V. M. Molotov and the Liquidation of Socialism in the USSR

C. N. Subramaniam

This article is based upon the newly published book, "Molotov Remembers". The title is somewhat misleading as it is not a memoir but a record of conversations with F. Chuyev, a Marxist assailed by liberal doubts. These records have been edited and published by imperialist media. As such it cannot be treated as a serious theoretical work and allowances should be made for editorial interventions and the casualness that goes with conversations. The book mentions several works of Molotov which need to be traced and published. (Molotov Remembers, Inside Kremlin Politics, Conversations with Felix Chuyev- Edited with an introduction and notes by Albert Resis, Ivan R. Dee, Chicago, 1993. Referred to hereafter as MR).

V.M. Molotov will be remembered as a Stalinist who remained loyal to Stalinism not because of any personal devotion to Stalin or for opportunistic reasons but on grounds of principle. In his conversations during his autumnal years he often returned to the last years of Stalin when he was under suspicion and removed from the Politburo of the Party. He must have been quite close to being arrested and shot. Perhaps he lived on because of Stalin's death. Yet Molotov remained a staunch Stalinist to his very death. Nevertheless he was candid about his differences with Stalin.

1. Differences with Stalin.

Molotov was critical of Stalin's theses on the possibility of constructing socialism and communism in one country. He recalled the events of the Party Congress of 1926 where he said, "The policy of our party is and remains the policy of the final triumph of Socialism on a world scale..." and Stalin commented thus on this: "So do you want to take a position between me and Trotsky?" Molotov adds, "He understood me correctly." (MR p.63-4). Molotov held that "It is possible to seize power, it is even possible to organize socialist production, but only initially in one country. In order to triumph joint efforts are needed." (MR p.375) While this is essentially a repetition of the Leninist position, Molotov goes into the difficult terrain of defining the character of the Soviet state and society. He considers it an error on the part of Stalin to hold that Socialism had been built in the USSR as early as 1935. He would rather consider that the basis of socialism had been established-the completion of the task lay in the future. One major issue was capitalist encirclement. The second being the continued existence of classes (working class and peasantry) and the continuation of money. The third issue was the low level of material development which precluded the operation of the principle of "from each according to his ability to each according to his work". He also considered this possible only with the abolition of commodity-money relations. (MR p.203-5) Instead he propounded a rather unclear formulation: each to fulfil the norms established by the society and be remunerated according to one's work but with the gradual abolition of commodity - money relations. Nothing more can be said on this without consulting his theoretical works. Needless to say Molotov strongly disapproved of Stalin's position of the 18th Congress that Communism could be built in one country and that the state would continue under communism.

Whatever may have been his view on these matters his opposition to Stalin's positions did not assume a programmatic or practical form and he continued to work under the guidance of Stalin's theoretical formulations.

2. Stalin's Last Struggle.

With the completion of post-war reconstruction, Stalin outlined the task of the Soviet working class and the CPSU(B) as one of advancing towards communism: this entailed inter alia, ending class differences and the role of commodity-money relations in the USSR. This entailed in turn, the elevation of the collective farm peasantry into proletarians and the conversion of the collective farms into state farms. The process by which this was to be achieved was also outlined: by gradual narrowing of commodity-money relations between the collective farm sector and the state sector. In his discussion of the errors of Yaroshenko, Stalin was emphatic that the transition to communism was not merely a matter of rational organization or management but one of altering the social relations of production.

Stalin also recognized the fact that even if commodity relations were eliminated in the USSR, the fact that the USSR had to trade with the capitalist countries implied that the USSR had to continue to produce commodities. It is perhaps for this reason that Stalin attached great importance to the creation of what he called the parallel world market comprising the USSR and the people's democracies, and not falling into the trap of the Marshall plan and getting re-integrated into the capitalist world market. He was thus wary of the leaderships of people's democracies which vacillated on this issue (Yugoslavia under Tito for example). The need of the hour was strict pursuance of the line of proletarian internationalism.

In his "Economic Problems" Stalin took up a number of issues whose significance became apparent later on. Evidently, the views expressed by some junior economists which Stalin took pains to refute actually belonged to senior leaders of the CPSU. In fact, Molotov mentions, "Stalin said Yaroshenko's discussion of economic theory had been engineered by Khrushchev, then head of the Moscow party organization, of which Yaroshenko was a member." (MR p. 321-22) To mention one, the relative importance to be attached to Department I and Department II of the economy, Stalin was of the opinion that for a balanced growth of industry it was imperative that primary emphasis was placed on the production of means of production rather than on the production of means of consumption. This alone could ensure long term and consistent increase in production. Stalin also pointed out that such a policy was difficult to pursue under conditions of capitalism for the low rate of returns and the long time taken for returns to come in led to short term preference for light consumer industries where the returns were higher and faster.

