in the

Second Period: 1923-1930
[Section 1 -- Preface,
Introduction, and Part 1]

NOTE: The translation of this book into English has given the author the opportunity to check a number of his references and, as a result, to revise parts of the text.

© 1978 by Monthly Review Press

Translated by Brian Pearce
Originally published as
Les Luttes de classes en URSS
© 1977 by Maspero/Seuil, Paris, France

Prepared © for the Internet by David J. Romagnolo, [email protected] (February 2001)
(Corrected and Updated January-February 2017)



[ Section 1 ]



Introduction to the "second period"


Part 1.

The development of commodity
and money relations and of
planning in the NEP period



The reconstitution of a monetary and
financial system



The development of the machinery and
procedures of economic planning


page 10 [blank]

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    My purpose in the present volume is to continue my analysis of the process of transformation of the Soviet social formation through the years 1923-1930, defining the way in which successes and failures were intermingled in that period, and so prepared the subsequent victories and defeats experienced by the working class and the masses of the people in the USSR.

    In order to accomplish this task it is necessary to establish what the social relations were in which the agents of production were integrated, and to reconstitute as clearly as possible the fundamental class struggles of the period being considered.[1] One must also take into account the diverse forms in which actual social relations were perceived by the masses and also by the members and leaders of the Party. Finally, we have to establish the significance and social implications of the theoretical notions and political platforms around which a series of conflicts took place.

    This analysis must therefore deal with a complex objective process developing on several different levels, and entailing changes each of which proceeded at its own pace, even though all were interlinked and affected each other. This compels us to renounce any sort of idealistic approach claiming to "expound" the history of the USSR as the "realization" of a certain set of "ideas" -- whether those of Marx, of Lenin, or of Stalin.

    In other words, only a materialist treatment of the process of transformation of the Soviet social formation will enable us really to understand this process and draw lessons from it.

    Such a treatment is all the more essential today because a series of writings filled with open hostility to Marxism, and

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mainly inspired by the works of Solzhenitsyn, are directed to presenting the history of the USSR as the "outcome" of the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin. This idealist approach is, moreover, the "counterpart" of another one, similar though with different "aims," expressed in writings of predominantly apologetic character which present the history of the USSR as the "outcome" of the decisions of the Bolshevik Party and the Soviet state, and which furthermore assume that, generally speaking (that is, leaving aside a few "mistakes" which are considered to have been more or less rapidly corrected), these decisions were directly dictated by "Marxist principles," resulting from analyses carried out in light of these principles.

    A feature common to these idealist treatments of the history of the Soviet formation is that they relegate to the background (when they do not purely and simply ignore them) the movement of the objective contradictions, the various forms assumed by class struggles, and the role played by ways of seeing reality that were inherited from the past and affected the aspirations of the masses and the views of the leaders alike. For a materialist analysis of the transformation process of the Soviet formation all these factors need to be reckoned with.[2]

    A materialist analysis also requires that we refuse to compare the history of the USSR with any ideal "model" from which it is supposed to have "deviated" at a certain moment, so that from that moment everything "took the wrong turning."

    It is therefore indispensable to analyze the Soviet social formation in its originality, so as to understand the unique character of the gigantic upheavals that it has experienced. Reckoning with the specific features of the history of the USSR does not debar us (quite the contrary) from drawing lessons from it for other countries and other periods, since this history, in its singularity, possesses a universal bearing for the simple reason that the universal does not exist otherwise than in the form of the particular. But this universal bearing

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can be grasped only by means of a concrete analysis of the movement of the contradictions, especially of those that developed on the plane of ideology.

