The Historical Significance of the Twentieth Congress


On the 40th anniversary of the Twentieth Congress we publish an analysis which argues that it was an historical event which was called to establish the correspondence between the new relations of production ensuing from the destruction of the socialist mode of production between 1953 and 1956 and the still 'unreformed' superstructure. In this light the congress appears as an integral part of an objective process not dependent on the will of the actors on the historical stage, on the subjective role played by the Members of the Politburo or the 'Secret Report' of Nikita Khrushchev. The Twentieth Congress prepared the ground for the removal of Molotov, Kaganovich and Shepilov from the leadership of the CPSU in 1957, thereby eliminating the last political resistance to the conversion of the means of production in Soviet industry into commodities and the introduction of the principle of profitability in the enterprises in 1957-58. In the years after the Twentieth Congress the CPSU and the CPC shrouded the real significance of the event. By doing so they with great care jointly obscured the principled necessity of the transition to communism in the USSR as had been outlined by Stalin, the transition to the dictatorship of the proletariat and the construction of socialism in the Peoples' Republic of China; for the retention of the dictatorship of the proletariat until the victory of communism on a world scale and the necessity of the abolition classes under socialism. The following analysis was presented on behalf of the International Committee for the Restoration of the Soviet Union at a meeting held in Rome in July, 1995 by the group 'Iniziativa Comunista' on the occasion of the publication of the Italian edition of the book 'Conversations in Jail' by the leader of the Russian Communist Workers' Party, Victor Anpilov.

The historical analysis and treatment of the events in the Soviet Union of the 1950s have occupied and continue to occupy many Marxist theoreticians throughout the world. This is a problem of high interest to all those who call themselves Communists. From being a simple question of debate such analysis has been converted into a battlefield between Marxism-Leninism and the survivals of 40 years of revisionism in the consciousness of many communists which are an impediment to current ideological development.

The analysis of the significance of the Twentieth Congress shows the ideological development of the communist movement. It reveals the reigning ignorance of the laws of historical materialism and dialectical materialism which are the fundamental pillars of Marxism-Leninism, the teachings of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin; it gives us an understanding of the fighting character of the actual communist movement. One might conjecture that, with exceptions, the militant character of a communist group and its ideological development are as inseparable as flesh and blood.

The discussion on the understanding of Marxist-Leninist principles is a question of prime importance for the Communists today as it has always been. Lenin and Stalin said that ideological differences and contradictions within the party have to be resolved, that is, they have to be expressed, brought to light and then resolved. One must not be scared of expressing and revealing differences. This is the path dictated to us by the dialectics of development of the internal life of the party, it is the path that leads to the formation of the Leninist party, the party of the proletariat.

The analysis of the historical significance of the Twentieth Congress cannot limit itself to the study of the concrete circumstances that revolved around the event, how it occurred, the psychological analysis of the members of the Politburo, of their internal intrigues or of the idiosyncrasies of Khrushchev, etc. The present study requires an historical approach which has to be established in accordance with the analytical apparatus offered to us by

Marxism-Leninism, concretely with the knowledge of the fundamental laws of historical development. We are referring to the application of the knowledge of the laws of historical and dialectical materialism which indubitably constitutes a challenge to the remnants of modern revisionism that still persist in one form or another in the consciousness of many communists.

The Twentieth Congress is understood by communists as the point of historical inflection for the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union and as an historical event that led to the termination of the process of construction of communist society, the destruction of classes, which is the maximum aspiration of the communist party. In contrast to this assertion the views of the social-democratic parties are essentially revisionist whereby the 'problems' started in 1985 and that the collapse of the Soviet Union is the result of the treacherous action of the higher levels of the CPSU and the Soviet state, the diversionary activities of the western intelligence services, the attrition of the armaments race, etc. etc. which is by all means a step forward. Presently the recognition of the Twentieth Congress as a point of inflection is a conditio sine qua non for subsequent ideological development towards genuinely revolutionary stands.

Those who ten or five years ago pointed to the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU as the source of all evils are, we may say, vindicated. Those who spoke of this were very brave and very few. These comrades truly deserve praise as they were aware of the historical role played by Stalin, without being followers of the doctrines such as castroism, maoism, etc. or under the pressure of the CPSU which was revisionist to the pith, they held firm in their convictions and participated as the motive forces in the nuclei which were forming the proletarian party in their respective countries.

In the concrete case of the Russian communist movement we may find a state of constant development and a continual ideological struggle which has led to successive splits and clean-ups which have reinforced its strength. It would have been erroneous to initiate ideological discussions at the moments that the modern Russian communist movement was founded corresponding to the ideological level which has been achieved today. In turn we cannot limit ourselves to the ideological development which was achieved five or ten years ago, without attempting to fight against the survivals of 40 years of revisionism and opportunism, with the objective of coming to terms with the present situation, and drawing out the contradictory stands of the genuine revolutionaries in theory as in practice.

