The CPSU(B), Gosplan and the Question of the Transition to Communist Society in the Soviet Union 1939-1953

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by Vijay Singh

Marxism recognises the primary role of the industrial working class in the democratic and socialist revolutions and in the transition to communist society. In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels indicated that of ‘all the classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie today, the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class. The other classes decay and finally disappear in the face of modern industry: the proletariat is its special and essential product.’ V.I. Lenin in A Great Beginning expressed the Marxist position that only the urban workers and the industrial workers were able to lead the whole mass of the working and exploited people to overthrow capitalism and create the new socialist system. Socialism required the abolition of classes which necessitated the abolition of all private ownership of the means of production, the abolition of the distinction between town and country as well as the distinction between manual workers and brain workers. Lenin explicitly rejected the proposition that all the ‘working people’ were equally capable of performing these historical tasks. He considered that the assumption that all ‘working people’ were able to carry out the tasks of the socialist revolution was an empty phrase or the illusion of a pre-Marxist socialist. The ability to abolish classes grew only out of the material conditions of large scale capitalist production and was possessed by the workers alone. Marxism excludes from the definition of the working class the urban and rural petty-bourgeoisie, the office staff, the mental workers as well as the toiling masses. The attempts of Russian neo-Brezhnevism to broaden and extend the definition of the working class must be rejected just as historically the attempts of the Narodniks to include the petty-bourgeoisie in this category were fought by the Bolshevists. Confusion on this question carries grave implications for the character and composition of the Communist Party, for the very existence of the dictatorship of the proletariat, for the abolition of classes and the commodity system under socialism and for the transition to Communism.

The logic of Marxism did not permit the ‘working people’ as opposed to the proletariat to direct the construction of a socialist society. In The Agrarian Question in Russia Towards The Close of The Nineteenth Century, Lenin unequivocally considered that Socialism ‘means the abolition of commodity economy’ and that so long as exchange remains ‘it is ridiculous to talk of socialism’. The dictatorship of the proletariat must remain until such time as classes disappeared, Lenin argued in his article Economics and Politics In The Era of the Dictatorship of The Proletariat. The abolition of classes under socialism entailed the end of the difference between factory worker and peasant so that all became workers. It follows from this that the proletarian party cannot be a ‘party of the whole people’ or the dictatorship of the proletariat a ‘state of the whole people’. These positions were defended in the Stalin period. In the period after collectivisation in his Speech on the Draft Constitution Stalin held that the Soviet Union had already in the main succeeded in building the foundation of a socialist society; he nevertheless in these years argued, as in his Report to the 17th Congress of the CPSU(b), that the project of building a classless socialist society remained a task for the future.

The perspective of completing the building of a classless socialist society and the gradual transition from socialism to communism was the dominating leitmotif at the 18th Congress of the CPSU(b) held in March 1939. This emerges clearly from the speeches of the Soviet leadership at the Congress. In his opening remarks to the Congress Molotov asserted that Socialism had basically been constructed in the Soviet Union and that the forthcoming period was one of the transition to Communism. Stalin in his Report to the Congress, while noting that the USSR had outstripped the principal capitalist countries with regard to the rate of industrial development and the technique of production, indicated it had yet to economically outstrip the principal capitalist states in terms of industrial consumption per head of the population, which was the pre-condition of that abundance of goods which was necessary for the transition from the first to the second phase of Communism. He anticipated that the continued existence of the Soviet state was necessary during the period that Soviet Communism was being established. Until such time as capitalist encirclement was not superceded by socialist encirclement and the danger of foreign military attack did not recede, the military, penal and intelligence organs were necessary for the survival of the USSR. The Soviet state was not to wither away in the near future, it would, however, undergo changes in conformity with domestic and international requirements. Engels’ proposition that the state would wither away in Communism, Stalin opined, assumed that the victory of communism had taken place in the major countries which was not the case in the contemporary world situation.

