[Classics] The Revolution Betrayed

6. The Growth of Inequality and Social Antagonisms

1. Want, Luxury and Speculation

After starting out with “socialist distribution”, the Soviet power found itself obliged in 1921 to return to the market. The extreme stretching of material means in the epoch of the five-year-plan again led to state distribution – that is, a repetition of the experiment of “military Communism” on a higher basis. This basis too, however, proved inadequate. In the year 1935, the system of planned distribution again gave way to trade. Thus, a second time it is made evident that practicable methods of distribution depend more upon the level of technique and the existing material resources, than even upon forms of property.

The raising of the productivity of labor, in particular through piecework payment, promises in the future an increase of the mass of commodities, a lowering of prices, and a consequent rise in the standard of living of the population. But that is only one aspect of the matter – an aspect which has also been observed under capitalism in its flourishing epoch. Social phenomena and processes must, however, be taken in their connections and interactions. A raising of the productivity of labor on the basis of commodity circulation, means at the same time a growth of inequality. The rise in the prosperity of the commanding strata is beginning to exceed by far the rise in the standard of living of the masses. Along with an increase of state wealth goes a process of new social differentiation.

According to the conditions of its daily life, Soviet society is already divided into a secure and privileged minority, and a majority getting along in want. At its extremes, moreover, this inequality assumes the character of flagrant contrast. Products designed for broad circulation are as a rule, in spite of their high prices, of low quality, and the farther from the centers the more difficult to obtain. Not only speculation but the downright theft of objects of consumption assumes in these circumstances a mass character. And while up to yesterday these acts supplemented the planned distribution, they now serve as a corrective to Soviet trade.

The “friends” of the Soviet Union have a professional habit of collecting impressions with closed eyes and cotton in their ears. We cannot rely upon them. The enemies frequently propagate malicious slanders. Let us turn, therefore, to the bureaucracy itself. Since it is at least not hostile to itself, its official self-accusations, evoked always by some sort of urgent practical demand, deserve a great deal more confidence than its more frequent and noisy self-praise.

The industrial plan of 1935, as is well known, was more than carried out. But in the matter of housing, it was only 55.7 per cent carried out. And moreover the construction of houses for the workers proceeded most slowly, badly and sloppily of all. As for the members of collective farms, they live as formerly in the old huts with their calves and cockroaches. On the other hand, the Soviet dignitaries complain in the press that not all the houses newly constructed for them possess “rooms for houseworkers” – that is, for domestic servants.

Every regime has its monumental reflection in buildings and architecture. Characteristic of the present Soviet epoch are the numerous palaces and houses of the Soviets, genuine temples of the bureaucracy sometimes costing as much as ten million rubles, expensive theaters, houses of the Red Army – that is, military clubs chiefly for officers – luxurious subways for those who can pay, and therewith an extreme and unchanging backwardness in the construction of workers’ dwellings even of the barrack type.

In the matter of transporting state freight on the railroads, genuine progress has been attained. But the simple Soviet human being has gained very little from that. Innumerable orders from the heads of the Department of Roads and Communications complain of the unsanitary condition of the cars and passenger stations, of “the intolerable fact of inaction in the service of passengers on the road,” “the great number of abuses, thieveries and cheatings with railroad tickets ... concealment of vacant seats and speculation on them, bribe-taking ... robbing of luggage at the stations and on the road.” Such facts are “a disgrace to socialist transport”! As a matter of fact they are criminal offences in capitalist transport. These repeated complaints of the eloquent administrator bear certain witness to the extreme inadequacy of the means of transport for the use of the population, the bitter want of those products which are transported, and, finally, the cynical neglect of simple mortals on the part of railroad officials as of all other persons in authority. The bureaucracy is admirably able to provide service for itself on land and water and in the air, as we learn from the great number of Soviet parlor cars, special trains and special steamers – and these more and more giving place to the best of automobiles and aeroplanes.

In characterizing the successes of Soviet industry, the president of the Leningrad Central Committee, Zhdanov, to the applause of his immediately interested audience, promised that in a year “our active workers will arrive for the conference not in the present modest Fords, but in limousines.” The Soviet technique, insofar as its face is turned toward mankind, directs its efforts primarily to satisfying the high-class demands of a chosen minority. The streetcars, where they exist at all, are as before filled to suffocation.

When the People’s Commissar of Food Industries, Mikoyan, boasts that the lowest kind of confections are rapidly being crowded out of production by the highest, and that “our women” are demanding fine perfumes, this only means that industry, with the transfer to money circulation, is accommodating itself to the better qualified consumer. Such are the laws of the market, in which by no means the last place is occupied by the highly placed “wives.” Together with this it becomes known that sixty-eight co-operative shops out of ninety-five investigated in the Ukraine in 1935, had no confections at all, and that the demand for pastries was only 15 to 20 per cent satisfied, and this with a very low quality of goods. “The factories are working,” complains Izvestia, “without regard to the demands of the consumer.” Naturally, if the consumer is not one who is able to stand up for himself.