The recognition of the Twentieth Congress as a point of inflection and also of the historical role of Stalin have been a battlehorse for the Russian communists from the time of perestroika to our days and serve as the demarcating line between the communist movement and social democracy. Today to speak of Stalin as a great man is just not enough. In the same manner that Marx, Engels and Lenin have been misrepresented and adapted to suit the requirements of opportunism in the last forty years, Stalin can equally be an object of revision. Even the leaders of the social democratic Communist Party of the Russian Federation, headed by Zyuganov, talk of Stalin as a great man. This is a phenomenon which the communist movements in other countries have experienced.

In the name of Stalinism it is possible in the current conditions of ideological development to unwillingly perpetuate serious revisionist elements in political economy and philosophy which have their origin in the Khrushchevite-Brezhnevite epoch. In other words to shout 'Long Live Stalin' is indispensable but insufficient. After the re-acknowledgement on a mass scale of the historic role of Stalin by the Russian communist movement as well as at an international level, conditioned by the former, the fundamental task of the Marxist-Leninists at the ideological level may be formulated in the following manner: to fight to purge the communist movement of the survivals of modern revisionism for the sake of the construction of a genuinely communist party, the party of the proletariat.

The Twentieth Congress has to be studied in its corresponding historical perspective and understood as the result of the unfolding of the contradictions of classes and social groups that lay in the heart of socialist society, and which had basically accumulated in the post-war period and had remained unresolved due to the sudden and unexpected demise of Stalin who had initiated a process of ideological purification on a large scale. In the well-known Leninist-Stalinist thesis: though antagonistic contradictions disappear in socialist society other class contradictions will persist for a long time and the only way to achieve the higher phase of communism is through the resolution of these contradictions, and if they start to accumulate they would retard historical development. While acknowledging the non-antagonistic character of the contradictions amongst the internal classes we have to be conscious of the antagonistic relationship that exists between the socialist countries and their capitalist counterparts. Moreover we cannot consider as definitive the victory of socialism or communism in one country or a small group of countries unless the socialist revolution triumphs in the majority of countries. We cannot consider the internal contradictions in isolation from the external ones or even vice-versa. On the basis of these premises it may be argued that if the accumulating class contradictions in the heart of socialist society are not resolved over a long period of time, development will be retarded to such a point, under concrete historical conditions, that through a backward leap these contradictions would provoke an involution of development historically which would initiate the destruction of the socialist socio-economic formation and lead to the restoration of capitalism as a concrete fact independent of the human will. This is a fundamental methodological question which is indispensable to understand while undertaking an historical analysis of the Twentieth Congress.

Of great interest in capturing the atmosphere of the age is the question of the Judgements of Honour which were introduced in the Soviet state in the years 1947-48. Judgements of Honour were initially established in all Ministries in 1947, and, later, in 1948, in the USSR Soviet of Ministers and in the Central Committee of the CPSU(b) and its apparatus. The Judgements of Honour were given the task of control of the moral-political and ethical conduct of the middle and higher sections of the Soviet state and party. In case the dishonest attitude of the accused bordered on unlawful stands, the Judgements of Honour passed the case for appropriate judicial prosecution. It is well-known that in the year 1947 the death penalty was withdrawn in the Soviet Union, this was later deemed to be an error. It was reinstated in 1950 for cases of sabotage, espionage and treason (in relation to the famous 'Leningrad case'). What were the causes which promoted the formation of the Judgements of Honour? The Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU, A.A. Kuznetzov in a report to the apparatus of the CC of the CPSU(b) on the 29th September of 1947 indicated:

The question pertaining to the need to institute the Trials of Honour was raised by the Central Committee of the Party when it spotted the existence of vicious survivals of capitalism in the consciousness of our intellectuals, these consist of a servile behaviour before foreigners and vestiges of reactionary bourgeois culture. It is for this reason that the job of educating the Soviet functionaries about their duties towards their state and society had been given to the Trials of Honour. (Istochnik, No.6, 1994, p. 70)

Numerous instances of transmission of confidential and strategic information of the Soviet state to western intelligence organs 'are not a matter a chance and are a result of a serious state in the realm of politics and morality amongst certain sectors of our intelligentsia especially those who are occupied in the field of culture' (op. cit., p. 71). Kuznetzov continued in his report by giving an account of serious cases of political degradation as much in the ministries as in the different state organs as well as in the apparatus of the CC of the CPSU(b).

