Sunday, November 17, 2013

"GREAT OCTOBER REVOLUTION OF 1917: Rapid Industrialisation as a Bitter Class War" - SUKOMAL SEN

THIS writing is about the rapid and vast industrial transformation that took place in the Soviet Union after the death of Comrade Lenin and in the period of the First Five­ Year Plan, 1928-32. It was a momentous event, along with the simultaneously promoted collectivisation of agriculture, comprised what is usually known as Stalin's revolution from above. Stalin took over this task after Lenin’s death. Stalin's industrial revolution embodied a special vision of the October Revolution – the creation of industrial base for socialism, a system supplanting to capitalism. The slogan of October Socialist Revolution was, ‘Overtake and Surpass’ the Advanced Capitalist Countries’. The Bolsheviks had long been fascinated with the most advanced technology and scien­tific management (Fordism and Taylorism) in Western  countries, the adoption of which in the Soviet Union, they believed, was a prereq­uisite to socialism. The possibility of building socialism in one country was taken with full conviction and the very survival of the country was believed to depend on rapid industrialisation.

In his impassioned speech in February 1931, Stalin spoke of Russian his­tory as one of continual beatings due to backwardness, ‘beatings by the Mongol khans, the Swedish feudal lords, the Polish-Lithuan­ian pans, the Anglo-French capitalists, and the Japanese barons,’ and he declared: ‘We are fifty to one hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must cover this distance in ten years. Either we do this, or they will crush us’. The sense of international isolation and an inevitable international class-war contributed to the breakneck speed of Stalin's industrialisation. It was conceived as a great leap from a relatively backward country to an ultramodern industrial power.

This leap reflected the contradiction of the October Revolution itself: a proletarian revolution in a predominantly peasant country, or "revolution against Das Kapital" in Antonio Gramsci's famous expression. Because Karl Marx assumed that socialism would be built on the basis of the productive capacity of advanced industrial capitalism and so the Bolsheviks believed that a historically unprece­dented leap would be necessary to build socialism in the Soviet Union. The decision to take the leap in the late 1920s was preceded by a heated theoretical debate on industrialisation, with theoretical disagreements often developing into certain political dissension also within the party.

Almost all participants in the debate assumed, however, that investment of capital for industrial development had to be somehow generated from  the agrarian sector (whose population still accounted for over 80 percent of the total population of  the country in 1926), because there were no other sources. The Soviet Union neither expected to obtain necessary aid from the Western capitalist countries nor possessed external colonies to ex­ploit, which is how capitalist countries developed. (In any case, the exploitation of colonies, a capitalist method, was ruled out.) The debate revolved mainly around how to extract the resources without breaking civil peace with the peasantry.

However, the burden of industrialisation weighed heavily on the entire population, affecting different social groups to different degrees.

Bolshevik Party led government’s industrialisation, however gained impressive achievements at the expense of certain amount of suffering by the population; it laid the foundations for the post­ World War II rise of the Soviet Union to a world power. In dis­cussing Stalin-led industrial revolution, Soviet historians tend to em­phasize its dazzling accomplishments and its unavoidable costs, while western historians tend to do just the opposite. Even when the western historians appreciate both the achievements and costs, they seem to be preoccupied with the question of whether the former were worth the price paid, or whether the revolution itself was really necessary according to their own capitalist class point of view.

In 1921, during Lenin’s period, there was an important change of policy.  The Bolsheviks war communism was replaced with the New Economic Policy (NEP) to restore both the economy and civil peace with the peasantry. NEP reinstated market relations between town and country and forsook most of the characteristics of war communism, thereby allowing the private sector to revive. This was a period of Civil war when Soviet Russia was attacked by indigenous class enemies along with foreign invasions.    