Professor Bakh, who approaches the question from the standpoint of organic chemistry, finds that “our bread is sometimes intolerably bad.” The working man and woman, although not initiated into the mysteries of yeast and its fermentation, think the very same thought. In distinction from the esteemed professor, however, they have not the opportunity to express their appraisal on the pages of the press.

In Moscow, the garment trust advertises variegated fashions of silk dresses designed by the special “house of fashions.” In the provinces, even in the great industrial cities, the workers as formerly cannot, without standing in lines and submitting to other vexations, obtain a cottonprint shirt: There aren’t enough! It is much harder to supply the needs of the many than to supply luxuries to the few. All history vouches for that.

In listing his achievements, Mikoyan informs us: “The oleomargarine industry is new.” It is true that this industry did not exist under the old regime. We need not rush to the conclusion, however, that the situation has become worse than under the tzar. The people saw no butter in those days, either. But the appearance of a substitute means at least that in the Soviet Union there are two classes of consumers: one prefers butter, the other gets along with margarine. “We supply plenty of makhorka to all who need it,” boasts the same Mikoyan. He forgets to add that neither Europe nor America ever heard of such low-grade tobacco as makhorka.

One of the very clear, not to say defiant, manifestations of inequality is the opening in Moscow and other big cities of special stores with high-quality articles under the very expressive, although not very Russian, designation of “Luxe.” At the same time ceaseless complaints of mass robbery in the food shops of Moscow and the provinces, mean that foodstuffs are adequate only for the minority, although everybody would like to have something to eat.

The worker-mother has her view of the social regime, and her “consumer’s” criterion, as the functionary – very attentive, by the way, to his own consumption – scornfully expresses it, is in the last analysis decisive. In the conflict between the working woman and the bureaucracy, Marx and Lenin, and we with them, stand on the side of the working woman. We stand against the bureaucrat, who is exaggerating his achievements, blurring contradictions, and holding the working woman by the throat in order that she may not criticize.

Granted that margarine and makhorka are today unhappy necessities. Still it is useless to boast and ornament reality. Limousines for the “activists”, fine perfumes for “our women”, margarine for the workers, stores “de luxe” for the gentry, a look at delicacies through the store windows for the plebs – such socialism cannot but seem to the masses a new re-facing of capitalism, and they are not far wrong. On a basis of “generalized want”, the struggle for the means of subsistence threatens to resurrect “all the old crap”, and is partially resurrecting it at every step.

Present market relations differ from relations under the NEP (1921-28) in that they are supposed to develop directly without the middleman and the private trader between the state co-operative and collective farm organizations and the individual citizen. However, this is true only in principle. The swiftly growing turnover of retail trade, both state and co-operative, should in 1936, according to specifications, amount to one hundred billion rubles. The turnover of collective farm trade, which amounted to sixteen billion in 191936, is to grow considerably during the current year. It is hard to determine what place – at least not an insignificant one! – will be occupied by illegal and semi-legal middlemen both within this turnover and alongside it. Not only the individual peasants, but also the collectives, and especially individual members of the collectives, are much inclined to resort to the middleman. The same road is followed by the home-industry workers, co-operators, and the local industries dealing with the peasants. From time to time, it unexpectedly transpires that the trade in meat, butter or eggs throughout a large district, has been cornered by “speculators.” Even the most necessary articles of daily use, like salt, matches, flour, kerosene, although existing in the state storehouses in sufficient quantity, are lacking for weeks and months at a time in the bureaucratized rural co-operatives. It is clear that the peasants will get the goods they need by other roads. The Soviet press often speaks of the jobber as of something to be taken for granted.

As for the other forms of private enterprise and accumulation, they play, it seems, a smaller role. Independent cabmen, innkeepers, solitary artisans, are, like the independent peasants, semi-tolerated professions. In Moscow itself there are a considerable number of private small business and repair shops. Eyes are closed to them because they fill up important gaps in the economy. An incomparably greater number of private entrepreneurs work, however, under the false label of all kinds of artels and co-operatives, or hide under the roofs of the collective farms – as though for the special purpose of emphasizing the rifts in the planned economy. The G-men in Moscow arrest from time to time, in the character of malicious speculators, hungry women who are selling homemade berets or cotton shirts on the street.

“The basis of speculation in our land is destroyed,” announced Stalin in the autumn of 1935, “and if we have speculators none the less, it can be explained by only one fact: lack of class vigilance and a liberal attitude toward the speculators in various links of the Soviet apparatus.” An ideally pure culture of bureaucratic thinking! The economic basis of speculation is destroyed? But then there is no need of any vigilance whatever. If the state could, for example, guarantee the population a sufficient quantity of modest headdresses, there would be no necessity of arresting those unfortunate street traders. It is doubtful, indeed, if such a necessity exists now.

