The success of the USSR: The power of urban and rural workers

Unfortunately, it is still fashionable is some parts of the global Left to write off the USSR, especially the period under Stalin. So it is useful to remind ourselves of what was achieved. Here are some details from the report to the 16th congress in 1930, after a decade of furious transformation and unleashing of productive forces. Note that all this was achieved in less than 10 years:

In the advanced capitalist countries the share of the exploiting classes in the national income is about 50 per cent and even more, here, in the USSR, the share of the exploiting classes in the national income is not more than 2 per cent.

This, properly speaking, explains the striking fact that in the United States in 1922, according to the American bourgeois writer Denny “one per cent of estate holders owned 59 per cent of the total wealth,” and in Britain, in 1920-21, according to the same Denny “less than two per cent of the owners held 64 per cent of the total wealth” (see Denny’s book America Conquers Britain).

Can such things happen in our country, in the USSR, in the Land of Soviets? Obviously, they cannot. There have long been no “owners” of this kind in the USSR, nor can there be any.

But if in the USSR, in 1929-30, only about two per cent of the national income falls to the share of the exploiting classes, what happens to the rest, the bulk of the national income?

Obviously, it remains in the hands of the workers and working peasants.

There you have the source of the strength and prestige of the Soviet regime among the vast masses of the working class and peasantry.

There you have the basis of the systematic improvement in the material welfare of the workers and peasants of the USSR.

In the light of these decisive facts, one can quite understand the systematic increase in the real wages of the workers, the increase in the workers’ social insurance budget, the increased assistance to poor- and middle-peasant farms, the increased assignments for workers’ housing, for the improvement of the workers’ living conditions and for mother and child care, and, as a consequence, the progressive growth of the population of the USSR and the decline in mortality, particularly in infant mortality.

It is known, for example, that the real wages of the workers, including social insurance and allocations from, profits to the fund for improvement of the workers living conditions, have risen to 167 per cent of the pre-war level. During the past three years, the workers social insurance budget alone has grown from 980,000,000 rubles in 1927-28 to 1,400,000 000 rubles in 1929-30. The amount spent on mother and child care during the past three years (1929-30) was 494,000,000 rubles. The amount spent on pre-school education (kindergartens, playgrounds, etc.) during the same period was 204,000,000 rubles. The amount spent on workers’ housing was 1,880,000,000 rubles.

All this taken together, plus the introduction of the seven-hour day for over 830,000 industrial workers (33.5 per cent), plus the introduction of the five-day week for over a million and a half industrial workers (63.4 per cent), plus the extensive network of rest homes, sanatoria and health resorts for workers, to which more than 1,700,000 workers have gone during the past three years-all this creates conditions of work and life for the working class that enable us to rear a new generation of workers who are healthy and vigorous, who are capable of raising the might of the Soviet country to the proper level and of protecting it with their lives from attacks by its enemies. (Applause.)

As regards assistance to the peasants, both individual and collective-farm peasants, and bearing in mind also assistance to poor peasants, this in the past three years (1927-28 — 1929-30) has amounted to a sum of not less than 4,000,000,000 rubles, provided in the shape of credits and assignments from the state budget. As is known, assistance in the shape of seeds alone has been granted the peasants during the past three years to the amount of not less than 154,000,000 poods.

It is not surprising that the workers and peasants in our country are living fairly well on the whole, that general mortality has dropped 36 per cent, and infant mortality 42.5 per cent, below the pre-war level, while the annual increase in population in our country is about three million. (Applause.)

As regards the cultural conditions of the workers and peasants, in this sphere too we have some achievements, which, however, cannot under any circumstances satisfy us, as they are still small. Leaving out of account workers’ clubs of all kinds, village reading rooms, libraries and abolition of illiteracy classes, which this year are being attended by 10,500,000 persons, the situation as regards cultural and educational matters is as follows. This year elementary schools are being attended by 11,638,000 pupils; secondary schools – 1,945,000; industrial and technical, transport and agricultural schools and classes for training workers of ordinary skill—333,100; secondary technical and equivalent trade schools—238,700; colleges, general and technical – 190,400. All this has enabled us to raise literacy in the USSR to 62.6 per cent of the population, compared with 33 per cent in pre-war times.

The chief thing now is to pass to universal, compulsory elementary education. I say the “chief” thing, because this would be a decisive step in the cultural revolution. And it is high time we took this step, for we now possess all that is needed to organise compulsory, universal elementary education in all areas of the USSR.

