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Neither (Neo)Liberalism Nor Party-State

Neither (Neo)Liberalism Nor Party-State PARESH CHATTOPADHYAY We read with considerable interest Prabhat Patnaik

Discussion

Neither (Neo)LiberalismNor Party-State

PARESH CHATTOPADHYAY

W
e read with considerable interest Prabhat Patnaik’s article ‘In the Aftermath of Nandigram’ (May 26).With his usual lucidity he pinpoints the current “neo-liberalism” as the “root cause” of the tragic events at Nandigram. While arguing, not without justification, that under present day capitalism industrialisation cannot create employment by drawing surplus labour away from agriculture, he makes the following statement: “The only significant cases where this has been successfully effected are the Soviet Union and other former socialist countries” where “their ability to shift workers out of agriculture into big industry” was due to their “control” of the “rate of technological-cum-structural change within the context of a planned economy”. Though the language is somewhat confusing we assume the author means not “countries” but their rulers who, as opposed to the ruled, (as in any country) had the “control” in question. But passons. We would like to comment on this emphatic statement of the author. Here we take the prototype of Patnaik’s “socialist” countries – we mean the Russian Party-State (not only Russia’s “socialism” is a myth, even the appellation “Soviet Union” is a misnomer; soviets as independent organs of self-rule of the Russian toilers ceased to exist, excepting as an empty formality, starting with roughly the middle of 1918). We only wish that the lot of the Russian “workers” involved in the “shift” in question does not befall the labouring people of India (or those of any other land).

To what extent Russia’s immediate producers had a deciding role in undertaking this “shift”? Or, at least, to what extent this famous “shift” was a matter of genuinely free choice by Russia’s concerned “workers” themselves? Are these not legitimate questions in the context of a supposed to be socialist country if we accept “socialism” in Marx’s sense of a “(Re)Union of free individuals”? Patnaik’s “plan vs market” configuration in this context most unfortunately obscures and grossly misrepresents the real picture, which is that once the rulers had decided to take the “great leap forward” towards super-industrialisation, the peasants were forced to go through a process that was not very dissimilar to the one traversed by the peasants in Marx’s classic account of the genesis of capital(ism).

The “shift of workers out of agriculture into big industry” in the Russian Party-State has to be set in the context of the necessity of rapid development of the country’s economy, marked by the dominance of pre-capitalism and backward capitalism, and facing a hostile international environment. In 1926 the Russian authorities resolved to implement Lenin’s earlier slogan of “catching up and surpassing” the industrial level of the advanced capitalist countries “in a minimum historical period” [Resheniya I, 1967:539]. With the overwhelming majority of the country’s labouring population working in agriculture, the brunt of the original accumulation of capital (in Marx’s sense) naturally fell on the peasantry. Indeed, the “expropriation of the agricultural producer from land forms the basis of the whole process (of original accumulation)” (Capital, Vol 1, chapters 24 and 26 in the English version). Given the strategy of super-industrialisation, the Russian rulers saw agriculture not only as supplier of food and raw materials but also – being the biggest employer of labour – as the main source of labour supply. However, the principal obstacle here was the existence of individual peasant production in a vastly dominant form – around 98 per cent of the total sown area [Nove 1982:150]. The party leadership decided on forced collectivisation of agriculture as a necessary part of the new industrialisation strategy to facilitate central control over rural production and at the same time to “sweep aside the individual peasant units” [Davies 1974:261].

The rapidity of “original expropriation” (Marx’s alternative term for original accumulation) is seen in the fact that whereas the percentage of peasant households collectivised stood at 1.7 in 1928, it rose to 64.5 in 1932 and to 93 in 1937 [Prokopovitch 1952:163]. At the same time “individual farmers and noncooperated handicraftsmen (including nonworking dependents) who constituted 75 per cent of the country’s total population in 1928 were reduced to 30.6 per cent in 1932 and to 5.5 per cent in 1937 [Vinogradov et al 1978:467]. Naturally, at the end of the Second Five-Year Plan it was declared that the “first phase

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Economic and Political Weekly July 14, 2007

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of communism has been attained” [KPSS vs Rezoliutsiyakh 1971:64, 335-36]. A leading authority on this whole question has written: “Peter the great had to build his industrial plants on the basis of serf labour. Stalin carried on his industrialisation, specially his industrialisation of agriculture, on the basis of forceful extraction of unpaid labour” [Lewin 1985:314]. It seems that under the slogan of “liquidation of the kulaks as a class” it was, finally, the “peasant class which was liquidated” [Shmelev 1987: 146].

