On Monday 17 October, the Morning Star published a review of the new edition of Trotsky’s biography of Stalin written by Andrew Murray. While admitting that “this book has literary and historical merit,” Murray states that “it has much less as an actual biography of Stalin”. How does he justify these claims?
He writes: “Obviously, it misses the last 13 years of Stalin’s life, including the second world war, altogether and the coverage of the 1930s when Trotsky was already in exile is very sketchy — there is little about industrialisation or collectivisation in the USSR, about Stalin’s diplomacy and more.”
We should respectfully point out to him that Trotsky could hardly deal with the last 13 years of Stalin’s life because his own life was cut short by the assassination ordered by Stalin in 1940. The book does in fact deal with industrialisation and collectivisation, which Trotsky advocated in the 1920s when Stalin, together with Bukharin, was in favour of appeasing the rich peasants (Kulaks). He also deals with Stalin’s “diplomacy”. But let us take these things one at a time.
Industrialisation and collectivisation
After Lenin’s death the policies of Stalin and Bukharin caused a very dangerous situation in the countryside, where the kulaks were becoming a powerful force hostile to the Soviet power. The Left Opposition continually warned of the kulak danger and demanded a policy based on industrialisation, five year plans and collectivisation. This was rejected by Stalin.
In February 1928 Stalin wrote: "The NEP is the foundation of our economic policy and will so remain for a long time to come." In April of the same year, Stalin and the Plenum of the Central Committee had passed a resolution to the effect that "only liars and counterrevolutionaries could spread rumours about the abolition of the NEP."
Then within a few months the whole policy was thrown into reverse. The kulaks had organised a grain strike as the first step in the capitalist counterrevolution against Soviet power. By the end of 1927 the drop of grain supplies to the towns had assumed alarming proportions. In a 180-degree somersault, Stalin announced the "liquidation of the kulaks as a class."
In 1930 Trotsky warned that the collectivisation of the peasantry should proceed gradually and on a voluntary basis, so as not to open up a conflict between the proletariat and the peasantry. He advocated that no more than 20-25 percent of peasant farms should be collectivised "lest the framework of reality should be overstepped." This was in line with Lenin's attitude to collectivisation.
Stalin appropriated the policy of collectivisation from the programme of the Left Opposition, but carried it out in a bureaucratic, adventurist and hooligan manner. They collectivised everything – down to the felt boots that were dragged off the feet of the kulak's children. In the process, no distinction was made between the rich and middle peasants. The result was a bloody civil war in which the Red Army had to be sent into the countryside.
As a result of this lunacy, a terrible famine swept across the land in 1932-33. Millions of people starved to death. Later Stalin had to retreat, but the damage was done. Stalin's adventurist policy of forced collectivisation of agriculture provoked a catastrophe from which Soviet agriculture never fully recovered.
In the field of industry something similar occurred. Stalin carried out a similar zig-zag. When Trotsky, following in Lenin's footsteps, advocated a policy of industrialisation based on Five Year Plans and electrification he was accused of being a "super industrialiser". Stalin ridiculed Trotsky's proposal for the building of a hydro-electrical project on the Dnieper (Dnieperstroy) as the equivalent of offering a peasant a gramophone instead of a cow.
Stalin then also opportunistically “borrowed” the policy of industrialisation and five year plans from the Left Opposition, which he had previously opposed. But he copied them in a distorted, one-sided and bureaucratic manner. In 1929 he suddenly proclaimed a "five year plan in four years." This led to serious dislocation in industry, which was only rectified with difficulty, after great losses.
The launching of the Five Year Plans was undoubtedly a giant step forward for the USSR. Despite the chaos, mismanagement and bungling of the bureaucracy, it enabled the Soviet Union to achieve results that have never been equalled by any capitalist economy. But in the absence of workers’ democracy and internationalism, the result was not a genuine socialist policy but a bureaucratic caricature.
A number of former Oppositionists – prominent Old Bolsheviks like Kamenev and Zinoviev – capitulated to Stalin. That did not save them. Stalin forced them to make humiliating confessions and then had them murdered. He later murdered every one of the principal leaders of Lenin’s Party. The consolidation of Stalinism demanded the complete liquidation of the Old Bolsheviks because Stalinism and Bolshevism are two mutually antagonistic and incompatible tendencies.
