On the Article of Alexei Danko

George Gruenthal

Dear comrades of Proletarskaya Gazeta,

I read with great interest the English translation of the article by Alexei Danko in issue no. 26 of Proletarskaya Gazeta. In my opinion it represents a qualitative advance in understanding the class roots of modern revisionism from a Marxist-Leninist viewpoint.

I have read much of the material available in English concerning modern revisionism. From the time of the polemics of the Chinese and Albanian parties in the early 1960s, it has been clear to those whose eyes have not been clouded by revisionism that Khrushchev and his successors, from the time of the 20th Congress of the CPSU, had betrayed Marxist-Leninist ideology, had replaced the dictatorship of the proletariat with the ‘state of the whole people’ and the vanguard party of the working class with the ‘party of the entire people. This was the ideological basis for the undermining of socialism.

There has also been increasing analysis of the changes in the Soviet Union that reversed the socialist economy of the Lenin-Stalin period to a capitalist (albeit state-owned) economy of the Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Gorbachev period. This analysis has noted the extension of commodity-money relations (beginning with the sale of the Machine Tractor Stations to individual collective farms), making profit the main criterion for judging the success of an enterprise, etc.

However, in general the Marxist-Leninist literature has not gone much beyond this. In particular, there has been little analysis of the class roots of revisionism, except in very general terms.

To a certain extent, this limitation is understandable, as it was necessary to carry out a firm struggle not just with those who defended Khrushchevite revisionism, but also with those centrist forces who acknowledged the revisionism of Khrushchev and his successors but still considered the Soviet Union to be socialist in that period. This struggle must still be continued. But to leave it at that level is not to go beyond the correct statement that ‘Khrushchev betrayed socialism.’ In different conditions Engels pointed to the limitations of such an analysis when he said, in Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany, ‘what a poor chance stands a political party whose entire stock-in-trade consists in a knowledge of the solitary fact that Citizen so-and-so is not to be trusted.’

Comrade Danko’s article begins to look at the class roots of Khrushchev’s betrayal. He states that: ‘It is therefore the petty-bourgeois masses who reproduce bourgeois aspirations in socialist society and who engender a new bourgeoisie.’ He further points out that: ‘The realisation of petty-bourgeois aspirations under socialism happens through the necessary preservation of certain elements of capitalism and the application of the ‘bourgeois right’, which it is impossible to liquidate in a short period of time. For instance, take the distribution according to labour, which necessarily results in income differentiation and the existence of significant differences between mental and manual labor and between the city and the countryside. A concrete expression and source of petty-bourgeois aspirations are the existence of private peasant plots, private real estate and dachas, goods of excessive luxury, the special status of managerial and intellectual labour, the existence of commodity-money relations in the sphere of distribution of products, commodities and services of broad demand and so forth.’ He continues by saying that: ‘These elements can only be eliminated by means of gradual liquidation of ‘bourgeois right’ in the process of the progressive development of the material and technical basis of socialism.’

Socialist society is still a class society. It differs from capitalism (and all earlier class societies) in that, for the first time, the ruling class is the majority class, the formerly exploited working class (in Russia it formed the majority together with its ally, the peasantry), and it uses its class rule, the dictatorship of the proletariat, to repress the former exploiters and to prepare for communism, or classless society. At first, this dictatorship is aimed at removing the former exploiting class from power and expropriating their means of production. In the Soviet Union this was basically accomplished by the early 1930s, with the expropriation of the kulaks and their liquidation as a class.

But this overthrow and expropriation of the exploiting classes does not put an end to the class struggle. There are still remnants of these classes, and there are still large numbers of petty bourgeois who cannot be transformed into proletarians overnight. As Lenin pointed out in Left-Wing Communism: ‘The dictatorship of the proletariat is a persistent struggle – bloody and bloodless, violent and peaceful, military and economic, educational and administrative – against the forces and traditions of the old society. The force of habit of millions and tens of millions is a most terrible force.’ Stalin clearly recognised that the class struggle continues in the whole period of socialism.

