The October Revolution did not only produce a world-historical division by establishing the first post-capitalist state and society, but it also divided Marxism and socialist politics … After the October Revolution, socialist strategies and perspectives began to be based upon political example instead of upon analyses of Capitalism.
– Goran Therborn (1985, p. 277)
Economists today … understand much better than before the real versus the formal modes of the economy’s functioning. They know about the “second economy,” maybe even a third one too, and about a welter of informal but widespread practices without which nothing works.
– Moshe Lewin in Kerblay (1983, p. xxii)
When the dust of the battles of war and civil war had settled in the early 1920s, and the blood of the corpses and wounds had congealed, most of what had before 1914 been the Orthodox Russian Empire of the Tsars emerged intact as an Empire, but under the Government of the Bolsheviks and dedicated to the construction of World Socialism. It was the only one of the antique dynastic-cum-religious Empires to survive the First World War, which shattered both the Ottoman Empire, whose sultan was khalif of all faithful Muslims, and the Habsburg Empire which maintained a special relationship with the Roman Church. Both broke up under the pressures of defeat. That Russia survived as a single multi-ethnic entity stretching from the Polish Border in the West to the Japanese Border in the East was almost certainly due to the October Revolution, for the tensions which had broken up the earlier Empires elsewhere emerged or re-emerged in the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980s, when the Communist System that had held the union together since 1917 effectively abdicated. Whatever the Future was to bring, what emerged in the early 1920s was a single State, desperately impoverished and backward – far more backward even than Tsarist Russia – but of enormous size: “one sixth of the World’s Surface,” as Communists liked to boast between the Wars – dedicated to a society different from and opposed to Capitalism.
In 1945 the Borders of the Region that seceded from World Capitalism were dramatically extended. In Europe they now included the entire area East of a line running, roughly, from the river Elbe in Germany to the Adriatic Sea, and the entire Balkan Peninsula except Greece and the small part of Turkey that remained on that Continent. Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Roumania, Bulgaria and Albania now moved into the Socialist Zone, as well as that part of Germany occupied by the Red Army after the War and transformed into a “German Democratic Republic” in 1954. Most of the Areas lost by Russian in the aftermath of War and Revolution after 1917 and one or two Territories previously belonging to the Habsburg Empire were also recuperated or acquired by the Soviet Union between 1939 and 1945. Meanwhile a vast new extension of the future Socialist Region took place in the Far East with the transfer of Power to Communist Regimes in China (1949), and partly, in Korea (1945) and what had been French Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia) in the course of a Thirty Years’ War (1945-75). There were a few further extensions of the Communist Region somewhat later, both in the Western Hemisphere – Cuba (1959) and in Africa in the 1970s – but substantially the Socialist sector of the Globe had taken shape by 1950. Thanks to the enormous numbers of the Chinese People, it now included about one third of the World’s Population, though the average size of the Socialist States other than China, the U.S.S.R. and Vietnam (58 millions) was not particularly large. Their Populations ranged from the 1.8 millions of Mongolia to the 36 millions of Poland.
This was the part of the World whose Social Systems some time in the 1960s came to be called, in the Terminology of Soviet Ideology, the Countries of “Really Existing Socialism”; an ambiguous Term which implied or suggested that there might be other and better Kinds of Socialism, but in practice this was the only Kind actually functioning. This was also the Region whose Social and Economic Systems as well as whose political Regimes collapsed totally in Europe as the 1980s gave way to the 1990s. In the East the Political Systems maintained themselves for the time being, though the actual economic restructuring they undertook in varying degrees amounted to a liquidation of Socialism as hitherto understood by those Regimes, notably in China. The scattered Regimes elsewhere imitating or inspired by “Really Existing Socialism” in other parts of the World had either collapsed or were probably not destined for a long life.
The first thing to observe about the Socialist Region of the Globe was that for most of its Existence it formed a separate and largely self-contained sub-Universe both economically and politically. Its Relations with the rest of the World Economy, Capitalist or dominated by the Capitalism of the Developed Countries, were surprisingly scanty. Even at the height of the great boom in International Trade during the Golden Years, only something like 4 per cent of the Exports of the Developed Market Economies went to the “Centrally Planned Economies” and by the 1980s the share of Third World Exports going to them was not much more. The Socialist Economies sent rather more of their modest Exports to the rest of the World but even so two third of their International Trade in the 1960s (1965) was within their own sector (U.N. International Trade, 1983, vol. 1, p. 1046) [The data refer strictly speaking, to the U.S.S.R. and its associated States, but it will serve as an order of magnitude.]
There was, for obvious reasons, little movement of People from the “First” to the “Second” World, though some East European States began to encourage Mass Tourism from the 1960s. Emigration to Non-socialist Countries as well as temporary Travel was strictly controlled, and at time virtually impossible. The Political Systems of the Socialist World, essentially modelled on the Soviet System, had no real equivalent elsewhere. They were based on a strongly hierarchical and authoritarian Single Party which monopolised State Power – in fact it sometimes virtually substituted itself for the State – operating a Centrally Planned Command Economy and (at least in theory) imposing a single mandatory Marxist-Leninist Ideology on its Country’s Inhabitants. The Segregation or Self-segregation of the “Socialist Camp” (as Soviet Terminology came to call it from the late 1940s) gradually crumbled in the 1970s and 1980s. Nevertheless, the sheer degree of mutual ignorance and incomprehension that persisted between the two Worlds was quite extraordinary, especially when we bear in mind that this was a Period when both Travel and Communication of Information were utterly revolutionised. For long Periods very little Information about these Countries was allowed out and very little about other Parts of the World was permitted to enter. In return, even non-expert educated and sophisticated Citizens of the First World often found they could not make sense of what they saw or heard in Countries whose Past and Present was so different from their own and whose Languages were often beyond their reach.
The fundamental Reason for the Separation of the two “Camps” was no doubt political. As we have seen, after the October Revolution Soviet Russia saw World Capitalism as the Enemy to be overthrown as soon as practicable by World Revolution. That Revolution did not take place and Soviet Russia was isolated, surrounded by a Capitalist World, many of whose most powerful Governments wanted to prevent the Establishment of this Centre of global Subversion, and later, to eliminate it as soon as possible. The mere fact that the U.S.S.R. did not acquire official diplomatic Recognition of its Existence by the U.S.A. until 1933 demonstrates its initial Outlaw Status. Moreover, even when the always realistic Lenin was prepared, and indeed anxious, to make the most far-reaching concessions to Foreign Investors return for their Assistance in Russia’s Economic Development, in practice he found no takers. Thus the young U.S.S.R. was necessarily launched on a course of Self-contained Development, in virtual Isolation from the rest of the World Economy. Paradoxically this was soon to provide it with its most powerful Ideological Argument. It seemed immune to the gigantic Economic Depression which devastated the Capitalist Economy after the Wall Street Crash of 1929.