Even observers as enthusiastic of “soviet communism” as the Webbs wrote of the “ruthless…removal of the occupiers and cultivators who were stigmatised as kulaks”, and of the peasants being “removed and deported to lumber camps or employed in public works, or taken as labourers at gigantic industrial enterprises” [Webb and Webb 1944:467, 471; emphasis ours). The Party-State authorities understood the futility of relying on the “spontaneous influx of labour power” and underlined the necessity of “organised recruitment of workers for industry” [Stalin 1970:204]. The “organised recruitment” meant that “on the kolkhozy fell the obligation of supplying a definite volume of labour (to industry) and on the kolkhozian fell the duty of being employed in industry” [Schwarz 1956:82; emphasis added].

As regards the situation of the labouring people in collectivised agriculture, the labourer in the collective farm was “a citizen with lesser rights (and) lived in lower and outer half of the Soviet society” with a standard of living well below the average Soviet standard of living [Wädekin 1969:41]. The collective farm labourers for a considerable period, were subjected to compulsory state corvées like road building and timber cutting which did not apply to the city dwellers, and they were “subjected to a labour system which reminded them of conditions from which the revolution seemed to have redeemed them for ever” [Lewin 1985:176]. Similarly, the apparently cooperative and democratic principles enunciated in the kolkhoz charter was a pure fiction just as, at the national level – one could add – the supposed to be most democratic Constitution of 1936 was “never meant to be applied” in the same way as the “elections violated the very principle of free choice”, to cite the great Russian writer B Pasternak. The reality of the Party-State’s collectivisation comes out strikingly in the so-called “Smolensk Archives” which show dramatically, through the letters of the poor peasants, how widespread the discontent was among the peasantry in general, on this question, accompanied often by active mass resistance [Fainsod 1958; see also Davies 1980].

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Email:paresh.chattopadhyay@internet.uqam.ca

References

Davies, R W (1974): ‘The Soviet Rural Economy in 1929-30’ in C Abramsky (ed), Essays in Honour of E H Carr, Macmillan, London.

– (1980): The Industrialisation of Soviet Russia, Volumes 1 and 2, Macmillan, London.

Fainsod, Merle (1958): Smolensk under Soviet Rule, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

KPSS vs Rezoliutsiyakh i Reshenyiakh S’ezdov, Konferentsii i Plenumov (1971), Vol 5, Moscow.

Lewin, Moshe (1985): The Making of the Soviet System: Essays in Social History of Interwar Russia, Pantheon, New York.

Nove, Alec (1982): An Economic History of the USSR, Penguin, Harmondsworth, Middlesex.

Prokopovitch, S N (1952): Histoire économique de l’URSS, Flammarion, Paris.

Resheniya parti i pravitel’stva po Khoziaistvennym Voprosam (1967), Volumes 1 and 2, Politizdat, Moscow.

Schwarz, S (1956): Les ouvries en union sovietique, Marcel Rivière, Paris.

Shmelev, N (1987): ‘Avansy i dolgi’, Novyi mir, No 6, Moscow.

Stalin, J (1970): Selected Writings, Greenwood, Westport, Connecticut.

Vinogradov, V A et al (1978): Istoriya sotsialisticheskoi ekonomiki SSSR, Vol 4, Nauka, Moscow.

Wädekin, K E (1969): Fürungskräfte im sowietischen, Dorf, Duncker und Humblot, Berlin.

Webb, Sydney and Beatrice Webb (1944): Soviet Communism: A New Civilisation?, Longmans, London.

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