Sunday, January 06, 2013

Knowing Better

Gulag Camp
In 1956 Khrushchev gave his secret speech outlining and denouncing the crimes of Joseph Stalin and the Stalinist regime.1

Many people, usually Communists, reacted with shock and horror. Thus the Communist party of the USA and it members said such things as referring to: 
...the shocking disclosures... 
Mr. Foster, the party chairman mentioned: 
...the sweeping revelations of the Stalin cult of the individual.
 Another figure  in the Communist party, Max Weis, of the USA claimed:
...the disclosure of the mistakes made under Stalin's leadership came as a stunning surprise to our Party leadership and membership,... 
Finally the party leader, Mr. Dennis said: 
... the facts disclosed about the errors of Stalin ... are of course, new to us.2 
Was any of this reaction the least bit credible? Or was it nothing more than evidence that the minds of members of the Communist party of the USA were set in concrete like true - believing fanatics?

 The American historian Eric Foner once mentioned that the crimes of Stalin had been discussed in his "Old Left" family, (Euphemism for Communist), since 1956. Was it truly that only since Khrushchev's speech that you could really "know" the facts and that before hand there was little credible evidence of oppression and atrocities about the regime? In other words was the true nature of the Stalin regime unknowable before Khrushchev's revelations? Can we settle the issue about whether or not members of the CPUSA were true[-]believers concerning the Soviet Union blithely ignoring facts and was there before 1956 significant credible evidence concerning the nature of the Stalinist regime to show us the members of the CPUSA and other Communist parties were self blinded idiots?

Well actually there is significant evidence. I present as an exhibit State Capitalism in Russia, by Tony Cliff.3 The book was originally published in 1948 and a revised version was published in 1955. Subsequently some new material was added in the form of an Introduction and Postscript, but the bulk of the book is little changed from 1948 as is indicated by checking the source notes which overwhelming refer to items in the 1930's and 40's.

The late Tony Cliff (1917-2000)4 cannot by any stretch of the imagination be characterized has an apologist for Capitalism. He was in fact a Trotskyist and a radical.

Now aspects of his book repeat Trotskyist shibboleths, such as the notion that under Lenin and Trotsky the Soviet Union was a "true" "Worker's State", and the proletariat ruled before the evil bureaucracy led by Stalin took over. However the vision in the book of what the Soviet Union under Stalin was actually like emerges very clearly, and it is of a vicious, exploitative tyranny.

The book accepts the precepts of Trotsky that Russia could not possibly on its own "do" the transformation of  Russia into a "Communist" society, because the economic, social and political basis was not there. Russia would have to be massively assisted by the more advanced societies of Western Europe. Being a good Trotskyist Cliff still thinks that the revolution was a good idea, ignoring the fact that the outcome showed it was clearly premature, (And frankly it appears from 2013 to be a forever premature idea.), and that Lenin and Trotsky goofed.5 Our author is unwilling to admit that the whole October Revolution thing may have been a ghastly mistake.

The focus of the book is to describe the socio-political reality of late Stalinist Russia and not give a comprehensive history of the state. As such it only occasionally mentions famines, purges and other atrocities of the regime and then only in the context of the political economy of the regime.

Thus the book is devoted to describing how the bureaucracy functions as a new ruling class and how it governs society.

A particular argument is how the bureaucracy endeavoured to consolidate its control and entrench itself. The author's contention is that this could not be done by means of a massive improvement in the standard of living of most Russians but by means of massive increase in the size of heavy industry.

Where was the capital to be found for this effort? Well it could not really be found in taking agricultural surpluses from the peasantry and selling them. The effects of collectivization were disastrous and crippling to agricultural production. So the surplus capital required for investment in heavy industry had to be seized by squeezing the worker.6

This was done by means of a whole series of turnover taxes which are applied at the point of production of the goods. These taxes were applied overwhelmingly to consumer items the results are quite startling.

Thus the turnover tax on wheat is 74% of the price, buckwheat is 289.5%!!7 The list goes on and on. The result is that consumers pay an enormous although hidden tax. Heavy industry pays a relatively tiny (5%) turnover tax.8

Perhaps the best indication of just how effective is this turnover tax system. is the following:

         Gross Retail   Turnover    Tax Rate
         Turnover        Tax             %

1931   27,465           11,643       73.6
1932   40,357           19,514       93.6
1933   49,789           26,983     118.3
1934   61,815           37,615     155.4
1935   81,712           52,026     175.3
1936 106,761           65,841     160.9
1937  125.943          75,911     151.7
1938  138,574          80,411     138,2
1939  163,456          96.800     145.2
1940  174,500        105,849     154.2
1950*275,000        187,100     212.9

As the above indicates the workers / consumers were rather thoroughly screwed in order to get the capital for investment in heavy industry.

