person observed his or her religion as he or she considered appropriate in the light of their tribal traditions and refrained from interfering in how other people observed theirs. Moreover, Afghanistan was never by tradition nearly as backward in its treatment of women as Saudi Arabia. Afghanistan is also a country whose educated middle class to such an extent longed for modernisation and enlightenment that it was willing, through an army coup, to dispose of its King and establish a republic. When that proved insufficient to drag the country into the 20th century, they put secular communist forces into government with a remit to sweep away all that was feudal, antiquated, corrupt and obscurantist. For very many Afghans, it was the communists who held the key to freedom with dignity, and to this day Afghanistan has a vibrant underground communist movement. It was therefore a very different thing to foist medievalism on Saudi Arabia – and even there it can no longer be said to be enjoying unqualified success in subjecting the people to imperialist diktat – than it is to foist it on Afghanistan.

Wahabbism is foreign even to the Pashtuns of Afghanistan. The Taliban imbibed it only because they were brought up in Pakistan, away from their own country and its customs. Nevertheless its brand of religious intolerance is identified with the Pashtuns because most of the Taliban are Pashtuns in fact. This means that other tribes – the Hazaras, the Uzbeks, the Tajiks, for example – feel they have to resist the Taliban because it is offensive to their own religious traditions. The inter-tribal antagonism excited by the breakdown of religious tolerance has led to unparalleled brutality and blood letting that virtually guarantees that no tribe will now ever accept a government dominated by another tribe as it would feel such a government could never be trusted.

Not only that, but the Afghan bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie who support the Taliban also have their own agenda. They are traders and the owners of trucking businesses who support the Taliban in order to create conditions favourable to their own interests, which have much more to do with the love of money than the love of God. Ahmed describes the nature of the connection between these people and the Taliban:

“The fall of Kabul in 1992 coincided with new markets opening up in Central Asia …

” However, the transporters were frustrated with the civil war and the war lords who taxed their trucks dozens of times along a single route .. The Quetta-based mafia were at a loss with the rapacious Kandahar warlords who had set up dozens of toll chains along the highway from Pakistan … Taliban leaders were well connected to the Quetta mafia who were the first to provide financial support to the Taliban … the Taliban collected $130,000 from transporters in Chaman in a single day and twice that amount the next day … in Quetta as they prepared to launch their first attack on Heart… the Quetta mafia were urging the Taliban to capture Heart in order to take full control of the road to Turkmenistan … In 1996, the transporters urged the Taliban to clear the route north by capturing Kabul. After taking the capital, the Taliban levied an average of $150 for a truck travelling from Peshawar to Kabul, compared to $750-$1,250 which truckers had paid before. The transport mafia gave the Taliban leaders a stake in their business by encouraging them to buy trucks or arranging for their relatives to do so. And with the drugs mafia now willing to pay tax to transport heroin, the transit trade became even more crucial to the Taliban exchequer” (p.190-191).

The Taliban government itself is largely made up of people who have their roots in trade: “Most of the Taliban running the [government] departments of finance, economy and the social sector are mullah traders, businessmen, truck transporters and smugglers for whom the rationale of nation building is seen only in the perspective of expanding the market for smuggling and the trucking business across the region” (ibid.). These ambitions in many cases conflict with US imperialist ambitions for the area.

A major problem for imperialism is that all too often the backward and reactionary national elements it tries to use to further its interests, either against its imperialist rivals or against the national liberation movements that seek to deny it its right to loot, turn out only to be acting in the interests of their own class rather than in blind acceptance of America’s right to expropriate the lion’s share of the world’s wealth. There are signs that this may well be the case also with important sections of the Afghan bourgeoisie and the Taliban itself.

The Taliban were not prepared to be the same kind of tame puppet of imperialism as their Saudi mentors. In providing shelter to Osama Bin Laden, for instance, it is possible that they were showing their support for the growing national liberation movement in the Middle East that fiercely opposes the Saudi royal family and seeks to overthrow it, so that steps can be taken to modernise Saudi Arabia – using what remains of Saudi oil to build for a civilised future rather than allowing nearly everything to accrue for the benefit of foreign imperialist powers. Worse, this national liberation movement seeks to get US imperialism out of the Middle East altogether. The Taliban’s rhetoric suggested that the Taliban was also motivated to expel all non-Muslims from the areas under their control. They also put obstacles in the way of the Unocal project and they actively interfered with the activities of the various humanitarian bodies from imperialist countries.

US imperialist policy change

As early as 1997 Madeleine Albright was already publicly expressing her distaste for the Taliban – a sure sign that important sectors of the US imperialist bourgeoisie were becoming convinced that the Taliban were not going to deliver what was required of them. The circles of those in the US who were losing faith in the US administration’s Afghan policy continued to widen until earlier this year, prior to the US presidential election, US oil companies were openly despairing over the chaos in Afghanistan and the apparent impossibility of ‘cementing alliances’ that would enable the pipelines to be built and run. But with the advent of the Bush regime, they had great hopes that things would change, and, as we can now see, they have.

Government of oil men

The fact that US imperialism is in the lead when it comes to aggressive oil-thirst driven acts of aggression is readily explained by the fact that the US, although having only 5% of the world’s population, consumes 25% of world oil production. Its own proven reserves amount to no more than 3% of the world’s total. Not only that, but the US is home to the world’s powerful oil multinationals, Exxon Mobil and Chevron Texaco, whose profitability is an important factor in maintaining any buoyancy in the US economy. For instance, last year Exxon Mobil reported profits of $17.2 billion, the highest ever in US corporate history. The US oil multinationals are extremely rich and powerful, and closely linked with US imperialism’s armaments industry. As such they constitute an extremely strong contingent of the American bourgeoisie, able to dictate policy to the US government of the day.

The anxiety of British imperialism to line up with the US in all its misadventures also owes a great deal to the fact that BP Amoco and Royal Dutch Shell, the other two major world oil multinationals, are wholly or partly British.

The present Bush government has been chosen by the oil barons from among their own, and it is now clear that one of the important tasks for which he was selected was to sort out Afghanistan in the interests, of course, of US imperialism. The oil companies contributed $2.3 million to his presidential campaign (almost not enough!) to secure one of their own became President of the US – albeit one of very little brain. In the 1970s George W Bush started a small oil company – Bush Exploration/Arbusto. He sold it to Spectrum 7, which was in turn acquired by Harken. Bush, the father, was president of the US at the time Bush, the son, was on the Harken board. And lo and behold Harken was able to secure lucrative contracts for oil exploitation in the Middle East.

This is, of course, the kind of experience, knowledge and understanding of the issues that the US bourgeoisie feels is needed of a President – not the ability to recite the names of capitals of obscure countries.

Vice-President Dick Cheney was head of Halliburton, the world’s largest oil-services company (worth $18.2 billion). He expressed the view at that time (1998):

“I cannot think of a time when we have had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian.”

Don Evans, Commerce Secretary, was Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Colorado-based oil company, Tom Brown Inc., and a director of Sharp Drilling, an oil industry contractor.

Condoleezza Rice, National Security Adviser, was 10 years on the board of Chevron Petroleum.

Not just these four but others of the Bush government have an impeccable record of fighting for the interests of oil multinationals against such ‘dross’ as the environmentalists and other such would-be profits spoilers.

September 11

The events of 11 September, when a number of people of Saudi and Egyptian origin, used hijacked airliners to destroy those symbols of US imperialist might – the Pentagon and the World Trade Center – were the excuse used by the Bush administration to launch an attack on Afghanistan that had clearly been planned for some considerable time beforehand. It is quite probable that Bush brought forward the date for commencing the execution of the plans by some considerable time in order to take advantage of the opportunity for mobilising mass hysteria behind his actions. Yet everybody can see that there is no logical connection between the events of September 11 and the attacks on Afghanistan. Only mass hysteria, cynically manipulated by the likes of Bush and Blair in the interests of the oil companies, can account for the uncritical way in which people are prepared to support, or at least remain passive, in the face of the criminal and genocidal aggression that has been launched against Afghanistan.

George Monbiot draws attention to the parallels between the situation in Afghanistan and that in Yugoslavia – the scene of US imperialism’s last genocidal intervention. He writes in www.zmag.org:

“Afghanistan’s strategic importance has not changed. In September, a few days before the attack on New York, the US Energy Information Administration reported that ‘Afghanistan’s significance from an energy standpoint stems from its geographical position as a potential transit route for oil and natural gas exports from Central Asia to the Arabian Sea. This potential includes the possible construction of oil and natural gas export pipelines through Afghanistan’. Given that the US government is dominated by former oil industry executives, we would be foolish to suppose that a reinvigoration of these plans no longer figures in its strategic thinking. As the researcher Keith Fisher has pointed out, the possible economic outcomes of the war in Afghanistan mirror the possible economic outcomes of the war in the Balkans, where the development of ‘Corridor 8’, an economic zone built around a pipeline carrying oil and gas from the Caspian to Europe, is a critical allied concern.”

US considerations extend not only to the profits that its multinationals have a divine right to extract, but also to maintaining its political and economic hegemony despite its dependence on oil from abroad:

“Consumer countries (notably the US, Europe and Japan) are already dependent on the Saudi-dominated Mideast OPEC suppliers for 40% of the world demand for crude oil. This dependence is expected to rise to 55% by the year 2010. This prospect is extremely dangerous for a global financial system pegged on two rather than one reserve currencies, the euro and the dollar. OPEC will then be able to pull the plug on either of the two currency zones, unless the only alternative major source of ‘boundless’ supply in Central Asia has been opened and running in the meantime” (Dimitris Yannopoulos, Athens News, 28 September 2001).

George Monbiot continues:

“This is not the only long-term US interest in Afghanistan. American foreign policy is governed by the doctrine of ‘full-spectrum dominance’, which means that the United States should control military, economic and political development all over the world. China has responded by seeking to expand its interests in central Asia. The defence white paper Beijing published last year argued that ‘China’s fundamental interests lie in … the establishment and maintenance of a new regional security order’. In June, China and Russia pulled the Central Asian Republics into a ‘Shanghai Co-operation Organisation’. Its purpose, according to Jiang Zemin, is to ‘foster world multi-polarisation’, by which he means contesting US full-spectrum dominance. If the United States succeeds in overthrowing the Taliban and replacing it with a stable and grateful pro-western government and if it then binds the economies of central Asia to that of its ally Pakistan, it will have crushed not only terrorism, but also the growing ambitions of both Russia and China. Afghanistan, as ever, is the key to the western domination of Asia.”

The propaganda

The sordid commercial interests of US imperialism, along with its lust for ‘full-spectrum dominance’ – the real motivation for the present war in Afghanistan – have very little potential insofar as mobilising the people behind the US government’s acts of aggression. US imperialism has therefore orchestrated a campaign of de-humanising the enemy, presenting them as a bunch of mindless religious bigots determined to force their countries into the dark ages. These are the people who until very recently were America’s friends and are now only being dehumanised to suit America’s purposes. Moreover, to the extent that the people of Afghanistan are under attack, they too are presented as uncivilised, uncouth, vicious and bigoted – people in short whom US imperialism and its allies are justified in killing in their hundreds and thousands.

John Flynn characterised this aggressor propaganda as far back as 1944 when he wrote:

“The enemy aggressor is always pursuing a course of larceny, murder, rapine and barbarism. We are always moving forward with high mission, a destiny imposed by the Deity to regenerate our victims while incidentally capturing their markets, to civilise savage and senile and paranoidal peoples while blundering accidentally into their oil wells”.

There can be no better description of the present war hysteria.

Afghanistan may or may not be ‘pacified’ by the current military actions – the signs, however, are that it will not be. But be that as it may, we should not delude ourselves that an imperialist ‘victory’, enabling the pipelines to be built on the corpses of the Afghanis who have lost their lives in this war and in the civil war that preceded it, would augur well for the future of humanity. All such a ‘victory’ would do would be to aggravate the contradictions between US imperialism and its rivals, as well as between the world’s national liberation movements and US imperialism. The conclusion of one war cannot but inevitably lay the basis for yet another war. Such is the logic of imperialism.

Presentation made to the Stalin Society on October 2001

Bourgeois Democracy and Fascism

Presentation to the Stalin Society by Harpal Brar

Fascism – the sudden growth?

To those who have accepted as unquestioned the existing social forms and their continuity, and those who have looked to the possibility of peaceful progressive advance within these existing social forms, and those who have dismissed the revolutionary outlook as the fantasy of a minority, the victory of fascism in an advanced industrial country such as Germany came as a brutal shock.

To make a proper assessment, it is essential to see fascism in relation to the whole character of modern social development, of which fascism is an expression, and to get down to the basic movement and driving forces of economy and technique, which have reached a point at which the existing capitalist forms are increasingly incompatible with the further development of production and utilisation of technique.

There is war between them – one must end the other. Either the advance of the productive forces must put an end to capitalism. Or the continued existence of capitalism must bring the advance of production and technique to a grinding halt and plunge billions of people on this planet even further into poverty, misery and war.

These are the only two paths – capitalism or socialism. There is no third alternative. All hopes of a third alternative, which will guarantee the realisation of peaceful and harmonious development without class struggle, through the forms of capitalist ‘democracy’, ‘planned capitalism’, etc. are nothing but pipe dreams. These dreams of peaceful development are merely the echo of past conceptions, belonging to the era of liberal free-competition capitalism, an era which disappeared a whole hundred years ago, never to return. Free-competition capitalism made for “… the epoch of finance capital and monopolies, which introduce everywhere the striving for domination, not for freedom. Whatever the political system, the result of these tendencies is everywhere reaction and an extreme intensification of antagonisms in the field” (Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, p.113-114).

In our own day, even in the leading imperialist countries which, owing to a period of unprecedented economic expansion and prosperity in the wake of the peculiar conditions (which for reasons of shortage of time and space cannot be gone into here) following the Second World War, are not threatened by serious revolutionary upheavals, and where, thanks to the export of oppression and violence abroad, democratic forms of rule are still maintained, the deepening crisis of imperialism is forcing the ruling monopoly capitalist class increasingly to supplement these democratic forms with new dictatorial and repressive methods – further concentration of executive powers, reduction of parliament to a farcical talking shop, increasing use of emergency powers and police violence, restrictions on freedom of speech, draconian anti-trade union legislation and violent suppression of strikes (e.g., the miners’ strike of 1984-1985) and of demonstrations. This is not fascism yet, but it is an unmistakable trend in the direction of fascist forms of rule in all capitalist countries.

The development of the production forces of social labour,” observed Marx, “is the historical task and privilege of capital. It is precisely in this way that it unconsciously creates the material requirements of a higher mode of production” (Capital, Vol III, Kerr Education, p.203).

While recognising this progressive historical role of capitalism, Marx went on to lay bare the inner laws of capitalist development which, he pointed out more than a century ago, would arrive at a stage at which capitalism, far from being able to organise and develop further the productive forces, would merely plunge them into an increasingly vicious cycle of violent crises, stagnation and decay, from which they could only be rescued by the proletariat. This is the essence of Marxism. And its political expression is the dictatorship of the proletariat as the condition precedent for the solution of the problems of our epoch.

Already before the end of the First World War, Lord Leverhulme, the leading trust magnate, wrote:

With the means that science has already placed at our disposal, we might provide for all the wants of each of us in food, shelter and clothing by one hour’s work per week for each of us from school age to dotage” (Lord Leverhulme, Preface to Professor Spooner’s Wealth for Waste, Routledge, 1918).

That was eight decades ago. In the period since then productivity has increased several-fold. And yet, humanity is confronted with mass starvation and misery; lack of basic hygiene and access to clean water; death and disease.

Whereas in previous epochs, human beings died as a result of food shortage, in our epoch they die because there is too much food. Capitalism is the first system of production which brings society “face to face with the contradiction that the producers have nothing to consume because the consumers are wanting” (Engels, Anti-Dühring, p.387).

Capitalism long ago became historically outmoded. There could be no better expression of the utter bankruptcy of this system than the fact that, in the midst of unprecedented wealth and unexampled productive power, it is unable to find the means to exploit a growing proportion of the working class, and is compelled to condemn tens of millions of able-bodied human beings who are willing and able to work as so much disposable scrap. Faced with such a system, cruel as it is absurd, the proletariat “ … has no other choice than to starve or to rebel” (Engels, Condition of the working class in England).

The objective conditions for this proletarian rebellion were already ripe from the beginning of the period of imperialism – monopoly capitalism – and especially since the commencement of the general crisis of capitalism in 1914, which directly led to the First World War. However, with the sole honourable exception of the Russian proletariat, led by the Bolshevik Party under the inspiring banner of Marxism-Leninism, the working class of Europe proved unequal to the task. World capitalism used three main weapons to defeat the proletarian revolution in Europe and achieve its own temporary stabilisation:

The first of these weapons was direct civil and counter-revolutionary intervention – the imperialist war of intervention against the young proletarian Russian Republic, the White Terror in Finland, Hungary and Poland.

The second weapon used by the bourgeoisie to defeat the workers’ advance to power was none other than Social Democracy, which had already betrayed the working class by embracing the slogan of ‘Defence of the Fatherland’ at the commencement of the imperialist butchery of the First World War. In the aftermath of that war, the working class, too powerful to be defeated in a frontal battle, was subdued and crushed through the device of Social Democracy, which sadly still had a mass base. The bourgeoisie, while firmly holding on to the levers of power, gave the appearance of surrendering power to the working class by placing in office social-democratic governments which then went on to do capitalism’s dirty work for it, as intended all along. Concessions in the form of wage rises, nationalisation proposals, social security schemes, reduced working hours, etc., were granted to the workers. No sooner had the power of capitalism been securely established than these concessions were wiped out through the capitalist offensive which drove back the workers’ living conditions even below pre-war levels.

The third and last weapon in the stabilisation of capitalist power was the ability of European capitalism to draw on the gigantic, and still unshaken, reserves of international imperialism – US imperialism. American loans and credits poured in, just as they were to do following the Second World War, in the form of Marshall Aid, to renovate and reconstruct the shattered fabric of European capitalism.

This stabilisation, built as it was on a shaky foundation, could not last long. Social Democracy, far from leading the fight, as it had promised to do, for socialism (albeit by peaceful, gradual, ‘democratic’ and parliamentary means), was in reality the instrument for carrying out the capitalist offensive – and by means far from democratic. By its disciplinary and coercive measures against the working class, Social Democracy increasingly alienated the masses and caused widespread disillusionment among the latter. In doing so, it exposed itself as the agent of the bourgeoisie in the working class, and thus rendered itself less effective as a weapon of capitalism. No wonder, then, that during this period, while the influence and the electoral base of Social Democracy declined in the European countries, that of communism increased. Secondly, just as the strength of US capitalism had furnished the base for the reconstruction of capitalism on a global scale, likewise the American Crash brought the whole structure of capitalist stabilisation tumbling down. Even the successes of the period of stabilisation, with their expansion of production and productive capacity, merely served to intensify all the contradictions of capitalism by bringing in their train an unprecedented crisis of overproduction and glutted markets. What is more, the conditions of monopoly capitalism retarded the ‘normal’ working-out of the crisis. While the giant monopolies were in a position to maintain big profits, even in the midst of the worst depression, the working class, the petty bourgeoisie and the colonial peoples, who bore the brunt of the crisis, were driven to despair. The poverty of the masses, in the imperialist heartlands and in the colonies, could not but further exacerbate the devastating effects of the Depression, which forced themselves on the consciousness of even certain sectors of the bourgeoisie. Informed capitalist quarters began to recognise that the entire attempt at restoration during the 1920s had been a chase after a mirage.

The spread of this recognition within the capitalist world marked the change in the conscious direction of capitalist policy in the direction of fascism.

The transient period of ‘stabilisation’ had produced a whole host of myths and illusions (just as the buoyant imperialist stock markets are at present giving rise to equally unfounded assertions, illusions and myths) concerning a new era (new paradigm in the current jargon) of ‘perpetual’ capitalist prosperity, ‘harmonious’ capitalist development and ‘organised capitalism’, all finding their ultimate expression in ‘ultra-imperialism’, according to which conception capitalist development inexorably proceeds towards the creation of a single world trust, leading to the elimination of inter-imperialist rivalry and the ushering in of an era of rational production and universal prosperity. According to the theory of ‘ultra-imperialism’ first put forward in the early part of the 20th century, American capitalism was a ‘new type’ of capitalism which had managed to get shot of the crises and contradictions of the old capitalism, had “ironed out the trade cycle” and had found the secret of everlasting prosperity for the workers hand-in-hand with ever-rising profits for the capitalists.

Undoubtedly the leaders and statesmen of capitalism, dazzled by the advance in production during the stabilisation period, shared these illusions. No wonder, then, that President Hoover should proclaim, on 27 July 1928, that: “The outlook of the world today is far the greatest era of commercial expansion in history”. He followed this up on 11 August 1928, in his speech accepting the Republican re-nomination for President, with the following words:

Unemployment in the sense of distress is widely disappearing. We in America today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land. The poorhouse is vanishing from among us. We have not yet reached the goal, but given a chance to go forward with the policies of the last eight years, and we shall soon with the help of God be within sight of the day when poverty will be banished from this nation” (New York Nation, 15 June 1932).

As one would expect, the principal channel for transmitting these illusions to the masses of Europe and America was none other than Social Democracy. Labour delegations, whose expenses were paid by the capitalist governments, were sent from Britain, Germany and many other European countries to the US with the sole object of bringing back the new gospel from the Holy Land of Capitalism. This Social Democratic gentry, on their return, dutifully pronounced the triumph of capitalism over Marxism. With its stranglehold over the organisations of the working class, especially trade unions, the Social Democratic ‘machine’, backed by the powerful and all-pervasive instruments of bourgeois propaganda, sang in adoration of American capitalism, Fordism, rationalisation, the capitalist era, and so on and so forth – with the sole aim of demoralising the working class, destroying the latter’s faith in a socialist future, and sowing illusions among them of a bright future under the conditions of capitalism.

The subsequent economic collapse, and with it the collapse of all the theories and illusions of the stabilisation period, produced great disillusionment among the petty bourgeoisie and the proletariat who had allowed themselves to be led up the garden path by Social Democracy. It was this disillusion which, inter alia, created the conditions for the advance of fascism among the petty bourgeoisie and in certain strata of the working class.

Meanwhile, confronted with the basic contradiction of capitalism, namely, that between the social productive forces on the one hand and the relations of production on the other, and being forced to recognise the reality of the advance of technique outstripping the existing forms of social organisation, the leaders of capitalism were faced with a stark choice: either get rid of the existing forms of social organisation (i.e., private ownership of the means of production) since they are incompatible with the whole advance of technique; or, in the interests of the maintenance of the system, long outmoded historically, suppress technique, restrict productive capacity downwards to the level of consumption of the impoverished masses, suppress class struggle, intensify class oppression, and resort to war as the only way out of the quagmire. This amounts, in other words, to destruction of productive forces and revolt against the machine, against science, against parliamentary democracy, and trade war followed by a real war as the final ‘solution’. We know which choice the bourgeoisie made – and was bound to make – in its selfish class interests. It opted for the second of these alternatives. The end of the period of stabilisation made way for the new phase, the most complete and consistent expression of which is fascism. “Such is the bed of Procrustes …to which modern capitalism in its extreme stage of decay seeks to fit the tortured body of humanity” (R Palme Dutt, Fascism and Social Revolution, Martin Lawrence Ltd, London, 1934, pp. 47-48).

What is fascism?

Far from being an independent theory and system born in opposition to capitalism, far from being an independent ideology of the petty bourgeoisie hostile to the proletariat and monopoly capital alike, fascism is, on the contrary, the most consummate expression, in certain conditions of extreme decay, of the chief tendencies and policies of capitalism in its imperialist stage. Fascism is the response in practice of the imperialist bourgeoisie faced with the threat of proletarian revolution. It is a counter-revolutionary mass movement which, while enjoying the full support of the bourgeoisie, deploys a mixture of social demagogy and terrorist methods in order to crush the revolution and strengthen the dictatorship of finance capital. In order to define fascism and place it in its concrete reality, one must expose its class basis, the system of class relations which give birth to it and within which it operates, and the class role assigned by finance capital to it and which it duly performs. Any attempt to separate fascism from its progenitor – the bourgeois dictatorship – can only result in absurd assertions, of the type uttered by the Daily Herald, the official organ of the Labour Party and the TUC, on the very day that the Nazis seized and shut down the trade unions in Germany:

The ‘National-Socialists’, it is essential to remember, call themselves ‘Socialist’ as well as ‘National’. Their ‘Socialism’ is not the Socialism of the Labour Party, or that of any recognised Socialist Party in other countries. But in many ways it is a creed that is anathema to the big landlords, the big industrialists and the big financiers.

And the Nazi leaders are bound to go forward with the ‘Socialist’ side of their programme.”

The lines quoted above, while not saying anything about the ‘socialism’ of the Nazis, are very revealing about the ‘socialism’ of the Labour Party and the TUC, as well as of the entire thrust of this leadership’s imperialist line, according to which fascism is merely a wing of socialism – of a rather unorthodox variety, but nevertheless an “anathema to the big landlords, the big industrialists and the big financiers,” who, strange though it may sound, lavishly funded it before finally placing it in power in the period leading to the assumption of government office by the fascists, as well as during the period of fascist dictatorship. In no country has fascism ever conquered power. It was nurtured and enabled to grow, saved from extinction in its early stages at the hands of the working-class movement, and finally put into power, thanks to the direct support of the bourgeoisie. It was able to rely on the assistance of the greater part of the state machinery – the army officer corps, the police and the judiciary who, while meting out the utmost of severity to the proletarian opposition, treated the fascists with benign leniency.

Through its social demagogy fascism was able to build a somewhat broader mass base by appealing preponderantly to the petty bourgeoisie (also crushed by monopoly capital), as well as the lumpen proletariat and the demoralised sections of the working class, helped along by the robber barons of finance and industry, as well as the big landed magnates, all of whom supported it financially and directed it politically. Once in power, however, fascism carried out the ruthless behests of monopoly capital, and mercilessly turned the state machinery against those of its supporters who had been gullible enough to expect anti-capitalist measures from it.

Once in power, casting aside its anti-capitalist rhetoric, fascism revealed itself in its true colours as “a terrorist dictatorship of big capital” (Programme of the Comintern, 1928).

Fascism arises where a powerful working-class movement reaches a stage of growth which inevitably raises revolutionary issues, but is held in from decisive action by reformist leadership … Fascism is the child of reformism” (R Palme Dutt, Labour Monthly, July 1925).

Italy – then a backward country

The transfer from the policy and methods of liberalism and concessions to that of fascism is no sudden volte face. They are the two halves of a single policy. So long as the forces of the bourgeoisie are inadequate and unprepared, it resorts to concessions and reliance on the reformist leadership to weaken and break the revolutionary offensive, while making furious undercover preparations for a direct armed suppression of the proletarian movement at a suitable time. While fooling the masses with sham concessions, breaking their unity through the good offices of Social Democracy, the ‘liberal’ and ‘democratic’ governments secretly equipped and armed fascism. With the completion of this stage, and with the proletarian forces sufficiently weakened, the violent counter revolution was let loose. The violent offensive of fascism (in Italy as elsewhere) was executed under the benevolent protection of the bourgeois liberal and Social Democratic governments (Giolitti and his successors in Italy).

The Italian experience furnishes a classic demonstration of the transition of bourgeois democracy to fascism, from which three principal conclusions stand out in sharp relief:

1 The sweep of the revolutionary movement in Italy was broken, not by the bourgeoisie, nor by fascism, but by its own internal weakness and lack of revolutionary leadership – by reformism.

2 Fascism appeared on the scene to play the hero (under police and military protection) to harass and slaughter an already-retreating army, AFTER the proletarian advance had already been broken from within and widespread disillusion set in, thanks to the Turatis and D’Aragonas of Italian reformism.

3 The transition to open fascist dictatorship, far from being a sudden and abrupt break and a reversal of bourgeois policy, was, on the contrary, a continuation of bourgeois policy into novel forms in the new conditions.

Fascism was begotten, nurtured and prepared within the conditions of bourgeois democracy; and when the conditions were ripe, it was placed in power to exercise the naked terrorist dictatorship of big capital over the working class and the intermediate strata.

 Germany – the treachery of Social Democracy

In November 1918, the German working class overthrew the old state and its victory was total:

In November, 1918, the Revolution was the work of the proletariat alone. The proletariat won so powerful a position that the bourgeois elements at first did not dare to attempt any resistance” (Kautsky, Introduction to the third edition of The Proletarian Revolution, 1931).

How was this victory of the proletariat turned, in the course of the following 15 years, into its exact opposite? Social Democracy is the answer.

Although German Social Democracy had originated on the basis of the revolutionary programme of Marxism and had a long and glorious tradition, in the imperialist era opportunism, parliamentary cretinism and corruption, and the economist politics of trade-unionism, had made increasing inroads into the Party. The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 completed this process, with the Social Democratic Party openly and unashamedly siding with Kaiser Wilhelm, German militarism and the bourgeoisie. Adopting the slogan of ‘defence of the fatherland’ in an imperialist predatory war, German Social Democracy, like its counterparts in other European countries (the sole honourable exception being the Bolsheviks in Russia), betrayed the working class and trampled underfoot the banner of proletarian internationalism. The November 1918 revolution was organised by scattered revolutionary elements who had gathered, in the very difficult conditions of war censorship and Party censorship, in the illegal Spartacus League (founded in 1916) and the Independent Socialist Party (founded in 1917).

The Social Democratic Party played no part in the victorious 1918 revolution. On the contrary, it was opposed to the revolution from the start. In his libel lawsuit in Berlin in 1922, Scheidermann declared:

The imputation that Social Democracy wanted or prepared the November revolution is a ridiculous, stupid lie of our opponents” (quoted in R Palme Dutt, op.cit. p.109).

At the time of the outbreak of the revolution, Social Democratic leaders occupied ministerial positions in the Coalition Government of Prince Max. In the critical period, their executive called upon the population not to support the revolution. But the moment the revolution had triumphed on 9 November, Social Democratic leaders rushed to Liebneckt and the Independents begging to be included in the leadership of the victorious revolution and form a joint government. Ignoring Liebneckt’s advice, the Independents fell for the bait in the name of ‘unity’ and formed a coalition with the Social Democrats, i.e., with the enemies of the revolution, the open agents of the bourgeoisie. Thus, where all other means had proved useless, bourgeois influence was restored at the heart of the new regime through the treacherous Social Democracy.

Far from destroying the old state machine – the army, police, judiciary and the reactionary bureaucracy – the Social Democratic government protected the old regime at every step. Instead of arming the proletariat for the defence of the revolution, it not only ordered the disarming of the workers but also armed and equipped special counter-revolutionary corps under the command of the ultra-reactionary monarchist officers. And it is these White Guard troops who thus went on to drown the proletarian revolution in blood. Liebneckt and Rosa Luxemburg were brutally murdered, their murderers going unpunished and openly gloating in their crime under the Social Democratic government. Steadily and systematically, with the application of limitless terror, the resistance of the workers was broken from the end of 1918 through to 1919. With the defeat of the 1918 revolution by Social Democracy, the basis was laid for the subsequent rise of fascism.

Far from acting out of blindness, folly and stupidity, as their apologists would have us believe, the Social Democratic leadership were driven solely by a burning desire to “save Germany from Bolshevism”, that is, to save capitalism. To achieve this aim, Social Democracy was prepared to commit any crime, perpetrate any outrage, against the proletariat.

While the illegal armed counter-revolutionary formations were protected and tolerated by Social Democracy and by the Entente, the attempt of the workers at self-defence through the formation of the Red Front was brutally suppressed by Social Democratic Interior Minister in 1929. Thus was built the Weimar Republic, which existed from 1918 to 1932, on the basis of a coalition between the bourgeoisie and Social Democracy. The latter was in power throughout this period. During the greater part of these years it was part of the Federal Government (from 1918 to 1925, under the presidency of Ebert, and from 1928 to 1930 in the Müller cabinet). The principal police President posts were held by Social Democrats. In view of this, it is not an exaggeration to say that fascism grew to power under the protection of Social Democracy.

