The Soviet Government thus found itself faced with a strange duality of policy on the part of the Western Powers – for the examples quoted in the British Press could find parallels in that of France. On the one hand, the British and French Governments were certainly alarmed at the visible growth of aggressive power and intentions in Hitlerite Germany; and their peoples were still more alarmed, as was shown by the result of the famous Peace Ballot held in Britain in the summer of 1935, with its ten million votes cast in favour of effective collective security. On the other hand, the most influential circles in both the National Government and the Labour Party leadership scarcely took the trouble to conceal their eagerness for some arrangement with Hitler which would spare the West an attack at the expense, above all, of the U.S.S.R. At this time U.S. Ambassador Dodd recorded in his diary (May 6th, 1935) after talking with Lord Lothian, one of the leading figures in British politics and later Ambassador to the U.S.A.: ‘He favours a coalition of the democracies to block any move in their direction, and to turn Germany’s course eastward. That this might lead to a war between Russia and Germany does not seem to disturb him seriously. In fact he seems to feel this would be a good solution of the difficulties imposed on Germany by the Versailles Treaty.’
This dualism had its reflection in the situation created in the last months of the year, in connexion with the Italian attack on Ethiopia. It is not necessary to discuss the details of this struggle, so characteristic of the period immediately preceding the second World War. The Soviet Union took its full part in applying the sanctions against Italy which had been decided with its concurrence by the League of Nations. But when, on November 25th, it proposed the application of coal, oil, iron and steel sanctions, to reinforce the less effective embargoes which had been imposed on trade with Italy – a proposal which by the middle of December had been endorsed, as far as oil was concerned, by such important suppliers as Rumania, Iraq and Holland – the British Government, jointly with France, secured postponement of consideration of the proposal. In private conversation with the Soviet representative at the League, a leading British diplomat assured him that Britain would not take any steps like stopping oil to Italy, because this might precipitate a war; although it was painfully clear that Italy could not dream of war without oil.
2. THE STALIN CONSTITUTION
In these international circumstances, the Soviet Union had every encouragement to press ahead with its economic construction as rapidly as possible. In the course of the next two years, the second Five Year Plan was fulfilled and in fact more than fulfilled. Industrial output in 1936 increased by the record figure of 30.2 per cent, and previously low standards of output could be increased in all the basic industries, by 20 to 30 per cent, without detriment to the workers – so extensive had been the growth of the Stakhanov movement and the numbers engaged in the shock brigades. By the end of 1937 industrial output was more than double what it had been in 1932, more than four times as much as in 1928, eight times what it had been in 1913. All the essential provisions of the Plan – with the exception of costs of production – had been fulfilled; in particular, productivity of labour had risen 82 per cent, instead of the planned figure of 63 per cent. The light industries had not had a chance of expanding to quite the same extent, for reasons to be touched upon shortly, but nevertheless they had doubled their output, and there had been a big increase, from two-fold to seven-fold, in the production of cameras, bicycles, gramophones, and similar things necessary to a rising standard of comfort.
With more than three times as many tractors in the countryside as there were in 1932, the gross agricultural output in 1937 was half as much again as that of 1928, and one-third higher than in 1913. Allowing for the 21 per cent increase in population between 1913 and 1937, and taking into account the much smaller proportion of grain now being exported, the average grain consumption per head in the country was (as Mr Dobb has pointed out) at least 50 per cent above the amount available in 1913. The quantities of sugar and potatoes consumed per head were now double the 1913 figure.
As a result of these changes, real wages had doubled, as had been intended, and the income per household of the collective farmers, measured in cash and kind, had increased from 2,132 roubles in 1932 to 5,843 roubles in 1937 (or, in the grain-producing districts, from one ton of grain net to two-and-one-third tons), precisely the increase provided for under the Plan. Nearly 99 per cent of the means of production of the Soviet Union were now socially owned; and so were nearly 100 per cent of its industrial output, nearly 99 per cent of its agricultural output, and almost 100 per cent of its retail trade (including collective farm trade). Under the influence of these facts, the Stakhanov movement had grown to include nearly 30 per cent of the workers in the iron and steel industry, 33 per cent of those in the heavy engineering industry and even more in some others. In a number of branches of production, the Soviet Union was now first or second in the world.
This did not mean that there were no weak spots. In average output per worker, the Soviet Union was still below several of the advanced countries of capitalism, producing for example only 40 per cent of the American output of coal per worker, and 50 per cent of the amount of iron. If measured by head of population, the output was even lower. There were still big deficiencies in the organization of industry, and in agriculture too. Only one-eighth of the collective farms, for example, were practising scientific rotation of crops, and yields were low as a result. The number of livestock had not yet recovered from the losses of 1930 and the years immediately after it, although it was growing. The supply of consumer goods was still inadequate – which was only to be expected in view of the fact that expenditure on defence, standing in 1937 at seventeen-and-a-half milliards of roubles, represented 17 per cent of the national Budget (almost five times as much as at the beginning of the second Five Year Plan). The Red Army now numbered 1,300,000. So the complications of the international scene had their bearing on the work and welfare of the individual Soviet citizen.
