to advance by forced marches. It was a matter of the survival of the proletarian power. Stalin spelled it out in a speech in 1931:(18)
No, comrades, this is impossible' It is impossible to reduce the
tempo' On the contrary, it is necessary as far as possible to
accelerate it. This necessity is dictated by our obligations to
the workers and peasants of the USSR. This is dictated by our
obligations to the working class of the whole world . . . we are
50-100 years behind the advanced countries. We must cover this
distance in ten years. Either we do this or they will crush us.
Ten years later, Hitler's armies invaded the USSR.
The political line adopted at the time of the launching of the Five-Year Plans and accelerated collectivisation led to great successes but included some negative aspects, the most pernicious effects of which were not those felt immediately. Let us mention briefly some of the mistakes made in this period:
- The exaggerated importance given to material incentives, illustrated by the Stakhanovite movement. These workers often earned ten or fifteen times as much as their comrades.
- The enormous widening of wage differentials to the advantage of a narrow privileged stratum at the top of the hierarchy, in total contradiction to the Marxist-Leninist principles actually applied until Lenin's death.
- The largely forced character of collectivisation.
- The unilateral emphasis on the technical and material conditions of socialism to the detriment of the political and ideological conditions (economism).
Some of these mistakes were culpable: others were avoidable but were not avoided owing to subjective weaknesses of the Soviet leadership; others were inevitable in the absence of a historical precedent; others, finally, were necessary, in other words imposed by the objective conditions.(19)
Collectivisation, for example, must inevitably have appeared in the eyes of the peasants, even of the non-kulaks, as an externally imposed measure, for historical circumstances had not enabled the
Soviet Communist Party to sink roots among the masses: to quote only one example, 'a slight misunderstanding with the women collective farmers . . . over the cow', which Stalin mentions, could have been avoided.(20) The women peasants who had to hand over their cows to the kolkhozy thought that they would be left without any milk for their children. In the end they should have been allowed to keep one per household. In the meantime a large part of their livestock had been sacrificed.
The mistakes made during this struggle were combated very energetically by leading echelons of party and state. Even before the publication of Stalin's 'Dizzy With Success', urgent orders had been sent forbidding the imprisonment of poor and middle peasants for refusing to enter the kolkhozy. However, although the widespread coercion was the responsibility of local cadres who disobeyed their instructions, it was true, nevertheless, that they were driven into a corner, caught between the peasant resistance and the demands of the centre which had in 1929 fixed a rate of collectivisation too high to be reached in too short periods.(21) The end result was not the one sought, because Stalin's Central Committee did not apply the mass line in the elaboration of its policy. Hence it followed that the orders which it issued underwent a diffraction at the base, the effect of a concrete situation which had not been taken into account. Only the mass line enables this type of error to be minimised. Despite their relative efficacy in the struggle against abuses, the 'selkor' (village correspondents) of the newspapers, the personal and collective petitions, and the system of reciprocal surveillance by the representatives of the party and those of the police services, could not provide a valid substitute for control by the masses themselves.
Some of Trotsky's criticisms at this time coincide formally with ours but they are an integral part of his analysis as a whole, which denounces the Stalinist state as a counter-revolutionary power and denies the necessary character of certain mistakes deriving from the unfavourable objective conditions inherited from the preceding periods. A comparison will clarify what we mean: in 1922 Lenin refused the Mensheviks the right to criticise the regime of war communism although the content of their criticism was the very same as that put forward by the Bolsheviks themselves. When the latter adopted the NEP their enemies gloated: 'What you are saying now we have been saying all the time, permit us to say it to you again!' they cried, and Lenin replied: 'Permit us to put you before a firing squad for saying that.'(22)
Stalin's answer to the Trotskyists in the 1930s was somewhat, indeed very, similar; for even when they contained a grain of truth their criticisms from then on became those of anti-communists.
We can be certain, moreover, that had they been in power and hypothetically chosen the socialist road, not only would they have made the same mistakes(23) (Trotsky had erected their 'theoretical' justification in advance),(24) but also would have proved to be inflexible and ruthless in pushing a pernicious policy to its logical conclusions, whereas Stalin did know how to stop in time on a slippery slope because he did not feel compelled, like Trotsky, to base each change of course in the storms of the class struggle on eternal principles. It is interesting to record that the forced
labour camps, the excessive sacrifices demanded of the workers (Trotsky said that they must give their blood and nerves), the idea of squeezing the peasants to the limit to extract investment funds: all this was theorised at the beginning of the 1920s by Trotsky and his friends under the absurd name of 'primitive socialist accumulation'.