3. Molotov and the abandonment of Stalin's policies.

Stalin's death was followed by a reversal of the policies outlined by him - in some areas it was immediate, as in the case of products-exchange, and in many others it was gradual. It is difficult to reconstruct the sequence of events and to figure out who was pursuing what line. But some rough picture is beginning to emerge which can be verified by future research.

Malenkov and Khrushchev together spearheaded the dismantling of Stalin's policy towards the collective farms. In August-September 1953, policy statements by Malenkov and Khrushchev in effect relaxed pressure upon the private farming by collective farmers, increased the prices paid for compulsory deliveries to the state by the collective farms, and encouraged trade by the collective farms. Collective farms were granted greater independence in the planning of agricultural production.

Molotov reaffirms Stalin's positions on the agrarian question in his memoirs but there is little information on the stands he took during the crucial years after Khrushchev's virgin lands adventure in Kazakhstan. Molotov's silence on the question of elevation of collective farms into state farms during those years requires explanation. It is noteworthy that Molotov is not criticized by the Khrushchevites for impeding the dismantling of Stalin's policies in this regard, although he was subjected to criticism for opposing greater economic autonomy for the collective farms from the state planning authorities.

Regarding the issue of capital goods and consumer goods industries, Molotov seems to have had an equivocal position. He in fact recalls events of 1950 where he criticized Stalin on this issue. To quote him:

"I spoke, of course, in our very small leadership circle-I did not agree with them on a number of issues. When they discussed a new five-year plan I always favoured restraint in capital construction. Construction of capital projects was dragged out, nothing was completed. But when we set planned targets that we cannot fulfil, breakdowns develop, we start plugging the gaps, yet we increase investments in other places.The plan had to be reworked anew. "Who is to blame?" Stalin asked......... "You are to blame! " I said to him........ "You are always stepping up planned investments!.....They come to you with the plan, and you keep adding on more and more!" (MR p.320-21)Yet elsewhere he claims to have induced Stalin to spell out the Marxist position on this matter in his "Economic Problems" (MR. p. 392). The reversal of Stalin's emphasis on Department I began in the autumn of 1953 and seems to have been spearheaded by Malenkov and Khrushchev. The policy was continued by Khrushchev even after he along with Molotov, Kaganovich and others criticized Malenkov for this in 1955. Molotov seems to have consistently held that the strengthening of the socialist economy required greater attention to the heavy industries even if the workers had to forgo some comforts in the bargain. He placed this issue on par with the abolition of classes under socialism. In fact he claims to have persuaded Stalin to include this in his "Economic Problems". (MR p. 392)

Molotov was most vocal on international issues. Though Stalin had relieved him of foreign office responsibilities in his last years, Molotov returned to his old office immediately after Stalin's death. He was consistent in his opposition to reestablishment of relations with Titoite Yugoslavia, and basing Soviet foreign policy on the assumption of the possibility of peaceful coexistence of Socialism and imperialism, and stood for building a unified socialist bloc of nations which not only stood for peace but also for socialism.

It should be noted that in the schema of liquidation of socialism in the USSR, the opening up of the USSR to imperialism was an essential ingredient, for imperialism alone could shore up an economy that was reverting to capitalism from socialism. Hence the emphasis on peaceful coexistence, rapprochement with Tito etc. Molotov seems to have fought against these measures on matters of logic and principle but perhaps did not realize the full import of these measures for the future of socialism in the USSR. He certainly did not see a link between giving up of the plan to abolish classes in the USSR, the emphasis on light industries, and the new foreign policy initiatives. At the most he saw them all as part of a non-revolutionary policy thrust provided by petty bourgeois elements of party.

