Max Eastman 1938
First Published: in London in 1938 by Martin Secker and Warbourg Ltd, 22 Essex Street Strand.
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
IT is a strange experience, for one who has lived through these twenty-five years as a Marxian socialist, to see how in proportion as the Soviet regime drops overboard one by one every vestige of socialism, the liberal scholars and littérateurs of the whole world, e in so far as they are at all flexible, “come over” to socialism, and rally with extreme emotion to the “defence of the U.S.S.R.” Maxim Gorky, Romain Rolland, George Soule, Waldo Frank, Rockwell Kent, Malcolm Cowley, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Harold Laski — the list could be extended indefinitely of those representative intellectuals who, having remained cold to the efforts of the Bolshevik party under Lenin and Trotsky to establish a workers’ and peasants’ republic, have substantially swallowed down “Marxism” since the official “Marxism” ceased, either within the Soviet Union or anywhere else, to mean business about working-class power, or contain any fighting threat to the existing distribution of wealth.
It is a strange experience, and for one who rests his final hope upon human intelligence, a sad one. A prime factor in the wisdom of Karl Marx was his perception of the discrepancy between the ideas with which men commonly make and write history and the actual forces in play, the actual changes that are in progress. He called these loose-floating ideas ideologies, a term of contempt which he borrowed from Napoleon Bonaparte, and which freely translated into American means “apple-sauce.” And he made heroic efforts to delve down under all ideologies and use his mind in the making of history as a mechanic does in the making of bridges or automobiles. It was by using his mind in this ardently matter-of-fact way that Lenin guided the Russian workers’ and peasants’ revolution to victory and laid the foundations of socialism.
Since Lenin’s death, ideology has prevailed in the ruling circles and the controlled press of Soviet Russia to the practical exclusion of scientific straight-thinking about society and politics. The assertion that they are “building a classless society” and yet more, that “socialism is finally and irrevocably achieved in the Soviet Union,” are but crowning instances of this process of universal self-deception, samples of a particularly sublime “ apple-sauce,” under cover of which the exactly opposite process is in full flight — the restoration of class privilege and the soaking out of the foundations of socialism. To my mind there is not a hope left for the classless society in present-day Russia. Inside of ten years, barring revolutionary changes, the Soviet Union bids fair to be as reactionary as any country which has emerged from feudalism.
In the summer of 1934 I wrote an article saying every good thing that I could find to say of the socialist experiment in Russia. The theme of my article was that in that country, because of the socialization of industry and the removal of class privilege, progress hitherto considered utopian was being made “in every sphere in which radical reformers and what we call dreamers are wont in our country to beat their brains out against a cold rampart of cynicism and indifference.” I supported this by quoting our leading authorities who had gone there and seen what was being done, each in his own special field of interest — education, prison reform, public health, women’s freedom, sex and family relations, birth control, prostitution, yellow journalism, drug addiction, alcoholism, rights of national minorities, elimination of anti-Semitism, mental hygiene, administration of justice, peace, war and patriotism, economic planning. My thesis was that the proprietary enjoyment of wealth by a privileged few is what blocks progress on all these fronts and makes the efforts of truly social-minded idealists in capitalist countries all but futile.
I intended to follow my article with another, saying the bad things that from the same standpoint an honest mind must say about the Soviet Union — chiefly, that these blessings of achievement, and yet more of hope, had been accompanied by a concentration of political power and privilege in the hands of a bureaucratic caste supporting an autocrat more ruthless than the Tzars had been. I intended to point out that this situation, hateful in itself, was also a mortal danger, and if continued, certain death to the whole system. But I was still asserting the existence of the system.
After writing the first article, however, reading it to a group of friends, and showing it to one editor, I put it away in my desk as an anachronism. The conditions it described were disappearing while I wrote. Of the fundamental ones, those three which stand in most vital relation to the property system and the future — education, women’s freedom and the family, peace, war and patriotism -there is now little but a memory and a clinging memory left.
In my section about education, I quoted from Miss Lucy Wilson, who made her pilgrimage to Russia in 1925 and stayed to 1927, and from John Dewey who followed her a year later, such ecstatic testimony to the liberation of Russian schools and children from socially irrelevant and spirit-killing regimentation that they sounded like another News From Nowhere. “ Almost incredible to me, an eye-witness,” said Miss Lucy Wilson. And John Dewey: “I cannot convey it; I lack the necessary literary skill.”
These utopian conditions were founded upon manifestoes and decrees of the Lenin government adopted shortly after the seizure of power, containing phrases such as these:-
Pupils of the older classes in the secondary schools, must not, dare not, consider themselves children, and govern their destiny to suit the wishes of parents and teachers ..... Utilization of a system of marks for estimating the knowledge and conduct of the pupil is abolished .... Distribution of medals and insignia is abolished .... The old form of discipline which corrupts the entire life of the school and the untrammelled development of the personality of the child, cannot be maintained in the Schools of Labour. The process of labour itself develops this internal discipline without which collective and rational work is unimaginable .... All punishment in school is forbidden .... All examinations — entrance, grade and graduation — are abolished .... The wearing of school uniforms is abolished.