    The pages that follow will not "present chronologically" the development of the contradictions of the period 1923-1930. Attention will be focused on the moment when these contradictions converged, giving rise, in 1928-1930, to a crisis which appeared as a "general crisis of the NEP." We shall see, moreover, that some vital aspects of this crisis were connected with the way in which the New Economic Policy was implemented, and with the ambiguous forms assumed by its gradual abandonment. In any case, analyzing this crisis will enable us to perceive a series of contradictions as they manifested themselves in their most acute form, and to trace the way that they had developed and become intermingled in the course of the preceding years, so that light is thrown upon both the conditions that brought the crisis of 1920-1930 to a head and also the class consequences of this crisis.

    The contradictions analyzed in this volume concern, in the first place, the working class. We have to see how the conditions under which this class produced (that is, the characteristics of the processes of production and reproduction) were changed, but have also to describe the forms taken by the rise in the level of consumption by the industrial workers, by the various relations of distribution, and by the way in which the workers were organized. Special attention has been given to the ways whereby the workers (and other social classes, too, especially the bourgeoisie -- both the old one and that which was in process of formation) made their presence felt in the ideological and political "machinery" through which the working class could either develop its own initiative, or find its activities being oriented in one direction or another. The successes won during the years under consideration, no less than the setbacks suffered, had a considerable influence on the form taken by the crisis of 1928-1930 and its outcome.

    Likewise analyzed in this volume are the social relations in which the peasantry and its various strata were integrated, the

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struggles that developed within the peasantry, and the contradictions that set the peasant masses against certain decisions of the Soviet government.

    The contradictions analyzed often present themselves as economic ones. It is therefore appropriate to bring to light the social relations which both manifested and concealed themselves in the form of prices, wages, and profits, and the class significance of the movements of industrial and agricultural prices, movements which involved, to some extent at least, the fate of the alliance between the workers and the peasants.

    Our analysis deals fundamentally with political contradictions, but these cannot be reduced (as is too often attempted) merely to the conflicts between the various oppositions and the majority in the Political Bureau. Actually, these contradictions were also internal to the political line laid down by the Party leadership, a line that included contradictory elements which played a far from negligible role in the development of the crisis of 1928-1930. Moreover, this political line frequently contradicted the actual practice of the cadres of Party and State, and the consequences of this practice reacted, sooner or later, upon the political line, leading to its transformation.

    Special attention must be given here to the limited means at the disposal of the Bolshevik Party for putting many of its decisions into effect. This limitation was a product of history. It was connected with the Party's inadequate presence among the peasantry (who formed the overwhelming majority of the Soviet people), and with the hardly proletarian character of many parts of the state machine,[3] and so with the type of relations established between these parts of the state machine and the working people.

    However, the limits restricting the activity of the Bolshevik Party and also the possibilities for mass initiative were due not only to political factors, but were also determined by the development of a certain number of ideological relations. We must therefore analyze quite closely the Bolshevik ideological formation and its transformations (which were themselves

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inseparable from those taking place in the social formation as a whole). We shall see that some of the conceptions which played an increasing role in the Bolshevik Party, and which were also present among the masses, often led to the existence of some of the developing contradictions being hidden from view, to incorrect interpretation[4] of those contradictions whose existence was recognized, or to the adoption of decisions that were more or less inadequate, in the sense that they failed in their purpose and weakened the positions of the Soviet proletariat.

    The characteristic features of the Bolshevik ideological formation reflected, in the first place, the limited experience which the Bolshevik Party and the Soviet proletariat could then draw upon. They were connected also with the conflicts that developed in the Party before October and during the years 1917-1923, and so with the contradictions in the ideological formation of that period. Finally, and above all, they resulted from the changes undergone by that ideological formation in face of the new problems that arose and the changes in class relations within the Soviet formation itself.

    The process of change in the Bolshevik ideological formation produced contradictory effects. On the one hand, it led to an enrichment of Marxism, to a clearer perception of the political and economic tasks that the Soviet government had to tackle. On the other, and at the same time, it contributed -- owing, especially, to the weakness of the Party's ties with the peasant masses -- to the strengthening of conceptions that departed from revolutionary Marxism. It should be noted, too, that these conceptions could in some cases be given illusory "title-deeds of legitimacy" through a mechanistic interpretation of some formulation or other employed by Marx himself.

