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International Socialist Review, Summer 1962


Daniel Roberts

Privilege and Progress in the Soviet Union

Behind the Moscow-Peking Dispute


From International Socialist Review, Vol.23 No.3, Summer 1962, pp.76-79.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


We publish this article, in rough draft form, as the last contribution made to revolutionary socialism by its author, Dan Roberts. Comrade Roberts, aged 44, died May 24, 1962, after a long struggle with a debilitating form of cancer. For over twenty years he was an active, leading revolutionist in the Socialist Workers Party, an organizer in Los Angeles, Calif., in Seattle, Wash, and in Newark, N.J. and a writer on the staffs of the International Socialist Review and The Militant. He was editor of the latter from 1956 until the onset of his illness in 1960. Even in the weakness of his approaching death, his whole being was concentrated on the political, analytical work that was his life. On the eve of his final hospitalization, Dan Roberts submitted the draft of this article to the Editor of the ISR for final editing and publication. We give it to our readers, his comrades and his friends, as the unfinished “work in progress” of a comrade whose life was devoted to the socialist future of humanity. – The Editor

* * *

AS THE Sino-Soviet conflict deepens, the Kremlin has announced that China and Eastern Europe can no longer expect large Soviet loans for economic development. The Soviet magazine, International Affairs, in its March issue, made public the ban on future support to other Soviet-bloc countries. The article was reported in the March 26 New York Times by Harry Schwartz, the newspaper’s Soviet affairs analyst.

In the past, says the International Affairs, Soviet-bloc countries needing aid, got it even at the cost of “definite sacrifices” by the Soviet people. In the present stage, the rule is mutual assistance in which other countries help the Soviet Union as well as getting help from that country.

“It would be strange to say the least,” says the Soviet magazine, “if the Soviet Union having completed the building of socialism ahead of the other [Soviet-bloc] countries were to wait for the leveling up of the general economic development of the Socialist countries before starting on the construction of communism.”

Such an approach has “nothing in common with Marxism-Leninism” and those who urge it are acting “not from positions of internationalism, but of nationalism and chauvinism,” the magazine charged. It denounced the Albanians for demanding “one-sided and unlimited aid” rather than paying attention to developing their country through the best use of its own resources.

These few excerpts from International Affairs reek of the Kremlin’s arrogance towards China and Eastern Europe. It is not these countries that, in this question, display chauvinism but the Soviet ruling group. Indeed, Great-Russian chauvinism has been the hallmark of the Soviet bureaucracy’s conduct toward non-Russian nationalities ever since Stalin rose to power. As early as 1922, Lenin condemned Stalin for his brutality toward non-Russian Soviet peoples. And “de-Stalinization” notwithstanding, Khrushchev’s policy in this sphere has far from removed this blot on Soviet society.

The rupture of Soviet relations with Yugoslavia, China and Albania originated to no small extent from the incredible arrogance of the Kremlin overlords. The June 1953 uprisings in East Germany and the 1956 upsurge in Poland and Hungary also had deep roots in the Great-Russian oppression by the Soviet bureaucrats.

As for the claim of International Affairs that in the past the Soviet Union gave generously to Eastern Europe and China, this will be treated by the countries concerned as a gallows joke. At the end of World War II, Stalin ordered factories all over Eastern Europe and in Manchuria to be dismantled and their equipment to be shipped to the Soviet Union. Then the Kremlin imposed economic relations on the other Soviet-bloc countries that siphoned off a huge portion of their annual surpluses.

Here is an example of how the exploitation of these countries works. In 1958, Moscow charged its satellites 307 rubles per ton of wheat, while countries outside the Soviet bloc were charged only 273 rubles. For barley the figures were 259 and 214 rubles. Russian tractors were sold to the satellites for 21,500 rubles each, while outside the bloc they sold for 13,600 rubles. Cotton goods sold at 1,800 and 600 rubles respectively.

