Tony Cliff

The 22nd Congress

(November 1961)

From Socialist Review, November 1961.
Reprinted in New Politics, Winter 1962.
Reprinted in A Socialist Review, London 1965, pp. 241–8.
Transcribed by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Thanks to Ted Crawford.

The 22nd Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union will without doubt be a turning point in the history of world communism. Its effect on the fate of the international labour movement will be deep and prolonged. Much of what happened was unexpected. On July 30th, 1961, a new draft of the Party programme was published, the core of which was a promise of the millennium: Russia would catch up and overtake the United States standard of living over the next decade or two. The complete transition from socialism to fully fledged communism would be accomplished. “Happy, beautiful and moving days!” as the Minister of Culture, Madame Furtseva was to call them. The Soviet press prepared for a great celebration of the bright future; Khrushchev’s 20-year programme was to be the main dish. Instead an extremely peppery course was served.

The Congress served as a rostrum for a bitter attack on two main apostates – Albania and the “Anti-Party Group” of Malenkov, Molotov and Kaganovich. There were three main accusations against the accused: (1) Opposition to Khrushchev’s “policy of peaceful co-existence between capitalism and socialism;” (2) opposition to Khrushchev’s reforms in the management of industry and agriculture introduced during the last few years; (3) support of the Stalinist cult and of Stalinist atrocities.

Both accused groups, tiny Albania and the few people mentioned at the Congress as belonging to the “Anti-Party Group” are too insignificant to explain the ire of the mighty Khrushchev, who has been brandishing his power – expressed in sputniks and the 50-megaton bomb – for all to see.

It is clear that by Albania Khrushchev meant China. His strictures on Albanian Stalinists met with a prompt complaint from the Chinese Premier, Chou En-lai, that “to disclose a dispute between fraternal parties in the face of the enemy cannot be regarded as a serious Marxist-Leninist attitude.” Chou’s reproaches were ignored. Speaker after speaker took up Khrushchev’s attack. In the middle of the Congress Chou left, and flew home, to be demonstratively welcomed at Peking airport by Mao Tse-tung and other top Chinese leaders. The Chinese press continued to praise Albanians a most loyal socialist country, and on 26th October published in detail her bitter charges against Moscow.

If Tirana stands for Peking, the “Anti-Party Group”, as we shall show, stands not for a tiny group of individuals, but for a broad section of the Russian bureaucracy.

To disentangle the forces in conflict, an analysis must be made of the various issues involved.

“Peaceful co-existence”

Regarding the global effect of war, Khrushchev and Mao have spoken in tones differing more and more widely. Speaking at Vladivostok on 8 October 1959 Khrushchev made it clear that “Only an irresponsible person can be fearless of war in our days.” He repeated the point to members of the French Peace Council shortly afterwards (on 23 March 1960): “Imagine what will happen,” he said, “when bombs begin to explode over cities. These bombs will not distinguish between Communists and non-Communists ... No, everything alive can be wiped out in the conflagration of nuclear explosions.” Repetition had little effect on his Chinese opposite number, however. Mao Tse-tung’s view was quoted in extenso in Red Flag, the theoretical organ of the Chinese Communist Party, on March 30 1960: “If the imperialists insist on unleashing another war,” said Mao, “we should not be afraid of it ... World War I was followed by the birth of the Soviet Union with a population of 200 million. World War II was followed by the emergence of the socialist camp with a combined population of 900 million. If the imperialists should insist on launching a third World War, it is certain that several hundred million more will turn to socialism.”

For a number of reasons Khrushchev and Mao differ sharply regarding “peaceful co-existence.” For the former, so long as his sputniks and H-bombs can ensure “peaceful co-existence,” there is the perspective that the dynamic of Russia’s economy wi lead her to catch up and overtake Western capitalism. His gr atest weapon is mighty Russian industry. Mao is out of the nu lear rocketry coterie, and it will take decades before China’s industry could possibly match that of the West. Indeed, it is China’s industrial backwardness that allows Mao to shrug away the danger of nuclear bombardment. Hundreds of millions will die, but the scattered, primitive people’s commune could serve as a base for economic reconstruction.

“Peaceful co-existence” economically means something else for China too: even if her prospective rate of industrial growth were larger that Russia’s (which is not the case at present) the absolute gap between the two countries will increase and continue to increase for decades.

