Socialism Is Much Better Than Capitalism and Communism Will Be a Far Better World
Part 5: The Soviet Experiment: Building the World's First Socialist Economy
Revolution #029, January 8, 2006, posted at revcom.us
Editor's note: Revolution is serializing the speech "Socialism Is Much Better Than Capitalism, and Communism Will Be A Far Better World" by Raymond Lotta.
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Communism and Socialism
Part 3: The Bolsheviks Lead a Revolution That Shakes the World
Part 4: The Soviet Experiment: The Social Revolution Ushered in by Proletarian Power
Lotta is on a national speaking tour as part of the Set the Record Straight project. Information on upcoming speaking dates and related materials are available at www. thisiscommunism.org.
After Lenin died in 1924, Joseph Stalin assumed leadership of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union. The social revolution that I have been describing (see Revolution 28) was inseparable from his leadership. The question had been posed in the mid-1920s. Could you build socialism in the Soviet Union? Could you do this in a society that was economically and culturally backward? Could you do it when the Soviet Union stood alone as a proletarian state and there was no certainty that revolutions would take place in other countries?
Stalin stepped forward and fought for the view that the Soviet Union could and must take the socialist road in these circumstances. Otherwise, the Soviet Union would not be able to survive. It would not be able to aid revolution elsewhere. With this orientation, Stalin led the complex and acute struggles to socialize the ownership of industry and to collectivize agriculture.
What was the economic situation in the Soviet Union in the mid-1920s? Farming as it was conducted could not reliably feed the population. Industry was limited and could not furnish the factories and machines needed to modernize the economy. Russia had been a society where intellectuals were a tiny segment of the population, where only a narrow slice of the population had higher technical and liberal arts education. And, always, there was the looming threat of imperialist attack. These were the real economic and social contradictions faced by real human beings trying to remake society and the world.
And what was the rest of the world like in the 1920s? There was feudalism in most of the world’s countryside. And capitalism was flooding the globe in cruel and unplanned ways.
But now in the Soviet Union, in this one piece of liberated territory, a new proletarian movement had come to power and was going to plan an economy to serve the people. This was outrageous: nobody before had ever said the phrase a socialist "five-year plan."
Planning an Economy
A socialist revolution creates a new kind of economy. The means of production are no longer the private property of a minority of society. They are placed under society's collective control as expressed through the proletarian state. Economic resources are no longer employed to maximize profit. Rather, they are utilized to meet the fundamental needs and interests of the masses and to serve the world revolution. Social production is no longer carried out without prior plan or social purpose but is now shaped according to consciously adopted aims and coordinated as a whole.
The First Five-Year Plan in the Soviet Union was launched in 1928. It focused on iron and steel. Massive new industrial complexes were built from scratch. Tractor plants had a very high priority. Tractors were needed in the countryside. And tractor plants could, in the event of war, be converted to produce tanks. Machine tool production was rapidly expanded so the economy would not have to depend on imports.
The slogan of the First Five-Year Plan was "we are building a new world." Millions of workers and peasants were fired with this spirit. In factories and villages, people discussed the plan: the difference it would make for their lives--and for the people of the world--that such an economy was being built. They deliberated on what they wanted, what they could make, and what they needed in order to make it.
Local plans were drawn up and submitted to the central planning agencies, to be meshed with the national plan and sent back down to the localities. At factory conferences, people talked about how to reorganize the production process. People volunteered to help build railroads in wilderness areas. They voluntarily worked long shifts. At steel mills, they sang revolutionary songs on the way to work. Never before in history had there been such a mobilization of people to consciously achieve planned economic and social aims.
And let’s ask again: what was happening in the rest of the world? The world capitalist economy was languishing in the Depression of the early 1930s--with levels of unemployment reaching 20 and 50 percent. But the Soviet Union had ended mass unemployment. In fact, there were labor shortages in the Soviet Union…with so much work to be done in building the new society. Industry grew by 20 percent a year, and the Soviet share of total global industrial output rose from less than 2 percent in 1921 to 10 percent in 1939.