All this was swept from the earth, letter and spirit, by a “Decree on Academic Reform,” issued by the Stalin government on September 4, 1935, and by instructions following it, of which the following phrases will convey the drift:-
Instruct a commission .... to elaborate a draft of a ruling for every type of school. The ruling must have a categoric and absolutely obligatory character for pupils as well as for teachers. This ruling must be the fundamental document .... which strictly establishes the regime of studies and the basis for order in the school as well as the rules of conduct of pupils inside and outside of school .... Introduce in all schools a uniform type of pupils’ report card on which all the principal rules for the conduct of the pupil are to be inscribed. Establish a personal record for every pupil .... Every five days the chief instructor of a class will examine the memorandum, will mark cases of absence and tardiness in it, and will demand the signature of the parent under all remarks of the instructor .... Underlying the ruling on the conduct of pupils is to be placed a strict and conscientious application of discipline ... In the personal record there will be entered for the entire duration of his studies the marks of the pupil for every quarter, his prizes and his punishments .... A special apparatus of Communist Youth organizers is to be installed for the surveillance of the pupil inside and outside of school. They are to watch over the morality and the state of mind of the pupils .... Establish a single form of dress for pupils of the primary, semi-secondary, and secondary schools, this uniform to be introduced to begin with, in 1936, in the schools of Moscow .... [Italics mine.]
Needless to dwell upon the difficulty I experienced in basing an argument upon John Dewey’s raptures of 1928, when such a back jump to the complete temper of education under tzarism — spiritual prison uniforms, political surveillance and all — was already in the wind.
In the sphere of sex and family relations, or, in other words, upon the problem of the freedom and rights of woman and the related problem of population control, the counter-revolution in the Soviet Union in the past two years has been so crudely put over, that even our serenest ideologues become uneasy in their dreams of “building socialism in one country.” Everybody who means business about socialism in any country, knows that a stoppage of the pressure of population on the means of subsistence is essential to the beginnings of it. In a country like Russia, where mothers in hundreds of thousands are unable to produce, or buy, milk for their babies, and the problem of homeless children is openly acknowledged to be unsolved even in the capital, to come out with a proclamation advocating — or more accurately, decreeing — large families and wholesale human breeding, is not only remote from socialism, but from sane human kindness and sound reason in any of its forms. It is the madness of military nationalism in a power-clique which looks upon the masses of the population as its cattle and its cannon fodder.
It is needless to remark that the “holy instinct of motherhood” has once more come into its own as a weapon of this reaction (Pravda, May 28, 1935), and also the proposition that “woman having received rights has therewith received duties” (Pravda, June 7, 1935), — a conception of “rights” known only to those whose permanent prerogative it is to give and withhold them. It is somewhat more surprising to see “chivalry,” and not only chivalry but “knightliness” — a word of bitter execration to all Russian revolutionists for a century — now solemnly brought forward in the cause of woman’s re-enslavement. We learn that, having accepted the above duties as well as rights, woman has “put man under the obligation to care for her with special knightliness.” And this new knightliness is thus defined: “Every girl must be treasured not only as a textile worker, a bold parachute jumper or an engineer, but as a future mother. The mother of one child must be treasured as the future mother of eight.” (Pravda, June 7, 1935.) Just how far the mother of eight 14 children will go as an engineer or a parachute jumper, is well known to those who use their brains when they think.
To give teeth to this reactionary decree, and make clear that it relates only to the ill-paid masses of the workers and the peasants, it is enforced by raising the costs of divorce and alimony beyond the reach of these human cattle, and making abortion, one of woman’s few real guarantees of liberty, once more a crime. That it will not be a crime to those who have money and are in the know — those most particularly who issued the decree — is perfectly well understood by all who understand anything. It is class legislation and discriminatory sex legislation in its foulest form. It is the absolute end of that utopian reign of freedom, justice, and mature intelligence upon all questions relating to sex and family relations which led Cicely Hamilton, returning from her pilgrimage to Moscow in 1933, to report “the most important advance .... which has been made since the race developed from brute to human.”
As to the foundation laid by Lenin of a revolutionary policy and high public temper upon the problems of peace, war, and patriotism, there is not the shadow of it left. Even in my pamphlet I was compelled to point into the past for this. It was on May 29, 1934, that Litvinov announced in Geneva that the Soviets would abandon their anti-war alliance with the workers and oppressed peoples of the earth, and play the game of military diplomacy with the capitalist nations. It was not long after that Stalin himself issued a joint statement with the French Premier Laval, in which he “fully approved the national defence policy of France in keeping her armed forces on a level required for security.” To “vote war credits,” even after a world-war began, was the crime of treason to Marxian principle which caused Lenin to abandon the Second International and the word socialism, and form a Third for which he took the uncorrupted term communism from the banners of the civil wars of 1848. In the name of Lenin, the Third International now supports the armies of imperialistic governments in time of peace. Having handed the power to Hitler without shaking a fist, this “Leninist” organization makes Hitler a pretext to enter again the old system of military alliances which turned Europe in Lenin’s eyes into “one bloody lump.” And to bathe this change in the appropriate emotions, Pravda, the official organ of Lenin’s Party, hauls down the Marxian banner, “Workers of the world unite!” and runs up the slogan of all mad dogs of war.