Towards the end of 1952 it was publicly recognised that the withdrawal of the death penalty had been an error founded in the underestimation of the antagonistic character of the relations of the socialist countries with its capitalist neighbours. This may be shown by the sharpening of the contradictions of the internal classes even when the Socialist state had been strengthened by its clear victory over German imperialism.

The amoral, anti-social and anti-Soviet conduct of many middle and higher cadres of the Soviet party and state was a manifestation of the existence of social contradictions at the heart of socialist society. Another expression of the same kind but of greater relevance and scope was the vulgarisation and revision of the principles of Marxism-Leninism which had acquired a massive and extensive character in the humanities in the Soviet Union in the post-war period. Stalin in his last great work 'Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR', published on the eve of the 19th Congress of the CPSU(b), sounded the alarm and denounced the serious situation in the humanities and particularly the crass conceptual errors on the questions of the political economy of socialism which was a fundamental question at the stage of transition to Communist Society.

In the post-war period elements of the philosophy and political economy of Bogdanovism and Bukharinism, which were divorced from Marxist-Leninist ideology, began to establish themselves in a spontaneous and unwitting way. The clear victory over German imperialism in the politico-military, politico-moral spheres and economic conditions gave rise to the illusion that the Soviet state was infallible, that it was capable of everything, and that Soviet society was devoid of internal contradictions capable of hindering economic development, and that, therefore the construction of Communist society simply consisted in the rational organisation, negating, in this manner, the objective character of economic laws whose immediate result was the suppression of the political economy of socialism. Convincing proof of the alarming situation in the humanities is the report of Pyotr Yudin, the famous philosopher of the age, which was presented in the session of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR on 31st January, 1953:

What are the reasons that our economists, philosophers, jurists, historians have given up Marxist stands and adopted subjective-idealist positions with regard to the question of the objective character of the economic laws of socialism. The reasons are, first, that many of our scientific functionaries have not understood with the necessary profundity the principles of Marxism-Leninism; second, that many economists, jurists, historians have forgotten Marxist philosophy and have been converted into empiricists.

The philosophers under-estimate the most elementary requirements of Marxism, namely, the elaboration of Marxist philosophy on the basis of the materials obtained from concrete branches of science i.e. the Natural Sciences, Political Economy and History. In place of this many philosophers 'develop' philosophy on a purely 'logical' form, following 'general concepts' that restore Hegelianism, Talmudism and scholasticism. (P. Yudin, The Work of J.V. Stalin 'Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR' - Basis for the Further Development of the Social Sciences', Kommunist, No. 3, 1953, p. 53).

The documents of the period are ample testimony of the strong attack launched by Stalin and, under his influence, by the Central Committee against serious ideological deviations in the humanities. This offensive, according to studies which have been carried out, came to an abrupt end in the months following the death of Stalin. Even during the middle of 1953 we can find documents which testify to the involution of the discussion that took place during end of 1952 and the beginning of 1953.

Many comrades think that the destruction of the socialist economic base was initiated with the 'economic reforms' of 1965-67 and that, moreover, these only led to the 'deformation' of socialism and did not destroy its economic base. These comrades are committing a grave conceptual error, they refute in essence the Stalinist theses with regard to the plans for the construction of communism and in consequence, despite their Stalinism, they reject the positions of Stalin himself.

There is not the slightest doubt that had the offensive launched by Stalin lasted for the necessary period it would most surely have borne fruit and the condition necessary for the construction of communism would have been established. However, it is a fact which cannot go unnoticed by the communists or even by the modern revisionists that the 'economic reforms' which ruined Stalin's programme for the construction of communism were started immediately after his death and more concretely, with what is called the 'historic' Plenum of the CC of the CPSU of September, 1953. Prior to the said Plenum in April the Soviet Ministries decreed the expansion of the rights of ministers, with the consequent weakening of the powers of the organ of central state planning (Gosplan). However, the 'historic' September Plenum by its resolution 'Concerning the Measures for the Further Development of Agriculture' fulfilled the aspirations of certain sectors of the Soviet farmers particularly those engaged in the collective farms of high productivity'. These farmers in an instinctive and unconscious way had not enthusiastically received the plans for the substitution of the exchange of commodities by products-exchange. The decree absolutised profitability and material incentives and elevated profitability to the level of the principal index of economic effectivity in the countryside. Similarly, the norms of obligatory quotas of the collective farms to the state were reduced on the basis of arguments which revealed a lack of knowledge of the principles of political economy. Essentially, they rejected Stalin's plan of elevating collective farm property to the level of state property (socialisation).