A national industrial base ordains a certain investment policy. A million rubles invested in Russia will play a much greater positive role in catching up and overtaking the USA than a loan or gift of the same amount to China. The same applies to the use of the services of technician. If Russian capital is to be invested outside the country, it is much more fruitfully put in the advanced European People’s Democracies, which are largely integrated with the economies of Russia, than in backward China. (It is no accident that China does not belong to Comecon – Council for Mutual Economic Assistance that covers Russia and her European satellites).

To add to the causes diverting Russian capital away from China, “peaceful co-existence” aids Khrushchev’s effort to win the neutral countries away from Washington. Since 1953 Russian credits to the backward non-Communist countries have risen from nothing to $850 million, and are now over one-third of the American flow. Russia tries to buy the rulers of these countries, not to overthrow them. Hence Nasser can keep his Communists in gaol and still get Russian aid, Sukarno and Kassem can outlaw their Communist Parties without fear of reprisal. Rubles are required to flirt with these countries. But Mao is not being courted by Kennedy, so why waste rubles on him?

Relying on the national industrial base as the main launching pad, the Russian rulers, in trading with China, will incline to drive quite a hard bargain. Time and again it is announced that the prices charged by Russia for her products and paid for China’s products are world market prices. Now world market prices entail the exploitation of backward countries by advanced countries. To explain this: the Marxist law of value shows how industries with a high “organic composition of capital” – i.e., with a great deal of capital compared with labour-acquire part of the surplus value produced by workers in industries with a low “organic composition of capital.” This applies also to international trade between more developed and less developed countries., i.e., countries which have relatively more capital and those with relatively less. As Marx put it, the “ favoured country obtains in such an exchange more labour in return for less labour.”

To further dry the flow of capital resources to China, “catching up with the United States” must mean their diversion in Russia itself towards consumer goods industries, housing, etc. As Khrushchev said in Moscow on May 20, 1961: “Now we consider our heavy industry as built. So we are not going to give it priority. Light industry and heavy industry will develop at the same pace” (New York Times, July 31, 1961).

The extremely difficult job of pulling China out of her present backwardness by her own bootstraps makes severe demands on the morale of the Chinese people. It requires maximum national unity under centralised command. An atmosphere of siege helps to justify the sweat and toil. Hence a border dispute with India is manufactured and inflated to threatening proportions, although the tracts of land in question are strategically and in every other way worthless to China. So deep is the siege mentality in Peking that it has yet to accredit an ambassador to Britain some eleven years after recognition.

“Peaceful co-existence” punctures this siege mentality. To accept tremendous sacrifices over decades is bad enough. But to have to do so without the conviction or illusion that it is dictated by a besieging enemy is worse. The loss of another element in the siege – the feeling of togetherness – will make it yet more difficult to discipline the Chinese masses. Khrushchev strikes at the heart of this feeling. In effect he says to Mao: We are not in it together. While your people are practically starving, we will gorge. (In 1961 while China had to spend millions of scarce foreign currency buying grain from Canada and Australia, Russia flooded the West European market with cheap barley!). For China to belong to the same bloc while getting less and less materially from her rich partner is hard enough in itself. But as a morale buster, the effect on Mao’s in the highly disciplined camp can in the long run be catastrophic. If one of the main functions of the Iron Curtain from Stalin’s standpoint was to prevent Russian workers from comparing their lot with workers in the West, a much thicker bamboo curtain will have to be built between China and Russia to prevent the Chinese toilers from making comparisons and rebelling against what they find.

Struggle around the Management of Industry and Agriculture

In a siege economy the language of administration is a military one. And so, in China at present, as in Russia under Stalin, the language used in economic affairs, is that of “campaigns,” “mobilisation of forces,” “attacking and storming the enemy,” etc. The campaign method, however wasteful, is quite successful in the period of forced industrialisation and collectivisation. It leads to a series of bottlenecks which lead to new campaigns, much waste, and also uccesses. Economic calculations, rationality in the allocation of resources, play a very secondary role. However, at a certain stage his method starts becoming less and less satisfactory.

Forced collectivisation in Russia managed to syphon off millions of people to the towns as well as the food necessary to feed them. The peasant or his son went to town and there consumed the product he would previously have consumed in the country. This process could continue to a certain limit without a rise in the volume of agricultural output but simply through an alteration in the distribution of the agricultural output as between town and country. Beyond a certain points expanding agricultural output is a precondition for getting surpluses to support industrial growth.