“Defence of the fatherland is the supreme law of life.” Let us taste a few sentences from Pravda’s editorial of June g, 1934:-
For the fatherland! That cry kindles the flame of heroism, the flame of creative initiative in all fields in all the realms of our rich, of our many-sided country ...
For the fatherland! That cry raises tens of millions of toilers to the defence of their great fatherland and put them in fighting readiness.
Millions and tens of millions of people acclaim in our brave fliers great patriots of their fatherland, for whom the honour, glory, might and prosperity of the Soviet Union is the supreme law of their lives ...
The defence of the fatherland is the supreme law of life ...
For the fatherland ! For its honour, glory, might and prosperity.
Compare that with the language of Lenin:-
The essential thing is for us to be, even when times are most trying, real internationalists in deed .... There is one and only one kind of real internationalism: hard work at developing the revolutionary movement and the revolutionary struggle in one’s own land, and support (by propaganda, sympathy, material aid) of such, and only such, struggles and policies in every country without exception.
Compare the two and you have a measure of the change since Lenin died.
And if you want a measure of the extremes to which ideology can go where criticism is stifled, you need only be informed that the above affirmation of universal hysteric passion for the fatherland was the preface to a decree — printed immediately below it — making it a crime of treason to “escape over the border” of this same fatherland, and punishing this crime by “shooting and confiscation of all property.” Moreover, if it is a soldier who thus “escapes abroad” for abroad and over the border are the same word in Russian — the grown members of his family who knew of his intention and did not notify the police, so that he could be shot before he went, get five to ten years in prison with confiscation of property; and those who did not know of it, but lived with or were supported by him at the time of his contemplated act, may be “deprived of citizenship and exiled for five years to a remote region of Siberia.”
It is only necessary to add that this abandonment of every vestige of Lenin’s policy of socialist internationalism has been followed by a reorganization of the army on the Western plan, abolition of the militia system, restoration of the titles, ranks, and privileges of officers, and revival of the uniforms and special rights of Cossack troops.
I need not go through the whole index of my utopian pamphlet, and examine to what extent the cultural counter-revolution has affected each one of those ideal reforms, or manifestations of unfettered social intelligence, upon which I was proposing to base so grand an argument. These three are vital — education, sex and family relations, and the stand on peace and war. With high intelligence abrogated in these spheres, we can cherish few extreme hopes in others. Whether my argument is abstractly valid or not, it no longer applies to the Soviet Union.
The fact that these reactionary decrees are being issued on the theory of a “complete triumph of socialism” in the political and economic spheres, and on the plea that what is oppressive in a capitalist society is progressive under socialism, that what is tyranny here is freedom there, merely reveals the degree to which critical thinking about real facts has been supplanted by ideology, honesty by crude deception.
In the spring of 1935 Stalin’s government issued a decree which made the death penalty for theft — adopted for adults three years before — applicable to minors from the age of twelve. When this fact was announced at a congress of the French Teachers’ Federation in August of the same year, the Stalinists in the Federation indignantly denied it. Being shown a copy of Izvestia (April 8, 1935) containing the decree, they lapsed into silence, but they were ready next day with the information that “under socialism, children are so precocious and well-educated that they are fully responsible for their acts"! It is but a reflection of the manner in which this ideology is being stretched to cover every saddest thing in Russia.
In view of such a decree, one blushes almost to recall that according to Marxian theory, the state as an “instrument of compulsion” was supposed to “die away” with the triumph of socialism, and this process was to begin the very moment the industries of a country were socialized. This minor detail has been so far forgotten by the adherents of Stalin, that they themselves boast in the same breath that socialism has “completely and irrevocably triumphed” and that Stalin heads “the strongest government on earth.” When confronted with this inconsistency, they explain it by alluding to the “capitalist encirclement.” But that did not trouble them when assuring us in 1925 that “socialism” could be built in one country They were already talking ideologies and not facts.
The words socialist and communist are changing their meaning just as the word Christian did. Just as heretics were burned by thousands in the name of the love of the neighbour, so peasants have been starved by millions in the name of the workers’ and peasants’ republic. The crude animal egoisms of men and classes of men thus grab ideas and use them, not as heroic lights to action, but as blinds to hide inaction or actions that are too base. Lenin abandoned the word socialism because it had become a smoke-screen for a policy of place-hunting and accommodation to capitalism, and seized the other word to cleanse and renew the idea of proletarian revolution. Stalin’s ideologists have invented the scheme of making socialism mean a “first stage” in the development of communism, thus elaborating the smoke-screen and making it possible to put over in the name of “socialism,” policies of reaction that would horrify the most conservative antagonists of Lenin, policies that, but for the smokescreen, would horrify enlightened opinion in every country of the globe. If your wayward child stood under the threat of being shot for theft at twelve, it would matter little whether he were shot on the theory that property has been “socialized” and now belongs to everybody.
When you remember that Marx placed at the very basis of his system the assertion that the proletariat, being the lowest class in society, could not emancipate itself without emancipating all mankind, and described socialism in consequence as “the society of the free and equal,” you see how deep is the degeneration of this term. Within the same year Walter Duranty writes an article describing Russia as a completely “regimented land” in which “the principle of state control over the lives of individuals has been fully and firmly established,” and another article asserting that “the battle for socialism in the U.S.S.R. is definitely won.” You may cling, as a strict Marxian, to the opinion that this heartless tyranny has appeared in place of the promised freedom only because Russia is a backward country with an economy of scarcity to which, in isolation, socialist theory does not apply; or you may propose to revise the theory. But you cannot as a thinking socialist assent to this glib journalistic talk.
