From the October Revolution to the Construction of Socialism in One Country

Bikram Mohan


The Great October Revolution of 1917 is without a doubt the most momentous event in modern History, in that it signified the first step towards the construction of a society no longer based exploitation of man by man. The October revolution is the first time in History where the vanguard of the exploited classes seize and maintain power, bringing about the creation of a state of a new kind and leading to fundamental socio-economic transformation never seen before. It is, therefore, of great importance for progressive movements worldwide to celebrate it in this 100th anniversary. The revolutionary process that unfolded needs to be celebrated passionately by those who wish to remind the bourgeoisie that its rule remains temporary.

Much has been written and debated about the sequence of political events that prompted the October revolutionary coup. Indeed, the Russian Empire was engulfed in unbearable convulsions that brought Tsarist rule to an end, followed by an interim period ripe with contradictions that finally resulted in a government of a new kind, that of workers, soldiers and peasants. Rightly so, the events of 1917 on their own warrant extensive historical research. Nobody questions the complexity of the political events that unfolded in 1917, as it remains a fascinating historical watershed.

The events of 1917 have also been exalted by modern revisionism.1 Modern revisionism in the Soviet Union unapologetically glorified the October revolution despite having brought socialist and communist constructions to a halt and reverted the social transformation that was brought about by the very same October revolution. Together with bourgeois propaganda, Trotskyism, while glorifying the October revolution, rejects the socialist character of the economic transformations that took place in the 30s-50s. Their attack on this transformational process is vicious, in sync with the scathing criticism made by the bourgeoisie. It is based on Trotsky’s conjecture about the impossibility of the construction of Socialism in one country, in contrast to Lenin’s vision for the construction of socialism in Russia.

The Russian bourgeoisie today chooses to appear sympathetic to the October events, even if superficially. The bulk of the Russian toiling masses remain sympathetic to the October coup. This does not go unnoticed by the Russian elites and their government. As a result, the Russian elites tantalize the Russian toiling masses with more or less ambiguous celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the October revolution. Revisionism and the Russian elite are able to display some sort of allegiance to the October revolution because they have divorced the latter from the social and economic transformations of the 30s-50s. These demonstrated the feasibility of the construction of socialism in one country and the superiority of socialism over capitalism. When revisionism and the bourgeoisie tease the toiling masses with superficial celebrations of the October revolution, they imply a very different vision. Revolutionaries should vindicate the October revolution from a distinct perspective if they do not want the great events of 1917 to be trivialized and adulterated by the bourgeoisie. By decoupling the October revolution from the period of transformation that followed, the bourgeoisie intentionally aims at nullifying its true revolutionary character, in that it successfully fulfilled a historical mission. It is this mission that the bourgeoisie does not want to get accomplished by revolutionary movements. Thus it strives to reduce the October events to something more of sentimental value devoid of a historical perspective. Revisionism has the same intentions, in that it makes every possible effort establish a rift between the October events and the feasibility to construct socialism in one country.

Revolutionaries should uphold the October Revolution with the highest accolades. In doing so, the greatness of the October revolution should not be discussed in isolation from the historical mission that it was bound to fulfill and it did fulfill. The construction of socialism in one country and the demonstration of the superiority of socialism over capitalism constitute the core of the historical mission that October revolution has contributed to History. This historical mission was accomplished as a result of a titanic effort in the period that followed, which involved fighting foreign intervention, bourgeois, petty bourgeois and revisionist influences in a country that lagged behind industrialized countries by 50 to 100 years.

Here we choose to view the events of 1917 from the historical perspective socio-economic transformation over an extended period of time, as opposed to considering the political event in isolation. While the complexity of the events of 1917 remains unquestionable, these pale in comparison to the intricacy of the transformative process that followed. How does political transformation engender socio-economic transformation in a historically backward country in the conditions of capitalist encirclement? What was the path that resulted in the first socialist society? What were the social and economic achievements of this transformation? How was it possible to bring an agrarian country that was so much behind the West to the level of a highly industrialized country that in the 50s was able to lead in many areas of science in technology despite two devastating wars? These are the questions that revolutionaries today need to deal with head on in front of the toiling masses when addressing the historical significance of the October revolution. It is not enough to laud the coup; it is necessary to frame it from the standpoint of socialist transformation.