Politics once again helped to isolate the Soviet Economy in the 1930s and, even more dramatically, the expanded Soviet Sphere after 1945. The Cold War froze both the economic and the Political Relations between them other than the most trivial (or the unavowable) had to pass through the State Controls imposed by both. Trade between the Blocs was a function of Political Relations. Not until the 1970s and 1980s were there signs that the separate Economic Universe of the “Socialist Camp” was being integrated into the wider World Economy. In retrospect we can see that this was the beginning of the end for “Really Existing Socialism.” Yet there is no theoretical Reason why the Soviet Economy, as it emerged from Revolution and Civil War, could not have evolved in a far closer Relationship with from the rest of the World Economy. Centrally Planned and Wester-type Economies can be closely linked, as shown by the case of Finland, which at one point (1983) took over a quarter of its Imports from the U.S.S.R. and sent a similar proportion of its Exports there. However, the “Socialist Camp” that concerned the historian is the one which actually emerged, not what might have been.
The central Fact of Soviet Russia was that its new Rulers, the Bolshevik Party, had never expected it to survive in Isolation, let alone to become the nucleus of a Self-contained Collectivist Economy (“Socialism in One Country”). None of the Conditions which Marx or any of his followers had hitherto considered essential to the Establishment of a Socialist Economy were present in this enormous hulk of a Territory which was virtually a synonym for economic and social backwardness in Europe. The Founders of Marxism assumed that the function of a Russian Revolution could only be to spark off the revolutionary explosion in the more advanced Industrial Countries where the Preconditions for the Construction of Socialism were present. As we have seen, this was exactly what looked like was happening in 1917-18, and it appeared to justify Lenin’s highly controversial Decision – at least among Marxists – to set the course of the Russian Bolsheviks for Soviet Power and Socialism. In Lenin’s view, Moscow would only be the temporary Headquarters of Socialism until it could move to its permanent Capital in Berlin. It is no accident that the Official Language of the Communist International, set up as the general staff of World Revolution in 1919, was – and remained – not Russian but German.
When it became clear that Soviet Russia was to be, for the time being, which would certainly not be short, the only Country in which Proletarian Revolution had triumphed, the logical, indeed the only persuasive policy for the Bolsheviks, was to transform it from a Backward into an Advanced Economy and Society as soon as possible. The most obvious known way to do this was to combine an all-out Offensive against the cultural backwardness of the notoriously “dark,” ignorant, illiterate and superstitious masses with an all-out drive for Technological Modernisation and Industrial Revolution. A Soviet-based Communism therefore became primarily a programme for transforming Backward Countries into Advanced ones. This concentration on ultra-rapid Economic Growth was not without its appeal even in the Developed Capitalist World in its Age of Catastrophe, desperately seeking for a way to recover its Economic Dynamism. It was even more directly relevant to the Problems of the World outside Western Europe and North America, most of which could recognise its own image in the Agrarian Backwardness of Soviet Russia. The Soviet recipe for Economic Development – Centralised State Economic Planning aimed at the ultra-rapid Construction of the Basic Industries and Infrastructure essential to a Modern Industrial Society – seemed designed for them. Moscow was not only a more attractive Model than Detroit or Manchester because it stood for Anti-Imperialism, but it also seemed a more suitable Model, especially for Countries lacking both in Private Capital and a large Body of Private and Profit-oriented Industry. “Socialism” in this sense inspired a number of newly independent ex-Colonial Countries after the Second World War whose Governments rejected the Communist Political System (see chapter 12). Since the Countries joining that System were also Backward and Agrarian, with the exception of Czechoslovakia, the future German Democratic Republic and, to a lesser extent, Hungary, the Soviet Economic recipe also seemed to suit them, and their new Rulers launched themselves into the Task of Economic Construction with genuine enthusiasm. Moreover, the Recipe seemed to be effective. Between the Wars, and especially during the 1930s, the Rate of Growth of the Soviet Economy outpaced all other Countries except Japan, and in the first fifteen years after the Second World War the Economies of the “Socialist Camp” grew considerably faster than those of the West, so much so that Soviet Leaders like Nikita Khrushchev sincerely believed that, the Curve of their Growth continuing upwards at the same Rate, Socialism would outproduce Capitalism within a foreseeable Future; as indeed did the British Premier Harold Macmillan. More than one economic observer in the 1950s wondered whether this might not happen.
Curiously enough no Discussion of “Planning,” which was to be the central criterion of Socialism, nor of rapid Industrialisation with priority for the Heavy Industries, was to be found in the Writings of Marx and Engels, though Planning was implicit in a Socialised Economy. But Socialists, Marxist or otherwise, before 1917 had been too busy opposing Capitalism to give much Thought to the nature of the Economy that would replace it, and after October Lenin himself, dipping, as he himself put it, one foot into the deep waters of Socialism, made no attempt to dive into the unknown. It was the Crisis of the Civil War that brought matters to a head. It led to the Nationalisation of all Industries in mid-1918, and to the “War Communism” by means of which an embattled Bolshevik State organised its life-and-death Struggle against Counter-revolution and Foreign Intervention, and tried to raise the resources for it. All War Economies, even in Capitalist Countries, involve Planning and Control by the State. In fact, the specific Inspiration for Lenin’s Idea of Planning was the German War Economy of 1914-18 (which, as we have seen, was probably not the best Model of its Period and Kind). Communist War Economies were naturally inclined on grounds of Principle to replace Private by Public Property and Management, and to dispense with the Market and the Price-mechanism, especially as none of these were of much use to improvise a National War Effort at a moment’s notice, and there were indeed Communist Idealists, like Nikolai Bukharin, who saw the Civil War as the Opportunity to establish the main Structures of a Communist Utopia, and the grim Economy of Crisis, permanent and universal Shortage, and the non-monetary Allocation of rationed Basic Necessities to the People in kind – Bread, Clothes, Bus-tickets – as a Spartan pre-view of that social ideal. In fact, as the Soviet Regime emerged victorious from the Struggles of 1918-20 it was evident that War Communism, however necessary for the time being, could not continue, partly because the Peasants would rebel against the Military Requisitioning of their Grain, which had been its base, and the Workers against its hardships, partly because it provided no effective means for restoring an Economy which had been virtually destroyed: Iron and Steel Production was down from 4.2 million tons in 1918 to two hundred thousand in 1920.