I have myself never been a sufficiently orthodox and gullible Marxian to believe in the happy legend of how men, once wealth-producing property is owned in common, will find themselves living together in natural co-operative brotherhood as angels live. It rests, more than most of Marx’s judgments, upon the relics of Hegelian mystic metaphysics. I have been all the more keenly aware, however, that in the proposed new society the location of the sovereignty is the supreme political question, and that if power is permanently shifted from the rank-and-file of the working-class and self-supporting peasants, organized in freely arguing and democratically controlled institutions, to a privileged and bureaucratic ruling caste, the experiment in socialism will not last long. And even from the standpoint of this more modest demand, you cannot say that politically the battle for socialism is “ definitely won in the U.S.S.R.” You must say, if you are talking straight facts, that the battle is definitely lost. The power has passed irrevocably — except by revolution — from the workers’ and peasants’ organization to the organizations of a privileged bureaucracy.
This process began long before Lenin died, and the fight against it, the fight for “Worker’s Democracy” against bureaucratism, occupied his last months and days and hours as a leader. It was in the crises of this fight that he attacked Stalin as rude, disloyal, capricious, nationalistic, and spiteful — as complete a characterization (if you change “rude” to “brutal,” which was what he meant by grubie in that phrase) as history will ask — and recommended that he be removed from his position as General Secretary of the Party. Under Stalin’s leadership the power has been withdrawn completely from the workers and peasants. The soviets have become but the relic of a rough-draft of proletarian self-government. The power is in the hands of a dictator and an organization of bureaucrats, still called the Communist Party, but by continual abuse of “purges” and periodic “verifications of credentials,” cleared and cleaned of every trace of independent act or even discourse questioning the ruling clique, or in clear terms denying the infallibility (which is little but the divine right) of the dictator.
Ella Winter, who ranks just above Louis Fischer and Anna Louise Strong as our most naive ideologist of the “workers’ republic,” says on page 281 of her fervid book, Red Virtue: “All restrictions against intellectuals of bourgeois origin were abolished by Stalin in the speech of June 23, 1931.” That is true. That is how Russia is governed — by speeches from the throne. And this shift of sovereignty, nurtured with unceasing vigilance since 1924, has reached its culmination in the new “democratic” constitution, which is nothing but a sweeping out of the refuse of workers’ rule to make way for a totalitarian state not in essence different from that of Hitler and Mussolini. The prelude to this constitution was a dissolution of the “Society of Old Bolsheviks,” and a reorganization of the “Communist Youth,” raising their upper age limit to twenty-five, and at the same time, by a significant logic, removing them from all participation in politics! Its other prelude was the recent shooting of the old colleagues of Lenin — of which more later — and simultaneous police clean-up of thinking Bolsheviks, called “Trotskyists” or “Zinovievists,” in every branch of the Soviet existence, from the cotton harvest to the Kammerny theatre and the Astronomical Observatory. With these preludes in mind, let us examine the constitution.
On the plea that socialism is achieved and that there are no longer any classes in Russia — that we are now verily in the society of the free and equal — Stalin has dissolved, not the communist party and its monopoly of political action and organization, as one might expect from those exalted premises, but the soviets based on factories and the electoral superweight of the industrial workers — the sole relics left of the idea of a distinctly proletarian democracy, the sole things m the whole political set-up that really point to socialism. A glance through this “most democratic constitution in the world” is sufficient to show that its representational schemes are too complicated and too slow of movement to have efficacy in expressing the “will of the people” even if they formed the real structure of the state. Their contrary operation is indeed assured, as Albert Goldman has pointed out, by the retention of the bicameral system in which the upper chamber, like a House of Lords or Senate, being based on the functionaries of the various republics, forms an integral part of the bureaucratic apparatus, and has the power at any time of bringing about through “disagreement” a legal dissolution of them both. All socialists and all radical democrats have always opposed this super-parliament as a bulwark of privilege, even when it had not this power, and even where the two parliaments really formed the legislative state. The real state under Stalin’s constitution is still to be the Communist Party, now nothing but a pyramid of bureaucrats supporting Stalin, who will operate this unwieldy “parliamentary” monster, and make it produce votes just as at the country fair a cardboard cow produces milk.
What is the “secret ballot” when only one party can run candidates for office, and that the party in power? What is “free press and assemblage” when no man can form, advocate, or support the platform of any but the gang in power, and when ten to twenty thousand of those who have done so are in jail or exile while you talk about it? What is the whole talk under these conditions about how “we” are going to “give the Russian people “ (sic!) the most democratic constitution on earth? Is there any term in the language to describe it except “apple-sauce"?
Let us turn from this unedifying political sideshow — assassination of the phantom of proletarian democracy by the caricature of representative government — to the economic facts which underlie it.
Socialism means a classless society, and a classless society means that a privileged minority of the population are not in a position to enjoy the national wealth, while the majority live only on their labour to produce it. It means especially that privileged individuals who do have excess income cannot invest it in the instruments of production with which others work, thus reducing them to a position of fixed subservience. It means an end of rent, profit, and interest on stocks and bonds, an end of “surplus value,” an end of the exploitation of labour. To all those other cultural goods of which we have been speaking, this economic change was regarded by socialists as pre-requisite and fundamental.
