The Revolution Betrayed – Chapter 1.

  1. The Principal Indices of Industrial Growth
  2. Comparative Estimates of These Achievements
  3. Production per capita of the Population

This is a gentle introduction to the subject matter of the book. The bare bones, as it were.

This is also intimately bound up with The Permanent Revolution/Results and Prospects, as applied to Russia. It is worth noting that originally this thesis was designed only for Russia. Further applications of it elsewhere were something of the future.

Though obviously this book is not written from such a narrow standpoint. It was enriched by the experience of the world revolution, many and varied, since. However, the first and only place where that programme was put into practice was Russia, so in a sense it is forced to return to the original theory

Part one:  viz:

“Owing to the insignificance of the Russian bourgeoisie, the democratic tasks of backward Russia – such as liquidation of the monarchy and the semi-feudal slavery of the peasants – could be achieved only through a dictatorship of the proletariat. The proletariat, however, having seized the power at the head of the peasant masses, could not stop at the achievement of these democratic tasks. The bourgeois revolution was directly bound up with the first stages of a socialist revolution. ”

This is to evaluate the concrete development of the USSR on that basis, written from the standpoint of 1936:

“The extraordinary tardiness in the development of the international revolution, upon whose prompt aid the leaders of the Bolshevik party had counted, created immense difficulties for the Soviet Union, but also revealed its inner powers and resources. However, a correct appraisal of the results achieved – their grandeur as well as their inadequacy – is possible only with the help of an international scale of measurement. This book will be a historic and sociological interpretation of the process, not a piling up of statistical illustrations. Nevertheless, in the interests of the further discussion, it is necessary to take as a point of departure certain important mathematical data.”

And it goes on, to demonstrate in relative figures the enormous growth of the USSR, in both absolute and relative terms, under the Soviet regime. It is not our job to repeat what it in the article, as anyone can read it.

But he points out that in relative terms, the USSR’s industrial production increased over a decade (1925-35) by 250%, or three and half times its original magnitude. Whereas in the same period the best performance of advanced capitalist countries was 40% (Japan), while many others declined, USA, France (30, 40%). Germany far worse of course, then fascism. Britain barely held itself level by protectionism.

Fantastic rates of absolute and relative growth:

“Gigantic achievement in industry, enormously promising beginnings in agriculture, an extraordinary growth of the old industrial cities and a building of new ones, a rapid increase of the numbers of workers, a rise in cultural level and cultural demands – such are the indubitable results of the October revolution, in which the prophets of the old world tried to see the grave of human civilization. With the bourgeois economists we have no longer anything to quarrel over. Socialism has demonstrated its right to victory, not on the pages of Das Kapital, but in an industrial arena comprising a sixth part of the earths surface – not in the language of dialectics, but in the language of steel, cement and electricity. Even if the Soviet Union, as a result of internal difficulties, external blows and the mistakes of leadership, were to collapse – which we firmly hope will not happen – there would remain an earnest of the future this indestructible fact, that thanks solely to a proletarian revolution a backward country has achieved in less than 10 years successes unexampled in history.

“This also ends the quarrel with the reformists in the workers movement. Can we compare for one moment their mouselike fussing with the titanic work accomplished by this people aroused to a new life by revolution? If in 1918 the Social-Democrats of Germany had employed the power imposed upon them by the workers for a socialist revolution, and not for the rescue of capitalism, it is easy to see on the basis of the Russian experience what unconquerable economic power would be possessed today by a socialist bloc of Central and Eastern Europe and a considerable part of Asia. The peoples of the world will pay for the historic crime of reformism with new wars and revolutions.”

Part two: Comparative Estimates of These Achievements

Focussed on relative producitity, and quality of goods produced – the inherited backwardness of Russia, its low productivity of labour, the backwardness of the country, etc.