In his Report on the Third Five Year Plan for the Development of the National Economy of the USSR Molotov linked the new plan specifically to the task of the completion of a classless socialist society and the gradual transition from socialism to communism. Collectivisation, during the course of the Second Five Year Plan, had economically destroyed the kulaks which had been the last exploiting class existing in Soviet society. It had thus ended the private ownership of the means of production and formed the cooperative form of property relations through the establishment of the collective farms which now co-existed with the state property which had been created in the October revolution. The first phase of Communism had already been built in the USSR. The Third Five Year Plan was to be considered as a major step towards the formation of full communism. Molotov then examined the social classes which existed in the Soviet Union. Social differences persisted between the working class, the collective farm peasantry (as well as with the newly formed stratum of socialist intellectuals) corresponding to the nature of the differences in property relations between the state enterprises and the collective farms. In the transition to communist society the working class would play the leading role and the collective farm peasantry would exert an active role. Noting the distinctions between the advanced and backward strata of these classes Molotov argued that, while the majority of the populace placed the general interests of society and the state over private interests in the course of building the new society, there were sections which tried to snatch advantages from the state, just as sections of the peasantry were more worried about the welfare of their own collective farms and their own individual interests. It was the Stakhanovite movement in the factories which had established technical norms and raised labour productivity in the Second Five Year Plan period which guaranteed further successes for the Soviet Union.

In his speech to the 18th Congress the Chairman of the State Planning Commission, N.A. Voznesensky, fleshed out some basic five tasks which were required for the programme of communist construction to be brought into effect: first, the productive forces needed to be developed to that extent that the USSR economically surpassed the foremost capitalist states; second, labour productivity had to be raised to a level which would allow the Soviet Union to produce an abundance of products which would lay the basis for distribution founded upon need; third, the survivals of the contradiction between town and country had to be wiped away; fourth, the cultural and technical level of the working class had to be raised to the level of the workers who were engaged in engineering and technical work with the objective of eliminating the differences between mental and physical labour; and finally, the Socialist state had to develop new forms while building communism in the conditions of capitalist encirclement. It is significant that Voznesensky, while presenting an outline of the changes required in the society and state in the transition period to communism did not broach the question of the necessary radical reconstruction of productive relations in agriculture. In the 17th Congress of the CPSU(b) of 1934 Stalin had touched upon the necessity of effecting the transition of the collective farms based upon group property to the communes founded upon social property and the most developed technique which would lay the ground for the production of an abundance of products in society. In a pregnant remark Voznesensky suggested that the task of completing the construction of socialist society, the transition to communism and catching up and overtaking the leading capitalist countries would extend beyond the period of the Third Five Year Plan; whereas two decades had been needed for the Soviet Union to establish socialism an historically shorter span of time would be necessary for the transition to communism.

Molotov struck a note of sobriety in his concluding remarks at the Congress. While the perspective had been established of overtaking the leading countries of capitalism it was important to be aware of the shortcomings of the USSR in the economic field. Whereas the position of the working masses had improved in Soviet Russia and would further so do during the course of the Third Five Year Plan, and while the country surpassed the West in terms of production technique, it was important to recall that it lagged behind in terms of the industrial output per head of the population.

The perspectives outlined at the 18th Congress had wide-ranging ramifications. They implied that a re-writing of the programme of the party was imperative. The existing programme which was still operative formally had been adopted by the 8th party Congress in March, 1919 just a year and a half after the revolution. A new programme would of necessity have to take into account the path traversed under War Communism, the New Economic Policy, collectivisation and industrialisation in addition to the anticipated path to be followed on the way to ‘complete socialism’ and ‘full communism’. The 1919 programme had correctly called for the conversion of the means of production into the social property of the working class of the Soviet Republic. In the realm of agriculture it had enjoined the establishment of Communes for conducting large-scale socialised agriculture. The demand for the abolition of classes clearly pointed to the end of the peasantry as a class. A new programme would have to squarely face the delicate question of the conversion of the group property of the collective farms into the full social property of the whole of society. The 18th Congress constituted a 27 man Commission which was charged with the responsibility of drafting the changes in the projected Third Programme of the party. The members included Stalin, Molotov, Kaganovich, Zhdanov, Beria, Voznesensky, Vyshinsky, Kalinin, Malenkov, Manuilsky, Khrushchev, Mikoyan and Pospelov.