There are several intriguing problems regarding Molotov's struggle against Khrushchev's revisionism which remain unanswered by the memoirs. i) Molotov mentions "we had another disadvantage - we were not prepared to put forward a counter programme of our own. Khrushchev did exactly that: life under Stalin was hard. From now on it is going to be better. People bought it." Why did not the Stalinist group in the party offer an alternative programme? Surely such a programme was outlined in Stalin's "Economic Problems " and measures under it had been instituted. It seems that all these measures were suspended immediately after Stalin's death, yet Molotov makes no mention of them. ii) The intriguing silence on the Great Debate and the split in the international communist movement despite the fact that the PLA and to some extent the CPC were defending Molotov's positions. Molotov does not mention them let alone talk about his relation with them. His reluctance to seeking the help of the CPC may have been rooted in the fact that the CPC had supported Khrushchev in his drive against the so-called anti-party group (See inset) and in his considered opinion that the leadership of the CPC consisted of Half Marxists. Nevertheless the fact remains that Molotov did not take his struggle to international communist movement fora though he could have garnered support there. Molotov's account leaves a lingering suspicion that in this respect at least he was not untouched by a certain Great Party chauvinism. iii) The third and the most intriguing issue is that of his refusal to take the issue to the party rank and file and the working class and force a split in the party. The explanations proffered are not convincing: "I still hoped that if we remained in the party we would be able to correct the situation gradually.... no one would have supported us." (MR p. 350) "The party organization was not in our hands", "A good many people bore me a grudge.....the rank and file as well.....the workers bought the line." (MR p.357) Evidently Molotov and his comrades being cut off from active political work in the party lacked support in the party. All the same the fact remains that as a Leninist his duty ought to have been to fight such a party openly and publicly in the long run if not immediately in 1956-60. This Molotov failed to do and he does not explain why.

Molotov's account of his struggle against Khrushchevite revisionism leaves many such questions unanswered even though it does shed some important light on the goings on in the leadership of the CPSU. Some bits of information of significance are as follows:

-That Molotov even though he was elected to the Presidium of the CC in the 19th Congress was not included by the Plenum of the CC into the smaller Politburo (which incidentally was not made public then). His relations with Stalin also cooled off during the period 1948-53. Molotov is most intrigued by this exclusion and at various times attributes it to his wife's arrest and exile, intrigue by lower party bureaucrats, his alleged rightist deviation on the issue of procurement prices in the pre-war period etc. He was also removed as the Foreign Minister during this period. He was however informed of the safety of his wife by Beria secretly.

-His wife was released on the initiative of Beria immediately after Stalin's funeral and he also returned to the Foreign Office. The threat of his own arrest and liquidation which hung over his head in the last years of Stalin was thus removed.

-Apart from the principled position he took on the foreign policy issues we do not know of his fight on other vital issues we have outlined above during the period 1953-55. The fact remains that even though Molotov was known as a loyal Stalinist and other Stalinists looked to him to provide them the leadership Molotov kept silent during the 20th Congress and perhaps even acquiesced in permitting Khrushchev to deliver the report on Stalin. He mentions that the report was discussed in the Politburo. (MR p. 350-1) Molotov was re-elected to the Politburo by the Congress after an interval of 7 years. Molotov confirms details of the June 1957 crisis when the majority of the Politburo of 11 decided that Khrushchev should no longer chair its meetings and that Bulganin, the Chairman of the Council of Minister in accordance with an old tradition should chair the Politburo sessions. "We had no programme to advance. Our only goal was to remove Khrushchev and have him appointed Ministers of Agriculture." As is well known the Khrushchevites forced the Politburo to summon a session of the plenum of the CC where Khrushchev had a majority. The CC members were summoned with the active assistance of Marshal Zhukov indicating the backing provided by the army to Khrushchev and there Molotov and others were denounced and divested of their positions. Molotov does not recall all that he said in criticism of Khrushchev in that Plenum but he only remembers that he criticized Khrushchev for not being keen on publishing Stalin's Collected Works! (MR p.354-5)

Molotov began to systematically counter Khrushchev after this and their struggle came out into the open. Molotov's struggle took the form of repeated letters to the CC criticizing the leadership on various issues of principles and policies. This continued till 1961 when the 22nd Congress expelled Molotov from the party. Since then Molotov continued to write his views on various matters to the CC but by then the struggle was lost beyond hope.

The foregoing discussion seems to indicate that Molotov was isolated during the last years of Stalin and owed his return to center-stage to the support of the coalition of revisionists of various hues. The balance of forces then might have precluded his taking an active position against the de-Stalinization drive begun soon after Stalin's death. His silence on issues other than foreign policy matters ensured the consolidation of the victory. Possibly the fight was already lost before the 20th Congress. Molotov himself considers the fight lost before the 20th Congress when he lost out on the question of rapprochement with Tito. The Congress packed with delegates who lustily cheered Khrushchev filled the new CC with Khrushchev's supporters.