While on paper the Weimar Republic was “the finest democracy in the world”, in truth it was a figleaf for the maintenance of the reactionary institutions of the old regime. It appealed to the old-time monarchists and generals to defend it against the communists, and it indulged in the indiscriminate violent suppression of the workers, with frequent recourse to martial law and emergency powers against the proletariat. This is what the eminent American bourgeois journalist, Mowrer, who harboured no revolutionary sentiments, had to say of this ‘democratic republic’:

A virgin Republic that appeals to old-time monarchists and generals to defend it against Communists! Inevitably it falls into the enemy’s hands …

What can be said for a republic that allows its laws to be interpreted by monarchist judges, its government to be administered by old-time functionaries brought up in fidelity to the old regime; that watches passively while reactionary school teachers and professors teach its children to despise the present freedom in favour of a glorified feudal past; that permits and encourages the revival of militarism which was chiefly responsible for the country’s previous humiliation?

What can be said for democrats who subsidise ex-princes who attack the regime; who make the exiled ex-Emperor the richest man in deference to supposed property rights … This remarkable Republic paid generous pensions to thousands of ex-officers and civil servants who made no bones of their desire to overthrow it.” (E A Mowrer, ‘Germany puts the clock back’, quoted in R Palme Dutt, op.cit. pp.114-115).

These were precisely the conditions within which, fascism utilised the widespread discontent, economic hardship and universal anger against the humiliating treaty of Versailles with its crippling tribute. It was only able to do so, however, because German Social Democracy, which had leadership of the majority of the working class, far from giving leadership on these issues, had completely identified itself with capitalism and the regime of Versailles and with wholesale repression of the proletarian masses. To crown it all, the bourgeois ‘democratic’ regime helped fascism to build up its armed formations by protecting it from above and giving it assistance through the state machine – the police, the judiciary, the army and the big capitalists – right up to the moment of finally placing it in power.

German fascism stood no chance of attracting the masses and building for itself a mass base without pretending to stand for ‘socialism’. So Nazi propaganda was characterised by an eclectic mix of contradictory and unscrupulous demagogy, with its frenzied anti-Semitism, wild anti-capitalist rhetoric, and chauvinist denunciations of the treaty of Versailles. In his Mein Kampf, in a sentence deleted since the 12th edition in 1932, Hitler wrote:

The German has not the slightest notion how a people must be misled, if adherence of the masses is to be sought”. Hitler’s model was the British war-time propaganda, which was the object of his admiration as the finest example of the art of demagogic lying.

The dramatic expansion of German fascism from 1930 to 1932 is explained by the fact that the world economic crisis not only undermined the whole basis of stabilisation and of the Weimar Republic, but it also undermined the position of Social Democracy, which was very closely associated with them. The economic crisis and the Brüning hunger-regime finally exposed the utter bankruptcy of all the promises and fairy tales of Social Democracy about peaceful democratic progress and ever-rising prosperity under the conditions of capitalism. With the progress of the spread of disillusionment with Social Democracy, the class-conscious workers passed to communism, the politically backward elements crossed to the camp of fascism. Between 1930 and 1932, while Social Democracy lost 1,338,000 votes, the Communist Party gained 1,384,000. With the undermining of Social Democracy, with this weakened and discredited Social Democracy no longer able to check the growing advance of communism, and the consequent polarisation o society into two clearly-defined hostile camps, German capitalism required new methods and new tools. Faced with an unprecedented economic crisis, the bourgeoisie was in desperate need and in a hurry to wipe out the social gains of the 1918 Revolution in the field of wages, hours and social legislation, which had hitherto furnished the main basis for the influence of Social Democracy among the proletariat. Instead of the concessions of the first few years of the revolution, capitalism now had to put the workers into the straitjacket of Draconian measures of economic hardship. To achieve this aim, in view of the existence of a powerful Communist Party, with a strong and rising influence in the working class, and the declining influence of Social Democracy, German capitalism needed new – and naked – forms of dictatorship. Unceremoniously Social Democracy was pushed aside from the Federal Government, and replaced in the summer of 1930 by the Brüning dictatorship, which ruled without parliament by emergency decree, but with Social Democratic support. It was from this period – from the time of the Brüning dictatorship – that the overwhelming majority of German capitalists and landlords completely transferred their allegiance to National Socialism, hitherto only partly supported, as the instrument of their terrorist dictatorship. Had Social Democracy been prepared to ally with communism for a joint resistance to the hunger offensive of the Brüning dictatorship, it is perfectly reasonable to suppose that the capitalist offensive need not have succeeded. But, in the name of the policy of the ‘lesser evil’, Social Democracy supported the Brüning dictatorship’s hunger decrees and attacks on the workers. In so doing it strengthened capitalism, weakened the workers’ front, disorganised the proletarian ranks, and played right into the hands of fascism. This disorganisation of proletarian forces in the critical period of 1930-1932 meant that the initiative, and the gains from widespread hunger and want, which ought to have strengthened the proletarian camp, passed instead to fascism.

Before the Nazis came to power the Communist Party and the Red Trade Union opposition issued calls to the Social Democratic Party and the General Trade Union Confederation for joint action of all labour organisations against the then impending wage offensive (April 1932 appeal) and for the organisation of a general strike for the repeal of emergency decrees and the disbanding of Storm Troops (20 July 1932 appeal). Both these appeals were rejected, the second on the spurious ground that the call for a general strike was provocative and that the ballot box was the only instrument for opposing fascism. A third appeal for a united front was issued by the Communist Party on 30 January 1933 after the installation of Hitler as Chancellor. There was such a groundswell of support for this call that, although it did not respond officially, the leadership of the Social Democratic Party was compelled to explain its refusal in its own publications. While specifically rejecting any joint action against Hitler on the spurious ground that, as he had assumed power legally he should not be opposed, it proposed a ‘non-aggression pact’ with the Communist Party, i.e., abstention from mutual verbal criticism. The fourth call for a united front, made on 1 March 1933, after the burning of the Reichstag and the unleashing of unbridled Nazi terror, was also left unanswered by the Social Democratic leadership, as the latter was busy at the time trying to come to an understanding with the Hitlerites for the toleration of Social Democracy under fascism. Ignorant quarters have levelled the criticism that the Communist Party’s emphasis on the ‘united front from below’, and its failure to appeal directly to the leadership of German Social Democracy and the trade unions earlier than 1932, contributed to the failure of the working class to frustrate the fascist advance to power. This criticism is totally groundless, failing as it does to take into account the actual conditions then prevailing in Germany. When the Social Democrat, Severing, in his capacity as Minister of the Interior, was shooting down the workers’ May Day demonstrations in 1929, it would have been pointless to have appealed to the leadership of Social Democracy for a united front against the attack on the workers. However, with the expulsion of the Braun-Severing government by Von Papen, an opportunity for such an appeal presented itself, and the Communist Party sent its proposal to the Executives of the Social Democratic Party and the General Trade Union Federation for a united front. The firm rejection of the Communist proposal by these two bodies ensured the victory of fascism.

Thus the united working-class front, which alone stood any chance of defeating the Hitlerites, was made impossible by the stubborn refusal of Social Democracy to co-operate with the communists – a refusal which paved the way for the victory of fascism. This attitude of Social Democracy’s flowed directly from its line of class collaboration with the bourgeoisie and reliance on the bourgeois state – a line which it pursued even in the conditions of dictatorship, in the name of the ‘lesser evil’ under Hindenburg, Brüning and Von Papen, declaring that they were a ‘lesser evil’ than the outright victory of fascism. Far from being a lesser evil, these forms of dictatorship were merely preparing the ground for the complete victory of fascism and destroying, step by step, the resistance of the working class. Their work completed, they handed over state power to the Hitlerites. Hindenburg was installed as President with the support of Social Democracy. Within a year he had had installed Hitler as Chancellor. And even after the victory of the Hitlerites Social Democracy refused to oppose it for the reason that, having come to power ‘legally’, it was a ‘lesser evil’ than an ‘illegal’ Nazi terror.

Failing in their efforts to secure the co-operation of Social Democracy for a united working-class front against the encroachments of capital and the dictatorial regimes, the Communist Party succeeded in bringing about at least a partial united front from below, resulting in increased working-class resistance, which culminated in the Berlin transport strike of November 1932. The strike was led by the Red Trade Union opposition after the trade-union officials had rejected a massive vote of the workers for a strike. Parallel with this, the November 1932 elections reflected the rising working-class resistance: while the Nazi vote fell by 2 million and the Social Democratic vote fell by 700,000, that of the Communist Party rose by 700,000 to nearly 6 million. Von Papen was forced to resign on 17 November, and his resignation was followed by long negotiations between Hindenburg and Hitler. In view of rising working-class militancy, it was considered inopportune to instal Hitler in the Chancellery. Accordingly, Von Schleicher was made the Chancellor. He, by granting a few concessions to the working class, for which he received the plaudits of the Social Democratic and official trade-union leadership, duly succeeded in lulling the resistance of the working class who were under the malignant influence of Social Democracy. Once the necessary conditions were prepared, Hitler was installed as Chancellor, on 30 January 1933. The ebbing of the fascist tide, as reflected in the November 1932 election, far from marking its annihilation, as was being trumpeted from every roof-top by Social Democracy, merely convinced the bourgeoisie to hasten fascism’s rise to power before the latter’s stock should have irretrievably sunk and that of communism have risen to dominance.

After the losses of the National Socialists in the Reichstag elections of November, German ‘Big Business’ decided that the immediate danger was that the National Socialist Party might disintegrate too rapidly” (C B Hoover Germany Enters the Third Reich, 1933, p.64 – quoted in R Palme Dutt op. cit. p.125).

So Big Business decided to instal fascism in power with the sole aim of enabling the latter to use the state for rebuilding its strength and shattering all opposition.

The sapping of the German working-class will to resist had been effected not by fascism but by Social Democracy, whose leadership was treating the prospect of a Nazi government in a favourable light. Thus, in April 1932, Severing went on record as saying: “The Social Democratic Party no less than the Catholic Party, is strongly inclined to see Herr Hitler’s Nazis share the government responsibility” (quoted in R Palme Dutt, p.127).

On coming to power, Hitler armed the Storm Troops and incorporated them into the state’s ‘auxiliary police’ with special responsibility for the policing of the elections due to be held on 5 March. He suppressed the whole of the Social Democratic and Communist press, arrested leading militants, banned all working-class gatherings and propaganda, unleashed a reign of terror, and held elections in these conditions. These elections, held under “the shackles of vile terrorism”, as the Daily Herald of 4 March 1933 correctly stated, and accompanied by gross irregularities (in some districts the polling figures exceeded the electorate), could hardly reflect the wishes of the German people. Ignoring all this, Social Democracy eagerly resorted to the plea that now Hitler had a “democratic mandate” it was not justifiable to oppose him save as a “loyal parliamentary opposition”. Taking parliamentary cretinism to its logical absurdity of supporting a fascist terrorist regime because it had a majority in Parliament, albeit a rigged majority secured at the point of a bayonet in elections held under terror, Stampfen, the former editor of Vorwärts, wrote:

The victory of the government parties makes it possible to govern strictly in accordance with the Constitution.

They have only to act as a legal government, and it will follow naturally that we shall be a legal opposition; if they choose to use their majority for measures that remain within the framework of the Constitution, we shall confine ourselves to the role of their fair critics.”

For his part, Kautsky, at one time the leader of the Second International and considered the best theoretician of Marxism after Engels’ death, but long since degenerated and gone totally rotten, wrote:

The dictatorship has the mass of the population behind it.”

Kautsky had travelled a long way since he wrote his famous Road to Power in 1906. Beginning with opportunism on the questions of the tasks of the proletarian revolution in regard to the bourgeois state, through his support for the imperialist First World War and his opposition to the proletarian revolution in Russia, he had rolled down to the bottom and into the gutter, writing pieces embellishing the Hitlerite regime as founded on mass support.

W N Ewer, diplomatic correspondent of the Daily Herald, wrote that Hitler’s triumph was “… a victory for democracy,” for he had “come to power by the most strictly constitutional means … Of course there was a certain amount of intimidation. There always is … The figures indeed are proof that the election was practically free” (‘Why Hitler Triumphed’, Plebs, April 1933, quoted in R Palme Dutt, op. cit. p.128).

An exactly similar view was expressed by Maxton, the Chairman of the Independent Labour Party:

In this way Social Democracy attempted to cover its subservience to fascism by the barely-disguised device of first ignoring the conditions of terror under which the election of 5 March was held, and then use this mockery of an election as providing a legitimate mandate for the fascist regime.

Social Democracy’s disgraceful, degrading and despicable line was to continue after the election in a vain attempt to curry favour with fascism. The speech of the Social Democratic leader, Wels, at the opening of the Reichstag on 23 March, was an important expression of this line. He, as the leader of the party, openly resigned form the Executive Committee of the Second International, accusing the latter of spreading “atrocity stories” against the fascists. The leadership of the trade unions declared its readiness to co-operate with the Nazis, hailed in their press as the fascist “revolution”, as a triumphant “continuation of the 1918 revolution”. It stressed that the common enemy was communism, and that their ‘socialism’ was a “German affair” (Sozial Demokratischer Pressedient, 9 March, 1933, quoted by R Palme Dutt, op. cit. p.129). Reaching the depths of degradation and treachery to the working class, on this basis, the central executive committee of the trade unions gave an official call to the workers to participate in Hitler’s May Day.

The trade union leaders have sealed their reconciliation with the new rulers of Germany,” wrote the Daily Herald of 24 April 1933.

The attempt by the reformists of Social Democracy to play the role of a recognised tolerated adjunct to fascism failed, in part owing to the fact that a huge number of workers in the big factories rejected their leaders’ calls and stayed away from the Nazi May Day parades. Once it was crystal clear that the Social-democratic leadership’s grip on the workers was inadequate to serve fascist ends, straight away on 2 May, the Nazis seized the unions, amalgamated them into their own labour front, marched their leaders into prison, and in their place appointed Nazi functionaries.

The Leiparts and the Grassmanns”, declared Dr Ley, the leader of the Nazi Labour front, “may profess their devotion to Hitler; but they are better in prison” (quoted in R Palme Dutt, op. cit. p.129).

For its part, the Social Democratic Party traversed the same path of humiliation, degradation and capitulation, followed by dissolution. On 17 May all its members in the Reichstag voted for the fascist government’s resolution and joined in unanimous acclamation of Hitler. Much good did this grovelling do for them! All the property of the Social Democratic Party was confiscated, and on 22 June the organisation itself was declared ‘dissolved’.

With this, Social Democracy was compelled by the bourgeoisie to continue its disruptive work in the conditions of illegality – conditions in which it could be of greater use to the ruling class in the event of a revolutionary upheaval than if it were to closely and openly identified with fascism.

The sole honour of consistent opposition to the bourgeoisie, and to fascism in particular, belongs to the Communist Party. The balance of class forces during the period under discussion did not crown its efforts with success, but the fact that its line was correct, and that it pursued this line in the working-class movement without fear or favour – of this there cannot be the slightest doubt.

In view of the above, we may list the following as the decisive causes of the temporary victory of fascism:

1. The strangling by Social Democracy and the trade unions of the 1918 revolution in the name of ‘democracy’ and the restoration of the power of capitalists, landlords and old reactionary institutions;

2. The support by Social Democracy and the trade unions of the successive emergency and dictatorship regimes leading up to the assumption of power by the Nazis;

3. The rejection by Social Democracy and the trade unions of a united working-class front;

4. The refusal by Social Democracy and the trade-union leadership to resist Hitler on his accession to power or on the commencement of the Nazi terror.

As R Palme Dutt correctly pointed out: “The experience of Germany from 1918 to 1933 is the classic demonstration before the international working class of how a working-class revolution can be destroyed and squandered and brought to the deepest abyss of working-class subjection. It is the classic demonstration before the international working class of where the path of bourgeois ‘democracy’ leads, step by step to its inexorable conclusion” (op. cit. pp. 131-132).

In Austria too “The victory of the proletarian revolution … was fully in the grasp of the workers in 1918-1919, and was only prevented by Social Democracy. This is common ground, and is admitted by the Social Democratic leaders themselves. Otto Bauer describes the situation at the end of the war in his book ‘The Austrian revolution of 1918’:

“ ‘There was deep ferment in the barracks of the people’s army. The people’s army felt that it was the bearer of the revolution, the vanguard of the proletariat … The soldiers with arms in hand hoped for a victory of the proletariat … ‘Dictatorship of the proletariat!’ ‘All Power to the Soviets!’ was all that could be heard in the streets.’

He continues:

“ ‘No bourgeois government could have coped with such a task. It would have been disarmed by the distrust and contempt of the masses. It would have been overthrown in a week by a street uprising and disarmed by its own soldiers.

“ ‘Only the Social Democrats could have safely handled such an unprecedentedly difficult situation, because they enjoyed the confidence of the working masses …. Only the Social Democrats could have stopped peacefully the stormy demonstrations by negotiation and persuasion. Only the Social Democrats could have guided the people’s army and curbed the revolutionary adventures of the working masses … The profound shake-up of the bourgeois social order was expressed in that a bourgeois government, a government without participation in it of the Social Democrats, had simply become unthinkable.’

The role of Austrian Social Democracy was thus in fact exactly parallel to that of the German. The power of the workers’ revolution was deliberately destroyed by Social Democracy in the name of bourgeois ‘democracy’” (R Palme Dutt, op. cit. p.137).

The development of fascism in Italy, Germany and Austria reveals all too clearly that the role of Social Democracy is crucial in the accession of fascism to power. Without understanding of this inter-relationship between Social Democracy and fascism, it is impossible to understand capitalist politics since the end of the First World War, which marked the open desertion of Social Democracy, representing significant sections of the working-class movement, especially of the trade-union and parliamentary leadership, in all the imperialist countries to the side of the bourgeoisie.

The further evolution of Social-democratic parties since then has played a big part in defeating working-class revolutions in the years immediately following the first world war, in the growth of fascism in the subsequent years, and in the fight against communism since the Second World War.

 Finance capital’s view of Social Democracy

In order to obtain a clear, thoroughly rational and hard-headed glimpse of how finance capital views the role of Social Democracy and that of fascism in the maintenance of capitalism, we must make a brief reference to the Deutsche Führerbriefe (‘Letters to Leaders), the confidential bulletin of the Federation of German Industry during the crucial year, 1932. Issued for confidential circulation to the chiefs of finance capital grouped in the FGI, numbers 72 and 75 incorporated a study of ‘The Social Reconsolidation of Capitalism’. These letters are remarkable for their clarity and candour alike.

The basic proposition of the writer of these confidential communications is that continuance of capitalist rule rests on the splitting of the working class; that the single most important danger to capitalism is a united working class, against which no amount of armed force is of any avail; that, therefore, capitalism needs a social basis beyond its own narrow ranks, which are “too small … to uphold their rule alone”; that in the aftermath of the First World War, this social basis was provided by Social Democracy, which rendered capitalism the “indispensable service of anchoring their rule in the people, and thereby being the actual and final bearers of this rule.”

If Social Democracy had furnished the basis of the continuance of capitalist rule by dividing and splitting the working class, what precisely enabled Social Democracy to achieve this split? What, in other words, is the social basis of Social Democracy? The answer to this extremely important question given by the representative of finance capital bears a striking resemblance to the Leninist analysis as to the reasons for the split in the working class of the imperialist countries, namely, the privileged conditions, based on concessions, of the upper layers of the working class – the labour aristocracy. Through its influence and control over the trade unions, Social Democracy, while paralysing their revolutionary energy, “chained them fast to the bourgeois state”. In doing so, Social Democracy helped to keep communism out by a “sluice mechanism”. The end of stabilisation with the outset of the economic crisis, however, which compelled the bourgeoisie to wipe out the earlier concessions to the working class, and with this to undermine Social Democracy, carried the danger of opening the sluice gates for the influence and victory of communism. With the undermining of Social Democracy, thanks to the crisis of capitalism, “…the bourgeois rule will be faced with the necessity of setting up a military dictatorship. This stage would mark the beginning of the phase of the incurable sickness of bourgeois rule. As the old sluice mechanism can no longer be sufficiently restored, the only possible means of saving bourgeois rule from this abyss is to effect the splitting of the working class and its tying to the State apparatus by other and more direct means. Herein lie the positive possibilities and the tasks of National Socialism.”

In other words, the changed conditions necessitated a change of the form of state. If the chaining of the organised working class to the bourgeois state through Social Democracy requires a parliamentary form of government, the destruction of the basis of Social Democracy, consequent upon the crisis and the withdrawal of concessions to the working class, compels capitalism to go over to a non-parliamentary, coercive form of rule – fascism.

A bourgeois regime based on a liberal constitution must not only be parliamentary; it must rely for support on Social Democracy and allow Social Democracy adequate achievements. A bourgeois regime which destroys these regimes must sacrifice Social Democracy and parliamentarism, must create a substitute for Social Democracy, and must go over to a restricted social constitution” – fascism, in plain language.

The writer of the Letters find a striking parallel between the role of Social Democracy during 1918-1930 and that of fascism after 1930:

The parallelism is indeed really striking. The then Social Democracy (from 1918-1930) and present-day National Socialism both perform similar functions in that they both were grave diggers of the preceding system, and then, instead of leading the masses to the revolution proclaimed by them, led them to the new formation of bourgeois rule. The comparison which has often been drawn between Ebert and Hitler is also valid in this respect. Both appeal to the anti-capitalist yearnings for emancipation; both promise a new ‘social’ or ‘national’ commonwealth.”

His conclusion is: “The parallelism itself shows that National Socialism has taken over from Social Democracy the task of providing the mass support for the rule of the bourgeoisie in Germany.”

The above analysis, though it contains much that is valid, needs to be corrected and supplemented. The writer of the letters speaks as if fascism takes over the role (that of providing mass support for bourgeois rule) which was earlier performed by Social Democracy, with fascism and Social Democracy performing identical roles in different periods and conditions, and consequently with differing methods and governmental forms. This is far too simplistic. The fact is that they exist together, with each performing a definitive role, each supplementing the other. Whereas fascism relies for its social base on mainly the petty bourgeois strata, the declassed elements and backward workers, Social Democracy bases itself on the privileged strata of the organised working class. Even after the victory of fascism, the influence, ideology and traditions of Social Democracy continue their baleful and disorganising role, preventing the emergence of a united working class front to confront and defeat fascism. Further, if fascist dictatorship’s grip on power weakens, then Social Democracy stands in wait to come to the rescue of capitalism.

What is beyond doubt is that both Social Democracy and fascism are agents of monopoly capitalism; both fight tooth and nail against the struggle of the working class for its social emancipation. With this as their aim, both disrupt and weaken working-class organisations.

Their methods are, however, different. While fascism smashes the class organisations of the working class from without and opposes their whole basis and counters them with an alternative ‘national’ ideology, Social Democracy undermines them from within by diverting them along reformist bourgeois channels. Whereas fascism relies mainly on coercion, along with deception, Social Democracy relies mainly on deception, along with coercion. Their aims are identical; only their methods differ. In view of the identity of their aims and differing methods, one cannot but agree with Stalin’s observation, made as early as 1924, that “Social Democracy objectively represents the moderate wing of Fascism.” (Concerning the International Situation, Collected Works, vol 6, p.294)

Fascism is a product of the post-First World War general crisis of capitalism. In fact it is “an abortion consequent on the miscarriage of the proletarian social revolution” (R Palme Dutt, op. cit. p. 157).

Beginning with 1914, when Social Democracy abandoned Marxism and internationalism (with the exception of the British Labour Party, which was never Marxist and was always chauvinist to the core), it too began to develop strands of ideology akin to fascism. Advocacy of the unity of the class interests of the working class and monopoly capitalism, total abandonment of internationalism, ‘socialist’ – even ‘revolutionary’ phrases as a cover for total social subservience in the service of capitalism, determined opposition to wars of the oppressed people for national liberation against imperialist exploitation and oppression, and irreconcilable hostility to Marxism, the ideology of the modern proletariat. The above basic principles of Social Democracy are not very dissimilar to the basic principles of fascism. What is more, they prepare the ideological ground for the ascendancy of fascism.

Social Democracy emerged from the First World War with the twin aims of defeating the working-class revolution and helping to reconstruct the badly-battered structure of capitalism. It performed both these shameful tasks very well indeed. No crime was too much for it, no depths too low for it to stoop to, in defeating the revolution – the murder of leading revolutionaries, the incarceration of thousands of others, the wholesale repression of many more thousands still. It assumed governmental responsibility and undertook the shooting down of the most militant workers, secured some concessions and pacified large sections in the interests of saving the skin of finance capital.

Once the revolution had been defeated and the period of reconstruction and stabilisation begun, Social Democracy added a new theoretical strand to its existing counter-revolutionary ideological stock-in-trade. It argued that the collapse of capitalism was not in the interests of the working class; that, on the contrary, the working class needed a prosperous and prospering capitalism as a means for its advance to socialism (“it is useless to socialise misery”, wrote Kautsky); that, far from being at its end, capitalist development was advancing in the direction of a new era of “organised capitalism”; and that, therefore, it was the duty of the working class to co-operate and help in this development by participating economically, through the unions (Mondism, etc.), and politically, through Social-democratic parties, in forming or joining capitalist governments.

Tarnov, the leading German trade-union theoretician, declared:

Marxism as a leading ideology of the working-class movement has outlived itself. But as a real great mass movement cannot exist without a corresponding ideology, therefore, the leaders of the trade unions must create that new ideology.”

This new ideology, spoken of by Tarnov, was in fact very old and pre-Marxian, i.e., that of the unity of interests of the working class and the exploiting capitalist class.

The General Council of the TUC, in its Report to the Swansea Congress in 1928, came out openly in favour of Mondism and class collaboration, saying:

The ultimate policy of the movement can find more use for an efficient industry than for a derelict one, and the unions can use their power to promote and guide the scientific organisation of industry as well as to obtain material advantages from the reorganisation” (quoted in R Palme Dutt, op.cit. p.159).

Social Democracy today is an indispensable element of the state,” declared Hilferding at the Kiel Congress of the German Social Democratic Party.

The whole wretched thing boils down to incorporating Social Democracy and the trade unions under its control into the state structure of monopoly capitalism, with the sole purpose of strengthening the latter while continuing to acclaim this shameful activity as the advance of ‘socialism’.

On this basis, the German Social-democratic leader, Diffmann, went on to proclaim at the Magdeburg Congress of his Party:

We are no longer living under capitalism; we are living in the transition period to socialism, economically, politically, socially … In Germany we have ten times as many socialist achievements to defend as they have in Russia.”

And when the world economic crisis delivered a shattering blow to this cosy fantasy, far from jettisoning it, Social Democracy adapted itself to the crisis by further additions to its opportunist theory, declaring that it was now the job of the working class to rescue capitalism from the danger of chaos and proletarian revolution.

We must be the physicians of ailing capitalism”, was the call of the 1931 Leipzig Congress of the German Social Democratic Party. Vendervelde, the Chairman of the Second International, made this desperate plea on behalf of imperialism in the Belgian Chamber of Deputies in 1932:

The capitalist system is cracking in all its parts. It can only be saved by serious and urgent measures. We are at the eleventh hour. Take care that the proletariat, like Samson, does not bring crashing down the columns of the temple.”

Montel, the French socialist, had already in 1928, before the onset of the crisis, proclaimed: “The Socialist Party will present itself as the only party capable of saving bourgeois society” (quoted in R Palme Dutt, op. cit. p.161).

The above line of theoretical reasoning and propaganda makes it abundantly clear that Social Democracy was objectively making all the necessary preparations for the ideology of fascism and easing the latter’s rise to state power. Even after the fascist victory in Germany, the leader of German trade unionism, Leipart, offered an alliance to the bloody Hitlerite dictatorship.

The essence of Social Democracy is the conception and practice of class collaboration with capitalism and with the capitalist state. Further, it is the presentation of this line as the safe, peaceful, harmonious, ‘democratic’ and progressive advance to socialism – in contrast to the dangers of violent proletarian revolution. Experience, however, proves beyond a shred of doubt that, far from being an advance to socialism, this line of reasoning and practice leads to unprecedented violence against the proletariat, strengthens capitalist dictatorship in general, and its final culmination in certain circumstances in the victory of fascism – and to imperialist war.

Communism and proletarian revolution offer the way out of this imperialist hell and carnage, capitalist exploitation and oppression.

Communism or fascism? – This is the choice that confronts the working class. The third way offered by Social Democracy only leads, in the final analysis, to the cul-de-sac of fascism.

Fascism and demagogy

Shorn of all the verbiage and subterfuge, of all its nonsensical mystic wrappings, fascism is the violent attempt of decaying capitalism to defeat the proletarian revolution and forcibly retard its own demise. Fascism uses demagogy as a science for it dare not declare its aims openly, for it could build no mass support on the basis of its real aims.

Bolshevism is knocking at our gates. We can’t afford to let it in. We have got to organise ourselves against it, and put our shoulders together and hold fast. We must keep America whole and safe and unspoiled. We must keep the worker away from red literature and red ruses; we must see that his mind remains healthy” (Al Capone).

This appeal of a thief and gangster for the maintenance of the “existing” social order against the menace of Bolshevism – proletarian revolution – is an apt introduction to the ideology of fascism. Neither can the fascists, like thieves and gangsters, for obvious reasons, openly and honestly proclaim their true aims, which are solely concerned with protecting the interests of monopoly capitalism. So they indulge in hypocritical moralist cant about keeping present-day society ‘unspoiled’ and keeping ‘healthy’ the workers’ minds. Gangster exploits accompanied by propaganda stuffed full of high moral tones is characteristic of a dominant class in a decadent society which has outlived its historical usefulness. Plekhanov correctly observed:

Marx said very truly that the greater the development of antagonism between the growing forces of production and the extant social order, the more does the ideology of the ruling class become permeated with hypocrisy. In addition, the more effectively life unveils the mendacious character of this ideology, the more does the language used by the dominant class become sublime and virtuous …” (Fundamental Problems of Marxism, English edition, 1929, p.82).

With the advent of fascism, the hypocrisy and mendacity noted by Marx reaches extreme demagogic proportions. As the task of fascism is to build a mass movement, popular in form and reactionary in content, it is characterised by its manipulation of every backward feeling and base instinct in human feeling, by the unscrupulousness of its programme, which is put together to appeal to every section of society without the slightest regard to consistency, and by the shamelessness of its abrupt changes of front and repudiation of its own platform.

Demagogy”, correctly remarked R Palme Dutt, “is the art of playing on the hopes and fears, the emotions and ignorance of the poor and the suffering FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE RICH AND POWERFUL. It is the meanest of the arts. This is the art of fascism” (op. cit. p.188).

One has only to compare the fascist programme with fascism in action to realise the meaning of demagogy. We confine ourselves to Germany. Here, in the concrete circumstances, fascism had to appeal to ‘socialism’ and the anti-capitalist sentiments of the working class in order to be able to come to power in order to serve finance capital. Thus the Krupps, the Thyssens, the Deterdings and the Hohenzollerns doled out large amounts of money to the Nazis for conducting ‘socialist’ propaganda, knowing full well its deceptive nature. Thus, the 25-point Nazi programme included such items as the abolition of unearned income, breaking of interest-slavery, confiscation of all war profits, nationalisation of all trust, confiscation of land without compensation for communal purposes, profit-sharing in all large concerns, and the death penalty for usurers and profiteers.

It is said that when two gullible devotees of National Socialism, believers in every word of the Nazi programme, approached Goebbels for an explanation of how the point on the “breaking of interest-slavery” would be implemented, they received the brutal reply that the only “breaking” likely to happen would be of the skulls of those who endeavoured to understand it.

While the wily chiefs of finance capital remained wholly unperturbed by the Nazi programme’s threat to “nationalise all trusts”, the more stupid of the large landowners were evidently alarmed by the point in the programme about “the confiscation of land without compensation”. To allay the unfounded fears of such dullards, the Nazis inserted explanations in their programme rendering the latter totally harmless to large capitalists and landlords alike.

From time to time assurances had to be given to capitalists who hesitated to give their support to the Nazis because of the latter’s ‘anti-capitalist’ propaganda. An exceptionally clear, but typical, example of Nazi duplicity and demagogy is provided by a letter written by the party leadership in Dresden to a Weimar capitalist. This letter fell into the hands of the opponents of the Nazis in 1930 and was published. This is what it said: “Do not let yourself be confused by the text of our posters … Of course there are catchwords like ‘Down with Capitalism!’, etc.; but these are unquestionably necessary, for under the flag of ‘German national’, or ‘national’ alone, you must know, we should never reach our goal, we should have no future. We must talk the language of the embittered socialist workmen. … or else they wouldn’t feel at home with us. We don’t come out with a direct programme for reasons of diplomacy” (Letter of Dresden Nazi Party leader to the industrialist Fritsche in Weimar, reprinted in Mowrer, Germany puts the clock back, p.150, cited in R Palme Dutt, op.cit. p.191).