The transition to Communist construction implied also the long-range reorientation of Soviet planning to the goal of the laying of the material and technical basis for the new society. After consultations with members of the Academy of Social Sciences of the USSR and with members of Gosplan, Voznesensky held an extended sitting of the State Planning Commission in July 1939 which took up the question of the elaboration of the development of the Soviet economy, particularly of the expansion of the energy base of the economy. Gosplan resolved to elaborate its perspectives in terms of construction of the Angarsk hydro-electrical complex, the raising of the level of the Caspian Sea and linking the Volga with the northern rivers. These developments immediately bring to mind Lenin’s understanding that electrification would open the door to Communist society. Communism was, he said, Soviet power plus electrification of the entire country. In the context of GOELRO he had spoken of the necessity of elaborating a perspective plan for Soviet Russia which would extend over a period of 10-15 years. With the goal of strengthening the pool of scientific talent available to Gosplan for the construction of the long-term economic plan a number of Academicians, including members from the USSR Academy of Sciences were involved in the activities of the Council of Scientific-Technical Experts under Gosplan for preparing the conspectus plan. Within a year and half Gosplan prepared a perspective of the long-term plan which raised questions which went beyond the limits of the Third Five Year Plan. Arising from this Voznesensky drafted a note for Stalin and Molotov which was read at a Gosplan meeting in September 1940. The central questions for a long run economic plan designed to build a classless socialist society and communism at the level of building the productive forces were the building of the ferrous and non-ferrous metallurgical industries; the complete reconstruction of railway transport; the construction of the Kuibyshev, Solikamsk and Angarsk hydro-electrical complexes; the realisation of the Baikal-Amur mainline railway; the creation of oil and metallurgical bases in the northern part of the USSR and the development of the individual regions of the country. In his note Voznesensky requested permission for Gosplan to elaborate a general economic plan for a 15 year period to be presented to the Central Committee of the Party by the end of 1941.

Tightly integrated into the projected long term perspective plan was a new approach to regional planning involving the better utilising of productive forces by basing the new industrial complexes close to the sources of energy and raw materials, thereby economising in labour in the course of the various stages of manufacture and preparation of the final product. Voznesensky secured the creation of an Institute of Commissioners of Gosplan in all of the economic regions of the country which had the responsibility of verifying the fulfilment of the state plan and securing the development of the industrial complexes of the economic regions. The Gosplan Commissioners were charged to pay special attention to the fulfilment of the Third Five Year Plan with respect to the creation of industrial fuel bases in each economic region, securing electricity sources in each region, eliminating irrational transport hauls, mobilising local food supplies in each region and bringing economic resources to light in the economy. Special departments were created in the Gosplan apparatus to deal with the development of the economy in the different regions of the country.

On February 7th, 1941 Gosplan received a reply to its proposal to be granted permission to elaborate a 15 year economic plan which had been sent by Voznesensky to Stalin and Molotov some five months earlier. The Central Committee of the CPSU(b) and Sovnarkom now formally sanctioned the preparation of a perspective plan by Gosplan to surpass the per capita production of the capitalist countries in pig iron, steel, oil, electricity, machinery and other means of production and articles of necessity. This necessitated the independent development of science and technology in the USSR so that the natural wealth of the country could be utilised by the most developed methods to advance the organisation of production. It required, moreover, the pre-determination of the development of the basic branches of the national economy, the economic regions and the tempo and scale of production. The general plan had to determine the changes in social and political relations, the social tasks, the methods of raising the level of the workers and collective farm workers to that of workers in the technical and engineering sectors (this would have facilitated the process of the abolition of classes and the obliteration of the distinctions between the industrial working class the intelligentsia and the collective farm peasantry which followed from Lenin’s injunctions in Economic and Politics in The Era of the Dictatorship of The Proletariat).

Work on the perspective plan was allocated over two stages between January and March 1941, and April to June of the same year. As instructed the Gosplan apparatus prepared the prototype of the general plan for the period 1943-1957 in 2 volumes. This project represented the first major attempt to tackle the problems arising from the perspective of developing the Socialist economy and its growing over to a Communist economy over a period of 15 years. On the 20th anniversary of Lenin’s decree which led to the creation of the State Planning Commission Pravda on the 22nd February, 1941 began a series of articles which widely publicised the new 15 year plan.