Yet the citizens of the Soviet Union felt the strength of their country, during these years, in a way that they had never felt it before; and all visitors to the U.S.S.R. were quick to remark on it – from the thousands of tourists and hundreds of delegates to the May Day and November 7th celebrations, elected in the factories and trade union branches of many West European and American countries, to the British Military Mission which, in September, 1936, attended the Red Army manoeuvres in Byelorussia, and saw Soviet mechanized troops and aircraft at work in numbers and with an efficiency which they had not previously suspected. One of the signs of this confidence was the way in which a series of trials of former politicians and military men of high rank, on charges of treason, espionage, wrecking and assassination were held, for the most part in public, with the fullest publicity for the evidence, without any wavering in public morale.
On the contrary, morale seemed to grow stronger with the sense that hidden dangers were being rooted out.
Here there can be listed only the most important of these conspiracies and trials. In January, 1935, Zinoviev, Kamenev and several other associates of theirs were brought to trial on the charge of complicity in the murder of Kirov. They were acquitted of such complicity, but it was established that they had set up a counterrevolutionary organization, the activities of which encouraged the terrorist group at Leningrad, and that moreover they were aware of the latter’s existence. Zinoviev and Kamenev were sentenced to ten years’ and five years’ imprisonment respectively. Then, in the late spring of 1936, a series of arrests of Nazi agents and Trotskyist conspirators revealed the existence of a much wider organization – a central terrorist committee which included, not only Zinoviev and Kamenev, but several leading Trotskyists. Preliminary investigations and evidence given at their trial (in August, 1936) revealed that, through Germans who had been sent to the U.S.S.R. by Trotsky himself, the organization was in close contact with the German Gestapo. Zinoviev, Kamenev and their associates were sentenced to be shot.
Within the next two weeks a number of other outstanding Trotskyists – Pyatakov, Radek, Sokolnikov, Serebryakov and Yagoda, head of the People’s Commissariat for the Interior – were also under arrest, as a result of confessions which the Zinoviev- Kamenev group had made. They were put on trial in January, 1937. The revelations which they made, and their confessions in Court, showed that, after pretending for so long that they were animated by concern for the Soviet people, on the contrary their policy had been one of complete subordination to the plans of Hitler. The organization of wrecking on the railways and in the coalfields, at important chemical works and power stations, in agriculture and livestock breeding, was revealed to be only subsidiary to their main purpose. This was to call in outside assistance – from the German and Japanese intelligence services – to redress the balance when their efforts inside the U.S.S.R. were failing. In the words of Sokolnikov (who had been Ambassador in Great Britain at one time), ‘we considered that Fascism was the most organized form of capitalism, that it would triumph and seize Europe and stifle us. It was better therefore to come to terms with it’. These terms included territorial concessions in the Ukraine and the Far East, and economic concessions to German industrialists, in return for large-scale subversive activities in the event of war between the U.S.S.R. and Germany and for the establishment of a Trotskyist Government after a German victory.
It is worth noting that, as a well-known American journalist who attended the trial wrote later, ‘the impression held widely abroad that the defendants all told the same story, that they were I abject and grovelling, that they behaved like sheep in the executioner’s pen, isn’t quite correct. They argued stubbornly with the prosecutor; in the main they told only what they were forced to tell’. Radek in his final evidence said, ‘For two and a half months I compelled the examining official, by interrogating me and by confronting me with the testimony of the other accused, to open up all the cards to me, so that I could see who had confessed, who had not confessed and what each had confessed.’ Nearly all the foreign diplomats in Moscow who had attended the trial, as U.S. Ambassador Davies reported to Secretary Hull on February 17th, 1937, were convinced with him that the defendants were guilty.
The Supreme Court sentenced the leaders of the conspiracy to be shot, while Radek, Sokolnikov and others who had played a minor part were sentenced to terms of imprisonment.
In May, 1937, yet another group of conspirators, whose existence had been revealed in the course of investigating evidence secured during the previous trial, was arrested. This consisted of two Deputy People’s Commissars for Defence, Tukhachevsky and Gamamik, and several other generals. They were brought to trial before a court-martial consisting of the highest military leaders of the U.S.S.R., and charged with espionage for the intelligence service of a country ‘which is carrying on an unfriendly policy towards the U.S.S.R.’ Later it was revealed that Tukhachevsky and his associates had reached the same point in their dealings with Germany as the Trotskyites primarily because they believed that there was no power on earth with a strength comparable with that of Germany, and that it was necessary to come to terms with her and with Japan. For this purpose they plotted a military coup – although the problem had been how to find the rank and file for such an enterprise as the seizure of Government buildings and the killing of Soviet leaders. On this, in fact, it broke down; and their trial in June, 1937, led to their conviction and execution.