Once in power, the fascists went on to impose draconian and military discipline on the workers, turning them into virtual slaves of monopoly capitalism. While the class war had been abolished for the workers, on the capitalist side, the class war, far from abating, continued – only at an accelerated tempo. The German labour code of 1 May 1934 enshrined the absolute autocratic power of capital over labour in the following cynically frank and brutal terms:

In the factory the employer, as the leader of the factory, and the workers and clerical employees as his followers, work jointly to further the aims of the factory in the joint interests of the people and of the state. The decision of the leader of the factory is binding on his followers in all factory matters.”

By this labour code, all previous elected Works Councils were replaced by those appointed by the employer in consultation with the Nazi representative in the factory. All collective agreements were annulled. Wages were to be fixed by each employer according to the ‘profitability’ of the concern. The last word on wages and labour conditions lay with the ‘Labour Trustees’ appointed by the Nazi government, whose character may be gauged from the fact that the big industrialist, Krupp, was appointed ‘Labour Trustee’ for the entire Ruhr area.

The essence of the reality of the fascist corporate state may be summarised as the total destruction of all independent organisations of the working class, the abolition of the right to strike, intensification of exploitation and the complete enslavement of the workers to the capitalists.

Fascism and war

As fascism is the violent expression of finance capital in decay and crisis, in its external policy, relying on excessively chauvinist propaganda and rousing the most obscene kind of ‘nationalism’, fascism means war – a war for the purpose of domination.

Fascism believes neither in the possibility nor the utility of perpetual peace … war alone brings up to its highest tension all human energy and puts the stamp of nobility upon the peoples who have the courage to meet it” (Mussolini, The political and social doctrine of fascism).

In eternal warfare mankind has become great – in eternal peace mankind would be ruined” (Hitler, Mein Kampf).

From the above it must not be concluded that these tendencies are peculiar to fascism. They are, on the contrary, common to all imperialist states. From fascism they only receive their most consummate expression. In fact non-fascist states – the US, Britain and France – spent more on armaments and had far greater records of global plunder and violence than the fascist states – Germany, Italy and Japanese. In fact, one of the reasons for the development of fascist forms of government and an aggressive foreign policy in the latter group was that German imperialism was deprived of its ‘rightful’ share – in proportion to its actual or potential strength – of world plunder. The first group, on the other hand, was made up of relatively ‘sated’ imperialists, gorging on world plunder, who were bent upon holding on to their ill-gotten gains. Thus, whereas the first group showed at least some interest in questions of ‘security’, the latter group of ‘hungry’ imperialists was bent upon repartition of the world. The unfolding of the law of uneven development of capitalism, as Lenin had correctly observed in his remarkable analysis of imperialism, which had led to the First World War was, during the period under discussion, inexorably driving to the Second World War.

But, for all the danger that the fascist states represented to the non-fascist imperialist states, the latter were extraordinarily soft on them. And this for three reasons.

The first was that they regarded fascism as a bulwark against communism and proletarian revolution. A candid speech made by Lloyd George on 22 September 1933, was reported in the following terms:

If the powers succeeded in overthrowing Nazism in Germany, what would follow? Not a Conservative, Socialist or Liberal regime, but extreme Communism. Surely that could not be their objective. A Communist Germany would be infinitely more formidable than a Communist Russia. The Germans would know how to run their communism effectively. That was why every communist in the world from Russia to America was praying that the Western nations would bully Germany into a communist revolution. He [Lloyd George] would entreat the government to proceed cautiously.” (The Times, 23 September 1933).

Second, the desire of the ‘democratic’ imperialist powers to use the fascist states as a tool of aggression and a battering ram against the USSR, for the twin purposes of defeating socialism in the Soviet Union and appeasing German imperialism’s appetite for colonies at the expense of the USSR, rather than at the expense of the ‘democratic’ imperialists’ states. They were greatly encouraged in this policy by Hitler himself, who had written:

We stop the eternal march to the south and the west of Europe and turn our eyes towards the land in the east … If we speak of land in Europe today we can only think in the first instance of Russia, and her border states” (Mein Kampf, p.743).

Third, by embroiling Germany and the Soviet Union in a war, the ‘democratic’ imperialists hoped to weaken the former two countries to the point of exhaustion, at which point the ‘democratic’ imperialists hoped to intervene – in the ‘interests of peace’, of course – and impose on them a crippling peace.

This policy did not work out quite according to plan. The inter-imperialist contradictions and rivalry proved far stronger in the end than their joint hatred of communism and the USSR. World War Two started as an inter-imperialist war. By the time it was over, fascist Germany had been smashed and People’s Democracies established in a number of countries in eastern and central Europe. Soon China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam joined the socialist camp. All these gains of the people of the world were at the expense of imperialism. It is these gains which were to be criminally squandered by the victory of Khrushchevite revisionism in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which ultimately led to the fall of socialism and the disintegration of the once great and glorious USSR.

The basis of democratic freedoms in imperialist countries

The ‘democratic freedoms’ in the heartlands of imperialism are built on the foundation of colonial slavery and imperialist loot. But with the undermining of this foundation, through anti-imperialist revolutionary movements and the economic crisis of capitalism, with the consequent diminution of profits, the bourgeoisie in these countries is obliged to attack the working class, withdraw the concessions, do away with genuine reforms and introduce ‘reforms’ which destroy the post-Second World War gains of the working class, thus contributing to the intensity of the class struggle and revolutionary awakening of the working class.

With the collapse of the former Soviet Union and the People’s Democracies of eastern Europe, the bourgeoisie feels emboldened to intensify these attacks. In many countries, for example Britain, Germany, France and Italy, these attacks are being carried out through the agency of Social-democratic governments, which is helping to expose Social Democracy, even further than before, as the agent of the bourgeoisie that it has been ever since 1914.

If the deepening economic crisis of imperialism and the actions of Social Democracy in the service of imperialism help to impel the proletarian masses by causing widespread disillusionment, as they surely must at some stage, provided that there exists a genuine Marxist-Leninist vanguard, the bourgeoisie of even those imperialist states, such as Britain, which have hitherto been regarded as model ‘democracies’, would be compelled to look at new forms to ensure the continued existence of its rule. In the event of such circumstances arising, the bourgeoisie would, without much hesitation, move towards open, terroristic methods, towards fascism. It will turn away from parliamentary forms which, being exhausted and discredited, would not be of much use to it.

Is fascism alien to countries such as the US, Britain and France?

Those who say that fascism is alien to the traditions of such countries as the US, Britain, France, etc, that because of the deep roots of parliamentary institutions or the peculiarity of the ‘national character’ fascism could never succeed in these countries, display total ignorance of the system of imperialism and the contradictions inherent in it and which drive it. The underlying strength of the ‘democratic’ institutions, the uniqueness of the ‘national character’ of countries such as the US, Britain and France, is itself explained by the wealthier and privileged position that these countries occupied for a very long time. It is explained by the loot from the empire and imperialist super-exploitation, which enabled the bourgeoisie of these countries to make concessions to the working class and thus retard the growth of a revolutionary working-class movement. With the disappearance of this privileged position, the ruling classes of these countries, in appropriate circumstances, are just as likely to consign to the scrap heap their hitherto hallowed parliamentary democratic institutions and traditions, and to embrace fascism, as were the German, Austrian, Italian and Japanese bourgeoisies.

One has only to acquaint oneself with the never-ceasing campaign conducted by these governments, as well as by the opposition bourgeois parties – through the print and electronic media – of all the imperialist countries against immigrants and asylum seekers to realise that these are not the actions of ‘democratic’ governments and institutions, of a ‘free’ press, of those whose ‘national character’ forbids such xenophobic propaganda.

These are, on the contrary, the ravings of the representatives of a dying and extremely decadent system – monopoly capitalism – who, without the slightest scruple and qualms of conscience, would drown millions of people in blood in order artificially to retard the approaching demise of this filthy system, which has for so long tormented humanity and dragged it through filth and blood, and which, during the century just closing, has claimed the lives of 100 million human beings through the slaughterhouse of imperialist wars, let alone the 20 million that it indirectly kills every year through malnutrition, disease and hunger. Besides, one has only to know the history of Britain for the past three centuries, of France and of the US for the past two centuries, to realise that in the art of the use of bloody violence, at home and abroad, the ruling classes of these countries have nothing to learn from the ruling class of any other country, fascist Germany included. The mass slaughter of the Vietnamese and Korean people by these imperialist powers, especially the US, the bombing by them last year of the tiny Yugoslav Republic, and the continued bombing of Iraq ten years after the end of the Gulf War – to confine ourselves to just three examples – make the Nazi crimes, outrageous and horrific though they were, small in comparison. To assert that the ruling classes who have committed these kinds of carnage could not resort to fascism is to live in a fool’s paradise, divorced from reality.

The leading representatives of these supposedly democratic ruling classes, far from showing disdain for fascist movements and regimes, welcomed them with warmth and enthusiasm. Barely had Mussolini staged his coup d’état than he was honoured by the British crown in 1923 with the Order of the Grand Commander of the Bath by way of recognition of his services to the counter revolution. Chamberlain enjoyed fervently warm relations with Mussolini. Churchill, packaged by the myth-making bourgeois propaganda machine as a great ‘anti-fascist’ fighter, speaking in 1927 in the Mecca of Rome, expressed his support for fascism in the following words:

If I had been an Italian, I am sure I would have been entirely with you from the beginning to the end of your victorious struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism” (Churchill, Address to the Roman Fascists, January 1927, quoted in Salvemini, The Fascist Dictatorship, p.204 and reproduced in R Palme Dutt, op. cit. p.260).

This is how Sir Alfred Mond, the founder of ICI and author of the Mond-Turner Reports for class collaboration, in an interview in Rome, poured his heart out in support of fascism:

I admire fascism because it is successful in bringing about social peace. I have been working for years towards the same peace in the industrial field in England … Fascism is tending towards the realisation of my political ideals, namely, to make all classes collaborate loyally” (Daily Herald, 12 May, 1928).

It was this lover of fascism of whom the TUC leadership was so enamoured. Citrine even went to the brazen extent of not only defending Mond’s right to be a fascist, but also of insisting on a trade union alliance with him.

The millionaire press baron, Lord Rothermere, supported Mosley’s British Union of Fascists for the reason that it might represent “a well-organised party of the Right ready to take over responsibility for national affairs with the same directness of purpose and energy of method as Hitler and Mussolini have displayed” (Rothermere in the Daily Mail, 15 January 1934).

It is highly significant that Mosley’s British Union of Fascists (BUF), the fascist party in Britain, had its origins directly in the Labour Party. Having left the Conservative Party, Mosley joined the Labour Party in 1924. Being possessed of vast amounts of wealth, and having influential connections, which always helps in bourgeois parties, including Labour, he had a meteoric rise. In 1927 he was elected to Labour’s Executive Committee and appointed a Minister in the Labour government in 1929. In 1930 he resigned on the grounds of the Labour government’s passivity in the face of steep and rising unemployment. In his ministerial capacity he had produced the Mosley Memorandum containing the first outline towards a fascist policy for the reconstruction of British capitalism.

As the government, characterised as it was by passivity – not because of the Mosley Memorandum’s non-socialist content – did not respond favourably to it, Mosley appealed to the Labour Party Conference in 1930, where he secured 1,046,000 votes against 1,251,000 for the Executive. All the same, he was re-elected to the Executive, and thus passed straight from Labour’s Executive to the organisation of his New Party in the spring of 1931. This party in 1932 openly embraced fascism and changed its name to the BUF. The New Party was formed with 6 Labour MPs and one Conservative MP, and it issued an appeal to the mass of patriotic men and women who are determined upon action.

The Communist Party of Great Britain was alone in warning everyone about the fascist tendencies implicit in Mosley’s Memorandum. In contrast, the left Labour politicians rallied to his support. The New Leader, the organ of the Independent Labour Party, wrote of Mosley: “In the main, as is known, his scheme follows ILP lines” (10 October, 1930, quoted in R Palme Dutt, op. cit. p.266).

On 7 November, 1930, Fenner Brockway, a leading member of the ILP, wrote in the Leader thus:

In the ideas of the ILP Group and the smaller Mosley Group there is a good deal in common … Before long we may expect to see a revolt by the younger members of all three parties against the methods and spirit of the older generation” (The Ferment of Ideas).

The Mosley Manifesto of December 1930, which formally rejected socialism and called for a dictatorship of five for an aggressive policy of capitalist reconstruction, secured the signatures of no less than 17 Labour MPs, including 5 ILP MPs.

Mosley’s BUF was able to gain some ground thanks to the connivance and direct support of the state, the higher echelons of the police and sections of the big bourgeoisie. This is the experience of every other imperialist country. In each case fascism is nurtured and helped to grow, in some countries to assume power, not against the wishes of the bourgeoisie and the state, but with their tender loving care and assistance. It develops through the forms of bourgeois democracy, through the systematic, methodical and step-by-step strengthening of the coercive state apparatus, the institution of emergency powers, and the restriction of the rights of the working class – this process being greatly accelerated by reformist and constitutional illusions engendered by Social Democracy, which paralyse the will of the working class to resist. When the ground has thus been fully prepared in the conditions of bourgeois democracy, and the workers’ movement disrupted and disorganised, only then is the final blow delivered by the bourgeoisie, with the establishment of fascist dictatorship.

Fascism,” said Clara Zetkin in 1923, “is the punishment of the proletariat for failing to carry on the revolution begun in Russia”. But, however much it may try, fascism cannot resolve the contradictions of capitalism and therefore cannot prevent the latter’s collapse. The arrival of fascism on the political stage represents the extreme sharpening of the contradictions of capitalism; it is an indication of the extent of its parasitism, decadence and moribund nature. Unable to continue its rule with the aid of parliamentary forms, finance capital tears the mask off its face and, casting aside the entire parliamentary democratic façade, confronts the working class with its open, naked and terroristic dictatorship in an endeavour to prolong the life of a historically doomed system. In doing so, the bourgeoisie delivers an excellent lesson in class struggle, for it is compelled to preach to the masses contempt for the peaceful methods and legality which hitherto had been the bourgeoisie’s best protection. It is compelled to reveal to all that which was formerly concealed by the bourgeoisie and its Social-democratic, Liberal and Conservative hacks, namely, that real class rule resides outside of parliament; that all honeyed, hypocritical and refined phrases about the power of reforms and parliament alike, with which the bourgeoisie had hitherto lulled the working class to sleep, were “in fact frauds, straw men put up in order to fool the people” (Lenin, The Constitutional Crisis in England, 1914), which can be abruptly torn down by the bourgeoisie in whose hands resides real power.

In view of the fact that the conditions for the institution of fascism are created by the ruling class within the shell of bourgeois ‘democracy’, the fight against fascism cannot be waged by the working class putting its trust in bourgeois ‘democracy’ as a defence against fascism. This fight can only successfully be waged by a united and determined working class against all the attacks of finance capital in the economic and political field – against anti-trade union laws and wage cuts; against the so-called anti-terrorism legislation; against racist immigration and asylum laws which are solely aimed at sowing divisions in the working class by shifting the blame for the ills of capitalism on to the backs of the unfortunate victims of imperialist plunder, brigandage and war; against restrictions on the right to free speech and assembly, and so on and so forth.

The stronger the resistance of the working class against the attacks of finance capital, the more difficult it becomes for the latter to go over to open fascism, with the added advantage that such resistance is decisive for winning over to its side the wavering petty bourgeois layers of the population. While fighting with great determination and tenacity for every democratic right to organise and agitate within the existing order, the working class must not let out of sight even for a single moment the harsh reality that bourgeois democracy is merely the mask with which the bourgeoisie disguises its dictatorship, and that it is within the forms of bourgeois democracy that the movement to fascism is systematically pushed forward by finance capital.

Bourgeois democracy, in certain circumstances and conditions, breeds fascism. The greater the faith placed by the working class in bourgeois legality and bourgeois-democratic forms, the more the sacrifices made by it in defence of the existing order as a ‘lesser evil’ to the menace of fascism, the more crushing the capitalist blows and the quicker the advance to fascism. This lesson of Germany and Italy, which blows sky high the fraudulent slogan of ‘Democracy versus Dictatorship’, should never be forgotten by the working class. The working class can, must, and will win provided that, rejecting the mentality of the beaten, fearfully trembling slave – the hallmark of the ideology of reformism – and firmly grasping the banner of revolutionary Marxism, firmly drawing close its ranks, it marches forward with determination to fulfil its historic mission – to overthrow capitalism and put in its place socialism. Thus the choice for the working class is simple and clear-cut: Dictatorship of the proletariat, or fascist barbarism.

It is the dream of the bourgeoisie, through fascism if need be, to exterminate socialism and the movement of the working class for its achievement. Over the past 150 years, there have been dozens of such attempts. Each time its opponents declared it vanquished, socialism rose up with renewed and unprecedented vigour. Notwithstanding the tremendous losses of the last decade, it will be no different this time. In the words of Marx:

Wherever, in whatever shape, and under whatever conditions the class struggle gains any consistency, it is but natural that members of our Association [the First International] should stand in the foreground. The soil out of which it grows is modern society itself. It cannot be stamped out by any amount of carnage. To stamp it out, the government would have to stamp out the despotism of capital over labour – the condition of their own parasitic existence” (Civil War in France).

Whatever the tortures that the bourgeoisie inflicts on the working class, whatever the destruction it wreaks upon the lower orders, whatever the hardships of struggle, we face the future with the confidence, certainty and optimism of a rising class destined to achieve power. We approach the future with total contempt for the grotesque actions of the doomed, decadent and parasitic enemy – finance capitalism – to the battle cry of the international proletariat: “The last fight let us face. The Internationale unites the human race”.

Presentation made to the Stalin Society on May 2000

Lies concerning the History of the Soviet Union

Presentation by Ella Rule, based on information by Mario Sousa

In this world we live in, who can avoid hearing the terrible stories of suspected death and murders in the gulag labour camps of the Soviet Union? Who can avoid the stories of the millions who starved to death and the millions of oppositionists executed in the Soviet Union during Stalin’s time? In the capitalist world these stories are repeated over and over again in books, newspapers, on the radio and television, and in films, and the mythical numbers of millions of victims of socialism have increased by leaps and bounds in the last 50 years.

But where in fact do these stories, and these figures, come from? Who is behind all this?

And another question: what truth is there in these stories? And what information is lying in the archives of the Soviet Union, formerly secret but opened up to historical research by Gorbachev in 1989? The authors of the myths always said that all their tales of millions having died in Stalin’s Soviet Union would be confirmed the day the archives were opened up. Is that what happened? Were they confirmed in fact?

The following article shows us where these stories of millions of deaths through hunger and in labour camps in Stalin’s Soviet Union originated and who is behind them.

The present author, after studying the reports of the research which has been done in the archives of the Soviet Union, is able to provide information in the form of concrete data about the real number of prisoners, the years they spent in prison and the real number of those who died and of those who were condemned to death in Stalin’s Soviet Union. The truth is quite different from the myth.

There is a direct historical link running from: Hitler to Hearst, to Conquest, to Solzhenitsyn. In 1933 political changes took place in Germany that were to leave their mark on world history for decades to come. On 30 January Hitler became prime minister and a new form of government, involving violence and disregard of the law, began to take shape. In order to consolidate their grip on power the Nazis called fresh elections for the 5th of March, using all propaganda means within their grasp to secure victory. A week before the elections, on 27 February, the Nazis set fire to parliament and accused the communists of being responsible. In the elections that followed, the Nazis secured 17.3 million votes and 288 deputies, about 48% of the electorate (in November they had secured 11.7 million votes and 196 deputies). Once the Communist Party was banned, the Nazis began to persecute the Social Democrats and the trade-union movement, and the first concentration camps began to fill up with all those left-wing men and women. In the meantime, Hitler’s power in parliament continued to grow, with the help of the right wing. On 24 March, Hitler caused a law to be passed by parliament which conferred on him absolute power to rule the country for 4 years without consulting parliament. From then on began the open persecution of the Jews, the first of whom began to enter the concentration camps where communists and left social-democrats were already being held. Hitler pressed ahead with his bid for absolute power, renouncing the 1918 international accords that had imposed restrictions on the arming and militarisation of Germany. Germany’s re-armament took place at great speed. This was the situation in the international political arena when the myths concerning those dying in the Soviet Union began to be put together.

The Ukraine as a German territory

At Hitler’s side in the German leadership was Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda, the man in charge of inculcating the Nazi dream into the German people. This was a dream of a racially pure people living in a Greater Germany, a country with broad lebensraum, a wide space in which to live. One part of this lebensraum, an area to the east of Germany which was, indeed, far larger than Germany itself, had yet to be conquered and incorporated into the German nation. In 1925, in Mein Kampf, Hitler had already pointed to the Ukraine as an essential part of this German living space. The Ukraine and other regions of Eastern Europe needed to belong to the German nation so that they could be utilised in a `proper’ manner. According to Nazi propaganda, the Nazi sword would liberate this territory in order to make space for the German race. With German technology and German enterprise, the Ukraine would be transformed into an area producing cereals for Germany. But first the Germans had to liberate the Ukraine of its population of inferior beings who, according to Nazi propaganda, would be put to work as a slave labour force in German homes, factories and fields – anywhere they were needed by the German economy.

The conquest of the Ukraine and other areas of the Soviet Union would necessitate war against the Soviet Union, and this war had to be prepared well in advance. To this end the Nazi propaganda ministry, headed by Goebbels, began a campaign around a supposed genocide committed by the Bolsheviks in the Ukraine, a dreadful period of catastrophic famine it claimed was deliberately provoked by Stalin in order to force the peasantry to accept socialist policy. The purpose of the Nazi campaign was to prepare world public opinion for the `liberation’ of the Ukraine by German troops. Despite huge efforts and in spite of the fact that some of the German propaganda texts were published in the English press, the Nazi campaign around the supposed `genocide’ in the Ukraine was not very successful at the world level. It was clear that Hitler and Goebbels needed help in spreading their libellous rumours about the Soviet Union. That help they found in the USA.

William Hearst – Friend of Hitler

William Randolph Hearst is the name of a multi-millionaire who sought to help the Nazis in their psychological warfare against the Soviet Union. Hearst was a well-known US newspaper proprietor known as the `father’ of the so-called `yellow press’, i.e., the sensationalist press. William Hearst began his career as a newspaper editor in 1885 when his father, George Hearst, a millionaire mining industrialist, Senator and newspaper proprietor himself, put him in charge of the San Francisco Daily Examiner.

This was also the start of the Hearst newspaper empire, an empire which strongly influenced the lives and thinking of North Americans. After his father died, William Hearst sold all the mining industry shares he inherited and began to invest capital in the world of journalism. His first purchase was the New York Morning Journal, a traditional newspaper which Hearst completely transformed into a sensationalist rag. He bought his stories at any price, and when there were no atrocities or crimes to report, it behoved his journalists and photographers to arrange matters. It is this which in fact characterises the yellow press: lies and arranged atrocities served up as truth.

These lies of Hearst’s made him a millionaire and a very important personage in the newspaper world. In 1935 he was one of the richest men in the world, with a fortune estimated at $200 million. After his purchase of the Morning Journal, Hearst went on to buy and establish daily and weekly newspapers throughout the US. In the 1940s, William Hearst owned 25 daily newspapers, 24 weekly newspapers, 12 radio stations, 2 world news services, one business providing news items for films, the Cosmopolitan film company, and a lot of others. In 1948 he bought one of the US’s first TV stations, BWAL – TV in Baltimore. Hearst’s newspapers sold 13 million copies a day and had close to 40 million readers. Almost a third of the adult population of the US were reading Hearst newspapers every day. Furthermore, many millions of people throughout the world received information from the Hearst press via his news services, films and a series of newspapers that were translated and published in large quantities all over the world. The figures quoted above demonstrate how the Hearst empire was able to influence American politics, and indeed world politics, over very many years – on issues which included opposition to the US entering the Second World War on the side of the Soviet Union and support for the McCarthyite anti-communist witch-hunts of the 1950s.

William Hearst’s outlook was ultra-conservative, nationalist and anti-communist. His politics were the politics of the extreme right. In 1934 he travelled to Germany, where he was received by Hitler as a guest and friend. After this trip, Hearst’s newspapers became even more reactionary, always carrying articles against socialism, against the Soviet Union and especially against Stalin. Hearst also tried to use his newspapers for overt Nazi propaganda purposes, publishing a series of articles by Goering, Hitler’s right-hand man. The protests of many readers, however, forced him to stop publishing such items and to withdraw them from circulation.

After his visit to Hitler, Hearst’s sensationalist newspapers were filled with revelations about the terrible Hearst’s sensationalist newspapers were filled with ‘revelations about the terrible happenings in the Soviet Union – murders, genocide, slavery, luxury for the rulers and starvation for the people, all these were the big news items almost every day. The material was provided to Hearst by the Gestapo, Nazi Germany’s political police. On the front pages of the newspapers there often appeared caricatures and falsified pictures of the Soviet Union, with Stalin portrayed as a murderer holding a dagger in his hand. We should not forget that these articles were read each day by 40 million people in the US and millions of others worldwide!

The myth concerning the famine in the Ukraine

One of the first campaigns of the Hearst press against the Soviet Union revolved round the question of the millions alleged to have died as a result of the Ukraine famine. This campaign began on 18 February 1935 with a front-page headline in the Chicago American6 million people die of hunger in the Soviet Union. Using material supplied by Nazi Germany, William Hearst, the press baron and Nazi sympathiser, began to publish fabricated stories about a genocide which was supposed to have been deliberately perpetrated by the Bolsheviks and had caused several million to die of starvation in the Ukraine. The truth of the matter was altogether different. In fact what took place in the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 1930s was a major class struggle in which poor landless peasants had risen up against the rich landowners, the kulaks, and had begun a struggle for collectivisation, a struggle to form kolkhozes.

This great class struggle, involving directly or indirectly some 120 million peasants, certainly gave rise to instability in agricultural production and food shortages in some regions. Lack of food did weaken people, which in turn led to an increase in the number falling victim to epidemic diseases. These diseases were at that time regrettably common throughout the world. Between 1918 and 1920 an epidemic of Spanish flu caused the death of 20 million people in the US and Europe, but nobody accused the governments of these countries of killing their own citizens. The fact is that there was nothing these government could do in the face of epidemics of this kind. It was only with the development of penicillin during the second world war, that it became possible for such epidemics to be effectively contained. This did not become generally available until towards the end of the 1940s.

The Hearst press articles, asserting that millions were dying of famine in the Ukraine a famine supposedly deliberately provoked by the communists, went into graphic and lurid detail. The Hearst press used every means possible to make their lies seem like the truth, and succeeded in causing public opinion in the capitalist countries to turn sharply against the Soviet Union. This was the origin of the first giant myth manufactured alleging millions were dying in the Soviet Union. In the wave of protests against the supposedly communist-provoked famine which the Western press unleashed, nobody was interested in listening to the Soviet Union’s denials and complete exposure of the Hearst press lies, a situation which prevailed from 1934 until 1987! For more than 50 years several generations of people the world over were brought up on a diet of these slanders to harbour a negative view of socialism in the Soviet Union.

The Hearst mass media empire in 1998

William Hearst died in 1951 at his house in Beverley Hills, California. Hearst left behind him a mass-media empire which to this day continues to spread his reactionary message throughout the world. The Hearst Corporation is one of the largest enterprises in the world, incorporating more than 100 companies and employing 15,000 people. The Hearst empire today comprises newspapers, magazines, books, radio, TV, cable TV, news agencies and multimedia.

52 years before the truth emerges

The Nazi disinformation campaign about the Ukraine did not die with the defeat of Nazi Germany in the Second World War. The Nazi lies were taken over by the CIA and MI5, and were always guaranteed a prominent place in the propaganda war against the Soviet Union. The McCarthyite anti-communist witch hunts after the Second World War also thrived on the tales of the millions who died of starvation in the Ukraine. In 1953 a book on this subject was published in the US. This book holwas entitled Black Deeds of the Kremlin. Its publication was financed by Ukrainian refugees in the US, people who had collaborated with the Nazis in the Second World War and to whom the American government gave political asylum, presenting them to the world as democrats.

When Reagan was elected to the US Presidency and began his 1980s anti-communist crusade, propaganda about the millions who died in the Ukraine was again revived. In 1984 a Harvard professor published a book called Human Life in Russia which repeated all the false information produced by the Hearst press in 1934. In 1984, then, we found Nazi lies and falsifications dating from the 1930s being revived, but this time under the respectable cloak of an American university. But this was not the end of it. In 1986 yet another book appeared on the subject, entitled Harvest of Sorrow, written by a former member of the British secret service, Robert Conquest, now a professor at Stamford University in California. For his work on the book, Conquest received $80,000 from the Ukraine National Organisation. This same organisation also paid for a film made in 1986 called Harvest of Despair, in which, inter alia, material from Conquest’s book was used. By this time the number of people it was being alleged in the US had lost their lives in the Ukraine through starvation had been upped to 15 million!

Nevertheless the millions said to have died of starvation in the Ukraine according to the Hearst press in America, parroted in books and films, was completely false information. The Canadian journalist, Douglas Tottle, meticulously exposed the falsifications in his book Fraud, famine and fascism – the Ukrainian genocide myth from Hitler to Harvard, published in Toronto in 1987. Among other things, Tottle proved that the photographic material used, horrifying photographs of starving children, had been taken from 1922 publications at a time when millions of people did die from hunger and war conditions because eight foreign armies had invaded the Soviet Union during the Civil War of 1918-1921. Douglas Tottle gives the facts surrounding the reporting of the famine of 1934 and exposes the assorted lies published in the Hearst press. One journalist who had over a long period of time sent reports and photographs from supposed famine areas was Thomas Walter, a man who never set foot in the Ukraine and even in Moscow had spent but a bare five days. This fact was revealed by the journalist Louis Fisher, Moscow Correspondent of The Nation, an American newspaper. Fisher also revealed that the journalist M Parrott, the real Hearst press correspondent in Moscow, had sent Hearst reports that were never published concerning the excellent harvest achieved by the Soviet Union in 1933 and on the Ukraine’s advancement. Tottle proves as well that the journalist who wrote the reports on the alleged Ukrainian famine, Thomas Walker, was really called Robert Green and was a convict who had escaped from a state prison in Colorado! This Walker, or Green, was arrested when he returned to the US and when he appeared in court, he admitted that he had never been to the Ukraine. All the lies concerning the millions of dead due to starvation in the Ukraine in the 1930s, in a famine supposedly engineered by Stalin only came to be unmasked in 1987! Hearst, the Nazi, the police agent Conquest and others had conned millions of people with their lies and fake reports. Even today the Nazi Hearst’s stories are still being repeated in newly-published books written by authors in the pay of right-wing interests.

The Hearst press, having a monopolist position in many States of the US, and having news agencies all over the world, was the great megaphone of the Gestapo. In a world dominated by monopoly capital, it was possible for the Hearst press to transform Gestapo lies into truths emitted from dozens of newspapers, radio stations and, later on, TV channels, the world over. When the Gestapo disappeared, this dirty propaganda war against socialism in the Soviet Union carried on regardless, albeit with the CIA as its new patron. The anti-communist campaigns of the American press were not scaled down in the slightest. Business continued as usual, first at the bidding of the Gestapo and then at the bidding of the CIA.

Robert Conquest at the heart of the myths

This man, who is so widely quoted in the bourgeois press, this veritable oracle of the bourgeoisie, deserves some specific attention at this point. Robert Conquest is one of the two authors who has most written on the millions dying in the Soviet Union. He is in truth the creator of all the myths and lies concerning the Soviet Union that have been spread since the Second World War. Conquest is primarily known for his books The Great Terror (1969) and Harvest of Sorrow (1986). Conquest writes of millions dying of starvation in the Ukraine, in the gulag labour camps and during the Trials of 1936-38, using as his sources of information exiled Ukrainians living in the US and belonging to rightist parties, people who had collaborated with the Nazis in the Second World War. Many of Conquest’s heroes were known to have been war criminals who led and participated in the genocide of the Ukraine’s Jewish population in 1942. One of these people was Mykola Lebed, convicted as a war criminal after the Second World War. Lebed had been security chief in Lvov during the Nazi occupation and presided over the terrible persecutions of the Jews which took place in 1942. In 1949 the CIA took Lebed off to the United States where he worked as a source of disinformation.