The bourgeoisie, together with revisionism of all sorts, has made every effort to tarnish and to trivialize the complexity of this transformation. Bourgeois and revisionist propaganda has and still today stubbornly continues to disparage the vast historical experience pertaining to the construction of socialism in the Soviet Union and the countries of People’s Democracies in the period between the October revolution and the mid 50s. The demise of the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc in 1989-1991 is viewed as a logical outcome allegedly linked to the inability of socialism to fulfill its historical task. In fact, these events bear witness to quite the opposite. The economic reforms initiated in the second half 1953 and further enacted in the second half of the 50s introduced structural changes in the management of the economy, the interrelation between the planning centres and production units, between the workers and the management, the character of labour exchange and the relative growth of heavy industry with respect to other sectors of the economy. The results were felt soon, where the overall economic growth slowed down. The working class gradually lost interest in the increase of labour productivity, which had become so notorious in the socialist period. Social stratification became pervasive, while the raise of standards of living of the toiling masses characteristic to the post-war period and the 50s, withered away. Towards the 60s the revisionist leadership was not oblivious to the fact that the new social formation that emerged as a result of the economic and political reforms of the 50s was in crisis. However, instead of repealing the course that led to the new state of affairs, theories of market-Socialism became main-stream. Khruschovism was replaced by Brezhnevism, where pro-market reforms were further implemented. The social ills that emerged in the 60s were magnified and the economies stagnated showing strong signs of technological backwardness, inefficiency, disarray and ultimately chaos.

Revisionism and the bourgeoisie are all too eager to lump together all phases of the history of the Soviet Union. The demise of the revisionist system is presented as the logical outcome of the inability of the so called “command-administrative” or “Stalinist economy” to deal with the management of the economy. The demise of revisionism is portrayed as the failure of socialism to become sustainable, and a demonstration that the market remains the only form of economic organization. The bourgeoisie wants the working class to believe that social revolutions will eventually revert to the path of capitalist development, as it appears there is no viable alternative. Revisionism and the bourgeoisie adhere to the superficial analysis of the political and economic history of the Soviet Union. At the same time they are conscious of the need to project that image on a systematic basis, as they are terrified that the progressive movements come to the realization that History is being misrepresented for political reasons.

There is a clear logic behind this: the exploited masses should not be aware that there was a historical period where the superiority of socialism over capitalism was demonstrated in all relevant parameters. The bourgeoisie continues to demonize the true revolutionary content of the October coup out of the fear that the working class rearms itself with a revolutionary understanding of why and how society needs to be reshaped.

As per the Marxist-Leninist theory of the State and social transformation, the October revolution becomes a precondition, a necessary condition, for the construction of a society of a new type. It is, however, not a sufficient condition. It is for this reason that revolutionaries today should celebrate the 100th anniversary of the October revolution not as a standalone political event, but as the catalyser to a revolutionary epoch that spanned 35 years. This revolutionary transformation was reversed by a series of political and economic reforms implemented in the second half of the 50s that lead to the generation of a new social formation. This new social formation, void of socialist character, eventually collapsed under the weight of its own contradictions. It was not the socialist formation that collapsed, but its own negation.

It is essential at this point that a reference be made to what became to be known in the History of the Soviet Union as the year of great change (“god velikovo pereloma2 in Russian), 1929. Towards 1925/1926 the economy had been restored to the level before the First World War. This applies to both agricultural and industrial aggregate outputs. A period 1926/1929 follows where intense debates take place about the path towards socialism. The Leninist plan towards socialism was conceived on the basis of the industrialization of the country. At that time the Soviet Union still remained a predominantly agrarian country, although native industry was making significant progress to the point where it was beginning to produce machinery. Labour productivity in the countryside was very low, as manual labour was prevalent. The relative weight of the collective farms in the agricultural output was very small. Individual producers mostly drove agricultural production. Individual producers were not in a position to mechanize the productive process without the assistance of socialist industry. The only sectors of the peasantry that could possibly afford mechanization of labour were the affluent peasants, referred to as Kulaks, who were in a position to employ the labour of poorer peasants. It was not in the interest of the Soviet State to promote the capitalist path of development in the countryside. The capitalist development of the countryside would have resulted in the impoverishment of wide sectors of the peasantry, who would be forced to sell their labour to the more affluent. At the same time, the capitalist development of the countryside would have not been in a position to provide the necessary growth of the agricultural output.

The rapid industrialization of the country required more workers and that these workers be fed appropriately by the agricultural sector. However, the low level of productivity in agriculture became a show-stopper to the rapid industrialization of the country. The Soviet industry by the end of the civil war was unable to provide the means for the mechanization of agriculture, as it was unable to produce machinery in necessary quantities. The New Economic Policy (NEP) that followed the civil war was necessary for the socialist industry to gain the badly needed momentum to eventually provide the means to agriculture to join the path of socialist construction on the basis of mechanization. The mechanization of the countryside could only happen on the basis of massive collectivization of the peasantry and its cooperation with socialist industry.

