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John G. Wright

The Balance Sheet of Stalinist Bonapartism

(3 October 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 75, 3 October 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In January 1935, Leon Trotsky, analyzing the degeneration of the Stalin regime, wrote:

“A diplomatic retreat before the world bourgeoisie and before reformism; an economic retreat before the petty bourgeois tendencies within the country; a political offensive against the proletarian vanguard – this is the three-fold formula of the new chapter in the development of Stalinist Bonapartism.”

This chapter, approximately from 1934 to August 1939, has come to a close, punctuated, so to speak, by the outbreak of war, which in its turn opens anew page not only in the degeneration of Stalinism but in the history of mankind.

In the light of the foregoing formula, I propose to draw a preliminary balance sheet.

Purges Cripple Economic Life

Little need be said of the Stalinist offensive against the proletarian vanguard, which unfolded in this period in a series of persecutions, frame-ups, and murders unmatched in the annals of history. The facts are still fresh in the minds of all. With the turn in diplomacy, the bureaucratic terror was immediately intensified. After the assassination of Kirov, the terror was unleashed, culminating in the Moscow Trials, the massacre of the generations of October at home, and assassinations abroad (murder of Ignace Reiss, Leon Sedov, R. Klement, thousands of militants in Spain,etc.)

Purge upon purge followed which beheaded the Red Army, and crippled every sphere of Soviet social, political and economic life. Those executed numbered tens of thousands; those jailed, hundreds of thousands, while not less than four million were herded into GPU barracks and concentration camps. Far from insuring the regime at home, this purge only added so much tinder for the explosive forces that have accumulated under the leaden lid of Bonapartist oppression.

On the world arena, Stalin’s retreat led swiftly to a capitulation to the fascist wing of the world bourgeoisie (the Stalin-Hitler Alliance). It was preceded by a capitulation to the“democratic” wing of imperialism (the Franco-Soviet Pact, the Stalin-Laval Communiqué, the entry into the League of Nations, the defense of the Versailles Treaty, the policy of the People’s Fronts).

Thus, in a strictly limited sense, it may be said that in the political sphere Stalin was able to draw his work to a conclusion.

The Course of Economic Retreat

But the economic retreat at home has far from followed this rectilinear course. If the capitulation to the democratic wing of the world bourgeoisie was accompanied internally by the return to the market, the introduction of Stakhanovism (1935), the New Constitution (1936), concessions to the peasantry (the right to trade, privately cultivated “farm” strips, ownership of land in perpetuity, mild tax laws, etc.), and rigid legislation against labor (December 1938) – that is, if Stalin retreated hitherto before the petty bourgeois tendencies within the country, then the immediate effect of the Stalin-Hitler pact has been to halt this retreat.

In a preceding article, the main features of this new development were outlined. With the belated arrival of Moscow papers to this country, additional data is now available on the economic blind-alley of the Stalin regime, and the mechanics whereby it seeks to overcome its newest crisis. The full text of the new agricultural law is not yet available – if it ever will be! – neither are any reports of the “discussion” that took place at the sessions of the Supreme Council. But we do have now the text of the report delivered by A.G. Zverev, People’s Commissar of Finance, on this law.

The report is very brief, and sets a new mark for evasiveness. Only from the Pravda editorial do we glean the fact that the tax “for privately run enterprises amounts to 11–25% of their income”. (Pravda, August 29)

Zverev’s report, which carefully circumnavigates this aspect of the new legislation, nevertheless clearly indicates that the actual tax is higher by as much as one-third. The corresponding passage from Zverev’s report touching on this point reads as follows:

“I shall not go into detail on all these norms, but I must say that this question – the question of fixing the norms on various staple crops demands exceptional attention and commensurate discussion on the part of the Deputies of the Supreme Council of the USSR ... The law gives the People’s Commissariats of the Federated Republics the right to fix different norms of (calculating) revenue in various branches of agriculture and various forms of staple crops with a view to in-creasing or lowering the norms envisaged by the law – up to30% of these norms.”

There is internal evidence that the formula “increasing or lowering” is purely rhetorical. The stress is on the increase. This is proved, among other things, by the extremely brief interval set for the collection of the tax, which immediately goes into effect.

Bureaucracy Exempt from Taxation

The deadline set for the payment of the new tax is: October 1, November 1, and December l, that is to say, from 60 to 90 days, and even less. On this point Zverev is categoric. He said:

“The People’s Commissariats of the Federated Republics have the right to speed up the time set for collection of payments ... but by not more than one month.” (Pravda, August 29).

Furthermore, the law provides for the taxation not only of well-to-do peasants but even “the income of (agricultural) laborers and employees” hitherto exempt.

What social prop has the regime to lean upon against the inevitable reaction of the peasantry? The answer is supplied by the exemption clauses in the law. Apart from the aged, the only ones exempt are, and we cite Zverev verbatim:

“Not subject to the agricultural tax are teachers and agronomists, zootechnicians, veterinarians, doctors and barber-surgeons, fertilizer specialists and agricultural technicians, engineers, chief mechanics, directors of the Mechanical Tractor Stations, directors of mechanical tractor shops and directors of Sovkhozes; together with the leading personnel of the district – to the number of not more than 30 persons to a district ...” (idem)

In other words, Zverev merely lists the recently constituted bureaucracy, in the rural areas. Such is the composition of the new tops in Soviet Society. It may not be superfluous to quote from a report from Kiev (the country’s granary) which casts further light on the leading role of the new aristocracy. In the report, which details the progress of preparations for the coming elections to the local Soviets), it is stated:

“Great activity was evidenced in the regional conference of agitators, at which about 600 were present – teachers, agronomists, doctors, the leading personnel of the collectives.” (Pravda, August 27)

A stratum of the population that has its roots deep in the petty bourgeoisie is the sole remaining prop of the regime!

A Clue to the Bureaucracy’s Size

How reliable is this layer? It has all the vices of the classic petty bourgeoisie and none of its virtues, especially in terms of training, efficiency and loyalty to the ruling regime that characterizes the petty bourgeoisie in capitalist countries. In subservience alone do Stalin’s petty bourgeois cohorts match their prototypes elsewhere.

The numerical strength of the bureaucracy has been one of the most jealously guarded secrets of the regime. But the official press now supplies us with a clue even in this sphere. In an editorial devoted to the preparations for the coming elections to the local Soviets, Pravda for August 27 states the following:

“1,300,000 Deputies will be elected to the local Soviets of toilers’ deputies ... Millions of toilers in the city and country have been drawn into the preparations for the elections to the local Soviets. Suffice it to adduce a single fact: According to factual reports, in the whole of the USSR there will be approximately 7 million people involved in (the work of) the electoral commissions.”

The regime boasts of a supporting army of 7 million. Perhaps that is not exaggerated. One thing is certain, while the bulk of the Deputies (1,300,000) will be composed of “teachers, agronomists, doctors, etc., etc.”, the majority of the 7 million must fall into a somewhat different category. The lower tiers of this young bureaucratic army have their roots in and are subject to the pressure of the working class on the one hand and the peasantry on the other.

The actual course of the struggle alone will determine which of these two camps will prevail. An important indication of the actual trends in these two camps, as well as their relative strength, will perhaps be demonstrated in the very next days ahead, specifically, in the elections to the local Soviets which will coincide with the deadline for tax collections.

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