The Kirov assassination
The 17th Party Congress of the Communist Party in 1934, known as the “Congress of Victors”, was supposed to celebrate the decisive victory of the Stalin faction and the fulfilment of the first Five Year Plan. But it did not turn out as Stalin had planned. The chaos caused by Stalin’s adventurism, especially in the field of agriculture provoked mass discontent and serious divisions in the leading faction.
The opposition to Stalin crystallised around Sergei Kirov, the Leningrad Party leader. At the Congress Kirov was greeted by the kind of applause that equalled that which was reserved for Stalin. His speech was critical of the General Line and he was elected to the all-powerful Secretariat of the Central Committee. Stalin found himself in a minority in the Politburo. This was an intolerable situation for Stalin inevitably saw Kirov as a dangerous rival. He therefore hatched a plot to eliminate him.
This brings us to Andrew Murray’s second criticism. He writes:
“He [Alan Woods] still believes the cold war myth that Stalin ordered the murder of Kirov, a tale now comprehensively debunked by Western academics.” Contrary to Murray’s confident claims, there can be no doubt whatsoever that Stalin was behind the assassination of Kirov. The so-called “new evidence” does not, and cannot, prove categorically that Nikolaev acted alone and therefore does not claim to have “comprehensively debunked” anything.
The “latest revelations” tell us nothing significant we did not already know. Previously secret documents, classified for decades by the secret police that were supposed to shed light on the Kirov murder, were published in Russia in 2009. They “painted a picture of a disillusioned Communist Party functionary acting alone, out of bitterness and revenge”:
“Nikolayev had tried hard to rise to the top of the Leningrad Party hierarchy but instead was told to go and work at a factory in a lower position. He decided to take revenge on Kirov after he was thrown out of the party for ‘breaching party discipline,’ denied treatment in a sanatorium despite having heart problems, and could no longer get food rations available to party apparatchiks.
"You can eat yourself now – no money, no food," the father of two wrote in his diary. "For themselves, they (party leaders) hold garages with automobiles, for us they have sodden bread." All this is true, and was known a long time ago. But it is not all the truth. And it does not answer any of the questions that arise from the known facts of the case.
Let us remind ourselves of those facts.
Various accounts of Leonid Nikolayev’s life coincide in painting a picture of man with a murderous grudge. Having failed to achieve a suitable post in the Party, he found himself expelled, unemployed and in financial difficulties. In fact, he was already well-known to the Leningrad NKVD, which had arrested him for various petty offences.
Alexander Orlov, who defected during the Purges was a general in the NKVD (Stalin’s Secret Police), states that Nikolayev had told a “friend” of his desire to kill the head of the party control commission that had expelled him. This was then reported to the NKVD. Orlov, who was in a position to know the facts, stated that Stalin had ordered Yagoda, the head of the secret police, to arrange the assassination of Kirov. Orlov explains thatYagoda ordered the NKVD agent Vanya Zaporozhets to undertake the job. Zaporozhets returned to Leningrad to search for a likely assassin and found the name of Leonid Nikolayev in the files of the NKVD.
According to Orlov, Nikolayev's mysterious “friend” was in fact a provocateur of the NKVD, who had supplied him with the revolver and money. Nikolayev's mysterious “friend” was later shot. In fact, every single person that was a witness in this case was either shot or died in mysterious circumstances.
On 1 December 1934, Nikolaev entered the Smolny Institute where Kirov worked carrying a briefcase containing a revolver. The Smolny Institute was not just any building. It served as the chief offices of the Leningrad Party apparatus and as the seat of the local government. As such, it was well guarded. Yet on the day of the assassination the usual guard post at the entrance to Kirov's offices was left unmanned. The NKVD had previously withdrawn all but four police bodyguards assigned to Kirov. These four guards accompanied Kirov each day to his offices at the Smolny Institute, and then left.