In itself the number of the private traders above mentioned, like the quantity of their business, is not alarming. You cannot really fear an attack of truck drivers, traders in berets, watchmakers and buyers of eggs, upon the fortresses of the state property! But still the question is not decided by bare arithmetical correlations. An abundance and variety of speculators coming to the surface at the least sign of administrative weakness like a rash in a fever, testifies to the continual pressure of petty bourgeois tendencies. How much danger to the socialist future is represented by the speculation bacillus is determined wholly by the general power of resistance of the economic and political organism of the country.

The mood and conduct of the rank-and-file workers and collective farmers that is, about 90 per cent of the population – is determined primarily by changes in their own real wages. But no less significance must be given to the relation between their income and the income of the better-placed strata. The law of relativity proclaims itself most directly in the sphere of human consumption ! The translation of all social relations into the language of money accounting will reveal to the bottom the actual share enjoyed by the different strata of society in the national income. Even when we understand the historic necessity of inequality for a prolonged period, questions remain open about its admissible limits and its social expediency in each concrete case. The inevitable struggle for a share of the national income necessarily becomes a political struggle. The question whether the present structure is socialist or not will be decided, not by the sophisms of the bureaucracy, but by the attitude toward it of the masses themselves – that is, the industrial workers and collectivized peasants.

2. The Differentiation of the Proletariat

One would think that in a workers’ state data about real wages would be studied with especial care – indeed that all statistics of income according to categories of the population would be distinguished by complete lucidity and general accessibility. As a matter of fact this whole question, which touches the most vital interests of the toilers, is surrounded with an impenetrable veil. The budget of the worker’s family in the Soviet Union, unbelievable as this may be, is a magnitude incomparably more enigmatical for the investigator than in any capitalist country. We have tried in vain to plot the curve of real wages of the different categories of the working class even for the period of the second five-year plan. The stubborn silence of the sources and authorities on this subject is as eloquent as their boasting about meaningless totals.

According to the report of the Commissar of Heavy Industry, Ordjonikidze, the monthly output of the worker rose, during the decade 1925 to 1935, 3.2 times, and money wages 4.5 times. What part of the latter so impressive-looking figure is swallowed by specialists in the upper layers of the working class and not less important, what is the expression of this nominal sum in real values – of this we can find out nothing either from his report or from the commentaries of the press. At a congress of the Soviet Youth in April 1936, the secretary of the Komsomol, Kossarov, declared: “From January 1931 to December 1935 the wages of the youth rose 340 per cent!” But even from the carefully selected young decoration wearers, generous in ovations, whom he addressed, this boast did not evoke one handclap. The listeners, like the orator, knew too well that the abrupt change to market prices had lowered the material situation of the basic mass of the workers.

The “average” wage per person, if you join together the director of the trust and the charwoman, was about 2800 rubles in 1935, and was to be in 1936 about 2500 rubles – that is, nominally 7500 French francs, although hardly more than 8500 to 4000 in real purchasing power. This figure, very modest in itself, goes still lower if you take into consideration that the rise of wages in 1936 is only a partial compensation for the abolition of special prices on objects of consumption, and the abolition of a series of free services. But the principal thing is that 2500 rubles a year, or 208 rubles a month, is, as we said, the average payment – that is, an arithmetical fiction whose function is to mask the real and cruel inequality in the payment of labor.

It is indubitable that the situation of the upper layer of the workers, especially the so-called Stakhanovists, has risen considerably during the last year. The press is not without foundation in eagerly listing the number of suits, shoes, gramophones, bicycles, or jars of conserves this or that decorated worker has bought himself. Incidentally it becomes clear how little these benefits are accessible to the rank-and-file worker. Speaking of the impelling motives of the Stakhanov movement, Stalin declared: “Life has become easier, life has become happier, and when life is happy then work goes fast.” In that optimistic illumination of the piecework system, extremely characteristic of the ruling stratum, there is this amount of prosaic truth, that the formation of a workers’ aristocracy has proven possible only thanks to the preceding economic successes of the country. The motive force of the Stakhanovists, however, is not a “happy” mood, but a desire to earn more money. Molotov introduced this correction of Stalin: “The immediate impulse to high productivity on the part of the Stakhanovists is a simple interest in increasing their earnings.” That is true. In the course of a few months an entire stratum of workers has arisen whom they call “thousand men”, since their earnings exceed a thousand rubles a month. There are others who earn even more than two thousand rubles a month, while the workers of the lower categories often receive less than a hundred.

It would seem as though this divergence of wages alone establishes a sufficient distinction between the “rich” and “unrich” workers. But that is not enough for the bureaucracy. They literally shower privileges upon the Stakhanovists. They give them new apartments or repair their old ones. They send them out of turn to resthouses and sanatoriums. They send free teachers and physicians to their houses. They give them free tickets to the moving pictures. In some places they even cut their hair and shave them free and out of turn. Many of these privileges seem to be deliberately calculated to injure and insult the average worker. The cause of this importunate good will on the part of the authorities is, in addition to careerism, a troubled conscience. The local ruling groups eagerly seize the chance to escape from their isolation by allowing the upper stratum of the workers to participate in their privileges. As a result, the real earnings of the Stakhanovists often exceed by twenty or thirty times the earnings of the lower categories of workers. And as for especially fortunate specialists, their salaries would in many cases pay for the work of eighty to a hundred unskilled laborers. In scope of inequality in the payment of labor, the Soviet Union has not only caught up to, but far surpassed the capitalist countries!

