[Marxism] Red Plenty

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Mar 4 20:09:39 MST 2012

On 3/4/12 9:29 PM, Tristan Sloughter wrote:
> Are there other works people can recommend on any period of the USSR and
> how its economic system worked both internally and externally?

I recommend Moshe Lewin's "Russia-USSR-Russia". This is something I 
posted on Rotten Timber based on Lewin:

Lewin recounts that the Soviet government announced the first five year 
plan in 1928. Stalin loyalists, like Krzhizanovksy and Strumlin, who 
headed Gosplan, the minister of planning, worried about the excess 
rigidity of this plan. They noted that the success of the plan was based 
on 4 factors:

1) five good consecutive crops,

2) more external trade and help than in 1928,

3) a “sharp improvement” in overall economic indicators, and

4) a smaller ration than before of military expenditures in the state’s 
total expenditures.

How could anybody predict five consecutive good crops in the USSR? The 
plan assumed the most optimistic conditions and nobody had a contingency 
plan to allow for failure of any of the necessary conditions.

Bazarov, another Stalin loyalist in Gosplan, pointed to another area of 
risk: the lack of political cadres. He warned the Gosplan presidium in 
1929, “If you plan simultaneously a series of undertakings on such a 
gigantic scale without knowing in advance the organizational forms, 
without having cadres and without knowing what they should be taught, 
then you get a chaos guaranteed in advance; difficulties will arise 
which will not only slow down the execution of the five-year plan, which 
will take seven if not ten years to achieve, but results even worse may 
occur; here such a blatantly squandering of means could happen which 
would discredit the whole idea of industrialization.”

Strumlin admitted that the planners preferred to “stand for higher 
tempos rather than sit in prison for lower ones.” Strumlin and 
Krzhizanovksy had been expressing doubts about the plan for some time 
and Stalin removed these acolytes from Gosplan in 1930.

In order for the planners, who were operating under terrible political 
pressure, to make sense of the plan, they had to play all kinds of 
games. They had to falsify productivity and yield goals in order to 
allow the input and output portions of the plan to balance. V.V. 
Kuibyshev, another high-level planner and one of Stalin’s proteges, 
confessed in a letter to his wife how he had finessed the industrial 
plan he had developing. “Here is what worried me yesterday and today; I 
am unable to tie up the balance, and as I cannot go for contracting the 
capital outlays—contracting the tempo—there will be no other way but to 
take upon myself an almost unmanageable task in the realm of lowering 

Eventually Kuibyshev swallowed any doubts he may have had and began 
cooking the books in such a way as to make the five-year plan, risky as 
it was, totally unrealizable.

Real life proved how senseless the plan was. Kuibyshev had recklessly 
predicted that costs would go down, meanwhile they went up: although the 
plan allocated 22 billion rubles for industry, transportation and 
building, the Soviets spent 41.6 billion. The money in circulation, 
which planners limited to a growth of only 1.25 billion rubles, 
consequently grew to 5.7 billion in 1933.

Now we get to the real problem for those who speak about “planning” 
during this period. As madcap and as utopian as the original plan was, 
Stalin tossed it into the garbage can immediately after the planners 
submitted it to him. He commanded new goals in 1929-30 that disregarded 
any economic criteria. For example, instead of a goal of producing 10 
million tons of pig iron in 1933, the Soviets now targeted 17 million. 
All this scientific “planning” was taking place when a bloody war 
against the Kulaks was turning the Russian countryside into chaos. 
Molotov declared that to talk about a 5-year plan during this period was 

Stalin told Gosplan to forget about coming up with a new plan that made 
sense. The main driving force now was speed. The slogan “tempos decide 
everything” became policy. The overwhelming majority of Gosplan, 
hand-picked by Stalin, viewed the new policy with shock. Molotov said 
this was too bad, and cleaned house in the old Gosplan with “all of its 
old-fashioned planners” as he delicately put it.

When Stalin turned the whole nation into a work camp in order to meet 
these unrealistic goals, he expanded the police force in order that they 
may function as work gang bosses. Scientific planning declined and 
command mechanisms took their place. As the command mechanisms grew, so 
grew the administrative apparatus to implement them. The more 
bottlenecks that showed up, the greater the need for bureaucrats to step 
in and pull levers. This is the explanation of the monstrous 
bureaucratic apparatus in the former Soviet Union, not scientific planning.

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