The 'agrarian reform' outlined in the September Plenum was made effective by the Plenum of February-March, 1954. According to the resolution:

Constant observation of the principle of material incentive of the collective farms and collective farmers in the development of agricultural production is a daily task of the party and Soviet institutions. ('Decrees of the CPSU and the Soviet Government on Economic Questions' [in Russian], Moscow, 1958, p. 161)

The same spirit informed the Resolution of the CC of the CPSU in March, 1955.

The Stalinist concept of profit, that is, the profitability of the socialist economy in its entirety was replaced by the narrow concept of profitability of the enterprise, of the individual unit of production, as the principal index of economic effectivity. The bases for this fundamental transformation in the economy were established by the banking and credit 'reforms' and the restructuring of the Gosplan.

According to the resolutions of the CC of the CPSU of August, 1954 and July, 1957 the Central Bank (Gosbank) acquired new functions and its powers were substantially expanded. In essence the Central Bank acquired the function of financial control over the activity of the enterprises. The enterprise presented itself to the Bank as an indebted subject in the strict monetary sense, independent of the productive activity developed for it. The powers of the Central Bank were expanded to the point that it had the capacity of declaring an enterprise insolvent or bankrupt and acquired the right to sell to other state enterprises part of the assets of the said enterprise with the end of receiving the unpaid amount. This presupposed a type of production relations which did not correspond to and which entered into contradiction with, the social character of the means of production which determines the economic base of Socialism and Communism.

The concept of planning evolved and acquired another sense: of the coordination between distinct subjects of the economy, between the ministries and the enterprises. Apart from the already mentioned decrees of April, 1953 and June, 1955, Gosplan was restructured and divided into two independent committees for long-term and short-term 'planning', respectively, and whose function was to 'optimize' economic resources. In August, 1955 the Directors of the Enterprises acquired new rights, the responsibilities and capacities to redistribute enterprise funds and surplus assets. This corresponded to the growing character of independent and isolated units of production which had been acquired by Soviet enterprises. In December, 1956, the rights of the Republican organs in the realm of planning were extended and those of the Ministries and Enterprises even further. All of this constituted a violation of the socialist principle of directive planning geared to the necessity of developing the entire economy in accordance with the growing needs of society.

As the necessary outline of the 'economic reforms', in May, 1957, the system of allocation of the means of production of the state enterprises was substituted by a fragmented system of sales. In September, 1957, the means of production in the state sector were, in fact, transformed into commodities, and in the beginning of 1958 agricultural machinery was sold to the collective farms, thereby passing over from being state property into group property.

As we see the Twentieth Congress was a political event perfectly placed within the ambit of an entire radical transformation in the socialist economic base. Therefore, the Twentieth Congress cannot be studied in isolation, rather it should be studied in the context of the new character acquired by the Soviet economic basis, contingent on the dialectic of the inter-action of the superstructure with its economic base. The Twentieth Congress was a political event called to lay the basis for establishing a correspondence between the Soviet superstructure and the new character of its economic base. Without the Twentieth Congress it would not have been possible to expel Molotov, Malenkov, Kaganovich, Shepilov and Saburov from the Central Committee in 1957, adopt subsequently a new programme of the party, transform the class component of the Soviet State and finally destroy the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Those who conceive of the Twentieth Congress as an historical event isolated from the economic transformations carried out after the death of Stalin, as a result of a simple redistribution of power in the high spheres of the party get lost in the analysis of the psychological characteristics of Khrushchev and other members of the Politburo and are committing grave conceptual and methodological errors. On the one hand, they are exaggerating the role of the superstructure and its influence on the economic base. On the other hand they show a lack of knowledge of the concept of the socialist economy, more precisely of political economy and of the Stalinist teachings on the necessary conditions for the constitution of communism.

What is the practical significance of the present discussion? In the mouths of the declared social democrats as well as the uncovered social democrats the thesis is circulated according to which the involution of the process of constitution of communist society, the brake of the development of the forces of production in the post-Stalinist period and the final collapse of the Soviet Union is a result of the fact that Marxist theory in the 1950s could not resolve the theoretical problem of the transition to communism, and that it could not take into account the other phenomena which appeared in the 1960s and 1970s. As a result they are negating the validity of the last work of Stalin and are accepting in a partial or complete form the Khrushchevite-Brezhnevite thesis according to which capitalist methods of management correspond to the form of socialist production. We, Marxist-Leninists, show that the work of Stalin, 'Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR', is a classical work in which the guidelines for the construction of communist society have been explained in a masterly way and that all the attempts to invalidate the work we regard as revisionist. 'Economic Problems' is a crucial theoretical work for showing that the communists are capable of constructing communism, which has to be reflected in its maximum programme. As Lenin said, without a revolutionary theory there cannot be a revolutionary party.

Towards the formation of the proletarian party!
Long live Marxism-Leninism!
Long live Stalin!

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