The best of the Stakhanovists, those who are really impelled by socialist motives, are not happy in their privileges, but irked by them. And no wonder. Their individual enjoyment of all kinds of material goods on a background of general scarcity surrounds them with a ring of envy and ill will, and poisons their existence. Relations of this kind are farther from socialist morals than the relations of the workers of a capitalist factory, joined together as they are in a struggle against exploitation.

In spite of all this, everyday life is not easy even for the skilled worker especially in the provinces. Aside from the fact that the seven-hour working day is being more and more sacrificed to higher productivity, no small number of hours are expended in a supplementary struggle for existence. As a symptom of the special prosperity of the better workers of the Soviet farms, for example, they point to the fact that the tractor men, combine operators, etc. – an already notorious aristocracy – own their own cows and pigs. The theory that socialism without milk is better than milk without socialism has been abandoned. It is now recognized that the workers in the state agricultural undertakings, where it would seem there is no lack either of cows or pigs, are compelled in order to guarantee their subsistence to create their own pocket economies. No less striking is the triumphal announcement that in Kharkov 96,000 workers have their own gardens – other towns are challenged to vie with Kharkov. What a terrible robbery of human power is implied by those words “his own cow” and “his own garden”, and what a burden of medieval digging in manure and in the earth they lay upon the worker, and yet more upon his wife and children!

As concerns the fundamental masses, they, of course, have neither cows nor gardens, nor even in large part their own homes. The wages of unskilled workers are 1200 to 1500 rubles a year and even less – which under Soviet prices means a regime of destitution. Living conditions, the most reliable indicator of the material and cultural level, are extremely bad, often unbearable. The overwhelming majority of the workers huddle in common dwellings, which in equipment and upkeep are considerably worse than barracks. When it is necessary to justify industrial unsuccesses, malingerings and trashy products, the administration itself through its journalists gives such a picture as this of living conditions: “The workers sleep on the floor, since bedbugs eat them up in the beds. The chairs are broken; there are no mugs to drink water from, etc.” “Two families live in one room. The roof leaks. When it rains they carry the water out of the room by pailfuls.” “The privies are in a disgusting condition.” Such descriptions, relating to different parts of the country, could be multiplied at will. As a result of these unbearable conditions, “the fluidity of labor” – writes, for example, the head of the oil industry – “has reached a very high point ... Owing to lack of workers, a great number of the drills are altogether abandoned.” There are certain especially unfavorable regions, where only those will consent to work who have been fined or discharged from other places for various violations of discipline. Thus at the bottom of the proletariat there is accumulating a layer of rejected Soviet pariahs, possessing no rights, and of whom nevertheless such an important branch of industry as oil production is compelled to make use.

As a result of these flagrant differences in wages, doubled by arbitrary privileges, the bureaucracy has managed to introduce sharp antagonisms in the proletariat. Accounts of the Stakhanov campaign presented at times the picture of a small civil war. “The wrecking and breaking of mechanisms is the favorite [!] method of struggle against the Stakhanov movement,” wrote, for example, the organ of the trade unions. “The class struggle,” we read farther, “makes itself felt at every step.” In this “class” struggle, the workers are on one side, the trade unions on the other. Stalin publicly recommended that those who resist should get it “in the teeth.” Other members of the Central Committee have more than once threatened to sweep the “insolent enemy” from the face of the earth. The experience of the Stakhanov movement has made especially clear the deep alienation between the authorities and the proletariat, and the furious insistence with which the bureaucracy is applying the maxim – not, it is true, invented by itself: “Divide and rule!” Moreover, to console the workers, this forced piecework labor is called “socialist competition.” The name sounds like a mockery!

Competition, whose roots lie in our biological inheritance, having purged itself of greed, envy and privilege, will indubitably remain the most important motive force of culture under communism too. But in the closer-by preparatory epoch the actual establishment of a socialist society can and will be achieved, not by these humiliating measures of a backward capitalism to which the Soviet government is resorting, but by methods more worthy of a liberated humanity – and above all not under the whip of a bureaucracy. For this very whip is the most disgusting inheritance from the old world. It will have to be broken in pieces and burned at a public bonfire before you can speak of socialism without a blush of shame.

3. Social Contradictions in the Collective Village

If the industrial trusts are “in principle” socialist enterprises, this cannot be said of the collective farms.

They rest not upon state, but upon group property. This is a great step forward by comparison with individual scatteredness, but whether the collective enterprises will lead to socialism depends upon a whole series of circumstances, a part lying within the collectives, a part outside them in the general conditions of the Soviet system, and a part, finally, no less a part, on the world arena.