With his habitual Realism Lenin introduced the New Economic Policy in 1921, which in effect reintroduced the Market and, indeed, in his own words, retreated from War Communism to “State Capitalism.” Yet it was at this very moment, when Russia’s already retrograde Economy had fallen to 10 per cent of its pre-War size (see chapter 2), that the need to industrialise massively, and to do so by Government Planning, became the obvious priority Task for the Soviet Government. And while the New Economic Policy dismantled War Communism, State Control and Compulsion remained as the only known model of an Economy of socialised Ownership and Management. The first Planning Institution, the State Commission for the Electrification of Russia (GoE1Ro), in 1920 aimed, naturally enough, at modernising Technology, but the State Planning Commission set up in 1921 (Gosplan) had more universal Objectives. It remained in being under that name until the End of the U.S.S.R. It became the ancestor and inspirer of all State Institutions designed to plan, or even to exercise Macro-economic Supervision over, the Economies of twentieth-century States.
The New Economic Policy (NEP) was the subject of impassioned Debate in Russia in the 1920s and again in the Early Gorbachev Years of the 1980s, but for the opposite Reasons. In the 1990s it was clearly recognised as a defeat for Communism, or at least a diversion of the columns marching towards Socialism from the main highway to which, in one way or another, the way back had to be found. Radicals, such as the followers of Trotsky, wanted a break with NEP as soon as possible and a massive drive for Industrialisation, which was the policy eventually adopted under Stalin. Moderates, headed by Bukharin, who had put the Ultra-radiacalism of the War Communist years behind him, were keenly aware of the political and economic constraints under which the Bolshevik Government had to operate in a Country more overwhelmingly dominated by Peasant Agriculture than before the Revolution. They favoured a gradual Transformation. Lenin’s own views could not be adequately expressed after paralysis hit him in 1922 – he survived only until early 1924 – but, while he could express himself, he seems to have favoured Gradualism. On the other hand, the Debates of the 1980s were retrospective searches for an historical Socialist alternative to the Stalinism which actually succeeded NEP: a different road to Socialism from the one actually envisaged by the Bolshevik Right and Left in the 1920s. In retrospect Bukharin became a sort of proto-Gorbachev.
These Debates are no longer relevant. Looking back we can see that the original justification for the Decision to establish Socialist Power in Russia disappeared when “Proletarian Revolution” failed to conquer Germany. Worse than this, Russia survived the Civil War in Ruins and far more Backward than it had been under Tsarism. True, Tsar, Nobility, Gentry and Bourgeoisie had gone. Two millions emigrated, incidentally depriving the Soviet State of a large section of its Educated Cadres. But so had the Industrial Development of the Tsarist Era, and most of the Industrial Workers who provided the social and political base for the Bolshevik Party. Revolution and Civil War had killed or dispersed them or transferred them from Factories into the Offices of State and Party. What remained was a Russia even more firmly anchored in the Past, the immobile, unshiftable mass of Peasants in the restored Village Communities, to whom the Revolution had (against earlier Marxist judgement) given the Land, or rather whose Occupation and Distribution of Land in 1917-18 it had accepted as the necessary price of Victory and Survival. In many ways NEP was a brief golden age of Peasant Russia. Suspended above this mass was the Bolshevik Party no longer representing anyone. As Lenin recognised with his usual lucidity, all it had going for it was the fact that it was, and was likely to remain, the accepted and established Government of the Country. It had nothing else. Even so, what actually governed the Country was an undergrowth of smaller and larger Bureaucrats, on average even less educated and qualified than before.
What options had this Regime, which was, moreover, isolated and boycotted by Foreign Governments and Capitalists, mindful of the Expropriation of Russian Assets and Investments by the Revolution? NEP was indeed brilliantly successful in restoring the Soviet Economy from the Ruin of 1920. By 1926 Soviet Industrial Production had more or less recovered its pre-War level, though this did not mean much. The U.S.S.R. remained as overwhelmingly Rural as in 1913 (82 per cent of the Population in both cases) (Bergson/Levine, 1983, p. 100; Nove, 1969), and indeed only 7.5 per cent were employed outside Agriculture. What this mass of Peasants wanted to sell to the Cities; what it wanted to buy from them; how much of its Income it wanted to save, and how many of the many millions who chose to feed themselves in the Villages rather than face City Poverty wanted to leave the Farms: this determined Russia’s Economic Future, for apart from the State’s Tax Income, the Country had no other available source of Investment and Labour. Leaving aside all political considerations, a continuation of NEP, modified or not, would at best produce a modest Rate of Industrialisation. Moreover, until there was a great deal more Industrial Development, there was little that the Peasants could buy in the City to tempt them to sell their Surplus rather than to eat and drink it in the Villages. This (known as the “Scissors Crisis”) was to be the noose that eventually strangled NEP. Sixty years later a similar but Proletarian “scissors” undermined Gorbachev’s perestroika. Why, Soviet Workers were to argue, should they raise their Productivity to earn higher Wages under the Economy produced the Consumer Goods to buy with these higher Wages? But how were these Goods to be produced unless Soviet Workers raised their Productivity?
It was therefore never very likely that NEP – i.e. balanced economic Growth based on a Peasant Market Economy steered by the State which controlled in commanding heights – would prove a lasting Strategy. For a Regime committed to Socialism the political Arguments against it were in any case overwhelming. Would it not put the small forces committed to this new Society at the mercy of Petty Commodity Production and Petty Enterprise which would regenerate the Capitalism just overthrown? And yet, what made the Bolshevik Party hesitate was the prospective Cost of the alternative. It meant Industrialisation by Force: a Second Revolution, but this Time not rising from below but imposed by State Power from above.
Stalin, who presided over the ensuing Iron Age of the U.S.S.R., was an Autocrat of exceptional, some might say unique, ferocity, ruthlessness and lack of scruple. Few men have manipulated Terror on a more universal scale. There is no doubt that under some other Leader of the Bolshevik Party the Sufferings of the Peoples of the U.S.S.R. would have been less, the number of Victims smaller. Nevertheless, any policy of rapid Modernisation in the U.S.S.R., under the circumstances of the Time, was bound to be ruthless and, because imposed against the bulk of the People and imposing serious Sacrifices on them, to some extent coercive. And the Centralised Command Economy which conducted this drive through its “Plans” was, equally inevitably, closer to a Military Operation than to an Economic Enterprise. On the other hand, like Military Enterprises which have genuine Moral legitimacy, the breakneck Industrialisation of the First Five-Year Plans (1929-41) generated Support by the very “blood, toil, tears and sweat” it imposed on the People. As Churchill knew, Sacrifice itself can motivate. Difficult though it may be to believe, even the Stalinist System, which once again turned Peasants into Serfs attached to the Land and made important parts of the Economy dependent on a Prison Labour Force of between four and thirteen millions (the Gulags) (Van de Linden, 1993) almost certainly enjoyed substantial Support, though clearly not among the Peasantry (Fitzpatrick, 1994).