Both the Trotskyite and Bukharinist oppositions adamantly campaigned against the party line towards the sustainable industrialization of the country, as suggested by the Party. Apparently, the Leninist path for the construction of socialism alluded to above was not obvious in the minds of the ideologists of the opposition. Trotskyism on the one hand, never understood the imperative need to sustain the political unity between working class and the bulk of the peasantry. Their theories of industrialization de facto favoured the upper echelons of the peasantry that would result in the impoverishment of the middle and poor peasant, and with that obliterating the alliance with the working class. Bukharin and his collaborators, on the other hand, vehemently opposed the plans for rapid industrialization and collectivization on the grounds that it would disrupt a certain economic equilibrium.3 Rapid industrialization is an absolute necessity in the conditions of capitalist encirclement. Had the Soviet Union followed the path suggested by Bukharin, it would not have been able to industrialize in the 30s at the pace necessary to become a self-sufficient economy capable of defeating fascism. Trotsky in practice adopted some of the rightist positions of Bukharin in questions of socialist construction. Needless to say, there were fundamental flaws in the theoretical reasoning and methodologies followed by the opposition, in that it was essentially non-Marxist and anti-Leninist. These were exposed at the time, but are not discussed in detail here.4

The Bolshevik Party consistently upheld the Leninist line for the construction of socialism in one country. The different phases that the Soviet economic policies pursued in the years that followed the October Revolution had the construction of socialism in mind. The replacement of the policies of War Communism by the NEP had the construction of socialism in mind above all. As the Soviet economy was devastated by years of wars, the incipient socialist industry was unable to provide the necessary means for the peasantry to socialize the productive process. The restoration of the economic activity had to emerge on the basis of type of cooperation between the socialist industry and the peasantry different from that implemented during the years of War Communism. The persistence of the policies of War Communism threatened to establish a rift between the working class and wide sectors of the peasantry. The restoration of the agricultural output to the level before the war was not possible on the basis of socialist collectivization, as the material basis of this transition was not available at the time. The development of individual farming and the certain growth of capitalist production, especially in the countryside, became characteristic of the period of the NEP. This never implied, as ideologists of Perestroika argued at some point, that the path towards socialism goes through the development of individual production, where the process of collectivization would happen spontaneously. Ideologists of right wing revisionism, including Trotsky, have argued that the NEP is an inevitable stage in the transitional period towards socialism, in that the socialist industry and petty producers would compete through the market for a lengthy period of time. The Leninist view upheld by the party was different from that petty bourgeois conception. The introduction of NEP became a necessity given the economic and political realities of a country devastated by two wars. The introduction of the NEP was not a result of Lenin and the party fundamentally re-thinking the political economy of the transitional period. It was realized in practice that the conditions were not given to transition directly to communist production and distribution bypassing a transitional period. As a matter of fact, it was clear in Lenin’s mind before the Revolution that between capitalism and full-blown socialism lies a transitional period and that the direct transition to the communist principle of production and distribution was not going to be feasible in a country like Russia.

To a great extent driven by the extreme circumstances determined by the foreign intervention and the civil war, the Soviet Government appropriated all surplus from peasants to support the activities of the socialist state. Towards 1921 it was realized that the country was facing an acute political and economic crisis. This impelled the Soviet Government the replace the policy alluded to above in such a way that the peasants could retain a significant fraction of the agricultural surplus. The tax collected from the peasant constituted a small share of the surplus. The peasant was then allowed to sell production in the market. The NEP became the only resort to get the peasantry interested in the increase of agricultural output. By no means does this imply that Lenin and the Bolshevik party viewed the development of individual and capitalist production as the primary means to create the material basis for the transition to socialism, as argued by right wing revisionism.

The expansion of individual production through commodity-money relations invariably engendered capitalism. It is evident that the NEP had to come an end as soon as the material basis for the collectivization of the countryside became available. For this purpose socialist industry had to grow as much as possible in order to generate the material basis for the socialist transformation of the countryside. The socialist transformation of the countryside is not a spontaneous process, but rather one that requires revolutionary drive. This vision underpins the resolutions and decisions of the Party and the Soviet government in the 20s. This vision was not shared by the Trotskyite and Bukharinist oppositions. Had either of them taken over the leadership of the Party there is little doubt that socialism would have not been constructed in the Soviet Union. The true revolutionary potential of the October coup would have been obliterated, as the Leninist plan for the construction of socialism in one country was under question.