The struggle between the peasants and the state is far from ended. The present still very unstable organization of agriculture is nothing but a temporary compromise between the struggling camps, following the dreadful outbreak of civil war between them. To be sure, 90 per cent of the peasant farms are collectivized, and 94 per cent of the entire agricultural product is taken from the fields of the collective farms. Even if you take into consideration a certain percentage of fictitious collectives, behind which essentially individual farmers are hiding, you still have to concede, it would seem, that the victory over individual economy is at least nine tenths won. However, the real struggle of forces and tendencies in the rural districts is far from contained within the framework of a bare contrast between individual and collective farmers.

With the purpose of pacifying the peasants, the state has found itself compelled to make very great concessions to the proprietary and individualist tendencies of the village, beginning with the solemn transfer to the collectives of their land allotments for “eternal” use that is, in essence, the annulment of the socialization of the land. Is this a legal fiction? In dependence upon the correlation of forces, it might prove a reality and offer in the very near future immense difficulties for planned economy on a state-wide scale. It is far more important, however, that the state was compelled to restore individual peasant farming on special midget farms with their own cows, pigs, sheep, domestic fowls, etc. In exchange for this transgressing of socialization and limiting of collectivization, the peasant agrees peaceably, although as yet without great zest, to work in the collective farms, which offer him the opportunity to fulfill his obligation to the state and get something into his own hands. The new relations still assume such immature forms that it would be difficult to measure them in figures, even if the Soviet statistics were more honest. Many things, however, permit the conclusion that in the personal existence of the peasant his own midget holdings have no less significance than the collectives. This means that the struggle between individualistic and collective tendencies is still in progress throughout the whole mass of the villages, and that its outcome is not yet decided. Which way are the peasants inclined? They themselves do not as yet exactly know.

The People’s Commissar of Agriculture said, at the end of 1935: “Up to the present moment, we have met great resistance from the side of the kulak elements to the fulfillment of the state plan of grain provisioning.” This means, in other words, that the majority of collectivized peasants “up to recent times” (and today?) considered the surrender of grain to the state as an operation disadvantageous to them, and were tending toward private trade. The same thing is testified to in another manner by the Draconic laws for the protection of collective property against plunder by the collectivized peasants themselves. It is very instructive that the property of the collectives is insured with the state for twenty billion rubles, and the private property of the collectivized peasants for twenty-one billion. If this correlation does not necessarily mean that the peasants taken separately are richer than the collectives, it does at any rate mean that the peasants insure their personal more carefully than their common property.

No less indicative from our point of view is the course of development in stockbreeding. While the number of horses continued to decline up to 1935, and only as a result of a series of governmental measures has begun during the last year to rise slightly, the increase of horned cattle during the preceding year had already amounted to four million head. The plan for horses was fulfilled in the favorable year 1935 only up to 94 per cent, while in the matter of horned cattle it was considerably exceeded. The meaning of these data becomes clear in the fact that horses exist only as collective property, while cows are already among the personal possessions of the majority of collectivized peasants. It remains only to add that in the steppe regions, where the collectivized peasants are permitted as an exception to possess a horse, the increase of horses is considerably more rapid than in the collective farms, which in their turn are ahead of the Soviet farms. From all this it is not to be inferred that private small economy is superior to large-scale socialized economy, but that the transition from the one to the other, from barbarism to civilization, conceals many difficulties which cannot be removed by mere administrative pressure.

“Law can never stand higher than the economic structure and the cultural development conditioned by it.” The renting of land, although forbidden by law, is really very widely practiced, and moreover in its most pernicious form of share-cropping. Land is rented by one collective farm to another, and sometimes to an outsider, and finally, sometimes to its own more enterprising members. Unbelievable as it is, the Soviet farms – that is, the “socialist” enterprises resort to the rental of land. And, what is especially instructive, this is practiced by the Soviet farms of the GPU! Under the protection of this high institution which stands guard over the laws, the director of the Soviet farm imposes upon the peasant renter conditions almost copied from the old landlord-peon contracts. We thus have cases of the exploitation of peasants by the bureaucrats, no longer in the character of agents of the state, but in the character of semi-legal landlords.

Without in the least exaggerating the scope of such ugly phenomena, which are of course not capable of statistical calculation, we still cannot fail to see their enormous symptomatic significance. They unmistakably testify to the strength of bourgeois tendencies in this still extremely backward branch of economy which comprises the overwhelming majority of the population. Meanwhile, market relations are inevitably strengthening the individualistic tendencies, and deepening the social differentiation of the village, in spite of the new structure of property relations.

On the average, the income of each collective farm is about 4,000 rubles. But in relation to the peasants, “average” figures are even more deceptive than in relation to the workers. It was reported in the Kremlin, for example, that the collective fishermen earned in 1935 twice as much as in 1934, or 1,919 rubles each, and the applause offered to this last figure showed how considerably it rises above the earnings of the principal mass of the collectives. On the other hand, there are collectives in which the income amounts to 80,000 rubles for each household, not counting either income in money and kind from individual holdings, or the income in kind of the whole enterprise. In general, the income of every one of these big collective farmers is ten to fifteen times more than the wage of the “average” worker and the lower-grade collectivized peasant.