Stalin’s method of compulsion after a time proved an impediment to raising agricultural output. Russia’s grain output, 80.1 million tons in 1913, rose to an average of only 98.1 million tons in 1951-55. (Khrushchev’s Report to 22nd Congress). The livestock situation fared no better. The number of cattle was 58.4 million in 1916 (i.e. after two years of war) and 58.8 million in 1955. The corresponding figures for cows were 28.8 and 27.7 million. (ibid.)

Productivity of labour in Russian agriculture remained extremely low. Thus Khrushchev stated on September 15, 1958; that the number of hours spent on the production of one unit of grain was 7.3 times greater in the Soviet kolkhoz than on an American farm; potatoes 5.1; beetroot 6.2; milk 3.1; weight-cattle 14.2; and weight pigs 16.3. (Plenum of CC, CPSU, December 1958 (Russian), Moscow, 1958, p. 80).

It would take us too far afield to describe all the complicated bureaucratic impediments to agriculture existing under Stalin. Khrushchev has introduced a number of reforms aimed at rationalisation. The carrot has to some extent replaced the stick. Prices paid to the agriculturists have been raised radically; the kolkhozes have been given a greater say in planning; The state Machine Tractor Stations have been abolished and agricultural machinery transferred to the kolkhozes. Unfortunately Khrushchev did not, and for deep historical reasons could not, rely only on the carrot to encourage the agricultural population to expand its output. Therefore side by side with the above-mentioned reforms, he carried out measures aimed at strengthening state control over the rural population: the level of obligatory working days imposed on kolkhoz members was raised; the size of the private plot cut; the system of obligatory deliveries, even if in altered form, maintained: kolkhozes have been “encouraged to transform themselves into sovkhozes (state farms); and, last but not least, agricultural policy in the expanding areas of the newly reclaimed virgin lands has been to build sovkhozes.

In industry the set-up inherited from Stalin was practically chaotic. In spite of this, as much greater resources were poured into it, the achievements of industry were much greater than those of agriculture. It has become increasingly clear, however, that the results have not been concomitant with the resources put into this branch of the economy. Up to now, the productivity of labour in Russian industry has lagged far behind the technical level of its equipment. New, and built in very large units, its equipment comes up to American standards, and is certainly far more advanced than that of Western European countries. Comparative labour productivity does not show this, Russian productivity being only half American.

To raise the productivity of industrial labour, incentives have to be increased, e.g., housing improved, the quantity and quality of industrial goods improved etc. It is also necessary to get rid of the plethora of officials and paperwork weighing upon industry. A few examples of this burden:

The Georgian Oil Trust “has three oil fields and 12 officers to serve them. There is one official for every four or five employees. It is not surprising, therefore, that the administrative expenses for one ton of oil drilled by the Trust total 60 rubles, while in certain areas the full cost of drilling one ton of oil amounts to only 22 rubles.” (Pravda, August 13, 1954) Again, in the Moldavian Fishing industry “there are 112 officials as against 163 workers at the fisheries, of which only 98 are employed in catching fish.” (Pravda, December 6, 1954)

The journal of heavy industry, Industria, of July 18, 1940, compared two coal mines, the Pittsburgh Coal Company in Pennsylvania and the Lenin Mine of the Kizel Trust in the Urals. Production in the former was three times as great as in the latter. However, the Russian mine had 165 administrative and technical personnel compared with 15 in the US mine, and there were 8 office workers in the US mine, compared with 67 employed in the Russian mine. The number of actual miners was only twice as big in the Russian mine as in the American.

The organisational structure of Soviet industry under Stalin was very hierarchical and centralised. Beginning at the lowest level, it had the following rungs: brigade, shop, department (comprising several shops), firm, trust, chief subdivision (glavk), Ministry, Economic Council attached to the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union, and finally the Council of Ministers.

Intertwined with these chains of administration in industry were a number of other chains which criss-crossed at different levels, thus making the set-up much more discordant and irrational, and also causing a series of tensions in the factory. They included: inspectors of the Ministry of agents of the District Prosecutors, agents of the State Planning Commission, agents of the State Arbitration Board, agents of the Ministry of State Control, “special sections” of the Secret Police, the Party apparatus in the factory.

This is not the place to elaborate on the measures Khrushchev has taken to introduce some rationality into this chaos. They include the decentralisation of the administration of industry, efforts to cut own irrationalities in the price mechanism and strengthen cost accounting, enlargement of supply resources, so as to prevent overloading of the industrial machine, encouragement of workers’ and technicians’ efforts by offering them incentives, etc., etc.