The economy's "commanding heights" (large-scale industry, banking and foreign trade) were kept in the hands of the State. To promote overall economic planning, Gosplan, the State Planning Commission, was founded in 1921. The activities of these institutions were moni­tored by Rabkrin, the People's Commissariat for Workers' and Peasants' Inspection, which was created in 1920 and soon became a powerful apparatus through the merger in 1923 with the Central Control Commission of the Communist Party.  Rabkrin was aided in its work by the GPU (or OGPU), the State Political Ad­ministration, which grew out of the state security police, the Cheka, borne by the October Revolution and bred by the civil war. All these institutions, developed during Lenin’s time, were to play a prominent role in Soviet Union’s industrialisation drive under Stalin.

The policies adopted for agricultural prices and for deliveries of industrial products to the peasants, particularly of products which they needed to develop their production in 1927, ended in a fiasco over the procurement of cereals by the State (and also by the official cooperatives). The leadership of the Party decided at the beginning of 1928 to take "urgent measures," which were regarded as the only measures that were practicable. In accordance with these measures, the peasants had to deliver to the State the grain which they held and for this they received a considerably low official price according to the procurement policy of the Party. If the peas­ants responded with a refusal, the authorities had recourse to "exceptional measures," which, in particular, allowed them to act under Article 107 of the Penal Code (of the RSFSFR); that is, they could seize, the assets of the peasant and confiscate them. These confiscations were carried out with the help of numerous officials and of "worker brigades" sent from the towns. In principle, these measures of coercion were only applied to the kulaks and also other independent peasants. These measures were carried out strictly especially after the spring of 1928, when famine began to be seriously felt. From that time the poor peasants, who more or less had upheld the exceptional measures during the winter months, became hostile and the end of the spring almost all the peasants were clearly against the policy adopted for the villages. In the middle of June 1928, MI Frumkin wrote, in a letter addressed to the Central Committee: "The village, apart from a small section of the poor peasantry, is against us."

Discontent was also felt in the towns. The Soviet Union at the time experienced the most serious social and political crisis since the Kronstadt uprising.  In July, the Central Com­mittee decided to annul the "exceptional measures," which it emphasiSed were "temporary," and condemned those applica­tions of them which had given rise to "violation of revolutionary legality," to illegal searches, and to administrative arbitrari­ness, etc. Thus the Central Committee made the necessary correction in their procurement policy.  

So, Lenin-led NEP postponed war on the market forces for an unspecified period, and instead declared competition with them. Skillful price maneuvering in the markets was assumed to ensure the accumula­tion of the capital necessary for industrialisation at the expense of peasant income but not of civil peace. Throughout NEP, however, the fear that the markets would take the upper hand haunted the Bolshevik government. Price maneuvering in the markets, politically necessary as it was, was seen by many Bolsheviks as an un-heroic business, as attested to by the fact that during NEP the years of war communism came to be nostalgically remembered as "the heroic period of the great Russian Revolution.”

The Bolsheviks did not indiscriminately distrust the "bour­geois" specialists, nor did the Bolsheviks blindly trust them. Rather, before 1928 the Bolsheviks expediently assumed that NEP had al­lowed the majority of the "bourgeois" specialists not to be actively hostile to the Soviet government. 

At the sixteenth party conference in April 1929, a Rabkrin reporter declared that the time had come for war and that "we have already become en­gaged.

This piecemeal study of industrialisation does not dismiss the notion of "revolution from above," but challenges some assumptions im­plicit in it, thereby supplementing the findings, and supporting the most important implication, of recent western works on other aspects of Stalin's revolution. The revolution appears in these works not merely as a revolution from above but also as one that was to some extent politically pressed and supported "from be­low." So uncritically have western historians assumed that Sta­lin intimidated and terrorised the whole society that the question of popular support has largely escaped them. The concept of class war itself was in fact intended to gain the support of the working c1ass. In this article we discussed the extent and mode of both workers' resistance and support, and suggest that workers' support pro­vided the basis for the survival of the Soviet regime under Stalin, after Lenin’s death, that emerged from the revolution.

We conclude by asserting that this rapid industrialisation of Soviet Union, though some time became very harsh, provided the necessary industrial base for producing the indispensable heavy armaments for Soviet Union after Lenin’s death to crush the fascist forces and save the world from the onslaught of German/Japanese fascism, which no body can deny.    

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