The gradations of income are only in part determined by skill and assiduousness in labor. Both the collectives and the personal allotments of the peasants are of necessity placed in extraordinarily unequal conditions, depending upon climate, soil, kind of crop, and also upon position in relation to the towns and industrial centers. The contrast between the city and the village not only was not softened during the five-year plan, but on the contrary was greatly sharpened as a result of the feverish growth of cities and new industrial regions. This fundamental social contrast in Soviet society inevitably creates derivative contradictions among the collectives and within the collectives, chiefly thanks to differential rent.

The unlimited power of the bureaucracy is a no less forceful instrument of social differentiation. It has in its hand such levers as wages, prices, taxes, budget and credit. The completely disproportionate income of a series of central Asiatic cotton collectives depends much more upon the correlation of prices established by the government than upon the work of the members of the collectives. The exploitation of certain strata of the population by other strata has not disappeared, but has been disguised. The first tens of thousands of “well-off” collectives have prospered at the expense of the remaining mass of the collectives and the industrial workers. To raise all the collectives to a level of well-being is an incomparably more difficult and prolonged task than to give privileges to the minority at the expense of a majority. In 1927 the Left Opposition declared that “the income of the kulak has increased immeasurably more than that of the workers,” and this proposition retains its force now too, although in a changed form. The income of the upper class of collectives has grown immeasurably more than the income of the fundamental peasant and worker mass. The differentiation of material levels of existence is now, perhaps, even more considerable than on the eve of dekulakization.

The differentiation taking place within the collectives finds its expression partly in the sphere of personal consumption; partly it precipitates itself in the personal enterprises adjoining the collectives, since the fundamental property of the collective itself is socialized. The differentiation between collectives is already having deeper consequences, since the rich collective has the opportunity to apply more fertilizer and more machines, and consequently to get rich quicker. The successful collectives often hire labor power from the poor ones, and the authorities shut their eyes to this. The deeding over of land allotments of unequal value to the collectives greatly promotes a further differentiation between them, and consequently the crystallizing of a species of bourgeois collectives, or “millionaire collectives” as they are even now called.

Of course the state power is able to interfere as a regulator in the process of social differentiation among the peasantry. But in what direction and within what limits? To attack the kulak collectives and members of collectives would be to open up a new conflict with the more “progressive” layers of the peasantry, who are only now, after a painful interruption, beginning to feel an exceptionally greedy thirst for a “happy life.” Moreover – and this is the chief thing – the state power itself becomes less and less capable of socialist control. In agriculture as in industry, it seeks the support and friendship of strong, successful “Stakhanovists of the fields,” of millionaire collectives. Starting with a concern for the development of the productive forces, it invariably ends with a concern about itself. It is exactly in agriculture, where consumption is so closely bound up with production, that collectivization has opened up grandiose opportunities for the parasitism of the bureaucracy, and therewith for its intergrowth with the upper circles of the collectives. Those complimentary “gifts”, which the collective farmers present to the leaders at solemn sessions in the Kremlin, are only the symbolic expression of an unsymbolic tribute which they place at the disposal of the local representatives of power.

Thus in agriculture immeasurably more than in industry, the low level of production comes into continual conflict with the socialist and even co-operative (collective farm) forms of property. The bureaucracy, which in the last analysis grew out of this contradiction, deepens it in turn.

4. The Social Physiognomy of the Ruling Stratum

In Soviet political literature you often meet with accusations of “bureaucratism” as a bad custom of thought or method of work. (The accusation is always directed from above downward and is a method of self-defense on the part of the upper circles.) But what you cannot meet anywhere is an investigation of the bureaucracy as a ruling stratum – its numbers and structure, its flesh and blood, its privileges and appetites, and the share of the national income which it swallows up. Nevertheless it exists. And the fact that it so carefully conceals its social physiognomy proves that it possesses the specific consciousness of a ruling “class” which, however, is still far from confident of its right to rule.

It is absolutely impossible to describe the Soviet bureaucracy in accurate figures, and that for reasons of two kinds. In the first place, in a country where the state is almost the sole employer it is hard to say where the administrative apparatus ends. In the second place, upon this question the Soviet statisticians, economists and publicists preserve, as we have said, an especially concentrated silence. And they are imitated by their “friends.” We remark in passing that in all the twelve hundred pages of their labor of compilation, the Webbs never once mention the Soviet bureaucracy as a social category. And no wonder, for they wrote, in the essence of the matter, under its dictation!

The central state apparatus numbered on November 1, 1933, according to official figures about 55,000 people in the directing personnel. But in this figure, which has increased extraordinarily in recent years, there are not included, on the one hand, the military and naval departments and the GPU, and, on the other, the co-operative centers and the series of so-called social organizations such as the Ossoaviokhim.[1] Each of the republics, moreover, has its own governmental apparatus.