The Nazi invasion put paid to the projects for providing the economic basis for the transition to Communism. Yet amazingly the close of hostilities witnessed a resumption of pre-war plans and projects. The Report on the Five-Year Plan for 1946-1950 and the Law on the Five-Year Planpresented by Voznesensky to the Supreme Soviet in March 1946 marked the resumption of the path of development adumbrated at the 18th Congress of the CPSU(b) for the building of the classless socialist society and the gradual transition to communism. The plan was considered a continuation of the pre-war steps designed to catch up with and surpass the main capitalist countries economically as regards the volume of industrial production per bead of the population. Stalin in September, 1946 reiterated the possibility of the construction of Communism in One Country in the USSR. A year later at the foundation of the Cominform in 1947 at Shklyarska Poremba, Malenkov added that the Central Committee of the CPSU(b) was working on the preparation of a new programme for the party as the existing one was out of date and had to be substituted by a new one.

Running parallel to these developments was the renewed attempt to formulate a long range economic plan to lay the economic and social basis for communism. In mid-1947 Voznesensky posed this question before the Central Committee. He argued that such a plan was imperative for a number of reasons. First, it was directly connected to the preparations for the new programme of the CPSU(b) as well as for the carrying out of the concrete plans which would be drawn up on the basis of the programme; second, as the tasks of expanding the productive forces and the construction of the new and large construction works (railway lines, hydro-electrical stations, metallurgical factories) did not fit into the constraints of the current 5 year plan. While reiterating the pre-war objectives of the general plan as being to overtake the advanced capitalist countries in terms of the per capita industrial production, Voznesensky now proposed a 20 year plan for the construction of Communist society in the USSR. Stalin was requested to support a draft resolution of the Central Committee of the party and the Council of Ministers giving Gosplan the responsibility to produce a 20 year general plan for submission by 15th January, 1948. This authorisation was granted on the 6th August, 1947.

The scale of activity for the drafting of the general economic plan may be judged from the fact that 80 sub-commissions were established under the Chairman of Gosplan to elaborate different aspects of the plan having the participation of economic directors, ministerial experts and academic specialists. In the autumn of 1947 Gosplan re-examined the structure of the Institute of Economics of the Academy of Sciences and modified its working by re-orientating it towards the problems facing the Soviet economy. In 1948 Gosplan, the Academy of Sciences, local party and Soviet organs held conferences to study the productive strength of the economic regions of the country; especial attention was paid to the regions of the North-West, the Central Black Earth regions, the Kuzbass, Kazakhstan, eastern Siberia and the Far East. On the basis of these preparations the framework of the perspective plan was formulated for the different branches of the national economy and the different economic regions of the Soviet Union. A draft report on the general plan for the period 1951-1970 was prepared with necessary balance calculations and other materials for presentation to the Central Committee of the CPSU(b) and the Soviet government. The Special Commission directed by Voznesensky examined the preliminary theses on the general plan in September, 1948.

Despite these energetic beginnings the 20 year General Plan was not to be completed though the theme of the transition to Communism remained a central question for the CPSU(b). The reason for this would appear to be the involvement of Voznesensky as Chairman of Gosplan in attempts to utilise commodity-money relations in the Soviet economy at an inordinate level to the extent that the very survival of the socialist economy was endangered which led to his being removed from responsible positions. Nevertheless the views of Voznesensky on the transition to communism which have come down to us through the efforts of his biographer, V.V. Kolotov have a certain interest. The elaboration of the 20 year plan was inextricably linked in the thinking of Voznesensky with laying the basis of communist society. He considered it his task to work out the laws for the establishment of communism and how the productive forces and productive relations would be connected. In his last discussions with Gosplan workers he argued that each social formation had economic laws, some which operated over different social formations, and some which were operative specifically to a particular social formation. Each social formation had its basic economic law. It was important to uncover the economic laws of Communist construction, that is the paths by which the productive relations of socialism were transformed into the relations of production of Communist society. It was necessary to elucidate the possible contradictions between the forces of production and the relations of production under the Communist mode of production, and the manner in which these might be resolved. These were the very questions which were taken up for discussion by Stalin in his comments on the November 1951 economic discussion.