The economic output eventually recovered to the level before the imperialist war. The socialist industry grew sufficiently over the period of 1926-1929 to the extent that the question of massive collectivization could be put on the agenda. The first five-year plan was established in 1928 with the aim to industrialize the country. Not just any kind of industrialization was implied. The Marxist-Leninist view on the character of industrialization is such that a leading role is given heavy industry. This lies at the heart of the economic reforms enacted by the Soviet Government that was systematically challenged by the Trotskyite and Bukharinist oppositions.

Towards 1929, or the year of the great change, material and political conditions for the socialist offensive in the countryside had converged. On the one hand, the socialist industry was in a very different position compared to that that it found itself in 1921. On the other hand, the Party was united around the Leninist plan for the construction of socialism in one country, on the basis of the Marxist-Leninist political economy of the transitional period. The core of this conception revolves around the absolute necessity to industrialize the country, where preponderance is given to the production of means of production. It is in 1929 when the Bolshevik party undertakes the revolutionary transformational process towards the construction of socialism that could not be tackled in 1918. It is for this reason that the Bolshevik party elevated the relevance of the year of the great change to that of the October revolution:

“This was a profound revolution, a leap from an old qualitative state of society to a new qualitative state, equivalent in its consequences to the revolution of October 1917.

The revolution, at one blow, solved three fundamental problems of Socialist revolution:

  1.  It eliminated the most numerous class of exploiters in our country, the kulak class, the mainstay of capitalist restoration;
  2.  It transferred the most numerous labouring class in our country, the peasant class, from the path of individual farming, which breeds capitalism, to the path of co-operative, collective, Socialist farming;
  3.  It furnished the Soviet regime with a Socialist base in agriculture – the most extensive and vitally necessary, yet least developed, branch of national economy

This destroyed the last mainspring of the restoration of capitalism within the country and at the same time created new and decisive conditions for the building up of a Socialist economic system.” (“History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks), Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1945, page 305, based on the History of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks): Short Course, Gospolitizdat 1938).

This turning point in the History of the Soviet Union is absolutely essential to materialize the revolutionary essence of the October coup. It is not possible to comprehend the depth of the historical role embodied by October revolution outside the context of the transformational processes unleashed and how these were articulated in time. Without the year of the great change, without this turning point that enabled the proletariat state to suppress the remaining exploiting classes and to construct socialism at the scale of the entire economy, the October Revolution would have not come to fruition. We cannot separate the events of October from the year of the great change, as revisionism of all sorts so desperately argue. When we celebrate the October revolution, we are upholding the year of the great change as the materialization of its transformational potential.

The construction of socialism in the Soviet Union fulfills the revolutionary essence of the October Revolution. Without the victorious construction of socialism, without the leap forward of 1929, the events of 1917 would have been reduced to the Bolshevik Coup, as opposed to the Great October Socialist Revolution as it is revered today. We are here consciously making a distinction between the Coup and the Socialist Revolution. The former is the necessary, but not sufficient condition for the latter. To separate the October coup from the year of the great change is tantamount to negating its true revolutionary character. Revisionism for political reasons upholds Lenin on the surface. Similarly, the October Revolution is adulterated by isolating it from the History of the Soviet Union.

The process initiated in 1929 lead to the construction of socialism in the main in the Soviet Union. The enacting of the socialist constitution of 1936 marks this momentous event in the History of the Soviet Union. This entails the liquidation of exploiting classes leading to a society with non- antagonistic class relations. Two are the main classes: the working class and the peasantry. This is the reason why socialism is declared in the main, in that two non-antagonistic classes remain linked to two types of property. Two forms of property exist: the socialized sector, owned by the entire society through the socialist state, and the collective sector owned by the cooperatives. Despite the presence of two forms of property, the economy functions as a cohesive whole under the stewardship of a centralized plan. The relationship between the socialized and the agricultural sectors is of a different nature compared to that characteristic to the period of the NEP. Here, the socialized sector retains the property of the main means of production, the machinery, in the form of machine tractor stations (MTS). This link plays a pivotal role in the elevation of the collective form of property to the level of the socialization. As a matter of fact, the economic reforms of the second half of the 50s eventually resulted in the transfer of the MTS to the collective farms long before these were socialized, thus compromising the socialist character of the economic ties between industry and agriculture.