Although Nikolayev was already known to the Leningrad NKVD, he was allowed to pass by the main security desk. Later a suspicious guard asked to examine his briefcase and found the revolver. Nikolayev was then arrested. So a man, who was already on the NKVD files as a suspicious character, was found in the headquarters of the Party with a loaded pistol. It is difficult to imagine a more serious breach of the law. At the very least he should have been taken away and interrogated. But that did not happen.
A few hours later the security police not only set Nikolayev free, but even thoughtfully gave him back his loaded pistol. After that nobody challenged him and he made his way to the third floor, where he calmly waited in a hallway until Kirov appeared. But the “mystery” does not end there. At the moment when the fatal shots were fired, Borisov, who was supposed to be guarding Kirov, was nowhere to be seen.
According to one version he was some 20 to 40 paces behind his boss, but other sources say he had left Kirov “to prepare his luncheon”. Whatever version is accepted, the fact is that Kirov, the most important Party leader after Stalin, was unprotected when he passed his assassin in the corridor. Nikolayev drew his revolver and shot Kirov in the back of the neck.
The questions that must be answered are as follows: Why was a man known to the NKVD as suspicious allowed to enter the Smolny with a revolver in his bag? Why, after being arrested and found to be in possession of a gun, was he released and the weapon returned to him? Why was Nikolayev not prosecuted for these flagrant violations of the law? How was it that not only was he released without formal charges but he had his revolver returned to him? Why was Kirov's bodyguard absent during the assassination? In other words: who gave him (the assassin) his chance, and why?
Having successfully eliminated his most dangerous rival, Stalin then made sure that no witnesses survived. Stalin immediately demanded swift punishment of the “traitors” and those found negligent in Kirov's death. Nikolayev was tried alone and in secret. After a summary trial on 29 December a military court found Nikolayev and 13 others guilty of taking part in a terrorist organization called "the Leningrad Centre." They were sentenced to death by shooting and the sentence was carried out that very night.
All these circumstances are extremely suspicious. Why was Nikolayev tried in secret? And why was he killed immediately? Why was he not interrogated further, in order to reveal the precise circumstances of the assassination, exposing the plot and revealing his contacts and collaborators? The answer is quite clear. Nikolayev had to be tried in secret because of what he might say in a public trial. He had to be eliminated because he knew too much. When asked why he committed the murder, he is supposed to have answered, "Ask them." These words can only refer to members of the Leningrad NKVD.
Nikolayev's wife, Milda Draule was executed three months later. His mother, brother, sisters, cousin and some other people close to him were arrested and later liquidated or sent to labour camps. Borisov, the man in charge of Kirov’s security, died the day after the assassination, allegedly by falling from a moving truck. This is said to have occurred while he was riding with a group of NKVD agents. How were they not able to prevent him from falling from a moving vehicle? Later Borisov's wife was committed to an insane asylum.
Other witnesses who may have presented embarrassing evidence died in mysterious “car accidents”. Former NKVD agents later admitted that these “accidents” had been staged murders. On whose authority were these murders committed?
The only possible answer to these questions is that the security services not only allowed the assassination to take place but actively collaborated in it. But that does not exhaust the question. The local units of the NKVD could never have acted in this way without permission and instructions from the highest level, which is to say from Yagoda himself. But Yagoda had no interest in murdering Kirov. On the contrary, such an act would have placed him in the gravest danger.
A half intelligent five year old could see that all this could only have been done with Stalin's approval. Stalin was the only one with both the motive and the means of killing his rival. There can be no doubt that Stalin ordered his henchmen Yagoda to carry it out, just as Orlov said. No amount of twisting and turning can alter these well-known facts.
In his famous speech at the 20th Congress of the CPSU Khrushchev gave the facts of the case that provided incontrovertible evidence that the assassination of Kirov took place with the full knowledge and connivance of Stalin’s secret police. He said:
“There are reasons for the suspicion that the killer of Kirov, [Leonid] Nikolayev, was assisted by someone from among the people whose duty it was to protect the person of Kirov.