Stalin, Works, volume 12, pp. 304-8.

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Soviet feminism: Pasha Angelina

We should never forget Pasha Angelina (Praskovia Nikitichna Angelina). The story goes that after the first collectivisation wave, in 1933 Pasha organised an all-female tractor brigade in the Donetsk region. It exceeded its quota by 129%, producing more than any other team in their region. She became a new labour hero: young, strong, enthusiastic, from an ethnic minority.

Stalin and tractor 04Stalin and tractor 07

Invited to the Kremlin, elected to the supreme soviet of the USSR, organiser of even more women’s tractor teams, winner of the Stalin Prize in 1946 … still, she preferred to drive tractors. As this article puts it, she became a symbol what might now be called Soviet feminism – except that by now such feminism was almost half a century old.

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Stalin and Tractor 02

There is even some rare footage of Pasha at the Kremlin, with Stalin and the others.

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You can watch it here, with subtitles, or watch this compilation news item:

Of course, there’s a down side to all of this. Her husband didn’t know how to relate to a strong woman, eventually leaving and drowning his sorrows in vodka (any excuse, really). And a lifetime working with tractor fuels and oils destroyed her body’s ability to clear the toxins, so she died at 46.

Extirpating bureaucracy with a red-hot iron

The speeches from the fifteenth congress of 1927 would have to be one of Stalin’s rhetorical triumphs. Stylistically, it runs through the calm methodical style he had developed for such occasions, deploying his famous catechetics, to subtle sentences, stories, and biblical resonances. As for subject matter, the massive economic growth of the 1920s becomes clear, making even more recent Chinese growth pale by comparison. So also does the growing structural tension produced between industry and agriculture, a tension that would lead to the collectivisation drive in an effort to get agriculture to catch up to runaway industrial growth. The fifteenth congress was, after all, the (in)famous collectivisation congress. On that subject, Stalin begins to develop what Ernst Bloch would soon call the simultaneity of non-simultaneity. The congress also marks the beginning of systematic self-criticism, with some intriguing definitions as to what constitutes improper (international bourgeois press and Trotsky’s opposition) and proper criticism. In a moment, I quote from an eloquent section that attacks bureaucracy, the double curse inherited from tsarist Russia, but it is worth nothing that Stalin criticises the USSR for not doing enough to root out anti-Semitism:

We have some manifestations of anti-Semitism, not only among certain circles of the middle strata of the population, but also among a certain section of the workers, and even in some quarters in our Party. This evil must be combated, comrades, with all ruthlessness (Works, volume 10, p. 332).

Now for the storyteller, illustrating defects of bureaucracy:

I shall not dilate on those defects in our state apparatus that are glaring enough as it is. I have in mind, primarily, “Mother Red Tape.” I have at hand a heap of materials on the matter of red tape, exposing the criminal negligence of a number of judicial, administrative, insurance, co-operative and other organisations.

Here is a peasant who went to a certain insurance office twenty-one times to get some matter put right, and even then failed to get any result.

Here is another peasant, an old man of sixty-six, who walked 600 versts to get his case cleared up at an Uyezd Social Maintenance Office, and even then failed to get any result.

Here is an old peasant woman, fifty-six years old, who, in response to a summons by a people’s court, walked 500 versts and travelled over 600 versts by horse and cart, and even then failed to get justice done.

A multitude of such facts could be quoted. It is not worth while enumerating them. But this is a disgrace to us, comrades! How can such outrageous things be tolerated?

Lastly, facts about “demoting.” It appears, that in addition to workers who are promoted, there are also such as are “demoted,” who are pushed into the background by their own comrades, not because they are incapable or inefficient, but because they are conscientious and honest in their work.

Here is a worker, a tool-maker, who was promoted to a managerial post at his plant because he was a capable and incorruptible man. He worked for a couple of years, worked honestly, introduced order, put a stop to inefficiency and waste. But, working in this way, he trod on the toes of a gang of so-called “Communists,” he disturbed their peace and quiet. And what happened? This gang of “Communists” put a spoke in his wheel and thus compelled him to “demote himself,” as much as to say: “You wanted to be smarter than us, you won’t let us live and make a bit in quiet—so take a back seat, brother.”