The style of Conquest’s books is one of violent and fanatical anti-communism. In his 1969 book, Conquest tells us that those who died of starvation in the Soviet Union between 1932-1933 amounted to between 5 million and 6 million people, half of them in the Ukraine. But in 1983, during Reagan’s anti-communist crusade, Conquest had extended the famine into 1937 and increased the number of victims to 14 million! Such assertions turned out to be well rewarded: in 1986 he was signed up by Reagan to write material for his presidential campaign aimed at preparing the American people for a Soviet invasion, The text in question was called `What to do when the Russians come – a survivalists’ handbook’! Strange words coming from a Professor of History!

The fact is that there is nothing strange in it at all, coming as it does from a man who has spent his entire life living off lies and fabrications about the Soviet Union and Stalin – first as a secret service agent and then as a writer and professor at Stamford University in California. Conquest’s past was exposed by the Guardian of 27 January 1978 in an article which identified him as a former agent in the disinformation department of the British Secret Service, i.e., the Information Research Department (IRD). The IRD was a section set up in 1947 (originally called the Communist Information Bureau) whose main task was to combat communist influence throughout the world by planting stories among politicians, journalists and others in a position to influence public opinion. The activities of the IRD were very wide-ranging, as much in Britain as abroad. When the IRD had to be formally disbanded in 1977, as a result of the exposure of its involvement with the far right, it was discovered that in Britain alone more than 100 of the best-known journalists had an IRD contact who regularly supplied them with material for articles. This was routine in several major British newspapers, such as the Financial Times, The Times, Economist, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, The Express, The Guardian and others. The facts exposed by the Guardian therefore give us an indication as to how the secret services were able to manipulate the news reaching the public at large.

Robert Conquest worked for the IRD from when it was set up until 1956. Conquest’s `work’ there was to contribute to the so-called `black history’ of the Soviet Union – fake stories put out as fact and distributed among journalists and others able to influence public opinion. After he had formally left the IRD, Conquest continued to write books suggested by the IRD, with secret service support. His book The Great Terror, a basic right-wing text on the subject of the power struggle that took place in the Soviet Union in 1937, was in fact a recompilation of text he had written when working for the secret services. The book was finished and published with the help of the IRD. A third of the publication run was bought by the Praeger press, normally associated with the publication of literature originating from CIA sources. Conquest’s book was intended for presentation to `useful fools’, such as university professors and people working in the press, radio and TV, to ensure that the lies of Conquest and the extreme right continued to be spread throughout large swathes of the population. Conquest to this day remains, for right-wing historians, one of the most important sources of material on the Soviet Union.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Another person who is always associated with books and articles on the supposed millions who lost their lives or liberty in the Soviet Union is the Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Solzhenitsyn became famous throughout the capitalist world towards the end of 1960 with his book, The Gulag Archipelago. He himself had been sentenced in 1946 to 8 years in a labour camp for counter-revolutionary activity in the form of distribution of anti-Soviet propaganda. According to Solzhenitsyn, the fight against Nazi Germany in the Second World War could have been avoided if the Soviet government had reached a compromise with Hitler. Solzhenitsyn also accused the Soviet government and Stalin of being even worse than Hitler from the point of view, according to him, of the dreadful effects of the war on the people of the Soviet Union. Solzhenitsyn did not hide his Nazi sympathies. He was condemned as a traitor.

Solzhenitsyn began in 1962 to publish books in the Soviet Union with the consent and help of Nikita Khrushchev. The first book he published was A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, concerning the life of a prisoner. Khrushchev used Solzhenitsyn’s texts to combat Stalin’s socialist heritage. In 1970 Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel Prize for literature with his book The Gulag Archipelago. His books then began to be published in large quantities in capitalist countries, their author having become one of the most valuable instruments of imperialism in combating the socialism of the Soviet Union. His texts on the labour camps were added to the propaganda on the millions who were supposed to have died in the Soviet Union and were presented by the capitalist mass media as though they were true. In 1974, Solzhenitsyn renounced his Soviet citizenship and emigrated to Switzerland and then the US. At that time he was considered by the capitalist press to be the greatest fighter for freedom and democracy. His Nazi sympathies were buried so as not to interfere with the propaganda war against socialism.

In the US, Solzhenitsyn was frequently invited to speak at important meetings. He was, for example, the main speaker at the AFL-CIO union congress in 1975, and on 15 July 1975 he was invited to give a lecture on the world situation to the US Senate! His lectures amount to violent and provocative agitation, arguing and propagandising for the most reactionary positions. Among other things he agitated for Vietnam to be attacked again after its victory over the US. And more: after 40 years of fascism in Portugal, when left-wing army officers took power in the people’s revolution of 1974, Solzhenitsyn began to propagandise in favour of US military intervention in Portugal which, according to him, would join the Warsaw Pact if the US did not intervene! In his lectures, Solzhenitsyn always bemoaned the liberation of Portugal’s African colonies.

But it is clear that the main thrust of Solzhenitsyn’s speeches was always the dirty war against socialism – from the alleged execution of several million people in the Soviet Union to the tens of thousands of Americans supposedly imprisoned and enslaved, according to Solzhenitsyn, in North Vietnam! This idea of Solzhenitsyn’s of Americans being used as slave labour in North Vietnam gave rise to the Rambo films on the Vietnam war. American journalists who dared write in favour of peace between the US and the Soviet Union were accused by Solzhenitsyn in his speeches of being potential traitors. Solzhenitsyn also propagandised in favour of increasing US military capacity against the Soviet Union, which he claimed was more powerful in `tanks and aeroplanes, by five to seven times, than the US’ as well as in atomic weapons which in short he alleged were two, three or even five times more powerful in the Soviet Union than those held by the US. Solzhenitsyn’s lectures on the Soviet Union represented the voice of the extreme right. But he himself went even further to the right in his public support of fascism.

Support for Franco’s fascism

After Franco died in 1975, the Spanish fascist regime began to lose control of the political situation and at the beginning of 1976, events in Spain captured world public opinion. There were strikes and demonstrations to demand democracy and freedom, and Franco’s heir, King Juan Carlos, was obliged very cautiously to introduce some liberalisation in order to calm down the social agitation.

At this most important moment in Spanish political history, Alexander Solzhenitsyn appeared in Madrid and gave an interview to the programme Directísimo one Saturday night, the 20th of March, at peak viewing time (see the Spanish newspapers, ABC and Ya of 21 March 1976). Solzhenitsyn, who had been provided with the questions in advance, used the occasion to make all kinds of reactionary statements. His intention was not to support the King’s so-called liberalisation measures. On the contrary, Solzhenitsyn warned against democratic reform. In his television interview he declared that 110 million Russians had died the victims of socialism, and he compared the slavery to which Soviet people were subjected to the freedom enjoyed in Spain. Solzhenitsyn also accused progressive circles of Utopians of considering Spain to be a dictatorship. By progressive, he meant anyone in the democratic opposition – were they liberals, social-democrats or communists. Last autumn, said Solzhenitsyn, world public opinion was worried about the fate of Spanish terrorists [i.e., Spanish anti-fascists sentenced to death by the Franco regime]. All the time progressive public opinion demands democratic political reform while supporting acts of terrorism. Those who seek rapid democratic reform, do they realise what will happen tomorrow or the day after? In Spain there may be democracy tomorrow, but after tomorrow will it be able to avoid falling from democracy into totalitarianism? To cautious inquiries by the journalists as to whether such statements could not be seen as support for regimes in countries where there was no liberty, Solzhenitsyn replied: I only know one place where there is no liberty and that is Russia. Solzhenitsyn’s statements on Spanish television were a direct support to Spanish fascism, an ideology he supports to this day.

This is one of the reasons why Solzhenitsyn began to disappear from public view in his 18 years of exile in the US, and one of the reasons he began to get less than total support from capitalist governments. For the capitalists it was a gift from Heaven to be able to use a man like Solzhenitsyn in their dirty war against socialism, but everything has its limits. In the new capitalist Russia, what determines the support of the west for political groups is purely and simply the ability of doing good business with high profits under the wing of such groups. Fascism as an alternative political regime for Russia is not considered to be good for business. For this reason Solzhenitsyn’s political plans for Russia are a dead letter as far as Western support is concerned. What Solzhenitsyn wants for Russia’s political future is a return to the authoritarian regime of the Tsars, hand-in-hand with the traditional Russian Orthodox Church! Even the most arrogant imperialists are not interested in supporting political stupidity of this magnitude. To find anyone who supports Solzhenitsyn in the West one has to search among the dumbheads of the extreme right.

Nazis, the police and the fascists

So these are the most worthy purveyors of the bourgeois myths concerning the millions who are supposed to have died and been imprisoned in the Soviet Union: the Nazi William Hearst, the secret agent Robert Conquest and the fascist Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Conquest played the leading role, since it was his information that was used by the capitalist mass media the world over, and was even the basis for setting up whole schools in certain universities. Conquest’s work is without a doubt a first-class piece of police disinformation. In the 1970s, Conquest received a great deal of help from Solzhenitsyn and a series of secondary characters like Andrei Sakharov and Roy Medvedev. In addition there appeared here and there all over the world a number of people who dedicated themselves to speculating about the number of dead and incarcerated and were always paid in gold by the bourgeois press. But the truth was finally exposed and revealed the true face of these falsifiers of history. Gorbachev’s orders to open the party’s secret archives to historical investigation had consequences nobody could have foreseen.

The archives demonstrate the propaganda lies

The speculation about the millions who died in the Soviet Union is part of the dirty propaganda war against the Soviet Union and for this very reason the denials and explanations given by the Society were never taken seriously and never found any space in the capitalist press. They were, on the contrary, ignored, while the `specialists’ bought by capital were given as much space as they wanted in order to spread their fictions. And what fictions they were! What the millions of dead and imprisoned claimed by Conquest and other `critics’ had in common was that they were the result of false statistical approximations and evaluation methods lacking any scientific basis.

Fraudulent methods give rise to millions of dead

Conquest, Solzhenitsyn, Medvedev and others used statistics published by the Soviet Union, for instance, national population censuses, to which they added a supposed population increase without taking account of the situation in the country. In this way they reached their conclusions as to how many people there ought to have been in the country at the end of given years. The people who were missing were claimed to have died or been incarcerated because of socialism. The method is simple but also completely fraudulent. This type of `revelation’ of such important political events would never have been accepted if the `revelation’ in question concerned the western world. In such a case it is certain that professors and historians would have protested against such fabrications. But since it was the Soviet Union that was the object of the fabrications, they were acceptable. One of the reasons is certainly that professors and historians place their professional advancement well ahead of their professional integrity.

In numbers, what were the final conclusions of the critics? According to Robert Conquest (in an estimate he made in 1961) 6 million people died of starvation in the Soviet Union in the early 1930s. This number Conquest increased to 14 million in 1986. As regards what he says about the gulag labour camps, there were detained there, according to Conquest, 5 million prisoners in 1937 before the purges of the party, the army and the state apparatus began. After the start of the purges then, according to Conquest, during 1937-38, there would have been an additional 7 million prisoners, making the total 12 million prisoners in the labour camps in 1939! And these 12 million of Conquest’s would only have been the political prisoners! In the labour camps there were also common criminals, who, according to Conquest, would have far outnumbered the political prisoners. This means, according to Conquest, that there would have been 25-30 million prisoners in the labour camps of the Soviet Union.

Again according to Conquest, a million political prisoners were executed between 1937 and 1939, and another 2 million died of hunger. The final tally resulting from the purges of 1937-39, then, according to Conquest, was 9 million, of whom 3 million would have died in prison. These figures were immediately subjected to statistical adjustment by Conquest to enable him to reach the conclusion that the Bolsheviks had killed no fewer than 12 million political prisoners between 1930 and 1953. Adding these figures to the numbers said to have died in the famine of the 1930s, Conquest arrived at the conclusion that the Bolsheviks killed 26 million people. In one of his last statistical manipulations, Conquest claimed that in 1950 there had been 12 million political prisoners in the Soviet Union.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn used more or less the same statistical methods as Conquest. But by using these pseudo-scientific methods on the basis of different premises, he arrived at even more extreme conclusions. Solzhenitsyn accepted Conquest’s estimate of 6 million deaths arising from the famine of 1932-33. Nevertheless, as far as the purges of 1936-39 were concerned, he believed that at least 1 million people died each year. Solzhenitsyn sums up by telling us that from the collectivisation of agriculture to the death of Stalin in 1953, the communists killed 66 million people in the Soviet Union. On top of that he holds the Soviet government responsible for the death of the 44 million Russians he claims were killed in the Second World War. Solzhenitsyn’s conclusion is that `110 million Russians fell, victims of socialism’. As far as prisoners were concerned, Solzhenitsyn tells us that the number of people in labour camps in 1953 was 25 million.

Gorbachev opens the archives

The collection of fantasy figures set out above, the product of extremely well paid fabrication, appeared in the bourgeois press in the 1960s, always presented as true facts ascertained through the application of scientific method.

Behind these fabrications lurked the western secret services, mainly the CIA and MI5. The impact of the mass media on public opinion is so great that the figures are even today believed to be true by large sections of the population of Western countries.

This shameful situation has worsened. In the Soviet Union itself, where Solzhenitsyn and other well-known critics such as Andrei Sakharov and Roy Medvedev could find nobody to support their many fantasies, a significant change took place in 1990. In the new free press opened up under Gorbachev, everything opposed to socialism was hailed as positive, with disastrous results. Unprecedented speculative inflation began to take place in the numbers of those who were alleged to have died or been imprisoned under socialism, now all mixed up into a single group of tens of millions of `victims’ of the communists.

The hysteria of Gorbachev’s new free press brought to the fore the lies of Conquest and Solzhenitsyn. At the same time Gorbachev opened up the archives of the Central Committee to historical research, a demand of the free press. The opening up of the archives of the Central Committee of the Communist Party is really the central issue in this tangled tale, this for two reasons: partly because in the archives can be found the facts that can shed light on the truth. But even more important is the fact that those speculating wildly on the number of people killed and imprisoned in the Soviet Union had all been claiming for years that the day the archives were opened up the figures they were citing would be confirmed. Every one of these speculators on the dead and incarcerated claimed that this would be the case: Conquest, Sakharov, Medvedev, and all the rest. But when the archives were opened up and research reports based on the actual documents began to be published a very strange thing happened. Suddenly both Gorbachev’s free press and the speculators on the dead and incarcerated completely lost interest in the archives.

The results of the research carried out on the archives of the Central Committee by Russian historians Zemskov, Dougin and Xlevnjuk, which began to appear in scientific journals as from 1990, went entirely unremarked. The reports containing the results of this historical research went completely against the inflationary current as regards the numbers who were being claimed by the free press to have died or been incarcerated. Therefore their contents remained unpublicised. The reports were published in low-circulation scientific journals practically unknown to the public at large. Reports of the results of scientific research could hardly compete with the press hysteria, so the lies of Conquest and Solzhenitsyn continued to gain the support of many sectors of the former Soviet Union’s population. In the West also, the reports of the Russian researchers on the penal system under Stalin were totally ignored on the front pages of newspapers, and by TV news broadcasts. Why?

What the Russian research shows

The research on the Soviet penal system is set out in a report nearly 9,000 pages long. The authors of this report are many, but the best-known of them are the Russian historians V N Zemskov, A N Dougin and O V Xlevjnik. Their work began to be published in 1990 and by 1993 had nearly been finished and published almost in its entirety. The reports came to the knowledge of the West as a result of collaboration between researchers of different Western countries. The two works with which the present author is familiar are: the one which appeared in the French journal l’Histoire in September 1993, written by Nicholas Werth, the chief researcher of the French scientific research centre, CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique), and the work published in the US journal American Historical Review by J Arch Getty, a professor of history at the University of California, Riverside, in collaboration with G T Rettersporn, a CRNS researcher, and the Russian researcher, V AN Zemskov, from the Institute of Russian History (part of the Russian Academy of Science). Today books have appeared on the matter written by the above-named researchers or by others from the same research team. Before going any further, I want to make clear, so that no confusion arises in the future, that none of the scientists involved in this research has a socialist world outlook. On the contrary their outlook is bourgeois and anti-socialist. Indeed many of them are quite reactionary. This is said so that the reader should not imagine that what is to be set out below is the product of some `communist conspiracy’. What has happened is that the above-named researchers have thoroughly exposed the lies of Conquest, Solzhenitsyn, Medvedev and others, which they have done purely by reason of the fact that they place their professional integrity in first place and will not allow themselves to be bought for propaganda purposes.

The results of the Russian research answer a very large number of questions about the Soviet penal system. For us it is the Stalin era that is of greatest interest, and it is there we find cause for debate. We will pose a number of very specific questions and we will seek out our replies in the journals l’Histoire and the American Historical Review. This will be the best way of bringing into the debate some of the most important aspects of the Soviet penal system. The questions are the following:

[1] What did the Soviet penal system consist of?

[2] How many prisoners were there – both political and non-political?

[3] How many people died in the labour camps?

[4] How many people were condemned to death in the years before1953, especially in the purges of 1937-38?

[5] How long, on average, were the prison sentences?

After answering these five questions, we will discuss the punishments imposed on the two groups which are most frequently mentioned in connection with prisoners and deaths in the Soviet Union, namely the kulaks convicted in 1930 and the counter-revolutionaries convicted in 1936-38.

 Labour camps in the penal system

[1] Let us start with the question of the nature of the Soviet penal system

After 1930 the Soviet penal system included prisons, labour camps, the labour colonies of the gulag, special open zones and obligation to pay fines. Whoever was remanded into custody was generally sent to a normal prison while investigations took place to establish whether he might be innocent, and could thus be set free, or whether he should go on trial. An accused person on trial could either be found innocent (and set free) or guilty. If found guilty he could be sentenced to pay a fine, to a term of imprisonment or, more unusually, to face execution. A fine could be a given percentage of his wages for a given period of time. Those sentenced to prison terms could be put in different kinds of prison depending on the type of offence involved.

To the gulag labour camps were sent those who had committed serious offences (homicide, robbery, rape, economic crimes, etc.) as well as a large proportion of those convicted of counter-revolutionary activities. Other criminals sentenced to terms longer than 3 years could also be sent to labour camps. After spending some time in a labour camp, a prisoner might be moved to a labour colony or to a special open zone.

The labour camps were very large areas where the prisoners lived and worked under close supervision. For them to work and not to be a burden on society was obviously necessary. No healthy person got by without working. It is possible that these days people may think this was a terrible thing, but this is the way it was. The number of labour camps in existence in 1940 was 53.

There were 425 gulag labour colonies. These were much smaller units than the labour camps, with a freer regime and less supervision. To these were sent prisoners with shorter prison terms – people who had committed less serious criminal or political offences. They worked in freedom in factories or on the land and formed part of civil society. In most cases the whole of the wages earned from his labour belonged to the prisoner, who in this respect was treated the same as any other worker.

The special open zones were generally agricultural areas for those who had been exiled, such as the kulaks who had been expropriated during collectivisation. Other people found guilty of minor criminal or political offences might also serve their terms in these areas.

454,000 is not 9 million

[2] The second question concerned how many political prisoners there were, and how many common criminals.

This question includes those imprisoned in labour camps, gulag colonies and the prisons (though it should be remembered that in the labour colonies there was, in the majority of cases, only partial loss of liberty). The Table on the next page shows the data which appeared in the American Historical Review, data which encompasses a period of 20 years beginning in 1934, when the penal system was unified under a central administration, until 1953, the year Stalin died.

From the Table, there are a series of conclusions which need to be drawn. To start with we can compare its data to those given by Robert Conquest. The latter claims that in 1939 there were 9 million political prisoners in the labour camps and that 3 million others had died in the period 1937-1939. Let the reader not forget that Conquest is here talking only about political prisoners! Apart from these, says Conquest, there were also common criminals who, according to him, were much greater in number than the political prisoners! In 1950 there were, according to Conquest, 12 million political prisoners! Armed with the true facts, we can readily see what a fraudster Conquest really is. Not one of his figures corresponds even remotely to the truth. In 1939 there was a total in all the camps, colonies and prisons of close to 2 million prisoners. Of these 454,000 had committed political crimes, not 9 million as Conquest asserts. Those who died in labour camps between 1937 and 1939 numbered about 160,000, not 3 million as Conquest asserts. In 1950 there were 578,000 political prisoners in labour camps, not 12 million. Let the reader not forget that Robert Conquest to this day remains one of the major sources for right-wing propaganda against communism. Among right-wing pseudo-intellectuals, Robert Conquest is a godlike figure. As for the figures cited by Alexander Solzhenitsyn – 60 million alleged to have died in labour camps – there is no need for comment. The absurdity of such an allegation is manifest. Only a sick mind could promote such delusions.

Let us now leave these fraudsters in order that we may ourselves concretely analyse the statistics relating to the gulag. The first question to be asked is what view we should take about the sheer quantity of people caught up in the penal system? What is the meaning of the figure of 2.5 million? Every person that is put in prison is living proof that society was still insufficiently developed to give every citizen everything he needed for a full life. From this point of view, the 2.5 million do represent a criticism of the society.

The internal and external threat

The number of people caught up in the penal system requires to be properly explained. The Soviet Union was a country which had only recently overthrown feudalism, and its social heritage in matters of human rights was often a burden on society. In an antiquated system like tsardom, workers were condemned to live in deep poverty, and human life had little value. Robbery and violent crime was punished by unrestrained violence. Revolts against the monarchy usually ended in massacres, death sentences and extremely long prison sentences. These social relations, and the habits of mind associated with them, take a long time to change, a fact which influenced the development of society in the Soviet Union as well as attitudes towards criminals.

Another factor to be taken into account is that the Soviet Union, a country which in the 1930s had close to 160-170 million inhabitants, was seriously threatened by foreign powers. As a result of the great political changes which took place in Europe in the 1930s, there was a major threat of war from the direction of Nazi German, a threat to the survival of the Slav people, and the western bloc also harbouring interventionist ambitions. This situation was summed up by Stalin in 1931 in the following words:“We are 50-100 years behind the advanced countries. We have to close that gap in 10 years. Either we do it or we will be wiped out.” Ten years later, on 22 June 1941, the Soviet Union was invaded by Nazi Germany and its allies. Soviet society was forced to make great efforts in the decade from 1930-1940, when the major part of its resources was dedicated to its defence preparations for the forthcoming war against the Nazis. Because of this, people worked hard while producing little by way of personal benefits. The introduction of the 7-hour day was withdrawn in 1937, and in 1939 practically every Sunday was a work day. In a difficult period such as this, with a great war hanging over the development of society for two decades (the 1930s and 1940s), a war which was to cost the Soviet Union 25 million deaths with half the country burnt to a cinder, crime did tend to increase as people tried to help themselves to what life could not otherwise offer them.

During this very difficult time, the Soviet Union held a maximum number of 2.5 million people in its prison system, i.e., 2.4% of the adult population. How can we evaluate this figure? Is it a lot or a little? Let us compare.

More prisoners in the US

In the United States of America, for example, a country of 252 million inhabitants (in 1996), the richest country in the world, which consumes 60% of the world resources, how many people are in prison? What is the situation in the US, a country not threatened by any war and where there are no deep social changes affecting economic stability?

In a rather small news item appearing in the newspapers of August 1997, the FLT-AP news agency reported that in the US there had never previously been so many people in the prison system as the 5.5 million held in 1996. This represents an increase of 200,0000 people since 1995 and means that the number of criminals in the US equals 2.8% of the adult population. These data are available to all those who are part of the North American department of justice. The number of convicts in the US today is 3 million higher than the maximum number ever held in the Soviet Union! In the Soviet Union there was a maximum of 2.4% of the adult population in prison for their crimes – in the US the figure is 2.8%, and rising! According to a press release put out by the US department of justice on 18 January 1998, the number of convicts in the US in 1997 rose by 96,100.

As far as the Soviet labour camps were concerned, it is true that the regime was harsh and difficult for the prisoners, but what is the situation today in the prisons of the US, which are rife with violence, drugs, prostitution, sexual slavery (290,000 rapes a year in US prisons). Nobody feels safe in US prisons! And this today, and in a society richer than ever before!

An important factor – the lack of medicines

[3] Let us now respond to the third question posed.

How many people died in the labour camps?

The number varied from year to year, from 5.2% in 1934 to 0.3% in 1953. Deaths in the labour camps were caused by the general shortage of resources in society as a whole, in particular the medicines necessary to fight epidemics. This problem was not confined to labour camps but was present throughout society, as well as in the great majority of countries of the world. Once antibiotics had been discovered and put into general use after the Second World War, the situation changed radically. In fact, the worst years were the war years when the Nazi barbarians imposed very harsh living conditions on all Soviet citizens. During those 4 years, more than half a million people died in the labour camps – half the total number dying throughout the 20-year period in question. Let us not forget that in the same period, the war years, 25 million people died among those who were free. In 1950, when conditions in the Soviet Union had improved and antibiotics had been introduced, the number of people dying while in prison fell to 0.3%.

[4] Let us turn now to the fourth question posed.

How many people were sentenced to death prior to 1953,

especially during the purges of 1937-38?

We have already noted Robert Conquest’s claim that the Bolsheviks killed 12 million political prisoners in the labour camps between 1930 and 1953. Of these 1 million are supposed to have been killed between 1937 and 1938. Solzhenitsyn’s figures run to tens of millions who are supposed to have died in the labour camps – 3 million in 1937-38 alone. Even higher figures have been quoted in the course of the dirty propaganda war against the Soviet Union. The Russian, Olga Shatunovskaya, for example, cites a figure of 7 million dead in the purges of 1937-38.

The documents now emerging from the Soviet archives, however, tell a different story. It is necessary to mention here at the start that the number of those sentenced to death has to be gleaned from different archives and that the researchers, in order to arrive at an approximate figure, have had to gather data from these various archives in a way which gives rise to a risk of double counting and thus of producing estimates higher than the reality. According to Dimitri Volkogonov, the person appointed by Yeltsin to take charge of the old Soviet archives, there were 30,514 persons condemned to death by military tribunals between 1 October 1936 and 30 September 1938. Another piece of information comes from the KGB: according to information released to the press in February 1990, there were 786,098 people condemned to death for crimes against the revolution during the 23 years from 1930-1953. Of those condemned, according to the KGB, 681,692 were condemned between 1937 and 1938. It is not possible to double check the KGB’s figures but this last piece of information is open to doubt. It would be very odd for so many people to have been sentenced to death in only two years. Is it possible that the present-day pro-capitalist KGB would give us correct information from the pro-socialist KGB? Be that as it may, it remains to be verified whether the statistics which underlie the KGB information include among those said to have been condemned to death during the 23 years in question common criminals as well as counter-revolutionaries, rather than counter-revolutionaries alone as the pro-capitalist KGB has alleged in a press release of February 1990. The archives also tend to the conclusion that the number of common criminals and the number of counter revolutionaries condemned to death was approximately equal.

The conclusion we can draw from this is that the number of those condemned to death in 1937-38 was close to 100,000, and not several million as has been claimed by Western propaganda.

It is also necessary to bear in mind that not all those sentenced to death in the Soviet Union were actually executed. A large proportion of death penalties were commuted to terms in labour camps. It is also important to distinguish between common criminals and counter revolutionaries. Many of those sentenced to death had committed violent crimes such as murder or rape. 60 years ago this type of crime was punishable by death in a large number of countries.

Question [5] How long was the average prison sentence?

The length of prison sentences has been the subject of the most scurrilous rumour-mongering in Western propaganda. The usual insinuation is that to be a convict in the Soviet Union involved endless years in prison – whoever went in never came out. This is completely untrue. The vast majority of those who went to prison in Stalin’s time were in fact convicted for a term of 5 years at most.

The statistics reproduced in the American Historical Review show the actual facts. Common criminals in the Russian Federation in 1936 received the following sentences: up to 5 years: 82.4%; between 5-10 years: 17.6%. 10 years was the maximum possible prison term before 1937. Political prisoners convicted in the Soviet Union’s civilian courts in 1936 received sentences as follows: up to 5 years: 44.2%; between 5-10 years 50.7%. As for those sentenced to terms in the gulag labour camps, where the longer sentences were served, the 1940 statistics show that those serving up to 5 years were 56.8% and those between 5-10 years 42.2%. Only 1% were sentenced to over 10 years.

For 1939 we have the statistics produced by Soviet courts. The distribution of prison terms is as follows: up to 5 years: 95.9%; from 5-10 years: 4%; over 10 years: 0.1%.

As we can see, the supposed eternity of prison sentences in the Soviet Union is another myth spread in the West to combat socialism.

The lies about the Soviet Union: A brief discussion as to the research reports

The research conducted by the Russian historians shows a reality totally different to that taught in the schools and universities of the capitalist world over the last 50 years. During these 50 years of the cold war, several generations have learnt only lies about the Soviet Union, which have left a deep impression on many people. This fact is also substantiated in the reports made of the French and American research. In these reports are reproduced data, figures and tables enumerating those convicted and those who died, these figures being the subject of intense discussion. But the most important thing to note is that the crimes committed by the people who had been convicted is never a matter of any interest. Capitalist political propaganda has always presented Soviet prisoners as innocent victims and the researchers have taken up this assumption without questioning it. When the researchers go over from their columns of statistics to their commentaries on the events, their bourgeois ideology comes to fore – with sometimes macabre results. Those who were convicted under the Soviet penal system are treated as innocent victims, but the fact of the matter is that most of them were thieves, murderers, rapists, etc. Criminals of this kind would never be considered to be innocent victims by the press if their crimes were committed in Europe or the US. But since the crimes were committed in the Soviet Union, it is different. To call a murderer, or a person who has raped more than once, an innocent victim is a very dirty game. Some common sense at least needs to be shown when commenting on Soviet justice, at least in relation to criminals convicted of violent crimes, even if it cannot be managed in relation to the nature of the punishment, then at least as regards the propriety of convicting people who have committed crimes of this kind.

The kulaks and the counter-revolution

In the case of the counter-revolutionaries, it is also necessary to consider the crimes of which they were accused. Let us give two examples to show the importance of this question: the first is the kulaks sentenced at the beginning of the 1930s, and the second is the conspirators and counter-revolutionaries convicted in 1936-38.

According to the research reports insofar as they deal with the kulaks, the rich peasants, there were 381,000 families, i.e., about 1.8 million people sent into exile. A small number of these people were sentenced to serve terms in labour camps or colonies. But what gave rise to these punishments?

The rich Russian peasant, the kulak, had subjected poor peasants for hundreds of years to boundless oppression and unbridled exploitation. Of the 120 million peasants in 1927, the 10 million kulaks lived in luxury while the remaining 110 million lived in poverty. Before the revolution they had lived in the most abject poverty. The wealth of the kulaks was based on the badly-paid labour of the poor peasants. When the poor peasants began to join together in collective farms, the main source of kulak wealth disappeared. But the kulaks did not give up. They tried to restore exploitation by use of famine. Groups of armed kulaks attacked collective farms, killed poor peasants and party workers, set fire to the fields and killed working animals. By provoking starvation among poor peasants, the kulaks were trying to secure the perpetuation of poverty and their own positions of power. The events which ensued were not those expected by these murderers. This time the poor peasants had the support of the revolution and proved to be stronger than the kulaks, who were defeated, imprisoned and sent into exile or sentenced to terms in labour camps.

Of the 10 million kulaks, 1.8 million were exiled or convicted. There may have been injustices perpetrated in the course of this massive class struggle in the Soviet countryside, a struggle involving 120 million people. But can we blame the poor and the oppressed, in their struggle for a life worth living, in their struggle to ensure their children would not be starving illiterates, for not being sufficiently `civilised’ or showing enough `mercy’ in their courts? Can one point the finger at people who for hundreds of years had no access to the advances made by civilisation for not being civilised? And tell us, when was the kulak exploiter civilised or merciful in his dealings with poor peasants during the years and years of endless exploitation.