In 1929, the Communist Party launched a great drive to collectivize agriculture. The anticommunist story line is that this was another case of "Stalinist totalitarianism." Stalin, we are told, wanted to consolidate total power--and to do so, he had to crush and starve peasants.
But this is a gross distortion. The reality is that collectivization was a response to the economic and social contradictions in the countryside and to the pressing needs of the revolution. And the real hidden story is that collectivization ignited a genuine mass upheaval of peasants who had been locked into poverty and enslaving social relations.
Let’s look more closely at what collectivization was a response to.
There was a serious problem of whether food could be reliably supplied to the cities, especially with industrialization taking off and the urban population growing rapidly. Also, a major economic and social problem was growing in the countryside. After the Revolution, land was redistributed to peasants. But rich peasants, called kulaks, had been gaining strength in a rural economy marked by small private agriculture. The kulaks had larger land holdings. They owned flourmills. They controlled much of the grain market. They were moneylenders. This was leading to intensifying social and class polarization in the countryside.
There was a real danger of agriculture going back to the conditions that existed before World War 1. And these kulaks were not just innocent proprietors. They had gangs to enforce their rule. They organized against the regime. They rallied other social forces in the countryside.
The response of the revolutionary leadership to this was collectivization. Land and farm implements were turned into collective property. Between 1930 and 1933, 14 million small inefficient peasant holdings were combined into 200,000 collectively owned large farms. The state provided tractors and machinery to these new farms. And the farms were providing grain to the state. This was the basic exchange relation that was established.
Collectivization touched off different social responses. It was welcomed by large numbers of poor peasants. Other sections of peasants didn’t want to go along with it. Collectivization involved coercion against many of these peasants. But collectivization was a huge social movement. Dedicated worker-volunteers from the cities went to the front lines of the struggle against the kulaks. These workers took leading roles in administering new farms.
Farm hands and poor peasants in many areas rose to seize land. Where before they had been cowed and intimidated by the kulaks--now they had the state behind them to take on the kulak gangs. Women, whose lives had been determined by oppressive tradition and patriarchal obligation, became tractor drivers. Traveling libraries were sent to teams in the agricultural fields. In some regions, farms had their own drama circles. Religion, superstition, and mind-numbing tradition were challenged. People lifted their heads and became tuned in to what was happening in society overall. They discussed the national plans and national developments.
The kulaks resisted with a vengeance. The story told by the opponents of socialism is always one-sided. The kulaks were simply "victimized," they say. But this is a lie. The kulaks killed communists, organized raids against the new collectives, sabotaged harvests, and unleashed gangs that raped women. The kulaks were eventually defeated, many were arrested, many were deported, and many were killed.
But this was not because of a "Stalinist bloodlust." This was a battle over the future of the countryside. There was a battle over whether industrialization and social transformation could go forward or would be blocked and capitalism restored in the countryside. This was intense class struggle--and state power hung in the balance.
Collectivization is an important part of building a socialist economy. But Mao had serious criticisms of how Stalin approached this. Mao pointed out that collectivization under Stalin took place before the peasants themselves had gained experience in cooperating with each other in working the fields and using tools and it wasn’t based on a firm political and ideological foundation of peasants acting consciously to achieve collective social ownership. Another criticism Mao had was that the state took too much grain from the countryside. This damaged relations between the urban and rural areas. Mao had other criticisms, and Maoist China went about collectivization very differently--and I’ll talk about that later.
But the collectivization drive in the Soviet Union was part of a bold and visionary and pioneering attempt to find a way out and forward from the old system of small private agriculture. It gave hope to the poor in the countryside. And without collectivization, the Soviet Union would not have been able to defeat the Nazis.
NEXT WEEK: World War 2 and Its Aftermath