That being the case, it is obvious that if Russia were a socialist state, or if its sovereigns had the slightest intention of allowing it to become one, we should know exactly what is the distribution of the national income among the different categories of the population and in what direction it is travelling. We should know how much of that income goes, not only as salary but in the form of unpaid privileges, to the captains of industry and office-holders of the state, trade unions, co-operatives, collective farms, and communist party. We should know how much of it is going to the payment of seven and eight per cent. interest to the holders of government bonds and savings-bank books who constitute not only a privileged caste, but to the extent of their holdings capitalists in the essentially important sense of the term. We know nothing accurately about all this, and for the very good reason that accurate statistics are of all things least compatible with the free proliferation of ideologies.
Even without these statistics we can glean enough to prove that when our recently Marxified liberals come home from a brief tour of the Soviets telling us how well “socialism works” in Russia, they are really only telling us that life there is not radically different for people of their class from what it is here. Among the reassuring practicalities of life under the Soviets reported by George Soule, for instance, a prominent place was occupied by the news that it had been found “necessary to stimulate enterprise and ability by differential rewards,” and that “there is no resentment of the fact that some people dress better than others.” That Mr. Soule in this particular voyage was not functioning as the keen-minded economist he is, may be seen in the fact that he reported no inquiry as to the magnitude of this “differential reward,” or the degree of this difference of dress — how keenly it can be felt, for instance, by the peripheral nerve-endings in the long Russian winter. Here are a few figures as to this “differential reward” — figures gleaned from a studious scrutiny of matter printed in the Soviet press through inadvertence, or when those interested in the distribution of wealth were not supposed to be looking. I quote Leon Sedov, writing on the Stakhanovist Movement in The New International for February, 1936:-
There’s hardly an advanced capitalist country where the difference in worker’s wages is as great as at present in the U.S.S.R. In the mines, a non-Stakhanovist miner gets from 400 to 500 roubles a month, a Stakhanovist more than 1,600 roubles. The auxiliary worker, who drives a team below, gets only 170 roubles if he is not a Stakhanovist and 400 roubles if he is (Pravda, Nov. 16, 1935) — that is, one worker gets about ten times as much as another. And 170 roubles by no means represents the lowest wage, but the average wage, according to the data of Soviet statistics. There are workers who earn no more than 150, 120 or even 100 roubles a month .... The examples we give by no means indicate the extreme limits in the two directions. One could show without difficulty that the wages of the privileged layers of the working class (of the labour aristocracy in the true sense of the term) are 20 times higher, sometimes even more, than the wages of the poorly-paid layers. And if one takes the wages of specialists, the picture of the inequality becomes positively sinister. Ostrogliadov, the head engineer of a pit, who more than realizes the plan, gets 8,600 roubles a month; and he is a modest specialist, whose wages cannot, therefore, be considered exceptional. Thus, engineers often earn from 80 to 100 times as much as an unskilled worker.
The whole standard of living of the Russian people is extremely low by comparison with ours, and that helps our ideologues ignore the fact represented by this last figure. “The differences of income ....” says Edmund Wilson, “are, from our point of view, very slight; but they are, for Russia, very considerable.” The differences of salary, in so far as this figure reveals them, are alike in Russia and America. It is probably, as the author says, not an exceptional figure. But assuming that it is, let us compare it with exceptional American figures.
In the New Republic for July 15, 1936, there appeared a table comparing the salaries of officers in some of our wealthier American companies with the average weekly wage of the workers employed by them. I learn from this table, picking it up at random, that Mr. C. F. Kelley of the Chile Copper Co., receives £10,000 a year, his average worker £4 15s. per week — a difference of about 1 to 40. Mr. George Horace Lorimer of the Curtis Publishing Co., has been receiving £18,000 a year and his average worker £6 15s. per week — a difference of about 1 to 51. If we take 170 roubles a month as the wage of a Russian worker and being based on rather shamefaced statistics this is a very high estimate of the average — and compare it with the salary paid to Mr. Ostrogliadov, we have a difference of 1 to 50. We are evidently among the same magnitudes.
We need only assume that Mr. Ostrogliadov’s labourers are for the most part unskilled, and receive the low but by no means unusual wage of 100 roubles a month, to see that his salary of 8,600 roubles compares favourably with that of Mr. H. F. Sinclair, an officer of Consolidated Oil, who receives an annual wage of £25,000 while his workers get along on £6 a week. The ratio here is 1 to 82. That in the case of Mr. Ostrogliadov, 1 to 86.
It is not necessary to carry the comparison farther in order to show that the “differential reward” under what is called “socialism” is not radically different, in so far as salaries are concerned, from that under American capitalism.
The low level of all income in the Soviet Union is what makes life seem so different. According to recent official claims a rouble is worth 10d. and at that rate Mr. Ostrogliadov’s salary would equal an annual stipend of 4,300 a year. Here again, however, official claims are optimistic; I doubt if the real salary, aside from “privileges,” is much more than half of that. And this makes his “differential reward” seem, to people accustomed to regard such salaries as small, a significantly different thing from Mr. Sinclair’s.