The victory of the construction of socialism in the Soviet Union in the 30s, the establishment of socialism in the main, as detailed above, signifies the correctness of the Leninist thesis concerning the feasibility of the construction of socialism in one country.5 Is this for this reason that the period of the 30s has been so much demonized by Trotskyism, Perestroika and the ideologists of the bourgeoisie. No period of modern History has been so viciously tarnished through falsification and misrepresentation of facts than the Soviet Union in the 30s. Extravagant reports of the alleged demise of tens of millions of Soviet citizens have made it to countless history books. The bourgeois media consistently propagates myths regarding millions of people being subjected to repressions, labour camps, famines etc^ Indeed there were difficulties along the path of such a fundamental transformation of society. It would be naive to think that the massive collectivization went smoothly everywhere in the country. Massive collectivization entailed the liquidation of the kulaks as a class and overcoming some aspects of the backwardness inherent to the petty producer. There is little question that remnants of capitalist thinking existed in the city, even within the party, especially in the 20s. The class struggle in the Soviet Union did not end with the civil war. It continued in different forms through the 20s and it intensified as the Soviet Government engaged in a stupendous offensive for the construction of socialism. The accomplishment of such a historical feat would have been impossible without strife. And that included elements from the opposition engaging in outright terrorist activities that could not go unpunished. But to argue that the Soviet population as a whole underwent terrible sufferings and depravation is simply defamatory. Were these allegations to hold water, the victory over Nazi Germany, that required the overwhelming majority of the Soviet people to be solidly united around its government, would have not been possible. No documental proof of such allegations ever emerged under the Gorbachov-Yakovlev clique, or after the demise of the Soviet Union, not for the lack of effort on the part of the Russian bourgeoisie. The Russian bourgeoisie was highly interested in discrediting the Soviet period that Marxist-Leninists regard as socialist. As it failed to bring to light proof of the alleged crimes, the Russian bourgeoisie today has turned around to commend some of the accomplishments of the Soviet period for populist purposes.

The bourgeoisie becomes hysterical when it comes to demonizing the victory of the construction of socialism in the Soviet Union. In fact, this makes a whole lot of sense. The bourgeoisie and its agents among the ranks of revisionism continue to make every possible effort to cover up the fact that socialism became a reality, that capitalism is doomed and is to be replaced by a different form of social and economic organization not based on the exploitation of man by man, that is superior and sustainable. The working class should not be intimidated when the bourgeoisie and its agents in the form of revisionism so viciously attack the History of the Soviet Union. On the very contrary, it should be seen as a sign of weakness in that they are trying to conceal from the working class the key to their own demise. The bourgeoisie invests incalculable resources to confuse the toiling masses regarding the inevitability of capitalism. Demonizing the History of the Soviet Union, in particular the 30s, is an essential ingredient to this campaign. It is for this reason that in this 100th anniversary of the October Revolution, communists should uphold the victory of the construction of socialism in the Soviet Union more than ever. The construction of socialism in the Soviet Union is the most important achievement of the October Revolution.

With the successful construction of socialism in the main, plans were made for the gradual transition to communism. This speaks to the fact that the Party was already of the opinion that communism, at least its lowest or less developed forms, could be in fact be constructed in one country and under the conditions of capitalist encirclement. Needless to say, the State, the armed forces would need to exist for as long as the capitalist encirclement remains a determining factor. Significant resources would still need to be devoted to the defence of the country. The restoration of capitalism remains a concern for as long as capitalism in its imperialist form is impelled to pressure the socialist State.

The plans for the construction of communism in the Soviet Union were abruptly interrupted by the Nazi invasion of June 1941. The economics of the war period are of a different nature than that of peaceful development. The ideologists of the bourgeoisie, and for good reasons, overlook the economic aspects of the Second World War. Most of the emphasis in the historical analysis of the war in the East has been given to the military campaigns. While the military aspects of the war remain a fascinating topic, it would be a serious mistake not to appreciate the critical relevance the formidable strength of the socialist economy over capitalism. The victory over Nazi Germany was a combination of the heroism of millions of Soviet soldiers and partisans, the skill of its commanders and the ability of the Soviet industry to provide technologically superior armament in large enough quantities. The fact of the matter is that the Red Army became technologically superior in the main parameters to the point that the German army, which at the beginning of the campaign had become the most formidable army ever assembled, was not only defeated, it was overwhelmed. This materializes the economic superiority of socialism over capitalism.