Parallel with the state, trade union, co-operative and other general staffs, and partly interwoven with them, there stands the powerful staff of the party. We will hardly be exaggerating if we number the commanding upper circles of the Soviet Union and the individual republics at 400,000 people. It is possible that at the present time this number has already risen to the half-million mark. This does not include functionaries, but, so to speak, “dignitaries”, “leaders”, a ruling caste in the proper sense of the word, although, to be sure, hierarchically divided in its turn by very important horizontal boundaries.

This half-million upper caste is supported by a heavy administrative pyramid with a broad and many-faceted foundation. The executive committees of the provincial town and district soviets, together with the parallel organs of the party, the trade unions, the Communist Youth, the local organs of transport, the commanding staffs of the army and fleet, and the agentry of the GPU, should give a number in the vicinity of two million. And we must not forget also the presidents of the soviets of six hundred thousand towns and villages.

The immediate administration of the industrial enterprises was concentrated in 1933 (there are no more recent data) in the hands of 17,000 directors and vice-directors. The whole administrative and technical personnel of the shops, factories and mines, counting lower links down to and including the foremen, amounted to about 250,000 people (although, of these, 54,000 were specialists without administrative functions in the proper sense of the word). To this we must add the party and trade-union apparatus in the factories, where administration is carried on, as is well known, in the manner of the “triangle.” A figure of half a million for the administration of the industrial enterprises of all-union significance will not be at the present time exaggerated. And to this we must add the administrative personnel of the undertakings of the separate republics and the local soviets.

In another cross-section the official statistics indicate for 1933 more than 860,000 administrators and specialists in the whole Soviet economy – in industry over 480,000, in transport over 100,000, in agriculture 93,000, in commerce 25,000. In this number are included, to be sure, specialists without administrative power, but on the other hand neither collective farms nor co-operatives are included. These data, too, have been left far behind during the last two and a half years.

For 250,000 collective farms, if you count only the presidents and party organizers, there are a half-million administrators. In actual reality, the number is immeasurably higher. If you add the Soviet farms and the tractor and machinery stations, the general number of commanders of the socialized agriculture far exceeds a million.

The state possessed, in 1935, 115,000 trade departments, the co-operatives 200,000. The leaders of both are in essence not commercial employees, but functionaries of the state, and moreover monopolists. Even the Soviet press from time to time complains that “the co-operators have ceased to regard the members of the collective as their electors” – as though the mechanism of the co-operatives could be qualitatively distinguished from that of the trade unions, soviets and the party itself ! This whole stratum, which does not engage directly in productive labor, but administers, orders, commands, pardons and punishes – teachers and students we are leaving aside must be numbered at five or six million. This total figure, like the items composing it, by no means pretends to accuracy, but it will do well enough for a first approach. It is sufficient to convince us that “the general line” of the leadership is not a disembodied spirit.

In the various stages or stories of this ruling structure, passing from below upward, the communist filling amounts to from 20 to 90 per cent. In the whole mass of the bureaucracy, the communists together with the Communist Youth constitute a block of 1½ to 2 million – at present, owing to continued purgations, rather less than more. This is the backbone of the state power. These same communist administrators are the backbone of the party, and of the Communist Youth. The former Bolshevik party is now no longer the vanguard of the proletariat, but the political organization of the bureaucracy. The remaining mass of the members of the party and the Communist Youth serve only as a source for the formation of this “active” – that is, a reserve for the replenishment of the bureaucracy. The nonparty “active” serves the same purpose. Hypothetically, we may assume that the labor and collectivized peasant aristocracy, the Stakhanovists, the nonparty “active”, trusted personages, their relatives and relatives-in-law, approximate the same figure that we adopted for the bureaucracy, that is, five to six million. With their families, these two interpenetrating strata constitute as many as twenty to twenty-five million. We make a comparatively low estimate of the numbers in a family for the reason that often husband and wife, and sometimes also son and daughter, occupy a place in the apparatus. Moreover, the wives of the ruling group find it much easier to limit the size of their family than workingwomen, and above all peasant women. The present campaign against abortion was set in motion by the bureaucracy, but does not apply to it. Twelve per cent, or perhaps 15 per cent, of the population – that is the authentic social basis of the autocratic ruling circles.

Where a separate room and sufficient food and neat clothing are still accessible only to a small minority, millions of bureaucrats, great and small, try to use the power primarily in order to guarantee their own well-being. Hence the enormous egoism of this stratum, its firm inner solidarity, its fear of the discontent of the masses, its rabid insistence upon strangling all criticism, and finally its hypocritically religious kowtowing to “the Leader”, who embodies and defends the power and privileges of these new lords.