The purges of 1937

Our second example, that of the counter-revolutionaries convicted in the 1936-38 Trials which followed the purges of party, army and state apparatus, has its roots in the history of the revolutionary movement in Russia. Millions of people participated in the victorious struggle against the Tsar and the Russian bourgeoisie, and many of these joined the Russian Communist Party. Among all these people there were, unfortunately, some who entered the party for reasons other than fighting for the proletariat and for socialism. But the class struggle was such that often there was neither the time nor the opportunity to put new party militants to the test. Even militants from other parties who called themselves socialists and who had fought the Bolshevik party were admitted to the Communist Party. A number of these new activists were given important positions in the Bolshevik Party, the state and the armed forces, depending on their individual ability to conduct class struggle. These were very difficult times for the young Soviet state, and the great shortage of cadres – or even of people who could read – forced the party to make few demands as regards the quality of new activists and cadres. Because of these problems, there arose in time a contradiction which split the party into two camps – on the one hand those who wanted to press forward in the struggle to build a socialist society, and on the other hand those who thought that the conditions were not yet ripe for building socialism and who promoted social-democracy. The origin of these ideas lay in Trotsky, who had joined the party in July 1917. Trotsky was able over time to secure the support of some of the best known Bolsheviks. This opposition, united against the original Bolshevik plan, provided one of the policy options which were the subject of a vote on 27 December 1927. Before this vote was taken, there had been a great party debate going on over many years and the result left nobody in any doubt. Of the 725,000 votes cast, the opposition secured 6,000 – i.e., less than 1% of party activists supported the united opposition.

As a consequence of the vote, and once the opposition started working for a policy opposed to that of the party, the Central Committee of the Communist Party decided to expel from the party the principal leaders of the united opposition. The central opposition figure, Trotsky, was expelled from the Soviet Union. But the story of this opposition did not end there. Zinoviev, Kamenev and Zvdokine afterwards made self-criticisms, as did several leading Trotskyists, such as Pyatakov, Radek, Preobrazhinsky and Smirnov. All of them were once again accepted into the party as activists and took up once more their party and state posts. In time it became clear that the self-criticisms made by the opposition had not been genuine, since the oppositionist leaders were united on the side of the counter revolution every time that class struggle sharpened in the Soviet Union. The majority of the oppositionists were expelled and re-admitted another couple of times before the situation clarified itself completely in 1937-38.

Industrial sabotage

The murder in December 1934 of Kirov, the chairman of the Leningrad party and one of the most important people in the Central Committee, sparked off the investigation that was to lead to the discovery of a secret organisation engaged in preparing a conspiracy to take over the leadership of the party and the government of the country by means of violence. The opposition, having lost the political struggle in 1927, now hoped to win by means of organised violence against the state. Their main weapons were industrial sabotage, terrorism and corruption. Trotsky, the main inspiration for the opposition, directed their activities from abroad. Industrial sabotage caused terrible losses to the Soviet state, at enormous cost, for example, important machines were damaged beyond possibility of repair, and there was an enormous fall in production in mines and factories.

One of the people who in 1934 described the problem was the American engineer John Littlepage, one of the foreign specialists contracted to work in the Soviet Union. Littlepage spent 10 years working in the Soviet mining industry – from 1927-37, mainly in the gold mines. In his book, In search of Soviet gold, he writes: “I never took any interest in the subtleties of political manoeuvring in Russia so long as I could avoid them; but I had to study what was happening in Soviet industry in order to do my work. And I am firmly convinced that Stalin and his collaborators took a long time to discover that discontented revolutionary communists were his worst enemies.”

Littlepage also wrote that his personal experience confirmed the official statement to the effect that a great conspiracy directed from abroad was using major industrial sabotage as part of its plans to force the government to fall. In 1931 Littlepage had already felt obliged to take note of this, while working in the copper and bronze mines of the Urals and Kazakhstan. The mines were part of a large copper/bronze complex under the overall direction of Pyatakov, the people’s Vice Commissar for heavy industry. The mines were in a catastrophic state as far as production and the well-being of their workers was concerned. Littlepage reached the conclusion that there was organised sabotage going on which came from the top management of the copper/bronze complex.

Littlepage’s book also tells us from where the Trotskyite opposition obtained the money that was necessary to pay for this counter-revolutionary activity. Many members of the secret opposition used their positions to approve the purchase of machines from certain factories abroad. The products approved were of much lower quality than those the Soviet government actually paid for. The foreign producers gave Trotsky’s organisation the surplus from such transactions, as a result of which Trotsky and his co-conspirators in the Soviet Union continued to order from these manufacturers.

Theft and corruption

This procedure was observed by Littlepage in Berlin in the spring of 1931 when buying industrial lifts for mines. The Soviet delegation was headed by Pyatakov, with Littlepage as the specialist in charge of verifying the quality of the lifts and of approving the purchase. Littlepage discovered a fraud involving low quality lifts, useless for Soviet purposes, but when he informed Pyatakov and the other members of the Soviet delegation of this fact, he met with a cold reception, as if they wanted to overlook these facts and insist he should approve the purchase of the lifts. Littlepage would not do so. At the time he thought that what was happening involved personal corruption and that the members of the delegation had been bribed by the lift manufacturers. But after Pyatakov, in the 1937 Trial, confessed his links with the Trotskyist opposition, Littlepage was driven to the conclusion that what he had witnessed in Berlin was much more than corruption at a personal level. The money involved was intended to pay for the activities of the secret opposition in the Soviet Union, activities which included sabotage, terrorism, bribery and propaganda.

Zinoviev, Kamenev, Pyatakov, Radek, Tomsky, Bukharin and others much loved by the Western bourgeois press used the positions entrusted to them by the Soviet people and party to steal money from the state, in order to enable enemies of socialism to use that money for the purposes of sabotage and in their fight against socialist society in the Soviet Union.

Plans for a coup

Theft, sabotage and corruption are serious crimes in themselves, but the opposition’s activities went much further. A counter-revolutionary conspiracy was being prepared with the aim of taking over state power by means of a coup in which the whole Soviet leadership would be eliminated, starting with the assassination of the most important members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. The military side of the coup would be carried out by a group of generals headed by Marshal Tukhachevsky.

According to Isaac Deutscher, himself a Trotskyite, who wrote several books against Stalin and the Soviet Union, the coup was to have been initiated by a military operation against the Kremlin and the most important troops in the big cities, such as Moscow and Leningrad. The conspiracy was, according to Deutscher, headed by Tukhachevsky together with Gamarnik, the head of the army political commissariat, General Yakir, the Commander of Leningrad, General Uborevich, the commander of the Moscow military academy, and General Primakov, a cavalry commander.

Marshal Tukhachevsky had been an officer in the former Tsarist army who, after the revolution, went over to the Red Army. In 1930 nearly 10% of officers (close to 4,500) were former Tsarist officers. Many of them never abandoned their bourgeois outlook and were just waiting for an opportunity to fight for it. This opportunity arose when the opposition was preparing its coup.

The Bolsheviks were strong, but the civilian and military conspirators endeavoured to muster strong friends. According to Bukharin’s confession in his public trial in 1938, an agreement was reached between the Trotskyite opposition and Nazi Germany, in which large territories, including the Ukraine, would be ceded to Nazi Germany following the counter-revolutionary coup in the Soviet Union. This was the price demanded by Nazi Germany for its promise of support for the counter-revolutionaries. Bukharin had been informed about this agreement by Radek, who had received an order from Trotsky about the matter. All these conspirators who had been chosen for high positions to lead, administer and defend socialist society were in reality working to destroy socialism. Above all it is necessary to remember that all this was happening in the 1930s, when the Nazi danger was growing all the time and the Nazi armies were setting Europe alight and preparing to invade the Soviet Union.

The conspirators were sentenced to death as traitors after a public trial. Those found guilty of sabotage, terrorism, corruption, attempted murder and who had wanted to hand over part of the country to the Nazis, could expect nothing else. To call them innocent victims is completely mistaken.

More numerous liars

It is interesting to see how Western propaganda, via Robert Conquest, has lied about the purges of the Red Army. Conquest says in his book The Great Terror that in 1937 there were 70,000 officers and political commissars in the Red Army and that 50% of them (i.e., 15,000 officers and 20,000 commissars) were arrested by the political police and were either executed or imprisoned for life in labour camps. In this allegation of Conquest’s, as in his whole book, there is not one word of truth. The historian Roger Reese, in his work The Red Army and the Great Purges, gives the facts which show the real significance of the 1937-38 purges for the army. The number of people in the leadership of the Red Army and air force, i.e., officers and political commissars, was 144,300 in 1937, increasing to 282,300 by 1939. During the 1937-38 purges, 34,300 officers and political commissars were expelled for political reasons. By May 1940, however, 11,596 had already been rehabilitated and restored to their posts. This meant that during the 1937-38 purges, 22,705 officers and political commissars were dismissed (close to 13,000 army officers, 4,700 air force officers and 5,000 political commissars), which amounts to 7.7% of all officers and commissars – not 50% as Conquest alleges. Of this 7.7%, some were convicted as traitors, but the great majority of them, it would appear from historical material available, simply returned to civilian life.

One last question. Were the 1937-38 Trials fair to the accused? Let us examine, for example, the trial of Bukharin, the highest party functionary to work for the secret opposition. According to the American ambassador in Moscow at the time, a well-known lawyer called Joseph Davies, who attended the whole trial, Bukharin was permitted to speak freely throughout the trial and put forward his case without impediment of any kind. Joseph Davies wrote to Washington that during the Trial it was proved that the accused were guilty of the crimes of which they were charged and that the general opinion among diplomats attending the trial was that the existence of a very serious conspiracy had been proved.

Let us learn from history

The discussion of the Soviet penal system during Stalin’s time, on which thousands of lying articles and books have been written, and hundreds of films have been made conveying false impressions, leads to important lessons. The facts prove yet again that the stories published about socialism in the bourgeois press are mostly false. The right wing can, through the press, radio and TV that it dominates, cause confusion, distort the truth and cause very many people to believe lies to be the truth. This is especially true when it comes to historical questions. Any new stories from the right should be assumed to be false unless the contrary can be proved. This cautious approach is justified. The fact is that even knowing about the Russian research reports, the right is continuing to reproduce the lies taught for the last 50 years, even though they have now been completely exposed. The right continues its historical heritage: a lie repeated over and over again ends up being accepted as true. After the Russian research reports were published in the west, a number of books began to appear in different countries aimed solely at calling into question the Russian research and enabling the old lies to be brought to public attention as new truths. These are well-presented books, stuffed from cover to cover with lies about communism and socialism.

The right-wing lies are repeated in order to fight today’s communists. They are repeated so that workers will find no alternative to capitalism and neo-liberalism. They are part of the dirty war against communists who alone have an alternative to offer for the future, i.e., socialist society. This is the reason for the appearance of all these new books containing old lies.

All this places an obligation on everybody with a socialist world outlook on history. We must take on the responsibility of working to turn communist newspapers into authentic newspapers of the working class to combat bourgeois lies! This is without doubt an important mission in today’s class struggle, which in the near future will arise again with renewed force.

Translated and presented by Ella Rule to the Stalin Society 7th March 1999

Housing in the USSR

Presentation made to the Stalin Society by Katt Cremer

The first premise of all human existence is … that man must be in a position to live in order to make history. But life involves before anything else eating and drinking, a habitation, clothing and many other things” (K Marx and F Engels, The German Ideology (1846), International Publishers, New York, 1947, p.16).

Comrades, before capitalism mankind constantly suffered for a shortage of life’s essentials. In part, this was because his primitive technique prevented it from producing sufficient quantities of the things needed. Modern scientific modes of production are capable of producing abundance. Modern science and advanced technique, large scale industry and machinery can produce many more things than man can consume, and yet because of capitalism, because of private ownership, workers remain hungry, thirsty, in need of housing, clothing and many other things. Today in Britain, amongst many other problems and social diseases, there is a profound housing crisis. This meeting of the Stalin Society, far from being concerned with historical re-enactment or mithra worship, will look to the example set by Soviet workers during the building of socialism, when, led by the CPSU with comrade Stalin at the helm, the Soviet people set about abolishing the terrible conditions of housing which prevailed in pre-revolutionary Russia.

Before I begin I must remark that I have been asked to talk on this subject today as the society Secretary thought I may have some personal insight which comes from having been trained as an architect in a typical British architectural practice. I can say that I have seen from my own experience as an architect the positive role that housing (and house planning) can play in relation to the character of an area and the wellbeing of its inhabitants. Whilst town and city centres may have the principal iconic buildings or squares that give a sense of uniqueness, it is not the show pieces of capitalist enterprise and commerce that shape the entire appearance of a city – they merely occupy the foreground. Whilst those structures certainly enrich a landscape and bring joy to the eye, what makes up a city’s spirit and overall demeanour are the hundreds upon thousands of residential buildings that are its background, its streets and avenues that are its shape, the millions of houses in which the working people live and bring life. I will attempt to show you examples of both in this presentation.

The Housing Question

The housing question is a primary question for communists in Britain today. As we seek to put the case for socialism to British workers, we benefit from having the experience and example set by the Soviet Union. We face every day the insanity of our current situation where more than 650,000 properties lie vacant and 200,000 people live on the streets, in the gutters, under the bridges and shop doorways. Hundreds of thousands live in desperate housing conditions, many failing to keep pace with spiralling rents as private landlords capitalise on the acute housing shortage. The luckier workers waste their lives paying mortgages that in many instances account for half the family income, hoping to be ‘home owners’ by the time the state comes to sell their property to pay for their care home costs.

In the Soviet Union no such insanity was tolerated despite having to start from incomparably worse beginnings. The October Revolution nationalised large homes, and vacant properties were shared amongst the people, rents were kept to less than 4% of workers incomes, and a focus on decent living standards for all was the State’s priority.

The Soviet Union tackled at breakneck speed a severe housing problem inherited from Tsarism, a problem compounded by the devastation of the war of intervention and later by WW2. The Soviet government put the housing of its people, all across the vast territory USSR, as a high priority that warranted focus, investment and planning.

Conditions under Tsardom

In Russia before the Great October Socialist Revolution the habitation of workers and peasants was extremely depressing, it is a wonder those suffering millions had strength to make such remarkable history. Russian workers in the early part of the twentieth century were clustered in damp and cold mud huts and barracks with double-tiered plank beds, two or three people per bed. In 1912, there were 24,500 cubbyhole flats in Moscow housing an incredible 325,000 people. In the very same city there were the noblemen’s mansions and bourgeois villas housing single families. In these relative palaces, space per resident was often as high as several hundred square metres.

Nowadays we usually attempt to measure overcrowding by counting how many individuals have to live in a single room. But in the industrial districts of Tsarist Russia more than half the factory workers had no rooms at all!

According to the findings of a special investigation made in St Petersburg in 1908, only 40 percent of the textile workers had separate rooms; the remainder found shelter in overcrowded barracks, where they occupied separate bunks. On average a working family had only three square meters of floor space. And this in St Petersburg where the workers enjoyed comparatively better living conditions than elsewhere” (Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Soviet Communisma new civilisation, Victor Gollancz, London, 1937).

By 1913 conditions had not changed significantly. 58% of the workers lived in company-owned accommodation. This still usually meant a factory barracks with plank beds arranged in two tiers. Similar conditions existed in the traditional industrial regions; for example, in the textile centres, living conditions were frequently as bad, with up to 40 persons sleeping on plank beds arranged in two or three tiers occupying one room at densities of 1.5-2.5 sqm per person (see Gregory Andrusz, Housing and Urban Development in the USSR, Suny Press, Albany New York, 1985).

In 1914, while some 5,000 large comfortable flats were vacant in the central part of Moscow, the city and its suburbs had about 27,000 ‘bedroom flats’, in which only the individual beds were let. With over 300,000 persons living in these flats, it meant that each room had an average of a dozen tenants (see Yuri Yaralov, Housing in the USSR, Soviet News, London, 1954).

Municipal facilities were also primitive, the water supply system in 1916 existed in only 200 of the country’s 1,084 towns, with only 10% of houses in these towns connected to the system. 23 towns possessed a centralised sewerage system, though only 3% of houses were connected and only 5% of all urban dwellings had electricity; a mere 134 towns had any form of electric street lighting.

The terrible overcrowding was by no means restricted to urban conditions: in the countryside where capitalism had opened up mines and mills it brought, with its advanced technology, advanced forms of human degradation and misery. An English visitor (who later returned to Soviet Russia) found his way to a factory in a forest, 20 miles from the small town of Vladimir; he remembered “no trade union was tolerated before the revolution. Every form of association among the workers, even for purposes of education or recreation, was forbidden. I saw the vast barracks in which they had been housed. Each family had for its dwelling a narrow though lofty cell (one cannot call it a room) lit by a tiny window high up in the wall. Often as many as seven or eight pairs of lungs inhabited these cells, and the allowance of space was supposed to be seven cubic feet for each person. The factory was well lit by electricity. There was no artificial light in the barracks, and the sanitary arrangements were unspeakable” (quoted by Sidney and Beatrice, op.cit.)

As Russia was an imperialist power, its vast colonies stretched in all directions. Here the workers in the Urals, the Donets Basin and Baku were particularly hard hit by cramped and insanitary conditions. The writer Maxim Gorky visited the Baku oil workers’ homes before and after the Bolshevik Revolution He recalled: “I never saw so much filth and refuse around a human habitation, so many broken windows and such squalor in the rooms, which looked like caves. Not a flower in the windows, and not a patch of land covered with grass or shrubbery around.” In 1928 Gorky again visited Baku, and when he saw the workers’ residential districts he wrote: “Baku affords indisputable and splendid proof of the successful building of the workers’ state and the creation of the new culture – that is the impression I got” (quoted by Yuri Yaralov, op.cit.).

The centre of Baku changed over the course of 60 years to 1954. From a rather drab central square to a bustling hub complete by the 1930s with tall buildings and lower rise buildings, landscaped space with tiered steps, and a modern tram system. By the 1950s the scale and prestige of the square is clear. A large amount of green space is retained, with large trees, not the twigs that we get in most developments here these days.

It is this advance, from squalor to the creation of a new culture that is remarkable. It is this context that we must keep in mind. The conditions of life under tsarism are always left out of the picture when the accusations of poor housing stock are laid on the Soviet Union. As the Webbs put it (op.cit.):

It is a paradox of social statistics in every country that some of the greatest advances in social organisation are made the subjects of the bitterest reproaches. This is the case with regard to the service of housing in the Soviet Union.

“The living conditions of the mass of the people in the industrial centres of Tsarist Russia, as well as in the villages, were so appallingly bad, and the rapid growth of the city population during the past decade has been so overwhelming, that the utmost efforts at rehousing have so far scarcely kept pace with the very enlarging needs.

“Hence, in spite of really great achievements, soviet communism is blamed today for the fact that the housing of the people is still a blot upon the picture!”

When we communists defend the record of the Soviet Union on housing as with all else, we do so as historical materialists. In the words of J V Stalin:

“…it is clear that every social system and every social movement in history must be evaluated not from the standpoint of ‘eternal justice’ or some other preconceived idea, as is not infrequently done by historians, but from the standpoint of the conditions which gave rise to that system or that social movement and with which they are connected.

“Everything depends on the conditions, time and place.

“It is clear that without such a historical approach to social phenomena, the existence and development of the science of history is impossible” (Dialectical and historical materialism, Lawrence & Wishart – Little Stalin Library, London 1941, p.10).

Housing in the days after the October Revolution

Having now appreciated some of the historical context for the housing question in the USSR, it will be possible to look at what was achieved and to appreciate it in all its significance. We will begin by looking at those years immediately following the October Revolution.

The second decree, issued by the new Soviet government on the day after the revolution, abolished the private ownership of land. In towns with over 10,000 people the government abrogated the right of private ownership of buildings whose value exceeded a certain limit set by the local organs of power and so before the end of 1917 large residential buildings had been nationalised.

Hundreds of thousands of workers were moved out of the slums into nationalised houses. Housing policy consisted of redistributing the existing stock by sequestering and requisitioning houses belonging to the nobility and bourgeoisie.

Just days after the revolution the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs issued an order granting the right to sequester empty buildings suitable for habitation and to use them for people living in overcrowded or unsanitary conditions. It also entitled workers to set up housing inspectorates, tenants’ committees and courts for settling disputes arising out of the letting of buildings.

Imagine now those 5,000 large comfortable flats that we heard were vacant in 1914 in the central part of Moscow being requisitioned and used to house some of the 300,000 people sharing the one bed flats, or the sick, injured and lame soldiers who returned from the front.

Now imagine here the government issuing a decree requisitioning the 650,000 vacant houses in Britain to house the almost 200,000 officially homeless, not to mention those holed up in doss houses and so-called B&Bs because there are no social houses available. Perhaps, comrades, we might ask our revisionist friends in the CPB to raise this proposal when next they take tea with Jeremy in Islington?

The Programme of the VIII Party Congress in March 1919 declared that: “Soviet power, in order to solve the housing problem, has expropriated completely all housing belonging to capitalists and has handed these over to city soviets; it has brought about a large-scale resettlement of workers from the outskirts of cities into the houses of the bourgeoisie; it has transferred the best of these houses to workers’ organisations”.

The Communist Party goes on to state that it was necessary in every way “to strive to improve the housing conditions of the working masses; to put an end to the congestion and unsanitary conditions in the old blocks, to demolish the buildings which were unfit to live in, to reconstruct the old houses and to build new houses answering to the new conditions of life of the working masses, and to rationally resettle the working people.”

Housing space was redistributed according to need based on a definition of a minimum requirement and a maximum entitlement of space per person. The Commissariat for Health (Narkomzdrav) in 1919 set the minimum space requirement at 8.25sqm /person of actual living space and 30 cubic metres of air space for each adult and 20 cubic metres for children under age 14.

Space standards – a brief comparison

It should be noted in relation to these figures about living space that there are different approaches to how such numbers are calculated. In Britain we refer to our houses by number of bedrooms not by any reference to the floor area, as is the standard in most other European countries. This is a fantastic trick played on all of us as the average detached house may actually be considerably smaller than a flat in Paris or Berlin. But that surely won’t put off the aspiring homeowner if he has an extra box room to brag about. It is now commonplace for a room just big enough to fit in a single bed to be classified as a bedroom and the house price rise.

Historically, in the post-war period of social democracy when British workers most benefited from imperialist sops there were minimum space standards required for local authority and social housing. In 1961 the Parker Morris standard was applied to all local authority houses which, for example, required a 2 person flat to be a minimum of 44.5sqm and a 4 person flat to be 69.6sqm. These figures however, only ever applied to social housing, i.e. less than 30% of our housing stock. In 2015 the Technical Housing Standards were introduced that improved standards, for example a 2 person flat went up to 50sqm and a 4 person flat to 70sqm. Yet again, rather than introducing these as mandatory requirements for all housing as part of the Building Regulations, which they inform, they are optional and become part of a planning system where each local authority has to adopt them through their long winded and bureaucratic Local Planning process.

In the Soviet Union space was calculated based on actual living space, i.e., it only included the living and bed rooms, with kitchens, corridors, entrances and bathrooms not included. This additional space would increase the actual area of any flat by between 30 and 50 percent. The space standards used for Parker Morris and the Technical Housing Standards include the total area within the external wall, i.e. the actual living space plus the kitchens, corridors, entrances and bathrooms! The same is true for the European standards—the areas are the total areas within the four walls of a flat or house. Such are the nuances which can be observed in the imperialist countries as opposed to the workers’ republic.

Housing in the years after the October Revolution

Russia, having been reduced to a state of ruin by four years of imperialist war and three years of intervention was indelibly scarred by an acute housing shortage despite the measures taken in the days immediately following the revolution.

The material damage caused to housing alone by the civil war and intervention amounted to more than 2,000 million gold roubles. In Moscow, between 1914-1921, the number of urban houses destroyed or rendered unfit for habitation amounted to almost one fifth of the living space.

Despite these setbacks, resettlement had continued, and between 1918 and 1924 half a million workers and their families in Moscow alone were moved into better flats. Previously, working class families had accounted for no more than 3% of the residents in Sadovaya Koltso district, the best part of the city; following the resettlement the percentage went up to 40-50%. The same was true of Leningrad and other cities. Up to then rents had been high, making it impossible for workers to live in decent accommodation (see Yuri Yaralov, op.cit.).

It was understood, however, that resettlement could not meet the housing needs of all the working people and even whilst the White army and their allies were attacking the fledgling Soviet Union, construction of new houses was underway.

In 1920 alone, 254 residential buildings were put up and 2,347 old ones were repaired within the 58 gubernias of the republic. While this was no more than a modest beginning. It was an indication of the determination of the Soviet government.

The socialist state is built

In the five years 1923-1927 well over 12.5 million square metres of living space was built in the USSR, and in the following five years 1927-1931 another 28.85 million square metres. It should be made clear that this construction was not confined to the existing old towns. In the 13yrs from 1926-1939, 213 new towns and 1,323 new urban communities appeared (see Yuri Yaralov, op.cit.).

In all, the number of towns in the USSR increased from 675 to 1,451 between 1917 and 1951. These new towns and settlements grew up everywhere – in the steppes of Kazakhstan, in the industrial areas of the Ukraine and the Urals and beyond the Arctic Circle.

With regard to housing, as in so many other activities of Soviet communism, we see the characteristic devotion of endless time and thought to getting the best scheme or plan. The planning of new cities, or the rebuilding of old ones, is in the USSR not a fad of philanthropists or utopian architects, but a recognised part of the art and public administration, forced on the attention of statesmen and officials, architects and builders, and also the general public, by elaborate specialist museums and research institutes, and by organising, periodical public exhibitions, with exceptionally vivid maps and diagrams, explaining how each city can best be transformed and developed.

“The extension of such cities as Moscow and Leningrad, for the next twenty or thirty years, has been exhaustively studied and graphically delineated, having regard to the more convenient location of additional factories, amount of new housing, means of communication and locomotion, supply of water and electricity, disposal of surface water, sewerage and garbage, maintenance of open spaces, construction of stadiums, provision of schools and higher education, hospitals and clinics, public baths, fire stations and every kind of public office” (Sidney and Beatrice Webb, op.cit.).

During the period of the Second Five-Year Plan 1933-1937 the area of living space built by the state alone, and turned over for occupancy amounted to 27.34 million sqm. Altogether in the first 20 years of the Soviet government practically as many large residential buildings were built as existed in all the towns of the country before the revolution.

A comparison of the average living area per person in workers flats before 1917 and in those at the beginning of 1938 shows a striking change. In Leningrad, for instance, the average living area per person doubled, in Moscow it was up 94%, in the cities of the Donbas 176% and in the Urals 195% (information based on the census taken in 1938).

A comparison – Britain in the same period

While the trajectory of housing in the Soviet Union was going in an upward direction the same cannot be said for the situation for workers in the imperialist heartlands. For example in Britain the condition of housing for workers was still dire. We must again remember how to study history, as Stalin said, it is determined by conditions, time and place. So, let us turn for a brief moment to compare Soviet Russia, so traumatised by war and intervention with another country during the same period. Let us take Britain in the 1920’s and 30’s, the world’s oldest imperialist country.

Limited improvements in housing standards that had been initiated in 1919 in response to pressure from workers and returning soldiers from the war, and the fear of revolution spreading, were quickly vanishing during the 1920s and 1930s, as Britain and the capitalist world proceeded headlong into one of the periodic crisis of overproduction.

In 1924 the Wheatley Act was introduced with the principal objective of securing a continuous building programme to address Britain’s acute housing shortage. The Victorian age had seen an influx into the cities and the squalor in which workers lived was generously provided, in the main, by private landlords. So long as rents were kept high very few capitalists took much interest in providing or building new homes, as they had more profitable avenues of speculation in those days. The Wheatley Act and government policy had to turn, in some small way, to the question of social housing, or at the very least to planned provision. The Act aimed to tackle the shortage of homes over a period of 15 years and to erect houses that would be let at lower rents to meet the position of lower wage earners. However, under capitalist conditions restricting future rents merely resulted in a corresponding reduction in the size and standard of the houses that were built, and were consequently developed at a higher density. For instance, during this period, a new three bedroom house was often only 57sqm compared to over 90sqm in 1919, which could be translated as approximately 14sqm/person and 23sqm/person respectively.

By comparison to this downward trend in Britain, the Soviet Union was striving to improve the lot of the worker and peasant. The living space for a worker was increasing from under 2-3sqm/person in 1913, to providing three room family homes of over 60sqm or 16sqm/person by 1923.

While the Wheatley Act had focused on increasing the build programme to address the housing shortage, the condition of the existing stock was typified by overcrowded, poor condition. “when the 1931 National Government took office… there were 11.5 million families in Great Britain there were only 10.5 million dwellings”

“In England and Wales… 4.5 million people (12 percent of the population) were crowded together with two or more persons to a room. In Scotland the overcrowding was much worse – 35 percent of the population lived more than two persons to a room” (Noreen Branson and Margot Heinemann, Britain in the 1930s, Panther, London, 1973, p.200).

A well known historian of those times documented,

The worst houses were damp insanitary slums. The typical London slum was a two-storey four-bedroomed terraced-type house with a lean-to wash room. The fabric of the house would be porous, the roof leaking, the wall plaster perished, the ceiling sagging. A defective water closet would be in the yard, so would the only tap… towns in the north had even more intense problems. Leeds had scores of thousands of “back-to-backs” houses built at seventy or eighty to the acre, damp, decayed, badly ventilated, dark, with one outside lavatory to every three or four houses. Birmingham too, had 40,000 ‘back-to-backs’. Liverpool had probably the worst slums in England; here there were people living in cellars ad courts whose building had been prohibited in 1854. In Liverpool 20,000 people were living more than three to a room. In Glasgow, where the slums were far worse than the worst in England, nearly 200,000 were living more than three to a room” (quoted by Branson and Heinemann, ibid. p.203).

In Russia on the hand there were no slum landlords. Housing was social and rents were kept low. The lowest paid workers often only had to find two or three roubles per month, representing perhaps 2% of their income. Moreover, a poor man would pay less for his share of an apartment than someone better off having the same space.

Winterton, a British economist and Labour Party member who had lived in Russia for a year in 1928, and returned to visit in 1933 and again in 1937, reflected in an article in the News Chronicle after his visit in 1937 that: “The Soviet Union’s startling rise from an extreme of miserable poverty to a standard of life which in the towns begins to approach a Western level must always rank as one of the major miracles of history.” He remarked “electricity, water and gas were… very cheap. One man I met was earning 225 roubles a month and paying only seven-tenths of a rouble for his electric light.”

The lowest paid Soviet worker – the entirely unskilled labourer – receives about 125 roubles a month. Rent, at two or three roubles a month, is a negligible part of his budget, and the remainder would provide for a basic subsistence in terms of food and clothing.

My first inclination” he recalled, “was to compare this lowest paid Soviet family with an unemployed family in England. As regards food and clothing, their expectation would be approximately the same. There are, however, several qualifications which disturb this comparison.

In the first place, the wife in such a Russian family would almost certainly be at work, earning not less than 125 roubles a month herself. Her children, if young, would be in a crêche all day where they would be looked after and well fed for a nominal payment. Russia does not allow under-nourished children.

In the second place, both husband and wife would probably be attached to some club where all kinds of amusements would be available virtually free of charge. They might obtain cheap meals at their place of work.

“The whole family would have a good chance of spending a week or more at some rest place in the country during the summer free of charge. Husband and wife would have complete security in their job. Every facility for education, the best of care during sickness without charge, and modest provision for old age would be their right.

“Shall I put it this way? On balance, I would definitely prefer to be a Soviet worker with a wife and two children living on 125 roubles a month, with all the additional assistance, opportunity and security that the Soviet state affords, than an unemployed man with the same family in England, with no hope for the future and nothing but the dole for the present.

“I would make that choice notwithstanding the housing conditions in which at the moment such a Soviet worker would have to live.

“Deliberately I have started my comparison with the lowest paid (there are no unemployed in Russia) worker. But the average wage of the Soviet worker and employee this year is about 270 roubles per month. If the wife works, the family income doubles this amount. Life on such a level would take on a very different aspect. Small luxuries would be possible. Clothes would be things saved up for. Such a family would have ample to eat and drink and money enough to enjoy their leisure” (Paul Winterton, Russia – with open eyes, Lawrence & Wishart, London, 1937).

