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.


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.

Stalin and tractor 05

Stalin and Tractor 02

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

Stalin and tractor 06

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.

Making everything new: the collectivisation revolution

Some of the most fascinating material in Stalin’s Works (from volume 11 onwards) concerns the theoretical debates over collectivisation. The campaign, of course, remains the butt of much anti-communist ranting, with assertions that it ’caused’ the famines of the 1930s, that it curtailed the natural incentive of private property and farming, indeed that it was nothing more than a return to medieval patterns of indentured labour, if not outright slavery.

All of that avoids dealing seriously with the actual issues at stake. To begin with, the furious process of industrialisation in the 1920s had to do so in a new way. The USSR was unable to plunder colonies for industrialisation, as had happened in Western Europe, and it did not wish to rely on foreign loans (it pretty much couldn’t anyway, since it had simply annulled the debts racked up by the tsarist autocracy). So the whole industrialisation process had to rely on internal, or socialist accumulation. Large-scale industrialisation needs massive injections of funds. But where to get those funds? The government decided to set higher prices for manufactured goods, as a type of super-tax that would flow back into industry. This was despite the increasing abundance of such goods. Meanwhile, prices on agricultural goods were set lower, even if there were occasional shortages. Obviously, this went directly counter to the supposed ‘iron law’ of supply and demand. Obviously, it led to not a little speculation by the kulaks, or wealthy farmers, among others. Most importantly, it produced the first layer of economic contradiction.

The second layer was between the rate of industrial change and the rate of agricultural change. The furious pace of industrialisation (the proverbial unleashing of productive forces) left agriculture far behind, so that an ever larger gulf opened up between them. The ‘super-tax’, or ‘scissors’ approach would not hold out forever in such a situation, so something had to be done in relation to agriculture. Stalin toyed with the idea that the small farmers should be fostered, since their approach had been tested over centuries. But in the end, he and the government opted for the very Left approach of collectivisation as a way of dealing with the growing contradiction between industry and agriculture.

As some have suggested, and as the editors of Stalin’s Works also point out, the collectivisation drive was the most difficult task since the conquest of power. In short, it really was an other revolution, a massive undertaking never quite seen before, achieved in a breathtakingly short period of time and not without a few unexpected side-effects.

In this context, Stalin reflects on such revolutionary changes in a letter to Gorky from 1930. He is discussing the responses of young people to the turmoil:

It cannot be the case that now, when we are breaking the old relations in life and building new ones, when the customary roads and paths are being torn up and new, uncustomary ones laid, when whole sections of the population who used to live in plenty are being thrown out of their rut and are falling out of the ranks, making way for millions of people who were formerly oppressed and downtrodden—it cannot be the case that the youth should represent a homogeneous mass of people who sympathise with us, that there should be no differentiation and division among them. Firstly, among the youth there are sons of wealthy parents. Secondly, even if we take the youth who are our own (in social status), not all of them have the hardiness, the strength, the character and the understanding to appreciate the picture of the tremendous break-up of the old and the feverish building of the new as a picture of something which has to be and which is therefore desirable, something, moreover, which has little resemblance to a heavenly idyll of “universal bliss” that is to afford everyone the opportunity of “taking his ease” and “basking in happiness.” Naturally, in such a “racking turmoil,” we are bound to have people who are weary, overwrought, worn-out, despairing, dropping out of the ranks and, lastly, deserting to the camp of the enemy. These are the unavoidable “overhead costs” of revolution (Works, vol. 12, p. 180).