The socialist economic relations unleash the creativity of the masses within the productive process. The period of socialism in the Soviet Union in the 30s-50s became an epitome for the engagement of vast layers of the toiling masses in the increase of labour productivity and innovation, never seen before in History. This aspect of the socialist economy was concealed in the Soviet Union during the revisionist period. The economic reforms of the 50s were essential in liquidating the participation of the toiling masses in the growth of labour productivity. The slowdown, stagnation and technological backwardness characteristic of the revisionist period was an embarrassment to the revisionist leadership. In contrast, the ability of the Soviet industry to implement innovation in production was such that by the end of the war plans by the Western allies to attack the Red Army in Europe were deemed unviable from the military standpoint.6

Whereas the victory over Nazi Germany represents a major milestone in the History of socialism in the Soviet Union, the stupendous economic success that followed has no less importance from the standpoint upheld here. The Great Patriotic War, as the war is referred to in Russia, was a demonstration of the socialist economic system overwhelming the capitalist war economy of Nazi Germany, together with its satellites and collaborators. It was in the period that followed up until sometime in the end of the 50s, where the socialist economy was given a chance to develop in peaceful conditions that its superiority with respect to capitalism became even more glaring. Quite a number of historians and economists in Russia today have labeled this period as the golden era of the Soviet Union. While not coming from Marxist positions, these intellectuals have admitted that the economy, including the standards of living of the toiling masses, were growing faster than in the developed capitalist countries despite massive devastation of vast territories during the war.

Many have already understood the intentions lurking behind the visceral and tedious anti-Stalinism of modern revisionism, Perestroika and imperialism. By means of fabrication and falsification, imperialism diverts the attention of the working class from the extensive historical material that speaks to the fact that Socialism is not only sustainable, but also superior to capitalism. The overwhelming facts pertaining to the economic development of the Soviet Union in the years that followed the war are a necessary by-product of the victory of Socialism in the 30s. The strong expansion of the Soviet Economy till the 50s was made possible by the socialist foundations laid in the 30s. To argue differently is not only anti- Marxist and anti-communist, but in the Russian context is anti-patriotic.

The Soviet Union was the first country significantly affected by the war to liquidate rationing. This was announced jointly with a monetary reform in December 14th 1947, which was implemented two days later. In comparison, the UK liquidated rationing in 1954, despite the assistance of from the US and the fact that, as a country it was not as affected by the war as the USSR was. The Soviet Gosplan published a report on January 15th 1948 regarding the performance of agriculture and industry during the last quarter of 1947. It was then announced that the Soviet Economy had reached the pre-war level even before required by the fourth quinquennial plan of 1946-1950, while industrialized capitalist countries would not reach that level until sometime in the 50s.

Following of the reconstruction of the main economic parameters by 1947, the Soviet Union displayed large rates of economic growth based on fast growth of the production of the means of production (group “A”) and large capital investment. For instance, the production of the means of production grew in 1950 by 78% with respect to 1940. The corresponding growth in 1955 with respect to 1950 was 83%. The rate of growth for the production of means of consumption (group “B”) for the two periods mentioned above were 23% and 81%, respectively. The rate of industrial growth during the first half of the 50s ranged from 12% to 16%. With respect to 1928 the production of group “A” and group “B” had grown in 1955 by 38.9 and 9.1 times, respectively.7 The growth in agricultural production (including cattle) grew at a significantly lower rate with respect to industrial production. The gross agricultural product in 1950 remained at a level similar to that of 1940,8 whereas in 1955 it grew with respect to 1950 by 21%. The aggregate agricultural production in 1955 was 40% higher with respect to 1928, despite the massive outflow of farm workers to the cities.

Of particular importance was the development of science and technology, technology transfer and innovation. This was critical during the war and was unleashed to a greater potential during the years of peace. The growth of labour productivity became eventually determined by the ability to innovate in the process of production on the basis of increased mechanization and complexity.

The backwardness of the Soviet computing industry in the 70s-80s with respect to the West was proverbial to the point that many in the Soviet Union accepted the superiority of Western technology as a matter of fact. This was not the case in the 50s. S.A. Lebedev, independently from John von Neumann developed the basic principles for the functioning of computers. In parallel to Lebedev, I.S. Bruk developed an independent series of computers, also from scratch. Under the leadership of N.P. Brusentsov the first ternary (as opposed to computers based on binary logic) computer was built in 1958. While the transistor based on semiconductors was invented in 1948 in the US, Soviet scientists and industry quickly pushed large production of semi-conductor based electronics components with prices significantly lower than in the US. In general, the Soviet electronics industry in the 50s was well competitive with that in the US.

While the first atomic (fission based) was assembled in the US, the first hydrogen bomb was detonated in 1953 in the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was the first country to construct nuclear power stations for peaceful purposes. The first nuclear plant was put to work in the summer of 1954 in Obninsk under the leadership of I. Kurchatov. The Soviet Union expanded the use of nuclear power for peaceful purposes. For instance, the first nuclear icebreaker was launched in 1957 and completed in 1959.