Housing in the former colonies of Tsarist Russia

Such improvements as Winterton explains were matched in the former colonies of Tsarist Russia.

Great progress in housing construction had also been made during the course of the first and second five-year plans in the formerly economically backward national republics, where in the years after the revolution industrial development was particularly rapid. In Kazakhstan, for instance, state-owned housing increased 5.5 times between 1926 and 1940, in Georgia 3 times, in Kirghizia (modern day Kirghizstan) 6.5 times, In Frunze, capital of Kirghizia, state-owned housing increased 110 times, and in Alma Ata, capital of Kazakhstan 160 times.

Thus from year to year, month to month, the rate of construction throughout the country kept growing and housing needs were gradually being met.

In 1939”, recalled Soviet architect Yuri Yaralov “I had occasion to make a study of an old architectural monument in Armenia. I had imagined that it was in the mountains, far from any inhabited place. Imagine my surprise when one evening, as I was approaching the object of my search, I saw in the small valley a settlement flooded with electric light.

“Descending to the settlement I found a few streets lined with stone cottages. Going over to the nearest house I asked a man, sitting on a bench outside, where I was. It turned out that this was a settlement put up by the nearby building materials factory which had been built not long before. The man invited me into his house.

“As an architect I was interested in its layout. Three rooms, a kitchen, bathroom, lavatory, a glassed-in veranda and an open balcony were conveniently and compactly arranged. The house had central heating. A family of four lived in this house.

“The next time I had occasion to be in that settlement was in 1953. By that time it had 117 two-storey houses in which the workers and their families lived. The settlement also had a school, club, library, hospital, dispensary and pharmacy, kindergarten and nursery, two restaurants, shops, a post office and a hotel.

“Such settlements are put up near all the mills and factories that are being constructed in large numbers in the USSR” (op.cit.).

Perhaps we should turn not to the Yuri Yaralovs of this world who might be accused of bias, but to social democrats like Sydney and Beatrice Webb, Fabians who visited Soviet Russia in the 1930s and reported on planned development of housing production,

Doubtless there are mistakes and unforeseen contingencies in all this elaborate forecasting of future action. But it is hard to believe that deliberate planning is not better than leaving everything to haphazard individual decisions when the moment arrives.

“Architects from western countries find this part of the housing problem ably dealt with in the USSR. Quote one enthusiastic summary by British expert: ‘the town planning, the city planning, the regional planning, is all good. They have considered everything, power for the factories, convenience of getting raw material to the works and finished products away from them. The new cities are zoned and belted in the most approved and up-to-date way. They have provided amply for all aesthetic, health and recreational wants, planting trees everywhere, building fine cinemas and theatres, ample hospitals and schools. Everything has been well and wisely planned.’

“Unfortunately, as is equally characteristic of the present phase of Soviet communism, the elaborate planning is not accompanied by an equally high standard of execution. The considerable work in providing additional housing in the cities and other industrial areas, during the past seven years, has been done in great haste, largely by peasant youths very imperfectly trained as building craftsmen. The haste was part of the ‘Bolshevik tempo’, deliberately adopted for the heavy industries, to be explained as arising from the intense desire to make the USSR self-sufficient before the constantly apprehended attack (or blockade or embargo) by the capitalist powers could be begun. Whether or not this fear was justified, the acceleration which it demanded has had an adverse result on the incessant building operations of 1928-1934.”

So wrote the Webbs barely two or three years before Nazi Germany traitorously attacked the USSR! Lucky then the Soviet people had adopted Bolshevik tempo!

The Great Patriotic War

In 1941 the Great Patriotic War began. No state suffered as much loss in the war against fascism as the Soviet Union. Not only did she sacrifice 27 million people in defeating Nazi Germany she also suffered the complete or partial destruction of tens of thousands of towns and villages, with the Hitlerite forces burning or wrecking more than 6 million buildings. Some 25 million Soviet people were left without roofs over their heads.

It looked as though decades would be needed to restore everything that had been destroyed, to provide shelter for the millions of people and rehabilitate industry and agriculture.

Yet the Soviet people showed otherwise. With the enemy still on Soviet territory, shelling Leningrad and holding Smolensk, rehabilitation was in full swing in the liberated areas.

The 22 August 1943 saw the publication of a decision of the Council of People’s Commissars and the Central Committee of the Communist Party on ‘Urgent Measures for Rehabilitation of the Economy in the Areas Liberated from German Occupancy’.

It was underscored in the decision that the Soviet government regarded it as an urgent task “to restore old and build new dwelling houses from local building materials in villages, towns and industrial settlements liberated from German occupation in order to make sure that collective farmers and workers at present living in dugouts and demolished houses should receive premises fit to live in”.

In 1944 alone, 839,000 houses were restored or built anew in rural areas, and more than 12.5 million square metres of living space in towns in the liberated area of the USSR. In that one year some 5.5m people whom the war had deprived of shelter received comfortable living quarters. Such are the mere footnotes to the Soviet people’s dazzling achievements in this period!

This construction was not restricted to liberated areas: construction continued apace in parts of the Soviet Union away from the front. In Gorky, more than 137,960 sqm of living space was built, and in the Siberian town of Irkutsk some 19,200 sqm was built.

In the same year that Hitler’s hordes were heading for the Volga, a State Theatre of Opera and Ballet, with a seating capacity of 1000 was completed in Stalinabad, the capital of Tajikistan. In Moscow, seven new Metro stations were built in the course of the war.

The very fact that these splendid works of Soviet architecture were built then showed that the Soviet people were firmly convinced of their victory” (Yuri Yaralov, op.cit).

After the second world war the growth of the urban population continued. By 1954 almost 185 million sqm of living space was built in towns and industrial settlements, and more than 4 million homes in rural areas.

The directives of the 19th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1952 provided for the construction of some 105million square metres of living space by the end of 1955, the last year of the fifth five year plan. In fact the fifth five year plan exceeded this provision by an additional 30% at 151.7million square metres.

The volume of state housing construction for 1956-1960 was set as 214.9 million square metres of total floor space, almost twice as much as the fifth five-year plan.

It is this increase in the rate of construction, in the face of all the obstacles that were put in the way that is astounding.

Conclusion

Comrades, we could go on. Pages upon pages of material could be written further elaborating upon the achievements of Soviet workers in this period. The best I am able to do today, in this short space of time, is to put before you those facts, figures and comparisons cited above so as we here may be able to comprehend the spectacular successes of socialist labour as compared to exploited labour under capitalist conditions. Our task today must be to learn the lessons of the Soviet experience, lessons neatly summarised by J V Stalin in 1930, in his report on the work of the Central Committee to the 16 Congress of the CPSU(b):

What is the cause of the fact that the USSR, despite its cultural backwardness, despite the dearth of capital, despite the dearth of technically experienced economic cadres, is in a state of increasing economic upswing and has achieved decisive successes on the front of economic construction, whereas the advanced capitalist countries, despite their abundance of capital, their abundance of technical cadres and their higher cultural level, are in a state of growing economic crisis and in the sphere of economic development are suffering defeat after defeat?

“The cause lies in the difference in the economic systems here and in the capitalist countries. The cause lies in the bankruptcy of the capitalist system of economy. The cause lies in the advantages of the Soviet system of economy over the capitalist system.

“What is the Soviet system of economy?

“The Soviet system of economy means that:

“(1) the power of the class of capitalists and landlords has been overthrown and replaced by the power of the working class and labouring peasantry;

“(2) the instruments and means of production, the land, factories, mills, etc., have been taken from the capitalists and transferred to the ownership of the working class and the labouring masses of the peasantry;

“(3) the development of production is subordinated not to the principle of competition and of ensuring capitalist profit, but to the principle of planned guidance and of systematically raising the material and cultural level of the working people;

“(4) the distribution of the national income takes place not with a view to enriching the exploiting classes and their numerous parasitical hangers-on, but with a view to ensuring the systematic improvement of the material conditions of the workers and peasants and the expansion of socialist production in town and country;

“(5) the systematic improvement in the material conditions of the working people and the continuous increase in their requirements (purchasing power), being a constantly increasing source of the expansion of production, guarantees the working people against crises of overproduction, growth of unemployment and poverty;

“(6) the working class and the labouring peasantry are the masters of the country, working not for the benefit of capitalists, but for their own benefit, the benefit of the working people.

“Such are the advantages of the Soviet system of economy over the capitalist system.

“Such are the advantages of the Socialist organisation of economy over the capitalist organisation….”

In his speech at the conference of the RCP(B) in May 1921, Lenin said: “At the present time we are exercising our main influence on the international revolution by our economic policy. All eyes are turned on the Soviet Russian Republic, the eyes of all toilers in all countries of the world without exception and without exaggeration. This we have achieved. The capitalists cannot hush up, conceal, anything, that is why they most of all seize upon our economic mistakes and our weakness. That is the field to which the struggle has been transferred on a worldwide scale. If we solve this problem, we shall have won on an international scale surely and finally” (Vol. XXVI, pp. 410-11).

Presentation made to Stalin Society on October 2016

George Orwell

George-orwell-BBC

Anti-Communist Propagandist, Champion of Trotskyism and State Informer

“What attracted the bourgeoisie to this third-rate writer was not his pretended support for the ideals of the October Revolution, but his real driving hated for the ideals of communism”
Refute the slanders contained in Orwell’s work, arm young people with the knowledge to defend the Soviet Union both in and out of the classroom
Presentation by Joti Brar
>> Political bias in education
>> The Orwell Myth
>> Orwell the state informer

Since the publication of Animal Farm in 1945, the work of George Orwell has had a permanent place on the school curriculum. He has been much praised as a literary genius, as one who combines talent with principles and continues the great ironic tradition of Swift and others. This is belied, however, by the boredom felt by students who come to a work like Animal Farm with no idea about the events it purports to be based on. Although it is much vaunted as a great work of art; a story that stands on its own as a fable about totalitarianism in general, examination questions all refer to the events of the Russian Revolution, and “an ability to regurgitate the equations of a Cold War wisdom is taken for granted in most exams.” (Examining Orwell: Political and Literary Values in Education, Alan Brown; Inside the Myth, ed. Christopher Norris: London, p.48)

Stephen Sedley points out that the story works only if the reader understands and agrees with the conclusions Orwell is trying to demonstrate before starting the novel:

“Orwell’s lineage from Swift is frequently spoken of. In background and personality there are similarities. . . but not in Animal Farm. It is not only that Swift has humour as well as passion, which Orwell does not. . . you cannot get into the fiction of Animal Farm at all without accepting as your starting point the very thing that Orwell has to prove – that in politics people are no better than animals: their traditional rulers may be feckless but ungovern them and a new tyranny will fill the place of the old. Naturally if you are prepared to accept that conclusion as your premise, the story follows. You can demonstrate that the earth is flat by a similar process”. (An Immodest Proposal, Stephen Sedley; Inside the Myth, ed. Christopher Norris: London, p156)

Orwell has been widely published, in fact, in spite of the lack of artistic merit in his work, precisely because he fulfils such a useful political purpose for imperialism. Following Trotsky’s model of pretending to defend the October Revolution, Orwell protests at the corruption of communism’s ideals in the Soviet Union by Stalin. Thus millions of people around the world remain ignorant of the actual developments in the USSR, since

“Having read anti-communist trash such as Animal Farm, they feel sufficiently well-equipped to become experts on the former USSR and to pontificate about the degeneration of the ideals of the Russian Revolution from every platform, and through every medium provided to them courtesy of the imperialist bourgeoisie”. (Lalkar, September/October 1996)

Political Bias In Education

Many study guides have been written with the intention of showing students exactly what it is they are supposed to think about the story, and consequently how to write model answers in their exams. These guides are far more candid than Orwell himself was about the anti-communist content of his work.

Contained in the latest edition of York Notes on Animal Farm is a succinct, bullet-pointed history of the Soviet Union, written without any untidy reference to the real thing and designed to fit neatly with Orwell’s version of events, as presented in Animal Farm. It is interesting to note that in 1997, the anti-communist nature of Orwell’s work is stressed over all else, far more than was the case 20 years ago. Older study guides are more apologetic, asking the reader not to take too literally the parallels with Soviet history. Obviously embarrassed by the blatant lies and unfounded allegations, they ask the reader to read the story as a fable about dictatorships ‘in general’. In part, this may be due to the fact that the generation who lived through the War has become far remote from the classroom, but in the main, we can attribute this to the fact that, whatever the claims of the bourgeoisie, Cold War or no Cold War, the threat to imperialism that communism poses is greater than ever.

It is worth examining the text of this latest study guide, since it makes no bones about the real purpose of Orwell’s novel, and the warped version of history that he wanted to spread among the workers:

“Communism was strongly influenced by the ideas of Karl Marx who believed that life could be explained in economic and social terms. The rich capitalist class exploited the lower proletariat. . . and this situation could only be reversed by revolution. Many of Marx’s ideas lie behind Major’s speech in Chapter I”. (York Notes, Animal Farm, Wanda Opalinska: 1997, London, p.12)

The slant in the writing leaves no room for question. The science of Marxism is described as an ‘idea’, ie. something fabricated out of Marx’s head with no particular reference to, or proof from, the concrete world. It is noticeable that the use of the past tense is designed to give the impression that capitalism no longer acts in this way.

“The Communist Party under the leadership of Lenin rose and took power.

“After the Revolution, Trotsky and Lenin established a communist society in the Soviet Union. . . All property, wealth and work was meant to be divided equally between all individuals” (ibid., p.12).

Having said that Lenin led the Revolution, Opalinska is quick to bring Trotsky onto the scene as an equal partner in leadership. This serves a triple purpose:

  1. the names of Trotsky and Lenin are linked in a casual and natural way, as if they were of one mind and purpose – a linkage which is repeated at every opportunity throughout the bourgeois press and the education system, so that it becomes inculcated in the minds of all without the necessity of ever having to find out from a reliable source;
  2. it leads quite naturally to the belief that Trotsky must have been the ‘next in line’ to the leadership of the Bolshevik party – the idea of ‘succession’ coming far easier to most bourgeois students than that of proletarian democracy;
  3. by omitting his name, it denies Stalin any role in the Revolution or its immediate aftermath. By leaving out Lenin from the events of the Russian Revolution, Orwell is able to give credit for all Lenin’s achievements and leadership to Trotsky, adding credence to the idea that it is Trotsky, rather than Stalin, who is the defender of Leninism.

Along with this is the statement that a communist society was established straight after the Revolution. Any cursory study of Marxism will show that Communism, which can be defined according to the maxim, ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his need’, is not possible until the lower stage of Socialism has first been accomplished, in which the state administers the bourgeois right ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his work’. The Soviet Union succeeded in building the lower stage, but even this did not begin to take place until after 1928, when the New Economic Policy was abolished, and with it hostile, exploiting classes within society. Opalinska casts aspersions on the quality of this “communism” by then asserting that “property was meant to be divided”, an insidious phrase, directed at nothing in particular, since no Communist would ever aver that “communism was established” overnight, or that property was divided equally the day after the Revolution. Nor is it the aim of communism to divide property. The Revolution’s aim is to establish common ownership of the whole, not individual ownership of tiny parts. The reader, however, is supposed to glean from this that communism was established, but it was already quite rotten, since although property and work were supposed to be divided, in fact, they were not. “After Lenin’s death a struggle for power took place between Trotsky and Stalin. Trotsky, although favoured by Lenin, was ousted by Stalin who tried to remove all trace of him – even removing Trotsky’s image from certain photographs”. (ibid., p.12)

One is no longer surprised at the lack of substantiation offered for this staggering assertion, but it is interesting to note the continued stress on the idea of succession over democracy, no mention being made of the facts that:

1) Lenin and Trotsky were in bitterest opposition for almost their entire careers, not only before, but also after, the Revolution. After 1917, Trotsky and Lenin were in constant conflict over the question of the prospects for socialist construction, the question of trade unions, the question of war and peace and questions of party unity and discipline, all with their grave implications on the maintenance of the proletarian dictatorship in the USSR. The only change came after Lenin’s death. At that time, Trotsky chose to renew his old attack on Leninism under the guise of defending Leninism (really Trotskyism) against ‘Stalinism’;

2) even if Lenin had ever expressed some kind of preference for Trotsky over Stalin, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union should surely not be chosen on such a basis. It is a fact detested, and therefore ignored, by all Trotskyists, that Stalin was elected to the position he held on several occasions and that he continued throughout his life to have the popular support of the Party and the people of the Soviet Union. Note also the inference of Stalin’s “mad paranoia” in the allegations (again unsubstantiated) that he (probably personally!) went around trying to remove all traces of Trotsky’s existence. It might be fairer to say that Trotsky blamed Stalin for the failure of all his predictions; the failure of the Soviet Union to collapse as soon as the World Revolution failed to materialise, the failure of the Soviet people to be duped by Trotsky’s politics, the failure of the USSR to lose the war with Nazi Germany, and many more.

“The Soviet Union endured several famines as the result of Stalin’s economic policies. (ibid., p.13)

“Stalin’s power increased so that he had a complete control over the Soviet Union. Napoleon uses a similar combination of terror and propaganda to become dictator.

“Anyone who was a threat to Stalin was executed or sentenced to hard labour in Siberia, often following a ‘show trial’.

“Stalin insisted that all farms come under state control (ie. be collectivised). He also tried to modernise Soviet industry. . . Napoleon instructs the hens to sell their eggs, but they smash them rather than let him sell them, in the same way that the peasants opposed collectivisation”. (ibid., p.13)

It is impossible to go into a detailed discussion of events so easily summarised by Opalinska. Suffice it to say that, whereas Trotsky was of the opinion that collectivisation should be forced on the peasantry as early as possible, the Soviet government in fact pursued a very successful policy of voluntary collectivisation. The wrecking and sabotage of the kulaks is presented as a perfectly natural response to such a vile infringement of their right to exploit. The use of language here is again interesting. The CPSU and the government are always ignored, only Stalin has any say over anything. Apparently, he only “tried” to modernise Soviet industry, but no example is given of how the USSR failed to modernise its industry. Orwell’s symbolism of the hens and their eggs is more than an illustration of the kulaks’ rebellion – it is designed to reinforce images of Stalin as some kind of barbaric baby-killer.

“In an effort to protect the Soviet Union from attack, Stalin negotiated with both Britain and Germany. His treaty with Germany was seen as worthless when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941”. (ibid., p.13)

Rather than acknowledge the fact that the USSR’s ability to prepare itself for the attack it knew to be coming was the decisive factor in the outcome of the war, the inference seems to be that Stalin was both a coward and an idiot. It is a nice touch that the author also insinuates that Britain would never have done such a thing as go back on a treaty.

“At the Tehran conference in 1943, the Soviet Union, Britain and the United States of America presented themselves as allies. Within a few years, the Cold War had begun which placed the Soviet Union against the West. The pigs and men have dinner together but their friendship is destroyed when both sides are discovered to have cheated at cards”. (ibid., p.13)

Apart from seeming to blame Stalin for the Cold War, this whole paragraph, along with Orwell’s symbolism, is very muddled. At the time Animal Farm was written, the Second World War was still going, so it was impossible for Orwell to have been referring to the Cold War that followed. The image of both sides cheating at cards serves several purposes. For a start, it means to imply that the Soviet Government is no better than our own, but it is also the ultimate symbol for one brought up as an English gentleman of dishonourable conduct – Orwell’s inference being that it was somehow dishonourable of Stalin to enter into an alliance with any Imperialist powers, even if it was the only way to defeat fascism.

Opalinska’s description of “The Soviet Union Under Stalin” deserves quoting in full, since it contains in a nutshell all the hysterical, ridiculous and contradictory abuses which both bourgeois and Trotskyite critics continue to hurl at Stalin ad nauseam, seeming to feel that repetition will make up for the lack of either substance or sense. Certainly, the overall effect is very strong, as long as one does not examine any of the parts too closely.

“Trotsky had been the strategist behind the Red Army’s success in the Civil War and was seen as a brilliant speaker. He believed that for the Soviet Union to be safe, the revolution had to be spread throughout the world in a `Permanent Revolution’. Stalin was far more reticent and had built up a network of support through his patronage of other posts and presented himself as a moderate. In opposition to Trotsky, he felt that the country’s security lay in building up her defences, ‘Socialism in one Country’. Stalin worked hard to undermine Trotsky and in 1927 the latter was forced to leave the Soviet Union. . . Stalin continually blamed him for any problems the country suffered. He was said to be working with the Soviet Union’s enemies to overthrow the government.

“By 1928, Stalin dominated the government, building up a cult of personality. His rule seemed to have little in common with the ideas proposed by either Lenin or Marx. In addition, his own views and policies seemed inconsistent. In 1921 he had opposed Trotsky’s plans  to industrialise the country – only to do exactly that (with the Five Year Plans) when Trotsky was exiled. These Five Year Plans were extremely unpopular and set unrealistically high targets of production. Another policy to collectivise the farms met with equally strong opposition especially with the kulaks. Many burned their land and killed their animals rather than let the government take them. However, by the end of the late 1930s the Soviet Union emerged as a major industrial power – but the terms in human suffering was huge. In addition, Stalin frequently reinvented his history and that of the Soviet people. Past enemies were presented to the people as allies and vice versa. Propaganda was a frequently used tool which further emphasised the control Stalin had on Soviet life.

“Any opposition to Stalin was ruthlessly and brutally crushed. Those who were thought to oppose him were exiled or executed. In many cases ‘show trials’ were staged in which people confessed to ‘crimes’ that they had not committed. These purges decimated Soviet society and created a climate of fear.

“Stalin felt that the communist state was isolated and at risk from other powers. The Soviet Union joined the League of Nations in 1934 and tried to join an alliance against Hitler. This was unsuccessful and Stalin then signed a treaty with the German leader in 1939. The Nazi-Soviet pact gave the Soviet Union a chance to build up her defences, even though it seemed to go against all that Lenin and Trotsky had said. In 1941, the Germans invaded and the Russian people again suffered terribly. Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill met at the Tehran conference in 1943. It seemed that the Soviet Union, America and Britain were now allies”. (ibid., pp.10-11)

What is noticeable from this is the inherent contradiction contained in so many of Opalinska’s (and Orwell’s) allegations. In rejecting Trotsky’s plans to industrialise at the expense of all else and far too early, Stalin was stupid and short-sighted. In industrialising later, Stalin was stealing Trotsky’s idea (having none of his own, of course) and acting against the wishes of the people. Stalin merely “tried” to industrialise the USSR, his policies all met with opposition and caused great suffering, yet somehow the Soviet Union rose, as a result of these failed policies, from a war-torn, impoverished economy to a major world power in the space of less than 20 years. No explanation is given as to how this might have happened. No mention made of the popular support for industrialisation and collectivisation, the daily heroism of the workers or the soundness of economic policy on which the USSR’s successes rested.

Anyone familiar with the history of the Civil War in Russia will be well aware that Trotsky, far from masterminding the successes of the Red Army, had to be removed from each front in succession after his strategies had proved to be detrimental to the army’s success there. Only Trotsky was of the opinion that he was some kind of military genius. It was he, rather than Stalin, who was guilty of rewriting Soviet history. Opalinska maintains that Stalin rewrote Soviet history, but we are not told how; the Soviet people were controlled by propaganda, but no demonstration is given as to how this was accomplished; all opposition was brutally crushed and the people lived in a climate of fear, but no substantiation of these ‘facts’ is thought necessary. No reasons are found for the lack of resistance to such barbarism.

Finally, we have the generous, selfless and perfectly neutral bourgeois concern that Stalin was guilty of betraying “Lenin and Trotsky’s” proletarian Revolution in signing the Nazi-Soviet pact. It is inferred that Stalin was to be blamed not only for signing this pact, but also for the suffering that ensued when Germany finally did invade; that somehow Stalin was to be blamed for the evil and devastation wrought by fascism. One cannot help wondering why the Soviet people fought at all to protect such a terrible monster and uphold such a feared and hated regime.

In case any student should still be unclear on the issue of Stalin versus Trotsky, we are provided with a drawing [see below] of the main characters and a list of key words associated with each. Napoleon is depicted as a massive, ugly boar, with a bullying expression and described as follows: tyrant, cunning, ruthless, vain, hypocrite, aloof, Stalin. Snowball is shown as a younger, earnest-looking pig, with an alert expression and the following attributes: articulate, innovative, brilliant, strategist, moderniser, idealist, Trotsky. Can any doubt remain as to the political bias with which young people are forced to study even such seemingly innocuous subjects as English Literature? Can any doubt remain as to the bankruptcy of the Trotskyite fraternity who have applauded this ‘artist’ with such consistency for the last 50 years?

The Orwell Myth

Much space, in study guides and in examination papers, is devoted to Orwell himself. His credentials “to act as the voice of an entire generation”, as Alan Brown puts it, are carefully established.

“Orwell was sociable and home-loving, believing in family life. . . Orwell was selfless, naturally mild and gentle. . . Orwell loved animals. . . Exaggeratedly perhaps, but significantly, one of his friends called him a ‘saint’”. (Brodie Notes, Animal Farm: Suffolk, 1978 pp. 12-13)

“His idea of himself [was] as the exposer of painful truths, which people for various reasons do not wish to look at; and. . . as a representative of the English moral conscience. . . He was an observer, keeping as fair-minded as possible about what he saw, remaining responsible to objective truth. . . Orwell always put great faith in objective truth. . . The writer, as Orwell sees him, especially the prose writer, is the guardian of simplicity, objectivity and straightforward fact, and so, in our age, he becomes the protector of the human spirit”. (York Notes, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Robert Welch: Beirut, 1980, pp.7-8)

“In short, throughout his adult life and work, George Orwell remained a fiercely honest man, even with himself”. (Cole Notes, Animal Farm: Toronto, 1982, p.5)

In his article on Orwell in Examinations, Alan Brown makes the following observations about the way that the Orwell myth is intricately bound up in the teaching of Orwell’s texts;

“The ‘Orwell’ myth involves a type of canonisation. A version of the individual as embodiment of human values leads inevitably to his status as a ‘trustworthy guide’. It is a curious rhetorical mixture: moral values of ‘bravery’, ‘honesty’, ‘sympathy’ are linked directly to criteria of ‘objectivity’ and ‘straightforward fact’”. (Examining Orwell, p.43)

The point of all this is that any hint that events are merely Orwell’s point of view is taken out of the equation. By telling the reader that Orwell is neutral, a political point can be made:

“Basing his argument on personal experience and commonsense, but mostly on observed fact, Orwell comes to the conclusion that the socialism of his time was mostly unrealistic and irrelevant”. (York Notes, Animal Farm, p.8)

As Brown says,

“Who can contradict ‘commonsense’, ‘fact’, ‘experience’? . . . The total absence of doubt or qualification must incline [students] to swallow opinion and even bigotry as acceptable truth. . . the ‘eternal’ role of the artist as truth-teller is harnessed to a political function. Experience, common sense, realism and honesty are each facets of a total and manufactured personality. Taken together, they provide a platform from which political attitudes can be put across in education without suspicion of bias or indoctrination. Putting ‘Orwell’s’ point of view (that of reason and decency) is not really putting a point of view at all. It is a way of seeing behind the transience of political conflict to the more basic truths of human nature and morality. . . Orwell as the representative voice of an age is shown to contain the differing and contradictory strands of his time. The conflicting elements achieve a precarious harmony in the ‘Orwell’ persona: socialist/critic of socialism, idealist/realist, subjective participant/objective observer. It is left to the figure of ‘Orwell’, finally, to resolve the great debates between left and right, to assert a middle way between ideologies and conflicting forces. . . Having dissolved the contradictions between ‘communism’ and ‘fascism’ in either a historical or theoretical form, the way is open for a socialism itself devoid of content. Orwell’s socialism can be reduced to a Victorian value of ‘concern’ and charity towards others, to a moral subjectivism which calls for no more than a sentimental response. . . Socialism as moral piety is perfectly acceptable. . . but any attempt to conceive of society and subjectivity as susceptible to organised change must be perceived solely as ‘threat’. Socialism is assimilated to fascism. . . the art of the satire, of common sense, of the `Orwell’ industry is to remind us of what we know already and to resign us to its inevitability. If political change is an illusion, we must derive our comfort from an aesthetics of constancy and inertia”. (Examining Orwell, pp.46-7)

Turning to the book itself, one can see that the study guide is not a patch on the real thing. Orwell tries to back up some kind of bizarre theory based on a mixture of Trotskyism and the ‘human nature’ argument to show us why Revolutions in general and the Russian Revolution in particular, cannot work. Major, the pig who is supposed to represent Marx, has a dream which he passes on to the animals as his dying manifesto:

“Man is the only real enemy we have. Remove man from the scene, and the root cause of hunger and overwork is abolished for ever. . . No argument must lead you astray. Never listen when they tell you that Man and the animals have a common interest, and that the prosperity of one is the prosperity of the others. It is all lies”. (Animal Farm, George Orwell: Harmondsworth, 1989, pp4-5)

No-one in their right mind could equate the theories of Marx with this babble. Of course man and animals have a common interest. Orwell deliberately sets out to put Marxism in an absurd light by equating it with Major’s nonsense. Marxism is presented as a theory of naive idealism, which in practice leads to cynical tyranny. The main tenet of Animal Farm, though, seems to be that humans are no better than animals; that ‘human nature’ decides all. Some people are born to rule and others to be taken advantage of; all efforts to change the system will only lead to something worse, so we should be grateful for what we have. Unfortunately for Orwell, there is a blindingly obvious flaw in the plan. He uses different species to represent the different classes, but while it may be true that some animals are cleverer, quicker, stronger than others, and naturally inclined to prey on those that are weaker, the class structure of our society is a reflection of no such natural difference. Mankind is one species. Any attempt to justify the class divisions of society by saying that the ruling class rule because they are more intelligent and better suited to it, whilst the poor are simply stupid or lazy, is the worst kind of reactionary garbage, worthy of any Nazi. Stephen Sedley remarks that,

“Orwell’s argument is pitched at a different level: it is that socialism in whatever form offers the common people no more hope than capitalism; that it will be first betrayed and then held to ransom by those forces which human beings have in common with beasts; and that the inefficient and occasionally benign rule of capitalism, which at least keeps the beasts in check, is a lesser evil. That proposition is Orwell’s alpha and his omega”. (An Immodest Proposal: ‘Animal Farm’, Stephen Sedley; Inside The Myth, p158)

What neither Orwell or Sedley seem to remember is that it is not merely capitalism which we are dealing with, but imperialism. If it appears to Orwell that capitalism in Britain is occasionally benign, this is because a certain section of the workers in this country have been provided for from the super-profits extracted so brutally from the oppressed nations. He himself worked for the imperial police in Burma and must have known exactly how ‘benign’ British rule was to the colonial peoples.

Much is made by Trotskyites and bourgeois press alike of Orwell’s self-proclaimed socialism. Where, though, is the evidence for any such thing? Can one become a socialist without ever having read or understood any of the basic tenets of socialism? The characteristic that shows most plainly in Orwell’s work is his arrogance. Knowing nothing of what was going on in Spain, Orwell had no hesitation in pronouncing on military and political matters there. Knowing nothing about socialism, Orwell felt no bar on criticising all who ‘betrayed’ that socialism. Having admitted, “I have never visited Russia and my knowledge of it consists only of what can be learned by reading books and newspapers” (The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, Vol. 3: Harmondsworth, 1970, p.457), he went on to write Animal Farm with all the conviction of one fully versant in all the details of the Revolution. In his preface to the Ukrainian edition, Orwell draws a picture of English political life in the late 40s which not only exposes his ignorance and lack of experience in matters of politics, but also his astounding, truly upper-class, public school arrogance. Having blamed the naive notions of the British public on the relative liberality of English political life, he goes on to say:

Yet one must remember that England is not completely democratic. It is also a capitalist country with great class privileges and (even now, after a war that has tended to equalise everybody) with great differences in wealth. But nevertheless it is a country in which people have lived together for several hundred years without knowing civil war, in which the laws are relatively just and official news and statistics can almost invariably be believed, and, last but not least, in which to hold and to voice minority views does not involve any mortal danger. In such an atmosphere the man in the street has no real understanding of things like concentration camps, mass deportations, arrests without trial, press censorship etc. Everything he reads about a country like the USSR is automatically translated into English terms, and he quite innocently accepts the lies of totalitarian propaganda”. (The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, p. 458)

Orwell quite clearly felt that the British public were too stupid to understand about Russia what he  was qualified to pronounce on only from his reading of the bourgeois press! This from a man who obviously had no understanding of the society he himself lived in and certainly no understanding of the basic principles of Marxism-Leninism, which he pretended to defend.