While the general plan for Communist construction did not see the light of day, a number of projects designed to expand the productive forces of the Soviet Union, which had originated in the pre-war work of Gosplan, and which pertained to electrification, mechanisation, automation, and the chemification of industry did get underway. Electrification of all branches of the national economy was envisaged by the development of electro-chemistry, electro-metallurgy in ferrous and non-ferrous metals, as well as in aluminium, magnesium and their alloys. The electrification of railway transport was considered desirable for economy on fuel and rolling stock. In agriculture electricity was to be extensively used in the mechanisation of livestock farming, threshing and irrigation. In accordance with this general understanding the directives of the 19th congress of the CPSU provided for an increase of electricity by some 80% for the period 1951-55. Electrification of the economy was a central feature of the literature of the period. The grandiose construction works for communist construction included the construction of the Kuibyshev and Stalingrad hydro-electrical stations which were designed to generate about 20,000 million Kwh of electricity annually which was more than half of the total power generated in the USSR before the second world war.

The question of the changes necessary in the relations of production for the impending transition to Communism were chalked out in Stalin’s last major work. After arguing that a continuous expansion of social production was necessary in which a relatively higher rate of expansion of the production of the means of production was necessary so that reproduction on an extended scale could take place, Stalin argued that productive relations also required to be adapted to the growth of the productive forces. Already factors such as the group property of the collective-farms and commodity circulation were beginning to hamper the powerful development of the productive forces as they created obstacles to the full extension of government planning to the whole of the national economy, particularly in the field of agriculture. To eliminate contradictions it was necessary to gradually convert collective farm property into public property and to gradually introduce products-exchange in place of commodity circulation.

Needless to say the programme for developing the productive forces and restructuring the relations of production in line with the transition to communism was demolished after the death of Stalin. Under Khrushchev the question of a relatively higher rate of expansion of the means of production was not considered decisive. The perspective of the replacing of commodity circulation by the exchange of products was terminated. The new programme for ‘communist construction’ explicitly called for the utmost development of commodity-money relations: Group property, the collective farms and commodity circulation were to be preserved and not eliminated. The CPSU(b) now distanced itself from the Leninist understanding that under socialism classes needed to the abolished and that the distinctions between the factory worker and the peasant, between town and country and between mental and physical workers had to be eliminated.

The history of the CPSU(b) confirms that clarity on the question of the class approach and the necessity of defending the Marxist-Leninist approach to the definition of the proletariat is an imperative if a true Communist Party is to be constructed in the former Soviet Union. Only on this basis is it possible for the dictatorship of the proletariat to be constructed which is the decisive pre-condition for the abolition of classes, commodity production and exchange under socialism on the path to the construction of communist society.

References

  • XVIII S’ezd Vsesoyuznoi Kommunisticheskoi partii (b), Stenograficheskii otchet, Moscow, 1939.
  • V.V. Kolotov, Nikolai Alekseevich Voznesensky, Moscow, 1974.
  • V. Kolotov and G. Petrovichev, N.A. Voznesensky, Moscow, 1963.
  • G. Kozyachenko, ‘Krupnyi deyatel sotsialisticheskogo planirovaniya’, Planovoe Khozyaistvo, No. 10-12, 1973.
  • G. Perov, ‘Na perdenem krae ekonomicheskoi nauki i praktiki sotsialisticheskogo planirovaniya’, Planovoe Khozyaistvo No. 7-9, 1971.
  • Programma i ustav VKP(b), Moscow, 1936.
  • M. Rubinstein, O sozdannii material’no-tekhnichesko bazy Kommunizma, Moscow, 1952.
  • I. Stalin, Economicheskie problemy sotsializma V SSSR, Moscow, 1952.
  • N.A. Voznesensky, Izbrannye proizvedeniya 1931-1947, Moscow, 1979.

Paper presented to the International Scientific-Practical Conference with the Theme ‘Class Analysis in The Modern Communist Movement’ organised by the International Centre for the Formation of the Modern Communist Doctrine in Moscow on the 8-10th November, 1996.

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