We got accustomed to the fact that the most power particle accelerators were located in the US or Europe. The Soviet Physicist V.I. Veksler led the invention of the synchrotron principle of acceleration of particles in 1944 before the American counterparts. He led the construction of what became the most powerful particle accelerator in the world in 1957, the synchrophasotron, located in the Joint Institute of Nuclear Research in the city of Dubna. This accelerator was able to accelerate protons to the record energy of 10 billion volts and continued to function into the 2000s. Fundamental research became world class. A number of Soviet physicists, P.A. Cherenkov, I.M. Frank, I.Y. Tamm, L.D. Landau, A.M. Prokhorov, N.G. Basov, P.L. Kapitsa, were awarded Nobel prizes, despite adverse politics.

The development of rocket technology in the Soviet Union is well known. The first artificial Earth satellite was launched by the Soviet Union in October 1957, stunning the world. The Sputnik 1 circulated with an low elliptical Earth orbit and was able to transmit radio waves that could be detected on the surface of Earth. The West was stunned at the achievement.

These are emblematic achievements that far from exhaust the list of accomplishments. They bear witness to the character of the type of economic development that the socialist economy was pursuing: not just any industrialization, but industrialization on the basis of high-technology and innovation with the intention to achieve the highest labour productivity.

Overall, the economic growth of the USSR in the 50s was 2 to 3 times faster than that of the US, where the gap with regards to industrial production was larger. Many in the US were seriously concerned that should the USSR sustain the economic growth of the post-war period, the US national security would be severely compromised. In addition, it is important to note that the world during the period described here was very different compared to what we have today. It was even quite different from the 70s-80s. Large chunks of the world population had voluntarily abandoned the capitalist market by embracing socialist construction in Eastern Europe and China. It was reasonable for the Americans to assume that the economic growth in these countries would emulate that of the Soviet Union. The available economic data of the 50s corroborates this statement. The colonial system was crumbling down at a fast pace. Many liberation and progressive movements looked up to the Soviet Union as a beacon of social justice and liberation from exploitation. The Soviet Union epitomized for them the hope that backward countries under the yoke of imperialism had a well-defined path towards national liberation and prosperity. A number of intellectuals in the West risked their lives to assist the Soviet Union in different ways, including spying, for no monetary or any other kind of material compensation. They did it out of conviction and admiration. Many at that time believe that the victory of socialism over capitalism on the world scale was not a matter of if, but a matter of when and how. There is little doubt that had the Soviet Union not taken the course towards dismantling the economic basis of socialism, as triggered by the economic reforms of the second half of the 50s, the world would be in a very different place today.

In recent years the CIA has been declassifying documents pertaining to the cold war period. Particularly enlightening are documents from the 50s where CIA analysts provide detailed reports on the development of the Soviet economy. The director of the CIA at the time, A.W. Dulles was a fanatic anti-communist, as it is well documented. That said, he shared the concerns of many pertaining to the alarming economic growth of the Soviet Union and corresponding mid to long-term implications. We could not but commend the obvious:

“During the more than quarter of a century that has passed since the consolidation of Stalin’s power position in 1928, the Soviet Union has risen from the status of a relatively underdeveloped country to unquestioned rank as the second largest economy in the world. This growth even more remarkable considering the destructive effects of World War II, has been achieved by the transfer of millions of workers from agriculture to urban occupations. At the same time a prodigious effort has been made to train large number of Soviet citizens in modern skills and technology, and an unusually large portion of total national product has been devoted to investment” (“The Economy and Scientific Manpower Resources of the Soviet Union”, A.W. Dulles, address delivered to the Industrial Associates of the California Institute of Technology, New York City, January 31st 1956, approved for release by CIA 09/01/2000).

He goes further, not without criticism of course, to acknowledge the ability of the Soviet Union to perform cutting edge research and the successful implementation of educational and training programmes. His report is consistent with Soviet official statistics on the subject. The intelligence community was greatly concerned with the achievements of the Soviet Union to the point of obsession. To the credit of the CIA and other analysts in the US, the Americans had noticed a significant change in the economic policies of the Soviet Union in the second half of the 50s. In new declassified documents, the term “new course” is used to denote a “new era” of New Economic Policy. As they did not come from Marxist positions, they did not appreciate the anti-socialist content of the economic reforms of the 50s. It was however noticed that the development of heavy industry had slowed down in favour of light industry and agriculture. That said, the overall economic growth still remained strong all throughout the 50s and significantly greater than that of the US.