It is really in large part the backwardness of Russia that our literary tourists love. That medieval leisure and inviting of the soul, especially when combined with a childlike and eager enthusiasm for the beginnings of modernism, the joy of a national industrial birth and rebirth, is irresistible. They love Russia much as John Reed did when he went there before the revolution, and came home exclaiming: “Russian ideals are the most exhilarating; Russian thought the freest, Russian art the most exuberant; Russian food and drink are to me the best, and Russians themselves are, perhaps, the most interesting human beings that exist." Our tourists link up these charms of an agrarian backwardness with the myth of a utopian leap into the future, and with the actual relics of the workers’ republic, and become the more easy dupes of Stalin’s ideology. They have that much excuse!
Last winter, at the time of her lecture in Los Angeles, I asked Anna Louise Strong, one who so loves Stalin’s Russia that she “changed worlds” to be a part of it, whether it is true that Pilnyak, the novelist, received some years ago an annual income of 30,000 roubles a year — that is, some twenty to twenty-five times the present wage of an unskilled worker — and she answered, almost with asperity:-
“I don’t know specifically about Pilnyak, but I dare say he does. I could, if I wanted to turn my mind to it.”
I quote this to show how little Marx’s idea of a society of the free and equal is really troubling these ideologues, and also because it adds one more drop of arithmetic to our conception of those “differential rewards.” It casts a light, too, upon Harold Denny’s dispatch to the New York Times of May 8, 1936, which appeared under the appropriate headlines: “Leisured Women Unite in Moscow” — “New Idle Class Gathers to Set Up Society to Help Workers Culturally” — “Aim Is to Make Life Brighter and Provide Useful Work for Executives’ Wives.”
Another American Stalinist recently returning from Moscow, to an inquiry after the health of Victor Vaksov, once head of the Metal Workers’ section of the Red International of Labour, said: “He has done pretty well by himself. He is now head of one of the trusts in the automobile industry, has a fine house with two servants, two official cars at his disposal, and a Packard of his own bought in America.” That is a significant statistic, when brought into relation to the £6 a month paid to metal-workers, and should be easy to verify.
For further statistical light I will quote this paragraph from a forthcoming book on Soviet Russia by Leon Trotsky:-
The real earnings of the Stakhanovists often exceed by twenty or thirty times the earnings of the lower categories of workers. And as for specially fortunate specialists, their salaries would in many cases pay for the work of eighty or a hundred unskilled labourers. In scope of inequality in the payment of labour, the Soviet Union has not only caught up to, but far surpasses the capitalist countries!
The Stakhanov movement, it should be emphasized, is not only the adoption of American and German methods of labour organization and efficiency. It is the building up of a new privileged caste, an aristocracy of labour, who together with the highly paid foreman and managers can be relied on to support the dictator.
With the same disregard of the real aims of socialism, the “collectivization of agriculture” is being turned into a governmental grant of special privileges to vast corporations prospering at the expense of the masses of the peasants. Nothing could exceed the brutality, caprice, and disloyalty to socialism with which Stalin has handled this problem of problems. Expropriating the well-off peasants called “kulaks” at the point of the bayonet, shipping them to Siberia in cattle-trucks by hundreds of thousands, herding the remainder into collectives before even the machinery for large-scale farming was manufactured, he laid waste all fertile Russia like a battlefield. Then after a year or two he brought many of the deported “kulaks” trundling back and settled them on the farms with private allotments alongside for those still energetic enough to till them. And now he has turned the whole system into a reservoir of special privilege by granting the land “in perpetuity” to those collectives which, because of good soil, geographical location, etc., have signally prospered. That is, he has given away franchises to vast farming corporations, deeding them the hereditary right formerly possessed by the aristocracy, to cultivate for their own profit the most fertile and advantageous portions of the Russian soil. It is hard to say whether this act is characterized more by irrelevant “caprice” or by systematic “disloyalty” to socialism. It is a consistent step only in the building up of social support for a Bonapartist clique.
Trotsky for some reason fails to note what seems to me the meat of this whole situation — the fact, namely, that these happy beneficiaries of “the triumph of socialism,” the overseers, specialists, bureaucrats, and labour and collective farm aristocrats, are able to invest their incomes, not, to be sure, in risky shares and debentures producing on the average, if they are lucky, four or five per cent. of interest, but in government bonds which pay seven per cent., or failing that, to deposit them in savings-banks where they are exempt from both inheritance and income taxes, and earn eight per cent. of interest. Taking this into consideration, it seems clear that a large proportion of the capitalists of America could profitably change places with them, if the general level of wealth in the two countries were equal.
That our liberal scholars and litterateurs should be converted to a “socialism” of that kind is not surprising. I do not mean that there is any equivocation in their motive; and I must add that their zeal, industry, and devotion, like that of many of the party communists, afford one of the few signs of life in a sufficiently dead political landscape. But it is impossible for one who has accepted, even to the extent that I have, the Marxian view of the role of ideas in history, not to see that the change they arc bringing about is etymological rather than economic. They are playing their part in the process of deluding mankind and themselves with another ideology — a “socialism” which means as little in real fact and action as “Christianity” does to a busy and prosperous Christian.