It is worth noting here that Orwell’s understanding of fascism and the threat it posed during the 30s was entirely negligible, as is pointed out by Bill Alexander in his article George Orwell and Spain:

“Orwell went to Spain largely ignorant of the background, situation and the forces involved. He admits ‘when I came to Spain I was not only uninterested in the political situation but unaware of it.’ Unlike many European intellectuals he had not understood the essential clash between liberty and fascism. Hitler’s brutal destruction of democracy in Germany and even Mosley’s violence against opponents in Britain in 1934 must have passed him by. Crick, his biographer, could write that before March 1936, when Orwell saw Mosley’s blackshirts beating up questioners at a Barnsley meeting, `there is no indication before this incident of any great concern in Orwell with the nature and spread of fascism.

“Orwell had no understanding of the world-wide significance of the struggle in Spain,  he knew little  of the national efforts of the Popular Front government to achieve a united front against fascism,  he had  never seen  the Republican flag,  he did not agree with the actions  of  the  POUM   –   he took a rifle in the role of an outsider, a journalist looking for experiences to figure in a future book. . .

“His aloofness from the common spirit of Popular Front Spain is strikingly exposed in his cynical dismissal of the fact that wounded soldiers demanded to return to the front. It happened! Without this spirit the Republican forces, outnumbered and outgunned, could not have fought on for eighteen more months after Orwell had gone home. Resistance to Franco would not have persisted despite forty years of terror and repression following his victory. . .

“The fundamental reason for Orwell’s attitude to the war – on top of his British upper-class arrogance and overriding personal objective to write a book – was his lack of understanding of anti-fascist feeling. He had visited, with an eye to a future book, the down-and-outs in London. Commissioned to write a book, he had briefly visited the distressed industrial areas of the North of England. But there was no sense of identification with the men and women caught in the capitalist crisis – no sense of ‘there but for my family background go I’. The horrors of fascism in Italy and Germany do not appear to have made him angry, emotionally concerned to do something. This lack of deep feeling, almost one of neutrality, shows itself throughout his writing. . . Orwell feels no anger at the man who wounds him – indeed wishes to congratulate him on his good shooting. He is certainly not concerned at his own absence from the battle line. Orwell saw the war as a game, material for a book”. (Inside The Myth, ed. Christopher Norris: London, 1984, pp.85-97)

Orwell’s lack of understanding of politics, combined with his rabid anti-communism, meant that he was trying to get Animal Farm published in 1943, just as the future of humanity was being decided and the USSR was sacrificing all at Stalingrad. Publisher after publisher rejected it, until the war ended and the book’s usefulness as a tool in the coming Cold War was recognised. Writing in The Guardian in August 1995, Stuart Jeffries says that although “many of those who read the book were right-wingers eager for a novel which appeared to show an ex-socialist recanting his beliefs. . . the book was chiefly aimed at the faithful, those who believed that the Soviet Union was the way and the truth”. (An Arable Parable, Stuart Jeffries: The Guardian, 9 August 1995)

Orwell the State Informer

As if more proof were needed of Orwell’s anti-communist credentials, it was revealed in 1996 that in 1949, Orwell offered to provide a secret Foreign Office Propaganda Unit linked to the intelligence services with the names of writers who could be trusted to write anti-communist propaganda, and also with the names of writers and journalists whom he regarded as being ‘crypto-communist’ and ‘fellow-travellers’. This unit had been set up by the Attlee government in response to the “developing communist threat to the whole fabric of Western civilisation”. Well-known writers, such as Bertrand Russell, Stephen Spender and Arthur Koestler were employed to disseminate misinformation about the USSR, the East European Peoples’ Democracies and the communist Parties of Western Europe. Papers release also show that the IRD (Information Research Department) actively promoted the foreign language publication of Animal Farm in places such as Saudi Arabia, where anti-imperialist activity was threatening the oil revenues of imperialism. Thus we can see that

“What attracted the bourgeoisie to this third-rate writer was not his pretended support for the ideals of the October Revolution, but his real driving hatred for the ideals of communism. Had Orwell’s characterisation of Stalin, and the CPSU that he led, corresponded to the truth, that would have made Stalin the darling of the imperialist bourgeoisie; had there been a steady erosion of revolutionary principles and had the dictatorship really collapsed into the dictatorship of a cynical few, Stalin’s Russia would have been warmly embraced to the point of suffocation by imperialism”. (Lalkar, September/October 1996)

It was precisely because Stalin’s USSR did not conform to the picture painted by Orwell that it posed such a threat to imperialism, and this in turn explains the bourgeoisie’s joyful embrace of Orwell’s tawdry novels and their continued place as compulsory reading for students the world over. It is the duty of all Marxist-Leninists to refute the slanders contained in Orwell’s work and to arm our young people with the knowledge they need to defend the Soviet Union both in and out of the classroom. Continuing in the vein pioneered by Trotsky of attacking the Revolution from the Left, showing the same all-pervading contempt for ordinary people and demonstrating the same lack of faith in the ability of the working class to free itself, Orwell has served imperialism just as well as many more openly reactionary writers, and has more than earned the honours that have been heaped upon him.

Presentation made to the Stalin Society in February 1998

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The purges of the CPSU in the 1930s

Extracted and edited from
The class struggle during the thirties in the Soviet Union
by Mário Sousa
Presented to the Stalin Society by Ella Rule

The purges of, or expulsions from, the Soviet Communist Party during the 1930s is favourite topic for bourgeois propagandists. This issue is brought up time and time again in bourgeois mass media which give the public a completely untruthful and false account of the purges, the political trials and the Soviet Union of the period. Their purpose is to defame socialism and the Soviet Union in order to discourage people from listening to communists so that they will accept capitalism as eternal. This is why it is important to propagate the truth about this chapter in the history of the Soviet Union in order both to counter bourgeois lies as well as to understand the difficulties which the Bolsheviks faced during the period of revolutionary transition.

Facts about the 1930s

Let us begin by providing to the reader a picture of the Soviet Union in the 1930s, a decisive decade in its history. Among other things, it was during the 1930s that the first and second five-year plans were realised and the collectivisation of agriculture took place. National income rose from 29 million rubles in 1929 to 105 million by 1938 – an increase of 360 per cent in ten years, an achievement unique in the history of industrialisation!

During the 1930s, production in the Soviet Union grew at an unprecedented rate. At the beginning of 1930 the total value of industrial production was 21 million rubles. Eight years later, however, this had risen above 100 million rubles (both these figures are based on 1926-27 prices). The country’s industrial production had increased almost five-fold in eight years! At the beginning of 1930, the area sown with crops of various kinds was 118 million hectares. By 1938 it was 136.9 million hectares. At the same time, collectivisation of agriculture had been completed, in the course of which gigantic problems connected with collectivisation and modernisation had been overcome. At the beginning of 1930 the Soviet Union had 34,900 tractors but by 1938 it had 483,500. The number of tractors had increased almost fourteen-fold in eight years. During the same period the number of combine-harvesters increased from 1,700 to 153,500 and the number of harvesters from 4,300 to 130,800.

In the 1930s the Soviet Union’s cultural development also advanced by leaps and bounds. The number of students in all schools in 1929 was approximately 14 million. By 1938 the number had increased to approximately 34 million, and at that time students in all kinds of courses, including part timers, numbered more than 47 million. Almost a third of all citizens were involved in the school system. At the beginning of the 1930s, illiteracy in the Soviet Union still stood at 33 per cent (as compared to 67 per cent in 1913). By 1938 illiteracy had long been totally eradicated. During this period the number of students in higher of education almost tripled – from 207,000 to 601,000. The number of libraries in 1938 was 70,000 as compared to 40,000 in 1933. The number of books in these libraries had by 1938 reached the impressive figure of 126 million, as compared to the 86 million they had held in 1933. During the thirties another measure, demonstrating the Soviet Union’s ideological and material strength as well as its commitment to the equality of all its citizens, was implemented, namely, the introduction of the requirement that all elementary school education should be in the languages of the different nationalities. This required a colossal amount of work on the cultural front, with a great number of new books, text books and other teaching materials being produced in languages some of which had previously hardly even existed in written form. Literature was published for several nationalities in their own languages for the first time. It is against this background that the class struggle in the Soviet Union during the 1930s was carried out and this should be borne in mind when reading this pamphlet.

The development of the Communist Party

In the 1930s millions of new members entered the CPSU(b) and took part in the struggle for production and social development. The great influx of people and the huge increase in production which took place did, however, have their downside. The Party was obliged to evaluate the Party and social work of old and new members and expel or purge those whose performance did not match what is required of communists.

At this period, the external threat against the Soviet Union increased. Besides the blockade, acts of sabotage and the threat of aggression from capitalist countries, a new enemy emerged whose aim was the crushing of the socialist Soviet Union and the annihilation the Slavs as a people. Nazism came to power in Germany in January 1933 having promised, among other things, to crush communism, conquer new colonies in the East and to use the people there as slave labour in the German economy.

The rise of the Soviet Union during the 1930s, then, was vital. It was the very basis for the victory of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany in World War II. The struggle against inadequacies within the Communist Party and the purges was essential for the purpose of achieving successes in the development of production and securing the country’s defences. Bourgeois historians rarely mention this.

According to bourgeois mythology, the purges were a bloody persecution of those who criticised the regime; they were the means whereby a power-hungry bureaucracy made use of an extensive administrative structure and the apparatus of state violence, along with excessive cruelty, literally to kill off a progressive opposition, yes even an opposition harbouring – according to such historians – “genuine” socialists and communists. The hand guiding this persecution was of course that of Stalin, who is depicted as exhibiting paranoid behaviour. According to the bourgeoisie, Stalin had a long-term plan of killing all opponents and all old Bolsheviks in order to secure absolute power for himself. We shall see to what extent this myth has been exposed by honest bourgeois historians with access to Soviet archive material.

The Smolensk archives

Long before Gorbachev opened the Soviet archives, extensive archive material was in 1945 already in the hands of the West and the US. When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union during World War II, it reached as far as the outskirts of Moscow and Leningrad. German troops had occupied the Western oblast – the Western region, which had as its centre the city of Smolensk – from 1941 onwards. In Smolensk the Germans found the Western region’s archives, which for some reason had not been destroyed by the retreating Soviet troops. These archives were forwarded to Germany that same year. At the end of the war in 1945 the Smolensk archives came to land in the American occupation zone of Germany. Although they belonged to the Soviet Union, an ally of the United States at the time, the American generals who had possession of them naturally, in the interests of capitalism, forwarded them to the USA. These Smolensk archives are today to be found in the United States National Archives.

The Smolensk archives are very large. With a few exceptions all the important doings of the Communist Party of the Western region are collected there, from membership registers and political directives at all levels to excerpts from discussions and debates at meetings, including those of the leading institution of the area, namely, the Organisation Bureau. All aspects of political life are included, from agricultural policies and industrial strategies to the planning of workers’ annual holidays. Documents concerning Party purges in the Western region are kept there. The Smolensk archives should be a gold mine for all those who seek an insight into the functioning of Soviet society. Yet, the Smolensk archives have been very little used.

New facts supporting new conclusions

It was not until 1985 that a book was published that was based on genuine examination of the Smolensk archives. This book bears the name Origins of the Great Purges – The Soviet Communist Party Reconsidered, 1933 – 1938, by the American history professor J. Arch Getty (Origins of the Great Purges – The Soviet Communist Party Reconsidered, 1933 – 1938, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1985). It provides us with statistics and other documents of great value for the study of the history of the Soviet Union.

Getty himself is a bourgeois author having limited ability to understand the conditions of the class struggle the Soviet Union. In a later book, The Road to Terror, which is supposed to show that the Bolsheviks exterminated themselves during the 1930s as a result of in-fighting, there is for instance not a word on the greatest social developments by far in the history of mankind which had taken place in the Soviet Union during the 1930s. Not a word about that!

Yet throughout most of the thirties the Soviet Union was struggling against the clock to prepare the country’s defences in the face of the threat of invasion from Nazi Germany. If one does not accord due importance to this fact, one will, of course, inevitably draw wrong conclusions. If the Bolsheviks had exterminated each other instead of developing the country as much as possible and building up its defences, the Nazis would have won the war and eradicated the Soviet Union and the Slav people.

Arch Getty does at least, however, contradict an earlier historian, his fellow American Merle Fainsod, who also had access to the Smolensk archives but who claimed in his book Smolensk under Soviet Rule that “The assassination of Kirov in December 1934 touched off a new round of almost continuous purges which spread out in ever-widening circles and rose to a smashing crescendo in the virtual destruction of the oblast Party leadership in 1937”.

Getty’s research totally contradicts this finding.

A brief history prior to the 1920’s purges

After the victory of the revolution, when the Communist Party had become the ruling party, the Party leadership and Lenin were obliged to acknowledge that some unwelcome elements had penetrated the Party and state apparatus. These were people who wanted to make a career via membership of the Party. At the Eighth Party Conference in December of 1919, Lenin brought up this problem. According to Lenin it was “natural, on the one hand, that all the worst elements should cling to the ruling party merely because it is the ruling party”. For that reason it was important to evaluate the contribution of Party members. On the proposal of Lenin, the Party carried out a re-registration of all Party members. Every member had to answer for his actions before a member collective – those who were considered unreliable were excluded. That was the first purification of the Party apparatus. This method – to strengthen the Party by purging the opportunistic elements – was to characterise the Communist Party for many years to come.

The behaviour that justified the purging of Party members included corruption, passivity, breaches of Party discipline, alcoholism, criminality and anti-Semitism. For bourgeois individuals and kulaks who hid their class origin, expulsion was certain – unlike those who when accepted into the Party had admitted their class background. Former tsarist officers who hid their past were also inevitably expelled. All those who had been expelled could in their turn appeal to the Central Control Commission, and their cases were then reviewed at a higher level.

As we shall see later, a relatively high number were re-admitted. Decisions at general meetings of hundreds of members were, as a rule, stricter than those taken at the Party centre. The Central Committee of the Party, which had initiated the purges and decided their form, tried to encourage members at the grass roots level to speak out with a view to clamping down on corrupt functionaries and their associates.

This turned out to be difficult work. Corrupt bureaucrats knew thousands of tricks to escape criticism and tricky situations. Instead, the majority of those expelled were ordinary members who often could not defend themselves against accusations of passivity, political ignorance or bad drinking habits brought by Party Secretaries.

The 1920’s purges

After the re-registration of 1919, Lenin and the Party leadership found that there were still considerable shortcomings in the Party. The re-registration had not achieved its aim. A great number of new members continued to be drawn into the Party without regard for the directive that only workers and reliable elements from other classes be elected. New purges took place in 1921, 1928 and 1929.

In Table 1 we can see the percentage of members who were expelled on these occasions. In other years the rate of expulsion of Party members varied between three and five per cent.

Table 1:
Great party purges during the 1920s [Getty: Origins of the Great Purges]

Year Reason for purge Per cent expelled *
1919 Re-registration 10 – 15
1921 Purge 25
1928 “Screening” (7 regions only) 13
1929 Purges 11
* This represents the percentage expelled of those undergoing the operation, which was not always the entire membership.

In relation to the purges of 1929, Table 2 gives a detailed description of the causes. It does in fact provide good information and does away with at least the myth that the purges were a way of eliminating opposition within the Party. In 1929, 1.53 million Party members went through the purge process. Of these approximately 170,000, or 11 per cent, were expelled. When they appealed to the Central Control Commission, 37,000 were re-admitted (22 per cent of those expelled). In Smolensk, as many as 43 per cent of those expelled were re-admitted. On further examination, it turns out that the great majority were ordinary working class members, who had been expelled by local Party functionaries for passivity. No regard had been had for the living conditions which made it more difficult for these members to take part in Party activities.

Table 2:
The Party purge of 1929 [Getty: Origins of the Great Purges]

Reasons for expulsion percentage
Defects in personal conduct 22
Alien elements or connection thereto 17
Passivity 17
Criminal offences 12
Violations of Party discipline 10
Other 22
Total 100

According to Getty, those expelled for political reasons – “factional” or opposition activity – were included among the 10% expelled for “violation of Party discipline”. The former constitute 10 per cent of these 10 per cent. Thus, expulsions for political reasons were not more than one per cent of all expulsions effected during the purges of 1929. Compare this to the prevailing myth about the “Stalinists eliminating all those in opposition”. Moreover, the bourgeoisie always alleges that those expelled subsequently either met certain death in the work camps of the Gulag or just disappeared. The reality is otherwise. Of those expelled, only those who had committed criminal acts – theft, embezzlement, blackmail, sabotage or similar – and who were tried in court received any punishment. For others who were expelled, life continued as usual – without the obligations which accompanied membership but also without the support which membership gave.

The purges in the CPSU(B) during the 1930s

Robert Conquest has played a pivotal role in the defaming of socialism and the Soviet Union throughout the post war period. Conquest is a dis-informer trained in one of the oldest and biggest secret services of the world, that of the British. Conquest became their foremost disinformation specialist on the question of the Soviet Union. He is a master of the manipulation of information and of changing black to white. Towards the end of the 50’s, Conquest suddenly quit the British secret service. Next time we hear of him he is in the USA, where the CIA is publishing his books and writings! One assumes that he was offered better pay by the CIA than he was receiving from the British and for that reason he moved to the USA. In addition, the CIA provided him with a decent disguise, a research post at a university. Conquest’s stories have been disseminated for decades by the CIA in capitalist mass media all over the world, and unfortunately they are assumed to be true by many people.

Conquest’s best known work, The Great Terror – Stalin’s Purges of the Thirties, was published in 1968 and has been one of the bourgeoisie’s foremost weapons against socialism. The book is partly based on material generated during Conquest’s time with the British secret service. His sources are dubious in the extreme – Nazi collaborators, defectors and terrorists.

The purges of 1933

During the 1930s the Party underwent three great purges, i.e., those of 1933, 1935 and 1937-1938.

The first purge, that of 1933, took place in a climate of great enthusiasm, with agricultural cooperatives spreading all over the Soviet Union at an astonishing pace, and industrial production attaining completely unprecedented results. The Party had opened its doors to all those who wanted to fight for socialism, and hundreds of thousands of new members were elected during the first three years of the 1930s. Because of this great onslaught, the Party leadership considered it essential to make an evaluation of all new Party members. It sought out opportunists, corrupt bureaucrats, criminals, anti-Semites, alcoholics and members who were in violation of Party discipline.

Party directives made it clear that all purges should be effected in a comradely atmosphere and that there should not be excessive intrusion into people’s private lives. Moreover, the Party leadership encouraged ordinary members openly to criticise local bureaucrats and warned local Party leaderships against expelling such members on the grounds of passivity or political ignorance. The mistakes of 1929 were not to be repeated. Attention was to be paid to members´ general development and it was provided that Party members could be demoted to the status of candidates or sympathisers until such time as they had improved their political understanding or increased their participation in Party activities, as the case may be. Expulsion was to be avoided as far as possible.

In spite of these directives, the purge of 1933 turned out differently from what the Central Committee had intended. In a country as vast as the Soviet Union, local Party secretaries had great power, and this sometimes proved disastrous. Facts show that local Party Secretaries did their best to avoid criticism aimed at themselves or those close to them. Purely to prove their obedience to the call for a purge, some local Secretaries expelled many ordinary members, workers and farmers, even when they were loyal members and precisely the ones who should not have been expelled. The majority of those expelled were people who had joined the Party between 1930 and 1933, who had not had time to gain full knowledge of all Party issues. Many had not been able to study the Party programme in depth or Marxism-Leninism in general, and they were therefore regarded as ignorant by Party Secretaries. Others were people who had difficulty in participating fully in Party life because of their situation at work or because of family problems. In the purge of 1933, 18.5 per cent of Party members and candidates were expelled, circa 792,000.

The purge of 1933, which was terminated in mid 1934, revealed a serious contradiction within the Party. The Central Committee had intended to throw out thieves and corrupt bureaucrats, but the biggest group expelled – comprising almost a quarter of the total – were expelled for passivity [see Table 3]. Passivity, however, did not figure in the Party directives as a criterion for expulsion. By the use of bureaucratic methods or in abuse of authority gained as a result of earlier merit, local Party leaders did whatever they wanted without paying attention to the import of the Central Committee´s directives. The deepening of contradictions is reflected by the fact that a quarter of those expelled were expelled on the grounds of passivity. The Central Committee had to do something about local Party leaders´ contravention of Party directives, but, as the future was to show, this was not an easy task. This became very pertinent during the years to come, when the Soviet Union was forced to increase the pace of economic development in order to survive.

Table 3:
The expulsions of 1933 [Getty: Origins of the Great Purges]

Reason for expulsion Percentage of expulsions
Moral corruption, careerist, bureaucrat 17.5
Alien elements / hiding alien elements 16.5
Violation of Party discipline 20.9
Passivity 23.2
Other 17.9
Not mentioned in Origins of the Great Purges 4.0

Another aspect of the statistics uncovered by Getty concerns the allegation by Conquest and other rightists that the purge of 1933 was organised to throw out old Bolsheviks – old Party cadres from the days of Lenin – who had come to oppose Stalin. According to Getty, it is improbable that this allegation is true. The overwhelming majority of those expelled, two-thirds in fact, had entered the Party after 1928 and were therefore relatively new Party members. The distribution of those expelled – 23 per cent agricultural workers/farmers, 14.6 per cent civil servants and approximately 62 per cent workers – shows that the overwhelming majority, 85 per cent, were ordinary working men rather than Party cadres from Lenin’s time. In The Great Terror, Robert Conquest touches upon the purge of 1933 and hints that over a million members were expelled for political reasons. To anyone with knowledge of the history of the purges, it is evident that Conquest’s allegation is a lie.

Proverka” – verification of Party documents in 1935

The purge of 1933 revealed that throughout the country there were very serious problems in the Party. The membership list bore no relation to reality. In many parts of the country the number of members did not tally with the number listed. Many members had moved, left the Party, or had been expelled or had died without this having been reflected in the membership lists. Local Party Secretaries were overwhelmed by economic work, i.e., with the fulfilment of the five year plan and with collectivisation. For that reason, or simply as a result of negligence or lack of interest, membership lists were not being kept up to date. As a consequence of this the Party’s financial records were also in disarray. When this was discovered, and the Party centre came to know of the disastrous situation prevailing in the area of membership records, it became clear that it was essential to verify all Party documents.

In October 1934, the Central Committee decided that the whole Party would undergo a process of membership re-registration. The Central Committee sent representatives to all Party Regions, both to examine the state of Party records and also, if possible, to implement a solution, while at the same time assisting with the work of re-registration.

Comrade Ostrovsky was sent to the City Committee (gorraikom) of Smolensk. He started by requiring it to take some straightforward decisions such as to appoint a person to take charge of maintaining local Party records, who should see to it that Party documentation was kept in a locked facility or safe. He also demanded that no new Party cards be distributed to people who had lost theirs unless first a careful investigation had been conducted. Ostrovsky also demanded that a new list of members be drawn up with effect from January 1935 and that all Party committees under the City Committee undergo the same procedure.

As it soon turned out, the problems were too great for Ostrovsky to handle. Central Committee representatives in many parts of the country had the same experience. Towards the end of April 1935, very little progress had been made in re-registration. A report from the City Committee of Smolensk showed that “in the process of investigation of Party documents, there was revealed a series of massive deficiencies, demanding especially careful analysis and verification”.

The Communist Party at the beginning of the 1930s

Readers of this pamphlet this may find all this hard to believe. The bourgeois media have brought up most people in the western world to believe that a totally blind discipline reigned in the Soviet Communist Party, whereby everything and everybody was subject to registration and careful control, and everything was recorded – preferably several times over on long lists – with nobody being free of this all pervasive, allegedly continuous, control – a control, incidentally, which would have been extremely expensive to maintain – while investing Party bureaucrats with extensive powers.

This picture is entirely false. As a matter of fact, one comes much closer to the truth by turning all these allegations upside down. Absorbed as they were in the struggle for production, and intoxicated by the incredible achievements in production which had set repeated world records, many local Party Secretaries ignored other Party matters. They considered increased production to be the most important thing – capable of solving all problems, while everything else was trivial. Even a question of fundamental importance for any party – and especially a party in power – namely that only Party members should own a Party card – was considered by many to be a question of only secondary importance. Party cards were, as a rule, kept in an ordinary writing desk or a readily-accessible cupboard in the Party’s premises, and all over the country they were wont to disappear in their thousands. In the same irresponsible manner, Party cards were handed out to all who said they had lost theirs. For the most part no investigation was carried out to ascertain what had become of the lost card. Even members who had been expelled retained their Party cards without anybody demanding their return . When it came to deceased members, the families did not, as a rule, return the card to the Party, which often resulted in the card of the deceased person being misused. Production was growing to such an overwhelming extent that local Party leaders became convinced that soon there would be surpluses such as would sweep away all difficulties.

Two hundred thousand Party cards astray

At the beginning of 1935 the Central Committee was forced to conclude that over 200,000 Party cards had gone astray! Most had been given to people who had lost their Party cards or had had them stolen. More than 1,000 new, unused cards had been stolen from Party offices and 47,000 Party cards had been given people who had not had time to get themselves registered as Party members. The Party card was an important document. A person with a Party card could, among other things, enter all Party premises anywhere in the country, i.e., places where important documents were kept and important meetings took place. For that reason, Party cards were much sought after by enemies, spies, opposition elements and foreign agents. It was therefore a major problem that, as it turned out, these people had little difficulty in acquiring a Communist Party card, which they could use to facilitate their activities aimed at undermining the Party’s work. Such was the situation in 1935 that one could never be certain that a holder of a Party card was indeed a faithful and loyal Party member. That person could in fact just as easily be an enemy, a spy or a saboteur.

On 13 May, 1935 the Central Committee decided to implement a new, nationwide verification of Party documents – proverka. The campaign to implement verification of Party documents was led centrally by a commission of the Secretariat of the Central Committee led by Ezhov and his deputy, Malenkov. Verification necessitated each Party member being interrogated by the local Party Secretary in their locality or place of work as to their life, history, work and other things. These facts were then used to update Party records. If there was any irregularity, a closer scrutiny of the person concerned was carried out, and in the meantime the Party card was revoked. Those who could not confirm their Party membership were expelled and their Party cards were taken back. All those who had been expelled had, according to the Party Constitution, the right to appeal to a higher body, which was in turn required to carry out a new investigation and make its decision within two weeks.

Bolshevik order

It was time to “to introduce Bolshevik order into our own Party house”. The Central Committee addressed itself especially to local Party leaders, who were responsible for the disorder: “the Central Committee warned leaders of Party organisations at all levels that if they did not provide … leadership for this important task … and immediately restore order in this important business, then the Central Committee of the CPSU(B) would take strict punitive measures up to and including expulsion of offenders from the Party”.

Unlike the situation in earlier purges, in the 1935 campaign to verify Party documentation, social and political questions were not in issue as far as expulsion was concerned.

What was the result of the campaign to control Party cards?

It turned out that many of the local Party Secretaries who were responsible for implementing the control did not take the task very seriously. They did not accord to the task the priority which the Central Committee had demanded. Reports started to flow in to the Central Committee showing that there was a general tendency to carry out a quick control andto have done with it. Often, local Party Secretaries’ commitment to the task was practically zero. The problems of the western region were very apparent. The region’s deputy Party Secretary, A.L. Shil’man. and the local head of the control commission, Kiselev, were subjected to severe public criticism by the Central Committee and put up as an example of how card control should not be done. The Party Secretary, Stepanov, leader of a district in the western region, was expelled from the Party. In his verification exercise he had devoted at most five minutes per member to the investigation of their authenticity. The Central Committee demanded personal commitment in implementing this very important exercise, but this Party Secretary was only concerned with showing the high percentage of members whose status he had reviewed and the number of false members he had detected. The Central Committee objected to this bureaucratic way of dealing with the task. They wanted thorough investigations so that they could be sure that the members on the list were real members.

A further Party document verification exercise

The Central Committee was forced to conclude that the Party document verification exercise was at risk of failure. On 27 June 1935 the Central Committee decided on a second round of verification, to be carried out this time at general membership meetings. All members were now given the opportunity to make pronouncements against those whom they did not consider worthy to be Party members. This changed matters completely. The Central Committee had been publicly criticising the Party Secretaries for a job badly done. This encouraged members to demand criticism and self-criticism at the meetings, which thus turned into enormous arenas of debate. Those Party Secretaries who had something to hide got frightened, as such ongoing control could reveal faults in the local Party leadership. Some tried to check the urge to debate by claiming that the campaign was for the verification of Party documentation, not a purge. It was still not possible to stifle members’ criticism completely. Getty in Origins of the Great Purges gives us an interesting insight into the accusations made at a membership meeting of the Smolensk town committee in July 1935. At the meeting 616 accusations were raised.

Table 4:
The accusations during the Proverka in Smolensk in July 1935 [Getty: Origins of the Great Purges]

Kulaks, traders, families 226
Degenerates, drunks, womanizers, violators of discipline 143
ROfficial malfeasance, theft, embezzlement 106
Lost or dubious Party cards 62
Trotskyists, Mensheviks, etc. 28
White Army officers, Tsarist police 41/td>
Anti-Semites 10
Total 616

As can be seen in Table 4, more than a third of the accusations concerned kulaks and men who had enriched themselves during the NEP (the new economic policy). Another third and more of the accusations pointed to people who had committed severe moral and economic crimes. Only a small number of the accusations, hardly five per cent, had to do with political opposition. Simultaneously, one in six accusations (circa 17 per cent) related to criminal activities on the part of leading cadres and political civil servants. At the national level, the Party card control exercise resulted in the expulsion of 170,000 members out of the 1.8 million investigated, i.e. 9.1 per cent.

Party meetings during July 1935 became arenas in the campaign against arrogant Party functionaries and other bullies. In spite of the fact that criticism and self-criticism were Party policy, it was far from certain that this was in fact being applied at grass roots level. But now, at least for a time, these circumstances changed radically in favour of ordinary members. Stalin pronounced himself on the need for criticism and self-criticism and pointed out that a lack of criticism was a fatal mistake, which “destroyed cadres” by not bringing up their faults for discussion. The 1935 Party documents verification exercise also highlighted another very serious shortcoming in the Party: the fact that it was easy to forge Party cards, and that they were not therefore a reliable guide to membership. The need for new Party cards was an issue demanding immediate attention.

The campaign of lies of the bourgeoisie and the reality

Let us now for a moment discuss some of the lies being spread in the capitalist mass media about the 1935 verification exercise. As we can see from the examples given of the membership meetings in Smolensk, open debates dealt a hard blow to bourgeois elements who had sneaked into the Party, people out for economic and social advantage. These included kulaks and merchants, thieves, former white army officers and tsarist policemen. Contrary to the falsifiers’ version of history, the opposition was hardly affected at all. What happened during the Party card verification exercise was, above all, that Party workers threw out bourgeois elements who had been smuggled in. This is what really infuriates the falsifiers of Soviet history. They are people who are used to having special rights in society while workers are ‘the mob’, to be kept on a short leash, and they totally freak out when forced to recognise that it is the workers who are in command in the workers’ party so that the uncovering of inimical, bourgeois values led to expulsion. The opportunities for the bourgeoisie to regain some power after years of careful sabotage were annihilated.

Another lie is that the Party card verification exercise was undertaken by the Party leadership – i.e., by Stalin – as an act of revenge for the assassination of Kirov. Kirov, a member of the Central Committee and Chairman of the Party in Leningrad, was assassinated on December 1st 1934 in the city’s Party headquarters – the murderer, Nikolayev, had entered the Party headquarters by using an old, invalid, Party card. This allegation of revenge being taken of a horrible and bloody nature, with a huge number of executions, originates with the police agent Robert Conquest. Anybody unfamiliar with these historical issues who reads his book, The Great Terror, will have difficulty in seeing through his deceit. But for those who have made it their business to acquire genuine knowledge of the history of this period, this allegation of revenge is nothing short of nonsensical. The 1935 Party card verification exercise was simply a consequence of a Central Committee decision concerning membership re-registration taken in October 1934. As a matter of fact, Kirov took part in this decision, which was made two months prior to his assassination! Are we to believe that Kirov participated in a decision to take revenge for his own assassination, which was to take place two months later?!