“A month and a half before the killing, Nikolayev was arrested on the grounds of suspicious behaviour but he was released and not even searched. It is an unusually suspicious circumstance that when the Chekist assigned to protect Kirov was being brought for an interrogation, on December 2, 1934, he was killed in a car ‘accident’ in which no other occupants of the car were harmed. After the murder of Kirov, top functionaries of the Leningrad NKVD were given very light sentences, but in 1937 they were shot. We can assume that they were shot in order to cover up the traces of the organizers of Kirov’s killing.
“[Movement in the hall.]”
There is not the slightest doubt that this assassination was planned by Stalin. He feared Kirov as a rival. At a time when Stalin was losing support, Kirov's name was circulating in Party circles as a possible replacement. He had to be eliminated and he was eliminated. What is astonishing is that six decades later, there are still people who are trying to “cover up the traces of the organizers of Kirov’s killing”. Sixty years after Khrushchev’s speech comrade Murray still maintains that Stalin had nothing to do with it. To which we reply: “There are none so blind as they who will not see.”
Stalin took his revenge on the delegates who had humiliated him at the "Congress of Victors". Almost every member of the Congress was murdered in the Purges of the thirties. The Kirov assassination was only the first chapter of a murderous plan organised by Stalin to eliminate all his actual or potential enemies. No “new and startling recent revelations” can change that.
The killing of Kirov provided Stalin with the excuse to launch the notorious Purges in order to eliminate all actual or potential enemies and that was the intention from the start. On the question of the Purges comrade Murray shuffles uncomfortably, humming and hawing on a subject he finds embarrassing for understandable reasons.
He cannot deny the fact that Stalin murdered millions of Soviet citizens since this fact nowadays is known to everyone. Instead, he tries to confuse the issue when he writes: “Nor does Trotsky’s view that the terror of 1937-38 was above all directed at ‘old Bolsheviks’ any longer attract the near-consensus it once did. The killing of former oppositionists is now known to have been a small part of a very much larger and more horrifying operation.”
But who were the Purge Trials directed against? Everybody knows the answer: the main accusation was against the Trotskyists. Trotsky himself was said to have been an agent of Hitler planning to restore capitalism in the USSR. In all the Trials he was, effectively, the principal defendant. And who were the men in the dock in these murderous farces? They were precisely the Old Bolsheviks, Lenin’s principal comrades in arms: Kamenev, Zinoviev, Radek, Piatakov, Sokolnikov, Bukharin, Rykov, Rakovsky, Krestinsky and others. These were all Old Bolsheviks who had served the cause of the working class and socialism all their lives.
And who was the man in charge of prosecuting them on Stalin’s behalf? Andrei Yanuarevich Vyshinsky, the former Menshevik and bitter enemy of Bolshevism and the October Revolution. This is the man who insulted these revolutionary martyrs as "Dogs of the Fascist bourgeoisie", "mad dogs of Trotskyism", "dregs of society", "decayed people", "terrorist thugs and degenerates", and "accursed vermin," the man who screamed:
“Shoot these rabid dogs. Death to this gang who hide their ferocious teeth, their eagle claws, from the people! Down with that vulture Trotsky, from whose mouth a bloody venom drips, putrefying the great ideals of Marxism!(...) Down with these abject animals! Let's put an end once and for all to these miserable hybrids of foxes and pigs, these stinking corpses! Let's exterminate the mad dogs of capitalism, who want to tear to pieces the flower of our new Soviet nation! Let's push the bestial hatred they bear our leaders back down their own throats!”
The same vile things were slavishly repeated by the Stalinists internationally. Dare we remind comrade Murray that The Daily Worker, the newspaper of the Communist Party of Great Britain and forerunner of the Morning Star, carried on its front page the words “Shoot the Reptiles!”?
The extent of the Purges
We might agree with Andrew Murray when he says that the Purges went far further than the murder of the Old Bolsheviks, that they were “part of a very much larger and more horrifying operation.” But, Murray fails to tell us anything of that operation, except that it was “horrifying”.
The extent of Stalin’s purges was certainly far greater than what most people realise. Not only Trotskyists were killed but also many Stalinists who fell into the disfavour of the "Beloved Leader and Teacher". Abel Yenukidze, for example, was shot for trying to save the lives of Old Bolsheviks. And not content with killing his enemies, Stalin took his revenge on their families and friends.