After making the remark quoted above about “differential rewards,” Mr. Soule asks himself a pertinent question:
“Well, then, why do not the more successful get all the power and rob the less successful, just as in capitalism?”
And he makes this reply:-
The answer is that their money does not give them any power over the system, since they cannot own factories, mines, farms, apartment houses, newspapers, radio stations, stores or railroads — any of the means of production. They cannot employ labour in business enterprises. There are no shares, debentures, private bond issues, stock markets or commodity exchanges. ..... They can buy government bonds or put their money in a savings-bank. There was much pride in the growth of savings accounts this year. They can travel. Social pressure will not allow them, however, to live on their savings without working...
Omitting some minor matters, then, like a high inheritance tax and “social pressure” against loafing (both declining rapidly), the substantial difference between “socialism” and capitalism seems to be that under “socialism,” instead of investing your money at your own discretion, and your own risk, you let the government invest it for you and guarantee you a seven and eight per cent. return on your investment. That does indeed prevent the amassing of prodigious fortunes, and might be described as a kind of populist or Bryanite utopia, so long as it may last. But it has very little to do with the gulf between the proletariat and the owning class as a whole, or with the aims of socialism. And just where Mr. Soule thinks that “social pressure” is coming from as these tax-exempt investments of private capital continue to pile up, is a mystery. It would be interesting to know what a Marxist of the vintage of 1935 thinks “social pressure” is.
That a noted economist, even of “bourgeois” training, could be so naive once he thrusts his head into the mists of the Soviet ideology would be astonishing were it not for the example of Sidney and Beatrice Webb, who are supposed to know something about economics from a socialist standpoint. They state that there is no “unearned income” in the country, in the very same three lines in which they discuss the borrowing of money at stupendous rates of interest by a government which is a vast corporation owning and operating all industry.
“Inflation,” they say, .... amounts to a disguised cut in everybody’s wages, which has hitherto been regarded as an objectionable form of taxation, though one found to be less injurious in an equalitarian community, in which there is .... an absence of incomes that are unearned. A preferential expedient to which the Soviet Government usually resorts is an internal loan.”
I am no economist, but I think I am not crazy. And if I am not, then when a government which is running the industries and employing the labour of a country takes loans from people who have excess income, and pays those people seven per cent. interest on the loans, then those people are not only receiving unearned income, but they are receiving surplus value derived from the exploitation of the country’s labour. And when you add to these bondholders the “twenty-five million depositors” in the State savings-banks, “encouraged by interest at the rate of eight per cent. and by total exemption of deposits from income tax, inheritance tax, and various stamp duties” — I am still quoting from the fabulous Webbs — you have a situation as remote from socialism, to say nothing of “communism,” as anything that could conceivably be put across upon the most gullible mind as a cynical imitation of it.
If a man of money gets an average profit of five per cent. on his various investments he thinks he is doing passably well, and he submits, without any very steady cry of “socialism,” both to an income tax and an inheritance tax upon this unearned increment. Under “soviet Communism” the man of money is guaranteed an income of seven and eight per cent. on his investments, and it is exempt both from income and inheritance taxes. It would be hard to suggest, off-hand, a neater system for reestablishing class divisions in a society in which they had been badly shaken up and were in danger of complete elimination.
It is of course somewhat more simple for the Soviet state, if you conceive it as distinct from the holders of these bonds and bank-books, to repudiate its obligations than it would be for a mass of private enterprises. A Stalin-minded critic of my article has even suggested that some such trick is being deliberately played upon the Russian people. “If you raise a man’s pay and force him to take bonds in proportion, then put the bonds through a conversion, and finally devaluate the rouble with a prospect of cancelling the bonds altogether, it looks more to me like an extremely heavy tax faintly gilded with patriotism, than the establishment of vested class interest.” People who can persuade themselves that a governmental clique which will swindle people in that raw fashion, destroying their plans, their hopes, their families, their life-structures by millions in order to run the state, are going to run it in the interest of the Brotherhood of Man and the Co-operative Commonwealth, have a determination to deceive themselves with which I do not know how to cope. Marx dismissed as utopian the idea that good men could be relied on to bring about socialism. A great many Stalinists have learned this so well that they actually believe bad men can be relied on to do it, if they are bad enough.
It seems obvious that if these rapidly mounting debts are not repudiated, then not only do exploitation and the class society remain, but all the basic problems of capitalism remain — the inadequate buying power of those who live on wages, the consequent lagging of distribution behind production, the cycles, the depression, and m the end the rage for foreign markets. The sole fundamental new thing left is the planning power in the hands of the state. This may prove a very fundamental thing. So long as the state is ruthless enough to let four to six millions of the population starve to death in order to build up foreign credit, as was done (it is now admitted privately) by Stalin’s state in 1933, it will certainly be momentous. But from the standpoint of the revolutionary science, it will mean that once more the toiling masses have taken arms and fought upon the barricades and died for equal liberty, and once more they have received for their pains a new and more efficient system of class exploitation.
The recent trials and shooting of old Bolsheviks ought to make these facts clear even to those whose view of history is most personal. The list of those shot, or who shot themselves, or were named as implicated with the victims, comprises — with a single exception — every one of the eminent Bolsheviks who sat with Stalin round the council-table of Lenin: Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Rykov, Bukharin, Radek, Sokolnikov, Piatakov (mentioned in Lenin’s Testament as among the ablest), Yevdokimov, Smirnov (once known as “The Lenin of Siberia”), Tomsky (head of the Federation of Labour), Serebriakov (Stalin’s predecessor as secretary of the party), and several others only a little less eminent.