“Who shall prevail – not only as a military, but still more as an economic question – confronts the Soviet Union on a world scale. Military intervention is a danger. The intervention of cheap goods in the baggage trains of a capitalist army would be an incomparably greater one. The victory of the proletariat in one of the Western countries would, of course, immediately and radically alter the correlation of forces. But so long as the Soviet Union remains isolated, and, worse than that, so long as the European proletariat suffers reverses and continues to fall back, the strength of the Soviet structure is measured in the last analysis by the productivity of labor. And that, under a market economy, expresses itself in production costs and prices. The difference between domestic prices and prices in the world market is one of the chief means of measuring this correlation of forces. The Soviet statisticians, however, are forbidden even to approach that question. The reason is that, notwithstanding its condition of stagnation and rot, capitalism is still far ahead in the matter of technique, organization and labor skill.”

Trotsky gives many examples of the USSR’s inferior labour technique at that time. “immumerable wrecks and breakdowns” Railways, coal, steel production, marine transport, etc. etc.

“To characterize industrial progress by quantitative indices alone, without considering quality, is almost like describing a man’s physique by his height and disregarding his chest measurements. Moreover, to judge correctly the dynamic of Soviet industry, it is necessary, along with qualitative corrections, to have always in mind the fact that swift progress in some branches is accompanied by backwardness in others. “

Light industries were worse. Consumer goods:

“A unique law of Soviet industry may be formulated thus: commodities are as a general rule worse the nearer they stand to the mass consumer”

Summing up part 2:

“The entire Soviet economy consists of such disproportions. Within certain limits they are inevitable, since it had been and remains necessary to begin the advance with the most important branches. Nevertheless, the backwardness of certain branches greatly decreases the useful operation of others. From the standpoint of an ideal planning directive, which would guarantee not the maximum tempo in separate branches, but the optimum result in economy as a whole, the statistical coefficient of growth would be lower in the first period, but economy as a whole, and particularly the consumer, would be the gainer. In the long run the general industrial dynamic would also gain.”

Part 3: Production per capita of the Population

Average individual productivity of labour in the Soviet Union very low. Many statistics demonstrate this. So many reasons, all related: lack of technological knowledge by managers, lack of skills in the workforce.

It is not absolute output figures that count, but output per head of population, and quality. Judging  by those standards, the USSR’s relative industrial position was still a position of weakness in 1936.

“The problem can be similarly illumined by starting from more general considerations. The national income per person in the Soviet Union is considerably less than in the West. And since capital investment consumes about 25 to 30 per cent – incomparably more than anywhere else – the total amount consumed by the popular mass cannot but be considerably lower than in the advanced capitalist countries.”

Trotsky talks about the possessing classes in capitalist countries as an “extravagance”  that is balanced “by an under-consumption of the popular mass”. It is not the extravagance that is the problem per se, but private ownership that maintains it, which condemns the economy to “anarchy and decay”

This was absent in the USSR, hence the ‘extravagant’ growth. But privileged strata were growing, who appropriated most of the sphere of consumption. And given all this:

“if there is a lower per capita production of things of prime necessity in the Soviet Union than in the advanced capitalist countries, that does mean that the standard of living of the Soviet masses still falls below the capitalist level.”

Trotsky concluded:

“The historic responsibility for this situation lies, of course, upon Russia’s black and heavy past, her heritage of darkness and poverty. There was no other way out upon the road of progress except through the overthrow of capitalism. To convince yourself of this, it is only necessary to cast a glance at the Baltic countries and Poland, once the most advanced parts of the tzar’s empire, and now hardly emerging from the morass. The undying service of the Soviet regime lies in its intense and successful struggle with Russia’s thousand-year-old backwardness. But a correct estimate of what has been attained is the first condition for further progress.

“The Soviet regime is passing through a preparatory stage, importing, borrowing and appropriating the technical and cultural conquests of the West. The comparative coefficients of production and consumption testify that this preparatory stage is far from finished. Even under the improbable condition of a continuing complete capitalist standstill, it must still occupy a whole historic period. That is a first extremely important conclusion which we shall have need of in our further investigation.”

For the next chapter, I suggest that we split it in two: part one deals with the growth of inequality under the Stalin-Bukharin block 1923-1929. Part two deals with the forces collectivisation from 1929. I suggest we cover each separately in two classes, two weeks apart.