    As we shall see, a significant example of this was the role that the Bolshevik Party gave to the formulations used by Marx in his writings of 1846, in which "society" appears as an "expressive totality" where the aggregate of social relations seems to be determined by the technological conditions of production. This happened with the well-known phrase: "The

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hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord: the steam mill, society with the industrial capitalist,"[5] which can be interpreted in a narrowly economist-technicist sense.

    A relatively large amount of space is given at the end of this volume to the problems posed by the changes in the Bolshevik ideological formation. These problems have, indeed, a considerable bearing. Analysis of them enables us to understand better how and why a certain number of contradictions that developed in the Soviet social formation were imperfectly grasped, so that the inadequate treatment they received resulted in a series of unsought consequences that were increasingly difficult to control.

    What is said on this subject implies in the most direct fashion a lesson that is of universal application. Some of the conceptions alien to revolutionary Marxism that were present in the Bolshevik ideological formation became, during the 1930s, "established truths" which influenced a number of the parties belonging to the Communist International. These parties were thus induced, in historical conditions differing from those of the USSR, to commit mistakes that were similar to those committed by the Bolshevik Party.[6]

    Analysis of the contradictions and transformations of the Bolshevik ideological formation is still relevant to present-day concerns. Even now, some of those who with justification claim to be Marxist-Leninists have not clearly recognized what may be mistakes in certain formulations adopted by the Bolshevik Party which played a negative role, in the transformation process of the Soviet social formation, by weakening the leading role of the working class.

    The identification of revolutionary Marxism with some of the formulations or theses which, though accepted by the Bolshevik Party, were alien to Marxism, continues to do harm to the cause of socialism in another way. Thus, what the Bolshevik Party said, especially from the end of the 1920s on, about the "socialist" significance of state ownership and about the decisive role of the development of the productive forces as the "driving force of social changes" is repeated today by the Soviet revisionists. By reiterating these formulas they

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claim to prove their "loyalty" to Marxism-Leninism. Other opponents of socialism employ similar identifications, and the results ensuing from the theses to which they relate, in order to reject what the Soviet revolution has accomplished and reject, also, the teachings of revolutionary Marxism, without which it is impossible to carry forward to victory the struggle for socialism.

    At the heart of the analyses that follow, therefore, lies the question of the relation between the process of change affecting the Soviet social formation and that which affected the Bolshevik ideological formation. This is a question of capital importance which I have been able only to begin to deal with here. Perhaps my essay may serve as the starting point for "setting right-way-up" the problem referred to by means of the mistaken expression "the personality cult." What is meant thereby really took shape only in the 1930s and can therefore by analyzed only in my next volume. Nevertheless, it is not without value to make a few methodological observations on the subject straightaway.

    In the first place, it must be said that, in order to deal rigorously with this question, on the basis of historical materialism, one needs to analyze first of all the transformation process of the Soviet social formation and its articulation with that of the Bolshevik ideological formation. The question of Stalin cannot be presented correctly unless it is situated in relation to this dual process. Historically, Stalin was the product of this process, not its "author." To be sure, his role was considerable, but the line followed by his acts and decisions cannot be separated either from the relations of strength between classes, or from the means available to the Bolshevik Party, or from the ideas that were predominant in the Party and among the masses. It is by taking strict account of all these objective determining factors that one can analyze the activity of the Bolshevik Party, and so of Stalin, and understand how this activity contributed to maintaining some of the conquests of October, consolidating Soviet power, and, at the same time, undermining some of these conquests by allowing the development of practices and social relations which greatly

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weakened the leading role of the Soviet proletariat and profoundly shook the alliance between the workers and the peasants. But only concrete analysis applied to the specific forms of the changes undergone by the Soviet social formation can enable us to tackle these questions correctly.