1936 – exchange of Party documents

After the 1935 Party documentation verification exercise, and as a consequence of it, the Central Committee decided to exchange all Party documents. There were efforts to have the Party cards as far as possible distributed to genuine members only, devoted Communists who really did honour to their membership. The directives of the Central Committee were very precise and full of details which nobody was entitled to bypass. Firstly, none of the new Party cards could be distributed in any given area until its 1935 verification exercise was concluded. Secondly, Party Secretaries alone were entitled to issue the new cards. Moreover, the exchange of new cards for the old could only take place in the building where the Party Secretary had his office, and there only in the presence of the member concerned and the Party Secretary of the cell to which the member belonged. The member was then requested to fill out a form in duplicate and to provide the necessary personal data. He was asked to sign the new Party card and the two forms, witnessed by the Party Secretary. The District Secretary did likewise and then stamped the new card. Every card had to bear a picture of the member, otherwise it was invalid. The new cards were sent to the regional Party Secretaries only and that by the NKVD mail, and they could be filled out only with a special ink sent by the Central Committee. The signatures of all Party Secretaries (i.e., those who had been authorised to issue Party cards) were kept in a special archive at the Party central office. The exchange of the Party cards of millions of members was a major exercise by the Party central organ aimed at establishing effective documentation for proving of membership which would be very difficult to falsify.

The purpose of changing Party cards was not to discover and expel further Party enemies in a new purge. The Central Committee’s purpose was just the opposite as expressed in its directive concerning the exchange of Party cards: “If, in the proverka, Party organisations paid special attention to the uncovering of hidden penetration of the Party by enemies, rogues, and swindlers, then, in the exchange, they must turn their principal attention toward freeing themselves of passive members not deserving the high title of member of the Party; of people who accidentally find themselves in the CPSU(b).”.

Merely two per cent expulsions

The exchange of Party documents was scheduled to take place from February to April 1936, but in some places it was completed as late as November 1936. There are no national statistics as to the number of members expelled during that period, but the figures from Smolensk indicate that these were relatively few. In the Smolensk Party organisation, 4,348 Party cards were issued and 97 persons were expelled, circa 2.1 per cent. Approximately the same percentages are found in other districts in the western region. Unfortunately, the great majority of those expelled were ordinary working-class members expelled for ‘passivity’.

The exchange of Party documents in 1936 is also used by Robert Conquest and other falsifiers of history in their dirty war against socialism. Conquest claims that there were massive purges undertaken during the exchange, and that the number of members purged was higher than in any previous Party purges. All this was, according Conquest, provoked by Stalin as a manoeuvre to ignite public opinion against the opposition who were awaiting the trials 19-24 August 1936. These trials were of the Trotsky-Zinoviev centre led by Zinoviev, Kamenev and Smirnov who were accused of having taken part in a conspiracy led from abroad by Trotsky to kill Soviet government leaders and to grab power. Conquest’s allegations about mass expulsions in 1936 have for many years stood uncontradicted. The figures brought to light by Getty’s research in the Smolensk archives prove that Conquest’s statements are complete lies. In fact, the numbers purged in 1936 were the lowest in the history of the Party, i.e., between two and three per cent of the members.

The political trials of 1936 – 1938 in the Soviet Union

The political trials [2] and the purges in the Communist Party were two separate things and they did not directly have anything to do with each other. The Party members who were expelled and tried at court for having been involved in criminal or counter revolutionary activities were a small minority of all those expelled.

The 1937 Party purge and the fight against bureaucracy

In 1937 it became clear that two major problems had to be confronted and a solution to them found if the building of Socialism was to continue to go forward in the Soviet Union. One of these problems had been brought to light by the Zinoviev-Kamenev and Pyatakov-Radek treason trials. These proved that the old opposition had not laid down its arms. Earlier self-criticisms had merely been an exercise in playing to the gallery, a way to secure for those who made them a return to the important positions they had previously held. The opposition’s underground activities had been continuing without interruption ever since the beginning of the 1930s; and the number of those involved was unknown. The other problem was the fight against bureaucracy, corruption and opportunism within the Party. It related especially to the local and regional potentates whom the grass-roots members could not, or did not dare to, denounce and who therefore held stable and secure positions in the local and regional leaderships.

The Central Committee convened a meeting in February 1937 in order to deal with these two principal questions. This meeting turned out to be the starting point of a Party struggle which raged between 1937 and 1938. At the beginning of the meeting Bukharin and Rykov, members of the Central Committee, were present. They were accused of having collaborated with the enemies of the Party and also of having been, with Trotsky, part of a counter revolutionary organisation whose aim was to overthrow the government of the Soviet Union. The accusations were based on material that had come to light during the investigations of the recently-concluded Pyatakov-Radek trial. The allegations against Bukharin and Rykov were presented by Pyatakov and Radek during the trial itself. Bukharin and Rykov tried to defend themselves but they were branded traitors by the Central Committee and evicted from the Party. Their case was handed over to the appropriate authorities for investigation and prosecution. We shall return later to the trial of Bukharin, Rykov and the others in their organisation.

Stalin’s speech

During the meeting of the Central Committee Stalin gave a very important speech entitled Defects in Party work and measures for liquidating Trotskyites and other double-dealers. In his speech, Stalin turned to the other comrades of the Central Committee to ask how it was possible for foreign agents, Trotskyists and their political allies, to penetrate the economic and administrative organisations of the Soviet state, as well as Party organisations, and to carry out sabotage, espionage and wrecking. Furthermore, Stalin asked how it had come about that these alien elements had managed to acquire responsible positions, and even help from certain leading comrades in securing these positions.

Stalin went on to present a list of acts of sabotage and espionage during the preceding years and after referring to the warning letter of the Central Committee to the Party organisations, he continued:

“The facts show that our comrades reacted to these signals and warnings very slowly. This is eloquently shown by all the known facts that have emerged from the campaign of verifying and exchanging Party documents. How are we to explain the fact that these warnings and signals did not have the required effect? … Perhaps our Party comrades have deteriorated, have become less class-conscious and less disciplined? No, of course not! Perhaps they have begun to degenerate? Again, of course not! There are no grounds whatever for such an assumption. What is the matter then? Whence this heedlessness, carelessness, complacency, blindness? The matter is that our comrades, carried away by economic campaigns and by colossal successes on the front of economic construction, simply forgot about certain very important facts which Bolsheviks have no right to forget. They forgot about the main fact in the international position of the U.S.S.R. … They forgot that the Soviet power is victorious only on one-sixth of the globe … there are, besides, many other countries, bourgeois countries, which continue to lead the capitalist mode of life and which surround the Soviet Union, waiting for an opportunity to attack her, to crush her, or, at all events, to undermine her might and weaken her”.

Spies from the capitalist countries

Stalin then went on to refer to the relationships between the capitalist countries:

”It has been proved as definitely as twice two are four that the bourgeois states send to each other spies, wreckers, diversionists, and sometimes also assassins, instruct them to penetrate into the institutions and enterprises of these states, set up their agencies and ‘in case of necessity’ disrupt their rear, in order to weaken them and to undermine their strength. … Today France and England are swarming with German spies and diversionists, and, on the other hand, Anglo-French spies and diversionists are busy in Germany; America is swarming with Japanese spies and diversionists, and Japan is swarming with American spies and diversionists. Such is the law of the relations between bourgeois states. The question arises, why should the bourgeois states treat the Soviet socialist state more gently and in a more neighbourly manner than treat bourgeois states of their own type? Why should they send to the Soviet Union fewer spies, wreckers, diversionists and assassins than they send to their kindred bourgeois states? Why should you think so? Would it not be more correct from the point of view of Marxism to assume that the bourgeois states would send twice and three times as many wreckers, spies, diversionists and assassins to the Soviet Union as they send to any bourgeois state? Is it not clear that as long as the capitalist encirclement exists we shall have wreckers, spies, diversionists and assassins sent to us by agents of foreign states?”.

These were, according to Stalin important circumstances which leading comrades had forgotten, and that was the reason why the sabotage and espionage had been unexpected for many of them. The economic achievements explained the laxity and carelessness. The really great steps forward in socialist construction had resulted in a tendency to boast, a tendency to overestimate the power on one’s own side and to underestimate that of the enemy. The great successes had given rise to an ”atmosphere of success – success after success, achievement after achievement, overfulfilment of plan after overfulfilment of plan – gives rise to carelessness and self-satisfaction, creates an atmosphere of showy triumphs and mutual congratulations, which kills the sense of proportion and dulls political intuition, takes the spring out of people and causes them to rest on their laurels”.

The capitalist encirclement

And Stalin continues ironically to present the thoughts on the subject of a local, Party functionary. ”Capitalist encirclement? Oh, that’s nothing! What does capitalist encirclement matter if we are fulfilling and overfulfilling our economic plans? The new forms of wrecking, the struggle against Trotskyism? Mere trifles! What do these trifles matter if we are fulfilling and overfulfilling our economic plans? The Party Rules, electing Party bodies, Party leaders reporting to the Party members? Is there really any need for all this? Is it worth while bothering about all these trifles if our economy is growing and the material conditions of the workers and peasants are becoming better and better? Mere trifles! The plans are being overfulfilled, our Party is not a bad one, the Central Committee of the Party is also not a bad one – what else do we need? They are some funny people sitting there in Moscow, in the Central Committee of the Party, inventing all sorts of problems, talk about wrecking, don’t sleep themselves and don’t let other people sleep…”

Party education and Leninism courses

Stalin then elaborated upon a number of errors in party work and the measures he regarded as being necessary to correct the errors that had arisen. He concluded by presenting a proposal for organised study on the part of leading Party cadres, from cell leaders to leaders in the regions and Party organisations of the Soviet republics. “For Party education and the re-training of secretaries of Party organisations (cells), four month ‘Party courses’ should be established in every Regional centre”.

“For the political re-training of first secretaries of District organisations, eight month ‘Lenin courses’ should be established in, say, ten of the most important centres in the U.S.S R..”.

“For the ideological re-training and political improvement of secretaries of city organisations, six month ‘Courses for the study of Party history and policy’ under the C.C. of the C.P.S.U.(b) should be established”.

“Finally, a six month ‘Conference on questions of internal and international policy’ under the C.C. of the C.P.S.U.(b) should be established. The First Secretaries of Regional and Territorial organisations and of Central Committees of national Communist Parties should be sent here.” Study is the right way to solve the problems and the contradictions in the Party – a line established by Stalin, Zhdanov and Kirov since January 1934.

In his Speech in reply to debate Stalin referred to some important controversies which had emerged during the debate. Among other things, Stalin pointed out that those who had once been Trotskyists or Trotsky sympathisers but who had since changed, had worked well and were loyal to the Party, were not targets in the fight against the Trotskyite wrongdoers and spies. “In this matter, as in all others, an individual, discriminate approach is required. You cannot measure everybody with the same yardstick”.

Control of Party functionaries

In his summing up, Stalin directed sharp criticism at the relationships of Party functionaries to grass-root members. Stalin did not mince his words. He started by criticising the selection of Party functionaries. “Most often, (Party) workers are chosen not for objective reasons, but for casual, subjective, philistine, petty-bourgeois reasons. Most often, so-called acquaintances, friends, fellow-townsmen, personally devoted people, masters in the art of praising their chiefs, are chosen without regard for their political and business fitness. Naturally, instead of a leading group of responsible workers we get a little family of intimate people, an artel, the members of which try to live in peace, try not to offend each other, not to wash dirty linen in public, to praise each other, and from time to time send vapid and sickening reports to the centre about successes. It is not difficult to understand that in such a family atmosphere there can be no place for criticism of defects in the work, or for self-criticism by leaders of the work. Of course, such a family atmosphere creates a favourable medium for the cultivation of toadies, of people who lack a sense of self-respect, and therefore, have nothing in common with Bolshevism.”

Further on Stalin commented on the necessity of Party functionaries being controlled not just by their superiors but, even more importantly, by grass-roots members. “Some comrades think that people can be tested only from above, when leaders test those who are led by the results of their work. That is not true. Of course, testing from above is needed as one of the effective measures for testing people and verifying the fulfilment of tasks. But testing from above far from exhausts the whole business of testing. There is another kind of test, the test from below, when the masses, when those who are led, test the leaders, draw attention to their mistakes and indicate the way in which these mistakes may be rectified. This sort or testing is one of the most effective methods of testing people.”

Applying Leninism

Stalin also criticised strongly those who were unwilling to criticise themselves in the belief that this would be taken as a sign of weakness by the enemy and be taken advantage of, and could also lead to disorganisation and enfeeblement. “That is nonsense, comrades, sheer nonsense. On the contrary, the open admission of our mistakes and their honest rectification can only strengthen our Party, raise the prestige of our Party … To spare and take care of cadres by glossing over their mistakes means killing these very cadres for certain.” Finally, Stalin urged the leaders of the Party organisations to listen to the voice of the masses, a certain way of practising correct leadership. He criticised firmly “the formal and heartlessly bureaucratic attitude of some of our Party comrades towards the fate of individual members of the Party, to the question of expelling members from the Party, or the question of reinstating expelled members of the Party.”

According to Stalin the leaders had to get to know the members, their development and way of life to be able to make a fair and individual judgement of each one. Lacking such knowledge “they usually act in a haphazard way: either they praise them wholesale, without measure, or roundly abuse them, also wholesale and without measure, and expel thousands and tens of thousands of members from the Party”. Stalin opposed all expulsions for alleged passivity or on the grounds that the members in question had not properly understood the Party programme. Only tested and theoretically advanced Marxists could fully understand the Party programme.

Stalin appealed to the leaders of the Party to apply the Leninist formula for Party membership, according to which “a member of the Party is one who accepts the programme of the Party, pays membership dues and works in one of its organisations.” No Party member should be expelled for lacking a deep knowledge of the Party programme or Party policies. Stalin called it a heartless policy and enormous bureaucratism to exclude workers for small errors like being late to Party meetings or for failing to pay Party dues. Before raising the question of expulsion, a criticism, warning or a certain time should be given to the person in question to allow him or her to improve. Party leaders were required to have a genuine concern for the members “this is exactly what some of our comrades lack”, Stalin concluded.

Party members start criticising

When Stalin’s speeches were published, they became the starting point for public debate, as did other speeches by Molotov, Zhdanov and Ezhov. The main topics were Stalin’s Speech in reply to debate and Zhdanov’s proposal for secret votes in Party elections, which had been accepted by the Central Committee. Thus, the questions which aroused the greatest interest concerned the power of the Party leaders and their actions, as well as Party democracy. The Bukharin-Rykov trial and the necessity to be vigilant against spies and saboteurs was also discussed as well as the criticism of members’ failures vis-à-vis Party discipline. But the main question remained omnipotence and corruption among local Party leaders.

Throughout the 1930s the Central Committee had urged Party members to initiate criticism of leaders and to denounce corrupt and uncommitted Party secretaries. Now, at last, the discussion got underway! Party meetings were organised everywhere in consequence of the February meeting of the Central Committee. Meetings that had only recently been conducted in a routine and bureaucratic fashion in an aura of cronyism, all of a sudden had to be recalled in response to overwhelming demands on the part of the membership. The Smolensk archives provide plenty of instances of meetings where local leaders were literally put up against the wall and forced to criticise themselves in front of the members. The masses of members were not indulgent. At many meetings in District Committees and in workplace or local cells, the Party leaders were not only thoroughly unmasked but were also deprived of their positions on the spot, with new leaders having the confidence of the members being immediately elected. These elections were not part of the Central Committee plan for new secret ballots in Party leadership elections. At that time this plan was only at the preparation stage. But nothing could prevent the members from replacing corrupt bureaucrats.

Example in the district of Belyi

A typical example of the atmosphere in the working class after the Central Committee meeting of February 1937 is as follows. In the Belyi district (Belyi Raion), a meeting took place to analyse Party activities. This meeting lasted four days. Minutes of the meeting are available in the Smolensk archives. Grass-root members who had seldom spoken at meetings, or who had been labelled passive, took to the floor on this occasion and ‘regardless of person’ did not mince their words. 220 of the 240 members were present at the meeting of the Belyi district committee (Belyi Raion). Seventy-seven spoke at the meeting and raised harsh criticisms of the district Secretary Kovalev. He was accused of having become a bureaucrat without consideration for the members. He had falsified reports about political education and closed study halls with the excuse that they were not needed. His methods were dictatorial, biased and brutal. Members who were for any reason summoned to the district office had always felt uneasy, knowing that they would be kept waiting for long periods or return without completing the business in hand.

The NKVD head in Belyi, Vinogradov, came to Kovalev’s help. He asked the Party members not to discuss Party work. According to him, the directives from the February meeting of the Central Committee meant that the members were to discuss the spring sowing campaign. Kovalev, on his part, tried to turn the criticism onto lower levels of the Party, the Party cells. According to him, that was where the errors were to be sought, not in the district. Even Golovashenko, the representative of the obkom (the regional Committee) came to Kovalev’s aid. He tried to calm the debate and attacked the members who had been severely criticising Kovalev. But nothing could help Kovalev. The members’ criticism continued without interruption throughout the meeting and the list of accusations grew longer and longer. The meeting ended by the members then and there giving Kovalev the boot and electing Karpovsky First Secretary of the Party district.

Stalin’s Speech in reply to debate — a tool in the struggle

The story does not end here. The local NKVD head had tried to help Kovalev and so had the regional representative. A decision by the regional Secretariat annulled the appointment of district Secretary, Karpovsky, and proposed instead another member, Boradulin, for the position. Another large membership meeting took place during which Boradulin was declared even more incompetent than Kovalev and at which the members once again elected Karpovsky to be district Secretary. This occurred in spite of Karpovsky himself urging members to accept the proposal of the regional Secretariat.

That was the atmosphere following the February meeting of the Central Committee. With Stalin’s Speech in reply to debate in their hands, grass-roots members immediately started to throw out careerists and corrupt bureaucrats and electing their own leaders, irrespective of the wishes of higher authorities. It was a spontaneous struggle, as is clearly shown by the reports in the Smolensk archives, and it was shortly to have far-reaching consequences. At the same time corrupt bureaucrats in positions of power continued to protect each other. Kovalev, for instance, was given a good job in the region’s personnel department. The struggle, however, had only just begun.

The 1937 Party elections

One of the important resolutions passed at the February meeting of the Central Committee was a to hold general Party elections on the basis of secret ballots. On 20th March 1937, two weeks after the Central Committee meeting, a decree was issued by the Central Committee concerning Elections to Party Organisation and this started a debate in the press about the necessity for self-criticism, Party democracy and control of leading Party functionaries. The central leadership did its best to prevent corrupt Party leaders from manipulating the election meetings.

The elections took place during April 1937. The local leaderships were widely criticised during the election meetings. Previously, Party meetings for discussion and criticism had always been a forum for criticism of grass-roots members for lack of Party discipline or bad conduct. Now, the situation was reversed. This time, the local leaderships were the focus of criticism. As a rule, many members were nominated to the Party boards at these meetings. The discussions were long and carefully minuted. The secret elections came last. There are many documents in the Smolensk archives concerning the Party elections, including the ballot papers.

Old leaderships exchanged

The national results of the Party elections were later reported in the press. Of the 54,000 Party organisations whose election results were known in May 1937, the old leadership had been exchanged in 55 per cent of them. This was an incredible result. First of all it showed that the lack of confidence in the old leaderships had been very widespread, and secondly that the grass-roots members in practice had the collective strength needed to throw out politicians who were incompetent or abused their power. Evidently, the Central Committee meeting had given voice to an established cause for dissatisfaction.

The Party elections, however, also had another aspect. Most of the Party leaders expelled operated on local level, in the districts and cells, the level where ordinary members could easily decide what was right and wrong and discover corruption, abuse of power or sabotage. Higher up in the municipal and regional Committees, the Party elections did not give similar results. The regional Party leaderships showed a great facility for surviving criticism. There were several cases at regional level of corrupt politicians, known to be prone to behaving like little kings, nevertheless managing to secure a vote in their favour. Ordinary members did not have the same opportunity to evaluate the work of these leaders as they had in the case of local ones. There was yet another factor operating against ordinary members: corrupt and incompetent regional and municipal Secretaries always surrounded themselves with a group who supported them no matter what. It was not easy for the ordinary members to overcome all this in their quest for truth.

Regional leaderships exchanged

Nevertheless the struggle against the bureaucracy and corruption within the Communist Party was also persevered with at the higher levels. At the beginning of June, the annual regional Party Conferences started as usual. These Conferences were not accorded any particular importance, for they usually simply discussed reports concerning the work of the regional leaderships. This time, however, something new occurred. Even at regional Conferences, Party leaders were criticised. The Party leadership knew that it would be much more difficult for ordinary members to make their voices heard at the regional level. Therefore, this time round the central leadership decided to send representatives from the Central Committee to the regional Conferences. These representatives came, sometimes totally unannounced, took a seat and participated in the discussions. This had the effect of tipping the scales at several regional Conferences to the disadvantage of the regional Party leaders. Among the twenty-five regional Conferences reported in the press, four ended by the Party leadership having to stand down. Nevertheless in many areas the regional satraps continued in power doing as they wished without regard for the Party directives.

The military trial against the generals

It was at the time of the regional Party Conferences when an event decisive for the future of Soviet society took place. On June 11, 1937, Pravda announced that Marshal Tukhachevskii and Generals Putna, Iakir, Uborevich, Feldman, Kork, Primakov and Eideman had been arrested and charged with treason. These generals had been arrested on 26th May, 1937, charged with “habitual and base betrayal of military secrets to a certain hostile Fascist power, and working as spies to encompass the downfall of the Soviet state and to restore capitalism.” over a long period of time.

The conspiracy of the Generals was the military part of the struggle of the opposition against the Soviet government. The Pyatakov-Radek treason trial had dealt a severe blow to the opposition, but the Generals had not cancelled their plans for a coup d’état. On the contrary, they realised that any delay would be to their disadvantage. Their plans had been finalised and it was time to act. Following the trial of Pyatakov and the denuciation of the Bukharin-Rykov group, now under arrest, the military conspirators increased their efforts. Towards the end of March 1937, they decided on the timing of the coup. It was to take place within six weeks, or by March 15th at the latest.

The return of the political commissars

Once it came to know of the plans for a coup, the Soviet government acted swiftly. On May 8th an important resolution was passed: political commissars were reinstated at all levels in the army. The system of political commissars supervising the officers and military decisions had been abandoned ten years earlier, on 13th May 1927, at the behest of Frunze, an old Bolshevik and highly-placed Party cadre who had become one of the leading officers in the army. He abolished the political commissars and reinstated the power of the officers. On 11th May 1937, Marshal Tukhachevskii was demoted from his post as deputy war commissar and sent on a lesser mission in the Volga area. General Gamarnik, one of the conspirators (who subsequently committed suicide), was demoted on the same day as the deputy war commissar. Generals Iakir and Uborevich were also downgraded, while Generals Kork and Eideman were arrested, accused of spying for Nazi Germany. The conspirators thereby lost the practical means of directing a military coup.

Socialist society defends itself

The Soviet government’s quick intervention averted the attempted coup d’état against the Socialist Soviet Union, but it was not known how widespread was the hold of the conspirators within civilian society and the army.

The regional Party meetings and the struggle against counter-revolution

In June 1937 the situation in Soviet Union was extremely tense. Nobody knew exactly the size of the military conspiracy, but there were many indications that it was larger than the group that had been discovered. The Central Committee decided to start a comprehensive investigation. The military conspiracy came from the top and its roots in civilian society were to be sought among people with leading posts. A number of extraordinary membership meetings were arranged in the regions to evaluate the work of the regional Party leaderships and to find out the size of the conspiracy. The relevant western region meeting took place over three days between June 19th and 21st, 1937. Kaganovich took part in the meeting as the representative of the Central Committee. The central question was the evaluation of the regional Party secretary Rumiantsev and his close associates.

Rumiantsev subjected to criticism

Ivan Petrovich Rumiantsev was an ‘old Bolshevik’ who had joined the Party as early as 1905. In 1929 he was named by the Central Committee First secretary of Smolensk, and Rumiantsev took with him to the post a number of his old comrades to be installed in several of the leading posts of the region. This nepotistic procedure was stamped anti-Marxist by Stalin at the February meeting of the Central Committee, but this did not bother Rumiantsev. In June 1937, Rumiantsev was 61 and was a member of the Central Committee with a strong standing in the western region, where several companies and factories had been named after him. In practice, Rumiantsev was immune to criticism. The ‘old Bolshevik’ Rumiantsev had over the years turned into a pompous bureaucrat mostly interested in his own welfare. The dissatisfaction with Rumiantsev in the western region was obvious, but the opportunities for removing him were slight.

Conditions had, however, changed radically prior to the meeting of June 19-21, 1937. This was not only because of the presence of Kaganovich and his support of the critical voices. Even more important a factor in causing members to be so outspoken was that one of the conspiring and condemned generals, Uborevich, was a member of the regional Committee, and had collaborated closely with Rumiantsev. There were suspicions that Rumiantsev was one of the high Party functionaries involved in the military conspiracy. Old injustices committed by Rumiantsev and his group against individual members were mercilessly brought to light.

The situation for the western region leadership became increasingly dismal. Among other issues, the dismissal of Party secretary Kovalev was raised. Kovalev had been removed by the Party members at the Belyi district membership meeting, but he had been given a comfortable job for his retirement by … Rumiantsev. The members now brought up what had happened and they were of the opinion that it was Rumiantsev who had caused Kovalev to act contrary to the will of Party members. It had been he who was behind the transgressions and abuses of power that had taken place in the district of Belyi. By resort to cronyism and patronage, Rumiantsev had “suppressed criticism and self-criticism, creating a circle of ‘his own people’”. The list of accusations of corruption and omnipotence against the leadership of the western region grew ever longer. As a consequence, the whole leadership was dismissed at the meeting. Following subsequent investigations, Rumiantsev and his group were arrested on charges of corruption and abuse of power.

The Central Committee launches a vast counter attack

By July 1937 the Central Committee had collected sufficient evidence to show that the military conspiracy had been part of a scheme involving many high Party functionaries. The situation was extremely serious. Even in the Central Committee itself there were corrupt members involved in the conspiracy. The building of Socialism was accompanied by consequences which some old Bolsheviks and newer high Party functionaries could not accept. The distant and somewhat romantic picture of workers’ power during the days of the 1917 revolution had now been realised in practice in the Soviet Union and it was now actually ruled by workers. This was a scary development for some people who had been privileged and living comfortably. They chose the road of counter- revolution. They found their indispensable allies in their struggle to halt Socialist development outside the Soviet Union. The Central Committee decided to fight this white terror and treachery in a determined manner.

The task of following up the clues thrown up by the traitors’ attempted coup was handled by the security police, the NKVD, under the leadership of Ezhov. All over the country people who were known to have had connections with the conspirators in the Pyatakov group or with the Generals were investigated. Many were arrested. The political situation was insecure and it was still unclear which had been the foreign links of the conspirators. The Generals had divulged secrets about the defence of the Soviet Union and it was unclear to what extent this had weakened the country.

The purges hit the highest ranks

The purges in the Party gained momentum after the Central Committee had questioned the loyalty of the regional Party leaders to Socialism. The Party meetings were strongly influenced by the general tense situation, and ordinary members turned more and more vociferous against corrupted and inefficient functionaries. People who considered themselves totally immune all of a sudden found themselves thrown out from leadership positions by the Party masses. Some were directly delivered to justice for their crimes. Bourgeois history in the West talks of terror against leading functionaries and company administrators, people who were more affluent than the average. ‘Nobody could sleep safe in their beds’, say the bourgeois historians.

But why should one not question individuals who had traded public property ‘under the table’, who had used state funds to finance their own businesses and who had liberally handed out presents and bribes to friends and acquaintances? Why should one be particularly considerate to Party leaders who used power to oppress ordinary members and mistreat them? Why should one not persecute generals and other high ranking officers who had betrayed the country’s secrets and collaborated with the enemy? Why should they go free or be treated better than other criminals?

The expulsions and ‘the old Bolsheviks’

Research also shows that most of those expelled during this time were people from the leading circles of the Party. Let us give a concrete example from the Party district of Belyi. Out of 244 members and candidates in the Party organisation of Belyi, 36 were expelled during 1937. 29 of those expelled were in leading positions – two First Party Secretaries of district committees, and two Deputy Chairmen of the district Soviet Executive Committee, one Komsomol District Secretary, the District Prosecutor, the chief of the district NKVD and one of his fellow officers, the directors of the three largest schools in the district, the head of the district land office, the director of the Belyi Machine and Tractor Station, four heads of industrial undertakings, two heads of trade organisations, five collective-farm chairmen and five chairmen of rural Soviets.

The myth of the 1937 expulsions

The myth about the terrible year 1937 which the bourgeoisie has made one of its top items, not surprisingly through the police agent Robert Conquest and CIA / MI5, the true fathers of the myth are unmasked by the statistics about the purges during the whole of the 1930s.

Table 5:
Party expulsions by year

Operation Number expelled from Party Percent of party
1929 170,000 11.0
1933 792,000 18.5
1935 170,000 9.0
1936
1937 100,000 5.0
1938 70,000 2.0
Note: There are no national statistics for 1936. In Smolensk two/three per cent of the members were expelled that year.

Analysing the statistics one can perceive the magnitude of the bourgeois lies. In fact, 1937 was one of the years in which the lowest numbers of people were expelled, i.e., not more than five per cent! How come the bourgeoisie and its lackeys have transformed 1937 into ‘Stalin’s incredible year of 1937’ with “millions of false accusations, millions deported, millions murdered”, as Swedish author Per Englund likes to claim. Which are the interests behind this? We understand that in such a mass movement of criticism and self-criticism involving millions of people, some wrong decisions will have been made and innocent people affected. But such things occurred in earlier purges also. Tens of thousands of Party members had been expelled for wrong reasons but these were reinstated after simply appealing to the Party centre. The injustices which affected ordinary workers more than others are of no interest to the West. How to explain the interest shown in the 1937 expulsions? Why precisely is 1937 taken as the worst to befall the Soviet Union?

The class question gives the answer

The explanation is related to class. The great difference between the purges of 1937 and other Party purges is that during the latter it was mainly grass-roots members, ordinary workers, who were expelled – they constituted up to 80 per cent of all those expelled. The relationship was just the opposite in 1937. Of all those expelled, around 80 per cent were corrupt Party bigwigs and high level army officers. These were people who, having acquired privileges and financial advantages, were prepared even to collaborate with Nazi Germany in order to keep them. These were people who did not mind trampling on ordinary members and who readily threw out those who did not accept their transgressions. In 1937, Party functionaries and officers with inclinations to the West and bourgeois thinking were kicked out. They lost their positions of power, were thrown out from the Party and brought to trial. We can understand the hatred of the bourgeoisie for the Soviet year, 1937.

The policy of the Party & difficulties of mass struggle

The aim of the purges was to throw out corrupt bureaucrats and traitors from the Party and army. Such a far-reaching struggle, involving millions of Party members, could not be carried out without mistakes. Old personal contradictions could lead to unfair decisions. Strong mistrust could arise of all Party cadres and could easily spread when a highly-placed Party functionary proved to be corrupt bureaucrat. The Central Committee was aware of these difficulties and warned from the outset against exaggerations.

In some quarters this principle was difficult to apply. Party members who, for instance, had white collar jobs and had not shown a genuine interest in Party life could easily be expelled in spite of their loyalty to Socialism, as demonstrated by their work. The Central Committee opposed this and corrected the injustices when they heard the appeals of those who had been expelled. In October 1937, during a reception for technical cadres from the Donbas, Stalin personally criticised those who questioned all leading cadres. According to Stalin the new (white-collar) technicians and economists of the Soviet Union came from the proletariat and deserved the respect of the people.

Conclusion

What clearly emerges from all the above is that the purges were part of a struggle aimed at bureaucracy and treason and not at leading Party cadres in general, ‘old Bolsheviks’, or even people who simply found themselves in a minority on political questions, unless this led them to criminal and treasonable activity.

Mário Sousa, 2001,
mario.sousa@telia.com
Edited by Ella Rule 2005