There was yet one further group which was to be dealt with before the danger from within could be thought eliminated. It was announced in May that the Right-wing leaders Bukharin, Rykov and Tomsky were under suspicion of treason, as a result of evidence during the earlier trials. The first two were arrested, while Tomsky committed suicide. Other well-known Trotskyists were also taken into custody during the year – Rosengoltz (former
associate of Trotsky in the War Department, later representative in London and People’s Commissar for Foreign Trade), Rakovsky (former pre-1914 associate of Trotsky, later head of the Ukrainian Soviet Government, and later still Ambassador in London), Krestinsky (formerly one of the secretaries of the Central Committee of the Party, and later People’s Commissar for Finance and Ambassador in Berlin), and several others. But the trial of this final group was not to be held until March, 1938.
A broad, these trials aroused volumes of speculation, invention and abuse: abuse so sharp, indeed, that it was commonly regarded among ordinary Soviet citizens, as those who met them in these years could testify, as the most convincing proof that the Soviet Government had really struck a crushing blow at plans which had been hatched outside its borders, and that those who were responsible for the hatching were squealing. Be that as it may, the general verdict in the U.S.S.R. was well reflected in the remark of Stalin, at the XVIII Congress of the C.P.S.U. in March, 1939: ‘To listen to these foreign drivellers, one would think that if the spies, murderers and wreckers had been left at liberty to wreck, murder and spy without lee or hindrance, the Soviet organizations would have been far sounder and stronger.’
It is an open secret that, in the course of the investigations during these years, particularly in 1937, there were large numbers of arrests among suspected persons in responsible positions. Foreign journalists and diplomats, accustomed to judge of the strength of a regime by the fortunes of persons in authority, were quick to interpret these arrests as indicating and intensifying a profound lack of confidence. In reality the uncertainty did not exist among the broad mass of the population; and even among those small sections of the intelligentsia where gossip and the consciousness of past waverings caused misgivings, these began to be allayed from 1938 onwards, when large numbers of those who had been under investigation began to be released and returned to their normal occupations.
The supreme expression of the confidence of the regime, however, and an important factor in its further strengthening, was the decision to make radical changes in the Soviet Constitution, first announced in February, 1935, when the Central Committee of the Communist Party decided to propose to the forthcoming VII Congress of Soviets drastic amendments, ‘replacing not entirely equal suffrage by equal suffrage, indirect elections by direct elections, and the open ballot by the secret ballot.’
When the first Soviet Constitution (of the R.S.F.S.R.) was adopted in 1918, and even when it was remoulded in 1924 to provide for the establishment of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, many large factories were already publicly owned, but in fact were far from their pre-war level of productivity, and in Soviet economy as a whole still represented a weak element. Small capitalism still existed in industry, in the bulk of retail trade and – in the shape of the kulaks – in very advantageous positions in agriculture. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of agricultural producers were small peasants, with an individualist rather than a collectivist outlook. Outside the Soviet Union, the capitalist governments which had attempted to overthrow the Soviet Government by force of arms from 1918 to 1920 were defeated but by no means undaunted, nor yet without agents, busily engaged within the Soviet Union among those classes which seemed most promising material for anti-Socialist organization and propaganda.
The old Soviet Constitution, based as it was on forms of organization of the workmen and peasants brought into being while capitalism still ruled Russia, during the period from March to November, 1917, had therefore preserved and emphasized all the features which made the Soviets a weapon of combat, in the hands of the class primarily interested in Socialism – the industrial proletariat.
But by the middle of the second Five Year Plan the determining economic conditions had completely changed. Industry was now the decisive force in the country, and moreover it was an industry which in the volume of its output and the up-to-date character of its equipment was the most powerful in Europe. Moreover, it was an entirely Socialist industry. In agriculture mechanized, large- scale, socially-owned production was now overwhelmingly predominant, with petty peasant production reduced to less than 5 per cent of the total and the kulak farms completely eliminated. The whole of home trade was hi the hands of the State, the collective farms and the co-operative societies. Socialist economy, therefore, ruled unchallenged, and was steadily raising living and cultural standards for the mass of the people.
This fundamental change in material conditions had brought far-reaching social change. Landlords, capitalists, kulaks, and private traders had disappeared. Soviet society consisted of a working class which was no longer proletarian in the old sense of the word, since it was vested with ownership of the means of production and, by Socialist emulation, was displaying its awareness of that ownership. Soviet society included a peasantry which had also taken a shape entirely new in history – that of collectives working on nationally-owned land. The Soviet intelligentsia was a section of society quite different from that of the old people of education, who had either come from the former property-owning classes or had served them. The new intelligentsia had come from the ranks of the workers and the peasants, and had no other master to serve. Thus Soviet society was immeasurably more homogeneous than that of Russia before 1917, or indeed before the Five Year Plans.