Molotov demonstrates no great love for Malenkov, Bulganin, Voroshilov. He had greater respect for Kaganovich whom he considered a more ardent Stalinist than himself. Thus even if the Politburo in June 1957 had a majority ranged against Khrushchev the majority itself was not homogeneous politically and perhaps there was no unity on question of principle - one cannot interpret Molotov's repeated statement that they had no programme apart from the removal of Khrushchev from the leadership otherwise.

4. Social Roots and Consequences of Revisionism.

Molotov being a seasoned Marxist seeks out the social roots of revisionism and tries to go beyond personalities like Khrushchev. The choice in the 1950s was between pursuing a revolutionary policy and pursuing a policy of "living calmly". Molotov points out: "With the war over the people wanted to relax a little. This included.... a bulk of our cadres and the masses generally..... They were all exhausted. Not everyone in the leadership could stick to the new course because it was difficult." (MR p. 222)

The next stage in the struggle as outlined in the "Economic Problems" did not offer any respite but rather implied another round of struggle and sacrifice and repression as in 1927-29. This involved restructuring the agrarian relations and re-educating the collective farm peasantry. A war fatigued party and working class was in no mood for this. Hence the popularity of Khrushchev whom Molotov accuses of pandering to the public opinion. It is noteworthy that Molotov does not accuse Khrushchev of being a capitalist or imperialist but as someone who reflected the yearnings of the petty bourgeois peasantry. He repeatedly calls Khrushchev a right deviationist and a Bukharinite who pursued a line of appeasing peasant sentiments. He thus pins down the social basis of Soviet revisionism to the vast collective farm peasantry. He was quite clear that the revolutionary path forward consisted in converting the collective farms into state farms and the peasants into workers.

Molotov was the most powerful and consistent critic of the policies pursued by the revisionist leadership of the CPSU, yet he continued to be of the firm belief that the USSR was a socialist state with dictatorship of the proletariat led by a Communist Party. It was this belief that egged him to time and again appeal for readmission into the party, support the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan, and the suppression of the Polish working class by General Jaruzelski, his seeking of positive elements in the leadership of the CPSU (Andropov) and his overall faith that "we are continuing to march ahead" even if he was concerned by the developments leading to the final liquidation of the USSR, the last vestiges of socialism and the CPSU within five years of his own death.

Molotov emphatically states, "We have built the foundations: true this is irreversible" (MR p.384 emphasis added). Perhaps the crucial problem lay in his formulation that in conditions of capitalist encirclement, without abolishing classes or commodity-money relations, socialist foundation was irreversible.

Stalin in his fight against right deviation (Molotov considers Khrushchev a continuer of Bukharin) repeatedly emphasised that the policy of pandering to the petty bourgeoisie will result in the strengthening of capitalist elements and the eventual restoration of capitalism. That was the essence of his struggle against Bukharin. Stalin argued as follows:

'A victory of the right deviation in our party would mean an enormous accession of strength to the capitalist elements in our country. And what does an accession of strength to the capitalist elements in our country mean? It means weakening the proletarian dictatorship and multiplying the chances of the restoration of capitalism.

'Hence, a victory of the right deviation in our party would add to the conditions necessary for the restoration of capitalism in our country' (J. Stalin, "Problems of Leninism", F.L.P.H., Moscow, 1954, p. 276.).

Yet Molotov believed that capitalism would not be restored despite following a petty bourgeois policy for decades and that the CPSU would not cease to be communist party even after being swamped by petty bourgeois elements.

In essence this was a centrist position. Centrism in this context consisted in the belief that a petty bourgeois policy only slowed down the pace of socialist construction but did not pave the way for capitalism. Eventually centrism merely takes correct positions with regard to the past history but abandons the struggle in the present stage. Molotov's reasoning may have been as follows : if the USSR continued to be "basically socialist" naturally the CPSU was the guardian of that socialism. Hence any splitting of the CPSU was tantamount to anti-socialist activity. Perhaps this explains the intriguing contradiction between Molotov's radical critique of the policy pursued by the CPSU since 1956 and his faith in the need to preserve such a party.

It might be easy for us today endowed with hindsight to accuse Molotov of centrism: but it is imperative that we also recognize that he alone stood up in the CPSU to be counted. For that Marxist-Leninists will remain beholden and indebted to him.

Based on a paper presented at the International Seminar 'Stalin Today' held in Moscow on 5-6 November, 1994

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