Comrade Danko states at the very beginning of his article that he is not attempting to give a complete answer to the question of the class roots of the counter-revolution in the Soviet Union. Therefore one can certainly not criticise him for any limitations in his article. I would simply like to suggest some directions for further study and possibly some disagreement with certain emphases in his analysis.

In looking at the class roots of the counter-revolution, we need to examine certain historical facts, even if these are brought out by elements who are not fully Marxist-Leninist, or by bourgeois historians as long as they are honest in their presentation of these facts.

While the petty bourgeoisie as a whole forms the class base for revisionism, in my view it was very particular sections of this class that were the key elements – certain middle and even higher level elements in the party, state and managerial apparatus.

For example, Eugene Varga, the well-known Hungarian-born Soviet economist, described in a book published after his death, scenes in the middle of the Great Patriotic War. In that period, the great majority of the Soviet workers and peasants, led by the Bolshevik Party, were either fighting at the front or working hard in the rear to support the fight against the Nazi-fascist invaders. They patiently endured conditions of sacrifice at a time of severe shortages. At this same time, Varga described being invited to special canteens at which members of the apparatus were dining as if at a banquet. These people were living ‘high off the hog’ while everyone else was sacrificing to defend their socialist country. These were people who had been placed in positions of high responsibility. It is these same people who were probably already planning to seize power and reverse the course of socialist construction, which they did once the restrictions on their power imposed by the Party were removed after Stalin’s death.

Comrade Danko mentions how, in the adverse conditions of World War 2, ‘the functions of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the development of proletarian democracy were significantly hampered.’ This is certainly true, but there is evidence that this began before and continued after the war.

Already in 1985 J. Arch Getty, an honest academic historian, wrote a valuable book, The Origins of the Great Purges. Based on an analysis of the party archives from Smolensk, Getty shows how elements in the regional party apparatus stymied attempts by Stalin and the revolutionary leadership of the Party to strengthen proletarian democracy. Revolutionary historians such as Grover Furr have developed this research and shown that this situation was not at all unique to Smolensk. And Andrei Zhdanov in his report to the 18th Party Congress in 1939 described the lengths to which bureaucratic elements in the Party would go in attacking others in order to preserve their own positions in the party apparatus.

Of course, there were revolutionary measures that had been put in place to try to combat such bourgeois degeneration among cadre and leading elements of the apparatus. One measure was the ‘party maximum,’ which limited the salaries of party members in high technical and managerial positions. Another was the workers and peasants control, in which rank and file people would supervise the actions of the leading cadre at their workplace. It is understandable that there would be a relaxation of such measures of supervision and control under wartime conditions, but it is not clear how strictly these measures were applied or how effective they were either before or after the war.

Today there are no longer any genuinely socialist countries. Clearly the temporary downfall of the Soviet Union and other formerly socialist countries took place under conditions of imperialist pressure. But these countries did not fall to invasion from without – they fell primarily due to betrayal from within. During Stalin’s time, the only experience of revisionism in state power was Titoite Yugoslavia. Now everyone has seen the results of the revisionism of Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Gorbachev in the Soviet Union and their counterparts in Eastern Europe, as well as revisionism under Ramiz Alia in Albania. As Marxist-Leninists we have a duty to understand the class roots of these setbacks as we prepare for the next wave of socialist revolutions.

In calling on Soviet theorists to analyse the positive experience of socialist development, Stalin criticised those who just concentrated on the brief experience of the Paris Commune, when there were years of Soviet power to study. We have now had decades of the negative experience of revisionism in power to study. We need to continue and deepen our analysis of revisionism in the Soviet Union and other formerly socialist countries.

In my view, comrade Danko’s article is an important first step in this analysis. It is to be hoped that others, particularly from the former Soviet Union and other formerly socialist countries who have had direct experience to draw on, will continue this work.


George Gruenthal
New York City, U.S.A.

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