    Such a concrete analysis shows also to what extent Stalin was, above all, in most cases, the man who concentrated systematically the views of the leading circles of the Party and some of the aspirations of a section of the Soviet masses. The nature of these views and these aspirations was not the same at all moments in the history of the Soviet formation, and therefore the "question of Stalin" can be tackled correctly only by "periodizing" it.

    In any case, in the following pages I am not concerned with these problems, since treatment of them is necessarily subordinate to a preliminary analysis of the process of change through which the Soviet formation has passed.



Our knowledge of these struggles can, alas, only be very incomplete. The most significant factors can, of course, be grasped by reference to the published documents, by interpreting the speeches of the Soviet leaders and the decisions adopted by the Party. But a more thorough knowledge of the struggles and of the state of mind of the masses, and especially of the different strata composing them, will not be achieved until later, when archives which are at present closed to researchers are opened to them, and, above all, when, through a mighty mass movement of concern to know their past, the Soviet people themselves come to participate in the reconstitution of their own history. Meanwhile, only the most outstanding developments can be appreciated -- which is already a great deal.    [p. 11]


In J. Elleinstein's book, Histoire du phénomène stalinien (English-language translation, The Stalin Phenomenon ), we find an idealist approach and positions characteristic of mechanical materialism intermingled. The developments experienced by the

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USSR are shown as the result of a certain conception of socialism "adapted" to the specific historical conditions of Russia -- to the low level of the productive forces in that country at the start of the Revolution and to the initial situation of its masses. Elleinstein writes of "a people in rags and without education" (English translation, p. 32) and the burden of "Tsarist tradition and Orthodox ritual" (ibid., p. 56). It is on this "historical terrain, very different from that of France" that a specific "type of socialism" is said to have developed (French edition, p. 247; not included in the English translation). A "myth of origin" thus does duty for analysis of a complex process of transformation. Rejection of this myth does not mean, of course, denying that the effects produced upon the Soviet social formation by a number of contradictions that were not brought under control (effects the bearing of which is universal, and therefore capable of appearing elsewhere than in the Soviet Union) did take on forms that were specifically Russian. However, what matters when we are trying to draw lessons from the history of the Soviet Union is the content of universal implication to be found in the changes that that country has undergone: this is why we need to grasp them in their specific forms (which are to be "associated" with the specific Russian "terrain"), but also to go beyond the particularity of these forms.    [p. 12]


We need only recall what Lenin had to say on the matter: "The apparatus we call ours is, in fact, still quite alien to us, it is a bourgeois and tsarist hotchpotch . . . " (Lenin, CW, vol. 36, p. 606 [Transcriber's Note: See Lenin's "The Question of Nationalities or 'Autonomisation'". -- DJR]). On this point see volume I of the present work, p. 329. For lack of mass action to revolutionize this "apparatus," its characteristic features could not be radically altered.    [p. 14]


The most telling example of a mistaken interpretation is provided by the attempt made to account for the "bureaucratic distortions" of the state machinery by attributing these exclusively to the predominance of small-scale production. Actually, these distortions were also connected with the development of centralistic political relations (which was why they got worse during the 1930s, when small-scale peasant production was tending to disappear), a development that was not combated by the Bolshevik Party since it considered that the forms of centralization characteristic of capitalism corresponded to the requirements for domination by society over the processes of production and reproduction.    [p. 15]


Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy, in Marx and Engels, Collected Works, vol. 6, p. 166.    [p. 16]

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Of course, if a particular Communist Party was influenced by some of the mistaken theses upheld by the Bolshevik Party and the Comintern, the reason for this must be sought in the social practice of this Party, in its relations with the various classes of society, in its internal structure, and in its greater or lesser capacity to generate criticism and self-criticism, drawing up the balance sheet of its own experience and learning lessons therefrom.    [p. 16]

From Marx
to Mao



On to Section 2:
Part 2