This “Planned Economy” of the Five-Year Plans which took the place of NEP in 1928 was necessarily a crude instrument – far cruder than the sophisticated calculations of the Gosplan’s pioneer economists of the 1920s, which were in turn far cruder than the planning instruments available to Governments and Large Corporations in the later twentieth century. Essentially its Business was to create new Industries rather than to run then, and it chose to give immediate priority to the basic Heavy Industries and Energy-production which were the foundation of any large Industrial Economy: Coal, Iron and Steel, Electricity, Oil, etc. The U.S.S.R.’s exceptional Wealth in suitable Raw Materials made this choice both logical and convenient. As in a War Economy – and the Soviet Planned Economy was a Kind of War Economy – targets for Production can, and indeed often must, be set without considering Cost and Cost-effectiveness, the test being whether they can be met and when. As in all such life-or-death Efforts, the most effective Method of fulfilling Targets and meeting Deadlines is giving urgent Orders which produce all-out Rushes. Crisis is its form of Management. The Soviet Economy settled down as a set of routines broken by frequent, almost institutionalised “Shock Efforts” in response to Orders from above. Nikita Khrushchev was later desperately to look for a way of making the System work in some other way than as a response to “shouting” (Khrushchev, 1990, p. 18). Stalin, earlier, had exploited “storming” by deliberately setting unrealistic Targets which encouraged superhuman Efforts.
Moreover, the Targets once set had to be understood, and carried out down to the remotest outpost of Production in inner Asia – by Administrators, Managers, Technicians and Workers who, at least in the first Generation, were inexperienced, ill-educated and used to Wooden Ploughs rather than Machines. (The cartoonist David Low, visiting the U.S.S.R. in the early 1930s, drew a sketch of collective Farm-girl “absent-mindedly trying to milk a tractor.”) This eliminated the last elements sophisticated, except at the very top which, for that very Reason, carried the Responsibility of an increasingly Total Centralisation. As Napoleon and his Chief-of-staff had once had to compensate for the technical deficiencies of his Marshals, essentially untrained Fighting Officers promoted from the Ranks, so all Decisions were increasingly concentrated at the Apex of the Soviet System. Gosplan’s Overcentralisation compensated for the Shortage of Managers. The Drawback of this procedure was an enormous Bureaucratisation of the Economic Apparatus as well as of other parts of the System. [“If sufficiently clear Instructions are to be issued for every major Product Group and for every Producing Unit, and in the absence of multi-level Planning, then the Centre cannot but be saddled with a colossal burden of Work” (Dyker, 1985, p. 9).]
So long as the Economy remained at the Semi-subsistence Level and had merely to lay the foundation for Modern Industry, this rough-and-ready System, developed mainly in the 1930s, worked. It even developed its own flexibility, in an equally crude manner. Setting one lot of Targets did not necessarily get into the immediate way of setting other Targets, as it would in the sophisticated labyrinth of a Modern Economy. In fact, for a Backward and Primitive Country isolated from Foreign Help, Command Industrialisation, with all its Waste and Inefficiencies, worked impressively. It turned the U.S.S.R. into a major Industrial Economy in a few years and one capable, as Tsarist Russia had not been, of surviving and winning the War against Germany in spite of the temporary loss of Areas containing a third of her Population and, in many Industries, half the Industrial Plant. One must add that in few other Regimes could or would the People have borne the unparalleled Sacrifices of this War Effort (see Milward, 1979, pp. 92-97), or indeed, those of the 1930s. Yet, if the System kept the Consumption of the Population at rock-bottom – in 1940 the Economy produced only a little over one pair of Footwear in all for each Inhabitant of the U.S.S.R. – it guaranteed them that Social Minimum. It gave them Work, Food, Clothes and Housing at Controlled (i.e. subsidised) Prices and Rents, Pensions, Health Care and a rough Equality until the System of Rewards by special Priviledges for the “nomenklatura” got out of hand after Stalin’s death. Much more generously, it gave Education. The transformation of a largely illiterate Country into the modern U.S.S.R. was, by any standards, a towering Achievement. And for millions from the Villages to whom, even in the harshest of Times, Soviet Development meant the opening of new horizons, the escape from darkness and ignorance to the City, Light and Progress, not to mention personal Advancement and Careers, the case for the new Society was entirely convincing. In any case, they knew no other.
However, this success story did not include Agriculture and those who lived by it, for Industrialisation rested on the backs of an exploited Peasantry. There is very little to be said in favour of the Soviets’ Peasant and Agricultural Policy except perhaps that the Peasants were not the only ones to carry the burden of “Socialist Primitive Accumulation” (the phrase of a follower of Trotsky who favoured it) * as has been claimed. The Workers also carried part of the Burden of generating Resources for investing in the Future. [* In Marx’s Terms, “Primitive Accumulation” by Expropriation and Pillage was necessary to enable Capitalism to acquire the original Capital which subsequently undertook its own endogenous Accumulation.]
The Peasants – the majority of the Population – were not only legally and politically inferior in Status, at least until the (entirely inoperative) 1936 Constitution; they were not only taxed more highly and received inferior Security, but the basic Agricultural Policy that replaced NEP, namely compulsory Collectivisation in Cooperative or State Farms, was and remained disastrous. Its immediate Effect was to lower Grain Output and almost halve Livestock, thus producing a major Famine in 1932-33. Collectivisation led to a Drop in the already low Productivity of Russian Farming, which did not regain the NEP Level until 1940 or, allowing for the further Disasters of the Second World War, 1950 (Tuma, 1965, p. 102). The massive Mechanisations which tried to compensate for this fall was also, and has remained, massively inefficient. After a promising Post-war Period when Soviet Agriculture even produced a modest Surplus of Grain for Export, though the U.S.S.R. never even looked like becoming a major Exporter as Tsarist Russia had been, Soviet Farming ceased to be able to feed the Population. From the early 1970s on it relied, sometimes to the extent of a quarter of its Needs, on the World Grain Market. But for the slight relaxation of the Collective System, which allowed Peasants to produce for the Market from small Private Plots – they covered about 4 per cent of the Farmed Area in 1938 – the Soviet Consumer would have eaten little but Black Bread. In short, the U.S.S.R. exchanged an inefficient Peasant Agriculture for an inefficient Collective Agriculture at vast Cost.