This more homogeneous quality was enhanced by the transformation which had taken place in relations between the nationalities, large and small, inhabiting the territory of the U.S.S.R. The old colonies and subject nations of the Russian Empire were now equal peoples, not only legally but in the reality of economic, political and cultural opportunity. The literacy of three quarters of the population, i.e. all but the older generations; the appearance of modern industry and mechanized agriculture among the formerly backward peasants of Central Asia and the Caucasus; the complete wiping out of endemic disease in huge areas of Asia; the settling of millions of former poverty-stricken nomads in flourishing agricultural or industrial communities; the rescue of the dying nationalities of the Far North – all these by 1935-6 were unmistakable signs of the multi-national unity and homogeneity of the U.S.S.R.
It was this which found reflection in the new draft Constitution, which was published in June, 1936, by the Constitutional Commission appointed by the Central Executive Committee of Soviets on February 7th, 1935. The new Constitution established a single franchise for all citizens at eighteen, other than lunatics and criminals serving sentence, and without class distinction. It provided the direct election of all organs of State power – rural Soviets (covering usually a group of villages) and district Soviets in the countryside, town Soviets, regional Soviets, Supreme Soviets of the Autonomous Republics, and of the Union Republics of which they form part, and finally a Supreme Soviet of the whole U.S.S.R. The ballot was made secret. The nomination of candidates was put into the hands of working-class and peasant organizations and of their branches. The candidates themselves had to be eighteen years of age (the first years of experience subsequently led to raising this age to twenty-three), but no other qualification was necessary. No candidate could be deemed elected unless at least half the electorate had voted, and unless at least half of those voting had done so in his favour. All deputies, from local Soviets up to the Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R., were liable to recall by their constituents if they failed to give them satisfaction. In the Supreme Soviet there were to be two Chambers of equal status – one the Soviet of the Union, representing the common interests of the Soviet people irrespective of nationality, and elected on the basis of one deputy per 300,000 inhabitants: the other the Soviet of Nationalities, representing the interests of the several nationalities by distinct representation, as before. The consent of each Chamber was necessary for the adoption of any legislation.
Criticism abroad was levelled at the clause providing for the existence of the Communist Party only, on the ground that this prevented freedom of discussion and criticism. In reality, the masses of the people in the U.S.S.R. were probably taking a more active part in discussion and criticism of their machinery of government than anywhere else in the world. But there was also the question of whether other parties could in fact exist in a society as homogeneous in its nature as that of the U.S.S.R.1 On this subject Stalin said, at the Eighth (Extraordinary) Congress of Soviets in November, 1936, which adopted the Constitution:
A party is a part of a class, its most advanced part. Several parties, and consequently freedom for parties, can exist only in a society in which there are antagonistic classes whose interests are mutually hostile and irreconcilable – in which there are, say, capitalists and workers, landlords and peasants, kulaks and poor peasants, etc. But in the U.S.S.R. there are no longer such classes as the capitalists, the landlords, the kulaks, etc. In the U.S.S.R. there are only two classes, workers and peasants, whose interests – far from being mutually hostile – are on the contrary friendly. Hence there is no ground in the U.S.S.R. for the existence of several parties, and consequently for freedom for these parties. In the U.S.S.R. there is ground for only one party, the Communist Party. In the U.S.S.R. only one party can exist – the Communist Party, which courageously defends the interests of the workers and peasants to the very end. And that it defends the interests of these classes not at all badly, of that there can hardly be any doubt.
The draft Constitution was printed in 60 million copies, and subjected to a vast national discussion, at 527,000 meetings in town and country, attended in all by over thirty-six million people. Even some foreign writers have noticed that these discussions were a tremendous political education in themselves, not only because every section of the constitutional machinery provided was subjected to examination, but because the statement of the rights and duties of the Soviet citizen which was included in the Constitution was even more elaborate and explicit than its predecessor. Like the earlier declaration of such rights, the new text accompanied each statement of a right by a list of the material conditions making possible the exercise of that right – and thus enabled every citizen to check whether in fact he or she had the opportunities which were guaranteed him. Thus, to take two examples:
Article 122. Women in the U.S.S.R. are accorded equal rights with men in all spheres of economic, State, cultural, social and political life.
The realisation of these rights of women is ensured by affording women equally with men the right to work, payment for work, rest, social insurance and education, and by State protection of the interests of mother and child, maternity leave with pay and the provision of a wide network of maternity homes, nurseries and kindergartens.