In fact using figures of how many units of basic commodities can be purchased in Russia as compared to what an average workers wage in Britain could buy Mr. Cliff concludes that a Russian worker has a standard of living of about 1/4 to 1/3 of a British worker.10

Thus for example a average British workers weekly wage can buy 480.7 Ibs of wheat bread, 77.2 Ibs butter, 79-127 lbs of beef, 41.2 Ibs of coffee, 2-4.5 Men's shoes. Meanwhile a Russian workers weekly wage will buy 41.7 Ibs wheat bread, 4.1 Ibs butter, 9 Ibs beef, 3.4 Ibs coffee, .4 Men's shoes.11

Now then given that according to the author the average Russian worker was 3/4 as productive as his British counterpart and has only 1/4 - 1/3 the standard of living of his British counterpart it is rather clear who is being screwed out of "surplus value", exploited, more ruthlessly.12

And after that it is mere icing on the cake to find out that the housing arrangements of Russian workers are vastly less good than those of British workers etc.13 Further the evidence that members of the bureaucracy are feather bedding their positions, along with massive salary differentials and other perks to solidify their privileged position.14

What is interesting is that the source for most of this information is in fact the Soviet press and official Soviet documents. This damning indictment of the Soviet system is based on documents provided by that system. Just why the true believers didn't see this is mysterious to say the least.

As for the authoritarian terroristic nature of the Stalinist system our author, once again using the Soviets own documents presents an expose of a ruthless system.

Thus he discusses the ruthless system of punishments for the crimes of theft of and damage to state property. Thus we get from the Soviet press examples like people being sent to 15 years in a slave labour camp for stealing some smoked fish and various other judicial atrocities. All of which is to guard state property from the people. Thus showing very clearly that the fact that the state owns it doesn't mean the people own it at all.15

Throughout the book the author has no problem referring to slave labour camps, with millions of inmates, describing the Russian Stalinist state as imperialist and the Russian state has exploitative.16

Certainly the author has no problem describing the Stalinist state has a dictatorship.17

All of this mainly from official Soviet documents.

Thus in the late 1940s it was perfectly possible to describe with plenty of compelling, accurate evidence the Stalinist state has a exploitative, ruthless system of oppression. The abundant evidence was all there especially in the documents generated by the Stalinist regime itself.

So why did members of the CPUSA not accept this reality? Well it wasn't because the evidence was not there. It was; in abundance! They simply quite deliberately chose not to see because they were true believers and fanatics, who had in this area given up their critical faculties in order to follow the "true faith". Their position was not based on reason but on a desire to believe. So regarding the truth about Soviet Russia they had "faith" and rejected reason tout court.

Thus like the Historian Eric Foner's relatives they only accepted reality when the founts of the true faith said it was alright, otherwise to their duckspeak minds it all went down the memory hole.

Has historian Aileen Kraditor said regarding the above mentioned comment by Eugene Dennis:
[Dennis comment was]...a literal lie but a deeper truth: the facts were not new; their meaning was. Truth was not what fitted reality; it was what [authoritative ideological leaders] ... uttered. The source of the doctrine, news item, or any other statement carried more weight than the content of it; the feelings about the source preceded and determined the true believer's reaction.18 
To conclude:
In other words, Dennis, Foster and the Foners did not credit the overwhelming evidence of Stalin's crimes until an authoritative Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev ruled that they were crimes.19
1. See On the Cult of Personality and its Consequences, Wikipedia Here, (Khrushchev's Secret Speech). For the Speech go to Crimes of the Stalin Era, Internet Archive Here , The Cult of the Individual, The Guardian, Here .

2. In order, CPUSA, The Communist Party Convention, Political Affairs, No. 36, April 1957, p. 3, Foster, William Z, Draper's 'Roots of American Communism', Political Affairs, No. 36, May 1957, p. 37, Weis, Max is quoted by Starobin, Joseph R, American Communism in Crisis, 1943-1957, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MASS, 1972, p. 308n, Dennis, Eugene, Questions and Answers on the XXth Congress CPSU, Political Affairs, No. 35, April 1956, p. 24. The above all quoted in Haynes, John Earl, & Klehr, Harvey, In Denial, Encounter Books, New York, 2003, p. 39.

3. Cliff, Tony, State Capitalism in Russia, 3rd Edition, BookMarks, London, 1996.

4. Tony Cliff, Wikipedia Here.

5. Cliff, pp. 154-166.

6. IBID, pp. 62-68.

7. IBID, p. 69.

8. IBID, p. 68.

9. IBID, p. 70. *The figures for 1950 are from a plan.

10. IBID, pp. 61-62.

11. IBID, p. 61.

12. IBID, pp. 61-63.

13. IBID, pp. 54-56.

14. IBID, pp. 77-92.

15. IBID, p. 73.

16. IBID, pp. 245-264, pp. 42-46.

17. IBID, pp. 106-135.

18. Kraditor, Aileen S, "Jimmy Higgins": The Mental World of the American Rank-and-File Communist, 1939-1958, Greenwood Press, New York, 1988, pp. 84-85, quoted in Haynes et al, p. 39.

19. IBID, Haynes et al.

Pierre Cloutier

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