Distinctions of “left “ and “right” opposition are obliterated in this list. Brains and understanding of the Marxian idea are what distinguish them. Max Shachtman, in his brilliant pamphlet Behind the Moscow Trial, has demonstrated up to the hilt, merely by analyzing as any good lawyer would the official record of the testimony, that this trial was a frame-up. The victims were clumsily “confessing” to a manufactured tale of which they had not even taken time to learn the dates. It is obvious on the face of it, however, that the statement made by the prisoners-that they plotted the assassination of Stalin, or any other political act, through sheer “hatred,” and with no programme, and yet in complicity with Trotsky, and this through the secret police of Hitler, is not true. That is an obvious fairy story, and one which fits all too neatly with the now openly anti-Bolshevik purposes of Stalin both within the country and in connection with the Spanish civil war. This legendary confession, moreover, was first made in private and was published in the Russian press before the public trial. In the public trial it was repeated briefly and with a minimum of variations, consisting chiefly of additional self-vilification on the part of the prisoners. People do not vilify themselves before the whole world and in history for nothing. To me it seems probable that Stalin promised his prisoners their lives and the safety of their families on condition that they would repeat in public this so carefully rehearsed confession, and when they got through publicly dishonouring themselves, and each explicitly implicating Trotsky, led them out and shot them. Tomsky either shot himself rather than go through the shameful ritual, or else refused to do it and was shot.
However, that is an individual solution of a psychological puzzle that is not of primary importance to history. There is no puzzle as to the representative character of the men implicated and either physically or politically destroyed. You will have a fair grasp of the historic meaning of the event if you imagine it happening in 1924 immediately after Lenin’s death. On the day after the funeral, say, Stalin seizes the police power, ships Trotsky out of Russia, shots Kamenev and Zinoviev, Smirnov and Yefdokimov (the orator at Lenin’s grave), invades Tomsky’s house and either shoots him or compels him to shoot himself, jails Radek, Serebriakov, Piatakov, and Sokolnikov, puts Bukharin and Rykov under surveillance, and compels Rakovsky, Trotsky’s closest friend, to sign a vilification that no friend could ever voluntarily read through, to say nothing of writing. Having thus destroyed, either physically or morally and politically, every one of Lenin’s strongest colleagues and co-workers, he promulgates a constitution abolishing Lenin’s unique political creation; the soviet system of government, replaces it with the “parliamentary system” that Lenin above all political things despised, and devises this system in such a way that the parliament can be nothing but a clump of puppets, repeating his decrees, jumping when he pulls the strings, and deceiving the ignorant into imagining that his tyranny expresses the will of a sovereign people.
What would you have said, if that had happened in January, 1924? Say it now, and you will not be far wrong about the events of August, 1936. They are the bloody punctuation of a twelve-year period of counter-revolution. They mean that the experiment in socialism in Russia is at an end.
1. There was no true disagreement about whether socialism could be built in one country. All sane and sincere communists, whether Stalinist or Trotskyist, wanted to build all the socialism they could in Russia — and how much they could, nobody knew. The issue was whether meanwhile Russia should abandon her alliance with the revolutionary working-class movements of other countries, or join her old imperialist allies in the game of military power. Had Trotsky been a less philosophical Marxist, or a more astute politician, he would never have been manoeuvered into defending the negative side of an unreal question.
2. The citations will be found in my book Since Lenin Died, pp. 21 and 22, and in the document called “ The Testament of Lenin “ printed in the appendix to The Real Situation in Russia by Leon Trotsky.
This document was first made public by me October 18, 1926, in a news story printed in the New York Times and leading newspapers of other countries. It was a letter written by Lenin on his death-bed to the Russian Communist Party warning them against Stalin’s excessive concentration of power in his own hands and his possible abuse of it, and advising that he be removed from the office of General Secretary and replaced by some one less “rude” and “capricious” and more “loyal.” The existence of the document was denied by the Moscow authorities, and my translation has been denounced as a forgery by the Stalin communists in upwards of seventeen languages and for ten consecutive years. I learn from a recent despatch in the Christian Science Monitor that the document, so far as it relates to Stalin, although of course omitting those parts which contain praise for Trotsky, is now published in an official history by the Soviet printing house. The passages quoted by the Christian Science Monitor coincide verbatim with my text.
3. They are telling us, too — and this is one of Stalin’s truly subtle dispensations — that life is more luxurious for writers in Soviet Russia than it has ever been before in any place. General education has made publicity as important a weapon of despotism as the armed forces. In Soviet Russia the Fourth Estate has almost replaced the Second!
4. Quoted by Granville Hicks in his John Reed, the Making of a Revolutionary.
5. Krylenko, Kalinin, and Litvinov, although prominent in the government, never played any role in the party counsels. The exception is Rakovsky, whose distinction is that he was the last of all to give up open opposition, and capitulate to Stalin’s dictatorship, remaining in exile until 1933, and capitulating all too obviously in a sick if not a senile despair.