Hundreds of thousands were sent to the camps not just as "enemies of the people", but also as chesirs or "family members of a traitor to the motherland". Among these victims were the wife and sisters of Tukhachevsky, the wife of Bukharin, Trotsky's first wife, and his eldest son, Sergei, who was not involved in active politics, was arrested but courageously refused to denounce his father and was shot.
A wave of terror was unleashed by Stalin against the people of the USSR. Tens of millions of people were arrested, condemned and sent into the Gulag. Even the security services were purged. In 1937-38 23,000 NKVD officers were arrested. Many informed on others in order to survive.
The criminal methods of the GPU were exposed in a surprising way during the Moscow Trials themselves. When Yagoda was himself put on trial, Vyshinsky declared (on March 11, 1938): "Yagoda stood at the peak of the technology of killing people in the most devious ways. He represented the last word in the 'science' of bestiality." (Sudebny otchet po delu antisovetskogo trotskiiskogo tsentra – The Official Report of the Trial in Russian, Moscow 1937, p. 332.). Amidst all the miserable morass of lies and distortions that make up these documents, this is probably the only truthful statement.
Comrade Murray would like to draw a discrete veil over these things. He wishes to forgive and forget – above all forget. That is why he is so critical of Trotsky’s biography of Stalin – a truthful account of the crimes of Stalin and the Stalinists that they would naturally like to brush under the carpet. But historical truth is not so easily disposed of.
Murray informs us that Stalin’s Purges were “horrifying”, but then he immediately attempts to minimise them. Just look at what he says about the Purge of the Red Army: “…his [Woods’] assertions about the number of Red Army officers suppressed in the purges are wide of the mark by significant magnitudes.” [My emphasis, AW] It would perhaps have been more useful if Andrew had stated the precise number of Red Army officers purged by Stalin instead of making vague allegations about allegedly exaggerated magnitudes. This method is intended not to clarify but to muddy the waters and sow doubts. He quibbles about “magnitudes” but furnishes not one single figure himself. Let us help him attain some clarity on this question.
Stalin’s Purge destroyed the entire leading cadre of the Red Army and badly damaged the defence capabilities of the USSR. The military Purge that continued throughout 1938 led to the elimination of 90 percent of all generals, 80 percent of all colonels, and 30,000 lower ranking officers. Talented officers and heroes of the Civil War like Tukhachevsky, Yakir and others were shot in secret because they refused to confess to the monstrous crimes attributed to them.
According to Japanese intelligence the total number of victims was 35,000 in all, or about half of the total officer corps. They included 3 out of 5 marshals; 13 out of 15 Army commanders; 57 out of 85 corps commanders; 110 out of 195 division commanders; 220 out of 406 brigade commanders; all eleven Vice Commissars of War; 75 out of 80 members of the Supreme Military Council, including all the military district commanders. The air force, navy and all but one of the fleet commanders were eventually eliminated.
All this was a sufficiently “significant magnitude” to have persuaded Hitler to attack the USSR in 1941. At the Nuremberg trial, Marshal Keitel testified that many German generals had warned Hitler not to attack Russia, arguing that the Red Army was a formidable opponent. Rejecting these Hitler gave Keitel his main reason: "The first-class high-ranking officers were wiped out by Stalin in 1937, and the new generation cannot yet provide the brains they need." On the 9th January 1941, Hitler told a meeting of generals planning the attack on Russia: "They do not have good generals." (Medvedev, Let History Judge, p. 214)
Stalin and the Second World War
Andrew complains that the book does not deal with Stalin’s role in the Second World War. Again, this was hardly possible for Trotsky to do since he was murdered one year before Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. But he certainly dealt with Stalin’s disastrous diplomacy, which placed the Soviet Union in very great danger and was directly responsible for the military catastrophe suffered by the USSR in 1941.
Unlike Lenin, who stood for a consistent internationalist policy, Stalin's foreign policy was dictated by narrow nationalist considerations. It consisted in a series of manoeuvres with the imperialists that sacrificed the interests of the revolution in the West in the supposed interests of the Soviet Union. In reality, these manoeuvres did not remove the war danger but enormously increased it.