Arkady Plastov - Collective-Farm Festival,   1937 (320x195)

A Soveit definition of cultural revolution: The pentecost of languages and peoples

We are perhaps most used to the Cultural Revolution in relation to China – the extraordinary decade of revolutionary upheaval and trauma that is still to be fully assessed for its drawbacks and benefits. However, the term ‘cultural revolution’ actually goes back to Lenin and Stalin, where it has a distinct meaning. For Stalin, cultural revolution is a Leninist slogan which designates raising the cultural level of workers and peasants:

Therefore, the cultural development of the working class and of the masses of the working peasantry, not only the development of literacy, although literacy is the basis of all culture, but primarily the cultivation of the ability to take part in the administration of the country, is the chief lever for improving the state and every other apparatus. This is the sense and significance of Lenin’s slogan about the cultural revolution (Works, vol. 10, pp. 330-31).

This approach to cultural revolution took on a whole new dimension when it became part of the affirmative action program of the USSR – or what was called the ‘national question’. In this case, cultural revolution meant raising and transformation the cultures of the many minorities in the USSR. Often this involved creating literate cultures where none existed before. Scripts were created, grammars written, people taught for the first time to read and write their own language, literature written, and a new intellectual and political leadership fostered. The affirmative action program also included strict punishments for racist statements and acts for scattered minorities – which included the Jews.

All of this was predicated on the core socialist idea that the party and then the government should foster rather than repress different languages and cultures. Indeed, the ‘national question’ was in many ways structured and determined by the issue of language.

Let me put it in terms of the biblical stories of Babel and Pentecost (Genesis 11 and Acts). For Babel, linguistic unity is desired and multiplicity a seeming curse; for Pentecost unity is the source of unexpected diversity.

Or in a little more detail: in Genesis, we find that initially ‘the whole earth had one language and the same words’ (Gen 11:1). Soon enough, the human effort to build a city with a tower into the heavens makes God realise the immense potential of human power. In response, God confuses human language and scatters people over the face of the earth (confusion and scattering are repeated time and again through the story, as though providing formal confirmation of the content). The account of Pentecost in Acts 2 may seem to provide a long-range resolution of this confusion of tongues. Here, the multiplicity of tongues, ‘as of fire’, appearing on the heads of the apostles, enables a united understanding of the new gospel of Christ. Multiplicity is therefore a way of understanding the same message, which may be spoken in many tongues. However, Acts has a dialectical kick: the unitary drive of the Holy Spirit, like the rush of a mighty wind, produces diversity. The result is ‘differentiated tongues’, ‘other languages’, people from ‘every nation under heaven’ hearing the apostles speak in their ‘native language’ – Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs (the care with the list manifests less comprehensiveness than sheer diversity).

With this outline of the main tensions between Genesis 11 and Acts 2 in mind, it becomes possible to map different language policies and proposals (and indeed discover some surprising alliances). One cluster of such policies may be described as Babelian, or rather pre-Babelian. The desire is for one language, which existed before the divinely instigated confusion of tongues and scattering of peoples. Such a desire is predicated on the assumption that multiple languages are signs of the Fall, with Genesis 11 understood as yet another Fall story, or at least another facet of the story of the Fall that begins in Genesis 3. Far better is a universal language that would overcome the strife and discord of many tongues. Those who have pursued variations on this approach make for some strange occupiers of the same bed: Walter Benjamin’s search for the perfect, Adamic language that does not seek to communicate; the proponents of Esperanto; tsarist policy makers afraid of native languages and their connections with separatism; the Nazi refusal to acknowledge minority languages in Germany and Austria – such as the Sorbians and Slovene Carinthians; and indeed ‘assimilation’ policies around the globe even today, in which immigrants are supposed to meld into the national culture through language.

So what is Stalin’s position? It is clearly a Pentecostal one. The socialist affirmative action program actually produced more languages:

Until now what has happened has been that the socialist revolution has not diminished but rather increased the number of languages; for, by stirring up the lowest sections of humanity and pushing them on to the political arena, it awakens to new life a number of hitherto unknown or little-known nationalities (Works, vol. 10, p. 141).

Indeed, it led to the creation of new ‘regenerated nations’, that is, ‘new, socialist nations, which have arisen on the ruins of the old nations and are led by the internationalist party of the labouring masses’ (Works, vol. 11, p. 369).

