Peace and the Cold War

Ernie Trory: 'Peace and the Cold War, Part Two, The Crucial Years 1952-1960', Crabtree Press, Hove, East Sussex, 1998, 288 pp.

The volume under review is a sequel to an earlier book which was devoted to the theme of Labour in Government: 1945-61. This is not a subject which is as narrow as it sounds for it has broader implications for the communist movement internationally. The author notes, for example, that the Labour Party leadership had no hesitation in joining the new anti-communist military alliance forged by the United States and how they worked to preserve British imperialist interests both nationally and internationally. The second volume of this series is dedicated to the memory of the british Communist Rajani Palme Dutt whom the author considers, despite his support for the 20th Congress of the CPSU, was never reconciled to the criticism made by Khrushchev of the life and work of Joseph Stalin. The writings of ernie Trory have a particular fascination as they combine personal reminiscences from the period, well researched history, use of the contemporary communist documentation (particularly of Labour Monthly, which was edited by R.P. Dutt) with a militant Communist perspective.

In a masterly fashion Ernie Trory surveys a series of key questions of these years: the high point of world socialism at the close of the Stalin epoch, the changes brought about after the death of Stalin, German rearmament after the world war, the 20th Congress of the CPSU, the Suez and Hungarian crises, the events in the congo and the Cuban revolution. The earthshaking developments in China are absent in this and the earlier tome and it must be hoped that this omission will be filled in the projected third volume of this trilogy. In this short review it is not possible to indicate the richness and depth of treatment accorded to the various themes and we will confine ourselves to pointing out the author's conclusions about the rise of market socialism in Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union.

It immediately strikes the eye that the author was not able to utilise the Minutes of the Three Cominform Conferences which were recently published by the Feltrinelli Institute of Milan yet Ernie Trory provides a perceptive account of the politics and economics of the Yugoslav communist party. This is no mean achievement as after 1956 a veil was cast over these developments and their broader historical significance. We are reminded of the information revealed in the trials of Rajk and Kostov of the links between the British and the Yugoslav partisans under Tito, and the criticisms made by Stalin and Molotov to Tito and Kardelj about the worrisome developments in post-liberation Yugoslavia: the Yugoslav communists denied the leading role of the party which had become buried in the People's Front, belittled the leading role of the working class by affirming that the peasantry was the most stable foundation of the Yugoslav state and refused to recognise the growth of capitalist elements in Yugoslavia which had resulted in the sharpening of the class struggle in the countryside where the kulaks played an important role. With the departure of Yugoslavia from the democratic camp Tito initiated a series of economic measures which were to be a model for the soviet union (and China) after 1956. In 1950 the Machine Tractor Stations, where the instruments of production were owned by the whole of society, were handed over to the kulak-dominated collective farms. Directive centralised planning was terminated and replaced by a system of economic decentralisation wherein the powers of the individual Yugoslav republics were extended and the powers of the enterprises expanded. Already in 1949 the Cominform had pointed out that the nationalised state sector of the economy had 'ceased to be the people's property, since state power is in the hands of the enemies of the people', subsequently the Yugoslav economy came under U.S. tutelage. The rapprochement between the USSR and Yugoslavia after 1954 went hand in hand with the introduction of 'market socialism' in the first land of socialism. After the 20th Congress both the Soviet and Chinese communist parties performed an ideological somersault and came to accept once again that Yugoslavia was a 'socialist country'. In these circumstances it must be considered a major achievement that Che Guevara dissented from this hegemonic view. Ernie Trory informs us that after a six-day visit to Yugoslavia in 1959 Che observed that Yugoslav self-management meant that the collective bodies of the peasants and the industrial workers in the enterprises competed among themselves as if they were private capitalist enterprises.

Ernie Trory sketches an equally revealing picture of the political and economic and economic changes brought about in the USSR after the rise of Khrushchev and the infamous 20th Congress of the CPSU. In the chapter entitled 'Socialism or Capitalism' he points out that a number of measures were introduced that were to have devastating repercussions and which fostered the germs of reaction, measures which were opposed by Molotov and Kaganovich. The February 1957 plenum took decisions that effectively led to the decentralisation of the economy as the centre of gravity of day to day management was shifted to the local economic councils that were set up in the country's principal economic administrative areas. Trory describes the economic model established in this period in which the new economic system enhanced the independent initiatives of the enterprises. Of particular importance were the subsidiary investments which amounted on average to about one-fifth of the whole and which could be undertaken by the enterprise from its own reserve funds or by means of bank credits. Though these 'reforms' were painted as measures of 'democratisation' the author correctly characterises these policies as the introduction of a trend towards converting the Soviet state property into group ownership of the means of production as in the factory enterprises in Yugoslavia.

Capitalist decentralisation proceeded apace in the agricultural sector where commodity production and circulation were widened. The abolition of the obligatory quotas of the produce of the collective farms meant that the multiplicity of forms of exchange were reduced to a single system of state purchasing which increased the volume of commodities in circulation. In February 1958 measures were taken to convert the Machine Tractor Stations into maintenance and repair stations and sell their machinery to the collective farms. This was considered as an important revolutionary step by the Khrushchev government which indicated that for the first time the land and the machinery were now concentrated in the same hands which opened up additional possibilities for rapidly increasing agricultural output. While recognising that agricultural production did increase in the short run Ernie Trory argues that, as Stalin had correctly forewarned in his last classical work Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR, that this would be a retrograde step in terms of economic relations as it would mean that the instruments of production would become commodities passing out of the hands of social property to become group property as would the whole of the product of the collective farms.

It is apparent that this volume represents a continuation of the history of the postwar period of the earlier tome as well as the theoretical examination of the collapse of socialism which was begun in the author's brochure How Did It Happen? and which was a valuable attempt to cognise the economic roots of capitalist restoration in terms of Marxist political economy. The rise of modern revisionism has meant that the understanding of the post-war period has been considerably obscured. It is the merit of the writings of Ernie Trory that they pose a number of questions, which may be uncomfortable for some, but which will help the communists elucidate the roots of the contemporary crisis of the communist movement and contribute to a strengthening of the theoretical weaponry for the struggles which lie ahead.

Vijay Singh.

The following volumes can be obtained by M.O. addressed to the Manager, 'Revolutionary Democracy'.

Ernie Trory: 'Peace and the Cold War', Part One, Labour in Government 1945-51, Crabtree Press, Hove, East Sussex, 288 pp. (Rs. 650).

Ernie Trory: 'Peace and the Cold War', Part Two, The Crucial Years: 1952-60, Crabtree Press, Hove, East Sussex, 288 pp. (Rs. 650).

Ernie Trory : 'How Did It Happen? The Dialectics of Counter-Revolution,' Crabtree Press, Hove, East Sussex, 1994, 84 pp. (Rs. 250).

Click here to return to the April 1999 index.