Stalin believed that his manoeuvres would safeguard the Soviet Union from attack. His actions, as always, were based on narrow-minded calculations and completely ignored the working class of other countries, except as pawns in the diplomatic game. With the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939 Stalin went to the most incredible extremes to conciliate the Nazis.
In his diary the German diplomat, Hencke describes the banquet which celebrated the signing of the Pact: "Toasts: In the course of the conversation, Herr Stalin spontaneously proposed to the Führer, as follows: 'I know how much the German nation loves its Führer; I should therefore like to drink to his health’.” Here we have a prime example of Stalin’s diplomacy.
By collaborating with Hitler, Stalin increased the danger a thousand fold. His actions effectively disarmed the Soviet Union, encouraged Hitler and disoriented the world working class in a moment of extreme danger. In the end it had the opposite result to that intended.
Four million German troops were amassed on the border ready to invade. There were also 3,500 tanks, around 4,000 planes, and 50,000 guns and mortars. Attempts were made to keep this mobilisation secret, but given its size, numerous reports from border units, the Soviet intelligence service, even officials of the British and US governments, were passed on to the Soviet government. Stalin refused to act on these reports, instead wrote on them "For the archives", and "To be filed". This was all confirmed by General Zhukov in his Reminiscences and Reflections.
This completely disarmed the Soviet Union in the face of Nazi aggression. When the Soviet military command asked for permission to put the Soviet troops on the alert, Stalin refused. "German planes increasingly broke into Soviet airspace," reports Air Marshal A. Novikov, "but we weren't allowed to stop them." (Quoted in Medvedev, Let History Judge, p. 332.) Stalin refused to believe that Hitler would invade. So when in June 1941 Hitler's armies launched a devastating attack on the USSR he refused to act.
Even when Hitler actually launched his offensive, Stalin ordered the Red Army not to resist. The mighty Soviet armed forces were paralysed for the first critical 48 hours. Due to this confusion and paralysis at the top, huge swathes of territory were lost in the first few weeks. In the first 24 hours, over 2,000 Soviet planes were destroyed on the ground. The German army advanced deep into Soviet territory, reaching the approaches to Moscow.
Despite the fact that the combined firepower of the Red Army was greater than that of the Germans, the Purges had effectively crippled it by destroying the officer corps. The result was a military catastrophe. Between two and three million Soviet soldiers were encircled and captured by the Germans.
After the war, strenuous attempts were made by the Kremlin to spread the myth of Stalin as a "Great War Leader". This does not stand up to the slightest scrutiny. In those critical days Stalin was nowhere to be seen. He remained in his dacha in a state of collapse. Khrushchev recalled: "It would be incorrect to forget that, after the first severe disaster and defeat at the front, Stalin thought that this was the end. In one of his speeches in those days he said: 'All that which Lenin created we have lost for ever'.”
Even when he began to play an active role, Stalin’s actions were negative and disruptive. He constantly interfered with the military command, issuing orders that seriously increased the number of Soviet casualties. The notorious Order 270 stated that no Soviet soldier could surrender and all who did so were to be regarded as traitors. Large numbers of Soviet soldiers who had been surrounded and captured in 1941 as a direct result of Stalin's bungling, found themselves under suspicion and sent to Siberia after the War.
In the end the USSR won the war against Hitler single-handedly. The British and Americans were mere onlookers in a titanic battle between the Soviet Union and Hitler's Germany with the combined productive forces of Europe behind it. By 1942 the economy was recovering fast. By 1943 the Soviets were out-producing and outgunning the enemy.
The fact that the USSR defeated Hitler was not thanks to Stalin but in spite of him. The glorious victory of the Red army is a testament to the colossal superiority of a nationalised planned economy which enabled the USSR to survive the first disasters and reorganize the productive forces beyond the Urals. This is the secret of their success. It gives the lie to the oft-repeated allegation that a nationalised planned economy is not capable of producing goods of a high quality.
Why did the Soviet Union collapse?
Murray accuses Trotsky of “showering abuse” on Stalin, and making “wild political judgements”, for example: “Stalin is a Georgian nationalist on one page and a Great-Russian nationalist a few pages later”. He evidently finds a contradiction in this, whereas in reality there is none.