The bureaucracy itself is still far less homogeneous than the proletariat or the peasantry. There is a gulf between the president of the rural soviet and the dignitary of the Kremlin. The life of the lower functionaries of various categories proceeds essentially upon a very primitive level – lower than the standard of living of the skilled worker of the West. But everything is relative, and the level of the surrounding population is considerably lower. The fate of the president of the collective farm, of the party organizer, of the lower order of co-operator, like that of the highest bosses, does not in the least depend upon so-called “electors.” Any one of these functionaries can be sacrificed at any moment by the bosses next above, in order to quiet some discontent. But moreover each of them can on occasion raise himself a step higher. They are all, at least up to the first serious shock, bound together by mutual guarantees of security with the Kremlin.

In its conditions of life, the ruling stratum comprises all gradations, from the petty bourgeoisie of the backwoods to the big bourgeoisie of the capitals. To these material conditions correspond habits, interests and circles of ideas. The present leaders of the Soviet trade unions are not much different in their psychological type from the Citrines, Jouhaux’s and Greens. Other phraseology, but the same scornfully patronizing relation to the masses, the same conscienceless astuteness in second-rate maneuvers, the same conservativism, the same narrowness of horizon, the same hard concern for their own peace, and finally the same worship for the most trivial forms of bourgeois culture. The Soviet colonels and generals are in the majority little different from the colonels and generals of the rest of the earth, and in any case are trying their best to be like them. The Soviet diplomats have appropriated from the Western diplomats not only their tailcoats, but their modes of thought. The Soviet journalists fool the readers no less than their foreign colleagues, although they do it in a special manner.

If it is difficult to estimate the numbers of the bureaucracy, it is still harder to determine their income. As early as 1927, the Left Opposition protested that the “swollen and privileged administrative apparatus is devouring a very considerable part of the surplus value.” In the Opposition platform it was estimated that the trade apparatus alone “devours an enormous share of the national income more than one tenth of the total production.” After that the authorities took the necessary measures to make such estimates impossible. But for that very reason overhead expenses have not been cut down, but have grown.

It is no better in other spheres than in the sphere of trade. It required, as Rakovsky wrote in 1930, a fleeting quarrel between the party and the trade-union bureaucrats in order that the population should find out from the press that out of the budget of the trade unions, amounting to 400,000,000 rubles, 80,000,000 go for the support of the personnel. And here, we remark, it was a question only of the legal budget. Over and above this, the bureaucracy of the trade unions receives from the industrial bureaucracy in token of friendship immense gifts of money, apartments, means of transport, etc. “How much goes for the support of party, co-operative, collective farm, Soviet farm, industrial and administrative apparatus with all their ramifications?” asked Rakovsky. And he answered: “We possess not even hypothetical information.”

Freedom from control inevitably entails abuse of office, including pecuniary malfeasance. On September 29, 1931, the government, compelled again to raise the question of the bad work of the co-operatives, established over the signatures of Molotov and Stalin, and not for the first time, “the presence of immense plunderings and squanderings and losses in the work of many of the rural consumers’ societies.” At a session of the Central Executive Committee in January 1936, the People’s Commissar of Finance complained that local executive committees permit completely arbitrary expenditures of state funds. If the Commissar was silent about the central institutions, it was only because he himself belongs to their circle. There is no possibility of estimating what share of the national income is appropriated by the bureaucracy. This is not only because it carefully conceals even its legalized incomes. It is not only because standing on the very boundary of malfeasance, and often stepping over the boundary, it makes a wide use of unforeseen incomes. It is chiefly because the whole advance in social well-being, municipal utilities, comfort, culture, art, still serves chiefly, if not exclusively, this upper privileged stratum. In regard to the bureaucracy as a consumer, we may, with the necessary changes, repeat what was said about the bourgeoisie. There is no reason or sense in exaggerating its appetite for articles of personal consumption. But the situation changes sharply as soon as we take into consideration its almost monopolistic enjoyment of the old and new conquests of civilization. Formally, these good things are, of course, available to the whole population, or at least to the population of the cities. But in reality they are accessible only in exceptional cases. The bureaucracy, on the contrary, avails itself of them as a rule when and to what extent it wishes as of its personal property. If you count not only salaries and all forms of service in kind, and every type of semi-legal supplementary source of income, but also add the share of the bureaucracy and the Soviet aristocracy in the theaters, rest palaces, hospitals, sanatoriums, summer resorts, museums, clubs, athletic institutions, etc., etc., it would probably be necessary to conclude that 15 per cent, or, say, 20 per cent, of the population enjoys not much less of the wealth than is enjoyed by the remaining 80 to 85 per cent.

The “friends” will want to dispute our figures? Let them give us others more accurate. Let them persuade the bureaucracy to publish the income and expense book of Soviet society. Until they do, we shall hold to our opinion. The distribution of this earth’s goods in the Soviet Union, we do not doubt, is incomparably more democratic than it was in tzarist Russia, and even than it is in the most democratic countries of the West. But it has as yet little in common with socialism.


[1] Society for the Defense of the Soviet Union and Development of Its Aviation and Chemical Industries.

Join us

If you want more information about joining the IMT, fill in this form. We will get back to you as soon as possible.