On the other hand, for 17 commodities for which information is available, Moscow paid 20 per cent less than it would have if the satellites had charged the price they charged outside the Soviet bloc. Evidently this sort of trade is what International Affairs means by “mutual assistance.” (The above figures were compiled by H. Mendershausen, The Terms of Soviet-Satellite Trade, The Review of Economics and Statistics, Harvard, May 1960, and cited by Tony Cliff, The 22nd Congress of the Soviet Communist Party, New Politics, Winter 1962.)

In the case of China, the Soviet Union extended credits in 1953, 1954 and 1955. But these loans never exceeded three per cent of the total Chinese national investment during those years. (Choh-Ming Li, Economic Development, the China Quarterly, Jan.-March, 1960.) Since 1956, however, China has had to pay for all Soviet machinery – its prime import from the USSR – in grain deliveries. In the pricing of these exchanges, the Chinese seem to have been treated as outrageously as the Eastern European satellites.

In his report on the International Affairs article Schwartz says that the Soviet magazine “has made public a Chinese Communist complaint that the Soviet Union is not sharing its wealth justly with less fortunate nations, but is greedily concentrating on improving its own people’s prosperity.”

As we have seen, the first half of this accusation is all too true. However, the second part – namely, that the Kremlin is now concentrating on raising the living standards of the Soviet working people – is wide of the mark. Indeed, this claim, if the Chinese actually made it, plays into Khrushchev’s hands. It would give validity to Khrushchev’s claims and promises for the future.

The Real Situation

Because of the enormous pressure the Soviet workers have exerted on the ruling group, they have gained some significant economic concessions during the past eight years. But a great gap remains between what they have already won and what they are entitled to under socialist norms of distribution in a workers state.

Thus, according to the report of V. Grishin, Chairman of the All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions, real earnings of workers and employees rose by only 20 per cent between 1954 and 1959, while labor productivity rose by about 38.5 per cent and national income by 61 per cent. Thus the share of the workers in their produce declined during those six years.

In the 1920’s, the Left Opposition in the Communist Party, lead by Leon Trotsky, called for a “systematic elevation of real wages to correspond with every growth in the productivity of labor.” (Platform of the Left Opposition, 1927.) The Oppositionists demanded these improvements together with a much bolder annual rate of industrial growth than the Stalin regime was then willing to undertake. They also stipulated that the increases must be granted without speed-up or lengthening of the working day.

The counter-revolutionary Stalinist dictatorship crushed the Left Opposition through imprisonment, exile and murder. Then it swung abruptly from an almost do-nothing economic course to a policy of building up industry at an incredibly rapid tempo – with a greatly disproportionate emphasis on heavy industry and with total disregard of the living standards, health, muscles and nerves of the working people. The figures indicate that, although Khrushchev has reduced Stalin’s inhuman extortions from the Soviet workers, he is far from having redressed the balance between Soviet economic development and the workers’ living standards as advocated by the genuine Leninists who made up the Left Opposition of 1923-1928.

But if neither China and the East European countries nor the Soviet working people have gained substantially from the rapid expansion of the Soviet economy, who has been the real beneficiary? The answer is a vast horde of party, government, military, industrial, agricultural and trade-union officials plus scientists, artists and writers. Together they make up a bureaucratic caste – a distinctly separate social formation of privilege holders and privilege seekers.

This Soviet aristocracy, in whose immediate interests Khrushchev exercises his totalitarian dictatorship, swallows up a hugely disproportionate share of the national income. The top brass in the Soviet Union receive a salary about fifteen times as great as the average industrial wage and about thirty times as great as the lowest paid workers or collective farmers.

In addition to their outlandishly high salaries, the well-heeled functionaries enjoy expense accounts comparable to those of presidents of huge corporations in this country. Thus they enjoy private as well as official use of government-furnished limousines; they live in spacious apartments at government expense; and they are served by domestics who frequently are carried on the public payroll.