The possibility of the Soviet Union to overtake the economy of the US was not only discussed within the intelligence community. A number of prominent economists had been vocal with calculations pertaining to the date when the Soviet Union’s Gross National Product (GNP) would match that of the US. For instance, renowned American economist Paul Samuelson, father of neo-Keynesianism, and Nobel prize awardee, quantified the data when he would expect the Soviet Union’s GNP to surpass that of the US. In his famous textbook Economics he argued that the USSR would catch up as early as in 1984. Samuelson had the honesty to admit that the so called “socialist command economy can function or even thrive”, not without criticism from his peers. The relevance of this statement does not lie in the exact date where, or even the details of the estimates. It lies in the fact that the strength of the Soviet Economy had become a generally accepted fact in the West in the 50s. The Soviet economic “threat” gradually wound down, as the economic reforms of the 50s and 60s took effect, eventually leading to a very different perception that now lies at the heart of the bourgeois propaganda against national liberation and the construction of socialism in one country.


1 Modern revisionism is defined here as the mainstream ideology that underpinned the new regime established in the Soviet Union and the People’s Democracies in Eastern Europe following the economic and political reforms that were initiated the second half of 1953.

2 "A Year of Great Change” is the title of an article by J.V. Stalin published in Pravda on the 12th anniversary of the October Revolution, Works, Vol. 12, pp. 124141.

3 The theory of equilibrium lies at the heart of right wing interpretations of the political economy of socialism. A.A. Bogdanov formulated the theory of equilibrium in the Russian context by adapting it from bourgeois sources. Bukharin adopts these ideas that shaped his understanding of the political economy of the transitional period. In essence, Bukharin and collaborators argued that the capitalist and socialist economic principles could coexist for a lengthy period of time. It is assumed that the socialist sector of the economy would grow faster eventually rendering the capitalist sector obsolete. The Marxist-Leninist critique of the theory of equilibrium essentially disappeared in the Soviet Union in the 60s.

4 At the time of Perestroika a push was made to vindicate Bukharin and other economists of the 20s who opposed the party line towards massive industrialization. The works of a number of economists were published and widely distributed in the second half of the 80s and beyond. While formally endorsing Leninism, the revisionist leadership essentially sided with the views in favour of market socialism that were formulated in the 20s.

5 (a) At this point it is important to make a clarification with regards to what we refer here as the implementation of Lenin’s plans for the construction of socialism in the Soviet Union. Indeed, Lenin made a thorough and systematic theoretical effort to establish the guidelines of the transitional period. That said, the Bolshevik party had to creatively approach these theoretical theses in the course of the social and economic transformations that unfolded. For instance, in early 30s it was concluded that the most appropriate form of association for the peasantry to collectivize is the agricultural cartel, as opposed to the commune. The agricultural cartel, which has a precedent in prerevolutionary Russia, allows the peasant to own certain means of production that are significant, but not essential: “The main link of the collective-farm movement, its predominate form at the present moment, the link which as to be grasped now, is the agricultural cartel. (b) In the agricultural cartel, the basic means of production, primarily for grain-farming — labour, use of the land, machines and other implements, draught animals and farm buildings — are socialised. In the cartel, the house-hold plots (small vegetable gardens, small orchards) the dwelling houses, a part of the dairy cattle, small livestock, poultry, etc., are not socialized.” (J.V. Stalin, “Dizzy with Success” Works, Vol. 12, pp. 197-205, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1955).

6 Secret documents declassified in the late 90s indicate that Winston Churchill instructed the British Chief of Staff to design a plan to fight the Red Army with the intention to gain control over Eastern Europe. This included recruiting remnants of the Nazi army to engage the Soviets alongside British and American forces. The operation was termed with the code name Unthinkable. The plan to confront the Soviets was eventually dropped due to the insurmountable superiority of the Red Army.

7 Western economists have always criticized the Soviet Economy on the grounds that it allegedly did not given enough emphasis or that it even neglected the production means of consumption and agriculture. The victory of the socialist economy over capitalism lies in its superior ability to improve labour productivity with rates higher than in capitalism. This can only be sustained over long period of time on the basis of implementation of high technology in production. That necessarily implies that the rate of growth of group “A” has to be faster, so that eventually the material basis will exist for the increase of productivity in group “B” and agriculture. As a result of the growth of group “A” other sectors of the economy grow as well. The end result is that the Soviet economy was growing faster than the bulk of the developed capitalist economies. The relative balance between the different sectors of the economy depends on a multiplicity of factors.

8 It is probably relevant to note that 1940 was a particularly good year for agriculture with respect to previous years. In contrast, 1946 was marked by severe drought that strongly affected the harvesting of grain in Moldavia, the Ukraine, central areas of Russia, Povolzhe and northern Caucasus.

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