This is nothing less than a Pentecost of languages and peoples. Socialists are clearly Pentecostalists, in in favour of multiplicity and diversity.

But how did these languages, cultures and peoples achieve such a regenerated state? Through a cultural revolution:

In view of this, the Party considered it necessary to help the regenerated nations of our country to rise to their feet and attain their full stature, to revive and develop their national cultures, widely to develop schools, theatres and other cultural institutions functioning in the native languages (Works, vol. 11, p. 369).

Or in more detail, for anyone who is serious about cultural revolution:

What is needed is to cover the country with an extensive network of schools functioning in the native languages, and to supply them with staffs of teachers who know the native languages.

What is needed is to nationalise—that is, to staff with members of the given nation—all the administrative apparatus, from Party and trade-union to state and economic.

What is needed is widely to develop the press, the theatre, the cinema and other cultural institutions functioning in the native languages.

Why in the native languages?—it may be asked. Because only in their native, national languages can the vast masses of the people be successful in cultural, political and economic development (Works, vol 11, p. 370).

Cultural revolution is therefore the Pentecost of languages and peoples. The result is that the message may be heard in ‘differentiated tongues’, ‘other languages’, with people from ‘every nation under heaven’ hearing the message in their ‘native language’. As for how many languages Stalin knew, that is still a matter of debate.


By 1939 Stalin began to include the creation of a Socialist intelligentsia in his definition:

As regards the cultural standard of the people, the period under review has been marked by a veritable cultural revolution. The introduction of universal compulsory elementary education in the languages of the various nations of the U.S.S.R., an increasing number of schools and scholars of all grades, an increasing number of college-trained experts, and the creation and growth of a new intelligentsia, a Soviet intelligentsia – such is the general picture of the cultural advancement of our people.

I think that the rise of this new, Socialist intelligentsia of the people is one of the most important results of the cultural revolution in our country. (Works vol. 14, p. 391)

Stalin and minorities 01a

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.

Collectivisation and Philosophy

Whoever would have thought that collectivisation would generate so much in terms of philosophy? Volume 11 of Stalin’s Works is of course the great collectivisation volume, when attention turns from the ‘Opposition’ (Trotsky et al) to the apparently mundane issue of grain procurement. Some of the best theoretical material appears in ‘Plenum of the C.C’, from July 1928.

To begin with, Stalin points out that the need for collectivisation arises from the internal contradictions of soviet economic reconstruction. The industrialisation under way at the time differs from industrialisation in capitalist countries, since capitalist industrialisation relies on external appropriation. He writes:

In the capitalist countries industrialisation was usually effected, in the main, by robbing other countries, by robbing colonies or defeated countries, or with the help of substantial and more or less enslaving loans from abroad.

He gives the examples of the British Empire and Germany, both of which industrialised by means of external plunder.

One respect in which our country differs from the capitalist countries is that it cannot and must not engage in colonial robbery, or the plundering of other countries in general. That way, therefore, is closed to us. Neither, however, does our country have or want to have enslaving loans from abroad. Consequently, that way, too, is closed to us (Works, vol. 11, pp. 165-66).

What approach was left? Internal appropriation. Funds for railways and industries can only come from inside the Soviet Union. But this created a structural tension. Industrialisation had been proceeding at a massive pace (with growth figures that outstripped even China until recently), but agriculture had not been keeping up. True, more grain was being produced than before, but it was by no means sufficient for supplying the needs of a growing work force. This tension was exacerbated by another: agricultural goods were sold relatively cheaply, while manufactured goods were relatively expensive. Farmers received relatively less for their produce while paying more for the products of industrialisation. In short, farmers were subsidising industrial expansion, providing the immediate source of internal accumulation needed. At the same time, this tension could not continue, so collectivisation was the solution. It was seen as the socialist solution to improving agricultural efficiency, since agribusiness and landlordism were out of the question.