As so often, this reflected the Social and Political Conditions of Soviet Russia, rather than the inherent nature of the Bolshevik Project. Cooperation and Collectivisation, combined in varying degrees with Private Cultivation – or even, as in the Israeli kibbuzim, more Communist than anything in the U.S.S.R. – can be successful, while pure Peasant Farming has often been better at extracting Subsidies from Governments than Profits from the Soil. [Thus in the first half of the 1980s, Hungary, with a largely Collectivised Farming, exported more agricultural Products than France from an Agricultural Area little more than a quarter of the French, and about twice as much (in Value) as Poland did from an Agricultural Area almost three times the Size of the Hungarian. Polish Farming, like French, was not collective (FAO Production, 1986, FAO Trade, vol. 40, 1986).] However, in the U.S.S.R. there is no doubt at all that the Agrarian Policy was a Failure. And one only too often copied, at least initially, by subsequent Socialist Regimes.
The other aspect of Soviet Development for which very little can be said is the enormous and overblown Bureaucratisation which a Centralised Command Government engendered, and with which even Stalin was unable to cope. Indeed, it has been seriously suggested that the Great Terror of the later 1930s was Stalin’s desperate Method to “overcome the bureaucratic maze and its skillful dodging of most Government Controls or Injunctions” (Lewin, 1991, p. 17), or at least to prevent it from taking over as an ossified Ruling Class, as was eventually to happen under Brezhnev. Every attempt to make the Administration more flexible and efficient merely swelled it and made it more indispensable. In the last years of the 1930s it grew at two-and-a-half times the Rate of Employment in general. As War approached, there was more than one Administrator for every two Blue-collar Workers (Lewin, 1991). Under Stalin the top layer of these leading Cadres were, as has been said, “uniquely powerful Slaves, always on the brink of Catastrophe. Their Power and Priviledges were shadowed by a constant memento mori.” After Stalin, or rather after the last of the “great bosses,” Nikita Khrushchev, was removed in 1964, there was nothing in the System to prevent Stagnation.
The third drawback of the System, and the one which in the end sank it, was its inflexibility. It was geared to constant Growth in the output Products whose character and quality had been predetermined, but it contained no built-in Mechanism for varying either Quantity (except upward) or Quality, or for Innovation. In fact, it did not know what to do about Inventions, and did not use them in the Civilian Economy, as distinct from the Military-Industrial Complex. [“As little as one-third of all Inventions find an application in the Economy and even in these cases their diffusion is rare” (Vernikov, 1989, p. 7). The Data appear to refer to 1986.] As for the Consumers, they were provided for neither by a Market, which would have indicated their Preferences, nor by any bias in their favour within the economic or, as we shall see, the Political System. On the contrary, the System’s original bias towards Maximum Growth of Capital Goods was reproduced by the Planning Machine. The most that one might claim is that, as the Economy grew, it provided more Consumer Goods even while Industrial Structure kept on favouring Capital Goods. Even so, the System of Distribution was so Bad, and above all, the System of Organising Services so non-existent, that the rising Standard of Living in the U.S.S.R. – and Improvement from the 1940s to the 1970s was very striking – could function effectively only with the help of, or by means of an extensive “Second” or “Black” Economy, which grew rapidly, particularly from the end of the 1960s. Since unofficial Economies by definition escape from official documentation, we can only guess at its Size - but in the late 1970s it was estimated that the Soviet Urban Population spent about twenty billion roubles on Private Consumer, Medical and Legal Services, plus about another seven billions in “Tips” to ensure Services (Alexeev, 1990). This would at any Time have been a Sum comparable to the Total of Imports of the Country.
In short, the Soviet System was designed to industrialise a very Backward and Undeveloped Country as rapidly as possible, on the assumption that its People would be content with a Standard of Living somewhat above Subsistence – how much depended on what trickled down from the General Growth of the Economy geared to further Industrialisation. Inefficient and wasteful though it was, it achieved its Objects. In 1913 the Tsarist Empire, with 9.4 per cent of the World’s Population, produced 6 per cent of the World’s total “National Incomes” and 3.6 per cent of its Industrial Output. In 1986 the U.S.S.R., with less than 6 per cent of the Global Population produced 14 per cent of the Globe’s “National Income” and 14.6 per cent of its Industrial Output. (But it produced only a slightly higher share of the World’s Agricultural Output.) (Bolotin, 1987, pp. 148-52.) Russia had been transformed into a major Industrial Power, and indeed its Status as a Superpower, maintained for almost half a Century, rested on this Success. However, and contrary to the expectations of the Communists, the Engine of Soviet Economic Development was so constructed as to slow down rather than speed up when, after the vehicle had advanced a certain distance, the driver stepped on the accelerator. Its Dynamism contained the Mechanism of its own exhaustion. This was the System which, after 1944, became the Model for the Economies under which a third of the Human Race lived.
However, the Soviet Revolution also developed a very special Political System. The European Popular Movements of the Left, including the Marxist Labour and Socialist Movements to which the Bolshevik Party belonged, drew on two Political Traditions: Electoral, and sometimes even Direct Democracy, and the Centralised action-oriented Revolutionary Efforts inherited from the Jacobin Phase of the French Revolution. The Mass Labour and Socialist Movements which emerged almost everywhere in Europe at the end of the nineteenth century, whether as Parties, Labour Unions, Cooperatives or a combination of all these, were strongly Democratic both in their internal structure and their political aspirations. In fact, where Constitutions based on a wide Franchise did not yet exist, they were the chief forces pressing for them, unlike the Anarchists, the Marxists were fundamentally committed to political action. The Political System of the U.S.S.R., which was also later transferred to the Socialist World, broke sharply with the Democratic side of Socialist Movements, though maintaining an increasingly academic commitment to it in theory. [Thus the Authoritarian Centralism so characteristic of Communist Parties retained the official name of “Democratic Centralism,” and the 1936 Soviet Constitution is, on paper, a typical Democratic Constitution, with as much for Multiparty Elections as, say, the American Constitution. Nor was this pure window-dressing, since much of it was drafted by Nikolai Bukharin, who as an old pre-1917 Marxist revolutionary, undoubtedly believed that this type of Constitution suited a Socialist Society.] It moved far beyond the Jacobin heritage, which, whatever its commitment to revolutionary rigour and ruthless Action, did not favour Individual Dictatorship. In short, as the Soviet Economy was a Command Economy, so Soviet Politics as Command Politics.