Stalin was a Georgian but he came to embrace all the most negative features of Great Russian nationalism. Such a phenomenon is not unknown in history. Napoleon Bonaparte was a Corsican and in his youth flirted with Corsican nationalists. But he later became the most passionate advocate of French centralism. We see exactly the same process in the case of Stalin.
It was not Trotsky but Lenin who first denounced Stalin as a representative of the bureaucracy and Great Russian chauvinism, something that Lenin had fought against it all his life. During Lenin's last illness he launched a sharp struggle against Stalin over his handling of the Georgian question. It was on this issue that he broke off all personal and comradely relations with Stalin and demanded his removal as General Secretary.
Stalin’s bureaucratic policy on the national question did immense damage to the relation between the peoples of the different republics of the Soviet Union, undermining solidarity and exacerbated national contradictions, thus preparing the way for the final breakup of the USSR.
Despite the crimes of Stalin and the bureaucracy, the superiority of a nationalised plan of production is shown by the rapid transformation of what was a backward semi-feudal country like Pakistan today to a mighty industrial power with an educated population and more scientists than the USA, Germany and Japan put together.
Before the War, in the first Five Year Plans, the USSR achieved an annual rate of growth never before seen in any capitalist country: approximately 20 percent. This remarkable result was achieved with full employment, no inflation and a balanced budget. It is sufficient to compare these results with the miserable three percent or so that is nowadays considered to be a great success in the West to see the advantage of a nationalised planned economy.
An annual growth rate of ten percent – which was the norm in the USSR until the mid-sixties – was unprecedented. If this rate of growth had been maintained, the USSR could have overtaken the West not just in relative but even in absolute terms. By the 1970s the USSR was already a modern and advanced economy where the working class was the overwhelming majority. All the objective conditions existed at least for beginning to move in the direction of socialism. But instead, the USSR moved backwards – towards capitalism. How can one explain such a monstrosity?
The main reason the growth rate was not maintained was the colossal waste caused by the mismanagement, bungling and corruption of the bureaucracy itself. This was an enormous drain, which by the mid-60s was wasting between one third and one half of the wealth produced by the Soviet working class every year. Without the democratic control and management of the working class, the bureaucracy was undermining the planned economy, clogging up all the pores and suffocating all the creative powers of the Soviet people, both the workers and intellectuals.
In 1936 Leon Trotsky predicted that “the fall of the present bureaucratic dictatorship, if it were not replaced by a new socialist power, would thus mean a return to capitalist relations with a catastrophic decline of industry and culture.” (The Revolution Betrayed, p. 251)
That prediction was entirely vindicated. In the end the Stalinist bureaucrats went over to capitalism with the same careless ease of a man passing from a smoking to a non-smoking compartment of a train. The so-called "Communist" Party of the Soviet Union collapsed overnight like a house of cards, and its top members fell over themselves in their eagerness to embrace the “market” and transform themselves into private businessmen and women. It is impossible to understand this phenomenon if one accepts Andrew Murray’s view that what existed in the USSR was genuine socialism.
Marxists defend what was progressive in the USSR – that is, the nationalised planned economy. But it is necessary to separate what was progressive from what was reactionary. The bureaucratic totalitarian regime established by Stalin had nothing in common with the October revolution or socialism. It was their complete antithesis and negation. That was what finally undermined the USSR and dragged Russia into the abyss of capitalism.
Comrade Murray ends his article with an appeal for a “new vocabulary”, presumably avoiding words like Stalinism and Trotskyism. But Marxism is a science and as in every science it has a very precise vocabulary, denoting definite ideas. We do not need to change our vocabulary because we do not need to change the fundamental ideas of Marxism, which have retained all their relevance and vitality since The Communist Manifesto first appeared.
In any event we can make a small concession to our friend’s lexicographical sensitivities. Why not return to Lenin? You will find that the ideas of Trotsky are in all fundamentals the same as those of Lenin, whose ideas are those of Marx and Engels. It is those ideas that we stand for and we have not the slightest intention of changing them – even to please the Morning Star.
4th November 2016