Theoretically, then, collectivisation was the dialectical effort to deal with the tensions between industry and agriculture, generated through the mechanisms of internal accumulation. But how is this implicitly theological? This is where the kulaks come in. Kulaks were, of course, richer peasants who employed others, traditionally dominated village life, and – crucially – stockpiled grain to force up prices. Stalin deploys at least two strategies in relation to the kulaks.

First, the speculative practices of the kulaks were generated out of the specific circumstances of socialist reconstruction. That is, the Bolsheviks and their policies were responsible for producing the problem of the kulacs – rather than some evil nature among the kulaks as a class. That responsibility took the specific form of the New Economic Program and the tensions generated by internal accumulation.

Second, the emergence of kulak speculation was interpreted in terms of one of Stalin’s favoured modes of dialectical argument: the closer you come to the goal, the greater are the forces opposing you. This is worth an extended quotation:

The more we advance, the greater will be the resistance of the capitalist elements and the sharper the class struggle, while the Soviet Government, whose strength will steadily increase, will pursue a policy of isolating these elements, a policy of demoralising the enemies of the working class, a policy, lastly, of crushing the resistance of the exploiters, thereby creating a basis for the further advance of the working class and the main mass of the peasantry.

It must not be imagined that the socialist forms will develop, squeezing out the enemies of the working class, while our enemies retreat in silence and make way for our advance, that then we shall again advance and they will again retreat until “unexpectedly” all the social groups without exception, both kulaks and poor peasants, both workers and capitalists, find themselves “suddenly” and “imperceptibly,” without struggle or commotion, in the lap of a socialist society. Such fairy-tales do not and cannot happen in general, and in the conditions of the dictatorship of the proletariat in particular.

It never has been and never will be the case that a dying class surrenders its positions voluntarily without attempting to organise resistance. It never has been and never will be the case that the working class could advance towards socialism in a class society without struggle or commotion. On the contrary, the advance towards socialism cannot but cause the exploiting elements to resist the advance, and the resistance of the exploiters cannot but lead to the inevitable sharpening of the class struggle (Works, vol. 11, pp. 179-80).

Theologically: the more grace becomes apparent, the greater do the forces of evil strive to overcome grace. But their frantic efforts are signs that grace is triumphing. I guess you might also call this the theology of class struggle after the revolution. Stalin would use the same type of argument in relation to the Red Terror.

As for images, I can’t avoid the wonderful propaganda film on collectivisation, ‘Tractor Drivers’, from 1939. Full film here. It even has a Stalinets tractor:

Stalin tractor 01 (3)

One of the drivers in question is of course a hard-working woman, a topic which led to Arkady Plastov’s marvellous painting, also called ‘Tractor Drivers’:

Arkady Plastov - Tractor Drivers 01a (320x240)

Orders from Moscow?

One of the abiding Cold War myths was that Stalin, or perhaps the Russian Communist Party, directed the world-wide revolutionary movement through the Comintern. It was a question Stalin himself was asked by delegates from the USA in 1927.

The assertion that the American Communists work under “orders from Moscow” is absolutely false. No Communist in the world would agree to work “under orders” from outside against his own convictions, against his will, and contrary to the requirements of the situation. And even if there were such Communists they would not be worth a farthing.

The Communists are the boldest and bravest of people, and they are fighting a host of enemies. The merit of the Communists is, among other things, that they are able to stand up for their convictions. It is, therefore, strange to speak of American Communists as having no convictions of their own and capable only of working “under orders” from outside …

Some people think that the members of the Communist International in Moscow do nothing but sit and write instructions to all countries. More than sixty countries are affiliated to the Comintern, so you can picture to yourselves the position of the members of the Comintern, who neither sleep nor eat, but sit day and night writing instructions to all those countries. (Laughter.) (Works, volume 10, pp. 134-35).

Come to think of it, Marx and Engels and the First International were widely accused of ‘master-minding’ the Paris commune in 1871.

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.