This Evolution reflected partly the History of the Bolshevik Party, partly the Crises and urgent priorities of the young Soviet Regime and partly the peculiarities of the drunkard cobbler’s ex-seminarist son from Georgia who became the autocrat of the U.S.S.R. under the self-chosen political name “the man of steel,” namely J.V. Stalin (1879-1953). Lenin’s Model of the “Vanguard Party,” a uniquely efficient disciplined cadre of Professional Revolutionaries, geared to carrying out the Tasks assigned to them by a Central Leadership, was potentially authoritarian, as numerous other equally revolutionary Russian Marxists had pointed out from the start. What was to stop “Substitutism” of the Party for the Masses it claimed to lead? Of its (elected) Committees for the Membres, or rather the regular Congresses expressing their views? Of the actual operational Leadership for the Central Committee, and eventually by the (in theory elected) unique Leader who in practice replaced all of these? The danger, as it turned out, was no less real because Lenin neither wanted to nor was in a position to be a Dictator, or because the Bolshevik Party, like all Organisations of the Ideological Left, behaved much less like a Military Staff and much more like an endless Debating Society. It became more immediate after the October Revolution, as the Bolsheviks turned from a body of a few thousand Illegals into a Mass Party of hundreds of thousands, eventually of millions of Professional Mobilisers, Administrators, Executives and Controllers, who swamped the “Old Bolsheviks” and other pre-1917 Socialists who had joined them, such as Leon Trotsky. They shared none of the old Political Culture of the Left. All they knew was that the Party was Right and that Decisions made by Superior Authority must be carried out if the Revolution was to be saved.
Whatever the pre-revolutionary attitude of the Bolsheviks to Democracy in and outside the Party, to Free Speech, Civil Liberties and Toleration, the Circumstances of the Years 1917-21 imposed an increasingly Authoritarian Mode of Government on (and within) a Party committed to any Action that was (or seemed) necessary to maintain the fragile and struggling Soviet Power. It had not actually begun as a One-party Government, nor one rejecting Opposition, but it won the Civil War as a Single-party Dictatorship buttressed by a powerful Security Apparatus, and using Terror against Counter-revolutionaries. Equally to the point, the Party itself abandoned Internal Democracy, as the collective Discussion of alternative policies was banned (in 1921). The “Democratic Centralism” which governed it in theory became mere Centralism. It ceased to operate by its own Party Constitution. The annual Meetings of Party Congresses became less regular, until under Stalin they became unpredictable and occasional. The NEP Years relaxed the non-political atmosphere, but not the feeling that the Party was a beleaguered Minority which might have History on its side, but -was working against the grain the Russian Masses and the Russian Present. The Decision to launch the Industrial Revolution from above, automatically committed the System to imposing Authority, perhaps even more ruthlessly than in the Civil War Years, because its Machinery for exercising Power continuously was now much greater. It was then that the last elements of a Separation of Powers, the modest even if diminishing room for manoeuvre of the Soviet Government as distinct from the Party, came to an end. The Single Political Leadership of the Party now concentrated Absolute Power in its hands, subordinating all else.
It was at this point that the System became an Autocracy under Stalin, and one seeking to impose Total Control over all Aspects of its Citizens’ Lives and Thoughts, all their Existence being, so far as possible, subordinated to the Achievement of the System’s Objectives, as defined and specified by the Supreme Authority. This was certainly not envisaged by Marx and Engels, nor did it develop in the Second (Marxist) International and most of its Parties. Thus Karl Liebknecht, who, with Rosa Luxemburg, became the Leader of the German Communists and was assassinated with her in 1919 by reactionary officers, did not even claim to be a Marxist, though he was the son of a founder of the German Social Democratic Party. The Austro-Marxists, though, as their name suggests, committed to Marx, made no bones about going their own various ways, and even when a man was branded an official heretic, as Eduard Bernstein was for his “Revisionism,” it was taken for granted that he was a legitimate Social-Democrat. Indeed, he continued as an official editor of the Works of Marx and Engels. The idea that a Socialist State should force every Citizen to think the same, let alone to endow its Leaders collectively with something like Papal Infallibility (that any single Person should exercise this function was unthinkable), would not have crossed the mind of any leading Socialist before 1917.
One might at most claim that Marxist Socialism was for its adherents a passionate personal commitment, a System of hope and belief, which had some characteristics of a Secular Religion (though not more than the Ideology of Non-Socialist Crusading Groups) and, perhaps more to the point, that, once it became a Mass Movement, subtle theory inevitably became at best a catechism; at worst, a Symbol of Identity and Loyalty, like a Flag, which must be saluted. Such Mass Movements, as intelligent Central European Socialists had long noted, also tended to admire, even to worship, Leaders, though it must be said that the well-known tendency to Argument and Rivalry within Left-wing Parties would usually keep this under some Control. The Construction of the Lenin Mausoleum on the Red Square, where the preserved body of the great Leader would for ever be visible to the Faithful, did not derive from anything in even the Russian revolutionary tradition, but was an obvious attempt to mobilise the appeal of Christian Saints and Relics to a backward Peasant People for the benefit of the Soviet Regime. One might also claim that in the Bolshevik Party constructed by Lenin, Orthodoxy and Intolerance were to some extent implanted not as Values in themselves but for pragmatic Reasons. Like a Good General – and Lenin was fundamentally a planner of Action – he did not want Arguments in the Ranks which would prevent practical effectiveness. Moreover, like other practical Geniuses, he was convinced that he knew best, and had little Time for other Opinions. In theory, he was an Orthodox, even Fundamentalist, Marxist because it was clear to him that any monkeying with the Text of a theory whose essene was Revolution was likely to encourage Compromisers or Reformists. In practice, he unhesitatingly modified Marx’s Views and added to them freely, always defending his literal Loyalty to the Master. Since, for most of the years before 1917, he led, and represented an embattled Minority on the Russian Left, and even within Russian Social Democracy, he acquired a Reputation for Intolerance of Dissent, but he had as little Hesitation in welcoming his Opponents, once the Situation had changed, as he had in denouncing them, and even after October, he never relied on his Authority within the Party, but invariably on Argument. Nor, as we have seen, did his positions ever make their way unchallenged. Had he lived, Lenin would no doubt have gone on denouncing Opponents, and as in the Civil War, his pragmatic Intolerance would know no limits. Yet there is no Evidence that he envisaged, or would even have tolerated, the sort of secular version of a universal and compulsory state-cum-private Religion which developed after his death. Stalin may not have founded it consciously. He may merely have gone with what he saw as the mainstream of a Backward Peasant Russia and its autocratic and orthodox Tradition. But it is unlikely that, without him, it would have developed, and certain that it would not have been imposed on, or copied by other Socialist Regimes.