Between the people who occupy the loftiest posts and the ordinary working people, there is a vast hierarchy of bureaucrats enjoying various degrees of privileges. In fact, the planting of privilege is a function of the higher officials who want to be surrounded by a retinue of parasitic time-servers as a buffer between themselves and the masses,

In 1954, Pravda gave an inkling of how top heavy with officials Soviet industry had become. The Georgian Oil Trust “has three oil fields and twelve offices to serve them.” In the Moldavian Fishing Industry “there are 112 officials as against 163 workers at the fisheries, of which only 98 are employed in catching fish.” (Cited by Cliff.)

Since 1954, Khrushchev’s administrative shakeups and reorganizations may have reduced the proportion of officials to productive workers. Even so, the bureaucracy keeps growing in numbers and wealth with every advance in the national income.

Bureaucracy Hampers Defense of Country

But it isn’t only the huge salaries, swollen bureaucratic payrolls and unlisted privileges that account for the lopsided distribution of the national income. The bureaucrats “have it made” several times over, and, Khrushchev’s grandiose promises to the workers notwithstanding, they treat with callous disregard the poverty of the masses and China’s needs for economic aid.

Furthermore, because the bureaucracy fears the spread of the world socialist revolution, which would undermine its power and privileges, it has relied, for the defense of the Soviet Union, primarily on deals or attempted deals “with imperialism. This policy in turn has been backed up by an almost paranoid stockpiling of weapons and by large-scale nuclear testing.

But the tests have alienated popular support for the Soviet Union throughout the world, thus undermining far more reliable defenses of the workers state than any number of deals with imperialism or any kind of nuclear super-weapons can provide. From an economic point of view, this has meant a huge squandering of national resources that could profitably have been devoted to meeting consumer needs at home or industrial construction problems in China.

It is upon this background that I will discuss in a subsequent article whether and how the Soviet Union can simultaneously increase the living standards of the masses at home, provide massive aid to China and maintain a military establishment adequate for the defense of the Soviet Union. For these are key questions of Soviet policy today, and they occupy the attention of radical workers throughout the world.

[The following is the draft of the second article as promised by Comrade Roberts – Ed.]

If the Soviet government refuses to grant any development loans to China and Eastern Europe, as the Soviet magazine, International Affairs, announced in its March issue, it is not for the sake of swiftly improving the Jiving standards of the masses at home, as the magazine claims, but to safeguard the enormous privileges of the bureaucracy. Khrushchev’s bureaucratic regime has already reluctantly granted economic concessions to the Soviet workers, and it fears that more will be torn from its grasp. Under these conditions, it does not want to further endanger the privileges of the Soviet aristocracy by shouldering a part of China’s burdens.

As we indicated in a previous article, the bureaucratic privileges are only one part of the maldistribution of productive resources and national income. The bureaucracy is committed to a whole series of economic policies that flow from the nature of its rule and which, in the present government’s eyes, take priority over the needs of the masses or the Soviet Union’s international responsibilities.

Indeed, despite the astounding industrial successes achieved by the Soviet Union, its economy is hobbled all along the line by the bureaucracy’s false policies and malpractices. The tremendous gains have been scored thanks to the planned economy created by the Russian Revolution of November, 1917, and despite the mismanagement of the new, progressive social relations by the bureaucracy.

Let us examine this mismanagement more closely. It is very evident in the field of agriculture, which lags far behind industry in its development during the last 37 years that the bureaucracy has held power.

Everyone knows that Stalin’s measures of forcibly collectivizing agriculture in the 1930s led to such a severe crisis as to threaten the very existence of the Soviet Union. The recovery since that time has been extremely slow. One half of the Soviet Union’s working force is still tied up in agriculture. Soviet farming is the most backward of the nations that are included in the category of economically developed countries. Why? Is the principle of collective farming perhaps at fault? I believe not. Collective farming is a great progressive principle capable, as Leon Trotsky once put it, of bringing the farmers out of barbarism into civilization. But, as Engels, Lenin and Trotsky explained, there are rules which must be followed in collectivizing agriculture which, if violated, will throw agriculture backward instead of insuring its rapid progress. The Soviet bureaucracy – as well as the bureaucratic regimes in Eastern Europe and China – have systematically violated every one of these rules.