Khrushchev’s measures have been only partially successful. To give a few examples: first as regards agriculture. Grain output rose from 127.6 million tons in 1956 to only 133.2 million in 1960. The number of cattle increased from 70.4 million in 1956 to 75.8 million at the end of 1960. The corresponding figures for cows were 30.9 and 34.8, pigs, 56.4 and 68.6. (Pravda, January 31, 1957, and January 20, 1961).

In speeches in Leningrad and Moscow on May 21st, and June 2nd, 1957) Khrushchev came out with a plan to overtake the USA in per capita meat output by 1960 or at the latest 1961 (speech in Leningrad) or 1962 (speech in Moscow). To reach the same meat consumption level in USSR (assuming the population to be 220 million in mid-1961) Russia would have to produce 20 million tons of carcase meat. In 1960 meat output was announced to have been only 8.7 million tons (Pravda, January 21, 1961).

The administrative changes in industry have also not achieved notable success. The plethora of officials and paper work continues. The irrationalities in the price mechanism persist. (It is true that Khrushchev promised that a completely new price structure would be introduced in 1961-2). Tendencies towards autarchy even between neighbouring economic councils abound, etc. etc. However, efforts to streamline and improve the administration continue, even though it is inevitable that they cannot achieve complete success. The multiplicity and different degrees of efficiency of the control systems in themselves lead to increasing arbitrariness and wastage, and thus to the same conditions that make strict and multitudinous controls necessary.

Unable to rely on the self-activity of the people, denying all working class democracy, the Kremlin has to rely on bureaucrats to control other bureaucrats. The hydra of bureaucratic anarchy and its concomitant, bureaucratic control, grows on the soil of workers’ alienation from the means of production and the exploitation of the labourer.

Inside the ruling Russian bureaucracy, there are sections-and these are not small-accustomed to the old methods of command. The number of people engaged in the “control of management reaches many hundreds of thousands. For them Khrushchev’s reforms must mean a decline in status. On the other hand, sections of the bureaucracy-the more modem technically competent-must feel frustrated under the regime of irrationality and arbitrariness.

Even if Khrushchev’s reforms were completely and demonstratively successful, the old sections of the bureaucracy, accustomed to military commands, would have resisted them. When their success is limited, the resistance is inevitably greater. Molotov and Kaganovich are the symbols, if not the actual spokesmen, of this section of the bureaucracy. In the struggle, Khrushchev is careful not to appeal to the mass of the workers, who are kept right out of the dispute. This of course prolongs the struggle.

Molotov and his friends find a natural ally in the Chinese bureaucracy. Both represent the command economy. Both need the siege mentality as a lubricant for economic effort. Both believe in the “ priority of heavy industry as the supreme law of socialism,” for both Stalin was the embodiment of all they believed in and stood for.

The effect on the International labour movement of the open split between Khrushchev and Mao

The Communist parties of the world, with few exceptions, sided openly and completely with Khrushchev. Mao’s “revolutionism,” his rejection of “peaceful co-existence” for reasons of nationalist expediency as seen through the eyes of a ruling bureaucracy, shows dismal disregard of the very existence of humanity. This can hardly appeal, especially in the more industrial, thickly populated, bomb-prone countries. His open glorification of Stalin and his regime tarnishes his image in the eyes of the labour movement of the industrial countries.

Khrushchev’s version of peaceful co-existence in the context of the cold war, his damping down of revolution everywhere, his penchant for summitry as part of a bargain with Washington, based on defence of the social status quo, and above all his total disregard of the feelings of the world labour movement, including those of the Communist parties – shown in the 50-megaton test – must weaken his appeal in the workers’ movement internationally. The open attack on Moscow by Peking, when it comes, as it is practically sure to do, will damage the standing of both.

Whether the crisis of the world communist movement is of a conclusive nature, or of slow attrition – or a combination of both – the beginning of the end of the world communist movement is plain to see. Where the communist parties are mass parties, as in France and Italy. and where their main appeal to the workers is that of left reformism, their decline and atrophy will in the main be slow, especially if Western capitalism continues to expand over the coming few years so that no convulsion will shake it.

With traditional Social Democracy turning more and more to undisguised liberalism, and the atrophy of the world communist movement, the international labour movement will face the need to start from new beginnings.

Last updated on 16 February 2017