Yet one thing must be said. The possibility of Dictatorship is implicit in any Regime based on a Single, Irremovable Party. In a Party organised on the Centralised Hierarchical Basis of Lenin’s Bolsheviks, it becomes a probability. And irremovability was merely another name for the total conviction of the Bolsheviks that the Revolution must not be reversed, and that its Fate was in their hands and in nobody else’s. Bolsheviks argued that a Bourgeois Regime might safely envisage the defeat of a Conservative Administration and the succession of a Liberal, since this would not change the Bourgeois character of Society, but it would and could not tolerate a Communist Regime, for the same Reason that a Communist one could not tolerate being overthrown by any Force that would restore the Old Order. Revolutionaries, including Revolutionary Socialists, are not Democrats in the electoral sense, however sincerely convinced of acting in the Interests of “the People.” Nevertheless, even if the assumption that the Party was a Political Monopoly with a “leading role” made a Democratic Soviet Regime as unlikely as a Democratic Catholic Church, it did not imply Personal Dictatorship. It was Joseph Stalin who turned Communist Political Systems into Non-hereditary Monarchies. [The similarity with Monarchy is indicated by the tendency of some such States actually to move in the direction of Hereditary Succession, a Development which would have seemed absurdly unthinkable to earlier Socialists and Communists. North Korea and Roumania are two Cases in point.]
In many ways Stalin, tiny,† cautious, insecure, cruel, nocturnal and endlessly suspicious, seems a figure out of Suetonius’ Lives of the Caesars rather than out of modern Politics. [† The present writer, who saw Stalin’s embalmed body in the Red Square Mausoleum before it was removed in 1961 can remember the shock of seeing a man so tiny and yet so all-powerful. Significantly, all Films and Photographs concealed the fact that he was only 5 ft. 3 ins. tall.] Outwardly unimpressive and indeed forgettable, “a grey blur” as a contemporary observed called him in 1917 (Sukhanov), he conciliated and manoeuvred where he had to until he reached the Top; but, of course, his very considerable gifts had got him close to the Top even before the Revolution. He was a membre of the First Government after the Revolutionary Government as Commissar for nationalities. When he finally became the unchallenged Leader of the Party and (in effect) of the State, he lacked the palpable sense of personal destiny, the charisma and self-confidence which made Hitler the founder and accepted master of this Party and kept his Entourage loyal to him without coercion. Stalin ruled his Party, as everything else within reach of his personal Power, by Terror and Fear.
In turning himself into something like a secular Tsar, defender of the Secular Orthodox Faith, the body of whose founder, transformed into a Secular Saint, awaited the pilgrims outside the Kremlin, Stalin showed a sound sense of Public Relations. For a collection of Peasant and Animal-herding Peoples mentally living in the Western equivalent of the eleventh century, this was almost certainly the most effective way of establishing the legitimacy of the New Regime, just as the simple, unqualified, dogmatic catechisms to which he reduced “Marxism-Leninism” were ideal for introducing Ideas to the first Generation of literates. [And not only these. The 1939 Short History of the Soviet Communist Party, whatever its Lies and intellectual limitations, was pedagogically a masterly text.] Nor can his Terror simply be seen as the assertion of a Tyrant’s unlimited personal Power. There is no doubt that he enjoyed that Power, the Fear that he inspired, the ability to give Life or Death, just as there is no doubt that he was quite indifferent to the Material Rewards that someone in his position could command. Yet, whatever his personal psychological kinks, Stalin’s Terror, was, in theory, as rationally instrumental a Tactic as was his caution where he lacked Control. Both, in fact, were based on the Principle of avoiding Risks, which in turn, reflected that very lack of confidence in his ability to assess situations (“to make a Marxist analysis,” in the Bolshevik Jargon) which had distinguished Lenin. His terrifying Career makes no sense except as a stubborn, unbroken, pursuit of that Utopian aim of a Communist Society to whose reassertion he devoted the last of his publications, a few months before his death (Stalin, 1952).
Power in the Soviet Union was all that the Bolsheviks had gained by the October Revolution. Power was the only tool they could wield to change Society. This was beset by constant, and in one way or another, constantly renewed, difficulties. (This is the meaning of Stalin’s otherwise absurd Thesis that the Class Struggle would become more intense decades after “the Proletariat had taken Power.”) Only the determination to use Power consistently and ruthlessly to eliminate all possible obstacles to the process could guarantee eventual success.
Three things drove a policy based on this assumption towards a murderous absurdity.
First, Stalin’s belief that in the last analysis only he knew the way forward and was sufficiently determined to pursue it. Plenty of politicians and general have this sense of indispensability, but only those with Absolute Power are in a position to compel others to share this Belief. Thus the Great Purges of the 1930s which, unlike earlier forms of Terror, were directed against the Party itself and especially its Leadership, began after many hardened Bolsheviks, including those who had supported him against the various oppositions of the 1920s and genuinely backed the Great Leap Forward of Collectivisation and Five-Year Plan, found the ruthless cruelties of the Period and the Sacrifices it imposed, more than they would willingly accept. No doubt many of them remembered Lenin’s refusal to back Stalin as his successor because of his excessive brutality. The Seventeenth Congress of the CPSU9b) revealed a substantial opposition to him. Whether it actually constituted a threat to his Power we shall never know, for between 1934 and 1939 four or five million Party Membres and Officials were arrested on political grounds, four or five hundred thousand of them were executed without Trial, and the next (eighteenth) Party Congress which met in the Spring of 1939, contained a bare thirty-seven survivors of the 1827 delegates who had been present at the seventeenth in 1934 (Kerblay, 1983, p. 245).
What gave his terror an unprecedented inhumanity was that was that it recognised no conventional or other limits. It was not so much the belief that a great end justifies all the means necessary to achieve it (though it is possible that this was Mao Tse-tung’s Belief), or even the Belief that the Sacrifices imposed on the present Generation, however large, are as nothing to the Benefits which will be reaped by the endless Generations of the Future. It was the application of the Principle of Total War to all Times. Leninism, perhaps because of the powerful strain of Voluntarism which made other Marxists distrust Lenin as a “Blanquist” or “Jacobin,” thought essentially in Military Terms, as his own Admiration for Clausewitz would indicate, even if the entire vocabulary of Bolshevik Politics did not bear witness to it. “Who whom?” was Lenin’s basic maxim: the struggle as a zero-sum game in which the winner took, the loser lost, all. As we know, even the Liberal States waged both World Wars in this spirit, and recognised absolutely no limit on the suffering they were prepared to impose on the Population of “the Enemy,” and in the First World War, even on their own Armed Forces. Indeed, even the victimisation of entire Blocs of People, defined on a priori grounds, became part of Warfare: such as the Internment during the Second World War of all U.S. Citizens of Japanese origin or of all Resident Germans and Austrians in Britain on the grounds that they might contain some potential Agents of the Enemy. This was part of that relapse of nineteenth-century Civil Progress into a renaissance of Barbarism, which runs like a dark thread through this book.