Thus, collectivization can succeed only if the farmers are free to choose whether to join a collective or engage in individual farming. But the Soviet bureaucrats collectivized the Russian farmers forcibly and continue to deprive them of freedom of choice.

Collectivization must be based on modern agricultural techniques – the widespread use of machinery, chemical fertilizer and modern grain selection methods. Otherwise the collective farmers will hardly be able to raise their living standards and the collective will not appeal to them. At the recent meeting of the Soviet Communist Party’s central committee, Khrushchev berated Stalin for having starved agriculture of its proper share of investments in machinery and modern fertilizer. But the central committee wound up its sessions without recommending any increase in farm investments.

A third condition for the success of collectivization is that the farmers be allowed to manage the common enterprises in a democratic fashion. The management of the Soviet collectives is as bureaucratic as the management of industry or the conduct of governmental affairs.

A fourth requirement is that the workers state not tax the farmers – whether working collectively or individually – at such a high rate as to leave them with no surpluses. It is absolutely valid, especially for a workers government in an economically backward country to take from agriculture in order to promote industry. But there are limits which the government cannot surpass without killing the farmers’ productive incentives. The Soviet bureaucracy systematically violates these limits.

Finally, the nationalized industry must as rapidly as possible provide the farmers with consumer goods for which they can exchange their agricultural products. The Soviet bureaucracy neglects the farmer-consumer as shamefully as the worker-consumer.

The net result of the bureaucracy’s systematic violations of the socialist principles of collectivized agriculture is that it has had to sanction a bastardized setup under which individual collectivized farmers till small plots individually and engage in animal husbandry on their own while also contributing labor to the collective entity. The individual holding is small, but the farmer, aided by his family, devotes his best efforts to it.

Privileges and privilege seeking are as prevalent in agriculture as in the rest of Soviet society. Besides a top-heavy body of farm administrators, only a minority of collective farms thrive well. The majority of farms provide rural workers with an average income even lower than that of the industrial workers.

Besides the extreme distortions introduced by the bureaucratic regime in the field of agriculture, the bureaucratic tyranny in general holds back economic progress. It is responsible for snafus of all kinds resulting in tremendous waste. Above all, by rigidly preventing the workers from having any democratic voice in the management of the economy, they prevent the workers from correcting inefficient methods and from introducing needed improvements.

Furthermore, unable to correct inefficiencies and waste, the workers become apathetic about the conduct of industrial affairs, and this, together with dissatisfaction over their living conditions and anger over the privileges of the bureaucrats, is reflected adversely in the productivity of their labor.

The only way to remove the crippling effects of the bureaucratic stranglehold on the economy is to abolish this power and privilege and to replace it with a regime of workers democracy. Then the resources will flow into those channels where at present the bureaucracy allows only a trickle if it permits any stream at all. Resources will flow amply into the channels of consumer goods at home and aid for China and other workers regimes in need of help.

This presupposes, too, that in overturning the bureaucratic regime, the workers place at their helm a party animated by authentic Marxist-Leninist principles – a party of the revolutionary socialist vanguard.

One of the first tasks of such a regime will undoubtedly be to formulate a new economic plan, which according to the norms of workers domocracy will be freely debated by the entire Soviet population before being adopted with all the necessary amendments and revisions produced by the debate itself.

It is impossible to predict how the plan will look in detail, but its main features will probably be the following:

[Comrade Roberts left in penciled notes the list of topics to be more fully elaborated at this point in his article. – Ed.]

Where the resources will come from:

  1. Workers Democracy
  2. Leninist farm program
  3. Limit privileges at ratio of 5-1. Cut out creation of lazy privileged
  4. Cut out space program and nuclear tests.

Go before people with program of:

  1. Raising living standards (housing, consumer goods)
  2. Long delayed farm investment
  3. Aid to China, etc.
  4. Enough military to arm the people and help arm embattled revolutions.

Such a program, which includes further sacrifices as well as tangible gains will meet with overwhelming approval.

It requires removal of bureaucracy and restoration of Soviet democracy.

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