Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Stalin's surprising ideological turns: in 1925 he was all right with some capitalism in Russia

Weird. I sat at a desk with four volumes of the collected writings of Joseph Stalin in front of me, trying to figure out just what the hell happened in the years between 1925 and 1927, where this person, responsible for the murder of millions and the starvation of millions more, appeared to make a 180 degree turn in ideology. If you look at the official collected works, it's nothing short of amazing how in '24 and '25 this individual was praising the New Economic Plan in Russia, talking about how having some capitalism was healthy, and then in '27 announced a policy of heavily industrialization that lead to the elimination of all things resembling market socialism or "state capitalism" in the USSR, that was imposed by force.

The best way to get a head on just how major the change was is to look at a few documents. First, there are the remarks of Stalin at theFourteenth Congress of the CPSU(B), in the section entitled "The Internal Situation in the Soviet Union". This is an almost classical account of very nearly market socialist policies with regards to the peasant farmers in Russia. The verbiage should not discourage you.

Added, almost necessarily, to the document is Stalin's responses to Zinoviev and Kamenev, along with other folks at the Congress like Lenin's widow Krupskaya, who were in fact challenging him as being too right wing. It's on the same page, but towards the end. The gist of them is Stalin defending his left-wing credentials against Zinoviev and Kamenev.

However, it's very in the intra-party debate vernacular, and so possibly hard to make sense of unless you follow the previous writings from earlier on. It's the sign of things to come, though, and signals in fact Stalin's retreat from more right wing policies (in the area of economics) and towards more absolutist policies.

A better statement of where Stalin is going, in his response to Zinoviev and Kamenev, is contained in the document The economic situation of the soviet union and the policy of the party"

Here, Stalin outlines his theory, or idea, that the New Economic Plan, that he had praised as using capitalism to build Russia, really was suppoed to have two stage: the first stage being the conventional NEP, the second stage being a state lead industrialization process. A sign of things to come.

Pretty straightforward: Stalin was on the right economically, then started to get further to the left economically in response (possibly) to challenges from the Left. Yet the record is somewhat distorted for a couple reasons. First of all, the years of '26 to '27, when Stalin was oppposing Zinoviev and Kamenev, are labeled as years when Stalin was having an alliance with the Right, particularly Bukharin. I have not been able to locate writings from Bukharin from these years, even though writings from '25 are available, but it seems to me that Stalin wasn't really in any sort of deep alliance with these people. His policies became more and more statist during these times.

Another obscuring factor is that Zinoviev and Kamenev teamed up with Trotsky to found a "United Opposition", perhaps making Stalin appear to be more right wing than he actually was. In point of fact Zinoviev and Kamenev appear to be much less Left than Trotsky was, and their banding together with him seems to not have been based on any real sort of deep affinity either. However, since Trotsky had been the traditional enemy of Stalin in the years going up to '26 their alliance made it easy for him to transfer most of the arguments made against Trotsky to them without much of an adaptation.

This gets us to the question of whether Stalin was really in favor of the market socialist policies of the NEP to begin with or whether he was just using an alliance with peasant farmers as a tool for defeating Trotsky. The polemics against Trotsky all appear to have had to do with Trotsky supposedly putting too much stress on the working class and also on other revolutions happening in other countries that would support the Soviet Union. Trotsky supposedly didn't take the rights of peasant farmers into account and supposedly felt that they were supposed to be subservient to workers.

Stalin came out against this, with the slogan of building socialism in one country opposing that of complete internationalism, which actually isn't a bad idea, and alliance with peasant farmers including more economic freedom for them against demands of folks in the cities for forced requisitions of products, among other things. Those were some of the core Trotsky-Stalin fights as seen from the perspective of Stalin's speeches and those of his supporters.

Yet how much was political maneuvering done in order to marginalize Trotsky?

In any case, Zinoviev and Kamenev appear not to have been really advocating either of these positions in any great way but to have just been criticizing Stalin for having gone too far to the Right economically, arguing for a return to a more centrist (in the realm of Soviet policy) position.

When they linked up with Trotsky, what happened was that instead of a Right against Left polemic happening there was an imagined Trotskyist Left against a Stalinist Left series of polemics happening. The basis appears to be socialism in one country against internationalism, but socialism in this case linked to industrialization and the increasing lead of the working class over the peasant farmers, but not in a way that put them out too much. However, what was left out was the tolerance and hands off policy of the earlier pro-NEP writings of Stalin, and an increased implied acceptance of some sort of sacrifice on the part of the peasant farmers for industrialization benefitting the country as a whole, and necessarily done through the working class in the cities.

From there it appears that it was a matter of degree, with tolerance of the peasants going from something implicitly disrespected to something more openly disrespected as time went on, in the service of creating working class, developed, socialism in the Soviet Union.

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