Fortunately, in constitutional and preferably Democratic States under the Rule of Law and with a Free Press, there are some countervailing Forces. In Systems of Absolute Power there are none, even though eventually conventions of Power-limitation may develop, if only for the sake of survival and because the use of Total Power may be self-defeating. Paranoia is its logical end-product. After Stalin’s death a tacit understanding among his successors decided to put an end of the Era of Blood, although (until the Gorbachev Era) it was left to dissidents within and scholars or publicists abroad to estimate the full human cost of Stalin Decades. Henceforth Soviet politicians died in their beds, and sometimes at an advanced age. As the Gulags emptied in the late 1950s, the U.S.S.R. remained a Society which treated its Citizens badly by Western standards, but it ceased to be a Society which imprisoned and killed its Citizens on a uniquely massive scale. Indeed, by the 1980s it had a distinctly smaller proportion of its Inhabitants in Jail than the U.S.A. (268 Prisoners per 100,000 Population against 426 per 100,000 in the U.S.A.) (Walker, 1991). Moreover, in the 1960s and 1970s the U.S.S.R. actually became a Society in which the ordinary Citizen probably ran a smaller Risk of being deliberately killed by Crime, Civil Conflict or the State than a substantial number of other countries in Asia, Africa and the Americas. Nevertheless, it remained a Police State, an Authoritarian Society and, by any realistic standards, an Unfree one. Only officially authorised or permitted Information was available to the Citizen – any other Kind remained at least technically punishable by Law until Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost (“openness”) – and Freedom of Travel and Settlement depended on official Permission, an increasingly nominal restriction within the U.S.S.R., but a very real one where frontiers had to be crossed even into another friendly “Socialist” Country. In all these respects the U.S.S.R. remained distinctly inferior to Tsarist Russia. Moreover, even though for most everyday purposes the Rule of Law operated, the Powers of Administrative, i.e. arbitrary, Imprisonment or Internal Exile remained.
It will probably never be possible to calculate the human cost of Russia’s Iron Decades adequately, since even such official Statistics of Execution and Gulag Populations as exist or might become available cannot cover all the losses, and estimates vary enormously depending on the assumption made by the estimators. “By a sinister paradox” it has been said, “we are better informed as to losses to Soviet Livestock in this Period and then about the number of the Regime’s Opponents who were exterminated” (Kerblay, 1983, p. 26). The Suppression of the 1937 Census alone introduces almost insuperable obstacles. Still, whatever assumptions are made,* the number of direct and indirect Victims must be measured in eight rather than seven digits. [* For the uncertainties of such procedures see Kosinski, 1987, pp. 151-52.] In these circumstances it does not much matter whether we opt for a “conservative” estimate nearer to ten than to twenty millions or a larger figure: none can be anything but shameful and beyond palliation, let alone justification. I add, without comment, that the Total Population of the U.S.S.R. in 1937 was said to have been 164 millions, or 16.7 millions less than the demographic forecasts of the Second Five-Year Plan (1933-38).
Brutal and dictatorial though it was, the Soviet System was not “Totalitarian,” a Term which became popular among critics of Communism after the Second World War, having been invented in the 1920s by Italian Fascism to describe its Objects. Hitherto it had been used almost exclusively to criticise both it and German National Socialism. It stood for an all-embracing Centralised System which not only imposed total physical Control over its Population but, by means of its Monopoly of Propaganda and Education, actually succeeded in getting its People to internalise its Values. George Orwell’s 1984 (published in 1949) gave this Western image of the Totalitarian Society its most powerful form: a Society of brainwashed Masses under the watchful eye of “Big Brother,” from which only the occasional lonely individual dissented.
This is certainly what Stalin would have wanted to achieve, though it would have outraged Lenin and other Old Bolsheviks, not to mention Marx. Insofar as it aimed at the virtual deification of the Leader (what was later shyly euphemised as “the Cult of Personality”), or at least at establishing him as a compendium of Virtues, it had some success, which Orwell satirised. Paradoxically, this owed little to Stalin’s Absolute Power. The Communist militants outside the “Socialist” Countries who wept genuine tears as they learned of his death in 1953 – and many did – were voluntary converts to the Movement they believed him to have symbolised and inspired. Unlike most foreigners, all Russians knew well enough how much Suffering had been, and still was, their log. Yet in some sense by virtue merely of being a strong and legitimate Ruler of the Russian Lands and a Moderniser of these Lands, he represented something of themselves: most recently their Leader in a War which was, for Great Russians at least, a genuinely national Struggle.
Yet, in every other respect, the System was not “Totalitarian,” a Fact which throws considerable doubt on the usefulness of the Term. It did not exercise effective “Thought Control,” let alone ensure “Thought Conversion,” but in fact depoliticised the Citizenry to an astonishing degree. The official Doctrines of Marxism-Leninism left the bulk of the Population virtually untouched, since it had no apparent relevance to them, unless they were interested in a Career in which such esoteric Knowledge was expected. After forty years of Education in a Country dedicated to Marxism, passers-by on Marx Square in Budapest were asked who Karl Marx was. They were told:
He was a Soviet philosopher; Engels was his friend. Well, what else can I say? He died at an old age. (Another voice): Of course, a politician. And he was, you know, he was what’s his name’s – Lenin’s, Lenin, Lenin’s Works – well he translated them into Hungarian. (Garton Ash, 1990, p. 261)
For the Majority of Soviet Citizens most Public Statements about Politics and Ideology coming from on high were probably not consciously absorbed at all, unless they bore directly on their Everyday Problems – which they rarely did. Only the intellectuals were forced to take them seriously in a Society built on and around an Ideology that claimed to be rational and “scientific.” Yet, paradoxically, the very fact that such Systems needed intellectuals, and gave those who did not publicly dissent from it substantial Priviledges and Advantages, created a Social Space outside the State’s Control. Only Terror as ruthless as Stalin’s could completely silence the unofficial intellect. In the U.S.S.R. it re-emerged as soon as the ice of Fear began to thaw – The Thaw (1954) was the title of an influential roman à thèse by Ilya Ehrenburg (1891-1967), a talented survivor – in the 1950s. In the 1960s and 1970s dissent, both in the uncertainly tolerated form of Communist reformers and in the form of total intellectual, political and cultural Dissidence, dominated the Soviet Scene, though officially the Country remained “monolithic” – a favourite Bolshevik Term. This was to become evident in the 1980s.