Here is another worker, also a tool-maker, an adjuster of bolt-cutting machines, who was promoted to a managerial post at his factory. He worked zealously and honestly. But, working in this way, he disturbed somebody’s peace and quiet. And what happened? A pretext was found and they got rid of this “troublesome” comrade. How did this promoted comrade leave, what were his feelings? Like this: “In whatever post I was appointed to I tried to justify the confidence that was placed in me. But this promotion played a dirty trick on me and I shall never forget it. They threw mud at me. My wish to bring everything into the light of day remained a mere wish. Neither the works committee, nor the management, nor the Party unit would listen to me. I am finished with promotion, I would not take another managerial post even if offered my weight in gold” (Trud,81 No. 128, June 9, 1927).

But this is a disgrace to us, comrades! How can such outrageous things be tolerated?

The Partys task is, in fighting against bureaucracy and for the improvement of the state apparatus, to extirpate with a red-hot iron such outrageous things in our practical work as those I have just spoken about. (Works, volume 10, pp. 328-30).

Long Live Soviet Physical Culture, 1934 (210x320)

From the National Question to the International Question: The Soviet contribution to the anti-colonial struggle

On the 10th anniversary of the October Revolution, Stalin consciously claims his own breakthrough from the ‘national question’ to the international anti-colonial struggle. He probably gets a little carried away with the world-historical importance of the October Revolution, but who can blame him?

Having overthrown the landlords and the capitalists, the October Revolution broke the chains of national and colonial oppression and freed from it, without exception, all the oppressed peoples of a vast state. The proletariat cannot emancipate itself unless it emancipates the oppressed peoples. It is a characteristic feature of the October Revolution that it accomplished these national-colonial revolutions in the U.S.S.R. not under the flag of national enmity and conflicts among nations, but under the flag of mutual confidence and fraternal rapprochement of the workers and peasants of the various peoples in the U.S.S.R., not in the name of nationalism, but in the name of internationalism.

It is precisely because the national-colonial revolutions took place in our country under the leadership of the proletariat and under the banner of internationalism that pariah peoples, slave peoples, have for the first time in the history of mankind risen to the position of peoples that are really free and really equal, thereby setting a contagious example to the oppressed nations of the whole world.

This means that the October Revolution has ushered in new era, the era of colonial revolutions which are being carried out in the oppressed countries of the world in alliance with the proletariat and under the leadership of the proletariat.

It was formerly the “accepted” idea that the world has been divided from time immemorial into inferior and superior races, into blacks and whites, of whom the former are unfit for civilisation and are doomed to be objects of exploitation, while the latter are the only bearers of civilisation, whose mission it is to exploit the former. (Works, vol. 10, pp. 248-49).

That legend must now be regarded as shattered and discarded. One of the most important results of the October Revolution is that it dealt that legend a mortal blow, by demonstrating in practice that the liberated non-European peoples, drawn into the channel of Soviet development, are not one whit less capable of promoting a really progressive culture and a really progressive civilisation than are the European peoples.

Socialist democracy in the Soviet Union

Socialist democracy in the Soviet Union? Stalin has quite a bit to say on it – favourably:

The dictatorship of the proletariat is the highest type of democracy in class society, the form of proletarian democracy, which expresses the interests of the majority (the exploited), in contrast to capitalist democracy, which expresses the interests of the minority (the exploiters).

This comment appears in a fascinating discussion with the first delegation from the USA to the USSR. The delegates ask sharp questions, relating to political parties, the press, religion, the party, world revolution and so on. And Stalin asks some incisive questions, especially concerning the absence of a workers party in the United States.

Back to socialist democracy. In the later discussion, Stalin outlines how voting works in the USSR:

In the U.S.S.R. the right to vote in the election of Soviets is enjoyed by the whole adult population from the age of eighteen, irrespective of sex or nationality—except for the bourgeois elements who exploit the labour of others and have been deprived of electoral rights. This makes a total of about sixty million voters. The overwhelming majority of these, of course, are peasants.

And then there are the endless committees, congresses and whatnot:

Finally, let us take the innumerable assemblies, conferences, delegate meetings, and so forth, which embrace vast masses of the working people, workers and peasants, both men and women, of all the nationalities included in the U.S.S.R. In Western countries, people sometimes wax ironical over these conferences and assemblies and assert that the Russians in general like to talk a lot. For us, however, these conferences and assemblies are of enormous importance, both as a means of testing the mood of the masses and as a means of exposing our mistakes and indicating the methods by which they can be rectified; for we make not a few mistakes and we do not conceal them, because we think that exposing mistakes and honestly correcting them is the best way to improve the administration of the country.

Stalin, Works, vol. 10, pp. 100, 113-14.